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Our kids are stressed out

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I guess this is turning into a bit of a series. I keep getting emails… since many fall along similar themes, let’s discuss.

The basic idea coming through the mail is that Mom feels bad because she didn’t heed my toddler advice, and now she is worried that her child is not disciplined. He comes home, maybe from school or an outside event for homeschoolers, acting grumpy and not showing an obedient spirit. I will mainly talk about school, but some of the factors apply to homeschoolers as well when they have an unusually long day out and about.

Auntie Leila is all for obedience, but please remember that a child out in the world is really under stress. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing. And now, in many places, children are not able to act normally, even when the old normal was already pretty darned restricted. Even before lockdowns and pandemic regulations, children were already not allowed much in the way of recess at school, and just what we call here at the Manse “getting your ya-yas out.”

But now it’s truly grievous. Children are kept apart, which is incomprehensible to them. Masks are making them miserable and often sick. Most of all, they certainly get the impression from the world that they are unclean and sources of contagion. This summer I encountered many masked children out in the wilderness (in 100° heat) with unmasked parents. I get the supposed logic; so do they: it’s that they are the problem and are putting everyone at risk.

I’m sure the teachers aren’t handling super well the mental strain of relating to many young people whose faces are covered, not to mention the staffing shortages that are making everyone testy. You don’t think children sense the general anxiety?

Even in the best of circumstances, and especially when we are talking about boys, the schoolchild has spent all day away from home, holding it together internally. He has to cope with people he doesn’t necessarily mesh with and lots of noise and other stimuli. Even the smells are a challenge.

In his mind, home is the refuge where his inner sense of having been tested continually, which he could never put into words, is understood. At home he feels can totally relax and not have to be on alert for crazy, seemingly random adult standards. At home things smell right and there is peace.

Some of that conflict is necessary; our responsibility is to help the child gradually let go of the idea that he can go on totally abandoning himself to his animal nature or the infant nature that we all subconsciously long for — to have our every need taken care of without having to do anything, like a little baby.

But an essential part of what the child feels is true; we should respect his trust and not make arrival at home the time to rectify all the problems. At re-entry, the child should find a mother who is understanding and sympathetic at a basic level, a mother with a little pity for her child along with her plans for his betterment. So she should make home welcoming, nice smelling, and orderly. And she herself should be the welcome.

Trust me when I tell you that I was not the best at this. I often put my adult anxieties on my children and neglected to make that effort to see things from their point of view. I hope that you can learn from my immaturity. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m impatient when I’ve not been doing my own duty, am truly overcommitted, or am not realizing that everyone makes mistakes and I could show them the grace I’d like for myself.

So the key learning here is that when he comes home, you really need to greet him with a smile and a hug. Smile at him before he smiles at you. Really write this down on your to-do list: Smile at him when he comes in or gets in the car. Hug him. Every single day. When your 5- or 8- or 11-year-old becomes an adolescent you probably will need to pull back a little, so get the hugs in now.

Say his name with love and a nice little exclamation point. You know, everyone loves hearing his own name said with affection! Don’t just emit a weak “hi,” moving on to demands. Say, “Tommy! Hi!” Hide every feeling of irritation and exasperation for at least let’s say a quarter of an hour, no matter how grouchy and positively disheveled he may appear, so that his first encounter with you is one that ratifies the inner happiness he feels at coming home.

Remember, a lot of what you are seeing is attitude because children often put on an especially pitiful demeanor for their mothers. Don’t react to attitude but meet it with genuine cheerfulness and even a sense of humor if you can muster it. Ruffle his hair. After decompression, address any issues and give any orders calmly and in a pleasant tone of voice.

In order to achieve or even have a slim chance at approximating this peaceful situation, front-end your housework. Yes, children need to do chores at home, but make sure your chores are done so that they aren’t working in disorder, and give them a chance to switch gears. After all, it’s hardly fair to ask a mere child to be more in control of life than you are yourself!

Supper needs to be thought through/defrosted/prepped by 10 am so that at 4:30 pm you aren’t losing your cool because your offspring are so incapable of planning ahead. So yes, this means spending your morning preparing for your evening.

Give your arriving child a chance to wash up without hurrying him. If he’s been wearing a mask (I hope not!), make sure he washes his face. After he has changed his clothes, offer a snack (it can be very simple — bread and butter with a glass of milk is nice, as are graham crackers with cream cheese — no need to Pinterest it up). Let him flop a bit.

Cultivate this important skill: don’t demand responses from him right way. Don’t ask him how his day was! “How was your day?” is one of the most taxing questions for anyone to answer at the best of times; it’s particularly difficult for a person who has been drained of all survival energy units in every way.

In a bit, if he hasn’t contentedly run outside to frolic, you can say something like, “Did you talk to anyone interesting today?” Or, “Did you have time to play with your friends?” Try to remember what was said yesterday and ask a follow-up on the specifics. Or if you keep a wise silence, you might find that he opens up unexpectedly, and tells you things about his day that you were unaware of.

Mainly I want to say, don’t waste time lamenting the past and your various failures. I am sure you did better than you think, because it is human nature to regret what went before, and also, God wants us to be humble.

Just begin again now. It’s never too late to try to be understanding, to have insight into what those we love are possibly struggling with, and to express a little more affection, even as you strive to instill good habits of obedience and discipline in the troops at home.

Lots of love and a big hug!

bits & pieces

  • Speaking of podcasts at the Center, I forgot to share with you the one that he did with moi! If you want to hear the two of us talking about my book, newly printed in its 2nd edition, of God Has No Grandchildren, here you go:
  • You can find all the podcasts on the site, and other cultural nuggets, here.
  • The Milgram Experiment. Worth reading; shocking. That reminds me of an article I have posted not too long ago, but is also worth revisiting: Stella Morabito’s 2015 essay, How to Escape Mass Delusion. Spoiler: avoiding it all comes back to personal relationships and being willing to say what you really think to your friends.

from the archives

  • A friend who lives in another part of the country told me she chanced to meet someone in another town over from her, who mentioned the blog — and thus they discovered a mutual interest. We like to think that we can be a meeting point and jumping off platform for your St. Gregory Pocket (whatever you want to call it! But St. Gregory is a good patron for this enterprise). Get together to discuss a post, stay together to build a community for your children.

liturgical living

St. Finbarr. Upcoming: Michaelmas (and all the archangels’ feasts!), September 29! Roast a goose if you have one, and perhaps make a honey cake!

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We share pretty pictures: Auntie Leila’s Instagram, Rosie’s InstagramSukie’s InstagramDeirdre’s Instagram. Bridget’s Instagram.

Auntie Leila’s Twitter.

Auntie Leila’s Facebook (you can just follow)

Auntie Leila’s Pinterest.

The boards of the others: Rosie’s Pinterest. Sukie’s Pinterest. Deirdre’s Pinterest. Habou’s Pinterest (you can still get a lot of inspiration here! and say a prayer for her!). Bridget’s Pinterest.

The post Our kids are stressed out appeared first on Like Mother Like Daughter.

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2 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
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Fake science Part II: Bots that are not

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An academic conspiracy theory that went mainstream

Since 2016 automated Twitter accounts have been blamed for Donald Trump and Brexit (many times), Brazilian politics, Venezuelan politics, skepticism of climatology, cannabis misinformation, anti-immigration sentiment, vaping, and, inevitably, distrust of COVID vaccines. News articles about bots are backed by a surprisingly large amount of academic research. Google Scholar alone indexes nearly 10,000 papers on the topic. Some of these papers received widespread coverage:

Unfortunately there’s a problem with this narrative: it is itself misinformation. Bizarrely and ironically, universities are propagating an untrue conspiracy theory while simultaneously claiming to be defending the world from the very same.

The visualization above comes from “The Rise and Fall of Social Bot Research” (also available in talk form). It was quietly uploaded to a preprint server in March by Gallwitz and Kreil, two German investigators, and has received little attention since. Yet their work completely destroys the academic field of bot research to such an extreme extent that it’s possible there are no true scientific papers on the topic at all.

The authors identify a simple problem that crops up in every study they looked at. Unable to directly detect bots because they don’t work for Twitter, academics come up with proxy signals that are asserted to imply automation but which actually don’t. For example, Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project — responsible for the first paper in the diagram above — defined a bot as any account that tweets more than 50 times per day. That’s a lot of tweeting but easily achieved by heavy users, like the famous journalist Glenn Greenwald, the slightly less famous member of German Parliament Johannes Kahrs — who has in the past managed to rack up an astounding 300 tweets per day — or indeed Donald Trump, who exceeded this threshold on six different days during 2020. Bot papers typically don’t provide examples of the bot accounts they claimed to identify, but in this case four were presented. Of those, three were trivially identifiable as (legitimate) bots because they actually said they were bots in their account metadata, and one was an apparently human account claimed to be a bot with no evidence. On this basis the authors generated 27 news stories and 323 citations, although the paper was never peer reviewed.

In 2017 I investigated the Berkley/Swansea paper and found that it was doing something very similar, but using an even laxer definition. Any account that regularly tweeted more than five times after midnight from a smartphone was classed as a bot. Obviously, this is not a valid way to detect automation. Despite being built on nonsensical premises, invalid modelling, mis-characterisations of its own data and once again not being peer reviewed, the authors were able to successfully influence the British Parliament. Damian Collins, the Tory MP who chaired the DCMS Select Committee at the time, said: “This is the most significant evidence yet of interference by Russian-backed social media accounts around the Brexit referendum. The content published and promoted by these accounts is clearly designed to increase tensions throughout the country and undermine our democratic process. I fear that this may well be just the tip of the iceberg.”

But since 2019 the vast majority of papers about social bots rely on a machine learning model called ‘Botometer’. The Botometer is available online and claims to measure the probability of any Twitter account being a bot. Created by a pair of academics in the USA, it has been cited nearly 700 times and generates a continual stream of news stories. The model is frequently described as a “state of the art bot detection method” with “95% accuracy”.

That claim is false. The Botometer’s false positive rate is so high it is practically a random number generator. A simple demonstration of the problem was the distribution of scores given to verified members of U.S. Congress:

In experiments run by Gallwitz & Kreil, nearly half of Congress were classified as more likely to be bots than human, along with 12% of Nobel Prize laureates, 17% of Reuters journalists, 21.9% of the staff members of U.N. Women and — inevitably — U.S. President Joe Biden.

But detecting the false positive problem did not require compiling lists of verified humans. One study that claimed to identify around 190,000 bots included the following accounts in its set:

Taken from a dataset shared by Dunn et al.

The developers of the Botometer know it doesn’t work. After the embarrassing U.S. Congress data was published, an appropriate response would have been retraction of their paper. But that would have implied that all the papers that relied upon it should also be retracted. Instead they hard-coded the model to know that Congress are human and then went on the attack, describing their critics as “academic trolls”:

Root cause analysis

This story is a specific instance of a general problem that crops up frequently in bad science. Academics decide a question is important and needs to be investigated, but they don’t have sufficiently good data to draw accurate conclusions. Because there are no incentives to recognize that and abandon the line of inquiry, they proceed regardless and make claims that end up being drastically wrong. Anyone from outside the field who points out what’s happening is simply ignored, or attacked as “not an expert” and thus inherently illegitimate.

Although no actual expertise is required to spot the problems in this case, I can nonetheless criticize their work with confidence because I actually am an expert in fighting bots. As a senior software engineer at Google I initiated and designed one of their most successful bot detection platforms. Today it checks over a million actions per second for malicious automation across the Google network. A version of it was eventually made available to all websites for free as part of the ReCAPTCHA system, providing an alternative to the distorted word puzzles you may remember from the earlier days of the internet. Those often frustrating puzzles were slowly replaced in recent years by simply clicking a box that says “I’m not a bot”. The latest versions go even further and can detect bots whilst remaining entirely invisible.

Exactly how this platform works is a Google trade secret, but when spammers discuss ideas for beating it they are well aware that it doesn’t use the sort of techniques academics do. Despite the frequent claim that Botometer is “state of the art”, in reality it is primitive. Genuinely state-of-the-art bot detectors use a correct definition of bot based on how actions are being performed. Spammers are forced to execute polymorphic encrypted programs that detect signs of automation at the protocol and API level. It’s a battle between programmers, and how it works wouldn’t be easily explainable to social scientists.

Spam fighters at Twitter have an equally low opinion of this research. They noted in 2020 that tools like Botometer use “an extremely limited approach” and “do not account for common Twitter use cases”. “Binary judgments of who’s a “bot or not” have real potential to poison our public discourse — particularly when they are pushed out through the media …. the narrative on what’s actually going on is increasingly behind the curve.”

Many fields cannot benefit from academic research because academics cannot obtain sufficiently good data with which to draw conclusions. Unfortunately, they sometimes have difficulty accepting that. When I ended my 2017 investigation of the Berkeley/Swansea paper by observing that social scientists can’t usefully contribute to fighting bots, an academic posted a comment calling it “a Trumpian statement” and argued that tech firms should release everyone’s private account data to academics, due to their capacity for “more altruistic” insights. Yet their self-proclaimed insights are usually far from altruistic. The ugly truth is that social bot research is primarily a work of ideological propaganda. Many bot papers use the supposed prevalence of non-existent bots to argue for censorship and control of the internet. Too many people disagree with common academic beliefs. If only social media were edited by the most altruistic and insightful members of society, they reason, nobody would ever disagree with them again.

Fake science Part II: Bots that are not was originally published in Mike’s blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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3 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
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Whither Tartaria?

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Imagine a postapocalyptic world. Beside the ruined buildings of our own civilization - St. Peter’s Basilica, the Taj Mahal, those really great Art Deco skyscrapers - dwell savages in mud huts. The savages see the buildings every day, but they never compose legends about how they were built by the gods in a lost golden age. No, they say they themselves could totally build things just as good or better. They just choose to build mud huts instead, because they’re more stylish.

This is the setup for my all-time favorite conspiracy theory, Tartaria. Its true believers say we are those savages. We live in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, Art Deco skyscrapers, etc. But our buildings look like this:

The headquarters of Google, one of the richest corporations in the world. A third-rate 1500s merchant would be ashamed to live anywhere as bare.

So (continues the conspiracy) probably we suffered some kind of apocalypse a hundred-ish years ago. Our elites are keeping it quiet, and have altered the records, but they haven’t been able to destroy all the buildings of the lost world. Their cover story is that technology and wealth level haven’t regressed or anything, those kinds of buildings have just “gone out of style”.

People say that conspiracy theories are sometimes sublimated expressions of critiques of our society. No mystery what this one is criticizing. Some people don’t like modern architecture. How many? I sometimes see claims like “nobody really likes it”, and certainly it feels intuitively incontrovertible to me that the older stuff is more beautiful. But I know some people who claim to genuinely like the modern style. Are the modern-is-obviously-worse folks just over-updating on their own preferences?

The best source I can find for this is a National Civic Art Society survey, which finds Americans prefer traditional/classical buildings to modern ones by about 70% to 30% (regardless of political affiliation!). In a poll of America’s favorite architecture, 76% of buildings selected were traditional/classical (establishment architects said the poll was invalid, because you can’t judge buildings by pictures). A study of courthouse architecture determined that “[our] findings agree with consistent findings that architects misjudge public likely public impressions of a design, and that most non-architects dislike “modern” design and have done so for almost a century.”

Yet 92% of new federal government buildings are modern. So I think there’s a genuine mystery to be explained here: if people prefer traditional architecture by a large margin, how come we’ve stopped producing it?

While changes in building materials, cost-cutting, etc might have a role, I think it would be myopic to focus too hard on architecture-specific explanations. The shift from Tartarian to modern aesthetics is consistent across art forms:

I have tried to be as fair as possible here. The first pair is the formal dress of the highest-status person in China in each time period. The second is an architecturally-celebrated building from Milan in each period (the university won the World Building Of The Year award for the the year it was constructed). The third pair is the receiving room of the mansion of a rich person from each period. For the last pair, I used a famous old public sculpture, and searched for the most-celebrated public sculpture from San Francisco, the nearest big city to where I live.

Older art tends to have bright colors, ornate details, realistic representations, technical skill, and be instantly visually appealing to the average person. Newer art tends to be more abstract, require less obvious skill, and have less direct appeal. Although it doesn't fit in meme format, I would carry the analogy to poetry (cf. The Fairie Queene vs. William Carlos Williams) and certain pieces of high status music (cf. Mozart vs. Philip Glass). Obviously these are broad generalizations vulnerable to cherry-picking; I'm mostly relying on your common sense here.

There is a lot of writing about "the modernist turn" and the origins of modern art, but I haven't been able to find anything that links all these artistic fields and tries to explain what happened in general. I am sure you will link me to great resources about this in the comments. Until then, some speculative responses that one might give the Tartarians:

The Modernist Turn As A Change From Flaunting Wealth To Hiding It

Paul Fussell says that pre-Great Depression mansions were beautiful giant houses in the center of town, where everyone could see them and marvel at how rich the owner was. During the Depression, it became awkward to flaunt wealth while everyone else was starving, and the super-rich switched to a strategy of having mansions in the countryside behind lots of hedges and trees where nobody could see them. I remember somebody (not a historian) claiming that the French Revolution had a similar effect on European nobility - it stopped being quite as cool to rub how rich you were in peasants' faces, and going to court in silks and gold jewelery became less fashionable. The closer you get to the present, the more rich people start to feel like their position is precarious, and other people might resent them - and to act accordingly.

On the other hand, they still want to show off their wealth. So they do it in a plausibly deniable way. They wear a really nice tailored suit or buy an abstract painting that seems completely black until you look closer and see it's a famous piece of modern art worth millions of dollars. This gets the message across, but it's not quite the same kind of "f$@k you poor people" as wearing a suit made of gold thread or building a palace with marble statues of griffins in front of every door. If a poor person were to try to complain about how ostentatious and disrespectful you were by having a painting that mostly just looks black, it would fall flat.

I'm a little skeptical of this explanation because I'm not sure that this is actually fooling anyone. In some ways, it's even more disrespectful to spend millions of dollars on something most people don't even consider pretty. People don't really complain when some billionaire buys a Rembrandt, but they did roll their eyes when someone paid $69 million for an NFT.

…Or As Elites Getting More Out Of Touch Than Ever

A lot of people really angry about modern art say the opposite: that in the past elites made at least some effort to cater to the tastes of common people. But due to declining social technology, now elites prefer to signal allegiance to the elite class, and they do that by making buildings which please elite tastemakers and no one else.

It’s still kind of mysterious why not-generally-popular aesthetics would please elite tastemakers, though. Maybe elites are specifically trying to signal not being commoners, by choosing the opposite of commoners’ aesthetic preferences?

This sounds a little conspiratorial for an explanation we originally came up with to counter a conspiracy theory, but I can’t rule it out. It might be helpful to go through a list of countries, see which have more modern vs. traditional architecture, and correlate that with their system of government and level of inequality. My impression is that the more democratic and developed a country, the more modern its architecture, which would require a lot of additional explanation.

…As A Change From Catholic To Protestant Aesthetics

Catholicism traditionally goes heavy on the ornateness, Protestantism heavy on the plainness. Something to do with a Protestant rejection of wealth as too linked to the powers of this world, and trying to get back to the poverty and humility of the original Church. If Protestant aesthetics "won" in a way that affected even people who weren't thinking in religious terms, that could explain some of the shift.

But the timeline and, uh, spaceline don't really work. The ornate room from Cardiff Castle is from 1880s Britain (albeit deliberately referencing older styles), and modern Milan is hardly Protestant. I think this might have been one of the threads that fed into this change, but it needs further explanation why it stuck around and spread so far beyond people who cared about religious matters.

…Or As New Timeless Aesthetic Truths

One possibility is that, even though normal people prefer traditional architecture, modern architecture is actually better, and good architects know this.

This is not really the way I think of aesthetics, but I guess it’s possible.

A weaker version of this might be the difference between a very sugary soda and a fine wine. Most ordinary people would prefer the sugary soda, but the fine wine has some kind of artistic value. Right? I don’t know, people always tell me this, but I’ve never been able to enjoy it.

This raises the question of what architecture/art/etc are for. Should eg the government, as a representative of the people, build buildings that people will like? Or should it build buildings with objective artistic value? Maybe in the hopes that this will cause people to appreciate the value, even though this hasn’t worked for the past hundred years? I think you would have a really hard case arguing for the last one, but it’s possible in theory.

You could also frame this as architects deliberately choosing some value other than beauty. Maybe beautiful buildings make everyone feel very proud of their country and connected to their past, but after World War II we realized that nationalism and romanticization-of-history are scary things, and now we’re trying to discourage them. Maybe our civilization is still on probation after a multi-decade-long mass murder spree and we need buildings that carefully avoid inflaming our emotions.

…As A Result Of Increased Cost Of Labor

I’ve added this in because people keep bringing it up in the comments, but I don’t think it works. Sure, it might explain architecture. But I don’t think it explains trends in modern clothing, art, poetry, or sculpture, all of which have also shifted towards decreased ornamentation, symbolism, and realism.

I predict you could buy clothing that looks like this for less than the cost of a nice suit, but nobody does. Is this connected to nobody making buildings that look like the Taj Mahal anymore?

…As A Result Of The Split Between Art And Mass Culture

Modern poems don't sound very much like the Odyssey. But modern superhero movies do sound a little bit like the Odyssey. Modern poetry doesn't have a lot of rhyme or rhythm. But modern pop music does have lots of rhyme and rhythm. Modern gallery art doesn't have colorful ornate realistic-looking scenes. But modern computer games and animation have lots of those scenes.

Older generations didn't have superhero movies, pop music, or animated features. Mostly they were missing the technology, but the genres themselves have also evolved. Maybe the existence of pop music makes people less likely to write poems that are "close to" pop music in some kind of artistic space. If you were going to write this today, why wouldn't you meet up with a garage band somewhere and put it to music?

Or maybe: since pop music is low status, if you want to write high status poetry, you need to make it as unlike pop music as possible, so people don't accuse your poem of sounding pop-music-y. Or maybe: pop music fulfills what people want out of some poetry much better than the poetry itself does, so if you want an audience, you need to write poetry that fulfills some other kind of need.

Maybe all the people who were looking for easy-to-enjoy things left poetry, gallery art, etc for easier-to-enjoy pursuits like superhero movies, computer games, and pop music, and so poetry and high art were left with disproportionately the sorts of people who were looking for more intellectual pursuits (or who wanted to pretend/signal that they were).

I'm a little skeptical of this one too - what replaced architecture? Or fashion? Also, I still very much want poems that rhyme and I don't feel like pop music is a perfect substitute for them.

…As A Change From Signaling Wealth To Signaling Taste

One use of art is signaling wealth. Pharaohs, nobles, and billionaires would patronize artists, funding the creation of masterpieces that sent the message "look how great I am". This only works if making beautiful things is expensive. For example, the clothing of the Kanxi Emperor (first picture on left) required servants to create the intricate patterns, dyes that had to be harvested from finicky insects and rare plants, etc. Displaying your ornate dyed objects let everyone know you were rich. With the invention of sewing machines, industrial dyes, rhinestones, etc, even poor people could dress like the Kangxi Emperor. With the invention of photography and printing, everyone could have realistic pictures of whatever they wanted. Actual rich people needed better ways to distinguish themselves.

One attractive option is to switch from signaling wealth to signaling taste. Rich people are more likely to know other rich people and be plugged into rich people social networks (and if they're not, they can always hire people who are). To signal taste, you need art where the difference between good art and bad art is very hard to discern (if anyone could discern it, then ability-to-discern wouldn't signal having more taste than average). You want some kind of complicated code that makes sense to tasteful people, feels impenetrable to tasteless people, and (if possible) changes every so often so that tasteless people can't just memorize it.

I don't have taste, so I'm agnostic as to the virtues of the particular code that people ended up with. Maybe it involves real but hard-to-explain aesthetic truths, such that far-off civilizations who have no contact with us would independently converge on the same art being better or worse. Maybe it's arbitrary but self-consistent, the same way lots of features of English grammar (saying "was" instead of "be-ed") are arbitrary but self-consistent and it's reasonable to think of that as "good English" and various deviations as "grammatical errors". Or maybe it's all totally made up, and elite tastemakers randomly declare stuff that seems cool to them to be the new big thing, almost as a taunt ("look how socially powerful I am, such that I can make people fall in line and call any old garbage Art, even this stuff"). Cf. the Ern Malley Hoax. Probably all three of these are true in different subfields at different times.

A friend, more in touch with the pulse of rich-people-society than I am, objects that billionaires still like buying paintings by Old Masters. But I don't think that contradicts this. Being able to buy a Rembrandt still signals wealth fine: Rembrandts are in limited supply and everyone knows they're expensive. But a modern painter with Rembrandt's skillset wouldn't be able to make it big - their talents are no longer in short supply.

Why Does This Matter?

Partly because art is nice and we should want more beautiful things or at least try to understand where our beautiful things come from.

Partly because exploring these questions can shed light on broader questions of class, signaling, and how intellectual/cultural/economic elites relate to their social inferiors. It seems like premodern artistic elites and commoners were on the same page. Then something happened to put them on different pages. Why? How does that relate to the formation of classes in general? Is society better off if elites successfully win the support of commoners by patronizing art that they like, or win their respect by surrounding themselves in awe-inspiring trappings of wealth? Or is it better off if commoners are skeptical of elites, because they think elites' tastes are stupid and they waste money on ugly things?

And partly because modern art and architecture are examples of fields talking to themselves. In a way, this is good - they've successfully implemented a technocracy where the best and brightest are able to pursue their own visions rather than pander to the masses. In another way, it's confusing - public art, architecture, etc is supposed to make people feel happy about living in a beautiful place, but most of the people who are supposed to benefit from it don't appreciate it.

Every field is shaped by some combination of ground truth - the thing they're supposed to be studying - and incentives. Economic theories in capitalist and socialist countries will share some characteristics - there is a real world with real economic laws that are hard to miss - but they'll also take different paths depending on what the surrounding society celebrates vs. condemns.

And the incentives depend on who they're trying to impress. Sometimes fields are trying to impress the public - Justin Smith writes about so-called "Spiderman Studies" classes where college humanities departments try to look hip and in-touch to attract more students. Other times fields are definitely not trying to do this - you get status by appealing to other experts in your own guild. Doctor Oz might be the most famous and publicly-beloved doctor, but he has zero credibility in the medical field. I may have a popular blog where I write about psychiatry (and I try not to lapse into Doctor Oz style charlatanry) but the blog doesn't raise my status in the medical hierarchy at all, and might actively hinder it. Best-case scenario, you want a field that talks to itself enough that you get status for impressing other experts with your expertise, not for impressing the public with demagoguery.

But if you talk to yourself too much, you risk becoming completely self-referential, falling into loops of weird internal status-signaling. Science has a safety valve here - they've got to at least contact the real world enough to do experiments. But humanities fields (or social sciences where experimentation is hard and wrapped in layers of interpretation) don't have that defense. If their signaling incentives lean too far one way, they surrender to the public so cravenly that it's pointless for them to have expertise at all. If they lean too far the other way, they become actively contemptuous of the public, ignore all criticism, and the whole edifice risks becoming vulnerable to any Sokal-style attack that uses the right buzzwords.

Art is interesting because in some ways it's less "about something" than other fields are. Maybe there are real timeless aesthetic truths, but they're a lot harder to detect than the timeless truths of math or science, and you can do art history pretty well without worrying about them at all. That makes it an unusually clear laboratory for examining the status incentives within fields. Sometimes the definition of "good art" changes. It probably wasn't the discovery of a new timeless aesthetic truth, so what was it?

The turn is an especially vivid example of a shift in the art world. If we understood what factors shaped it, maybe we would learn more about the factors shaping other fields with clearer targets.

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4 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
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3 days ago
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Righteous versus Wicked (Israel v. Sweden) in the COVID Olympics

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“Why Does No One Ever Talk About Sweden Anymore?” (substack, 9/16/2021) has some interesting charts, all adjusted for population size. The virtuous and vaccinated Israelis are being mowed down by the coronavirus that they tried so desperately to hide from while the virus that raged among the never-locked-down, never-masked party-on Swedes is not a major cause of mortality:

What if we look at “cases” from our friendly neighborhood PCR machines?

Another interesting chart, comparing masked-and-periodically-shut Germany and off-the-scientific-reservation never-masked never-shut Sweden:

Excerpts from the author’s commentary:

One of the most consistently repeated trends of COVID has been the premature declarations of victory from areas with a perceived level of “success” in “controlling” the pandemic.

It’s happened in countries all over the world — Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Mongolia — just to name a few examples. They all have been praised for their ability to “control” the virus with masks and public health measures, only to then see cases invariably skyrocket.

“Experts” and the media declared Sweden was the world’s cautionary tale, a dangerous outlier who shunned The New Science™ of masks and lockdowns and stuck to established public health principles and pre-pandemic planning.

… It’s not about the actual results, it’s about following The Science™. Does it matter if The Science™ leads to more deaths? A higher “cost in lives?” Of course not! It only matters that the media approves or disapproves of what you decide to do.

The media’s depiction of Sweden’s results is an excellent illustration of their desire not to inform, but to coerce. They’re not functioning as simply messengers of information but activists, thoroughly consumed by a desire to force others to conform to their opinions.

They refuse to present information that counters the endless dictatorial mandates, instead promoting unquestioning compliance. Listen to us, do what you’re told and wear a mask, or it’s your fault if you get COVID and die. Listen to us and do what you’re told, or you’ll be labeled an “anti” and shunned from the acceptable society that “journalism” polices.

There will never be a reckoning or acceptance of fault on the part of the media, because they are incapable of correcting their preconceptions and admitting that The Science™ was wrong. They placed their unquestioning faith in experts having a level of competence that they simply do not possess.

The last point was made in the spring of 2020 by a medical school professor friend. He thought that the confident physicians and public health “scientists” going on TV and being quoted by the media were going to permanently damage the reputations of doctors and academics. My friend wasn’t sure what would happen with COVID-19, but he was 100 percent sure that the media-favorite and government-favorite figureheads for #Science were simply guessing (since the virus was new, general public mask orders were new, and lockdowns were new).

A recent example of confident explanation, “Oregon’s Covid-19 Wave Is at Its Worst Despite High Vaccination Rate” (WSJ, 9/3/2021):

Oregon has the 12th highest vaccination rate in the U.S., with 58% of all residents fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by the Mayo Clinic—but the intensive care units in Asante’s three hospitals are overflowing with Covid-19 patients. They can’t transfer elsewhere in the state because most Oregon hospitals are in a similar situation.

Health authorities in Oregon say the current Covid-19 wave—during which infection and hospitalization rates have hit new highs—is the result of uneven vaccination rates between urban and more-rural areas.

In Multnomah County, home to Portland, 67% of residents are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, in Jackson County, home to Medford, 51% of residents are fully vaccinated, and in the adjoining counties of Josephine and Douglas the rates are 46% and 43%, respectively.

In response, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered some of the strictest statewide restrictions currently in effect in the U.S. Residents must wear masks in most public settings, indoors or outdoors, and vaccines are mandatory for healthcare workers and teachers. The National Guard has been deployed to hospitals statewide. The state is hiring nurses and other medical professionals and sending them to hard hit areas like southern Oregon.

(The last point is consistent with what our Medical School 2020 author told me recently. The hospital where he is training is short-staffed because nurses can quit and make $100,000 in three months as “travelers”. The hospital is packed with COVID-19 patients currently, most of whom would likely do just as well at home with an oxygen bottle.)

Why is Oregon having a surge right now? It could simply be because the coronavirus didn’t thrive in the state before, leaving Oregon near the lowest on a list of states ranked by COVID-19 death rate and therefore there is less natural immunity in the population (for the same reason, no matter how boneheaded the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Maskachusetts are, there aren’t too many more people left in those states who can be killed by COVID-19). Why are these rural counties in Oregon suffering more than the righteous urban dwellers? It could be due to the difference in vaccination rate, as the state health experts confidently say, but it could also be because folks in the city were more likely to have been previously exposed. Apparently, it is difficult for reporters to find a “scientist” willing to say “I don’t know why.”

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8 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
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Sleeper Agent

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15 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
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Toddler life

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You have a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a little baby, eh? Or something like that? I have a little pep talk for you if you feel conflicted about needing to do some work in your home but not wanting to be a mean mom who doesn’t play with her kids. You’re getting exhausted and life might not feel like it’s fun right now, because you feel guilty.

You are entering a new stage. You really have to run your home — who will do it if you don’t?

Your children need to learn to play without you. Being efficient in your housework and seeing it as your work is a positive good and you should not feel guilty about it.

In a well ordered home, children fit into family life and its workings — this is good for them. It’s actually not healthy for them to feel that you are at their beck and call. Don’t absorb advice from every source; hone your observation and note a certain anxiety, a lack of peace, in families where the mother sees herself as recreation director and child-appeaser rather than house-keeper, maker of the home.

Children — love them! — are opportunistic; they never settle down if they think mom will come running and doesn’t have other things to do than to play with them. Many interpret this dynamic to mean that mother should work outside the home, but being beholden to an outside entity is not good either. You want to be available and devoted, but not to the children per se — to the home, to your husband, and to the whole enterprise, into which they must fit — for their own good.

You can navigate this stage you with littles if it’s got you off kilter by treating it as a bit of a challenge, like a difficult course where you just have to put the work in for a few weeks. Maybe you need to figure out your particular child’s play style, to do what you can to facilitate it.

Believe me, it’s a joy when children can play on their own without your involvement. But some have to learn to do it. Some children really do need to be shown how to play with their little dolls or trucks or play kitchen, some need to discover outside play without someone hovering, some can’t figure out how to settle down to drawing, and so on. This process can involve a little pain, a little crying, a bit of sitting there moping and scowling — and the kids will find it tough too… Just kidding. Stay cheerful and offer the occasional outright bribe. Soon you will win through.

At this age, they won’t really spend much time on any one activity — hang in there, because soon enough they will be old enough to have a concentration level (and the younger ones will get the hang of it from the older ones as your family grows). Keep working on it. This time is a process and it’s a bit rough — it’s the same sort of developmental stage as the postpartum time. Remember that? Remember how impossible it sometimes seemed?

It may take weeks to discover your new rhythm and how to achieve it, but you are the one to do it, to show them how to play together without your constant presence.

The key is to have your day divided into different blocks so that they build habits of turning from one activity to another without a crisis.

Of course, several times a day you collect them to read them a story – nursing the baby is the perfect time — or have them sit with you in the kitchen while you work on a meal. You need a rest too, and cuddles with undivided attention come naturally at those pauses. When your work is orderly, there will actually be more (guilt-free) time for individual attention, not less!

When you are tidying up, you can give them a task or two and you might find that they prefer to play — the wise mother will let these young children do so, to reinforce that very habit. Don’t undermine this project of independent play by suddenly requiring dogged (and unrealistic) obedience in the matter of chores. One thing at a time.

Meet other moms at the playground and indicate to them that you are interested in visiting with them while the children run and play — avoid spending a lot of time at the swings! Say “I’ll give you some pushes but then you will need to go off with your friends and I’m going to visit with my friends too! Off you go.”

To avoid worrying about being the mean mom, remember — act, don’t react. When you are about to enter the store or library, stop and give these troublemakers a little pep talk about what you expect. Know that the four-year-old is the lynchpin, for whatever he does, the two-year-old will imitate.

Focus on letting him know that if he misbehaves you will leave the store and go straight home, where he will get a spanking. “You’re my big boy (or girl) and I depend on you for good behavior.”

Tell them that if they shop with you nicely you will get them a treat — tell them what the treat is beforehand and warn them that if they ask for other things they will get nothing. The treat can be animal crackers — nothing fancy! You can indeed open it in the store (the cookie aisle is usually halfway through) and let them start munching. No one cares — actually, they are relieved that your kids are not whining.

Carrot and stick, but all laid out beforehand. “If you ask me for things you will get a spanking when we get home.” Be firm and clear about your expectations. Then sail into the store with great confidence. Don’t forget to enjoy your children.

Plan your trip so that it’s as short as it can be. Build them up to good behavior on outings. Don’t expect to go through the store in that wandering way we sometimes have, spending an hour examining everything. Better to go twice with a detailed list, spending 22 minutes each time, than once, spending an hour but with wailing kids. You’re building habits and you want them to succeed, so make it possible for them to succeed! Don’t push your luck! In and out. “We’re going through this line and then when we get to the car I’ll give you your raisin box. Look at that bunch of balloons! Aren’t they colorful?”

These strategies work for home time as well, when you approach each part of your day as “an outing” that requires a little preparation and forethought. That’s why I have spent so much time here at Like Mother, Like Daughter on meal planning, because when we ourselves are sort of meandering through the day without a plan, astonished at 5 pm that dinner is looming, how can we expect our toddlers to maintain a good attitude?

“Now I have to go into the kitchen and do some work for supper; why don’t you get the duplo out and build a farm?” “I’m putting baby on this blanket so she can look around. You two get your baby dolls and feed them lunch, or line up your trucks over here and have a convoy.” “In a minute I’m going to do the laundry; you two can run outside — here are some pretzel rods to take with you.” (I am a big fan of pretzel rods. They are sturdy and they take a while to eat.)

If you do your meal prep at 10 am (or at least know what you are having and begin thawing/braising/soaking) you will find that things are a lot smoother than if you do it at 4:45… If at 3:30 you sit them down with a little snack for “tea time” things will be calmer than if you suddenly realize all you have to do before supper and they are starving because you also spaced out on a snack. Front-end your own work and leave the afternoons for a more relaxed vibe.

This stage won’t last long and all your efforts will pay off! If these two older ones learn good habits, your work is done. All the others will fall into line, or at least, their training needs will diminish accordingly! By your sixth child, you won’t even remember that toddler days are hard.

By the way, there might be some big-picture elements to attend to for smoother days. How about a fence around your yard (even the part of it that is just outside the back door)? A big sandbox is a great investment. Put unused toys on a high shelf or back in a closet. Pull them out when they have exhausted their play with the others. (This strategy can also help you remove toy clutter permanently — it becomes all very clear which ones are simply not missed.)

See how it goes. Give these thoughts a week of intensive implementation. Plan each day out before you get to it; visualize all the steps you need to line up for each activity. Get ahead of your children. Carve out times for them to play all on their own.

Do your own work without guilt. It’s good for them to discover each other and their own independence!

You’re a good mom!

bits & pieces

  • Planned Parenthood has found a new societal ill to monetize: hormones for gender “transitioning”. “Hormone therapy has become popular as a means of artificially suppressing the sex characteristics of those who feel misaligned with their biological sex.”
  • It should be obvious that a person cannot change his sex, but sadly, the protocols to administer dangerous medicines are in place in the US. Read about Kiera Bell’s case in the UK.

from the archives

  • A long, meandering post (am I the worst blogger or what) that finally gets to the point about whether spanking is good discipline (well, that part is linked within, but meanwhile I explain why withholding affection is actually cruel).

liturgical living

Sts. Protus and Hyacinth

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The post Toddler life appeared first on Like Mother Like Daughter.

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16 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
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