August 30th, 2016

Tolstoy on Communism—and a lot of other things

Leo Tolstoy lived from 1828 to 1910, and was probably just as famous for his political and religious/social beliefs as he was for his writing (maybe even more so). Tolstoy was a Titan of energy and creativity who later in life attracted many followers and hangers-on eager to surf the wave of the Great Man.

He also gave his wife quite a roller coaster ride, particularly in later life when he became a fanatic of self-denial but still was part of the landed nobility with a large estate and many dependents, a situation over which he and his wife struggled for decades. You can read about the Tolstoys’ astoundingly complex (and literary; both kept voluminous diaries) marriage—one that produced fourteen children, several novels, and lots of angst—here, here, and here.

Tolstoi began early adulthood as a pleasure-seeking aristocrat, fond of gambling and licentiousness, but still (in his very Russian way) mulling over those deeper questions of life and existence. With his marriage in his late 30s to a lovely young woman of 18, he embarked on a passage through husband- and fatherhood, and later in midlife had a serious spiritual crisis and depression from which he emerged a very changed man. From henceforth on, he considered literature that lacked a didactic spiritual massage to be garbage, and a life without self-abnegation and sacrifice and a simple faith was likewise. This is the extremely famous later-life Tolstoy whom many people revered as a near-saint, the one with whom you may be familiar from the many photos taken of him (at first I thought this one was colorized, but according to Wiki it’s the first color photo portrait ever taken in Russia):

Many people seem to think that Tolstoy was a man of the left, and some even blame him for influencing the Russian Communist Revolution. But he was not a statist; he could better have been described as an anarchist with a Christian bent (he is actually considered the founder of something called Christian anarchism). Is anarchy left or right? That’s an ancient and complex argument and I don’t want to mire myself in it right now. Suffice to say that anarchists are not statists; they want the state obliterated, and so did Tolstoy.

Tolstoy’s own anarchy seems to have been rooted in his personal crisis, which seems in turn to have been activated (at least in part) by his very strong sense of guilt. Here’s an excerpt from the book Married to Tolstoy (Sonya was the name of Tolstoy’s wife):

But how, without government, could civilization survive? wondered Sonya, who had no more hope than Turgenev of what he called “Christian Nihilism.”…Tolstoy must have known that there were appalling slums in Moscow, but because [during his crisis] for the first time he had been to look at them, he was so much shocked by social injustice that all of a sudden he couldn’t even bear to see his family enjoying their meals—the kind of meals at which he himself habitually ate far more than anyone else. And his personality was so strong that in his presence no one could be so little sensitive as to suffer from his disapproval, even if it remained unvoiced. Everyone developed a sense of guilt and became miserable. Why, indignantly asked Sonya, should innocent children suddenly be made to feel in disgrace for living in the way in which their father had himself been brought up? Did Leo assume that people who behaved normally were necessarily indifferent—that no one but himself was capable of compassion?

The ever-mercurial Tolstoy wasn’t always in such a bad mood, even during that period. But the self-denying strain in his personality become more marked as he got older, and disciples came to visit and at times to live with the family at the country estate where they spent most of their time. Tolstoy did not live to see the Revolution, although his wife (who outlived him by nine years) did. But he showed his prescience by writing in 1904 (also from the book Married to Tolstoy):

The greatest enemy to mankind is this Social Democracy [the Bolshevik Party]. It is preparing for new slavery. It teaches a future good without a present betterment. It promises golden streets without the bloody Gethesmane. It will regulate everything. It will destroy the individual. It will enslave him. It will make chaos out of cosmos, breed terrorism and confusion, which only brute force will be able to destroy.

I think you could safely say he was not a fan.

[NOTE: I put this post in the category “literary leftists,” a series of mine. I don’t think it fits, exactly, because I don’t think Tolstoy was a leftist. But I put it there anyway because as an anarchist he occupied a sort-of-leftist sort-of-rightist gray area. He was also a political changer, too, although not of the conventional sort.]

August 30th, 2016

Is there evidence for a “monster” Trump vote?

A reader kindly sent me a link to this article at American Thinker by Thomas Lifson, which gives some hope to Trump supporters that the so-called “Monster vote” for Trump may be emerging. Lifson bases his piece on this post at the admittedly and unabashedly pro-Trump Conservative Treehouse.

Lifson writes:

The principal electoral strategy of Donald Trump has been the bet that non-voters in recent elections will turn out, with some of them registering to vote for the first time. This is jokingly known as the “Monster Vote,” both because of its size and because the elites look down their noses at many of this demographic cohort. Existing models of the electorate used by most polls do not account for these hypothetical voters, which is the comfort Trump supporters offer one another in the face of unceasing negative news and media attacks.

This “Monster Vote” hope is another sign of a campaign that’s behind (in addition to the signs I’ve already described here). But just because a hope is hopeful doesn’t mean it’s not true and won’t pan out, and I suppose this one could. And the Conservative Treehouse piece indicates there is actual evidence that it might indeed be true, based on the fact that a great many of the voters in the upcoming Florida primary are people who have never before voted in a primary.

Here’s what the Treehouse has to say:

Throughout this entire year there have been indications the “Monster Vote” is very real, but you have to look carefully to see them – and, obviously, you must inoculate yourself from conformational bias…

It’s a tenuous discussion because everyone wants to belittle anyone talking about it…

Well, the left-leaning Tampa Bay Times has just dropped a big bit of data which seems to also confirm the existence of this phenomenon:

“More than 25% of the inbound mail-in or absentee ballots in the upcoming primary, have NEVER VOTED BEFORE“:…

The article goes on to say that if this holds true for other states, it’s encouraging for Trump and the Monster Vote. The information in the Treehouse piece is in turn based almost entirely on this article in the Tampa Bay Times. Here are some quotes that the Treehouse offers from the Tampa Bay article [emphasis the Treehouse’s]:

“This is huge,” said Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber and one of the foremost experts on Florida campaigns and politics. “I can envision election night when the votes are counted that certain people win that nobody thought had a chance, and that being attributed to this trend.”

As of Thursday morning, more than 855,000 primary ballots had been cast by mail. More than a quarter of those votes came from Floridians who had not voted in the last four primaries and another 20 percent from people who voted in just one of the last four primaries.

In other words, these are not “likely voters” surveyed by most pollsters or targeted by sophisticated political campaigns. The trend applies to Democrats and Republicans alike and across the state, said Johnson, who was shocked when she first spotted the trend developing weeks ago.

Well, I did something pretty novel—I read the entire Tampa Bay Times article. And I discovered quite a few things that the Treehouse had left out.

First of all, notice that these are people who haven’t voted in the last four primaries. There are plenty of people who vote in general elections who don’t ever vote in primaries; primary turnout is generally a lot lower than in the general. So this could easily be tapping into the phenomenon of people who regularly vote in regular elections but not in primaries.

And in fact, the Tampa Bay newspaper article actually states that fact, and I quote: “The vast majority of these ‘new’ primary voters are regular general election voters already, Johnson said.”

Let me repeat: the newspaper article stated that the vast majority of these new primary voters are not new voters at all, they are merely new to the primaries in Florida.

Secondly, these are both Democrats and Republicans (this is something the Treehouse piece does acknowledge). They could be every bit as motivated to vote against Trump as for him.

Thirdly, they are voting in a state primary that has little or nothing to do with the presidential election. The Florida primary involved is being held on August 30 (that’s today), and it is a state primary emphasizing state offices, as well as for nominees to the US Congress, and has nothing to do with the presidential race. This is another fact that would be easy to miss from the Treehouse piece, which indicates that the primary is a Florida primary, but doesn’t say what the primary is deciding.

Fourthly, there are several simple explanations for the upsurge in registrations of voters in the state primary in Florida. They are stated in the Tampa Bay newspaper article, and are also left out of the Treehouse piece. Here’s the quote from the newspaper:

The Republican-leaning chamber started targeting these infrequent primary voters several weeks ago…[L]ocal elections supervisors increasingly are promoting and encouraging people to vote by mail. It’s more convenient for voters, less expensive to manage than in-person early voting, and the more people who vote before election day, the less likely polling places are to be overwhelmed.The combination of Floridians automatically receiving mail ballots and the media focusing constant attention on the presidential election seems to be prompting more people to weigh in on the primary elections that usually generate far lower turnout than the general election.

It really doesn’t seem to be much of a mystery what’s going on here. The state has been targeting and encouraging voters to participate in primaries more than they have before (primaries so far have generally been very low turnout), as well as sending them ballots in the mail to facilitate the process. So it makes perfect sense that more of them are going to decide to vote in the primaries who may not have done so before. Plus, keep remembering that these are new primary voters, not new voters in terms of the general.

You can draw your own conclusions about why Treehouse left out this information. I think it’s one of two things. Either they are aware of the information and are hiding it, or it’s a form of what they themselves warned against: confirmation bias. People sometimes stop reading an article once they’ve found the evidence they think backs up their own point of view and their own hopes, and they miss the information that would go against what they want to believe.

As for Lifson, who is a writer I respect, my guess is that he was just reading the Treehouse piece and reporting on it, and didn’t read the details of the Tampa Bay article.

At any rate, as far as the Monster Vote goes, I started out by saying it could happen, and that’s still true. But it’s a construct based on hope, with little or no evidentiary foundation at this point.

August 29th, 2016

Dog reveille

Rise and shine:

August 29th, 2016

Penrose: intelligence and consciousness, artificial and otherwise

I’ve had many an argument—um, discussion—with my son on the topic of artificial intelligence. How far can it go? Could it ever include consciousness? Suffice to say we have not answered the question.

Nor have scientists, although there is no lack of theories and discussion. Most of those theories are (to coin a phrase) over my head. But since consciousness is something we all possess, it is tempting to believe we all have something worthwhile to say about it.

Along the way I came across the theories of eminent physicist Roger Penrose, who doesn’t think there will ever be a scientific way to explain consciousness or a way to create it artificially because it is some sort of quantum rather than analog process. Many many other scientists disagree:

There have been scientific attempts to explain subjective aspects of consciousness, which is related to the binding problem in neuroscience. Many eminent theorists, including Francis Crick and Roger Penrose, have worked in this field. Nevertheless, even as sophisticated accounts are given, it is unclear if such theories address the hard problem. Eliminative materialist philosopher Patricia Smith Churchland has famously remarked about Penrose’s theories that “Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules.”

That latter bit—about the microtubules, not the pixie dust—is Penrose’s description, which really doesn’t seem to explain a whole lot except to say “it’s a mystery.”

While I was reading about all of this and trying to comprehend at least some parts of it, I became interested in Penrose himself, who sounds like an interesting guy with a protean mind. How’s this for an impressive heredity (and if you click on the link to each name, you’ll find even more—what a family tree!)?:

Roger Penrose is a son of psychiatrist and mathematician Lionel Penrose and Margaret Leathes, and the grandson of the physiologist John Beresford Leathes. His uncle was artist Roland Penrose, whose son with photographer Lee Miller is Antony Penrose. Penrose is the brother of mathematician Oliver Penrose and of chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose.

It might have been interesting to be a fly on the wall and have listened to some conversations at their house while Penrose was growing up.

This is puzzling to me, though:

Penrose is an atheist. In the film A Brief History of Time, he said, “I think I would say that the universe has a purpose, it’s not somehow just there by chance … some people, I think, take the view that the universe is just there and it runs along – it’s a bit like it just sort of computes, and we happen somehow by accident to find ourselves in this thing. But I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it.”

Now, maybe there’s something I’m not understanding here (in addition to everything else I’m not understanding here), but it seems to me that someone who claims to believe that the universe has a purpose cannot also call himself as an atheist. An agnostic, perhaps, but atheist? What would that purpose be, if not something that could be described under the general category of “religion”? The religion could be something like a form of Taoism—but still, a religion nonetheless? One doesn’t have to believe in a personal, continually-interventionist-being type of deity to not be an atheist, but to believe in some form of religion.

[ADDENDUM: For those interested in the topic of how atheism or religious belief might relate to science, I highly recommend The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions.]

August 29th, 2016

News of the day, fashion of the day

Terrible presidential candidates continue to do terrible things.

Anthony Weiner has another Weiner incident, and his wife Huma says she’s finally leaving him (for now, anyway).

Everybody talks about it all.

That’s about it.

Oh, and then there’s the really important news, lead story on Yahoo home page today: this lovely fashion which appeared at the MTV Awards on some pregnant person named Laura Perlongo, who is the fiancee of some actor/producer named Nev Schulman who was the somewhat hapless focus of the movie “Catfish”:


If you are asking “who on earth is Laura Perlongo?” the answer is pretty much “Nev Schulman’s pregnant fiancee who dispensed with her shirt at the MTV Awards.” And if you’re asking “who is Nev Shulman?” the answer is pretty much “the Catfish guy whose pregnant fiancee…etc. etc..”

And if your real question is “why the **** should I care?”, my answer is that maybe you shouldn’t. And if your question is “Then why are you featuring it?” my answer is that (a) it’s better than talking about Trump and Hillary every single day; and (b) it’s another symptom of the decline in societal standards of propriety, as well as the ascent of a bizarre sort of body narcissism.

Sometimes that narcissism is combined with a focus on the nastily-named “baby bump” as a kind of trophy to display (I wrote about the phenomenon here, and also about post-preganancy baby “bumps” here).

And if you think there’s some connection between all the things in this post, you’re probably right.

[NOTE: By the way, about the grammar of that last sentence—yes, I know that “between” is used for two and “among” for more than two. But it seemed to me that after the word connection, “among” doesn’t quite work. I tried to look it up and didn’t find a definitive answer. So I went with my gut—as it were.]

August 27th, 2016

The greatest makeovers

I’m here to announce another vice. This is a new one, although it also involves an old one—YouTube video chain-watching.

Chain-watching is when you go from one video on a topic to another, sort of like eating a bagful of potato chips. Suddenly you look up from your computer and it’s 3 AM.

My latest discovery is a guy who does makeup and hair makeovers, mostly of middle-aged women, although some are older and some younger. Now, this may not sound very interesting to most of you, but it’s more interesting than it seems, truly. And it’s very interesting to me—not only because I’m a woman of a certain age, but because I’ve always loved makeovers. They’re part of my fascination with change, be it of mind or emotions or body. The first type of change, mind, explains my fascination with political change. The second, emotions, is probably what drew me to training to be a therapist. And the third involves things like these makeovers.

Even as a teenager I had a strong interest in hair and makeup. I don’t think my parents knew what to make of it in such a bookish child, although I had other strong interests as well that vied with my academic bent—dance being one of them, of course. But I was so into hair and makeup that I used to cut out photos from magazines and make a little scrapbook, the only scrapbook I can ever remember making, and in high school and then in college I had a small side business of making up my friends and cutting their hair, for special occasions.

My parents discouraged me, but I persisted. Now with YouTube, the field has greatly proliferated, and these makeover videos are part of the fruit. The ones I’ve been watching are by someone called The Makeover Guy, and every now and then I may present some of my favorites here. The thing about these videos is that the physical transformation is only a small part of it. The truly gripping aspect (to me, anyway) is the transformation in these women’s affect. You can see them come to life and bloom before your eyes. It’s not just about vanity, either. It’s about people treating them like they matter, and about them getting a sense of heretofore undreamed-of possibilities.

I also find that most of the women in the videos are really, really likeable as people. The videos have the advantage of being quite short, too (the better to chain-watch, my dear):

August 27th, 2016

Winning at Monopoly

Here’s an article that purports to tell you how to win at Monopoly. It has a lot of stuff that anyone who’s played much Monopoly already knows: orange and green properties are good, for example, and nobody lands on Boardwalk much.

How that transfers to strategy I’m not sure. It’s not like anyone shuns owning the orange properties, do they? But you can’t always get what you want, in Monopoly as well as life or Rolling Stones songs.

I used to play a great deal of Monopoly when young. A great, great deal—when we weren’t playing cards or hopscotch or jacks or engaged in jumping rope. That’s what we did—oh, and also that bouncy ball game girls play that went “A my name is…”. In those days, when the internet was hardly a gleam in anyone’s eye and even TV had just a few channels (and in the after-school afternoons they were devoted mostly to soap operas—BORing!), we played games and those were our favorites.

I used to play these games with a neighbor—we’ll call her “Sue”—who was about my age. Actually, she was five months older, as she used to tell me archly and often because it conferred some sort of superiority on her. Sue always won at Monopoly. You may think that to be hyperbole—always? Surely not always!

Yes, always. She had her own never-fail formula. I used to wonder what it was; I still don’t know. Others suggested it involved cheating. But if it did I never detected a particle of it. As far as I could tell it involved unbounded confidence in herself, a confidence that was displayed in every other aspect of her life and which I didn’t share about myself. Can the conviction that you will always win every game you play be responsible for actually winning every game? Even in a game such as Monopoly, that is mostly chance?

Dunno. I merely report: Sue always won. She later became a bigshot lawyer, and I think she usually wins there, too. We’re still friends, but we don’t play Monopoly anymore.

August 27th, 2016

Do you ever think…

…that we’ve reached the end of what there is to say about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

I realize that there’s always more, of course. Time doesn’t stand still. Things happen. Words come out of their mouths. New gaffes, new outrages, new lies, new accusations. New polls. New events in the world.

But in some essential way, although the subject of the personalities of these two people feels mined out, excavated, fully explored, the fact that these are the two choices facing America for the next four years still feels altogether new and altogether unbelievable, as well as altogether unacceptable.

Perhaps that’s the reason we continue to talk so much about it, and by “we” I mean everyone: newspapers, magazines, books, talk shows, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, all around the world. Sometimes it seems that there’s no other news to be had, although if one digs for it, the world still goes on in the same old way irrespective of the Big Two.

American presidential elections always get a lot of attention. But this year is unlike any I can ever remember before in the utter dominance of the story and the depth of perplexity, frustration, and depression most people feel.

August 26th, 2016

Today is National Dog Day

Give your pet an extra hug.

I have a friend who’s putting his dog down today, and this photo-essay touched me.

I’ve always loved dogs, although I’ve only owned two in my life. Even as a young kid who could barely toddle around on her fat little legs, I gravitated towards them fearlessly, as documented in many photos and movies where I’m chasing after a dog in order to pet it. But my parents had no such positive feeling for them and didn’t want one, so for a long time we didn’t own a dog despite my begging.

Then we won the equivalent of the dog lottery. I still remember the glorious moment: I was eight years old, my brother had been allowed to place a hopeful quarter (a whole quarter!) on a number at a fair, and we won the darned thing. That meant my astonished and subdued mother got to take home a small terrier/chihuahua cross, a dog particularly unsuitable for our already dog-unfriendly home. No one trained it properly—no one knew how, and I certainly hadn’t a clue either—and a couple of months later the dog was given away to someone with more patience and more land. I never stopped hoping for a replacement, although I finally gave up asking for one when I realized it just wasn’t going to happen.

Later—interestingly enough, when my son was also eight—my husband and I got a dog. We’d done a lot of research and came up with a non-shedding cockerpoo, a dog with a great temperament who lived for a long time but alas, is now deceased. He was a real sweetheart. I don’t have a photo of him in his prime, although many exist—my ex-husband is the keeper of the photos.

But here is one I do have. It was taken on the last day of our dog’s life, and he is being held in my then-husband’s arms on his final visit to the vet:


August 26th, 2016

How can you tell when a campaign is ahead (and more on polls and Shy Tories)?

In yesterday’s post on how to tell when a candidate’s losing, commenter “Ackler” posed an interesting question:

I agree, Neo, that yard signs and campaign crowds are of little relevance (although this year is utterly atypical and should make everyone pause). My question is: what, besides polls, do you take as a sign a campaign is winning? You’ve offered a detailed explanation as to how to tell if a campaign is losing. The reverse?

My answer: it’s the other campaign that’s winning, the one that isn’t making those excuses.

I’m not just being facetious. It really does seem to boil down to that as being the best answer. The absence of those excuses and rationalizations (for example, the “I’m not seeing many bumper stickers for the opponent” excuse, and/or the skewed polls excuse) is a sign of being in the lead.

But other than that, the polls are the best indicators we have. Despite their flaws, they are (as I said in that post) fairly good predictors if you look at averages over time.

I’m always rather astonished at how many people seem to make the same mistakes over and over about this (although I certainly understand the need to rally the sagging troops). Don’t people get tired of talking about skewed polls and crowd enthusiasm? More to the point, don’t their listeners remember how many people talked about that in 2012 for Romney, and how wrong they all were?

Of course polls can be skewed, especially in the sense that turnout is impossible to predict from year to year. But most reputable mainstream pollsters try their best to predict outcomes accurately, particularly in the last few months and weeks of a campaign, because their reputations go down if they don’t predict accurately and consistently. They want to get it right. So they use algorithms to predict turnout (it’s my understanding that each pollster has his/her own) based on things such as turnout last time, changes in party registration from year to year, and querying the respondents as to their intentions and enthusiasm.

If polls are later found to be “off” in terms of party percentages, it may be because the turnout that election cycle was unusual in some way. That certainly might happen in this very very odd year—but in what direction? That’s the million-dollar question. For example, many people who don’t usually vote could come out this year because of Trump enthusiasm, or an unusual number of people could come out for the express purpose of stopping Trump. And none of this has much to do with the enthusiasm of his crowds (which constitute, after all, a small number of actual voters, however large they might be, and don’t measure the less-enthusiastic who nevertheless vote), or the number of signs on lawns. We’ve heard that sort of thing in election after election. But have you noticed that ordinarily you only hear it from the losing side?

In the post I wrote yesterday on which Ackler commented, I also mentioned the Shy Tory factor. Here’s a description:

Shy Tory Factor is a name given by British opinion polling companies to a phenomenon first observed by psephologists in the 1990s, where the share of the vote won by the Conservative Party (known as the ‘Tories’) in elections was substantially higher than the proportion of people in opinion polls who said they would vote for the party. This was most notable in the general elections of 1992 and then 2015, when the Conservative Party exceeded opinion polls and comfortably won re-election.

In this election, I’ve read many claims that there is probably a similar thing going on with Trump voters, a sort of “Shy Trumper” effect. Although the term may seem an oxymoron for people who supported Trump at the outset—they seem not the least bit shy to me—it certainly could describe those who are reluctant Trump voters. We have no way of knowing about their numbers, but my guess is that it’s a small factor if it exists at all. The only evidence I’ve found so far actually points in the opposite direction—you might say to an “extroverted Tory effect”:

In Republican primaries and caucuses, the polls generally had a pro-Trump and anti-Cruz bias. In races where Trump and Cruz were the top two finishers in some order, the bias was 5.5 percentage points in Trump’s favor. The bias dissipated as the race went along, and there wasn’t as much of a bias when another candidate — John Kasich or Marco Rubio — was Trump’s main competitor in a state. Still, the primary results ought to raise doubts about the theory that a “silent majority” of Trump supporters is being overlooked by the polls. In the primaries, Trump was somewhat overrated by the polls.

I’m not sure how much to make of that—after all, it was the primaries and not the general. But it certainly casts doubt on any Shy Tory effect being a pro-Trump factor in this particular election.

August 26th, 2016

More on the question of whether gay or transgendered people are born that way

This old question has been in the news again recently because of the publication of a massive study on the subject that’s just been published, written by two Johns Hopkins affiliated professors, Laurence Mayer and Paul McHugh, that says there’s little to no scientific evidence that people are born with those traits.

If you want to read the entire article—it’s long—the whole thing can be found online here

A few points I’ll make at the outset:

(1)) Anyone who’s followed research in the field should already know that the evidence for an absolute biological genetic cause for either of the phenomena is murky, but that there has been strong evidence of a genetic contribution that is not trifling. That evidence has come from twin concordance studies (particularly concerning homosexuality), which I’ve already written about at some length in the addendum of this post.

So I fail to see how this Johns Hopkins article is news, but I suppose it is news in the sense that there are a lot of people politically devoted to a less nuanced point of view on either side, and the ones who are into strict heritability of the traits will be up in arms.

(2) McHugh is a psychiatrist at Hopkins who has previously written similar articles, particularly about the treatment of transgendered people. I wrote about one of these articles before here. Hopkins was a pioneer in sex-reassignment surgery and has since backed off from doing it because of problems with poor outcomes, and McHugh is nothing if not a controversial figure as a result.

I haven’t read the entire article, which is 143 pages long, but I immediately went to the section on sexual identity and then scrolled down to the portion on twin concordance. There I found this:

One powerful research design for assessing whether biological or psychological traits have a genetic basis is the study of identical twins. If the probability is high that both members in a pair of identical twins, who share the same genome, exhibit a trait when one of them does — this is known as the concordance rate — then one can infer that genetic factors are likely to be involved in the trait. If, however, the concordance rate for identical twins is no higher than the concordance rate of the same trait in fraternal twins, who share (on average) only half their genes, this indicates that the shared environment may be a more important factor than shared genes…

…[W]ell-designed twin studies examining the genetics of homosexuality indicate that genetic factors likely play some role in determining sexual orientation. For example, in 2000, psychologist J. Michael Bailey and colleagues conducted a major study of sexual orientation using twins in the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Twin Registry, a large probability sample, which was therefore more likely to be representative of the general population than Kallmann’s.[33] The study employed the Kinsey scale to operationalize sexual orientation and estimated concordance rates for being homosexual of 20% for men and 24% for women in identical (maternal, monozygotic) twins, compared to 0% for men and 10% for women in non-identical (fraternal, dizygotic) twins.[34] The difference in the estimated concordance rates was statistically significant for men but not for women. On the basis of these findings, the researchers estimated that the heritability of homosexuality for men was 0.45 with a wide 95% confidence interval of 0.00–0.71; for women, it was 0.08 with a similarly wide confidence interval of 0.00–0.67. These estimates suggest that for males 45% of the differences between certain sexual orientations (homosexual versus heterosexuals as measured by the Kinsey scale) could be attributed to differences in genes…

…a heritability estimate of 0.45 does not mean that 45% of sexuality is determined by genes. Rather, it means that 45% of the variation between individuals in the population studied can be attributed in some way to genetic factors, as opposed to environmental factors…

…[In another study, the] values indicate that, while the genetic component of homosexual behavior is far from negligible, non-shared environmental factors play a critical, perhaps preponderant, role. The authors conclude that sexual orientation arises from both heritable and environmental influences unique to the individual, stating that “the present results support the notion that the individual-specific environment does indeed influence sexual preference.”

I could go on—the article certainly does—but I’ve not read most of it yet and so I’ll stop there. Suffice to say that I fully expect the answer to be some variation on the theme “it’s nature and nurture, and we don’t know the exact combination of each.” Which would make these things not so very different from many many other things in life, and somewhat of a mystery, which is where I’m at on it.

That makes me a non-militant on the subject. But I find it rather fascinating, and also somewhat irrelevant in that I think the issue of the rights of each group is separate from the issue of the traits’ heritability. That last bit puts me quite in the minority, I think, because a lot of people are invested in the question of heritability because they believe that the question of rights depends on it.

[NOTE: I’ve already opined on my stance on gay heritability and rights, and also about transgender treatment policies here, here, and here.]

[NOTE II: There’s a great deal more research on twin concordance in gay people than in transgendered people. I believe that’s because the first subject has been studied for a longer time, but more importantly because it is far more common in the population and therefore it is easier to find experimental subjects. The McHugh article cites only one twin study on transgenderism, as far as I can tell, and that one is a case study involving two cases, which can tell us little about anything but those cases.

I was unable to find good studies on the subject; in a quick Google search, this was about it, and I’m not sure how reputable a study that is, although the results seem to fall into a similar camp to those of the gay studies on twin corcordance. At any rate, we already know that identical twin concordance for transgenderism is far from perfect, as evidence by the photos in this post of mine.]

August 25th, 2016

Do people learn from their mistakes?

In the electoral/political sense, that is?

I think it’s very very rare. Or rather, they think they learn, but all too often they learn the wrong thing. In order to really learn from one’s mistakes and to correct them properly, a person must identify the true cause of the error, and be inclined and able to make the change.

That’s a very very tall order, believe me, and even with help (therapy, for example, in personal life) a lot of people can’t do it, because people are naturally resistant to changing their points of view, their way of thinking, their allegiances, and their own behavior.

Believe me, I know. And you probably do, too.

I have long fought with the “burn it down” people, for example, for the simple reason that they think that once things go all to pot, voters will somehow blame the proper culprits and gravitate to their preferred side. I see that as hubris and destructive thinking, but it’s widespread enough to have helped us to get candidate Trump this year and the possible destruction of the GOP (which many people celebrate).

I have also long fought with the “vote for the person you like least, put the Democrats in charge, let things slide, and voters will recognize how bad the left is and elect people on the right to fix it” crowd. Same problem. People do not necessarily draw the same conclusions that someone on the right does, when faced with the very same situation. It is clear that if a party is in power when something bad occurs, it’s people on the other side who tend to conclude it’s the fault of the party in power (people who were predisposed to think so anyway), and people on the same side are likely to rationalize it away and blame the opposition.

Except for a certain segment on the right who will blame the GOP for everything that happens, including failing to stop the left from whatever they are doing.

That’s just one problem; there are more.

Sometimes people accurately identify the problem and the cause, but can’t find a solution.

Sometimes people accurately identify the problem and the cause and the solution, but can’t execute it.

And sometimes people do all that, but—like the proverbial generals who are always fighting the last war and not the one they now face—the circumstances change in a previously unforeseen way, and the solution that would probably have worked the last time is no longer the right solution.

I don’t mean to say it’s impossible to learn from mistakes and to correct them. It’s possible. It’s just hard hard hard and challenging work.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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