Thursday, 29 August 2013

Concrete Vices vs Abstract Virtues

There's a video in the MUAMTS (Man Up and Marry The Sluts) genre which I watched because Dalrock mentioned it and I had nothing better to do. A guy called Mark Driscoll, who is some kind of big-name pastor (which is what Protestant vicars are called in the USA because they can't be vicars, because that's a C of E thing, and there is no Church of America, so they are freelancers, which means that their first responsibility is to bring in the money, but I digress...) and he says amongst many other loaded things...

"You've got guys who are...consumers, not producers, so it's food and it's sex and it's drugs and it's alcohol and it's video games and it's entertainment and there's no production, there's no life and growth and help and hope and healing for others." 

And my jaw dropped open. Read that again. Slowly. 

Didn't see it? All the bad things are described concretely: sex, drugs, alcohol, video games. Short of mentioning actual brands, he couldn't be more concrete. But when it comes to the good stuff, it's all abstract nouns: "production", "life", "growth", "help", "hope" and "healing for others". I'm guessing those are code words where Pastor Driscoll comes from but I don't speak the code.

This happens every time someone wants to diss the way a bunch of guys live: they describe in concrete terms what they want the guys to stop doing, but when it comes to what the guys should be doing, they use more abstract nouns than a bad passage of Hegel. "Life". For frack's sake. I'm not even going to guess what that's code for. It's as dumb as those people who say "you should be out there living". Yeah. Let's see. Living. That would be the thing that if you're not doing it, you're dead. Right? And since I'm not dead, I must be alive, and that means I'm living. So I tick that box. Or did you mean something specific? You did? Like what? Uh-huh, you call that "living"? Jeez.

The good Pastor can't get to specifics, because then everyone can have a discussion about just how desirable, possible, affordable and otherwise do-able those specifics are. And because in modern consumer society, most of the things we can do are pretty darn pointless and can, depending on exactly how much you squint and tilt your head, be seen as self-indulgence, then the good Pastor can be seen as substituting one bunch of worthless crap for another. (I'm willing to bet that more than once Paster Driscoll has suggested that all those nouns can be made concrete by, oh, raising money for his ministry? D'ya think?) 

This is partly Pastor Driscoll being sneaky, and it's partly a problem with the way evaluative language works. Most concepts in the English language are piebald: slightly descriptive and slightly evaluative. Even if the evaluations are your own personal views. Brands have value exactly to the degree that people have warm fuzzy feelings towards them: "Coca-Cola" is the name of a drink and a company, but it's also something towards which you have feelings (I'm a Coke man, do they even still make Pepsi?). "Pornography" is a concept with descriptive content and examples, but there's also some evaluation in there, even if it does vary from person to person. "Life", as the good Pastor uses it, is not what we all do or we'd be dead, but something ineffable and Good. Lots of evaluative weight, but almost zero descriptive content. And the moment he gives it any specific descriptive content, the evaluative weight drops off, because we can say "Whoa there Nelly! What's so freaking great about that ?". Words like "good" or "bad" are purely evaluative, and don't mean much more than "I you do that, I will un-Friend you" or something along those lines. The Pastoral trick is to use words that look like they mean something specific - like "production", "life", "growth", "help", "hope" and "healing for others" - and indeed do mean something, just different things to different audiences. As opposed to real descriptive words, which mean much of the same thing to almost everyone.

It's not about any asymmetry between virtues and vices. Vices are naturally concrete. Galatians (via Wikipedia lists):  adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings. All of those have pretty clear descriptive and even legal meaning. The virtues according to the Catholic Church - faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude - are also pretty specific, and very far from wishy-washy stuff like "life, growth and healing for others" - even if prudence (which in Catholic theology means a sound situational judgement of what should be done) is a little vague in practice.  

Concrete Vices and Abstract Virtues is a rhetorical trick used by people whose main aim is condemning rather than offering a positive vision of right behaviour. Just like Pastor Driscoll.

Monday, 26 August 2013

I Live In The Countryside - Leafy Lanes and Fields

I don't think of sunny Feltham-by-the-M3 as having to do with the countryside. I think of it as having to do with industrial estates and the airport. What I forget is that regular villages often have a nearby light industrial estate nearby. Anyway, a few weeks ago now, when the days were really long, I took a couple of walks round the block, which looked like this, and which really did feel as if I was in the country, and not on the edge of London.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I Live In The Countryside - The Combine Harvester

I returned home a couple of Wednesdays ago, after leaving a very worn pair of shoes at Crockett and Jones on Burlington Arcade for repair, and dropping a few pence on some photography books at Waterstones, to find this sight on my local air park. A combine harvester. Just like it's the real countryside.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Strange Songs - Part Two

These are easy. All love songs, but again with an absence and / or that F minor Lydian suspended 7th thing that the other songs might have had. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Strange Songs - Part One

There are any number of songs that mean something to me, but these six have an atmosphere that, well, I am bewitched by but don't understand. Maybe a musician can tell me all these are in D Phrygian suspended 3rd or something. All these songs are about something or someone missing, an absence, or so it seems to me. All of them haunted me when they came out and I was a mere teenager. Enjoy

Monday, 12 August 2013

Who Left That There?

Sometimes no further comment is needed. I passed this on a walk round my block the other week.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Simple, Fast, Insightful. Pick Two.

There's a really neat presentation by the man with the coolest job in IT-town ("I'm Ira Hunt, I'm CTO of the CIA" and he says it real fast). It has many interesting points that shows he gets the whole Big Data thing, and yet, and yet... one of the things he wants is to reduce the dependance on expensive data scientists who are in short supply, and produce a piece of kit that lets regular analysts with degrees in History and Politics from Georgetown search their way through the databases.

Now where have I heard that before? How many times have I heard that before? And why does it never work? Well, here's how the Miracle Information System gets demo'd: "Let's say you want to look at all the e-mails sent by people who are one link removed from Hamid al Hamid to people who looked at the al Jazeera video on You Tube about the bombing in Katusk-al-Katusk and then Facebooked a Like? So all you'd do is (makes a few mouse movements) and there's your answer." Applause, coo-ing and million-dollar orders swiftly follow.

Except. How did the analyst know that those e-mails were there? How did they know how to click that box, then drag that? How did they work out the boolean conditions required for the search? How did Hamid-al-Hamid's name wind up on a drop-down menu? And so on and so forth. Of course when they get the system, the regular analysts won't learn all this stuff, and there will be a handful of guys who do, and they will have dead-end guru jobs for a decade being whizzes on the system.

To handle a data set, however small or large, you need a picture of it, and the way it gets fed from the outside world, and the hierarchy of tables within it, in your head. To be any good at all with it, you need to know the names of all the major identifying variables and categories (you'll need to tell the computer it's Hamid-al-aHamid the Iraqi terrorist you want, not Hamid-al-Hamid the second-generation US citizen and Queens Halal shop owner). That's often a task of scholarship in itself.

Even if you use a GUI to design the query and cut the SQL (or whatever) for you, you still need to know about join types, boolean operator precedence and lexicographical ordering. Nope, right there, that's lost everyone who doesn't have a STEM background. Seriously. Join types, operator precedence and lexicographical ordering. That's all it takes to stump ninety-five per cent of the population. FOR LIFE. (I am the only person on a floor of one hundred analytical people, including many well-paid SAS analysts who knows what operator precedence is. Everyone else instinctively keeps what they do simple enough so they don't have to. So that affects how insightful and complex the work is.)

There are only so many people who can do that, just as there are only so many people who learn the contents of Grey's Anatomy and a zillion other disconnected facts to become some kind of medic, or who can learn the endless VAT statutes and rulings. No-one suggests replacing surgeons with a nurse and a GUI, and everyone has given up trying to develop "expert systems" for tax legislation, so why do IT guys keep trying to get rid of their surgeon-equivalents, the data scientists (or whatever they get called these days)?

They don't of course, but they have software to sell, or buy, and projects to run, and promises to make, so they pretend that, yes, you can exploit data as complex as the CIA and NSA has with a neat GUI and a joint honours degree in International Relations and Farsi (I have nothing but respect for people who can learn Farsi or any other non-native language, it's just that it won't help you design the query you want.) No. You really can't. And unless you put the design of the databases in the hands of people who have an end-to-end appreciation of the issues, you will wind up with some contractor encoding everything in sight without asking anyone who will actually use the data, and then refusing to change anything because you can't demonstrate a business case for doing so. Maybe the CIA don't have that problem. Maybe they can just kill DBA's and Sysadmins who won't do as they're told. (Do you think so? Can I work there if they can?)

Nah. Until we can, we are all safe from Big Brother, because Big Bro simply doesn't have the technical chops. Actually, nobody does.

Simple, fast, insightful. Pick two.

Monday, 5 August 2013

A Year At DA

I've been going to a D.A. meeting in Chelsea for a year now, and I should probably look at my progress. DA is good for dealing with a number of financial behaviours: debting - taking credit card or unsecured debts; under-earning - not charging enough or collecting money owing; over-spending; and under-spending - not spending enough to have a minimally enjoyable and provisioned life. Along the way it will also take care of your four-Starbucks-a-day habit, if you want it to.

Let's look at the under-earning part first. I've been interviewing this year, and basically I'm doing about right for the level of work I'm doing and the expertise I'm bringing to it. I could earn more gross income working somewhere else, but I wouldn't be able to work 8-4 and the post-tax value of that extra gross income against the full package would not be significant. I don't have invoices to collect on, as I'm on salary. I am fed up with losing three per cent of last year's salary to this year's sub-inflationary pay rise, but where am I going to go that doesn't do that?

How's my saving? Right now, saving is a joke with interest rates as they are. I am putting away money for my annual season ticket, and have silly amounts of money left at the end of the month that go into an account that pays as much interest as any instant access account will. I do need as of time of writing to review all that stuff about now.
Is my spending out of control? No. Which is not the same as asking: could I spend less? Sure I could. But that's not the point. Am I under-spending? That's a subtle one: there's a fine line between living austerely and not spending enough to provide a pleasant life. I have a budget, but I don't have a spending plan, which is a different idea. A spending plan is intended to make sure you do things you want or need to do, or enjoy doing. If what you like doing is going to the theatre, then not spending your intended amount because you stayed in gets a tickle across the wrist, because you're disappointing yourself. I don't think I underspend - I don't deny myself stuff because I shouldn't spend the money. Heck, I even bought a pair of Randolph Engineering sunglasses recently.

When I started going to DA, I had a ton of resentments about not being paid enough and not being able to do "cool stuff" at work. I don't have that now, and the steps I took around revising CV's, contacting agents, going to job interviews, and discussing the whole money vs quality-of-life thing with trusted colleagues were all steps I took because going to DA prompted me to do it. Re-arranging the exact location of my savings last August was also something I did because of DA. I keep my figures, though I don't write them up in a spreadsheet, and it's depressing doing so, as it's very repetitive, much like my life. So has it been worthwhile? I think so. Even just for the journey from the West End to the Kings Road of a Tuesday evening, and the exotic pleasure of the 170 bus from the Albert Bridge to Clapham Junction after the meeting.

I have stopped thinking that A Man Of My Talents should be making six-figures from royalties alone, going about with beautiful women and travelling the world over. Business class. Never was going to be me. (I know, I should have figured that our earlier? Maybe when I was thirty? Well, I kinda did. But there is a huge difference between knowing you're going to be a suburban drone for the rest of your life, and being comfortable with the idea. Actually, I'm not comfortable with it, but I have accepted that, given the fuck-up that I was, and the low energy level my mind and body run at, plus I cannot handle relationships with organisational superiors with any aplomb, and my general attraction to all all the wrong kinds of people, and it's pretty much a miracle I'm still employed and have a roof over my head.) I think being around people who really have made a mess of their financial situation has convinced me that I have actually managed my life reasonably well. I'll take something that makes me feel better about myself for actual good reasons.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

On Sponsors, Trust, Mark Minter and Mentors

The Manaosphere is all a-flutter because a guy called Mark Minter is getting engaged to a fellow Manosphere poster Geisha Kate. He's 58 and divorced, she's 34 and a single mother. He was, up to about the 25th July 2013, widely admired for his heart-felt and fluent denunciation of all things marriage and American female. The reaction divides into three: "see, I told you he was a white knight all along", "he's a fraud and we have been deceived", "I wish them both the best of luck and hope the love of a good woman gets him over his anger". His ex-wife has posted long and bitter to the point where I wondered "And you had two kids with this man why?" Of course, it's the single guys who feel betrayed; the married guys who are glad he's getting over his issues; and the competition who are glad he's fallen from his perch.

Which set me thinking. Avoiding exactly this disappointment with individuals is exactly why "we take the advice, not the advisor". Which has long been my attitude to AA's idea of sponsorship. Being an ACoA, I'm not likely to work well with the idea that someone else is going to be a repository of wisdom and experience, whose advice were better taken than ignored. I believe that we are responsible for choosing the advice we take, and that choice should be based on content, not the reputation of the advisor. This means, for instance, that I get to decide whether the damn butchers are going to operate on me when in old age, as is inevitable, they find virulent cancer knocking around my organs. I don't get to decide the exact method, and which knife they use, but I get to make the Go / No Go decision, and if they can't or won't inform me to my satisfaction, the answer is NO. That's because I already know that cancer treatments delay death by about three to five years at most, years during which I would most likely have soul-sapping chemotherapy and other barbaric treatments. If the technology changes, so might my answer.

However, this is a lonely mode of being. It means I don't trust anyone - not because I think they are malicious, but because they may be ill-advised, taking the easy way, or blinded by their own beliefs - and while those are good reasons for not taking what someone says on faith, it still means I don't trust anyone (except on trivial shit like "which way is the airport?"). Not trusting people is tiring: I'm guessing that trusting and finding that trust rewarded is energising and simplifies the world you live in. You'll have to tell me, I wouldn't know. 

And it's worse. I don't trust the advice, of course. I cross-reference it, compare it to my experience, get second opinions, experiment if possible on stuff that doesn't matter or cost much if the advice is bad. If I don't test some stuff, it's because the cost of not testing and finding it fails is small enough to carry. Which is why you will never find me jumping out of an airplane wearing a parachute - not a civilian one anyway.

I'm not sure that's an effective way to live. I think we are supposed to have people in our lives we can trust, starting with our parents, to guide us. (Of course, if the world changes too damn fast, then the Oldies can't advise because they have old assumptions about a new world. Rapid change breeds low-level wariness.) I've seen AA's do well with the a sponsor that suited them, and equally others get royally messed-up by ones that didn't. People need to trust and be trusted like they need to love and be loved. Those of us who live without trust or love on a daily basis (which does not mean we live with betrayal and contempt on a daily basis, it just means No-Bad-Stuff, No-Good-Stuff) will tell you how tiring it is, and how limiting. When you have no-one you can turn to for guidance, or for an example, you do less, experiment less, and live in more of a rut. Kinda like not knowing where to find good tradesmen, your house stays unchanged because you can't find anyone you would trust to do the building, plumbing and electrical that you can't do yourself.

I never had a sponsor in AA. I tried a couple of times before I noticed a pattern. They never bothered to ask me the basic CV questions, but assumed they knew what was wrong with me. How can you even begin to work with someone until you know what they studied, what they read, or how they spend their time? I gave up after that, and just listened to what people said in the Meetings, and took the stuff that seemed interesting to use later. To test, not to trust. I believe in AA and the 12 Steps not because I have faith, but because it works for me and I have seen it work for others. Not everyone, but enough. Which means, of course, that I don't believe in it at all. If I have evidence, I don't need belief.

We're not supposed to live like that. It's too tiring. It's emotionally flattening, it's like being in cold, grey weather all the time. We are supposed to be able to trust, like we are supposed to have a little sunshine every day.

So then Mark Minter. He upset a lot of younger men wanting a role model and a guru. The ease with which he did a 360-degree turn made some of them wonder how strong their ideas really were. Those who looked forward to more of his insights and stories were disappointed that no more would be forthcoming. A chunk of the possibility of trust vanished from the world of some people, and they rightly howled at its loss. 

I will be freaking flabbergasted if it works out for him, but I promise not to say "we all told you so". And I am a 59-year-old man, so I know exactly what he's talking about, but then MGTOW is for those of us able to live day after day with only the illusion of personal relationships and contact. There is a rush of hormones that accompanies a hug or even a smile that promises imminent intimate contact: even the thought of that rush now terrifies me. I would probably faint, or have a heart attack, if a woman touched any part of me with intent to deliver. (I can hug and kiss-cheek with the best of them, but those promise nothing.) I sure as shit couldn't go about my outwardly modest and sensible, but inwardly bullshit, life afterwards. This is what he's talking about: the endless cold blue emotional skies of the late-middle-aged bachelor. I would not wish it on anyone, as it takes self-denial and emotional endurance to live it without falling into the bottle, or over-eating or other harmful solaces. That's what Mark Minter is talking about. He doesn't want to live under those skies, as many people do not and cannot.

There's always the possibility that it's one enormous troll, or a piece of performance art, but if it's real Mr Minter is a deluded idiot. Madness, as we say in AA, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But then, I never did get the whole marriage thing, kinda like you don't get he whole cohomology thing. Except getting cohomology is much, much less risky than getting married.