May 25, 2018

1. Burden of Proof

In the last issue, I discussed two topics, Chappaquiddick and Shakespeare. Both these topics have a “standard view” and an “alternative view.” Should we place a burden of proof on the alternative view? In other words, should we assume that the standard view is true until proven otherwise?

In my view, both sides should be treated equally, both sides should have to present their evidence and make their case, neither side should carry a special burden. Perhaps one reason why improbable views are blindly accepted and passed along is that they’re accorded special privileges, they’re assumed to be true, while the alternative view is saddled with a burden of proof. If we treat both sides equally, it soon becomes clear that, with respect to Chappaquiddick and Shakespeare, the alternative views are more probable than the standard views.

When probability reaches a high level, we feel certainty. We’re appalled that, with respect to Chappaquiddick and Shakespeare, all the American media assumes that the standard view is true, and repeats the standard view as if its truth were absolute and indisputable. All the American media fail to spend five minutes making a “probability comparison.”

People say, “Trump has a blatant disregard for truth,” but it seems that all the American media has a blatant disregard for truth. Why are the media unwilling to make a probability comparison? Is it intellectual laziness? Or an unwillingness to stand alone, and take a heterodox position? We have armies of “fact-checkers,” but the system isn’t working; we need probability comparison, not fact-checking. We can’t reach truth through a mere fact-check.

Perhaps you think that Chappaquiddick and Shakespeare are unimportant subjects. But the same intellectual laziness that we find in these areas affects other areas. Take, for example, the existence of God. Here again we find a standard view and an alternative view, here again the standard view is repeated for generations despite a paucity of evidence.

I saw a documentary called Challenger: A Rush to Launch. There were questions about whether it was safe to launch the space shuttle in cold weather. They asked engineers to prove that it was safe to launch; the engineers couldn’t prove it was safe, they said it wasn’t safe if the temperature was below 53 F (the temperature was around 30 F).

But NASA management was eager to launch since they had been chided for having launch delays. So they spoke to the engineers again, and turned the question around: instead of asking them to prove it was safe, they asked them to prove that the system would fail. When the engineers couldn’t prove that, the launch proceeded. So the burden of proof was changed, and disaster ensued.

Perhaps they shouldn’t have spoken of “proof,” perhaps neither success nor failure can be proven in advance. Perhaps they should have spoken of probability. Is the probability of failure unacceptably high?

2. The Intellectual Dark Web

Interesting piece in the New York Times about the “Intellectual Dark Web” or I.D.W. It says that one member of the I.D.W. is Jordan Peterson, whom I discussed in a recent issue. Like other members of the I.D.W., Peterson was trained as an academic, but recently clashed with the academic establishment. As academia increasingly limits freedom of thought and speech, many intellectuals gravitate toward the “Dark Web,” where they find a large audience, an audience hungry for open conversation. People like Peterson reach their audience through Youtube, podcasts, public lectures, etc.

The Times article says that

A year ago, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were respected tenured professors at Evergreen State College, where their ...politics were well in tune with the school’s progressive ethos. Today they have left their jobs, lost many of their friends and endangered their reputations.

All this because they opposed a “Day of Absence,” in which white students were asked to leave campus for the day. For questioning a day of racial segregation cloaked in progressivism, the pair was smeared as racist. Following threats, they left town for a time with their children and ultimately resigned their jobs.

“Nobody else reacted. That’s what shocked me,” Mr. Weinstein said. “It told me that a culture that told itself it was radically open-minded was actually a culture cowed by fear.”

Another member of the I.D.W. is the atheist Sam Harris. Harris attended a conference in 2006 with

Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson and other prominent scientists. Mr. Harris said something that he thought was obvious on its face: Not all cultures are equally conducive to human flourishing. Some are superior to others.

“Until that time I had been criticizing religion, so the people who hated what I had to say were mostly on the right,” Mr. Harris said. “This was the first time I fully understood that I had an equivalent problem with the secular left.”

Some young academics find that research must follow politically-correct paths, and must reach politically-correct conclusions. So they abandon academia and move to the Dark Web.

Claire Lehmann, the founder and editor of the online magazine Quillette, and Debra Soh, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, self-deported from the academic track, sensing that the spectrum of acceptable perspectives and even areas of research was narrowing. Dr. Soh said that she started “waking up” in the last two years of her doctorate program. “It was clear that the environment was inhospitable to conducting research,” she said. “If you produce findings that the public doesn’t like, you can lose your job.”

When she wrote an op-ed in 2015 titled “Why Transgender Kids Should Wait to Transition,” citing research that found that a majority of gender dysphoric children outgrow their dysphoria, she said her colleagues warned her, “...Tenure won’t protect you.”

Nowadays Ms. Soh has a column for Playboy and picks up work as a freelance writer. But that hardly pays the bills. She’s planning to start a podcast soon and, like many members of the I.D.W., has a Patreon account where “patrons” can support her work.

Several members of the I.D.W., such as Sam Harris and Michael Shermer, are rationalist-atheists, so they oppose mystics and Jungians, they oppose people who are receptive to the occult. On the other hand, Jordan Peterson has been called a follower of “New Religion,” Joseph Campbell, the Jungian school, and Robert Bly.

The I.D.W. is tainted by its association with people like Alex Jones — people who deny the 9/11 attacks, or deny the moon landing, or deny the Sandy Hook massacre. People on the I.D.W. can’t resist a large audience, so they associate with people like Alex Jones, whose listeners number in the millions. But people like Jones are enemies of truth just as surely as Political Correctness is an enemy of truth.

3. The Golden State Killer

About a month ago, the Golden State Killer was arrested. Joseph James DeAngelo apparently committed some 100 burglaries, 50 rapes, and 12 murders. He graduated from burglary to rape to murder.

DeAngelo committed these crimes between 1974 and 1981 (one murder, the last murder, was committed in 1986). He went to high school in the Sacramento area, and spent most of his adult life there. He recently retired after working for 27 years as a truck mechanic; he’s now 72. One person who worked with DeAngelo said “he seemed like ‘a regular Joe,’ except that he never smiled.” Around 1980, DeAngelo may have lived in Southern California, where many of his murders were committed. (His second daughter was born in Los Angeles in 1986.)

In college, he majored in law-enforcement, and his first career was policeman. He used his knowledge of police tactics to elude the police. (One thinks of those adversaries of Rome, like Arminius, who had been Roman soldiers, then used their knowledge of Roman tactics to fight against Rome.) Those who were trying to catch him knew that he was versed in police tactics, and suspected that he had been in the police or army.

How many policemen worked in the area where the rapes were being committed? 200? Could investigators have looked at each policeman, and checked if he matched the suspect’s traits? Perhaps the police were reluctant to turn against the police, reluctant to ask each policeman to exonerate himself.

One of his fellow officers said, “I liked him, but he’s not the type of guy that I’d have over for a barbecue. He’s just... stand-offish. Too serious. Seems like he’s always thinking.” DeAngelo was ambitious, and said “he had to put in his time in the small department so he could move higher in law enforcement. He wanted to go on to ‘bigger and better things.’”

After working as a policeman from 1973 to 1979, DeAngelo was fired for shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. Why didn’t the person who fired him, Nick Willick, suspect that he might be the criminal they were seeking? Willick says today that he wasn’t suspicious because dog repellent is often carried by policemen.

But to steal it is odd behavior. Furthermore, DeAngelo fit many of the traits of the suspect (white, male, policeman, about 30 years old, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, etc.). So perhaps Willick should have been suspicious. But DeAngelo seemed so ordinary that it didn’t occur to Willick that DeAngelo could be the person committing such un-ordinary crimes.

DeAngelo eluded police partly because he was adept at jumping fences, running, biking, etc. He was so slippery that even when he was caught in a driveway by an armed policeman, he managed to slip away. He once telephoned the police, and told them what street he would be on that night (Watt Ave.). The police kept a close watch on Watt Ave., and they spotted a masked man on a bicycle, but he still managed to slip away. As he got older, his agility declined, and that may be one reason he stopped committing crimes. Perhaps another reason he stopped is that his sexual drive declined.

What made DeAngelo a killer? Was crime a choice or a compulsion? He often sobbed during rapes, called on his mother, and said “I don’t want to do this.” Once he called a Counseling Service and said, “This is the East Area Rapist. I have a problem. I need help because I don’t want to do this anymore.” He was torn, conflicted, ambivalent. Part of him wanted to rape and murder, and part of him didn’t.

What factors might have steered DeAngelo toward crime? DeAngelo’s father “repeatedly beat his wife... who herself abused at least one of their three children.”1 If his father beat his wife, it’s likely that he beat DeAngelo, too; it’s likely that DeAngelo experienced pain and terror as a youngster. The pain that we inflict on others is usually a rebound of the pain that was inflicted on us, just as the love we bestow on others is usually a rebound of the love that was bestowed on us. DeAngelo’s parents divorced, and DeAngelo lived with his mother and step-father.

Another childhood experience may have shaped DeAngelo: he witnessed the rape of his sister. DeAngelo’s nephew, Jesse Ryland,

never suspected his uncle was violent.... But when he heard his uncle had been identified as the “Golden State Killer,” everything made sense, he said. “Joe was young and saw my mom get raped. It instantly clicked in my head.”

Another experience that may have shaped DeAngelo is that he was jilted by his fiancée, Bonnie Colwell. While committing a rape, DeAngelo sometimes said “I hate you, Bonnie.” Were his rapes a form of retaliation against Bonnie for jilting him?

His youngest rape victim was 13-year-old Margaret Wardlow. Before she was raped, Wardlow was “obsessed with reading about the rapist”; she learned all she could about the rapist who was terrorizing the area.2 She knew that he wanted to inspire terror, so she was determined to deny him that satisfaction, she was determined not to show fear. When he asked her, “Do you want me to kill you or your mother?” she said, “I don’t care.” Years later, Wardlow said, “I always felt like I triumphed, I felt like I controlled what happened as much as I could, I had influence over that night. I felt like I was the victor and I’ve always gone with that.”3

DeAngelo is married and has three daughters. He has recently been living with one of his daughters and her child. DeAngelo was said to be a loyal father and grandfather. His three daughters seem well-adjusted and successful (one is a doctor). He’s estranged from his wife, Sharon Huddle, and he hasn’t lived with Huddle for many years.

When he was committing his crimes, he was living with Huddle. Did she suspect that her husband was the notorious criminal? Huddle is a lawyer specializing in family law — divorces, etc. Her behavior toward employees, clients, and neighbors was odd, unfriendly, even hostile. One neighbor said, “No wave, no hello, no nothing.” When DeAngelo came to Huddle’s house, he would remain outside while they had “epic shouting matches.”4

One investigator, Paul Holes, said

I’m very well aware they are estranged.... It’s an unusual situation that someone so well versed in the divorce process [i.e., Huddle] has chosen not to have completed that process, and it becomes suspicious. I cannot go into any more detail than that at this time.

One person wrote on Twitter: “[Huddle] must have known and [that] explains her odd behavior.” By remaining married to DeAngelo, Huddle exempted herself from testifying against DeAngelo. So if she suspected that he was the notorious criminal, and if she thought he’d eventually be caught, and if she didn’t want to testify, she had a motive to remain married to DeAngelo.

DeAngelo has lived in the same house for many years. His neighbors say that he was given to loud and profane outbursts over minor problems like lost keys. There seemed to be a lot of anger in him. One close neighbor said that, while he often shouted profanities, he always followed the profanity with an apology (if he thought she had heard the profanity). She thought DeAngelo was a decent neighbor; she mentioned that DeAngelo had shared the cost of a fence (or some such item).

But other neighbors told a different story: one said DeAngelo was creepy, and he once caught DeAngelo prowling in his yard. Another neighbor said DeAngelo was bothered by early-morning lawnmowers and barking dogs; DeAngelo once telephoned and said he would deliver “a load of death” if the dog wasn’t kept quiet.

DeAngelo was meticulous about his yard. He was careful about details; when the police came to his house on April 24, all he said was, “I have a roast in the oven.” At 72, he had the agility of a 50-year-old, but once he was arrested, he seemed to age rapidly, and he appeared in court in a wheelchair. He liked to fish and ride his motorcycle; the policemen who were keeping tabs on him said he drove his motorcycle 100 mph. He also ignored stop signs, suggesting that he had no super-ego, no conscience, perhaps because he had no relationship with his father.

How will he plead? Will he plead guilty? What will he say to his children? Will any of his victims be allowed to confront him? Will any journalist interview him? My hunch is that he’ll plead guilty and apologize.

[Update 2020: The New York Times reports that DeAngelo wants to plead guilty. Initially the court entered a “not guilty” plea on his behalf “over counsel’s objections and against defendant’s desires.” Now DeAngelo has “offered to plead [guilty] to the charges with a lifetime sentence,” and avoid the death penalty. It’s not clear whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Update 2023: an AP story from August 21 2020 says that DeAngelo “broke his silence to tell a hushed courtroom filled with victims and their family members that he was ‘truly sorry’ for the crimes. It was such an unexpected moment that it brought gasps from those in the gallery....

“The 74-year-old DeAngelo spoke for only a few seconds after rising from a wheelchair that newly released jail video shows he doesn’t need. ‘I listened to all your statements, each one of them, and I’m truly sorry for everyone I’ve hurt,’ he said, putting aside the weak, quavering voice he used to plead guilty.”]

Michelle McNamara wrote I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. McNamara died shortly before DeAngelo was arrested, and her book was finished by other writers. Her book is the basis for an HBO documentary, which began filming the day before DeAngelo was arrested.

McNamara anticipated that the killer would be caught by modern technologies like DNA and the Internet — technologies that didn’t exist when he started his crime spree. “This mystery... can be solved,” McNamara wrote. “Technology has made that possible.” McNamara also guessed correctly about the current situation of the killer: “My bet is he’s enjoying a comfortable exile, leading an unremarkable life among the unsuspecting. A suburban dad passing unnoticed behind the hedge wall.”

McNamara coined the name “Golden State Killer”; previously he was called “EAR / ONS” (East Area Rapist / Original Night Stalker). In 2013, McNamara wrote an article about the case in a magazine called Los Angeles.

4. William McDougall

William McDougall was a professor of psychology. From 1920 to 1927, he held the William James Chair at Harvard. McDougall was born in England, but spent most of his adult life in the U.S. He stressed the importance of instinct over environment, opposed behaviorism, and was outside the mainstream of American psychology. His thoughts on instinct influenced Konrad Lorenz.

McDougall took issue with Darwinians, and insisted that acquired traits could be inherited, as Lamarck had argued (Lamarck is laughed at by the scientific establishment, but respected by “alternative biologists” like Arthur Koestler and Jung). McDougall was interested in the occult, and helped found the Rhine Center at Duke. He spent the last ten years of his life at Duke (he died in 1938 at age 67). “McDougall served as president of the Society for Psychical Research, and... of its U.S. counterpart, the American Society for Psychical Research.”5 McDougall was impressed by Upton Sinclair’s writings on the occult. McDougall tried to bring discipline and rigor to the study of the occult.

One might describe McDougall as an American version of Jung.

In 1911, McDougall authored Body and Mind: A History and Defence of Animism. In this work he rejected both materialism and Darwinism and supported a form of Lamarckism where mind guides evolution. McDougall defended a form of animism where all matter has a mental aspect; his views were very similar to panpsychism.6

5. Penelope Fitzgerald

About ten years ago, I mentioned the English man-of-letters Ronald Knox, who’s best known for his writings on Christianity and for his detective fiction. I now realize that Knox’s brothers were also men-of-letters. Knox’s niece, Penelope Fitzgerald, wrote a book about the Knox family. Penelope Fitzgerald was herself a distinguished writer, though she didn’t start writing until she was 58.

Fitzgerald won the Booker Prize for 1979 with Offshore, a novel that takes place among residents of houseboats in Battersea in 1961.... Fitzgerald’s final novel, The Blue Flower, published in 1995, centers on the 18th-century German poet and philosopher Novalis, and his love for what is portrayed as a rather ordinary child. Other historical figures, such as the poet Goethe and the philosopher Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel, feature in the story. The book, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award 1997, has been called Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

Fitzgerald’s husband was a lawyer who became an alcoholic and was disbarred for forging checks at a pub. Fitzgerald and her husband were poor, and lived in a homeless shelter and in public housing.

Hermione Lee wrote an award-winning biography of Penelope Fitzgerald. Lee also wrote well-regarded books about Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, etc.

6. Naval History

Interesting book review in the Weekly Standard. Craig Symonds has published a book called World War Two at Sea: A Global History. Symonds stresses the importance of naval matters: “As the saying goes, whoever rules the waves rules the world.” Earlier Symonds wrote about other aspects of naval history; among his books is Lincoln and His Admirals.

The author of the book review, Arthur Herman, says that

In 1983 Richard Hough published The Great War at Sea, a classic of military history that managed to pull together the disparate naval events and battles of World War I into a single scholarly but readable volume.

“Scholarly but readable” might be a good description of Herman’s own books. Here are some of Herman’s titles:

7. Miscellaneous

A. There are various ways for a person to feel connected:

Those who aren’t able to connect with society may find fulfillment another way. Conversely, those who have a niche in society may feel unfulfilled if they don’t connect with nature or with history/culture.

B. Young people may feel that they want to keep away from politics. But eventually they discover that politics won’t keep away from them. In one form or another, government policy will affect them — a tax issue, a development issue, a security issue — something. Politics will tap them on the shoulder, and perhaps grab them quite roughly.

© L. James Hammond 2018
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