Friday, January 23, 2015

Meldrim Thomson, Jr.

I had thought this was going to be quick and easy, but my rough draft already needs condensing.

Mel "Ax the Tax" Thomson, from tiny Orford, NH, was governor of NH in the 1970's.  Older locals can look back and contemplate, others can look him up, or you can wait for me to surprise you.  But the topic rapidly got out-of-hand, and I will need some time to think.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It Has Been Awhile - Abba

This song would be more problematic these days, I suspect.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2024 Olympics

I wonder if Massachusetts support for having the Olympics breaks down along political lines in any way.  We often reflexively treat whole states as uncomplicated and uniform in belief, so that folks will say "Oh, they're all liberals up there."  Yet all states are purple.

DC, not so much.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Noticing Things

 What is the difference between this FB quote and Luke 18:11?

"I really, really love my church. In our time, we see the negative side of religion so often (and yes, a lot of it is really awful) that it might be easy to miss the positive side. I have absolutely no doubt that, FOR ME, practicing my faith with my church family (who both support and challenge me) makes me a better citizen of the world, and helps me turn my faith into action--action which is (I hope) not just for the benefit of me and my family, but for everyone."

What kind of churches seem to prompt this response?

In which churches would this be an unusual response?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2024 Olympics

I am much opposed to Boston having them - though it's not my money, so I suppose I shouldn't care if they waste it.

I am interested in opposing arguments.  The ones I'm hearing aren't very good, but I've been hanging around bad neighborhoods, so those shouldn't count.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Myths About Scandinavia

The NY Post had an amusing article about the myth of Scandinavian happiness. There are serious problems with the essay, as it collects together a mishmash of semi-related items, some backed up by evidence, some just blowing, uh, smoke out its nostrils.  There is an air of college BS term paper, where you have some general knowledge and a few anecdotes, trying to rope all that together into proving some point or another. I recognise this because of nostalgia.

Nonetheless, even applying a 50% discount on the facts here, I think there is something to it.  And it's fun.

Taking Sides

There is a lot of encouragement for everyone to be taking sides on a variety of issues at present.  Human beings seem to have a variation on fight-or-flight that prompts them, when encountering a crisis, to either hide or take sides. In simple just-so stories of hunter-gatherer survival, it makes a sort of sense.  I don't know if it actually is a superior go-forth-and-multiply strategy, but I can at least see how it could be so. In a sudden eruption of violence - or even a quieter struggle for power - the last thing one wants to do is be a close bystander looking unprotected and nervous. That's what hostages and examples are made from.

There are a few remote tribes whose members seem reflexively violent.  Deep in the Amazon, on one of the Andaman Islands, in Papua New Guinea, in Dagestan, one finds such groups.  But in general, most people in every group are not hairtrigger violent. Unless one is in a very small group surrounded by enemies, it's a bad survival strategy for everyone to be cutting throats at every approach.  It makes trade difficult, for example.

At the moment, there is a back-and-forth between people who want to highlight the dangers of jihadists versus those who want to insist that most Muslims, especially in America, are decent folk.  Both are true.  Most of everyone are decent folk. Though Muslims, even in America but especially in Europe, have a higher percentage of violent people than, say Congregationalists.  Or Jews. Or Buddhists. Not much way around the core belief of either POV, really. Just is.  The difficulty comes when people want to claim further territory.  Ooh, we're worried about backlash.  Backlash is the real problem. Well, no it isn't.  There is revenge vandalism of mosques in France and that's bad, but no one is, er, dead. Or from the other side, there are those who want to portray Islam as violent, root and branch, and would prefer that none of its adherents remain within our borders unless they specifically abjure violence.  Many (though not all) of the other major immigrant groups to America couldn't have met that standard either.

Taking sides causes us to forget what we knew even two hours ago.  When there was a mass shooting in Norway, one of my sons who lives there went on an anti-Muslim rant on Facebook, immediately accusing them.  Another relative of mine was horrified, disapproving of such bigotry, and very quickly self-righteous about it.  The latter had forgotten what he knew two hours earlier: a Muslim group had initially taken credit for the shootings.  That was my son's context.  OTOH, even in that context it was apparently pretty rank - he took it down and I only learned of it secondhand. A few hours later he was on to other aspects of Anders Breivik. Taking sides makes us stupid.

BTW, almost no one remembers that claim by the obscure Norwegian Muslim group now.  I think I read it consisted of about seven people, who were hoping to become big wheels, and the followup is they didn't exist a year later.

People were quick to take sides about the shooting of Michael Brown. "You don't understand what black people..." Whoa. Whoa. This was a specific incident, with specific players and specific events contained in it.  Same on the other side.  "We support the police!  They go out every day, risking their lives..." Well sure.  But some policemen, and occasionally whole departments, are pricks.  The fact that most aren't doesn't change the fact that some guys (and gals) are attracted to that job for bad reasons. I've met them.  Hell, you've met them. Most black people, even in very bad neighborhoods, are decent folk who don't want any trouble.  But they do have an unusually high percentage of violent, dangerous people.  Just is. (Leave aside for the moment why that is.  Many people pretend to know why, but have only a congenial narrative and no facts.)

The odd thing is that I am pointing out the almost stupidly obvious here, things that everyone knows, but we want to move off that ground to taking sides.  We want to show our solidarity with oppressed black people or beleaguered police, or noble satirists, or offended Muslims.  Jimmy Carter is sure it's all about the Palestinian conflict.  Not that he's stuck in 1978 or anything.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Which brings me to who we really should be worried about.  With all the running around and taking sides, there is a surface conflict.  That is absolutely normal human behavior, and not even very interesting, unless one happens to be near the violence.  Watch instead for the powerful people quickly trying to turn this to their own advantage.  The Front National in France is historically, deeply, anti-Jewish.  They are now using the Charlie Hebdo situation to paint themselves as the Jews' best protector against these violent Islamists.  I suppose it is possible that they have softened, deciding that Jews are the least of France's problem and better as an ally.  But I doubt it.  On the other side, Barack Obama is trying to turn the conversation to "violent extremism" in general, convening a conference in February to include educators, mental health professionals, religious leaders, and academics to discuss the problem. Let me predict five weeks in advance that the "violent extremists" are going to include people who aren't especially violent, but talk tough, and are on the opposite side of the political divide from Obama. It will be carefully titrated to use the fear of Muslim extremists in a different direction. Where the Republicans, especially the presidential hopefuls, go with this remains to be seen. That's likely to be convenient as well.

In both cases, Le Pen and Obama, I don't think it is a cynical manipulation.  I think they believe it. Same for their opponents, in France and America. Having actual fear can be an excellent substitute for being a Machiavel.

Bring Change 2 Mind

Jessie Close, sister of Glenn, has a blog about her mental illness:  Bring Change 2 Mind. My ambivalence is enormous, but I thought I should at minimum identify the site.  I may comment there sometime.  Right now I just can't.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Capgras Delusion

If you made it a movie, people would put it in the sci-fi, magical realism, or conspiracy categories. I have a patient with Capgras Delusion who has an identical twin. Yes, you will have to look it up. It's fairly obscure. I see about one a year, maybe less.

Note: It probably does have interesting movie possibilities.