Thursday, September 20, 2018

Wait and See

Because I am no longer on Facebook, I didn't get to use my standard Facebook line, which works on most crises. Wait and see.  This will become clearer. Not because I know anything secret about the Kavanaugh case, but because I can read the times. Wait and see.

From a purely competitive political standpoint, I think rushing to judgement generally favors liberals, waiting and watching favors conservatives.  I don't mean whether the leaders and opinion-makers rush to judgement or wait and see.  I mean what they want us to do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Home Inspection

Remember how I was pleased just a couple of months ago about getting to the end of my to-do list since semi-retirement?  We had a home inspection, so there will be no surprises when we go to sell.

I now have more things to do.  And some things we'll have to pay to have done. Still, there were things I was worried about that turned out to be okay.

OCD Song, Question of Malleability

I wrote over a decade ago about my OCD song, which may date back 55 years in my tuneless humming.  There are two, actually, and I decided that one of them sorta kinda has similarity to "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring."  When I catch myself humming my OCD song, I'm going to switch to the Bach peice, and see if I can train my brain to get stuck on that more lovely tune instead.

Note:  Having a life soundtrack seemed to be a thing then.  I think I got the idea from one or both of my older children.  Just a victim of peer pressure.

Bert and Ernie

Powerline carried this update on the statements by a Sesame Street writer, and by the organisation itself, about Bert and Ernie.

Scroll down for coffee-spewing moment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Science Fairs

Yes, stereotype, self-confidence, and exposure are the only possible explanations to STEM having the wrong kind of nerdiness. I can't think of any other possibilities.

The documentary does look like fun.


I recall a friend who retired 20 years ago, laughing at himself about how easy it was to waste time. "I get up to lunchtime," he related "and I've been busy all morning.  But when I come to list what I've actually gotten done, I find that I only went downtown and put gas in the car.  Took up my whole morning."

I suspected even then he might be right.  I have been erratic about efficiency all my life, able to work magic in ridiculously short periods, then just kind of wander around until it's too dark to mow the lawn. I have actually gotten much better at organising myself rather than relying on deadlines that others have put on me in these last 20 months of semi-retirement.

Yet it is still nothing like what it was.  I got home early, and was to cook dinner.  A granddaughter was slated to come over at 5:45. There were two calls to make, a little email correspondence, some eyedrops to put in. I sailed through it briskly, proud of steps I eliminated by combining small tasks. It then occurred to me that I used to do all this, plus supervise two children changing and starting homework, get some house task such as the lawn or laundry done, read an open book in spurts and duck out for a cigarette every half-hour.

The Truman Show World

Or maybe "The Matrix" would be more accurate.  I'm not that conversant.

Part of me feels some obligation to weigh in on the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Because of both profession and interest, I do know something about the reliability of memory, and of trauma memories in specific. I do know something about trauma and the range of behaviors people show afterward. I know less, though still more than average, about people lying and being evasive. Being the Assistant Village Idiot, I am also at least better than average at noticing simple things (though still not good enough); in particular, things that do not fit together. Why did various actors do X and not Y? Readers might expect me to weigh in on such matters, in hopes of sorting things out for themselves. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. In reality, most of you have already formed an opinion of what is most likely true, what is inconclusive, and what is false. Inconclusive often does not last long in the human mind. We have to make an effort to stand back and hold pieces aloft and separate, or we just automatically move to one story or another. We must fit everything into a story. We can decide to say that something is simply unknown and unlikely to ever be known, and thus put irresolution to bed, but this takes more effort.

I refrain now because my knowledge is general, and we have moved beyond that. Had I been paying attention the first 24 hours I might have provided value-added by posting on the general questions, which would help others move toward More Likely/Less Likely. Even at that, I would not have been able to provide anyone with answers. General knowledge on such topics involves on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand discussions. Women who have been in similar circumstances usually do X; but not all women do. Some women do Y or Z. Memories are usually reliable in this circumstance, but unreliable in that circumstance. We are beyond that because this is now a specific accuser, who we can discover information about. What “women usually do” is much less of an issue. It is a mere indicator, not real evidence for this day and time.

Of the many things that bother me, the failure to recognize this distinction may be at the top. A letter from 65 women who knew Brett Kavanaugh when he was young, asserting that he was an unfailing gentleman, is minor evidence that his character is inconsistent with this action. A similar letter from the opposite POV, asserting that Brett was a known problem when he had a few drinks in him would likewise be minor evidence that such things were possible. Neither would be proof, but they have some value. The letter signed by 200 women who went to this woman’s school, spanning years both before and after the alleged incident in question and noting that it feels like their experience, is not in the same category. It is worse than useless, because it stirs up people into thinking that this is germane. The question before the Senate, and thus before the country, is not a referendum on whether men in general are likely to do these things or women in general are likely to misrepresent them. The same would be true of a counter-letter signed by 200 males from Kavanaugh’s school asserting that Holton girls have been making false accusations for years and they’re sick of it. In both cases it’s irrelevant, even if true. Even if all 200 women had bad experiences, even if all 200 men had been falsely accused, it tells us nothing about this case.

Why, then, are we so quick to make real individual events into abstracts, into referenda whether our particular prejudices are the true ones and those other people’s prejudices untrue? My suggestion is that everyone who does this should be ineligible from participating in further discussion. This is not occasional.  It seems to occur even in everyday conversation.  If you talk about statistical associations between single parenthood and some pathology, single parents immediately rise to defend their child, who is not actually being discussed.  It's an every-issue thing.  But I know some really nice gay people.  My cousin married a black man, and he has a good job. I knew this kid who went to Christian school who was the biggest druggie in town. 

There is something so automatic about this that I have to believe it is  hard-wired and completely usual, despite its illogic. While I think it is related to intelligence, or at least the ability to think abstractly, I can give you plenty of examples of very bright people who do it anyway. The ability to consider people statistically does not guarantee the performance of it.

Athletes and entertainers complain that fans don't always get that they are real people with real feelings.  We treat them like things. I have only a little sympathy with this idea.  It's their job to be mythological.  They wouldn't have jobs if that didn't happen.  Yes, sometimes it is reasonable to break the fourth wall and look at their lives. But that is actually only a version of being a mythological figure.  Because the rules of each sport are arbitrary and different people could have been the heroes with very minor changes, being a hero is their real job, not shooting a basketball.  To be good at being a hero requires intense focus on the arbitrary skill, so they have to act as if it has intrinsic value.

The same is not true for political figures and people with real power. Expecting them to be enactors of our myths is extremely dangerous. (Though I suppose it has been going on so thoroughly for so many thousands of years that it can't be that dangerous. We not only survive it, it may actually be an optimal strategy not only for the rulers but for the ruled. Worth an evening's thought, I think.) They are not part of our Truman Show, put there as props/characters to illustrate the dramas in our own heads. Yet we seem unable to refrain from seeing them that way.  They can send us to war, starve us, jail us, ruin or enhance our lives in a thousand ways, but we are determined to see them primarily as figures who prove or disprove our theories about how life is to be lived. Their symbolism matters more to us than their reality.

Because Kavanaugh does not seem to be rabidly pro-choice enough and might allow some slight modification to the status quo there are women, even conservative and libertarian women, who are shaken to their core that all gains for women and progress are imperiled. There are conservatives, especially religious conservatives who are likewise petrified that he is actually a squish and will sell them down the river at the first opportunity. Very primitive stuff is in play here.  Even Ann Althouse is talking about this as "Justice Kennedy's seat" and relating that immediately to abortion.  It's not Justice Kennedy's seat, it belongs to the American people. She is not usually the person who you have to say "get a grip" to.

We're crazy.  We're all just insane.  Unable to think abstractly enough to consider important issues objectively, we retreat to the mountain people hating the city and the city people hating the mountain.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Bible Project

This will be adult studies for the fall, into the winter. We watched the following video, though one could start in other places. They've got lots. The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

New World Record

Taking well over a minute off the world record is an amazing leap.  The runners who dominate this and all distance events, are not all Kenyans, but are all from the Great East African Rift. While they train hard, very hard to reach this level, it is mostly training to beat other Kenyans, Ethiopians, and the occasional Tanzanian, Eritrean, or Sudanese. The Japanese do well, and Americans are making a resurgence under Salazar, a former marathoner who is now a coach. But Rift Valley runners still outpace everyone.

Yes, of course it's genetic, related especially to slow-twitch muscle fibers and narrow ankles on long calves. Other advantages, such as lung capacity or oxygen processing can also be genetic, so it doesn't mean that one group will always dominate.  But the Kenyans dominate, as they do in other distance events, especially the 3000 meter Steeplechase.  The current world-record holder, running for Qatar, was born in Kenya.

Friday, September 14, 2018


I have written on this before, but I come back, just for clarity. Christians can talk a lot of nonsense when they get rolling sometimes.

Two stories:

There was a continuing drama in one of my college dorms, of a boy who had flunked out/dropped out after the first semester but didn’t want to go home.  He wanted to continue to hang out at college. One of his friends took him in, letting him sleep in his dorm room and keep some of his stuff there. The story had complications of girlfriends, money, and medical conditions, but the major complication was that the real roommate was less enthused about the arrangement, and became progressively less enthused as the semester wore on. I admit I only heard one side of it, but that’s the summary. The friend had wanted to be generous, and gave to someone in need. However, the room was not his room but the college’s, though he was renting it in some sense. The college had rules forbidding this sort of arrangement. Not that anyone enforced those rules much, but they were there.  More directly, the dorm room was not “rented” to one person, but to two. The friend, taking in the ex-student, was giving away something that was not entirely his.  The original roommate had an equal stake.

I started working at the state psychiatric hospital not long after my intense, born-again, hangin’ with the Jesus Freaks experience.  (Which was pivotal and good for me, by the way, don’t get me wrong. I write it humorously but not dismissively.  They taught me much.) I was viewing Scripture in a new light, in terms of simple and literal obedience.  The Bible says to give to those who ask, so give to those who ask. Not all state hospital patients were constant beggars, but a fair number were, especially for cigarettes or money for coffee. It’s easy to be critical, but they didn’t have many ways of getting even a little money. It was also not uncommon then for smokers to bum off each other in a pinch – you just kept an eye out for guys who were always receivers and never givers in those exchanges.

At the hospital – none o’ that. No cigarettes, no money given. The reasoning was sound. Not only were some of them on behavior plans whereby they could earn cigarettes or money, so keeping them on that strictly was part of treatment, but there was a more general type of treatment.  We didn’t want to train people to be beggars if they were going to be living in the community. They, more than other people, needed to not offend their neighbors, passers-by, possible landlords or employers. I don’t know that we fixed things much.  We didn’t make things worse, at least. So I learned the command to give might not be absolute.

Let me head in the other direction.  There is a simple, straightforward way of interpreting Scripture that I think is not only valid, but may be best for our own spiritual improvement and being Christ in the world. Those who ask, get.  Those who have need, receive.  If God has put someone at your door, or in your neighborhood, or somehow in your orbit, then maybe that’s your job, no questions asked.  If the US government disagrees, well, obedient Christians have a long history of doing things governments don’t like. That approach is much closer to that of the early church.  It just is, there’s not much way around that. However, the early church had little earthly power.  They weren’t called to make administrative decisions affecting many people.  They may have had difficult decisions, within the churches or in their immediate sphere, but they didn’t rule over much in the secular world. Therefore, we don’t have much example of what they would have done, and the words of Jesus, Peter, and Paul do not address such questions directly.  Whatever conclusion we come to about charity, it is a conclusion, based on our understanding, the teaching of others, and hopefully, the Holy Spirit. If we take examples from the OT about how strangers should be entertained – and I think we should – then we are also stuck with the examples where YHWH encouraged his people to be, uh, really unkind to other tribes. We don’t actually have much scriptural example of what Israel was supposed to do when lots of other people wanted to migrate in. There were traders, occasional strangers, and invaders.  That’s pretty much what we have to go on.

When one is a ruler or administrator, what you have charge of is not yours by ownership.  It belongs to others, perhaps collective others.  The ruler of the city may be legitimately empowered to decide when to fight, when to bribe, and when to surrender. Yet the city is not his – though until very recently in human history the effect was usually the same. He administers, he does not own. Like a steward, he holds in trust.

You can take the position that "I am the administrator, in some sense assigned by God, and I am going to be generous with the goods of my people. We will give to all who ask, we will be generous to the poor to the point of impoverishing ourselves." I can picture a Christian administrator taking that approach, even when ruling a secular state. I can't prove to you that this is not the right thing.  I may be clouded by the secularism of my country and my era. Just to mention, however, that such an approach could also be applied to social issues with equal fairness. That may dampen the enthusiasm of those who were ready to jump on that bandwagon.
The lines seem messy when government is representative.  The government holds administrative power in trust for the people.  No, wait, the government holds administrative power in trust for God, who put it there.  Except, what if only some of the people believe in God? Well, it’s still God’s - Scripture says.  Or if the government isn’t godly, do we give to who they say, or not? What about trying to influence the government?  We can do that, right? Who owns this city?

Those discussions are book-length and more, and I am not any better equipped than any other citizen to decide what is best. I just want it to be clear that there is a difference between giving away what is clearly yours, such as your money, your house, your food, and giving away things that belong to other people, or to the people as a whole. (Like citizenship. Or Medicaid. Or voting.) Immigration has an effect on the employment opportunities of people here, especially young people, and more especially black, Native, and Hispanic young people. (That’s just one thing immigration affects, BTW.) A representative government seeks to balance the need to protect those jobs with whatever cultural or long-term needs we have - to express our generosity, stimulate growth, and contribute to world stability. Any government might do that well or do that poorly.  If an individual Christian, or a church, or a denomination decides that the government is not being generous enough, they have freedom to give away their own stuff, even if it pisses off the government (“You are not licensed”)  or their neighbors (“You’re encouraging more people to come”).  What they aren’t empowered to do is give away other people’s stuff.

If you want to run a refuge, accepting all at your building downtown regardless of ability to pay or legal status, you can do that, not just in an emergency but all the year round. Feed ‘em.  Hire nurses to be there 24-7. If the people you serve are here legally, then all of us, through the government, have signed off on services they are eligible for.  But when you refer illegals to government services, you are giving away other people’s stuff, that you don’t have any authority over. If those people take low paying jobs nearby then you have given away some black teenager’s job. Once you start giving away other people’s stuff, even at several removes, then you have a responsibility to enter the conversation about balancing. If you give away a room in your house, your husband and children are affected.  You may be empowered to administer what is given away, but they have given up something, and you are supposed to balance that. You might feel great about the little girl smiling about the new life she has in America, or at least, feel better because no one is showing you pictures of sad little girls anymore. But you don’t see the sad girl who can’t get a job, or if you do, you blame someone besides yourself for that. One side is highly visible, and made highly visible.  The other side is almost invisible, but it is just as real.  If you want to go small picture charity, that’s respectable. It may even be the proper simplicity for a Christian no longer involved in the powers of the world and just being Christ in the Street.  But when your small picture is actually photographs and reports from somewhere else, then you have entered the big picture and have to think in terms of balancing claims. You can’t have that both ways.

Here’s the rant: 

There are churches, or movements within churches, who advocate that America should take in more refugees, or illegals. It is fair to ask how many are they currently supporting, whether they can take on any more, and to multiply that over the other churches they are associated with that they think will join them. Oh. You aren’t actually supporting any refugees yourself?  You aren’t paying for interpreter services, and rent, and food, and medical care, or beating the bushes to find someone who will donate those?  You aren’t bringing them to job interviews and making sure they have a ride to work? The special needs kids with complicated problems – that’s just on the school district, right? Oh.  I see.  Well that's quite different then.  Who is you are addressing with your political proposal?  Asking for a friend.

So you yourself aren’t actually doing much, just sending a visitor or an advocate once in a while. But you’re sure that somebody somewhere will be able to figure all this out if we just take more.  You’ve decided you need to be America’s conscience, because America is rich, especially those other people, and you have mind-read that their motives for not signing on are evil.  Your fantasy that we are all doing these wonderful things together is mostly just saying there’s plenty of other people’s money. Said The Pieman to Simple Simon: "First show me your money."

I’ve done refugee resettlement.  It’s really hard. Somebody has to go over more than once a day to teach English, take them shopping, register for school, call employers, get them to doctors, help them find countrymen, so you usually need a dozen people for about six months (plus a collection of individuals for single favors), and then gradually back off.  For one family.  I’m not doing much of anything now except sending money to a refugee church nearby. Maybe I should – maybe Jesus put them in my lap and I’m denying it. But at least I’m not going to the signup sheet and writing in your name. So I’d appreciate it that you not write in my name because you think Jesus told you to.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Online IQ Tests

Sometimes I wish my sidebar would say "If you fall for taking this test your IQ is less than 100?" Admittedly, we all fall for things sometimes.  It's an odd thing.  Did you know that gullibility isn't in the OED?

Fantasy Draft

Farewell To Masks

We used to hear a lot about masks, and how bad they were, back in the 1970’s. I wrote a bad folk-rock song about it, actually. Must have been more than one, but I am not going to traumatize myself by trying to remember.  Shudder. There were plays about it.  Art exhibits.  Posters. Serious discussions at church youth group, at least if you were Congregationalist. We all wear masks. It’s all a mask, covering up her real desire to (whatever). He knows how to put on the mask. We shouldn’t hide behind our masks, we should try to be more authentic people.

I saw a little poster about those masks on the patient art board here at the hospital. I realized that I hadn’t seen this sentiment for a long time. I don’t know when it went out of fashion.  Some poor patient here has got time-warp.  There’s no cure for that.  Once you’ve got time warp, you have it forever. 

I felt a surge of gratitude that we are now spared this nonsense.  We learned that masks are often just expressions of politeness, or adulthood, or assigned role.  Being authentic is too often a synonym for rudeness or narcissism. It is related to another phenomenon which is also mercifully less fashionable now, the idea that we have to “get everything out” in order to free ourselves up and achieve psychic wholeness. My son needs therapy.  He has all this anger inside that he needs to get out.  No, no, he gets that anger out just fine.  It’s keeping it in we need to work on here. 

Trump may have masks, but I’m thinking WYSIWYG.  Aren’t his opponents (and even some of his friends) suggesting they’d be happier if he had more masks and didn’t say what he’s thinking quite so much? 

Okay, now I’m getting irritated thinking about other politicians and masks.  I wish I’d never brought this up.  You’re welcome, for ruining your day too.

Branchings, and Alt-History

I’d like to continue that alt-history from the previous post, not for any important lesson, just for amusement. If Trent Lott doesn’t squelch the impeachment and Bill Clinton is removed or is convinced to resign, what next? The claim at the time that most Americans did not want Clinton removed was technically true, but misleading. About 60% thought that, but almost a third of those were only “somewhat opposed,” and another 10% were “moderately opposed.” The numbers varied depending on the wording of the polling. That was also true in the other direction that some who favored removing him were pretty mild about it. In an alt-history replay, there would be a motivated core of Democrats who would have been unhinged about it, with wild accusations of fascism. Oh wait. That happened anyway, so that doesn’t much matter. But some of the moderates or not-paying-attentions or emotion-based voters would have felt a bit sorry for Gore, and want to give him a chance, or whatever. I suspect he would have won in 2000, because it wouldn't take much of a swing. 9-11 happens on his watch, as does the recession. As his term is seen as something as a continuation of the Clinton terms, more blame goes toward the Democrats, and especially the Clintons because of that. OTOH, there was popular sentiment for the US to do something strong in response to 9-11, and Gore would have likely done something. Even Tom Friedman was saying we had to hit somebody. Whether it was wise or foolish, Americans rally around their president at such times, and Gore might have gained more support than he lost. If he didn’t “hit someone,” he might be resented for that. Hard to say; and without knowing exactly what he would have done, harder to project forward.

But the Republicans would be more likely to nominate McCain in 2004 if anything military was either happening or people thought should be happening (Sarah Palin was then ex-mayor of Wasilla, chairing the commission that watched over the oil and gas fields; not a VP possibility), and the Clintons might be dead in the water for good. Or maybe not. If Gore botched things, or was even perceived to have done so, the Clinton true believers could have put out the platform that these terrible responses would never have happened under Clinton, and we’d better elect Hillary right away. I think McCain wins either way.

The reader is welcome to propose alternate scenarios. No penalty. Except I will find you completely unconvincing, of course.


When the Democrats of the US Senate would not even walk across the street in 1998 to look at the evidence that Bill Clinton was a rapist, I vowed to myself “I will not vote for any Democrat for 20 years, unless they were too young or politically uninvolved at this moment. This level of dishonesty is a bridge too far.” I later learned that it was Trent Lott* who put the fix in, but that still didn’t absolve them in my eyes. I haven’t had many temptations in the last two decades. When one Republican governor was pretty seedy I just left that line blank. (I usually leave at least one line blank. I don’t have high standards – these are politicians we are talking about, let’s get real – but some people do fall beneath even my minimal requirements.) I actually had grudging approval of John Lynch by the end. It was amusing when people wondered in 2016 whether I disapproved enough of Trump to vote for Hillary. That would be a maximum level of irony that human brains cannot safely attempt.

The 20 years will be up after this election. I don’t think it changed things much on a practical level, but sometimes it’s nice to make promises to yourself and follow through on them just to remember what you were thinking then. It ties pieces of one’s life together.

*No theory I have heard seems convincing to me. Unwillingness to call out corruption to protect himself or others comes closest. The alt-history would then be that Gore likely wins in 2000, so the 2000-2002 recession falls in his lap, as does 9-11. Too many possible branchings after that, but it’s interesting.

First-in-the-Nation Primary

Fifteen minutes after the November elections, the campaigning will start with a vengeance here.  It came around so fast I didn't notice. There has already been stealth campaigning and lining up allies, probably starting fifteen minutes after the last election. Candidates pretend to be just wandering around looking for moose and eating in diners. They speak at Rotary clubs and business organisations about favorite causes. Oh wait. You guys are having the primary up here sometime, right? (Facepalm) I had completely forgotten that.

November 6th at midnight the mask comes off.  I don't think Republicans are going to be running against Trump, even if they can't stand him.  So it will be wall-to-wall Democrats, whose main theme will be how much they hate Trump even more than the others.

I want to put up signs at the borders and at the airport






David Warren on Chastity

I often like Warren, though he can be a bit of a snob. The positive side of that is having standards and caring about culture. Our faults are usually just our strengths taken too far. He is forceful but not rude here. He relates the vow of chastity to that of poverty, and shows their relation.  Quite brief. Packed solid.