Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Ego Vs Money

As the NFL contract season warms up, it becomes clear again:  most athletes cannot actually do the arithmetic to figure out what they need to live on quite nicely and then decide from there what other things are important to them in life that they might trade off - being near family; business opportunities; weather and familiar culture...there are many others. Le'Veon Bell did not make money in one of the most valuable years of his career, because he wants the ego stroke of having a higher "score" over other players in his contract. 

It is described as "respect," or "a team showing that they care about signing me," or some other synonym for "ego." Even with agents, who can do the arithmetic and tell them what their actual best deal is, they insist on the contracts that look like they are for the most years, at he most dollars-per-year, for the highest potential total, So that their $18M looks like a bigger swinging dick than the guy who gets $16M.

Now the 49ers kicker is insulted that the team tried to pursue another, better kicker briefly, so he's not sure he wants to play there.  He has to think of his family, he says.  Except he was fine with leaving his wife and young children in Chicago when San Francisco was stroking him.


My son in Nome tells me it was -1 up there this week and they are waiting for the snow to go away. He keeps trying to talk his wife into moving to Anchorage, at least.

Church Coffee

I do better than this when it's my turn, but I tend to be minimalist for a specific reason.  If you start putting out good snacks, then it suddenly becomes a competition (especially among women of my generation), and people are intimidated from volunteering to do coffee this week.

I did fat grapes for the children until I realised we are not well-places to do choking hazards.  I did cheap donuts, Nillas, or sugar wafers but got tired of the sugar-grumblings from the young mothers who still believe the myth that it causes their kids to be hyper.  So now I do Goldfish, and cheese and crackers.

Swedes care about coffee, but we aren't as Swedish in the Covenant as we used to be.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Last Gift of Mary Magdalene

Reprinted most years.

When Mary of Magdala went to the tomb on Easter morning, hoping with the other women to give the body of Jesus a proper burial (Friday afternoon's preparations had been hurried and the bare minimum), her situation was different than all of Jesus's other followers. The men could go back to their previous jobs and families. At least I can go back to accounting/fishing/building again. They would be humiliated, of course, but that would pass. They grieved for their friend, but lots of people grieve. Some of the men had wished to go back to their previous lives, and wanted assurance from Jesus that what they had given up to follow him was worth it.

Jesus had at least attempted to provide for his mother at the end. "Mother, behold your son; son, behold your mother" he had said to John. As far as we can tell, the other women had come from some sort of families, and after suitable punishment by their patriarchs, would be accepted back. Mary the mother of Jesus would have the greatest grief, of course, but no worse than a thousand other mothers in Jerusalem who had lost sons.

Mary had nothing to go back to. There were always job openings for Beggar, of course, but the other beggars would have been schooled for a lifetime in eliciting pity by appearance and tones of voice. She might not be able to make even a subsistence living. She might give herself as a slave, if anyone would have her - the woman of the house in any rich family might have something to say about the master taking on one of the girls from the Pampered Palestinian Escort Service, no matter how temporarily reformed. Ms. Magdalene had seemingly stayed somewhere the last two nights. Perhaps she had stayed with one of the other women, or one of the disciples - if she could find one out of hiding. But it could have been that she had nowhere, nothing, starting in about two hours.

We might hope that the followers of Jesus would remember at least something of what he taught, and that someone would take a poor woman in and provide for her. But if not, her own family was unlikely to take her back. She had shamed them already and was dead to them. Whatever friends she had formerly had among her customers wouldn't want to be that close to her new holiness, unless they were utterly depraved and would enjoy even more trying to take advantage of her need. You thought you were something for awhile there, didn't you - better than the rest of us, huh? Now look at you.

And yet out of love and duty, which are not as incompatible as we make them appear in our era, she wants to give what last little she has in the pointless gesture of doing things up properly for someone who wasn't even a relative. Just because it was the right thing to do. Just to show gratitude one more time, even if only only she noticed.

It was a gift of generosity unmatched by any of Jesus's other followers, a pouring out of her own self, probably pointlessly, in imitation of his own pointless sacrifice. Just because it had to be done. We lose too quickly in the immediate discussion of the resurrection how great must have been Mary Magdalene's despair at finding the tomb empty. Even this last ability to give a little gift had been taken from her, and she must have thought as well "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

No wonder that Jesus's words to her are "Touch me not." What other impulse could she have had but to wrap her arms around his ankles, touch his face, burrow into his chest, weeping? How did even the Son of God move quickly enough to prevent her?

There are no tears that will not someday be dried, no lonely depths that will not somehow be filled. We hunger; food exists. We thirst; water exists. What else then could hope be for, but for completion?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

New England Voting by Town

The map comes to me via Barry McMillion, who deserves the credit. Bsking sent it along.

To those outside of New England, this might be interesting only to note that there are strongly red sections even in very blue states. Even I, who am a geography nut, have to strain at some of these sections to figure out which towns are intriguing exceptions in their areas. The yellows tend to be wealthy towns. It also pays to remember that "rural" in New England does not automatically suggest farming - it sometimes just means "almost empty." So I wouldn't work too hard to get your head around what is going on in the minds of those pale and dark purple towns in Maine.  They are 50-50 red/blue to begin with, so small movements in the electorate can flip them. They have few people, and include much rural poverty, folks depending on five side businesses and food stamps to get by. You can also see why we in NH consider the towns along the Connecticut River to be practically part of Vermont, and why I call them the West Coast of NH. No surfing or beaches though.

Many of the darker blues and reds have more population, and illustrate the continuity of voting for the Democrat even if they hated Hillary (as many in Vermont do after her treatment of Bernie) or voting for the Republican even if they hated Trump.  Donald captured an interesting group that other candidates might not have, but most of his votes still came from people whose families have voted Republican since Harding.

As for those who switched, I am intrigued by that dark purple stretch that covers Eastern Connecticut (fancy prep schools there), Western Rhode Island, and Central Massachusetts. It is not broken up by blues that much or yellows at all, but by red, even creeping over the border into NH.  I don't have a good sense for who those people are, but they look like a consistent demographic a candidate might cultivate. (For those who like such things, there is a similar cluster at the borders of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that was usually blue but not deeply so.  If a candidate could figure out what they have in common and win them over, s/he could make deep inroads in four states. Trump sort of did that, and it was key to 2016.  Holding rallies in that 100-mile radius wouldn't hurt him going forward, and I have to think some Democratic strategist (they have some very good ones) has figured this out for later, though it's pretty useless in the primaries.)

Interesting patterns you might notice are welcome.

Susan In Narnia

I have not read the Chronicles of Narnia aloud for almost thirty years, but have the current good fortune to be reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my granddaughters, and double fortune to be reading the sacrifice, death and resurrection chapters during Holy Week. I notice different things when I read aloud, especially in the descriptions. LWW is about Edmund's betrayal, but once one has read the entire series, Susan's eventual betrayal of Narnia is in the background upon rereading. I choked up today reading to the girls the section where Susan and Lucy walk at night with Aslan to the Stone Table, touching his mane, stroking and comforting him. Susan's affection for him is so powerful in that scene. How could you? I thought. How could you turn away from what you once knew?

Well, how could any of us, but we do it all the time.

If anyone wants to go down the rabbit hole of JK Rowling huffily accusing Lewis of sexism in his description of Susan no longer being a friend of Narnia, I wrote a defense Sexism in Narnia in 2007.  I still agree with what I wrote then, though I might write it up differently. Bsking commented knowledgeably at the time - more important, she agreed with me - and my son Ben, who used to read this site and is deeply knowledgeable about children's literature, commented as well. He commented at enough length that it became a post at his own site, Books for Boys, Books for Girls, and the comments there inspired me to write a further post on Female Characters in Heroic Fantasy.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Notre Dame. Update: Revised. New Title "Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier"

I didn't have much opinion on the cathedral a week ago. Places of worship that have become mostly art and history retain some religious value, as we can contemplate those who built them, the "countless legions of the faithful, crossing every generation, hand-to-shoulder, in an unbroken line." From those vantage points, and supported by the art and architecture if they are done right and we are prepared, we can see God more clearly as well. However obscured a place becomes by culture and the ambiguities of history, that is not a small thing.

Yet it's not everything, and had I ever visited Paris I would likely have visited Notre Dame more out of obligation, or to see the art work, than for spiritual desire. Other, obscurer houses of worship may have been more important in the cause of Christ over the centuries. I can understand it meaning more to Roman Catholics.  I can well understand its importance to those who have a desire to preserve Western, especially French culture, even if they are now largely secular individuals.

If we are preserving something, that doesn't mean we are changing it. adapting it, or reinterpreting it. Change, adaptation, and reinterpretation will happen on their own, and we needn't hasten that.  Unless, of course, our desire is not to preserve something, but merely hollow out its insides and put it on as a mask. Dave Burge said that better:
1.  Identify a respected institution
2. kill it
3. gut it
4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Because of the ridiculous things that have been said about how to rebuild the cathedral, or more precisely, the ridiculous things about how not to rebuild it, I find myself drawn to having an opinion after all.  Roman Catholics should have more say than others - odd, that this is not obvious.  The French (and I do not mean self-appointed spokespeople) should also have their views count for more than others. Again, obvious, except apparently not. One could argue that those two groups, and especially their intersection, should have controlling authority and everyone else should bug out. After that other Christians, other Europeans might be allowed to speak if not vote at this town meeting.  The rest of the crew - the artists, other religions, historians, architects and the like are free to speak up.  File amicus briefs (to switch metaphors) if they like.

Yet this looks like everyone is going to want to get their Spelling Reform in. The design should reflect a stronger environmental concern. This has previously been such a male-dominated place, we should stress the involvement of women. Well, yes.  Catholic women and French women, I think.  The point deserves some explanation.  If I, a Protestant, were asked or allowed to offer some opinion on what they should do, I would restrict myself to whatever general Christian insight I might have. That would certainly be influenced by my Protestantism - can't help that, even with effort - but I would not dream of trying to intentionally make it more Protestant. That would be cheating, intrusive, deceitful. French women and Catholic women might indeed see things a little differently than men, and that may come out in their opinions and contributions.  That's not only okay, it is good. That is the sort of change and adaptation that is inevitable and allowable. But an American female architect, speaking on behalf of women in general, should have no audience. Speak as an American, and the tiny voice that gives you, or an architect, and the tiny voice that gives you, and then also as a woman in general - but understand that this is also a tiny voice. Just because there are a lot of women in the world doesn't mean that those who appoint themselves spokeswomen should be listened to.

My method gives the current Pope far more say than I would like in this, but I don't see anything else for it. The priest who ran into the fire to save relics - maybe they should just give him the final say on everything. Let him choose the architects, the advisors, the committees. Yes, that's my revised opinion: Fr Jean-Marc Fournier is in charge of it all.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Remember The Future

The theme for Maundy Thursday service tonight was that Jesus was not creating a moment of nostalgia for the disciples to look back on when he told them to remember him in the supper. He connected the event to previous times, to his present, and to the future. Remember The Future was the repeated phrase. I wrote something a bit similar last week, inspired by the message at Vespers at a church near Madison Square Garden when we were in New York.

I have tended to treat Lent like Advent, a time of preparation for a big day. I often get frustrated Holy Week, realising that I have squandered this preparation time and am "not ready" for Easter. Yet it is not a time of preparation, it is its own season. At most, it is a preparation for all of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday. When they first occurred, those events were separate instances, but now they are tied together. Jesus still had the wounds after the Resurrection; we cannot help but connectt Good Friday to the Resurrection now.  Indeed, we could not even call it Good Friday without that knowledge. Hoshia Na they cried on Palm Sunday: "Save us, we ask" from the last of the Passover Psalms, 118:25. On Maundy Thursday Jesus declared that this salvation was related to his body and blood.  All four events are now tied together, no longer sequential, but joined.

Cling Wrap

I noticed that the cling wrap was nearly out, so I efficiently bought more. Two weeks later, the old one still wasn't out. As there is not enough space in the drawer and we didn't want the new one on the counter anymore, my wife suggested we throw the old one away.  Just to see how near to the end we were, I unspooled the rest of it.  Yard after yard, and the amount on the cardboard cylinder kept looking exactly the same.  It looked the same all the way to the end - thirty feet of wasted cling wrap. Even at the last few inches, it didn't look any different.  Apparently visual cues are insuffficient.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Barrister over at Maggies posted this excellent article from Tablet. It grabs one by the shirt collars and upends some easy assumptions we make. 
It is too simple to say that Tocqueville presented equality and freedom as principles sometimes in tension with one another. His point was different. Equality was not merely a moral principle. Nor was it merely a material fact. More fundamentally, equality was a passion that gave rise to a certain dynamic in politics. Freedom, on the other hand, he portrayed as a set of skills and habits that required practice, an art that could be learned but also forgotten. The danger of democratic life, Tocqueville thought, was that the passion for equality would lead us to stop practicing the art of freedom.
Toqueville believed that the art of freedom was learned by Americans in their smaller associations of New England towns, juries, and voluntary organisations. It is a romantic and repeatedly popular idea (and not only in America), that salvation comes from outside the city. It is one theme of the Old Testament, and of Islam. But is it so? Is it not the cities where cooperation is exponentially more necessary, and the balances of freedom and equality more under stress and thus strengthened?

Different arts, different stresses, different meaning of freedom and equality, perhaps.

Tolkien Exhibit

I took notes at the exhibit at the Morgan Tolkien: Maker ofMiddle-Earth  and expected to comment immediately, while it was fresh in my mind last month.  I am glad I held off.  Much of the exhibit is about his own maps and artwork. The editions of Tolkien I have read, right from the beginning, have had the maps, which I loved, and artwork by others, which I have been lukewarm about.  When I was exposed years later to Tolkien’s own illustrations I didn’t like them any better, which surprised me. Smaug seemed more cartoonish than frightening, the original Hobbit dust-jacket put me off with its blobby trees and impossibly-steep mountains. Those are fine to designate mountains or forests on a map, but only by convention. I have looked at his other illustrations over the years and simply shrugged. Not much of an artist.  Not sure what ridiculous school of art he was trained in to be so stylized. I’m glad his words are so powerful that I don’t have to rely on the drawings.

The exhibit portrayed them in a way I had not thought through: they are not illustrations of real scenes, but of myths, or even the hazier, the emotiveprimary process  images that myths are founded on. I step backward into one of my own set of rules, which I had been ignoring for this topic all these years: Goethe’s ThreeQuestions. What is the artist trying to do?  How well did he do it?  Was it worth doing?  The first two must be answered before the third is attempted.

Tolkien of course knew these are stylized, not “convincing” in any realistic sense. He didn’t intend us to have that naturalistic experience of “feeling we could almost touch” the dragon’s claw, or some near-photographic reality of a mountain landscape.  He wanted install the deep memory of myths in our minds, of roads going up into distant mountains, or dark, impenetrable woods as caught out of the corner of our eye. These grow up in a culture over generations of songs, folktales, rituals and phrases and become the mind’s landscape, not the photographic landscape.  This would be a good spot to click through to the exhibition website above and click on the video.  The drawing “Eeriness” long predates any writing of The Hobbit yet could well be from Middle-Earth.  The trees have some impossible angularities and convergences. The foreground figure could be a wizard, and the distant figure in the road, a mere stick, might portend either danger or rescue. Or nothing at all, simply another tree in the forest.

I recall how distressed I was when I learned that a maker of horror movies was going to be doing Lord of the Rings. It offended against the literary Oxonian feeling of gowns and dons. Still, I thought later, this is the Tolkien who wrote Beowulf:The Monsters and The Critics.*” The fantasy, gothic, horror, and science fiction genres were not distinct when he was writing.  JRRT had a great deal to do with making them more distinct.  I have never liked the horror genre.  But LOTR has a lot of elements of a horror novel, as does Beowulf. The monsters are central. Peter Jackson turned out to be the correct choice. The Beowulf poet uses a literary device to create a greater sense of ancientness.  Grendel is old, and has long troubled mankind. Thus when a second monster is introduced and it is his parent, we have an immediate sense of greater age and remoteness. Further description traces her all the way back to Cain, to the foundations of humankind. The was something similar visually in the beginning of the first Star Wars movie, when we see the hugeness of the ship chasing the small fighters.  There are long seconds running under its great length, impressing us with how outsized is this ship compared to its opponents – yet the camera draws back to show that the unimaginably long ship is in fact quite modest in size compared to another ship. We are jolted into seeing the immenseness of the latter.  Tolkien does something similar with the ancientness of his monsters. In Moria the dwarves seek knowledge of the death of a reestablished colony from decades before – already dusty, old; they read in a damaged record the colony was destroyed when it awakened an enemy that had troubled them in early, brighter days, deep in their history; when the Balrog fights deep in the earth with Gandalf we he was already impossibly old before that time, long predating the coming of the dwarves to Moria. The technique is used with Shelob, with the Ringwraiths, and with Sauron himself. We look back through many glass walls to see their beginnings.

He uses the same technique to create myth.  His hope was to create an English mythos similar to the Finnish Kalevala. He does this by having characters tell much of the story retrospectively.  We do not follow the attack of the Ents on Orthanc in real time.  Merry and Pippin describe it for us after. So also with Gandalf’s encounter with Saruman, and his fight with the Balrog. The device is used right off in The Hobbit, as the dwarves kick off the story by telling a story of ancient wrongs and ancient treasure. The past is everywhere in Middle-Earth, and there is always someone to tell you a story about it.

This is economical in the time needed to tell the whole tale. Summaries of battles, entire wars, or even long ages of history can be done in a few paragraphs.  Imagine how much longer LOTR would be if all the events were told in linear fashion! Yet I don’t think efficiency was the primary aim.  Tolkien created an entire history, and used a single great adventure in it to give us the whole.  It is a story of people telling stories, and even more distantly, repeating legends that have already changed over time, singing songs of events barely remembered, reading books that have long been forgotten, in languages and scripts that few read and none use anymore. Gandalf pores over a text that even its owners have neglected in Minas Tirith – and unearths Isildur telling a story. He created layers of history and culture stretching back into myth, and such things are impressionistic, shadowy, and indistinct, whether they are grim and eerie, bright and comfortable, or strange combinations of color and emotion. The tiny stick figure in “Eerieness:” Is this the long-sought prince, or a final enemy to be fought?  Have we seen this before, been here before?

Thus Tolkien’s other art, such as the bright homeliness of the Shire, or Bilbo’s emergence from shadow into open sun on the barrels at Laketown, is truer than a photograph. I am sure I have never been there, and yet, it is like something I remember.  Tolkien is drawing memories of trees in Faerie, not trees; memories of landscapes, not landscapes. His characters tell stories, or sometimes only rumors - not histories.

Additional notes: Tolkien based his stories on the maps and the languages, and the exhibit has a good deal of his writing on both.  While the map changed as Tolkien entered the world and learned the stories in it, he covering over small sections with new graph paper as he corrected the landscape, what is remarkable is how little it changed.  The first maps are clearly of the same Middle-Earth, and one could even believe his changes are improvements based on his visits to the terrain, not adaptations to fit the story.  It was also fascinating to see his side-by-side calendars of the events taking place in different locations after the Fellowship was sundered, to keep track of all parties as he wrote. There is a column for Sam and Frodo, a second for Merry and Pippin, a third for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, with occasional subdivisions when those become divided or Gandalf’s movements need to be accounted for. According to the book Bandersnatch, there were discrepancies of weather and phases of the moon in some of the last events when he was writing quickly, which caused him no end of frustration during rewrites for publication, as he could not bear to have them be out-of-sync or papered-over.  This paralleling of the adventures breaks through in the text occasionally as characters wonder what is happening to the others, or Tolkien inserts a quick sentence to knit us back to events far away.

I was pleased to learn that JRRT regarded Bombadil as outside the story, not quite fitting, but necessary not only for plot but because he is an actual resident of the place.  I had always regarded Tom as not quite part of the story, something of an insertion. I was not distressed when he was not part of the movie. Yet to learn that Tom is part of many other stories, though this one only incidentally, makes entire sense to me. When after long years of avoiding the movie I finally saw it, I mentioned to my son my comfort with the missing Bombadil.  When I had read the books aloud those several times to the boys I worked very hard to compensate for Bombadil’s distance from the sense of the story by making him come alive.  This drew a flash of anger from my eldest, that perhaps I shouldn’t have worked so hard at it, then, as he missed Tom very much.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Fringe Versus the Mainstream

This would be an evil and irresponsible tweet coming from a single trolling individual.  However, I understand that such things happen, and have also read individual Republicans and Libertarians writing such unfair things.  It has always been so, and I remember it from my youth.  I don't know it it's worse now, but it was present then.

But the tweet is from the NH Democratic Party. A major political party is allowing its signature to be used on this. Perhaps I am simply not recalling when NH Republicans as a whole, or some prominent Republican spokesperson made a similar claim about Maggie Hassan, Jeanne Shaheen, or John Lynch. I again note that the Democratic mainstream - and now even in NH, which has been blessedly above this most of my life - is using the same language and tactics as the right-wing fringe. Give me counterexamples if I am wrong.

Mental health care is very expensive. In hospital, round-the-clock 1:1 suicide watches are not uncommon, and are labor intensive. (Run the arithmetic for how many of even your lowest-paid employees it takes to accomplish this for a half-dozen people every day. Small state, this.  Ramp up if you live in a state with more people.) Out of hospital, outreach to people so that they remain out of hospital is expensive, even at a few hours a day per person. Psychiatrists don't come cheap, round-the-clock nursing doesn't come cheap. Private hospitals go $2800/day, ours is $1357, with sicker and more violent patients. Republicans don't admit this because they want to pretend it's all cheap. Democrats don't admit this because they don't know if it costs a lot but don't want to know - they just want to list what they think we should do and send the bill to the citizens.  In my case, please note, I am not merely some crank making accusations at how Democrats just want to fund everything.  I am talking about real people who I work with who refuse to even look at the simple arithmetic*, because they are sure there are lots of rich and corrupt people out there who just won't pay their fair share, and it would only be a little more for each of us. So the budget is pinched and the expensive hospital is full with a waiting list, but somehow that's not really what's happening. Republicans not caring if people die, die, die is what's really happening.

So of course the only possible explanation is that those evil Other People must be getting paid off, bribed.  Everything would be good in the garden if it weren't for those hoarders.

Ranting. Sorry.  The irony is that we work in a building that was built as state-of-the-art thirty years ago when Chris Sununu's father was governor and pushed for it - and when he got to DC in the Bush administration, pushed for "Decade of the Brain" research funding. He was in many ways an entitled and arrogant bastard, but no taint of corruption has stuck, and he was always willing to allocate money well-spent.

*Not that social workers would get it even if they did look.  "I'd pay another $20 a week for this to be a country that took care of its poor and disabled the way it should." (Exact quote in a group of eight young social workers at lunch.  General nodding.) Yes, but would you pay another $200/wk? $400, if you make just a little bit more and are one of the better-paid in the building?  Or $600 week, if you are one of the best paid in the building? Pony up.  Pay it forward now, thanks. Then we can talk.