Thursday, October 19, 2017

Imagined Conversations

I dislike the genre that purports to be a conversation between people who are long dead and modern figures. The author can always dictate the result of the debate and make the loser look bad.  I recently saw one at Aleteia between GK Chesterton and white nationalists.  Guess who won? I don't doubt that GKC would have held his own quite nicely against any number of such figures, but the exchange was frankly not-credible.  Chesterton would say this, you see, and the the white nationalists would say that, which GKC would counter with this. They would attempt to catch him up along the lines of A, which he would have to  agree with, being deeply respectful of national cultures, but he would see them coming and make a distinction B that they hadn't anticipated and finally rout them entirely by pointing out C.

I didn't actually read the article.  I'm betting I came close.

Things are a bit better with imagined conversations between contemporaries, but that's not going to be ultimately fair either. I have loved Peter Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley (who died within hours of each other in 1963). Kreeft tries very hard to be fair, but he clearly favors Lewis, and CSL does seem to carry the day at the end, though Kreeft doesn't rub it in or get triumphalist. Huxley finishes second, I think. I still recommend the book, even if you are one who would prefer someone other than Lewis win, because Kreeft really works at being fair, as I said. But don't consider the final implied victory a done deal.  Plus, the book's short and cheap.  That's nice.

His second work, about Socrates discussing abortion, is less successful, I think because it has that ancient-modern mix that is more inherently unfair.

I know these imagined conversations don't turn out to be true because I have been having them in my head for sixty years, forever arguing with hundreds of other people.  He'll say this and I'll agree that it's partially true but point out that, to which he will respond with this claim and this one, this one, and that one, but hahahaha! I will then say Fourscore and Seven Years Ago, and To Thine Own Self Be True, and They-sewed-fig-leaves-together-and-made-themselves-aprons! He will be dumbfounded.  Overwhelmed.  He will gape, and gasp! 

Then I will actually have the argument and the other person says nothing like that at all. They will pursue a line I had not expected.

Precocious Canadian

I am fairly familiar with cognitively and verbally advanced five year olds.

The comments attributed by Tama Ward to her daughter are complete fabrications. "How Can I Raise An Enlightened Child?" is an embarrassment, and if you run across anything by this author again, you should disbelieve it on sight.(HT: Steve Sailer)

Richard B. Spencer, et al.

I have read plenty of essays and comments over the past 6-12 months that extremist groups, left, right, and whatever, would not have so much power if people just ignored them. Richard B. Spencer is speaking somewhere and they expect not only protests, but protests that turn violent. I don't know much about him, BTW. Sometimes such figures make relatively mild comments that get over-interpreted and made into monsters.  But as I haven't read anyone coming to his defense, except a defense of his right to speak, I have to assume that whatever he says it must be legitimately offensive. Correct me if I'm wrong on that.

I have written in favor of the "just ignore them" strategy for years, though I haven't had to do it much... because folks were actually mostly ignoring them. But the cry has gone up from many corners this year. Stop paying them any attention. Their numbers are small. I keep telling myself, well, they just can't ignore them.  They can't let it go for some reason. They have to show up to say "shut up." Some people are just convinced that there's whole lots of dangerous folks out there.

They don't want them to go away. They believe there are thousands or millions more in hiding, waiting to come out and wreak violence on the republic. I have a brother who essentially believes that.  Because he is convinced that there are plenty of quiet racists spread about like dry tinder among the population, people who could be ignited at any moment and cause a lot of destruction, he is also convinced that antifa and black groups organising to be ready for violence just in case is understandable, and maybe even justified, though he is not a violent person himself.

I don't know what we say instead, but "just ignore them" is no longer likely to work, if it ever was.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mark Twain, Huckster

How Not To Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, by Alan Pell, Crawford.

Haven't read the book.  Fun review.

Tomorrow's News

Let me write tomorrow’s news for you:

President Donald Trump will send off some really offensive tweet or comment, which is demeaning to the office of the presidency and is an embarrassment to America.

Meanwhile, things of actual historical importance will happen, many of which would torque off the people upset at Trump’s tweets, if they had only been paying attention.

I don’t know if Trump planned this as a strategy. But I’ll bet he’s noticed that it sorta works.

I rejoice whenever I see liberals distracted by Trump's continuing, unchanging, publicity flaws, because I know they are wasting their energy drumming up outrage.  Many of them likely do it because their media jobs or fund-raising efforts depend on constant outrage, but it's a long-term loser.

I despair whenever I see non-Trumpster conservatives get distracted by these things. I get it that they believe they have to demonstrate their a) we-have-standards-dammit cred (as if repetition will ever convince those who aren't listening) or b) this-isn't-real-conservatism cred. You're right, it isn't, but it's got some overlap, it's what you've got, and you are wasting an opportunity by posing.  Many Trump supporters are indeed being unreasonable and insulting, basically acting like the worst of liberals in their brittleness, humorlessness, and intellectual laziness. I read the same comments sections you do. Yes, they refuse to read NRO because some of those writers dare to criticise Trump, and some of them don't even like him and say so! Quelle horreur! They are like that. And no, I don't think they can be rationally dissuaded from that position, no more than SJW's.

So what.

How are we going to get from Point A to Point B?  Ask yourself that every time your fingers touch a keyboard.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NFL Protests

Bethany has her usual "How To See More Clearly" post on current events, in this case, how people feel about the NFL protests and the fallout.  Key phrase
As is often seen with contentious issues, there is a 10 point swing when changing the wording.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sudden Thought

"The Handmaid's Tale," book and movie, and all the political penetration they had this year, look completely different after this week's revelations, don't they? How many will notice how eerily powerful they have become when the tribal disguises are switched?


CS Lewis thought one sign of quality in a book was in how it weathered rereadings. What did you reread in the past year? Up to five.

1. Albion's Seed
2. Ficciones
3. The Weight of Glory
4. The Most of PG Wodehouse
5. The Story of Language

Explaining As A Mark Of Intelligence

Shortly after Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was published, a journalist was interviewing Niels Bohr – or so the story goes. “I am told that only three people in the world understand this theory.” Bohr paused and thought about it for a minute. “I’m trying to think who the third one would be.” Now, of course, many people understand it. Albert was able to put the information forward clearly enough that others could follow, even if it was a brand-new idea.

I recall also the Boston public television coverage of the Fischer-Spassky World Championship chess matches in 1972. A chess expert had a chessboard projected on a screen behind him and he was moving the pieces after each new move was announced. He then filled the time until the next move, explaining to the public what the move meant, its strengths and weaknesses, and what general responses might be. I turned it on from time to time, though I didn’t find it that interesting. Yes, children, that was what low-tech educational television was like in those days. There was a move by Fischer late in one game which set the expert back a step. He went quiet, staring at the board, and the silence seemed to go on forever. He went to the side of the little stage and whispered to someone off-camera. Finally he said “That’s…not a mistake…” and after another silence “That’s an amazing move.” He went on to explain it, and I mostly got what he was talking about. When I got back to college I asked a chess-playing friend, one who was already collecting points for international ranking, about the incident. He thought he knew which game and which move I was talking about, agreeing that sometimes a move is so brilliant and startling that it is not immediately obvious. But, he shrugged, this doesn’t last long. People who are experts can piece it out, even if it takes a little bit.

As part of our testing of a patient here at our hospital, we were in communication with a lab up at Dartmouth Mary-Hitchcock/Geisel School of Medicine. Their little introductory blurb came back on page 2 of their fax. “The Pathology Shared Resource facilitates project planning, clinical validation, and implementation of novel translational technology and research in the fields of molecular diagnostics, molecular therapeutics, pharmacogenomics, quantitative morphologic image analysis and immunohistochemistry (IHC) in a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited laboratory…” At first glance I don’t understand a word of it. However, I can assemble some pieces quickly (enough to see that there is a little bit of high-falutin’ language that could be put more simply), look up another, and shout across the hall for a few more. I could vaguely tell you what is happening, though if you ask me again next week I might have to start all over again. I could get this, if I needed to. Not coincidentally, the two people I would ask to set this out are two of the smartest people I know – even though this is only tangentially related to their field. The ability to explain complicated things is a mark of intelligence.

CS Lewis (of course) had noticed this and commented on it.

“An essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English–just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this paper should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.” CS Lewis “Version Vernacular” God In The Dock

There are important qualifiers. There may be legitimately brilliant people who are temperamentally unsuited to simplifying things for others. It may be possible for them to simplify things accurately, but not quickly, and thus they may find it boring. I would be very suspicious of such an explanation, however. If people have taken the trouble to learn or develop complicated ideas, they usually want to share this experience with others, that those might also enjoy. Also, it may not be possible to explain it to everyone, or even most of humanity, even given time, intelligence, and patience. There are even levels of abstraction that few can reach, enormously narrowing the field of people one might explain it to. Yet still, there do remain some who can receive it. If you cannot find anyone who you can explain it to, then I will say the problem is yours.

I’ve had a few hundred psychiatric patients over the years explode in fury and frustration at those who don’t believe their crank theories are not true. Sometimes I can tell at a glance that they have misunderstood some basic concept of physics or theology. The better ones try to redefine terms or invent new combinations.

It’s like Algebra I: Show your work.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Leah Libresco

This is the woman who worked for 538 who changed her mind about gun control after examining the data in a detailed manner.  I did not know about her, and I certainly did not know she had also changed her mind about Christianity.  A remarkable testimony from an intellectually honest person. Thanks to Neoneocon for the heads up.

She, new Christian, teaches me things here.

Other Victims

Another of AVI’s truths for living, learned from decades in a bureaucracy: Anyone who controls a precious resource is likely to become a son-of-a-bitch. In my field, these are often placement beds for treatment or rehab. Where they are few, those who control them ask for more testing and evaluations, a slowly graduated series of interviews and visits, and they find small difficulties to be “troubling,” and “something we’re going to have to discuss as a team... next Tuesday.”  The incentive to take easier and less complicated patients is always there.  While we are shepherding a patient through this process we are aware how unfair and uncomfortable this can seem to them.  “She wants me to kiss her ass,” they complain. And they are often right. Note: this is for patients who are currently occupying the most expensive mental health beds in the state at over $2K/day, for which there are the longest waiting lists, of poor souls sitting in hospital ER beds with little treatment and less freedom. But they don't need to hurry.  They control a precious resource, and they can do as they please.

But the greater victim is somewhat invisible – the person who would also benefit from that placement who is instantly rejected or not even referred because we know they do not meet some criteria set up by the receiving agency.

I think of this with the Hollywood scandals.  The invisible victims are the talented actors and actresses who don’t sleep with casting directors, producers, or whoever to get a role. Perhaps they get by working crowd scenes or bit roles.  Or if they are magically talented or lucky they can get good roles even without sexual favors. But most of the rest give up and go home, I think. Those who would have slept with someone to get a part but were never given the chance are harder to categorise.  Yes, they have been treated unfairly in some way.  Yet it is hard to define them as oppressed or victims.
The situation is reversed with the college basketball scandal. It is the player who holds the cards, and can demand favors in the form of money, and perhaps sex as well. The victim in that case is the college that recruits by the rules, and which gets less talented players thereby.

Acting and coaching basketball have become dirty professions, but they don’t have to be, and they aren’t dirty for everyone. It is a shame that those with principles have the harder road – or no road at all.

Or perhaps not.  I am reminded of an interview years ago with Michael Caine, on people who told him they wanted to be an actor. He assured them that they could be – there are plenty of opportunities to act, all over England. But what they meant of course was that they wanted to be famous, or rich. I think something similar applies with coaching basketball. There are plenty of ways to do that. But if what you really want is to be a famous basketball coach, that may not be quite so respectable a profession. CS Lewis noted that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be a general in the army, if your goal is to do your people some good and you really believe you are the best person for it. But in that case, you would be just as happy if someone were preferred over you because they actually were better at the job.

I enjoy writing out my ideas to the great unknown, and I do wish, at least a little bit, that more people red me!me!me! and gave me the credit I deserve. But if I don't need it that badly. In places where I think the good information is getting out I don't feel the need to jump in.  Thirty years ago I should have written several books about CS Lewis, but I thought one needed either an academic credential or a fantasy/sci-fi one to get published (probably true) so I didn't.  I had much to say then than no one else was saying, and I should have pressed on.  Even ten years ago the general knowledge had gaps, and I tried to fill those in the early days here.  Today, not so much. I do put in my oar from time to time when I think important points are being overlooked.  But mostly, no.  Other people have that covered.

I just try to put something into one balance pan or the other when I think things are going unfairly badly for my side, now.  More exactly, I try to remove counterfeit coins from the other side's balance pan.

Common Sense

The term "common sense" has an honored tradition in America, dating back to it's founding.  It must date to before the founding, actually, as Paine would not have appealed to it were it not already a long-accepted term.  I could look it up, I suppose.

Yet I think its meaning has changed, subtly but clearly, in my lifetime.  Driving to work today I saw a sign on a large tree in Dunbarton which read simply "Common Sense." My first thought was "I'll bet not."  I don't know these people, nor have any prejudice against this neighboring town to cause me to immediately suspect their intelligence or goodwill. (I do have prejudice against Weare, and somewhat against Bedford.) Yet I just know somehow that what is going to follow from this will be something I consider not automatic. Probably liberal, but could be libertarian or conservative, given Dunbarton's politics. Whichever, it won't be something so obvious (eye roll) that any person who has not taken many doses of the red pill or the blue one can see it instantly.

Don't say res ipsa loquitur unless the thing does, I say, or you look a fool.

Common Sense has now come to mean "something that looks obvious to me and my friends, so I don't think I should have to give any evidence for it.  What are you, stupid?"

Proceed accordingly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Narnian

I am reading Alan Jacobs's The Narnian, a biography of the imaginative side of CS Lewis.  Interesting idea. I am liking if for the new angles it shows me, even though little of the information is new.

Most interestingly, now halfway through, is how sympathetic I feel toward his father Albert for the first time.  The elder Lewis alienated both his sons fairly quickly after his wife Flora died, and seems to have spent the rest of his life not really listening but believing he understood. Both Warren and Jack were generally kindly and well-liked, but could not work up much affection for their father, though they felt guilty about this and believed they should. Long after the elder Lewis had died, Jack Lewis considered the way he had treated Albert was his greatest regret.  Yet he had felt this while Albert was alive as well, but the man seemed to frustrate all attempts at reconciliation.

So it had always seemed to me from the other biographies, and while there was much to blame the sons for, I seem to have decided that the poor father had largely brought this on himself, however helplessly and unwittingly. Now I am not so sure.  If I step back from blaming altogether, and simply try to step into Albert's shoes, armed with the knowledge that his sons came eventually to the idea that they were uncomfortable with him because they were like him, I feel very sad for his long empty years once the boys began going away to boarding school. He was a dutiful father - almost.

Smear Followup

Before I went off the news I saved a few things that I thought were going to be illustrations of The Smear.  I had forgotten all about them in the ensuing weeks.  This article about the Dirty Little Secret reminded me.  But first, it amazed me because it is such an odd twist. I will mention again that while we are sometimes talking about fake news, untruths, and even illegal acts, often this is just deceitful, expertly-managed news, performed by intelligent people who make this their career and are probably better at fooling us than we are at seeing through it. Notice, for example, the clever little dig that gets worked into the last paragraph by this pro. He's good.

Observe the spinning and massaging of the news going on in the background of all of these. Then, stop and think about your half-dozen fave sites.  Could someone be paying, or "helping?" them.  Sending links to sites that they might want to publish - which is something I occasionally do - is a bit like doing research and doing their job for them.  What if we had a whole quiet little nonprofit that did that research all day, shipping out stories? The receiving sites might not even be aware.  Or could one or more of the opposition commenters at a site be a true believer who also gets a little cash sent his way? It doesn't reach down to the AVI level.  No one would pay for that. But someone is getting paid to do pushback comments at all the major sites, so how far down does that go?

Was it a hack or a leak?

Joel Osteen gets a bad rap.

 Note it's a group pushing this, and there's not any clear accusation of wrongdoing.  Just wrongishness, ohsobad.

You're racist, because.

These are conservatives doing the same thing.  Notice the weaselly "...made its way into the hands of..." People who should be bullied by a few, like this teacher, are now bullied by 100,000.

New York Times, doxxing dangerously.

An old story about Google at Arstechnica

I don't know about neontaster, maybe he's paid, too.  But the story is what it is.

Southern Poverty Law Center started as a direct-mail fund-raising site.  It's just a high-tech version of that now. Except they also like to hurt people.

I hadn't even thought of foreign sources.  This all just got three times as bad

Monday, October 09, 2017

Have You Forgotten?

These went out of the news fast because of Las Vegas.

But not, I'm thinking not just because of Las Vegas.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, October 1 

Nashville, TN Sept 24 

I will say again: this happens all the time, and it is not accidental.