Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Worship Music



The topic came up over at Maggie's and people there were strongly negative about what is called "worship music" these days. Definitions are elusive, but people pretty much know what you are talking about, especially when defined in the negative. Not classical, not traditional hymnody, not old gospel songs. It might be either acoustic or electric, lean toward country, rock, or folk, but it's definitely new, it is often accompanied by special effects, and a whole lot of people complain about it. I used to complain about it myself, as I am left cold by summer-camp songs and "Jesus is my boyfriend" lyrics. I can use the other styles for the work of worship reasonably well at this point, except perhaps much older liturgical music, such as what the Orthodox or Melkites use. Perhaps you have to either grow up with those or be really determined to make an entire lifestyle change to embrace those. We tend to love the music played when and where we first loved Christ. We can learn to love other styles over time. I am fortunate that because my conversion was sporadic, traditional Protestant hymns, choir music, gospel black or white, Jesus Freak music, Lutheran liturgy from the 50's-80's, prayer meeting choruses, and the 90's contemporary Christian music that my sons listened to all work for me. I'm not even sure that's a complete list. Actually, Christmas carols are a whole separate category, but may be my heart language for worship.

The temptation to settle on one and secretly believe that it is the real deal, in contrast to what other people like, just isn't there for me. Plus, I don't listen to much of any of it at this point.  I sing whatever they put in front of me on Sunday with joy, partly because I like it, but also because I don't have to choose it, rehearse it, and lead it as I used to. Also, I hum to myself a lot.

I have decided I am tired of those articles by Christians disliking modern worship expressions as shallow or repetitive or simplistic or whatever it is that's bothering them.  I've had forty years of complaints, I know what the general outline is, and I know where the comments are going to go after.  Failure to abandon the old and take up the new was one of the reasons my last church collapsed. (I'm still not over it six years later,)  We had lots of people who were musicians, they appreciated and understood older, more complicated music in various styles, they made a strong effort to sing lustily (even though this is New England, and pretty Northern European), and it never quite worked. Perhaps we could not have done otherwise, for it was not in our nature.

My son has moved to a different church in Houston, with mostly modern styles.  He makes videos and directs worship, and also does concert videos of the bands (plus some of their separate professional work.)  This is a good time to send you over to the videos of what he does in Texas.  The video at the top is one of his.. Most of it is original music, which if you haven't done that for worship, you probably don't know how hard that is. I suspect that a lot of this is exactly what some of you are trying to get away from.  But I've learned to like it just fine. If you do like it, he links on to the whole of the concerts, albums, or services that he presents part of.

Budapest and Romania 2001



Castle Peles, in the Carpathian Mountains.
How do you tell parents that you didn't bring back their sons because you thought it was a good idea to let them play with a lion?



The Assistant Village Idiot tries to restrain communism at Szoborpark, outside Budapest.

They dealt with the socialist-art statuary left over from communist days in an intriguing manner. They didn't want to destroy it, as that seemed to be just doing what the USSR had done, only in reverse. But they didn't want these visual and philosophical monstrosities around anymore either. So they moved them into a field in a suburban neighborhood outside of town. You can see the houses in the background. The park is work the trip, if you are ever in the area.

A Bit About Sweden

Maybe other people thought Trump's comment came out of left field, but I was certainly aware of the problems they are having in Scandinavia, especially Sweden. I have a son who has lived in Norway the last five years, who is very aware of immigrants arriving and causing problems from the very beginning.  Chris is an immigrant himself - doubly an immigrant actually, having come to New Hampshire at age 13 and moving to Norway after he got out of the USMC. Thus, he compares his own behavior and work ethic with theirs, not to their advantage.  He is probably too easily irritated and jumping to conclusions when he talks about them arriving at the bus terminal and harassing the women or demanding apartments immediately, but his aren't the only reports.  And he is way, way up north in Tromso, where they are only beginning to have large numbers of immigrants.

Also, I am of Swedish extraction on one side, so I have kept half an eye on what is happening there since childhood. That has brought me in contact with websites that report what it is apparently not allowed to be reported in Sweden. (See Staffan on my sidebar, for example.  Or catch up on Hjernevask, the Norwegian 7-part series about inheritance and behavior.  There are subtitles, don't panic.) Crime statistics are not broken down by whether they are committed by natives or immigrants, and in the second generation you get classified as a native anyway.  But you can look at the cities that have had more immigration and compare crime rates, using only arithmetic. Thus, Malmo, right down on the southern tip and across from Copenhagen, now has a school population that is 52% 1st or 2nd generation immigrant. Coincidentally, this is where the bombs are going off.  Very unSwedish.

Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, are prone to attributing this to Islam.  I am not so convinced of this. Yes, I have read many of the quotes from the Koran about how observant Muslims are supposed to act toward the infidels and the rest of the world. But not all one billion Muslims seem to be putting much energy into obeying those particular passages. Certainly the terrorist attacks usually have some element of Islamic rhetoric.  But the crime and general violence I think is simply primitive.  For those who follow Pinker's subtext in The Better Angels of Our Nature, it is one specific area of the world that has low intracultural violence, while everyone else has higher (sometimes much higher) rates.  There's that Hajnal Line again. It is lack of violence which should surprise us, not violence.  If anything, I think that Islam has been a moderating influence on the deeply tribal Middle-East. Not enough, but some.

Monday, February 20, 2017

More Trump

I'm going to sound like Scott Adams over at his Dilbert blog. When I first read his predictions about Trump early in the primaries, describing him as a Master Persuader, a wizard, and all that. I thought it overblown.

Well, he turned out to be spot on, so shows you what I know. During the election season I also read Taleb's Antifragile, which was similarly helpful in understanding what is going on around me. Trump is antifragile. His popularity benefits from uncertainty and chaos. He is like Antaeus, the giant who gained strength whenever Hercules threw him to earth. Legacy media sources and liberal advocacy groups have not figured out that they continue to make him more powerful by the type of criticism they are directing toward him.

I can't tell if the NeverTrump side of conservatism - National Review, Weekly Standard - is making the same mistakes.  I suspect not, because they will have somewhat different things that torque them off, but it's not impossible. I do read occasionally of Democrats sounding the alarm, and articulating clearly that they know the previous strategies aren't working.  Their message doesn't seem to be penetrating.  If you won't listen to them I can't imagine why you'd find me persuasive, but I'll have a go.

Because this should have been your finest hour, of providing good investigative reporting when we really need it, but you have basically thrown it away, and are already in the process of losing the 2018 elections.  A huge drop in the stock market and subsequent recession - that may save your chances, though it's not a guarantee. A very bad war or some catastrophe that's not handled well - that may cause some doubters to jump ship on Trump. Yet if he successfully blames those things on Democrats - fairly or unfairly - either could make things worse for you. You'll notice that I'm addressing you as if you are on the side of liberals and Democrats. Sorry, lost my head, there.  Where would I get an idea like that?

Let's start with the basics: you don't have the credibility you think you do.  I know, I know, all your friends believe you when you report bad things about Trump or his appointees, and they reinforce it in their conversations or their tweets or their news shows. That's not everybody. In fact, it's way less than 50% of the population, perhaps about a third.  Convincing those people more and more and more how bad Trump is doesn't move the dial. Sure, there are people on the other side, on the Trump side, who wouldn't believe you no matter what evidence you produce, and that strikes you as infuriating and unfair. No, not really.  It's something of a balance, actually.  You are those people, just turned inside out.

Consequently, the standard for avoiding mistakes is now the same for you as you have been applying to others for your whole career.  When accusing Trump of making some inaccurate statement, if you get that wrong once it outweighs nine times that you got it right. And, just between you and me and the lampost, you aren't close to getting it right 90% of the time just now. so in the minds of the public, you are digging yourself in deeper and deeper. Fresh examples are best. There was a lot of excitement this past weekend about Trump claiming something had gone wrong in Sweden, but there hadn't been any big incident that anyone could recognise.  When I first read it, I thought What the hell is Trump talking about there? I thought the story plausible, because Trump does stuff like this.  Then I saw the transcript, and without even knowing the rest of the story, I thought Unh, there's some window there. It's a little clumsy in the wording, but he could be talking about events in general in Sweden, maybe an "Every Friday night..." You shouldn't try to slam dunk these, because they keep hitting off the rim. So when I read the full response, that Trump had watched Tucker Carlson on the news Friday with a story about the increase in rape and violence in Sweden due to immigration, it made entire sense.

The people who always believe you - the people who will believe any bad thing about Trump (and his minions - don't forget his minions) will throw up their hands, roll their eyes and say "Aw come on, that's a ridiculous excuse.  You got caught out, you old windbag.  Don't try to bring that crap in here." Except it's not ridiculous at all.  That's exactly how Trump talks, and how he thinks. He's been talking like this for years. His claim is entirely plausible. It not only could be true, so you can't get your slam dunk, it is actually the most likely thing that happened.  Because why the hell else would Sweden suddenly occur to him? The news story was in his stew, it bubbled to the top, and he spooned it. 

Net result: Your pals, no change.  They still don't believe Trump but even if he had some sort of definite proof they would just scowl and wait for the next time. (We'll get him next time.) Trump's pals, no change.  Even if you had proof they'd just shrug it off.  People in the middle, that one-third of the population, most will now remember They lied about Trump again, about something really small and pointless like it was a big deal. Maybe a few will think you scored a point, but also notice that it doesn't much matter. Small potatoes. So now you need to catch him nine times, without a miss, to make up for it. Welcome to the world you made.  How does it feel to be on the receiving end?

Remember the first rule of holes.

Next basic point:  the tricks you used to use don't work anywhere near as well now.  I was in the doctor's office today and saw the last two Time magazine covers. A really unflattering, sinister head shot of Steve Bannon, and a very senatorial, senex -looking Chuck Schumer. 20-30 years ago, only a few political-bias fanatics like myself noticed such things.  The thought is that many were influenced by it without noticing it. That is much less true today. New media has drummed this home for years now, and many people notice the attempt at manipulation immediately. Not only are they no longer affected by it, they are now infuriated by it and are determined to shove this back in your face. I'm not sure whether your own people notice or not.  I suspect it merely confirms their pre-existing bias and is unnoticed.  Yet perhaps not.

Third basic point: making fun of Trump doesn't seem to be working very well, does it?  That is, it doesn't work in moving the dial.  If anything it is working against Trump's opponents.  Every coarse and unfair characterisation of him buys another vote for him in 2020.  So keep circulating those memes, see how that works out for you.  Admittedly, I don't know what will work against him - you might be reduced to trial-and-error at this point.  It's not that you shouldn't be allowed to, it's just that it's stupid.  It's working against you.  This idea that it's some noble cause upholding democracy and preserving the republic against fascist forces is just insane.  You clutch your pearls when Trump says the press is the enemy of the people, certain that this means jack-booted thugs are going to be smashing printing presses and locking up helpless reporters.  No one is going to lock you up. We aren't on the first steps to that, we aren't mirroring 1933. You aren't heroes. Sorry the others aren't sticking to your script.  Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit used a line that must be a paraphrase of some movie or TV line a month or so ago. (Maybe he uses it all the time, I don't know.) "Do you want more Trump?  Because this is how you get more Trump."

I am going to tread into more speculative territory here.  Making fun of Trump does not "work" in the larger political sense, but it may "work" in the sense of your friends thinking you are witty, smart, in the know.  For your own personal goals of fitting in among friends and co-workers, of finding mates, jobs, friends, and resources it may "work" to make fun of Donald Trump and to find the cleverest ways of doing it. That may explain why liberals seem unable to give up what is clearly hurting them.

Look forward into how you are hoping to take votes away from Trump-by-proxy in the 2018 elections, and then into 2020 if/when he runs again.  You are very dependent on large events going against him, whether caused by him or not, and more important of your ability to pin the blame for that on him. Now look at the other side of the ledger, of where he might gain votes next time: The NeverTrump conservatives who didn't vote for him (I know at least one, myself), are very pleased with his SCOTUS nomination.  One more of those, with another vacancy or two opening after 2020, and they will vote for him in a heartbeat unless there has been something terrible that puts them off. The Hispanic vote, which already trended more to Trump that you will admit, will move even more in his direction.  The fact that the activist/more cynical/more paranoid half of the Hispanic vote hates him even more won't matter. They don't double-vote from more hatred. If jobs are better and he has shown that he's not going to kick legal immigrants around, those votes will shift.  This is doubly true of the African-American vote.  Yes, some blacks are absolutely furious or petrified about what he will do, and a core of them will not be moved.  But the white supremacist card was so wildly overplayed, and his record on race so neutral over time, that some of those votes will drift away as well.  Again, the fact that there is a core of black voters who really, really hate him, even if they write columns or get up in front of protests or get interviewed on CNN, and will never vote for him is irrelevant. If jobs are better and there actually aren't measurably deteriorating outcomes for African-Americans, some votes will drift.

Where are you hoping to make those votes up?  Native Americans turning out for Elizabeth Warren?

BTW, I'm guessing that the activist core senses this, so expect that they will attempt to make any incident into a huge deal, hoping that it will galvanise anti-Trump sentiment. It might.  This is how politics works, and they may hit the jackpot.  Problem: If they swing-and-miss a hundred times it's going to be a net loss. Remember that miss doesn't mean "we were proven completely wrong and are utterly defeated on this issue." Miss means "no new people were outraged."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Michael Novak, RIP

I learned over at Maggie's that Michael Novak has died. Something to notice: he was a highly influential man, but you will not see his death mentioned in news feeds.

I had not known he had a new book come out in 2015, Social Justice Isn't What You Think It Is. I must not travel in the right circles. I hope to have a look at it soon.  If any of you have read it, tell me what you think.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Systemic Racism

Systemic racism is the cause of the dangerous water in Flint. We just talked about this a week ago.

Senior Scholastic Quiz: Who does the author appear to blame? What is his evidence? What does the word "systemic" imply about  agency and culpability?

Deconstructionist version of Senior Scholastic quiz: Who is not mentioned here? Do they possibly bear some blame? What liberties does the word "systemic" allow?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cost Disease, With Update

Update: As per my comment section, there are excellent comments on SSC at this post as well.  In fact, there are over a thousand comments, so I just don't read them.  The indefatigable Alexander does read his comments, however, and published the highlights in a subsequent post, including one from Megan McArdle. Taking the two posts together would be just about worth an entire semester of economics. They might contain just about everything you need to know.

****

Dr. Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex has a post Considerations on Cost Disease riffing off a piece by Tyler Cowan. Alexander is usually lengthy, but it is because he's thorough.  He actually saves you from reading half-a-dozen other articles. He tries to give many sides a fair shot at explaining the phenomenon.  He does his research, provides intriguing examples, and frames thing in ways I hadn't quite thought of. Do you think today's student would prefer the college education they are getting today, or the essentially similar one their parents got in 1980, plus $72,000? (Pretty obvious answer) Then he goes on to discuss exactly why that choice is not available - that no matter how much we look to the market to solve our problems, plenty of things simply elude market forces.  Not always government, either.

More than once I would read a paragraph and think "Oh, but he's neglecting the competitive forces that in play here but not there," only to find two paragraphs later that he has indeed considered exactly that, plus a few other things I hadn't thought of. He wonders why there are diminishing returns, why other countries pay for health care or education much at a fraction of our costs, and whether there is much we can do about it. He has a remarkable ability to question his own assumptions. A sample:
Fifth, might the increased regulatory complexity happen not through literal regulations, but through fear of lawsuits? That is, might institutions add extra layers of administration and expense not because they’re forced to, but because they fear being sued if they don’t and then something goes wrong?

I see this all the time in medicine. A patient goes to the hospital with a heart attack. While he’s recovering, he tells his doctor that he’s really upset about all of this. Any normal person would say “You had a heart attack, of course you’re upset, get over it.” But if his doctor says this, and then a year later he commits suicide for some unrelated reason, his family can sue the doctor for “not picking up the warning signs” and win several million dollars. So now the doctor consults a psychiatrist, who does an hour-long evaluation, charges the insurance company $500, and determines using her immense clinical expertise that the patient is upset because he just had a heart attack.

Those outside the field have no idea how much of medicine is built on this principle. People often say that the importance of lawsuits to medical cost increases is overrated because malpractice insurance doesn’t cost that much, but the situation above would never look lawsuit-related; the whole thing only works because everyone involved documents it as well-justified psychiatric consult to investigate depression. Apparently some studies suggest this isn’t happening, but all they do is survey doctors, and with all due respect all the doctors I know say the opposite.

This has nothing to do with government regulations (except insofar as these make lawsuits easier or harder), but it sure can drive cost increases, and it might apply to fields outside medicine as well.

And also, because it's just a good quote: 
I mentioned politics briefly above, but they probably deserve more space here. Libertarian-minded people keep talking about how there’s too much red tape and the economy is being throttled. And less libertarian-minded people keep interpreting it as not caring about the poor, or not understanding that government has an important role in a civilized society, or as a “dog whistle” for racism, or whatever. I don’t know why more people don’t just come out and say “LOOK, REALLY OUR MAIN PROBLEM IS THAT ALL THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS COST TEN TIMES AS MUCH AS THEY USED TO FOR NO REASON, PLUS THEY SEEM TO BE GOING DOWN IN QUALITY, AND NOBODY KNOWS WHY, AND WE’RE MOSTLY JUST DESPERATELY FLAILING AROUND LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS HERE.” State that clearly, and a lot of political debates take on a different light.

Oh, and SSC often has brilliant commenters, but this particular thread starts out with some people whose ability to do anything but recite cliches is suspect, so just don't.  JUST DON'T.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Refugee Numbers

Even with the 120-day moratorium (Update: is it now only 90?) on refugees from seven key countries, the number of refugees the US accepts this year will be at just about the level it accepted in 2011 and 2012. (Lots of other interesting data at the link.) Granted, it will still be a bit less.  Also, the rise over the last few years has been in response to real events. But note further that Barack Obama dramatically increased the number we would accept - by executive order - just before the election. As with the wild change in the acceptable arsenic level in late 2000 by Bill Clinton, so that Bush would have to look like he was dangerously reducing safety standards when he tried to simply return it to previous levels, this has a strongly political feel to it.

A story: In 1992, Haitians were climbing on fragile boats trying to cross to America.  Bush 41 gave orders to turn them back, but Bill Clinton insisted he would never do such a heartless, inhumane thing.  Thus, as soon as Clinton was elected, huge numbers of Haitians climbed aboard even frailer vessels, hoping to cross to America. Why wouldn't they?

Thousands died on the open sea, including the father of one of our sponsored children. (Which is why I remember.)

And Bill Clinton did decide he was going to turn them away as well, so please don't come.  You may legitimately ask why this was not widely reported amidst the heady joy of America finally having a good president.

I don't believe them when they say they care.