Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It Could Have Been Funnier

My brother sent this article. It's cute. I like lawmakers with a sense of humor. But the edge, the stereotype, is still there. Republicans are the enemies of gay people.

It would have been funnier if the lawmaker had targetted his own party. The same point would have been made, with perhaps even more bite. Republicans really don't like anyone who isn't completely in line with them. They hate all of us.

It would also have been funnier if he had proposed that heterosexuals not be allowed to adopt. He could have gone on to point out that most crime is committed by heterosexuals, most child abuse, etc.

So I guess he isn't funny at all. When you recognize that he could have made the same point with real humor, the gesture becomes revealed for what it really is: bitter, childish, bigotry.

Optimism and Longevity

The Reuters story showing that Dutch men who were more optimistic lived longer misses the point. Coincidence is not causality. It could just as easily be that men with better circulation, or better digestion, or some hitherto unidentified health advantage feel better, and are thus more optimistic.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Did Saddam Have WMD's? An additional fragment

John at Powerline today links to an article at Investors Business Daily, and adds in his own comments about Georges Sada, second in command in Saddam's air force, and his book Saddam's Secrets. There are also the recent tapes of Hussein speaking with cronies -- cronies previously unidentified by the agencies in charge of monitoring Iraq -- about chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. The suggestion of these sources is that Saddam had WMD which he moved in late 2002 and early 2003 to Jordan and Syria, with the aid of Russian, ex-Soviet, special teams.

I don't know any more about it than all these folks who study the matter more closely. But I do recall that this is exactly what Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from behind the Iron Curtain, claimed several years ago. And was mostly ignored. He explained how a "Sarindar" operations might take place. I have a link from Frontpage magazine here, but there were similar articles in the Washington Times and at NRO.

If I had to put money down at this point, I would want this side of the bet.

If I were betting my countrymen's lives, BTW, I would insist on this side of the bet -- at any odds.

Catholic Influence on America's Founding

My uncle sent me the following link and asked for comments.



I had either not heard of Bellarmine or had seen reference to him only in passing. Brief research suggests that he is, in fact, the real deal – a respected thinker in his day and not an obscure crank.

The defensive tone surprized me at first. The essay reminded me of those proofs that the Scots discovered America, or the Egyptians anticipated our understanding of electricity. Written, mirabile dictu, by a Scot or an Egyptian. (Which always reminds me of the National Lampoon question “Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a white man?) It had the atmosphere of “People say Catholics aren’t really Americans. Actually, they’re more American than you are.” I wondered who it was that was claiming Catholicism wasn’t compatible with Americanism. Not until I got to the bottom, and saw the copyright date of 1930, did the penny drop. Just after Al Smith was defeated, and heading into a strongly isolationist period of American history. Well no wonder the guy was feeling a little defensive.

That aside, let’s look at the claim itself. Does our democratic ideal descend more from Roman Catholic thought than from Protestant or Enlightenment thought? The author’s contention is that all those new ideas in the 1770’s were actually old ideas from Aquinas and Bellarmine. Through the founding fathers, and particularly through Jefferson, these ideas became the basis of our constitutional republic. Far from being opposed to democratic forms of government, the story goes, Catholics actually called the original meetings.

It’s always problematic to say claim that Writer A influenced Thinker B. I think Werner Erhard, founder of est, one of the great charlatans of the 20th C. But one line of his I have kept for years: “Your children will grow up to be exactly what they want, but will blame it on you.” I stole the line from him directly. Does that mean that my thought is influenced by Erhard? Of the influences on my thought I can identify, I would point to JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. But I was already in young adulthood when I encountered them. A more thorough examination root and branch might reveal that I was more influenced by Selma Nordstrom, or Clair Bee. In 8th grade, I read two books by Orwell which influenced me greatly, but I read nothing else of his for years. Is Orwell an influence?

At the simplest level, yes, Cardinal Bellarmine is an influence on Jefferson because Jefferson read him and quotes him. At a slightly deeper level, Jefferson’s overall thought seems more compatible with selected sections of Bellarmine than with selected sections on Patriarcha, the work most contrasted with his own. Beyond that I don’t think we can go. Aquinas and Bellarmine may have gotten there first and thought things out, but nothing actually happens from it. The huge difference between the American Experiment and everything else to that point is that Here, the thing actually happens. Good ideas hang around for centuries with dozens of attempts to effect them. So do bad ideas, actually. Bellarmine notes that government is for the people. Historically, that obvious idea turns out to be er, less than obvious.

Did the depths of Roman Catholic understanding produce better ideas of government than its competitors in the 18th-19th C’s? Millions of Catholics didn’t think so, moving from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and parts of a half-dozen other European nations to come here. Wherever we locate the centers of Protestantism or Enlightenment, millions of people moved out of those places to come to America also. Something about the wrestling match among those three strains of thought produced something people actually liked living in. Each of the three had its own utopian communities that flared across the sky and burned out. Each had its own dark strains of bigotry which erupt into the 20th C horrors on a grand scale – everywhere but here (and the rest of the Anglosphere, for identical reasons). Greek, Roman, Norse, and Jewish thought add in some influence, mostly indirect. African and Native thought settle in under the radar. Islamic thought doesn’t seem to contribute anything except slavery – we import their grim version instead of the milder Greek and Roman kinds. The Orientals don’t have much influence until the late 19th C.

We probably have given the Catholics short shrift in meting out credit for the American idea. Those who consider themselves the true children of the Renaissance try to take credit for the Catholics DaVinci, Michaelangelo, or Galileo; Catholics try to keep credit for Roger Bacon and Descartes, Protestants for Newton and Copernicus, and everyone takes credit for Shakespeare. OK fine. Everyone should get a ribbon, just like the Special Olympics. I’m sorry already. It won’t happen again.

Magick Is Expensive

Health care is expensive because now we can do magic. Even in the Middle Ages, magic was expensive. Heck, even in Dungeons and Dragons, magic is expensive. Half the medicines you will take this year did not exist 20 years ago.

One hundred years ago, doctoring largely consisted of setting bones, delivering babies, and giving good advice. Doctors could listen to your heart and tell you if it was healthy enough for you to enter the military or go back to work, but they couldn’t do anything to fix it. They had a better, though not infallible sense of what home remedies were likely to help your stomach or your liver. They could tell you to stop drinking. They often had a good sense of when a daughter should be sent away for a summer in the country – for everyone’s sake. They could tell you you were about to die.

Now, we actually fix things. People live through cancers and heart disease. Kids with CF live beyond the age of 15. Schizophrenics can have the voices in their heads get quieter, or even vanish.

We want some less expensive, and more easily understandable treatment to be available when we are sick. It would indeed be cheaper and very cool if we could avoid disease by denying it, or eating whole grains, or rebalancing our chakras. Ironically, we spend billions of dollars on less expensive treatments that don’t work, because we can’t or won’t afford the expensive ones which do work.

Once a treatment is available, we believe it should be available generally. It seems unfair to us at some deep level that one should live and one should die simply because the former has money and the latter doesn’t. It seems to contradict Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happinefs. Unfortunately, making magic affordable for all is also an excellent way to insure that there will be less magic in the future for all of us, at any price. By removing the economic incentive, we pronounce a death sentence on all those whose disease advances before the cure is invented.

We don’t see those people. They don’t seem real to us. Those who have the need today seem much more real. But the others, waiting for new advances, are just as real. They are in fact us. If you have had a new medicine or new procedure in your life, then the Person Saved by the “heartless” system is, simply, you.

Games Mad

The Gaelic Athletic Association sponsors both hurling and Gaelic football. Scheduled games are listed in the local paper under G.A.A. leagues, but they don’t specify which of the two games will be played. We watched Na Fianna vs. Drumcondra at Glasnevin, but didn’t know until we got there which would be played. They say Gaelic games are very big in Ireland, enough so that following soccer football is still a relatively unfamiliar concept. Tourist guides all had descriptions of huge drunken crowds watching the big Gaelic matches each year, so were unprepared for a near-empty field.

The only fans at Glasnevin were two coaches, two teenage girls (Girlfriends? Daughters? Hurling groupies?), a small boy, an older man with a pipe, and the four of us, two Americans and two Romanian-Americans. On the field, there were about 10 men whapping vicious looking sticks at a hard rubber ball. Ah, hurling match, we sports gurus knowingly concluded.  Can't fool us.

Hurling looks most like some cross between lacrosse and field hockey at first, but soon shows elements of baseball, tennis, golf, and egg-and-spoon race. If the egg-and-spoon part seems a little gentle, a little frou-frou for a man’s sport, it is because we are used to the school picnic version, with tiny spoons and no one playing defense. Imagine church picnic egg-and-spoon with defense.  Now make it young men who drink heavily.

To move the ball toward the hurling goal, you may

carry the ball in hand, but only for a few steps;

whack it forehand or backhand, either in the air or off the ground, though it takes a bit of time to windup for a good one;

kick it, but it is too small;

or balance it on the wide end of a tree root while running. That’s the egg-and-spoon part, and the least efficient of these four bad ways to make progress. Other lads are trying to strike you with their tree root in a sharpish manner throughout. Apparently you can’t throw it, which is the only method that would make any sense.

The ball does travel a long distance at times, when a goalie or defender gets an open space and a good wallop. This occurs more at the end of the game, when people are tired of running around pressuring every possession. I imagine that an over-30 league would pretty rapidly become a series of long volleys between overweight defenders, like spent boxers looking for that one knockout punch. Some of these guys can pop it 80 yards or more with some accuracy, scoring a “pint” from distance.

The scoring is quite simple. There is an H-shaped goal, with the bottom third netted. Putting the ball under the bar is 3 points, over the bar is one point. If the Irish don’t want people to make drinking jokes about them, they shouldn’t have scoring involving “3 pints equals 1goal,” or indeed anything about pints at all.

We gradually sidled up to the lone gentleman. An older man with a pipe is always a trustworthy individual, just as talking ravens always have the key to your adventure. This particular gent had played a good deal as a youth, and was able to make shrewd observations on our behalf. It is the all-stars from games like these who make up the county teams which go on to fame and glory playing in front of drunks in September. But with no sportswriters or fans, the only possibilities for choosing an all-star team would be the votes of the coaches or the players. “You remember our Kevin, he was the one who got the two late pints against you out at Glasnevin with a backsmash from the deep end.” “Thick lad, about 24?” “No the quick one, about 19. You’re thinking of our Big Kevin, then.” “Red hair?” “That’s the one.” “Allright, he’s on then.”

Gaelic football is more dangerous than hurling. I had thought the wielded tree roots would have given the concussion advantage to the older game, but O’Pipe confided that you could use the stick to defend yourself in hurling, and he actually winked. Ah, that explains it then. One enters the game with a defensive, nigh unto paranoid attitude, which is likely self-fulfilling. Gaelic football is like the Australian rules football I used to see on ESPN at 2am in the 1980’s. One allows you to pick the ball up directly from the ground and the other doesn’t, but it’s similar enough for them to have exchange matches every year.
Amazingly, many people bet on these games. While it is difficult to imagine a thriving market in wagers on games not attended, I have this from several sources. One of the bettors determined which game was closest and what bus to take by looking at my newspaper, but was unable – and unconcerned – to tell me which sort of GAA game it would be. Although Na Fianna was county champion last year, Drumcondra beat them 3-8 to 1-10. All over Dublin, money changed hands over this.

Tourists aren’t buying hurling mementoes at the sidewalk stands near O’Connell Bridge, as it is all soccer there. A pity. I would love to have had a cap that said Drumcondra Hurling Club over an unrecognizable crest (“Unrecognizable? Lad, that’s the coat of arms of the Earl of Drumcondra, who fought against Lord Killester at Donnycarney in 1782! The cursed English were comin’ up o’er the hill…”). The Irish team did well in the World Cup this year, which gives the pushcart peddlers another green thing to hawk.

One could also find overpriced rugby shirts, or flimsy T-shirts of a soccer player looking over his shoulder and grinning while urinating on another team’s jersey. There were any number of opponents you could thus insult (Same figure, different team logos. Efficient), but Manchester United seemed particularly popular. As urine recipient, that is.

Underground DSM-IV: Two entries

I. People can be extremely sensitive or even badly allergic to individual medications. The side effects that one might show is highly variable.

But when someone tries to palm off that they are generally "sensitive to medications" in a psychiatric context, they really mean they don't want to be given medication. All porridge will be either too hot or too cold. No porridge will be just right.

II. To a patient challenging your credentials, no credentials will be good enough. You can be "International Psychiatrist of the Year" six years running, with additional degrees in brain science, multicultural psychology, and spelling reform, but it won't be quite right.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

O'Sullivan's Law Hits Habitat For Humanity

John O'Sullivan, columnist and former editor of National Review offers this proposed O'Sullivan's First Law: "All organizations that are not actually right wing will over time become left wing." As examples, he offers the ACLU, The Ford Foundation, and The Episcopal Church.

John Leo, whose article here explains O'Sullivan's Law, offers "Leo's amendment to O'Sullivan's First Law: Any organization with 'women' or 'girls' in its title will tend to become part of the cultural left in general and the abortion lobby in particular." He offers as additions to O'Sullivan's Law The Anti-Defamation League, The Girl Scouts, and UNICEF.


Other organizations have been added to the list over time, including Man In The Middle’s annoyance at Consumer Reports magazine, AARP, and the League of Women Voters. (He also adds in the Heifer Project, based on an incident I hadn’t heard of. A shame.) All three essays above include some discussion as to why all this happens.

Habitat For Humanity has long been a favored charity for lefties, but at its outset, tried to be nonpartisan and evenhanded. It seemed for awhile to be an excellent place for conservatives and liberals to get together and do some good. It shows generosity to the poor, while not enabling poverty. I still think the sweat-equity, community participation, interest-free loan method to be excellent on many levels. I’ve even been able to overlook Jimmy Carter’s dishonest political claims because HFH is such a good idea.

And we have excellent connections to Habitat Romania. It is based in Beius, where sons #3 & 4 were once in Iosef’s Orphanage, and where all of us (especially son #2) worked this summer. The person who runs Habitat there is in fact a relative of the people who run the orphanage my sons come from. Chris, my youngest son, was in a Habitat World group photo in Beius before we adopted him, and I have suggested that he work for Habitat instead of the orphanage this summer for his mission trip. We dropped by last summer’s Habitat project, and ran into that work group in both Romania and in Budapest.

Yet I have grown weary of HFH’s increasingly leftward tilt. The latest issue of Habitat World (also available online) cannot get off the first page without launching into the badly slanted statistics about poverty in America, the minimum wage, and CEO salaries. Hellooo, Habitat! CEO salaries are completely irrelevant to your mission. Attention! Even if your data about wages were not deceptive, it would still be not your calling to be putting your efforts there. People donate money to you because they want you to build houses.

HFH is now proudly joining the ONE Campaign, a coalition of “humanitarian” groups which hopes to Make Poverty History. Habitat has “increasing interest in advocacy and outreach.” Its new partners are “veteran activists.” Like those are good things?

To keep up with its new friends, Habitat For Humanity latest issue has to make sure it works in the cost of the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina exposing the lack of transportation for the poor, and that “inequality is greater than it’s been since 1929.” Really? 1929? Do you have any editors able to think for 15 seconds before sending something like that to press?

They still do good work. They still build houses and they’ll still get our money for awhile. But as the advocacy people and the coalition people increasingly take over the board, the magazine, and the organization, the building people will become less important. And long after the final scene of Animal Farm replays in the HFH boardroom, people will still be sending money in the false belief that they’re building houses.

Keep your eyes open, so that you notice your personal point of departure when it occurs.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Types of Liberty

A post from last week over at the excellent Albion's Seedlings reminded me of a topic I had intended to post on weeks ago: the varieties of meaning of the word "liberty" in the American Colonies from the time of founding to independence.

We think we mean the same thing when we use a word, but this is not often so, especially with large abstracts like kindness, or community. While the concepts of liberty converged somewhat leading up to the Revolution, they sprang from at least four different concepts, associated with the four distinct areas of settlement.

These founding folkways, and much else besides, led to quite distinct, and often diametrically opposed, ideas about liberty. David Hackett Fischer calls the New England idea "ordered liberty" (freedom to determine the course of one's own society), at worst exemplified in the stifling, moralistic conformism that we still associate with the word "Puritan", at best in the strong town-based democracies (and suspicion of anything but local power) still evident in parts of northern New England.

The Virginia idea was that of "hegemonic liberty" (freedom to rule and not be ruled), at worst exemplified in the hierarchical "Slaveocracy" that valued freedom for those at the top but not for poor white trash or black slaves, at best in the aristocratic excellence of men such as George Washington.

The Quaker idea was that of "reciprocal liberty" (freedom for me and for thou), at worst exemplified in the pacifistic pursuit of commerce without regard for nation or principle, at best in a quite modern-sounding respect for all human beings to pursue their own fulfillment.

The frontier idea was that of "natural liberty" (a freedom without restraints of law or custom), at worst exemplified in the violent and often-emotionalistic chaos of life beyond the reach of civilized norms, at best in eternal vigilance with regard to the sovereignty of the individual.


Frontier in the above means the Appalachian areas settled by the Scots-Irish and English Borderers throughout the middle of the 18th C. Quaker refers not only to the settling of Pennsylvania in the late 17th C, but the other mid-Atlantic states as well. The overall concept is taken from Fischer's marvellous Albion's Seed, which traces the founding of the American regions back to distinctive regions of Great Britain.

New England -- ordered liberty -- freedom to determine the course of one's own society. I touched on this two weeks ago. It is close to the idea of Christian Community and consensus living. A modern equivalent would be an environmentalist community which would agree to bind itself to certain principles of organic farming. The individual would not have liberty to do as he pleases in pesticides and fertilizer, but would adhere to group norms, so that all other members could have food free of taint. The European aspirations come closest to this model.

Virginia -- hegemonic liberty -- freedom to rule and not be ruled. The right of the few to achieve enormous freedom -- by birth, merit, or assignment -- is preserved, even at the expense of the many. Americans rebel against such an equality being granted by birth into nobility -- but many conservatives are fine with it occurring by merit. Whether justified or no, this is the stereotype of conservatives that liberals rail against.

Mid-Atlantic -- reciprocal liberty -- freedom for me and for thee. This is some midpoint between the two above. "I will consent to give up some freedoms, but no one shall force me to give up others."

Appalachia -- natural liberty -- freedom without restraints of law or custom. This would be closer to a libertarian (or hyper-libertarian) framing. The freedom of the individual trumps even local control. Think Alaska.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Red Sox Outlook

Now that I’ve read up a little.

There are the big hitters, Ortiz, Ramirez, Varitek, and Nixon (if healthy). All one year older. Coco Crisp is already on the all-name team, and may hit well. None with signs of obvious deteriorating ability, but also none likely to have a better season than 2004 or 2005.

I don’t like this infield. Youkilis bids fair to be more than enough OBP for a 3rd baseman – but he’ll be at 1B, which usually requires more bat. If he hits .300 with 100 walks and little power, which is about the best we could hope, is that enough? Maybe. Cora, Loretta, Lowell, Snow – these are not good hitters, none of them. Gonzales, fair. Graffanino, fair. The prospects, Machado, Ellsbury, and Pedroia all look very promising. But we all know what percentage of prospects work out.

For those who like sharp fielding and smart baserunning, though, this is a good group.

Pitching is going to be entirely about health. Schilling, Beckett, Foulke are all saying they feel healthy and are in good shape, yadda, yadda, ya. I think I have heard that every spring since 1966. Wakefield may be entering the second half of his career. Papelbon could light up the league, Clement and Arroyo could be solid…

We are going to miss Doug Mirabelli. If Foulke is back in form, the whole pen should hold up.

I think this is a reasonably good risk for a Wild Card. There is some chance for a pennant. But even more than the last few springs, there is a chance for disaster this season. An injury to any outfielder, Ortiz, or Varitek would be devastating, and there is no reason to think anyone in the infield is likely to rise as a replacement. Injuries to pitchers might be weatherable – but we also have a higher-than-usual risk of multiple injuries there.

Round Two of Ports Security

We grant that Round One went heavily to the Bush critics. They pummelled him before he got a glove up. Because it Looks Bad to have (cough) them in charge of security.

I've always had a fondness for the counterintuitive. Surely someone must have noticed that this looks insane? And yet went forward. Doesn't that, in and of itself, suggest that just maybe, someone has looked at this cautiously?

Everyone thought it looked suspicious at first. Since then, the analysis has been swinging back in Bush's favor. I know zip about port security, but I'm pretty good at listening to arguments. The longshoremen's union is against it. The conspiracists are against it. Most of the arguments against the deal have boiled down to "Is he nuts?"

Next, we prod gently on exactly what is wrong with the general principle of the plan? How exactly is this company our enemy? Because they're Arab?

On the plus side, folks have noticed that UAE is actually our best ally in the region. I have read several commenters who have asked "isn't there some advantage to having Arab allies?" There is also the thought that there are simpler ways of attacking the US than buying a very obvious and expensive port security operation.

I'm liking this better the more I look at it. Round Two to Bush.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Red Sox Outlook

My Father-in-Law asked me to rate the prospects, and assess the Sox chances this year.
Hellifyno. But this site seems to not only have a lot of good information, but a great blogroll of other Red Sox sites.

I may hazard a guess after I've read up a bit.

Fascinating Time Waster

Mesmerizing

HT: No Oil For Pacifists

Lives Of The Mind

Having reread Lives Of The Mind by Roger Kimball -- it takes more than one reading for me to absorb material that abstract -- I was struck by the tawdriness of the biographies of the last two centuries of philosophers. Illegitimate children, fascinations with 14 year-olds, exaggerated self-regard, an almost fawning willingness to collaborate with evil governments -- there seems a higher-than-expected percentage of all of these.

We are all subject to a world of temptations, and we should perhaps not expect philosophers to be much better than we are. But should they be so much worse? These are the people -- the Rousseaus, Hegels, Heidiggers, deMans, Foucaults, Kierkegaards, Schopenhauers -- who are telling us how to live.

Is their intense abstraction a mere intellectualization, an attempt to escape from the zoos of their own hearts?

Where Does All This Linguistics Come From?

drj asked, and I hope this answers.

I am usually autobiographical only in short bursts, referencing events in Village Idiot life solely for illustration of other points. As most of my visitors come over from psychoblogger sites where I comment, they come over expecting political, social, parenting, or mental health issues. These usually attract the most followup commentary. The linguistics are jarring, and perhaps puzzling, especially as I am not a language professional in any way.

But my interest in linguistics bears on issues of education, parenting, and meaning, so a bit of biography can be used to illustrate some other important concepts. I call it a cup hooks theory of learning. Either cup hooks or shelving must be installed if the cups are to be put away in most orderly fashion. Only when there is a framework suitable for cups present can you store more than a few with any hope of finding what you need. Once there is a framework, however, a wide variety of cups might be stored on it.

My brother became fascinated by the Civil War in 5th grade, the first subject he had shown much interest in. He became a fountain of information by late highschool. While any such monomania looks narrow at first, once the structure is erected, other things just naturally get attached to it. Almost accidentally, he picked up knowledge in related, and ever-expanding areas. He learned the geography of the eastern US. Historical events just before and just after the war were easy to incorporate. He acquired some military history, some economic history, some knowledge of slavery, and of custom. This framework was in place for all future learning.

Rejoice if your child finds a subject of fascination.

Knowledge needs a framework, or it just piles up at the bottom of your brain, unusable. Each stage of learning depends on the ones before it. My linguistics framework was built up accidentally out of other subjects of interest. I have always liked curiosities and little-known facts. I have a mind like an attic, full of charming and potentially useful things with no immediate application. As I have always liked solving puzzles, word puzzles just got dragged in for the ride. But certain specific skeins went into learning about language.

I was a folksinger because it was cool in a certain intellectual way, and began acquiring old songs via the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and PP&M. I never had much interest in anything but American and English/Scottish songs, but I enjoyed pushing those back as far in time as I could. History and language just came in as part of the background. I took German because everyone else was taking French and Spanish, so that was cooler.

Though many friends suggested I would like Tolkien, I didn’t read him until end of freshman year. I became an immediate fanatic, and devoured the few volumes of commentary about him available in the early 70’s. Tolkien dragged in Anglo-Saxon, King Arthur, and the whole northern mythology. I studied Beowulf, and added in Vikings because I had some Scandinavian ancestors. These in turn brought in all that heroic fantasy in children’s literature: Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis (which tied back into Tolkien again), Alan Garner, Peter Beagle, Susan Cooper, Mary Stewart, and a dozen others. By pursuing avidly a certain sort of northern European adventure story, I found that I picked up a lot of knowledge about Wales, and Wagner, and waistcoats. I took the occasional college course about medieval literature or linguistics. Discovering Steeleye Span loosely tied the folk music fascination into the medieval adventures. Being one of the few Yankees among southerners, I defensively focused on New England history and learned about dialects, which was also useful in the theater.

From Lewis I learned Christ, and though the other loves did not go away, they receded a bit. As a new Christian I started reading the Bible, which brought in a little Greek, a little Hebrew, a little Latin, as well as older eras of history. I had little interest in Greek and Roman literature and history, and still don’t, but some came in unannounced. In reading Church history I naturally gravitated to my previous favorite eras, and so read Luther and Aquinas. More usually, I read about them and their times rather than their works directly. The word-games and etymological curiosities kept attaching themselves to the existing frameworks, and the connecting threads twined together. My fascination with Lewis has remained strong, and this has fed unexpected bits into my linguistic knowledge as well.

I have lots of interests which never quite tied into this group: sports history, number theory, science fiction, and astronomy, for example. But more often, whatever I put my mind to would weave its way in: genealogy, hymnody, learning, neurology, child development, adopting Romanians. I had studied linguistics directly only as a small part of a single college course, but found myself at age 40 with many of the pieces in place that a linguistics major would have acquired. So a book on the history of the Indo-Europeans satisfies many interests at once/

Many of the same pieces fell together in kaleidoscope fashion to give me a solid knowledge of the colonial American churches.

Later addition: I forgot Jewish history, espionage, and sexual offenders. I just keep picking up these fascinations which last for 3-4 years. I'm 52, and it eventually adds up.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Back Online

Do my sons know me or what? I was actually reading up on Anglo-Saxon language during the power outage. Leorning-cnihtas is the Old English construction for "disciples." Literally, it is "Knights of learning." It seems to be present in several dialects, suggesting that the phrase was in general use, and thus earlier than our first recording of it. Poetic constructions like this were called kennings, and the example usually given is "whale-road" for sea. Which by clang association always brought to my mind someone's-in-the-kitchen-with-Dinah...

My first task when I got back online, however, was to research Wind Chill. With the power out going into the coldest two nights of the year, heat loss, and what accelerates it, was much on my mind. Wind chill is a concept measuring the heat loss of human beings in cold and wind. Objects don't get any colder once they reach the outside temperature, no matter how much wind there is. But human beings need to maintain their 100F. Whole different matter. Other objects lose heat more rapidly in wind as well, though not at the same rate. There is a nifty explanation here, more detailed than the usual wind-chill chart, but still brief. I hadn't thought of the solar radiation part.

It will be zero degrees with wind, wind-chill to minus 20 tonight. My personal definitions set WC 20 above as cold, zero as Cold, and minus 20 as Damn Cold. Minus 28 with a little wind, and minus 11 with a stiff wind are the worst I've experienced. Apparently it's supposed to feel slightly colder in places like this because of the increased moisture in the air, but I can't speak to that myself.

For those of you disappointed not to find any actual Indo-European roots here, I will dredge up an interesting one from memory.

*ghosti refers to the interactive relationships between strangers. From it we get our words ghost, guest, hostile, hostel, and host (in several senses). Meeting a stranger was fraught with peril. Is he an enemy? A trader? The acceptance of hospitality created a mutual obligation that was protective for both parties. Gift-giving created similar obligations. To accept a gift was to imply that you would shortly give one in return. Native Americans practiced a similar obligation of exchange, and when they gave a gift expected one in return as a sign of unity and peace. When Europeans were not forthcoming with a reciprocal gift, the Native American would demand his gift back. Thus the term Indian Giver, resulting from that misunderstanding.

This contractual binding undergirds much of informal legal custom, and became a foundation for our legal systems. The words "legal" and "ligament" derive from the same root.

David's Absence

David is without power for the next little bit. So he won't be posting. Don't worry- I'm sure he'll read plenty of obscure language books and when he returns will have some Indo-European root that has a terribly interesting history.

-Jonathan

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Guardianship and the behavior of nations: Wondering about sanctions.

I have a patient being discharged tomorrow. No one is very happy about all this. She will be on a Conditional Discharge, which means she will have to adhere to certain rules until 2010 or be returned to the hospital, so she’s not happy. She is 60 years old and resents being told what to do. She will begin resisting the conditions, cutting down on her medications, missing appointments, maybe smoking a little weed now and then. Most likely, her MHC will suspect but be unable to prove this unless they draw a line in the sand and order her to have bloodwork for drugs, or for medication levels. Her non-adherence will get her into trouble sooner rather than later. She will come to the attention of the police and be brought to the ER, and returned to the hospital. She will maintain that she was doing fine, thank you very much, but lost her temper when the police/MH clinician/ER doctor interfered. This has been going on for years.

The mental health professionals are reluctant to pull the plug on this. She is not a murderer, she doesn’t climb up on bridges and threaten to jump, and though she does drive and is alarming, her car runs so seldom that we can wink at it. She is disruptive and threatening. She is not merely eccentric, which her community should just tolerate, but quite frightening to the neighborhood children, whom she threatens, and mildly destructive in stores, throwing cups of coffee or other small objects. She is more likely than the average person to cause real harm, but not flagrantly dangerous.

The situation persists because everyone hopes there is a third way, and tries to reach it. She has a schizoaffective disorder, but will not take a mood stabilizer. She is on, in fact, a horrible combination of Haldol and Mellaril. She is already dysarthric. If we could get her to take Zyprexa…I don’t think she has been tried on Lamictal…did she really have a bad reaction to Depakote or is she just saying that…

She won’t take them. In their heart of hearts, all the psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who deal with her know this. But we are trained in Motivational Interviewing, or Strength-Based Interventions, or a dozen other attitudinal trainings which help us get through this discouragement. By personality and by training, we have to believe there is a Third Way, some interest or affection or approach or leverage which will get us out of the dilemma. And because we have occasional successes, some few patients who accept a compromise, which leads to an improvement, which leads to a collaboration, which leads to some poor soul actually having a life again, we hold to our dreams of bringing her ‘round. We don’t want to admit that our choices are only two: endure her hypomania and hope she doesn’t run over some child, or petition the probate court for a guardianship, forcing her to accept what we think is best forever. That the guardians in NH are wonderful people who will try hard to continue negotiation and advocate for her will likely mean nothing. The end result of her next admission, or the one after that, is that she will be assigned a guardian, and then held down and given injections until she consents to take orally something that will actually take away the chronic hypomanic state she loves.

We want there to be more than two choices. Every occasional success in persuading others causes us to cling again to the hope that some person might hold the key, some technique might improve her insight 13% and allow us a foothold. But always, there is that fear of a car running over someone’s kid, or the patient annoying a dangerous person and getting killed, hovering in the back of our minds. The disability rights lawyers, bless them and curse them, don’t have that burden.

Take this whole mess and zip nations into the roles instead of people. As well-meaning as the Third Way people are, hoping that they can persuade, or leverage, or intimidate, or bribe the misbehaving one into some reasonableness, they cannot accept what Tevye eventually was driven to: There is no other hand. Otto Kernberg was the dean of theoreticians and advisors for those treating Borderline Personality Organization (now Disorder). If you read closely, you come up against walls. After lengthy discussion, he then dismisses some to state institutions with no further comment. Gee, thanks, doctor. Ditto Marsha Linehan. So that’s how you do it. That’s why Saddam Hussein never becomes an issue. It becomes Someone Else’s Problem. If we, left to deal with the problem, put the hammer down on a dozen poor souls – or sovereign nations – someone can always come back and insist that if we had tried a Third Way with North Korea, if we had let diplomacy and sanctions do their work in Iraq, if we would try to understand the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians, if, if, if…

The accusation is easy when you only have to look at half the equation.

The Punchline As Stereotype

A psychologist friend told me this joke today. I had heard variations on it, but he tells jokes well and I didn't interrupt him.
A guy walks into a bar and sees a robot bartender. He asks for a drink and watches as the robot creates it beautifully and precisely. The robot hands over the drink. "What's your IQ?" he asks. The man answers, perhaps exaggerating for reasons of ego, 145.
"I read something interesting about string theory recently..." began the robot, and they had a pleasant conversation for a quarter hour, the customer pleased, but barely keeping up. Amazing, he thought. How do they do that?

The man decides to go back and test this again. He orders a drink, watches the robot bartender's meticulous preparation, and receives the drink as the robot asks "What's your IQ?" 100, the man answers, and enters into a very interesting conversation about NASCAR.


The blogger steps aside to note: hmm. Not unkind, but a stereotype is in play here.

The man decides to entertain himself further, and repeats his bar adventures for a third night. The robot again skillfully makes a drink and asks "What's your IQ?"

55, the man answers, and the robot bartender says...


Fill in your stereotype here, eh? The joke has been set up to illustrate that someone is stoopid. The entire joke, in fact, depends on a stereotype. Whatever words one puts in the robot's mouth, the joke has been set up so that it only works if both the speaker and hearer agree on the stereotype. I first read the joke criticizing Georgians -- How 'bout them Dawgs? You can pick on whoever you like with this. It's really not particularly funny. It derives its humor entirely from the stereotype.

By putting in a cute inversion, it can be made funnier. In the mouth of a black comedian, for example, the punchline "Aint those niggers stupid?" has a wry twist to it. You can get that extra twist by having the IQ 55 victims think someone else is stupid. My psychologist friend, BTW, used the line "So, you planning to vote for Bush again?" It's funny only if you share the stereotype. And I could use it for my own purposes as well, with a simple statement written in Norwegian, or anything emblematic of Vermonters, or a particular school of psychology or linguistics, or some prominent liberal. But it's only really funny if you can add in that turning of the tables.

Boy, is Bush ignorant or what?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Two Articles From a Great Site

From "Darwin's Silver Box" by English physician Myles Harris
On a planet where computers had yet to be been invented and electricity is unknown, an earthquake fissures a great rift in the earth. At the bottom of the fissure, hundreds of feet below the surface, a strange box made of an unknown, shiny metal is found. When the box is opened its discoverers find an arrangement of what look like keys, with each key having a different mark.

On the inside of the hinged lid, opposite the keys, is a square piece of glass of greenish colour which is slightly soft to the touch. If you look hard at its surface you can dimly see your face. There are four screws on one side of the box. When they are removed a panel comes away revealing a network of tiny green boards covered in gold, copper and silver wires. In one corner is a small, delicate wheel.


The rest of the article is here.

From the Book Review for The Revenge of Gaia: Why the earth is fighting back – and how we can still save humanity
by James Lovelock

The second part of the sub-title of this book is a false sell: it doesn't tell us how to save humanity. Indeed, James Lovelock has disclaimed the idea as "hubristic" on BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House, whilst also suggesting he didn't write the words anyway. But that hardly matters. There are many competing messages in this small infuriating book and some of them appeal to this reviewer. So, to accentuate the positive, let's look at them first.

Lovelock admires Bruce Ames, the American researcher who first described the carcinogenicity of the most "natural" of our foods, and demonstrated that the "artificial" chemicals in the food produced by conventional farmers was benign, not least as compared with the "organic". He takes quite a good swipe at Rachel Carson, and that's always a good sign. Oh, and he dismisses the hypochondria and self-deception which lies behind much new-age medicine.


The rest of the review is here.

What Should Happen To Dick Cheney?

The most frequent water-cooler comment I have heard is that whatever would happen to the likes of you and me, that’s what should happen to Dick Cheney. That makes intuitive sense to most Americans, who consider that in an egalitarian society, the politically powerful should not have privileges denied the common man. So I imagined what would be the situation if this had happened to me? What could I expect the long arm of the law to impose upon me for a hunting accident which resulted in injury? I have the following recommendations.

Cheney’s driver’s license should be suspended indefinitely, and at a minimum, he should be forbidden to drive after dark on Chappaquiddick Island.

For obstructing the FBI investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Foster’s death by blocking access to Foster’s office for several hours, I think an obstruction of justice charge against Cheney should be looked into.

For the campaign contributions from Abramoff clients the day before important votes and the similar coincidences of personal intervention by Cheney on those clients’ behalf, he should be temporarily relieved of his duties as Senate Minority Leader until an investigation clears him.

Cheney’s speeches in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world during the Clinton Administration, in which he open criticised the president’s policies, might leave him open to a maximum charge of treason. Certainly his ability to travel abroad should be curtailed.

Cheney’s conviction for misuse of government documents by hiding them in his socks and pants to take them home, and their subsequent destruction, has already been dealt with, though to my mind, inadequately.

Cheney’s unwillingness to release his military records by signing Form 180 is not criminal, and no official action should be taken, but it would be nice if the press hounded him until he kept his promise.

The rape accusation is old, and should not be subject to any criminal penalties or further investigation. Other members of government, however, should apprise themselves of the available data and keep same in mind when making decisions about Cheney’s fitness.

Cheney’s business and investment history are very troubling, and the investigations into his real estate and cattle futures deals have been inadequate. That they are political old news does not impress me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

People Who Mostly Agree With You

The trollish and MSM accusation about the blogosphere is that each area develops an echo chamber, an intellectual cul-de-sac, which becomes impervious to new information and ideas. I don't find that. I find that the sites I frequent have commenters who are people I mostly agree with. That is quite different, because all across the spectrum of ideas, it is often not those who refute you, but those who partly agree with you, who are most likely to change your mind.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Reflections On the Second Commandment

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

This has nothing to do with swearing, dammit. (I just threw that last in for effect.) Bad language is hardly ever mentioned in the rest of the Bible, so why would people think that God would make it #2 on the Big Chart and then forget about it? Even making promises with oaths -- the other swearing -- gets very little play, Old Testament or New.

False prophecy, now, that subject comes up a lot, with many variations played on the Carillon of Scripture (that metaphor didn't work out as well as I'd hoped). And that, my friends, is what is referred to as taking the Lord's name in vain is here. It means no forging God's signature under your own ideas. It means being very cautious and considered about making any claims that what you teach is The Gospel, or The Authentic Gospel.

Teaching is of course not only allowed, but encouraged. Check up on the penalties for false teaching before you start blathering, however. Liberal Christians rightly criticize conservatives for stepping way over the line in making claims about what God does and doesn't want in law and politics. Then they do the same thing themselves -- and worse, because they will often get together and put a denominational stamp on it. They just claim to speak for God in more elegant terms -- which is what God really wants, right?

Anyway, everyone just cut it out, y' hear me?

No Bode, None of the Time

On behalf of the State of New Hampshire, but with no authorization from anyone, I would like to apologize to the country, and ultimately the world, that Bode Miller is still a twerp at 28 years old.

If you win a gold medal, you become a smart person who is considered knowledgeable about human relations, drug policy, and politics. Also, your arrogance gets redefined as honesty. Silver medal, people still think you might know something. If you finish out of the medal standings, you are a stupid person who knows nothing about anything, not even your sport specialty, regardless of your other qualifications.

Shut up and ski.

Parallel Hatreds

The comments of Ed Driscoll of The Press as Victorian Gentlemen, with all the condescension and we-know-better-than-you that implies end with his suggestion that the MSM hates the blogosphere because of its availability to the masses. The internet is messy and unpredictable -- that is, democratic.

I recall going into Walmart a few years ago and thinking "There's a lot of ethnic folks here. Huh." I thought immediately after, "I wonder if that's what the people who hate Walmart are really objecting to. There are poor people here, immigrants, odd-looking people." I have observed the tone of discourse about Walmart since then, and it has confirmed my initial suspicion. The Walmart opposers like immigrants and poor people in the abstract, but they don't like to see them in groups larger than three outside their assigned neighborhoods.

For additional evidence, observe the tone used for the entertainments and other places favored by the poor -- the type of sporting events, churches, and restaurants they choose. It is the tone the settled and successful used about the poor and immigrants a hundred years ago. Exactly the tone used when the lower classes started going to college on the basis of merit. Exactly the tone that Europe, and one-third of the American Colonies, used when representative democracy was proposed as the rule of governance.

Democracy is a bitch, aint it?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ben In Torino Update

In the Moguls competition (Women's 2/11, Men's 2/15), when they finish their run and look up at the scoreboard to see how well they did? That's where Ben comes in. He and another guy zoom themselves and the camera in on the athlete. If the skiers keep their goggles on, he thinks he'll be visible in the reflection.

He has already screwed up one rehearsal for the flower giving ceremony at the foot of the run, but thinks it should go fine now. Hope so.

All Are Welcome

How many blog commenters does it take to change a lightbulb?

One to change the light bulb and to post that the light bulb has been
changed.

Fourteen to share similar experiences of changing light bulbs and how
the light bulb could have been changed differently.

Seven to caution about the dangers of changing light bulbs.

Seven more to point out spelling/grammar errors in posts about changing
light bulbs.

Five to flame the spell checkers.

Three to correct spelling/grammar flames.

Six to argue over whether it's "lightbulb" or "light bulb" ...

Another six to condemn those six as stupid.

Fifteen to claim experience in the lighting industry and give the
correct spelling.

Nineteen to post that this group is not about light bulbs and to please
take this discussion to a lightbulb (or light bulb) forum.

Eleven to defend the posting to the group saying that we all use light
bulbs and therefore the posts are relevant to this group.

Thirty six to debate which method of changing light bulbs is superior,
where to buy the best light bulbs, what brand of light bulbs work best
for this technique and what brands are faulty.

Seven to post URLs where one can see examples of different light bulbs.

Four to post that the URLs were posted incorrectly and then post the
corrected URL.

Three to post about links they found from the URLs that are relevant to
this group which makes light bulbs relevant to this group.

Thirteen to link all posts to date, quote them in their entirety
including all headers and signatures, and add "Me too"

Five to post to the group that they will no longer post because they
cannot handle the light bulb controversy.

Four to say "didn't we go through this already a short time ago?"

Thirteen to say "do a Google search on light bulbs before posting
questions about light bulbs."

Three to tell a funny story about their cat and a light bulb.

AND

One group lurker to respond to the original post 6 months from now with
something unrelated they found at snopes.com and start it all over again!


I have fit EIGHT of the above categories at one time or another.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Underground DSM-IV: Sex Offenders

I have no research data on this, but I have been at this long enough that I consider it more than anecdotal. Once again, when reading a sex offender’s history today, I noticed that he had observed his mother having sex with someone other than her husband. This shows up remarkably often in this population. One might expect that as a general rule, a woman with poor sexual boundaries and notions of privacy might bring up a son more likely to offend. But I wonder if the specific act is charged enough to be pathogenic, even as a single occurrence.

If anyone knows of research on this, please pass it along. I haven’t been able to discover any. I am also interested in anyone’s rambling thoughts on the matter.

Additional: Interesting blogging on a sex offender today over at Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred.

Parenthood

Being a parent means learning to watch your heart run around outside your body.

Pray for the parents of our soldiers in Iraq.

Libertarians, One-Worlders, Co-Religionists, and Americans.

Do we have a right to have a culture? The anthropological answer is that every group has a culture. Every group decides how the young are to be educated, how goods are to be distributed, how rules will be enforced. If we encounter a cluster of Amazonian tribes, we expect them to have distinctive ways of doing things: our sons must marry someone from the same language group, but a different clan; we may keep all birds we kill, but must share fish. The hidden complexities of such arrangements are the province of the anthropologist.

Does this tribe have the right to forbid gay marriage?

Now go back to the title, and just run through the questions within questions this raises. Where is this decision located? Are there rights of humanity which supercede group rules? Who owns the group identity? Is it part of American culture to leave culture up to the individual? Please know in advance that nearly every theoretical premise will lead you somewhere you don’t want to go. Discuss. Do not attempt to write on more than one side of the paper at a time. (Quick, what’s that from?)

The Actual Influence of Black English -- Part One

Introductory linguistics texts and History of English Courses usually cover this in a paragraph or two before moving on to discussions of how African-American Vernacular is not a substandard English, but a dialect, and all the other political statements academics feel should be inculcated into adolescents, who would otherwise have only the narrow views of their bigoted culture to fall back on. Then linguists get distracted into talking about black slang, Gullah dialect, literacy, and other topics which are important in themselves, but don’t tell us too much about the influence of African-Americans on our everyday language.

That paragraph usually gives a word list of terms that we get from African-Americans, like jazz, or yam, or banjo. This always struck me as a terribly condescending, everybody-gets-a-ribbon way to proceed. Did you know that several important words come from Turkish?!

The actual influence of black speakers is deeper and more profound. We have many small words in English that get enormous use, such as run, get, set, and go. Go up. Go over. Go for. Get through a crisis. Get under your skin. Get down tonight. Run up. Run out. Set up. Set out. We use dozens of idiomatic, nuanced versions of these words. Many of them have histories long before slaves were brought to America, but their use was not so extensive as it is today.

When wave after wave of people come in and learn your language as a second language, basic words tend to take on multiple uses. New speakers draw from what they already know to communicate. If you have the idea of run already in memory, then you are going to pick up the ideas of run out of water, run out on your wife more easily than emptied, or abandoned.

The French, Dutch, and Spanish all came early to America, but didn’t tend to learn English. Jews, Germans, Armenians, and Cambodians came in their own times and reinforced this pattern of multiple-use basic words. But it was the enormous number of Africans learning English as adults which originally gave American this idiomatic twist.

Anticipating objections: Yes, British English also uses these forms. It’s a long discussion, and I still stand by the above

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Needed In The Middle East

I got compliments for this off-the-cuff idea posting on other sites, so I thought I'd bring it home.

What the Middle East needs is an Urban Legends site like snopes.com, written in Arabic.

Hukt on Fonix

There are elements missing from the layman's whole language/phonics discussion which are present in the more rigorous scientific discussion. I would like to add several of those simpler elements in, free of jargon, simply to elevate the level of discussion -- on both sides.

Everyone claims their method works better. Their arguments, however, tend to revolve around why each method should work better. Because good readers move quickly to whole language, why not skip the phonics step altogether? Or contrarily, If you can read phonics you can decode almost anything without assistance. Additionally, there is the sense that phonics is the old-fashioned way, whole language is the newer, advanced way, each side drawing some adherence on that basis alone.

In languages more consistently phonetic, such as German, there is no question. Teaching phonics is so obviously superior in such situations that whole language is not even considered. At the other extreme, there is no sense in teaching phonics in China, as the writing is pictographic. Spanish and French are phonetic enough that phonics is superior.

English lies farther out. It is essentially phonetic, but so littered with exceptions that phonics is not an infallible key to decoding. As with irregular verbs that we have to "just learn" because there is no rule, there are irregular spellings which we have to "just learn" to pronounce.

The scientific evidence is mixed, but tends to favor phonics. That is more a statement about the English Language than it is about the teaching method. If English were more phonetic, phonics would look even better. If English were less phonetic, phonics would be less useful. The reason that we have a controversy at all is because English is predominantly, but not entirely, phonetic. There are readers who learn almost entirely by the whole language method, but when you break down what they are doing, they are reverse-engineering their own phonics methods when they encounter an unfamiliar word, usually making inspired guesses on the basis of the first and last letters and the word length. Less often, something very unusual about a word will make it stand out, such as the two z's in "pizza," which children often pick up on their own once they start reading, moving back and forth between the context cues, repetition, simplified phonics, and bright neon, reminders to take in the whole word.

Self-Mockery, Adulthood, Confidence: Nations

Inspired by a post on a similar topic over at Dr. Sanity.

The joke runs that In Heaven…
All the Comedians are English,
All the Cooks are French,
All the Lovers are Italian,
All the Mechanics are German,
And All the Service is Swiss.

In Hell…
All the Comedians are German
All the Cooks are English
All the Lovers are Swiss
All the Mechanics are Italian
And all the Service is French

Europeans find this funny when they tell it to each other. Everyone knows these are stereotypes and exaggerations. There are some good English cooks. There are some bad German mechanics. The cost of getting to poke fun at someone else is to endure a mild insult oneself. It is an honor to be mentioned at all. Luxembourg and Portugal don’t figure in the equation, for example. It seems a little less funny to them when an outsider tells it, but they can still appreciate the humor.

I told the joke to a Romanian and asked if a similar joke could be constructed with Romania, Hungary, Poland, etc in it. He didn’t think so. He couldn’t put his finger on humorous stereotypes – all of them still had bite and meanness in them. He allowed that Romanians could tell jokes about themselves somewhat, but nationality jokes were still mainly elevations of Romanians at the expense of others. Only recently, he thought, were double-edged jokes told by others beginning to be accepted.

This would seem to be a step forward. It takes a certain largeness of character to laugh at oneself, both as an individual and as a nation. The inability of radical Muslims to endure even a mild insult bespeaks a brittleness and touchiness common to children.

When Chris and John-Adrian came to America at 16 and 14, they had less defensiveness and brittleness about them than I had feared, but more than I as father would hope for. It was quite natural on their part, of course, coming from abuse, rejection, and the insecurity of institutional living. But we started a campaign early to acclimate them to affectionate teasing. My two older sons had an exquisitely fine sense of how and when to push the envelope with their new brothers. John-Adrian’s small group Bible study also sensed the need to banter him up to bring him into full fellowship. They are both well up on the bell curve of giving and taking affectionate abuse now – as I would expect for a Wyman male.

Self-Mockery, Adulthood, Confidence: Changes in American Comedy

When I was growing up, white people making jokes about black people was considered in poor taste, rather like kicking someone when they were down. Only in carefully controlled situations where some affection and equality were assumed were such jokes allowed, and it was usually considered better if the black person led in this. For blacks to make jokes about whites was a little dicey, but more acceptable. Only people with a fine-tuned social sense could make it work consistently.

Bill Cosby came in, and the focus of his humor was how much his childhood experiences were like everyone else’s, especially those who had grown up poor or in cities. The universality was the key, rather like the Jewish comedians earlier poking fun at their mothers, who turned out to be much like everyone’s mothers (only more so).

Cosby gradually inserted gender and racial material over time. I doubt it was so much intentional as it was a comedian’s sense of what the market would bear – how far you could push an audience and still be funny. That he was able to push the envelope illustrated that we were all growing up.

Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy came up and made fun of both black people and white people more – and it worked. No matter how many they offended, they always were able to delight a larger percentage, forcing the offended to smile anyway. It is good for us to pretend to be more great-hearted than we are. For one thing, you learn that it doesn’t kill you; secondly, you find that people like you better.

Rednecks make fun of themselves. Female comedians increasingly make fun of women instead of men. I recently read a female travel writer who wrote “My Inner Princess wanted to scream.” That joke could not have been told twenty years ago. It wouldn’t have been funny.

There has been a lot of complaining about men being the butt of jokes on television for forty years. It persists because most men don’t mind all that much. We’ve been doing this for years and are more comfortable in our own skin. When men find general insults unfunny, it is usually because the attack was clumsy – merely insulting, with little grace. Remember Cyrano, for example. The rising group often takes pleasure in the mere ability to get away with the insult.

That confidence may come from having been the power group for so long. The recent increase in men complaining about how they are portrayed may reflect a recognition that the field is leveling.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Expansion of Language

In public expression, we try to adhere as closely to Written Standard English as we comfortably can, as a cultural marker that we have been taught to care about standards, or traditions, or literature. How we write and speak declares something about who we are and what we value.

This has been changing under our feet for decades, and has been accelerating on the internet. Not only are forms changing, such as the increasing use of phrase-abbreviations such as IMHO, BTW, LOL, and WTF, but switching between Standard and Colloquial is increasingly valued in communication.

Hispanics who grow up in America switch back and forth between English and Spanish. Linguists call it code-switching. It is a declaration of relative comfort with both languages, and the rules of when to switch are not arbitrary. Black writers switch back and forth between Written Standard and African-American Vernacular, to make the statement that they have command of both and move in both worlds. In less dramatic fashion, writers like Dave Barry code-switch between colloquial and standard for comic effect. The use of sentence fragments is increasing in standard written discourse.

I should deplore this, but I like it. How someone who never splits an infinitve and will have to have the Princeton/Oxford comma pulled from my cold, dead fingers can countenance such solecism may seem impossible. But I still like it. So there.

Bullies To Buddies

When I received the flyer that announced this speaker for Grand Rounds at my hospital, I expected this to be a PC nightmare. I googled over, hoping to find good examples of PC idiocy to deplore and complain about.

But this guy Israel Kaplan makes sense. He gets it that zero-tolerance increases anger and violence. He gets it that aggression is natural and must be channelled, not pathological to be eliminated. I agree with 90% of what he writes.

His observations about oversensitivity to words and insults, and how to perpetuate victimhood, are particularly relevant in view of the violence around the Danish cartoons.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Transylvania Roundup

I browsed around to see what is happening in Transylvania and that which borders it: the rest of Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, and Slovakia. Technically, I should include Serbia as well, but I never have a clear sense what any of the news stories mean there.

Romania and Ukraine have gotten together a joint venture to drill for oil in the Black Sea. You will note that this agreement was attempted by previous left-leaning governments of both countries without accord. The center-right coalitions, if they are to survive in this part of the world, must be able to make such deals and keep corruption to a minimum.

Corruption has been the major drag on the Romanian economy since the Revolution of 89. I spoke with a Romanian who had moved to Australia when young and become successful there. He was returning to try and start a transportation business in Timisoara, but was discouraged. He didn't balk at the $100,000 in bribes he had to pay, but that ponying up produced no guarrantees. He called this Middle-Eastern rather than European corruption, and thought it did not bode well for Romania's future.

On positive economic notes, there is this intriguing tourist attraction, and confidence of better times ahead in Mihail Kogalniceanu. This latter was in the news as the suspect "black site" in Romania where the US was secretly sending prisoners. I hope we have several such sites there, though I would guess that Maramures is more likely than near the Black Sea. You could hide anything in Maramures. Forever.

There are elections happening in Hungary in April. The center-right FIDESZ party is currently leading in the polls, (background here), and the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Uprising is still making waves.

Hungarian newspapers reprinted the controversial Danish cartoons, and the Saudis don't like it.

Slovakia is showing more sense than the Democrats about social security, and Ukraine hopes to join NATO.

But the best news is that the Romanians may get this free-market idea down after all. Dacia Logans, coming to a parking lot nowhere near you.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Winter Olympics in Torino

Ben left this morning to work as a camera assistant filming the 2006 Olympics, a very cool gig worked out by Asbury College. I am thrilled, I am envious.

The word "terrorist" is never far from my thoughts. Please pray for all of them over there.

Update: We called the bank and found out that he used his ATM an hour ago, though we don't know where. You would think with the Olympics in ntown, internet access would be everywhere, but rereading the packet they sent him, it's not expected to be available until the events actually start. He is likely an hour out of Turin/Torino, up in the Alps for the Freestyle events.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bryson Disappoints

I always look forward to a Bill Bryson book I haven't yet read. I have
learned not to read two of the travel books back-to-back, as his intention
to tell you how ridiculous everything is, and how stupid most people are,
gets a touch tiring in large doses. Bryson is a great deplorer of things.
Still, he turns the humorous death-ray back on himself as well, which
lightens the burden. I consider the ability to make fun of oneself one of
the surest signs of a healthy personality. And his writing craft is good
-- even complicated material is an easy read.

Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is not what it claims to be. It is not a book about American English. It is a book of anecdotes in American History, some of which
touch on language. Plus, lists of a dozen or so words every ten pages which have some oddity about them. There's not a whole lotta language goin' on, heah.

An anecdotal history of America, with more than an average amount of
information about language, could theoretically be a good Bryson book.
Somehow, even granting him a mulligan for the false advertising doesn't
bring him to par. The anecdotes are not quite of the Everything You Know
Is Wrong school, but there's too much of that. It's been done, and done
often. There is usually a barely-hidden agenda in such books -- religious
or anti-religious, conservative or anti-conservative, European or
anti-European -- and Bryson mercifully keeps this at a minimum. But the
gotcha aspect remains.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Keeping Perspective

I generally support the president in the GWOT, but The Pink Flamingo Bar & Grill asks a reasonable question -- though perhaps with more irritation than I would -- about the WMD going to Syria: Isn't it more George Bush's fault than his critics? Sure, it was the Iraq critics who kept insisting slow down, make sure, don't be a cowboy, and it's easy in retrospect to complain that he was more right than they were. But George W. Bush is the president.

Let's use the ridiculous advantage of hindsight for a moment. If we were
sure that there were WMD, and that they were being moved to Syria (and
elsewhere, presumably), what would have been the proper course? Immediate
action. No UN, no placating Tony Blair, no polite nods to the critics to lessen their slavering. The outcry would have been enormous at the time, but we would have intercepted at least some of the shipments. And we would be safer now.

Hindsight tends to obscure practicalities. If we had intervened immediately and been wrong, that would be worse than what we now have. If we had intervened immediately and just looked wrong, by not successfully
intercepting shipments, that would also be worse than what we have now. How likely would we have been able to put resources in place quickly enough to have a reasonable chance of success? Would such an intervention create too much instability in Iraq? I grant all those complicating factors. But I don't think they would make intervention impossible.

I'm a sympathetic outsider, willing to be told that more immediate action was considered and rejected for entirely practical considerations. But I am also willing to ask if political considerations, granting the critics too much voice, prevented the administration from doing the right thing. You're the president. Mollifying your critics is not the overriding consideration. Do the right thing.