Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conservatives Need To Chill Out

A conservative site which will remain nameless has a post today about progressive attitudes toward children. It is perhaps fair game to point out that because progressives as a group have fewer children, they might value children less. But I don't see how that applies to the liberals who actually do have children of their own. The post itself, and certainly the comments, included dire warnings about how bad liberals' children were going to turn out, and what bad parents they are.

Go back to the dugout, shortstop. Don't automatically conclude parenting values from political values which include some of the same words. More importantly, while parenting may be the largest factor in how children turn out, it may not be a majority factor and is certainly not overwhelming. Genetics (especially temperament), siblings, neighborhood, churches, friends, schools, books, media and chance all play their part as well.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Woodstock

NPR did a short piece on the Woodstock Museum this morning. The 1969 event has taken on mythic proportions, both positive and negative.

Here's what you need to know: It was an outdoor concert. A lot of people went to it. That's it.

Because the crowd kept growing, from an expected .25% of the population from 15-30 to a full .5%, the people there decided that they had participated in an earth-changing event. They were aided in this idea by several irrelevant factors:
1. They were young and had not finished myelinating, and were still narcissistic enough to believe that whatever happened to them and their friends was more important than other things happening in the world. Anything that felt so powerful to them must be significant, right? It's the same thing that happens at the end of co-ed adolescent summer camp every week of the summer.

2. They were taking drugs, in particular marijuana, which is noted for its ability to convince you that random events have cosmic importance.

3. The performers had never played before crowds this big and all concluded that they must be hotter stuff than they had thought before.

4. The attendees were still a minuscule minority, which allowed them to think they were an elite of coolness. Coolness, you may recall from reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is what everyone is supposedly looking for.

5. The movie and record people saw dollar signs if they could bring out stuff to sell that reinforced the above notions. My generation has always been easily manipulated by people selling us stuff on the basis of telling us that we are more important than other people.

6. A lot of guys reportedly got laid, which made the males who hadn't gone feel they had missed an important opportunity.

Just so we're clear on the concept, these are the true descendants of Woodstock: The Flight of the Conchords.

(H/T Neco Dracones)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Postliberal

A repost of where the idea of "postliberal" comes from. There were quite a few comments - well, sort of.
Nothing against conservatives - I usually agree with them. But there are Social Conservatives, Economic Conservatives, Religious Right, Paleocons, Neocons, Envirocons, Crunchy conservatives, Country-club conservatives, and proabably a few others I haven't been introduced to yet. None of them suits, exactly. There are also several species of Libertarian, with whom I also have some sympathies.

But "Postliberal" also gives a sense of my history and my approach to issues.

(Full post here)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Liability

One of my all-time favorite players, Jason Varitek, is now a liability to the Red Sox. His OBP has always been low, but this year it is atrocious - .299. He is about the 30th-best offensive catcher in the majors as of today, depending on what stats you value most. He has remained useful the last few years because of his occasional power and his handling of pitchers. From 2001-2006, Red Sox pitchers had better ERA's with Tek catching. Usually much better. With young pitchers (Lester, Masterson, Buchholz) coming up and Dice-K and Okajima coming from Japan, it seemed natural to have the proverbial steady hand at the tiller. But that is a narrative, no longer borne out by the facts. Fans feel as if Varitek is the heart and soul of the team. I'd rather have OPS (or OW%), thanks.

The Sox need to bring up Dusty Brown, George Kottaras, or make a trade.

It won't happen this year, but it should.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fear Vs. Greed

In my recent repost There Is No System, I did not make the concept specific to free markets. I spoke with a friend at work today who believes that the oil companies are in bed with the automakers, that there are only a few corporations which control everything, and that there is a market system that can be manipulated by these nefarious entities.

Well wouldn't they just love to. It is best to think of most players in the market as amoral agents. Not that they are all amoral, but that this method provides the best overall predictive value. If they could manipulate the market, they most certainly would try. Groups succeed at having undue influence for awhile because they control a prized resource or process, but this is short-lived.

These large corporations are wrestling with the same large, ungainly mass of rubber bands that we are, trying to get a good grip to move things their own way. They're bigger, they can do a lot more, but no entity is large enough to move the whole market more than a little. You have to leverage the advantage you find, and leveraging means vulnerability and risk.

We use the nice words risk and benefit to describe actions in the market, but if you want to describe it starkly, it's fear versus greed. In the checks and balances of the market, fear is the great limiter of greed. This is why federal bailouts, government corruption, and sweetheart deals are so bad for us. They eliminate the fear and so allow greed to run unchecked.

Nice, well-meaning people get taken advantage of at times, but for the really spectacular falls, keep your eye on the greedy. This is how casinos make their money. The folks with limited greed can only be taken for so much of a ride, because the they don't have an intoxicant causing them to underestimate the fear.

It gets more complicated, certainly. In some professions, taking no risks whatsoever is itself a risky strategy - adapt or disappear. But for shorthand understanding of why InBev buys Anheuser-Busch or GM is slow off the mark making electric cars, analysing it in terms of fear versus greed will take you a long way.

Taking it one step further, it applies to foreign affairs as well. Countries take risks to obtain more benefit: fear versus greed. Refusing to play only grants more power to the other players, by removing the check of fear on the greedy.

There is a great exception to this last, which I leave to your own analyses.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Odd Sabbatical

The First Congregational Church of Dunbarton, NH is on summer sabbatical, according to their sign. It seems odd to be taking Sabbaths off as a sabbatical.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Context and Bias

In my role as Assistant Village Idiot, I again point out the obvious, because it seems not to be noticed.

In any persuasive essay or discussion, you are trying to give evidence for a particular point of view. You are not obligated to make the other chap's argument for him. But in the larger scheme, you are not supposed to be proving one point of view, but arguing a side with an eye to all of us getting nearer the truth. You believe your view is closer to the truth, someone else believes theirs is, and together you press on toward a better understanding.

This is perhaps discussion rather than argument, though it is argument in its higher and better sense. It involves some listening, some granting that the other disputant has made some valid point.

It is different in a court of law, where an attorney is obligated by profession to give ground only for tactical reasons, and a certain obscuring of the facts is part of the process. When an attorney negotiates for you outside of a formal hearing, s/he might engage in more give-and-take, but the understanding in a formal hearing is that you grant nothing, and make the other side prove everything. This is because it is a judge or jury, a (hopefully) neutral hearer with no dog in the fight, is making the decision. Without this - if the attorneys had to resolve the dispute between themselves - the line of questioning would be different.

I don't understand why this specialised type of questioning is considered proper in political arguments, journalism, or in online discussion. A paid advocate must act like an attorney, perhaps, but even an op-ed writer, if seeking after truth, acknowledges some justice in the other side, even as he seeks to answer it. Political cartoons are unfair and one-sided; editorials should be fair, not intentionally ignoring information to score a point.

National journalists must think they are prosecuting attorneys. Their goal does not seem to be arriving at the truth, but in being as challenging as possible, even if unfair. Let Governor Buncombe make his own argument. My job is to undermine it. No, not really.

Isn't it true, doctor, that you prescribed this treatment knowing that death was one of the possible side effects?
MD: Well, this particular treatment...
Just answer the question, doctor: yes or no?
MD: Yes.

We consider this fair because we know a cross-examination is coming next - the doctor is going to get to give the context of how likely the side effects are, what precautions, he took, and what his other choices were.

Ms. Wintergreen, isn't it true that you pushed and elderly lady to the curb and she injured herself?
Ms. W: Well I had to because...
Yes or no, Ms. Wintergreen.
Ms. W: Yes.

The other attorney will take the line of questioning which reveals that the elderly lady was pushed in order to get her out of the path of a speeding vehicle.

Why should we admire this type of questioning from journalists? Why do they consider themselves not only justified but downright noble when they do so? How is it that advocates for causes con themselves into thinking they are being righteous when they do this? Why is it okay to ignore or dismiss known truths for the sake of the Cause?

Yeah, that's the same question, asked four different ways.

Whether live or online, I seldom stay in discussions with such people. Whether they be fool or knave is no matter - there is nothing to be gained.

There Is No System

Reprinted from Sept 2006

...So contemplating that “system” and how it got there, and what our place in it should be, or what we should do, will get us precisely nowhere. We will pour our energy into a problem that doesn’t exist and neglect the one that does.

In America, there is no system. That's the American system. That's a gross oversimplification, and I could make a more accurate statement by going on about how there are many systems, all of them complex and interrelated, yada, yada, ya. But taking that approach only encourages people to stick with the same sort of approaches and answers. For purpose of rethinking, it is better to start from the radical statement: there is no system.

(Full post here)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Alternative Energy

Saving you the trouble of looking these up.

Solar on the immediate horizon.

Nanosolar

Cold fusion, of which I am always suspicious of new developments, nonetheless has something encouraging.

Small scale nuclear reactor. Wouldn't you love to have one?

More small nuclear.

I don't know how sensible this is, but geothermal energy from volcanoes just seems very cool.

Update: Via Instapundit, new biofuel from algae.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Outsiders

I had a fascinating correspondence with Grady Towers in the pre-email days of my Prometheus Society membership. Grady succeeded me briefly as president. I remember this essay coming out in Gift of Fire, the in-house publication poorly-printed in the days just after mimeographs. It convinced me to stick around and give the society one more chance. The essay starts with a discussion - fascinating but based on unreliable (and probably exaggerated) information - of William James Sidis, who, it is claimed, had the highest IQ in history. But the meat of the essay is the extended discussion whether the superintelligent are more likely to be socially inept and isolated. Grady and many others lean toward the explanation that people of high-to-very-high IQ are better socially adjusted than average, but that something starts to happen around the 155 range, and there is a large percentage of misfits.

The update is that Asperger Syndrome was little-known and poorly understood at that time. There is growing speculation that some manifestations of AS or High-Functioning Autism are common in the extreme range of ability for certain disciplines, which would be a confounding factor in measuring the social adjustment of those of ultra-high IQ. Incidentally, I no longer see or classify myself as an ultra High. I think test accidents and personality traits made it look that way, but were partly an illusion.

Humorlessness II

It's so easy to get behind the curve. All of a sudden, Barack's humorlessness is the topic of the hour. I try to contribute my bit.

Barack Obama and a kangaroo walk into a bar and order arugula salads. The bartender says “We don’t serve arugula salads here.” Obama says “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Did the civil rights movement mean nothing? It’s 2008, and a person of mixed race can’t be served in a bar open to the public? That’s racist, and the destructive politics of the past.”

-----------------------------------------

Barack Obama and a kangaroo walk into a bar and order arugula salads. “That’ll be $20 each,” says the bartender. Barack pats his pockets and the kangaroo pays. After a bit, the bartender says “You know, we don’t get many of your kind here.” Obama pulls a hand mic out of his pocket and goes off on a 10-minute rant about hope and change we can believe in. The kangaroo looks at him a long time and then says to the bartender “At these prices, you won’t be getting many more, either.”

----------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama and a kangaroo walk into a bar and order arugula salads. The bartender says, “Hey, isn’t he from a foreign country?” Obama slams down his fist and says “You’re just showing your prejudices. That kangaroo was born in an American zoo, is completely native to this country, and his patriotism shouldn’t be questioned. And even if he was an immigrant, he would still have rights, because this is America.” The bartender says “I was talking to the kangaroo.”

---------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama and a kangaroo are crossing the street to go into a bar to order arugula salads. Barack throws the kangaroo under a bus.

------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into a French café with his daughter. The waiter says “Bonjour Monsieur et Madamoiselle.” Obama says, I’m sorry; I am embarrassed to be an American. My daughter and I don’t speak any French.” The waiter shrugs and says “That’s okay, I speak good English.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama and a group of lemmings walk into a bar to order an arugula salad. The bartender says “What are those things, rats?” Obama says “Those are my friends. I love them like my own family. I have more small donors than anyone else.” The bartender says “Okay, they can stay, but I can’t see why you’d want to spend your time with rats.” The lemmings, eyes shining, watch Obama eat his salad. He goes back to the bartender “You know, you’re right, they are a lot like rats. They’ve been around for years and I never noticed before. I’ve decided I can’t stand them.” The lemmings all nod and follow him out of the bar.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into a Dutch café with his daughter. The waiter says “Welkom Mijnheer en Meisje.” Obama says, “I’m sorry, I am embarrassed to be an American. My daughter and I don’t speak any Dutch.” The waiter shrugs and says “That’s okay, I speak good English.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder. The bartender says “That’s a real nice one. Does he say anything?” Obama says “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” The bartender says to the parrot “That’s pretty good! Did it take long to teach him that?”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder. The bartender says “That’s a real nice one. Where’d you get him?” The parrot says “Chicago.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama is about to walk into a bar when he sees an accident in the street. He pulls out his cell phone and dials 911. The dispatcher asks “What happened?” Obama says “I’m not sure, but it looks like a whole lot of lemmings threw themselves under a bus one at a time.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into a Moldovan café with his daughter. The waiter says “Buna Dimineata, Domnule si Domnisoara.” Obama says, “I’m sorry, I am embarrassed to be an American. My daughter and I don’t speak any Moldovan.” The waiter shrugs and says “That’s okay, I speak good English.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into a bar with his daughters to order arugula salads. “I’m sorry,” says the bartender “but I can’t serve them here.” Barack goes ballistic “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Did the civil rights movement mean nothing? It’s 2008, and a person of mixed race can’t be served in a bar open to the public? That’s racist, and the destructive politics of the past.” The bartender says “No no no! It’s not that. I can’t serve them because they’re underage.” Bill Clinton turns pale and quickly leaves the bar.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama walks into an English pub with his daughter. The waiter says “Good afternoon, would you like arugula salads?” Obama says, I’m sorry, I am embarrassed to be an American. My daughter and I don’t speak any English.” The waiter nods “That’s what we’ve been telling you Yanks for years.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Barack Obama runs into a panhandler on the street. “Barry! My man Barry!” says the panhandler. “You were my best friend at Occi! I remember you used to get the most righteous weed. Have you got any now?” Obama looks at him narrowly. “That was in the past and it’s racist of you to bring it up now.” The panhandler looks puzzled. “Sorry Barry. I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to get you mad. Have you got any spare change?” Obama looks even more narrowly at him. “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” The panhandler looks at him funny. “So – no change?”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Humorlessness

Megan McArdle over at The Atlantic explains why David Horsey's cartoon about McCain is not equivalent to the New Yorker cover of the Obamas, and it is as good an introduction to the subject as I have found. The humorlessness of the Obama supporters is on full display.

Megan is dead on here with the explanation. The New Yorker's entire tone for decades has been irony, mostly directed at the actions of the rest of America, but with a salting of self-mockery as well. It has not done splashy political cartoons, but ironic takes on the political process in general, though from a generally liberal POV.

I didn't think that the original cover worked that well, but I saw the point. The delicious irony for me is how much this rips the mask off the distant, amused, ironic attitude of New Yorker readers. When that same archness is directed back at them, some have become as rabidly tribal, with humor just as coarse and unsubtle, as those they have been ridiculing for years.

The two covers are not the same in tone - the first cartoonist is clearly making fun of the criticism of Obama, not Obama himself. If you can't see that, then you might be careful about being condescending to others in the future, dig?

If Obama is smart he will laugh loudest, but I don't think he's got in in him. Perhaps he's a jolly guy when you get to know him, but he comes off as humorless. I have noted before that the ability to laugh at yourself is an excellent quick measure of emotional balance.

A commenter named Passerby in Megan's next post fights back against the completely un-American attempt by Obama and his supporters to forbid humor about him. He provides the beginning of the collection of the campaign-approved jokes that are allowed about Obama.

Knock Knock!

Who's there?

Barack Obama

Barack Obama who?

Barack Obama who wants to see that Hope is restored to America through Change, Change in our country's politics; Change in our Great Nation's Ability to Lead through Peace, and Change in the Eating Habits of Children, so that together we can face this Century with Hope. Hope brought through Change.

-------------------------

a boy, a girl, and Barack Obama walk into McDonald's. The boy says to the cashier "Thanks to the dietary advice from Senator Obama, I'd like a healthy salad and a water for lunch!" The girl says "I'd like the same and I'd also like to talk to the manager about how I can access employment opportunities."

--------------------------

Barack Obama is standing on stage at the Ivesco Center, he adjusts his tie and says to the audience "Take my wife, please ... She's an example of how America offers promise but fails to make that promise available to all. For too long people like my wife, Michelle, have had to work too hard to achieve for reasons that are historical, but that can change. Together, we can make a difference."

--------------------------

Barack Obama took his wife and children to see a talent show agent. The agent asked Senator Obama what the family act was.

Senator Obama explained that his family represented the opportunity for change, the ability of people to improve their lives through hardwork, that children can reach their potential even at the cost of ten to fifteen thousand dollars per year in music lessons and summer camps, that families can struggle to eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and leafy greens, and, that all this can happen despite being limited to speaking in one language.

The agent sat back, decided he would never smoke again, order healthier foods that contained zero transfats, begin saving a percentage of his income, donate to charity, and invest in that RosettaStone package he'd seen advertised on television, and asked Senator Obama what the name of his act was.

"The Aristocrats"

------------------------------

How many Barack Obamas does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. Barack simply hopes and the light bulb changes itself.

----------------------------

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Hope. And a desire for Change.

--------------------------------


Barack Obama, Maureen Dowd, and Bob Novak are standing at the Pearly Gates. Barack says to Maureen Dowd - "So, why should I let you in?"


I think I'm going to have a go at this myself. Watch for updates

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why Boomers Went Bad

These take awhile to load.

I sang along, remembering every word



I loved Clutch Cargo, especially the dog, Paddlefoot. But even then I knew there was something creepy about the mouths. The technique is called Synchro-Vox.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cultural Improvement Moment

Reprinted from August 2006

There is a longish but excellent article over at the Social Affairs Unit discussing "Wealth and Poverty: A Jewish Analysis." For those interested in what the Church should do about poverty and social justice, there is much to digest here. Note that the author writes A Jewish Analysis, not The Jewish Analysis. Christians writing on the same topic tend to be less humble, claiming to know what The Biblical Answer is.

The POV is at 45 degrees to our usual discussions in the Church, which tend to break down along left/right lines. It is important to notice that several of his major points are in sharp contrast to things that Jesus said, and a Chrisitan interpretation would contradict at those places. Still, there is a lot of common ground and common language, and several thoughts I had not encountered before. An excerpt from the essay, quoting Maimonides
Charity is not justified by the good it does to the soul of the giver, but by the degree to which it removes the misery of the recipient, physical and more especially psychological. An act which enables him not to need charity is higher than any charity.

When I Say 'Religious Left'

All the brouhaha over Obama's Church and Rev. Wright have shone a light on the religious left, long believed extinct, or at least moribund. But two years ago I had a long post cataloging the leftism of the mainstream denominations. This was the first in a series that continued in August. I may collect them into a sidebar group.

The conventional wisdom is that there has been no religious left since the heyday of civil rights and antiwar protests, a time which many boomer Christians look back on in fondness, overvaluing the effect of their protests. In this model, liberals in the church have just sort of gone quiet while the Religious Right did all this grassroots organizing and splashy politicizing. Only now (and they hope it’s not too late) has the liberal church begun to slowly re-emerge, claiming back the territory in the public square that was usurped by conservatives.

That is nonsense. Liberal Christians own the power structures of the mainstream denominations...


(Full post here)

The Agenda

Eric over at Classical Values links at the end of the post to a story at WorldNet Daily that declares the actions of one gay man suing Bible publishers part of "the homosexual agenda."

I'm not sure where the line is drawn, but I think we need some standards. People complain about The Agenda of opposing groups a lot, on very slender evidence. An article in an obscure publication, or a century-old document from a similar group convinces people that they have unearthed the secret plan of the other guys. Aha! We have discovered the communist agenda, or the conservative agenda, or the Christian agenda, or the homosexual agenda.

If one church advocates something, does that mean it is part of the Christian agenda? How about one state chapter of NOW - does its action reveal the feminist agenda? How many of your opponents have to be fully signed on to an idea, plus how many more willing to passively go along, before you can claim to know their agenda? How much of the leadership has to be on record? How recent does the documentation have to be?

I propose a minimum standard: one person, in no position of authority, is not enough to generalize from. One Jew, one Freemason, one lesbian, one Democrat voter - it's not a trend, okay? Criminy, is that so hard?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

QOTD

From Carl, at No Oil For Pacifists.
Never bet the "under" on Euro-silliness.
Full silliness here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

I haven't scoured old posts for reprints for over a year. Not only are there a lot of comments on this post, but there are even two from good old Copithorne! From July 2006:
The people closest to Jesus were remarkable for their repeated inability to anticipate what He was going to do and say. This alone should give us pause when making claims of knowing what Jesus would have us do. If Peter and John couldn't figure Him out until much later and after much reflection, then who are you? I make no claim that random or always counterintuitve actions are what Christ wants from us, only that the simple answers sometimes blow up in our faces when contemplating Our Lord. Jesus fed the multitudes and quite sternly admonished the rich to give. But he also criticized Judas for wanting to give money to the poor in a particular way at a particular time. Jesus went with complete nonviolence to His death - almost immediately after beating the moneylenders out of the Temple.
(full post here)(discussion of "peacemakers" here)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Where Credit Is Due

Without JD Drew, the Red Sox would have been in free-fall in the month of June. He batted in or scored 1/3 of their runs (and no, I didn't count the HR's twice in that, as some do). I spent last season fantacising about better, less-expensive right fielders that we could have gotten instead.

It is more exciting, and seems more important, to remember Jim Rice carrying the Sox for two weeks in Sept '86, or Yaz carrying them for two weeks in Sept '67. But they all count the same in the end, and sometimes a guy who can stop the bleeding is all you need.

Linear Vs. Circular Time

The most curious aspect of the scientific world we live in, says science writer Loren Eiseley, is that it exists at all. Westerners often assume a doctrine of Inexorable Progress, as though the mere passage of time leads inevitably to increased knowledge as surely as an acorn becomes an oak. “Yet the archaeologist would be forced to tell us,” says Eiseley, “that several great civilizations have arisen and vanished without the benefit of a scientific philosophy.” The type of thinking known today as scientific, with its emphasis upon experiment and mathematical formulation, arose in one culture – Western Europe – and in no other.

Science, Eiseley concludes, is not “natural to mankind at all. Inquisitiveness about the world is indeed a natural attitude, but institutional science is more than that. “It has rules which have to be learned, and practices and techniques which have to be transmitted from generation to generation by the formal process of education,” Eiseley notes. In short, it is “an invented cultural institution, an institution not present in all societies, and not one that may be counted upon to arise from human instinct.” Science “demands some kind of unique soil in which to flourish.” Deprived of that soil, it is “as capable of decay and death as any other human activity, such as a religion or a system of government.”

What is that unique soil? Eiseley identifies it, somewhat reluctantly, as the Christian faith. “In one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples,” he says, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulated fashion to the experimental method of science itself.
(The Soul of Science, Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton.)
How then, does the rest of the world think of itself?

It is a huge philosophical shift to go from the more natural counting of time as a repetition of daily hours, days of the week, and seasons of a year to picturing time as always moving forward. Pearcey & Thaxton claim that the idea of an orderly universe was the single greatest contribution of Christianity to the sciences and philosophy: that the universe made some sort of sense, however elusive, and its order could be discovered. Without this, the scientific viewpoint as we know it cannot exist, and indeed, as noted above, never has existed.

I submit that the idea of linear rather than circular time is the foundation of this. Christianity claims that this world and even this universe had a beginning, and with shadowings in the Hebrew scriptures, through a dramatic Revelation to John, this earth will have a definite end. Because many cultures have origin-myths and Gotterdammerung myths, the Christian version may not seem unusual at first. It is easy to take a facile Golden Bough/Joseph Campbell approach and think them all the same. But Genesis has a proto-calendar in it from the start, and its events are located in a specific geography, however uncertain we may be about it now. The Revelation to John has many time-interpretations: the events already happened in the 2nd C; the events have unfolded over 2000 years; the events will take place in a short seven years at the end. But days, years, and definite locations are in the marrow of the book. The Norse Gods will fight the giants at the end of the world, and great heroes from Valhalla will participate – but the time and place are entirely shadowy.

In the Christian world, time may cycle through its weeks and years, but it is always moving forward.

Without this, people are less likely to think in the scientific frame of “this takes X time to complete.” In a circular time frame, the hour from 3am to 4am seems a very different item than 3pm to 4pm, but in linear time, it’s just an hour, same as any other hour. History also looks different, as the idea of development (or deterioration) becomes part of how we see the events around us.

Conceiving of time as moving forward seems so natural to us that we have a hard time recovering the older idea that is still common in many cultures. The days and years move on, we project out what will happen with the economy or climate in 2010 or 2020. May of 2015 is not strongly connected to May of 2018 in our minds. Those times do not “touch.” They are three years apart.

We can get back into the older way of thinking, but it takes some effort. “Every Christmas when I was a boy” is a phrase that has meaning. Those Christmases do touch each other in some way. “Every Thursday at 4,” if we have some regular appointment, or “all the sunsets last week,” if we saw them, touch each other in a nonlinear way. The seasons, the church year, the school year – the cycle of Sabbaths and 6pm dinners and bills due on the 12th of each month are a different type of counting time, natural in its own way.

“In the 17th year of King Arglebargle IV*…” This is not just an ancient Mediterranean way of keeping time, but is found on Mayan and Chinese inscriptions as well. It seems, in fact, to be the default method of recording history. The sense of a series of decades and years that goes on running, not restarting with each new monarch, comes in much later. Even in the book of Genesis, which carries the first glimmers of this idea of progressive time, time is not measured according to any calendar except a repetition of years. This one lived 200 years and that one lived 300, but nothing is going anywhere. God opens out an idea of long-future descendants to Abraham, but it is described entirely in terms of his narrow clan.

This is more than an interesting curiosity. It is not just some quaint way that other cultures see things that it is fun to contemplate as a multicultural exercise. When we try to answer to ourselves why do these other nations act as they do, it is important to step into their mindset. Imagine for a moment the feeling of being in a culture where this is the only time that is. There is a cycle of hours in each day, days in each week, seasons and a series of festivals in each year, and that’s all there is. The only glimmer of anything outside this series of hamster wheels is your own passing through stages of life and passing life on to the next group – a cycle in itself – or the imposed cycle of rulers. There is no progress of time overriding those things. None of it is going anywhere. Earth is just a place where things go around for awhile, and then maybe you go to another place. You are only a player in a drama that keeps repeating, like living in a full-time Oberammergau Festival. You don’t have much value as an individual. Your family continues existence, or your clan, or your tribe, and that’s the only contribution you make.

It is both comforting and depressing to contemplate that life. One’s life might only have meaning in reference to the survival of the larger group, but that’s at least something. I find it difficult to conceive of a life in circular time as anything but clan or tribe-centered. They seem to go together naturally. There isn’t much point in putting your energy into anything that doesn’t benefit you or your clan pretty immediately. You might fix a car, but why invent one? Why study diseases of plants grown in the next county, even if it would make the area prosperous? These are not either/or propositions, of course. Clan-based societies certainly have their sciences (though technology might be a more accurate term), and people in our forward-time, progress-seeking cultures in the west don’t orient all their actions toward posterity.

Discuss: Put this specifically into the context of foreign relations, and trying to spread democracy (or technology, or prosperity) throughout a region. Things that seem like obvious progress and advantage to us do not seem so to others.

*What’s that from?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hypocrisy

Commenter TomG links to an excellent article on recent research into hypocrisy. Excellent article by John Tierney, with some uncomfortable truths. A more extended quote:
The more interesting question is how presidential candidates, and their supporters, turn into hypocrites. It has been demonstrated repeatedly in experiments that humans are remarkably sensitive to unfairness. We’ve survived as social animals because we are so good at spotting selfishness and punishing antisocial behavior.

So how we do violate our own moral code? Does our gut instinct for self-preservation override our moral reasoning? Do we use our powers of rationality to override our moral instinct?

“The question here,” Dr. DeSteno said, “is whether we’re designed at heart to be fair or selfish.”

Today's News

The main headline on today's Concord Monitor:
US DEATHS IN AFGHANISTAN TOP IRAQ TOLL
So the numbers of deaths per month in Iraq have gone down enough so that they are now below Afghanistan. But the Monitor couldn't possibly give you that good news.

On NPR, a lead commenter (Something Bernstein from the Economic Policy Something Something) tells us that the median wage between 2000 and 2007 hasn't changed much. But those aren't the same people - they never are. How many people have started in the work force since then, including young people, legal and illegal immigrants, and folks coming off welfare? Would you say they tended to come in near the bottom of income or near the top? How many people have retired in those years? Would you say they have gone out more toward the bottom of income or more toward the top? Not to mention the increased value of benefits (your health care costs more because THEY CAN DO MORE NOW), the increase in home equity (about 70%), and the increase in retirement funds.

I hate these &%&#@ people.