Thursday, April 30, 2009

Etymology of Military Ranks

As the ranks are from the French, reversing the order of the adjective and noun can often give a clearer English meaning. A General officer is one who is in charge of a wide variety of units, rather than a single unit (cf Attorney General). That is more its history than its use now.

Private – private = individual/separate soldier, not in charge of anyone else.

Corporal – as in, “body.” The head of a less-formal body of soldiers, such as a fireteam. Corps, meaning the whole body of soldiers is of similar derivation.

Sergeant – related to “servant,” used in the sense of one who carries out the orders of higher officials. This would make sense in a military context, as it is the NCO’s who make sure that the orders of officers get carried out. Sergeant-mojor is of course a major sergeant.

Lieutenant – think “in lieu of.” One who stands in the place (tenancy) of another – a representative. In the military, it means “next in rank,” as lieutenant colonel.

Captain, as in cap = head. The head of a company.

Colonel - the head of a column of soldiers, a regiment.



Fireteam 4
Squad 13 (8-14)
Platoon 40+
Company approx 200
Battalion 500-1500
Regiment – four battalions (4,000)
Division 10-20,000
Expeditionary Force 60K+
Corps – currently 200K USMC
Army

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free Universal Health Care

From Alexanr Solzhenitsyn's The Cancer Ward, describing a discussion in a remote Russian province in the mid-1950's. In the chapter "The Old Doctor," the retired Dr. Oreshchenkov speaks at length to one of his former students, now a senior doctor herself. The quote starts with her reply.
"That's all very well, but how many family doctors would you need? It simply doesn't fit into the system of...free universal health service."

"It'll fit into a universal national health service, but it won't fit into a free health service," said Oreshchenkov, rumbling on and clinging confidently to his point.

"But it's our greatest achievement, the fact that it's a free service."

"Is this in fact such a great achievement? What does 'free' mean? The doctors don't work for nothing, you know. It only means they get paid out of the national budget and the budget is supported by patients. It isn't free treatment, it's depersonalized treatment. If the patient kept the money that pays for his treatments, he would have turned the ten roubles he has to spend at the doctor's over and over in his hands. He could go to the doctor five times over if he really needed to."

"But he wouldn't be able to afford it?"

"He would say, 'To hell with the new drapes and spare pair of shoes. What's the use of them if I'm not healthy?' Is it any better as things are now? You would be ready to pay goodness knows how much for a decent reception at the doctor's but there's no one to go to get it. They all have their schedules and their quotas, and so it's 'Next patient, please.' As for the clinics that do charge fees, the turnover's even faster than the others. Why do people go there? Because they want a chit or certificate or sick leave or an invalid's pension card. The doctor's job is to catch the malingerers; patients and doctors are like enemies. Do you call that medicine? Or take actual drugs and medicine, for instance. In the twenties all medicines were free. Do you remember?"

"Is that right? Yes, I think they were. One forgets."

"You'd really forgotten had you? They were all free of charge, but we had to give it up. Do you know why?"

"I suppose it must have been too expensive for the government," said Dontsova with an effort, closing her eyes for a short while.

"It wasn't only that, it was also that it was extremely wasteful. The patient was bound to grab all the drugs he could since they cost him nothing and as a result he threw half of them away. Of course I'm not saying all treatments should be paid for by the patient. It's the primary treatment that ought to be."


As the number of PCP's needed is a current issue as well, I thought it apropos.

It is also a proposal that is not even on our health-care map: that the patient pays for primary care and medicines, but hospital and specialist services are paid for by the government.

Monday, April 27, 2009

2,000 Words

To answer copithorne in the last thread.
Please note that these are based on the president's own numbers.




The dot-com bust, laid at least partly at Clinton's door, put us back into deficit. The credit collapse, laid at least partly at Congress's door (though Bush is not exonerated), dropped up back a second time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Simple Metric

After running into two articles today by liberals who just don't get conservatives in a What's The Matter With Kansas? way, I want to make this explanation as simple as possible. To their puzzlement (and dismay), that middle- and lower-middle-class white people vote against what their betters say are their economic interests, I explain to progressives.
1. The government is spending a lot of money we don't have.
2. Someone will have to pay for this eventually.
3. That will be the people with jobs, now and in the future.
4. We have children, progressives don't. (I might also point out that we have jobs more often than progressives, but that's a less dramatic percentage. Plenty of liberals work, and I'd like them on my side.)

All the blather about "It's only a 3% tax increase on people making over..." misses the point. That's this year, and the next few years. But eventually, lots and lots of people are going to have to pay, directly with taxes or indirectly with weaker prosperity. It's us, and we're ticked.

Sure, it will be great if worldwide prosperity creates more demand for American services, so that foreigners pay part - and great if education, treatment, and jobs programs take people out of the unemployed pile and put them into the productive pile - and great if technological advancements bail us out yet again. I have nothing against those things. I'm just not depending on them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dog Biscuit

I badly wanted to find an episode of Quick Draw McGraw with Snuffles doing his routine after getting a dog biscuit. This episode has an early version, without the levitation.



There's an abbreviated version here


And the full expression is apparently in a 1961 QDMcG episode "Mind Your Manners."

Or, you can watch Doggy Daddy teach Augie Doggie about cats.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Szondi Profile



This projective test was popular in the 1940's and 50's. The theory was that people chose pictures that revealed their inner character. 48 photos, six groups of eight, were shown to subjects, who identified the people they most liked and disliked in each set. But the photos were specifically chosen to display people of strong pathology, say, extremely depressed or manic. The subject was believed to be recognising something about them at an unconscious level, choosing those who were like him in some way.

It's an interesting idea, and many of us who deal with both the mentally ill and still photos of them like to think we can diagnose from appearance. I don't know if that idea has ever been tested, but the specific theories of Lipolt Szondi have pretty much been shot to pieces. Szondi was a Hungarian psychiatrist who taught a form of depth psychology. He believed there were four axes or vectors in the human personality (We always divide the personality into fours: the four humours, fire/water/earth/air signs, blue/red/green/yellow, Myers-Briggs, etc). Szondi's were catatonic/paranoid, depressive/maniac, epileptic/hysterical, and homosexual/sadistic. Only depressive/maniac would now be regarded as generally opposite ends of a continuum, and even that would admit of exceptions, such as agitated depression.

In particular, I'd like to see him try to sell the idea of sadistic as opposite of homosexual these days. I imagine that formulation was based more on his theories of drives than on uh, empirical evidence.

You can look at the cards and decode the drives from the letters above the right corner of each photo (use "k" instead of "c" for catatonic). These letters were not visible to the tested subjects, BTW.

I knew a psychologist in the late 70's who still used the Szondi profile, even though it was not approved. She had been trained in Prague in the late 30's before she and her family were sent to work camps by the Nazis. She was entirely unmoved by what others thought of the test. She liked it and thought it valuable, so she used it. The test is still used in parts of the world - Brazil and Japan especially, for reasons which I cannot intuit.

Here's another oddity associated with the test. Independent Austrian filmmaker Kurt Kren made "48 Kopfe aus dem Szondi Test" in the late 50's - one of those B&W depersonalised artistic frauds we thought were significant then. The entire film is shot of the 48 heads used in the Szondi.

Authentic Retro Potato Heads



These are built from a pre-1955 Mr. Potato Head set. As it came out in 1952 and the box is identical to this one, perhaps my friend Denise has an original set. The younger group had fun with this tonight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Progressives And Corruption

I think we have to consider the possibility that many progressives do not actually care about corruption.

I have operated to date on the belief that uneven reporting, which highlights Republican corruption (though Duke Cunningham was quite awhile ago now) while burying Democratic corruption on page A14, was sufficient explanation for the lack of outrage by the populace. If we could just get the stories on Dodd, Murtha, Feinstein, Rangel, Frank, Visclosky, Moran, Waters, Richardson, Geithner, Daschle, all those Fannie and Freddie guys – the list does go on, doesn’t it? – out into the open, then people would see, they would start to get it, that this is not generally a bipartisan problem, a Washington problem, but a 90% Democrat problem (larger numbers of corrupt players, worse corruption per incident, it adds up, y’know?). And then, brethren, then we would finally start making some progress in the national discussion, followed by electoral progress.


That is what we hoped last year, too, with the Norman Hsu/Clinton, Blogojevich, Jackson Jr., Rezko, Jefferson, Spitzer, Mahoney – wow, who am I forgetting here, it’s been so long – and yep, the Republicans had Ted Stevens to throw into that mix…

Where was I? The lists overwhelm me. Haven’t we hoped this every year? Every Kennedy? Hasn’t it been our working plan to get the information out despite mainstream media reluctance, and let electoral nature take its course? We have advocated sunlight as the best treatment for corruption.

Let’s rethink this. Certainly there are some progressives who care deeply about government corruption, as evidenced by watchdog groups of liberal bent that have nonetheless blown the whistle on Democrats, sometimes better than the conservative groups have. Also, I am very happy to give credit where it is due today, to Democratic NH Congressman Paul Hodes, sponsoring legislation to separate earmarks from donations. Good on him. I have even read HuffPo and Kos Diary essays that seemed sincere on the topic – I am not recalling specifics, but I feel pretty sure of it. That professional politicians and handlers minimise the scandal doesn’t bother me that much, as I expect that. I now think I have been overestimating the honor of the average Democrat, and that bothers me.

Here’s the difficulty: the information has gotten out in sufficient quantity that a reasonably alert progressive would at least be curious. Knowing that the accusations agains “his guys” are not 50/50 but 90/10, intellectual honesty would require that one at least go and find out if it’s 70/30, or even if it actually is 50/50. Discounting for spin, discounting for there being an increase in prominent Democrats, discounting for selective outrage…

Even a deeply partisan Democrat, using all available reasonable excuses and being mindful of Republican perfidy, would have to conclude that there is at least something seriously wrong with the national Democratic power structure – that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have not been quite honest about their desire to deal with corruption in government – which they claimed was of first importance to them.

As a comparison, look how quickly many progressives have gotten off the Obama bandwagon around the Gitmo, wiretap, and interrogation issues. Though I think progressives are wrong on many of these topics, I fully grant that these things have indeed proved to be important to them, and many have stuck to their guns (bad choice of metaphor for progressives, I know, but it was fun), criticising the new administration.

I am drawn rather reluctantly to the conclusion that not enough Democrats are bothered by corrupt government. It is no longer a knowledge deficit but an attitude, a willingness to embrace threadbare excuses. Well, I’m sure the Republicans are doing it too. Probabaly worse. Definitely worse. Everyone knows that. And corporations robbing us blind, too. And corporations - they’re mostly Republicans – so I was right all along. Just a few bad Democratic apples. It’s just how things get done. Politics is a messy business. Such explanations are familiar, they have acquired the patina of age, but they would no longer satisfy a person genuinely seeking the truth.

Dam’ depressing. It means we have to get 70% of the Independent vote rather than 50%. If there is a solid core of half the Democratic Party that is simply unmoved by any level of corruption, one of our best issues is taken from us. The DNC can throw out a sacrifice for appearance's sake and draw the fangs of the issue.

To get 70% of the Independent vote, we will have to field candidates who deserve that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Art Vs. Art

Steve Sailer has an intriguing article over at his site comparing the artists who sell posters years later versus those who get mentions in the art history texts. The latter list:
Masaccio
Pol de Limbourg
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Max Ernst
Giorgio de Chirico
Cimabue
Piet Mondrian
Hugo van der Goes
Martin Schongauer
Frans Hals

Okay, I recognize two of those. You can all probably guess who's on the popularity list, though. Sailer gives a very plausible explanation why the Impressionists and Expressionists do so well at poster-selling, but are cited less as important influences.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ian Kinsler

Texas second-baseman Ian Kinsler's stats are not a fluke, BTW. This is his breakout year. Any slight injury might postpone that becoming visible to next year, but he is the real deal.

Speaking of non-flukes, the National League races are close to over already. Really. One team may drop (St. Louis?), 1-2 teams may rise (Philly?), but what you see today is very close to what you will see in October.

Rondo - Rose

The Celtics are in trouble without Garnett. Let me first acknowledge that. I don't see how they are getting past Orlando, and they have been unfortunate in drawing the only team in the 5-8 slots that have gotten hot at the end of the season.

But this emphasis on Derrick Rose's "arrival" in these playoffs is unjustified. I predicted aloud it would change by the second game, and wish I had recorded it here. But even in the first game, Rondo had the better game. Scoring points continues to be over-emphasized by sportswriters, perhaps only reflecting fan prejudice, which further reflects an emphasis on the most concrete of measurements versus the actual contribution of the player.

Rose had a very creditable first game with 36 points, 4 rebounds, 11 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, and 5 turnovers. He also fouled out. Larry Bird used to tally up his personal game score each night, which included not only his numbers in these categories, but the numbers of the man he was guarding. Stacking Rondo's numbers up against that (29 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover) it's a wash. Game score of 0 for both of them, and Rondo didn't foul out.

The second game, Rose had 10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, no steals, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers. A very decent game, but leaving him with a Larry Bird game score of minus 27 versus Rondo, who had 19 points, 12 rebounds, 16 assists, 5 steals, 0 blocks, and 2 turnovers. Minus 27 is simply huge.

The Celtics lost the first game because Ray Allen and Eddie House shot very poorly. They almost lost the second game because Eddie House shot poorly again. You can attribute this partially to the Chicago defense, but mostly, it's law of averages.

I like Derrick Rose, and I think he's going to be great. But Rondo has severely outplayed him in this series so far.

Field Trip

I chaperoned Kyle's field trip to Boston today. I had forgotten what 7th graders were like. The last trip I chaperoned was Chris's, to the Old Man of The Mountain in 2001.

Years ago (Jonathan was born, but not Ben) I was a counselor on a Lutheran confirmation retreat for 7th-9th graders. I decided then that I really disliked 7th grade boys and 9th grade girls, for very different reasons. I got to see half of that today, with just a sniff of the other half. This is the end of 7th grade, after all, and the boys are on the verge of growing out of their spectacularly annoying behavior while the girls are showing only the first signs of theirs. Your mileage may vary, of course, as you may react to very different male-female behaviors of those ages.

Remember your own dealing with 7th graders as a group, or even your own behavior then. Remember the notes passed, the whispered confidences that were of course meant to be shared immediately with that special boy or girl, however much you protested. There is this whole network of group communication. There is an ultra-social group that interacts with each other constantly and keeps going out with each other, to no apparent end. The majority of the rest latch on at times, and want to be part of this constant temperature taking and boy-girl hothouse. They lack the social obsession and stamina, however, and retreat much of the time to same-sex interaction about things they actually care about: sports, music, styles. The last group cares only slightly for any of it, but also does not want to fall into any hard Excluded category, and so plays along.

It is developmentally very appropriate, of age cohorts bonding with each other on their way to becoming adults, of practice romance, emotional toughening, social disciplining of the herd.

Now imagine that all of this is steroidally enhanced by text messaging.

Girls take pictures of themselves holding their phone at arm's length, and send it to other phones. Then they shout four rows back on the bus "Did you get the picture I sent you?" Then they go back four rows to sit with the person to watch the photo come up. All the while, boys talk too loudly to each other and the girls, stealing gatorades or iPods right out of hands, and finding it hysterically funny not to give them back. They pass them to other boys. Girls get teary, but come right back for more once they get their stuff back. The girls that are the circulatory system of the social set, flirting badly with most boys and being devastated that the Special Boy does not see her panting heart amidst the static - eventually up the ante to exchanging phones to read what others have said to others, and everything approaches a crescendo of overinterpreting and hurt feeling. The truly mean boys then retreat behind the show-off comments of the dweeby ones, watching the girls get into stupid arguments with socially overmatched boys over whether it was all a joke.

So the hurt girls still pine for the mean boys, not realising that it was they who instigated the insults via the dweebs, who are showing off in an effort to be accepted by somebody, anybody. Or at least not rejected.

And that was just the bus trip down.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Computer Glitches

Computers magically crash around teenage boys. It's never anything they did, of course - everything they have done around the computer was very safe, no big deal, I don't think I even touched that computer today.

And you have to let them go with it, wrecking stuff as they go, because this is how they learn to be able to fix your computer later. If you don't endure pounding your head now, you might end up being completely cut off from the internet for days at a time when you are old.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Road Rally Testing

If you aren't Boethius, Jonathan, or Lauren and you're doing the road rally, you'd better get in touch with me fast. Tomorrow, 4:30, Concord. We've got spares if you need them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Missing Family Members on TV

The stereotype is that 1950's television showed stereotypical two-parent, two-child families where nothing went wrong, and this was unhealthy for the attitudes of children growing up watching this. Leave It To Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet are cited as examples.

But more frequently, television killed off a parent somewhere and started the story later, with the bereft or even orphaned child adjusting to a new family situation. Rather creepily, Mommies got eliminated much more often than Daddies, though both parents getting the hook before the series started was also common.

Uncles taking care of nieces was big: Bachelor Father, Sky King, Family Affair. Dads left with the kids also seemed to be a big draw: My Three Sons, The Rifleman, Andy Griffith, Bonanza.

Circus Boy, My Little Margie, Danny Thomas, Gidget, Hank - there's dead parents everywhere. Or live parents nowhere might be a better way to put it. It's easy to see the sympathy draw, and perhaps the losing of a mother rates higher on the instant sympathy scale. Men taking care of kids also offered more opportunity for comedy. Still, it's weird how many moms they picked off here - maybe TV producers didn't like their wives or mothers or something. I can't think of any early single moms except for December Bride. Tough women left with the ranch out West came up though. It seems to be the reverse of the Dad-as-nurturer show - Barbara Stanwyck in The Big Valley winning against all odds.

Super-intact families were used more for comic effect in unusual situations: The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Flintstones, The Jetsons. Still are: The Simpsons, Family Guy. The Real McCoys and The Beverly Hillbillies both had multigenerational weirdness going, with missing relatives seemingly no problem. Maybe that was an Appalachian stereotype thing.

Better Than DaVinci Code

Terri at Wheat Among Tares has a clue to the identity of the Antichrist.

This will require some thought.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Manchester Tea Party

Mixed review. There were some great signs: Stop the Drunken Sailors; Give Me Liberty, Not Debt. Some dumb signs, also, but I liked the homemade freshness in general. Not everyone is witty, even when they try, but they've got the right to speak, and it was a charming display of just regular folks trying to have their say.

The first speaker was a pastor who gave an invocation and then launched into a sermon about the Christian founding of America, which irritated me on two counts. First, he only gave one side of the story, which always puts me on guard. Second, he rather wandered from his point - if there was one to begin with. It was a collection of disconnected scripture verses and historical facts. That was when I left - I had seen the signs and talked to some people.

What nice people. Even the ones whose signs suggested they might be a bit intense were pleasant, even giddy. I don't think most of them had been to many protests in their lives. There were some clearly anti-Democrat signs, but few pro-Republican ones. While Pelosi, Reid, and Obama drew most of the ire, there was a good deal of general anti-congressional sentiment as well.

People shouldn't bring their dogs to crowds, folks. I know that poochie is very special, and you'll get to show everyone there how special you are too for owning such a wonderful dog, but there are other dogs there. And children. Not a good mix.

Try to stay focused. It has been a mark of leftish protests that whatever the occasion, people trot out their favorite environmental, pro-marijuana, anti-war, anti-globalist, anti-religious complaints. I know the defense of marriage people feel strongly about their cause, and are likely to find a sympathetic ear with many at a Tea Party, but really, it's not your stage. Get your own rally. The term limits people - I can see enough connection that they're okay...10th Amendment, a little obscure, but fine.

A jolly atmosphere, with even the angry people smiling at a change to share their outrage with others and have them listen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Real McCoys

A masterpiece, eh? This will come up in a subsequent post.

Manchester Tea Party

As my meatware self, I usually dislike crowds and protests. But the Assistant Village Idiot, the digital version of me, feels some obligation to attend the Manchester Tea Party at Victory Park at 5:30 tomorrow. I doubt I will have a sign. I will likely be ill-tempered if your sign is dumb. But deep down I'm moderately nice once you get to know me.

"Ill Make You Hip"

So says the newest son, Kyle (I'll make the sidebar change when it becomes official). I told him that Ben had already had a go at that without success.

Aunt Jennie

My great aunt Jennie D. Lindquist was a children's author and editor of the Horn Book for over a decade. A cousin of mine unearthed a biography of her done by an MLS student in 1968, which has proved interesting. Jennie, signing herself J.D.L, reviewed over 1100 children's books for the magazine, several quite presciently. She must have done the first American review of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - it came out in September 1952 and was reviewed in the October issue, way ahead of the Herald and the New Yorker. - and she predicted that adults would look back on it in 30 years much as they did the E. Nesbit books in that era. I had known that her The Golden Name Day was a Newbery Honor Book in 1956, but I had not known it was the runner-up, nor that she was on the choosing committee until her book was nominated, at which point she took herself off. I'll have to tell those stories when we visit her grave this May.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sometimes You Just Can't Get Away

Two nearby churches of my small denomination had a special drama for Holy Week, one running the play on Maundy Thursday, the other on Good Friday. It was co-written by a couple we know. I chose to go to a different Good Friday service because I didn't want my Easter politicised. I didn't fully know at the time that was my reason for avoiding the drama, I just vaguely knew there would be something, hmm, unfocused about anything by them. They are lovely, kind people, of sincere faith and depth. But like most of the religious left, their political categories bleed over into their spiritual ones (the Bleeding is supposed to go in the other direction).

My own pastor attended one of the services, and summarised the drama in his sermon this morning. I should have known. Sometimes you just can't get away.

I should fairly point out that there was much possibility for spiritual nourishment in what was described, and the focus was ostensibly spiritual in the entire. There was no political rhinoceros in the room - not even baby rhinos. A few armadillos, maybe. I doubt anyone would see the political connection except those such as I, who was looking for it. That is not a saving grace, however, but the specific danger. At the end, you have absorbed a political lesson without noticing, washed down with the spiritual one.

A prostitute, a person in a wheelchair, a homeless person, and an autistic person tell something of their stories - with some good spiritual meat in there. At the end, it is they who serve communion to the congregation. A fabulous idea in many ways.

My first thought was to feel offended on behalf of the autistic person and the person in a wheelchair, and maybe even the homeless person, to be lumped in with the prostitute. While it is true that all four categories are neglected or devalued in some way, there is nothing sinful about autism or paralysis. Nor is homelessness per se sinful, though sin is often involved. It is also fair to note that prostitutes are often more sinned against than sinning. But we have a serious mixing of categories here, and it is ultimately not accidental. Unconscious, maybe, but not accidental. The mixing is yet one more example of the precise blind spot of the religious left. There's this mushy idea of the downtrodden and dispossessed that we should y'know, care about more than we do.

Perhaps I am already off on the wrong foot. Religious conservatives are likely already getting while I'm driving at, while religious liberals - who usually think of themselves as balanced and centrist, BTW - are immediately shaking their heads about how it is I (we) who don't get it about the disenfranchised and how Christian values tie into political ones.

Another tack: I know a lot of people in all four of those categories, but I would be surprised if they had encountered more than a few of each. These are categories of people who are talked about, particularly among good caring people who want to do ministry to everyone, leaving none behind. If they really wanted to capture the despised of the earth in their context, they should have had the congregation receiving communion from an AIG exec who just got a bonus, and a noisy fundie who they know has been a sexual hypocrite, and the bombastic selectman who voted against funding for the arts last year. People who claim to be transformed, but a whole lot of people aren't sure. That's the Mary Magdalene equivalent. That's the Saul of Tarsus equivalent.

The prostitute is a stock literary figure, used to exemplify the sins common to all, just worse. It's a good image. We are supposed to be reminded that we are not much better, perhaps not any better, than she is, and a lot closer to her in spiritual condition than we are to Jesus. But there is a second stereotype, derived from the spiritual archetype but essentially secular. This is a poor girl who is rough around the edges, foul-mouthed and tough, but really good deep down. All she needs is a fair shake. All she needs is someone to show her a little kindness. This secondary image, a woman in need of secular salvation, fits nicely with the other three categories in the drama. A hug and some good legislation and she's going to be fine.

There are some like that. Certainly there are many who could hardly deserve what they have been through. But let's not overlook the obvious. I know many of these women (and men), and they have been offered rescue many times. They have been sent to expensive rehabs and hospitals at someone else's expense. They have had good boyfriends that they left, kindly aunts that have taken them in, churches that have helped them out, and a slew of government agencies involved with resetting their clocks. They don't need a kind word and an understanding society - they need transformation.

Less often, but still very often, the homeless fall into this category. The news agencies focus on the human-interest stories of folks who were scraping by until some difficulty hit, and now everything is shot to hell and they're living in a tent. Because of the economy. Because of the heartlessness of society. And this bleeds over into the idea that the Church, of all institutions, should do something. And care. This also fits nicely with the autism and disability categories: Through no fault of their own. It could happen to anyone.

That's not generally true. It is sometimes, and I willingly grant that there are many in this category as well who are more sinned against than sinning. They have trusted the wrong people. They have made impulsive decisions. They ran on the edge of life with no cushion, and the first difficulty pulled them under.

But in addition to finding cheap housing, applying for government or charitable benefits, and arranging for rent and security deposit for these folks, I also collect their histories. Most homeless people have been set up by some relative, some agency, some church, several times in the past. The news agencies don't lie, exactly, but they mislead. Thus, the people who talk about the homeless have a skewed idea what the situation is. Legislative and secular solutions will not help all that many (unlike the autistic and disabled). Transforming society's attitude or the Church's attitude toward these folks is not often the issue. They themselves need transformation.

Because some might be transformed, we should perhaps rescue all, over and again. That's fine, and a fit discussion for Christian influence on society and government. But if that's what were intended in these dramas, we wouldn't have this confusion of categories. We've got the sheep and the goats together and being told they're all pretty much sheep, really.

Jesus healed all manner of ills, but he made distinctions between the meaning of those ills. He in fact went out of his way to make those distinctions. In the context of a society that often confused the categories, believing that the merely unfortunate had somehow deserved their fate, Jesus still drew a sharp line. The Gospel is not that misfortune is the same as sin.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Generosity

Arnold Kling has an excellent article about libertarian basics, and specifically, the morality of individual versus government generosity. The money quote:
...your generosity is reflected in what you do with your own money, not in what you do with other people's money.
This is the forever failing of the Religious Left. They try and claim the moral high ground on the basis of what they want to do with other people's money. It is a dangerous, dangerous attitude, not only for its practical effects, but for its spiritual deterioration.

The Now Generation

I think Pepsi even used that as an advertising slogan years ago. To describe something as very now sounds like the liner notes to a Donovan album from the 60's. We boomers were the now generation, and that was considered a positive thing. The generation that wore baggy pants and hats lost the battle for our affections without even knowing a war was on.

Now we are saddling our descendants with an amount of debt that is so staggering that we cannot comprehend it. That debt was a big number a year ago, and is a bigger number now, and we shrug at the difference. We're boomers. We're the generation who protested and changed the world for you young bastards, so you can screw who you want, and now we want gratitude. So pony up, Gen X-ers. We were the first generation to decide not to have children, so we don't care about you. You're no relation to me, and I don't care what happens to Social Security or the USA's bond rating in 2040. Screw you. All I care about is now.

We are the Now Generation.

Mexico

Now that I am even more conscious of the conditions in the places where Marines might be sent - as opposed to being concerned only with the long-term foreign policy implications - I am wondering about Mexico. While Chris was told at boot camp that he would probably be deployed to Afghanistan, the subject of Mexico did come up a few times. There were many Hispanics in his platoon. I don't know their provenance, or whether they are second generation. Chris said that a few were Puerto Rican, which makes sense.

My limited understanding tells me that military careers are not unusual in Hispanic, especially Mexican-American, culture. I wonder what that would mean for deployment of American servicemen of Mexican birth or heritage. The kneejerk reaction would be to worry about where their loyalties lie (as we would about natives of any foreign country in our armed services - I'm not singling anyone out here). The second kneejerk reaction would be to recognise the enormous humint advantage such soldiers would have. I think the reality would be much more complicated - more complicated than even the soldiers themselves anticipate.

Given the thugs who are taking over large parts of Mexico, it's not a stretch to think that the average Mexican-American soldier would have no divided loyalty at all: I am defending both my old country and my new one. That would be all to the good, and those would perhaps be among the best that we sent. Yet there would be a few who would be unreliable, and the effect of those could be devastating. More subtly, the local population would be making its own compromises and hedging of bets. We would wish that Mexicans would be entirely loyal to goodness, truth, and the best interests of their nation as a whole, but seeing that we don't do that ourselves - we have a third of an entire major political party which is more loyal to the UN than to the US - I don't see how we can expect other humans to be nobler than we are ourselves.

In the villages, families and factions will shift, and loyalties will be more fluid. Part of this will be simple survival, but part will also be that locals are making different calculations than Americans about what is in their best long term interest. Mexican-American soldiers will be faced with emotional conflicts which none of us would wish to face. To those of my readers who react in anger to this, expecting that new citizens from Mexico should display especial loyalty to America, I would say I agree. But put yourself in the position thirty years from now, if we have elected a succession of Obamas to the presidency and are sending active troops to Alaska, or to defend a corrupt Lebanese government against democratic Israel - where does your loyalty lie then? Is it so simple?

Loyalty among fallen humans is never simple. Americans are enormously blest to live in a place where trust levels are so high, and consensus so general that these questions have not come to us. We cannot assume that such blessings will endure forever.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Doubt

Across from the grocery checkout, DVD’s are up for rental. One of them is “Doubt.” Black background, head shots of a woman and man. Never heard of it. I know what it’s about, though. You know too. Sure you do. Follow my reasoning, and you’ll see that I’m not doing any magic here.

The “doubt” is going to be about religious faith. That’s a 90%+ given. There’s some slim chance it’s about the woman doubting the company she works for, a la Erin Brockovich, or doubting a conservative politician, but then the movie would probably be named “Betrayal” or something like that. So… it’s ultimately about doubting God. It may stop short of that in the narrative, and be only about doubting the religious authorities. It will certainly not start by doubting God, but focus on some more worldly doubt as a vehicle to be driven toward doubting the authorities/God/everything certain.

It will emphatically not be about doubting feminism, or whether this middle-aged lesbian has really been straight all along, or Buddhism, or union membership. We are not allowed to doubt some things, you see. It is an absolute lockdown certainty that this is not about doubting a youngish liberal politician who promises hope and change. There was a time when a science-fiction writer could have written a story entitled “Doubt” and it would be about doubting reality or scientific assumptions. Asimov could have done it. It is even occasionally possible in the modern era for the doubt to be about some crime, with falsely-accused people, district attorneys, and an unorthodox investigator. But then it would have been called “A Reasonable Doubt.” A spy thingy, with a double agent? Maybe. But then it would be guy versus guy. Nope. It’s about religion.

Literary digression: the objection will be raised that doubt is more artistically interesting than certainty, and doubt about existential questions most interesting of all. I am tempted to concede that, as I am literature-and-drama trained and tend to agree. But is that true for everyone, or only for a narrow group? If you dropped down in geography and history to interview the widest variety of human beings, would you actually find this groundswell of assent that “doubt” is so flipping interesting? The association of skepticism with being Smart and Deep is fairly rare in human history. It is mostly a 20thC western idea, confined to an elite that considers itself smart and deep because of its skepticism. They…we… find such things interesting. The reasoning becomes circular. It is impossible not to slide from there into the idea that doubt is a mark of intelligence, belief a mark of foolishness. That is half-true. Skepticism about prevailing values takes some thought, while going along takes little. But all skeptics believe in something, all believers are skeptical of outside values. Doubt and faith per se are not intelligence markers.

Among the people who go to thoughtsy movies or modern drama, religious doubt is a value they believe in wholeheartedly. Thus the movie named “Doubt” has the deliciously ironic effect of reinforcing the values of the people who will watch it rather than challenging those values. That is rich. If y’all like doubt so much, why don’t you try some?

The DVD cover does not show their bodies, not even their top halves, so this isn’t going to be about babes. Thus it’s probably not modern, either. It’s not set in a cool historical era with splendid costumes and atmosphere. Between the Great Depression and Woodstock, then. Maybe up to 1980 if it’s about some rural backwater. I think the man and especially the woman are older (they have a familiarity about them. I’ll bet even I would recognise them).

Black background. Secrets. Abortion? Homosexuality? Adultery is so 1970’s. Her secret? His secret? Hmm, I can’t parse that one. Perhaps he is from her past – either that or they are dissimilar people thrown together by circumstance.

What specific religious belief is going to be doubted here? Not Judaism. Someone might do the movie about doubting Jewish customs or Israeli policy, but it would have a different title, a different feel. Non-theistic religions are no fun to doubt. It will be some traditional Christian belief. Eastern Orthodoxy is too obscure…if it’s based on a true story then it might be a Lutheran or Methodist…but most likely, it’s going to be either Baptist or Catholic. Maybe Amish, though that’s been done. Everyone knows that those beliefs are not doubted nearly enough, and we can always use some more skepticism about them.

If Baptist, then she’s a missionary or worker among the poor, and he’s…he’s a bad deacon. In the old movies, he would’ve been a Mysterious Stranger, but that’s no fun anymore. That would mean that it’s her secret, probably something about sex, because everyone knows that those fundie women are roundheels (Faye Dunaway in “Little Big Man”), while the men are sexually repressed bastards who hate faggots.

If Catholic, then she’s a nun and he’s a priest*, and it’s his secret that drives the plot, while she’s the repressed, hateful one. His secret will of course be homosexuality or pedophilia, because everyone knows

I just get so tired of the utter predictability masquerading as pathbreaking.

Let me hedge my bets both ways here. I still think the above two choices are most likely, but a switcheroo isn’t impossible. I suppose it could be possible that it’s the nun with the secret, probably an abortion, because y’know, Catholics. Abortion. Tee hee. But I doubt it. Nun sexuality on the screen is either extremely underplayed – Sound of Music, The Flying Nun, Sister Act – or really rank – Cheech and Chong, Rocky Horror.

I can’t decide between my final two choices. Maybe something will come up as I go along.

I imagine that the movie is very well done. If it’s a non-action conflict piece, it’s only going to be sold next to the groceries if it’s very good. That also suggests that there will be some actual moral curveball that makes this an adult movie instead of a cartoon. Some character is going to show up about three-fourths of the way through and upset the applecart of the moral conclusions the audience has drawn to that point. That’s probably a good thing, because otherwise this film has the moral complexity of Veggie Tales or Davey and Goliath. Once you remember that doubt is the religion being sold, all the supposed nuance and complexity is revealed to be as entirely didactic as any Sunday School Jesus film or a Stalinist agitprop about happy workers.

So I give the scriptwriter and the director credit for some actual complexity, but feel obliged to point out that it will come much too late in the show to have much effect. What people will take away will not be this last twist, but the reinforced prejudice confirming their previously-held beliefs that make up the bulk of the movie.

I admit I’m lost as to what that final twist is, and still can’t decide if it’s my Baptist scenario or my Catholic one. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because the message given is that organized religion is populated by dangerous, sick people, which implies that God probably isn’t any good either. Doubt is the proper stance to take about anything religious. That way you can be conflicted and can’t ever judge anyone else’s actions, but you can still be a sensitive thoughtful good person and not have to commit to anything as solid as unbelief.

They are transparent to us. We are opaque to them.

*There are other logical possibilities, but I won't bore you with the step-by-step of how I eliminated them.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Jarhead

The term jarhead for a Marine is an excellent example of the difficulty of tracing slang terms back in time. There are several theories as to its origin, none dominant. But another interesting principle of word persistence is in play with jarhead: the origin of a word may not explain its persistence. Where it originally comes from is in dispute, but its reemergence in popularity is clear.

Many sources indicate that it was sailors who gave marines the nickname, and that it was common in WWII. As marines were specialists in amphibious landing and were thus often in contact with the Navy, this adds up. There is a written reference from 1933 of a sailor calling marines jarheads.

The prevailing theories are
1. A variant of jughead/jawhead, a term for a mule, used with mixed insult and affection for marine toughness, stupidity, and difficulty in getting along. This would date the term back into the 19th C, in all likelihood, when the armed services actually did use mules a fair bit.

2. The tight-collared dress blues gave them the appearance of a mason jar with rubber or leather seal (and so might be a less-complimentary version of leatherneck). As mason jars were often blue in the first half of the 20th C, this gains some possibility. This is not mutually exclusive with #3.

3. The wide flat "cover" of the marine could be easily compared to a jar lid.

4. The high and tight haircut of marines also gives a jar lid appearance.

Let's look at each of these and make some guesses.

#2 looks promising, except that mason jars and other fruit jars were more pale aqua than blue. These would not immediately suggest dress blues, which are navy and have a more bottle-like appearance. Combined with the strong lidlike appearance of #3, plus the old leather collar, however, some wag of a sailor might easily have compared these arrogant interlopers on his ship to a mason jar just to take them down a peg.

#1 Jughead/jawhead/jarhead is quite possible, but would be unlikely to get started after WWI and the end of military pack animals. As the earliest attestation is 1933, this is problematic, as an earlier reference would be likely to show up somewhere. Yet the writer of the 1933 reference used the word offhandedly, suggesting that it was in general usage among sailors. That would take awhile.

To modern eyes and ears, #4 looks the most promising, as the high-and-tight is one of the most salient features of USMC appearance. However, that haircut was given mainly to marine recruits through the Korean War. After boot camp, marines let their hair grow to the common fashionable lengths of the time until the 1960's, when they dug in with a vengeance against the new longer styles. Pictures of marines from the 30's and 40's don't show the high-and-tight after boot camp.

Here is where the persistence theory gets interesting, though. Some older marines recall that the jarhead term was falling out of favor between WWII and Vietnam. It seemed a little insulting, perhaps, and less welcome. In wartime a high level of affectionate insult is tolerated among the services. Between wars, people get a little more defensive and territorial.

As Vietnam ramped up and the marines almost defiantly exaggerated their short hairstyle, the jar lid appearance became more pronounced. Jarhead came back into popularity, but with mixed review. It began to be used by anti-military types as an insult, was still used by other services as an affectionate insult, and became more common among marines describing themselves. This embracing of the insulting name to draw its fangs is a common phenomenon - consider "Yankee," "Quaker," "nigger," "cop," and "queer."

No telling where all this goes next. Slang has an unpredictable half-life.

Mr. Bojangles

Jonathan made me crazy on the trip to Parris Island, singing the two words "Mister Bojangles" whenever he saw a sign for the restaurant chain. About two dozen times, just those two words. He said he didn't know there was a whole song, but he got the cadence right, so it must have stuck in there from somewhere.

Yeah Jon-o, it's a real song, written by Jerry Jeff Walker, but most familiar in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version.


There was a real Bojangles, Bill Robinson - but not pathetic, as in the song. He was a big name tap dancer in the movies. Watch and listen to him use both the treads and the risers on these stairs. Still, the song convincingly evokes the many itinerant black hoofers of a bygone era.



The news story about his funeral gives some idea how well-known the real Mr. Bojangles was.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cups of Coffee

Dunkin Donuts has crept down as far as South Carolina at least, which will begin improving their coffee standards. If McDonald's uses the same coffee down there that they do up here that will help also. They need it. Gas station coffee in New England is better than good restaurant coffee in the south. I don't get it. I have very, very low standards for coffee. I will gladly drink instant, or day-old, or someone else's coffee. I like my coffee fairly strong, but not crazy strong. (My dad always said that to a Swede there is no such thing as strong coffee, only weak people.) But I actually throw coffee away down south, or don't even bother to order it. Even the hospitable "I'll make you a fresh pot, honey" doesn't seem to cut it.

I understand any place that doesn't want to start investing in chi-chi designer coffees and developing a taste for $5 cups. That's not what I'm talking about. I am referring to simple regular coffee, with no added flavors of mango creme or basmati rice.

My first thought is that they try to stretch the grounds too far, as it is often weak. Someone at church suggested that more intense chlorination may be the culprit.

Either way, y'all have got to get with the program. It's not that hard.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Statistics Convergence

Liberals in the modern political sense constitute about 19% of the adult citizenry in America. This a core constituency of the Democratic Party, but not its only group, and not always reliably Democrat, as votes for Green Party candidates are drawn almost entirely from this group. Several Democratic subgroups have fewer children than average, but this is the sector which most dramatically pulls that party's average down.

This is also the sector of the population which most strongly supports the transformative, and very expensive, aspects of the bailout bill, the stimulus package, and the federal budget increases. One of the warnings about these jaw-dropping amounts of funds that conservatives, and especially libertarians, keep bringing up is the amount of debt we are foisting off onto future generations - usually phrased as "our children and grandchildren."

So why would progressives care about them, exactly?

It's a rather ugly thought, I admit. But there it is.

Alternative Media Letdown


I received this story from my uncle, and was surprised I had not seen it before. The sculpture above is officially called To The Struggle Against World Terrorism, but is known informally as the "Teardrop Sculpture." It is by the Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli.

It was dedicated September 11, 2006 for the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. If it had only been known by its informal name, it might have gotten more play in the legacy media. As the political wisdom in those agencies dictated that America was to be seen as hated by the world for its struggle against world terrorism, it's pretty easy to see why this would be a bone too pointed to be swallowed.

But the alternative media seems to have missed this as well, and they/we should have given this wider publicity.

...And Return

Back from a remarkable trip, though tedious at the end on the drive straight through to come home. Traveling with three drivers is better than four in a usual sedan, as the added rest you can get stretching out in the back more than makes up for the added driving shift.

Points to remember:
The USMC will tell you to get there early for family day, to see your new Marine off for his motivational run early on the morning of Family Day. Chris's was canceled, so we sat and watched videos about boot camp for several hours while sitting in the bleachers before the ceremony started. Not a productive time, especially with young Emily along. Even if it hadn't been canceled, our arrival for the sendoff would have probably been unnoticed and purely symbolic.

You will want to "honor" your Marine by staying with him until the last minute of his liberty at 3pm. This will mean that you will also honor him by sitting in stuck traffic for up to an hour getting off Parris Island.

You will see improved young men (and women, when any of them are graduating) all around you while you are there, You can tell they are improved because you will see how their siblings are dressed and acting. It is inspiring, but it pays to remember that boot camp only removes about 50% of the jerk factor. Human beings being what they are - especially young ones - you cannot count on even the Marines to fix everything in 12 weeks. I didn't notice anything about Chris that disappointed me - it was all good. But the stories you will hear, and the warnings they will give you about how Marines will act on leave will remind you that the first goal of the USMC is to prepare them for the necessary tasks of war, and if they are still rude drivers, impatient, and prickly when not on duty that is less of an issue to the Corps. They want their Marines to make a good impression and act responsibly in all areas, but they have priorities in this. Many people who went into the Marines as quick-tempered jerks will always have a lot of that no matter how long they are in. The Corps improves that for its needs, and young men learn to take more responsibility, but it's not a cure-all for all character flaws.

But, man, is it improved.

When Chris started off boot camp racing from the bus to the yellow footprints while the DI's screamed at him, he said to himself "And so it begins" from Lord of The Rings. I couldn't have asked for better.

He looks good. He looks good in many ways.

He's going to be a driver after all, as he originally wanted, so they will be sending him to training in Missouri after he finishes his next section at Camp Lejeune.