Saturday, May 30, 2009

Computer Problems

The internets are acting up (probably flooding in the series of tubes), and AVI is unable to get online at the moment. He'll be back up and running soon.

On a related note, I installed Windows 7 Release Candidate last night. It's amazing. Smooth as silk, plays games better, no driver issues at all. It's already better than XP or Vista at launch. Heartily recommended.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NH News Site

The first online-only, citizen-written news site in the state Now Hampshire. I can't tell if it has a conservative slant, or none, but it at least allows a conservative perspective. Try it out.

Note to non-Newenglanders: Now Hampshire is a double joke, playing off not only New Hampshire, but Cow Hampshire, which is what folks from Massachusetts call us. So do people from Maine and Vermont, but they say it approvingly. "Now Hampshire" makes me cringe a bit - rather like the old "Cool Britannia" campaign in the UK. But I can't think of a better title offhand.

More Good Music

The Dixie Hummingbirds. Looks about late 1950's.

The Fairfield Four has been a favorite of mine for twenty years. The Nashville Bluegrass Band does the two-minute intro, but the arrangement is all FF4. (Yeah, they're the ones who did Po Lazarus in "Brother Where Art Thou," one of the few movies I've seen.)

And The Blind Boys of Alabama - a little different flavor.


Megan McArdle has an essay on the cultural infrastructure of capitalism, Moral Bankruptcy over at The Atlantic.
Should defaulters feel bad? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. A number of people have made the argument to me that the credit system is morally neutral, at lest from the point of view of the debtor. The banks knew when they lent to you that there was a risk of default, and if you do, you pay the penalties. Why feel guilty? They don't, for selling you the rope with which you hung yourself.
I have had some thinking of my own on a parallel situation.

I went to the ER with chest pains two weeks ago. Not chest, exactly; rather lower down. But on the left side, and then I felt lightheaded to boot, and called 911. I was 90+% sure it wasn't a heart attack; riding up in the ambulance 95%+ sure; after four hours in the ER, 99+% sure. But I wanted to do the right thing. I didn't want to be that dumb guy who just brushes it off and then collapses in front of his poor wife and kids later that day. Everyone kept insisting I did the right thing.

Well, it's nice to have had a lot of tests to show that my heart and circulation are just great, thanks, and if I croak soon it's likely to be something else - anything else. I did get some reading done in the hospital, also very nice. It was nice to hear that so many people were praying for my heart, just in case it needed it. Finally, it was good to have a dry run, for when I do have an emergency at some later date. Say, when a piano falls on me, or I get hit by a bus. Which will be completely different, come to think of it.

Tracy read the bill to me last night: over $5000. Should I feel bad about that? If I knew I was going to be on the hook for $5K, I never would have called 911. But I didn't pay it, my insurance did. My insurance is provided by my employer. My employer is the State of NH. So the taxpayers of NH paid for medical care for me that I would not have purchased myself.

Now, betting against that $5000 out-of-pocket every time would possibly kill me someday, via bus, piano, or disease. So there's that in favor of having you guys pay for my insurance, because it will likely lengthen my life. Also, one works for the state precisely because of the benefits, as the salaries tend to be less than private sector. So I have in that sense been paying for my own insurance with lost wages over time. Not fully convincing, but a partial rationale - or rationalization.

I have a morbid fear of being under obligation to anyone, which is likely a measure of my o'erweening pride. Such a fear is very much an illusion on my part, as I am of course very much in emotional and cultural debt to many people. I have learned to ignore that, adding ingratitude to arrogance. Still, that desire to pull my own oar has likely spurred me to do more good than I would have otherwise. Most duties are not a joy to me, but fortunately Duty itself is a joy.

Comparison Of Freedoms

Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz points out that progressives are using sex to sell the loss of freedom. Specifically, that same-sex marriage rights are being regarded as the only important freedom issue of the day to disguise the tendency of the left to reduce freedoms in every other sphere. She posts a rather dramatic scorecard on this. Some of the commenters raise good points in opposition to her scorekeeping, but I think she defends herself well.

Within the essay she links to one she wrote 18 months ago with the provocative premise Leftism as an ideology exists to provide a mechanism for advancing the economic interest and social status of articulate intellectuals. I would have chosen a word other than "articulate" in that context, as there is a social element, a cultural-fashion aspect as well. But the point bears some similarity to my cultural tribes series of posts.

Old Jews Telling Jokes

There is actually a site for this. A mixed bag, but some very funny.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pitching Coming Up

Fenway is still a hitter's park, though less than it was before the structural changes. Successful Red Sox teams of the past have scored the first or second most runs in the American League. Pitching that is slightly better than the league average is quite good if you are pitching half your games at Fenway. As of this moment, the Sox are one of a half-dozen teams near the top of runs scored, and doing pretty well in runs against. This suggests they need more hitting. When you consider what the top of the lineup is doing, it is clear that Ortiz is hurting them badly, and the catching position is a brake on the carriage as well.

The trouble is, they don't have that much hitting coming up from the minors. It's OK, but not championship. What they do have is pitching - which is what they don't especially need - at Pawtucket. Lots and lots of it. Scroll down to pitching and click on the ERA column on the Pawsox individual stats. Player after player under 2.00 ERA, lots of 'em young and improving. Plus Charlie Zink, who will never have a great ERA because he's a knuckleballer, but can eat innings and still has a chance to be another Tim Wakefield.

I hate to trade good young pitching, but watch for that to happen.

Basketball update. Though the games have been close, it's worth noting that if Lebron doesn't make that shot at the end of Game 2, then Orlando just swept the series. And as the timekeeper didn't start the clock until well after (by last-second NBA standards) James touched it, maybe it shouldn't have counted. Generally, you need 1.4 seconds to get off a jumper. But I guess you have to give the benefit to the shooter in those situations.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


When I push my cart through a supermarket, I often wonder what people of other times and places would think of what I see before me. As we were at the cemetery today, my grandmother came naturally to mind. I look at 600 sq ft of shelf space for frozen vegetables, and wonder what she would have thought. 250 sq ft just for different kinds of orange juice. 50 flavors of ice cream. Amazing.

She was pleased to switch from A&P to Champagne's in Manchester, NH, particularly after Grand Union bought it and it didn't sound so French. Grand Union was bigger, and on the outskirts of town rather than downtown, which made it almost suburban. There were shopping carts - much smaller than today, but a step up from baskets. There were six aisles, I'm guessing a little over 50' long each. Huge. Stunning. Nanna would comment on it from time to time that it was so convenient, and you could find what you were looking for. We took her shopping every Saturday, because she didn't drive.

You couldn't take the carts out of the store. When you had checked out they put your bags in box with a number. They gave you a matching number and slid the box along a wheeled track that went through an opening in the wall. A boy on the other side matched your number to the box when you drove up and put the groceries in your car.

If there was much produce from anywhere outside New England I'd be surprised to hear it. Tropical fruits, picked while green and trucked north from Florida was about as exotic as it got. They usually looked pretty battered, especially the bananas. There were oranges and grapefruit - not any clementines, tangeloes, tangerines, uglifruit. It wasn't that long ago, perhaps the 1980's that I remember being stunned to see Japanese pears for sale in my supermarket in New Hampshire. How can such a thing be? Yes, they were expensive, but how could they not be ten times the price?

Our ethnic foods might not seem as surprising ad you'd think. In a mill town there were plenty of ethnic groups with their favorite dishes - it's just that they were all European. So Nanna might shrug at the Greek, Italian, and Jewish offerings we have now. Her uncle ran the Swedish market in the 1930's after all, and importing those foods that would keep on an Atlantic voyage wouldn't seem that unusual. The Chinese, Indian, and Thai food might have caught her attention, at least to look at. She might be alarmed at so much Mexican food, as it would imply...well...

But perhaps not. When my mother ran the international food festivals here in the late 60's and early 70's she drew heavily on Nanna's network of friends to put together a wide variety of offerings. My uncle claims she was a pretty intolerant person, suspicious of all papists but he may exaggerate. Her sisters had a broader selection of friends, but Louise's bridge groups included Jewish and Greek and French-Canadian ladies - the nicer sorts, of course, and probably of the same aspirations to respectability that she had.

Yet cooking interested her greatly, so she might be a willing audience for all of this variety.

She did pull me aside and tell me it wouldn't be wise to marry a negro girl when I decided to go to college down south. Yet even at that, she stressed that there wasn't anything wrong with them, it would just be too hard for the children. If she had more general objections, she kept them private - and I was pretty good at picking up the undercurrents of her tones of voice.

Come to think of it, what would bother her in the supermarket today would be how people dress, especially the women. To go out in public at all required respectable clothing, and she would deplore 75% of what she saw today, without bothering to ask what ethnic derivation they were. Ethnicity was a clue, not a destiny.

Change In The Culture War

Encouraging news from the world of modern art? Who would have thought? Matthew Milliner over at First Things writes:
This time, there was an unusually high amount of what Etienne Gilson would call "arts of the beautiful," as opposed to arts that serve didactic or politicized ends. Several shows contained works that passed the living room test, that is, pieces one would actually want hanging in one's living room. On previous walks, canvasses that a person with reasonably sized walls might actually consider purchasing amounted to maybe twenty percent of what was on offer. As of May 2009, that percentage seems to have jumped to nearly half.
The whole article is Another Day In Chelsea.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Monsieur Chouchani

There are figures in the world who are so much like characters in fairy tales that one doubts they are real. Monsieur Chouchani, teacher of both the French-Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas and author Elie Wiesel (among dozens of others, less well-known) is such a one. He was the archetype of the wandering wizard, the mad sage: Teiresias straight out of the pages of the Odyssey, Gandalf, or Merlin, or Obi-Wan. An Eastern European Jew born in the late 19th C, he was possessed of a prodigious memory, teaching Talmud, higher mathematics, classical literature, philosophy of language and meaning.
Friends and students knew him only as "Mr. Chouchani" (pronounced "Shoushani"). He would sometimes call himself "Prof. Chouchani," but that was apparently only one of the names he used. He spent his life traveling in East Europe, France, the United States, British Mandatory Palestine, North Africa and South America. A solitary, eternal wanderer, he always wore pauper's clothes and sought food and lodging among friends. He zealously concealed his past, yet wherever he went, he left behind many admirers who were astounded by the scope of his knowledge - in both Jewish and general fields - and his skill at integrating various realms to produce stunning innovations. Yair Sheleg, 2003
His real name and nationality remain uncertain. The reasons for his wandering unknown.

His privacy was obsessive, he had some sort of contamination fear, he was angry and dismissive - a "cruel teacher" Levinas called him, though he voluntary engaged Chouchani as his master. More about this fascinating character here and here.

The Many And The Few

The discussion a few posts ago fell into objections to the Christian notion of salvation exclusively for us. Many Christians would go even further - some days I don't think most of us are heaven-bound either. Not most of you, anyway. At other times I get quite universalist, figuring that most people everywhere will eventually get dragged into heaven somehow, or at worst will face eventual annihilation rather than hell. I don't think about the percentages much, because I haven't the foggiest idea. Are 90% of us going to heaven, or 10%? 99 or 1? Fifty-fifty, maybe? No clue. I think my fleeting mood or general temperament influences my impression too strongly to pretend to an objectivity. Certain Bible verses suggest that it's very few, even of us. Others would let many more off the hook.

What strikes me as odd is that this type of objection occurs rarely in history, though it is common now. Most peoples in most times and places have looked at this through the other end of the telescope. A Philistine running back to his tribe outraged that the Jews thought they were the chosen people, and we Philistines aren't would be laughed at in scorn. Well of course they do, you meathead. That's what everyone thinks about themselves. That's what we think, too. Except we really are. The pagan European tribes, African tribes, North American tribes that encountered Christianity wondered whether it was powerful enough to keep out the dark and evil. They were pretty much happy to go along with exclusivity if the new faith could deliver. There wasn't a resentment that their gods had been dissed so much as a doubt that anything could hold the malevolent world at bay for long. They didn't think it worked. Ancestor worship didn't develop because people thought the ancestors were nice, but because they thought them dangerous, resentful of the living, except perhaps at first.

The religions of the east regarded Christianity as a misunderstanding of reality, even a primitive misunderstanding. That the Christians thought they were the only ones going to heaven was regarded as faintly ridiculous, not insulting. Rather quaint, if anything. Resentments came later, on the basis of the behavior of Europeans, often at odds with their professed beliefs.

This doubt of the Christian claim came from observing nature and everyday life. Most species disappear, most animals die unfortunate deaths, as do most people. Life was painful, difficult - in Hobbes's phrase, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Those who object to the unfairness of Christianity might do better to regard the unfairness of nature instead. Most religions did not teach that everybody is going to a great heavenly reward, but that nobody's getting out. It's all suffering. That there is no heaven (Buddhism); that it is impossibly remote (Hinduism); that heaven itself has conflict and eventually collapses (Norse, other paganism); that there is only a hellish half-existence (animism); even monotheistic Islam has only a limited heaven, with girls and fruit but not much contact with God.

The Nietzschean and Freudian objections to Christianity are similar to the older views - we face annihilation but refuse to face that. Most human beings who have ever lived would regard that as a stronger and more likely objection. The known world is bad enough, and the unseen world impossibly frightening and dangerous.

This new idea, now quite common, that everyone should be going to eternal bliss (except maybe a few) may derive from our earthly prosperity. We think it should be normal for people to have general good health, nutrition, and peaceful existence up to our ninth decade, and that something has gone terribly wrong with the world for anyone who doesn't get that. We expect the universe to be benign, enough so that if some are poor, we blame the rich. Five hundred years ago, no one thought poverty or disease unusual. Tragic and terrible, yes. Much to be feared or avoided, certainly. But not surprising. Only those accustomed to wealth are surprised by poverty.

Ironically, this belief in the benign or at worst neutral universe likely derives from Christian ideas. Everyone in 1960 America was at least superficially religious, so nearly every funeral could reference heaven without snickering, at least openly. Even the worst of us looked as if he had some chance for eventual redemption and rescue. The Big Guy Upstairs was on our side, we all thought, and wished us well. He'd make it all come around right somehow, so have another drink.

Please note that nothing in the above argues for the truth or falsity of Christianity or the the existence of God. I'm just commenting on the people.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Playoffs Update

The thought was that Cleveland was a freight train this year, unbeatable, so that even if the Celtics made it to the Eastern Finals, they had no chance without Garnett.

Orlando, which outplayed the Celtics but not hugely, seems to be proving that theory wrong. Orlando is Cleveland's equal.

Suggesting that Boston could have been looking at banner 18 after all. Matchups are funny, and if Team A plays both B and C to a draw, it doesn't necessarily mean B and C would be an even matchup as well. But the Celtics did play well against Cleveland this year.

Ah well. This is the life we embrace when we become sports fans. Dave Barry once wisely pointed out in his Guide To Guys: "Your wife may be a warm, loving, and loyal person, but she will never make the playoffs."

Dans Tsigan

Despite the bright colors, real Gypsy women wouldn't dance like this, because of marime customs. The steps may seem different to to other Romanian folklorists, but Hutsul, Ukrainian, Romany, Romanian, Ardeal -- they all look alike to me.

You have to be impressed with the leg strength of that one woman, who must weigh fourteen stone...

A little racier, like a gadjo fantasy of what gypsy dances are like. You can see the Middle-Eastern, belly dancing similarity here. I never saw gypsies dance like this myself, though.

More like this.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Never heard this song, but I loved the Limelighters. It would've been fun to be in the audience for this one. Classic folkie interaction.

Celtics 2008-9: Postmortem

Everyone mentions the Kevin Garnett injury, and that is of course key. Even if he’s only worth a couple of points a game over his replacement (I would argue it’s more), that’s all five games against Chicago that don’t go into overtime. Fewer games, shorter games. More energy for Orlando. Whether KG would have been a difference maker versus Cleveland is now moot. But it would have been interesting.

Leon Powe’s absence gets mentioned occasionally. I am less convinced by that. Powe would have had some of Scalabrine’s minutes, some of Davis’s. Given his inconsistency, I’m not sure there’s much advantage. Having a 1-2 punch, with a player who is like Dwight Howard, might have also been enough advantage, given that both series were so close.

I haven’t heard anyone mention James Posey. As the Celtics did well in the regular season without him, he doesn’t automatically come to mind. But the way the playoffs have gone, Posey would have provided a) defense, b) rest for Pierce, and c) shooting roughly equivalent to Eddie House. I think that combination of advantages, even with KG out, would have the Celtics winning both series in 6 games, going into the Eastern Conference finals with less fatigue. Ah well. Too late now.

On the plus side, I don’t think we have to spend money to keep Leon Powe now. Glen Davis has some defensive liabilities, but is certainly an adequate backup at PF. A rotating triad of Garnett/Perkins/Davis will be fine up front. For now.

The Big Three are now the Biggish Three. Ray Allen tired is not quite Ray Allen. Paul Pierce tired is an All-Star, but no longer able to take over games. Garnett? Dunno, but he’s a year older as well. The emergence of Rajon Rondo has been very satisfying, but the playoffs showed he cannot consistently take over a half, though he can do it sometimes. He and Perkins, with normal improvement, likely just offset the diminution of the Biggish Three next year.

Except. Except there may be no improvement in Rondo, Perkins, and Davis next year if defensive coach Tom Thibodeau takes a head coaching job elsewhere. That would be a largely invisible, but enormous, loss.

Thus, bench strength becomes the key for next year. Big Baby has already discussed – he can be a respectable 6th man. But who will give Pierce a rest? Who will back up Rondo and not be a sharp dropoff in talent? Eddie House filled in valiantly, but not expertly. When Stephon Marbury came, House’s 3-point percentage went way up, which means he can back up Ray Allen if there is a legitimate point guard.

Backups are doubly important with older teams. Paul Pierce not only needs more rest, the Celtics also need someone who isn’t terrible if Pierce gets injured. Quality backups at PG and SF, whether they bring more offense or more defense doesn’t really matter. See you next year.

The Real Rescuer, India, Israel, America

The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant.Mohandes K. Gandhi, 1938. “A Non-Violent Look at Conflict and Violence

We’ll come back to that fine-sounding quote and its moral bankruptcy later.

It is a bit dangerous to put forward a work of fiction as representing reality, for the author has control over the events and can make them demonstrate whatever reality he desires. Phillip Yancey makes a big deal in What’s So Amazing About Grace about the bishop’s act of forgiveness and protection of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Yancey believes that this demonstrates how individual acts of grace can and do transform people. I was mumbling angrily at the page during that section: It’s a work of fiction, dammit. There’s no guarantee that this happens in real life. It might happen, of course. Hugo may have captured accurately something about human nature, or at least, the nature of some humans. Yancey may be onto an important truth here. But a work of fiction simply isn’t evidence. The author can make the characters and events do what he wants. If we believe that an author has got it right, it may only be that the author has told us what we wish to hear.

But I will rush in where angels might fear to tread, because of an irony. In “Slumdog Millionaire,” it isn’t the hero who really rescues the girl – ever. The gentle and persevering Jamaal is made to look like the person who saves the lovely Latika through his love and devotion. But it is actually his greedy, selfish, violent brother Salim who saves her every time. Worse, Salim saves her through violence, not by forgoing it. He throws acid in one bad guy’s face. Shoots two others. These are the events of rescue. They are, in the context of the plot, good acts, or at least justifiable.

Jamaal has his part to play; he is not a passive bystander. But it is Salim’s actions which ultimately do the job. Within the ethos of the movie, one might argue that Salim’s actions are mere vehicles to the foreordained end. It is written, and the rest is just detail. Had Salim not done these things fate, or destiny, or God would have accomplished them some other way. It has echoes of God’s promise to Satan in Paradise Lost: whatever evil you do, I will bring good out of it. Those who see violence as unjustified would certainly try and portray it this way. Jamaal is good and innocent and pure; Salim is violent, deceptive, and cruel. Jamaal must be going to heaven, Salim to hell. Therefore, it must be Jamaal’s goodness that ultimately saves Latika, right?

But there is no way to justify that formulation, either in the movie or in real life, without resorting to some mystical mechanism, some just-trust-me-goodness-always-works faith in, in something. Faith that goodness is secretly more powerful and will always win. It’s a nice way to leave God out of the picture, except at a distance, this idea that just being a swell guy ultimately conquers all. It is not even a milk-and-water theism, let alone anything to do with the God of the Bible (or Milton). The Gospel of Nice.

This hits me with particular force because I am reading Elie Wiesel’s Memoirs at the moment, and he, like most Holocaust survivors, is obsessed with the question of where God is in the face of great evil, why His children did not intervene with violence. When 10,000 souls a day were being processed at Auschwitz, how could the Allies not bomb the train tracks? Every day’s delay is ten thousand souls rescued. It was not violence that was the sin, but the lack of violence. There was not enough violence from the Allies.

Gandhi, in the essay quoted and linked above, counseled that the Jews should respond to the Nazis only with civil disobedience, not violence. My reading of Wiesel suggests that many Jews could not have been more innocent, could not have prayed with greater fervor or perseverance, could not have brought more holiness of life and good example to their martyrdom. But it didn’t work. Violence worked.

“Slumdog Millionaire” gives us Gandhi and the independence of India in miniature. Gandhi gets the credit with his innocence and non-violence. But it was the half-billion people behind him, unacknowledged, who had erupted in violence throughout the past decade, which earned independence. It’s a much more fun world where we can give Jamaal and Gandhi credit. It makes us feel all warm inside to think that the world works that way. But it was the few good acts of the violent Salim, directing his violence for a time to something other than his own fortune, that rescued them all.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I believe it was Jean Amery who noted that the first to bow to the oppressor's system [in Auschwitz] and to adopt its doctrines and methods were the intellectuals. But not all of them, Not the rabbis and priests, who, after all, were intellectuals too. With a single exception, no rabbi agreed to become a kapo. All refused to barter their own survival by becoming tools of the hangman. All preferred to die rather than serve death. The lessons of the prophets and the sages became shields for them.
Elie Wiesel, Memoirs: All Rivers Run To The Sea

Friday, May 15, 2009

This Time, With Irony


The winner of this year's best visual illusion. Very cool

Via Volokh Conspiracy

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Same Sex Marriage II

The essay at Asymmetrical Information that James linked to in the comments section of the previous post is simply outstanding. It makes some of the traditionalist marriage points far better than I did - and this from a woman who is uncertain how far she agrees with them! As an added bonus, there is a good-sized GK Chesterton quote about who should be allowed to reform institutions and who should not.

I should find some representative quote as a teaser, to get you to follow the link, but there are so many. Hmm...
However, I am bothered by this specific argument, which I have heard over and over from the people I know who favor gay marriage laws. I mean, literally over and over; when they get into arguments, they just repeat it, again and again. "I will get married even if marriage is expanded to include gay people; I cannot imagine anyone up and deciding not to get married because gay people are getting married; therefore, the whole idea is ridiculous and bigoted."

They may well be right. Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality. Every government programme that libertarians have argued against has been defended at its inception with exactly this argument.

Let me take three major legal innovations, one of them general, two specific to marriage.

The first, the general one, is well known to most hard-core libertarians, but let me reprise it anyway. When the income tax was initially being debated, there was a suggestion to put in a mandatory cap; I believe the level was 10 percent.

Don't be ridiculous, the Senator's colleagues told him. Americans would never allow an income tax rate as high as ten percent. They would revolt! It is an outrage to even suggest it!
Her point is to look first at the marginal cases, not the general ones.

Update: I had not realised until today that Jane Galt is Megan McArdle of The Atlantic

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Same Sex Marriage

I haven't weighed in on this yet. I was thinking about it because a commenter at another site described the conservative viewpoint that SSM will hurt traditional marriage as "just silly" and "impossible to defend coherently" without an appeal to religious values.

Let's go at that first, not because it is a powerful argument, but because it is a common one. Mere dismissiveness never impresses me with its explanatory power. It must work on a lot of people, however, because it keeps coming up. Pish tosh. Piffle. No intelligent person believes that. Get real. Sniff...sneer. It is often an announcement that the speaker has talked about, read about, and heard about the subject, but not actually thought about it.

I will touch on arguments for SSM that might persuade me, or at least be worthy of consideration, a bit farther down. But this one is frankly amazing. Every known society to date, even polygamous ones, has not sanctioned same-sex marriage. If you travel to Papua New Guinea and ask several tribes at random "Say, have you ever thought of having men marry men, or women marry women?" you would receive puzzled stares. If you traveled in time and place to the Congo River Basin in the 6th C, an Inuit community in the 12th C, or a Brythonnic tribe in the 28th C BCE, you would find no societies that allowed this. Perhaps they were all wrong. Perhaps it is a great advance in rights or attitudes to be considering such a change in Western Europe and North America in the 21st C. But to dismiss the universal practice of all human beings to date as "just silly" seems, well, silly.

There have been cultures that have allowed and even encouraged homosexuality. The Greeks are most often cited on this, but there have been a few others. None of them has same sex marriage. In polygamous societies, the additional spouses are seen to be in some contractual relationship with the opposite sex partner, but not with each other.

One might find this universal vote from history to be insufficient or unpersuasive to forbid SSM. But by what blind ethno- and chronocentrism can one discard it as silly? I trust my examples have also set to rest the complaint that forbidding SSM is an idiosyncratic Christian idea. We should be suspicious when people try to sail these things past us.

The strongest positive argument for SSM comes from an idea of individual rights. As with many other practices in the American experience, one could maintain that people have a right to do what they want to do regardless of its effect on society, or more mildly, unless society can show some compelling interest in forbidding the act in question. Voting, owning guns, using drugs, moving where one wishes, zoning laws - all these involve some discussion of whether individual rights are the trump card. It is worth mentioning in passing that progressives who argue from some inalienable right to SSM that they have some serious counterarguments to deal with, not so much from conservatives as from libertarians. Societal provision of some good, such as health care or food, is made on the basis of the more communitarian idea that "I want to live in the sort of society that..." Well, I might want to live in the sort of society that worships squirrels, or insists everyone marry at 16, or sings for its supper, but so what?

There is not only a specifically religious set of arguments against homosexuality per se (I don't know that SSM is separately addressed in the texts of any religion), but a set of traditionalist arguments that many religious people also assent to. The people holding both sets of ideas may confuse them - surely they seldom differentiate them clearly - but they are nonetheless not identical arguments. The traditionalist says "This is the way things have always been and it seems to work reasonably well. To make a change in that, the burden of proof is on the advocates for SSM that it will be okay." The counterargument from individual rights that something should be allowed unless good reason should be shown for its forbidding - the declaration that the burden of proof lies on the side of the forbidders - has merit. But any declaration that SSM might be good for any other reason automatically admits the claims of the traditionalists as well.

The libertarians who support SSM do so entirely on the basis of individual rights. If progressives go down that road, the libertarians have a host of additional rights they will want to press if we are to be consistent. If progressives choose to go down any other road to get to SSM, they will find themselves unable to answer the traditionalists with anything other than majority opinion or naked power. I don't think anyone wants to go there.

As for the evidence that SSM will damage traditional marriage, well, what sort of evidence would we accept? If SSM's had half the divorce rate (20%) of heterosexual marriages or twice the divorce rate (80%) neither would be much evidence one way or the other that traditional marriage had been affected for good or ill. If traditional marriages got worse or got better, there would be very little way to show that SSM were even a partial cause. It is necessarily indirect, and perhaps impossibly subtle to discern. I might claim that the environment for my child is very different if my neighborhood is 0%, 20%, 90% SSM, but what data could I base that on?

This is actually a strong argument for SSM from one perspective. Opponents are going to be hard-pressed to offer evidence, because what evidence would even theoretically be admitted? Perhaps with a perspective of decades, with some countries allowing and some not, we could tease out that individual factor. But that strong argument carries its own weaknesses. It is equally difficult to give evidence it is a positive, or even harmless. At most, we might show over decades that there was little change, or only changes which could be attributed to other trends.

This would at first seem to be a standoff, with libertarians claiming that such ambiguities must always be decided in favor of the individual right, while the traditionalists (and communitarians, though they won't like it) arguing that societies have a collective right to create the environment they choose. This one wants a society where everyone has free health care, this one wants a society where gay people are celebrated, this one wants a society where everyone works, this one where Christian holidays are celebrated, this one where sharia law is practiced, this one where education is really, really supported, this one where alcohol is forbidden... All fine until we come up against the question of what if somebody who lives here doesn't want that? Or doesn't want to be made to pay for it? The SSM advocates then go into the same pile as everyone else competing for societal design.

Two final points, both a bit tangential. My view is that SSM would be mildly damaging to an overall set of societal values, including traditional marriage, but not very much. If I were a legislator I would vote against it, if I were a governor I would veto it, but I wouldn't put my time into any protests or advocacy. Marriage hinges on a lot of other things related to the two participants well before it hinges on what's happening with other people's marriages. I am far more concerned about our denying cultural inheritance. Every place where we make a different decision than our own ancestors, we cut ourselves off from them a bit more. Far from being multicultural, such responses are monocultural, believing that only our own time and place have the answers. I believe that we have made some changes that are positive - that we are more right than our ancestors on some things. But I give up each of those coins only slowly, after much consideration. I am very unwilling to believe in the general wonderfulness of my own time and place versus other times and places.

Secondly, I react with great suspicion when the advocates for a position use their worst arguments almost exclusively.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Without A Trace Of Irony

Looking for one thing on YouTube, you always find another. I have posted other close harmony groups in the past, Orpheus, The Kingston Trio - but always chuckling at them a bit. Chuckling at myself, perhaps. Yes, these two similar videos have guys with funny clothes and haircuts, but it goes with the territory. They were in the crossover period from fresh-faced folksingers to hippie exuberance. And I loved them. Still do. Without a trace of irony, this is good music.

Also, I looked a lot like that rhythm guitarist, so I'm a little defensive.

Child 200

Tone matters greatly. I have long been familiar with Steeleye Span’s “Black Jack Davy,” the story of a wealthy 18th C woman who leaves her husband and runs away with a poor gypsy. Listen a bit, even if you aren’t a fan of Steeleye.

I knew that there were related versions – Gypsy Davy, Gipsie Laddie, Raggle-Taggle Gypsies, and that these tended to be folkier. I guessed it must be in Child’s Ballads, and likely had some obscurer versions.

Had I but thought it through. There are dozens of versions, Scots, Borderer, Scots-Irish, Irish. In some, it is a daughter that runs off from a lord; in others, the gypsy does turn out to be wealthy after all. Of course it crossed the water and came to Appalachia, taking on American versions and names: Harrison Brady, and When Carnal came to Arkansas. There weren’t any gypsies in America then, or darned few, so the reference had to be changed to some more general traveling romantic figure.

And I never connected it to this well-known song at all, because the tone is so different. Only when I specifically listened for it could I tell that the tunes are similar, the rhythm very similar.

Back in my folkie days, BTW, the running joke about anyone claiming to be big was “well, he had a few beers and sang with Tommy Makem” because everyone had had a few beers and sung with Tommy Makem. When my younger brother got married, I stopped using the joke, as his wife was the best friend of Tommy Makem’s daughter.

The migration to the New World by the Scots-Irish and Borderers in the mid-18th C gives us an opportunity to observe what happens to folk songs left on their own, as there is no possible contact between the tunes and lyrics over 200 years. John Jacob Niles, the folksong collector they named the UK American Music Center after, compared the variants between the Appalachian songs and the Child Ballads in his Ballad Book in the early 60’s.

This theme of the wealthy woman running off with a poor man must have struck something deep in the psyche, as it not only shows up in these 80 versions of Child 200, but in The Royal Forester, Lady Diamond, and heck, even “Uptown Girl” has it. Princesses kissing frogs has some similarity. Orpheus and Eurydice. So – did it actually happen that often (the running off that is, not the frog-kissing), or is it a song that reflects the male fantasy/fear of this happening? It may represent milder and more common experiences of slumming or marrying down, made extreme for artistic reasons, or for warning. The versions Frozen Charlotte and The Gypsy’s Warning would certainly suggest this is in play. Poor men pine after high-born women; rich men fear their wives or daughters will run off with some irresponsible charmer. Actually, it’s not entirely a masculine objection. Mothers also fear their daughters will run off with a handsome ne’er-do-well. Which versions did the women prefer? I imagine that is mixed, depending on whether it is oneself who might be running off versus a female relative considering it. Maddy Prior's comment at the beginning of the Black Jack Davy video sums this up nicely.

We have the mirror phenomenon of the poor woman and the better-off man in more modern music: Rag Doll, My Fair Lady, and the theme shows up in the story of Cinderella. But Cinderella is always hardworking and poor, not some charming fancy for boys to follow. Ah well, they have the Queen of the Faeries stories for that, I suppose. The story in reverse seems much less common in the Child Ballads, though we know that the action of lords and earls marrying dance-hall girls or milkmaids is recorded rather frequently in history.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Emotional Health

There is all the difference in the world in what people are like when they fall in love. Some then view all of creation through pink lenses, beaming at all and walking on the sunny side of the street. Is that annoying? A bit. But it's nothing compared to those who use falling in love as one more complaint about how the world doesn't understand them and their depth of emotion and nobility of soul.

It tells you a lot about their basic cast of mind, doesn't it?

And yes, I ran into one of the latter today.

The Roches

Sam over at The Ernest Chronicler put up a YouTube of girls singing harmony, which inspired me to follow suit.
I think this is the only religious song the Roches ever did.

Their tastes usually ran more to this.

Take That, Susan Boyle!

Take that, Paul Potts!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I Knew It

Sometimes you'd rather not be proved right. I said for years that the Red Sox winning in 2004 and 2007 was just some kind of urban legend. I grew up here, I knew better.

The Red Sox never really won those World Series. Up until 2004, I always said they found a new way to torment us every year. But even I, who expected them to be stripped of their title for some ridiculous reason all the way through 2005, never expected they would find a way to throw it all away five years later.

I also got proved right that getting Jason Bay instead of Manny Ramirez was a good thing, though a projected suspension for juicing wasn't my reason. But that's some comfort, I guess. And the growing belief that whoever the Red Sox beat during the regular season and each round of the playoffs likely had someone who juiced makes it all a bit murky about who robbed who. Another cold comfort.

Another View

I have mentioned in several posts the difficulty in bringing people news that they don't want to hear - that life can be hard. I have not gone along with the idea that conservatives just need to market themselves better. I maintain that there is a certain sting to reality that people don't want to deal with, and we are up against that as well.

Filmmaker Leigh Scott has a different view, and I thought you should see it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Two Oreos
tsp Peanut butter
Make sandwich
Serves one.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Just Wondering

This is new MVP Lebron James, at 24
Check out the chest, arms, and shoulders.

This is Wilt Chamberlain, one of the strongest men in NBA history.

And Artis Gilmore, another of the NBA's strongest

Are modern basketball players that much stronger, or are they just stronger like uh, football and baseball players sometimes are?

A Genealogy Of Anti-Americanism

James Caesar, a professor of politics at UVA, wrote a sweeping perspective of European Anti-Americanism, covering 400 years of mythology about us.

America was founded, as we remember, by Europeans. Natives and Africans contributed to the mix (to the horror of Europeans who now call us racist), but there was another difference between us, one often noted by North Americans, never by Europeans. Our ancestors are the people who left; theirs were the ones who stayed. Though that difference might be small individually, when multiplied over an entire population it became enormous. The new environment called out even more differences.

Caesar's essay divides anti-Americanism into five rough stages, each shading into the next. I read it a few years ago and have been looking for it ever since. Heidigger's disdain for our having no deep historical culture is particularly ironic in view of how little Europeans know about 20th C history.
If you remove anti-Americanism, nothing remains of French political thought today, either on the Left or on the Right. Jean-Francois Revel

Populus Vult Decipi, Decipiatur

"The people wish to be deceived, let them be deceived."

NPR Economics Reporting

NPR: The economy may be booming (crashing, stagnant, uncertain) in Indiana, but not everyone agrees. We interviewed Mark Carmela, who runs a bicycle shop in downtown Anderson who says times are tough.

MC: Yeah, last year at this time we had customers lining up outside the door, but this year I haven't seen a customer in three weeks, y'know?

NPR: Tomorrow, we'll travel to North Dakota and collect another anecdote there. It's supposed to make the news real, give it a human face, but actually it just allows us to conclude whatever the hell we want and pass it off to you as reporting. Live, from Mark's Pedal World in Anderson, Indiana.

On any given day, it's compassion. But day after day, is it really? It seems more like allowing NPR listeners to feel as if they are identifying with the common man without actually having to talk to any of them, or to have their preconceived notions challenged in any way. The plural of anecdote is not data.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Socialism, The Free Market, and Evolotionary Psychology

This is not merely a long essay on the evils of socialism. There are plenty of conflicts and contradictions to go around.

The current thinking is that humans developed in bands of 50-150, which were in turn part of language groups of a few thousand. There is also evidence that even larger groups came together for brief periods, perhaps at festivals. Whether this will be the model paleoanthropologists put forward fifty years from now is speculation, but something like this, plus a few twists and surprises, is likely to hold up.

Those smaller bands, if they are anything like the similar bands that survive to this day, share things more equally than we do. Not entirely equally, however. Most bands have customs which they adhere to quite strictly about who deserves what from the hunt or the gathering. Members who attempt to short-circuit those customs and get an "unfair" amount are subject to group sanctions.

There is no evidence either way about whether the larger groups also shared in some way. They certainly traded, and so had some idea of comparative value; as bands also skirmished with each other, some sense of who is entitled to what, but what rules, must also have been in play. But they may have been generous with other related bands in time of need as well.

Thus we can see the beginning of either socialism or the free market in their behavior, depending on our own cast of mind. Research into ideas of fairness, social pressure, altruistic punishment, and decision-making reveal that some fairly primitive ideas still operate even in our exalted, civilised selves. We react very badly to people we perceive as cheating, for example, far in excess of what our actual losses would dictate. We are very attentive to signs that someone may be getting more than their fair share, and are prone to leap to the conclusion that they must be cheating somehow. In artificial games which the subjects are told are based entirely on random rewards, people quickly resent those who win often. We know this is irrational but seem unable to help ourselves. The feeling of irritation rises in us unbidden, however well we may subsequently talk ourselves down.

The main objection to socialism is that it "doesn't work." There are those who object on more theoretical grounds, that there is a fundamental unfairness to compulsory sharing, but seen from an evolutionary perspective, it's much the same thing. Central planning requires time and effort - it uses the society's resources. This gets increasingly difficult as things develop, requiring more and more of the society's resources, and calling out growing forces of enforcement.

Let me back up over that point just a bit. The central planning ideas of socialism look inviting at first because we see the low-hanging fruit. A little quick management, a little efficient planning, and everything's fixed. Society needs widgets, here's a widget factory, here are people who need jobs, voila! This is not merely an illusion. Legislation that is essentially redistributive looks attractive and gets passed because it looks like it should work. And at first, it often does. Not enough bakers? Subsidise bakers, or baking schools. Too many people without jobs? Well, there's always things that need to be done around the place, pay people to do those things. Because these things work at first, we don't see the law of diminishing returns at play. So we pass the next legislation as well.

Because of diminishing returns, more resources have to be diverted into planning and enforcement. For that, you can either go the bureaucratic route or the tyrannical route, or both.

The free market runs up against evolutionary psychology as well. We are naturally suspicious of those who "have too much." In a band of 50-150 people, one person having six or ten times the resources of another could only happen by some bullying, chicanery, or incredible luck. Everyone might willingly chip in a few extra berries and beef jerky for Ol' Fred if he really does make a superior spear point, but because someone else makes a serviceable spear point, Fred can't demand an inordinate amount of the tribe's resources. As trade develops, economies of scale might mean that Fred's Custom Spear Points brings goods into the tribe, and few would resent Fred getting some extras.

But when Fred's goods become the hot item up and down the coast, and he starts getting not only extra berries but extra wives, gold arm bands, and the best place at festivals, admiration begins to turn to resentment.

I am describing these in a context from our prehistory, but this is precisely what we see today. Listen carefully to those around you. They resent pharmaceutical companies because the "cost" of making that pill is only $2 - how dare they charge $200? Those money movers don't produce anything we can see - what right have they got to be so rich? Athletes are "just playing a game." Developers are building stores we don't really need. CEO's are making millions. Union guys are making lots per hour and don't work as hard as we do. When we can't observe what it is they do for their money directly and understand fully why they get it, we resent them. It's left over from our suspicion of fellow tribesmen who get too rich. We automatically conclude that they must be doing something shady.

The free market, then, also does not sustain naturally. Everyone can see at a local level how it's a good idea, but as it becomes more abstract and removed, our spirits rise against it. It doesn't feel fair, so we go looking for ways to take the rich down a few pegs. No matter how many times someone runs the numbers, pointing out that the average salary of an African-American is higher than the average Swede, or that unemployment is generally lower if we endure the fluctuations, something deep within us thinks we could jiggle the system and make it run fairer.

Irving Kristol's essay The Capitalist Future, now almost 20 years old, touches on the energy it takes to keep convincing people of the superior prosperity of the free market system. It is quite excellent. But it misses the point that the free market, once it reaches a certain size, also goes against our natural inclinations. Capitalism also requires some investment of society's energy into the circular pursuit of proving that it works. Conservatives rail against this, believing that people should be logical and run the numbers and not have to be told over and over how free exchange benefits both parties, but I think it is inevitable. However logical it may be, it goes against some of our more primitive impulses.

The amusing irony of this is that socialists believe that the market plays on our more primitive, barbaric, selfish, and uncooperative selves, while their system requires an elevation of spirit and morality. The opposite seems to be true. Resisting the urge to step in and start making everyone do what you think they should takes more sophistication and self-control. The desire to make people be good turns out to be the middle-school fantasy, while the supposed tooth-and-claw market requires education, trust, and comity.

The link to Kristol's essay was not just a footnote, BTW. You'll like the whole thing.

Lay Preaching

Earl was away and I preached, which happens about twice a year. I worked from Luke 10 and Luke 16. Jesus sends out the 72, two-by-two, to preach in the villages, telling these disciples to just leave if they aren't listened to. These days we would have Village Evangelism Seminars, where a guy on a video would explain to us "We interviewed the top ten teams that were accepted in the most villages, and you know what we found?" Then the video guy would identify some chance similarity, like where they prayed or whether they wore striped tunics, and identify that as the magic key.

Jesus doesn't. His answer is cold, and a bit horrifying. Those are the parts of scripture I like to head for - the ones that seem impossible or wrong. The things that make you say maybe it's a bad translation here or something.

In Luke 16, we have the similar story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. When the rich man is in hell and can't get even a drop of water, he asks that Lazarus at least be sent to warn the man's brothers. Abraham gives an equally cold answer. Don't bother. They didn't listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won't listen even if someone comes back from the dead. (Jesus is using a bit of foreshadowing here). I keep getting distracted by my pity for the rich man in the story. After all, he is thinking of others besides himself, it seems a shame he remains in hell. But it's just a story, even though it has a serious point. It's on the level of our clever vignettes (or even jokes) that start. "A guy dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the gates and asks..." It's not a real guy. Jesus is making a point, not describing a reality.

Anyway, it's still cold, and deeply troubling. Evangelicals are trained to think differently, to keep trying to find new strategies if people don't listen. It's a way of pretending things are under our control: if we just wear striped tunics have better music at worship, people will come. Like it's our fault (and thus secretly, to our credit when things go right).

There are other parts of the Bible that give a different impression. I'm not claiming this is the full picture. But it has to be taken into account.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Happiness of the People

Charles Murray's speech to the American Enterprise Institute "The Happiness of the People" is online at their site.
Regarding the economic crisis, I am not an economist. In fact, I am so naïve about economics that I continue to think that we have a financial meltdown because the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has for the last two administrations aggressively pushed policies that made it possible for clever people to get rich by lending money to people who were unlikely to pay it back.
Yes, years of fixing American society by increasing minority home ownership whether it was good for the individuals or not, and structuring the lending so that only those large institutions that were politically connected got exemptions from regulations worked out just great, didn't it? And those who had their backs covered by the feds founding new and better ways to build the house of cards higher.

The grim humor of Murray's introduction aside, the heart of the essay is his commentary on America moving in a European direction. He finds some of what Europe offers valuable, though he thinks demographics will sweep those parts away. But his main worry is a more subtle cost we pay for having others, especially the government, make life easier for us. Even when it works, it seems to pacify us by robbing us of deep satisfaction. Happiness research - a fascinating and often counterintuitive field - is revealing that long-lasting happiness, the happiness of a life well-lived, comes directly from the difficult and inconvenient parts of life which interfere most with short-term pleasure.
To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don't get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché "nothing worth having comes easily"). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.

There aren't many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something--good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: "Community" can embrace people who are scattered geographically. "Vocation" can include avocations or causes.

It is not necessary for any individual to make use of all four institutions, nor do I array them in a hierarchy. I merely assert that these four are all there are. The stuff of life--the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one's personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships--coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness--occurs within those four institutions.
Much to think about here.

The Role of Blank Slateism in Consumerist Capitalism

Steve Sailer's provocative (recent topics: AP Testing, racial gaps not closing in spite of NCLB, and Tiger Woods/Mozart in the nature/nurture controversy) and most excellent blog includes this long quote from Geoffrey Miller's Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumerist Behavior.

The fetishization of youth and disparagement of wisdom in consumerist social judgment

The accuracy of person perception tends to improve with age, as we learn, gradually and painfully, which behavioral cues are the most reliable indicators of personality, intelligence, and moral virtues. We learn which situations reveal the most diagnostic information about someone’s true character. We learn how to see through first impressions.

This explains why the dating choices made by teenagers have always seemed appallingly stupid to their parents. Teenagers are overly influenced by the traits that are easiest to assess (physical attractiveness and status among peers). By contrast, parents have decades more experience in assessing the harder-to-discern traits, such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and intelligence, and in appreciating the longer-term benefits that these traits convey in any human relationship. This ability to judge character was considered a major part of wisdom, and a cardinal virtue, before consumerist capitalism made concepts like character, wisdom, and virtue sound unfashionable.

... [B]y the mid-twentieth century, it became crucial for marketers to convince young people that they could judge one another’s individuality more effectively through consumerist trait displays than their elders could through wise observation. Judgments of one’s peers and dates by the older generation had be made to seem old-fashioned, uncool, irrelevant, biased, and prejudiced. In this, the marketers succeeded spectacularly, assisted by two key twentieth century ideologies: (1) the egalitarian rejection of the idea that an individual’s personality, intelligence, mental health, and moral virtues are useful concepts worth evaluating accurately and discussing socially, and (2) the environmentalist rejection of the idea that these traits show stability within individuals (across situations, relationships, and ages) and within families (through genetic inheritance).

Consumerist capitalism has depended on youth’s embrace of these blank-slate ideologies, which were sold as thrillingly rebellious and thoughtfully progressive.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, they seemed validated by psychology, social science, progressive politics, and the self-help movement. In popular culture, the blank-slate ideology convinced the young that the purchase of any new product designed to display some personal trait was a heroic rebellion against the older generation’s outmoded belief in the existence, stability, and heritability of personal traits. In the behavioral sciences, the blank-slate ideology biased generations of scientists against trait psychology, personality research, intelligence research, behavior genetics, and any other area concerned with individual differences. Instead, the focus turned to psychological processes that were allegedly similar across all humans: child development, social cognition, neural information processing.

As long as advertising never actually used the old-fashioned terms for traits (character, intelligence, virtue), the young could buy, display, and admire the trait-displaying products, make the social judgments they needed to make about one another’s traits, and pretend that they were living in a radical new post-trait world. The whole discourse of traits went underground, discreetly hidden in the rhetoric and semiotics of branding and marketing. It remained just visible enough for the young to recognize, unconsciously, which products would display which traits, but it was just elusive enough that their anti-trait ideology was never threatened, and the person-perception wisdom of their parents never seemed relevant to their lives.

For example, rap music producers such as Dr. Dre realized in the 1990s that the real money lay in convincing white middle-class suburban boys that by buying and playing rap, they could display their coolness, attitude, and street cred (that is, their aspirations toward low conscientiousness, low agreeableness, and high promiscuity.) The white boys obliged by pouring billions of their parents’ dollars through the local music retailers’ hip-hop sections, while dissing their parents’ concerns that white girls might actually prefer to date boys who display high conscientiousness, agreeableness, and chastity. But if the parents couldn’t distinguish between DJ Spooky, DJ Spinna, and DJ Qualls, how could they possibly claim that the whole rap music industry was just another marketing-driven set of costly, unreliable trait displays, or that the trait displays their children considered cool were actually repulsive to potential mates, friends, and employers?

Thus, the blank-slate model of human nature, far from challenging the principles of consumerist capitalism, forms consumerism’s ideological bedrock. It makes the trait-perception wisdom of older generations seem outdated and irrelevant, and makes the trait-display aspirations of younger generations seem to require buying the appropriate goods and services, while allowing them to pretend that they live in a brave new post-trait world. Most importantly, it undermines everyone’s confidence that their traits are real enough and visible enough to be appreciated without being amplified and externalized by careerism and consumerism.

Anadama Bread

I keep taking a flier on anadama bread about once a year, hoping it will taste like the old Pepp'ridge Fahm Corn and Molasses bread. It never does.

Friday, May 01, 2009

"Notre Dame, My Mother"

Lacy Dodd has a thoughtful article over at First Things about Notre Dame's intention to bestow an honorary degree on President Obama. Ms. Dodd has some right to be heard. She was unmarried and got pregnant while a senior at Notre Dame ten years ago. She gave birth to and kept the child. There were disappointments:
My boyfriend was a different story. He was also a Notre Dame senior. When I told him that he was to be a father, he tried to pressure me into having an abortion. Like so many women in similar circumstances, I found out the kind of man the father of my child was at precisely the moment I needed him most. “All that talk about abortion is just dining-room talk,” he said. “When it’s really you in the situation, it’s different. I will drive you to Chicago and pay for a good doctor.”

I tried telling him this was not an option. He said he was pro-choice. I responded by informing him that my choice was life. And I learned, as so many pregnant women have before and since, that life is the one choice that pro-choicers won’t support.
That accusation is a bit broad, of course. There are prochoice people who rejoice in a woman's decision to carry to term. Yet where I work, I am struck by the number of women who shake their heads disapprovingly at decisions to carry to term if there is any reason not to. If your boyfriend isn't going to be supportive, if you have a crummy job, if you have a really good job, if you are less than 20, if you are over 40, if you aren't in perfect health - any one of these is considered not only a sufficient, but a necessary reason to abort. There are often narrowed eyes and real spite if there is any indication that some religious person "got to them," and "guilted them into going through with it." This absent any evidence that the religious person in question did so - it is assumed.

Ms. Dodd concludes:
I’d like to ask this of Fr. John Jenkins, the Notre Dame president: Who draws support from your decision to honor President Obama—the young, pregnant Notre Dame woman sitting in that graduating class who wants desperately to keep her baby, or the Notre Dame man who believes that the Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is just dining-room talk?