Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Energy

I

I ran into my sister-in-law, then my brother, at indoor lacrosse this week.  We don’t see them much but it is always a pleasure. Yet at nearly every encounter something is said which highlights for me how different that side of the family is from mine. No recitation of the words and description of facial expressions would reveal to an outsider what I mean by that.  Yet many of you will recognise the phenomenon from your own families.

I became a cat in a dog family when my mother remarried. (I hate cats and would like to stick them with that side of the description, but they are dog people and very good ones, so it would be unfair.) Such introductions are usually a prelude to criticising relatives, however subtly, in the manner of a 19thC novelist gaining revenge on those who did him wrong.  20th C too, come to think of it.  If anything, this is the opposite.  Twenty years ago, I would have made an effort to show that my microculture, my tribe, had superior qualities, illustrated by anecdotes that put them in a bad light, however subtly.  My review is more mixed now.

Describing one microculture versus another lends itself to phrasing that sounds critical.  If I say “they don’t tend to be a reflective people,” that sounds just a touch disdainful in my culture.  Yet I am increasingly convinced that much of the reflectiveness in my A& H culture is a waste of time.  Only in the minds of a few does reflection actually produce much of value.  For the rest, it is mostly dreaminess, rationalisation, rumination.  That trait is essential to the survival of all tribes, but like most traits, a lot of it lies around in the population without visible positive effect.  Thus, not being “reflective,” means one has energy left over to do other things.  Which my stepfamily does, and very well.

I should note that I consider such qualities to be largely hardwired, though both the reflectives and the actives believe the others could be like them if they “just tried.”

II

Steve Sailer notes that we have excellent and numerous ways of measuring intelligence, but none for “energy,” which is perhaps equally important;
My father is 94. He never smoked, drank only moderately, and comes from a high energy family that needs to be moving all the time. His nephew, my hippie cousin, for example, was an organic farmer for decades, and now that he has a desk job, he spends about 25 hours a week at the gym. When my cousin came for a visit to his parents in Arcadia, CA, at the age of 51, he hiked to the top of Mt. Wilson, a 5,000 foot ascent, every day for two weeks. It's unfortunate that social scientists don't seem to have a reliable quick test of energy the way they have tests of intelligence, since it's obvious that energy differs widely among individuals and is important in influencing life outcomes.
I have said “adaptability, switching sets” will be the ability that will knock intelligence off its perch as most important going forward; most self-help business strategies have ideas of focus and discipline at their core.  Those who succeed often credit hard work, and there is certainly a great deal of truth in that, however much data that overlooks and self-congratulating it sounds.  I think there is a strong relatedness to these described qualities, and I agree we do not measure them well.  They don’t present similarly.  The manic hustle of the entrepreneur looks nothing like the more linear focus of my stepfamily (they never dabble in anything, they either do or don’t do) but I think there is some commonality.  There is a personal energy in them that is not merely cultural and trained, but seems present from birth.  Culture and values reinforce this and refine it, but it is simply visble in them from the start.

Nor is it a single, off-on quality among even those who have it, but a continuum.

My mother used to say that my stepfather was unable to do nothing. Mind and body were always working.  Not plodding – he was too sharp for that word to apply – but dogged, certainly. He had few activities outside of work, but those few received due focus and attention in their time.  He acquired more activities the longer he was married to my mother and our culture.  He was Connecticut Yankee, whose many family lines had come to Hartford and New Haven in the 17th C and generally prospered – none spectacularly, but many significantly. They seek prosperity and security, but great wealth doesn’t seem to hold much temptation for them.

They are the heart of the Business Tribe, certainly.  All traits need to be found in all tribes for anyone to produce anything of value, but there are skill sets more common in one group than another.  I am quite puzzled over the whole issue of focus and direction for this energy.  The Arts & Humanities Tribe*, whatever my criticism of us, displays far more focus over short bursts than the Business Tribe – a laser intensity for hours in rehearsal, editing, and performance.  At the other end of the spectrum, the Science & Technology Tribe is simply legendary for ability to put in 100-hour weeks for weeks or months to bring a project to fruition.

Perhaps that is its own answer – those who can switch their focus, not in distraction but by design, are the ones who use their energy most efficiently.  Again, I’m not sure one can change oneself by simply deciding to.  We can bend ourselves somewhat at need, but I doubt not permanently. Dei Gratia Sumus Quod Sumus By the grace of God, we are what we are. (motto of the prior borough of Barking, in London.)

*Upon further review.  Only Arts, not Humanites, for that manic intensity.

III

Some thoughts about athletics.

People will claim that sports develop disciplined effort – Benjamin Spock states definitely that “Crew made me,” giving him the discipline he needed to make it through med school.  Others will say that sports simply reveal it.  Let us grant that there are different sports requiring different skills, and that most or all virtues that sports teach could be learned elsewhere – in scouts, in music, in part-time jobs.

Nonetheless, there is correlation between athletics and energy, fairly obviously, and the further connection to the Business Tribe may not be simply a case of Old Boys’ Network in play. Athletics does not create the energy, and may not be uniquely good at developing discipline.  But teenage participation in athletics may be an indicator that the person has the requisite energy.  This connection between adolescent sports and adult status seems stronger in the white, black, and native communities, less pronounced in the hispanic, Asian, and Jewish communities. These latter groups may in the past have participated largely to obtain status in majority-white communities.

All sorts of people participate in youth athletics, and there are many ways to succeed.  I don’t think there has ever been much of an automatic ticket that youth sports punches for later success.  Rather, they may both result from the same quality of disciplined energy.  I wonder if reflexes and hand-eye coordination are even more specific correlates. Successful adults get together for all manner of activities – it was clubs, bowling, and bridge in the 50’s,  – but in business, golf predominates with racquet sports second. Skiing, far more of a suburban upwardly-mobile pursuit than skating or snowmachines, is a reflex, controlled aggression sport, and foot-eye coordination may be identical to hand-eye. (What other sports do business gravitate toward in non-snow areas?)

IV

The mention of athletics comes in because my stepfamily excels at them – sorry I didn’t make that explicit.  Multisport, All-State, several were DII or DIII All-Americans.  They largely drop those after college and switch to golf, with some tendency for women to ski.  Their sports of choice were lacrosse, baseball, hockey, basketball, soccer – all team, all hand-eye.  But though it was their pattern which spurred this line of thought, I was specifically excluding them while writing the last section, not wanting a dozen individuals to be my sample set.  I am casting about in my mind among the people I remember from school, those my boys went to school with (and their parents), folks I work with or go to church with now, folks I have read about.  I would greatly appreciate all of you doing the same, reflecting – hey, that’s our culture, right? – on your own families and coworkers.  I’m trying to build a theory here. I am operating from the traditional view that this energy - this gumption, this pep, this moxie, vim & vigor, dynamism, get-up-and-go, animal spirits – is more pronounced in America than elsewhere, and one of our defining traits. 

These sorts tend to marry each other, correct?  A man from the Business Tribe may take a Science & Technology or Arts & Humanities wife, yet is she ever one of the driven obsessive or dreamy reflective ones?

Socially, are they all over the map in tendency?  Do we see the same percentage of the garrulous, the standoffish? How does the energy play out socially?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yardbirds

I am playing my son's team, The Yardbirds, in fantasy football this week.  He's going to beat me badly, so this seems appropriate.




I might be big into keeping track of roots, but it pays to remember...

they really did get better over the years.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Let Simon's Beard Alone

Eugene Volokh reports on violent Amish who shame others who disagree with them by shaving off their beards. Not a satire from The Onion, but real incidents from a really creepy group. In usual fashion, he calls them "fundamentalists," not noting that the group's teachings deviate significantly from traditional Amish beliefs, but that seems typical in secular understanding.

It reminded me of the song "Let Simon's Beard Alone," a folksong that is apparently much more obscure than I realised. It is hard to find much reference to it anywhere, and no one has recorded it to Youtube. But for those interested, the lyrics and sheet music are here. It seems 17th C, maybe a touch earlier.

Carols

I complained about the disappearance of traditional Christmas carols a few weeks ago.  I should note that Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra do traditional carols, and have brought them forward into modern performance.  Not so much my style anymore, but I express my gratitude that they have done it at all.  Here is TSO doing O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Accented Syllable

THANKSgiving, ThanksGIVing, both interchangeably, or other? The national breakdown on that is
26.17%,
65.34%
08.01%
00.49%
Color coded maps of the regional distribution.
The national dialect survey, with about 50 "How do you pronounce...?" and 75 "What word do you use for...?" examples.

Win-Win

Speaking with two Asian MD's who have been in this country quite a while, I mentioned in reference to Anglophilism, that the British have long disliked what Americans used to call "pep," then "drive," and such cliches as "win-win."  I rather apologised for the cliched nature of win-win, and our trying to sell that idea to people, because it doesn't always work, and some people abuse it.

Both agreed that only Americans believe that win-win situations are even possible.  One thought that was a positive, the other echoed the opinion of the rest of the world that win-win was just a disguise for the person getting 90% of the good throwing a bone for the one getting 10%.  I tentatively (not knowing if it were an offensive stereotype) asked if he meant something similar to saving face.  He agreed that this was exactly it.  Victors in China either eliminate their opponents entirely or give them some 10% to save face. (Okay, you said it, not I.)

The other was quite adamant.  No, in America it is sometimes, even often true.  It is not a cliche because it is a delusion, but because it happens.  Of course it doesn't always happen, but why should I be surprised at that?

I gave my usual demurrer that "Americans" included, to some extent, the other British colonies, and that Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders were likely similar.  They shrugged. Perhaps. But I was speaking from pure guesswork, not knowing enough about the other Anglospheric cultures to know if win-win is indeed a common idea in those places.

I wonder now if the British especially dislike the cliche because they are one of the cultures that at least understands it, but it happens even less there.

Let me be on record as believing that win-win situations are indeed possible, and resenting the cliche much less than I did a few days ago.  That the term is abused and isn't always true seems far less of a worry - since it seems to be the normal course of human interactions - than the idea that it is possible at all a rather stunning legacy for America to the world.

NPR Irony

Only NPR would have game shows about being up on recent popular culture.  They make fun of much of it, of course, because being so on the cutting edge gives you permission to judge everyone else.  But they really care about being up on popular culture.  It's what makes them special, you see.

Disney Irony

Oh yeah.  The villain in this new Muppet movie is a Texas oilman who has a big corporate headquarters and is clearly interested only in money.  Disney, one of the largest corporations on earth, has been using these stock businessmen-as-heartless-villains since at least Mary Poppins.*  Does it go back further, does anyone know?  Any of those villains in earlier Disney?  And how much has this influenced the consciousness of an ordinarily nice and very earnest young OWS idealist, that the popular culture he grew up with, and "gets" far better than those around him, has taught him who the bad guys are?  It's like the execrable A Dog Called Kitty, so bad it is a family joke, or Avatar, or

Never mind.  The list is endless.

* There would be a lot of jobs for regular Englishmen - not to mention the world - in

Railways through Africa
Dams across the Nile
Fleets of ocean greyhounds
Majestic, self-amortizing canals
Plantations of ripening tea

wouldn't you think? Not so many in feeding pigeons, however heartwarming it is.

Jumping To Conclusions

Reserving judgement, and being open to the counterintuitive or even disagreeable idea has been a recurring theme here, and I have a few examples from the last week. Daniel Klein had an earlier study about liberals knowing less about economics than conservatives and libertarians. I remember reading it - I don't think I posted on it. My recollection is that it was slanted toward certain questions which might favor libertarians, but was otherwise plausible-sounding. I thought if the study were improved it would show a similar result, though likely less strongly. Yet when other researchers challenged Klein to run the same race over a different course, with basic economic questions which conservatives might be more likely to get wrong and liberals right, that is in fact what happened. Both sides did well on their home course, poorly on the other's, as his Atlantic article I Was Wrong And So Are You records. Of greatest concern, perhaps, was that education did not seem to help much in any group. It did not increase objectivity more than a tiny amount. What then, should we do to remedy this?

Orin Kerr over at Volokh comments on a report that the American Bar Association has given more "Not Qualified" ratings to Obama's prospective appointees than it had to either Clinton's or Bush's in their whole eight years each. The immediate thought would be that Obama is nominating more unqualified people. Yet Kerr, in his last paragraph, raises an excellent question wondering whether something has changed in the Democratic Party's method or infighting instead. The comments discuss. Interesting.

NFL culture has been able to tolerate one white premier wide receiver at a time, so Wes Welker was only mildly unnerving. But now comes Jordy Nelson of Green Bay, and it is apparently difficult for everyone - not just black WR's and DB's, but coaches and analysts of all colors - to absorb. Because we all know that blacks are just faster, and whites can only succeed by "knowing the defenses" and "running precise routes." Steve Sailer has fun with the topic - just because blacks are faster on average does not mean there are no fast white WR's (Jordy ran a 4.37) - and ESPN analysts have a refreshingly open discussion (video) about it.

My uncle (of course) sent the recent news story about the study which shows that Fox News viewers know less about current events than people who watch no news at all. I turned it back on him to do the work of looking behind the story himself, but I'll give you a hint: read the longer versions of the news stories to the bottom, and search around for the actual data behind the study, not the media reports. There may indeed be something of concern about Fox viewers here. But there are immediate qualifiers and ambiguous conclusions as well.

Note: No TV. I have never seen Fox News, except embedded videos on websites, where a person was trying to demonstrate Fox Yay! or Fox Nay! Nor have I discussed with my friends what they watch, so I have no idea which of them, if any, get their news from Fox. I know that the station drives liberals crazy for being so conservative, unfair, and inaccurate. That sputtering would be a recommendation* in my book, but only a mild one.  The only dog I have in this fight is that it irks me when people so quickly trumpet "studies" that agree with their existing prejudices, and I readily concede that I am harder on liberals than conservatives on that score.  I'm not 99th percentile on objectivity (at least, I hope my level of such isn't as good as it gets), but I think I'm 80th percentile, maybe 90th.

*50% clue to the truth, 50% personal entertainment value.

Things You Shouldn't Tell Young Parents

Parenting magazine has an article 9 Things You Shouldn't Say To Your Child, by Paula Spencer. It should be kept in parenting books as a bad example. The odd thing is, I discover upon research that Spencer is something of the anti-paranoid in most of her parenting writing. Where this piece came from - an irritated afternoon, perhaps - I don't know.
Still, nothing can excuse my behavior that afternoon. I erupted like Mount Momsuvius: "Enough! Get out! Stop bothering me!" The look on my daughters' faces said it all. The 2-year-old's eyes widened. The 4-year-old furrowed her brow and jabbed her thumb between her lips.
Yes, the look on her daughters' faces said it all, eh? Because once the children are upset, what else needs to be said? Also forbidden are Leave me alone, you know better than that, and "labeling" your child, such as she's my shy one. Horrors. If Ms. Spencer has heard actual parents doing such things, it is a wonder she has not reported it to Protective Services. Six of the nine, in fact demonstrate how you can replace irritated, poorly-thought-out statements with controlled, chilly, yuppie ones which let the child know that their feelings are the pivot point of the household. To be fair, her offered replacements are generally better than the ones she criticises. Yet they are not much better - they focus on inessentials of parenting. Children are not that fragile. A large percentage of the people I work with experienced serious abuse as children, yet many retain remarkable humanity, self-confidence, a perspective. Young parents already have a tendency to paranoia and guilt about their interactions with their children. I don't see much need to increase that.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Muppet Spoilers

There were trailers for really irritating-looking new movies. A Disney offering called "Brave," which absolutely should have been "Brave♥" instead. It's about a beautiful spunky redheaded Scottish gal who does unladylike things like furrow her brow and get dirty, and even (gasp) uses bow and arrow. By drawing on her inner strength even though others doubted her, she saves the day. Then there was one about Alaska spending millions of dollars in the 1980's to save some whales that had stranded themselves in the Arctic. A spunky, pretty strawberry-blonde girl spearheads the efforts to save them by talking to the whales to encourage them, then going on TV to shame everyone into remembering that whales are Just Like People. Based on a true story.

They are frigging whales, dammit. Not people. If you ever wonder why liberals only grumble, rather than scream in outrage at Disney Princesses, it's because Disney is the primary purveyor of liberal environmental and multiculti pieties to the young. They get a pass for that.

But the main attraction...

They save the theater by putting on a show.
The rather goofy hero does propose to the adorable homespun girl.
The villain almost wins several times but is eventually foiled.
There are cameos and inside references to the original TV show.
Things blow up but no one gets hurt.
We learn you can do it if you try and being with your friends is the best thing.
There are flaws in the movie, but they don't matter.

60's Sitcom

David Kopel over at Volokh has a post about a strange theme he discovers running through 60's sitscoms: the hidden alien and relatedly, the family that doesn't know it is strange. He puts Mr. Ed, My Favorite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie, and My Mother the Car in the former category, while the Addams Family, The Munsters, and Beverly Hillbillies go into the latter. He wonders if there is some suggestion of closeted gays in this repetition.

I can think of many reasons why this is not the case, discussed below, yet would still give it a qualified agreement. The entertainment business was close to the only sector to accept homosexuality, and even there it was not reliable. It was part of a general acceptance of people a little different from the norm. There was a lot of posturing and self-congratulation about it - Hollywood (New York, LA general) was not the only place which accepted Women Who Speak Their Minds or liberal political ideas; nor was it entirely deserved - other American sectors were less racist, for example. But in the main, the arts and entertainment industries were a place where a person could acknowledge or even flaunt homosexuality. So the writers for My Favorite Martian probably never had the idea of gay acceptance cross their minds, but the idea of the hidden, shameful idea actually being quite all right was likely not far from the surface.

The shows remained heteronormative for one obvious reason and one less obvious. A) They had to appeal to an audience, make money, stay on the air. B)Acceptance of gays was less a principle than a tradeoff: don't say my divorces/affairs/fetishes are wrong, and I won't criticise your homosexuality. That is often how such tolerances develop - religious tolerance here and in Western Europe owes much to property rights, for example. I don't care if you hate Quakers, Hiram. He bought the property and it's his and you can't make him move out. Unless you want the deacons to decide whether you own your piece or not. That it was tradeoff, not principle, has come back to bite them when it comes to child molestation. If Whoopi Goldberg objected to it on principle she would never say "It wasn't rape rape." That's the statement of a person being given a pass to say and do what she wants in exchange for extending that to others.

Back to sitcoms: I wrote in 2009 that a stronger theme was Missing Family Members (especially Mom). The possible creepiness of this I discuss there.

The Unusual Family motif may also draw a great deal from ambivalence about families of origin. The Munsters may simply be an exaggerated "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I mentioned that the weird families tended to be the intact ones: Munsters, Addams, Simpsons. It's comedy by inversion, like Superman's Bizarro. It's been used for centuries because it sets up laffs quite well. It also sets up sentimentality in comedy, of filial bonds despite it all, etc.

Ambivalence is key for comedy. I Dream of Jeannie clearly plays to the subtext "OMG! That guy has a beautiful woman who will do whatever he tells her to!" (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Yet consider - the show isn't funny if she doesn't have superpowers. A guy finds a pretty girl who does what he says - you could sell some episodes of that on a porno channel. You could use it as a comic bit from a minor character in a larger movie. But what are you going to write for jokes for twenty-five episodes? Tangentially, I knew even as a child (12.5) that Tony was entirely oblivious/resistant to the sexual angle of all this, but that his friend Roger wasn't. I don't see it in the scripts - Bill Dailly must've done it entirely with his facial expressions. Bewitched follows the older, Lucy-and-Ethel type of crafty-shemes-behind-hubby's-back comedy, except now the woman is clearly the more powerful one.

Secrecy, where the audience knows things the character onstage doesn't, is also comedy gold. No need to wonder if My Mother The Car is actually My Mother The Secret Drinker But Is Still A Really Nice Person, or Mr. Ed represents Wilbur's B&D dungeon. It's the fun of comedy, and if darker elements are there, they are of necessity vague and far away.

These themes recur in TV in later decades, but in the 70's were largely replaced by Wacky Ensembles: WKRP, Mary Tyler Moore, MASH, Taxi, Muppets, Happy Days, Welcome Back Kotter, Laverne & Shirley - I imagine my clever audience can think of others.

Miodowe Lata

There is (was) a Polish version of The Honeymooners. Because it follows the conventions of American sitcoms, you can sort of understand what is happening. One in Swedish, too

Ndamukong

I saw the interview before I saw the clip. Within the first few words out of his mouth I had concluded That man is lying. He lies often.

I do this as part of my living, remember. I'm not world-class at detecting people who rationalise their misbehavior, but I'm pretty good. His reasoning seems to be "I can't have done anything bad, because I am not that kind of person." Sociopaths use that reasoning. You hear it in prisons. When he got to the part about "The Man Upstairs" he dropped one level lower in my evaluation. The phrase itself suggests a vagueness about Who exactly he thinks he is talking about, but it is also a tell of a person whose Christianity is entirely inverted, used as a protective device for his precious self. You can't judge me! Only God can judge me! Which means, in effect, no one can ever criticise him.

He will never be wrong, about anything. It will never be his fault. Even if he learns to get his cliches in a row, as a famous athlete should, his accepting blame will max out at saying that "We" have to work harder, and that he will take responsibility for his actions, but then not do so.

I don't listen to many interviews about such things.  Maybe there're a lot of guys like that and he's not very different.  But he's a dangerous man.  It's a pity, because when I started hearing about him last year my thoughts were all positive - a great young defensive player who was making the Lions relevant again, a cool name.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Talk-Like-A-Pilgrim Day

Talk like a pilgrim, according to the experts at Plimouth Plantation.

Actually, we talked like this a lot in the AVI household.  Ben still says "Huzzah" in entirely appropriate context.  If you consider any use of "huzzah" in the 21st C appropriate, that is.


And I would quibble with Plimouth's usage just a touch.

Thanksgiving

Five sons, two domestic two imported, one borrowed. 4.5 of them adult or on track. All employed except the one in HS (who does a little work also). Two granddaughters, wonderful DIL. Affection all 'round. Job for me, job for wife. Roof. Warmth. Food. Excellent friends, (fairly) good church community. Books. Comfy chair.

Amazing wealth, really. 99% of everyone who ever lived would trade places with me, without knowing my income, health, age, or appearance. (Don't get technical on the wife-and children trading thing. In this hypothetical trade you get to keep your wife, she just has my wife's virtues. Ditto children. Chill.)

I am the real 1%.

My Thanksgiving wish is that the kids at OWS would realise they are the 1%, not the 99%. Which makes me part of the 1% of the 1%, I suppose. A fugitive from the law of averages.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

C-PAP

Did you know you can hack those suckers?

Manager

I'm thinking Michael Corleone would be a good manager for the Red Sox.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

ABBA 1974

Before the costumes got completely out of hand

Saturday, November 19, 2011

OWS

No one is saying 150,000,000 Americans are lazy. And sure, 400 Americans are greedy. What's your point? How is this a rational argument?

While I don't consider it impossible that the people at OWS might be decent, reasonable people who can make an intelligent argument, the fact is, they don't. Here is Occupydesigns.org. The posters range from fairly easily refutable to sea anemone stupid.

These are not the communications of the people making fun of them, nor are they the placards being waved by people on the fringes trying to horn in on their credibility. This is what they have to say for themselves. These are unforced errors. The 1st Amendment is my permit. Really? Did anyone think that through for possible consequences for like, a minute or so?

Sunset

Checking up on when the sun goes away for Chris, I found that it sets on November 27 after being up for only half an hour.  They are down to about three hours a day now.

Three theoretical hours, that is, because the forecast is cloudy, rain, snow from now until the 27th.  They may see the sun briefly tomorrow.  And then not again until January 16th, when it comes up for an hour.  I hope it's not cloudy then.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hymnal

On The North River, a blog from or near Pembroke, MA, is unhappy with the new UCC hymnal, and the loss of the old Pilgrim Hymnal.

There are many issues tied together here, and best perhaps to separate them as best we can.  Each would be worthy of its own post, I imagine, but I'm not up to that.  I just like the clarity part.

That hymnals need to change and music needs to be updated is hardly up for discussion.  Some churches will be able to maintain a niche market of traditional music for a few decades, but will lose a majority of even the children who grow up there.  Of those who did not grow up with such music, they will attract none.

It is also true that whatever the change is, some people will not like it.  I barely remember the switch to the Pilgrim Hymnal in my childhood Congregational church, probably around 1961, but I remember being in choir in high school in the late 60's and the older members still complaining about it.  I forget why, or what color the previous hymnal was, but I recall that "Holy, Holy, Holy" was hymn #1.  My wife and I went to a Lutheran Church in the 70's and 80's and liked the Red Hymnal (1962) rather well.  The Green hymnal that came in in the 80's was rather PC and chirpy-cheery, but basically okay.  As the complaints came in about it, some of the old Swedes would chuckle about how it was the same when they switched from the Black hymnal (Augustana Synod, 1925) years before.  Some were more than half-serious when they said they still preferred it.  Then, as Covenanters, we were present for the switch from the Red Hymnal to the Blue.  Some of their old Swedes still pine for the old Brown Hymnal.  (Few pine for the interim softbound Silver, though I liked that reasonably well).  Get ahold of one of those denominational hymnals-before-this-one if you doubt the need to update.

More at issue is the quality of what replaces the traditional music.  Granted that people will complain anyway.  Granted that words become archaic and change subtly in meaning over time.  Granted that the emphasis of church thinking from 1850-1950 was not the pinnacle of Christian understanding.  Granted that we should be more alert to not offend with our phrasing, however beautiful.  I get all that.  Much of the new stuff is still crap.  I think we are moving to non-hymnal eras, and that's likely a good thing.  In an instant communicating world, things go out of fashion so quickly that there really isn't much sense in expensively preserving what we thought was hip in 2000, let alone 1980 or 1960.  It is good to preserve much of what has edified and uplifted the saints from 1500-1950.  Nothing to be added to that now - keep the best and move on.  The current age does not consider the ephemeral nature of its songs to be a negative.  Fine.  Let's not preserve it between expensive covers then.  Leave them available on the net and open to the air and let the best survive - rather like the old days, before the 20th C, actually.

Our attachment to particular songs is often not well-tied to good theology, poetry, or music, but to personal experiences and emotions.  There's nothing wrong with that for us personally, but we need to remember that this doesn't make them more valuable for others.  And most of that ain't so great, neither.  "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved" may be profound, but many of the rest of the verses are pretty dumb.  They scan and rhyme: sun-begun.  Still dumb. Or...
3. Sinners, whose love can ne'er forget
the wormwood and the gall,
Go spread your trophies at his feet,
and crown him Lord of all.
 And that's one of the really good old hymns.  Imagine how you are going to bring in a tribe of even very obedient, devout, and intelligent middle-schoolers and try and build a life-changing theology for their future around such hymns.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Football And Molestation

I felt some disquiet about relying on sportswriters as our moral compass about a week ago, and I have become more certain of that since.  Rick Reilly writing how we have to hear the voices of the abused sealed it for me, as Reilly has become intolerable in general, expressing the conventional wisdom of sports fans who take themselves too seriously.  Rather like Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich expressing the opinions of Manhattanites as if that is some profound universal belief of Real Americans.  It may be a good thing that sportswriters want to see the larger picture in sports and do some good in the world, but it's no guarantee that what they pick to get outraged about is our proper focus.

Does ESPN "hearing their voices" actually help these victims?  Granted that enforced silence and refusing to hear has been demonstrated not to work, do we know that the opposite is any better?  Victims of many ills believe that recognition, a platform, a venue, will provide vindication and closure.  I am not sure there is evidence that it does.  It's a temporary feel-good for both speaker and hearer.  Is it any more?  I suspect national attention for one's pain is rather tangential to healing.  If poseurs like Reilly are on board with it, that is ample reason in itself to question whether there is any real good. 

Many football players, and some coaches, are accused of rape every year.  Some of these, to be sure, are opportunistic accusations or dates gone bad, but I have to think - over that big a field many of them have to be true crimes.  We don't seem to have an outpouring of grief and shock over those.  There is some worsening of the Penn State situation because of younger victims and official coverups, but are we certain this is all that odd?  Isn't this what has been hushed up in scout troops, middle schools, YMCA's, children's choirs, little leagues and other youth organizations all these years?  People wanted to pretend there was a concentration of pedophiles among Catholic priests, but I doubt that's going to hold up statistically.  Wolves hide in sheep's clothing because it doesn't do any good to hide in wolves' clothing.  Right?  And there are many varieties of sheep's clothing.

This getting outraged over Penn State has the feel of a national superficial hand-wringing, after which we will go back to ignoring crimes that don't bother us as much.

Related:  The Camp Good News in Sandwich MA which has had the sex scandals is not connected to the Camp Good News in Charlestown, NH in any way.

Free Will And Moral Behavior

Reason's Ronald Bailey has some excellent commentary on Gazzaniga's much-discussed new book about neuroscience and free will.
"Gazzaniga is right to worry. He persuasively cites a 2011 study in which researchers found that inducing disbelief in free will decreased helpfulness and increased aggression among experiment participants. He also notes that other recent studies reported that people were more likely to cheat in psychological experiments after reading passages that encouraged a belief in determinism. The researchers note with irony, “Perhaps, denying free will simply provides the ultimate excuse to behave as one likes.”
We have been over some of this territory in the May We Believe Our Thoughts series:  if we can demonstrate that there are times when our thinking is less free, it follows there are times when it is more free. (I have made a similar argument for altruism, whenever folks try to show that it does not exist.)  Free will versus collection-of-neurons-reacting is not an either-or choice, but a continuum.

HT: Bird Dog at Maggie's

Single

I read the NRO interview with Jennifer A. Marshall of the Heritage Foundation, talking in turn about Kate Bolick's essay in The Atlantic, "All The Single Ladies."  Hot topic these days, of female thirtysomethings discussing whether "modern culture" has gotten it wrong, which usually ties in pretty closely to their thoughts of whether they personally have gotten it wrong.

I barely have much opinion about what young men should do at this point, as I'm a generation or more away from the issue, and not much in touch popular culture anyway.  Even popular evangelical culture of the under-40's is slightly foreign territory to me at this point.  I had more opinions ten years ago, with two contradictory premises underneath them: much-admired CS Lewis had married strangely, and quite late; Tracy and I had regarded marriage and parenting as essential to adulthood much more than our yuppie careerist friends at W&M had. 

Bringing in the Romanians changed many things, and the fortunate discontinuation of the engagement of one of them added another complicating view.  We had liked the girl, but are now relieved.  That caused us to look at all the courting young people we know or run into with different eyes, I think.  And general rules seem even more hazy now. 

I do notice an odd tone in not only these two essays, but in the related links, commentaries, and reviews:  young women seem to rely heavily on the opinions of other women who have the same feelings about all this that they do.  That is hardly surprising, and I think men do that as well, though less obviously.  Yet there is an awful lot of "Women of my generation think..." sort of explanations.  I never noticed that much unanimity among women, myself.  Is there some desire for women to believe they are from the majority opinion?  I don't think I notice those generalisations from men as much.

I don't think it's merely confirmation bias, seeing the male and female stereotypes, because I long expected differently, striving to see the similarities rather than the differences.  But perhaps I've converted, finally, getting old and seeing the stereotypes as true.

Dracula

Texan99 wondered about the "ul" in Dracula, in response to my Buna Dimineata post.

Vlad Dracul was the father, Vlad The Dragon.  He was initiated into the German Order of the Dragon, and took the name.  His son was Vlad Tepes, later called the Impaler. He was called called Dracul-a meaning "little Dracul."

They were Vlad II and Vlad III.  They are not evil characters in Romanian history, but heroes.  Vlad III was sent to Turkey as a hostage to the Ottomans by his father, in exchange for getting his kingdom back.  There VladIII learned the impressive warfare of intimidation by slaughter and public impalings common to that area.  When he ascended the throne of Wallachia, he used that technique on the invading Ottomans, and it worked.  Kept them at bay, at least somewhat.

Europeans were horrified, but it was just average warfare in Turkey, or semi-brutal in the Balkans.  Romanians couldn't get why the West thought he was so evil, but once they discovered there was tourist money to be made with it, they shrugged and went along.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas

WODS out of Boston, which is usually an oldies station the rest of the year, has started in with Christmas songs.  I expected the secular songs, even the novelty ones like "Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey" (no, I am not linking to that) to predominate, but I suspected some of the better-known carols would work their way in.  There have been none.  I don't know if it is intentional because of some imagined complaint or protest they would have, but there is absolutely nothing in the entire rotation that would suggest the holiday was ever religious, let alone religious now.  The lone exception is So let's give thanks to the Lord above, 'cuz Santa Claus comes tonight.

In NH, which competes with VT and ME for lowest church attendance in the country - we are at European 4% levels every week - there is nowhere children will learn carols except at home.  Those churches big enough to have a children's choir might fluff up the total a bit, and most Sunday School classes work in at least one song during the Advent season, but it's still sparse.

A young friend who is music director at a hip, independent church is already encountering rebellion from members who don't want to have traditional Christmas music played - they don't know it, didn't grow up with it, don't have strong associations with it. The break is almost complete here.  My wife and I are closer to the Christmas music of 1900 - possibly even 1850 - than to 2011.  Tracy and I both had Christmas carol focus even in college and were unusual in that in the 1970's - though hardly unique. We knew multiple verses and made it a point to learn them solidly for many songs.  Our boys grew up hearing that, but weren't made to copy it - some obsessions can only be volunteered for, not imposed. 

The generation above us had more people like us in that way.  Few in ours.  There may be none in our children's generation.  Well, I think this will influence what Christmas music I post this year.

Dinosaurs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bunǎ Dimineaţa



The song title means "Good Morning."  It is a family joke, as Jonathan uses it as his universal Romanian phrase - not only a greeting, but ordering from a menu, giving directions, telling people his name...mostly because it annoys me, or used to.

The name of the band means Hospital Emergency (you can see that if you take it apart), or idiomatically, The Emergency Room.  Language note:  The ul at the end of the first word is the definite article in Romanian, comparable to el, la, or le in other Romance languages.  Getting stuffed at the end, instead of preceding the word, is how they do it in Slavic languages.  When something is common to diverse languages in an area, it is called Sprachbund, and the postposition of the definite article is a Sprachbund in the Balkans.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reminder: Black Swans

I always get nervous when being directed to a post by Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan. (Ooh, there's a new section to that.) He frequently convinces me of something I am suspicious of at first glance, with intimations I may have to eat my words.

Not so, but nearly so, this time. Taleb argues, in commenting on OWS that bankers shouldn't be paid bonuses. That smacks of exactly the hippie nonsense that would make me embarrassed to show my face over at NOfP, Tigerhawk, or Maggie's.. But, we must pursue thoughts where they lead, especially with NNT. Yet he does not get distracted by the issues that seem to consume the rest of us - whether the financial managers make too much, whether the reporting is fair, whether the protestors make anything more than 15% sense, whether corporations are persons. He gives a quick nod to corruption - which to me was the main issue and the one ignored by political groups fighting other battles - and moves straight to the basic psychological mechanisms which encourage the corruption, mechanisms which are thus the real problem.

When we bail out banks or other large entities, we encourage extra risk by taking some of the danger and sting out of it. When bankers can also secure large bonuses without much personal risk, without much "skin in the game," what do we expect them to do in response? What would we do in a situation where the personal risk is low but the gain is high?

Disguised risk is the problem. Transfer that risk to the hedge funds, where people like to live on that adrenaline, and are actually allowed to fail. Bankers should be boring, like they were in the old days. No big bonuses, just a respectable career.

Simplicity and Specialness

You know how I am about sentiment, approaching very indirectly even when it is my own. But some things really are good enough that you can dive in and embrace them, even when you know they are going to be poignant and emotional. Retriever has a new post that's got St. Francis, charity, tolerance, and special needs kids all rolled in. Not a weeper, but a slow-down-and-contemplate post. Very good for me today, who has just had it up to here with people who have needs.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Babushkas!

NPR had a report on singing babushkas, who did not win the Eurovision preliminaries to represent Russia. You need to know that it is more often groups like this (though these girls are from Ukraine) who win that honor. I didn't even know that Ukrainia had golf courses, actually. Don't feel obligated to watch the whole thing. You'll get the sense of it pretty quickly.
The babushkas - the word means "grandmother" in most Slavic tongues - have had lives about as difficult as one can imagine. Drunken husbands, widowed, poverty, and over all, having lived in peasant communism most of their lives. The story indicates they are from 600 miles east of Moscow, and their language closer to Finnish than to Russian (I can't come close to telling from their conversation whether it's Erzya or Mari). They point out there is no reason for being depressed - you have to go on anyway, so you might has well be upbeat about it.


So you tell me who you'd rather have living in your house. Here they are again.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What We Didn't See

Getting lost in YouTube again...

Looking through the 60's music for something fun, and I keep coming upon clips from Shindig!  Wait.  They had the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Walker Brothers, Petula Clark, Glen Campbell. The Dave Clark 5, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Bobbie Vee - and four other acts ALL ON THE SAME NIGHT??!!  Where was I?  How did I miss this? and Hullabaloo?

They did this week after week.  The guest list at the link, plus this one for Hullabaloo, is simply astounding.  Both shows lasted about a year-and-a-half before being dropped for low ratings.  How could this be?  How were we not glued to this, all of life coming to a halt?  Whoever chose these bands had a magic touch.

Well, it was 1964-66, so that's a partial explanation for me.  I was nearly oblivious to popular music until very late 1965, when I moved to a more suburban, fashion conscious junior high (and the transition from 6th-7th grade was pretty much the dividing line in those days anyway.  7th graders went to dances; that was improper for 6th-graders). In November 1965 I bought my first 45, "California Dreaming" for $0.79 at Manchester Music (directly across from the Red Arrow, which is still there).  It was a line crossed.  Before that, only Hayley Mills and the Green Bay Packers penetrated the from the outside world into mine highly local one.

But the kids just a few years older - why did they not watch?

My theory is that it was caught between generations.  Television viewing was different in those days.  Families had one TV, it was in the living room, and during prime time, what was watched was a negotiated affair.  It was actually a dictatorial affair by parents, but they wanted to have as few arguments in their lives as possible, so they tolerated some kid-only shows and just went elsewhere for 30 minutes.  Not only was Shindig an hour, it was non-stop music they weren't interested in.  They could put up with single performances by rock bands on Ed Sullivan, but a whole hour was just too much.  Worse, some of these bands were not merely music they weren't interested in, but things they actively objected to.  Hair. Electric. Suspiciously bluesy - which would be the wrong kind of black music.

American Bandstand could get away with it, not being in prime time.

Next, check out the MC's and guest hosts on both shows.  They sometimes get it right - the Righteous Brothers, Peter Noone, Barry McGuire - but more often just don't get it: Pat Boone, Trini Lopez.  Many of these were exactly the performers that hippies were sniggering at and trying to get rid of.  They were, like, so uncool, practically Lawrence Welk material.  Suckered the parents in enough to watch, then smack them with the Kinks Girl, you really got me goin'... and after a few tsks and pointed comments from one parent, the other would cross the room "to see what else was on." (Answer:  Shindig's competitors the first year were The Beverley Hillbillies.  Second year, Munsters and Daniel Boone on Thursdays; Flipper and Jackie Gleason on Saturday.  Hullabaloo was up against To Tell the Truth and Twelve O'clock High.  Mom and Dad would have put any of those ahead of the Rolling Stones singing "Heart of Stone."  Paul Anka, okay, maybe.  But not all those dirty-looking bands that can't sing.)

There was another Shindig, BTW.  Scottish, mid 80's.  Also a variety show.  Fascinating if you are interested in 1. The Scots roots of American country dancing - square, reels, contra - performed by men in kilts and women with petticoats.  2. The return influence of American country music on Scottish popular, and/or 3. Well, that's about it, actually. 

Whenever I watch these dances, I think of the line from Tolkien "...and began to dance the Springle-Ring.  A pretty dance, but rather vigorous."

What The World Needs Now

Best parts:

1. How hard is the choreography here?  Except  she can't manage it.
2. At 1:00, watch what happens to the dancers when their platform moves.
3. Listen closely to the lyrics of the second verse.
4. That big pin on the plaid skirt.  I had forgotten those.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

That Swedish Model Again

No, still no girl.  Just commentary on the article from the Finnish free-market think tank trying to show that the supposed socialist success of the Swedish economic model is not what it seems. Briefly, the economic success was greatest during the least-socialist periods, and the sustained production during the more socialist periods is more attributable to the work ethic and other cultural factors, which may be evaporating because of immigration.

I half-knew much of this, but it did correct a few misimpressions of mine.  It identified trends and eras far more exactly than I have in my own estimations.  I would like to throw in a few more kicks at the Swedes, however.  Not because they do things badly, but because they give themselves credit for their success for the wrong reasons, leading to moral self-congratulation they don't entirely deserve.


Plus, observations of a general nature.

Cultural unity, or social capital, or those other fine-sounding phrases that come up when talking about what wonderful, generous people those NW Europeans, especially the Scandinavians are, sharing and helping neighbors, and leaving no child behind.  It has another name when it goes bad: fascism.  The German (and Italian, and Spanish, and Austrian, and junior versions in even the Allied countries) idea was if we all pull together...

That's what fascism means, after all. Fasces, little sticks, bound together into an unbreakable handle for a weapon.  When all the sticks stay together they are powerful.  But if some sticks start pulling away, the group is weakened and...we have to do something to stop that.  Sweden has been a homogeneous culture, where everyone is a fifth cousin, and very good a sharing with each other on that basis.  Recently, not so much.  Swedes don't like talking about Malmo, for example. 

WWII was not a good one to stay out of, frankly.  I think it is a reasonable strategy for any nation to try and stay out of expensive, deadly conflicts.  I do see that there is some high moral ground there of not fighting.  But it has its limits.  Some things really do have to be opposed; some friends really do need to count on you. The main American exponent of that type of non-involvement, up to and including not entering WWII, is Pat Buchanan.  Not who one usually associates with Swedes, but there perhaps is a considerable similarity of outlook.  Pat, at least, is fairly open in his idea of favoring our own, and the less grandiose moral approach that implies.

It is sometimes noted off-handedly that these pacifistic Scandinavians are quite a contrast from their Viking ancestors.  I am not so sure.  Vikings have this warlike reputation because of their raiding of the English coast. We speak English and are culturally descended from Great Britain.  Yet we didn't have much war with them.  It was raiding, by and large, followed by moving in and farming.  Along the Atlantic coasts and Russian rivers, it was trading, enforced by bands of aggressive sailors.  A fairly small fraction of the population, frankly - even a gentle nation should be able to find enough rowdies and nutcases to man a few dozen ships and engage in a little piracy.  Most of the Scandinavians stayed home on their own farms, perhaps moving somewhere Scottish after the place had been pacified a little.

Compared to just about every other tribe in the world, that's not really "warlike," is it?  More like a peaceful trading nation with really good Special Forces when needed.

Back to the 20th C.  Allowing your intelligence agency to become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the German SS, then having lots of money left over to sink into Volvo and SAAB when everyone else is broke may be clever, but it's not laudable.

Nor is it especially high-minded to start discovering socialism right after the poorest 20% (approximately) of your population up-stakes and heads for the US and Canada.

Of course, it should be noted that the Swedes have taken a big capitalist turn since the 1990's, and perhaps we should be emulating them more at this point.

Joe Pa

I think the current baseline horror and wringing of hands is about right for the incidents.  But I'm hanging back and being a bit cautious about making pronouncements, because we don't usually rely on our sportscasters for moral direction.  They may have this one right.  But their outrage makes me nervous. 

Superstition

There is a specialised program I use at work which crashes nearly 70% of the time when one tries to print.  These crashes, of course, always occur at wildly, insanely inopportune moments, such as when a patient's discharge transportation has already arrived and you are trying to get a signature form with all his follow up instructions ready.

Everyone in the department has superstitions about how to keep the program from crashing - counting to a certain number before hitting Print, tapping the screen a certain number of times, clicking on an empty section of task bar...

I scoff.  Ridiculous.  Those things can't possibly have any effect on the program.  Unscientific.  I have found, however, that loudly singing "Yellow Submarine" works quite well. 

My coworkers are not as entertained as I thought they might be.

Chesterton on Festivals

The Christmas That Is Coming.

There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article.  It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.  Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday.  At the next moment your heart leaps up and your body and soul dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice.  If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday.  But I say that whatever the day is that is to you so festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before.  And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day.  Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed hour.  The presents were kept tied up in brown paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally stuck.  I wish this principle were adopted in respect to modern Christmas ceremonies and publications.  Especially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines.  The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to an anticipation of the turkey which is to come.  Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept until Christmas Day.  On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper.  Whether the arm or the leg of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.
GK Chesterton The Spirit of Christmas
Written almost a century ago, the essay illustrates the early versions o some troubles we see in our own day.

We were up near the lunatic fringe of Christmas celebration.  Though entirely aware of the acquisitive, faux spiritual, and maudlin dangers of Christmas, we were determined to overcome these by sheer effort.  The Wyman eccentricity was distilled at Christmas.  Even in our current, more relaxed approach, we are still oddly intense about it.

We decorated our tree later than anyone we knew, but not quite the Old World custom of parents decorating it Christmas Eve to be revealed Christmas morning.  We thought about it, but we also had a fanatic tradition of family and holidays, and so traveled to all three sets of parents on the Day itself.  I won't detail our other charming lunacies, but simply mention that we created new and personal advent traditions, carol traditions, food traditions, read-aloud traditions, decorating traditions, hospitality traditions - what else...  Who knows?  you couldn't move to another room or say a complete sentence out loud with bumping up against some Wyman-only Christmas custom.

Tracy once taught an adult Sunday School class on Unplug The Christmas Machine.  Highly recommended, BTW.  But we didn't study and discuss it in order to reduce the energy put into the holiday, but to refine it and focus it.  We had traditions about pruning traditions.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Photos

I was sent a link of some Farm Security Administration photos from the late Depression

The vividness of the color puts me in mind of my commentary, dating back to 2005, on the emotional influence black-and-white photography has on our experience of earlier times, and even on our social and political understanding of the times.

Nome Storm

When you live on the Bering Strait, you already expect weather to be bad.  When the weather advisories say a life-threatening storm of epic magnitude, you have to figure that's pretty intense.

So when your boy is in that, you worry.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Big Mal

I thought I had posted the reminiscence of my best friend from high school, but in trying to locate it to direct friends from my reunion to the post, I find I did not. I suspect I thought it too long, and not of enough general interest to dominate an entire page. I backdated it into last month, so that October is even more the best summary month of the whole blog.

He died around 2004 of an unusual brain cancer.  Out with friends at a restaurant, he looked up and down at the offerings and said "I can't read the left side of this menu."  That's a definite tipoff of something neurological, of the Oliver Sacks type.  He was dead within the year.  I did not learn of it until a few years later, but I heard the end was not as hard as it might have been; he had friends and family around.

I don't know who will be interested. It includes some of my own history of the era, so there may be some audience there.  Certainly, Mal was an interesting character himself, a 6'7" baby-faced boy who took up basketball reluctantly at 16 and found he was good at it.  He was an uncoached walkon from the Manchester NH YMCA league in 1972, banging heads with Kevin Joyce* of South Carolina, then one of the better programs in the country.  He made the squad and played '72-75. He stayed near Columbia after that, finding he preferred the South.  The post will also pop up whenever anyone searches for his unusual last name: Malyerck

*Yes, that Kevin Joyce, of Munich Olympics Silver Medal team fame.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

What We Read

Clicking back to my own page after visiting some sidebar links. my mind immediately assumed that Swedish Model Reassessed had something to do with a blonde with not enough clothes on.  And, why was I reassessing her, exactly?  This is just minutes after I posted it, so I knew it was about economics.  Theoretically.

Fish. Lure.

That may be age related, though. Supermodel is used so much more frequently than model these days that the association may not be so strong in a younger person's mind.

Swedish Model Reassessed

Link fixed. Thanks to James From Bird Dog's links over at Maggie's is a report by a Finnish think tank on the Swedish economy, It's not as long as it looks.  I am always irritated by truncated graphs, but these seem less bad than usual.  I'd like folks to read it before I put in my two kroner.

To bear in mind:  left-and right- of center in this context refers almost entirely to economic, free-market issues, not social or foreign policy ideas.  There are scandinavians more right of center on those other issues than Americans, but there aren't many.  In free-market ideology, however, their categories are roughly comparable to ours.

Much of this was half-known to me, but this is more complete and organised a summary than I have encountered over the last few years.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Wilt

Cartoon

Dog, explaining to psychologist with irritation:  I am not paranoid!  Sometimes he only pretends to throw the ball to make me look like an idiot!

Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt

Stick with it until about 2:35, anyway. It suddenly goes all 16th C (see below).

Richard Thompson was a founder of Fairport Convention, the other English electric folk band of the early 70's, and much better known in America than Steeleye Span at the time. I never liked them much, as Sandy Denny's voice was just a little too...something for my taste. The difference has got to be subtle, because it is much like Maddy Prior's.

I never quite forgave Thompson for playing the Joni Mitchell tribute concert, thinking "you need to get out of this." But ethereal voice, unusual tunings, I suppose I can see how you'd have to be on board with Joni if you're Richard. Some magazine - it may have been Playboy - asked popular musicians in the early 2000's what the "top popular songs of the millennium" had been. Everyone else stretched their musical knowledge back a few decades, or maybe a century. They may not have known what a millennium was, or had little idea of history. When I sang old folk songs years ago, many people, even ones you would think quite savvy, had a category "old music" in their brains that covered everything from Depression-era bluegrass backward. They might have the additional bit of knowledge that "Greensleeves" was really old.

Thompson took it seriously and did an entire album on it, starting with Sumer is icumen in. (A song which gave rise to my best literary off-the-cuff joke ever - incredibly brilliant - but gets completely ruined by having to explain it. The punch line is "Loude sing Marcoux." See, that doesn't help you any, does it?) Here's a Fairport Convention tune from the last album he did with them, and the only one I was familiar with until years later.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Minority

A commenter at isteve asks, In a global economy, what is a minority?

Conference

I went to a conference/training Wednesday morning.  The introductory speaker and a most others commented on how honored they were to work with us, advocating for the mentally ill - as were they - and doing so with great dedication in these difficult times (clear slam in tone and expression at budget cutters), giving of ourselves as civil servants...

Pouring ourselves out as meat-offerings for the poor, bleeding in the streets for the noble cause...

Well no, not that.  But this self-congratulation is part of every conference in human services.  We consider it part of our wages to tell each other how good we are.  I imagine it happens in most other fields, in one form or another.  People like to encourage, to give credit, to inspire.  It just rubs me the wrong way because the speaker so transparently includes him- (or more usually her-) self, yet seems not to realise that.  I likely am also bothered because I believed that for so longer, and ate that stuff up.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Making Fun Of People

There is a Charlie Daniels CD in my car, I can't imagine why. But I put it in and was irritated at the culture it celebrated - not merely southern and redneck, but the most stereotypical versions of that.  There was a reference to Dale Earnhardt Sr being carried to heaven by angels.  I am not making that up. 

I listened to the rest of it, looking for bad examples, thinking "This would be so easy to make fun of."  But in my listening, I noticed that they never made fun of anyone.  Country music in general doesn't do much making fun of others.  That would be my culture - urbane, ironic, convinced of its own sophistication - that makes its way in the world by putting others down.  And I was humbled.

Obit: Victoria Regina Shouldis

 Not much of a picture, but I couldn't find a better.


Two months ago, I mentioned a friend dying of cancer.  The link, in turn, carries a note from years ago.  Remarkable woman, and her obituary, which she wrote herself, was in today's Monitor.

A brilliant Trivial Pursuit player - and I specifically sought her out for a particular competition (another teammate was a Jeopardy! winner who died earlier this year. I thought the competition was going to be severe, but we dominated embarrassingly) - and a witty, kindly person, I loved talking with her. She had briefly been a DJ in New York, and was one of the few people I knew who not only recognised "Alison Gross," but knew a female Wiccan DJ named Alyson who had used it as her theme music. She was full of little tidbits like that, which is a small but clannish subculture in our society.

And yet...

Can you imagine a libertarian, paleocon, or anarcho-monarchist writing their obituary with quite this same tone about political persuasion? She was not an arrogant person in the least, - and there is some tone of self-deprecation here, to be sure - but the sense of assurance of correctness here is found only on the fringes of other political movements.

Ah well, she was in general a nicer person than I. The conceit one inherits from a POV is perhaps only a small part of us, and not one that is measured by God in the fiery proof of our works.

Shaq

Well, I've liked the guy, a jollier sort of NBA player who seemed to take criticism and adversity in stride more than others.  But the excerpts from Shaq Uncut that I heard this morning are irritating, not merely because he has done stupid things - those can be endearing - but because even upon reflection he thinks that a middle-school attitude of physical intimidation to get his way is something to be proud of.  He crows about intimidating Phil Jax at practice, not with superior understanding, but just being big.

Ha ha.  Guess you showed him. Jerk.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Cain And Accusations

Mona Charen at NRO wonders whether Cain is being borked or is being evasive because there is something to this.  Her thoughts are here, and I have little to add.  Nor do I know much about the accusations and their likelihood of being true.

And that's a revealing limitation on my part.  I am very likely to make my decision about whether Cain is guilty on the basis of how he responds to the accusations, not any basis of examining the facts.  It's a shortcut we use a thousand times a year - does Jack seem to be lying?  A great timesaver.

The weakness is rather apparent, though.  It's a good rule of thumb, but not a perfect one.  In particular, excellent liars exploit this human tendency by imitating innocent people, and distracting us with how terrible the accusers are.  Bill Clinton was exceptionally good at this.  He didn't act like a guilty person, and he didn't go over-the-top by trying to act like a completely innocent person.  He acted just like a person who was guilty of some small, unimportant thing, but outraged that people would accuse him of something large.  Of course he drove 6mph over the speed limit, but really...

Even after some large things turned out to be true.

And now here I am, doing what I complained about others doing, because it's a timesaver.  I don't want to put in the energy to read up on this.

Sherlock

Here's the place that AC Doyle ran into trouble: more than one explanation can fit a fact. When Sherlock and Mycroft compare notes on the gentleman walking by in the street, they speak with definiteness that a particular gait can only come from having been at sea, and the only possible explanation for his carrying certain items is that he has children. Or, when Sherlock notes that a particular form of the letter "a" used declares the writer to be German, and of a certain height, it all ties together so nicely. The possibility that the man (or women) had a German schoolmaster who forced him to write that way, or that he reverted to that form because he slipped and had to make the accidental line into something, simply does not come up in the reasoning.

It is a comforting fiction, that we can read a set of clues which point us to a single answer, but real life isn't like that. All evidence is ambiguous and could point in several directions. It is the accumulation that points us in a direction.

It stems from our preference for resolved narrative. Reading a story of a woman who had an unhappy childhood and difficult life for 75 years, who found love, or meaning, or acceptance over the last five years of her life strikes us as a good life. It's a good story; it would make a good movie; therefore, it is a good life. The woman who has 75 wonderful years but ends it being sick or lonely the last five years seems to be a sad story, and a sad life. Funny thing. We rather think that even when it's our own life we are talking about. The drive for resolution is powerful. But if you had to choose going in which scenario you wanted, most of us would take the one with the good 75 and endure the lousy 5 as a small offset.

In mentioning The Moth, and relating it to testimony Sunday, I saw this same phenomenon. We insist that our life be understood as some sort of story, that it is going somewhere. Some of us feel at some deep level that belief in God necessitates belief in a narrative or trajectory of our lives, which we are tasked with discovering and enacting. I don't know that this is actually true - we just think it. Jesus's command not to be concerned for the morrow or what we should wear, but to let the day's trouble be sufficient unto itself, would likely speak against that interpretation.