Monday, December 30, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Wymans - 2013

“Now, Tell Me How You Are Really.”
All three of the sons who live far away got home at least once this year, leading to a whirlwind of rearranged schedules and special events. Yet sometime in each visit, Tracy will draw her boy aside, checking up on emotional states, love lifes, and goals for the coming year.  Because she’s the mother, that’s her job. The sons answer reasonably.  Because that’s their job.  Some of them understand the rules of this exchange better than others, frankly. 

Waiting For The Clouds To Part
When Chris was home over his 26th birthday, he asked for skydiving.  Fine idea, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane to plummet thousands of feet, but the weather started getting away from him: too cloudy to jump. It’s not like the lad has a lot of flexibility to come back from Norway when the weather clears in a few days.  The clouds parted just enough on the last possible day.  The text that he had landed safely came as a relief.

“Hey! Unto you a child is born!” yelled Gladys
The older granddaughter, Emily has crested into territory of family traditions: going to The Nutcracker with Nana, or the Currier Museum with Pops, and finally being old enough to be a Tomte at Luciafest. This year Tracy is reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to her during Advent (she will likely cry this year, too), while the rest of us play characters. Sarah is starting to get on board, clutching her own binoculars that she keeps here in order to watch birds with Nana. However, Sarah uses them backwards, while Emily glowers resentfully that the younger sister has something she doesn’t, so there are still a few bugs in the system.

Everyone Loves Kyle
Did we say that last year?  It’s true. He is coming down the home stretch of senior year. He has a tight group of friends, who encouraged him to play soccer and run track even though those aren’t his sports.  No matter, he is quickly at the center. Lacrosse, where he has put in a fair bit of effort these last two years, should be more fun this spring than any of his winter or tournament teams. And then, according to recent plans, on to the Army Reserves, and training for the military police, and college with an eye to law enforcement. Even his new haircut is a little more high and tight. Life changes quickly, and there have been sudden leaps of growing up, rather than gradual increments, over the last twelvemonth.

     A W.P. Kinsella Evening
Minor league baseball plus unusual atmospheric conditions just naturally evoke Kinsella’s books, which David and Ben have been sharing for years.  We went down to see the Pawsox while he was back in August, hoping to see this Xander Bogaerts phenom.  Unfortunately, the phenom had been called up to the Red Sox exactly one day earlier.  Still, the drive was easy, the seats good, the restaurant close, and the sky turned an unearthly magenta over the left field fence. What could be better?
Well, perhaps the trip to Fenway with Jonathan and Kyle, paid for by John-Adrian, was better.  There were more of us – that’s fun. David struck up a conversation with another old guy while the younger three took pictures of each other and the more ridiculous nearby fans – we call them Pink Hats here.

 “I Would Like To Publicly Thank My Dad For Benching Philip Rivers”
David, Ben, Jonathan, Heidi, John-Adrian, and semi-son Ryan Letares are in a fantasy football league. Ben and Ryan are usual powerhouses, but JA has made it into the finals this year. Talking smack, too. Jonathan and David are already revamping their strategy for next year. 

 “We’ve Picked Out Some Of The Music For Tomorrow.”
Said by the betrothed couple to David, the evening before the wedding. I think of myself as a flexible person, and had blithely said I could adjust to whatever they wanted, after agreeing to become a Justice of the Peace in order to perform the ceremony. Hmm. Harder than I thought. Still, Morgan Leap and Ryan Letares did get married.  The surroundings were lovely, though October chilly. Ben and JA both made an extra trip home to be there.  What could be better?

“It’s okay to leave now.”
This year included a lot of running down to see Dad in South Shore Hospital. While we almost lost him this past spring, he’s still soldiering on. One Sunday we got a call that his assisted living home had sent him to the ER for chest pains. So instead of going to church she hightailed it down to the hospital. There was Dad with good color, talking coherently and waiting to be admitted. They wanted to do observations overnight before sending him back. So we watched the football game together until he dismissed Tracy with the above quote.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

UU Self-Congratulation

Just a random UU congregation, and what it says about itself.  I was trying to imagine what different things an evangelical congregation would say, and quickly noticed that the equivalent statements - claiming that we were spiritually intense, or righteous, rather than spiritually tolerant - would come off as arrogant.

I'm not entirely sure what spiritually tolerant means, other than the idea that you don't say that other people's beliefs are wrong.  It comes from the mythology that if white suburban Americans will just be a good example and not say that their Christianity is right and your goddess-worship is wrong, then eventually - okay, maybe not right away but eventually - there won't be any wars any more.  Because Islamic people would have learned from observing our good example and just see how much better it is.

One of the ingredients of Manifest Destiny, I recall.


Infection Control nurses are rather an intrusive, oppressive type, but we need them to be.  Coming in when we are still contagious but don't feel bad is exactly the sort of thing responsible people think they should do, yet they shouldn't. Not in places where they will have a lot of contact with others, anyway. The infection control cheerfully enforces on employees what is good for us all, which we would not do independently. 

I reluctantly understand that. Yet it still bothers me to see the calendar in their department with a cute cartoon for December, of a man sitting in his underwear on an examining table, listening to a smiling woman with a stethoscope explaining to him "It's an app that notices when you gain weight, then locks your refrigerator, starts your treadmill, and ejects you from your chair."


This is not humorous, this is horrifying. The assumption that others have at least partial ownership of your body is increasing.

Society used to not intervene much in domestic violence.  It was disapproved of and gossiped about, but there was a general reluctance to get involved.  Various sexual practices were sometimes officially punished, but people were likewise reluctant to notice what everyone knew. Even child victims were not always protected.  Everyone preferred to just have bad folks move away and have no more be said about it.  But you could, and some were, punished for beating the wife and kids, or having a homosexual lover.  No one would have dreamed of interfering with what you ate, though.

Cultures are different.  Things change.

Food Intolerance

One hears a lot about the topic recently.  My wife has found that eliminating wheat has made her intestines more comfortable and allowed her to lose 10 lbs with no additional effort.  Yet she never had the deeply intolerant, allergic reaction to wheat that some report.  There are those whose bodies react very badly to lactose, others who can digest a little, and some who do fine unless they have large amounts of it, in which case lactaid is required.

People talk about food intolerances as if they are either-or problems.  For some, I am sure they are.  A brazil nut sends me to the ER for a shot, for example, and even trace amounts seem to require a couple of benadryl.  Yet I wonder if many of these supposed allergies are better described as things-your-body-just-doesn't-digest-well-anymore. We ask our digestive systems to provide a rather impressive array of enzymes to get through a year, and perhaps some of them are simply in shorter supply as we age. Just an off-the-cuff theory.  Does anyone actually know about this?

BTW, even though wheat avoidance has resulted in significant sacrifices in the area of desserts, any constraint forces creativity. We hadn't had warm indian pudding with whipped cream for a long time, but we did tonight.  And you didn't.  So we're ahead of you there, because it was quite lovely.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


You know how rare it is for me to link to an op-ed.  I thought well of this.  The part about short stays in hospitals for schizophrenics being driven by insurance companies is most, but not all of the reason.  It is my experience that many psychiatrists who specialise in acute cases rapidly get bored with a case once they have finished adjusting the medications and making sure there are not side effects which would require discontinuation.

Our Failed Approach To Schizophrenia.

Manifest Destiny

One of the ways that history books lie is by exaggeration. If our aim is to show that the Dutch colonial influence on New York was one of the great causes of tolerance, democracy, openness, and freedom in the New World (as Colin Woodard’s is in American Nations), then it pays to downplay Dutch intolerance and oppression at the same time, there and especially in other colonies, and similar tolerance or openness in any of the other regions of America.

It’s what historians do.  At its best, it illustrates some aspect of a time or place that is legitimately different and deserves attention.  It distills to make memorable, and makes great leaps of insight easier.  Yet the dangers are obvious.  The distillation may oversimplify, leaving out important contrary information and dissonant voices. Worse, the exaggeration might mislead entirely – the change in ginger cultivation from 17th C Elbonia to 18th C Elbonia might be only comparative, of little importance.

Clever, memorable lines and phrases should arouse our suspicions whenever they are encountered. “They came to do good and stayed to do well” is a witty and cynical thing to say about politicians going to DC, or missionary families to Hawaii, and is not entirely unjust in both cases.  But the double negative “not entirely unjust” is a rather faint endorsement of truth. 

A belief in Manifest Destiny is one of those things that we “just know” about 19th C American opinion.  I have seen it used twice in the last week as an example of a discredited idea which used to be dominant.  In both cases the writer was trying to show that a currently common idea deserves a similar disapproval.  Americans have believed so many arrogant and foolish things about themselves. We have been more a danger than a good in the world, haven’t we? Oppressors, exploiters, hypocrites…

Except that Manifest Destiny was never even a solid minority, let alone majority opinion in America.  It had powerful denouncers and opponents from the start. It drew on a fairly common idea - that America had a special mission from God to be an example to the world. The New World had been discovered and settled at the time that the Old World was becoming corrupt and dissolute, the thinking went. Most Americans believed some version of this, but not many followed it with any intensity.  As in all other eras, people had jobs and families and did not often spare a thought for larger questions of where history was going.

Westward expansion and acquisition of territory were another matter altogether.  Those were separate strands, more common among newer immigrants and the most ambitious. Most Americans were unsure they were even desirable, let alone ordained.

It would be nearer the truth to hold in mind the idea that people like the idea of building something where there was nothing before - a farm, a town, a business, a church, a school; or simply making a living without some other tribe interfering with them - than that they were motivated by any abstract simplification like Manifest Destiny.

Christmas Lights

Are fewer people putting up Christmas lights these days?  Seems it from here.

50th Anniversary

Sponge-Headed Scienceman points out that last month was the 50th Anniversary of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Judgemental Christmas

The hospital chaplain - a nice woman - designs and leads the Christmas Eve service every year. It is nice to have church at work, of course, even rarely. But I was grumpy and picky this year, annoyed at the usual secular "peace on earth" that mentions beating swords into plowshares but never the prophet Joel, beating plowshares into swords. Wrong kind of peace, eh? And there was this story about... Christmas through the eyes of a child, and another about cute widdle Mugwumps. I felt proper outrage at this cuteness idolatry when talking about the Incarnation...

It's a highly adult and serious theological subject...

Except I realised in an instant that I had given the serious and adult subject no thought on my own this Advent. I realised that I had been far worse than distracted by cuteness and 60's liberalism - I have been apathetic - and I am ashamed. I dared to stand in judgement of others for some minor, silly sins, while commiting a great one myself.

The only time I have given serious thought to the Incarnation this Advent is when forced to - at Sunday worship, or at our traditional nightly Advent wreath ceremony at dinner. And even those, not very intently. I have mailed it in again, another year. I have done none of the work of worship.

Thank you church, for carrying me when I sat on the pavement and refused to walk a step on my own. That you God, for designing us to grow only in community, and sending me church.

Joyous Chrstmas to all

Truth To Power

Hunter Thompson once said "I want people to remember that I only kicked Dick Nixon when he was up."

I get that.  I only kick people when they are up.  When powerful people abuse their status, they deserve pushback, and most people won't do it.  So I am likely to.

You will notice that there is not an organisation in the world where this is a smart strategy for getting ahead.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Politicans and Values

A major portion of David McCullough's In The Dark Streets Shineth are the two Christmas Eve speeches at the White House in 1941: one by Roosevelt and the other by Churchill, who had arrived in secret.  The video is here. The text of Churchill's speech is here, Roosevelt's here, if you prefer that format.

Of the many interesting observations people have made about these speeches over the years, one seems oddly missing:  no American or British politician today would draw such a tight equivalency between the cause of the English-speaking people and the meaning of Christmas.  There is little of Christ in either of their Christmases. There are the forces of good battling the forces of great evil, which celebrating Christmas seems to embody.  I don't think it is mere reticence to make doctrinal statements which might be too rich or might offend.  I think they were accurately reflecting the general values of the Christian West at the time.  That's how politicians get elected, after all, by expressing (whether truly or manipulatively) the values of the electorate.

In that era, only the fundamentalist groups would have objected to the Western Civ = Christ expression, and not all of those.  Many of the fundies would have been the strongest endorsers of the equivalence.  The communists had objected loudly to any equating of the American experiment with holiness, but when we turned to fighting fascists they piped down and signed on with the majority. In the 1950's during the Cold War they switched back, and that "separation of church and state," not just in institutions, but in the set of mental associations of the average Joe, began to spread through the culture. It wasn't only the left that agreed with them, either.  The re-emergence of evangelicals into politics in the mid 1970's made very clear distinctions between the cause of America and the cause of Christ. Part of the rhetoric may have been that America used to be a particularly good expression of Christ's work in the world and should be again, but no one was tying the two ideas as tightly together as Roosevelt and Churchill did in 1941.

Dickens's A Christmas Carol barely mentions Christ, and the English gentleman's comment in "Chariots of Fire" that "In my day it was country first and God second" had much truth in it, and would not have been an occasion for derision, as was clearly intended in the movie. (Liddell was rather the type of fundamentalist I mentioned above.)

Left or right, I think some separation is the much more common view today. We warm to parts of those speeches of 70 years ago, yet feel distant from others.  It would be easy to plead duress on their part - England was indeed hard-pressed by a very real and physical evil, and America was only a few weeks post Pearl Harbor.  To feel that all which was good in the world was under siege, in danger of vanishing beneath the waves of non-Christian enemies, and that Christ must necessarily be on their side would seem quite natural. Perhaps.  Perhaps I am asking too much theological nicety of folks who faced fears which I have not.


Relatedly, the hospital had its annual celebration of employees who have racked up many years in the place, and Governor Maggie Hassan came to personally shake the hands of those who had 40 years or more and to say a few words. I hadn't met her before.  She sat at the next table and seemed pleasant enough. The gist of her encouragement was that the important thing about America is that it has proceeded by welcoming more and more people into the wider community, and we were doing great work because we were helping the mentally ill be welcomed in.

I don't think that's an insane way of reading American history, but it interests me that absolutely no one would have said that was the point of it all during the first 200 years of the republic.  I think if people had been presented with that framing in 1976, most would understand it and some would like it. It certainly has been adopted very rapidly on the left as the central narrative of America. All our history has pointed in the direction of one group after another being brought into equal status with the powerful ones.

I seem to like taking ideas and shoving them into other eras and observing how they might fit.  It certainly has been a useful exercise in reading Christian history. 

I do wonder how much of a vote our ancestors get in what America is, or what Western Civilization is, or what the church and the family are. Do they get to have a word, or is it only us left to interpret now, free to make it up however we like?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Violence in Sports

The two large topics are the new rule about collisions at the plate in baseball, and whether Sean Thornton's 15-game suspension is justified.

We are moving on separate tracks.  Performance-enhancing drugs are making players bigger, faster, stronger.  Collisions between them will be increasingly dangerous. Watch pro football clips from the 60's and read their heights, weights, and times in the 40-yard dash.  We are not genetically different and our nutrition is not enormously superior. It is true that weightlifting techniques and other conditioning are vastly better, but not enough to add 20-50 lbs per position.  It's drugs. These guys aren't that much bigger than the refs.

Tendons aren't built for this, neither are joints, and they give way, resulting in more injuries.  I suppose the fact that the painkillers are also better helps somewhat. (BTW, I didn't understand what Jerry Kramer's later comment that the Packers just ran out of time meant until I watched this. Clock management is now better.  Packers shoulda won.)

Colliding at the plate with an enhanced David Ortiz is different from getting hit by Jim Rice, who was considered big and uncommonly strong in his day.  50 lb difference.

Parallel to this, however, is the reality that we like violence less and less as a society.  It is not just that we want to keep concussions away from our children's brains, though that is certainly true. Middle-class parents no longer tolerate fights at school. UFC is now a specialty niche sport, whereas all sports fans followed boxing throughout my childhood and young adulthood. Children's sports have ever-stricter rules for containing possible outbreaks.  The NFL may be more violent, but it is less dirty than in the age of the AFL/NFL merger.

The hockey fans are irate here that their sport is being taken away from them in small increments.  They keep insisting loudly that other people don't understand that this is how hockey is played.  Orpik is partly at fault for not fighting, because this is how the game polices itself, etc, etc. They have an intuitive understanding of how all the pieces are supposed to fit, and blame the outsiders, the non-fans who don't understand, because they just don't get it. They keep insisting, perhaps truly, that the players prefer it this way also.  That isn't so strong an argument as you'd think.

Sorry guys, but it is you who don't get it.  This ratchet has been turning in only one direction since the days of Elizabethan bear-baiting. What you are describing is what hockey has been during your lifetime to date. You may be assessing that accurately and intuiting it correctly, but there is nothing permanent about it. See also, face masks. Fighting isn't in the college game or the international game so it clearly is not necessary to the sport.  That it seems necessary to NFL fans is fine with me - I barely follow the sport and they can do what they want.  But it's pretty clear where the trend is (especially as hockey players are now starting to be associated with PED's, as well). You can dig in your heels and you will slow down the change.  But the league office isn't stupid about this stuff.  They know you guys are the current market, but they also know that international TV and casual fans are the future. You don't own the sport.  You just feel like you should.

Whiskey and Orange Peel

Watching the videos of a few of the 400 whiskey reviews on YouTube, I noticed the reviewer repeatedly sloshing the glass and sniffing it.  I had heretofore regarded this as a diagnostic measure, and grew irritated.  "Enough already! You've either figured it out or you haven't.  Taste the damn whiskey." Yet he sloshed a few more times, even after having started the tasting.  It occurred to me for the first time that the sniffing was a pleasure in and of itself, regardless of whether it aided taste evaluation.  Hmm.

So I tried it myself, and yes, this is true.  Any number of sloshes and inhalations are enjoyable, right down to the end.

It reminded me of a friend's description of riding on a train in Turkey.  A gentleman across the aisle had an orange peel, which he would squeeze just under his nose and inhale the oils of at long intervals.  He stared out the window, he pressed the rind and inhaled deeply - nothing else for three hours.  That has inspired me to express the oil from orange peel into my own nose from time to time.  I doubt I could go three hours, even with a train view to assist.  But I learned the point. There are simple sensory pleasures there if we will but take them.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Math Should Be Taught Like Literature or Art

Well, that got your attention, didn't it?

(Where this is going: we need to teach more probability and statistics.)

Teaching math is based on the idea of progressing from one skill to another. What we are learning today is based on what you were supposed to be learning yesterday, and you will need to understand both if you have any hope of understanding what we are doing tomorrow.

Teaching literature and the arts - and to some extent history, the social sciences, classics - endeavors to train students to see the world a certain way: to look for connections, trends, things others might not notice. What we call the culture wars arise because conservatives believe that the current dominant model in the schools is an attempt to train children to see things in ways that ultimately favor liberal politics and that is screwing up the country: identity studies of many sorts, power imbalances, focus on narrative.  Liberals counter, with some justice, that we used to train children to see things in ways that favored conservative politics, and that's already screwed up the country.

I could make nice lists in each column for what viewpoints have been privileged, for how long, and who benefited, but I think that my readers know that I side about 70-30 with the conservatives on that and we'll say no more about it here.

What I am noting is that other than some information in each genre about poetic feet, or third-person omniscient, or archetypes, or notions of beauty, literature and the arts don't teach progress. You could teach freshman english to seniors, and senior english to freshman, with only some adjustment in presentation. Creating a habit of mind is what is sought, not only in reading but in seeing the world.

In school math, we draw an imaginary stalk leading from arithmetic through algebra and geometry on to calculus, at which point the field breaks open like a flower and there are a dozen directions to go. That is sorta true, but not really.  If we accept that "spreading out" metaphor, we see that it actually extends far back down the stalk. Even as far back as middle school, geometry, symbolic logic, and fractions don't really depend on each other that much.  Some, but not as heavily as advertised.  Because the same kids who are good at one are mostly the same kids who are good at the others, we can get away with the fiction that it still requires a progressive approach.  No. Each line may require some progressive approach, but the connections are already weakening.

Only 10% of students should be taking Algebra II and Calculus.  You can play with the percentages, but it's something like that.  And we know who that 10% is going to be by 8th grade.  There will be late bloomers and diamonds in the rough, or hard workers who were able to disguise themselves as capable of the abstract reasoning, and we can create systems to ease transitions from one group to another, but it's not many who are going there.

The math that the other 90% are going to need, day in and day out, to understand the lives they are going to be living, are probability and statistics.  A lot of this only takes a knowledge of arithmetic, plus some algebra and geometry. There is some progress of knowledge - and certainly both probability and statistics can get into some complicated math - but it isn't really progress that is needed.  It is habit of mind.  It is familiarity and comfort.  What does this graph say?  What does it hide?  Is a 50-50 chance good or bad in this instance? Where is the data from? What's a sample size? Is this trend dramatic or unimportant? Students need to live in this world for all of their highschool years, not so much to progress to some higher level of being a statistician, but to increase their comfort in living in this world.

Because right now, the people who know how to make graphs and screw with them are manipulating the people who don't, and it's one of the most powerful forces in our society.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Medical Care Conversation

A "person of some medical authority" (for those who are not regular readers, I work at a hospital, so fill in the blank of the limited number of positions this could mean) mentioned last week that he was not bothered by the insincerity of the central claims for the ACA being revealed as we went forward.  "Everyone knew that.  But they had to say those things to get it passed. It's one of the finest pieces of legislation in our lifetime.  Not for what it is, but because of what it will lead to." Someone worried that it wouldn't work, and much of the system collapse.  "So much the better," he said.  "It will get us there quicker."  He looked positively giddy saying this.

Of course, he often looks giddy, so perhaps I shouldn't hold it against him.

There were definitely voices in the run-up to the vote on the legislation who were quite upfront and vocal that they preferred single-payer...they thought this a barely-acceptable compromise...didn't see how this was going to accomplish what it promised.  I thought they were at least honest. Perhaps my "authority" was one of those, and I am suspecting him unfairly of hypocrisy.  But I've known him for 3 years or so now, and this was the first I'd heard of it.

I was reminded of the response to the Bill Clinton statements in 1998. He was accused of lying, but his defenders were adamant that it was all partisan attacks, that it couldn't be proven. Then it was allowed that he had lied about sex, but that was irrelevant to anything important. All the other accusations were considered unfounded.

By 2003 people's memories had changed.  "Everyone knew he was lying. But he had to." There was often some laughter associated with this.  Well of course, silly, if your goal is to stay in power then you have to do things like that. So it's okay to lie about...well, anything, so long as it's your liar and not theirs? Is there a Democrat today who doesn't acknowledge, and not even very sheepishly, that Clinton lied about a lot of things?

I wonder if we are going to hear this emerging gradually. Of course they knew you couldn't keep your health plan. We all knew that. (Laughter)

Please note that this discussion is entirely independent of whether the ACA is a good idea or not. It is method and basic honesty I am looking at here. It's troubling. In contrast, many people think Bush lied to get us into Iraq.  But you don't hear any of his then-defenders now saying "Well, but he had to, or he never would have gotten the support he needed."  If they were duped, they were honestly duped.

Language Myths

I have books on my wish list that basically be had for the price of postage, and sometimes will order up a few, especially before Christmas when I might (or might not) give them away as stocking presents after reading them myself. Books received are assumed to have been read by the giver in our family.  I hear that is considered impolite by some, but it only seems sensible to us.

Language Myths is about 15 years old, has an English/Canadian/Australian slant, and is pretty basic. There are twenty essays on common false beliefs:

The Meaning of Words Should Not Be Allowed To Vary Or Change
Some Languages Are Just Not Good Enough
The Media Are Ruining English
French Is A Logical Language
English Spelling is Kattastroffik
Women Talk Too Much
Some Languages Are Harder Than Others
Children Can't Speak Or Write Properly Anymore
In the Appalachians They Speak Like Shakespeare
Some Languages Have No Grammar
Italian Is Beautiful, German Is Ugly
Bad Grammar Is Slovenly
Black Children Are Verbally Deprived
Double Negatives Are Illogical
TV Makes People Sound the Same
You Shouldn't Say "It is Me" Because 'Me' Is Accusative
They Speak Really Bad English Down South and in New York City
Some Languages Are Spoken More Quickly Than Others.
Aborigines Speak A Primitive Language
Everyone Has and Accent Except Me
America Is Ruining The English Language.

If you believe any of these myths, then I guess you need the book.  If you don't, then I guess you don't. Not much new or advanced. Some of these are more commonly held by liberals, some by conservatives. There were some silly things written in the essays about women speaking too much and blacks being verbally deprived, but they are still myths, and the authors covered the territory.

Won't Be Getting Promoted

There was a Far Side cartoon of a classroom of hominids plus one less-gifted simian with the caption "Some of you won't be moving up this year." The Assistant Village Idiot will not be offered any of the vacated or newly-established full-regalia Village Idiot posts coming up in 2014.  I have overthought things again.  I blame the hat. And the song itself, of course.

I immediately concluded she was Death. I brought my wife in to see it. "So. Marriage as death?"

"No, she is Death."

She furrowed her brow and looked at me sideways.

"You don't think so? Hmm. Maybe I'll ask Jonathan and Ben." I watched it again. "No, you're right...not Death..." and really, Death might come as a beautiful woman, but not an adorable one.  Death Be Not Cute. Except maybe in Ireland...

The whiskey is reviewed here.  There are over 400 of these on Youtube.

via Grim's Hall

Friday, December 06, 2013

Luciadag and Traditions

In the comments under my Luciafest post, Staffan notes that some Swedish towns have a boy as Lucia queen now.  Another correspondent reports that she knows one of the Swedish women pushing for this, as they frequent the same feminist blog.  The reasoning is that since there is nothing necessary to the completion to the task that resides in one sex and not the other, each is on even footing. She adds that the woman is an atheist, which I at first thought only tangentially relevant, but after consideration, believe has some bearing on the issue.

First, whatever towns in Sweden are doing this, it’s their town and they can do what they want.  I don’t think anyone officially “owns” a holiday.  However in any tradition, I can see how any number of folks might believe they have an interest in it that should be respected.

Nothing necessary to the completion of the task.  I think arguments like this gain a foothold and sometimes even win the day because people aren’t prepared for them.  They pop up, seem to make a sort of sense, and the misgivings about it don’t have a ready answer.  Individuals, and even society is caught off guard.  I liken it to the reasoning of adolescents, as in my favorite example of an angry teenager complaining “I don’t tell you what to wear!  You shouldn’t tell me what to wear!”  It is almost reasonable.  It has some reasoning in it. It’s not fully wrong.  But it is missing some pieces, such as who is paying, at what pace the relaxation of authority is to take place, and who gets to make that call. We don't tend to have thought through all the issues of "What is tradition for?  Who is affected?  Where is this all going?"

This is a place where Obama’s “you didn’t build that” really does have a place.* The attempt here is not to ignore a tradition or try to stamp it out or belittle it, but to capture it for one’s own purposes.  The tradition has a power and influence, and those who want to change it are seeking to be the new queen bee, sawing off the head of the old queen while riding on her back, using her smell as a disguise so the hive does not revolt.  

And yet...

Whether one thinks they are reformers or usurpers might depend greatly on where one sits, but the notable point is that they don’t want to destroy the hive/holiday, but to own its power.  In some ways, that’s what the early Christian missionaries did throughout Europe, trying to redirect pagan customs into a more acceptable riverbed.  Martin Luther did not actually start the custom of Christmas trees out of nothing, charming as the story is.  Northern Europeans had been yanking evergreens around for winter holidays for centuries before that.  Luciadag incorporated the pagan tomten and star boys into the show, and the December 13 date was the Winter Solstice under the old calendar.  Reformer or usurper?  Lots of Christians over the years have objected to the tactic, wanting a cleaner break with superstition.  Co-opting the pagan influence for Christian purposes strikes them as – literally – a deal with the devil. Could be.  Are we paying the price for that now, as Santa rules?

My emotional response is that these modern Swedish women are insulting their grandmothers and great-grandmothers - Christian women who built the power of this holiday and tradition and would be appalled.  It’s a kind of kidnapping. (And no, I don’t believe that the Swedish Lutheran women of 1800 would be proud of their recent descendants in this.  I’m sure it’s fun to tell oneself that, but it’s rubbish.) However, as I noted from the beginning, it’s their town, it’s their country, and they also have some ownership of the tradition.  They are only doing what everyone does with traditions – remaking them according to their own values.  I don’t have quite the logical ground to stand on that I thought. 

When we attempt to build traditions artificially we find we have no materials available but other traditions.  Nothing with any power comes ex nihilo. The French renamed the days of the week and the months of the year after the Revolution.  It didn’t last.  There was no power and romance there. Even using the old elements, we find that we cannot make them do what we wish.  Esperanto never got off the ground, neither will Kwanzaa.  You can’t kill the birds and expect them to fly for you.  If the tradition is allowed to keep its own power, it goes on for a time and the additions/reforms/usurpations have something to feed off. European Christmas drew from Yule and Solstice and got to be a Christian holiday for centuries, though it never fully shook its paganism.  Now the religious holiday is nearly gone, because the secular forces did not forbid the tradition but only captured it for its own values – some good, some bad. But whatever power was left over will not be fully obedient to their new masters either.

It pays to ask why one would wish to remake the Lucia tradition at all if one is not Christian.  It's not yours. Or is it?  If it's just a Swedish festival with Christian roots, then maybe it is theirs.  More than mine, anyway. 

Well, it’s the attraction of cultural power.  This batch of Swedish feminists don’t want to make something new.  They want to make the tradition obey, them but still have the power to bring tears to Nana’s eyes.

Yeah, let me know how that works out.  In a generation, it will be an Esperanto or a Kwanzaa.


*It had a place in his use of it as well, but rather the opposite of what he wanted.  Yes, American businesses didn’t "build that" out of nothing.  They built it out of the rules for government and economy of their forefathers, of the networks and traditions of those who had come before.  I’m glad to honor them and give them credit.  Emphatically not out of the current government and society – those are also beholden descendants.  It’s one of the category errors of government-increasers.  They believe that everything good done by government two hundred years ago is to their credit now.  They tip their hand that they see the split as being between the rulers and the governed, across time and space, with themselves as the true heirs.  Very scarey.