Sunday, February 24, 2013


The country's most popular VBS curriculum company may do many things well. Perhaps distribution, or age-appropriateness, or choice of music, or whatever. My granddaughter seemed to like "Sky" last year, at least the music and crafts.  But the dialogue in their videos is not merely bad, but stunningly so. Bad enough that one has to stop and listen and analyze "What exactly is it about this approach that makes it so terrible?"

Our Bible study group had five families writing skits every Christmas for two decades.  Every single one of them had better dialogue.

My daughter-in-law noticed that Chatter's videos were somewhat better a decade ago.  "Maybe they had better student interns that year," she laughed.  But even then, not good.  Those who have followed Sunday School and church camp materials over the years will recognise one standard horror: the insistence on inserting a particular theological lesson into the content whether it fits or not. (What?  You don't think it's important that children know they can talk to Jesus when they're afraid? Are you saying we shouldn't teach them that God loves them?)  The expression is stilted as well.

This is why Veggie Tales took over the North American Christian Ed departments for a generation beginning around 1997.  They could write, and do plenty of stuff with animated facial expressions and voices.  VT was plenty didactic, and not entirely immune from forcing things at times, but the touch was much lighter.

Still, I may have it entirely wrong.  Just because it rings false to me doesn't mean it doesn't work for kids.  I similarly groused in Romania about the use of flannelgraph stories, a Sunday School staple from my childhood.  The Romanian children, in contrast, seemed to like them just fine.  Yet I am reminded that CS Lewis had a particular horror or writing in a patronising manner to children.  In his On Three Ways Of Writing For Children he deplores giving children what we do not like but think they will.


January's Smithsonian magazine has an article in it's "Time" series whether we should declare a new geologic era and name it after ourselves. The thinking is, human beings have changed the planet enough to warrant re-conceiving how we describe the eras of the earth.

A stratigrapher at SUNY, Whitney Austin, thinks it's ill-defined and "more about pop culture than hard science." I not only concur, I'll go him one better.  Note paragraph six of the article:
Some Anthropocene proponents concede that difficulty. But don’t get bogged down in the mud, they say, just stipulate a date and move on. Will Steffen, who heads Australia National University’s Climate Change Institute and has written articles with Crutzen, recommends starting the epoch with the advent of the industrial revolution in the early 1800s or with the atomic age in the 1950s. Either way, he says, the new name sends a message: “[It] will be another strong reminder to the general public that we are now having undeniable impacts on the environment at the scale of the planet as a whole, so much so that a new geological epoch has begun.”
"...sends a message"..."general public"..."undeniable"...

I am not seeing how this differs from The science is plastic. What's important is that people are taught to agree with our viewpoint.


I have gone on facebook, in order to comment on my sons' sites under my own name, not Tracy's. While I have had a cell phone little-used in the car for a long time, I am now carrying a cell phone and using it. I have decided there is one enormous advantage that texting has. People have to get to the point. Wish I could use that at work. This does sometimes result in messages from the teenager that seem curt or demanding, but we are learning to draw a deep breath around those.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dogged By The Dark

Via a Bible-study friend whose son-in-law is finishing up graduate studies at Notre Dame, comes this essay about depression, joy, and the existences of God from the Notre Dame Magazine. For most of us, it is a simple lesson that we nonetheless have to keep relearning. I think that is by design.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Via Maggie's a very discouraging post from Legal Insurrection. Discouraging, because I have nothing like the skills needed to combat this sort of politics. This is how we watch the world get away from us.

Captain Pugwash

Retriever may have some memory of this. It looks like a fun way to do retro animation these days. The theme song is a hornpipe I thought I recognised, but alas, was wrong. It is called the Trumpet Hornpipe in Britain, the Thunder Hornpipe in the US, and either way it's not the one I was thinking of.

All this led to Eluveite

and the whole genre of Folk Metal, an unusual European genre that seems rather intentionally pagan. Which adds up, once you think about it.

Back to the original topic: Pugwash was originally black and white, later colorised, and revived in the 1990's It looks like it would have been a fun part to have in one's childhood, much better than Beanie and Cecil

Seasons Of Friends

There was a day just a few years ago when I said to myself “I have a fair number of Jewish friends” and realised immediately that was no longer true.  I had a fair number of Jewish friends between 1960 and 2000, through school and work.  But that number dropped off toward the end of that period.  I also mentally corrected myself in an online discussion while thinking “Of course I have gay and lesbian friends.  Half a dozen of ‘em,” and realised no, that was true from 1972 – 1995, and after that, only two, really.  Since Mike retired, none anymore.

We do gravitate to similarity, though that can take many forms. Our work friends may look different than our social friends.  Our old friends may look different in another way.  Generally, our closest friends have been married couples with children near the ages of our own.  It makes visiting much easier when everyone has some counterpart.  At work, most people hang very much with their department, and I am a commented-on exception to that.  In the cafeteria, the doctors sit together, the social workers sit together, nurses, rehab, administration, housekeeping – everyone sits together. There is a further tendency to congregate by age: older nurses with older nurses, younger housekeepers with younger housekeepers.  These two together seem to trump country of origin.  The young Korean medical students do not even seem to exchange greetings with the older Korean nurses – ditto for the ex-Yugoslavs. Even I, connected all over the place, tend to gravitate to males over 50 when socialising at work, though department doesn’t matter so much. The other Christians at work also get more of my mental attention.

In a similar line of thinking, I recall going to my children’s sporting events and gravitating to the other Dads.  Does anyone socialise with the 15 year-olds just because they’re the same race, if there is an adult of any race nearby? Seriously?  Moms or grandparents would be the fallback plan. Kids get greetings, a few sentences, and a pat on the back. When the ages are similar, I notice people do segregate by race socially.  But age is stronger.

I thought of myself as having fundamentalist friends, but that too gradually ebbed as my children finished at Christian schools.  A fair number of evangelicals have fundie tendencies, but the full-out version?  1975-1995.  We all have seasons of friends.  As my need to keep children also entertained is evaporating, and my social life is increasingly conducted online, I think the next season will highlight new similarities with people.  Not that we ever know where such things are going.

Core Curriculum

When Jonathan was first looking at colleges, I got a copy of National Review’s guide to schools which had required core curriculum.  (I should note, BTW, that it was not a guide to conservative schools, as places like Columbia and St. Olaf’s were on the list.) There were 56 schools, including William and Mary, Grove City, and a few others that were already on his radar or ours.  After reading it, I told him I would be happy with any of the choices.  Asbury was listed and praised.  The reason behind their list was that one could get an excellent education at many colleges, there was more of a guarantee of this at a place that had required literature, science, and history courses.  I agreed fully with this sentiment, and leaned heavily on Jonathan to stay within those bounds.  This was less explicitly the case with Ben, but still a clear expectation. 

Looking back, this now seems like reminding Baptists that they want to have some water around for the revival meeting.  Whether we installed the broad knowledge culture in them or bequeathed it to them in their genes, they had it on board.  I do acknowledge that perhaps the early and explicit focus, including the sendoff, may have been the final push needed to make it happen, but I only say that out of obligation to appear open-minded.  I don’t really believe it. What actually resulted was their attendance at a school which reassured them they were on the proper track for intelligent young Christians.

I had already begun to question this value when Ben was 16 or so.  I recall a conversation with his (ahem) guidance counselor who was explaining to me that colleges really liked to see a well-rounded resume (as if he knew a lot about the topic), trying to convince me that Ben should do something-or-other activity.  I thought: Basketball, skiing, math team, school plays, church leadership, part-time job, great grades, great SAT’s, a couple of hobbies – if that’s not already enough…Y’know, that may actually be too much.  I think specialisation might be the new goal here.  And then I thought: The really competitive schools seem to prefer one exceptional ability, plus enough general ability to pass the other courses or go cross-disciplinary, don’t they?

Adopting two Romanian teenagers exploded the theory even more.

I wondered if I and my culture had thought it was a superior thing to be well-rounded rather than one of those monomaniacal guys with no social skills only because that plays to our strengths.  Yeah, you know the best kind of person to be?  One like me. 

I’ve changed my mind on that. I’m no longer even sure that being well-rounded is even a good way to go, never mind the best way.  Not that it’s ever that simple, of course.  Be great at something, the rest is for entertainment. Eh, sumus quod sumus, we are what we are.  I don’t think the option of sticking with a specialty was ever real for me.  I pick a new fascination every year or so, which allows me to just sort of top off my knowledge in that area as maintenance for another decade or two. Even in college, the summer before I expected to be in math but was already dropping that by freshman orientation.  I was immersed in theater for 2-3 years, then switched to medieval literature. Eventually my knowledge becomes dated enough, or misremembered enough, that it’s no longer a going concern. Neither of those subjects interests me much now. I still keep my hand in the game, I’ve collected a few dozen other topics along the way.  I no longer think of this as anything I deserve credit for. I cannot do otherwise, and wouldn’t be happy trying. 

Might be a better choice if you can manage it, though.

But Where Do We Draw The Line?

Linguist John McWhorter, who was the lecturer for one of the college-course-on-disk programs I listened to almost a decade ago, made the shrewd observation that one can enter a discussion on almost any topic, knowledgeable or not, by listening a few minutes and then inserting “But where do you draw the line?”

Humorous, but true.  That usually is what real discussions should be about.  In debates, by contrast, people posture and jockey for position by trying to paint the other side as absolutists.  They don’t wish to arrive at truth, they want to win. Better still, they hope to vanquish and banish.  Tribalism rears its head, almost reflexively.

So who did you think I was talking about just there?  The vicious anthropological clans I mentioned a few posts ago?  (I mistakenly left out the Napoleon Chagnon controversy, BTW,)  The abortion debates?  Whether Obama will negotiate with other elected officials?  Worship music?  AGW? Whether heredity or culture drive behavior? Whether chemically-enhanced athletes should be elected to a Hall of Fame? Affirmative action?  Core curricula?

Ooh, I have to write about that last one.  I am less absolutist than I was. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Evaluating The Science

James has a nice post about how to evaluate science announcements outside your areas of expertise - Rules of Thumb and Science Announcements.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ironies Abound

Maybe the guy on sports radio had set this up in advance this morning, and planned to just drop this line in and see who got it.  But I heard it live and it sounded off-the-cuff.  Admittedly, you can see why the idea might be lurking in the back of his brain.

He was commenting on Oscar Pistorius's change of story about shooting his girlfriend.  Now he is saying he thought she was an intruder and shot her through the bathroom door.  So the radio guy says "I don't believe that.  He said something else just two days ago.  That story doesn't have any legs."

In a related development, someone is leaving old textbooks on the "free" table at work, with little post-it notes that say "Free!"  or "Take me!" and little smiley faces. It takes on a whole different meaning when the title being donated is The Myth of Women's Masochism, and the post-it says "Take Me!  I'm Your's! =)"

I don't think we should continue to reason with people, even the smart ones.  I think we start telling our children to look into space colonisation.

Monday, February 18, 2013


NPR just had a piece on the Brooklyn Nets and the building of the Barclay Center.  New Yorkers can have whatever opinion they want about Jay-Z's involvement or Barbra Streisand's or any Russians or other rich people.  To me, it's just one more example of considering what happens in New York much more important than what happens anywhere else (except maybe DC).

It's our biggest city.  It's been our biggest city for a long time.  Well, fine.  It's not 50% of the country.  It's revealing that NPR, even though its announcers, writers, and employees come from all over the country, buy into the mystique.  The other big cities develop similar attitudes: LA, certainly - not to mention Second City and The Hub of the Universe. But nothing like New York.  Did you know that New York sports teams and neighborhoods are more interesting and important than all other teams and neighborhoods combined?  It's true! New York writers have proven this.

If literature and folktales are any evidence, this has been true in other times and places as well - Country Mouse and City Mouse.  "Provincial" meaning originally not Paris. Reading Mesoamerican history, it seems that Wari and Norte Chico and everyone else had the same attitudes, thousands of years ago. The Celestial City.

Let's give Silicon Valley some credit for helping to break the urban urbanity stereotype.

Walking In The Woods

I got to take a nice hike in the nearby woods - bless the local skimobilers.  It is a nice feeling to hear the wind but be mostly out of it, and to see interesting paths bending quickly out of sight, each promising adventure.  I went up steadily rising ground to choose the best of them, because over the hill, of course, is always the best adventure.  Except...

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I am rereading Charles C. Mann's 1491, liking it even better the second time.  After following the vitriol of the Greenberg/Ruhlen historical linguistics arguments over the last decades; remembering the sneers from my Mesoamerican professor when the first whispers came out of Cactus Hill* in the 1970's; the very nasty things said in the Mead/Freeman controversy; and the heaped calumny on the HBD folks, I am not surprised to read again about refusals to consider pre-Clovis, the condescension toward the High-Counters (and likewise in return), and half a dozen other discussions (Solutrean, Indo-European Urheimat, Yanomami) that seem to be carried on via eye-rolling and insult as primary intellectual offerings, I just have to ask:
Are Anthropologists just bigger jerks than other people? Do they just have an especially hard time considering other points of view?  Did they all go to those kindergartens where they were encouraged to express their unique personalities rather than take turns and share?
Stories:  I took half-a-dozen anthro courses at college.  I liked the professors better than average.  But I now recall only in retrospect how much of course time was devoted to attitude-training and political training.  There are no races, only clines, plus an extended discussion of how white people were actually more like apes** than black people were. Just so you knew. Same professor - a bit ironic, that. The Caribbean Cultures course was very much a colonial exploiters vs. peaceful, complex dark people exercise.  At the time, as a northern boy at college in the suspect South, I rather approved of their taking the time to make darn sure than none of those rural hillbillies left W&M with any ignorant political ideas.

Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of very cool stuff, and the Mesoamerican and linguistics courses carried no hint that I recall of any modern political or social implications - though when I provided one in a discussion of pottery decoration it was warmly received.  But one of the central values of the discipline, I believe, is to understand different-looking people and cultures and try to see them in context.  Other anthropologists seem to not be included.

Perhaps this is only because these are the academic debates I know about.

*I don't remember the actual site sneered at.  I am guessing it was Cactus Hill
**More hair, similar skin color

Friday, February 15, 2013


Dr B's post over at Maggie's prompts me to link again to this talk by Xavier Amador, a schizophrenia researcher who is also guardian over his brother with schizophrenia.

You don't need to know my comments or other milk-and-water explanations.  This is what you need to know.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Kyle came to us four years ago. A good thing.  An amazing thing.

We project that our lives will change gradually, according to our careful plans.  But in retrospect, life changes dramatically in an instant.  One day you're a dimly-aware guy with an oddly-distended wife, the next day your are some kid's Daddy.  You putter around and plan to be a harmless old drunk in a few years, and suddenly there are all these Romanians on board who need parenting (and they are Baptists, shocked by Christians near alcohol).  You are scouting out a propsed daughter-in-law, and unexpectedly a kid who turns out to be a lacrosse player has moved in and the DIL is history.

Now if only one of the dogs would die peacefully in its sleep.  Or both dogs...

Free Ham

This link has been cluttering up my email since mid-November.  I didn't realise my wife was in a free ham video.  She is the person who is on cameras the shortest amount of time, about 2/3 through.

She loves winning stuff. I have spent many unplanned minutes waiting while she fills out a contest card for something or other.  But because she won $4000 worth of kitchen cabinets once, I don't complain too loudly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Glottal Stop

I am noticing an increase in the hard glottal stop in the pronunciation of mitten and kitten, now more like mih'in and kih'in.  Soft glottal stops are already common in fountain, button, apartment.  (The purported increase in words like bottle or butter are actually voicings instead, turning them into "boddle" and "budder.")  I don't know if this is national or regional. Here's the odd part. It seems much more common not only among young people, where one would expect change to be more prominent, but among young women.  I may just notice it because my daughter-in-law is one, and the young woman I have worked most closely with the last five years is another.

Here's a fun article about Language Myths, BTW. I will no longer fight to remember to say "It is I." It's me is just fine.

Demographic Collapse

There continue to be posts about the below-replacement fertility of the countries of the West.   Japan, Greece, Italy, Germany, 1.4 children per woman.  Switzerland, Belgium (and China!) 1.5.  Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where they all love babies and pay big bucks to encourage them, 1.7.  (USA is right at replacement 2.1, somewhat immigrant and African-American driven). I wrote about that a few years ago myself, and it is a problem.  All you smart kids out there, stop incurring debt at college and go have children instead.

I don't read PJmedia that much anymore.  The percentage of stories that are right-wing cant without much thought, is great enough that wading through is a bit tedious.  That's a fault of my own short attention-span these days.  Lazy. Unwilling to delay gratification and all that.  I fear it will grow worse.

Because a lot of new and interesting things will show up on such sites.  Once something becomes mainstream - even niche mainstream - they have to start worrying about things being too far over the edge and not worth it.  See the excellent John Derbyshire, who occasionally cannot see his own blindspots but has the fearlessness of age and impending death, vs. the National Review, for example.  Way out on the fringes you will get those 10% of articles that are really groundbreaking and interesting, but you don't have to go that far.  Just over the edge, left or right, is where the fun is, if one is willing to do the work.

As I said, I'm not.  Hence, no PJMedia, even though sites I frequent link to some very interesting stuff there.  Let them do the heavy lifting.

So here is an article there from the long-anonymous Spengler, David P. Goldman, who turned out to be right on many things, and spectacularly wrong on only a few.  Not only is Europe - and to a lesser extent the caucasian Anglosphere except for evangelicals - well below replacement birthrate.  So are many Islamic countries. However much we think they are multiplying like rabbits and creating Eurabia, driving the growth of Western European countries desperate for young workers, that is an epiphenomenon. However oppressed the women are in comparison to their Western sisters, they are no longer having children at previous rates.  The game is changing, if we are willing to look at decades instead of today only.

It is one thing to have demographic collapse when you have a technologically sophisticated country, a diverse economy, and a lot of wealth.  It is quite another when you only have oil to sell and that is depleting, the average income is well below Western poverty levels, and all your ambitious and talented people are moving to the West.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Diets And Popular Christian Advice

Re: my objections to the many fads and trends in spiritual growth and church growth.  They are marketed, and explained, in the same way that diets are.  There is a continuing stream of things that just look like they should work, darn it.  This food should burn calories.  It only stands to reason that this timing of eating should be better. There’s an experimental tidbit that suggests women who ate/didn’t eat these animals/vegetables/minerals lost an average of 7 lbs, so doing that twice as hard for twice as long should result in losing 28 lbs.  Shouldn’t it?  There is a range of scientific evidence behind each of these diets, from credible to ludicrous.  Which, come to think of it, is one step ahead of many spiritual plans.  Those sometimes have an n=1.  One church, one pastor.  Sure, that should generalise to a billion people.

Can we try these on mice or something first?

I think I’ve made this analogy before.