Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Tale For Children

I recommend David Foster's post over at Chicago Boyz, prompted by the release of "Darkest Hour," A Tale For Children.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Playing the Manic Game

This paper* came out decades ago but is still fresh: Playing the Manic Game. I had long forgotten it, but it was passed around today.

The use of it is if you are enmeshed with someone with this diagnosis it helps remind you that this is not coming from you. Or, you may see yourself, and make changes.  I see a bit of myself in this.  More than a bit, actually.

The caution is that this is not true of all people when they are manic.  With a few, it is even quite untrue. Be slow to apply this to yourself or others.  When medical students are learning about diseases, they all hit this stretch where suddenly every symptom appears to apply to them.  This is doubly so of psychiatric illnesses. A second caution is that the population sample observed are folks in more intense episodes, or coming out of them.  People who just get hypomanic from time to time are much more fun than this. If one is coming out from a fully manic episode it may take a while for some symptoms to disappear, even weeks.  Coming out is harder than going in, and harder on those around them.

Of historical interest is that the authors are still trying to find the psychological meaning of all this, especially at the end. Why are these people doing this?  What do they hope to accomplish?  I would take a much more biological approach these days.  Some systems go into overdrive when mania sets in, and that has downstream effects.  They aren't trying to do anything.  They are responding to body stimuli.  In fact, many are trying hard not to do something.

*If the link doesn't work for everyone, put a bing on the title, and let me know so I can try to solve it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

More On Trump Supporters

A carry-on from the previous post.  I like to bring things forward into a new post because some people don't like getting into deep comments sections, so after about comment #9 it is the same four people endlessly. I have been one of those four people in a bunch of other discussions, but I don't think it's efficient, and it tends to shut out some good thinkers.

Both Donna B and Edith Hook wondered what my pool of Trump supporters is, with the suggestion that I was choosing unreasonably or even unfairly.  I don't think so, but judge for yourself.

In my liberal place of work I know of six people who are quite conservative, and I think most or all voted for Trump.  They at least don't have the huge objections to him that liberals and popular media have, even if they voted for the libertarian. They divide nicely.  Three of them are clearly reveling in the fight part of politics.  Trump is sticking it to the liberals and that's the first thing out of their mouths. Wailing Democrats is music to their ears. Mine too, though there are places where I go "Wait, that's just not reasonable." The other three don't generally talk about the day-to-day battling and the news, but are more concerned with specific issues.  One is irritated at the tax reform because he thinks it's mostly nothing, and he is distressed that Democrats warning "death, death, death" over it and partially succeeding does not bode well for tax simplification in the future.  He doesn't credit either Congress or Trump, because he doesn't think much credit is due.

My friends, mostly from church, who were Trump supporters were mostly reluctantly so.  They weren't comfortable, but the alternatives were so much worse that they didn't hesitate much. Let me pause to comment on Edith Hook's comment that "millions" got off their sofas, with the implication that these were new or very-infrequent voters who turned out for Trump.  That is not so, and it is the type of worrisome myth that is going to defeat us going forward if we can't face reality. There was not this huge sea-change in the electorate creating any mandate going forward. When all elections are close, a swing of a few thousands who voted for Obama or no one last time but showed up this time for Trump looks huge, but it's actually not.  Trump supporters are completely overlooking that the overwhelming majority of Trump's votes came from standard Republicans who just didn't want Hillary. If you think anything else, you are fooling yourself.

My other exposure to Trump supporters are posters and commenters at Maggie's, Neoneocon, Althouse, Powerline, and a few other shops.  I don't count the pro-Trump comments I encounter at bigger sites, such as Instapundit or the major news sites, or sites generally opposed to him such as National Review or more liberal sites because a) they might be trolls, b) they might be sockpuppets, and c) the people who go out looking for fights are not necessarily representative of the rest of humanity. I don't even read them.  I only read in places where there is a fair chance everyone is reasonable.

This pool of commenters is likely unrepresentative, because people who bother to comment are usually more intense.  However, I think the other limitations I have placed on who I read improves the picture.  Not all of these people are unreasonable, by a long shot. But a whole lot are, and they reinforce each other and start going down paths that don't square with recent history.

Example, you may think that George Bush was too nice and too much of a squish and therefore didn't get anything accomplished, so that's why we need a balls-kicker like Trump.  Except George Bush won the war in Iraq until Obama threw it away, remember? Winning wars is usually considered a fairly sizable accomplishment.  He inherited a recession and improved the economy despite a catastrophe until the people who were too good to vote for him stayed home in 2006 and we couldn't pass the regulations that Bush, McCain, and Sununu had been screaming about for a decade, and the economy collapsed and we got 8 years of Obama to boot.  So thanks a lot for that.  Blame the GOPe now.

So, people are going back and saying it was a bad idea to go into Iraq anyway, and we made some major mistakes early on, or never knew what our goals were, and such like. All true, maybe, but at the time, he was doing exactly what an enormous majority of conservatives said they wanted from him. And accomplished it. Everyone is entitled to second thought, but not to pretending they had always felt that way. Bush spent all his political capital on the Surge in 2006, but the piss-and-moan conservatives stayed home that year and we got lots of new Democrats. Those piss-and-moaners stayed home in 2008 and 2012 because they didn't like the candidates, and then blamed the Republicans who were left for not doing anything.

There were places I would have liked to see those Republicans go to the mat, and I agree that too many had gone native. But this four-legs good, two legs bad reasoning is for liberals.  I go over to conservative sites and I read a lot of Trump supporters, sneering and insulting people who agree with them 75% of the time and talking themselves into the idea that none of this would be happening if Trump weren't tweeting about True American Football Players grabbing their crotches.

I like the deregulation that's happening under the radar, and the judicial nominations, for which Trump relies heavily on the hated GOPe. I have hopes for this repeated-pressure foreign policy, though it could prove disastrous. I don't know if anyone could have gotten McCain, Collins, and Flake on board, but what Trump did din't work, did it? Kelly Ayotte would be Senator from NH if Cruz had been the nominee.  Are there others around the country like that?  Don't know.  It's at least a possibility.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Trump and his Supporters

A year ago, I didn't think much of Trump but I liked a lot of his supporters.  There has been a partial reversal of that.

One of the things I had disliked about Trump was his coarseness, which has significantly diminished since he became president. I have other objections, but for the moment I put them aside.  Those also are diminished, especially his unforced errors. I like some of what Trump has accomplished, and I don't mind saying so. Foreign policy remains the giant question mark, though I like what I see.

Perhaps I am misreading what his supporters are like, getting caught up in my irritation at the least-rational of them and ignoring the majority. It is likely that his people are not that different in personality than they were a year ago, and it is my impression that has changed.  Yet I am seeing a lot of commentary from people who seem to think that having a fight with your opponents is the solution to everything.  They like Trump because they see him as willing to fight, and don't enquire too closely what exactly that fight is going to be about. Trump is willing to fight, or at least, signal that he is going to fight if pushed.  However, his best-selling book is The Art of The Deal, remember? There is also this continued idea that they fought with the GOPe and defeated them, rather than competed against them and won their cooperation, however unwilling, because that's the way party politics works.

I suppose the GOPe may have looked at them in the same way if the roles were reversed. There was certainly history of that with Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin. The Democrats look at Bernie that way also.

Other than 1964, 1972 and 1984, Republicans have either won close presidential elections or lost them since 1940.  To believe that moving from a close loss to a close win is the result of the vindication of a small group of Americans is a first-order denial of reality.

Festival Worship

Reprinted from 2010

We have many cycles rising and falling in our year. Ancient peoples had but one, combining them all. Granting considerable overlap of holidays and seasons, we nonetheless have many calendars operating independently of each other. There is the school year, with its special punctuation – Christmas vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation, summer vacation, exams and report cards, fairs and competitions, end-of-the-year ceremonies, dances and proms, and graduation, which comes with its own traditional music, costume, cliches, and ceremony.

There is the sports calendar. Life begins on Opening Day of baseball, according to Tom Boswell, and so ends with March Madness, I suppose. In between there are not only the seasons of three major sports – including playoffs, drafts, off-season moves – but minor sports as well, each with their own devotees. These sports have identifiable associated costumes, foods, music, ceremonies, shrines, histories, and authorities. And that’s just the professional, spectator sports. Add in more calendar dates for kid’s sports and participatory sports. Fishing season. Ski season.

I haven’t even really gotten started with calendars. We have a national calendar, with civic and patriotic dates, each associated with special foods, colors…you get the idea. Plus a cultural calendar, with Hallowe’en, Valentine’s Day…work calendars, different in every industry, but powerful for those living in fiscal years or seasonal busy-ness…whatever is left of the religious calendar, which especially has identifiable foods, music, themes, and history…seasons of weather and of agriculture…Old Home Days and county fairs…family calendars of birthdays, anniversaries, and usual vacations…election cycles, Olympic years. The themes of anticipation, production, celebration, with a tear in the eye, nostalgic music, and comfort foods fill them all.

And within these are the cycles of weekday and weekend 52 times, beginnings and ends of months, often important.

What if all these cycles coincided and reinforced each other? What if everyone in the culture shared most of them and celebrated them together? I doubt we can even imagine very well, nor feel with similar intensity, what it would be like if all of this energy were put into one shared package, so that harvest festival was also religious festival was also family festival was also national festival. Yet this was the life that all our ancestors lived until a very few centuries ago.

With that picture in mind, let’s add hunger (some chronic, some from fasting), pilgrimage, infrequent communication with relatives…let’s step into that frame.

You are walking or riding to Jerusalem for one of the major yearly festivals, so you are tired, hungry, and dusty before you even get there. On the plus side, you are looking forward to seeing relatives, and tucking in to some of Aunt Martha’s seasoned lamb. Uncle Jacob is known to have a pretty free hand with the wine as well, and folks will talk and laugh far into the night. If you were a married female, moved to be with your husband’s family, this would have even more meaning, seeing sisters, parents, grown children who live away. Adolescents would have the mixed excitement/apprehension of potential betrothals – a key use of festival times. Along the road, travelers will occasionally sing the appropriate songs and psalms – the local variations from your village.

However much you may fear that God might be displeased with something you are or have done, you have complete assurance you are right in this. You are going where He wants, at the time He chose. You are going to the place He visits, or even partly dwells, and following in the steps of a thousand ancestors. Psalm 42:4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. There is the long ascent to the Temple, the psalms being sung with increasing agreement as the many families and villages come in, adjusting to each other’s order and variations. By the time you are halfway up, everyone in front of you is pretty much in concert, the whole mountainside singing the same words and moving forward.

You see the Temple, you sing the psalms, so this is a religious experience, focused on God. But the anticipation of seasoned lamb and seeing your little sister flit through your mind as well. There are foods brought for sacrifice alongside, and you are hungry, but soon you will eat. You reach the crest with the tired exhilaration that comes from an arduous physical task accomplished, and the camaraderie that comes from doing it with others. The sound of the musicians becomes clear, 288 trained, fulltime musicians, lifetime appointment, very skilled and heavy on the percussion, as you enter the courtyard, singing together. Don't think slow, peaceful Gregorian Chant - think marching band or military drums, Middle-Eastern style.

The priest or choir chants, the people roar response. Inside the Temple is cooler, incense-filled, wildly decorated. Every word is rarely used but completely memorised. You see Uncle Jacob across the way, arms raised, ecstatic, but eyes open. He notices you and winks.

Now that’s worship. And that’s a lot closer to heaven than cartoons of bored angels standing on clouds and holding harps.

Video in Worship

We occasionally have short videos in worship, and tonight we had two. They always feel like an interruption to me. I recognise that this is largely cultural, and that most of our current culture is more comfortable with short videos than they are with more traditional parts of worship.  I am also mindful that making these videos is how my second son makes his living, so I had best not kick them too hard. Yet it is at least a partially theological point and not just generational preference, that worship is participatory and communal.  Watching a movie is an individual experience, even when in a tightly-packed crowd, and takes me out of the community into my own head.  I do that fine all week, thanks. I am also not doing any worship at that point, merely reciving a report of someone else's worship.  Or so it seems.  Perhaps others are deeply aware of their community while watching a video, and are in some sense interactive with it.

I have not experienced the growing style of worship where one preacher is broadcast to multiple campuses, each of which has its own worship otherwise, but I suspect it would be a tough adjustment for me.

Update:  It occurs to me that it might not be videos in general, but a particular subset of them that appeals to our worship director (and maybe most people) but not to me.  There may be some that I find enhance worship. The more I think about it, however, the more convinced that a video, even when shown to a group, remains an individual experience, as opposed to a live enaction somehow. That would also apply to recorded vs live music.  There is sometimes too much of an air of performance about it, which is worsened by bringing in a recorded choir or artist. Professionals can generally capture the exultation part better than whoever you have in your congregation.  But they can't come near the participatory, communal nature of worship. It may be that people seek exultation rather than community these days.

They Do Not Balance

The Christmas story was read at late-night service tonight, and I thought of Garrison Keillor's telling of the story.  It is simply the best I have heard, and I hear his voice interwoven with the scripture as it is read. I have read that Minnesota Public Radio has excised his portions of "A Prairie Home Companion" from their archives.  This seems rather Soviet to me. It's reasonable to say to a person who has harmed others (I have not read what the accusations are, only that they are sexual) "You can't work here anymore. You can't stay here anymore."  It's what civilisation is and how groups protect themselves. But good and evil do not balance each other.  They do not erase each other. Each is solid and real.

If you have done some good thing, you have done it; it is to your credit. If you do something evil next year, it does not negate the good you did (unless it is a specific negation, such as stealing $1000 from a person you gave $1000 to).  Nor does the good you did in 2013 mean that the evil you did in 2017 somehow doesn't count and should be ignored.  That is how the world views things, to set up some balance scale of worth, so that a well-directed movie means we will overlook you having sex with underage females. God's measurement does not take place on the balance scale. The harm to girls is not negated by talent.

Peter the apostle declares that love covers a multitude of sins, but in its context I suspect it means within a reciprocal relationship.  Peter might be saying that if you love Lucy we'll overlook the fact that you kicked Ricky, but I seriously doubt it. Also, I think this is largely practical advice for living together, not a theological point.

The Scriptures don't record anything else that covers a multitude of sins. David brought his people freedom from oppression by the Philistines, but it was considered a serious matter that he sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, and with those acts, against the nation and against God. He also wrote (or collected or had written) psalms, but no one suggested he was above the law because of it.

It is a point I have known for years but keep forgetting, which is why preachers and teachers are necessary, even among those who have been taught. Perhaps in the longest of long runs omnia vincet amor, love conquers all. Love is more powerful than death.  Yet we live in the world between the First and Second Comings, and pain hurts. It is both comforting and horrifying to know this. All things of God are both comforting and horrifying to know. I have done hurtful things, some not even noticing them as I have swept by and injured someone, in my self-centeredness; some I am still deeply aware of, years later, amazed that I could do such things. For those I know, I hope that they show forbearance because I have also done them good. Yet many are beyond the reach of my ever doing good to them again. They are far away, or dead, or so badly sinned against that even my presence might be painful to them.

In my early twenties, my father said something to me about his own father.  You should know the context that my father had done terrible things which caused my mother to divorce him, and so his sin came against me, who now had no father. He also did kind and good things for me, and most of my adult life we were on good terms, and he did not hesitate to apologise again whenever the painful topics came up.  Yet like all Wymans, he did at times blunder on and not notice what he was saying in the context of telling a good story, and could hurt me again, unnoticed. Al was the son of Carl, the egg man for Chelmsford and Westford, who was no one's idea of an intellectual or a great man. 6th grade education, few accomplishments beyond survival. Al admitted that he was ashamed of Carl when he was young.

Yet later in life, when Al had somehow wandered back into church and become serious about his faith, he told me he had been brought up short by the realisation that Carl had no enemies, while Al had more than a few. I nodded and kept my face blank but was shoved five steps backward myself.  I was still young and already had enemies - some I would never be able to make things right with. I create a few more of those every year, and arrogance is usually the spark. I hope that I do good in the world.  No, that is false modesty.  I know I have done some good in the world.  But balancing one's good and evil in the world is part of other religions, not Christianity. They do not balance.  Each is separate, hard, and irreducible.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Venit Si-Aici Craciunul



I think this translates as "Christmas Comes Here."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Romanian National Anthem

I missed the December 1st anniversary. Next year will be the big one.

Homeopathic Racism

Update:  Please see comments about where I got some of this wrong.

Update 2: I don't know that I have ever deleted a post entirely.  I have vague memory of it but can't tie it to a subject.  I got this wrong enough that it should come down.  There are parts of it I still like.  The concept of people getting overexcited by homeopathic dilutions of racism, sexism etc is worth keeping and I may bring it back soon.  But the person I accused of this didn't do what I claimed she did.  I researched her original paper, but not her surrounding comments when it hit the news, and that changed everything. It concerns the description of "Jingle Bells" as racist, and the professor does not think the song is still racist today.  She was just pointing out that its origins are a bit worse than we might think.

I am thanking Richard Johnson for putting me on to the complete story.  Sorry to be deleting the comments.

As I am teaching a Sunday School class on the Ten Commandments starting in about a two weeks, and have decided that the directions not to bear false witness are much more expansive than I have observed before, I figured I had better delete the whole thing, regardless of how clever I thought some of the writing was.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Resentment

Much of resentment at an individual level comes from "they never noticed me." I was the best fielder with the 2nd best OPS on the team...I was the girl who stood by you when everyone was blaming you...I was your best salesman 6 out of 8 years...I was the son who never got in trouble...

This plays out similarly at a group level, or even a national level.  The study of history used to be only the study of wars, boundaries, and succession. Religious and economic history were studied only as they related to those "more important" subjects.  Those who went unnoticed complained. The best of them did more than just complain and wrote up the missing parts of history. When we studied social history - food ways, marriage ways, attitudes toward death, parenting ways - the history of women just pops in on its own. When we started studying economic history, questions of trade, mobility, slavery, law, inheritance, agriculture, mining, and technology just came in on their own.

Canada resents us a bit, not because we treat them badly, but because we just don't notice them a whole lot of the time. Racial complaints about advertising, TV casting, and hiring did often refer to active ill-treatment.  Yet more often, the complaint behind the complaint is "you don't notice us." It may be the larger problem in America. The amount of active mistreatment of minorities is now small, whatever the advocates claim.  But the ignoring of minorities remains common.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Twelve Cellos of Christmas

In my next life, I want to come back as a cello.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

These lyrics are sung to many tunes, but this is the carol we have sung nightly throughout Advent for years. The older boys grew up on it.  The three younger ones did not encounter the custom until they were teenagers and never quite embraced it, nor the short liturgy of the season. I did the liturgy alone this year, one night when my wife was not home.  I heard their voices around the table, even though they weren't there.  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light...



Sexual Harrassment

I have not offered much opinion because I don't have much opinion.  I can see why victims getting a chance at some justice, and providing warning to others is a very useful thing.  I can see how this could get out of hand and become like (some?) college campuses, where the accusation is the conviction, no defense allowed. I remember, with some annoyance, how the sexual harassment training at work changed in 1998 and gradually returned to its previous track. I see politicians angling to protect themselves and find out how to inflict maximum damage, such as Democrats thinking maybe Franken shouldn't resign, now that the Alabama election is over and they can return to empty promises. My supposed usefulness is in pointing out the obvious.  It's all obvious, and competing obviousnesses at this point.  I don't see much value-added my analysis would give.

Refugees - Part II

There are people on both ends... er, all points of the political landscape who make no clear distinction among the people not born in America who come to live here. They don't obscure these distinctions for the same reasons. Some just don't like people who come from other places, especially if they are different in appearance and don't have English as their first language.  There's no good denying that such people are out there. I've met them live, and the ones online can't all be sock puppets and trolls. Hell, some of them aren't convinced that letting in so many Irish, Jews, and Italians was a good idea.

There may not be many in pure form, but there is a continuum, and we can sense that there are others who are influenced by such thinking somewhat.  The people of the left assure us that all opposition to immigration is mostly just that, with maybe some economic self-interest thrown in.  The evidence for that largely consists of a) the fact that many people assert that it is so, and they are the best people, so they must be right and b) examples can be found of the pure form, and the opponents do not spend their entire lives denouncing them.

Elsewhere, no distinction is made among arrivees in order to accept and provide support for all of them.  They are here, or on the launch pad to get here, and they have suffering we could ameliorate, so we should do that.  No human being is illegal* and all that. I have considerable sympathy with that point of view in terms of our individual behavior with those we encounter. At it's simplest level, God put them there, the Old Testament tells us how we should treat strangers and the New Testament is pretty clear about generosity to all. When people come to our hospital they get treatment. Whatever political events there are in the background are irrelevant in the Bible. Person, need; Christian, give.**

Yet as we live this out in a practical way, it gets complicated and contradictory very quickly. This is not just because it is America, and as citizens we bring our Christian sensibilities to bear on political questions, while also retaining a responsibility to fellow-citizens. Most of the complications would be the same in any culture. In shortest form, when we influence the society we live in to give any thing of worth from the common storehouse, we are giving away something that does not belong to us.  That would include safety, food, education, shelter, medical care, money - these things are not entirely ours to give, even in a tribe of 150 in Papua New Guinea. In America, we come quickly up against the wall of giving away jobs (or finite governmental support) that current citizens might have some claim over.  These are not who would immediately come to mind.

It is for this reason that Jacques Ellul declares that Christians should never have gotten involved with government and power at all - because it introduces contradictions and prevents us from the simple Gospel demands of generosity. In my recent post on Ellul, commenter Dave linked to his 1980 essay on Christian anarchism. (We'll see if the link to a pdf works. If not, I'll restructure it.) It is not what we are used to reading; not in America, not in Europe, not even in the Orthodox tradition, though that has closer elements.) I will likely go over my general thought on that in the near future. Unless we go fully in that direction and renounce power altogether, however, we are stuck with complications.  Some regions and employment sectors experience this more sharply. At what point does the sojourner become a coloniser? What's the number, or the density?

And also - if we are determined to give, is bringing people here the best way to help them? Isn't a protected portion of their own country, or a culture more similar to their own kinder (and way cheaper)? We could give some other country a lot of money, who could more successfully and efficiently integrate these people. I've seen some refugees who have been here for years who are still sorta helpless, as are their children.  Among legal immigrants, should we be draining the best talent from other places?  It works great for America, but it is generous to the needy of the world?  Or even more abstract, as with the founding fathers, should we be helping in any way other than exporting the ideas which would bring them better government?

Well, I have asked questions, not answered them, because I think the tension between our calling as Christians and citizens doesn't have clear lines. If you have some, I'd be glad to entertain them.

*Hey, thanks for giving your blessing to the European colonisers of the New World, even the worst of them.
** The philosophical foundation for those without a religion demanding generosity is not clear to me. It seems feelings-based, the sad puppy faces of people who merely ache and want to do something. Who of course therefore rob Peter to pay Paul. Or worse, they want to induce discomfort in their fellow-citizens who will absorb the main cost, in their neighborhoods, in their schools, in their employment applications. Virtue-signalling is cheap to the signaller, but some hidden figures have to pay.

Wyman Christmas Letter - 2017



Family Reunion  All five sons (Jonathan, Benjamin, John-Adrian, Chris, Kyle), two daughters-in-law (Heidi, Jocie), and all four granddaughters (Emily, Sarah, Aurora, Quinn) were here for at least a week around the 4th of July, and my brothers Jonathan and Scott, Scott's wife Karen, and Scott's mother Ruth  came for a full reunion day on the 8th. Only Tori and Drew were missing, because of work commitments. Even Hank (see below) made it into some family pictures. Shockingly, we talked a lot. JA, Jocie, Aurora, Chris, and Ben took a side trip to New York, which of course involved problems with the GPS and getting lost, which was someone else's fault. Family bonding! 

Glad We Didn't Pay For Reindeer  We visited Chris in Tromsø in early May, and it was like landing in a National Geographic special. There was still snow just a little way up the mountains, which plunge steeply into the sea. Though the sun technically set, it never got dark, and Chris had to supply us with blackout curtains to sleep.  Driving was difficult until we figured out about the island's tunnels and the Norwegian fondness for sending you in a sharp right loop when you want to turn left. We wanted to do all those Arctic Circle tourist things like seeing reindeer, as well as see Chris.  He works on the main island but lives on another to the north and west, Kvaløya. The tourist sites listed several Reindeer Adventures at nearly $200 apiece. Glad we didn't sign up, as reindeer are just everywhere along the road, a sort of free-range cattle of the Sami people. They taste good, too.  Chris took us to see fjords and the little villages that cling along the sides of them. Tracy got to see unusual birds, including a Eurasian Oystercatcher and a White-Tailed Eagle. 

"The Descent Might Be Tricky"   David has gotten himself up in some slippery places on his local hikes, and will sometimes text the above to the entire family from a summit when he wants to make them nervous. Once last January, the descent was quite tricky and he sustained a sprain serious enough to keep him limping for weeks.  It all goes to illustrate one of his favorite lines: "Exercise is bad for your health."

"He's Just the Funniest Man!" Tracy volunteers at least six places, mostly teaching and tutoring.  David sometimes helps with the preschool Sunday Schoolers, some of whom have been very complimentary. She gets hugs instead.

"I Liked the Dead People Best"  Tracy took Sarah and Emily to Circus Smirkus, which had a "Night At The Museum" theme this year. In good constantly-educating fashion, Nana asked the girls what they liked best. "I liked the dead people best," said Sarah.  We think she meant the mummies.  We hope that's what she meant.

"Hank Is My Favorite Grandchild"  Jonathan, Heidi, and the girls moved to Goffstown, about five minutes away. They bought an automatic lawnmower, more common in Europe but new here - something like a Roomba for your lawn. The girls named him Hank and I could watch him indefinitely, even in the rain. Fascinating, and he seems more than a pet.  I expect to come over and find Hank making bacon and eggs some morning. I haven't started reading aloud to him yet, so I guess the four girls are still ahead of him in my affections.

"I'll Just Have Beans and Cinnamon Toast."   Disaster preparedness includes knowing what to eat first when the power goes out, so when the floodwaters of Harvey islanded Ben in his neighborhood, then his house, we were concerned how long he could go. Not to worry. He has reserves of food - just not much variety after the first 48 hours. He came through fine, but the aftermath was emotionally difficult, filming the wreckage and trying to draw attention to the needs of people who had lost family. He is videographer at a new church this year, First Methodist Houston, which is downtown.

"I'm Taking My Game to Dunbarton"  Kyle moved into a house with two other guys (what could go wrong, eh?) and announced it in dramatic fashion. He copied Lebron's method of teasing it, with two marked but covered hats, holding each out, looking at one and then the other, before putting one on and saying "I'm taking my game to Dunbarton." He bought the long-awaited Jeep, works at the post office in Concord, and is still in the Army Reserve, though he has grown a bit weary of the latter.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Teaching Yourself Hatred

I have mentioned here at least once the principle of getting someone to like you by asking them to do a favor for you, rather than by doing a favor for them.  You might remember the story of Ben Franklin getting a political opponent to lend him a difficult-to-obtain book, and that creating a relationship of cooperation.

It occurs to me this morning that this likely occurs with hatred as well.  If you do something mean to person, such as throwing them under the bus to colleagues, or losing your temper, then they must be a bad person, because you, a good person, would not otherwise treat someone that way. It likely intensifies or solidifies as we go forward.

If you treat people well, you will like them better.  They might not be any better, but you will think so.  If you treat people poorly, you will learn to hate them. You might make them worse people by doing so, certainly, yet even if they remain unaffected, you will perceive them as worse.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Refugees, Part I of God-Only-Knows

I find as I compose this in my head that it ends up being a manifesto for a great portion of my Christian beliefs.  It keeps leaking out into other topics, which deserve at least some commentary to avoid being misunderstood. Alas, I find that usually, the longer I go the more I am misunderstood.

Refugees are a lot more work than most other ministries. They are more helpless than the ambitious, even devious others who try to come to America to get ahead.  That doesn't mean that they all are helpless, and will never find work, and will always need people to rescue them. Most of every tribe on earth is composed of people who know how to do some work or be trained, who know how to get along with others, have some idea of how to bring up children, some way of dealing with conflict. Some refugees were persons of education and cleverness in their previous culture. If you know 100 refugees who have been here a decade, almost all of them will have at least some employed family member, will have found a network But most is not all, and a larger percentage of refugees than other immigrants will never quite figure it out.  Their children are wildly over-represented in needing special services and interventions. Their crime rates are high, especially WRT crimes against women. I can assure you that they are high users of public mental health services. They are over-represented in food stamps, on Medicaid, on disability. A lot of this is temporary.  A lot of it is not.

So when Christians agree to take in refugees and help them adjust and get launched, they are binding the rest of their society in to absorbing some of that cost. It used to be that people could come only if they had sponsors, and I think some version of that is still true. Most church groups do this responsibly and do most of the work, getting people into jobs, and apartments they can afford. We did a lot with Laotian refugees in the early 80's.  We did a lot with Sudanese refugees until recently, and still contribute heavily to their church. In between, I have had lots of refugees at the hospital.  Southeast Asians and Africans, mostly, but some Slavs, in small waves. One of the additional difficulties is that refugees usually do not have an ethnic community they can connect to, of people speaking their language, giving them advice, helping them out with small things, providing networks for jobs. Immigrants from Mexico, Brazil, or the DR have that.  Bosnians and Dinka do not.

It's hard, and churches that take on this ministry are not able to do other things. Once a church has decided that this is its calling, then that may be less important. I am of the school that says "You put your money on 32 red, and where the ball lands you live with it." If God sent you there, that is some comfort that even though it is impossible and you may not succeed, you are in His will. Once they are here, you don't have much choice.

If you are one who is doing this ministry, then I think you have some heightened say about how many more the society around you should take.  In America, you do not have anything like authority about that, but I think you should have influence, both for the positive and the negative. We can do more.  Get us some more.  Approve some more. Though also We can't do more. Our people are stretched.  If you can't find other people to take this on, then those over the sea must wait. What I dislike greatly are those who say that "we" can take more in order to signal how virtuous they are, when they have no intention of doing more than dropping by and saying something encouraging. They are forcing other people in their society to work - a kind of slavery.  If you are insisting that America take more refugees, then you had damn well be one of the ones teaching English, driving to appointments, or directly contributing lots of money. I might grumble about carrying extra weight, but if you are shouldering the primary burden, then I will honor your work as fellow citizen and take my turn.

If you aren't, then I hate you.  Really, I do.

Lo

Didn't like this version at first. I usually insist on hearing the harmonies in equipoise. But it grew on me quickly.



Liked this, too. We sang this in the car a lot when the boys were young.

Leaks

Here is another word that has changed in meaning, and so deceives us now.  When  one hears that something is a "leak," the image is one from physical reality, as a leak in a bucket or a balloon.  It is something unintentional, an indication that something has gone wrong and is a problem.  By analogy, when a news source reports that something is "leaked," it carries the image that the clever reporter got some incautious should to reveal something he should not have, or that an individual or small group within an organisation were acting against orders and secretly let out information for their own purposes, or nobly, for the good of the public.

This is no longer remotely true, if indeed it ever was. A leak is a carefully-managed bit of information.  There is nothing accidental or unintentional about it.  News organisations perpetuate the myth because it makes them look clever, providing a service to the public. They are actually providing a service to the leakers.

I am told that the Washington Post is the house organ of the federal agencies, including our intelligence services. All of the news agencies work from sources they have cultivated and give off the impression that they have dug deep and are shining the light of truth on events, but in terms of the federal government, WaPo is king. In their minds, they are performing the service of telling us what is "really" going on.  I suspect they mostly believe that. It is even somewhat true - nothing could long sustain if it had no truth whatsoever.  But it is a highly managed truth, in the service of anonymous sources.  The word "leak" is misleading.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Net Neutrality

Am I for this or against it?  I haven't put any effort into thinking about it.

ESPN and Racism, Sexism

There's a lot of commentary in the conservosphere that ESPN is losing customers because of their unrelentingly liberal politics.  Well, maybe. I don't think I would like it much better if they were unrelentingly conservative in their politics. The line always is "These issues are important! We can't refuse to talk about them.  We have a responsibility..." Yeah, sure. I think they are important, too.  I do want to hear about them.  Just not from sportscasters and athletes and coaches.  I don't care about Tom Brady's take on racism in the NFL, or Bill Belichick's. I might, might be interested in Richard Sherman's take.  Yes, his main qualification is that he is a great athlete, but he has secondary qualifications of being intelligent and thoughtful.  Mouthy, I'm not thrilled with, but I can endure it.

So a few minutes of Sherman, maybe.  Stephen A. Smith has interesting delivery, so a few minutes of him.  But why on earth should I be interested what Mike and Mike think, or Jemele Hill?

Nu Tandas Tusen Julejus

This was fun to find.  We just sang these for Luciadag.


Christmas Parang

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Racism

Related to the previous post: Sometimes in a comment thread a person will claim that the writer or some of the commenters are "racist" because they believe there are measurable differences among races. If one goes browsing around the online dictionaries, there is some diversity of definition, with one requiring that race be the primary determinant of some characteristic while another only mentions race as one factor.  Some definitions lean heavily on included meanings of superiority and inferiority. One dictionary goes so far as to label any belief in differences in races at all as "racism."

It is often hard to be precise.  Yet surely one requirement must be that all uses of letters in the same order cannot be interchangeable in every setting.  If that were so, I would be congratulating my patients on their good fortune when I tell them they have outstanding charges.

Diversity: Meaning Change and Fashion

The word diversity has changed, acquiring a related but separate meaning. It is a political, not a scientific or literary meaning. If you don't know that, and insist on using the word as if it has not moved, you will seem to be a bigot. In addition to the previous meaning of "variety, multiplicity, heterogeneity" it now means "showing conscious respect for previously disadvantaged groups, especially African-Americans." You will not find this meaning if you look in dictionaries (though this will be coming soon - modern dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive and don't care what people think a word should mean). Yet if you google "diversity" and look at the autocompletes, you will see that the new meaning is already the more common one in popular culture.

Therefore, when some Ohio senator tweeted that diversity is not a strength, assimilation is the strength, he was assailed from many sides.  His statement, according to the old meaning, is not only true but blindingly obvious. Only a fool could disagree with the first half of that statement.  The second half - well, it's going to depend on what one means by "assimilation," but I'll bet I would agree with him.

However, his critics took him as if he was using their more modern and fashionable meaning, as if he was saying "It's not important to show respect to black people, or gays, or women, or Hispanics, or whatever. Keeping them invisible and powerless is okay." Do those attacking him not understand what he meant? I am tempted to say that they understood him entirely, but they want an excuse to attack him, and to insist that their meaning - their culture, their fashion, their signalling - is the real one. There is a real boot-stepping-on-a-face-endlessly nature to this.  It is Newspeak, where only the special ones understand, and they get to punish those who must be evil because they aren't woke. Liberalism is sustained by fashionableness, after all. I have no doubt whatsoever that this pretending to not understand is a fair accusation against many in The Resistance.

And yet...I am not now coming of age with words as they are currently used.  I am old, and my reading and culture ally me with generations prior even to my own. I don't really know how thirtysomethings hear the word now. They might not be pretending to misunderstand (as one of the nastier critics,  John Podhoretz clearly is) that use of "diversity;" they might actually think there are two meanings, and have leapt to the conclusion that because it's about politics, the political meaning is the true one. Some are dishonest.  Some are indoctrinated. I cannot discern between them.

****

Additional note. Most of my black friends vote consistently Democrat, but many are not especially political, or are at least not public about it.  Those few who adopt more of an advocacy stance are very liberal, very confrontive.  I notice that they uniformly pronounce the word "die-versity," and absolutely only mean black people, not gays or folks with disabilities or Asians. The nuances of that are going to be clearer to an African-American who keeps up with politics than they are to me.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Visualisation

 Lelia linked to an interesting article about the ability to visualise objects. I had not much thought about the topic. Just a bit from time to time over the years.

I don't miss body language and visual cues that much, but do find I am much more attuned to tones of voice. I can picture things, especially geometrics - even complicated ones. But I don't picture them all that vividly. The colors are seldom vibrant, and the images dissolve and have to be refreshed frequently. Unsurprisingly, I do not much enjoy description in novels, preferring plot and dialogue. When I finally broke down and watched The Lord of the Rings I was quite grateful to Peter Jackson for providing such wonderful scenery and monsters.  I was less pleased with the bodies and faces of the people, which did not entirely match my own.  However, neither had the still illustrations of the characters over the years much convinced me either, and his were better than most.  I could make the adjustment.

I did not adjust to the voices of the characters no matter how long I watched, except for Sam, who sounded much like my own read-aloud voice for his character. (I have read the entirety aloud three times in my life.  Gollum can really damage your voice.)

This may explain why I have found writing fiction difficult, even though dialogue just springs naturally, and seldom needs much rewriting. I do not consistently describe things well.  There is a range, and I will occasionally hit it just right, but more often it is pedestrian, lifeless. This weakened visualisation may also explain why I consider film a dangerously powerful medium and tend to avoid it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Mannheim Steamroller Concert

I lost The Little Drummer Boy Challenge on December 5 this year.  I went to a Mannheim Steamroller concert, and of course it was on the bill.  I should have seen it coming.

I was even more annoyed because their version, including the accompanying video, was so poor that I could not even get any enjoyment to compensate. However, analyzing why it was so poor revealed to me a good deal of why the entire concert was disappointing, so it gave me something to think about, and now write about.  So I think it's a fair trade after all.

They have not updated the arrangement since 1988. They have not updated any of the arrangements. This may not be bad in itself, if you created a classic the first time or got exactly what you wanted.  That's not likely when it's every song. Now, it just sounds like they're stuck in the 80's. The world did not go in the synthesizer direction. Chip Davis was creative, with unusual arrangements of older music - lots more drum, synth, bass, and percussion than we were used to. You liked it or you didn't, but it was an attempt at something new. Now they've added a Genesis-style light show and some mostly-irritating videos to musicians performing their CD tracks.

"The Little Drummer Boy" video was about a toy drummer, 
plus a lot of other Christmas toys being woken up to dance and play at night after Santa's elves have gone to sleep. Ah, so you didn't actually listen to the lyrics, then, did you? Davis has always been a bit strong on the Magic of Christmas nonsense and sentimentality, yet I did think there might be something Christian in there. Listening to the 1988 version in that context, with its mechanical effect, it is clear that a toy drummer was his intent from the start.  I'm surprised I never noticed it before.

"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" has this video of a guy in medieval costume saddling up and then riding a horse across fields.  Hard, as if on some errand. This made no sense. I eventually decided that it was merely a superficial response to the archaic phrase in the title.  It's medieval, doncha get it? So we have this medieval guy. This was confirmed when the video ended at a moated castle, with a baron and baroness waving behind the parapet. When Chip Davis's daughter Elyse sang "Greensleeves," she had green sleeves.  Nothing in her vocal or facial expression showed the least connection to the lyrics. "Angels We Have Heard On High" had this journey through space with ethereal angels in diaphanous gowns looming up repeatedly on the screen, reminiscent of Star Wars - A New Hope just before they would go into hyperdrive. Passing planets on the way, too close together. "Carol of the Bells" had these vaguely demonic modern interpretive dancers arranged on the screen - very 70's choreography.

There was some non-Christmas music as well, very space-and-light-show, techno sound. To which I can only say far out! 

 We were about average age for the concert audience, maybe even a bit young.  Chip Davis is the Lawrence Welk of our generation.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Dogs That Didn't Bark

Documents long held confidential about the JFK assassination were released recently.  I expected there to be a significant uptick in old conspiracy theorists dragging out their wares and placing them out on table in the market for buyers to peruse. There was a flurry about some little thing in the first day or so.  I don't even recall what. I haven't heard anything since thing, suggesting that there really isn't anything to add.  Dogs would be barking, but there are no dogs barking. It is a shortcut I am taking, because researching this doesn't rise to level of importance. 

The whole Seth Rich story rose up and died down months ago. There was a thought that because he was a strong possible of who leaked the DNC emails that his death may not have been accidental. It all seemed like a Robert Ludlum novel right out of the gate.  There were odd details about the robbery.  The work of a private detective kept the story going for a while. But his parents said it wasn't true, and liberals said it was mean to pursue it because of that. (Though in a Robert Ludlum novel, the parents would also have been threatened, so why would their opinion be decisive?) Whatever agency was investigating it determined that there was no need to go further and dropped it. Anyone bringing it up afterward was dismissed as a paranoid right-winger. Until Donna Brazile, of all people brought it up again. She barked. She was worried that her life was in danger because of the information she was revealing about Democrats, and specifically referenced Seth Rich. So she thought her own people capable of this, enough to say it right out loud.

But since then no other dogs have barked.  There are people much more paranoid and obsessed than I am out there who have informed themselves about all this and run through the various speculations.  I have to figure if there were some reason to bring this back they would be trying to work it in at every turn. I use my shortcut again. Researching this does not rise to any level of importance for me. I rely on the fact that no dogs are barking.

Yet this morning it all got weird.  I had a third example, but the dogs just started barking again. I have a great deal of admiration for the uh, doggedness of Judicial Watch. Real documents which the government doesn't want to release. So maybe whether dogs are barking or not isn't as good a shortcut as I thought.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Animosity

Burrowing again into Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, I find Olmstead making an observation I had not known, but should have realised. Americans in 1850 had much more resentment and enmity toward England than England had for us. We had had no other military foes in our existence, so events of forty or seventy years previous still loomed large. Boys at games played at Americans versus the British; bad laws were assumed to descend from England.

The English rather liked us, regarding us as rowdy younger brothers.  Most agreed that the American colonies should have become independent, as King George was indeed wrong. Not one in a hundred even knew there had been a War of 1812. Britain had been at war with half the world by then, and were more focused on France, Spain, or Germany. "The uneducated, common people in general know no difference between America and Russia." They enquired about us with an eye to emigration, for themselves or their children. They approved of our form of government and wish they had more of it. Even among the wealthier - though Olmstead did not meet any aristocracy - this was so.

One thing they held against us, slavery, which they believed was equally practiced and shared in throughout the United States. They could understand such a thing occurring in more primitive places, but not in civilised lands. They believed only the worst of the exaggerated stories (Walks and Talks was written before The Cotton Kingdom, and Olmstead still thought the reports about the South to be one-sided), though that is always true of news from far-off places.

Another note:  Olmstead seldom if ever uses the name "United States," it is always "America." I wonder if that was more common in the North, where the concept of union, and commonality, was stronger.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

German Antisemitism

Gringo buried a fascinating link in the comments over at Maggie's, about the antisemitism of Germans, and the possibility that much of the refugee immigration was tolerated in order to get rid of Jews. It seems a stretch to think of this as a plot, but as a convenient development it is plausible.

The author is ex-leftist journalist Melanie Phillips.  English, Oxford, my age, now more right-wing identified (though not on all issues). Worth a look, I think.

Advent

James mentioned in the comments (look it up, it will do you good) that Advent was a penitential season.  If I would like to reclaim Christmas, it would likely take something radical like a fast of some sort, or it would just be a Good Intention, forgotten by Tuesday.

I don't have much time, as Advent begins in just a few days. I don't have a plan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Not A Snowflake

A high-school friend posted this on FB today.  I am resisting unfollowing her, even though there have been a few of these. She really does see herself as a kindly person, standing up for what is right and shielding the downtrodden. She is pals with a local gubernatorial and congressional candidate from the 90's turned radio commentator, with a show called "The Attitude," similarly mean and hectoring.  The most famous picture of her was refusing to listen to Judd Gregg with a "talk to the hand" gesture.
I am not a liberal snowflake. My feelings aren't fragile, my heart isn't bleeding.
I am badass BELIEVER in HUMAN RIGHTS. My TOUGHNESS is my TENDERNESS.
My STRENGTH is in the SERVICE of others. There is nothing more FIERCE than formidable, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
There is nothing more COURAGEOUS than COMPASSION.
But if my belief in EQUITY, EMPATHY, GOODNESS, and LOVE indeed makes me or people like me snowflakes, then you should know... WINTER IS COMING!!!

Sounds sorta mean for a compassionate person, with the all-caps and the threat of winter and how many there will be. I'm always surprised to see that from Nice People. She means me, without realising that, and I'm offended.

She's a little defensive, too, I would say.  Maybe someone's fragile feelings were hurt. Seems like you could break an arm patting yourself on the back like that.  I'm wondering what the "unconditional" aprt of this love is, except as cliched synonym for really intense and a whole lot.

I'n not sure what HUMAN RIGHTS she thinks her opponents don't support.  I think she means legal rights that she believes are so obvious they don't need a defense. Last year that was trans bathrooms. I don't know what service she is talking about either. 

She would be utterly contemptuous of a conservative person who claimed such personal goodness with the implied insult to those who are in political disagreement.  There are such conservatives, of course.  Lots of them. People who say they've worked hard and never asked for a thing, putting a spotlight on their generosity, and respectability, complaining that others in this society don't do that. You can find them in comments sections all over the internet. Sometimes in live space, too, though I don't know many.  You don't expect to find college professors, counselors, and others who have had the advantages of gentle upbringing with this need for cartoons, however. There is a need to see oneself as righteous. A love for hating others.

Creative Problem-Solving

My wife has received a very nice letter from an American Covenant lady now in Sweden. She originally went in order to work in missions in Russia, but then the Syrian refugees came and she decided to work with them instead. She uses some of the phrasings that liberals here use about refugees. She thinks it is the greatest European migration wince WWII.  "Biggest" might be accurate - I don't know what the total movement was after the Iron Curtain collapsed - but "greatest" is unambiguously positive, and not everyone in Sweden would agree with that, I'm told. Immediately after mentioning that immigration has slowed to a trickle, she talks about the rise in hate groups, and in the same sentence talks about renewed interest in the Norse gods and even animal sacrifice. She writes glowingly about the Syrians in her village. So that's one side of things.

On the other hand...she mentions how few Swedes are Christians now, and notes that Syrian immigrants are becoming Christians and attending her church.  I have read of this happening in Germany as well.  I don't know how widespread it is, but it bears remembering that these people would not be Christians without the move. She says these refugees arrive with a "respect for God" that the Swedes don't have. I would have initially thought that a whitewashing comment. Yet if there are people coming to Christ out of that group - and not from the surrounding culture - then there is something to it for a Christian to be supportive of.

I don't have to have a political opinion about it.  Not my country, not my culture.  I will mention that for those who are already there (assuming legally), the Christian's job is clear, even if they disapproved of the arrival.  What Christians from other countries should be doing about encouraging more refugees to come to Sweden is something different. Well-meaning and generous people often overlook that they are giving something away that belongs to others. (In America, when "we" are generous to others as policy, we are giving away jobs, safety, and resources that might have belonged to those who are already here.  We are giving away their stuff. Representative democracy makes that possible, but it has some moral ambiguity to it.)

I learned a trick forty years ago that I have never used often enough, but can bring clarity to a problem.  Imagine that the problem is only one-tenth as bad, and decide what your action would be. Sometimes this will take a good deal of thought, examining what, precisely, does "one-tenth as bad" mean? More often, the answer is swift. Eh, I would just ignore it in that case. If the Syrians had only a marginally higher crime rate than the native Swedes, there would be no news. People get nervous because their crime rate is actually much higher.

Now imagine that the problem is ten times as bad.  Imagine that the criminals are not 5% of immigrants (compared to 1% of Swedes), but 50%.  What would they do?  How would they balance their being generous with putting innocents at risk?

There should be a second part as well: exaggerating the positives, then diminishing them.  What if most immigrants found their way into churches and became Christians, whether soon or late? Would the crime rate of the others bother us less? What if hardly any immigrants assimilated, contributed, or converted? How would Swedes react?  How would American Christians react?

The exercise does not give us answers.  God may insist we continue to do things bad for ourselves because they are good for someone else, or for purposes we cannot discern.  But the technique can get you out of a circular trap of thinking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The War on Christmas

We use that phrase a lot, and it is of course an exaggeration. No one here is being locked up for Christmasing, and it is a bit insulting to those around the world who actually are in some danger for us to claim victimhood. As is often the case when there is a lot of energy in the argument and people talking past each other, there are at least two things happening here, and treating them as one is at least part of the confusion.

There is first the current celebration, which even in its watered down form has Christian elements.  We are determined now to make sure that each 1% of us, or 0.1% of us, is treated equally, history be damned. Ironically, there is more power in this argument in America, the most Christmas-celebrating country in the world, than there is in other countries with less faith but more shared tribal history. We originally opted for no state church in an era when it was almost entirely a question of which version of Christianity one followed, and whether one wanted to follow it with enthusiasm or just wave at it from a distance.  Very few envisioned a time where Jews, Muslims, Native religions, atheists, or Eastern religions would even be up for discussion. There might be a few, but Dedham or Frederisckburg was going to just keep doing what it did, because they outnumbered everyone so thoroughly. We made consitutional rules without seeing that consequence, that people could have a creche on the town square for a hundred years and then be told it was unamerican the 101st year, when the rule was pressed hard.

I see that point and am sad about it, but I understand that it is an offense to people who don't like my religion, and that even if 99% of the people in town agree with having a creche, it is a sort of establishment of religion.

There is a separate point, which is history, and what actually did happen. Rewriting history so that it says what we want it to is an increasing danger. The cities and towns of America did celebrate Christmas throughout their histories*, and that is part of the shared culture of the place you come from. If you moved all over, there was a generic American Christmas that you shared in. It changed over the years, but mostly only visible from the inside. I find that generic, and culturally shared Christmas to be inadequate, a bit milk-and-water. But it was there, and there's no saying it wasn't. There wouldn't be a shared holiday at this time of the year if it hadn't been for Christmas. Hanukkah got elevated to keep in cultural resonance with the Christian holiday.  The winter solstice got tacked on recently, stage makeup on a corpse to pretend it's actually an old person who has been surviving all these years. But all those Northern Europeans made the tomten and the sheaves of wheat go to church centuries ago.

Perhaps it will be better for my people. The long, wheezing expiration of Christmas into a spending spree and month-long gorge, adorned with symbols whose meanings have gone dim, may lead to a new Christian festival.  Though I doubt it. 

*Not the Puritans, though.  Not for a long while.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jacques Ellul

I read and liked Jacques Ellul decades ago. Money and Power may be the only thing I read, plus some magazine articles,* perhaps in Christianity Today. Something came up that I disagreed with strongly enough that I abandoned reading any more of him.  I forget what. It could be that I would like him again if I picked something up. I was wrong about a lot of things then.

David Foster over at Chicago Boyz mentioned a favorite CS Lewis quote of mine that it is the intelligentsia, not the hoi polloi, who are most easily misled. He mentioned also Andre Maurois making a related claim, that those who are highly intelligent but not creative in any way are especially susceptible to throwing themselves voraciously on such systems as they do encounter.

I recalled something of Ellul claiming that intellectuals were easier to manipulate and went looking for it.  I didn't find it, but Bing did pop up this article on propaganda summarising Ellul's 1965 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. Quite something.

Ellul considered himself a Christian Anarchist.  Perhaps I need a dose of that now.

*Remember magazine articles?  Yes, children, these were a real thing once.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Who, Exactly, Is Obsessed?

Grim discusses whether Republicans should remain beholden to an "antiquated morality" or just drop some of it in the interests of electing some otherwise good candidates. Good comments.

I go to an evangelical church and talk often with a Catholic friend at work who is involved in youth ministries in her parish, and somewhat on a larger scale. Youth leaders make sure that something is covered about sexual behavior over the course of the year, but other than that, I don't hear anyone talking about it much.  Stray comments. I do recall that the subject came up more often at the Christian schools my children went to, but I'm not sure it was so prominent as children's impressions are, nor what they recall later. There would be a week with a video series, and Bible classes would veer that way pretty often, but I am guessing, based on observation, that it was the students themselves who kept those fires burning bright. Because teenagers. The tension between their school's views and the prevailing secular views was a large topic to them.  When they would bring it up to faculty I imagine it was sometimes hard for teachers at such schools to deflect back to other topics.  They knew what the expectation was in terms of advocating for standards.

Yet the amount of conversation that was school-initiated may not have been as great as is assumed.

I recall during the Clinton impeachment that the accusations were particularly common.  Yet it was my impression that the Republicans kept bringing up the lying, while the Democrats kept excusing the sex, insisting that this was the issue Republicans really cared about. I said then and I'll say now: I think that's completely backward. That is a cartoon. Liberals are obsessed with defending, excusing, or even touting sex outside of marriage. (Not all, and some Republicans now join them - I recognise that I am generalising.) Conservatives consider it one aspect of morality among many, and have a fair bit of complexity in their views in relating purely moral versus practical issues and reflections on mercy, kindness, judgement, accountability, and forgiveness.

I wish I had worked with the word "cartoon" when I reviewed and discussed True Patriot almost a decade ago. It's clearer and more accurate than what I did say then.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Mormon Genetics

Having had my Ancestry.com DNA done turned up a genetic group of Frontier Mormons. This only means a strong connection, not any descent. It reminded me that the original Mormons were largely from the Northeast, and having traced back their own connections for religious reasons are likely to be disproportionately represented among the descendants.

Those who join new religions and head off into the desert are likely to be among the eccentric or even fringe elements of the origin group, and frontier Mormons were certainly an unusual group in their behavior. As New England and New York had already produced the widespread Unitarian heresy, they were perhaps more disposed to believe unusual things.  One would expect a selection bias for unusual behavior as well. Which Mormons did display throughout their early history and well into the 20th C.  Yet in the 1930's there was an executive decision to switch direction: to shave off the long beards, stop fighting the government and the culture at larger about multiple wives, and become in some sense hyper-American.  No culture can manage an about-face like that neatly, and there were schisms and groups which persist to this day that hold deeply to the old Mormon distinctives, even including polygamy.

But the LDS church continues to move away from its distinctives and join a more standard Christianity.  Not there yet, but it's coming into view.  They can even seem hyper-Christian in areas that mainstream denominations have abandoned. They have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, not an annual SLC Hip-Hop festival.

I wonder if it is a reassertion of the respectability and conforming genes of Puritans and Dutch Calvinists which populated the Northeast for two centuries. The two generations of converts and pioneers had more eccentricity and adventure genes than the original population, but they were still largely drawn from it and regressed back to it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Depression

Singing out loud takes the edge off depression, at least a little bit.  Just about any activity does, actually, but singing is near the top of the list.  Merely listening to music is also good, but I don't think it is in the same league. It's not accidental that most worship involves singing, and even the quiet Eastern forms often involve chanting. Living in New England, we have had lots of people in the pews who come for the concert as non-participants. Eventually, that leads to very good musicians and empty churches, I think.

I approve of different groups singing as part of the worship.  Heaven seems to be a series of concerts, in which we are sometimes participants and sometimes the audience (I imagine we will be allowed to hum along.*  I hope so, because I seem to do that naturally.  We went to a musical last night and the accompanist noticed my humming the bass line.  Fortunately, she was pleased.  Not everyone is.)

When one is depressed, sometimes it is hard to get up and do even small things that will help, because the depressed mind, in Eeyorish fashion says "It won't fix everything.  So why bother?) Encouraging friends who are depressed to get up and do something is a great gift.  there are those encouragers and coaches who are very good at persuading those who don't want to to get going and do a little.  Thrice blessed are they.

Getting yourself to church to sing out loud does some good, even in the natural realm.  As today's sermon mentioned, explicitly mentioning gratitude also seems to help us, so worhsip music has some extra effect.

*In my next life, I hope to be a cello.