Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Quebec Views America

I traveled to several locations in Quebec last week. Everyone wanted to talk about Trump, and those who didn't had the topic suggested to them by my co-travelers who, because his idea of a good time is to talk with a group of strangers for an entire evening, would ask "Waddya think of Trump?"

People in Quebec City were uniformly horrified.  Two young women assured us that he had written an executive order that very day banning all abortions in America,  and the others in the conversation were not surprised by this. A man stated that he had cut off all veterans' benefits that day as well, which was confirmed by a second man at the table. We had not heard any news ourselves, so were unsure exactly what had been done, but assured them that this was not possible.  We spent time explaining about Congress, the Supreme Court, and what the reach of previous executive orders had been, including Obama's. These were educated people we were speaking with.  (The less-educated folks we met later in the week, out in the rural areas, weren't critical.)

Then they went into the familiar litanies of complaints - Americans make violent movies and are always killing each other.  Plus, when there are Canadians in our movies we kill them first.  Tom Hanks was mentioned in this regard.  Somebody struck a nerve, I guess. Someone is watching these terrible movies and TV shows. Addiktv is very popular. We don't care about poor people.  That sort of thing. I repeatedly heard the claim that they know a lot about us but we don't know anything about them. That is a shallow truth.  They know who are presidents are and we seldom know who their PM is. Much of the rest of that truth is a product of comparative size.  I don't know much about South Dakota either. I know a fair bit about China.

Later in the trip a man assured us that California had voted to secede from the US.  He had heard it on the news that very morning.

I don't want to blame the news outlets directly.  It is likely that what they reported was much more modest and technically true.  Heck, they may even be trying to calm down an excitable populace, though I doubt it.

But I bring this up to illustrate what is behind the complaints that America is hated or a laughingstock - complaints we have been hearing for years that are recently intensifying.  This is Canada I am talking about.  They border us and know us far better than any other country. Yet haven't a clue. They seem to have a (trained?) popular response and built-in disapproval. I recall this was and likely still is true of the educated class in Great Britain, including even Lewis and Tolkien. I think I hear that song coming out of Western Europe especially, though that is largely impressionistic.  I heard the opposite in Romania.

I will mention in passing that Americans are very tolerant of other nations criticising us, some even encouraging it. I wouldn't dream of telling a person from another country what they should do, it's very boorish, even rude.  But it seems a common sport when it comes to America.

Authoritarian Countries

Government professor at Cornell Tom Pepinsky has an interesting take on authoritarian governments, Everyday Authoritariansism is Boring and Tolerable. Speaking about his experience in Malaysia,
The reality is that everyday life under the kinds of authoritarianism that exist today is very familiar to most Americans. You go to work, you eat your lunch, you go home to your family.* There are schools and businesses, and some people “make it” through hard work and luck. Most people worry about making sure their kids get into good schools. The military is in the barracks, and the police mostly investigate crimes and solve cases. There is political dissent, if rarely open protest, but in general people are free to complain to one another. There are even elections. This is Malaysia, and many countries like it.
I mentioned to the person who sent me the link that the Scandinavian countries have had the same parties in power for decades, and they are well-known for making people sit up straight and stop frightening the neighbors. Very strict and authoritarian in their own way, but we don't think of them as unpleasant places to live.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What Say You?

Piecing together a couple of different public issues lately, I think I see a trend about even-handedness.  Conservatives are more likely to be equal-opportunity critics.  If they don't like something, they don't like it, regardless of who is president and proposing it, and if they support it, they support it.  Liberals are more likely to ignore or downplay things that prominent liberals do (I am here thinking first of Obama and Hillary, but include others, including non-politicians such as authors and celebrities).  Or perhaps their sources do much of the downplaying for them before they even get the information.

It would be tempting to then conclude that conservatives are less hypocritical.  That may be true, but something else is in play here.  Softenings of hard edges of morality are not always self-serving; they are often relational. It may be that as a personality type, liberals are more likely to bend the rules or overlook faults because of preserving relationships, not just personal or tribal convenience. The reputation of conservatives as cruel and uncaring may come from this. Sticking to principle and enforcing standards may indeed be divisive in the short run, reducing group cohesiveness. 

For those conservatives who think that if this is true it is still just fine, it is worthwhile to consider the extreme of this attitude. We have all known people who can get stuck on some small point on which they are technically right, but insisting on it creates unnecessary offense.  The Congregational church I attended as a child still technically forbade card-playing at functions.  It was still in the by-laws or whatever.  Some kids played cards at a youth retreat away from the church one year, and some unknown person or persons made a big deal of it.  I was in adult choir at the time and remember one of the tenors saying "You either have a rule or you don't. If you have it, you have to follow it."

The opposite extreme is equally disruptive, to allow anything for the sake of getting along.  I suppose it would at least be consistent to always strain at gnats or swallow camels, but not both.  However, it might be better to do neither.


I am back from Quebec.  I have a few stories, a few observations.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Make Retirement Great Again

I will be off the grid for a few days.  Consider this an open thread and talk amongst yourselves. The Women's Marches are the hot topic of the day, but I don't know if they will still be a live item when I get back.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

This Grows Tiresome

A:  What do we want?
A: When do we want 'em?


Counting pronouns in speeches has become a parlor game in the media.  I recall the hospital chaplain gushing, her voice breaking, that Obama had used the word "we," whatever number of times in his inauguration speech. To quote Inigo Montoya "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means." When Obama uses "we," it is in formulations such as We must resist the urge to demonise those who are different...we must guard against fake news...we must get our facts right...we must stop making excuses on the refugee crisis... 

I don't think there is any indication he has ever meant himself in these comments.  Does anyone claim that Obama is confessing his own sins when he talks about demonising those who are different?  If you are a supporter of his, you try and give him the benefit of some doubt that he means "All of us, some more than others, it's a journey, a process."  Is there any evidence of this in any of his other statements, suggesting that he deserves this benefit? 

There is none. He means a plural "you," and especially his opponents. They are the ones who must do x or y going forward.  He's already done it, you see, and so have his supporters. This is confessing the sins of others, a particularly vile form of hypocrisy we have discussed before around CS Lewis's The Dangers Of National Repentance.

The counters tell me that Trump used "I" very little, but "we" and "you" a fair bit.  I'm not entirely sure what he means by the latter two.  In common usage, "we" means something between Well you, actually, with me going along for the ride or Well me, actually, with you going along for the ride.  It is supposed to mean something 50-50, but there is a lot of variation. A lot of mischief can be hidden here. Given his previous speeches, I am thinking that it's not intended to be clear, it just sounds nice.


The common formulation is that being intolerant of Intolerance is different, that it doesn't count. Taken as an abstract, I think that's true. Where it goes wrong is that this is hardly ever the case.  The counter-intolerance expands rapidly to the people themselves and all their hateful tribesmen, and expands along another axis to include disagreements that can be called intolerance, up to and including positions that can be logically defended, but mind-reading suggests that the opponent holds the idea with bad motives.

Apparently there are Motive-O-Meters out there which can be purchased at a reasonable cost and take little or no training to operate.  I can't find them on Amazon.  Maybe certain organisations or institutions hand them out for free.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Off-Limits Humor

Steve Sailer's most recent: Why Trump Won: Obama Shared White House With His Mother-in-Law For Eight Years And No One Dared Joke About It.

First comment
Jokes are funny when they punch “up,” like when you mercilessly mock a white Heartland Dad who makes $40K/yr. They’re not funny when you punch “down,” like when you mock an Affirmative Action hoaxing Harvard Law Professor cum United States Senator.
Think about it for a moment. I had completely forgotten the mother-in-law thing.  Nothing wrong with the arrangement.  But of course it is ripe for humor, as are the president's odd relatives, his basketball court, and a dozen other easy targets. Easy targets. There was some popular humor about Michelle's decision to try and control influence what children ate at school, but nothing from the pros.  And that was about it.

Sailer puts this in the context of a "New Yorker" article complaining about the more evil, coarse humor of Trump, in contrast to the woman's 70's childhood when humor was good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dominic Cummings on Brexit

Dominic Cummings, though he downplays his role, was one of the motive forces behind Brexit. Blogger Lexington Green* over at Chicago Boyz put up The Spectator article How the Brexit Referendum Was Won. Some sections may ring true to readers here.
I’ve learned over the years that ‘rational discussion’ accomplishes almost nothing in politics, particularly with people better educated than average. Most educated people are not set up to listen or change their minds about politics, however sensible they are in other fields. But I have also learned that when you say or write something, although it has roughly zero effect on powerful/prestigious people or the immediate course of any ‘debate’, you are throwing seeds into a wind and are often happily surprised. A few years ago I wrote something that was almost entirely ignored in SW1 [A London District] but someone at Harvard I’d never met read it. This ended up having a decisive effect on the referendum.
 And, related to the current discussions in America
Much political analysis revolves around competing simple stories based on one big factor such that, in retrospect, ‘it was always clear that immigration would trump economic interest / Cameron’s negotiation was never going to be enough / there is an unstoppable populist tide’, and so on. Alternatives are quickly thought to have been impossible (even if X argued the exact opposite repeatedly). The big event must have had an equally big single cause. Confirmation bias kicks in and evidence seeming to suggest that what actually happened would happen looms larger. People who are quite wrong quickly persuade themselves they were ‘mostly right’ and ‘had a strong feeling’ unlike, of course, the blind fools around them. Soon our actual history seems like the only way things could have played out. Brexit had to happen. Trump had to win.
Or even better
The branching histories are forgotten and the actual branch taken, often because of some relatively trivial event casting a huge shadow...seems overwhelmingly probable.
I wonder if this is so because journalists, unable to insert their own opinions except indirectly, rely on experts of their choosing in order to have something to write, and "experts" in the social sciences - history, sociology, political science - are largely academics. That is, people who know a great deal, but much that is mere fashion and untrue.

Update:  I hit many other quotes I was tempted to put up, but on a second reading (the article is long, but there is a lot there), this one jumps out
The media made a similar mistake with Trump. Trump did lots of things wrong and the post facto re-branding of his campaign as ‘brilliant’ is very silly. BUT he had a national message the core of which appealed to a big majority and which defied categorisation as Left/Right. Again the media do not realise this – they label it, like Vote Leave, as ‘populist right’ (abetted by some charlatan academics). But the reason why it is successful is exactly because it is not a simple right-wing message.

*Co-author of America 3.0


I now don't pay much attention to the bottom of my sidebar. I use the top as an effective way to go to common sites. HBDchick just had a post after 10 months - to apologise about not posting.  She did give a link to her twitter account, which seems to be pretty active, if one wants to keep up with her material. Unz Review was originally put on solely to link to Steve Sailer after he moved there, but one can't link to him alone.  It is an alt-media site, probably a plurality alt-right, but there's at least two apologists for the communists and their descendants, a slew of writers who believe the Jews are the center of our problems in the Middle East, a small flock of guys with deep demographic concerns, and some genuine unclassifiables. I recommend you go over once in a while to really get outside the mainstream media. I no longer click most of them, having previously established what their monomanias are, but sometimes even the worst of them puts up an intriguing bit worth reading into the third paragraph or so. I make myself fight through some of them, just to hear.

I should edit, I should add.  I probably won't.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Two By Two

My son had a post about the Favorite Albums From Teenage Years trend.  He gave his list, two per year plus also-rans, considering it a point of honor to be honest about this, not padding his resume by pretending he never liked some bands or was an early discoverer of others.

I decided I wasn't going to do it myself, but thoughts kept coming into my head, and once I had put "7th Grade - Mamas and Papas" I couldn't let it go.  This is a purely personal exercise of no value to others.  I think I will predate it to bury it back in the pack, actually. The main criterion is that I played the album incessantly for a time - couldn't get enough of it.  What is interesting is that I had a difficulty narrowing the list to two in the early years, but trouble finding two in the later years. I imagine there is something about the early teen years that lends itself to such obsession.

Looking for reminders, I was hampered by the difference in organising the material:  I remembered the albums by school year, and moved a summer favorite in either direction; online lists are by calendar year.  Also, I didn't necessarily get obsessed with something when it first came out.  I might not have discovered it until later.  Fads came later to NH anyway. Not like those with-it people down in New York.

I listen to very little of anything now, and only when I'm alone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

SNL Writers Discussion

I've got an idea!  This week, let's make fun of Donald Trump!

Gad, we are so smart here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Anonymous Quote

On Redditt, found over at American Thinker:
Hollywood award shows are like church talent shows - the skits and jokes aren't really funny, but it's fun to look at the pretty girls, and you're all on the same team.

Personal Update

The beginning of retirement has been wonderful for taking long walks in the woods.

I am happy to report that the xrays of my shin/ankle were negative, even though I limped an additional two miles on the injury to get home.  When I awoke this morning it was hard to take any steps. Anti-inflammatories, compression, rest, elevation. Recommendation for some sort of OTC brace, as I will have increased vulnerability even after I heal.

I keep telling everyone: exercise is bad for your health.  Urgent Care is full of people who have been exercising.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Radio Free Thulcandra

In reading the author bio of  Susannah Black for Tim Keller Goes For a Walk at the site "Mere Orthodoxy," I learned that there is a website called Radio Free Thulcandra, which of course intrigued me. It is a sci-fi fanzine with a Christian orientation.  Lelia, James, and Texan99 come to mind immediately. There are probably others here who would like this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Idea of Obama

I don't mind the sad goodbyes to Obama as much as the deceptive side of the anti-Trump complaints.  I would rather hear someone like something than hate something, even if I feel it is undeserved.  Granted, some of the "I sure will miss Obama" statements are disguised Trump-criticism, which irritate me for their lack of honesty, but most seem sincere enough.

Yet they are puzzling.  The constant focus on his dignified manner still strikes me as racially-tinged, rather like the use of the word "articulate" used to be. Because it was seldom used about white people it had a suggestion of condescension in it, as if it was notable and surprising that a black person could be articulate - or dignified. Perhaps I am over-reading. But does anyone mention "gosh how dignified that Joe Biden is?"

All manner of virtues and successes are being attributed to Barack.  I disagree that he is compassionate, but I can at least see where that impression comes from, and give him at least a mixed review. I think he has been racially divisive, but I can at least see the argument that he has tried to move us toward racial harmony.  He has just done it in counterproductive ways because of his underlying assumptions. But tonight there was a post about women being better off now, and all he has done for girls and women around the world.  What are they thinking of, specifically? Or that he is respected around the world, another that I saw last night.  Take that country by country and see if that holds up. It's that halo effect coming into play again.  Obama is a wonderful person who works hard to do good things.  This is a good thing.  Therefore Obama must be working hard on it. *

As it was at the beginning of his presidency, so it is at the end.  People like the idea of Obama. The blank-screen candidate - by his own description - is still largely perceived as the person that his people want him to be, the president that his people wanted him to be. So long as he never renounced that or had a huge visible fall, they can continue to believe that myth, however short of that goal he fell.  Incidentally, he may finally fall off the map in terms of Jewish support, because of his actions in the last year, confirming the suspicions of the previous years. I suppose it doesn't much matter now.

Conservative sites are very excited at how much of his legacy is eroding, and how ineffectual he will soon be revealed to have been.  I think they are miscalculating. Jack Kennedy is still revered. Nostalgia doesn't work along reasonable lines.

*People believe things about Jesus in much the same way.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E Randolph Richards and Brandon J O'Brien.

Recommended. It discusses many of the ideas we have talked about here: the emphasis on family, tribal, community perspectives in the cultures of Bible times, and how they play out now; seasonal time versus chronological time; honor and shame in culture compared to conscience and guilt; language and emphasis revealing different understandings of scripture, which evangelicals often miss; hearing versus reading.  Some of the examples they use are the same as ones I or a commenter has used here.

I wondered briefly if it were not too elementary, and if I couldn't have done nearly as well myself, just writing off-the-cuff. That soon went away.  They extended the standard "cross-cultural considerations for missionaries" anecdotes beyond what I had considered, and also found other topics which had not occurred to me. For example, in their discussion of time they note that the focus on beginning, middle, and end and getting things in their proper chronological order is much stronger in Western cultures than in most others. Yet they mention seasonal time only in passing and focus more on kairos, which has more to do with "the fullness of time," or "in its proper season." The latter is used twice as often as chronos in the NT. They relate this distinction back to scripture verses related to Jesus's coming, death and resurrection, and second coming, giving a clearer idea what the original hearers of scripture would have understood.

I had expected something slightly different, more of a comparison of what Americans culturally assume in reading some Bible events to what Mediterranean, and specifically Jewish assumptions would have been.  There is plenty of that.  But there is also reporting on modern Christians in other cultures (one of the authors taught in Indonesia for years, so that figures prominently) and how they perceive what they read. Sometimes their experience seems closer to Bible culture, sometimes it is only also different and also a block to understanding. The authors do overstate at times, as in contrasting the individualism of American culture with the community/family emphasis of other cultures. The contrast is real, but it is not entire. There is some indiviualism in other places, and plenty of tribal identification here.

There is one repeated error that threatened to undo the whole book for me.  They assert the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in a strong version - the idea that language does not merely reflect how we speak, but determines it.  It is one of those ideas that keeps coming back, impossible to kill because it would be so cool if it were true. There are scraps of evidence of not-entirely-trivial influence of language on thought in very specific contexts, but the bulk of the evidence shows otherwise, even though researchers are often hoping for linguistic relativity to be true. Richards and O'Brien assert that it is a big question mark whether it is cart or horse, and conclude it is a circle.  Well, no it isn't. However, it doesn't much mar the book as they focus on the practical results that languages have different words, different aspects, and different approaches, which illustrate the different thinking of other cultures. Though they continue to assert that these differences go a long way to causing the thinking, it can nearly always be ignored as not changing the sense of their main point.

They spend more time on the me-focus of modern culture, including modern evangelicals, than I would have liked, as I think the discussion is crowded with too many cliches for clarity at present. It was the topic of Sunday's sermon, however, and perhaps it should continue to be a major focus, however weary I am of the repetition. I would also have liked a more nuanced discussion of some examples in the penultimate chapter,  in which they list cultural virtues (e.g efficiency, planning) that are wrongly considered biblical and moral rather than practical; and some which may even be counter to biblical principles, such as tolerance, seeking leadership, or fighting for freedom (as opposed to justice).  I suspect that their intent was to throw these topics out there for the readers to consider on their own, not discuss them in detail.  Still, I felt there was much to be said and I would have liked more.

They close with a better context for verses and sections which we read individually - Jeremiah 29:11Romans 8:28, or with the hidden assumption that it is all about the time we were born into, Matthew 24 - showing that the common interpretations may in fact be badly out-of-focus, even wrong. I was never especially prone to fall into those particular errors, but they do remain common, and it is good they included those.

My takeaway is that I will do all Bible reading with a forced emphasis on hearing it as directed to the church and the community rather me personally.  I don't know how long I will hold to that particular approach. Until the fullness of time, perhaps. I already do this somewhat, but it won't hurt to ramp that up, to hear God's teaching as a member, a part, rather than as a special snowflake. This also looks at first glance to be helpful in discerning when Jesus is talking to an individual and when to a group.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Evidence Is Ambiguous

A Chinese-American friend who tried to like the Sherlock Holmes books found himself continually frustrated that Holmes kept believing that the clues he discovered had only one possible explanation.  Men of average height sometimes have the stride of a much shorter or taller man, he countered; ex-sailors might carry toys for two children as an errand for a shut-in neighbor. My friend is quite right.

As an example, I have walked in the woods more this past week, and we have had snow. I noted that some person with bigger feet than mine but probably lighter has been walking some of the same trails, coming in from Bog Rd. Large canine prints put down at about the same time suggest it is a taller man taking a big dog out for a walk/run.  The doggie prints sometimes go away from the trail for 5 yards or 30, but always come back. I actually met them at the very end of my hike today, as they were coming in, and they look as imagined.

However, applying this same logic, I would have to conclude that another person of undetrmined sex (not indeterminate sex - don't get me in trouble here) comes in on snowshoes from New Boston, walking a pet deer.  This seems unlikely, even in New Boston. But the deer prints are put down at about the same time, and they run together for over a mile in a loop. The deer tracks do go off to one side or another on occasion, but they come back to the trail soon, just as the dog's do.  I thought I had established that the deer came later because its tracks printed over the human's. (Let's assume it was a human on the snowshoes.  Let's not go completely overboard here.) Yet just a bit further on it was clear the snowshoe prints came after. I suppose that puzzle is solvable if we postulate that there are two deer, but surely, a man with two pet deer does not suddenly leave one on the trail, expecting that the other will appear shortly to complete his walk. That might do well for Tom Stoppard's solution in "Hapgood" to the Seven Bridges of Konigsburg problem, but This Is Reality, Greg.

This comes up in reference to Bible preachers who profess to be reliable because they tell you to bring your Bible along and look up what they are saying as they go along, to "prove" to you that they are not making this up and what they say can be relied on. I have come to conclude that this is a bad sign coming out of any preacher's mouth, and one had best be alert thereafter. I claim this is the real data and I tell you this is what it means.  I insist you confirm for yourself that this is the real data. Therefore, you should believe me that this is what it means. The one does not follow from the other. The same goes for people trying to prove things to you in print or on internet - popular science and social science.  The trick is very common.  I say music is only a commodity in this society.  Here! I have actual data that shows that people purchase sheet music and recorded performances. Some people make their livings on nothing else, and the entertainment industry permeates our entire economy.  There! I've run rings around you logic'ly. Music is only a commodity in our society.

I think entire social sciences are founded on such things. Remember the person with the pet deer. Evidence can point in many directions and have many interpretations.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Boys and Girls, Men and Women Part II

Grim's comment under Boys and Girls, Men and Women  prompted this extension.  Most of the Wymans went to school in the South*.  A college does not give one the full cultural experience, but we learned a few things, which gave us a basis for further learning from who we knew and what we read later. We learned that The South is many places and cultures (which you would never know from country music, where they are trying to sell records to as wide a range as possible, and so lump Jacksonville with Rockford, IL.) There is commonality, but not as advertised. Southern politeness and formality is recognised but not always understood.  Grim commented on the OP about calling even female children ma'am. I wonder how far that extends geographically.  Such usages, even when they have an undercurrent of humor, are never unserious.  My son will give directions to his daughters "Ladies!  It is time to get ready for bed!"  When a coach or scout leader addresses the boys as gentlemen, there is likely something of importance to be said.  They are being told to put on the role of gentlemen, at least for a moment. Calling boys "sir" is not mere mockery.  It is a reminder.

The reverse happens when people speak about those of higher status as an Old Boys' Network, or at my hospital, the Old Girls' Network of nurses who were trained at our school.  It is not a compliment, but something of an accusation that they are still functioning as children by favoring the comrades of their youth.  Related: there is occasional discussion that it is unreasonable that black people can call each other niggah, or gay men say faggot, while it is a grave insult when outsiders do it.  Sorry, that's how group language works everywhere, not just in America, not just in English. You can call your own group The Girls, and you can extend that privilege to your husband, though he'd better not call them that if you don't.  Even your children might hesitate to say it in your hearing.

We used to refer to soldiers and sailors at war as "our boys."  That was a common usage during both world wars.  It was a common referent in the Civil War even amongst the men themselves.  That tended to become less common between wars, and now I don't think it is common at all.  Perhaps it persists in the south.  I wonder if it fell out of favor with the coming of the volunteer army, or with more women joining the armed services? ("Our boys and girls" just doesn't work in a war context. You have to switch to "young men and young women.") In that usage I think it reflects our affection, and our recognition of their vulnerability as much as it acknowledges their youth.

Other subtleties of the usage would be welcome.

*For the record, two at William and Mary, two at Asbury, one at North Greenville, and one last who went to technical college in Houston. Plus I suspect some outsider knowledge is gained at Camp Lejeune.

Bulldog and Companies to Fear

I met Bulldog on the urban hike put together at Maggie's.  Nice fellow.  I very much like his article about Fake News over there.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Historical Perspective

That theologically conservative churches are growing and mainstream denominations shrinking is old news. The numbers quoted for a few key beliefs in the WaPo article  are interesting but not shocking. The tentative guesses as to why (though I suspect the author is not tentative and is keeping it simple for his audience) are also not original. But... Look at the attached video and hyperlinks between paragraphs that the Post puts in. Only the UMC one is kindasorta on topic, but even at that, it is focusing on the issues a subgroup think is essential, while others would put a dozen issues higher.

Early 1979 was when we last had a TV (16", on a rolling stand), and TV was constantly running in the day area at work. The days of three identical networks. I recall following the election of two popes in 1978, with the newscasters on every station, in every update, speculating whether the new pope could be expected to change the Catholic church's position on abortion and the ordination of women. Those were the only two issues mentioned, on and on. It was as if this was all they could understand. They couldn't imagine other issues being important.

They didn't even know what they didn't know. Recall that twenty years before that, in 1958, 96% of Americans identified with a house of worship, and that only 10 years before, nearly every child was kept in religious studies until confirmation, bar mitzvah, or the denominational equivalent.  Announcers on the 3 networks in 1978 had almost certainly grown up with eight years of religious training. It was onto this stage that the conservative preachers stormed in the late 70's. That they were both theologically conservative and politically conservative was not necessary, but neither was it accidental.  They railed that they were misunderstood, and that great swaths of the American people were now separate from the values of television.

Hands went up in horror insisting it wasn't true, and these fools, these bigots, these south/midwest/southwesterners were deceivers, oversimplifiers and liars. It all sounds rather familiar. If you enter that discussion today evidence will be marshalled against your claim of media bias. It will be dismissed as a cliche, a mountain being made out of a molehill. Look at how many conservative outlets there are now.  Ridiculous.

That same dismissiveness was on display then. Let's review some easily-researched facts about this. There were, as I noted, three networks.  Fox News Channel was not up and running until eighteen years later, and was tiny at first; Drudge was about the same time; it was 1988 that Rush Limbaugh came along with his insistence that the mainstream media was biased.  He didn't make that up.  He didn't talk people into some new-fangled idea.  The roaring preachers, and the Limbaughs, and Fox News only announced what was rather obviously true, though consistently derided. The emperor had no clothes. (And believe me, I was derided for claiming it.)

This.  This is the background against which denials of media bias are attacked now. Are there conservative outlets?  Sure, lots of 'em, things are better.  Have the Washington Post and New York Times changed, or the major news outlets?  Not a bit, from what I can see.  Now their excuse is that they are a counterbalance, a responsible other side to Breitbart and Fox and Drudge. Like the Japanese having difficulty even decades later admitting they did anything wrong in slaughtering millions in China or in attacking Pearl Harbor, the mainstream outlets still have only evasive acknowledgement that they did anything wrong. Does anyone doubt the historical evidence anymore?

You are learning where my biases come from.  That's fine.

Given all this as context, what did the mainstream denominations - at least in their official bodies and seminaries - do during those forty years?  Easy.  They had already started identifying with the culture the media told them were the righteous ones fifteen years earlier and more.  They sided with the media and condemned the theologically conservative churches, for the most part. In a thousand small ways they chose who they would stand with.  The didn't have to.  In fact, the New Testament is repeatedly specific that we should ally with each other and not the tribe that is this world. 

They don't like Trump.  I agree he is something of a whirlwind.  I wish they had not sown the wind. I was Congregationalist and then Lutheran in the years up to 1987, and in an only moderately conservative denomination thereafter. I count myself as an eyewitness. As a result I greet contemporary claims of evenhandedness and openmindedness with considerable suspicion. I am not naturally a nice guy or very tolerant myself, but I recognise an obligation to try and take you at your word and give you the benefit of the doubt.  Again. But I grow weary, and I'm not sure I am capable of this anymore.

Prove it. If you want me to believe that you are listening, openminded, and evenhanded, show your evidence.

Or conversely, show me the evidence that it has been the mainstream denominations meeting the wild zealots of the radical right at some half-way point all along, trying to find common ground rather than insisting that your original position is the common ground and being insulting.

Choice of Topics

The Washington Post notes breathlessly that this might be the biggest inauguration demonstration in 2017.

Did anyone report on what was the biggest inauguration demonstration in 2009?

That which calls itself the center is not the center.

Song Parodies

Song parodies are such an easy form of humor that I almost think of them as cheating.  Yet people continue to be impressed by the most meager efforts. The compliments seem of the "you colored within the lines!" nature to me. It may be there is a type of mind for which this just flows naturally, but not for most people.

I can do it, and do it well, but I know others who are better.  I did one with a pal in 8th grade to "Ballad of the Green Beret." I bow in admiration to whatsisname, Weird Al Yankovich, who finds combinations I would not.  I find it uncomfortable when people do it poorly, but even a mediocre effort can be fun. It is often only a single line that is funny, a reworking of the title or chorus, the remainder being filler. They are best when done quickly - it is too much to ask for a person to sing even a single verse impromptu (though I have heard people produce them within the song if only others will go enough verses to give them time.  A rare talent.) - but dashing one off in an hour before the party is fresh enough.

We used to do them for cast parties for musicals, when I was in college. I imagine other theater companies did them as well.

I gave my beaver a four-loaf cleaver
The one he's been asking for.
I wasn't thinking, the fool that I am
He cut his tail off while building a dam.
It's no use in crying, 'cause now he's dying
And won't cleave a loaf no more.
So don't give your beaver a four-loaf cleaver
'Til you get his tail insured.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Lena Dunham

If some on the right weren't so obsessed with her, would she even be noticed anymore?  I am not claiming that, I am asking.  I don't follow popular culture that much, so maybe she is a big deal that people are paying attention to.  Yet the only times I read about her are on right-wing sites making critical (and sometimes vile) comments about her.  I used to think that no one would notice Pat Robertson at all if it weren't for liberals tracking his comments to show that all conservatives were dangerous fools.  Is the same thing happening here?

As for the vile comments, they often focus on her appearance.  I suspected if she were a TV-visible person at all she couldn't look that bad, so I looked her up.  Suspicions confirmed. She's not pretty by Hollywood and those unforgiving camera standards, but she certainly looks like a girl we would call cute in real life. She looks fine. The cracks about her weight are even more silly. Part of it is face-roundness, but even without that she's not enormous.  She looks like a lot of other women.

Is it a personality thing that just bleeds over into appearance insults?  I have no knowledge what's she's like. It strikes me that the insults are delivered not so much because they are true, but because the writer thinks they will hurt.  It's low. Decent people don't say these things even if they're true, and they certainly don't go looking for people to demean for their appearance. When that appearance isn't actually so objectionable, it all seems very primitive and mean.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Boys and Girls, Men and Women

We do use these terms differently for males and females. No, let me be more precise right from the start, as I am hoping to make some distinctions.  We use these terms in almost the same way in some situations, while using them differently in others when referring to males and females of different ages and status. This is generally to the disadvantage of females and their perceived status, but there are some reverses. 

First, people of both sexes use the term for themselves for single-sex groupings that are primarily social.  Going out with the boys in your 80's is not different in tone from your sister going out with the girls in her 80's.  This is especially true if these are age-mates one actually has known for years. The term signals informality, but not the least hint of disrespect.

There is a slight weakening when one uses it about others.  A husband who goes out with The Boys might reference that his wife is out with The Girls at the moment and vice-versa if each uses that term themselves. But if not, there might be a hint of superiority.  That flows both ways about equally, I think.  This is even more true of children speaking about their parents. It is possible that there is not the least amusement or condescension when talking about Mother going out with The Girls, but more likely, there's at least a touch of it. It is very likely to be present in the comment of a granddaughter talking about her grandfather going out with The Boys.

Yet even here some other factors have quietly entered in.  The age-reversal of speaking of people 40-60 years older than you as boys or girls is humorous in itself. Children don't use the words that way in other contexts. They lack the abstraction and metaphor to even understand that the reference to boys is subtly humorous to a 70-year-old and is signalling affection. This collision of meanings does not go away quickly in children, even into their 20's before they are quite comfortable with it.

This is a good spot to insert that there are going to be regional and cultural complications here.  In New England people are very likely to use the term "guys," and there is no good female equivalent. "Gals" is more southern and midwestern, though we do use it some, especially in combination with guys.

At the other end are the clearly sexist references, in contexts where 25 y/o males are called "men" but 45 y/o females "girls."  There aren't so many of these now, but they persist.  The gap has narrowed, anyway.  The complication here is that age is not the only factor directing our choices. The status of the person or group of people is usually an even stronger driver of whether they get called man or boy, woman or girl. This starts to curve back upon itself.  For most of history men have had the higher status jobs. Do we ascribe greater status to them in our reference because of their maleness, their age, or their status?  Cart, horse. (I would very much like to digress here and discuss what preferable metaphor I should use instead of cart/horse when there are three choices.  But I refrain. Though it bothers me, and it's a wrench to leave it behind.)

Racial discussions had a steady undercurrent in the 20th C of not using "boy" or "girl" for any grown African-American, hoping that language change would bring social change.  This turned into a huge factor in original feminism, as there was suddenly pressure to use clumsy terms like chairperson. The consensus at the time was that such language changes are not effective when imposed by fiat, they have to evolve naturally.  I don't think that has turned out to be entirely true.  I think the enforced language changes have had mixed effect, but have mostly worked in the direction their advocates wanted. There has been a cost in resentment and less-graceful, less-comfortable language, but I think the changes have indirectly changed thinking.  I don't hold with that ever-popular linguistic myth that changes in language create changes in thinking, but I do believe that the artificial awareness of language has reminded people of the potentially insulting nature of some traditional phrasings.  Christmas carols and other hymns are made worse, and not only because we are cutting ourselves off from our own ancestors. But not as worse as was predicted, and I believe the gains elsewhere in equality have compensated.

Though again: Cart.  Horse. Perhaps the changes were going to happen anyway and all the language battles have been irritating to no effect.

In between all this is a swamp of usages that depend on competing forces and contexts.  One of my patients years ago was a black man my own age.  He had been an honor student at a rival highschool and I knew friends of his from a summer studies program at St. Paul's.  He was bipolar with some additional, but not severe alcohol problems. He would slow down pretty quickly on medications and we would have a fine time talking.  He only had 3-4 admissions in a 2 year period and then I never saw him again. I liked to thank him for going out for walks with me so that I could look like I was working when I was just hanging out with a guy.  But when I was talking with his mother on the phone, I completely lost the context that she did not my age or my connection, and when I said "He's a very smart boy" there was a chill on the other end of the line. My error, not hers, though I have said the same about other men my own age.

There are male-female contexts that are equally perilous.  I have read a few times of women quietly shuddering the first time a young man called them "ma'am," and developed the habit decades ago of calling every woman "miss."  Thank you, miss. Not every woman comments, but when they do the response has been overwhelmingly positive, usually humorous. Yet not always.  A very few times I have felt instant resentment to my word-choice. I understand it.  You would think the resentment would lessen as I aged, as a large percentage of females are indeed young to me now.  But I think the offense is increasing.  I don't know if that is a culture change, where my use of "miss" is heard as an equivalent of "girl," or some assumption that because I am an old guy I must be a benighted individual who still adheres to ancient attitudes.