Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Thomas Doubting, who posts over at with Grim and Texan99, sent along this poem in his comment under my Midgard post.

It put me in mind of  How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard, which I wrote about a year or two ago. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Divisions Worse Than National

I am always pleased when someone puts a favorite rant of mine better than I do.  Grim has a comment on the new Mayor of London's disdain for nationalism.
The second problem is that Khan himself is a living symbol of an even more divisive, even more narrow mode of 'pitting different parts of our country or sections of our society against one another.' If this is the right standard for judgment, identity politics fares even worse than nationalism, which at least is willing to take any kind of Scot as long as they're Scottish. Drawing the division at the level of the nation at least avoids drawing divisions below that level.
He notes an additional irony in Didn't Think That Through.

Bottom Lines

Well, not really bottom lines.  I don't want to get carried away here.  But important lines, and distressingly,  I find that blank looks sometimes happen when I bring them up.

Jonathan Gruber. Ben Rhodes.  If you have forgotten who they are, this provides evidence for my point.

Update:  Add this story about Rhodes's assistants, one day later. 

As I have stated in the past, I completely get someone holding their nose and voting for a candidate they are unhappy with, or sticking with a party they feel is unworthy of their vote.  Negative voting is a fine American tradition, and may be why we actually don't get violent in the streets after elections. We may hate the other guy, but we are not so sold on our own that we are willing to get violent about it. So anyone who tells me that they didn't like Hillary but there were just too many things about Trump that were beyond the pale, I have no quarrel with that. I just deleted two paragraphs of how I agree with that, because it is beside the point here.

But Jonathan Gruber (game), Ben Rhodes (set), plus the administration's followup falsehoods about their statements (match), provide me with reasons why my choice not to vote for Democrats is entirely defensible. Beyond that point, we can go only into the territory of "well, Trump is worse." These are huge, and should have dominated discussion for weeks after they came out.  The fevered, paranoid accusations of conservatives turned out to be largely true. Once those have been absorbed, all discussions of Benghazi, or the IRS, or private servers and Obama's knowledge of them should have been brought back up and re-examined in that light.  Once people have been caught in big lies, the slack we have previously cut them can be retrospectively withdrawn.

Yet they weren't.  They vanished beneath the waves. Those scandals didn't have "legs," as they say.

I am pretty confident my guess about why they were denied, dismissed, under-reported and even UNreported is correct, and I'm not planning on changing it unless significant evidence shows me otherwise.

You may have similar incidents about the GOPe, or Trump, or Tea Party candidates or whatever, and I will not say you nay.  I will never vote for them because... works for me.  I would ask only that you make sure your signal events are solidly true, rather then impressions about hate crime increasing or quotes out-of-context or even false.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Text From Disneyworld

"I'm sure people get offended by the Mexican Pavilion, but the number of Mexican families excitedly trying on sombreros speaks to the difference between those who are a part of a culture and those who are claiming to speak for it."

Midgard II

My wife googled more efficiently than I had done a decade ago and found the answer to a personal mystery dating from 1973.

An artistic young woman named Christie Drake wandered into the set-design part of the theater department near the very end of my sophomore year.  She had liked our band and developed a crush on one of our guitarists. (Jaye Urgo from Charlottesville.  Just looked him up for the first time in 40+ years. The internet is a wonderful thing. Still playing music professionally, as I think everyone but me is from that band.) He had gone out to dinner with her family and noted, rather shaken, that they had said grace right out loud in the restaurant. The bandmembers predicted a quick end to this relationship.

(I should look her up as well, but...married names.."Christie" has a couple of spellings..."Drake" is not uncommon...we'll see.)

As I was in my first year of Tolkien fanatacism it is unsurprising that we talked about the fantasy genre.  She told me about a writer who was a friend of Tolkien's who had a whole series of books in which Jesus took the form of a lion. Her family had read it aloud to her as a girl. (So, 1965 or so.  Likely just about the only family in America doing this.) That didn't sound promising to me, but I wondered if my younger brother might have heard of him.  I was going back to Sudbury in just a few weeks and would ask. 44 years of Lewis fanaticism later, I have to be grateful to the girl.

She also mentioned a game that was played by mail called Midgard, in which one could assume a character and go on adventures.  She thought it was full, but a Midgard II was opening up.  She didn't have any contact information. Only after playing D&D  starting in the early 80's did I recognise that this must have been some early RPG.

I mentioned it five years ago, perhaps hoping that someone had heard something and could give me answers.  No one did. Read that post before continuing.

My wife claims to read all my posts, but was genuinely surprised when I brought this up tonight.  She thinks she had never heard this before.  Of course, my wife has a type of memory that I believe is biologically impossible, yet there it is.  She has an enormous vocabulary and a head full of facts on a thousand subjects, but these are only accessible if they are cued, rather like a card catalog.  She not only is a librarian, she is a library.  However, this is a library in which the history of the building itself has vanished. Like her father before her, events drop out altogether, or become attached (with great assurance) to unrelated stories. So perhaps she is lying about reading my posts, but more likely, she read it and was intrigued and excited at the time but got distracted by something else and it fell beneath the waves.

I was not encouraging to her that she would find anything, as I'd already had a try in 2012.  Yet by inserting the search terms "by mail," a description of Midgard and its eventual relationship to D&D was found at the fifth entry.  Those librarians.  Clever like that.

The Book of Three, and Reading Aloud

I read The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander to my first two boys when they were quite young. It is heroic fantasy, the first in a series of five, and both of them loved it. I have been looking forward ever since to reading it to grandchildren as well.  Reading chapter books to grandchildren is different* (not nightly), reading to girls is different, and reading to each child is different.  Still, I am a touch disappointed that she is not taking to it as well. Right from the first chapter I could sense she was not entering into it with the same verve as her father did - he leaped about the room slashing with swords. We are just now getting to Eilonwy, and I hope this perks things up for her.

There is a flaw in the writing which I had never noticed before, which tells me something about fiction in general, and I would not have noticed if I weren't analysing what is happening. It tells me first that if the narrative pull is strong enough, flaws in writing get overlooked, which might be some encouragement to fiction writers out there. When the adventure is happening, weaknesses are not noticed; when the adventure is not working, even small problems become magnified.

Too many characters are introduced too quickly. It's hard to keep track of unless your imagination goes there to live.

We have some things working against us.  While there are many girls who like heroic fantasy and adventure, I think the taste is stronger in boys.  Part of J K Rowling's more universal appeal comes from her combining the genre of heroic fantasy with that of the "school story," a genre more popular in England than America. Notice that Lewis's Narnian Chronicles have a touch of the school story in them as well, in that a mixed group is the focus, and initial events are structured around school holidays. There is the interrupted rather than nightly reading, as mentioned above. Emily is a reader, but her play time is around American Girl and about a third of the Disney Princesses, so half her reading goes there as well.  Her mother was a reader of Anne of Green Gables and Little House books, and Emily is much like her.  (We'll see about Sarah and Aurora, four years younger not quite that way.)

There was less heroic fantasy available to read to children years ago. When we were in college in the early 70's my wife and I read just about everything in the fantasy genre which was in print. This was just as Sword & Sorcery books were taking off - eventually whole sections of bookstores would be devoted to that - but there wasn't that much then. I think we were less fussy, and the implied excitement of "there aren't going to be many of these" may have crept into my reading.  Eventually there were so many Redwalls and Xanths that they wore out even Ben. 

In The Book of Three, We are introduced to Taran and Coll on page 3, Dallben on 5, Math is mentioned on page 6, Gwydion, Arawn, and a few historical names on 7, The Horned King on 8, and Hen Wen on 10 - this on pages of about 250 words each. Half of these drop out of the story for the time being, while The Horned King's troops, Melyngar, Gurgi, Gwythaints, the Cauldron-Born, and Achren pop in. Medwyn and Gwyn the Hunter are mentioned. That's a lot for a third-grade girl who is only getting into this story once a week.  How to know who is important and who is secondary?  We are just about to get to Eilonwy, then Fflewddur Fflam, though these are at least going to come in more slowly, with proper introductions. After that there are a few new characters per book and it isn't so dizzying.

Contrast this to The Hobbit, where there are many dwarves immediately joining Bilbo and Gandalf, but these are essential Thorin and Lotsa Dwarves, who only differentiate over the course of the story, or not at all. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe introduces two characters right in the title, then the Professor and four children, but they are rather just a sibling-group until Lucy goes into the wardrobe, and meets Mr. Tumnus, and later, hears about the White Witch.  Redwall spends an Introduction on the villain and his nameless comrades, then introduces a few mice in the first chapter. 

I had a similar experience long ago, reading to her father.  I had loved Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series but found they did not read well aloud.  I am no longer sure why, but I think it may be as above - the plotting is skillful, but the narration less so. Or perhaps the conversation was not quite natural - that bother's me more than others, I think. I have not reread them since.  My brother countered that as they were not made to be read aloud, what I see as a failing might actually be a positive for one reading silently.  This could be so.  Update: We have a notebook of everything we read aloud to both boys and I read my notes for The Dark Is Rising. What I disliked then was "things happen out of the blue, motivations are inadequate, symbolism is unclear." There is also an anti-Christian part I had forgotten, and the book scared him (he was six).

The opposite happened with Watership Down, which I started reading aloud with trepidation because of its length.  Jonathan had loved Rabbit Hill and The Tough Winter, so I thought rabbits might continue to hold him. WD reads aloud very well, despite all the ground-level view of plants.  The characters are clearly differentiated, so a child can follow them.  He loved the book, which put it on the list for the Benjamin, who became obsessed with it three years later.

Well, at least I got one thing right in my not-very-good 100,000-word postapocalyptic novel. I only introduced one character in the first chapter, then the others one or two at a time per chapter.

*"Not nightly" is huge in and of itself. It means The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has to be started mid-November.  It puts Lord of the Rings aloud completely out of reach, which is sad because it was central to her father's and uncle's evenings growing up. It took months at a half-hour a night, so intermittent reading would go beyond a year.  I might hope for The Hobbit.  We'll see.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Just a reminder that David Stockman still thinks a recession is already baked into the cake for America.  The giddy optimism of Trump cutting through bureaucracy, getting rid of an expensive ACA, and no longer paying for problematic illegals has not moved Stockman's opinion an inch.  His premise is that 1) crony capitalism is still regnant, combining the worst aspects of socialism and capitalism for an ultimate lose-lose 2) public debt is a killer, 3) government is ever-larger, and 4) the people ruling us are less than half as smart as they think they are.

You will note that this is remarkably close to Nicholas Nassim Taleb's list.  Humorously, Stockman's current lead essay is "The Orange Swan."

Friday, February 24, 2017


I remember Christmas 2015, when some humor writer suggested that he could become a hero to his nieces by simply picking a random object from his house, say, an ironing board, spray-painting the word "Frozen " on it, and wrapping it for Christmas.

I had a parallel example at the independent bookstore in Concord, NH yesterday.  Looking at the "staff recommended," "new arrivals," " bestseller," "political," "humor," and magazine sections, I decided one could make a little spare cash pretty quickly these days by writing just about anything, going to a publisher with the idea of putting an anti-Trump title on it, and getting those presses rolling.  He's orange.  He's hateful.  He's unprecedented.  Americans are stupid. He's stupid. It's the end of the republic.  He's much worse than any president ever. God, he's funny-looking.  And obnoxious.  Lots of his people are obnoxious, too.  Or maybe just stupid. It's noble to oppose him.  Let's stand up and say we don't like him. So people will know. 

I admit that we are operating in the categories of "Concord, NH," and "independent bookstore," so this is entirely predictable, but still.  It's a real place, these are real people. 

Approval Ratings.

Harry S Truman started with an 88% approval rating - okay, people were rooting for a VP who was suddenly thrust into the presidency.  But even after his first election, he started with 70%, far more than the number of votes he got. Republicans were apparently willing to get behind the president and give him a shot.

Eisenhower started at 32%, suggesting that Democrats were not willing to get behind the president and give him a shot.  Caveat:  That 32% does seem to be something of an outlier.

JFK started with an approval rating of 73%, suggesting that Republicans were willing to get behind the new president and give him a shot.

Johnson started with an approval rating of 78% (and at his inauguration, 70%) suggesting that Republicans were willing to get behind the president and give him a shot.

Nixon started in 1969 at an approval rating of 60% - pretty good by modern standards but not much then, suggesting that Democrats were sorta willing to get behind the new president and give him a shot.

Gerald Ford started at 70%, which, even though that dropped off quickly, suggests that Democrats were quite ready to at least briefly get behind the new president and give him a shot.  YAY! We will never know what his January 1977 numbers would have been had he been elected on his own.

Jimmy Carter began his presidency at 67% approval, suggesting... well, you know the drill.

Ronald Reagan and Bush 41 both started at 52%, just a few points above their margins of victory, suggesting that very few Democrats were willing to say "Oh, all right, he's the president and I support him."  Both did rise in popularity fairly quickly, however, suggesting that this idea of "Americans get behind the president" was not completely dead.

1992 was a three-way race, which is obvious in the memory of those who were of voting age then, but seems to not be remembered much by those younger than that. Bill Clinton started with a 58% approval rating despite getting only 43% of the vote.  That might be only the 18% of the country who voted for Perot which was getting behind him and giving him a chance.  The Perot voters I knew don't fit that, but I recall that national numbers were different. Still, 58% is pretty good.

George W Bush also started with 58% - pretty good - which surprised me, but according to Gallup, there it is. I recall things being much more strident and divided, but that may be a function of where I live and who I read.

Barack Obama started his presidency at a 69% approval rating. This suggests...

I am sensing a trend here.  At least some Republicans subscribe to the value that "He's the duly elected president, and he deserves a chance to prove himself," and have done so for 70 years. Very few Democrats have held that view for 50 years.  So when Trump's low approval ratings are cited, it could be reframed as the Democrats falling to a new low, not Trump. And well, yeah, when it's that low it's clear that even some Republicans aren't subscribing to the old value either.

Trump may well have earned his low ratings.  But again, I find it significant that there is no bounce after the inauguration.  I have likely telegraphed my own prejudice on the matter. Trump is the duly elected president and deserves a shot at governing according to his own lights.  There will be plenty of time to hate him later, there's no hurry. Disagreeing with him and opposing him are not illegal, certainly.  Yet when I hear, decade after decade that it is the Republicans who are dividing this country, and keep putting up such divisive figures, I have to say that another interpretation of the data is possible.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


CS Lewis wrote a version of an older argument in Mere Christianity.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
I have always found it powerful, but many find it unpersuasive. There is a significant amount of back-and-forth discussion about it by people with more intelligence, learning, and focus than I have. This can be found online in many places if any of you feel compelled to pursue it with more rigor.  However, my experience is that in the end they do come to the same place. The usual objections are 1) Jesus did not actually claim to be God and 2) The possibility that he was neither deceptive nor mad but simply wrong is still in play.

Over at Neoneocon, I used the analogy of a Pachinko game, in which the balls do eventually have to fall down into one of the holes, but upgraded that to a pinball machine, where there is one ball, and effort by the player can prevent it from falling into one of the holes for some time. I still like that image. Ultimately, the ball does go into one of the slots. Yet this is only learned by experience, and it is not foolish for person new on the scene to believe that a ball can be kept aloft, bouncing between alternatives skillfully for an indefinite period, or even forever.

The first objection looks as if it could be solid if one could artfully show that some texts may be unreliable, or others misinterpreted for a dozen reasons, including translation or cultural misunderstanding. Yet like the pinball, I think that even the strongest version of this becomes a quibble.  It is all well and good to say "Jesus never exactly came out and said..." but by any account he directly said many things that come awfully darn close to whatever one might put out as a description of deity - Whoever has seen me has seen the father, before Abraham was I am, claiming to be able to forgive sin.  Others rent their clothes as one does in the presence of blasphemy "calling himself equal to God," or claiming to be the Son of Man, so the people on the scene certainly thought so as well.  Whatever verses textual critics may uncover that are suspect or better translations found for, it is not merely a verse or an episode here or there which must be discarded, but huge swaths of the Gospels. Yet those closest to him, though far separated in distance after his death, continue to be martyred for the claims we are asked to question.  We begin to get into the territory of what Woody Allen said about another set of texts: "Shakespeare never wrote all those plays.  It was somebody else named Shakespeare."

Most claims that Jesus didn't exactly say He was God derive - no, first, most claims derive from people who don't really know what Jesus said, but have picked up some vague knowledge about legends and folk-tales and hero-worship and assume that something of this nature must be what happened with Jesus, which I find no need to answer but note in passing - from verses about the difference in roles among the persons of the Trinity, that the Father does this and the Son does that.  I don't pretend to sort that out for anyone, because I haven't sorted it out form myself.  But puzzling* is not the same as false.  It is as if some definition of being God is thought to include wearing a blue cap, but we have no record of Jesus wearing a blue cap, so he can't be God.  It is up far enough into deity range that I can't tell whether it's one star or a galaxy with the naked eye. The flippers finally miss.  down the hole it goes.

The second objection can similarly be held aloft for extended periods. History is full of religious figures making claims about themselves that we consider overblown and excessive.  Yet we still regard some of them as being generally sane, even wise persons, worth listening to on many other topics. We are unwilling to declare them lunatics, or demonic, and don't see any compelling reason to believe they were trying to deceive others in any way. Those who object to the Trilemma think that Jesus falls into this category.  I can see why they might think so.  Yet this requires not only a superficial reading of Jesus, but a superficial reading of all the other nice guys and gals as well. Charles Taze Russell put in a lot of effort, but he was a man with questions who didn't ask them of anyone else, just decided that he could do fine on his own and would not listen to criticism. He ultimately had to tell people he was a Hebrew scholar even though he was unable to identify all the letters in its alphabet. Joseph Smith seems to have intentionally set out to create a story.  (His immediate followers were considerably more honest and honorable, though perhaps not so demanding of evidence as they should be.)

Down through the long, sordid list, back through Sabbatai Zevi relying on a forgery, even to Simon bar Kochba, who had Jews who refused to join him executed, many of these innocents were not so.  I must be fair and note than many seem to have been simply killed before they showed anything liar or lunatic about themselves that I could find.

Jesus, on the other hand, made larger claims but doesn't seem to have done much from an objective viewpoint that would disqualify him.  He beat the moneylenders out of the Temple.  He withered a tree.  He spoke harshly to many people. Yet he provoked people to dramatic hatred wherever he went. The other possibilities of the trilemma occurred to them quickly.  They thought demon or possessed by demons was a possibility.  His own family thought he was crazy and came to bring him home where he wouldn't any trouble anymore. We don't have much in the way of examples of people sitting down with Jesus and saying "See here, son.  A lot of this doesn't add up and you seem to be going too far. Here's what God is like, agreed? Are you following me here?" Nicodemus, a teacher of the law and among the very few best equipped to do that, asks questions instead.  Perhaps only Pontius Pilate comes near that sort of reasoning, concluding "I don't see what all the fuss is about here.  Nice young man, perhaps misguided.  Why don't we just punish him a bit and be done with it?" Though of course, he'd received inside information from his wife that something more was up with this one, but he didn't want to pursue it. He drew no conclusion, hitting the flippers for a bit before walking away and saying "Wherever the ball goes, it goes.  Nothing to do with me anymore."

We could keep the flippers going with other messiahs and seers as well.  The ones we think saner, like the Buddha, made no claim of divinity, nor anything like it.  The ones who did make those claims fall into the other Trilemma bins, quickly or slowly. Looking more closely at the data, we find that the others drop off or move aside (such as Baha'u'llah, a nice-enough fellow who claimed to be a Manifestation of God, which is pretty high up there - but even he claimed was not the same thing as Deity), Jesus moves up into another category. Perhaps if went about in history more, we would find one...

Have a go at it, if you like. I'm taking the trend as enough to go on at this point.

*Or more exactly, mysterious.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer

How things change, and how poor memory is.  I could swear I first heard this song at Frank's Truck Stop on Rte 143 outside Williamsburg in early 1973, but Wikipedia tells me it didn't come out until October of that year, so I am wrong on that.  I first went to Frank's in late 1971, my freshman year at William and Mary.  It was my introduction to any real southern culture, as Williamsburg was 70% college/Mid-Atlantic bubble. I went with Sam Jones, Don Harvey, and John Daniel Porter, all of them Virginians who objected to my talking too fast and putting maple syrup on grits.  "Dayviyd! Yer roonin' 'em!"

I thought all of us were going in mockery, but I gradually learned that this was only partly true for the Virginians, and not true at all for those from farther south, who relished this chance to get something much like what they grew up with. (William & Mary was/is a state school of 80% Virginians. At the time it drew very few students from New England or west of the Appalachians.  North Florida to North Jersey was its out-of-state draw.) I saw this title and had to include it among my three choices for a quarter at the table jukebox.

I was in a band, Carroll County, which was following CSN&Y, the Eagles, Loggins & Messina, and a host of others deeper into country music. This was still too far ridiculous for us, and we never quite embraced this, but the irony was gone almost as soon as we sniggered.  Stephen Still's Manassas had long been out and the Flying Burrito Brothers were on our turntable nightly.

I went back anti-country after the 70's, because too much of evangelical culture seemed to regard that as God's True Music. Still, I do like close harmony, and country music has always been strong on that. Bluegrass, anything with a fiddle, and anything that hearkens back to Scots-Irish roots are about as far as I'll follow now.  Creedence Clearwater Revival seems to have won the day, bringing rock into country and country into mainstream, which persists to this day.  Okay, until the year 2000 anyway, because I don't really have much solid information after that.

To top it all off, PBR is fashionable now. Oh, and you know Russell from an earlier song, covered by the Beatles, "Act Naturally."

Drongo Versu Meerkats

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Worship Music

The topic came up over at Maggie's and people there were strongly negative about what is called "worship music" these days. Definitions are elusive, but people pretty much know what you are talking about, especially when defined in the negative. Not classical, not traditional hymnody, not old gospel songs. It might be either acoustic or electric, lean toward country, rock, or folk, but it's definitely new, it is often accompanied by special effects, and a whole lot of people complain about it. I used to complain about it myself, as I am left cold by summer-camp songs and "Jesus is my boyfriend" lyrics. I can use the other styles for the work of worship reasonably well at this point, except perhaps much older liturgical music, such as what the Orthodox or Melkites use. Perhaps you have to either grow up with those or be really determined to make an entire lifestyle change to embrace those. We tend to love the music played when and where we first loved Christ. We can learn to love other styles over time. I am fortunate that because my conversion was sporadic, traditional Protestant hymns, choir music, gospel black or white, Jesus Freak music, Lutheran liturgy from the 50's-80's, prayer meeting choruses, and the 90's contemporary Christian music that my sons listened to all work for me. I'm not even sure that's a complete list. Actually, Christmas carols are a whole separate category, but may be my heart language for worship.

The temptation to settle on one and secretly believe that it is the real deal, in contrast to what other people like, just isn't there for me. Plus, I don't listen to much of any of it at this point.  I sing whatever they put in front of me on Sunday with joy, partly because I like it, but also because I don't have to choose it, rehearse it, and lead it as I used to. Also, I hum to myself a lot.

I have decided I am tired of those articles by Christians disliking modern worship expressions as shallow or repetitive or simplistic or whatever it is that's bothering them.  I've had forty years of complaints, I know what the general outline is, and I know where the comments are going to go after.  Failure to abandon the old and take up the new was one of the reasons my last church collapsed. (I'm still not over it six years later,)  We had lots of people who were musicians, they appreciated and understood older, more complicated music in various styles, they made a strong effort to sing lustily (even though this is New England, and pretty Northern European), and it never quite worked. Perhaps we could not have done otherwise, for it was not in our nature.

My son has moved to a different church in Houston, with mostly modern styles.  He makes videos and directs worship, and also does concert videos of the bands (plus some of their separate professional work.)  This is a good time to send you over to the videos of what he does in Texas.  The video at the top is one of his.. Most of it is original music, which if you haven't done that for worship, you probably don't know how hard that is. I suspect that a lot of this is exactly what some of you are trying to get away from.  But I've learned to like it just fine. If you do like it, he links on to the whole of the concerts, albums, or services that he presents part of.

Budapest and Romania 2001

Castle Peles, in the Carpathian Mountains.
How do you tell parents that you didn't bring back their sons because you thought it was a good idea to let them play with a lion?

The Assistant Village Idiot tries to restrain communism at Szoborpark, outside Budapest.

They dealt with the socialist-art statuary left over from communist days in an intriguing manner. They didn't want to destroy it, as that seemed to be just doing what the USSR had done, only in reverse. But they didn't want these visual and philosophical monstrosities around anymore either. So they moved them into a field in a suburban neighborhood outside of town. You can see the houses in the background. The park is work the trip, if you are ever in the area.

A Bit About Sweden

Maybe other people thought Trump's comment came out of left field, but I was certainly aware of the problems they are having in Scandinavia, especially Sweden. I have a son who has lived in Norway the last five years, who is very aware of immigrants arriving and causing problems from the very beginning.  Chris is an immigrant himself - doubly an immigrant actually, having come to New Hampshire at age 13 and moving to Norway after he got out of the USMC. Thus, he compares his own behavior and work ethic with theirs, not to their advantage.  He is probably too easily irritated and jumping to conclusions when he talks about them arriving at the bus terminal and harassing the women or demanding apartments immediately, but his aren't the only reports.  And he is way, way up north in Tromso, where they are only beginning to have large numbers of immigrants.

Also, I am of Swedish extraction on one side, so I have kept half an eye on what is happening there since childhood. That has brought me in contact with websites that report what it is apparently not allowed to be reported in Sweden. (See Staffan on my sidebar, for example.  Or catch up on Hjernevask, the Norwegian 7-part series about inheritance and behavior.  There are subtitles, don't panic.) Crime statistics are not broken down by whether they are committed by natives or immigrants, and in the second generation you get classified as a native anyway.  But you can look at the cities that have had more immigration and compare crime rates, using only arithmetic. Thus, Malmo, right down on the southern tip and across from Copenhagen, now has a school population that is 52% 1st or 2nd generation immigrant. Coincidentally, this is where the bombs are going off.  Very unSwedish.

Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, are prone to attributing this to Islam.  I am not so convinced of this. Yes, I have read many of the quotes from the Koran about how observant Muslims are supposed to act toward the infidels and the rest of the world. But not all one billion Muslims seem to be putting much energy into obeying those particular passages. Certainly the terrorist attacks usually have some element of Islamic rhetoric.  But the crime and general violence I think is simply primitive.  For those who follow Pinker's subtext in The Better Angels of Our Nature, it is one specific area of the world that has low intracultural violence, while everyone else has higher (sometimes much higher) rates.  There's that Hajnal Line again. It is lack of violence which should surprise us, not violence.  If anything, I think that Islam has been a moderating influence on the deeply tribal Middle-East. Not enough, but some.

Monday, February 20, 2017

More Trump

I'm going to sound like Scott Adams over at his Dilbert blog. When I first read his predictions about Trump early in the primaries, describing him as a Master Persuader, a wizard, and all that. I thought it overblown.

Well, he turned out to be spot on, so shows you what I know. During the election season I also read Taleb's Antifragile, which was similarly helpful in understanding what is going on around me. Trump is antifragile. His popularity benefits from uncertainty and chaos. He is like Antaeus, the giant who gained strength whenever Hercules threw him to earth. Legacy media sources and liberal advocacy groups have not figured out that they continue to make him more powerful by the type of criticism they are directing toward him.

I can't tell if the NeverTrump side of conservatism - National Review, Weekly Standard - is making the same mistakes.  I suspect not, because they will have somewhat different things that torque them off, but it's not impossible. I do read occasionally of Democrats sounding the alarm, and articulating clearly that they know the previous strategies aren't working.  Their message doesn't seem to be penetrating.  If you won't listen to them I can't imagine why you'd find me persuasive, but I'll have a go.

Because this should have been your finest hour, of providing good investigative reporting when we really need it, but you have basically thrown it away, and are already in the process of losing the 2018 elections.  A huge drop in the stock market and subsequent recession - that may save your chances, though it's not a guarantee. A very bad war or some catastrophe that's not handled well - that may cause some doubters to jump ship on Trump. Yet if he successfully blames those things on Democrats - fairly or unfairly - either could make things worse for you. You'll notice that I'm addressing you as if you are on the side of liberals and Democrats. Sorry, lost my head, there.  Where would I get an idea like that?

Let's start with the basics: you don't have the credibility you think you do.  I know, I know, all your friends believe you when you report bad things about Trump or his appointees, and they reinforce it in their conversations or their tweets or their news shows. That's not everybody. In fact, it's way less than 50% of the population, perhaps about a third.  Convincing those people more and more and more how bad Trump is doesn't move the dial. Sure, there are people on the other side, on the Trump side, who wouldn't believe you no matter what evidence you produce, and that strikes you as infuriating and unfair. No, not really.  It's something of a balance, actually.  You are those people, just turned inside out.

Consequently, the standard for avoiding mistakes is now the same for you as you have been applying to others for your whole career.  When accusing Trump of making some inaccurate statement, if you get that wrong once it outweighs nine times that you got it right. And, just between you and me and the lampost, you aren't close to getting it right 90% of the time just now. so in the minds of the public, you are digging yourself in deeper and deeper. Fresh examples are best. There was a lot of excitement this past weekend about Trump claiming something had gone wrong in Sweden, but there hadn't been any big incident that anyone could recognise.  When I first read it, I thought What the hell is Trump talking about there? I thought the story plausible, because Trump does stuff like this.  Then I saw the transcript, and without even knowing the rest of the story, I thought Unh, there's some window there. It's a little clumsy in the wording, but he could be talking about events in general in Sweden, maybe an "Every Friday night..." You shouldn't try to slam dunk these, because they keep hitting off the rim. So when I read the full response, that Trump had watched Tucker Carlson on the news Friday with a story about the increase in rape and violence in Sweden due to immigration, it made entire sense.

The people who always believe you - the people who will believe any bad thing about Trump (and his minions - don't forget his minions) will throw up their hands, roll their eyes and say "Aw come on, that's a ridiculous excuse.  You got caught out, you old windbag.  Don't try to bring that crap in here." Except it's not ridiculous at all.  That's exactly how Trump talks, and how he thinks. He's been talking like this for years. His claim is entirely plausible. It not only could be true, so you can't get your slam dunk, it is actually the most likely thing that happened.  Because why the hell else would Sweden suddenly occur to him? The news story was in his stew, it bubbled to the top, and he spooned it. 

Net result: Your pals, no change.  They still don't believe Trump but even if he had some sort of definite proof they would just scowl and wait for the next time. (We'll get him next time.) Trump's pals, no change.  Even if you had proof they'd just shrug it off.  People in the middle, that one-third of the population, most will now remember They lied about Trump again, about something really small and pointless like it was a big deal. Maybe a few will think you scored a point, but also notice that it doesn't much matter. Small potatoes. So now you need to catch him nine times, without a miss, to make up for it. Welcome to the world you made.  How does it feel to be on the receiving end?

Remember the first rule of holes.

Next basic point:  the tricks you used to use don't work anywhere near as well now.  I was in the doctor's office today and saw the last two Time magazine covers. A really unflattering, sinister head shot of Steve Bannon, and a very senatorial, senex -looking Chuck Schumer. 20-30 years ago, only a few political-bias fanatics like myself noticed such things.  The thought is that many were influenced by it without noticing it. That is much less true today. New media has drummed this home for years now, and many people notice the attempt at manipulation immediately. Not only are they no longer affected by it, they are now infuriated by it and are determined to shove this back in your face. I'm not sure whether your own people notice or not.  I suspect it merely confirms their pre-existing bias and is unnoticed.  Yet perhaps not.

Third basic point: making fun of Trump doesn't seem to be working very well, does it?  That is, it doesn't work in moving the dial.  If anything it is working against Trump's opponents.  Every coarse and unfair characterisation of him buys another vote for him in 2020.  So keep circulating those memes, see how that works out for you.  Admittedly, I don't know what will work against him - you might be reduced to trial-and-error at this point.  It's not that you shouldn't be allowed to, it's just that it's stupid.  It's working against you.  This idea that it's some noble cause upholding democracy and preserving the republic against fascist forces is just insane.  You clutch your pearls when Trump says the press is the enemy of the people, certain that this means jack-booted thugs are going to be smashing printing presses and locking up helpless reporters.  No one is going to lock you up. We aren't on the first steps to that, we aren't mirroring 1933. You aren't heroes. Sorry the others aren't sticking to your script.  Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit used a line that must be a paraphrase of some movie or TV line a month or so ago. (Maybe he uses it all the time, I don't know.) "Do you want more Trump?  Because this is how you get more Trump."

I am going to tread into more speculative territory here.  Making fun of Trump does not "work" in the larger political sense, but it may "work" in the sense of your friends thinking you are witty, smart, in the know.  For your own personal goals of fitting in among friends and co-workers, of finding mates, jobs, friends, and resources it may "work" to make fun of Donald Trump and to find the cleverest ways of doing it. That may explain why liberals seem unable to give up what is clearly hurting them.

Look forward into how you are hoping to take votes away from Trump-by-proxy in the 2018 elections, and then into 2020 if/when he runs again.  You are very dependent on large events going against him, whether caused by him or not, and more important of your ability to pin the blame for that on him. Now look at the other side of the ledger, of where he might gain votes next time: The NeverTrump conservatives who didn't vote for him (I know at least one, myself), are very pleased with his SCOTUS nomination.  One more of those, with another vacancy or two opening after 2020, and they will vote for him in a heartbeat unless there has been something terrible that puts them off. The Hispanic vote, which already trended more to Trump that you will admit, will move even more in his direction.  The fact that the activist/more cynical/more paranoid half of the Hispanic vote hates him even more won't matter. They don't double-vote from more hatred. If jobs are better and he has shown that he's not going to kick legal immigrants around, those votes will shift.  This is doubly true of the African-American vote.  Yes, some blacks are absolutely furious or petrified about what he will do, and a core of them will not be moved.  But the white supremacist card was so wildly overplayed, and his record on race so neutral over time, that some of those votes will drift away as well.  Again, the fact that there is a core of black voters who really, really hate him, even if they write columns or get up in front of protests or get interviewed on CNN, and will never vote for him is irrelevant. If jobs are better and there actually aren't measurably deteriorating outcomes for African-Americans, some votes will drift.

Where are you hoping to make those votes up?  Native Americans turning out for Elizabeth Warren?

BTW, I'm guessing that the activist core senses this, so expect that they will attempt to make any incident into a huge deal, hoping that it will galvanise anti-Trump sentiment. It might.  This is how politics works, and they may hit the jackpot.  Problem: If they swing-and-miss a hundred times it's going to be a net loss. Remember that miss doesn't mean "we were proven completely wrong and are utterly defeated on this issue." Miss means "no new people were outraged."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Michael Novak, RIP

I learned over at Maggie's that Michael Novak has died. Something to notice: he was a highly influential man, but you will not see his death mentioned in news feeds.

I had not known he had a new book come out in 2015, Social Justice Isn't What You Think It Is. I must not travel in the right circles. I hope to have a look at it soon.  If any of you have read it, tell me what you think.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Systemic Racism

Systemic racism is the cause of the dangerous water in Flint. We just talked about this a week ago.

Senior Scholastic Quiz: Who does the author appear to blame? What is his evidence? What does the word "systemic" imply about  agency and culpability?

Deconstructionist version of Senior Scholastic quiz: Who is not mentioned here? Do they possibly bear some blame? What liberties does the word "systemic" allow?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cost Disease, With Update

Update: As per my comment section, there are excellent comments on SSC at this post as well.  In fact, there are over a thousand comments, so I just don't read them.  The indefatigable Alexander does read his comments, however, and published the highlights in a subsequent post, including one from Megan McArdle. Taking the two posts together would be just about worth an entire semester of economics. They might contain just about everything you need to know.


Dr. Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex has a post Considerations on Cost Disease riffing off a piece by Tyler Cowan. Alexander is usually lengthy, but it is because he's thorough.  He actually saves you from reading half-a-dozen other articles. He tries to give many sides a fair shot at explaining the phenomenon.  He does his research, provides intriguing examples, and frames thing in ways I hadn't quite thought of. Do you think today's student would prefer the college education they are getting today, or the essentially similar one their parents got in 1980, plus $72,000? (Pretty obvious answer) Then he goes on to discuss exactly why that choice is not available - that no matter how much we look to the market to solve our problems, plenty of things simply elude market forces.  Not always government, either.

More than once I would read a paragraph and think "Oh, but he's neglecting the competitive forces that in play here but not there," only to find two paragraphs later that he has indeed considered exactly that, plus a few other things I hadn't thought of. He wonders why there are diminishing returns, why other countries pay for health care or education much at a fraction of our costs, and whether there is much we can do about it. He has a remarkable ability to question his own assumptions. A sample:
Fifth, might the increased regulatory complexity happen not through literal regulations, but through fear of lawsuits? That is, might institutions add extra layers of administration and expense not because they’re forced to, but because they fear being sued if they don’t and then something goes wrong?

I see this all the time in medicine. A patient goes to the hospital with a heart attack. While he’s recovering, he tells his doctor that he’s really upset about all of this. Any normal person would say “You had a heart attack, of course you’re upset, get over it.” But if his doctor says this, and then a year later he commits suicide for some unrelated reason, his family can sue the doctor for “not picking up the warning signs” and win several million dollars. So now the doctor consults a psychiatrist, who does an hour-long evaluation, charges the insurance company $500, and determines using her immense clinical expertise that the patient is upset because he just had a heart attack.

Those outside the field have no idea how much of medicine is built on this principle. People often say that the importance of lawsuits to medical cost increases is overrated because malpractice insurance doesn’t cost that much, but the situation above would never look lawsuit-related; the whole thing only works because everyone involved documents it as well-justified psychiatric consult to investigate depression. Apparently some studies suggest this isn’t happening, but all they do is survey doctors, and with all due respect all the doctors I know say the opposite.

This has nothing to do with government regulations (except insofar as these make lawsuits easier or harder), but it sure can drive cost increases, and it might apply to fields outside medicine as well.

And also, because it's just a good quote: 
I mentioned politics briefly above, but they probably deserve more space here. Libertarian-minded people keep talking about how there’s too much red tape and the economy is being throttled. And less libertarian-minded people keep interpreting it as not caring about the poor, or not understanding that government has an important role in a civilized society, or as a “dog whistle” for racism, or whatever. I don’t know why more people don’t just come out and say “LOOK, REALLY OUR MAIN PROBLEM IS THAT ALL THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS COST TEN TIMES AS MUCH AS THEY USED TO FOR NO REASON, PLUS THEY SEEM TO BE GOING DOWN IN QUALITY, AND NOBODY KNOWS WHY, AND WE’RE MOSTLY JUST DESPERATELY FLAILING AROUND LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS HERE.” State that clearly, and a lot of political debates take on a different light.

Oh, and SSC often has brilliant commenters, but this particular thread starts out with some people whose ability to do anything but recite cliches is suspect, so just don't.  JUST DON'T.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Refugee Numbers

Even with the 120-day moratorium (Update: is it now only 90?) on refugees from seven key countries, the number of refugees the US accepts this year will be at just about the level it accepted in 2011 and 2012. (Lots of other interesting data at the link.) Granted, it will still be a bit less.  Also, the rise over the last few years has been in response to real events. But note further that Barack Obama dramatically increased the number we would accept - by executive order - just before the election. As with the wild change in the acceptable arsenic level in late 2000 by Bill Clinton, so that Bush would have to look like he was dangerously reducing safety standards when he tried to simply return it to previous levels, this has a strongly political feel to it.

A story: In 1992, Haitians were climbing on fragile boats trying to cross to America.  Bush 41 gave orders to turn them back, but Bill Clinton insisted he would never do such a heartless, inhumane thing.  Thus, as soon as Clinton was elected, huge numbers of Haitians climbed aboard even frailer vessels, hoping to cross to America. Why wouldn't they?

Thousands died on the open sea, including the father of one of our sponsored children. (Which is why I remember.)

And Bill Clinton did decide he was going to turn them away as well, so please don't come.  You may legitimately ask why this was not widely reported amidst the heady joy of America finally having a good president.

I don't believe them when they say they care.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Post-Colonial Population Structure

A new study in Nature by Eunjun Han, et al, examines the genomes of three-quarters of a million Americans and notes patterns in identity-by-descent, which is roughly "where your ancestors come from." Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial structure of North America. 

If you have been following along here, the results are not only not surprising, they are pretty much what we would have drawn on the map as a prediction. The genome dots generally track the regional cultures put forward by Colin Woodard in his 2011 American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Woodward's book is based on David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, and Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America. He considers his own work to be a significant improvement on Garreau's. I think that is partly, but not entirely true. You can compare on your own

I have recommended, written about, and referred to Fischer's and Garreau's books often.

I didn't spend much time on the text, mostly only using it to give me more details about the maps. Especially Figure 3.  Some things to note: Woodard's Tidewater culture is not visibly distinct here, and the further distinctions of  Upland South, Midlands, and Greater Appalachia are visible, but not quite the same as any of the three authors have claimed. Still, not bad, to be able to read a genetic map before the DNA was even collected.  That Utah was ultimately settled by people who were Yankees rather than one of the other American coastal nations has been noted before - first by their own extensive genealogies. Joseph Smith was a northeastern Yankee. Make of that what you will.  The additional nationalites not mentioned in the volumes are nonetheless not surprising.  Scandinavians, Acadians, and Jews show up right where we would expect them to, and they were not neglected in the the books, even though they were not much part of the historical discussion until much later.  Enjoy.

For those of you who dig this stuff in more detail, Jayman over at Unz Review is a very talented (because obsessed) amateur. He lives up in Portland and I hope to go up and hoist one with him when I take my minor-league baseball trip this year.

Part The Second - Too Long

I am thinking this idea that is spreading all over the landscape will become more manageable over time.  It needs to be edited, but I think that will happen on its own. This refers back to the post about Racism and Immigration.


There is a third strain of equality that I think is not a parent to the American pattern of accepting all without distinction, but an older sibling, and that is equality before the law. I don't know enough about the history of law worldwide to be entirely confident, but I believe the law is usually different for kings, slaves, landowners, men vs women, strangers - in the great majority of times and places. It is one of the things we believe is an advance in Western Civilisation that these have narrowed into one law for all.  I suspect this is also derived from Christian practice, though it gradually became independent of it, in America at least. Though it is hard to make a logical argument of identical rights for those who wish to come here versus those who already are here, there is an emotional equivalence that is very strong in American thinking. Well, they've got families, y'know, just like you  and me. They're the same as us really, we haven't got any cause to look down on them.  All God's creatures - you're the Christian, you should know that. They want to come here and have a life. Like your grandparents did, and mine.  Just the same thing. What business do you have keeping them out?

All quite reasonable as far as it goes. Here's the rub: this has worked out very badly for black people. Fairness to one group turns out to be unfairness to another.  Most immigration has worked out great for America (some groups more than others), and the general rise in prosperity from all this economic energy has benefitted all of us, enough that the per capita of African-Americans in Mississippi is higher than Sweden's*. Yet in each generation, those waves of Irishmen, Italians, Slavs, and Jews have taken the lowest-rank jobs that would have otherwise been available to…gulp.  So yeah. Comparisons are difficult.  I'm not sure there were many black people itching to be poultry farmers in Massachusetts, or mill workers in Rhode Island when my most recent ancestors came.  As hard as things were, some jobs were available to them that might not have been available to African-Americans.  At a minimum, people might not have bought the black man's eggs. 
White people descended from recent immigrants like to point out that they weren't slaveholders, and their great-great-grandpas were dirt farmers in those days who never took a cent that wasn't theirs.  This is true.  Nor did they "benefit" from the value produced and economic growth of slaveholding, except very indirectly, in which subsequent African-Americans benefitted as well.  But less immigration just might -- might just have allowed a few more openings, and forced a few more people to accept having a black egg-route guy. Even if you take an extreme genetic/racial ability/bell curve approach to competition and want to maintain that those Irishmen deserved those jobs because they could do them better (I do not - egg-routes are more dependent on hard work than IQ), it still remains that without that competition things might have been different.

So that's uncomfortable, but for the present, why isn't the question Why make this worse? I believe our responsibility to fellow citizens is far greater than it is to the world. Once one frames the question this way, the focus on It's Racist to build a wall  or discriminate against a subgroup of Muslims looks quite, quite different.

The long way home, certainly.  Not entirely direct.

On to the part where playing the opposite game turns out to be illuminating.
I am now speaking mostly to the Christians reading.  While non-Christians, especially Jews, might also feel that call to absolutism, that burden of being prepared to accept anybody (and thus, everybody), is primarily from the hard words of Jesus.  All, every, least of these, specifically identifying Samaritans and Romans in his stories**.  Jesus tended to be more than harsh with those who attempted to find exemptions on the basis of practicality.

Other Christians put forward the Jesus command to be generous to this person or that one, one group or another.  The claim that there are no exceptions, that this is all, every, least of these is sometimes explicit, and always at least implied.  The subtext "If you don't do this you are not obeying Jesus" is quite clear. This was true long before Facebook or the internet, which only affect the speed of delivery.  I remember it as far back as highschool youth group. People playing this card seem to be quite sure they are being the conscience of the Church,  or speaking "in the prophetic voice" as we would say now. Sometimes they are. Other Christians saying uncomfortable, accusing things are always worth a listen, because God has indeed used that method to warn his people repeatedly.
Yet this doesn't mean that everyone who talks like this is speaking for God.

The numbers vary wildly, but let us take the UN figures that there are about 65 million refugees plus internally displaced persons.  Why do we choose one to get upset about and not another? Well, politics, mostly, is what elevates one cause above another. For those of us on the receiving end, we respond to what is in front of us, usually appropriately. I'm not trying to claim that there is anything wrong with getting involved with trying to help a particular batch of refugees.  Life takes odd twists and turns, and we find our life's cause in what might seem to be an accidental way.  There are also, at any given time, a thousand other different types of suffering.  Why do we choose one cause over another? I don't think there is anything wrong with picking up the Cause of the Week and embracing it as your own.  I suspect God uses that in us to get permanent workers for many causes.

But if you are posting about the Cause of the Week repeatedly, then I think you are being manipulated. I apologise for putting this in such a crass way, but refugees are big right now, and Christian leaders are showing up in those photos a lot.  I want people to know that these people are not terrorists.  There are CHILDREN here. (Yes, 13% of the total.  There are children.)  Can we get a picture of me with the children? The church can't just ignore this.  We have to raise awareness that these are real people, and they are really suffering.  We can't just turn our backs. Hey this little fella is kinda cute.  How about if I pick him up and you take a picture.  Sort of "Let the children come unto me," y'know?

I hope someone does indeed devote themselves to Middle Eastern refugees on the basis of those photos.  I hope a lot of people do.  I want them to be moved.  But all this "raising awareness" isn't very universal, is it? Yes, that's the trick.  The appeals to universality are often disguised appeals to a very carefully chosen group.  Those Africans can go jump.  We've got Palestinians to worry about. I'm sorry, Afghans.  We've got Afghans to worry about.

The first time I saw the bumper sticker "God Bless The Whole World, No Exceptions" I thought Well, that's a little nasty. Trying to kick someone with that, I'm thinking.  I'm betting I could pretty quickly dig out some people you didn't want God to bless. These appeals to universality are often quite narrow when you squeeze them.  In fact, I think that automatically now whenever someone tries to sell me the idea that helping this cause or that one on the basis of Jesus not rejecting anyone.  To choose one is to not choose another. Why Tom?  Why not Dick, or Harry?  I'll give you a hint.  There is usually someone who can be made to look bad because they don't support this cause, or don't support it enough.  Once you know to look for that, the person or group targeted is often quite obvious. 

Yet this is problematic for Christians. Even if we have been manipulated into a spot, we do now know about the suffering- and doesn't God use circumstances just like this to get our attention? Must we always have to be wise as serpents?  Can't we just be harmless as doves and leave it at that? I don't know.

The people who post these causes are nearly always better at the "harmless as doves" part than I am. They aren't evil or manipulative people themselves, though might too readily believe one group of manipulators versus another because of their biases. My temptation is to advise - When you see that, write a check for some other cause.

*If this seems incredible to you, consider things like house size, number of cars, electronics, clothing, jewelry, variety of food.  Americans consume a lot that doesn't look like "wealth" when you take tourist pictures.  Probably a lot of it is bad judgment on our part and we would be more prosperous in some commonly recognisable sense if we spent like Scandinavians. But it is wealth.

**Though also, Matthew 15, where Jesus essentially equates a non-Jewish woman with a dog. (It works out in the end, but still…)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Reflecting over at Grim's on Meryl Streep's pearl-clutching about how brave she is to receive criticism, even from bots, it occurred to me that middle-schoolers endure worse.  We forget, because we learned something and survived, but these tender souls, as part of the toughening that seems hard-wired into the species, have terrible things said to them.  Small mistakes are remembered and highlighted; attributes over which they have no control, such as names or physical attributes, are fair game for insults, murmured in line where authorities cannot hear, or even shouted out loud. They get roughly shouldered, or shoved. Sometimes it is worse and they get beaten or assaulted.

Plus whatever adults throw at them, which is sometimes worse because it carries the weight of authority. 

They have little experience with this - they turn pink, they make it worse with bad replies, they don't know if it is better to fight back or walk away. (Answer: it depends.) They cannot get away. Blessed are the oblivious.  Adults have much more choice about who they associate with or where they can go.

They are in many ways braver than adults, who would sue the ass off someone who pulled this crap on them at work or in a store. It's not easy.  If you have contact with the young, even those who have seemingly easy lives, it might do to let them know that they are braver than they thought, endure more than is generally recognised, and will likely rely on the courage they are developing now.


Yet another education post over at Maggie's.  It is a subject where people believe what they believe regardless of the evidence.  Because they just know. And their own childhood experience, or their grandfather's, or their second child's, is brought forward as an illustration of some universal truth.

Anecdote. It's all just anecdote and preconceived notion that must fit into some deeply-held personal need, as it is so impervious to modification.

Do the work yourself, then may it will sink in.  Identify a few of the best high schools in your state according to reputation and see what their 10th grade testing scores were. Then track back six years and see what their 4th grade scores were.  Repeat for the worst high schools.  You will find roughly the same schools at the top and same schools at the bottom.  If you can find 1st grade scores, so much the better. Multiple years in good schools doesn't add much, multiple years in bad schools doesn't subtract much.  Any difference of more than a few points is usually a demographic change because of wealth - a booming community where richer people are moving in, or a failing community where all the smart money is getting out.

Does Immigration Increase Discrimination Against Citizens?

This turned out to be quite long, and quite indirect before I got to my counterintuitive final set of points. I will have to find some way to divide this for readability.
I speculated in my Reducing Racism post that high levels of immigration may interfere with the acceptance of actual citizens, especially African-Americans. That there is an economic effect is widely believed among African-Americans and is sometimes noted by whites as well.  Most prominently and recently, Bernie Sanders has long asserted this and made this a part of his early campaign. However, it doesn't come up as a common cliché in our discussions of either immigration or racism. Relatedly, I wondered if there were a similar emotional effect - and that is absolutely not a cliché of our current discussions. On the contrary, a supposed opposite effect is a cliché, that acceptance of blacks and Hispanics and Muslims and Asians and Natives is all tied together as a white rejection of "brownness." Grim asked if I had any further thoughts about why this is not a cliché, and asked his own audience to consider the matter as well.

I gave a preliminary answer that it might be tied in to a Christian-derived absolutism to accept all or give to all on the basis of need, regardless of background.  Not that all Christian groups have taken this attitude - most have continued to be at least partly insular, tribal, clan-based.  But this sort of universal brotherhood idea doesn't occur in other groups at all. The idea of some gradualism is clear in the OT.  Yahweh declares it's OK to intermarry with this tribe but not with that one, and boundaries are sometimes fuzzy. There are hints all along that Israel has some special purpose among the nations, not to exterminate them or ignore them forever, but to be the vehicle for their eventual acceptance as well.

But I don't know of even gradualism being part of the thinking of other groups worldwide. So. This idea that we mustn't pick and choose, mustn't say "First we'll get all the black people up even, then move on to folks from other countries" must descend at least in part from Christian heritage.  Some Christians would consider the rule ironclad, and the idea has certainly been around for the last 2000 years. Yet I don't think anyone but Americans, Canadians...maybe some others in the Anglosphere...some other Europeans...Well, when we get to "some other Europeans" we start to see a different picture. Plenty of folks in the nearly-defunct European churches would subscribe to that kind of universalism, as would their Arts & Humanities tribe, many journalists, government officials and politicians.  But notice an immediate difference.  Those latter groups may say "we need to be open to everyone," but it is never phrased as "we have to accept Roma, and Jews, and Syrians, and Pakistanis, and Gambians."  It is framed in the negative: "We must not be nationalist." Nationalism is the great fear of European elites. 

That fear among them goes back well before WWII and the Nazis, though they are the usual excuse.  It goes back to Marx, and all the sub-creeds of believers who divided humanity horizontally rather than vertically. Nationalism was the main competitor to Marxism in both the 19th and 20th C's. (Perhaps religion was also an equal competitor to both. Worth an exploration sometime.) Accepting "everyone" is more of an abstract. It is usually pulled out only when the acceptance of some specific group is being discussed.  Currently, it refers only to one category of the world's refugees.

As Marxism is something of a Christian heresy right out of the gate, it becomes very difficult for any of us to discern where our belief in universal brotherhood comes from.  Even Christians who hate Marxism, and Marxists who hate Christianity, learned their values in cultures where the other was present and influential.
The New Testament is pretty solidly in favor of accepting any who will join the Church as equals: neither Jew nor Greek, etc. (Though also, first to the Jew and then the Greek.)  Yet even there the idea of universal brotherhood is not so strong as advertised.  Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Do good to all people, but especially… And also 1 Timothy 3 or 5; Matthew 25 says both, specifying generosity to the brethren in the first part of the statement, expanding to everyone in the second.  Relatives, families, tribes remain important.  In the pictures of heaven in the Revelation to John, everyone remains grouped in nations - they are not an undifferentiated mass.  Notice also, whatever universality there is acceptance into the fold - none are to be turned away. But nothing is said about all of mankind being brothers. The translation in Luke is not "Peace on earth, good will to men," but "on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Or older, to men of good will.) Generosity and kindness toward all are required, believer or no. But those in the Church are your new tribe, and deserve your favor even more.

Even though it is weakly attested in the Bible, gradualism in accepting others, including Christian others, is clearly part of church history.  While believers of any stripe were welcomed in the early church, once their numbers grew and the Roman Empire crumbled this weakened. The Eastern Church continued to have Councils, but their tribes remained tribes. The Roman Catholic Church made significant advances unifying monasteries and orders across boundaries, but tribes remained tribes in Medieval Europe as well. Accepting people who were not distant cousins was still a long way off.

Arbitrary break:  The first line of the second half of this is  There is a third strain of equality that I think is not a parent to the American pattern of accepting all without distinction, but an older sibling, and that is equality before the law.  So just absorb this for now.  I imagine you are as weary as I am.