Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Jewish Life In Germany

I am reading excerpts from collected Jewish diaries in Germany in the 18th-20th Centuries.  I was struck forcibly with who it was who had the longstanding prejudices, versus who accepted them into German society as integral parts, or even equals. The university students and professors were the worst and most consistent excluders, decade after decade.  The peasants were usually prejudiced, though there were towns and regions where the peoples got along reasonably well for a century or more. Merchants, craftsmen, suppliers, builders, and especially the factory workers were the most accepting.  Prejudice ebbed and flowed, and increased fairly steadily after the economic volatility of the 1870's through 90's, and then thereafter.

The Nazis, remember, were drawn from the artists, philosophers, and university populations. They stirred up the others, and there was a longstanding simmer of antisemitism to draw on.  Eventually, it was nearly everyone, as we know. But the idea that the Holocaust happened because of some acute madness of the crowd, driven by the stupid and uneducated, is false.

Statistics As They Float By

Because I have been in doctors' offices recently, I have read many more magazines than I usually do. Wouldn't you think, BTW, that eye centers would have a few large-print magazines in their waiting rooms? Mine don't - not in three different offices.

I was reading the Sports Illustrated article about the college pitcher who was just coming to the end of his successful five-year probation for sexual abuse of his niece when he was in highschool, when the whole story came to light and now major league teams don't want to draft him because of the bad PR, and risk of worse problems down the road.

The case is interesting, because he pled guilty and likely is guilty, but also claims he only pled because he was assured it was the best way to keep everything quite and make it go away as quickly as possible. That last is true, and people do that all the time, so it raises questions.  I haven't got enough data to comment further on that, and that's not the point of the post anyway.

There was an outraged college administrator who was appalled that the university had let his arrival and playing for one of their teams happen.  In her quoted statement, she said that 75% of female drug and alcohol addicts had been sexually abused, and that 75% of women having gastric bypass surgery had been sexually abused. I have a little more than average experience with women who have had gastric bypass surgery than the average person, because they are overrepresented among psychiatric patients, but I don't know an enormous amount about it.  I know that obesity is much more common among sexually abused females* (and probably males). Yet I knew even as I was reading the sentence I knew that 75% was very likely to be too high. I was immediately irritated because if she is going to be paid a handsome salary to advocate on these sorts of matters, she has a responsibility to get these things right.  It's her job.

To me the interesting piece is how I instantly knew it was bogus.  First I will give a retrospective, but I warn you that I will go on to undermine my own reasoning, so don't get swept away.

There were two 75%'s back-to-back. Red flag. Just too convenient. Son #5 uses the phrase "Shit just comes out of her mouth." Next, the first statistic isn't really about the topic at hand.  Adult substance abusers are indeed victimised at a very high rate. That's not the same thing, but she talks as if it its. It doesn't say that 75% of women who were sexually abused as children will become substance abusers as adults, nor that 75% of adult substance abusers were sexually abused as children. Those would be relevant.  Her statistic is is shouting distance of the subject at hand, but no closer. I saw that because I did an immediate reread, because some of this is my profession and I reflexively double-check. Third, 75% of any two small, seemingly unrelated groups is a lot of people.  If someone says "75% of Mennonites..." (or mixed-race Canadians, or county employees, or members of the garden club) "...play a wind instrument" alarm bells should go off.  It's just too weird. BTW, the real number is 25-30% - a big number, but not crazy big.

So far, most people would agree with my reasoning, and noticing their own sizing up of situations on the fly, don't find this all that surprising.  Somehow we all have these amazing shortcuts, part of  Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Except sometimes these shortcuts are wrong, yet we are just as sure about them. This is where the post got away from me. Researching this, I came quickly back to Kahneman, and this short interview. But that of course (well, to me, anyway) led to CS Lewis's Meditation In a Toolshed. (PDF) It is excerpted and commented on here. I went back to browse in my own 2011 series May We Believe Our Thoughts, but I don't like reading that much of my own stuff. Hopefully I wrote smart things.  If any of you do browse, let me know.

*The two simplest theories are that the abuse creates a need to be unattractive, or that the emotional pain creates a need to self-soothe with food. I think those are true but more complicated things are true as well. Perpetrators have an ability to identify those who are less-capable of standing up to them and turning them in. In many cases both mother and daughter (there is the genetic-environment conundrum again) are willingly blind or too fearful to speak.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Our Universal Civilization

The recently-deceased VS Naipul was Indo-Carribean, whose grandparents had moved from India to Trinidad. He attended Oxford and became a great writer in English, but more interestingly for me, an observer of many cultures of the world, including the Anglosphere. He was from the margins of Anglospheric society, but not an outsider.  He could see both in and outside his culture, likely better than those of us who grow up in a place, who are like fish who do not know they are wet. In his essay Our Universal Civilization,  he gives one answer to what this culture is.
But I always recognized, in England in the 1950s, that as someone with a writing vocation, there was nowhere else for me to go. And if I have to describe the universal civilization, I would say that it is the civilization that both gave the prompting and the idea of the literary vocation; and also gave the means to fulfill that prompting; the civilization that enables me to make that journey from the periphery to the center; the civilization that links me not only to this audience but also that now not-so-young man in Java whose background was as ritualized as my own, and on whom—as on me—the outer world had worked, and given the ambition to write.
It is likely that City Journal reprinted this in response to the multicultural imperative taught in our schools, assumed among the majority of our journalists, and extolled by the entertainment industry (but I repeat myself). Naipul focuses in particular on his journeys in Muslim countries. He does not reject other cultures as valueless, with nothing to teach us, but neither does he think they are equal.

There is also a short essay on him by Theodore Dalrymple in this issue of City Journal.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Benedict Option

I will be co-teaching an adult Sunday School class on Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option this fall. As my co-leader is a philosophy professor at St Anselm College, I would very much like not to make a complete fool of myself.  If any of you know anything, or have thoughts, please share them.

Update:  In response to one comment I attempted to add Dreher to my sidebar. It seems it is impossible to link to only to Dreher's stuff, you have to go to the main page of The American Conservative. This has happened to me before on other sites, and it is frustrating.  I dislike the premises of a few of their writers and don't want to send them traffic. But AVI, you say, you don't agree with everything written by any of the group efforts on your sidebar.  Why single this one out? Perhaps it is only that I disagree with those far less often.

We will see how it works out.  I may pull the link.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Just Sayin'

With all the discussion about the woman in Holland who committed professionally-assisted suicide, I would like to note that it is not always depression which motivates suicide. Anger, and desire to punish others can sometimes be the dominant motive. Sometimes it works. One such suicide did indeed succeed in punishing our hospital very badly, including some very competent and compassionate practitioners who were embroiled in the lawsuit brought by the deeply pathological family. I can give no more information, for obvious reasons.

I do not support assisted suicide in any way.  I have seen people so desperate, living painful lives that were forced upon them, that I did not fault their desire to end it all.  However, most of them do cause pain to someone when they go, and do not weigh that heavily enough.  One of our safety plan questions upon discharge is "What is your main reason to go on living?" We are currently unable to support the theory with data, but our sense is that getting people to answer this out loud makes it stronger. We may be fooling ourselves with that one. The most common answer is that people in calmer moments recognise how much this would hurt their parents, their children, their siblings, their friends.

Yet for some, hurting those people was their motive in the first place. The sad part is that the ones you wished to punish will blame you one more time and brush it off, while the ones you wished to spare will blame themselves forever.

I have not looked into the case in the Netherlands much, other than to notice that a predictable diagnosis was attached to the woman, one that explains everything to me but perhaps not to the popular culture.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Lewis and Literary Genres in Narnia

I have just started reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my older granddaughters, so I am alert to finding deeper understandings that I missed the first dozen times. One find things reading aloud that are less visible when reading silently.

I came by a short chain of links to a medievalist's site A Clerk of Oxford. She has an excellent essay from a few years ago, C.S. Lewis the Medievalist: Baldr, Brunanburh, Athelstan, and Edmund the Just. 
This is true on another level too, because - rather like the Canterbury Tales - the Narnia books are a compendium of literary genres, a joyous introduction to all the different kinds of things literature can do. The Magician's Nephew plays in the world of E. Nesbit's children's stories, The Horse and His Boy in the world of the Arabian Nights; Prince Caspian offers the dynastic conflicts of Shakespeare's history plays, its hero a fine Tudor prince properly educated in the quadrivium (!); The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is all Mandevillian 'Travels in the East', complete with sea-serpents and monopods; The Silver Chair starts with Middle English romance (Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and gets progressively more Norse as the story goes north, until we end up in the Prose Edda; and The Last Battle takes us to apocalypse by way of Brave New World
I had not thought of the series in quite that way, yet it makes some sense.  I expect to explore the entire site.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Motte and Bailey

BsKing has put me on to a description of the Motte and Bailey Fallacy.  I have seen this many times, and it is infuriating to deal with.  We Christians use it on each other altogether too often. This suggest to me that it is not always a deception, but rather a sign of an emotional or experiential belief rather than a logical one.

Eyes surgery a success thus far.  Blurry, no discomfort.

Still Light Posting

I am back from a short vacation in time to get eye surgery today - a cataract removal in preparation for a macular hole repair four weeks from now.  So it will probably be another day or two before I post and comment again.  And in September I have to be face down for three days after surgery, so that will be an interruption as well.  I am otherwise well and in good spirits. Hmm.  As good as usual, anyway.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Nationalism Revisited

I have previously expressed the opinion that it was not nationalism that created WWII, but it was nationalism that won it.  The German attitude was more properly described as a tribalism or racialism, though they called it nationalism.  Jews, Slavs, or Roma who lived within the German nation were not considered part of Das Volk, but ethnic Germans who lived over the borders were considered part of the larger family.  Some nations, of Scandinavian, Frankish, or Anglo-Saxon descent were considered people to be ruled if they would not cooperate, but not exterminated. Hungarian and Romanian "nationalist" figures such as Antonescu were likewise protectors only of ethnic Romanians, not all within the borders. (This is unsurprising in Europe up until that time, because borders moved frequently, but language and ethnic heritage remained primary. It's just wrong to call it nationalism.)

In contrast, while the Allies had a lot of international cooperation, they ran largely on nationalist sentiment. Not only the Americans, who, as a mixed people had no choice except nationalism, but as the war progressed, the Soviet Union hunkered down into its constituent parts and Stalin made his appeals on behalf of Mother Russia, not the New Soviet Man. My thought has been that while nationalism has dangers and can be a false god, internationalism is a worse one. It might in theory be a better thing, and if we ever do become better humans I will change my vote. At the moment, however, I consider it an overreach. When we pretend to be better than we are we are in enormous danger, and those who are loyal to international enterprises smuggle in some much more primitive prejudices. They do not transcend nationalism, as they imagine, but replace it with something that aims higher but strikes lower.

That is an observation of the group mentality, not the individual.  I am fully prepared to accept that there are many people who do transcend nationalism on an individual basis. As Steve Sailer has pointed out, however, in the traditional concentric circles of loyalty humankind tends to use, they more often skip over ring rather than include.  There is more virtue to be signaled in loving those far away rather than neighbors. How much more noble to love illegal aliens at the expense of poor citizens!

I will have to revise my WWII picture however.  It still applies to Germans.  Yet my reading of Japanese history recently convinces me that nationalism was indeed their motive.  They did not find Koreans, Taiwanese, or Chinese racially inferior, but culturally so. Their attitude toward those in Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands was more tinged with a racialism.

I'm not sure how I incorporate this into the overall picture, but I have to start by wounding my old model. Any of you who have knowledge about Japanese and other Asian cultural and racial attitudes, please weigh in.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, August 03, 2018

Media Bias

I made a claim of longstanding media bias, as many conservatives do. It occurred to me that I could give quick evidence of it. I will let the Time and Newsweek covers speak for me.

But, you say, we didn't take those magazines at our house. Or, those were a long time ago, they didn't affect me. Then they affected your teachers and parents, and the people around you who found it very important to keep up with current events. Did you never have dental care, visit a friend, go to the doctor?  Were there no pharmacies, newsstands, grocery checkouts in your town?

Or perhaps you think that even though those were around you, they didn't affect you.  You were objective, you saw through those things.  Well yes.  I would say you either consciously saw through them and were offended by them, or you were affected whether you admit it or not.  For myself, I mostly didn't notice until the late 80's and was affected. After that I did notice and was offended. These weekly covers were ubiquitous, and I contend you were affected.  This was the air that you breathed.

If you still think not, then how is it that you arrived at the same opinion of these figures as the editors wished you to?

I started at Ford, as the Nixon covers would be too dominated by Watergate discussions and not a clean sample.  I strongly favored solo pictures of a president, taken during his years of office.  I stuck with Time and Newsweek. When there was a shortage of these, I chose covers from the campaign, as close to the date of election as possible.  I avoided retrospectives after the president had left office, as those are often mellowing.  I didn't have that many choices for Gerald Ford, however. I took them in the order that Duckduckgo, or sometimes Bing images presented them to me.  I did not pick and choose for effect. With Clinton, I did limit myself to three covers related to Lewinsky. I back-published all in last month's archives rather than clutter up my two front pages with pictures of presidents. Notice also what words are on the covers, the expressions captured, the black-and-white.

Res ipsa loquitur

Magazine Covers - Gerald Ford
Magazine Covers - Jimmy Carter
Magazine Covers - Ronald Reagan 
Magazine Covers - George H W Bush
Magazine Covers - Bill Clinton
Magazine Covers - George W Bush
Magazine Covers - Barack Obama


Eugenics has a nasty, Nazi-sounding feel to it. This is partly because we automatically associate it with forced eugenics, or sterilising people, usually women, against their will. Relatedly the other part is the public or group nature of it.  Some larger group, from the tribe to the whole society, is weighing in on whether you should have children or not. Some European countries have virtually eliminated Down Syndrome by creating social pressure to abort those children. Sounds like eugenics to me, but I don't hear many Americans complaining about it. Eugenics in America has come to mean not only a belief in racial differences, but that noticing said difference proves one believes in superiority and inferiority and wants the bad ones to have fewer children. The evidence for this is emotional, not logical, but that is often the case with political words.

 Update: Donna's comment reminded me of a section to go here. In addition to whoever the bad groups are that eugenicists want to have fewer children* - in the case of the Nazis it was Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, and let's-ignore-for-now-that-the-Japanese-are-quite-Asian - there was the Teutonic ideal of building Ubermenschen actively promoted as well. It gets creepy, and as Donna hints, can be rife with contradictions. It is also often bad science when it gets that far, as people pretend that they know for sure what would be good to have more of and what to have less of, and what the side-effects of that are. If you like science and general cleverness, for example, the Jews are a poor choice of folks to have less of.

Yet in small private ways, eugenics is what we all do at some point in our lives. We decide to have children or not, and we choose a mate. Even if we think we are choosing that mate on the basis of environmental factors, evolutionary biologists claim, with evidence, there is a lot of guessing at the genetics in our decision. Symmetry is considered more attractive, and is also a sign that there are fewer deleterious mutations. Other aspects of beauty can be tied pretty quickly to child-bearing, rearing, and protecting abilities. We usually notice what our mate's family is like, and older generations are likely to stress, from experience, the importance of Good Family. Whenever there is hand-wringing that educated women aren't having enough children - the men are less-often blamed - that's essentially an argument for  eugenics.  Social pressure isn't the same as holding a gun to someone's head, but it has an effect.  

It used to be considered selling out for a woman to go to college in hopes of finding a husband.  Dunno about that. I hoped at college to find an intelligent wife who was interested in having children. Seemed a perfectly good motive to me. (We succeeded in that.)

I have a parallel experience.  "Shock treatments" had an equally nazi-ish ring to it, which I carried in my head when I started working at the state hospital.  We no longer performed ECT's then, nor the deep-insulin shock treatments that had also been practiced a generation earlier. I gradually learned from older psychiatrists however, that the treatments often did work, and not everyone had the terrible memory side effects of reputation.  Later still, I learned that much less electricity was now used, that treatments did not have to be bilateral, and that there were ways of identifying problems and ceasing treatment much earlier.  ECT's are very good treatment for a lot of people, and the only treatment that works for some with depression.  It is used on pregnant and nursing women so that no chemicals enter the bloodstream.

I've been through this once.  People having worries about nazis doesn't mean that any actual nazis are involved.

No one's going to change their meaning of the word just because I think their usage is imprecise, but it pays to notice that "eugenics" means a lot of things, not all of them evil.

*Also, homosexuals and disabled people of many stripes.  Useless eaters, they were called.

Why Do We Love This Idea?

The Hidden Brain is a series of podcasts from NPR, apparently based on a book by Shankar Vedantam. I heard it mentioned on another podcast and thought this really sounds like my kind of thing. The unconscious or hidden influences on our thought, the neurology behind our behavior, what's not to like? The most recent in the series is something about bilingualism and multilingualism, so I am even more likely to find this interesting! Three minutes in, he is dead wrong about an entire topic. He is charmingly trying to explain that the language we speak shapes the way we think. Except it doesn't. Fake news. It's one of those undead ideas that keeps coming back no matter how many times it is killed. We must want to believe this. There is some experimental evidence that in some very fringe-y areas of color perception there might be a slightly measurable difference. That's it. I am going to bet that I could learn many useful things from Shankar Vedantam. He might be the most useful and interesting person for me to read or listen to at this point in my learning. Yet now that I know that he is unreliable in this one area, I cannot trust anything he says in thinking about the world and working out my own theories. I can't use him in conversation. I think I have asked before what the attraction of this idea is, that we keeping coming back, as to a relationship we know is harmful or a food that upsets our stomach. I don't get it.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

More Context: Media Bias

Compared to my hometown newspaper in the 1960’s, the major networks, newsweeklies, and big newspapers were straight-up-the-middle neutral journalists. My radical self even considered them conservative, as they reported on business or the military without immediately condemning them. I can look back now and see how they shaded (or worse) against conservatives, while publishing mostly liberal columnists and commentators. Yet that knowledge did not come to me for years, and only in a roundabout way. In the moment, Newsweek, NBC, and the NYT were simply “news” to me. 

In the late 70’s I was  a dissenting member of the new evangelical culture. I defended the more mainstream denominations, I thought the danger to the church was from adopting the ideas of the secular culture, both liberal and conservative, both capitalist and socialist. I fully understood CS Lewis’s lesson that only individuals are eternal – nations and empires are temporary, ephemeral. I didn’t follow politics much. I was aware of culture war however. While your local paper and radio station would report kindly on the retirement of one rabbi and the installation of a new one, or a groundbreaking for a new Methodist church, this was just a variation of reporting on Girl Scout or Rotary activities.  People belonged to lots of groups (see Bowling Alone) and the inner sections of the paper were like community bulletin boards.

Evangelical culture was very big on noticing how unfairly Christians were portrayed in “the media.” At news outlets, it would have to be slightly so, as only bad news tends to become news there. If Time magazine had anything about a religious group, it was going to be because of some controversy, crisis, or scandal. There would be occasional positive human-interest stories, but “Presbyterians 2% Growth – Again!” isn’t national news. Still, there did seem to be some quiet delight in bringing bad news about religious groups, and painting them as crazy and dangerous. Even if unintentional, the overall effect was negative. I no longer believe it was unintentional, by the way.  Not a conspiracy or attack, just a continuous prejudice toward their own views, which were less religious.

Movies, novels, and TV were another matter. There was criticism of churches and religion dating way back. Elmer Gantry might have some sympathetic religious characters, but the whole aim was pretty clearly meant to make fun of them and condemn them as hypocrites. As in “Little Big Man,” religious characters were similarly ridiculous or insincere.  It was not universal, and religiously-sympathetic movies were still made, but the tide had turned. Yet how could one easily show another side in a sitcom, really, without offending someone. “Happy Days” takes place in an era when everyone was associated with a church, but no churches figure in the plots. If you brought in anything, the audience would be puzzled, nervous, wondering what was going to happen next. They weren't trying to kick churches, but for their purposes, churches were unnecessary, and over time, convinced you that churches were never necessary anyway.  See also "Downton Abbey."

Still, it was clearly there, and increased through the 1980’s, even if evangelicals exaggerated it. You can see a lot just by looking, as Yogi Berra said. TV and cartoon Dads went from being wise to being risible (I eventually banned The Berenstain Bears from the house), authorities of all sorts were mocked, and a particular cultural narrative locked in.  There was something foolish or sinister about people who owned guns, or went to church, or worked at dirty jobs. I started with similar views myself, even about the Christians, because I knew foolish ones and could well believe the dangerous ones were right over the horizon.

Through the 80’s I learned that those folks weren’t like that at all.  I worked with them, lived near them, and went to church with them.  The people I had come to expect were cartoons.

When I became interested in politics in the late 80’s again, I saw the anticonservative bias as soon as I was willing to look for it. I was primed for it by my experience of other biases, but the fault was my own.  I had refused to look, and had hung on to some shreds of liberalism.  I could certainly see faults on the conservative side and good-faith efforts on the liberal side. But the thing was manifest. 

Most of my audience will believe me, as they have seen similar things themselves.  Yet I kinow there are some who will think I paint this too vividly, and that prejudices run the other way, and just as influentially. I will have a go at a little reference piece before I leave on vacation.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Context: Trump and William Loeb

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

I spoke with a somewhat younger friend who has some familiarity with my opinions about controversial topics, but wanted to know more exactly what I thought.  It is a great compliment, and I started answering him over the phone. I was pressed for time and cut it off, but even more than the temporary crunch, I decided I wanted to give answers of some precision.

As soon as one goes down that road, one comes up against "Well, in order for you to understand this, I really have to explain that." Almost immediately, another that comes along requiring another this. It gets out of control quickly.  But there's nothing for it. I step back once, I step back further, I step back into the next county. He was asking for some summary, or at least ideas, concerning my evaluation of Trump. That is not possible without context, and I eventually found I had to go back to the 1960's. I am not fond of Mr. Trump in many ways, but I think there is something necessary about him. If he had not come along now, some equally radical* figure would have had to come instead.  Not the same, but equally disruptive.

My usual style has been an exhaustive, point-by-point argument. While I have sometimes broken such things up into posts I, II, and III, I have more often tried to cram the whole thing into one sustained essay, like a sermon that has gone on too long. I would try to make it more visually comfortable with ********* breaks, photos, headings, and short paragraphs. Let me break this into smaller chunks, and we'll see what develops. As I head for vacation Saturday afternoon, I may have to leave you hanging.

My hometown newspaper growing up was the Manchester Union Leader, published by the notorious William Loeb. It is hard to describe to someone under the age of 60 what that meant, but for those in NH older than that, Loeb was simply a continuous presence, influencing everyone in the state either to agree or oppose.  He was well-known around the country as well to those who followed politics. All of us who traveled or went to college outside New England had the experience of identifying where we were from and having some guy in the group turn and say William Loeb! as a reflexive response to hearing "Manchester, NH." His audience grew enormously every first-in-the-nation-primary. (Yes, "melting snowflakes." "McCarthy is a Skunks's Skunk." That guy.)

He was mean and dishonest. He claimed he was hated because he was conservative, but he had screwed over even his own family enough to merit hatred entirely independent of his views. Politically, he thought Eisenhower was soft on communism and expressed some support for the John Birch Society. He might have been equally hated had he been a decent fellow who was conservative, but we are never going to know the answer to that.

On the other hand...

He published far more Letters to the Editor than other papers. People who hated him and disagreed, saying vile things about him got their letters published as well, three or four full pages every day, so long as they kept it clean and didn't advocate violence. A very New Hampshire free-speech value.  The Union Leader also carried excellent conservative columnists who were not so seamy.  That is where I first read Thomas Sowell - who was a thirtysomething with a slight Afro at that point - and William F Buckley's On The Right. As I quickly became very liberal around 1966, definitely socialist and pacifist, even dipping into SDS radicalism, I tried to avoid them.  Yet I read everything that passed in front of me in those days, cereal boxes, matchbooks, liner notes, and caught some of it.

So when your Pop Warner team won the championship or your church had an ethnic festival, the Union Leader was where the photo and story went. Crazy-ass and mean conservatism was part of the furniture. This is barely remembered now, even around here.  My senior year, my physics teacher informed us that the Concord Monitor, the second-most important paper in the state, was just as slanted to the left. I neither believed nor disbelieved, only stored it away. It became interesting in 1978 when I went to work in Concord and my cousin became editor of that paper, just as I was retreating from most political thinking, in favor of specifically Christian writers, especially CS Lewis.

That's a start.

*First off, I don't think Trump is that radical. I think that's mostly a reaction to his style.

Monday, July 30, 2018


We are way overdue for a new outrage. It must be a big vacation week for journos and PR firms in DC.

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil

During prayer time at church I reflected on how amazingly smooth, prosperous, and healthy our world is compared to very few years ago. Yet we live in an age in which more than ever, people reject the idea of the Christian God because terrible things happen. "The more you give people, the less grateful they are," I used to say. (Wonder why I stopped? Adoption, maybe.) Because our lives go on so smoothly, we consider it even more of an unfair interruption when it does not.  The very goodness of our lives creates a false expectation that this is how the world is supposed to be, and makes us angry and resentful when very normal difficulties come to us. Those who lived in ages of much more suffering did not question God as we do now. They knew that the prince of this world is not our friend, that we are ourselves fallen, and that this world is not our home.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Clog Dancing

Ah, but we had more fun in those days! Ah were but a lass then, yet still ah remember the sailors and the gypsies dancin' in the street of an evenin'. You canna find that neow, can ye?

No, ye can't auntie.  It musta beeen high times then. Is that a cat in the background, or a rat?

The Flynn Effect is believed to be a product of adequate nutrition year 'round, added to faster paced culture requiring greater processing speed.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Lavinia Woodward

Theodore Dalrymple, generally excellent, has a logical takedown of the judge's reasoning in the sentencing of Lavinia Woodward. I assume most readers here have some knowledge of him, but will note in passing that he is a retired British psychiatrist who comments astutely on modern culture. As his practice was in prisons and a Birmingham city hospital, he is familiar with the dark underside of life.  As illustration, one of his books is Life at the Bottom (recommended).

I think I can offer some insight into a possible motive behind the judge's seemingly backward reasoning. But by way of introduction, it is related to an idea of Tom Wolfe's, expressed in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and discussed by Steve Sailer a few years ago. All set with that? There is a dull sameness about the criminal justice system year upon year, and those stuck working in it try to find exceptions.

Judges fall prey to the same temptations. They spend their days sending poor and stupid people, sometimes of color, to prison. The judge wants someone to be merciful to, the DA wants someone to nail to the wall, but these opposite desires spring from the same soil.

The soul wants to rescue someone, the heart rebels against this being one’s life work. Years ago, I worked with sex offenders as sort of a sub-specialty and read widely on the subject. I don’t know how much of my information from twenty years ago is still valid. I did witness a change in how treatment and evaluation was organized, as the field went from people working individually with offenders to working as teams. It seemed natural for previous generations to do individual work with offenders, because the information was embarrassing and potentially damaging, so it took a long time for an offender to trust a therapist and speak honestly. If he (nearly always he, female offenders being treated differently) knew his information was being routinely shared with a half-dozen others he would clam up. But treating professionals observed an odd, yet in retrospect obvious thing. Everyone found someone to root for, to be fooled by, someone who they felt sure was an exception and would be fully rehabilitated. Only working as a team seemed to fix this, as there would be cautioning voices at the table who were not as convinced.

In such situations we desire greatly to find the one we can believe in, the one we can save. It seems part of our nature, and likely a good thing.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

White People Dancing in 1968

This is about what I remember, except the boys are a little more coordinated here than at Christus Victor youth group.  It was not as dramatic as we brag about now. That came later. And usually you needed to add alcohol to get drama.

Gary Puckett had a few songs about girls who were too young, as I recall. Even then, I wondered if it were a little creepy.

Tree Enthusiast

If you like that, there's Buffalo Bills Joke.

Monday, July 23, 2018


The Babylon Bee has nice parody of the change of meaning of the word "violence." They are more accurate than they know. Dictionaries are primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive in the last sixty years*.  They no longer tell you what the best people think a word means or should mean, as many of us were used to in grammar school many years ago.** Words change in meaning, especially in the directions of heightening or diminishing of effect, or generalisation versus specification.  The word molest meant only to bother or annoy, or perhaps interfere with a person, until quite recently.  The first reference using it in a sexual way was 1950. Awful and terrible have changed. For a very great change, you can follow the word silly over a thousand years. (Good music at the link.)

There are also longstanding examples of milder uses of violence, of doing violence to an idea, or a violent storm.
The World Health Organization's definition, though it starts with the conventional idea of physical force or injury, is already moving in the direction the Babylon Bee parodies:
"the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation," (although the group acknowledges that the inclusion of "the use of power" in its definition expands on the conventional understanding of the word.) Wikipedia.

Whenever important words change they cause disruption, as people are no longer talking about quite the same thing.  Cults redefine words so that they can claim to be following traditional (or biblical) values while introducing new ideas.  It is fine to stick to the usual definitions of a word in one's own use.  I encourage it, because it aids in understanding what other ages what other ages meant, rather than being a prisoner of last Tuesday's culture.  But the language will change whether we will or know, and sometimes it helps to understand that other people are using a different meaning.  They themselves may not be the instigators. Young people are quick to pick up how a word is used in their current context and adapt.  They use racist, or violence, in they way they are taught in some of their classes and by the more excitable of their friends. Even those who basically hold to the stricter ideas of those terms that I would use are likely to have at least slightly expanded meanings of the term, by my lights. It may be better to ask "what do you mean when you say "violence?" than to simply declare it wrong. (Even though it is wrong, dammit.)

*The Story of Ain't by David Skinner is a solid and entertaining look at the change in dictionaries.

**Note also the word "grammar" school, grades 1-8, where we would say elementary and middle, or elementary and junior high these days. One of the primary aims was that children would learn to write and say things correctly. We say "of course," but they did not care so much about science or more than basic geography and history a hundred years ago.  Lots of penmanship, lots of multiplication tables. Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Texan99 offered up an Aeon link about who mistrusts science and why. Then Sponge-Headed Scienceman also sent me two Aeon articles today:  One questioning whether all that evidence that meditation makes the world a better place is all that scientifically solid. (Short answer. No.  But the long answer is fun.) The second examining the contradictions in research into the benefits of psychedelics. (Answer. It depends what you mean by benefits.)

I like Aeon.  Their starting point is not mine; they seem more as I was in the 1980's. They seem to be essential liberals, but ones that seek to find the right answer to things.  This means that they still make many assumptions I think they shouldn't, but as T99 also notes, they seem to be really trying out there and deserve some credit for it. Certainly, they are more likely to get liberals to listen than anything I'm going to put out there.

Because of the above, they have a good deal to teach conservatives as well.  Some of it will be "Suspicions Confirmed," but other parts will be "Y'know, that is an angle I hadn't considered."


Lord, I am grateful that people have forgotten most of the stupid things I have done, and perhaps even most of the evil ones.  May I bring back to mind those that I have forgotten but they have not.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Chesterton on Democracy

The democracy has a right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions. And we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions it asks...the powerful class will choose two courses of action, both of them safe for itself, and then give the democracy the gratification of taking one course of the other. GKC, Daily News, July 16, 1910
Some would say this was largely true in America as well, and still true today. Nor should we assume that Trump is a great exception to this, though that is what his supporters hoped for. As a real-estate developer, he is also from one of the American aristocracies. We should be glad that we have multiple aristocracies instead of just one, I suppose.

Chesterton believed that both socialism and capitalism degraded the people and made them servile. He believed in the good of private property, and that it should be widely distributed. The endgame of the industrial revolution and the socialist revolution, he thought, was wealth for the few and slavery for the rest. If we had him here, wouldn't we say that it hadn't worked out that way? We have a free market heavily laced with socialism, and its failures may well be the "crony" part of crony capitalism, the corruption and abuse. Yet through it all, wouldn't we say that even the poor live in great prosperity compared to what he knew in 1910, and the middle classes do own property?  None goes hungry, all are clothed and sheltered, all have education and some legal protection. In some cases these items are of lesser quality, and the poor cannot be certain that next week will not upend what little they have - yet they do have, and we do go on.  Nor does the great mass of men appear to be degraded, compared to what we know rural survival was like in the decades before and even after he wrote this. What, Gilbert, is degraded about us?  If you would insult us, at least tell us what it is we are doing wrong.

I don't know what GKC would answer.  Whether he would brush away our claim of education by declaring that much of it is of poor quality, or admire that we have indeed done a good thing I can't guess. Whether he would think our prosperity a welcome example of the poor being fed and clothed or an incitement to greed and indulgence is beyond my knowledge as well.

Yet I do think he would point to our church attendance and the breakup of our families as serious losses. I think also that he would deplore thinking of ourselves as a society instead of a nation. Societies have unclear boundaries, people move in and out, and the obligations we have to each other are somewhat temporary and imposed from above. Nations have boundaries, and members, and the obligations we have are more intuitive than catalogued.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

Post 5700 - Gym Class

Okay, the set of ideas Jennifer Walton-Fissette is selling are a bit crazy, if the report over at PJ Media is correct. (Not a guarantee.  They leave out important details when it suits them.) But there is a lot wrong with gym class, both in my personal memory and what I heard from my sons. Changes are in order.  It is unsurprising that gym class elevates the status of the athletically talented, and I don't mind that at all. Those are a different group than those who have their status elevated in math, or music or public speaking, and it's nice to have some variety. But the second group it favors are the violent, cheating pricks. Used to be, anyway.

I don't know what happens in the girls' classes. Maybe it's as good a balance as can be achieved there, maybe it's worse.

There is some advantage to teaching boys early how to deal with violent, cheating pricks, as they will encounter plenty in their lives. There is also some advantage in teaching boys how to strategise around rules that don't favor you. The trouble is, not all boys are up to that task, as they are starting from too far behind in athletic, intellectual, or social skill. And there's still that bit about rewarding the worst behavior in the room.

The article isn't quite clear whether it is referring to gym class and the formal instruction given to all students or to the team sports that the school sponsors.  I don't think there's much lacrosse instruction in gym class, and I'm not seeing how you work hiking into a 45 minute class. The complaint about "white" sports has some validity. Expensive sports will allow some black and hispanic kids in, but only a few. Fancy baseball bats can cost $250 now.  Gloves, cleats, batting gloves..it adds up.  Soccer, basketball, track - those are more egalitarian. Field events usually require fancy equipment.

Quite aside from any social justice issues, people have been advocating for years that schools should teach sports that kids can continue as adults. That would deemphasise but not eliminate team sports. The list of alternatives looks pretty good to me.  The best day of freshman gym class by far was the day we did folk-dancing with the girls. I took that lesson to heart and took interpretive dance in college, in a mirrored room with 40 girls in leotards. Sweat on the soccer field all you want, junior. And this room is air-conditioned, too. Other guys scoffed at my having to wear a leotard myself.  I would have worn a clown suit, Jack, squirting flower and all.

I suppose you have to include yoga, because people actually do that as adults. There are more athletic versions of posture exercises, it could be made to work. Rope-climbing?  Climbing wall is better. Swimming?  See leotard, above. I think I missed that trick in school.

Birthrate II

For those following at home, Bethany has recently written about birthrate as well, with different focus.  It makes the comments sections a little unwieldy, so I am adding my new thought here as a separate post, rather than updating the first one or following on to T99's comment.

Children are lots of fun, but they are a lot of work. I think you knew that. One of the things that softens that is being an aunt or uncle. I have heard women in particular, if they feel they are being judged for having no children, mention that they are very close to their nieces. Though keeping it to myself, I have been a bit dismissive about that, because it's not the same. On the other hand, it's got similarities, and as I have watched my three boys with no children interact with the daughters of the two who do, I can see the value for both sides more clearly than I did when my children were small.  The uh, quality of the players may have something to do with that. One has to put in some effort* to be a good aunt or uncle, but one gets considerable reward in return.

But if  birthrates are falling precipitously, the supply of uncles and aunts dries up in a generation. The last two generations have likely hit the sweet spot, with more attention from Mom and Dad (smaller families) plus more aunts and uncles to swoop in at times. Or at least, it would have been the sweet spot if Moms and Dads had stayed together.  Holiday gatherings and family reunions get complicated, and less frequent. I suppose the great mobility of the last two generations has undermined the closeness to nieces and nephews as well. My nieces would wish openly for cousins, and were ecstatic to get some. (That they were girls, even better!)

Italy, Portugal, Japan, Greece, Spain, South Korea...these all have very low fertility rates. In the first generation, a child has no siblings, or perhaps one.  But when that child has children there may be only  a single aunt between the two sides, and 0-1 cousins.  For Americans used to large Italian-American families, the idea of an Italian culture with no aunts or uncles, no cousins is inconceivable.  Yet that is the current reality.  It's not getting better.

If you thought the disappearance of the middle child was a big cultural difference going forward, wait until you see a world with no cousins or uncles, where even the concept has something of a last-century feel to it. The word nepot is 6,000 years old, and descends unchanged from Proto-Indo-European to Romanian (and you can see the root clearly in many other languages). It is still useful, but what will be its use in even fifty years?

I have cousins on one side, and even knew half-a-dozen second cousins. As with siblings, that is not an unmixed blessing.  Yet for grounding one's memories, or getting the other side of controversial family happenings, or just being nostalgic and reassuring oneself that one had a beginning. Those with close or many siblings have less need, and cousins separated by age or distance don't always provide much added benefit. I was close to one uncle and one aunt - I have been close to two nephews and moderately so to three nieces and another nephew. The benefit is real.

*If you are the first in your family to have children, then you get to palm some of the effort off on your own children, who love being the oldest cousins.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Have Statistics Killed Baseball?

For 55 years I have been saying "no, statistics are what is most interesting about baseball," and for the last 30+ years I would say it has been dying baseball's salvation. Listening to Bill Simmons discuss the declining popularity of baseball with Chuck Klosterman, I am having strange thoughts.  Simmons noted that no one has baseball arguments anymore. He gave as an example whether having Wade Boggs on your team was a good idea. People used to complain about empty stats because he didn't drive in runs, while his defenders would point to his batting average and walks, and the critic would respond with walks not being that important, and he was a leadoff hitter who didn't steal bases, on and on. Now there are answers to that.

I turned them off* and went on thinking in that vein. I talk baseball with a few people at work, but most of them don't really understand statistics all that well, they just have impressions. They "don't trust" Joe Kelly. I am betting that they are still thinking of Opening Day, when he was terrible, and let them talk.  They both immediately reference that game, no others. He had no bad outings in April or May.  None. He had one bad and two very bad outings in June in July.  41 appearances, 4 of them bad. I try to work this in, but they "just don't trust him."  This is common, and I think the people who understand statistics don't get into arguments with such people because there is really no point.

Statheads have their favorite ways of looking at things, and are always looking to uncover a new statistic that will explain some phenomenon even better.  But that window is narrower now. I might prefer ERA and you prefer WHIP, but both will tell similar stories. We will both find "Saves" unsatisfying as a measurement. You can still get into arguments about steroids and the Hall of Fame, but that is a different type of argument. Baseball stories are now about how to build a team, or how the style of swing is changing.  Mike Trout is having a spectacular season.  You can go to Single Season Leaders to find out how spectacular (projecting to full season required).  It's one of the top 20 of all time, and might hit top 10. Up there with Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and not many others. That's it, that's the whole discussion.

So half the baseball fans can no longer talk to the other half, other than grim politeness.They can't even read the same writers that smoothly. This is a serious blow to a game that takes too long to watch.

*I like both but find them frustrating.  Both know many things, and frequently have interesting observations that have eluded others, as above. Both can be witty. However, neither seems to critique his own ideas very well, and will run off into some fairly stupid stuff and keep going. Klosterman in particular seems to think by flashes of lightning, then go dark. His But What If We're Wrong? was a great concept, with mediocre execution. I commented years ago on one of his cultural claims. (The posts overlap. Pick one or the other.)


There are a dozen explanations out there why the American birthrate is below replacement, and why middle-class and above white females in particular are having fewer children, and many seem quite plausible. There does seem to be a worldwide trend that as countries become more prosperous, and couples believe their children might have access to higher status, they limit the number of children they have. Secondly, optimism about the future seems to be a driver of having more children.

I wonder if there is a fairly simple but overlooked factor, the inertia of one cultural idea. From the age of about fourteen on, girls are not only told "Don't get pregnant," but "Smart girls don't get pregnant," which carries a double meaning of smart=birth control/less impulsive and smart=intelligent/ career-driven. It becomes something of a default position, and may embed quite strongly.  Though the original intention of "smart girls don't get caught" is not the same kind of smart, it does tie in with the idea "Upwardly mobile women have fewer children," or "this is not a good time in your career/education to have children," as above. They then have all the decision-making influences of opt-in versus opt-out. A default position of opt-in results in more people being on lists as organ donors, for example. In previous generations one did not have to opt-in to having children.  That was the default. (Exceptions abound, but I think we recognise this general cultural difference between yesterday and today.) Today's default among white middle class women is that one has to specifically opt-in to this childbearing idea.

"Smart girls" is just a song playing quietly in the background, a gravitational force that is more of the explanation than we credit.

I have written the above as if the males have nothing to do with these child-having decisions, which is not true. Men may even be equal drivers in decisions to have no children at all. But I think women have enormously more say in how many children a couple has. The Right Number is achieved and she vetoes any suggestion of more.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sweden's New Military Preparedness

I had heard about the surprise mobilization of many thousands of Swedish Home Guard and reservists in June for an exercise responding to a hypothetical invasion by Russia of the island of Gotland. I couldn't remember ever hearing of such a thing before. I then promptly forgot about it, a great example of things not fitting the narrative and slipping away.

That is not the end of that story. I mentioned this, and Estonia's preparations, to a psychiatrist friend who is from Belarus. "When there is a bear in the woods it is a good time to practice shooting chipmunks." I was also surprised to read that 43% of Swedes favor entering NATO, with 20% unsure. A decade ago, I think it would have been a tenth of that.

In the larger picture, the population of Europe is 510 million to Russia's 144M; Europe's GDP is about $20T compared to Russia's $2T. I'm not sure why they would need us.

Ken Burns's "The Vietnam War"

I haven't seen it.  I'm not likely to.  The commentary from conservative websites is that it is hopelessly slanted, especially in that it did not give much opportunity for those who had full-throated support to speak.

Martha Bayles, writing at the Claremont Review of Books would give qualified agreement. Yet she would point out that neither did the radical opponents get a sympathetic portrayal of their side. She sees the documentary as essentially neutral, giving primary blame for a great American mistake to two Democratic presidents, and their civilian and military advisors. She opens with a quote from US Army Lieutenant General H R McMaster's 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty.
The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times, or on the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war; indeed, even before the first American units were deployed.
 I found her argument plausible, though I am in no position to have a qualified opinion.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Cargo Cult

Remember Cargo Cults?  You learned about them in freshman anthropology, or maybe just heard someone talking about them.  The idea was that primitive tribes really liked the good things that westerners brought when they came to study them, visit, set up bases for war in the Pacific. After the westerners left, the tribes would make airstrips of radios out of coconut and straw in an effort to make them come again.

Women have received more college degrees than men for years now. There is a growing advice literature about women "settling" for men who are less clever if they want to get married, most recently this, by a female anthropology professor, ironically. Less clever? Really?  Especially WRT degrees that come with high debt and no clear connection to the well-paying jobs that we are told men always end up with? Perhaps there is a tinge of cargo cult behavior in this. Women got degrees - any degrees - because these credentials were what the men had seemingly used for so many years to get power, money, and good things.  That was of course largely true at one point, yet it has gradually become less true over the years. Getting just any degree isn't quite so useless as building a radio out of straw, but it has aspects of this.

It remains true that Americans continue to think of a person with a degree as smarter and more capable than one without, and this is more true of advanced degrees. Yet that was never more than partly true, was never universally acknowledged, and is becoming less true as we go forward. A college professor is not going to saw off the branch she is sitting on, and likely will not even notice that her definition of "less clever" has serious limitations.  The rest of us can do those young women - and thus young men - a favor by pointing out that an expansion of the definition of "Mr Right" should start with expanding the definition of clever.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Freedom Of Speech

I find it fascinating that so many young people - and not-so-young-people - believe that NFL players have an inherent right to kneel during the national anthem because they have the right to protest.  They have freedom of speech under the First Amendment. That is only true on their own time. They have the right to protest on their employer's time only with the employer's permission. Whether the NFL or the team owner is their employer might be argued, and someone would likely try and make the case that it's not the employer's time until after the anthem, but really, it's pretty straightforward. Even if your employer agrees with your sentiment, you still might be told to stop.

For example, if you worked for an environmental nonprofit, you don't have automatic permission to put up LGBT banners visible to the public at the office.  The board might decide that they don't want to water down their primary message.  Wear a pin or a t-shirt, perhaps, but don't use our space.  Because it's ours, not yours. 

I think this counterargument has spread wide, but perhaps I am just positioned to hear it more often. Perhaps the young people really are quite solid on the very American idea of free speech and are just a little muddled about it.  That wouldn't be a terrible thing.

Unless, of course, they are the same people who believe that hate speech, however it is being defined this week, is not protected under the First Amendment.  Then their approval of the right to protest is just approval of the cause, subject to change when the speech goes against their thought. Then we really are screwed.


Just to review, because some Trump supporters in the comments sections at a few sites are losing this thought again.  Donald Trump did not find 63,000,000 new votes to win the election.  He unlocked some votes previous Republicans were unable to and the other candidates were unlikely to, including some Democrats. (I think Ted Cruz could have unlocked some but not all of them.  The populist difference is that Trump takes an "I am always right" attitude, which is untrue but attractive, while Cruz takes an "I am smarter than everyone else" attitude which is close to true but irritates people.)

I think it is true that had Trump not unlocked them the Republicans would not have won. However, they are only the group that put Trump over the top, not the foundation or "the base," whatever that is. The bulk of Trump's supporters were the same people who voted for Romney, McCain, Bush, Dole, etc. They voted for him because they "always vote Republican," or because "he's not Hillary Clinton." They would also have voted for Kasich, or Rubio, or whoever. Trump did in fact lose some of those votes.  He just won more back. You can still find lots of people who will say "Donald Trump continues to do a great job of not being Hillary Clinton, and that's all I ever asked of him."

The arithmetic of this is obvious, but the idea that "we true believers elected Trump" keeps creeping back in. Part of this is a very natural tendency that all groups have to see themselves as the key players. One sees it on sports teams, in businesses, or in any project.  There is some truth to it.  Everyone's part did matter, and the event may not have come to pass without them. To take an extreme, the Golden State Warriors cannot win if someone doesn't keep the floors safe, but that doesn't make the floor crew more important than Kevin Durant.

Secondly, many conservatives who have been prominent for years have turned out to be squishes, which gives the Trump supporters the idea that there are just millions of those GOPe guys out there who must be beaten back. That is not known.  Most Democrats just vote Democrat every time, because that's what they do, and would have to hate Hillary an awful lot not to vote for her. The Republicans are similar. 80% of that vote is going to show up unless Satan himself is nominated. (And some even then.) Trump found some independents and disaffected Democrats.  He re-energised some Republicans who had given up after the last few elections.  He inspired some young people who were previously unaffiliated.  These outnumbered the people who found him too offensive, or not worth driving to the polls for.

There is also the idea that the electoral world has been permanently changed by Trump and his supporters, so the others better get on board. That might be, but it is too soon to tell. All sorts of realignments might be in the future. Or not.


What a great idea! Structure the debate and build in some obstacles to crazies.

Unfortunately, the power structure does not seem to land at "Who has the better argument?" But at "What does the online audience think is the better argument?" We are back to rewarding the conventional wisdom.

However, it is probably a step up from our current debate even if it has flaws, and bsking has convinced me that this is also a worthy goal, even if it falls short of getting a grip on the truth.  There is a site LessWrong that takes this approach, and I sort of like it.  However, it has an air of being inoculated against certain ideas because it has deeply hidden assumptions that the contributors share and cannot question. Example: That the Enlightenment got almost everything right as a foundation, it just hasn't been tried properly yet. Sigh.

I give both sites three stars out of five.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Magazine Covers - Obama

Making One Uncomfortable

Ann Althouse claims that art should make us uncomfortable. To buttress her case, she notes that comedy should make us uncomfortable, that Jesus made us uncomfortable, and politics makes us uncomfortable.

The short answer is that art might make us uncomfortable, comedy might make us uncomfortable, Jesus might make us uncomfortable, and politics might make us uncomfortable, but not always. Those are largely American ideas, which we inherited from Western Europe and expanded. When one reads about other places and times in the world, one does not read this exaltation of uncomfortableness. Finding that art is for joy, comedy is for joy, Jesus is for joy is more common.  Politics is 50-50. Or also, art is for instruction, comedy is to relieve tension, Jesus is for inspiration. Art is to create magic, comedy is to create unity, Jesus is for rescue.

I am reminded of CS Lewis's First and Second Things. If we aim at the highest, we also get excellent byproducts thrown in for free.  Yet if we aim for the byproducts, considering them the main point, we get neither. In this instance, aiming at making people uncomfortable in order to teach or inspire or virtue-signal, we will pretty quickly be teaching nothing, inspiring no one, and none will think us virtuous, because no one will be listening. Yet if we aim for beauty, or truth, or humor, we will get teaching and inspiration thrown in, whether the audience is comfortable or uncomfortable.

Uncomfortableness is a false goal, but one which is common among the Arts & Humanities tribe. Comfortableness is also a false goal, and art, comedy, and Christian teaching can founder on those rocks as well.

Friday, July 06, 2018

And Now For Something Really Important

I've had no videos, no music, no comedy recently!  How dry, how boring!  I must make amends.

Well, all right then.  Semi-serious.

Magazine Covers - Bush 43