Friday, October 19, 2018

Money For Nothing

When you start wandering on YouTube after bringing up the Beatle's "Revolution," who knows where you will end up? The site's algorithm(s?) bring you to more and more radical places when you go for political or cultural content. Something similar happens with music.

I always liked the guitar work of Dire Straits. 

Bumper Stickers

Saw a very old station wagon at the hardware store that had both a Bernie and a Trump sticker on it. I pointed out in 2015 that their initial platforms were quite similar: reduce immigration and tax the 1% hard. They have both drifted from that.

I don't know how the owner would have explained it, but I'd like to buy him a beer and ask sometime.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Expects A Revolution

Angelo Codevilla has piece up at American Mind, Our Revolution's Logic.

Point #1 TL:DR

He is dire in his predictions, and fairly spits out his contempt and anger at the American ruling class. His anger at Republicans is exceeded only by his anger at Democrats. That's what he usually does, and I hope he is overreacting.  I hope that most Americans are just not as worked up as the political junkies, and have no intention of getting dragged into any serious violence or even excusing it in others.

There was a time of greater violence in the late 1960's and "revolution" was in the air. I was young, and worried that said violence would invite repression. We thought ourselves a deeply divided nation. Then came disco, and we mostly forgot about it for a while. America solved its revolution problem by ignoring it. Some of the rebels switched to Gramscian strategies, but the fighting seemed to stop, except for people trying to shoot Republican presidents.

I hope that's what we are looking at again.

I would like to draw your attention to two paragraphs early in the essay. (Ed. Early, because I didn't read all that far.) Codevilla is quoting from Thucydides account of Corcyra's revolution in 427 BC, the fifth year of the Peloponnesian* War. He describes how moral actions had deteriorated on all sides in service of the revolution.
The more freely to harm enemies, “words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.”
“Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected…even blood became a weaker tie than party….The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence…when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one…success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence.”
I have mentioned many times the changes in ordinary meanings of words as a tactic to distract and confuse. Religious cults take ordinary theological words and put new meanings into them.  CS Lewis asserted that the aim of the Christian should be to take the ancient ideas and put them into modern language.  Instead, people were using ancient language to smuggle in modern ideas that the original writers did not intend. He and Orwell were both writing about this at about the same time.  We should take notice.

The next paragraph worries me as well. Some Democrats are talking about packing the Supreme Court, and in response, Republicans are saying "You might regret giving Trump that idea if he thinks he needs to beat you to the punch."  There's nothing magical about the number nine, but I dislike monkeying with institutional practices that have grown up over centuries.

*I am pretty sure I have never spelled "Peloponnesian" without having to look it up, and look back at it at least two more times. And I didn't know who Corcyra was, either, but I imagine he was important if he got a whole revolution named after him.

Sheep's Clothing

I believe there are people who genuinely care about what happens to black people as a whole, who believe they not only have had a bad deal historically, but that it persists and still needs attention. I believe there are people who care about the rights of women, of Hispanics, of the disabled, of Native Americans, or many other categories of people, some of which they themselves do not belong to but have concern for. That's Sheep's Clothing.

Sheep, of course, have sheep's clothing naturally.  They don't have to knit themselves an outfit.

There are others whose complaints are at root entirely personal.  They are wired to feel persecuted - it can be quite delicious if there isn't any real cost - and take whatever cause is at hand to explain their oppression.  I had a patient who was active in libertarian, Native American, Wiccan, and feminist causes.  Well, no she wasn't active, really, not in any sense of showing up at meetings, licking envelopes for mailings, giving money or anything like that.  She was active in declaring how persecuted she was, for all these reasons.  Not for her general narcissism and rudeness.  She was more of a wolf, looking for whatever sheep's clothing came her way to wrap herself in.  She was into wolves, too, BTW, with T-shirts and complaining about how they were misunderstood animals.

How does one tell them apart?  It is reasonable to at least attempt discussion with the former, however much we fear that we may not find much common ground. Yet we all sense that it is pointless to engage in discussion with the latter, at least on political and cultural matters. (They may be hurting puppies who can be approached on level of empathy that cuts through all the causes and ignores them, but that's a different category.)

I can tell you one way right off the bat.  Those who cannot acknowledge that the plight of their group is better than it was in 1925 or 1950 or 1975, or who cannot abide to remain in that discussion even if they briefly acknowledge it, are working from personal issues, not larger ones.  You cannot count on them to actually care about African-Americans or assault victims or immigrants. It's all a pose.  Their causes are only weapons used in the service of getting their own bottomless needs met.

I object that legitimate advocates find it convenient to let the wolves run rather than fence them out.

Books of the Bible - Gif Version

Twitter thread passed along by my eldest.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


If I start at north Doggerland and draw a circle with a radius of about 400 miles, I capture every one one of my ancestors for the last 5,000 years (except for the last 400, which adds in NH, MA, ME, and Nova Scotia). Most likely. Most of that is water, and most of my ancestors lived on one coastline or another along the North Sea. People live near seas and rivers the world over. My wife's family - similar, but with a fair bit of Irish farther to the west. They didn't interbreed with other groups because they didn't even know those groups existed. They thought the people across the bay were dangerous and unreliable.

If I were deeply into whiteness I would rejoice, because these people are about as pale as it gets - as are the current Wymans, until we brought in people from Romania and the Philippines. But I also read up on culture and prehistory, and don't think I would have felt at home with most of those folks. Hell, I didn't like most of the ancestors that I actually knew all that much, and hear bad reports about some of the ones before that. They might not like me all that much either, if they could journey forward in time and sit on my porch.

I have read several accounts of African-Americans going back on a roots journey to Africa and deciding they were lucky their ancestors were sold into slavery and got out of that place, odd as that seems.  We have a similar story, of my mother and her favorite cousin visiting distant never-seen relatives near Jonkoping, in the 1990's and finding those Swedes didn't like anyone - not the people in the next town, not the people in Stockholm, not the Norwegians, not anyone. My mother was glad to get out of there.

Most of your ancestors did about as well as they could under the circumstances, but their times were not ours and you wouldn't have liked them much.  You would have found them slow, ignorant, indifferent to violence, intolerant of people twenty miles distant, dirty, and smelly. On the other hand, they would find you pampered, soft, arrogant, overfed, sexually uncontrolled, irreligious, and wasteful. And they would be right, I suppose, though I don't think I would hang around to hear them talk about it.

We might agree about beer and wine, but even our foods would be intolerable to each other.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Reprinted from October 2006.  I found my posts from that month generally fascinating, actually. A few made me wince, but I think I was smarter then.


Presently to the great Road they again came. Broad it was, and paved also, and in dust covered; and upon the dust could be seen tracks of feet, many of them.

"Ho!" said Gimli. "Whether these marks be left by Man or Dwarf, Elf or Halfling, beast or fowl, I know not. Yet this much will I warrant; it was no fell beast. For many servants has the Dark Lord; yet the Road they do not cross."

"Can you discern not more amidst these signs?" answered him Legolas. "These marks are as of the feet of a certain bird, one bred unto the farmyard, him that is named among us Círnol Sândas. Have you none such fowl in the Shire also?"

"Yes, but to-day we call them chickens ," replied Frodo, shivering miserably. "O! How I should love to sup again upon some nice roast chicken! But why did it cross the Road, here?"

"Of such things we do not speak," Aragorn told him sternly.

(Not original to AVI)

Headlines are Enough

CS Lewis once noted that no book could live up to the title of William Morris's The Well At The World's End.  (Morris's book certainly didn't.  I liked the idea of his works more than their execution.)

Something similar happens with the Babylon Bee.  The headline is usually the best part, and the article itself extraneous, or even weaker than what we hoped. 'Believe All Women' Movement Publishes Extensive List of Exceptions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Another Look at Middle-Earth

McSweeney's has a conversation between Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky about Lord Of the Rings.
CHOMSKY: We should examine carefully what’s being established here in the prologue. For one, the point is clearly made that the “master ring,” the so-called “one ring to rule them all,” is actually a rather elaborate justification for preemptive war on Mordor.

ZINN: I think that’s correct. Tolkien makes no attempt to hide the fact that rings are wielded by every other ethnic enclave in Middle Earth. The Dwarves have seven rings, the Elves have three. The race of Man has nine rings, for God’s sake. There are at least 19 rings floating around out there in Middle Earth, and yet Sauron’s ring is supposedly so terrible that no one can be allowed to wield it. Why?

CHOMSKY: Notice too that the “war” being waged here is, evidently, in the land of Mordor itself — at the very base of Mount Doom. These terrible armies of Sauron, these dreadful demonized Orcs, have not proved very successful at conquering the neighboring realms — if that is even what Sauron was seeking to do. It seems fairly far-fetched.
In a related development, Tim Keller has translated the Bible into Sindarin.


The Newneo put this up in response to a comment that Trump is a knuckleballer. Fun.


This may be my confirmation bias, but it does seem that when Republicans are doing well it is described as America becoming increasingly polarised, but when Democrats win it is described as unifying. It's always the other guy who's divisive. Yet when you are a major media outlet aren't you supposed to monitor yourself about unfair slants?  Not if your real business model is telling your customers what they want to hear, I suppose.

It's one of the those things that is true either way - or half-true no matter what - but can't be swapped out when things go against you.


People with Borderline personality Disorder do not distinguish well between "You aren't listening to me!" and "You don't agree with me." The internet, especially social media, favors them and empowers them.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Elizabeth Warren's DNA

I recommend the geneticist Razhib Khan as someone conservatives usually trust.  He states he is convinced she is something between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American. That may not sound like a lot, and it certainly shouldn't qualify her as an affirmative action hire nor make her tales of her mother being discriminated against, but it is legit. Many of the criticisms from the right have been leaping to conclusions and getting the science wrong.

Let me re-emphasize that.  A lot of conservative sites are getting the science wrong, in their eagerness to discredit the finding. Make sure you know what you are talking about before you pass on any debunkings of Warren.

No tests can identify tribe at present, but this would be consistent with what the New England Genealogical Society* found, of a partial Cherokee ancestor five generations ago.  How partial is unknown. If you are interested if this means that Trump is obligated to pay her a million dollars, retired law prof Ann Althouse discusses this and concludes "probably not," though she thinks it would all be very entertaining if EW sued for it.

*This was subsequent to Warren's public claim.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Defining fanaticism is different from perceiving it. We define it as if there is something concrete and recognisable about it.  We perceive fanaticism when we see someone doing much more of something, or much less of it, than is common in our subculture. The same amount of prayer and fasting can look lax in one neighborhood, excessive and unhealthy in another.

Well of course, you say.  That's fairly obvious. You dragged me out of bed at this time of night to tell me that? 

It means that if we are not able to keep one foot outside our culture, a place to lean back and take stock, we will not be able to resist going where our culture takes us.  Insane things will look just fine to us. We will have no way of detecting whether our actions are fanatical or not.

In short, we will end up killing Jews or reporting our neighbors to the secret police.

In the recent aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings, there are people who are describing Senator Susan Collins as a "rape apologist." That is simply insane. I am genuinely fearful what a person who says that might do next.

We have discussed the idea of doubling down on a cause in order to show one's loyalty. Anyone can support a person when they are right, but it takes real loyalty to retain support for your leader or your tribe when they are ridiculous and wrong. Such loyalty is prized by leaders, which is not surprising. Everyone wants to know who their foxhole friends are. In signalling that you have some particular quality, it is sometimes necessary to be closest-to-the-pin.  Second place is the same as tenth place the same is nothing.  Marriage and romance are like that.  It isn't much good to be the suitor who the princess thought was "pretty much okay."  We will begin seeing that in NH again with the presidential primary. It encourages fanaticism.  Review again The Toxoplasma of Rage .

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Thursday, October 11, 2018

On A Lighter Note

Cloudberry jelly is a nice substitute for the orange slice in an Old-Fashioned.

The Left Blames The Right For All Violence

Correction below

Just so you don't miss The New Neo's excellent take on the history of recent violence and rhetoric, which includes Mollie Hemingway's take on the Scalise shooting earlier. People still think Lee Harvey Oswald was a right-winger (because he was once a Marine?  Because he owned a gun?), blaming the assassination on "Dallas."

I try to avoid going entirely to one side, not seeing the faults of the right because I am focused on the left.  I am not succeeding much recently.  Find me a reason that doesn't involve a mentally ill person that the NYT can sorta kinda squint into describing as someone on the right.  These are serious dishonesties, repeated for years. I don't find it easy to get past such things as when Eric Holder says "we kick them," when Michael Moore says "our people have to fight," when Obama says "we bring a gun to a knife fight," when GOP candidates are stabbed, and there are numerous actual instances of violence and threatened violence. Sure, Breitbart is trying to include as many incidents to pad their number as they can.  Rand Paul's wife sleeping with a loaded gun near her bed isn't an act of violence or threat by anyone on the left.  Adding it to their total against leftists isn't accurate. OTOH, her husband was present when the shooter opened up on Scalise, and he was physically attacked at home for political reasons. It's important context.

For new readers, and to remind the regulars.  Violent extremists on the right are primarily defensive, darkly warning that if there's some kind of civil war "they'll be ready," or bragging that they are going to hole up on their back road with their guns and dare Obama and the gun-grabbers to come after them. I have met these people, and they are scary.  I have back roads in NH I avoid, and I keep expecting to read about them in some horrible incident.  But it's four decades later, and nothing.  They never came out after people. They just keep saying "stay away."

Violent extremists on the left are more aggressive.  They shoot out windows of Republican headquarters or Army recruiting centers.  They torch cars or set houses on fire.  The strap bombs to themselves and walk into places. They go to conservative rallies and get into people's faces and try to bait them into violence.  More recently, they commit violence against some in the hopes of inciting violence in a larger group. Until recently, they usually did not commit violence against people, only objects, plus threats against people. The eroded consistently during the Obama administration, and has gotten much worse now that they are out of power.

I don't think that Hillary Clinton is lying in the least when she thinks that she in particular and Democrats in general have been the patient, civil, peaceful ones who are coming to the end of their rope dealing with these violent conservatives. But it's projection. Thinking that and saying it forcefully in that of-course-we're-right tone is also true of some horrible people.  Stalin believed the Ukrainian peasants were disguising the harvest and hiding plentiful food in order to make him look bad. Hitler inflamed the actual fact that the Bolsheviks had killed ~ 3 million by tying that to the Jews, which was less than 10% correct. (Just enough. The threshold of partial truth that people will believe.) The Nazis really though they were on defense, pre-emptively striking against an enemy that would soon take them out.

I think another boundary of dangerousness has been crossed in the last few months. Environmentalists believe that there are tipping points for species, or for climate.  That might be so.  I have long suggested that there might also be tipping points for economic growth, or for cultural continuity, or for government control, or for general morality.  Let me add another.  There might be a tipping point for violence.

Perhaps it is far off.

Correction:  I did not mention the two big ticket items - various stripes of Muslim terrorists, and white separatists.  I think the left minimises the former and associates the latter with the right, but they don't fit as cleanly into the division I made above. I oversimplified.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hidden Tribes

I haven't written about tribes for quite some time.  It used to be one of my main topics.  I'm glad to see everyone else finally getting on board. The group More In Common has some very interesting research on Hidden Tribes: A Study of America's Polarized Landscape. I'll let you find the interesting parts yourself, rather than give it away. I didn't read it all.

This seems to be another group of mostly liberals who think they are moderates, but gosh-darn it they are going to try really hard to see both sides, here.  Good on them.  We need more of that. Their phrasing reveals their bias in only minor ways, and it is rather relaxing to read that. They identify 7 American political groups, including the disengaged. It is not identical to the Pew Research Group's political typology, but it has a lot of overlap.

Looking at the answers about what people in the seven groups believe, about whether white privilege exists and how important it is, or whether the police are more violent with African Americans, it occurs to me that these are not strictly opinion questions.  There are no complete answers, but there is more evidence for some of these points of view than others. The responses are not on all fours. That said, I don't think the conservatives always have the overwhelming evidence on these things. If the test designers and researchers are aware that there might actually be answers to some questions, they don't reveal it.

Also interesting is how often a full 99% of the extreme left signed on to an idea. Extreme conservatives frequently hit over 90% on a viewpoint, but topped out in the mid-90's.

Christmas Pageant

Tired of being cast as a sheep.

Senator Daniel Webster

In the comments of one of my posts over at Chicago Boyz:
"Good motives may always be assumed, as bad motives may always be imputed. Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of power; but they cannot justify it, even if we were sure that they existed. It is hardly too strong to say, that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intention, real or pretended. When bad intentions are boldly avowed, the people will promptly take care of themselves. On the other hand, they will always be asked why they should resist or question that exercise of power which is so fair in its object, so plausible and patriotic in appearance, and which has the public good alone confessedly in view? Human beings, we may be assured, will generally exercise power when they can get it; and they will exercise it most undoubtedly, in popular governments, under pretences of public safety or high public interest. It may be very possible that good intentions do really sometimes exist when constitutional restraints are disregarded. There are men, in all ages, who mean to exercise power usefully; but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern. They promise to be kind masters; but they mean to be masters. They think there need be but little restraint upon themselves. Their notion of the public interest is apt to be quite closely connected with their own exercise of authority. They may not, indeed, always understand their own motives. The love of power may sink too deep in their own hearts even for their own scrutiny, and may pass with themselves for mere patriotism and benevolence."
Daniel Webster "Reception at New York"  March 15, 1837.

Baseball Is Regional Again

Legalised gambling may keep some fandom national.  Fantasy baseball has kept MLB from completely losing its nationwide following, but the numbers continue to trend down.  Baseball does very well regionally, as large numbers of people follow the local team at least a bit, buying merchandise, attending an occasional game with friends. But no one is watching the game of the week anymore. People in St Louis don't care anything about a game between Houston and Baltimore. It's more like the old days before TV baseball really caught on, and the sport was played on the radio and in the newspapers, both of which were local. When there were 8 (or 10) teams in both the American League and the National, Boston didn't much care what happened to Milwaukee, even though the Braves had started in Boston.  They were in the NL, and no one noticed. A few transcendent players were national, the Willie Mays, Hank Aarons, Bob Gibsons, and Sandy Koufax's know to the AL, the Mantles, Berras, and Williamses in the NL cities.  Not much more.

As the amount of available baseball on TV exploded, so did a more national awareness of the sport.  People started following possible record-breaking streaks elsewhere - Pete Rose, Cal Ripken.  Home runs and steroids became a story everyone could understand, then faded. The stories of the Red Sox and Cubs never winning, or to a lesser extent, the Phillies' and Indians' woes were stories that people in other places could understand. Then Theo Epstein broke the evil spells over Boston and Chicago, and that story went away.

The statistics-lovers still keep track of what is happening around both leagues, but even among them, only the most intense. Even I look at the National League leaders for various statistics and have no idea who many of the players are. Nor did I even recognise all the names in the Yankees lineup last night.

Information Gets Lost

Lost in the accusations that Republicans didn't believe Christine Blasey Ford for terrible reasons is the evidence that Diane Feinstein didn't believe her.  Had she thought the accusation strong and credible, she would have brought it out sooner and disposed of Kavanaugh's nomination in the cradle.

Or if you prefer the narrative that says she did believe Ford but thought that a last-minute release, including breaking her confidentiality was tactically better to scotch the nomination, then it was Feinstein who had contempt for the woman, to use her in this way.

I think those are the two choices.

I don't know why I keep expecting people to be consistent and fair.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

False Alarm

I suggested in Rationality that I had a little theory.  As I started writing to develop it, I discovered that the Democratic strategy as it developed in the Kavanaugh hearings was not some new thing I was discovering, it was just a variation of The Toxoplasma of Rage.  Embracing ever-more farfetched claims and tortured explanations was only a way to keep showing ones bona fides, one's loyalty, one's status as a foxhole friend.

I mean, anyone can be loyal to you when you're right.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I think I first learned it from James Dobson, that our faults are usually our best qualities out of control. To be precise is a good thing, but being obsessive seldom is. To be warm-hearted is an admirable quality, but a chronic rescuer actually does harm. Viewing oneself in this way can be discouraging, as we see quickly we will never be able to eliminate the fault, because it is tied in with our deep character and our survival strategies. It is likely healthier to see the upside, though. Self-improvement comes not so much from going against the grain and attempting the impossible, but from ratcheting back on something we know to be valuable when it is under discipline.

 I have been thinking of a young friend who has been beloved of all who know him. I wrote on a recommendation for him that "everyone is nicer when he is around." He has tended to be liberal for as long as I have known him, but it has taken a more intense turn these last few years. There have even been incidents where he wasn't...quite so nice. I don't see him much now, I may be assigning too much weight to isolated events. I did not have much to wonder about the cause. He was once in a minority of liberals among people who were either conservative or didn't care much about politics either way. For several years now he has been entirely among liberals. It occurred to me that the strength had shaded over into becoming a weakness. His ability to get along in live conversation is related to a tendency to take on the coloration of those around him.

 We all do this, of course. Even folks like me who have a tendency to be the opposite, who try to balance a discussion by seeing value in the minority opinion, or seek for new angles on the conventional wisdom, still move in the direction of the people I am conversing with. I steer away from topics, or accentuate areas of agreement. I don't do well with people who are determined to blow through that and publicly insist on their point of view brashly.

I don't think I have ever applied this to groups. A group flaw may also be a strength out of control. I invite you to have fun with the idea, as it may be useful going forward.

I have come up to the edge of the idea, I think, in my frequently noting that liberals are generally more socially skilled and read the subtext of discourse very well. Two downsides occur to me. First, there has been a growing tendency for liberals to overread, to find sexism and racism in ever more dilute forms, until, like a homeopathic medicine, there is no longer any molecule left in the bucket. Secondly, it becomes to easy to spread ideas by social methods rather than logical or substantive ones. The people who "get it" are the people who get it, and a wink's as good as a nod. As Lewis noted in The Screwtape Letters, people laugh as if the joke has already been made. Conservatives have a different problem, in spreading ideas with sentimentality such as patriotic display - which is why they get so pissed when they perceive those symbols to have been slighted. All groups do some of both, of course. Liberals will often go to sad children displays, and conservatives will hold strongly to some social norms as important to telegraph early. Still, there is the overall tendency.

But I think there is more to this idea of group weaknesses being tied to strengths, and invite my excellent commenters to have a go at it. Have a care to look at your own groups as well.

Bad Opinions

Incoming Calls

Monday, October 08, 2018

Mast Year

2017 was a mast year for acorns in New England. Because there were more acorns, squirrels were living large, got fat and reproduced well.  Which means that this year there are more squirrels for fewer acorns. They grow more desperate and have to go to riskier places, including roads, where they are getting run over in massive numbers this year. Lots of conversation in these parts about how many squirrels are getting killed.

Many squirrels taking risks suggests that squirrel predators should do well this year, but next year they in their turn will have slim pickings. One list of said predators includes: Hawks, owls, eagles, magpies, ravens, shrikes, skunks, weasels, martens, minks, badgers, wolverines, foxes, coyotes, wolves, bobcats, lynxes, cougars, black-footed ferrets, black and grizzly bears, domesticated cats and dogs, snakes of many sorts, possums, and humans. Hawks and coyotes are likely to be the big items here.  Lots of those others aren't common in NH. Plus cars.  Cars are a major predator here.

One of my first posts back in 2005 was about my theory of not hitting squirrels by trying to hit them. It seemed to work for years, but I was informed by a reader a few weeks ago that he had proven that the rule is not, er, infallible. So it's more in the nature of a guideline, like the Pirate Code.

And it emphatically does not work on chipmunks.

17th Amendment

I have heard federalists speculate that a return to state legislatures choosing the senotors for their state would be an improvement on the direct-election method.  My son is a fan.  It certainly sounds plausible.

But maybe not.

The City - Part Two

There is a theme in Scripture that extends back to the earliest chapters of Genesis - that the settled life, especially in cities is spiritually dangerous, and God's people must learn to depend on Him by living a more nomadic life.  Only after this learning has been accomplished do they get a city of their own. When Adam and Eve's settled life and interaction with God is broken, he sends them out into a wilderness.  You can call that punishment, but one can also see it as necessary instruction.

Cain wanted to live a settled life and bring vegetables instead of meat as an offering. (I believe the meat was also considered important because of the seriousness of sin, and the slaughter of an animal is more bloody and hits closer to home than the cutting up of a brussel sprout.) God's refusal to accept this is more than just a "because I said so."  It is a directive to live a particular type of life.  Cain is cast out and marked, not to be killed, but to be taught to live the wandering, God-dependent life. He builds a city instead, and his line is associated with cities and violence going forward. Check out Lamech.

Seth, the third son, we don't know.  But he does not seem to be associated with either agriculture or cities.

The pattern repeats.  Noah is righteous and is saved from a world of corrupt cities, and after being saved what is the first thing he does? He plants a vineyard, a statement of settling down. The immediate result is drunkenness and terrible sin.  This is a good place to recognise that even if these are just folk tales that God's people are telling each other, they are pretty cleverly constructed.  In our era, we think "Hey, a vineyard!  What a nice, earthy, peaceful thing to do!" The original hearers may have heard an opposite note: "Man! They just don't get the idea of living in dependence on God, do they?" They build a tower in a city to reach up to heaven, a symbol of man's great achievements - but God tears it down in Babel.

Abram is called out of a city, and his relatives going back into the city - Lot in particular - is always a story of temptation and sin. The Egyptian city is temporarily a salvation because of Joseph, but becomes an oppression. The rescued Hebrews have to learn wandering before they can enter cities to live in.  David comes out of the countryside to be king.  The City only becomes an acceptable place when it surrounds the Temple. The Jews are taken to the city of Babylon in what is called an exile.  It is not seen as a leg up in the world to go to the greatest city on the planet. There is danger there.

Jesus comes first to shepherds, and the magi from Eastern cities have to get there on their own steam. Flocks good, cities bad.

Yet there is a gradual reversal, starting at the time of the First Temple, and after the lesson of learning dependence the Jews are gradually initiated into the idea that a city, under the right circumstances, might be a good thing.  Or even, reading later in the New Testament, the best. For the city takes work and cooperation, trade networks and skill, technology and administration and all the works of man. James noted Charles Williams's take on the importance of the city, and its demonstration of our interdependence. No wonder the ruralist, anarcho-monarchist Tolkien disliked Williams's writing so much. Even though JRRT was Roman Catholic, he saw the rural life as more spiritually suitable, and reserved his praise of cities for future eras.  Even in the NT, it is at the end of all things that the City of God comes into being.

Sunday, October 07, 2018


The reliability of memory came up a lot recently, and it is worth noting that we do not remember past events anywhere near as well as we think we do. Even flashbulb memories, which we feel very certain about, deteriorate and even change over time.  If this puts you in mind of Dr. Ford's testimony, remember that forgetting could apply equally to Justice Kavanaugh. I am noted for exceptional memory of past events, and am in my element at reunions, where people are gratified that I remember that they took a third on balance beam in 1969, or played the flute in 1963.  Yet I have found many places where I was certainly wrong, because some photograph or document shows up that contradicts my memory.  People of long memory are more likely to go to reunions, I would guess, and I also think I was likely to befriend those who had some similarity of mind. I thus have a store of memories rendered uncertain, because in comparing notes with these people, we don't entirely agree.  Sometimes I will realize in a flash that Ted Kontos's or Gary Hicks's memory of our first night at Manville dormitory includes an important detail I had entirely forgotten, and theirs is the better account.  Other times I remain convinced the other person has it wrong, and is conflating two events.

There will be a terrible irony about all this going forward in the Kavanaugh confirmation controversy. This will be an event which people will claim to remember and will hold those memories as important parts of their political story in the future. Yet we are already getting it wrong, each of us laying down the memory according to our previously held beliefs, and this will get worse. Things that we read as theories about Ford's motivations we will regard as something that someone somewhere proved. Ambiguous statements which Kavanaugh explained will come to be regarded as things he avoided answering. People who thought Ford's delivery was calculated will believe it was all an act.  People who thought Kavanaugh's verbal defense of himself was partisan will remember it as luder and angrier than it was, and will ascribe to him statements he didn't make.

It has already happened to me.  I had associated Senator Murkowski's statement with Senator Collins' statement on the basis of a few sentences of each and was disparaging of the latter.  A friend corrected me that I had misjudged Collins badly, and when I went back to look at it, that was abundantly so.  I had associated them in mind before.  I therefore assumed they would have similar takes.  I had already started remembering that they had similar takes, even though this is not so.

The City - Part One

Listening to the podcasts from my son's church in Houston, I was struck by how often the pastors and ministry leaders would frame their actions in terms of the city, or sometimes, a particular neighborhood of the city.  I first heard this in the 60's while at a Congregationalist church, when earnest young pastors, seminarians, and writers of slim volumes about social gospel would stress that God Loves The City.

That came from a context of people having moved to the suburbs in the previous two decades, and some congregations building new churches away from downtown. The money had gone outward, leaving the poor behind in deteriorating neighborhoods. This struck people associated with seminaries (in cities), and denominational national and regional offices (in cities), and many established churches (in cities) as an abandonment, a rejection of the poor. As it was in the late Civil Rights era it had a strong racial tone to it as well.  To the critics it smelt of nice Lutherans and Episcopalians and Presbyterians trying to get away from black people. Which is likely partly true. I have heard that sentiment consistently since then - 50 years.  Not from the people in the suburbs, certainly, but in the mainstream denominational writings and mission statements.  The idea that "God Loves The City" remains strong.  Christian groups in cities think of themselves in terms of the neighborhood or city.  They don't think of their ministries as something regional, statewide, or national.  The City is the natural boundary they think in terms of. One can tell they have also quietly smuggled in the idea that this is a holier way to go.  Not that anyone would quite say that out loud, but it's unmistakable.  We are working in the City, Jack.  We are out here in the City, where the People are. We aren't hiding out in our protected suburbs (like you), or out in some rural backwater, we are here where it's real. 

Evangelicals come under criticism - I have done so myself - of tying the idea of the church too closely to the idea of the nation.  That would be God Loves America in some special way.  Or at least, that the ways of God and the ways of America are tied together importantly.

The two ideas seem pretty similar, don't they? People who in the flesh like cities, because they are way more hip, or fast paced, or have a greater variety of restaurants tend to believe that God sees things the same way.  People who like being part of a Nation because of group power/safety, or like a broad unified culture rather than a fragmented one come to see God as preferring that framework to act in. Right now, the city group is liberal, the rural is conservative, and the suburbs are mixed. Sometimes it depends on how close the suburb is to the city. We like what we like, and assume God makes it holy.

The Bible recognises both. God speaks of rest for the nations and gathering the nations, He speaks of judging whole cities, and building a city.  We just shouldn't kid ourselves about these things. Our preference of geographic grouping may be driving our values or the other way around, but they are in any case not the same thing. We can define ourselves in terms of family or tribe, of neighborhood or city, of county or state, of region or nation or broad cultural West, but these are all temporary.

I Stand Corrected

I had written in "Rationality" that there was something at least partly sensible, because of the statistical probability that men will lie in defense of accusations of assault more often than women will falsely accuse, to start from a slightly uneven place in deciding for oneself who to believe.  I qualified that this was about the starting point, and hedged that in the absence of solid information this was going to be about perception, but I did put that forward as a non-insane argument.

Senator Collins's speech convinces me I was wrong about that. As far as we can make our minds be objective and cast out demons of prejudice, we should do that, and hold others to the same standard.  I would now say that while I understand how people come to that less-than-even starting point, it is still wrong, not only in criminal matters, not only in background checks and agency investigations, but even in the informal evaluations that all of us do about such matters.

As I thought about it, I saw that it would be analogous to a black/white situation.  Because African-Americans have approximately ten times the rate of violent crime as whites, following my original logic it would be okay to initially assume the black girl was as fault if she got into a fight with a white girl.  That is of course insane, and it is easy to see how damaging applying the idea would be. I didn't think it through to the ruddy end, and got it wrong.

Thank you, Senator, for clear thinking and expression.

Saturday, October 06, 2018


Remember, remember, the Sixth of November.

Amy Coney Barrett has already had more than one FBI background check. There has already been a lot of oppo research on her. Remember that it is being sifted, not for what is true, but what can be made to appear true to deeply partisan opponents.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Things Used To Be Different

Look at Mondale's face after the first joke. I admire that.  In my memory I recall a time of rancor, insult, and dirty politics. It must not be so.  These scenes could never happen now.


When people have a rational argument available to them but don't use it, I try to step back and see if I can guess what is really happening.  In the entire Kavanaugh debate, the Democrats/liberals had a single strong argument. Statistically, not only in history but up to the present day, if a woman says "He did this," and the man says "I did not," he is more likely to be lying. Whether he is twice as likely or a hundred times as likely is a difficult debate with few hard data points, but I think we are all clear that false denials are more common than false accusations.  After all, some of those denials end up as convictions based on hard evidence.

There is a second argument which flows from that which I think is weaker, not fully persuasive, but at least not crazy. Therefore, because this is a perception and not a criminal case, the accused cannot expect marginal or ambiguous cases to go his way. In the absence of other evidence, fair-minded people can decide "Nine times out of ten the man is lying in these cases." It may not be entirely fair, but it compensates some for the statistical disadvantage. There is a key phrase "in the absence of other evidence" in that. Even then I don't like it, as I believe it sets a dangerous precedent which allows unscrupulous people to use accusation as a tool. But I can at least see it.

Sometimes protestors or critics, or Senators running for president, or editorialists would get sorta kinda close to these arguments, as if they were hovering in the background assumed. But mostly they all went to different places, that women had never been believed and this was going to test whether any woman would ever get justice again; that men should not have any part of the evaluation; that Dr. Ford was somehow courageous; that Kavanaugh might be something far worse on the basis of no evidence, that this was all proceeding hastily, that Susan Collins is a rape apologist.  In short, to insane arguments. Hypocrisy is an easy argument in Washington. One of your guys did something similar last year or last decade and you didn't care so much then, didja? But this was at a new level, an insane level.  These were hypocrisies separated by no time at all.  The Ellison assaults were not something from 2015, they were current.  There was an old Joe Biden quote that FBI investigations weren't as valuable as people thought. Democrats singing a different tune last week is just politics as usual.  Republicans have done the same. But then the Democrats switched back again, just a week later. Comey tweeted out that the FBI was going to nail Kavanaugh because his little lies would explode out, and Senator Blumenthal tried to elegantly predict the same, in Latin. This week

What then, does this mean? They had a good argument, and passed it by in favor of bad arguments. When smart people get stupid it means something. I don't like to guess at other people's motives too much.  The difference between seeing another point-of view and projecting is easy in cold definition, but not so clear cut in practice.  If I imagine being in his head and thinking what the action would mean if I were doing it, is that insight or projection?

I have a little theory, but I am going to play with this in my head while doing some physical labor tomorrow, which often brings new perspectives.


Hallowe'en Puns

I just love putting the apostrophe in Hallowe'en every time.  Just a little cue to remind people of the origin.

How did Hallowe’en, of all holidays, come to be so strongly associated with puns? Other holidays have occasional puns associated with them. Valentine’s Day is a distant second in punning.  But nothing approaches October 31st for riddles or posters about “a monster’s ghoulfriend,” “Boo-berries,” or a werewolf hiding in your “Claws-it.” Is it because we made it a children’s holiday because of the costumes and candy, and children do reach an age where they like that sort of simple wordplay?

Gladwell Addition

I left out one of the better examples.  Gladwell reports on a psychobiography  of Elvis that explores why he consistently forgot the the words to the bridge of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” First of all, “psychobiography?” Never heard of it in 40 years working at a psychiatric hospital.  Sounds like some Freudian thing. I couldn’t look it up, being face down and all, but it was confirmed a few sentences later when he spoke of going to the office of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. I am of the belief that Freud set the field of psychiatry back a century, and it is has still not quite recovered, so these will not be thinkers that I find reliable in any way. Witch doctors, I’m telling you. (Though witch doctors do have their uses.)

The explanation was elaborate, including the death of his mother, some of his sexual weirdness, and his betrayal by Priscilla.  All of this combines to the theory that this repeated mistake is a parapraxis , a Freudian slip, deeply meaningful and revealing.

Let’s not make things too difficult here, Malcolm. Song lyrics are much easier to memorise than spoken lines, which is why people who wish to memorise scripture find that method easier. It may be why music exists at all. Remembering the lyrics but faltering at the bridge is not surprising.  Once any mistake has been made it is easier to make the same mistake again – in typing, in dancing, in anything. Secondly, welling feelings of emotion interfere with memory anyway.  So, yes, associating that spoken bridge with Priscilla might prompt strong emotions, rendering him less able to focus on remembering words.  I don’t see that as having enormous psychological meaning.

Whatever It Takes

I have noted in my Underground DSM-IV (I have not updated) that the substance abuser who says they will do “whatever it takes” to get sober is not to be believed.  I had noticed that purely empirically over the years, but had no explanation.  Early in my minor ordeal of having to keep my head face down for a week I was frustrated and wanted to sit up more, but knew I had to maintain the uncomfortable posture for the sake of my future eyesight.  I found myself thinking that very phrase “whatever it takes,” and chuckled to myself that I was doing what I had criticized others for.  But this time I knew in a moment how people could say it with sincerity, yet it was still wrong.  It’s a different type of discipline, a different type of courage. One says “whatever it takes” to get up to fever pitch.  It’s for a one-shot deal, a moment’s intense courage or determination. Go ahead!  Pull the bone into place! Make the call! Leap the brook! But that is not the type of determination that is needed to get sober or to remain in an uncomfortable position another day.  It is not a matter of amount, it is different in quality.  Fever pitch won’t get you sober.

Saying “whatever it takes,” then, is not a matter of deceiving oneself or others.  But it does mean you don’t understand what is being asked of you.