Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Waterloo



Hmm, entire front page is devoid of color. I am giving an entirely too text-heavy intellectual impression. Can't have that.

I read that their 40th Anniversary album has just come out.

Dear Brutus

Sir J.M. Barrie wrote female characters beloved by women and girls, which is odd, because he doesn't seem to have known real-world women well. At least, his relationships with them were troubled. He was not his mother's favorite son, and when the favorite died in a skating accident, James tried to become the missing boy - including not growing older. Barrie later told the story that his mother had said with some excitement as he walked past her door "Is that you?" To which he replied "No, it's no' him.  It's only me." We know now how memory plays us false, and don't know what was actually said.  We do know that was the adult J.M. Barrie's forever impression of what was said.

He had no children of his own, sons or daughter.  When he adopted five boys whose parents had died, he did not get along with the nanny who continued to care for them, as specified in the will.

James wed a young actress, but it was believed the marriage was never consummated.* She eventually had an affair with a younger man and refused to break it off at Barrie's demand.  He eventually divorced her, but supported her the rest of her life anyway. In a poignant, theatrical gesture, he delivered the money every year at a private dinner on their wedding anniversary.

Poignant. He had a gift for poignancy in scenes involving women. Generations of girls and women have teared up when Peter Pan flies out the window at the end and Wendy says "If another little girl- if one younger than I am -- Oh, Peter, how I wish I could take you up and squdge you!" I was in a production in college and I still shiver to remember it. That is only the beginning with Barrie's plays.  In  "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals" a childless woman envies the ladies of her circle talking about their sons away at the war, so she finds the name of one with her surname and starts to write to him. When he returns, he comes to meet her, and it turns out he has lost his mother. Though it is all a comedy, then scene has considerable power.  In "The Twelve-Pound Look" an oppressive man hires a typist on the eve of his Knighthood to type the messages of congratulation, who turns out to be the wife who left him years ago once she had saved up the price of a typewriter to support herself. Twelve pounds. (At the end of the play, the second wife, about to become Lady Sims, asks upon hearing the story what the cost of a typewriter is.)  In "Quality Street" a woman pretends to be her own niece to flirt with and hopefully win a previous suitor of her own, back from the war. 

Perhaps it is only sentimentality that Sir James was good at and these women are not actually well-drawn believable characters.  Sentimentality usually depends on the reader bringing a lot to the character from their own lives and experience. Still, I find them moving even though I have zero experience being female myself.

I thought of "Dear Brutus" today as I watched a young woman at a store pause to tie up her hair to fit under a hat before going out into the rain. The play is set in an English country house on Midsummer's Eve - as we are just a few days past that it may have been lurking in my mind - and the characters we immediately meet are mostly unlikable.  They rather transparently blame others for the unhappiness in their lives, and the others are present. The host, presumably Puck in disguise,  invites a different group every year on the rumor of a magical wood appearing nearby. The characters all enter, and each sees something of what life would have been if they had made one great decision differently. There is a scene which I did in acting class where one man encounters a 15 year-old girl who he knows at a glance would have been his daughter, because of her strong similarity to a woman who would have been her mother.  The girl speaks to him in an everyday manner, because to her this is just one day among many with her father. He however, stares at her with aching heart, knowing this is the only time he will ever see her. She asks if he likes her hair better up or down. He is unable to answer, but can eventually control himself enough to tell her she looks wonderful both ways.

I could act the part more convincingly now than I could when I was 20.

One lovely older couple comes back from a nice walk in the wood, having seen nothing surprising.  The title comes from Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves."

*That single suspicion, plus his adopting the Davies boys when their parents died, is the entire evidence for the idea that he was a pedophile. It was made nearly out of whole cloth by a biographer decades later.  One of the five Davies boys was still alive at the time and scoffed at the idea.

More Old Links

Megan McArdle just after the Brexit vote. This holds up very well, and includes a structural weakness of betting markets and why some Americans care about Brexit. It was behind Bloomberg's paywall, so I got another link. June 2016.

Hmm, the old links are getting newer.

A Federalist review of Heather MacDonald's The War on Cops. August 2016

Just an FBI table I use when people don't believe my claims about crime statistics. It covers 2012.  I usually browse around for newer or slightly different things from this starting point.

When Netanyahu wasn't exaggerating after all. September 2016

Noel Field, Communist Quaker. An American elite Stalinist. I think of Pete Seeger when I read things like this. September 2016

Breitbart on Obama's Birth.  Andrew believed, as do I, that Obama was born in Hawaii.  But his own literary agent in 1991 claimed he was born in Kenya.  Barack played a lot of 3-card Monte with is history, depending on current need. May 2012

Washington Post Archive. There Is No Possible Way Donald Trump's Team Actually Believes This Is Their Path To 270. Thetone is unmistakable. October 2016

John Tierney, who was the NYT science editor, describes The Real War on ScienceAutumn 2016

Democrats three times more likely to unfriend people.  Some of us know this from personal experience.  However, as I am now off FB, I suppose I have unfriended everyone.  I don't miss it, BTW.  December 2016

Why Europe Rose. A longer article, popular academic, with footnotes.  The illustration at the top must be by Peter Spier, though he is not credited. You can tell by all the pretty, clean mud in the village. December 2016.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Denmark: It Depends How You Spin It

Well, this makes it all sound very chummy and kindly.  How enlightened.  How European.  How all-work-together socialist.  Not like the unfortunate Americans.

Then again, if you describe the same thing from a different angle you get this.

I once got in mild trouble at work during a training, as the outside instructor gave a test to us about cooperativeness, and mentioned after we were discussing it that a class of Russians had done very well on the test.  "Which isn't that surprising, coming from a background of everyone working together for the good of others."  I was harsh in correcting her, and she looked very surprised that I didn't know this about people under communism, because didn't everyone? She didn't get that people under communism get very good at telling outside authorities exactly what they want to hear.

A friend studied in Sweden years ago and loved the place.  People were kind, they were hospitable.  Then at Christmas every house on his street was decorated in exactly the same way, and he decided it was best not to make his home there. Nobody makes them do that, but it tells you how much they value sticking together.  There is very generous support for new mothers (and now new fathers, I believe), but there is also a strong cultural value of hard work, and you are expected to contribute back to those who come after when you go back to work. Great system until people don't want to pay back quite so much. In Norway they like togetherness so much they even take your children away if you aren't assimilating properly. (They got them back seven months later.)

I am not saying that Scandinavians are all crytpto-nazis, and that singing together, community spirit and untranslatable* "togetherness" are bad things.  It sounds good overall.  The Danes are very nice people.  I don't buy that repeated myth that they and the other Scandinavians are the happiest people in the world - the suicide rates are too high, for one thing.  Also, they consider it a matter of national honor to say how great life is. Which I suppose is a type of happiness, to be part of something bigger than yourself and be willing to swallow your own pain for the greater good. It's not a lie to call themselves happy - they aren't the most miserable people by any stretch - but it pays to be a teensy bit skeptical.

I wish Americans could actually do more of this sort of group cultural bonding.  We used to in the old days, but decided it was a little oppressive, especially after seeing how bad it could get with Nazis and Soviets. We err on the side of not going down that road now. We have lost something, I suspect. But I don't like liberals or conservatives hyping this sort of togetherness without considering what could go wrong.

*It occurs to me that I have become more suspicious of these supposedly untranslatable words over the years.  The first I ran across was gemutlichkeit in high school German. It doesn't translate into a single word or even a few, but it's not that hard.  It just takes sentences instead of phrases. Hardly surprising.  I wonder how much of "untranslatable" is just "You wouldn't understand it because you haven't been there.  It's really good, but when I put words to it it doesn't sound as amazing."  Yeah, when you try to put it in actual words, it doesn't sound so amazing.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Fair Play

There is an odd irony in the history of remarks by Joe Biden.  He has been all over the map, saying what he thinks he needs to at the time to please as many as he can while offending as few as he can. I don't think you can quite say that he went native in DC, as one might say about Al Gore or John McCain.  It is more that he knows how to schmooze voters. I suppose if you are going to sell out and have no principles, it is better to sell out to the people than to the rulers.  Though there is that Delaware/credit card companies history that undermines my argument there.

He is getting excoriated for things he said in the past, and I have heard more than one Republican defend him, however reluctantly, as in I'm no fan of Joe Biden, but his comment wasn't that crazy at the time and it's being taken out of context. I completely get the impulse to be evenhanded and strive for fair play in all things.  But it's not as if he has principles he is standing on, then or now.

Boxing

Boxing seems to have made a comeback, against all expectations.  MMA and other hybrid fighting sports were supposed to have pushed it aside, but somehow, people care about a variety of weight divisions again.  In the 1950s in America, boxing and thoroughbred racing were big televised sports.  I recall the tail end of that in my own 1960s glued-to-the-screen era. But after Hagler-Leonard and Tyson-Holyfield things trended downward.  A few fighters were dramatic enough to buck the trend, but not many.

I suspect the resurgence owes much to the internationalism of watching matches live.  Other countries have gotten involved and bring their own fan bases in.

Tyson Fury is pretty amazing and it is fun to imagine him against Ali, Marciano, Louis. He is enormous and very powerful, but a lot of fighters have been big.  He is also a skilled boxer, which the large ones seldom are.  He is not as skilled as a Mike Tyson or a George Foreman was, but he's no slouch.  That, and his amazing reach and power make him interesting to speculate about.

Being Irish

I could have picked another ethnicity to make the same point - being Greek, being Swedish - but the information about the Irish immigration to America is the most generally known.

I wrote in a recent post about our many group identities, noting that these are not as stable as we pretend. There was a long migration from Ireland to America in the 19th C. We picture this as a trickle growing to a flood at the time of the great famine in the 1840s and 50s, then subsiding. It is much more complicated, and when we assemble the pieces we have a clearer picture of how great a change in meaning it was for a person to think of himself as Irish in 1800 versus 1900. When we look nostalgically back at the Auld Sod, even if we have never been there, we think of the items of continuity. Instruments and music, foods, remembered historical events, accents and scraps of language, legends, and decorative items. Those items themselves change over time - what we think of as Irish music or Irish legends are not that similar to what even my parents' generation would have thought in their youth, because Celtic revival has brought back intentional elements from many centuries. Corned beef is more Irish-American, because it was a luxury for export in Ireland, not affordable by the Irishmen resentfully packing it. Thus even the supposedly solid ground is marshy.

There was considerable migration from Ireland well before the famine and well after it.  The numbers were about doubled, occasionally tripled to America in the most intense years. In 1800 an Irishman seeking fortune or even just survival might think "I could go to America," and would know some who had already done so.  He might first internally migrate to Dublin seeking work, or cross eastward and try to find work in Liverpool, Manchester, or London.  Australia and Canada were also possible.

There was also back-migration, of people returning to Ireland after having made money, or failing to make money, in one of those places. Some went back and forth a few times. They came back different. Their fathers and grandfathers would have thought of themselves as O'Tooles from County Wicklow or even from a small cluster of villages, but they would have thought of themselves as more generically Irish.  They would know different versions of the old songs, Irish music from Mayo never heard in Cork, and even Irish music written in London or New York.  They would have done entirely new jobs, seen different places, and not shared in the joys and sorrows of the events in the intervening years. They had married a woman from another part of Ireland who made food a slightly different way. Or was not Irish at all. To be Irish meant something different to them not only than it had to their grandfathers, but even their brothers and sisters.

To be Irish in New York in 1900 likely meant never having seen Ireland, and speaking little if any Gaelic. Yet they perceived themselves as a separate and identifiable group, and some still do. They would also know Americans who only vaguely knew they were at all Irish. "Oh is Cody an Irish name?  I always thought it was English."

This on top of the changes that happened to everyone in that century, as new technologies came into use and nationalisms became increasingly important.

Tangential note:  America has had the advantage in tying its heritage to ideas, principles, and written documents.  This is not entirely so, as Americans also define themselves according to historical events and geography, but it is more true of us than of others. As those abstracts become less unifying, I'm not sure what we have left, as even the history and geography are seen differently.  Even myths have their usefulness.

Friday, June 21, 2019

American Religion


We say that people make a religion of something, usually as a metaphor and with some humor.  I was speaking to an English co-worker about my reading up on cricket a few years ago, just to have an idea about how it is played.  “If you haven’t understood that it’s a religion, you haven’t yet understood it” he told me. Or in the American South, football.  Americans “have a love affair” with their cars or with guns, but we say that “Money is a religion” to many, even with reference to “The Almighty Dollar.” I didn’t say it was always humorous, or kindly humor.  I have called liberalism a religion among my Arts & Humanities tribe.  We say that she worships power, or that he would sell his soul for a commission.

I propose that education is our religion, and not as a mere metaphor.  Schools are the churches, at the younger levels. At the collegiate level, departments are more like denominations than individual schools are. State universities teach very similar things in aggregate, but classical studies is different from chemistry is different from history.  There has long been some objection to parents sending their young children to private schools, but nothing like the objection to homeschooling. That was considered to be no schooling, to be undermining the foundations of society. Yes, people wanted to support teachers and their unions, who have a vested interest, but the intensity of opposition was out of proportion.  I suggest that because homeschooling often occurred in the context of religious belief, it was the attempt to opt out of the culture’s real religion that set off the heresy bells.

When libertarians try to remove or weaken credentialing or licensing, they encounter resistance because those in the profession have a self-interest to protect, certainly. But the outrage and horror at the suggestion carries some sense that blasphemy is being uttered. The people who have received an education on the subject are the experts, even if the education is outmoded, irrelevant, and inaccurate. It’s their ticket.  They followed the right steps. It is a world in good order.  It is not just the default position that those who got training know more – a reasonable starting point – but that the training should still hold weight even after it has been shown to be unnecessary. Even when we know it’s useless, we cling to it.  This tells us it has a deeper meaning and significance.
  
The amount of money we spend, to the point of voluntarily impoverishing many; in addition, what we spend at the local level; the insistence we all have that we are experts on the subject; the requirement that all children be trained, combined with some suspicion that one can go too far and lose touch with the common folk (though we are proud when it is our children who do so); we have suspicion of informal education yet also admire some who engage in it, much as we fund seminaries while praising simple saints.

The Early Church

A friend with a PhD in New Testament studies once clearly explained to me, in the context of why we should not take Tony Campolo's word for it that the early church was pacifist, "If someone asked you to describe what the 20th C church believed, what would you say?"  I didn't answer, likely having an uncertain look. Imagine yourself grimacing slightly and shaking your head a bit. "The same was true of the 1st C church," he said. "They believed a lot of different things."

Forgetting


Forgetting is better for us than we think.  All our energy is pointed toward remembering – we furrow our brow, ask others for clues to the word or person that we cannot bring into focus. We admire good memory, we are ashamed of things we have forgotten.  Yet wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t remember things done against us?  There are major rivers in psychology dedicated to remembering things in order to reconstruct them and make sense out of them, to the point of seeking to recover lost memories.  These methods have been disastrous.  If you were fortunate enough to forget some trauma or bad experience, be grateful.  Do not seek for it now.  There may be times when it is best to forget things we have done ourselves, good or evil.  If I had murdered someone, it would not be good to forget that the thing had happened, but wouldn’t it be best to turn the mind from all pictures and sounds of the event as they occurred to us?  We might not erase it, but we could make it fuzzy over time.  Our memories are inaccurate anyway, reassemblings of previous material each time.  Why preserve paintings that are only copies of copies?

On a tribal level, wouldn’t it be better if a group did not continue to hold resentments of things that happened to “them” 50 years ago, or 500? Aren’t we better off that Americans, Germans, and Japanese people speak easily and comfortably with each other now, with no thought of warfare, even though there are a few who still hold it in living memory? I think Americans in general have shown it is possible to remember heroism and some military and cultural lessons while still leaving that past and going on to fresh business.  Our group identities can change rapidly, though we still hold to names that meant something entirely different even a few decades ago.  To be a doctor a hundred years ago is not the same thing now, to be a New Hampshireman is not the same, to be a Lutheran or homemaker or grandfather. Even labels that have considerable persistence, such as “Christian,” “mother,” or “American” change over time.  If our individual memories are faulty, how much more are our group memories. The one quote of George Santayana’s that people remember* is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What if the opposite that is true, that it is those who insist on remembering for years or even centuries who keep repeating the same mistakes?

It may seem cruel or insensitive to tell individuals that they would be better off forgetting some evil.  It has an air of “Get over it,” which is sibling to “It doesn’t really matter,” and first cousin to “It wasn’t really wrong.” It doesn’t have to mean that, however. It might be advised to others in true concern and kindness, with no thought of excusing the sin whatever. In sports it is an advantage to forget a misplay and keep going. From that we can also imagine mistakes in other realms it is better to forget.  Move on. We might also advise people to forget successes – again, as coaches in sports sometimes do.  At work it might not be best to remember too clearly that you got promoted so young or earned a big bonus.  That you remember how you got there is valuable.  Remembering the awards and the adulation, not so much.

Groups should not rest on their laurels too much either, for similar reasons of arrogance.  Also, we as individuals may have had very little to do with even the current successes of our group, never mind the great deeds of our forerunners, to which we contributed nothing.

I think very highly of preserving history. I have quoted CS Lewis “On The Reading of Old Books” many times.  Perhaps I am wrong.  Not that nothing should be preserved, but that preservation is overvalued.  It may not contribute what we pretend neither to individuals nor the common good. It is good to have points of comparison, a sense of continuity, some hint of direction, yes. Do we have too much? Or more likely, do we have the wrong sort of remembering, letting the grain fall to the ground while we clutch the husks?

*George deserves better.  He is the actual originator of this common quote: “Fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.”

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Teresa

I answered a woman on Quora who is having hallucinations and is having trouble getting the proper treatment. She says she is sad and I am the only person who listened to her.  Please pray for her.

One Beer Short

At the close of guy's beer night tonight, commenter engineerlite noted "We were one beer short of solving all the problems of the world.  We'll have to convene again next week."

Reparations

Reparations comes into the news now and again, and there is a run on it lately.  I recall Grim making a sincere effort about a year ago to acknowledge what reasonableness he could and seek some discussion on the matter. My recollection is his own readers were harsh about that, but I think the effort should be applauded. I have an attorney friend who works for the NH Supreme Court, and part of his job is to seek out cases that might have some interesting principle to be explored, even if they ultimately failed. I continue to believe that if you can get two SCOTUS justices to vote in your favor there is at least something defensible about your theory, even if it will never be strong enough to carry the day.  It is half-truths that give us more trouble than flat lies, after all.  Marxism has some power of persuasion because it is essentially an heretical form of Christianity.

People think reparations must be fair because black people have less than white ones, even after the eliminations of great swaths of official prejudice. Because some explanations for this are not allowed, the idea that past mistreatment must be part of the reason remains standing, even when evidence goes against it.

I would like to add one bit to the discussion.  Not the most important one, perhaps, but worth noting. The idea that people got rich off slavery is flawed. Slaves provided an enormous amount of labor, rewarded only by deeply inadequate shelter and food.  If we were to compute the value of that in terms of wages to be paid, it would be a very large amount. However, if we compute it differently, in terms of "at the end of the year, how much more value did slaveowners have," the number would be far less.  The system wasn't that efficient and slaveowners weren't all that smart. In the more genteel areas, such as Virginia and Maryland, slaveowners did get very inexpensive servants and this increased their standard of living. (Supporting aged slaves and children of slaves curt into this somewhat, but it was still cheap.) In Mississippi and other cotton-growing states after the invention of the cotton gin, however, nobody made much of anything.  Whatever money they made went into buying more slaves and more land, but the owners still had terrible shelter, terrible food, no education for themselves or children, little furniture, fine clothing.  Some people made money off them and had nice things, but this was concentrated in a very few areas. 

We can see this more clearly if we think in terms of medieval European warfare, where dukes and princes hired armies at great expense in a seemingly endless series of battles and campaigns to conquer territory from each other. They frequently bankrupted each other, the soldiers spent their pay on drink and women, and often, a lot of money was spent but no one was better off and a lot of people were dead.  Just because work was done and money spent does not mean that anyone benefited. Look also to businesses that people start.  They put in real work, requiring real skill, but ten years later, nobody has made anything.  Work is often good for success, but there isn't a linear relationship with profit. Look around you friends, families, and near ancestors and you can see that it is possible to work very hard and still not prosper. That was even more true in history, when people had fewer choices and were less free, than it is today.

I don't want to overpaint this, that no one made anything, and America had the same standard of living it would have had otherwise.  People made money.  People did better. In the older coastal areas where slaves were a cultural replacement for servants, the First Families of Virginia lived better at the time, but made their fortunes to pass on to later generations.  One of the interesting things is that under the free market, even slaves had a higher standard of living, gradually, decade after decade.  It's a pretty good advertisement for "capitalism," that even when people don't care about you and sometimes even actively oppress you, your standard of living still goes up. The North did well off the South, though they might have done about as well either way.  The gradual rise was real - but separating out what was advancement because of freedom and what was advancement because of slavery is not only difficult, but impossible to sort out.

Yet in the end, even outside of the terrible discussions of who should be billed and who should be compensated, there is the question of how much difference it all made.