Thursday, January 21, 2021

Pipedream


These were my people. I wore that record out. I must have heard them well before I bought the record in 1969, though.  I wrote a song called "Pipedream" in 1968 with a chorus almost identical to this.  A friend asked me why I had changed the song. I didn't know what he was talking about, but he said "That's a Blues Magoos song."  I bought the album and found out he was right.  I tried to convince myself we had independently come up with the same chorus at about the same time, but after a year or so I gave it up.  I must have heard it and stolen it.


Enemy/Enemies

I listened to a podcast today about praying for our enemies.  There was a good deal of Screwtape-similar material about focusing on praying for what they might need, as you would for yourself, not what changes you would like God to make in them. Yet what caught my ear was that the original questioner had seemed to talk about "enemies" as a group, and relating it to current national anger. I wondered how much the language difference influences our thinking, and our praying. Not to get to heavily into set theory and symbolic logic, but "enemies" plural as a set might mean only "the people in my head I consider enemies," who are not in any other sets together. Yet the plural might also be interpreted as "communists," or "Nazis," or "Muslim terrorists," or "Republican establishment."  More subtly, we may have many groups that we do treat as enemies and default to thinking of them as enemies but don't notice it because we have a few exceptions. We certainly see a lot of it in the news "I don't hate all Elbonians, it's just that as a culture they fail to realise..."  Yeah, they're your enemies, and Jesus's directions to you were not to go out and change them but to pray for them.

The podcasters nicely moved the discussion to praying for our enemies in the very individual sense of those who have hurt us, or hurt those we care about. Only at the end did they swing back around and expand it to those who we see as political enemies, and by that time they had laid down enough principles that it was straightforward to note that our response should be the same.

Because it is the same. We can get worked up at the injustice they have wrought in both instances, but we tend to approach them differently. Both can provoke both righteous and self-righteous anger, but these tend to express differently. 

I think I can risk telling a story closer to home, as it would be unlikely for it to get back to people who would feel insulted. The original father of one of my adopted sons was infuriating me over a decade ago, telling us how to parent and gumming up the works in a few ways.  I mentioned this to a young friend at work, a kind young woman who comes out of a 12-step mentality and believes...well, everything, including contradictory things.  She is an observant Catholic who goes to sweat lodge ceremonies and participates in tree-worship, loves the Dalai Lama and a dozen New-Agey prophets. I had often felt more than a little frustrated, and a little superior to this.  But she absolutely leveled me, sweetly: "You should contract for fourteen days to pray for him what you would want for yourself." Well, that would be the love and admiration of my children, pretty much the one thing I didn't want for him.

BUt that's pretty much what praying for your enemies is, because anyone you have a conflict with is your enemy in  that narrow way and in that moment even if it the person you love most in the world. (Related to my post of about a year ago You Cannot Forgive Your Parents, because you have to take them one at a time.)

Mask Advantage

In the context of the sudden popularity of memes inserting Bernie Sanders in his mask sitting in grouchy isolation into a hundred other situations, someone pointed out that an advantage of wearing a mask is that you don't have to make pleasant faces. Bernie's eyebrows and body language leak out his true feelings here, but the point is a good one. Some people may continue with masks for longer than they need to for non-health-related reasons.

My own reading of Bernie in that moment is "I'm done even shaking my fist at the sky." I've never felt closer to the man.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Undeserving Poor

Because it came up over at Maggie's, I thought I would share it here.

GK Chesterton's quote in Heretics on charity is worth considering. A lot is packed into a few sentences. 

It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. 

Charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. We think so often that justice must be administered by government these days that we forget that justice also lies within our reach. If a person has been dealt an unfair hand in life, we are righting a wrong by offsetting that. 

Many of us think that affirmative action is acceptable in a limited way, and was even more so a few decades ago - but in being institutionalised, it has moved ever-further into the realm of injustice, as formal and permanent structures for any type of disbursement will automatically generate rent-seeking behavior. I have had patients who have deeply abused the disability or government entitlement systems, but they do not provoke anger in me so much for the unfairness of this as that they drain resources from those who need them more. A monthly SSDI check isn't all that much, and even maximising the other benefits like Section 8 housing and fuel subsidies doesn't make one rich. Medicaid is a very valuable resource in some ways, especially if one has ongoing medical expenses. But you can't spend it, can't buy a cup of coffee with it. 

Yet injustice still exists in the world, and if we do not wish governments to step in to clumsily, and eventually corruptly and inefficiently address that, then we might take it upon ourselves to address it. It might be kind and generous of us to ameliorate injustice, but I see Chesterton's point that this may not be charity in the full sense. Mercy, grace, charity are what is given to the undeserving, as we are ourselves in the spiritual accounting. If we require that they first be grateful, or humble, or even polite then it is a step down from full charity, however good for their character it might be to learn this. 

This causes me a sharp intake of breath every time I encounter it again, and I seem to forget it swiftly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Reality Vs Pseudo-Realities

Rod Dreher has an essay up at the the American Conservative that I think powerful and important. I have mostly-positive views about Dreher's writing.  I give him great credit for - no, never mind.  My opinion of Dreher is immaterial here. Let's stick to this essay. As with "fair use" copyright laws, I don't want to quote so much that you don't read the article itself.  As I fear Dreher himself does this with the James Lindsay article that he quotes, I am extra careful.

So be advised going in: Dreher is used to writing for a popular audience and you can sail along nicely, pausing only here and there about particularly good phrasings or surprising angles. But when he gets to quoting from Lindsay's essay the pace will automatically slow. It is not only vocabulary, that Lindsay uses words like "paramorality," "paralogic," or phrases like "alchemy of the pseudo-realist program," but that sentences after sentence seems worth stopping and looking at itself.  He is talking about the opposite pseudo-realities of QAnon and Wokeness and other settings such as the Soviet Union, yet clearly keeps his eye on the general application. To take a paragraph from the middle of the essay, we first see

Pseudo-realities are always social fictions, which, in light of the above, means political fictions. That is, they are maintained not because they are true, in the sense that they correspond to reality, either material or human, but because a sufficient quantity of people in the society they attack either believe them or refuse to challenge them.

Well, that's a quote you might highlight in some way all by itself, isn't it? It sets you back.  You might not quite take a long walk over it (though really, you might), but you could at least see yourself stopping, getting up for a cup of coffee or to do some little absent-minded chore, and making sure you have laid that down in terms of something you have seen in your life.  Unfortunately, the next sentences are

This implies that pseudo-realities are linguistic phenomena above all else, and where power-granting linguistic distortions are present, it is likely that they are there to create and prop up some pseudo-reality. This also means that they require power, coercion, manipulation, and eventually force to keep them in place. Thus, they are the natural playground of psychopaths, and they are enabled by cowards and rationalizers.

Whoa.  That one may take at least a short walk, or an email to a wise friend to go over this with you.  But you are not yet at rest.  The paragraph concludes 

Most importantly, pseudo-realities do not attempt to describe reality as it is but rather as it “should be,” as determined by the relatively small fraction of the population who cannot bear living in reality unless it is bent to enable their own psychopathologies, which will be projected upon their enemies, which means all normal people.

It was at this point I decided I could not content myself with reading Dreher's excerpting and commentary on the essay, but needed to go read it myself.  I was tempted to link to it here and sign off, but I do think Dreher's followup is also worth a great deal, and so suggest to you that you find your own spot in the American Conservative link to interrupt and read the deeper, denser essay in full. I have bookmarked it myself. It is difficult and tiring, though to read something an essay in which a high percentage of the sentences could be specially highlighted, or taken out to quote to others as a foundation for an essay of one's own.

Because "universal compliance" is mentioned, I will insert a long-held thought of mine I think important in this context.  We contrast the free market and communism as if they are on all fours, making excuses for the latter because conditions have never been right and the attempts have always been undermined by other forces.  But this is precisely the point.  Communism works only when it is applied perfectly, without corruption, with wise rulers upon a deeply moral population.  When do we expect those conditions to occur?  OTOH, The free market works even though it is always applied with imperfect means, some corruption, unexpected events, and incompetent implementation, however slowly and partially that "works" is. So too with Wokeness and the pseudo-realities of the Right, like QAnon. They cannot work until everyone is made to comply, so the energy is directed into making people comply rather than providing evidence that the machine actually makes widgets.  How can we expect it to make widgets when everyone has not yet gotten into line?

When I returned to the essay, I found that Lindsay went on to make much the same point.  So i didn't need to.  I kept it in anyway, if only because mine is a bit more thorough.

He doesn't mention anti-vaxxers, BTW, and perhaps this is fair because thy confine themselves to a single issue rather than society at large.  But you will recognise some of the tactics claiming that other have not doen the research or are still being fooled by Big Whatever. Also, they bring normals into this pathology by these techniques by getting them to "meet them halfway," and then assert that there must be something to the claims.

I will highlight a couple of his closing quotes

It is understandable why most will not choose this path, but be warned: the longer one waits, the worse this gets 

and 

The earlier one enters this fight, the more courage it takes and yet the more valuable it is. 

Understand that the word "fight" largely means a resistance to being shamed and cowed, not any storming of the Bastille or dramatic civil disobedience about social distancing.  It is mostly about what is said or unsaid, and quiet related actions. Lindsay is very clear about this, but I didn't want you to be put off and not bother with the long essay yourself if you haven't yet gone over.

Rod Dreher's essay quotes Vaclav Havel in summation, as he often does. He's a good choice, a good hero from the 20th C. "...refusing to live by it, no matter what it costs, and thus showing the world that it is possible to live in truth"

Capitol Wall

 The Babylon Bee again defuses the moment with a very apt reminder of the reality.

Tolkien-Lewis Update

I wrote years ago What Tolkien Disliked About Narnia, and my mind had not changed about this until recently.  Holly Ordway, the author I mentioned yesterday in Notes From an Unliterary Reader relates that this is greatly overstated, tracing much though not all of it back to Humphrey Carpenter. Her method is very strict with regards to original sources, rather than two generations of critics quoting each other about who said what to whom. She finds few direct references of what Tolkien thought about Narnia, but looking at the few unarguable ones, she finds his disapproval mild and his approval considerable.  For example, he had a bookshelf for the grandchildren when they came over, and this was watchfully curated, with few volumes in total, as he was a bear about encouraging good taste in literature.  All seven Narnian Chronicles were on the shelves, elsewhere estimated at about thirty volumes in total.  Beatrix Potter and Lewis Carroll were also believed to be on the shelf, but I have not found any further books identified specifically. He remarked in correspondence that he was glad that his recipient had discovered Narnia, and that the books had become "deservedly popular." 

The negatives are that he commented "I hear you've been reading Jack's [Lewis's] children's story. It really won't do, you know! I mean to say: 'Nymphs and their Ways, The Love-Life of a Faun'. Doesn't he know what he's talking about?" (italics mine) and "It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S.L.'s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his." But the former was after listening to the first few chapters read aloud, and given the italicised part is easily attributable to the standard mythology of fauns/satyrs as rapists, and Lewis changed what books appeared on Mr Tumnus's shelves thereafter. As to the latter, Tolkien did express distress at Jack's mixing of myths and "too obvious" allegory, as his works are less so. Still "Leaf by Niggle" is allegorical, and the opening section of Silmarillion is clearly allegorical to my eyes, so I am not sure he is being quite fair.  Though I take his point. Aslan executed on the Ten Commandments Stone Table and then resurrecting shortly thereafter is too blatant for my taste as well, however many modern readers are oblivious to it. "Outside the range on my sympathy" should be regarded as no more and no less than what it says.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Ol' 55

 It's a Tom Waits song, but I have never warmed to his voice.  



Lewis and Frost

 I just learned today that not only did CS Lewis nominate JRR Tolkien for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, he nominated Robert Frost in 1962. Frost was nominated many times, but the reason given for his being passed over in '61 was his advanced age (86). Tolkien nominated two other times.

Notes From an Unliterary Reader

The knowledge I gained from reading "An Experiment in Criticism" (Well, That Stung, 1/11/21) has provided me with further insights, which is what self-knowledge is supposed to do.  I will state again that I think Lewis is correct in what he calls an unliterary reader, and after an initial feeling of being miffed, have decided it is rather humorous and has significant explanatory power for my reading and appreciation of the arts in general. I am an unliterary reader, because I am almost entirely something else, a reader for information. More evidence that it's rather a disease, really.

I don't want to oversell this.  It isn't as if I have no understanding of poetry, description, atmosphere, or myth.  I likely have more than the average citizen.  It's just that I have a lot less than most people who have read a lot of literature and are trained in the arts. I like poetry well enough once I have read even a bit of analysis or explanation of it.  I certainly like a good deal of music beyond just the tune, and admire a good lyric - likely because those are more straightforward than poetry. Yet I have always skimmed the description even in novels I adore, such as Tolkien or Lewis. Get on with it, will you? When I would read these aloud to my sons I would see things I had not before, which was interesting.  To make it interesting to them I would concentrate on the expression of each sentence, applying emphasis and phrasing on the fly.  When I was first reading Watership Down to my oldest son I mentioned somewhat apologetically that Adams seems to describe every plant on the landscape. "But Dad," he said "That's how it would look to rabbits."  He was less bothered by this than I, even as a child.  Entering into the world of rabbits, rather than just getting a whopping good narrative about them, was fine with him. 

This lack also explains to me why I have never been impressed by the evaluation of a movie or a book that raves about how well it was done, even though the critic disapproves of the message. He's a wonderful prose stylist. Well, so what? My son who is a filmmaker, unsurprisingly, finds it easy to admire the craft of a director even while disliking the theme. I can only do this in a limited sense.  I can certainly admire technique and skill in a musician or a painter, and even more can be irritated by something that is not well done, even if its purpose and theme are to my liking.  Not for nothing have I always approved of Goethe's Three Questions and its order, but only today did I notice that I  "approved of the order" only in the sense that #3 is last. What is the artist trying to do? is a foundational question for the second, How well did he do it? But for me, the answer to the first question also tells me whether I want to even bother with the other two. Philip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials as an anti-Lewis, anti-Narnia fantasy.  I don't want to read it, then. I don't care how well he did it.  I don't find that "interesting" in any way. That's what it means to be an unliterary reader, and I'm fine with that. I want to soak up information that I can keep and use somewhere, or race along with a narrative. I can sometimes savor music, as in the Pachelbel Canon in Dmaj, listening to it as an expression of the Trinity (even though it is written for four instruments).  I can go back and reread favorite books, not so much to learn something new every time, as literary people always say, but to re-experience the narrative and hear the conversation.  I am very big on conversation in literature, as I love conversation in real life.* Hmm. I can hear and savor nuance better than see it.  I just concluded that as I wrote it.  I may revise later.

My younger brother has always made his living in technical theater, particularly lighting, but has mentioned that he believes he understands and interprets scripts well. Certainly, one must be able to appreciate mood, movement, and atmosphere to do this, so I have to conclude he has this literary ability in greater measure than I. We inherited differently from our parents, likely. I was the one more interested in the stage at first, and he tagged along as younger brothers do.  But he was enchanted on his own, and made theater connections on his own in a new town after I left for college. Then he stuck with it, even when it didn't pay well enough or people treated him badly. I think my wife and two natural sons have more literary sensibility as well.

I am listening to an interview with Holly Ordway who has a book coming out in a week Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages. She set out to knock down a myth about Tolkien, that he thought literature ended with Chaucer and had little approval or appetite for modern writers, because in her academic research she kept finding counterexamples. Tolkien loved Dylan Thomas, bought Finnegan's Wake as soon as it came out because he was so impressed with Joyce's earlier work, he nominated E.M.Forster for a Nobel Prize. He praised ERR Eddison's creativity and style, even as he found the underlying values evil. Clearly, he had this ability to draw from and savor works that he might disapprove of in some other way. Unsurprising in a literary man, I suppose. A further explanation why this was never the career for me.

As an aside, Ordway wondered where this myth had grown up, as it had so little support in the factual events of Tolkien's life and writing. She attributes it to his first biographer, Humphrey Carpenter. 

It is Carpenter who popularized the idea that Tolkien was a reactionary old medievalist, uninterested in contemporary literature: “The major names in twentieth-century writing meant little or nothing to [Tolkien]. He read very little modern fiction, and took no serious notice of it.” (Michael Ward The Catholic World Report, Jan 16, 2021 [good article, hot off the presses])

Carpenter, the son of the Anglican Bishop of Oxford,  who became an atheist at age 21 didn't like Tolkien, didn't like the Inklings, didn't like Oxford scholarship, and didn't like Christians. Christopher Tolkien was incensed at the first draft of the biography. Carpenter removed a few sections and no more was said about it. But there are apparently other myths about Tolkien, such as not approving of women scholars and avoiding them, or being a Luddite who disliked modern technology, that also stem from HC's biography. It is testament to a sort of founder's effect in information, that whoever gets in first can dominate the thinking for a long time to come. We like to believe that the truth will eventually out, but I doubt that.

*Well, sometimes.  Sometimes you bore me, nearly all of you, and I can't wait to get away and soak up some information somewhere, or daydream about some interactive lecture that I might give to a Sunday School class or a Grand Rounds. I like the radio station that plays in my head.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Retraction of Accusation Against Dominion

In response to Dominion's defamation attorneys contacting them and explaining what was likely to be up, American Thinker has issued a complete public retraction and apology to them, including the following: 

These statements are completely false and have no basis in fact. Industry experts and public officials alike have confirmed that Dominion conducted itself appropriately and that there is simply no evidence to support these claims.

I think they are still not fully in the spirit of apology, however, as their front page simply has the word "Statement" at the top of one of its list of articles. If you weren't looking for it, you might not click on it.  Reason's Jacob Sullum has commentary

Powerline reader Matt Mashburn, a member of the Georgia State Election Board has something related to say about the vote dump there.

Descent of the Adversary Culture

Scott Johnson over at Powerline has linked to two articles about the adversarial attitude that intellectuals have long had toward American culture, which does not seem founded on actual history or sociological knowledge, but on a desire to reject the masses, the popular culture. One is by Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart in 1970, on the 15th anniversary of National Review, and a February 2021 article in First Things by Kathy Kersten.  Neither is terribly long.

Hart advocates learning historical context, and I concur, and I would also point the reader to CS Lewis's introduction to a (then) new edition of Athanasius, "On The Reading of Old Books," also not long.

I understand their disdain all too well. I developed that attitude young, likely as a compensation for being a poor kid who was trying to be accepted among the top academic groups, who were usually more well-off. I still shudder at a lot of popular culture, and hope that this snobbery is at least for artistic or moral reasons - though I am not very confident of that. As much as I hated it, it was good for me to work at a low-status job for many years, not only to break me down a bit, but also to find how wonderful a lot of nonintellectual people really are.  Nicer than a lot of the supposedly more enlightened people I was aspiring to count myself among.

Taking Nominations

Which the best Monty Python routine? Please nominate, and I will find one of those programs for putting up a poll, for those who are shy but still want their voice to be heard here. I have not included any movie scenes, but I could get talked into it. Or perhaps we should do separate categories there.

The obvious choices are

The Dead Parrot 

The Argument

The Four Yorkshiremen, and

The Cheese Shop. To which I will add the lesser-known

Bruce's Philosophers Song.


Electoral College

The News Junkie over at Maggie's linked to an article over at Zerohedge about the Electoral College. I have mixed feelings about Durden, but that article is good if not very deep. He does hit on one point I had not fully thought of, that most democracies have a two-step process for national elections, though those differ.  That doesn't strike me as accidental.  But he touched on a point I think deserves a little more expansion.  Presidential candidates have to develop an appeal to more than one group, and this is a good thing. We get upset when none of those groups are our own, and make objections when our own groups are not only poorly represented but actively discriminated against. But most of us understand that this is how the system works in general. If someone assembles a coalition and does not abuse his power against the defeated, we hope to win next time. 

David Hackett Fischer in Albion's Seed, which I used to reference often and still recommend as essential for understanding colonial history and beyond, tracked the voting patterns of the presidential elections against the four British folkways in America (Puritan New England, hierarchical coastal South, especially Virginia, Middle Atlantic Quaker, and Appalachian Scots-Irish, and the further places they went on to settle) and notes that no one won without having a solid grip on the votes of two of those four, even into the 1980s - and I think that continues.  The people who came from other places tended to seek places where they were comfortable - German Pietists to Pennsylvania and further west, for example - so the founder effect did not dissipate. 

Texas was founded by Appalachia plus Germans and Czechs coming in on a foundation of a few Mexicans and some natives, but now Houston and Dallas and Austin have people from all over.  The Pacific Northwest was mostly settled by New England and the Upper Midwest.  Yet even though very different groups have moved in, there remains a founder effect, and those new groups do somewhat choose on the basis of the culture they want to enter. 

The Electoral College is only a restraining influence on the domination of a single American culture over the many others, but it's something, and I don't think we should be giving it away.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Planet Narnia Chart

In my reconsideration of the thesis behind Planet Narnia I went looking to see if there were a good chart to do a preliminary evaluation of whether it was a forced theory. I found a good one by Brenton Dickieson at his blog A Pilgrim in Narnia, which I have linked to a few times over the years. 

Some of them just jump out at you.  I had already noticed that wateriness is all over The Silver Chair, and both gold and something about things becoming clear were prominent in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so when lunacy, doubt, and enchantment were added in to the former and both light and dragon-slaying are added in to the latter the pattern is certainly looking good. Yet I didn't know what to do with tin and copper, associated with Jupiter and Venus respectively, nor with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Magician's Nephew. Nor, in the chart, do I see the geometry of LWW or the grammar of SC. Are these all just blanks that have been filled in because something had to go there, like a clumsy rhyme? Yet by happy chance I remembered that Lewis had written about Venus - Venus as a destination, not a goddess or a planetary influence - and went to browse there to see if copper fit in somehow. Before he has even landed and is still in the casket by which he traveled, Ransom notices that the intense white light of being in space has suddenly changed after entering the atmosphere of Perelandra 

The prevailing colour, as far as he could see through the sides of the casket, was golden or coppery.
It's the first color he sees on Venus. So Lewis has done this sort of thing before. 

Don King tried years ago to fit the Seven Deadly Sins onto the Chronicles as well. I didn't even bother to read it after hearing about it, but now, having read Till We Have Faces and seeing that Lewis is not only interested in but capable of writing on many levels at once in his world building I took a look. I really don't want to have hidden structures being discovered every few years, but I had to admit that King makes a slightly different point, of a downstream consequence of the sin (and of the mode of rescue) and it does make sense.  That Edmund's gluttony - and its rescue - had more downstream consequence than any other act in LWW was pretty obvious; The greed of Eustace and its repair is the central fact of VDT; I am not sure I would have agreed about anger in The Magician's Nephew had I not just read moments before about the exemplifying scene of Jadis throwing the lamppost at Aslan in fury during the creation.  The lamppost that had consequences centuries later in LWW. For the others, see what you think yourself.

Could Lewis have been doing both? And are the Seven Virtues, three theological and four cardinal, also going to turn out to be an underlying pattern? I'm sure someone has given those a try. Three of the books have biblical parallels, four do not.  One might start there.  After TWHF I might believe anything about Lewis's intent.  In particular, having seen what he did there, I can no longer think that the Chronicles, nor any of his works were slapdash and hodgepodge, as has been accused. Once started down any such road, he would continue it with precision and thoroughness, even if he handled it lightly, regarding it as an influence rather than a structure, as he did with the myth of Cupid and Psyche in Faces.

Just for fun: The name Lucy, means "light," appropriate for the one who sees more clearly than the others; Susan comes from a Hebrew word for "beautiful," for which Queen Susan was indeed renowned, enough to make Lucy jealous.  Peter, of course, is "rock," also fitting and Edmund meaning "fortunate protector" is a remarkable double use of a name, for he was initially very, very fortunate, and later became the great swordsman, and wise in counsel, Edmund the Just. Those don't seem accidental, nor slapdash.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Example

 I would say this qualifies as a pagan atmosphere...

Faun has a lot of things like this.

Pagan

CS Lewis made a strong distinction between pagan and heathen in his writing. I would like to hold to his way of looking at things, because I think it would be a useful distinction.  The actual pagans, like Wiccans, have revived the term and do use it for themselves in much the same way that he did, meaning worshipers of nature gods rather than as a simple pejorative for unbelievers. Still, one will find the two terms regarded as synonyms in much writing, and I don't want to be misunderstood. Both words come from similar roots, meaning country or rural dweller (as in "heath," see it?) If that seems the reverse of American and European demographics today, with the city dwellers being much less likely to be churchgoers than the rural folk, I think that becomes clearer if we look at the people of the countryside often being those who hold to the old religion, which in current Western Civ is Christianity, and city-dwellers following the new religion, liberalism. But in previous eras Christianity was the new religion, not the old one. (I am in an email discussion about whether this holds true in the Third World today and think that this is so in many places, but Latin America has wildly different patterns, likely owing to its longstanding Catholicism which has seen recent competition from Pentecostalism.  I'm not seeing that pattern clearly there.)

So in that formulation, pagans worship other gods while heathens are more generic unbelievers in monotheism.

Lewis had a great deal of sympathy for paganism, and found some impulse within himself to worship these natural gods and goddesses. I do not in the least share this.  It is a temptation I do not share, and take no protections against it.  However I might remove myself from the Church and God's grace, that won't be it. Shortly after my conversion, the person who led me to Christ, a very artsy person, was playing Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" when I was visiting. I shuddered.  I had heard of, but never heard the piece, but immediately recognised "That's. Just. Pagan." and I did not mean it as a neutral evaluative description. I suppose that means that Stravinsky achieved his desired effect very well, if a first time listener could instantly discern that this was a rite of something natural, spring being a good guess.

That the pagan spirits can be enjoyed by Christians, once they have been fully submitted to Christ, died and buried in the ground to rise again like a grain of wheat (natural image), is all over Lewis's fiction. These have never been the parts that moved me most, but I have heard enough from fans who were moved to not dismiss it lightly. The Oyarsa of the Ransom Trilogy as well as Tinudril; Ungit and Cupid and Psyche in Till We Have Faces; the lead quote of "Forms of Things Unknown" (The Dark Tower and Other Stories) explains how a Medusa appears to - and petrifies - a terrestrial human. "...that what was myth in one world might always be fact in some other." 

The myths of our own world appear as real creatures throughout Narnia.  Lewis humorously gives example of this being an interpenetration on Mr Tumnus's bookshelf Is Man a Myth? and more seriously at the edge of the world in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where a Christ-figure more familiar in ours appears in Narnia. Father Christmas looks like an intrusion, a mistake in the plot of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, until we see that point, that Lewis is intentionally making a world in which all our mythological figures are realities in that other. The even deeper idea underlying this in The Last Battle, that even those figures in a hundred other worlds are expressions of their Platonic ideals in Aslan's own country. I will stuff in here that I have come back to accepting Michael Ward's theory in Planet Narnia, that the seven chronicles are each tied a planetary influence, Jupiter for LWW, Mars for Prince Caspian, etc.  I believed it, then discarded it as too forced, and have now come back to it.  Ward oversells the idea in places, but the idea that the atmosphere, the influence, the palette if you will of each planet is real throughout a book. 

I am not entirely insensitive to the different flavors of having Merlin versus dryads versus unicorns operating in the story, but I sense that others feel these things much more keenly than I. Ents are an atmosphere, Tom Bombadil was a mere neutral to me. The appearance of Pan in The Wind In The Willows was boring, not offensive.

Lewis explains this better than I, and if I do not convince you here of the legitimacy of use of paganism in his fiction you should read his own better explanations, or more easily, reflect on whether they make sense in the characters you already know of his fiction. The Bible is somewhat ambiguous in its description of other spiritual forces, in some places regarding them as having no power, in others as possessing real but lesser power than God. Returning to the idea of coinherence again, Lewis would likely say that they have some derivative power, whether from God or from satan, but unreliably in both goodness and might. While allowing that such might be so, I would propose an analogy that I hope works.  These gods and goddesses, these Aphrodites and Thors and Baals have distinct flavors but no nutrition. We might say the same of devotions to the saints, that they never claim to be nutrition in themselves, but would point you to the Eucharist instead. Yet all might have a flavor which can be used to appeal to various regions or problems. Thus in literature, it is entirely appropriate to have a jovial character like Father Christmas as flavor, expression, atmosphere. It doesn't work that well for me personally, but I can see how it might not be forbidden. Grim can keep his Hogmanay videos and the like after all.  No penalty.  It's just a flavor.

Is It Funny?

Ann Althouse has a post about her online interaction with her son about impeachment humor. He had put up the lines 

The most impeached president in American history! I wonder if Trump is tired of all this winning… 
Half of all impeachments of an American president have been of Trump!... 
We’re going to have impeachment, like you wouldn’t believe. A lot of people are saying he’s the best president ever at getting impeached. No one had ever heard of impeachment before Trump.

She asked "Is it funny?" which strikes me as the first question we should be asking about humor. Because if it's not funny, but people are calling it humor, then what is it? There are 233 responses there, so I'm not going to get buried in that, but it is at least interesting to look at the question.  Humor is often time-bound or generational.  My father-in-law, a humorous man, did not find The Far Side funny, though I found it hysterical.  He loved Laurel and Hardy, which I found mildly amusing. 

"Funny" is hard to define.  Stalin roared with laughter about what his enemies said as they were being tortured. I recall many jokes told by boys when I was young to be simply mean, and girls at that age could sometimes be reduced to tears laughing with their friends about things that had no intrinsic humor, such as a phrase that referred to an inside event that wasn't so much funny but shared by only a few.  "Cuckoo clock!" Hold-your-side humor. Very developmental.

Still, I think I have a vaguely objective measure for whether something is actually funny, or whether something else is happening. (And if the latter, what is the Something Else?) Can you imagine 1) a recognised comedian saying the line and 2) his or her audience laughing?  Let's apply that standard to the jokes above.

Can you imagine Bob Newhart saying any of the three lines and his audience laughing?

Can you imagine Richard Pryor doing so? Mark Twain?  Chris Rock? Mae West?  Really, take a moment and run each one through the mill.  It's only a few seconds each.

Put those words in Joan Rivers mouth, or Jonathan Winters and hear in your mind the response of their usual audience.  Robin Williams.  George Carlin.  John Cleese.  Eddie Izzard. Not working.  Not, not working as anything funny.

Let's hit the more modern, more political group and see what results.  If Sarah Silverman says this, what's her delivery?  What audience might she have that would find it funny? I can sorta maybe hear that, but...no.  Tina Fey?  Yes, maybe.  All the late-night and SNL people might be able to get laughs out of their audience from some of these lines, but I can't hear anything I would call funny.  I will assert that those laughs are not because of humor, but Something Else, but I have considerable prejudices in this area.  John Oliver: I wonder if Trump is tired of all this winning...

Mail

We received three items of mail that were sent in August or September today.  I could accept the constant takeover of my life by the government more easily if they could at least be good at it.

On the other hand, incompetence means that they probably aren't very good at those other things taking over my life that I'm paranoid about.  Same with the tech giants or large companies, like my insurers.  I occasionally have moments of wondering how someone got a particular bit of information about me, accompanied by a queasy feeling.  Yet other times I have the mixed annoyance and relief of seeing how they have guessed wildly and humorously wrong about what I might like or think, based on a random fact like an address I had in 1985.

I do search purposely for random things on Amazon, and the only time I search explicitly on Google is to ask it questions I don't want the answer to.  It works at least partly, as I am still getting sidebar ads for chamfer bits, which I never needed but put in to throw them off.  Indonesian history and Michelle Obama's childhood have also kept them on the wrong track for quite some time.

Yes, the algorithms will see through the ruse eventually, maybe even soon, but we do what we can.