Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hey, Toro, Toro! - A Followup

Two more common examples revolve around the triad five-finger-fist and the verb “to bore.” The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) contructions *penkwe (five – think “pente,” or “quinque” in Latin and Greek), *pnkwstis (fist), and *penkweros (finger) sure look related, and few would doubt that there is an earlier root which gave rise to all of them. In the equally ancient language families which bordered PIE (Uralic and Altaic, the ancestor languages to Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish), the roots for fist or palm of hand are suspiciously similar: *peyngo and *p’aynga. Penkwe-peyngo-paynga. Looks awfully related to me. Words for “bore” or “pierce” in the supposedly unrelated protolanguages of Afro-Asiatic, Altaic, Sumerian, Dravidian, and Uralic, are bar, bur, bur, pur, pura. Too much similarity for coincidence.

There are other proposed cognates – Greenberg lists around 600 – some more convincing, some less.

Okay, like you care. Just hold the key fact in mind. There are echoes of language relationships earlier than Indo-European, though mainstream linguists resist the concept. And all this is a lead-in to an upcoming discussion about how ideas change.

What John Kerry Said

I believe that people eventually mean what they say, whether they realize it or not. That’s how I earn my daily bread, discerning what people really mean – and I mean other agencies and professionals more than I mean patients when I write that.

Today comes all Kerry's counterspin about our wonderful troops who deserve better than the leadership they now have, blah, blah. It’s offensive. John Kerry stated yesterday that the people who go to Iraq are those who didn’t do well in school. He meant it.

I say this with some assurance because I come from that group. Things like that are exactly what we said during the 60’s. The guys who went into the military from our highschools were looked at disdainfully by my crowd – people who weren’t very bright, liked violence, needed to be told what to do and what to think. We would grudgingly acknowledge that some seemingly bright people went into ROTC, but we suspected something was wrong with them. Why would they want to hang out with such dumb people? Maybe they had some weird hankering for violent excitement, or were slavishly devoted to a family military tradition and unable to think for themselves, or something. Or maybe they were insecure about their masculinity or whatever. We said all those things, and worse. Listen to Tom Lehrer’s “It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier” and all the sneering condescension of the era will come back to you. It wasn’t just a disapproval of war or of violence – we thought we were smarter and better. Kerry still thinks it, as of yesterday. This may actually be worse than when an average prick like me thought it. Kerry has had his attitudes publically confronted, and thus had opportunity to rethink his positions and prejudices. I’ve had little of that imposed on me by others. He has known a wide variety of military people, and had ample opportunity to observe how many differ from his stereotype.

Perhaps he just couldn’t resist the temptation to play to his young academic audience, thinking he knew what they wanted to hear (he was half right). I don’t see how that’s morally better.

No, John Kerry doesn’t understand other reasons someone might go into the military. It’s opaque to him. The circumstances of his own enlistment in the Naval Reserve are pretty revealing (I grant that he seems to have been dutiful and perhaps even courageous once in the Navy).

Postscript: My son tells me that the AP headline was something like Kerry, White House Trade Barbs. Yeah, like Iago, Othello Trade Barbs. Shameful coverage.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hey, Toro, Toro!

It bugs me when I miss something as obvious as the relationship between Greek tauros, (Latin taurus) and Spanish toro for "bull." Benjamin reassures me that I keep noticing these things all the time, unlike normal people, and keep kicking myself at each new one for not having noticed it before. I suppose.

It's a great opportunity to go trace it back into Indo-European, to see if there's anything interesting about it. There usually is. In this case there is the mildly interesting aspect that the reconstructed Indo-European *tauro is derived from an earlier root *sta-. The dropping of an initial s is only moderately common.

More interesting is the earlier *sta-, meaning "to stand," and giving rise to stay, stand, stable, steed, stud, stage, constant, and dozens of others. The idea is of a permanent place where something - originially stockbreeding - was done. In Pashtun it leads to -stan meaning "place," as in Afghanistan, "place of the Afghan people," Pakistan "place of the Pakis people."

Okay, so that's not frightfully interesting just yet. But wait, there's more. The roots *stak (stand, place), *stel, (put, stand), *steg (pole, stake, stick), and perhaps even *stai (stone) and *stebh (post, place firmly on) suggest an even earlier root around this "sta" sound. There seems some connection of place, solidity, standing in place, stability, doesn't there?

But there aren't supposed to be any observable earlier reconstructions beyond the Indo-European, according to most linguists. The linguistic distance is supposed to be too great, and all such connections unreliable.

Except that it's pretty clear, isn't it? One more small point that Greenberg and Ruhlen are right.

Allen Vs. Webb

The Senate race in Virginia is quite strange, according to this article. James Webb, the Democrat in the race, might be too conservative for me; at least, his style of conservatism seems abrasive. His positions remind me of Pat Buchanan’s – isolationist, angry about illegal immigration, economic populism. It’s hard to tell in advance whether things like this are one-off oddities or harbingers of realignments.

Armey Vs. Dobson

The Venn Diagram of people who respect former Majority Leader Dick Armey and the people who respect James Dobson is two circles with considerable overlap. It get’s my attention when one goes after the other in print.

Armey’s complaint about Dobson is that he has moved from being an advocate to being a power broker. Instead of highlighting issues and encouraging his people to go out and get involved, Dobson is going to politicians and saying “you had better deliver for my people.” I haven’t read Dobson’s response, so I won’t pass judgement whether this is so, or just some peevishness and over-interpretation by Armey.

I accept that such things are possible, however, if not by Dobson than by someone similarly situated. It is something I have worried about the Christian Right – of which I am one – for over a decade. Being a power bloc in a party is a recipe for leaders having lots of power, the rank-and-file having none. As an example, look at the lack of power the average African-American has in the Democratic Party, while a few prominent black leaders have a lot of clout. The idea that “we have to band together to have influence” is a plausible and a seductive one, but doesn’t seem to hold up well in reality.

Glenn Reynold’s book An Army of Davids captures more exactly the power of groups. They can form around issues quickly, adapt quickly, and disperse quickly, maintained later by weaker ties. That is the model that Christians in politics should be using. Becoming a bloc increases temptations to pride, arrogance, vengeance, and all kinds of corruption. And it doesn’t work. The initial swarming works, and that can be resummoned for other issues. But when a movement starts to get that move-in-formation, show-our-power mode, its influence starts to wane. The waning may be slow in coming – groups tend to wield a lot of negative power, power to harm the opposition long after they have lost any positive influence (see NAACP, Unions).

If the trend is real, I will recommend for evangelicals the same strategy I have been recommending for African-Americans: change your party affiliation to Independent. Remaining in the party gives the status of wife. Being outside the party gives the status of girlfriend. Both have their own sorts of influence. But when you're reduced to mistress, it's time to get some distance. We're not there yet. But I'm watching.

Update: A well-argued contrary view can be found here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

America Alone

I hope to read Mark Steyn's America Alone in the next few months, if I get given it or break down and order it myself. Until I can tell you more about it, the best review thus far is over at Tigerhawk, which is excellent lately on other issues as well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Soundtrack, Part Two

The first three songs on the list are
1. O Little Town Of Bethlehem,
2. The Ash Grove, and
3. David's OCD Song

The discussion of those is here.

4. Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound. Tom Paxton’s song comes in for me around 1968, singing at coffee houses and bein’ a folkie. While the antiwar and clever cynicism songs were my staples then, this one turned out to be a truer expression of what happened later. Funny thing about those antiwar songs. It turns out that people besides hippies were aware that people die in them and they are often tragic for individuals. Go figure. I thought we discovered that.

In the folk music battle for the soul of the AVI, Phil Ochs lost. Pete Seeger lost. Country Joe lost. Can’t Help But Wonder fits the genre of Hobo’s Lullaby, All My Trials, and Man Of Constant Sorrow, which are probably prettier songs. But I never was a hobo, never was weary unto death, and never had constant sorrow, so it would be more than a little artificial for me to aspire to that much melancholy.

5. Darlin’ Be Home Soon I studiously avoided using too many songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was a singer. I needn’t have bothered; now there are very few on the list. “Performer” was much of my self-definition then, including a moderate dishonesty in all my interactions, trying to look more impressive than I was. It is a common failing, I suppose, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it these many years later.

For years, my wife would ask me to play guitar and sing at home, and often asked for this song ins specific. She has regarded it as an important song to us. I wish I agreed. I sang lots of Sebastian’s songs, and sang this one soulfully. I can make it sound like it really is deeply moving. But aside from a year of our engagement, Tracy and I have been almost constant companions for over thirty years, and this “be home soon” part never fit much of our actual lives. Because we both worked and didn’t want to take any more time away from the children, we seldom went out, except to church meetings. And we brought the kids to a lot of those, too. Until I first went to Romania in 1998, I don’t think we were ever apart for more than a weekend.

Plus, it’s not a very good song. So why did I choose it? To honor my wife’s part in this list, perhaps. And to point out that some of the things that attach to your life arrive for all the wrong reasons, but still turn out to be the right thing.

6. Since By Man Came Death This is part of Handel’s Easter Oratorio, which I sang with church choir senior year of highschool. I learned a great deal about the moods of music, and the power of musics that weren’t on the radio or considered especially cool. Handel shook me out of a lot of my prejudices. And taught me a lot of scripture to boot. The theology of this piece, stressing the importance of the Fall and the Incarnation, is simple yet profound.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Insight and Misattribution

Finally, the moment that no one has been waiting for. Some neuropsychological aspects of insight and misattribution. I'm strictly an amateur, but I love this stuff.

For all my political wonks who stop by, I am not going to expand this into wild speculations about how liberals must have decreased volume in *Brodmann Areas 9/10 and 40 /41. I think relays through the parietal areas are the more likely culprits for that sort of lack of insight, same as for conservatives, libertarians, greens, and communitarians. That (or second choice, temporal regions) is where previous info and emotional content interfere with the relay of signals from one part of the brain to another.

Okay, not communitarians. They really might have some subtle neurological deficits.

The articles: Specific Frontal Lobe Subregions Blah Blah Blah, Journal of Neuropsychiatry May 2001, by Flashman, McAllister, et al. I started with this one because I know Flashman, who is cute as a button, and MCAllister, who does a great Mick Jagger impression after a few drinks. They led me on to the other articles. I don’t know anything about those authors, but I’ll bet they’re equally eccentric. Neuropsych people are about the most interesting folks to hang out with.

Insight and regional brain volumes, etc. European Archives of Clinical Neuroscience, September 2006, by Bassitt, et al.

Unawareness of illness yada yada yada Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, November 2000, Laroi, Fannemel, and a bunch of other Norwegians.

I am not going to footnote any better than that. Less than five of you are going to be looking this up anyway.

There is lots of evidence that lack of symptom awareness in schizophrenics is associated with frontal-executive functioning. People who misattribute symptoms or don’t recognize their symptoms often score poorly on the Wisconsin Card Sort (as one example), which is known to have heavy frontal lobe involvement in its performance. Awareness of symptoms seems to be independent of general psychopathology; that is, sicker patients are neither more nor less likely to be aware of their symptoms that those with milder symptoms. Lack of insight and awareness may correlate more with undifferentiated than paranoid schizophrenia, giving further evidence that these are two separate illnesses, with separate brain changes.

Lack of insight doesn’t seem to correlate with age, education, age of onset, duration, or number of admissions. You’d think it might, but the actual correlations are all brain stuff.

But finding actual brain changes had been elusive. There were some hazy suggestions that lack of insight was related to decreased frontal lobe volume, but nothing robust; nothing sexy and eureka worthy. Recently there have been some tantalizing suggestions of what specific regions of the frontal lobes are affected. These are volumetric studies, and fMRI studies are apparently underway at Dartmouth and elsewhere.

All three studies suggest that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is specifically involved in lack of insight. The DLPFC and the cingulate gyrus are important parts of working memory, and the decreased volume in those areas suggests that working memory is strongly related to insight and awareness. (For brain fanatics only: Specifically, unawareness was inversely correlated with bilateral middle frontal gyrus, right gyrus rectus, and left anterior cingulated gyrus volumes). A possible explanation of this would be that working memory is necessary for a person to compare current situations to previous ones. Without this baseline, the brain makes up its interpretations new every day, based on the (faulty) information it is receiving. Old information, while retrievable, is not held effectively in the brain. If you have ever “filed something away temporarily” in your brain for immediate retrieval while you are doing something else, you can see why an inability to do this would hamper your ability to interpret events around you.

Misattribution of symptoms was correlated more exactly with smaller volumes of the superior frontal gyrus. That is, people who saw outside agents as the cause of their symptoms were more likely to have diminished gyri. You don’t need to memorize any of this except to note that misattribution and unawareness correlated with different brain areas. For the people really into this stuff, I will note that there were less robust but significantly reduced volumes at the temporal neocortex, insula, and precentral gyri.

What’s it all mean? Lack of insight and misattribution are separate symptoms in schizophrenics. Traditional antipsychotics are not known to much affect the brain areas affected. The new atypicals may affect these areas subtly, but these are two symptoms we are not presently denting very much. We don’t know if similar brain areas are affected in people with other illnesses who lack insight, but it is possible, because people who have brain injuries to those areas show similar symptoms.

*Brodmann Areas are an older brain map that don’t isolate brain functions as well as we can do now with more sophisticated measurements, but have the advantage of everyone knowing where in the brain you’re talking about.

Batch #2

Also at TCSDaily, but much more ironic, are these two, about how well The Czechs are doing with no government at all, and a description of why our leaders are mediocre, but that it's only to be expected, and not a bad thing if we know what to do about that.

Articles like these are why I always like reading libertarians, with their PJ O'Rourke sort of cynicism, and think there should be plenty around to advise us on everything. I'm a little less convinced I want them actually running stuff, however.

If The Last Post Did Depress You...

...there's a new treatment for depression. Enjoy!

Seriously, this makes some sense. Physical attack can throw the body into a rallying mode. The traditional thinking on battered women, that of course their bodies must reject this treatment but the mind must be overruling it because of psychological needs may have to be reversed. The mind may be rejecting the treatment but the body become addicted.

I just hope this isn't the only treatment covered on my insurance in about ten years, as a cost-cutting measure.

Batch #1

I can't make out why TCSDaily isn't the first place I go everyday. Its articles always have a creative slant or fresh outlook I hadn't considered, they cover parts of the world and technology issues that I don't run across elsewhwere, and the writing is good.

So first, these three articles. Each is a little more discouraging than the last. Yet each has something hopeful about it, so need to take too many drinks before reading. You may want to watch "Caddyshack" or something after you've finished, though.

The first is Austin Bay's interview with Rumsfeld. It has a different slant on things, as Bay often does, in that the ex colonel is interested in the question of what are we learning in Iraq about the evolution of warfare - because war is going to be less military, and more "unified action" as we go forward. Short article

The second is an hypotheses why everyone is not, er, quite lying to us exactly, but not admitting the full story. He makes an alarming claim about what countries have to go through to achieve democracy, that it is happening in Iraq, but it is an uncomfortable enough truth that no one will acknowledge it. Could be. Short article

The third is really depressing, as Wretchard often is. It is not from TCS, but from The Belmont Club, which I should be visiting second every day.

There have been frequent complaints in Bush's version of the GWOT that we are going after state actors that are only partially responsible for our ills. This is the root of the belief that we are alienating Muslims, I think, because we are (purportedly) killing a lot of people who are only moderately at fault. Wretchard's view is that even this is a degree of connection we will not have in the future. The future of terrorism is the complete nonstate actor, able to sow chaos from inside societies without having to get support from other nations. In this theory, Iraq and the current war on terror is a halfway point between traditional war and a completely nonstate war. This makes an intuitive sense to me. It has been a decent argument that "Why Iraq? Why not the Saudis or the Iranians?" I am one who believe we needed to be aggressive and active, whether clumsily or not. The idea that not just this target, but no target in the future, is going to be that clean or clear is intriguing to me.

Medium article.

Perhaps there's just too much new to absorb, and my old brain resists flexibility. You young folks will have to pick it up. After all, it's you and your kids who will be in these dangers. As if you weren't depressed enough.

Life For Sudan

The person who comments here as "akafred" is increasingly involved in helping Sudan and the Sudanese. You can find his organization's site here. I would be grateful if the readers who have blogs of their own would also link to the site.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In Praise Of The Undecided Voter

Political junkies like myself often speak disparagingly of the undecideds. Don't you know? Haven't you thought about this? What are you, some kind of limpet who doesn't pay attention to these important events?

Well, they don't pay attention all year. They bring up children, coach Little League, run businesses, care for sick relatives, volunteer at charities. Which are the things that really make the world go on.

Ask the question another way: Is it possible to cram for an exam and still get a good grade?

Yes, it is true that such folk are more prone to being influenced by stray events and have less defense against untruth in campaigning. On the other hand, they don't hold the grudges that the wonks do, and don't get distracted by the political gamesmanship as much. If the undecideds didn't decide every election, it would be we fanatics who decided them. Maybe not such a good idea.

Political Word Differences

I have noted before that Republican ads always say they're going to work for you, while Democrats always say they're going to fight for you. I got thrown a curve ball this morning, when Betsi DeVries promised to fight against a sales and income tax, but my code-breaking was successful. She fights. She's a Democrat.

On my trip down to Houston and across to Pensacola I heard political ads in other states, and of course we in southern NH hear the ads on the Boston radio stations as well. Same pattern. People may uncover counterexamples, but I think my observation will hold up generally.

I think that word choice bespeaks a fundamental difference in the way the two parties view government - or at least, if Bethany is correct, how they view their constituents. Democrats believe that powerful people are out to screw the less-powerful, and if someone doesn't fight for them, they're going to get in in the neck. Republicans see people as able to fend for themselves, and government as a tool to limit the damage of the bad guys. Both believe that banding together is necessary to accomplish some things, though they differ on how much of that should be done.

Well, there's some truth in both those positions. I lean heavily toward the make-your-own-life view of the Republicans, but there are certainly times when the powerful need to be constrained, or at least whacked upside the head a few times.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Douglas Adams World

After a hard, windy night driving through Nashville in an RV dragging a Ford Probe, we turned in early at a park right on the Mississippi River, in West Memphis, Arkansas. I had never been within 400 miles of the place in my life. Ben received a call on his cell, woke me, and handed me a conversation with a college friend I have not spoken to in over 30 years. That's a little odd, but odd things do occur with some frequency.

John, the caller, informed that a mutual friend, who I used to play in a band with, now lives in -- south Memphis, about 2 miles away. Perhaps almost in view over the river if I knew where to look. Could be just random, I suppose. Somebody has to live in Memphis. John was going to call sometime. But all this has an Arthur Dent feel to it.

I don't find a Hitchhiker's Guide style universe incompatible with Christianity, actually. There are too many odd things that just can't be coincidence. Yet how they tie together and what it all means remains somewhat elusive.

Embeds Versus "Real" Journalists

Remember this article whenever you read or see news out of Iraq. Our traditional media outlets should be embarrassed at passing off their articles as news.

Fair Trade Certified

Bethany over at Fair Trade Certified, who comments here as BS King (basking? busking?), is trying marry off her two younger brothers via the internet. She has graciously decided to assist us in marrying off our second son, who grew up with those two. She will likely uncover better choices than we would.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pat Buchanan's Narrative

I find Pat Buchanan's grasp of concepts to be weak. He does, however, have two abilities which are so far above the norm to keep him plausible. First, I have never read a shrewder judge of character and personality. His description of Richard Nixon's personality, which I read in the late 80's clarified for me all the ambiguities that I had noted until then. It gave shape to his paranoia, which seemed otherwise incongruous in as pragmatic a personality as Nixon's. When I heard Buchanan describe the relationship between Bill and Hilary Clinton on Imus in 1994, everything came instantly into focus, and nothing surprized me thereafter.

Secondly, he knows how to condense his thoughts into a narrative. Narrative is a step above anecdote in reasoning, and Pat can paint word pictures that give you the impression that what he describes is happening to simply thousands, tens of thousands, of working men and women. Even if you don't agree with his solutions, you listen to him and believe he has identified the problem.

Buchanan believes that globalization is bad for the American economy. He notes, accurately but selectively, jobs that are going overseas. Good jobs, that Americans would like to have. When challenged with the plain fact that the unemplyment rate is extremely low - low enough that people with bad attitudes and no interest in work are getting jobs - he counters that the new jobs being created are crummy jobs. The high-tech and information jobs are going to India; the putting-sneakers-in-a-box jobs are being created here.

It's a highly plausible narrative. We read often about plant closings, jobs lost, restructurings, and downsizings counterbalanced by stories about how much of our clothing is being made in China. We all know people who have lost high-paying jobs, and we all know about crummy jobs that are available. It all ties in nicely. In theory, or rather, in narrative.

But large changes in the economy eventually show up in the statisitcs, which provide a reality check on the narratives. Or should. When we go looking for these results in the actual jobs in the American economy, we don't find what PB predicted about NAFTA and GATT. It is the old jobs that have the stagnant wages, not the new ones. The new jobs are more varied and volatile in remuneration, but they pay more overall than the old jobs. Unions protect old jobs. They achieve pittance wage increases and slow the loss of those jobs, but sectors with unions are not the growing sectors. I don't have much objection to the theory of unions - I used to belong to the one where I work before it affiliated nationally - but it's a suckers bet, an us/them at this point. It's the new small businesses, and new departments in old businesses, that are not only creating the jobs, but creating the good jobs. There are new medical specialties, new medical jobs, because we can do more now. Hospitals didn't used to be able to do much for you; now we do magic. That's why they're filled with technically competent people who get paid more than sneaker-in-the-box people. We manufacture stuff that didn't exist 10 years ago.

My son just got a job as a filmmaker. For a Methodist church. In 1976, do you think the Methodists had even one full-time filmmaker, anywhere? (Okay, maybe at national. Or maybe not.) My job existed 30 years ago. It's going nowhere.

The new jobs are where it's at, Pat.

Elections and Polling

The Democrats get surprized every year, because most polls overstate their support by 3-5 points. Rasmussen and Zogby tend to be closest; ignore the others. The Republicans are going to hold the House and Senate, despite the fact that Nancy Pelosi is already eyeing the drapes and carpets at the Speaker's office.

To greatly oversimplify what happens, the MSM overlooks the basic numbers. About 30% of Americans consider themselves conservatives of one stripe or another, 20% liberals. The remain 50% also split 30-20 in favor of conservatives, though single issues, personalities, and the weirdness of general events can affect them more powerfully. The play of the MSM on those personalities, single issues, and weirdnesses moves a lot of easily-misled people leftward, creating the appearance of an evenly divided country. That's Newsweek's estimate, not mine, BTW. They estimated in 2004 that the dominant media was worth 10-15 points overall.

Democrats gain only when the numbers are artificially suppressed, by biased reporting, bad polling, or dumb luck. Without the constant reporting of how badly Iraq is going, and the constant ignoring of how well the economy is doing, the electoral slides back toward its natural divide of 60-40. The Foley scandal artificially suppressed the Republican gains which started in September. Unless the Democrats have another October surprize, the points will creep back.

How the change in media fits into this I don't know. There is rampant speculation on the blogosphere that this is all poised to change soon, but the results aren't in. And when I traveled last week, or when I sat in the hospital waiting room today, the news available is all MSM. Nightly network news and major daily papers remain the default position for credibility, no matter how many times they get shown up.

Soundtrack, Part One

I've gotten to song four and I'm stuck. I think I'll have to regroup four songs down to two or something - too much overlap in reasons for songs, but not enough to eliminate anything. So here are the first three, anyway.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking about this soundtrack-of-your-life exercise. I kept changing the focus as I went on, and I’m sure I’m breaking several rules in putting the list together. I also imposed rules on myself that seemed fitting.

In contrast to my initial post on the subject, I found that many of the threads of one’s life do not disappear as much as they join together. There are not 8,000 threads that narrow down to a dozen; most of them braid together to become ropes. Each thread that makes it into a rope can’t have its own song – that would be artistically unwieldy. So one thread in each rope has to be made the representative for all.

1. O Little Town Of Bethlehem. Something has to be playing when the movie starts. Anachronism isn’t necessarily a problem. If a song perfectly described my early years but hadn’t been written in 1953, I wouldn’t have hesitated to use it. None occurred to me. I did know from even my rough draft that at least one Christmas carol would make the final cut. I chose this particular carol because it re-emerges in other later years. My mother and her family were very big on Christmas carols, and one of the fondest memories of my childhood was riding back from the yearly party at my cousins’ in Massachusetts. My mother, grandmother, and Aunt Sal would sing carols on the way home. They had lovely voices, sang in harmony, and knew all the verses by heart, though they did stumble a bit on the later verses of such things as Bring A Torch, Jeannette Isabella or Once In Royal David’s City. I sang as best as I could; my younger brother fell asleep. I recall the event happening every year, but it must have been only a few. Perhaps we didn’t sing every year. Perhaps I was irritable some year and didn’t participate. Perhaps it never happened exactly as I remember it even one year. But beautiful voices, in the dark, in a VW bug, at Christmas – what could be better? When youth groups come around to carol me at the nursing home, BTW, and ask for requests, I'm going to ask for Once In Royal David's City. That'll fix the little smartmouths.

Aunt Sal, my grandmother’s unmarried sister who was called aunt by everyone but actually was related to us, knew a sixth verse I have never seen anywhere else. It is thus probably added on later by someone other than the original lyricist. But she had learned it at Straw School around 1912 and not forgotten it.
Where children pure and lowly
Pray to the Holy Child
Where misery cries out to Thee
Son of the mother mild
Where charity stands watching
And hope holds wide the door
The glad dawn breaks, the glory wakes
And Christmas comes once more.

Christmas carols show up again at William & Mary when I met my wife, who shared my love of them. Her mother still doesn’t like to hear her say she doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and Tracy and I formed a family that was fanatical about Christmas. We no longer start singing carols in September, but we’re still well out on the bell curve. As new Christians together in the late 70’s, we were pleased to note how spiritually solid the lyrics of the obscurer verses of carols were, and this was always our strongest example.

I considered putting the Swedish hymn “Children of the Heavenly Father” (Tryggare Kann Ingen Vara) in this slot, as it also re-echoes through later years, though I didn’t learn it as a child. My mother’s family was Swedish, but we were much of the sort that insisted “We’re in America now,” and only a few traditions were passed down – a table grace, some Dala horses, and a tendency to put creamed soups in any casserole. I was spared herring, thankfully. I also toyed with the idea of putting the song “Davy Crockett” in at the beginning, even though it breaks Ben’s rule about TV theme songs. Theme songs had many verses then, and I sang that one loudly. Often.

2. The Ash Grove. I didn’t learn the song until church camp in 1965, but I remember my Aunt Sal mentioning it before then. It has a descant harmony which one of the women taught the girls to sing and I just loved hearing it. I wanted a song here that captured all those camp and school songs, and this one reprises powerfully later in my life. When Jonathan was two weeks old and had to go back into the hospital, near death, he was set up with many tubes and alarms. Tracy and I couldn’t touch him, because it would set the alarms off. But he was our new son, he hovered near death, and we sang softly to him. We sang this most often, which made the nurses cry.

The song has the added advantage of being a folk song from the British Isles, a strong theme in my singing and reading, and of being the tune for several hymns we sing. However, those are secondary considerations.

3. David’s OCD Song. This is a tuneless, rhythmic, soft whistle to those who hear it, but I hear the notes in my head when I do it. I break into it when moving alone from one place to another, or one thought to another. My use of it increases when I miss doses of Prozac – it’s any early warning sign. As the music draws heavily on the bass opening to John Sebastian’s You’re A Big Boy Now (1966), with echoes of the opening of Frank Sinatra’s French Foreign Legion (from his 1961 album) in it, it suggests that my OCD symptoms go back a long way. This song probably shouldn’t get its own cut, but just bop into the soundtrack at odd moments throughout. Tu- dududu, dududoot. doot. do. titu tu…

Gas Prices Rant

In an earlier post, "Desperately Seeking A Clue," I related my frustration that people claiming the Bush administration (or its nefarious cronies) is manipulating gas prices for electoral purposes. It is just so beyond foolish that it makes me despair for the republic in general.

Driving to Houston, I caught some of the controversy in the Missouri Senate race. Auditor Claire McCaskill - that's Auditor Claire McCaskill, the Democrat in the race, expressly made the claim that the prices are being manipulated. No, she went further. She is apparently on record many times claiming that it's obvious, that all sane people know it, and that the prices will go back up again after the election.

For completely different reasons, the prices will likely go back up sometime. When there is a quick rise, as there was during the past year, market corrections go into effect. People change their behavior and planning. The price was bound to drop. When it drops so rapidly, expect a counter-correction in the other direction. Weather, production, overcorrection, and a dozen other factors have gone into the price drop. It won't last forever.

But how is it that an auditor - I am sorry to keep bringing this up but this woman is an auditor, and she wants to be in the US Senate, and many polls say she's leading - cannot do back-of-a-napkin calculations?

Americans use about 9 gallons of gasoline per week per capita. There are 300,000,000 of us. That 2.7B gallons a week. The price has dropped almost a dollar a gallon. But lets be kind and call it fifty cents. That's $1.3B per week that somebody, somewhere, would be losing if they were trying to drop the price intentionally to manipulate the market. Does anyone in their wildest dreams think that those greedy, scheming oil executives have instituted a plan to quietly make a collective campaign contribution of over a billion dollars a week to the Republicans because they are just so sure they're going to make it all back so nicely? And quickly?

Add in the number of people they would have to persuade or trick into going along with this, none of whom can turn out to be a closet Democrat who will blow the lid off the story, and all of whom would be liable to prosecution and some very serious jail time, and it becomes head-poundingly obvious that this just is just nuts. This is why you need village idiots, to explain things that are so simple that only educated and intelligent people could possibly screw them up.

Auditor. She's a flippin' auditor. And she might become one of the 100 Senators passing legislation that profoundly affects the economy.

Monday, October 23, 2006


So, gentle reader (I've always wanted to start a letter with that phrase), we've come to the end of our time together. AVI is back and posting about esoteric linguistic oddities and/or the fractal patterns of bark. It's been a pleasure posting this past week. I'll still drop by to post snarky responses whenever possible.

In closing, please go read Ben's latest post. It sums things up quite well.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Party's Over

OK, I'm back, despite the best efforts of the Delta Airlines, which has cut down the number of gates at JFK in NY - probably to save money - to prevent my return. Manchester, Burlington, Miami, Chicago, and Atlanta were all boarding at Gate 23 at the same time, directed over the loudspeakers by people whose accents made their English incomprehensible. So after every announcement, all five planeloads, plus some strays waiting for Pittsburgh and Montreal, would swarm the counter asking what had just been said. Which is a natural response when the departures overhead suggest that your plane is leaving in 20 minutes but you haven't been directed to board yet.

I'll be posting soon about the neurological underpinnings of lack of insight - look up dorsolateral prefrontal cortext to be prepared - reflections on the relationship between toro and taurus, Pat Buchanan's narrative of how globalization doesn't work (which, though completely inaccurate, is plausible, accounting for its perseverance), and the Democratic candidate for Senate in Missouri. And I won't get anywhere near 11 comments on any of those. But at least you'll know you're in the right place.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Differences

This is related to the last post about me being the responsible one. Today I received a phone call from Ben, letting me know that his apartment complex would be faxing me info on his options for electric companies. I received said fax and dutifully called Ben with the list. There were 14 companies listed, so I asked Ben how many he wanted to write down. "Oh" he said, "we don't have any pens in the RV."

I'm just saying that I always keep at least one pen in all my vehicles, and pack a pen with my luggage every time I travel. Because you never know when you'll need a pen....

For the record, I found a company listed that used letter equivalents in its phone number. So Ben's electric company was chosen based on ability to be remembered by two people driving an RV, not on rates, service, or Better Business Bureau rating.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Wymans

I've been asked what the familial structure is for all these crazed Wymans posting on random blogs. It's quite simple. AVI is father to me (screename JonathanWyman) and Benjamin (screename Wyman). Ben's moving to Houston, I'm staying here with my wife Heidi. Ben's the brilliant filmmaker who could never find his church shoes. I'm the oldest brother, who always had my church shoes ready on Saturday night.
The twist is the Romanians, who never bother to post anything. John-Adrian is the oldest Romanian, but third in line (behind Ben and I). He has the most natural charm. Chris is the youngest. He is the cute one.
In short, Ben is the smart one, I am the responsible one, JA is the outgoing one, Chris is the attractive one. We take after our mother.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

They're Off!

Well, they're off finally. Two and a half hours late, but the car is attached and the RV is on the road. Heidi and I followed them for a few miles, and last we saw they were doing fine. Hopefully they'll be able to tolerate each other's presence for the next week.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Leaving For Houston

I will be away for almost 2 weeks, traveling from NH to Houston with my second son and all his wordly goods. He has taken a job as a filmmaker at a large Methodist church in The Woodlands. First real job out of school. He lived in NH, KY, Los Angeles, Romania, and Italy last year, and now has one more address to notch in his gun. This one might be more stable. If anyone is looking for a trivia/cranium/charades/party game team member in the Houston area, he’s a one-man team at certain games.

We finished up by playing a d20 game of pirates that he had designed, based on some AD&D principles. We made it two-thirds of the way to Captain Maggot’s treasure, stealing a ship, scaring off a giant shark, and barely defeating an attacking pirate ship. So now we have two damaged hulks, deep in pirate-infested waters, and we’re looking for a place to repair one and sell or trade the other. Along the way we had to drown the horses and kill any number of guards we could have avoided by going a block in any direction. Who knows when the adventure will be completed?

My eldest son, Jonathan, will cover my blog while I am away. He considered learning the craft of village idiot in his youth but decided to become a benefits manager at Fidelity instead. Some might think that a scant difference, but it seems like a respectable profession to me. He used to be the nicest person in the family.

There is no need to pitch underhand to him intellectually. He comments here from time to time and has been able to handle the high hard one since early in college. He may or may not comment on politics, and is more likely to be interested in social/cultural issues.

The Soundtrack of Your Life

Benjamin has been setting down Rules For Life Soundtracks, and he’s up to 12 at this point. The idea of a soundtrack for my life did not enchant me at all; it has the feel of asking people what kind of animal they would like to be or taking a magazine test about what kind of friend you are. These things are the province of the young. Yet I understood what Ben was trying to get across with his rules, trying to elevate the craft and prevent at least some of the flow of idiocy.

Half-caught is all-caught for me, and I have actually started thinking about the soundtrack. For someone of my era, 14 songs should be the maximum, because 33 1/3 rpm LP’s would usually have 7 songs to a side. “Toad” or “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” would go one song to a side, but they were just showing off with that.

Once started, I considered whether it was presumptuous for young people to do a whole soundtrack at all. You’re 25 – isn’t putting in more than 5 songs a bit grandiose? What I would have put in at 25 is not what I would put in now, even for those first 25 years.

But that’s the use of it, I suppose. At any given point in your life there are threads that are continuing through the years you are in. All of these threads trace back through your personality and the events of your life, so that none of them pops up ex nihilo. I trace back the threads now, and as I pass certain years I see that there were other threads then, other possibilities. Other parts of me that I chose to let go in favor of favored things that required my attention. Some threads just end, and you can’t always see in advance what those might be. The use of the soundtrack is in the making and remaking, not the listening.

So lists of more than 5, even when you are 25, make sense. There are still many threads, and it remains to be seen which will break off. It is a good illustration of how retrospective can deceive. The threads which continue to the present day look inevitable to me now, emblems of what I was always meant to be. The child is father to the man, and all that.

I am 53. Whatever I put in the soundtrack now might look not-quite-right in 20 years, as a few more threads just leave off for no predictable reason. My life took a huge turn in 2000, which I would never have predicted in 1997. Yet I can no see in hindsight that even that did not appear out of the blue, but was a product of decisions made years earlier. My conversion to Christ in 1975 I now place farther back in my own history. There were events in 1974 and 1971, and 1968 which make it seem inevitable. Once you start doing that, it’s easier to dimly apprehend the doctrine of election, seeing God’s movement back into your childhood and your baptism, and perhaps even before you were born and before the foundation of the earth.

That may be a retrospective illusion, of course. Free choice and fate don’t look so incompatible in retrospect, nor do they look contradictory looking into the future. Only in the current moment do they seem irreconcilable.

I’m going to have a go at this soundtrack thing. I’ll think about it during my trip.

The Hearings Officer and the Grapes

Two months ago, I was in an online argument about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. It turned out my disputant was one of the attorneys providing pro bono legal services to one of their number. He was irate about the abuses he had heard about from his client. Two days later, I mentioned the online discussion to an acquaintance of mine who is a hearings officer for Behavioral Health. He was quite testy about the whole subject, noting that because the detainees could not meet privately with attorneys, and in many cases had not had status hearings, that the Bush Administration was “pretty clearly depriving them” of rights. “That’s a severe deprivation of some basic due process.” He was also worried about physical abuse.

Perhaps he’s right, of course. I’m no expert on the Geneva Conventions. My understanding was that lawful combatants and noncombatants have some clearly designated rights, but that unlawful combatants were in no-man’s land legally. But there are obviously other sides to that story, and that’s what everyone’s arguing about.

I bring it up because of that hearings officer’s certainty about what process was due, and disdain that anyone could think otherwise. That certainty is, shall we say ironic in view of his conduct at yesterday’s hearing. Sparing the reader the details, it is necessary only that you know that the patient who had requested the appeal hearing is a small paranoid woman in her mid-forties who is quite bright and has a sharp tongue. This hearing had been continued at her request twice before because she felt it was not being handled properly. She had interrupted the hearing officer angrily on both previous occasions, complaining that he is not a “real judge” and that her rights were being violated and the hearing was illegal.

The hearings officer was defensive and grew snappish. Had one of the line staff on the unit used that tone he would have been subject to mild disciplinary action. The appellant was cut off when she would not accept the first explanation of why the hearing was indeed legal, and while some accommodation had been made for her, much more could have been done.

It is my clinical opinion that however much was done it would not have changed the appeal materially. The patient would have quickly found something new to object to whatever accommodations were made. But it is important to note that a) the hearing officer did treat her rudely, and b) not everything was done that could have been.

Walk a mile in my shoes, eh? The guards at Gitmo endure enormous provocation – beyond what we endure here at an involuntary psych hospital, and that is a high level – and perform at a level of self control that I find almost unimaginable (See again the interview over at Patterico). This particular critic of Gitmo could not endure even rudeness from a middle-aged psychiatric patient without losing his temper and abridging her rights.

He may be absolutely right on the points of law, but he is still a hypocritical, self-righteous bastard.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Heritage And Violence

I have chosen the word heritage because culture is too broad, but ethnicity is too narrow. There may be unforeseen difficulties with heritage as well. It is not defined sociological or anthropological concept, so far as I know.

I am also aware that there are subtleties I am leaving out, in both this post and the related one here. If the discussion becomes extended we may touch on those.

Violent crime in America has a large regional component. The regions correspond to the colonial immigration patterns from the British Isles 1600 – 1800. These migrations are covered in detail in David Hackett Fisher’s Albion’s Seed, but in oversimplified form are these:
New England, settled by Puritans from East Anglia
Virginia and coastal South: Anglicans, settled by Cavalier aristocracy from SW England
Mid – Atlantic Quakers from the English Midlands
Appalachia, settled by Scots-English Borderers and the Scots-Irish.

For our purposes, it is good to note that these areas were each fountainheads for further American settlement. New Englanders settled much of the north border of the US, joined by Scandinavians. New England has always had very low rates of violent crime, and this persisted in the areas they settled. Norwegians weren’t likely to push the violence rate much higher now, were they?

Virginia’s cultural stamp extended throughout the coastal South. The moderately high rate of violence went with them.

Mid-Atlantic Quakers and the German pietists that joined them early were the jumping off points for the settlement of much of the Midwest. The moderately low rate of violence tended persist into the areas they settled.

The Borderers who settled Appalachia had very high rates of violence, as is common in clan-based societies. Those areas continue to have high rates of violence to this day, on both sides of the Atlantic (see Belfast, Glasgow). They largely settled the American west and southwest, from Tennessee to Arizona.

These divisions were tendencies, not pure, even from the start. Mobility was a mark of the American culture even from the start, and these groups did blend over time, especially as they moved west, and most especially since WWII. There were also dozens of other ethnic groups that moved in to each area, which one would expect would dilute the cultural dominance of the original groups. That dilution did occur, but to a far lesser extent than one might think. What is called founders bias has been remarkably persistent in America.

Some numbers to browse through:
US homicides by region here
and here.
US violent crime, breakdown by state
And a master list of same, here

Direct connections to example states New Hampshire, Vermont, Tennessee, North Dakota, and Georgia.

You will notice that murder rates across the top of the country – NH, VT, WI, ND, ID – are still among the very lowest, while TN and GA remain very high. As evidence of the previous post about ethnic groups bumping up against each other driving up the rate of violence, note that Louisiana, Los Angeles, and Washington are highest of all. In the UK, the East Anglian region still has the lowest violent crime rate. In fact, if you take out Ipswich and Waveny, which have had recent influx of immigrants into the cities, the crime rates in Suffolk and the Broadland, Breckland, North and South Norfolk sections are ridiculously low even now. The Strathclyde section of Scotland, which includes Glasgow, still has the highest rates of violence save Manchester and London, both of which had Borderers move in during the Industrial Revolution and still have large percentages of immigrants now.

The direct data for California, plus some numbers on race and small city/big city crime rates provides interesting support for the previous post, about ethnic diversity and upheaval leading to violence.

The California numbers, plus these about immigration in general, give sharp visual evidence of how absorbing fewer immigrants leads to less crime, more immigrants - more crime. (Note about the graph. The quota system was instituted in 1924 and abolished in 1965. Amazing effect, eh?) The nature of the immigrants themselves and where they come from does not seem to be as important as their number and where they move to. Those that move to the Dakotas push the crime rate up some when they arrive, but nowhere near as much as those who move into already-violent Louisiana. And once they've been here awhile, everyone seems to settle down. Caution on this last point. Highly visible differences such as race, dress, or religion, seem to slow down the drop in violence quite a bit.

And when the Europeans start complaining about how violent America is, show them this. The highest-crime cities are not what one would expect.

Liberal Christian Hierarchies

It's fairly commonly known that the seminaries and headquarters of American denominations are staffed with folks who are significantly more politically liberal than the rank-and-file. Part of this is distancing themselves from the Religious Right, because their dominant peer group is academics, liberal professionals, and the staff of nonprofits, not the members of their denominations. I doubt very much that this is calculated - it's instinctive. They identify with the former, and see themselves as somewhat in charge of the latter. They consider it their bounden duty to expose their generally nice but uninformed co-religionists of the other ways of looking at the gospel. As they are quite certain in their gut - justified by a great deal of post-hoc reasoning - that Christianity should overlap with political liberalism a lot more, these "other ways" invariably involve some evangelism for their politics.

The official attitude of the denominational hierarchies toward Israel is going to be interesting to observe. No, actually it isn't, I take that back. It is utterly predictable how this will play out. They will gradually betray Israel, though with a great show of the wringing of hands. They will of course continue to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, and deplore the evils of her enemies - for about five minutes. The rest of the time will be spent agonizing over any of Israel's military actions, always finding that she should have done something else. A great deal of stress will be laid on the bad public relations and the eroding of support in the "international community" that results from everything they do.

Let me translate this bad PR and international community stuff for you. They mean their friends, and the cultural groups their friends identify with. They don't mean Polish plumbers or Indian businessmen. They mean academic, issue activist, and journo figures in North America and Western Europe, plus a smaller percentage of similar elites (they believe) in the remaining countries.

It is intolerable to liberal Christians that someone else get the inside track on righteousness, getting to look down on them for not being on the real moral cutting edge. The denominational hierarchies will continue to advocate for (mostly) good works in Africa, South Asia, and South America. But their discussion energy, their conferences, their official statements, their invited speakers, their special programs, with increasingly focus on Israel, and increasingly find her actions more worthy of discussion than those of Pakistan, or Venezuela, or North Korea.

We already know the rhetoric. We will be cautioned not to automatically defend all of Israel's actions (Yeah, nice false choice there.) We will be encouraged to consider the plight of Palestinians - because of Israel - with the actions of other nations in the region, historical and current, strangely unmentioned. Because we are supposed to be churchy and Biblical, there will be frequent returns to selected OT and NT passages - and we know which they will select and which they will definitely not. It will all trend increasingly to "Yes, but..."

No matter what the other ME nations do. Their provocations will be increasingly seen as understandable - we must strive to understand them - and spun in the most innocent light.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Not Really About Guns

Gun Control issues are not something I am much interested in, but it comes up frequently on sites I comment on. In particular, European commenters bring it up a lot, and more than American blue-staters, they believe that gun ownership is an enormous contributor to crime rate. It’s a consistent bit of nonsense which dominates the discussion from the other side of the issue as well: many conservatives swear by John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime, which attempts to show that concealed carry permits reduce crime. They do, but not much. There are other factors which overwhelm the gun-law effects no matter what legislation is or isn’t passed. Sports analogy alert: it would be like examining park effects to determine why Barry Bonds hits more home runs than Roger Clemens. There may actually be something there to measure, but specialization, at-bats, and steroids dwarf all other considerations.

Two cultural factors provide almost complete explanatory power: heritage and ethnic diversity. Heritage I will discuss in the next post. Ethnic Diversity was in the news this week because of a study by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone. The study is not new, but his ongoing work recently got some press because of Putnam’s influence in the Blair administration and Jack Straw’s recent flap over women wearing the veil. A summary of the study appears here, and further information here.
The core message of the research was that, "in the presence of diversity, we hunker down", he said. "We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, "the most diverse human habitation in human history", but his findings also held for rural South Dakota, where "diversity means inviting Swedes to a Norwegians' picnic".

People exposed to more ethnic diversity have less trust of their surroundings. The average bigot observing his neighborhood interprets this as “we never had so much crime until the blanks moved in.” That is in one sense true, but not for the reasons the bigot thinks. When the New Group moves in, there is not only mistrust, anger, and violence between the New Group and the Old Group. There is also increased mistrust, anger, and violence in both groups amongst themselves. It is as if some “not-safe” switch is thrown in everyone, and we all get more irritable. Plus, we have so many things besides race to divide ourselves around. Accents, language, age, wealth, education.

The study humorously – or sadly – notes that this phenomenon plays out even between Swedes and Norwegians in South Dakota (the violence, not so much. Not for the last few centuries, at any rate. We will revisit that under “heritage” considerations). It is not racial difference or even appearance difference, it is mere difference. Race and appearance difference are just good activators of the “not-safe” switch. Urban history, both recorded and oral, confirms that ethnic neighborhoods were mistrustful and violent even when the divisions were ethnic, not racial. Over time this recedes, as people come to not just intellectually accept that “those Ukrainians are mostly alright people, just like everyone else,” but actually have their “not-safe” switch turned off, which is a far less conscious process.

What I am lightly calling a “not-safe” switch is not really an either/or proposition in the mind. There are degrees of comfort or agitation. In Dublin, I could tell that the natives were of a different tribe than I am, but still felt almost completely safe, because it looked the same as a Knights of Columbus carnival on the South Shore of Boston - which I regard as a safe place.

Wherever folks are mobile and look different, violence increases. In America, there is much more ethnic mixing than in other places. Whenever I mention that, Brits and Canadians get huffy, and quick to point out that their countries have multiracial places as well. Yes they do. Like Toronto or Birmingham, for example, where violent crime is rising. There are also places in America that are more homogenous, and crime tends to be lower there.

But the homogenous places in America actually have as much mix as most of the rest of the world does in its diverse areas. Until recently, the only thing besides Swedes in Sweden were Danes or Finns. In such situations, the social bonds which lead to things like, oh, generous welfare subsidies, are easier to maintain. As Europe tries to absorb Islamic immigrants, the fellow-feeling wanes. Look what a great job they did accepting Jews and Gypsies over the centuries, if you want to peer into the Eurabian future.

Because mobility is a large factor in different groups brushing up against each other, I have to conclude that our economic freedom, which allows and even encourages folks to move around the country, pushes up our crime rate. But economic freedom is also much of the solution, as working together - and prospering together – has been an enormous engine of American unity. In the short term, everyone would prefer to just be with “their own people.” But to sell electric can-openers and improved spreadsheets, you have to branch out and deal with the others. Over time, it can work. It has worked.

Don’t take European criticism about American racism and our supposed disdain for the poor to heart. We are accomplishing here what no one has ever accomplished. We do not always succeed in swallowing new problems whole. But the level of diversity in America is greater than the Roman Empire’s, and certainly well ahead of the cafes of Paris.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Megachurches Without God

Primary Democratic netroots mover Markos Moulitsas, who runs the Daily Kos website, has a new project in mind: megachurches for liberals. Or at least, large churchlike objects in the Midwest where liberals can go and have cafes, child care, community events, and the other things that those Christians have. Among evangelicals, there is some suspicion that the independent churches Kos wants to imitate are a mile wide and an inch deep spiritually, but that stereotype is probably tinged with some jealousy on our part. And even the most disapproving of us don't believe that they are purely social-political organizations.

There's just so many directions to go here. First, the nondenominational megachurches are strongly Republican, but not unanimously so. I think that's a serious misread of what's going on there. Secondly, what does he think is going to be the draw for people to actually show up? How long does he think people will provide free babysitting for an amorphous progressivism? And what day will they come? This looks like Air America all over again.

There are SNL routines just waiting to be written about this.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fashion Request

Amy Alkon, The Advice Goddess, is worried about the danger of Christians with their "cross-imprinted jack boots." I love those! I have been looking for a pair for so long! Where do you think I can get some?

Amazing Guantanamo Series

Over at Patterico, a five part interview with a psychiatric nurse at Gitmo.
I know Zarqawi, the terrorist said to the American. I am going to have Zarqawi cut off your family’s head while you watch. Then he will cut off your head.

As a person who has worked with psychiatric patients for 30 years, I can attest that Stashiu's descriptions carry the ring of authenticity.

With Friends Like These

Are there any of their own constituent groups that the Democrats won't sell down the river? Catholics, Unions, feminists, blacks, Jews, and now the gays. Who the heck is left? And why do people put up with this?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Europe's Dating Habits

Watching what is happening to Europe in its capitulation to its Muslim radicals is rather like watching your comfortably well-off widowed mother date an abusive man. (If you prefer to reverse the gender stereotype, watching your comfortably well-off widowed father date an abusive woman also works). Sometimes he’s nice enough and has a certain charm. But he’s often intimidating and occasionally violent.

Well, she’s an adult, and can make up her own mind. She thinks you’re prejudiced and objecting to him just because he’s dark. As to the violence, well, it’s how he was brought up, don’t you know, and she expects to have a calming influence on him.

So what do you do? You keep warning, as politely and kindly as you can. You defend yourself against the lies that he tells her about you – usually involving the inheritance he thinks you are after, even though you are wealthier than she is and don’t need it. You try and see if you can get the other children – Chile, Canada, Australia, etc – to talk some sense into her, but they are less bothered by her choices than you are.

And you pray for her, especially because she’s forgetting to pray for herself these days.

Bright Lines and Sixteen

Update: What a difference a day makes, eh? I am not going to change what I wrote yesterday, but since that time it has come out that at least one of the pages in question was 18 at the time of the sleazy IM’s, and the possibility (I don’t know if this will hold up) that there was some prank or set-up of Foley in this. The ex-page has taken the unusual step of hiring a criminal attorney, rather than a civil or PR-type. My guess is that because he resigned, though, Foley knows there is something worth hiding from. We’ll see.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Foley should have resigned. I think the Republican standards on this type of behavior are still too low. But they at least resign when caught, even when the behavior is simply sordid rather than illegal. The Democrats have been unable to match even that inadequate record for more than two decades, even when there is criminal behavior.

So now read the following, substituting the number 18 for 16.

With the previous post, "Sixteen and Bright Lines" out of the way, let’s look at the bright line issues in the Foley case.

Does the age of consent matter in this case?

If yes, then it is uncertain whether there is a crime here. The age of consent is 16 in the geographical jurisdictions. Whether it is actually 18 over the internet remains murky. Let’s say it is. Foley is guilty of some internet sexual crime. But as the same thing in other contexts is not a crime, it’s hard to take the legal position that this is some heinous, unthinkable crime. It might be possible to take that position morally, if you think that taking advantage of young subordinates is morally heinous regardless of whether it technically qualifies as a crime or not. I might take that position myself. I am not sure I would have any right to hold other people to that moral standard, however, as it’s not illegal. We’re not supposed to impose our moral beliefs on others. Right?

If the age of consent does not matter – if it’s going to go into a discussion about protecting our children, in loco parentis, young people entrusted to our care, etc – then the differences between this case and Monica Lewinsky are interesting. She was 19, this kid was 16. That is clearly a difference of three years of maturity, which can be a lot at that age. She actually had sex with the older man, he didn’t. Foley resigned immediately upon discovery, Clinton didn’t. Clinton lied about it to the public and misled a Grand Jury, Foley didn’t. Ken Starr was called a sex-obsessed pervert for going into the details, no one is making that accusation about the current investigation. So if the age of consent is not a bright line, then the difference in the cases boils down to this: Sexual contact with a 19 year-old subordinate means nothing, but sexual talk to a 16 year-old means the whole weight of the world comes down on you and your associates. That’s not an unreasonable position in some ways. People could think that the three-year difference is large enough to flip the whole situation.

But if you take that second view, then you just gave away the store if you oppose parental notification for abortion, or even birth control. You’re on record believing that a 19-year-old’s choices are much better than a 16 year-old’s.

Your choice.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sixteen and Bright Lines

In the Mark Foley case, the age of the page hovers at the edge of the debate. Depending on which way they want to spin it, people will either emphasize the youth terms: child, kid, minor, pedophile – or will emphasize that 16 is legally the age of consent, Gary Studds was with a 17-year-old, Reynolds with a 16 year-old, Clinton with a 19 year-old, whatever. I think the whole discussion of age and drawing bright lines is worth a few minutes.

Sixteen-year-olds vary. I don’t simply mean that some are more sophisticated or mature than others, but that individuals change from day-to-day at that age. Their savvy and naivete can be wildly inconsistent not only in sexual matters, but in financial vulnerability, how they relate to bosses, whether they self-disclose or keep secret, or another other complicated adult situation they have to navigate.

Not only are some sixteens as naïve as the average twelve, but all sixteens will act twelve on occasion. Catching any of us by surprize can fluster us and cause us to make bad decisions, and this is especially true of younger people. Some who would take advantage of teenagers use this element of surprize and intimidation, while others take a longer route.

Most sixteen-year-olds can artfully handle an obvious situation. A drunk or socially clumsy person coming on to them sexually, or a new boss losing her temper and making an illegal demand – these things kids can often handle, even if their hearts are racing a bit. It is the more ambiguous things, and the gradual erosions, which are more difficult for them, as it is for all of us. The single 23 year old youth leader who comes on to a 17 year-old – what is she to make of that? The club of usually upstanding individuals, your friends and mentors, which has a traditional once-a-year spree – is this okay?

It’s all very easy to say that moral situations can be complicated and that we can’t draw bright lines. I’ve certainly seen enough situations reverse with more information to know that bright lines can be difficult to apply. I had a developmentally-disabled patient, nineteen years old, who was accused of being a pedophile and might have been looking at some serious limitations on his freedom for many years. The “victim” was a savvy 14 year old boy who already had a history of preying on younger children in his own right, and had current rape charges outstanding in juvenile court. My poor schmoe of a patient was just a big socially clumsy guy who wanted friends.

On the other hand, my patient was now starting to romantically approach other children in the neighborhood, though with nothing sexual implied.

The bright line was in some sense a danger to my patient. But in another sense it is an advantage. It gave us an exact teaching tool. First ask people younger than you how old they are. If it’s less than sixteen, you can’t be their boyfriend. I didn’t choose that example accidentally. We are none of us so far above my DD client that we can’t benefit from bright lines.

We like bright lines for other people, but are very prone to smudging them for ourselves and to a lesser extent, our friends. We make excuses and rationalizations just good enough to convince ourselves. I call it playing chess against yourself; you can always win.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

WWII versus Vietnam

One of my sons had mentioned awhile ago that the competing analogies of Iraq = Vietnam, Iraq = WWII used by the left and right in America, were actually an effort to shortcut the debate rather than engage in it. If you can make people mentally accept either analogy, you no longer have to make any argument. The analogy does it for you.

I suggested that analogizing to other wars might break the logjam, or at least move the debate to more discussable territory. Ben's solution was to relate everything about Iraq to the French & Indian War, or King Phillip's War, or something like that, just because it would be puzzling and humorous. Which actually is a good way of moving thought forward.

The WWII/Vietnam battle for Analogic Supremacy obscures an important point. To the jihadists, neither of those wars is much in their mind. Bin Laden's benchmark is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and he is viewing our actions through that prism. It's not just what we consider winning and losing that matters, but what they consider winning and losing. Most simply, if the Muslim world believes the jihadists have lost, it doesn't matter whether things were conclusive or satisfying by our standards. Similarly, if we think we have won by our standards, but the jihadists believe they have played to a stalemate, as in Gulf War I, then they will continue fighting.

I don't agree entirely with the assessments in this article over at tcs daily, but it has some very good correctives to American ways of viewing the GWOT.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Congressman Foley resigned, as he should. Dr. Sanity discusses shame and guilt cultures in a post from last year, and I think the distinction between guilt and shame might apply here. Resigning from Congress could spring from either guilt or shame (or some of both), but I think other information suggests guilt.

My own personal soapbox on this is self-respect versus self-esteem. If our goal is self-esteem, then when we do evil things we are hopelessly lost. After having been caught making wildly inappropriate sexual comments to a 16 y/o, reliance on self-esteem would leave one forever wounded. But if your goal is self-respect you can at least make your next act honorable. If you have nothing else, you can at least reassert your ability to make some moral decisions correctly. It is in some ways more painful, because your ability to make a correct moral choice on Tuesday implies pretty strongly that you had that capability on Monday as well. But it is at least reality. You can salvage something. With self-esteem, you either have to accept that you have none, or start lying to yourself to get some.

Tangentially, I am always grateful for sins I'm not tempted to. I don't do so great with the ones I am tempted to, and I'd hate for that list to be longer. So I am hesitant to condemn in detail people who have done things I never could. I'm harder on those whose temptations I understand.

Horton Hatches A Creed

Some days my belief in God seems the most natural thing in the world, and radical alternatives look bizarrely impossible. (Moderate alternatives follow different rules). Other days the whole enterprise seems unlikely. Keyword seems. I have lived enough days to know that seemings come and go, and I expect there will be both in the future. Frodo had a noble and almost grandiose faith, able to withstand all appearance of hopelessness, and fight through on devotion to goodness alone. My creed is more modest, and comes from Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches The Egg:
I meant what I said and I said what I meant.
An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent.