Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ancient Hymnody

I have little doubt you are all fascinated by the history of lyrics of Christian hymnody. Sure you are, I can hear it in your silvery voices. Nothing would make you happier than Part One: Ancient Hymnody.

The early church did not make the sharp division between songs, prayers, and readings that we, especially in the Protestant churches, do today. Those used to a liturgical service know the distinction. There are set musical pieces that occur throughout the worship, to which the lyrics are not optional or very limited in choice. Most of these lyrics come straight from the scriptures without alteration.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory...

Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a cross...

Any inserted special music would be recitation of psalms. Whatever creative energy a person might have went into the music. In modern liturgical services there will often be hymns with composed lyrics, but this doesn't seem to be the case in the early church. It is ironic that the churches which advertise themselves as "biblical" often have hymns only drawn from the scriptures at some distance; the liturgical churches they disapprove of have great raw hunks of scripture, too big to swallow at one sitting.

In examining a lyric, I use a few obvious question: who are the words addressing? Is the presumed hearer the congregation, God, or the world at large? What is the theological focus? Is it a work of exaltation, of evangelism, of storytelling?

In the early church, this division is less sharp than we are used to now. When we say Christ, O lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world... it is pretty clear that we are speaking directly to Jesus. But what about This is the feast of victory for our God... or Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. It is hard to tell exactly, and quite unimportant, whether these declarations are evangelistic, teaching, or praise.

These are the lyrics handed down since earliest days. Declarative, communal, straight from scripture. But there is a hint in the Epistles of something else happening. "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." Ephesians 5:19. Spiritual songs...what are those, exactly? There is some sense in this. Even in a far more formal and liturgical culture than ours, do we imagine that folks encouraged each other by launching into a Kyrie? Hardly. There may not have been a Syriac "Arky, Arky," but they must have sung something other than the liturgy to send babies to sleep.

From the 7th Century:
Christus Factus Est Pro Nobis
Christus Factus Est Pro Nobis Christ became for us
Obediens usque ad mortem Obedient unto death
Mortem autem crucis Even to the death of the cross
Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum For which cause God hath also exalted him
Et dedit illi nomen And hath given him a name
Quod est super omne nomen. Which is above all names


Update: In response to Jerub-baal's comment, I share the poor results of my research. There is an online radio station which plays Gregorian chant, and there are sites devoted to the Syriac, Melkite, and Coptic traditions. There are also two which cover the Orthodox tradition fairly thoroughly. There is also Ambrosian Chant, which I know nothing about, but ran across references to.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Controlling The Flow Of Information

Reprinted from last February:

A friend spoke movingly about prison ministry at church yesterday. He spoke about a man he was working with who was doing 10-21 for Felonious Sexual Assault. He read at length from the man's recent writings about incarceration and how it affects his family. The presentation highlighted what he was learning from this man spiritually.

It also highlighted why I won't do prison ministry, at least not with sexual offenders. Prison ministry is a wonderful thing, and Christians should do more of it. The Wymans send money to Prison Fellowship, we participate in Angel Tree, and I wish repentance and forgiveness for all of prisoners.

But slips of information came out, information that could only have come from the perpetrator, that pass most people by but I zeroed in on. "He had an affair (huh?) with a girl who was 15, almost 16..." I immediately thought bet not. The age of consent is 16 in NH. Why would a repentant person make sure that his spiritual advisor think his crime was borderline? That also didn't square well with the length of sentence.

My friend read directly from the prisoner's writing. It was mostly gentle, humorous, and warm. But. "I have noticed that women get shorter sentences for the same crimes than men." Whether true or not true, that is not the statement of a repentant person. What happens to other people is irrelevent to the state of your soul. Whether life is fair or not is immaterial.

My antennae were up and I googled the name and read up on the case. He had molested the girl from when she had just turned 14 to just before she turned 16. See how a liar can use the truth? She had come from a Brazilian orphanage, and he had met her through church, as she was the age of his daughters. Where do wolves hide? Hint: Why would a wolf hide in wolves' clothing? So she was doubly helpless, doubly dependent on adults for affection.

He had been "inappropriate" with four other underage females as well. Funny how that got left out of the story he puts out.

Here's the "flow of information" part. Sex offenders have a strong need to control exactly how you hear things. Criminals in general do this, but trebly so with DSO's. He had appealed his conviction because he had not testified, on the advice of his attorneys. His attorneys noted that testifying was likely to land him in even more trouble, but that he was more fully involved in the design of his defense than any of their other clients. He now thought that it would go better if he could control the flow of information. (It didn't, BTW)

While it is my experience working with sexual offenders which first put me on to this uber-suspiciousness, I have understood it not from observation of others, but from observation of self. The exquisite skill in admitting guilt while redirecting focus, of minimizing criminality, of using the truth to lie -- I don't hate these things because they are foreign to me, but because I understand them all too well. It is lying to yourself which comes closer to the unforgiveable sin. To lie, not merely for a moment of fear, but as an ongoing proposition -- that is a sin which will never be confessed. And hence, unforgiven.


Why do I still see so many Kerry or Kerry-Edwards stickers? Not that I never see a Bush-Cheney sticker, but they're rare. Is it just where I happen to be driving, or is there something different in the persistence of announcement between Republicans and Democrats? That election's long over, people.

Now a Dukakis sticker - that would impress me.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

God Plays Twenty Questions

The Scriptures are the record of how God plays Twenty Questions with us. The rules are a little different than the parlor game we're used to, but it's recognisable. When we play with each other, we start from scratch: Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?

God starts by speaking to us but not revealing very much of Himself. We are unwilling to ask directly "tell us who You are," but we just have to keep testing and finding out. We want a simple, done-and-out answer.

Are you a local god? God answers Try that idea out and see where it brings you.

Are you an earthly king? Try that. I'll even help you, so it will be a fair trial.

Moses asks "Are you a God of magic?" Push that idea as far as you can. I'll show you how much of a God of magic I am. Moses tries, and eventually even pushes it over the line by bringing water from the rock. God reins him in. I am this, but I am not.

Do you live in a building? I will direct you in building a building that is as much like Me as possible. Then you will answer.

Are you a place, this whole land of Israel?
Are you a debate about philosophy?
Are you a set of ideas?

Try each, one by one. Give it a good try. Go down those roads as far as you can. Then you will ask a new question.

God plays in the style that answers more than Yes or No. Sometimes He gives the direct answer - most often if it's "No" - but He might also answer Partly. Or That question can't be answered. Or Sometimes.

The answer is only given through experience. But answering each question does teach us a great deal about God. We may decide that God is not merely a debate, or a building, but we learn a great deal about Him through the test. When we ask God who He is, He dares us to test Him. People have tried a thousand questions, and we each become attached to the path we are on. We become so attached, in fact, that we forget the original question and just show off what we've learned along the way. We stop testing, and are simply satisfied with the bit He has shown us.

"I think nature is God."
"Love is God."
"God is the force that holds everything together"
"God is in each of us."

We can approach through philosophy, or through culture, or good works, or memorising Scripture, or contemplation. Each will teach us a great deal. But it's all for nothing if we forget the original question.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nuclear Waste

The supposed difficulty of nuclear power is what to do with all the radioactive waste. Nuts to that. The difficulty is any danger from radioactivity now. It is apparently a requirement in some circles that we must develop ways of safely disposing of nuclear waste for 10,000 years or the whole deal should be off. They think it would be irresponsible to bequeath such danger to later generations.

Does it hurt to point out that the "later generations" that will be around in 10,000 years are not our grandchildren and great grandchildren? This is posterity at a very far remove. Turn the telescope in the other direction: how much do you think your ancestors of 10,000 years ago were responsible to you, personally?

Heck, cut it by a factor of ten. The people who lived in the year 1007. How connected to them are you?

We are entering an era of rapidly improving technology. Every generation now does things thought impossible not long before. People are seriously studying how to extend our lifespans 20, 40, 100 years. The singularity is expected in a few decades. Even 100 years from now, the behavior of societies will be radically different. 200 years out - we wouldn't recognise the lives those people have. And here's the kicker - we might not like them. They may have taken a cultural turning that renders them not only incomprehensible, but repugnant to us.

Okay, give them the benefit of the doubt. They might be fine people, and despite tremendous technological advances, might still be just short of figuring out what to do with radioactive waste. But really, the call for even a thousand-year guarantee of safe disposal is just ridiculous. The variables for ten centuries are too great to make any plan remotely sensible.

Put the effort into safety now. Ignore the rest.

Hitchens and Daniels on Orwell

I am training myself not to begin reviews of excellent books by telling you what’s wrong with them. First, the summary, so you can pretend you’ve read the book.

Hitchens’ view is that Orwell is the necessary corrective for just about every current stream of political thought. Everyone loves to quote Orwell when he’s clubbing the opposition, but slinks out of the room when he turns to confront one’s own group. Why Orwell Matters touches each in turn, holding first the left then the right by the shirt-front to repeat the lessons George Orwell wrote five decades ago and more. Not content with this standard slapping of all parties and wishing a plague on both their houses, Hitchens calls out other groups by name to see what judgment Orwell passes upon them: Englishmen, Americans, Feminists, Academics. He considers their counter-arguments and accusations against Orwell and passes judgment of his own. His dissection of recent academic treatment of Orwell is especially delicious.

Orwell was a man of the Old Left, and Hitchens retains considerable approval of the evolution of his thought. He was anti-imperialist because he had witnessed and even committed brutality in Burma, anti-plutocrat because he had lived “down and out in London and Paris.” He believed passionately in socialism for the common man, and the rightness of their cause in taking control over industries and countries to protect their interests against the powerful. Even after disillusionment, Orwell clung to the idea that everyday people could and should, somehow, kick out the powerful in their midst and rule themselves.

Hitchens highlights the counterpoint, that Orwell also describes the collusion of the oppressed with the oppressor, and insisted on its reality even when it was politically and personally costly to him. No one likes to hear that, and we even have a new phrase about “blaming the victim” to prevent us from thinking such things. Yet the caution against blaming applies most fully with random victims, or those who have gotten entangled with pathological people through no identifiable action of their own. But the peculiar dance and collusion of victims is observable in counseling and mental health even in individuals. It can be stronger in groups. Consider the picture of Parsons in the cellars of the Ministry of Love speaking to Winston Smith in 1984.
“Of course I’m gulty!” cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. “You don’t think the Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?…between you and me, old man, I’m glad they got me before it went any further. Do you know what I’m going to say to them when I go up before the tribunal? ‘Thank you,’ I’m going to say. ‘thank you for saving me before it was too late.’”

Commentary: Orwell is remembered for the brilliance of his late fiction, Animal Farm and 1984, and to a lesser extent his war essays on propaganda, simple virtue, and meaning. Perhaps his earlier work deserves more attention; Hitchens would certainly say so, though he didn’t convince me. What remained of Orwell’s socialism to the end is interesting, but not compelling and instructive any longer.

By happy chance Anthony Daniels has revisited Homage to Catalonia at The New Criterion this month. Daniels reminds us of some morally reprehensible sections of that work. Perhaps Eric Blair had not fully become George Orwell by 1938, and the incompleteness of his disillusionment should not be held against him as forcefully as Daniels does. Yet it remains that Orwell clumped Homage into the category of his later work, and did not change a word for its reprinting in the late 40’s.

This final clarity of thought before his death to tuberculosis, which we see in AF and 1984, obscures the earlier excitement and admiration he describes on meeting soldiers who would murder the bourgeoisie without compunction, or his regret that the “workers” who took over a town did not destroy all the churches and deface all the graveyards. Orwell’s perception of child soldiery as poignant and inefficient, rather than immoral and contemptible, is surely a blow against his reputation for fearless moral honesty. That he faults Stalin for softening his stance on the democratic socialists for expediency’s sake does not square with the figure of the noble old Trotskyite holding the high ground against the brutal Stalinists.
In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no “well-dressed” people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of the militia uniform…I believed that things were as they appeared, that this really was a workers’ State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed, or voluntarily come over to the workers’ side….There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. (emphasis mine)

Orwell’s popular memory is the fairer one, despite Hitchens’ advocacy. Orwell was one who saw through communism at last, perceiving that its good intentions led inexorably to totalitarianism nonetheless. That he retained some form of socialism is irrelevant. He saw with the clarity of one betrayed where it all would lead, and indeed had led in many places. Revisionists who attempt to draw from the two last novels a lesson of equal condemnation of the left and right torture the texts to get there. No one in eastern Europe who read illegal copies of Animal Farm during the Cold War thought “Hmm, I wonder if the writer is describing his fears of McCarthyism or Enoch Powell here.” Orwell certainly hated fascism and any totalitarianism of the (purported) Right – enough so that his essay on pacifism as a support for the enemy still have great sting – but it is the Soviet state that is represented. Even when I read 1984 as a radical socialist in 1967, there was no doubt which nations were closer to that dystopia. We kidded ourselves that Amerika was in severe danger of becoming much the same. We enlarged our right-wing enemies to inflate our own reputations for courage. But the plain fact was unavoidable.

Or perhaps not unavoidable. Even today, the fevered commenters of the Left will blithely refer to Oceania being at war with Eastasia in reference to America and the war on terror, as if it is we who are seeking and needing enemies and Others.

Orwell pinned the bug to the page, and the many flaws of 1984 are of no account. Pace, Christopher Hitchens and Anthony Daniels, neither are Orwell’s earlier works are of any account, save as curiosities tracing his development.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lebron as Global Icon

Lebron James is going to represent Cub Cadet Lawn Tractors. He thought it was "sort of a good fit," and part of his "being a global icon."

We Are All Witnesses.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Early Tribes Writing

I can see the beginnings of my Arts & Humanities Tribe thinking in a post from last February, Parallel Hatreds.
I recall going into Walmart a few years ago and thinking "There's a lot of ethnic folks here. Huh." I thought immediately after, "I wonder if that's what the people who hate Walmart are really objecting to. There are poor people here, immigrants, odd-looking people." I have observed the tone of discourse about Walmart since then, and it has confirmed my initial suspicion. The Walmart opposers like immigrants and poor people in the abstract, but they don't like to see them in groups larger than three outside their assigned neighborhoods

Quick Reference

Among the oddities from last February, there was a post on Irish Hurling,

another on the deterioration of Habitat For Humanity,

and a third on Phonics.

The Meanings of Words

I am back on the edges of this tax-protestor thing again – from a different direction and partly my own fault. Ah well.

One of their arguments is that the tax system is “voluntary.” They interpret this according to the everyday meaning of voluntary, as in a voluntary contribution to a charity, or enlisting in the armed services rather than being drafted. It’s easy to see why this would be the first definition that would occur to anyone seeing it in print. “Hey! Voluntary! I never knew that; this is great! I’m not going to volunteer anymore.” As is usual, things that look too good to be true usually aren’t. Voluntary has a specific legal meaning in this case, in that you are allowed to figure out and submit the data yourself, rather than the government sending you a bill.

People don’t like that. It seems like some sort of trick or playing with words to them. The plain meaning of a word should be what wins the day, in their eyes.

But this happens with words all the time. Everyday words have specific meanings in context. I argued with my high school English teacher that such-and-such a character couldn’t be the “hero” of the book because he was so unheroic. To me, it seemed that the word hero required some sort of heroic behavior. It doesn’t. It’s a technical term. We use the word “depression” in an everyday sense, but medically it has a specific meaning; in the case of an agitated depression, it might even look quite different from the usual picture in our minds of a depressed person. Force has a specific meaning in physics. Culture has a specific meaning in anthropology. There are other meanings to those words, but those are irrelevant to the physics or anthropology discussion.

Words can even have dramatically different meanings in different contexts. To a probate court, both biological and adopted children are your descendants. To a genetecist, only biological ones are. Who you call your children might be a third thing: she’s no daughter of mine – she cut herself off from the rest of us years ago.

One more example and I’m done. In my long twilight political arguments with my liberal uncle, he objects to my using the word “liberals” to describe people who subscribe to certain political ideas: belief in using government as a force for good, a fondness for transnationalism, a preference for more redistribution of wealth. He wishes to use the term “liberal” to mean open-mindedness, considering many options. It could mean that in some contexts, I suppose. But in current political discussion it simply doesn’t. We might argue about what the precise meaning of the word is, but it is a word about beliefs, and not attitudes in that context. None of us gets to veto the meaning in context. Refusing to be convinced doesn’t change the reality.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Quite Different Polling Numbers

I have been assuming that you all know that Instapundit should be your first source for news every day. On the chance that some here don't visit Glenn Reynold's blockbuster site, however, I include the following chart:

There are links to excellent commentary on this data over at Reynold's site as well.

How To Make New England Libertarian

The flap over Dice-K's Japanese beer commercial. One commenter brilliantly writes:
I'm not pithy enough to find a different phrase, but "inane overregulation" does not do justice to something that is a clear violation of the principles of free speech.

The Internationalist Elite As Secular Religion

Kenneth Anderson of Washington College of Law at American University and the Hoover Institute at Stanford has an article which will be dear to the heart of those who have participated in the discussion of American tribes: Secular Eschatologies and Class Interests of the Internationalized New Class. Behind this imposing title is the idea that internationalism is an essentially religious belief which does not expose itself to competing ideas. I found the first and last thirds of this 10-page pdf more compelling than the middle, but it is otherwise excellent. An excerpt from the abstract:
...international human rights and liberal internationalism can be thought of partly as religious movements, with an eschatological world view of a politically unified world under an overarching moral doctrine of international human rights. Yet this same liberal internationalism-human rights eschatology can also be seen as the ideological project of a global new class, an emerging global bourgeoisie that sees itself at once in technocratic, yet redemptionist terms, driven by the material facts of economic globalization but motivated by a universalist religious vision.

The Academic-speak looks worse than it is. Those of you who have been following the A&H Tribe arguments here won't find it too difficult.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Seeker-Friendly Churches

It occurred to me today in adult Sunday School that all churches are seeker-friendly in some sense. Any church that has members had folks who sought them out, even if only for reasons of habit or family, and felt welcome enough to stay.

The difference is whether you are appealing to a broad range of seekers or a narrow one. What we call seeker-friendly churches are those which appeal to as large a number of who they think is out there as possible. The complaint against them would be that they appeal to a lowest-common-denominator. The complaint against the other churches would be that they have narrowed their appeal so enormously as to become useless. If you only appeal to cradle Baptists over 60, that's too narrow. On the other hand, appealing to the most generic group of seekers will leave out folks who aren't very generic.

Our church is populated by well-educated 40-60 year-old evangelicals and their children up until they get driver's licenses, at which point they go elsewhere, or nowhere. Just about every family has at least one person working in education. That's too narrow. People who fit that demographic feel really comfortable from the first week they come - all well and good - but we should be able to expand that somewhat, wouldn't you think?

Men's & Women's Intelligence

I never much cared when I was younger whether men or women were smarter, being much more self-centered than that. So long as I was smarter, I didn't much care who was second. When my sons started going to school, I became a bit more attentive to issues of how boys and girls were perceived and treated at school, but it was not as pressing for Jonathan and Ben as it was for other boys. Both had the poor handwriting and chattiness that is their Wyman heritage, but they also got some self-control and diligence from their mother that gave them a leg up. Both read exceptionally well, and Ben had the added advantage of being in a small Christian school which I still maintain was in its day, the best school in the state.

My eventual oversimplification from those experiences was that schools favor girls, the nonschool environments favor boys.

I was also briefly president of the Prometheus Society (Hey, my name's still in the officers archives. Cool.), and raised quite a bit of controversy when I noted that the membership was 96% male. It was one of those things that everyone knew but no one was supposed to say, apparently. I just thought it was geekness, but research did show that men outnumbered women in greater numbers as one went up the IQ scale.

Less often mentioned was that men dominate at the other end of the scale as well. There just seems to be slightly more variation in men, which becomes increasingly visible at the extremes.

Manchester University's Dr. Paul Irwin has made a more dramatic claim than I had previously seen, that at IQ 120 men already outnumber women 2/1, increasing to 30/1 at IQ 170. That certainly seems extreme, though I haven't looked at the data. Most people leap to the "there must be something wrong with the tests" conclusion, but that has been hard to show evidence for. Males and females both average just about 100, but the Bell curve for women is a touch narrower and taller.

One possible explanation offered has been multi-tasking - that women's brains sacrifice the searing focus of men's in order to do several things simultaneously. People's general observations of society accord with this, perhaps, but it is tough to measure. As we are talking about a very few people when we start throwing around phrases like "IQ 170," it's hard to get good data. A self-selected sample may be misleading. But finding enough people in a random population to run an experiment is difficult.

The Greatest Enemy of Liberty

Harvard Law professor Charles Fried is being kicked by both the left and right at present. That's no guarantee of correctness, but it's usually a good marker for interesting thinking. The link should whet your appetite

From a recent article about his new book in the Harvard Gazette:

"The greatest enemy of liberty has always been some vision of the good."

"Of all the ideals that compete with liberty," writes Fried, "none is as powerful or as attractive as equality"

Fried's book, Modern Liberty and the Limits of Government takes John Stuart Mill as a starting point, and discusses how liberty and equality are not natural allies, and are often in conflict.

Celebrity Look-Alike

My son submitted several photos of himself to one of those sites which tells you which celebrities you look like. I was unimpressed with the results.

With me, it's easy:

Henry VIII

Obi-Wan Kenobi

And Burl Ives

I also look something like my brother, and a bit like my two older sons. Poor bastards.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And Now Sweden

I have mentioned before that emigration of native Belgians, Brits, Germans, and Dutch is increasing yearly. Now it's the Swedes. Immigrants from Muslim countries continue to have children at far above replacement value, native Europeans far below, immigration continues, and now this. Demography may be destiny. The nations of Europe seem to be completely unable to integrate and absorb immigrant peoples. This is because their nations are founded on tribes. America and Australia, less so Canada, are founded on ideas rather than tribes. That's been working a lot better, frankly.

Europeans remain highly suspicious of nationalism because it so easily deteriorates into racialism. It does in Europe, anyway. The nations of Europe are still highly associated with tribes that are centuries old. The Hungarians call themselves Magyars after the tribe that moved in from Asia a thousand years ago. Most of the national movements of the 18th- 20th Centuries had very clear ideas of True Romanians, True Finns, etc. They disliked and often feared those lived among them who were tribally different. Montenegrins just split off from Serbia. The Flemish and the Walloons are still distinct in tiny Belgium. Hatred of Jews and Gypsies and wars over tribal dominance were not 20th C aberrations caused by Germans in Europe. They are Europe.

We have, er, very little animosity between the Flemish and Walloons in America. None to speak of between the Serbs and Croats, even. To get conflict going in America, you have to have really obvious differences: language, dress, color. Even with those, we seem to adjust far better than say Paris or Lille, Rotterdam or Oslo. America does better integrating races from different continents than Greeks or Letts do different dialects. In Europe, nations have a great difficulty defining themselves as anything but historical tribes. Great Britain does best among them, but even the UK has had notable conflicts with Ireland, and still has separatist movements.

Can anyone imagine a popular separatist movement in America? Even to divide races into their own states- certainly a sharper visual divider than Spaniards and Catalans and Basques - attracts only fringe support. (God be praised). You don't have to be descended from anyone in particular to be an American. Any ancestors will do, really.

This quiet emigration is how many western Europeans are solving their Muslim immigration problem. They're moving to New Zealand or Canada, or even (gasp) America. Having no way of defining their nations other than by soil and race, there isn't much hold. Language and foods you can take with you (and kid yourself that you'll pass them on to your children).

One more thing. It's not the elderly who emigrate. Even the middle-aged are underrepresented in mobile populations. The people who are leaving are predominantly those who would have had nice little Dutch or Austrian children to dress up. Europe is vanishing. The English colonies really are very different in the world. Even India is learning how to absorb differences.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Team Colors

Two decades ago, my brother was describing to me what a great gig it was doing lights for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. A friend of his had the season contract, and he just went in and supervised the set-up when his friend needed a night off. Big money, little work. I thought it was great. I commented how irritating it was that the Ducks had chosen what were the current fashionable colors: black, teal, and a purply magenta. "Yeah, that's great now," I said, "but what are they going to do when those colors go out of style? Seems like bad marketing to me." There was a pause, as my southern-California brother pondered how to break this to the country mouse back home. "When the fashion changes, they'll change the team colors." (See link)

That would never occur to anyone in New England. The Bruins colors are black-and-gold-and white. I didn't think it was legal to change them. I thought it was sort of like a Methodist deal, where you have to sing Charles Wesley hymns forever, or what kinds of pie you have at Thanksgiving. There is something deeply wrong with a culture that thinks its teams can just change their colors with the fashions.

What Am I Looking For?

I mentioned in my post on genealogy and DNA my brief attempt to try and discover Chris and John-Adrian’s ancestry beyond the parents’ names on their birth certificate. The parents are recorded as being born in Sârbi and Spinuş,in Bihor County of Transylvania. This accords with the boys’ memories of life in Derna, a nearby town. They have some impression that the family has been centered on Derna for at least a few generations.

When I read anything about the area in another context I always look for those village names. They only show up in writings about mining development and Holocaust studies. In reading about the Jews from Transylvania sent to Auschwitz in the Final Solution in 1944, the name pops up: Derna (Hungarian Felsőderna), Jews sent to the ghetto in Oradea.

Am I wondering if their grandparents participated somehow? It’s unlikely, as they were probably born between 1925-1940. Am I concerned about the great-grandparents, then? Am I worried that some Pîrcalab is going to suddenly show in the record as some particularly despised betrayer? What would it matter? The reality of their immediate ancestry is bad enough – what would be added by discovering violent, selfish evil plus nototiety?

Their forebears are almost illusory to me. Gheorghe and Irina are still alive last we heard, but very ill: 49 going on 94. A grandmother, Viturca, is still alive. The boys have only the haziest memories of them, and I of course have no picture in my mind at all.

I have evil enough in my own blood ancestry; starting with my own father. And y'know, I'm not so great myself? Would it affect anything about me if my two miserably irresponsible great-grandfathers turned out to have even worse sins in the record? Not a whit. Why, then, would I see any significance in Romanian great-grandfathers? Perhaps it is merely the mystery, the fact that two boys appear in an orphanage, with little context even in their own country, and I want some narrative. What narrative could there be? Peasants in Crişana; life is hard.

This illusory nature of our inheritence flows in the other direction, toward our posterity as well. If I am fortunate enough to have grandchildren and to know them, I will likely care about them deeply. They exist only in theory, yet I like them already. But their children? I am a great believer in handing on one’s culture, and in particular one’s faith. We put up a time capsule to be opened in 2100. Medical improvements being what they are, it is just possible that one of my children will be there to open and explain. More likely it will be a grandchild, who may or may not remember us. Certainly, they won’t summarize with much accuracy. A few scraps of stories will be woven into some narrative of who Tracy and I were. Even great-grandchildren will be older than I am now by then.

Who can tell which of our values they will have? If we knew them we might not much approve of them. If they are not Christians, in what sense are they really our descendants? Jesus pointed out in his typically radical way: who are my mother and brothers? Those who do my will. I don’t have the spiritual clarity to see things that way. My sons are my sons. Their children will seem something of an extension of this family. But one step further, peering into the middle-aged lives of my grandchildren and beyond? These are not my “mother and brothers.” Those who follow Christ, whether or not they have my name or blood, are our true posterity. If I take a smaller bite at the concept like that, I can see what Jesus meant.

We picture ourselves moving through the world in some definite context of family, or country, of profession or culture, but these fade quickly. Even for someone like me, morbidly considering the birth and death of generations and tracing some threads, the earthly context isn’t much. In the light of eternity, this life will be just one hand of cards played in a long evening.


It is now considered unfashionable and low in Germany for men to urinate standing up. Alarm systems are selling like hotcakes - or something - which notify merchants, or wives, when a male is offending by leaving the seat up. I haven't checked on this, so I don't know whether it's some electric eye thing or what.

When I mentioned this at work, there were of course several women who immediately - and energetically - announced what a great idea this is. Huh. The joy in a four-year-old boy's countenance when he gets to urinate outside in the woods with his Dad, proving that they are both men, is not something to be thrown away lightly. There's an NRA slogan about my "cold, dead hands" and guns. I'm not sure what the analogy is exactly, but that applies here, dammit. I'm going to go pee in the yard now. Just because I can. Stehpinkeln - "stand-peeing" is part of my cultural heritage. I hope German men stand tall on this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Throwing Darts At The Intelligentsia

Reading Christorpher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters reminded me once again of the miserable record of the European intelligentsia in the 20th C. If one were to spread in a row the top three ideas shared by the elites in each decade and throw darts at it, I doubt you would hit a correct one all night.

They did very well on the secondary issues for improving society, and may even be credited with advocating for and obtaining much that we value in our lives today. But the large, animating ideas of both the trained intellectuals and the educated classes - from the Social Darwinism, nihilism, and racial imperatives of the 00's, through the Marxism, Socialism, and Fascism of mid-century, and on to the Coexistence, Postmodernism, and Multiculturalism of the 80's and 90's, they have simply been wrong at every point. There is almost a dependability to it: pick out a year and a country, say England in 1908 or Sweden in 1941 or Italy in 1977, and examine what the great thinkers of the culture were instilling in the university students. You are guarranteed to find great wisdom in all the small things of life, but absolute madness in the large ones.

Health Care Comments

I had a post last February entitled Magick Is Expensive about the cost of health care and looking for future treatments.
Once a treatment is available, we believe it should be available generally. It seems unfair to us at some deep level that one should live and one should die simply because the former has money and the latter doesn’t. It seems to contradict Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happinefs. Unfortunately, making magic affordable for all is also an excellent way to insure that there will be less magic in the future for all of us, at any price. By removing the economic incentive, we pronounce a death sentence on all those whose disease advances before the cure is invented.
Recently, Tech Central Station has three articles on similar topics.
Congressional Cures? and
The Harmful Side Effect We Never Hear About, both by Dr. Henry I. Miller
The Five Big Questions About Health Care, by Arnold Kling

After which you'll be like, educated and everything.

The Venerable Snowblower

I doubt this is the absolute record-holder for snowblowers still in service, but it is certainly among the few.

The estimate is that it is about 35 years old. The tannish-orange sections used to be white. You have to click to enlarge to get the full effect.

Note the new tires from last year. Clearly I had hopes of running it another ten years or so. But it won't start, even with Chris's ministrations, so I think I will be getting a new one soon. A shame, really. The Swamp Yankee in me believes there must still be a few years left in 'er.

Democrat Strategy Implications

This is the new political strategy the Democrats are going to use to wind down the War in Iraq.

I understand that in politics, if factions cannot get what they want by direct means, they elect to try indirect and partial means to accomplish their goals. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but indirect approaches are certainly more likely to be deceptive.

In this instance, the idea is to try and limit George Bush's options on what he can do militarily. If you are person who opposes the war, the idea of "limiting George Bush's options" probably sounds like a fairly neutral way to rein in a president you perceive as having too much power. But having power and having options are not the same thing. Limiting someone's options certainly limits their power, but it does many other things as well. It is a package deal or a dirty drug, dragging other consequences along with it. Limiting George Bush's options also limits our military's options in this case. Think about that for just a moment.

It would seem that in their eagerness to limit Bush's power, the Democrats are advocating a strategy that will limit our military's flexibility. I know it doesn't look that way to them at first, but that is the natural result of the tactic. Their target is Bush (or the administration, or the neocons, or whatever formulation you favor), but they are hitting other things besides. Dare I say that they are inflicting collateral damage on our military?

I don't see any way around this description. Complaining that George Bush has done terrible things X,Y,& Z does not erase that. It might make people feel emotionally justified if they can remind themselves how many awful things their political opposition has done, but it doesn't get around the basic fact: the Democrat plan will reduce the flexibility of the military. Reducing the flexibility will not only limit our ability to win - no loss to those who believe that victory is impossible anyway - it will limit our ability to keep both American soldiers and Iraqis safe.

The consequences of political plans are not always initially apparent. I am ready to believe that many Democrats and antiwar groups which are signing on to this plan did not intend to increase the danger to our troops. Today many people pointed out that this additional danger is indeed a consequence of this tactic. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

I have been repetitive in my claim that the Democrats are fighting a different battle, one focused on the political ground in the US. They believe that "taking this country back" (telling phrase) will go a long way toward solving our external problems. I disagree, but I can at least see the logic behind that approach. However, to fight that battle for the American political ground at the expense of our military safety is a significant step in the direction of sabotage. This is not merely an escalation in political infighting, it is a deterioration in loyalty.

Those who disagree, please take care to make a logical argument.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bloody Spring

Austin Bay is predicting a bloody spring in Afghanistan. He expects Talibani leaders to be gearing up for a major offensive in the next two months, and speaks with an ambassador who remains angry at Pakistan for allowing terrorists to train there.

His long-term outlook is more hopeful.

Global Warming Observations

You will not often catch me linking to the NY Times, but this Tierney article linked over at Instapundit has some interesting features. The writer believes that Global Warming is anthropogenic and that we should act on that, but he doesn't think catastrophic scenarios are at all likely. He also recommends we encourage private solutions.

I think that's about right. I would add in my long-term fondness for the low-environmental impact solutions of ANWR and offshore drilling, plus nuclear power. Oil shale/tar sands are excellent long-term solutions, but still need some development, both economically and environmentally.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Half-Syllables and Barrow-Wights

Update: We may have guests from the Worcester area, likely because I used the word "Worcester" in this post. The closest I lived to Worcester was Sudbury, but we may have others among the regulars. This blog usually focuses on language history, book reviews, and cultural/political commentary. Recently I have been railing against the perfidy of the Arts & Humanities Tribe in America. Thank you for dropping by.

Readers from northern New England will appreciate that I once found someone's place of birth entered in the computer as Wusta, MA. It took me a moment. Obviously, the person entering it wahnt from around heah.

We think of syllables as being a quantum phenomenon, coming in discrete packets. It's either one syllable or it's not, there's no such thing as a half-syllable, we think. Consider the word "barrels." All of us tend to swallow that second syllable a bit. Even someone such as I, who has an overprecise pronunciation even in everyday speech, would say "barruls," but very nearly "barr'ls." At the other end people in some regions come perilously close to saying "bairls;" yet not quite. There is a whisper of a second syllable even then. If the two extremes of pronunciation are 1.2 syllables to 1.8 syllables (there's nothing official about that. I just made it up), then calling it a one-and-a-half syllable word makes sense.

In fact, an enormous proportion of our words are like that. The gradual elision of unaccented syllables is how we get from "God Be With Ye" to goodbye, or to the pronunciation Wuster from the original spelling "Worcester." Learning phonetic reading and having dictionaries fools us into thinking that a syllable is an either/or thing. Jeet? for "Did you eat?" is one of those things that people learning live English learn, as opposed to those learning it in school somewhere. This is true of every language, which is why you thought you knew French but could barely understand anyone in Nice.

Writing slows language change. Otherwise, jeet would become the normal word in a generation.

Many children say "wheelbarrel" instead of "wheelbarrow." Not until people see it in print do they start to change this. Unless you had especially persnickity parents who corrected you on such minor solecisms, you probably did not even hear the difference until you saw it in print. And why would you? The item in question looks as if it could be related to barrels somehow. Half a barrel on a wheel: wheelbarrel. If your ear happened to catch the slight bear-o difference, your young brain would find nothing to fasten it on. There's certainly nothing about bears or bare things about it.

If it weren't in print, we would have switched to wheelbarrel long ago. "Barrow," if we have heard the word at all, means a mound or hill. It pretty much went out of use centuries ago, but archaeologists brought it back for technical purposes. It had pretty much lost any other meaning until Tolkien, always searching for archaic words to embed a sense of long history into his naming and narrative, brought it back for barrow-wights (wight is person or creature) and barrow-downs.

We leap to the conclusion "ohh, wheel-barrow! to wheel something up a hill!" but we would be wrong. Okay, I leaped to that conclusion years ago and I was wrong. This is a completely different kind of barrow, from a completely different root. That second kind of barrow comes from a root meaning "to carry," and is related to bear, bier, borne, born, bairns, and those sorts of carrying and children things.

The first kind of barrow comes from a root meaning a high and/or fortified place. Thus German Berg and Burg, and our iceberg. Tacking b-rg on to the end of names is common in Germany and Scandinavia. By the time the root was brought over by Angles and Danes to England, it was already -bury (Avebury, Shrewsbury) or even -by (Granby, Derby). And here we come full-circle again on the partial syllables. Danbury has two-and-a-half syllables. If it weren't written down it would have become "Danbry" centuries ago.

Buying Indulgences

I know nothing about this site except for this link. I did think it was an interesting update on carbon credits, to compare them to buying indulgences. Ouch.

Mark Steyn’s America Alone – Second Meander

It looks like we should have had more children.

I should have mentioned in my first post using Mark Steyn's America Alone as a starting point that the book is about world demography and its implications for America. Specifically, it notes that Muslims, not only in the Middle East but throughout the world, are still having lots of children -3.5 per woman - while the western democracies, with a few notable exceptions, are having very few children - 1.1-1.7 per woman, well below the replacement value of 2.1. These numbers, coupled with the cultural aggression of Islam compared to the cultural insecurity and passivity of the west, is a recipe for disaster for Western Civilization. Steyn writes off Europe as already essentially lost, though its cultural heritage will allow it do do some good in its death throes over the next 50 years.

America he believes will not fall prey to the same evils for several reasons. But we will feel the pinch, and we will not have our traditional allies. America's problem is not that it imperialistically exports its culture, as is commonly supposed, but that it exports only the accidents of its culture: Coca-Cola, KFC, Britney Spears. There's an important point here. Though the disaster movies, Fahrenheit 911, and Lord of the Rings represent very different parts of Anglospheric culture, they are all identifiable ours, but it's not translating to other cultures. Moore slams our president, in fine American tradition. Islamic societies also learn to slam our president, instead of looking at their own governments. Not the same lesson.

I digress, sorry. All young people should read Steyn's Introduction and 1st chapter if nothing else. This is the world that they will probably live in. Steyn is not simply projecting what might happen to the population of Europe and the Arab world, he is noting the demographics of the people who have already been born. The European population between 0-20 looks absolutely nothing like the population which is 60-80. In 20 years, the former will be adults, the latter will be dead. Steyn's numbers suggest that American young people should go forth and multiply, and you've already wasted too much time. Heck, even I regretted not having more children, and I'm in my 50's.

I had said not long ago that if I had to do over again, I would have two more biological and two more adopted children, for a total of eight. My wife is less convinced that would have been so brilliant. Okay, one and one, then, making a total of three bio and three adopted. Easy to say now, perhaps. Now that they're adults and do interesting stuff and can make their own sandwiches and buy their own donuts, they're much more fun. Adding in another child between Jonathan and Ben, then tacking on a sixth child, one younger than Chris, might have been more of an emotional strain than we wanted.

Getting two more kids was one of the absolute smartest things we ever did, though. Great for America and the West, too. For Romania, not so much. We took some of their young talent, which they're having trouble keeping anyway. Not that they would have appreciated J-A and Chris, of course. But they were more valuable than they knew.

Something About Amanda

I kicked Amanda Marcotte yesterday. Not unfairly, perhaps, but a definite kick. Some of this morning's church service reminded me of one of my own lessons learned, and I thought it fair to point out a sin the Pandagon blogger has not committed.

The verses of Scripture about the Unforgivable Sin state quite explicitly that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is the one really big, beyond-the-palings sin. As Amanda Marcotte's most famous vile comments about God include mention of the Holy Spirit, it would be easy to conclude that she has stepped into the worst of all possible territory. But she hasn't. What the verses about "saying a word against" the Spirit of God seem at first glance to mean, is a bending of that Scripture's intent, and one which we often fall into. As the Second Commandment - taking the Lord's name in vain - is not about swearing and using bad words, so also is the Unforgivable Sin not about saying vile things in regard to the Holy Spirit. There is in fact a strong connection between the Second Commandment and the Unforgivable Sin. No surprise, when you think about it. Something really high on the New Testament "you'd better not" list should be expected to also be well up on the Old Testament "thou shalt not" list.

The Second Commandment is actually about putting words in God's mouth: forging His signature under your own ideas. The Unforgivable Sin is about public renunciation of what we ourselves know via the Holy Spirit; that is, conveniently teaching that something is of God which we ourselves know darn well isn't. The longer we do this, the more we convince ourselves that Sin A is not very important, then not important, and finally, is not a sin at all. It is the denying of what we do know to be good, and walking into evil. When we no longer acknowledge a sin, we can no longer confess it. What we cannot confess cannot be forgiven.

So. Ms Marcotte uses lots of four-letter words and says insulting things about God and the Church. That is not the same thing, even if the words "Jesus Christ" or "Holy Spirit" work themselves into her "Opus #57, Variations in the Key of F-bomb." God seems to regard unbelievers who happen to be clever and original in their vileness as a fairly minor problem. He gets more exercised about believers who claim to speak for Him.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I wrote about this last February.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

This has nothing to do with swearing, dammit. (I just threw that last in for effect.) Bad language is hardly ever mentioned in the rest of the Bible, so why would people think that God would make it #2 on the Big Chart and then forget about it? Even making promises with oaths -- the other swearing -- gets very little play, Old Testament or New.

False prophecy, now, that subject comes up a lot, with many variations played on the Carillon of Scripture (that metaphor didn't work out as well as I'd hoped). And that, my friends, is what is referred to as taking the Lord's name in vain is here. It means no forging God's signature under your own ideas. It means being very cautious and considered about making any claims that what you teach is The Gospel, or The Authentic Gospel.

Continue Reading Here

Saturday, February 10, 2007

That Edwards Blogger

For those who have been following the Amanda Marcotte - Pandagon - John Edwards controversy, Iowahawk has the idea to run it as a musical based on "My Fair Lady." Strong language advisory - which you would know anyway if you've been following the story. Ms. Marcotte is apparently unable to type for long without scatological references emerging onto the page.

If you like that sort of thing, Iowahawk has another sendup of the affair on his main page.

Mark Steyn’s America Alone – First Meander

The Wymans have a tradition that graduating from highschool grants the privilege of choosing a family trip. This seemed quite sensible when there were only two potential candidates, and both were Eurocentric Arts & Humanities Tribe like their parents. Adding in two sons who were actual Europeans added in the expense of two more trips to Europe – not to mention additional Christian school and college costs.

But it’s Part Of Their Education, a phrase that comes to encompass just about everything you think would be good for a child, and we have gotten some great trips to Europe ourselves out of the package. The first son chose London, Scotland, and points between by rented car in 1997. The second son chose Dublin, London, and points between by rented car in 2002, at which point we had the two Romanians as well. The older of the Romanians chose Budapest and Transylvania. This got a touch messy because three of the boys were working at the orphanage and clinic in Beius in 2005 for greater or lesser amounts of time. Their obligations and different interests separated us slightly throughout, so that we had parallel trips that were semi-shared. Because of airline problems, we all got some time in Shannon as well.

This year will be the last family trip, and Chris has chosen Munich and Oradea. The trip is scheduled around the wedding of their once-lost older brother, so we will be going to a Romanian wedding as more than spectators this time.

That is a great many places, and many more were on various lists one time or another as possibilities for visiting: Luxembourg, Belgium, Versailles, Constanza, Paris, Greece, Italy, Zurich, and some I have forgotten.

According to the emerging demographics, if my sons continue the tradition, a lot of European cities may be off the list for this type of educational travel. On the basis of the people they have right now, with no further immigration, plus the likely projected children, many of them will be more than 50% Muslim cities. Plus, the Muslims there will be more radical, insular, and intolerant than those you would find if you planned a trip to a Muslim city such as Cairo or Istanbul. And with such concentrated districts wielding political power, the nations themselves will be only halfhearted allies in any War on Terror. They will be sources of danger for Americans, not respites from it.

That’s Mark Steyn’s projection, anyway. The numbers seem to back him up on this. There will still be the England or France or Holland you have a picture of in your head, but it will be mostly rural, and populated by old folks. It’s hard to imagine that the big draw tourist attractions – the White Tower, Tower Bridge, the Eiffel Tower – will be shut down or destroyed. They will still be there attracting Europhiles from around the world, selling souvenirs in the shops, and if the guides dress differently, look darker, and have non-British accents, what of it? The museums may give you more trouble, as much of what you came to see at the Prado or the Louvre will no longer be on display. Much of it offends Islamic sensibilities, and there are already items being quietly removed and stored in the basements.

Don’t expect the charming pubs, cafes, and beer gardens; the high fashion, edgy theater, and nightlife will have moved out as well. I admit, it seems impossible to me.

If it were the eastern Europeans, Indians, or West Indians who were taking over it would be a quite different picture, we think. Characteristic Britishness or Germanness would change somewhat, as it does in every generation, and take on darker hues or extra foods. But it would be a permutation of the old culture mixed with newer strains. Islam is quite opposed to this. That religion’s intent is to provide a replacement culture, not a blended one.

So says Steyn, and his data is persuasive. My younger readers might want to get to Europe fairly soon, if you want to still observe the cradle(s) of Western Civilization. The native Belgians and Italians aren’t having many children, you see, and many city schools are already predominantly Muslim. Muslim families do tend to have children. There are no factors which suggest either the native European or Muslim habits will change on this.

It is unwise to project much further than the next generation, but it does bear at least passing consideration. Native Swedes and Spaniards are moving to other places, and the number of their children continues to project down. Europe 2040 - what do you see? Why do you think so?

Steyn is not nearly as pessimistic about America, and I will meander through that topic sometime soon.

Humor and Emotional Balance

I haven't reprised anything from Feb 2006 yet.

These three articles were not written as a series, but I must have been thinking much about how humor is indicative of emotional stability, among both individuals and nations.

There are two essays on Self-Mockery, here and here.
And a third on The Punchline as Stereotype.

I had forgotten it was exactly a year ago that Ben worked at the Olympics in Torino. That seems like two years now.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Softball King Eddie Feigner Dead at 81

I loved watching this guy. Saw him on TV a few times, and at Gill stadium in 1968, I think.

Eddie Feigner, the hard-throwing softball showman who barnstormed for more than 50 years with his "The King and His Court" four-man team, died Friday. He was 81.

Feigner, the former Marine known for his trademark crewcut and bulging right arm, died in Huntsville, Ala., from a respiratory ailment related to dementia, wife Anne Marie Feigner said Friday night.

With a fastball once clocked at 104 mph, Feigner threw 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games and struck out 141,517 batters while playing more than 10,000 games. He was inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in 2000.

continue article here

The Ideas, and Why They're Wrong

This is the promised followup to the last post.

If we fight, we are becoming just like our enemies.
Well, no. The express train to becoming like our enemies is to be conquered by them. A slower, but equally reliable train, is to negotiate with them. This is so painful for people to hear, but there is no way around it. It can be necessary to negotiate for a dozen reasons: becoming like your opposite number may not be so bad, as in the case of allies; the alternative cost, in lives, money, or freedom, may be so high that concessions may be worth considerable sacrifice; your negotiating position may be so strong that your loss is negligible, even if you negotiate badly. But becoming like your enemy by fighting him is slow, very slow indeed. Perhaps if we were to fight a hundred Al Qaedas over a century we would become like them. Yes, true; perhaps even inevitable. But consider the UN and the OFF, child rape scandals, and refusals to protect who they are sent to protect. Has the organization become more like the Western democracies over time, or more like the countries it was supposed to contain?

The answer is obviously the latter, with one exception. The UN has become very much like the A&H Tribe of the western democracies in how it does business: it talks; it negotiates; it issues position papers; it travels places; it has conferences. It has adopted the style of the good guys, but the actions of the bad guys. The Arts & Humanities Tribe believes if we just “stay the course” with the UN, it will eventually adopt all those virtues we hope for it. More cynically I would say: the A&H Tribe likes the way the UN operates, because they get to be the stars. Talking is their turf. They think they can eventually win those others over if we just give them more time. The chess club thinks it can have a chance against the skinheads if they play chess. They certainly don’t have a chance if they fight. They don’t realize that after you beat the skinheads at chess, they will still beat you up. And, they will be a little better at chess, too, but you won’t, having had your concentration impaired. With your new head injury, you will become a little more like them, just weaker.

If we understood their culture and grievances better, we could address those, instead of always fighting. No again. In a limited sense it is always true. Even insane regimes like North Korea have some core of legitimate grievance, or cultural quirk that makes their actions look more reasonable from their perspective than from ours. But this is seldom what drives the conflict. People want to be in charge, that’s what drives the conflict. Sometimes it is a person, sometimes a family, sometimes a class or profession. I don’t doubt that many Muslims have some genuine religious desire to see other peoples brought into their faith because it would be good for them. But the baseline point is, if there is Muslim dominance in a country, which is the top group? Muslims who can give evidence that they are really, really devout. By having fought in jihad or sent a son to be blown up or something. And who would be in charge of that group? Imams. Quickly now – who is giving us the most trouble worldwide? Funny. It’s exactly the subgroup that benefits most. Go figure.

Even legitimate grievances can be rationalizations. People have to have some narrative of why they hate you, and a partially true one is better than an utterly false one. In the current instance, though, we are dealing with nations which have no free press, know their own histories very poorly, and believe absolutely insane things about other countries, religions, and cultures. If they had a legitimate grievance, how would they know? Of course it feels legitimate to them. But in the case of say, Palestine, the average age is less than 16. The women have received almost no education. Half of the adult males do not have any kind of a job to give them any perspective on how the world works or dealing with others. The very few tell stories to the many about why they are poor and miserable. They plead to not merely a small responsibility, but zero responsibility for what has happened to them. 95% of the population has no reasonable idea of what reasonable grievance they might have. The other 5%, who have the occasional good reason on behalf of the people, are the same who oppress the people, and have the most guilt on their hands in dealing with other nations. Why should we pay any attention to any of it? Legitimate grievances should be addressed after victory, so that they do not metastasize. Once someone has declared war on you, the discussion of legitimate grievances is suspended.

America (or Western Civ, or Corporations) has done bad things to these people, so we don’t have any right to fight them. Forgive me for referring you back to my Surprise #2 essay before we go any further. Don’t you mean some other western tribe that you dislike for your own reasons stands accused? Business? The Church? I don’t recall hearing the complaints where the publishing industry, or American colleges, or environmentalists, unions, or Hollywood has hurt them, though these are also manifest. Depart from me.

For those still here, or those back after repentance, you have some good points here. There have been actions by various representatives of the West, individual and collective, which are deplorable, and I don’t pretend to defend them. They have also done this with the complicity, encouragement, and even assistance of governments. Agreed. But notice: they have done far worse to each other. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. If we learned that 5.5 million of that was various Jewish groups killing each other, would that let Nazis killing the other half-million off the hook? Not in a pure sense, but we would certainly no longer be very worked up about it now, would we? So with all that we have supposedly done to Muslims and the ME over the last century, remind me again how most of the untimely deaths happened. Not because of us. I also find that people are quick to jump to conclusions about what's oppression, finding trade agreements oppressive which the oppressed would be saddened to lose; or treating the normal diplomatic and economic pressures that all nations use on each other as somehow unfair. But even absent those, there are plenty of examples of real exploitation, real corruption, real destabilization.

My answer may take a moment to absorb. That is no basis for foreign policy decisions. Because such things certainly impact other nations’ view of us, and influence their willingness to trust us or cooperate with us, they affect the practical applications of foreign policy. We might regret today what we winked at Bloviated Chemical doing in 1995. We might rue that we had the CIA pay guys to overthrow in 1986 the guy we want back today. We might call ourselves stupid, or shortsighted, or a hundred other names. But it does not affect one whit what we should decide now. Nor should it affect what that country decides now about us. People being what they are, we will both probably continue to be grateful or resentful of past actions. But it’s immaterial. We do what’s right today, and so should they.

We have had ambiguous relations with government X in the past. This is a derivative of the discussion just above. It is brought out now because of our (overstated) connections with Ba’athist Iraq in the 80’s, or Muslims in Afghanistan in 1979. The answer is the same: Avoiding irony is not a basis for foreign policy. Only Arts & Humanities people would think it was, being addicted to the narrative of events rather than its actuality. Countries switch sides mid-war, and for good reasons, never mind decades later. You do it yourself at work or in your extended family on the basis of a single conversation. Thinking in those terms is not simply inefficient or limiting. Thinking like that is very near the root of your disorder.

But wouldn’t it be better if people tried to negotiate instead of going to war? Yes. What’s your point?

Our real reasons for this war/policy/treaty/agreement are not what the government and its supporters say they are. They really want to do this to a)get elected, b)buy cheap shoes, c)prove they have penises, d)reward a constituency, e)distract attention from the homeless hamster bill. Maybe so, but the level of evidence for such an accusation should be pretty high, don’t you think? Halliburton has thus far lost money on Iraq. We could have bought oodles of oil from Saddam on the sly and saved a bundle. Offering explanations that would be devastating if they were true is actually quite easy. Takes about three minutes to think up a good one. Even after all this time, with everyone having had a go at it, watch: George Bush and the neocons wanted to go into Iraq because…it gives them greater control of all that natural gas in Turkmenistan (27 seconds), Saddam had (or Maliki has) blackmail on Dick Cheney (22 seconds), it’s a distraction to push through legislation that will protect Bechtel from prosecution (73 seconds), it’s a way of forcing Russia stay neutral about its former satellites (41 seconds). Do you think it’s actually hard to be a journalist or a talking head?

Showing that your secret motive decoder is better than the masses’ is not really intelligence, it’s just cheap cynicism. Sorry to break the bad news.

Surprise #2 - The Soul of America

Sometimes one states an unremarkable idea and finds it gives offense. This time, I had withheld full-throated statement of an idea for some time, only to find that once uttered, the supposed offendees agreed with it. Perhaps that's a social-skills problem on my part...

Conservatives complain that the left is not serious about the War on Terror, but is treating Bush and the neocons as the enemy. Put less confrontively, the left is fighting a different battle - one for the soul of America. I had thought the overdramatic S of A phrasing would raise hackles, as if I were saying it sneeringly or ironically. But, as with my "God & Country Tribe" phrasing, the people named did not find it ironic at all, and thought I had summed it up nicely. Yes, exactly.

Conservatives are not uninterested in this Soul of America idea, and some religious conservatives also consider it more important than the War on Terror. In the long run, it is of course the larger issue. If America isn't itself, what's worth keeping about it? America is founded on a set of ideas about how government should work and people should live. If those are gone, we will retain some fondness for the appearance of the Grand Canyon, or the existence of hot dogs; the flag might still stir us and we might root for American teams in international competition, but really, what would be the point? Simple nostalgia.

There are difficulties with this Soul of America idea, however. First, it is not simply a matter of working very hard and behaving very nobly about things we all agree are the right way of the soul. We don't entirely agree on what those aims are. In this it is different than the situation faced by the Old Testament Israelites. After some grumbling and pouting, they all knew quite well what was being asked, and that they hadn't been doing it. Nor is our difference a mere matter of where to start. While prioritizing would certainly be a matter of disagreement among us, we would soon come to issues where we pulled in different directions. It's not the same.

This argument over the soul of America, then, would resemble a group of wealthy Englishmen discussing Empire after dinner over the port, while poor young Tommy is out fighting somewhere. This is, in fact, precisely what some conservatives suspect liberals of doing, and accuse them of being unserious, or blind to the real dangers.

There is an unfortunate amount of truth in this. The Arts & Humanities Tribe - my tribe - wants very much to be the well-fed gentlemen with the port. They do want someone else to do the fighting, as evidenced by how seldom their own sons and daughters go into the military. But even more, they want to be the gentlemen listened to. They are good at this talking, understanding Empire, and drinking port, and the fact that the government, heeding the words of mere business interests and military advisors, isn't doing as it's told. Not like the old days when those chaps knew their place.

After being so harsh on them, it is fair to point out that there are more reasonable and unselfish motives for liberals to want to have this other battle first, making my analogy of the bloated gentlemen quite unfair. The difficulty with this is that those other motives, noble at first glance, lead back to the same place if one follows them out to their end.

There are two parts to the battle, deeply interrelated. The first is the mere tribalism of people wanting to be Top Tribe of the Nation; the second is the ideas or methods of the tribe, which it believes are an objectively superior way of running things. The Arts & Humanities Tribe believes they are all about the latter, acknowledging little or nothing of the former in its motivations. My recent contention is that the former - the mere tribalism - is primary for the A&H tribe as a whole. For some, it is more than the primary motivation, it is the entire motivation, or something darn close. But for those others, might they not well say: Even if our motives are tainted, the ideas are superior. The rest is footnotes.

Fair enough, and I will deal with the ideas as I can, though you can find many others who do it better. (An all-star list, BTW). But first, we should deal with the mere tribalism. It is everywhere, and completely unacknowledged. That in itself should raise alarm bells. When people acknowledge a bias or an ill motive but say they are taking it into account, we might give them the benefit of much doubt. But when they insist that the Rhinoceros in the living room is not merely small, but nonexistent, we cannot trust what they say about any matter pertaining to the house. They hate George Bush's accent, they hate his ranch, they hate that he mentions his faith. They hate NASCAR, country music, southerners. They are sure that his supporters are racist, sexist, homophobes, but the evidence they give is along the lines of not saying the magic words about these pieties; they think middle America doesn't have passports (they mean, doesn't agree that the European elites have much to offer. All those military guys and people doing business overseas don't really count), doesn't support the Theatre, doesn't have any really good Thai-Italian fusion restaurants.

If you think I exaggerate, you don't read or listen closely in the traditional media. There are websites that devote their entire energy to cataloging these things, and many others that give it a shot amidst their regular work. The comments sections of political sites produce hundreds of new examples every night. It is not merely a fringe phenomenon, it is present in all the respectable left-of-center weeklies, dropped in sentence after sentence. If you don't see it, then you can't see it, and there is really nothing one might say to you. You need to drop current events altogether and go read something from another era to clear your mind: Orwell, Lewis, Mencken, Montaigne, Swift, Plato. Anyone, really. You need this so desperately. I'll make it easy for you. None of them is a neocon. None of them voted for George Bush. Ever.

On to the ideas: but this has gone long enough, and I know you folks skim. I will address them in a separate post.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Long Post You May Want To Skim - Or Miss

Update: GM Roper linked to this, and he may be correct that this is the one you want. But I thought it long, and filled with family lore that may be charming but useless to you, so I have done a shorter, more entirely sociopolitical, essay here.

Update #2: My uncle replied. He didn't understand what I was driving at.

It starts on family culture, ends on American Tribal Politics. I will summarize the latter soon under "Surprise #2." For those scoring at home, I am in my 50's - the uncle I write to here is 80. The Arts & Humanities Tribe may be changing in the younger generations.

I agree with much of what you last wrote. I have an angle on it that is quite different, and I hope fascinating, however, that weaves in a fair bit of family history. I have a tape of Selma that I started listening to in preparation for this, more for flavor than information. I made the tape during the Gethsemane Lutheran 100th anniversary in 1982, when I was writing the history of the church. I felt some obligation there, as Louise had done the history for the 75th, and John August for the 50th. Family lore: Louise was one of, if not the first child baptized in the church. Before that, most baptisms were done at home on pastoral visitation, but whoever was pastor then thought that babies should be brought to the church now, not like farm people in the old country. Jean was baptized there, of course, and (more from Louise pressure than anything, I imagine) so was I in 1953 even though we didn’t live in New Hampshire. Tracy and I started going to Gethsemane in 1976 and were there 8-plus years. So Jonathan and Ben were baptized there as well, fourth consecutive generation, which I imagine is unusual these days. I also imagine the streak ends there.

That whole Lindquist line has definite characteristics that got obscured by the surname changes. The whole batch of wordsmiths comes down that root, from Henning editing the Swedish newspaper in Manchester, Sunday School Superintendent forever, librarian Jenny and her books and editing, female poets dying young, John August – a shopkeeper – is the person who actually puts pen to paper for the history, guys running off to teach in Brazil, women starting radio shows in the 30’s or selling used books, law profs, theater profs, Louise walloping every living creature at crosswords and jeopardy – except maybe her sisters; editors of the Concord Monitor (Mike’s son Sven is growing big in competitive bridge in DC. Where’d he get that?). All those cousins I lost track of: Wendy, Carly, Joey; Katie and David; just a guess- do they make their livings with words? Your James fits right into that. At the occasional work party or social gathering people will be trying to do some lame song parody that’s just horrible. So I scratch one off in 30 minutes and everyone’s amazed. They don’t get it. Everyone in my family can do this. It’s so easy that we don’t even bother to do it except for each other. Not that there aren’t people who are better than we are at it – I have known several – but it’s just not even a noticeable quality. Most of us musical too – none brilliant, but mostly without effort. Just there. Mention something by Frost and Selma recites it all, plus a little anecdote you can’t find anywhere else. Need an additional verse to O Little Town of Bethlehem to fill time while the shepherds move offstage? No problem.

Even when they go into business they don’t go into business – they teach it. They write about it.

Can you cherry-pick such data from any line? Not the Wallaces or Smiths. Maybe this is actually a Nordstrom thing, but I doubt it. The Wyman line has all blueberry farmers and fishermen from Nova Scotia – not a rumor of anything literary until Al hits the stage at college. All my father’s lines, all Maurice’s lines, show nothing of the sort. I don’t find this in Tracy’s family on any line.

It’s very tribal. It’s a branch of the Arts & Humanities tribe which has been prestigious for so many generations, especially in New England. Our people moved right into that, got christened as members because we had so completely absorbed the values that having poorly educated mill-working forebears meant little. If we’d been dark, or Catholic, it would have been harder, but still in our reach. The marrying-ins were a mixed bag, of course. But for Jonathan and I, it came down straight Lindquist, and we married a librarian and a writing prof. No surprise. What other cultural influence was there going to be? Not my Dad’s culture. Not Maurice’s culture. Carl Nordstrom had died 40 years before. So when we got a new culture – Ken’s, which is as solidly Business Tribe as any in America, both before him and after – and it came with all the emotional baggage of a guy who wanted a pretty young wife but not so much her children – easy to reject and revert to the culture we knew: Jean, Selma, Louise, Esther. That, and the books they were always putting in our laps, was our culture.

New England always had plenty of that A&H Tribe around, as did just about any good liberal-arts college in the 70’s, so I always had a host of natural slots to fit into. I can find my people, if there are any around. There is such an overabundance of them online that I have to cull my bookmarks every few months. I can’t fit in anywhere near enough people I want to read and argue with.

Well, some funny things happened to the Wordsmith Tribe along the way. These things never stand still, and the ideas of classical liberalism, conservatism, freethinking, open-mindedness, cultural preservation and the like got all jumbled. People hung onto different pieces and insisted they were the True Tribe. Meritocracy is a classical liberal idea, because it contrasted with inherited aristocracy. Now meritocracy is contrasted with identity politics and is a conservative idea. Not that the old conservatives necessarily invited them in – they just sort of inherited them by default. Preservation of history and culture is an enormously conservative idea that gradually became the province of people who don’t want to preserve history and culture, but to change how you view it. Being a liberal used to mean allowing kids to be exposed to new ideas, like poetry that didn’t rhyme, or political systems we didn’t follow. It still has a lot of that meaning, but now tends to operate in reverse. We’re not in danger of kids learning too much hagiography about dead white males and founding fathers anymore. My Romanian sons were taught who Harriet Tubman and Chief Seattle were (and that one frosts me, because the speech is an urban legend written in the 70’s. My irritation at the nasty irony of children being born under Ceaucescu being taught fabricated but politically correct history was completely opaque to their teacher. “But it’s important for them to learn about culture from another point of view!” True. How about from one that actually happened, instead?), but Lincoln got missed. So did Franklin. Good thing I sent them to Christian schools first, where they still teach that retrograde stuff. The change is less visible in the upper-middle-class school districts, too, where the teachers tend to some natural conservatism of what they were taught themselves, and assign accordingly. The recommended summer reading lists are insane examples of identity politics over quality. Fortunately, no kid has ever read those books.

It’s not “liberals” who have done up these lists and texts. It’s part of our old Arts & Humanities Tribe, the Wordsmith folks who have done that. And it’s the part that considers itself the True Tribe to represent the Arts & Humanities, even though someone like a Buckley or a Hanson, or a Kimball have a far better claim.

First political comment. The conservative sites online are chockablock full of these guys, people who you read and go, “y’know, that’s how I remember persuasive argument used to be done.” The Arts & Humanities people on the left seem to have picked up another strain of argument from their predecessors, and one I like far less well.

Those parvenus from the social sciences have done their bit, of course. Where they want to overlap with the A&H Tribe has become the new center of gravity for the humanities. They are often arts and literature wannabees, who have only vaguest idea what went on before their own college years, but are very up on Current Stuff. Following the changes in NPR over the years gives some idea of it. NPR used to be the old-line liberals who wanted classical music, light jazz, and talky professors and series documentaries. Would that be conservative now? Sort of. Either way, it’s gone. NPR is now the province of people who are very proud of themselves for not falling for the advertising that the masses do – they fall for another kind of advertising (I still like some of NPR, BTW. But they just can’t help themselves).

The social science people accentuated a tendency already pronounced in the A&H Tribe: argument by sneer and condescension. The Twains and Menckens of the world were fully capable to sustained argument and often exhibited it. But that tendency to merely ridicule was present even then. It makes some sense. Those who live in a world of words are very sensitive to tones of voice and choice of vocabulary. They pick up the social cues of the tribe, and enforcement of tribal standards can appear delicate to outsiders. “Yes. I’ve heard that theory.” Slam.

Now the sneer is very effective because it can sometimes be backed up. If the tone of the group tells you that your little thought is just too ridiculous to even consider, you might be tempted to fight back, if you are very sure. But those who have observed someone who actually does have an incredibly stupid idea trying to prevail against people who sneered because they really do know this stuff, know that it isn’t pretty. As a consequence, it’s a great bluff, much better than a challenge at Scrabble, because you can lose so much more. And if you are in a group who you know agrees with you generally, then so much the better, because even if you personally don’t have the ready response to this foolishness, there’s a good chance someone will, or at least appear to.

Condescension comes to be relied on as an argumentative tool for just this reason. You can usually inflict pain with little risk of retaliation. Every tribe uses it, certainly, but the Wordsmith Tribe is exquisitely skilled at it. So skilled, in fact, that they have devoted much of their talent to the wit of the riposte than to actually, er, knowing anything about the subject. It eventually can become comical, and good writers have lampooned the self-important who look down on others very effectively. But like a tyrannical government until the moment before it falls, the self-important appear powerful until the moment before you see the humor.

On to politics: I go over to Salon and several op-eds; pick up New Yorker or Atlantic (improving!) in the waiting room; follow links that people send me from NYTRB or The Nation. And those aren’t even the far-left, nutroots sites, those are standard Arts and Humanities Tribe newsletters, but the arguments all depend on sneer and condescension. I don’t mean that they use these tools to make a point bitingly; I mean that when you take the sneers out there is very little argument left. Condescension is of course most easily recognized from those one disagrees with, but it’s not impossible to pick it up from any source, even one you are sympathetic to. And it is frankly stunning how little is left of the text of some arguments once you resolve to remove sly and unfair associations.

The left has some arguments to put forward – I have seen them with my own eyes. But they seldom use them. Disdain permeates each paragraph. There are several groups which have some immunity to disdain. The best is that group which actually knows something. But we failed geniuses who ended up in some random profession have considerable immunity as well. Condescension makes my eyes light up. I eat those guys. And because I see them in a different habitat, I notice some things others might miss. And once the theory forms dimly in your mind, suddenly examples of it are popping up all over the place. Yesterday Chris Matthews let slip “I want someone for president who doesn’t own a f-ing ranch!” Really? And why might that be?

There is some evidence that the left doesn’t like George Bush and his “cabal,” “cronies,” junta,” “jack-booted thugs” for his ideas, but there is far more evidence that they don’t like him for who he is. They don’t like his tribe and the tribe who votes for him. They’re southern. They’re in (shudder) business. They profess a faith that was universal but shallow in this country fifty years ago, which means that they’re, they’re something bad.

Bush could have been part of the tribe, but defected. That is unforgivable. Kerry is A&H. Gore is A&H. Bill Clinton was marginal on that, but Hillary was tight, and they brought in all the right sort of people. Dukakis: Swarthmore, liberal arts, even if ethnic. Mondale A&H. Reagan, no way. Bush 41, a crossover. Both Business and A&H tribes.

Democrats are worried that the far left is going to defect and not vote for Hillary if she’s nominated. Ridiculous. They can’t help themselves. She’s their tribe, they’ll wail and gnash their teeth and vote for her. Is she too obviously ambitious, conscienceless, positionless? It doesn’t matter. These are the A&H members who believe themselves to be the true heirs. And they believe that their tribe should rule, because it knows more. Hmm.

This is not just some wild guess of mind-reading on my part. This is what these folks let slip repeatedly whenever they think they are talking about issues. Great example from the Harvard Crimson illustrating this this week.

You can’t turn on news or pick up the news without seeing some guy or gal from the Clinton White House working for a network or newspaper. Of course journalists liked them before. It’s their tribe. Deep sounds unto deep, as the scriptures say. The State Department? How many of those guys were Chem majors, do ya think? Or International Business?

When I made my comment about liberals fighting for the soul of America, instead of fighting terrorism, that struck a chord. I think this is most of it. Our tribe should rule, as it started to in 1992. 1994 was described as – yes – a coup d’etat in the mainstream press. Repeatedly. Doesn’t that strike people as a little fevered, a little odd? The fury and resentment from 1994 played out throughout the Clinton years, and into the 2000 election. The Republicans had stolen, had usurped, had somehow cheated their way into power. They had played on base prejudices. They had tricked people with clever advertising or something. They had done something funny with the votes. The fact that the evidence for these things was bizarre didn’t matter. People knew that something had been stolen, they just weren’t sure how. It wasn’t right, and all sensible people knew it.

So then it had to ramp up from there. Cue Darth Vader music under whenever Cheney is mentioned. If you have access to a few years of Time and Newsweek covers at the library, just browse them for the last few years. Yes, the conservative’s face is half in shadow, or peering darkly in the background. He is frowning. The headline begs the question it answers. All of the left side of the internet went berserk in the fall when Newsweek had a different cover on its international and American editions. Uh, welcome to our world, guys. If you think that kind of advertising isn’t powerful, then why do people A) pay so much for advertising and B) scream like stuck pigs when it goes against them?

So all this privacy stuff comes up. These are all bananas we ate decades ago, and less information than Amazon has about you, and it’s the end of the republic. The A&H crowd in Europe doesn’t like Bush either – now there’s a surprise, so American liberals are all embarrassed and humiliated that such a man is representing us. Well, India liked him okay. There’s a billion people right there. Eastern Europe loves him. Mexico likes him better than anyone else we’ve had. And when he actually goes places in Europe, not so many seem to be upset with him. Just the A& H Tribe. Who cares? That tribe, on both sides of the Atlantic, has less military and business knowledge than our other tribes. They do know about Goethe, though.

My contention is that there is no way of knowing what the Arts & Humanities tribe, the second best-educated tribe in America (Science and Technology is first), would have for political beliefs if they weren’t advertised and manipulated into them. It’s that NPR style of advertising, of course. We don’t have commercials like those icky other stations. You’re too smart for that. Our listeners are independent thinkers. Yeah right. No one is more easily manipulated than the intelligentsia. Underneath the discussions of issues, there aren’t many issues. It’s the tribe.

"Why you fool, it's the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers?…But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 1943