Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bracket Scoring

By my method, I have 113 points (the 2nd most I have ever had). By Kate's method, I am sitting 84. Monday night, I will either remain at those totals, or have 145-90.

A good year, either way.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

19th Century Hymnody - Jesus, the Cosmic Pal

The words I, me, my begin to show up with great frequency in the 19th C. Theology increasing stressed “personal relationship” rather than corporate belief, and this is reflected in the hymnody. Look at the following hymn-titles (I’m not linking individually to cyberhymnal this time. You can go yourself) and note how many fall into this “ me, talkin’ to Jesus” pattern: about half. If you know the lyrics, they only reinforce the thought.

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine…
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…

This Is My Father’s world
O Worship the King All Glorious Above
Praise the Lord His Glories Show
Praise My Soul The King of Heaven
Stand Up and Bless the Lord
My Jesus I Love Thee
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
Sweet Hour of Prayer
What a Friend We Have In Jesus
He Leadeth Me
All the Way, My Saviour Leads Me
I Need Thee Every Hour
Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
Rejoice Ye Pure In Heart
Immortal, Invisible
For The Beauty Of The Earth
Come Christians, Join to Sing
Crown Him With Many Crowns
Breathe On Me Breath of God
Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart
Faith Of Our Fathers
Lead On O King Eternal
Once To Every Man and Nation

More subtly, pronouns are used more often for God and Jesus as well. The intimate Thee, Thy, are still used, but they have less of their family-closeness meaning, and are used increasingly for their archaic cachet. Where the earlier hymns had been more likely to address God with some proper name or title, in the 1800’s He and You become more common. I attach no especial significance to that, as the psalms are loaded with these conversation pronouns also. But the frequency becomes great in the 19th C, and will become even more pronounced in the Camp Meeting hymns we will discuss later. It may be that the use of everyday pronouns instead of titles for God produces both more intimacy and less awe.

The other half are clear descendants of the hymns of previous centuries – the greatness and glory of God, expressed in complex lyric and harmony – and the we, us approach has not vanished.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty…
The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord…

I wonder if the me-ness is related to the increased movement of the English-speaking peoples. Colonists may have arrive in North America two centuries before, but the lineage often moved just the once – to Massachusetts or Virginia or New Jersey – and then remained fairly close to their original settlement area for generations. Not until the late 18th C do we start to see great internal migration in the US and Canada, and within Great Britain itself. In the 19th Century this accelerates, and people may have seen themselves less as parts of communities and more as individuals. This theology of personal relationship would have more appeal for the uprooted, the isolated, and the itinerant.

This nostalgiac emphasis shows up in popular music of the time as well. I think every Irish song of the 19th Century is about “the girl I left behind who waits for me still back in _____, while I work here in ______.”

The archaic language may have much the same purpose. He leadeth me – that “eth” had dropped out of conversational English long before. Mine eyes have seen the glory, Rejoice ye pure in heart – similarly obsolete. The anachronism may have provided a sense of connectedness to not only the past, but the Church itself. One might be hundreds of miles from a birthplace and worshipping alone or with a small group of strangers, but still feel some connection because of the continuity.

Such archaisms don’t connect us to the historical church as a whole, but only a small part. The “old” ways and “ancient” language we feel an affection for might be only a century old itself, or a few at most. No matter, they predate our own birth and were used in our childhood churches, which gives them some stamp of authenticity. We remain connected to the true faith, we think, because it is in the form we originally received it in.

This sentiment is my explanation for the persistence of people insisting against all logic on the King James as the only reliable translation. It is not mere nostalgia, but an impression of authenticity. It was the form our grandfathers used, and their grandfathers also, which is our guarantee that what we believe must still be the true faith. KJV advocates even use the term textus receptus for the early documents that this particular translation was made from: the Received Text. The faith as received from time immemorial. The fact that we have added meanings and interpretations that our grandfathers knew not we can ignore. Same translation, same faith.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Comfort Food

We bought Holland Rusks for my mother-in-law, who was conceived in Holland and spent her early years eating Dutch foods. Holland Rusks are now used, if at all, as a platform to put other things on, not as a stand-alone food. She eats them plain. I understand her comment: "They taste like sawdust, but they're familiar."

An elderly daughter of Swedish immigrants informed us one Christmas season that she was hurrying home to make lutfisk for her husband. "Does he like it?" we asked in amazement. She paused. "No, but he doesn't think it would be Christmas without it."

For my mother, also of Swedish extraction, all comfort foods were based on thickened milk: cream-dried beef; an impossibly bland Welsh rarebit that was nothing more than milk-and-melted-cheddar poured over Saltines; tapioca pudding, or rice pudding with a little cinnamon. (Those remain comfort foods for me as well, along with Campbell's cream-of-tomato with Ritz crackers in it.)

I wonder if fast foods have become the comfort foods of the following generations. McDonald's french fries are not very good. But they continually top the "best fries" charts, and I love them, too.

Making Life Like Film

The biggest wanker in my department made yet another narcissistic, irrelevant, incomprehensible statement at our last department meeting. My neighbor suggested: "Some people should come with subtitles."

Or laugh tracks. Whenever I watch a clip of Hillary Clinton, I don't get angry so much as just puzzled that there is no laughter at her statements. That 1984 Two-Minute-Hate takeoff one of Obama's supporters just did - the one based on the Apple commercial about IBM - may express some Great Truth, but when I hear her, I just can't work up fear. I just hear these vacuities and expect a laugh track. Think how great it would be to just be able to insert laugh tracks behind people who are full of themselves and make vacuous comments. I'm thinking the UN would be a place to start.

Narration or soundtracks behind people's lives - sure, but it's been done so many times. If Monty Python was already doing sendups of something 3o years ago, it can't have become less hackneyed in the meantime.

Rolling credits. That would be definitely cool, letting people know who was responsible for your strengths and weaknesses.

Last of the March Reprises

I'm clumping the few remaining writings of interest (Ed: to me, that's who) from last March.

People Of The Lie/ The Great Divorce
Criminals protesting their innocense will also attempt to seize on a single point, holding it aloft as a lone card they believe should trump all others. “They never interviewed my wife, like they’re supposed to.” Never mind that the police have the robbery on film, or found the drugs in your sock drawer, or the victim’s blood on your shoes. “They never interviewed my wife.” Anyone who deals often with criminals knows dozens of these excuses: “It wasn’t a valid search warrant because…” “They didn’t ask if I’m diabetic…” “I can prove I sold that gun to my brother…”
Continue here:

Many of us have deep suspicions of religious or cultural groups which play to our emotions. If I detect that a speaker is trying to "work the crowd" according to an insincere formula, I automatically draw back, not only from the speaker, but the crowd as well. Don't these people get it? The swelling music, the slides in the background with the pictures of babies and puppies? Are they that stupid?
Continue here:

An Opposite Is Often True
Sad women brought to the hospital for suicidality will tell us "my children are everything to me." Well, yeah, except that you spend the rent money on drugs, won't leave the boyfriend who beats them, and overdosed where they would be the most likely ones to find you. Other than that, I see that your children are very important to you.
Continue here:

Alexander Vs. 300

I sent my film-maker son Victor Davis Hanson's review of 300. Hanson praises 300, and the earlier Rome in passing, pithily describing why. Though Hanson is an historian of the era, it was not only because of historical inaccuracy that he disliked Alexander. But I think Ben's reply really gets to the heart of the matter.
Alexander gave us an Irishman in a blond wig with an Oedipus complex and a homosexual bent, instead of what we really wanted: extreme slow-motion decapitations.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Okay, now I'm torqued off. I'm collecting examples from the left side of the Internet that actually has something encouraging or sympathetic to say about Tony Snow having a re-occurrence of cancer. I have seen plenty of vile hate at Daily Kos, DU, Huffpo, and other progressive sites (thankfully, 90% of the viciousness is in the comments, not the posts). Are there any definitely left sites which have posted kind comments unmixed with gratuitous nastiness?

On a related note, please send me any examples of conservative sites which have posted a hope that Elizabeth Edwards would suffer or die. I am seeing nothing but the kindest wishes for her to date.

This contrast is simply abominable. Please restore my faith that there remain some on the left who retain human decency.

Who Receives The Most Benefit From Government?

Over at Willisms, there is an interesting graph (as usual. The guy loves those things)* about which income group receives the most back from government for its tax dollar. The data weights heavily toward the premise that lower incomes receive much more back in government services than other groups do. There is merit to that.

The usual counterargument is that the rich benefit most from good government because they fortuitously live in an environment that allows them to become wealthy. There is merit to that, also.

Looking for the complementary argument that it is actually the middle-class that benefits most from government, I immediately recognised that the middle-class basically doesn’t exist under bad government/economic arrangement. The rich exist even under bad government, the poor even under bad government, but it takes a certain level of economic freedom for the middle class to even exist. So perhaps it is they who receive the most benefit from government.

It matters very much what one is measuring that the government provides to determine who is getting the most of it. Airports are given to all, but are received more by the rich. Or is it the employees of local hotels and restaurants who benefit most from the airport? Subsidised transit is offered to all, but is received more by the poor. Except commuter transit from the suburbs. Do the poor receive more police protection, because there are more policemen in their neighborhoods, or is it the wealthy and middle-class who receive more, because they have more to protect and depend on stability? Who benefits more from the military or fire department? And in the case of an ambiguous or uneven benefit such as public education, which is fine in some places and terrible in others, who gets the most bang for their buck from its existence?

Yeah, as if I’d know the answer to that.

* Willisms has a great caption contest every week also, for those who like those.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bracket Scoring Reality Check

I am running a very respectable 89 points in my bracket. But if someone picked the eventual winner and runner up, and no other games correctly that person would have 94 points: 32 for the championship, plus 31 points for all the champion's wins up to the final, plus 31 for the runner-up's wins up to the final (16 + 8 + 4...). You could coin flip the rest and win most office pools.

Nothing beats picking the final winner - all else is illusion. I have three of the final four, but don't have the one team I now think will win, Florida.

Another Controversy

Rush Limbaugh apparently took some flak for making a cynical comment about John Edwards on Friday, and several blogs are reporting he felt vindicated today. I didn't know the facts, so I looked them up. I love search engines.

On Friday, Rush said
Now, let me say something else that might be accused of cynicism. What is their religion? I don't doubt they're "religious people," but we talked about how political people are different than you and I -- and, you know, most people when told a family member's been diagnosed with the kind of cancer Elizabeth Edwards has, they turn to God. The Edwards turned to the campaign. Their religion is politics and the quest for the White House. It's not just with them. That's part and parcel of political people.
Note the generic "political people," not specific to Edwards, progressives, or Democrats, though he uses that background idea as an explanation for Edwards' behavior.

Elizabeth Edwards quote to Katie Couric:
"This is what we believe in. This is what we're spending our lives doing. It's where our heart and soul is. And we can not stop."
Darn close to being a religion, I'd say. I am not prescribing any specific action that I think "real" Christians would do in the face of this news. I have no idea. But the underlying attitude bothers me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Not About Lacrosse

I have not commented on the Duke lacrosse team case because I have had nothing to add, and what I would say has been said better by others. But after Dr. Sanity's mention of the general brouhaha, I observed in the comments that people were slightly off-kilter in their interpretation. Not wrong, just misattributing.

The Gang of 88 are not ignoring the facts because they are inconvenient, as most folks encountering uncomfortable realities would be. They are ignoring them because they consider them unimportant. This is a type of unreality most of us are not familiar with.

I am ahead of myself. This post is connected to my (serious) one on Deconstruction.

Once there was an accusation, the case would in any event be of great interest to the people involved, Duke University, and the people of Durham. But it would have been simply a blip on the screen to the rest of the nation, except for two additions to the story. First, the prosecutor turns out to have gone forward on the charges on the basis of very slight, and quite contradictory evidence. This would have brought the case more notoriety, but still no more than a seven-day wonder. We read about such things all the time in a country of 300,000,000 people, and most of us shrug, hope that the prosecutor is punished if he is wrong, or the accused punished if they actually did it, and think no more about it.

What kept this story alive was the behavior of 10% of the Duke faculty and an undetermined, but visible, percentage of the student body. Not only did they rush to judgment, assuming the lacrosse players were guilty before the story was known, but they have not changed the heart of their story even as the facts have unfolded. They are backpedaling slightly from imputing guilt, but are now painting themselves as the victims because they were criticised all around the country. They can thus portray their overall narrative, and not their own foolishness, as being under attack. In their mind, they are being attacked not because the facts were against them, but because the "truth" they bring is uncomfortable to hear. They believe the message would have been rejected anyway, regardless of the evidence.

Facts are not the same thing to these people as they are to you and me. The narrative of what the world is, how it works, and their place in it is so much more powerful to them that it begins to overwhelm actual events. It is a special type of unreality. To any postmodernist - and all of us are at least a bit more postmodernist than our grandparents would have been - truth is culturally conditioned and facts can look different from different angles. All of us acknowledge the mild forms of this these days. Because we hate the extreme versions of relativeness, we may say that we are thoroughgoing modernists, but few of us are. We allow that beauty, truth, and reality may be a little soft around the edges at places. Indeed, Solomon, Plato, and other ancients said much the same thing. It is not a new idea.

But we do not believe that truth, beauty, and reality are soft all the way through. We believe that such things actually exist and have a certain recalcitrance to being modified for our convenience. We believe it is really our perception that is soft around the edges, not reality itself. We approximate to knowledge of a solid thing, and so are humble about drawing bright lines - because we may have misperceived or seen what we wanted rather than what is. But the thing itself - Truth, Beauty, Reality - is solid at its core. It is Truth "right the way down," as Pooh might say.

Arts and Humanities faculties at our "better" universities believe this much less than we do. We might ask how they make it through the day, then.

They do it with divided mind. If the mechanic fixes the tie rods on the car and the problem goes away, they believe it was the tie rods, just like the rest of us. If the recipe says "cook 20 minutes at 350 degrees" then they do that, just like the rest of us. But as things move into the area of judgment, they are much quicker to find things debatable than the rest of us. The power of their narrative is great enough to overwhelm simple observations.

They assume the same is true for us. They thought the Duke lacrosse players were guilty because their narrative states that rich southern white males oppress blacks and females, so guilt was likely. They assume, then, that people rushed to their defense not because the evidence was poor, but because our narrative is that southern white males don't oppress (or should be allowed to oppress) blacks and females. They assume it is our narrative which drives our belief, and their noble goal is to undermine our narrative for the good of society. They do not believe that people who disagree with them do so with good intention, but because we believe in and must defend an oppressive narrative. They find it significant that people didn't even want to talk about it.

Because what they want to do is "talk about it," engaging us on a battlefield where they know the terrain and we don't.

Brief tangent: some might argue at this juncture that what we are seeing here is a religion, and that more traditionally religious people do the same thing, reinterpreting simple events in terms of larger realities. I will not defend Christianity against the charge here. I will note only that the charge is partly true, and the counterargument is rather long; long, because it is actually many partial proofs. None of the proofs can be forced through to the end to prove Christianity true, QED. But all point in the same direction.

Back on track: They are adamant that it is they who are the misunderstood victims here because it is still possible that their narrative is true. Because it has not been absolutely disproven, they believe it should still be on the table for discussion. The pettifogging insistence on following the law they see as a mere technicality. The larger truth is that rich southern white males oppress women and African-Americans. That we do not wish to enter that Conversation (a frightening word on the lips of a thoroughgoing postmodernist) is proof that we are refusing to consider the idea at all.

How can people attain such a level of unreality? I will have some observations about that over the next month.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Brackets and the Perception of Rreality

This is not a post about basketball.

Part of the "fun" of March Madness is the anticipation and progression of watching your point totals unfold. "I've got a great bracket." "I've got a terrible bracket." "My porridge is too cold."

But all the points are loaded at the end, making what we think are the important parts unimportant. If you pick the Final Four and those last three games correctly, you have a great, great, bracket, regardless of what has gone before. If you don't pick the eventual winner you have a lousy bracket, regardless of what went before. We approach the scoring from the wrong end, because that is the way we move in time.

Your career, your marriage, the War in Iraq, the economy, and the development of your character, you perceive in the same way, looking for signs to tell you what is to come. Because the larger events are unknown and we feel the need to narrate things as if we have some control and understanding, we over-read the details.

Jokes I'm Tired Of

Feel free to add your own. This may become a regular feature.

People who say "See you next year" every December 31st. At least none of us will ever have to endure "See you next century - no, see you next millennium" ever again.

I am tired of people pronouncing Target as "tarjhay." It was cute when I first heard it fifteen years ago.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Amazingly Sad and Despicable

An Iraqi car-bomber got through the American checkpoint because there were children in the back seat, lowering suspicions. The bombers ran off and detonated the car with the children still in it.

The AP refers to them as "insurgents," BTW. A tangential but very irritating point.


John Edwards' wife has "boney mets," a very bad cancer sign, though not as bad as that would have been even five years ago. While I have not been a fan of Edwards' politics, I don't wish that fear on any man, and certainly not the greater anxiety she must feel. Their children are not grown. Money and power are not proof against the great fears, only the minor ones.

Deconstruction Followup - Conference and Workshop

Now that you have received permission to use deconstruction, that tool of the infidels, we can play with it a little. My little essay was written on a blog with a mock-humble name. What does the media choice and title tell us about who I believe is privileged to speak on the issue of deconstruction?

No, sorry, I forgot. Deconstruction is supposed to be directed at others, never oneself.

The speaker rises to (ad)dress the conference party(ci)pants
Over at Fair Trade Certified, aspiring poetess bsking offers 7 haiku. Because she is short, and writes from an emergent medical environment, we might think she has chosen this form out of envy and repect for Asian placidity and self-control, strongly identifying with those cultures, however stereotypically perceived as Oriental Other. A deeper look reveals many darker impulses. The use of Latin titles of medieval categories of “sin,” suggests that only Christians of the Western Tradition are privileged to speak about art and morality. The use of the the more westernised 5-7-5 syllabic format rather than the more traditionally eastern 2-3-2 syllabic, or 5-7-5 consonantal haiku confirms this hegemonic silencing of the nonwhite subaltern voice. The ancient East Asian tradition is not only suppressed, but actively decapitated by the usurpation of naming-rights in what is quite literally a “high-coup.”

The choice of pseudonym “bsking” is also highly revealing. Is this a zero-grade form of “basking,” or “busking,” suggesting a personal privileging that (super)imposes itself on all other authorities? Or is the lower-case “b,” “s,” “king” meant to playfully suggest that the poetess’s own insecurity with her female Voice is a mere mask to conceal her status in a patriarchal society as “liar,” and “pile of dung?” It is neither. She has avoided the title “queen” for its sexual ambiguity, further reinforcing her rigid Christianist, heteronormative paradigm. S(he) – if her adoption of the feminine role is based on traditional bio-logical notions of vaginal “possess”-ion – is ambivalent about all archaic titles of royalty because she is ambivalent about Power itself. The conflict remains unresoved, as (s)he settles on identifying with the more powerful patriarchal form, but with a lower-case “k.”

Once she has identified with the oppressor in this way, however reluctantly, her claims to having received these poems in a dream or dreamlike state must be interpreted in that light. She is denying agency, distancing herself from the more logic-bound, rationalist state of the oppressor, attempting to retain her Voice by giving it to another, for which see serves the hypertraditional female role of hand-maiden, scribing for an invasive and irresistable male oppressor-poet. She has avoided giving attribution to a female Muse, and has scrupulously avoided the Names of Days for her week of poems, as some of these are powerful female goddesses whose presence she must not acknowledge.

The poetess’s claims that the form was chosen for its convenience, after an actual dream-state, and that her pseudonym is based on her given name are abviously false, and a further attempt to deny the impossible contradictions of be-ing and creat-ing in her own Voice.

Note to audience: We’re having an informal gathering of the conference speakers and selected attractive graduate students when this is over, and you’re not invited.


All beliefs and expressions are influenced by their speakers and cultures, undermining their claim to universal truth. This is nowhere more true than among the postmodern intelligentsia. To note that Plato, Shakespeare, Aquinas all had views conditioned by their surrounding cultures – yes, yes of course. But so too do you, my postmodernist, or marxist feminist friend. You also are conditioned by your culture. Not the Western popular culture which you so easily despise, but your culture, the ideas hidden underneath the words of your postmodernist and marxist feminist associates. You are not a prisoner of your father’s values, but of your friends’ values.

Deconstruction has a bad name in conservative circles, but we use something like it all the time. One does not have to believe that all of reality is merely a construction based on uncertain assumptions to use the techniques of deconstruction. Everyone, in fact, believes that some other people have constructed a world-view that is a house of cards. Atheists believe that of religious people. Religious people believe that of atheists. Few of us are good at deconstructing our own beliefs, though we might make attempts in limited areas.

But really, among the academics who use the tools of deconstruction all the time, which of them has deconstructed the writings of the anti-war movement? To deconstruct is to reveal the underlying assumptions* of a set of ideas. The critic reads the text noticing not only what is written, but what is left out. Say we read a history and note that there are no women mentioned. Reflecting on why the source documents don’t mention them, or why the current author did not endeavor to discover something about them, or why editors would pass over this, or your professor assign the work is to begin to deconstruct the text. Discovering hidden psychological issues, looking at words chosen and words seemingly avoided, examining how the writer believes she knows what she knows – these are all deconstructive tools. In the visual arts, examining the background, the size, the materials, the juxtaposition can all be revealing.

Elaborations on this can go far afield, noting the seeming accidental sound correspondence between words that reveal parallel or reverse meaning. Important sounds much like impotent, and a text that overuses or overemphasizes the former term may be unconsciously suggesting the latter. Objections to deconstructionist readings often fasten in ridicule on such distant associations. A deconstructionist would maintain that working often in this environment of hidden and elusive associations teaches one to perceive them more easily. The objectivist would maintain that the delicate and subtle threads of this cloth are in fact nothing at all, and that the emperor has no clothes.

I find deconstruction in the limited sense to be a useful tool for reading and understanding speech and writing. It is a type of critical reading which looks underneath, beside, behind, and in the mirror. There is something quite addictive about it, however, and the desire to see deeper and deeper into the mysteries which elude lesser mortals is quite sweet to entertain. Deconstruction can easily disintegrate into codespeak among practitioners, congratulating themselves that their opacity of expression proves their exceptional abilities of understanding.

Deconstruction is a weapon meant to be used on one’s own personal and collective beliefs, which everyone uses on others instead. Modernists and postmodernists both use it, with this difference: postmodernists claim they use it on everyone, including themselves; modernists claim they use it on no one. Both use it on the other.

Those who read around among the psychbloggers should note that deconstruction is very much what Dr. Sanity, One Cosmos, and others do. They note what things are left out of progressive arguments, what reverse or punning meanings apply, what authorities progressives “privilege” to speak, and what all this means for understanding their texts.

*Yes, that is a very simplified definition, but you’d be surprized how well it holds up in practice. There is considerable resistance to any simple definition of deconstruction, as definition itself gets caught up in frameworks of epistemology and authority. Nonetheless, however long Derrida, DeMan and their devotees go on about how elusive it is to define deconstruction, and how it is all about the conversation that one has with the texts and our viewing of them, whenever they actually deconstruct something, this is what they do.

I relate this to the Duke Men's lacrosse case here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Solzhenitsyn's Harvard Commencement Address

About 29 years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave the commencement address at Harvard. I cannot express to younger readers how much uproar it created in the academy at the time. Solzhenitsyn was a lion, who had proved by his imprisonment and persecution in the Soviet Union that he had both courage and fortitude. The press and many of the public intellectuals of the day had succeeded by their pressure and influence in liberating him from the Soviet Union and securing him a place in the West. He was a darling of both the Left and the Right, but especially of the media, for he had published under persecution, and thus accomplished what they dreamed.

In his commencement address he criticised in bold terms both journalists and intellectuals, who felt they deserved only his gratitude. The press tried immediately to portray his remarks as being ungrateful to America and the West. They attempted to equate his criticism of their work as a disparagement of a free press in general. At the time I, who had been deeply shaken as a child by the early TV production of One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch, swallowed the media line that the great novelist had become merely a crank since coming to the West, and never read the text of the speech until the 1990's. I claimed it said what others had told me it said. I still admired the Russian's writings, but "only the Early Solzhenitsyn," pretending to a familiarity with his work that I did not (and still do not - I have read only two more of his books, plus some writing about him by respected others) have.

The speech was prescient. On the matter of intellectual fashions he wrote:
Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

If you cannot read the whole speech, scroll down at least to read "Convergence," and "The Direction of the Press."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


ESPN really tries to showcase women's basketball, especially the tournament. Has anyone clicked on those links even once?

Rats Laughing.

No, really. Video of rats laughing

Monday, March 19, 2007

Magic Words

There is a site, I think inspired by Richard Dawkins, that encourages people to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” on film and put it up on YouTube. There is an answering site of (mostly) young Christians encouraging people to put their affirmation of the Holy Spirit on film and put it up on YouTube. It would be a simple matter to search out what these sites are and link to them, but that would suggest a level of interest I don’t have. A young friend of mine has shown me some of both on his computer. I trust they are representative of at least one strain of videos of the two opposite declarations.

What I have seen is earnest and orthodox, but essentially banal and cliched affirmation, countered by immature anger that is not even good blasphemy. These are declarations of blasphemy which would get laughed out of a high-school Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
“Okay, I take his staff and I blaspheme his god. What happens?”
“How exactly are you blaspheming his god?”
“I, uh, say I blaspheme thee. I blaspheme thee. I blaspheme thee.
“Roll d20.”
“Your own deity strips you of two wisdom points. Wanker.”
Without getting into an extended theological discussion, blasphemy is more complicated and time-consuming than that. It involves the whole personality, and includes a renunciation of not just what other people think is good, but of what you yourself know to be good. These people want Blasphemy Lite. Pathetic.

Is it harmless? No, of course it isn’t harmless, you bufflehead. Acts of seeking evil or flouting goodness are never innocent. But saying a few magic words doesn’t put you on any all-star team – neither the Cosmic Deniers nor the Courageous Honesties. Get a life.

In an earlier era, abusers of Christianity created complex rituals and symbols in mockery of the Catholic Mass, putting dung in the censers or hanging crosses upside down. That is still pretty lame stuff – any fifth-grader can produce symbolic negations – but involved some time-commitment and intentionality that brings it closer to real blasphemy. Even then, they attracted a lot of folks who just wanted to show what bad dudes and cultural rebels they were, but not so many people who wanted to engage in much more evil than some promiscuity and wrist-cutting. I take it back – that wasn’t much in the way of blasphemy either.

There is a current strain of Christianity which is a magic-words Gospel, a gross oversimplification of Anabaptist teachings. Just say the magic words, and you’re saved forever. At one level, I like to think that God will take any poor excuse or technicality to bring us Home, but magic words theology flies in the face of some verses of Scripture. People make a declaration and are saved, but the ones we hear about seem to have continued on in action as well. The Prodigal Son actually did come home, after all, rather than being magically transported at his death to his father’s arms.

As the old satanists tried to blaspheme by inverting the Catholic tradition, these kids are trying to blaspheme by inverting the magic-words tradition. It reminds me of nothing so much as childhood arguments with my brother over who had called getting the front seat.

Justice Vs. Limiting Injustice

Reprinted from last March

My nephew asked a few posts ago about presumption of innocence in our system -- whether the fact that a guilty rich man could go free with expensive lawyers, while an innocent man with poor representation is condemned, illustrated a presumption of innocence.

People who have studied the history of law can explain to me how my ideas keep coming up every century but have to be shot down as stupid, but I'll have a stab at it.

I suspected immediately that the question is dependent on another, and reflection has not changed my mind. Is the purpose of law to create justice, or to limit injustice?

Our hearts would ask of our laws that they created justice, but the practical experience of actual law suggests otherwise. Even when God gives law, the majority of the 10 Commandments are negative expressions. When Jesus is asked to name the greatest of the laws, he quotes summary statements of positive law: Love God, Love your neighbor. His teachings in the Gospel of Matthew 5 through 7 also include mostly positive, justice-seeking law. These are also some of the hardest chapters to endure, as they command of us a level of justice we immediately know we cannot attain.

I take from this that using law to create justice is the higher expression, but one so far out of reach that we immediately resort to something lower that we can handle. Jesus says as much when discussing divorce, giving the positive command of what the perfection of marriage should look like. When the disciples protest that this is too hard, complaining that Moses gave them an out, Jesus acknowledges that Moses did indeed offer a law to limit injustice, because of their hardness of heart.

If Jesus barely dares to push us that far, it isn't surprizing that American law seldom aims so high. We may speak highly of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, but when it comes down to actually enumerating what the laws will be, they begin "Congress shall make no law..."

We might hope to create perfect justice in any situation, and perhaps it is worth trying to frame a law that way. But more likely, positive justice will be a sword too sharp, too able to create misery if used incautiously. The utopian communities and governments illustrate this. Idealistic, aspirational communism created the greatest horrors of the 20th C. Settling for limiting the injustice in a fallen world, attempting not to prevent injustice but to respond to and remedy it, has produced the more peaceful society.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When Christian and Nutritional Myths Coincide

A repeated post from last March. The comments were good.

Things like this just make me crazy. A quote from The Maker's Diet, by Jordan S. Rubin.
History reveals that the healthiest people in the world were generally the most primitive people as well! Our ancestors rarely died from the diet-and lifestyle-related illnesses that kill most modern people before their time, mainly because they ate more healthfully and had more active lifestyles. (p. 32)

I don't know anything about the value of Rubin's subsequent advise on diet. And I'm not going to find out either, because this is so amazingly stupid that I won't trust a single thing I read from this point forward.

They died young. Their "lifestyle" consisted of brutal labor and frequent malnutrition.

continue reading here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Church Emphasis

I am still reading up on the Emerging Church, and will eventually offer opinions. Akafred sent me an article about another movement, the Simple Church. In the last two decades there have also been movements of Seeker-Friendly and Purpose-Driven churches. While there is always danger in various bandwagons, the Assistant Village Idiot notices the obvious here: these movements are all about church development. In the 1970's and 80's Christian literature leaned much more to personal growth, personal evangelism, personal fulfillment. Underneath the specific fashions there has been a sea-change. The emphasis is on community rather than individual Christianity. Though that carries some risks and blind spots of its own, I have to think that is overall a good thing.

Blogging Against Sexism

According to Bethany over at Fair Trade Certified, the official day for this was March 8. I thought I'd wait until I actually things to say. It's a guy thing.

John Tierney over at the NYTimes - one of the bright spots in that wasteland - has an article on The Laugh Gap, the phenomenon of men telling more jokes, women laughing at them, as a window into evolutionary psychology. He quotes heavily from Robert Provine, who has done a fair bit of research into the matter.
Professor Provine demonstrated this difference by analyzing more than 3,000 personal ads in newspapers in eight American cities, keeping track of how often people sought someone with a sense of humor, and how often they advertised themselves as being funny. He found that women sought laughter more than they promised it, whereas for men it was the reverse: they were more likely to advertise their own sense of humor. “The evidence is clear,” he writes in “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation,” his 2000 book. “Women seek men who make them laugh, and men are anxious to to comply with this request.”

Dave Barry has revealed the secret that men actually have a special joke-storage area in their brains that women lack. The Joke Proper is a skill seldom mastered by women, for whatever reason. I know men who cannot tell a joke, because they always leave out a key component of the setup, or don't get the phrasing of punchlines quite streamlined enough to be funny, but I know far more women who can't get this right. I don't see anything of a general mental ability lacking in women that shows up in other areas that would explain the butchering of jokes. There may be some subtle interaction of brain differences which would give males some slight but innate advantage that leads them to expand upon this skill from a young age, but it's not obvious to me, at any rate. The better working hypothesis would be that it is a skill valued more in men, by both men and women, and thus attracts more effort. I don't buy that it is predominantly a mating strategy, as it shows up very early, and first comes to great prominence in males in latency.

Admittedly, an evolutionary psychologist would claim that this suggests there is an innate difference in male and female brains, because the ability expresses long before it is needed, granting the necessary development time for the skill. I have no good argument against that except to claim that such innate abilities would show up in other areas as well. Unless Dave Barry is right and there is a joke-remembering area of the brain.

More can be learned by regarding humor not as a separate phenomenon - because not everyone finds the same things funny - but as a tool one uses to advertise other aspects of one's personality. Outrageousness, cleverness, wordplay, insult, wryness, self-mockery, silliness, irony - these all telegraph different underlying personalities. A man who wishes to be funny might use all of these, but will gravitate to those he does best, advertising his other characteristics of courage, intelligence, self-control, self-confidence, or whatever he thinks will get him a job, or a meal, or a mate.

My wife finds that making me laugh is enormously gratifying. She has said it often enough that I accept it, but it seems odd to me, as I laugh at so many things. Perhaps because laughter is so important to me, she wishes to have the concrete proof that she is valuable to me. But quite frankly, I look to my sons and my male friends for laughter, with only a very few females seen in that role. When women attempt to be funny I do laugh often - they have commented on it at work, with mixed gratitude and surprise. That people would even wish to be funny I regard as a liberating signal in conversation. If people want to joke, that is a signal of relative safety, if you keep your wits about you.

Skimmer alert: And this brings us to one of the survival aspects of humor. Men use it to discern aggression. A male who is a potential competitor or adversary in any sense signals by humor that he is less likely to resort to violence or underhandedness. Certain types of male humor, in fact, reveal in their clumsiness that the speaker will in fact resort to violence or dishonesty. That male attempts humor as a mark of cooperation, but the falseness of it leaks out. Misogynistic humor, for example, is common among men. But there are enormous variations, and men who are not violent or exploitative can pick up quickly the humor of a male who clearly is a threat to be violent or exploitative to women. The attempt at humor reveals simple cruelty or complete misreading of social cues. Such men are dangerous. We might smile at the humor in politeness, but we file that information away: this male is not a competitor for females in my group - he's too stupid - but he may be dangerous to females in my group. Be alert. It's really irritating, BTW, when females in your group fall for such dangerous clowns, even if you have no particular stake in that particular female as wife, sister, friend, daughter, etc. Perhaps that is quite primal and tribal - a warning sign that we have among us a woman who doesn't pick up the cues.

I imagine that women have similar complaints about the men of their tribes, with similar justice. We, in some inchoate sense, are endangered by such things.

Men's laughter with each other is an experience of solidarity beyond mere pleasantness. If Camille Paglia is right about Dr. Lionel Tiger's theory of Men in Groups, most what propels a group forward is the collective behavior of its males - hunting, building bridges, exploring. Women's behavior, in this theory, is preservative and maintenance behavior of the day-to-day. In this model, behaviors which promote cooperative among males are beneficial for the tribe long-term, and humor is one of those behaviors.

Women's laughter with each other seems to these outside male ears to be of a different character: the solidarity sought is not the same thing. Thus, laughter and humor mean different things to men and women, and are rewarded differently - in the family, in the gender-group, in the age cohort, in courtship.

Friday, March 16, 2007

New Snowblower

The storm had already started, and I had rejected what was left of the winter stock at Home Depot. I continued on to Lowe's in the slipperiest driving I had seen in some years, chose one of the three on the floor and brought it home.

You may remember the old snowblower. This new one is amazing. Eats snow. Throws it far. Whoop! Whoop! Let it snow.

Got a deal, too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Victim Chic: The Rhetoric of Victimhood

Jerub-baal's link in the comments section of my Tribes Collection contains an additional treasure: that article links to David Thompson's site, which in turn links in the comments to a very thoughtful essay on victimhood. The chain of links can sometimes be amazing. Rather than working from the usual victim-oppressor dichotomy, Michael Ovey of Cambridge adds in the role of Rescuer, which is nearly always present, has temptations of its own, and illuminates the moral ambiguity of the other two roles. We tend to see victims as innocent and righteous, oppressors as evil. Certainly the victims paint things that way. But the embraced role carries such attractions that it is often adopted falsely.
The rewards of the role of victim emerge from such examples. Successfully projecting oneself or one's group as victim can result in legislative protection, or the barring from certain offices of one's opponents. Such successful projection can deflect criticism and minimize accountability. This role should concern Christians for two reasons, one relating to justice, one relating to temptation.

Concerning justice, such successful posturing as victims risks encouraging a double injustice: the injustice that real victims have not received justice, and the injustice that those who do not deserve compassion as victims have received it. Such inversion of justice naturally concerns Christians. Proverbs 24:11–12 tells us that refusing to act for the oppressed risks God's anger, while Proverbs 24:24 describes the curse on those who state the wicked are innocent. (Italics mine.)

The only downside is that I now have three new thought-provoking sites to keep track of.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


My second son mentioned on our drive down to Houston, that a lot of college kids say they listen to all kinds of music, "but you really do." Knowing how he feels about many of my music choices, I took this as about 75% complimentary. It seems a mark of honor, and a great irony. When I was younger and was trying to be unique, I chose music that a significant minority of other people did. Now that I listen to what catches my fancy, I turn out to be different without trying.

I thought of this today when Norwegian Folk Dances finished up on the car CD, and I replaced it with Johnny Winter. I'm not sure I should even mention what else is in the current pile. The combinations strike even me as the product of a fevered mind which has no coherence. Each individual choice is not that unusual. No really, it isn't. It's just that together they're unsettling.


It is generally believed that schools and education are worse than they were in previous decades. The usual evidence offered are examples of idiotic things being done in schools these days, plus tests showing how little our students know about what should be basic information. Both of these intuitively seem persuasive, but don’t actually measure anything.

Most adults give little or no thought to “what we used to learn at school.” Everyone has a few examples of what they think they were taught, which they retrieve from memory whenever the subject comes up in conversation. Such memories are notoriously unreliable, though they are usually based on some real fact. The people who put any of their own adult energy into the topic are a distinct minority. Notably, it is that minority of people who like remembering things, analyzing them, and putting their opinions into words. This is going to include a significant concentration of those people who did well at school, whose social circle will be weighted toward those who also did well in school.

We remember what we learned. This has little to do with what our classroom as a whole learned. We learned fractions. We learned some geography. We learned the parts of speech. But some of our class then didn’t learn them, just as some don’t learn them now. Even more students learned these things temporarily, just as they do now.

Even rarer are those of us who write about such things. We are not representative of our classmates. This is not entirely an intelligence issue, though I don’t doubt that plays a big part. Some of our classmates went on to learn other things that we know little of. Some of what they use now had its roots in schoolwork, and when they remember “what we used to learn in school” they think of those things. We all learned metric equivalents. We all learned state geography. Those of us who use those things in our day-to-day now see the continuity back to early schooling. If you don’t use them, you forget them.

We all learned that Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri. Few of us have ever needed it again, so it does not get reinforced and we forget it. But Boston, MA, Providence, RI, Richmond, VA, Honolulu, HI – those have been reinforced a thousand times since school and we remember them. When we learned them in fourth grade, we didn’t know that when Maryland was mentioned, it was going to be Baltimore in the same sentence, not Annapolis. That which is not reinforced is most easily forgotten.

Our retrospective evaluations of what we learned in school, then, are the subsequently highly-reinforced memories of the subset of people who like learning and writing. Not a very good sample for comparison. No wonder we think the schools look ineffectual.

With very little effort, we can remember less-useful things we were taught in school. Banal little nothings of songs for each holiday…pointless crafts for same…doing-nothing time while you waited for the last student to finish (the virtue of sitting quietly for no reason was highly valued in those days)…hearty doses of penmanship lessons, with the capital letters changing every year…diagramming sentences (okay, limited usefulness)…filmstrips about home safety, with examples of things that seldom actually go wrong…spelling bees, where 90% of the students sat and watched for 99% of the time…recopying papers, coloring maps, painstakingly taking attendance (“present.”) - a host of educational experiences.

Special Education, of course, consisted of sitting in the hall.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Post 700: Postmodernism vs. Modernism. Which Philosophical Fashion Is Right For Me?

There’s nothing I can intelligently add to a discussion of postmodernism. Fortunately, in my role as Assistant Village Idiot, I do have an important perspective often missing from the debate: blinking in astonishment at the obvious being overlooked.

Whenever anyone says anything in favor of postmodernism, opponents will claim they are not talking about real postmodernism and are hiding what they really mean to make it look innocuous.

Whenever anyone says anything against postmodernism, pomos will claim that their opponents are not talking about real postmodernism and are confusing it with something else to make it look evil.

AVI observations: So, whatever you say about postmodernism, you’re wrong. How convenient for everyone. But what an advantage for me! If whatever I say, I’m going to be wrong, that’s my natural habitat.

Modernists believe in objectivity, absolute truth, and absolute stuff in general, according to the postmodernists. Postmodernists believe everything is entirely subjective, that truth is entirely local and relative, and relativity in general, according to the modernists. Lots of both dislike religion: the modernists because of its uncertainty, the postmodernists because of its certainty.

AVI observations: I think I’m seeing a pattern here. But back in the village, I hear modernist hard-science engineering types freely acknowledge, with no pressure from pomos whatsoever, that sometimes perspective matters and situations change. Yet the people who make the most frequent absolutist statements are the pomos, who are humanities and soft-science fuzzy types.

Modernists don’t like to examine their assumptions, their perspective, their meta-narratives. However, they can do it if they have to. They do like to examine everything else. Postmodernists love to examine their assumptions, perspectives and meta-narratives. They just never get around to examining their social, sexual, political, and religious assumptions. They do get around to examining yours.

AVI observations: So postmodernism is mostly just an attitude of condescension about what everyone else believes, plus a very serious look on your face that shows you are thinking very hard. Your aim is to seem deep.

Modernism, on the other hand, is mostly just an attitude of skepticism about what everyone else believes, plus a very serious look on your face that shows you are thinking very hard. Your aim is to seem precise.

Both get to keep the default beliefs of their class, generation, and training without having to examine them in the slightest. So long as a few of you do the examination honestly, the rest you can merely appear to.

In conclusion, both modernism and postmodernism make great fashion accessories for your personality. Choosing between them will depend on the look you are going for.

NCAA Bracket

I'm no expert, just havin' fun. I have a boring bracket up until the Sweet Sixteen: the 1-4 seeds in every region, except #5 Tennessee. Then the whole bracket goes loopy, with Ohio State my only #1 seed going to the Final Four. And the strange thing is, I think Ohio State may be the weakest of the #1 seeds. Their bracket, however, does them big favors. Only the A&M/Memphis winner should be tough for them.

I have two #12's beating #5's this year: Old Dominion and Illinois - the latter sort of a non-rational guess. My other early upsets are VCU over Duke, Winthrop over Notre Dame,George Washington over Vanderbilt.

Final Four: Oregon (winces), UCLA, Georgetown, Ohio State. Texas is my emotional favorite.

Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson, former Senator from Tennessee, announced he would enter the 2008 primaries. I am very much intrigued by this candidacy. He played Arthur Branch on "Law and Order" ("I'm an attorney and I play one on television.") Very bright guy, low-key, middling but solidly conservative.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Crusades

Bernard Lewis, arguably the premier scholar on the history of the Middle-East, stated in his speech to American Enterprise Institute yesterday
Lewis urged us to have a little sense of proportion, and went on to say — and it was an illuminating line — ‘The crusade was a late, limited and unsuccessful imitation of the jihad.’

More here

Claudia Rosett, BTW, is the reporter who is most on top of all UN scandals, including the Oil-For-Food betrayal.


Annika Vinje brought my Girl Scout cookies to church today. I am having a sleeve of Trefoils and a glass of milk for lunch.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hymns Get Ridiculously Complicated – 16th-18th Century

When we hear the word “hymns,” we usually think of the music of these centuries plus the 19th, which I will discuss next. Whether we love them or find them deadly, this is what we expect when we enter a church of a mainstream denomination on a Sunday. These hymns have numbers. The composer and lyricist are listed by name, along with their years of life. They have two staffs of music, one below the words and one above, and a very odd method of stacking verses that fit these in our minds hand-in-glove.

They are much more complicated than what came before. When musical notation became common and English literacy became widespread, writers of hymns suddenly favored ornate poetry, complex harmony, and loud organs. This complexity is only possible once you can write things down. After many repetitions a congregant or a musician might memorise a complicated piece, but generally, people need to have the words and music in front of them. Once this crutch of written notation was allowed them, writers of hymns went out of control. Only a culture in which most are literate, and many can read music, can sustain this level of complexity.

Look at these. These are lyricists getting completely out of hand.

Awake My Soul and with the sun (v.1)
Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

All Hail the Power (v. 2)
Let highborn seraphs tune the lyre, and as they tune it, fall
Before His face Who tunes their choir, and crown Him Lord of all.

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (v. 2)
Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through

I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath (v.2)
Why should I make a man my trust?
Princes must die and turn to dust;
Vain is the help of flesh and blood:
Their breath departs, their pomp, and power,
And thoughts, all vanish in an hour,
Nor can they make their promise good.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (v.5)
Praise to the Lord, Who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty (v.4)
Thou my faith increase and quicken,
Let me keep Thy gift divine,
Howsoe’er temptations thicken;
May Thy Word still o’er me shine
As my guiding star through life,
As my comfort in my strife.

Notice also that the words me, my, I are creeping in more frequently. Most hymns are still either declarative and/or communal, but the importance of the individual is growing. The use of thee, thy, thou is archaic and distancing now, suggesting a god far away and difficult to approach. In their own time these words had the opposite meaning. You was formal discourse for strangers; Thou was the intimate language of the family. Sweethearts would say I love thee; to say I love you would have been a mixed message. That feature of intimacy is entirely lost now, unless one has a familiarity with the same feature in foreign languages.

These works are now boring to children, daunting to newcomers, and often obscure in meaning. I love these hymns. I have had a wonderful time building this post and entering in to the strong, intense strains. A child brought up in the church from early years might absorb them over time. But for general consumption – no more.

Kids and newcomers hate them for their archaic language. These treasures of the church have become weighted necklaces of gold about our necks. It kills me to write that.

Others in group: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Come Thou Almighty King
O God Our Help In Ages Past
Ye Servants of God
O For a Thousand Tongues

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why Do Intellectuals Oppose The Military?

It is gratifying to have an idea, and even a phrasing, and run across a person much smarter than me who agrees with it, and puts it better than I do.

James L. Holmes, over at the American Thinker, makes points that are very reminiscent of our discussions here about tribes. He even calls a subset of intellectuals "wordsmiths," which I had offered as a descriptor of my Arts & Humanities Tribe.
Schooling, maintains Nozick, breeds in intellectuals a sense of superiority, and with it a sense of entitlement to the highest rewards society has to offer - not just top salaries but praise comparable to that lavished on them by their teachers. After completing their formal academic training in the centralized environment of the classroom, intellectuals go forth into a seemingly chaotic capitalist society, which purports to reward individual citizens by merit but in fact applies a different standard of merit from the one imparted in the classroom.

There is a link in the essay to this earlier piece by Nozick, who wondered two decades ago why intellectuals opposed capitalism. Also recommended.


Sooo, various towns in Vermont are voting to impeach Bush. In Putney it was unanimous. I haven’t read the resolutions, but I assume they are polite wordings of the “lied to get us into an illegal war” accusation. If they really got rolling, I imagine the spying on civilians and torturing prisoners ideas got in there as well.

These resolutions have no force, as everyone, including these various townspeople, knows. These amount to much less than a non-binding resolution of the Senate. But people feel unheard, so they go where they can to make a statement, like grafitti artists. Just because these resolutions can’t make anyone do anything, they do give the satisfaction of having made a statement. People sometimes like to declare to the world, or to their posterity, “Yes these things happened, but I didn’t agree.” I think I understand the motivation.

There are other things happening beneath the surface, however. I would note first that the idea that the Bush opposition has not been heard is preposterous. It is embarrassing, in fact, to imagine having to point that out to a usually-rational friend. The debate about Iraq takes place every day, dominating the news. I think people are fairly well-aware that the Democrats are angry, angry with Bush, with the War in Iraq as a primary focus of that. Anyone who feels that they are not being heard is not absorbing some very obvious data. Their feeling must come from something other than the facts in hand.

What they are upset about, then, is that the country is not doing what they want. There is a belief that we are doing what some other people want. That we might not be doing quite what anyone wanted, but hammered out a consensus, seems not to enter the equation for them. It’s an us-them, and they feel they have been robbed.

I am trying to see how this is different from a child’s perception of the world, and I’m not coming up with anything but better vocabulary as a divider. Children believe that if you are not doing what they want, you must not have listened. They find it impossible to imagine that you could understand their point of view and not agree. Personality disorders, BTW, have a similar organization of reality. If you really listened, you would have to agree.

This making a statement to distance yourself from the president, or the administration, or American culture, has become quite common in the 21st C. From the “Not In Our Name” campaign to the Dixie Chicks, there has been this run on Americans going out of their way to secede from the Union. They wash their hands of this enterprise by the other Americans. They apologize to “the world” for the actions of their countrymen.

I doubt that this is brand new, but I can’t think of earlier examples. Perhaps Vietnam protest had some of this, but I can’t come up with any. Nor can I think of examples of this happening in other countries. Someone in the UK has likely done it, for much the same reasons as their American counterparts. That, I would count as the same example, not a separate example.

Do what we say or we’ll publicly disown you
. It seems an odd contradiction among a people who stress our common lot in other areas. We are to care about pollution, and poverty, and education, because they “affect us all.”


Thursday, March 08, 2007


90% of parenting is just saying your lines. You have to be present to say your lines, of course. All the food-on-the-table, roof-over-your-head, shoes-on-your-feet things are of course the basics. Without those you don't really have much chance to say your lines. And those basics consume an enormous amount of time and energy, without which parenting wouldn't take place.

Easy to say, hard to do. Sometimes you are tired enough from all those basics that saying your lines seems an unfair imposition. Sometimes you feel you have said these lines enough times. And you're right. It is unfair. It is too many times.

But someone has to say your lines, so it might as well be you. And once you know that just saying your lines is often all that's required, it becomes easier.


For those who thought the name-calling was just hyperbole, check out the views of Chris Hedges. I find the easy use of the word "fascist" troubling for many reasons: it diminishes the horror of the Holocaust; it is an excuse to pretend that one's personal anger has international meaning; it is an imprecise and generic insult.

But Hedges really means it. This level of frothing never occurs unless someone has a personal issue - it is never intellectually based, however it is covered. Does anyone know what this journalist's issue is?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Transnationalism Is The Last Refuge of A Scoundrel

This fits nicely with the last post though it is from exactly a year ago.

Samuel Johnson originally said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Johnson said this in the mid-18th C, before Europe became convulsed -- for good and ill -- with movements which purported to transcend mere national boundaries and uplift Mankind in general. The nation was a cause larger than one's own self, and thus the most convenient sheep's clothing for a wolf to hide in. Marx would not appear on the scene for a century. Even the American and French Revolutions, with their high-falutin' language about the Rights of Man, were unknown.

If transnationalism had existed, Johnson would have picked that instead, not merely because it follows that the "higher" cause creates the better cover, but because he would have observed it happening.

Mark Steyn excoriates the UN, (HT: Instapundit) not because it is flawed, but because its flaws are now central to its existence. The UN retains wide emotional approval, especially on the left, despite its demonstrated corruption and active interference in the improvement of nations.

In fact, however, the UN is a shamefully squalid organization whose corruption is almost impossible to exaggerate. If you think—as the media and the left do in this country—that Iraq is a God-awful mess (which it’s not), then try being the Balkans or Sudan or even Cyprus or anywhere where the problem’s been left to the United Nations. If you don’t want to bulk up your pension by skimming the Oil-for-Food program, no need to worry. Whatever your bag, the UN can find somewhere that suits—in West Africa, it’s Sex-for-Food, with aid workers demanding sexual services from locals as young as four; in Cambodia, it’s drug dealing; in Kenya, it’s the refugee extortion racket; in the Balkans, sex slaves. On a UN peace mission, everyone gets his piece.

It retains this cachet because transnationalism is thought to be a holier cause than nationalism. Perhaps even especially in the Christian denominations, there is a fuzzy logic which believes "Because the Church transcends national boundaries, therefore anything which also transcends national boundaries is holier than the merely national." When you put it this way, it is revealed as merely silly. But the denominational offices, the seminaries, and the higher clergy really do think this way. Causes which "reach across" (notice the image) national boundaries are seen as aspirational and inspirational. Trying to rise above "mere nationalism" is seen as a default Good Thing.

It is not. CS Lewis notes that the higher things may rise, the more evil they may become. Devils are made of fallen angels, not fallen cattle.

Additionally, notice that the Church didn't begin to think this way until socialism became part of the equation. The Holy Roman Empire did not envision itself as a mini-UN. The laudable cooperation of Christians from different backgrounds occurred because they had an allegiance to the Church, and hopefully, ultimately to Christ, not because they had an allegiance to transnationalism per se.

Transnationalism is a new false god, and like Moloch, has devoured many children.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It Takes a Village Idiot

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39

The direction from Jesus is pretty clear. One might try and get around it by noting that this is the highest possible response, on the order of "Sell all your goods and give the money to the poor," or "Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." But that might be an evasion. Jesus did say it, and having lived in the same world we inhabit, He presumably knew that this is counterintuitive, unnatural, and difficult.

What we do not have from Jesus, however, is any indication how this applies when it's someone else who is being struck, or what this means for people under our protection. The classic pacifist would immediately apply this to all situations of aggression. By that reading, attacks on your wife, your children, your flocks, fields, or nation would fall under the same command - to never use force in response.

Perhaps so. That is more counterintuitive, unnatural, and difficult, but it is the same sort of difficulty. Certainly Jesus does not say anything here to suggest exceptions for group behavior or protection of others. Maybe we're stuck with it as is: if someone takes your son, give him your daughter as well; if the Mongols burn your fields, deliver your flocks as well, that the tribe might perish, but you all die a witness. Perhaps the Mongols will be stunned by your righteousness and convert. Maybe it will take the righteous capitulation of a dozen Christian nations before they get the message, but it will eventually work. Won't it?

So let's apply this cheek-turning command to other progressive causes. If Caucasians have better jobs than African-Americans, then give them better schools as well. If the state forbids you to have an abortion, give up birth control as well. If your rich neighbor cheats on his taxes, then pay his share and give him one of your cars. If the mills burn too much fossil fuel, let them dumb junk in the river as well.

Hmm. Something seems to be going wrong here. It seems this cheek-turning is being applied selectively. Community action to enforce justice seems to be a good thing when it's taxes or pollution, but a bad thing when it's war. What exactly is the difference between them? Is Jesus's command only for the rich? But he delivered it mainly to the poor. Are Christian progressives to encourage the poor to seek greater oppression, then?

Perhaps the behavior of nations, and the Christians who inhabit them, is too far a jump to make cleanly. Jesus gave an individual command; it just might mean something in the political realm as well. But how are we to make the leap and apply it? Taking Matthew 5 as command for nations and warfare leads us to a terrible contradiction with what the religious left espouses in other areas.

And the contradiction is enormous, almost complete. Not only is the verse only applied to the examples of warfare and redistribution, it is applied in reverse in other areas. Working for justice means confronting the powerful, sending them to jail if they're wrong, making the system give the oppressed what they deserve. And probably rightly. In the history of getting justice for the downtrodden, the confrontative, strong-arm tactics do seem to have worked better. Christians just can't have it both ways. If the community can organize to tax the rich at higher rates because it is just, then it can organize to defend the oppressed of other nations. Just 'cause we wanna, even.

I offer the following explanation. The religious left would like to believe it is against war because they believe it such the way of Christ. They don't mean it. They are not lying to us, but to themselves. What they really believe is that talking works better than war. They see avoidance of war as a tactic, not a principle. They don't perceive this. But there really isn't any escape. They don't believe Christ, they believe Gandhi, and quote Christ in support. They want to be servants of Christ, when you pull off the disguise, it's Gandhi underneath.

That last was a brutal accusation on my part, but I make it with full knowledge of the fact. The religious left does not believe in the principle of returning good for evil - not at the community level - as much as they believe in the principle of nonviolence, which is not the same thing. They embrace pacifism not because they are prepared to apply non-resistance to all injustice, but because they think it will work. (There is one escape I see. They might also believe that military action is only justified when sanctioned by the United Governments, uh, I mean Nations. They believe transnationalism has some innate holiness.) If you have a better explanation, give it a try.

I think there is a way of envisioning these issues in an intermediate step between individual and society at large: imagine a village. Imagine a village of predominantly Christian people, who wish to do well by each other and be an example for Christ. When one woman starts to break into houses and steal, what do they do in response? When one young man begins to rape the women of the village, what should they do? Cast them out? Kill them? Give them more? Try and reason with them? Send for the King's men? - And what would the king's men do?

Once you've answered that set of difficulties, go on to a harder one. What if the next village is stealing your sheep, or not letting you get to the market town to trade? Pretend you are a simple Christian villager, even the Village Idiot, and determine what should be done.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Emerging Church - Very Preliminary Comments

There is a difference between the Emergent Church, which is a specific organization associated with Emergent Village, and the Emerging Church, which is a more generic name for a broad movement. Critics of the movement often fail to make this distinction, which is not only inaccurate, but somewhat insulting, as the distinction is often mentioned.

There are some areas where I think the Emerging Church is quite clearly correct, and they have the added advantage of having some critics who are clear meatheads. Our weekly gathering, still called a Bible study though it has not been for years, is very much what some Emerging churches are attempting to create: creative, nontraditional worship; missional outlook; community; doctrinal flexibility and humility. There's a lot to like in this movement.

Because of this intellectual approval and agreement, I don't know what to make of the fact that I find many of the EC advocates so irritating. That in itself is enough to keep me from venturing further comments, as I don't know if the irritation is driven by my irritability or their being irritating.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

No MySpace

As if you needed 10 Reasons Not To Have a MySpace Page

Not-So-Ancient Hymnody

Second in a series.
The earliest worship lyrics, as I noted, were straight from the scriptures. Jerub-baal asked in the comments for sources, and I have updated that post, including a link to an online radio station which plays Gregorian chant.

Somewhat more flexibility of lyric began to creep in over the centuries, though the subject matter hewed pretty close to rephrasing biblical sentiments. Notice in "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (Veni Emanuel) that no single line is quoted from a Bible verse, but every line uses biblical phrases. This is apparent even in this later translation of the 12th Century lyrics.
Veni, veni Emanuel Captivum solve Israel
Qui gemit in exilio Privatus Dei Filio

Gaude, gaude Emanuel nascetur pro te Israel

O Come, O Come Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel

O Come Thou wisdom from on high Who orderest all things mightily
To us the path of knowledge show And teach us in her ways to go

O Come Thou rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save And give them victory over the grave

O Come Thou key of David, come And open wide our heavenly home
Make safe the way that leads on high And close the path to misery

O Come Thou root of Jesse’s tree An ensign of thy people be
Before Thee rulers silent fall All peoples on Thy mercy call

O Come, Thou Dayspring come and cheer Our spirit by Thine advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight

O Come, O Come great Lord of might Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law In cloud and majesty and awe

O Come Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease And be Thyself our King of Peace

Similarly, in the 16th C "Gaudete" the chorus is not Scripture, but so closely scriptural as to make no difference. The verses, because of the artistic convention of rhyming (in the Latin, not in this translation), get pulled just a bit farther afield. Note: gaudete, "rejoice," is related to our word gaudy. Though the word has the negative connotation now of being overdone, the connection with rejoicing, which suggests exclamation marks rather than mild approval, is clear.
From the Finnish collection of medieval music Piae Cantiones, which I first encountered while listening to Steeleye Span.
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born Of the Virgin Mary, Rejoice!

1. Tempus adest gratiae Hoc quod optabamus
Carmina laetitiae Devote reddamus

1. The time of grace has come For which we have prayed
Let us devoutly sing Songs of joy

2. God is made man While nature wonders
The world is renewed By Christ the King

3. The closed gate of Ezekiel Has been passed through
From where the light has risen Salvation is found

4. Therefore let our assembly sing praises now At this time of purification
Let it bless the Lord Greetings to our King

This technique of the congregation singing or reciting one repeated part while the leader inserts verses between is common in most non-literate cultures. Before slaves were allowed education, the African-American spiritual had this call-and-response form ("Michael Row The Boat Ashore"), and liturgical churches retain this style in the prayers in which the congregation echoes "Lord have mercy." This form makes eminent good sense if you think about it, as it is a very efficient way of allowing everyone to participate while developing greater complexity.

As verses enter the picture, we see the beginnings of story being told in music. Veni Emanuel captures a whole sweep of Old Testament characters and themes. The communal aspect is still very strong: we instead of I, our instead of my still predominate.

Visual break here, because it's important and I want to catch those scanning: The communal words of prayer and song were considered of utmost importance to nearly all earlier ages of the church. One does occasionally find lyrics that use me, my, I, but these were in the specific context of confession, or meditating on Jesus dying for my sin ("O Sacred Head Now Wounded"). As we move into the later ages of the church, we will see that we have lost something when our hymns start to say "He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own." It's a nice sentiment, but something precious has been lost.

A related type of lyric is the doxology (glory + word), a form which predates the Christian era but was popular in the medieval church. The Tallis Canon, the Gloria Patri, and "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" are among the oldest pieces still commonly sung in English in our churches.

Other early lyrics we still keep: "All Creatures of Our God and King," "All Glory, Laud, and Honor," and "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent."

The only real rivals to these pieces for age are some Christmas carols, which we also tend to hang onto fiercely. The carols, sometimes based on folk tunes for pagan festivals, were not always accepted in formal worship. One can still see the conflict of Christian interpretation being imposed on non-Christian elements in such carols as "The Holly and The Ivy," "O Tannenbaum," "The Boar's Head Carol," and the various Wassails.

Early carols:
The First Nowell c. 1600 AD
I saw 3 ships 1500
Good King Wenceslas 1500
Lullay 1500
A Babe is Born 1350
The Angel Gabriel 1450
In Dulci Jubilo 1350
Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming 1600

Saturday, March 03, 2007

You Knew This Already, But...

Which political side of the blogosphere is more potty-mouthed?

Okay, too easy. But did you realize it was at a ratio of 18/1?

Update: It is actually even more dramatic than that. Most of the uses of George Carlin's Seven Words on the right side of the blogosphere were quoting the left side.


I read Christopher Hitchens notes on Robert Conquest a month ago. A few lines stuck with me, so I went back and read it again over the weekend. I was deeply impressed with Conquest's humility when asked about the War in Iraq. He has opinions on the matter, but doesn't feel that he knows enough to comment. Robert Conquest knows more about world events than any thousand people you know put together.

Well I stand humbled, then. If Conquest doesn't believe he knows enough to have a public opinion, what am I blathering on about?

I have kicked the American tribes, particularly the A & H Tribe, for adopting political views as a fashion accessory, a method of declaring the sort of person one is. My unstated claim was that this of course is not true of me. Yet I wonder if any of us do better when publicly declaring our beliefs than simply declaring: "See, this is the sort of person I am."

Our day-to-day activities have a much more profound effect on the world than our political actions. A single vote has little effect, and is more a ritual of tribal unity. Few of us persuade many people more than incrementally. Moving to another place, taking a different job, having children, making an act of generosity - all these have much more effect on the world.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, saith The Preacher.

Emerging Church

I have been reading up on, and soliciting comments about, the Emerging/Emergent Church. I will be making preliminary comments in the next few days.