Monday, June 30, 2008

Everyone Does It

Forgive a little wandering in introduction of my point. I was intrigued by Megan McArdle's offhand point under 2), recounting how girls in groups pick an out-girl that everyone picks on. This is true? I have heard mothers complain about how cruel girls can be, but I never put it into a pattern or a theory-of-everything. I forwarded the above link to a psychologist friend of about my own age, asking about this girl behavior. She is much more liberal than I, but a bright and open-minded person who often has interesting insights.

Perhaps I should have picked a different female psychologist of my own age-cohort or something. This one was notably defensive in her reply. She expressed some annoyance that feminist had become an unattractive label to women over the last twenty years. She related it to Susan Faludi's book Backlash - society had resented the growth of women's power and had moved to drain and belittle feminism. In contrast, she saw feminism as having always been inclusive and affirming.

My first thought was "What year was that, that feminism was inclusive and affirming?" I was also around for the beginning of that and was a deeply socialist person who wanted to remake society in the direction of feminism. But even then there was scalding anger directed at all males, sympathetic to the cause or not. I chalked it up to it being a new movement, not quite focused and brimming with personal angers, but figured that was normal and unremarkable. The women of my experience who identified most closely with feminism were bright, thoughtful, usually pleasant women. I figured that the rising batch of younger feminists would sort all this out in the next decade or so and develop a broad, fairly coherent political philosophy that I would quite obviously support.

I keep thinking that has happened, but every few months something comes up that shoots this down. It's not just the public feminists, writing books and heading up organizations. I expect them to be a little extreme, a little outrageous. The original essay goes over the top, but not frighteningly so. But read the comments. Not just some of the comments, but long successions of them. Holy crap. Feministe, firedoglake, Bitch, PhD, and most of the women at HuffPo wish real evil on people who disagree with them.

And in person, where people are more polite, it's that swift, scalding anger from otherwise affable women defending them. Most of these have excellent social skills and politeness, so you have to be alert to the burn. To the manner born, and all that.

Does everyone do the same? Are gay people just fine regular folks until you get on gay topics? Are Christians generally fun until you tread on their holy toes? Black people, environmentalists, anti-taxers - are we all mostly pleasant, warm, sociable people until that soft area is poked and we turn mean?

BTW, I really am asking about that all-female societies thing from Ms. McArdle's essay. Was that how camp was, through highschool? Girl's dorms? Female professions? When and how does it go away - or go underground?

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Tomorrow is the wedding day of commenter Erin; she is the daughter of commenter akafred. Please offer your congratulations.

Friday, June 27, 2008

MEP's at the Trough

If you have often suspected the corruption of the European Parliament, but never had any actual evidence, this video should be illuminating.

The link to the whole story is here.


I can't vouch for the authenticity of this - it may be just a made-up story. But it's plausible, and an interesting lesson:
In a small Texas town, ( Mt. Vernon ) Drummond's bar began construction on a new building to increase their business. With petitions and prayers, the local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening . Work progressed right up until the week before opening, when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means. The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise in its reply to the court.

As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, 'I don't know how I'm going to decide this, but as it appears from the paperwork, we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not.
It reminds me of the Simpson's episode in which people believe the end of the world is coming, so all the patrons of the bar run over to the church, while all the congregants of the church run over to the bar.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

NBA Draft

Even in years that I didn't follow college basketball that much I would always gear up for the draft. I was quite knowledgeable in the early 80's, but I faded a bit after Lenny Bias in 1986. I don't remember where I was when Reagan or Ford were shot, but I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard about Bias's death. I thought he must have had Marfan's Syndrome. Not cocaine. Not from a player whose character had been vouchsafed by Red Auerbach.

That hastened the fade of Red from the Celtics decision-making core. Not that he was eased out, but that he lost interest.

Tonight's Celtics pick, JR Giddens, I had never heard of. I would be pounding my head if I hadn't seen Ainge draft brilliantly and surprisingly in the past few years.

I felt good for Minnesota getting OJ Mayo. They've taken so much crap for the KG trade, I want them to have some vindication. I really like Al Jefferson, and still believe that other pieces of that trade (Gomes, Telfair) will work out as rotation players. Then the T-Wolves went and drafted a Serbian center I also hadn't heard of. The was a Croat available, Kev. Make your mother's family happy, huh?

Minnesota was better in the second half of the season last year. Forty wins this year, but no playoffs.

Language Change

I have noted before that Shakespeare is now accessible to the modern reader only with notes and instruction. As even Christian children are little exposed to the KJV these days, the word order, archaic vocabulary, and different meanings of familiar words in Elizabethan English has become too much of an obstacle. Shakespeare is a casualty of that change. Even he only held on as long as he did with some luck. His contemporaries Marlow and Jonson are even less well understood now. William's fame gives us enough familiarity with his vocabulary, plots, and characters to help us along - sometimes. Give Titus Andronicus a spin.

Tangentially, I consider the de-emphasis on the KJV a net gain.

Languages that are written change comparatively slowly, but they do change. The unfamiliarity with the Authorised Version only gave the final push - Early Modern English going out of reach would have happened in the next generation anyway. On shorter timescales, we tend not to perceive differences as changes in the language itself. We see the writing of the 1920's or the 1880's as having a certain style, as if its difference from our own phrasing was some temporary phenomenon now righted by a return to simple English. Oh, they wrote in a very formal (florid, rigid) style then.

Here is part of an introduction from a travel guide of about 150 years ago:
In all parts of Europe the traveler is supplied with Guidebooks, detailing, for his special information and satisfaction, the leading features of all objects of interest on his route. There is not an antiquated castle, a battle-field, a mountain, or a river, but has its peculiar points revealed for the entertainment of the stranger, as he rambles along from place to place. No doubt this materially adds to the interest and subsequent value of travel; and probably constitutes one of the paramount attractions of a tour in Europe, since all its incidents are thus permanently impressed on the mind.
Every word is understandable, so we recognize it as English, but of a different style. Yet it is not style change that we are perceiving, but changes in the language itself. We would now think that is supplied means that the books are somehow automatically provided, rather than available, and we would not capitalize guidebooks. We would use fewer commas. We would choose some word other than special, and leading, and we would not add and satisfaction. Note that I haven't gotten off the first sentence yet. Further on, we see a hyphenated battle-field, and a use of peculiar that we would find, well, peculiar. We would find it somewhat tiring to read such prose at length. Even I find it tiring, and I regularly use older constructions in my own writing. I am 55, and was trained by pedantic female relatives. (One of my great aunts, when she was in a nursing home, and demented enough to only occasionally recognize her only daughter, still corrected the grammar of the young nurse's aides attending her.) My sentence just above, We would find it somewhat tiring to read such prose at length, would not be written in just that way by any person under 20 in the entire country. Few even of my own age would.

I Know Nothing

I am neither a constitutional law scholar nor a gun enthusiast, so Second Amendment questions never interested me much. It did seem to this uninformed eye that finding only a collective right to bear arms was a bit tortuous, but lots of things about the law seem tortuous. (badabump. Is anyone here from Cleveland? I'll be here all week.)

Megan McArdle over at The Atlantic has what I think is the most important statement of the day.
There is a distressing lack of attention to the female market in gun companies. I want something with accuracy and stopping power, but also, an attractive exterior casing that easily integrates with my other accessories. This doesn't seem unreasonable.

Out Of My System (Maybe...)

One Youtube leads to another, and I keep getting sucked deeper into the vortex.

Paul Revere and the Raiders are notable for their inability to settle on a style. The music is trying to be a white-boy version of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels or something, but the boys' faces, costumes, and antics are more Partridge Family.

Another pop music show where the band doesn't actually play their instruments. The Five Americans - there was no irony in such a name then - singing Western Union. Notice the cool background vocals that sound like a telegraph - I mean, is that genius or what? As for the dancing girls Sure I can get you on TV baby. Now let's see what you look like in a bikini, okay?

A psychedelic wannabe band - The Lemon Pipers - has a trip that goes bad. It gets even stranger about halfway the way through, when they seriously attack the bear.

I remember reading that the CIA used this song as a psy-ops against Manuel Noriega, playing it constantly for days in an effort to get him to surrender. If they'd showed him the choreography as well, they could have done it in half the time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I couldn't find any clips of Ultimate Spinach or Beacon Street Union, two psychedelic bands out of Boston in the 60's, but that's what's great about Youtube - you keep running across amazing things while you are looking for something else.

Two of my bands sang this with a higher harmony on top, showing our CSNY/Pure Prairie League influence. Great stuff. Watching the video, it seems that the bass player has some talent. The drummer, however, looks like he has some sort of congenital illness. Gotta watch the drummer, Ben.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How To Translate Democrat

A Michigan Congressman tells you how to translate Democrat. Heavy-handed? Sure. What's your point?
(Via Moonbattery and Maggie's Farm.)

Friday, June 20, 2008


There is a blog done by a pharmaceutical researcher that small circle of bloggers has linked me to more than one. Anyone remember what it is? Yeah, and I'm coming to your site to ask, too.

Something we could really use in the mental health field occurred to me today. We can do some medication bloodlevels quickly and easily, but some need to be sent to specialized labs and take two weeks to come back. In acute psychiatric emergencies, two weeks is forever. It occurred to me that an easily-detected marker chemical could be put into those medications, so we could at least quickly discover whether they are being taken at all.

Maybe it's not an original idea, but we could sure use it, and I'd like to pass it on to someone well-placed to make it happen.

Watching Autodidacts

My office-mate is a few years older than I and has no computer at home. He is an intelligent and flexible enough guy (though he would deny that), but watching him painfully navigate new tasks on the computer is a stunning illustration of just how much we have learned in the past few years. He cannot scroll properly. Accurately selecting from the dropdown menu in MS Word befuddles him, and the discovery that Excel’s dropdown is different annoys him further. When the cursor turns into a different icon as he scrolls over something he thinks something has gone wrong. Attachments, saving to desktop, using a few key words on a search engine – these do not go smoothly.

I am certainly no computer wizard, though I look like one among social workers. I can guess my way through unfamiliar applications – the directions, vocabulary, and icons seem accessible to my thought – but I am a hybrid between the old ways of thinking and the new. Nor will I ever be anything but a hybrid. My children are newer hybrids, and over time they will likely organize their thoughts according to the networked and electronic world. They may be among the last who are even able to revert to the old ways at need, consulted in their elder years to translate. For even if their children are raised in traditional learning styles now, they will lose those skills from disuse. I can still diagram simpler sentences or work in base 8 with effort, but I can no longer operate a slide rule. Why would I need to, except as a parlor trick?

Not that people do tricks in parlors anymore, or even have parlors. You get my point.

I dimly recall that there are idiosyncratic cursive capitals, such as a Q that looks like a 2; I am quite certain that no one needs to learn cursive anymore. If you doubt that, by the way, try and read old family letters. People had handwriting styles that were difficult even then, but constant exposure to different penmen allowed us to read script. Try it now. Children’s handwriting, still reasonably close to the grammar-school standard, is decipherable. Adult handwriting, only barely so.

Adaptability, flexibility, and willingness give yourself over to the demands of a new technology are not the wave of the future for learning. They are the current wave – it is already upon us. We know that current curriculum design does not reflect the skills children will need, but we are only able to guess at what they will need. We fear to put enormous resources into techniques that turn out to be blind alleys.

Everyone has theories for this, methods folks are just sure will lead us to the promised land. I have seen this pattern in psychology over my career, as various techniques come into fashion as the new messiahs: reality therapy, recovered memories, NLP, EMDR, DBT. As in every field, a few of them will turn out to be right. The others will be neutral at best, damaging at worst. What will be predictable is that aromatherapists will discover that aromatherapy is what people need, dancers will think that children can learn so much from dance, programmers will proclaim vehemently that simple programming should be taught as early as kindergarten.

In that vein, I advocate studying the self-taught, to see what works for them. I was not an extreme autodidact, but a differently-designed educational system would have been an advantage for me. The traditional schoolroom almost destroyed my younger brother, who now has a Master of Fine Arts. Lewis and Tolkien were autodidacts, as were Einstein, Edison, Mendel, and Mandelbrot. The route to genius may even require intermittent, idiosyncratic instruction alternating with periods of leaving the student alone. (I don’t think children learn much leaving them entirely alone. I think it is the back-and-forth style, rigid structure alternating with no structure, which is productive.)

How We Got To Here

Everyone’s got a theory about American freedom, for example, and I won’t be providing any new ones here. One of the most widely-held ideas situates the roots of the American attitude in the Teutonic forests, among the tribes that Tacitus described 2000 years ago. Egalitarian, difficult to subdue, and according more status to women, these Angles, Jutes, Franks, and Saxons are seen as the freedom-loving Germanic peoples, debating at their moots, drinking their mead, pillaging and raping (but nobly), and eventually going off to take over England from whence they founded the colonies that turned into the only nations that are worth a damn.

This freedom-loving Saxon theory comes in both racial and cultural versions. I tend to a soft cultural version of this myself. I find it extreme to push the origin too far into an unrecorded past, but that something different happened in the British Isles and its colonies seems obvious. These Anglospheric theories usually include reference to Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, and the Bloodless Revolution of 1688. The Bloodless Revolution wasn’t bloodless, by the way. Magna Carta wasn’t all that magna, either.

Other theories have included the English admiration for Native American tribal councils, particularly the Pemigewassets; Roman Catholic abstract thinkers reflecting on the rights of man; Protestant settlement finally liberated from all traces of Catholicism; a confluence of French legal thought and East Anglian merchant custom; Frisian influence; the Greek Revival; the preeminence of property rights in English Common Law; the search for cultural universals of governance in diverse colonies – I’m sure I am missing many others.

All these theories were developed retrospectively, imposing a teleological framework that leads to Wonderful Us. We trace back through events and ideas and claim to have found a single path. Such thinking does have advantages. It allows us to see patterns that are there, which gives a certain predictive value to our thoughts about the future. Unfortunately we also see patterns that aren’t there, giving a deceptive predictive value to our thoughts about the future. Paths there may be, but if we are picking out a spot on the horizon in our past and retracing toward it, we come to regard our route through the crisscrossing trails as the real path, the natural path, the inevitable path.

It is almost automatic at that point to look into the future with the idea that this is all going somewhere, and that past trends will continue. Such prediction is risky even with physical or even mechanical events. It is certainly hubristic with political and social events.

I have heard it called assumicide.

Christians sometimes think they’ve got an edge that allows them more right to look ahead. We have been given the last few pages of the book, and easily convince ourselves that we have a pretty shrewd guess what’s going to happen next (wink, wink). The problem is, we don’t know where in the book we are. If we knew that we had started the last chapter, then our extrapolations of current events out to the close of the age would likely be accurate. But we don’t know if we have gotten out of the second chapter of human history yet. Heck, we don’t even know if the number of chapters has even been decided. God might be writing this world interactively with us because it’s more fun for Him and better education for us.

There is a wonderful section in the last book of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series which compares our understanding of the world to the back of a tapestry. There are hints of the figures on the other side, and patterns that are not wholly illusory. But the threads and shapes on this side are not dependable guides to discerning what the picture is. Nor do we even know how large the tapestry is.

If you’ve still got a big fat section of the book in your right hand as you read, it causes you to interpret what you are reading differently. As you gradually come to the last few pages, the physical construction of the volume tells you that the story is coming to an end. (This is what is so frustrating about unexpected set-ups for sequels, by the way. Not only the narrative, but the object you are holding in your hand has powerfully signaled to you that resolution is approaching. Quotus interruptus.)

Ellen G. White had a particularly detailed retrospective of world history in which she saw, or thought she saw, trends that pointed to a particular future. The path leading to her own subculture’s extreme anti-Catholicism she saw as the natural, rescuing path that God had put his church on; she intuited the future accordingly.

It’s a fun exercise in an election year to attend to the various versions of history and progress being put forward by the candidates. Beware “the vision thing.” It is often nostalgia for a false past masquerading as a glimpse of the future.

Paths, tapestries, books. I think that’s enough metaphors for now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Celtics Envy

Almost the trifecta of championships, eh? Eli Manning doesn’t make that escape, David Tyree doesn’t make the greatest catch in Super Bowl history, and New England wins three straight major sports championships.

The fun part is browsing through the comments sections on the national sports sites, reading all the deeply resentful people from other parts of the country, complaining about how classless the Celtics/Red Sox/Patriots are, how classless the fans are, how happy they are when our teams lose – it’s the refs, it’s all fixed, it’s all luck, blah blah…and you know it’s mostly envy.

Not that the accusations are completely without merit, of course. Bellichek has some jerk qualities, and whatever the full story on cameras turns out to be and however much effect or non-effect it has had on the outcome of games, he clearly broke rules he knew about. Would the Patriots have been a bad team without that boost? Doubtful. Would they have won all those championships? Maybe, maybe not.

The Red Sox have some annoying people, just like every team does. Boston fans – New England fans, can be boorish and arrogant, sure. I’m not sure they are more boorish and arrogant than any other team’s fans that win. I remind the reader of the riots in other cities when teams won championships. There is some reason for the rest of the country to hate us. Some of the criticism is justified. But. Boston fans, you know with a certainty that much of the resentment comes from the mere fact that we won and they didn’t. That other stuff is just scrambling for justifications, because no one wants to admit that they hate you just because you’re successful.

New England and especially Massachusetts, are among the most politically liberal areas of the country. A lot of those Boston fans who know in their gut that they are hated more from envy than from anything they have done to deserve it, nonetheless refuse to understand this about the larger world they live in. These are the folks who believe that America is hated because of our foreign policy, because we exploit everyone, because of George Bush, because of our arrogance.

Not really. Those negative things are partly true, of course, and we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and discount all criticism. But the European elites hate us because we have rescued them, protected them, created the consumer goods and medical techniques they love, and it is too painful to admit that. Middle Eastern countries hate us because we are rich. Because they have contributed nothing to the world for about 7 centuries except the oil they happen to be living over, they must find ways to delegitimise our success. It should be theirs. They deserve it. We must have cheated somehow.

So remember that when you go to the polls Sox fans, Pats fans, Celts fans. You know in your gut the real reason that the rest of the country resents you, and now you know why the world resents America, and rejoices in our losses. Don’t fall for the excuses again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pinheaded, Fuzzy-Minded, Arrogant...

When Carol Shea-Porter, my representative to Congress, emailed me a questionnaire about energy policy I was irritated at its deceptiveness. It fell into the category of "Do you think it would be better to conserve energy or just use less? Should we punish the oil companies or the auto manufacturers harder? Carol Shea-Porter is interested in your opinion!"

I doubt that last statement strongly. She sent back a reply - I don't mind that it was a form-letter, I just mind that it was an unthinking party-line form-letter.

And thus a reply to the reply, including a quote from her letter in bold:

"...oil supplies diminishing, exploration and development of oil fields off coastal waters and in our protected lands is not a long-term solution."

Sure it is. Why the hell not? Sez who? (And make the subject agree with the verb, willya?)
Can I make that any clearer? If you only allow one type of solution, you only get one type of answer. The desire for conservation-based solutions is purely aesthetic and romantic - it is, in a very real way, imposing private values on the populace far more than any religious group dreams of.

BTW, the email you sent back to me was truncated on both sides because of poor formatting. I had to guess at the complete quote.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sonic Booms

Listening for the thunder after the lightning flashes tonight, the sound was confused by a jet aircraft going by. It occurred to me that I have not heard a sonic boom for years. We used to hear them regularly when I was a lad. I imagine they have been declared an annoyance and are not allowed over inhabited areas. Or something.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Number 928 in the Blue Hymnal

See, this is why denominational headquarters sometimes makes me nervous. When I was a Lutheran, stuff like this kept creeping in, which is why I found the Evangelical Covenant (A Lutheran offshoot with pietist strains) such a breath of fresh air. The yearly missions awareness material, with its maundering about the minimum wage* and enviro-nonsense, at least isn't required reading in the ECC.

The responsive prayer #928 includes
"...from a society in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, compassionate God, deliver us.
Except that's not true. And later
"...from a society which makes its weakest and most recent members into scapegoats, compassionate God, deliver us.
Most recent members... Newborns? Oh, I get it. I don't recall anyone blaming legal immigrants for much of anything. And if they're not legal, then they're not members, really, are they? It's an interesting debate what the responsibility of Christians is to people in need who are in a mild sense, invaders. But scapegoats were innocent victims, originally. The word has changed to include anyone who is punished disproportionately, but how does that apply here? Being denied a benefit - citizenship - is not the same as a punishment. I am trying to remember what scripture it is that St. Paul advocates that others should have the same rights of citizenship that he had. Perhaps he thought such a change would be good, or even deserved. But he didn't mention it.
And further on
"From indifference to the needs of other countries, from the delusion that you love any other nation less than you love us, compassionate God, deliver us.
First off, bad usage of delusional. If you're going to show off your ability to use dramatic language in a publication that people are going to be reading for 50 years, you might want to take care to get the terms right. But, to the content: indifference...hmm. 50% of all the international aid, including 40% of the food aid, comes from the US. Next, there may be America lovers who think that God loves us more, but most that I have heard put it differently - that God has blessed us.

The prayer reads more like an accusation by the composers against folks other than themselves than reading like a confession.

I'm all for doing better. I'm all for prayers of confession that acknowledge we aren't doing enough, that there is still injustice, that our giving and humility should be even more radical. But this comes durn close to a violation of the commandment about not taking the Lord's name in vain. This is ministers making personal political observations and rewriting it in the form of a prayer of confession.

* Hey, didn't unemployment just go up? What are the odds, huh?

Advanced Diagnostics

(Ring. Ring)
On-call Doctor: So what's the trouble you're having?
Assistant Village Idiot: I may have broken a small bone in my foot. I was up on a stepstool, working on a ceiling, and I slipped and came down hard on it. Then I was up and down on the stepstool quite a bit after that.
OCD: Is there any pain?
AVI: Only when I put weight on it. It ached a little last evening, but I didn't have a lot of pain until I got up in the middle of the night. I can't put weight on it.
OCD: So, no specific accident, then?
AVI: Not other than the fall, no.
OCD: It could be an episode of gout.
AVI: I'm pretty sure it's not gout. I was up and down on the foot a lot yesterday.
OCD: It could still be gout. You can take Advil for the pain.
AVI: I don't have any pain, except when I put weight on it.
OCD: Well, take Advil for the pain, three times a day with meals.

This is not the beginning of a comedy routine. This is this morning's phone conversation.

I haven't been to med school, but I'm thinking this would be a fairly atypical presentation of gout. I'm hoping reader Giacomo, an orthopedic surgeon, will back me up on this.

So at the walk-in clinic after church, I repeated my delivery of "I may have broken a small bone in my foot, but if I'm lucky it's just a sprain" to five different people there. None of them suggested gout, so I didn't bring it up myself. The X-Rays looked okay, except for some bone chips from a long-previous ankle injury. Probably just a sprain.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'm Just Sayin'

If sexism was unfairly used against Hillary and racism is unfairly used against Obama, why is it fair to focus on McCain's age?

I want to smack McCain because of his can't-stop-tinkering attitude: yes, he supports the First Amendment but has a couple of ideas he thinks are better; yes, he supports free markets but he thinks if he can just tweak it it will be even better. That's how stuff gets broken, John.

But Democrats who weren't concerned when Bill Clinton refused to release his medical records lost their right to "express concern" over a healthy active guy whose mother is still alive.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Human Enhancement

This is an area where I have fully ambivalent feelings. Many technical assists to human biology - eyeglasses, for example - were viewed with suspicion when they were first introduced, but are regarded as unremarkable now. Life extension is becoming almost alarming. Jonathan's daughter has a life expectancy over 100, and serious scientists believe that lifespans over two centuries are possible quite soon. Genetic tinkering is already well beyond any general philosophical consensus about what is "good for us," and what is a legitimate intervention. If we get good enough at remaking ourselves that human striving becomes nearly irrelevant, or important only at the margins, are we still humans?

Not only do I not know where to draw the line - I don't know by what method we should draw the line. This writer attempts to set up a framework within Natural Law.

Permitted, Not Encouraged?

It is an article of faith for both the religious right and religious left that some political situations demand action, and to hang back is to leave Christian duty unfulfilled. Exactly what those circumstances are is contended, and there is wide variety of approach and solution, but the necessity for Christians to act in the larger world to influence the larger human systems is rather taken for granted. It is a very western, especially American, approach.

Evangelicals point to William Wilberforce devoting his life to the elimination of slavery in the British Empire, or Quaker Abolitionists. Liberation theologies would focus rather on confronting the powerful qua powerful on behalf of the poor qua poor, assuming injustice on the basis of their simple existence. The religious left would insist that righteousness be demanded of government in issues of war and care for the poor; the right on issues of biological interference.

I imagine I don't need to describe this exhaustively. Others have outlined these things far better than I could. I recommend First Things if you like to read religious/political discussions among people who are more than talented amateurs. (Most blogs that touch on Christian issues are more exhortatory than thoughtful, providing evidence for familiar POV's. This applies to the essays by clergy as well.) I tend to hang out among the talented amateurs myself.

I also doubt I need to spend much time on the stories of Amos, Jeremiah, and Moses to illustrate Biblical examples of some political involvement, or the NT verses outlining what issues Christians should be concerned about. You know them or could find them pretty quickly. God told the Israelites to organize their society according to just principles, and repeatedly tells individuals to act with justice and mercy toward others.

But is the call to confront larger injustices placed upon all Christians? When there is injustice in one's society, is the Christian obligated to become involved? Assuming the Christian picks the right side of the argument, is involvement always laudable? In the time of Amos, were all who lived in the society obliged to pressure the rulers to make changes, or is that just a retroactive imposition of a value from our western tradition of self-rule?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer long held back from political involvement even in extreme circumstances. I don't doubt that he was permitted to act in Christian conscience, or that Wilberforce, or John-Paul II, or civil-rights workers were permitted their expressions in this sphere. But the idea that if you do not become active you are "participating in the system (leftspeak)," or "tolerating evil (rightspeak)" - perhaps that idea is nonsense. Perhaps such involvements are generally discouraged for most Christians, and only allowed under specific direction of the Holy Spirit.

I ask this because I see how quickly the political goals seem to take over the religious ones in public action, and I figure God knows that tendency in us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Non-Ideological Voting

In the summer of 1997 I asked the gatekeeper at Durham Castle what he thought of the elections. Typical example of a tourist attempting to discover the common man’s thinking from a sample of one (possibly) common man. Said gatekeeper, grinning, thought that it was time Labour had a turn. This struck me as an impenetrably obtuse way to look at self-government. Since that time, however, I have detected what he said out loud not far beneath the surface in the comments of Americans about their elections.

Those motivated by ideology leap to unwarranted conclusions about people who operate non-ideologically. I do, at any rate. A female attorney told me she supported Hillary because men had had plenty of chances to fix things and it would be good for a woman to have a try. I assumed First Wave Feminist Lite. I mean, 54 years old. Attorney. Female. Didn’t even consider Republicans in the running for her vote. Hillary supporter, with a specific reference to her sex. I was quite wrong. In later conversations, I picked up that she is not a general supporter of affirmative action. She is mildly pro-life, and very against partial-birth abortion. She mostly supports the war in Iraq. She is a free-marketer suspicious of unions. She is a Massachusetts Irish Democrat by heritage, and reports sheepishly that she votes Democrat mostly for that reason, even when she disagrees with them.

To one such as I, this is a bit baffling.

I don’t make an artificially sharp distinction here. I certainly understand people taking character, managerial skills, and judgment into account. There are candidates I greatly agree with but would not vote for, plus a few I often disagree with but could see voting for in many circumstances. But it has never crossed my mind to vote for someone because it is their turn, or their party’s or their group’s turn. It even seems rather a step down from voting the bums out in general dissatisfaction.

If one takes the view that elected officials don’t affect much and are mostly symbolic representatives, then taking turns makes eminent sense. More sense than voting ideology, actually.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


I am developing an illness - I am not sure what it is. The treatment, however, involves sitting on my porch with an umbrella drink - I am quite certain of that.

Explanations from the general public are appreciated.


The MLB season is 40% over. If the playoffs were today, it would be Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Rays; Phillies, Cubs, Arizona Cards. Despite all the stirring tales of late season drives and collapses, Runs Scored vs, Runs Against always provides a good second look at a team, to see if it is playing over its head or underperforming. If RS/RA looks similar to the standings, take it for granted that the standings are about what they should be. Of those eight teams, 6-8 will be in the playoffs.

Election II

Wyman's comment under Election I sparked some thought. Conservatives who hope that the election of a liberal will prompt a backlash in 2012 and get them a more conservative president then are overlooking a point that is right in front of us. The unpopularity of Bush is due at least in part to his conservatism. We get focused on how that is an unfair PR job done against conservatives - that the country actually is more conservative than the media but the long anti-Bush tone has had its effect, that conservative views are misrepresented, that adherence to conservative spending principles and small government would have brought a different result, yadda-blah-yadda - but that is beside the point at present. However much we think that people really are conservative if they'd just think about it, or how much better they'd like it if they tried it, the simple fact remains that even Republicans went into some rebellion against conservatism in this round of primaries, nominating a partial conservative instead of a full blood Calvin Coolidge.

Coolidge Tangent: Silent Cal, BTW, was a good conservative but an unpleasant human being. His legendary laconic wit may have wisdom in it, but we wouldn't like him very much ourselves were he running now. His view of the depression he saw coming was that we shouldn't do much of anything about it, just let it ride its course. He saw, I think correctly, that intervention was likely to prolong it, however popular the intervention might be. The depression did go on much longer than it should have because of Roosevelt, so in a pure sense Coolidge was right. But the economy never exists in a pure situation away from politics, and somebody might have just shot him or sent the country in to revolution. We now know that fascism and communism are unsustainable ways of running the economy and the free market works (at least, some of us know that). But at the time that was not obvious. The totalitarian economies billed themselves as more efficient and that made sense to an enormous number of people. The American experiment looked to be coming to an end, to be superseded by a more modern, efficient method. Calvin Coolidge's grouchy refusal to do damaging but popular stuff would have ticked most of us off as well.

Back to 2008: Wyman is right. If we wanted someone more conservative, we should have nominated one. But even we didn't seem to want one that much. The unpopularity of Bush, partly earned, mostly unfair, has sent everyone from the center to the right in different directions looking for a solution, none of which quite matches the others. Before conservatives can attempt to hammer out a national consensus, we need to hammer out one of our own.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Ben has known more about basketball than I do since he was eleven, and in those early, obsessive years he regularly predicted the final standings of a season more accurately than the guys at Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News. One year (1996?) he was positively eerie.

So Ben's take on the NBA finals is worth more than anything I could offer, even though he can no longer name the players on fifteen-day contracts for the Utah Jazz.


I am notably poor at the horse-race aspect of elections, which is what many in the traditional news sources focus on. Polls, repositioning, effects on varying demographic groups – these interest me mildly, mostly because I have run across enough of it while looking for other information, and have some familiarity with the subject. But I am more interested in the ideas and characters of the candidates than in how well they are selling themselves.

I doubt that anything here is entirely original, but it is commentary you don’t usually see.

2008 = 1976

A McCain-Obama election is 1976 redux. This is Ford vs. Carter. Gerald Ford won the nomination even though he was not an especially conservative Republican. Jimmy Carter ran as a populist Democrat, but turned out in the end to be very liberal. So of the I-won’t-vote-McCain Republicans, I ask If you were voting in 1976, would you sit that one out, now, in retrospect? The counterargument that we got Reagan in 1980 because of it is a fair point. But I think there is over-reliance on the cause-effect angle there. If Ford had won, who would have run in each party in the 1980’s, and who would be the nominees? Would Carter have run again? Would Kennedy be the favorite? Mondale? Would Republican voters feel less need for contrast and be more likely to nominate the elder Bush? Would John Anderson have gone 3rd-party? We have no way of answering these questions – all our speculations are unreliable. We do know we got James Earl Carter as president and that was a terrible thing, then and later.

Racial Prejudice

We have learned some interesting things about prejudice, and if you follow the logic out, African-Americans may have inadvertently given evidence how disruptive even mild prejudice is. Much has been made of the 90% support Obama has garnered among black voters. The Obama and Clinton positions are not that different, so such overwhelming favoritism has led to accusations of racism – and to a lesser extent, sexism on the part of female voters supporting Hillary. The idea seems to be if they are essentially the same, the votes should break out about even in a color-blind, sex-blind electorate.

But this is the type of mild prejudice it’s hard to fault. If they’re the same anyway, why not give the nod to a brother or sister? Isn’t that how most of us would act in everyday situations? Sure, it’s a little unfair, but it’s not like we are supporting a significantly worse person just because they are a group-member. That latter is the prejudice we should be really worried about, right?

But look how quickly it has all gone bad, and turned into a harsher prejudice. When the dust has settled, a thoughtful African-American can bring this up as evidence that even mild prejudice gets away from you very quickly. White Americans tend to think “sure there’s prejudice, but not very much. You can work around it.” That is quite true, and black Americans prove the truth of it all the time. Yet now we see that working around it, getting past it in your own head is harder than it looks, for both giver and receiver. It would be arrogant, not to say silly, to think that this hardening of mild preference into angry prejudice is something that only happens to black people – or feminists.

Okay, I would prefer to think that, and find that my own groups are less prejudiced, or not prejudiced at all. But counter-evidence could be put up for any evidence I gave for the premise. The long-standing point of minority groups, that even a little prejudice can have large effects, now has more evidence. And it is an important Christian idea as well, that even a little sin can wreak great destruction. White people watch Jeremiah Wright and think “This accusation is just all out of proportion. This is nuts. I may not be perfect, or even that good a soul, but I know I don’t deserve this.” Again, that’s true. The anger of Wright and Moss certainly suggest personal issues – and the logs in their own eyes - are clouding their judgment. Yet if small sins can have larger effect than we thought, perhaps the whole matter becomes a little clearer.

In our own hearts we measure how little bad intent we had. In others, we measure the sin’s effect.

The Elusive Archetype

Hillary's supporters want her to be seen as a feminist icon, but it is feminists themselves who have been loudest in pointing out that Senator Clinton is a poor example of the breed. Obama has enormous African-American support, but his story is very unlike most AA stories, and he is rather a convert to blackness, ridiculous as that sounds. Only recently (2004) has he found that this post-racial thing is popular with a certain segment of the Democratic party. Early on, the worry was whether he was black enough. Now it is clear that his last twenty five years have been suffused with racial identity politics, and the post-racial part is mostly his first twenty years and the last two. Politicians often try to appear in different guises - I suppose Obama is no worse than many others in this.

John McCain seems at first look to be an archetypal conservative: older, somewhat irritable, reliably pro-life, his own man, and not only a veteran but a POW, for pete's sake. Perhaps his defections from conservatism are deplored all the more because it irritates conservatives that he should look so promising and be so often far afield.

So this year we have an ill-fitting feminist, an ill-fitting conservative, and a post-racial black guy who is neither all that black nor post-racial. For an electorate that wants, well, primary colors of red, yellow, blue in its primaries, we get exotic near-primaries instead: chartreuse, mango, and teal.

Shall Vs. Will

The workshop I recently taught has had aftereffects similar to what I predicted, though not as bad. The group within the hospital most likely to object has indeed objected often. I have found the discussions unnecessarily contentious over small points, but then, I would. I have tried to keep reminding myself that it might be the AVI who is being petty, and not be defensive. The conflict yesterday morning arose after all the substance of the agreement had been completed and we were hurrying along to discharge the patient, awaiting only the signatures of all parties. The head of the contentious department, after leaving the finished document in his box unsigned until the next day, was personally visited and the paperwork put directly in his hands (by a smiling, hates-confrontation, gentle woman who needed the signature). He sat looking a long while at his computer without saying a word, then took it and read it all word-for-word, all the conditions directing that "Eleanor will take all medications as prescribed...Eleanor will not harm or threaten to harm...", and crossed out each will, writing in shall and stating he would not sign until it was "correct."

It was a rude gesture to begin with, and unnecessarily pedantic even if it had been correct. Worse, it was not correct. Pedants should take care to be correct, as other pedants lurk. So I dashed off a quick explanation of the interchangeability of shall and will in this instance.

I thought my audience here is more likely to be interested in the current state of the shall v. will argument in English usage than most other folks would be.

The short answer is that there is no difference. If THS prefers “shall” for reasons of its own, there’s nothing wrong with it. However, I wonder at the efficiency of changing wording because of such idiosyncratic preference.

The longer answer: There is a century’s worth of controversy about shall vs. will, and authorities can be found to support several points of view. All of them are quite sure they are correct, which is the usual state of affairs in questions of usage.

In everyday usage, the difference is one of connotation only. Shall seems more emphatic, and people use it to mark an emphasis, to make a command stronger. This may also be used in a mildly ironic way: Shall seems overformal and haughty to some, and its use conveys condescension or pedantry, usually in self-mockery. I use it in irony all the time. Younger people do not regard shall as stronger, however. The word will seems more emphatic to many of them – not my children, of course, but that’s the way the language is changing. I think it comes from less exposure to the King James Bible, even for religious children, which renders Early Modern English, such as Shakespeare, less understandable to them. The shall command is no longer in our bones.

There was an older standard of correct usage which dictated that shall be used for first-person futurity, reserving will for the second and third person. In the reverse, will was used for first-person obligation, shall for second and third person. The problem with this is that the south of England had the reverse rule than America, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and Australia, but such was the prestige of Oxford and Cambridge that many speakers of English abroad imitated their usage. Your Strunk & White will still insist on this, but both the NYTimes and Chicago Manual of Style do not.

A residual shall/will distinction persists in law and regulatory writing, but several problems arise here as well. American and British legal use differ slightly, and shall is now officially discouraged in legal writing, except in America. Oh, and discouraged or not, there are many Canadians, Brits, etc. who refuse to change because they’re right, dammit, and they aren’t going to drop their standards for anyone. American lawyers are more likely to preserve the distinction that shall is used for obligation, not mere futurity, and is the stronger and preferred term. This is called the American Rule (its counterpart is the ABC Rule, standing for Australian-British-Canadian). Even in America this is becoming obsolete, however. In rental contracts, the use of “the tenant will…” or “the landlord will…” are regarded as unambiguous obligation.

In regulatory writing, particularly in contracts involving scientific or technical requirements, the distinction is preserved most strongly. Many technical writers and translators insist on the use of shall to indicate the strongest possible obligation, exceeding not only will, but even must.

Further note: etymologically, shall is related to “should” and will is related to “would.” They were used as modal verbs to show future tense in an English language that doesn’t really have a decent future tense. The distinction is remote enough that it should be disregarded in discerning current meaning.
I know you are all grateful to know this.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Adam Group

When Jonathan was quite young, perhaps about five, he complained in the back seat of the car one day, apropos of nothing "Oh, if only Adam hadn't eaten that apple!"

I always shoot over kids' heads on stuff like this, and I explained - probably at length - that any of us would have eventually done the same, and there is nothing especially bad about Adam. He and Eve might have gone years before the sinned, coming close but avoiding many times; or, they might have sinned first chance out of the box. Either way, that's what all of us are like, and you or I wouldn't have done any better.

This is the great weakness of literal interpretations of Genesis: emotional distance from all the stories, but especially the story of Adam. These are not stories about our ancestors, they are stories about us. Literalism allows us to hide from that.

I have heard teachers make much of how Eve committed this type of sin and Adam committed that type of sin, drawing general conclusions about women and men from that. Any of those interpretations might be so, but again, they allow us a kind of distance from them that seems evasive. Eve's sin is mine, and I need to see myself in that part of the story. I allowed myself to be persuaded. I ate the apple. I convinced someone else to eat the apple. If I had been the human assigned to Eden, we would be in exactly the same mess today. Or worse. For as in David all die. Even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Anti-Business Rock n Roll

You might notice all of these folks did pretty well in business. The attitude is a pose, to show what sensitive and superior people they are, by stereotyping those awful Other Sorts of People. And we bought it.

Jefferson Airplane's "Lather"

Ray Steven's "Mr. Businessman"

Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar"

Neil Young's "This Note's For You"

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Double Back

The post on Public Death as Art drew more comments (19) than any previous post. And some of them were quite good. So you may want to check that again. Thanks Jerub-baal.

The Copenhagen Consensus

Do you really want to help the poor and the developing nations of the world, or do you just want to do those things that feel good?

I have frequent disagreements with Reason magazine, but Ron Bailey is acting more as a reporter than an editorialist here, reporting on the just released results of the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus.


My son's church is going to be doing a series on going green. That is discouraging enough in itself, but more so for him, as the church is his employer, and part of his job will be to help get the point of this series across. He has asked what he might say to the pastor about his objections.

Where to begin? If one whispers a word against the green god of this age, one is accused of being in favor of polluting wastefulness. It is considered so obvious that there are enormous environmental problems that even faintheartedness in solving them is regarded as a sin. Nutcase extremists are regarded as a little over-the-top but well-intentioned, while mild skeptics are regarded as little better than Holocaust deniers.

There are decent Christian thinkers on the environment out there, trying to construct a coherent theology, but no one seems to be reading them. I would have some disagreements with those also, as I don't think that stewardship is anything near the highest of Christian virtues, but I can at least see their points in a Christian context. Mainstream denominations seem to like the sharing and Kumbayah aspects of environmentalism. Evangelicals like the self-sufficient/homeschool/gardening/ separate-from-the-world part. Does anyone like recycling for itself, or only for the supposed side benefits it creates?

Most Christian environmentalism is more muddled than heretical, more unfocused than unholy. Yet there are sins of intellect, and lazy, imprecise thinking eventually does more damage than lazy, imprecise gardening, construction, or musicianship. Environmentalism has become the 21st C version of the errors of the 19th C missionaries, insisting that Pacific Islanders wear pants and sit in wooden pews.

Well, that's a lot of complaining. Let's see if I can clearly explain why this particular cause is not part of Christ's.

Whenever an idea rests loosely on many cultural ideas, it becomes difficult to argue against. If you go with focus on one facet, those listening tend to automatically think "well, there's those other things, though." By the time you have moved through the lot of them, there is still a sense that whatever you are not disproving right this minute is still intact.

Christian environmentalists believe that many green interventions are good for society in the long run, or even the nebulous planet itself. As it is part of wisdom to take the long view, it is considered responsible to take the future into consideration. This is usually contrasted with those others who are only interested in short term gain or enjoyment.

Next, it is considered part of stewardship to use any resource wisely. Again, this is not so much thought through as contrasted to those wasteful others who we don't want to be like.

Third, living green and recyclingly is thought to be a spiritual discipline against materialism. You don't want to be one of those selfish people who depends on material goods for your happiness, do you? You want to be one of those spiritual people who live simply.

Coming around the loop back to the first reason again, this living simply is supposed to help poor people somehow, and be good for everyone if you do it.

So if you ask a Methodist pastor who wants to do a series on the environment what the point of it is, you will get shifting answers. God wants us to be responsible stewards of all things he gives us. Well, yeah, but why is this more important than being stewards of certain ideas that actually improve the material condition of the poor - like encouraging innovation, or free markets, or genetic engineering, or medical research? Or being stewards of historical Christianity, instead of jumping from the NT to 1969? Why not stewards of spiritual disciplines, or stewards of the nice things people have said to you? Why not aquifers, or ocean fish, or open highways? What's so special about wilderness and cooler weather?

Well we know the answer: wilderness and cooler weather are very hip now.

We're running out of things, and the church should be a good example. Are we indeed running out of things? Would we be running out of oil if we weren't forbidding drilling in ANWR and the Gulf of Mexico, if we were pursuing oil shale and oil sands? The idea that we are running out of things is more an impression, a worldview, than it is a fact. People feel like it's all going down the tubes somehow, and the church should rescue the people from themselves. Because we take the long view - see above.

Living more simply and thoughtfully can help us focus on the things of God more. Really? Got evidence? I mean, other than looking wistfully over the lake at church camp? Surely you don't think that a life pursuing mere gain and expensive pleasures is godly? Are those our only two choices? We're either looking over the lake quietly with a Bible in our laps or we're screwing up someone's prayer time with our jet-ski? I see no personal evidence that people garden organically have better Christian characters than those who drive chemical fertilizer trucks. There's certainly no data suggesting that people who recycle have better prayer lives than those who don't. Where does this idea of greater spirituality come from? Hint: the idea that God made nature, but we screwed it up with chainsaws and hunting rifles, doesn't hold up real well when you try and define what you mean by nature and intervention. Unless you want to go back 12,000 years and have no crops, no herds, no shelter, just hunter-gatherers.

Are they advocating a particular lifestyle based on fanciful ideas of what village life, or pastoralism, or tribal life was like? Where in the gospels do you find that?

But we use so much in this country, and it's a sin for us to hoard and just protect our own when we should be more generous. So let's feed people. Let's do the things that actually result in hungry people having food, rather than things that make us feel better. Genetic engineering. Europe and North America dropping their trade barriers to poor countries. Getting rid of kleptocracies.

Oil profits, Halliburton, Iraq, health care, and people-hate-America-so-it's-a-bad-witness! Yeah, the post-Christian European nations, the few remaining communist nations, and the Islamic nations don't like us much, especially if you only talk to their journalists and diplomats. The Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and even animist peoples seem to like us much better. What does that tell you?

God calls us to be good stewards... An irrelevant truth. No one, not even evil multinational corporations like Walmart and Monsanto, is advocating poisoning the wells.

Ben, I think my advice is that it's hopeless. The best I can think of is to ask questions "What exactly do we hope to accomplish? What is the spiritual outcome we desire? Are we hoping that the newspapers, denominational magazines, and local buzz will say nice things about us as good advertising, or do we hope that there is a direct spiritual benefit to this?" Then let it go and hope that this blows over and doesn't come up every year. Maybe you can get them to read about the Copenhagen Consensus if they want to focus on helping the world.

You might also come up with an angle that is compatible with both your ideas and the staff's ideas and put good work and energy into that.


Over at 10-4goodbuddy, Ben has liveblogged In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. Liveblogging a movie is not a genre that is ever going to catch on. Scrolling down the length to see if you want to bother is daunting. And yet - and yet it is laugh-out-loud funny. You do not have to know Ben or already hate movies by Uwe Boll to appreciate this. Sample comments from what is happening in the movie at the 8.00 minute mark.
A quick IMDB search proves that In The Name of the King is actually written by three people, who between them have a total of one movie writing credit – a horror film from 1989 (!) called The Carpenter, whose plotline is “a carpenter, executed in the electric chair, comes back to finish his dream house, now inhabited by a young married couple.”

The Tagline: “He's Turning Their Dream House Into A Nightmare!”

The dialogue continues to live up to the writers’ remarkable resume.

Statham: “Be safe”
Claire Forlani: “It’s Stonebridge. Of course we’ll be safe”

Dun dun dum! The orchestra moves into the Foreshadowing Movement.

Countdown to family getting attacked – 7 minutes.
Odds of kid dying – two to one.
Odds of wife getting kidnapped – even money.

Erin - his time predictions are uncanny again.