Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boring History

The boring book from the last post is Peter Hunter Blair's Roman Britain and Early England, 55 BC - AD 871, published in 1963. I had forgotten what that old style of writing history was like, listing the rulers, generals, and battles and describing the construction of buildings and the layouts of towns.
Although it was not constructed on such a massive scale and was neither so broad or so lofty, the Silchester basilica was longer than the Norman nave of Ely Cathedral. At either end in apsidal recesses were the raised platforms, tribunalia, upon which rested the seats of magistrates. Beyond the basilica was a further range of rooms with the curia, the meeting-place of the cantonal senate, centrally placed. The floors of the basilica were of red tesserae set in cement, its walls were frescoed, and its columns were made of Bath stone with Corinthian capitals. Part at least of the curia was lined with Italian marble and much Purbeck marble in other parts of the building. Among its statuary were a stone image, twice life-size, of the guardian deity or tutela of the Atrebates...
I am halfway through the book and halfway through that 900 years and have learned almost nothing about the inhabitants of Britain, except where they lost battles. Nothing about their religion, their form of government, their foods, their customs, their clothing, nothing. I have learned a bit about the people who ruled them, who when they departed had left little mark on the genetics, language, or customs. They left roads, walls, some buildings, and a little technology.

That was what history used to be - who conquered, who ruled. I have grown so used to modern cultural histories that I had forgotten.

Good Husband, Good Father

I lay back in my recliner with my book and my second glass of wine, all very placid in the afternoon. After a few minutes I heard right at the edge of perception, the sound of someone laughing hysterically or crying uncontrollably. It could have been either Tracy or Kyle. A Good Husband or Father, I told myself, would go check that out on the chance that whoever it is is crying. I did not move, reasoning rather conveniently that it was overwhelmingly likely to be laughter, which I would be unable to escape being told about later. A Really Good Husband or Father, my conscience chided, not only would not take the chance, but would rise up and go to his family even if he knew it was laughter, to share in that experience. I used to be that guy. But the recliner was very comfortable, merlot is soporific, and the book boring. It was a lovely nap.

Wyrd And Providence - Part II

There are two intensities of North European paganism that set it apart from other beliefs: a multiplicity of creatures, and a belief in doom, destiny, or fate that is powerful but not absolute. Unexpectedly, if we jostle them around a bit, the Creatures and Fate don’t fully resolve into a single aspect, but they come darn close.

When we moved from Gethsemane Lutheran to Bethany Covenant in the mid-80’s we moved from one historically Swedish church to another. As I did not grow up with Saint Lucia Day and was at that time very worried about occult or sub-Christian influences in the church, I found Luciadag disquieting. Starboys, sheaves of wheat to placate little mischievous tomten, the whole Winter Solstice connection (Dec 13 was the shortest day of the year under the old calendar) – those seemed possibly okay for home fun or ethnic celebrations, but having them in the sanctuary irritated me. Lucia seemed to be some Sicilian saint Swedes had attempted to insert into their regular winter celebration in order to give it a Christian wash.

And in fact, that’s pretty much the case. The demoness Lussiferda – no, really – roamed the countryside on the longest night of the year stealing souls, a version of the Wild Hunt myths (Huntsmen of Annwn, Woden’s Hunt); the little tomten lived in the burial mound before he was moved to the barn.

But it’s cute, cute, cute. Girls in white robes, apple-cheeked preschoolers dancing in costumes. And like many other ethnic celebrations in America, tomten, the dangerous imaginary creatures – like leprechauns, sprites, kobolds, hobs, elves, and gnomes – are made harmless and comic. We associate Norse mythology and paganism with creatures, a far greater variety of soul-stealers and house-gods than is found elsewhere. To the list above add dwarves, trolls, brownies, and a dozen lesser-known varieties. And they displayed a remarkable persistence in Europe, with serious belief in them recorded well into the 19th C. Such creatures did not cross the ocean well. Headless horsemen and ghost riders make their appearance in America, but only as intentional legends, not preserved belief. They were often place-spirits, inhabiting a well, a barn, a mountain – those are hard for the imagination to transport, though some version of the idea may remain.

Though we have the stories of Saints Patrick, Augustine, and Ansgar bringing the gospel to the tribes of northern Europe well before the year 1000, this does not mean that by the 11th C most people were Christian in the exclusive sense we would consider today. First, many places were bypassed in the preaching – Lithuania did not become even nominally Christian until the late 14th C. Second, we all can hold incompatible ideas for generations (we still do, but that’s another post), and remoter areas held considerable paganism alongside the enforced Christianity of their rulers. If you were to visit a rural parish priest in Germany or Cornwall or Norway in 1500, you would get an earful of local pagan practices.

This is one of my main adjustments in thinking over the last ten years, appreciating how deeply pagan (somewhat different than occult) Europe remained well into the modern era, in spite of the Christian cathedrals, artists, philosophers, and writers it produced. Greece and Italy had civilization, literacy, and law centuries before they had Christianity, and Christianity centuries before northern Europe. Tourist books of the Orkneys or Ireland record with amusement marriage or burial customs that persist from ages long forgotten. The old beliefs died hard .

A side note on belief before I move on to the discussion of Doom. Do not hold any association of Peter Pan asking “Do you believe in faeries?” or of amusing Grampas asking all the children to gather round and sit on his lap while he tells them a tale o’ the wee folk, or moderns who think there may be ghosts somewhere. When I refer to belief extending into the 19th C, I mean the utter seriousness of believing that the depressed, inert daughter upstairs had her soul stolen by the huntsmen because of some incaution on her part. Not the automatic and mild superstition of throwing a small offering in a well, but a certainty that fell creatures not fully banished by the Christian God resentfully take a life here and there when they can get it because people no longer pay them worship. They believed in nature-spirits who took the shapes of these creatures. We see the last, degraded, quaint forms of these beliefs, but they were never interrupted.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wyrd And Providence

I am reconsidering an idea I rejected 30 years ago.

A young friend (33 - I now call that young) has submitted his PhD thesis topic in History at Notre Dame The Book of Nature in New England, 1630-1763. To touch on some of his main themes, the Puritans not only read intensely from the scriptures (and the Geneva Bible, not that suspicious KJV, thank you very much), but also from the signs around them, which they called reading in The Book of Nature. This emphasis has been downplayed in studying them. Reading letters, diaries, almanacks, and sermons we see this dual emphasis more clearly.* The Puritans were in fact obsessed with interpreting the events around them to understand God's judgements and messages. Hurricanes, good crop years, signs in the sky - all of these were believed to tell humankind something of God's intents and opinions.

This study of the Book of Nature by colonial New Englanders included both the special signs of God, and learning the natural order of things.

The thesis traces how this reliance on the Book of Nature, though general among them from the start, became more important than the Book of Scripture in some groups, leading eventually to Unitarianism, scientism, transcendentalism, and environmentalism. The usual tracing of Puritan thought is from Calvinism to Arminianism to Arianism to rationalism to modernism, or more dualisticly, from magical to mechanical universe; moral to market economy; providentialism to deism. All this true, so far as it goes, but it ignores a continuity of two centuries. Which is where Josh and his thesis come in.

All that by way of introduction. Those who know me will see how this would set off cascades of ideas, many of which I excitedly wrote to my friend. I'll try and stay focused on the main point here.

Thirty years ago, I somewhere ran across the idea that the Calvinist idea of predestination was just a dressed-up form of Norse fatalism. The thought annoyed me, and taken as a categorical statement like that, it still does. It reminded me rather of the young man who assured me that the Chronicles of Narnia were all based on tarot cards. Need I mention that the lad was very much into tarot cards and the occult in general? When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Wiccans and fundamentalists both declared numerous European practices to be pagan and occult. It is an ironic similarity between those groups that the merest nonchristian tainting makes something entirely pagan. Which, as everything is tainted in this fallen world, and all believers live in a physical environment in an historical context, would make everything pagan.

But I hung with fundamentalists a lot in those days and was myself looking for only the purest expressions of Christianity, so I was not disposed to cede any territory claimed by my Christian brothers and sisters back to pagan interpretations. It seemed a point of honor. Since that time, either my character or my theology has changed to see that no human expression is God's expression unadulterated. There are not even individuals or movements that are 99% or even 90% Christian. The flaws go deep in all human behavior. If there is paganism in Christmas trees, there is idolatry in shining a spotlight on an open Bible in a Baptist sanctuary as well. There is no getting away from it, no matter where we go. There are only choices.

Many of you will sense the broad outlines of where I am going from here. Yet there are some odd twists still, and I want to make sure the general idea gets in before I go into more lengthy discussion: New England was a peculiarly fertile ground for a peculiar and intense version of Calvinism.

Fun preparatory reference: Wonder Working Providence of Sions Saviour, By Captain Edward Johnson.

*Previously, viewing history through the prism of government, settlement, battles, and economy, the schoolbook history we grew up with, we focused on the Great Men and their doings. Social and cultural history, dealing more with everyday men and women, the less-prosperous, and the technology of home and hearth, is a more recent and quite valuable way of understanding a people and time. Studying the outcasts, the exceptions, and the marginalized, which is the extreme of this school, also has its value, though that prism has its limitations as well.

My Theory About The GPS

My theory, which is mine (ahem), is that you can learn the important touristy rudiments of a language by switching your GPS to it while driving around in the US. Distance measures, numbers, left, right, straight ahead, street, east/west, plus a solid feel for pronunciation, word order, and cadence - it seems excellent. Has anyone out there tried it? I don't use one myself.

When driving back from Parris Island my two Romanians found it uproarious to listen to the GPS direction in their language while driving in NJ. Drept inainte.


Pope Benedict now has a blog, Pope2you. I'll bet his has hardly any ABBA photos, though.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ABBA Costumes Galore!

I don't recall the song, and I don't generally prefer videos that are just slideshows of stills. But I need to boost traffic with another ironic ABBA post, and this video does include stills of my all time favorite ABBA costumes, the Superhero/Ren Faire/Porn Star set.

Wyrd And Providence

I want people to turn the that title around in their minds before I write the post.


Well I guess we're all relieved that we didn't elect that white trash the Republicans tried to foist on us for vice president, now that Sarah and Todd have split.

My bad. I meant John and Elizabeth. Never mind.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Scott Brown

Lots of other folks have weighed in on the subject, and while I felt some obligation to the non-Newenglanders who drop by, I didn't think I had much new to say. I doubt that what follows is entirely original, but it may offer some new lines of thought for you.

First, a bit of regional history and description. While Massachusetts is indeed a notoriously liberal state dating back several decades, it is not uniformly blue. There are a few areas that are so intensely liberal that they overwhelm the others. Cambridge, Brookline, Provincetown, and the islands may come to mind here. Boston, Worcester, and Springfield are very Democratic, mixed union/progressive/ethnic.

Vermont, once a very conservative state (remember Bing Crosby's line in "White Christmas" that it was impossible to find a Democrat in VT?), had New Yorkers and others move up there from the 70's on in search of The Simple Life. As there weren't that many native Vermonters to begin with, the state was overwhelmed and became liberal. This is important to remember because western Massachusetts - Berkshires, Little Ivies, Seven Sisters - is essentially South Vermont. (Vermont has crept over into NH as well, and the banks of the Connecticut River are now the "west coast" of NH). Central Massachusetts, and to a lesser extent the North and South Shore, have much more in common with old NH and old VT. Fiscally very conservative, socially mildly conservative, tempered by a libertarian non-interference mentality.

Those areas went overwhelmingly for Brown, offsetting the continued 88-11 Democratic dominance of Cambridge and P-Town.

Brown would be considered a RINO in many regions of the country. He is modified pro-choice (or modified pro-life, I suppose, believing that first trimester abortions should be allowed). He likes the idea of universal healthcare, but finds the current Democratic proposals abominable. He is generally frugal, but not dramatically so. He is not a crusader for anything but less spending and business encouragement. He is 30 years in the National Guard and certainly on the conservative side of gun issues and the GWOT, but not a firebreather.

Not a crusader. This is an important point in New England. He is not going to Washington to change the abortion laws (in either direction), nor the gun laws, nor the gay marriage laws. He seems, on balance, to be likely to vote conservatively on those issues, but they are well down the list for him, not highest priorities. From this we might conclude that even in Massachusetts, among generally liberal people, socially conservative positions can be tolerated, so long as the candidate is not a crusader. I think that is also true in the reverse, that conservatives will overlook or put up with a good deal of social liberalism in a candidate so long as there is not that hard-edged insistence on making the country act a certain way. Our libertarianism is a cultural preference for non-interference rather than a crusading spirit of repealing various drug, gun, or sex laws.

Brown did not run as a Republican as much as an anti-Democrat Independent. A lot of his votes were anti-Obama, anti-Coakley, anti-Democrat, anti-spending, but these did not coalesce until the Republicans gave people someone to vote for. They are latent, not automatic. In New England, the campaign stance of "I'm the normal person, those other guys are nuts" is much more appealing than any "Take Back America" approach. It is more Tea Party than libertarian or social conservative, though care was taken not to chase either of those others away. Caveat: I don't think a third party run on the same platform would have been at all successful. The stability and respectability of a major party is important.

There was a strong anti-corruption, anti-entitlement flavor from the Democratic defectors. Republicans should take note that this does not mean "We will be a lot less corrupt than those other guys" is a winning campaign slogan. This is the major area where the MSM still has considerable power - the ability to focus attention on whatever scandal they choose. Republicans have to stop thinking they can afford any.

Letters From Tom

The friend I mentioned in the last post responded quickly to the article. His replies were interesting, and I post them both in full. Quick background: he was a history major who then went to get an MBA, worked in management in high-tech, and eventually got into mergers and acquisitions stuff. He has lived in Europe more than a few years and is now in China. He is a practicing Catholic, his wife is U-U, they have two sons. He lost his college liberalism a good deal earlier than I did. Just to let you know that the stereotype is sometimes true, he began drifting away from liberalism when he got his first paycheck in which he had worked many hours of overtime - and cleared an additional $4.62.


I not only agree, but relish the thoughts from Nozick.

And would add some simple corollaries. I have had the pleasure and frustration of working with extremely bright people over the years, both at AT&T and at Imagem- my partner and fellow founder, inventor of the technology, is a retired professor with 5 degrees. Through the years a couple of things have struck me. That not only do academics get angry that they aren’t running things, this includes a lot of the Bell Labs guys, but that a lot of the problem lies in definitions. As a recovering operations research junkie, one of the most important lessons I ever learned was problem definition. In many ways, it has been critical to my success. How to correctly define the problem, in most cases when it presents itself as something else, is key to a successful outcome.

In any event, what I have noticed is that they lack a couple of key concepts- the first is that simple understanding of a concept does not mean that you can do it. While this is clear and obvious in the realm of sports and entertainment, it is not obvious in business. And that leads me to the other point. Really successful business executives are rarely, if ever, one trick ponies. They must not only be successful in whatever their entry level occupation is, otherwise they could never be promoted, but eventually, they must shed whatever self styled profession they had and embrace ‘business”. In many cases, the person we promoted was not the “best” in their group, but probably in the top 5. What they had was an ability to not only learn a new skill, but to fully embrace it. Somewhere in middle management, you lose your origin. You begin to hear things like, I started out as an accountant, or I came up through sales. But to be really successful, you have to be able to become a generalist at a minimum, and still be able to master new skills, especially political ones. The others are somewhat obvious, they include finance, legal, HR, etc. You never have to be the best, but, at any one time, one of these areas becomes critical to successful outcome.

Failure at a high level comes in many cases when, under extreme pressure, the executive returns to his roots. In the bullfight, after the bull has been severely wounded, he will pick out a location of the ring and return to it, defend it, and die in it. Its called the carencia. I have seen many otherwise successful people fail because under extreme pressure they attempted to solve the problem by doing what made them initially successful. Cost reduction, layoffs, opening new stores or factories; when overwhelmed they return to what brought them success early on.

Its almost impossible to gauge this kind of talent academically, and, in most cases, it runs counter to it. One of the most intriguing things, to me anyway, is that such people spend a lot of time crafting their persona, whether its science, legal or whatever. A couple of steps up the ladder, you have to shed that skin. If you don’t, you can never become the boss of a greater group. You will always be what you were.

The last point deals with self awareness and intellectual honesty. Most of these types are, in my opinion, neither self aware nor intellectually honest. The reason has to do with understanding performance and pressure, or stress. Many of these people, because they did so well in the classroom (to follow Nozick) that that is the same as ‘the real world”. They don’t make that connection that they could be lousy sales guys, I mean, they read the book and went to sales training classes! And they refuse to believe that some guy with just a Bachelors degree from a third rate university could not only be their boss but actually be critical of them! But numbers don’t lie. These people don’t understand or accept that the sales director has certain highly developed skills and can probably operate under pressure far more effectively than they can. This is when performance differences usually emerge. And what is really frustrating, is that the skill that the sales director has, he developed because he was the social director of his fraternity, learned to win at drinking games and was actually able to pass his courses with a perpetual hangover. This is highly critical to his job performance and success.

The last point is that they don’t value experience and the judgment that comes with it. So, who would you follow into battle, the 30 year veteran or the smartest guy who just graduated from West Point? Where’s the test in that? I would say survival, but they prefer SAT scores.

I’m sure you know who Lanny Davis is, he was one of the top white house lawyers in the Clinton admin. In any event, he was at Yale with Bush. He was one of the only ones on the left who warned everyone about Bush. He had seen him in action. Apparently Bush was the head cheerleader at Yale. According to Davis, he made the post more important than student council president. The story also goes that Bush was able to perform some very unusual feats of memory at his fraternity( ie, memorizing 40 some odd new recruits, name, home town, etc. after hearing them only once, and in order). While everyone on the left was saying how stupid he was, Davis was telling them he wasn’t. He had made a career out of having people underestimate him- and it apparently worked pretty well.

So, in conclusion, sorry to gone like this but its kind of fun, I think that academics hate business because they don’t “recognize”(are either aware of them as skills or give the credence as skills) business skills at a high level and they don’t recognize the lack of skill in themselves.

We got the news about Mass going over to the dark side! I really wish I could be there now to listen to the news reports. Over here its just apologies and finger pointing.

The Brits in particular are enamored with Obama, and they view the idea that Healthcare reform is second only to emancipation. The fact that its in jeopardy is truly appalling to them, and it's all the republicans fault.

Enjoy the show!


(Following my reply)

I guess one of the important lessons is to watch for guys with hammers- everything looks like a nail. And for those guys who see a screw, well, they just put a notch in it and they’re good to go.

The first thing I used to tell my staff when a new deal came in was not to put a stake in the sand. That way you don’t have to pull it out. Wait, there will always be time to make a judgment call- but that’s not your job. Your job is to analyze, not opine. Second rule has to do with opinions. Don’t be fooled when a senior executive asks your opinion. What they really want is your judgment and analysis. Only 12 people in AT&T had real ‘Opinions”- and they were either on the Board of Directors or the Operations Committee. Everyone else better have charts, graphs and sound logic.

Your situation is different- professional opinions in the medical, scientific and legal professions are critical, but I think the points are still generally valid in a large hierarchy.

Some other time when we are actually speaking I will tell you about "Management By Objective"- or how to get to win/win, or consensus, or everybody agrees, etc. All theories expounded by people who never really had to run anything of any size. Its so obviously wrong, only an academic would think it could work.

Now here is something for you to chew on- its in the “can’t we all agree” school of things- of which I am naturally distrustful. My experience tells me that under most circumstances, and there are some important exceptions, that most of the time when people go in for consensus its because they don’t want to accept responsibility.

A corollary is that there are no wrong answers, all points of view are equally valid. Ergo, consensus is a reflection of the rule, the greatest good for the greatest number.

I go in for the “’1 riot, 1 ranger” rule, and if you need a committee to come to a consensus, get rid of all of them. This is fundamentally different from the “we agreed upon the rules, and the rules were followed” idea- and many times they are confused.

As for Palin, I agree, she has a much better operational resume than any of them. I don’t know if she has the “persona” that is required. It would have been far better for Bush to have been elected before television or radio, he reads much better than he sounds(ie, his speeches, when read, are actually not bad- he’s no Churchill, but then neither is Obama). And to that point, Obama is so obvious in his “speechifying”- I am reminded again, of that line in Blazing Saddles uttered by Slim Pickens to Harvey Korman about the $10 dollar whore and his tongue.

Hope the weather is not quite as cold as it was- its chilly here, very damp, but nothing like New England.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Internationalism As Secular Religion

A William and Mary Classmate is now working in Shanghai and is behind the Great Wall of Censorship. I have been sending him whole articles in emails to get around this. Rereading this post and the paper attached to it from three years ago, I thought it worth reposting.

Please note, Anderson is not a Christian believer, and so does not come to this observation perceiving this religion as a competitor.

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

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

Another Economist Guesses

For as much as I know, this analogy over at Volokh makes sense. First, it sounds like how human beings come to operate, with small but frequent payoffs overwhelming our caution about catastrophic losses; second, it sounds even more like how financial competition works - if you don't take that small extra payoff, your customers go elsewhere; third, it sounds like the type of thing that governments and politicians love, being able to keep everyone cheery and reporting back to them what a good job they're doing; fourth, I trust Taleb.

So I guess I find this plausible on the basis of knowing something about human nature, not about knowing economics. Making loans that are 1% riskier is a great way to make money (almost the same number of people pay you back), so 2% is the new envelope-stretcher. And it's great for poorer people - mostly - because most of them do pay the mortgage and get a leg up they wouldn't have had. Add in that everyone is congratulating you because a lot of those poorer people are minorities, and it becomes hard to stop making those loans. It works great until it doesn't work anymore.

Okay, now that you've seen that, this post by another law prawf on the same site should be discouraging.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Animal Rights

The Onion gets it right again.

Just Saying

I read the Sports Illustrated article on Kentucky's John Wall (at my usual magazine-reading place, a waiting room). I was pleased that he thought he had learned good study habits at his Christian academy and has a 3.2 GPA. It sounded refreshing. He went on to talk about having done a paper on Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr, and going to a German restaurant and then talking about it for a Small-Group Communications course.

This is simply shameful. Kyle's assignments in Eighth Grade are more challenging. It makes you wonder what the players who don't have "good" study skills and a 3.2 average are doing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ongoing Tension

We are holding our breath a bit over the next twenty-four hours. Kyle is going to Cape Cod to stay overnight with his mother, who he has not seen since he came to us a year ago.

Update: Seems cheerful, glad to be home, happy to have seen his younger sisters. Only a few stray comments raise an eyebrow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


"To me a name comes first and the story follows...I once scribbled 'hobbit' on a blank page of some boring school exam paper in the early 1930's. It was some time before I discovered what it referred to!" JRR Tolkien, correspondence 1955.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


It is easier to forgive people once they have stopped sinning against us, we learned wryly at a Bible study twenty years ago. Even more, it is easier to forgive them once they're dead.

Scripture doesn't let us off with that postponement, of course, and we must manage our forgiving and reforgiving as best we can with moving targets. But for those who struggle, despairing whether they will ever release those last grudges, you will. My parents both asked late in life for my forgiveness for anything left over, and I thought I had (and was grateful they had made that effort). But I forgive them much more now.


(Apology: This was not as clean and clear as I would have liked. Fight through it.)

Like the irony that everyone has a religion, whether they acknowledge it or not, there is also the paradox that everyone evangelises for that religion, even if their main evangelising point is that no one should evangelise. While this seems an offensive formulation to U-U’s, Episcopalians, and Jews – some of the leaders in the Thou Shalt Not Evangelise crew - I don’t think it need be. There are important distinctions, social and intellectual, between the hard evangelism of well, people like me, and the soft evangelism of the others noted above. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner of “it’s exactly the same” when it in fact isn’t.

At the simplest and least offensive level, if we think something is true, we eventually tell that to others. We might choose to keep silent in many situations, desiring comity; we might think it an important truth to remind others that there is no one truth, only perspectives; we may be forceful or subtle, open or covert, gentle or vengeful, but we eventually say what we mean. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks is one of the more brutal truths of scripture. Christopher Hitchens preaches a gospel that organised religions poison everything they touch, whether quickly or slowly; Richard Dawkins advocates strongly that what cannot be proven should not be believed. No problem, really, however irritating that is to many Christians. It’s just a different faith, derived in part from some of our own principles.

To contend that all religions are ultimately exclusive in their claims is murkier and more difficult, but I think it holds at the end. There is a wide gap between a srtict Roman Catholic, or say, a Jehovah’s Witness, or Moslem, Mormon, or Two-Seed-In-The-Spirit-Baptist and a modern all-paths “Spiritual” person; there is a wider gap still between any of them and a person who believes it is all eyewash, describing nothing. Yet in an odd twist, there is a unity among them. The Buddha taught Four Noble Truths, after all, not Speculations. Jews do not believe that everyone should be made to use two sets of dishes – in fact, they consider outsiders doing such things to be artificial and a bit of a mockery. From this they conclude that they are not claiming an exclusivity, a One Way to heaven. Yet they are. They believe that certain things about G-d have been revealed to their people, and these things are true. No matter how much ground they might give about things revealed to others also being true, or humility in asserting the imperfectly understood, or even, as with some Reform Jews, are uncomfortable with this God-talk in the traditional sense, still they will find many pronouncements about God to be quite untrue.

Those who are simply uninterested in the discussion at all would seem to have the strongest claim that they do not preach an exclusivity. These might have a mild fondness or antipathy toward other beliefs, but generally don’t think about the issue at all. Surviving is their focus, or advancement. Enjoyment, equanimity, or excitement might be their focus. In theory, some may exist who have absolutely no interest in larger and universal questions at all. But my experience is that this is always only in theory. When presented with the counter-evangelism of someone in their midst who forcefully asserts their own truths, they are quick to squelch that, or absent themselves.

Soft at the edges does not mean soft all the way to the core. Everyone eventually finds something up with which they will not put, because it’s just wrong, not true, not fair, not real, not polite, not important enough to bother about. It may be a negative religion, a negative evangelism, a negative exclusivity, but it comes to the same thing in the end. By nature, some folks have hard edges and like to insist that others attend to the details of what is true. Other folks have soft edges and don’t like to insist others adopt their details, finding that rude or intrusive. But that is in itself a statement that people should have soft edges, that we’d all be happier if everyone had soft edges, that good religions teach people to have soft edges. Imagining …no religion…living for today… is a deeply evangelistic and exclusive religion.

End Of The Season

Part of the bittersweetness of being a sports fan are the if-onlies. One more strike, one less injury, one better call, one better bounce, and the outcome would have been different. Yet not always. If Wes Welker is healthy – if the Pats contain that first run – if Tom Brady throws fewer interceptions – I think Baltimore still grinds out that win. In a 24-20 4th quarter a fluke might have allowed the Patriots to steal a victory, but it would be a steal. The Ravens played better.

Hobbits Never Say "Lo!"

Tolkien found the conversation of Hobbits one of the surprising joys of writing LOTR. That writing did not come naturally to him, but he enjoyed listening in on them as much as his readers do. His natural tendency was to grand and formal speech, which we see especially in The Silmarillion. Less than half of LOTR fans liked TS, and the lack of hobbits was the most frequent complaint.

Even in LOTR, nearly all non-hobbit characters speak in formal style, enough so that it is easy to parody. Just this week I realised I would find the book barely tolerable without hobbit-talk. In the original Hobbit the dialogue is a touch stilted in another direction, toward the childlike and overly-playful. The dwarves, or even Gandalf, are the more reliable link between the serious and the comic at first, though over the course of the book Bilbo rather grows into his own and stands in both worlds. Older words and elements – runes, wars long past, dangerous monsters and archaic names – are only gradually introduced into the story, as Bilbo moves out of his predictable and normal world into the frightening world without. Yes, normal, even in a fantasy context. The Shire, for all its invention, is more like our own world than all beast-fables and most realistic fiction.

Tolkien may have been most devoted to the remote landscapes and sweeps of history of the LOTR appendices and The Silmarillion, but for the reader, these are the background, the canvas on which the hobbit-story is written. Hobbits never say “Lo,” never say let us gird ourselves and weep no more, or It is long indeed since we saw one of Durin's folk in Caras Galadhon. By the very end, Frodo might be able to say, like Gandalf, It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, Sam, but even then, it would be a stretch. None of the other hobbits come near it.

Hobbit-talk is the center of the story. The great events of an invented world, however edifying, matter little to us – at least as far as the pull of the narrative. It is that these poor rustics are caught up in the great events – persons less dignified and heroic than ourselves. What is happening to hobbits, and listening in on their encounter with the enormities of war, monsters terrible to even think about, succession of kings, and grudges of a thousand years are all we care about. The lone exception is the section devoted to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, first in their pursuit of the hobbits, then in the wars of the age. Yet it is in this section that Gimli’s speech changes a bit, becomes less formal. He becomes the necessary hobbit for those scenes. Not coincidentally, these are the most memorable and beloved episodes about any dwarf in the books.

Span of years roughly correlates with this grand archaism. This makes an intuitve story-sense, that those who live longest speak most toward eternity, with High Elves being most formal of all.

Cadillac Plan

My wife asked if our state-government health plan would be one of those Cadillac Plans that will be taxed under Obamacare. Of course not, darling. President Obama promised that he wouldn’t raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000.

Lord, Is It I?

The nature of my job is to work as part of a group. Each admission team has 4-8 members who meet 90 minutes a day, then separate to do our own work. Throughout the day, each team member re-engages briefly and singly with the others: nursing with rehab, social work with MD. Teams are relatively stable – aside from temporary coverage, I have worked with the same cast for over two years. I have been working according to this model for twenty-five years.

Thus I am fairly automatically attuned to group dynamics at this point. When things are going well, team members give similar answers as to why they are going well. When they are not, there is an unspoken (usually) consensus as to who is gumming up the works. When the players shift over time, we get to see if our theory about who the culprit is was true. Change reveals, usually in predictable fashion.

Which is to say, the problem is usually an obvious jerk, whose removal improves matters greatly.

Yet not always. Group dynamics can be tricky and subtle, and occasionally the removal of an obvious jerk fixes nothing; things remain dysfunctional for reasons no one can quite understand. Sometimes it is a particular combination of not-especially pathological people, or a hidden factor of when the group meets or a structural factor imposed from outside that creates the dysfunction.

Our church has not thriven (thrived? thriven) in its dozen or so years. I have been there since the beginning, well-involved in most of its activities. I would not, at first glance, be the person everyone would identify as The Problem. Not that I am universally beloved or never have a negative effect, but that in organizations, people who show up to do work are generally regarded as solutions, not problems.

Yet I wonder. Lord, is it I? We have had a changing cast of characters and I am one of a very small number of constants. We have been different sizes, in different locations, with different pastors. If one were to step back and take a longitudinal view and do research, I would have to be one of the pieces under special scrutiny. Factors not especially related to single individuals remain the most likely explanation for why we have limped along for most of our existence: location, dispersal, makeup of the congregation, style of worship, and such.

Everyone has an idea how the problem came to be. Everyone has some thought of a solution to try. If I harbor ill-will at all, it is directed more toward denominational headquarters, which keeps telling us they have good advice. This advice keeps taking the form of programs, all of which focus on process. The default solution of those who have no actual evidence but like to talk about What Could Be.

Tangent: One of the worst things you can do to people with a problem (as I know from bitter experience at work) is to continually hold out the idea that you have a really good solution, which after much agony, turns out to be a way for them to approach problems, based on no evidence whatsoever. If you can couch it in terms of dividing all the problems of the world into four categories so much the better - the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire-signs; the four humors: sanguine, melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic; the four personality colors: Gold, blue, red, green; Kretschmer, Myers-Briggs (4x4), Eysenck, Personality Style Inventory, and now Veritas! Social workers love this sort of stuff, which should tell you how much hard science is behind it. /Tangent

The intellectual dynamics provide complications over the merely physical; the emotional brings in more complications still; spiritual dynamics can be the least-visible and most complicated of all. Two years ago and more, I considered stepping out entirely for a year, to see if that changed the dynamic, and asked God for guidance in the matter. I received no answer (that I know of), but eventually decided not to er, suspend myself, for practical reasons. The loss of me might be an interesting experiment; the loss of my wife from this congregation would be devastating – too great a risk without clearly divine guidance.

But every week I wonder: Lord, Is It I? Have I been stepping on each new shoot as it emerges, covertly sabotaging each good work?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pinot Nothing

I have decided I don't like Pinot anything.

Language Change

When young children are learning English, they will apply general rules to words that are exceptions: I gived it to her. They have not heard adults use "gived" - they have likely heard "gave" hundreds of times. But their internalising of the rule that past tense in English is formed by adding -ed creates a pressure to force all verbs into the regular rule. There is a countering pressure that this word is an exception, and as they become more fluent, children learn that the exceptions sometimes fall into a separate pattern. Sing, sang. Give, gave. Come, came The past tense often changes the vowel to -a-. The past participles of these exceptions are the most varied and hardest to learn.

Keep that concept of opposing pressures in mind when thinking about language change.

I had the opportunity today to use the past participle of "thrive" and went immediately to "thriven," then paused. I have heard the word "thrived," I am sure. Could that be correct instead? I thrive, I throve, I have thriven. I thrive, I throve, I have thrived. I intuitively preferred "thriven," but also recognised it as the older form and wondered if I were keeping it as an archaism. I rolled the similar word strive around in my brain without much enlightenment.

OED says both are used. Other sources note that the older form is used more often in writing or in formal discourse. Notice the competing pressures here. "Thrived" follows the general rule of past tenses. Absent any counterpressure, the verb will go to that default setting: add -ed. Previous usage is that counterpressure. But as the word becomes less common, that pressure is weakened. Thrive, thriving; strive, striving still have some frequency in English. Throve, strove, and whatever-the-hell-the-past-participles-are is are much less common.

Why some verbs would remain common in all tenses while others ebb away outside the present tense is fun to think about. (To me, that's who.) One hundred years ago throve, thriven would definitely have been considered more proper. Now thrived is making inroads into both. The trend is clear: the older forms are going to lose. Language moves away from the unwieldy, and the downstream tenses of thrive have two things going against them. They are irregular, and they require two words where thrived will do for both.

Hast thou not seen such afore now?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

With Apologies to Hunter Thompson

With the president's popularity sagging, and lots of folks recanting their support, I just want it remembered: I kicked Barack Obama when he was up.


John Clayton, a Union Leader columnist and local historian (I even got a brief mention in his first book), suggest that we should be print out our important photographs and writing the names and descriptions on the back. Certainly, he is able to cite examples from his own work where "it's a good thing someone did that" in some instances and "don't we wish someone had done that" in others. Most people who have gone through old family photographs have had the experience of wishing Aunt Edna were still alive to tell us who that other couple in the picture at the pond were.

Add to this Lewis Lapham's thought that paper may outlast Google Digital Library, and one has to wonder if we are making information so instantly recoverable that it is is also more disposable than we realise.

I'm not rooting for the old ways on this. Twenty years ago I would have, insisting that libraries should be libraries, dammit, with dusty books. But for information junkies, nostalgia has taken a far back seat to access. I like reading in my comfortable chair, and I have a very long wish list on Amazon - okay, that sort of gives away the game right there, doesn't it? - but I find I do less and less. My family (and Boethius's), may be among the last holdouts teaching their descendants the arcane art of reading off a page, but even for me it is becoming hobbyish.

Photographs are now a different experience as well. Waiting days for your prints to come back - sometimes only 12 to a roll - made each one more of a treasure, each spoiled one more of a loss. We are now deluged with photos that even we no longer look at, piles of them lying in their paper sleeves, accusing my poor wife of neglect while they await placement in their final home, an album with plastic covers on the pages.

Will anyone bother? Why should they? We have massive rolodex photo holders that chronicle our lives from 1975 - 2000, and guests sometimes like to browse those. Fun. But even with that last extra boost of accessibility, the photos go unnoticed and untouched from month to month.


37-21 is a pretty good beating, but I still think Texas wins with Colt McCoy. All he'd have needed were fewer interceptions. His statements of confidence that he knew exactly what Alabama would do may be just the usual hyperbole, but I tend to think it would have been enough.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Prayer Request

I usually think of prayer requests as more a Facebook and email thing, but this one occupies enough of my daily thinking that I thought I would make the request. Tim King is a man in his mid-20's who we have known for more than two decades. He has commented here a few times, his sister used to be a regular (bsking), and his father remains a regular reader and commenter here (Michael). So you sort of know him. He is one of four siblings who intermingled in ages with our four and often went to school and youth group together. Tim in particular was sometimes the only other boy in Ben's class at a small Christian elementary school, so they became close even though they are not especially alike.

He is sitting in a DC hospital with cysts around his pancreas, having lost a fair bit of weight already, waiting for inflammation to recede so they can decide what to do next. He has a bright and energetic spirit and attitude, and is not easily weighed down, but as the days turn into weeks, it's hard for anyone to keep waking up with that can-do, bootstrap view of the morning.

He is on medical leave from Sojourners. Various family members, including especially Mom, have been down from their northern dwellings (New Hampshire and Chicago) to be with him as much as they can. But it is hard for them, too.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Medium Is The Message

In my post below, Tolkien and Marriage, the section quoted brought up other odd thoughts. Who talks like this to their children? I would come closer than most to that style, yet even I found it puzzling. (Not many other children are admonished as they leave the house "Go forth. Do well. Be of good cheer.")

My first thought was that this was the product of a different era, and that was sufficient explanation for all. Yet that put me in mind of writing letters to one's sons at all. Who does that anymore? I write emails, blog posts. Everyone picks up the phone much more readily these days.

There was a short period of time when I wrote many letters, actually corresponded with people, as a young man. But the writing of letters to intimates is now long gone. I imagine there are some die-hards, determined to stick with the form of communication they do best and mindful of preserving the art as long as may be, but there can't be many now. We briefly returned to writing letters during Chris's three months at Parris Island last year, and I did get more formal. That is perhaps notable because Chris is the least interested in reading of all the sons; so the form of communication itself directs us to write things we would otherwise not. We are very proud of you. How are things spiritually with you? A letter, being infrequent and limited in space, invites one to cut more quickly to central issues and bring them out into the air.

Were I writing to Jonathan or Ben, in a situation where it was all the communication we would have that month, I would move easily to such topics as marriage and choice of mate, and it would seem less strange to them to receive it.

Bearing in mind that when Tolkien wrote to his sons, he did not expect that others, especially the general public, would also read them, his tone is even less surprising. Confidences that seem impolite to mention, such as his annoyance with several of the Inklings, or his prejudices against groups of people, were mentioned precisely because they were in confidence. If someone were to publish my collected emails to my sons and others close to me, there are certainly more than a few I would want back immediately for editing, if not permanent electronic destruction.

Come to think of it, I'm sure there were letters like that which never made it to publication in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. The editors have considerable discretion in such matters, and we do not see the entirety of a person's correspondence. Yet even at that, the letters which are published were never meant for another audience at all. If one traveled in time and spoke with Tolkien (which I do, occasionally - usually around 1941), mightn't he feel seriously intruded upon if I were to refer to knowledge which could only have been gained from the letter to his son (or wife!) he had on his desk that very moment? Wouldn't all letters written after have an eye over the shoulder to posterity about them?

I have learned more than I would like about Tolkien's dislike of Americans or irritations with Lewis. But I am applying a standard of public statement about those matters that is not fit for letters to his children. I make less-guarded statements to my children all the time, things I would forbear mentioning on the internets.

So, different era; different medium, not by election but by necessity; therefore, very different things communicated.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Artis Gilmore

I heard on sports radio that Artis Gilmore isn't in the basketball Hall of Fame. I didn't believe that, and looked it up. It's true, and it's a travesty. The wikipedia article says that none of the nine anonymous members of the screening committee have put his name in the last three years. Something smells here.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Bus Stop

This should have been the band I became obsessed with (instead of The Lovin' Spoonful). Good harmony. More interesting than average lyrics. Good songs: Carrie Anne, Stop, Stop, Stop, Just One Look, Jennifer Eccles, The Air That I Breathe, Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, On A Carousel, Look Through Any Window.

Younger viewers, noting what now seems the general 60's dorkiness of their style should be advised that they were ahead of the curve on most of these things which seem so old-fashioned now.


According to Facebook, Ben got bitten by a squirrel. My first thought was that this was some cosmic vengeance for his Squirrel Video from sixth grade (You think that's funny, you monster? Hungry squirrels cast into the snow because of your twisted experiment in creating obstacles for them?), but in truth, woodland creatures were attacking Ben long before that. Skunks on ski-slopes - has anyone else ever encountered one? Maddened quail on the Pemigewasset (what a great title for some art work that would be - a poem, a painting, an album). They came after him long before he dreamed of testing the squirrelproofing of bird feeders, and even before he had chuckled at Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park."

Maybe it's because he panned the movie "Furry Vengeance" on the basis of the trailer, but really, can he be the only one to notice that this looks incredibly stupid, and only trades on the cuteness of small animals to sell itself?

OTOH, why should I expect forest creatures to have an accurate sense of justice when human beings don't?

Tolkien and Marriage

I mentioned in The Fire-Tender that we sometimes expect to receive non-challenging information from a book, but find that it prompts us to further thought. In Tolkien’s long letter to his son Michael, who seems to have had what we now call PTSD from his wartime experiences (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, # 43, dated 6-8 March 1941), he writes about marriage:
…And of course as a rule they are quite right. They did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst all the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances).

I never thought of it that way. Only a very wise man at the end of his life…

Yet it is never going to happen that way, so God’s design must not be putting this particular wisdom at the absolute top of the list. We try to be as wise as we can, of course. But it is inevitable than none are completely wise in their choice, and many will be quite unwise. Most important, it has always been that way and always will be. Cultures that arrange marriages make a different set of mistakes – they have a different unwisdom – but the situation remains essentially the same. Through most of history the pool of available mates for anyone is quite small – a few dozen. Even in our wide-circle, meet-many culture, the list of people a young person might realistically consider for marriage can’t be more than a few hundred, even over a decade’s time. One might go to a college, or work in a company that has thousands of people, but you won’t have opportunity to know many of them.

So. Many, perhaps even most people end up marrying the “wrong” person. When I have thought of the subject at all, it is to breathe a sigh of relief at unsuitable attachments that were avoided. * But surely, there are people unhappy enough to have replayed their possibilities in their minds many times? Easy to delude ourselves with such thoughts, I’ll warrant.

Yet God, knowing that many (all?) will marry the wrong person, sets down rules for conduct that never hint that such a consideration is even slightly relevant. If we accept that we, the individuals, are what are important eternally - institutions such as marriage are ephemeral (Mark 12:25), why are we asked to sacrifice ourselves to this set of rules? The inevitable conclusion is that some other lesson is more important, a lesson hidden in the meaning of vows, and fidelity, and servanthood.

I tread on dangerous ground here. My mother divorced my father, and I long ago pronounced that the right decision (though noting that the cost was much higher than estimated). I know divorced people who were treated very, very badly, even criminally, by their previous spouses, and can hardly think it is kind or charitable of me to even hint they should not have left. Yet here we are. If one starts from the premise that nearly no one will marry their soul-mate, yet marriage is still a good thing, the whole picture looks different.

*And for those with children, the idea of the non-existence of any of your progeny, even under the theory of “you would have loved those other children just as much” is simply horrible to consider. Even their premature death is better than their nonexistence.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Tolkien Notes

Upon hearing that there was complaint about his use of dwarves as a plural, instead of the more usual dwarfs, Tolkien countered that the Germanic plural would more properly be dwarrows, which he regretted not using.

Aragorn was called Trotter, not Strider, in the first draft. Revolting. Makes me think of pigs.

Tom Bombadil

Today is Tolkien's birthday, BTW. He would be eleventy-eight today.

Short version: Tom Bombadil fits just fine when he’s not talking or especially, singing.

Even at first, magical reading of LOTR, Tom Bombadil seemed not to fit in the story somehow. The explanation about him made sense enough, and in a middle-earth where trees can have it in for you, a creature who can counter them by talking to them makes sense enough. But the nonsense verse is jarringly bad, not fitting the character at all. His very speech and conversation seem flat, as if some nine-year-old had somehow inhabited the body of some powerful wizard.

It didn’t get better on rereadings, save that I skimmed the dialogue more and focused on the narration on successive passings. The four times I read LOTR out loud to the boys, that section was always tough to put some feeling into.

I had the same impression in Rivendell, less strongly, when the elves sang less serious songs or teased others; this in turn reminded me how the dwarves’ song about Bilbo and the plates at the opening of The Hobbit doesn’t work either. You see the common thread: creatures from Faerie who are both serious and merry, young and old, wise and nonsensical, have one side of them captured in word, but not the other.

In truth, it is hard to do, this putting of words into the mouths of creatures whose otherness is important. Specifically, the light side of that is hard, for Tolkien manages the seriousness and agedness of all these quite well. But this humorous side of them eludes him; I can’t think what other writer does it well. Lewis manages this light side a bit better, though the deep seriousness of some of his characters is less convincing than Tolkien’s.

Bearing this in mind, Tom Bombadil actually works quite well once they have left his house. When he comes to the Barrow-Downs in rescue the verse is still weak, but not so bad. He hears Frodo’s song at some great distance, easily demonstrates great power over things natural and unnatural with just a few words, shows great appreciation for beauty and ancient history, and sets them on their way. Note that as they travel to the Great Road, Tom is described as joking and singing, but no jokes or songs are described. This Bombadil works fine.

Next, Elrond describes him at the council and Gandalf takes up the discussion, with reference to his great age and type of power. Then at the very end of LOTR, Gandalf indicates he is going to visit Tom and have a long talk.

Living at the edge of the great story and out of the track of usual travel, like some strange-named, remote hero out of the Finnish Kalevala, Bombadil makes entire sense. Only when Tolkien attempts to bring him close and speak to us does he fall to pieces. He would have been better-described if the song about him had been one Sam had learned as a hobbit-child, and we heard only evocative snatches, ranging in length from a phrase to a couplet, from Tom himself. The dialogue might still be weaker than other parts of the story, but not glaringly so.

We have not met the real Bombadil – Tolkien doesn’t capture him well.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Fire-Tender

I built a fire outdoors in the metal grate last night. The rest of the family likes fires as well, but not for so long a time. Each comes out for a few minutes for a captivated stare into the blaze and a bit of conversation, then returns inside, especially in winter. I like staying there the whole time, tending the fire with little proddings and reloadings.

Of course, a fire is more interesting when it is yours, when you are responsible for the tending.

The setting up and starting of the fire is only a means to an end for me. I know the sense of accomplishment that starting a fire efficiently can bring - a single wooden match, a smallish bit of paper or shavings igniting the tiny branches which in turn light the larger ones. Yet the annoyance of failing at that task, and having to start over, with new shavings and kindling, is great enough that I prefer to overbuild from the start and get a blaze going with less risk of failure - multiple crumpled newspaper pages, a mound of dry twigs.

We believe that our thoughts are deep and profound while watching a fire. Usually, they are merely melancholic. Each gathered tribe, even each settlement, had its ones who enjoyed the staying up alone to preserve the fire for the others until morning.

I am reading The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, received for Christmas. I had expected from the book the same sort of pleasure one gets from watching a small fire. A sense of depth, touching on wisdom, filling in pieces of his thought, his biography, and his writing of LOTR to what I already knew, but nothing challenging. We don't really like challenging thoughts coming unexpectedly by a comfortable fire or from a comfortable author we believe we have got a corner on. We want to be told what we already know in a different way. Tolkien didn't let me off the hook that way, however. His letters, especially to his son Christopher, touched on opinions I didn't know the old fellow had. Some are quite new ideas to me, and some contradict what I now believe.

This put me up against it tending the fire. Instead of basking in warm comfortable thoughts, I had to wrestle with colder troubling ones, as one might have to with the fire itself when the cold wind is up and fuel at greater distance than expected. There are posts forming in my mind about all this. Posts here are now my dominant, though not exclusive, means of expressing things important to me. This is a good thing, as it forces me to put my thoughts into words understandable to others.

But it is perhaps not the best thing, as one of the lines of thought is how the trite line "the medium is the message" is true in many ways. The form one chooses dictates what one can say. Letters, conversation, and blogging are quite distinct in their moods.

I will also be writing on Tolkien's views on marriage and making my peace with Tom Bombadil, whose seeming intrusion into the story of LOTR I think I finally get.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Reused Animation

You knew that Disney studios reused some animation, especially choreography.

Did you know it was this bad?