Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In The Bleak Midwinter


Remembering my own observation that we are seldom persuaded by those who disagree with us completely, but more often by those who we have some agreement with, I have been visiting some centrist and unclassifiable blogs. The hard-right sites have enough soft-right visitors attempting to persuade, and if I went too far left I would become a mere thorn and troll.* I have not the self control for that task. But I get along with centrists reasonably well online. I do find that many are actually quite liberal, and are either surrounded by such leftists that they think themselves centrist, or they have a few areas of disagreement with the liberal norm. But others are quite genuine. I have been using my regular AVI blogname thus far, but I think I need to reinforce the idea of changing my attitude by taking a different name.

I shall be traveling as Mr. Underhill.

The Thorn and Troll would be a great name for an English pub, wouldn't it?

Mornington Crescent II

Looks like Mornington Crescent isn't going to catch on here.

What Doctors Believe

Hurry. Retriever admits it's a rant and may take it down when she thinks better of it. But it's an interesting rant, about whether the beliefs of doctors, particularly psychiatrists, should be considered important.
In this country, some people seriously question whether well meaning white Americans are culturally competent to treat sick African Americans or other nonwhites or illegal immigrants. Sane people say that an American of any color can probably figure out how to relate to another American, but may need some help figuring out the cultures the illegals fled from. Why is it okay, then, for foreign doctors to treat the captive group of desperately ill American citizens?? Why are mental patients, who by definition are vulnerable, need understanding, people who can read their signals, and communicate empathically, being treated by complete strangers??
Included: a link to interesting statistics about doctor's religious beliefs, which are different from other scientists.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Coping Strategy

Work has taken on a surreal quality of inefficiency lately - I will not publicly explain why - but a new coping strategy occurred to me over the 4-day weekend, and it worked pretty well today.

I've decided I'm in a sitcom or a reality show. This is all being taped, and they're going to be broadcasting my reactions nationwide. So I don't want to be an ass. I want to appear witty, efficient, good-hearted, wise.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Miami Heat Trend

I haven't seen this mentioned. Not only are the Heat losing, their margins of victory when they win are shrinking, and margins of loss when they lose increasing. That seems ominous. A team that is blowing people out and losing close games on alternate nights is a team that just needs to gel, as they say - smooth out some rough edges, change a few things around so that the close losses become close wins. That's not what is happening now.

Thousands of people are analysing what is going wrong - I don't profess to understand it very well - but the trend is not good.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In Defense of the TSA

I think Insty linked this before the update. Good to know the other side.

God Rest Ye Merry

If you miss the harmony, sing it yourself.

Real Ad?

Is this a legit ad from 1964? Not something unapproved and resurrected out of context now? Seriously?

Morning Coffee Thoughts

We went out to tag our Christmas tree this morning, a family tradition that we have held even after the children have gone. We used to choose a tree from our own property at the old house, both for the romance of it and the reduced cost. You get some pretty odd trees that way, but of such oddities is charm born. There was one year that Jonathan cut one from his in-law's property up in Jackson when they were clearing space for an addition. Over 20', that one was, and even after cutting it down to 16' it was a project to lug it three hours back to Goffstown. It was down to 12' by the time we erected it, and the route to upstairs was seriously impeded. I think that was the first year the boys were here from Romania. Jonathan and Heidi still cut their own tree, but in a different place. I don't know it that option is available in Houston for Ben, but I haven't heard him mention it. Chris and JA always found the tree-tagging less important, but we made them go at gunpoint, as we do now with Kyle. It's tradition, dammit. Merry Christmas.

I have been wondering with some apprehension what the financial news out of Europe means going forward. It does illustrate how far people will let things go while remaining in denial. They, like we, blame the politicians for it all, but the citizenry didn't get so very concerned that they voted them out. Much as here. The EU is only part of the problem, though it is taking the heat. Covetousness is the problem. Christians usually focus on individual coveting as the sin to pay attention to, but group covetousness may be more damaging. We are studying the OT histories in Sunday School. We want a king so that we can be like other nations. The same today. Other school districts have...Other professions with the same amount of education make more...The army gets all the new equipment...Other Little Leagues buy those nice...Other hospitals have that equipment...Those other cities...those other states...those other countries... The Europeans saw this collection of American states with a better economy and drew the wrong lessons. And we, of course, do that too. As long as I can remember, one of the big arguments for universal health care is that all the other kids have one.

PJ O'Rourke gets it half right when he points to this commandment as being important for a nation's well-being. On an individual basis, it's a good reminder not to covet because it breeds discontent. Get one of your own. But he left out the part that it's bad to get one of your own if you can't afford it. My third and fourth sons thought they could afford x amount of car because their friends were all affording it somehow, so they must be able to as well. And why shouldn't they "deserve" that as much as anyone else? The part where a lot of those friends eventually couldn't make the payments looked less visible. Buying too much car is the chief cause of bankruptcy in your 20's. As with my post on standing alone, it is perhaps good training to endure having something inferior to what your peers have simply for the discipline of denial.

Pondering how life might have been different, I remembered how unusual it was for people graduating from William and Mary to leave the general region, where the very name had cachet and people immediately tagged you as a smart person. I came back to New England, then soon to New Hampshire, where people didn't even recognise the school. I always highlighted the good reasons for coming back here, but there was some timidity and retreat in it as well. I seldom think much about how life would have been different for Tracy and I - I think it would have been an enormous difference - but today it struck me: my sons would not be Newhampshiremen. I don't think that matters so much to the Romanians, for fairly obvious reasons. And Benjamin has always been a citizen of whatever he is reading or watching - of Watership Down, of ESPN, of Redwall. Still, even in Texas there's a self-definition, an idea of origin that clings to him, I think. Kyle has lived mostly in Massachusetts until 2009, so I don't know what he'll see himself as. Those ideas don't start to become important until one is older anyway.

But the idea of Jonathan not being a Newhampshireman is frankly inconceivable. Apparently he thinks so too, having moved back here to insure that his children are Newhampshirewomen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Rally To Restore...Vanity?

There is a post by far-left Mark Ames making the rounds, The Rally To Restore Vanity: Generation X Celebrates Its Homeric Struggle Against Lameness, because the concluding paragraph of his overlong rant encourages liberals to spit on libertarians because they are "enemies of the state." Ann Althouse (plus Stephen Green, via Instapundit*) finds some things in the essay worth attending to however, and not merely as a bad example to be aware of. Ames has sensed correctly one of the driving forces behind the Stewart/Colbert rally, and is furiously angry about it.

Some additional comments to Ann's about Mark's piece from from eXile: As he is 45, Ames learned about the 60's protest movements secondhand, when the mythology of their sincerity, courage, and nobility was already in place. He contrasts the liberals following fashion now with the liberals seeking justice then. It ain't so. First, there was a sharp decline in purity of motive from the civil rights movement to the antiwar movement. Even Jesse Jackson was sincere then. I don't mean to paint either movement as pure or impure. There were bandwagoners and attention-whores in the civil rights movement and deeply sincere seekers after justice in the antiwar movement. But there was a general decline. And in both, there were those whose aim was always the downfall of the American system, who insinuated themselves into the confidence of decent people - piggybackers willing to latch on to anything that looked as if it might cause trouble. The numbers of these latter were small but determined.

Also, one might pause to consider the sincerity of the politics of popular performers in any generation. They were increasingly prominent (only a few folksingers at the beginning of the civil rights movement; everyone on the radio by the late 60's, most of TV and Hollywood by the late 70's. Evidence for my first point in itself). Authenticity is so easy to fake onstage.

Note, BTW, that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert are the same age as Ames. Not an accident.

The current generation of retro-infatuated hippies, in its fascination with the music and styles of the 60's rather than its ideals, might send Ames over the edge, but he needs to bear in mind that it wasn't much different in 1969. The myth of the early heroes of the struggle is standard in all movements. There was genuine concern for equality, for peace and justice, but there was a lot more concern for being noticed, getting high, and getting laid. (Yes, even among all those churchy social justice types.) Not to pick on the left exclusively for that. That is true of their opponents and of all political movements in safe places. It's human nature.

Second, because Ames is in the anti-corporate left, he still sees liberals as half-hearted versions of his more radical self, who can be rallied by appeals to stiffen the backbone and gird up the loins. In trying to shame them into standing up to The Man, he has not noticed that they are The Man. Corporations and billionaires and lobbyists are as likely - perhaps more likely - to support Democrats now, in the interest of tidying things up under nice government control influenced by them. They are likely to agree with the left about abortion and gay marriage, affirmative action and universal health care, global warming and talking nice to our enemies customers. Employees of insurance companies and health care corporations are not philosophically opposed to poor people getting health care. They are philosophically opposed to going out of business. Many of them, by their actions, care far more about poor people getting medical care than he does. The sweetheart Wall Street deals are cut by Democrats now, even more than Republicans. They are not liberals who have wandered off the reservation and need to get back to their roots. These are their roots.

Ames has allowed Democratic branding to becloud what he sees more clearly than most. There is a rhetoric of association that Democrats use in branding their product that Mark Ames has swallowed whole. Of course there are cigar-smoking fat cats who hate what Mark Ames stands for, caring only about money and not the least squeamish about corruption. But that divide is no longer left and right. That was years ago. The movements have changed, the ground has shifted. The roles have not reversed, but they are no longer clear. Friends at nonprofits may tell him differently, but look at their funding sources. They have a personal stake in party politics.

*There was an old New Yorker cartoon by Edward Koren, of a wealthy NYC couple in a book-lined apartment. He is is bearded, in a bathrobe, with a pipe. She has the Sunday NYTimes scattered around her chair and says "Paul's got an article in the magazine section. Ann's book is reviewed by Dick. Buddy has a short piece on the Op-Ed page. Roy has something in the travel section, there's an essay by Norman on Matthew's new movie, and a letter on endangered species by your mother." Evidence even in 1968 of the echo chamber that increasing became the liberal elite. Is the blogosphere now doing the same thing?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mornington Crescent

This game was big in the UK a few years ago. Originally impenetrable to non-Londoners - who of course had a far greater familiarity with the stations on the Underground - it became such a craze that people throughout the UK would study up on their tube maps and become as proficient as native Londoners. There are dozens of variations, each with its own conventions, but only a few were played widely. The cast of the comedy "I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue" are playing the Maldon variation here, which allows redoubles and laterals, or "slants."

This is a rather short game which they stretch out with patter in between moves. Cryer and Hawks are reportedly very good players, actually, though they keep it simple here. Or so I'm told. I can't tell the voices apart myself, and it's a pity there's no video to go along with this. Tube maps are not available during competitions - all players must work from memory. I can't follow a bit of it without the map myself, so I imagine you won't either and I have included an expandable one for reference here. Index here.

No matter the sequence, all answers produce at least some points; but like Scrabble, you can set up high-scoring moves with earlier, innocent-looking ones.

Christmas Carol

We've done this in two parts for so long that it was nice to hear more harmonies. A favorite.

On Cue

My uncle from NoCal started grumbling about a year ago - as if it were some carefully considered opinion that independent deep thinkers had been developing over the years and were offering as a potential Narrative For Our Age - that perhaps the American presidency was just too complicated for any one person to really manage well. I suspect they are imagining how this will begin to work it's way into American Government textbooks as a thought-provoking question at the end of the chapter. Write it yourself.

It's the perfect topic of discussion for a dilettante like me. (Thank you, spell-check. Double consonants are my downfall.) You can spin some theory on the basis of broad but vague knowledge - a management article you read three months ago, a few cliches about the Roman Empire, some quotes from Roosevelt, some statistics on the GDP and the size of the federal government compared to Fortune 500 companies, plus a few personal anecdotes from your own career, and heck, you can go on for 30 minutes straight on that topic. Piece o' cake.

So the momentum builds slowly over the year, and I am hearing it more and more: "Maybe the presidency is just too much for any one person. There's just so much to do."

Really? Governing is hard? It takes some skill? Maybe even some...experience? Nah, that couldn't be it. It's just too much for even a brilliant person to do.

Set-up. There are two groups of liberals that fall outside the beard-stroking-deep-thought-of-the-month category. There are essentially moderate people who think that some liberal ideas are quite good but temper that with some distance, some influence from other gravitational fields, such as their upbringing or their jobs, that keep them from being fully captured in the current liberal fashion orbit. And, there are folks of genuinely curious disposition, who may have absorbed a lot of liberal assumptions along the way but are always looking for new angles and interpretations (so long as they don't originate from any of the despised groups). I exempt both groups from the following generalisations, only giving the caution that if you believe you are in one of these exempt groups, what makes you so sure? They're small.

NPR is a mixed bag here. They bring in some expert commentators who just might fall into the second exempt group. Not anyone completely off the reservation, of course, but people who like hanging out at the edge of the liberal circle, gazing out onto the other 80% of the population for novel understandings or examining the driftwood that washes up on liberal shores. OTOH, NPR puts many of the inner circle thinkers on display - folks who have no clue that they don't represent 90% of the smart people, and have no awareness of any driftwood.

On to today. My father-in-law always saves his magazines for us, and we saw him for Thanksgiving and took some home. Right on cue, just after the election, as even liberals are beginning to get the idea that Obama has basically accomplished one thing, health insurance reform, and that's falling apart - Newsweek has a cover with Obama as Shiva, the Indian deity with many arms, holding money, a globe, a military helicopter, a house, with the tag line "Is The Modern Presidency Too Much For Any One Person To Handle?"

It is not so much the question itself. It's rather an interesting question actually. It's the utter predictability of the question being raised now. I haven't checked the Hillary sites, but they must be spitting mad at this point. The incurious liberals, the ones who go into journalism and popular books, and the people who read them with the idea that they are being exposed to the great questions of the age, are utterly predictable. Far more than fundamentalists (who are a pretty ununified group perpetually arguing with each other about ever-smaller points, actually), they are a people told what to believe and they believe it. The trick is that it's artful and indirect, giving them the illusion that they are coming up with these great new discussion topics, rather than the preacher's overt declarations. The new spin comes with humor, and cleverness, posed as a question* or sold as a fashion.

So, you'll be catching a lot of this wise opinion over the next year or two, not on the Sunday morning shows where it's not catchy enough, but in thoughtsy interviews on NPR, or dropped into editorials, or mentioned in response to any suggestion that Obama isn't really getting a lot accomplished. Golly, there's just so much a president has to keep track of, and we stupid citizens expect him to do it all. Those corporate interests are just so powerful, and there are just so many of us now, and we're an advanced industrial nation with all sorts of new technologies. Maybe we need a new constitution, too.

*I wrote about the dishonesty of the "note of interrogation" last March, in the context of a Chesterton essay on pacifists asking near the end of WWI, when victory was finally in sight "Can we win?"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Sports Mythology

A sports radio guy uttered that great cliche today: "Great teams win close games."

No, great teams win blowouts. The closer a game is, the more luck is a factor. Character attributes are a factor at the margins - all that confident, never-say-die spirit and grim determination does have some influence. But fans imbue those close wins with virtue because we want it to be true. Yes, there is choking and panic that loses games, and not doing that is a virtue, but mostly, we see it because we want it to be true. No sport has an intrinsic value. It exists as an arbitrary vehicle for the playing out of our values. As so many of us "live lives of quiet desperation," we like to see virtues of endurance, grace under pressure, and savvy triumph over adversity. And if it's not there, we put it there anyway.

The closer a game is, the more luck is a factor. Fairly obvious when you think of it. Earlier in games, we recognise that this is true. When we complain about a superior team letting another team "hang around" so that they have a chance to pull an upset at the end, we are acknowledging that those ends can turn on bad calls, tricky hops, lucky shots, and tipped balls. Yet when we actually get to the last two minutes, it suddenly is all about Character.


Best of May 2007

American Productivity. I must really like this one.

Thoughts on the exit of Cindy Sheehan. Still vaguely pertinent now.

Conservative shoes. I ask again

Oppressing nations cease having children Perhaps it’s the humiliation. Also, why you don’t want to live forever. Related: Moral deterioration

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly

Remember The Secret? AVI says not so much

The Last Gift of Mary Magdalene

My recent post on Onomastics? More here.

An exchange of posts on young adult books.
Sexism in Narnia
Ben’s Books For Boys, Books for Girls at his site, and
Female Characters in Heroic Fantasy

My thoughts on abstinence-only sex ed

Another reason Robert Fulghum is dangerous

Obligatory post on linguistics and word etymologies

The unconscious equating of capitalism with selfishness

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pondering Best Of

I browsed the May 2007 postings for what I might bring forward for a "Best Of" collection. Last time I did that I didn't like much of anything I'd written before. This time I liked almost everything. Clearly, the eyes with which I read and the mood I am in influences me greatly in the choosing. I am undecided what I shall do.

I think I was a much smarter person 3-4 years ago.

Monday, November 22, 2010


When I was a boy, we would go to my aunt's, my mother's sister's house, in early December every year for the family Christmas party. It was only an hour away in Reading, MA, but people didn't travel such distances as offhandedly as they do now. I got to see my cousins and my eccentric Uncle Loring. A dual major in physics and violin at Yale in 1948, Loring worked at one of the original high-tech companies on 128 and had a houseful of geek wonders: a combined ham radio and weather tower in the back yard, a home video studio as early as 1967, an enormous electronic organ, a room with an entire wall of electronics someone said was a computer. He would pull me aside to give me news on the sly about my father, who he had always liked.

We would sing along to Loring's overdone accompaniment, more usually winter songs like "Let it Snow," or Silver Bells" than proper carols - Loring was known to not be especially religious, and just didn't "get it" about the difference between carols and songs. His children were mortified, but then, we were all mortified by anything our parents did at that age.

But on the way home, we would sing carols - my mother, her mother, her Aunt Sal, and I. My brother was younger, and I think fell asleep pretty quickly. We sang only carols, Selma and I the melody, my mother and grandmother the alto. The other three knew all the verses, and I learned them too.

I know what memory really is. I know that this could only have occurred 1960-65. I remember my grandfather sometimes being at these parties, so my grandmother would of course not have ridden with us those years. My heart tells me we sang the whole hour, but my mind says that is unlikely. If the weather was bad, singing would likely have been intermittent for the driver. I would have been 7 in 1960, and no matter how much of a prodigy I was I was unlikely to have held a melody against harmony even with help at that age. It may never have all happened properly in any single year.

Yet in my mind it happened every year, always lovely harmony, always the four of us, always the whole hour. It is overwhelmingly the fondest memory of my childhood.

I sang in the choir and learned the bass parts in high school. I created simple harmonies to those carols my choir missed, and have half-seriously said over the years that I no longer know the melodies. Also half-seriously, I have threatened to request "Once in Royal David's City" when I am in a nursing home and the youth group comes around.

So I required a wife who felt the same of course, though I didn't realise the importance at the time. You laugh, but it is true. We both wanted to parent children and read to them aloud, to share books with them - and we sang in the car, especially at Christmas. Because so many other things are implied by that vision, they just might sum up the foundation of our marriage. Those flowers only grow in special soil.

Searching for Christmas carols to post, I found that YouTube has lots of highly-arranged carols, cute kids singing carols, "interesting" versions of carols, and singers showing off their interpretive skill on carols. We like those just fine, certainly, and have stacks of vinyl, tape, and CD's of choral Christmas, Swedish Christmas, guitar carols, Mannheim Steamroller, Appalachian Christmas, Mahalia Jackson, contemporary Christian carols. There's not much of just singing carols. You see below, in fact, how far afield I had to go to find - Just. Singing. Carols.

For this particular carol, my Aunt Sal remembered an additional verse from Straw School - where she went, my mother went, and I went after for elementary grades - now an office building. I have never seen it anywhere. Perhaps it was written locally, or found by a teacher in a newspaper. It has sat in our carol book unknown for 30 years, and likely forgotten almost a century total. But with the internet, perhaps it holds on just a bit longer.
Where children pure and lowly
Pray to the Holy Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee
Son of the mother mild.
Where charity stands watching
And hope holds wide the door,
The glad dawn breaks, the glory wakes,
And Christmas comes once more.

I mean for you to sing along, or hum if you are shy (or from New England). That's what it was made for - not for performance, but for you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Hire one boy, you get one boy's work.
Hire two boys, you get half a boy's work.
Hire three boys, you get no work at all.

For similar reasons, the word "intelligence" can be substituted.

Sorry, I don't know what the equation is for girls.

Band Beautiful

Thursday, November 18, 2010


When I sent you over to Sponge-headed scienceman's site for the LL Bean post, he got into a fun conversation with Anna about development and various types of environmentalists. It put me in mind of my father, who lived in Westford MA most of his life. It was farm country - dairy and orchard, mostly - most of that time, and he liked tweaking new suburbanites at town meetings who wanted the town to keep its traditional character. He would describe where the two slaughterhouses (he would say abattoir so they wouldn't figure it out until they went home) stood kittycorner near the center of town. He wasn't anti-development but found it a bit frustrating. As suburbs creep out, the value of the farmland goes up, so the taxes go up. At 4AM in March when you're getting along in years and milking cows while you've got a bug of some sort, what with the tax bite and the offered selling price, a lot of farmers pack it in. Nice big houses go up, and their owners want all development to stop right there.

Late in life he said to me "We built a town that our children can't afford to move into."

Wellness Fair

We had another Wellness Fair again today. Despite budget cuts, we somehow always have enough money to redirect hundreds of staff hours to Wellness Fairs. I should be glad they aren’t called Faires, I suppose.

Body worship is part of the civil religion now, and such expressions may be regarded as religious festivals. Two 20th C developments have driven growth of body worship. Though things that are good for your body are only a subset of things that are good for you overall – we might consider things that are good for your intellect, good for your relationships, good for your spiritual growth, or good for your emotions, for example – but it is the most easily measurable one. If someone breaks your arm, you can quantify that and take it to a court of law, which recognises the value of an arm. Someone hurting your marriage used to be given some weight – one could sue for alienation of affection – but those others are more elusive in description. As we have become more mobile, we have relied more on law than on informal and local sanction for enforecement. Because America started as a colony and has always had more internal migration than other places, this reliance on the concrete and measurable has always been greater here. The concrete has obvious value, the abstract, less provably. See also the related phenomenon of environmentalism – spiritual damage to a community, or intellectual damage, or damage to a reputation or sense of community are less quantifiable than damage to air or rivers, so it is not much regarded in law, and eventually not in everyday thought. This may be wiser, but it is at least worth noting that our ancestors would have felt the opposite.

But the stronger reason for moving to body worship is that our bodies are better now, and we have increasing expectation they will work well for longer periods. In earlier eras, there wan’t much reason to worship at that personal shrine. The occupational wounds and breaks were improperly cared for and we carried the pain or disability forever; childhood diseases weakened for life; hunger found nearly everyone at some time in his life; and a host of diseases or accidents could cut your life off abruptly. Worship of one’s own body would seem, frankly, a little silly. Even the rediscovery of classical Greek focus on the beauty of the body was a worship of the ideal, not the everyday body you or I might have.
My mother chuckled rather grimly while she was in her last year, dying of cancer, that her doctor wanted to check her cholesterol, which had always been high. No point.

Yet now you might live to be 101, and be reasonably comfortable for most of it, so it becomes more worth your while to make an investment in that god. And, as in most religions, we make some offerings that are real, and some that are largely symbolic. It is ironic that we now worry about our bodies more when the danger is less, but it has a certain sense to it. As our lives get better the possible gods increase.

UPDATE: The proper answer to those who attempt to Christianise their body worship by quoting Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, is "Actually, I very seldom sleep with temple prostitutes." That is what the verse is referring to.

The Primitive Parental Brain

A coworker brought in her newly-adopted son from the Philippines today. Everyone was oohing and fussing and staring, and I found myself automatically turning to the older sister, a girl of six, and engaging her in conversation. Two others, both mothers of older children, did much the same as they later entered. Near the end of the visit, a woman about forty who I had not seen before came in and was introduced. She made brief but pleasant comments to the mother about the boy, but mom and son were clearly taken up with much attention from others, so she turned slightly to the girl, asked simple questions and made encouraging statements. Automatic. Experienced hands know how easy it is for noses to go out of joint.

I checked, just for confirmation so I could report it honestly, but you knew. Wedding ring. Such things occur to non-parents eventually, but to parents as naturally as breathing. It’s not a wisdom thing – it’s the primitive part of our brains, scanning the emotional territory for possible sources of meltdown, before conscious thought has even engaged.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I still haven't adjusted to voice-activated phones for conversation.

I cannot imagine doing my job without voicemail. Yet I did for years.

I recall the strangeness that people felt “talking to a machine” two decades ago. I t seems a world away. I do know a few older folks who still aren’t comfortable with it, but most people regard talking to a machine as entirely natural now.

As each new voice technology came in, people felt the unnaturalness of it. Tape recording goes back a long way, but it was not in everyday use for voice for most people. It was an event to speak into a microphone for recording purposes. People were nervous and tentative about it, nervously over-anticipating or freezing up operating the simple controls, or signaling each other in panic to move closer to a mike or adjust the volume. Part of this was the poor quality of most machines – tape was used to keep a record. Musicians needed good equipment or they didn’t bother. Thus to record on good equipment was also an event. Speaking into a microphone for radio broadcast takes some getting used to, but I think it's a quicker learning curve for each generation.

Listening to an ESPN phone interview where there was just the slightest delay between the parties, however, sounded very odd. All attempts at banter and jokes fell flat, because the timing and encouragement of laughter and feedback needs to be immediate. It all sounded terribly stilted. In humor, a delay before laughing is not a neutral sign, but a bad one - your audience is telling you you haven't quite got it right. I was reminded of that last night talking with my son Ben. The tiny delays suggested a voice-activated phone, and it threw me off repeatedly. Those who use it consistently have likely adjusted and don't notice, but to me, the delay keeps giving me the automatic visceral reaction "Did I just say something wrong?" It's wearying.

OTOH, his ear doesn't get too warm to continue.

I do wonder if we will eventually run up against some hard-wiring of the brain problem in constantly changing communication. Yet if we do, the technology will quicly go in another direction, I suppose.

Ellis Island

Retriever has a thoughtful piece about her visit to Ellis Island over at Rightnetwork.
I don’t mean to be negative, but visiting any major tourist attraction or station or other possible terrorist target in New York these days entails being searched and eyed up and down by men with machine guns and K9 units, and security guards, and being yelled at by uniformed officials.

The only good part about it when you are going to Ellis Island is that you will start to empathize with how the immigrants felt: being told where to go, and being afraid of uniformed authorities bossing them around who can prevent them going where they want to.
Interestingly, a lot of people's ancestors who supposedly came through Ellis Island didn't. It became something of a generic term. Folks didn't know exactly where they came through, and attached the most recognisable name to it afterward.

I have the seaman's book for my great-grandfather, Frederick Lindquist, who went to sea around 1849, sailed the world, and came to America to stay in 1867. I have no idea what port he entered through, but he settled in Rhode Island, where there were a lot of Swedes who had been recruited to work in the velvet mills.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Just a list of boy names that have become girl names. As you can see, this has been going on for some time. Each new one always sounds strange and inappropriate to me, but apparently we get used to it fast enough.

And no, they never go in the other direction. What the baby-name pages call androgynous or unisex names are merely names switching from male to female.


There's a strong tendency for the -y and -ly names to switch over for girl use. It is clearly more acceptable for a girl to have a boyish name than a boy to have a girlish one. There are a few possible explanations, but I lean toward the idea that masculine names often have higher status in terms of strength and solidity.

The Cost

A small NH town has a dump man named Ed. Now, I know Ed, because he was for many years a resident of the state psychiatric hospital, where I have worked for over 30 years. Ed originally came from this town, and when the hospital was trying to place him years ago, the social worker decided to move away from the usual plan of finding an SRO or a little apartment in town, setting him up with the local mental health center, and gradually teaching him to live in the world he had left in the early 60's. She contacted the town selectman - that's a singular - and asked if anyone might have a place for someone that came from there but they had probably forgotten.

Forgotten young Ed? How old would he be now? Of course we remember Ed. He was in my sister's class at school. His father used to have a little shop in town. Ed needs a place? Let me get back to you. Let's see what we can do. I will point out that no one from the town had ever visited Ed or sent him a card in 25 years, but that's NH. They didn't want to embarrass him by having people see him in the state hospital, probably.

The selectman got back to her a few days later. There was a woman glad to have Ed in, and the town had even arranged a job for him, as the assistant dump guy. A few years later the regular dump guy retired, and Ed became the dump guy. He's still delusional - tells the townspeople all kinds of crazy stories - but it doesn't interfere with his work much. A local PCP follows his meds - no psychiatrist or interfering human services people to clutter up the joint.

In the same town there's a retired guy with a truck. For $1 a bag, he'll pick up your trash Tuesday or Thursday and bring it to the dump. Leave the dollar attached to each bag. If you can't get out, he'll come into your house by prearrangement and take the trash out himself. He probably should have some sort of license and meet some state or federal standards that folks suspect exist but no one wants to look into it. So the sweet old guy makes another $200/week, and everyone's happy.

It is the ideal solution everyone is thinking about in the back of their minds when they are setting policy. This is the way life should be. This is how communities should act. It is the thought behind Tolkien's anarcho-monarchism, the idea behind the libertarians's love of small, naturalised, spontaneous solutions, the force behind all the liberal programs to teach job skills, develop natural networks of support, and have self-determination.

Wouldn't it be nice if.

It's 90% fantasy.

Y'see, Ed's not violent, and he shows up to work everyday. He stays on his medication, he's not addicted to drugs, and because years back he belonged to some independent Baptist sect, he's never had a drop of alcohol. But more than all that, it's only one guy. What's the town going to do if they have another Ed, or three, even if he's one of the easier ones to figure out. And then next sweet old retired guy with a truck has to figure out some other scheme as well. When you think of it, there are already retired people in town who don't have the health to pick up bags - but they didn't come into the story.

How would you replicate this solution in Boston? Hell, how would you replicate it in Concord? There are many, many more people out there, all of them with added difficulties - some of their own making, but many not. Making a life for all of them is an expensive proposition. In fact, it is furiously more expensive than any of you imagine. To do this right, to provide the services that people need to have a life, is well beyond our ability to fund. Well beyond. We might hope for technological solutions to bail us out over time: medications with fewer side effects, or gene manipulation to pull some of the developmental and psychiatric problems out of the equation. Better methods of incentive and persuasion to keep people in the treatment they need. New communication technologies that allow people to work without having their oddness and lack of social or employment skills show.

But for now, we have these people, and they are real people, and they are just difficult and expensive.

Conservatives and liberals have their separate ways of screwing this up. Small-government types entertain the fantasy that a lot of this would work itself out if people were more self-reliant - if individuals and families stepped up and made these natural solutions happen. They have a point, of course. I am very reluctant to apply for disability benefits for young people, knowing that this dooms them to a rather meager, helpless life in many cases. A lot of people could indeed smarten up and fly right if they had to. The risk of that is, some people can't, even with significant family support, or can't quite, and pushing them out into the world is merely kicking them when they are down. And let me assure you, you don't know which one's are which.

Liberals feel your pain, and in their kind-heartedness think we could do what is necessary if we would just try harder. They also have no idea how extensive the problems are. But you can see how they sense it at a distance, because a lot of them move into parts of the human-services bureaucracy where they are no longer providing services. They set up information clearinghouses, in order to connect people to services that already exist. They go into advocacy, trying to get this miserly, uncaring society to see how much we need to increase our support and grow new programs. They believe that if we all just pull together, dammit, we could make this pretty good. And so human service bureaucracies, and non-profits supported by government money, become about 50% people not doing anything that actually provides services. They go to meetings a lot.

They move into these positions to avoid despair. And it keeps the fantasy alive that if we would just be a good society like oh, all of Europe, they think, that this is manageable. Yes we can.

No we can't. Sooner or later liberals are going to have to face the despair, and deal with it emotionally. Their emotion drives their politics, and their hatred of people who won't do what they just know is important is a hatred of that despair. A hatred of reality. There is the hope that the pain of others will go away, and we can be free of it. Say, rather, that everyone picks their place along the line of pain, and endures from there. We're pretty good at that, actually.

No one wants this reality. In a fallen world, this will always be here. But facing the despair, and deciding what is my part in this, is a task of adulthood. There will be no comity until everyone faces a little more of the truth.

And hey, this is just mental health, developmental delays, autism, and substance abuse. I haven't even touched on physical problems, crime, or a dozen other things I know little about.

The Cost - Part II

The Cost was partly intended to set up a second post. If you haven’t read that one, do so now. I will reverse the order on the site in few days, so that it will read top to bottom, rather than internet style of latest first. I would appreciate it if anyone linking to the posts put them in that order.

The answer “We can’t fix this in our current world. The best one can do is adjust to the bad feelings as best you can” is unsatisfying. Not the old can-do American spirit, is it? Surely if we all tried just a bit harder we could make it somewhat better, right? Things do change. Things do get fixed, albeit slowly at times. What should we do? We tend to regard going into the “helping professions” (a strange phrase) the most natural choice. Might that not keep our despair at bay, feeling that we were doing all we could to relieving suffering?

A friend asked a few years ago what career one should consider if one wanted to improve the world. He asked it in the context of what we all might do differently if we were starting over. I went the Norman Borlaug route. I would be a food engineer. Plants, fish, quail, algae – something. That might seem to work only for specially gifted people, but such efforts usually have a considerable supporting cast. If you want purpose and meaning to your days here, you could do worse than saving a billion people from starvation.

There are similar avenues in mental health. Genetic manipulation to eliminate some conditions altogether seems in reach, and treatment techniques for those who already have an illness are always improving. You can relieve a lot of suffering that way. There may be unforeseen downsides and damages, but that’s true of direct care as well. That’s the risk you take with anything in life. There’s a nobility to the attempt, and the hope of great benefit, right?

Okay, you want to be the Jonas Salk of schizophrenia research, and eliminate the disease altogether, devoting your life to it. Let’s add in a twist here. Let’s say you’re not doing it for compassionate reasons at all. You just want to be famous and important, or playing around with genes and the brain is just fascinating to you, and you care little for your fellow man. The other people who have to work with you, in fact, will gladly attest to the fact that you are a rotten selfish person who doesn’t play well with others. Problem? What’s the moral calculus here?

I have intentionally left the God part out of this. I may do a part 3 exploring exactly that, but for now I’m just sticking to the vague Law of General Beneficence. In practical morality, selfish Salk is the same as selfless Salk, right? That’s a slightly uncomfortable idea, but hardly a new one in theory. We ignore it in everyday life, though. However much we assent to the principle, we want professional helpers to sound like they care. We have had social workers in my department who were very good at listening, looking sorrowful, and showing empathy, but screwed up things like getting necessary followup appointments, getting the benefit applications right, and keeping up the nuts and bolts. We have had social workers just the opposite. Which do you think gets the grateful letters and assurances that they have changed people’s lives? Right. The people who make you feel like they care are more highly regarded than those who actually help you. This is more pronounced for doctors, I believe. It is certainly true for politicians. Actually fixing something counts for much less than giving people the impression that you care deeply about the same things they do.

The friend who asked me what I thought I would do had decided that if he had to do over he would build a business that created lots of jobs. It’s hard to argue with that one, either. The mill owner was a stock villain – but it was thousands of jobs for those communities, wasn’t it? When you have a job, creating jobs doesn’t seem to be much of boon to society. Once you don’t have a job, or someone close to you can’t get one, the importance of jobs sinks in. When people think of noble professions that help the downtrodden, they don’t think of mill owners, they think of jobs like mine. I certainly did when I started out, with secret contempt for anyone who wasn’t down in the trenches with us. I don’t think that anymore.

So you want to relieve human suffering. How are you going to do it? I’m not trying to prove any point here, I’m just asking the imagination question. In the context of The Cost, where suffering will always haunt us throughout our short lives, what do we do, and encourage others to do?

For the humorous side, there’s always PJ O’Rourke’s commencement address.

The Cost - Part III

Again, read the first two before this one. I will be reversing the order on this as well.

Years ago I attnded a retreat weekend, part of which was concerned with knowing the will of God. The speaker claimed there were three signs to look for in discerning His will. The call of God is persistent. That is, it will not be a one-off ambiguous statement, like a pagan oracle or a divination. Those who seek, find. Second, it is usally a call downward in the eyes of the world. Not because God is always interested in making our situation more humble, but in making us more humble, which usually entails going against worldly ambitions.

I forget what the third sign was. Sorry. There's an outside chance Michael will remember. Mike?

It’s the first that I want to attend to anyway. The call of God is persistent. My 70’s Jesus-freak culture tended more to the constant anxiety or wondering whether God had called us to something we had missed. It goes with a soulwinner theolgy somewhat. If you miss your chance, people die that night and go to hell, brother. There would be “a really anointed speaker” somewhere, but you had something else planned. If it was something secular, of course, the opinion around the table would be that got was calling you to go hear that speaker, while the movie or changing your oil was a temptation of the devil. But even that simple division would soon fall apart, because as a Jesus freak your other activities were often spiritual as well. Go to the speaker or work on your testimony? Speaker, testimony? Speaker, testimony? What does God want me to dooooo? I don’t know, I don’t know.

I bring up the extreme to illustrate my point about The Cost. What are we to do with ourselves? Where should we go?

I have found that the will of God comes and finds me much of the time. There is value to prayerful seeking, but often, the next possible act of generosity, the next learning experience, the next project…comes and sits on your porch, waiting for you to come home.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

LL Bean

Sponge-headed Scienceman has a post about LL Bean, then and now. I've already started the conversation, so comment there instead of here.

Two By Harry Chapin - W.O.L.D

Mr. Tanner

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Links I Partly Disagree With

Writing in another context today, I observed that giving airtime or linkspace to those one fully disagrees with is seldom as fairminded as one hopes. We will seldom choose the best ones. We will choose those examples which make our opponents look like fools, or at least those we think we can refute. At best, we will find alternate viewpoints that are away from the center of our general opposition's main argument, because we don't quite get it. NPR does this, and bless them for trying, but whenever they try to give Another Side, I find myself thinking "what the hell was that about?"

We are much more likely to be persuaded to another POV by someone we have agreement with in other areas. That is the better approach to fairness, then, to give space to those we don't fully agree with, but grasp their point more accurately. With that in mind, I looked for articles of that nature today. I started at First Things and never got far from there. A narrow band of partial agree-ers, but the best I could manage today.

These are pieces I agree with 50-90% of. I just pulled those numbers out of the air, but they seem right.

David B. Hart, as previously, writing about Tolkien and Anarcho-Monarchism.

Wynne Perry at Live Science notes research showing that women's brains get better after giving birth. Somehow, they neglected to test Dads. Hmm.

Family Scholars summarises what research shows about why marriage matters to society. References to the research behind this document are here.

Prospect (UK) has "moral philosopher" Alasdair MacIntyre's critique of global capitalism. (This may go below 50%, but it's interesting.)

Matt Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy writes about elitism in young evangelicals. It applies quite nicely to old evangelicals, too, Matt.

Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune (British journo site) comments on the research showing that as people's belief in God wanes, they tend to favor larger government.


Years ago, Dave Barry wrote a column about touring wine country in NoCal, in which he illustrated the pretentiousness of wine description by highlighting that one review had used the phrase "nuances of toast." (Incidentally, in searching for the link I found a MySpace character named Nuances of Toast. I like him already.) Despite acres of blind taste-testing to the contrary - less than 20% of the wine drinking population can actually tell the difference between a good bottle and a poor one, less than 5% between a good and a fair* - people still claim to detect wide varieties of interesting hints of attractive flavors.

So it was odd to me to open the last of a Samuel Adams Harvest 12-pack I bought last weekend and try the Dunkelweisen. There was this fairly strong suggestion of a familiar flavor. It was bubblegum. Or more specifically, the immediate taste of old-style bubblegum, likely derived from that powdery coating that is probably sugar. Not in the least a respectable beer highlight.

I don't mean to kick the Sam Adams people. I will continue to make their products one of my usual choices, because of locality, because of my approval of the general marketing scheme, and because of taste. But if Dunkelweisen shows up in their variety packs next year, I will skip the whole lot of them and revert to my other standard choices, Guinness or Newcastle.

BTW, I still think all three parties at the Beer Summit - the president, the professor, and the cop - missed their chance for serious one-upmanship and PR dominance by not ordering a Sam Adams. From any of the three, it would have pwned the other two.

*I know one, BTW - or at least, one I believe. My brother-in-law Philippe is from France, and his father was a perfumer for Chanel. I have long since lost contact with him, but I believed his nose.

The Pips

Cadged from Joe Carter


David B. Hart, writing over at First Things.
Tragically, we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another.
The full essay is about Tolkien and Anarcho-Monarchism.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Big Threes

Sports radio was playing Dwayne Wade's claim earlier this year that the Miami Heat had the best trio in the history of the NBA - mocking it, of course, after last night's loss to the Celtics (again).

I think the Heat are going to be a tremendous team this year, though I rate LA a better bet to win the championship, and consider Boston a 50-50 bet to beat them in the playoffs. But Wade's comment is just insane. The radio guys mentioned Garnett, Pierce, and Allen as a better group of three, and alluded to there being more, though they didn't mention any.

So I thought about it, and came up with 8 others. I'll bet there are a few more I didn't think of.

In no particular order:

Olajuwon, Barkley, & Drexler
West, Chamberlain, & Baylor
Bird, McHale, and either Parrish or Johnson
O'Neal, Bryant, and Fisher
Jordan, Pippin, and any other starter
Russell, Cousy, & Havlicek
Magic, Kareem, & Worthy
Malone, Erving, & Cheeks

I might go Cowens, Havlicek, and White, even. Greatest Game Ever Played and all that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carry-On Camping

A coworker doing repairs on his house found a section of newspaper from 1971. He brought it in because of an article about Augusta Mental Health Institute's forensic unit, which in fact, was pretty interesting. AMHI is no longer a going concern, but the stories had similarity to my own experience starting at NH State Hospital in 1978.

Old newspapers have their own brief fascination. Michigan's Bo Schembechler was advocating for a college football playoff, The Patriots were improving under new QB Jim Plunkett and surprising rookie WR Randy Vataha. Prices in ads always elicit a chuckle, and long-closed restaurants come back in memory.

There were also movie ads. "Gone With The Wind" was playing. In those days movies were re-released infrequently, and in between you couldn't see them for any money. If you didn't catch GWTW this time around, you might wait five years or more. The Strand Theater, where my mother first had to pay adult price for me when I turned 12 and we went to see "The Sound of Music," now had a XXX feature with Platinum-something in the name. 1971...I turned 18 that April before leaving for college...X-rated theater right there on Hanover St, where I often walked...how had I missed this?

There was also an ad for an R-rated comedy I had never heard of. It was apparently one of more than two dozen "Carry-On" films, British comedies with similar casts each film.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, eh?


There is a particularly foolish article about baby names at The Daily Beast. (I know. I followed a link from a usually trustworthy source. Really.) The author is described as a "baby name expert." Sez who?

For hundreds of years, both boys and girls names were very stable. Girls were Mary, Anne, or Elizabeth, though Margaret, Alice, and Joan also got some play. 50% of females had one of those names. Over 50% of boys were John, Thomas, or William, with Robert and Richard in the second tier. By mid 20th C, Michael and David were perennial tops for boys, Mary, Linda, Susan, and Betty for girls. But the wheels were already turning. Girl names had more variation throughout the 20th C, but really picked up steam after WWII. The most common name changed every 15 years or so, from Mary to Lisa to Jennifer to Jessica. Now it changes every few years. The top 10 for boys in 1990 looked scarcely different from 1950, but are now starting to show the same turnover that the girls did a few decades ago.

What does it mean? Many things, and I won't even attempt to cover them all. And I will wildly overgeneralise, because we are speaking of trends, not individual decisions.

The stability of boys' names was meant to convey solidity and strength. Girls' names came to be regarded as something more decorative. In evangelical circles, Biblical names were big, so there were plenty of Rebeccas, Sarahs, and Rachels, but there was also a wide field for something more unusual. Roman Catholics insisted on a saint's name - my wife Tracy was actually baptised Therese. Paedobaptist traditions in general have been more conservative in naming. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has long bemoaned the drive to unique names in the African-American community, attributing it to the breakdown of families and generational continuity. But this also results from the black churches being much less likely to practice infant baptism, a reality that long predates the last few decades of absent fathers.

More recently, parents have taken to giving their daughters some of the less-common boys' names, or English surnames with a rather aristocratic feel to them, such as Madison, Cameron, and Taylor. But far more common have been older female names, so long out of use that we cannot think of them as girls' names, but as women's names: Olivia, Sophia, Abigail, Isabella. Similarly, the new names for boys - Jacob, Alexander, Joshua, Ethan - are recognisable old names. These do not suggest continuity so much as approbation of tradition, which is somewhat different.

Families have less continuity, so it is hardly surprising that there is less of it in the names. Yet we still desire something of that hearkening back, and so pull names from the Old Testament, classical history, Victorian England, or the American West (Cody, Colt, Dakota). We are more fragmented now, and while there still are top ten names every year, those ten represent a smaller overall percentage of the total - and the published lists have moved to top 25, then 50, and now 100.

In our family, the tradition of using Douglas as a middle name has held for at least five generations on my wife's side. Naming a first son for an uncle will go to three generations on my side if the new Wyman is a boy: David-David/Jonathan-Jonathan/Benjamin-Benjamin. We have had fewer girls, so there has been less opportunity for tradition, but taking a middle name found in the family tree has some precedent. My grandaughter's middle name is Adelaide, not only her great grandmother's middle name (she hated it, BTW), but a form of her mother's name, Heidi.

It is a continuity, not so emphatic as Junior or III, but similar to the custom in many cultures of naming after a grandparent or great-grandparent.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shoe Box

They handed out shoeboxes to the kids at church last week - Samaritan's Purse, I believe. I always wonder what it means to kids. When Chris came from Romania, the next Christmas they were filling shoeboxes to send overseas from Concord Christian School. He was in 7th grade. He had surprised recognition at the custom: "Hey, we used to get those when I was at the orphanage." None of the kids knew what to say.

I thought I had remembered that they had asked him what kids liked to get in the boxes, but I now think I only fancied that, thinking that is what they should have said.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eastern Dialects

Hans Kurath did the initial work on a linguistic atlas of the United States in the 1930's. It turned out to be much more involved than expected, and he only finished the section from the Appalachian Mountains eastward. He recorded not only pronunciation - do you say aunt or ant, pecahn or pecan -but word-frequency: whether people said "cellar" or "basement" or used both, observing a distinction between the two. Whether one says "firefly" or "lightning bug." This is how it looked in 1939.

The back-tracing to the 19th C involve a lot of guesswork, but suggest something similar.  Language and dialect are always changing, especially as immigrants are moving in from one continent, and people born in a place are moving west in search of land, but this was likely approximately the same.

 This is how the whole country looks today. If you go to professional linguist and Christian missionary Rick Aschmann's site you use this map in interactive form.  This is is hobby of decades, and it is quite remarkable. 

One can see the settlement pattern of Americans from the eastern regions moving pretty much WSW across half the country, until it all fragments around the Mississippi River, becoming less distinct.

My personal favorite is bubbler, the eastern New England word for a water fountain. It is not used in the rest of the country, except one small patch of Wisconsin. I have no idea why. Make up your own theory on that.

Psychbloggers Occasional

GM Roper over at GM's Place (sidebar) has put up a new Tour of the Psychbloggers, an election special. Which includes me.

Other contibutors inclued Dr. Sanity, neo-neocon, Mark Amagi at Roper's own site, Had Enough Therapy, Shrinkwrapped, and Gagdad Bob. Quite a crew.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Too-whit, too-woo.

Condescension is the mating call of the liberal flock.

Standing Alone

There was an organization that did Christian family life seminars about twenty years ago. The name Goddard comes to mind, but I can't track it down. Doesn't matter.

I wasn't too impressed with the materials myself, but we had friends who went to several weekend retreats. There was one chapter or session on "Standing Alone," designed for teens and younger, to teach them how to resist peer pressure. Coming out of an evangelical perspective, the ready examples were sex and drugs, but I recall that moments of standing firm for honesty, or not participating in the occult, and being kind to an outcast were all part of it. I thought it was generally a good idea, but worried at the time that there was something of insisting on Christian separateness for its own sake in it.

We had already encountered people who were a bit much in this regard. A local Christian school had its February Vacation a week earlier than the district public schools, which was a cause of some inconvenience. Some families had a child in both systems, or one parent worked in the public schools, either of which screwed up family vacations. When it was suggested that the Christian school rethink this, the Scriptural excuse was given: Be ye not conformed to the world...

It's just head-pounding, really.

But I am coming around on that POV. We are social beings and try to blend in to our cultural environment. Often, we blend too much. Most of us are in greater danger of being a squish who doesn't stand up when we should than of being one of those crank contrarians who revels in being a loner who sticks it in the eye of all the others. Even the contrarians of often those who identify with some other group, not true loners.

Having to stand alone for even a fairly arbitrary reason might be a good experience for a child. It is painful, but there will come a few times in your life when it is necessary. Standing alone for your parents' reasons has an extra level of difficulty, as the child might merely resent it and be all the more determined to fit in with the larger culture. But waiting until their ideas are entirely their own may be very late to teach the lesson.

The Problem With Inspirational Calendars

A coworker, a very nice person, beamed as she showed me the entry on her inspirational calendar for 11/8:
Say a blessing on every person you fear or dislike today.
That would take me all day.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sir James Barrie

Dawn Eden* has an essay about Barrie's heroines over at The Weekly Standard (via First Things). Sample:
In Barrie’s plays, this philosophy is expressed in the essential unchangeability of the relationship between the sexes. Man and woman, by his account, do not grow in their relationship with one another; the most they can do is come to an understanding about who is in control. Successful marital unions, by his account, are built not upon shared sacrifice but shared selfishness, with each spouse granting the other an unalienable fiefdom.
I'm not so sure about this. Perhaps I am too enamored of my own pet theory, developed in opposition to the frequent accusations that Barrie was a suppressed or actual pedophile. (Thirty years ago this was a favored theory in pedophile, ego psychology, and homosexual communities. I don't know if it still has an currency now.) There is no evidence for this.

What we do know is that Barrie's life made up of relationships that were and were not - an unconsummated marriage that ended in divorce, the loss of a brother in an accident, the unofficial adoption of the sons of friends who themselves had an odd and distant marriage - and his plays are likewise filled with relationships that are and are not: Children who are yours but not yours, spouses who are not spouses, women who vanish for days or decades and reappear unaged, women who taken on new personalities to recapture a lost opportunity in youth, and even a butler who is not a butler. The main characters in Barrie's plays are all partly not real, and imagined characters are spoken of as real. I am not sure that singling out the husband-wife aspect of this is quite justified.

Worth thinking about, though.

*Wonderful name. Did her mother give it to her or did she choose it for writing? Bing reveals she was born Dawn Eden Goldstein. She has a book with the intriguing title The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. Her regular site is The Dawn Patrol.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Hallelujah Flash - Just Last Week

I love these. I'd love to be at one, I'd love to be in one.


Republicans are already talking about 2012 - and they should - but I would like to inject a word of caution. In 2008 the Democrats believed they had finally turned the country to the right way, and were on their way to further victories. Had you asked experienced political observers at the time, they would have acknowledged that some losses in the midterm elections would be according to precedent and likely. They didn't expect anything of this magnitude, but they would not have been shocked to learn that some retrenchment was necessary. And they would still have been confident.

Momentum feels as if it will go on forever. But there is always some element of fashion and getting on the bandwagon to it. Nonliberals have made much of the fact that the ideas of Democrats have been fashionable among elites rather than well thought out by most of them. So too with the Tea Party. There are certainly some profound thinkers and able reasoners among them, but there are also some who have come along because of impressions.

Don't get me wrong, I think the fact that smaller government is suddenly fashionable outside the Beltway is a wonderful thing. But now that being impressed with Obama is so 2008, we do well to remember that the Tea Party might be so 2010 next time around. I worry about this especially because progressives are generally better at appealing to people's sense of fashion and coolness than other groups are. Not everyone inhabits the same blogosphere world of the wars of ideas that we do. Listening to and reading interviews with voters before and after the election - any election - I am always appalled by how nonrational factors affect people's choices. Even those who purport to be operating from reason often show only superficial understanding of the issues.

We hope, in a representative democracy, that the cumulation of ordinary folks' gut feelings has the wisdom of crowds in it, and brings us pretty near the mark in elections. The survival and prosperity of America, combined with its expanding freedom for individuals over time suggests that this is so. We might make small errors in course but correct them next time around. Yet we elected Roosevelt by large margins in '32 and '36 - a triumph of impression over reality that changed our country. The hardy American self-reliant spirit decided that having government take care of us a lot more was a good thing. Maybe it was a good thing; perhaps we had underestimated the amount of government safety net we needed and had to correct it. But it was certainly a dramatic shift in attitude that has increased rather than ebbed since that time.

We tacitly recognise that all candidates are not only running on their arguments and logic, but on the narrative and impression they can create. I worry that the latter may be more important.

I don't single America out as being especially bad or shallow in this way. I think everyone else is much worse, actually, and Americans are more rational than other nations. There is a belief among liberals that all those Other Americans are much the inferior of Europeans in this regard. It is an article of faith that all those obese, McDonald's and Wal-Mart building, noisy religious people in America are not the equal of the witty and philosophical Europeans, who go every day to museums and drink excellent wine over leisurely meals. That is of course an absolutely insane impression for liberals to have, given the events of the 20th C, but it has been believed by our elites since...well, since 1800 actually - and no amount of evidence has persuaded them otherwise.*

No, Americans, for all their following of foolish enthusiasms, are about the best at rationality, and I don't apologise for us in this regard. Yet it is the lot of all mankind to be swayed by subrational appeals, and we are only better by comparison. The next election cycle will have its own fashions, and it may be that having slowed the growth of government somewhat will be enough for the American people, who will decide that they again want the government to give them stuff we can't afford.

I confess I feel a bit helpless in this. The wars of ideas is the only electoral battlefield I dare fight on. I have no confidence in my ability to convince anyone that smaller government is cool, or that liberal candidates are "out of touch" or "don't care about people like me," or any of the other things pollsters measure. I have decided that those questions the surveys ask are indeed better predictors of elections, however much I think that they should not be. I hope we hire better PR guys than they do. I hope even more that we have the better arguments and candidates, and deserve those good PR guys, but the reality is that elections won't hinge on that.

*I give the Brits, and perhaps the Danes and Norwegians, credit for having just enough people connected to reality to be exempt from this generalised criticism. The Swiss have recognised reality well enough to act sensibly as well, but their solution has been an enormously cynical one.


Jonathan and Kyle both play World of Warcraft, and will talk about it a fair bit when they get together. I understand that game designers have to keep coming up with interesting new ideas and combinations. I understand that they have no obligation to hold to the atmosphere of fantasy literature, which is its own genre.

But really, dwarf shamans? Troll druids? And worst of all, the tauren, a cow race of fighters, can become paladins? Paladin cows? Absurd.

For those who have not yet seen the Red Shirt Guy, BTW, here is his original burst onto the scene of international WoW fame at Blizzcon 2010. I love this guy.

And the designers did in fact respond to his question nicely, by actually putting him into the game as an NPC.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Comment In Full

In a thread over at Classical Values, commenter newscaper makes an observation which I quote in full:
I was a three term Republican Precinct Chairman from George W's first run for Governor until I retired from active politics due to my health. I say this because I have a certain amount of experience in working politics.

During those three terms I noticed who did what. The Country Club Republicans put up most of the money and provided meeting places. Important.

The religeous right provided a lot of work. It was they that walked precincts and they that worked phone banks. Very important.

The libertarians talked. The libertarians also complained. They were always too busy taking and complaining to do any work.

Perhaps things are different now, I don't know. I have been retired for twelve years. Yet from what I have read, it's still the same, the RR folks working, the CC folks contributing and the libertarians talking about how the other two groups are RUINING EVERYTHING!!!!!111!!!

I would like to say that this has changed for I have a pretty big "leave me alone" streak when it comes to politics. I got involved through my work with a shooting club, the 2A is my big issue. Yet I see no trace of a change. The libertarian wing will suck the hind tit until y'all stop talking and start working.


My office-mate and the woman across the hall discuss Dancing With The Stars frequently. I roll my eyes (not in view), but it occurred to me that I discuss sports. Not very different.

Taking it one step further, we all watch Dancing With The Stars.

If you watch the news, it's just another version of DWTS.
If you watch NCIS, it's just DWTS where the moves are serious facial expressions and pronouncements.
Letterman and John Stewart are just DWTS where the moves are condescension and insult

Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and Glee are just DWTS.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Stone Wall

Retriever's election post, with a reminder of a better way to judge candidates. This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.

Theoden's Answer

Appropriate for the Rally To Restore Self-Appointed Aristocracy, and today. I dislike it when conservatives ascribe the ultimate evil of Sauron to current progressive leaders. Saruman is the more appropriate analogy.

Theoden, to Saruman, after the fall of Isengard:
...were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Eating Out

We eat out much less often than most folks do, I think. Yet far more than just about anyone ate out when I was a child. This is hardly news - it has been observed, measured, and discussed for years. It was almost 30 years ago, visiting Southern California for the first time for my brother's wedding, that I was impressed by the sheer number of restaurants - and the information that some people ate out 3 or 4 times a week. In contrast, I suspected that Tracy and I could, with a little effort, identify every time we had eaten out in the five years we had been married.

I don't know what they're doing in California now. But the contrast to my childhood is enormous. Out for ice cream at the Puritan was a big deal; cafeteria lunch at the Red Arrow, or pizza at Verani's, totalled a half-dozen times a year. Once we went to the China Dragon, and I proudly brought my date there for the junior prom.

In the 50's-70's people had other couples over for dinner or had small parties. Always deadly if the guests didn't have children your age, but great fun if they did. No, not always, now that I think of it. Sometimes you were stuck with kids you didn't like very much. But to be a 7th-grade boy, made to go to a house with a 6th-grade girl, quite heavenly. She couldn't get rid of you. She had to be polite and let you hang around with her. I fell in love many times that way, sometimes lasting days on end.

We had a gift card for Olive Garden and went through $50 last night, just the two of us, which still seems a large amount of money to spend. Yet there were other patrons, young people clearly not well-off, all over the joint. In a down economy. If you are looking for a marker of greater prosperity over the last fifty years, that one should leap out. We have such abundance that we often pay large sums for other people to wait on us - just like rich people!

Senior citizens eat out a lot, I hear, and even if they are keeping a close eye on the early-bird specials, it must certainly be even more of a luxury compared to their childhood experience. Perhaps that's why they like it: an echo of all those small parties, coupled with the luxury of being waited on.