Thursday, December 30, 2010

It Could Be Done

Listening to those rousing carols at Greenbelt in the UK, at their Cider and Carols festival, then listening to Handel’s Messiah, I thought how wonderful it would be to have entire congregations singing the powerful choruses from that work, however roughly. Not the way Handel intended it, of course, and likely to make a fair percentage of choir directors cringe, but I like it anyway.

We already do it with the Hallelujah Chorus in many congregations on Easter, when all those who wish may come up and join the choir. Not quite the same thing, but same idea.

One couldn’t have done it for the other choruses without a year of congregational rehearsal until quite recently, I don’t think. There isn’t the familiarity with “Behold The Lamb Of God” or “Worthy Is The Lamb” that there is with the Hallelujah Chorus. But I think rehearsal time could be cut down greatly with modern worship technology. With a large choir, and four screens across the front, each focused on a different section of the choir, the congregation has a big head start. The words could be on the screens, not static, but appearing on time for each part. As entrances are likely to be a major problem, the congregation having the visual cues of both the lyrics and the motions of the choir should get them a leg up on getting it right. The altos come in here somewhere. Ah, there’s the words and they are all drawing a breath. Go! Plus, they could see the choir director a bit as well. A few times through and I think everyone would approximately get it. The notes – yeah, they’re going to get a lot of that wrong, but with Handel, everyone thinks they have the melody, so folks will pick it up fast. It’s entrances, and holding your part without getting lost against other rhythms and notes that are the problem; they’ll have more help with that.

It sounds thrilling for a congregation. Handel’s choruses are what all praise choruses hope to grow up to be: single verses of scripture, repeated with variations, sung vigorously.

It could be done. Okay, if you have the capability to put up four screens, have a good choir, and a director who buys into the idea, it could be done. But still.

People might object to worship time being used for rehearsal in the weeks leading up to the full expression of the chorus – but worship is rehearsal anyway, rehearsal for our time in heaven. This is just another representation of that. You could even stress that theme of rehearsal in the rest of the service. Plus, you might get small children skipping around at home butchering “…to re-ceive pow-er, and rich-es, and wis-dom, and strength, and ho-nor, and glo-ry, and bles-sing.” Because it’s fun to sing. Especially “blessing.”


Sorry I haven’t been updating since that furious barrage just before Christmas. I’ve been commenting over at First Things a lot. Liturgy and language and societal trends – I can’t easily stay away.

I do have some things coming up.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Lily The Pink

I knew, even back in 1969, that the reference was to Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound. But i didn't know, until I looked it up for this post, that Elton John, Graham Nash, and Jack Bruce were all in the original UK version, or that the song was based on an older one.

As for Lydia, she was from north of Boston, and there is a well-baby clinic with that name in Salem, founded by her daughter. Her 19th C patent medicine for "female complaints" - presumably menstrual discomfort - contained, among many other useless herbs, gentian root, which gives Moxie its distinctive aftertaste. It was also 20% alcohol.

Thus, Jonathan, Mrs. Pinkham's 19th C herbal concoction was the original Whixie.

Wyman Christmas Letter - 2010

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it bears no fruit.
Concord Covenant Church closing - church shopping. Ben wisely told us to look at other churches before we returned to consider Bethany. Tracy discovered that she is uncomfortable with the way that many churches organize their worship services. So even though Bethany has changed a lot and we only know the old-timers who were there 14 years ago, it still felt like home. We have gone back to being “Jonathan’s Parents,” as we were 20-25 years ago. Or even “Emily’s Grandparents.”

I’ll put Jesus in his nest.
Of course, going to church where the most beautiful granddaughter that ever lived attends is a blessing – and distraction. Emily just turned three, celebrating with a frog themed birthday party. We gave her a rolling backpack in the shape of a frog to pack when she comes to our house - working up to a planned sleepover next May when her new sister Sarah is expected to make her appearance. Plus, granddaughters say remarkably cute things.

How can you know me if you don’t know my children?
Not a statement, but a thought I had visiting back at the church we went to in the 80’s and 90’s. I would be speaking to someone I had known well then - and even run into at events over the years – and make a normal conversational reference to one of my Romanian sons. The other person would look puzzled, clearly scanning his memory files for record of these children and coming up blank. It’s easy enough to explain the adoption in 2001, but it seems so very strange to consider. I imagine those who switch locations after being widowed, or after their children have grown, experience much the same thing. How can you know me and not know about…? I am not understandable without reference to them. Time to get used to it. It is the first time in nine years we haven’t had a Romanian in the house. Kyle hasn’t been interested in developing an accent just for our benefit.

So what does Dave Wyman wear on vacation?
Said about me in reference to my Hawaiian shirts at work. Yeah, I’m one of those guys, though I’m drifting away from it now. Proud people are reluctant to look like a tourist (or so American) when they travel. Like they were going to blend in so well otherwise. But I am a tourist, and a happily American one, so being identified as such at 500 meters never bothered me. I liked that family could easily identify me in foreign cities and stuck with the style at home. Perhaps it is finally time to dress with a respectability that I have long shied away from, now that it’s too late. We are now in an era when medical problems among our peers become more and more part of the everyday conversation of us all. Nothing especial for us, but we seem to get referred out to specialists a bit more often every year. It’s all well meant of course, and I’m all for safe choices, but it creates the overall impression of you are just about to break down. Catastrophes wait just over the horizon. Well, I suppose they do. But then, they always have, ever since we were children. Different catastrophes for every era.

Thank God for Powerschool!
We are scheduling teacher conferences at Goffstown High this month for Kyle. We started those with a foster child in 1977. There’s an art to it. We also really use and appreciate the access to the teachers’ grade books known as Powerschool, to keep running track of his grades in all subjects. And when the grades go too low, the computer disappears.

It’s not that warm on North Carolina beaches in February.
We took the train down to visit Chris at Camp Lejeune, dragooning Kyle into yet another educational experience by catching Williamsburg on the return trip. David took the opportunity to propose again at the Governor’s Palace Gardens, the place he should have proposed 36 years ago. Chris has still not been deployed to a war zone, to our relief and his annoyance. He was transferred out of a unit just before it went to Afghanistan, into a unit that had just gotten back from Haiti. So two years in, nothing but more Camp Lejeune on the near horizon for him. I don’t think that was the life he was envisioning. His November leave was cancelled at the last minute - we are hopeful he can come for Christmas. He has made no decision about whether to sign on for another four, but I think I would bet against it at this point. We do point out to him that the unemployment rate for men in his age group is currently 18%.

I’m thinking of moving to Nome. In a week or two.
John-Adrian moved to Alaska in late summer, at the invitation of a NH friend now in Nome who has been encouraging guys to join him since he moved up there. Ryan was an extra son for awhile when he lived nearby – though at least we never had to go to school conferences for that one – and we are quite pleased at the arrangement. John-Adrian got a job as an accountant at the hospital there – it’s an unusual setup where medical personnel fly out to the far villages to provide care, and pass their slips for Services Provided on to JA when they get back. Nome hadn’t been on our list of “places we have to visit,” but it’s certainly an interesting thought. Perhaps in 2012. In summer, thanks.

You are invited to appear in court in Oradea in February 2011.
Chris and J-A’s Romanian father died, which didn’t break them up much. Yet he owned a small house in the tiny village of Sârbi, which neighbors and relatives are now fighting over. Our two were invited to come over and make their wishes known. Neither is going, but they are exploring if there is some way to put in a good word to their younger sister’s advantage.

Ann was the only one who wasn’t crying as we shipped out. She knew I’d be back
Tracy’s dad, Stuart, celebrated his 90th birthday with many relatives in attendance, and read aloud a reminiscence of his wartime years, including the above. Ben flew up from Houston for the event, got to stay at camp with us, and attended Dan King’s wedding as well, so we got much of the best of him. We finally got to watch his cache of online videos when we realized that it was Firefox that was refusing to play them, not some obvious download we had neglected to install. Of the few dozen offerings, the best story is of his documentary on the Wesleys, produced for a Methodist conference at The Woodlands. More copies were requested for that than for the conference sessions, suggesting that Methodist confirmation and new member classes throughout Texas are now being enlightened by Ben’s video.

Spinal Tap

I just saw "This Is Spinal Tap" at my son's house. For the first time.

I don't get out much.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joy To The World!


There is a study summarised over at Live Science suggesting that being bullied has evolutionary benefits, and shows some heritability. Given the considerable caveats of relating human social behavior to marmot social behavior, it is nonetheless intriguing to wonder whether there might be any such mechanisms involved in us at all.

The idea seems preposterous at first, with our mindset that evolution encourages survival of the fittest and produces only the strong and persevering. But a moment's reflection brings the reminder that there is some survival advantage to those who say Enough. This dude's crazy. Just get out. Given the long record of tyranny and domination in human history, it is probably some advantage for most of us to have that mechanism kick in eventually. Further, tyrants themselves were often those who rose up through the ranks during the reign of other tyrants. So bullies may in fact be those most likely to possess any be-bullied genetic leanings.

It's easy to see the abuses and rationalisations such knowledge could elicit. We already blame victims more than we should, and this looks fair to increase that. But shouldn't we want to know? If there are people who more readily elicit aggression and bullying - who may even invite it from others who would not normally be aggressive - won't attempts to solve problems of violence be forever futile if we ignore that?

I am greatly simplifying complicated things, and it is best not to speculate too far. Yet our tendency is to study criminals, bullies, and control freaks, trying to find if there is something amiss in their genes (and upbringing, and current condition) so that we might make modifications in how we organise ourselves. What if that is only half the story, or less?

" - not much, anyway"

There is a general myth in circulation in Christian circles that if we ever started acting like we should, the world would be amazed at our example and many would be converted. I suspect this is because nonbelievers make the accusation frequently, that they cannot take Christianity seriously because of oh, it varies from person to person, but all those wars of religion, y'know, conveniently overlooking all actual history, in the service of a narrative about all those evil religious people. It can become fairly sophisticated, this inability to take in the relevant data because so much of it contradicts the favored premise. There are certainly plenty of popular writers and even actual historians who subscribe to it.

Where was I? Yes, wars of religion, and of course, Christians saying stupid things - there's a first-class proof for you; or not standing up for justice - defined variously, with negative points awarded for standing up against you for justice. There are other excuses, but you get the idea. If Christians would just stop all that, then well heck, I guess people wouldn't have any more objections and would gladly walk the sawdust trail.

But I think Christians embrace the idea for reasons of their own, also hoping it's true. It's certainly the idea behind all those stirring speeches on the scripture "If my people, who are called according to My Name..." If we just all prayed more, and repented as a people, and refrained from unrighteousness, everything would turn around. Folks want it to be true, and scramble around in the scriptures for proof that it is. For America. In the 21st C. The religious left has its own political version, less well-known but just as pernicious, but I'm not picking on them especially this time.

Not only politics. The idea may be even more pervasive when it comes to evangelism. If we would all, individually and collectively, (block that metaphor), be a City on a Hill, the heathen would bow down. If only. Contemporary Christian musicians seem particularly susceptible to this.
''The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply find unbelievable.'' (''What If I Stumble'' by dcTalk)
comes to mind. I think that's rubbish. You can probably find some atheists who say that, but my experience is they put forth other reasons. If they reference Christian behavior at all, it is usually in the collective or national sense, as above. Come to think of it, though, shooting doctors who perform abortions - and heck, we all do that. That's been the Advent focus at our church for years - does come up from time to time.

My favorite example is my patient John, a charming bipolar man I knew thirty years ago. John had been a permanently baked 60's hippie who had become a Jesus Freak in the 70's. Big lifestyle conflict here, but John had a plan. He was going to go hang out with Bob Marley and convert him. But in a subtle way, not by preaching, by being constantly cheerful and upbeat. When I knew John in the early 80's he was discouraged - he had hung around Marley five years, but Bob had died a Rastafarian anyway.

But John had been ready. He had the script ready if ever called on. One day Bob Marley was going to turn to him and say "John, you're different from the rest of us. You don't smoke ganja - not much, anyway - but you are always happy." And John would say "Bob, that's because I have the Lord Jesus Christ." And then Bob would know.

I still think of John whenever I hear those sermons.

Two Revisitings

Sometimes after an idea bounces around in your head awhile, a new angle or better example occurs to you. Not a disagreement with what you thought earlier, but an expansion.

In the infamous post which attracted 60 comments (no. link.), a disputant made the comment that 70-80% of gov't spending was a transfer of wealth from men to women. The idea was so moronic that I didn't even bother to correct it at first, and others on the thread seemed to be doing a good job without me anyway. (I did eventually break down on the 61st comment and put the whole thing to rest with some force, BTW, which I should have done immediately.) The heart of the argument seemed to be that men pay in more to Social Security, etc, and women draw out more.

That's how it's done, of course. We guys pay in money to a separate account labeled FROM MEN, and we all collectively get moral credit for that. Then the various governments at every level shift 70-80% of that over into another account labeled TO WOMEN, from which those general freeriders draw at will. Those few other women, who happened to contribute, just have to endure the shame of it. Because they're women, after all, and that's what they deserve. You won't see that in the budget, of course. It's a secret. The other 20-30% of the budgets go to fund all the minor items like schools, police, defense, courts, infrastructure - that sort of thing.

In imagining that, I thought of the "worst" individual examples, from the old days when we could enforce patriarchy without any of this nonsense from the weaker sex. I thought of the very traditional model, perhaps the one our parents had, of a man who went out and worked all his life, wife never employed outside the home, who retired at 65 and died at 70. His wife lived to be 80. This is the guy, according to the complaint, who is getting the rawest deal of all. He paid in lots, his wife didn't (for we are conveniently ignoring the economic value of her labor for this complaint); he collects for 5 years, she for 15. I imagined putting these wealth-transfer numbers in front of a bunch of those guys down at the lodge in the 1950's to try and evoke some outrage.

Not gonna happen. Those guys would have looked at the numbers and said "Yep. That's exactly how we want it to be. Don't change a thing." And those are the ones, according to the complaint, who are getting ripped off the most.

If they don't have a problem with it, I don't see why anyone else should.


During the 2004 election, a liberal told me quite angrily that he was voting for Kerry because he loved his children and cared about their safety. Well, the implication that the rest of us don't love our children is pretty stupid and insulting, and I am amazed that a supposedly intelligent person (he is a moderately-prominent local attorney) lets such foolishness emerged from their mouths without editing. There is next the irony that his children (who we know) are among the unlikeliest people to end up in the military, and certainly not in combat infantry units, so George Bush and his ilk, always sending us into illegalwarsbasedonlies, is not going to measurably affect the safety of his children all that directly. I am not even going into the radical idea that some wars might actually make us safer, or at minimum, avoiding some wars might actually increase our danger.

But if you look at the attorney's comment in another sense, in the tribal sense of who runs the country and gets the best jobs, he's got a point. He is quite dramatically a part of the elite, and he is defending his childrens right to rule by keeping his tribe in power. They're smart kids and would likely do well under just about any American government, of course, but you get the idea.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hum Along


I just have it stuck in my head that when you bake a ham, you're supposed to stick cloves in it.

But none of us like cloves that much, or what it does to the ham. I think I finally get that.

Health Care Comfort

I mentioned often during the health care - or rather the health insurance - debate that people regard the security of having something there as a positive good, which seems to overwhelm considerations of how good the care is or what the final cost is. Conservatives are dismissive of this, regarding it as people wanting to be taken care of. It's a fair point, but it is also a positive good in that it is one less thing to have to worry about in a world of worries.

The recent Blue Cross Blue Shield radio commercials in this area play to that sentiment. No mention of quality, convenience, cost, or flexibility. Just person after person - young couples with kids, mostly - talking about how secure they feel with BCBS in place.

Department Christmas Party

Line of the year
Pick something else. We are not going to have three divorced women sing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Silly Sisters

I just got the joke, years later. Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span sometimes sings with June Tabor under the name "Silly Sisters." Steeleye Span was known for singing ballads and folk songs from the 16th-18th C* in modern arrangements, and Tabor liked to push that back even farther when she sang with Maddy.

The word silly has changed over the years, see below. It originally meant "happy," or "blessed," and that is the sense that these two Englishwomen are playing off, for those who might notice. Blessed Sisters, and the songs preserved from that era are often Christian. Maddy is clearly some kind of believer, June Tabor clearly not (which is why she doesn't show up in any of the videos here). Most of the others who have sung with Prior over the years don't give much evidence of Christian belief either, but she apparently can enforce her will often enough that they do marvelous versions of hymns and carols. The harmonies are quite intentionally of the raucous, barroom sort, though they do them well enough that one could only wish that an 18th C pub ever sounded so good.

I'm going off script for my Christmas carols here, because these are clearly performance. Yet they still capture much of what I hoped for singing along, especially if you love harmony.

Silly: Cognate with German selig, meaning happy, and goes back to Proto-Indo-European, of course, or I wouldn't mention it. Related to hilarious in that way.
O.E. gesælig "happy" (related to sæl "happiness"), from W.Gmc. *sæligas (cf. O.N. sæll "happy," Goth. sels "good, kindhearted," O.S. salig, M.Du. salich, O.H.G. salig, Ger. selig "blessed, happy, blissful"), from PIE base *sel- "happy" (cf. Gk. hilaros "gay, cheerful," L. solari "to comfort," salvus "whole, safe"). The word's considerable sense development moved from "blessed" to "pious," to "innocent" (c.1200), to "harmless," to "pitiable" (late 13c.), to "weak" (c.1300), to "feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish" (1570s).
Shakespeare's sense in "Two Gentleman of Verona" is somewhere between the the innocent and foolish meanings, I think. Do no outrages On silly women or poor passengers.

*They tried their hand at more modern songs - just to prove they could do it, I think - such as Rag Doll" and "Black Freighter."

Sticky Tiles

My brother-in-law saw me lugging leveling compound into the house and said "I have two words for you - you know I'm handy with things around the house, and I see what you're carrying in, and I have two words: sticky tiles."

Well, it turns out that would have been a better idea. I got the leveling compound down, amidst much cursing and groaning, and I got the linoleum sheet down on it. It looks kinda sorta okay. But when you walk on it, you can feel the imperfections. So, a lot of effort for substandard results. Still, it's done, which is a good thing.

So why, after receiving good advice, did I ignore it? I knew that my fingers are less than deft and would have trouble smoothing and leveling in time before that junk dried. I knew I was inexperienced at the whole deal. I knew that the hardware store was only a mile away, and that I could, actually, return the unopened 25 bag of powder. In retrospect, it would even have been better to put the sheet down over the old floor where I had scraped up ancient linoleum tiles. Yeah, that's wrong, but it would still have been better than what I ended up with.

Economists refer to the idea of "sunk cost," and how it influences economic behavior irrationally. I had already bought the sheet of linoleum. I had already bought a second bag of compound at $21 (having screwed up the first batch despite following the directions). Getting sticky tiles would involve making another decision about style, buying more stuff - including grout. The rational part of my brain, which my BIL was trying to appeal to, was getting overruled by the irrational part that says You're already waist-deep in this linoleum idea. You don't want to give that away.

The reason why it figures so prominently in economics - and sociology and psychology - is precisely because of this irrationality. The cost of the linoleum sheet is sunk. The cost of the first bag is sunk. Nothing can be done about it, and it should have no influence on the question "What is the best thing to be done now?" But it does have an influence. We grow attached to something merely because we have invested in it. And it's irrational. You can see it all around you in politics, in diplomacy, in business, in relationships - and in redoing bathroom floors. Sunk cost. Remember it.

This is the real value of a liberal arts education, BTW. You can develop intelligent-sounding explanations for everything you screw up. Which frankly, I find valuable. The next person who owns this house will not be impressed that I can rationalise so well. But heck, I don't even know the guy. I don't care.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


The purpose of voting is not to elect great men, but to vote the bastards out - PJ O'Rourke.

I have written approvingly of negative voting in the past, and how such voting improves the stability of society. When we look to elect great people, we just naturally ease over into the idea that we want them to do great things. Worse, they get the idea that their job is to do great things. This does not always end poorly - the Interstate Highway System, for example - but the batting average is worse than Carlos Pena's and costs more than his $10M.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dad Cliches

I give this to you free of charge, for the elevation of society. An important aspect of Dad cliches is to add a secondary lesson, to take the sting out of the lecture a bit with a little humor. It's hard to remember that in the moment, though, so get your cliches in order first.
The goal is not to find a good-enough excuse. The goal is to get the job done - unless you're planning on working for the government.


The always-creative Virginia Postrel discusses the continuing fascination with princesses in an American culture where the real item has been defunct for a few centuries. With five sons, I haven't come up on this issue much, other than to hear mothers express concern about the values taught when one allows a daughter to go in this playtime direction. And all those who disdain popular culture are honor-bound to dislike Disney Princesses, just as they do Wal-Mart and McDonalds.

Don't take that as a Disney endorsement however, has I find them a bit tiring myself. They're all Spunky Gals, trading on the one cultural universal for American women. Even as far back as Snow White, which seems a bit, er, traditionally feminine stereotypical to modern eyes, the Disney version is quite an elevation in status for SW over the earlier versions. In those, she appears at the dwarves' home and becomes rather a servant. In Disney, she becomes more The Mother, clearly in charge of these knuckleheads and setting a disorderly household to rights.

They're all likeable certainly - and why not, as they are carefully designed to hit buttons both ancient and modern in our psyches. And they are Spunky Gals, after all, which I suppose is a good thing. Postrel concludes with the adaptability of the princess role - a base of specialness, independence, and aspiration which can be decorated with whatever local ornaments mothers and daughters can negotiate.

Silent Night

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yesterday's Future

When David over at Photon Courier linked to a post here I went over to check out the setting and found this: Predictions in 1931 of what 2011 would be like. This is a better-than-usual list however, as they asked thoughtful people who took the time to really think about it, rather than clever people who just spent an hour scratching out ideas.

It's a nice illustration of my previous point about experts. The thoughtful people had some stunningly accurate forecasts (see the last one especially). But there are several which are not just comically wrong, as the clever guys sitting around over drinks would have, but profoundly and almost chillingly backward. Worse, on numbers 3 and 4, whoever is doing the modern grading shares the bias that was nascent among intellectuals then and is a commonplace among the intelligentsia now, that he gets the grades wrong, granting Millikan a "not quite" when that worthy is horribly wrong, and declaring Pupin wrong when he is very nearly right. On the latter, Pupin predicted that poverty would generally disappear, and believed this must also result in equality of wealth distribution. He got the first part quite right, as poverty by the standards of 1931 is nonexistent in America. It was the second part he got wrong. But the modern grader, entirely caught up in the idea that equal distribution is the only measure of prosperity, misses what Pupin got right.


Experts are seldom wrong in a random way - that is the province of outsiders, cranks, and the half-informed. The expert has at his disposal a wealth of actual data: research, personal experience, or theories devised by those similar to himself, which he has had some opportunity to observe in the actual. He does not guess that things are linked together because some intuition tells him that it should be so. He has seen them linked a dozen or a thousand times, in the numbers, in the lab, or on the street.

No, when the expert is wrong it is often at a perfect 180 degrees from the truth, exactly backward, reversing cause and effect or examining only one side of the balance scales. In fact, this is what we should always fear most from the expert, that he is wrong in the most invisible way, on the correct path but headed in the wrong direction.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He Shall Feed His Flock

You might not think of this as a Christmas carol, but books sometimes include it. Sing along, or at least hum.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Two Choirs

We had the church Christmas musical program last night. In the adult choir, there are entirely white people, and they all have names that are Dutch, Swedish, German, and English. The children's choir is more mixed, with (at least) Sudanese, Chinese, Guatemalan, Korean, and Eastern European children - though many of their names are northern European* - in addition to the expected pale, light-haired descendants.

Well, it makes for incredible cuteness, of course, and distracting as that is, it does have value.

In our previous church, about one-third of the children were foreign adoptees, and though the percentage here is less than one-quarter, the trend is clear. My data is likely greatly skewed, both by the Christians I know and the adoptees (and refugees) I know, but it seems that evangelicals are much more likely to have foreign-born children than even other Christian groups, and well more than more secular folks.

*It's going to be a hoot in another generation when all those Pastors Cedarstrom and Van Der Beken were actually born in the C.A.R. or China - an outcome the original Covenanters would doubtless have laughed happily at.


Much economic discussion these days revolves around how contradictory and impossible the major premise of the opponent's program is. The left complains that it is simply insane to think you can cut taxes and get more revenue. It just seems backwards. If you want more money, charge more. The right complains that the Keynesian approach seems equally insane on the face of it. Why should the government spend more money in a downturn, when the people have less?

Both sides have their reply, based on their assumptions. Reduced taxes means more money out doing productive things in the economy, like creating jobs, which eventually creates more people working, making money, and paying into the system. Or from Keynes, the system needs a certain amount of fluid in it to operate properly. If the fluid isn't coming in naturally, the government has to top off the fluid by injecting money into it.

I leave off for the present the argument about which works better. I note that there is a similarity in that both teach that money flowing around rather than sitting idle is a good thing, but they differ as to where the money comes from. What strikes me at the moment, however, is the inability of either side to acknowledge that yes, it does seem counterintuitive, doesn't it? Perhaps in these times of bitterness, such an admission would seem too great a risk. Much better to simply pound home the idea of how ridiculous the other guy's idea sounds. Yet I can't help but think we might move forward if we could start from the realisation that both positions can be oversimplified and made to sound insane.

Matthew 6:33-34

Apropos a discussion at First Things today, reacting to a flyer from the UU church.
It is an odd sort of seeking that allows no finding.

Crawford, Martinez, and More Statistics

My son Ben had a good reply to my initial baseball statistics post, but there is more to be said. Boswell's column is certainly part of it. The corrective I would add to Boswell is that the short left field, while it inhibits what Crawford can do for you catching the ball, also disguises his below-average throwing. Perhaps Carl can play shallow and channel his speed left to right, shutting down more space. Perhaps he will develop mastery of The Green Monster. Perhaps.

I was prepared to concede Ben's point about Martinez, as I had simply forgotten about his poor percentage of base-stealers thrown out. It was indeed maddening to watch at times last year. But...Martinez had 27 out of 126 caught stealing. So 99-(27x2.6) = 29 bases, which equals 2.9 runs for the season. Call it 3 runs. Not so much. It is indeed discouraging while it is happening, but like base-stealing itself, there's more drama than effect.

It does bring up the issue whether pitchers did worse when Martinez was catching. Nope. They had an ERA slightly over 4 with Martinez, and slightly over 4 with Varitek. Martinez's numbers were improved by Buchholz, but he also caught a lot of games by Beckett, which dragged him down (and he caught him much better than Varitek). At least publicly, the other pitchers have had praise for him as well. If there was a pitcher's conspiracy to get him out because he was screwing them up, it's well hidden. Not that he couldn't be screwing them up and they not realise it, but that becomes a less likely possibility.

I think it is fair to also concede that even if Martinez's catching days are not over, they are at least numbered. He is a DH, and perhaps a declining one, so mixing him in with Ortiz, backup catching, and whatever-you-got for a year means he's a year older when he becomes your full-time DH, and he's likely insulted to boot. Still, OPS of .844 to Crawford's .851. Essentially the same at half the price. And that's not even figuring in Jason Bay, who is the real comparison to Crawford. Martinez was an extra. And the Yankees are also pursuing Russell Martin.

Fans and GM's like to have good players locked in for multiyear deals. It means fewer problems to solve each year and builds fan loyalty. But "locked in" has two meanings. Things change.

As I said, I generally like what we've got - plus rumors of Ordonez and Beltran, and relievers Downs and Fuentes. It's a good team and it should do well if healthy. But an injury here or there, or Bay bouncing back from his injuries would only highlight what could have been if they had decided to spend that kind of money a year ago.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Romanian Carol

I don't have either Romanian here, so I can't tell you a thing about it, except that it is from NE Romania, in Bucovina, one of the remoter, more rural areas of the country.

Listen a few times and you will find yourself humming it.

More Crawford

No Oil For Pacifists sends me the link: Tom Boswell agrees with me about Crawford, and more. Best line:
Didn't the Yanks help the Red Sox out enough already by re-signing their utterly immobile captain for three more years? Derek Jeter, a handsome marble column of a shortstop, has finally gone from "iconic" to "Ionic."
Ugly stats in more detail than I provided.

I promise to get back to non-sports posting later today, after laundry, painting, moving stuff, and maybe shopping.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

More Sports

If I knew it, I had forgotten that college football's top receiver award is called the Biletnikoff award, after Fred Biletnikoff. This warms my heart.

AVI's Baseball Statistics

If you replace a shortstop batting 7th with 70 runs created (or whatever batting stat you favor) with a shortstop batting 7th with 90 runs created, those 20 runs are exactly the same amount of improvement as getting a 20-run improvement in the 3 spot, say from 120 to 140. The guy in the 3-spot will get lots of attention, have some visible game winning hits, and make everyone feel like they've got a big stud winning team. But those guys down the order are just as important in the overall.

Which is obvious, when you think of it. AVI stuff. Similarly, those guys lower in the order can kill you if they don't hit well. We think of a .700 OPS as unexciting and a .650 OPS as unexciting, and consider them equal. They aren't. That .650 costs you. Put a couple of guys like that late in the order, and you have a fan base wondering why the team isn't winning even though they have so many hitters in league leading categories.

All this talk about the Red Sox "core" being so solid seems to miss this simple fact. It's less fun to talk about Scutaro and Saltalamacchia, but their at-bats are just as valuable.

Second, the sports radio guys were positively giddy about the fun they're having penciling in lineups now that we have Carl Crawford. That "possible lineups!" create debates and conversations, and hence fun, is not a positive. It means that you have problems that don't have obvious solutions, but tradeoffs. Play the "possible lineup" game with the Red Sox and you will see what I mean. That you don't want Ellsbury and Crawford running over each other or occupying bases that the other could steal, and hence have to separate them, means you screw with everyone else.

Third, the advantage of going LRLR with batters doesn't matter in the slightest the first 2 or even three times through the order. It sometimes matters in late innings, eating up a bullpen, which can have advantages later in that series. It's nice, but not such a big deal.

Fourth, my views on stolen bases I have already told you. An extra base is of course nice. But a lost baserunner is bad, and giving away one of your three precious outs is bad, and the two together are terrible. You have to have better than 70% success for stolen base attempts to be valuable. So multiple CS times 3 and subtract it from SB, rounding down. Now divide that number by ten, and that's how many extra runs your stolen bases produce for your team. Not very impressive. Fun to watch, though. (And everyone should attempt a stolen base a few times a year, just to keep pitchers, first basemen, and catchers from taking advantage of you. Okay, maybe not David Ortiz.)

With all this in mind, let's look at the Carl Crawford acquisition. I like Crawford. I mentally add 2/3 of triples to HR (the actual number is 5/7, but that's too cumbersome) to compare power numbers, so his power isn't bad, it's just not exciting. His batting average is good, but his on-base percentage isn't exciting. He is a very good fielder for range - though that is less of an advantage in Fenway. He will make exciting plays, but apparently doesn't throw that well. He is very exciting to watch, perhaps the most exciting in the game. But it's not so exciting to total up his value at the end of the year.

This is a Boston team that had terrible injuries and underperforming pitchers that was still in it right up until the end, so the addition of Crawford might in fact make the Red Sox the best team in baseball. He improves the team as currently constituted.

But a little history shows that you could have had both Jason Bay and Victor Martinez for the same money. Not quite, but it's close. Bay got 4 years at $60M a year ago, Martinez just got 4 years at $50M. Add a year to each contract and it's still less than Crawford at 7 years. And I'm not sure you want Crawford at 35 and 36 so much. Bay and Martinez at 34 and 35 are certainly not significantly worse. And Bay is an equivalent or better player, generally. And, Martinez is a catcher who hits, which is hard to find. Bay was injured and had a terrible year last year, so if that's the trend it undermines my argument. There may also be some tricky sabermetric clue that says one or the other is on the verge of collapse. In that case, my reasoning doesn't hold. But absent that knowledge, I think Bay and Martinez would have been a better investment.

Given that we already let Bay and Martinez go elsewhere, I think Carl Crawford is a great pickup. I was very pleased to hear that news this morning. But we didn't have to be in this place.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Place In This World

John-Adrian just called about a letter he received up in Nome. The County court in Oradea is inviting him to come to a hearing in February to state his opinion about the disposition of his recently-deceased father's house in Sârbi, a nearby village. The name signifies that it was once a village of Serbs, in some long-distant past. Either of my two may have some Serbian ethnicity in them. Of course, in that part of the world everyone is everything, except they all deny they have any Gypsy in them.

It's all very Romanian. The neighbors claim that Gheorghe gave them the house in exchange for them caring for him in his last years, but have no paperwork. Chris and JA's aunt - not their father's sister but their mother's sister - has wanted the house for years. (She's has been a rather grasping sort for years.) The youngest sibling, Ina, just turned 18 and is thus of legal age. The court believes the oldest sibling, Catalin, is deceased, but he's quite alive, working in Norway nine months of the year with his wife Crina.

There is a lot of background information on the court documents, including things John-Adrian never knew about his father before. Not surprising, as his father gave him to the state when he was nine or ten.

So Chris and JA may each have rights to a 25% share of a house something like these.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Greenbelt again. With descant. Love these guys. How do they get only 400 hits?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Links I Partly Disagree With

Steve Sailer on Africa and genetic selection. Take away concept: no Malthusian trap.

Article at First Things: Was The Reformation Necessary? A commenter quotes a personal fave of mine, Jaroslav Pelikan that it was a tragic necessity. The idea put forth about culture dividing at the Rhine was intriguing as well.

The Goofy and the Serious. The Bible’s silence about life on other planets.
Crusty old Spengler finds someone he agrees with. Doesn't stop him from grousing about others, though. Love that guy.

Why Republicans will not shrink government.


Everyone will take something different from Retriever's post Scapegoats and Standard Bearers. She kicks herself pretty hard, but to a purpose.

Terri continues her ongoing, sometimes intense examination of The Meaning of Jesus. She avoids easy, cliched answers, and I'm down with that.

Donna B's father gets elected mayor. (This time she helped.)

Maine Family Robinson reflects on the shock of moving from Massachusetts politics to Maine politics.
Since all the candidates vehemently pronounced their love for education and jobs, no matter what question was posed to them, I figured there must be a dastardly candidate that was for unemployment and ignorance, but I couldn't find one. My wife helpfully offered to write my name in.

You may have a genetic predisposition to promiscuity and other high-risk, high-reward behavior. Yeah, and see what else is associated.

The 50 Greatest College Football Players Of All Time. It covers a variety of eras well. I found all my favorite names I was looking for, too. Including this one, who I thought only I knew about.
As a cornerback, (Howard) Cassady did not ever allow a single pass completion.
But he was considered even better as an RB.

Changes in school technology use. See #11.

City Journal discusses worldwide urbanization, still increasing. I think the city-state model will replace the nationhood model.

Everything you needed to know about democracy and freedom you owe mostly to Puritans.

Willisms, always big on arresting graphs and diagrams, contrasts Texas and California.

An older article that bears revisiting. Why is Language Extinction considered a bad thing? A great Megan McArdle quote within.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Inserting Illustrations

As the previous post grew long, I thought I'd break it up with illustrations. It aids memory and lightens the tone. I should have thought of this five years ago. Sorry.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Wicked Surprising

A linguistics post that even Jonathan and Ben will like. It had to happen eventually, just by law of averages. Michael too, as his wife figures in the end of the discussion.

It feeds my conceit when a group conversation comes to wonder where something comes from and others turn to me expectantly, believing I might know, or at a minimum, could find the origin. There is a significant downside to this, however, and I've got one here: when the question looks immediately to be vague and unsatisfying in answer, and I will have to come back empty-handed. However strongly I may suspect that the answer will be "no one really knows," I dare not say it at the outset, for someone present may come across an obviously spurious answer some months down the road, and it will be a poor show for me to correct that. Or worse, someone may encounter a very possible answer in the future, and I would be on record as having talked through my hat. So the research must be done. Fortunately, such searches often reveal interesting tangential information even when the search proper winds away into obscurity.

In discussing New England regionalisms, I was offered the challenge of finding out where the use of "wicked" as a synonym for "very" originates. No one really knows. (I knew that.) But we can't stop there, can we? We have to find collateral information to illustrate that no one really knows.

The OED claims it is L20, Late 20th Century, but that can't be right. Though that usage had reportedly fallen away in Manchester and Nashua (which explains why I did not use it as a child but was familiar with it from YMCA camp), I can guarantee it was in common use in the 1960's, which is M20, not L20. Still, that seems wicked recent. I would have thought it older. Not wicked old, but earlier than that.

Yet it's not recorded before 1960 anywhere I can find. It is not surprising that any slang term is greatly under-represented in print, no matter how hoary, but there are usually at least a few that slip through. The usage is more closely associated with Boston and with Maine in popular discussion, and much-used these days to give a flavor of authenticity to the New Englandness of this or that: LL Bean's Wicked Good Moccasins, Greenbush Wicked Good Soap, The Wicked Good Guide to Maine, and so forth. Tim Sample and Fritz Wetherbee both frequently use wicked as an intensifier in their dialect humor.

But you can't find it in Marshall Dodge's Bert 'n I. We'll come back to that. (If someone does find it in Dodge, let me know.) This is a good place to insert a fascinating link - well, fascinating to Anna and Sponge-headed Scienceman anyway - about the commodification of Maine's ruralness, with the premise that the emphasis on peripheral features of Maine culture were consciously used to create a tourist draw.

There is a seemingly related usage of wicked as "skillful," recorded in England and in E20 in America, notably F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, written in 1920: "Tell 'em to play ‘Admiration’!’ shouted Sloane... ‘Phoebe and I are going to shake a wicked calf.’" And this in turn seems to be related to earlier senses of difficult, dangerous, or intense in a bad or evil sense, such as a wind or a curve in the road. Though Fitzgerald was not a New Englander - went to Princeton. Various comment sections also have entries farther afield, from Canada, the Midwest, and England, of people remembering its use as a simple intensifier in the 70's. But even those examples carry a whiff of the "skillful" or "dangerous" usages, such as "a wicked curveball."

It is a fairly automatic fantasy in folk linguistics, when something occurs both in England and in some rural area of the original 13 Colonies to leap to the conclusion that the word has come down on parallel tracks from some 17th C origin. These sometimes prove out in nonstandard verb tenses, such as swum or heered, but such parallelisms are rarer for nouns and adjectives. And it is almost inconceivable for slang, which changes at a far faster rate than standard speech. Slang is tightly bound up in the social solidarity of generations, and with wittiness, which requires a certain novelty.

Once one has even thought to question whether the conventional wisdom about anything is true, all previously-known data is seen in a new light. I have long accepted the CW that "wicked" as a simple intensifier has a long lineage in New England, especially in Boston and Maine. But my inability to illustrate that causes me to reverse field, and relook at the data I already had.

So, Marshall Dodge doesn't use it.

We did a comic bit about old Yankees when I was at a summer program in 1970 that drew highschoolers from all over the state, and "wicked" never figured in it. Many used it as their own slang - wicked fast, wicked late - but not attributed to old codgers. Nor did it appear in a paper I did in college for History of the English Language about the Eastern New England Dialect. I don't have a personal copy of Hans Kurath, but I would have read it in entirety then - no wickeds anywhere. Kurath published in 1939.

Mrs. Clark, who founded my son's Christian school, did not allow her children (who are my age) to use "wicked" as an intensifier. This is unlikely to be the case for slang one grows up with unless it is quite vulgar, and even less likely for words one grew up hearing adults use. To discourage slang in general is one thing, but drawing a line to resist the moral deterioration of a synonym for evil being used neutrally is more likely when the term first appears on the stage.

I don't recall adults using it when I was a child. It was used by people older than I, but not a generation older. My own family avoided slang anyway, and may not be a good example - but when you grow up and live in the same place, you have a wide variety of acquaintances, from lowlife to elegant, and my parents had both. I don't think I heard any of them use "wicked." It was kid slang. People need to ask their old Yankee parents about this, I think.

I don't believe I ever heard the phrase "wicked good" until I heard Tim Sample use it in the 1980's. I took his word for it that Maine'ah's traditionally said it, and it seemed a natural extension of the usage I had grown up with. Certainly, it would persist because of the irony once coined and spread rapidly, but that doesn't imply it would have been common five years before.

But I don't think it has a long history. I think "wicked" as an intensifier is postwar. And "wicked good," advertised as a charming ruralism of old salts and venerable backwoodsmen, is more recent still. Those salts may be old now, in 2010, but they didn't learn that phrasing from their own grandfathers. They learned it on the school playground in the 1940's.

Update: Sponge-headed Scienceman wrote to Tim Sample and got this reply. I don't know that it helps much, but it's interesting.
Hi Dennis,
Thanks for your email. I was born in northern Aroostook County in 1951 and grew up on the coast. I did in fact hear the word "wicked" used quite frequently both as a modifier ( wicked good, wicked cold, etc. ) and an exclamation ie; Wicked! , a term used not unlike how Awesome! would be used today. So it goes back at least to coastal Maine the 1950's based on my first hand my experience. I've also noted an interesting linguistic phenomenon in that the only other place I hear and see the word used as it is in Maine is in the Caribbean islands I've visited. Here's an unscientific guess about that. I think that the true origins of wicked are likely to be found ( like so many other shards of New England dialect ) in the British Isles. 18th and 19th Century British traders did a brisk business in that part of the world and there were major trade routes between the Maine coast and Puerto Rico in the age of sail. Who knows but that's my guess.
All my best,
Tim Sample


The previous post, with its lusty singing of carols, was in contrast to Goffstown's Christmas on Main Street program last night. There was an abundance of Santa and Frosty crafts. I note with displeasure there is increasing use of the "naughty or nice" theme, emphasis on the naughty, with gleeful innuendo, to be bragged about by the young. The Girl Scouts had not only crafts, but baked goods and hot beverages, and sang four "seasonal" songs at the tree lighting. Cute. Not objectionable, but not anything to do with Christmas, either. They shivered - there was a solid breeze on top of the freezing temperature - and squinted at their shared song sheets.

The program shifted unevenly to the live nativity down the street. This was less well-attended, and the secular songs on loudspeaker created competition for the first two carols. But those Congregationalists persevered, launching middle-school girls already in angel robes up to the microphone to read passages of scripture, and jump-starting the a capella carols with force, despite the small numbers. Soon there were almost no spectators left - my quick computation suggested that it was likely the families of the participants plus us.

The production values were uh, meager, and the energy level kept draining down as dutiful but nervous children took their turns. But discouragement at the trappings gives way in my mind to admiration for the valiance of it all. This is New Hampshire, the least-churched state in the Union. Budgets are low, and the cold makes costuming even more makeshift than usual. Fiery preachers of the Second Advent talk blithely about the remnant church. I'll show you a remnant church right here, shivering valiantly in retired choir robes, acting out the story of God coming to earth, before an audience of no one.

I imagine an actual angel appearing, exploding upon the scene to lend a hand, terrifying the santas and singers of "Jingle Bells." There would be complaints to the Main Street Committee, as if it had been their inadequate precautions that caused it, for allowing this trauma to be visited upon Goffstown's children. Cody cries every time we drive past that church now. Which I think would be an improvement, actually.

It's tempting to think how one might create the impression naturally. The front of the church, tall and white, is rather a blank canvas for the imagination in designing angel visitations that are something nearer the real thing than tinseled Caitlins. Given the right equipment...But it's no good. In another context, creating an invasion of shining warriors would be the right effect for some church, somewhere. Here, it's real angels or nothing.

Maybe next year. Come, Lord Jesus.

Once In Royal David's City

You know the intent at this point. Sing along. I was one the brink of being offended by the premise of "Beer And Hymns," but, I approve highly.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Lyme Disease

The short version: more acorns in 2010 means more mice in 2011 means more Lyme disease in 2012. Looks convincing, but it's not a field I know much about. Seems researchers reporting in the Poughkeepsie Journal are convinced.

Stupid Statistic

From ESPN: "Michael Vick became one of five QBs since the AFL-NFL merger to have two games with 300 passing yards, two passing TDs and one rushing TD in a single season."


Post 2700 - Disabilities Rights Center

Every state has one - a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of people with various disabilities. This is New Hampshire's. You'd think that for a civil libertarian type such as myself, they would have a good reputation with me. I grudgingly have a mildly positive view of them in general. They do very good work badgering, cajoling, advising, threatening, or suing other agencies on behalf of people with other types of disabilities to receive more services.

But in mental health, they reverse field. They badger, cajole, advise, threaten, and sue mental health agencies to provide fewer services. That's not how they would describe it, but that is the practical effect. Mental health services are seen as an intrusion and burden that should not be placed on people who don't want them. And I will not be dissuaded from the belief that such is exactly their opinion of mental health services, however much they deny it. I have observed them and interacted with them for decades. Ultimately, they think that people really don't need these services, and that the evil MH system goes around trying to force ourselves on people who could just as well be left alone.

I get the civil liberties part. I get the concept that people have the right of self-determination, and the state does not have the right to interfere with a person unless the state can show a necessity for doing so. But that principle fails to take into account that lack of insight is one of the symptoms of several major mental illnesses. Depressed or anxious people seek services. They want relief, and are sometimes only too willing to try treatments that are more risky than they would otherwise entertain. The personality disorders are mixed, sometimes demanding services, sometimes evading them, and often both: help-seeking and help-rejecting at the same time. But those with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, or those with affective disorders on the manic side, often think that they're doing just fine, and it is everyone else who doesn't get it. Lack of insight is a symptom, and there are detectable brain-reasons why this is so.

I testified at a very complicated hearing on one patient today and cleaned up the legal confusion on another who was discharged back to jail yesterday. In both cases, the procedures put in place to protect them from receiving treatment because they think they don't need it, have resulted in both patients having miserable, isolated lives, rejected by friends and family and frequently in trouble with the law, because we are not allowed to give them the treatment they need. And the DRC is dead-center in this. Our current policies are based around the idea that someone's artsy and eccentric wife is going to get locked up for years because the fascist overbearing System is going to squeeze all the life out of her by giving her mind-numbing chemicals and make her into a zombie, depriving the world of the next great advance in sculpture. Or something. And to effect this protection for women in Birkenstocks, as if they are in constant danger of being silenced, we willingly sacrifice the lives of hundreds of intelligent, decent people, putting them on the altar of pretended dignity and slicing their throats.

They are stuck at the college bull-session "What is reality?" stage of philosophical understanding, selectively quoting Thomas Szasz. (I dare them to take his whole philosophy seriously.) They would not for half a second entertain the idea that brain injury or paraplegia were merely alternate ways of experiencing reality, but they willingly grant that to schizophrenics, who by definition misunderstand reality.

Okay, I'm done now. Rant over. Tomorrow I go back to explaining NH's RSA 135:C to people who believe that the vent over the cat litter box has made the air in their house dangerous and caused silica to clog up their veins, and that's why they drew a gun on their daughter who didn't believe them and wanted them to go to the hospital; or that the government has implanted a chip in their brain that makes them hear voices.

Mr. Underhill

Mr. Underhill's first post, Palin and AntiPalin is up. I will not be using the other site much, and will link here to everything I put up there. I'm still trying to get the hang of this two blogs from one email thing, so this site may have some weird stuff while I get this worked out.