Thursday, June 30, 2011


Okay, now that I'm really tired of the discussions on other sites (not listed) with the men's rights people, many of whom are unable to see any POV other than their own; and the gay marriage advocates (not listed), many of whom insist there is nothing but bigotry in any opposition to their legislation; and the government union people (not listed), who insist that all this recent hullabaloo is not about principles but power, not for them, of course, but only for those evil other guys; I thought a nice philosophical discussion about whether life extension was a wise idea, and how much tax money should go to encouraging it, would be an invigorating, mostly-intellectual affair from first principles.

And note these are what are generally considered peripheral issues, rather than getting into who is more hypocritical than who in getting us into wars, or giving jobs to cronies, or covering up corruption in his own party - issues where one would expect that people would be a bit partisan and defensive, even at the best of times.

And oh yeah, one of the coaches on Kyle's team quit just before the championship because of his argument in the dugout with the head coach the night before. It was about whether they should hold the runner at third with the bases loaded or the third baseman should play in to try and stop the run. Life or Death, really.

I conclude that none of us - well, none of you, anyway - are capable of listening to even the remotest suggestion that we have made stupid assumptions. My whole series about May We Believe Our Thoughts? MWBOT 1-17, in which I offered the moderately comforting idea that we are influenced by nonrational factors, but are essentially rational creatures? I take it all back. I should go back to fundamentalist Christian sites to argue with people that the KJV was not designated by God as the acceptable translation. I think I had more success there.

So let's try some ideas on questioning whether we should devote hearts and minds to life extension.

1. It would be totally awesome, no matter how elegantly disguised and expressed, is sufficient reason for you to be in favor of it, but not enough to prove to me it's a good idea.

2. Opponents have some stupid objections is true, and must feel great to know, but is likewise not a persuasive positive case.

3. Great minds have been speculating about this for at least three thousand years, and most of them have seen both good and bad possibilities. That should be worth at least a look.

4. No one has ever been there. That should be worth a moment's pause.

5. I don't see the steady improvement in my personality that suggests living another hundred years would perfect me. In fact, I sense the opposite.

6. If you look around you, you will see that old people are not generally improving, nor do they say they are.

7. You, in particular, actually.

8. Waving off the last three points, claiming that all those things will be fixed when we have better knees and great digestions and electro-stim attitudes is just a wee bit wide-eyed in its optimism.

None of these is a true argument against life extension. It might turn out great. But criminy, is there anyone over there on the advocacy side who is intellectually capable of at least considering there might be teensie-weensie unintended negative consequences that don't disappear with a wave of the hand?

Reflections On The Second Commandment

This was one of the earliest topics I picked up on this blog. As it is not an entirely common view in this era - or in any era since the inventing of the printing press, actually - I probably should write about it more. I should write about it every month until everyone rolls their eyes and is sick of it, actually. The link a short post from 2006. Please read it.

The injunction not to take the Lord's name in vain has nothing to do with bad language, or with oaths. It is about false prophecy, a fairly common theme of scripture. We should not forge God's signature under our own opinions. Yet many Christians, do this, and do it often. They say "God wants us to..." or "The Scriptures clearly teach..." or "Jesus said..." and I don't think they have anything near the proper caution about this.

No, the word caution is much too mild. Whenever we make a claim for what God's opinion is on any matter whatsoever, we should imagine Jesus dangling us over a cliff, held by our shirts, looking at us intently and asking "Are you absolutely sure that is what I want people to hear?" We should be petrified to make any pronouncement. I think the idea of death or torment for getting it wrong should cross our minds. If we are quoting directly from the Scriptures, giving no hint of interpretation, then perhaps we are safe.

Example: At camp meetings and revivals back in the day, some preachers would give an altar call, and on the basis of many scriptures and their own personal experience would declare unto the people that God wanted them to come forward and commit their lives to following Jesus, turning from their previous ways. They would state right out loud "Jesus wants you to come forward this night, say the sinner's prayer, and give your life to Him." Every evangelical can cite, right of the top of his head, a few dozen places in scripture where that statement could be justified.

Yet I would still shrink back from such a declaration. I would phrase it as a question: "Is the Lord calling you...?" Or I would qualify it as an opinion based on scripture study "I believe that this may be your last chance. I believe God may be calling you tonight..." I would stress the general call; I would even hellfire-and-brimstone a story of a sinner who did not respond and died in a car accident the next night; hell, I would lie and make up stories about healings and conversions before I would let the words "Jesus is telling you to come forward this night..." escape my lips unless I was absolutely sure of what I was saying.

Because maybe it's next year. Or maybe the darkest mutterings of Calvinism are true and this is one of the damned, who will use my arrogant declaration for greater evil. Or maybe I've misunderstood completely and coming forward is irrelevant. Or maybe he came forward a dozen years ago and I am subtly teaching him to doubt his salvation. Or maybe, maybe, maybe, a hundred other things I never considered.

I believe all Christians should shrink back in horror from declaring God's will with any certainty, unless they dragged almost weeping like Isaiah or Micah or Habakkuk, or in the NT, Peter, or John of Patmos, barely daring to speak but compelled for the sake of the Gospel. We are held out over the cliff, our destruction spreading below us.

It is the Second Commandment, right? The first thing God wanted us to remember once we had first recognised Him. Don't put words in my mouth, y'hear?

In the current era, it is the apolitical who offend most in this way, those who believe that they have discerned the will of God for the world, as the recent 5/21 catastrophists were (I admit I don't even remember what they were called or who that guy was who led them); next, the religious right offends, jumping in almost reflexively on particular issues, declaring "God says..." Well, maybe so. They may have read the scriptures rightly, and have understood God correctly on any or all of their issues. But I get nervous about that certainty. The fear is not in them. There is a stretch, imperceptible at times, that says because God forbids homosexuality among his people, therefore He just MUST want homosexuality to be against the law in a pluralistic society, or MUST be opposed to civil unions. Well, maybe so. But the NT actually says almost nothing about what we should be convincing the secular powers to do.

Which leads to the more quietly stated, yet I think ultimately more dangerous violations of the Second Commandment by the religious left: the absolute assurance that they are declaring God's will for society, yet seldom making it ultra-specific. They are flexible on the details of the legislation, and eager for new ideas. Yet they have no one among them who questions the basic approach. They declare with confidence, even offhandedly, that they know what Jesus intends.

Let me step back from that a bit. I have framed this in terms of the political issues, because as a recovering socialist, I am still drawn to the political questions which make the news. But those may actually be the peripheral issues to God. My reading of history would certainly suggest that Jesus originally, and then the greatest minds of the Church thereafter, were not much concerned with the political issues of their days - there is almost nothing from any of them about Christians trying to influence the secular governments, on any level, about policy toward gays, or the poor, or women. That is our prism.

Rant over. Release the hounds, as Tigerhawk says.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Young Adult Books

It doesn't matter what the quality of the books on the list are. If you create a list of "essential" YA books and call them "timeless," but they are all new, you are guilty of dangerous chronological snobbery and are simply a fool.


Paul Zrimsek, commenting over at Ann Althouse:
Every NYT columnist is formed in the crucible of the memory of that first sneer.
(Related to David Carr's reference to Missourians and Kansans as "slope-headed," which everyone on Bill Maher's show laughed at nervously, and no one objected to.)

I looked up Zrimsek, and he doesn't have his own site, but his comments and numerous sites are marvelous. If there were an award for commenters. I would nominate him for it.

Medical Delusions

The wonderful Quackwatch site, which keeps track of aggressively-marketed medical frauds, has reprinted Worthington Hooker's book on medical delusions from 1850. It is remarkably wise for its era, noting how many conditions cure themselves over time because of the body's natural processes, and we should not credit that the cure results from Tar Water (Bishop Berkeley) or Homeopathy (Samuel Hahnemann) simply because they were precedent to the cure. Hooker identifies many general medical fallacies in his time which are still prominent today. I nodded serenely as he cut them down, but was brought up short on page 76:
But while we should avoid this ready and prurient credulity, now so prevalent, we should also take care not to run into the opposite extreme of skepticism. The precept of the skeptic is practically "doubt all things; hold fast to nothing but your doubts. He ever sits in his "doubting castle" well fortified against all the shafts of truth, sneering in self-satisfaction at all the rational beliefs, and the changing delusions of the world around him, as if the one were as unfounded as the other.
The pages are short and quick, BTW, no need to be intimidated by the length.

The errors of wise men are always useful for instruction.
True, that.

The fascinating part is how well this advice applies for all science, and indeed all belief. There are lessons to be learned about political and religious enthusiasms as well, here.

Monday, June 27, 2011


A friend with celiac disease mentioned that some restaurants get it WRT gluten, and others don't. The latter say they have gluten-free dishes, but they don't, really. They have gluten-reduced dishes. I have puzzled over this, read up on cheap restaurants claiming gluten-free dishes around the country (rather random), and am down to three possible conclusions. Either they have no idea what they are talking about but want to stay in business somehow, rather like this Monty Python sketch.

Or they have substituted a gluten-free ingredient for a major ingredient that is ordinarily wheat-gluten based - rather a "Well it hasn't got much gluten in it" reminiscent of this Monty Python routine

Or they have included something which has the phrase "gluten-free" on the outside, as if glutenfree were some magical ingredient like pixie dust, which gives a dish that special something.

More like this.

Old Route 28 - Part 7

My original intent was to travel the route, looking for elements that would have been present in the 1930’s or the 1950’s, when my mother would have traveled it. I changed my mind.

Nostalgia is easy to write. Early on my trip I passed an ice-cream stand, long unused, with grass growing in the parking lot and letters missing from the sign. It’s a simple mattter to evoke a bygone era – pick any one, really: merely describe a family with small children, or a “guy bringing his girl” to this place. Get the period details right - the clothes, the make of car, and what was playing on the radio correct and you can have folks misting up in moments. I used to go to Andy’s in the 50’s myself. They had only five or six flavors then, but I think the ice cream was better…

There are writers and storytellers who do this well by giving added value. Garrison Keillor is best known, but if it were all that difficult, do you think he could produce a new one every week for that long? James Lileks does it best, not only because he evokes an era well, but because he does accurate research. You might remember him as the author of Mommy Knows Worst, a collection of bad parenting advice from the 50’s, or his analysis of the creepy falling-panty drawings of Art Frahm in the 50’s. Me, I like the Institute of Official Cheer. I have wasted hours there.

Missing letters on signs have been a nostalgist’s signal of decay since Lanford Wilson’s drama HOT L BALTIMORE in the 70’s. Hotels are especial targets, as their very names evoke the era of their heyday. I took photos of the Firebird Motel, on the Manchester/Hooksett line, because it was typical of the 50’s, and has this great name. I have no particular associations with it beyond driving past it – nor the Kozy 7, the Sunset, or the Dolly Dimple. They were likely respectable enough in their day, became dumps, and are now managed by nice Asian couples who are trying to resurrect them as best they can.

My other association with them is that guys used to rent those to bring their prom dates to.  But neither of my prom dates, nor any even potential prom dates, were "that sort of girl" when I was going with them.  They became that sort of girl about a year later, of course, but by then it was too late. For me, that is.

Between the motels and the restaurants, I found I was taking picture after picture of deterioration. But that’s not the spirit of the place, then or now, it’s just the natural course of inexpensively-made buildings when you come back 50-80 years later. It’s only depressing if you want it to be. No echoes of Ozymandias here. The faded grandeur of more elegant and imposing buildings may be worth noting – though I am less sure of even that since I took this trip. Things have their time.

I have always found those cute roadside cabins attractive. I can’t recall we ever stayed at one, so they aren’t part of my history, but I took pictures of the surviving versions and tried to imagine staying there. What’s to imagine? They’re small. They’re old. They are essentially wooden tents. They’ll have an odd smell, and you won’t have enough room to move around. These did have an advantage that no other cabins had, however.

They were right behind that magical souvenir shop with the totem pole, the beaded belts, and the rubber tomahawks.

Nostalgia is overrated. Much like staring into the embers of a fire; we aren’t really thinking deep and wise thoughts reflecting on the past, we just feel like we are. Garnish with wine or other alcohol. Serves 6 (decades).

I press on. What did we see on our trip, now that we don’t have to answer What did we learn today? Here's a good example of wasted time: I had spent hours online and at the library, trying to figure out whether Old Route 28 ran above the river or below it beyond Suncook. Had I driven there, I would have found out immediately.

I saw old farms. Even more than now, it was family farm country then – dairy, poultry, produce. A few newer roads have names like Pheasant Run, so those lands near the Suncook River are being put to suburban use today.

Up closer to the lakes, the old summer cottages were either grand or shacks. I dropped in at the boy’s camp I went to and had loved for years - until I became a junior counselor and saw behind the curtain. I suddenly understood why the campers who were arrogant, athletic jerks won so many of the awards. Because the counselors were arrogant athletic jerks and preferred them. My uncle had gone to the camp a generation before me – I saw his name above my bunk when I was a scared 6-year-old in the Red Squirrel cabin - and my brother went many of the same years I did, so I briefly worried that Mi-te-na might overwhelm me with nostalgia in spite of myself. Not to worry. I was pretty sick of the whole endeavor long before I got there, and one of the new recreation areas was named after the biggest jerk of a camper when I worked there. Rather minimal temptation to reverie and sighing.

Of course, I was a prize jerk myself then, and he’s probably improved greatly from when he was 14, so I should hold my criticism lightly.

Additional note:  My friend Mike Crossin and I hitchhiked up Route 28 in 1969 from camp, while we were working there as junior counselors.  We headed up to the YWCA camp about an hour north, where I had a girlfriend. It was an adventure that eventually included being stranded on an island across from the camp and having to swim out before dawn.  (And yes, this was one of those girlfriends who became "that sort of girl" about a year later.  Well, that guy was an old friend, and they married and seemed to have settled into a nice life, so I guess it all worked out fine.)

Yes, I was sick of this whole trip by then, all my own fault. Started late, the onion rings at the Brick House were terrible, and the camera was on the wrong setting. The Circle 9 Ranch turned out to be from 1966, I had decided my original plan was stupid, and I could not positively identify the old family camp when I got there. The 160 year-old country store in Chichester did make its own doughnuts, but what is that? None of my family had ever stopped there, because the trip was too short, even in the 20’s. Two hours max. We went straight through.

I should have stopped for a drink, preferably somewhere that someone in the family had stopped for a drink before. There is nothing remotely like that there. I could have gone to friend Dave’s nearby, and likely received a fine drink, or more than one. And recovered my good mood. And stayed until dusk and had to cancel the rest of the trip. Pressing grimly and dutifully on, I did wonder why doing something I wanted was so irritating.

Part 8 will include long-lost relatives, and likely be the end.

The Rules

So...when you take church youth group to camp, and want to run over the rules, you can pass out printed sheets. Or you can have an earnest person with a clipboard stand at the front of the bus before everyone goes.

Or, if you church has its own filmmaker...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Instapundit Update

I emailed Glenn Reynolds about his second Thomas Ball post, because I know something of the agency and court involved. He used it as an update, which is why we got comments that seemed out-of-place under the "Cheap Prescriptions" post. It was the only spot available to anonymous, so be charitable about his seemingly going off-topic. No choice.

Anyway, here's the quote that caused the controversy:
An email from famed blogger/blog commenter* Assistant Village Idiot:

Assistant Village Idiot here. People who have a hair across their ass in general about the family court system are trying to keep the Thomas Ball story alive as if he is some kind of victim. In his efforts to have unsupervised visits with his daughter, he was told to have his visits supervised by Monadnock Family Services. He refused because he blames them for his problems.

I deal with that agency all the time, though not the children’s services – I have for 30 years. They are entirely reasonable people who make adjustments and accommodations for people who don’t like them or are suspicious of them all the time. Hell, they are a mental health center, so most of their clients are difficult and suspicious. They are not some Orwellian controlling agency. Ball decided that being pissy and proving that he was right about one incident ten years ago was more important than seeing his daughter. He’s no victim.

Family courts may indeed be prejudiced against fathers – I hear that, but I don’t know. I’ve certainly dealt with many cases of NH courts ruling in favor of fathers in custody disputes, though, and I don’t see a massive trend here. It pays to remember that MFS cannot tell its side of the story because of confidentiality, and that some pathological people hide by trying to tie themselves to legitimate causes. Wolves hide in sheep’s clothing, because it doesn’t do any good to hide in wolves’ clothing, does it?
I stick by that, but let me give full disclosure of my prejudices for context.

Most of us only ever get one side of any family court (or divorce, or heck, any) story, and really, there may be three or four sides. I do sometimes get more than one side. The events over the years which brought our fifth son to us show some pretty strong examples of anti-male bias by a family court judge. So I know it happens, and I know it's bad.

But for many situations, there is one party that is wrong, and another that is far worse. So when someone is painting themselves as an innocent, a victim who contributed little to the whole mess, I get immediately suspicious.

Here's my prejudice: growing up under the shadow of a parent's suicide is hard on a child, even if the events are not advertised and well-known. Children blame themselves. They are sensitive to ostracisms that are mostly imaginary. It is a terrible burden to lay on your own child. When you make that exponentially worse by making it public and dramatic, so that your kids have to either move or be a pariah, so they have to keep explaining all their lives what the hell was up with your Dad to do that, it is hellish. If you were depressed, I have mixed sorrow with my anger, because in the throes of depression people do dumb stuff because it hurts so bad. But if your "depression," as revealed in your suicide note, was not clinical depression but narcissistic injury because you couldn't get everyone else to admit it was all their fault, you have lost my sympathy. Feeling bad and depression are not synonymous.

You do that to your kids and I have a hard time believing you love them. What you loved was the appearance of a nice family, and the approbation you got for yourself. Trying to hide behind a legitimate cause only makes me more disapproving, because now you are delegitimising people with real grievances.

* "Famed" is nice, but a bit thick. Identifying me as a blog commenter as much as a blogger is accurate, though. I may be better at the former than the latter, actually.

Retriever On Praise Songs

I have written with some irritation about praise songs in the past, but it has been unfair criticism. They aren't all Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music, and I perhaps got too bothered by praise choruses in the 70's and 80's, then a lot of Christian school and childrens choir music - which one shouldn't expect to be complex or sophisticated. I am making my peace with the genre, because it actually does accomplish, when done well, an emotional response that remains tethered to doctrine rather than mere mystic or ecstatic experience. that's a good thing.

Retriever's post helps here. From The Inside Out.
But for everyday get me through real life, I want rollicking music, emotional stuff. Evangelicals brought me back to God, loved me, held me, comforted me in the darkest days of my life. Reminded me that God cared, God was in charge, God had great plans for this world and all of us critters. Brought me hope. Reminded me that this life isn't all about us, but about reaching out to Him, and following Him. And that life isn't about chasing happiness and toys, but struggling towards holiness. No matter how often we fail.
As out-of-touch as I am, I did not immediately thing of Hillsong from the title, but a childrens song From the inside out
God's working on me...
Okay I'll spare you that. not so moving as the Hillsong tune.

But here's another, a video Ben did for Good Friday service this year. It has that slow build that only works if you are singing along, not just watching. So at least hum.

(I'd love to visit my son during Christmas or Easter weeks to experience first hand what he does for work at this church, but traveling 1500 miles to be there while he works 80+ hours those weeks seems sorta beside the point.)

Thoughts Reading Links

Humans become pets.

Our ancestors from 1700, observing us, would say that this has already happened. Most of our daily activities are for entertainment, including the self-improving, intellectual pursuits of reading about the world on those little computer-thingies and talking to each other about them. We have two, or even three sets of clothes. We eat a variety of foods we have not produced ourselves and more than we need for survival; we travel and communicate for pleasure not necessity, live in houses five times the size we need. Much of the "useful" work of the society for which people get paid handsomely is little more than providing education not strictly necessary (unless you are going on to provide more advanced versions of these entertainments of travel and technology), or better ways to provide these entertainments to each other. We delay even this "productive" labor until well into our twenties, and are allowed to cease productivity around 60. Were we able to be satisfied with the food, clothing, warmth, and shelter of even 1800, we would probably only have to work an hour or so a day. That is, if we allowed each other that freedom to live that modestly without looking down on those who do and pitying their children.

We used to have arts to express meaning, usually religious. Now we attempt to use them to provide meaning, which they cannot do. So become house pets of machines, with little meaning in our lives, happened without our noticing it.

Our military is a lefty-socialist example for us all.

Wow. So the stereotypical right-wing institution actually accomplishes what lefties promise, and Kristof concludes that it was because it was left-wing all along. The military led in desegregation; it has camaraderie even though it is hierarchical; it provides health insurance, just like most other businesses; it is more meritocratic than other institutions; it owns your ass in virtually slavery for four years when you sign up and subjects you to great risk. You have to work hard or you get in big trouble. Its pay scales are much lower than other industries and certainly than other government sectors. The thing which seems to make Nick happiest about the whole deal is that the generals don't make huge amounts of money, as the top people in entertainment, law, industry, or financial services. Because they are government employees.

Apparently Kristof believes that right-wingers actually like poverty, racial prejudice, and health care, so that when anyone actually solves these things they must have come from a lefty, somehow, somewhere. (Note: I actually like a lot of Kristof's human-rights reporting. His heart is in the right place. His head, however, is consistently seeking his rectum.)

I think we have, in a nutshell, the cause of our current political divide.


At yesterday's wedding, the bride sang, leading the guests in worship for fifteen minutes before the rings were exchanged. Had anyone asked me - not that it would ever remotely cross any bride's mind to ask me what I thought - I would have said it was a terrible idea, don't even consider it. But this particular young woman was able to make it work, not only because she is a talented singer, but because this is very much an expression of her personality, and those who know her realise this.

Not recommended, but I have at least seen it work once.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paladins are overpowered

(AVI Update: I asked Jonathan to write about this because it illuminates real-world behavior. And then Instapundit quoting me about Thomas Ball come up, to give evidence for Jonathan's point.)

It's true, they were very overpowered. But if you ask them, they'd deny it. There's a feeling of persecution in certain online communities. As an avid gamer who plays World of Warcraft*, it used to amaze me when people felt like the game developers were persecuting them specifically. However, it's happened enough that I'm now certain it's related to innate human failings. I've found a few recurring themes that tie into meatspace behavior as well.

Once you give people something (i.e. a new spell that inadvertantly makes them the most powerful players in the game), they resent forever when it's taken away. Even though what they were given was unfair to everyone else in the game, they still view it as their "rightful" place. Three years later, they are still complaining about how their healing throughput in raids has gone down from Burning Crusade, and that Ghostcrawler loves hitting paladins with the nerfbat. For real world examples, see every border dispute ever.

People cannot believe that their group ("class") is weaker than any other except for nefarious purposes. So if they are weaker than others, it's because the game developers HATE THEM and have no conception of how their class works. It couldn't be because of a flaw that just needs to be tweaked, it must be because no developer in the entire company plays a warlock and just doesn't get it. Real world example- every teenager everywhere complaining about their parents, and every moron who believes the government is organized, evil, and secretive enough to carry on plots to take down towers, import crack into neighborhoods, etc.

These are often very bright people, but they can't see through the obvious inadequacy of this viewpoint. And they have a target. They become convinced that the lead developer for World of Warcraft, Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street personally despises their class and that's why they are no longer the best class in the game. Or that Activision, the parent company that owns World of Warcraft, is somehow profiting by making their spells weaker.

I shake my head in amazement at how stupid they are, then go to work and complain to my co-workers that the pension team just doesn't understand how important the health benefits department is, and how they just can't grasp how our work is more important than theirs.

*check the author, this is not AVI, who was so offended by Tauren Paladins that any hope of him playing WoW was lost forever.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cheap Prescriptions

I should mention what a boon for the poor the $4 prescriptions at Walmart and Target are. We get a fair number of people who do not qualify for benefits but needs psych meds. These stores meet a real need.

Yes, the pharmaceutical companies do a nice job on patient assistance, but it often takes a month or more to get the drugs in place.

MWBOT-15 & 16

Two links related to the subject. The research which shows that few of us know much of anything about politics. When you add in the folks who know something but it's all confirmation bias and minds made up beforehand, perhaps it's all worse than I have been suggesting. Money quote:
“Before you study public opinion, you ask why things aren’t better,” says (Bryan) Caplan. “After you study public opinion, you ask why things aren’t worse.”

Also, a return to Jonathan Haidt's commentary of liberal and conservative morality. I may go into some greater commentary on Haidt, because there remain amazing, even stunning blind spots in his reason, for all that he does see that many liberals miss. But even without my pointing out the pieces he misses, there's a lot of value here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Good understands evil, but evil cannot understand good. It is an important theme in Tolkien (Gandalf’s explanation of Sauron’s expecting his enemies to do with the ring what he would do) and Lewis (the Dwarves in The Last Battle. Sadly, we also watch Susan go downhill in this way in the first two books, able to interpret Lucy’s actions only in terms of her own self-centeredness). It’s a fantasy standard, but not only fantasy: Chesterton’s Father Brown makes the claim explicitly in a few places, and it is the Harkonnen weakness in Dune.

But these are author-created. Do the authors reflect reality, or are they making characters conform to their beliefs? We see the idea in scripture, John 1:5,
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
but a critic could claim that is equally a put-up job. (Not all critics, would, BTW. There are nonbelievers who might grant that this is precisely the sort of thing the Bible does get right, without signing on to any more of it.)

I think we see it pretty clearly in international relations. Morris Childs, an American ex-communist who frequently visited the Kremlin and was trusted by the Politburo(Operation Solo), found that he had to spend most of his time in later years convincing the Soviets that the US was not preparing an imminent attack just because we had strategic advantage. That America might prefer to be left alone to engage in trade, rather than the headache of governing other countries, was beyond their comprehension. It’s hard to understand the behavior of Palestinians and half the Middle-East in terms other than a blindness that prevents them from considering another attitude to outsiders is even possible.

With a little imagination, most of us can carry this down to smaller groups (our own politicians, particular industries, local disputes) even to an individual level. But does that flow only one way? Might it not also be that good people do not understand evil ones? Such characters certainly show up in literature and popular perception – innocents who are so well-meaning that they trust the untrustworthy, believing them as kind as themselves.

We could get into the questions of morality that result, of the damage that the Neville Chamberlains of the world cause to innocents by failing to appreciate evil, but I would first like to go at the question of ability to understand evil. Could Chamberlain essentially understand that someone might be so evil as Hitler turned out to be, but only deluded himself otherwise – or was NC foundationally unable to even understand the depths of Stalin’s or Hitler’s psychopathology?

I know nice people taken advantage of by the selfish, or even deeply evil. Is their innocence real, or a self-deluding convenience, swayed by a pretty face or glib tongue? Perhaps I am asking the larger moral questions. Do we always let ourselves be fooled?

Learning Priorities

My son works with the youth group at his church outside Houston, and mentioned that some highschool players are indeed told by their coaches that football should be considered more important, and the higher commitment, than their class work. This seems appalling in our subculture; shameful, even. Certainly, it is damaging to teach children such things. Football is transitory, learning is forever. A coach whose priorities were out of whack might think such a thing, but even he would never say it. There are pieties to be observed.

I do like to reverse things and ask if they are really true, however. In my own case, I arrogantly did little class work in highschool, rather sneering that doing well on the test was sufficient. People must have said that there were other lessons that came from homework, studying, and the other boring parts, but I would have waved this off. Yet they were right. There are other lessons, and I didn’t learn them. What discipline I learned came from the performing arts and part-time jobs. A sport taken seriously might have done me good. Benjamin Spock claimed that getting up early to row crew, whether sick or well, in fair weather or foul, developed his character more than any class. “Crew made me.”

Especially now, as we wonder how efficiently our schools are teaching academic content*, we should look also at how well it teaches the other virtues one will need as an adult: showing up, completing tasks, duty to others, pursuit of excellence, finding alternative methods, keeping your temper. Sports do teach some of those things. So do Destination Imagination, building a stage set, and playing in orchestra.

Break it down to crisis, but not apocalypse terms. Civilization collapses temporarily. We have all these kids to instruct, we have some buildings but little money, and a functioning technological culture – not a subsistence agriculture society from massive destruction - we need to rebuild. All educational statutes at every level are now disregarded, for good or ill. What do we teach, and who does it? I don’t think football is rising to the top, but I’m pretty sure school classrooms look pretty different as well.

*Better than ever, contra conservative criticism. Yet still not very well.

Suncook Pond - Old Route 28

Family stories reveal family secrets: a lesson in the accumulation of small clues.

Sometime in the late 30’s or early 40’s, my mother's family was playing the Animal Game on the way to Suncook Pond, when my mother’s team – the driver’s side of the car – won unexpectedly that year. Unexpectedly to her, anyway. Under my family’s rules, you lost all your animals when you passed a cemetery on your side, and her father took a different route at the end that switched a cemetery to the other side of the car. My grandmother was apparently incensed at such perfidy. “I don’t think Louise ever forgave him for that.” It was a “tell” of my mother’s to refer to her own mother by her first name when she was being critical.

Such are the incidents which tell us so much sub rosa about family life, eh? It’s easy to see both sides of this dispute here. Maurice (Pronounced Morris, and not anything French. To my grandmother, that would be important.) knows what’s coming - the team of father and youngest daughter is going to lose yet again this year, because the cemetery is always there. I don’t know how competitive Gramps was, but the rest of our troupe has been a bit insane on that score for generations, and he may have just had it with his wife and her triumphalism at that point. OTOH, manipulating the route driven when you’ve got control of the wheel does seem…below the salt. Not quite the straight bat, is it? A bit petty.

It took some cleverness, I imagine. Maps were much less available than now (as I noted before, setting up this story), and one had best be certain such tricks would work before setting off. It rather spoils your enjoyment if you pull a stunt like this and it ends up getting everyone lost, or stuck in a ditch because the road is treacherous. It would make victory in the Animal Game rather hollow.

This suggests that Maurice had either worked up this scheme driving around the year before and held it all that time, or made significant effort to get reliable info during the year. It rather eliminates the “mere playfulness” defense from his explanation. Plus, Louise hated the extra work of going to the lake. It was rather kicking her when she’s down, then. Yet my mother’s choice of words was telling. Anyone might say, by way of hyperbole, “I don’t think Louise ever forgave him for that,” being humorous. If challenged, she could plausibly maintain that it was just a common figure of speech.

I think not. I think she more than half meant it. My grandparents’ marriage was apparently a bit chilly and distant, though no one would ever make a scene. Gramps was not a talkative man, and Nanna was ultra-conscious of proprieties.

Louise, Maurice, Marian, Upper Suncook Pond, c. 1920

So…on the maps and on my trip up old Route 28, I was checking which cemetery fit this description. A graveyard on the left near the end of the journey which could, somehow, be put on the right by a quick jog and change of route. Nothing matched that. There is one in Barnstead (lower right) where you can miss the cemetery on the left by taking what is now Beauty Hill and Wes Locke Rd. Yet though it puts it on the right, it is 300 meters off the road. That’s not really visible enough for Animal Game use. Did my mother misremember that the cemetery got switched to the other side, when it was only eliminated with a quick jog – almost as good, really?

Well, possibly. But Maurice might have continued up Beauty Hill Rd and cut over the top of Upper Suncook Pond and come down White Oak Rd from the other side. Two miles out of his way. This would not only eliminate the cemetery on the left but put an entirely different cemetery on the right, erasing all Louise’s animals. Additionally, my Aunt Cynthia and/or my Uncle David would be on her team as well, likewise thoroughly pissed, or at minimum, taken aback that their father was capable of such treachery over a mere travel game. This would not be a route one would happen upon by accident. You’d have to work on this.

Here are pictures from the 20’s and 40’s taken at the Narrows between Upper and Lower Suncook Ponds. My uncle notes that my sweet Aunt Marian was at pains to shoo people off her beach.

I was at this cottage only twice I remember, first in 1957, then around 1961, when I was eight. Summer cottages have odd decorations, but one there was Very Odd. There was a little poem about a “pickaninny,” with a cartoon black boy. I knew somehow that this was prejudiced and vulgar, probably only because I knew one didn’t make fun of groups of people, and this was clearly making fun of black children. (I personally resented the making fun of children part, too, because there was some joke in it that I didn’t get. Doubly picking on that poor soul, were they? Well, I never.) My confusion arose from the fact that these were the very people who had taught me this was wrong. Who had initiated this act, and why did the others allow it? Or had I misunderstood? Was this perfectly acceptable via some rule I had missed? Children don’t know.

In retrospect, though, it tells you a little something about the era, my Aunt Marian Smith, and the other owner, Sadie Adams. Schoolteachers, I’d heard.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The worry was that neither Saltalamacchia and Varitek could hit well enough. In April that was true. In May and June, Boston catching has been behind only Detroit, led by Alex Avila, in the American League.

Incest and DNA

My son in Nome, referencing another grim situation that has come across his screen, said that the joke about the villages is that a virgin is defined as a girl who can run faster than her father. “The Villages” means almost entirely Native populations, Yupik and Inuit. I had heard the sad joke about other places many times – first, I think, about the peninsula counties of Maryland in the 18th C, though the reference was to being able to run faster than one’s uncle. The accusation has been made about Appalachian areas as long as I can remember (though those often took the form of cousin-marriage jokes), and I am starting to hear that incest is distressingly common in some African groups recently coming to America. There were towns and village sections of NH that were rumored to be incest-ridden – being familiar with the dark side of social histories in this state over the last 35 years, I can confirm that some of the rumors, at least, are true. (I have no sense there is any ethnic difference, BTW.) I had only heard of brother-sister incest in professional settings, never in news stories or general discussion, but that is being acknowledged recently. We have long known that step-relatives are far more risk to children than blood relatives, and the data are bearing this out.

We have lived in a swirl of rumor with little data all these years, and the excesses of recovered or implanted memory have added to the confusion. We have speculated whether certain cultures are more prone to incest, but our knowledge has been so limited that this has been irresponsible. I have suspicions on that score, but disbelieve them myself. We have identified some common themes that seem to be holding up – that older siblings are more likely to perpetrate on brothers and sisters when no father is present; that father-daughter incest is more common when the mother is unavailable, depressed, or loses to her daughter in some competition for power in the family; we have wondered whether particular dislocations of culture, such as expulsion or refugee status, create an increase because of the thoroughness of family breakdown, though that is only theory.

That drug and especially alcohol abuse co-occur is one of the strands of information we actually do know with confidence at present.

We are about to start knowing the answers to these questions. And some among us are going to be harmed by it and fight to insist it isn’t true. If whites of certain groups or subcultures show up badly, expect an increasing in them pointing out terrible things that black or Hispanic people do – unless of course there are subgroups of blacks or hispanics exposed under the same light. This will be knowledge we don’t want to have, but we will have it. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to disguise the truths on this one.

One note on how cultures that are either prone to such breakdowns or have such breakdown thrust upon them have been able to survive darwinian selection, given that more children with disabilities would seem to decrease group survival: think of it as natural selection in high gear, if tribes leave the weak behind. There will be little or no greater chance of exceptionally good genes for survival, but the bad genes will be expressed rather than being carried in secret, and weak lines culled. Rather chilling, even if one is considering our ancestors of 100,000 years ago. We may all have benefited from it.


To Morocco.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Workers - With Update

I find it offensive that the pro-union protesters in many places throughout the country - including the building I work in - refer to themselves as the workers. It is more than implied that they are people who actually do some work and the others are...what, exactly?

I get it that they have some resentment that their opposition portrays them as having cushy government jobs, with bloated benefits and pensions unknown to those in private employment. That opposition does tend to focus on the worst excesses they can find, of union officials or folks who have landed in bountiful sinecures of a bloated government or favored industry. Thank rankles. That annoys. I get that.

But the return service is quite simply, far worse. We/they (as a person who is represented by a union in salary negotiations but not a member myself, it is a bit ambiguous which side of the divide I fall on) are not the only people in America working, or working hard. Most people in the world do decent work with far too little appreciation - we aren't the only ones.

Confronted directly with this complaint (I have mentioned this a few times to people at work whose rhetoric rose into extreme territory), union members protest that they didn't say or mean any such thing: they know other people work hard, too. That is just complete bullshit. The reference to calling themselves "The Workers," is calculated and repeated. If the rank-and-file aren't consciously aware of it, the people making the posters and leading the charge emphatically are. It is the old class-warfare rhetoric, portraying themselves as the noble sons of toil versus the wealthy exploiters. The best they can manage for those who oppose them is that they have been duped by these moneyed interests, and needed to be enlightened about the political realities.

The people on the streets love the narrative, love to imagine themselves as the wise and noble workers, who have seen through the manipulations of the powerful who would put them in their place.

Again, I get it. There are exploiters out there. There are also ignorant people who equally love the narrative where you are the perfumed princes living off government largess extracted from decent folks. But remember those "ignorant" people are dealing from some real examples, real statistics, and real data. It may be the people supplying you with info who are projecting.

Addition: It's rather like political groups who claim to represent Christians, or Women, or Seniors, without any identifiable credentials that they have been elected or appointed to the position. I think back to the childhood taunt: "Who died and left you boss?"

Different Visual

A small, but fairly dramatic section of my old route mapping.

This is a simpler example from the more complete, and more tedious, map post. (For folks unfamiliar with NH, this is in the south-central region of the state, the very beginning of the Lakes Region, and that is our largest lake - by far - across the upper part of the map.) I used that nice Mapquest feature of creating side trips on your printed map to show how the route has changed. From Alton Circle to South Wolfeboro, you can see that when new Route 28 came in in the 1950's it followed old Route 28 for only a brief portion. Most of it is new road. The mileage only decreased a little, from 10.5 miles to 9, but the estimated driving time is dramatically shortened: 29 minutes versus 12. This explains why people preferred the new type of road that avoided town centers and cut straight across country. The old roads are indeed charming - Roberts Cove Road in particular - but you wouldn't want to do it more than once.

I Told My Sons

Anyone who comes home with this chick is out of the family.

As she has another video where she names herself Cara and Kara with a primitive special effect, this may be her playing a role.

God, I hope so.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Sermon

Today's lesson was about how fathers are disrespected in popular culture and what men are supposed to be like to be great men of God.

Does anyone ever recall a Mother's Day sermon that sternly advised women what they should be like? Of course not. Granted, there has always been a lot of unconscious assumption of what women should be like - likely more than unconscious assumption of what men should act like - but the specific Four-Point directive? On Mother's Day? Never.

I'm off-topic already. Hmm.

The descriptions of What Men Are Like were exactly like what popular Christian culture declared thirty years ago, when I was a new husband and father. That bit about generals always fighting the last war? Yeah, I think we've got Christian culture doing the same thing. Men who don't like to talk about their feelings. Men who resist being romantic. This was always an oversimplification, even decades ago, and I'm sure that one can still find examples of such men now. But does anyone think these are still the general problems of Christian men today? Really?

Has anyone bothered to go out and, like, collect any data on these assertions? Or is it just more fun to write books based on listening to old tapes of Focus on the Family from 1985-89? Well, somebody buys these books, so I guess it has value in that limited sense.

My wife asked me what I would preach on if I were giving the Father's Day sermon. (Hey, it could happen. I may not be talented, but I am highly experienced.) I don't know, though I am certain I would stick to one narrow topic. I am increasingly convinced sermons should do this. She suggested preaching on Being Present. Showing Up. Being There. That may he the place to start. You may not have to be that good, but you should show up.

Narrative Voice

I have never taken well to discussion questions at the end of the chapters of any book I am reading. It always seems an affront - an intrusion and a condescension. I have heretofore thought that it was just the general banality and obviousness of the questions, some being merely bad, others being worse.

Today it occurred to me that the change in narrative voice may be what is so jarring. When the usual text is running along it is simply the author talking, perhaps to himself, perhaps to you, but either way, demanding no response unless the force of his ideas rises to the level of demand. Discussion questions change the voice. The author is now putting you on the spot to speak, and to answer. I find that insulting. Who granted that permission? Not I, certainly.

I noticed this today because Devin Brown's questions are quite good. Worth answering, even. Yet I resent them nearly as much as the insipid questions of maddening, spoon-fed Bible studies.

I put myself in the author's place. When one is writing or speaking, one has (or imagines) an audience. Interacting with that audience seems not only allowable, but polite. Seeking the opinions of the others present does not seem that different from explicating a point while considering what their understanding and previous experiences might be.

Yet as a reader, it is quite different, as if one went to a sermon or a public lecture and was called upon to answer and recite.

And yet, how to get people to address specific questions that the author thinks are key?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Boy's Book and Girl's Book

Devin Brown, - an Asbury professor, though I don't think either of my sons or my daughter-in-law had him - writes in his Inside Prince Caspian.
Lewis's Essay "On Three Ways of Writing For Children" ... describes the Boy's Book or Girl's Book with its immensely successful schoolboy or schoolgirl who is able to perform incredible tasks with little or no preparation beforehand. Harry Potter and his magical abilities fit into this implausible category, and for the most part, so do his Quidditch skills. As has been noted, beginning with Price Caspian but also to some extent in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Lewis avoids creating this type of protagonist.

What's wrong with the Boy's Book or the Girl's Book? (Think of the Hardy Boys or the Nancy Drew series, where the protagonists are barely old enough to drive a car but somehow are able to fly planes and sail submarines, and the adolescent heroes spend their time catching international spies* rather than scooping ice cream, babysitting, or mowing lawns.) In discussing this type of book, Lewis points out "We run to it from the disappointments and humiliations of the real world: it sends us back to the real world undivinely discontented. For it is all flattery to the ego." The pleasure consists in picturing oneself the object of admiration."

When we get back to our own lifes in the real world, they seem less satisfying than ever. While we may dream of scorring the winning goal in the final moment of the championship game, this kind of dream may cause us to despise our real lives and the world we actually live in.

Two quibbles. The Harry Potter-type books also rely on feeding the idea you are secretly very special, even though ignorant others don't notice it. Someday. Someday... I would also like to point out that as naturally gifted as some of these protagonists are, they are nonetheless portrayed as having also worked to become as skilled as they are. And Chip Hilton did scoop ice cream. Yet even so, very few are remotely capable of being such a multisport star, however hard they work.

*The international spies in these books have never been taught that special pugilistic trick of disabling your opponent by hitting them in the solar plexus. This turns out to be an important omission in their training every time, because the Hardy Boys, who presumably learned it from self-defense books you can order from the last pages of a comic book, defeat them with it repeatedly.

Friday, June 17, 2011

For Those Who Like Maps

This post is only going to be meaningful if you really like maps, or have a solid picture in your head of Route 28 from Manchester to Ossipee. Other than that, move along now. Nothing to see here. Fanatic at play. The above is a section of USGS topographic map from 1919 for the Gilmanton Quad. (Click a second time to expand.) There is a more central UNH site which will allow you to connect quickly with adjoining maps, and see Alton, or Concord, or anywhere else in New England in 1929 or 1957 Loads of fun if you like comparing roads, paths, and settlements over the years.

If you are really serious about following the roads and comparing, pull up Suncook on mapquest or googlemaps on another tab and switch back and forth. Those have the current names of roads. I am going to trace for you where Old Route 28 went. This is just the data section, not the commentary.

Hooksett to Suncook (Suncook Quad)
Starting at Hooksett, on current route 28 above Hooksett Village (above Mt. St. Mary's College on the USGS maps).
Fork left at Pleasant St, down into Suncook. (Numbered routes used to seek town centers rather than avoid them, remember.)
Right on School Street
Left on Turnpike Street

Suncook to Epsom Circle
Lower bridge to Buck Street
Left on Thompson Road
Cross current 28
Right on Bachelder Road (which becomes, tellingly, Buck Street Extension)
Right onto current 28
(Jug City Rd comes in behind on the left. Both old and current 28 followed that for a bit. I don't think Webster Park and Mitt House were ever 28. Dubbahdee?)
Left on Elkins Road (a few yards of White Tail Road)
Left on current 28 again at end of Elkins
Left on Windymere Road
Windymere used to continue on to 202 and Sawyer Road. Now it comes back just before Epsom Circle

Epsom Circle to Alton
Sawyer Ave starts just West of Epsom Circle on 202. Take it north.
Left on current Route 28
Right on "Old Route 28," a very brief parallel jaunt.
Left on Deer Meadow Road
Right on Main Street, coming out of Chichester
Merge with current 28 (at the old country store)
Left on Carpenter Road for a brief loop, then back on current 28
Left on Squiggey Brook Road for a longer loop. (These two loops used to be a connected road)
Left on Kelly's Corner Road, a deeper loop
Rejoin current 28
Right on Concord Hill Road, into Pittsfield (Seeking towns in 1930, not avoiding them.)
I think the route through town was Main Street, Carrol Street, Barnstead Road. Might be Oak Street instead.
Barnstead Road crossing current 28, still Barnstead Road
Join current 28 at end
Right on "Old Route 28" through Barnstead.
Tricky, tricky! Don't take Old Route 28 to the end! It now has that name for convenience. The route actually took a right at Rabbot Lane, snugged right on Rte 126 and quickly left on Maple Street. (This is Center Barnstead. New Hampshire towns do things like that a lot. It's insane, yes.)
Maple Street crosses current 28 and becomes Beauty Hill Road.
Right on Oxbow Road.
Return to current Route 28.
On the satellite view, a teeny jog right is visible that has no name.
No further changes to Alton. Take 11 into Alton Center.

Alton to South Wolfeboro
Old Wolfeboro Road out of Alton Center
Cross current 28, still Old Wolfeboro Road
Meet East Side Road (28A), turn right onto current 28
Right on Gilman's Corner Road
Left on Quarry Road
When Quarry Road crosses current 28 it becomes Roberts Cove Road (quite pretty).
Roberts Cove back to current 28, and a confusing bit: cross 28 onto Rines Road
Left on Stagecoach Road. Old Stagecoach Road, which was Old Rte 28, is no longer passable, but the current Stagecoach Road brings you back to current 28.
No changes to Wolfeboro Center

Wolfeboro Center to Route 16, Ossipee.
Birch Road on the left in Wolfeboro falls used to be Route 28. Blink and you'll miss it.
Ditto Allen Road on the left.
Right on Water Village Road (Rte 171) into Ossipee (which is not the same as Center Ossipee)
Left on "Old Route 28"
Rejoin current 28
Left on Isaac Buswell Road, which continues to Route 16, where Route 28 ends. And always has ended, since 1922.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Meerkat Mafiosi

Not so cute, this one. Heart of a killer.

The photo is from Deviant Art.


I was distressed to find two or three running paragraphs of prejudice against Jews in GK Chesterton's short story "Dukes," written in 1909. It was standard Jew-pedlars and pawnbrokers, moneygrubbing, no-true-gentleman sort of thing, common among the educated classes of England in that time, but it still caught me by surprise.

The Wikipedia article references the debate, and Chesterton's opinions on "The Jewish Question" of the day. He was anti-capitalist (as well as anti-socialist) and saw the Jews of Europe as the spearhead of this. He thought their culture separate from European Christendom and that they should have a homeland in Palestine. He was an immediate opponent of Hitler and National Socialism. Jewish groups were later clear that he was "not an enemy."

But still. It was pretty rank. One hopes that had he lived in another time he might not have adopted opposition he did. Yet one also hopes that Christians show more ability to rise above the evils of their era better than other folks.

Two Quick Updates. I am definitely going to post something on Distributism - not its history, but how some similar thoughts are playing out today.

Second, my life has been gradually invaded by knitters. My DIL first, but then kitten, hbd chick, and now BtEG. What is this knitting hegemony which occurs unannounced? Is the apocalypse held at bay by skeins of yarn?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What We Look For

Children are interested in different sights on a car trip than adults tell them to be interested in. Adults say "There used to be an old hotel here. The Washington House."

Not even a famous hotel, mind you, just old, and a fire trap in its later years. And you'll notice it's not there anymore.

Children, on the other hand, much more sensibly remember the rock by the side of the road near Melvin Village that for forty years has been painted to look like a frog. I still look for that frog when I go up Route 109.

Adults, always mindful of improving the mind say "Madame Chiang Kai-Shek had a mansion on the lake. It was down Forest Road, past Carey Beach where you swam last year. She went there to have privacy after her husband died." Here's a picture of the former Soong May-Ling with Eleanor Roosevelt. Which puts things in perspective not at all. Nor does it make a child suddenly fascinated by her. "She knew Mrs. Roosevelt? Why didn't you say so!"

Notice that Madame Chiang is another one of those things that isn't there anymore. Adults are much more impressed by things that used to be there.

Well I liked history too, even as a boy, which is why I always watched for this highly authentic totem pole at Indian Cliff in Hooksett, when they sold moccasins. We never stopped there, though. My mother thought it was just a tourist trap filled with cheap souvenirs.

My brother and I loved cheap souvenirs, actually. They were the high point of any trip with camp. Like those beaded belts made by Indians that spelled out places.

Notice also, children are usually in the back seat, and looking out the window to the side, which is completely different from sitting in the front and looking out the windshield. They look for different things; they are forced into looking from a different angle.

They go on a different ride, really.

Part of my trip up Route 28 was to see where the main road used to go, to get some sense of what my mother and her parents would have seen going up to the lake in the 1930's. I'm just now figuring out they would have seen different things, no matter what road they were on. I am seeing through adult eyes now, and I am the driver, so yesterday I likely got some glimpse of how my grandfather saw things, or how my mother saw it in the 50's, when they were themselves driving.

Come to think of it, I was a passenger on similar trips in the 1960's, and I don't remember much from any of them except Indian Cliff and that frog. And...the crashed jet fuselage at the boat place. The ice cream and candy places, not that we ever stopped there. Assuming that as children, my mother, my uncle, and my aunt were as inattentive as I was, I am trying to recapture a mental state of theirs that never existed.

And you thought your day was a waste yesterday...

Yet perhaps not. A lot more of the route was farmland in those days, and I know they would play the Animal Game on these trips (because losing all your animals when you pass a cemetery* leads in to a family story I will tell later). I well recall kneeling up high and frantically counting cows dotted across a field. Though those would rather all run together, wherever they were traveling.

*Cat-in-the-window wins automatically in our variation. What local rules did you have?

Update: I can't recall if we allowed dead animals in the tally. I suspect not.

I Was Wrong

I've kicked Stewart and Colbert for their style of humor as not being all that funny. I was likely unduly influenced by disagreeing with them. This routine by Jon Stewart is funny.


People confuse his ability to ask interesting questions with an ability to produce meaningful answers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Old Route 28

Well I took the trip, took notes, and took pictures - and it took over eleven hours to go to the Yankee Smokehouse in Tamworth and back - ordinarily five hours round trip. Finding old routes is harder than I thought. The write-up will take more than one post, but here's a preliminary thought as a Sherlocking followup to Getting Around: the utility poles are a clue as to which is the old main road versus the newer section. There is much more pole variety on those straighter roads that have been put in more recently - which is to say, the 1950's. Sometimes the "new" part of the road has no utility poles at all. There are empty sections of a mile or more, and the wires are already going along the old road quite nicely, so why change them? Or, if it is a built-up section of new road (usually near major intersecting routes), then the utility poles are much newer and the wiring more robust. Both of these make eminent sense. Yet there is a third variety I had never noticed before - slender, uncapped poles that are newer than the old primitive lines, but not especially robust-looking in terms of the amount of electricity they could handle. Route 28 has lots of these sections.

That would never show on a map, of course, but when you're on the ground puzzling over an intersection, the utility poles just lay it out for you where the main road - and hence the road that got numbered - went in 1925: there are poles c. 1925 there. Something else, or nothing, goes up the other road. Obvious once you know it. So that might have been an aid to navigation in the older times with unmarked roads: read the poles.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Steve Sailer reminds me why Larry Bird is considered the greatest passer of all time. Sure I'm biased. If you like Magic better overall you're wrong, but I'm not going to quibble.

Three points stick out.
1. The sheer volume is comment in itself. Lots of NBA players have a few plays like this over the course of their career. Birdie did it all the time.

2. You have to see this with 1980's eyes, when this was new. Bird is not copying anyone here, he's developing the craft. People had started doing this stuff on city playgrounds in the previous decade, but it was unreliable. Tricky passes that bounce off other players' noses aren't useful. No one on the floor had anyone dishing them stuff like this in highschool, or college. Even in the pros, there wasn't much of this in the 1970's. You can watch great passers of the 70's - Walt Frazier, Tiny Archibald, John Havlicek, and you will see some very nice passes - very smart, alert, and even a bit of adventurous passing. You won't see much of this. The over the head or behind the neck stuff especially - blind passing was just unknown.

3. The first one is a beauty. But just when you're getting jaded with so many in-traffic back-tip passes, something will jump out at you, like 4:55 and 6:35.

Here's more Bird, if you want it.

Getting Around

All this to set the scene for an upcoming series. I will be making reference to driving to NH vacation spots in the 1930's-50's, and I want you to imagine, or in some cases be reminded, what the reality was. Don't hurry through this.

When we think of driving problems in the 1930's, we tend to think first of the cars and the road conditions. Quite natural. But the problem that would frustrate us most would be figuring out where we were and how to get to our destination. It was much more difficult then. At this well-constructed intersection of a prosperous little area of town, do you see any street signs?

Nor did the people then see any street signs. They weren't there. Towns debated in the 1930's whether there was enough money in the budget to mark the streets downtown. It is rare now to find a even a minor road unmarked for more than an intersection or two, but early in my driving career it was not uncommon at all for a road to be marked very intermittently, and only where it crossed a major thoroughfare. What street is this? Carter Street! Gold Street! Newburgh Street! Fine, fine, but what street am I ON NOW, dammit! Drivers would find themselves looking 90 degrees left or right while zipping through an intersection to see if they could read a sign deeper in. Not safe.

So those of you in your 50's, remember that, recalling areas that were slow to get with this new-fangled road-marking idea. Then project that back twenty or thirty years.

And that was in town, on the major roads. In my childhood, not every intersection was marked even in relatively prosperous cities like Manchester. Once you broke out onto the open road, all bets were off. Most drivers my age recall multiple road "adventures," creeping along looking for signs, arriving late to the event. Major routes had begun to acquire numbers in the 1920's, and by the 30's most states had at least a few. In unfamiliar territory, people clung to those route numbers as if going off them meant leaving civilisation and the safety of humankind. Because who knows what kind of people lived out there, and when anyone would ever find you if...something should happen.

Other signage was also limited. Town line markers were a wonderful aid, but you couldn't count on them being there. We must have gone too far. We just entered Hudson.. If you were lucky on a long trip, there might be a feature – a hotel or tourist trap that put up billboards scores of miles before you got there. You could piggyback on the signs that Camp Krakatoa had taken the trouble to put out. That system might break down in the last few miles, but you were happy to risk that, usually. First, you knew you were in the general vicinity of your endpoint; second, you had come to trust the nice people at that camp because of all the wonderful signs they had put out. Why, they were practically cousins.

Then there were the maps. This would have been considered a good map for drivers back in the day.

Or even a great map. Because it was more likely to be accurate than local maps. Not a lot of detail, but what you had was pretty reliable.

I am sadly familiar with what can happen when the map is not accurate. And if you have uh, an Adventurous Spirit - a euphemism for no reasonable judgment whatsoever - the combination can be dire. Relatedly, most maps gave no indication how good any of the roads were. There are many interruptions in the forest or trails through the swamp* that might in some decade have technically qualified as a "road," but that's not really what you're looking for in a map, is it? It rather felt as if county mapmakers felt obligated to keep up the pretense that Jenkins Road was still a going concern, because the Jenkins's were nice people, and the road used to be important, and we wouldn't want anyone to feel slighted. Or maybe the town fathers hadn't been out that way for three decades and missed the part where a beaver dam had buried the place twelve years ago.

Most people didn't have the map availability we do now; they didn't think in terms of maps anyway. It was rare for people to sketch out a map for you - waste of paper, don't you see - and you couldn't trust the proportions if they did. Writing out directions was cumbersome as well, because giving directions, folks were sort of estimating what you might find. Stanbright Kennels? You come up into the village, there, and you'll see a church on your right, across from a big white house with a stone wall along the front. You take a left there, that's Orchard Road, and you go about two or three miles until you pass Ames Orchard, there's a sign. And just after the sign, less than a half-mile mebbe, there'll be a road on your left that heads up Bright's Hill. There's four or five families up there named Stanton, and most of 'em keep dogs of one sort or another, so that may be the kennel you're lookin' for.

I could have exaggerated that last bit for comic effect, but I didn't. That was pretty straightforward. You hoped that the "two or three" miles wouldn't turn out to be more than five, because then you'd be second-guessing yourself for another five miles, saying to each other "Do you think he meant that farm road that went into the field? Because it didn't look like much of a road to me. On the other hand, we haven't seen anything else that qualifies." To which the reply would come "If we're on the right road at all. It wasn't marked at the fork which one was Orchard Road."

Trains were nice. Trains didn't get lost. Trains told you where you were every time you stopped. But driving out to any new place, you'd want that to rest pretty firmly on a foundation of places you already knew how to get to.

*I'm sorry, protected wetlands.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


My son sent me two links of Moms who left their children and are trying to convince you it was the right thing. My first response, like most people's was Holy Cow. Their stories are different. They excited enormous controversy.

But you know me, I like to look for other sides and unusual aspects of an issue.

1. My third, fourth, and fifth sons had worse mothers than this. Lots of kids in America have worse mothers than this. What is setting us off is the self-justification and rationalisation of it all. What we expect, when women leave their children in some less-direct...or heck, when either parent leaves their children in some less-direct way, that there will be some acknowledgment that it's a bad thing. They blame someone else for the bad thing, or have elaborate reasons why it couldn't have gone any differently, but not a denial of the wrongness. Openly rejecting common values just irks us.

2. The first woman, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, had an extended absence from parenting and decided she couldn't gear up to go back to it. Perhaps many of us might find the same trouble were we in her shoes, and it doesn't pay to throw stones. We had always gone on family camping vacations that still involved a lot of work, and could never afford to stay in hotels and eat out. We went on a vacation in 1992 that involved staying in hotels and eating out, and I have never quite recovered from that. I have mildly resented cooking, cleaning, and shopping ever since. I want that magical land where I have enough money and people just take care of my daily needs while I go play. I am quite serious when I say that my character deteriorated a little after that and has never quite rebounded. Yes, if I went away on book research for months, I am a person obsessed enough with duty that I would have thrown myself back into parenting upon return. But I bet I would have quietly resented it and pined for my lost life.

3. The second one, Talyaa Liera, claims she had tried to be a "supermom," but the examples she gives of that - late breastfeeding, lots of effort for organic food, losing sleep to write stories for them, driving great distances for Waldorf school - are not central to what most people have considered "parenting" for a thousand generations. She put enormous effort into being a good hippie parent, doing things that pleased other women in her set, and her own ideas of what was important. It may be that she never really had nor caught the idea of what being a parent is all about. I don't know if someone had convinced her to Just Be The Mommy it would have worked out any differently. Maybe she was never interested in that part and was only interested in the hippie parts of it to begin with. (Her website would suggest that.)

4. The comments at Shine - well, the first forty or so - are an interesting example of people immediately concluding that all this just goes to show what they had already believed about parenting was true. They know exactly what the problem is, and these women just prove it. Except they all have a different idea of what, precisely, has been proven. The data can be made to fit many theories, apparently.

All-Time Great

There was recent talk about whether Dirk Nowitzki is one of the ten greatest players of all time. As the discussions started, the conversation always turned to "well, who do you leave off?" your Top 10.

That's not how it works. Because of the caliber of any of the top 20 or 30 players of all time, in any sport, you can never make the case that their credentials mean they should move down on the list. People make top ten lists by forcing their way on, by being someone you can't leave off.

I don't know enough to have a top ten list, and I usually have idiosyncratic choices anyway. For example, in any sport I want to know if this is for one game, one playoff run, one season, ten seasons, or whole career, because my choices are different. (For one season or one playoff run, I'm playing Bill Walton at center - over Russell, over Wilt, over everyone. For his career, he may not be in my top ten centers.) But Dirk Nowitzki this season and these playoffs had that sort of run, where you start asking "how can we sanely keep him off" rather than "which player deserves to be cut?"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chesterton Through The Eyes of Borges

My wife rescued Daylight and Nightmare, a collection of Chesterton's stories and fables, from a library booksale. I tend to read prefaces*, yet often regret it. This time it was worth it. The collector dedictes the volume to Jorge Luis Borges, whose Ficciones I read and loved in college. I had not known that Borges was a very great fan of Chesterton, and could quote long sections from memory. It seemed strange to me for but an instant, as their significant compatibilities overwhelm the very different categories they are assigned to in the modern mind. As many of you may not be familiar with both, Borges was considered much among the moderns: friends with Sartre, influenced by Schopenhauer and an influence on Eco; assigned in college lit classes, drawn to the weird and disquieting, fond of twists and inversions on time and infinity - "The Garden of Forking Paths," "The Infinite Library." Chesterton is regarded as entirely a creature of the Old World, read mostly by traditional Catholics and a few other Christians today, but little regarded in the academy.

Others who have commented some on the Borges- Chesterton connection, if you're interested. Nick Milne and Out of the Woods Now (twice).

Yet GKC also gravitated to much of the strange, or perhaps uncanny would be a better word. The description of Sunday, and indeed the entire unsettling, even frightening world of The Man Who Was Thursday, even in the mystery genre with its full measure of murder and gore, readers find unnerving even now, a hundred years later. Borges notes:
Chesterton restrained himself from being Edgar Allan Poe or Franz Kafka, but something in the makeup of his personality leaned toward the nightmarish, something secret, & blind, & central....
We don't always think of him that way - we think of Father Brown, or of his biography of the gentle St. Francis. Yet once mentioned, it is noticeable everywhere in his work, and one wonders how it had escaped notice.

Borges suggested we read all works as if the were written by some radically different author to see them more clearly - to pretend in the mind that "Hamlet" had been written by James Joyce. I could barely refrain from pretending the short pieces were written by Borges, or imagining one Ficciones "An Approach to Al-Mutasim" as a work by GKC. It was surprisingly easy. "Approach" is about a book review on a book which does not exist. The review prompts it to come into being. Very Chesterton. So also, Chesterton's "The Taming of the Nightmare," starts with the comic and keeps returning to it, yet rapidly falls away into eeriness after each rise.
Little Jack Horner sat in a corner - so far the traditional surroundings of the nursery hero correspond with those in which we find him for the purposes of the story, but there being no Christmas pie in the neighborhood, he was unable to give vent to the joyful, if somewhat egotistical, sentiment which is recorded of him elsewhere.
Jack is almost immediately accosted by goblin-wind and brought to the borders of an unknown land with "a low, lonely wall, beside which there was a dillapidated notice board, looking the other way, stating that trespassers would be prosecuted, by order of somebody, no one knew quite who." The first creature he meets beyond the wall is a mooncalf who recites verse initially comic:
The Calf was the Mooncalf, The Cow was the Moon,
She died from effects of a popular tune...
until we find that the calf does indeed believe the moon is his mother, and sings to her constantly, with round eyes and singleness of purpose night upon night, though the moon takes no notice.

It is something of a reverse of the effect of Monty Python, in their Quest For The Holy Grail movie. There every scene begins nobly, seriously, at times even frighteningly, yet quickly deteriorates (or elevates) into comedy. In Chesterton, homely streets turn sinister in a few blocks, with the buildings remaining normal but the sky becoming crooked. Queer characters sit next to unsuspecting diners at cafes and tell them stories that end inconclusively.

The style of writing is old now, and fables aren't told that way anymore. The inklings were much influenced by GKC, and the last echoes of the style appears in their works, perhaps. Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham comes near it; the initial description of the gray city in Lewis's Great Divorce has a Chesterton feel. The eerier, or more mythic modern fantasies, from Ursula LeGuin or Scott Donaldson, have something of the flavor.

*Preface, foreward, introductories - anyone know what the distinction is?