Saturday, March 31, 2012

Civil Discourse

I keep trying to have a soft spot for Stewart, who is a W&M grad, but his condescending style still irritates me.  Except when I completely agree with what he is doing and skewering someone who really deserves it, in which case I love his style.  Which is a pretty clear indication of character flaws on my part.

I do start to feel sorry for her toward the end, against the time when she realises what an ass she is being, and how she might feel that night.  Yet she seems so impervious and well-defended that I suspect that moment might never come.

Here is the extent of my generalisation:  I don't believe that all liberals are like this, nor even that most are.  I do believe that there is a significant minority that is pretty close to this level of denial, and I believe that of the convinced liberals, the 16-19% of the American population identified by Pew every few years, a majority have much more of this jaw-dropping lack of insight than they have the faintest clue of.  There are folks with similar levels of denial among the other political groupings, but much fewer and less intense.  This is not because they are inherently nicer or more honest people, but because liberalism - the set of ideas itself - lends itself to denial of reality in favor of what we might wish were true.  It is a one-step-forward, two-steps-back set of ideas in all realms: transnationalism, environmentalism, government incentivizing and redistributing.  All of these are ideas that have some strength, and can be made to perform if they are used wisely.  Absent that, they depend on deceit to stay afloat.

Thanks to Philosophical Fragments via Tigerhawk


I tried something different with Photon Courier, as the post updates wouldn't feed.  We'll see if David's crossposts at Chicago Boyz fare better.  It is a group blog, but I think I've set it correctly so that only his posts hit the sidebar.  I haven't figured out how to do that with Texan99's posts at Grim's Hall.  Nothing against your co-bloggers, it's just a matter of pedantry.

I dropped Dubbahdee's Neco Dracones, until such time as he starts up again.  Just let me know.

Next, I have to check my current commenters for who is also a blogger.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Man or Muppet?

I don’t watch movies, despite having a son who is a filmmaker and movie maven.  When I do see one, too much of it runs around in my head for too long, knocking out other things that might be more valuable.  Of course, what I choose instead usually isn’t more valuable than movies, and is sometimes less.  Ah well. But why add to the problem?

We saw the new Muppet movie for the second time, again with the granddaughter, who already knows the words to most of the songs.  Years ago there was a phrase used to disparage musicians or writers “He has begun to imitate himself.”  I have heard it applied to TV shows as well. Thinking about that, I’ll bet that’s the art that most quickly imitates itself. You find a seam to mine and don’t leave until it runs out.

This new movie is the Muppets imitating themselves, not only as a plot device – Let’s put on a show to raise money to save the theater! – but in the unending inside jokes.  Everything is in the form of. You already like Fozzie. This is what Fozzie says that you like. Fozzie says it. Songs are reprised from early Muppet incarnations.

And I do like it.  It was great to hear more Swedish Chef.  I left wanting more Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, just doing their usual schtick. I sang along with “Rainbow Connection,” even though I disliked it when it first “The  Muppet Movie”

The irony is that the Academy Award winning – “Man or Muppet?” is a pretty good poetic summary of the problem.

I reflect on my reflection
And I ask myself the question
What’s the right direction to go
I don’t know
Am I a Man or a Muppet?

If you use Jason Segel as a synecdoche for the whole Muppet enterprise, the line “I reflect on my reflection” takes on a different meaning, doesn’t it?  The Muppets became famous for doing things no one else would do, or could get away with. It made them laugh-out-loud funny. Now they are famous for having been famous, doing the same old thing, most of it more charming than funny. The plot device of needing a star, any old star, is another giveaway. We don’t want any surprises here, no sudden moves.  Significantly, the parts that are funny are the few new things, such as the completely over-the-top power ballad, wrestling with an identity crisis. No other video is going to be able to do that straight anymore. “Party For One” is watchable mostly because Amy Adams is easy to look at. 

We should first judge a work of art not for what we want it to be, but for what it tries to be. Goethe’s Three Questions. It is clear that everyone involved knew that nostalgia, not humor, was the gig:  Check the lyrics to “Pictures In My Head.” The movie opens with the childhood of Gary and Walter, with the Muppet Show coming in pretty quickly. They did it very well – they have been moving in the “Muppet Movie: Awwww (No New Stuff)” direction since the 90’s, so even nostalgia is familiar territory for them now. (Cf, “A Muppet Christmas,” 2008) They’ve even done this plot before, in 2002, in “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.” A small touch, which I think is revealing.  In that movie, the holder of the mortgage on the theater who had to be paid by deadline was Rachel Bitterman – a bit more subtle name than Tex Richman.

Thus my objection is not that it isn’t well done – it’s brilliantly done, and they got exactly what they were aiming for. I just wish they hadn’t, because it’s not the Muppets.  The Muppets were, believe it or not, a bit edgy in the 70’s.  The push had just started to reduce television violence because of its supposed bad effect on children.  They put on an unashamedly violent show, blowing things up and “hitting live creatures.” (Marvin Suggs and the Muppaphones – my favorites).  Ethnic stereotypes had become unacceptable in polite company – they reveled in the Swedish Chef and the Zuchini Brothers and brought them back.  Cheech Marin playing the maracas in violently-colored silks!  People would cover their eyes and say “They are only getting away with this because they are puppets.” Miss Piggy’s surfing between independent woman and simpering girliness was right on the hot-button issue then, an intentional make-fun-of-everyone mix. Kermit’s “It Isn’t Easy Being Green” was considered offensive by some black people* when it first played, as if prejudice was being trivialised. (Then Diana Ross sang it and everyone calmed down.)  The attitude was “We’ll be cute, and we’ll kick them artfully.  They won’t dare complain.” (See also Sam the Eagle, toothless hillbillies.)

With each passing decade, the Muppets have rounded off the corners until they are the mildest of mild.  It’s no longer The Muppets. I don’t know who these guys are wearing muppet clothes.  Maybe they should have let Tex Richman dig after all.

Caveat:  I did just read the Tom Stoppard line in “The Real Thing,” that you have arrived when people start complaining that they liked your earlier stuff better. I may be guilty of that here.

*Or more likely, white people being oversensitive on black people’s account.  I no longer recall, having read it in a Sesame Street criticism from the 70’s.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose

Over at Chicago Boyz, commenter David has a short review of Breaking Stalin's Nose, a Newbery Honor Book for this year, about the son of a member of the secret police who is suddenly arrested.

Cotton-Eyed Joe

This song is sung at the New Hampshire Fisher Cats games. Doesn't sound quite like this. This version is rather, hmm, eye-catching, however.

It is a Swedish techno bluegrass band from 10-20 years ago.

HT: Indirect from Grim's Hall.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Human Interest Stories

I have commented before about how effective, but potentially deceptive, news-by-anecdote is.  NPR is a particularly egregious offender in this.  If the story is about sweatshops in Thailand, there will be a (translated) interview with Sanan Pamsoonthorn, an actual swetashop worker, about how hard her life is and the lack of laws or enforecement of safety standards at her factory. Missing will be an interview with Rahmat Bowo or anyone else in Indonesia who says “You have work for a new sweatshop?  I would love to have that work.” I am not making any statement what our response should be to working conditions with our trading partners, BTW.  I simply note that NPR’s is rather predictable, as is any news source that uses this tactic.

Once you have decided to “try to put a human face” on a news story, you have already made up your mind what the answer is, and what you are hoping your audience will “understand,” which is newsspeak for “be manipulated into believing.”  Because we are affected.  We want to be affected.  We want to be bonded to the rest of humanity and to make the decision that makes us feel like we are being decent and honorable.  We want the sad kitties and puppies.  We want to be let off from the hard work of deciding what actually is good and wise and moral. If someone can give us little girls with big eyes, we can breathe a sigh of relief because our decision has been made: “Mr. Senator, I want the solution that makes that particular little girl not look so sad anymore. No, don’t bother me with numbers and laws.  I want the little girl not to be sad.  She is now the face of this issue for me.”

So advocates, and charities, and politicians, and journalists use this.  Because it works.  And to be fair, some of them do it because they know a hundred little girls like this, or a thousand, and it hurts, and they want some help from the government or from the public to lessen the pain.  Wouldn’t you? I’ve got a Christmas card with a picture of eight little Romanian girls in the orphanage my third and fourth sons are from, hanging on my window at work.  They are just cute, and maybe, maybe, some passer-by might get interested enough to help to.  I do exactly the same thing I am railing about.  I am attempting to manipulate people to help.

Well, okay, except I’m not trying to pass laws to force you to take care of them.  That is some different. But I wanted to stress that however much I might rail against the manipulations, they work on me, and I can use them as well.  You might take the natural extension I am hinting at here and recognise that however much you might complain about those others swayed by emotions, you do it too.  Different stories push your buttons.

If there were a national lottery, where people at random were selected every year to win $100,000/year for life, we would want to get rid of that, right?  That would be a terrible use of government money, wouldn’t it?  But if we tried, the journalists, and politicians, and advocates could locate human interest stories of people who would be harmed by losing that lottery money.  They could locate those stories within hours.  And they would be absolutely true.  Those would be real single mothers of children who needed expensive school interventions; those would be real older guys who had lost their jobs for reasons that weren’t especially their fault who couldn’t find and weren’t likely to find new work; those would be real young people who had come up from bad neighborhoods and trauma but were getting good grades at college and would have crushing debt. Their stories would be heartbreakingly sad; sad enough that it would start to be persuasive to us that maybe we should keep that National Lottery program in place after all…It would do no good to point out that many people spent it frivolously, or that other single moms were paying taxes to support this, or any of the hundred other reasons why the program makes no sense.  We want the little girl to stop looking sad, Jack.  Shut up and turn “Mad Men” back on, okay?

We no longer live in bands of 150 hunter-gatherers, but we still respond that way.  It is how we are made.  We are not really built to be rational.  Our arts, far more a product of our social and emotive sides than our intellectual, quite joyfully teach us to hate the “faceless bureaucrat” – the last line of defense of someone who might, possibly, do what is good for the greatest number rather than the kitties and puppies – and root for the girl in the wheelchair who has always wanted to be an astronaut.  That’s why it works to have “Tex Richman” in the Muppet Movie, vilified as a person who loves only money and power.  He’s a stock character.  This goes back centuries.  There’s no use complaining about it because we are wired that way; the movies don’t teach us to have that value, we teach the movies to have that value, or we won’t pay money to watch them.  We want the little boy to follow his dream and become a hoops star – who cares if we destroyed the lives of a hundred thousand other kids who followed their dream and not their homework and can’t make it?  Screw ‘em. They’re not in the story.

They’re not in the story.  That’s the key.  That is where the value of the Deconstructionists is quite real, and conservatives had better learn to stop reflexively kicking everything that has a postmodern whiff to it.  When you run across one of those human interest stories, you have to ask yourself Whose story is not being told here? Why is this story “privileged” over others? Look at what is being left out as much as what is being put in.  There was a revealing line in the Screwtape Letters, where the senior demon tells his nephew the apprentice tempter, that they do much more work keeping certain thoughts out of people’s heads than putting them in.

Related note, because Bethany’s new blog has put me in mind of misleading statistics.  They say you can lie with statistics, and that is true.  But statistics can be forced to tell the truth if you grab them by the shirt and shove them up against the wall and say “Tell me who your friends and associates are!  Where are you from, and whose bags are you carrying onto the plane?”  Because even if they won’t answer, your asking of the question immediately reveals to you much of the missing data.

It's Been Awhile


Inspired by a comment - at Volokh's I think.

Ebeneezer Scrooge noted that he didn't see any point in private charity, because his taxes already supported programs for the poor - workhouses and prisons were the programs he referred to by name.

Self-identified liberals, though they make 6% more than self-identified conservatives, give about 25% less to private charity, even after church giving is subtracted out, according to Arthur C. Brooks. (And if you subtract out arts giving, the numbers get even worse.)

So Scrooge was a liberal...

All right, fair enough, I don't really think that liberals are like E. Scrooge. I just like the irony, in the face of how often that accusation flies the other way.

Related:  That goes double for giving blood.  If liberals and moderates gave at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply would increase by 45%.  That's a big number.  So when you hear appeals for blood donations, think "Ah, the liberals are falling down on the job again."  There are legitimate qualifiers to all the numbers above, but the point still holds.

7 O'Clock News In The Car

New diagnoses of cancer fell by one-half percent in the last year, and deaths from cancer fell by one-and-a-half percent, more for children. But the news isn't all good. Studies also show that obesity in children is too high, leading to increased cancer risk in later years. An estimated 75% of high school girls and 90% of boys do not get the recommended 60 minutes a day of exercise. One third of cancer is caused by obesity and lack of exercise.
Where to begin?

 Well, we could find out who wrote this and shoot them. A half-percent increase per year in media deception deaths might save the rest of us some worry.

New diagnoses fell by 0.5%. That's good. And death by cancer was down 1.5%, also good. It does pay to notice that death itself is not down by that amount. Other causes of death are going to see a slight increase, as this one's a zero-sum game.

No good health news can be mentioned without dragging childhood obesity in from the couch, where it has been playing Coco Loco and eating Mallomars. It's the new favorite button to push. You can justify just about anything if it's to stop childhood obesity - a news guy on CNN thought administering cattle-prod shocks to kids as they put a Dorito to their mouths would be nice. I assume it was meant as a joke.

Try that joke for teen sexual behavior and see how funny people think you are. (Okay, maybe some folks would think it was funny if it was about boys. But even that would be a small number, I think.)

So even though the health news is good - again, for about the fiftieth year in a row - it's not really good news because it's going to be bad news fifty years from now. One-third of cancer is caused by obesity and lack of exercise, eh? Looks like the tobacco companies should be getting a big refund, then.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” Oscar Wilde, referring to Dickens’s character in The Old Curiosity Shop.
I have been pretty well-defended against sentimentalism most of my life, as I find it unseemly, unsubtle, and unfair. Yet I find it is only the direct appeal that leaves me unmoved. Sentiment takes me by surprise more often as I get older. I have picked up from other cultural references that “The Wind Beneath My Wings” is not only considered over-the-top, but a possible best example of ridiculousness. Not to me. I get teary every time, and I have no idea why. The lyrics don’t make sense for me to sing to anyone, nor anyone to me – they just don’t apply. Perhaps I am only saying that none of my immediate circle is famous. Yet the described sentiment from the famous person to the unnoticed supporter is just very moving somehow. I’m not one of those people who can extract a single line and apply it generally, irrespective of the full context. “Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?” Nice sentiment in a lot of contexts. But if you’re going to use the song, for me the entirety of the lyrics are always present.

Which is why I get uncomfortable when people have “I’ll Be Watching You” played at their wedding receptions. Or play “Like a Prayer” as if it’s a general romance song instead of a description of oral sex, (“Betty Davis Eyes” seems to be about Bondage and Discipline, too. Just sayin’.) And nothing says “America’s national pastime” quite so well as young men being taught to sing and dance to homoerotic songs by their mothers and older sisters, eh? It’s a weird world when you pay too much attention, perhaps. It had a good beat and the kids could dance to it, as they used to say on American Bandstand*, and no one is paying any attention to what the words mean, even if they are screaming them while the DJ plays.

I’m way off track here. This is a mark of bad writing, children, to make the connection between your first and second paragraphs so tenuous.

Country music derives its power from being “three chords and the truth.” (We’re back to paragraph one, here.) We can laugh at overblown sentiment, but it is still true that beloved young wives sometimes die, and what are you going to sing that’s appropriate? Some clever ironic piece with a touch of sadness? Don’t be ridiculous – it’s a horrible tragedy. Singers get paid to break your heart.

 Or maybe, as I have previously worried, I am just going to become one of those old guys who tears up at slight provocation. My father never was that guy until the end. *Get Sponge-Headed Scienceman to tell you about American Bandstand sometime.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Transilvanian Photographer

Habitat For Humanity* Romania's Easter card has an amazing photo by Sorin Onisor, who donates some of his work to them.  I checked out his work at his home site. Very dramatic pictures of Transilvania, with a lot of focus on peasant scenes that may not exist in another generation.

Here's one.

*There's a connection here. The founder of HFH Romania is a relative to those who founded the orphanage my boys came from.

Maybe It's Just Me

When I go to comment at a site, and the directions underneath the box say "Choose An Identity," an entire world of possibilities suggests itself to me.


Just to note, commenter bsking's new blog Bad Data, Bad! is up on the sidebar.  You might guess her focus from the title...

I added karrde's Wilde Karrde last month and still can't get the name to behave.  His recent link to Vicious Stereotypes in Polite Society is quite good, BTW.

In general, the sidebar is a mess.  I comment on lots of the second list, but seldom at Sailer's anymore, for example.  A few blogs have stopped posting.  There are a few others I would like to put on.  But when I sit in the blogging chair, there are usually posts and comments that seem more important.  I'm a rude host and disloyal friend.

More Than Dialog

People keep trying the phrase “trialogue,” but it never catches on.  There must be something naturally infelicitous about it. Added fun:  When people want to put you on your heels by trying to explain things in terms of dialectic, whether Hegelian or Marxist – and usually understanding neither – you can even the imbalance by prefering to discuss in terms of a dialogic understanding. It has several meanings, none of them very clear, so you can pretty much call it what you want.

John F. Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley died within a few hours of each other in November of 1963.  Peter Kreeft’s novel, Between Heaven and Hell is an imagined conversation between three of them immediately after “somewhere beyond death.”  I mention it here because it is a three-way conversation among the atheist Huxley, the humanist Kennedy, and the Christian Lewis. (Yes, I recognise that Kennedy was a theist, but his approach, behavior, and philosophy were all human-centered in practice.)  Alliances between them would shift in different phases of the argument:  the rigorous and classically trained Huxley and Lewis would ally against some premise of Kennedy’s they felt was hopelessly naïve and long since disproven; later, Huxley and Kennedy would be allied against Lewis, or Lewis and Kennedy against Huxley on one point or another.  Finally, there were places in the argument where all three stood alone, finding no common ground with either of the other. It’s a lot of fun.  Kreeft favors Lewis, but is a fairly honest broker – and the three he writes about were fairly honest brokers themselves, giving credit to other points of view when due.

We tend to regard meaning of life debates as being between believers and nonbelievers.  Michael Novak’s No One Sees God, while giving some mention of varieties within each group (at least six types of atheist, for example, he lists here, makes a sharp dual split rather explicitly.  With the emergence of the New Atheists, and this week’s Rally for Reason, this tendency has become even more pronounced in the popular discussion. There are the Real Scientists and Intellectuals on the nonbeliever side; the Christians, Moslems, Animists and whatever among the believers, each tugging on those in between, who lean this way and then that. 

Reading recently in the social theorists, the existentialists, the occasional physicist, and the absurdists, I think it’s at least a three-way argument, with shifting alliances. Dawkins and Hitchens have painted themselves and the nonbelievers as the true heirs of the Enlightenment, conveniently ignoring quite a few problems with that.  Retriever sent me a bit of Kierkegaard last week, which reminded me that existentialist philosophers had the Enlightenment well under assault – the atheist Nietzsche and Soren the believer – well before the 20th C was even under way. (Reminder: surprising how many existentialists turn out to be theists of some sort, I noted decades ago.  Christians tend to be suspicious even of their own in this, and don’t mention them so much. It’s not just the atheists who make this a two-way split.  We may be well more at fault here.)

The Absurdists (and all their Dadaist, Expressionist, and Surrealist cousins, who I know far less well) followed on in their undermining of meaning, reason, and understanding.  The Enlightenment believed that there was ultimately a grand explanatory theory for everything, if we would only persevere and find it.  The believers tended to protest that there was an entire realm of mystery and faith transcending it.  The 20th C artist and theorists worked from the other end, noting that enormous amounts of reality kept leaking out the sides and bottom of rationalist thinking. The physicists increasingly described a probabilist, neither-this-nor-that world full of Schrodinger Cats, wave-particles, and chaos; a world made up of equations more than matter – and such equations(!) as the mathematicians had given them as if in anticipation of all this “Then maths left the real world behind, just like modern art, really. Nature was classical, maths was suddenly Picassos. But now nature is having the last laugh. The freaky stuff is turning out to be the mathematics of the natural world.

Francis Schaeffer wrote Escape From Reason, clearly believing the Christian’s natural ally against all the Deconstructionists and Postmoderns was the Enlightenment.  Only partly true.  CS Lewis was also logician by deserved reputation,* and made most of his appeals to skeptics on rationalist grounds. That perhaps is also oversold. We are, in American culture all children of the Enlightenment to greater or lesser extent.  Even the fundamentalists, however much they would exclude themselves and the New Atheists agree with them, are Men of the West, and the later West at that. The American Revolution is Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome, all three.

Yet the world has changed since then.  Gutenberg remade the world, but not all at once, and that transition from oral to literate culture was still not complete, with more to come at the close of the 18th C. The media theorists redefine meaning, context, and understanding, sometimes in ways that Christians find congenial, sometimes not (but always, in ways that are not immediately obvious).  A remarkable percentage of those folks – Marshall McLuhan, Walter J. Ong, Jacques Ellul – were Christians, though again, not always welcomed and embraced by our tribe. (A remarkable percentage were Canadian, also.  I don’t draw any conclusions from that at present.) We have come to accept consciously what we alwasys knew empirically but resisted, searching for grand unifying theories: that language and meaning shift in context; that strange new creatures grow up in society, unpredicted but more importantly, inherently unpredictable.

I call temporary halt here.  I have too many threads running.  I’ve lost control of the flow of this.

*Yet even he noted that physics was creeping away from that world, “Schrodinger asking for thirteen dimensions to describe the universe,” and in Miracles, finds his first exceptions to the ordered natural world in the sub-natural rather than the super-.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dream A Little Dream

Stoppard Quotes

Tom Stoppard is usually more indirect about his political beliefs than in this section.  Wise man.  The theater is hardly the place for his "small 'c' conservatism...I'm a timid libertarian."  (Now that David Mamet is more conservative that may be a touch easier.)  But in "The Real Thing" the character Henry - clearly meant to be something like Stoppard - is asked to help with a play written by Brodie, a young vandal who fancies himself a political prisoner (in England). Henry insists it's not that he won't help him but that he can't. Not possible:
Because it's balls. Mary's part is the least of it - it's merely ham-fisted. But when he gets into his stride, or rather his lurch, announcing every stale revelation of the newly-enlightened, like stout Cortez coming upon the Pacific - war is profits, politicians are puppets, Parliament is a farce, justice is a fraud, property is theft...It's all here: the Stock Exchange, the arms dealers, the press can't fool Brodie - patriotism is propaganda, religion is a con trick, royalty is an anachronism...pages and pages of it. It's like being run over very slowly by a traveling freak show of favourite simpletons, the india rubber pedagogue, the midget intellectual, the human panacea...

I can't help somebody who thinks, or thinks he thinks, that editing a newspaper is censorship, or that throwing bricks is a demonstration while building tower blocks is social violence, or that unpalatable statement is provocation while disrupting the speaker is an exercise of free speech...Words don't deserve that kind of malarkey. They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more, and Brodie knocks corners off without knowing he's doing it. So everything he builds is jerry-built. It's rubbish. An intelligent child could push it over. I don't think writers are sacred, but words are.
That last is a rather non-absurdist sentiment, at least in theory, indicating how far Stoppard has traveled since the 60's. But the theory was hardly believed, even as it was put forward. Beckett, Ionesco, Camus - all very precise in their language, though in strange ways.


So, Chris is back in Tromsø, having secured a Romanian passport. This time there is a girl in tow, identified as a girlfriend, works at the same place, a relative of Crina's. Looks like she is living with him, though this is not announced. I haven't asked Chris about the seriousness of this relationship - he has a history of being certain it is serious when it is not, so the answer would not tell us much. But going with him to Norway...Crina and her mother are clearly pushing for this...yeah, it's possible this is...a daughter-in-law.

Even if she is not, someone equally unknown to us will be. Unless we live in a closed group that is the way it usually is now. We send children to college, or to distant cities where their relationships are people unknown to us. Even with highschool romances, we know only scraps and imagine we know more because we know some relative, or their church, or some fact about them. My oldest son married his highschool sweetheart, so we "knew" her in some sense early on. But she was quiet, quiet, and we really haven't known her until after they were married and moved back here after college - seven years after she appeared on the scene. But we could kid ourselves that we did.

With Anca, we can't even pretend we know. This is even a greater distance than usual. She doesn't speak English, and as she will be working on Norwegian for the present, we can't expect her to. Facebook, color photos, and cheap telephone calls are an enormous advantage that earlier generations of parents did not have. We might have some picture in our mind that parents in earlier eras knew more about their son's girlfriends; that's really not true. Adding together internal migration on top of an immigrant nation, with college and/or faraway military service common in the 20th C, and the natural secretiveness of a good chunk of young people - our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents may not have known much either. You have to go quite a ways back in most families before you come to a time when you could 90% count on a woman knowing her new daughter-in-law well before the wedding.

Note to family: If you go to Crina's page and click the "photo" that she commented on, you can get a series of 25 pictures of Anca Pop. Or you could just friend her, which we will likely do. We scour the pictures for clues. Three pictures in front of a church! Acch, it's the Arctic Cathedral, tourist site. Still...

I give our particulars, not especially interesting to anyone but us (and perhaps, not even to us after a while), for two reasons: I am reflecting on the phenomenon in general. Parents everywhere do this, looking at pictures and wondering "Are you, thou stranger, going to be...?" Someone did that with me once, staring at a picture wondering "Is this a good idea for my daughter? Will I like this boy?" (Answer to the first question: yes, probably. Answer to the second: no, not especially, though they were polite enough not to mention it until years later.)

I don't recall I worried much in the opposite direction. Children operate under the myth that you can just marry that one person, with the family being almost irrelevant. But you marry an entire family, like it or not. And if they are dead, you marry their ghosts.

Reason two: We have done something like this before, with Chris himself and his brother, looking at bad photos, reading inaccurate descriptions, peering into their momentary faces, trying to see behind the veil, asking "Are son?" That time, they did it with us as well, asking others for clues as to who we were.

Post 3500 - Pro-Life

Two links that deserve wider circulation: I don't usually write on this topic, yet I don't think it is because I don't care. Mostly, I am cautious because I find people do not hear clearly what I say (or write). Or similarly, they have their Key Point that goes off whenever someone comes near the subject in their presence, setting off a predictable chain reaction off other people reciting their Key Point in response. I am pro-life, and am happy enough with the bright line being drawn at conception, but I don't find I am as deeply distressed as other prolife folks at the idea of drawing the line at implantation, or brainwave, or heartbeat. After that I sound about as declarative as any stricter prolifer.

I have operated for years on the general division that 20% of Americans oppose all or nearly all abortions, 20% consider any barrier to abortion a threat to civilisation, and the remaining 60% are in support of some restrictions, greater or lesser. The current numbers are a bit different, according to Gallup, and quoted in this National Review article. There is the 21% that oppose all abortions, but 38% that oppose nearly all - more than is commonly reported, I think. Those who believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances now number 26% - also more than I had thought. Between that 38% and 26%, then, there are people who identify as prolife who would allow some abortion, while some who identify as prochoice would prefer some restrictions. Most surprising to me was that about 26% - nearly all of the remainder between the two (statistical) extremes - thought abortion should be illegal after the first trimester.

I know that number is under-reported, whatever else is.

The NRO link has more discussion, plus a link to NYC41, a site which reports on NYC abortion statistics zipcode by zipcode. The "41" is included in the name because 41% of all pregnancies in NYC are aborted.

There is an additional point which comes up in recent political discussions - Planned Parenthood. There is a general impression on the prochoice side, which they try to convey to the general public, that Planned Parenthood is mostly an information and contraception organisation that does some abortions and refers out for others, but is persecuted by prolife and other conservative groups who don't want people to even have basic information. Let me mention an example of this. Planned Parenthood claims that abortions are only 3% of their services. They arrive at this number by counting every contact as equal. If you come in for a condom, or a pregnancy test, or an abortion, it is all counted the same. Left out of the calculation is the fact that they make much more money from the last-named service than the others - over half their budget. Which is more than 3% isn't it? Imagine a car dealership that made 90% of its money from auto sales, 10% from parts, claiming that because 50% of their customers came in for parts, that was "half their business." Faith magazine has an article about PP and similar PR accounting and reporting tricks. The research looks pretty solid, and it's pretty damning.

They are essentially not an honest organisation. For me, that's case closed.