Friday, August 31, 2012

The Superhero

(Not Quite Top Shelf)

If you really could do Superman or Batman types of things, wouldn’t you be obligated to fix things without rest?  No one else can see through walls – you have to ferret out the criminals, Superman. No one else can climb the side of the building, Batman – you have to rescue the child on the ledge. To be given super powers would be a curse, not a blessing, for you could never sleep.  There would alwys be one more thing that you were needed for.

So you’d come pretty quickly to the understanding that you couldn’t do it all, or you would be so consumed with guilt you couldn’t function.  Consider – this is precisely the situation all of us are in now.  There are a thousand, a million ills in our ken which we will do nothing to alleviate.  And yet. There were Jews other than Lazarus who had died in those few days, but Jesus raised one.  He healed one at the Pool of Siloam.  Sometimes he healed all who were brought to him, sometimes few or none.  How can such a thing be?

Consider also – this is the argument that governments use to take control of situations and charge us for the privilege.  They are the only ones big enough, they must do everything.  The responibility must be theirs.  Because there is still death and disease in Palestine, this Jesus has failed.  That way doesn’t work, so you have to do it our way.

This only makes sense if one believes that all problems are ultimately solvable.  That claim of mine may take some thinking, as you search the various escape-hatches from that premise before you conclude that it is so.  The optimistic, upbeat approach that says with a good ol' American can-do attitude we can lick this thing, and we won’t rest until there are no more childhood illnesses (or no more poverty, or no more wars) sounds kind but is ultimately cruel.  The versions with a Christian spin are no better – you will notice that Jesus himself did not talk like that, noting that we would always have the poor, and many people would live under oppression.

When one believes that a solution must, simply must, be out there, it does indeed spur her to keep trying heroically, keep looking indefatigably, and that is a good thing.  But it leads inevitably to trying terrible solutions, not because they are moral or have much chance of success, but because the previous ideas have not worked, or not well enough.  We see it in Narnia when two of the dwarves suggest bringing in monsters to help in fight against Miraz.  Lewis notes it more explicitly in “Why I Am Not A Pacifist” when he tackles the argument that we must disarm because getting enough people in enough countries to do that is the only path left.  Gandhi ultimately has to advocate that the Jews should just allow themselves to be killed, on the hope that they will be an example and shame the world into – into what?  Singing “Imagine?” The Nazis would keep on killing, yes?

It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life might be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists of tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made; just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.  CS Lewis “Why I Am Not A Pacifist,” 1940

We live in a fallen world.  Start to finish, a fallen world, and our job may not be to fix things, but to learn how to act in a fallen world.  That will likely include fixing things that come into our path, “uprooting evil in the fields that we know.” Yet God repeatedly has said that the large solutions are pretty much His.

Resolving Into A Position

My apologies.  The next few posts shade into one another, and even repeat.  I have been unable to tighten them up into bold, pithy statements.  I have given up on the rewriting and post them in their partial states. I will likely identify them as Not Premium Quality or some such. Of course, my audience is pretty clever, and may be able to pick up the ideas and make them clear in their own minds, even as I wander about.  The Inklings had to sometimes remind Lewis that some works he liked owed their excellence to the powerful imagination he supplied as a reader, not to the literary skill of the author.  Lewis saw little difference.  Or so I'm told.  I believe David Lindsay's Voyage To Arcturus was mentioned in this context.

I have read objections to Lewis’s trilemma “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” – that Jesus’s claims are so stark that anyone who utters them must be evil, insane, or God as He claimed* – that there are in fact many other possibilities as to what we might believe about Jesus.  In fact, there may be millions of such positions, and anyway, millions of people who hold other positions do exist. There aren’t only three possibilities.

I wonder if folks are being deliberately, though perhaps unconsciously obtuse, or if they really don’t get. the idea.  Lewis’s claim is that ultimately, whatever claim one puts forward to begin with, if one follows the path to its logical end, it arrives at one of these three places.  One can avoid those three clearings only by refusing to think things through.  All opinions about Jesus resolve into one of those positions.

*Lewis noted that this was a version of an older argument Aut Deus, aut homo malus: either God or a bad man.

Singing Cowboy Songs

Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving has much of its framework in place.  We will be sharing space with llamas, and frighteningly for us, the trip involves connections through Newark.  But Norway, Nome, Houston, and NH will all converge on Williams by various routes.

I am starting off by visiting one son in Houston, from whence we will take the Sunset Limited along the Mexican border for 27 hours to Maricopa, AZ a small city almost completely surrounded by Indian communities. We like each others’ company well enough, but this may be more than our personalities were designed to bear.  Fortunately, we both like our own company for long stretches as well.  We’ll have books, he’ll have a laptop and podcasts to supplement.  Hmm, perhaps I need to find something that can play into my ears as well.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Contrarian Thought.

Conservatives and evangelicals sometimes quietly congratulate themselves that they are reproducing themselves while liberals and secular people tend to be ZPG and disappearing.  Our actions - two bio children, two adoptions, and a guardianship, and a hope that all five of them have lots of their own - illustrate that we are pretty sympathetic to that POV.  There is a Christian Culture sentiment that we have been aware of, and even been part of, since the 1970's.  We work toward the church having cultural influence long after we have gone.

Yet it pays to remember that Jesus (and Paul, Peter, James, John) say little or nothing about this.  There is a great deal said about our responsibility toward the individuals we encounter and the church community we live in, but other than rather disassociated good citizenship and not being a bother, they don't say much about amking over society in a godly direction.

The OT tells the Jews a lot about making over their whole society, but their whole society was a religious community.  I don't see strong NT indications that this automatically carries over to citizenship in Hillsborough County or the Province of Saskatchewan. What if it is entirely unimportant, so that American Christians of both the right and left - both the "If my people" and "Least of my brethren" crowds - are simply wrong, reading in their political beliefs.

If the world truly is going to hell in a handbasket, so that default culture was so selfish and hedonistic as to be not worth retaining, would it be so terrible if Christians simply said "Our people chose not to participate," and let the world go as it would without us?  One might read the Revelation to John as being a record of exactly that ending for the world.  Time to roll it up.  No more shall be saved on this particular planet.


We have about a half-dozen marinades for meat that we use commonly, plus I like to experiment from time-to-time.  But really, Italian dressing ( we tend toward bruschetta or robusto versions these days) is what we like best and we probably use it 50% of the time. Meat. Squeeze bottle. Bag. Freeze or refrigerate. Grill.  It doesn't get much easier and we just like it better than the labor-intensive marinades in the recipe book.  As is ironically common, we get whimpers of appreciation and requests for the recipe.  Yeah.  Go to Hannaford's. Find Aisle 3.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Causation Versus Selection

This article in Psychiatry Weekly discusses the research on whether the social selection or the social causation theory best explains why married people have better MH outcomes. Generally quite reasonable, but what caught my eye was the information that sociologists come down strongly on the causation side - that social relationships like marriage provide a protective factor - contrasted to the selection theory which holds that it's the healthier people who get to get married in the first place.

If I'm reading this right, I have to ask - is there any sane person who questions the idea that selection is at least a significant factor?  Most people offered the two theories would say "I think both are probably somewhat true."  Nailing that down with real data might be tricky, but I can't imagine anyone would argue that there is little or no selection. Anyone know enough sociologists to know how firmly they come down in the causation camp?

Additional note:  the offhand remark that same-sex marriages might be more protective because they fought so long and hard for recognition is exactly the sort of blather that shouldn't be in a research article.  It might be absolutely true.  But we aren't shown any evidence for this, just a conventional wisdom assurance that functions as birdsong, letting us know where the researcher stands on the issue.  It would be bad enough in an op-ed.  In a professional context, it's just ridiculous.

Of Other Worlds

Reading Lewis's essays on art, atmosphere, and Otherness in works of fiction, John W. Campbell's story "Who Goes There?" (Cue words: Antarctica, scientists, shapechanging alien) came into my mind as an example of one of Lewis's point. Sometimes the science part of Science Fiction is unimportant - there are only the trappings of science, but the same story could have been managed in another form.

Certainly true.  In the above, shapeshifting by any means would have been sufficient.  No need for aliens.  I wonder how often that is the case with Science Fiction, that it is really more speculative fiction with a little science thrown in.   I have no idea whether it was more common in the old days or more common now.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Because some people at work are aware of my background and interests, I am sometimes asked about related subjects...

Hahahaha!  That is a complete lie.  The truth is that whenever a related subject comes up I insert myself in to the conversation and make pronouncements.  The people who bring up these topics are social workers, who have no scientific training and will fall for anything.  Not that they are any worse than anyone else in that.  People who do research seem to have trouble with the conceptual framework of what is evidence and what is trash, and they supposedly do have scientific training.

Thus, they don't want to hear that the idea they read about, or the speaker at the conference, or the program they are spending money on lacks any scientific support.  They prefer to be calmed by sciencey things the speaker or the book says.

Lumosity was mentioned this week, with the assurance that there was considerable scientific backing for this program of brain-improvement via brain exercises.  I will spare you the details of what was claimed versus what the website actually says, because I am uncertain how much of that is the result of the company's marketing and how much is my coworkers wishful thinking.  But let's take a look at what is there, and how much credence we will give to it.

First, it could be true.  This could turn out to be great, and the theory that certain types of brain exercise do generalise even though most don't is plausible.  We are indeed entering an era where IF it is possible to increase one's intelligence, we might be seeing the intriguing beginnings of it now.  I have nothing against these folks.  They may be right.

They are selling a product.  The first few sessions on the web are free, then you have to pay.  This does not in any way disprove their theory.  In fact, I consider it similar (or even superior?) to the supposedly disinterested parties who claim to be selflessly committed to an idea.  Those often have a worldview to protect, a need to appear noble, or a livelihood based on speaking fees they aren't counting as a similar financial interest.  If you are Dr. Horsefeather's kid, you might devote your life to defending Horsefeather's theories, even enduring poverty and ridicule, for reasons of your own.

Yet the fact that they stand to benefit should make us alert to a few things.  They cite independent research at reputable institutions as support.  Even if all of these studies were very strong, remember that they have no obligation to report those studies which should no result, or even harm from their product.  They put a half-dozen up on the page.  There could be twenty studies to the null hypothesis which you don't see. Or there could be none.  You don't know.

Next, you likely only partially know how research is done in this particular niche and what the standards are.  Plausibility is only one tool, and general reasoning only one more, in evaluating the claims.  Those ain't nuttin' but you may be missing something that a similar researcher would no is significant.  Certain usual measurements may not be mentioned, or problems getting a control group glossed over.

Further, people want this to be true.  Everyone would like to think that there are ways of getting smarter and you're one of the first one's to find it! One of the studies linked to sets out the problems and disappointments of this area of research over the decades quite well in the first four paragraphs.  (That study, BTW, is the best piece of evidence they show, to my thinking.)

This brings us to some items that are pretty strongly in their favor.  No, not the testimonials, or articles in the Best Newspapers, but the people they have been able to interest in this.  That they have gotten researchers from Stanford and Columbia and a few other colleges to be interested enough to sit on boards or attempt to research the usefulness is something in itself.  Heck, that they even seek research rather than avoiding it is something.

Yet we have to go back to some limitations of the studies which you might not notice if you weren't skeptical:  they are focused on Luminosity training for damaged individuals recovering or still developing,* there is not much about how permanent the gains are, and the results, though significant, are fairly modest.

*Which is great, and in fact more important than making me clever, but not the same thing that they are advertising.

Free Will and Neuroscience

I did a series - or more exactly, brought out a discussion - about free will last year, May We Believe Our Thoughts?  There's 28 entries on that, so browsing may be the order of the day.

Philosopher Eddy Nahmias, last seen as a contributor to The Oxford Handbook On Free Will has an interesting essay over at Big Questions Online whether contemporary neuroscience supports or challenges the notion of free will. He comes down in favor of the "supports" camp, while acknowledging that many others think otherwise. 

Via Maggie's Farm, specifically Bird Dog.  Which brings me to another point:  I used to have lists of things I should read that I felt bad about not getting to.  With the internet, and specifically people like BD who uncover lots of interesting stuff nearly every day, I have the additional problem of things I would really like to read that I can't get to.  There is just no way, and it hardly seems fair.

Good 'Uns

James has three good links over at his site, one discussing what books are most like Tolkien, a second about the problems with criminal law (cartoon illustrated!), and a third describing how the catastrophic raid on Dieppe in WWII was a result of British intelligence tipping off the Germans.

Age Factor

I wonder if there is a generational  aspect to suspecting whether an athlete is using PED's.  The athletes I watched growing up had a certain look.  Even exceptional athletes, who worked out in one form or another many hours a week, looked like Roger Federer, as in this Steve Sailer article.  I don't watch much TV or see many photos of the athletes up close, so my impression of what an athlete should look like has a 1970 appearance.

When someone doesn't look like that - when their musculature is far more defined than anything I was familiar with outside of Charles Atlas on the back of a comic book, I immediately think there's something wrong here.

Young people and/or people who see a lot of athletes in close up and popular poses in the media may be much more used to seeing athletes on steroids.  Not necessarily the norm, just more common.  And as a result, they do not immediately recoil at the improbably-shaped athletes.  Their idea of what is possible is slightly different from mine.  It could be my eyes that are wrong, though I don't think so.

Because the money is much better, there is certainly more incentive for athletes to work out intensely.  Yet I think that affects the many, not the few.  There have always been deeply obsessed people - Dan Gable comes to mind.  Do current athletes work out that much more than the few obsessed of yore?  Or are the fanatics pretty much the same in each generation?  I vote the latter.

Certainly, athletes are better now and it is measurable.  But some of that is equipment - shoes, tracks, gloves, and standardization in general.  Medical care, protective equipment, and repair explain still more. Technique is more widely known, and good coaching more available. The 100 meter record came down quite a bit from the time of Jesse Owens to Bob Hayes and Jim Hines.  Yet they look pretty much the same, don't they, even though Hayes was a more muscular type who went on to play pro football.

Look at the shoes and the track under Hayes, BTW. And the guys behind him.  There are still sprinters who look like this.  Just not all of them.

Remember also that when there's groups of professional athletes involved, their unions and attorneys work hard to reduce testing, not increase it.

I'm telling you, it's my eyes that are correct here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

From The News

A wise character in a Ray Bradbury story "And The Rock Cried Out" only reads the newspaper after it is a week old.  At that point, it is usually quite clear which parts are foolish and which are wise.  Good advice, which I will follow here.  Sort of.

Akins' comment that women don't get pregnant from "legitimate" rape because their bodies reject it is indefensible.  It got a lot of play because it goes to the heart of a particular narrative of modern women about themselves, that the abortion, sexual freedom, status and power, and false moral issues are so deeply interrelated as to be the same thing, so that "forcing" a woman to bear a child she has conceived is equivalent to forcing her to have sex.  There's some sense in that, as Akins's statement may indeed indicate an interrelatedness of the ideas in his mind.  It also got a lot of play because it's part of one of Obama's campaign themes. 

Here's the problem:  the only time I have ever run across this urban myth was in the late 70's when my wife was pregnant with our first child.  We read volumes of pregnancy and childbirth material, including some pretty strange stuff in the alternative childbirth books. (This was an era when having husbands present, gaining more than twenty pounds, and not getting knocked out were considered "alternative," remember.) One of the more mystical offerings reported that exerting mental control over reproductive function was a common idea in Eastern beliefs, and was found in Native American and African peoples as well.  These latter, in the spirit of the age, were included as positives because those groups were closer to nature than we modern whites were.  I remember feeling glad that I couldn't think of anything in the Bible, or even from any of the crazier Christians I hung out with, that suggested this was remotely true.  It seemed a mark precisely in our favor that there wasn't any of this.

I have no idea if her statement was indeed true, or just something she heard and passed on.  Plus, it sounds quite different when one puts it in terms of a mystical consonance between mind and body rather than a statement that you won't get pregnant if you're really raped, but it's the same thing.  I didn't catch that anyone went there in their criticism,  kicking the nonwhite peoples on the matter.  Perhaps the belief is that this is a generalised primitive belief found in many cultures, which persist because they are convenient to men. But even that gets us to a place I don't think liberals want to go.  Are you saying that these cultures unlike ours are inferior, then?  Not only the American fundies, but the Apaches and Thai monks and shamans?

Added:  I sometimes think that because I have mentioned something more than once, though years ago, it is in the back of everyone else's mind as well. Part of my argument that this is overblown is based on the idea that neither side is going to move the dial much legislatively, but the activists on both sides hyperventilate as if crushing defeat is imminent, but for their efforts.  The Akins of the world must be expelled, even though these ideas have no practical effect, because it is encouragement to the wrong tribe.  McAskill's belief that oil companies jerk the price of gas to influence elections - easily disproven with a little arithmetic how much that would cost them - is not considered a problem.  And frankly, though it has dire consequences, it's not considered a problem by the right as well as the left, because too many of them have dark Big Oil suspicions and also can't do arithmetic.  The right also tends to get activated for narrative issues rather than substantive ones.  It's what human beings do.


As a culture, we seem to have decided long ago that Lance Armstrong was being persecuted and began to feel sorry for him.  They kept trying to bust him for doping, he kept protesting his innocence, he pointed to his passed drugs tests, and we believed him when he said it was all a witch hunt.  Lance Armstrong is a nice guy, and fought back from horrible illness to boot, so it fit our narrative. 

We did not extend the same courtesy to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, note.  They acted like pricks and we wanted their asses in jail.  Arnold is more ambiguous, but on balance, he was charming and popular, so steroid use was a clear smart move on his part in his younger days.

Lance is almost certainly guilty. If you think about it for awhile and drop the preconceived idea of a poor hounded innocent, you knew that.  Why would an entire agency continue to pursue him?  There are certainly personal vendettas in this life, and if someone stands to gain - if they were the buddy of a second-place finisher to Armstrong, for example - then we are even doubly suspicious.  It is certainly possible, that an entire agency, or powerful people within it, just don't like him, or feel that he showed them up, or are spending the rest of their days in futile efforts to justify accusations they made in the past, are obsessed with bringing Armstrong down.  Is it likely?  Really?  Isn't it more likely that they know he's guilty, and the question has been whether it's worth pursuing?

Is the fact that the pubic is tired of hearing about it a good motive for dropping it?  That's the bet that Bill Clinton made, and he won.  He protested his innocence and accused the accusers of bad motives, hoping that he could ride it long enough that everyone would get tired of it and turn on them, instead.  After that, when it became clear that Clinton had lied after all, it didn't matter.  Everyone pretended that they knew all along he was a liar, but they just thought his sins were small and his accusers were worse.  That's the opposite of what they said at the time.  It is in fact, a lie itself.  But a convenient one. 

Because everyone else is guilty, after all.  And LA's new statement is that he used no "unfair advantage."  And I am willing to believe that he did work harder, and suffer more, and was more talented.  But not that he didn't dope.

Added:  The Bill Clinton part is that it's different when you know the bastard is guilty and you think you've finally got him.  Armstrong's accusers don't think that maybe he is, maybe he isn't, lets find out.  The believe they have proof, if only they can get their day in court.  In 1998, conservatives had been denied because the public didn't care about Travelgate, or Filegate, or the obstruction around Foster's suicide, or Whitewatergate, or closed health care planning.  And the "not caring" was largely a result of "not pressed by journalists."  When the Monica story came around, they thought they finally had him.

Steroids came to Muscle Beach, and thus Southern California, in the 1960's.  They could well have been in many sports, not just bodybuilding and weightlifting.  I recall saying humorously in the 1970's, looking at clips of defensive linemen pursuing QB's "How can a man 6'4" and 295 lbs be fast?" But I thought it was just finding the freaks of nature, and training them right that did it.  Only later did I come to understand why.  I loved track and field in that era, and hope that few or none of my heroes were 'roided.  It's even been rumored about Roger Maris (unlikely, but not impossible).  Heck, even Babe Ruth drank a patent medicine that was supposedly made from sheep testes.

Augusta National

The fun part has been watching people get upset that it's the wrong sort of woman who got in. They don't care about women. They don't care about black people. They care that their own tribe gets rewarded. Never forget that. BTW, there are still all-male golf clubs. The critics only care when it fits the narrative.  

You Didn't Build That is getting its own post.  Obviously, to say that "You could never have grown all that food if I hadn't sold you the seeds," or "You wouldn't have scored 47 against the Lakers if I hadn't turned the overhead lights on" doesn't impress me much as an argument.  But I have a deeper objection from that, about the nature of government.

The Chosen People

Folks skeptical of the claims of Christianity, or preceding that, Judaism, complain that it seems unsupportable to them that God would be so unfair as to select one people to reveal Himself too.  It just feels wrong, as if millions of others are being condemned to a horrible eternal fate for no reason that can be considered remotely fair.

Christians of the soul-winning persuasion have encouraged this line of thinking, for the good reason of encouraging each other to evangelism in difficult, dangerous, and discouraging places, but mostly to the detriment of of evangelism in general.  At least, in the last century people in the west have claimed it is an obstacle to their embracing belief - it may just be a good rationalisation to hand.  Yet rationalisations are at least rational and deserve an answer, even if they are secretly not the real reason.

I recommend to such people some of the writings of CS Lewis, especially in God In The Dock.  In brief, his claim is that God revealed some of Himself, even much of Himself, to the other peoples of the world as well, as St Paul also hints.  They are not 100% wrong.  Indeed, it would be hard to be 100% wrong about anything in eternal truth - even the demons believe in one God, and tremble. (Epistle of James).  As a metaphor, God gave all the peoples of the earth pictures.  To the Jews he allowed no pictures, but He gave them the captions.

But I have a greater complaint of the skeptics.  The adherents of other religions do not object to this claim of exclusivity anywhere near so much.  They agree with it, in a sense, except that they believe their beliefs are the exclusively correct ones.  Even the supposedly flexible areas, such as China with its Confucian/Daoist/Buddhist mix has the core belief that this very flexibility, whether one calls it fuzziness or accommodation, is itself the key factor.  And socially insisting on such is quite an interesting dogma, when one comes to it.

The main group of people who object to this claim of exclusivity, and are quite sure that their more modern understanding is superior, are northwest Europeans or their descendants, living in the last 100 years, who value skepticism and doubt and are proud of taking religious matters on personal experience rather than from authority, and have left the Jewish or Christian faith of their parents.

That seems an even narrower group for a Chosen People, I think.


I was surprised to see a mention of the anti-vaccination crowd in CS Lewis, as far back as the early 40's.
The man who "just feels" that total abstinence from drink or marriage is obligatory is to be treated like the man who "just feels sure" that Henry VIII is not by Shakespeare or that vaccination does no good. ("Why I Am Not A Pacifist" 1940)
 There is a good deal of interesting material in that talk to a small pacifist society, and I hope to get back to it.  I keep saying that, I know.  One can generalise its principles to many other grand liberal schemes - Lewis in fact does so at several points.  A paradox: he skewers the actual reasons liberals put forward to justify their ideals; yet he gives them back a separate set of reasons by which they might ethically pursue much of their program - reasons conservatives should be interested in.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thinking Of You

I have many things to write about but can't seem to get to them.  Perhaps there are too many and that is the problem.  Also, we are involved in discussions about going as a family to Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving.  Chris will be coming from Norway, JA from Nome, etc.  Very exciting.

Speaking of JA, he is discouraged by his coworkers simply not showing up for work.  Apparently, this lack of work ethic is not uncommon in Nome.  He has said quite clearly that he could offer a job to someone who would simply show up five days a week.  So if you have some job-seeking person willing to join the adventure of living in Nome - there are downsides and inconveniences, but it is one of those great-in-the-biography things - point them toward Nome.  Contact me, if you want.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sort Of Correct

One of my themes for the year is that most discussion about the Red Sox' problems this year has been irrelevant, focusing on communication with the manager and getting injured hitters back in the lineup.  I contend that they have been hitting well enough to win a pennant, but pitching terribly, and one can see this with two simple stats: Runs Scored and Runs Against.

Part of the point has been to suggest that sports discussions in your town may be similarly flawed.  Two months ago, I used those simple stats to predict what would happen from here.  I don't even know who plays for these teams, remember.  I'm working from two numbers. I picked four teams to improve and five to decline with two maybe declines.  I stated that 8 of the 11 would bear me out. I could say that I got only two badly wrong while whistling and looking up at the ceiling, hoping no one would press me.  But there were four that were weakly against me as well.  That's just not 8 for 11.

In my defense, I will note that the remaining five were spectacularly correct.  I told you that Oakland and St Louis would improve and they have.  I told you that Cleveland, the Mets, and Miami would collapse and they have.

The big mistakes:  I said the Red Sox would slightly improve, but they have been much worse.  The pitching remains bad, and now their hitting is only average to boot. (Sox speculation below.) I said Pittsburgh would fall beneath the waves but they have done well.  Their offense has been spectacular.

The middle four, neither correct nor incorrect are interesting. I predicted Baltimore would drop off but they have been only slightly worse, and remain in the pennant race.  I predict again they will drop off.  This can't last.  I thought their other main competitor for the wild card, Tampa, would also decline, but they have improved.  TB's hitting has been the same, but their pitching has been the best in baseball the last two months, by a healthy margin.  Baltimore is cooked.  I picked Arizona to improve, but they have stayed the same. I picked SF to revert to .500, but they have been slightly better than that and remain in the race. The scramble for the second WC in the NL is going to be interesting.

I bring all this up now, rather than in September, because the Red Sox have fired their pitching coach, which may show some recognition of what's happening. At last.  It seemed a good time to mention again that how much the position players like Valentine is not very important.  If his presence screws up pitchers' heads, that could be a factor.  But I think that Varitek gone and McClure here have been bigger factors.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tryggare Kan Ingen Vara

(Children of the Heavenly Father)

We had this today because it was a Covenant heritage Sunday of some sort. We have had this at a few funerals in my family, and it will likely be at mine. So it's misty for me as well as for the old Swedes who grew up on it. (Despite my Swedish ancestry, I never heard this until my twenties.)

It puts me in mind of CS Lewis's introduction to JB Phillips' Letters To Young Churches, the first published portion of his New Testament paraphrase. may seem a sour paradox - we must sometimes get away from the Authorised Version,* if for no other reason, but simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear but they also confuse. Through that beautiful solemnity the transporting or horrifying realities of which the Book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed and we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame or struck dumb with terror or carried out of ourselves by ravishing hopes and adorations.
Exactly what happened to me. I thought of my mother, of my Great Aunt Selma Nordstrom, of cute children being taught this in Sunday School, and of Swede Nelson and Lois Palmquist singing this a few pews away. I didn't think of the Heavenly Father once, until just at the end when I realised what was happening.

*What we would call the King James Version.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Vision Thing

I saw a news clip of Obama commenting on the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate.  He made polite comments that Ryan was a decent man, etc, but that his vision for America was very different from Obama's.

Stop right there.  I don't want either of them to have a vision for America at all - at least, not in the sense that is usually meant.  To Barack Obama, it is the most natural thing in the world to have a vision for America, and he believes it is a necessary thing for a leader to have.  That is very much a liberal assumption, and carries with it a lot of dangerous stuff.  It involves other people having plans for what they want to do with your life.*

It may go to the heart of what is different between statists and the various leave-me-alone types.  The interviewing media likewise assumes that candidates should have a vision.  They pressed the idea that Bush 41 lacked "The Vision Thing."  Well good on him for that.  But they saw it as a fault.  If you seek examples of how the media biases the discussion by enforcing a liberal framing on the very questions themselves, this one should go front and center.  Republican candidates eventually have to come up with some vision thing, and the nearest items to hand are usually general prosperity and/or American Greatness. Fine, I suppose.  But why be so focused on that?

Religious conservatives tend to do it as well, though I think it is tied up with a vision of the past.  I don't like that any better. They get caught up with "My people perish for lack of vision," bending the meaning of that considerably. It's not what the vision is that bothers me, it's having one at all.  All of the visions accentuate only the positive possibilities and disregard the potential negative consequences, so they all look like a pretty comfortable place to live.  Everyone has a nice job and gets along, children laugh, all the poor are deserving and given enough to live without fear and make something of themselves, all illnesses and conditions are taken care of and quickly banished.  Who wouldn't want to live there?

Nor do liberals have to be motivated in such a fashion - or at least, they didn't used to be - MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech is remarkably free of it.  That picture is of how individuals will live, not groups, nor what we're all going to do together.  Individuals might have a vision, or families.  Groups or even communities might edge in that direction, for everyone to sign on to be an adoption community, or a beautiful town, or devoted to a particular industry so that more jobs may come.  Even states might have a character, and seek to accentuate that in some official way, taking care that even social pressure to go along is minimised.

But a country?  Shouldn't happen.  It's a terrible idea. Statists, especially liberals, and most especially wealthy and powerful liberals have these lovely visions of what we should become.  It's not generous.  It's evil.

*If this seems an exaggeration, I have just finished Lewis's essay "Membership," and was deeply disquieted by the changes in how much privacy and solitude have been sacrificed since the 1940's.  I fear I haven't minded most of it, because it grew up gradually, and I like what I've traded for it.  But to read how far from that we now are - how statism is just so natural to us - has me wondering.

How The Lutherans Lost Us

My two oldest sons got the idea they would like to recapture bits of their childhood and tent-camp at Camp Calumet Lutheran, where we brought them from 1982-99 (though the last few years they were there less).  They brought Jonathan's wife and two daughters, attempting in 44 hours to hit all the high points: Pizza Barn, Big Yellow Tent, sandbar, Jackman Ridge, Yankee Smokehouse, Conference Center breakfast...

Church camps have activities for children, of course, and Emily not only went to tie-dye, but a story time as well.  My daughter-in-law described it to me. Santa Goes Green, in which Santa notices one November that the North Pole ice is melting, and so decides to save everyone by giving extra toys to children who recycle.  I would have predicted that both the children's and adult activities had focused on the environment, but the grown-ups' study - and I use all three units of that advisedly - was about Wellness.  I should have seen that one coming. The New Lutherans have more than one new god, after all.

I would like to be clear that I don't object to any Lutherans owning the book or being involved in Wellness, and teaching it all to their children.  It's silly, but it's the current fashion, and people do lots of silly things. On their own time.  But when you bring it into church, you are making a declaration that this is part of the faith as received.  And these aren't.  Not close.

This is where they were going decades ago, especially at camp.