Saturday, August 31, 2013

Changes In The Church Worldwide

The center of gravity of the Christian Church moved out of Europe to the Americas in the 20th C.  As it moves out of North America - more slowly than predicted but proceeding still, it now includes 50 million - or 100 million - or maybe only 30 million in China, and a few hundred million in Africa.

All the articles I have read in the last ten years about how the church will change as this goes forward have focused on the different styles of worship, or the doctrinal conservatism in sexual matters, or get distracted into the difficult times the churches have in their political, health, or economic situations.  All of these are worth thinking about, surely.

But I haven't seen much on the cultural drift and doctrinal emphasis changing.  Yet I think these will ultimately be greater.  We are products of the Western Church, and in America even hyper-western.  We cannot see outside ourselves well, and assume that many things that are true of the Church since the Roman Empire and on into growth in Europe will remain part of the approach forever.  Even with the Eastern Orthodox Church in front of us, more mystic and symbolic, less involved with influencing its governments, we don't quite get it. We assume we got it right and theology developed along the only possible true tracks and will be bequeathed to whatever believers there are in Shanghai or Manila or Abuja.

I believe that second piece will be one of the things that drops away in the later churches.  The idea that the church should influence the nation to be just is very western European.  There certainly isn't much of it in the NT, and Chinese believers reading the texts for themselves aren't likely to put it there.  When churches have used influence or even compulsion of NT ideas, they have been as likely to use the machinery of government to create holiness, righteousness, or doctrinal unity as general justice. Not that Christians in other parts of the world are against justice.  They just tend to see it as more individual. The exception of course is justice for themselves, which all peoples everywhere are interested in regardless of religion.  But justice for other people in general?  Not so much.

They will pick up some of the value from us as the world moves on. We may be assuming that will be greater that reason would allow.  Most places are tribal, clannish, devoted to the small group - more like the Mediterranean areas where Orthodoxy is prominent.

Expectations: Baseball and Everything

The radio sports host was frustrated with calls about Clay Buchholz. Everyone wanted him back pitching, dammit, and not wussing it up sitting around and being too careful in his rehab. The host pointed out other Red Sox pitchers who had come back too soon and been useless, or re-injured themselves. In fact, he noted, that may have been true of Buchholz's last start this year. So which do we want, really? "We just want him to pitch and be great again. Because we need it. Because we want it. Because we can imagine how great it would be. We don't want explanations. We don't want reality. We just want him to go out there and be great somehow."

One of my reminders to other social workers at my hospital is that everyone else in the building believes in magic ponies.  I used to say that it is our job to point out they don't exist, but this year I have made that more dramatic.  Our job is to kill those magic ponies in front of everyone.

We have the same expectations of medicines, and pharmaceutical companies.  Of all medical practice, actually.  We want the medicine that doesn't have any side effects but works great.  We want the FDA to get those on the market ASAP, with no delay from all ridiculous overfussiness of testing again and again.  But we also want to sue the bastards when the medicines actually do have side effects.  Oh, and BTW, we want it cheap, preferably free, even if it's brand new and didn't even exist last year. Because we want it.  We can imagine how great life would be if we had that.

We want that in foreign policy as well, I fear.  We want the military intervention with no side effects, that makes bad guys stop and turns over power to the good guys.  Failing that we want to do nothing and let other people sort it out on their own without involving us.  Because that never goes wrong, does it? Wars in other places never affect us if we just get on our magic ponies and get out of there. Whew.  Glad we avoided that.

From the little I know, intervening in Syria looks like a first-class bad idea to me.  (And yes, it does annoy me to listen to people who thought that Bosnia was a good idea, Iraq a bad one, and now Syria a good one on partisan basis, and to note that even the consistent liberals who oppose interventions aren't you know, protesting by the millions or anything.) But somehow it seems that when people get to be president and have to actually make decisions to keep Americans safer they find military solutions more attractive.*  Hippie president Bill Clinton thought Bosnia looked like a great place to fix.  Bush 43 ran as something of an isolationist in 2000, and now proudly antiIraq Obama has had it with those knuckleheads in the ME who won't follow his lead and wants to punish the worst of them

This tells me that if we sat in their seats we would likely favor intervention as well.  We've got plenty of stuff to fight with. If we make an example of a few, the rest will fall in line. We can take just a nip, just one, with surgical precision and sit back.

With all the controversy about leaked information, and ample evidence that Americans have not always acted with highest honor in war zones, and the general paranoia of the antiglobalists who swear it's all oil/corporate/banks (mostly leftist, but some rightist), look what we have created.  We have limited war to essentially preannounced, public, unambiguous attacks on stuff, not people, no matter how evil.  These ultimately cost lots more money and kill more people, but we think it is more honorable, somehow. Honorable wars that kill more people, because we all really do subscribe to the Colin Powell doctrine of "If you break it, you own it." It just looks so evil if we don't move in and fix everything for people who have no intention of being fixed.

So President Obama and everyone else in that chair has more limited choices in what he can do, and just maybe, all of the choices are bad.  But we still want the pill with no side effects.

*Reagan kept talking about shoving those Russkies around but invaded tiny Grenada.  Go figure.

Good Vibrations

This song blew me away in late 1966.  You have to remember that in those days, songs became popular in the big cities first and only gradually became big in the provinces.  Manchester, NH lagged behind NYC by about two months.

Friday, August 30, 2013

How Big A Problem?

A problem-solving seminar I attended years ago had an interesting technique for thinking creatively:  imagine that the problem is much worse and consider what you would do, then imagine it as much less dire and project solutions.  For example, if you are $8K in debt, imagine if it were $80K – what would you do?  Now imagine the debt at $800 – what’s your approach?  Your answers will illuminate what you should do about your real problem. If your house floods every ten years, what if it were every year?  What if it were every 100 years?

If the variance were smaller I don’t think the IQ controversies would be as great.  As I have said many times, IQ is not that good an individual predictor of success. Work ethic, ability to get along, connections, physical attractiveness and charm, conscientiousness, perseverance, attitude, and even luck might serve you better.  But it does tell you something about populations, similar to what shows about basketball ability: the taller guys will trend better, but there will be plenty of exceptions. The black guys will trend better, but there will be exceptions (Hey, I have Bill Walton circa 1977* at center for my Alien Game. Not in my top ten for career, though.)

Most members of the general public don’t know what a bell curve and a standard deviation are. The energy comes from those who do know what’s up affecting the others. They see a population that is 0.6SD lower, another 1SD lower, and one 0.3SD higher than the overall average and know it’s large – so large that the implications for egalitarian America are unacceptable and a variety of escape routes are attempted.

Yet if the differences were only one-third as great, so that Ashkenazi Jews averaged 105, Northeast Asians 102, Caucasians 100, Hispanics and Native Americans 97, and African Americans 95, I think everyone would sort of quietly acknowledge it (it is about what popular impression seems to be, after all) and resolve to say little more about it. Affirmative action, if we still went that route, would not produce glaring inequities, just mild annoying ones. It would be a largely ignorable problem. Not entirely.  

If the variance were 3 times as great I cannot even imagine what society would be like. There are science-fiction/dystopian speculations beginning with HG Wells that play at this, but even those fall short. Even 2x is not really imaginable.

*Hmm.  Let me reconsider that. Olajuwon 1994 might be better.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taking Up Emotional Space

The young man who grew up across the street has moved back in with his father, bringing his new wife.  He was the youngest of the four, two years older than our first son.  They did play together some, especially the street and outdoor games like TV tag or hide-and-seek.  But they weren’t close, as two years was a fair distance at that age, and they had few common interests.  I’m sure he came into the house a few times, but not many.  It was more frequent that our son went over there, to the wonderful land where they had TV and ate snack foods whenever they wanted. Yet in chatting with my wife and introducing his new bride he said, in all sincerity “I was over here all the time.” Tracy and I talked about that surprising comment later.  The summer that she had Vacation Bible Camp in the back yard may have been part of it. Invitations to a couple of birthday parties likely figured in. But my oldest son’s assessment may come closest to the explanation. His memory was that people didn’t talk to each other much in that house.  Also, the parents were divorced, so the children were sometimes in one house and sometimes in another.  There was nothing like a regular pattern that lasted more than a few months.  The boys would be with Dad and the girls with Mom for awhile, then all four would be away, then one would be back, then all come back except on weekends. It didn’t seem abusive or angry, just chaotic and emotionally thin.

It reminded me of a similar instance, of running into a previous foster-daughter years later. She had been with us three months in 78-79.  We had run into her three times in the intervening decades, and she was now a waitress at the Bickfords we went to for late-night breakfast.  Very early in the conversation she made reference that she had really liked living with us those three years.  It seemed unbelievable to her that it had been only a few months when she was eight.  Children are seldom good judges of time, but this seemed an unusual expansion of the reality.  Yet her life also had some emotional impoverishment – a mother who did care about her but was easily overwhelmed and scattered, making poor decisions (especially boyfriend decisions) and chasing rainbows.  Again, not abusive, but emotionally shallow.

And so we came to take up more space than we would have thought possible.  I am certain the opposite happens as well, when we do some great good for another who forgets we even existed, or never realises what was given.  That may be true for evil as well, folks forgetting (blessedly) some wrong we have done them that haunts us still.

I bring this up after a post by James, Power In OrdinaryPeople jogged my memory. My inclination is to bemoan how little influence we have, including those close to us.  That may reflect my job, or my general outlook more than my real experience. We pass through a few decades, no one notices, the world goes on.  But that is a decidely wordly outlook.  If my measurement is how much the general culture, or the world, or history is affected by what I do, then I’m not likely to notice much movement on the dial.  Yet, if, as CS Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, it is those “long-term” things which are in fact ephemeral, while the individuals we meet are the eternal things, then that vision is skewed. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Evan Longoria

Via E Hines over at Grim's Hall

Well played.

Remarkable Architecture in Barcelona

I've never had much interest in visiting Spain, but the basilica in Barcelona certainly looks interesting.

It is the Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family, and has been under construction for 130 years. A detail of the interior was the Bing wallpaper for yesterday, so ornate yet modern that I had to follow it up.

Whatever angle you look at it from, interior or exterior, it is extremely dramatic.  I don't know that I actually like it, but it certainly begs to be wandered around and stared at for many hours.  Just about everything I saw from the architect, Antoni Gaudi (perfect name), immediately suggested some name from imaginative fiction: Gormenghast, Great Smials, Jabba the Hutt, Arakeen.

Gaudi comes slightly after Neuschwanstein, which was designed by a stage designer, so putting outrageous fiction into huge habitable stone buildings may have simply been the rage.  But criminy, the Spaniard makes the German work look like Shaker furniture, doesn't he?

My Name It Is Jack Hall, Chimney Sweep

Songs go places.

In America, the song became Sam Hall, another of those Scots-Irish modifications.  Though of course, there had already been many modifications of the song back in England, Ireland, and Scotland since it first appeared in the early 1700's.

The best recorded version is by Johnny Cash, but the video isn't much interesting, so I thought you'd like this cowboy version, complete with a thoroughly impossible quick-draw by Tex Ritter from behind his guitar.

Among the earlier versions is one by Steeleye Span of course. Hard to call it more authentic when played on a Telecaster, but that was Martin Carty's way.

Correction: Stratocaster. My bad.

If one goes to read up on the original tune and meter, it turns out that the song is the basis for a well-known hymn (revealed below).  That seemed improbable to me, and as I traced it through the songs Captain Kidd (or William Kidd) and Aiken Drum I saw only similarities of structure to the hymn.  Yet when I heard the Irish famine song The Praties They Grow Small, which I had heard of, but never heard, the bridge between the versions became more apparent. It does indeed become Wondrous Love, done nicely here by Chelsea Moon.

There are Sacred Harp and bluegrass versions, if you prefer.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What People Know

When writing my little blurbs on both Deliver Us, and Bloodlands, I went to many websites I would not ordinarily encounter.  It’s one of my joys of the internet that 50% of the sites I go to are ones I “would not ordinarily encounter:” hobbies I have only tangential interest in; monomanias whose importance is opaque to me; studies referenced by a writer I just followed a link to, from a blog I hadn’t previously heard of, that was on a sidebar of a site I visit occasionally; sites with intriguing names.

It’s not just the idea of hyperlinks and the invention of search engines, but the existence of the “back” button that enables all this. The Hansel and Gretel strategy of retracing your steps actually works on the internet. You can go on long journeys and get safely out with ease.

Which is important, when the phrase “fever swamps” fits nicely.

There are lots of ways that reasoning can go wrong. I mention here one interesting one which I am sure I have encountered previously many times, but just mentally categorised into a type this past week: those whose basis of authority is “I was there. I was part of it.  It happened this way, and that’s the end of it.”  This would be generally reasonable, except that a quick check often reveals that they weren’t there, exactly. They lived two towns over twenty years later, or their parents came from there, or they belong to the same ethnic or religious group, or some other 3 degrees of separation. There are not many people who were adults in the late 40’s who were also deeply involved in questions of Roman Catholic discipline left, but I imagine there are a few. Everyone else is in the position of “well, I grew up in the Still River community and we were always told…” or “my uncle was a priest involved in the reconciliation of SSPX…”  Those are valuable sources of information, but not definitive.  Even less do we have many who were actually present in a rural Kharkiv district of Ukraine in the early 1930’s.

Yet people pound the table and say “I am from Ukraine and you are not.  These things did not happen and are only Nazi propaganda that has been repeated for decades.”

A story.  I read up on Romania and its history before I went on my first short-term mission there in 1998.  Not a lot, but I was curious, and it seemed wise, if I intended to get into any discussions with people. I went deeper when it became clear that we would get to adopt two Romanians. Robert D. Kaplan recorded in Balkan Ghosts that no one in Romania in the early 1990’s seemed to have heard of Queen Marie – one of the few decent rulers that poor country has ever had.  Word of her was suppressed, because there was still a descendent king in exile in Switzerland. I wanted to see if this was still true in 2001.

Not only had most Romanians not heard of her, my sons’ history teachers had not heard of her. It’s a poor country, textbooks don’t change over quickly.  I imagine it will eventually get better, and likely is greatly improved even now. Another story, about what happened to the Transylvanian Jews during the Holocaust, I recorded before.

So even being there is sometimes not enough.  In fact, sometimes it is the worst place to be, if you want to know the truth. The local will know a thousand things an outsider never will – when autumn comes in and what flowers bloom; who was mayor and whether he was honest or corrupt; in what years the church was full and which it was empty.  Yet precisely because they are in a place where the answers matter greatly, people take care to forget some things and remember others, and to punish those who try to remember. In a few years, it all becomes what everyone knows, and no one pushes too hard against it.

We see it in smaller ways in our places of work, in all our subcultures, in our circle of friends.  We sit in living rooms in which everyone knows that evolution isn’t true, or that it is, though no one present could give more than an outline. (Even professors of evolutionary biology would be hard pressed to independently make the case.  We all rely entirely on the work of others.)  We just know that organic food is better, or that public education doesn’t teach the basics, or that WWII was the one really justifiable war we fought.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Planetarium and Related

For you planetarium and science documentary fans, this is my brother's new project, To Space And Back.

Post 4200 - Bloodlands

It was all, start to finish, worse than we knew.  In the lands between Hitler and Stalin 1933-1945, it was not only worse than we knew then, it was more horrible and cruel than we knew even a few years ago.  Timothy Snyder puts the count at 14 million killed, entirely separate from the soldiers and partisans killed in battles and skirmishes.  This was primarily in Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus, though massive deaths in Hungary, Russia, Lithuania, and Czechoslovakia are also reported.

Some of the killings were more insane than simply cruel: Stalin demanded more and more grain from the peasants to feed those in the cities, believing the countryside was hiding and hoarding food in an effort to resist the obviously-superior method of collectivsation – and so 3 million of them were starved; Hitler believed that communism was essentially a plot by worldwide Jewry, and so killed Jews wherever they were found, as if they were all somehow involved. Yet intentional cruelty was also an entirely matter-of-fact method of dealing with problems on both sides.  Hitler’s intent in invading Russia was to starve up to 30 million Slavs to create room for Germans to grow food.  Failing that, he fenced off Soviet POWs in fields behind barbed wire and gave them nothing. 3 million starved. 

From 1933-39 Stalin executed more people than Hitler by a factor of a thousand; from 1939-41 they ran even; from 1942 on German forces, aided by thousands of local volunteers, displayed a killing efficiency not since rivaled. (Mao killed many more, and more quickly during the Great Leap Forward, but rather sloppily over a much greater population.) Einsatzgruppen would march hundreds out of a village on a Tuesday to dig huge pits in the forests.  On Wednesday they would march out thousands to be forced to kneel at the edge of the pits, shoot, them, and push them in.

It is numbing to read, and I have had to stop when I found myself waking in the morning and immediately picturing some horror from yesterday’s reading. Snyder uses anecdote appropriately, singling out one victim, one particular poignancy from the exectution of 18,000 in a week to stand for the others.  A message left for family by a young woman moments before execution, a fleeting memory by a survivor of a lttle boy being eaten, a brief background of a professor trying vainly to escape by train. I contrast this to the dishonest use of anecdote we sometimes encounter now: the story of an outlier or exception whose experience tells against the overwhelming majority but is brought forward because “his story deserves to be told, too.”  Only in proportion. It is fair to bring an untold story forward, somewhat less fair to underreport an already-known one. But the overall effect must be close to the reality.

I mentioned recently that both Hitler and Stalin each regarded their forces as the only ones with the courage and determination to stand up to the other.  Hitler believed that all anticommunists should rightly be allies of the fascists; Stalin believed the reverse, and the two largely succeeded in dividing Western opinion along those lines, even to this day. American communists encouraged their sympathisers to embrace this dichotomy, that any opponent of fascism was therefor a voice for freedom 

“fascism and freedom are the only two sides battling” Woody Guthrie, 1940 (Note also that this memory of Guthrie is one of the more common one kept into the present.)

Even as Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands came out, there was some complaint from hisorians that he was wrong to compare Hitler’s genocide to Stalin’s mere mass murder. There continues to be resistance to the idea that the Holocaust was not a unique, far-worse episode whose seriousness is diluted by comparison with any other events, that killing lots of the same ethnic group for racial reasons is somehow obviously worse than killing them for political reasons.

On the other side of the divide, one still finds echoes of shrugging at fascism and antisemitism in the service of defeating communism.  It is far more common in Europe, but I kept finding it creeping in at the edges in reading about Feeneyism and “traditional catholics.” However doctrinal the motives of most of those folks may be, there remain too many whose less-attrctive motives leak out in their statements. My own political awareness came in the 1960’s, a period I did not consider to be close to the 1930’s-40’s at the time but now perceive clearer lines of descent.  Those who are younger may find that this insane ideological dichotomising is ebbing away, and I certainly hope so.  To my eyes it is holding firm.

His overarching point, to my reading, is not to compare but to show how both enabled the other to increase in killing.  He finds similarity in their totalitarianism.  He notes how each learned from the other something of how mass-killing might be accomplished.  He notes their cooperation and commonality in the late 30’s. I didn’t see much energy being put into moral equivalence at all. But some reviewers have perceived the work as all-but-explicitly finding moral equivalence, and deploring it.  I wonder it it is their own partisanship they cannot let go.  Yet I may just be obtuse, here.  It’s happened before.

Snyder’s count of of the mass-killing of 14 million is intentionally low – only the mass killings.  By his own statement he is being conservative, not counting those who were killed in deportation, in concentration rather than death camps, by increased disease, or civilians in bombings. The dates are not arbitrary, but there is necessarily much explanation – and death – left out on either side, in the 1920’s and 1950’s. Still, it’s a more complete picture than we have had.

The wikipedia article about the book is pretty good, BTW.