Monday, October 28, 2013


Weirdest World Series game endings ever. Whatever else happens, you might want to check in, even if you aren't a St Louis of Boston fan. This has an Iowa Baseball Confederacy sort of weirdness. I don't know if that favors the Red Sox or not.

That pickoff to end the game?  That was the way that the Red Sox lost playoff games from 1946-2003, not won them.  Time and space begin to lose meaning.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tallis Canon

BD put up Tallis' Spem in Alium, but I find this Canon more accessible, likely because of familiarity. It's also the first thing of Tallis's that comes to mind for Madeline L'Engle fans.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Epistasis, and The Mermaid's Tale

Jason Moore spoke about "missing heritability in neuropsychiatric illness" at Dartmouth Grand Rounds yesterday, so of course I was all over that.  It wasn't what I expected - Grand Rounds seldom is.

But via his site, epistasis (gene/gene interaction) I learned about The Mermaid's Tale, a blog by Penn State profs which is much more cautionary about the promise of genetic research, GWAS, and personalised genomic medicine than what I usually read.  You might start with their four-part series Who me?  I don't believe in single gene causation (or do I?) a cleverly-written puncturing of the popular myths - even among the scientifically literate - about genetic research.

I confess I am not entirely persuaded, by those essays and some others.  They quite rightly point out that the popular treatment of genomics is oversimplified and misleading.  Yet I think that is the lot of all complex science in the popular imagination.  Reasserting "But it's more complicated than that" is not so much helpful as a bit defensive.  There is also a good deal of limitations-of-technology rhetoric that seems more aesthetic than simply rational, such as food sustainability assertions founded on the idea that newer technologies are more complicated and fragile.  Yes, and so is modern medicine, communications, and entertainment, all of which depend on electricity and networks.  That's sort of what technology is.

But I quibble.  I agree with a great deal of what they write, and they write well. A simple arithmetic point I had not bothered to consider is worth noting.  The number of possible human beings, possible different genomes, is so huge that even the billions of current examples, were we to analyse them all, are not much different from reading one genome.  What we have as a sample size is analogous to regarding the first inch off the launch pad as a reasonable representation of our trip to Alpha Centauri. (But think of how many thousands of separate nanometers we sampled in that inch! Aren't they a lot?) Therefore, there are meaningful interactions between two, three, or five genes which could definitely "cause" one disease or another, which we will never know about because they will not occur in a living being.  Even if they do occur in one, two, or ten humans, we might not be able to separate that statistically from chance.  Rather like the infinite library in Borges, which contains books both proving and disproving the existence of the library, plus an infinite number of volumes which differ from those only by one or two letter, mere typos.

Nazi Bride Schools

The fascinating part is how the reporting on them is bent to fit modern narratives.  Here are the top Bing hits for the discussion of Reichbrauteschule. Note how many reference the German phrase kinder, kuche, kirche - children, kitchen, and church - even though a key part of the story is how the young women were directed out of the church into neopagan ceremonies for marriage. Current meager management opportunities for German women are also considered a natural outflow of this culture.

Still, it's an interesting story, now fresh because of recently discovered documents.  And there are pictures.


Those who liked the In Defense of Disney Princesses article linked over at Maggie's a few days ago might find they like the entire site, Acculturated. Its target demographic is clearly younger than I am, but seems to be an attempt by New Criterion to carve out a niche for short, intelligent commentary on popular culture. I got notified of a new biography of CS Lewis and a half-dozen other interesting-looking books. I read up on fashion: the history of Vanity Fair and how a Victoria's Secret model is now a "church lady scold." I read sports controversies: fantasy baseball, running up the score, steroids, from other perspectives - and Rick Reilly was nowhere to be found!

As for those Disney Princesses, I've never much liked them, finding them too similar and wrapped around the single pale virtue of spunkiness.  But I never had the intense disapproval, even venom, that is leveled against them these days. The essay linked above persuaded me more than a little that the kids are alright. There's more to them than one virtue.  And I always did know, though I never kept it in focus, that the fury at those rescues by handsome princes destroying all those poor girls' independence and agency and promising an unrealistic happily-ever-after was a retrospective interpretation of the stories by adults who no longer understood them.

Analogy: Job received double land, cows, children, and wealth at the end of his tale (I regard that book as a folk tale, BTW, but still consider it an important part of the canon), which more than one observer has noted is only weirdly a net good, if one has had beloved relatives taken in death earlier in the story.  Creepy, really.  But we aren't reading a history with real people and deaths, we are reading symbols.  And in that culture, Job received the standard reward for getting things right.  So too in fairy tales.  The prince and the wedding are not the point, they are just the standard reward for getting the lesson right in the story.  They are hustled onstage at the last moment as a prize.  We might offer different rewards to little girls now to close the tale. Try it yourself, if you like.

But watch actual girls playing such games and they don't focus on those last few moments.  They focus on the "trying on adulthood" that the stories are really about.  They get adult clothes, and very nice ones.  They order other creatures around - not other humans very often, but cups and saucers, dwarves, small animals.  They go places independently. They run risks.  But all of this is in the safety of the living room, and it is important that their parents watch them doing this. Adulthood - actually going out from the nest - is presented as obtainable, and if one is kind or brave or hardworking, one will get one of the good adulthoods, with a nice version of those rather troubling boys and an assurance it will all go well.  Even that is only at the last moment, with a well-dressed and boringly good-looking Guy With A Horse.  The girls are clearly oblivious to any sexual symbolism of learning to like those hairy, dangerous, frightening creatures - as they should be. The lesson is meant to be only vaguely reassuring.

Okay, having to sing their feelings thoughout the movies is a bit much.  But those are also some of the little girls favorite parts, so those songs are likely expressing feelings little girls cannot quite articulate.
What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet'cha on land they understand
And they don't reprimand their daughters
Bright young women sick of swimmin'
Ready to stand
Yeah, that's just about how a preteen views independence and adulthood, isn't it? She goes on to learn she was mostly wrong but partly right, and grows up a little.

Related:  In the Barbie universe, remember that it is Ken that is the accessory, not Barbie, and even Cricket had more personality.  What the meaning of a game or toy would be if an adult were playing with it is irrelevant.  What it means in the child's mind is the lesson.  On that score, I wonder if the anger against some girl toys is anger at Other Women.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Even if you can't believe that God forgives you, believe it anyway.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paying it Backward a method of Paying it forward. We used to do this at the tollbooth, but I haven't done it in years. The recipient would sometimes try and catch up to see if it was someone they knew. Or perhaps just to say thank you. I'm trying to think where else in the world people would do this. Canada? Australia? Sweden? HT Bird Dog at Maggie's

Saturday, October 19, 2013

To Anacreon In Heaven

I've always wondered about this.  It is a story-story, a conversation among gods about mortals.  It's a bit risque, as the myrtle of Venus was believed to be an aphrodisiac and a common symbol for erotic love from the Renaissance on. That it was to be twined with Bacchus's vine suggests revelry.

The tune is just slightly different from what we are used to, but different in a way that is more 18th C than 19th, certainly.

It has fallen out once already, and so may be removed again. I don't know why youtube does that sometimes.

HT Dan at Chicago Boyz

Fan Psychology

The debate at work and on sports radio about our expectations for the Red Sox seem to have a generational split.  The younger - under 40, and maybe even under-50 - group is talking about its increased expectations from the beginning of the year.  They even vaguely recognise that they are being somewhat unfair, and should just be happy with a much better season than they dared hope.

The few older people calling in, or offering opinions at work - those would be my people - are much more pleased just to be here.  But there is an undercurrent that I think is important:  just don't kill us.  The Red Sox can lose, can have unfortunate luck or poor decisions by Farrell, or a bad call, or just get stomped.  But don't kill us.  Don't have one of those amazingly bad decisions or luck that used to kill us in the old days.  No eephus pitches. No leaving a pitcher in beyond what even fifth-graders knew was wise. No misunderstood communications from the 3rd-base coach. No perfect storms of wind changes, corked bats, and the Green Monster. No finishing 0.5 games out because of a strike (1972) or having a better record than a team going to the playoffs because of a strike (1981).

Losing is because of injuries is endurable (1974, 1967).  Just don't kill us.  For the love of God, let it be 1988 or 1990, not some other haunting death.

Citizens of Cleveland, I know you understand.  Pray for us.

Advantage: Marriage

The Witherspoon Institute passes on a summary of a Canadian research article showing that outcomes are better for children with married parents. It compares graduation rates for the children of same-sex couples with married heterosexual parents and finds them worse, especially for girls, and especially from lesbian parents. Whether both married heterosexual parents were also the birth parents does not seem to have been included in the measuring.
- children of married opposite-sex [i.e., normal] families have a high graduation rate compared to the others; children of lesbian families have a very low graduation rate compared to the others; and the other four types [common law, gay, single mother, single father] are similar to each other and lie in between the married/lesbian extremes.
The caveat is that this tells me what I want to hear, and so I should view it with some suspicion.  Whether it is what the researchers wanted to find, I don't know.

Update: See comments for some possible sources of weakness in the data.

HT: Steve Sailer

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Looking for a post I put up in 2007, I wearily scanned everything I wrote in 2005-2007. I was impressed with how brilliant I was then. In fact, I wondered why I had bothered to write anything at all since my first ten months of blogging.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Jonathan Winters On Fishing


I think being in a wedding party gives young men reasons not to get married. Release the hounds.

Minstrel Show

I have said I must be among the last people to have acted in blackface in a minstrel show.  I must have been about 6 or 7 years old, so make it 1959 or 1960. Looking into the matter, small communities in the northeast seem to have had minstrel shows for a few years after that; the latest I can find is 1965. I confess I have not looked into it deeply, so there may be many later ones I simply missed. But I think they lasted longest in places where there were vanishingly few black people, and that is not accidental.

I don't think these were the bigoted travesties of racial prejudice second only to lynch mobs that they are now perceived to be. The minstrel show was but one variant of a style of entertainment that made fun of types. Just like we do today.  We just design our feelings of superiority along political and personality lines now.  We are no kinder. That particular variant brought into focus why all the other ethnic humors were wrong.  So we dumped that and turned our meanness elsewhere almost immediately.  "All In The Family" for example.

My father was a community theater actor, usually but not always in comic roles.  I remember the show being performed at what was then Chelmsford High School, but this is almost surely wrong.  I must be confusing it with "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," which he played there another time. Yet I am certain it was a raised stage, with theatrical lighting enough to darken the audience to the players but not render them invisible.  It was something of a big deal.  I was in a silent skit, of a street bum or hobo trying to eat a sandwich on a park bench, but continually interrupted.  I, a sad boy looking hungrily at the sandwich, was one of the interruptions, the others being a thief, a policeman, and an attractive, parading woman. Decades later I learned that this latter was a stock character called the Yaller Girl. Very broad comedy, with double-takes and exaggerated expressions and gestures.  The Wyman wheelhouse, I now know.

I remember only that bit, and that the entire program was something of a variety show. It was all very similar to the other community variety shows I saw as a boy:  "Hicks In The Sticks" in 1966, in which I was the MC with stage whiskers and overalls, "Kiwanis Kapers" in 1969, which included that routine with guys' stomachs painted like a face whistling while "Bridge Over The River Kwai" was played - a laff riot, as always; skit night at camp 1960-69; "Irish Eyes," on the Central High stage in 1963 or 64, replete with early teens pretending to be sloshing ale and staggering about. People used bad accents and rank stereotypes a lot - German, Irish, Hillbilly, Texan, English, Southern, Italian, Mexican, French (but not French-Canadian, those were told privately), New Yorker, Chinese. It was just a traditional community performance which played up its old-fashionedness quite intentionally. It takes awhile before people finally go "Y'know, we really shouldn't be making fun of Negroes this way.  Even if there aren't any within twenty miles and none of them will ever see it, it's just kinda low and mean."  And the next year, it would just be a variety show, with some stray German doctors or bowing Chinese for awhile, and then those would fall out too.

Not all of it was unkind, even when stereotyped.  More importantly, not all of it was stereotyped, even when unkind.  It was necessary only that somebody be the butt of a joke because they were stupid, for any reason.  That was what eventually pushed that penguin off the ice, I think. The scripts had gotten less racist over time, making fun of a generic stupid person on stage with the same lines that had been used since early burlesque (at least), but there was no getting around it.  Once you put on blackface (or a sombrero and serape) you were pretty much including the whole group in the accusation, even if there was nothing specifically Negro about the type of stupidity.

You can see both at work here: the blackface and accents are pretty rank. But the jokes themselves could be just anyone.

Notice that when people kept the format after 1967 or so they could find only one group to be made fun of safely - Scandinavians.  Think Laugh-In's Arte Johnson, the Muppet Show, Prairie Home Companion.  Other ethnic groups were mocked only in the gentlest manner, and most not at all.*  Relatedly, Foster Brooks and Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim dropped like a stone. Though Craze was something of a subtler type, showing innocent wisdom in his damaged thinking. You couldn't do those routines now.

The petty meanness has not fled, only changed its costume.  We do think we are morally superior now, but it isn't so. We just like congratulating ourselves on how we're not racist - which we prove by finding racism in others. It's a great disguise to keep us from looking at our own new and improved bigotries.

*There was a major exception, in being able to make fun of Hillbillies, but they often participated in same (Hee Haw, Minnie Pearl at the Grand Old Opry).  That could turn mean, though, from other whites wanting to kick someone. Still does.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Live Simply

There may have been a time back in the 1970's when I believed that ridiculous Live Simply, So that Others May Simply Live slogan. Other decisions from that time suggest that I did indeed envision a world consumption economy in which, if I gave up things and didn't use them, there would be more for everyone else. There is still some residual of those years in our family culture, of things we do not buy, or do not quickly replace, in order to "live lightly on the land."  We run cars into the ground - at least, the ones that Dad drives.  We were way behind the cultural curve in frequency of going out to eat, and still only do so mostly when traveling.  Yes, I must have believed that American consumption was destroying the world, and refrained from even more extremity only because I was grading our family on a curve.

It is the classic false assumption along the political divide in developed countries, that believes in static economies, in which Harry has more than Tom only at Tom's expense. It remains a common belief, and one can still see infographics showing how Americans use more electricity, plastics, or arugula than other places.  We use way more than our share of American flags and Dodge Caravans, too, and for the same reasons.  We make more, we didn't steal them.

There is of course a sense in which the equation is true, if one forgoes some material good or service in order to send the money to those who have less.  That part works just fine. There are also resources that are so finite and inelastic that Harry's use does indeed prevent Tom from ever partaking.  Yet these are not so common as one would think.  Despite the dire warnings of scarcity, for example, I think we will find adequate substitutes for whale oil. But it remains important to remember: simply denying oneself does not do The World any good.

It might do you some good, though.  While I became increasingly convinced of the foolishness of the idea as a political and social tool, I lost touch with the more basic reason for simplicity.  It is likely to improve your focus on God and your daily bread; it decreases not only your materialism and self-dependence, but your rush to judgements and comparisons as well.

I say that I seek simplicity more than ever now, and that is not untrue.  But it isn't deeply true either.  I started down that road at a brisk pace, then decided to just camp along the side pretty quickly so long as I was farther along than most folks.  Still grading on the curve, apparently.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Marty On The Mountain

Marty was a fixture on the evening news in the north country, giving the weather from the top of Mount Washington every night.  Retired years ago. Watch for that grin right at the end.

That, by the way, is as good a NH accent as you will ever hear.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

English Girls' Song and Game

From the British Library site I mentioned a few posts ago
Lovely Princess from Anna Lobbenberg on Vimeo.

Make Way For Ducklings

I am reading this aloud to my granddaughter’s kindergarten tomorrow. I like it more for its history and illustrations than for the story. It was read to me as a child, but it was not a particular favorite; neither was it especially beloved by Jonathan or Ben. There’s not a lot of plot here.

The charm is in seeing things from a duck’s perspective, both physically in the overhead and ground-level points of view, and in re-understanding human objects from their metaphorical point of view. The child knows what a bicycle is, and the artificial swan, and the city traffic, and so gets to feel more knowledgeable than the Mallards, even though they are parents and have the title Mr. and Mrs and are adults. The rhyming names of the ducklings (and the discovery that the names are in alphabetical order) are fun, and the old-fashionedness of the cars and the clothes gives an historic flavor that wasn’t present when the book first came out. If one lives close to Boston, one can also go and see the places in the book, now complete with statues of ducks. Not that I ever went to Boston Public Gardens myself until I was an adult, but there are those for whom this is a fourth-generation experience.

Plus, ducklings are cute, and they look funny fooling around and doing duckling stuff and quacking.

But there’s a fair bit that doesn’t add up here, even when you’re a child. Mr. Mallard just takes off for a week because he feels like it. Just wants to see what’s farther up the river…yeah, there’s a good reason for your Dad to just hit the skies. And Mom’s not irritated one bit. The island that they decide to hatch the ducklings on really isn’t any safer than the one in the public garden, and now you’ve got to march eight dumb innocents through city traffic to get back. McCloskey seems determined to get his picture of ducklings walking through Boston whatever the cost to sense.

 Mother ducks understanding the hand-gestures of policemen is also a bit odd. It’s easier to do willing suspension of disbelief that they talk – animals in children’s books always talk* – than that they act like real ducks 95% of the time and then suddenly develop an uninstructed level of abstraction beyond even small humans.

 It’s clear that McCloskey is mostly interested in how things look and working certain pictures into the story than in whether the story itself hangs together. Come to think of it, Blueberries For Sal has the same problem. The humans are really humans, and the bears are really bears. That is in fact the whole point of the story, this bear-perspective/human perspective contrast, until suddenly there’s this complex overlap of mothers and children, which gets everyone worried but no one gets mauled or shot. Sure kids, there’s no real problem with separating a cub from its mother or following a bear, because she’s a mom, and that always works out. Everyone just breathes a sigh of relief and has a good laugh after the mixup. This is particularly troubling for me because my granddaughters actually go to bear country a fair bit, and I’d rather not have them minimise the danger.

 Is it too late to switch to Where Can An Elephant Hide?

* which is what drives that half of environmentalism that has nothing to do with cleaning things up

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Rants On Disc

My eldest was mentioning yesterday, in reference to an Ezra Klein piece, how many comments on websites seem to be automatic rants triggered by single words or ideas in an essay.  One reads a political piece, and the first comment launches into something about how Obummer is a communist and the sheeple better wake up; the second comment is something similarly unenlightening from a liberal perspective.

This isn't an especially original observation, I know, I know.

It is tempting to think that these two groups perpetuate each other endlessly, and if we could just get one side to stop for a decade or so, the whole mess would ratchet down. Tempting, but I think false.  These people really think they are helping.  They believe they are moving the world forward.  These rants meet their own psychological needs and give attaboy encouragement to the other knuckleheads they chirp to, and thus are valuable.

In what universe is it useful to discover racism in more and more places, proving your sensitivity on the race-o-meter exceeds that of others who might not have noticed?  How is it different from finding communists in the glove compartment in the 50's?

The folks chucklin' here became what they mocked.

Can We Afford To Do It Right?

When we are talking about government, the answer is generally "no."  Therein lies the problem.  We persist in believing that of course it's possible, because it's the right thing, and how can we do less?  But that's just insane.  It's a fallen world.  God gives no guarantees that something can be accomplished simply because it is desired.

Take warfare as an example. Slowly, over the centuries we added rules to it, rules to make it less horrible, such as not targeting civilians, or allowing parleys and surrenders. Nations, even good nations, sometimes broke these rules, but there was increasing attempt to honor them. We also treated the lives of our own soldiers as more and more precious, so that in the 21st C, we have fought with a minimum of death but investing in more and more expensive technology.  Wounded soldiers used to get a medal, and perhaps a tiny pension - not enough to live on anywhere - in more civilised places.  Now we have extensive rehabilitation for the wounded.  Because it is the right thing to do.  How can we not?  How could we look ourselves in the mirror?

Everyone else has looked at themselves in the mirror over the ages, but we expect more of ourselves.

I say this is the right course, and we cannot go back.  But it turns out to be an very expensive way to fight war, doesn't it?

People cheat in business, people pollute, people become disabled, people are treated unjustly.  We assume we can afford to fix these things.  What if that's not true?  What if doing things the right way means the economy doesn't produce enough jobs for people? Is that a fair tradeoff? At 5% unemployment?  10%? 25%?

We are horrified at the conditions people worked in, and still work in.  Miners, perhaps.  But they went into those jobs because they made more money than at the next one down.  The "dark satanic mills" were welcomed by farmers who had had too many years of having hanged themselves "on the expectation of plenty." Could people have afforded to do things the right way then?  Of course not.

Why then, do we expect a fairy-tale world where we can do it now?  Much mischief results from the stunning naivete which says we can do things right, because it's right. It is this thinking that is behind the idea that the rich have plenty, and if we just shook it loose from them a bit they would still have enough and so would everyone else.  It just isn't so.  There is nothing in our birth-contract which says that when the music stops, there are enough chairs for everyone.

Word Search

Tracy was scanning her brain-files for a word on the way to church this morning, and I was able to supply it: defogger.  I was immediately struck by the fact that the word is enormously similar to defroster, so that one would think it would be stored nearby. But "Defrost" is used in speech often; "defog" I think I have only seen in print, when reading car manuals or something.

Most of us store words by initial letter and length, plus some favored categories we have each gotten used to over the years:'s a foreign's a compound's three syllables...etc.

Life Together

We are focusing on community in our congregation this fall, and Dietrich Bonhoefer's Life Together is one of the supplemental texts for those who wish to pursue the subject with vigor.  This quote opened the sermon today:
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing.
I see such words and am nearly overcome.  A congregation is permitted to gather...How enormously different that is from our usual way of viewing things. Reading the other quotable quotes from the book that are pasted up on various sites, I don't know if I can bear to read the book again, it is so different from my usual thought. I fear what it will demand.

I thought I still had the book, but I must have lent it out at some point. I found the full quote here.  (I did not explore the website and don't know if it is any good or not.)

Friday, October 04, 2013

Professional Jurors

I have always felt a bit uncomfortable with the concept, as it is not quite the citizen participation the system originally designed for, but I have always felt I would be very good at this, and if such a thing ever came to pass, I would gladly sit through boring hearings in the interest of improved justice for my country and its citizens.  I can listen to unpleasant information without being traumatised;  I understand general principles of law;  I can and have overruled my own prejudices;  I understand information quickly.  What's not to like?

But these would be government positions, and it occurs to me that some government agency would start keeping tabs on whether I convicted or acquitted group A or group B more than I should. It is not hard to imagine a world in which professional jurors were warned, retrained, and eventually let go because the outcomes were not what some agency thought was right, regardless of the merits of each individual decision.

While I think there is a conservative/liberal issue here, I don't think that is all of what is in play.  My brother, who is quite liberal, would have much the same problem, I suspect.  He would attempt to decide each case on its merits, and be relatively immune to counting up whether he was in proper parameters this year.  Eventually a year would come when he would be accused of evil.  He would know this was not so.  He would refuse to back down.  He would not be re-offered a position the following year.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Perhaps The Last

We attended our 34th year of school Open House/Teacher Conferences tonight. Since 1977, only in 1980, 1981, and 2008 have we not had someone is school. there are over 20 schools in the mix as well. To be fair, there are a few, such as U Alaska-Nome, LA Film Studies, and MST that we have either not had much to do with or were not fully separate entities. Even so, 20+ schools.

We are pretty good at shading the discussion to get the teacher to see our boy in a more positive light, and to help us work on what we, not thy, have identified as the things to work on.