Saturday, November 30, 2013

Family Tradition

The first lines of the chorus have always been this family's phrase for the evening hour when small children are no longer intelligent, but still talking...


Ben posted a video "Swedish Lucia For Dummies" that is unafraid to mention that this is a deeply pagan festival.  Distilled cuteness covers a multitude of sins, I guess, as even the Covenanters celebrate it, as we will this year.  (I'm betting the Swedish Baptist churches dropped it, though.  Are there even any of those left?)

Cute.  Cute costumes. Our two oldest had their shot at being tomten and star boys, and Emily will be a tomter for the first time this year. Kyle and the two Romanians came too late for that.

Interesting that it is still celebrated in Sweden. Though they are at times a hypertraditional people who like to make sure that everyone is on the same page and doing the same thing. An online American commenter mentioned how much he loved living in Sweden until he got to Christmas and noticed that every house in town was decorated in exactly the same fashion.  then he couldn't get out fast enough. I mentioned in reply that there were suburbs here (I was thinking Bedford) with remarkably similar decorations for blocks on end but he dismissed that.  I know what you mean, but this was much more intense. ABBA has been around for 40 years now but they haven't worked that in.* You laugh. American Christmas adds new traditions every year, many of them deplorable. Stupid songs not allowed to die a natural death, reanimated each December like some undead simulacrum of humor or worse, oversentimentalised stories about poor children getting various versions of the-greatest-gift-of-all: shoes, a friend, a sense of wonder, Daddy finally returning after years of profligate wandering, a wink from Santa, a puppy. Plus John Lennon being self-righteous. That's always fun.

My town is much more mixed, with some front-lit greenery and single-candle-per-window neighborhoods, some splashy, tacky, riotous displays, a fair mix of the idiosyncratic, and a whole lot of houses with no decoration. One of our neighbors has an overfull, random display of illuminated (some even flash!) objects - though there is a creche and many santas - such as a 6-foot giraffe with stocking cap next to a large frog.

*Yes, ABBA had that Lennon-lite "Happy New Year," but that was pretty endurable. And they did a very nice job with actual carols.

You can skip the longish introduction here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Baby I Need Your Lovin'

I almost went with "Tracks of My Tears" instead, until I saw those dresses. That has got to be 1965 or 66. His hair tells me the earlier year is more likely.

It's 7th grade all over for me again. It's an interesting phenomenon of memory. I can tell you within a year or maybe two when something was in fashion from about 1965-72, even with the confounding factors that no girl at my school could have afforded a dress like that or dared to be that splashy; and that Manchester, NH was about a year behind the eastern cities in styles. (Which means a year ahead of Goffstown, where I live now.) But I couldn't come close to telling you what year in the 1980's and 90's something happened by looking at the clothes and the hair. Nor could I for anything prior to '65 - though of course some other clue might give me a guess.

In 1965 I started to care what was up-to-the-minute, and researched it wherever I went, though I didn't call it that. Somewhere in college that just faded. It perked up again for a year or two when my older sons hit 14 or 15, so that I can remember that Hootie and the Blowfish owned 1994.


On the basis of what I read, what I hear from mental health clinicians, and more extended conversations with members of my family, I have long thought that the obsession of those on the left with finding racism in their political/cultural rivals - in fact, in just about everyone - is a form of escape, of distancing.  They want everyone to know they aren't one of those rubes.

But reading some of the offerings from hbd chick's recent linkfest, especially this little number about 3 Reasons Why Diversity Doesn't Work, it occurred to me that the pull might be in the other direction.  It may be that being an anti-racist is one of the markers of the cultural elite in that crowd.  It's not something where you can just act decently to all sorts of people and say no more about it.  Displaying antiracism is a signifier that one deeply belongs. Making statements about how racist other people are, and displaying a greater sensitivity than normal for detecting it, may be an aspirational strategy - a way of getting ahead.

Rather like the princess and the pea.

It would explain why conversations about immigration so quickly move to accusations of prejudice. It is not enough to merely make no statements which can be interpreted as bigoted; one has to display positive behaviors of being better than average.  Heck, it might be a mating or status-enhancing strategy within that tribe.  I have been thinking of the value of the display as a way of weakening other tribes, but it may instead be a method of acquiring resources within the tribe.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

One of the Higher Spiritual Gifts

There are lists of spiritual gifts - in Romans 12, in 1 Corinthians 12, in Ephesians 4, plus a few other isolated references in 1Cor 7 and 1Pet 4.

There is also a common distinction made between teaching, as in presenting new insights, and preaching, as in exhortation. Perhaps the gift I have in mind is just a subset of that latter.

I find as I am older that neither reading the scriptures, nor prayer, nor listening to others brings me anything new.  But I think that's a feature, not a bug. If I haven't got the basics down at this point, I'm never going to.  But what I need over and over, my daily bread in the spiritual realm, are reminders.  I very quickly lose what I know in the heat of the battle - there are many holes in the bottom of my bucket and all the good stuff runs out pretty quickly.

The Gift of Reminding is one of the higher gifts we should aspire to.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Meeting Rituals

The more important people think the meeting is, the longer the rituals before any actual work gets done or information given.  The audience may not agree, but it's a pretty good measure of what the presenters think.

Little League games open with very little ritual.  The amount increases as the level of play improves.  When it comes to the World Series, the build starts days before.  When the high school has Parents' Night, they are careful to have the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, because they want to reassure the parents - We Get It. We share your culture - even when they don't.  In districts where everyone is very liberal, event the parents of teenagers, maybe they communicate that they get it by not having the pledge, devoting more time to exhortation and bringing up PC groups of students to sing or show their art or get the Right Kind of Awards.  I wouldn't know.

At work, those meetings where the CEO speaks, and lots of people get introduced, and they share inside jokes about how hard they've been working on this - so that you ungrateful bastards attending this workshop/training/presentation know that - are the meetings you need to not say anything bad about, even if it all takes two hours out of your morning that you can't spare to introduce you to a topic you can't do anything about anyway.  (This week: electronic medical record. overview. training starts in Feb. unless there's a delay. timelines. sample screen shots from the software.  except these are from another version, and ours will be different. let's clap for Richard, and Tom, and Diana, who have worked hard. they will be available when we go live in May, right here on site.)

I only asked one question, which is remarkably restrained for me.  It was a good question, but there are no good questions.  I should have asked none.

Pascal's Wager

I have a lengthy, meandering post on the subject - I think I will trash it.

Central point:  If you think there's a 1% chance Christianity is true, then Pascal's Wager makes sense. Technically, because Pascal was a mathematician and liked to think in terms of infinities, it makes sense anyway.  But our brains really don't work that way.  "Big number" is a big number, no more, and infinity is just a big number.  So infinite bliss and infinite torment, to our reptilian brains that we really decide with, boil down to "a whole lot. At least 87."

But I don't see how the wager gets us from 0% to 1%.  If you really think there is zero chance it's true, Pascal can't help you. But it's a slam dunk as a tie-breaker, if you are actually 50-50 whether to believe.

I think there is 0% chance that reincarnation in the Hindu sense, of coming back as animals and other people over and over until we get it right, is true.  But we are to be given new bodies on a remade earth in the Christian new creation, and at least one 1st C group of believers believed in reincarnation, so the idea that we might come back as a something, some unimaginable helper in some other universe, I think rates a 1% chance.  If there were some precautionary action I should take for that, some other version of Pascal's Wager, I'd consider it.

Epicurians and Confucians, in different ways, believed that getting along in a peaceful society was a great good and pleasure, and so recommended worshiping the local gods, with neither seeming to ask whether you believed in them. That is Pascal writ small, a minor inconvenience for a great gain.  The Victorians in the C of E, and the Scandinavian Lutherans until about 50 years ago, seemed to echo this.  Believing was less important than the positive benefits of all journeying together and being a community.

Modern Christians, especially evangelicals, don't think much of that sort of belief.  They want to see BELIEF, not some Potemkin village of belief. I sympathise, but they are simply wrong.  On a purely worldly level, no one who relies on the Four Spiritual Laws and coming forward on the sawdust trail in a moment of excitement is in much of a position to criticise others about getting in on a technicality.  But even on a deeper level, none of us comes into belief for a good reason of our own. We are called, not because of our merit but because of His love.  So a Pascal's Wager convert should be welcomed.  Heck, she should even be given a whack at teaching adult Sunday School. Once, anyway.

Update:  See James's comment.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


There's a clever little internet usage that I noticed popping up over a year ago.  Perhaps it is older and I didn't notice.  It is a shorthand explanation that intentionally does not explain: because. As in I never considered going into nursing.  Because excretions. Or We're not vacationing there this year.  Because money. I like it, generally. Cute. Efficient.  No more explanation needed.  You should just see.

The problem with it is that the kite string can get quite long, until the kite is invisible. A long string can contribute to the humor, as the subtext "this is just obvious" gets funnier if you have to actually work it out a bit. Wear clean underwear.  Because hospital.

Or the text exchange

Come home by 10
Because mother.

But the longer the kite string the more territory is being skipped over, regarded as not even worthy of mentioning. Things can get ambiguous.

We should be affirming homosexuals who visit, because Bible.
We should not be affirming homosexuals who visit, because Bible.

In that instance, the declaration that no further explanation is necessary is an avoidance. Consider the statement: "He stopped going to high school to go skiing all the time. Because Switzerland." Consider the gradual changes through Because Colorado. Because Vermont. Because Maine. Because West Virginia.

I had only partly thought this through.  I had seen some FB and internet comments using this humorous shorthand that I thought were not quite fair, a vague sensing that they were leaping to conclusions or leaving out counterarguments that made the leap not so obvious as they thought.  This crystalised for me when I read the article over at the Atlantic, the stupidly-named (because tangent) America has a New Preposition, Because Internet. The central examples were all snarky comments by liberals.  Why would this be more attractive to liberals? Is this a selection bias because of who the author reads? Is it because it's a younger demographic? Or is there something about this usage that appeals to a certain personality type?  (I have trouble imagining how it could be connected to some theory of government or proposition about social justice.)

I skimmed the rest of the article.  When some interesting question comes before me, some puzzle that I can work on in my own head, I tend to fade out from the sermon, lecture, conversation, or reading I am supposed to be attending to.  Because ADHD.  Because entertainment.  Because arrogant.

I had some tentatively-worded conclusions rolling around in my brain as I sat down to write this post.  Something about getting to be hip and condescending, pretending an argument has already been made, when in fact it hasn't (as in Screwtape). I should have read to the end more attentively.The professional writer said it better.

It conveys brevity. [Stan] Carey: "It has a snappy, jocular feel, with a syntactic jolt that allows long explanations to be forgone".

But it also conveys a certain universality. When I say, for example, "The talks broke down because politics," I'm not just describing a circumstance. I'm also describing a category. I'm making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time. I'm offering an explanation and rolling my eyes—and I'm able to do it with one little word.

Eye roll pre-installed. There's your answer right there.

Friday, November 22, 2013

National Lampoon Vs Others

Steve Sailer reprised the 1977 issue of National Lampoon's JFK Fifth Inaugural Issue and has come back to that general theme at least two more times in the last few days.

Humor doesn't always wear well - it is rather by definition a product of its time for full effect - and you might not have found that style funny even then.  My wife thought it coarse when we were in college.  Which is true.  It still has the power to offend, as last year there was a push to boycott the magazine because of the offensive cover cover of the 1973 Death Issue:

People didn't read the cover too closely, apparently. The campaign died a quick death as folks figured out there was nothing to boycott.

Sailer has been contrasting NL with the current edgy online humor mag The Onion.  I like the latter, but I take his point.  They would never dare to do a JFK issue that outrageous even now, fifty years later.  PJ O'Rourke, the managing editor, did it less than 15 years after.

So too with The Simpsons and South Park, which have been regarded as rather brave in their outrageousness.  Not even close.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Progress of Science

There is a quote attributed to Asimov
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'
which is plausible, but apparently no one can source it.

I can find it in CS Lewis's Miracles much earlier, however
For of course science actually proceeds by concentrating not on the regularities of Nature but on her apparent irregularities. It is the apparent irregularity that prompts each new hypothesis.
Does anyone know an earlier version of the idea? Lewis would be likely to say it was based on something he had read in (Roger) Bacon or Oresme. I find when I look such things up, however, that I don't see the connection as clearly as he did.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I come from an era in which the word was not used in any context, even when quoting someone.  It is still a word whose full spelling is avoided, so that one encounters “the n-word” or “n*****” frequently.  We feel the mere use of the word dirties our lips or our eyes, even if we are only referencing the word to condemn it.  There is a magical attachment, similar to Indo-Europeans referring to the totemic bear as the Brown One or the Honey Eater, or the refusal of the Israelites to pronounce the primary name of God aloud.  I wrote about the power of words in the context of foul language in a conversation at Avebury years ago. The takeaway point from that is that language and the power of words changes.

I completely get it.  I very much doubt I have ever typed the word nigger, or ever said it aloud, though I may have in the context of Mark Twain of Joseph Conrad.  I will be hesitating before I hit “post” I think. I just react viscerally to the word,

The acceptability of words changes, and I would cite crap and fart (another word I don’t think I have uttered or typed) as evidence. The latter was a schoolboy word when I was young, and only coarser schoolboys at that.  Adults or girls who used it marked themselves as low.  I still hate it.  Yet I felt the same way about crap at one point, but have become inured to its use now. We say never-never-never but fifty years later, never has arrived.

Use of the word nigger was a mark of not only bigotry but stupidity.  Not only were you prejudiced, but you weren’t picking up the social cue that we just don’t say that anymore. The milder insult nigra has completely vanished, I think.  It was more Southern and rural – hence unfashionable – and not electrifying enough to be picked up by black people in irony*. My grandmother was a prejudiced person, but she would never have uttered the word nigger because of its inelegance. I did once hear my mother-in-law say “we used to call that nigger pink.” But she was from NJ, so what do you expect?

When rap and hip-hop music became popular there was a great deploring of young black men using the word nigger so freely, as it was felt to be ceding captured territory back to the bigots. Whether hip-hop was the cart or the horse doesn’t matter for this discussion. We winced at the magic power of the word to induce bad things into the speakers and hearers. We had taken the general frequency of the word as one measure of our society’s racism: less use of nigger equals less racism.  Its readoption by young black men screwed up the measuring. (Note: the word had had continuous usage in the older black community in nonaffectionate reference to other blacks, as in “those niggers downtown are gonna get themselves in trouble with that,” or “that’s one stupid nigger.”  I wonder how much of the subtext of young urban blacks taking on the term for themselves and each other was an in-your-face to older respectable blacks as well as to white society.  It’s a pretty clear statement of “I’m dangerous.  I might do bad things.  Fear me.”)

All this in introduction to the idea that there has been a recent change in the force of the word nigger.  While there is likely regional and class variation, I think we can see that there is not much difference in how people over 30 hear the word. But I think I am detecting differences at age 25 and especially, younger than 20.  Who gets to say what and in what context remain the dominant forces for usage.  Yet I think those contexts are expanding in the young. Young white boys call each other niggah. The ground is different now.

I don’t call it a trend, as I have no idea where it goes from here.  But I hear discussions with football players about what has been said in the Incognito/Martin texts and other locker-room talk, and the older players – Cris Carter, Herm Edwards – are not saying the same things about it that the current players are.  NFL careers are generally short, and locker rooms young: average age under 25 in training camp, not much over during the season. Cris Carter is in clear “Dad” territory to 90% of NFL players, and Herm Edwards has moved into “Grandad” territory for rookies. My ears are theirs.  I cannot imagine not hyperventilating a bit over the word nigger.  But that’s my generation and it’s automatic.

But I think it's changing.

*Yes, the difference between negro, nigra, and nigger could be seen as merely dialectical and pronunciation differences, were one trying to explain it to a person whose first language is not English.  But it’s a great example of how such small differences can matter greatly. Think of how many of these small but enormous differences must have been lost in translating the Bible after a century or so.

Discussions and Opinions

A church that shall remain unnamed but is deeply connected to one of my sons is having a lot of discussions about hospitality and being welcoming.  There is a bait-and-switch operating regarding the word hospitality, which is a Gift of the Spirit, but also a marketing approach for businesses.  These are related but not identical ideas.  Thus, having an owner of many hotels in to talk about hospitality is certainly interesting for a church, which should have all the secular knowledge in its armament for the ministry of making Christ known.  But it is not the same thing as what St. Paul was talking about. Sacrificial generosity to the saints or to widows and orphans is distinct from cheerful greetings.

Nametags for the staff were discussed.  It is clear in retrospect that management at this church - oh, I'm sorry, did you want a more spiritual-sounding title than manager?  Something that reflects your years of religious training and clerical qualifications? - wanted to roll out nametags and everyone to agree. Just like where I work. I still fall for it.  I still think that when bosses ask for my opinion, it's because they want my opinion.  My oldest son, at least, doesn't fall for that so much.  But uh, another son still thinks, as I reflexively do, that staff discussions and workshops mean that staff discusses things and work on them. He made cautionary statements pointing out possible flaws in the nametag idea.

He was booed by the rest of the church staff.

I encourage him to tell me these stories but take his advice from his older brother, not me.  There are people who pull me aside on the way in to department meetings who instruct me, for my own good, not to comment about anything.  I just can't lay off pointing out the obvious.

We had a training today by a Psy D about a form we have to sometimes fill out.  I have never filled one out myself in 35 years, but those who work in a specific branch of the hospital have to do 3-4 a year.  The trainer immediately announced that this was all going to be changing in the next few months, and hopefully would be completely revamped by 7/1/14.  But we spent an hour learning how to do this anyway.

Is it necessary to point out that the training was largely useless?  The Power Point went up and he basically read the forms to us.  Name.  Address. Facility referred to. Address of facility referred to.  Has the patient required more than outpatient treatment at any time in the last two years? (We're a hospital.  If we're filling out the form...) Do they have a mental illness?

Late in the training, one of the assistants sitting behind me said "I see some heads shaking over this last section.  Is everyone understanding this?"  I realised that I had been shaking my head - but in disbelief, not puzzlement. One of the qualifying categories was if the patient is in a coma.  We were spending time on this.  None of our patients is in a coma.  We send those to Concord Hospital.

Tomorrow we will be sent an email by our management for feedback if this was a worthwhile training. I am going to have great trouble answering that with the required "Sure! One of the best this year!"


I drove by a church I used to go to, and my resentments of how things had all ended in that last year sprang to mind.  We went there for ten years, with many positive experiences and wonderful people.

I once preached on what the "forgetting" part of forgive and forget means.  Some of you may have been present for that, or some other instance where I spoke about it.  I have written a fair bit about forgiveness and the myths about it over the years, but that point doesn't seem to be in the AVI corpus.  The summary is this: forgetting a sin against you means two things.  First, we officially forget.  Even if the action takes up space in our brain, or even consumes us, we resolve not to hold the action against the other person.  We do not slyly get back at them with hints to others years later; we do not deny them a tenor solo or a job kind word we would give to others.  We may, of course, take all information into consideration when we are making a judgement that affects others.  A person who has molested children should not be working with them again - and those who ask to must be among the most suspect.  But such a person might yet be trusted as church treasurer, or on the leadership council in charge of properties.  That is the first step of "forgetting."

But more important for me today is part two of forgetting: the idea that one does not nurse grievances.  Whatever else forgetting might mean, it means at minimum that we do not rehearse the trespasses against us. I recalled incidents and carried on imaginary conversations all day with Christian brothers and sisters who have likely long forgotten the incidents in question.  I scored points against them repeatedly in my argument.  Not only did I not forget, I went out of my way to remember.

Forgetting the sin does not mean that we flagellate ourselves when we find we that our memories still work.  But it does mean that we do not drink the bitter cup to the bottom, slam it down, and ask the universe to fill it that we might drink again.

Monday Night Football, and Highlights

A lot of folks have written more thoroughly and wisely about the early years of MNF and why they were successful. Still, I think they overlook one enormous point, one that is nearly unbelievable to us today: at halftime, they showed highlights of the Sunday games. This proved so popular that it began taking up more and more space in the halftime and postgame shows year over year, and rapidly ceased to be a novelty.

Before 1970, and on most broadcasts for a decade after, you got to watch the stadium's halftime show, with local high school bands and twirlers, plus lots of commercials.

Before MNF, that video was hard to come by.  Some of it would show up in next week's NFL pregame broadcasts.  Except that there weren't many NFL pregame broadcasts.  One was lucky to see video highlights of the home team's last game, never mind anything else from around the league.  One could also wait until about six months after the end of the season and buy the season's expensive highlight film for your team. Or next year, there would be a special broadcast of the champion's season, with highlights and slow-motion, narrated by a single voice in stern tones.

Cosell's odd cadence and elevated vocabulary were an irritation, but a fun irritation.  Don Meredith was a fun-time boy who pretended to be a rube - sort of a Joe Namath with 20 more IQ points.  Frank Gifford was a respected old-school player who grounded everyone in a quiet, authoritative way.  Their chemistry has been the subject of countless essays, even academic analysis.  But I'm telling you, it was the highlights that amazed.  I was a college boy, and people would chatter, shout, and complain throughout the whole Monday night broadcast.  But at halftime everyone got silent and serious and strained to hear.  You could say "wow..." or "oh boy!" or exclaim one of the player's names, preferably his first name: Earl!! or Merc'ry!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Search Terms

About once a month I check my stats and see by what routes people are coming to this site.  Most of it are things the regulars could predict.  But this month, one visitor came by virtue of the search terms "bernadette peters legs."

I forget that posts that I put up once in a great while for fun are often the most likely to grab new customers.  The Long Tail.

Self-Pay at the Doctor's

Texan99 has a remarkable story over at Grim's Hall about going to a new doctor as a self-pay client. We usually just grumble and put up with whatever our insurer and doctor's office - and now, the government - want and sign/pay/shrug. We should pay close attention to those principled/cantankerous/brave enough to do something new.

Well, it's not something new. it's something old, actually. The results are amusing, and revealing. Most people aren't going to do things like things.  But I see it as an analog to homeschooling or going off-the-grid for electricity.  It's a combination of Reason and Mother Earth News magazines about health insurance.

Has anyone been following what the sixteen different opinions about Obamacare have been over at Mother Earth News, BTW?  There are a lot of liberals over there, but they aren't usually obedient liberals. Maybe I should look into that.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Best Combo

Tom Paxton, though he was a good performer in his own right, is remembered mostly for covers that other folk musicians did of his songs. Everyone loved Paxton's songs, and everyone did them.

Johnny Cash has done amazing covers of other people's stuff, particularly later in his career.  Not many people can do a song recorded by a dozen others and still move you with their version.

So this is the best of both worlds.  I used to do the song myself, back in the late 60's and early 70's, and I thought I did it well.  But never like this.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Did Use To

I ran across the phrase "did use to" in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress,  in the sense of a past action:  "[This giant] did use to spoil young Pilgrims with sophistry." It looked odd - I would have expected used instead of use, and today we would dispense with "did" in that context altogether. I suspected that the -d got added in for either of two reasons.  It was either a sound-mistake based on use being followed by to, which just fits, if you say it aloud to yourself a few times; or, someone thought it just had to be past tense "used" to go with the past tense "did," which would be foolish, but exactly the sort of thing that people who like to make up extra, unnecessary rules about English usage are prone to.

Used to is later, showing up first in the 19th C, and pushing out use to entirely by the 20th. Before that, it is all use to, meaning "habituated" going back to 1400. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens, suggesting that the sound-mistake is the explanation.  If one goes over to grammar and usage sites, however, one can find people who not only insist that used to is correct because of the match in tenses, but asserting it forcefully and complainingly, as if only fools and destroyers of Proper English would ever think otherwise. This type of error is common among those folks.  Some usage that came into the language rather late - say, 100-200 years ago - which was unknown to any speaker of English, even the most educated and obsessively precise before then, is regarded as correct, on the basis of being popular for the fifty years before the birth of the speaker's Aunt Agatha, who was an expert on such things.

If you contradict them in this, they accuse you of encouraging all manner of license, having no standards, and contributing to the general decline of culture. Some people are just naturally Great Deplorers of Things.

BTW, the "did" in that phrase comes from another great destruction of all that is good, when the invading Anglo-Saxon speakers married a fair number of Brythonic women in the British Isles.  Welsh and Cornish have, and had, that "did" as part of their language, and it just refused to leave, conquerors or no, when those Danes and North Germans showed up.  "What did you eat?" would have only been "You ate what?" in the Germanic languages, and still is. So the did in that phrasing, is just wrong, wrong, wrong, and any decent speaker of Anglish would know that.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Dick And Dee Dee

Envy And Medical Care

Inspired by a comment over at Chicago Boyz, which in turn set me off on one of my favorite rants there...

The crisis in medical insurance is set off by the increase in the costs of medical care.  While many of these costs are indeed artificial and in some possible world unnecessary - CYA lab tests and tort reform, overuse of services, expensive ER care versus prevention, pick your culprit, really - the overwhelming driver of the cost increase is medical care used to be dangerous, stupid, and valueless, where it is now at least somewhat accurate and can extend, improve, or rescue your life. The break-even point for doctors saving you versus killing you was not the Renaissance, but 1950. In the 19th C, the finest hospitals in the world were in Paris.  Yet any modern reader can see in the descriptions of the behavior of French doctors an amazing stupidity compounded by arrogance.  (On this score, I recommend The Greater Journey by David McCullough.) Better to stay home and wait for a snake-oil salesman.

We spent lavishly on snake-oil salesmen, cranks, and quacks, because we wanted to live, and wanted our feet to stop hurting enough that we could get out to the barn and milk the cows, to stay alive another season, or wanted to have babies (or not have them), wanted to finally get a night's rest, wanted your child to be able to see again.

I read a futuristic short story in the early 1970's, I think in "Playboy,*" of a world in which time literally was money, and your bank account reflected how much longer you had to live. I imagine the premise was that we could be kept alive indefinitely, so the rich would live forever, and the poor die soon. Health was irrelevant. Your account expired, and support for your life was withdrawn. The frantic behavior of the protagonist is about all I remember. This seems rather prophetic now, as we move to a world in which extending life becomes more plausible.

At a cost.  And the cost will rise as the magic becomes more amazing.  We will increasingly consider it an outrage that the rich could afford to live longer on the basis of mere money, a final inequality not brought under societal control. Yet as the magic increases and the cost increases, we won't be able to give that gift to everyone, no matter how much we try to paper that over by spreading the cost around.

I am 60, and I have some advantage over those younger, I think.  I grew up in a world in which we expected that nearly everyone died before age 90, starting about now.  Before 80.  Hell, getting to 70 was considered a pretty good innings.  Plus, I have been thinking about death as long as I can remember.  It still might become chillingly difficult to face at the end.  Yet I have had some preparation that may not be so general anymore.  Particularly among those who did not grow up in the Christian faith, death must seem a terrible intrusion to the young now - an insult and unfairness that government should move heaven and earth to keep away from its citizens. The worst of evils.  The idea of finding a good death, since you were guaranteed some sort of death anyway, was common to our ancestors.  To trade some years of life for a good death was considered a reasonable exchange, at least in theory.  But increasingly, there will be a scramble for every minute.

Perhaps not.  Humans and cultures adapt and change.  We may find some new accommodation with death as we go.

* I always said I read it for the articles.  This proves it.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


Listening to Nicki Gumbel on one of the Alpha series videos, he breezed by a list of common sins, and the word envy was in the middle of it. I have a fairly automatic response when I run across a topic that has been big in Christian history, but I don’t recall hearing much about lately: I wonder if this is one of the blind spots of our culture.

We are a wealthy people, and we do get reminded of the dangers of the related sin of materialism from time to time.  But that usually has the personalities taken out of it.  We are reminded that “things” are unimportant compared to relationships, and won’t make us happy. Jesus speaking about the lilies of the field or the pearl of great price does not bring our relationship with others into it.  The focus is on the things, at least in those passages. All quite true, and perhaps that is the better message for our day, I being merely contrary about it.

But envy, and the last commandment about coveting, have a different focus than mere asceticism and seeking simplicity. There is a Someone Else in the picture, or multiple someones, and part of the sin seems to be some resentment that they have what we want.  It is not enough, seemingly, that we have sorrow over not having something – we have to sin one step further and wish others less happiness. Materialism has mostly individual effects, hindering our “personal growth,” even our personal spiritual growth, or so we think. It is therefore a fairly popular stick to beat ourselves with.  We don’t have to apologise to anyone, we don’t have to own up to a particular red-letter sin, and can merely wish we were farther along some vague continuum than we are.  It’s another of those sins with which we can score points for even noticing it in ourselves. We give ourselves a jolly whipping with a paddle, but neither too brisk nor too thick.

Covetousness and envy are clearly first-level worries, the former making it to the Big Ten, and the latter into the Seven Deadlies.  This drain on relationships, on community, is the most obvious explanation.  They are also more expansive than a focus on poverty and riches.  Some of us have a fair bit of immunity from envying material wealth, but there are hundreds of other categories in which we can feel deprived. Other people’s children win awards or have better health; other people had better parents; other people have beauty or charm; they aren’t dragged down by a difficult spouse; they lucked into a better job undeservedly; they dodged the bullet when terrible decisions didn’t result in catastrophe.

We are perhaps most prone to envy of those we know best, perhaps even love best.  The clearest examples I have seen certainly, have been among siblings, or parents and children.  Next most would likely be neighbors, coworkers, friends.  I think the levels of disguise are quite subtle with this one. We might carry little envy over long periods but fall into it briefly and easily; or the reverse, seldom envying anyone their good fortune, except a sister or a best friend, quietly and unconsciously, for years or decades. An awareness may elude us unless we search for it explicitly, and the results may surprise.

I think I’d better stop chattering in the abstract and get to thinking about this.

What If This Is The Better Version?

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. Douglas Adams

I have mentioned before that my two favorite superpowers are invisibility and time travel.  I do worry that if I were granted the latter, I might find barriers beyond which I could not travel, because it was some other time-traveler’s territory. 

That is, we are living in the cleaned-up version of reality already.  Man’s inhumanity to man may have actually been much worse.  It may be that the existence of evil and incompetence and tragedy are not what require explanation, but the existence of good.