Sunday, November 30, 2014

NH Book of the Dead

This little volume about NH cemeteries has some interesting facts neither Tracy nor I knew.  But a primary motive seems to be an excuse to talk about ghosts, witches, and unexplained phenomena around graveyards. The evidence is rather slender, and delivered in that breathless but faux-objective tone "Some local residents say that there are unexplained lights when one approaches Mary's grave, and others claim to have seen a small child reaching out to visitors..." If spirits did lurk around the places of disappointing or unfair death - the Otherworld seems undecided whether one should haunt the death site or the burial site - then hospitals and nursing homes would be full of them. One would think the night staff of an older city hospital would be unable to move without bumping into four or five wraiths per room.

It is standard in current writing to complain at how slight the evidence was for some poor soul to be accused of being a witch or other consort of the dark, unseen forces. Ironically, the amount of evidence needed now to make the suggestion that they linger on as spectres is even less. A rumor, a whisper, a doubt, is enough.  We remain a gullible people, eager to believe.

The author has done similar works about other states. I don't imagine I will be seeking any of those out.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

IFL Science

A few of my FB friends post articles from I Fucking Love Science from time-to-time.  They are among my brighter friends…

Oh. Yes. I don’t mind putting that title in the body of this post so much – it’s irritating but not enormously, as the word has become milder than my 60-year-old ears tell me, and I get that – but I didn’t want it in the title because of how it might show up in your sidebars if I am on your blogroll. I have standards.  Low, but I’ve got some.

…where was I?  Brighter friends.  I wrote that without irony. I have liked most of the articles, and enjoyed much of what I have seen, including what I have clicked through to once there as well.  Three articles in a short time-frame alerted my suspicions, however, and I went over to scope out the whole site.

You can go better places to get your brief science news.  That’s the main take-away.

Most of the articles are interesting and seem based on reputable sources.  So far so good.  I note 5 problems.

  1. There are errors, which look like they stem from science-y writers who either don’t fully get key points of the information they are passing on, or don’t do their homework. One I picked up myself, and I am not a scientist; two others I learned from the comments had made fairly substantial errors which I confirmed by going back to read closely (one I had to research further to assure myself that it wasn’t the commenter who had erred.)
  2. Worse, the errors were not corrected even when reported in the comments.
  3. This is not top-shelf stuff, generally. Not cutting edge, nor reviewed with a cold eye as to whether any of this is absolutely solid. It holds to higher standards than say, Omni, but it tends that way. More like Discover, but with only half the political correctness.
  4. There are a few articles which are not strictly science, but “news about the science tribe” PR pieces.  Neil Degrasse Tyson speaking to children about being a scientist, for example.  Not terrible, and no one is forcing the reader to click through, but I think it’s a giveaway as to what is up.  There’s a hint of snob appeal without asking too much of the reader.  There’s an in-the-club nudge-nudge aspect to it I don’t like.
  5. I found one headline that was a misreperesentation of the article – and the article made overclaims as well – on a science in politics topic. I worried I would find more (I thought I realled a previous one, actually), but it was only that one.

All that said, it’s not terrible.  Just a little too concerned about being hip rather than good.

Chess Paranoia

I have read about chess tournaments since the days of Bobby Fisher, though I am a poor player myself.  Reading about the lead-up to this year's World Championship, I was struck again by how frequently flat paranoia seems to enter the picture.  Is it because many of the players come from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, from environments where paranoia might not be that unreasonable?  (Note also there are many top Jewish players, and used to be more.)

Does paranoia confer some advantage, whether in the skill, the intensity, or the psychology?

Or perhaps most likely, is there a cast of mind which is extreme in over-interpreting simple things, which leads to both paranoia in everyday life and protective caution in chess?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Incarcerating Women - Or Not

This Washington Post Op-Ed suggests that we should not incarcerate women for anything. Ignore for a moment the logical errors in the essay. (Look, if I can resist taking the bait, so can you.) Fish, barrel, not worth your time. But buried in the crap is the fair point that what we are doing isn't working very well.  Women commit different types of crimes than men, and it might well be that something else would work better.  A new solution wouldn't have to work very well at all to be better.  Rather like the joke about the guy who tells his friend while on safari "I don't have to outrun the lion.  I just have to outrun you."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Futile Efforts

HBDchick links to this article by Charles Murray. Our Futile Efforts To Boost Children's IQ. I also would like to take more credit for my children turning out well.

No Such Thing As A Disillusioned Puritan

Cart Or Horse?

I had opportunity today to witness again an example of one of my original (I think) observations. When conservatives or libertarians go paranoid, they tend to hole up and get defensive, arming themselves and daring whatever authorities they have run afoul of to come after them. They don't seem to go out after the people they are angry at.  It's the liberals who go paranoid who tend to go out after people.  Eco-warriors, antiglobalists, people vandalising (or even bombing) offices and headquarters, protestors that turn violent - these tend to come off the left.

Side note:  this tends to get obscured because when there is any ambiguity the press reports it as they see it, which is slanted.  Jared Loughner was liberal in his politics and never saw Sarah Palin's website (which did not have Gabrielle Giffords in the crosshairs anyway).  But Giffords was left, and therefore Loughner must be right.  Timothy McVeigh was clearly more attuned to extremist right-wing rhetoric, but his writings record a lot of liberal ideas about universal healthcare and anti-wealth culture as well. See also Columbine and other school shootings.  The targets are often against the right, but somehow those aspects get downplayed. See also Lee Harvey Oswald.

Back to the main topic: today's paranoid was more liberal - insofar as any structured belief system could be imposed on the confusion - and more aggressive in intent.  I never thought about how that develops.  Do people who are defensive in their paranoia gradually work their way over to the right, regardless of where they started politically? Or do conservative ideas call forth a defensive rather than offensive paranoia?

There are folks out there studying whether our politics are built into our genes.  I have only followed this at a distance, reading some of the summaries without digging down too far.  I have disliked the attempts to define liberal and conservative, as they seem to be shifting sands.  I keep reading the descriptions and thinking "I dunno.  Not untrue, perhaps, but not the way the conservatives I know would describe themselves.  This sounds more like what liberals who are trying really, really hard to be objective think describes conservatives."  It is somewhat different to ask people whether they themselves think they are liberal, moderate, conservative, or something else, then measure their shoe sizes or favorite flavors and see what jumps out of the data.

Update:  I forgot to include this study on brain-scans the first time.

But I think I have another divide, a negative measure.  If you look at what makes for a career-destroying write-off, among liberals it is holding, or at least expressing, an incorrect idea. If you have the right ideals, if your "heart is in the right place," then any number of personal failings are unimportant. Among conservatives the personal failings are the bigger career-destroyer.

So I wonder, which is the cart and which is the horse?  If one believes deeply that the ideals are the thing, and lying is only a little regrettable (just human nature) if it's in a good cause, do you just end up on the left, discarding some ideas to come into line with one's fellows?  Or, if one believes that being honest is near the top of the list, and any number of screwups and bad plans (just human nature) can be tolerated, does one slowly drift rightward?

I tack this next part on because it is related to the topic that we don't necessarily change our views for logical reasons. In fact, if you read most online comments sections from general sources, such as major news outlets and popular sites, nothing will strike you more powerfully than the impression that most people are not merely wrong, but likely unable to ever fix that.  Even the ones who agree with your positions are an embarrassment.  And they cannot be the dumbest people in the country, because they can at least operate a computer, type, spell, and string together sentences. The very worst can't meet that standard.  Also, the periodic surveys which reveal that college students cannot identify who won the Civil War, or pass other general-knowledge quizzes provide further evidence that a whole lot of people - most of the country, in fact - is not capable of much beyond some very elementary reasoning.  So in any discussion where the arguments get complicated, we have to conclude that most people are on the side they are on for somewhat bad reasons - even if they are right.

In 1994, gay marriage was not even on the radar, not only among conservatives and religious people, not only among mainstream Democrats, but even among most of the farther left in those days, the issue seldom came up, and nearly everyone rejected it. Even in Europe.  Now, it might be a correct idea - a discussion for another day - but there is no way that it isn't a new idea. And taking the paragraph before this one into consideration, there is no way that the country has changed its mind because they were logically persuaded of its rightness. We were advertised and socially pressured into it.  (One could as easily maintain that those who did not change kept their previous ideas for similarly illogical reasons.  That's not quite the same thing, but it's close enough to hold for the present argument.) We are now at a point that those who oppose the idea of gay marriage are described as unthinkably mean and bigoted, and it's just obvious to any thinking person - even though nearly everyone fit that description twenty years ago.

So I wonder about a third divide, one I have mentioned before, of adopting ideas because they are popular rather than because they are true. That comes down to how we define "popular," or what group we want to be popular with, perhaps.  And do we choose that group unconsciously for personality reasons, and then adopt their coloration?

Monday, November 10, 2014


New commenter Jeannette has a blog of her own, Bread On The Water. She seems to be a craftswoman who like Tolkien and Lewis.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Gamergate Comment

Based on knowing very little. I think there is an assumption that the fanatics in any culture are extensions of the everyday folk.  Or, in reverse, if we see something evil in the fanatics, we conclude that the everyday folks are watered-down versions of the same evil.  I think this is equal-opportunity for fanatics of all stripes.

Thus, we find people who devote their lives to a style of video game and we discover that many are misogynistic. Then we have fun trying to explain why they are this way, and assuming that people who devote a little free time to those games are also misogynistic, just in a milder way.  And we want to clean up the lot of them.

We read extreme feminists, who seem to devote most of their waking hours to grievance, and find all sorts of man-hating evil in many of them.  Then we have fun trying to explain why they are this way, and assuming that women who are just generally feminist as one of their collection of personal descriptors are also man-hating, just in a milder way.

Zip in "gamblers." Or "emergency preppers." Or "exercisers."

Not everyone who cares about germs is borderline phobic.  Not every dieter is a potential anorexic.

But you can make a name for yourself politically if you keep trying to force normal people to defend extremists you can squint and associate them with.  It doesn't matter if it's true.  It only matters if you can make people believe its true.

The Dwarves Are For The Dwarves

In the quiet happiness that post-liberals, conservatives, libertarians and whatever have in this last election, I think it is important to say discouraging words to all of you. We are not ever going to win and get things our way. I am in discussion - no, actually, I have just gotten out of a discussion - with people who are very proud of the fact that they didn't vote for Scott Brown (because he's a squish on 2A rights), I guess by golly they showed THEM, didn't they! They've somehow got it worked in their heads that they won, because real conservatives won in other states, and they kicked this center-right bastard to the curb here in NH. Which means that...well, I don't know what they think it means. Perhaps they think that it means that next time the NHGOP will only dare run a real conservative. Because they showed 'em.

And this happens every time.  Republicans have a slight majority in the Senate, probably brief, on the basis of general frustration with Obama and key Democrats. I know nothing of all the strategic advice of whether McConnell and Boehner should negotiate, demand, delay, placate, or persuade.  Other people have better instincts for that sort of thing than I do.  But I think it doesn't much matter.  Conservatives shooting themselves in the foot because they are offended that someone isn't with them enough,  isn't our sort or real foxhole guy, has been going on as long as I have been interested in their internal workings - maybe 30 years.  It's not going to stop.  The country will continue to get more liberal, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, and our children and grandchildren will live in a different country than we do.

Perhaps it will be for the best.  Perhaps the right is wrong, and we'll all be happier with increasingly leftist culture.  Or perhaps it will all collapse for financial reasons, resulting in some unpredictable new world where parts split off, or tyrants rise up, or it all doesn't matter because of technological advances. Roll the dice there.

But a significant subset of conservatives are never going to get it.  They are never going to come 'round and be reasonable and accept a center-right coalition.  They will vote that out in the next cycle.  It is not something they can be persuaded of, it's in their personalities.  They cannot do otherwise. Even as the flames lick around the edges of their property they will rejoice in Ragnarok, content that they have fought the good fight and not bowed the knee. To them the political compromises are the same as religious apostasies and deals with the devil.

Added: I recall from 2012 an only discussion with a person who wasn't going to vote for Romney (or perhaps even 2008 and not voting for McCain) and saying over and over "I'm not going to eat a shit sandwich.  The Republicans can't make me.  My vote is sacred, and I'm not going to eat a shit sandwich.."  There was no real discussion happening.  No one was talking about making him do anything, of course.  But somehow it felt that way to him.  I think that is part of it with this type of personality.  I imagine there is some equivalent on the left.

It is, as the title suggests, all there in Lewis.  (What do they teach them in those schools these days?)

Monday, November 03, 2014


The various small sections of Your God Is Too Small each highlight a particular unreal God that might trouble the believer.  At each reading, a different two or three jump out at me.  Perhaps I am just most eager to point fingers at the temptations I am not bothered by, falling silent on the ones which stab me more personally.

I still think this would make a good adult Sunday School class or book discussion group topic, discouraging the reading of the short book at one go, focussing on but one or two unreal Gods for discussion each week.

Why “MILD”? Of all the epithets that could be applied to Christ, this seems one of the least appropriate. For what does “mild,” as applied to a person,conjure up to our minds? Surely a picture of someone who wouldn’t say “boo”to the proverbial goose; someone who would let sleeping dogs lie and avoid trouble wherever possible; someone of a placid temperament who is almost a stranger to the passions of red-blooded humanity; someone who is a bit of a nonentity, both uninspired and uninspiring. This word “mild” is apparently deliberately used to describe a man who did not hesitate to challenge and expose the hypocrisies of the religious people of his day: a man who had such “personality” that He walked unscathed through a murderous crowd; a man so far from being a nonentity that He was regarded by the authorities as a public danger; a man who could be moved to violent anger by shameless exploitation or by smug complacent orthodoxy; a man of such courage that He deliberately walked to what He knew would mean death, despite the earnest pleas of well-meaning friends! Mild! What a word to use…
Jesus as actually recorded in the Gospels is an alarming figure, frequently frustrated or angry. Commanding, scolding, seeming at times to be unsympathetic or a little inhuman (which is what we would expect for a Person who is more than human, I suppose). 

The alarming Jesus is not all of him either, of course.  He wishes to gather Jerusalem like chicks under the protective wings of a hen. He pours out what earthly energy he has to the point of exhaustion in the times that healing is central to his ministry.

…experience shows that it is operating beneath the conscious level of many Christian minds, particularly in those whose childhood has been coloured by a sentimental attitude toward “the Lord Jesus.” Such people find their actions, and even their thoughts, inhibited by a false consideration of what is “loving.” They can neither use their critical faculties nor speak the plain truth nor meet their fellows “naturally” for fear they sin against the meek-and-mild god. To non-Christians they thus appear unreal or even as hypocrites, while the “love” they attempt to exhibit toward others is all too often a pathetic travesty of the real thing. For, like other sentimentalists,the meek-and-mild god is in reality cruel; and those whose lives have been governed by him from early childhood have never been allowed to develop their real selves. Forced to be “loving,” they have never been free to love.

There is a further offshoot of the worship of this false god which must be mentioned. It is the sentimental Christian ideal of “saintliness.” We hear, or read, of someone who was “a real saint: he never saw any harm in anyone and never spoke a word against anyone all his life.” If this really is a Christian saintliness, then Jesus Christ was no saint.

Yet I think it is the idea of sainthood which is foisted on us by outsiders, and one which we too willingly embrace. “For, like other sentimentalists, the meek-and-mild god is in reality cruel.”  That is a wonderful Chestertonian expression – but what does it mean, really?  I am curious what others think of that.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Your God Is Too Small

I picked up my old copy of JB Phillips's Your God Is Too Small, a slim but powerful volume, because I was going to be in a waiting room for an hour.  I am having trouble gettin a pdf to link. Rather than play with it, I will simply give it to you: Phillips was never entirely trusted by American evangelicals because of his paraphrase (quelle horreur!) of the NT. Fundamentalists are word-by-word people, even if this leads them to hysterical inaccuracies, and evangelicals all kept a respectful silence if they wished to move very far from that.

In point of fact, paraphrase is superior translation, used by professional interpreters between any two languages in order to avoid saying that the Americans are lusting after the Polish people, or whatever.

I thought even the Contents page instructive.  This is not a list of the unreal gods that non-Christians or cultural Christians believe in (though some certainly do), but the phantoms clung to by believers, who are thus prevented from knowing God and moving forward.
Part One - Destructive
Unreal Gods:
I. Resident Policeman
II. Parental Hangover
III. Grand Old Man
IV. Meek-and-Mild
V. Absolute Perfection
VI. Heavenly Bosom
VII. God-in-a-Box
VIII. Managing Director
IX. Second-Hand God
X. Perennial Grievance
XI. Pale Galilean
XII. Projected Image
XIII. Assorted

Fashions change.  Our list would be somewhat different now.

Starting right from the introductory, I thought "ooh, that deserves to be quoted as a reminder, right off the bat."

The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderments by world events and scientific discoveries, their ideas of God remain largely static. It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of of a Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life. If, by a great effort of will, he does do this he will always be secretly afraid lest some new truth may expose the juvenility of his faith. And it will always be by such an effort that he either worships or serves a God who is really too small to command his adult loyalty and co-operation.
Well, that's good then. Oh. Hmm. The second paragraph looks quite good as well.
It often appears to those outside the Churches that this is precisely the attitude of Christian people. If they are not strenuously defending an outgrown conception of God, then they are cherishing a hothouse God who could only existbetween the page of a Bible or inside the four walls of a Church. Therefore to join with the worship of a Church would be to become party to a piece of mass-hypocrisy and to buy a sense of security at the price of the sense of truth, and many men of goodwill will not consent to such a transaction.
Well, we have to be getting on to the book itself now, except
It cannot be denied that there is a little truth in this criticism.
Ah, enough. You either want to read farther or you don't. I will tackle Meek-and-Mild (with quotes, of course) in a separate post.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Preview - Sentimental Jesus

Rereading JB Phillips's Your God Is Too Small, I was struck by certain passages in the chapter under Unreal Gods. IV: Meek-and-Mild.  I think I will post on the book as a whole soon, with quotes from that chapter. It's 50-60 years old but still apropos.  In the meantime...

There is a type of sentimental Jesus, always cuddling lambkins, patting children on the head, smiling and waving at the donkeys from his manger, getting crucified without a lot of blood.  Lord knows there are plenty of actual Christians who photoshop this guy into unlikely scenes or paint pictures of him faintly radiating onto the hushed crowd around him. Certainly, he is very popular with ex-Christians, cultural Christians, church-raised, etc.  He's sort of annoying, but he is at least based on a true story. Or so I thought, thinking him relatively harmless, just sort of unfocused.

Today I am not so sure. He may be one of the most dangerous Jesus's out there. It has dawned on me that unbelievers insist that this is the Jesus we Christians should believe in. Any attempt to move to the more alarming Jesus is treated as an evasion.  He said "Let the children come unto me."  Therefore, we should not send 14-year-old illegals back to Oaxaca.  Jesus says so. He said "Love thy neighbor as thyself."  Therefore, everyone should have health insurance.  Jesus says so. He said "Judge not, lest you be judged," therefore gay marriage is acceptable.  Jesus says so.

Every age has its own illnesses and healths, strengths and weaknesses.  Leaning too far out one side of the boat, in screaming accusation that someone else has once fallen out the other side, also results in drowning.

Please do not answer impulsively.  This is a smart, thoughtful group who can grasp the easy explanations immediately.  Why this Jesus? Why is this Jesus so popular now?