Monday, February 29, 2016

Bandersnatch: Like

The cover and illustrations of Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer  put me off enough that I doubt I would have bought it if I thumbed through it in a bookstore, or saw it pop up on Amazon or some other book site.  It gives off the air of a fangirl’s indulgent exercise. (The hidden bandersnatches in every illustration only add to that impression.) But then, I dislike crosshatchedpen-and-ink drawings, especially as illustrations. She is an artist herself and is thus more likely to admire such things.  Fortunately, I was given it as a gift and so was dragged over that hurdle, because I learned a great deal from the book and admire it very much indeed. I did not like the final chapter originally, but a Lewis-Tolkien-other Inklings reader can comfortably skim that when she gets there.

The title comes from a comment of CS Lewis's that it was impossible to influence the writing of JRR Tolkien. “You might as well try to influence a bandersnatch . ..He has only two reactions to criticism; either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning or else takes no notice at all.” Ms. Glyer then proceeds to charmingly undermine that entire premise, detailing the considerable, even essential influence the Inklings had on each other, including several on Tolkien.  Restarting an entire project in response to criticism amounts to considerable influence, after all.

I am left with the impression that none of the Inklings would be much remembered without the influence of the others. Every work of theirs bore the strong imprint of at least one other. I knew from biographies that Tolkien would never have completed Lord of the Rings without Lewis’s encouragement and pressure, and that Lewis’s conversion to Christianity grew directly out of his conversations with JRRT and Hugo Dyson.*  But what  Glyer documents runs far deeper than that. She has mined the Wade Collection and other sources for significant and ongoing influence of Inkling upon Inkling – diary entries, margin notes, correspondence, and reminiscences, often matched in time with manuscript changes, and rewritings large and small.  For example Tolkien loved to work out the details of Elvish, and write hobbit conversation and genealogy for his own amusement.  It was Lewis who told him that hobbit-speech is only interesting when it is recorded in non-hobbitish situations, and Lewis's notes on the encounter with Saruman at Orthanc are strongly reflected in the final manuscript. Christopher Tolkien, whose influence on his father while he was alive is often overlooked because of his rather obvious influence on the posthumously published works.

When the Inklings gathered, they intentionally shared manuscripts in early stages, when a little encouragement or disapproval over a specific approach can have an outsize influence. I think that is missed in most tellings. Their encouragement of all on all was great, not mere compliment but praise which showed understanding.  Criticism was not always gentle, but it was never dismissive. They collaborated, they advocated with publishers, they corrected, they argued.

Glyer closes each chapter with a boxed paragraph, "Doing What They Did," describing the interactions and suggesting the reader treat other writers or collaborators in the same way.  I found those a bit odd, as if she were writing her own study guide to her book.  The Epilogue reveals that this has been one of her main aims all along - to encourage the reader to get a group and begin collaborating and encouraging. I found it jarring, as it seemed to turn a literary matter into a self-help book. Being away from the book for two weeks has given me a kinder impression of that.  It is good advice.  The narrative of the isolated genius, not only in literature but in most human endeavors,  is wildly oversold.  It happens, but influencers and corresponders and schools of thought happen more. She is under no illusion that it will be easy to set up either: most attempted groups will peter out fairly quickly.

Until I started blogging ten years ago, I very much considered myself a writer in splendid isolation.  Significantly, I was never very good, either.  I wanted to be a writer of fiction when I was in college.  A  friend who had accidently read only a few pages of the second chapter had told me I had a great ear for writing dialogue, and I pressed on. After graduation I showed my first four chapters of that heroic fantasy to a friend who was a poet. She didn't like it. I abandoned the project. Twenty years later, I learned she didn't like any heroic fantasy.  Encouragement would have mattered, I think.  However, I would likely have been too brittle and arrogant to join a writer's group.  It was likely not possible for me, except by accident.  But when I lived with songwriters I wrote songs. I wrote a few songs after, but not as good.

* It is sobering to realise that the two of them might be remembered, if at all, only for The Hobbit, some essays on Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon literature, an Oxford History of the English Language textbook still in print, and some unrecognizable variation on The Abolition of Man. A work here or there by Barfield or Williams, still reaching a small but devoted audience, would round out the production of the entire group. A non-Christian Lewis might still have written something memorable, though unimaginable to current readers, I suppose.

NT Wright on Gay Marriage

I missed this when it came out almost two years ago NT Wright on Gay Marriage. I have been mostly impressed by everything of Wright's I read or hear.  I do have a complaint that he is reflexively pacifist (he denies this, and may have a good counter argument), and is immovably convinced that a world without the NHS is unthinkable.  Those may simply flow from being an Englishman of his class, so I weight them lightly.

I admit that I never considered the repeated binaries in Genesis and beyond as evidence that complementarity is a central theme and intent of God's.  It just never occurred to me.  It seems like a remarkable insight, but I will have to let it sit in my mind for awhile.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

We All Have To Talk About Trump

The new national pastime seems to be analyzing The Trump Phenomenon. We seem unable to just leave the subject alone.  Everyone wants to proclaim a definitive last word and be done with it, free to resume our regularly-scheduled programming. Then someone says or writes something which we just have to attend to, unable to turn the dial or refrain from clicking the link, and we rise up to comment again. I've had my hand at it a few times, even when swearing I will go no further.

Here is an early prediction of mine that is already coming true, and I think will continue. His critics will add to his power.  When people level criticisms against him which are untrue or crazier than anything he is saying, the natural response, perhaps even the automatic response of observers is to see him as more credible when those fall away. People throw ten things at him, six are unfair, and one is perhaps downright insane. The net result is that the four reasonable criticisms are forgotten. His critics try to keep them in the public eye, they swear that the next blow will lay him low, but he has moved on.

Lots of public figures are like this, especially politicians.  Reagan, the Teflon President, was noted for it.  Bill Clinton and Obama certainly have that quality, and Hillary has some, though not as much. They make their opponents act crazy, then get to raise their hands in exasperation as if to say that all the complaints against them must be similarly crazy. Interestingly, those who seem invulnerable to even reasonable attacks are often remarkably good at making their criticism of others stick, even if wildly unfair. The abilities must be related somehow. As a counterexample, everything stuck to Bush 41, even the ridiculously untrue, and I recall no stinging criticism of an opponent he ever made stick.

When anything upsets me, my second thought is to step back and look at the big picture.  If that doesn't work, I step to an even bigger picture. I'm already a few steps back on this election. It was not so long ago that monarchy was the best government available for prosperous, rights-of-man, enlightened nations. Many of those kings and queens were not at all skilled, were pathological in some way, or downright stupid. We have also had tyrants and buffoons in many decent places.  So long as they don't get into large-scale killing of their internal enemies, the countries seem to have muddled along.  The history of the American presidency includes some pigheaded men.

I also ask myself who I would wish to have as president if some absolute catastrophe came upon us - not one caused by same, of course. My answers surprised me on that one, enough so that I played it backward over the last few presidents, just for amusement.

Of the five people left standing for the presidency (unless a brokered convention brings another to the fore), four of them will be unable to govern.  Each will be entirely hated by the opposition party and only have about half of their own on board.  (The fifth, Rubio, will only be as divisive an average amount. Which is still terrible, but good by comparison.) We may learn that the presidency is far less important than we thought, mostly a symbolic expression these days.


I don't like pen-and-ink drawings all that much.  This one is by Dürer, a Madonna and Child.

Artists seem to like them, or at least, I remember that art students did.  I think I see the attraction of crosshatching or otherwise creating shading and highlighting with line.  There would be a puzzle to work out each time, and as one's skill improved, more would be available to try.

But I don't find the end results attractive.  Intriguing, impressive, yes. But they leave me cold. This will come up shortly when I review Bandersnatch, a new book by Diana Pavlac Glyer.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Anna Philbrook Center

I spent a week covering on the children's unit for the first time in my career. The flow of work is different, but I don't imagine folks are much interested in that.  You want to know about the kiddos.

Most of it isn't horrifying, just sad.

Only about half of them were seriously ill, which surprised me. The rest were mostly just sad cases, of things not working right. They had parents who expected them to smarten up and do their chores and not give any lip.  The phrase "doing this for attention" came out of those parents' mouths a lot more than you'd like.  These are generally kids who have too much anxiety, or too little central nervous system control, or are depressed, or obsessional, and just can't quite manage to do what the other kids in the family or at school do. They aren't horribly out of control, but it all winds into a deteriorating pattern of a kid who can't meet expectations, and a moderately stupid or unsympathetic or bullheaded parent who thinks They Could Do It If They Just Tried, leading to yelling, rejection, tantrums, and eventually, a parent who wants their child gone somewhere else, overwhelmed in the same way that the progeny are.  No serious pathology at any given point, just everyone dragging each other under the water, until the child does something dramatic like tie a cord around his neck or get suspended for fighting.

Those are never intact families, but chaotic, boundaryless ones.

There are also mean kids, that everyone hopes are just ill in some treatable way or will respond to a more structured environment. We are often the last stop before juvenile detention, as the last team of experts shakes their heads and say she's got some anxiety or mood disregulation that we can reduce, but that's not the main problem. The main problem is that she doesn't care anything for others. They are just objects to her. Sometimes those parents are just fine, so that you wonder if it's some genetic quirk or undiscovered prenatal or early childhood disease that just leads to dead conscience in some biological way.

The kids with the more serious illnesses are in a different world, even there. The sad, mostly healthy kids interact with them less.  They often come from "placements" and are going through an especially bad patch, with everyone hoping that some medication change will do at least minor magic. Sometimes it does, but mostly it's just tweaking and trading off side effects. Those parents are often bewildered or at their wits' end, but they seem like you and me.  Or more precisely, the percentage of pathological parents seems about the same as in the general population. The others are much like those I used to see at Little League or youth group.

Underneath it all is the chronic shortage of child psychiatrists (and even greater shortage of good ones, of course).  Less dramatically but still seriously, a shortage of child psychologists, psych nurses.  Maybe social workers - you'd think I'd know that about my own field, but I don't. Not enough well-trained people, so we rely on people we can pay very little and hope they have natural kindness and intuitive ability to deal with strange children.  Some can, quite remarkably. But most of the psych techs dread being sent to the kids' unit to cover.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Differences In Attitudes

I thought this might be fun to discuss. I nodded in assent to some things, disagreed mildly with some, and disagreed strongly with others. However, my disagreements were often on the basis of a few individuals I knew who don't fit - and those may be only temporarily in the category. For example a person who currently has wealth but does not fit these descriptions may not remain there long.

I found myself automatically rooting for the Middle Class, but being intrigued by what the wealthy did in contrast. I note some general themes that show up in multiple rows in each column, which made me suspicious that the arguments are crammed into a previously-believed theory.  So in my usual way...

I wondered what Ruby Payne's data was for this.  It turns out there isn't any. So this is rather like reading horoscopes, without an occultic involvement.  Have fun with it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


(There was an Eric Clapton video here, which has apparently been pulled.)

One of the things that white people like is black music that black people no longer listen to.  Jazz.  Early gospel. And The Blues.

Monday, February 22, 2016

What We've Been Saying

An interesting article in the Globe and Mail, Why Grit Is Overrated.
Once again, I am reminded how much money I wasted sending my children to private schools. I do retrospectively rationalise that by noticing specific goods that came from it, but the numbers are against me.We could have bought dune buggies instead.
These findings, the researchers noted in the British version of the study, “turn some of the fundamental assumptions about education upside down.” While intelligence may be genetic, achievement has always been thought to be due to the environmental influences of home and school. The non-cognitive components of school success include traits such as self-efficacy and motivation, curiosity, emotional intelligence, conscientiousness, well-being and prosocial behaviour. But an increasing weight of evidence shows that these traits are substantially heritable, too. As researchers say, “The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence.” In other words, grit does matter to success – but the stuff we think of as grit is made up of characteristics that people are largely born with (or not). Efforts to teach it make very little difference.
Note on understanding the article: Heritable does not mean "entirely genetic." It means that a lot is demonstrably genetic.  The current breakdown is that these positive qualities are about 50% genetic, 5% environmental, and 45% we-don't-know-and-our-favorite-theories-aren't-proving-out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Reacting off discussions with Trump supporters - and some others - on other sites, I am struck by how often the argument is raised on the Right that some action or another is justified because we are currently in a crisis, and more timid solutions have not availed. Supporting Trump is merely the latest in a long line of such recommendations. In the current case, it is primarily the immigration situation that is held to be so dire as to allow solutions that we might in more rational times not countenance. A commenter I often agree with, in some fit of overexcitement claimed that immigration is even an existential crisis in America.

Let's review: Two of my four/five sons grew up in peasant villages and orphanages in Transylvania until their teenage years. I still have other Romanian friends who lived under such conditions well into adulthood.  We also know a bunch of missionaries and ex-missionaries who have lived in some bad places. My vision of what Lost, Unlivable America is drops well below what America will look like in a couple of decades even if immigration controls are even more lax and nobody much gives a damn.

Next, America did have a Civil War and a Great Depression that seemed to inconvenience a few people, but somehow we got through that and still have a US of A. In fact, not only do we have lives that are unimaginably free and prosperous to the rest of the world (still), they could not have been understood even by Americans of a hundred years ago.

Everyone starved for at least part of the year everywhere, died painfully when they sickened or got hurt, and were entirely vulnerable to what powerful people nearby might do to them, for the entirety of human existence.

There's no crisis. Ukraine had a crisis in the 30's. People in wars have a crisis. We do not have to suspend ordinary good judgement - and we certainly do not have to suspend morality - in America in 2016.

BTW, I know the Left talks "crisis" like this as well.  Perhaps they do it even more, I don't know.  But I'm not talking to them just now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Ratcatcher

Neoneocon has a new post The Ratcatcher, about the reminiscences of Germans ten years after the war, and how they viewed Hitler then.  David Foster, who shows up in my sidebar under Chicagoboyz, is one of the better commenters on the topic.

Two notes:  A less well-known book in my personal library The Good Old Days, about German attitudes before the war, is also unsettling. Anytime we see evil people as real we cannot help but see ourselves.

Her reference to the Pied Piper is interesting.  The folktale possibly refers to the young people of Germany migrating to Transylvania in the 12th C.  So my third and fourth sons may be descended from some of those.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia Commentary

I would like to say that it was Scalia's critics who couldn't wait before having to turn Justice Scalia's death into political speculation, while his supporters were more willing to go the full route of discussing his body of work and what they thought it meant in the history of the court.  But conservative sites were often not much better and sometimes no better at all.  The writers at Volokh Conspiracy did very well.  Bernie Sanders was very gracious.

One of my sons was irritated that people couldn't even wait until the second tweet. "It's 140 characters, guys. You can find other stuff to fit in there." My unscientific survey finds that liberal and mainstream media outlets generally went to the political fight aspect in paragraph 2 or 3, conservative outlets in paragraph 3 or 4, with a few of the former and about half of the latter waiting much longer.  In general, those outlets putting out a formal obituary were far better at this, likely because they had had it written already and just loaded it up.

I'm betting National Review does an entire issue on him.

Loving Your Enemies

Excellent sermon by the youth pastor today about loving our enemies. (My eldest thinks he is learning to preach well because youth leaders have to think about their audience rather than just talk out loud to the section of the congregation most like themselves.) The strength of it was his focus on noticing the enemies close by.  Jesus's examples were very individual, of an enemy that strikes you or steals from you. Whatever Jesus thought his followers should think about the fortunes of Romans or Greeks in general He doesn't say.

The sermon did include the usual extension of feeling enmity toward ISIS, and what should follow from that.  That is what anyone who has been to seminary was immersed in, and likely still is with his peers he keeps in contact with from those days, or his new peers in the clergy. But that was not the center of the homily.  The center was those who had hurt you, those who you can hardly bear to think about, those who are or were quite near to you.

If I say "ISIS is our enemy, we should love them and pray for them," what changes in my life, really?  At most, it might change who I vote for - which, you may remember - I regard as a largely symbolic act of personal signalling. The difficulty arises from our usual use of the word enemy. Our immediate though is of a national enemy, then perhaps another group within our own borders. We don't easily remember that our real enemies are among us, at our jobs or under our roofs, or at minimum, at our weddings, reunions, and funerals. We have to be reminded by someone else. 

It sounds as if it was the same in Jesus's day, as he has to mention it specifically in Matthew 10:36, A person's enemies will from their own household.

I have given up alcohol for Lent, and use the momentary discomfort of thinking a glass of wine or a scotch-on-the-rocks might be nice to pray for an enemy in the family, who is also a friend. In most liturgical traditions, a prayer focus on another person (not cause) used to be common in Lent.  That is where those painted eggs in the Orthodox traditions come from: each was crafted for a specific person by the one who had prayed for him or her of Lent.

Note on giving up stuff:  We are physical creatures and we need to enlist our bodies in our spiritual practice, not pretend they are not there because we are too spiritual.  Another note on giving up stuff:  I have also cut way back on starches because I love them.  I find it is easier to give up two things than one, somehow.

Church And Community

The increase in young people drifting away from the church occurs over the same that large numbers of them started to go away to go to college.

Well, a lot of changes also coincide with those two things, so I'm not arguing a cause-and-effect.  However, I am advocating that we contemplate whether there is a cause-and-effect, rolling that around in our minds.  I am not referring so much to young people fleeing the church at those ages because of what they teach at colleges.  That's all very interesting, of course, but lots of people analyze that. I'm thinking of the simple drifting out of the community.  They go to far places - anywhere beyond 20 miles if far enough to split them from their congregation. Their last years in the congregation were often heavily-bonded with their own age group, so if they return over vacation, even the people that they know they do not know. After graduation this only intensifies.

Community is very near the heart of the gospel, but it is greatly weakened in America.  It is true that immigrants tended to seek communities with others of their own group, as in Lake Wobegon's German Catholics and Norwegian Lutherans. Yet that quaint and fictitious community is the experience of nearly all Christians outside America, except in cities at ports and crossroads. America had its movement and its frontiers, so our theology came to focus more on decisions and conversions to the broader Church.  That had good consequences in terms of Americans recognising some value in the practices of other Christians and gradually learning some tolerance.  But the de-emphasis on community meant we never batted an eyelash when my generation all started to travel way to go to school, never to return to their home congregation and thus less likely to join some new congregation where they eventually settled.

Plenty did join new churches, certainly, but it's abundantly clear the numbers were down. Some of that was intentional, but a lot of it was just drift, of young Christians who mean to go to church or hope to or plan to, but are in a place where they have no connection and they have to come in cold.  Often, if their spouse is also a believer they were not a believer in quite the same way, so that's an additional hurdle. One has to be determined to keep the connection going, because the discomforts are stacked against you and the comforts will not come for months or years.

It has been two generations, now starting a third, of young people going far and not having a faith community there. What were we thinking? Now even those who stay nearby consider it normal to leave off attending church, as their friends aren't there.

I write this as one who intentionally went far away to school and considered separation at 18 entirely normal and preferable, and sent all my sons to far places when they finished highschool.  So I am assuredly not criticising anyone here. Unintended consequence of how we designed our education system in terms of the importance of careers. Perhaps not the best trade-off.

Friday, February 12, 2016

New Theory

Unless someone else has already come up with it and I missed it.

Everyone is focusing on how angry the Trump supporters are.  Try this:  they're not angry, they are bored and impatient.  Maybe low attention span. Because it's tribalism again. Big surprise, that Assistant Village Idiot is going to use tribalism as his go-to explanation, I know.  But I actually haven't for quite a while.  I'm trying it on and seeing if it fits.

I listen to Howie Carr sometimes, and he is not an unreasonable person, generally.  He likes Trump this time around, which surprised me.  His comments tonight: I don't want someone who's a member of the club. Ted Cruz is on double-secret probation but he's still a member of the club.  I want someone who gonna kick ass and take names.

The Trump commenters on conservative sites say much the same.  They like Trump because he will shake things up. They go off into "explanations" that they supported the Republicans but things are still the same - then the "list of things that are still the same" comes out. But Trump won't put up with any of that, oh, no. 

If that's all it takes, then the prisons are full of guys who will kick ass, take names, and shake things up. So... that can't be the whole story.  Pointing out that Trump is not all that conservative doesn't seem to help, nor do examples of things that conservatives really dislike, nor objectionable stuff he's said and done.

The underlying idea is I'm willing to roll the dice on this guy.  That's not so much an angry person as a bored and impatient one.  That is also the attitude of a person who thinks "Hell, things can't get much worse."  Because things can obviously get much worse.  Nor does there seem to be much discussion of whether things would already be worse if we hadn't started electing more conservatives starting in 2010. Trying to analyze what, exactly couldn't get any worse, I remembered that in the competition among American tribes, everyone believes they are victimised and one-down.

The feeling is We deserve to be dominant, but Obama is still president, and the elected GOP still caves on everything and people still laugh at us. We want someone to go forth and Do Battle.  Trump is willing to Do Battle, and you other bastards wouldn't. It will be fun to watch him fight those liberals and give 'em what for.  Roll the dice.  Spin the wheel.  Take bets and make popcorn. Hehehe!

I disagree.  I could actually make a high-school five-point essay in favor of him. (The trick is to leave some things out.) Yet his supporters don't seem to be making those arguments, they are making other claims, usually suffused with what they imagine he is going to do.

Folk Tale

The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body. I note again that while the role of the female character is less active than the males, in most other mythologies the females barely appear at all. This one gets to do stuff.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Academic Nonsense

This blog received an invitation from a PhD student at the Institute for Creative Technologies as USC to participate in his study for his dissertation.  It's something about how people's opinions on blogs relate to society and...well, I forget, actually.  It was mercifully free of offputting jargon, but still quite full of the usual modern academic vagueness of thought.

I replied that this is exactly the sort of academic nonsense I want to discourage.  This will have no effect, of course.  Still, it was fun for a few moments.

Monday, February 08, 2016

About That Sea Foam...

I had completely forgotten that part in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" about mermaids turning into sea foam after 300 years if they don't get souls, until Retriever and bsking referenced it.  I mostly remembered the ending as a muddle, with everything pointing toward tragedy, but somehow ending up vaguely positive at the end.  For no reason I could remember.  I looked it up today, and apparently I'm not the only one.  P.L. Travers, who wrote Mary Poppins, found the ending deeply upsetting.  Digging deeper, she is described as a folklorist as well as an author, which I had not heard.

I can't put myself into the minds of people hundreds of years ago, but it seems that these sorts of elements, of sentient creatures living on as natural phenomenon recur frequently.  Myths and legends recount how the sun came to be in the sky or the leopard got his spots. If you follow this stuff often enough, Indian maidens are always looking into pools for their lovers or mothers or children forever at the end of the story; European maidens are turned into trees or blackbirds, Asians into bears or fish.  For some reason, women get turned into stuff more often than men.  Perhaps it is because at hearthside, women were more often telling the stories.

This became much more intentional in Europe, as in Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, . Fanciful explanations popped up everywhere for everything.  We even call those back-impositions of our fancies onto the actual phenomena "just-so stories" now, after Kipling.  Tolkien uses it in fiction, and Lewis slightly.  It seems to have been in the air for those interested in older stories. If there were water falling or an animal with an unusual feature, someone was sure to invent a tale for how that came to be.

If we view the mermaid turning into sea-foam from the other direction, of an imaginative person standing by the shore and thinking how the foam seemed to have it's own personality, and a delicate, feminine one, it may look a touch less strange.  But to our eyes, it still seems to be some weird consolation-prize.  You didn't get the prince, but at least you get to exist in some interesting form rather than passing immediately into oblivion.  Perhaps in eras when people died young, oblivion was closer to the truth, and more folks were out experiencing natural phenomenon it all seemed rather romantic. Maybe.  It still seems creepy to me.

Interesting addition: When reading up on this, I saw a good deal of commentary about Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and other sleeping princesses being descended from stories teaching that if you loved someone strongly enough, you could bring them back from the dead, which was a newer idea not found before 1700 or so.  Less frequently it would be a male figure who could be brought back by his true love, though she usually had a harder time of it than just kissing him. 

Prior to that there were myths of many lands which recounted fascinating stories of people trying to rescue their loved ones from the clutches of death and the underworld.  But in those, the message usually was You can't. They're dead. Some sort of moderate optimism began to overtake Europeans in the Middle Ages, and now we can't tolerate stories where the hero(ine) does not revive.

It put's a different spin on Disney, doesn't it?

Sunday, February 07, 2016


I'm no strategist, but I'm betting that trotting out Madeline Albright to shame young women into voting for Hillary isn't going to have much effect.  The number of women under 30 who have heard of her must be vanishingly small.

BTW, I promised to evaluate the Republican candidates acccording to Jonathan Haidt's moral foundations.  I haven't forgotten, I just can't come up with anything useful to say.  They are all appealing to a conditional fairness, that those who work hardest and play by the rules should get a bit more.  Trump is most vociferous about that, though...

Well, I don't even know what the "though" is.  What he does is different, and I can't define how.

The other moral foundations are all in play with the other candidates, but I'm not seeing much of patterns, except that disgust/sacredness is not as common as it's predicted to be.  I'll tell you if I come up with anything smart.

BTW, I went to see Carly this morning with son and granddaughters.  The eight-year-old is very much in latency and is all in for a woman candidate, so she now has Carly banners in her room.  I liked Fiorina just fine, though she doesn't seem to be getting traction.  I hope she's on every Republican's short list for VP.

For those who are interested, I am voting for Kasich.  I am suspicious of charisma and fond of promises kept. If what we need is return to adulthood an normalcy, then he's the guy.  If what we need is radical rethinking of foreign policy and economic adjustment for a new world, I'm thinking that favors Cruz.  I'm not that fond of him, but "fondness" is not an important criterion.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Genre Fiction

When I was a folksinger, I read that Woody Guthrie had written 3,000 songs, and I remember not being that impressed.  I was writing about a song a week at that point, sometimes three or four, and I figured that if I weren't going to school and were just riding around and singing here and there, plus hanging out with other folksingers who would give me ideas, and multiplying that over forty years, no big deal.  Because there's a knack, and it didn't seem to me to be a high skill.  Most of the songs wouldn't be that good, but they might be acceptable, and a few would be memorable.

I thought same applied to commercial folk-rock and to country music.  There was just this knack, and it took a while to get into it clearly, but then you could just crank them out, much as Tin Pan Alley, or the 60's pop writers like Carole King and Neil Sedaka had done. (Fun trivia: "Everybody Loves a Clown" was written by Leon Russell.) In retrospect, I think I might have manged it with folk-rock, though I now doubt even that.  My few attempts at country songs illustrate that I did not really understand that genre, only the stereotype of the genre. My stars, those songs are terrible, and there is only one I can bear to listen to even a part of now.*

The problem was, I was trying to elevate the genres I aspired to, not work within them.  That seldom works. You must have love for a genre that you expect to crank out a career from.  You might eventually hate that genre and yourself, but you have to love it first.

My children grew up on Bible or other Sunday School skits that my wife and I had written.  Not great literature, but there's a knack, and really, we could have churned them out like candy if we had to make our living by it somehow.  We did mean to elevate the genre - Lord knows it needs elevating - but no so far as to remake it, to write the One Great Bible Skit that transformed.  We just wanted them to get the point across clearly, borrowing from the techniques we knew from much reading.  Perhaps we should have done more.

I aspired to be a writer of fiction in those years as well, but even though I loved 2.5 genres - mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi/speculative - I considered myself above mere genre fiction writing.  I now wonder if it is truer that I could not rise to that level.  I thought of myself as a true descendant of Tolkien, Lewis, and Alexander; or Chesterton, Christie, Sayers, expected to put up something at least vaguely comparable, though I might not hope to match them.  A career of half-a-dozen sword and sorcery potboilers that were out of print a few years later was not for one such as I.

Without changing my attitude about that, it is doubtful I could have done it, even with practice.  I wonder now whether that would have been a better choice, if I could have remade myself well enough to write like that. The timing would have been right, as I would have been developing my craft just as the market was growing to its peak.

I still can churn out a song or a skit if you need it. Though neither of my sons engage in that, I'm betting they could do so as well, because it was in the air of their whole childhood, far more than mine.  Genre fiction would quite possibly be in their grasp as well.

Yet perhaps not. There needs to be not only skill, but personality type, desire, and love of the genre.

*The chorus of "Shot a Lawman Down," which long predated "I Shot The Sheriff," wasn't half bad. Sort of an Eagles/Pure Prairie League thing.  Early country-rock.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Just To Ruin Your Evening

Speaking of Bilbo...

Some things cannot be unseen.

The Road

Reading about the Great North Road today (Dick Whittington, thrice-Lord Mayor and all that), the site linked to a Hillaire Belloc extended quote.  I have heard of Belloc, but never read anything of him.  ACatholic writer, he was friends with GK Chesterton and paired with him in the '10's and '20's, so that George Bernard Shaw affectionately called them The Chesterbelloc, a monster.
"There are primal things which move us. Fire has the character of a free companion that has travelled with us from the first exile; only to see a fire, whether he need it or no, comforts every man. Again, to hear two voices outside at night after a silence, even in crowded cities, transforms the mind. A Roof also, large and mothering, satisfies us here in the north much more than modern necessity can explain; so we built in the beginning: the only way to carry off our rains and to bear the weight of our winter snows. A Tower far off arrests a man’s eye always: it is more than a break in the sky-line; it is an enemy’s watch or the rallying of a defence to whose aid we are summoned. Nor are these emotions a memory or a reversion only as one crude theory might pretend; we craved these things - the camp, the refuge, the sentinels in the dark, the hearth - before we made them; they are part of our human manner, and when this civilisation has perished they will reappear.

"Of these primal things the least obvious but the most important is The Road. It does not strike the sense as do those others I have mentioned; we are slow to feel its influence. We take it so much for granted that its original meaning escapes us. Men, indeed, whose pleasure it is perpetually to explore even their own country on foot, and to whom its every phase of climate is delightful, receive, somewhat tardily, the spirit of The Road. They feel a meaning in it; it grows to suggest the towns upon it, it explains its own vagaries, and it gives a unity to all that has arisen along its way. But for the mass The Road it silent; it is the humblest and the most subtle, but, as I have said, the greatest and most original of the spells which we inherit from the earliest of our race. It was the most imperative and the first of our necessities. It is older than building and than wells; before we were quite men we knew it, for the animals still have it to-day; they seek their food and their drinking-places, and, as I believe, their assemblies, by known tracks which they have made.
It sounds very much like Chesterton, doesn't it? The full quote from Belloc's book The Road, is here 

Also -

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”(Bilbo Baggins)