Thursday, November 30, 2017

German Antisemitism

Gringo buried a fascinating link in the comments over at Maggie's, about the antisemitism of Germans, and the possibility that much of the refugee immigration was tolerated in order to get rid of Jews. It seems a stretch to think of this as a plot, but as a convenient development it is plausible.

The author is ex-leftist journalist Melanie Phillips.  English, Oxford, my age, now more right-wing identified (though not on all issues). Worth a look, I think.


James mentioned in the comments (look it up, it will do you good) that Advent was a penitential season.  If I would like to reclaim Christmas, it would likely take something radical like a fast of some sort, or it would just be a Good Intention, forgotten by Tuesday.

I don't have much time, as Advent begins in just a few days. I don't have a plan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Not A Snowflake

A high-school friend posted this on FB today.  I am resisting unfollowing her, even though there have been a few of these. She really does see herself as a kindly person, standing up for what is right and shielding the downtrodden. She is pals with a local gubernatorial and congressional candidate from the 90's turned radio commentator, with a show called "The Attitude," similarly mean and hectoring.  The most famous picture of her was refusing to listen to Judd Gregg with a "talk to the hand" gesture.
I am not a liberal snowflake. My feelings aren't fragile, my heart isn't bleeding.
My STRENGTH is in the SERVICE of others. There is nothing more FIERCE than formidable, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
There is nothing more COURAGEOUS than COMPASSION.
But if my belief in EQUITY, EMPATHY, GOODNESS, and LOVE indeed makes me or people like me snowflakes, then you should know... WINTER IS COMING!!!

Sounds sorta mean for a compassionate person, with the all-caps and the threat of winter and how many there will be. I'm always surprised to see that from Nice People. She means me, without realising that, and I'm offended.

She's a little defensive, too, I would say.  Maybe someone's fragile feelings were hurt. Seems like you could break an arm patting yourself on the back like that.  I'm wondering what the "unconditional" aprt of this love is, except as cliched synonym for really intense and a whole lot.

I'n not sure what HUMAN RIGHTS she thinks her opponents don't support.  I think she means legal rights that she believes are so obvious they don't need a defense. Last year that was trans bathrooms. I don't know what service she is talking about either. 

She would be utterly contemptuous of a conservative person who claimed such personal goodness with the implied insult to those who are in political disagreement.  There are such conservatives, of course.  Lots of them. People who say they've worked hard and never asked for a thing, putting a spotlight on their generosity, and respectability, complaining that others in this society don't do that. You can find them in comments sections all over the internet. Sometimes in live space, too, though I don't know many.  You don't expect to find college professors, counselors, and others who have had the advantages of gentle upbringing with this need for cartoons, however. There is a need to see oneself as righteous. A love for hating others.

Creative Problem-Solving

My wife has received a very nice letter from an American Covenant lady now in Sweden. She originally went in order to work in missions in Russia, but then the Syrian refugees came and she decided to work with them instead. She uses some of the phrasings that liberals here use about refugees. She thinks it is the greatest European migration wince WWII.  "Biggest" might be accurate - I don't know what the total movement was after the Iron Curtain collapsed - but "greatest" is unambiguously positive, and not everyone in Sweden would agree with that, I'm told. Immediately after mentioning that immigration has slowed to a trickle, she talks about the rise in hate groups, and in the same sentence talks about renewed interest in the Norse gods and even animal sacrifice. She writes glowingly about the Syrians in her village. So that's one side of things.

On the other hand...she mentions how few Swedes are Christians now, and notes that Syrian immigrants are becoming Christians and attending her church.  I have read of this happening in Germany as well.  I don't know how widespread it is, but it bears remembering that these people would not be Christians without the move. She says these refugees arrive with a "respect for God" that the Swedes don't have. I would have initially thought that a whitewashing comment. Yet if there are people coming to Christ out of that group - and not from the surrounding culture - then there is something to it for a Christian to be supportive of.

I don't have to have a political opinion about it.  Not my country, not my culture.  I will mention that for those who are already there (assuming legally), the Christian's job is clear, even if they disapproved of the arrival.  What Christians from other countries should be doing about encouraging more refugees to come to Sweden is something different. Well-meaning and generous people often overlook that they are giving something away that belongs to others. (In America, when "we" are generous to others as policy, we are giving away jobs, safety, and resources that might have belonged to those who are already here.  We are giving away their stuff. Representative democracy makes that possible, but it has some moral ambiguity to it.)

I learned a trick forty years ago that I have never used often enough, but can bring clarity to a problem.  Imagine that the problem is only one-tenth as bad, and decide what your action would be. Sometimes this will take a good deal of thought, examining what, precisely, does "one-tenth as bad" mean? More often, the answer is swift. Eh, I would just ignore it in that case. If the Syrians had only a marginally higher crime rate than the native Swedes, there would be no news. People get nervous because their crime rate is actually much higher.

Now imagine that the problem is ten times as bad.  Imagine that the criminals are not 5% of immigrants (compared to 1% of Swedes), but 50%.  What would they do?  How would they balance their being generous with putting innocents at risk?

There should be a second part as well: exaggerating the positives, then diminishing them.  What if most immigrants found their way into churches and became Christians, whether soon or late? Would the crime rate of the others bother us less? What if hardly any immigrants assimilated, contributed, or converted? How would Swedes react?  How would American Christians react?

The exercise does not give us answers.  God may insist we continue to do things bad for ourselves because they are good for someone else, or for purposes we cannot discern.  But the technique can get you out of a circular trap of thinking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The War on Christmas

We use that phrase a lot, and it is of course an exaggeration. No one here is being locked up for Christmasing, and it is a bit insulting to those around the world who actually are in some danger for us to claim victimhood. As is often the case when there is a lot of energy in the argument and people talking past each other, there are at least two things happening here, and treating them as one is at least part of the confusion.

There is first the current celebration, which even in its watered down form has Christian elements.  We are determined now to make sure that each 1% of us, or 0.1% of us, is treated equally, history be damned. Ironically, there is more power in this argument in America, the most Christmas-celebrating country in the world, than there is in other countries with less faith but more shared tribal history. We originally opted for no state church in an era when it was almost entirely a question of which version of Christianity one followed, and whether one wanted to follow it with enthusiasm or just wave at it from a distance.  Very few envisioned a time where Jews, Muslims, Native religions, atheists, or Eastern religions would even be up for discussion. There might be a few, but Dedham or Frederisckburg was going to just keep doing what it did, because they outnumbered everyone so thoroughly. We made consitutional rules without seeing that consequence, that people could have a creche on the town square for a hundred years and then be told it was unamerican the 101st year, when the rule was pressed hard.

I see that point and am sad about it, but I understand that it is an offense to people who don't like my religion, and that even if 99% of the people in town agree with having a creche, it is a sort of establishment of religion.

There is a separate point, which is history, and what actually did happen. Rewriting history so that it says what we want it to is an increasing danger. The cities and towns of America did celebrate Christmas throughout their histories*, and that is part of the shared culture of the place you come from. If you moved all over, there was a generic American Christmas that you shared in. It changed over the years, but mostly only visible from the inside. I find that generic, and culturally shared Christmas to be inadequate, a bit milk-and-water. But it was there, and there's no saying it wasn't. There wouldn't be a shared holiday at this time of the year if it hadn't been for Christmas. Hanukkah got elevated to keep in cultural resonance with the Christian holiday.  The winter solstice got tacked on recently, stage makeup on a corpse to pretend it's actually an old person who has been surviving all these years. But all those Northern Europeans made the tomten and the sheaves of wheat go to church centuries ago.

Perhaps it will be better for my people. The long, wheezing expiration of Christmas into a spending spree and month-long gorge, adorned with symbols whose meanings have gone dim, may lead to a new Christian festival.  Though I doubt it. 

*Not the Puritans, though.  Not for a long while.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jacques Ellul

I read and liked Jacques Ellul decades ago. Money and Power may be the only thing I read, plus some magazine articles,* perhaps in Christianity Today. Something came up that I disagreed with strongly enough that I abandoned reading any more of him.  I forget what. It could be that I would like him again if I picked something up. I was wrong about a lot of things then.

David Foster over at Chicago Boyz mentioned a favorite CS Lewis quote of mine that it is the intelligentsia, not the hoi polloi, who are most easily misled. He mentioned also Andre Maurois making a related claim, that those who are highly intelligent but not creative in any way are especially susceptible to throwing themselves voraciously on such systems as they do encounter.

I recalled something of Ellul claiming that intellectuals were easier to manipulate and went looking for it.  I didn't find it, but Bing did pop up this article on propaganda summarising Ellul's 1965 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. Quite something.

Ellul considered himself a Christian Anarchist.  Perhaps I need a dose of that now.

*Remember magazine articles?  Yes, children, these were a real thing once.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Who, Exactly, Is Obsessed?

Grim discusses whether Republicans should remain beholden to an "antiquated morality" or just drop some of it in the interests of electing some otherwise good candidates. Good comments.

I go to an evangelical church and talk often with a Catholic friend at work who is involved in youth ministries in her parish, and somewhat on a larger scale. Youth leaders make sure that something is covered about sexual behavior over the course of the year, but other than that, I don't hear anyone talking about it much.  Stray comments. I do recall that the subject came up more often at the Christian schools my children went to, but I'm not sure it was so prominent as children's impressions are, nor what they recall later. There would be a week with a video series, and Bible classes would veer that way pretty often, but I am guessing, based on observation, that it was the students themselves who kept those fires burning bright. Because teenagers. The tension between their school's views and the prevailing secular views was a large topic to them.  When they would bring it up to faculty I imagine it was sometimes hard for teachers at such schools to deflect back to other topics.  They knew what the expectation was in terms of advocating for standards.

Yet the amount of conversation that was school-initiated may not have been as great as is assumed.

I recall during the Clinton impeachment that the accusations were particularly common.  Yet it was my impression that the Republicans kept bringing up the lying, while the Democrats kept excusing the sex, insisting that this was the issue Republicans really cared about. I said then and I'll say now: I think that's completely backward. That is a cartoon. Liberals are obsessed with defending, excusing, or even touting sex outside of marriage. (Not all, and some Republicans now join them - I recognise that I am generalising.) Conservatives consider it one aspect of morality among many, and have a fair bit of complexity in their views in relating purely moral versus practical issues and reflections on mercy, kindness, judgement, accountability, and forgiveness.

I wish I had worked with the word "cartoon" when I reviewed and discussed True Patriot almost a decade ago. It's clearer and more accurate than what I did say then.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mormon Genetics

Having had my DNA done turned up a genetic group of Frontier Mormons. This only means a strong connection, not any descent. It reminded me that the original Mormons were largely from the Northeast, and having traced back their own connections for religious reasons are likely to be disproportionately represented among the descendants.

Those who join new religions and head off into the desert are likely to be among the eccentric or even fringe elements of the origin group, and frontier Mormons were certainly an unusual group in their behavior. As New England and New York had already produced the widespread Unitarian heresy, they were perhaps more disposed to believe unusual things.  One would expect a selection bias for unusual behavior as well. Which Mormons did display throughout their early history and well into the 20th C.  Yet in the 1930's there was an executive decision to switch direction: to shave off the long beards, stop fighting the government and the culture at larger about multiple wives, and become in some sense hyper-American.  No culture can manage an about-face like that neatly, and there were schisms and groups which persist to this day that hold deeply to the old Mormon distinctives, even including polygamy.

But the LDS church continues to move away from its distinctives and join a more standard Christianity.  Not there yet, but it's coming into view.  They can even seem hyper-Christian in areas that mainstream denominations have abandoned. They have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, not an annual SLC Hip-Hop festival.

I wonder if it is a reassertion of the respectability and conforming genes of Puritans and Dutch Calvinists which populated the Northeast for two centuries. The two generations of converts and pioneers had more eccentricity and adventure genes than the original population, but they were still largely drawn from it and regressed back to it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Singing out loud takes the edge off depression, at least a little bit.  Just about any activity does, actually, but singing is near the top of the list.  Merely listening to music is also good, but I don't think it is in the same league. It's not accidental that most worship involves singing, and even the quiet Eastern forms often involve chanting. Living in New England, we have had lots of people in the pews who come for the concert as non-participants. Eventually, that leads to very good musicians and empty churches, I think.

I approve of different groups singing as part of the worship.  Heaven seems to be a series of concerts, in which we are sometimes participants and sometimes the audience (I imagine we will be allowed to hum along.*  I hope so, because I seem to do that naturally.  We went to a musical last night and the accompanist noticed my humming the bass line.  Fortunately, she was pleased.  Not everyone is.)

When one is depressed, sometimes it is hard to get up and do even small things that will help, because the depressed mind, in Eeyorish fashion says "It won't fix everything.  So why bother?) Encouraging friends who are depressed to get up and do something is a great gift.  there are those encouragers and coaches who are very good at persuading those who don't want to to get going and do a little.  Thrice blessed are they.

Getting yourself to church to sing out loud does some good, even in the natural realm.  As today's sermon mentioned, explicitly mentioning gratitude also seems to help us, so worhsip music has some extra effect.

*In my next life, I hope to be a cello.


That will be my new shorthand for people who change the subject when the argument is going against them. Look! A Squirrel! There is a guy over at Maggie's who is masterful at it, because he changes the subject by only 10-15 degrees, so you don't notice, and think you are still in the same argument you started with. He eats up a lot of energy of conservatives who could use their time better. Including me, sometimes. I try to be one refutation and out with him.

I will also seem to change the subject in the face of difficult information at times.  Maybe it is more than seeming.  Maybe I do much the same thing.  Yet I do try to tie things back into the original topic with some explanation. When I notice it, anyway.  Some people use that change of topic as an intentional tactic, and I think there is something dishonest about that. I suspect that the people who do it best do it naturally, though.  When they just can't bear to even think a thing they've just been confronted with, their mind slides naturally to something more congenial they'd rather talk about.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


A few years ago I put up Christmas music as done by regular folk.  I don't know what I'm going to do this year or when I'll start, but this seems a fun start, even if Advent is over two weeks away.  No one much remembers Steeleye Span anymore but a few eccentric Boomers and assorted fanatics, but they brought this song out from obscurity and it has been covered by many since. Piae Cantiones was first published in 16th C Finland, though "Gaudete" may be older.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

How Long Foreign?

I wrote "status quo" and "laissez-faire" in my previous post and defiantly decided to put neither in italics. They have been residents in the language long enough, and most of our words are no less foreign. I declare them citizens.

I suspect that single words get accepted much more quickly than phrases. Maybe there will be something about it over at Language Log.

I didn't find anything about it over there, but I did get a link to the Latin-O-Meter, which measures how Latinate (versus French, Germanic, other) one's writing is. They recommend writers stay around 30%, and further advise not exceeding 42%, ever.  I entered two samples, and got a 33% and a 42%.  So I am comfortable to stuffy, pretentious.  That is likely so.

They say nice things about Jane Austen's blend.

Distance From Power

There was a link over at Maggie's to a College Fix article about America's Outer Class. Colin Johnson, professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University, told an academic conference that Trump voters feel oppressed too. I think he gets something very right about this.
At a session titled “WTF Rural America? Geography. Culpability. Trump.,*”Johnson told his peers they should tinker with the traditional top-to-bottom social class structure that puts the wealthy at the highest point and poor at bottom. He argued the traditional model is poor at predicting voting patterns and doesn’t fully tease out the frustration currently felt by many Americans and exhibited in last year’s election.
“Specifically, I would suggest we need to stop thinking about class in terms of vertically oriented hierarchy and start thinking of it instead in terms of perceived proximity to or distance from centers of power, be they real or imagined,” he said.
Centering social class around one’s distance to power, the scholar says, better captures feelings of resentment and underrepresentation — two factors Johnson suggested played a major role in last year’s presidential election.
 Distance from power would explain why many Trump supporters remain angry with the GOPe. We no longer care whether we agree with you more than the Democrats on issues.  You won't fight for us.**  We're done with you. It also fits with the anger at protestors and victim groups. How can you say you're being "silenced?" You're on TV. People are giving you awards, and making concessions to you, and coming up with new programs so you get jobs, or inside tracks. You have access to power, and I don't, and you didn't do anything to earn it but complain and kick other people. 

I think Professor Johnson's idea is correct in general as well, not just about Trump voters, minorities, and women.  The larger and more intrusive government is, the greater the percentage of the people who feel they don't have a voice.  When power is dispersed throughout society (which it still is in America, though that ebbs a little each year) people see that there are many things they have influence over, and these are the most important things.

*Link leads only to the conference description, but that's pretty darn entertaining in itself. You can sign in if you're a member. Let's just say that Colin Johnson, for all his previous cred writing about Queer People in rural America, might have serious pushback from this crew.

**It used to be that Democrats said they would fight for you, and Republicans said they would work for you,  as I discussed here. Bonus: you get to read the early writings of Bethany as well. This has been changing over the years, and the change became very strong in the last election. It is related to my observation that angry liberals go on offense - usually against objects, though sometimes humans - while conservatives get back on defense; in the extreme, holing up with weapons and daring Obama/liberals/gun-grabbbers to come get them. Even in milder forms, though, conservatives in a society are more tied to the status quo, while liberals are looking to shake things up and create change.  The meanings become fluid because change and status quo can look very different in different centuries and on different continents. Gladstone was the height of 19th C liberalism, which included free trade and laissez-faire economics. The offense-defense distinction is breaking down, in bad directions in both cases.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tactics in 1998

In the discussion of sexual exploitation and political figures I recalled once again how different things would have been if Trent Lott had not made the impeachment of Bill Clinton dead on arrival when it reached the Senate. (I still don't know why. The only plausible explanation I have heard is that he knew of others who were going to be similarly exposed if it went forwarded and he thwarted justice to protect them. I have no evidence for that.) Al Gore would have become president, and the 2000 election would likely have been his by a good margin. Democrats would have doubled down on his behalf and kept all the Clinton scandals off the table as much as possible.  Republicans couldn't have been any angrier and might have been less determined.  Independents might have wanted to give Gore a chance, because he had taken over in a tough situation. Poor Al. The recession had barely started and dire warnings were going out, but most people still thought the economy was perking along nicely and a majority gave the credit for that to Democrats.

I used to wonder about that a lot.  The Republicans might have lost by winning, the Democrats won by losing.  Some Democrats, anyway.

9/11 and the recession would still have happened, and who knows whether that would have allowed the blame for that to fall on the Democrats, but that seems likely, though Gore would have been president already anyway. Jim Geraghty over at National Review has been remembering the same thing. Alt-history buffs like to take off from such points in history, telling us what they think would have happened after, but I never have confidence that events would have unfolded predictably for very long. I do think Hillary Clinton's career would have been over. Some value in that, I say.

Geraghty wonders would would have been different in the culture, and if the protection of powerful men would have been weakened sooner. Those of us who had mandatory sexual-harassment trainings at work can attest to the walkback that happened abruptly in 1998 and only gradually resumed its previous trajectory.  I can't imagine the protection of Harvey Weinstein or George Takei or a dozen other celebrities would have been strengthened by Clinton's removal from office, though I can't guess how much it would have been weakened. It solidified abortion's importance as the only non-negotiable feminist issue, relegating some types of exploitation and harassment to the back of the bus, but maybe the change there would have been slight. The feminism that emerged was merely liberalism with craft booths, crowding out other strains. Maybe that was destined to happen anyway.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Local Aristocracy and Nationalization of Culture.

A comment by "dearieme" over at Chicago Boyz put me in mind of a conversation that used to be common, but I, at least, don't run into anymore. The America of my youth was more local in its orientation. While the principle of being an American was more universally-held from sea to shining sea, we were still quite provincial. Americans were regional, or even narrower. As a consequence, the phrase "rich people" drew images of North Elm St, North River Rd for us, and only secondarily Rockerfellers, Newport RI cottages, or those people in Southern California. My mother's second marriage brought us into the fringes of that. My stepfather was wealthy and well-placed enough, but he had come from North Haven, CT, and his sons went to Tilton, not St Paul's. For her part, my mother brought in some older local aristocracy, as my grandfather was the first CPA in NH and had grown quietly respectable in the inner circle by the time I was aware of such things. (My grandmother, a social climber, resented that he did not exploit this socially or move her to the North End.) Again, the fringes of the local aristocracy.

High school graduates were discouraged from going to college out-of-state, and going out of New England was met with blank stares. My decision to go to William and Mary was sometimes met with blank stares - people didn't know where it was, and were surprised that one of the smart boys would go to such an obscure school. In my time at W&M there were only two of us from NH - and I knew her, of course, confirming the stereotype that everyone in VA had of NH. That lack of recognition was still true a few years later when I returned. My era was right at the inflection point of this. When my younger brother left college to go to California in 1977 it was no longer considered that unusual.

I suspect there was some regional variation in when this crossover occurred. I had the impression that the schoolmates of the kids from New Haven to DC were more widely dispersed. New Englanders had had their big move in the early 1600's or 1760's (a bunch then went to the Midwest in the mid-1800's), other Europeans came in later and stayed put as well, and that was about it.

The awareness of this in culture was a generation behind when it had actually started occurring. People were certainly heading to California or Florida well before 1971, but they hadn't yet become rich or famous or important enough to be national. When that new fashionable phenomenon McDonald's first came to South Willow St in 1965, no one remarked that the McDonald brothers were originally from Manchester. That only dawned on us much later. The awareness grew that Americans were starting to move all over after WWII, and everyone now understands this migration, especially to Southern California, as one of the great matters of the 20th C.  But that idea was not fully formed by 1970.  People were moving...everyone had a friend or relative out there...but each decision was seen as idiosyncratic. The reasons were still being assembled in our heads.

Interstate highways. More cars. Pacific Theater vets who had disembarked on the West Coast and loved it. Kids who wanted to get into the movies somehow. People who disliked their towns or their families and wanted out. People who wanted nicer weather. We all know those now, and I imagine the people in the receiving cities - Houston, LA, Phoenix, SF - figured out the patterns before those back home did, comparing stories.

Yet culture nationalised even for those who stayed home.  Television and network news became national, or NYC/DC/LA/Everywhere Else national anyway. Local radio has always hung on, because of the auto. Local TV, not so much. Local newspapers, dying. One of my favorite obscurer theories is that teenagers having spending money for the first time in history created a national generational culture, and we Boomers have been annoying the hell out of everyone else since.  Local aristocracies - barely recognised now.  Those of us over 60 can still see names on local business or charitable boards and think "Old Manchester," but it's not so tight now. Rich people move in, move out. They are more part of a national upper class than a local one now.


This is simply awesome. Thagomizer has become its real name.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Worzel Gummidge

As an aside, the Mangel-Worzel is supposed to be easy to grow in temperate or cooler climes, which is why it retained popularity for so long.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Partial Reasoning

One seldom encounters an argument that is completely wrong.  If it didn't have something going for it, it wouldn't fool anyone. Even the claim that the sun goes around the earth is not immediately ridiculous:  it sure looks that way.

I am not good at live dispute. I either go to flat contradiction too quickly or I let people off the hook because they may not have thought about it that much...and they are only echoing the popular they don't see that what they've said is pretty insulting... If anyone pushes back I put an edge in my voice right quickly.

Thus I seldom bring my best argument when caught off guard in a dispute.  Only later do I think "I should have been softer, or sharper, or found a humorous take."

It pays to remember that the other person may not have brought his best argument either, and would like you back for a second try.

I was speaking with a church friend about management and success books and speakers, which claim if you follow their rules you will have the results they do.  We have discussed the problem of invisible evidence before.  There are plenty of other people who have followed those rules but not succeeded.  We don't account for them in the narrative. Sometimes there are other, unnoticed factors, even luck that went into success.  We are willing to think that about others, but we tend not to think that about ourselves. We like to think it was our intelligence or hard work.

The friend said "Obama got in trouble for saying something like that." I'm sure I looked perplexed. "When he said 'You didn't build that' people got upset." I wish I had gone with a brisk four-part return, including that it wasn't quite the same thing; my memory that Obama's full context was quite extreme that people shouldn't be taking much credit at all, it was mostly good fortune; that the examples of help that he gave were mostly examples of how government had helped; that even the deserved credit of some government actions (electrification...enforced contracts...minimal danger...infrastructure...) did not prove that all government actions are valuable, only that some are. I had them almost to hand, having thought about this before. But I only said the third piece, and that not very well.

Part of the difficulty is that Obama's comment was not completely wrong. We have had the help of others - but I would have mentioned the founding fathers and a lot of Americans since then, the free-market, perhaps a good upbringing, good health. Certainly we come back to gratitude to God, for we have nothing that we have not received from others, or directly from Him. Yet those weren't the things Obama mentioned. Had he included those in his list it would have all been less controversial.  His opponents would have agreed with at least part of it.  It is good to be grateful. He should try it sometime.

I don't think it was a mistake, however.  I think he very much meant that all those successful people should get off their high horse and realise that government in its various forms had given them most of what they had.  He didn't say "You didn't build all of that," and he easily could have - had he only been able to think it first.

That's how discussions go in the real world, though.  Very incomplete, with our best wit left dangling.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

YHWH, Almost an Atheist

In my Old Testament reading I am struck by the attitude that YHWH takes toward other gods. The human beings, including Israel, treat other gods as forbidden powers - usually specialists in fertility, or healing, or weather - to be worshiped and appeased on the sly when the main god wasn't watching.  In more emergent situations, the other gods would be brought out more openly.

Yet YHWH seems to regard them as so much nothing.  Even if you feed them, they don't hear, they don't see, they don't act.  Burn all the incense you want, put meat and grain in front of them, strike up the band,they are just empty statues. The New Testament refers more to spirits, mostly unclean, and there seems to be some tie-in between them and rival gods, but it's not entirely clear. Jesus makes reference to both Mammon and Beelzebub, but doesn't say they have actual power and existence.  The references could be entirely popular culture references, stronger than us saying "The Almighty Dollar" or "Devil take the hindmost," but maybe not much.  That our false gods are of our own creation, even now, doesn't seem inconsistent with any of it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Have You Forgotten?

In all the press about powerful men who have committed sexual crimes, the Republicans do keep coming back with reminders about Bill Clinton.  Congressman Anthony Weiner is already down the memory hole, seemingly.

There is another. He was nearly vice-president. Dirty tricks.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


Written before I read the comments on the previous.

Reading over that list from Vox Day about what the main values of the Alt-Right are, as reported by John Derbyshire in yesterday’s post, “Whiteness” just sorta jumps off the page, doesn’t it?  They try to surround it with lots of nice statements about no one being superior, and everyone having their own distinctive abilities, and supporting all nationalisms, but it’s pretty strange that it’s there at all.  As Derb says, it’s not as if white people are in some sort of existential crisis where there won’t be any left if we don’t act now. We’re not exactly an endangered species – not even threatened. I don’t say that they don’t mean all these nice things about other groups.  I imagine at least some of them do. It just seems like insisting repeatedly that your group is in favor of everyone being able to have a favorite flavor ice cream.  “Horace? This ice cream thing just keeps showing up over and over and I just don’t get it. Ice cream seems to be unusually important to you.”

I know their examples, that on college campuses and in some places in the preferred media one does come under immediate attack for a whiteness that you don’t instantly apologize for. I suppose if you are living in one of those situations – a place where other groups can have ice cream but you are told you are not deserving, or people beat you up for asserting your right to ice cream – I could see at a distance how it comes up. But can’t you just take your game and your talents to Miami or something? You can just not read those newspapers, watch those shows. Go next door where they don’t yell at you and they have better manners. If you think you are surrounded by this constant assault on your right to exist, I’m thinking there’s a good chance that’s actually a molehill.

Here’s my prediction: if that stays as a key feature of being alt-right, it will eventually become the only feature.  If it can be made optional, someone will give it a new name and start to market the ideology better.  I’m betting it’s not optional.  A lot of those decorations around point #14 seem to be lead-ins to it, not really separate values. Perhaps I over-interpret.  I really do like that one about Western Civilisation. I don’t like the one about globalism, but I understand it. Neither of those is necessarily racist.  But in this context, they seem to be ushers.

I don’t much care about whiteness, so I’m more than a little puzzled by people who do. If you brought me forward a hundred years I would certainly be first interested in any of my granddaughters who are still alive – though two of them are half-Filipina, so we’re already off the whiteness square a bit.  I would want very much to first talk with them about what had happened and find out what they turned into.  I would care about their children because they did, and might scan them for Wymanish or Walkerish traits. Their grandchildren? I’m not sure but what I’d start staring off into the distance as they told me about them. In telling their own stories, there might be some news about descendants of friends of ours, and that would be interesting for a bit. Look at the older people you know now – not much interested in their great-grandchildren.

And caring about what happened to all the other white people interests me not at all.  I’d be interested in what happened to my own church, and the Christian church in general.  Right now it looks like the center of gravity is moving out of North America as it from Europe to here in recent centuries. If the story is that white people mostly gave up the faith but black people held on to theirs better, or Koreans really stepped up and fill the pews now then those are the people I want to go see. Telling me that there are still all-white churches somewhere else in the country wouldn’t interest me.

I’ve got some genetic legacy, and I think that’s fine, but whiteness seems an unimportant part of that. My legacy is spiritual, cultural, even emotional.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Am I Alt-Right?

Derb has a go at the question.  It's a poorly defined term, that some smart people are trying to establish some common understanding about.

He says he doesn't know, but thinks not.
My impression is that libertarianism has succumbed to an intellectual version of the Aspidistra Effect. That is to say, it has moved down-market. (The aspidistra is a potted plant that decorated wealthy households in Victorian England. By the time Orwell used it in the title of a novel a generation later it had been taken up by the lower-middle classes, and of course abandoned by the gentry.)
It used to be that if someone told you, “I am a libertarian,” it was at a gathering of conservative intellectuals, perhaps even at the Mencken club. You could then get into an interesting conversation about what kind of libertarian he was: Classical, Objectivist, Paleolibertarian, …
Nowadays if you hear those words it’s probably some smart high-schooler speaking; and if you try to drill down further he freezes.

He rather convinces me I'm not. But it's back on the table, by these definitions.No, that's not quite what I mean.  I've got a few of those I'm not on board with, and I share Derb's distaste for terms that simply aren't clear. But a few of these are better put, and more defensible in these descriptions, than what I have seen previously.


I called this when it came out, but I thought it would just be buried and I would never know.

Another hate crime hoax.

Real hate crimes are mostly just stupid, with primitive name-calling or shoving someone.  One of our cars was vandalised 25 years ago.  Someone spray-painted SATIN on a side of the car, then tried to paint the hood but ran out of room and had to drop to the next line, so that he ended up writing LOS-SER. The minute they show any planning or are too good to be true, I am suspicious.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Celebrities And Politics

This is first about football players, whose politics are much in the news these days.  It is next about other athletes, as NBA players and coaches have recently made their opinions known more than before, though still less than the NFL, and minor controversies stir up in baseball or hockey about White House visits, but that's about it. The Olympics occasionally generate some political news. It is something of an irony that those who make their living from an industry whose only purpose is to distract from the mundane, hoping to embody larger stories and even mythologies of the societies they live in, should feel so free to yank us back to the problems of the everyday.

It is more than an irony.  It is a contradiction.  They undercut the deep foundation of their employment and importance by taking up causes, regardless of which side they take. It is as if we stepped with relief from oppressive and blinding summer sun into a darkened and air conditioned restaurant, only to have the waiters decide that the doors to the kitchen should be opened, that we could feel the heat, endure the headachey fluorescent lights, and see the poverty and possible mistreatment of the kitchen crew.

Next we have the musicians, actors, comedians, directors, and other types of entertainers. They also trade on their celebrity for political causes. There is more justification for this, as artists are expected to express the truths of their people in symbolic form. This is true whether that artist is expressing a majority or minority cry of the heart, whether it is kindly or cruel, religious or worldly, exalted or debased. It it therefore a natural extension for them to express those views in less symbolic, more frank and unmissable ways.

Natural, perhaps, yet just as ironic and contradictory. It was their job to express such things symbolically. "Shut up and sing," as the book says. When artists "want to start a conversation" about, well, anything, they cease at some level to be artists at all. We hardly notice, though, if we agree with their view.

I do understand this.  The urge to trade on your celebrity in support of a cause your dearly believe in is fairly automatic. It must seem even a dereliction of duty not to do something for The Cause, or The People, or the Truth. Others will certainly encourage you in loud voices to do exactly that, and regard you as a traitor, self-serving, or cowardly if you do not. Christian groups shove athletically-gifted believers who are barely adults before youth groups, conferences, and benefit functions. One's fame is considered an asset that must be cashed in for the cause. Not very different from paid endorsements for hair restoration or car dealerships, really. I wince to see it, yet it is merely an exaggeration of what we do in a thousand smaller ways throughout our lives.  We hope that a favorite uncle might have some influence over a boy going bad, or the babysitter from a decade ago becoming a doctor inspires our easily-discouraged daughter.

Athletes aren't doing anything different than this, they are simply doing it in distilled form. Yet in their case (less so but also true of entertainers), they are sawing off the limb they are sitting on. The rules of their sports are arbitrary, and so their fame is something of an accident. (The popularity of guitars over accordions or glockenspiels could be reversed in a parallel universe.) There is nothing intrinsically important about throwing a ball through a hoop. Their fame rests on an unstable foundation, which they trifle with at their peril.

Boxing was the #2 sport in America not so long ago.

Football cast its lot with the military and patriotic display half a century ago, so much so that it seems automatic, almost inevitable. Yet baseball was the sport of America during WWII. No one remembers which football, basketball, or hockey players went to war. The military and the NFL both doubled-down on this relationship about a decade ago.  It has always left me a little cold. I have thought the two should be separate,though I know that mythologies bleed over into each other easily.

Here's some fun, that might have some food for thought as well.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Saudi Arabia

I wonder what the hell is going on in Saudi Arabia just now. Whatever it is, it looks large.


I was uncomfortable with the #Me Too campaign right out of the gate. It seemed like an answer to Harvey Weinstein's publicist's prayer, spreading the blame around so thin that his scandal would become unimportant. As he is so closely tied to Democratic and liberal causes, most especially the Clintons, I wondered if this might actually be some astroturf campaign cooked up by one of the many DC firms that specialise in engineering the news. Perhaps it is.

I had several women I am quite fond of post "Me too" on their FB pages, and once it's gone that far, I wouldn't be just declaring an opinion if I were critical, I would seem to be undermining them.  I didn't want to be dismissive.  I like them. They are not the sort to make mountains out of molehills. I did mention pretty quickly that I did not want the pain of my PTSD clients (mostly female, but male as well) to be inadvertently buried by making harassment the equivalent of rape. Responses to that were varied, but no one seemed too put out by my cautioning in that way.

I resigned myself to simply watching the whole campaign deteriorate in to one of those over-politicised nonsense affairs where the perps got to sneak into the background while the professional victims - who are seldom the greatest sufferers, in my biased opinion - got to commandeer the cause for their "larger" goals of culture, justice, and political demands. (I have trouble viewing things as "larger" than individual justice.) After One Great Hour of Moaning, it would all recede to the victims still hurting without much support or encouragement, accompanied by one more turn of the ratchet in the culture wars. Shrug. Sigh. It is the way of the world.

I think it's actually turning out a little better than that.  I concede that all those manipulative political things are happening. But I think it is weaker than the diluters hoped, and something more positive is happening as well. The circle of accusation against specific perpetrators is growing.  Some of it is of only mild importance when compared to rape or violence or extortion. Some of the accusations are probably untrue or exaggerated as well, and innocent (or fairly-innocent) people will have to exert all their effort to beat back unfairness. Perhaps I am naively optimistic that justice will 75% prevail in 100% of individual cases. Yet some of this is criminal behavior being brought to light, and hypocrites being exposed.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Hsu on Dune

As we have recently discussed Dune here, I was amused by Stephen Hsu's reference to, in the comments section of Feynman, Schwinger, and Psychometrics, and discussion of the book.  Still browsing.

Genetic Prediction

Stephen Hsu over at Infoproc has interesting data on predicting height from SNPs. It's visibly getting close if you use a scatterplot.

I don't go over to the site as often as I did two years ago.  I should.  There's a lot happening. The significance of the above is that height is only the beginning. We'll be increasingly able to predict other traits from SNP's.

Everyone accepts that height is largely genetic, though environmental factors can have a negative effect.  My third son was almost 16 and nearly full height when he came to America. When he had his first physical here, it was noticed for the first time that he has a spine curvature and should be about two inches taller.  We suspect the fourth son might have been taller as well had he been better fed as a child. Prenatal care, early nutrition, disease, and injury can all affect height. I don't think there's anything that increases height.

The drama is going to be about intelligence, but there are lots of other things that might come into play.  Personality characteristics, predisposition to homosexuality, religiosity, musical ability, likelihood of criminality - all of these are going to come up eventually, and what will we do? 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

New Economy

Libertarian sites are getting more and more excited by bitcoin and blockchain transactions.  I get the idea of dispersed, low-cost transaction costs.  At least, I think I do.  But as a practical matter, it looks like a fad.  Is that just because I'm an old guy who prefers cash anyway? We did not even get credit cards until we had to travel to Europe in 1997.

Let Her Go Down

Sometime in October
We sailed from England's shore
When we sailed into a raging storm
Like I never ever seen before
And all of the crew they were brave men
But the captain, he was braver
He said "Never mind the ship, me boys
There's none of us here can save her"
Let her go down
Swim for your lives
Swim for your children
Swim for your wives
But let her go down
Just let her go down

Lost in the open ocean
There were some of the crew and me
While the captain steered our wounded ship
To the bottom of an angry sea
And with his dying breath we all heard him say
"Just the fortunes of a sailor"
And he said "Never mind the ship, me boys
There's none of us here can save her"

He wondered if his ship mates
were ready just to pray and give in
So he called their names out one by one
But there was no-one else around but him
He saw the ship called down in the fading light
And he knew they could have saved her
He said "The captain lied when the captain cried
There's none of us here can save her

I have never quite decided what the lyrics mean. Did the captain give them their best chance of survival by sending them off the ship to swim to a nearby shore, reasoning that it was no better than 50-50 if they stayed with the ship?  Did he panic and send them to their deaths because the shore was in fact too far away? Right or wrong, he thought he was doing his best by them.

Sha Na Na

Alan Cooper went on to get a doctorate in Biblical studies at Yale and is now provost at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Robert A. Leonard got a PhD in linguistics from Columbia and is one of the world's foremost in forensic linguistics.

Frederick Greene earned an M Ed at Harvard and a JD at Yale and went on to teach law at several universities.

Jocko Marcellino got a Masters from NYU and has done a lot of television acting.  Mostly though, he still tours with Sha Na Na.

Update: Reader Linda Fox points out that Scott Powell, (Santini, Captain Outrageous) is an orthopedic surgeon.

Sports Action

There is a new post at Maggies showing how little of the "game time" for baseball and football is actually athletic action.  Commenters immediately pointed out that hockey and soccer have more continuous action. Basketball is somewhere in between.  Olympic sports tend to be more like baseball and football, with bursts of action punctuating periods of regathering, strategising, setting up, waiting around. Hockey and soccer aren't truly continuous either - there are face-offs, announcement of penalties, and periods where the action slows down greatly.  Still, point taken. Football is five seconds of action out of every thirty, baseball 2-10 seconds of action, mostly the former, a few times a minute. Soccer and hockey players are moving more, even if a lot of that is slow, waiting for bursts. Tennis is likewise.  Golf is the extreme at one end, running marathons at the other.

"Wait, wait, wait and then quick, quick, quick," Ted Williams said about hitting. There is something of that in popular spectator sports. There is set up and preparation for each burst, because in those few seconds, there is an attempt at an intensely difficult physical act which combines power and finesse, in the context of fatigue and distraction.  Yes, even in soccer, with its repeated set-ups, ranging up and down through low-intensity, medium-intensity, and high-intensity moments.

That's what we like to watch. A batter having enough power to drive a ball 400 feet but having a window less than a centimeter of where the bat hits the ball. A wide receiver catching a ball on the tips of his fingers at full speed while someone is bumping into him and about to grab him. A tennis player crushing a backhand just clear of the net and only an inch in bounds.  All this with injuries and tiredness both physical and mental. There is usually something on the line, as well, whether it is money or status.

We must see our own lives in this, or we wouldn't care much.

Nothing New Under the Sun

I am skimming Arthur Jensen's Bias in Mental Testing looking for an anecdote*. (I haven't found it. I think it must be in some other book.) I am impressed by his clarity of expression. Here's what "impressed" me in a slightly different meaning of the term:  He spends a few pages describing both the criticism and the critics of his evidence and assertions. He clearly acknowledges some points that deserve discussion, if he could only find more than a few people who would actually do that. For the rest, they keep producing the same easily-refuted complaints, with the same insults, the same bad logic, the same sophistry. He wrote the book in 1980, and it is clear that he was already tired of the same-old, same-old from his own school days. He displays an insight into the critics that I imagine they found uncomfortable as well.

What impressed me is that these are the same arguments I see on Quora now, almost 40 years later, and the motivations of these new critics seem unchanged as well.

*It's about African tribesmen - who knows now, maybe it was PNG - and the skills needed for tracking not necessarily being g-related, but who they would turn to if the signs were confused or ambiguous being g-related, in case that rings a bell for any of you.

Captain Jesus

In reviewing Sam Walker's The Captain Class I used the term "servant leadership," which was something of a cliche in evangelical circles in the 1980's.  I don't know if it was common earlier or much after.  The concept has been around ever since Jesus's disciples figured out what that whole foot-washing thing meant, but as a specific phrase to keep in the forefront of one's mind, I don't know.

I got so far and yet did not fully make the next half-step until a reader mentioned that the qualities I mentioned described Jesus's leadership. They do, though there is a squeeze here and there.There are seven qualities of elite captaincy that Walker mentions.

1. Doggedness. Jesus certainly doesn't take time off from being Messiah, unless one counts going away to pray (which, trust me on this, doesn't count). But I don't think the quality of doggedness and persistence is what leaps to mind in considering Jesus's actions.  John the Baptist seems equally dogged, and so do Jesus's opponents. Until, one sees Him looking over Jerusalem, speaking in something closer to God the Father's voice than God the Son's: "“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." (Matthew 23:37, emphasis added)

2. Intelligent Fouls: Playing to the edge of the rules.  That doesn't sound much like Jesus Meek and Mild ®, yet it's all over the Gospels: healing on the Sabbath, beating the moneychangers out of the Temple, calling himself "Son of Man," and using terminology usually reserved for God's authority alone.

3. Carrying Water: Leading from behind.  Sending them out two-by-two with minimal directions and reviewing what happened when they got back, something of a trial run for what they would do after Pentecost. Not to mention the foot-washing.

4. Boxing Ears and Wiping Noses: Practical communication. I think you can find examples of that without my help.

5. Calculated Acts: The power of nonverbal displays. From boy Jesus in the Temple, through the healings and miracles - including raising Lazarus from the dead, through the highly visual lessons throughout Holy Week, that is pretty clearly a standard strategy. Being crucified and rising from the dead is a pretty powerful nonverbal display as well.

6. Uncomfortable Truths: The courage to stand apart.  We don't lack for examples here.

7. Regulating Emotion: In Walker's definition it is suppressing emotion at need and using it in calculated ways. I'm not sure any of us read Jesus's mind well enough to speak with assurance about incidents, but it sure looks that way from the outside, doesn't it?  "Get thee behind me!" "Whited sepulchers," "You have said it." "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Quibbles About The Captain Class

...and further comments coming right up in the next post.

I reviewed The Captain Class last month, but two things continue to gnaw at me, so I will pass them along. The first should be of little importance, yet I find I cannot get rid of it.  Perhaps setting it down here will be enough.

In his selection of which teams were elite, Walker includes The San Antonio Spurs 1997-2016, who won 5 championships in that span, plus went to a 6th. Yet the LA Lakers won five inside that span, 2000-2010, and went to two other championships.  I know Walker's reasoning, that LA did not sustain excellence during the longer span, yet in view of how short the reigns were of other teams he considered the Elite Sixteen - 2 of 4 years, 5 of 5 years, 2 of 6 years - it seems arbitrary. That's more than half of his total. Similarly, he excludes Michael Jordan's Bulls, who won 6 championships in 8 years, because they were not good those other two years with Jordan gone, and Jordan had not previously won until a "real" captain came on the scene, Bill Cartwright. Lastly there is another NBA team that went to the finals 7 straight years and won three: whatever team had Lebron James the last seven years. Walker keeps the 1980's Celtics and Lakers off because they each failed to completely dominate the other over the course of a decade.

And that's just basketball. He excludes the 1960's Packers, who won five championships in seven years (plus an additional appearance the year before) because they did not have a Super Bowl against the AFL for the first three of those, and so "did not play against the highest levels of competition" in those years. But the AFL was much inferior in those years. (This tells me that Sam Walker is young. Every fan alive at the time, even a child, knew this.) He excludes the 1981-95 San Francisco 49ers and 2001-2017 New England Patriots, because they failed to achieve "something unique" - because of the existence of the other's similar accomplishment.

He calls baseball a team game, which it only is marginally - the catcher qualifies as part of a team, I suppose, but everyone else is part of a team only a fraction of the time - but then excludes teams, particularly NY Yankees teams, because they did not match the five-in-a-row record. Again, this all seems arbitrary. They defined dynasty from 1921-64, with only a few gaps here and there.

Now that I think of it, most of those teams had captains of a similar type to the one Sam Walker extols, but missing a piece here or a piece there. Some had captains not very much like what he describes, winning on talent alone. Looking at that, I have to wonder if Walker cooked the books a bit, tailoring his rules for eliteness to the get the examples he wanted.

I think his point would still stand - quite easily, in fact - but it doesn't have the same declarative oomph when you have to backpedal to "well, most of the teams...and the others pretty much..."

So it turned out to be important after all, and not just to sports fans.  Some teams are elite more on talent, or because of coaching/strategy, or because of domination of resources (NY baseball teams). Not the majority, but it can happen.