Monday, April 30, 2018

Legendary Enchainment

James links to a BBC article about conversation-after-lunch in Spain, and I too believe that achieving the Legendary Enchainment would be marvelous.

However, it is not easy to accomplish, with any meal. I greatly desire to sit long and converse after eating, yet it seldom happens.  I might almost say that it never has happened. My wife eats extremely quickly, with entire focus and little chewing.  The only other thing I have seen her focus on with that intensity is reading. People with children seldom have the flexibility to engage in long after-meals.  Even if some children are older and able to entertain themselves, there is nearly always a special circumstance - little sleep the night before, a soccer practice, a school project due.

Large family get-togethers might accomplish some of this, though people seldom remain at a single table long. 

American restaurants do not encourage such things, certainly.  We might wish they did, but they also have to make a living in a competitive market. Is this what older people going to Early Bird Specials experience? Perhaps I will embrace rather than reject it after all.  Except I suspect that there will be too many boring people to make it all that interesting.


I used to put up occasional videos or pictures of meerkats.  Maybe I should switch to capybaras.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


It would be fun if Pinewood Derby went in this direction, eh? When engineers turn to art.


Tom Bridgeland linked to a two-year old post of his own in the comment section under "Hierarchy of Thinking." Recommended.  It connects somewhat with my thoughts about tolerance, which I had been mulling over on my walks already.

Sometimes defining things more exactly is important. If we don't think that gay marriage is wrong, then it is inaccurate to say that we are tolerant of gay marriage. We tolerate something when we don't agree with it, don't like it, or don't prefer, but put up with it anyway for some larger reason. We might just not want the hassle of disagreeing; we might believe that letting people do what they want is more important than interfering, or having the government interfere; we might wish to keep peace in the family, or the church, or the workplace, or the town; we might be trading off our opposition for something that people might oppose in us.  Other reasons will certainly occur to us if we think about it. That is tolerance. It is clearer when we use the form "tolerate," which sounds at least a touch strained or put out, than in the modern uber-virtue of "tolerance."

You are not a Tolerant Person if you don't actually disapprove of anything, or find anything wrong. I don't mean that you can't be a Nice Person, merely that you will not have any opportunity to exercise tolerance.

Such people do not exist, of course.  When we think something is really wrong, like preying on children, voting for Donald Trump, driving drunk, or having drums in worship, we treat it differently.  We might choose to tolerate it, we might not. We might tolerate it in some circumstances but not others.

Conservatives make a big deal out of the idea that liberals - the tolerant people - are not very tolerant of opinions contrary to their own, which they consider intolerant. I would like to bypass that whole "I can tolerate anything except intolerance" discussion at present. You can find it in many places, and others make arguments on either side far better than I can.  Or better than I'm going to bother to do, anyway.

Let's look at some day-to-day examples of who tolerates what, outside of the political and social questions. Loud music was mentioned.  Every year some house within a quarter mile has a large party, with loud live music not to my taste until late at night.  One year it happened 4 times in a summer.  Also, there will be a few daytime parties or work parties a house or two away every summer with Rock 101 playing. Three houses up the street, there are dead cars in the yard, and a house gone into disrepair around the corner.  There have been other examples of this at other times over our 30 years here. We tolerate this for a variety of reasons, but largely because it seldom lasts.  Kids grow up, people move out. Life is too short.

Are people in cities tolerant of this? They can't easily afford to be. Life close together requires not only more rules, but more enforcement. Road offenses, such as driving too fast, jay-walking, parking out into the street a little too much, stopping and talking, kids playing games in the street.  We think these things are wrong, but we have a lot more flexibility to handle then slowly or quietly. We tolerate them.  I can multiply examples of things that happen at the school, over at the Little League field, at the village stores.  People who don't know each other smile and talk in passing. They can afford to meet each other's eyes.

That may not be any moral greatness. We are less-inconvenienced and less-endangered by such things out here, so we aren't overlooking so much. Yet it deserves mention that people in cities are, by necessity or not, much more intolerant about such things. I am tolerant of their intolerance, because it doesn't affect me much.  But I am not so tolerant of their claim that they are somehow the tolerant ones. In everyday experience the opposite is true.

I am also suspicious of this "openness to new experiences."  There is something to this. The Big Five personality tests do pick this up, though it is defined a bit oddly. People from cities do travel to other countries more.  However, this "travel" deserves a closer look. As Tom points out about flying between concrete canyons in the US, so also does this happen in travel abroad. They travel to cities, and to places that tourists go. Junior year abroad is not in a peasant village. Let's look at other groups that travel in more specific ways. People in the military. Missionaries and short-term help groups. Peace Corps volunteers. They see a great deal more of other people and cultures as they really are. Even international business, though that also involves cities and wealthy people, often involves seeing a side of a country that tourists don't.

Working at a hospital in NH, I have long encountered people from big northeastern cities who come here with a bit of disdain. Yes, we have these lovely mountains and vacation spots, but our cities just aren't as exciting.  We're rather provincial.  A Jewish friend from New York translated this for me thirty years ago: "They mean restaurants." It is true that they also mean people dressed up in exciting ways, and overheard music, and the opportunity to go to concerts and sporting events that are right there. The quick connections to everywhere in the world is romantically also in their imaginations. Yet his synecdoche was correct.  They are not really open to all these diverse experiences.  they don't like it when those experiences move into their neighborhoods.  They like it when they can taste them and get out fast.  They like seeing the swirl of evening gowns and food trucks and elaborate hats and hair, or expensive sneakers on poor people, or colorful costumes. They like the Disney-plus experience.

They are "tolerant" of other religions because they don't think they are wrong - not much more wrong than Christianity, anyway. They are not tolerant of other social views because they think those are wrong. They think tobacco, and sugar, and fats are wrong, and so are increasingly intolerant of them. They avoid old hymns, old technology, old literature, old foods - yes they are open to new experiences, but only new experiences. They are not open to old experiences.

Language Change

Teachers in the 1960's put a lot of energy into making sure we didn't say "kids" in polite company.  "Kids are baby goats." I still have some awareness of that and will switch to children in some situations, especially with an older audience. It seemed a bit silly then.  It would be ridiculous to insist on it in any but the most formal discourse now, such as a research paper.

I am still quite restricted in my use of "crap," which used to first mean feces and only secondarily rubbish, extraneous material. Those are reversed, and if the word is still not quite polite, it is used in a greater range of situations.

I have adapted somewhat in my use of both words, but the greater change is in the percentage of the population which finds them objectionable. As schoolteachers trained in the 1950's (who were themselves trained by instructors born before 1920) die off, those with serious objections become fewer.

Saturday, April 28, 2018



In the arts, starting a conversation means "starting a monologue."

A Very Typical Social Conservative Narrative

I've liked Rod Dreher for years. I think I have an intuitive understanding of what his Benedictine Option means, and that was very similar to the ethos my two older children were raised in.  At least, until they went to private Christian schools that had some ill-considered approaches, and I had to start balancing the discussion by leaning in a different direction.  I think Dreher has some brilliant insights and important reminders.


You saw that "but" coming, I imagine.

I think he oversells the effect of culture enormously.  I would have agreed with him in 1979, and maybe 1989. There are too many things I can shoot down now, and too many claims that certain cultural practices have a high success rate - and we used to do those things in the Good Olde Days - that we can't really provide good evidence for.  And as a person who has been reading and writing social histories of psychiatric patients for forty years, I can assure you that we did not do in the Good Olde Days what we think we did.  I had some advantage in that to begin with.  When other parents would rail about the terrible environments and temptations that children were exposed to in the 1980's and 1990's that we didn't have to face in our day, when children were polite and minded their teachers, I would wonder how their memories were so bad. Or wonder if my upbringing had been particularly horrible and dangerous.  My children were far more sheltered than I (though less sheltered than my wife). On purpose.

And yet...

Those who have long read here saw the "and yet" coming as well.

Dreher makes points that I strongly, shoutingly, fist-poundingly agree with here, in his The Therapeutic Is Our Ultimate Terrorist essay. If he makes them amidst some other things I don't entirely sign onto, that's just the price to pay.  BTW, I can read his mind what CS Lewis books and essays he is tracing some of these ideas back to, though others are not reminiscent of Lewis at all.

Grace Be With You All

Another that I have put down in the file of "things to be sung at my funeral." Perhaps in closing.

ABBA Digital Tour

For those who missed it, ABBA will send holograms out on tour for their two new songs.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Quick Adjustment

I recall when the OJ verdict came down a social worker on my unit said "Are you surprised? In America, did you really think they were going to convict a football player? Come on." I was too taken aback to even reply. Does she really think that the jury let him off because he's a football player? It struck me as an excellent example of how some of us - please dear God, not all of us - can instantly interpret any data whatsoever to fit our preconceived notions.

Even earlier, a woman was admitted to our hospital involuntarily for making suicidal statements. Drugs were involved somehow. A friend of hers showed up the next day and loudly announced "The magic checkbook solves everything. How much do I have to pay to get her out of here?" When we replied that things don't work that way at all, she waved us off contemptuously. Even absent any professionalism or honor on our part, she hadn't thought it through, really. If any doctor was minded to actually do such a thing and it all went bad, with the patient committing suicide a week or so later, and the bribe revealed, s/he could be sued for far more than whatever the women had in her account.  (A psychologist friend used to kid that he did indeed have a price to lie on a report, but it was well over a million dollars, as he would never be able to work in his profession again and needed a fair bit to live on.) We did, however, agree that the patient had arrived on rather shoddy evidence, had probably not been all the suicidal the night before, but the emergency room just wanted to shift their liability to us - as some do consistently. Moreover, the woman was even less suicidal now - had supports, was forward thinking.  After a half-hour meeting, we told her she could go home with her friend.  The friend smiled and waved the checkbook in the air.  "I knew it.  The magic checkbook. Works every time." It doesn't pay to contradict such things.  It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

Something similar came up yesterday. In the requisite morning universal Trump-bashing on the team I was covering, after something about Kanye West that even I could tell didn't have the facts right, there was some discussion about a hat of Melania Trump's. It was being criticised.  Y'all may know more about this than I do. After three hat-or-Melania critical comments in rapid order, I mildly mentioned that I wasn't much bothered by the First Lady's hats one way or the other.  I didn't see how they affected much. One woman sort of agreed, I thought at first. "That's right.  We didn't elect her to anything. It doesn't matter what kind of hat she wears."  We were all finishing the meeting and getting up to leave and her friend said to her sotto voce out the side of her mouth "Well we know why people have to comment, though. Misogyny." "That's what I was thinking." Said the other.

Oh sure.  That was why the major networks, the NYT, WaPo, Slate, Salon, all the women's magazines...all criticised Michelle Obama's clothes so often for a decade. Yeah, that's it. They just couldn't lay off that poor woman, the misogynistic bastards, could they? It doesn't matter what the data is, it will fit the narrative. Discouraging how quickly we do this.  Bethany has written over at Graph Paper Diaries, though I think quite a while ago, that hearing information contrary to our belief can often actually strengthen our commitment to it - and the longer that goes on, the more powerful that is.  How much we have "paid" for something matters more than its objective value.

Powerline Popups

I know I complain about lawyers, but Althouse and Powerline are two of my most-frequented sites. I don't like the popup ads at Powerline, and recently they have been advertising a neuroscientist who says they can boost my IQ.  I occasionally get spam emails of a similar nature, and see ads here and there for Lumosity or whatever.

Listen, I'm not interested in raising, or even preserving my IQ.  I'm interested in raising the IQ of everyone else. That would improve my life more.  I would pay $4.99/month for that.

Update:  Come to think of it, that applies to beauty as well.  Me becoming more handsome seems like a waste, frankly.  Everyone around me looking better seems like a good deal, though.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Doubting Well

Passed along by a reader and commenter.  On Doubting Well over at Mere Orthodoxy.
1. On the one hand, sometimes (certainly not always) the group of persons who question something about the Bible or Christian doctrine can be, in their own field, extremely competent. They might know the relevant languages better than anyone, might have a much broader grasp of the relevant source material, have interesting textual insight, and what is most disconcerting, have critical opinions based upon this scholarship which (from one perspective) are somewhat plausible, widely agreed upon by the most competent scholars, and which you suspect that you’d more than likely accept if you weren’t inclined to for reasons of tradition.
2. On the other hand...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Chesterton, Paradox, Life Lessons From Sports

Chesterton was a cricketer, and as a thinker was likely to step back and look at the big picture that others missed.  I therefore fancy that he would have been fond of such sports observers as the baseball statistical analyst Bill James or the crew at 538. He looked at the conventional wisdom of a hundred things and asked "Is it true?" In asking, he often discovered that not only was the accepted cliche not true, but its opposite was truer. A madman was not one who had lost his reason, but one who had lost everything but his reason: proportion, generosity, insight, humility. Father Brown was not sheltered from the seamy side of life - he had heard confessions for thirty years.  James looked at  cliches such at "pitching is 90% of baseball" and followed that through.  Does any team pay it's players as if that were true?  Does the team with the best pitchers win more championships than the team with the best hitters or fielders? Do the best hitters or the best pitchers create more variation in an individual at bat, a game, a series, or a season?  Do teams fall apart more losing their best pitcher or their best hitter?

Bill James insisted, taking one thing with another, that not only was pitching not 90% of baseball, it was 35% of baseball. I insist that Chesterton would have loved this. Not what is supposed to be true, but what is true.

Politics is built on suspect cliches.  This is even more true of sports. Right now we are in the midst of discussing the draft of both the NFL and the NBA. There is no reason for any of you to be interested in my opinion about any individual player or any team's overall strategy.  There are ten thousand people who know more about such things than I do. However, sometimes in listening to a dozen sports guys I can pick up a consistent mistake that many of them are making. If a player is loved by some evaluators and disliked by others, sports analysts are likely to split the difference.  That is unlikely to be how it plays out.  Those who are not sports fans may nonetheless find the more general lesson interesting. If 4-5 teams, spread over the 30 in the league, think a player is one of the top ten in the draft, while the other 25 teams think he is overrated and not willing to draft him until the second round, he is not actually going to be around in the second round, even though most teams think he should be. Some team that likes him is going to take him way before that.

Think about it.  If 80% of women think a particular man is irritating and unattractive, but 20% find him charming and attractive, he will not languish, even though most women will think he should.  Some woman who rates him highly will scoop him up. Cars, recipes, employees, religions, dogs, or musicians: if most people hate them but a few love them, they will get chosen.  Yet if any one of those is only everyone's fourth choice, they might get chosen in due time, or they might sit on the shelf endlessly. Even if almost everyone likes them better than  some more controversial choice.

The elephant in the room.  I would expect that a sports figure like Bob Kraft, entering a political discussion, could be counted on to apply cliches at double the rate of ordinary knuckleheads.  Bob Kraft is a nice man.  He seems very intelligent in many ways.  But when he goes to an NFL owners meeting and complains that "no one is talking about the elephant in the room," you can count on two things: it's not an elephant, and virtually everyone is already talking about it.  The supposed elephant is players taking a knee during the national anthem in protest before NFL games. Gee, I think I have actually heard some people talk about that, haven't you? Everyone, in fact.  It is one of those Tim Tebow issues where everyone believes they have not been heard, and so keep talking endlessly.

There is an elephant in the room, but the kneeling is not it. Elephants are big things, and quiet NFL protests are small ones. Yes, the protests are irritating and inappropriate to some people, and that gets them upset, which gets other people upset at them, which gets other other people upset at the second group, and so on indefinitely. But it got large because the first group is ignoring the actual elephant in the room (which is what torqued the second group off so much). In protesting the police treatment of black people, the NFL players are ignoring 3 large creatures in the room.  Whether you think they are elephants, rhinos, or wapiti elk is largely a matter of taste. First, some police officers treat a lot of citizens badly, regardless of race, and those don't really count in the racism question.  They're just pricks. Second, the rate of serious violence is ten times great among African-Americans.  Not 10% more, 10x more, and overwhelmingly against other AA's.  So that's a much higher percentage of black mothers and fathers and sisters and cousins and neighbors and teachers going to funerals. And you accuse me of not caring? Thirdly, the general group that very likely does get hassled by the police disproportionately more for small things is - golleee, the group that athletes, black, white, hispanic, are drawn from.  And their friends. How convenient to want the police to lay off you and your pals, while all those aunties go to funerals. How noble of ya.

When you hear a sports cliche applied to the rest of life's lessons, ask immediately if the opposite is true.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Japanese Rent-A-Family

Fascinating article, sent to me by my son. There are so many directions to go with this that I don't know where to start.  It seems to simultaneously provide evidence for opposites: that our real relationships are not much more than rentals, because we are artificially constructed, and that we are wired to make even rental relationships real, being human.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reposted from 2013

Tom Paxton wrote songs that everyone wanted to cover.
Johnny Cash covered songs and made them his own.
Best of both worlds here.
I used to sing this at coffeehouses, but never this well.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Well, we've had a lot of seriousness here.  Let's have a song!

Hierarchy of Thinking

I don't know if they still teach Maslow's Hierarchy of Need, a theory that seems commonsensical but doesn't quite explain the behavior of many people. Fine as an approximation, perhaps. I wonder if something similar isn't happening about reason and logic.  Perhaps the foundational needs have to be in place first.  You believe what gets you food and shelter, then can move on to believing what you need to be accepted socially, and only after that is in place can one apply true/false tests rigorously, accepting ideas that go against the group. Personalities vary, and some have a better ability to stand alone than others.

This is at least a possible explanation of why people who are able to reason - which we know because we have observed it in other venues - come up with only lame cliches on some issues. It is not just that they disagree with me, and I thus conclude their reasoning is poor. (there may be some of that.) The obvious counter would be that perhaps it is they who are reasoning nicely and I who have gone off the rails. Yet I know people who disagree with me whose arguments are moderately to extremely strong.  I am not thinking of those presently. I am referring to those with significant credentials - math degrees from  Ivy League schools and subsequent careers requiring precise thinking; forensic psychiatrists with rather stunning abilities to weigh one factor against another. I know some amazingly intelligent people. Yet some of them spout whatever the New Yorker or the alphabet network consensus is peddling this week.

Nor does it seem to be that they just default to the tribal line on many issues because they haven't the time to examine everything, but apply shrewdness and wisdom to the subjects they invest more time in.  These are, if anything, more party line than their - ahem - less educated brethren.  This is New Hampshire, and one can easily find Democrats who think that liberals are badly wrong about one or two issues, yet choose them on balance. The worrisome ones who have got me thinking - those who I suspect of having to have their social status and situation nailed down before they can move forward and think - are doctrinaire. And they are legion.

I have commented before that I believe liberalism is spread socially rather than logically,* that social signalling and social enforcement takes up a lot of a liberal's energy. It may be that their social insecurity is greater, so that they can never let down their guard. They sense (correctly?) that they could be cast into the outer darkness at any time. They are intelligent enough to talk themselves into whatever is necessary.

I have little doubt that it is only by the grace of God, via CS Lewis, that I am not fully among that number. My families of origin have many who are still consumed by it, and I was entirely of that mindset throughout school.  It still whines at the door. (Okay, that's a bizarre mixed metaphor. Mindsets are not mammals.)  But Screwtape, That Hideous Strength, and especially "The Inner Ring" were powerful warnings at a formative time. I find the mirror version, and the mirrors of mirrors, quite easily upon reflection. The approved culture has a special sweetness, but so does the counterculture, and the counters upon counters. Fortunately I haven't the discipline and focus to think about it long, and content myself with having a whack at whatever dragon seems nearest at the time.

Liberals are far better at reading social cues, and reading between the lines. But this strength becomes a weakness when it is relied on to the exclusion of more important virtues. I am asserting all this strongly, because I have had a dozen examples in my mind as I wrote this.  Still, I might be missing an entire chapter here.  Could you do me the favor of trying this theory on in your imagination about your more intelligent liberal friends, even if historical and long since gone?

*Nor is conservatism always spread logically.  Its weak side is that it often relies on emotion and sentimentality.  The accusation that it relies on the emotion of fear is misplaced.  That's projection.

Not Eating Their Own

Conservative outlets are highlighting all the blue on blue arguments and SJW's who are condemning older leftists. The thought seems to be that this bodes well for their political opponents of all stripes.

Let me go on record saying Ich glaube das nicht. They have levels of disapproval, and even hatred.  Historically, it hasn't played that way.  Maybe this time it will, but I wouldn't count on it. I often sense that a lot of the screaming at other liberals is mostly for show, or angling for power within the ruling tribe.

Update: James's comment prompts a continuation.  Yes, red on red is very common, and I think much more so. There is a difference in that the people of the right are more likely to follow through, either staying home or voting third party. Call it principled, purist, stubborn, uncooperative, or whatever you please.  That may be why the conservative outlets I mentioned above find blue on blue so significant.  They may be projecting. Hell, if I were that angry I'd never vote for that SOB again. So they assume liberals think the same way.

Mini Mental Status

I turn 65 tomorrow, so Medicare started for me the first day of this month.  My PCP suggested we use my Welcome to Medicare appointment as this year's physical. The surprise was when the nurse taking my vitals and setting me up asked me the date and where I was; then told me she was going to say three words and repeat them back to me, and then ask me to repeat them again a few minutes later; then to draw a clock and put the hands at 11:15.  There were a few other things that were all too familiar.  She's giving me a Mini Mental Status Exam. Huh.  Well of course.  Medicare. I was amused, but oddly, I felt a bit of pressure and anxiety about it. It's going to be a red flag if I don't get this cold. 

So perhaps the day will come when I don't score well, but from long-term memory remember that this is a bad sign.  Will I accept that information then, or make immediate excuses?

One advantage of not taking care of your body very well is you are less likely to have your mind go first. Not 100% true, as there are bad habits that hasten or perhaps activate Alzheimer's. Still, it's way more true than not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Liberations of Age

I take walks for exercise, and have become fond of listening to podcasts. I downloaded the free samples from the Great Courses and have my eye on a few of the longer courses. I listen to basketball and football analysis, and sometimes general sports shows.  This is always humorous, as I don't have TV and never watch games. Nor can I bear to listen to games for extended periods of time on the radio. I see clips and highlights, and read the box scores and analysis afterward. I can speak knowledgeably nonetheless, mostly because others are knuckleheads and many things are obvious.

You're waiting for the liberations part, I know. I'm telling a Grandpa Simpson story.  Happening more these days. 

However, I have never been able to keep up with actual knowledgeable people, such as my second son, because of the lack of uh, seeing any games. It's a bit of a limitation. Because of podcasts and long walks in semi-retirement, however, I now get lots more analysis and am even better. Because thinking statistically is second nature, I now know more than an even greater percentage of fans. And I still couldn't tell most players apart in a lineup. Skill is fun, and I am enjoying going into the playoffs with some reasonable idea what to look for. Er, listen for. Ummm, imagine when I am reading box scores and looking at 10 second highlights while the game is in progress. You get the idea.

Where was I?

It adds to the pleasure. For those who like this sort of thing, I recommend Zach Lowe and Doug Gottlieb for basketball; Bill Barnwell and John Middlekauff (sorta) for football; The Ringer is best and worst for general sports, choose carefully. I downloaded a podcast by Adrian Wojnarowski, a knowledgeable person and an inside scoop sort of reporter.  Should be fun. Oh, and he's interviewing coach Dwayne Casey of the Raptors, a smart guy. I shall add to my store of knowledge. 

He starts off asking Casey about living in Canada, which doesn't have school shootings because of gun control, and what does he tell his kids...what does he think about what's happening in the US...

Whatever basketball knowledge they may have is not worth it to me.  I can turn it off. I listen for my pleasure, and I just don't have to. Ahh. I have always been free to turn it off, and have done so most of my life.  Yet it's easier every year. It's not just that Woj is wrong, not having done the simple arithmetic of noticing that Canada has about 10% the population of the US, nor that he is arrogant, believing that such an important topic means that now more than ever sports people need to share their wisdom with us. He's being an ass, and however much he might teach me about basketball - even if he were the bestest of the best - I don't have to listen.

Easier every year.

Bruno Sammartino

...has died. I don't recall ever seeing him wrestle on TV. On Saturday afternoons there was mostly Roller Derby, WWII movies, and Big Time wrestling. I caught a little of each, but was never a fan as some of my schoolmates were. My knowledge of him came mostly from posters like this:

I was impressed by Bobo Brazil, risking brain damage like that for the sake of show biz, but I didn't really understand then about what people had to put up with in order to put food on the table. I can't say I liked him - just impressed. The jobs they told us about at school all had happy people waving at children in them, and even in books where the family was poor and the lives of the parents were described as hard, there wasn't a lot of detail about what "hard" meant.  There was plenty of that around most of us, I suppose. It was a very American idea at the time that you were going to go on to adulthood and things would be better for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shall and Will

Lose yourself in the discussion for a bit. First person, second person; British/American; prescriptive vs common usage.

Just don't ask lawyers and bureaucrats.  They really like the idea of "shall" as a command and imperative when they are writing up contracts. Only they think so.


Small sample size - though I was in LAX, Anchorage, and Sea-Tac for hours each - but I saw much more politically and socially aggressive clothing in Seattle than elsewhere.  Hats, T-shirts, and sweatshirts usually fall into benign categories: pro teams/colleges/geographic, or bars/ads, or brands.  Seattle was more in-your-face, with bumper-sticker style one-sentence politicising. Environmentalist, feminist, racial and native, and immigration.  I don't think many were for anything, they were against things, most especially people. Not what I would choose for travel, where one might quickly offend a seatmate or someone in line with you, but I suppose the joy of being a billboard for a captive audience in the larger airport compensates.


Looking at the genealogy of Jesus - Matthew's for example - one has to wonder if God has some preference for boldness and intelligence, even over moral qualities.  This shows up very clearly in the women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba*, but once you notice the pattern you can see it in the men as well. It's not just that sinners are in Jesus's ancestry, though many sermons have been preached on that topic.  The specific sins are rewarded. It's disquieting.

*Side note.  It was extremely unusual for women to be mentioned in genealogies at all in Jewish and other Mediterranean cultures. Matthew is making a very strong point about their importance here.

Monday, April 16, 2018

No Coins, Please*

I recall someone coming on afternoon TV - Merv Griffin or something - before 1970, advocating that we get rid of the penny. Everything could be rounded up or rounded down. People's objections were mostly irrational, believing that the pennies they had thrown into jugs, or obtained by children for returning soda bottles, or found on the street, would somehow no longer be honored, and society would collapse. For no reason that is not easily answered in fifteen seconds, we continue to have pennies. 

Whoever Merv was interviewing then was right. Since that time, inflation has made dimes worth just about what pennies were then.  So pennies, nickels, and dimes should be gone.  No one uses dollar or half-dollar coins, generally, so we have already demonstrated we could do without them.  Yes, the Brits have a coin worth a pound, and somehow they have adapted and we theoretically could as well, but somehow we haven't.

That leaves the quarter.  We have logically eliminated the need to use the other coins. So,  is it worth still having coinage if there is only one type of coin? Maybe. But with machines reading dollar bills and parking meters accepting your credit card, I'm going to go out on a limb and say we no longer need coins.

*Kiddie Lit reference. Every children's book by this author recommended.


I apologise up front for linking to Twitchy, which is actually a great example of the "telling the selected truth and commenting deftly" phenomenon they are reporting to here. But I assume the actual Loretta Lynch tweet is accurate. She sure ain't standin' by her man here. So ignore the site's commentary on Lynch throwing Comey under the bus.

Who's lying? is the cry from the conservative sites. As we never know which incident is going to be the tipping point in the demise of the Republic I don't want to fault them for an essentially accurate question, but really, it's oversimplified and calculated to rile up the base.  They know better. At least, those conservatives who have read C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, The Screwtape Letters, and "The Inner Ring" know better. Comey and Lynch are survivors of the highest levels of bureaucracy, with skills honed over many years.  No one says things, because one can be quoted, pinned, destroyed.  Yet things are understood. So Comey met with Lynch many times, but never-did-he-ever disclose his suspicions, she says. Sure. She had no idea what he was thinking.  A complete surprise. You have to go to the second level to ferret out about lying as a precise term. She says he never said, he says he did say; the most likely explanation is that they both understood, allowing that both understood imperfectly, exactly what was up. It's not only dangerous, it's also sort of gauche to be direct.  It shows you don't understand the real rules, you aren't to be trusted, you might blow things up.

It's part of why Trump strikes stark fear into them.  He lies in a completely different manner, not by talking in code or demonstrating an elaborate Tea Ceremony, but by just blowing things out his ass, some of which turns out to be true and some not. (The usual answer is partly true, may or may not be technically true, but in complete disregard of Washington codespeak, which is unforgivable.  His comment about the riots in Sweden last year is a great example of this.)

So the who's lying? approach has no answer.  Both, almost definitely, but which one more?  Which one technically, which one in spirit? That is not necessarily ever going to be clear. The people who speak their language slowly lose the ability to translate it into the everyday categories the rest of us use.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Babylon Bee

Because I keep forgetting to go over, but then enjoy many articles when someone else links to it, I have put The Babylon Bee in my sidebar.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Among the words that have come to mean something else, there is karma. Originally a respectable, though wrong, religious concept from Hinduism, it has become in America a synonym for "revenge by people other than me, or by unknown forces." It is not an expression of some balance of the universe which plays out at a subtle level according to what you have contributed, but a mean-spirited declaration that "someone deserved to get punished and I am gleeful." Hiding behind an Eastern religion, which are known to be favored by really cool, gentle, and nonjudgmental people makes it all the sweeter. I wish no ill to others, because I am not an evil evangelical.  The universe itself has punished this person I dislike.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


After due consideration, I deleted my FB account.  Appropriately, as good salespeople who are always trying to take you in one more time, when you hit the final delete button, they bring you to the login page.

Just in case you changed your mind, y'know?

Monday, April 09, 2018


African-American Vernacular English, also known as Black English, is a dialect of American English, which is itself a dialect of English. There is a formal written English which none of us speaks; all of us speak a dialect. There is a standard American English that tends to be closer to the formal written version, but is still not entirely the same. Even after becoming fluent in the formal written style, speakers tend to persist in speaking according to their original dialect.

The line is not always clear between what is an accent and what is a dialect. Some would claim that there are several Southern dialects, others that they are merely accents. Scottish English*, Pennsylvania Dutch English**, and Indian English***, and Newfoundland English are generally regarded as fully dialects, not merely accents, as they are different in structure. There are more.

AAVE is believed to have originally sprung from various British dialects - compare pirate talk "Whar ye' be goin?" - and subsequently influenced by Southern American speech, which was also a product of specific British dialects, usually western and Irish. The "be" verbs in AAVE are quite complicated and nuanced, actually.  While all non-majority dialects in all languages are looked down upon and regarded as "just wrong," we look down on AAVE more than the others.  This may be changing, as AAVE is influencing not only slang but the standard American spoken dialect through entertainment media. It is not only used ironically or for effect among the young.  It is just blending in. The difference between influencing the majority culture and having your culture appropriated is largely one of perspective.

There is little or no African in Black English. That myth keeps resurfacing, but there isn't any linguistic support for it.  It has also become more standardised since the middle of the last century. Slaves certainly did not have much contact with other African-Americans, slave or free, in other parts of the country. Their speech was related by history, but not always fully mutually intelligible. The great migrations north in the 1910's and 1930's and 40's created a more agreed-upon version in the cities, and radio, recordings, movies, and television spread this throughout the country.

We have looked down on it because of its associations, not because it is objectively worse or less standard than listening to a Newfie. It was spoken by people who were poor and had less education, so we came to regard it as more substandard than we might if it were simply a regional dialect. 

Every schoolchild should learn to write formally.  While formal writing can sometimes admit of spoken dialect for effect, as with Mark Twain, this is kept to a minimum.  In speech, it is advantageous to be able to use a bland middle-American speech at need. Even prestigious accents are not welcome in all situations. People who read a great deal find that their spoken and formal written expression bleed into each other more than those who do not. I would be at an extreme of that, as my writing relies a great deal on my spoken expression, while in speaking I use written forms more than most people do.  I am no longer sure whether this is ironic and for humorous effect or just the way I talk.  People who are familiar with both my communication styles say it is easy to hear my voice in my writing.

*Not to be confused with Scots Gaelic
**Not to be confused with Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a dialect of German,
***As in India, not Native Americans.

Why Commandments Are Good

From an article at First Things by Reuven Ziegler, discussing the observations of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Why Does Religion Need Commandments?

The fact that it is more likely that actions will influence emotions than the reverse explains why Halakhah devotes its primary attention to actions. If religion does not provide man with an objective framework of action containing specific divine norms, it will—at best—be vague and transient. At worst, it will lead to the most horrible excesses. (Italics mine.)
Neurology is discovering what religious persons seem to have already known.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

A Different Picture of Prehistory

A fascinating article by David Graeber, Anthropologist and anarchy activist, attempting to upend our usual assumptions about prehistory. Cute title: How to Change the Course of Human History(at least, the part that already happened.) Graeber show how flimsy the evidence is for our picture of egalitarian small band to mildly hierarchical tribe to deeply hierarchical agricultural cities actually is - that hierarchy and inequality existed before agriculture, and egalitarianism sometimes existed after.  Also, that the change to agriculture was not linear.

He is using this data as a platform for advocating that it is possible to change our social structures now and make them more egalitarian without having to revert to hunter-gatherer beginnings.  Yet even if that is not so, his dismantling of the current prevailing belief among most educated people is interesting.

Given the other upendings we are reading about over a West Hunter, I suspect that anthropology is in for some serious remaking over the next generation.  We may, of course, simply adopt new myths.


I edited it a bit. I tried to expand the circle.

Question: Two links don't go to the sites, but to their RSS feeds, no matter how I rename them on the gadget edit.  Anyone know how to fix that?

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Prophetic Voice

I followed links to the pastorblog of a "twenty-year ministry veteran" who wrote that we need to shut up and listen to superheroes like the kids who are speaking in March For Our Lives. Its tag line was "Stuff That Needs To Be Said," and his current post is about how he is not so much angry at Donald Trump - though he spends a lot of time detailing how awful Trump is for a person who doesn't care so much - but at his supporters, who are ignoring all these terrible things about him. More than two years after the first primary, and seventeen months after the election, I'm thinking it's not quite current to be saying this.  I imagine he has been saying it pretty regularly for the last few years, but you jackasses still don't get it. Everything was easily answerable, of course, though with the long list of complaints he had, and it taking 30-90 seconds to refute each one, I'm thinking that could add up.  But entertaining reasonable reply is unlikely to be his goal.

The older post was a good example of the clown nose on, clown nose off method of arguing. The newer post was an excellent example of the arguing by social shaming rather than making a rational point. I checked all his posts for 2018, when he mentions Jesus, it is almost always to insist that evangelicals completely misunderstand him, because they do the list of liberal causes he mentions. Mostly gun control. He does also mention feeding people, which is fine.  Though he might be uncomfortable how much more of that is done by evangelicals. The other exceptions to mentioning Jesus are his Easter message that he doesn't believe in our physical resurrection - he doesn't say what he believes about Jesus's, but I think it's negative - but he does believe in the repairing of marriages, and people getting along, and all that.

I commented. It awaits moderation.  It was still not published today.  I'm not going back. No point.

I recall from my Jesus Freak days guys who believed they had the Gift of Prophecy.  It was always guys, I think.  Or if speaking about another, they might say he or she had the Prophetic Gift. If you listened to them long enough, you eventually learned that they just liked telling other people where to get off. I think that is largely true when our denominational publications talk about how important The Prophetic Voice has been in Christianity.  Which is true, but the modern application always seems to be that same thing: some one, or some group who just wants to tell other people where to get off.  I think the translations of "Stuff That Needs To Be Said" is really "People I'd Like To Tell Where To Get Off."

Guessing Leads To Prejudice

When the media does not report the obvious details about a criminal, leaving them vague and unsaid, the idea is probably to prevent people from generalising that all Chechnyans are murderers and thus reduce prejudice. I wonder if that is only true some of the time, and may backfiring.  According to the Spectator, people are already reading the news differently, filling in the blanks and breaking the code on their own. The grim joke about reading Pravda was that you could sense the news in WWII: the Red Army was winning glorious battles closer and closer to Moscow every day.

In American politician crime stories, the party of the councilwoman or state senator is often omitted when they are a Democrat, but mentioned when a Republican (or mentioned in paragraph twelve instead of two). That is amply documented, though I have never seen any numbers on what the conservative pres does.  Do they do the same mention/not mention, paragraph difference, or print the story/don't print it? I don't know. The uneven mentioning has over time likely contributed to false estimates in the general public.  They know it is Donald Trump's supporters who are violent, not the protestors. They just know it, and believe they are deciding for themselves and sizing up the landscape objectively.

Yet something else happens as well.  After getting burned enough times, conservatives now read so suspiciously that in the absence of information they likely draw the opposite conclusion.  They assume they are being steered and bamboozled. I think this latter type of prejudice is stronger, and harder to get over. Though their opponents are still fewer than those they can still fool, the general media may have sown the wind and begun to reap the whirlwind. Over at Maggie's today, Sam L mentioned two sources which used to have reputations for evenhandedness, though for one this was long ago. He no longer trusts either, and has learned this at a hard school. I doubt he is rare.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Not Out Of Africa

For those interested in prehistory and the origins of Anatomically Modern Humans, there is recent evidence that we did not come Out of Africa, or not in the same way as usually imagined.  It is possible that we left before we became AMH, then mixed with Neanderthals and kept a few of their best genes while we were in the Mediterranean, North Africa. Only then did we spread to all parts, including back to sub-Saharan Africa.

There is a second population the East Asians mixed with, the Denisovans, and there is a DNA suggestion that there are at least two other remote hominid populations we interbred with as well, one in Asia and one in Africa. Greg Cochran is discussing at West Hunter all the archaeology and DNA of this in the context of reviewing the new David Reich book, which Cochran likes parts of and disapproves of others.


I deactivated, not deleted from FB.  The questions they asked as I left were manipulative enough that I almost switched to full delete.

I wasted too much time there, providing entertainment but not receiving much.  I will miss the C S Lewis group, though that could be a pain sometimes as well. I was already worried about privacy and use of my information, and the recent revelations didn't help.  But it was Zuckerberg's misdirected apology, so terribly sorry he had let Trump do the bad things he had helped Obama do in 2012, that convinced me to pull the trigger.  I grant there were some differences in that, but not enough to change the overall actions.

So I knew I couldn't trust them to do the right thing when the chips were down. Final straw. I lived without it for 60 years, I imagine I will muddle along somehow now, eh?

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

YouTube Recommendations

Bethany over at Graph Paper Diaries discerned that the youTube algorithm seems to lead one to more and more radical things, in an effort to hold our eyes to the page. The long-term effect of this is likely bad for all of us, seamlessly leading us to more extreme and less-supportable opinions.  The effect is not that we will necessarily believe these things, but that we will think our own views moderate and reasonable merely because we don't believe what those extremists do. I learned from Screwtape that I am capable of virtue-signalling to my private self.

Browsing today after the Peter and Gordon post, I apprehended that this applies to musical suggestions in the sidebar as well. If you listen to any song, the sidebar will include other covers of the song and other songs by the artist; songs you have listened to before, or very similar; songs by similar artists with lots of viewings; songs with huge numbers of viewings that are vaguely kindasorta related to things you have once watched*; AND - songs from obscurer twigs on the branch you are on.  Because I occasionally look for Romanian things, I get Ukrainian or Bulgarian folk dances or versions of Kosovo's Got Talent! Play Peter and Gordon and you get Chad and Jeremy, or Herman's Hermits, or the Tremeloes. Or they can entice you down the rabbit hole to The Searchers...and on to...Scott McKenzie...and on to The Middle of the Road singing "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep," which I never heard of.


This also can't be good for us. I have no evidence but feel this deeply every moment I watch "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep."

*These algorithms already have gotten too clever for my comfort.  I used to get sidebar offers for 8 zillion viewers for "20 Best Bikini Fails," but don't anymore, because meh.  But when they slip "1960's" into that "Bikini Fails" I am temporarily frozen, wondering if Hayley Mills might conceivably be in that somewhere. The Bayesian approach of successive approximations suggest they will know us altogether too well shortly.


Newly 7 y/o Sarah had crumpets and jam for the first time while visiting yesterday.  Her older sister was quite sure she wouldn't like them (being a new food) and demurred.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Brain Drain: Doctors

In my era, it was considered the pinnacle of academic success to go to med school.  Law school was slightly behind, but essentially equivalent.  People who went to graduate school in hard sciences, as many of my friends did, went because they loved their field, were intrigued by it. They hoped - especially the engineering and computer types - that they might become prosperous thereby, but it was the fascination, or perhaps the joy of being good at something, that drove them. It was similar among my friends who went for advanced degrees in humanities or social sciences. The MBA was an exception.  That was for people who had loved history or economics or German as undergrads, but were now buckling down to make serious career money.

That was true of the generation before mine as well.  There is an interesting event in Asimov's autobiography In Memory Yet Green of him addressing a group of medical students. He had a PhD in chemistry, but one of the questions was clearly meant to sort out whether he was a "real doctor" (snigger). That's the way people viewed it then. I don't think that would be true now.  I don't know, and I don't know when the change occurred. Yet the testimony of literature and everyday conversation supports the idea that the best and brightest became medical doctors throughout the 20th C. If you hated blood you could excuse your way out, and women were at first pressured away from med school, then pressured into it, inflection point somewhere in the 60's.

Yet - consider that doctors killed more than they saved until about 1940, penicillin being the big boost. The germ theory became established, gradually but long before that, so basic sanitation and quarantine were understood. Anesthesia and aspirin had come along, X-rays could tell you whether and how a bone needed to be set, yet by 1935 the smartest people - or at any rate those who had the reputation in every town of being the smartest - were still killing more people than they saved. Babe Ruth made more than the president in 1930 and joked "I had a better year." He had a better year, in the sense of providing useful service, than most doctors that year, too.  As did most of the rest of the major leagues.

Part of this may have come from the medical profession's insistence on making its smart practitioners stupid by training them during sleeplessness (while working in hospitals, where the sickest patients are, and killing them), then insisting that they have at least some hours of stupidity by being on call throughout their careers. Yet all of our parents and grandparents conspired in this, to grant the highest status and often wealth to those who didn't actually do much good.

We should be grateful that as many people as did decided that they really loved computer programming or geology, deciding that med school could go hang. Yet I wonder if we didn't waste a good deal of American brainpower by culturally rewarding medicine over other fields. (I believe many others have already made the same observation about law school.  I don't feel qualified to answer that.)

I have always thought Allen Ginsberg's most famous quote to be incomprehensible and foolish.  But if you slip in the word "medicine" for "madness," with an eye to the many night shifts that residents do, it begins to approach sense.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by medicine, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.”

I love this site.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Fine Arts

During Iditarod Week there were special events all over town. I went up to the Fine Arts exhibit. There were unidentifiable snow sculptures outside.  One may have been a Sacred Heart, which red dye poured into the snow.  I only guessed that because the event was at Old Saint Joseph's church.

"Art" anywhere in Nome - and indeed most of what I saw in Alaskan airports and all brochures - means Native crafts, or sometimes Native artists interpreting their heritage in modern ways. I was hoping that Fine Arts would include something more, but it didn't.  It is a town of less than 4,000, also drawing on the smaller communities of the region, so it is unfair of me to expect more.  Though I do think Pittsfield, NH, a community of 4,000 not noted for its cultural endeavors, could have put up a better show.

There was one thing different - there was a gun raffle at the entrance.

PBS Indoctrination

I  scribbled notes during my trip to Nome to remind me of things to write about.  Unfortunately, by the time I am getting to that, the memory is incomplete and what I was referring to is not always clear. Ah well.  We press on.

There was an animation on PBSKids.  The kids wanted a dog park. I am already suspicious. If your town doesn't already have a dog park, how likely is a child to think of that? I can understand them liking the idea once some adult has brought it up, because it sounds guaranteed to make doggies happy! Who could be against that?  Yet this desire for a dog park sounds more like an adult idea than a child's. The only dog park I have ever been to was in a suburb of Houston, and I didn't see many children there. Since the video, though, there might be kids all over America starting to angle for dog parks now.

So, reluctantly granting that poi ------!

It just this moment occurs to me that we have a parallel with the recent gun control protests here. Astroturfed.  Adult-managed. Put the kids out front.  Hmmm.  As I write about the dog park, I'm going to be checking the parallel.

They went to they teacher, who sent them to...
The head of Park and Rec to ask that someone build them a dog park...
Parks and Rec said it was a great idea, but they would need the go-ahead from the mayor, presumably because money, but I don't think money was mentioned...
So they went to the mayor, who went to the council, who agreed it was a great idea...
The town built the dog park and there was a little song that went with it, including the lyric. "People in the government helped make a wonderland."
Went looking. Found it. Feel worse now.
I don't think the people at PBS even see that their view of government and how things work is only one view among others. It certainly doesn't occur to them that there might be anything damaging about it. It's just the way things are. The government runs everything, here is how you get the government to do what you want.

Sorry to be depressing.  But something that might cheer you up is picturing the March For Our Lives kids as really operating more at this level than the semi-adult/wise young rulers pose they have adopted.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Festival

I am going to postdate this a long way off, for sunrise on Easter 2018. I ran across it looking for something else during Advent, and am afraid I will forget it.

I posted before about Festival Worship, which I believe is the ancient model of worship that will be used by the next few generations far more than we have for the last few centuries.

The Last Gift of Mary Magdalene

When Mary of Magdala went to the tomb on Easter morning, hoping with the other women to give the body of Jesus a proper burial (Friday afternoon's preparations had been hurried and the bare minimum), her situation was different than all of Jesus's other followers. The men could go back to their previous jobs and families. At least I can go back to accounting/fishing/building again. They would be humiliated, of course, but that would pass. They grieved for their friend, but lots of people grieve. Some of the men had wished to go back to their previous lives, and wanted assurance from Jesus that what they had given up to follow him was worth it.

Jesus had at least attempted to provide for his mother at the end. "Mother, behold your son; son, behold your mother" he had said to John. As far as we can tell, the other women had come from some sort of families, and after suitable punishment by their patriarchs, would be accepted back. Mary the mother of Jesus would have the greatest grief, of course, but no worse than a thousand other mothers in Jerusalem who had lost sons.

Mary had nothing to go back to. There were always job openings for Beggar, of course, but the other beggars would have been schooled for a lifetime in eliciting pity by appearance and tones of voice. She might not be able to make even a subsistence living. She might give herself as a slave, if anyone would have her - the woman of the house in any rich family might have something to say about the master taking on one of the girls from the Pampered Palestinian Escort Service, no matter how temporarily reformed. Ms. Magdalene had seemingly stayed somewhere the last two nights. Perhaps she had stayed with one of the other women, or one of the disciples - if she could find one out of hiding. But it could have been that she had nowhere, nothing, starting in about two hours.

We might hope that the followers of Jesus would remember at least something of what he taught, and that someone would take a poor woman in and provide for her. But if not, her own family was unlikely to take her back. She had shamed them already and was dead to them. Whatever friends she had formerly had among her customers wouldn't want to be that close to her new holiness, unless they were utterly depraved and would enjoy even more trying to take advantage of her need. You thought you were something for awhile there, didn't you - better than the rest of us, huh? Now look at you.

And yet out of love and duty, which are not as incompatible as we make them appear in our era, she wants to give what last little she has in the pointless gesture of doing things up properly for someone who wasn't even a relative. Just because it was the right thing to do. Just to show gratitude one more time, even if only only she noticed.

It was a gift of generosity unmatched by any of Jesus's other followers, a pouring out of her own self, probably pointlessly, in imitation of his own pointless sacrifice. Just because it had to be done. We lose too quickly in the immediate discussion of the resurrection how great must have been Mary Magdalene's despair at finding the tomb empty. Even this last ability to give a little gift had been taken from her, and she must have thought as well "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

No wonder that Jesus's words to her are "Touch me not." What other impulse could she have had but to wrap her arms around his ankles, touch his face, burrow into his chest, weeping? How did even the Son of God move quickly enough to prevent her?

There are no tears that will not someday be dried, no lonely depths that will not somehow be filled. We hunger; food exists. We thirst; water exists. What else then could hope be for, but for completion?