Saturday, September 29, 2018


Seeing that my "nearby" person did not see fit to update you all, I will report that the surgery was a success, and I really dislike being face down 22 out of 24 hours per day. I can only sit up about fifteen minutes at a time. I am scratching down a few things I want to write about.

Carry on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Open Thread

Thank you to Sam L for putting me on a train of thought that led to putting up an open thread for all of you to talk amongst yourselves.  A nearby commenter may put up news. Thank you to Donna B for the reminder to put a scratch pad near the chair and the table.

I will note that the comments on Cochran at his own site are better than at Quillette.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reading My Stats Again

Odd things always show up when I check out my stats every month or so.  This time I found that the site Boston 1775 has referred people here, and a lot of them came. I can't tell which post of his sent them, nor which post of mine he found intriguing enough to mention.  If you want a deep dive into events around Boston leading up to the Revolution, J. L. Bell seems to be a legit historian. His site also includes notice of where lectures on colonial history are being given. What he sees in me I can't fathom at the moment. I worry that I may have been identified as a bad example of something.

I am also apparently part of the Dark Enlightenment.  I am listed under the category "Dissident Right" at Neoreactionary Map. Also in my category are Marginal Revolution, Slatestarcodex (who I think would be better described as a dissident leftist), Z-Blog, Samizdata, Taki's Magazine, and some very strange places.  The site lists other categories, such as Royalist, Womanosphere, and Christian Traditionalist.  Someone is trying to be thorough.  It is odd that I should attract such attention, when larger sites seem not to have made the cut.  There are only about 50 of you regulars, plus some occasionals, and others who come over only when some larger site links to me.

German Coalition Government

We all try to have simplified narratives about other countries, so that we can put them aside without taking up too much space in our heads. Concerning Germany, I think the liberal narrative is that it is one of those beacons of Western European culture, with lots of gentle socialism and great medical care, properly green, very open to gays and talking about sex, and suspicious of god-botherers in general.  The downside, in their eyes, is that they seem to have these leftover nazis who are getting upset and violent about immigrants.  The conservative narrative is that the place is becoming overrun with immigrants, leading to the rise of right-wing parties that aren't quite the same as our right-wing parties.  The ruling parties over the last few decades have been squishes about preserving Western culture and reluctant to crack down on immigrant criminals.

Well, I don't know myself, it's just what I've heard. In the spirit of learning more, albeit from one POV, I pass along this analysis of the forming of coalition governments in Germany.

Yearbook Code Broken

We didn't write in each other's yearbooks because they arrived too late, after we had already graduated.  Some people may have brought them to reunions to get them signed later. I am a nostalgic person and I have looked at mine, and my college yearbooks over the years.  Come to think of it, I stopped about twenty years ago. But before that, yes.  For the high school one, there were inside references in a kind of code, but not very good code.  Mostly it would be an event reference with the subsequent actions left unsaid. "Yeah, I remember going to the Four Seasons concert, Jeff." "Remember who brought the Boone's Farm?"

So now the NY Times is breaking the code on Brett Kavanaugh's high school yearbook, and even Althouse is getting lost in the weeds trying to figure out what it all means. Fortunately, you have me here, and I can explain it to you. On page 57, there is a cryptic note under another student's picture, that looks to be in Kavanaugh's handwriting. There has been some effort to obscure it with another signature, but it clearly says "I buried Paul."

Eye Surgery

I have a macular hole, and will be operated on tomorrow, after which I will be required to be face down as much as possible for the next week. I might get some additional posting or commenting in over the next 22 hours, but there are things to do that I will not be able to soon, so I cram them in now. My wife can do most things of the week, but taking heavy objects to the dump - she dislikes driving the truck anyway - more properly falls to me, and there are jobs that are usually just mine, mostly.

It has been interesting setting up the equipment so that I can read.  We don't notice that we move our head, or the reading material, slightly closer or back to help focus. Adjusting the head positioning and the tray positioning isn't as straightforward as I would have liked. I practiced on the bed cushion with the tray you put your face in, and slept four hours straight, which is better than average for me, so that part may work out fine. The long hours of the day are what worry me.

Ah well, some people have no sight at all, and I will likely have very little pain, only discomfort, so it's best that I get over myself.  I will be thinking of you and wishing I could be with you.

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray without ceasing, is one of the easiest and one of the hardest commands of scripture for me to obey. Some people are just wired to talk to the universe and believe someone is listening, and I am one of those. I have read theories that this is an evolutionary adaptation, to ascribe agency to more things rather than fewer. In this instance Type I Errors, also called "false positives" are a safer risk than Type II.

If someone wants to believe that this is all who my god is, that's fine. I think anyone who stops puzzling about the issue at that point isn't likely to be convinced by the type of testimony I would offer. I do recall finding it odd when I came alive during the Jesus movement of the 1970's that people would talk about this verse as if it was very hard. Not until years later did I conclude that it is just that all of us are not wired the same.

God exists entirely independent of my thought however, and even if most of us are wired to talk to the universe in this way it doesn't bring him into existence. Even if he put it there, it's a clue, not a proof. I believe God intentionally doesn't do proofs, pax Aquinas. Thus the hard part is "who am I talking to?"  Drawing my natural tendency to talk to Someone into talking to the Creator of the universe takes more conscious effort. I hope I have done some of that and am farther along than I was.  I think so.  Yet we can fool ourselves so easily on such things.

So I was given a great gift, but it carries its own temptation.  That seems about normal.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Don't Split The Difference

I belong to an evangelical church.  Two streams have combined to make evangelicals so numerous these days. The fundamentalists fade away, and their children come to us. Secondly, we inherit people from the mainstream churches who believe that the faith is being discarded for modern fashionable ideas.

The two groups use the Bible in different ways. To greatly oversimplify, the fundamentalists tend to atomise the scriptures, letting each verse stand alone, like a saying or a poster. Even the exaggeration of that is not unknown: any verse could be lifted up and plunked down in a different book without impairing its meaning. Lists of "Proof Texts," or "God's Promises" are created - well-intentioned comfort for the faithful, but often butchering context. It is not an accident, BTW, that this method of reading scripture arose at the same time as a belief in magic and spell-books. There is something of Bible-as-spell-book about it, though they are the group that most condemns any whiff of what they call magic.

Most mainstream denominations have long histories of attempting to change culture in favored directions. The Catholics were criticised for their "City of God" theology, but the Calvinists did much the same, first in Switzerland and then in Boston. It is a European distinctive, this desire for constant tinkering and improvement to make society better.  Other places in the world tend to accept society and government as it is, save only whether their tribe might improve its position. Those places now imitate our drive for improvement - some imitate it very well - but it has not been ever thus. My own thought is that this different view of the world comes from the understanding that the world has a beginning, a stretch of human time, and then an end. This is a Biblical idea, though the northern peoples had it as well, though they were more focused on the end than the beginning.  Everyone else had and has, circular time, or seasonal time. The focus on "social gospel" and the efforts of what we call Social Justice Warriors do not spring out of nothing in the church. It's what Europeans do - it's a cultural distinctive. We don't always do it well or do it right, but that's our focus.

This shows in the use of the Bible of those coming out of the mainstream churches. Stories and verses are studied for themes and lessons, but always with an eye to "how are we going to make all this work better," as contrasted with simply giving to individuals in need.

I am always pleased when churches or studies don't attempt to resolve these different, even conflicting approaches to scripture by striking a balance.  There is no balancing, they are both at least partly wrong right down to the root. Taking the Scripture on its own terms is different from both.

Folk Songs Always Go Backward

Bob Dylan's song....

was based on a 19th-C ballad, sometimes referred to as Lord Franklin, sometimes as Lady Franklin's Lament.

I prefer what Dylan did with it, and prefer Peter, Paul, and Mary's harmonising arrangement even more.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

High(er) Heels

My offhand observation is that feminists are less likely to wear very high heels, and wear lower heels in general.  This would fit with the idea that heels are more likely to be girly clothes, and even sexually provocative, and harder to run in, making women more vulnerable.  I have no numbers, and if people know something different, I am open to correction.  Professional women in many professions might tend toward higher heels for example.

If so, however, then feminists experience the world from some shorter height than non-feminists or undecideds, or whatever. Say it is one inch shorter.  This would matter not only in interacting with women, but in interacting with men, who are on average taller. Would feminists thus have an impression of men as more intimidating and powerful? In terms of interpretation, that could flow either way - that women in heels have an artificial sense of equality, or that women without them have their cultural impressions too strongly influenced by the merely physical differences.

Hard to draw conclusions, but it's fun to play out the various possibilities.  There might also be generational, professional, or regional differences that confound things.


If you had told me while I was in college in 1971 that a few decades later, a US Supreme Court justice was going to be questioned hard on whether there was too much sex and alcohol at his high school, I would have been petrified that the conservatives had somehow achieved total power, possibly by violence, and were imposing some sort of Puritan standards of a type later fictionalised in The Handmaid's Tale. I would have contemplated moving to some other country.


In 1962 and a few years after, when it rained we would have indoor gym class at Straw School. For some reason I was very good at this.  I was good at strange things athletically: standing broad jump, sack race, three-legged race, agility drills.

Short strong legs.  It just came to me.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Searching For Laughs

We spend our time on social media looking for humor, according to the New Yorker.  Most commentary would claim that we are seeking to reinforce our world-views by seeing news we agree with, and examples of the worst idiocy of our opponents, but I think that humor-piece might be the addictive part.  One more click might bring it. 

In the spirit of making your job easy, there is humor, not only at the Babylon Bee (sidebar), but at David Thompson's site, including the comments section. He's not always right about stuff, and he and the crew can be mean.  But if it's humor you're after, I usually laugh out loud at at least one comment per thread.

Secret Handshake

I am well-positioned to observe what people use as the codes to establish who they are and signal to others. I go into work only 8 days a month now, and because I am always in coverage, I get moved around to any of 7 units, 14 teams. Because I have worked there 40 years, I know at least someone on each team well, but because there is staff turnover and I have been a coverage person for more than three years, there will also be a person I know very little, with the rest (2-4 people) in between.

These are psychologists, social workers, OT/RT's, psychiatrists, and psych nurses. 90+% liberals.  Less often, I see mental health attorneys, testing psychologists, and community mental health professionals. 95+% liberals.  Lastly, I see speakers from nonprofits, advocates on grant money, and instructors on new regulations (or new attitudes) from other agencies. 100% liberals. Very few know that I am post-liberal, and assume they are among their own kind. People say the most amazing things when they think no one problematic is listening.

If the conversation goes on at any length, or it is a formal meeting/instruction, there is an excellent chance that someone will make an anti-Trump joke within three minutes, instantly approved and topped by someone else present. It's the new secret handshake.  The old secret handshakes were more varied.


Al Sharpton is reported to have said about the Tawana Brawley case. "I'm not going to pursue it legally. I'm going to pursue it politically."

Hagler Vs Leonard

At the time (1987), I was a Marvin Hagler fan and thought he had won.  Watching the fight on film a few years ago convinced me that I was wrong.  Boxing matches are not evaluated as fights, they are scored as matches.  Leonard outscored Hagler, as I can now see.  He outwitted him, even if he didn't outfight him.

Yet I had learned something in the interim, that illustrates the outwitting even more.  There were the usual negotiations about money and guarantees, which Hagler and his people focused on.  He wanted a payday.  Because of this, they did not negotiate as hard on the rules of the fight as they might have.  A 15-rounder would have favored the stronger Hagler; Leonard successfully negotiated a 12-rounder instead. Heavier (and more usual at 160 lbs) 14 ounce gloves would likewise favor the stronger Hagler; Leonard's handlers arranged for 12 ounce gloves.  Lastly, the boxers fought in an extra-large ring, favoring the more agile Leonard over the more powerful Hagler.  The fight was so close that it is likely that Hagler would have won if he had had any one of those three advantages. Leonard also psyched him out by talking up how much he was going to slug it out toe-to-toe with Hagler, then dancing away from him for much of the fight. Now that you know these things, you can see them in the fight, even though the announcers do not.

I was thinking of drawing a lesson from this, but I had best not.


We are installing a new head pastor tomorrow, after over a year of search.  We had plenty of notice that the previous pastor was retiring. Congregations try to exercise due diligence in calling a pastor, beginning with prayer, evaluating themselves honestly, searching with an open mind, listening to the Holy Spirit. From what we can tell of the early churches, they did the same, and there is no sin in it.  However, it brings out an unfortunate side-effect, in that each of us gets into a mindset of "What do I want to see?""What do I think a good pastor looks like?" We become connoisseurs of pastors, much like the connoisseurs of churches warned against in The Screwtape Letters.

I think we are called rather to obey. That is better for us.  It is an unamerican idea, perhaps. Some denominations do not have congregations calling their pastors, but assign them.  I imagine this is not quite so pristine and spiritual in practice, but the idea itself has some advantages.

As in many things, some must be set aside for the more ambiguous tasks, so that others may pursue righteousness unimpeded.  King David was not allowed to be the builder of the Temple because blood was on his hands, even though God had allowed and even ordered the warfare. There must be elders in the church who call pastors to account, to intervene with them when the lose focus or go astray.  Theirs is not quite the position of obedience that the rest of us can settle into.  Those leaders can still learn obedience, of course; also, any of us might be called to confront those in power, even if it is not our assigned role. One size does not fit all.

It is not healthy to sit in judgement of a pastor's preaching when it interferes with our simply learning the lesson set before us this week. I say this as one who is a great offender.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Politicians Speaking

My son sent me a video of Beto O’Rourke at a campaign town meeting and I just went off.  He hadn’t even gotten to the subject matter in his scripted response and I was just thinking.  Liar.  Liar.  I got more critical from there. It still bothers me just thinking about it. (Update: Now not so much after the following comparisons, though. Beto doesn't look quite so bad.)

I decided I was being unfair to O’Rourke, by comparing a politician’s speech to regular everyday speech for honesty and presentation.  Because I never watch politicians, for exactly this reason, it’s like a one-man police lineup.  If people spoke as I want them to, with a brief, tightly-worded argument that anticipates possible objections, they would be very quotable – and unelected. It’s their job to convince people they are special leaders.  Part of how they do that is by distracting them with shiny objects, as one would with a toddler, or motte-and-bailey arguments.* Because it works.

So I thought it would be fairer to compare him to videos of other politicians, for content and presentation.  I just went to YouTube and put in their names and picked a short video that looked like it might be a talking point disguised as an answer to a question, as Beto’s was. I actually haven’t heard any of them very much, not even Trump, who I just hear sound bites, by his supporters or his opponents.

Ted Cruz –  I expected I was going to think “arrogant,” and that’s there, but not as strong as I thought.  What I’m seeing is some preacher going on, a little camp meeting. Not the sweaty, shouting guy.  The warm-up guy. A little too smooth, though. He looks less like Eddie Munster when he’s talking than he does in still pictures.

Elizabeth Warren -  Irritating, but I can’t place it.  Schoolmarm? No, she sounds like she’s forever on the verge of losing her temper and most teachers don’t do that. It would be hard to have someone talking like this in your kitchen, there’s too much energy spitting out, but I guess it’s supposed to play on the big stage. It’s like a parent lecturing a child – a lot like me, probably – and you hope it’s some other kid that you don’t like.
Donald Trump –   Unlike the rest of America, I actually haven't watched him much.  Just soundbites from his supporters and opponents.  Again, I was expecting mostly just “blowhard,” but there’s something else.  He’s like an old college football coach from the 80’s  Bear Bryant  No, that’s not it.  Nothing like him.   Woody Hayes   Oh my, yes.  We have resurrected Woody Hayes and elected him president of the US.

Bernie Sanders -  As God is my witness, I didn’t know he was Jewish until this minute.  Old Jewish guy, shaking his fist at the clouds, doesn’t listen to anyone else!  I can relate to this! Born in Brooklyn, moved to Vermont.  Of course! (Facepalm.)  I actually like this style. You can easily picture him saying “Get off my lawn.”

Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez  Holy crap.  “So, Madison was like at the basketball game, and she was wearing that tight sweater and was all over Hunter, and OMG I was just, like, I can’t believe this…”

Mike Pence  Okay, this is the good dad, who’s so disappointed in you, son, but I’m sure you’ll get right back on track and we’ll be seeing a better report card next time.  Any questions? Fine.  I’ll be checking back with you to look at that geometry homework every night for the rest of the week, then you’ll be on your own again.

Maxine Waters  I was expecting fiery, sharp, a little out-of-control.  Janis Joplin.   I wasn’t expecting slow and stupid. 

John Cornyn, the principal,  explaining at the emergency assembly why the prom is being cancelled because of all the arrests at the parties after the baseball championship.  And Cory Booker channeling Hoover in Animal House. 

Speaking of which, I’m glad I couldn’t find anyone of either party quite like this.  Maybe there’s hope after all.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz  “That speaker jack you injected into my spine is uncomfortable.  Stop making me say things, I want to stop now.”

Nancy Pelosi   Okay, the botox throws off the facial cues, but I didn’t make her get the treatments. This is like the lady across from you at lunch at a conference explaining some conspiracy theory, like the government covering up about Area 51, or GMO foods causing the extinction of 2700 species of butterfly in one year.  Does that seem unfairly extreme of me?  She has said  “Civilization as we know it would be in jeopardy if Republicans win the Senate.”

A lot of folks in this one  but combined with this one of Grassley, I have to say he is plodding rather than charismatic, like a bank vice president who is patiently explaining that the out-of-town developers aren’t getting a loan because the bank’s long-established criteria suggest they won’t be able to pay it back. The out-of-town developers are acting like they have been through this before with other banks and are sure they’re going to get their way eventually.  I have always said it would be good to have a boring president. Worth a try, anyway.

*The speech was: Do I think kneeling in protest is disrespecting the flag, our country, and our veterans?  Well it’s a peaceful protest. (No one ever said it wasn’t.) Selma was a peaceful protest.  Let me tell you how wonderful Selma was, including WWII vets. 60’s. Freedom Riders. Selma. Names and places that are invocations. Did you notice that I mentioned veterans? My God, Selma and the Civil Right Movement was great. How can people be against Selma?  This is the same thing, because it’s peaceful.  Also, black people are sad about 0.01% of the deaths being unfair because of police mistakes evil, so pay no attention to the funerals all those other black families have to go to. Except for the sadness part.  We want to build on that, and redirect it all to injustice that politicians can fix, just by caring and funding programs that talk about things.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Wait and See

Because I am no longer on Facebook, I didn't get to use my standard Facebook line, which works on most crises. Wait and see.  This will become clearer. Not because I know anything secret about the Kavanaugh case, but because I can read the times. Wait and see.

From a purely competitive political standpoint, I think rushing to judgement generally favors liberals, waiting and watching favors conservatives.  I don't mean whether the leaders and opinion-makers rush to judgement or wait and see.  I mean what they want us to do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Home Inspection

Remember how I was pleased just a couple of months ago about getting to the end of my to-do list since semi-retirement?  We had a home inspection, so there will be no surprises when we go to sell.

I now have more things to do.  And some things we'll have to pay to have done. Still, there were things I was worried about that turned out to be okay.

OCD Song, Question of Malleability

I wrote over a decade ago about my OCD song, which may date back 55 years in my tuneless humming.  There are two, actually, and I decided that one of them sorta kinda has similarity to "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring."  When I catch myself humming my OCD song, I'm going to switch to the Bach peice, and see if I can train my brain to get stuck on that more lovely tune instead.

Note:  Having a life soundtrack seemed to be a thing then.  I think I got the idea from one or both of my older children.  Just a victim of peer pressure.

Bert and Ernie

Powerline carried this update on the statements by a Sesame Street writer, and by the organisation itself, about Bert and Ernie.

Scroll down for coffee-spewing moment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Science Fairs

Yes, stereotype, self-confidence, and exposure are the only possible explanations to STEM having the wrong kind of nerdiness. I can't think of any other possibilities.

The documentary does look like fun.


I recall a friend who retired 20 years ago, laughing at himself about how easy it was to waste time. "I get up to lunchtime," he related "and I've been busy all morning.  But when I come to list what I've actually gotten done, I find that I only went downtown and put gas in the car.  Took up my whole morning."

I suspected even then he might be right.  I have been erratic about efficiency all my life, able to work magic in ridiculously short periods, then just kind of wander around until it's too dark to mow the lawn. I have actually gotten much better at organising myself rather than relying on deadlines that others have put on me in these last 20 months of semi-retirement.

Yet it is still nothing like what it was.  I got home early, and was to cook dinner.  A granddaughter was slated to come over at 5:45. There were two calls to make, a little email correspondence, some eyedrops to put in. I sailed through it briskly, proud of steps I eliminated by combining small tasks. It then occurred to me that I used to do all this, plus supervise two children changing and starting homework, get some house task such as the lawn or laundry done, read an open book in spurts and duck out for a cigarette every half-hour.

The Truman Show World

Or maybe "The Matrix" would be more accurate.  I'm not that conversant.

Part of me feels some obligation to weigh in on the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Because of both profession and interest, I do know something about the reliability of memory, and of trauma memories in specific. I do know something about trauma and the range of behaviors people show afterward. I know less, though still more than average, about people lying and being evasive. Being the Assistant Village Idiot, I am also at least better than average at noticing simple things (though still not good enough); in particular, things that do not fit together. Why did various actors do X and not Y? Readers might expect me to weigh in on such matters, in hopes of sorting things out for themselves. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. In reality, most of you have already formed an opinion of what is most likely true, what is inconclusive, and what is false. Inconclusive often does not last long in the human mind. We have to make an effort to stand back and hold pieces aloft and separate, or we just automatically move to one story or another. We must fit everything into a story. We can decide to say that something is simply unknown and unlikely to ever be known, and thus put irresolution to bed, but this takes more effort.

I refrain now because my knowledge is general, and we have moved beyond that. Had I been paying attention the first 24 hours I might have provided value-added by posting on the general questions, which would help others move toward More Likely/Less Likely. Even at that, I would not have been able to provide anyone with answers. General knowledge on such topics involves on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand discussions. Women who have been in similar circumstances usually do X; but not all women do. Some women do Y or Z. Memories are usually reliable in this circumstance, but unreliable in that circumstance. We are beyond that because this is now a specific accuser, who we can discover information about. What “women usually do” is much less of an issue. It is a mere indicator, not real evidence for this day and time.

Of the many things that bother me, the failure to recognize this distinction may be at the top. A letter from 65 women who knew Brett Kavanaugh when he was young, asserting that he was an unfailing gentleman, is minor evidence that his character is inconsistent with this action. A similar letter from the opposite POV, asserting that Brett was a known problem when he had a few drinks in him would likewise be minor evidence that such things were possible. Neither would be proof, but they have some value. The letter signed by 200 women who went to this woman’s school, spanning years both before and after the alleged incident in question and noting that it feels like their experience, is not in the same category. It is worse than useless, because it stirs up people into thinking that this is germane. The question before the Senate, and thus before the country, is not a referendum on whether men in general are likely to do these things or women in general are likely to misrepresent them. The same would be true of a counter-letter signed by 200 males from Kavanaugh’s school asserting that Holton girls have been making false accusations for years and they’re sick of it. In both cases it’s irrelevant, even if true. Even if all 200 women had bad experiences, even if all 200 men had been falsely accused, it tells us nothing about this case.

Why, then, are we so quick to make real individual events into abstracts, into referenda whether our particular prejudices are the true ones and those other people’s prejudices untrue? My suggestion is that everyone who does this should be ineligible from participating in further discussion. This is not occasional.  It seems to occur even in everyday conversation.  If you talk about statistical associations between single parenthood and some pathology, single parents immediately rise to defend their child, who is not actually being discussed.  It's an every-issue thing.  But I know some really nice gay people.  My cousin married a black man, and he has a good job. I knew this kid who went to Christian school who was the biggest druggie in town. 

There is something so automatic about this that I have to believe it is  hard-wired and completely usual, despite its illogic. While I think it is related to intelligence, or at least the ability to think abstractly, I can give you plenty of examples of very bright people who do it anyway. The ability to consider people statistically does not guarantee the performance of it.

Athletes and entertainers complain that fans don't always get that they are real people with real feelings.  We treat them like things. I have only a little sympathy with this idea.  It's their job to be mythological.  They wouldn't have jobs if that didn't happen.  Yes, sometimes it is reasonable to break the fourth wall and look at their lives. But that is actually only a version of being a mythological figure.  Because the rules of each sport are arbitrary and different people could have been the heroes with very minor changes, being a hero is their real job, not shooting a basketball.  To be good at being a hero requires intense focus on the arbitrary skill, so they have to act as if it has intrinsic value.

The same is not true for political figures and people with real power. Expecting them to be enactors of our myths is extremely dangerous. (Though I suppose it has been going on so thoroughly for so many thousands of years that it can't be that dangerous. We not only survive it, it may actually be an optimal strategy not only for the rulers but for the ruled. Worth an evening's thought, I think.) They are not part of our Truman Show, put there as props/characters to illustrate the dramas in our own heads. Yet we seem unable to refrain from seeing them that way.  They can send us to war, starve us, jail us, ruin or enhance our lives in a thousand ways, but we are determined to see them primarily as figures who prove or disprove our theories about how life is to be lived. Their symbolism matters more to us than their reality.

Because Kavanaugh does not seem to be rabidly pro-choice enough and might allow some slight modification to the status quo there are women, even conservative and libertarian women, who are shaken to their core that all gains for women and progress are imperiled. There are conservatives, especially religious conservatives who are likewise petrified that he is actually a squish and will sell them down the river at the first opportunity. Very primitive stuff is in play here.  Even Ann Althouse is talking about this as "Justice Kennedy's seat" and relating that immediately to abortion.  It's not Justice Kennedy's seat, it belongs to the American people. She is not usually the person who you have to say "get a grip" to.

We're crazy.  We're all just insane.  Unable to think abstractly enough to consider important issues objectively, we retreat to the mountain people hating the city and the city people hating the mountain.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Bible Project

This will be adult studies for the fall, into the winter. We watched the following video, though one could start in other places. They've got lots. The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

New World Record

Taking well over a minute off the world record is an amazing leap.  The runners who dominate this and all distance events, are not all Kenyans, but are all from the Great East African Rift. While they train hard, very hard to reach this level, it is mostly training to beat other Kenyans, Ethiopians, and the occasional Tanzanian, Eritrean, or Sudanese. The Japanese do well, and Americans are making a resurgence under Salazar, a former marathoner who is now a coach. But Rift Valley runners still outpace everyone.

Yes, of course it's genetic, related especially to slow-twitch muscle fibers and narrow ankles on long calves. Other advantages, such as lung capacity or oxygen processing can also be genetic, so it doesn't mean that one group will always dominate.  But the Kenyans dominate, as they do in other distance events, especially the 3000 meter Steeplechase.  The current world-record holder, running for Qatar, was born in Kenya.

Friday, September 14, 2018


I have written on this before, but I come back, just for clarity. Christians can talk a lot of nonsense when they get rolling sometimes.

Two stories:

There was a continuing drama in one of my college dorms, of a boy who had flunked out/dropped out after the first semester but didn’t want to go home.  He wanted to continue to hang out at college. One of his friends took him in, letting him sleep in his dorm room and keep some of his stuff there. The story had complications of girlfriends, money, and medical conditions, but the major complication was that the real roommate was less enthused about the arrangement, and became progressively less enthused as the semester wore on. I admit I only heard one side of it, but that’s the summary. The friend had wanted to be generous, and gave to someone in need. However, the room was not his room but the college’s, though he was renting it in some sense. The college had rules forbidding this sort of arrangement. Not that anyone enforced those rules much, but they were there.  More directly, the dorm room was not “rented” to one person, but to two. The friend, taking in the ex-student, was giving away something that was not entirely his.  The original roommate had an equal stake.

I started working at the state psychiatric hospital not long after my intense, born-again, hangin’ with the Jesus Freaks experience.  (Which was pivotal and good for me, by the way, don’t get me wrong. I write it humorously but not dismissively.  They taught me much.) I was viewing Scripture in a new light, in terms of simple and literal obedience.  The Bible says to give to those who ask, so give to those who ask. Not all state hospital patients were constant beggars, but a fair number were, especially for cigarettes or money for coffee. It’s easy to be critical, but they didn’t have many ways of getting even a little money. It was also not uncommon then for smokers to bum off each other in a pinch – you just kept an eye out for guys who were always receivers and never givers in those exchanges.

At the hospital – none o’ that. No cigarettes, no money given. The reasoning was sound. Not only were some of them on behavior plans whereby they could earn cigarettes or money, so keeping them on that strictly was part of treatment, but there was a more general type of treatment.  We didn’t want to train people to be beggars if they were going to be living in the community. They, more than other people, needed to not offend their neighbors, passers-by, possible landlords or employers. I don’t know that we fixed things much.  We didn’t make things worse, at least. So I learned the command to give might not be absolute.

Let me head in the other direction.  There is a simple, straightforward way of interpreting Scripture that I think is not only valid, but may be best for our own spiritual improvement and being Christ in the world. Those who ask, get.  Those who have need, receive.  If God has put someone at your door, or in your neighborhood, or somehow in your orbit, then maybe that’s your job, no questions asked.  If the US government disagrees, well, obedient Christians have a long history of doing things governments don’t like. That approach is much closer to that of the early church.  It just is, there’s not much way around that. However, the early church had little earthly power.  They weren’t called to make administrative decisions affecting many people.  They may have had difficult decisions, within the churches or in their immediate sphere, but they didn’t rule over much in the secular world. Therefore, we don’t have much example of what they would have done, and the words of Jesus, Peter, and Paul do not address such questions directly.  Whatever conclusion we come to about charity, it is a conclusion, based on our understanding, the teaching of others, and hopefully, the Holy Spirit. If we take examples from the OT about how strangers should be entertained – and I think we should – then we are also stuck with the examples where YHWH encouraged his people to be, uh, really unkind to other tribes. We don’t actually have much scriptural example of what Israel was supposed to do when lots of other people wanted to migrate in. There were traders, occasional strangers, and invaders.  That’s pretty much what we have to go on.

When one is a ruler or administrator, what you have charge of is not yours by ownership.  It belongs to others, perhaps collective others.  The ruler of the city may be legitimately empowered to decide when to fight, when to bribe, and when to surrender. Yet the city is not his – though until very recently in human history the effect was usually the same. He administers, he does not own. Like a steward, he holds in trust.

You can take the position that "I am the administrator, in some sense assigned by God, and I am going to be generous with the goods of my people. We will give to all who ask, we will be generous to the poor to the point of impoverishing ourselves." I can picture a Christian administrator taking that approach, even when ruling a secular state. I can't prove to you that this is not the right thing.  I may be clouded by the secularism of my country and my era. Just to mention, however, that such an approach could also be applied to social issues with equal fairness. That may dampen the enthusiasm of those who were ready to jump on that bandwagon.
The lines seem messy when government is representative.  The government holds administrative power in trust for the people.  No, wait, the government holds administrative power in trust for God, who put it there.  Except, what if only some of the people believe in God? Well, it’s still God’s - Scripture says.  Or if the government isn’t godly, do we give to who they say, or not? What about trying to influence the government?  We can do that, right? Who owns this city?

Those discussions are book-length and more, and I am not any better equipped than any other citizen to decide what is best. I just want it to be clear that there is a difference between giving away what is clearly yours, such as your money, your house, your food, and giving away things that belong to other people, or to the people as a whole. (Like citizenship. Or Medicaid. Or voting.) Immigration has an effect on the employment opportunities of people here, especially young people, and more especially black, Native, and Hispanic young people. (That’s just one thing immigration affects, BTW.) A representative government seeks to balance the need to protect those jobs with whatever cultural or long-term needs we have - to express our generosity, stimulate growth, and contribute to world stability. Any government might do that well or do that poorly.  If an individual Christian, or a church, or a denomination decides that the government is not being generous enough, they have freedom to give away their own stuff, even if it pisses off the government (“You are not licensed”)  or their neighbors (“You’re encouraging more people to come”).  What they aren’t empowered to do is give away other people’s stuff.

If you want to run a refuge, accepting all at your building downtown regardless of ability to pay or legal status, you can do that, not just in an emergency but all the year round. Feed ‘em.  Hire nurses to be there 24-7. If the people you serve are here legally, then all of us, through the government, have signed off on services they are eligible for.  But when you refer illegals to government services, you are giving away other people’s stuff, that you don’t have any authority over. If those people take low paying jobs nearby then you have given away some black teenager’s job. Once you start giving away other people’s stuff, even at several removes, then you have a responsibility to enter the conversation about balancing. If you give away a room in your house, your husband and children are affected.  You may be empowered to administer what is given away, but they have given up something, and you are supposed to balance that. You might feel great about the little girl smiling about the new life she has in America, or at least, feel better because no one is showing you pictures of sad little girls anymore. But you don’t see the sad girl who can’t get a job, or if you do, you blame someone besides yourself for that. One side is highly visible, and made highly visible.  The other side is almost invisible, but it is just as real.  If you want to go small picture charity, that’s respectable. It may even be the proper simplicity for a Christian no longer involved in the powers of the world and just being Christ in the Street.  But when your small picture is actually photographs and reports from somewhere else, then you have entered the big picture and have to think in terms of balancing claims. You can’t have that both ways.

Here’s the rant: 

There are churches, or movements within churches, who advocate that America should take in more refugees, or illegals. It is fair to ask how many are they currently supporting, whether they can take on any more, and to multiply that over the other churches they are associated with that they think will join them. Oh. You aren’t actually supporting any refugees yourself?  You aren’t paying for interpreter services, and rent, and food, and medical care, or beating the bushes to find someone who will donate those?  You aren’t bringing them to job interviews and making sure they have a ride to work? The special needs kids with complicated problems – that’s just on the school district, right? Oh.  I see.  Well that's quite different then.  Who is you are addressing with your political proposal?  Asking for a friend.

So you yourself aren’t actually doing much, just sending a visitor or an advocate once in a while. But you’re sure that somebody somewhere will be able to figure all this out if we just take more.  You’ve decided you need to be America’s conscience, because America is rich, especially those other people, and you have mind-read that their motives for not signing on are evil.  Your fantasy that we are all doing these wonderful things together is mostly just saying there’s plenty of other people’s money. Said The Pieman to Simple Simon: "First show me your money."

I’ve done refugee resettlement.  It’s really hard. Somebody has to go over more than once a day to teach English, take them shopping, register for school, call employers, get them to doctors, help them find countrymen, so you usually need a dozen people for about six months (plus a collection of individuals for single favors), and then gradually back off.  For one family.  I’m not doing much of anything now except sending money to a refugee church nearby. Maybe I should – maybe Jesus put them in my lap and I’m denying it. But at least I’m not going to the signup sheet and writing in your name. So I’d appreciate it that you not write in my name because you think Jesus told you to.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Online IQ Tests

Sometimes I wish my sidebar would say "If you fall for taking this test your IQ is less than 100?" Admittedly, we all fall for things sometimes.  It's an odd thing.  Did you know that gullibility isn't in the OED?

Fantasy Draft

Farewell To Masks

We used to hear a lot about masks, and how bad they were, back in the 1970’s. I wrote a bad folk-rock song about it, actually. Must have been more than one, but I am not going to traumatize myself by trying to remember.  Shudder. There were plays about it.  Art exhibits.  Posters. Serious discussions at church youth group, at least if you were Congregationalist. We all wear masks. It’s all a mask, covering up her real desire to (whatever). He knows how to put on the mask. We shouldn’t hide behind our masks, we should try to be more authentic people.

I saw a little poster about those masks on the patient art board here at the hospital. I realized that I hadn’t seen this sentiment for a long time. I don’t know when it went out of fashion.  Some poor patient here has got time-warp.  There’s no cure for that.  Once you’ve got time warp, you have it forever. 

I felt a surge of gratitude that we are now spared this nonsense.  We learned that masks are often just expressions of politeness, or adulthood, or assigned role.  Being authentic is too often a synonym for rudeness or narcissism. It is related to another phenomenon which is also mercifully less fashionable now, the idea that we have to “get everything out” in order to free ourselves up and achieve psychic wholeness. My son needs therapy.  He has all this anger inside that he needs to get out.  No, no, he gets that anger out just fine.  It’s keeping it in we need to work on here. 

Trump may have masks, but I’m thinking WYSIWYG.  Aren’t his opponents (and even some of his friends) suggesting they’d be happier if he had more masks and didn’t say what he’s thinking quite so much? 

Okay, now I’m getting irritated thinking about other politicians and masks.  I wish I’d never brought this up.  You’re welcome, for ruining your day too.