Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Moon River

Sort of fun, eh? I had never heard either of them do this before.


If I have to explain in more detail than the spokesman for the Oxford University Press does at the link why a dictionary includes words and meanings we think are wrong, I will be glad to. Merriam-Webster is including a new transgender pronoun meaning of "they" in its new edition. Conservatives will become irate, as they have ever since "ain't" was first included in 1961, and they are wrong.  It's one of those places they are sure they are just defending standards and holding the line against the deterioration of our culture, but all they are doing is demonstrating that they haven't thought about it very hard.

Dictionaries describe what the language is, not prescribe what it should be.  If you prefer the latter, consult a manual of style instead.  You won't always like their decisions either, though.

The new twist is that now it is leftists who are objecting to the definitions, and even more to the example sentences.  We may get to see if dictionaries have been acting on principle all along, or just taking sides.  My guess is some of both, but it will be interesting to see if they bow to this new pressure.

Corey Lewandowski Quote

I'll have to learn something about him eventually, as he is running against Democratic Cipher Jeanne Shaheen for Senate up here.  I think my oldest son doesn't like him much, or at any rate thinks the Republicans can do better.  Lewandowski has pinch-hit for Howie Carr on radio, so it may be that he's a fire-breather, which would put him off my two older sons' lists right away. Today he said, apropos the investigations, that Democrats are showing that they hate this president more than they love their country.  It's a pretty damning comment, and the sort of over-the-top rhetoric we try to discourage.

Except that listening to my temporary office-mate today, Lewandowski has a point.  He's a social worker from Chicago, a nice enough guy.  He was telling me that this is his first NH primary, and offered opinions.  He thinks Biden should get out of the way.  He thinks Corey Booker is "principled" but has reached his ceiling.  I didn't want to hear who he likes, so I moved the conversation 5 degrees off-center, telling him that he'll be pretty sick of all of them by the end - that even the one's he likes he will feel he has had enough of.  Because they are, in the end, all politicians and people who want to tell us what to do.

He was unfazed. "The important thing is that I don't want this president to be validated by being re-elected."

Really?  Why would that matter compared to what it is that these gals and guys want to do? (Or not do.) I mentioned that my main worry about Trump had been that his thin-skinned nature would translate into unnecessary military involvements, but that this has turned out not to be so. Quite the opposite. This had no effect. He actually rather doubled down.

To be fair, we all do this to some extent.  There are conservatives who not only wanted to see Hillary Clinton go away, but be shamed in the process, and in that subset, that may have outweighed a dispassionate desire for the best for the American people. But for most of us, hey, once Jeanne Shaheen is gone and not causing any more trouble, I hope she is happy gardening, or traveling about, or whatever. (If she takes up lobbying, I withdraw my goodwill.) There are conservatives trying to get us outraged at the hypocrisy of the Obamas buying expensive homes, including beachfront. (Is it Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard?)  It's a fair point, but it doesn't get much traction, because we don't much care. Again, assuming no further mucking things up.  Hillary remains in the public eye, drawing ire because she puts herself there.

Is it worse now, or has it always been this way?

Saved Links

As I mentioned before, this feature is going to go to sleep for a few months rather soon.  Once I hit the beginning of 2019 I will wait until 2020 starts to draw your attention to the others.

Income Mobility.  Dan Mitchell: "I generally don’t write much about the distribution of income, largely because that feeds into the false notion that the economy is a fixed pie and that politicians should have the power to re-slice if they think incomes aren’t sufficiently equal. I think growth is far more important, especially for poor people, which is what I said (using the amazing data from China) in a recent debate at Pomona College in California." November 2019.

Public Opinion Poll. It's almost as if the Palestinians don't really want peace. Golda Meir: "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us." December 2018. 

Immigration In The United States. From the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.  I have no idea why I saved this.  Is there some PC horror hidden in there that I wanted to save a s a bad example but now cannot find while skimming?  Is it a really good summary that proves that some professionals actually know what they are doing? I don't know.  It looks pretty good, actually.  November 2018.

An Apples-to-Apples comparison of an overall media bias,  from Investor's Business Daily. November 2018.

Trying to shame and blame white women for not voting correctly. November 2018.


Mike Yastrzemski is playing at Fenway for the first time tonight.  I wish I had tuned in to hear the introduction and the cheers.

Looking over his numbers, he should stop trying to steal bases. Otherwise looks okay.

Matt Cassidy

A young friend from Wheaton College has completed the Appalachian Trail.  Dad hiked two separate weeks with him along the way.  It looks like Mom at least climbed Katahdin.

He made good time.  He didn't start super early, as he was still in college until May. I think..

Monday, September 16, 2019


A good reminder from John Tierney, former science editor at the NYT (you will notice that people who follow the evidence tend to give up and get out of that job after a while), that Trump is just wrong about vaping, which is not the danger critics claim it is. I'm not sure how the president got to this conclusion, but my guess would be "jumping to conclusions."

Wyrd And Providence Series, #37 All-Time

I have pushed this series thrice over the years, twice by linking to it, and once by reposting it. I have itched to edit them, but have held off, because that removes the link to what my thinking was when I wrote them.  It seems a bit deceitful. I have learned some things since then that I don't want to pretend I knew in 2010.  This repost may free me up from that.

Part I
I reconsider an idea I rejected years ago.
New England was a peculiarly fertile ground for a peculiar and intense version of Calvinism, because predetermination is a Christianised version of Norse fatalism.  I don’t subscribe to that fully, but I don’t reject it out of hand anymore.

Part II
Swedish Luciafest: dressing children in the cute costumes of grim Norse pagan beliefs.  Disney was hardly the first, eh?

Part III
From Danes to East Anglia to Puritans.  How the grim creatures disappeared in the ocean, but some of the ideas were carried to New England.

Part IV
My theory unravels some.

Part IV-A

Part V
The idea of accusation by nature; trial by ordeal; some magics believed in, and some condemned, in Puritan New England.


An actual historian lends support to my theory.

Libertarian Vote

In all the discussions about Trump and polls, there never seems to be the least discussion of libertarians.  They may have swung a few states last time, and they don't seem to have anything powerful going this time around.  Will they vote Trump?  Stay home?  I analyzed - that is, guessed at this - last year, and took a further guess at the youth vote.  I have been consistently bad at the horse-race aspect of politics.  I never figure out who will vote for whom and why. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

New World Record

You will be shocked to know that all the leaders were from Kenya.  The lone different flag early in the race was Uganda - just west of Kenya and also on the Great African Rift.

I guess the Kenyans just visualise success better than people of other countries.

Highest Page Views #36-40, Minus One

One deserves a full treatment.

Chagall Windows - Zurich.  Just because I like them. Saw them in 2001. March 2010

Grammar Rule - An example to illustrate a principle of correct usage.  It is the type of principle that people who like grammar questions disagree with.  But they are wrong. October 2011

Chinese Christians - Links to an essay in First Things. Christians under duress can see things we overlook, and remind us of lessons we learn but keep forgetting. July 2016

Bottom Line. In praise of negative voting, and why certain actions of important Democrats would be a record of dishonesty hard for Trump to exceed. Once you know they have laughingly admitted lying, and lying often, and defending lying, how do you go on believing their next statements? February 2017.

Saturday, September 14, 2019


I listened to a professional historian being interviewed who claimed that a man's honor in previous centuries was largely a matter of protecting his rank or social status.

There is a type of reductionism which says that all romantic love is but lust disguised; that charity is always either guilt, tribal solidarity, or sentimentality; or that fear, greed, and pride are the real foundations of work and human achievement.

I don't want to refute such ideas so much as hold them to the same standard of scrutiny.  Yes, it is true that many of our ancestors aspired to honor and defended their honor for selfish reasons.  In fact, that was known at the time, as writers reveal to us that there were men who were "touchy" about their honor, and overquick to defend themselves because they dimly knew they were dishonorable. Folk wisdom has long cautioned the young against confusing passion with true affection. The New Testament spends a fair bit of energy warning us against doing "good" things for bad reasons. Why is this cynicism considered some new revelation, to shout down the better natures of others?

What a small, impoverished world the reductionists live in, to be the only noble souls in a world of sinners.  Even if they grant better motives to circle of their own, they must see themselves as swimming in a polluted sea all their days.

Rethinking Bonfoeffer

I don't want to attract sudden attention as anti-Bonhoeffer.  When we first visited our current church in 1986, one of the things that impressed us was that there was a cartoon Sunday School lesson about Bonhoeffer sent home with my second-grade son.  I have gotten a great deal out of The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. I have been consistently pro-Dietrich.

Yet it occurred to me today that I have accepted the morality of the plot to kill Hitler too automatically.  We approve because it was brave, and because well, it's Hitler. Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators hesitated long, because their morality was strongly suffused with a German sense of order and respect for authority, but they eventually decided the thing simply had to happen.  Adolf Hitler was leading Germany to an immoral path of destruction, and had to be stopped.

In different circumstances we might not have been so certain. Not all Germans would have applauded.  How would we have regarded similar attempts against Stalin or Mao?  Had Bonhoeffer been some random pastor who took it into his head to blow up the Fuhrer and failed, we might not have remembered him quite so purposefully. We might remember him as something of a crank, albeit one who had intuited the situation correctly.  But Dietrich had been a member of the Confessing Church and its underground seminary, putting himself at risk for less-political, more clearly Christian cause.  He had traveled to America and become interested in Civil Rights and "theology from below," seeing things from the vantage point of the oppressed. After his arrest and imprisonment he took on a pastoral role to both guards and prisoners, and one of Hitler's last acts as his Reich was collapsing was to make sure this particular pastor got executed. Bonhoeffer also wrote a great deal, and thoughtfully, putting him in the category of that sort of pastor. It is an impressive assemblage of credibility, so we take his decision to resort to violence seriously.

Yet what if it had worked, and two years later, other Nazis were still in charge, only comparatively less bad than Hitler? Does he assassinate someone else? The jarring thought highlighted my realisation that the act of assassination reveals a strong belief that the target is some aberration. It is a declaration that it is not really the German people, their culture, their decisions that are at fault. If only we could get rid of this one guy. But that is seldom true, if ever. Assassination sets in motion a wildly unpredictable set of possibilities.

There is also the matter of treating courage as a virtue.  We consider it so when it is shown in support of our causes, but rate it less highly when displayed in our enemies. Courage is not so much a virtue in itself, but the measuring stick which reveals how much we really do care about the other virtues.

Old Friends

I got together with friends from St. Paul's ASP class of 1970 yesterday.  Larry David, in the middle, I have not seen in almost 50 years, though we have spoken on the phone a few times and exchanged a few emails. He was a science wizard even by ASP standards.  Ted Kontos, on the right, retired from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard a decade ago and has worked other science-y things since then. As my current friend list is heavily populated with engineering and science guys, it is interesting to note that this goes back quite a ways, even though I have never worked in science.  My people, I suppose. Ted is the one clever and deft enough to manage a selfie.

Ted now lives in the small city that Larry grew up in, and both of their wives come from around Buffalo, so I got to sit back and just listen for some of the conversation and be entertained, which is always nice. I learned about Beef on Weck, among other things. The local restaurant that serves it is one I had vowed to never go to again, so I may have to modify that.

Friday, September 13, 2019

To No Effect

Sadly, the Southern Poverty Law Center was seriously exposed in March, but everyone immediately forgot about it. Some of us have known for years that it was just a fund-raising scam descended from direct-mail, producing little work and simply listing its political enemies. Lots of offshore money. I had hopes this would cause the scales to drop from some eyes.  Guess not.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

1500 Meters

Just indulging my Track and Field obsession again. Pay attention to these names for next year's Olympics.

Three Links About Poor Thinking in the Academy

Quillette:  A paper goes down the memory hole for PC reasons - in math. September 2018

Quillette again:  Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind. August 2018.

City Journal:  Gender is a Construct - Except When It's Not. August 2018

Eurasiatic and Nostratic: No Real Updates.

I like to check up on these topics in historical linguistics every few months, just to see if anything new and sexy has come in. Eurasiatic and Nostratic are linguistic macrofamilies, not accepted by most historical linguists, which purport to be ancestral to the recognised language families today, such as Uralic, Kartvelian, Altaic, and of course, because it's me, Indo-European (or I wouldn't much care). Some historical linguists believe they can detect echoes of those much earlier (15,000* - 10,000 BCE) languages in the reconstructed languages (6500 - 3500 BCE) that are more generally accepted, and that some of this is detectable even to average eyes and ears today.

I am very much rooting for this to be true, and even hold out hope that the Proto-World hypothesis that connects all languages back to a single family even earlier than that. As this is being studied at the Santa Fe Institute (founded by Los Alamos guys who wanted to go very general about studying complex systems), I keep thinking that one of these times I'm going to see that they made some intriguing breakthroughs.  I'll keep trying. Nothing the last few times.

Genetic research has backed up the claims of the more adventurous theorists with surprising strength, but that may tell us something else.  We may be at the limit of what we can tell from language, and all further improvements may come only from the hard sciences. Joseph Greenberg looks spot-on in describing the Amerind families and their origin (as he was with the African families, which linguists now grudgingly accept), as the DNA matches his predictions very well. But he had to stretch and make overclaims (or if you prefer, inspired guesses) to get there and there may be no more that can be wrung from languages in isolation.  That may be why nothing much new is showing up.  People who want to know the answers to those questions, may no longer overlap so much with people who want to work in linguistics. They may be going into other fields.

Another strong caution for me is that one of my favorite linguists, Larry Trask, did not believe in the macrofamilies, or at least, did not believe they had been strongly demonstrated. Trask is one of the linguists who stood sternly against Noam Chomsky on the matter of generative grammar for decades. I wrote about it last year - no, over two years ago. I may secretly like Trask mostly for that rather than more academic considerations. I would certainly rather not have been arguing across a table with the late professor Trask.  He is pretty rough, even with nice people writing in to ask questions about linguistics. He was an American who ended up teaching in England.  I don't know if that explains anything.

*If you noticed, yes, most of these macrofamilies, if one traces them back to when they supposedly began, do indeed hit the same wall, at the same time that the glaciers retreated and homo sapiens sapiens spread out across the landscape in the Northern Hemisphere.  This would be both good news and bad for people like me, hoping that the relationships are true.  It would mean they were exploding out at exactly the right time, suggesting that our back-tracing methods have some value.  But it would also mean we are unlikely to be able to take it much farther.

Ehud Barak

Via Powerline, an interview with Ehud Barak. I forget that political controversies and lines drawn in other countries are not quite the same as here, and it is good to be reminded. Barak's opinion of President Obama is only a minor topic in the discussion, but it touches on things I have said elsewhere.  The former prime minister of Israel clearly has some admiration for our ex-president. His goal is to describe how Obama is different rather than to praise or criticise, but one can tell.  He describes Obama as seeking greatness rather than simple competence, to be one of the top half-dozen of American presidents, and studying greatness to that end. Ehud also approves of his more international understandings, being raised in Indonesia, having a Kenyan father and anthropologist mother, going to school outside the original 48 even when in America.  He describes Obama's core understanding as more "subtle" than other Americans.

I think there is a good deal of truth in this, but I think there is one great limiting factor.  Barack Obama is only above-average in intelligence, not some genius; and if one prefers training in wisdom rather than mere academic achievement, it is hard to see where that would have come from.  That is, unless one defines having an only partially-American outlook as wisdom, in and of itself, which would be circular. Obama is not stupid, but a discount must be applied to his academic achievements at every level. In addition to a double helping of affirmative action and his career not taking off until they stopped testing for math and science, he was also quite intentional and studied in seeming intelligent, especially to white people.  He himself repeatedly wrote that he was something of a blank canvas which others painted on what they wanted. He wrote biographies of his feelings and impressions, yet with very little in the way of concrete events and people he interacted with. More blank canvas. He did accomplish what he set out to do, and that's more than most of us can say, so there's that. He was a narcissist, and Ehud Barak provides the evidence without realising it.

Still, that's only a small part of the essay, as I said above, and it is worth your while, even you you disagree with some other parts or detect a slant that Barak may not be entirely aware of himself. He's still way ahead of most American politicians on that score, at any rate. I also liked the following:
Gossip is the shaper and mover of the fate of nations.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

10,000 Hours Did Not Quite Replicate.

I listened to a podcast interviewing David Epstein, author of Range, that came out earlier this year. He mentioned that the original 1993 study of violinists and pianists excelling on the basis of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice before age 20 has recently failed to replicate. Both the NYTimes and The Guardian overstate his conclusion in their headlines, but listening to him myself, Epstein did state pretty strongly that the 10,000 hours research is not established and should not be considered to be demonstrated. He leans more to genetic causes, which is unsurprising from the author of the bestselling The Sports Gene, and to including “practice variability,” such as playing different sports (or with a different ball or on a different size court); or in other fields, reading outside your area of expertise, or interacting with people who aren’t like you. I saw a similarity to Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s concept of antifragility, especially hormesis.
I decided decades ago that it was not necessary to be a massive generalist to have your brain work properly, but that it is an advantage to have at least one endeavor that is quite different from your career or main focus. A mathematician who also has a fascination with Civil War studies is not diluting his mathematical abilities, but enhancing them.  I didn’t have the reasoning behind that quite right, I now think, though the principle does hold.  I thought in terms of activating and developing various parts of one’s brain, which is why I was so intrigued with the Graduation 2010 project in Daviess County, KY.  That may still turn out to be so, but has not been demonstrated.  What does seem to be happening is that the individual has a greater library of analogies and strategies to draw from when a problem grows difficult. I suspect there is a limit to this.  In fact, as a massive generalist myself, I can assure that there is a limit. Yet a full library of analogies can be quite useful.

And notice, the violinists who practiced less still practiced a whole lot.  That’s worth remembering.  One of the best had practiced “only” 4,000 hours before age 20, but that’s still equivalent to working full-time at it for two years. Malcolm Gladwell and others may be wrong that there is something magical about 10,000 hours, and certainly wrong that anyone who practices 10,000 hours would become an expert, but those who excel do seem to have a heckuva lot of deliberate practice.
Unsurprisingly, the people who did the original study do not feel this undermines their work in the least. Intriguingly, one of them believes in a variant of the stress model, that the intensity of practice is a physiological stressor that calls forth the expression of dormant DNA, while the other thought that practice was the most important, but not only factor.  I don’t know how strongly they stated things in 1993, and if Gladwell overstated their conclusions then.


In the evangelical world, “faith” carries strong suggestion of being a crescendo event:  faith to move mountains, faith in a healing, faith to step out and obey some calling or decision.  It has a sense of screwing up one’s courage, or demonstrating one’s confidence in God at a point of time.

The word “faithful,” however, strongly suggests continuity. To be full of faith and to be faithful have overlapping but distinct meanings at this point.  “Faithless,” has elements of both, but hews closer to the one-time, short-term version.  I consider faithfulness a very great virtue, and it is clear the writers of the NT thought so, too.  We should include more of the current “faithful” meaning in our current usage of “faith.”

Monday, September 09, 2019

Phyllis Tickle, and Theories In General

I listen to a podcast out of First Methodist in Houston, and one of the pastor participants is very fond off the late Christian writer Phyllis Tickle.  In particular she likes the idea that the Church has this "giant rummage sale" every 500 years, getting rid of old junk, but good things come out of it.  At one level, what's the problem?  It might explain some things, it provides a structure for understanding church history - which aids in memory - and there's not anything obviously heretical or even unorthodox about it. It's okay for a variety of understandings to circulate in the church, right? North Park University* gave her an honorary doctorate, after all.  How bad can she be?

I hadn't known until I read the above that the idea was originally the Episcopalian Mark Dyer's. Such formulations do not actually start with the idea that there was this big change in the Church in 500, and there was one in 1000, and there was another in 1500 after that, so we should look around and see what is happening in 2000 that we should be paying attention to.  It works in the opposite direction.  We think that what we care about now is one of the most important things in church history - it's big, really big - and search for comparisons.  For Protestants, we naturally look to the Reformation, which was a big deal in Northern Europe, anyway.  2000AD,...1500AD, was there anything oh golly gee, yes! There was the Great Schism in 1054! And so around 500AD... what was the big change?  Why, the fall of the Roman Empire of course.  Except the Roman Empire only fell in the western half, and the Eastern Empire and Eastern Church didn't have this big change. Do they not count?  And 476-1054 is closer to 600 years.  And the Syriac and Coptic Churches cared even less. But when seeking patterns, such things are mere unimportant details.

Or going in the other direction, the American colonists thought another whole new era was coming in starting in the 1600s and into the 1700s, that God was providing a New World to reflect his will, and this affected the founding of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well. Many Americasn still much believe that a great change in the world happened in 1776, which is close enough to exactly halfway between the 1500 and 2000 nodes. The British started worldwide missions around 1800, including especially Methodists and Baptists. Numerous American sects thought we were entering the last age of the Church in the 1800s and have kept teaching it until now, which is where all those endtimes and prophesy people now are intellectuall descended from.

In between those middle times, the Spanish and Portuguese in the 1400s, and somewhat the rest of Europe, believed that defeating the Moslems, maybe by sailing around behind them and finding Prester John and surrounding them, would bring in the New Jerusalem. When Ferdinand and Isabella finally kicked the Moslems out of Grenada they thought they were bringing in a new age, that had nothing to do with any Renaissance, Reformation, or printing presses. And from 1100-1400 there was the Age of Crusades, which largely puzzled the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The refounding of the Holy Roman Empire in 800AD was supposed to be a reestablishment of God's rule, or at least the beginning of that.  The point being that we do this in every era.  We think the world is trying to turn to some new thing, and we always think it is deeply tied to whatever we are doing this week. This is Woodstock Nation (or the Age of Aquarius) in the 1960s, or the Late Great Planet Earth of the 70s, or before that The War to End All Wars, the emergence of the Ubermensch, or the Soviet New Man. All of this is retrofitting the Church to fit our favorite topics. That's the danger, because it feeds into our natural narcissism that what we are interested in is of course the most important thing happening. 

Phyllis Tickle's favorite thing was emergence in the Church, related to but not synonymous with the Emerging Church.  She, and the people she liked being with, saw these changes in worship, in understanding of Scripture, and in ways of "doing church," as the phrase used to be, as the really major events, the moving of the tectonic plates of the church. It confirmed their bias that what they were already doing was the Great Work of God for our generation, when it's all just imposing our narrative on world events. Phyllis Tickle and the others preaching emergence get a huge confirmation bias that what they do is the white-hot center of God's work.  500AD...1000AD...1500AD....It must be true!  This is God's plan for the Church today!

It's like astrology, or MBTI, or Enneagrams to me (sorry Bethany, you are going to have to create distance from Enneagrams now that you are RCC.  Vatican says so. If your personality theory causes you to sin, pluck it out.). These theories are always therefore dangerous.

The age of greatest persecution of Christians is the 21st C, and I'm betting those Christians don't give a rat's ass about most of emergence or underrepresented voices, excepting maybe their extremely underrepresented dead friends and relattives. My own worry is that the American church is becoming increasingly entertainment-focused and I don't have a clear idea how to either use that or push back against it. Others will have different central conflicts they interpret the Church by. Duke University seminary now has a labyrinth to walk.  I'm sure someone finds this Very Important.

(I wrote on the Emerging Church over a decade ago and I might bring those posts back.  Short version:  I like the EC's diagnosis but not their prescriptions.)

*My denominational college, which she is not affiliated with.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Beach Boys Cover

I noted that singers don't often cover the Beach Boys, because it's hard.  I suppose if you are these guys, though, it's a little more accessible.  Note that they did sing next what is probably the easiest of the Beach Boys' songs, "Barbara Ann," which was something of a throwaway on an album. And then Anni-Frid brings another surprise.

There is something comfortable about musicians sitting around having a good time together. No that it is entirely spontaneous or they are unaware of the audience or camera, but it is informal.

Spam Longevity

My son lent his phone to Jordan when he was in the USMC, over 8 years ago.  I don't know what Jordan did with it, but when I took over that number when Chris moved to Norway, I got calls and texts for payday loans and threats that I had just been sued and had better call a particular number right away.  This stopped about two years ago.  Yesterday Jordan got a text telling him his POLICY was about to expire.

Extreme Recycling

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Highest-Traffic Posts #41-45

Christian-as-Identity Part II. I don't know why Part I and Part III got only one-tenth the traffic. March 2019.

Changes In First Names In English 1200-2000. The interesting point is, they didn't change much from 1300-2000. I think half the traffic for my onomastics posts is me going back to look at them myself. The subject fascinates. May 2007

Is Alcohol Better For You Than Exercise?  You can see why this one attracted traffic.  May 2018.

Cultural Appropriation. The real kind.  I discuss the move "A Wrinkle in Time," March 2018.
Extreme Anti-Catholicism. It had good comments then, and might be worth another look now.  Does anyone see this type of anti-Catholicism anymore? June 2007

Religious Left

Reading back through my posts in the Good Olde Days of 2005-2007, I ran across several railing against the idea that few acknowledged that there is a Religious Left that involves itself in politics and claims to speak for Jesus.  We heard about the Religious Right endlessly for decades - still do - but the very idea there was a religious left was dismissed out of hand as fevered and conspiratorial.  I had forgotten it was even an issue.  I spent a fair bit of energy making my point, as in When I Say "Religious Left..." You might find it fun to read for it's historical value.

But no one doubts it now, do they? Maybe it was my brilliant arguing at the time that turned the tide, eh?

Wikipedia Bias. Apply a Discount

Alger Hiss occurred to me for some reason yesterday, and I thought "He must be long dead, correct? Did the final confirmation of his guilt finally come out after that, as it did when one of the Rosenberg's friends, practically on his death bed, admitted that they actually had been treasonous?" Wikipedia is the place to start for such things, though perhaps not to finish. Hiss died in 1996, and other information has come out since then, though none of the confessional variety.

The assembled evidence was already pretty thorough, I recalled from the last time I had thought about it. Had it held up? According to the lead paragraph, it had mostly held up, though the final conclusion remains "controversial."  That can often be a weasel word, of giving credence to some dead-ender who just won't give it up - a word used only on one side of the author's biases, not on another.  I doubt that they ever referred to the matter of Barack Obama's birth certificate as "controversial," for example, despite the controversy.

So just for fun I followed footnote #5 in the article and dug deeper on the people being quoted.  It is true that a legit scholar said his full guilt was controversial, but when you read her material, you come away thinking "no, no really. She doesn't doubt his guilt."  Some aspects are controversial. His guilt is not, except to some dead-enders with fairly obvious political motives.

I then went back and read the rest of the article and found much the same sort of slant, raising doubt as strongly as possible, then conceding sullenly that there probably wasn't much to it.  John Dean claimed that Nixon had told Chuck Colson they had forged the infamous typewriter. There was some chiming in that J Edgar Hoover would have been capable of that, plus some hand-waving about Nixon.  Yet Colson says it never happened, and well...John Dean.  (Without looking, I'm betting Wikipedia regards Dean as a basically reliable source, pooh-poohing any idea Watergate was trying to rescue information about his wife working as an escort, if they mention it at all.  I'm doubting that even makes it to "controversial.")

Nixon was shady about the whole Hiss case in some ways, and one can go back and make the argument that Hiss should never have been convicted, have never been found guilty. There is this Nixon quote, for example:
We won the Hiss case in the papers. We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it. Hoover didn't even cooperate.... It was won in the papers. I leaked out the papers.... I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.... Go back and read the chapter on the Hiss case in Six Crises and you'll see how it was done. It wasn't done waiting for the goddamn courts or the attorney general or the FBI
But that is not the same as the historian's conclusion about guilt.

So, nothing in the Wikipedia article seems to be false, nor would I expect it.  But it is wise to apply a discount to its truth.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Orban and the Hungarian Right

"Right-wing" has a different meaning in Europe than it does in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Colonies never have quite the attachment to blood and soil that the home countries did, and conservatism is more a matter of cultural habits, ideas, and customs. This is why it has always sounded less strange to Americans that Nazism had strong elements of left-wing ideas (because it does), while this seems madness to Europeans who associate hypernationalism with the right wing because that has largely been the case for them since 1830 or so. Marine LePen is rather socialist to my eyes, but gets the rightist label because of history and nationalism.*

This sometimes causes American conservatives to believe they must have a lot in common with right-wing groups in Europe, and to have some automatic sympathy with them. Well, they have some things in common with them, certainly.  But they often have bizarre mythologies of their origins - pagan revivals in Scandinavia and New-Agey druids in England come to mind - and adopt customs with little grounding in history.

I recall discussing a Romanian election with friends from there years ago, when they shook their heads in frustration, because the choice was between a literal communist, a literal fascist, and a third candidate dedicated solely to the rights of the Hungarian minority there.  We throw the words communist and fascist around too easily in America.  They still have the real deal there, not only in universities and small publishing groups as here, but in their legislatures and town councils. There are mayors deeply concerned about the influence of Jews in places where no Jews have lived for decades. They've got some crazy, violent folks on the right in Europe. We shouldn't lose sight of that.

And yet, much of the criticism of the European right seems to be taking the worst possible interpretation of their actions (as in the US and Canada), coupled with a complete denial that there is any danger from the left at all - even when it is occurring as they speak.  So...I think it is interesting to read this Harper's essay on Hungarian ultranationalists and try to navigate the facts versus the tone.  Aren't many of the actions at these festivals he mutters so darkly about fairly similar to a Renn Faire? The anger expressed at the concerts of the rock band Karpatia - is it that different from the Fish Cheer from Country Joe at Woodstock?
Gábor Klaniczay, a professor of medieval studies at the university, told me that Fidesz’s attack on gender studies and the revival of Turanism were of a piece: both promise a return to an imaginary, idealized past. “This type of right-wing populism wants to undo everything certain types of twentieth-century progressive thinking achieved,” he explained. "The Hunnic past—martial, autocratic, and patriarchal—stands in clear opposition to contemporary liberalism."

I'm sorry, did he say that Autocratic is in clear opposition to contemporary liberalism? Is promising a return to an imaginary, idealised past very different from promising a creation of an imaginary, idealised future? Maybe it's a bit crazy and poorly supported, but how does it compare to transgenderism or affording the Green New Deal?

Read and enjoy.

*Interestingly, we do see echoes of that among violent terrorists called right-wing in the US frequently.  One finds a demand for universal health care or universal basic income, or environmental concerns looming large in their manifestos and writings.

Not Only, But Also II

Actually, I like this one better.  Part of the purpose of the show was each trying to make the others break charcter and laugh.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Not Only, But Also

Filmed live, one take, as comedy usually was in the 1960's.

Strange how they just disappear sometimes

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Five Saved Links

Just How Many Obama 2012 - Trump 2016 voters were there? June 2017

Supreme Court Nominees.  Avoiding the WaPo paywall by going to the Lowell Sun, the favored newspaper of my father, and his father before him. July 2018

Violence Against Trump Supporters. Some of these are a stretch.  But lots of them are indeed items that would be 90-day wonders had they happened to Hillary or Obama. July 2018

Much older.  Our Universal Civilization.  A wonderful essay by V. S. Naipul. Summer 1991

Antifa Peace Through ViolenceAugust 2018

Talent Vs Practice

Contrary to the very American attitude that hard work is more important than talent, I come from the school that says hard work only begins to matter if you have talent to start with.  As some endeavors take only a minimum of talent to accomplish, hard work is more of a determinant than talent there. But for many desirable accomplishments, no amount of hard work means anything unless there is significant talent to begin with.

But first, stories.  I read many years ago about a man checking into his hotel room, noticing a man with a cello checking into the room next to him. He recognised the man as a famous concert performer.  It wasn't Yo-Yo Ma, but it was a figure like that.  (We should be immediately alert to the notion that the story is probably not true.  As with spotting hoaxes, things that look too good to be true usually are too good to be true.) The man was pleased, wondering if he would get to hear the great musician practice, and get a free concert.  Music did indeed begin to be heard on the other side of the wall in a bout a half-hour. The cellist was playing scales. He played nothing but scales for an hour, took a fifteen-minute break, and then played scales for another hour. He heard the door open and close, and heading downstairs himself, saw the man taking an early dinner in the hotel restaurant. The musician left without his cello after dinner, played a scheduled concert, and when he returned - played scales for another hour.

Bill Whitman, a college bandmate who now plays blues piano on Beale St in Memphis for a living (he's on the left side here)

gets frustrated with people who come up and marvel at his natural talent. No matter how much he tells them that no, he practices very hard and has for years, they seem determined to believe that it must be talent and knack, not hard work, that has brought him to this level of skill. It irks him.

Athletes run into the same attitude. LeBron James works very, very hard at his craft. Tiger Woods put in hours of directed practice even as a child, coached by his father. And Joe DiMaggio, who Zachriel linked to and used as an example, did indeed spend hours practicing his batting. My stepfamily had many athletes - DII All-Americans and such like - and they not only played sports year-round and constantly, but would hit years where they wanted to take their game to another level and would put in the hours lifting weights or attending expensive clinics. They worked hard, and sometimes I got to see it.

At the very highest levels you have to work hard, because there are other people with similar talent.

That said, the idea is mostly crap.  The highest levels of music and sports are not populated by the people who just worked hard, they are populated by the 1% most talented people who also worked hard. Yo-Yo Ma's talent was recognised when he was very young.  I watched Bill Whitman pick up a lap steel guitar at an old country musician's house one Sunday afternoon and play it passably in a few hours. For myself, I have a good ear but poor fine-motor coordination, and always said I had to work twice as hard to be half as good as others. LeBron James was being followed by sportswriters when he was in sixth grade. Joe DiMaggio was not joined in the major leagues by guys from his neighborhood who played ball with him every day growing up but with his brothers, who shared his genetics. There were a million kids born his year, and 10,000 of them worked as hard at baseball as he did.  I watched my youngest stepbrother become competent at table tennis at age seven, playing against our less-athletic side of the family, with brothers five and nine years older than him. The only games he played were against us for those first few years, and he was better than us fairly quickly.  Not to mention shuffleboard and waterskiing.  He wasn't secretly practicing these things and working hard when we weren't looking.

I loved playing with numbers as a child and got very good at it.  I would spend secret time in elementary school working out square roots, multiplying large numbers left-to-right, or even in my head while we were supposed to be doing something else. Even as an adult I used to try and factor the odometer mileage before it changed to the next mile.  Just because it was fun.  Yet when I went to summer studies at St. Paul's I met Larry David, who was more obsessed by chemistry and physics and only liked math because calculus was useful to him - and he was far better than I was.  He wasn't the only one there who could just do things I couldn't, despite the years I had put in.

Yes, there are immensely talented people who waste their gift through lack of effort. We see them all the time.  But much of this is because those stick in the memory. People of only moderate talent, or charm, or beauty, or wealth waste their talent and it passes out of memory.

There are secondary considerations. Sportswriters, coaches, and managers are often made out of those who tried desperately hard at the sport but did not have the talent on the field.  Yet they found success, perhaps even greater success, largely because they didn't give up and stop trying, but just changed tactics. Effort and discipline are good things.  But they just don't do it all.

Monday, September 02, 2019

More Most Popular: #46-49

History Becomes Lost But Is Found Again By The Beatles.  Still one of my favorite insights, that we were far more influenced by the photographic capabilities for our impressions of nearly a whole century than we would dare admit.  We prefer to think we are more intellectual than that.  December 2005. I thought of this again when the film They Shall Not Grow Old came out. 

FlamingosMarch 2009

"Systemic" hides some bad intellectual assumptions. February 2017

Appropriate Ages. Let me add:  In a few decades, people are going to ask in amazement "You let teenagers drive cars?" September 2018

Saturday, August 31, 2019

First Day of Autumn

At least, in New Hampshire September 1st is the beginning of fall.  It's still mostly warm, but we have had two nights drop into the 40's already.  December 1st is the first day of Winter, too.

Wondrous Love

The Stephen Griffith Folk Song Index site that Texan99 put me onto in the comments of my recent "Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders" post has been a lot of fun to graze around in and taught me a lot I had not known before. Plus some great things to listen to. I never knew this could be a round. Do people sing rounds anymore? I don't recall hearing them, even at the summer camp near where we stay. They're a good way to learn how to sing parts, and hear how notes can fit together.

If you want to hear the Scots-Irish origins in the tune, listen to the sustained lower foundational notes even in the mandolin introduction.  Sounds like a bagpipe, doesn't it?

Post 6400 - 10,000 Hours Refuted

Being exposed to the titles of so many of my earlier adjacent posts as I research my Top 100, I get distracted and read them. In the earliest years I was a psychblogger, because that was one field where I did have more knowledge than 99% of the population, and thought there were both myths that needed to be dispelled, and new information that might be of interest to many. Also, I had opinions.

It is a bit humiliating to conclude that I wrote more interesting pieces then. 2006 and 2007 were apparently good years for me.  As one practices the craft of writing, one is supposed to improve along many fronts.

Guess not.

Not for the first or last time I will say that touching down randomly in my archives might be more rewarding to you than reading what I put out now.

Highest Page Views - #50

Now that I have hit the top 50, there will be some I wish to repost in entirety rather than simply link to.  This was one of my earliest posts, June 2006, and I am glad it got some attention over the years. It has an off-my-chest quality that is unsurprising in my first year of blogging. I was tempted to touch it up and smooth it out, but I'll keep it as is. 

The Influence of Doonesbury. 

In the 70’s and 80’s, Doonesbury was in every liberal habitat. Women’s Studies professors and social workers always seemed to have a few strips taped to their office doors, and the characters became part of everyday conversation. Trudeau inherited the mantle of righteousness from the folksingers, and became the chief exponent of the idea that conservatives were essentially stupid and had evil motives. He demanded, and got, a larger block in the comic section and marketed a long succession of reprints of earlier strips in paperback. Doonesbury expressed what people were thinking and to a lesser extent, shaped it. Liberals may complain that they are unfairly characterized and oversimplified, but the ongoing popularity of this comic betrays them. They bought the books, they put the cartoons on their doors, they made Mike part of their culture.

Well, it was a cartoon, after all, and Trudeau’s main defense against criticism has always been “Hey. It’s a political cartoon. It’s not supposed to be fair. The characters are two-dimensional because they are, in fact, rendered in 2D. That’s the point.” In theory, a fair argument. Why expect nuance from a stereotypical stoner named “Zonker?”

The problem with the theory is that over time, the strip was nuanced, and some characters were three-dimensional. Trudeau was not a mere hatchet man, but had a gift for irony and self-mockery as well. Political correctness was gently skewered even as it first arrived on the scene. “It’s a baby woman!” squeals Joanie Caucus’s kindergarten class at the birth of a girl. Minority representation was sent up in a college football huddle: “I’m the only Pole.” “I’m the only freak!” The earlier characters in particular had inconsistencies of exactly the same sort that everyday people do.

Trudeau was also willing to smack Democratic politicians around a bit. Carter was lampooned for running a presidency of symbolism over substance, and Clinton was portrayed as a waffle. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Conservatives had none of the endearing inconsistencies. Phred the Viet Cong, was more sympathetic than the American soldier BD. Roland Headley reported an entire series “In search of Reagan’s brain,” and Trudeau’s hatred for the Bush family was embarrassing to read, even when I was a liberal. * Bomb-throwing Newt Gingrich to Dan Quayle as feather, conservatives are always stupid, malevolent, or both. The people of the left might have their foibles, but the people of the right were unrelenting evil.

Except, of course, when presented with the more sophisticated world of Trudeau, which would cause them to become perplexed and dimly apprehend the possibility of liberal ideas. Just like on TV. When the artist was really ticked, he would footnote the comic, e.g. to show how Limbaugh was too inaccurate. Conveniently, cartoonists don’t have to answer criticism.

An early secondary theme, that the young were wiser than the middle-aged, became increasingly difficult for Gary Trudeau to maintain as he aged. His elevated version of the TV-sitcom smartass kid played very well to Boomers, who have always longed to imbue their personal conflicts with larger cultural meaning.

So the “it’s because it’s a cartoon” excuse is a little weak – partly because of Trudeau’s own cleverness and early talent. It was never his intention for this to be “just” a political cartoon. He wanted to persuade and to influence. Over the years, the strip has become increasingly bitter and didactic. As I seldom read a newspaper anymore, I don’t see it much, but my eye still goes automatically to Doonesbury. It is occasionally amusing, but mostly just ignorant these days, drawing inspiration from the same lost world of its glory days. Uncle Duke was as brilliant a character as has ever appeared in the funny papers. Amazing how much Trudeau got wrong in retrospect.

Conservatives wonder how the liberal interpretation of history is maintained in the face of the facts. The massacres by the VC and the Khmer Rouge; the fall of communism and the translation of the Venona Cables; the growth in the economy in close parallel to conservative predicitions; the behavior of nations seeming closer to the older interpretations of men and evil than to the newer, more hopeful foreign policies.

The myths are sustained by condescending humor, and Ivy-League liberals do it best.

*Gary Trudeau’s unreasoning viciousness toward the Bushes may be an attempt to distance himself from some portion of his own Yalie/preppy background. In a delicious irony in the midst of his attacks of Bush 41’s manhood, Trudeau appeared in a clothing catalogue modeling a manly flight jacket. Yo, Gary. George actually was a fighter pilot.