Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Small Observation on the Mueller Report

It seemed to my eyes that many conservatives were treating this as a great victory for Trump.  I don't think that's the correct framing.  His opponents were expecting a great defeat for him that turned into a mere neutral.  It was a bomb that was not dropped, or one that dropped but did not explode. This is not anything that shows what a great guy Donald Trump is or how well he ran his campaign.

Certainly, if a person is accused of a crime and they are shown to have not committed it, it feels like a sort of victory.  I would certainly feel that way myself.  Still, it's not the same thing.

What this is is an enormous defeat and embarrassment for the media and Trump's critics. They have been shamed and humiliated, not just because they expected something that didn't happen - we all have been guilty of that many times in our lives - but because they quite openly relied on speculation rather than hard facts, and refused to believe that anyone on their side had been in the least questionable about gathering information.  They believed liars, and believed them repeatedly. In front of God and everyone.

The distinction is important, because there will be a backlash, and Trump may not be the target of it.  The president is of course the preferred target, but emotions spill out when they do, not according to grand plan.

Republican Opponent

A woman named Ruth Papazian, daughter of Egyptian immigrants and lifelong resident of the Bronx, is planning to run agains Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2020. She was furious about the Amazon scare-away, and is running on jobs - and basic sanity. It's not going to be easy, as the district is hugely Democratic.

But if some of you want to contribute to candidates who can at least wound if not defeat Democrats you don't like, there's one right there.


The Thames River in Connecticut, named by Puritans from England, is pronounced Thaymes, as it is spelled, not Temms, as it is pronounced in London, for their river. If this seems wrong to you, recall that we do not say Pa-ree, but 'Pariss," and no one in Russia says Moss - cow.  It's fun to think they are ignorant in Kentucky for saying Ver-sayles instead of Ver-sigh, but these things are accidents.  Sometimes we say them as they do in the old country, usually not.

Early George Carlin

One can imagine this as a Bob Newhart routine. He influenced everyone coming up at the time.  Cosby was a real sea-change.

Come From Away

There is a musical on Broadway Come From Away. The phrase is a New England regionalism, associated especially with Maine, so I wondered what terrible thing those snobs from the city were saying about us now.

Not so.  It is about the planes diverted on 9/11 to an airport in Newfoundland, and the people of the town of Gander who took in almost 7000 people, unexpectedly. I don't know how one does a musical about that, but if there are musicals about Jews escaping Russia, and psychiatric inmates in France, I suppose anything is possible. Looks promising, and when I get a chance I'm going to learn more.


I have commented on other sites, especially Quora and at Maggie's, that there is a minimum IQ, a floor, for many jobs (or ministries or hobbies).  Beyond that minimum, there is usually a further range where IQ helps some, then a level where other abilities - hard work, resilience, discretion, charm, athleticism - count for more than raw intelligence.  Traveling as a tourist, I saw clearly that a great many jobs require important skills little related to intelligence. Working with the public can be hard even when it isn't difficult.

There are a lot of jobs that involve keeping your temper when other people are being jerks. Sometimes one has to explain repeatedly throughout the day some very simple directions which the public just can't grasp, and they blame you for it. At Penn Station there was a man describing very loudly and humorously the best way for the people trying to get to gates 7/8 to get through the line for gates 13/14, which blocked their way on the perpendicular. "There is an ancient method, which recent research has proven to be true! Saying the words 'please' and 'excuse me' - sometimes more than once - has been shown to have a magical effect on parting the waters!"  People laughed.  Everyone then did well in a hard situation.  This man probably uses that joke twenty times a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year.  Whoever thought of it first might have had at least a slightly above-average IQ, but everyone else after doesn't need it.  They need character.  They need self-control.  They need awareness. They need a certain kindness and empathy. Without those things, fifty more IQ points means nothing.

What Does The Culture Change Mean For the Church?

I have a further thought on the Annihilation of Time and Space, which I wrote about last week.

We think it is very possibly not good, that it is a sign of further erosion of Western Civilization. Like others before us, we likely see only what is being lost, not what is being gained. Yet even if we are right, does it affect salvation and the work of God in a negative way?  I believe Western Civ is an outgrowth of Christian thought and practice and resent that credit is not given.  But it is also true that Europe has now largely abandoned the faith, and the society no longer supports Christian growth as it once did. North America follows. We likely see this more clearly in New England, which already has European levels of church attendance and Christian practice. In the rest of the country, the urban areas are also signalling their surrender, however much denominational headquarters want to focus their energies on The City. (Their reasons are not entirely pure. See The City)

Western Civilization is my intellectual home, and I do not like to see any good thing go away. Yet from a strict soul-winning perspective, I'm not sure I can defend it.  I can defend its great alleviation of pain and oppression, but those are things that will go away.

The Road Goes Ever On and On

While contemplating the Tolkien exhibit at the JP Morgan Library, it occurred to me that one of the most important songs of Lord of the Rings fits quite well with the Tallis Canon. I doubt it was at all what he had in mind or if he would have even approved, but he might, Mr. Frodo, he might.  It has a simplicity which can be sung solo, or in a tavern group. Since Tolkien's time it has become strongly associated with another fantasy novel by a Christian author strongly influenced by him, Madeleine L'Engle. Lastly, the musical form of a round carries with it a "there and back again" feeling appropriate to the lyrics.

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

Saturday, March 30, 2019


David Foster linked to a Sarah Hoyt piece a week ago, which has stuck with me. Like my two Romanian sons, she is one of those immigrants who is not, amazingly, an unreflective liberal.  There are actually plenty, including lots of second-generation Hispanics - though I understand that is changing in the last decade.

The first two paragraphs alone give you the gist.


I am back, and have much written down I plan to expand upon.  I experimented with leaving myself phrases on my device as I went along to remind myself of topic later.

For the most important topics:  I did not have New York Style Pizza.  I looked at it in several places and decided it is just thin-crust pizza with light amounts of sauce and mozzarella. I think ordering it by the slice and the art of eating it with the little fold are culturally important to New Yorkers as a shibboleth. Not important enough to refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton after failing the test, but in theory, very important.

I went to Brooklyn Bagel on Eighth Ave, rated #1 on Trip Advisor, and my sesame bagel with cream cheese was slightly better than the previous best bagel I had had. It was large and I only ate half, but it was still very good a day later. So New York scores with that one, though not overwhelmingly.  I imagine it is the consistency that New Yorkers miss when they travel.  They might get an acceptable bagel in other places, but there is always the risk of a substandard bagel - a risk not run at home. And who wants to be nervous when ordering breakfast, eh?

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Foreign Languages

Years ago a friend had told me that she had heard a Victor Borge routine like this.  I have been looking for it off an on for forty years, and had concluded that this was just one of those things that Annie had made up because it sounded fun. She has passed many invented stories off as true, and I have repeated them, further misleading the public.

Yet this seems to be exactly what she was talking about.  After New York I may shop around for a longer routine of Sid Ceasar doing this.

Monday, March 25, 2019

New York

We will be traveling for the next few days, taking the train down to Manhattan.  My main goals are the Tolkien exhibit at the JP Morgan Library and to see if New York bagels and pizza really are better, or just a style that some people prefer.  Tracy's goals are the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial. I saw Ground Zero a few months after 9/11/01, when it was a fenced-in hole, and haven't yet been back. We will be staying near Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

I'm not really ever in a New York state-of-mind.  Even Boston is too much city for me, and Boston has all sorts of lovely preserved history from 400 years ago, much of it intertwined over the years with subsequent events.  I seldom go even there these days. New York not only has only mostly recent history of about 100 years on display, it also has managed to develop the most evil teams in every major sport.

Still, it's New York, the real international capital of the US, even though all the people who run the government have an enormous coven in DC. There are things in New York that aren't anywhere else, and for those of us who have a fondness for American Jews, it is the one essential destination still.

Taking the train is nice enough, mostly because it is still more laid-back than a plane, and has more space to sit or to walk around.  I couldn't decide between a New York song and a train song, so I chose both.  We have a series of train songs that we used to sing in the car, annoying the children. I don't know if trains are real Americana anymore, but the songs certainly are. Though those things have a way of receding - sea shanties were real Americana once, enough to be forced down the throats of American schoolchildren as late as the 1950s, including those who lived a thousand miles from the ocean.  But I am one of the few who would know any at this point.

If you say anything brilliant at your own sites over the next week, I won't know it until next week.

The Purpose

It's an old line, but an important one.

Jesus didn't come to make bad people good.
He came to make dead people alive.

Harlem Globetrotters

They would be on once a year on Wide World of Sports, I recall.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Spirit of the Age

Perhaps because I was prisoner to it so thoroughly when I was young, I have an automatic recoil from whatever is the Spirit of the Age now.  It is seldom the worst sin one can fall into - motives are always mixed - but I dislike it the most as it is the most common error, and the one that gets questioned least.

There are many Spirits of the Age, of course, including some within the church. To me it just seems obvious when people believe exactly what was popular at their seminary among people of the same gender and class that they should be immediately suspicious.

In discussing sin opposites, that immediately suggests that I am now too easily taken in by older ideas that have become unpopular. Hmm.  I'm not sure that's true either.  I have lists of things that have been popular in the church in my lifetime that are now mercifully gone, rather like the educational fads which come up every other year.  I think it is better to say that I am likely to hang onto an idea that has been around in the church for centuries, on that basis alone. I must figure if it has lasted at all, there's likely something to it. That is not always so.  Some errors and heresies have been around since the beginning, recurring every century to be pushed down again.

The Further Annihilation of Time and Space

Many people have written about the topic, that because of technology changing culture, we experience time and space differently than our grandparents.  Here is a review of Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows that is a nice continuation of the topic. But it's not a new idea.  Marx tried to cram it onto a critique of capitalism ( he is more muddled than wrong on the topic). The western explorrers were amazed at how the transcontinental railroad brought distant areas together, and the photograph, telegraph, and telephone amazed the late 19th C in the changes it seemed to bring upon everyone.

It has an even longer history. Riding horse and putting wheels on carts, both about 4,000 BC put longer distances in reach, and before that, sails allowed wide reach on the waters. Writing was originally mostly record-keeping or statements to the gods not to men, but eventually it allowed us to speak across time and distance in ways that had not previously been available to humans. The printing press accelerated this.

When I was young there was constant worry about the social abilities of those who had their head in a book all the time. While this was mostly misplaced, there was something to it. Parents and teachers have further worried that movies or radio or TV would do the same thing.  It has been the long history of humankind.  Where once we spent our entire lives familiar with - or even aware of - only a few people and a radius of a few miles, todays children have instant contact with hundreds or even thousands of people, many of whom live far away and they have not seen in the flesh for years.  My second son has over a thousand Facebook friends.  While that requires a different definition of friends from even a generation ago, it is not simply ridiculous.

If you went to a few schools and keep even a FB level of contact with them, you might have a hundred right there. They were actual friends in a previous year and you still know something about them today. FB encourages you to expand rather than contract ther number of relatives you keep.  Each job, or church, or hobby, or neighborhood brings in a few more. If you work in youth ministry or in a field which has a high turnover of "customers," then you keep adding more than you lose every year.  One may scoff that those are not real friends, but that criticism could have been put forward in every century. My contacts are wider than my parents' and my awareness of events around the world is greater, more part of my culture.  Their contacts were much wider than their own parents. After the printing press, a reader might know about many more people and places than his parents had been.  That contact was certainly more attenuated, more abstract, and more intermitttent than what his parents would consider a friendship, but it was real.

Photography stopped time, and movies reanimated it, but under human control.

Imagine for a moment how many people and what distance a young woman would have been aware of in her entire life in a small city in 1300. EB White shook his head that a man in Manhattan might move 10,000 sheep from one place to another on paper every day without ever seeing an actual sheep.  He believed that the ability to drive ten miles so quickly, when it was a fair hike on foot, destroyed a boy's sense of space.  Even forty years ago I was amazed a t a co-worker who was bringing a gun on a hiking trip because "Haven't you seen Deliverance?" She had no knowledge whether the area she was going to was actually dangerous.  The movie was more real.  That removal from the real, while the breadth of contact has expanded, has grown each decade. Two years after "The Truman Show" what we ironically call reality television started.  So, this is what passes for reality these days? Fans wept after "Avatar" came out because they could not actually go to that world, and they felt that deeply unfair. Well don't worry, that day is coming - if "The Matrix" turns out to be true.  I shouldn't criticise. In the summer of 1973 I stood in a field in Massachusetts and was heartbroken that there was no direction I could go that would take me to Middle-Earth, and almost sixty years earlier CS Lewis had similar feelings about wanting to go to Northern Realms where Balder might still be found.

The explosive cultural change from the internet is not new, it is simply a continuation.  Young people on their devices have less and less contact with real people, but partial or fragmentary contact with an unimaginably large group of people. They do travel more, but the real annihilation of distance is the contact with others a dozen or a thousand miles away, easily and daily. The annihilation of time is that things are recorded, kept, and replayed. It was not long ago that only memory preserved the past. Now we can just look it up and watch it again.

My guess is that the increasing mistakes in perception by young people - their willingness to believe things about others that a few more minutes a day of regular contact with real people, real time, and real distance would dispel - descends directly from this further step of increasing abstraction, increasing image versus live, increasing PR-packaged nature of reality.  Of course they believe they shouldn't have to listen to views they don't want to.  With electronics one can just turn things off and switch to something else.  In a real neighborhood you have less ability to escape.  In an old school lunchroom you had less ability to censor what you heard. They wanty to apply the rules of their electronic reality back onto their physical reality.  It's unsurprising and quite natural when you stop to think about it.

It's also not going to reverse and it's not going to go away. Since the discovery that water and food and even fire could be carried in large leaves, by hand, allowing greater tribal mobility, the ratchet has only moved in one direction. This is the new world, and the immersion in virtual reality - even as evidence mounts that this change is too fast for human culture to maintain important bonds - is going to keep increasing. The youjng can't help it, because they are young and impulsive and unable to control the technologies we have built and put in their hands.  Conservatives are great deplorers of such developments - conservatives are great deplorers in general - but that won't change things. They may say that children should be made to put down their devices and spend time with real people many more hours a week, but few families and few subcultures are going to do it.

"Broken Record" Statistics

Over at Graph Paper Diaries there is some analysis on New Hampshire once being strongly Republican and now being a swing state, mostly Democrat. My audience from around the country may not be that intrigued, but those from New England might be.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Salem Witch Trials

Update below

None of my ancestors was executed in the affair, but I have two who were accused and a sister of a third (and thus the parents of that one are also ancestors of mine), plus the sister of one of the accusers.  Reading the accounts of at least those participants, what struck me is how far these were from being heresy trials. There were heresy trials among the Puritans, and they did ending up executing four Quakers and banishing a number of others, so it is not like they wouldn't involve themselves in such things. But Salem seemed to have none of that. Let me quote from the wiki on one of the accused, Rebecca Towne Nurse:
A public outcry greeted the accusations made against her, as she was considered to be a woman of very pious character, who lived in amity with her neighbours, and had a reputation for benevolence as well as piety: even her neighbor Sarah Holton, who had accused Rebecca of acting quite unreasonably in a quarrel over some trespassing pigs, later changed her mind and spoke in Rebecca's defence. Thirty-nine of the most prominent members of the community signed a petition on Nurse's behalf. At age 71, she was one of the oldest accused. The examining magistrates, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, who normally regarded the guilt of the accused as self-evident, took a notably different attitude in Rebecca's case, as they also did in the case of her sister Mary Eastey. They told Rebecca openly that if she was innocent, they prayed that God would show her innocence, for "it is a sad thing to see church members accused". Hathorne was no doubt influenced by the fact that his sister Elizabeth Porter was a close friend of Rebecca, and one of her staunchest defenders.
No one accused her of the slightest deviation in doctrine or of disruption of the church or of any lack of Christian behavior, save that there were strange events occurring that pointed to witchcraft. Spectral evidence was allowed in court, based on unusual beliefs of supernatural, or more properly extranatural phenomenon. Specifically, there were people who twitched, and believed witches were tormenting them.  They came to focus on Rebecca specifically in time.  She was acquitted, but the afflicted kept twitching, so she was tried again, convicted, and sentenced for execution. She was reprieved by the governor, but that was later rescinded.

Massachusetts Puritans get the reputation worldwide for being the evil ones, but witch trials were hugely more common in England, and more common still on the continent.  They were not more common in specially religious areas - Salem was a seaport - but in areas where there was population turnover. I don't want to paint that too strongly, claiming that Salem wasn't really religious or really Puritan at all.  That's not justifiable.

Religion and science were not competitors in the Middle Ages, but joined at the hip. They grew up together, as in alchemy. At the level of intellectuals, thinkers and experimenters were trying to figure out what the laws of the universe and the laws of nature were. At the popular level, superstitions became more common. To give it a modern perspective, people of my generation might remember the Foxfire books. Among the Appalachian skills and customs that were collected and remembered were medical solutions.  For a cough one might bury a rag under a stump, and walk around it backwards seven times reciting the Lord's Prayer. Writing itself was considered rather magical, hence the relationship between the word "spell" in spell-casting, spelling, and go-spel "good news."

People not only looked at nature to see how it worked, but looked to nature for signs. If a deformed pig was born, it was a sign that the owner or other involved person had committed some sin - likely bestiality. I went into detail in my Wyrd and Providence series, specifically Part V, in 2010. Two quotes from that essay:
The story of Micah Rood (recently a movie, I just learned) is of an apple tree which bore fruit that had red globules in it – the belief was that the tree had changed from bearing normal white-fleshed fruit to blood-tainted as an announcement that Micah had murdered a peddlar and buried him there around 1700. Nature herself would accuse. Nature herself would demonstrate. The story is not from Appalachia, or Virginia, but Franklin, CT.
and from CS Lewis's monumental English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama:
Only an obstinate prejudice about this period could blind us to a certain change which comes over the merely literary texts as we pass from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. In medieval story there is, in one sense, plenty of “magic”. Merlin does this or that “by his subtilty”, Bercilak resumes his severed head. But all these passages have unmistakably the note of “faerie” about them. But in Spenser, Marlowe, Chapman, and Shakespeare the subject is treated quite differently. “He to his studie goes”; books are opened, terrible words pronounced, souls imperilled. The medieval author seems to write for a public to whom magic, like knight-errantry, is part of the furniture of romance: the Elizabethan, for a public who feel that it might be going on in the next street. [...] Neglect of this point has produced strange readings of The Tempest which is in reality [...] Shakespeare’s play on magia as Macbeth is his play on goeteia
 I am not claiming that this wasn't religious sentiment run amok in New England.  Central to their belief was a vivid picture of Satan operating in the world.  The belief in Satan was stronger than the belief in God, it seems. That is clearly religious belief.  Yet the whole sad mess looks as much like bad science as it does bad religion.  Religiously, Rebecca Nurse passed with flying colors.  But there was still twitching, and you know what that means. Nature doesn't lie.

The Puritans read in the Book of Nature as intently as the Bible, and as literally.

Update: Recognising the historical event as something other than a heresy trial reveals Arthur Miller's The Crucible as even farther off the mark than before.  I have liked some of Miller, especially "After the Fall."  I still quote from "A Memory of Two Mondays" at times.  "Death of a Salesman" is a bit overrated, but it is well-written. Yet he is very much bound to his time and was a prisoner of his politics. "The Crucible" is still produced and assigned solely because people still think McCarthyism was worse than communism. Only two of the characters are all that compelling.

Post 6100 - The Seven Deadlies Inside Out

In a group discussion about Gluttony having a hidden version in its reverse, that is, Delicacy or excessive fussiness about food, Tim King noted that the same is true for Sloth.  Being a workaholic is the same sin expressed in its opposite.  He claims the idea is straight from Aquinas's Summa. In my commenting that CS Lewis had mentioned excessive delicacy in Chapter XVII of Screwtape, the patient's mother saying "Oh please, please...all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast" as an example of real gluttony, it occurred to me that this might be true for all sins.  As Maimonides said "Perhaps the opposite is also true." The heart is deceitful in all things.

So that is two of the Seven Deadly Sins - I will bet the others have their reverses as well.

Lust - It is our sexually-obsessed age that makes this only about sex, but let us go with that for the moment anyway.  We all know there is a prudery that cannot stop talking about sex. I knew a girl at college who was very vocal about all those other girls who weren't virgins, but was also convinced that she had had previous lives, and had been a courtesan in one of them. She mentioned it a couple of times.

Greed - Too easy. There are a few. People who are ostentatious in bragging about their eschewing of mere material goods in order to score virtue points or gain status as Common Folk, or Preferring The Life of the Mind. Beware of those who insist they don't care about money. They are greedy for something else.

Wrath - I had a post on people who sign off using "Peace," and explained in the comments that they are often the meanest people in the joint. I have listened to people aggressively talk about how their meditating has made them calmer, and everyone should, too. The problem with the world is that there aren't enough people who do the good spiritually healthy things they do. I can't recall hearing a Christian use prayer aggressively, but I'll bet it happens. We have also the people in America who claim to be antiwar but are mostly just on the other side.  Beware those who want to convince you that they are peaceful.

Envy - I'm having more trouble with this one.  Maybe that means I've got it bad.  Help me out, here. I suppose there are ways of praising others that make you look better than them, but no one can call you on it.

Pride -  There is an art to the humblebrag, or making a show of martyrdom.  Because pride is the deadliest and most deceitful, there are many of these.  We probably all have acouple, they are so legion.Lewis again has the right quote.  "She was the sort of woman who lived for others.  You could tell the others by their hunted look."

Christian as Identity. Part I

(Edited 3/23) Here is the tweet by Catholic comedian Jeremy McLellan that started me off. It makes an excellent point, but it oversimplifies and misses some key aspects, as would be likely for a comedian, always looking to distill ideas rather than develop them.  The reference to Ruth Pfau, who I had not heard of, suggests the flaws. That she could practice her faith in Pakistan is mostly true, and she made the most of what she had. But to say she was "unimpeded in her religious practices" leaves out important pieces.  Not only could she not evangelise, she could not instruct and disciple young Christians who didn't come in from outside the country as part of her order. Conversion was forbidden. It matters.

But to the topic of people who McLellan calls identitarian Christians and how much he disapproves of them, I would like to make two distinctions.

No, first I would like to challenge that use of identitarian, which even with a small "i" suggests the Christian Identity movement, and I think that was intentional.  That's an exaggeration by McLellan,  to the point of being a smear. So let's get that clear.  There are a lot of people who have little or no Christian practice, who nonetheless have some sympathy with churches, or with Jesus, or with the historical culture that was Christianity-influenced. They cover a wide spectrum, and few of them qualify as Identity Christians. Thinking of themselves as Christians, more in the sense of not-Muslim - or in early generations not-Jewish - is in a cultural sense not unreasonable, and does not imply any particular animosity to anyone else.  McLellan is arguing unfairly here.

Two distinctions, both of which I thought were going to be sharp at first. High-culture vs popular-culture, and Inside-the church vs Outside-the-church. Both turned out to be softer distinctions than expected. In both cases, my usual pattern will apply.  1.) I see one side but ultimately 2.) support the other side yet 3.) see one final twist.

Inside vs Outside.  Throughout scripture God is abundantly clear that no one is to use Him for their own purposes. It's what the Second Commandment is really about. We discussed Matthew 7:13-23 at small group two nights ago. Jesus does not call people of wrong teaching simply mistaken and doing the best they can, as we would in the 21st C, he calls them wolves.  He says they are going to be cut down and burned.  CS Lewis had the tempter Screwtape explain to his nephew about getting his patient safely into hell by use of "Christianity. and..." or at the close of Chapter VII, that either side of a political question can be used to ruin the Christian into gradually making the religious part of his faith entirely secondary to his politics or some other cause. (This is a temptation for me, and seemingly for some around me.) God is completely intolerant of  any god ahead of him in our lives, and instructs the church to teach and discipline along those lines. To those who would claim to be Christians in this milk-and-water sense, and certainly more pernicious senses, we are allowed and even encouraged to be harsh and to separate ourselves from such.

Yet if we regard those same people with our we-live-in-America eyes, pluralistic and tolerant of other cultures, why shouldn't they advocate for the culture they want? It is not only that they want Christmas and they don't want anyone to mess with it, it is that they have shared symbols, so that seeing a church in a movie or seeing a picture of Jesus is part of their background. Every tribe in history has wanted to have the culture it chooses, not one imposed from outside.  If McLellan doesn't want them to have more right to advocacy than a Muslim, or an atheist, or a Hindu, fine, but I don't see where they should have less.  They want to call themselves Christian by their definition, which disagrees with his (and mine), but he doesn't own the term. If they are not better than the others, at least they are no worse, yet those are the ones he wants to kick.

McLellan, and not he alone by any stretch, is confusing his two roles.  He is wearing his discipline-within-the-church hat even when he is over on the speaking-as-an-American side.  We mostly get why.  A cultural Christianity has been a substitute in  America for more real versions since before the Revolution, mixing and muddling and drawing people into believing that their spiritual condition is better than it is. He is dead set against that, likely for both religious and political reasons.  He wants it clearer.  I sympathise, but he has to be clearer himself. Otherwise he commits the same sin of intolerance.

It also won't do to retreat into the accusation "well, it's different because they are trying to keep all those others out, so we have to oppose that." First. No, they usually aren't.  Stop focusing on the media accounts and exceptions.  Know these people.  Second. All cultures are always trying to keep all the others out. Even the ones that say "We welcome all cultures" have shown on a practical level they don't actually mean all cultures. The reason they have failed in practice is because they don't see themselves well enough.  They do not really refuse to cut the cake into pieces, as they claim. The just cut it differently.  They may cut off the top layer from the bottom, so that from one angle it looks uncut.  Or they might prefer to cut at angles or some other geometry.

Some try. Many try, and some do reasonably well.  Some libertarian types are pretty good at tolerating groups they would rather not tolerate, but only those who are aware of their secret exclusions. Those they try to push aside for the greater comity.  So also with conservatives and liberals.  There are some who do a decent job of dividing alliance/neutrality/competition/enmity with aspects of another culture rather than the whole culture. It doesn't come with the philosophy, it comes with the personality. We all do much better with that face-to-face or in smaller groups (unless perhaps someone else is slyly or openly antagonistic), and do worse than that when we are in large groups of people who agree with us.

So...1.) McLellan and other Christians are right to come down on this with a hammer.
But 2.) Why shouldn't these people advocate the culture they want?

Here's the twist. 3.) I don't think the McLellans of the world are operating from the discipline-and-purity approach the scripture commands.  There may be some of that, but I think they are mostly operating from the "we don't want these people to embarrass us" mode. They are hiding behind the Fellow Christians: It's For Your Own Good approach, combined with distancing themselves from a group they are afraid the popular culture will associate them with. The hard message to them:  I don't think public distancing is spiritual work, I think it's self-serving.  Spiritually, your job is to do well. When Paul admonishes us - in a few places - to consider our reputation before unbelievers, he is referring to our actual behavior, not a PR campaign. When the 70 went out and were rejected, the command was not that they should stand at the town borders and shout condemnations so that all could hear , but to kick the dust off their shoes and go to the next town.

My evidence for that accusation?  They don't have anywhere near that level of condemnation for other cultural groups.  They see this group of  cultural Christians as especially dangerous. They use the same language and examples that the secular critics do, suggesting that it is their secular side that is offended. More importantly, they don't do this to other groups within the church that they disagree with, even those they think are in sin, though those should be considered even more to the point in a purity-and-discipline setting.

So the Inside/Outside distinction reveals itself to be much more dependent on the Outside pressures, and the distinction is softer than it looked at first.

This went long.  I will have to come back for a Part Two to do the high-culture-popular culture division.

Christian as Identity - Part II

The second divide is between high-culture and popular culture in what the people referenced in the tweet want to preserve and why. I am aware that the aspects of culture people are referring to are sometimes shallow, or inaccurate, or don't stand up to inspection.  In particular, they have less time-depth than popular culture imagines. Old-Time Religion is pretty new in the history of the church, largely a product of the frontier and early settlement cultures of westward expansion. I posted the "I Am An Englishman" video on this and two subsequent discussions last November. More recently James included a Chesterton quote in the comments, to the effect that a person fights to preserve a culture that is a thousand things he cannot even name, but would miss if they were gone.

If I am outdoors at the right time, I can sometimes hear the church bells about a mile away every evening, as I have for forty years. If that goes away my life will be just a touch poorer.  Yet these things do drop out, and other "traditions" slowly come in, so that things going away is also a repeated theme in American culture, at least. The autumnal melancholy we feel as things go away is also part of our culture.  It is easy to be dismissive of things, and I sometimes am.  I hope I have gotten better at that over the years. Obama was dismissive when he spoke of loving America in the same way that a Greek loves Greece. I will get back to how deeply wrong that is in a bit.

The intellectual and cultural reasons why one would identify as a Christian are harder to dismiss.  It is true that there is enormous effort to dismiss them at present (and I think I know why), but that doesn't mean it is sensible. Western Civilization grew up under the influence of Christianity.  It didn't grow up anywhere else. There has been an ongoing effort since the Enlightenment to maintain that the church actually impeded the development of Our Wonderful Selves, pointing to reason or science as the true cause, as if those were somehow historically separable from the church. We cannot rerun a simulation, so they can maintain it all they want, but we are not on all fours simply because I cannot rerun it either.  It did happen once, in particular circumstances.  I may have only n=1 for my experiment, but they have n=0. Also, all the wonderful things so taken for granted can be easily traced to Christian ideas, Bible verses.

None of that proves Christ rose from the dead and that Christianity is true.  But it does provide a solid core of facts tying Western Civ inextricably to the church.  As with the bumper sticker "Don't criticise farmers with your mouth full," we might say "Don't criticise Christianity with your rights on." In Western Civilisation, women have rights. We have some individual protection from despots. We can choose where we live, what we shall work at, how we shall spend our money.  That we even have prosperity is tied in.  Whether one credits technology more or institutions more, both grew up in the West.  Even if one says that Jews were disproportionately instrumental in the development, as I often note, it still remains that it kept happening even when they were oppressed or kicked out of a countries in the west. Slavery was outlawed - it then nastily reemerged, but was outlawed again. As with Chesterton writing about the culture the common man clings to, there are a thousand things that a thoughtful person can not even quickly bring to mind that are nonetheless part of it.  When a person speaks in a college auditorium condemning the culture they live in, they are allowed to do that.  In a college. Holding a microphone. To an audience of men, women, different tribes. With a life paid for by others. They can't actually point to much of anything in their lives that wasn't brought to them by Western Civ.

Yes, in dim history that was influenced by the Silk Road, and Persians.  So what?

Even hated British colonialism, with is real oppressions, usually left the colonised nation better off in prosperity, in health, in institutions, in rights, in technology - even after the Brits left.

When one asks the common American - even the stereotypically simple-minded one - what it is about our culture that they think is superior, the answer may be some inarticulate reference to freedom, or to religion. While it is seldom worthy of quoting and putting on a poster, it is nonetheless spot on. Clinging to your guns and religion turns out to be pretty important.  That was Obama's better-remembered insult about the culture of other Americans, but it ties in with his comment about the Greeks, which sounds so open-minded at first glance. There are reasons other than how fish is prepared, or what music they play, why one would prefer to live in America. It's pretty evil when an American president has to kick people for that, rather than articulate it more elegantly for them. One can harumph that these are merely things that we prefer because we grew up with them, but I think that most people would say freedom of religion is an entirely good thing that they don't have a mere emotional attachment to. Western women seem deeply attached to having rights.  They're just funny that way, I guess. Those other cultures must be equally valid.

So the high-culture/popular culture distinction also turns out to be less than expected. Why shouldn't people who identify as Christians largely from history, and its connection with Western Civilasation, have the culture they want?  They have good reason.  If one objects "Oh sure, they can do what they like as much as possible, but they shouldn't be allowed to interfere with the new cultures coming in," I ask Where does that value come from? The Japanese don't allow immigrants in to change their culture, nor do the Finns or the Swiss allow much. No one kicks them much for that. There are countries that would love to have more Americans come in and change their culture, but the Americans don't want to go there.

No, we only kick those countries that are actually doing the most of the allowing immigrants in and letting them have their culture. America does it all the time, as does Canada.  Those racist countries, you know.  When Jeremy McLellan sneers at English being upset because a few Muslims move into Luton, it's actually a lot more than a few.  It's a whole lot more than a few.

Here's the twist: I think I have established that within a system of individual rights, people are allowed to try to keep their culture.  If they think some residual Christianity is part of their culture and I wish they had something more solid than that, I don't have an American right to kick them over that, only a spiritual direction one. However, once we grant that, then we have to say that Obama has that right too, to advocate for his culture to be the American one. He has the Stuff White People Like/Stuff Educated Black People Like culture. There are plenty of Americans who prefer his vision. When one gets elected president, one does get a bigger microphone, too.

Oh yeah.  That means so does Trump. I didn't think of that until this minute.

I guess there will have to be a Part III.  These long series never work out half so well as I hoped.  It likely means I have not edited myself well.

Christian as Identity - Part III

I will put on my ignorant, fevered, paranoid Christian hat here. My only defense is that I think I am correct.

I think the attacks on Western Civilisation are largely attacks on Christ. Not entirely.  I think people do genuinely care about colonialism, for example. And I acknowledge that Jesus is not the place people start complaining.

Yet they go there so quickly if you let them keep talking, and when they think there are none but themselves around it's even quicker.  I don't think people admit even to themselves that it's Jesus they are after - most people like Jesus in some way.  It's the references to forcing their religion and suppressing the native religions, or the hypocrisy of churches and missionaries, or Christian privilege in America.  Because we all remember the long sordid history of England making all of India and Rhodesia become Christian, and when the Puritans made the Narragansetts go to church. Plus, they know so many missionaries first-hand. And of course, references to The Crusades, The Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials get thrown in quickly. I have posted and reposted on the Big Bad Three, and noted with amusement that Obama making a prejudicial American cultural comment in 2015 figured in then as well. I will be revisiting Salem shortly, BTW, having just discovered how many ancestors were involved with the episode.

Even a lot of feminist, LGBTQ, and ethnic complaints, though they are founded on legitimate concerns and are likely quite sincere, leak out in time.  I think the Christian-as-identity people may sense that in some way, as Mark Studdock did in That Hideous Strength, being asked to stamp on a figure of Christ.  Even though not a believer, something held him back. Now that I have taken tthat example, I recall that both Lewis and Chesterton also believed attacks on Western Civilisation were attacks on the faith. It's like I got the idea from them originally.  Rather than make the two paragraph argument I just did, it likely would have been better to just write "Lewis and Chesterton thought so."

It is one of my long-held beliefs that people eventually say what they really mean.

(Late tomorrow I will repost these with different time stamps to put them in old-fashioned order rather than internet order.)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Addiction Nation

There's a book coming out in June, Addiction Nation, that you have been part of the backstory on.  I have mentioned the author, Tim King, now married* and become Tim McMahan King, several times over the years. You prayed for him in 2010 when he was near death. That illness was the driver of what came after, because of the length of time he was prescribed opioids. I updated you on his recovery after that. He brought a great topic to men's beer night a couple of years ago, of how liberals and conservatives have some different meanings for the same words. His family comes in in the discussion of the origin's of "wicked" as an intensifier in the New England Accents.  Actually, they've made it a few times, and I'm tired of linking.  One more. You had met him earlier officiating at his sister's wedding, which ties in to the part where you will make the strongest association.  He is the next-younger sibling of bsking of Graph Paper Diaries in my sidebar, who frequently comments here.

I haven't read the book, had no part in it excepting hearing fragments of updates as it progressed. If he was tempted to be less-than-rigorous in his science, especially his use of statistics, however, I imagine the ghost of his sister was ever over his shoulder, so he couldn't have gone too far off. Plus, he's a smart enough guy on his own - philosophy major who just gave me a great idea for an upcoming post.
I'll be buying a couple of copies to give to psychiatrist friends.

*But the party will be in Asheville in May. I suppose when you're 35 you can afford to be a little impatient to get the actual marrying part done.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Southern Poverty Law Center

One of those things that has been known on the right for decades. Except they are the real journalists, you know, so no one listened.  I have five people I am tempted to send this to, in spite and triumph, because of their quoting them in the past as a definitive source.

My character is resentful and vindictive, but I can at least attempt to act above it. I hope it doesn't leak out at a bad moment in the future.  It's happened before. For now, those of us here just nod, and wonder what is best to do next.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What Are Women Better At?

The idea remains that variability in women implies, or even demands mutability and full replaceability.  That is, because some women are good at math, that lots more women could be good at math - exactly the same percentage as men - if we just removed the barriers and encouraged them more.  It is an article of faith that if women don't score as well at highest levels, it must be because something is wrong with our culture. Even the strategy of teaching math in a school system that favors females in every subject does not make the bad numbers go away.  So there must be something wrong. That there are women who are better than 99% of men at math (or tennis, or building things) and men who are worse than 99% of women at some things is not enough.  The percentages must hold at all levels in all fields, especially at the very highest.

It's easy to see why the view is held.  There have been many things over the centuries that supposedly only men could even do, let alone excel at, that women have turned out to be competent at, and even excel themselves.  One by one the male exclusives have fallen, and the thought is that whatever remaining male-female differences remain will eventually fall, too, we just have to figure out how.  Well, perhaps. It's no longer looking so obvious, however.

There is a related idea that runs parallel to it.  I don't know which one is smuggling the other in, but this changes our view of history.  If we accept the idea that cultural changes will eventually make the sexes entirely equal in all abilities, we are driven to the conclusion that women could have been doing these things all along, but were held back by men. All inequalities in the past must be attributable to culture. And this is precisely what many people do think. This idea is dominant in most academic fields. It can be dangerous to even suggest otherwise. That belief in turn generates a deeper cultural idea, that things could have gone otherwise and still brought us to the world we have now, or even better. There is no need, therefore, to have any gratitude to those who came before.

I have a different picture.  Some advantages that men bring to the table are size and strength, especially upper-body strength, that they like machines, tools, and building things, and that they don't get pregnant. Pregnancy, I am told, creates physical limitations.  Looking on, this seems to be so.  Women were multiply vulnerable outside of group protection. For vulnerability within the tribe there is a fair complaint that this should not be so, and it is an oppressive male culture that makes it so.  There are twists and turns that actually make this not so simple in terms of evolutionary biology, but let's stay with the simple case here. However, they would still be vulnerable to violence of other tribes, including the women - there is no sororal unity recorded among the world's cultures - and it does seem a bit stiff to blame the men of your tribe for the culture of the tribe next door.

And tribes next door was the reality.  For everyone.  If your group forgets that you die soon.

There is also the matter of food.  There are tribes where the women produce most of the food, in agricultural setups, especially gathering.  Even then, however, the protein from hunting or fishing is critical, and there is still the matter of the guys across the river with spears who want to take your food. If the tribe is pastoralist, it needs men, if it is agriculturalist on a larger scale, animals start to be important and that upper-body strength and ability to move outside a small radius is necessary as well. Pounding things as a smith, herding animals on a horse, getting a cart out of the mud, getting in a boat and traveling far.

Very recently, those advantages of men have become less important.  We can use clever machines to supplement strength; with greater abundance we can divide labor so that people with less upper-body strength can do other, specialised and often quite useful things. Division of labor leads to more division of labor, and those vulnerable people, if they have figured out clever things about markets and negotiation, can hire some less-vulnerable people who are less likely to be assaulted to put the ale on a cart and transport it ten miles away, stay overnight, and bring back the old barrels.

Very recently, many (though not all) of our weapons of war can be used by women as well as men. The invention of firearms went a long way to equalising, and that was just the beginning.  Physical strength is no longer universally necessary in war, and will probably become less and less important because of technical advantages going forward. Women don't have to get pregnant anymore, and while this does not protect them from assault, it does keep their risk from compounding. Enslaving women is still a problem in many places of the world and I don't see it going away soon, but it has gone away in the west anyway, and a few other places as well.

We have moved away from a world where the advantages men bring were life-or-death issues.  However, I don't think we can now do without them just because we have equalised many things. And I am frankly quite tired of modern societies being blamed because previous societies did not overcome differences in biology enough to suit modern tastes. If they had they would have died out. All this adaptation is new, and frankly quite risky.  We just happen to live in one of those few cultures that values fairness, so we're trying it. Men didn't design women's biology and it's just silly to get even close to the idea of blaming them.  Take it up with the principle of sexual dimorphism in ancestral species.  Or with God.

I have framed this rather defensively, likely unnecessarily to a crew who regards this argument as fairly unremarkable, even obvious. I have focused on some of the great things men have done to keep us all alive and build our cell-phones and cruise ships, which focus may be becoming tiresome even to the female readers who largely agree with me. Fair enough.  Yet I have set this up to make a nearly opposite point. However much oppression we might find in the record, and 21st C resentment that girls were not allowed to ride horses over the far hills like they do in the books and movies, they still made up half of every tribe.  If we are talking life-and-death vis a vis the other tribes inb the area, and being able to outcompete them, the tribe that used female advantages would have a leg up.  It's the same argument, really.  Those with advantages survived, and became Wonderful Us. If we are looking back with gratitude, the women must be part of that from earliest times, even if we can't always discern exactly what it is from the material remains. 

What were the advantages in primitive times that women brought to their tribes?  Pottery looks like a definite.  Child-rearing and nursing are now considered unglamorous, but they do have to be done, and delivering sheep ain't all that glamorous neither. We can measure in modern times that women have higher conscientiousness and better fine-motor coordination. Those must have been consistently useful to be still hard-wired into females more than males today.  How did that play out in hunter-gatherer, in pastoralist, in agricultural societies?  I leave off technological societies because there hasn't been much change in hard wiring since those came on the scene, just exploiting the various male and female skills in new ways. The tribes that led to us must have had some advantage drawn strictly from the female side. Or some other tribe would have displaced them and led to people who aren't us.

Fights For Us

I noticed years ago that the ads for Democrats running for office trumpeted that they would fight for you, while the Republicans insisted they would work for you.  I mistrusted the former and approved of the latter. While it is true that sometimes people do need to be fought for - that's a lot of American history, really - it can lead very quickly to bad places. As for working for us, the thing Trump most insisted he would do is build a wall, and the thing Democrats insisted they would do is impeach Trump, but neither has happened two years later.  They still might, but I notice that all of them in Washington have been eating very nice dinners and drinking very nice scotch nonetheless.

I then noticed that "fighting" started creeping in to the Republican appeals about 10 years ago. I don't consider this a good thing.  The image of needing people to fight for you comes very much from the idea that power is concentrated in the hands of the few, and you ain't one of 'em, so you need someone to go in a break a few heads.  The Democrats have their 1% that they think need setting in line - well, no they don't, exactly.  They keep saying that, but then they kick other groups instead - and the Republicans rail against "elites." Either or both may be true, and we may indeed have gotten to the point where fighting in some sense is necessary, but I still mistrust it.

Power is widely distributed in this country.  That is still true, and all appeals that if we can just get a relatively few bad 'uns out of the way we'll get everything in this country going right again lead to soft paranoias. (I think hard paranoias exist independently of the political culture.  There are people for whom paranoia arrives, then they go looking for who it is that is ruining their life.) Whether we define it as power over others, or power to do what we want, it is still widely distributed.  We may say we hate the intrusion of Washington politicians into our lives, but the local police and the local zoning board have more power over you.  And you have power over them.

Political fighting may sometimes be necessary, but we should get off that as quickly as we can afterward.  If we are going to influence the country, lots of work is going to be more to the point.

Cheddar Man

I have not read the Wiki, but I link to it for those who want more. Here I am only interested in a minor episode in Cheddar Man's scientific history. Hanging around on with tedious entries sends the mind in odd directions, and I was remembering a popularised incident.  There was a BBC production, light on science, heavy on the speculation and exclamation points, that brought in a geneticist of some sort - I'm almost sure it was Bryan Sykes, though I thought he had higher standards* - to get blood samples of those nearby and see if they were similar to the man in the cave. They took blood from local schoolchildren and got their mtDNA, their mother-to-daughter Seven Daughters of Eve bit of genetics, and compared it to Uncle Cheddy's.  I threw that affectionate familial description on purpose, because that was exactly what the BBC was looking for, science be damned. Cheddar Man was a U5, and two of the students were exact U5 variants as well.  They didn't want to publish their names because of privacy concerns. (Then why did they involve them in the first place?) One of the teachers had another U5 variant, but close enough. They tried to sell this as evidence that the teacher was some descendant, not necessarily of ChM exactly, but of that tribe.  Pretty close, y'know?

The idea was to show continuity, that people pretty much get into a good spot and stay there for ever, and there will always be an England.  Even though the name "England" dates from only one thousand years ago, not nine thousand like Cheddar. Stonehenge is only halfway back to this guy, and even those guys are mostly gone now. The persistence of mtDNA lines comes from the tendency of invading peoples, whether violently and quickly, or out-competing by having more food or better hair, the keep the women while pushing the men out as much as possible.  Cheddar Man's y-chromosome is not likely found by anyone nearby.

Continuity is a fun idea, and popular, and not completely untrue, but it is wildly overpredicted. There are plenty of people in America who are U5, plenty of North Africans and West Eurasians.  No one is saying they are descended from a guy in a cave near Bristol. The local teacher's ancestory, if we could trace his maternal line, is almost vanishingly unlikely to have been consistently in that region for 9000 years.

Why is this idea of extended continuity popular to us now?  Has it always been popular? I am not qualified to answer either of those verty separate questions, but I feel confident of part of it.  There is a strong prejudice among anthropologists (I hear this is changing) that it is modern civilised man who has introduced violence and warfare, which existed only as low-level violence in earlier peoples. This requires a belief that those earlier people did not regularly wipe each other out. Marija Gimbutas fed this idea with a culturally very popular idea in the 1970s that the warlike Indo-Europeans pushed out a more peaceful matriarchal European culture with cool goddesses. I don't mean to kick too hard.  Gimbutas has been proved out in many ways, and it does seem to be true that the Indo-Europeans were more warlike and did overrun Europe at least partly by military strength. It wasn't mostly superior pottery and better abs bringing in the women.  Though they did have horses, and chicks do dig horses, so there is that.

But that was only a matter of degree.  Cheddar Man died from a severe weapon-blow to the head.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Wyman Genealogy

I have inserted a very long post of an overview of one part of my genealogy back to March 1st. I didn't want to take up my whole main page, and I figured only a small percentage of people would be interested.  It is not a list of ancestors but a general commentary of an entire group that pretty much extends in a solid block back to the Great Migration of puritans to New England in a very brief period in the early 17th C.I am mostly posting it for reference.

Come to think of it, my Swedish line is much shorter and I should likely post that, too. That would be two of four grandparents.

Racial Division

Ann Althouse comments on an opinion piece in the NYT by Eric Kaufman Americans Are Divided By Their Views On Race, Not Race Itself: It's a crucial difference - and grounds for optimism. Kaufman has an important observation here, and I think he is spot on. He takes as examples whether one thinks The Wall is racist, or whether Northam should resign as questions which liberals take what one would think is the more racially driven view, while minorities have more mixed views - or even trend toward conservatives on the issue.

I think that's right.  The division is between what people, especially white people, think about race, rather than color. It is about the competition between those who want to be seen as Goodwhites, and therefore have to work hard to paint their competition as Badwhites, which has been going on since my college years, at minimum.  It is an audacious attempt of white liberals to take over even the issue of race as their own, acting on behalf of black people. Or not, seeing as the black people aren't quite so convinced of this. So, credit given to Mr Kaufman for an astute observation that I think is important to hold onto going forward.

Also, Kaufman gets all the way to the third paragraph before dragging in the "Trump Era," which is a remarkable display of self-control one doesn't often see these days.

I saw two main difficulties with the "Americans are Divided" piece, and Althouse hits both of them. Kaufman asserts "Ideological differences... are less polarizing than racial conflict, in which whole communities mobilize against an enemy." Really? Granted that the historically recent conflict between races is quite horrifying, I still think that 100,000,000 (or maybe 200M) dead at the hands off communism in the last hundred years might speak against that. Churchill claimed the actions of the Nazis were "Never surpassed in the dark and lamentable history of human crime," and that was more ideological - in fact also ideological around ideas of race - than about race itself, unless one somehow thinks the Japanese were closer relatives to the Teutons than the Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs. Though not ideological, the Rape of Nanking or Chunking did not occur because the participants were of different race, just different national tribes. The Americans fought a very deadly war about ideas of race more than race itself. Ideology is not safer, certainly, and could be worse.

The other difficulty is that Kaufman believes it is the elites, especially the liberal elites, who can bring us back together on this.  I suppose that's true if those elites - his word, not mine - decide to just shut up, rather than being the drivers of division. Yet I doubt that's what Eric Kaufman means. If he does mean that and is trying to put out an incrementalist approach to convincing liberals to turn around without appearing too condemning, then I rescind my complaint. There are psychological and social rewards - sometimes even rewards of opportunity and money - from sowing division.

I am less convinced about Ann's last point about Barack Obama squandering an opportunity to heal division. I have been one who said that after getting off to a great start at the 2004 Democratic Convention on the issues of division and healing, he either reverted or revealed his true colors as president and made things worse. Yet I don't know whether anything he might have done would have made things much better.  We ascribe too much power to presidents in these matters.  I don't think Clinton made much difference, nor Bush, neither for good nor evil - and I think both tried. I think the forces which are currently dividing us will proceed regardless, and the discussion would not be much different now if McCain or Romney, or Hillary Clinton had been elected.

Monday, March 18, 2019


I have been listening to the podcasts on history by Patrick Wyman - no relation - called "The Tides of History."  I have liked them quite a bit.  He is a good summariser. He was a 3rd-year graduate student in history at USC, decided that the remaining 3 years to have an outside chance at an academic position were not a good use of his time, and decided to be a history populariser instead. He is also an MMA fan and writes about that, which is likely unique among historians.  Andy Warhol liked Big Time Wrestling because he felt it was a distilled mythology of not only American culture but humanity in general, but the Arts and Humanities crowd usually looks down their nose as such things. Wyman has an article somewhere how writing about MMA has made him a better historian, but I haven't read it.  I just like the idea of it, even though I am not an MMA fan myself. He is at least willing to think for himself. No doubt he will say something to irritate me soon enough, but for now I like him.

While he does seem to have greater objectivity than most historians, he has twice mentioned an overall assumption that needs correction.  He asserts that historians have a technical language and a superior knowledge because of years of study, whatever their limitations are in terms of not understanding the general public and its needs. That is almost true, but it neglects the overall biases that they cannot even see, because they are so thoroughly shared. It is similar to CS Lewis observation in the introduction to Athanasius, that every age is blind to its own shared assumptions, which can only be corrected by stepping outside those assumptions to another era. Historians are deeply aware of their disagreements and variety on many subjects, and conclude from that that they are a diverse group with wide opinions.  This is quite simply, not so. They are unaware of their similarities.

I have seen this among psychologists, and psychiatrists, and social workers, who see themselves as belonging to various schools and styles, and being refreshingly different. Their variety is real, yet only along a fairly narrow range.

As for a technical language in history, that is also only a partial truth.  All fields have terms which they either invent, or assign a specific meaning to in a professional context.  The general public uses the words depression, or anxiety, with a loose meaning which only partially overlaps with my use.  And don't even get me started on schizophrenic, bipolar, or ADHD, which have made it into the general vocabulary. Physicist have been especially clever in their naming, with left- and right-handedness for particles, and such terms as "cute," or "quarks." Yet they have the same problem as other fields at the outset of studies. Force means something like it's everyday meaning, and mass is even closer.  But acceleration differs more sharply, and the difference matters. Philosophy is awash in unique specialised terms, while anthropology and theology use some of both, new terms invented for a purpose, and everyday terms refined to narrow uses. History has those.  Yet lately, under the influence of Theory (the use of which is an excellent example of what I am talking about) history has added a great deal of jargon that has less-precise meaning.

Everyone wants to be physics, with its great jargon that you have to work at to understand, so some fields develop a jargon in imitation, so they can look like a real science.  It is cargo cult stuff.  If we have a jargon, we must be a real academic field. Yet it is laughably opaque, a mere code to keep others out and the insiders in charge of the pantry. Humorous examples of academic nonsense are published on popular sites all the time. The hard truth is while many fields regard the outsiders as stupid people who don't know their terms, the outside world is full of folks who are just as smart but chose to go into something else.

Maybe smarter.

Eddie Izzard captures this if you substitute "jargon," for "flag," and Monty Python - as usual, illustrates this nicely about banter. 

Ilhan Omar

There are people from Muslim countries who have knowledge about events in the Middle East that is different than mine. It has been the life they have led, and they have at least absorbed information not generally known in the west.  I think many of those points of views are misguided, or biased, or short-sighted, but they at least start from some base of information.  I can also see where people might regard being persecuted as an education of sorts, and enduring hardship to be in and of itself a sort of qualification for understanding others in a similar plight.

But Ilhan Omar's qualifications do not meet even this low standard.  Her victimhood and her audacity are her only qualifications.  She was in a refugee camp.  That is not training for anything.  You don't learn anything about the inter-relations of nations or groups there.  They don't teach history there.  She was not persecuted by Jews. She doesn't actually know anything. She was taught some prejudices about people who have done her no harm. That's about it. Also, she says her views loudly, and because she views herself as righteous, considers it a kind of courage to keep talking when others tell her she is wrong.

From this, I have to conclude that anti-semitism, being loud, and having been a victim are considered sufficient qualifications by a considerable portion of folks in her district, and apparently, across the country.

Most Valuable Players and G.O.A.Ts

I have mentioned a few times that the underlying attractions of sports relate back to real life.

1. We root for a team to declare our identification with a region, a school, or even a religion, as in the national Catholic fan base for Notre Dame football. When we move to a new area, we might retain our loyalty to the Green Bay Packers, or we might over time switch our allegiance to the Carolina Panthers, announcing that we are real true Carolinians now, or wish to be.  We go to games to be with others of our tribe, or invite them to our homes.

2. We follow sports for its enactment of mythologies - the young phenom versus the crafty old pro, the underdog succeeding on grit, the team that plays as a unit or works harder or is on the cutting edge of strategy, the athlete who overcomes prejudice or adversity, the silent or humble versus the brash and confident - we love those stories, we like to see other people enact them for us. Hold this one in mind, I'll be coming back to it.

3. We like the keeping score, the immediate knowledge whether something worked or not, and the certainty of result.  You get out what you put in.  While there are arguments and excuses, there are far fewer than there are in regular life. In highly individual sports such as golf or track and field, with very strict rules, the result is what it is.  You used fewer strokes or you didn't, you ran faster or you didn't.

4. We like the intrinsic qualities of a sport.  Some don't like sports with animals racing (or fighting), or don't like motor sports, considering them not quite legit.  Others like the interaction of man with something else as part of the appeal. We like graceful athleticism, as in figure skating, or we like a rawer athleticism, such as fighting or lifting sports. We like that people have to focus under pressure. The most popular sports in America combine these.  Football players have to have grace while engaging in violence.  Basketball is played with the legs and the tips of the fingers, they say. We like different sports for participation or watching.

5. We like being knowledgeable about things, and sports is one of those things. We like competence and mastery of a subject, and we also like knowing more than others. We like to learn how things work, and sports can sometimes provide insights into that.  While the lessons that children learn from sports has been oversold as a category, there is some truth to the idea that we learn something about working together, putting up with inconvenience and even unfairness for the sake of getting a task accomplished.  There is a value in teamwork, in encouragement, in trying different strategies and approaches. How do you find talent others are overlooking?  How do you motivate people?

I'm probably missing some things here, but that will do for now.

Whenever there is a discussion of the Most Valuable Player for a season, I have usually been of the mind that the best player is the MVP. Whether his team is any good is way down the list.  This is likely left over from baseball, where the best hitter, adjusted for position  played, has the strongest case for being MVP.  There is value in team sports in "making your teammates better," in terms of both skill and attitude - Tim Duncan comes to mind - but generally, I go with the Best Player, adjusted for importance of the position, argument.

I changed my mind on that this year, in ways that relate to tasks outside of sports, related to reasons 2 and 5, above.  I slowly became convinced over the last few years that Lebron James is the best player of all time.  But only on the court. That he saves it for the playoffs doesn't bother me that much - though because basketball is an entertainment business I can see someone making an argument about that, balanced against his obvious drawing power.

Yet here are the negatives.  By forcing teams to be assembled and coached in ways that fit him, he destroys them.  I used to regard how poorly teams did when he was on the bench, or after he'd left, as evidence of how good he is, but I've doubled back on that. Lebron has dictated personnel moves and styles of play to maximise the results for the 75% of the time he is playing. When he has other great players with him, they can pick up the slack during the other 25%.  But other great players don't seem to want to play with him, and he gets rid of players he doesn't feel complement him that well. He brings the best out of some players, but harms or even destroys the development of others. He gets the credit, others get the blame.

Plus, when he leaves a team, it's a wreck.  Owners and general managers have considered that a fair tradeoff, hoping that his enormous skills will bring them at least one championship.  As long as he was in the Eastern Conference against lesser competition, that worked well-enough,  His teams at least went to championship games. Yet this year, against the better competition in the west, it highlights the damage that Lebron's attitude causes. Had he been in the west all along, we would be much less likely to call him the Greatest Of All Time. He would still have done wonderfully well, dominantly well.  Just not as well. It reminds us that all of his great teams did not do spectacularly well when the finally came up against other good teams. They did well.  They won some championships, and not everyone can say that.

WE know people like this at work, in churches, in government, in clubs, in families - people who are immensely talented, but the adjustments that everyone else has to make to that talent ends up weakening the whole organisation.  We had a brilliant medical director who was more-published, and at least the equal of the others clinically, maybe better. But he was part of lots of other clinicians leaving, and he left the place a mess when he took a job in Michigan.

You know people like this. Hell, you might be married to one, supervise one, or in some way have to put up with one and wonder if it's worth it.  You might even be one.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Christianity and Spelling Reform

When we have children in school, we just naturally think that the most important thing a church needs to do is youth ministry - because children are the future of the church, and if we can't teach them, develop them, and inspire them, they will leave the faith, have a harder time in life, and the church as a whole will suffer.  When we are in a time of suffering we consider the most important mission of the church to be outreach, or comfort, or corporal acts of mercy, or sick-visiting. When we are first Christians we consider meaningful worship to be the center, or perhaps discipling, or being in The Word.

It's turtles all the way down.  If we are women with careers and status in mind, then the church's treatment of women is the most important thing.  If we are part of a group that has often been treated badly, then we consider the church's teaching and outreach to our group to be the most important mark going forward of whether the church is doing its job. The word journey pops up a lot there. Bringing the gospel to under-served people-groups...foreign missions...the for the addicted...helping LGBTQ people feel welcomed...getting Bibles into as many hands as possible...preserving the church's treasure of music...helping people separate from the world and focus on what's important...

One can go on for quite a while with legitimately good causes that we each feel should be shoved to the front of the line.  Mine is "Preserving Western Civilisation, which includes Christianity and is currently..."

No, I shall not make that argument further.  We each have our own.  As usual, CS Lewis has the response that is good:
The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform*. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. The Screwtape Letters
It sometimes seems that Christian parents can only talk about The Schools, female pastors can only talk about the treatment of women, black Christians can only talk about race, political conservatives can only talk about religious freedom, twenty-somethings only raise the flag that in a deeply changed society the church still offers 1950s cultural solutions, and transgenders are acutely aware thatour old language doesn't fit them.

I won't tell you the rant I wish to deliver to them all (that I just delivered, with emphatic hand gestures,on today's hike along Bog Brook Road to an audience of only myself).  I will deliver this sadder, but likely more reasonable* advice.  If any of these is your cause, you in all likelihood have to drop it.  It may be a legitimate cause for Christians to attend to, but not for you.  Jesus resisted the temptation to power over all the sadness and trouble in the world during the 40 days in the wilderness.  We should not presume to be immune from that temptation, which He thought important enough to be one of the few things He mentioned out of the whole 6-week experience.  Fixing things here is still a secondary, not an ultimate point. Advocacy is not our challenge, it is our temptation.

Sometimes God uses our experiences of pain or oppression to help us be sensitised to the issues which include others in our category.  Charitable nonprofits often grown out of terrible events.  But I think it is much more likely that we invite ourselves into that advocacy, as a way of elevating our tribe and even (gulp) ourselves in the world.

* Notice that 75 years later, the causes are almost entirely different.  That should tell us something. 

**It could hardly be less reasonable.

Coaching Women

I was wrong.  I have changed my mind.

I read about a college-championship women's soccer coach about two decades ago. University of North Carolina, maybe.  Sports Illustrated article.  He spoke about how it was different coaching women than men, at least at the college level.  With women, he said, it was important to sit and talk with them - on the sidelines, during stretching exercises, in his office - because they would be very concerned about team relationships, and would stop passing the ball to another young woman they were angry at or would stop saying encouraging things to them. He stated it was subtle at first, rather than dramatically angry, but could quickly deteriorate and make the team unable to function at a high level.  He noted that women were expert at reducing their amount of cooperation while remaining above the level at which they could be called out and criticised for it. His secret was managing all that from minute one during tryouts and training.

I recall inwardly rolling my eyes at the unreasonableness of that in sports, and thinking that while he had framed it as a mere difference, and not a bad one (he said it better than I just did in the above paragraph), it was actually a terrible indictment of women in sports. Women just need to get over it.  Stop that.  The point is to win, and men get beyond this easily. 

Nope. This also true of men, though it is expressed differently.  At least, it's true of NBA players in 2019, and I think will be increasingly true going forward. It has always been true that different skills are required of different coaches depending on where the team is in its development.  Some coaches can determine who can play and who can't; some coaches can teach or inspire the improvement of skills; some coaches can manage the personalities so that good players do not screw each other up, which is the final necessary step toward winning championships.  I think this is true for both sexes, though not always at the same rate or at the same time.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The League Formerly Known as "Ivy"

My college was an Ivy Wannabee, like about three dozen others. I wonder if they see that the bridge is out up ahead?

Colorised Photos

These well-colored photos, in a backwards sort of way, illustrate my theory about the cultural change that resulted from the switch from black-and-white to colored photos. It was one of the first things I blogged about.  I used to have lots of original ideas back then.  I'm mostly just responding to my environment now, like a limpet that only feeds on what drifts past.

I don't claim it was the only factor that brought in the new way of looking at things.  But as the improvement in mirrors in northern Italy in the 13th C was a subtle yet powerful force in bringing on the Renaissance, so too did out perceptions change greatly from the early 20thC to late because of this little-noticed factor. When we look at the restored reality of photos about times we regard as less-than-real, it reminds us how inaccurately we regard the past, even a past we attended.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


I have been back at work the last two weeks - unusual for the semii-retired - but the time-suck has been  We re-upped for six months in hopes of putting this to bed for good, not having to bother with it anymore. It's a lot of point/click/check numbers/hit return sort of work, maddening in its tediousness.  One comes to resent the Puritans for being literate and keeping good records - not to mention the obsessive nature of their descendants.  Where records are more scant, such as with my Swedish ancestors, lines trickle out in the mid-1700s. My Scots-Irish ancestors were also less assiduous of keeping track of such unimportant matters as births, deaths, and marriages. But nearly all of my Puritan lines are going back to an immigrant ancestor around 1630. That's an extra five generations, numbers of course doubling each time.

I have gotten more careful the last few days.  I found myself accepting parents for Earls of Oxford in the 14th C, but finding when I tried to confirm data through Wikipedia that there had been disputes about bastardy at the time, resolved not by witnesses and records, but by papal decrees. Look, if they didn't know who the father was then, why am I putting any energy at all into trying to guess it out now?  What are politely called "non-paternity events" were very uncommon in Puritan culture, but over that many generations even small percentages add up.  I have also found that record keeping deteriorates badly once the Atlantic is crossed around 1600.  One starts to find a suspicious number of people living to be more than 100, or of girls marrying at 13 and giving birth at 15 (not among the Puritans they weren't.  In some cultures yes, but not that one.  Couples married late , after they had become a bit settled. Massachusetts average for 17th C: 26 y/o for men, 23 y/o for women). Or different dates of birth and death - different by 12 years or 37.  Women giving birth at 53.  Sorry, these are different individuals with the same name. I also don't trust any researcher who tells me that one of my ancestors was born in Connecticut in 1616. I have decided that once I cross the Atlanitc I stop.. Born in a town in Devonshire?  Fine, book closed.  Not enough reliable past that.

So we have done my wife's Dutch ancestors and their scandals, and my Swedish and Scots-Irish and half of the English. We have her Irish ancestors, which I think are going to dry up very quickly, and then a whole flock of my other Puritans, including my Mayflower ancestors and Sons of the American Revolution and all that good stuff.  Those illustrious ancestors come from the lines that were the least respectable in the 20th C.  The ones who went to jail or abandoned their families have the best ancestors.  There's a sermon in that somewhere. I found out today that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost are distant cousins.  This is hardly surprising, as there were only about 20,000 settlers of New England who went on to have about 10 kids per generation, so we're all tenth cousin to somebody up here.  I haven't hit any crossing lines yet, but I'm still going. Pedigree Collapse has got to hit soon.

I am descended from two Salem witches that escaped execution, Mary Perkins Bradbury and Sarah Town Cloyce. I should revisit my contention that the sorcery accusations were bad science more than bad religion.  Soon, perhaps.

Aliy Zirkle

We just this minute watched Aliy Zirkle cross the finish line of the Iditarod in Nome, as my son and his family are down there to watch her coming in.  She is from New Hampshire originally, which catches our attention, but she is especially beloved by mushers and fans because she turned back while in first place a few years ago to make sure her friend was okay, and ended up losing as a result. She was fourth this year.

I was surprised this morning when I checked the news and looked at the film out of Nome that I was nostalgic about the race finish.  I did little but criticise the place while I was there a year ago.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Open Concept Living

I don't have a strong opinion, except that I don't think I like either extreme.  But this retreat from open-concept living spaces back to having walls again does seem to be a be-careful-what-you-wish-for example.  We have two large rooms in the house, and four smaller ones.  I spend most of my time in one of the smaller ones.  Or out on the screened porch.  The other large room is for recliner naps or my wife's prayer time and bird-viewing out the large window.

Children hate open-space, until they have moved out and are visiting back.  They like to have four walls.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Beating The Cultural Revolution

Dreher always comes from a different angle from what I am used to.  Beating the Cultural Revolution.
Still, I am persuaded by some recent offline conversations that framing it as socialism obscures more than it illuminates. Two points a friend made bring this out:
  1. This phenomenon is not driven only by the state (and maybe not even primarily by the state), but by private actors, especially educational institutions and big corporations. How is that socialism?
  2. If we elected Republicans — members of the supposedly anti-socialist party — from now until forever, and if we left the free market unchanged, that would make no meaningful difference in stopping the progress of this disintegration. So how can we honestly tag this as socialism?
I find these points to be unanswerable. Maybe you disagree.
It is related to the idea that you don't have to teach cats to catch mice. Nor does the government have to insist that cats catch mice. Many conservatives are worried about what the government will make us do or allow us to do, and I don't call that negligible. Yet it may be a smaller factor than the cultural change, and ultimately, cultural enforcement.