Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Theater of Self-Congratulation

Reposted from February 2008, just because I like it.

A psychiatrist friend was terribly excited to tell me that the troupe which had put on a "stunning," "marvelous" production in Concord last year was going to be back by popular demand this year! Last year's production was about the Scopes monkey trial, with Ed Asner playing "the conservative." This year's traveling production is going to be about the Pentagon Papers.

First, should I be discussing this at all with a person, professional and educated person though he be, who can't pull William Jennings Bryan's name out? I would insert in any serious discussion that Bryan would be more properly called a populist, but knowing how these things are presented, I just shrug at "conservative" as a descriptor. It's Ed Asner. There's an agenda. They feed on people who grasp what the socially acceptable idea is without too much bother about the facts. I doubted strongly that the script would be based on this history of the events.

So this year it's the Pentagon Papers. My immediate thought was what will be next year - McCarthyism? And the year after that, the Inquisition? Is this a theater company that makes its daily bread by tolling the liberal liturgy? I looked them up. Left hand column, Brecht's Galileo, followed by The Best of Arthur Miller. I hit the double! The Inquisition and McCarthyism! Do I know these people or what?

Credit where credit is due: the company is also doing two by Moliere and Noel Coward's Private Lives. I can't fault that. They've even got Neil Simon going. Not my favorite, but nothing to sneer at politically, anyway.

For newer, groundbreaking things they've got A Huey P. Newton Story, and The Busy World Is Hushed, described thusly:
With wisdom, humor and insight, THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED examines the contradictions we find in our faith, our families and ourselves. Hannah, a widowed Episcopal minister, is hoping to translate a long-lost gospel when she is challenged by both her scholarly assistant and her wayward gay son. But when family secrets are revealed, only the intercession of a stranger can help Hannah find peace. This audio production includes an exclusive interview with playwright Keith Bunin.

It's sort of like group masturbation, isn't it? The arts, especially theater, used to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Women's Sports and Transgender Athletes

Ann Althouse weighs in over at her site with an observation that surprised me.
Today, the pressure to be empathetic toward transgenders is so great that I believe women, known for our empathy and our desire to appear compassionate, will let go of competitive sports and return to the inclinations that dominated back in the days when I went to high school. It's a trade-off, a trade-off between the potential for athletic victory and the feeling of being kind and inclusive. The latter is something quite valuable and within the reach of all women. The former is a dream, and it's only a dream for an elite few among women.
I take the point, and think she is correct for the attitude of our generation. I don't have a sense whether that is true for succeeding generations. More boys than girls dream of playing at the highest level, and I think it is true that the dream dies harder with them. But nearly everyone...

Okay, let me rethink this. When I write "nearly everyone" I am talking about New Hampshire, and we only develop world-class athletes in skiing. Unlike what seems to be a prevailing view in many other regions, there is a lot of cultural support here for simply doing as well as you can and then calling it a day. We don't expect you to go to the NFL, or even D1 scholarship football. Or baseball, track, basketball, wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, swimming.  We have slightly higher expectations for hockey players, I suppose. A few make it and we consider that nice. But the knowledge seeps in early here that the very top levels are not really available to us - for many reasons, some of which we can say aloud. For now.

It might offend the sense of justice of people in the moment that a student who is not a real girl* wins the 400M, but northern New England is not going to be the hotbed of outrage over this.  We don't care who wins the 400M enough to carry signs in protest.

Thus, I don't know if women's sports will change that much here. Transgender athletes winning the tennis championship will draw an irritated grimace, followed by a shrug. 99% of the girls already knew they weren't winning the championship anyway, but participated for the camaraderie and fun of it. There is some danger that the SJW's in the locker rooms will rat the other girls out, those who complain. We have more than out share here, and they are often the children of SJW's who are worse.

I don't know how this will play out for the rest of you, but this change isn't going to be a big one here.  I do wonder if this is going to be a bigger issue for black female athletes, who may be somewhat more dependent on scholarships for advancement.

* No, really, stop saying silly things here.  This is America and you can call yourself anything you want. I think it's important that we let people say "I'm a real girl" and there are no official repercussions for that. Call yourself whatever you want. But that in no way implies that anyone else has to go along with it.  Other Americans retain the right to say "No you're not." Legal accommodations should be compromises, not absolutes. Which is why DC lawyers should be regarded as dangerous.

This is the retirement video of the greatest player New Hampshire ever sent to the NBA, just for perspective.

Yes, New Hampshire is a small state.  My daughter-in-law went to school with him, my second son played at the Concord Y at the same afternoon halfcourt games (though Ben was always on the other, lesser court), and I recognise every one of those backgrounds.

Mondo Again

Duplantis breaks his own world record by a bit.  I show the video because of the slo-mo at the end showing how he does it, and how far he was above the bar for that.  He was a little close on the lead in, but I think he might have cleared the bar by 5 INCHES.  The record will be repeatedly broken this year, so long as he doesn't get injured.  Vaulters, BTW, don't peak until their late 20's, though this one may have developed earlier because of early coaching by his father, who was a world-class vaulter in his day.

I promise I won't show you every one. Now that you know he's there, you can keep track of him yourself.

Another Review of Douhat

I noted Peter Thiel's review a few posts ago.  Now City Journal reviews the book as well. It looks like I will have to read this.  I usually wait until the price drops, or it shows up in the network of libraries we are in. This looks like it will still apply just as well a year from now, and nothing will hinge on my having read itt in the next few weeks.

Friday, February 14, 2020

ABBA Collage

Clips I had not seen before.

Conspiracy Thinking

Like many types of paranoid thinking, conspiracy theorists fasten on unimportant details and regard them as key. The tax protestors get caught up in your name being in all-caps for Social Security, which means that it’s not you but some artificial entity. Their proof that the income tax is illegal hinges on a delivery of a document to the State of Ohio that did not happen in the right way, even though everyone in Ohio knew about it.  There is the nod and the knowing look that they can’t be fooled. The real truth isn’t known to all those other people, who are blithely going about their business thinking everything is just fine, and completely on the up-and-up.

The belief that the real answer is hidden, being kept from the masses by nefarious actors precedes the actual explanations. They don’t come to believe that doctors are hiding cures because they are presented with plausible evidence of same, but because they don’t trust doctors, or perhaps anyone in authority, and someone tacks a specific example onto that.  All-caps often figure prominently in their explanations, trying to impress upon you the importance of this particular set of details that they are now pointing out to you.  So that you’ll KNOW. 

I keep forgetting that this applies to history in general, when people are dead-enders for lost causes. There is the same focus on petty details that you are supposed to understand are actually important.  Holocaust deniers will do this.  Not all, certainly.  There are representatives of every idea who can appear plausible. But when you come upon them, those small details and all caps are frequent. It should be noted that the small details are often quite true. And certainly, there are times when small details matter, as every reader of mysteries knows. “Yes, his father cannot have been in the Christmas Revels at Bath in 1942, because the Royal Fusiliers were in Tunisia at the time.” But forest/trees is the repeated issue. The King James only people are sometimes like this, as are those telling you that the Catholic Church is the Antichrist.

This type of reasoning can also infect discussions that are not unreasonable in themselves.  One will often hear the claim that the Civil War was not about slavery.  I think that is ultimately wrong, and the evidence against the premise is substantial.  Yet there are genuine arguments in its favor, not confined to unimportant details. Nevertheless, there is a high percentage of people making the argument who do get lost in the weeds, unwilling to come out.

I have found them impossible, because they are not actually operating from facts, they are using facts in the service of some emotion-driven or cultural belief. The effect is the same as in CS Lewis’s belief about hell, that all the doors are locked - but from the inside only. The Dwarves could taste the banquet if they could only choose to.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Revived Links

A reminder what Democrats said about immigration policy not so very long ago.

I used to pick a month from 3-4 years earlier and do a "Best of" series. In 2011 I still liked these posts from 2007. I still like them pretty well now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Time Travel

Exactly my era, to the year.  I feel I should know each of them by name.  I do think we showed more variety of dance moves, though. The weird introduction does seem to be a standard local TV sort of performance.

Two that Got Missed

These two should have been in the Top 100 but I overlooked them.

Jobs, March 2019, should have been about 20th place. Maybe it was too new when I did the count last June.

Knowledge of History, May 2019, should have been about 30tth place. Same problem

Peter Thiel Reviews Ross Douhat at First Things

Thiel has reviewed a couple of other books for First Things, I learned.  I didn't expect many gay libertarians to be writing for that site, but they do work hard at getting interesting cultural takes that traditional Christians of many stripes might like.  Back to the Future  reminds me of how thoughtful and flat out smart Peter Thiel is.  I generally like Douhat, though I think he's a bit of a squish when it comes to flat-out intellectual conflict.  Still, writing for the New York Times can put one in the habit of trimming your sails too often, I'll warrant.  I imagine I would do the same thing myself.  Thiel is approving of Douhat's thorough look at major cultural trends ion his new book The Decadent Society:
How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success
, and what they might mean.
Sterility (one of four problems Douhat focuses on) is not immediately obvious outside of a few places like San Francisco. In public debates, low birth rates are treated as a matter of personal preference. If they mean anything more, it is as a drag on future economic performance—hence an argument for immigration. Douthat goes beyond economistic abstractions to point out that missing kids weaken a society’s connection to the future. He thus explains a key current in “populist” skepticism of the elite consensus: “[Immigration] replaces some of the missing workers but exacerbates intergenerational alienation and native-immigrant friction because it heightens precisely the anxieties about inheritance and loss that below-replacement fertility is heightening already.” Douthat does not ignore racism, but he focuses on the dynamics that explain our unique moment instead of inveighing against an age-old evil.
That's worth reading a couple of times, both for Douhat's thought and for Thiel's.


It was fascinating to learn the the Thresher is still an issue.  I remember the story from my childhood, as it had gone out from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It was big headlines for days, and the source of many urban legends in the schoolyards of NH.  I don't think I ever knew there was any controversy around it, only that things had gone wrong, and it was sad. The story could not have persisted long, as the Kennedy assassination pushed it off the front page seven months later.

NH Republican Primary

My pal Eric Merrill, who I told you about last month, got 512 votes.  Eric pretty much defines "fringe candidate," but he got 1% of the town he grew up in and 2,5% of the town he lives in now.  That's more votes for president than I've ever gotten.

Donald Trump attracted more turnout for an incumbent running mostly unopposed than anyone previous, either party, and a good deal more, too.  That does speak to considerable excitement among his supporters. A word of caution about that, however.  You don't get more votes for being more excited.  You get more votes by attracting more people to vote for you. While people can develop partisan excitement for their guy or gal as the election approaches, I don't think it is much in question that Trump's supporters are more excited for him than any Republican in my lifetime.  Reagan 1984 may be an exception. Democrats get excited all the time, so that's an apples-and-oranges comparison.

On the other hand, Trump's approval numbers are still in the 40's, though improving.  With this economy and getting us out of wars*, and some real positives of Federalist Society judges and reduction in regulation to please conservatives, he should be over 60% approval. The argument is that he gains more than he loses with his combativeness and refusal to admit he's wrong, even when he is wrong, but I think that's an article of faith, not evidence.  The combativeness gets some of his supporters more excited, and it clearly has attracted some voters who would not otherwise be on board.  But is it a net gain?  Net gain is all that matters in an election.

*That is popular at the moment in a nation sick of lingering wars, but it is only a good if they are wars we should be getting out of.  Sometimes wars need to be fought.  Popularity is only one measure.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Death Penalty

Powerline highlights an essay by Theodore Dalrymple, who I much admire, on the death penalty.
Although, on balance, I am against the death penalty, I do not assume that those who are in favour of it are necessarily moral primitives, which abolitionists often give the impression of believing. For most of our history, the rightness of the death penalty has been taken for granted, and it cannot be that we are the first decent, reflective people ever to have existed.
That's refreshing in itself, and the way we used to approach moral questions.  At least, we aspired to approach them that way.  Perhaps we never did.  Dalymple gives both an historical perspective and an excellent back-and-forth on the topic.
In Britain, one of the effects of the abolition of the death penalty, the downward pressure on all prison sentences, has been little remarked. Punishment has to be roughly proportional to the gravity of the crime (exact proportionality cannot be achieved), but if murder attracts only 15 years’ imprisonment de facto, what sentences can be meted out to those who commit lesser, but still serious, crimes?

To Be Fair To Liz Warren

Supposedly people at a diner in Manchester didn't want to speak with her. It's not her.  We're tired of all of them at this point.  Buttigieg and Klobuchar had a late surge partly because we hadn't much noticed them, I think. The old joke was "What do you think of Candidate Jones, Ebeneezer?"  "Don't know.  I only met 'im 3-4 times."

Iron Butterfly

This type of entertainment is in direct response to the last video, I think.

The drum solo starts about 6:20, for those who want to skip ahead.

I'll go back to text now.

Try This

This will keep you busy.

Worth noting the date, immediately post-war. A very English insistence or returning to tradition and normalcy, despite the Late Unpleasantness.

Pondering Visual Updates

It's time for something to break up the all-text nature of the blog.  I doubt anyone but me is interested in the track-and-field videos.  So which of my usuals will I go to? Meerkats?  ABBA? 1960s pop, good and bad? Folk and unusual music? Comedians?

I have spared you all the videos on Indo-Europeans, Scythians, and archaeology that I follow. Maybe I will break form and do a few videos in a row.  Until then, here's one from my queue that I haven't gotten to yet. You are seeing it before I do, because I have other tasks.

Different Perspective

Modern historians like looking at things from different angles.  Though this has been increasingly enforced along woke lines in the past generation, it is still a useful way to study.  Previous histories were about who ruled and who won battles. While these things have enormous top-down effects on everyone else at the time, and often have long-term effects, sometimes they turn out to be incidental, while other perspectives tell us more.  Religious and economic historians have long identified far-reaching effects that were more durable than whether a Henry or an Edward was on the throne in a particular decade.  The study of rulers lends itself to the making of lists, which are nice memorisable items for students. Subregional studies of dukes and barons are the same thing on a smaller scale.

Military historians fell partly into the same ditches, though they were more likely to introduce changes in technology in weaponry and defense, which also informed our understanding of civilian technological changes. But it is only recently that historians have looked at social history in general. This has been driven by mostly female historians asking "What was life like for the women in this time and place?" and "What changes and continuities do we see over longer time-scales in that?" Studying marriage patterns, and whether women could own property, and whether they earned cash money are not things that changed overnight, as conquest or rebellion changed societies, but following those records tells us what we might otherwise miss, and provides explanations for puzzles. It also gives us a fuller picture of what life was like for everyone. When they ate, when they starved, whether mothers had any say in children's marriages, who provided music - we know much more about such things now. I think it is all to the good, and male historians have been largely won over to the new perspective.

(There may be a parallel here to Grim's recent post about actor and director Brit Marling, who has been a strong female lead according to the masculine definition of "strong," but wonders if some more specifically womanly strength and virtue might be preferable in movies going forward. Womens is womens and mens is mens, and we might learn something new.)

Historians develop specialties in studying coins, or architecture, or metallurgy, or transport of goods, or a hundred other niches.  Amateurs will sometimes usefully pop in in such affairs, having become obsessed with trains or tools.  Amateurs more usually immerse themselves in a narrow era, providing both market and support for professionals.  Reenactors usually come for the battles, but stay for the homely details of camp food and cooking, boots and clothing, and interesting characters. Slavery is now drawing attention as a general topic, though the focus on the American version seems to have a pointed agenda. Sexual history is big, also with more of an eye to influencing current culture than to understanding others, I fear.

Useful things are still happening. We are used to studying the capital cities and central regions of empires - there's that succession of rulers again - but going to the frontiers and looking in both directions can tell us much that is new.  As the skin of a human can be considered an organ, so too can the boundaries bring new things into focus. If one is studying the British Isles and Roman Britain, the skirmishes with the Scoti and the Picts seem like a local affair, leading to purely local questions of descent, language, and economy.  Yet the same issues played out along the entire boundary of the Roman Empire, with Allemani and Franks in Gaul and across the Rhine, Visigoths across the Danube, Huns across the Caucasus, and desert tribes just outside the fertile areas of northern Africa.

Contemporary historians writing from the interior saw all these groups as exotic barbarians, wild tribes with little organisation beyond raiding and the most minor of invasions. Yet the soldiers and commanders on the frontier saw them differently.  They paid one tribe to attack another, and over time this could turn into a type of tribute by the Romans to those tribes in a sort of protection racket.  They would also hire them, individually or in groups, as soldiers in the Roman army, for a few years or a career. They traded with them.  They raided into the barbarian areas, both as a show of force, but also for plunder.  Coins and goods from Rome were concentrated at the frontiers, where the soldiers had to be fed and paid and have things repaired. Twenty or a hundred miles back from the Danube toward Rome was a poorer, if safer area. It was harder to get goods to market from those spots. Crossing a river or a string of forts in force might be difficult, but money flowed along both, giving prosperity to the area.

The frontier might be the more dangerous area, but it was also the more sophisticated, with many languages spoken, ideas encountered, and luxury goods found. The boundary also changed what happened just on the other side.  Smaller groups who were often at war with each other would band together, both for raiding the near-interior of the empire and for protecting themselves against raids. After a few generations, those tribes would include many who had fought as Roman soldiers, including officers and those who had been sent to wars in far lands. The distinctions between Roman and barbarian became less clear. The boundary would become something of a mirror, as the better-trained and more prosperous Sueves or Goths, who would have some knowledge and experience with other cross-border "barbarians," would be more concentrated along the Danube, and have information about what was happening on the other side, all the way to Rome.

When Rome was unstable, as in the 3rdC when there would be a new emperor every few years, troops would be drawn from the border and the larger confederations on the other side would find raiding or exacting protection money easier. They were not so used to cooperation that they could conquer territory or sack cities, but the foundations were laid for that to happen later. The Huns, from deeper on the steppe, actually were organised rather than the seeming wild bands the Romans imagined them to be.  It was not accidental and bad luck that they invaded the empire across the Caucasus and to the Danube at the same time. They had plenty of information about the vulnerability of Rome and attacked in coordination in search of plunder and tribute accordingly.

Rome was eventually overtaken by armies it had partially trained and caused to come into being by its own actions.  Those barbarians were not amazed at Roman wine, armor, and coins.  They had grown up with these things in their lives.  Though they may have been amazed at how much was concentrated there, and perhaps at the art and architecture.

From Mark Steyn

Whoever wins in NH will have momentum going into the Iowa Caucus final results.

Monday, February 10, 2020

New World Record

Mondo Duplantis, pole vault.  He went to HS in Louisiana and went to LSU, but he will be jumping for Sweden in the Olympics.

You heard about him here first.

The Tim Tebow Effect

In honor of it being the eve of an election, it is good to remember The Tim Tebow Effect, which I have written on many times. I anticipated it in 2013, and as late as 2018 was illustrating how it affected people's opinions of Donald Trump.  Still does.

Bethany also weighed in on the topic in 2016 over at Graph Paper Diaries. She had discovered it, she thinks from Chuck Klosterman, and passed it along to me. The Tim Tebow Fallacy

Her attempt at a formal definition is probably the best summary:
The tendency to increase the strength of a belief based on an incorrect perception that your viewpoint is underrepresented in the public discourse
My favorite anecdote is still the guys calling in on sports radio, staying on hold for 45 minutes in order to be able to spill their furious opinion "Tim. Tebow.  Is not. An NFL quarterback! PERIOD!"  and then hang up.


After tonight, pollsters and candidates will stop calling us.

We really have to get rid of the land line.  the only other calls we get there are appointment reminders and warnings about possible power outages, and those can be changed.

You Ungrateful Bastards #5

These have a literary connection.

Humor Writers and Political Affiliation December 2005
EB White, Neocon and Green, Libertarian and One-Worlder. September 2007
Theophilus North June 2015

Relative Dangers

Which is the more likely danger for America?

A) We will become a fascist dictatorship
B) Overspending will cause an economic turndown that hurts the working class.

The End of the Gladiators

This is an article at Vocativ by Patrick Wyman, the historian whose podcasts on the fall of Rom and the Middle Ages I have been listening to.  Because he also used to write extensively about MMA, one can see why the topic would have some appeal.

But now it’s time for the gladiators. As entertaining as it is to watch the slaughter of exotic animals, as empowered as you feel drinking in the maintenance of social order through the grisly death of criminals and barbarians, only the gladiators can offer the kind of well-matched professional skill that speaks to you as a connoisseur of death and violence.

The Death of the World's Greatest Death Sport.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Post 6704 - Winter Bird Count

I missed post 6700 as it went by.  Hundreds don't seem as much a milestone as they did when I started.

My wife does the Audubon winter bird count every year.  It is a single weekend, and one rule is that you can record only those birds you can see from your property. Hawks flying over your house count; hawks seen on the way to church do not. Also, the number of each species that you count are the maximum number that you see at any one time.  If you see four Blue Jays at 7AM, and then three at 7:30AM, you do not add them.  Four is the number you report.

Therefore, Sunday's count is less exciting, as one is seldom seeing much that is new, only counting to see if there are more Juncos at one go today than there were yesterday. With small birds flying in and out to the feeders, it is tough to count quickly enough and know what you are seeing.  It first inspires humor, and then pity in the husband watching the wife do this. Unusual birds must be accompanied by a photograph to be counted.

This year's totals

16 Juncos
7 Blue Jays
2 Chickadees
9 Goldfinch
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 Mourning Doves
1 Crow
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
2 Starlings
1 Cardinal
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 White Breasted Nuthatch

Amazing that they make it through a NH winter at all, really.

They also want account of the two types of squirrels here, red and gray.  We had two gray squirrels.

Space Colonies

Did anyone besides me think of Douglas Adams when they saw this? In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Adams tells us of a planet which has three groups of people: the scientists, the workers, and the middle managers.  They decide to colonise a distant planet and prepare many, many ships.  they place the middle managers on those ships and send them off, at which point the scientists and workers rejoice and slap hands and don't go anywhere. As is usual with Adams, this colony of middle managers show up later in the story.

When the rejected Golgafrinchans colonize Earth, they hold 573 committee meetings and still don’t manage to discover fire. When Arthur’s alien pal, Ford Prefect, points out that the committee hasn’t made any progress on the wheel, a marketing consultant snipes, “All right, Mr. Wiseguy, you’re so clever, you tell us what color it should be.”

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Cost of Programs

I have not watched or followed any of the debates.  Is anyone saying to the others that this or that program costs too much and we can't afford it?  I recall that a few months ago a few were saying that to some others about specific programs.  Is that still the case?

Senate Primary - Don Bolduc

My son tells me that a mutual friend, who served with candidate  Don Bolduc at CENTCOM, recommends him in the strongest terms.  "If I still lived in NH, I'd be working for his campaign.  You should go volunteer for him."  This from a lawyer who works many hours a week and has not previously worked on a political campaign. I respect this person's opinion greatly.  When he used to live here, he was informative at the occasional beer night.

Bolduc is a retired Brigadier General and is running to face off against Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the general. I'd love to see someone defeat Shaheen, who is a cipher, an automatic Democrat vote for whatever she is told to do.  She has survived on the basis of excellent constituent service and New Hampshire going purple.

In related news, my son took his daughters, 12 and 8, to hear Andrew Yang today.  He found him natural and personable in a very non-politician way.  I have not paid much attention, but he seems like a decent individual whose ideas I disagree with. He made jokes about his Asian upbringing which some of the Caucasians in the crowd stiffened at, but the other Asians laughed. His big thing is Universal Basic Income, which I think untenable but have to acknowledge even Milton Friedman said good things about.  Yang says that it works in Alaska.  Maybe, but I have heard some negatives as well from my Alaskan son. 

Yang's slogan is MATH, Make America Think Harder, which I think is great spin.

Capitulating to the Culture

I don't dislike liberalism as much as people think I do.  I do dislike an idea which is near to it.  Whether it lies behind it or is derivative from it I can't fully say.  I can see arguments on both sides of which is horse and which is cart. In its hopes for relieving of suffering, and of wanting life to be as equal as possible for as many as possible, liberalism is a good thing, and its proponents usually have at least some good motives for wanting to put its programs in place. Their initial legislative efforts often had good results, picking off the low-hanging fruit of what had been going wrong in abuse of employees, unequal application of justice, racism, pollution, and many other areas where society has fallen short. When they go back to the well with further legislation, and what the role of conservatism has been in solving these problems is a separate discussion.

But I believe popular culture is dangerous to one's faith.  My first Christian teacher was CS Lewis, and he hammers this point home in a dozen places. That the adoption of causes is dangerous to the faith is explicit in The Screwtape Letters, in its section about "Christianity and..." The danger of a local or professional culture is the point of "The Inner Ring" and That Hideous Strength. In stressing the eternal over the temporary, it is a theme of Mere Christianity and oddly, The Abolition of Man. "The Weight of Glory" and "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" teaches it, and one hardly needs to even read "Willing Slaves of the Welfare State" to see where that one is going. Other essays in God in the Dock and Of Other Worlds bear on it as well. Lewis was very conscious of how the culture one is immersed in, and the people one associates with and admires have a great, even profound influence on what we believe. He wrote to counteract that influence, as he saw it as severely undermining faith and all good thought.

I was a young man who was deeply influenced by the culture around me, enough to be its prisoner, and the shafts went home for me while reading him.  There is a method of disdaining the dominant popular culture by simply switching over to a more exclusive one.  You know, the popular culture of the intellectuals, or the forward-thinking, or of those who had cast off the shackles of their parents' culture. The cool kids, though we call it by another name when we are older. I worshiped at that shrine as I graduated from college.  I remain grateful to Lewis to this day for receiving that lesson at the proper time. I have had an ability to recognise at fifty meters the deliciousness of being One of the Special Ones ever since.

There are immediate dangers in even the rejection as well.  We cannot land nowhere, and if we cannot have good philosophy and ideas we will have bad.  We will have art, music, and literature, and we are capable of leaving the arms of one mistress for another. There are Christians who fetishise being separate from The World, and that may be a greater danger, as we now add self-righteousness to our snobbery. There was a Christian school years ago (I have heard) which set its February vacation to a different week than the rest of the state, despite the inconvenience this caused to its own teachers and students.  When challenged, they would quote Romans 12:2 "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." KJV, of course. Yet I have found it easier to resist the fads of evangelical culture, once I had seen the curtain drawn back on the other. I do find myself patting myself on the back about it still.  Constant vigilance.

It is not merely that we will have some bad ideas hanging around in our heads and distract ourselves from the things of God.  Lewis believed that if we go down that road, we will eventually be willing to abandon anything in the faith. We might hold to a church or some customs, and tell ourselves we are not diminished, but we will be kidding ourselves.  Much of the Christian church has already ceased to attend to clear expectations for sex, marriage, and divorce.  Theology has not driven the change in practice. The desire to change practice has driven the theology.  We just don't believe those things anymore.  Not really. One of the pastors at Ben's church has mentioned that late in his career, he is becoming more involved in politics.  I thought immediately "This will be the greatest threat to your faith in your lifetime."  I say this because I have seen it.  Heck, I've done it. He is getting involved at the local level, with the schools and with the police, so it may not go so badly.  The grand ideas and sweep of events on the national and international level may be more of a snare.

Lewis was not anti-government, BTW, as is clear from much of Perelandra and the Narnian Chronicles. He liked monarchy and admired democracy, but was very sensitive to how quickly it could all go wrong.

I lean more against liberalism because it owns so much of the popular culture.  This may seem an odd thing to say with Donald Trump as president, but he is more a culture warrior for a non-liberal tribe of the popular culture than he is an intellectual conservative.  (He is very good at that, and that is very useful to conservatives, which is why they like him.) Many popular movies have conservative themes, but even children's movies now reliably contain a liberal suggestion or ten, and the movies for the Discerning Viewer are liberal.  Fiction, even genre fiction, is now politically instructive.  Popular musicians and TV personalities preach liberalism and take up its causes. Academics and journalists have their own popular cultures, which they are happy to believe are separate from the masses, and thus enlightened. 

If you go and live among them you will become like them. You will give ground inexorably, and in the end you may even join them as the social pressure increases, because you will have put your treasure in the social realm and your heart will follow. You may end up denying the faith in truth, whatever Christian decoration you continue to sport.

Who Goes Nazi? from Harper's in August 1941 is a related  phenomenon. My own comments in 2011 might also be of interest, though they are less important.

Friday, February 07, 2020

For The Record

All reports are that the Democratic debate was in Manchester, NH. It was not.  It was at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, my town.  We have men's beer night at the pub in back of the cafe at St A's about half the time. The debate center was founded by a pal of mine who used to teach at St. A's, - likely still does - Dale Kuehne.

To be fair, the border with Manchester is about a hundred yards away,

No, of course I didn't go,  Don't be silly.


Remembering tonight how cars used to be - and it wasn't better, whatever nostalgia tells us.  I could never get my feet warm in the VW Beetle, nor could I defrost the windshield easily.  I recall breathing warm air on the glass to keep a small section of visibility open, and even holding my cigarette lighter against it to keep it from icing up. (What could go wrong, eh?) I only delayed the inevitable, of course.  I would have to pull over and scrape the windshield.  Pulling over during a snowstorm is interesting when you don't have visibility.

Headlights went out with more regularity.  I seldom see a padiddle anymore. IU recall that Volvo was just being show-offs when they put six digits on their odometer.  Like more than a few of their cars were ever going to make that! Now I'm not happy unless I hit 200k, though 170k is at least something.

Yeah, they don't build 'em like that anymore.  Thank goodness.

Thursday, February 06, 2020


I like Chris Sununu, as I liked his brother and father before him. It's nice to have politicians with a serious science background.  They generally can at least count.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

The Gospel of Nice - Update

I forgot to mention:  those Nice people can turn on you in a flash if they think you aren't being Nice.


Most of it is trick shots after the first third, which are not much my thing.  But the shot at 1:15 is quite amazing. I was never much good with a cue myself, having poor fine-motor skills.  Therefore not worth the time to practice enough to be even creditable.  Any of us could get to a decent game with hundreds of hours of practice, I suppose, but it's another one of those things where I'd have to work twice as hard to be half as good. Not worth the candle. I cared enough to do that for guitar years ago, but not many other things.


There are very clear numbers associating fatherlessness with increased crime and other pathologies, such as dropping out of school or early sexual experience.

Yet crime and dropping out have decreased in the society at large, even as fatherlessness in society has risen dramatically. Having a father who leaves or was never there seems to clearly be a bad indicator for an individual child. (Note: this is an association and could be genetic or environmental.) Yet the overall trend, even in fairly dramatic form, has not been able to override long-term improvement on those measures.  I wonder what is happening? I should look at the timetables for all of these and see if anything jumps out at me.  But first, I wondered whether any of you had already seen something on the matter.

If Christ Be Not Risen

1 Corinthians 15:14-19 

14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

Play out a little fantasy for me.  If we were to travel back in time, and learn by observation that much of the New Testament was inaccurate - that Jesus did not say half those things, and none of the disciples knew anything about Him walking on the water, but you could witness somehow from near the tomb that he had died and was risen again, there wouldn't be much problem about the rest.  We would adjust to the lack of good documentation, if we had the one fact of resurrection clear.

On the other hand, if we found that the events recorded by the gospel and epistle writers were remarkably true, even the difficult bits, but it appeared that there was no evidence for resurrection no matter where you looked, then our faith would be in ruins. 

That is my key answer to the fundamentalists.  You are looking in the wrong place; you are defending the wrong city.

Worship Space

I was in a different worship space than usual ten days ago, much larger. I had forgotten how this is a different experience, and influences one's thoughts.  I was much more conscious of that worship being connected to the world at large. I could sense that what was happening there touched the sky.
Whether one puts that in terms of evangelism or going out and changing the world, doing good works, it is still different from being in a smaller space, where one's thoughts tend much more to the family effect, and the unity with the other worshipers. Instead of touching the sky, it is touching the heart. "Go ye into all the world," versus "This is my commandment, that you love one another." Both are commands directly from Jesus.  They are not incompatible, but they require different visions, and worship architecture does not easily suggest both.  Larger churches often do have smaller chapels, though my impression is that they are not used much.

Older spaces give one a sense of generations, "hand to shoulder, in an unbroken line" as Bob Bennett's communion hymn says. I used to think of those who had gone before more frequently when I was Lutheran, going up to the rail for communion. A newer space brings your thoughts to the future, I think, and what shall be built after.

The Methodist church I was at in West Houston had a communion rail, though they may regard it more as a prayer rail, in a large rectangle in front of the staged area. I like rails to kneel at in church.  Yes, one can use them to show off how pious one is I suppose, but for me it is more a statement of humility: I am a man who needs prayer and a touch of God.  I admit this before all of you.

The foyer was enormous, which gave me an uncomfortable feeling.  The statement seems to be "how great this building is." It seems pompous, and wasted space.
Perhaps that is just an overread from a New England culture which would not have this.  It is certainly a useful space for people to meet and talk to many others without have to noise up the worship space.  Some of us still get quieter in sanctuaries, though not as much as what I grew up with.  Even in a very non-liturgical Congregational church in the 1960's, one lowered one's voice to a murmur if one spoke at all, even mid-week when one entered the sanctuary.  It was a little shocking to be a freshman in highschool joining the adult choir, who spoke out loudly, even across distance in the sanctuary on Wednesday nights.  Or some did, at any rate.  Maybe that was just the basses, always a difficult lot.

The general hugeness quiets us. Even nonbelievers go quiet in respect touring a cathedral.


I am reading Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men, and liking it.  According to the author, the traditional - though non-biblical - explanation that they were Persian soothsayers is drawn mostly from later legends, yet has persisted because there has not been that much research, many scholars believing that the whole thing is ahistorical from the start anyway. Longnecker suggests that Nabateans, who were nearer, related to and intermingled with the Jews, and wealthy enough to send people on such errands, are a likelier crew.

As with the misunderstanding about the stable, the problem grew up because the center of the Church rapidly moved west after Pentecost, and local knowledge was lost.  The key Nabatean city was Petra, which is to the south. But the territory of the Nabateans was generally east of Jerusalem, and Jews of the day would have thought of them as a people from the east. However, once you were writing stories and making mosaics in Asia Minor, you would look only due east, however far you had to cast your net, to find Magi.  As there was a soothsayer caste called Magi, which waxed and waned in influence but was identifiable as associated with Persia, one would look to them as the easy explanation, even though they were moribund in the time of Christ.

I'd like to hear another side to the argument, certainly.  Such theories spring up and are then shot down all the time.  But at the moment I am using it as my tentative explanation.

Bitterly Divided

I have thought, based on nothing but conventional wisdom, that both conservatives and liberals were making frequent reference to the nation being bitterly divided.  It occurred to me two weeks ago that this might only be coming from one side, and my observations since that time - a limited sample set, to be sure - would confirm that it is liberals who keep saying this.  I should refine that further and say that it is liberal media members saying it.  I have not heard liberal politicians make reference to it, only writers for websites and on-air journalists at the networks. People on all sides do speak about how wrong they think those on the other side are, and how opposed they are to them, implying a divide.  Yet the general idea of "those people are making this terrible disunity worse" does not seem even-up.

I have to believe there are at least some who use that in their arguments from Fox News, or Town Hall, or PJ Media or whatever, but I have not seen that. The most likely answer is that they use a different phrasing or a somewhat-related concept that I am not picking up, because sometimes I get these great ideas that don't pan out.  But still...

Do you think it is true?  Have you got any data? If true, what does it mean?

Culture Change Because of the Internet

In 1990, if I used a fact or told a story, I knew exactly where I got it from - which book, which conversation, which magazine (remember magazines?), even years later. I recall reading back then that this had been found to be more common in men than women. I can no longer do this nearly as well. My suspicion is that getting information off the internet involves switching from place to place so much that memory regards that information as less important, and it gets lost in the scramble.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Gospel of Nice

Update:  Typo fixed.

I have a friend from beer night, who I have long attended church with, who is pursuing a Master's in Spiritual Formation now that he is retired.  He made a comment that put me in mind of many things I have read over the years. He may work on refining the concept and phrasing now that he knows I'm going to write it, but I'm sure the sense of it will come through.
If you don't have a spiritual life and foundation, you can end up being a nice person for a long time without having a transformed life.
I consider the Gospel of Nice to be the main threat to the church of our time. It is related to CS Lewis's First and Second Things. Ultimately, it comes from the mouth of Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." If we seek righteousness we will find ourselves becoming nicer people, even when we have stern things to say.  If we seek mere niceness - the whole array of identity politics, the soft-pedaling of hard truths - then we will get neither.  The Gospel of Nice is more of a false God for liberals - all those nice Scandinavians and Brits whose Lutheran and Anglican churches have become progressive meeting halls, with liturgy - but traditionalists have false gods of their own. Traditionalists put fighting the culture war first, liberals put social justice first.  It is not that either stops worshiping or addressing God, but that each increasingly believes this is what God wants us to focus on, and gradually, imperceptibly, it becomes their definition of God. They believe they have held the faith because they still worship, not noticing that the object of their worship has shifted.

All of us protest that this is not so, because we can still find times in our lives that are focused on God the Everlasting with no reference to political or cultural considerations.  Our Sunday mornings mention no politics and little culture directly, but the denominational publications, the conferences, and most especially the denominational colleges are awash with it. We merely mean that a person can still cry out from the belly of the whale.

Reaching For the Old Phrase

Ah!  That's it.  "Couldn't organise a two-car funeral."

Presidential Elections

I have mentioned that I am listening to the history of US Presidential Elections, all 58 of them, entitled "Wicked Game."  I just finished listening to 1860, relieved to finally hit one where I knew much (though not all) of the relevant information. Since 1828 it has been a tough slog, filled with names I did not know and important bits I had gforgotten, or never knew.

They are about 40 minutes apiece, but the election of 1836 came in at 60+ minutes. At the end, I still couldn't tell what had happened.  History is messy, and our shorthand versions are usually somewhat misleading. But I will say that slavery dominated the discussion of every election throughout the first half of the 19th C.  The statement I read recently holds true: You first learn that the Civil War was about slavery.  Then, as you get some education, you learn that it was about the Port of New Orleans, and tariffs, and states' rights, preserving the union from exterior pressures and attack, immigration, and agricultural versus manufacturing interests and a dozen other things.  Then, when you have learned a  great deal more, you find that it was about slavery after all. That, and the natural inclination everyone feels to defend their territory from rule by outsiders (even if they are completely wrong). I think that is about true. 


I will let you know my vote and my reasoning before the NH Primaries. At the moment, there is some review.  I regret several of my votes in previous primaries.  Arthur Blessitt was perhaps the worst.  I was brand-new Jesus people at that point, living in community with five (or seven, depending on the day) other young men. I went into full conspiracy mode at how the system was rigged against Christians in that primary, as the results from my precinct showed only 12 votes for Blessitt, and we knew we could identify at least 15 by name! It seems more like a chapter in a book I read than reality at this point.  That I was thoroughly devoted to CS Lewis, had a fiancee who was in a less-crazy Catholic charismatic prayer group, and both of us together attracted moderately sane friends helped me pull free from the quicksand.

I don't remember all of them.  I think I voted for Gore in the 1988 Democratic primary, when I still clung to the idea of conservative Democrats, and he had not yet discovered global warming.  (That was what we called it in those days, children.) I had voted for Reagan in 1984, largely because of abortion views of Democrats, but still felt he was reckless and all this free-market stuff was going to blow up in our faces. Yet I had been underground in politics since about 1972, first because of the William and Mary bubble, then because of focusing largely on religious issues, not politics and not really paying that much attention.

In 1992 Buchanan launched a counter-Bush campaign that did very well in NH.  Even then, I didn't see that Pat was necessarily all that popular, even here in a state very sympathetic to his isolationist, anti-Washington stance. People voted for him because they wanted to send a message to President Bush, not so much because of the war, but because of taxes. So how'd that work out?  It encouraged Perot and we got Clinton.  This lesson has stayed with me. Sending a message is a loser's game.  The message is never heard - how could it be, really? If they read there is negative feeling in the party, they all interpret that wrongly. It only weakens your eventual candidate and your party.  The only valid  "message" to send is "I think this other person would be a better president than you."

Yet I have wavered on this in every election since. I have settled uneasily into this stance: If you must use your vote to send a message, confine that to the primary, and do not just sit home and pout in the general. There is no "message" in that except - hey, now you've got Obama for eight years you stupid son-of-a-bitch.  Aren't you proud of your sacred vote that you wouldn't sully with contact with McCain or Romney?

Your right to vote is sacred.  Your actual vote is just a cheap, tentative 51-49 affair. We don't think of it that way, for a reason similar to my recent "Voting As Participation" post. We want to feel we are associated with a noble cause.  That never happens.  Keeping an even worse SOB (or DOB) out of office is usually the best you can manage. And that's fine! You deserve a warm feeling for keeping them out of the White House.  Other countries fail at this repeatedly.  This has what has propelled the republic forward pretty consistently since Washington's second election.

My wife is taking the stance that she will vote in the Democratic primary in hopes of securing a good candidate in both parties.  I won't tell you who she is considering, but they are all second-tier.  I think that is reasonable and respectable.  I may still go that way myself.  I don't mind saying if I go that route I will be looking at Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang, who are not evil, even if they are badly wrong. But I will not be trying to send a message to anyone in either party.