Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Rag Doll

They had me wondering "Wait, could this actually be an 18th C song that the Four Seasons updated?" There's nothing in the lyrics that eliminates it, after all.

Of course no.  They are just having fun with a song with a song they like and showing they could have been that sort of band in the 60s and 70s if they had wanted to.

Foreign Adoption

 We adopted two boys from a Romanian orphanage in 2001.  Both their parents were still alive, and amazingly had to sign off on the adoption for it to take place.  The mother had left the family and the father had dropped our two at a state orphanage two years later.  Yes, one of those institutions you saw on 20/20 at the time.  The Mouth of Hell. 

That the New York Times, that bastion of modern American responsible journalism, with a reputation that persists to this day engages in this destructive slyness is personally offensive.

Baseball history fans know that the New York teams got more press, entered the national mythology, and put players into the Hall of Fame because they were in the biggest market, could outbid other teams, and had sportswriters who became prominent more from audience than talent.  The same has happened with the NYT.  They had a bigger audience, and could pay more reporters. Because of this, they developed the idea that they knew more and were smarter. They were New York.  You were St Louis, or Denver, or Boise. They are the expensive assisted living home of journalism, pretending that none of their residents forgets their meds or wears Depends; carried along on their inherited money and their parents' reputations.


We had a commenter years ago who I deduced was from around Laconia, NH. I have a few residents of Belknap County that used to visit here, and perhaps still do. Let me know if you run into him.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Anecdote on Penrose

I had nearly forgotten this offhand comment from two decades ago by a psychiatrist friend trained in England who had practiced most often in Canada before coming to my hospital late in his career. A brilliant and wise man, BTW. Penrose had come up in conversation with regards to some discovery in physics and my older friend noted with a twinkle "His father was smarter, you know. His mother, too. I studied under Lionel at University College in London." I had forgotten this until looking up something about Penrose and his deism related to that last post. My friend may well have been right, and Roger's deism may be related to his Quaker upbringing.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Is Mathematics Invented or Discovered?

 It's a series, with some very bright people discussing the issue.  The few I have listened to have a pretty good ability to explain it in a way I can understand.  This one was fun.

Sunday, October 18, 2020


We had a sermon on perspective this morning.  The text was Jesus taking the coin and explaining to the Pharisees "Give to Caesar what is his.  Give to God what is His." The intent is consonant with many other statements of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, that nothing in this world can compare to that life.  Give to Caesar what he wants.  You can easily afford it.  It matters little in the context of giving your life to God.

It is possible to slide into the opposite interpretation, that we should regard worldly commitments as important obligations, so long as we check a few boxes on the religious side.  You may say that no one has ever offered that interpretation, to which I say "Correct.  Not out loud, they haven't." Yet many believers over the centuries have done just that.  Make sure you get to Mass, and insist your subjects do too. Get those kids baptised. Donate money for buildings. Check that box "Christian" on the forms and identify yourself that way to pollsters.

We are in the midst of turmoil, yet much of our lives will not much change.  Historians try to look at both change and continuity in an era. If Trump is elected, we will have more continuity than if Biden is elected, because we know something of what we are getting with Trump.  We have seen him be president.  But there will still be changes, because we do not see what is coming.  No one saw a pandemic coming. We can now assert that once the international flights were allowed to leave Wuhan we - and everyone else in the world - were in for big changes of once sort or another. 

If Biden is elected, there will be changes.  Yet there will be much that is unchanged as well. Outside events will strike us either way over the next four years, and may be bigger drivers than who happens to be president at the moment.  There may be a dozen pivotal moments over the next four years, and we don't know how they will break.

Either way, much of our lives will be the same, and our spiritual call will be the same. 

Notes on presidents changing.  When going into a second term, the opposition party always warns that the if we give a president a second term, their true partisan radicalism will go full force.  All bets will be off.  They will have no restraint.  I think I have heard this warning about every president running for a second term in my lifetime.  I don't think it has been true.  Johnson was deeply partisan around the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying "We'll have those n-'s voting Democrat for 200 years!" But as Vietnam worsened and riots worsened, he very much became the president of the whole country and saw his responsibilities that way.  I don't say his decisions were necessarily better or worse, only that his attitude changed.  Most presidents change in that manner.  Not all, I don't think, though I will not comment here on who those are.

I think Trump has changed. He remains combative, argumentative, yet I think he is much more aware of being president of all Americans at present than he was 3.5 years ago. Certainly, his CoVid statements have come across that way.  Does that make a president's decisions better?  We feel like it should, but I don't know. The more common pattern, back at least a century and a half - no, I think it goes all the way back; Adams and especially Jefferson slowly became less partisan after being elected - is for a president to double down on his core ideas, but broaden considerably in who he thinks he is talking to. Not all presidents have fit that.


A rule I learned from watching agencies in human services applies universally, I think: Whoever controls a scarce resource will eventually become a tyrannical jerk about it. It is human nature, not any especial evil, but it has evil effects.

Twitter, Facebook.

Transition to Farming In Europe

Just a conceptual framework here. 

Just so you know going in, whenever reading up on the topic.  There are ritual incantations by all the sources that depend entirely on PC money - National Geographic, Smithsonian - that must be made whenever discussing European genetics.  They must recite that there are no pure European races dating back endlessly with continuous presence until the present day.  Nay, nay.  Nazis, thought that, and you don't want to be like them.  Lots of other people thought so, too, and they were also racist.  All of your recent European ancestors were likely racist, and good people don't even come close to thinking like that anymore. Once you understand that this is part of their common religion and they have to say this at the opening of every academic exercise (sort of like everyone saying the Pledge of Allegiance at town meeting, or singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events) it becomes more endurable.  It is comforting to them, making the appropriate obeisance before proceeding.  Because it's a new religion, they are still working things out. They see heretics everywhere.

Then they go on to explain to you that until very recently, the major sources for European genetics do come from three waves which stabilised thousands of years ago.  But don't get any idea that this means anything.  Those were really, really different groups, you know, and there were groups within groups, like Celtic and Slavic tribes both being Indo-European, and groups within those groups. So no one is pure. Got that, you potentially fascist reader?

The first group in were hunter-gatherers 45,000 years ago. Unsurprising, as there was nothing but h-g's at that point, no farmers anywhere. They outcompeted but did interbreed some with Neandertals, possibly because they were meaner, or maybe smarter. Glaciers came and went and areas were depopulated and repopulated. Who they were has been murky, but we are starting to get some initial narrative. It's complicated, but a group we call European Hunter-Gatherers, especially West Hunter Gatherers (WHG) became the temporary Indigenous Peoples of their day. Europeans still have lots of that ancestry, as you can note from the Distribution maps of European Admixture I linked to a couple of days ago. 

Y-chromosomes tend to record major turnover events, where the males of one group seriously outcompete the males of another enough to establish that lineage.  So massacres and genocides are there, but so is multicentury 1%-per-generation dominance.  Sometimes the females (and children) were massacred, but more often they were taken as wives, concubines, or slaves, so there was not a complete turnover. Yet because Y-haplogroups are only a single ancestral line and exclusively on the sex chromosome, one gets a more complete picture from the autosomal - that is, all the other chromosomes - DNA. 

So here come the Early European Farmers (EEF) out of the eastern Mediterranean about 8,000 y/a, with all their fancy wheat and barley, gradually overwhelming the WHG's, starting in Turkey and the Balkans. They came further by two routes, up the Danube through central Europe (what we now call the LBK - or Linear Band Keramik culture) and an Atlantic route up as far as France and eventually Britain and Ireland (eventually the Atlantic Megalithic Culture). It took over a thousand years for them to converge and have to compete with each other rather than only the locals, but this eventually happened in northern France. 

All that as background.  Here is what I really wanted to tell you.

The EEF's and WHG's coexisted for centuries, even millennia. They weren't competing for the same land and resources, and may not have interacted much. The did interbreed, but not so very much given the time span.  The h-g's liked swampy areas abundant with fish and waterfowl, the farmers needed loess soil for crops. The latter did not spread evenly and gradually across the landscape, but in hops to new highly-fertile areas. They would not be numerous upon arrival and would pick spots not much used by the current inhabitants. Their population would grow only gradually at first, and when they figured out maximal exploitation of each niche (likely a lot of trial-and-error) the explosive population growth could not easily be managed once they had taken up all the good land in the area. We think they did expand their settlements somewhat, but mostly, they headed up the coast or up the river a couple of hundred miles until they found another highly fertile spot. Whatever hunter-gatherers there were could be avoided. 

There would be competition for fresh water, and areas for grazing reindeer or aurochs would have some similarity to areas good for domesticated animals. There was violence and direct competition. But more usually, they didn't want each other's lives.  Hunter gatherers persisted for millennia, though driven into progressively less-desirable land. Each took a few tricks from the other over time - the farmers had good pottery, which the h-g's traded for and imitated; simpler hunting and fishing techniques might have to be resorted to in hard times. Even now, commercial fishing is a kind of hunting-gathering strategy, just more sophisticated, and hunting to at least supplement foodstuffs was not only sport but survival for some until recently. But they largely stuck to their ancestral cultural strategies. 

There have been arguments in anthropology for decades about whether the ideas of crops and domestication spread or the farmers themselves spread, but that has been largely resolved. In the "pots versus people" dispute, it's both, but mostly the people. A little interbreeding, a little borrowing, a lot of climate and resource variation where one strategy is better than the other for years or even decades, and you get a hybrid culture. But this is never complete, as fishermen still fish and shepherds still herd even now. In Europe, the EEF's eventually came to dominate. There were indeed descended from Aegean farmers (Greece, Turkey) much more than from locals. People don't say to themselves "well, the reindeer catch was bad these last two years, I think I'll give this farming thing a whirl. Where can I get land?"

The cultures hybridised enough to build Stonehenge and the like, just in time for the third wave to come in and push them around. Y-haplogroups R1a and R1b. 

Any number of possible pictures to illustrate, but this is good; This would be the endpoint of the period I have just written about, before the Yamnaya really get untracked taking over Europe. From this article.

(I am hitting "publish" in haste, heading out the door for church.  If you find typos or incomplete sentences - or parts that are not clear - let me know in the comments.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sir Reepicheep and the Green Knight

 I don't know how I missed the reference, but in Lewis's 2nd Chronicle of Narnia, Prince Caspian, the valiant mouse Reepicheep loses his tail in the Second Battle of Beruna and believes this is a severe humiliation for a mouse.  His followers are so devoted to him that they are determined to cut off their own tails rather than exceed their leader in honor.  This display of affection so moves Aslan that he relents and restores Reepicheep's tail, despite his worry that it will encourage pridefulness.

This is an echo of the Knights of the Round Table after Gawain's return from his adventure with the Green Knight.  Because Gawain did not show entire honesty in his dealings with the knight, disguising that he had received a green sash from his wife on the third day of temptation, the greatest of Arthur's knights (for so he was until the French go ahold of the story) deeply feels the humiliation of this and vows to wear the sash as a mark of his dishonor until the end of his days.  The other knights regard his honor and piety as far exceeding that of other men, however.  He did refrain from having sex with a magical temptress for three successive days, after all, slipping only in the final moment by accepting a gift from her and not telling her husband about it.  They thought this was a pretty good innings, and resolved to wear a green sash for the rest of their days as well. 

We still see this from time to time these days, when the boys in an elementary school class will all get their heads shaved in solidarity with a classmate who is undergoing chemo and has lost all his hair.  I tear up whenever I read about such things.

Resisting sexual temptation seems to be one of the top few signs of piety in the Arthurian tales as they have come down to us.  As this does not figure prominently in the earliest stories of him, we can again blame the French for their excessive sexual focus once again.  OTOH, it might be fairer to give them credit for saying aloud what was likely well-known to the Welsh, Britons, and Bretons beforehand but not mentioned. Monty Python was not the first to highlight this temptation.  They were drawing on a well-established tradition. Heck, even I made reference to it in my Arthurian opera in 1971, before the movie came out.

Parody usually cuts to the heart, even when inverting the point. They certainly did here.


Sadd Colors

The orangey-brown you see on the leaves now is a puritan color.  We call it russet. It was then called "Philly Mort," a corruption of the French feuille morte.* They preferred the restrained, subdued hues called sadd colors, which those who have read Albion's Seed may remember. Puritan hats were black. Black was otherwise considered a bit pretentious, or at least over-formal.  Clerics adopted it as time went on, reflecting their increased self-regard. But for everyday, the colors which occurred in nature were considered acceptable, though even a few of those were suspect.

Consider, for example, the dull magenta which Harvard calls "crimson," and the dull blue and gray of Yale, or the dark Dartmouth green.  And of course Brown has the color...brown. The colleges and universities in other parts of the country have more exciting colors. Here, it is rust, puce, tawny, forest green, and other somber shades.

Those are the old New England colors you could still find until after WWII.  Immediately afterwards, all those gaudy golf/Bar Harbor/LL Bean colors suddenly became the mark of the moneyed, salt-water elite. I don't know why, but I suspect that the universality of the dull colors even among the poor here created a counter-reaction of adoption of shades that had heretofore been favored by the gaudy urban and ethnic poor.  Just a guess on my part.  But you will remember the preppy look of the 70s and 80s which tended toward pink and bright green. Or lemony yellows, Nantucket Red, and all the rest. 

*There is a minority opinion that philly mort was an even duller, gray-brown color, but I am following the decisions of Plimoth Plantation on this.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Great Site

While researching my Early European Farmers post that is coming up, I came across a tremendous one-stop-shopping site with great graphics for the genetic history of Europe.  Enjoy, while I do my other stuff.

Kids These Days


The 80's girl-groups all ran together for me back then, as I had children to watch and no TV. Popular culture was something one stumbled upon.  It is a great lesson, really, of how much of it will find you even if you have no set connection to it. I can tell them apart better now.* I prefer The Bangles, but this came up inexplicably in the sidebar and I watched it for the first time. Fun enough.

*Actually, I guess not.  Looking around for what else they did, I had them confused with the Go-Go's.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


It is an odd thing, that people frequently mention something I have said forty days or forty years ago that has stuck with them and shaped their thinking on the subject.  This is gratifying, certainly.  However, it is unusual for me to persuade anyone of anything, to change their mind.  I attribute the former to some strength of reasoning, observation, or phrasing, and the latter to some deficit of personality.  

I do know that it is unusual for anyone to change their minds on anything, and that this likely influences my perception.  Still, there it is.

Sumus quod sumus.


We made a reservation in December for Williamsburg for our reunion.  We called a month ago to cancel.  The B&B has billed us and notified us today that we could check in early if we desired.  I called to complain and they informed us that we could only cancel via Expedia, where we had made the reservation.  It would have been nice to mention that a month ago when I called.

Just so that the rest of you are alert to this.

Priestesses In The Church

C. S. Lewis was quite against the ordination of women to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, the C of E, 70 years ago. Yet not for the reasons you might expect. Not entirely, at any rate.  He may be wrong, but at least not in the way prejudice would immediately accuse.

When I am away from Lewis I drift into disagreeing with him in such matters as merely a product of his era.  I do recognise that I am also a product of my era, but generally wave that off with the claim that I have already accounted for that.  A return to Lewis's actual arguments reveals there remain claims I have not successfully answered and put to rest.

William Bryk

 He likes running for office, including US Senate and US Congress, sometimes taking advantage of the loophole that one does not have to reside in a place until the election.  Presumably, if it looked like he was going to win in Idaho or Alaska, he would have moved there just in time.   He retired from NYC to Antrim, NH in 2016 and runs for offices here now. (Antrim is a small community on the edge of the most-populous county in the state.) These days he occasionally wins something. 

His appearance will not surprise you.

He was editor of his college newspaper and student body president in 1977, so he has been at this a long time. I didn't see any point to student governments when I was in school, and I don't see any point now.  It seems a form of "playing government." Now that I think of it, it is more a form of "practicing running for office." I think they do mostly go into politics, or at least government.

This does not seem like "The New Hampshire Way."  I will not be voting for the man.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Chaucer's Near-Execution

Geoffrey Chaucer was nearly executed by the Merciless Parliament in 1388.  That parliament met from December 1387-June of 1388.  In April and May dozens of Richard II’s friends and advisors were executed by the Lords Appellant who were trying to both take over rulership and revenge themselves for some of Richard’s actions against their estates and trying to make peace with the French, of all things.  Chaucer had been a member of the previous parliament in 1386, the Wonderful Parliament.  He had been nominated because he was a Justice of the Peace from Kent, a position given him by Richard II, in an attempt to stack the Parliament with those sympathetic to the beleaguered king. Chaucer's wife likely died in 1387, and Geoffrey disappears from the record for a bit. He was not appointed to other office until 1389, when John of Gaunt returned and the political pendulum swung the other way. So he was out of politics for about a year and a half, and it was during that time a great many of his friends and fellow-supporters of Richard were executed. 

He was an important member of the courts of Edward III and Richard II, and was especially close with John of Gaunt. He was sidelined at just the right time, it seems.

About those executions.  This is one more example of how their lives were different than ours, and we should not pretend that we understand what their lives were like nor comment on their decisions and actions without putting in a fair bit of thought.  Executing a bunch of your political opponents in your own country, including family members, was not terribly unusual. Internal violence in Western Society has greatly reduced over tha last seven centuries, as we have discussed before.  What we think of as normal life, the way everyone lives, the default position of society, is nowhere near universal even today, and fairly rare in history. As a side note, it brings fear to my heart when people tolerating violence in our society do not understand this.  Civilisation is a fragile thing. I don't think they get that.

Alex Smith

Okay, the guy with the hideous injury that I have never desired to watch on "NFL-Disgusting Moments," the guy who almost died from the complications and the 17 surgeries, played for the Washington Redskins this Sunday. Six sacks.  He's going to need more protection than that.


It seems almost unfair, like the one-legged footballer in Tom Stoppard's "After Magritte" 

Thelma: For some reason, my mind keeps returning to that one-legged footballer we passed in the car...What position do you suppose he plays? What guts he must have! I mean, what fantastic pluck! What never-say-die spirit, you know what I mean?  Bloody unfair on the rest of the team, mind you - you'd think the decent thing would be to hang up his boot.
or Westley in "The Princess Bride."
It's unfair to have to compete against them actually. 

Someone should do a takeoff video of Alex Smith in the Westley role here.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Cultural Appropriation

I have been saying for a couple of years at least that the phrase "cultural appropriation" is only a method whereby (usually white) people can show off that they know ever so much more about a culture than you do.  Oh no, real Thai food doesn't use that sort of rice.  This is a degradation of their culture. We should protest food services to the dean.

They keep proving me right.

It always reminds me of this:

Post 7300 - Romantic Cars

Restored cars have a sense of adventure about them, don't they?  One looks at an early Ford or even a Studebaker and remembers reading articles about cross-country trips in the 30s with great trunks attached to the backs.  Or a VW Microbus! Yeah, that's the ticket. Take a few friends. Driver, take me to my childhood...Let me go on such an adventure.  I know that owning such cars is a serious time and money drain, as they are tough to repair.  But c'mon, one trip?  Get it all spiffed up and ready, everything checked and changed, and take it on a goodly trip.  Maybe not across the country, but Route 1 from Maine to Florida?  Or Route 3, Route 5. The Boston Post Road, The National Road, The Old Carolina Road. Should be a hoot.

Anyway, I always think that when I see those cars riding efficiently along on a sunny weekend. Someday. Someday.  I saw a great one last weekend, a yellow VW Bug, looked like a '68 with vanity plates. I looked wistfully in the rearview mirror as it passed. Who would I take with me on this trip?  I'd never talk my wife into it.

I saw that great VW again later in the day.  On the back of a Jerr-Dan tow truck. So I'm cured for now.

Foliage Revisited

 I had given up on it for the year after our trip north ten days ago revealed denuded trees and not much excitement.  The drought has done it in, only isolated trees, Jasper, nothing to see here, move along.  Yet we did keep seeing good trees, sometimes in clusters. Including, um, our own yard. I took my old route home from work this afternoon, and a lot of foliage looked great, whole long sections of it. Bsking's childhood home has a magnificent maple that this year looks...magnificent.  Does it vary by species, or by micro-environment differences?  The Red Maples near our house look fine, the Norway Maples have barely even started to change. When I see a bare maple, maybe I should pull over and check the fallen leaves to see what kind it is. There is occasionally a maple of particular intensity, scarlet with just a hint of yellow that gives almost a glowing, hot pink effect under certain conditions.  I saw two of those today, in a year where they're supposed to be dull and disappointing.

Overall, still not a good year.  But those who made reservations a year ago for Columbus Day weekend's foliage shouldn't be too disappointed if they are in Southern NH. There's no rule that says you have to get your hotel in exactly the right peak spot.  You'll be driving around anyway.

Revisiting a Dusty Thought

Some office at my highschool, perhaps the newspaper, had a poster “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I remember it without the first two words of the quote, A foolish consistency, and believe the error was on the poster, not in my memory.  But I have written before about memory and I may have misread it at the time or later changed the memory. I recall also that it was attributed to some historical name of some repute, a triple, like Henry David Thoreau or Oliver Wendell Holmes, which I promptly forgot.

I disliked it immediately.  If the qualification of a foolish consistency had been there I might have been have been more generous, but my initial reaction was Here is someone who has been caught out in a contradiction or hypocrisy and is trying to weasel out of it by insult. I was already growing fussy in my OCD fashion about imprecision of thought and delighting in taking down the supposed experts.

All this has remained unchanged over the years, the quote occasionally heard, then stored again in its unnoticed corner of an unused room, associated with some guy from the 19th or even late 18th Century – three names, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Evasive thinking. Nothing ever caused it to jump out and require examination.  Had I ever thought that it was by a Christian or Jewish writer, or by a woman, or a military figure it would have prompted at least fifteen seconds of reconsideration in light of the new information. It seemed of a piece with Walt Whitman’s “Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” I had acquired some understanding that the intent of both was to advocate for intellectual courage, to not be bound by what one said yesterday if one had new understanding today. Where I got this, I don’t know.  It certainly was not from any research or concerted thought on my part.  It must have crept in from bits of context over the decades. And still, the dominant thought was What, are ALL these 19th C guys defending this lack of rigor, this careless disregard?

The interviewee in the Great Books podcast about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”, Brenda Wineapple, brought me up a bit short with her reminder of the exact quote – the sort of precision that gets my attention. It is good to have something like such podcasts as a straightforward corrective to the loose information we carry around in our heads.  I got it hammered in that the quote was Emerson’s and heard the full quote, likely for the first time.   

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. 

Emerson believed that truth might display only unevenly and in contradictions, like a vessel tacking into the wind to make its course.  There is a great deal that is wise and good about the statement when taken in this context, and congenial to the thought of those who recognize that paradox is sometimes the closest we can get to meaning about difficult things.  We all have the divine in us, he thought, and might see one thing today and another tomorrow, both true, as we proceeded on our journey to understanding.  A nice enough thought, and comfortable in our time, however radical it was in his.

It may suffer more from narcissism, as anyone who believes in the "divine in all" must necessarily believe in the divine in oneself. I have long noticed that many – not all – such believers are easily affronted by suggestions that a particular idea of theirs might not be a closer approach to the divine. Emerson was accused in his day of an excessive confidence in his own thinking, and too high a self-regard, but that may not be entirely just.  The ideas themselves bothered people yet he stood by them, which may have led to the charges. He asserted that any common man also had this divinity, and it was a foundation of his strong abolitionist beliefs. On the other, other hand, the characteristic of intellectuals of the era ran strongly to being full of oneself and one's ideas while romantising the common folk, and if Emerson stood out among that group...

Whether he was able to follow through with this regard in practice I don’t know.  He does seem to have thought his circle was rather special, and some comments indicate he thought some were much farther along on the perfectability scale than others. Believers of all sorts think there are some who have got their lessons down better than others, I observe, and this is especially true of smaller movements.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

And It Reminded Me of This

Art In Place

 James's comment about the half-a-tree reminded me of a local landmark.

Half a Tree

 You can now buy half a Christmas tree. Not the Bee asks:  Genius or Abomination? I'm leaning abomination.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

ANOTHER World Record

It has been an amazing year. Lowering a record by 6 seconds is amazing. Though as I mentioned before, having stunning pacers and the colored lights at your feet marking the pace is a big assist. As an illustration of area dominance, the top 500 times ever in this race are by runners from the Great African Rift or a first-generation descendant. The exception is the American Galen Rupp, who still competes and has a half-dozen of those best times.  24th-best is his highest. No one else anywhere.

People will still tell you it's that high-altitude training, though the descendants who live at sea level somehow still manage to be world class. None from the Andes or Himalayas or Rockies or even the Tatras.


I sniff in contempt myself running across an article about a "true insider's" drink, Fernet-Branca. These wink-wink, nod-nod stories are irritating, aimed at posers.  As I read them occasionally myself, I have to wonder what this says about me. Occasional poser? I recall one years ago about how a man who was in the know ordered a Cuba Libre with some special qualification, perhaps the type of rum, so that the bartender would Know this was one cool dude.  He considered himself suitably rewarded when the bartender made his rum-and-coke and a touch of lime very carefully, giving him an impressed nod when serving it. No, it's just a rum-and-coke with some lime.  Though if you really like rum-and-coke but don't like the sidelong glances you get ordering it, you now have a method of disguising it.

That's a very smart bartender, recognising when he can free up considerable tip money with little effort.  The poser seemed not to understand that this is what bartenders do for a living.

So the reference to a liqueur that is "The Bartender's Handshake," given in recognition to other bartenders as a sign of hail-fellow-well-met amused me greatly. Oh, really? I did get the hook caught in my cheek when I saw the ingredient "gentian root," though.  That is a primary ingredient of Moxie, a cult favorite in New England despised by most but treasured by a few.  Including me.  I'm not entirely sure why.  I didn't like it as a child, but got irritated as a dad when my sodas all got quickly scooped by others in the family when we went camping, so picked something that they wouldn't like. That worked for a year, maybe two.  My two oldest, perhaps desperate for any soda after theirs were gone, developed a taste for it and are now members of the Moxie Congress. Gentian root is the usual culprit for Moxie-hating, but I don't hate it, I'm quite fond of it.  The description mentioned that there are other flavorful herbs involved.  I should have read the fine print.

The NH Liquor outlets do have some, scattered about the state, but I wasn't going to plunk down over $30 for a bottle of something that risky.  After all, I've already established that I don't digest even Drambuie all that well and have to go cautiously. There were some half-bottles on closeout sale, but only in Colebrook, on the Canadian border.  Two stores, one in Lakes Region and one on the coast, had miniatures for a few bucks.  My daughter-in-law agreed to pick one up on her way to visit her parents in Jackson.  I asked her to get two.

There's still one on the counter, a couple of week's later.  The stuff is vile.  It is in the true medicinal tradition of the old herbal liqueurs, where they threw in whatever flowers and roots that grew in their valley in Italy, or France, or Germany. In this case it's got aloe, which I believe is now used as a medicine only externally. Also myrrh, and angelica, from a plant the Sami people use for food, medicine, and to make a musical instrument. 

It is extremely rare for me to pour good food or drink down the sink, so I did gradually sip my way through the 2 oz bottle over the course of 48 hours. I am hoping that a friend occurs to me who might like this, but none so far. I have plenty of friends who are adventurous enough to try it, but that's not the same thing.

Jimmy Webb

I have broken down and started asking Alexa to play things.  It is convenient. Yesterday I asked her to play Glen Campbell.  I think I was hoping that "Wichita Lineman" would come up early.  This came up.  I had never heard it before.

I knew immediately it was written by Jimmy Webb. I loved Jimmy Webb when I was young and wanted to be a songwriter myself. After hearing "Macarthur Park" I bought and listened to A Tramp Shining repeatedly. The songs and lyrics were already a bit overlush and Richard Harris doubled down on that to hyperpoignancy, but at 14, that was exactly what I was looking for. Yet there was also the artistry with lyrics I admired and wanted to emulate.

I shall straighten my bent sceptre
And pretend I could have kept her.

Or rhyming "adios" with "grandiose."

Webb was a Baptist preacher's son, moving from Oklahoma to California in childhood, and remaining. He was something of an autodidact, both as a pianist and in literature, exposing himself to complicated things.  I had assumed he must be something of a sci-fi fan because of his song title "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress."

Robert Heinlein, was a kind of early mentor of mine. I started reading his books when I was eight years old. ... I guess I was really getting more of my education out of science-fiction than out of public school. I was reading Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and learning a great deal about the patois of the language itself and how these words were being used to create emotions. I was learning this from writers without even knowing it. ... "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was one of the best titles I've ever heard in my life. I really am guilty of appropriating something from another writer. In this case I had contact with Robert A. Heinlein's attorneys. I said, 'I want to write a song with the title, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Can you ask Mr. Heinlein if it's okay with him?' They called me back and he said he had no objection to it. 

 Except the song is poignant and romantic about the moon being cold.  Nothing to do with the book.

I still sang "Didn't We?" in my solo set until halfway through college.  Apparently that was a good pick, as Frank Sinatra was singing it in concert those years as well.  I never knew, being anti-Frank in those years. It was Webb's influence that had me attempting this sort of rhyming and cadence in my own songs.  In musical theater one could find such things in Cole Porter or Gilbert & Sullivan, but nearly always comic, or at least light. Trying to get away with "For your love's assiduity, denotes promiscuity" might have a chance in a comic piece, but for the sad Lancelot-saying-farewell song I was banging out it was fairly far over-the-top.

Webb may have had this problem himself.  He shows some resentment here at Campbell brightening his songs which were intended to be darker.


Yet I think Webb has it wrong here, perhaps underestimating his own lyrical artistry.  I never thought "Galveston" was a merely wistful, patriotic "Gee, I miss Texas" song.  When the line "I am so afraid of dying" comes I expected it.  When Webb sings it, as above, I don't like it nearly as well.  That weight was detectable in Campbell's version, but becomes a burden, almost maudlin in Webb's.  In fairness, I may not be the usual audience here.  Everyone else may have heard it as he feared.  Webb's own renderings and performances were never as popular as others singing his stuff.  (Tom Paxton had the same problem.)

Poking around to research this I see that Jimmy Webb is playing about an hour from here at  The Bull Run, in Shirley, MA in March. The historic inn was built in 1740, and my ancestor, Civil War veteran Joel C Neat is buried nearby. Interestingly, I saw my dad perform in The Fantasticks there (he played Mortimer brilliantly) decades ago, shortly after I reestablished contact with him as I hit adulthood. I've never been again.  It's a dinner club arrangement and I am considering it. 

Friday, October 09, 2020

Where Your Treasure Goes - Obverse

 Matthew 6:21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Even those of us who know the verse still respond as if only the inverse were true, that we give our treasure to where our heart inclines.  That latter is certainly true, but Jesus is teaching the interesting principle that if we give something, or commit something, our heart is much more likely to follow.  This is why salespeople or charities or organisations try to get you to commit any small thing - even a smile or a nod can be a down payment. 

Churches want to make sure that all is grace and no one is left out for inability to pay - but teachers of adult Sunday School notice that people are more likely to do the homework and participate if they have paid for the book than if you give it for free.  We grow more attached to something if we have bought it rather than received it. There are all sorts of applications - if college students male and female are set across a table from each other and included in their chitchat, are required to confess one secret or slight embarrassment, the find they like each other and have a higher probability for going on a date after than if that requirement is left out.

I wonder about the obverse (I admit I may not be using that word properly here), that if we criticise something or participate in its criticism we are more likely to keep on disliking it. It is not that different from the original principle.  We have invested something of ourselves in the criticism, and our heart goes and stays there.  It would be a bit of a wrench to say "Oh, I was wrong about it, or her, or them." The cost is higher for some than others, but for all of us, we have put treasure in a place and our heart follows it.

I think there is something even stronger, though this is an impression.  I cannot think of any data, nor would I quite know what to look for, other than self-reports.  Once we have made fun of something, we are even more likely to keep on hating it.  It is very difficult to return from that. I did make fun of individual people when I was younger, not usually openly unless it was clearly with affection (and even that can go bad). For a longer period I made fun of groups - including some I now belong to. I don't think I do that much anymore - though there may be an entire sector of mockeries I still engage in, oblivious to any proper self-observation. As near as I can tell, criticisms are easier to repent of than mockings.  Not that those repentings are harder to accomplish once recognised, but that they are harder to see to begin with. When we have derived some emotional gain from expressing ourselves, that source of pleasure protects itself in our brain, heading off threats long before we become aware of them 

This would suggest that if we are habitual scoffers it begins to take over our character, and we become increasingly unable to give up our favorite targets. It has a CS Lewis feel to it, though I can't think of an example of it offhand. I suppose the section in The Great Divorce in which a woman is described who has grumbled so long that there is no longer any self grumbling, but merely a Grumble going on endlessly of its own accord is a bit like it.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Structure of History Influences Content

 I have been listening to British History Podcasts. Two of them take an approach I liked at first but have grown tired of. They are clearly Monty Python influenced, mocking and quite cynical about any supposed good motive than anyone would have had for doing anything. Both gave Alfred the Great considerable credit for his rulership, but it was grudging, and the legacy of his son and grandson, and even at least one of his great-grandsons, Edgar the Peaceful was retold with a fair bit of snark at every possible turn. Not many monarchs can claim such a legacy of decent descendants, but the podcasters seemed intent on pointing out the possible ill motives of all of them for any actions. With Alfred and his descendants that takes an enormous skepticism, as they seemed to have a good run at being decent rulers, in an age long before our Better Angels even started in the 13th C and every tribe was in constant danger of being attacked by neighbors. 

 No one in the church ever did anything from good motive, they always had something to gain. No trade agreement was ever for the good of the country, no alliance was ever built on hope for the nation, no mercy was ever extended for Christian reasons. It is a very 20th C view, with roots extending back to the 19th C and perhaps to Voltaire, to be forever among the wise who can see through all those others. It shows no sign of relenting in the 21st C. To make their histories come alive, they try to give a modern twist to events "It's the equivalent of the queen shacing up with the pool boy." It's largely projecting our understandings back onto the lives of others. In an effort to make them understandable to us, they completely misunderstand them. Their was a world of violence unimaginable to us, where physical cruelty was normal. Heck, that's true of the early part of the 20th C (and many places in the world still), extended back in history worse and worse in every era. 

Their ideas of honor were different than ours, not hypocritical versions of what we think of as honorable now. Their sexual morality bears some relation to ours but is not identical, neither to the 21st C moderns or traditionalists. The concept of individual rights we think of as automatic was unknown to them. We think we would never have put up with what people did then, but of course we would. Snark assumes enormously that the current values of the speaker are the "real" values of human beings. We complain about the 1619 Project and other modern extremities, but they are simply the latest in a long line. Rejecting Founding Fathers because they had views which we now dislike is not multicultural, but unicultural. 

All that to introduce an idea on the presentation of history. When we try and teach history chronologically, we cannot help but do this. Teaching history as kings, dates, and battles steers us powerfully in the direction of imposing our understandings on them. This was true in earlier eras, when our grandparents imposed their ideas on history when passing it along to us, and it is true now. The podcasters, in teaching history in solely chronological fashion, fall naturally into imposing their 21st C snark and cuteness on the past. It is not absolutely necessary, as people do seem able to break out and give us something different from time to time. But when we go from one Mercian or Kentish ruler's battles and marriages and alliances to the next as if that is history, we find ourselves trying to explain something two centuries later and having to go "Oh yes. The economy of the peasants was quite different now. Let me explain." Or "Somewhere in here it became possible for Anglo-Saxon women to own property in their own right, which doesn't seem to have been the case in AD 750. Or maybe it was, but there's no record." Those things matter rather more in understanding history than knowing the succession in Northumberland. 

There are other ways of imposing our views on history, certainly, some of them quite common in the modern academy, such as insisting that everything be viewed through the eyes of race, or women, or class. Those are often worse, because there is little historical or archaeological data, leaving the historian free to impose his assumptions. That is not my topic here now, and seldom is. Others more qualified attack that question. I am actually giving credit to the professional historians here, as there are less likely to get bogged down in that unrelenting chronology that the podcasters fall into. The ironic part is that though these podcasters are quite liberal and modern in their sensibilities, not falling for any of this church or patriotism stuff and insisting that they are going to be quite radical by including women in their reporting of history, as if that idea only occured to people last Wednesday. And then they don't of course, not very much, because they were too busy chronicling Aethelsomething and his brothers who had this "Game of Thrones" relationship. And detailed accounts of battles. Other than the longbow and Agincourt, they don't much notice changes in weaponry and tactics either. 

You will do better understanding history if you come at your topic from the side. David Symons, one of the primary researchers on the Staffordshire Hoard (magnificent stuff - you could lose a couple of hours just looking at it) was very open about how re-enactors had helped the Birmingham Museum understand many of the pieces. Much of the craftsmanship is intricate, using techniques now forgotten. But those who make replica merchandise for whatever the British equivalent of a Renn Fair is were able to reverse engineer some of it, and explain how bits worked, and collaborated nicely with the professionals. Not surprisingly, the craftsmen also drew inspiration from what they were seeing and started working on ways to accomplish methods that had been lost. The re-enactors didn't come to learn kings and battles that much, except as a steppingstone to understanding the culture. 

Similarly, I have learned more social and cultural history of the British Isles from the History of English podcast, which focusses on the development of the language. To explain that, a fair bit of kings 'n battles history has to come in, but keeping those secondary results in more understanding of the lives of the people. Never forget the peasants. The changes are slow and a bit tedious, but they are where real history is. Admittedly, their costumes are nowhere near as cool. 

I will mention again Patrick Wyman's Tides of History, a professional historian who went a bit rogue in order to teach history the way he likes it. He is currently doing prehistory, but his previous effort on the Middle Ages went on for over a hundred episodes. It's not just kings, but shipbuilding, banking, women's roles, disease, marriage customs, banking, and technology. 

So pick the topic you like and research the era in terms of that. For me it has been language and religious ideas. You might prefer to understand cloth, or women and guilds, or early firearms, or musical instruments. But if you study that, you will find that the other pieces all come in on their own, including any number of kings and battles. My wife is not the only person who started her historical knowledge founded on romances, mysteries, and long series of historical fiction. Eventually you know very clearly who Maude and Stephen were and what the argument was about.

Patronage and the Sciences

When we talk about bias in the sciences, we often contrast the hard and soft sciences, with education research being at one extreme and math or physics at the other. While it is true that ideological bias is much stronger in the social sciences, there is another factor that bends research: who pays for it. Even in the soft sciences this is enormous, though it is obscured by the fact that the people controlling the purse strings largely share broad political agreement. Yet it is not pats on the back that people work for as much as a paycheck, and even within this framework there are schools of thought or approaches to a field that are not obviously political. Noam Chomsky was brutal toward those who did not accept his overall framing of Transformational/Universal Grammar, but it was not related to his politics. Both groups tended to be pretty liberal. His attitude toward opposition was the same in politics and linguistics, but that only meant he was always that way. 

I am told – please correct me James – that there was a time when String Theory ate up a disproportionate share of physics research, and folks with different theories had to scramble. Nothing of cultural or political bias in that that I can see, but it was still there. You can call baseball statisticians conservatives because they relied on hard data instead of feelings or call them liberals because they were the new kids in the 1980s pushing the traditionalists aside, but either way there was opposition and fighting over funding. 

Research is sometimes discredited because of who has paid for it. That is partly fair. It certainly helps to know who has footed the bill for bringing in a speaker, or whose house this cocktail party is at. Suspicion is fair. But it is not invalidation. People who fund research may hope for a certain result. They may even be deceitful by suppressing some results while highlighting others. But funding research occurs because people want to get the word out on something they are pretty sure is true, and they try to hire the people with the best credibility to do it. The researchers may be irreproachable. 

It reminds me of patronage in the arts in previous centuries. Artists were hired to paint the portrait of a nobleman or merchant, with a pretty clear understanding they were supposed to make them look good.

The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele, by Jan van Eyk, c. 1434. It's a great painting anyway, isn't it?

I didn't put this out with any specific research, art, or advocacy in mind that I want to rescue from being rejected out of hand. Neither Exxon nor Monsanto nor the Iranian government has paid me anything to remind you of this fact.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020


 I listened to a podcast recently about churches needing to accept people who are asking questions, and not come off as unwelcoming, or unwilling to come alongside them.  Even great saints experience doubt, and people in hard places may need support more than even implied criticism.

All entirely true, and I can steer you to churches that don't like questions if you want to see one in action. But there are opposite or divergent truths about churches as well, and these also deserve some attention.  Some churches love questions but don't like answers.  I should say, they don't like religious answers.  Those usually love political and cultural answers. I wrote about this in 2006 when I scoffed at an Episcopalian's assertion that the defining attribute about them is Doubt. Yet when I looked into it, I had to admit he was largely correct, and I was Hoist on my Own Petard. Not only the UU's and Episcopalians, but the mainstream denominations now increasingly shy away from religious answers.  I don't think it is accidental that they are simultaneously embracing political views of stricter or looser wokeness, but that is a different topic.  I see a connection, but that may be an overread on my part.

I am reminded of the bishop in CS Lewis's The Great Divorce who could not accept the idea that in heaven there would no longer be free inquiry into the nature of God.  He wanted to lead discussions in heaven about such things. The person sent to discuss at the very borders his possible repentance and entry into paradise tried to explain that there is no further need to discuss the nature of wetness when one is immersed in water. (He allows there may be further subtleties enjoyed by the wet folks as they seek to understand more deeply, but not that the quality of wetness is anymore up for debate.  Everyone knows what it is there.) The bishop would have none of it, and returned to Hell, humming a hymn. 

Roman Catholics have loved questions for centuries.  They also seem to like answers. It seems about right. My own denomination, formed from a fusion of Lutherans and Pietists, has tried to hew closely to the practice of allowing considerable difference in interpretation of many doctrines, so long as core doctrines are retained.

There is secondly the question of whether these are honest questions are not.  I think most religious questions start out as honest ones.  I believe this both from theory and from practice. Sometimes the questions derive from intellectual objections, sometimes they stem from tragedy or unfairness coming into their lives, sometimes they come from disillusionment with respected figures.  I don't know if I am much tolerant of the honest questions of young people at this point, but there was a time when I was, and gave cautionary advice even to their parents about letting doubt and questioning unfold. I had a minor reputation for it in our circles, likely exaggerated. 

This may no longer be true, because I have seen honest questions turn dishonest too many times.  If you want an answer, then seek an answer. Ambiguity can itself be an honest landing point.  There are things I believe are paradoxes, or elusive, or not easily definable.  The works of GK Chesterton, and Elie Wiesel's Souls on Fire were greatly liberating in this way, though my introduction to the possibility through Tolkien and Lewis likely set me up for understanding this. But if you are still asking the same questions ten years later and are asking everyone else to listen attentively, I have to wonder if you are serious.

That could be badly wrong.  Perhaps questions and doubts have to incubate in their own time, and I am just not of sufficient character to be patient.  

Summary: Yes, churches should be willing to walk alongside those with honest questions (though Jesus was pretty harsh with Nicodemus, come to think of it). Yet what if the churches themselves are avoiding answers for their own reasons?  And what are we to do with dishonest questions?