Saturday, October 31, 2020

Time Travel and Fruit of the Spirit

 James has an interesting speculation what knowledge of the future would do to character and spiritual growth.  Seems like a considerable loss.

De Toqueville On Cancel Culture

 Rather prophetic.

Princes had, so to speak, materialized violence; the democratic republics of today have made violence as entirely intellectual as the human will that it wants to constrain. Under the absolute government of one man, despotism, to reach the soul, crudely struck the body; and the soul, escaping from these blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics, tyranny does not proceed in this way; it leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul. The master no longer says: You will think like me or die; he says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your goods, everything remains with you; but from this day on you are a stranger among us. You will keep your privileges as a citizen, but they will become useless to you. If you aspire to be the choice of your fellow citizens, they will not choose you, and if you ask only for their esteem, they will still pretend to refuse it to you. You will remain among men, but you will lose your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellows, they will flee from you like an impure being. And those who believe in your innocence, even they will [419] abandon you, for people would flee from them in turn. Go in peace; I spare your life, but I leave you a life worse than death. (Democracy In America Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 7, “Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects,)

Negative Voting - Again

 I have written about negative voting in the past, with approval. There is a long and honored tradition of such in America, and likely everywhere else.  On local races, I usually am actually positive about some candidates, but the farther up the line we go in importance, the more likely I am to view the race in terms of "who do I want to keep out?" The last, and perhaps only time I voted for someone in a presidential election was John Anderson in 1980, and I now think I was wrong. I voted for Bush 41 in 1992 and Bush 43 in 2004 with at least partial positives. The rest were more strongly motivated by keeping someone out. Yet even I fall into the trap of thinking that I have to have strong positives about who I vote for.

In the lead up to the 2016 election I wrote a series on why your vote doesn't matter, but you should do it anyway. The typos I note upon rereading I have not fixed.  The world didn't end last time I left them in and is unlikely to this time.

Voting I - Short Introduction, with good comments

Voting IIA
Your vote is almost invisible and your influence negligible.

Voting IIB- Bad Reasons.  You will make your choices for bad reasons. A long post, and you have to like this research into motives stuff.  You might want to click on it experimentally but be ready to bail if it's not your thing. Unfortunately, it's well into that post that the "reason for voting anyway" occurs. It does have music, though.  There's that.

Summary: The reason to vote is that making that decision is a window into your current thinking and current biases.  As your biases are going to matter more than your reasons, it's good to look at them rather than going on fooling yourself that you are being rational.

In my search through my archives I also found The Voting Dead, concerned that the deceased are being deprived of their traditional votes. Also AVI interviews old Yankee Eb Jenkins about voting requirements, which I still like.

I note from the comments of a lot of posting in the run-up last time that people were concerned that Trump was going to enrich himself from the presidency (Granite Dad), or that he would have access to the nuclear suitcase and could blow us all up (PJ O'Rourke, quoted by my neighbor Earl). I was worried that he would take his thin-skinned nature international and get us into even more wars because someone offended him. (I believe we were up to seven wars at that point.) Those things not only did not turn out to be true, their opposites are closer. I also thought we were on the verge of an economic tumble no matter who was elected and worried that our foreign policy situation was unusually bad going into 2017 - again, whoever was elected.  I was wrong there, too. (Reading your old stuff can be humbling.)

Friday, October 30, 2020

CoVid Link by Lyman Stone

I have linked to his unwelcome information before. This thread is the newest information. I don't bother to discuss the issue much anymore, because people have made up their minds and are not accepting contrary information. There are many issues, including "What are the best safety measures?" "What lockdown measures are voluntary and which imposed by the government?" "Did any of them help or did they just destroy people's lives?" "Were many results inevitable no matter what we did?" and "Is herd immunity just about to happen, especially if we push it along? Why is that taking so long?"  

Those are difficult enough.  But everyone is easily distracted to other issues that are infuriating. "Were the initial estimates accurate?" As there were umpty-leven initial estimates, which ones do you mean?  I know!  Why not cherry pick the ones that make your argument look better and keep focusing on how someone on the other political side is stupid!  That'll work. People try to compare apples and oranges in terms of countries.  Canadians are big on this, even though Ontario and especially Quebec - geographically the places that might have been America and contain a large percentage of the population - are roughly like American states in their numbers, and the great empty stretches of Canada are like the great empty stretches of everywhere else.  Conservatives make excuses for Sweden's high numbers because they want them to be right, and liberals deplore Sweden's high numbers, even though they are quite low now, because they want them to be wrong.

A reminder again that much of our lockdown behavior is voluntary, of businesses that feared exposing their employees or their customers to disease, and no government made them do it.

Except perhaps an early spike in deaths related to untreated diabetes there are not more deaths from  the shutdown than from CoVid, including suicide and homicide.  there are claims that abuse has increased, but thus far all I have seen is anecdote.  I don't know what the proper tradeoff is, deaths of elderly people versus jobs for younger people, but it is important that we operate from real numbers, not pretend ones. 

Carnegie Mellon has some data showing at least some value to mask wearing.  Pretty good correlation, but you can make the slope steep or shallow as you like.

Going To War in Previous Eras

I read a quote from over two decades ago from a younger person, seemed like about college age, about what a shame it was in medieval times that people didn't realise what a waste of money war was. She stated confidently that if some group had just refused to go to war and put all that money into making things for the people like roads and bridges they would have prospered so greatly that they would outcompete all their neighbors quickly, "and maybe the others would catch on and everyone would do that."  We can all see that the young woman could just as easily have come from 1965 or 1985 or our own era. There was a variation of it when discussing going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, that if we just built roads and schools for them instead they would be more likely to be friendly.  In that case, the fact that we had built schools and roads and were building more was quite clearly not general knowledge.

There is a huge amount taken for granted about how optional wars are. America is one of the powerful ones, so our wars have some element of optionality about them, and in a few places in history there have been other entities that had the same freedom. On the other side of that equation are the clear aggressors in history who could have decided not to invade their neighbors.  Unfortunately, that is not always easy to see.  The jostling, claims, and counterclaims were continuous, and those who did not invade were likely to be invaded. 

If you were Aquitaine or Wales or Lombardy there was no choice that said "we're going to put everything into trade and inventing stuff because wars are so horrifically expensive." Nor is there an escape by claiming they could have just consented to be ruled by their neighbors, because even if the taxes were very heavy they would still come out ahead by not paying for war.  Those neighbors didn't come in and take over your government, leaving you to go on as before.  They sold you as slaves, because slaves were one of the most valuable commodities, and every nation had people who could be sold. There were those in Britain who thought becoming part of the Roman Empire in the time of Julius Caesar might not be a bad idea, and the Romans were big on planting the idea in many places that there were lots of advantages (so just surrender, please.  Sign here.) When it became clear that the cost of that was going to be taking lots of slaves and people being switched from growing food for themselves and local trade to extractive technologies and export goods, 'most everyone changed their minds. 

This is not news to anyone here, but I take the time to write it because even we treat the idea with only mild impatience, something that looks reasonable at first but when one looks closer reveals itself to be unworkable.  We also take so much for granted in our peaceful ages with wealth far above subsistence and freedom to move where we like and work at what we will. To treat it lightly, as a mere bad idea, is almost as crazy. In those times, and in virtually every time and place where population density created competition for resources, the idea would have been immediately recognised as stark raving mad. Only in the 20th C did people have enough peace and prosperity that they could talk themselves into such foolishness.

If An Angel Came To Tea

We had an adult Sunday school class recently that used a Bible Project video about the Elohim as its starting point.  One theme which struck me was that they do not view the events of this world the way that we do.  It likely struck me mostly because I wrote a song on that theme over forty-five years ago when I was in college.  I referenced it ten years ago here, and reprint that below. 

It also fits with my recent thoughts on the spiritual dangers of popular culture, though here the idea is more that such things are extraneous or a distraction.  The song, and some others from the Grail opera, are still up over at Myspace Music, which still exists.  I either never had an account or more likely lost my sign in information, but it's right there on the list. I don't sing or listen to my own music very much.


Another from the Grail Opera. This song is Sir Gawain's, on the eve of his abandoning the quest. In the original design, the quest is described from four points of view, in descending order of spiritual rightness: Galahad, who (along with Sir Bors and Sir Percivale) achieves the Grail, takes communion from it administered by a Christ-figure; Lancelot, who is granted to see the Grail but not partake; Gawain, a plain and decent man with no especial Christian intensity; and Mordred, the villain who holds the quest in contempt and seeks Arthur's throne for his own. Very Once and Future King in its delineation.

I was more a seeker than a believer at the time I wrote this, but the writing of the opera was pivotal in my conversion. I think I might now switch Lancelot and Gawain in the ranking of spiritual fitness. But Galahad remains the one almost unearthly pure and devoted, his faith a rock against which others might dash themselves to destruction.

Gawain explains his decision to the young Percivale, who has grown close to.

Friend and band member Bill Whitman popped in on the night of recording to improvise a second guitar part. I believe he still makes a living in music somewhere near Memphis.

Find more artists like Dave Wyman at Myspace Music

The rumor's around that Sir Galahad
Is a prig, and not quite human
In his actions, reactions.
In answer to this I feel that I had
Better point out a mistake
The knights are showing, unknowing.

You expect him to reply like you
And comment that "The sky is blue
Today." I don't know why we do
For he's just not our kind.

If An Angel Came To Tea would you impress him
With the newest tune that's sung across the land?
Would you tell the local scandals to distress him?
No you couldn't, for he wouldn't understand.

Now Sir Galahad's an angel, or close to it;
The most perfect man in all of Arthur's land.
You demand he keep the common touch all through it
For you won't believe he's not a common man.

The Grail is for saints, I've said it before
And there's only three or four of us
That knew it - can do it.
So I'm going home I seek it no more
And may God forgive my lack
Of resolution, contribution.

It's a hard thing to admit you've lost,
Could not afford the final cost
To pay, and now by winter's frost
I'll be safely in my home.

I have followed my best hopes, but hope is dying.
It was futile, I can see that clearly now.
But I don't begrudge the time I spent in trying,
For just trying was impossible somehow.

So farewell to you, Sir Percy, good luck to you.
I have loved you as I would have loved a son.
I shall your give your best regards to those that knew you,
For your old life dies, your new life has begun.

For I don't believe
You'll be unchanged
And most men can't perceive
An angel - here.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Joan Rivers on Johnny Carson

My YouTube feed keeps showing Carson guests, with is self-reinforcing as I eventually find one to click on, inviting more of the same.  It is likely that it started with my searching for Jonathan Winters routines, as Carson had him on a lot.

This is interesting on another level, as much of the comedy just falls flat now.  Comedy is often tied to its moment and weakens rapidly thereafter.  Yet there were not only long strings of grins and chuckles, but a few moments where I laughed out loud, which I do often in conversation, but seldom when watching or listening to anyone these days. Modern comedy is geared much more to the smirk or chuckle than to the guffaw, a trend that has been gradual but consistent.  It accounts for the contrasting popularity of Borat, which is mostly offensive and unfunny, but so willing to try for the outrageous laugh that when it succeeds it is deeply refreshing.  Laughing until our sides hurt is no longer common.

There has been increasing talk over the decades about the death of comedy because of political correctness. I read a modern young cultural intellectual claim that this was always bemoaned in every generation and is simply not true.  He is so wise, so observant, and so entirely wrong.  The complaint may be  thirty-five years old but it is not forty-five years old, and the drumbeat has increased throughout my lifetime. The world will have to change considerably before the guffaw comes back as anything but a a 2-minute occasional. Even the chuckle has changed, as much of comedy is now "you agree with me, don't you, those people are stupid," without much effort to build to a punchline so much as just keep up a steady stream of reassurance to the audience that those other people are ridiculous.

This is also part of why the older comedy falls flat for us.  It was more punchline-centered, so when it doesn't work, 30-90 seconds of the routine is just lost.  British humor used to be characterised by the ridiculous situation that went on to increasing laughter but often did not build to a climax and just limped along at the end. Still quite funny, just different. Yet both British and American humor seems to have met at an unsuccessful middle at this point, with the weaknesses but not the virtues of either style.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bad Money Drives Out Good

It is frustrating to search for exact Tolkien quotes, as the movie quotes pop up far more frequently than the book originals. You have to dig down a bit to find what Tolkien wrote two generations ago. I often resort to gabbing my own copies and searching out the words by hand. The lesser commodity value is in wider circulation.

I wondered years ago if the LOTR movies would push out the reading of the books, as they are in a more easily-digestible form. What Peter Jackson produced visually was far superior to anything in my imagination.  (It is a notable weakness of my reading, likely at brain level, that I do not picture things well, and thus have little interest in books with much description. Just give me the general idea, thanks.) Yet he told a different story than Tolkien did. The original was much more focused on the ability of seemingly insignificant actors to do great things, while the movie - following the rules of its own art - had the camera on Aragorn and Gandalf much more. This was a matter of degree, not an entirety, to be sure, yet it does undermine the main point of the original more than a little.

The Lord of the Rings, book version, is no longer part of popular culture. It belongs to another era now, and I suspect most of its reading is rereading. The same is true for Lewis's Narnian chronicles. The few movies have cemented rather than prevented that. All of Lewis's writing now belongs to previous eras, more likely two generations previous than one. That both writers have enjoyed persistence is not quite the same thing, though I suppose one could reasonably claim they remained alive in a popular subculture until recently. Spiritually, a popular subculture is as dangerous as the popular culture or even more, as it has the potential to drag snobbery along with it. But for the more basic definition, "popular" has to track with actual popularity.

Nor is it a valid argument that they remain current because both can be read with profit today, as both authors would assure you with a chuckle. They were both nourished almost entirely on authors long dead and far removed, as invisible to their popular culture as to ours.

I think the same thing has happened with the children's classics with primarily female audiences. Does anyone read Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, or Little House in the Big Woods anymore? Were the movies and TV series a brief rescue or a final shove through the door from the present to the past? In the 1990s I know that such books were still being read, as they showed up in the voting for The Great Stone Face award, given in NH every year for most popular book. (Judy Blume, infuriatingly, won year after year.) In the 2020s they are likely still being bought and given to girls for their birthdays, yet I don't know there are actually many eyes on the page.

The One Ring

After hitting upon the idea last week, I have decided I like it even better: Popular Culture is the One Ring to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. I don't just mean our current popular culture, which observers of all sorts consider degraded and are happy to show you examples, but popular culture in all ages. It is a great temptation because it does provide many wonderful things, even conferring a sort of invisibility if you use it as protective coloration to not stand out as with Havel's Greengrocer in "The Power of the Powerless."

I think of Gandalf. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Fatal Wedding

Gussie Davis was an African-American composer of the late 19th C who made his living - opinions vary whether it was a fortune - in Tin Pan Alley in NYC. He had his own touring minstrel troupe and specialised in "tear-jerkers," as in this song. 


His song "Irene, Goodnight" is believed to be the inspiration for the song that Huddie Leadbetter learned from his uncles in the early 1900's (which he changed to suit his own tastes as well), though it is similar in only a few sections.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Second Retirement

I went in to work this morning and everything was upended.  Areas were quarantined, I was told to go to one other office, then a second, and always with the admonition to wash my hands before and after touching anything.  Surfaces are not a big deal in terms of infection, and the hospital knows this, but this had all the marks of "things have gone wrong and we have to do every 1% thing."  Through it all, no one could tell me who it was who had tested positive.  I had to start guessing from who they were talking to about contact tracing.  I was told I was not on the list, perhaps a touch dismissively, though I understand they want to get to the hot points first.

One advantage of social workers is that they are social workers, and my new office-mate figured out the whole story in about a half-hour by making a few calls.  It is a woman I shared an office with for a whole day last week, so I was concerned.  Indoor air exchange is the one giant risk factor.  To skip to the end, this woman's most probable exposure was a day or two after I had exchanged viruses with her for seven hours, so my risk is low.  Not zero, however, as the most likely exposure, to her friend who tested positive late last week, is not the definite exposure.  The hospital still could not inform me who the person was, because I fell outside the parameters of the contact tracing.  I get it.  No one did anything wrong.

But by lunchtime I had fully realised "This is going to happen again, sooner or later." I would be exposed and would not know until after.  I had gone back to the coverage job in April partly for myself and liking to be useful and making a little money, but mostly because the hospital needs it.  With the vacations and the maternity leaves, my department was hurting all summer and into fall. Well, now they are really hurting, with a lot of people sent home into quarantine this morning.  I feel bad leaving them in the lurch, but they can't really fix this for me and I don't need the money.  By noon I had decided I am finally leaving, the only question being whether I struggled through working a unit I don't like this week in order to close out at my favorite unit next week in a proper poetic close to my career.

I decided that was thinking emotionally rather than logically and my career now ends on a disjointed, awkward note.  Well, that's what real life is.  We like our narratives clean, but things seldom go according to script. So I finished up a few things I could rescue from the flames, wrote out my second resignation (the first was going from full-time to part-time in 2016), and said farewell to the few remaining people who were all that important to me. All very abrupt. I haven't had time to process this change in self-definition yet.  We'll see.


 Apparently Raul Castro has reached out to Joe Biden, concerned because he is not making public appearances. /s

Sunday, October 25, 2020


It's the new thing in classical music, in order to fight centuries of oppression.

Okay, Slate.  Now do athletes and entertainers. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Be Ye Glad

Another one I used to sing many years ago for Lutheran Sunday School. Written by Noel Paul Stookey.

Bunga Bunga

There is a new podcast out, Bunga Bunga.  I will not link to it.  I found it irritating and shallow, especially as I was interested in the topic. I had heard of Sylvio Berlusconi and that he was a corrupt Italian businessman who had become Prime Minister, but didn't know how much of this was biased European media disliking his politics and how much was real. 

It was nice, therefore to see a review at The Spectator of the podcast series and some discussion of the man himself and his context. It is short, and there is likely much more to say.  It also carries the requisite swipe at Donald Trump at the end, which is tiring. Nonetheless, I know a bit more than I did, and enough for now. 

Berlusconi was more of a crony capitalist than the neo-fascist of leftwing caricature. Few recall that the formative political relationship of his career was with Bettino Craxi, the socialist who led Italy in the mid-1980s. They were close, Craxi even godfather to Berlusconi’s children. Berlusconi backed the Craxi regime, characterized by unbelievable venality and, weirdly, pan-Arabism. Berlusconi inherited only one of those traits from his mentor: guess which?

Self-interest, not ideology, drove him. Becoming PM was a business decision. After acquiring Mondadori, Italy’s biggest publisher, and Publitalia, Italy’s biggest advertising firm, the next step was simply to acquire the government. Turns out that could be bought as easily as anything else in his portfolio. It allowed him to pass laws to stifle investigations into fraud, corruption, mafia links. He banned over-seventies from going to prison… then publicly celebrated his 70th birthday. You have to admire the cheek.

Drop Kick


Flutie and punter Rich Camarillo had also practiced a fake punt/20+-yard pass/turn and drop-kick for a field goal for use when only 3 points was needed late in the game but it was too far for a regular field goal, say between the 45 yard lines.  They worked on doing it with either passing or either kicking.

Preaching, Youth Ministry, and Culture

Update below.

A reader and occasional commenter sent along the short blog post The Woozle Effect, which includes Pooh, CS Lewis, and Chaucer all in a few paragraphs, so was much appreciated.  His point is that the church follows the culture after a short time lag, but ends up not being entirely distinguishable from it. Bsking mentioned a few years ago that she has liberal friends (acquaintances?) who don't see the point of going to church at all.  If one just wants to work for liberal causes, why not just go work for liberal causes? One can even find community there.

It is a repeated CS Lewis theme, and not only from Uncle Screwtape, with his admonitions to keep the patient immersed in the fashions of his own era (though disguising this by restricting it to the fashions of a particular set that he wants to be part of) but throughout God In The Dock, the longest of his books of essays. I now know how fortunate I was to have immersed myself in Lewis early in my Christian walk. I was especially vulnerable to this temptation to confuse the questions of the day with questions of eternity and he built a hedge around me. 

Preaching and popular Christian writing these days is peppered with references to popular culture, both current and the culture of the preacher's teen years. It does give the listeners a feeling of familiarity, of having come to a place where they are welcome and can understand what is going on. These are real people.  These are my people. That is not a small thing in helping those who are strangers to a church, or even The Church, get past the purely social anxieties of coming to a new place. Yet it is not accidental that The Babylon Bee does frequent send-ups of preachers, especially youth leaders making too many movie or popular music references. It can get away from you.

It is not only the slight ridiculousness of getting carried away with being what "Doonesbury" called "the hip young priest who can talk to the young," however. There is a subtler danger that one has to remain immersed in popular culture to keep making the references, and the culture will eventually own you. While considering this it occurred to me that there is an additional common practice which feeds this tendency: we put people fresh out of seminary into youth ministry.  While there are many advantages to that, it also teaches them that this is how ministry is done.  You have to stay in tune with what is happening right now, and show off your chops that you know it. That strikes me as terrible training for a young pastor. 

As Elrond noted at the Council in Rivendell, bemoaning the treachery of Saruman the White: "It is perilous to study too deeply in the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill."

The parallels between popular culture and the One Ring strikes me as good. It giveth and taketh away. It can grant invisibility. Those of better character may long resist its strength. Yet in the end it wants only to rule all others.

Update: The practice of putting seminarians and recent graduates in charge of youth ministry has another effect which looks good at the time, but I think is ultimately damaging.  It causes the kids in youth group and at church camp - and then, very obviously at denominational colleges - to think that this connection with popular culture is what the faith is. Reading the trends of environmentalism and pacifism and fighting oppression largely by yelling at other people and calling them names is synonymous with the faith for many who grew up in the church. 

This is a double-reverse for me.  I was irritated as a young adult by what I saw as a milk-and-water gospel that I observed at church camp and youth group when my first child started coming of age in these groups (and remembered from my own teen years). I thought directing resources to camps and youth groups as they were as an enormous waste of energy, largely because all the people I had shared those experiences with had mostly left the faith.  It was explained to me in the 90s that church camp was the one connection which kept young people involved in the church, and there were studies to show that. Without that, they had nothing. I accepted that at the time.  Until this morning, actually. I now wonder if that is an illusion.  Church camp, youth group, and denominational colleges may keep children connected to some imitation of the faith that their parents find acceptable, but ultimately inoculates them against the faith by transferring all the energy to cultural causes, countercultural* coolness, and a few songs held in common. It is a subtle deception-within-a-deception, as those who retain their faith into adulthood often remember those youth experiences fondly and have the impression they were necessary to keeping them in the faith.  But the growth of two of the three - youth groups and camps - actually coincides with young people leaving the faith.  They may not be the last hope.  They may be part of the problem.

If we didn't have those weak substitutes for instructing the young, after all, we would find something else.  The something else would have a low bar to be better than what has happened in the American church since 1960. Well, another thing I've spent a lot of money and time on that might have been useless, or even pernicious. 

*But not really.  These are actually very mainstream cultural experiences that advertise themselves as distinct from The World.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Life On Venus

You will be shocked to learn that the news reports may have been overblown.


False accusation is seldom mere competition or meanness.

The guilty accuse the innocent in order to justify themselves, or for  projection, or distraction.

Political Violence

 I observed decades ago, and reported in the first years of this blog, that there is a fundamental difference between conservative violence and liberal violence.  This is more apparent when one gets to look at the psychiatric cases, where the usual filters are off. The left goes on offense. The paranoid leftist fantasizes about going out and assassinating someone, or going and destroying some stronghold of what they think is oppressing the people. I have heard them say "I think about skinning George Bush alive," or being caught in a plan to blow up a federal courthouse.  As things progress, they may have developed a grudge against Ted Kennedy, who they used to work for but the campaign fired them, or against Hillary Clinton, who they just don't believe is responding properly to the 100 letters they have written her appealing for help. The press uses such dodges to pretend the person who showed up with a bomb-vest at Clinton headquarters was actually some sort of conservative, but this is just a dodge. Yet even those are exceptions.  Most stay true to form and want to set a housing development on fire because it harms the environment or break windows at a drive-by of Republican headquarters or a military recruitment center.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be defensive, and the psychotics show this clearly.  Their method is to hole up at their home, or sometimes with a bunch of associates, amassing a store of weapons and daring the ATF or the FBI or whoever to come and get them.  Sometimes this is strictly local, as in developing the fantasy that the Farmington police and/or Strafford County Sheriffs have covered up not just one murder of your (drug overdosed) nephew, but a whole string of murders. They put up threatening signs, and spout off everywhere, but they don't go out and try to pick off a bunch of liberals somewhere. 

Liberal projection causes them to overestimate conservative violence. They intuitively know that if they were this angry and talking about violence and collecting weapons, they would be going out and trying to hurt someone. Therefore, they think, the conservatives must be doing the same thing. This seems particularly frightening to liberals because the right is quite willing to talk about violence toward individuals.  Liberal violence has a general limiting factor in that it is directed against objects rather than people. Trashing businesses, setting cars on fire, throwing rocks through windows have been until recently the more frequent liberal actions.  Even the bomb vests are often not operative and the waved handguns not loaded.  Just trying to get your attention, see.

I worried years ago that the limiting factors seem to be eroding.  Left-wingers are increasingly shooting people [James Hodgkinson, who does not have a separate Wikipedia entry(!)], and right-wingers are increasingly going to other places to defend them or counter-protest. In the last year or two this seems to have accelerated on both sides, though I think the evidence is solid that the leftist focus on property is eroding much more quickly than the rightist focus on defensiveness.

Qualifiers: There is right-wing aggressiveness, persons going on offense, and this has always been so.  Most of this is misattributed, such as apolitical Dylann Roof, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Charles Whitman, etc, but sometimes it is real. Secondly, it isn't always easy to make a clear distinction between being defensive and going on offense.  Is reconnaissance one or the other? Is going downtown to protect your city defensive or aggressive? More likely the former, but it is clearly not the same as staying in your own house or neighborhood. I don't want to get into the weeds of figuring those things out, as it is the general trend that I am noting. Going downtown to protest and throwing rocks or setting fires is clearly aggressive, though once a group is established in a place their actions might thereafter be defensive. 

There is a lot of worry that there will be more violence after the election, with competing predictions whether it will be worse if Trump wins or Biden wins, with further discussion that it matters how the fairness of the election looks. I think further violence is likely, but I don't know that this is suddenly explosive.  We have had intermittent urban violence for decades, including when a sports team has won or lost a championship. There is some difference in that young white people are trying to take over the protests for political purposes more related to more thoroughgoing change in the American system, as contrasted to protests of anger with a focus on local changes that have been more common from black communities over the years. Interestingly, the latter has a somewhat defensive quality of protecting our neighborhood, protecting our people, even though the protests are aggressive.  I don't think you can define the radical white groups as anything but aggressive. 

The limitations are eroding.  The right is "going downtown" more in what they see as essentially defensive acts against protestors. But they aren't going to officials or opponents houses in a threatening manner, they aren't looking for random victims to shoot. The left is targeting human beings more, though much of the increase in danger to individuals comes from the collateral danger of setting fires or being in the way when they want to take over a spot.  More usually, as with Operation Wall Street or Bernie Bros going to Trump rallies, the left has been provocateurs trying to get others to become violent so they can play the victim.  They are very good at it.  Some of them train for it. At those points you will see that what they are saying and doing has nothing to do with any aims of the protest - no shouting disagreements with Trump or Wall Street or city hall - just provocative insult.

On the right , the increase is there but still in defensive mode. It has always been "I'm prepared in case anyone wants to start anything," which is aggressive if you say it some ways and defensive in others.  But nowadays I am hearing more of "It looks like we are going to have to..." or "I am telling my neighbors they need to be prepared as well."  Still essentially defensive, but not the same as just waiting for others to make a move.  People have general tactical ideas that position their impression whether they are attacking or defending.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


Accountability brings forth adulthood.

It is the only thing that produces adulthood.

Adulthood is an early way station on the way to wisdom. To credit the "wisdom of children," as I did when I was in college and had no clue, is to project and to overvalue candor. To those who would respond that Jesus said we should become as a little child, I submit that he was intentionally making an alarming statement to make people think. A great teaching technique.  Getting people to think, that is.  Becoming like children, not so much.

Fundamental Fairness, and Voting For Trump

There is a joke which is actually semi-serious advice among lawyers: 

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell”

It is first attributed in this form to the poet Carl Sandburg, but likely long predates him.

I have heard something similar argued about "fundamental fairness," that it is a doctrine that is argued by an attorney when she has nothing better to put forward for her client; a pleading that "Your honor, don't you think that this just seems more just?" That is an exaggeration, certainly.  Such appeals, in aggregate more than individually, are persuasive as culture changes, and have likely improved justice in the long run.  Just because it is often abused does not mean that there is nothing to it.  Wolves don't hide in wolves' clothing, I used to say.  What would be the point of that?  They hide in sheep's clothing because there is actual innocence in the world.

So it is a suspect approach, but not wholly without merit.  I have at least four attorneys who are regular readers, and they are free to correct me on the point. I will leapfrog in this discussion a bit, so if I seem to be suddenly veering off course, please understand. 

I have said for years that the most important consideration in the voting booth is Which of these candidates will be the better president/senator/mayor/county attorney over the next few years? I have strenuously argued at times that nothing else matters, and we should shove other considerations back from intruding on our choice. Yet I find that in the current election (teaser: keep reading) I am deviating from my own rule. I have been challenged recently and find in myself that another consideration is indeed intruding on my decision: Fundamental Fairness. Well, that's sad to admit, as I have already noted it's a bit sketchy.  

When Trump was elected, there were immediate fireworks about Investigations.  There were many things that Trump and his people clearly needed to be investigated for, mostly involving Russia.  That there were serious questions about Hillary Clinton's email and private server and the hacking of the DNC by the Russians were put aside.  Remember that Donald Trump himself, in this interest of national unity and not continuing a revenge cycle, very forcefully declined to have the DOJ investigate her.  After all, it looks bad for a country to be using the forces of government to investigate the political opposition.  It's the sort of thing that used to happen in Eastern Europe and Latin America, right?  Banana republic stuff. I still think he made the right choice, making the grand, showy magnanimous gesture. That's a Trumpian move.

Fat lot of good it did him, though.

We now know there was no reciprocation.  Obama insisted Trump's campaign was not spied on, but it was, and he knew it.  He also knew since July (and it seems that Biden was at least in the room) that Trump and his campaign were under investigation by the FBI for possible Russian interference, and seemingly no one said "Wait, this looks very bad.  Shouldn't we be extra careful that all this is done according to the highest possible standards?" It has taken years to sort out, largely because Michael Flynn got a new lawyer.  She isn't trying to save American democracy, she is working for a specific client, but it is worth noting that most of this would never have come out, and the whole thing buried if she had not been hired. Just enough freed-up info to highlight that Mueller had done a terrible job and hadn't even paid much attention to the report, which allowed Barr to put Dunham on the investigatory trail. (Yes, it's more complicated than that, but that is a strong link.)

We now have a new scandal arising, following a similar pattern of denial and accusation of smear and conspiracy theorising, but Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Mercatus Center, none off them Trump-supporters, are beginning to confirm important pieces.The Department of Justice has started an investigation.

What will happen to that investigation if Biden is elected?  What will happen to the Dunham investigation? What will happen to all the investigations into Democrats? If everyone gets away with everything, what happens next?  Are you envisioning mass repentance?


I work for a government institution.  I suppose that makes me a swamp creature, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that New Hampshire is not only a small swamp, but because of a long tradition of lack of corruption, it is a shallow swamp. At my hospital we have the ability to hold people involuntarily if they are dangerous and mentally ill.  In more extreme circumstances, we can administer psychiatric medication against someone's will.  While it is ultimately courts that decide both these things, it is our information that the courts rely on. If we were to to use false information to accomplish that, it would be an horrific abuse of government power.

I have seen many bad things occur over the years, of patients held too long or let go too quickly because of incompetence or poor judgement.  I have seen patients deprived of rights on smaller matters, such as being put in seclusion or receiving emergency medicine when I thought the evidence was thin, inadequate and staff anger (usually following an assault) influenced decisions too much.  I even participated in actions in my early years at the hospital that I now look back on and say "Y'know, that was abusive. We should not have done that.  I should have said something.  I should not have participated."

But I have never in my entire career heard someone suggest that we should make stuff up or exaggerate it and try to fool a court, nor have I known any staff member who I suspected of doing such a thing secretly, of lying to get a patient involuntarily committed or subject to forced medication. I have read that such things used to happen in other places, and these always struck me as a great horror if true. To use the power of government justice against individuals unjustly is one of the worst things that can happen in a nation. It is banana republic stuff.  It is Soviet stuff.

Relatedly, I do know of laws that we played along the edges of in the past. I have seen the excuse-making and self-justification, and know that once human beings have broken the seal on misbehavior, it is easier the next time, and eventually just becomes the way everyone does business.  Speed limits are an excellent example, as the entire culture now fully rationalises breaking them.


One step farther down into the pit. There is a special evil to one political group in a country abusing the powers of government against individuals for their own political ends. Obama did this more in negative fashion, simply refusing to give information.  If there is no investigation, there is no scandal.  Presto!  A scandal-free administration that we are only now able to get information on, years later. It started as far back as the protection of ex NBA player and ongoing sexual predator Kevin Johnson (at the link) right to the earliest days of the Obama presidency. For no sensible reason, the White House simply withheld the information. It was Nixon squared.

That the investigations will cease, and the perpetrators encouraged to go back at it again, this time knowing how to better cover their tracks strikes me as one of the worst possible outcomes of the presidential election.  So that goes against my policy, stated above, that the only thing that matters is who will make the better office-holder at any level.  Yes, keeping investigations going or cancelling them is part of "being a good president," so I suppose I am technically still in range. But I know that is not fully the case. This is not foreign policy or tax policy.  It is a function of the executive branch to make such decisions, true. But it is not what we usually mean when we think of "doing a good job."

Let me further undermine my own argument.  As to the results of the investigations, the comments sections of conservative sites over the last twenty years, especially the last four, are littered with "Let me know when it looks like someone is going to jail.  We've heard this too many times before." Even if the investigations go forward, they may produce little. A lot of perpetrators are going to skate, whatever happens, if history is any guide.

Yet in the end, I think keeping the investigations going is reason in and of itself, to re-elect Donald Trump. I would take no comfort in reading the expert analysis by Andy McCarthy for the next four years of exactly how "what the Biden Administration is doing is illegal, but maybe the current investigators will do the right thing anyway." McCarthy is tremendous, but such cold comfort is not for me. There is a cognitive dissonance over at National Review that this is what would happen. (Please, no comments that you don't like NR. I already know that.)

In addition to the clearly identified reasons we give for our voting, people on all sides vote largely for whoever they think will do better at preserving (or initiating) virtues close to our heart. We think a candidate will do what is better for women, or for Hispanics, or for Christians as a group, but we also apply that to single virtues - a Senator who will work for peace, or be good against racism, or encourage freedom, or promote safety or education.  These are sometimes more impressionistic than solidly evidenced, but they are of great importance to us.

So this one's mine.  People should not be able to use the powers of government to profit, to punish their enemies, or to protect their guilty friends and family. The short-term consequences are not that bad, really.  The long-term consequences are the destruction of the nation.

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.