Monday, November 30, 2020

Crown of Creation

One of my favorite songs at the time.  Revolutionary Rock, I thought I was one of the true ones. I was just a suburban hippie.


Notes: Jorma Kaukonen was a fabulous guitarist that never quite fit with this.  He was a blues and country guitarist, which does not show much in any of the Airplane's music. He was learning the new acid rock style and seems to be playing fast and fascinating things that don't complement what everyone else is doing that much.  As time went on he kept working with some of them and it all came together in Hot Tuna.  He still plays now, and in fact is doing weekly quarantine concerts with...

Jack Casaday, an inventive bass player with whom he has played throughout his career in one band or another.

Notice that the 60s style still automatically defaulted to harmony even for revolutionaries who were rejecting everything, as here.

About the Government Categories of Race

I have liked David Bernstein's reasoning on a number of issues.  In this article at Reason, The Government Should Stop Mandating the Use of Race in Medical and Scientific Studies,  he describes some difficulties in using race as a legal category, and relatedly, as a medical and scientific category.

This is very unfortunate, because, in addition to other problems discussed below, the FDA and NIH mandated that the "race variable' be based on the arbitrary (but now standard in American life) racial and ethnic classifications established by the Office of Management and Budget in 1977 for civil rights enforcement purposes. At the time, the OMB warned that the "classifications should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature." This did not stop the FDA and NIH from institutionalizing them into medical and scientific research….(italics mine)

I would say that race is theoretically still a useful category medically because it does capture some genetic differences in a rough way, and is a counterforce to the preponderance of research being conducted on WEIRD individuals. However, this will wane with every passing year as DNA info, which is much more precise, will become more useful. Also, we are slowly mixing, as all peoples (even Neandertals and Denisovans!) do when in contact with each other.  The speed and extent of this is exaggerated in the popular imagination and even among researchers who should know better.  In a hundred years there will still be people broadly European even in America, the most mixed of countries. Until we have better tools, it is best not to throw away the ones we have. Bernstein disagrees.

Even if at one time race may have been useful as a crude proxy for genetic heterogeneity, as DNA testing has become more available and much less expensive, race is a poor substitute for looking at actual discernible genetic differences between people. "Pooling people in race silos," an editorial in Nature Biotechnology declared, "is akin to zoologists grouping raccoons, tigers, and okapis on the basis that they are all stripey."…
Well, yes and no. Some of our current categories are indeed ridiculous, lumping Indians in with Chinese, or Puerto Ricans in with Argentinians. There are Native tribes that last shared a common ancestor with other natives 15,000 years ago. Those are rather like grouping stripey animals.  Africans have enormous genetic diversity more than the rest of us put together in some ways, though they might look simply "black" to non-Africans. Medical categories purporting to include Africans as a whole will not result in good medicine.  African-Americans, however, are drawn largely from Sub-Saharan West Africa, and the diversity, though still considerable, is reduced, and they are quite different from populations outside of Africa. The different effects noted on the lab results you get from bloodwork are not made up out of nothing, they are the result of real researchers trying to get a handle on what medications tend to work better on blacks from Chicago or Chattanooga.  They will be obsolete, maybe even soon, but for the moment they are real. 

Bernstein, in The Modern American Law of Race, a related paper in progress that he links, is especially disapproving of "laws dictating ethnic and racial categories were designed primarily to assist African Americans overcome the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination" having that clear use expanded into a dozen vaguer meanings.One of my principles on legislation, or trying to fix many problems in general, is that you get about 90% of what you want at first pass, as you solution collects all the low-hanging fruit.  After that it becomes more difficult, and doubling and quadrupling down on government regulation does not necessarily get you very far after that. Remainders may need very different solutions. Those laws were designed to combat legal obstacles forty years ago and were applied to medical and scientific questions because we had nothing better.  Had they been continually updated for scientific reasons, they might be more useful now.  Might.  Theoretically.  But it didn't happen that way and now they should be dismantled, retaining only those bits that can still prove their medical usefulness.

Have I argued out of both sides of my mouth here?  Yes, a fair bit, if one wants to see it that way. The old legal categories are largely but not entirely useless for medical and scientific research now and should no longer be the default. 

There is an argument that all racial categories are entirely artificial, invented by Europeans in the 15th C or so to justify slavery and to "other" entire groups for their own reasons. We preserve those distinctions now because of the oppression those others experienced, until such time as that is no longer an issue. I haven't touched on it here.  Perhaps I should.  It has a bit that can be said in its favor, but mostly it's just er, silly.  It's common now, but comes up against numerous walls when one tries to apply it.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Excess Deaths, Murder Statistics, and Sexual Offenders.

Long sections of my career were spent working with sexual offenders.  The behavior of staff is worth noting. There are rescuers: 

He's developmentally disabled and he mooned some schoolgirls from his bus.  There's no way he belongs on the sex offender list for life.

He was 19 and she was 16 and she has accused other men.

And there are punishers:

After he raped her he knocked her out and tried to set her on fire.

He molested all the girls in that family but only one had the courage to testify against him. 

Versions of these statements had made it into the chart, the hospital's official record of the patient's history, which can be brought into court and used as a reference for expert testimony.  Thankfully, that information cannot in and of itself be submitted as evidence.  Normal rules of evidence apply in court. This is a good thing, because all four of the above statements were false. For example, the man started forcibly raping the neighbor girl when she was 11, she first reported it when she was 16.  No one tried to set anyone on fire in that other case, or even knocked them out. He groped her while she was asleep and the house burned down two years later. People get activated around sex offenders.  They want certain things to be true. I shouldn't say "they."  I should say "we."

Usually the corrective can be fairly low key, with someone saying "I don't think the evidence for that is very good.  I've been doing the psychosocial history/talking with his attorney/going through the old records and I think this got added in.  It seems to come from a neighbor saying 'We always knew something was going on in that house.  I'll bet he molested all those girls.'" But sometimes it has to be a bit harsh, and though I was not a confrontative person by nature* I learned to be, because sometimes you are sitting at a table and have to say. "I have put a note in my official eval that this is not true and previous records claiming it should be ignored.  We have to stop saying this, both formally and here in the team room." Not easy when one of those claims is by your supervisor, who is sitting right there. I have experienced this in reverse as well, of making a statement and having another staff member saying  "That's just a rumor, started by her previous girlfriend while they were divorcing. There's no evidence for it."  It's pretty humiliating, but if you don't want to be part of keeping non- or low-level offenders locked up or dangerous people let out, you try and be a stand-up guy. When something isn't true you can't let that go.

We were overinfluenced by recent events in this.  When we get to the bottom and uncover that the criminal justice system has kept a guy locked up for ten years, came to us, and was gradually given more freedom over the next ten until the halfway house finally set him up in an apartment, and it turns out it was another guy all along, we are altogether too eager to believe the next person proclaiming innocence and let them out more quickly. Which incidentally, still isn't all that quickly. More evidence to never plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. We own you for life, then.  Dealing with so many lying, manipulative bastards one yearns for someone to believe, to rescue. Then also, when someone we released six years ago commits a crime we just naturally snap into a more restrictive, even vengeful mode.

****

When discussing violent crime statistics and race, people want very badly for some numbers to be true and some false. It does not always break down neatly, as people will want the numbers to show their favorite theory, such as the presence of fathers, or early intervention, or having a better attorney is the primary driver of the numbers. It shows up in the explanations of the facts. The numbers are higher for young black men fighting because the police want to round them up and get them off the street and they have worse lawyers. But the next person will say Actually, the numbers for young black men are too low, because the police don't give a rat's ass what happens to them and just send them on their way so long as they aren't bothering white people.  Also, it's hard to get witnesses to testify so the police just shrug.  Bring whatever pre-judgement you want, you can undermine what the statistics are. Except, as Steve Sailer pointed out years ago, that all falls apart with homicide.  You have to have an actual body, you can't just say that the police are exaggerating or over-enforcing.  And if you have a body, you have to have an explanation, and if he bled out in the ER from gunshot wounds you can't just make that go away and say it was extreme obesity leading to a heart attack, no matter if he weighed 600 lbs. That was tried in mob cities decades ago, as in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. "He unfortunately died of a heart attack while he was being stabbed." You can make up ways to get around it in order to write a book or make a movie, but 99.9%, you have to have a body to start with, and all else flows from there.  Which is why the homicide statistics for victims is so important.

**** 

I remember my training far less than I should.  We do not generalise in even the most obvious things sometimes.  But occasionally, I remember, and I have been trying to remember throughout the C19 crisis (and more recently, the election accusations from people who voted for Trump and counteraccusations from those who just don't like the guy and tell themselves it's about issues.) We have to be ten times more suspicious of what we hope is true, because that is where we are most likely misled.

All this in mind as I caught wind of a Johns Hopkins report saying there were no excess deaths from C19.  I consider Johns Hopkins to be reputable.  I was interested.

I waited until more info came out, as I do when I have kept my wits about me. We are in a period when studies come out showing that only 4% of the population has been infected, followed by claims that 40% has. Lots of finger pointing and claims of bad faith by the other side. Lyman Stone, who I have referenced before about excess deaths is not kind in discussing the retraction of the JHU study published in their student newspaper.  

Folks, that stupid JHU student newspaper piece has been retracted because it contained numerous blatantly false statements and elementary misreadings if the data. Just because you’re affiliated with JHU doesn’t mean you can’t be innumerate.

Please keep reading at his account. He does not shrink away from using the word "lie."

The reports have been circulating that the study was pulled because it offended the narrative or more mildly, that it was being misused by people who disagreed with the accepted narrative, and this is censorship because they should let science be free and open.  As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this is the beginning of the retraction announcement by the student editors, who then go on to admit that there was a lot wrong with the study itself, not just what people were doing with it. Retractionwatch, a publication I trust, has more of the story. Briand is in a graduate program for Economics, not medicine or disease. It looks like a great learning experience for those student editors.

People should have been alert from the first, because "no" excess deaths would mean that no one has died of CoVid, a position I don't think many take.  True, one could retreat to a position that it only hurried the deaths of 90% of its victims by 2-3 months, and the remainder could be cleaned up by jiggling around the flu statistics or something, but folks, those people died of something, and the people who were there watching them thought it looked like serious stuff, gasping for air while drowning in their own fluids. The CDC is saying at a midpoint 300,000 excess deaths. It's not enough to say "I don't trust 'em."  Find me better numbers.

I think I get why (some) conservatives cry that the balance between economic damage and health risk has been shoved out of whack, or that there has been inordinate focus on some unimportant safety measures. Those are indeed bad things, but they deserve to be argued on their own merits, not with made-up stuff. I even agree with a lot of that. I think a higher level of risk is justified.  I just don't get the drive on a fair number of prominent conservative sites, both the posters and the commenters, to insist that this is all overblown or even a hoax. Argue if you wish that 300,000 is still a small number.  Point out that politicians, prominently Democrats, have been hypocrites about what they allow for themselves versus what they demand of others.  Pound the table that people out there are being complete pricks (I ran into an irritating one myself yesterday). But stop seizing on stuff that tells you what you want to hear and waving it aloft without at least checking behind you to see if there is toilet paper trailing out of your belt. (Your opposition is also doing this.  It is infuriating.  But they have also been doing this your entire life. Don't imitate them.)

Actually, I do get it.  I've seen it on other topics my whole life, and I've even done it myself. I'm yelling at you, but I'm wincing because it's really me.

*I am on some things, but not as many as supposed. I feel guiltier about my cowardices than about my harshness.

  

Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying

The lower harmony is one of my favorites to sing, but I have a tendency to bellow such things raucously. I thought this gentler version a good corrective for me personally, and allow me to attend to the lyrics.



If you like to read the music and sing along instead you can do so here. 

In the Revelation to John we see that while there is much singing, different groups have different pieces to sing. We will likely all be part of many choirs and ensembles based on out experiences and our roles, the members various in each. We will rejoice both to listen and to sing.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Saying Things Out Loud

"Saying things out loud, it somewhat forces you to think at a more organised level than in your head where it can be jumbled." Terence Tao. (Pulled from an interview video.) It's nice to know that someone about six times smarter than me looks at it the way that I do.  Good comments at the post, also.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Spirit in the Sky

This came up for reasons I will not share.

Despite the mention of Jesus, it is hard to descibe this as a Christian song.  Despite the presence of guitars, it is hard to describe this as guitar playing.  Despite the presence of girls clapping and moving, it is hard to describe this as choreography.



Critical Race Theory

 Quillette has a new article on how Robin DiAngelo gets Foucault wrong. I tend to like something easier and snappier, One Weird Trick that allows you so see through Marx, Hegel, and Foucault. Alas, that is seldom what is offered at Quillette and most other sites discussing the matter. More discipline and hard work is required.

I may have enough of one to pass on to make life easier for you all. Foucault picked up on Marx's idea of ownership of the means of production and generalised it to a more expansive "power." That seems sensible enough, because power comes in many forms, including influence, cultural inertia, and even the subtler structures of how power is allowed to change. So much, you already knew. One could add in Derrida and Paul de Man, though those are usually more prominent in the discussion of "what a stupid bad person you are, thoroughly embedded in the prejudices of your grandfathers, for questioning us at all. It's clearly just resistance, which we know, because we assume it, says very bad things about you personally at the psychological level. And that your income and status depends on it. Have a nice day." But Foucault has held his spot better than they did. DeMan fell as rapidly as Satan from heaven after it was discovered that he had written propaganda for the Nazis. We are now mercifully free off him.

The fatal flaw of Foucault is that his ideas must be close to 100% true or they are not true at all.

The idea of power influencing our perceptions and even those elusive ideas of where our knowledge comes from is not all that alarming.  One can see it long before Foucault, long before Marx, back through Voltaire and Descartes, and even back to Pilate and Solomon in the Bible, and Plato. They all might describe this a bit differently, not in terms of power per se, but of hierarchy or citizenship or anointing, but we can make the mental adjustment quickly. Foucault's prism of power is about the same thing,  Related, anyway. Thus when we start to read his idea (or more likely, about his ideas from others) we find ourselves suspicious that it does seem somewhat reasonable.  We wanted him to be quickly, obviously, and completely wrong, and there he is, saying stuff we grudgingly acknowledge is true. We read on.

We have then passed a break point that we don't fully recognise.  In philosophical discussions and even more especially political discussions we are used to granting that an idea has something to be said for it. Sure, power is part of the picture, I can see that.  Give me some examples of where power is bending the curve, I'll try to adjust. We may not be in full agreement, but we can get closer. It's all a work in progress. Other Post-Modernist theories granted at least a little wiggle-room.  You could go part way down that road and allow yourself to be influenced, and hoped you might influence others in return.  I have long suspected on the basis of my reading that there was not very much wiggle room offered, but I deferred in judgement to liberals who seemed to be moderately reasonable that such things were possible.  They knew these people, worked with them and went to conferences with them and thought you could work with them.  "We can do business together," as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom she strongly disagreed on many matters of grave importance.

Foucault himself never gave the least indication that he felt that way. (I am not that familiar with his work.  Please correct me with something resembling citations if I have gotten this wrong.  My whole premise may be in ruins, but I have gotten in deep enough to risk that.) He was all-or-nothing, and his more recent CRT followers - or Theory in general - do not seem to grant this.

My thought over the last few years, maybe even a decade, had been that Foucault is merely a fundamentalist on this idea.  Bible literalists will likewise declare that those other people who claim to be Christians are not really so.  They haven't been baptised correctly, they don't get Creation right, their women speak in churches. Reasonable Christians work around this, and I thought reasonable post-modernists did as well. While I believe many people who work in academia, and publishing, and conferences for nonprofits still have power and influence and are trying to hold to this vision of postmodernism, that battle has been lost.  They are fighting a rearguard action, convinced, as conservatives still were in the 1960s, that their ultimate reasonableness will eventually prevail and this will blow away, having mildly influenced a generation.

The new generation is actually reading Foucault with some accuracy.  Power is not a method of looking at the structure of society, it is not merely the main method of looking at society, it is the only one. It does not allow for modification. Nice people in churches and those who put rainbow sermons up on their lawn think that they can accomplish much by listening. If it were listening to actual black people, gay people, Hispanics, or women I would merely shrug and praise them for at least acting in good faith.  But that is no longer who they are commanded to listen to.  They can only listen to a selected group of Theory fundamentalists now.

I overstate that, yes.  But not by much anymore. Colleges are obeying the fundamentalists now, issue after issue, as the controversy about the rock at Madison shows. The CRT fundamentalist have no rational argument, yet are winning the day. It's a small thing, but bigger things are coming.  Liberal professors might ask the conservatives they know if any of this looks familiar.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Scientific Illiteracy

An interesting article at Quillette by a physicist who taught at Yale in the 80s, and has been prominent in the field since as well, about the lack of scientific information among our "best" students. The example given about population seems amazing to me, as I have been aware of what the approximate US population is since about fifth grade. I think of it as something people should know in able to understand a hundred other things. How does one understand immigration, legal and illegal, without having that perspective? What does "going to war" mean without some idea of relative resources? 

It is reminiscent of CP Snow's Two Cultures, which I have written about a few times, most recently in my countdown of most-visited posts. Stephen Jay Gould thought the idea was wrong and damaging, which I consider considerable evidence, in and of itself, that the idea is correct and helpful.

There is a type of social intelligence which mimics what I would call real intelligence.  I concede there is some debate. One needs some IQ points to be able to learn social intelligence, and some nod must be given to cognitive abilities that help one "get ahead" by more than a few narrow definitions. Still, they aren't the same, and "EQ" is mostly a dodge.

I did question his assurance that both Amy Coney Barrett and Kamala Harris both possess intelligence sufficient to a achieve the scientific literacy necessary to converse about such subjects at a policy-making level.  Barrett clearly does.  Harris may have that intelligence but has yet to display it convincingly.  She went to Howard University, a good-enough school and graduated. She went to a below-average law school as an affirmative action applicant with below-average credentials, but she did graduate. That puts her up above stupid, anyway. We do not know how much her sexual advantage, her cruelty to poor defendants, and her race improved her career, but we certainly cannot mark her UP in the face of those without some additional qualifiers. In the few clips I have seen of her off-the-cuff she does not impress with vocabulary, but what I have seen may be drawn from a pool of her worst moments.

Dixieland Christmas

 


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A More Likely Theft

 I don't know anything much about election software and various voting methods.  I can see how mail-in voting could make their security more vulnerable, starting with a family member pressuring someone to vote a certain way, or just taking their ballot and filling it out. But I don't know what kind of numbers are likely, or even possible, from such a problem.  There are also potential irregularities that very quickly went beyond the reach of identifying, as ballots all got put into the same pile when they might have been separate. I believe it possible that Kerry stole Wisconsin in 2004, because it looks like enough votes could have been moved.

Apparently over 90% of people who voted for Trump believe that enough was wrong with enough physical votes in the recent election that whole states were flipped, costing him the election. I acknowledge that such a thing might be, but I have yet to see sufficient evidence that this actually did happen.  Vulnerability and bad motives are not enough to convince me.

I was already composing my own post in my head about where I thought the election really was stolen, and then saw this article, where someone has done the work for me. There may be flaws in the research, but I think the general principle holds. The election was stolen month after month by the suppression of news.  This is something I do understand - understand more than the vulnerabilities of Dominion, anyway. 

I firmly believe that if Biden had to expose himself to reporters with video cameras who kept asking "Did the Chinese send you $10M through your son Hunter, or did that check go to someone else?" then he would not be president-elect. He has not been able to give a decent explanation for any of his son's behavior, and this would have been apparent. If he said he didn't really know about Hunter's doings, then followup questions about investigations would be in order, and he would have had to commit, to make promises. People would start looking into the issues on their own, seeking out the stories to see if they thought they were reliable. It would have become part of the national discussion with even a minimum of acknowledgement from legacy media.  The Streisand Effect may have worked to activate conservatives and bring in a lot of clicks, but I don't see evidence that half the country even heard more than a whisper of it. It was effectively buried. Americans love the myth that the truth eventually comes out, but it doesn't. It doesn't take much examination of any era in our history - including those in our lifetimes - to see that many questions no longer have an answer. The witnesses are gone or defanged, the documents are shredded, a replacement belief has been installed.

And that is only one issue.

More to the point, this is something we can still affect going forward. Outlets like The Washington Post and the New York Times have become diminished over the last few decades, but they and the further outlets they supply retain considerable influence over a large number of Americans who are under the false impression that they are receiving the news.  They are receiving a portion of the news, often in manipulative language.  It is a mutually-reinforcing system certainly, in that this is the news that audience would prefer to hear, and thus calls it forth from the newspapers, which in turn provide the service to their readers of letting them know what the best people think about all this. Repeated exposure of their dishonesty has not had near the effect on their audience that one would expect.

Yet not zero effect. They have required enormous support from the censorship of the new social media platforms to keep them propped up. If you lean on a stone wall long enough, it will fall over. Keep leaning.

Update:  It may be that Trumpism - admittedly an ill-defined term - has succeeded more than Trump himself.  At a minimum, I would say this is an America First baseline approach and a refusal to go along with the media putting the worst possible spin on everything you say.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Border Skirmish

Tolkien wrote Leaf By Niggle in 1939. If you have not read it before, take the time now. It is a short piece. Of Niggle's intended masterwork painting of a tree and forest only a single leaf remains after he is called away on an unexpected journey and those in charge of his estate treat his work carelessly. It is easy to make an automatic equivalence between this leaf and Tolkien's incomplete epic. Though the vast outline of Middle-Earth that would eventually become The Silmarillion was much in place, the episode from the Third Age that he wished to develop was barely started. The Hobbit had been published and an audience was already clamoring for more, but it would be two years before Frodo and Sam would meet Aragorn at the Prancing Pony, and even then, Tolkien did not have a clear idea who Aragorn was. He despaired of any of it ever being finished. In fact the "New Hobbit" was not finished for another 15 years, and The Silmarillion not completed until more than 20 years after that.

It is worth noting as an aside that it would not have been finished had it not been for Lewis.

Both works were enormous in both scope and length. There is an artistic technique of making something appear large at first, but then reveal it to be quite small when contrasted with a still-larger object and then a third object more massive still as in "Star Wars: A New Hope" from the initial space fighter through the Death Star. One gets some sense of that when reading the Tolkien legendarium in the usual order, beginning with The Hobbit. It seems a large-enough world, larger by far than the usual setting of a children's book in a town or animal burrow. The greatness and distance of journeys to unknown places is part of the story, of a halfling unexpectedly out in the wide world. Yet one is only a few pages into The Fellowship of the Ring before perceiving that the horizons are spread much farther, the adventure much deeper and deadlier. Throughout The Lord of the Rings the adventure keeps growing, with references to events farther away and deeper in the past, until these are outlined along a history of thousands of years in the appendices. 

This is dwarfed in turn by the AinulindalĂ«, a creation-story that opens The Silmarillion, describing a time before time.  Bilbo journeying all the way to Dale no longer seems such a great distance.  It is only "there and back again."

Tolkien stated he disliked allegory and chided Lewis for an Aslan who is too obviously Christlike (though as I recently noted, he disliked the first Narnian chronicle before the Lion had even made an appearance.  We must not assume that authors know their own minds so well as they think.) Yet there isn't much other way to read "Leaf, by Niggle." He tried to deny it and described it as at most an evocation and symbol of the creative and subcreative process, but that wouldn't be much of a difference to begin with, and in execution, I don't see a distinction here.  He may have intended to only suggest this world, Purgatory, and Heaven, but it fairly leaps out at the reader.  As he wrote it he may also have not been thinking only of Middle-Earth but of a dozen other creative and academic projects, but again, he does not fully know his own mind.  The later reader knows his biography and his obsession with the vast tale and his attention to getting details just so. The "leaf" is some part of a tree and forest that he worked on and hoped some piece would survive. Yet by the end, when that incomplete work has been fashioned into a fuller world by God, becomes inhabited, and gets a name and a permanent use in the grand scheme of heaven, it is still just a little corner, noticed by only a few.

That ending comes closest to Tolkien's thought about his own work. However vast the events of the end of the Third Age, and even Ea itself seem when one is inside, whether to write them or read them, he knew they were only a prefiguring of the events of the incarnation and resurrection, a border skirmish in the lead up to the Great War of Heaven. In later years he noted this in his correspondence a few times, according to Milton scholar Janet Knedlik.  (I don't have the references myself.)

So are all the works of man.  Our great events are but border skirmishes.  However, they are our border skirmishes, to which we have been assigned, and granted the grace that our actions do mean something even in the Great War.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Werewolves of London

From memory, I would have placed this mid-80s.  The first moment I looked at the video I knew it was earlier than that. Clever, but doesn't take a lot of talent from any of them, in retrospect. 




Phone Calls. Stimulation.

I thought the number of automatic calls was going to go down precipitously after the election.  In fact, I was counting on it. But we are in the open enrollment period for Medicare supplements, and one or both of us must be on a list of "old people - trick them with calls that look like they are from towns in their state." This is not tragic.  Sorry to burden you with the minor irritations of my life.

Since I have gone to full retirement it really is more boring.  I didn't realise how much I depended on those eight days a month for structure and stimulation. It is hard to imagine that I still have ten times the intellectual stimulation of previous eras. The records from such things as the constitutional convention and Sunday sermons, coupled with the actual texts of speeches and sermons delivered in many cases suggests that people spoke more slowly.  They did not flit from topic to topic as we do.  They might well have been wiser because of their sustained thought.  But they weren't likely "smarter" in our sense. People who grow up in cities are quicker and pick up on multiple signals at once. I don't say they are smarter. They might think so, on the basis of smarter people moving to cities since time immemorial because that's where the action is.  

Were we to time travel, we might find that we found folks slow and life not very interesting.  We might change our minds if we talked to them at length, but I am confident that would be our impression.


The Treasure

In his book Souls on Fire, Elie Wiesel told the traditional Hasidic Jewish story of Eizek, son of Yekel of Krakow. Martin Buber also told it; both attributed it to Rabbi Bunam of Pshishke in the early 1800s. Impoverished and unfortunate, Eizek sought the Lord’s help, and in a dream he was told about a treasure buried under a bridge in the shadow of the palace in the city of Prague. The dream recurred with increasing urgency twice more, as Eizek was reluctant to take an expensive and difficult trip. But faithfully, Eizek made the difficult journey to recover this treasure, and in the process got himself arrested for his suspicious behavior in poking around outside the royal palace. In the course of his interrogations he told the officer who was in charge about the dream the Lord had given him about the treasure, because he was too frightened to make anything up. The commander laughed out loud at the thought of anyone listening to his dreams, let alone undertaking such a difficult and dangerous journey in obedience to a dream! And then, mockingly, the commander told Eizek about a recurring dream that he himself had been having about a treasure buried under the stove of a poor man’s house in - Krakow! “Can you see me going from house to house (in that city),” the commander asked Eizek, “tearing down all the stoves, searching for that nonexistent treasure?” With that, he released Eizek and sent him on his way. Without any hesitation, Eizek went straight home, moved his stove, dug a hole in his floor and found the treasure right where the commander had dreamed it would be!

There are three common interpretations. There may be other lessons I cannot see, as that is the way of tales.  The most usual understanding is that we do not need to travel to far places to find spiritual treasure.  It was at home all along!  The second is that we must travel to other places in order to recognise the treasure at home. The third is that there was a treasure in both places, but only one belonged to Eizek.

Why Atheists become Christians and Vice Versa

 An interesting article over at Patheos. I don't know how solid the research behind this is, but it does ring true with some of my own observations. People do not deconvert because they are attracted to atheism as a belief system, but because they are intent on leaving a Christian faith they think has been damaging, and atheism is a safe landing spot. They note five characteristics of churches driving this behavior.

The first is performance control, which is the expectation that the members of a church will conform to stringent standards of thought and behavior and be subject to shame if they fall out of line. The second is textualism which refers to rigid and literal scriptural interpretation. The third, isolationism, refers to segregation of the community from the outside world by preventing ideas from entering and questions from leaving. The fourth is spiritualism where disproportionate importance is given to angels, demons and apocalyptic prophecy. The final category is compulsive certainty where doubt is viewed as a sign of weakness or lack of faith. 

I have a few objections to the essay, but they are small. I forget that most churches are not like mine, and most conversations among Christians are like what is normal for me. One of my texting groups forwarded a particularly bad example of a sermon at a non-denominational church this morning. I watched and listened in some astonishment. I forget.

 *********

Do not bother to read the comments, as it is atheists stating that this wasn't the reason for the their atheism at all - they made that decision solely on the basis of rational thought, because they are such solid thinkers, much smarter than you, who believe ridiculous things.  I  am conscious of there being varieties of atheist, which we demonstrated here when I linked to Michael Novak's "Christmas Atheists," which listed six, and my own commenters weighed in and said "I don't really think any of those describe me that well."

So there are more than six varieties, but the type that likes hanging around Christian sites and explaining to everyone why they are wrong seems pretty similar, year after year.

Memory

Memory shifts to fit the narrative. This little collection of essays Insty links to are instructive, and evidence of my generalisation that liberals do not have enough memory, except for the resentments that don't go away, while conservatives have too much.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lee Harvey Oswald

This has been a soapbox of mine for years.  Bernstein does a good job with it.  The implication that Kennedy was killed by right-wingers has no basis, but is a necessary myth and so is repeated.  But he was in Texas. Don't you know they're all just racist bigots down there? Dallas? And he had a gun. And he used to be in the Marines. And Kennedy was loved by liberals so it must have been conservatives that killed him. The evidence is just piling up here.  What more do you need to know?

The additional note, mentioned a few times here before,is that Ion Mihai Pacepa, former head of the Romanian Securitate and highest-ranking defector from behind the Iron Curtain tells us that the KGB always claimed to insiders that they had set the assassination in motion but then tried to call it back at Khrushchev's insistence, but it was too late. Oswald was out of their reach. Maybe they were just bragging and puffing their chests, but he did at least meet with them, which is unsurprising in a defector to the Soviet Union, as the KGB would have insisted on it.  He was very sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution. Pacepa also thought that flooding the market with conspiracy theories was intentional disinformation to prevent people from seeing the simpler, unacceptable truth. Whether that was intentional of had anything to do with it I haven't a clue, but that is what eventually happened.  People want to talk about everything except the fact that he was a type of leftist revolutionary that was not rare at the time.

Post 7400 - Private Conversations

It is appropriate that this post occurs on a round number, as it is on a topic I have been grousing about for years - the prejudices that people show when they believe only "their own" are present.  I go over to Language Log from time to time, as it is primarily academic linguists writing for each other and whatever general audience is interested in language. They don't waste time on grammatical errors, though they will note unusual usages and phrasings, often with some humor. That is only a sideline for them, as tackling "well that's interesting" developments in language and discussing them is more their style. I always find an interesting thing or two there.  Yet it always ends the same way. A prominent political figure's comments or the statements of a group (authorised or unauthorised) will be discussed, and the political and cultural prejudices of the group will pour out for an entire comment thread.  Every time I think I am being unfair to academics, who are usually interested in their chosen field and have valuable things to say, I get brought up short by the unexamined assumptions and sometimes pantaloon-soiling bigotry they regard as everyday conversation.  Of course that sign had a threatening and violent interpretation.  That's what those people are like. The pattern is the same every time.  I raise a caution without much accusation, that there is some generalisation or imputing of motive that might be rethought, because all of us tend to color our views for group and personal, or even tribal advantage and it is best to be self-observing on such things.  The response is always the same.  Precisely zero commenters show the least evidence of stepping abck and saying "Y'know, there might be something to that - though here's why I still think my original observation was correct."  Y'know, like a reasonable person might do.  Every man jack off them doubles down, sometimes with sneering, or sometimes with that ultra-polite underplayed condescension that academics do. (I envy that ability.) I give one additional response with information that should prompt someone to at least pretend to rethink, but it doesn't happen. They aren't listening.  No amount of information will have the slightest effect. Life is too short. Maybe someone who didn't comment was able to hear, maybe a slightly contrary viewpoint will connect with something else they hear down the road. I am done, however. 

This is happening all over the conservative sites at present, with much more rudeness and even less ability to hear, if such a thing were possible. Between CoVid and the election there is a strong tendency for some to not even brook the slightest contradiction or modification, and these of course are the ones who had the most extreme views to begin with.  The difference on the conservative sites is that some people seem to hear, and to engage, and try to reconcile information.  The ones who don't are even more annoying than the liberals at the academic sites, bringing in evidence that has even less to do with the topic and making personal accusations. So that's the tradeoff, I guess. The average level of exchange is worse at the conservative sites, but at least some people listen, even if they disagree.  On the liberal sites, you are allowed to disagree about some things, the professional discussions (though even those get quickly twisted), but the general understanding that their tribe is the thoughtful, open-minded, and tolerant one is not ups for discussion. They just know, and questioning that seems simply unbelievable to them.

Living in two worlds I have spent my life listening to liberals when they think no one is listening in and and to conservatives when they think no one is listening in and I could stretch that to religious and non-religious people and break both of those down into smaller categories as well, such as woke vs center-left or liturgical vs informal/emotive worship. I've even had Jews speak to me about gentiles, as I were not as trayf as a ham-and-cheese sandwich. (Everyone seems to regard me as a slightly nonstandard member of their group*.)  I conclude that humans are often unattractive when they think only their own are present. Fortunately, it is not universal. 

We had a humorous example of this when my wife took our granddaughter to an historical museum. Nine-year-old girls are interested in what was life like for the nine-year -old-girls then? And the pets.  Tell me about the pets. The museums have largely figured this out and gear some of the displays to what children now seem to be interested in, even though that is sometimes not deeply related to the most important information. The sad truth is that in our political and cultural lives we are all pretty much nine-year-olds at the museum.  We care about people like us.  And the pets.

I am going to veer a bit to the side because I am tired of the political discussions going nowhere and prefer to switch to religious discussions going nowhere.  There are a lot of dead horses lying around, aren't there? In listening to my CS Lewis podcasts and looking up information afterward, I keep encountering those anti-CS Lewis sites I try hard to avoid.  They come to mind because this is another group of people who don't listen very well, and no amount of information has the least effect.  They know that Lewis can't possibly be a real Christian for the same whack-a-mole reasons, all of them.  He talks about magic without understanding that this is satanic. They know this because they have done "a deep study on demonology and the Scriptures," which means they read a book by a guy who read a book by another guy and they've heard preachers talk about it, preachers who have read pretty much the same books. Here's a place to give academics credit where it's due. The fact that a lot of college students get a degree without doing a lot of work does not mean that there aren't people who really have made a deep study of things, spending hours over weeks, months, and years reading eye-tiring old texts in archaic or foreign languages and following up with what a dozen other scholars said about each. That's a deep study.  It doesn't mean they are right about all things - they bring their own presuppositions, as above, but they actually have done ten times, a hundred times the work the guy who is parroting a fifth-level derivation of the Malleus Maleficarum, which is, you know, pretty much the same thing as scripture, because it's got scriptures in it.  

Yes, another fundamentalist trick is to make sure everyone brings their Bible, because they want you to be able to check that everything they say is completely Scriptural, so you can trust it.  Then they give you their opinion while quoting verses that they assure you prove their point, challenging you to "Look them up for yourself!  You can see those verses are right there!" Which they are, and if you are unwary you will become convinced that everything taught must in fact be the Word of God. (And what is wrong with all those other churches for not believing the Bible?)

Where was I?  Oh yes, Lewis punted on the idea of Purgatory, thinking it might be so, and he didn't see that the RC church was either the antichrist or satan's favorite tool, so that also tells you he's not Christian.  And he smoked.  Sometimes they mention that he drank beer, too. They quote a lot of Bible verses telling you not to listen to deceivers, and that there will be false teachers, and that we have to be steadfast, and have pure doctrine, and so...?  And so...? Well yes, the Bible itself is telling us not to listen to CS Lewis. You think I'm kidding?  Have you even gone over there? My children's Baptist schools were generally quite pro-Lewis, but there were a few parents who would quietly mention to you that he had some things terribly, terribly wrong, and it wasn't safe for children to be exposed...

I've wandered far afield.  The topic was people not listening, and being even more extreme when they think their own are the only ones around.  Even sports fans do way better than this, because they accept the idea that someone might root for another team and not think your hero was all that great.

 *I know a few of you in real life: Granite Dad, Sponge-headed Scienceman, engineerlite, bsking and her dad, occasional others. You may understand better than I how this happens to me.

 


Friday, November 20, 2020

Beatles Vs Dave Clark Five

I'm not sure it seems quite believable today.  When I was in 7th grade in 1965 this was still an issue. There were trading cards of both and people weighed in on their favorites.  It seems from this reminiscence that this was something of a manufactured competition.



Knitting

 Check out James's comment and link about Knitting Culture online under my "Cancel Culture" post.

I Know What Is Happening

Inspired by a podcast about The Screwtape Letters, which mentioned Lewis's aversion to attending to any current events whatsoever, I have paid no attention to the events of the last week. I took a deep breath, chuckled, and remembered that I have been about 80% accurate in the past predicting what is going on when I don't pay attention to the news, but only 60% accurate when I am following it closely. I keep forgetting Lewis's advice to pay no attention, because if something really big is happening people will be unable to refrain from telling you about it, and forgetting my own advice to wait a week on all news because so much of the dross will have fallen out at that point.  If you have followed very closely over the years, you may remember that James suggested that there might even be a market for a news outlet that had "coming back for a second take a week or two later" as its raison d'etre. Though we are now senior citizens, James and I both remain young and naive, apparently.  There is no such market.  No one wants to hear such things.

I confess it is not fully true I have heard nothing in the last week except things people have sent me. I have seen headlines while going from one place to another online, and I have a quick mind which fills in what must be behind these, whether from the legacy media headlines on my search engines and every sidebar, or from the blurbs about other articles when I am over at Maggie's, Grim's, etc.  I have not been to Insty and Althouse because they will of course be consumed by the issues of the day, with less attention to longer-term issues.  It is a natural progression that I see in myself and so do not wish to kick intelligent observers very hard about it.  They are smarter than I am and have a much better grasp on what these things mean in the short term. But yearly issues will suck you into monthly issues; monthly issues will draw you into weekly issues;  weekly issues will draw you into daily issues - and once you are in that deep you will be clicking ridiculous links to try and see WHAT IS HAPPENING ABOUT THIS NOW??!! I HAVE TO KNOW!! The wickedness of my own heart attests to this. 

So here is what is happening about the challenged election.  I will hazard that I am 80% correct in this.

1. Trump isn't backing down.  He thinks he has the goods on multiple aspects of things going wrong in this election and thinks he might even win.

2. There are a few relatively small but real things that have shown up. A thousand votes here, a hundred votes there, a big red flag that a small discrepancy might be a sign of a big discrepancy in some state.  I don't know which state. Maybe more than one.

3. No one cares if there is crap in states that weren't close, which is a shame, because they might be close next time.

4. There is one big-ticket item, which Trump and/or his supporters think might change multiple states and they are counting on.  It is a not a good percentage roll of the dice.  It is probably one in a hundred that it is right, maybe as high as one in ten, but it is not zero. There are aspects to it that an election observer from Mars might say "Y'know, that is worth looking at." But there isn't enough to turn the election otherwise.

Full disclosure: since I started writing this I have been back and forth, checking the injury reports on my fantasy football teams, my emails, and Bing-ing something about Paradise Lost. I had things composed in my head thus far on my Rail Trail walk and have now put that into words into words. Since then:  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THE ELECTION SOFTWARE IN SOME STATES COMES FROM VENEZUELA? I don't want to leap to conclusions here.  It may have been completely vetted and is very good stuff, altogether likely to give good results.  But did no one look at the optics of this?  "The foundation of our state's election process comes from Venezuela.  Trust us that it's fine."  I admit I am working from headlines here.  Venezuela might have only breathed lightly on Dominion and conservative nutcases are making a big deal about it, clutching at straws.  But...but...

And to flip to the other side of this, if this were known beforehand, why did no one make a big deal about this starting two years ago?  Trump is jumping in now and complaining about things that have been in place for years?  That's on him, or on some Republican somewhere.  Sorry.  Yet I admit, this is just the outsider's look. So that's the big-ticket item, isn't it? Consider: If there were corruption at this level about election practices, we would have been hearing about it for a long time, as we already know about dead people voting in Chicago, slashed tires in Milwaukee, harvested votes in a score of locations, paid-for votes in Atlanta , intimidation votes in Philadelphia, or false-count votes in Detroit. If Dominion has been news for years, I haven't heard about it and the conservative press hasn't been sounding the alarm for the last few years.  Therefore, I conclude there is unlikely to be anything there.

5. Trump has every right to challenge every state, every district, every vote, but Democrats are complaining that this is unprecedented, as if they haven't been complaining the last four years and still muttering about Bush-Gore twenty years ago.  They have no historical memory, Republicans have too much historical memory.

6. Except Trump is being a dick about it, which is unnecessary when he should be laser focused on where real problems are suspected, not only for his election chances, but for the good of the country.

Another sidebar: If Joe Biden, who will clearly be installed as president next year unless he has a stroke, really wants to be president of all Americans and not just people who send him money, he will make reforming voting procedures a top priority, so that the country will not have to go through this again, because we have elections as fair as Scandinavian ones. Many, maybe even most Democrats would support this, except those are the quiet ones who don't send so much money and don't destroy cities. A fair number of Republicans will glower and mutter, but agree to accept this as such a good thing that they can get behind it even if the Democrats are leading it. So we know Biden won't do this - and let us revisit this one year from today and prove it.  Lindsay Graham or Ted Cruz or someone should challenge him on this as the one big item for 2021, and we should echo that at every turn in support of this.  Cue James or Texan99 or Douglas2 or Donna B making an entirely reasonable comment that is unfortunately as naive and idealistic as before.  Sigh.  These are my people. We shall slowly go under the waves together, and I salute you. Go either way, driving an idealistic American stake in the ground or sighing and making a practical suggestion instead.

7. The news media is digging up theoretically Republican people who say that Trump should stop challenging everything.  National Review has a better take, that he should keep going, but stop being a dick about it. Trump will pay no attention to either, which everyone already knew, so why do any of us write things anyway?  This probably isn't a new observation, but a cumulative summary of the previous six points.

8. Prediction - shouldn't really be part of this discussion but I have had a third glass of port: Zero Democrats will push for election reform next year, even though and some percentage of Republicans will continue in their (mildly but not fully) paranoid belief that it is all illegitimate. It would of course be good for the country, but what is that when you can use an issue to portray your competition as crazy? And it would "feed into" Republican concerns, and we can't have that.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Ash Grove (Llwyn Onn)

This is a nostalgia song that I fell in love with at church camp after seventh grade. You will note that this is an age that is hard to pack with much nostalgia, as "the friends of my childhood" are in point of strict fact, my friends of this afternoon. Yet I caught the spirit of it, as CS Lewis caught the Sehnsucht of "a biscuit tin filled with moss" even as a boy. 

 It acquired a nostalgia as I went along. The girls at camp sang a descant beginning on the second verse of the song, and I don't think I had heard that before. I was ensorceled, grasping the idea that had eluded me in childen's choir that singing in harmony could be done by untrained singers not reading from a page. Life changed. 

 None of my male friends nor the girls I dated in highschool knew the song, but in college it seemed they all did. I felt I had landed in the right place. The girl I married was particularly fond of it and we would sing it together in the car. In harmony, of course. 

We sang it again in late 1979, nights and days in a row when my first son went into the hospital and hovered on the edge of death for almost a week; we were bequeathing him the only culture we had. Because of that association, we sang it seldom thereafter. Our oldest son vaguely recalled it (not from when he was two weeks old), the second one did not recognise it. This seemed odd to me, because I have hummed it often all these years. But I see where we might not have fully embraced a song which had brushed death for us. 

Nostalgia is now our chosen land, and the Welsh are very good at that.

 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Veteran's Home

The NH Veteran's Home In Tilton has been blessedly free of C19, staff and residents, since February.  That all exploded last week when they went from 3 cases among the vets to 11 and 6 staff and now 21 vets and 12 staff in about eight days.  Two vets have died, with the honors they provide for those lads there. We know one resident well, have connection to a second, plus two staff, one of whom I mentioned a few times over the years, as he is the physical therapist at my hospital as well as Tilton. The other is a woman we knew throughout her childhood who went through school with my second son. AFAIK, they are not among the infected, but it's a small facility and as you can see, things can turn around quickly.

The pattern seems to be that there is nothing, nothing, nothing, and then all hell breaks loose and everyone scrambles, with some dying.

Cancel Culture

I notice that the response is not uniform across liberal issues.  The practice of getting someone deplatformed, fired, shunned, or otherwise punished is used by some causes but not others.  For some, saying anything even mildly positive about Donald Trump is enough to get people up in arms to get that person cast into the outer darkness.  That is person-based rather than issue-based and I don't know whether there is anyone else that attracts this.  Who will inherit this?  Mitch McConnell, perhaps.  Ted Cruz, maybe. Though even if The Donald does not win enough appeals to remain president, he will likely remain visible and good copy even for those outlets that hate him, so he may retain the status of lightning rod.

PETA does things that annoy me, but I don't recall them engaging in cancelling their opponents.  Environmental causes in general have a tendency to quiet (but effective) defanging of those who disagree, but I don't see that vindictive destruction as much from them either.  There is more cancellation around climate change than all the other fresh water/clean air/wildlife preservation causes, but even then, not the usual focus of those folks. CoVid is more of a ridicule and censoring than a personal destruction issue as well. Abortion and sexual assault, the so-called "women's issues" have not attracted the same type of energy, unless it is a conservative man who is accused of an actual assault.  Statements which infuriate liberal women don't quite meet the threshold, though they do attract heat.

There is some tendency for people at colleges, both students and teachers, to call for the cancellation of anyone about anything, but even they strongly favor some issues over others.  I admit I am getting my impression from the few conservative and fewer liberal sites I frequent, so it may be a ridiculously biased sample. What is happening on actual campuses I would like to hear.

So what issues are the cancel culture issues?  Trans issues, and to a lesser extent gay issues. African-American issues, especially as they relate to criminal, disciplinary, or those elusive "respect" issues for people who set themselves up as authorities and spokespeople. Hispanic or Native issues, not so much.  Those are given lip service but don't attract quite the ire. Prejudice against Islam?  That seems more mixed, but maybe that one makes it into the top tier as well.

I may have read this wrong. Look over the landscape and tell me what your elf-eyes see, Legolas.

Constellations and the Night Sky

Some time in the 1980s I got frustrated with the constant change in knowledge, particularly in my own field. What we thought we knew was being overturned. This is the way it should be, though modified is more common than overturned. I look forward too it now, but at the time was regretting the efffort I had put in to learn something, only to see it discarded a few years later. (Historical note: It was the last gasp of Freudianism in the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, though ego psychology in its various forms does still get used in the treatment of personality disorders.) 

 I resolved to learn something more stable, and figured the constellations weren't going to change. I started going out, looking at the night sky in comparison to the charts I was holding. I gradually acquired some knowledge which, even though I neglect refreshing my skills for months on end, remains constant. These days there is an app which allows you to hold your device up to a section of sky, and it gives you a detailed version of that sector. It includes objects I have never seen with the naked eye, and some I know are not visible unaided under any circumstances, such as the minor dwarf planet Pluto. Loads of fun, though. 

 I will note in passing that if Sagittarius were being named today it would be called the Teapot. Look on the southern horizon yourself in the summer and see if you don't agree.

The planets keep moving around, of course, and are thus a little harder to keep track of if you aren't out at least once a week. But you get used to the range of possibilities of where they might be, at any rate.  Following the stargazer articles - in the Farmer's Almanac in the old days, on any of a thousand websites now - one is at first amazed at what remarkable times we live in.  This particular conjunction will not occur again for ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand!  Mars will never be farther/closer/so near the moon this year!  This comet will not return in any of our lifetimes! You keep thinking I'd better hustle my butt out there and find a good spot in a ten mile radius to look at this thing, no matter how cold it is. Eventually it dawns on you that there is always something going on. 

With all that in mind, there is something fun going on this week, and it's only going to get colder from here on out, so this may be the one you put your energy into.  Not me, of course. I am content with reassuring myself that the Winter Triangle and its three constellations are right where they should be overhead whenever I go out to the pickup. You have to get lucky or work hard to see Mercury, BTW.  If you don't have high clarity and a clear shot at the base horizon you ain't gonna see it. (With thanks to Bird Dog over at Maggie's.)


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Comeuppance

Because I have watched a few of these, they come up in my feed frequently. I find them satisfying, and the number viewings of each suggests I am not the only one. When you taunt your opponent, you deserve this.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Last Southern Gentlemen

 


Solzhenitsyn and the Wolves

I have always liked his thinking, and certainly his biography, though he is sometimes puzzling and he does have that Russian tendency to pound an idea to the center of the earth. Yet I liked this story about the wolves going right by his writing desk in Vermont. It is about nothing, yet everything.

He crossed into Claremont, NH to go to the local Orthodox Church when he lived here. Greek Orthodox churches far outnumber Russian (or Romanian, Ukrainian) in New England, but this one has been primarily Russian throughout its marginal legacy.  Perhaps that is why he settled nearby.

The Other Is In The Albert Hall

 They had a lot of fun with this.

There is a second verse, or second version, that uses the title of this post as the second line.

I was privileged to sing this in a pub off Bond Street in London in 1997, where they had sing-along weekly. They welcomed me in and we had a fine time. I recall we also sang "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park," someone sang a G&S patter song, and "Over the Hills and Far Away," of which I knew only the chorus.

Hasid

"You'll grow up, you'll see," my grandfather had said."You'll find that it is more difficult, more rare to find a Hasid than a Rebbe,  To induce others to believe is easier than to believe. To give, easier than to receive. And," added grandfather, "a Hasid is more to be envied than his Master." Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire 1972.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Fury of the Fatherless

Texan99 referenced an article from First Things suggesting that the current riots and violent or intimidating protests are directed at families, at parents, and especially at fathers. An intriguing thought. I can't locate the underlying article or I would link to it.

Update: Douglas2/Unknown, who comments at both sites, provided the link to the full article.

The Great Divorce

There is a stage presentation of The Great Divorce online, by the Fellowship For The Performing Arts. I watched it today and it remains available online until Nov 18. I give it a mostly positive review.  Each of the ensemble actors has a role they don't quite land on, and Jonathan Hadley's occur very early on, spoiling much of the first fifteen minutes.  The first residents of heaven we meet are insufferable and one can see why the visitors from hell might not want to join them.  It gets better.  It ends reasonably well, and if you watch you can save yourself the trouble of reading the book, because the production does stay true to the book.  You will want to actually read the book itself next time, when the Spirit prompts you to reread.

Stage plays and movies are not the same art, and putting a stage production on film is quite tricky.  The effects that work on a stage do not do so well when filmed, but attempting to go for movie-style effects destroys the staged quality altogether.  I grant that the task is very difficult, but I also have to say that they don't do them all that well. It will take you a while to adjust.  One of the great things about theater, however, is that we do adjust, accepting the conventions one by one as they are placed in front of us and putting them in the background so that we can enjoy the show.

Radioactive Words

There are always radioactive words in any society.  Some are mostly forbidden, some are completely forbidden, some are conditionally forbidden, and some are secretly encouraged, so that people can show what brave rebels they are. At the moment the n-word is both conditionally forbidden, in that black people can say it, but otherwise absolutely forbidden, in that no others can say it under any circumstances.  There is protest over this, that the rules have gone entirely outside any sense of reason, in that it cannot be quoted in a context and cannot be uttered even to condemn it.  This is why I use the word radioactive, rather than sticking with the more usual term forbidden. One cannot even approach the word or handle it in any way unless one has the proper protections. If this seems unreasonable, remember that it was ever thus.  Of course it's unreasonable.  So what? Live with the unreasonableness, because that is what language does, everywhere, at all times.

Those whose objections are unreasonable, who declare we cannot even quote from Huckleberry Finn, however important the book was in improving the way the culture thought about black people, might have bad reasons for the insistence.  It may indicate an imbalance in them that suggests they will always be miserable unless they have a change of attitude. Yet this is not new. They are responding emotively that if we do not follow the rule, it is evidence that we just don't understand how serious this is.  If we protest that we indeed do, they will shake their heads.  If you really understood, you would not do this. They are always among us, and keeping some words radioactive might be good for us, however ridiculous each individual case might be.

There is something similar from my childhood, and many years previous. Many people refused to use Christ's name as an exclamation, and considered any reference to God intending to damn anyone as not only impolite and discouraged, but unsafe. Even euphemisms were discouraged. As evidence of this, I will not, even now, put the word "damn" directly after the word "God," even in the context of quoting or deploring the phrase. Preachers would use the words "damn," "damned," "damnation," and talk about how God would indeed damn some people, but they would always sneak some words in between, as I did there. It's automatic, and I see no need to change it.The commandments were very strict about using the Lord's name in vain, and that seemed to be one of the agreed-upon meanings.  One did not put the words together because it had the sense of being a curse on someone, a spiritual burden that was real and would have to be attended to eventually. That rational discussion might undermine this thought was irrelevant.  Why take the risk? The phrase was radioactive.  It was not prohibited because it was filthy or base or showed poor breeding or manners, but because there was something dangerous about it.

That started changing over a century ago, and I think few of us would still regard the phrase as absolutely radioactive. I do, but I imagine that's rare and becoming rarer.

The Indo-Europeans would not say the name of the bear, referring to the animal as "the brown one," or "the honey eater." Honey was *medhu, from which we get our word mead and the Russian word for bear, medved. The other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, also have serious rules about making the name of God radioactive, not to be handled in any way. Even now Jews will use a hyphen and write G-d, though even Orthodox scholars will dismiss this as unnecessary. Sometimes it is good to follow at a distance and not touch some object, or to take off our shoes because we are on holy ground, even if we have mistakenly picked the wrong object or the wrong ground.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Possible Correction

 Linked from Ann Althouse is this interesting NYT article by Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet about Justice Alito.  (Ann's original post, in case you can't get behind the paywall.) At first glance, it looks like yet another proof of my contention that liberalism is a social rather than intellectual phenomenon.  He berates Alito for complaining even though his side has lost the culture war. Quite curious.  First, how do we know who has won or lost a culture war.  how do we measure that?  But more importantly, who notices such things in an intellectual discussion at all? Are we not trying to figure out which ideas are correct, which are useful, which are true?  What does their popularity have to do with it?  Isn't this just the eye-rolling of highschool girls? 

Yet thinking a level deeper, I may be overgeneralising.  Entertainers have to think of who is winning a culture war, even in pre-war Germany as we learned in "Cabaret;" and journalists have likewise to keep a sharp eye on the audience to make their living as well.  I tend to automatically associate professors with the life of the mind, though, and am disappointed when I see such blatantly nonintellectual considerations intrude.  I generalise from them to the category "liberal thought-leaders." But what if professors are merely that category of thought leaders who like hanging around college, that most socially intense environment?  It may not be only that they are constantly exposed to a population obsessed with every minor skirmish in a culture war, desiring desperately to know how wide belts should be this year, but that they chose this environment for related reasons: they are good at sussing out intellectual fashions. 

Other liberals may not be like this at all, and I may be judging them unfairly. I am very familiar with social workers, psychologists, rehab specialists, mental health attorneys, and psychiatrists and they are...sort of like that, but not entirely. I have them ranked in my head, but i will hold off on that.

Election

I haven't read an article since Wednesday, though I have seen some headlines. What I know, then, is based on information from past elections, the players involved, plus a few shreds of the current news.

There are a lot of small irregularities of varying believability.  Precinct managers who allowed a hundred questionable votes; mailed-in or otherwise vulnerable votes that may hit some thousands in total which break 2-1 for Biden and thus bear investigation; harvested votes from nursing homes, shelters, and poor neighborhoods at a hundred or two each, maybe even thousands in the hands of a real pro; directly paid votes for down-ticket elections in corrupt cities that added to the Biden votes as a throw-in, which is every election in Atlanta; intimidation that is hard to measure; physical harm to Republican turnout, such as the tire-slashing in Milwaukee for rides-to-the-polls vans.  Wisconsin was stolen by Kerry in 2004, after all. Look it up. Vote fraud is real, and ongoing.  But that doesn't mean that there are big swings in many states likely to happen.

So, a thousand incidents of a hundred votes each, or a hundred incidents of a thousand votes each.  Like always.  I don't buy the argument that this must be that much worse this time.  Just because the people pulling these stunts hate Trump twice as much as they hated Romney or McCain, it doesn't mean they can do twice as much damage.  Wanting to doesn't make it happen. Also, they are much more likely to occur in places where there is cover, where there is 90-10 advantage for Democrats anyway.  Places where it doesn't much affect the local race, which folks might care about, but can be used to pad the state total. Philadelphia is supposed to be ground zero for this.  Unsurprising.  Philadelphia has been ground zero before.  Skilled labor there.

Then there are the possible big-ticket items, the technological or systematic manipulations which can move a stack of 10,000 votes at a time, or even worse, 1% of the votes gradually or invisibly. Of necessity, most of these would have to be in places with good cover as well. I read that the Trump campaign has suggested that there is an enormous amount of votes nationwide because of software glitches, and this deserves to be looked into.  Well, it should be looked into, yes.  It's not likely to result in much, because if it moved that many votes it would probably have been heard of before.  Okay, maybe this is new and we need to nip it in the bud.  That's fine.  But if this is nationwide, then the national totals of fraudulent votes  don't mean much - not this time - as most of the cheating would of necessity have been in places that turned out not to need it.  We had it narrowed down to about ten battleground states, but no one knew which were going to be super-hot and come down to very few votes and which were only close in a relative sense.

Could this software issue really have resulted in 2 million fraudulent votes, 200,000 in Pennsylvania or a couple of other places?  Sure it could.  Not very likely, but it's possible.  There are plenty of folks out there who would do such a thing if they had the power.  But do they have the power?  A new method comes on the scene in this cycle and first time out it flips three states?  Unlikely. Still, not impossible.  Deserves a look. Conspiracies are common, but successful conspiracies are rare.

Forced recounts are nice.  It's like a report card on how honest and competent your state was going in. New Hampshire had a crazy close Senatorial election in the mid 70s, and the recount was very close to the original count.  Nice to see. 

I am catching downwind that Democrats are in a tizzy that Trump is contesting results for any reason whatsoever.  This will include, of course, Democrats who know nothing about voting procedures, or election law in any of the states in question.  Also, people who forget how long the recount in 2000 took. All very predictable. Anything that is uncovered will be ignored. Evidence will be demanded, but any evidence that comes in will be regarded as a creature from another planet. So we just ignore all that noise and keep investigating and recounting.

Update: So looking it up just now, despite my strong doubt that tens of thousands of  votes could be moved, Richard Baris's Big Data Poll notices that Biden underperformed Hillary everywhere except for four cities.  I mentioned three of the four above as particularly well-known examples of corrupt voting locations for decades. I missed Detroit.  Proves nothing, but maybe concentrating on a few cities where you control a lot of the observation is a better strategy than a little here, a little there.

Dead White Males

It's the "dead" part that is the most problem. The goal is not to increase the number of voices the student hears, but to reduce them, so that only the present exists. The illusion of multiculturalism is not hard to overcome, as what they mostly mean is different foods, music, ways of dress. Fun stuff. Not too intellectually demanding. One can indeed learn something about other cultures by reading Zora Neal Hurston and Ida B Wells, and should. But they aren't very dead, not even a hundred years, and the cultures the write about still not so very far from ours. And even they, if I can tell aright from this distance, are not read for what is different about their lives but for what the student can pretend is "just the same," as illustrations that prejudice America now is really not that far from what they wrote about.  Those two women would say otherwise, I have no doubt. They sang more than one note.

Female writers are few as one goes back in history, as are writers of color. Yet this is a feature, not a bug, as it becomes difficult to find anyone from the past who might whisper to the student that people thought otherwise than they do today. Let us talk about the prejudices they faced, children - just like today! Pay no attention to how their values and motivations were not quite the same as ours, because then we might learn something from them. We therefore have only moderns to draw from, people who drive cars, watch TV, go to restaurants, and get everything from markets. The amount of diversity is going to of necessity be quite limited.

Which is the point. Orwell believed that thought control would come via restrictions on language.  He was close, but not right. By excising categories of writers and eras, students can be given the illusion of freedom.  It is like Montessori kindergarten, where children are set down in a carefully-curated set of objects and given specific requirements about how they must move from one task to another and then told "You can do whatever you want!" Or the Philadelphia Mainline mother in the 1970s bringing her teenage daughter into the clothiers and saying "Navy blue.  All wool. Whatever she wants."

Though modern academic Theory derives from Marxism, it differs sharply from anything written by Marx.  What is shares is viewing everything through the lens of power. "Privilege," "subaltern voices," "postcolonialism" - these are mostly fancy synonyms for perceived power. They are mostly talking about the distribution of power in the present.  Even when they dip into the past, it is usually the recent past, and framed in a way that the modern writer can shape the narrative and pretend to speak for those powerless others. Yet they get even this, the one thing they focus on, wrong to near opposite understanding.  They and their group do not have the power they think they should.  Therefore someone else must have it, and is holding it unfairly. Yet power is actually distributed among us in many ways, as I have written frequently

Three great problems arise from this.  First, by not understand what is actually going wrong, nothing they do is going to fix it in any way, leading to ongoing frustration and even fury. Fighting privilege, insisting on equity, and insisting that others listen to them will in twenty years bring about a situation - that is no better than what we have now. If not worse, for the second reason. Such a focus, being founded on resentment rather than justice and thus angry to its core, even among good people who are genuinely trying very hard to be kindly, will communicate anger and hatred and provoke anger and hatred. Thirdly, by cutting themselves off from the voices of the past, they will have nothing to fight back with. When encountering situations they do not quite understand they will only be able to project what they themselves think. They will remain at the mercy of demagogues* interpreting life for them.

*I hesitate to use the word "demagogues," as it is usually only uttered by those who are demagogues themselves.  One should also do a self-check on that one.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Standing in Judgement

 From Obama's new book, A Promised Land. 

I recognize that there are those who believe that it’s time to discard the myth—that an examination of America’s past and an even cursory glance at today’s headlines show that this nation’s ideals have always been secondary to conquest and subjugation, a racial caste system and rapacious capitalism, and that to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in a game that was rigged from the start,

You didn't build that. Not only every physical comfort and advantage, but every idea of fairness, every understanding of justice, and every desire for freedom, mercy, kindness, and generosity came from the people you are now criticising. It is not true that the other places in the world, such as Kenya and Indonesia, have these things in abundance and America lacks them. All you have you owe to Western Civilisation in general, and America in specific. 

Could you at least acknowledge that, however insincerely with an eye to expanding your audience, at least once? 

Once?

Pecans and Aunts

Words are pronounced differently throughout the country - just about anything with an "a" in it, for example - but very few words are sometimes pronounced differently by the same person.  Two of the most prominent, the two above, work from the same set of sounds.  People generally say ant or aunt the same way in every context, but sometimes, and individual aunts will be referred to by the other pronunciation because well, that's their name. This happens more often when two sides of a family have a different preference.  The children grow up with a preferred pronunciation for the generic, but some of both pronunciations for individuals. There is also the even more regional Aint or even Ayunt in the south, such as Andy of Mayberry's Aint Bee. Both sides of my family used the traditional Boston-area aunt-with-a-"u" version, but my mother's second husband came from North Haven and used Ant. I found it jarring when he would refer to my mother's aunt as Ant Sal, because...because that wasn't her name. Of course Aunt Sal wasn't her name either.  Her name was Selma, and Aunt was a title. And yet, when you are an aunt or an uncle it is your name to some people, and that might even start extending to friends and neighbors as well.

Pecan is even more complicated, because not only the vowel sound can vary, but also which syllable is accented.  Most people have a single pronunciation for every use of the word, puh-CAHN, or pee-CAHN, or PEE-can, or pee-CAN. Others vary it depending on whether they are talking about the pie, the tree, or the plural of them in the bag at the store. Even people who use one of the "can" variants in every other setting might shop for pecahns at the store, and so buy pecahns to make a pecan pie. The pie is particularly tricky, because for some it is one of those phrases in which none of the syllables is accented: Pee Can Pie or Pee Cahn Pie. Even those who accent one syllable or another in the phrase tend to do so in an underplayed manner. Others will change their pronunciation if there is a modifier in the front, especially "Georgia." Because that's their name, don't you know, regardless of what the nut is called in general.

The other most common word with variable pronunciation in the same mouth is "route." One grows up with a preferred pronunciation, but might visit a place for vacation a few times as a child and adopt the other for a specific road.  Rout 17 is the best root to go.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Gradual

 Glenn Greenwald is starting to sound like...well, like a lot of people he didn't expect to.  More fun not to name them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Election of Popes

I noticed during the elections of John Paul I and John Paul II in 1978 that the networks covering the stories were not so much anti-Catholic as just not understanding things outside their own sphere. Whatever network one turned to, it was the same: a guess at how he might be on the issues of abortion and women priests. That was the discussion in the leadup, and the discussion after the election. It was not a declaration that these were the only issues that were important, it was the only things they could wrap their head around. They assumed that this was all anyone else was interested in. This, remember, was in a time just after the very religiously identified 1960s. In 1960, 96% of Americans identified with some religious tradition. Yet by 1978, one class of people did not have the basic information about it. 

 I remember some of the problem, of people thinking that religion was about "being a good person." 

This has increased over time, and has certainly expanded to include conservatives as well. They think they understand and see through everything. That is the story for the Jonathan Haidt research which is about political rather than religious differences. I have commented much on that, but it is not my issue today. 

Intriguingly, this is happening even among liberal Christians now. This is a reversal. In the 70s and even into the 80s the conservative (usually both senses) Christians seemed to be the ones who did not understand much actual doctrine and Church history. They knew about being Born Again, the ideas behind Christmas and Easter, plus a lot of cultural nonsense they held in equal esteem, like no alcohol, no tobacco, using the KJV, or amount of water for baptism. Those in the moderate and liberal denominations often knew more about doctrinal distinctives and the reasons for them. 

The number of liberal (usually both senses) denominations has grown since then, and I think they are the weaker brethren in this matter now. They retain plenty of people with high amounts of knowledge, certainly, but these are concentrated in the oldest generation, my generation now. Young Lutherans and Congregationalists have an almost entirely political gospel now. They think they have understood the "real" doctrines off the church, but have embraced the most ephemeral.

If even those who have grown up attending services no longer understand, we can hardly expect that secular reporters will suddenly start to get it. CS Lewis: "None can give to another what he does not possess himself. No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got."

We Come In Peace

I pledge to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States. And who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people. 


 

Unsurprisingly, the Bee was there before me.