Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Boston Dynamics

It already has 8 million hits since yesterday, so you've probably seen it.

I'll bet they had a lot of fun with this.  Who needs CGI?


While looking for that Distributism post in June 2011 I ran across many things I wrote that month that I liked.  But nothing topped this video. It has 33M viewings and comments are turned off, so I guess I not the only one who noticed. 

I announced at the time that any of my sons who brought something like this home - even though she has an MBA is is cute - is out of the family.  BTW - I think it's a performance and suspected it at the time, but I am  Still. Not. Sure.

Update:  Decided to look it up.  It's a performance, dreamed up on the spot and pretty good. Things too perfect to be true usually are indeed - not true.


Because it came up in the Chesterton comments, I bring this forward from June 2011. I was going to make some of these points in the comments, but see that I was smarter ten years ago.


Distributism – You can catch wikipedia here. A more informal, modern take here.

All I had remembered about Distributism is that it had been championed by Chesterton, and its slogan was “three acres and a cow.” I hadn’t even gotten that right, actually, as I had misremembered it in an American fashion, “forty acres and a cow.” It was an individualist twist on the marxist idea of workers owning the means of production, in that individual workers would own their means of production, not The Workers as a group. Which is certainly an improvement, as The Workers always turns out to be a front for New Bosses. Hillaire Belloc was also a proponent (no surprise), and much of Catholic social action of the 30’s, including the Antigonish Movement, was influenced by the idea. My grandfather left Nova Scotia before the Antigonish Movement, and I don’t know if any siblings or other relatives he left behind were participants. But he moved to Massachusetts, and after some grim times and false starts, moved to Westford and eked out a living the rest of his days on…three acres and a flock of chickens. He usually needed another job as well, beyond selling eggs and strawberries. It’s an important addition to the discussion, as it was to Carl’s income.

Nestled in Chesterton’s thought was the belief that not only could a man support a family if he were given such means of production, but that a certain type of historical Englishness would be preserved. “Three acres and a cow” were not the only possible means of production distributism might provide, but the example was meaningfully chosen. He desired a return to bucolic England. So did Tolkien, if his Shire is any indication. There is certainly some element of unhealthy fantasy here – not the elves and magic-imbued artifacts, but the memory of England as it never was, only as it seemed to a child’s eyes. That the fantasy was sustained by continuing examples of charming smallholders even in their adult experience can be attributed to convenient data selection – confirmation bias.

It’s easy to see how the idea arose. Small farmers rented from large landowners, often hereditary, and often contributing nothing of obvious value to society. An observer might well think “if these farmers owned that land and didn’t have to support this ridiculous aristocracy, they could do much better.” By the late 19th C this was already under correction and breaking down, but that might have not been easy to see while living through it. Changes in the law made aristocrats less and less eligible for those rents, and they had to resort to other means of support. Investments was one, and the financiers and money-movers were reaping that reward. Perhaps this is what galled Chesterton and contributed to his early antisemitism – that the money was finally being redistributed, but not in a way that would preserve his myth of Merrie England. Someone else had cut in line, somehow.

Imagine if such a system had come in. It has a certain attractiveness to it, that an impoverished person in Detroit might be able to make a claim on the government and say “give me three acres and a cow further upstate” as a way of getting a leg up. Except you likely couldn’t live on that. A young man I have known since his childhood has forty acres, is very intelligent, works very hard, and is supporting only himself. He still needs outside work to get by. So this original distributism might allow one to subsist – which is historically accurate for preindustrial England but not what Chesterton was envisioning. If we had gone that route, we would be a poor nation. Americans in many cases actually do own their means of production now – a computer and a cell phone being the most obvious examples.

In the debate about job creation a similar, though updated myth has come in. The 1950’s of our imagination, where a man could go to work at a good union manufacturing job and make his way in the world is the same sort of fantasy: not only a type of job, but a type of life that should still be available, dammit! What’s wrong with America that we can’t do this anymore? Well first, we never did. The poverty rate was almost 25% for the 1950’s. My uncle whines about this all the time, and he’s not the only one, dreaming of a world that never was of manufacturing jobs dominating, not in any era. Second, even for those who had it, it is a life that people wouldn’t go back to. How do we know? Because even when it was still available, people got out of it unless they were in the most favored of manufacturing situations. When I was in school, no one waxed eloquent about the great joys of manufacturing jobs – they were referred to as soul-deadening assembly-line, or shoe factory, or electronic assembling employment. It was no more the great nostalgic time of American greatness than Chesterton’s bucolic fantasies were in his day. As Garrison Keillor wisely pointed out. “We think of those as simpler times, because we were children, and our needs were looked after by others.”

But third, and most important, even if we could, we can’t. We may think it a tragedy that manufacturing has gone elsewhere, or think it a great blessing, but either way, that world is not in any possible future. We may be pessimists who believe that 50% of us will be unemployed in 2040 or optimists who believe a technology-supported, human value-added economy is going to be the great liberator, but either way the change is coming.

Chesterton on Reforming the Press

Chesterton wrote about reform of the press - he was a journalist himself - many times.  This one interested me because of the quote about being "loudly and violently saintly" and the recommendation about sending editors who print falsehoods to prison. "Limericks and Counsels of Perfection," from his book All Things Considered, published in 1908.  Yes, that is where the NPR title comes from. 

One can see both similarities and differences in the press of his time and ours, making it worthy of your time.

BTW, the cause for his canonisation has not been opened, as his local bishop did not recommend it in 2019. His successor could reopen the case.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Well I was certainly surprised. The Dunning-Kruger Effect may not be real, but merely an artefact of what happens when one measures two things that look more related than they really are.  I posted about it frequently a decade ago when I was writing my lengthy "May We Believe Our Thoughts?" series. That there are arrogant, overconfident people the new findings do not dispute, but they cast enormous doubt on the idea that the effect in humans is linear according to actual knowledge. From the article:

Take-home message:
- The Dunning-Kruger effect was originally described in 1999 as the observation that people who are terrible at a particular task think they are much better than they are, while people who are very good at it tend to underestimate their competence
- The Dunning-Kruger effect was never about “dumb people not knowing they are dumb” or about “ignorant people being very arrogant and confident in their lack of knowledge.”
- Because the effect can be seen in random, computer-generated data, it may not be a real flaw in our thinking and thus may not really exist.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Year Reheated

David Thompson serves up his best links of the year, and his commenters are wonderful, as usual. It begins with

The year began with a display of the Guardian’s famed sense of proportion, with the paper’s Barbara Ellen informing us, emphatically, that, “We’re nearly all vegan now” - we being the general population - before asking with equal confidence, “Who isn’t vegan in some way these days?” The Vegan Society, meanwhile, acknowledged that the demographic in question amounts to barely 1% of the British population

 Along the way, we have also

Meanwhile, in Salon, Ms Alex Dew, a woman for whom the word overwrought scarcely does justice, needed us to know that “My houseplant garden is a tiny national park that Donald Trump can never destroy.” 

Thompson has a remarkably good eye for finding these pieces, so that we don't have to.  He sometimes links to performance art, as well. I will note again that "performance art" by young women often seems to be centered around getting naked or down to underwear, in the company of something like a cabbage, or talcum powder, or a single tap shoe.  I'm sure we can all see the significance of that.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Online Abuse

This study came up again today so I am refreshing my comments from 6 months ago.


Grim linked to an article over at Reason about the pathologies of online virtue signalers, specifically that they exhibit "Dark Triad" traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and manipulativeness.  I don't think much in terms of dark triad professionally.  It sometimes contributes to psychiatric emergencies because the patient has alienated support systems, or overreacted to difficulties that might have been managed, but those are generally add-ons.  Those traits don't constitute emergencies.  We might note them in passing and how they complicate treatment, but we quickly agree "This is not our problem to fix." I have noted that social media enables people with personality disorders to have much more power than they do in contact with human beings in real time and space.

I poked around to see if there is literature on connections between Dark Triad and Personality Disorders to see if that could add something to the understanding of these people who claim victimhood but are themselves more likely the abusers online.  There's a fair bit of soft evidence of this, but it doesn't seem well-studied.  As I mentioned in the comment section over at Grim's, this is third-rail stuff for researchers in the social sciences, as they are studying the very people who are most likely to destroy your career if you say the wrong thing about them.

I always have to make an adjustment when reading the word "trolls," because I think the meaning has become more general than my own take.  I still think of them as trolling,  as in fishing by dragging bait in the water and seeing what goes after it.  For trolls in that sense, it is irrelevant whether they actually believe the ideas they are dragging behind them, they just want to use whatever bait gets people most upset.  Because the noun form has become the more often used, I think the other meaning of troll, of a difficult humanoid who may or may not live under a bridge but is dangerous trouble, has supplanted the original meaning.  I think it is now applied to anyone being abusive online. To my eyes many of them are sincere, just difficult or infuriating.  Trolls were usually anonymous. Now they want more twitter followers.

Interesting research that college students became more narcissistic 1979-2006.  Note that this is largely before social media, though the end of that period does include increases in anonymous online commentary.  I can't imagine things have gotten better since then, though I have no clue how much worse it has gotten.  It may be a self-limiting phenomenon that is only going to strongly affect 15-20% of the population very much and that was already reached, with only slight increases since then because of cultural changes in the rest of the population. Or it may have spun wildly out of control by now. It seems to feel that way to others.  To me, human beings have always been this bad.

So, Dark Triad and online bullying, false victimisation, and virtue signaling. Seems about right.  A few decades ago some of us learned that bullies are not poor saps with low self-esteem who are trying to make up for it, but have inflated self-esteem that reality does not sustain.  They believe they are more attractive, have more friends, and are nearer to the top of the class than they really are, and so seek to punish others when reality bites them. That would certainly fit with virtue signaling. We've all done virtue signaling, dropping hints that we are better people than our behavior would warrant.  It is common.  But most of us also feel uncomfortable with the hypocrisy and know we had better pretty quickly cut that stuff out. If you do too much of it, you get worried about being found out and exposed as a fraud.  And sometime later in the day you are going to be talking to God anyway, and you know that's not going to be a good moment.

Referring back to the original link, it is interesting that the researchers connected the traits of claiming victimhood and virtue signaling right from the start, which is why they studied it.  That's exactly the sort of wrongthink that may get them in trouble someday, but we should be grateful they are giving it a run now.

Update: I neglected to mention that reading about the Dark Triad just naturally brings you into discussions of Big Five Personality traits.  These are well-studied for decades and interesting, but came under some criticism when it became clear that they didn't fit non-Western subjects quite as well.  Not badly, just not as well.  The Big Five are Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.  There is a newer model, HEXACO, that uses six factors, the new one being Honesty/Humility. It also slices the pie differently on two of the previous five. How this range of factors interacts with the Dark Triad is rather interesting.


 A last-minute deal has been struck.  I would be interested in other even-handed opinions about how good or bad this is. The people who believe Boris is always wrong will of course be unable to give any credit, so their opinions can be discounted. From this article, it seems the right people are complaining about it - though not very intensely - and the (other) right people are calling it the best that could be done under the circumstances - though again not very intensely. Keep your eye out for other articles, please.  (HT: Maggie's)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Crazy Guggenheim

 It was this every week, back in the day.

Decent People

To refuse to set limits on dangerous people is not kindness, though it is often framed that way, but unkindness to the decent people who have to live near them. The City Journal article on the sidebar is a discussion about white flight from Chicago, with particular reference to the accusations of Michelle (Robinson) Obama, who grew up in a changing, white-flight neighborhood. She follows the stereotypical belief of what happened - which is not surprising, as most of us do that when we don't have time or inclination to study things further - but has its usual unfortunate, even terrifying consequences in the hands of the powerful.

Indeed, a further reason to doubt that white flight was simply, or even primarily, due to racial prejudice is that “black flight,” a more recent development, is following the same course. Examining a development “crushing South Shore and other once-stable neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides”—namely, the “exodus of middle-class African-American families seeking safe neighborhoods and job opportunities”—a 2017 Tribune article quoted Jennifer and Jason Parks, who once lived on the block where Michelle Robinson grew up. The Parks family’s enough-is-enough moment came in 2014, when a 20-year-old man was fatally shot on their street while walking his younger brother to school. “South Shore ranks sixth among the city’s 77 community areas for incidents where one or more people were killed over the past decade,” the Tribune reported.

Detroit neighborhoods are also mentioned, as well as the "urban cores" in general.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas Pies

Clockwise from top:  Marlborough, Apple-Cheddar, Pumpkin Mince (with NH decoration), Chocolate Pecan, and Tourtiere, uncooked.

I am surfeited with eating scraps of crust, something I thought I would never say.

Masters In This Hall

 Grim posted a choral version, and I went looking to add in a different one for fun. Charming.


I was a big William Morris fan decades ago and still go back to him at times.  A remarkable fellow.

Vaccine Code

James's link to the source code for one of the vaccines is worth a read if you are into digging into the science.

St Stephen's Day Murders

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Paranoia II

I confess I am overwhelmed, and upon reflection, how could it be otherwise?  You have given me very good things to read, research, and think about, and I have thought of some on my own, thinking about Medieval peasants, China under Chiang Kai-Shek, Eastern Europeans behind the Iron Curtain, and many individuals I have known.  I keep coming up with theories ("The dispossessed and powerless are more likely to be paranoid") and immediately thinking of counterexamples (Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu). 

I am baking many pies for Christmas and thought that would be opportunity to think about large topics, but the opposite is true.  I have thought about pies and not much else.  (In response to my mince pie problem, BTW, I discovered a pumpkin-mince that I think with cut the intensity of the spices nicely.  Mince spice and pumpkin spice are quite similar, after all: cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, maybe ginger. We'll see how it works.) So perhaps I will lie awake tonight thinking about birthrates, the Black Death, paranoid children of the rich, and the Roma (gypsy) mix of paranoia and insouciance that we find baffling. 

I think I will have to pry smaller topics loose, and right now I am not as clear as I'd like. Muddled.

Carnival Band


Sussex Carol



CS Lewis reveled in what he called the quiddity of weather, the essence of what was happening on a particular day. I have thought of this often, and mentioned it in conversation many times.  You wouldn't know that, because I haven't said that here. I love wind, and thunderstorms, and early on caught the spirit of what he was saying and have tried to emulate it.  When there is blizzard, I have made an effort to appreciate the blizzardness of it.  When there has been downpour enough to pull off the road because one cannot see, even with the wipers on double, I have striven to simply enjoy it.

I have seldom managed this for biting cold, though when my blood is thickened and zero degrees in January is not a barrier to a five-mile walk, I have been able to appreciate that temperature if it is still.  Nor have I done well with humid temps above 90.  I try, because I think Lewis is essentially right in this. Though, over the last forty years I have borne in mind that Lewis's England and Northern Ireland did not have much of those extremes. I did wonder cynically whether he would be quite so thrilled with 20 below.  But still, we should appreciate things for what they are as much as we can, and seek their essence.

It was only about a month ago that I pursued that thought of Lewis's somewhat narrow range of weather that he was so excited about.  They do have wind, yes, and sometimes those are stiffish, as Bertie Wooster might say*.  But no hurricanes or tornadoes.  And when I looked it up, I found that it was not somewhat limited, but very limited. The temperature range every year (in Fahrenheit, the only sensible measure for describing human experience) is 25-80 degrees in Oxford. That means only a few days each year hit those extremes.  In Belfast, where he grew up, it is even less, 30-75 degrees. Coming from New Hampshire, where we get a few days at 100 and a few days at 20 below every year (and at 67 years old I have seen worse than that), we have twice the range.  That is, at the cold he considers bracing and fascinating we've got another 45 degrees worse, and the oppressive heat that complained about in the 1930s as drying up his pond at the Kilns in August is still 20 degrees short of New Hampshire average high temp.

So I am no longer impressed by his quiddity.  I still think it is the right idea and we should all try to revel in the weather God sends us. But he has no authority to speak on this matter.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Worst Weather In The World

These are the best photos of the year from the Mount Washington Observatory. Even in summer a snowstorm can suddenly come in even though you were in bright sun and moderate temperatures just an hour or so before. The record for strongest winds - though disputed recently - still holds at 234 mph. 


I thought it was going to be easier to generalise between liberal and conservative and liberal paranoias, and trends would emerge that would allow me to say something brilliant.  But after reading about QAnon as a reverse game, with guided apophenia making you the playing field instead of the player, I am chary of seeing patterns just for the fun of it.

Ultimately, though, that won't stop me. The seriously paranoid groups seem to come more often from the right.  There are few of them in relation to the whole, but the paranoia goes deep and quickly includes worldwide forces.  I repeat the examples I gave before, of the Endtimes 666 groups of the 70s and 80s, the Trilateralists and New World Order believers (Henry Kissinger overlapped with these groups), the old Illuminati and newer Bilderberg worriers, the guys showing satellite photos of Obama's FEMA camps.  Liberals have their paranoias, but the style is different.  They believe crazy things about Monsanto and GMO foods, but they don't think the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Donald Trump are in on it. A greater percentage of liberals are involved, but it's less global.  A mile wide and an inch deep, while some conservatives are trying to tunnel a single well to the center of the earth. Why is that?

This has been shifting recently, but I don't think it is because of Donald Trump.  I think he got elected because that more generalised paranoia has been increasing. He used to be quite liberal, remember, and in many ways is a liberal turned inside-out now. The conservative fears now have a fair bit of real stuff to draw on, however much people add in ridiculousness like goat-horn signs.

Even though the Buffalo Springfield claimed that paranoia strikes deep, that was mostly just getting the crowd excited. The left was paranoid then, more visibly so, but it was vaguer, and had that same wide distribution.  It wasn't a relatively small cadre of powerful people colluding to oppress us, it was the richest 10% in general, creating a system that oppresses.  That still holds true today, with the idea that the even narrower 1% has designed a system that works for itself but the rest of us participate in perpetuating it. Conservatives make it personal.  It's a few people, and they have evil, not merely selfish intent. They are much less likely to say "We have set up a system which rewards politicians for intervening, for doing any damn thing, so they keep making up rules" and more likely to say "Governor X is a fascist who wants to make people dance to his tune."

Into all this neat division I have pretended is the story comes some messy data. The black community, especially urban black communities, have both types of paranoia, that it's a system, and also that the CIA or FBI is running experiments on the black community in specific, and that very specific politicians are thoroughgoing racists who spend a lot of their energy on keeping black people down. Just one example. Anti-vaxxers are present on both sides of the spectrum. [Tangent: Interesting research reported by Jonathan Haidt, that anti-vaxxers show an unusual pattern of moral foundation, very high on purity scores and low on respect for authority scores, which does indeed draw from both left and right.] The belief in toxins being everywhere and demanding constant vigilance to keep them at bay is found on both left and right, as is a lot of alternative medicine.

I will mention again that liberal fear of conservative paranoia and vice versa may have a lot to do with projection because of the style. If - and I am speculating - liberals sense that among their own tribe the extreme suspicion that is sometimes paranoia is widespread, then when they see paranoia among conservatives they may assume it is similarly universal. News reports that focus on extremes would certainly feed that idea.  Putting that idea in the mirror, conservatives may fear liberal paranoia more because they sense among their own that when it is bad it is very bad, needing to be contained and shuffled off to the fringes, and worried that liberals don't seem to be doing any such containment, but letting environmental catastrophism or critical race theory just flow over the landscape. But liberals don't tend to all believe those things in any intense way. They say on paper that they agree that we are in big trouble on both counts, but then they don't do much about that.  They just go on with other things in their lives, almost as if they didn't really believe it at all. 

Next up, I'm going to try and get some historical perspective on whether this is worse or better than usual, and more importantly, is it going to get worse. 

By the way, the song was written about the closing of  dance club in Los Angeles and the protests about that.  Just a reminder about people getting completely unhinged about universal oppression of a generation on the basis of rather trivial events.

Some Good News

 I love this guy.

Apples, Oranges, and Gun Control

There was good discussion at my Liberty Alliance post, and bsking was her usual statistical self.  It is a more useful skill than what I provide, but I hope I can still be of service.  After a few days has gone by, I tend to move discussions to a new post rather than write something long under the old one - as I used to in the old days.

How can it be that there are studies showing masks provide some group protection and other studies that show they don't make any difference?  The first thing I notice is that they are usually measuring different things. Sometimes what is being measured is how much people are wearing masks. Sometimes what is being measured is whether masks are mandated are not. Those seem the same at first, but a second glance shows they are quite different. One is a more hard science look, the other is more of a sociological take. We can see this if we compare it to gun control laws.  Chicago has lots of gun control laws - mandates, if you will - while New Hampshire has few. But that doesn't tell us much about whether people are obeying those laws or not and whether they are being generally safe with guns, does it? So too with masks. Just because they are being mandated does not necessarily mean any increase in the actual behavior. 

I am pretty annoyed at sites that should notice the difference but either don't see it, or worse, don't mention it because it doesn't fit their aims. A couple of Insty writers trumpet studies that show mandates don't help, and the takeaway that a lot of people have, judging from the comments, is that masks don't do any good. It is an advocacy site and can print what it wants, but insofar as it purports to be publishing news and promoting intelligent discussion, they should be more evenhanded - or at least keep reminding people what they really are. There is secondly a months long quiet dishonesty, in that right from the beginning they have been insisting "People won't put up with these restrictions. Real Americans aren't like that." Then when people resist wearing masks, and the numbers go down and the disease keeps spreading they say "See?  Masks don't work." 

Similar discussions about restaurant closings, school attendance, distancing and other measures flow from this, but I am just sticking with masks at present for simplicity, and because it is the easiest of measures to follow through with.  While they are a genuine hardship for some*, they generally aren't.

It is very possible from this disparity to take the view "Well fine then.  Mask mandates are no more effective than gun control, so we shouldn't have them."  I have a general sympathy with the idea that restrictions on freedoms, even small ones, should show some use or they should not even be considered. But there is a difference here, and perhaps a crucial one.  No one is claiming that gunshot wounds don't hurt people. There aren't comment boards angrily pointing out that lots of ammo is used without anyone getting shot, so this whole gun safety idea is ridiculous. Gun  owners are often the first to tell you "Dude, get some training." People acknowledge the danger but insist it can be managed, and that it actually reduces danger in other directions. If the people of an area were insisting that a gun can't hurt you, even I might reluctantly conclude some sort of restriction should be in place until we could smack some sense into them.

And yes, there are plenty of people saying exactly that about masks, without making any distinctions of masks properly made and properly worn, or particular circumstances.  I have heard them live and so have you, usually males being dismissive and implying that you are being a bit of a coward for buying into that nonsense.  This is usually accompanied by some very bad extra reasoning, such as "this is mostly a hoax, which I can tell because I don't know anyone who has gotten this," or assertions that the deaths aren't really Covid or aren't any more than usual, or are fewer than the number of people who die from x, y, or z. Dude, don't help any schoolchildren with their science homework, okay?

While I am on a rant, I will revert to my usual rants as well.  Not all of the disruption is because of the government, but lots of people are focusing on the government actions as a synecdoche for all the misery in their lives. With this many deaths, restaurant attendance was going to go down anyway, and restaurants are notoriously fragile. Also, many businesses concluded they don't want the risk for staff, vendors, and customers regardless of what the government was mandating - and liability questions are also looming an uncertain. Next, I keep hearing "They told us this was supposed to only be two weeks to flatten the curve."  That's a fully reasonable complaint.  The rug was pulled and the various reasons why are fair game for discussion.  But you know what else they said back in March? "They" said it was "just the flu," which would be 23K deaths in a year, and then "a bad flu," which would be 60K. "They" said that Florida was handling things much better, Texas had very few cases, California had way fewer cases than New York, and why couldn't we all be more like South Dakota? "They" said that the US wasn't going to get hit as hard as Italy or France because...something. Except the "they" in those previous statements are not the "experts" (always in quotes) but the self-appointed experts who were critics, who no longer mention what they used to claim. 

As I have said before - with lower numbers - you can make the argument that 400,000 deaths isn't a lot, especially when it's mostly old people who were going to die in 1-24 months anyway.  That is a seismic shift in American culture to regard the elderly that way, and it has been predicted over the last few decades because of how expensive we are getting to be.  But you could make that claim, yes. I don't like a culture taking that attitude toward life, but many tribes have done even worse - think ice floes and seal blubber. Just admit what you said, and what you are saying, or you haven't got the right to criticise what others said and are saying.

*As noted in comments under a previous post, people who can't have glasses fogging up when they are working and people who have hearing deficits have real hardships.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


 I haven't known much about QAnon. It may be a larger phenomenon than I knew.  Granite Dad sent me an interesting analysis of why the beliefs are so attractive and reinforcing.  It is in the method of delivery and discovery: you believe that you have discovered these things on your own through your own research, based on hints - called "breadcrumbs - that Q has left out for people to follow in hopes of discovering the truth. But you are not discovering these things on your own.  It is a game that plays you.

The method of leading you along to the desired conclusions is not only similar to cults, it is similar to what are called Alternate Reality Games (ARG), Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP), or Experience Fiction (XF), which are immersive games, and a game-designer explains how the puppet-masters of QAnon create situations which not only provide you with a feeling of accomplishment (and dopamine hit) when you solve the puzzle, but put you in a culture where this is reinforced. The technique is called guided apophenia, the latter word meaning "the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things, such as objects or ideas." 

I think I am going to have a lot to say about this.  I first encountered that technique of a cult letting you think you have reached your own conclusions in the late 1970s when the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon used it to set the table so that people going to one of their retreats or seminars would come away believing that he was the messiah. Nor is it always nefarious in intent.  Teaching by discovery is a powerful technique - which is why cults use it.  This modern incarnation uses the same principles but highly refined and thus even more powerful. 

What surprised me is how this powerful technique is being used to convince people of some very tired and cliched paranoias.  It's the Jews who are behind it all, you see, and the Illuminati, and various royals and American politicians and central cultural figures who are not-so-secretly serving occultic powers.  The alert observer can spot this because of the symbols these oppressors are using, such as owl or Y-head (Hook 'em Horns!) jewelry, hand gestures, or tattoos. When you are part of this community, you start to see such things everywhere, and report back to the others your new finds.  There is a magazine cover with Beyonce - and she is flashing the Illuminati symbol! You found it yourself.  The others congratulate you and take it as further proof.

The hint is continually give out that these powerful figures have to communicate with each other and show their colors by using these symbols.  Why they couldn't just email or talk on the phone does not seem to be explored much.  They have to, have to, have to you see because...well, occult. And they like teasing you by laughing into their sleeves while they do this right out in the open, you sheeple.

These sorts of paranoias seem to be a mostly conservative phenomenon, so it behooves us to figure out how this happens and why. I've been through this with the Illuminati, 666, Trilateralists, and New World Order. In history it has often been anti-Catholic, anti-Masonic, or anti-Semitic and the same boring examples keep popping up.  I'm getting tired of every generation discovering that it's the Rothschilds.

Liberal used to have their own strings of paranoias, but now that they are ascendant they tend instead to be too trusting of authorities and institutions.  "Question Authority" used to be a common liberal bumpersticker, but that hasn't been true for years. For now, just read and reflect, and we will discuss this further.  If something occurs to you, please put it down in the comments before you forget it.  I am also wondering whether these are the same people who would be paranoid about something else or if this is more powerfully reaching into the merely cynical and suspicious.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

New Cousin

Finding new relatives that no one in the family talked about or perhaps even knew about is one of the risks/joys/adventures of having a DNA test done.  I have a new relative, just a little younger than me, positioned somewhere between first and second cousin. She was a closed adoption in Ellsworth, ME in 1958.  Only two other listed relatives on her paternal side, both quite remote. She messaged me on  People are quite tentative about this, with good reason.  Folks don't want to hear about extra babies born who were hushed up at the time.  I think I have mentioned before that we have that situation with our adopted nephew/fifth son.  His mother was a closed adoption in 1967.  He has a very close DNA match that we have narrowed down to be his grandmother's sister. We asked her for details and received the reply that no women in her family had a baby in Cambridge in that year.  They were all in California the whole time.  So we still don't know, though another match on that line might tell us which girl went away to "summer camp" that year.

It is uncomfortable.  It became clear that this new cousin must be a child of one of my grandparents or one of their siblings. On that side, my grandfather had four brothers and my grandmother was an only child, so I assumed at first that that side was more likely.  But the centiMorgans of the common relatives did not come close to matching.  We concluded at first that my grandfather must also be her grandfather, with an unknown son born around 1920 or so.  As Ellsworth is across the bay from Nova Scotia, that made some sense.  So...Grampa...he is long gone, died in 1983.  I knew him a bit and it did bother me just a touch.  I worried it might bother some other people more.  What to do?  What to say? How do you ask such questions without giving away the suspicions?

The woman is working with Search Angels, which helps people locate birth parents.  I spoke with them trying to narrow the places and dates, but it still didn't add up.  I don't have a huge number of DNA matches on that side but I have some, but she was not showing up as connected to them at all.  Which is impossible. We cast about until the person (from San Diego) mentioned that it must still be him because he had lived in Westford and her distant connections were from Leominster (he mispronounced it) which was so nearby. Ah, that was the key.  It wasn't my grandfather from Nova Scotia at all, it was his first wife, from Leominster, whose family had been in that area (Fitchburg, Shirley) for generations. She died youngish in 1952 and I never knew her. I actually had a hard time talking him into that, but it made sense to me. So she had a child before marrying Carl, who was a very silent person.  I never heard him mention her.  Or much of anything else, actually. I don't know if he even knew about the boy.

That boy in turn was the father of my cousin, born two states and 300 miles away, so she has two mysteries to solve to place herself in the genetic world accurately. I hope to meet her after all this avoidance of contact is over. My father had a half-brother he never knew about, and I have a half-first-cousin I just learned about, and it is time to close the circle.

Halifax and Scarborough Sing to Us


Slavery and Following Orders

When one reads the ancient Greek epics - or in my lazy case, reads about them with some selected passages being highlighted - one sees that slavery was regarded as a terrible thing to happen, but not necessarily a generalised moral evil.  If the other country conquered you they took you as slaves if they didn't kill you.  If you conquered them, you did the same. It was seen as a horrible fate, to be dragged off to another land and made to row galleys or work in mines, but there were only hints in the literature that this was an unfair thing.  It was just how things were.  The Hebrew scriptures started putting some dents in that. There were rules about what you could do to slaves, especially if they were countrymen.  This increased over time, and the Roman Catholic Church kept chopping away at what was permitted and what was not.  These seem like small things now, in an era when everyone just KNOWS that slavery is the worstest moral evil ever, especially in America, where it was invented. 

Something similar happened with women's rights, which advanced in some places more quickly than others.  Most places in the world there is still a significant disparity between what women are allowed to do and what men are. But it was step-by step, and occurred first in NW Europe inside the Hajnal Line. Slowly, women could inherit property and own it; women could belong to guilds; women had to consent to their marriages. It is not just a matter of "what we take for granted now," but a complete failure to understand that what we consider morally obvious was morally unknown throughout most of history.

I heard a podcast reference to someone in a situation a little over a century ago "just following orders" to excuse their moral failing. The line was delivered contemptuously, that "we've come to regard that as a ridiculous these days."  Well, maybe it is.  It certainly feels that way to us now.  But it didn't seem so until very recently.  In hierarchical societies, where group survival hung on everyone sticking together and following the leader, "I was only obeying orders" would have seemed sensible for thousands of years. If you didn't obey orders you got killed or the whole group might lose the battle and get sold into slavery. Only much later in history - again, inside the Hajnal line primarily - did the idea of being fully responsible for independent moral action start to become the norm.

It's my usual rule: always be most suspicious of "what everyone knows."

Liberty Alliance

I might be unfair in this.  I don't know the details.  But it looks...unfortunate at present.  In NH, the "Live Free or Die ("Death is not the worst of evils") state, we have long had a mild libertarian substrate that used to affect even Democrats. That is mostly gone, but you can still find it among the long-term residence. So the fact that our state legislature had a "liberty alliance" of fifty reps, I think all Republican, that met openly a few weeks ago without masks to make a point is not surprising.  It reflects a typical attitude here.  It included the newly-installed Speaker of the House, and a new friend of mine since I moved to the neighborhood who has represented Goffstown for years. I spoke to the latter a couple of months ago who assured me that he was a trained engineer and knew how to read scientific papers and thought that masks were crap.

So the Speaker of the House is now dead from CoVid and my friend has been readmitted and is in intensive care with CoVid. Probably just a coincidence. Small sample size and all that.

"He's Not Perfect"

This is an evasion I have grown tired of when people are defending someone's moral behavior, especially a politicians. Yes, of course we know the person in question is not perfect, but that is not the standard we are holding them to.

A woman at my previous church said something like this while defending Bill Clinton in the late 90s. "Oh, we want our leaders to be perfect. It's like when people were so upset with Jimmy Carter said that he lusted after women in his heart in the 1970s." I recalled that pretty well, and my strong impression was that Jimmy was being criticised for campaigning by being interviewed for Playboy, not because he lusted in his heart. It seemed one more convenient rewriting of history. We weren't asking Bill to be perfect. Any amount of lusting in his heart we would have taken in stride.  It was lying to - oh, I'm sorry, misleading a Grand Jury that had conservatives frothing, and even the general public who showed up at the controversy mostly for the sexy stories were upset that he had taken power advantage of a young woman, that they had tried to destroy her reputation, that he had flat-out lied to us on TV, that he had done this in the Oval Office, and that more darkly, it looked like he had treated other women worse than that in the past, using intimidation, violence, maybe even rape.

This on top of cattle futures, legal records from Arkansas showing up inexplicably in the White House, using FBI files for political purposes, and all the rest, month after month.  No, we weren't asking him to be "perfect." Just a whole lot better than he was.

I hear that "not perfect" excuse even on Great Books podcasts about authors. I am not asking that Jean-Jacques Rousseau be regarded as perfect.  I am asking that his abandonment of his children to a foundling hospital not be glossed over when discussion the moral sermons he was giving the rest of us on how society should be structured. The weak excuse is something of a reverse strawman, implying that it is the accusers who are being hypocritical and applying an impossible standard.

The excuse can be used reasonably, which is why people try to steal it to apply unreasonably.  One might say of a boss who pays well, doesn't play favorites, keeps business going and people employed even in hard times, but loses his temper and yells at times that he is "not perfect," if they are advising someone whether to work for him or not. But to use it when he is engaging in criminal acts, or threatening, is to stretch that excuse too far. 

If you catch yourself using it, quickly reflect whether you are using it justly or as an excuse.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Self-Deception Anecdote

We interviewed a woman in her late 20's in 1987 who had been admitted the night before for a fairly serious suicide attempt.  You should know that when I say "fairly serious" most of you would regard it a very serious.  One grows inured. She claimed to be a Multiple Personality Disorder, that therapist-induced variation on either Borderline Personality Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder that was more common then. She insisted that she must be discharged immediately, as she was in a special treatment protocol with a very special therapist she had found after an eighteen-month search who claimed that the worst thing that could happen was for her to be exposed to people who doubted her personalities in the slightest. We gave our usual explanation in a flat tone, with only enough empathy to meet the minimum standard for human interaction.  Anything more is simply too much emotion for a borderline in crisis and it destabilises them. One has to be matter-of-fact, or one is being cruel and taunting. We told her as we did not know her and did not have a track record for her safety, we would defer entirely to the court procedures that brought her into the hospital, and a probable cause hearing on the petition that brought her in would be heard tomorrow around 10:30 am, and when we heard back from the judge after that, we would decide what should be done next.

She was predictably furious and felt unheard and misunderstood. BPD is a hard condition to have, and while she was not capable of hearing and understanding us while in crisis, rather than the other way around, her misery was genuine and not to be belittled. You really, really would not want to live inside the head of people who go through this and have to feel what they feel. As infuriating as they can be, they do in some ways display a greater courage than most of us.

Nonetheless, the heart of their condition is that they deceive themselves by attending to emotions over facts. After she had repeatedly described the special protocol that must be observed, or all would be lost and was escorted from the room so that we might deliberate what we should do next, I said "She seems to be trying very hard to find a therapist who will reinforce her pathology rather than help her."* They nodded sadly.  It fell to me by the nature of my role to be the one to call this magical therapist and find out what was happening in this special protocol.  What was being described to us seemed frankly bizarre, that each personality was separately in therapy, hypnosis aided.  I spoke to this therapist and found this was true, and - also predictably - she suffered from this condition herself and so had special insight into women with such problems, and agreed that the worst, worst, worst thing that could be happening to her client was to encounter people who expressed the least doubt to undermine her therapy. I did venture the observation that "worst" might include completed suicide, but winced as I said it, because I knew it was going to be the same rant again. Maybe I secretly enjoyed setting her off, I''m not sure.

So I went into team the next morning and said "This woman has devoted enormous energy into finding the one therapist in New Hampshire who can do her the least good." When people either a) keep shopping for therapists, none of which are quite right, or b) dither for months wondering if maybe they should go into therapy, I recommend picking a boring or average-sounding one out of the list.  Because that is what you really need. Just a regular trained person who knows the main pitfalls and approaches and can give you Basic Therapy - not like fast food, which would be a pop psych thing, or even a chain restaurant like Appleby's, which would be something like that, but more like a family restaurant you stop at for lunch while traveling.  They know how to make food and serve it to you. Therapists like that are gold. It's okay to choose carefully and switch off a therapist when you begin - but just once.  After that, the odds are you are avoiding, rather than seeking therapy.

*I had finally established enough credibility with the team I worked with at that point that they were willing to hear my observation, as they had not been initially in 1985 because I am not degreed, and they were wonderfully credentialed. But they were also actually intelligent and quite secure in their expertise, and thus not threatened by me and able to listen. People like me who came up through unusual channels are sometimes something of a litmus test for which among the credentialed are actually all that good.  And many are, God bless them.  Just not all.

Agni Parthene (O Virgin Pure)

It is not ancient (as you might have suspected given the harrmonies) but 19th C and western-influenced. The poem is by Bishop Nectarios of Aegina, who was recognised as a saint in 1961. The isolated church that shows up around the 4:30 mark reminds me of one we visted at Stina da Vale in Transylvania, well up in the mountains.

Christmas Poetry

Reprinted from 2011.  This came to mind because "The Road Not Taken" came up over at Althouse and I got to complaining about how that poem is misunderstood. Most simply, the roads are equally trod - it's there in the text - but Frost notes that we will say later that we took the less-traveled one and claim it made all the difference.  It is a sad or wry comment about post hoc reasoning and rationalisation, not an encouragement to dare to be different.

But here's another:

Christmas Trees
(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

Robert Frost (1920)  

We bought our Christmas tree about four miles from there this year. We spent more than a dollar.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Steve Sailer on CoVid

Sailer writes over at Takimag, because he is too controversial for most outlets, but he does tend to be data driven.  He claims that he mostly gets in trouble for just noticing stuff you aren't supposed to notice, particularly on the issues of race, gender, IQ, education, crime, China, and how-people-contradict-what-they-said-just-last-year. Y'know, unimportant topics.

He weighs in on the vaccines, what has happened so far on CoVid, and what we can expect to happen over the next few months.

As Tyler Cowen has pointed out, it’s very hard to fight coronavirus to a draw. It’s probably beyond our skill set. Instead, at any point in time, the place where you live is either winning over it or losing to it.

That is the nature of exponential equations, which often look quiescent and harmless. and then completely out of control. Sailer is very good on how big the virus is, and how big it isn't. Very clear data and graphs.

The update from the Veterans Home up here is 35 dead, BTW.  The study showing that much of Covid has been driven by people working at more than one nursing home was a facepalm for me. I had not seen it coming, but it made immediate sense.  That is the way that industry works, with many staff hired only part-time so that they do not have to be provided with benefits, so they work at multiple locations.  This is also true of consultants that are not needed for 40 hours a week, such as physical therapists, respiratory therapists, or maintenance people. Those often have 10-20 hours a week at a few places. I know some of them, but I never connected the dots.  I may have gotten far enough to feel sorry for them because they had to expose themselves to risk so much just to make a living, but I didn't swing that the other way. 

While you are at Taki's, BTW (which you should go over to once a month anyway) enjoy Ann Coulter getting upset at just about everyone in Georgia: the Republicans wondering whether they should vote, the election officials who assured the NYT that everything was fine because they had procedures in place (and, had they followed those procedures it might have been), and the elected Republicans who are more irritated with Trump than their own state. Coulter is absolutely no fan of Trump, but she knows how to keep her eye on the prize. Right now she sounds like she's going to get on a midnight train and start smacking folks around. 

Yeah, it's a good spot for that song, isn't it? 

Go Tell It On The Mountain


Negro League Baseball

I am a great fan of Negro League baseball, but the MLB decision to declare them major leagues is wrong. They had teams such as a few of the Pittsburgh Crawfords or Homestead Grays teams that rank among the great teams of all time, among the many Yankees teams (1927, 1939, 1956, 1961, 1998) or Big Red Machine out of Cincinnati in the mid-70s or the Red Sox 2018 for the modern fan with less knowledge of history, or 1970 Orioles if youbelieve pitching is most important.  Those Negro League teams had Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Smokey Joe Williams...they could beat anyone, including the above. BTW, your might put a team or two from the Pacific Coast League in the 30s, especially ones with the DiMaggio brothers, into the major leagues as well if you want to go that route.

But the rest of those leagues were not like this.  They had teams that would be AA now.  They were not top-to-bottom great leagues.  Not their fault.  The money wasn't good and and good, often very good players could not hang on the road for money that terrible because they had people back home to support. But this is a political, not a talent-based decision.  I don't know what it will do to the record books, and I don't much care anymore.  Major League Baseball has become a game I do not much recognise, and whatever the hell they do with their Hall of Fame and their records is of only occasional importance to me now.  I am curious where Mike Trout ends up in the All-Time statistics someday, but I only check in a few times a year on that. I had my shot at following modern baseball and integrating it into baseball history, and the Negro Leagues I have had a special fondness for. I am content to leave it behind.

I suppose, as professional sports are just popular mythology in the form of entertainment, there isn't much wrong with a decision based on politics rather than talent. They have never been that much more anyway.

New Lost City Ramblers

 If you like to hear the stories of the old folkies of the early 60s as well as listen to them, this documentary might suit. 

Christmas Mythbusters - Magi

Reprinted from February 2020, somewhat edited.

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

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

Having names for the Wise Men, like Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar is fun, as is the idea that we can (rather breathlessly these last two hundred years) have them come from different continents and be different colors.  But that hasn't got much foundation - certainly not biblical - as Longnecker explains on his site. We don't know that there were three of them, either, only that they brought three gifts.  They likely traveled in a large group with many camels.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Joseph's Song

 Starting at the second verse I start to get it and well up.

The Perfect Meal

There is a final, optional scene called "A Quiet War" in Neil Simon's adaptation of Chekhov, "The Good Doctor." The first link is to a YouTube capture of a performance which doesn't impress me much, but I include in case you want to play with it yourself. It is two retired military commanders meeting on a park bench to debate the perfect five-course meal. My younger brother, a theater professional described it to me years ago and it has haunted me ever since.  He and I could perform this at a moderately good level after only one rehearsal, and under a strict director who would tolerate no nonsense from either of us we could do it magnificently.  That might take a few rehearsals as s/he beat us into submission. It will never happen, but it is fun to think about. The spoiler is that they have debated to a near standstill, with the one who went first confident that he still holds a slight advantage as the other wraps up until his rival introduces at the last moment that a fine cigar should top it off. The other realises in a moment he has missed this crucial detail and concedes.

What is the perfect meal? I was thinking of this today as I was putting out a limited charcuterie for the two of us and wondering if the day will ever come when I can spread such a table as I dream for a group of loved ones over a large room, with twenty labeled cheeses, a half-dozen sliced meats, copious fruits (pears and berries work well with cheeses and meats), and both breads and crackers. This to be an ongoing feast that begins mid-afternoon and extends well into the evening.  There are small scattered tables, but this is mostly about the conversation as everyone mills about. There are chairs only because one might grow weary, or because an important small conversation might need to take place amidst the hubbub.

The assumptions and controversies reveal themselves immediately.  You will notice that this is not a perfectly prepared dinner for a few intimates but a large social event. This is not a Broccoli-almond soup/Coquilles Saint-Jacques/Beef Wellington for four sort of affair but a party structured by the food and wine. Scripture describes heaven as a wedding feast, and I am all in.  We do not usually remember how well the food was prepared after a wedding reception, but only that it was tasty, enough, and those we loved were there.  Wine and fruit juices should be plentiful, but I am undecided about liqueurs, beer, various soft drinks and the like.  Coffee and tea to fill up the corners, or demitasses of chocolate at the end, certainly.  But some drinks have such dominance that they take over not only the food but the conversation.  Can't have that. We have to apply rigorous disciple to keep the beer snobs from ruining everything.  Wine snobs are fine - they are simply amusing. I do want to have this be a setting that children can navigate, with things difficult to reach for the youngest ones but manageable for the others, who can then cruise without injury throughout the event. Hors d'oeuvres...hmm...hmm...I am uncertain.  Desserts shall be tiny and only come in at the very end, when those under the age of eight or so have spent their energy and have collapsed into the mats, pillows, and blankets along the walls. They would not appreciate such fine stuff anyway. I might hold the hot beverages until then as well, as there is a lot of extra complexity arising from saucers, creams and sugars, and spoons. Not a good mix with children.  Now that I think of it, beer could be allowed but only in those small glasses used for "flights," and something similar for sodas.  Sparkling water and juices should be enough to keep the troops happy, in addition to the wine. Liqueurs only after most of the crowd has gone home, and then also the fortified wines, a room for cigars, and a few fireplaces will close down the night. There should be a verandah with at least some covering throughout, regardless of temperature. I suppose a verandah suggests tuxedos and gowns.  I had not thought of that, but am not opposed.

Yes of course my brothers and all my sons are coming.  We negotiate the schedule endlessly until they all can be present. 

For some the perfect meal can only be on a holiday, which brings its own emotional power with it, and carries also a natural limitation of the guest list.  Traditional foods are also doubled and trebled in flavor in such circumstances. I can see that.  I would like to have friends and family both, but understand that  this might create an excess of energy that diminishes all.  Especially with my friends and family.

Expand on this topic at whatever length pleases you.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Adeste Fideles

We learned this in phonetic Latin in 5th grade at Straw School in 1963. I wondered if they had chosen Latin because John Kennedy was Catholic and it seemed a way to honor him.  Such is the way that 10-year-olds think. 

There's quite the descant starting at about the three minute mark.  Descants rapidly move me to tears.

Undeceptions Series

I am putting them all in one box for my own use, or possibly yours if you want to send it to someone. There is nothing new here, just a repackaging. 

1. Undeceptions 

2. Undeceptions II - Biographical Notes 

3. Self-Deception 

4. Undeceptions III 

5. Undeceptions IV - The Ransom Trilogy and The Great Divorce

6. Undeceptions V 

7. Undeceptions VI - Till We Have Faces 

8. That Hideous Strength.  Not actually part of the series but added in for convenience

9. Self-Deception Anecdote.  A later addition.

That Hideous Strength

This is still about Lewis, but does not fit well enough in the Undeceptions series. 

David Foster reminded me that he had an extensive post over at Chicago Boyz discussing the book back in 2014, which I had commented on then. It saves me a lot of trouble to refer you to that, and he brings up points I would have neglected. I also discussed it in my recent post Surfeit of Creativity. Once you have weathered those two you may not want much more, but I do have a bit to add.

There is a type of fundamentalist who rejects Lewis because of his use of magic in his books, which I discussed incidentally a few weeks ago in Post 7400. They subscribe to a late Medieval view of witchcraft which they declare to be scriptural. However, in the case of this book, I think they get it right. In his seven plots, with too much going on in general there is an Arthurian plot which culminates in Merlin, an ancient pagan whose conversion to Christianity did not erase his previous wizardly abilities, being "used" by - possessed, really - pagan and subchristian forces to defeat the ancient evil in a wood at an English university. Lewis tries to stuff this under a common lesson of his that all things which die and submit to Christ can be resurrected and made holy, but there's one difficulty:  they haven't died and submitted so much as lingered and been forgotten.  It is an unnecessary ending. A more clearly Christian power defeating the demonic forces, some version of Archangel Michael could have been developed instead. Also, Jane Studdock's clairvoyant powers are clearly an inherited ability, not a spiritual gift in our usual understanding. Tolkien felt that the influence of Charles Williams brought this about, as his books contain these pagan and magical elements more commonly.  I have not read him.  I am told that he keeps those powers under control and under submission, so that Christians might read them with profit.  J I. Packer (who died in British Columbia this summer at 93) was a fan, for example. Maybe so.  Perhaps I am too fussy or too skittish on the matter because of my own Jesus people heritage in the 70s.  But I think Lewis got it wrong here.

One more thing:  There was a book by Peter Kreeft, the Catholic convert who taught for many years at Boston College, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley. Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley all died on November 22, 1963, and Kreeft imagines a conversation among them in those first few hours while awaiting...he doesn't say.  It is a short book and a fun read. Kennedy is the humanist, secularised Christian; Lewis the orthodox believer, the Mere Christian; Huxley the orientalised Christian that was becoming every more common among the intellectual classes.  Their alliances in the discussion shift, with Huxley and Lewis teaming up to argue at Kennedy at some points, Kennedy and Huxley allying to refute Lewis.


Intersectionality is a narrow pantry cupboard about which there are constant arguments over which food goes on which shelves among the adolescents living in this apartment, supported by their parents - who they condemn as insufficiently sympathetic and generous.

Just Checking The Options, Here

Or the other possibility is that there wasn't actually massive voter fraud.

Now Shine a Thousand Candles Bright

 This is still sung in some Swedish churches in America - though I think always in English now.

Undeceptions VI - Till We Have Faces

Time to wrap this thing up, it has gone on too long. You get the basic idea by now and can find things on your own: much of Lewis's work is about the lies, half-truths, and evasions we tell ourselves and how they interfere with both rational thinking and imaginative thinking. Lewis does not teach that if we lose our self-deceit that rationality and imagination will then follow automatically, but he comes close. Like the lizard killed and transformed into a magnificent stallion in The Great Divorce, we are at least well on our way. 

Several writers have suggested that works of Lewis be paired together for greater understanding, as they were written at similar times and are expressions of the same ideas in different literary forms.  Lewis himself writes of an idea seeking its best form, and an author's challenge in deciding.  For example, The Screwtape Letters and A Preface to Paradise Lost were written close in time, and there are echoes of a specifically Miltonic Satan in Screwtape. The Abolition of Man was written just after Perelandra and just prior to That Hideous Strength, and one can see the abstract ideas of Abolition being given life and explore in the last two novels of the Ransom trilogy.  

Till We Have Faces is paired with The Four Loves, a more academic work explaining the differences among the four words for love in Greek: agape, eros, storge, and philia. Lewis thought TWHF far and away his best novel, and Tolkien and others agreed. It is worth noting that while many Lewis fans are put off by the book at first, many come to agree as well and think it his finest. Some go so far as to call it the best novel of the 20th Century. I always find this disconcerting. While I am impressed by is depth and careful structure, I have never warmed to it. I am getting it out again and having another try.

The critics were not much impressed in 1956, and neither was the general public, as the book did not sell well.  Lewis gave radio talks in 1958 on the rather academic subject of the four Greek words for love which became the book in 1960.  A few friends recognised at the time that he was trying to explain the novel's underpinnings in hopes of winning better understanding for the work. Over time that has become the generally understood explanation, of each work explaining the other in different form. If anyone doubts it at this point, I have annotated the first words of Till We Have Faces:

"I am old now and have not much fear from the anger of gods¹. I have no husband², nor child³, nor hardly a friend⁴”

There is a powerful second theme that interweaves this. Neither the purely mystical nor the purely rational can bring us home.  While they appear to be in constant conflict in this world, a proper understanding of their relationship to each other allows both to flower. In TWHF, the tutor called The Fox is all rationality with disdain for the work of the priests of Ungit. The priests, for their part have a lively sense of the reality of the gods, but misunderstand and distort much. The people of the country, including the king, have a small understanding of both.  Orual, the main character, has more of both. Her story is like Job's. Psyche, her younger sister who is to be a bride sacrifice to the God of the Mountain, understands both much more fully and demonstrates their interaction. She understands each of the loves in its place, not confusing them or wishing that one was another.

Yet all this is a very prominent theme of Lewis's Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, his partial autobiography. Looking that up, yes, there it is, written at the same time, in 1955.  I have never seen anyone pair that book with the others, but there it is, unmistakable when one looks at it for even a few moments.  There is the Argument from Desire and his gratitude to his tutor Professor Kirkpatrick, the rationalist atheist. 

So I looked at what else was being written at that time and multiple connections appear after less than a minute's thought.  In The Horse and His Boy (1954), we have Shasta's feeling that he has been mistreated terribly his whole life only to eventually learn that all the worst events were in fact rescues from deeper evils. There are the related but various forms Aslan takes when dealing with humans - but both of these are the lessons Orual learns. In The Magician's Nephew (1955) we see the power of fertility that is almost pagan in the creation of Narnia, yet also see how that can go terribly wrong in Jadis, and see the competition of loves and how they must be ordered correctly or they turn sour. And The Last Battle (1956) is very much about the appearance of the gods versus their reality, and how we can deceive ourselves if we do not strive first for the simple goodness that we do know, seeking higher wisdoms when we have not mastered the lower.  I'll bet you can find more similarities if you think about it, and I would be happy to hear them.

It is time to return to my original theme, that our misunderstanding of God stem from our misunderstanding of ourselves, and our desire that reality be something other than what it is. Orual accuses the gods for the first 80% of the book that she has been treated shabbily from the first and declares them evil and cruel. The book comes to such finality at the end of Part I that you wonder if the remaining pages in your right had are some sort of index or lengthy set of notes. In Part II she comes to see that the evil appearances of the gods come from her own misunderstandings.

A note on reading the book.  I have never been much fond of myth.  I disliked studying the Greek myths in school and had no fascination for the alternatives from other cultures. I gave a try at the Nordic myths when I went through a phase from 12-16 of reveling in my own Scandinavian identity as a way of embracing my unusual appearance of flaxen hair and extremely pale skin, but I still couldn't work up much interest in Loki and Yggdrasil.  I did have that taste for "northernness" that Lewis described in hearing Wagner and reading Tolkien, but I couldn't bear the Silmarillion.  While I could understand the attraction, and felt I understood the importance of uniting myth and reason in Lewis's own conversion journey, it was not my journey.  So I think, in the shallowness of my expectations, that  I learned there were neither going to be Hobbits nor Jesus* in Till We Have Faces I had a hard time getting over that.  I think Lewis also has less knack for naming than Tolkien, and I have been spoiled in that since The Hobbit. He does well enough chosing the proper English names for his terrrestrial characters, all the Susans and Eustaces and Mark Studdocks and Miss Ironwoods, or his villainous Frost and Wither. But Tinidril and Redival are merely okay, while pfifltriggi and Nikabrik are actively bad names.  It puts me off, and Glome occurs right at the beginning. It is a small fault, and I reveal my shallowness by being so influenced by it. Still, if he had had a guest-namer it might have improved things.

Also, what those who love the book claim as an advantage - that one finds deeper meanings and new things on further readings - is a very CS Lewis sentiment.  It was from him that I learned that great literature shows it self in that it can be reread with enjoyment.  But that doesn't do us much good on first reading.  When the King kills a slave over a small incident and looks around at those staring at him and rants "Faces, faces, faces, why do you gape at me?" we know we have just read something meaningful - it's in the book's title, after all - but we also finds it eludes us.  So too when the temple girls enter wearing masks, or when simple, noble Bardia hides his face from Orual and she says it is the kindest face she has seen that day and she hates him in that moment, we know there's something there we should be grasping, but don't.  I see the value of that sort of reading, but I don't enjoy it.  I like the directness of conversation, not the depth and mystery of poetry.

 *Not by name.  But he's all over the story in disguise.

¹ agape – unconditional, god love.

² eros – romantic love

³ storge – family love

⁴ philia – friendship love


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Rudyard Kipling - If

This was on a card I was given at confirmation some 50+ years ago, or perhaps at high school graduation.  I didn't know then that it was famous and knew only that Kipling had written adventure stories about India.

I suspect it is less popular these days.

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Christmas Mythbusters - Seeing The Bethlehem Story Differently

Reposted from April 2018 and again in December 2019

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

We make much of the outcast, rejected nature of Jesus at his birth in our Western understanding.  No room at the inn. Shuffled off into the barn, with only a feed trough for a bed. The Eastern tradition emphasises the aloneness of Mary, and nearly always claims Jesus was born in a cave.  Bailey thinks these are both wrong. He notes that neither of these are in Scripture, they are interpreted from Scripture plus traditions. 

As a general principle, he notes that the Christmas story was written in other versions that were not accepted as scripture, and we can learn something about them - and thus about the authentic scriptures - by noting what they get wrong. The other versions often get local knowledge wrong: local geography, local customs, local architecture. When we find such things in the text we know this person has never been to Jerusalem or seen the countryside around it.  He has a false picture. This also makes it likely that the writer was not a Jew. Most Christians outside Jerusalem were not Jews. Nearly all Christians were from outside Israel from an early date.

Therefore strong Jewish or local elements in a text argue for a very early date of the original.  Later texts would not understand the information, and thus omit it, try to reconcile it with other beliefs, or just flat change it.

In Israel and farther east, there was and is a type of typical housing that was not quite the same as that just a bit farther west and throughout the Mediterranean.  Bailey notes that one can still see this style in poorer districts today.  Yet it wasn't poor housing then, it was usual housing, and with additions, even a minor sign of prosperity. There was a rectangular building with a flat roof. At one end there would be an entrance, and immediately inside, a small lower area and a few steps up to the common living area, a single room.  The lower area was used at night to bring the animals inside. There would be 2-3 small areas, either shallow holes dug in the floor or raised mangers, for the animal's food. The animals could see the family, the family could see the animals all night. Sometimes there might be a curtain. It's a little warmer there. Sleeping there was no big deal. If the family got a bit more prosperous, they would build a second room on the roof. This would then be where the family slept - as in the parable of the man knocking - and used for special events, as in the Last Supper.

The word used for "inn" in the Bethlehem story is not the same word as "inn" in the Good Samaritan story (πανδοχεῖον pandocheion), or other NT references to a paid establishment. It is the same word as the upper room. (kataluma, katalyma Luke 22:11)  The guest room. Nice hospitable Middle-Eastern people took Joseph and Mary in, because it was and is a hospitality culture and Joseph's lineage would have made him even more welcome. Even an average husband would have made sure of a place, not just hopped on a donkey with his pregnant wife at the last minute and hoped for the best. The guest room was full. When Mary went into labor, everyone would have known she needed whatever privacy could be managed, so they curtained off the animal's area and put her there. Nothing shameful about it. The idea of shabby treatment came in early, as early as the 3rd C, but it was brought in by those in Greece and Asia Minor.  It's not really in the scriptures.

He points to the behavior of the shepherds as confirming this. In a hospitality culture, anyone coming in from outside would see what you had and had not done. People would impoverish themselves rather than be seen as inhospitable. If the arrangements had been substandard, it would be doubly embarrassing for lowlifes like shepherds to be reporting it. The shepherds would have given all of their meager goods to show hospitality, and be glad of the chance. The shepherds don't seem to find it remarkable at all. House, baby, manger, warmth. Worship and go home. The hosts must have wondered what was up with that - shepherds knocking on the door, knowing there was a newborn, talking about angels, baby is special somehow.

Also, people didn't travel alone in those days, because it wasn't safe.  Mary and Joseph likely went as part of a group, especially as she was pregnant. I know this makes 90% of the art we have about Christmas inaccurate, but we'll just have to bear up under that.  The Magi would have traveled in a huge caravan, but even for short trips like the census, everyone would go together. Given that, how likely is it that Mary and Joseph suddenly have no one to do anything kind for them when she goes into labor?  When Joseph is a kinsman of the House of David. In a hospitality culture. We need to see what we already know. (Update in 2020: A good rule in all times.  There has been a ramping up of people seeing prophecy and demonic struggle in specifically American events this year. It could be.  Yet we have to first remember what we know about Jesus, and prophecy, and demonic struggle before we too rapidly apply them to the events of our own day.  Church history would suggest that these are much more often the result of our feeling that something is wrong in the world and leaping to conclusions.)

So, a false idea of the architecture of houses - we think of a stable as a barn with separate entrance not usually used by people for sleeping; use of "inn" as a translation term, following the tradition of our  people - farther west, later, and nonJewish; ignoring what we know about hospitality culture and typical behavior when traveling; ignoring the internal cue of the behavior of the shepherds.  We get the story wrong, because so much of our hymnody and storytelling is tied up in a particular narrative.

It is very much part of the "Jesus as refugee" story that has become so popular lately.  If people are referring to the flight into Egypt for that instead - some are - they have an argument that is slightly better, but not much.  That is another story for another day.  For now, my point is only that our Bethlehem story suggests poverty and rejection, because we know the rest of the story, when Jesus is actually rejected in the end.  But it's not actually there in the beginning.  Mary had a baby while traveling, in fulfillment of the prophecy of where the Messiah was to be born.  Angels told the poor shepherds about it first, and they showed up to worship, partly to give confirmation to Mary and Joseph, who were in for a hard time.  Simeon and Anna perform a similar service of encouragement.