Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Prophetic About Infection

 Peter Huber, he of impressive academic credentials in engineering and law and subsequent impressive writing credentials about their intersection, wrote prophetically in City Journal in 2007 about infection in cities, including pharma, vaccines, and antibiotic use. I don't feel remotely qualified to add anything.

The link was passed on to me by an MIT classmate of his who is a regular reader here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


"The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it." Paul-Muad'Dib to the Guild navigators, at his confrontation with the Emperor Shaddam IV. Frank Herbert, Dune, (1965)

The story of this poor bastard was carried over at Instapundit. I have grown frustrated with that site for a few large reasons, but providing these stories that aren't going to make it to my local media sources nor the national ones is a thing that keeps me coming back. 

There are stories like this a few times a week on campuses.  I think FIRE and The College Fix are clearinghouses for these and there are even more I don't know about, because I don't go there often. Colleges are an ecosystem I no longer understand, and I guess I look at them as places that are going to have to stew in their own juice until the great reaping takes place. Government loans prop up an unsustainable product, and who knows how long that can go on?  We can predict collapse, but I have been hearing about the collapse of US government because of the debt since the Reagan administration, so I have to agree with Adam Smith that "there is a lot of ruin in a nation."

These things are simply insane.  I have no idea what my best response is to them.  It was milder when my first three sons went to college, and they went to schools where this was not much of an issue. 1997-2010. Son #4 went to a tech school and then the USMC - not an issue (though it might be now). Son #5 had a few classes in the Criminal Justice department that made my eyes widen and caused me to warn him about who might come after him and how to tread lightly.  In the Army Reserves, he once sighed to me that "half our trainings are people who look scared saying 'Please don't rape anybody.'" I'm hoping his current EMT training is still focused on actual knowledge and skills.  Although...emergencies...emotions running high...people blaming others because of their stupid decisions... the reality of unreality may come for him in time. I certainly saw it where I worked at an acute psych facility, of decent people being accused of sexual assault, racism, or violence and having to work under suspicion for months on another unit while the investigation played out.* Hmm. I need to talk to Kyle about this soon.

The activists have the power to destroy on social media, because the administrators don't much fear the faculty.  In 90%+ of cases on campuses it seems that sensible heads prevail and the dangerous people are mollified and hip-checked into the boards, rendering them much less powerful.  Yet this seems less true every year, and even a 1% chance of complete unfairness can stifle any speaking up.

*I don't know of any unfairly fired.  Unfair accusations are so common in our field that even the most clueless administrators pick up that "Hey, hardly any of these stories turn out to be true!" But because a few are true, the accused, nearly always male, has to live in fear while the process plays out.

Hobo's Lullaby

It's an old tune. The long pauses between lyrics, plus the hesitation of not starting a new line on the first beat but catching up on the next are reminiscent of human moaning, crying, with an occasional catch or sob. It is frequently used for melancholy songs, but i don't think it is artificial or intentional.  Artists naturally come upon these things because they express in the phrasing what the tune and lyrics don't fully accomplish.

"In My Lived Experience"

It is a meaningless phrase brought out when the speaker has no actual reasons. The phrasing is new, so we think of it as some deterioration of public culture proving that we would all be going to hell immediately, except for the handbasket shortage. Yet it is largely equivalent to the older "I just feel," and when you look at it closely, the more accepted phrase "In my experience" isn't much better. Older people have been saying for generations "When you've lived as long as I have..." We likely find it risible because as a newer phrase it is more frequently on the lips of people too young to have much Lived Experience. Also, it is usually said with an earnestness and passion that the speaker feels are proof of correctness. How dare you question my lived experience.  It's irrefutable, because I have actually felt these things for a long time. You can't know what I have been through.

The Weight of Glory

The most frequent quote from "The Weight of Glory" is also one of the most frequently misquoted and mis-described. 

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

The qualifiers that point to these these extremes of "gods and goddesses" and "horror and corruption" as our eventual destinies rather than our current realities seems to be what trips people up.  Sometimes they just leave them out in requoting, as if Lewis is saying that the people we meet are gods and goddesses now, and that we should be worshiping them.  This goes wrong both in the understanding of the fundamentalists that insist that Lewis is saying something deeply heretical about the divinity of humans and the New Agers who insist he is saying something wonderful about the divinity of humans. When I was in the CS Lewis group on Facebook years ago, there were any number of spacey types who had loved something about Narnia but knew little else who nonetheless made bold pronouncements about what Lewis thought. This quote was a biggie, and I was involved several times in discussions trying to get the quote right and the idea right.  I became familiar with William O'Flaherty at that time and learned that he had a book completed and awaiting publication The Misquotable CS Lewis. We had some pleasant exchanges and it was fun to hear his actual voice on a "Pints With Jack" podcast recently.

I do wonder if the general inability to get this concept quite right is not related to a deeper evasion on our part, not just the standard carelessness and applying our priors to every new bit of information.  We resist the underlying concept. We don't like to think that the irritating, boring, and even destructive people we are dealing with might someday be a god or goddess.  We don't want that good result for them.  We say that we do, that we hope for the best for everyone, but the Plain Man at the beginning of The Great Divorce is recognisable in every heart. We know people we think should never be exalted, never allowed to forget the evil they have done. We are okay with grudgingly allowing them a corner in heaven where they can stay, so long as they promise to mostly stay out of sight and not ask for much. But to enjoy the company and admiration of people who we feel we have done more for in this life? Unacceptable.

We don't like it in the other direction either, that people we have some fondness for might not ever show the least repentance, and gradually become more corrupt, more selfish, eventually becoming a horror from a nightmare we could not bear to observe. We would still have memory of what good had been installed in them at the beginning, and the charm or courage or even kindness that was worth preserving. It may even be a person who had done more than merely a good turn for us, but had rescued us when we were rejected or abandoned, who we feel we owe a good deal to and would like to rescue. We do not like to contemplate that this might have a bad end.  We believe God should not allow this.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Vaccine Passport

The discussions are already loading up whether this is dangerous, unamerican, ripe for civil rights abuses, etc. I think my concern comes even farther back up the chain.  Is there any evidence this will actually accomplish anything in terms of public health? It sounds like it might if you imagine infected people boarding airplanes and sneezing their way to New Orleans, but lots of things sound like they might work. Our imaginations are unreliable guides for legislation. In this it is similar to Second Amendment rights questions (there may be distinctions that have not yet occurred to me). There isn't any evidence that proposed gun control legislation will increase safety, and it might actually make things worse. Therefore, the question should not even make it to the table.

I do understand that many reverse this framing and say "First, let us note that this is an infringement on liberties and should be rejected on that basis."  I don't object. I may think more like an engineer than a lawyer.

I think the twin solutions are admired for similar reasons.  They both make some people feel safer when they imagine simplistic narratives, that is, stories they quickly imagine about how illness could be spread or someone could be shot.

It gets difficult for private companies. An airline might have good data showing that requiring a vaccine ID provides no added safety benefit, but if the public believes it does, they will fly other airlines. Where do you draw the line between not being bullied and just saying "Eh, it's all about advertising and perception anyway. Put on the show and stay in business."

Updates: Someone at National Review does not think there is evidence that a vaccine passport would create any positive benefit.  He quotes some interesting people, and notes that some groups have difficulty obtaining a vaccine and others have legitimate reasons for caution.

In the online arguments, I notice that the sides quickly split into people who are opposed to the vaccine itself (and often all vaccines) and thus feel they are being forced to get something unsafe in order to exercise rights of movement and interaction that are foundational as American, versus people who are asserting that all who oppose the vaccine passport are unscientific conspiracy theorists who oppose all vaccines.  When those poles are set up, they become self-fulfilling, as the antivaxxers look like the whole other side to the passport-demanders, and inflexible tyrannical sheeple look like the whole of the other side.  People who have any view between those poles have a hard time getting heard over the shouting.

Transcending One's Era

In discussing great books of the past, there is now a tendency for modern examination to get stalled by accusations that the author was sexist, racist, or homophobic. While these are excellent questions to apply to anyone we are proposing be read now, I find that the objection seems to work well for those who would prefer to talk about nothing else.  They have succeeded in focusing all attention on what they personally want to talk about rather than anything else the author might have to say. Funny how that keeps working in every era and culture.  Much of modern art is about "starting a conversation" about...whatever the artist wants to spend endless evenings talking about.

The defenses of the author can be similarly weak, however. "Well, he was a product of his time..." is a frequent starting point. It is a valid explanation at times, but that is also why people fall back on it as an excuse. All decent excuses are subject to abuse. Wolves don't hide in wolves' clothing, but in sheep's. If we are to be reading someone now, we expect them to transcend their times in some way, else why would we read them at all? They should provide something from outside their time, whether that be a universal, something that anticipates later developments, or something that summarises the past up to their point.  There is some value in reading an author who is simply representative of his or her time in order to learn about that era.  But we are not then learning from that author, but merely learning more about that era.

However, when that objection is answered, the accusers usually double down and expect that an author entirely transcend his or her era. I sigh when this happens because it comes under the category of "Suspicions Confirmed."  The accuser does not expect in the slightest to learn anything from an author from another era or from understanding the era on its own terms. The accuser wants only that all views echo his own. He does not see that insistence saws off the branch he is sitting on. If earlier writers are rejected because they do not support what our era insists must be true, then the question quickly* emerges "Well, doesn't that also apply to us, then?" Writers from earlier eras might be used as ammunition, to "prove" that the modern's current prejudices are in fact universals.  Isolated quotes are very good for that.  I think many of my papers in college followed this template. See? **Malory, Euripides, and Jung all agree with me.  

The problem is not that failing to entirely transcend one's era should not be a criteria because it is a bridge too far that even brilliant writers might not achieve, it is a bad idea in its own right. All human beings lived in an actual time and place.  Even Jesus ate fish and wore sandals. He did not leave a one-page, double-spaced document with simple directions, then quietly go off to die for our sins and defeat the powers of hell - salvation SOLVED. We sometimes try to put him in such a box, but he keeps escaping it. Mark Twain transcended his era on the issue of race admirably. To wring our hands and clutch at pearls that he doesn't write as "_____ Studies" professors think would have been better is not just weak thinking, it is backwards. People who attempt to write from completely outside of time and place are bloodless. The thing is neither possible nor desirable, and we should be deeply suspicious of those who claim it. 

To express universality, one can only write about the particular. This is so pervasive in literature that modern authors use it as a trick, because others have used it so effectively. But in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," it is the very small-town plainness that leads to the universality (as in the postal address "Jane Crofut, The Crofut farm, Grovers Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America, Western Hemisphere, the earth, the solar system, the universe, the mind of God"). Solzhenitsyn is not universal in spite of his Russianness, but because of it. No one reads Jane Austen because they want to return to that world, except perhaps as a visitor on an adventurous vacation, but because her world of women is alike enough for the modern woman to understand it, but different enough to provide a contrast. She gives us a clear particularity, which is the only foundation of universality. St. Paul is writing to particular churches, and even the Revelation to John is structured around admonishment to specific churches. Those who purport to be universal right out of the gate only become vague, platitudinous, rather Eastern in their understanding.

*By quickly, I mean both  "immediately, to those who have self-observation," and "never, to those who refuse to acknowledge that mirrors exist." 

**Liberal-Arts majors will recognise this as a good Trifecta.

Sunday, March 28, 2021


I keep neglecting to mention the influence of obesity on Covid deaths, likely because I am obese myself and keep trying to shelve it elsewhere in my brain. But it's there and it's real.

Tim Keller and the Biblical Critique of Secular Justice Theories - Last Part

It's a good time to reread the previously-linked essay by Keller. I say again that he is largely right and I have little to add to much of what he says. I do think my few corrections or different looks are important, though.

I mentioned in my first post that the secular theories he discusses and calls a spectrum are actually not a continuum of any sort.  They are separate slots.  James even thought that "junk drawer" might be accurate. I think that is fair, especially as we all know from personal experience that while junk drawers eventually include a lot of crap we should have thrown out years ago, they also retain importance.  In your last year of life, there are drawers in your house you did not use.  But you went to the junk drawer three times that last week.

Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory includes 6 axes on which moral decisions hinge. 







He would say that these are what actually operate in our morality, regardless of what our theories say. So in Keller's discussion of Libertarian Justice, it is quickly obvious that liberty/oppression is the primary driver. (There are real but weaker influences from the other axes, as there will be in the subsequent theories, but I leave them aside for simplicity.) Liberal (classical liberal) Justice is about fairness/cheating. Utilitarian Justice is about care/harm. Postmodern Justice is only weakly about morality, being concerned with power, but there are elements of all the moral axes in it, though authority/subversion and loyalty/betrayal (Oh yes.  Oh very yes.  Look closer) are stronger. Keller isn't wrong, here, but I think Moral Foundations makes these things jump out more sharply.  I fantacise that if I pointed him to Haidt, Keller would drink it right in in a few minutes and rewrite this all better in a week.

Race Is Only One Category, And Not the Biggest

Because Keller wrote an earlier essay in the series about race and justice, and because the MLK statue in DC is one of the photo illustrations, the signalling is clear that when Keller is talking about justice, he may be talking about many things, especially the poor and the powerless (I think he mercifully avoided the weasel-word marginalised), but race is present in every sentence he writes. It is the Topic of the Age, so that is hardly surprising. But i think it diverts him from seeing his own lesson accurately. He forcefully points out that systems of power work hard to perpetuate themselves, and that Christians should be alert to this. I have no quibble with his assertion that Christians should try to be a voice for those who have no voice, however much others have used that and similar formulations deceitfully, to advance political rather than spiritual agendas.  Keller gets it right in theory, and mostly in practice.

Yet the Biblical word "generations" leads us astray. Sometimes power and influence are transmitted generation over generation, as they were in in Bible times, and have been unto our present day. Yet that has diminished every year. Since the beginning of the age of exploration, into the ages of industrialisation and information, on to whatever we call what we are entering now, generations have weakened and other factors risen.  When Keller talks about power structures and brings in the idea of generations, he can' help but have all further thinking on the subject be about race. If we want to look at power structures perpetuating themselves and think long term.  Race is inescapable.  And accurate.

But I don't think race has much to do with what describes institutional power anymore.  That urban black populations continue to have bad lives is no longer simply a matter of oppression. 

There has been a fun game among the race-baiters recently of claiming that all their statements about white fragility and white oppression must be true, the evidence being that it upsets white people so much. Not a strictly logical statement, but vivid. I would like to flip that and give a return volley: the reason that the history of racial oppression has become of enormous importance in the last few years is that the present isn't as rich a resource of examples. I knew sixty years ago that white people had held black people as slaves and treated them horribly, and that there was still prejudice in the south (ten years later I figured out it was in the north as well, just different). So all of a sudden this is news? No one ever heard this before? No, all it means is that something else is happening, so they are bringing this up as a fake bush to hide behind as they move across the landscape.

When we used to visit my in-laws there was a card game where you had to get to 500 points, or not get to 500 points or whatever, played over many hands, with totals kept. Many competitive people present. My mother-in-law was well in the lead. Stuart, her husband, had two good hands in a row, vaulting him into second place, still well behind her. Her eyes narrowed. "Everyone get Stuart." And everyone did. This is race atop the Powerlessness rankings. Race has been the clear champion for generations (biblical term), retiring trophy after trophy.  But is it still true. The new and immense power of social media like Twitter and Facebook are much in the news.  Do we see those as organised along the lines of keeping black people down? The Upper-class media of networks, NYT and WaPo, they are clearly very powerful and influential.  Is race much a part of that?  To counter that in both cases those are largely white people running them is to miss what is actually happening. That's a cover, a diversion. Look closer. And notice which black people - because it's not all of them, but there are lots and lots - are being elevated in those systems.  It's not the ones who are most white, but most SWPL. Government is ever-more powerful, and ever-more diverse. The powerful do perpetuate themselves, Keller is right, and all those CRT people are right in that sense that this self-perpetuation is still going on.

It's just that this ceased being about race decades ago, and in the last decade that has accelerated. Disadvantage by race has persisted, but it is diminished, and in most sectors is only residual now. There is a parallel from Dilbert, when one of the female characters is railing at Wally and Dilbert that the powerful people in the company are ALL MEN and Wally meekly says "those are other men." To focus on whiteness is to entirely miss who is ruling you and screwing you over for their own good now.

And Christians, of all people, should not be falling for that. We need to be a voice for the actual voiceless, who show up in tens of thousands for DC protests but don't even get reported on, who vote by the millions but get sneered at by the people who represent them. There was a joke from the 1980s that a woman from my church told in the early 2000s, making what she thought was a series of lighthearted but ultimately bigoted comments in a political discussion, about Tip O'Neill being told that one of his previous supporters had made a little more money and was now a Republican.  He asked what the dollar amount was and sighed "Is that all it takes, now?" There was a day when there was truth in that, when Republicans went to country clubs and Democrats were working stiffs. Even then it wasn't as deep as the accusations made it, but there was something to it.  By O'Neill's day that was already more untrue than it was true, and by the time my friend repeated it around 2002 the reverse was clearly true. And now the very rich are overwhelmingly liberal, yet remnants of the myth persist. People still believe old ideas to be true, because you can still find examples of rich Republicans or old-money white people preserving power with government influence, serving as confirmation bias.

I suggested who the powerful are but perhaps should not have.  Run it over in your mind yourselves who had power in America ten years ago, not one hundred years ago, who are trying to pull up the ladders and prevent competition now. Who has the money, the influence, the leverage, the ear of government entertainment and publishing and academia? If you have other power categories you think of that I didn't mention, so much the better.  I ask only that you consider where the power really lies, not where you were told it lies when you were in school.

Next, who is trying to keep you from seeing that? 

Now, take Tim Keller's very good biblical advice and go be a voice for the powerless.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Zachriel's link in a comment section about skin tone reminded me of an odd phenomenon Steve Sailer pointed out years ago: people who believe human behavior is entirely* environmental and cultural are willing to accept and even applaud research that shows differences earlier and earlier in human development. Finding themselves appalled by behavioral and cognitive differences in males versus females and among different races when they show up in kindergarten, they start tracking back, running experiments to see when this begins and what cause it.  They accept that it is already present in preschool.  They breathlessly report that it shows up even in toddlers. Clever researchers uncover that even among infants boys and girls look at different things, mothers speak to them differently, and Chinese infants are better-behaved and cry less often than European ones. No matter how far back we push the research, it seems, people are different.

They are not willing to push it back to before birth, however, and certainly not nine months before birth. (They acknowledge the possibility of prenatal influences in theory, but then never mention it again in any discussions, not even in recognised categories like Fetal Alchohol Syndrome. Oh that, yeah.  Terrible stuff. Now, as I was saying about mother's attitudes to girls versus boys in terms of what they coo when they are nursing, did you know that their nonsense language is softer and at a higher pitch toward girls?  It just goes to show...). We seem to communicate a wealth of destructive cultural information in the first few months which takes a lifetime of intervention to undo.

It is bizarre reasoning when looking at 15-year-olds and their problematic behaviors to keep going back, and back, always saying "so it must be even earlier than that, huh" through all the years that children aren't listening to their parents, their teachers, their priests, or their grandparents about anything else are somehow learning all this terrible stuff unconsciously beginning in the first year of life. It must be the TV! Or movies! Except that we reportedly had even more of those terrible ideas before there were even newspapers...

But not just a few days before that.

When what looks at the consequences of those beliefs, however, they suddenly look less bizarre.  If children are already responding in horrible sexist, racist, homophobic ways by the time they enter Montessori school at age three, then it just should that we've got a lot of work to do here! The government needs to be involved, we need to have programs for toddlers, we need to get more words being spoken to little black babies, we need to supervise the colors and fabrics children are dressed in, we need to have puppets explaining to them about social attitudes and cute animated characters singing to them! This has got to be a full-court press.  There is not a moment to be wasted. Civilisation is at stake.  Society needs to find ten times more jobs for people like us to intervene here. 

But if those things are present at conception, then there's not a lot for them to do anymore. It means those jobs are useless, and may even run the risk of being harmful. I suggest that is a powerful motivator.  People may not think their particular job or prospects are in danger, but folks are extremely alert to what things benefit their tribe and which things benefit some other tribe instead. Their students, their neighborhood, their children - they are all going to need jobs, and mates, and friends, and status.  And the sources of that must be protected.

*As I have noted many times, there will be a theoretical acknowledgement that some heritable factors contribute to behavior and ability, but all of their experiments and their reporting about them do not notice that this possibility is even on the table.  The genetic is routinely excluded as even a possible explanation among almost everyone in the social sciences, except those who are specifically interested in it and looking for it. I mention this from time to time when a new study hits the news and I feel the obligation to point out once again that the heritable is a clearly possible explanation for x, but in this expensive study of 4,000 middle-schoolers it has clearly not even occurred to these professionals.  But it gets tiring.  It's always the same.

Return to Live Worship

We returned to live worship for the first time since last November, and the first time indoors in over a year.  I had thought we were only going to be allowed to hum along beneath our masks but we were able to sing out (though still masked) and the church was moderately full, though distanced.  We sang "All Glory Laud and Honor," and i got to sing in parts, and started crying by the end of the first verse, so happy to be back.

I also automatically go into tears when a descant comes in, so I got to cry twice over this hymn this morning.

Saturday, March 27, 2021


Voice to text, which I am now calling voice-to-joke, is not good at Native American names, which occurs throughout the country. Piscatasquog is rendered as "biscuit a squawk."  My particular app is clearly racist.  Someone needs to come up with a woke version of voice-to-text.

Friday, March 26, 2021

I'm Going To Give It To Mary With Love


Great piano work.


I wonder if a tendency to mystical experience co-occurs with susceptibility to just drifting into the Spirit of the Age, or one of the spirits of the age.

In my Jesus people days we looked on that susceptibility entirely as a spiritual danger.  If you messed around with meditation, or with yoga, dabbled in occult practices, or were even too easily enamored of ecstatic Christian experience you were thought to be "opening yourself out" to unclean spirits, demons, or other unhealthy spiritual realities. Even playing around with them "for fun" was thought dangerous.  We took it seriously, and I do believe we went overboard with it.  We still do not celebrate Hallowe'en and go out at the times the children would come by for candy blackmail, but that is just habit at this point, and living in a 55+ community it is no longer an issue.

I don't know much about the possibility and reality of unclean spirits and demons acting, whether on you or in you.  I have read and heard stories I find credible, but I don't have any myself. They may have been there, or be there still, and I am simply oblivious.

Yet I now have a different worry. Mystical experience that people professing to be knowledgeable about has long been one of the ways that cults work.  There is a setup for a powerful experience, which they then interpret for you, and they slowly swallow you.  More subtly, I think even Christians who rely too heavily on their meditative practices, even when they call it a "discipline," have a susceptibility to suspect theologies and mixing in secular political or cultural elements as if they are neglected parts of the faith which the church at large must now expend energy on to incorporate into the faith going forward.

I relate it to a reliance on feelings. They believe they are sensing where "the spirit" is leading them or even leading the church (with the obvious conclusion that they must get on board with that). But the spirit is just a spirit of the age.  Is that the same thing ultimately, a spiritual being we don't have much understanding of, influencing a movement or a cause or even the entire age? I don't even speculate except to bring it up in case those of better discernment find it helpful.  But I don't rule out that destructive movements in the church might not just be temptations, but tempters.

Rocks Are Heavy

The study Rocks are Heavy: Transport costs and paleoarchaic quarry behavior in the Great Basin was referenced with admiration in a podcast I listened to this morning for reasons very dear to an aspiring Village Idiot.  It is an example of not overlooking the obvious, which the authors felt had become altogether too common in their branch of archaeology. I have not read the study, only the abstract, and am relying on the summary by the archaeologist being interviewed.

The behavior of the people at the quarry was measurably different from the behavior of what seemed to be similar or related people away from the site. The authors suggested that it might be the same people, acting differently in different circumstances, or that even if it was separate clusters of people, the variation might be best explained by circumstances, not diverse cultures or technologies.

If it's a good quarry, people likely came from miles around to use it. They could have adopted strategies of getting in quickly, grabbing a lot of usable rock while the rest of the tribe watched your back, and getting out of Dodge ASAP, chipping off pieces to make arrowheads and spear points at some remote location in safer territory instead.  But rocks are heavy, and that would reduce the number of points you could make from each raid on the quarry, so you would have to go back more often.  This might limit your range for hunting or foraging, as you couldn't get too far from that necessary resources.

If people recognised that there was plenty of rock to go around, however, they might adopt another strategy: everyone learns to get along while they are at the quarry. This would result in more trade, which reliably results in more prosperity for everyone. More marriage arrangements rather than abductions, more looking over the shoulder of those other guys to see how they cook things or make blades. People in the same area often have deeply related languages, and those would get more similar - or if languages were not mutually intelligible, simple shared vocabulary would be developed. 

Seasonality might be similar, so that multiple bands had similar times that were convenient to come to the quarry. Festivals might emerge, and possible alliances against outsiders would be easier to establish. Building projects for religious or economic purpose could become larger, more permanent.  Think megaliths, defensible walls, or temples. Small walled areas can be economic - trading areas that neither side can get an army into, which would make conflict less impulsive.

In short, culture changes because rocks are heavy. It is best not to draw conclusions too quickly about hierarchy, marriage, or mobility among sites within range of the quarry their blades come from.  Whether they traded for the points or untreated rock, or did a smash and grab for some stone cores, or met yearly and left lots of rock flakes behind while everyone was talking and partying.

Thursday, March 25, 2021


In my long-running correspondence with my uncle from about 1998-2018, he would occasionally send me articles from The Onion that he thought were real news items.  Though that publication did make fun of liberal excesses at times, when it was political at all it mostly skewered cultural conservatives. It was pretty good at being neither, just having an appreciation of the silly and absurd as it played out in front of them.  I was irritated and sometimes even offended by them, but I did find them often funny. They did drift over time into being merely partisan, but that's another story.

My uncle was in no way a stupid man. He was an engineer trained at Northeastern after WWII, made enough money to retire in his fifties, and was a Mensa officer in Northern California; once he started volunteering at Habitat for Humanity he was very quickly put in charge of large multiple-dwelling projects in foreign countries, and his men's breakfast group in San Luis Obispo in his last decade was mostly retired Cal Poly professors. Yet he fell for these things repeatedly, and would ask me in outrage "How can you justify this current idiocy from conservatives?" 

Look, I have fallen for a few satire news items myself over the years.  It's embarrassing, but it happens.

The key item here is that no one thought it was necessary to correct this matter by trying to regulate the content of The Onion.  If you got fooled, that was on you.

Wedding Vows

Tracy and I wrote our own vows in 1976.  Perhaps that is not quite accurate.  We had a "scripture duet" that we worked hard on. I can still recall her in her wedding gown saying "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life" before the assembled multitude.  Okay, we did not know then that Proverbs 31 was going to become a cliche.  So sue us. But seeing that we called it a duet, maybe those weren't the vows.  If so, I don't remember the vows. Maybe they were Catholic Standard Issue for the time. The ceremony was very much an expression of our new faith, even though we had both been raised in the church with some seriousness, she Marian Medal in Girl Scouts and valedictorian at Notre Dame Academy, and I still considering three Protestant seminaries with parish ministry in mind.  If we had to do all over again, we might do just the same.

And yet, both of us were medieval and renaissance literature trained, anglophilic, and deeply respectful of tradition.  Why we thought we could improve on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, I don't know.  It still rings powerfully and captures everything in poetic and concise fashion, doesn't it?

For better, for worse

For richer, for poorer

In sickness and in health

So long as we both shall live.

The Prism is a Prison - Part II of Tim Keller

Our congregation was urged last year to read a book by a pastor in our denomination. I was suspicious. His entire Introduction is online, so I started there. 

My initial response was very negative.  It is still mostly negative, though I have modified it somewhat. Taking things apart, in order, he starts with a story about himself, and implicit bias. That's two problems already in one story. First, implicit bias turns out to not affect anything.  It is true that people have an instantaneous reaction to black faces that is more negative than their reaction to white faces. Even black people seem to have the idea that white faces are preferred. Trouble is, this doesn't correlate with any known racist behavior. One would think it would, as it makes intuitive sense. You can read all sorts of articles asserting that it does, yet if you look closely, you will see they are leaping across great chasms, logically. That black boys are disciplined at school more often might be a result of actual behavior in the classroom, for example.  Just a thought. At minimum, it remains unevidenced that it is a result of implicit bias or of any bias at all.  That's what has to be proved, not assumed. Even Scientific American, a publication that now has a significant liberal bias, acknowledges that Implicit Bias Training has no measurable effect

Second, there is a persuasive technique - it is almost a trick - that many people use, more especially Christians, and most especially preachers: confessing a small version of a sin to establish that one is not being a hypocrite, that one understands the temptation and sin and is not throwing stones from within a glass house. Thus my liberal uncle used to say that he understood why conservatives are afraid of change, because there were changes in the world he has a hard time adjusting to as well - and then would list unimportant things. Yes, I understand about global conflict and nations going to war, because I remember how furious I would get with my sister when she was first married and I just wanted to slap her silly.  "Thou shalt not steal?" Yes, I remember shoplifting a deck of cards from a department store as a boy. It used to be traditional at Christmas, almost as common as singing "Silent Night," for the pastor to describe some small materialistic anecdote from one of his own Christmases, to show he understood the temptation and is not above the rest off us, before condemning society in general and the Christian Church in particular for their deep attachment to materialistic Christmas.  It is somewhat disarming to an audience if played correctly, because it is an imitation of real humility.  Yet it is a Screwtape-level self deception to rely on.

And this is where the author begins his argument.  It's the first thing out of the gate, and to my mind he is both scientifically and spiritually deep in a hole.  He has scored all sorts of social points within his circle, however, and set up nicely to condemn many others for their racism. But wait, there's more.

His second example is a woman of Native American heritage who is uncomfortable with references in the Bible to Jesus as King, because it reminds her of colonialism. The pastor thinks we should be sensitive to this, that not everyone sees the Bible the way we do and there are hidden problems of racist history that wound. That seems a distant, even forced connection to me. I don't think anyone gets there on their own, you have to have someone suggest to you that this is colonialist, or you have to have been trained to look for it everywhere. I don't think the association shows up in the entire history of native and European contact until quite recently. Where does it end? So I look at the sky and I remember how important the sky is to my people, and I look at the earth and think how big a part of Native understanding that has always been.  I look at highways and I think of our land being taken and I hear your music and know that it is not native music. This is not entirely crazy. If you are looking at things through the prism of what happened to people long ago, most of whom you aren't related to and would not recognise you as being one of them in any way, the evidence of things taken, and even oppression is everywhere.  To argue that it pervades American society now can be true from that viewpoint.  Things that happened in 1620, 1720, and 1820 have spreading effects, eventually touching everything in a society. So looking backward, you can trace from anything to anything.  Certainly, some things are more closely tied than others, and those deserve larger consideration.

Yet the woman might also look at the fact that she can read, drive a car, have great medical care, or look at everything she wears or is in her house. She also might like having any rights at all as a woman, because that was rare in Native cultures, unless you were a chief's daughter.  If she is Christian, she might wonder how that was going to happen some other way, however badly the accompanying cultural baggage undermined it.  She could. Well, how do you know she isn't also grateful for those things? Why do you assume she is only critical?  Isn't it your problem that you can't take criticism? I know it because of the example she chose, of some ridiculously distant connection to kings - quite notably rejected in American history - reminding her of colonialism writ large, which reminds her of...prejudice against the category of Native Americans.  I'm not knocking them, by the way.  I don't know the general level of blame and gratitude among the various tribes. I'm singling her out as having a mostly invalid claim because he singled her out as having an entirely valid one. For all I know, her own family may not agree with her. 

I would also point out because it is deeply pertinent that 90% or even 95% of the native Americans who died in what was likely the greatest long-running tragedy in human history died from Eurasian diseases, in much the same way that 50...60...70...maybe even 80% of Europeans died from the plagues out of China in the 14th-17th Centuries.  I'm sorry.  did I say that out loud?

An analogy that I think apt, because it combines the idea that there is some justification, while also noting its basic ridiculousness. My wife's freshman dorm had skits, and first week did one rehashing all the sexual warnings the nuns had (supposedly) given to high school girls. Don't wear patent leather shoes - they reflect your underwear.  Don't wear a white blouse - it reminds boys of bedsheets. There were more, and the effect was predictably uproarious, I am told. It was in one sense not completely insane. Virtually anything can trigger ideas of sex in teenage boys, true. However, it was funny for a reason. It rapidly becomes apparent that there might be something problematic about anything a girl might wear, say, or do, and eventually she has to leave her house, appear in public, and interact with other human beings.  So too with things that remind someone of colonialism. It's true.  Everything you encounter in America can be connected to colonialism. What other alt-history turned out better for you in 2021? South America?  The New World not being discovered? I suggest both of those would have been worse for you, my dear. Much, much, worse.

We're still in the introduction, remember.  We are still taxiing down the runway and have not taken off yet with this dude's book about how we are going to get discipled into not being racist..

There is the lastly the incident with the friend* who was nervous about coming to his neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago at night. He paints it humorously, wryly, but he is making a serious accusation of racial bigotry here. About his friend. Well, the South Side of Chicago is known as a dangerous area for the good reason that it is a dangerous area. Not all areas are the same, however, and the pastor's point seems to be that his friend shouldn't be worried about his section of the South Side - I think he is aware that there are other places on the South Side that his white friend my be cautious about at night unless the Lord had called him to specific ministry there - just because it has some black people. Well, it's not just because it has some black people.  He is deceiving either himself or us if he thinks that is his friend's reasoning.  His friend might not be fully aware that Bronzeville has been gentrifying - it was not mentioned - nor that it isn't the worst neighborhood. It's not that bad, and his friend is quietly a bigot, is his point. It's where Obama (!!!) comes from.  

And oh, Bronzeville has had a 30% increase in homicide and violent crime in the last year, but how was he supposed to know that?  How could he have possibly guessed such a thing?

The pastor who wrote the book has adopted two black children.  That would intensify his viewing the world through the prism of race, yes.  That's not crazy.  But it is still a prism.  I have two children who were born behind the Iron Curtain and lived in horrifying conditions; one married a Filipina.  That's two prisms.  They're not invalid. I also worked with the mentally ill for forty years, who are subject to much more prejudice, worse living conditions, and more oppression than any racial, ethnic, or religious group in the country.  That is another prism of mine.  That's not invalid either. All are fairly dramatic, actually. 

If you look at the world with dark glasses, the world looks dark, yes. That's not unreality, but it is a modified reality. Sometimes dark glasses are helpful, and sometimes they are absolutely essential.

Sometimes not.

*Remind me not to be this guy's friend.  He's willing to throw them under the bus in his books in order to virtue signal. Nice guy.  I hope his friends are nicer and more forgiving (or are as desperate to virtue signal as he is, anyway) than I am.

Plum Poem

Texted to me this morning:

I have blocked

the canal

that was in


and which 

you were probably 


for the global economy

Forgive me

it went sideways

so fast

and out of control

It is meant to evoke William Carlos Williams's poem about the plums, "This is Just to Say"

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


We are all talking about it these days, so I thought you might like to see the tools that Doctors and Nurse Practioners use.

There is the Mini Mental Status Exam. This is used to give some insight into many cognitive skills.

And the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA), which is more sensitive to early detection of dementia

You have to learn to administer them properly, because there are subtleties such as "Subtract 7 from subtract 7 from that..." rather than saying "...Now subtract 7 from 93..." and reasons why that extra difficulty is important. There are variants and older versions of the test.  I miss that younger psychiatrists are less likely to ask the questions about abstract reasoning "What does this saying mean to you 'The grass is always greener on the other side of the street,'" followed by the more difficult "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." For that second one, jump on it quickly and try - you will see that you know the meaning, but have to hesitate a bit to find quite the right words. If you imagine yourself being examined, and know this is important, your anxiety goes up, and you might panic and fumble even more, thinking Oh my god, he's going to think I'm stupid! Well, anxiety is one of the things being evaluated by the test.  Any reasonable clinician knows that you are not likely to be at your best when the police have brought you in to the ER at 2AM. It's worse if you aren't even a little nervous, as that means you really don't understand what's going on.

No, no one is going to be asking Joe Biden to subtract 7 from 100 on the record, and anyone who pulled that at a press conference would be out of the White House Press Corps immediately.

Golden Calf

As I mentioned in 2018, the golden calf the Israelites made in the desert while Moses was up getting the Ten Commandments may be partly misunderstood. As bulls were often worshiped as steeds for gods, Aaron and the boys may have thought they were expressing their admiration for YHWH by making him this really cool thing to ride on, showing his power. I very much doubt this was their primary motive, as the traditional explanation likely holds, that they followed the usual pattern of what people did for miles around whenever they got nervous and things seemed to be going wrong: they made a figure that they hoped their god would inhabit, to both speak to them and listen to them. Still, I think the secondary explanation has some real weight. It is exactly the sort of rationalisation humans engage in all the time about God.  Oh, I'm sure he'll like this. This is what gods in general like, so I figure he will, too. It's really all the same thing, y'know? We keep our old way of doing things, and please the new god too.  Win-win. We don't make such gods now, so we can't fully enter into their understanding anymore. The thought is distant.

If this is even partly correct, it provides a pretty dramatic tie-in to the gods of our own age. This is pretty much what Christians getting into politics looks like, doesn't it? Oh, I'm sure he'll like this. Jesus cared for the poor and marginalised, and this is something nice for the poor and marginalised, so what's not to like?  Win-win. Or, This is good for America, and America protects religious freedom, and anyway lots of Christians have lived here, and the founders had mostly Christian ideas, so I'm sure God is on board.

As usual CS Lewis has the most appropriate comment, when he has Screwtape advise Wormwood on how to neutralise his patient's Christianity and slide him ever-closer to hell. This passage was written in WWII, by the way, when the stakes were high in both the secular and spiritual realms. A choice between pacifism and patriotism* has few real consequences for the individual now.  One can find friends either way, or jobs, or mates, or churches. There might be some consequences with family and with old friends, but often these can be smoothed and the topic simply avoided.

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘Cause,’ in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war effort or of pacifism.

Louis Markos of Houston Baptist University has commentary with a more modern example.

But a subtle danger threatens the congregation that would be overly intentional in its intention to institutionalize racial and ethnic diversity. If the church allows its multiethnic mission to define its central and sole identity, it will be tempted to mute, ignore, or even revise aspects of the Bible, orthodox theology, and/or sacred tradition that do not support and promote that identity. It will be tempted as well to judge other congregations (and individuals) not by their adherence to the gospel message but by how they measure up against the diversity yardstick.

If such a congregation continues to slide down the slippery slope toward idolatry, it may discover, too late, that it has ceased to be a multiethnic CHURCH, and has morphed into a MULTIETHNIC church. Ethnic diversity will no longer be one of the fruits of the Great Commission; rather, Christianity will have been reduced to one more helpful ally in the building of an egalitarian, multiethnic utopia.

I use the multiethnic church as my example, not because I think the ideals that undergird it are bad ones, but because they are so praiseworthy. But then, to paraphrase a line from Lewis, brass is more often mistaken for gold than clay is. To the modern American mind, nurtured since birth to believe that equality and inclusivism are absolute virtues on par with faith, hope, and love, it is easy to so conflate the promise of ethnic diversity with that of the gospel message that the latter comes to serve the former, rather than vice versa.

"Brass is more often mistaken for gold than clay is." This, exactly. We love hybrids and excuses. One of my own maxims is that "Of course wolves hide in sheep's clothing.  It wouldn't do them any good to hide in wolves' clothing." 

This is not part of the Tim Keller/Jonathan Haidt/Michael Novak (Social Justice Isn't What You Think It Is) posts, but it does relate.

*Understand, please, that those two are not necessarily opposed in any era.  They often have little overlap and much antagonism and are thus a good example of Christian difference, especially in wartime. But Lewis did not consider them logically incompatible, nor do I.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Martha, Mary, and Men

 Luke 10: 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I have heard these verses and teachings on them since my youth.  The church I grew up in had a Dorcas Circle (we giggled), a Ruth Circle, and a Mary-Martha Circle.* There was a Martha-Mary Circle at the Lutheran church we attended when first married. Pretty much all the women in these church groups were Marthas, and they knew it, but tried hard to absorb the biblical lesson and take it to heart. They knew they had been corrected by their Lord and should reconsider their priorities. I have heard this lesson for over 50 years. I think generations of women deserve credit for the humility of noticing that their great efforts, that they know (quite accurately) are all that is keeping any particular congregation afloat, are still not quite the real point. Sitting, learning, worship are more important.

I have never once heard this lesson applied to men, neither by women in an accusing fashion (being motivated by guilt feelings likely prevents this) nor by men making the connection that it applies to them as well. Men show up to build steps over at the shelter, or paint walls at the soup kitchen, or mow the lawn at the church or spread salt in winter. They go over to the church camp and repair cabins or cut down trees. That is Martha-thinking. I absolutely fall into this myself, even though I think much more than most men about teaching and learning and understanding Christ.  I also think in terms of making coffee, setting up chairs, packing food for the Saturday distribution, slicing cheese, taking a turn in nursery, all of which are Martha-thinking.  What do we call it for men, Matthew and Marty?

*Circles were a combination of age cohorts and family tradition. The "younger women" might be part of Esther Circle, but a few of the younger women might be in Deborah Circle because their mother was, and their grandmother had been.  There would have been an interesting sociological study that some graduate student at Gustavus Adolphus, Vanderbilt, or other denominational college could have done in the 70s and 80s, but that was not interesting to them then. There was enormous data from brief interviews or even 10-question printed surveys mailed out to a thousand congregations, right there for the taking. Much more valuable than asking women what they thought of Germaine Greer's admonishment that they should taste their menstrual blood,  which hasn't had - how shall I put this - the long-term staying power and relevance that other issues have. It was valuable general information about women and group organisation independent of men, but it slid away.  This is why fashion is bad in academia.  It causes one to overlook all the important information in favor of the academic fads.

Covid in NH

The deaths are almost stopped. The number of cases that the state has are down from their maximum, but still pretty high.  My reading of this is that as things open up, the spread of the disease continues or even increases.  Yet this is offset by the vaccination of the most vulnerable populations.  People are still getting the disease in moderately high numbers, but they are people who are much less likely to die from it.

Hopefully, they are also people who are less likely to have long-term or even permanent effects.  That seems likely to me, but I admit is unknown.

Relatedly, the emergence of the variants is why it would not have been a good idea to just go for herd immunity from the start.  I did not know that then.  The Swedish model, even though it looked risky at first, was persuasively a better choice back in March.  Get it over with.  Let the healthy in on the process and get the herd immunity up more quickly. I was not in the least thinking of mutations and variants then.  Greg Cochran over at West Hunter woke me up to the idea that variants might be a big deal, and bsking noted that giving covid a billion chances to mutate might be worse than giving it a hundred million bites at the apple, and certainly worse than a million chances at mutation.  We learn as we go.

I think we should have opened schools long ago, because most children who get C19 are asymptomatic or only mildly so, and teachers are disproportionately young (we burn through those young women in a few years until they decide their education degree was a bad idea, or they think staying home with the children is a better idea because their husband's career is doing better.  Not PC, but reality).  Being generous to older teachers, or those with medical conditions might have been cheaper for the society in the long run.  However, who the society is that is going to pay for that generosity right now is messy to the point of impossible. Still, maybe we could have worked something out. 

Yet even now, letting all those asymptomatic children and 25 y/o women contract the disease would just be giving the virus more chances at a killer variant which is not much affected by our current vaccines. My risk calculation, wrong last March, might be wrong this March too. And I'm one of the cautious ones. Beware those who assert they know what is safe as well as those who assert they know what is dangerous.  The experts may have been wrong, but so were the skeptics who doubted the experts.  We all were mostly wrong. We were both undercautious and overcautious.

Tim Keller on Social Justice - Part I

A frequent reader sent along Tim Keller's A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory. First up, it's good. Because I tend to immediately gravitate to the parts I disagree with or think someone is missing a trick when I comment, I know that I come across as too negative about essays and books that deserve better from me. But that fits with my "let me adjust this just a bit" mentality. If I am passing something along too you, I think it valuable unless i specifically say otherwise. But sometimes I like to comb its hair and straighten its tie before I send it out. So read it or browse it first, so the remainder of this makes sense.

Keller has to thread the needle with regards to popular discussion, and likely wants to anyway. This essay is part of a series I have only glanced at, but focuses on the racial aspects of justice more than I think necessary.  I get it that this is the current conversation and can be used as a jumping off point for more general discussion. But I think race is a much weaker driver of injustice than is currently credited, and focusing on it distracts us from deeper issues.  Do I sound like a Marxist, harping that it's really all about class and race disguises the real struggle?  A bit.  They do have good points from time-to-time, though they run aground trying to fit their own explanations to whatever data shows up.  There is a great deal of unfairness and even oppression in the world, so focusing on any bit of it necessarily obscures the rest. We can and should put serious attention into each of them, yet always with the recognition that we are working on a single bit, not the whole.

Two advantages result

1. We become more alert to noticing when the drivers of injustice change around us. More on this in a later post. I think Keller missed some of this, because the idea of "generations" steers us down a particular road.

2. It becomes easier to admit that sometimes we benefit from unfairness, and sometimes we are harmed by it. This is related to my 100%-0% theme. For all the buffetings and unfairness that has come upon me in my life, I have been dealt a very good hand, starting with being born in the 20th in America. Pretty much everyone in purgatory from the millions of times and places isn't going to credit my whining very much. (Those in heaven will be kinder, and I'll be better myself.) In America we are currently locked in yet another episode of the Tim Tebow Effect, in which both sides perceive themselves as an oppressed minority that no one is listening to. 

In Keller's Essay, under the section "The Problem of Foundations," there is a comment from an atheist who was challenged on a podcast what the foundations of his ideas of justice were. 

Christian Smith:..I’m not saying atheists can’t choose to be good, but when they do so it is an arbitrary subjective preference, not a rationally grounded view that has persuasive power over others.

Atheist: That does not make sense to me. I just figure that because people are human beings that they should be treated fairly. I know what it feels like to be treated with kindness and with meanness. I know that others feel the same way, so I want to treat them with dignity and respect because that is what I would want. I don’t have an objective source for the dignity of people—it is based on the fact that I would want to be treated in this way. Why isn’t that compelling to a reasonable skeptic? Why do I need more reason/justification than that? It seems common sense.

This particular atheist did not state the case as well as he might have, but if you dig down into other atheist/humanist/etc arguments you will find they are at root not much better, however much cultural history and neuroscience they put it. The foundation of my theory of justice is that we all just basically know what it is.  It's just obvious and good for everyone. My counter would be that this is one thing that nearly every society in history has demonstrated the opposite. It has not seemed obvious to anyone that the people across the way deserve to be treated well.  Our people deserve to be treated well, and even of those, only the ones who are in charge. What happens to slaves and peasants is of little concern. That is the "common sense" that most of humanity operates on. To put that other idea forward only reveals that you come from one of those few nice times and places in history. 

So we need more, and I think Keller does a good job of providing a Biblical foundation Christians can work from. Pay particular attention to his critique of Critical Theory, as I think he does better than just saying bad things about it and pointing out its abuses.  I think he hits solid points.

If you want to brush up in advance on Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory, I will be bringing that in in Keller's discussion of the "spectrum" of justice theories. Spoiler: I don't think it's a spectrum.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Egg Dishes

My wife was looking up fun things to do with eggs fried in a piece of bread with a hole in it.  She chose one with a heart cut in.  Fun little decorative touch.

On the same page is "Greek Cowboy Hash and Eggs."  I think that is worth staring at and contemplating for a few moments. AFAIK, there have never been any Greek Cowboys.  Maybe Alexander trained some and used them, but those would be Macedonians, right?  Do I want to know how in the world this dish came into existence?  A few unlikely but possible scenarios of guys named Papadopoulos in Wyoming or Illyrian pastoralists occur to me. 

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.  Let's go look.  It also has sweet potato and avocado, cumin and coriander. The last of those does seem to have been grown in Greece for a long time, but it was grown all the way to India, so that seems a bit tenuous to call it "Greek."  I don't find the mystery explained by the other three at all.  They make it worse.  Ah, farther down I see both feta cheese and chipotle as ingredients. So it is "Greek, Cowboy" or "Greek/Cowboy" Hash and Eggs.  I actually don't disapprove of that naming, now that I look at it.  It's Hash and Eggs, but you want to show how this is different. The avocado and sweet potato might be accurate descriptors, but no one is clicking that link. Greek Cowboy is clickbait, as I have just inadvertently proven.

We used to have Welsh Rarebit when I was a boy, which was just Olde English cheese from a little jar, heated and poured over Saltines with a sprinkling of that archetypal Welsh spice, paprika. Chinese Pie is from the Canadian railroad. Russian Dressing is from New Hampshire. I think I approve of this Greek Cowboy designation.  Good move.

Saturday, March 20, 2021


Just for something different, I just typed "comedy" into the search bar.  I wasn't that pleased with the first three.  Okay, I was very much not pleased with some of it.

But I liked this.  I had never heard of her. Enjoy.

Karen Morgan

Trolling For Racism Works

A behaviorist friend used to assure me that all human behavior can be explained in behaviorist terms. I used to test him, and sometimes I felt I had won the argument, but he really did demonstrate to me that his framing of the world could go a long, long way toward explaining things. Even more than punishment discouraging a behavior, rewarding a behavior encouraged its continuation. I find it is rewarding to look at the rewards, punishments, and lack of rewards in any ongoing situation to see if it explains something I missed.

People who assert that America is a racist society do not usually do that in an individual conversation. The emotional rules are different when you have to look someone in the face. (That is true of conservative fire-breathers as well.) For openers, people try to take the subject down from talking about all of America, which neither of you can do much about, to more local, or even individual issues.  Not always.  Some people need to make intense declarative statements in all circumstances.

But if you make a blanket statement in a book, or on a news program, or in an editorial, or on Facebook, or as a spokesperson for a group, what happens next?  No matter how many people try to answer you reasonable (whether politely or rudely), you can't count on someone who actually is racist making a comment. And that rewards you for your assertion.  It proves you right. Any discussion of whether that person represents 10% or 0.1% of the population does not matter in terms of the reward you get.  Those of us who read comment sections see this all the time, even on fairly reasonable sites. You read people making more or less reasonable replies.  Then you hit that same knucklehead who never seems to go away,and he - it is usually a he - makes some pants-soiling racist statement, and the rest of us shake our heads. Just shut up, will you? 

He's not going to shut up, for similar reasons.  When he makes a stupid statement, someone will get infuriated and make an accusation back at him that is at least partly unfair. See, I told you.  These people always claiming racism are just evil children themselves. That's pretty rewarding to type on a site where you know lots of people will see it.

When Don Lemon, selling a book, accuses the whole society of racism, any number of folks would like to get him into any sort of moderated debate about this, or any situation where he had to take actual questions and be hounded until he answered them cleanly.* But that is never going to happ0en, and he will never feel the need to make a logical argument, because in his mind, eliciting the racist statements he was trolling for proves his point.  That they don't prove his point does not matter in behaviorist terms.  His behavior was rewarded, he will repeat it. So will the people who agree with him, waiting for the inevitable actual racist to make an appearance. The only negative consequence that would have effect is complete deplatforming, as they would no longer have any way to get those chemical hits. We know that is not going to happen.

We keep hoping that some persuasive argument will break through, or if we are angrier, that some crushing response will shut him, and them, up. Have they no shame?  Can they not see the hypocrisy and inconsistency?  Irrelevant questions.  They are pigeons hitting the bar for another pellet.

*That is all I ever wanted with Bill Clinton as well, to be made to stand in the well of Senate and answer questions.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Classic Washington, and Washington Post

Immigrants are surging across the border, as even they admit. If admitted, those children are going to need to go to school, those emergency rooms are going to have more people with previous poor care to deal with (and the C19 infection rate is apparently high), the local police and sheriff's offices are going to need to deal with this and the states and counties are going to have to pay for this.

But what does the Washington Post focus on?  The political fallout for people in Washington, especially Biden and Congress.  I have stated many times that the events around the world, and even in their own country, are not real to them.  All that is real is the power movement in DC. Everything else is counters on their board.  Wars, people dying, genocides, oppression, famine - none of these are real. 

I mentioned recently the sad but frightening separation from reality that young people and those who also live in online culture are experiencing.  I had forgotten that we have seen this before in different form: the lure of the Imperial City and its claim to be the only reality. I'm not big on forcing any American to do anything.  But perhaps our federal politicians and permanent civil servants down to some level should be forced to hike the Appalachian trail with no more than two other people, or sail on the ocean for a month with only emergency contact so that they are alone in their own head except for a book or three*, or work in a foreign orphanage or clinic with no cameras or reporters allowed, or live on a family farm or help run a small business (in disguise) for a few months - every couple of years. We no longer have Cincinnatus, twice dictator for a year in crisis, who returned to his family farm when the crisis was past. When George McGovern retired from the Senate he tried to start a business. Within a couple of years he was saying he wished he'd known what it was like while he was in the Senate.  An honest man, and those are in short supply these days.

They simply don't think we are real. Children on the border are only pictures that can be leveraged by one group or another.

*All books older than 50 years, and at lest one older than 100 years.

Post 7700 - Raising Beef Cattle

Over at Quillette, Raising Beef Cattle.  I am quite sure I have never heard this side of the story. I was suspicious of the factory-farming stories because of their provenance, but never thought about it much beyond that.

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be

I had volunteer work this morning which involves getting up very early. But when I got up, it had been cancelled. So there I was at 5:30am, sitting in the dark but ready to be hopping into the truck and driving for an hour. I had actually been thinking once or twice over the last few days about driving up to see some place I had not visited for a while. No surprise there, I think such thoughts of visiting old places many times in a year. I don't often do anything about them.

However, I am almost 68, and if you do something very occasionally over 68 years it eventually adds up.  Particularly since the boys have grown, I have had the freedom to be a bit impulsive, taking an extra thirty minutes to drive home by a different route, or even taking a couple of hours to drive out to a good view or an old diner. So there's not really anywhere to go. I considered all the directions of the compass one by one, and each has something worth visiting for nostalgic reasons. So worth visiting, in fact, that I have already done it a few times. I did miss my chance at Cow Island on Winnipesaukee, where my parents had a cottage from 1975-1985. I would like to see the place again and I don't have a boat, so my best shot would be to walk across from Fox Point in winter.  I don't trust the ice at present.

Even at that, the place is likely unrecognisable at this point. It was smallish at the time, but it is very desirable real estate now, and has likely been improved and added to several times. I might not even be able to pick it out among its neighbors.  The nostalgia part of Cow Island is no longer attainable, though, as it was the whole process of retrieving and opening up the boat, packing the luggage into it, and heading across the water for the last leg of the trip, then opening the cabin.  Even that was rare, as my stepfather was often there already and would come to pick us up. So maybe next winter, but maybe, when the day comes I will say "Why bother?  What is there to see, really?"

The houses I have lived in and the schools and churches I went to are all in a 90 minute radius, except for college and the Western New England addresses I lived at before I was 6.  I have even been to those a couple of times over the years. I am like Gollum, who thought there would be great secrets in the many tunnels under the mountain but soon exhausted them all.  To the West is Pilgrim Pines, but I went there in winter with the granddaughters just a few years ago, and we will be going soon enough in summer. Northwest is Bradford, Lake Massasecum and another lake house, but I have been by many times as an adult. North, then Northeast, then around the compass, places everywhere. But I've already been.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Oh Happy Day

 It's one of those songs where every version is good.

Health Professionals and Vaccines

There is sometimes a minor theme on conservative sites about being suspicious of vaccines in general or swearing by some form of alt-medicine.  I seem to recall that this is worse on conservative sites I don't go to very much - only when linked by a site I have more trust in, usually.  The idea of things that are "natural" being more what the Bible teaches and God wants has traction in Christian churches.*

This has exploded on conservative sites over the covid vaccine.  People are making their medical decisions on political grounds of "not trusting the government," or to be fair, of trusting the government not because it is trustworthy but because it is what their party currently requires of them.  Pfizer and Moderna are not the government.  If they are hiding something just to make a quick buck and it turns out to make you sterile later, the class-action suit would bankrupt them.  They might be many terrible things, but stupid is not generally one of them.

You can also put in some effort and look at the numbers of what the testing of vaccines has produced in terms of side effects.  Or you could, of course, just let highly partisan and politicised people tell you what's safe and what's not.  Because they must know more than "so-called experts" because they share your suspicion of "experts," right?  What other evidence do you need?  They are suspicious of experts, you are suspicious of experts, they like to show how independent and brave they are by "standing up" to the government, and they must be right! 

Between liberals and conservatives on this issue, it's really hard to decide who has been the smart kid in the dumb row.

The latest twist is a flurry of stories about how nurses and other health professionals (drive a truck through that) are declining to get the vaccine at an "alarming" rate. There is a study out of Europe making the rounds that is supposed to provide evidence that YOU should be suspicious because all these European Health Professionals must know something you don't.

I think I can be of some help here.  I spent forty years working with nurses and "other health professionals," including the occasional European. Nurses believe a lot of woo. Not all of them certainly, but a ridiculous percentage.  They often went into the field because they had strong priors about What Other People Need To Do.  For "other health professionals," the OT's, the massage therapists, the chiropractors, physical therapists, registered dieticians...double that. Also for Europeans, double that. That still leaves plenty of entirely reasonable people in those fields, but please, don't take the fact that you can find "alarming percentages" of these folks supporting or opposing anything as evidence.  They love Reiki. They love herbs and homeopathy - the modern definition, not the previous theory of "the water remembers" - mind-body medicine, integrated medicine, suspicion of GMO foods, megadoses of just about anything that comes in a bottle. 

Hell, even some doctors believe that stuff. No amount of data and training will beat it out of some people.  I applaud people who try to be open-minded, willing to consider whether St. John's Wort, or Rolfing, or bee venom really do work.  I admire their fortitude in the face of other professionals scoffing and telling them they are silly.  But I neither applaud nor admire people who still hold these ideas after the evidence is in, especially if the proposed treatment is not merely ineffectual, but actively damaging.

Pay zero attention to news stories about what European Health Professionals think about the vaccine. They know more random facts about medicine than you do, but you start from a much firmer foundation of "Look, all I want to know is if this is a good idea or not, and I am willing to do some reading."  They have agendas, you have a family.

*Essential oils


 Reflecting on reading ED Hirsch in the 1980s, I was reminded of a favorite analogy of mine back then, that we need cuphooks on which to hang the cups of new information and new experience, or they simple fall and break, or at best, are hard to find among all the other crockery. I applied it first to education, as I was frustrated with the whole nonsense, then gaining steam, of not teaching names and dates, but trying to teach experiences or abstract understandings. This is first wrong because it doesn't work.  There must be some structure for a child (or adult) to work from. A date is of course arbitrary, relating to how many times the earth has revolved around the sun since then rather than, and the King could have been named Edward or Choppers instead of Henry, but some structure is essential, or the information has nothing to attach to.  Any of the concrete details provide a structure that is helpful to learning: wearing the costume, eating the foods, using the tools, or on paper viewing and drawing the trade routes, tracing the boundaries, putting little sheaves of wheat or fish on the page to show exports. Dates provide a versatile time structure, as they can identify broad ranges "Oh, like before 1000AD even," or more nuanced information "Wait, that was only two years after he became king."  Of such things history, geography, culture, and much of the arts are understood. If you take that away then it becomes people with no names doing things in an indefinite time in a place not specified.  None of that information will be efficiently stored for retrieval.

One can imagine other structures.  Fine.  But this one has been agreed upon, and thus allows us to communicate it more fully.

The second problem is that all this vagueness prepares the ground nicely for indoctrination. If the children - or again, adults - do not really know anything, then you can give them predigested summaries so that they think they do. You will notice that this is exactly the accusation from education traditionalists what is happening in schools today, up through graduate level.  As far back as 1980, a coworker counseled a younger person going to college that sociology was a waste of effort. "Blacks are cool, gays are fine, women have been oppressed.  That's all you'll learn.  I know, I was a sociology major for two years."

It is an exaggeration, certainly.  I learned not only expressly but via social signalling what to believe learning theater and medieval literature, but I did also read plays and books, attached to actual authors and centuries. Yet when every course must address issues of gender, race, class, oppression, where will the time for that come from?  The student will read five poems fewer, one book less.  Next year, there will be further subtractions.

Yet there was a second area where cuphooks were needed.  I found I needed them at work. At least, I thought I did.  I learned an unintended lesson there.  We would attend conferences and planning sessions of what was to come! Where new group homes were going to be built, and what specialties they would have! New therapies! New programs! I mentioned at a department meeting shortly after one of these that I was finding it all rather vague and blue-sky. "I need some cuphooks to hang these cups on," and the department head laughed. She was a smart person but had half-bought into this nonsense, and my comment was refreshing to her. "It's worse than you know!  He's been talking about these things for almost a year now, and i can't think of a single cuphook I can hang any of it on!" It became an in-joke in the department. These planners!  These dreamers! It takes them so long to get stuff done, and this is why.  They spend so much time talking about it, and checking in with each other that the actual work goes slowly. 

Rinse. Repeat.

In a few years I had learned that the work did not go slowly, it didn't happen at all.  None of those group homes got built, as the budget people learned that they did not reduce hospitalisations, or arrests, or any other measurable. Different housing programs or treatment approaches would get imposed on everyone from above, ignoring all the discussion that had gone on before.  I learned that this is what happens in a bureaucracy when the intent is to disguise the fact that no work is being done.  There will be no cuphooks. I doubt this is much intentional, even in large bureaucracies like government.  These are people who are vague in their thinking, and thus believe they are really accomplishing something. You don't have to fool them, they embrace being fooled, else they would have no meaning. It's all very Screwtape Letters and Great Divorce.

Psychedelics, Meditation, Mystic Experience Again

 I wrote about the topic last month with specific reference to religious experience, as the closing to my short series on newer therapies for anxiety, trauma, and depression.  Recently a friend who is pursuing all this more deeply offered a summary of my idea back to me.  I liked it because it is in some ways better than my own. 

 A physical intervention, whether a massage or ketamine assisted therapy, engages the body in an important way that opens up a person to a way of reinterpreting the world. However, the physical experience is beneficial but not sufficient. There needs to be a schema through which these experiences are presented and interpreted that will allow for sustained change. The physical intervention just creates a privileged moment where these pieces can all connect.

The following is based largely on my reply to him. It's not a new idea so much as a further development or expression.

I think that's quite a good summary, providing a bit of clarity I had not reached myself. 
To repeat some of that, but also build on what you said, I would say that the experiences, powerful in themselves, pretend to be standalone deep experiences.  I think this would include such experiences as had by Christians.  But the experience will be interpreted by other parts of our brains, whether we realise it or not.  If we think we aren't interpreting, that only means we have resorted to our defaults, our priors, unawares.  In that sense the experience is morally neutral, however much it claims to be morally enlightened and advanced.  It is not different in kind from the feeling from a good hike or a beautiful piece of music, but only different in degree, being more intense, and broader.  Broader in the sense of "including more parts of the brain," not "broad-minded."
The interpretation is what is examinable in moral terms, then.
My solution to everything is to read more CS Lewis, so this was reminiscent of his cautioning that we can never be operating from no philosophical assumptions.  If we do not apply ourselves to good philosophy we will have bad.  All societies, and even all subgroups have music.  If we do not have good music we will have bad. (He would fully allow that there might be competing meanings for the word "good" in those and other instances, and is mostly talking about not trying, not being intentional, not thinking very hard as "bad.")
It is similar also to that version of New Atheist that says "I am starting from no assumptions.  I start from a neutral point, I am agnostic about all gods and philosophies." That is simply silly, but it is fervently believed by some who think they are objective.  BTW, Siskind, who was a major player in the online Rationalist/New atheist/humanist/agnostic communities, had a very interesting essay about the disappearance of that online community The New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed

Online Living

Over at Quillette, which should be your go-to source for discussions of cancellings in journalism and academia, there are two of interest up at the moment. The first is about journalist Jesse Singal coming under attack, and one by Eric Kaufman The Threats to Academic Freedom: From Anecdotes to Data documenting the accelerating increase in these witch-hunts over the last few years.  I was intrigued because the latter article mentioned the year 2015 as a clear point of increase. I already have the highschool graduating class of 2014 in the front of my mind on the subject of living online, sharp increases in depression, anxiety, and suicide, and punitive cultures of exclusion.  That was the break point that Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff identified in The Coddling of the American Mind, which I discussed in 2019. That is the first class that had personal devices straight through since middle school.  Their lives are thus not only online, but they had much less interactive life with their peers before they got those devices. They had not developed sufficiently to handle the juggling between worlds.

So 2015 would be their first year of college, so an increase in this type of viciousness, and living in fear of viciousness, might not be that surprising. Even if they would have been the most intense version of this culture when they arrived on campus, it is not as if such things were unknown to the classes before them. Also, as the next few classes arrived, by 2019 (another break year mentioned in the second article) the undergraduate population would be fully from that culture, and graduate schools would be beginning to see them arrive. 

The key point to remember about them is that they do not live in quite the same world we do.  Social death online really is a kind of death to them.  The real world is online, in contrast to their boring world of making dinner and doing homework or entry-level job. Adults can respond to cancelling, even in extreme circumstances of losing jobs, by having somewhere else to go.  These are often a big step down, but you have people who you can talk to and commiserate with who recognise the injustice.  These children do not. They could develop such networks, with much less effort than they think, but at the moment they see only the abyss.

However, this young group are not the only ones doing the cancelling.  There are plenty of adults in college administrations or media editorial offices who are doing the same.  How do we account for them? My initial thought is that these are groups, even more than faculty at colleges, which have to be hypersensitive to youth culture, and thus were already online more than most others their age, and are in more danger.  It was either James or JMSmith, both in academia, who pointed out that these cancellings are much more common in industries where there is enormous competition for few slots. Yes, so we should add popular entertainment to the list of those living in cancel culture.

From the Jesse Singal article, we note that the trans community is also front-and-center.  I should be fair: this is the online trans community, which is likely not fully representative. That this group already lives in a fantasy, artificial world about their own identities makes moving to the online unrealities more attractive. My sample is skewed, as most of the trans people I have known are psychiatric patients.  But even among the staff, the few I knew were not well, and not nice.  One was witty, which is a lovely quality until paired with meanness. Yet even if my judgement is unfair and the great preponderance of trans people are just regular folk who have a harder row to hoe than most, it does remain true that the attempted suicide rate among trans adolescents approaches 50%.  Simple responsibility, not to mention kindness, should dictate that we need truthful research about this group and we need it quickly.

It is not black people per se who are participating in cancel culture (though I do think the percentage may be much higher among the young), it is those who are attempting to be black spokespersons.  We are back to the rack of intense competition for slots again, aren't we? As with Siskind's The Toxoplasma of Rage, which I have linked to repeatedly, the competition for attention pushes such folks in the direction of extremism. So they are listening to and reinforcing each other, and they live online.  Others who live online, especially the young are disproportionately affected.

Cancelling is a function of online living, not merely because one has an amplified voice, but because that culture is different, and its social enforcement is more brutal than what we have experienced before.  It goes beyond the storied cultures of exclusion at schools, especially boarding schools, and is moving in the direction of entire villages as engines of enforcement, known throughout history but seen most recently in Communist China. They are dangerous, but also pitiable.