Monday, May 31, 2021


A Celtics fan threw a Dasani bottle at Kyrie Irving the other night.  He was arrested. He should be arrested. First, he should be thrown out, and maybe lose his privileges to ever be back. Arenas, teams, and leagues have the right to enforce decorum in that way. Their house, their rules. The article lists other bad behaviors by fans, some of which warrant arrest, but all of which is in the purview of the people throwing this party to exclude customers who aren't getting with the program.

But it is not automatically racism just because the target was black.  Irving gets it partly right in terms of history and entertainment, yet I think he misses the part that tomato-throwing was largely white-on-white crime for hundreds of years, but still weaves it into the modern racism narrative.

It could be racist, of course.  If we let the accused talk long enough he might say enough to convince us that he would not have done this to Gordon Hayward, who also used to play for the Celtics. (I admit even that is not a perfect analogy.) However...the NBA is mostly black.  Guys who used to play for your team but are now coming back and might defeat you are going to be disproportionately black. It's one of the things that African-Americans aren't used to, being so dominant in an area that they are the default, the generic NBA player. I will note in passing that there is considerable resistance to the idea that they are in one of those areas where whatever societal prejudices might be in play, they ain't in their neighborhood.

This is part of the slow build of resentment that is not based on evidence. Because of confirmation bias, people who already convinced this is all racist will take this instance as evidence. But it isn't. Yet it will be added to the fuel.

Update:  The arrested fan was wearing a Garnett jersey.

Beowulf:The Monsters and the Critics

I think of myself as rereading this every five years or so, but have mentioned it only in passing here, so I may be thinking of an earlier version of myself. I am rereading now and keep thinking I will put up this excellent quote or that one, but there are simply too many.  I recommend reading it entirely. It is fifteen pages, long for an essay, plus an appendix half that length, because this is Tolkien. You may decide after seven or eight pages that you have gotten the idea and are not fascinated by the inside baseball of Anglo-Saxon. The central point is that the monsters are not an embarrassing mistake in dramatic art revealing how shallow its author and its culture must be, but are central to the story, and the critics have simply misunderstood what is up. 

Oh, all right.  Since you insist.

 I hope I shall show that that allegory is just—even when we consider the more recent and more perceptive critics (whose concern is in intention with literature). To reach these we must pass in rapid flight over the heads of many decades of critics. As we do so a conflicting babel mounts up to us, which I can report as something after this fashion.5 'Beowulf is a half-baked native epic the development of which was killed by Latin learning; it was inspired by emulation of Virgil, and is a product of the education that came in with Christianity; it is feeble and incompetent as a narrative; the rules of narrative are cleverly observed in the manner of the learned epic; it is the confused product of a committee of muddle-headed and probably beer-bemused Anglo-Saxons (this is a Gallic voice); it is a string of pagan lays edited by monks; it is the work of a learned but inaccurate Christian antiquarian; it is a work of genius, rare and surprising in the period, though the genius seems to have been shown principally in doing something much better left undone (this is a very recent voice); it is a wild folk-tale (general chorus); it is a poem of an aristocratic and courtly tradition (same voices); it is a hotchpotch; it is a sociological, anthropological, archaeological document; it is a mythical allegory (very old voices these and generally shouted down, but not so far out as some of the newer cries); it is rude and rough; it is a masterpiece of metrical art; it has no shape at all; it is singularly weak in construction; it is a clever allegory of contemporary politics (old John Earle with some slight support from Mr. Girvan, only they look to different periods); its architecture is solid; it is thin and cheap (a solemn voice); it is undeniably weighty (the same voice); it is a national epic; it is a translation from the Danish; it was imported by Frisian traders; it is a burden to English syllabuses; and (final universal chorus of all voices) it is worth studying.'

Nationalism Revisited

Reposted from August 2018.  I was going to write something new, but liked this well enough.  It seems valuable for Memorial Day.

I have previously expressed the opinion that it was not nationalism that created WWII, but it was nationalism that won it.  The German attitude was more properly described as a tribalism or racialism, though they called it nationalism.  Jews, Slavs, or Roma who lived within the German nation were not considered part of Das Volk, but ethnic Germans who lived over the borders were considered part of the larger family.  Some nations, of Scandinavian, Frankish, or Anglo-Saxon descent were considered people to be ruled if they would not cooperate, but not exterminated. Hungarian and Romanian "nationalist" figures such as Antonescu were likewise protectors only of ethnic Romanians, not all within the borders. (This is unsurprising in Europe up until that time, because borders moved frequently, but language and ethnic heritage remained primary. It's just wrong to call it nationalism.)

In contrast, while the Allies had a lot of international cooperation, they ran largely on nationalist sentiment. Not only the Americans, who, as a mixed people had no choice except nationalism, but as the war progressed, the Soviet Union hunkered down into its constituent parts and Stalin made his appeals on behalf of Mother Russia, not the New Soviet Man. My thought has been that while nationalism has dangers and can be a false god, internationalism is a worse one. It might in theory be a better thing, and if we ever do become better humans I will change my vote. At the moment, however, I consider it an overreach. When we pretend to be better than we are we are in enormous danger, and those who are loyal to international enterprises smuggle in some much more primitive prejudices. They do not transcend nationalism, as they imagine, but replace it with something that aims higher but strikes lower.

That is an observation of the group mentality, not the individual.  I am fully prepared to accept that there are many people who do transcend nationalism on an individual basis. As Steve Sailer has pointed out, however, in the traditional concentric circles of loyalty humankind tends to use, they more often skip over ring rather than include.  There is more virtue to be signaled in loving those far away rather than neighbors. How much more noble to love illegal aliens at the expense of poor citizens!

I will have to revise my WWII picture however.  It still applies to Germans.  Yet my reading of Japanese history recently convinces me that nationalism was indeed their motive.  They did not find Koreans, Taiwanese, or Chinese racially inferior, but culturally so. Their attitude toward those in Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands was more tinged with a racialism.

I'm not sure how I incorporate this into the overall picture, but I have to start by wounding my old model. Any of you who have knowledge about Japanese and other Asian cultural and racial attitudes, please weigh in.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Simplified Narrative

Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff published The Coddling of the American Mind in 2018 and I greatly approved. They examined the deterioration of discourse among schoolchildren, the HS graduating classes of 2014 and beyond in particular and tried to dig into the data before drawing conclusions.  Unlike me, who grabs two facts and runs with it for a year.  At least it's not a decade.  I back off after a while, unlike some here, who are stuck in 1970, or 1990, or 2010. I would say "You know who you are," but unfortunately you don't and for old guys like me, this site is largely a debating society among people who are stuck in 1970 versus those who are stuck in 1990 versus those who are stuck in 2010.

That's actually not a terrible thing.  If we could time-travel and impose that debate on the people of the turn of the 13th-19thC's, even among the few, I think it would do some good. We all have a touch of Ignatius J Reilly here, and that's fine.

That graduating class of 2014 is significant, as it is an inflection point. It is the first class that had spent all its post-latency years online, acquiring devices in middle-school and having a hybrid experience between online and meatspace socialisation.  I witnessed it firsthand, chaperoning one of Kyle's field trips, where the girls (the boys were 1-2 years behind in devices) were taking selfies of themselves in the front of the bus, sending them to friends, and then running back six seats laughing to look at those photos with those same friends. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it at the time. Conservatives are ever thus: we deplore changes in the culture of youth that turn out to be unimportant, but chuckle at changes that turn out to be frighteningly crucial. We always accurately sense that something is terribly wrong, but then attack the wrong development.

The suicide, anxiety, and depression rates increased from 2011-2014 to heartbreaking levels. Haidt and Lukianoff declared that the online life was the reason. We who grew up in other eras do not understand this.  We are dismissive of these snowflakes. Yet they developed in this world. Sam L, and Korora, and Unknown, and Granite Dad can shrug and say "C'mon, if they don't like you, screw 'em." But we had a life outside of the internet.  We do not remotely appreciate what life is like for them.  Online death is complete social death. It is easy for us to say it doesn't need to be that way, but for them, it might be.  We can only rescue the few from the online world to breathe free.

Talk to people involved with basic training over the last ten years. One of the great services we provide to those recruits is that they learn they will not die if they can't check their accounts.  Yet it fades within a year after.

All that as background.  The HS 2014 class went on to do what? They became the college 2018 class - or 2019 class, the way things are now - and that is the group we have been reading about as such crazies, attacking very liberal but mostly reasonable professors. While a few have been joining Antifa and looking for fainting couches, most have just been keeping their heads down and trying to pick up credits without anyone cancelling them.  We might deplore their courage, but remember they live and die on social media in a way we cannot understand. We could easily stand up to most of those knuckleheads, most of us (not all). They can't. If you are disdainful, consider that you may not feel the same pressure.  I have said jokingly that peer pressure is more intense as an adult because you have chosen those peers, but I meant it. In high school there are groups, and you can pick one and get a bit insulated from the others.  It is much harder for adults to grab isolation from all coworkers, or neighbors, or coreligionists, or other parents in our PTA.

We always said that as they moved into the workplace they would learn better manners, as 90% of every other graduating year since 1965 did. I don't think it has been working quite as well this time. They moved into the workplace and started enforcing the same crazy wokeness. Not all.  90% are sane children we would be glad to take a road trip with, even though they are infected with an initial and reflexive insistence that it's impossible to be in favor of both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. They can learn, after a few stops at Waffle House on your way out to Pasco, Washington. But because of the internet, the remaining 10% have much greater power now, and that 10% necessarily includes the most pathological, the personality disordered, the socially aspiring, most of whom assume they are the brightest or most moral or both.

That 10% can destroy your 90%, and the 90% know it, though they haven't quite figured it out yet.  They still have only nervousness about them and hatred for you, you bigoted retrograde eugenicist, but they aren't any stupider than we were, and most of us were pretty stupid. But most of those kids will be fine. I do worry about the damage the 10% can do, because I think the internet puts us in a horribly different place now.  The power to destroy is absolute power, as Paul Muad-Dib said. 

The class of 2018 went where? And what will happen now? 

I know the answer to that, and will make the prediction, though at 68 y/o I will not live to see its fulfillment. Who? Whom? 

2014, 2018, 2020, 2022. The online socialisation, in and of itself, may explain more than all our grand historical theories extending into discussion of the French Revolution, or Enlightenment, or Stonewall Rebellion.  The poor kids lived online and their deaths there were real, however much we scoffed.  A few of our generation (at the NYTimes or at Union Theological) tried to survive and a few outran them, but the kids we know went underground with polite woke statement over their shoulders. Have pity and do not criticise behaviors whose pressures we do not know.  I suppose we should at base also pity the perpetrators, responding to demons we have not met ourselves, but start with the innocents first.

Debt of Honor

I gave an ambiguous review of a Bob Dylan song over at my friend Charles Gardner's site (Maggie's Farm), and promised to do something nice for Bob in return.  Like Zimmerman needs it and I don't. 

There is a lot to see here if you want to dig deeper. "Remember me to one who lives there. She once was a true love of mine," is recognisable to people of my generation and is an echo of several songs from the Child Ballads, and Dylan claims to have been inspired by Martin Carthy on his trip to England in 1963 1962 for this song in particular. Carthy was a central, though intermittent member of Steeleye Span.

Critical remarks of the early Dylan, prior to Dylan Goes Electric! the Night That Split the 60s  might be in order, but... honor...promises. He was overrated from 1960-1970, underrated from 1970-1995, overrated from 1995-2010, and underrated from 2010-2020. He is 80 and overrated again as everyone worries he might die one of these days. I think he will in the end be regarded as anticipating his times, then simply reflecting his times, then transcending his times. I would consider it amazing if people thought the same of me, so I won't kick too hard.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Scottish Independence

There is an article over at Quillette that won't stay on the sidebar forever about the SNP and independence. I defer to him on many things because my Scots-Irish heritage is 200 years old and his information is considerably more important, however much I like the Wallace Tartan. Nostalgia is not reality, and the current Scots seem much farther left than I am comfortable with.

There is a long comment by someone named Geary Johansen that I found quite informative, though you should apply the usual discounts that 1) he has a site he is trying to get you to visit, and 2) seems to want to revert to discussing Scandinavia a bit quickly. Still, I liked it. As a person who follows the yearly PISA scores, I was particularly interested in the info about Finnish education.

I am interested here in the phenomenon of the SNP appealing to very old sentiments in order to sell a new idea. I learned from CS Lewis many years ago*, though I did not believe it at first, that this is usual.  The CPUSA had a specific training of using the tunes from old Christian hymns and modifying the words just a bit to get folks singing along to socialist ideas. Think Pete Seeger, with at least two dozen examples, beginning with "Down By the Riverside" and continuing to "We Shall Overcome." But to get back to the Scots, I think we in America can guess at it immediately.  The SNP is saying "Bagpipes playing 'Scotland the Brave!' Kilts! The cursed English, and remember Robbie Burns!" We see it easily in others, not so well in ourselves. I have suspected all along that independence was a bad idea for the Scots, but he makes the case most strongly.  Of course, I also believe that groups have the right to make rules about their governance even if they are wrong.

*Our business is to present that which is timeless (the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the particular language of our own age. The bad preacher does exactly the opposite: he may think about the Beveridge Report and talk about the coming of the kingdom. The core of his thought is merely contemporary; only the superficies is traditional. But your teaching must be timeless at its heart and wear a modern dress. ("Christian Apologetics" 1945) You should write this on your wrist and on your brow and place it like a mezuzah on your doorposts, for it is the great danger of the 20th and 21st C of the church.  Racism? Pah. Consider who is putting our focus on that third-level problem of the Church. Come back to Lewis and this thought in one month and one year and every year thereafter. This is where we are usually fooled.  Mostly liberals, but conservatives also in a different way, and if you do not apprehend that, take a long walk to figure out where that might be.  Or read more CS Lewis, which is the answer to all modern problems.

Southern Dinner

Grim was inspired by Frost's accent in the last post and put up Lewis Grizzard about the older southern accents, not quite gone.  That reminded me of a piece by Roy Blount Jr from his book Save Room For Pie which I heard him recite on an NPR game show, likely "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" perhaps a decade ago. It took me a while to find it, but it starts at the 37-minute mark, which I hope I have successfully accomplished. All families talk about the food some at table on holidays, but I don't think either side of my family ever displayed this kind of single-mindedness. Farm families might do it more. Perhaps he exaggerates for effect.

Accents are fascinating things because they don't stay put. The boundaries slowly move, new people move into one side of it and different folks move into another, and pronunciations just seem to change on their own everywhere in the world, especially the vowels. I always thought that while my mother still had a slight coastal New England accent, saying idear, datter, and the like, that I had none.  A few years ago my cousin showed me a Thanksgiving video when I was 13 - his father was Rte 128 high-tech and had a house full of things like video cameras and his own weather station even in 1966 - and I showed out a clear NH accent on a few words.  I lost it somewhere, possibly by training in theater and/or going to school in Virginia.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Stopping By Woods


That accent is not yet gone up here, but it is much less common. He sounds about like my grandfather. Gramps had him for freshman English at Pinkerton Academy in 1910, and didn't think much of him. This is not surprising. Frost had moved back to take care of his mother's farm and wasn't happy about it. He took the teaching job for the cash money, but 9th-grade boys are no treat. He liked teaching college in Vermont better.

I read this to my granddaughters a few times a year.

Come O Thou Traveler Unknown

Maddy Prior (longtime centerpiece of Steeleye Span) has an unusual voice that fits joy, humor...and a haunting quality appropriate for an old hymn about Jacob wrestling with an angel of the Lord. Her version is the first I had heard.

Daum Quote

 Meghan Daum "You know how they always said the Trump was a poor person's idea of a rich person? It's more like a person who has never lived in an authoritarian society's idea of an authoritarian...of a dictator. (laughs) He's an American's idea of a fascist."

I don't know if she'll ever become a conservative or libertarian, but she is already an ex-liberal. She has good guests and is fun to listen to, even when she's wrong and still doesn't quite get it.

The Cold Equations

For those who grew up on science fiction The Cold Equations (full text here) was a jarring read. Although it was an artificially-created scenario, unlikely to bear analogy to any real events even out of spaceships, most readers recognised a core truth.  Sometimes reality does not do what we want it to, and it is we who have to adjust, because some realities are unbending. Wishing won't make it so, the grandmothers used to say. Social science, and because of that politics, is increasingly about people wishing to make it so.

Maybe we should blame Bobby Kennedy for that.


Cat: Am I even allowed to say this these days? I just don't like dogs that much.

Dog. Don't call me a dog. I identify as canix.

Perhaps the Opposite Is Also True

Steven Pinker jokes that the irony of progressives is that they deny progress.  It's a sharp observation, but I wouldn't call it an irony. It's the point. If there is progress, they are out of a job. While I think that many people go in for progressive ideas and advocacy because they believe in the cause and want to help, there is a secondary motive of being a progressive. Some of that is seeking the appearance, yet I think the desire for identity is stronger for most of them. This secondary motive grows over time. It has been true for decades that young people go into journalism because they "want to make a difference."  A difference about what? While many can give some answer if pressed, these are usually a bit vague and unsatisfactory.

The artist/photographer Angel Eduardo was uncomfortable and even a bit appalled to be at a gathering of young filmmakers, and every one of them wanted to "be woke as f***" making films to create political change.

The standard idea is that the election of Barack Obama activated all the white racists to come out and found things like the Tea Party to resist change. What if that's projection?  What if it is the various leftist radicals that got activated, increasingly working to prevent change and convince us that there has been no change?  Progress has to be denied or redefined or both - or they are gradually going to be out a job.  Worse, their status and importance will diminish consistently while this is happening. So many traditional things are being dismissed as merely socially constructed.  What if that is primarily true about new ideas being put forth to replace them instead? Every age has its biases and we need to account for that when studying history.  Yet how if it our own age that is the most biased, the most socially constructed?

College Diversion

The idea of college for all has been terrible for many whites, Asians, etc, but it has been disastrous for African-Americans.  Robert Cherry notices that there is only a 20-25% success rate, meaning that the rest have failure at some level, some painfully so. He asks why we would want to give kids one more failure in life, often with debt attached. He recommends jobs and job training first for most. His biggest opponents are educators, who accuse him of selling black kids short by not insisting that any one of them that can get into a college should give it a try.  But that is a self-serving value for the education tribe, not just because it means more teachers have jobs, but also because it reassures them that what they do is what's really important for young people. It's strokes for them. That doesn't make them any worse than a hundred other professions, but it's not any better, either.

An anecdote: a young friend who teaches at a wealthy suburban high school in Mass brought in people from differrent professions to speak to her classes.  This included a few tradesmen and women who jobs did not require or even much care about getting a college degree.  She was told by the principal to never do this again because - as you may have guessed - they didn't want to be selling their kids short. Not that they're snobs or anything.

In mental health the push toward jobs in and of themselves being good for people increased throughout my career.  I wasn't much involved myself, dealing mostly with acute situations, but we learned to be highly protective of a patient's ability to hold onto their job and get back to work. We made more effort to get them the phone numbers they needed, the filled out forms for insurance or HR, and increasingly took the risk of releasing people more quickly, even when they looked shaky, in order to hold on.  It could sometimes go bad, as a person not ready went back into work and screwed up or offended others and lost the job, so we did not just take any patient's word for it that they had to, had to, had to get out now to keep their employment. But we loosened up considerably over the years, and the numbers from many studies kept reassuring us that the risk were paying off.  Once you have a job, much of it becomes automatic even when you are compromised. Maybe you can't skate forever, but you can do a lot until you get better.

It's good to be needed somewhere, a hard-to-measure benefit that is likely even more important than the oft-praised "structure," or "acquiring work skills."  Those are good things, but the sense of accomplishment and value is better. 

You may remember the story of Jon Ponder from last summer, the ex-con who has a jobs program for offenders that has a remarkable success rate: 64% found stable employment, only 6% reoffended, and that is with one of the groups it is hardest to find jobs for.

Animal DNA

We have a new tool for studying human prehistory, studying the DNA of the animals we were in close contact with. We can infer much about migrations from looking at where the dogs came from.  Because the Przewalski Horse is only 3% of the other modern horses, we know that it's ancestor the Botai horse was separate from the one the Yamnaya herded and rode, even though those tribes were close by.  From that we know that they domesticated the horse independently.  They may have gotten the idea from elsewhere, but they didn't pick up domesticated horse from the Botai.

The lineages of cattle and sheep tell us what peoples were in contact with each other.

Jonathan Haidt Update

I listened to Haidt being interviewed on Rationally Speaking, another podcast I will be discontinuing after one try. I have been a big fan of his over the years, but was quite disappointed in his comments today. Analyzing what it was that irritated me has been instructive, as it usually is. I am crediting him with targeting his audience, and so his more deeply liberal slant as a product of trimming his sails in order to convince a different group of his ideas. But to I who have been accustomed to his talks with audiences with more conservatives. it was jarring.  He started off his examples with the conflicting views about the Capitol Riots and attempting to explain the differing impressions of groups about that.  I'm sorry, have their been any other riots in the past year? This is one of my new markers for a person who is being led by the elite media rather than objective thought.  Mention both or you are just out, in my book.  I am very willing to condemn Trump's actions and the dangerousness of a few protestors in DC.  Except when you ignore the context of twenty other  riots with many more deaths in the previous year -then I'm just not listening quite so intently anymore. His account was one-sided. Still, I can stretch a bit.  His interviewer was clearly liberal who admitted she could not even fathom the moral reasoning of others. I am guessing her podcast audience is similar.  So he is tailoring, and maybe doing the work of angels, getting her to at least consider things she was unable to ten minutes before. 

Yet his choices of words suggested he really doesn't get it either.

I was also entirely with him as he described the additional moral foundations of liberty/oppression and something related to property and ownership.  I had heard about the former a few years ago, but not the latter, that being in possession of something in the moment (without especial regard to how that occurred) confers some legitimacy.  We see this in discussions of Native American rights.  It is not fully logical, but there is this value that we all apply of well, they were here first, and they were right there on the James/Charles/St Lawrence River. It is an extension based on the Fairness foundation to say but they sorta stole it from other tribes about twenty years before.  Competing values, which is central to Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory. Possession means something, just as loyalty means something or purity means something, even if they don't mean everything. As an aside, he dispels the myth !Kung tribesmen having no ownership, sharing everything. What they have is a highly cooperative society based on gift-giving.  But part of their picture is that you can only give things you own.  They recognise ownership.

I pointed out years ago a major weakness in his interpretation that liberals use only two foundations Care vs Harm, and Fairness vs Cheating, while conservatives tend to use them all.  Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/degradation, Loyalty/betrayal. As he added in Liberty/oppression he saw that in both groups (unequally, and most prominent in Libertarians.) I don't know how what he has measured about the new property rights value.

But he's just wrong about that.  His original test included sanctity questions such as whether you would use an American flag to clean the toilet if you had nothing else. But it included no examples of liberal sanctity, such as if you would use a newspaper with MLK's photo on for toilet paper if you had nothing else. Environmentalism is framed in terms of care vs harm and I agree that is part of it, but if you listen to them, read them, or argue with them you see that sanctity/degradation is not far beneath the surface. I would say similar things about vegetarians and vegans. While not all are motivated by disgust, it certainly comes up all the time.  As for authority, Haidt spent a few minutes trying to explain that "trusting science and experts" was not the same thing at all. We just spent a year arguing about this, and it was the conservatives more often rejecting and subverting authority.  Liberal acceptance of authority was framed as an objective decision based on the science and trusting experts.  But few of us do science, so we are left with trusting scientists, or more often, people who claim they are speaking for scientists. And the foundation of that is accepting the credentialing from universities plus their employment for organisations that are highly politicised. One can conclude that they were spot on and we should do what they recommend, but at heart this is accepting authority.  

Haidt is stuck on the old paradigms of conservatives going to churches that tell them what to do - yeah, we see a lot of that in America, huh? - or loving the military because of feeling secure in hierarchy, or obeying all laws. So...masks? Or are we seeing some pattern of progressives speeding, ignoring gun laws, or breaking and entering at much higher rates than conservatives? Obeying social conventions is also a form of accepting authority. 

Objectivity, evenhandedness is a type of fairness.  Thus, when any of us ceases to be objective, we revert to some other value. In the case above, Haidt ceased to be objective and resorted to...loyalty to his tribe. One of the supposed mostly-conservative values. He just knows without thinking that those riots were different things, somehow.  They don't count. He is stuck in the old stereotype of framing loyalty/betrayal as loyalty to family, loyalty to country - yet loyalty to a worldview even when the facts are against it can only mean loyalty to those who share that view. The mainstream denominations who have become so liberal, are they not mostly made up of cradle Lutherans, cradle Episcopalians, etc, remaining to the formal institution? All the coalition of identity groups that make up the Democratic Party - Are those not just tribal loyalties? Does he think liberals aren't prominent in rage over betrayal?

For the record, I think his theory is sound, but his interpretation of how it is playing out in the American landscape is skewed.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Singing Along

I pulled up at a stop light even with a young woman in the next lane. Though the window was closed, I could see that she was singing moderately loudly. Is there something inherently social about music that bids us to sing along? It can be suppressed, certainly, but so many of us do it even when alone that I conclude there must be something natural about it, something evolutionary. We can all watch a performance, but when those around us sing there is some movement toward joining them, at least at some level of a hum. It could be learned, as we do teach children to sing a long with us for both instructional and social reasons. Yet I think not. Not all families teach their children to sing.

It is not universal.  There is a continuum, and I am at the far end of it, rumble-humbling a bass line to everything I hear, though often audible only to myself. I hope to come back as a cello in my next life. Or perhaps I was one in a previous life. It is one more place where I have few filters, happily or sadly. 

There are those who have so little interest in music that the fit does not take them and they ignore what is going on about them with impassive faces. Though not always.  I have caught a few of those singing in the most surprising places.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Abductive Reasoning

I had not heard the term abductive reasoning before, but recognised it as my own the moment it was explained.  It is inferring the most likely answer or solution, rather than relying on deductive, mathematical-style proofs for everything. Some things do not have clear answers, or more exactly, whatever absolute answer they might have is not accessible to us.  God either exists or he doesn't, but we are unable to prove this either way.  People make their choice based on observing reality, thinking about it, and deciding which is the most likely.

Much interpretation of Scripture is like this, and it is an approach CS Lewis uses often. When a formal proof is available, it should win the day, and sometimes one should be attempted just to see how far one can go. We don't know what Jesus meant by the Beatitudes, but the words have meanings and taken as a batch they seem to point in a direction.  Also, we can see some things that we can solidly conclude he did not mean. We at a much more distant point in both the first and last books of the Bible. People who try to reduce either book to proofs are the most likely to lead us astray.

In the wiki entry diagnosis is mentioned, another good instance of a problem that might have a right answer, but we do not have perfect knowledge about the body nor of all possible conditions. Clinicians therefore look at the data and choose what they believe is the most likely explanation for the data.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Durham and Hunter

I think it is time to see that report from Durham categorically exonerating Hunter Biden and everyone else being investigated under the direction of the evil Trump administration. It would really help the nation to Move On from all the nonsense that circulated last year. We wouldn't want the Bidens and others to have to live under a shadow their whole lives because no one had the courage to assert in the strongest possible terms that there was never anything to this. I mean, it's almost June and those poor people must be cracking under the strain.

Or maybe not.

Should I take a poll, here?


 I was reading a transcript of CS Lewis people discussing what they thought the best definition of "Joy" is in the Sehnsucht sense, of something that was pleasurable but not mere pleasure: a deeper happiness related to the search for God.. I was unsatisfied with their responses, so here is mine: A transitory pleasure that insists we seek for a deeper experience. I may modify that going forward, but that's good enough for today.

Simple Question

I am listening to Yascha Mounk interview Emily Yoffe* (Slate: Dear Prudence) on "The Good Fight," the first and last podcast I will listen to in that series. They have been deploring the rise of populism, and how that means the world is less free over the last ten years. Biden being re-elected is a victory for democracy, and one that they hope signifies a change in the world.  

The most concerning trend they identify, however, and one that they think is somehow related (I don't know... popular = populism or something?) is the lack of freedom people have to say what they really think on social media and college campuses.  They both have noted at "dinner parties**" that others are going sotto voce on some topics, which their friends who have lived under  tyrannical regimes suggest is a bad trend. The Harvard Crimson takes a survey every year, and this year 75% of graduates report they are afraid to say what they think in class.  (I actually find this a little encouraging, that they are thinking things other than what they have been told to think. Still, worrisome.) They are observing things very well and providing some new insights.  Except they are playing around at the 10% on the margins and missing the elephant in the room.

Who was it that told you fifty years ago that this was exactly what was going to happen, and has been saying it yearly since?

Yes.  Right wing crazies. But somehow you reflexively think that they must still be the problem.  Because Hitler or something.

*OMG, from Newton. And Wellesley 1977.  How did I not see this before?

**I think dinner party, the modern version of cocktail party is a clear signal that "These are not my people." We have occasionally had another couple over in the last twenty years, and there is always family on holidays, which can get large when you have five children.  But i can't remember the last dinner party.  We might go to an annual one in Manhattan some year, of an old classmate of my wife's at Notre Dame Academy.  I can imagine Texan99 putting in a major effort to make that happen, maybe even twice, and then saying "Screw it.  Let someone invite us for a change." Anyone else?

Monday, May 24, 2021

CS Lewis and Sexism - Jane Studdock

We certainly like her better than her husband, don't we?  Start to finish? We also understand her better, as Lewis spends a good deal of the novel telling us the story from her point of view, not only in what she observes, but what she feels about it. Lewis is not generalising about all young academic women.  she is a full character.  It is we who expect that any young academic female in fiction represents all of them. It is required that she stand in for all of them.

I recall when I first read That Hideous Strength that much of what Lewis was saying about Jane was not going to go down well.  It seemed very much an old-fashioned sexism by a man who just didn't get it. You're not supposed to make fun of women for being able to discuss codpieces in professional discussions of literature but feel timid about considering the marriage bed. You aren't supposed to regard a woman who is determined to keep her freedom and resist obligations and expectations as wrong in any way.  And you certainly aren't supposed to suggest at the end that she has done something wrong by not having a baby. 

It just seemed wrong-footed, that someone who seemed in other places to understand the human character so well should bungle this so badly. Yet because of my own prejudices and stereotypes, I just chalked it up to his having written in the 1940s, a benighted era in which men were chauvinists, even more than they were in the late 70s. It was further surprising when I learned that he treated female colleagues and students remarkably well and had decades of correspondence with women from whom he sought advice and criticism. He was noted for it, and sometimes chided about it, enough that he called himself The Old Woman of Oxford. He was aware of feminine parts of himself and expected that most women would have some masculine aspects.

I did not think to question further, because I had my stereotypes in place.  

I don't think I changed my mind about this gradually, though there may have been thoughts in the background. My impression is that one day a few years ago I thought "Maybe Lewis actually understood what was supposed to be said and intentionally wrote something else instead.  What if he understands us quite well and it is we who don't understand him?" A lot of dominoes fall pretty quickly.  Jane Studdock is not an archetypal or representative young female academic or professional.  She's Jane Studdock.  If anything, it's her husband Mark who is a bit stock or two-dimensional. Lewis knows very well what he is expected to say, but chooses to say something deeper instead.  He does not so much argue for an opposite as attempt to transcend the debate. I hear you clearly.  I just think you are wrong.  I think there's something deeper you're not looking at here. Let me make a case for that.

CS Lewis and Sexism - Second Pass

I thought this would be the last pass.  After reading the book I was thinking "there is no serious argument here.  His critics are just idiots. Let it go. Just give it a lick and a prayer, get on to the discussion of Jane Studdock, and get out." But the lick and also the prayer seem to be expanding, so I can't get out just yet. Just because people can write something, even with actual examples and on topic, does not mean they are making any sense. 

Though I should be grateful, shouldn't I?  So many people writing elsewhere are not on topic and provide no real examples that I should perhaps be more generous to those who can at least manage that.



Well I think you will need to find another Village Idiot in some other stage of training. 

Lewis takes a risk few male writers ever do, of speaking from a woman's perspective in his fiction, and does so with remarkable variety and complexity. Females are heroes, villains, and mixed. I don't think there are stock characters, even among the intentionally mythological, such as Tinidril or the White Witch. The former is innocent, which in literature is usually expressed as childishness or foolishness, yet she shocks Ransom and Watson repeatedly with her sudden insights beyond what they had considered.  She is both older and younger than they. The three sisters in Till We Have Faces are disturbingly complicated, but we want it simpler, asking if Orual is a good person or a bad one, and whether we "like" her and root for her or not.

He is unafraid to show his female characters doing weak, silly, or evil things, in about the same proportion as the male characters do. The great saint of The Great Divorce is Sarah Smith of Golders Green and it is her husband who is the weakest personality, to the point of eventually disappearing altogether. For every complaint about his portrayal of Susan there are examples of similar faults in males, or of other females doing such things in proper order without coming under criticism. Uncle Andrew is also vain. Lucy and Aravis go off to discuss clothes.

While some of the authors tried to weakly defend Lewis's sexism by suggesting that he eventually grew out of it (and there is certainly development and change over time), he portrays Reason as a young woman in his first fiction, The Pilgrim's Regress, and is clear throughout his writing that he takes the image of the Church as female quite seriously. It is we who insist that relationships must be viewed through the lens of power and dislike that he never quite says what he is supposed to.  It is Lewis who insists from the start that if we are evaluating things in terms of power we are already wrong, for that is a mark of a fallen race to even see things that way. We describe male-female relationships trying to measure higher and lower, he repeatedly describes it as a Great Dance. It is we who don't get it and are children. 

The problem is that we have a preconceived idea of what people are supposed to say about men, and especially women.  I think this has gotten worse over my years, as under the rise of Grrl Power, no complexity is allowed. And Lewis does not say these things, he says something else entirely. On to Jane Studdock.

Murder Mysteries

Set off by consideration of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, it occurred to me that the popularity of the genre is a statement of love of rationality.  There is nothing postmodern about this, interrogating the claims of whether murder is a social construct or there are subaltern voices questioning whether it is actually a good thing.  The murder has happened and someone has done it.  The police, the detective, and the other characters in the story are trying to discover a real answer to this.  Not only is there no bothering about what type or class of person has done this, it is often a part of the story to specifically make fun of this, of relatives or policemen who have allowed such prejudices to overrule their intellects, leading them to suspect the wrong person.

This is also the case in the True Crime genre, for similar reasons. I discussed The Man From The Train last year, in which Bill James shows that people repeatedly overlooked or even refused to believe who the murderer was because thy had some prejudice about who it mostly likely was.  See also the DC Sniper, where a high percentage of the reporters for Great Metropolitan Newspapers insisted that the shootings must have been done by a type of person they didn't like, but the guilty parties turned out to be quite different. These things infuriate us, that people could lose their rationality so easily.

No, there is an actual murderer, Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick or whatever. Even when authors have great fun showing how many people had motive, method, and opportunity to murder Miss Elsie Greene, or even tried to and falsely thought they had succeeded, there is in the end a true solution. We follow closely what the detective is doing, not because he wishes to grow vegetable marrows or can identify cigar ash, but because we know he wants to get at the truth, and so do we. 

I offered the theory years ago that murder mysteries only become popular in societies where murder is less common. This seems related.

Also related, George Orwell's The Decline of the English Murder.

Update on Indo-Europeans

David Anthony, author of The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, now the only book you really need to come up-to-date on Indo-Europeans, has new research, but his next book, The Dogs of War, won't be out for three years. In addition to explaining new understandings based on the human DNA explosion of the last decade there will be info on horse DNA related to domestication, and a description of what is iup with the dogs.  The dogs (and sometimes wolves) at Yamnaya initiation sites, that is, that seem to have been eaten in ceremonies in preparation for cattle raiding. It is notable because they did not consume dogs at any other time of year.  The likely interpretation is that this was somehow about becoming dogs or wolves, which concords with early mythologies with Indo-European peoples.

To review. The Yamnaya domesticated the horse some time before 3000 BC.  They may have gotten the idea from the Botai, a nearby tribe, but those horses are unrelated to current horses, while the Yamnaya horses are the direct ancestors. So also with the wheeled wagon, which was possibly also developed in the North Caucasus about this time, but seems independently invented by the Indo-Europeans. So they may have seen them or heard about them beforehand, but built these heavy clunky suckers all on their own. This allowed a mobility heretofore by any other tribe - not anywhere. 

Prior to this there were deeply related people living in the river valleys such as the Dniepr and Volga.  They hunted, fished, and had some agriculture in the narrow bands of forest on either sides of those rivers.  Most especially they had cattle, sheep and goats, and hunted wild horses. But once the horses could be ridden and all the necessary goods of survival could be loaded onto wagons, the vast grasslands between the rivers could now be exploited.  They had been previously empty of humans, but now there was unlimited food for animals and the humans moved in. They covered enormous distances rapidly. There is a Yamnayan individual found in the Altai mountains and another very close in era in East Slovakia, 4000 km apart. They are fifth cousins, sharing a common ancestor 150-200 years before. They were the first instance of those steppe cultures that persisted for thousands of years.

The river settlements emptied except for a very few in what is now Ukraine. These pastoral nomads built no new settlements of their own, because they did not need them.  They lived permanently on the move. What they left behind was their language and their genes. They did not merely wander.  They seem to have migrated with purpose to areas they had scouted out before, and it may be that the initiation into cattle-raiding required that cohort to live on the move together for a few years, allowing them to scout out new territory.

The pre-Yamnaya people may have lived in the river valleys for a thousand years before all the pieces came together and they conquered a large chunk of Eurasia in the space of about five hundred years. An ancestral population made up of the same mix of Eastern Hunter Gatherers, Anatolian Farmers, and Caucasian Hunter Gatherers was there for centuries. Intriguingly, the signature y-haplogroup, R1b, is not detected. So what soon became the dominant elite in that group was not yet present - and we don't know where it came from. Were they smarter? Meaner? Males better able to bond with each other and cooperate? Better with horses? Was it a single family that took over fast, Genghis Khan style? Whatever it was, they left enough of a signature that all of Europe, West and Central Asia, and Northern India are descended from them (even if you don't have R1b haplotype). Disease is always a possible explanation, and plague has been detected; constant warfare is another, and that also seems to be the case. Likely, all these things are happening together.  If large swaths of population die from disease, others move in to take their land. and conflict can reduce everyone's numbers. So an R1b population with greater plague immunity comes in and its males establish dominance over everyone.

Another interesting bit. The Indo-European languages have long been divided into centum and satem, so it was known that the Balto-Slavic tongues were related to the Indo-Iranian, all the way to Sanskrit, Hindi, and Urdu in Northern India. But once the genetics started coming in, the genetic similarity between the Baltic sites and India seemed impossibly close. There is a second Baltic mystery, of the Yamnaya conquering the Corded Ware people, or so it seemed.  That signature R1b replaced the previous R1a.  Those might sound like close lineages, but they had actually diverged thousands of years before. Rapid replacement is best explained by conquest, with the victors killing all the males of the vanquished. Yet the Corded Ware people now turn out to be 75% Yamnaya themselves and have pushed back eastward across the steppe eventually making it all the way to India.  So who replaced whom? Both.  Migration is not with long-term intent. Because we draw arrows on maps it looks as if "those people kept moving westward as part of some plan."  But it wasn't a plan.  Each year was it's own year and they were only trying to survive until the next one. Large groups of folks move back and forth along migration routes, or to the left and right. 

Whether they were intensely patriarchal is also being re-evaluated. Nearly all societies were patriarchal, though there were differences of degree. Marija Gimbutas put forth the idea that the Kurgan People overwhelmed a more gentle, matriarchal Old Europe that worshiped female gods. While other anthropologists thought she oversold this, the idea persisted.  The Yamnaya had wiped out everything in their path, it seemed, and that just went together in people's minds. We learned over the last few years that Old Europe was pretty warlike itself, and greater concentration of females in the burials as one moves west suggest something else was up. It's still only 20-30% female, but more than expected.

Take Out Your Bibles

We visited a church while traveling, and as there was not one of our denomination with live worship we had to choose on the basis of websites.  We eventually chose one called Cornerstone, which to me is clear signalling for mid-range evangelical founded 20-40 years ago, with contemporary music, not too heavy.

It was that, and it was fine. It was an opportunity to worship, which was our main goal. I did think the sermon was mostly cliches, but I always think that, and I have heard worse.  My wife handles that particular problem better than I do, using the cliches as springboards rather than irritants. 

I do find that preachers telling the congregation to take out their Bibles is worrisome.  It has a feeling of sheep's clothing - that is, not something bad in itself but used so automatically that the unwary are in danger of becoming too easily reassured and too easily fooled. See, I'm not trying to put anything past you, here. You can see for yourself that everything I'm saying comes straight from the Bible. Except it isn't. It is nearly always a highly interpreted exposition of the text. It's usually benign, because it goes to the cliches.  The Bible-reading is not so much a teaching as a ceremony, a performance, where the few favored doctrines of the sect are re-performed every week.

It can be much worse, when wolves use such sheep's clothing to cover that they are teaching falsehood.  There are other types of sheep's clothing that are misused, certainly. This is just one that is not often noticed, that people who like that style of Bible use in their worship regard it as some guarantee they aren't being hornswoggled, when in fact it is just a cultural reassurance that this is a church that does things the right way.

Update: a regular here emailed me and pointed me to something similar Dallas Willard had written with regard to the swearing of oaths that Jesus cautioned us about. The type of oath was a manipulation, an attempt to be more convincing than your reputation might deserve. There are societies where one is not bound unless one has sworn an oath, but among the Jews, your utterance of your intent was supposed to be binding.  Adding to that - and as we see from the NT there could be considerable elaboration on exactly how one swore or what one swore by - was in itself suspect.  As I said above, sometimes it is merely custom or habit and mostly benign. It's just the way things are done around here, Jasper. Yet even at its mildest it betrays a weakening of the value of a simple statement.  You are puffing it up just a touch with the oath.

In both cases these are costumes, which is general innocent.  Yet costumes can easily turn into disguises.

Update Two: I think there may be a different dynamic between settled societies and more mobile ones WRT oaths.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Just One Year

I have largely abandoned rooting for teams for cultural and political reasons. While my college is still on FIRE's good list for free speech, and a roommate of mine just recently retired as bursar at William and Mary, they have clearly lost their way, as have many other academies.  The major sports leagues have been significantly irritating in their politics, which is not surprising.  Whatever management thinks, the athletes are disproportionately African-American, living in a woke bubble since age 14 and believing - even more than their idiot fans - that blacks are targeted by the police.  So to manage them effectively, the coaches must believe what keeps their players happy, and management must follow along, however reluctantly.  The white players believe this also, because they have been in this bubble and influenced by their peers.

So even when my beloved Celtics have been exposed to Enes Kanter for a couple of years, outspokenly reminding them "You want to talk about oppression?  How about the government targets your family explicitly, threatening to kill them, " I have a soft spot, even when Jason Tatum or Jaylen Brown says "There are two Americas."  Like they would know. Chat with Luka Doncic sometime, wouldja? He is great at not offending teammates, because he has his eye on the prize.  But he gives hints that the NBA as a whole does not really grasp reality.*

Having five sons who played sports, I completely get rooting for laundryOur valiant lads are being mugged by those thugs from Pittsfield/Nute/Groveton (or alternatively, not allowed to be physical against those sissies from Derryfield/Calvary/Bedford). I am not objective, even when I press hard.

So I look out the corner of my eye what is happening to the Patriots; I check in only at random about the Red Sox, who were central to my understanding of the universe until a few year ago; and after checking in on the Celtics only once a month this season, I found in early May they were going to the playoffs and escalated to once a week. And I saw that the same incredible bad luck in terms of injuries is happening again. Isaiah Thomas. Gordon Hayward. Kyrie Irving. So 2018. I am so rooting for Brad Stevens to have JUST ONE YEAR with only a normal amount of injuries.  This year, after deftly managing all the injuries to just about everyone in preparation for the playoffs, all of a sudden it is Jaylen Brown out, and Time Lord hanging in gamely despite injury, to no avail.

I don't think God worries much about justice in sports.  I think that is us, who assign symbolic value to the cosmic justice of entertainment.  But as that is the oversimplistic world I seem inexplicably tied to, I care. Can poor Brad Stevens have just one year without insane injury problems to deal with?  It has the deep, unsettling feeling of my years of becoming slowly aware of the star-crossed Red Sox in the 60s, fed by my parents who had watched this develop since the 40s, before the unbelievable, WP Kinsella- level misfortune of Boston** (and Chicago Cubs) became a national understanding. Which lasted six decades.

*Or maybe they do grasp reality, which is "Who cares about truth?  We know where the money is.  We haven't a clue what Hong Kong, or Uighurs, or underground churches are all about, because we have been told there's nothing to see there. Ka-ching!"

**Exceeded by Cleveland. I admit it.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Bob Newhart


Undoing Trump

I see that Biden mentioned the United Nations today.  I had completely forgotten about them and didn't  miss the UN. Bush 43 made them nearly irrelevant, and Obama didn't do much to bring them back, just a few nods.  Trump delivered what I thought at the time was a crushing blow.  Maybe it still will be.  It is a collection of tyrannies manipulating the use of power, moribund European socialists claiming moral authority for no clear reason, and useless sons of third-world kleptocracies collecting their fat checks.  In between times, they have these paste-up armies that specialise in raping helpless children. 

Suddenly there is this idea they will be useful in the Middle East. I'm sure they must have been valuable somewhere, just by law of averages.  But I can't recall where that was off the top of my head.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Shakespeare Says "Hold My Beer."

I have never read "As You Like It," nor even heard it described. I just listened to the Great Books podcast on it and was amused.

In the Elizabethan theater, women's roles were already being played by boys.

The comic value of a woman disguising herself as a man was known well before the time of Shakespeare.  Back to Aristophanes at least once, and persisted after as well.  I acted in a lab theater production of an 18th C comedy and was cornered at swordpoint by a woman pretending to be her brother, arrived from a distance to defend his sister's honor against an older man trying to blackmail her into marriage. Adventurous girls very much liked those roles, and I imagine still do.

So when Rosalind goes into the Forest or Arden disguised as a male, Ganymede, we already have a boy-playing-a-young-woman-playing-a-young man. Not unheard of, but pushing our luck a bit.  Shakespeare decides he is going one better, and when Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, meets her true love Orlando in the forest - he of course doesn't recognise her...they never do in these plays - she/he helps him by letting him practice his courtship conversation on him as if he were Rosalind. Which of course, he is Rosalind.  Being played by a boy. Those who got the joke at the Globe Theater proabably thought it was all very clever, but those who weren't paying close attention might have been asking their friends what exactly was happening.

If you aren't confused yet, there is also Phebe, who falls in love with Ganymede, who does not encourage this. She is imploring, and near the end of the play "he" agrees to marry her if he turns out to be a man, but if he turns out to be a woman, she must marry Sylvius.  Phebe must not be too quick on the uptake here, or is so smitten she will agree to anything, and she agrees. I think most of us would be a touch suspicious at that point.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

He Thinks He's The Smartest Guy In The Room

No one has ever delivered this insult about me in my hearing, but I have to think people have said it behind my back for years.  Yet is it only half true. Sometimes I am the smartest guy in the room, but I never think I'm the only one with good information.  Anyone jumping in, if they have something valuable, I am all in.  Setting myself up as the arbitrator of what is valuable or not?  Okay, that's where I likely step all over people.

Yet there is a deeper reason why this just isn't correct.  Whenever I am the smartest guy in the room, I go looking for another room.  I draw good information out of people who didn't know they had it, and I have assembled some very good rooms in my day.  This site is an example. The average IQ here is Mensa level, maybe better. Trust me on this. And that is what has happened to me all my life. I have even made it happen at work in terms of the teams I have been part of. It was always deeply satisfying to have a visitor or covering shrink or a student say at the end "This has been a tremendous experience. I have never worked with a more stimulating team" and feel good that it it hasn't been me, but I have been a part of all this coming together. I don't consciously map it out, trying to eliminate Schuyler and inveigling Constance, but over time, I find I am just surrounded by exceptional people.  Some are brilliant, some are wise, some are clever, some are experienced, but given enough time, I am not the smartest person in the room. 

It is likely not a virtue, just another version of one of the ants wanting to make sure there is a continuing supply of mash, as I mentioned a few posts ago.  Information in and information out is a physical need.

Swamp Fox

 Notice at the 2-minute mark that special effects are not CGI, but crinkled paper.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

CS Lewis and Sexism - First Pass

I wrote Sexism in Narnia years ago, and frankly, I still like it, including the comments and links to other sites and followup posts. I I will draw from that here. But enough time has passed, enough new scholarship has emerged, and enough thinking in the back of my mind has occurred that I thought I would have a go at it. 

The short version is that most of the the accusations are ludicrous, so clearly connected to the complainants' own personal issues as to be embarrassing.  However, I think a couple of them are worth serious consideration, and hope that even those entirely unsympathetic to my point of view are not entirely unsatisfied.

I was given in April and have read in May Women and CS Lewis, from 2015. It is mostly but not entirely essays by Lewis defenders. Little was new to me, which was disappointing.  But it is nice to have things set out in rows, giving some assurance that I have not overlooked anything major. After all the obeisances to the modern gods (suspiciously like many pagan versions) have been made it is nice to tot them up and feel relief that I haven't missed any. By the way, I believe that obedience was the one great infuriating rankle for women 1950-2000, but now that they can choose political rather than personal masters it's quite different. Freudians would suspect this was equally primitive and sexual, but fortunately for you, I am not a Freudian.

Nothing upsets his critics more than Susan, so we should start there. Devin Brown's essay here is similar to his book chapter. They seem unable to refrain from extremities such as "she is sent to Hell for liking lipstick and nylons..." As this can only mean they have missed one of the central lessons of Lewis in book after book - that the doors of Hell are locked from the inside and all who remain in Hell choose it - I can't think that a logical argument is going to persuade them. It is not in the text and Lewis even seems to take some care to put boundaries on what is being said and what is not. He is not being precise for cultural reasons but for theological ones, but he is being precise and they are blowing right past that.

So the sentiment is not in the text, yet it feels like it is in the text to more than a few readers. The next possibility is that it is entirely in their heads, with males having a creepy fascination of defending the rights of 16 y/o girls coming of age, and females with a similar defensiveness about same (I covered this in my 2007 post linked above) or a hypersensitivity to any criticism of females by males. I will just say again in firm tones: Women who read are extremely sensitive about girl-coming-of-age literature and take it personally.  Pullman just hates Christianity and hates himself for admiring Narnia, But JK Rowling is not really a peer has actually not written the height of genre fantasy novels, but hybrid novels that also follow the tropes of the British school stories (boarding school children going about the campus on forbidden adventures at night) and YA romance (it is unclear what boys and girls end up together but eventually A: It is all perfect in the end or B: There are surprising pairings at the end but these are really Much Better.) She has a ridiculous overuse of Magic compared to the sparing Tolkien and Lewis, but she is undeniably clever and even original, as she weaves archetypes and stock evocatives (owls, ancient tomes, undead soul-draining) better than anyone to date.  And as she has slammed down multiple long novels with all the cliches developed fully, no one is likely to try and top her at this point. She has killed the genre.

But back to the point, she is very prickly about girls coming of age.  Because that is secretly her real genre, underneath all the Quidditch. Look, my wife read me the scene of Fleur talking to Ginny Weasley after after Bill had been disfigured and it brought tears to my eyes. Rowling does this very, very well. But that's where her heart really is.

A third possibility is that it resides in both, because Lewis has heedlessly blundered into sensitive territory and he should know better, even if he was technically inoffensive.  He has lightly slapped a person with a sunburn. There is something to that. I don't know how one goes back through the series and reworks all the signals that Susan has given that she is more likely than all the others - not just the four Pevensies - to be shallow and betray Aslan, but if I were looking over Lewis's shoulder now I would be saying "Don't have a female character be the betrayer.  Just don't. Women will take umbrage and you just won't win."  These days the male character has to take the hit in children's fantasy, as happened to poor Prince Hans in Frozen.

Whether that should apply to children's literature 65 years ago strikes me as even more suspect. Still, it's not crazy.  Lewis did sense the development of "women's issues" long before they became popular, likely because the women he was friends with were academics of independent mind. So it may not have been a blunder, but a quiet intentionality. Joy Davidman was on the scene at that point and may have pushed him to hit that button hard, after all.  Many scenes from Till We have Faces "could only have been written by a fearless woman," as her son Douglas Gresham laughs, including Redival's pretended carelessness in lying back on the grass and lifting her legs in the air before her very proper tutor while doing lessons, or the scene between Orual and Bardia's wife. I sense Joy in Lewis's holding to the task of declaring Susan's silliness.  It was exactly the sort of thing that Davidman, and other serious feminists in the old sense regarded as a betrayal of true femaleness in service to a superficial girliness. Even in the 1950s, no man would dared to write those.  So too with Susan Pevensie.

I submit that if a female writer had put this in it would be applauded as a rejection oft a modern shallowness concerned with appearances. I am not engaging in a simple gotcha of modern sensibilities being hypocritical. It is different if a man writes it.  It just is. Yet I think the quick rejection by people who are clever but not demonstrably wise is... not nuanced.

I recently mentioned that we should rightly expect great authors to transcend their eras, but I have also watched as Lewis has been skewered for not perfectly aligning with the 1980s 1990s, I'm sorry, the 2000s...I mean the 2010s. Oops, 2020s. We are hard to please.

I thought this would be quick but I am barely begun.  I am going to enter "First Pass" into the title and hid publish.  There is still much to come, especially the very interesting consideration of Jane Studdock.

We Marry For Unseen Reasons

Apparently, we marry the 5th-10th cousins we did not even know at a disproportionate rate, or at least the Brits do. How Greg Clark and his researchers corrected for geography and distance on this, I don't know.  When the third book of his trilogy comes out in 2022, he promises that the data will be publicly available, and if other researchers have other interpretations of the data, they are welcome to publish on it as well.

Gregory Clark is a social economist from UCDavis and  the author of A Farewell to Alms and The Son Also Rises. As he was recently cancelled at Boston University for his talk "For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls" the working title for upcoming third book, I have to give him great credit for provocative titles.  That lecture title was not a reference to Charles Murray and Richard J Herrnstein's book, BTW, but to a critical review of Clark. Razib suggested that because of the triggering of liberals, people should just use the phrase normal distribution in place of bell curve and save themselves the headache. If you think about it "For Whom the Normal Distribution Tolls" is actually pretty funny. However, it is a step away from the Hemingway puns of the other two titles.

Neither the books nor the talk touched on race in any way and very little on data outside of England, but he has been accused of racism, apologising for colonialism, and being a closet eugenicist.  The usual. The accusations that his first book was a bit lazy and sloppy I have no way of commenting about.  It could be, or it may just be scrambling to find things to throw at him. For the upcoming work he is making the data available, as I noted.

My current project is a book manuscript on the nature and implications of the determination of social outcomes in England 1680-2021, based on a complete lineage of a set of 402,000 English people across this interval. The provisional title is For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls: Genetics and Social Life, England 1680-2021. This will form the third of a Hemingway punned trilogy of books about the interconnection of modern growth, selection pressures in the long Malthusian era, and the implications for social functioning. 
The link to the working paper "For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls." I found it interesting, but it is mostly the math of comparing one model to another and seeing which fits the data better. You might find it tedious. Spoiler: the socio-genetic model accords with reality better than the economic and cultural models.

When I discuss genetics I have been leaving out assortative mating, an important piece, which is much the subject of Clark's new work. It counts both for and against the purely genetic hypothesis, as it on the one hand is genes seeking genes and reinforcing each other, yet on the other is clearly a cultural/environmental factor of its own. 

We could have system of marrying in which we chose the most attractive, or the richest, or the youngest person available, and these are all found in culture and commented on.  But marrying according to not only a current social status, but what we internally estimate will be a person's social status seems to be a far better predictor.  Couple that with the strong predictive value of genetics for occupation, literacy, and eventual wealth and genes seem to be subtly calling out to other genes.  A word on wealth: Clark notes that family size has an effect on transferred wealth initially, but this washes out when wealth at the end of life is measured. The purported effects of having better contacts and networks because of family do not show up statistically at the end. 

Clark calls social status complicated, related to "cognitive abilities, drive, self confidence, and many other factors."  Maybe so, but my bet would be that IQ explains the lion's share. We do not marry seeking maximal social status of spouse, but something most like ourselves. We may seek to marry up more than down, but something in us wants companionship as much as gain.  There are exceptions, often noted in literature and anecdote.  (Hypergamy is a thing in my family. It's real.) Yet I think we note them because we notice them and think there is something just a bit wrong about it. We want to marry each other at some deep level.* This shows up in the British data.

We share genetic material with parents and siblings approximately equally.  We also usually share an environment with siblings.  If environment mattered all that much, social outcomes would be closer to our siblings than to our parents.  The are actually less close.  We have similar percentage of genetic sharing with first cousins and grandparents, and the latter are two full generations and often quite a distance away. We should have more similar outcomes with our first cousins, but we are on average closer to our grandparents.

Our feeling is that we are closer to our cousins.  I have a male cousin six months older, raised by my mother's sister (they were only 15months apart) less than an hour away in New England. We correspond rarely, but when we get together conversation is easy and we feel drawn from the same pile. It is similar with his sister, who is just a bit younger than me. Were any of us to talk to Gramps it would be strained and difficult. My cousin and I can point to things about ourselves that are alike.  Yet those things are much the same as those we share with our grandfather: a quiet prosperousness based on thrift and preservation rather than brilliance (though each of us could display some brilliance); loyalty and reliability; avoidance of personal conflict. So when the data shows that my outcomes are somewhat more likely to be like my grandfather's than my cousin's it is not that shocking - upon further review.

Interesting side notes: Reproductive fitness - have more descendants - was much greater among those who went to Oxford from 1680-1850. It was better than 2:1.  Then that reversed and those who went on for advance education in England have had fewer children than the others. In America much is made of the fact that women with less education have more children.  Yet there is an interesting twist to this which I did no even hear a whisper of until Clark alerted me to it.  Among those women who have their first child after age 22, those with more education have more children.  So the overall trend is driven by women having children young.

Clark thinks assortative mating in America is somewhat different and thus reasons that other cultures will show even more variance. But that doesn't move away from genetics, but towards it. Social status is even more deeply tied to cognitive skills in America, making those interactions even more prominent.  And if there are gene-gene cognitive interactions, as the epigeneticists assure us will be so, that will heighten rather than lessen the effect. (I may have to do an updated epigenetics post.  I have been considerably anti-, but interesting data is coming out that there are threshold points of turning genes off or on during development or trauma that are usually invisible but in extreme situations can have large effects.)

Clark does this research to investigate which interventions, especially government interventions, actually have a positive effect on outcomes. He will measure at the break point of when increased mandatory education was required - the three years earlier versus the three years after - to see if there were any measurable differences in occupational or economic outcomes decades later.  There weren't. So why do we spend the money on that if it doesn't actually create a benefit?

*In one of the Madeline L'Engle books the blinking of fireflies is discussed in terms of human sorting. Like kinds give off the same number of blinks. There was a moment in college when I recognised that the woman who became my wife gave off the same number of blinks that I did.  Other girlfriends had been similar, but not the same.  (I suppose if I thought about it I could identify an earlier girlfriend who also gave off the same number of blinks, but that seems an unhealthy speculation.) My second son's courtship of our newest daughter-in-law has this mark, that they almost instantly recognised that they were of the same number of blinks and spent the next 18 months making sure there were no deal-breakers to call the thing off. Well, children's librarian. That's a pretty good first clue.


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Information Exchange

There is a planetary view of humans that pictures us as just these tiny living objects scattered about the world compulsively exchanging information, much as ants provide mash for each other or stack one thing on another reflexively. In that view, none of the bits of information is reliable individually, but in the aggregate it allows us, nearly unthinking creatures that we are, to build interesting things and improve our lot. All our grand philosophy and logic is not real, but because the sheer quantity of information exchanged is so great it eventually results in a good idea here and there, and these are additive. 

We all believe our logic is much more elevated than this, and our science, religion, and understanding are Real Knowledge.  I generally think so too. Yet our understandings are built out of such vast quantities of information, much of it embarrassingly trivial, that I have to wonder.  While out walking on a rail trail today two women approached rapidly on fat-tire bikes.  As they came along I could hear "(mildly irritated tone with indistinguishable words)...There was a raging party at my house. I went to bed before (indistinguishable)"  and they were gone.  I can't remember now, but at the time I unconsciously noted their age, dress, appearance and a hundred other things: time of day, speed of movement, writing on their jerseys.  Multiply by a million over the course of a lifetime. Have I ever really thought about anything, or am I just a collection of these fragments?

This comes up in the context of wondering whether intelligence is anything other than memory storage plus hyperactive, compulsive brain connections. In discussion with my son and his new wife last week why I have less interest in playing games than when he was a child and I was deeply conscious of my responsibility to teach him, I came slowly onto the idea that I compulsively acquire and discharge information, and that is pretty much it. Sponge absorbs, squeeze sponge, repeat. It is not a virtue. It is a reflexive physical act.  As this type of exchange is useful for the anthill I get some reward. I'm not sure that's not a clearer explanation of my life than my other theories which are much more congenial to my ego.

Absorb information (mash).  Discharge mash to other ants. Repeat with relief.


Nothing new here.  I just feel all the decent people of the world should do their bit.

Israel has just engaged in an extremely successful response to Hamas, which wants to annihilate them. They have encountered the usual condemnation based on crap data* and feelz, as has been true for decades. One reason for this is the sheer quantity of reporting against them.  A link to an article from seven years ago at Tablet was put up over at Maggie's and is still pertinent. The reporters are in Jerusalem, they don't dare or care to go into Palestine, it's less comfortable at other places in the Middle East, so they all write their critical articles and congratulate each other. It is simply a numbers game that all the NGO's, elite media, and non-profits from the West have this bubble culture that hires, befriends, and marries each other.

The other reason is the continual fantasy that there are these moderate Palestinian organisations struggling to get out, decent people who just want to be left alone and be free and have their old property back and raise their children in peace AND EAT THEIR LOVELY ETHNIC FOODS AND LISTEN TO THEIR LOVELY ETHNIC MUSIC, but the evil Israelis won't let them do that and keep bombing them and not respecting them. That Palestinian culture is deeply violent, racist, sexist, homophobic and cisnormative apparently escapes their attention. I mean, I just love falafel.

One is supposed to make the polite comment here that Israel isn't perfect and it is possible to criticise some of it's actions and it's all very complicated.  It actually isn't complicated.  One side wants to negotiate, the other wants to kill them all. There is no nuanced, diplomatic solution to such things. The pacifist Christian solution of being willing to be wiped out in order to express the love of Christ is fine. It may even be the best long-term solution.  But there is no indication in the New Testament that this is a strategy that works to bring peace. That is a recent Western addition to the Gospel, without basis.

Update: Israel has been sending humanitarian aid to Gaza but had to stop because Hamas was firing missiles at the trucks.

*Maybe I need to do a post on "crap data."  I think it will be "crap statistics" instead.

Audubon Society

The AVI household hasn't experienced any difficulty with the Audubon Society.  Of course, it's  mostly my wife participating in the bird count and getting some mailings, or occasionally going on one of their walking trails.  Or maybe it's just New Hampshire that remains sane, as usual. I expect that they are mostly environmentalist, and therefore mostly liberal, but it doesn't affect me much.

Kevin Williamson over at NRO takes them as an example of one more organisation becoming more leftist over time, and has some insight as to why.

The desire to enforce social and political homogeneity within an organization through personnel action — the desire to intentionally institutionalize bias — is the basis of what we call “cancel culture.” It is neither surprising nor coincidental that the most important and high-profile cancel-culture episodes have been in-house headhunts (as at the New York Times and Yale) rather than the result of external pressure. Cancel culture is in no small part a result of organizational capture, the situation in which the people who are supposed to serve an institution use the institution to serve themselves, pursuing their own interests (financial, cultural, political, sexual) rather than the mission of the institution.

I'm not sure his argument is that strong in singling out Audubon in particular. One of their people made a stupid tweet with the usual unthinking biases, but that's not evidence it's widespread there. Also, he takes a swipe at both prison guards and funeral directors trying to be funny but mostly just being a jerk. Still, the concept is right. and I did like the line "...the desire to be a crusader precedes and supersedes the commitment to any particular crusade." He does point out pretty convincingly that their contributions at the 99.72% to Democrats makes them likely liberal, and I guess I'll take his word for it that the magazine has become strident in generalised leftism.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Turn Back, O Man



Because it came up again with regard to the term anti-vaxxer, which someone objected to be referred to according to one of a dictionary's definitions (because he is not an anti-vaxxer according to his own definition and what he thinks should be the Merriam-Webster one) I will remind my readers here that dictionaries have not been prescriptive for sixty years, nor should they be. They are descriptive. The encyclopedia does not tell you how many people there should be in Moscow, it tells you how many there actually are.  It does not tell you who should have won the French and Indian War, it tells you what happened. 

That is not quite a fair comparison, as meanings of words shift gradually, and the editorial decisions made by the publication do sometimes put their thumb on the scale a bit, to accept a new definition more quickly or more slowly.  But the point still holds. If a lot of people start to use the word bad to mean "good," as happened with slang in the last generation, then the dictionary will record this without commenting on whether that is sensible.

This is clearer in historical dictionaries such as the Oxford English. As new meanings emerge or fall out of use, those are noted, so the new, irritating meanings for racist will carry the designation E21, meaning that it first appeared in the early 21st C. 

We have to insist that people define their terms and speak against usages we find imprecise or incorrect in many types of discussion. When we speak of God being loving, that is usually a simple idea that requires no examination.  Yet sometimes we have to pin people down on exactly what they mean by that. 

Object all you want to changes in language you believe are removing meaning and precision and speak out against them to your heart's content.  Just don't blame the dictionaries.  It's not their job to set up a standard to be obeyed.  The French Academy has tried to do that, and it has not gone well. Eventually, everyone just ignores you.