I picked this one of his at random. He defines "hybrid" style, having taken in many influences and influencing later musicians in several genres. He is usually included in any comprehensive history of Rock 'n Roll.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Starting to Solve a Problem
As often happens these days, I listen to the first part of "The Glenn Show" and then just stopped, going to "Mark as Played." He had a very nice young woman on who was talking to him about being persuasive rather than declarative about subjects of controversy. It's not a bad point. He referenced how with his students he is "teacherly" and not confrontative or telling them that they are wrong (they are wrong), but pointing out some things they might consider. She was inarticulate, seemed to be beating around the bush, and then said that perhaps a concrete example might help. He agreed. She chose affirmative action, and said that rather than having "one male, then one female, one black one, then one white one" something freer was better and should be the ultimate goal. She chose an analogy of a flock of birds, and noted that there would be some internal factors and some external factors why some birds were not as able to lead the flock as others. She was losing me here. As it developed, she came to a point of saying "so shouldn't we start by not treating all the birds as if they are the same..." and I thought "Start? Start? What is this start? That's your first problem right there." We have had affirmative action for over fifty years, and it extends back informally before that. Whether it's good or bad, this is not the beginning of it.
I saw immediately that she is young, and for her this is the beginning of her looking at the problem. To her this is the start. "Hey, why don't we try this?" says the thousandth person to come upon the scene, echoing what the previous 999 have said.
We would see it repeatedly in acute mental health with new staff or with students on rotation. Acute psychiatric clients can be dangerously out of control, endangering themselves, staff and other patients, so the unit staff tasked with keeping a unit safe are very aware of cutting situations off at the pass, nipping things in the bud, getting someone who is a problem away from crowded areas. They do jump the gun at times, their voices sharp, commanding rather than sympathetic or listening. I used to do that job and I was worse than most. Tender-hearted students can be heard saying to their advisors "I just think these people would do better if they were treated with a little more kindness." Outside speakers come in and say the same thing. (They're not wrong. But no one gets in their face, you will notice.) Six weeks later, as the student nurses are leaving they are saying to the unit nurses "I don't know how you take this abuse and work in this tension day after day." What looked obvious to them at first glance turns out to have more to it.
You can find it all over comment sections, including conservative sites we are all familiar with, when discussing education, or parenting, or policing, or homelessness, or just about anything that is difficult to solve. You will hear variations on the phrase "Well, all you have to do is..." Yeah everyone's an expert. It is maddening to the people who actually have to accomplish the task to have the obvious pointed out to them for the hundredth time. I once had a well-connected (FOB*) professional mental health advocate go over our heads to the medical director to arrange a meeting about a client who did not feel he needed to be held in the hospital and wanted to be released. Well, we politically had to do it, so the next day we are in a big room with all sorts of outside (non-)players to put our heads together to see what was holding up young Jason's discharge. After the usual donuts, unfunny humor, political jibes at Republicans, and posturing about previous agency battles they had won by just being right, and insistent, and cleverly rude, we got down to the root of it. "Looking over his chart and talking at length with Jason about the situation, the problem is that he needs an adequate aftercare plan." Please credit me for refraining from slapping my forehead and saying "Oh! Creating aftercare! Why didn't I think of that! Ma'am, what the f--- do you think it is that I do forty hours a week? He's not ready for aftercare because he's still trying to beat the s--- out of anyone who says the word 'no' to him. Landlords and outreach workers don't like that, no matter how many expensive supportive government programs you put in place."
Well, okay, I sorta did say that, but more politely - which of course means that they didn't understand it and thought I hadn't understood them, so they repeated it more slowly, loudly, and pointedly.**
And people wonder why I lose my temper at fools. Yes, yes, I shouldn't, certainly. The person challenging my assertion with what they are sure is a fact I have somehow overlooked is new to this and not aware that they are one in a long line. I really am unfair to them, and they are right to feel ill-used. Okay, I am lying. They aren't right. It is they who need humility more than me. It should be tough to need humility more than me, but people seem to manage it daily. If you are farther down the humility-needing scale than me, you may be at the mouth of Hell, so be careful.
Eddie Izzard has a routine about not suffering fools gladly.
So also with education. It's not just having high expectations, or focusing on essentials, or instilling discipline, or whatever your oversimple solution is. Homelessness is not just places to stay in a rich but selfish country. Even my immediate retort that it is not a housing problem at all but a drug and mental health problem is merely a second-level useless oversimplification. Foreign policy is very simple, you know. Losing weight... All it takes is...
All it takes is...
We like to pretend these things because...well, I would just be engaging in the same fallacy, wouldn't I?
Confession: this is the rant that lay beneath my recent post Lived Experience.
There are reasons why this persists, and as with all things, they last because they are half-truths. Real experts will sometimes sum up what they have learned at the end of a career, such as Helen Hayes saying "Acting is easy. All you have to do is say your lines, don't trip over the furniture, and go home." Master teachers will reveal the very few goals they tried to keep ever in mind. Mystics will wisely intone a single phrase they kept returning to. Preachers, therapists, artists, programmers, writers, researchers, trial lawyers, comedians, all have their accurate observations about how others have gone wrong and become scattered and ineffective, but they chanced upon the key. They aren't wrong, but those are the lessons that need to be hammered home not to beginners, but to other experts.
Next, there is a wisdom in first encountering a huge, seemingly insoluble problem and rather than being overwhelmed, identifying some piece that can be bitten off and chewed. That's what parenting in general and especially adopting from Romania or taking a nephew is. The people developing Comprehensive Solutions are insufferable and destructive, but this single thing does need to be done and I'm going to do it. Such things often don't even need to be done brilliantly, they just need to be done. By someone. You can't do it all, but pick something. And if your immediate thought is how your contribution is going to be advocating so that other people will do something, you have missed the point that we are here to be made better, not make others better.
*Friend of Bill, meaning Clinton. There were also Friends of Ted, whose influence extended throughout New England and could destroy any little people in their path.
**Sometimes it "works" in the sense that if you are powerful enough, the agency has to crumble and give you something you can call a victory in their threatening future agencies. We have to grovel and provide some cosmetic solution and pretend we are repentant sinners. (It is not at all accidental that there are so many accounts of people who grew up fundamentalist Christians and ran screaming to become liberals found the same fundamentalism as soon as they got below the fun surface of journalistic liberalism into the actual agency work.) People wonder why I, a good student radical, learned to hate professional liberals - even as I like very much the well-meaning liberals only involved at superficial levels and Just Want a Better World. If you are one of those, my challenge would be that you pick a cause and get in and try to fix it at a micro level before attempting the macro. Only the micros understand the macro. I have seen new gov't programs that set me on my heels thinking "That was designed by someone who has been there. Limited, targeted, focused. I want to shake that person's hand."
Friday, April 29, 2022
There was for many years the idea that we had to preserve letters in spelling so that people would know where the words came from. That is why the b was put back in to doubt, even though it had vanished from pronunciation already. Fussy pretentious people wanted people to know that it came from a Latin word that had a "b" in it, because...er...well...it was more elevated and refined to know such things than not to know them. Or something.
That is how we got the spellings for breakfast and cupboard that we have now. The latter was already "cubberd." But it just seemed like something that people should know, that the former was about breaking your fast, and that closet used to have a board, not a shelf, where you held your cups. Because...because...that's what it was, dammit, and you are supposed to remember! You fools, you fools! And we get to look really educated when we point out things which you should have noticed but didn't. Ha ha!
This is related to the rather opposite situation, in which people can also treat you with disdain for pronouncing a word as it looks rather than how it is used in conversation. What a maroon! Such as a book-obsessed and introverted young woman who says a fashionable dress is "chick" because that's the way it looks. That she spends more time reading than listening to older others about clothing fashions may not be a bad thing. The talkers, the social butterflies, are very good at making everyone else feel bad about Not Being Quite. Pay them no mind.*
I am not in any way an advocate of spelling reform. Too much effort for too little payback, to my mind. But don't strain to put letters back in that fell out of pronunciation and were artificially reinserted so that people would know. Like Arctic and Antarctic. The "c" in the middle had gone from pronunciation. Fussy people thought it should go back so that people would know. So aspirational people in newly-literate groups began to worry "Oh dear! I must have been saying this wrong! Er, Wrongly!" ArCtic."
*My younger brother will regard you with false gentleness of disdain and correct you with the other pronunciation whichever one you use for "patronising." Fortunately, most people in his circle get the joke.
It's ridiculous, and I am old enough and educated enough to do this whatever way I damn well please. Even after years of use, people still have to do just a touch of adjustment every time, and it is unnecessary. The whole thing is a pretentious convention - a trick, really - that has been around for so long that we will never be rid of it. But I'm just dropping it. When I mean that something is in the 1600s I'm going to write and say 1600s, not 17th C. The years of the 17th C all begin with 16, after all. Same with 3rd Millennium BC and the like. The whole thousand years each begins with a "2," after all. If I need to refer to the whole thousand I'll say 2000-3000BC or even just 2000+.
And frankly, even I seldom need to refer to the 5th Millennium BC in any fashion. Hardly anyone does.
But, but...what about the First Century, the plaintive cry will go up. Things have to be consistent, things have to match, things have to fit into a nice tidy order that goes all the way to the end. Well, no they don't really. If it makes you nervous that there's a hair out of place there I sympathise (I straighten other people's pictures), but really, it's a molehill. The number of times that we are depending on a full list where we have to put everything in a row is vanishingly small. Usually, when we are talking about a time period, it's pretty limited. Writing 1400-1700 is clearer than 15th-18th C. If I'm making that list, starting it
is going to be entirely clear. In sentence form, I probably will use 1st C, or First Century, and I will likely use 20th C and 21st C because we are so used to those that we don't need to mentally adjust. Though if I wanted to say a word was used more commonly in the early 1900s, that would actually be marginally clearer than "early 20th C." It types more easily as well - the latter has the same number of characters, but plus a space, switching between numbers and letters, and also switching to a capital letter. What's simpler about that?
In proper names, such as CS Lewis's Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century (yes, he was the scholar chosen for that and it is still assigned 70 years later) I will of course not change the name. Though in discussing it I might repeatedly use phrases like "mid-1500s." Nor am I remotely interested in correcting other people, who might be more immersed in the convention or uninterested in putting any energy into a change. But I don't have to say 4th C and I ain't gonna.
Sing Before Breakfast
Have a second look to see if you can guess who the actor is. You saw him on TV in the 60s and 70s. That's his real-life sister Vilma dancing with him, which will help you not at all. An odd note: if they are living on the roof - and not the tallest roof around - where do they change? What are their nightclothes? 30s movies were notorious for introducing such sexual elements without a shoulder being shown or even a passing reference to a body part. The audience is titillated without quite knowing why.
He was also Doc Holliday in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a supposedly romantic movie that is carried by the fact that Audrey Hepburn is so adorable and people like to think they can get away with being "unconventional" like that. It is otherwise just strange and even creepy.
Thursday, April 28, 2022
Legal immigration used to be a big topic, didn't it? Not so long ago we talked about it a lot. Now we talk only about the illegal immigration at the southern border, most of it from Central America. Razib had an immigration expert from the Cato Institute on and I picked up some updated facts about American legal immigration. He also talked about Ukrainian refugees moving to Poland, Slovakia, and Romania, the guest workers from SE Asia in the Gulf countries, and what is likely to come next in terms of Europe, and the last place where the population is still growing rapidly, and thus a source of immigrants, Africa. However I'll just pass on some of the American info here. Catch the podcast if you want more.
Trump talked almost entirely about illegal immigration in his campaigning, but he also occasionally said he would greatly cut back legal immigration, and did. When covid hit it slowed to a trickle for the last two years. Of note, Trump stressed job protection for Americans when he shut it down, not health concerns, though the powers he invoked were based on the disease. Biden, to please his voters, stated he would resume the old pre-Trump levels, but has only gone back up to the last pre-covid levels. He is only getting complaints from those Democrats for whom immigration is a primary issue, which apparently isn't many. The accusation has always been that many liberals, though they can be moved by individual sad stories or care for a while about the issue if they have it constantly in front of them, mostly like it only to call conservatives, especially Trump, racist. It looks like there may be something to that from the evidence.
There are also a couple of constituencies in the Democratic coalition that are quietly restrictionist, though that is kept on the down low. Unions and a big chunk of environmentalists (not all) are unenthused by the arrival of new Americans. The remaining Democrats who care much at all are focused on citizenship for those who are already here. The Cato Institute and other libertarians that are in favor of reducing (though not eliminating) restrictions, would prefer that those who come have some way they can become citizens, and especially want to defend birthright citizenship. But they are otherwise mostly interested in workers being able to move about to find jobs.
What with one thing and another, over the last six years it is as if we missed four years of legal immigration, and it looks like we will be staying well below pre-Trump levels for the duration of Biden's term. I wouldn't project out any farther than that, but I don't see any powerful pro-immigration force arising in either party in the near future.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
My prediction is not much will change, for good or ill. Consequently, I wish Musk would spend that much money elsewhere.
I heard this at scout camp in 1965, last song of the night at campfire. Even then, and recognising that this sort of song exaggerates to make a point and plays for the pathos, something didn't seem right about it. Let's look at the last lyrics more closely.
He'd-a-made it but he just couldn't leave old Dan.
Yes, they found him there on the plains
His hands froze to the reins.
He was just a hundred yards from Mary Ann's.
There is no hint here that he has made a serious miscalculation of judgement, much less a horrendous moral error. Gee, the poor guy is trying to be loyal to his horse and it somehow just sorta went wrong, y'know? But in what moral universe do you decide to leave your wife a widow out on the plains - in winter, no less - because you chose the pony instead?
I'm betting actual cowboys were smarter and better than this. Damn, I hope so.
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
The Celtics swept the Brooklyn Nets in what was supposed to be a seven-game series. Kevin Durant played magnificently against us, and I half-root for him even when he is an opponent. This despite having passed up his chance to come to the Celtics a few years ago, which we might resent. He didn't play enough games to be an MVP candidate, but I think he is the best player in the league.
Doesn't Like Pagans Enough
Dr. Yaakov Weinstein, an Orthodox Jew who writes the Torah From Narnia blog was interviewed during Ecumenism Month at Pints With Jack, a podcast that got me through Till We Have Faces* last year. But I have stylistic objections to PWJ I just can't get past, so I only listen to its interviews. They have done Reformed Lewis and Eastern Orthodox Lewis, and I still have Baptist Lewis and LDS Lewis to go. But this did look intriguing.
It was intriguing, right off the bat when he pointed out two things I had never noticed and connected them. When the three angels in disguise visit Abraham, Sarah hurriedly makes bread upon the hearth while Abraham sees to butchering and cooking a calf and other meal preparations. Hurriedly. This means it was unleavened bread, and thus not only a foreshadowing of Passover, but a fore-enactment of it. The former can be only a literary device, the latter is a participation in a truth that is already present though it is not yet revealed. It is deeper, revealing an intuitive understanding of the truth even if not articulated. Weinstein suggests this is a very rabbinic analysis, giving as another example the conclusion that Redemption must have been created before the universe, because God would not make a universe that cannot be redeemed. So the concept must be present even preceding creation.
He ties that in to the very first chapter of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Mr Tumnus is described, because of the snow and his parcels, as if he has just done his Christmas shopping. But there is no Christmas anymore, which is the point of the story, "always winter and never Christmas." Mr. Tumnus cannot actually be doing Christmas shopping. Yet somehow he enacts at least the appearance of it, likely unconsciously. Yet not unimportantly. I love people who can point such noticed things out to me like that.
He stated that it is a biblical principle that God transforms things rather than destroying them, and that rang true. It fit with our recent discussion about "he descended into Hell" in the Creed, and the belief that heaven and hell are not unmentioned in the Old Testament, but they are vague and shadowy and considered of optional importance - hints about them grow throughout the Scripture - but at the resurrection they are not merely opened up to humans, they are in some sense created. The shadowlands that existed before become transformed and they divide into eternity with God or eternity away. But that principle of transformation rather than destruction occurs right from the start. Thinking about both fore-enactment and repeated transformation sheds new light on many passages. The Eucharist, for example, which is a foretaste, not a foreshadowing.
For this reason Dr. Weinstein objected to the Stone Table being destroyed in Narnia. Transformed would have been better. One can see why a Jew would object to the symbolic destruction of the law and be bothered by it. Yet I think he has a point. I am not offering any symbolic device that Lewis should have used instead - he would have done far better. But in my next time-travel to visit him I shall mention it if I get the chance.
Then they discussed Till We Have Faces, and he had many more objections to that, though he thought much of it was deep and powerful and instructive about different types (styles, aspects) of love that is not much taught in Jewish thought. He objected that Orual is regarded in the second part as in need of remaking, and the praise for the virtuous Bardia is too mild. She had done great things for her people, he had been as noble as his understanding allowed. If the point was to transform the nation in preparation for the distantly-implied new religion that would come someday, then they had done that. I would counter that as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the point is that these things are good, but ultimately not enough.
It occurred to me that a lot of his energy came from his sense of distance from the paganism of Ungit and I wondered why, as I think paganism transformed is a very biblical concept. We recently discussed that in Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? The Christian Church in Europe took both approaches, of rejecting paganism (destroying groves and shrines was big) but also in embracing some to transform it. And not just Christmas, but even what aspects of the faith were expressed in Europe vs the rest of the world. Weinstein thought rejecting and abjuring paganism was the only way to go, and that Lewis was treading dangerous ground by giving it any foothold at all. I think from a Torah-Tanakh perspective, that would be a very natural conclusion. God is strict with the Jews to have nothing to do with the practices of their pagan neighbors, and there is lesson after lesson about this. Do not touch.
Yet wait, I thought, isn't Judaism also paganism transformed? Genesis is awash in primitive elements, and Torah practices have some strong similarities to nearby tribes. I don't think that's a bad thing, I think that's exactly the way it should be. I suspect our Jewish friend would find the question "Is Judaism pagan?" to be deeply offensive. And I get why. It is not only that he himself regards his faith as already complete, but he thinks we should, even if we cannot go that far, at least credit it as being of an entirely different kind than paganism. Well, I do. I think both. I think it was a paganism that was transformed more than once before it came to the early Christians. Notably, it transformed again at the destruction of the Second Temple, away from the paganism of sacrifice to a more...more intellectual? more contemplative? religion. I don't think that the splitting of the faith into two transformations at that point in history is accidental. And in that split, the Torah-Talmud version went less pagan and decided that was the way to go. (If the Temple were rebuilt there are some Jews who would want to restart the sacrifices, but most would not. they feel they have left that behind for good.)
His view is more Protestant, as we have stressed ideas and theology more than mystic practice. It's why I think the Catholics (and others) have it right about the Eucharist. The god you eat. Uggh. Pagan. Gross. And yet I think that is the truth we are supposed to embrace. It is a paganism transformed. Even as a Congregationalist in confirmation class, learning about Consubstantiation, Transubstantiation, etc I thought viewing the Lord's Supper as merely symbolic was somehow wimping out. Embrace it. Deal with it.
It is ironic that I would ask Dr. Weinstein to embrace his own lesson about transformation.
But perhaps I have misunderstood him. that has been known to happen before.
*I discussed that here
I don't want to be merely dismissive of the modern fondness for the term - which is what everyone says when they are being merely dismissive. It seems to be mostly on the lips of younger people who believe they are not being heard, and even oppressed. I have no doubt it just feelz true to them. I note in passing that a primary symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder is the belief that "If you don't agree with me you must not really, really be listening to me." This can persist in the face of an amazing amount of obvious evidence to the contrary. They just can't see it.
Yet let me offer a serious counter to that thought. If you have not had some responsibility for the life of another person, you don't have any real lived experience. That other person might be a spouse, a parent, a parish, employees you care about, a school or ministry, or very especially a child, but without that you do not have a life shared with the long history of interconnected humanity. Weak ties with people who merely agree with you don't count. Emphatically don't count. Unless what happens to some other person (perhaps in extremes some other entity or cause, but I grant that grudgingly) affects you as deeply as what happens to you yourself, you haven't a clue. Let me pick an example conveniently: Are you a young high-status athlete or entertainer (especially male) who feels victimised because you 'n your friends can't just go and have a good time and don't get what you feel is proper respect from the police? Care for your aging parent, or a child, or a spouse with some real problem and get back to me later, wouldja? Because you have no lived experience until you have shared in humanity that way.
Monday, April 25, 2022
Post 8400 - Orpheus
I have a friend visiting who might like this. I sang this with her, and then with my band in college.Actually I don't recall any woman I knew having a "nightgown of regal lace flowing to the ground in the mist around her," so I assume this was an aspirational, rather than descriptive lyric. Maybe I just didn't hang out with the right crowd.
Female Comedians Again
I have mentioned before how they seem to get steered into only talking about sex, which started generations ago with Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice, and continued through Joan Rivers and is still prominent today. My previous interpretation is that however much they cooperate with this, they are trying to make a living, and by trial-and-error audiences male and female seem to want them to go in that direction. I also detect some who were quite funny on other subjects when younger, but because of their innocent good-girl appearance seem to increasingly rely on the fairly automatic humor of the mild shock value of "nice girl saying outrageous things." Esther Povitsky and Taylor Tomlinson would be examples of this. They are more polished but less funny now. That those audiences are largely young, single, late-night, and drunk likely influences their material. Nothing is going to push them in another direction.
I have no doubt that many of them think of themselves as brave for being more sexual. The word "daring" even communicates that. The same thing comes in for rock criticism. Madonna was so brave, Lady Gaga was so brave, as if this was something modern, rather than a reversion to what women have always been pushed into for entertainment. I saw an article that Nikki Glaser (I caught a clip and thought her more than I can take, though I agree she's funny) has gotten sober and has now reversed course, not stating that her own material was degrading to her personally, but coming darn close. (I'm not linking because of other things there. But if you follow these things I imagine you can find something like it pretty quickly.) A lot of the rest I can't even identify, because they seem on youtube so clearly too raunchy for my taste that there's no point in clicking and remembering. It sure looks like a lot of them.
I confess that I do like watching Iliza Schlesinger, even though she is quite profane, because she does hit a variety of topics, and does them well.
All this was prologue. I had a new thought while watching Schlesinger. She repeatedly makes large claims that "Women are..." and I think "Hmm. I can't think of any like that myself." Yet I don't think she is wrong, I think she is just describing a subset of women that I have little contact with and I suspect she is spot on, judging from the audience response, especially from women. The audience scans suggest her audiences are weighted strongly female. The female academics (as in linguists and archaeologists, mostly) and church women I encounter aren't like that, but I couldn't begin to tell you numbers whether Iliza's audience is a greater percentage of women. But they are clearly making their own decisions, making their own money to spend on entertainment, not beholden to anyone. I don't see how one makes the argument that they aren't independent and aren't representative of women at some level.
I contrast this with the academics, and a tone I have detected and mentioned before. They do not say it outright, but their implication is clear that they believe they speak for women in general about what is offensive and what is desired, what is supposed to be important to them. Odd, because these popular comedians would appear to give the lie to that.
Then the penny dropped. I have actually witnessed this contrast for decades by working in primarily women's professions. The social workers my age and older resemble the academic women much more. The younger social workers are much more like the comedians' audiences. It used to be an academic profession with lots of theory and history - most of it complete crap and now discredited, but still - and favored by women who were more academic. It used to be a bigger deal to go on and get a Master's degree in anything, especially for women. But it is much less intellectually demanding now (as evidenced by MSW's having the lowest GREs of any graduate programs). It's a different field. The psych nurses have reversed the old model and are clearly, sometimes stunningly, brighter and better trained. Not like 1980 at all.
There is a split I hadn't noticed in the younger generation of social workers (and psychologists, etc) until now. A few are insanely woke, turning in mentors and senior staff during their internships for supposed offensive statements that just take your breath away - but most of the other young women have just learned how not to misstep on those things, pretend to go along with them*, and just go about their jobs. At lunch with each other, they sound like Iliza's audience. They didn't marry professors, they married policemen and restaurant suppliers. They are sort of blue-collar. And they are mostly fine, very competent at what the job now is, which is navigating idiotic bureaucracies rather than having knee-to-knee discussions with Troubled Persons, as in the past.
I think the PhD podcasters, male and female, need to understand them as a counterweight to what they believe is the reality. The comedians might be a more fun way to do that. The academic group is less often married, less often have children, and less often have any ongoing religious connection, so they are often contrasted with a middle-American group of women that has those characteristics. That they vote differently is considered important, and troubling. But this other group? Who the hell knows if they vote at all, and who they vote for? Even if pollsters might be able to divide them along similar lines as the exited the show...
(...okay, it would probably be better to check in with these young people before they went into the show to find out who they are voting for and which way they break on marriage/child/church attitudes. Less entertaining, though, if you remember the "Jay Walking" segments from Leno's show. Even I saw a few of those...)
...yet they are clearly numerous enough to support many comedians. Maybe the church people need to be aware of this counterweight group as well. Yet I will bet they recognise the entertainers' generalisations more easily. They have grown daughters, after all. Though I am in a pretty specific sector of that crew as well, so my intuition is likely useless. Pay no mind.
*I went about in disguise there, as I used to at church as well, and maybe everywhere I go. I don't mean to. I'm not trying to be tricky or deceitful. It just seems to play out that way. This goes way, way back. Anyway, you hear a lot when you share an office with these young women for more than an occasional day or two and they figure out that you are actually not a liberal, and are an actual religious person. Lesbians tell you how crazy the trans people are. Quiet Catholics who wanted to smack the head of the department and the invited speaker for their bigoted comments about them last month. (It's nice to be old and on your way out. I would just call those people out at the meeting. Their amazing bigotry. It happens because they think it is just normal behavior to say these things. It's a belief that NPR is the universe, because it's got "public" right in its name.) Sometimes I will give correction and alert them to realities that even I would not be very public about. "Wait until you see how they try to chew your son up at school over the next few years while the girls are treated like little treasures. You will have to learn the skills of redirecting the teachers and protecting him until he can deal with it." And then work with them later and have them tell me that's just about the way it went down, but they think they have steered the boy through it. Yes, you thought I was crazy at the time, and a little prejudiced. And now you know I'm right. Some have quietly dropped the same news to other mothers. Given the suicide rate and dropout rate of boys, who get little attention, I consider that a victory.
Update: In contrast
Saturday, April 23, 2022
As I have mentioned before, I follow sports much less than I did 30-40 years ago, but because both general guy culture and specific sons follow them I do keep my hand in. I had given up following football at all until Belichick and Brady came in and I do pay attention now. My prediction was that after both are gone that will fade in New England, but we do have a generation which grew up with them at this point, so we'll see. Similarly, I stopped following the Red Sox around 1990 as interesting only in that they found a new way to torment us every year, but relented late in 2004 and actually did watch the last game of that World Series, when the world inverted. I followed for a few years after that, but have now reverted to my pattern of not even knowing who is on the team until about August, then checking in whether this is worth following.
I go back-and-forth with the Celtics. I check in once a month. This year I pretty much signed off at Christmas and by February was insisting to Son #2, the sports expert who has many stats at his fingertips that it wasn't worth it. He countered with very good stats that they were in fact doing well, losing only by a few points but winning by large margins, which is always the mark in any sport of a team that is just about to bloom. As I had taught him that rule when he was in middle school I felt obligated to trust him on this. So now Boston is crazy good since then and the playoffs are fun.
Oh right. I'm supposed to be providing a service here. I played the new Wordle-derived games intensively the first few weeks, now more intermittently. When they came out, I immediately attacked the strategy questions, which interested me much more than actually playing the games themselves. The games are passively interesting now, but...don't really need 'em after the first couple of weeks. Mild entertainment. But working out what would be the optimal starter strategies? That intrigued me for those two weeks.
1. I start Wordle with ORATE. I get the point of starting with ADIEU, but I find it more comfortable to use that or IRATE, or with two vowels CRATE, TALES, RATES, TILES whatever with that one more consonant and then for the second guess seek to construct a word out of whatever was a hit and some combo of the common letters NCILSU. I get more 3's than 4s that way, but only by a little. By guess 6, the problem is often trying to find any word that fits the pattern of what you have got. It's nice to get the vowels nailed down, but consonants provide so much more information.
1A. Sometimes you get one of those patterns where there are more pure-guess possibilities than you have left, like S_INE where it could be SPINE, SHINE, SWINE with only two left. "Waste" a guess on WHIPS, which will identify the missing letter. Once there were seven possibilities and I had to waste two guesses using three each of the possible letters to get it right on guess #6. That's very rare, but it happens.
1B. If an S, C, G, or T is a hit, then H is much more likely. That is true for W as well, but you are going to consider H before W anyway.
2. I start Dordle with ALIEN STORY. I very seldom lose. I think it is the toughest game of the four, but if it had one more guess it would be the easiest. My wife starts with ADIEU STORY and also seldom loses. I am okay with trading N and L for U and D because if no vowels are a hit with my method you know it has to be a U. But it is nice to see the colored square. I get that.
3. For both Quordle and Octordle I start with LATER, COINS, PUDGY.* I never lose. It's just an exercise at that point, not a real problem. I don't even play those most days anymore.
4. WORLDLE continues to both intrigue and irritate. When I do not recognise the shape or its probable location (the NE-SW slant of the -stans, the EW slant of Europe, the verticality of SE Asia, sensing whether something is a coastline versus a river boundary - you can sometimes tell) I guess near the equator or just below because so many of the answers are going to be there, and because the shape of the continents, when your first guess is wildly off, informs what the arrow and mileage should narrow it down quickly. Also, just fold your cards and go to the map when you are in the smaller Caribbean islands, the South Pacific, or those ridiculous tiny islands you never even heard of in the Indian Ocean or the South Atlantic. Even the people who live there might not recognise those outlines. Sometimes you even need to search a very specific ocean map because a normal map doesn't provide enough detail.** However, there is a smoothness to the equatorial islands and a jaggedness to the colder ones that sometimes gives a clue.
* Be alert to the priors in the YouTubes that purport to tell you what the most common letters and best strategies are. You don't need to know the most common letters overall, but the most common letters in five-letter words in which the game does not include both four letter verbs that have an S at the end or four-letter nouns that have an S at the end, because the game is artificially designed that way. That pushes S from #6 down to #10, or something like that.
** You discover in a week or two that Africa and the South Pacific are much, much larger than you ever knew. All that discussion about the Eurocentrism of mapping which still persists into the modern era is true. The Europeans did the first real world maps and centered them well above the equator. Our perspective has been skewed ever since. Greenland is not that big.
Take Care of the Pence...
...and the pounds will take care of themselves. It's brilliant advice, as these old sayings always are. Except, as old sayings always do, there is a near opposite in the phrase "penny-wise and pound foolish." We see something similar in the twin phrases look before you leap vs. he who hesitates is lost, echoed in both directions by strike while the iron is hot, make hay while the sun shines, haste makes waste - the list is endless. In retrospect, anyone can kick you and make you feel small for neglecting some important cultural lesson that you should have absorbed in kindergarten, or its reverse that you also absorbed in kindergarten. The classes you didn't take, the stocks you didn't buy, the boys you didn't kiss, the job you almost took, that can pain the nostalgic so deeply now, compounded by the stupid classes you did take, the dumb stocks you did buy, the jerk boys you did kiss*, the pointless job you did take...can haunt you unnecessarily.
Of course you did stupid things. Winston Churchill mostly bumbled until his shining hour. Moses had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the one job he was destined for, very late in life. I chuckled long ago that if I could go back with a carefully curated hour with my 17-year-old self, I wouldn't listen. I would absorb an idea or two and then mostly make the same mistakes again, only at different times and with different theme music in the background.
We made a series of ridiculous penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions on a trip to Massachusetts today. Eh. So what? That woman's life, and her daughter's, are much harder than ours. We just absorbed it, one of the advantages of age and mistaking tiredness for wisdom. However, seeing that it does in fact look so much like wisdom even though it is a mere imitation, we pass it on to you.
*I fear I figure prominently on that list.
The House Song
I sang this once in a concert and my girlfreind told me with eyes shining that she loved the song. "It was my favorite of the ones my old boyfriend used to sing." Well, that was the end of that. But within a few years the girl was gone and I could have the song back again. The lyrics pretty much define "evocative."
Have I posted this before? How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk. People enjoy dialect quizzes and seeing how well they match up with what they'd expect. Mine came up as I thought, with Boston, Providence, and Worcester coming up as my closest hits. There must not be a city in NH that qualified as big enough. I'm surprised Portland, ME didn't make it.
My strongest regional distinctive was "bubbler" for "drinking fountain." That means either coastal New England or a section of Wisconsin along Lake Michigan. If that seems an odd combo, it turns out that Bubbler was originally a brand name of an early model, invented in Wisconsin. But the New England mill cities were the first places that installed city water, which was a prerequisite for drinking fountains at the time.
Friday, April 22, 2022
Post Hoc Rationalisation
Perhaps I should say immediately post hoc rationalisation, or as-quick-as-thought rationalisation, those things that we justify in some way as soon as our desire becomes conscious.
I was listening to Patrick Wyman talk about the culture-historical method of archaeology and of understanding the past. He of course had to mention right out of the gate Nazis! to warn people away from going anywhere near that cliff or anywhere even in sight of that cliff. (Other cliffs, over which more people have fallen, remain unmentioned as usual.) So yeah, I get it. Don't be like them. I think I've heard that like - all my life. I digress. The association being offered was that this method of associating culture and ethnicity leads to evil thinking about what ourselves and others are like, and then to evil actions.
Digression continued: The focus should be on the fact that is an unreliable method of identifying culture from ethnicity or ethnicity from culture, with America being a great current example. People from widely different genetic backgrounds have similar language, material culture, and customs here. It is good to keep that in mind when looking at archaeological material, whether humans or objects. Don't assume they all used these objects - some may be prestige imports obtained for the rulers in trade - nor that they spoke the same language. People often speak two or more languages and use them in different circumstances. This was true then and now. On the other hand, it's place to start looking. If you uncover graves 200 miles west of a culture which has written records in language A, a distinctive type of pottery, and a ruling elite with R1a y-haplotype, and your newly discovered group also has R1a y-haplotype, something close to language A should be your tentative hypothesis. Now that we know that migration does occur more than was credited fifty years ago, theories related to the disfavored one are coming back. (Just don't be a Nazi, got it!? I hear they are just everywhere these days.)
So the idea is that this sort of thinking leads people to do bad actions. We tend to do this about all groups. There has been a great deal of discussion recently about why Russians act like they do, and before that it was why all those largely-Muslim people from the Middle-East act as they do, and why Americans expanded westward, and why Christians went to war against pagans, and then other Christians. It seems the only thing to talk about in attempting to understand the world.
But what if most of it, or (gulp) all of it is just later rationalisation? What if people just do things because they can? They have stuff and we want it. There are other people who aren't us through that gap so we had better subdue them for our safety. It's a bit frightening, because we would then have to look out on a world we don't have much control over. It's more comforting to believe we have better reasons, not only for our own consciences, but in hopes of getting other people to act in ways we like. Like either trading with us or going away or something.
It is not only the perceived overall aggressors doing this. The current narrative is that the Native Americans attacked Europeans because they felt attacked and invaded themselves and were just defending their land. Well, sometimes. Sometimes they attacked because the Europeans had good stuff and they wanted it. If that sounds insulting to the indigenous peoples, as if they are primitive, I'm also saying that's pretty much what the Europeans did as well. The New World had stuff. Let's go get it.
I think it is more likely that the bad attitude flows in the other direction. If we want to defend our territory from you, then you must be terrible in some way. If we want to enslave you... gee, maybe we really shouldn't do that - hey, I know! They must not have souls. Problem solved.
I don't believe the strong version of what I just put forward myself. I think what we believe about others can be modified by cultural factors, not just our primitive amoeba-seeking-food responses. I just think those cultural things look more and more like rationalisations, less and less like reasons, with every passing decade. I made a great deal during the first years of this blog about tribalism - not between Tutsis and Hutus or Flemish and Walloons, but among the various internal cultural tribes in America and the West. I made much reference to the Arts & Humanities Tribe I grew up in but felt was going in bad directions. I focused on ideas. Yet sometimes I read an analysis that cynically notices that particular legislation or cultural changes means more and better jobs (status, food, mates) for one tribe, so they like it. All the purported reasoning, charts and graphs, and historical examples are just tacked on for show. Down this tunnel there is more mash, and I have an instant justification why it should be ours.
It may be why they have to see so many Nazis now. It's a great reason to take someone's mash. The others can't be just any old type of competitor, they have to be crammed somehow into the category of Best Enemy.
Thursday, April 21, 2022
Love Crucified, Arose
Years of Educational Attainment
This is becoming a more common thing to measure in genetics over the last decade or so. There is a huge advantage in being able to just plain get ahold of the data, as people fill it out on profiles of all sorts. From various ancestry sites you can get millions of answers. On Unsupervised Learning, Khan interviews UMinn psychology prof James Lee about his recent paper in Nature. It has a GWAS of 3 million individuals.
This seems intuitively weak at first, because a lot of things go into educational attainment that aren't genetic, so what good is it? What country you were born in or moved to, what your family's expectations are, what your chosen field requires, your level of determination (even if that is also genetic) all factor in to that final number. Even the final number can be fuzzy. Someone who enters "13" might have been dragged across the finish line for high school and stuffed into a college for a couple of semesters picking up only a few credits. Or they might have left college to go into the service or a particular job where they received ongoing training for many years. The life-outcomes of the individual might be very different with that number. However, in large studies like this the researchers are mostly just worried about the range. For both 10 and 11 years, or 13 and 14 years, the +/- might be the same two years, so it washes out. Only at the graduation points of 12 and 16 is there likely to be a bending of the graph as lots of individuals try to get those last few classes in to get to the finish line.
The genetic correlation for height is 91%, for IQ 83%, and for years of educational attainment about 55%. These seem about right. You can't make yourself taller, but your height can get screwed up, such as by backbone curvature, as my son from Romania's is, making him about 2" shorter. Similarly, even more things can work to depress your IQ, though you can't stretch it above a certain point. And for educational attainment, there are many reasons that can get bounced around, as noted above. Still, we would expect that there was some genetic association. Of particular interest is that Lee notes that the genetic differences cluster around neurological development, which also makes intuitive sense.
The long interview included some very clear descriptions about why heterozygotic and homozygotic - that is, whether you have a plus and a minus gene at any given point or whether you have two pluses or two minuses - have different effects than expected. We are familiar with the example of the Sickle-Cell Anemia genes, where having no copies of the immunity is bad, a copy from only one parent is good, and having a copy from both parents is very bad. We were taught years ago in biology that lots of genes behave this way. In fact, very few do. They are interesting because these rarer genes are often the ones with strongest effects, mostly negative but also some positive.
Monday, April 18, 2022
I was "strongly encouraged" as an anthropology student to watch the National Geographic special about the Tasaday tribe in the early 70s. They were supposedly a "Stone Age" tribe who were unfamiliar with metals and had not been in contact with outsiders in known memory. It was a very romantic idea. There was discussion afterward among the professors whether it was proper for outsiders to spoil their culture by contact. It was unclear to me whether it was Tasaday culture they were protecting or our ability to study something rare. Students were encouraged to continue the discussion among themselves. It was clear that these were matters of Great Import from the solemn tone of the documentary and the similar hushed tones of the older students who stepped up to lead those discussions.
I had what was considered a simplistic view (because someone was impatient with another student who gave it voice), wondering whether we would bring them medicine if they were sick. What about sickness unto death? Wouldn't it be a kindness to introduce the idea of knives or something to them to improve their ability to survive? Look, I may be misremembering badly and this is all post hoc for me. I don't recall a single conversation about it again after that night. Yet I think I recall that this was considered a grievous imposition on these poor people, who deserved to have their culture preserved. Again, I wondered why not give them the choice and see what they thought?
I later learned the whole thing was a hoax put forth by some friends of Marcos (why?), and then learned that it wasn't a hoax and the hoaxers were a hoax. I now know that I should have at minimum questioned whether this "Stone Age" description was just journalistic exaggeration and nonsense. It is exactly the sort of thing that sets hearts aflutter and sells fishwrap.
I take it that the current understanding is that they are not a residual Stone Age tribe, but they are very remote and do not seem to have had intention of participating in a hoax. Their primitiveness is real but not fully uncommon on this southern island in the Philippines. Lots of tribes had little contact at that point, and this was simply the one with the least. Even the word "contact" is more than a little fuzzy. If your tribe is in contact with a tribe that is in contact with another tribe that has a few people who occasionally walk into settled areas where they trade with people from off the island, don't you have some contact in the sense that you hear about other people who do things differently and get your hands on some of their smart technology if you get the chance?
I mostly bring this up only to poke fun at the idea of the holiness of leaving people alone so that we can use them for our study purposes rather than offering them choices, however indirectly. It makes them not real people. My daughter died of a terrible disease last year and you could have saved her and did nothing? And you call that respecting me?
If you think the Flying Monkeys were a better part of the movie I would say only in memory. While you are watching, this is the best combo of sound, music, and visual.
Pileated Woodpeckers (PIH-le-ay-ted) were uncommon in NH but becoming more common. There was one lat year on the rail trail I walk, and another near the power lines near our house. Strange call. I heard one on the trail about two weeks ago, and one near the house this morning. It's fun to have birds you didn't grow up with.
Pheasants are rare here now, and I miss them. Rare wild turkeys now show up in the yard in groups of 10-20 and I'm not that fascinated.
I think the reason we are hearing conflicting reports is not only because we have become so divided - Covid was not that bad vs. Covid was much worse than you are acknowledging, but because that fed into a polarising tendency to exaggerate in the direction we like.
I believe we are now talking about two separate things and as I expect no help from the culture in differentiating those in clear language, I suggest we do it ourselves.
Anytime you get a virus, there is a danger of long-term, very bad effects. These are usually rare, but they are well-documented for decades and quite real. It varies from virus to virus. OTOH, bsking sent me a study which defined Long Covid by a standard of any of 32 symptoms still present after 28 days. That is real, but I think we have to call that a low bar. I don't think we close cities over that. I am wondering about that for myself, back-and-forth. I will not belabor my own medical history, but I am older (1953) and fat (less fat than I was) and qualify for metabolic syndrome. So even before covid, I could be expecting gradual deterioration offset by more exercise in retirement, perhaps punctuated by steps downward after any illness. So anything I observe about myself after covid carries a question mark.
As there seems to be a run on people who are claiming serious post-covid symptoms, more than one might expect, I am conscious of the question mark. Yet I do detect a difference this year from last year, even months after covid (Oct-Nov). What does it mean? My blood pressure went up but is medication-controlled - with an increase since covid. My blood sugars remain well-controlled, but I wonder about circulatory issues and oxygen-exchange issues. I was actually hoping to have my "mild COPD" diagnosis dropped after testing this summer, a decade after quitting smoking. I am no longer confident of this. Throughout the winter I thought I tired more easily and was more bothered by cold. There is more, but i shan't bore you. Small stuff, yet I think real.
I think this is exactly what a lot of people are going to be wondering after having had covid. Some will strive to make their symptoms appear worse (even to themselves), others will attempt to deny real symptoms, but most will be in between, wondering. My own prediction is that cardiovascular long-term effects will be more than expected, and neurological effects will be real but subtle and detectable mostly in aggregate. Pray that there are no chronic effects for children with mild cases.
We hate wondering and leap to conclusions, and unfortunately these will be influenced by our political and cultural beliefs, plus the (likely small) disease worry and disease denial* we had preloaded before 2020. It is unfortunately likely that most of us will never know whether our particular mild symptoms were from covid or from getting older and fatter. Sussing out the reality will involve looking at large numbers of people and seeing whether there is an increase over what would have been expected if covid had been contained in China to the index case, sent to a mountain with food airdropped in for him.
The best I can say WRT to actually understanding what is up versus being able to win arguments is to regard Long Covid as two different things. Eventually it will likely be considered a continuum, but we hate those. For now, divide it into two and try to keep your head above water.
It's A Sin To Tell A Lie
This song is associated with Fats Waller, though he did not write it, Billy Mayhew did. If you prefer his version, or Billie Holiday's, I won't call you wrong.
But I put this out because I had not realised Steve Goodman from Chicago (died young, featured here before) was this good a guitarist. Because Arlo played the "City of New Orleans" and it has been covered more by folk and country artists since I thought if Goodman was good, it would be in one of those styles, not jazz.
Not Fighting Fair?
One of my clues as to figuring out who is fighting fair in an argument is to check who is changing the subject. It is often a motte-and-bailey fallacy, sometimes applied intentionally and deceptively. Or it might be a hobby horse, as noted in my previous post - a topic that someone just keeps wanting to get back to. They see the world though a particular prism and don't really want to listen to what you have to say. Let me tell you about the aspect of this topic that I think everyone should pay more attention to.
I don't often credit the idea that perhaps more people are just fuzzier in their thinking than I expect. Maybe they are doing the best they can, but that just isn't very good.
As Colin Kaepernick came back into the sports spotlight briefly, he is a good example. Discussions about Kaep were not as bad as the Tim Tebow Effect, but close, and similar. To my mind there were only a limited number of logical discussions that might be had, which we avoided and had the illogical ones instead. Does he have the right to protest? On his own time, absolutely. On his employer's time, only with permission. (Is the team or the NFL his employer?) Does the current practice of other athletes using their employer's time to make public statements change this? Probably, though it shouldn't.
My temptation would always be to point out that what he was protesting, that the police are targeting young black men, is not accurate, and also rather convenient for a young black man who has many young black friends. But that is seldom relevant to the actual discussion of whether young Colin is being blackballed and treated unfairly. Others would want to stress how very, very insulting the protest was, which is irrelevant, or how very, very important the topic is, also irrelevant.
Some would try to declare the question moot because he's not good enough to be an NFL quarterback anyway. That gets tricky, because it is a change of subject from the pure rights issue, but it does have a legitimate practical aspect. The whole debate likely came up because he did occupy that middle ground. If he were much better, he would just get away with it. If he were much worse, no one would listen to him. My non-expert evaluation that he was good enough to at least be a credible backup, but only for a limited number of teams, and he hurt himself by being a jerk who teams might hesitate over anyway, puts him squarely in the "maybe" category. There were less-talented QBs who still had jobs. However, many of them brought less-obvious advantages that he did not, such as being similar in style to the guy they were backing up, or being very good analysts in the film room, or being encouragers and teachers of teammates.
Yet the discussion would not just stand still and be examined one point at a time. I have focused on the unfairness of the disputations, but perhaps that comes from expecting more logic out of people than they can manage. They may be reciting cliches because cliches are all they've got. Or maybe it's just no fun to slow down and think about things precisely.
What Can You Just Not Refrain From Saying?
Those who know me in live space will recognise that I look like a person who has a multitude of topics I cannot just leave alone. They are correct, but I would counter-assert that they do not know how many things I just let things go. I actually do try and pick my spots.
I notice sometimes with others that they cannot refrain from commenting whenever one of their hot-button issues goes by. I am not much concerned about this unless they are speaking in some public manner. In conversation, sometimes people are only half-listening, or just want to get rid of a topic, or just want to have something to say and have only that one idea. They didn't necessarily invite the topic, so it's best to give them a pass. Also, if the main topic of the public writer or speaker is near that issue, one would expect that the same topics always come up. On The Glenn Show, race is one of the main topics intentionally, as he and McWhorter believe there are aspects of the discussion and facts on the ground that consistently don't get heard. They bring up often how this affects both university education and the public discourse. Expected.
If you tune in to a podcast about modern women, you should expect sexism might get mentioned frequently. If you tune in to a Christian podcast you should expect Jesus and churches to come up most episodes. The objection comes when the topic is purportedly something else, but you have to go inserting sexism or Jesus into it. It's not that this could never occur naturally - it's just that it is unlikely that it always occurs naturally, week after week. So...two female professors discussing a movie for its linguistics content, and they have to, just have to mention the smallish incidents that go by that they find sexist. One, ironically, had an exact mirror incident about a male character that she did not notice was sexist in the other direction.
Ann Althouse linked to a humorous TikTok about black men groaning over a woman injecting slavery into a discussion.
We knew people years ago who could not get into any discussion about the Christian faith without bringing up the idea that praise is central and the churches don't teach about praise enough. Similarly, I can't picture any at the moment but I feel confident there were others who did the same with Gifts of the Spirit, as you couldn't get away from that topic.
There was news report about an assault, and one of the staff writers wondered if Will Smith slapping Chris Rock had something to do with people feeling they could assault each other. All I could think was "But isn't everything really about important celebrities? Can't we talk about them, who fascinate us, rather than some unattractive nobody in a hospital bed in a town I never heard of?" It would make a good comic bit for a reporter to ask the victim whether he thought Will Smith's actions had anything to do with it. There was a Credibility Gap* album years ago with a segment "Earwitness News," in which the newscasters were determined to uncover that marijuana had caused the MyLai Massacre. They forced the interpretation in.
Ironic to listen to this now and reflect that the regular news actually does something close to this, but flowing in the opposite political direction. Projection, way back when? You can be observant comic geniuses and still project.
For us, project number one is to get a handle on where we do this ourselves, reflexively getting on one of our hobby horses even when the topic does not call for it.
*This is the later version of The Credibility Gap, with names you recognise better.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
Gates of Heaven
My wife: We have to wear what we died in for eternity!?
St. Peter: That's right
Me: (from the back of our horse costume) What'd he say?
Oh Happy Day! We Did Him Slay!
Occasional poster JM Smith from The Orthosphere put this out for Good Friday. His, I think. It has a Chesterton/Lewis feel to it in sentiment, doesn't it?
Champagne flowed in Hell this day,
Corks flew, confetti sifted,
Satan triumphant pumped his fist
And was on shoulders lifted.
Oh happy day! Oh happy day!
The cheering fiends exulted,
Oh happy day! They him did slay!
Scorned, mocked, rebuked, insulted!
With the smoke of Hell this night
Cigar smoke was combined,
For no more wall nor fortress stood
Twixt Satan and mankind.
And on the earth sagacious men
Were likewise pleased and merry,
Rid now they were, and evermore,
Of that bothersome adversary.
The means employed were not,
Alas, full fit for public boasting,
But the great end of that pest dead
Called for applause and toasting.
So as in Hell champagne this day
In temple and palace flowed,
Hands were shaken, backs were slapped,
And once grave faces glowed.
Oh happy day! Oh happy day!
The cheering great exulted,
Oh happy day! We him did slay!
Scorned, mocked, rebuked, insulted!
Recumbent on a stony slab,
The corpse sagged, stiffened, cooled
Its wet blood blackened into scabs,
Spit caked where it had drooled.
The tomb was black, the tomb was still,
It was by all forsaken,
And from the few who felt no joy,
This tomb had all hope taken.
Ain't No Grave
We sang this to close Easter worship this morning. I like the lyrics better to the Johnny Cash version, but I like this arrangement better. It is originally from a Pentecostal preacher in that far SW corner of Virginia, Claude Ely, in 1934.
Saturday, April 16, 2022
Came in over the transom: There's a Stairway to Heaven but a Highway to Hell. Does this tell us something about the expected traffic?
He Descended Into Hell
I threw the pastor off during Maundy Thursday service by saying that loud enough to hear during the Creed, though our denomination as switched to "Hades."* In my ignorance I considered this mere wimping out, prettifying the reality. A day later I learned differently, as my second son's podcast at First Methodist Houston tackled the sent-in question "Why Don't We Say 'He Descended Into Hell' in the Apostle's Creed Anymore?" Teaser: Methodists have a different answer than everyone else for this. They have gone back and forth.
I was wrong in my understanding of why the Evangelical Covenant Church made the switch (though I still maintain not entirely wrong - there is translation justification, but we are still too deeply immersed in the Gospel of Nice in our originally Swedish denomination). As with many simple-looking questions of the faith, a wealth of fascinating material cascades upon you when you look at the creeds and what we have fought over. When things hit this level of complexity, however, I rejoice rather than despair.
We depend almost entirely on artistic and poetic statements about heaven and hell. If you have read CS Lewis on why metaphorical language is inevitable in nearly everything of importance that is not strictly sensory, you will see why this could not be any other way. Not only do other religions, and even secular philosophies that purport to be foundationally neutral rely on such things, but sciences do as well. Physics is used to the charge because it is most obviously subject to it and has provided some defenses against it, but even things that are all equations are not really...all equations. Biologists pretends otherwise but keep slipping into intentional and even teleological explanations of evolution, the web of life, ecology, the definitions of life...everything. I don't fault them for it. We all try to remove as much of that from our language about Big Ideas as much as we can, but...we can't. Or rather, we can, sometimes easily, but then don't sustain it for long.
So art, poetry, metaphor will always be there in discussions of heaven and hell. The actual scriptural references are few and point many directions in three-dimensional space. Most of those are from Hebrew, though some of those come from even earlier Semitic precursor languages, and there are uncomfortable hints that some of the Sheol, Abaddon, Gehenna, Hades language come from God-knows-where, long before writing. And for Christians it rapidly becomes worse. If we have descriptions of Jesus preaching to the spirits in bondage, or of making some sort of descent, where would we have heard those? Hmm, they would have to come from the mouth of Jesus himself, our only witness to those events. (See also our account of the temptations in the wilderness. Unless you have one of those words-as-magic concepts of God dictating in a particular language to the authors of scripture, so that they were strictly copyists with no understanding of what they were setting on the page, we are left with "that's what Jesus told us. In a different language.")
So he would have described these events in Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew. His followers likely discussed them in the same language. But when they came to write them down, well gee, no one wrote things in Aramaic much, that was just a local language. Important stuff went into Greek. Or one of the Greeks that was around. By the time the creeds were being debated, Latin had come in as more important, at least in Rome. So we're talking about what the land of the dead/condemned/separated is like in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. We want it to be simple. We want it to be "Textus Receptus is in Greek, so we're calling that the real word of god and digging into that obsessively. Yes, yes, we are deeply influenced by Dante and Milton, but we're pretending we aren't and this is the declared KJV reality. Deal with it."
As I said, I rejoice whenever I see these things. God is telling us that we can only come at this from many angles independently, because he wants us to puzzle over it and wrestle with it, not summarise it in a few sentences and go back to our regularly scheduled programming. It's why we wrestle with angels, why there is no "private interpretation," why Jews require a minyan, it's why we need two or three gathered, it's why we have a tribe at all rather than a one-page document dropped off at the Temple by Jesus who then says "Okay, I'm going off to die now as a sacrifice. Follow the rules. See you in heaven."
*I go 50/50 on whether I say Catholic or Christian Church a few seconds later. I don't think about it, I just roll into one or the other. The Covenant Church says "Christian," but a lot of the music I used to memorise it by used "Catholic."
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Friday, April 15, 2022
From a Professor in Moscow
Russia is Completely Depoliticized. Thanks to Ann Althouse for the heads up
The dominant attitude is to preserve your everyday life. A Russian citizen might say, “What am I supposed to do?” It’s impossible to imagine what would be the response to that. And of course, the government gives them the story line and the talking points to reject it, and they’re willing to believe it, not because they believe the propaganda — Russians don’t believe anything and anyone — but because it reconciles them with the reality that helps you protect your everyday life. I haven’t seen anyone so far saying, “I was kind of supporting this war, but now there’s just too much.”
Looking Down on the Cross
Caution: It is not for me to command what you should contemplate, especially without warning. Those who have children should be especially prepared to bail until another time, or even never.
I always imagine looking up at the cross. Up to a savior, to something greater than me brought low, yet still magnificent, offering forgiveness despite his pain, fighting through to think of those he loved. We put crosses up high in church, and on top of churches. Cathedrals were designed to dominate the landscape, to be above other buildings and features, with a cross atop them. When people want to advertise their Jesus they put him up overlooking the landscape, even way, way, up as in Rio de Janeiro. Lift High the Cross.
Tonight at Good Friday service, the Seven Last Words of Christ, I looked down on the cross, not for the first time, but I think for the first time with understanding. Though I have heard the many Scripture verses about the Father giving his Son, with emphasis on how great the sacrifice; though I know the Genesis tie-in of Abraham offering his only son Isaac and the foreshadowing that "God himself will provide the lamb;" though I saw when still young the Salvador Dali painting of Christ from above, I had not made it real.
Tonight, prompted by something in one of the songs we sang, I looked down and saw my own first son, bleeding and still alive, crucified. He was in real space sitting right behind me and I even glanced back in horror to make sure he was okay. But before my eyes even rested on him I saw his four brothers as well, all from above, all bleeding in a row, all still alive but crucified and I just started weeping. I never knew, I never knew.
I could not hold focus on any of them, my mind refused to go there. I quickly cleaned it up by 90% to even stay in that space. I felt pity for the younger three, who understand much less about Christ and would be hanging there without understanding, simply puzzled and tormented. Then I realised the the older two would not fare any better, nor could any of us. Who could? Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, which the Satan character repeats with great glee in Perelandra.
Good Friday has always been solemn, and even sad. Now I am afraid of it and don't ever want to see it again. That may be the proper response and spiritually uplifting, but I don't want it.
While We Were Sleeping
Again, language change happening under our noses. Around 1950, most people would have said that the past tense of dive is dived. Now dove is more common. This is perhaps under the influence of so much time in autos and drive/drove, ride/rode. Language change often moves in the direction of assembling similar-sounding words under similar rules.* We used to prefer to use sneaked at the past tense of sneak, but now mostly use snuck. Even more recently, the use of sank for the past tense of sink is giving way to sunk, even from official news sources supposedly relying on one or other of the manuals of style.
There are regional variations in how quickly these are happening, but they seem to be happening throughout America. I don't know about Canada and Australia. Also, these forms existed before 1950, but were not dominant.
I think of dived as something old-fashioned and believe I have always preferred dove. But snuck sounds slangy to me and I would still use the other form. I use sunk only with the "helper" verbs of "was sunk," "had sunk," etc - that is, as a past participle. At least, I think that's what I do. Sometimes when things are undergoing change we find that we have begun intermittently switched over without noticing. I sink, I sank, I have sunk is what I believe I invariably say.
Once a form is accepted as preferred, it is long before it is called incorrect. It will be marked archaic instead. The forms that get called incorrect are the rural, the provincial or regional, and the new. Old forms just slowly slip away without our fully noticing, like a celebrity who dies at 96 and we say "Oh, I thought he had died years ago."
*Could got an l in its spelling for no reason except that it looks and sounds like should and would. No older form or root for it had the l.
Fixing Things, Ruining Things
I have a friend who grew up here, has lived in a warmer climate the last few years, and came back. She grew up in the city, but later lived in a rural suburb while in NH. Returning to the city after lo these many years she is distressed by the homeless, and more acutely aware of the cold they experience. She goes into town and talks with them at various locales. She is tender-hearted - a good Biblical virtue, that - and the predictable things she has heard and read over the years occur to her. No one grows up wanting to be a homeless person/addict. We are a rich country, this should not be happening. Everyone's story is different.
These things are true.
She noticed that the old intercity bus station, owned by the city, was closed over the winter. Why not open it up for people who have no shelter? It's below zero some nights. I will note that what she seemed upset about to me is something that Other People should be doing. I don't know what she has done herself, and that may be a great deal. Yet I have learned that my first question should be "Is there something I can personally do here?" And my experience is that people tend to ask mostly one question or the other. I think that speaks to deep philosophical differences. (See paragraph 7) She called a politically-connected friend who was once the Democratic candidate for governor in NH, who put her onto what local political figures might make this happen for her.
Well, it might work, and a few people might get out of the cold next year. I am familiar with touching stories that are also real, of poor people standing by each other and forming small communities and helping each other out. In fact, that is what most people desperately in need of shelter are like, because they are mostly like us. It is unfortunate that we adopt the shortcut that because 20% of the poor are violent and abusive to regard them each as 20% violent and abusive. This is not so, and we have to keep pushing ourselves to relearn it. (And Christians have some interest in the 20% who are deeply pathological as well.)
However, I also know of some worse stories, because the desperate include a disproportionate percentage of people who have alienated others for good reason, or made decisions bad for others repeatedly. One very real possibility is that a few violent people will establish dominance over the new area and decent people will have one more place they can't go. How can this be prevented? Someone must supervise and enforce at some level, whether at entry or overnight or round-the-clock. Where will we find them? Should someone exercise supervision over them? Paid or unpaid?
To be frighteningly blunt, there are reasons why there are women-only shelters and all of the others make some effort to segregate children away from the general population. I think spontaneous community can be a beautiful thing, but it's only automatic at the Heartwarming Stories Company.
It is difficult to make things and maintain them, but easy to destroy them. It is absolutely true that collective action working even somewhat smoothly can accomplish much more in terms of prosperity, justice, and safety net. Jesus did found a new church, a tribe, not an unassociated collection of individuals who wave to each other and blow kisses. Yet if you start by thinking about what We can do, there is an immediate temptation to dip down to what Those Others can do, and very soon you are in a political or journalistic setting where making other people do things is all you know.
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Lingthusiasm Quote (and pronoun discussion)
"If you assert that you can fully communicate ideas in emoji, communicate that idea to me using only emoji." Gretchen McCulloh, "Lingthusiam" podcast.
I think I'm going to be quoting this woman a lot.
I had a little more objection to the pronoun discussion about the recent move to allow individuals to elect to have they as a singular pronoun for themselves. Because I have long been irritated that we (supposedly) cannot use they to refer to an individual in such constructions as "All the students can come back and pick up their coats after school," I like the idea of lifting that ridiculous convention. English has used "they, their" in such a sense since the time of Chaucer. It is the forbidding of that that is recent. So if we adopt "they" in the gender-neutral sense for an individual, then I get my wish about the everyday usage of "they" that I have had to work around for years in certain situations if I know someone is going to be sticky about it. 18th and 19th C grammarians - a category that should always arouse your suspicions whenever you read it - thought things weren't smooth enough, consistent enough, and put down various rules, as usual. And as usual, most of those faded away but a few stuck. Such systemetisers often have an OCD, Asperger-y quality about them, trying to make sure they can construct rules that have no leaks and take in every choice. You may reflect on the tax code or highschoolers of my era defining virginity for how well that works.
However, keep that in mind. I'll come back to it.
One James Anderson went completely amok in 1792 , offering up different sets of gendered pronouns for 13 different genders, including male animals alone, female animals alone, inanimate objects alone, animals known to be castrated and meant to be distinguished as such, male and females known to be such but not meant to be separated - what he called the "matrimonial gender"... you can tell he was not worrying about such things as what trans people preferred, but about making obsessive distinctions in grammar.
Because "they" as an individual pronoun will always sound like a plural to me, I do find it mildly irritating. I am also irritated by mandated language change in general. I would rather have it be that if something catches on on its own, that's fine. I imagine the enforced "Ms" just sounds normal to most younger people now, but it still sounds silly and artificial to me. Doesn't matter. My problem. I do dislike bad reasoning, however, and one of the arguments from the 2016 podcast grated on me. The thought was that those who were requesting the pronoun had gone through a great deal of thought and conflict about it, while for us as individuals it's a minor change. The imbalance of those two were an argument. Having listened to a mother of a fifteen-year old who wanted to be seen as one type of nonbinary "sometimes" and another type "sometimes," all this springing up in the last four months and according to mom and sister, tracking her menstrual cycle exactly, I contest that strongly. Admittedly, that is the worst example I encountered, but there are others.
I later relented and thought that what the linguist said probably did look pretty true in 2016, and only lately have we had this run on people impulsively wanting everyone else to adjust to them - and then sometimes changing what they want a few months later. Also, we are discovering the same sort of obsessiveness we saw in the 19th C grammarians among the multiplying categories of nonbinaries.I dislike them both for the same reason. I don't see the value-added.
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Quotes by Clark Kerr, Chancellor of UC-Berkeley from the 50s-00s
“The chancellor’s job is to provide parking for the
faculty, and athletics for the alumni, and sex for the students.” To be fair, he seems to have been talking about what the job seems to become if one is not careful, not what he thought it should be.
One of the most distressing tasks of a university president is to pretend that the protest and outrage of each new generation of undergraduates is really fresh and meaningful. In fact, it is one of the most predictable controversies that we know. The participants go through a ritual of hackneyed complaints, almost as ancient as academe, while believing that what is said is radical and new.
Thanks to commenter Ann+K over at the orthosphere for putting me on to him.
Monday, April 11, 2022
Glenn Loury has a new episode talking with comedians at a comedy club about what can and cannot be said in this society, and if comedy offers an opportunity that is not available to others. It is a promising idea, but I gave up on it quickly. It is a matter of audience. Who goes to comedy clubs? Disproportionately young, hip, single, or at least without children. As I am still in a mode of watching comedians, that is what I see when the audience is shown. Also drunk and out for a good-time evening. That is going to skew strongly liberal. Dry Bar is a bit older.
I could tell immediately as Glenn started that the topics he was bringing up were jarring to those people. A few of the comedians seemed ready to tackle some of them and whether comedy would be possible, but the discomfort in the air was palpable. They were quick to say that few or no topics were off-limits in comedy, but when they leaped in - one especially - it was clear that they couldn't quite imagine how jokes could be told about these things. She thought that the comedian only learned what was over the line by working the audience. Yet look at who is going to be her audience. It's not a representative sample of the society. Not that we should protest that or deplore it in anyway, it's just what people prefer to do with their time and it's their choice. Comedians who could find humor in those topics aren't going to be in front of that audience. Generally.
So it remains an open question whether some other style of humor could be used to broach these topics - satire sites seem to manage it at least somewhat, though social media censors the Babylon Bee pretty regularly. There are public speakers, Christian speakers who trade in humor quite a bit. Those audiences are older, and they are often coming to get something else as well, beyond mere yuks. They are getting motivation, or a teaching, or are part of a conference. But I think we can be clear that standard club standup comedy is not going to be that vehicle, because their is no audience for the comic to polish her routine in front of, so she can't make a living at it. It is therefore self-reinforcing, in that people will have in mind what type of experience they are going to be spending their money on, and will stay away from things they don't think they will find enjoyable.
If someone listened longer and encourages me to go back and give it another try I will consider it.
Just Notes - Not especially organised
From the last 90 minutes of Razib's interview with Samo I decided not to work that hard, just report items they talked about, sometimes interjecting my own summary or thoughts.
Much was made of actions by countries that are overdetermined, because they have more than one reason for them. These are more common in command economies like China and Russia, but not unknown in more free-market states, which also attempt to use policy to set general directions, as in increasing tariffs, directing research, and protecting industries. A lot of attention is given these days to whether China will invade Taiwan, but there are levels to this. Actually accomplishing the invasion of a well-defended island nation is equivalent to a moon landing in complexity. Developing a military port structure for that cannot be done invisibly, so what must be done is developing commercial ports that can be shared, disguised, repurposed, etc. And there is an obvious side benefit economically to controlling many great ports. Expand this out to airfields, shipbuilding and aircraft development, energy flexibility, access to key resources and a hundred other secular uses. The line from the space program to personal computers is clear in America, for example. The follow-on effects can be enormous.
Therefore, if the Chinese credibly develop this capacity - they do not have it now - it has all sorts of uses. They can use it as a threat without activating it. It could be readily expanded to the possible invasion of other nearby islands, such as the Philippines or Indonesia. Japan and Australia would be much, much harder, but would be on the same line. We fear powerful nations acting irrationally - it does happen - and initiating military actions that are unlikely to succeed but could do enormous damage. Burja looks also at military actions which are not irrational, because they have been long prepared for. Just having them in your back pocket without using them is influential. In that light, a failed invasion of Taiwan would only strengthen the alliance against China in the region: India, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam. But a successful invasion would weaken any such alliance, as nations would quietly make accommodation for events that look inevitable.
Speaking of South Korea, the observation was suggested that reunification with the North, desired by the South Korean left which is a significant minority, is not likely to take the form of millions of starving refugees pouring across the border, under gov't control or not, but more along the lines of the poor Eastern European countries in the EU moving to the richer nations for work. There are lots of Bulgarians in Germany, Romanians in Italy, Poles in Ireland. As SK has a population replacement rate of 0.9 and NK has 1.9, arrangements might be made in which many young people moved south to work cheap, and the SK gov't could arrange some sort of money transfer to the north as a sort of stabilisation fund. The NK regime has to make some concessions, but gets greater security of not having so much trade isolation. They might also demand that the US troops be sent home, and they would have a good point. SK might dislike the NK political influence on its affairs, but the enormously reduced threat of insane tyrants invading is a nice tradeoff.
With that idea of national actions having multiple reasons underlying them, let me put together the Lego pieces he thinks are important for Russia. England, Germany, and Russia, to name a few, are not particularly good candidates for a solar world. Russia does have some skill with nuclear power, and developing barges that carry nuclear power plants that can be towed to whatever city you like is something that can be made in quantity once you figure it out. Cooling and safety are easier. You can keep them, sell them, or rent them. Natural gas is not a world-wide commodity yet, though advances in liquefication might make it so. But at the moment, pipelines are the answer. Most of Russia's natural gas is in its arctic region. Therefore global warming has some advantages for Russia as it opens ports up more days of the year. They are in fact already creating pipelines between cities in the arctic. They are also developing nuclear-powered icebreakers. Taken together, more ports, more ability to move NG. Even in that region, more ports is more trade. If warming slows, they still win with icebreakers and pipelines, just not as dramatically.
Natural gas, which is an on demand source in contrast to coal which has to be run 24/7, and is at least somewhat cleaner, is the natural complement to solar power at present, even more than batteries. Russia does not love solar for itself - how could it? - but applauds German and other European reliance on it. If the US gets there first in liquefying natural gas it won't matter for long, as it will then be figured out by others soon enough.
Russia gets invaded by someone in the West about once a century. That seems like a lot to them, so they try to expand to their natural geographic boundaries in order to get "strategic depth." They have never cared in the least about the countries they run over and control in order to get this strategic depth. On the other hand, the invaders haven't cared much about Poland, Ukraine, or Czechia either. They just don't try to control them in between. To Russians, everyone not under their control is therefore out of control.
Putin is leading Russia to hedge its bets by selling high-grade weapons systems to India, even knowing that they will reverse engineer them and become competitors, as China did to Russia before. This is because while it is now being forced to be somewhat dependent on China, having a backup plan of a strong India, likely part of an anti-China alliance in the hemisphere, is in its long-term interest. They risk angering the Chinese with the move but consider it worth it.
Whether you are bearish about China because of the demographics of a rapidly-aging population should depend on whether you are bearish about the planet as a whole for this reason, as they are simply the most vulnerable out of many. Nearly everyone except sub-Saharan Africa, actually. If you think that the West will figure this out after some pain and adjust its economies with technology that overrides this chronic lack of young replacement workers, then it is likely that China will eventually get there too, just with more pain. However, if you think the graying of the planet is only partly solvable in the near term and we are all headed for a world of hurt, then it is reasonable to think that it could be catastrophic for China.
When China starts pushing for stricter international intellectual property enforcement, it will not be because we have persuaded them to behave and stop stealing stuff, but because they perceive themselves as now winning in the innovation race and have more to gain than to lose. (Libertarians will note that this is similar to what licensing and much regulation is, of people trying to pull up the ladder behind them once they have gotten ahead a little.) That day may not be far off, as many improvements by the Chinese now are not just stealing ideas and cutting costs with cheap labor, but actual steps forward. Note their improvements in battery technology, for example. It is the same as what Japan did in the postwar period, but China has 10x the number of people. Samo thinks that Chinese innovation has historically not been as good as Western, particularly North American, and their ascendance is likely going to be temporary. But that "temporary" might be 2030-2050 leading the world in innovation, a result of their full-court press to steer all their young talent into fields good for the economy or for international prestige.
Razib and Samo discussed bureaucratic decay, and Burja declared it so automatic and predictable that it is nearly measurable and should be factored into every evaluation of an institution, and industry, or even a country. For all its new-worldness, America is the oldest democracy, and many American departments, such as its military, State department, and security agencies, have not changed in structure much since WWII. A people's tendency for innovation and independence can only take you so far, and in this case those have obscured and disguised our institutions flaws. they possess a great deal of knowledge - often far more than we give them credit for - but their assumptions cause them to misdirect the application. Khan thinks that it also feeds elite corruption, and notes that American military interventions have been less and less effective, even with technical superiority, as the decades have gone on. We are no longer nimble. Burja gave the example of Russia needing naval vessels to intervene in Syria and simply buying commercial ones and repurposing them, which was extremely quick and cost-effective. That the ships were not perfect for the job was irrelevant. He noted that it would be impossible for the Pentagon to do this. It would take years, even decades to get a new type of Mediterranean transport ship up, and by then it would be obsolete. We are no longer nimble.
Because of this they agreed that American military interventions are likely to get less and less effective, regardless of whether they are a good idea or not. We have relied on technical expertise to override our failing systems, much as colleges have gotten less good at transmitting knowledge even as knowledge has increased because perverse financial incentives have siphoned off resources and energy. Those flaws have not only become institutionalised, but are now even applauded and regarded as the point of the university. He sees the military as well on the road to that already. Better technology and better training will not cover that forever.