Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Christmas Into Solstice

Digging down further on David Coffin's work I found that he has been a major performer in the Christmas Revels in Boston for many years. I had that written on our Christmas list this year as something we might want to do, bringing the two nearby granddaughters - and maybe their parents if they're good.

But it is changed to the Midwinter Solstice this year. I don't mind a lot of the paganism in Christian holidays, because we are not disembodied abstract beings and our celebrations have to be grounded in the physical, so there is no real escape: if you shoo away the pagan elements you will have to smuggle in some other metaphors instead, and you won't recognise what you have done.  The Revels have had a fair bit of paganism in them for years. A bit irritating when it is showy in its witchery rather than accurately historical, but not the worst thing out there.

But the name change tells me that this was not enough for them, and those who requested to merely share the stage now want to control it. They have the whip hand now. Ah, Cambridge. Christian elements will linger for a long time, I am sure, because nostalgia will not be cheated, as I noted more than fifteen years ago - not for a few generations, anyway. Look at the costumes, for pity's sake.  These were worn at no solstice celebrations ever until our own age, yet those they cannot abandon.

I am not going to the Revels after all.

Pretty Song

I have been hearing it as the lead in for House of Strauss and wondering what it is.  I still don't know what it is, other than the name "Colo Colo." Maybe the lyrics are something that would irritate me, but it's still a pretty song.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Haul Away, Joe


This is a very Portsmouth event to have happen, and it's a very Portsmouth-looking crowd. Unsurprisingly, they have excellent seafood restaurants there, and even the hole-in-the-wall places are good. I think this is my son Ben's first choice of where to live if he ever moves back to NH. 

David Coffin has an impressive set of pipes, doesn't he?

Grim alerted me to his YouTube channel and he has a nice selection of traditional hymns sung solo with organ accompaniment

Whisky Galore

My dad would often reference this film, which he saw as "Tight Little Island" before it was officially released, as he was coming back from Hokkaido after being in the army of occupation there. (Trained as a paratrooper, he was the postmaster the three years he was there.) He laughed that it ruined his idea of a Scottish accent for years afterwards, and as he told many jokes and was in community theater, that could have been a problem.  However, people knew even less about the various British accents then than they do now, and I don't think anyone ever noticed.

It is based on a true story of a small island banding together to keep the whisky that had fallen into their laps during wartime rationing. The book was apparently more serious and literary, and the author was displeased.

British Taxes

I have not linked anything by Theodore Dalrymple for a long time, which is a shame, as he is a clear thinker who puts things well. Tinkering with Taxes Won't Save Britain. From City Journal.

The sad fact is that one is always starting economically from where one is rather than from where one ought to have been, or where one would have been had past policy been better.

An excellent and often overlooked point. Conservatives often go on at length about "If you had only listened to me the first time..."


Because so many of the podcasts, websites, and substacks I pay attention to are by academics or ex-academics, I get a lot of information about what is happening in colleges and the ways in which some views are excluded or shouted down. I could read new examples every day, and it does seem that the more prestigious institutions are among the worst. I have some commenters here who are or were in the academy as well.

It is all presented with the worry that free thought itself may be at stake, because colleges have been the places set aside for odd theories, contrary opinions, and multiple points of view.  If the academy falls, what will replace it for inquiry?

Yet I believe it largely fell decades ago, and what is going on now are the mopping-up exercises, rooting out the last opponents for removal. There was a set of narratives about how America and history and government worked, and a generation rose up determined to fight against them.  Yet by the 60s they were already not unanimous.  It is a standard marxist formulation to frame everything as for us or against us, and it is an effective manipulative tool.  Well surely you don't want to go back to the days when people believed that everything America or Western Civilisation was good, do you?  Well then, you have to go along with our teaching the opposite, unhindered.  I'm trying to remember when that was, exactly, that colleges taught that America was always right.

I find I no longer read much about the latest horrors at San Jose State or Bryn Mawr.  I get why Glenn Loury and John McWhorter care, or Razib Khan or Steve Hsu.  And for those who found their college experience valuable (I did mostly because it was quite cheap, and I met some good people there), I see why they are distressed that good things are going away. Yet I have largely just written college off.  If you are going into engineering or nursing they will throw some extra ridiculous distractions at you, but you are at least learning something useful. For many other topics, the schools are doing more damage than good, largely because of cost and indoctrination, and I don't think it gets better until the system is abandoned. The sciences should save themselves by going to the Polytechnical School model that has lost some favor.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Post 8700: Supercooled Water Droplets and Climate Change

Steve Hsu, who I trust*, interviewed Tim Palmer of Oxford and the Royal Society, who I know nothing about, about how reliable climate models are. Palmer seems very reasonable. His short answer is that WRT the basics they are very good, as it is just 19th C physics, but the deeper structures still have too much variance. However, as the models improve they are slowly pointing toward worse outcomes rather than better.

They started by discussing how to get top physicists into fields of practical application, as most want to study the (sexier) theoretical issues and take their PhD's and post docs there.  Palmer notices a trend in that group in their late twenties of deciding later to want to move to physics of practical import, but they have difficulty transitioning to what are essentially new fields.

He asserted quite blandly the high level of certainty that some recent warming (about 1 degree Celsius) has happened and high certainty it is caused largely by greenhouse gases and human activity. Because there is a known heightened warming effect from increased water vapor, that is an intensifier and it isn't going away. Such things are frequently asserted by journalists and politicians, and even from scientists who have a high drive to activism, but my experience has been that the other scientists are more cautious and measured. Yet as Palmer went on to say that it is the subsequent questions that are more complicated and difficult, and this is sometimes obscured, it seemed to me that this was a clearer distinction than what I have been making.

One particular difficulty is that "cloud cover" is a term thrown around with imprecision, and two aspects of it in particular have very different effects. Low lying clouds reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere and off the planet, so an increase in water vapor at that level is mitigating effect on warming.  But increased cloud cover higher in the atmosphere is an intensifier of warming. Modeling of this has been difficult and shows high variance. Nearly all models show a worrisome increase in upper level cloud cover.  Palmer thinks the question is so large and so important that we should be spending much more money on studying it. 

There is uncertainty whether the moisture at high levels is ice or supercooled water droplets.  The later would be worse in terms of intensifying warming. Recent observations and calculations are indicating that there is more supercooled water and less ice, and models are being adjusted accordingly. The projections from this change point to strong possibilities of much higher warming and greater variance in extreme weather.

Interestingly, Palmer focuses on the secondary effects of warming. It may be that there will be more hurricanes and droughts and a greater rise in sea levels, but most of these are manageable (though very expensive) in developed areas. People shrug that things being a little warmer in Scotland might not be a bad thing, but Palmer notes that decreased sunlight will mean more depression and alcoholism, and worse cardiovascular outcomes. However, what really worries him are the places that are becoming unliveable, such as parts of Iraq and into Central Asia, and especially much of central Africa. This latter is about the only place where population is still growing, and when people find a place unlivable, they historically just move.  In large numbers. And they are impossible to stop. He notes this is already happening and doesn't believe Europe has quite come to grips with this.


However, a different point of view comes from Hsu discussing Steve Koonin's book Unsttled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters,  and the WSJ article about him.  Koonin was, of all things, chief scientist for Obama's Energy Department. Perhaps it is not that different a POV after all, as he believes that the climate science we are doing is pretty good, but the reporting and posturing about it are dangerous.  I appreciated the use of the word "overegged," which one hardly sees anymore. Koonin also believes that because even a slight chance of catastrophe is too much, we need to assess this risk mfar better than we have been.

*I very much trust in science. Professor of Theoretical Physics and Computational Mathematics at Michigan State. He was VP of for research there but stepped down because of political controversies around human genetics. Basically, he asserted that the data says what it says and would not back down. He was the one who got me into a study where they did a full genome on me at a time when those things cost about 10K.  It has never been useful to me, however, as I don't have the tools to read it. It just sits on my computer now.  I don't know his other politics.



It's a word used to signal that you have been to graduate school, or want to, especially in the social sciences. Suggestions that it is related to showing respect for people from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Western Hemisphere have been discarded for lack of evidence.

Update:  I can't tell if latine means "I hang around highly-educated humanities/social science types and also want to signal my inclusion of the sexually non-conforming," or "Humm, latinx doesn't seem to be working, let's try something else."

Sunday, September 25, 2022

World Record Again

Eliud Kipchoge has broken the world record in the marathon, coming in at just over 2 hours and 1 min. He thinks breaking 2 hours is possible. If it seems fascinating in the world of numbers that the record for an idiosyncratic distance could converge on an integer in an event measured in units 1/3600 as small, it is not really that odd.*  It does have an almost poetic sound to it, however, to run a marathon in two hours. It was about 2:15 when I started following track, by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia - who ran it at the Rome Olympics. It wasn't until the 1964 Olympics that I started to become aware.  Bikila did it barefoot.  Take that.

Kipchoge is older (37, just looked it up) but thinks he can do better still. It's hard to count him out at this point. 

*There are a lot of events, so the record for one converging on an integer, when they are always improving, isn't that strange. Running the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds had already been accomplished before 1900 and now it is converging on 9 seconds.  The race is seldom run, however. The 100 meter is what is run now, and that converged on 10 seconds in the 1960s. The 4-minute mile was first run in the 1950s and the record is well below that now. High jumping 8 feet - a foot is an unusual measure; pole-vaulting 20 feet, ditto. Simple numbers show up all the time.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Explaining What Shouldn't Need Explaining

James pokes some holes in the assertion that "Polls show that one-in-five Americans believe the core tenets of Qanon."

Over at Althouse the fourth comment under the post about Feminist Science also points out the obvious.  Yes, it is possible that bringing in people who look different or come from different groups might provide new ideas or perspectives.  Yet that is in no way guaranteed. If a man enters a women's Bible study there is a chance, on certain subtopics, that he will be able to offer an important perspective.  But most of the time they are going to find every acorn on their own. Sometimes a particular man may be able to offer insight after insight and be useful.  But another woman would be as likely to be that good an addition. We might say the same about Koreans, or cowboys, or cooks. Sometimes their perspective as a member of those categories will add something to the group knowledge. Usually it will be neutral - and making neutral things a priority as if they are central wastes energy.  Just adding in colors or groups doesn't necessarily improve the broth, and might consistently worsen it.

Will Trump Be Indicted?

Andrew McCarthy thinks it is an open question, and one that will not be decided on the basis of whether he is guilty or not.

Here is what most jeopardizes the former president at the moment: When we are asked to ponder the question of whether Trump is likely to be indicted, the answer no longer calls for an assessment of the evidence. The Justice Department undoubtedly figures it has sufficient evidence to indict and convict. At this point, it is a question of prosecutorial discretion — not can the Justice Department prove the case, but rather is there more downside than upside to filing criminal charges? 

....On the other side of the discretion ledger, Trump has two things going for him: Hillary Clinton and 2024. 

Clinton could similarly have been charged with mishandling national-defense information, destroying government records, and obstruction in 2016. The FBI conceded that her behavior had been recklessly irresponsible. Yet, the Obama–Biden Justice Department let her off the hook. Even Republicans who have no use for Trump are irate over the double standard: Trump may bring it on himself, but he is hounded while Clinton is insulated; the Capitol rioters may be numbskulls, but the earth is scorched to nail every last one, even those who did nothing more than parade through the rotunda, while the Biden Justice Department coddles radical left-wing lawyers who firebombed a police car and a left-wing rioter who lethally torched a building.

Remember that while this may generally be a small potatoes item blown out of proportion of taking records to his personal residence, it is not under discussion who owns them.  The American people own those documents and presidents do not have the right to pretend otherwise.

Jewish Holidays

The list is in response to the joke among Jews that "All our holidays are the same: They tried to kill us.  But we're still alive.  Let's eat!" Apparently this is not quite true. I guess that's only Chanukah, Purim, and Pesach (Passover).

This ties into so many things in the Wyman household. We were that sort of gentile that celebrated Passover, and even had our own Haggadahs and afikomen bag.

Tables Turned

 It's Called Soccer Now

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Just To Break Up The Monotony


Punitive Public Criticism

I was going to call this "Woke Criticism," but there are conservative versions as well.  I think there are fewer and they are less powerful and prominent, but they are there. There is a point about this criticism that I have known for years, yet somehow keep forgetting.

The intensity of the attacks are not a measure of out outraged they are or how wrong they think you are. They go after those they think they can hurt.  They go after people who have bosses and can't afford to lose that job, or have vulnerable, fragile, fickle audiences and can't afford to lose them.  Howard Stern said far more offensive and outrageous things years ago and continues to say them. It blew up one day, he gave a minor apology that "it was a different time then" and that he was sorry, and it was over in 24 hours. Just because he is bulletproof and everyone knows it. I recently learned that the criticism of Rush Limbaugh lessened, even though he was just as hated and did not moderate his content. Critics knew they couldn't really hurt him, so they went after others.

They only go after you if they think they can hurt you. It is similar to street behavior, or any place where young males compete. It is noted how extra dangerous it is for child molesters in prison, and the explanation is that they are especially hated, with fanciful theories about why that would be.  It's much simpler than that.  It's because child molesters are less violent and less good fighters, and the prisoners know the guards won't defend them.  They aren't hated more.  They are perceived as more vulnerable, and so can be hated and punished with impunity.

This is also true for the sociopathic sorts who are perceived as the most vile racists because they say the worst things. They aren't especially racist, as they will party with black people and team up with sociopathic black people to go after other targets. They say those things because they think they can hurt you and/or they can get away with it.  They say vile things to women or other ethnic groups. If they think those won't work they will go after personal characteristics. Whatever will hurt you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


Scripture Parable #5 — Luke 7:41-43

The Moneylender (The parable is only 3 verses; the 10 verses before and after put it in context.) 

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little, loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

Parable #6 — Luke 8:16-18 — The Lamp on a Stand 

“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.

The Real Home Run Record

I am not following baseball this year, but when I seek other sports news, the Aaron Judge story is prominent. It seems there is a lot of attention being paid for someone who is not approaching the actual single-season MLB record. However, whenever a player has hit a lot of home runs, I quietly look at how he is doing against what I consider the real record(s). The attention paid to Judge suggests to me that a lot of folks feel the same way, but don't say it out loud.  Not even sports writers. So while the words being used are about the "American League" record and "right-handed" record, there is extra attention being paid because...this is the unasterisked record. The without-apology-or-explanation record.

Babe Ruth hit 60 HR in the old-style 154-game season. Roger Maris beat that with 61, but that was in the slightly longer 162-game season, and there has been controversy and acrimony about that since the 1960s. Judge sits at 60 HR in 147 games, so if he hits one more in the next seven games he passes Ruth - without asterisk. If he hits one beyond that he passes Maris. So that would be one controversy and one asterisk retired. 

The other asterisks are around PED's and Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. Aaron is extremely unlikely to catch Bonds at 73. So that argument remains. But for some who remain in the camp of refusing to acknowledge records for enhanced players, Judge will certainly become the real record-holder in our their eyes. 

I can accept the argument that the game changes and one cannot really compare eras. Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400 said that no one was going to hit .400 again* "because of that damn slider," and allowed that he probably wouldn't have either had the pitch been common in his day. Ed Walsh won 40 games for the White Sox in 1908, which is technically considered the modern era, but no one pays the least attention to that. I am fine with that approach of simply not paying much attention to records at all because all the data carries a certain amount of poison.

*Wade Boggs hit .401 over 162 games, but it straddled two seasons and such things are traditionally regarded only as curiosities and not actual records.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


Two podcasts back-to-back, Tyler Cowan interviewing Joseph Henrich, which included a discussion of polygamy worldwide.   (It came up in the Q&A as well, from a woman who writes about "sex and politics" and was fishing for an endorsement of polyandry from Henrich.) 85% of the world's cultures practice at least some polygamy.  Note that most of those cultures are small, so that this doesn't mean that 85% of the world's population practices polygamy.  Nor does everyone in those cultures practice it, as by definition it means some men are excluded. Next podcast was suddenly about Tinder and the statistic that 6% of the men dominate the dating, over half essentially using it as an efficient shopping tool for women who will sleep with them. I thought: Those are the same subject.   

So I wonder...Is Tinder a reassertion of the prehistorically and even historically much more common norm of polygamy?  Is it just a return to normal, but we don't like it?  By the way, I hate those guys on some visceral creepiness level. I hope I would have the strength of character to feel the same if I were one. Monogamy greatly increased wider societal cooperation and reduced violence, which allowed a wider network of shared ideas. Too many unmated males wandering around a society creates a situation in which their only mating strategies are high risk and violent. Low trust, low display of success because it provokes envy. But wider sharing of ideas creates a virtuous cycle allowing a group to outcompete other groups. Voila! Western Civ.  (The influence of feudalism and forbidding cousin marriage are related phenomenon.) 

Yet how much changes when mating is now less likely to produce genetically coded partial replicas - we call them "children" - because of birth control and abortion? The risks and rewards are now different for polyamory. And does it matter that marriage is no longer an automatic? The term polygamy has a different meaning now, and how much of what we see about polygamous societies in Papua, New Guinea applies to downtown Baltimore?

We now have enough data that the sociology and even anthropology of Tinder are researchable. Do we want to know?

Gypsy Rose Lee

Very clever.  I don't know the context. This was not what I would have predicted, and I see why people were so charmed by her.

Mega Test and Memory

I took this test when it came out, which set me on my short affiliation with a few IQ societies. That is a story I am no longer much interested in telling.

What does fascinate me is looking at it again decades later. I remembered many of the Vocab questions and know that I have run across many of the words over time, reinforcing them.  I would have to check my work with a dictionary, and then double back and try other resources if I found myself wrong, but I think I could get them all at this point. Yet I did not get them all in 1985.  I did about equally well on 1-24 and 25-48 then. I don't even know which ones I got right then, though I am mostly certain on some.

For the Spatial and Numerical questions, I did not recognise a single one, except #36, which is notorious in the societies and I got wrong, and maybe #44?, which had a Eureka moment I remembered. I had an idea what I might do with most of them, but nothing came to memory, even when I started down a solving path just for fun.  There were a couple of exceptions, where I intuited a guess on method that probably came from memory somehow rather than fresh thinking. 

I'm big on innate versus learned on so many things at this point.  Yet i do believe in reinforcement and even more especially, reward systems. Did I remember the vocabulary ones and even likely improve because I have continued to live in the world of words, while losing all the spatial and numerical memory because I so seldom visit those cities now?  Or did I remember them so divergently because of brain structures in place long before I took the test? Or are the types of memory needed for these tasks fundamentally different fright out of the gate? Or am I just lazier about types of thinking I have not used in 50 years?

101 Syndrome

I rambled on this one.  It's not tight, but the thinking may be worth it.

Have I mentioned 101 Syndrome before? I can't find it here.  It refers to those who have gained an introductory knowledge in many things, and therefore believe - though they would humbly insist otherwise - that they are broadly educated. Introductory courses are often vocabulary - what the parts of a cell are, what "culture" means, lists of schools of painting. In math it is a vocabulary of both words and symbols. They allow the student to participate in discussions at further levels. They also allow one to keep reading in the subject in the press outside of school and throughout their lives.  They are in theory very good things. 

Yet it goes wrong so easily.  I have kidded grimly that after liberal-arts education and seminary, pastors can read what the popular press has to say about psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology - and combining simple religious ideas like we should care for the less-fortunate or we should try and live at peace with others, start speaking like they actually know something worth having about economic policy or foreign affairs, because they understand these things from multiple perspectives now. This has been going on a long time. It may be getting worse.

Yet the psychology they know is shallow at best and flat wrong at worst; so too with their economics and other topics.  It's just bad but they don't know it.  They don't know it because the popular press articles and trendy books they read are drawn from the people who already agree with them. David Swanson's book Redisciplining the White Church was a book my church was encouraged to read and discuss a couple of years ago. (Swanson is in our small denomination and known to many of the pastors.) I couldn't get past the introduction.  His first example was the discredited psychology that implicit bias affects anything. Well, it doesn't affect anything we've found yet. Next he made a linguistic/cultural/historical error about a Native woman who claimed to be traumatised because of the word "kingdom," because it reminded her of colonialism. Then he accused a visiting friend of prejudice for asking if the neighborhood was dangerous. (Remind me not to be a friend of Swanson's.) Just about that time that Chicago neighborhood did explode in dangerousness. Oh gee. I abandoned the book, but engineerlite convinced me to press on.  Swanson opined on economics, sociology, history - inaccurate every time. I couldn't make it any further.

It's not just pastors, they just occurred to me because I'm in churches a lot.  It is also psychologists or social workers, I can attest from experience.  They know the vocabulary of other fields, and this allows them to think they understand what they are reading or hearing on NPR. Or at Townhall or whatever conservative site you want to mention. 101 Syndrome causes us to think that the heavily curated information from sources we have chosen ourselves over the years has allowed us to "keep up" with all these fields.  Because it is usually combined with actually knowing something about one field, where we know the public misunderstands the reality - especially on the other side - we adopt what is given us with little questioning.  Because we know the vocabulary, have reinforced our ignorance for fifty years, and can still point to idiots on the other side.  

It is worse when what people know even in their own fields is wrong, as it often is and increasingly so as certain types of dissidence are slowly excluded. Genetics is transforming many fields who insist the disproven is still true. Technical advances in archaeology knock what you learned to the ground - and not just in Anthro 101.

A Place To Land

To get people to change their minds, they have to have a place to land. Just as our compulsively story-making brains will not easily tolerate not having a narrative about the events  of our experience, we are not easily capable of saying "I am leaving this point of view but I don't know what I will believe instead." There are some things close to it that happen, where we strongly suspect our position is untenable and are casting about for alternatives, or we find there is a community (identifiable or implied) that is undecided or in flux. 

Yet that is also a community of sorts, even if it is only people far away or long dead who we identify with. It sometimes takes a bit of emotional flexibility to examine what the group is we are identifying with, as it can be uncomfortable. Young people who set out to study all the world's religions in an effort to choose one imagine themselves as entirely free agents, entirely unmoved by anything except what they discover along the way, but this is never the case. In fact it is dangerous to believe that, because it means you are already congratulating yourself on a lie, and are setting up to be arrogant when you come to some sort of answer, whatever it is. You have made many assumptions and you identify with an ill-defined group of seekers and "open-minded" people.

Sometimes our conclusion will be "It is impossible to know the (full) answer" or "I don't think the answer is that important after all." These look like non-answers at first, but they are actually well-worn staircases leading to large groups in rooms upstairs, who believe that because they are not in any of the rooms on the first floor, they are not actually in any room at all. They enjoy the camaraderie of those rooms.

This accounts for the disorientation after great tragic events, like wars or revolutions, when people find that what the previously believed must be false, yet don't have a place to land. They do not remain unattached forever.  They do not always choose wisely, either.  When people leave The God That Failed they can go many places.

I have said that leaving liberalism is not an intellectual journey, it is a personal journey because of what one must confront about oneself. But leaving either conservatism or liberalism, or leaving a religion or a branch of one, or a school of thought or other identifier is a social journey.  Even if we are introverts and quite satisfied with our own company we have a group we believe we belong to and want to hold up the side for. CS Lewis is great companion for me, in that if I believe I am on the same side of a question as he is, then there must be a host of other serious Christians who are approximately with this as well, even if I cannot see any at the moment. We will not walk into the void hoping to find a group of like-minded humans unless we are forced to. We at least have an expectation that a particular path leads to a village.

When in doubt we are likely to default to a group - a denomination, an ethnic group, a region.  Or, as i used to write years ago, to a Tribe, such as the Arts & Humanities Tribe. We seldom recognise these defaults, and usually have elaborate rationalisations why our position on an issue is held for good intellectual reasons.  I wonder if that is ever true.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Cyrano de Bergerac

I was wondering today about Cyrano. He remained faithful to Roxanne all his life though he could not have her, and his sunset scene still causes me to tear up even describing it. 

Would we consider this creepy in real life?  Would they have considered it so then? When an artist takes something in hand and signals that this is supposed to be beautiful and tragic we have a suspension of our warning systems for creepy. We trust them to keep it within bounds, and allow ourselves to be swept away. Men who in real life would look at their friend and say "Dude. It's over.  Get on with your life." will nod approvingly at the surpassing nobility of the life.  Women who think men are essentially predatory and would call the police over an old flame who called back one time too many will weep and wish men could be like that these days.  We trust the artist, and this allows us to tear down the emotional fences. Rostand will keep Cyrano contained, of this we are sure.

Because without this he's like Quasimodo, or Grima Wormtongue. No chick is signing on for that. (To be fair, Quasimodo was ugly in appearance only. Decent chap in his own way.) I suppose Cyrano semi-qualifies as unattractive because of the nose, but it seems to be the point that this is his only failing. He seems athletic and nimble, intelligent, clever, with birth of minor nobility - all the ingredients for a romance novel, really, except for the nose.

No, I take it back.  We are supposed to understand that Quasimodo, or many a horror monster, is the real beautiful soul but our warped values fail to perceive this because of their appearance. Standard literary interpretation, you can teach it to 10th-graders and they get it. Frankenstein cuts the wood for the family he watches and envies. King Kong was only goaded into violence., forget that.  He's Romanian nobility, rotten to the core. 

When George Jones recorded "He Stopped Loving Her Today" he said "Nobody'll buy that morbid son of a bitch," but it went not only #1 that year but is on everyone's Top Ten country songs of all time. The poor bastard keeps old photos and letters until he dies, and then she comes to his funeral. So that's the balance. In real life we would regard that guy as seriously obsessed and in need of professional help. In a song it's beautiful. If you find an old flame is still carrying a torch for you, you block them on Facebook at this point.

Well, it's time that makes it creepy, and worse every year we think - though I suppose twenty years is as crazy as sixty.  Yet it is also attractiveness, and social status, and all the things that go into the large unwieldy package that young people have to try and condense into a Tinder profile now. Creepy versus non-creepy follows a lot of the old rules.  I thought it was Maureen Dowd who said "Bill Clinton reminds you of your first boyfriend.  George Bush reminds you of your first husband," but I can't find it credited anywhere.  Maybe it was linked from a Jezebel comment on some other female writer's essay and I just attributed it to Dowd. But the statement captures a lot of liberal sentiment at the time.

Speaking of Clinton, and attractiveness, and creepiness (and John Edwards and Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd) when Nina Burleigh said she would be happy to give Bill Clinton [oral sex] for keeping abortion legal it was widely derided at the time. Yet it was even worse than we thought then.  Donald Trump had an ill-timed attempt to run for president in 1999 - and he was pro-choice at the time. Can anyone imagine a world in which a female White House correspondent for Time magazine...

So who's creepy in this world? Maybe I'm just resentful because I'm too close to the Quasimodo camp myself.

500 Miles

I had thought that the song had dropped out of the national memory because I never encountered it anymore, neither when people were being nostalgic nor in music/folk retrospectives. Yet when I went to look for it I saw it had been done in "Inside Llewyn Davis." I have not seen the movie, despite my sons assuring me I would like it, and I have to admit its inclusion is spot on. Everyone sang it in the 60s.  Not just the long list of PP&M, the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, the Brothers Four, Roseanne Cash, etc, but every coffee-house singer of the time.  The chords are simple, the story poignant and understandable, and everyone who picked up a guitar learned it.


I am in a Sunday School class on the Kingdom of God.  We watched a video of Scot McKnight on the topic, and I marveled at how precisely he captured what seems to have slipped in our understanding and identified where we need to start and how we need to proceed from here. It was not this video, but this is an Asbury one like it.

Yet I was "unmoved" somehow, as I said in the class, and am not sure how that is.  I like precision and summary, after all.

I despaired of it all and thought I would just tell stories, as Jesus did.  Maybe that will work better - for me, anyway.

Jesus’ Parables in Chronological Order ~ 

Scripture Parable #1 — Matthew 9:16 — New Cloth Patch on an Old Coat 

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk [new] cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.” 

Parable #2 — Matthew 9:17 — New Wine in Old Wineskins 

“Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

 Parable #3 — Matthew 5:14-15 — Lamp on a Stand 

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” 

Parable #4 — Luke 6:46-49 — Wise and Foolish Builders 

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Not Well Thought Out

Border crashers have been sent to Martha's Vineyard, in order to teach those rich Democrats a lesson. Hahaha. The year-round population is 17K and the household income is $50K. The summer population is is 200K and the median income is astronomical, which is why Obama went there to raise money.  Just not in winter.

It is after Labor Day. These immigrants, however you feel about the appropriateness of the symbolic gesture, have now been dropped on a poor community with only a couple of social workers with no resources. I don't like using poor and helpless people as pawns anyway - though I take the point if they were doing this on July 4th - but this is terrible for everyone.

This was very simple research - ten minutes of googling - that should have been done by the people sending them. Further evidence that conservatives do not actually want to govern, they want to complain. Well don't we all.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Substack Liberals Again

Jesse Singal talking to Ethan Straus: "I don't think the election was stolen, but I don't trust the liberal media to tell me if it was." Heh.

Which reminds me of an interesting question.  Liberal media, old media, mainstream media, MSM, prestige media, drive-by media, legacy media, elite media - no term seems to have fully caught on, which I think is a PR problem for conservatives trying to criticise its many branches/tentacles. As has been noted many times, they are generally less media-savvy, fashion-savvy, even socially-savvy. To so many more liberal groups they just don't "get it," which is a huge indictment from one side but something that comes very close to making the entire point to conservatives. You are blown about by the winds of mere fashion - you don't "get it" that this is what "get it" actually means; we have to attend to reality is the claim.  It may not be true.  I think it is only partially true, as conservatives have other cultural cards to (unfairly) play but pretend they have none. Hence Donald Trump. But there is an essential truth about it WRT some important groups, including old media (controlled by new journalism), academia, A&H in general, government institutions (which include the schools, human service agencies, and non-profit funding sources from foundations and denominations. 

I suppose I am only saying that just because one side is shackled does not mean the other side is free. But it is clear that some people never look at their own wrists and ankles.

Typhoon In Nome

 Fortunately, this is taken at high tide.

The Unequal Marriage

I am loving these art history videos from Art Deco that analyze individual paintings. She does inject a bit too much of her modern-influenced perspective, but really, not a huge amount. Most of us would sneak in our biases far more.

Old Narratives

One of the early conference presenters provided a quick overview of the relevant history of the period from the Authorised Version and Shakespeare to the Inklings.  He focused on the religious and literary highlights in Europe and especially Britain, which was appropriate given the subject matter.  I don't mind narrowing of focus and excluding many voices when the situation calls for it. So it's dead white Christians and that's fine. Yet his summary was entirely from the perspective of men, and the clerics of the higher classes, and dominated by the Anglican-Reformed-Lutheran perspective. The last being odd when Tolkien is prominent on the bill. It was a history such as I might have heard in 1975 and even then wondered whether it might be a touch shabby.

Conservatives complain about various perspectives being shoved in unnecessarily, like bystanders joining a parade and snatching away a drum or commandeering a float, but it is a measure of how much we did need to change our ways. History could get narrowed to reporting on kings and the focus on succession. That was the focus of the few most powerful people in those times - though even they had illnesses, and farms, and trade to worry about - but that doesn't mean it has to be our focus.  Religion, technology, disease, marriage customs, food, immigration, arts, and trade are not merely ornaments on the kingly Christmas tree. If you poke around looking for summaries of regional or national histories you will always find that a few of these are missing from consideration, and sometimes nearly all of them. They are the real history, and which Edward, Louis, Charles, or Henry is on the throne for a season might be ultimately not very important.  Peasants are important.  You can learn a lot about what was happening in a place by looking at what happened to the peasants. Their lives don't change much from year to year, but it is precisely for this reason that examination is helpful.  If you check back in fifty years and the lives of peasants have changed, it means big things have been happening. Weather, trade, migration...something. Similarly the lives of women were downstream of what the men were doing and they had to scramble for rights and influence. They were left unstudied because in the moment whatever was happening with the barons looked like where things were at. Yet again, if you check between countries and see some difference between the life of Anne and the life of Johanna, it means large things are afoot that bear noticing. For this reason I think the focus by women on powerful women and great accomplishments in history has much the same weakness.  Focusing on a person is an easier narrative to relate to, and especially when writing for the young it does not pay to be too abstract. In that circumstance finding a female scientist, author, or queen to focus on is fine. 

But it is only fine by default, by having little other choice if one wants an audience. Women's history, minority history, peasant history - these are not captured by focus on the exceptions. Their value is in the reminder that an enormous number of people, the bulk of the population,  are left out under the old narrative. The aggregate is the story. We don't fix the limitations of Great Man history by slipping in a few women.

How we tell history has changed, even among those who say they favor the old way of doing history.  And much of it is good.

Update: There will be a reference to the Hajnal Line, and marriage customs influencing genetics on a remarkably short time-scale coming up.  Steve Hsu interviewed Greg Clark and I would like to revisit that just a bit.

Rings of Power

A few people at the conference mentioned the new TV show, and seemed positive.  My sons warned me off that I wouldn't much like it but i was already out as soon as i heard of it.  I do see the attraction for touring Middle-Earth and having a look at some history and adventures there - that is part of the attraction of Dungeons and Dragons, certainly. Yet while the Legendarium is a magnificent achievement I doubt that it would have attracted more than mild attention from me without the plot with hobbits. I would be fascinated that an Oxford don had created such a thing, complete with languages and history, yet I don't know that I would have read much of it.  I didn't read the Silmarillion beyond a few chapters. A minority of readers prefer that work, and I can perceive from afar why that might be, though I don't share the sentiment. 

Hobbits are the draw, and Lewis was right when he advised Tolkien that they are only interesting when they are doing unhobbitish things. I am still amazed by the story I learned only within the last few years, that Tolkien was writing his "New Hobbit" and had gotten the four of them on their way but still in the Shire when they heard hoofbeats and prepared to hide in the woods to surprise Gandalf, who Tolkien had slated to arrive then to accompany them to Rivendell. But Lewis's comment caused him to rethink the whole scene, seeing at once that the arrival of a Black Rider would be much more interesting and a better story than the arrival of a Grey Rider. He sensed that it fit his entire work much more fully.  Lewis's help was the sort of small but well-timed brilliance we might all hope to give a friend.

But it is hobbits, precisely because they are peaceable, gentle, and unused to hardship that make LOTR interesting a story at all. The Legendarium is so many stories that it is a history and no story at all. Drag in hobbits somewhat against their will and make them realise that a great deal depends on whatever skill and courage they can muster and we have our own stories, fighting our own small battles on the chance that our part will prove essential in the end, however unnoticed it is now. Who now remembers Mordecai Ham, the anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic evangelist of the early 20th C? He seems to have been a harsh and unpleasant fellow. But Billy Graham became converted at one of his revivals and much was changed in the church and the world, including, ironically, a great deal more cooperation among Christians of all races and denominations. 


“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
I can't get past the idea that Rings of Power is going to be Marvel Middle-earth. Which sounds like fine adventures, but possessing no spiritual depth.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Destiny's Flight

Jake's grandfatther was an important figure at Wheaton College - the performing arts center is named after Hudson Armerding, its fifth president. Jake's father was a musician in Boston, and he follows that path more than grandpa's.

He is the same age as my older son and attended Wheaton himself with people we knew. 

This song is worth it for the single line "I saw a V-formation in her eyes."

Try To Remember

 Originally from The Fantastiks. The song feels different in that context.

I watched my father play Mortimer in the show and was quite intimidated at how much better an actor he was than I. I had only recently reestablished contact with him and had not seen him act since I was 6, when I was in a minstrel show with him. I took a date, and did not tell her his criminal background. No point in it. Nor did I tell my mother that I was going, or that I had any contact with him at all. Was I a coward or simply kind about her feelings? Both, I suppose.


 "Queue is such a great word.  The actual important letter, and then four more silently waiting behind it in a line." Ben Rathe

It's When You Stop Trying

I have some disdain for those who are attempting to crash the Inner Ring.  Lewis was right that while the Inner Ring may be an unavoidable and almost neutral aspect of a functioning society, the desire to be in it is an enormous temptation. "Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things." It catches us unawares because the rings are so plentiful that the very desire to resist being one of that kind who wishes to be in Ring A, B, or C will make us especially susceptible to the temptations of Ring D. We are proud of not being one of the mob and even brag about it, inching to the final boundaries of a smaller, more prestigious mob.

I wrote before the conference about those who clearly want to be in the CS Lewis Inner Ring, as I can tell from their statements on podcasts, and hoped that I would not run into any of them.  Of course one was the first person I saw, because God likes reminding us that our time is not really our own and work of one kind or another might be needed. He turned out to be a nice enough young man. We should not presume to design too much of our lives. 

I saw many of the attendees gathering around the speakers and thought I knew what was up with them. (The men gathered a bit more around the female presenters, which I suppose is a different spiritual problem.) Yet I found that on the second day I also had a desire to go over and strike up conversations with them.  I told myself it was because the knowledge base of the attendees was lower than expected and I desired particular exchanges they were more like to have worthwhile information on, but I did catch myself up short. Did I have disdain for those who sought the Inner Ring because I am secretly like them? I couldn't rule it out.  The heart is deceitful in all things, after all. So I doubled down on my intent to do nothing showy, nothing calculated to bring me closer to the center. 

I realised with a start that I could have been part of the Inner Ring had I chosen it years ago. In the years Lewis was still unpopular among academics I would have had enough knowledge (comparatively) and gotten in on the ground floor. Siskind discussed the cycle of a rising subculture not long ago .  Not all the places at that table were taken, and the level of necessary scholarship was nowhere near as high. I played out what life might have been and decided it would have been bad for me and was grateful I had been spared this temptation. I would have fancied myself much more than I was. Insufferable might have been a word strongly associated with me. I felt less disdainful of the others, as they likely are not near so bad as I would have been.

I wrote years ago about the difference between trying to appear have varied and eccentric tastes in music versus actually having them. It was a joke recognised even by the hippies in the 60s, that those who wanted to flaunt not wearing a suit - or becoming an indistinguishable worker - to show how much of an individual we were by being dressed in near-uniforms of tight jeans, facial hair, and bright colors. Playing guitar, getting the slang right. The eccentrics were suddenly the same old same old, the new normal. It was a worry for me when becoming a Christian that I was going to have to "be like everyone else" in that group - a group that was not especially cool. (I plunged ahead anyway because that's how I'm wired.  If a thing is true you simply have to live with it.) I was fortunate to encounter the advice by CS Lewis that Christians were in fact more individual, at least potentially.  following the world and the flesh (or worse) was to gradually embrace a greater sameness. It's when you stop trying to be different that you actually find that you are.

That is what happened here. I stepped back from even small efforts to talk with the important people, and somehow I ended up with them by accident. At the close of the conference I struck up a conversation with a young (late 30s) man who turned out to have gone to William and Mary. We instantly had many things to talk about, and as we were breaking up he suggested having lunch together in Black Mountain on the way out.  I met him there and he had invited others - the host of the major CS Lewis podcast, a presenter, and the tech/recording engineer who is putting together the upcoming events. And it turns out the young man is an editor of An Unexpected Journal, which he called a pop-academic journal. The Inner Ring came to me when I stopped seeking it. Ironic.

Interpenetration Vs Subcreation

 One Tolkien/Lewis distinction in Sarah Waters's talk at the conference (I think.  Might've been someone else, though) is that Lewis uses a great deal more interpenetration of this world and his subcreated worlds, while Tolkien disliked it and only nibbles at the edges. In the early parts of his books that take place in Middle-Earth he suggests hobbits might still be around, the other races besides humans also, and the events of the tale just impossibly remote from our own era.* The seas and lands have all changed it is so impossibly remote (but see the footnote), yet the stars and moon are clearly ours as well as theirs. It may have simply been that from earliest days Tolkien had no interest into taking his legendarium to another planet, not even an invented one. Earth Is Room Enough, it seems. 

Leaf By Niggle could be our world interpenetrating with some purgatorial land beyond, yet it is tied to no place. Wooten Major certainly has an English sound to it and clearly interpenetrates with Faerie, yet on closer look it too is a once-upon-a-time place. Tolkien wanted his subcreated worlds to be their own, and when he disliked anything about Lewis's work it was often this interpenetration, of mythologies colliding in Narnia as on the faun's bookshelf.

Lewis chose interpenetration intentionally, as it was a theological point to him that these other worlds and their spiritual lessons were reachable from here, at least for some. This may not be related to the influence of Charles Williams as we see some of this in George MacDonald and GK Chesterton as well, who are generally regarded as greater influences on him.

Williams went farther down that road to coinherence , where it is not only the story and setting that are interpenetrated, but the characters themselves. (Link from James a few years ago.) Lewis used that as well in the second and third books of the Ransom Trilogy, and I wondered if Tolkien had ever used it as well.  I would say No, But Yes.  I don't see it in characters being inhabited by outside spiritual powers for good or ill or merely pagan. The Nazgul and the Mouth of Sauron may be inhabited in some sense by the Dark Lord, but it is more of  a subjugation than an inhabiting by him.  I grant the distinction may be forced, but it seems like something separate to me. Yet the Rings of Power, and especially the One Ring have a spiritual dimension that has personality, yet the objects even more powerfully comes to inhabit their owners. They are not just +5 broadswords with a sort of ability enhancement. The objects can be inhabited, be coinhered by outside spirits, and they in turn can get into the very personalities of those who possess the objects. But not a direct occupation of a creature by a spirit.

You may find a counter-example, and I would be interested.

*I discussed a half-dozen years ago that Tolkien actually did write about time travel, if we are allowed to squint. There are medieval Catholic themes, other attitudes are more Anglo-Saxon Dark Ages, and the technology seems something like Iron Age.  Yet the hobbits are clearly the late 19th C rustics from around Birmingham that Tolkien was so taken with in his youth. "[The Shire] is in fact more or less a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee." The whole story seems to depend on such people having traveled back in time and gotten stuck on the fringes of that world. Varieties of pies, tobacco, tea, recognisable musical instruments, new mills being put up.  It is possible to see these as evocations rather than what were "really" in the Shire, in the same way that the language of Rohan was not "really" Anglo-Saxon but bore the same relationship to Westron that A-S does to English, so the latter was used to illustrate that effect to us.

Text As Decoration

We know that puritans smashed statues and stained glass and whitewashed over representational art. Notice that they also forbade the theater when they could get away with it, as in the northern colonies in America. 18th Century theater was Tidewater Virginia, not Connecticut - and not much Pennsylvania or New Jersey either. Notice that puritan music was hymns, and usually not sung in ways meant to be beautiful. Everyone sang in whatever key they wished, at whatever speed they wished, whatever version they wished. This is very odd for a culture that stressed community, especially the interdependence of believers in a particular place. Yet such was their fear of beauty as a snare that they strove to eliminate it as a temptations. The Quakers did much the same, though in a different way. Both dressed plainly, and their architecture was unadorned, stressing functionality.

I first wondered if we have ever recovered from that. I grew up Congregationalist, the standard New England expression, theologically and culturally related to the Presbyterian and other Reformed groups of the time. The Dutch had just come out of their period of greatest painting, and they retained that tradition, but steadily in decline in terms of beauty, becoming formulaic, less dramatic, and always imitative. All those reformed traditions receded in all the arts. In Scotland there is almost no evidence of theater in the 1600s. Can you name a Scottish playwright from the 1700s or even 1800s? (Sir Walter Scott a little. James Barrie moved to London and is more 1900s anyway.) Now try Dutch dramatists.  Or composers. Only in the 20th C do the cultures descended from puritan/reformed idol-destroying Christians start to use the arts again - and they are largely secular figures with secular art. The English are more mixed, as their culture was both Anglican and Nonconformist, but you will find that the Nonconformist sectors lag in producing artists of any sort. With an exception.

Yet all cultures have art, as I learned in Anthropology 101, so the puritans must also have slipped it in somewhere. As I was at a Presbyterian (that is, descended from puritan) retreat center with plaque after plaque commemorating who had donated for a particular building, bridge, or walkway, I noted that the overall effect was of words written everywhere, concentrating on verses of scripture, names, and dates.

The artistic energy went into words. Those cultures produced novelists - and essayists, poets, historians, expositors of natural science. The decoration in the churches was often intentionally words as well, with verses written over arches in beautiful scripts.  I mentioned this to one of the presenters at the conference, Hannibal Hamlin of Ohio State, asking him if we had ever recovered artistically from art-destroying culture, and mentioning that "we" (reformed tradition) seemed to have switched to a style of using text as decoration without anyone formally deciding that. Words, especially words from scripture, could be highlighted, made beautiful with calligraphy and elaborate letter-forms, and displayed even in places of worship. He picked up what I was saying instantly and found it interesting.  He also noted that this is exactly what Islam has done as well, and for the same reason of forbidding graven images. Verses from the Koran made beautiful are incorporated into buildings and other public displays.

Whitewashing Chapel Art

There is an English chapel being restored, and a mural was discovered underneath the whitewash, determined to be from the puritan era. Unsurprisingly. It raises a question in the restoration. Do they seek to go back and restore or at least display the mural? The whitewashing is also a legitimate part of the chapel's history after all, and in this case, I was told, an important part. Do we insist on restoring to the earliest possible date? Wouldn't that be privileging time-depth over other considerations, perhaps even making a god of it? Do we restore to the best art? Another god, then. Do we restore a building to its maximum size, or when it was most important, or to the era when the things now most important to us happened? What if there are few other examples of a particular era remaining, so we want to use this one for that purpose, or similarly, an important piece of women's history, international history, ethnic history? We find whitewash and reflexively want to take it off and return the building to its "original" state. Yet we have smuggled in other values without noticing. Secular historians might be making a god of the art and the Christians buying in unquestioningly- exactly what the puritans warned about. Always restoring to the oldest makes a god of tradition.

A related topic is in the pipeline.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

AI and Compositionality

Siskind over at Astral Codex Ten made a bet that AI would be able to complete specific directions within 3 years, in defiance of some of his commenters who declared that compositionality is still a bridge too far.  It just happened in three months. It probably could have been done by Imagen even as he was making the bet, but it has taken this long to get the permissions to try. 

The artwork is fun to contemplate, illustrating what the various AI systems got wrong.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


 Wait until things slow down in the evening for this.


I ran across an observation I made over a decade ago about believing in genetic versus environmental problems that is always in the background for me when discussing the issues, but I have not expressly mentioned for a long time.

People prefer environmental explanations because it feels like we could therefore do something to fix a problem.  We could come up with some technology, perhaps. We could pass some legislation to buy some things or make people stop doing some things.  We could focus on education and self-improvement to make the problem go away, or at least get better.  This is why conservatives can jump on the environmentally-based solutions as well. If we just taught kids more responsibility, got them into scouting, emphasised reading and math, had higher expectations, stopped them from saying "like," made them put their devices away...It's just a different list than what liberals have, but it's the same principle. And some of those traits like determination or cooperativeness or attention to detail or emotional control might also be largely heritable, just as an aside.  There may not be the escape hatches there that folks were counting on.

But believing in genetics feels like just giving up, not doing anything about the problem.  It feels like accepting the status quo and never giving women the vote or outlawing slavery or even trying to improve things. That's not strictly true, of course.  There are things that are environmental, such as what language is spoken or what the expectations are for men versus women that are nonetheless very difficult to change quickly, and counsels to not bash your head against the wall too much are often offered. Really expensive solutions like ging to war just might not be worth it. And, there are things that are genetic that can be worked around rather than just shrugging and saying "Danny's always going to be stupid." But there is some truth in that division of whether we can change a thing or not. Many times, if something is genetic you will only have workarounds, never solutions, and the sooner you understand that the less energy you are going to waste.

But there is a darker reason, and I wonder how much it feeds in to the desire to have one sort of solution rather than another. If something is environmental, then there is someone to blame. They may be long dead or quite remote, but we can usually find a whipping boy to stand in for them if we must have a villain. If our blameable persons are nearby, so much the better. If things are genetic then who do we blame, God? I think that's a healthy start, actually, though not a good stopping point. But it pretty obviously gets ridiculous blaming your parents, who could only pass on what they received themselves.  We could start blaming natural selection as a process, or even Nature itself, but that seems unsatisfying. We can scoot over to the environmental side and blame people or societies for not accommodating genetic differences, I suppose.  We have some of that, and it's not unfair. 

But if something about a societal problem is genetic, then what are we supposed to do about that, dammit? Are we supposed to just let things be unequal? 

It's why we pretend that "we just don't know, it's not proven" when we do know and it is proven. It's so we can feel useful, feel like we're doing something, can demonstrate that we are doing something, have someone to blame, and can bind our anxieties about life's tragedies.

Leave One Blank - Clarification

My suggestion that voters "Leave One Blank" in every election is meant for the general, not the primaries. One could leave any number of them blank in the primaries, certainly, but it is the focus on not putting too much of our trust in princes that I am aiming at here.

Our primaries are today.  We'll see.

Monday, September 12, 2022


 So Democrat turnout is higher than expected and Republican is lower, and the speculation is that it's the "everything is rigged, don't bother" attitude?  Way to go guys. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory again, as usual. 

Update: Eh.  My overreaction. We don't really know that.

Fair Questions

"Is the Grail A) a Cup, B) a Plate, or C) a Stone?" Dr Higgins asked in her Grail quiz to start off her lecture. I knew it was a cup and a plate, but the stone part didn't pop into my thinking. But I confidently concluded that the answer would be "all three," based on the cultural conventions of multiple-choice questions. I don't think anyone writes these down, yet we just absorb them. Someone from another culture, or someone who does not pick up cues because of OCD or spectrum wiring might not have absorbed them.

It was an informal asking, not a formal test.  It was a game with prizes, but nothing of importance was at stake. There were three choices, not four or five, and this matters. There was no hint of an added direction of "check all that apply," which also matters. Neither was it expressly denied. If it had been five choices, with one oddly possible, like "a punk-rock medieval band," or "an invented somber color" and another rather obviously humorously wrong like "a game bird" then the convention would be different. The audience would know to pick any number of answers on their best guess, whether that was expressly stated or not.

If it were a formal test like the SAT's convention would not be enough direction.  The rules would have to be spelled out. E) All of the above, and the like. Yet even in those tests there are conventions about what constitutes a fair question, and this can help you answer. They can't ask "What is the second-largest city in Vermont?" or "Are compound bows allowed in Olympic competition?" because these are niche information, not general knowledge. I was surprised that the answer to the first is South Burlington rather than Rutland, but knew that the latter is "no," which is something I happened upon years ago. 

Learning these rules, formal and informal, is also a measure of intelligence. I believe SAT prep courses give you some instruction in this, and taking this type of test a few times before might be helpful. But mostly you are supposed to learn this from your other school tests (even in homeschool curricula) or entertaining magazine quizzes or study guides or Spark Notes. You develop a feel for what will be a fair question. There are people who enjoy being difficult and smarter than everyone else who think they can defend "Well actually, France isn't really a country..." or other nonsense, and they don't do well on the tests.  They don't deserve to, even if they can hold forth on the subject. The testmakers also anticipate the OCD and spectrum people and their objections and have trimmed their questions accordingly, so that excuse doesn't hold. 

This is part of what people mean when they say "all they measure is how well you take tests" but these are common-sense understandings of the world around you, not arcane knowledge known only to the few who go to prep schools where they teach you the secret codes. If you can't figure out that they can't and won't ask you about bass players for 90s grunge bands that's on you. You have to figure out what would be general knowledge that is fair game to be asked.


I was worried that the Inklings/Shakespeare/Bible conference at the Presbyterian Heritage Center might be too geared to academics and specialists, leaving me to be always sneaking onto DuckDuckGo to see what their references were, but it was more of the opposite problem at first. It was more like a Road Scholar gathering, of retirees who were fans of Lewis or Tolkien or things Renaissance.  Average age about 70, knowledge base uneven. The first day - what I saw of it when not arguing with a call center in India about swapping out my rental car (it took 8 hours and was almost certainly no more than the battery in the key fob, which I should have just gotten with a ride down to CVS) was a lot of inside jokes about being Presbyterian and grand historical narratives that were already being stripped down when I was an undergrad. I was unhappy. No new facts or ideas, and while my conversations were pleasant, they were not inspiring. The 1632 First Folio and other old books drew a crowd, but I am no longer much interested.

Side Note: My worry about The Inner Ring played out in interesting fashion, which I will write up soon.

The second day went better. There was Hannibal Hamlin of Ohio State talking about Shakespeare and the Bible, with especial reference to King Lear and Hamlet; Sorina Higgins focusing on the Grail Quest*, Charles Williams, and the influential occultists in English Lit starting around 1880 - she is less spooky in real life than she looks online; Sarah Waters of University of Buckingham, who has a book nearly finished on Shakespeare in Narnia and several papers on that out already; and Joe Ricke from Taylor University, who did not present but is known for both presentations and conference-gathering and was present, cheerfully conversing. All of these put out information that set me thinking in new directions, which I will have a go at over the next two weeks.

*This will show up in the next post on Fair Questions

Sunday, September 11, 2022


It's the arrival of humans more than climate change that eliminates megafauna, according to a study out of Aarhus University. More evidence. Apparently we are good at hunting and eating them and they don't have time to adapt to new predators, and that's worse than gradual changes in moisture and temperature.

The Usual Missing Discussions

Razib passes on a 2019 article about income mobility in the US, relating it back to the patterns of income mobility in the countries in the European countries they come from. Data on blacks in the various regions are included for comparison to illustrate more general mobility.

Income inequality in both the US and Europe is quietly regarded as a bad thing, while countries more equalised because of their social welfare systems, it is directly claimed, are put forward as good things. The study shows that there is some connection which they call historical, that people who show income mobility here tend to come from places with higher income mobility in Europe. The authors are quite clear that this has to do with what is taught to children by parents from these differing European cultures.

They do not claim that the ethnicity explains all the variation.  The region of the US matters some as well. As a small point to notice for those who follow this sort of thing, what is called British ancestry is known to many of us to fall into four broad categories, all of which have been in the US 200-400 years, and we know where they went.  So the denser areas are Northern New England and Appalachia (and Utah, showing strong LDS influence), both of which have higher percentages of Scots-Irish than, say Southern New England, NJ, Pennsylvania. That might matter, though I wouldn't assert that without a lot more supporting data. 

Missing from this analysis are the usual suspects.

Could there be anything genetic, even at a minor level, which explains greater or lesser mobility? Might some of the European nations have more height, or cooperativeness, or higher IQ, or some personality characteristics? If so, they might do better or worse accordingly.

Are these less equal and more equal countries different in any way in terms of how many outsiders they have been letting in to live there over the last hundred years? Might that not contribute to inequality in some way? Or are the presence of social welfare, plus the things you say to your children, the only drivers of that? 

If, as the authors clearly want you to believe, it matters for social mobility in the US what the ancestry of the immigrants is, might it not also matter who moved in to those countries back in Europe, over and above the raw numbers? The immigrants of the highly unequal countries of UK and Italy - would they be about the same as the immigrants into Denmark? Just as an example.

Nah.  We all know those things can't possibly matter and aren't worth studying.

The Male Monkey Dance

From Rob Henderson (bad LA neighborhoods and foster care to USMC to Yale to Substack) The Male Monkey Dance

“Male-typical traits such as beards and deep voices may be more about intimidating other men than they are about attracting women. In other words, these traits may be deers’ antlers rather than peacocks’ tails. To the extent that this is the case, the fact that women don’t always find them attractive is beside the point: That’s not why they evolved.”

This has been known in some circles for a while, but tends to get underemphasised in discussions of male-female behavior. In primates, male attractiveness to females does not seem to matter much at all, as females mate with the males who have established physical dominance over them by beating them repeatedly.  Yes, even the bonobos, that species beloved by hippie types because they are supposedly less violent and all have sex with each other.  They are less violent than chimps, yes.  They are hugely more sexually violent than humans. 

One wonders how far this extends up into human history. Much was made of the discovery that 1% of the men of the world are descended from Genghis Khan (and maybe a couple of brothers) because of their conquest and rape in a short period of time, but they are pikers compared to the earlier Yamnaya invaders of Europe. The women of the invaded areas were ten times more likely to pass on their genes. That's one definition of genetic success, but it could hardly have seemed like victory to the women involved. The young men did not even settle down and set up harems. They raped and went on.  If ten were impregnated, a greater number must have been raped. This is not that long ago (less than  5,000 years) and became a significant part of European ancestry.

It's worth asking where and when male attractiveness to women began to matter at all, and what the percentage is even now.

The Book of Second Opinions

 My wife put me on to this.  I hate cliches in the faith.

A Touch Grim

 From Noah Garfinkel: This opens up cap space for the royal family to potentially bring in Kevin Durant.

Alex Berenson

If any of you are Alex Berenson fans, Lyman Stone has the takedown. (Topic mRNA vaccines and fertility.) I don't think I've seen Stone, who is quite polite, use the word "horseshit" before.

Saturday, September 10, 2022


The Inklings conference at the Presbyterian Heritage Center in Montreat did not get off to a good start, and my personal infuriating experience with Enterprise Rental left me in no mood to be generous to the presenters of the first day.  But the second and third days' presenters were quite knowledgeable and original, and I happened up some very interesting folks at the end.  Some detail to follow.


Grim linked to an article on new research suggesting that some information acquired in the human lifetime is passed on to offspring, what is called epigenetics. I have been suspicious of epidgenetic claims because

1. It is ill-defined, expanding or contracting at need. I think even among those who make their livings in the research, you will get at least slightly different definitions. It can be broad enough to include prenatal influences - which is not insane because chemical/hormonal exposures in the womb at various developmental stages can make some genes more likely to express, and may  even influence what genes are passed on. 

2. It is trotted out as a convenient, hand-waving explanation on certain topics whenever we don't like what the genetic research is telling us.

3. Even when it is not full-blown Lysenkoism, it tends to undermine the idea of evolution in general. If there is too much of environment butting in, favorable or unfavorable genes have less pressure. The old sci-fi story "The Lysenko Maze" claimed that we did not see these acquired characteristics being passed on because they are all about unimportant characteristics with little or no survival value. If we make it a significant survival issue for the mice, THEN we will see the traits passed on. Fun idea for a story, but complete nonsense.  Survival until breeding (or if you want to stretch a point, survival until your progeny successfully breed) is what was usually being measured, even if not explicitly stated. 

4. Some thing else that come to me while I was carmelising onions an hour ago which I can no longer recall.  It was a minor, not a killer point, so likely doesn't affect much.

Yet with all that said, I have never denied that a limited amount might still be compatible with plain ol' genetics and might even be likely. In fact, the 150 out of 20,000 (which they think might be low) genes does strike me as low. That it is targeted in particular regions makes sense and has precursors earlier in our phylogeny also seems plausible. WRT skeletons, we have lots of similarity with other creatures. But back to flies? Really? Whoa. 

Update: Razib also has an epigenetics in specific circumstances study he links to.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Political Signs

Those signs's up everywheah just now, with folks tryin' to get other folks to vote for 'em. I know some of those names, because it's a lotta the same ones every time.

This fella Stump Grinding seems pretty popular, but I don't know nothin' about him at all.  I knew a Stump Fernald who lived out by the Seacoast yeahs ago, but I don't know any Grindings whatsoever.  Doesn't sound like a New Hampsha name, and probly not Maine nor Vermont, neither. He doesn't seem too bright, doesn't even mention what office he's running for.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Horse Race Politics

I have said for years that I know nothing about this, enough so that I believe I have become proud of my ignorance, as if some knowledge is beneath me - never a good state. Yet what I do know is not always reliable.  There is regression to the mean, so that if Joe Biden is at historically low levels of popularity, it is likely that he regresses upward for no reason other than people not wanting to kick him quite so hard. Yet it is an open question as to when this regression actually starts happening.  In terms of the binary of elected/not elected, it matters whether this adjustment occurs before or after November.

We remain as closely divided these last forty years as we have ever been, and I fear it is because we are drawn to the division itself, to feeling that our opinion matters, and therefore needing to be on a precipice. Does fundraising matter?  It must, mustn't it? Does the general economy matter? Doesn't it always?  Are gas prices and the unemployment rate they two main figures to look at, as they always are?  

I don't know.

Obesity, Vaccination, and Excess Mortality by State

 Bethany has a new post up.  Interesting if you like correlations and things that don't immediately suggest plausible theories.

George Elmer Browne

 Browne (1871-1946) was a Provincetown artist before it was, er, P-town.

Perce Rock, Gaspe Peninsula, Canada

Peter and Dudley Again

 When you start watching them, you can't stop.  It's the phrasing that gets you.

"So there's hope?" You should know in this scene that Moore had club feet, and only one of them responded to surgery very well. It is said that comedy is often an expression of all our pain, crystalised by a brilliant expositor.  Think of Joan Rivers expressing the male/female double standard, or the many black and Jewish comedians who could put a spin on their distress.  Or Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters, who had vultures of depression always circling overhead but broke through.

PS: I just learned that Dudley was not only at Oxford, but at Magdalen College where Lewis was, so there is a connection between this post and the last. Moore graduated (music) in 1954 and Lewis left for Cambridge that year. Overlap of four years, but not necessarily enormous contact. He seems to have been a musical prodigy.

Which leads, almost inexorably, to this...

Put all of the above into this. I chuckle and laugh more than any any ten people you know put together, which is perhaps the only reason people like having me over.  Yet I seldom give a full-throated laugh. But I do here.

The Completion of CS Lewis

I am listening to William O'Flaherty interview Hal Poe about volume III of his biography, The Completion of CS Lewis, covering the years from 1945 until his death in 1963. I have not bothered much with biographies of Lewis after having read a few, and I assumed - on the basis of no information whatsoever - that this lengthy treatment by Poe was going to be mere tedious detail about things I already knew. There are some OCD tendencies about scholars of any topic or person. This does not seem to be the case after all and I have already learned a few things in less than an hour. I had not realised that he had developed good literary friendships in his ten years at Cambridge.  Those are largely unrecorded because those scholars did not produce any material popular with the general public and are thus not remarked on by other biographers. Yet they were important to Jack, and he was in many ways more comfortable there than Oxford, with which he is more closely associated.

Other biographers and commenters stress  he was passed over for promotion at Oxford because he was resented for both his popularity and his Christianity, despite his outstanding scholarship. Poe identifies that this is also because he did not fit well with the toxic, vindictive, bullying atmosphere in academia, as he was comfortable in disputation and stood up for ideas and people no matter who he was engaging with. Tolkien kept a lower profile in general, particularly in controversial matters. The last of the committees that passed over Lewis for a chair claimed that his scholarship was not that notable.  Poe's take is that nothing they have written remains unless one seeks it out in archives, while Lewis's The Allegory of Love, written before he was much know for his Christian beliefs or had any popular audience, remains in print and assigned at the graduate level. A Preface to Paradise Lost also remains in print and scholars even now find themselves obliged to engage with it decades later. The usual life of an academic book is less than five years. Perhaps least-known but of continuing importance is English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, volume five of The Oxford History of English Literature (still in reprint). His scholarship turns out to have been not only excellent with regards to the expectations for holding a chair, but to be one of the very few of 20th C scholars of English letters that is still read all these days, even by people indifferent or even disdainful of his faith.

Yet he had locked horns with most of them in his career, seldom about Christianity but often about Oxford politics or literary subjects. That may have been the more prominent reason for their enmity.

I was also pleased to learn that Lewis did not like Pauline Baynes' illustrations for Narnia, though he thought she had learned enough by the last two volumes to be passable.  I have never liked them and have tried to make my peace with them by noting that they do seem to be modern echoes of medieval illustration such as tapestries, and remembering that I have little artistic sensibility myself and am in no position to judge.

Perhaps I will run into one or the other of O'Flaherty or Poe beginning Wednesday.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Inklings Conference

I will be at Montreat, NC for an Inklings Conference during next week. I am a bit apprehensive about having wasted my money, as sitting and listening for hours is difficult for me and the Thursday program runs 9-5 with an hour for lunch and then another 75 minutes in the evening. Even Wednesday and Friday look lengthy to these eyes. I prowl restlessly at the back of church as it is and still remember sitting agonisingly in classes as a lad, sometimes even sending my brain away to daydream or count into the thousands to distract my mind from the tedium. It is a rare speaker who can hold me beyond 20 minutes.*

I had hoped to blast out to meet Grim for a beer in Asheville (I think we are equidistant - 30 minutes - from opposite directions) but I am not getting out until 8:15 Wednesday and Thursday, and I no longer push late into the evening. (I've got your email and may give you a try if I decide to skip one of the evening programs, Grim. I'll give notice after scouting out these folks during registration.)

I am not in the Inner Ring of Lewis people (ironic that there are people who clearly enjoy being in the Inner Ring in light of his essay on it), but such is the stuff humans are made of. Still, I know enough of them that there are a full dozen I would like to meet, led by Devin Brown who is a professor at Asbury where my sons went, and only three, maybe four, I hope not to get trapped with. Those are, unsurprisingly very much Inner Ring people who love talking about having had tea with Walter Hooper and the like.

If I absorb anything worth mentioning I will certainly mention it.

*Even the exceptions prove (the word means test in that context, not the silly idea that a counterexample actually reinforces a theory. Think proof as in alcohol, or "proving grounds," or "the proof of the pudding is in the eating." [And now you have a second correction of a common idea that the saying is 'the proof is in the pudding.']) the rule and uphold it.  When I went to overnight six-week advanced studies one summer in high school we had 3.5 hours of math every morning and lots of homework.  I was enraptured and had the grade of Superior for weeks 1&2.  Weeks 3&4 I hit Satisfactory.  But by then I was obsessed with a girlfriend, was playing in an impromptu band in chapel, and had secured a role in "Lysistrata." And was diagramming plays for the 6-man flag football intramural with other slackers. And playing in BASIC to devise a program that wrote poetry. (The mind grew where the brain withdrew was the best line out of hundreds.) Weeks 5&6 you can imagine.  I had Unsatisfactory grades, figured I had to rally for the final, and did eventually pass. We did not know what ADHD was at the time, nor that OCD should be classified as an anxiety disorder. BTW, I have counted to 10,000 a few dozen times in my life when I have been in situations where I had to be in place. That's three hours, and usually occurred after a couple of hours of daydreaming proved insufficient. I fixed it.  I can now daydream about five hours, especially if I am walking or driving. So even when things are fascinating I have limits, and that's not good. Yet that's why you come here, isn't it, because I not only write about the subjects that fascinate you, but throw in a few others that you have at least passing interest in. I'd say it was a Smörgåsbord, but that is usually repetitive, with 4M versions of herring and salmon and lutfisk, followed by ham and potatoes, followed by small amounts of fruit, cheese, and nuts. It sounds like a lovely variety but is mostly just herring and salmon, but you don't notice because of the quantities of aqvavit, snapps, and glogg you have consumed. Hey, the footnote is longer than the post! There was a recent novel that did that, sci-fi maybe, where whole chapters were footnotes. Cool idea but it would make me crazy.