Thursday, June 29, 2023

I Don't Know How...

 ...this came into my mind, but it did. 

Would this song have qualified for the Lost 45's, or was it too well known? I had not realised that Lost 45s was a local Boston show

Vikings Were in the Azores 600 Years Before the Portuguese

 But they didn't seem to have stayed long. We can tell from the mouse DNA

Once mice have established somewhere, they can find ways to survive on their own even after the humans are gone.  But they can only get to islands with humans on ships, and probably only in the context of livestock, whose food they sneak off with. The Azores are about a third of the way across the Atlantic from Portugal to New York, and the historical record has always been that the Portuguese were the first to get there in the 1400s. Norse scholars have searched in vain for a reference to Viking travels that could possibly be the Azores. The Vikings did go an amazing number of places, after all.

But help has come from an unexpected corner, the biologists. When studying mouse DNA to determine what percentage and which islands had mice with origins in Portugal and which from Madeira (which have earlier been shown to be ultimately Danish, meaning that the Danes did at least get there.) They found on three small islands mice that had the same mtDNA (female line, very stable generation after generation) as mice from Norway and Iceland - and not all that closely related to the Danish ones, which they split from far earlier. 

Once they knew that someone from Norway had arrived with mice sometime, they were able to look for other clues, and found them, as the article tells us. Charcoal from intentional burning is a big clue everywhere. That can be radiocarbon dated, and confirms the most likely suspicion: the years when Vikings sailed everywhere, and traded with everyone, largely slaves. Vikings brough a lot of stuff on their ships for exactly this reason. Sometimes you get blown off course and have to survive in a place for a while until you can get back home.  

They must have been very good at getting back home.

The Church and Homosexuality

At my son's UMC church in Houston, a group has submitted a petition to the pastor that he prayerfully consider a full-throated denunciation of homosexuality from the pulpit, followed by a seven-part sermon series on why it's wrong, and then a polling of the congregation to make sure that they really understand now that it's wrong, wrong, wrong.  My own denomination had a controversy a few years ago because even though it does not authorise gay marriage, two pastors had done so in defiance of this and were up for discipline. Many denominations are still wrangling, and it does seem to be the "final straw" issue for people to leave churches and start split-offs. The Catholics are having a long simmering controversy and a subgroup of trad Catholics are clearly regarding this as a central issue that requires...well a seven-party sermon series or something, I guess. Those Catholics who regard this as a central controversy point to statistics that show that 40% or so of the clergy is gay, and the worry is that they will "vote gay" as well.

But do we think that percentage was very different in the Good Olde Days?  Hasn't a convent always been a place for a pious young woman who did not want to marry for "hidden" reasons, and the priesthood the same?  And didn't many (I think the current estimate is 50% even over a lifetime) keep their vows of chastity just the same? There have been terrible scandals certainly.  St. John's Seminary in Massachusetts was notorious for a few decades for advantage-taking of young seminarians and open homosexuality. 

Look, I believe a gay marriage is invalid in the church. I am against ordination of gays who would, as above "vote gay" and teach against the faith. I'm not all that fond of gay marriage in society (though I have had gay friends who were married), but can put up with it because not everyone agrees with me and we have to live by laws of consent. 

But there is no sane reading of scripture, or the church fathers, or the great Christian writers of history like Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley that places homosexuality at the center. I believe the scriptures teach against it and think the counterarguments smack of rationalisation rather than conviction, but really, it's not mentioned that much.

Nor do I buy the argument that every age of the Church has its pivot points and this is ours, so it is elevated by us in opposition because it was elevated to importance by others. This is the hour! Nor that the entire validity of scripture is being attacked by this doctrine more than any other. Umm...divorce? Isn't that a lot more common? I used to hear similar things about not allowing the occult to reach our children in the 80s. Don't let them introduce yoga to your child's school! (For the record, I believe yoga does have some bad spiritual influence. But why do we imagine a few third-graders doing a Salute to the Sun is somehow much more powerful than our apparently ineffective years of Sunday School?) When I came up among the Jesus People everything was focussed on the Last Days, and I still know people with that focus. In the last decade I have seen it claimed that antiracism is the center of the Gospel. The pastor at a church we used to go to claims on his site that nonviolence is the center of the gospel.

Full immersion. Concern for the marginalised. Prohibition. Blue laws. Go back far enough and people were excommunicated over "wrong" ways of calculating the date of Easter, or cutting the tonsure. Oh yes, these were very big deals. Bishops would be dispatched to Ireland or wherever with the sole purpose of making them get back into line. 

This Gospel seems to have many centers, and I cannot escape the suspicion that over and over again, people are not examining themselves and seeing that they are elevating a personal impression, even a feeling, swollen out of proportion and calling it God's priority as well. I recall a poll, Pew I think, from over a decade ago that there is 8% of the population whose main reason for opposing one or another gay right/entitlement/preference was that they found the contemplation of the acts they committed disgusting. That's not a theological reason. James Dobson used to play to that group on his radio show by telling parents to send the children out of the room and then reading detailed descriptions of what happened in bathhouses. If you know that they commit homosexual acts, why do you need to know more?  Doesn't it say that it is your interest that is unhealthy? I know some of that 8%, who in the discussion have to quickly get to their feelings of disgust.  I have to believe they are overrepresented in the groups submitting petitions. Plenty of sincere people, sure. But why is there no internal check on this, no encouragement to self-examination.

An additional thought.  (I have no numbers. I admit it is an impression.) In this area a lot of the startup evangelical churches since the 1970s, especially of the more fundamentalist and political variety, have beens started by ex-Catholics, especially French Catholics.  That's just the demography here, sure. But I wonder how much of the energy comes from charismatic males who believe, sometimes quite openly, that the church needs to be run by manly men. Did they strike out on their own because they perceived that this was not the case in the mainstream denominations? They certainly have a lot of men-being-men programs. And if this is the case, wouldn't that be strongest among Catholics? I am thinking of a half-dozen guys I know, all Vietnam-era veterans, all zeroing in quickly on the priestly abuse of boys scandals (even though it turns out there were similar numbers in other churches and synagogues, in Scouts, in Little League, at Y camps, etc, the Catholics still get the notice), all quite enjoyably regular guys who talk hunting, and muscle cars, and building stuff. A welcome relief, but are they overrepresented in who left the church, especially the Catholic church? Where my son is in Texas, this petitioning group is strongly CEO-infused. There's a whole Sunday School class that has been meeting for decades and electing officers who believe they should be able to demad that the congregation go in particular directions. If the UMC won't do what they want they seem eager to leave and join groups that they think will do what they want. The history of Protestant splits suggests otherwise, but maybe...Are they resentful that their type didn't seem to get to run the places they left behind? 

Well, that's rather prejudicial of me, I admit, and I suspect I will be modifying the idea over time as people point things out to me or challenge some of the assertions.  Go right ahead.

About That Walking

I like talking to the dead myself.  They finally have to listen.  I encourage people to do the same to me after I'm gone. It would serve me right.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Noam Chomsky

I have never liked Chomsky, not since my undergraduate days. I have thought that he reflexively sees what is bad in America and defends the indefensible in everyone else. Even tough I am still essentially Chomskyite in my theories of language acquisition and the structure of thought, I was pleased a few years ago when his ideas were shown to be not absolute, which the late Larry Trask had always claimed.

But there he was, being interviewed by Tyler Cowen, so I thought I would give him another try.  It had been years, after all, and the blurb suggested they would talk about what he thought he had gotten wrong. Always healthy.

I was amazed and embarrassed at first. He spoke convincingly about liberty as the lack of external compulsion, as in John Stuart Mill. He discoursed on a half a dozen philosophers dating back to the Greeks, and excoriated good liberals like Woodrow Wilson and especially Walter Lippman for their open willingness to manipulate public opinion by deception because of their contempt for the common man. Had I misjudged the man for so long? Was he always better than I had thought, but I would not listen? I consider that one of the great intellectual sins after all, and would be horrified to find it in myself in such thorough fashion.

Then he railed about public opinion still being manipulated, allowing the governments of the world to ignore obvious warning sign like the advancement of the Doomsday Clock a few more seconds by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the spell was broken.  It is at best a metaphor, it is based on the feelings of one set of Atomic Scientists about political matters in which they have no special expertise, and the recently declared that incorporating "Queer Theory" was essential to avoiding nuclear war. He had similar statements about a field that is not his own about environmental catastrophe. He could be right. But any number of other people might also be right, and there is no reason to regard Chomsky's opinion as superior to others.

Once such spells are broken, one can take them back to the ideas that just bamboozled you and see them afresh. He spoke of Wilson being elected to keep us out of war and then advocating that we get into WWI, putting forth propaganda that may have helped the change of opinion occur. But he painted it as America as a pacifist country in 1916, and rabid war-mongers only two years later. If someone is elected to keep us out of war, it means that the question is open in the country and this is something of a referendum. It means 40%, perhaps 45%, think it's an okay idea. Similarly, when America becomes "warmonger," there would still have been isolationists opposed. This was not 0% to 100% manipulation of opinion.  Wilson wasn't elected to keep us out of war with Brazil, after all. What politicians like to claim is a mandate is sometimes just a move from 49 to 53% approval. The country is not that changed.  As a binary, he has a point.  Being at war versus not at war is a big difference.

Also, events intervened between the pacifist America and the warmonger America that may have done most of the persuading.  Wilson's beating of the drums may have had little effect. 

I don't recommend the interview, and am glad I got Chomsky right in early 1972.


Today's sermon concerned walking - the Road to Emmaus, the pastor had mentioned CS Lewis talking with Tolkien and Dyson on Addison's Walk at Magdalen College to me before he preached, Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach them (commandments) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Jesus taught as he walked. He did get away to quiet places by himself, but he spent much more time walking. It didn't have to be that way.  Many teaching rabbis of the time were not itinerant. Students came to them. I never like to point to a single reason and say "There! This is it! This is why God did this thing!" because it's usually more complicated than that.  Jesus is likely doing a hundred things at once. But he did choose this style, and it does provoke a certain type of teaching, learning, listening.

Walking provokes a certain type of thinking that is both reflective and prospective, that gathers in information and organises it. Joggers and runners will say that their pace clears the brain better, and that there is good data that shows that information retrieval is better before and after running far more than with walking, and that their subjective experience is of very clear thinking and working things out. This could well be so.  I do not begrudge them this tool and their joy. I do suspect that by the nature of running, where so much more attention must be put on foot-placement and signals of the body, that what is happening to them might be a pruning, a recognising what is not essential to understanding, rather than new things added in. That has been my experience in the very few periods when I attempted to restart running (usually in secret). But I may be entirely wrong on this.  I am no expert, certainly.

Devotional books stress silence, meditation, removal from the world to find God and to find the Kingdom of God. It is common in many places for the worship leader to begin, as she does at our church, by encouraging others to clear their minds of the outside world in order to enter a worship space mentally. I think it just feels holy to people to do that. I have mentioned a few times before that this is generally opaque to me.  People made some good helpful suggestions last time, and I think I begin to see what this Desert Fathers approach is good for. But I still think that this is secondary. I don't think we get to the Kingdom of God by leaping over some chasm from our world into that one. We bring the world we have into the worship space and ask that it be changed. The bread of the Eucharist is just bread from our world, but it is brought into the presence of God and it is changed. The wine is just wine until Jesus infuses himself into it and changes is into some sort of Kingdom of God food, some food of grace. But neither is that Eucharist something that drops out of the sky, some magical potion deposited on the altar as if delivered by some space alien.

It is our world of broken relationships and received insults that we bring into worship asking for repair, and I think that is true of the worship that takes place throughout every hour of our week as well. Our lives are not abandoned, they are transformed. When complete, it may well be that all the old earthly parts are dead and only new Kingdom parts remain, but they are not a replacement but a completion of our earthly acts. 

We start with the idea that heaven is a place, or at least I think I started there as a child.  It is not the only place to begin. God barely mentions heaven in the Scriptures until near the end. Before that, participation in the community of God's people is the ticket. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God he seems to be referring to something more like that, but deeper, a place of living-as-if, so that we gradually take on the coloration of the Kingdom. But for me that was not the beginning. I was aware as a child that this world is deeply unjust, yet saw that I could only know this if there were something just to compare it to. Even if that place were remote and inaccessible, even if God would not let me in, I knew there was a God-world out there. And I wanted to get to it. It was not only injustice against me personally, but against my younger brother, wonderful but unrecognised, friends who had abusive parents. The automatic categories occurred to me. Black people. Disabled people. People born in horrible places. 

When I read the CS Lewis explanation that trying to disprove God by pointing out how unjust this world is is impossible, for if there were not some immovable idea of justice we would not even recognise injustice, I saw it immediately. It was the thought behind my years of thoughts.

Our hymn-language and folksong language talks about a Promised Land, an echo of the early type in Exodus, our stories are about heaven as a place, but that was always unsatisfying to me. If getting to this God-world was supposed to be the end result, then didn't all our actions here mean essentially noting?  Just entertainment for angels until we died and got picked up and moved to a better place? Ridiculous. As I learned the teachings that we start finding the Kingdom of God by attempting to enact it here it seemed mere evasion and excuse-making. I had to come at that through more sci-fi/fantasy ideas of people inhabiting two worlds and carrying characteristics of both. We enact the Kingdom of God, partly ceremonially, partly by effort and show, mostly by grace, and the enacting transforms us. And I don't think this is done by sitting with our eyes closed, but by dragging our world, like Jacob Marley and his chains, along some path with the intention that some pieces fall off, some are cut off, but many are instead transformed. We hear the music of the other world and we hum it here; whiffs of clean air from that world sneak in and fill our lungs as we go; we treat those along the way the way they will be treated there in wasys that are first ceremonial and then real.

It is motion.  The Pilgrims Progress (and the Pilgrim's Regress and the literature of the devoted rather than devotional literature) is a journey. It is also why we do not always know what is the true road and what is a distraction. Many distractions have turned out to be the True Road in my life.  I am highly suspicious of Christians who think in terms of setting goals. They impose visions on God. Don't Immanentize the Eschaton, as the saying goes. On a walking path to reach the Kingdom, the back-doublings and pauses to look out over the valley for a bit may be more important than the distance covered.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Dumnonia as Transportation History

There was a map as part of an Anglo-Saxon history podcast that showed Dumnonia.  It was cut off from the rest of England. Not only was it not clear where it was in relation to London, you couldn't even guess in Portsmouth unless you had a lot of that coastline memorised. The Isle of Wight was visible, but the whole section including Cornwall and Devon looked like an island itself. There wasn't the fainest indication of a road. 

(Different map of Dumnonia)

What was there were lines in the ocean showing trading routes. We don't think like that.  We grew up with the idea of nations, largely part of a change in mentality based on roads, canals, and railroads. Even in the American colonial enterprise, grants were made to states to extend westward not because there was particular insight into the vast territories and riches in-between, but in the hopes of them reaching the opposite shore so they could take their ships on and trade with China, and especially India.  It's a very modern conception. Regions, city-states, areas of influence, and natural boundaries were the norm, not ideas of A People tied to the ground. 

It's part of what made Steppe invaders so devastating. No one even thought like that, they had no real defenses. Invaders came up rivers or over seas, so you had forts to defend against that. Hill forts and the like were small internal affairs, defending against the next tribe over.

Transportation costs were everything. Even in the map above, you likely weren't even going to ship goods up or down the rivers at that (modern) border and take them overland to the rivers on the other side. You are getting on a boat and going around the coast. Boats on water have very little friction.  You can put a lot more weight on a boat that you can on a lot of horses or oxcarts. There was no real drive to build roads. Roads were for moving troops as much as trade goods.

Monday, June 26, 2023


 Narcissists are happier when marrying other narcissists. This seems counterintuitive, but accords with what I have seen in that branch of evangelicalism called Victory Christianity, who often go into sales and financial services and espouse a positive-thinking theology that they believe is biblical, but is just their natural personality expressing itself. They are quick to call those who disagree with them unbiblical and even unchristian in their thinking. I admit I may be less tolerant of that group of Christians than any other.

No aspersions cast on people in sales and financial services. But you, more than anyone, must know the type I am talking about.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Blow, Winds

I am again waiting for thunderstorms that have not come.  I love them, because up here when the come they are not only exciting, but when they pass the humidity has been broken and the air feels fresh.  My son in Houston finds thunderstorms much less pleasant, as the humidity is the same before and after.

Lear, with The Fool in the storm

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man! King Lear, Act III Scene ii.

Presidential Intelligence

Simonton wrote 30 years ago about greatness and suggested that the presidential candidate of lesser intelligence usually won.  This was , however, in the context of that candidate having been the most intelligent among the party nominees.  So you have to be smarter than the others in your party to get the nomination, but you run the risk of not being "relatable" enough. Regression to the mean (Simonton says about 119 IQ is best) carries advantage.

Discussions like this usually quickly move to people incensed because their candidate has Good Quality X that the other guy does not, so this theory is obviously bogus.  The Republican/Democrat is always the smarter candidate you fool, you fool. But if we force ourselves to stick to the main point, the definition of intelligence as IQ, of raw brain power, I think the idea has a lot of merit. But he's an asshole. Doesn't matter. He got us into War A, which was stupid idea. Not the point here. But he cured cancer, ran a business, wrote books. You aren't paying attention here.We're not talking accomplishment, or wisdom, or charisma, or morality here.

If you can't get that, you have no place in the conversation.

Given that, let's look at it. I think we see quickly that this is clearly rather powerful, but other factors intervene. Second terms with the added dynamic of "Don't rock the boat" versus "This boat clearly needs to be rocked" overrules the pure intelligence factors much of the time - though maybe not all.

Herbert Hoover was clearly smarter than Roosevelt. The other terms don't seem to matter as much.

Dewey was smarter than the relatable Truman.

Stevenson was smarter than Eisenhower.

Nixon was smarter than Kennedy,

Goldwater was smarter than Johnson.

Nixon was smarter than Humphrey.  Exception.

Ford and Carter, I don't know.  I think I give the nod to Ford.

Reagan was smarter than credited, but Carter and Mondale were likely smarter

Bush 41 was probably smarter than Dukakis, Swarthmore be damned. Exception.

Bush was smarter than Clinton by a lot.

Dole and Clinton about even up.

Bush 43 smarter than advertised, but Gore probably smarter.

Bush smarter than Kerry.

McCain smarter than Obama. How Barack beat Hillary to get the nomination seems to be the relatability factor operating in the primaries. He was above-average, she was a National Merit Scholar.

Romney smarter than Obama.

Hillary smarter than Trump

But Trump (also underrated) smarter than Biden.

Interesting theory.


The Purpose of History

When histories are written, someone writes them. The biography of King Steven might have been paid for by King Steven, and the point is to convince us what a great guy he was, how he defeated all his enemies in battle. He was wise and just and a great lawgiver. Or the intent of the history might be to teach children a certain lesson, so the historian goes looking for a list of kings, or saints or other important people and chooses one to illustrate his point. Children, you should be like this. The facts can be bent - things that other kings or saints did can be swapped in.  Because history is not the point. The lesson is the point.

So also with describing the excellent behavior of kings in the past. The historian's actual goal is to tell the current king "This is how a good kind acts." So the list of kings in history is consulted and a suitable candidate is selected. At no point is anyone thinking "Let me tell you how it really went down." That is what makes works like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle important.  They actually do want to tell you what happened in 878. 

We still snigger at this when we encounter someone like Gildas, who is telling a morality tale about letting some of the barbarians in to gain power because the British wanted to repel the Northern European invasions generally. It is from Gildas that we get the idea of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, which turns out to be only partly true.  He would not have given a fig about that. Whether it was Frisians or Jutes is of great importance to us now, but to him it was a detail, a distraction.

Given the continual inaccuracy of accurate histories, it is worth asking whether we should look down our noses quite so much.

What Is An Average Portion?

When you read the breakdown of calories, fats, and all other ingredients in a recipe, it tells you this is per an average portion. I have known registered dieticians at the hospital, and they have lists and charts that tell you that 5 oz of chicken or butternut squash or whatever is an average portion. The food company is trying to play a game of its own, threading the needle between picking a small number and saying "See, there's not much sodium and sugar in it" and trying to convince you that you should use this stuff up fast because there are only three servings in the box while you would swear you are going to get five out of that.

All numbers have some PR behind them. They all have an element of "this is what we want you to think an average portion is." I am betting the RD and government numbers are not in any way based on "this is the mode of what people actually eat when they make this dish or order it in a restaurant."

I just think it is good to ask Where does this number come from?

Always Something New

One of the joys of the internet is that you are searching for something like maple fish recipes, and get led to a Slovenian law firm.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Bob Montana

The NH Historical Society celebrates its 200th anniversary this year and has organised a statewide scavenger hunt.  My wife picked up on this right a way and we will be doing at least some of it. The reminder that Mike King sent me included a picture of an Archie Andrews statue in Meredith, which I don't believe I have ever seen. In my NH trivia, and even in my Manchester Central High School trivia, I somehow forget that Bob Montana graduated from Central. It was not often referred to when I was growing up, and I only recall my mother mentioning it once. A new deli had been built on Bridge s just above Elm around 1965, and Montana had painted some Archie figures on the walls. The owner had apparently known Montana when he lived there. When we visited, my mother pointed them out and explained. I was impressed, but apparently not very impressed. This association was not part of our general association with the city.  People weren't bringing it up at every turn and naming parks after him or anything. I don't recall it ever being mentioned at Central. He graduated in 1938 or so, and there would have been teachers who were there then, but it just wasn't noted much. Or at all.

In trying to reason out why, I read the Wiki and concluded it must have been his short duration here. He had lived all over and was even at a rival high school before finishing here, so there wouldn't have been a lot of "I remember growing up with Bob my neighborhood" nostalgia. He fought in WWII and didn't return here, so there wasn't a long stretch of time he could have been here. 

But I think there was a quieter factor that seems strange to us today. Not every kind of fame was celebrated. Comic books were still considered for children only, and not quite respectable. If someone had tried to name a park after him there might have been objections from respectable circles like the Carpenter Library or the Currier Art Gallery. This was not the sort of thing people wanted Manchester to be known for.  This was not the sort of reading and art we wanted to encourage in the children. Grace Metalious of Peyton Place notoriety was known (and disliked: "I have nothing good to say about Grace DeRepentigny," said my namesake uncle)  by my family directly, but no one mentioned a word of this until much later. It was not suitable for children to know such things. When the TV series came out, none of the teachers at Straw School pointed that out to our impressionable minds. And it's not like we were swimming in famous people who came out of our school. 

There is a great deal of wailing about one group or another being erased from history, and I think it's fine that people try to undo that. But I think there is a misunderstanding of earlier times. They weren't being erased from history so much as from the present. Ethnic groups vied to establish some sort of prominence, so that we would know that Greeks or Scots had been Very Important to the development of Manchester. People who actually were Very Important often did not seek the limelight, and that was respected. May Gruber of Pandora Sweaters, for example. I chuckle when I see the claims that black people or gay people were erased from history. Are you kidding? That was only the beginning. Almost everyone was erased. It's not just that we were trying to keep those black people down, it is that we automatically took no notice of anything that doesn't project what we prefer. We are curating our thoughts before they are even fully formed.

Well, not only is calculated oppression more fun to think about, but in our current version of curating our thoughts, it allows us to ignore the question of whether we are doing the same thing ourselves. Do activists ever ask themselves if they are erasing others? Okay, activists don't ever ask themselves anything, it's sort of the definition of the term. But just hypothetically, y'know? Deplatforming is this writ large, because everyone can force themselves into the public consciousness now and primly looking the other way no longer works. Ignoring people with other POV's is itself ignored, so it is no longer an effective strategy.

And BTW, I always preferred Betty to Veronica and thought this was unusual. I thought that the whole school should just leave Reggie and Veronica to themselves, who clearly deserved each other. I now know that everyone preferred Betty. That was intentional.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Sick Update

So nothing chronic.  I had a virus that dehydrated me and after five days I made an appt and saw my regular physician.  I got lightheaded while there and was sent to the ER, which gave me sailine, then more saline, then kept me overnight for more saline.  By that time a number of tests had been written for.

When the cardiologist saw me this morning she declared that it was not aFib, it was my usual arrhythmia, which is usually under good control, but the medication control was lost because of the electrolyte loss. I was fine by morning.

What I learned: for competitive athletes, older people, and those with more intense needs, plain water is not hydration. Gatorade, or broths, or anything with something more of ingredients such as juices are better choices.  I haven't liked the taste of gatorade, but figure it's better than most medicines.

I have not been overnight in a hospital for some time, and have some observations. Anyway, I am hope puzzling over the Celtics trade and figuring out that section of the draft to listen to tonight.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Symbolic Stories opposed to true ones. 

I met with some cousins last week and briefly explained why had gotten off FB years ago. I was tired of being misunderstood in what seemed positively willful, and being unfriended by two other relatives who were furious that I would not accept the importance of a fake story just because it was, you know, fake. It had seemed to two (other) second cousins that A) How did I know it was fake? and B) Wasn't it racist to even question such an obviously well-meaning story that showed support by we white people for black professionals? 

Well, (A) the story was too perfect, always a bad sign. The good character was too good, the bad character too much of a jerk. That wasn't acceptable. Oh, then you don't really know that the story is fake.  Hahaha. So I took some text with more-unusual words and searched for it.  It seems to exist only on FB. I tried some topic-searches as well, just to make sure. Nothing. Yeah, just like I said, you don't really know that it's fake. Then B) If real stories like this are so common, why not use one of those instead? I'll bet I could find a few rather quickly. So I did. I thought they lacked the symbolic oomph, though. They didn't have the outrage meter dialed up to eleven. I thought they were plenty interesting, though. There was often a related missing piece, though. A couple of the inevitable activist pieces had question marks in them. We would have social justice in medicine speakers at the hospital with fair regularity. Originally, they would be focused on women, but then over half the psychiatrists and nearly all the psychologists and social workers were women and the audiences were attentive and approving, but the outrage factor was becoming nonexistent.  Gay acceptance was similar, though less pronounced.  People were happy to go to short presentation with maybe a Q&A, but if you went more than an hour people would walk out going "Really?"

It was mostly trans activists at the end, the the people who had been at the hospital more that ten years didn't much like the most prominent speaker. They weren't buying it. You trained here back when you were a woman and no one knew you were going to make the switch. You were mean, and an asshole, and nobody liked working with you. You can get those vibes from some of the Black Doctor strories too.  But not all.  I found half-a-dozen in a  ten-minute search where I thought "I would have gone with that one instead." It's not that hard.

Even in NH, we always had a black doctor or two, all of whom were friends, so I showed it around. Jonathan said "Wait, he didn't catch some disease from one of those white people and then die alone and unloved a few weeks later?  They left out part of the story." I thought of that when my relative (the other relative had already unfriended me that afternoon) was getting increasingly irate that I just didn't get it how important this is, and that this is the reality that many black people face every day. Hmm. I'll bet I know way more black doctors than you do. They seem to disagree.  

Maybe that's the beauty of the made-up story. No one is going to pop out of the woodwork on you and say "That guy? Yeah he's not so long suffering. He usually left early." I hadn't thought of the covering-your-trail aspect. Maybe it's not better to have a real story instead.  There will always be some chance, however small, that someone will expose it. With a fake story, who can prove you wrong?

We don't accept that reasoning in topics that are not activist.  If someone is applying for a job we don't add in "He was a golden gloves champion boxer." "Was he really?" "Well no.  I looked him up and couldn't find much.  But I'll bet boxing is important to him."  Or a baseball player "I think we need to draft this kid. He tore up the Big Ten as catcher.  Hit .400 his senior year." "It says here he hit .260." "Yeah, but he hit a lot of balls hard." "Nice swing?" "I don't know.  Never saw him."

I guess it's the outrage that's important.

Monday, June 19, 2023


 Sorry to have neglected you, I've sick a few days.  Covid negative, but the sort of wild temperature changes that make it hard to think straight. Violent cold shakes during the day, sweating at night, requiring ice packs to even pretend to sleep. I crave Chinese food and moments later am sure it would make me vomit. There are odd lovely moments though, when I have successfully wrapped up in my favorite blanket in my favorite chair and am transitioning from one temperature to another and get some actual sleep.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Badass Characters

A friend at pub night had a nomination for the most badass character in LOTR. It's a fun exercise.  Eowyn is an early nomination, as she is probably the most heroic female character in all of literature. She stands against the head of the Nazgul with pretty much only a sword and a bright voice. Merry does well in the same scene.  Sam stands off Shelob with a weapon that isn't even his and no training.  Pretty good!  Gandalf fights the Balrog solo, but Gandalf also has plenty of powers of his own.  He's not coming in empty-handed, and neither is Strider.

He thought Farmer Maggot takes the honor, successfully facing down a Nazgul on his fields with only his dog for assistance.

Friday, June 16, 2023

PEMDAS is Wrong

I have gotten slapped by younger PEMDAS people for years, all of whom are just sure that their interpretation of the conventions is the correct one. 

I notice that her audience seems to largely agree with her.

In general, I respond better to "it used to be that way but we changed it" than "no, you're wrong."

PTSD and the Hundred-Acre Wood

It is possible to get carried away discovering adult material in children's books, and I made a major error of that sort in the 1970's, thinking that The Pooh Perplex was a set of serious essays, some of which needed refutation, until a girlfriend gently pointed out that perhaps it was satire. There is also a humorous DSM-IV breakdown of Milne's characters not meant to be serious. So it is with some trepidation that I offer the following.

There is now considerable literature claiming that AA Milne's stories were an attempt to explain to his son some very uncomfortable material. Milne had been at the Somme himself and later had PTSD and what we would now call an anxiety disorder. The buzzing of bees were a trigger for him as was the popping of balloons. Either could send him into a tailspin for the rest of the day. That makes one particular story quite interesting. As we have discussed under other PTSD posts, physically walking away after a trauma seems to mitigate the effect, and WWI was a trench warfare in one place that made this impossible for many. (Note; Imitations of this such as EMDR, playing Tetris, and walking away in controlled remembrance situations later also seem to help. Brain hack "We are walking away.")

Milne had friends who sad for extended periods like Eeyore, or anxious like Piglet. It is not necessary to believe that Milne was intentionally crafting stories for his son to nonetheless think that he was illustrating that sometimes people have difficult lives and act in frustrating ways - which was true in England in the 20s, certainly.

I just wrote about Pedantry, so I would caution against trying to tie Rabbit (rigidity) or Tigger (Attention disorder) too tightly to specific diagnoses. They are characters, and like actual humans, don't quite fit neat categories.  They are evocative. 

Chesterton wrote “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” (Chesterton and Milne played on the same amateur cricket team, BTW, though perhaps not at the same time.) Tolkien and Lewis strongly believed this and both discussed and demonstrated it. So why not Milne?


I before E except after C, or when sounded as "a," as in neighbor and weigh.  Or eight, freight. Notice that there are silent letters, which should immediately alert you to the oddity of spelling. And there are many exceptions to this anyway.

It's entirely arbitrary. There is no reason it can't be recieve or cieling. Many of these conventions come from French copyists and then typesetters centuries ago, who were trying to capture sounds in a consistent fashion. We spell such things "correctly" purely as a social signifier that we have received a proper education. I had a great aunt who congratulated a preacher with great approval that she had never heard him split an infinitive. Not splitting an infinitive is just a made-up rule, like many rules of English. It is supposedly superior to say "It is I" instead of "It's me," but French, significantly closer to Latin, has c'est moi and no one bats an eyelash. It's usually an affectation. I found it easy to adopt this affectation and have found it difficult to rid myself of it, which says something about snobbery and reverse snobbery, I suppose.

I competed with a highschool girlfriend every morning as to who could memorise the most decimal places of pi. I forget who won, but we were both over 250.  I can still rattle off 3.14159265358979 but...why? Few Almost zero computations require that level of precision. We were working with protractor and compass in 1971, and the imprecision of those instruments made anything beyond 3.14 pointless. 

I posted on "Nukular" over three years ago and it generated one of my longer comment threads. There are words that we associate with being sloppy or ill-educated that are more clearly examples of how a prestige accent has won out in English. In most languages the accent near the capital becomes preferred and everyone in the provinces is looked down upon. My sons from Transylvania remember being teased by the children and staff at the orphanage in Oradea when they came down from a rural village an hour away.

There are times when it is worth being precise, but most of our pedantries communicate unattractive things about our character.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A New Look at IRS Auditing

Lyman Stone suggests that you can get the trifecta of more revenue, less burden for the poor and middle class, and less corruption by requiring that 50% of all IRS audits be on the 1% in income. That group is not the same as the 1% in assets. I will note that the committed Marxists who believe that it is the asset group that is ultimately more corrupt because they conceal their oppression of the poor by very deep and clever manipulations of the system aren't able to produce evidence for the proposition, just feelz that it must be so. Their graphs and statistics usually amount to "Some people are much richer than others, much, much richer, and poor people have less stuff, and that must mean it's all rigged somehow, don't you see?" I will mostly let him and his commenters make their own argument. He has reasons why after the initial surge of love from the Bernie supporters, it might be the conservatives who get behind this.

Update: I should have linked to the beginning of the tweet, which includes the link to the paper.

Lying For Money

 ACX is starting up this year's book review contest, in which reader's review either a new book or rethink an older one. The reviewers are anonymous until the winner is announced.

I enjoyed the review of Lying For Money by Dan Davies. It includes such counterintuitives that the optimal level of fraud in a society is not zero. Fraud can only occur in a context of trust betrayed because people are used to trusting strangers. Such high trust in a society is a good thing.

Sunday, June 11, 2023



Cedric, Wise Man in a Cave

Cedric was a recent addition to the local discussions.  He had moved in up in the hills about ten years ago, but he kept to himself, and only slowly did the stereotype embed itself in the village consciousness. But the combination of old man, lives as a hermit, in a cave, and rumors filtering down that he had traveled far, and said interesting things eventually won out, and everyone assumed he must be very wise. The age claimed for him seemed to increase at three times the actual number of years.

The temptation was too great.  I grabbed a staff and put on a hat and started up to where his cave was believed to be. I actually seldom wear a hat and never walk with a staff, but they seemed to fit the adventure of talking to a wise old man. His name was supposedly Cedric, or sometimes Chedric.

"They tell me you are a wise man, sir."

"The evidence would suggest that I am the biggest fool in the known lands."

"How is that?"

"I keep opening my big yap and say something that upsets everyone, and conclude pretty quickly that I had better move on."

"How many times have you had to move?"

He appeared to count them in his head. "Sixteen. Seventeen. I'm getting better.  When I started out I had to move just about every year."

"How did it start?"

"When I was a boy there was a big parade and everyone stood waving by the side of the road, when this naked guy was carried up in a big chair carried by eight men. I pointed out that he wasn't wearing anything, because frankly, it seemed strange."

"I've heard a story like this."

"Have you? Well, they probably said that everyone rejoiced and congratulated me for being such a smart little boy, and the emperor was embarrassed and ran back to the palace and hid, and didn't interfere with people much after that.  Am I right?"

"Yes, he became humble, and a good ruler. That's not what happened?"

"Not even close. They threw me in a dungeon and only after a while decided they couldn't kill me because I was just a boy and they'd look foolish. So they let me out one night, gave me a few sandwiches, and told me to get out of town.  I didn't need to be told twice."

I frowned and considered this. "That's not an encouraging story."

"No, it isn't.  I went to the next country and noticed they had lots of naked people walking around, not just the king. I tried not to notice, but eventually someone would say some ridiculous thing like 'I'll be giving a speech about tax reform in the town square tomorrow afternoon' and I'd say 'That's a terrible idea.  You're naked and you'll make a fool of yourself.' It happened everywhere. I decided I could put up with naked sheriffs and naked bishops, but I just couldn't keep it in for mayors and archbishops."

"Has there been any place where they just accepted the news and changed their ways?"

"They try, they try. But word gets around that I'm a divisive person."

"That sounds ridiculous."

"Yeah, you'd think that walking around naked would be divisive, but apparently not. Also, there was one country where almost everyone was naked, and it was actually easy not to mention it."

"Yet you left?"

"Chased out.  Worst yet.  I made the mistake of mentioning that someone was clothed, and it turns out he was not a popular person."

"Have you been down to our village?"

"Only twice.  I try and get someone to go for me."

"Did you see any naked people in our village?"

"I'm not saying." 

"Am I naked?"

"No you're wearing a hat."

I ground my teeth a little and was thinking maybe it was time for Cedric to move on when he laughed. "No, you've got a full set of clothes. I also have a problem of always playing for the laugh."

I laughed nervously.

"You know that old saying In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king? Well it's not true. He's found stabbed in the back, halfway up the mountain."

"So which is wiser, to say the truth or not say it?"

"I haven't got a clue, really."

-er Ending in England

The -er ending in pronunciation when what the letters on the page say is -a, as in JFK saying Cuber, or my friend who refers to his Aunts Anner and Teener, is a coastal New England staple.  The Yankee magazine cartoonist Don Bousquet reportedly had a vanity plate HONDER on his Japanese car in the 80s and 90s.

But I hear it on my British and Medieval history podcasts as well, once we get away from Oxonian accents.  Today I heard about Ghaner and Algierier establishing trade links with Indier in medieval times. I'll have to poke around and see what regional accent that is.

Update: It is called an intrusive r and is related to the linking r, which is used at the end of -a words only when it is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, as in "We'll be going to Georgier-and Florida (or Florider-and Georgia)." It is now so common in England that even though it is technically considered incorrect and not absolute best Received Pronunciation, no one much mentions it anymore. Margaret Thatcher was called "Laura Norder" because of that pronunciation of "Law and Order." In America I think the r on the end of "law" is also one of the most common linking r's.

Saturday, June 10, 2023


Who got funnier as they went along, and who started out great and then slowly receded? Eddie Izzard was much funnier when he started than he is now. I think much the same of Taylor Tomlinson. Phyllis Diller was basically one joke, and it got old fast.

Bob Newhart was funny starting out, and I think he got funnier the longer he went. Rodney Dangerfield got funnier, Jonathan Winters got funnier. Oh, come to think of it, I think Steve Martin takes the prize for continuing improvement.

Try some more on me.

World Record

 Jacob again. Takes more than four seconds off the world record in the 2-mile. Amazing.


At the moment I have a generally disinterested but somewhat positive attitude toward the new medicines.  It looks like a way to lose 15 lbs in two months with few side effects. 

Science researcher Stuart Ritchie (on my sidebar but behind a paywall for a lot of his stuff) tends to like pointing out people's very bad reasoning for or against various scientific claims.  In this tweet, he lists the terrible arguments the Guardian has put forward against the stuff.  Reading them, it does make me feel more positive toward it.  Knuckleheads being against something is not really an argument for it, but somehow we tend to think so. I didn't see it on the list, but I have heard people getting torqued off because "Rich people are going to get this first and it's not fair." Sounds great to me. They bring the price down over time.

Romano's Pizza

 I wonder how many Romano's Pizza's there are in the country?

Teams and Team-Building

Ethan Mollick, business professor at Wharton, tweets out about two team-performance studies:

The collective intelligence of a team depends on more than the intelligence of individual members. It is limited by the emotional intelligence of the least sensitive team member


But adding folks with high social skills to a team & improving process boosts collective intelligence

Links to the papers are in the tweet.

We all have an intuitive suspicion that this first one is correct. We have all seen a single neighbor ruin a neighborhood, one difficult personality ruin a family gathering (and the three-year followup of everyone trying to fix it and disagreeing about how that should be done), one deacon ruin a church, one spoiled player ruin a team, etc. So that this is also true for work and projects makes sense. But not so fast. How are they measuring this, both the individual emotional skill and the team productivity? Haven't we all also seen that a group continues to have problems even when The Problem goes away?* That the difficult person was only the person brave/entitled/responsible enough to give voice to the group's discontent?

And now that we think of it, don't the same questions come up for the second study?  What are we measuring? Isn't this lauding of social skill as a solution possibly only a downstream effect itself? Mightn't it be that teams that are winning feeling better about each other and get along, rather than the getting along creating the winning?

I read the papers and they look to me like they transcend those objections, rather than bury them. Let me know if you think otherwise.

A story.

I took a small-group communication class in college and one of the first exercises was to take that supposed NASA test of a list of items you were stranded with on a moon** landing and had to prioritise what to bring to get back to some safe place. I wrote it up in a post last year, Teamwork. Basically, a little humility goes a long way toward making good people better, but nothing makes bad people work all that well.

A story.

In the mid-90s the people at my hospital who smoked were a loose network of people who had inappropriate conversations about everything when out on break.  Such joys make it hard to give up smoking. One running conversation was the hospital would run better if the few worst people in the building were gone - and that everyone knew who they were. If we had a hospital-wide secret ballot of who the problems were, the same names would come up, regardless of unit worked or department specialty or shift. So the game would start, department by department, and brief gossip would come forth about each suggestion.

So who's the worst psychiatrist? "Larry, by far.(Insert three incidents illustrating how bad Larry is.)" "Eh, you're not wrong, but Dr. K is a passive-aggressive bitch who keeps writing people up." "Evan?" "Yeah, maybe. But he's mostly just useless.  He does what we (the nurses) tell him."

Who's the worst nurse coordinator? "Cindy." "No, she's really good at defending her people." "Only some of them. Don't get on her bad side." "Lila." "Oh God, yes." "I keep thinking Linda is good, but whenever I cover there all of her nurses are getting into control arguments with borderlines."

I am uncharacteristically silent, smirking, at this point - and with different smokers, we had this conversation about a dozen times, and I grew to love waiting for the moment.

Worst psychologist? Myron. Celia. "They're mostly all nuts themselves anyway."

Worst social worker? Peter. Ted. Pat. Universal agreement, with no additional nominations.

Rehab/OT? "All of them are pretty good, really. I don't like their directors much, but they're mostly good.." "Maybe Barbara, who is always whining and sort of passive-aggressive." "Yeah, maybe her."

And as I stubbed out the cigarette I would say "My team is Dr. K, Cindy, Myron, Pat, and Barbara." "Holy F--, you're right. How do you get through rounds every morning?"  "We don't. I always said I could work with anybody and smooth good work out of them but I have no idea what we are accomplishing." "Yeah, I covered for you last summer and told Al I would never do it again.  If he assigns me, I'm quitting." "So which one's the biggest problem?" "Pat. The others would sort of figure it out if she weren't there."

1998 was my year of vindication when I transferred, and all my teams did well for twenty years, but that's another story. As with many of us in life, I would not have told you that teambuilding difficult people was my superpower, not in 1978 or 1988. Nor did I know that my best role in life was to be The Dad, not until my two oldest were both launching and I had displayed alternating brilliance and failure in that role to that point, about two-thirds of the way through my life. I guess that is only a variation of teambuilding, of getting the three younger boys to fit into a Family after nightmarish starts. They will live another forty years after I am gone, and they'll all be fine.

I thought I was someone else.

*An engineer friend has a wealth of sayings, one of which is "We the big ones are gone, the big ones remain."

**A good place to force in my mnemonic for deciding whether the moon is waxing or waning.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Till There Was You

There is sometimes a problem with beautiful voices in musicals. So much effort is put into the technical skill that the character and emotion that a song is supposed to have, in order to move the story forward, is drained out.

Part of that is era. A more formal, trained style was considered comfortable when the movie came out in 1962, but less vibrato became the norm just after. We saw the abbreviated version of the show tonight, and the high school girl singing the lead would not get invited to sing a solo concert in a gown. But her job tonight was not to sing a solo concert in a gown, it was to be a young woman in first love.  That she accomplished.

I browsed through a half-dozen versions and this came closest.

Peer Review

Adam Mastroianni of Columbia, starting off his interview with Razib was talking about an essay of his that had gone viral when he declared the peer review system, at least in his field of Social Psychology, as useless. There were veiled threats that important people might recommend him out of jobs over the idea.

Rule of thumb: when people misrepresent what your argument is, it means they haven't paid attention, or they would prefer to argue against something else, or both. If they had a refutation of your actual point they would stick with that. In this case, his claim is that peer review doesn't accomplish the indications of quality it is designed to. Too many articles spread over too many specialties with too few people qualified to judge them. In many cases the reviewer can tell who the author is because there are only six people who do this, and he knows it's not from his lab, so it must be from the other one. 

The emperor has no clothes.* But whoever points this out is seldom thanked. His critics are essentially claiming that he is arguing clothes have no use. Typical. 

I don't know how it is in other fields.  there may be places where this (relatively) new system of peer review, even with its overloading in the last twenty years, is useful.  But it is not the first time I have read this argument.

*Instead of the assistant village idiot, I originally wanted the model for this blog to be "that kid who said the emperor had no clothes."  But I could build a catchy title around that. My other possible name, which I still think of wistfull as a great blog name, was "Do I Have To Pull This Car Over?"

Floor Trowel

I never thought of that.  J. Kenji Lopez-Alt suggest using a floor trowel as a cheap lightweight grilling press, as the full weight presses are not appropriate for all foods.

Separate trowels for the food and floors is recommended.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Plumber's Gold

Whenever I use thread-seal tape, that used to be called Teflon tape (Teflon no longer makes it) I think "It's called plumber's gold." Today I thought "Well, it was called plumber's gold over forty years ago by a guy who told me to go get some if I was screwing any hoses or plumbing together. I wonder if it's still called that.  And I wonder if he was even right then."

Plumber's Gold is now a brand name putty. Looking around, I see no record of teflon tape ever being called plumber's gold. Maybe I made it up.  Maybe I remember it wrong. Most likely, they stopped calling it that 39 years ago. Out of fashion for 39 years again.

Oh, THOSE Anglo-Saxons

I don't know how I missed the obvious association between two recent posts: The Woody Allen clip  and the knuckleheaded decision at Cambridge to start declaring that Anglo-Saxons didn't exist.

It was Allen who said "Shakespeare didn't write all those plays.  It was somebody else named Shakespeare." I think we are in the same territory here. However much we fuss that they weren't really Angles, or weren't really Saxons, or weren't all that related and associated, or that they stayed too long or left too soon, or there weren't enough of them, or the ones who came were assimilated (or weren't assimilated. That works too) we come up against the brute facts that something involving a movement of people from NW Europe to the east of England occurred, and a new language took over the east of England.  We could call it English for convenience' sake.

If that wasn't the Anglo-Saxons, then it was somebody else called Anglo-Saxons.

Monday, June 05, 2023

What Colors Are In

I used the phrase in a comment and realised that I have no idea whether that is still a thing in fashion. There are still trends, certainly, as we can see automobiles of similar shades coming out in an era, or can walk into a house and have an idea when it was last decorated. I barely knew when I was in highschool and college - mostly I would only have a dim awareness that something wasn't in.  Just didn't look right, somehow.  But I have an anecdote.

I was speaking with my brother in the early 90s, who had a lighting gig substituting for the guy who ran the light show between periods for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. (Great gig.  Paid well for easy work.  They needed someone there who could fix anything about the lights, sound, or electricity in case anything went wrong, so they had to have a professional. But nothing ever went wrong whenever he filled in.) I thought it was neat that he got to see them during the warmups and talk with them, as he was from NH and could talk hockey, unlike everyone else in southern California. But I still had objections. "I don't like that they picked the trendy colors for the team: black, teal, and magenta.  It's what every parka at Ben's school looks like." 

"Well, it's Disney," he said. "They're going to pick the salable colors."

"But what are they going to do in five years when those colors are out?"

"They'll change the team colors."

I was speechless, my mind reeling. Such a thing would never occur to a person from New England. The Boston Bruins colors are their colors, and all uniforms will always be variations of that. Change the team colors indeed.

British Sports


Put me in mind of this

And this, in Iceland

The Union Forever; Hurrah, Boys Hurrah!

James links to an interesting Substack article on how the British caused the American Civil War, and adds his own thoughts on the matter. The original article is long, because it covers a lot of territory, and James also links to some of his thoughts on the general matter at the time of the 2020 elections. It will take you a bit of time to get through all of them, yet I think you will find it valuable. And his comments today are brief, so grab those first. We oversimplify for memory storage, keeping details hazier in the background (from which we may or may not be able to retrieve them) and when we rebuild the memory for purpose of thinking about it or talking about it, it gets rebuilt with some pieces left out and new ones put in. In this case, I had many moments of thinking yeah, I knew that followed by why had I forgotten it? Likely, it gummed up my nice simple categories by being too darn complicated.  Even our own memories sometimes carry the warning TL;DR

My late uncle that I am named for had disdain for conservatives and also for Southerners. He saw a continuity between the Civil War, the failure of Reconstruction, and our current political situation.  He was of the opinion that when the southern states seceded, we should have let them.  Good riddance to bad rubbish. When we were having the discussion two decades ago I rather dimly remembered that there was some danger of the country breaking up even further and thus becoming more vulnerable to the European powers, and said so. I had learned that somewhere long ago. The War Between The States is a matter of serious hobby for some Americans 16 decades later, and still has the power to affect personal and cultural definition even now, particularly in the South. My younger brother was a Civil War buff starting in fifth grade, but I was never much interested. 

I did remember that the language used by the North at the time was about preserving the Union, and keeping the Republic intact, somewhat more than it was about slavery. (Preserving their own way of life, which included slavery, was more central to Southern motivations.  Several states mentioned it specifically in their articles of secession. And nobody likes being told what to do by others, even when they are wrong. We can always distract ourselves by looking for ways in which they don't have the right to do it, and focus on that instead.) I mentioned this danger to my uncle, though without much supporting evidence, but he dismissed this out of hand. "No one was going to invade America." I did keep it in mind, however, and collected information supporting my POV. But not with any seriousness, which is why it remained fragmentary. I have mentioned it very few times on the blog, though I was fascinated by the Olmstead books. Even those I seldom mentioned.

Well hmm, the article that James links to has quite a bit of evidence that things just short of that were very likely, and actual invasion not out of the question. As talk of secession grows again, a similar caution may be in order. China and Europe would both feel more comfortable with a few smaller Americas, and not for reasons that are to our advantage.


Notice that the song - the word "freedom"- was used by both sides of the conflict. We're all pretty damned sure, aren't we? That word just gets used to mean anything we want. If you think of "Me and Bobby McGee," you hear a song extolling the virtues of being free, unattached, going where'er thou wouldst - yet it also includes the deeply ambivalent sentiment "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Words that lose meaning become loose cannons.

Black and Blanco (white) Are The Same, and.., bleach, blush, blond, flame. That's a lot of colors from the same root word *bhel-, meaning "to shine, flash, burn." But that's only the beginning. Blank is from the same root, and it is amusingly disputed whether the surname Blake meant "person of light complexion" or "person of dark complexion." 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "in Middle English it is often doubtful whether blac, blak, blake, means 'black, dark,' or 'pale, colourless, wan, livid"

Then there's all the flame words like flamingo, inflammable, or the lightning words like fulgent. Or Phlegm and phlegmatic; phlox. It gets worse.  the same root gives us Latin flavus "yellow," Old Spanish blavo "yellowish-gray" and Welsh blawr "gray." How does one root give us such a variety of colors?

The key is in the last *bhel- entry, "burn." We can see the connection to shining, and thus to lightning, and then to light in general. But the same associations do not take place in all tribes over time.  One group goes east and increasingly uses the burning colors to think of lightning, light, and the sky.  Farther out, that becomes blue or gray. Another group goes west and keeps the associations with things that have been burned and are black or dark, and possibly blank or the absence of color. A third group goes south and keeps the ideas of flame and redness. The group that goes north gets to yellow, but whether they got it from leaden, gray-yellow skies or from bright flame (as opposed to embers) ends up being argued over by the people who study such things.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

The Moose

Woody Allen is another of those ones I once had disdain for but now think I was a jerk for doing so.


I was trying to find out where the idea that there was a West Germanic language in Britain before the Angles, Saxons, Frisians, etc arrived around 400AD came from and what the evidence behind it is. John McWhorter mentioned it about a year ago with some qualified approval. It is certainly plausible, as groups were back-and-forth across the North Sea for centuries. But I'll have to get back to that farther on, as something more important has come up.

Cambridge openly admitting it now teaches students that “Anglo-Saxons aren’t real” to “fight nationalism”. God forbid we be historically well-versed if it means the descendants of certain people get to have a unique group identity.
Razib also tweeted about this today, which is where I originally found it.  It is lunacy. A lot of the Brits are blaming this on American influence, and I have to admit they have a point. They have some of this nonsense on their own, but we really are exporting this.

The complaint about nationalism was originally from communists, who believed their internationalism (or transnationalism) was so necessary to changing the governments of other places that all other goods had to be sacrificed to it. Internationalism is a wonderful thing, as are universal peace and brotherhood, but somehow the expressions of it seem to go bad very quickly. Perhaps CS Lewis's general rule is what applies here, that it can fall lower because it aims higher.  Demons are made of fallen angels, not fallen cattle. But we aren't supposed to notice the demons, only that they wanted to be angels when they started out.

Nazi Germany, offered as a catchphrase, not used as an intellectual argument, is given as an example why nationalism is always bad. It is not an unlimited good, but its faults are usually in its misuse, and sometimes these are slow in coming.  It was the various nationalisms working together, not ignored, that defeated the Nazis. National Socialism could more fairly be described as Racial Socialism, or Tribal Socialism. Germans across national borders were included; Slavs, Roma, and Jews within the borders were excluded. I think an additional problem arises because once people have been divided into groups, one can't help but notice that some of them seem to have more success. Steve Sailer kids that he keeps getting in trouble just for noticing things.

But back to Proto-English. I can't find much to support the idea, yet it does remain possible. I ran this video a few years ago and forgot it, it seems. The towns mentioned are in the west of England, halfway between Oxford and Bristol. 

The idea is that there was an inland lake, and the -ey endings indicate a Germanic ending for islands. But the lake was well back before the Common Era, four centuries or more. Next, the Belgae claimed to be a Germanic people. But most of the energy put into this theory seems to be devoted to pointing out the weaknesses of the prevailing theories. The DNA evidence neither proves nor disproves either side, but the Proto-English believers think it points more in their direction.

There may be newer evidence that I just haven't heard of.



Ol' 55


Interesting story: I heard claims that he didn't like what the Eagles had done to his song, though I never saw that in any direct quote from him.  After their version, he had similar backup harmonies in his performances, so...maybe not. It's the sort of thing that people who pretend to be purists say and reveal themselves as being more purists than the actual artist.

I would have hated Waits's version at the time, because my band was obsessed with sweet, very sweet harmonies, like the Eagles did. Similarly, I winced at Joe Cocker's versions of pop songs, like "A Little Help From My Friends" or this one.  


I prefer them now.

The Mighty Potato


According to the most conservative estimates in this QJE, the introduction of the potato accounts for approximately one-quarter of the growth in Old World population and urbanization between 1700 and 1900.

There is a link to the paper at the tweet by Kweu-Opuku Agyemang, PhD. 

Just one more reminder that we complain a lot about Twitter, but researchers are making great use of it to share knowledge. 


And from the sidebar there I was intrigued by this:

Economic Consequences of Kinship: Evidence From U.S. Bans on Cousin Marriage


Close-kin marriage, by sustaining tightly knit family structures, may impede development. We find support for this hypothesis using U.S. state bans on cousin marriage. Our measure of cousin marriage comes from the excess frequency of same-surname marriages, a method borrowed from population genetics that we apply to millions of marriage records from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Using census data, we first show that married cousins are more rural and have lower-paying occupations. We then turn to an event study analysis to understand how cousin marriage bans affected outcomes for treated birth cohorts. We find that these bans led individuals from families with high rates of cousin marriage to migrate off farms and into urban areas. They also gradually shift to higher-paying occupations. We also observe increased dispersion, with individuals from these families living in a wider range of locations and adopting more diverse occupations. Our findings suggest that these changes were driven by the social and cultural effects of dispersed family ties rather than genetics. Notably, the bans also caused more people to live in institutional settings for the elderly, infirm, or destitute, suggesting weaker support from kin.

Regular readers will be aware that I am suspicious that they think it is more likely that this is social and  cultural rather than genetic, but I give full credit that they at least considered the genetic possibility, and am willing to change my mind on the subject.  I would like to see evidence from British cities on this, and certainly on Middle Eastern countries before being much persuaded, though. I can only find one instance of first cousin marriage, among the Spinneys in 1800s Nova Scotia, in my family tree, plus a couple of second cousin marriages over the last four centuries.  We seemed to have survived the damage.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Weight Loss

We still don't have quite the clear picture that we think about weight gain. There is some connection to more calories, less exercise, but it's not clean.  And there are many nominations for exactly what foods are the problem - or what times of day, or time between meals, and a dozen other things. But there has only been one consistent way to lose weight, and that is fewer calories and more exercise - mostly the former.

Until now. The new weight loss drugs appear to be working, and quite reliably and well. Wegovy, Ozempic, and Mounjaro appear to be the real deal.

Wesley Dudgeon, and exercise science scholar, has come around on their effectiveness, though he is still worried and still thinks it hasn't been locked down.

In my lectures, I present data on the detrimental impacts on personal health of being overweight or obese. Then I show that, aside from surgical intervention, the best way to lower body fat is by starting an exercise program and improving dietary habits.

These new drugs have now altered what I teach in the classroom, and as a researcher I believe they raise many questions about the current approach to weight management and health.

Side effects will keep showing up - they always do. And new medicines turn out to have limitations, such as types of people they work less well on, problems if you start and stop them, other medications that neutralise them or can't be taken with them. But all systems are looking like go at the moment. There is a lot of speculation about what this will mean culturally, but anything that is expected to affect that many people that greatly looks like a wild card to me.  I'm not even going to hazard a guess.

Baby Boom, Baby Bust

There was an overall decrease in American fertility during the pandemic. However, The red states had baby boom, the blue states had a bust. 

McCleary’s experience was not unusual. Early in the COVID pandemic, pundits predicted a baby boom because they believed that people who were forced to stay home to avoid the virus had more time to conceive children. Instead the opposite happened: a baby bust. Yet while the country as a whole saw declines in fertility rates in the pandemic’s first year, a recent study suggests that the rates in some states increased.

Yes, it's Scientific American, but still. There seems to be something cultural happening. Having children is an expression of hope about where the world is going, or at least where your world is going. It used to be true, from a study I read twenty years ago, that young liberals were much more likely to endorse the sentiment that it is a terrible time to bring a child into the world now. I don't know if that has change, but this would seem to speak against it.

Making the Sun Come Back

When discussing primitive peoples we too easily fall into the habit of understanding their rituals as simplistic and mechanistic.  They would offer sacrifices or engage in particular rituals at the Winter Solstice "in order to make the sun come back," or a similar wording such as "insure that the sun returned that year." I imagine some of them did see it that way, but collectively, we are doing them a disservice. There was a right order of nature, maintained by gods or spirits, and they engaged in the rituals in order to participate in it. While it was true that if rituals were performed wrongly or gods not fed things could start to go bad, it was not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence. Checking the boxes only got you so far. The important thing was that the spirits were placated, the goddesses happy. It was relational rather than contractual.

Christians of all people should understand this, as we endure decade after decade of people who try to make prayer mechanistic and simplistic. It is a partial truth, but the Scriptures are full of additional explanations that the requests should be made in accordance with God's will, or in the name of Jesus, another phrase packed with meaning but sometimes reduced to mere form.  We are to pray with the congregation, or at least two or three others; we are to pray under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is relational rather than contractual.

God himself sometimes makes it sound unashamedly contractual, so there is something allowed or even encouraged about our thinking and behaving that way.  Perhaps we are not to get too far above ourselves making it too complicated. Yet the relationship not the answer is ultimately the point, at least according to the various catechisms. I tend to trust those, similarly to creeds, of people who were greater saints than I, acting collectively to explain what is said.

Post 9200 - Archaeology

I was listening about the Thornborough Henges in Yorkshire, which look interesting. Three very large and very widely spaced and entirely identical henges. The presenter was discussing what it would have looked like then, with its trenches fully dug and white gypsum lining the side of them, which would be a spectacular look. I included an artist's rendering of what Avebury might have looked like in my Wayfinding and Stonehenge posts over the years. Also, one of the henges is in forest at present, which would have been unlikely then.  Why can't they do that? I think. Why can't they get as close to that in appearance so that we can all have a look at it? I knew the answer, that they are not going to dig the trenches until they can properly excavate them and have some assurance they have gotten all the scientific information they can out of them. There is much deploring among archaeologists of what previous archaeologists destroyed when they were first digging stuff up.

They try to be charitable.  The first archaeologists are better described as antiquarians and were looking for something different than we do now. They wanted to find objects that they could bring back to their universities or manors or museums, so that they could look at them, and let others look at them. In doing so they destroyed valuable scientific material. I was taught in school how terrible that was and how important it is that we use better methods now. I absorbed this message fully and learned to be properly horrified. Be careful with old bones because we might get some new techniques and learn even more in the decades to come. 

But for the first time I understand those 19th C amateurs. What care I for posterity? What have those people ever done for me?  I'm old. If I had my druthers I'd rather walk around in it looking like it did at some important part of its history. I am humorous, but I am bordering on seriousness as well.  CS Lewis notes in The Abolition of Man that one of the values of the Tao, the universal values that pop up in every culture, is that we owe something to posterity. Well okay.  Something. But how far does that extend.  Environmentalists are horrified that some man-made substances will not decompose for 10,000 years. But...what do I owe them, really?  What do I think my own ancestors from 8000BC owed me?  On what basis should they have cared about me? Retreating to discussions of what the we owe the earth, is something that I associate with people who have no descendants. I care even less about that. Humanity? Say what you mean in simple sentences,as Ransom translated Weston in Out of the Silent Planet and it might not looks so special.  I care greatly about my children.  I think I feel about the same about my granddaughters, but if you press me, not really. There's a discount. I have no guarantee I will even like any of my great-grandchildren, and grandnieces even less. I want The Church to survive and thrive but that's in the abstract, when I really look at it. If I came back in 100 years my whole denomination, and 99% of the church in America might be prize idiots who I have no desire to assist whatsoever.

If you are a 25 y/o grad student in archaeology or evolutionary genetics or whatever, I completely get why you want to protect those ditches so that the information can be extracted with New Techniques.

By you, and your pals, and your class in general.  That's fine. But maybe it's not sacred, you see?

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Crepes Suzette

I think the only thing I knew about Crepes Suzette was that it's fancy, which I learned from the intro to the Patty Duke Show - a clear rip-off of The Parent Trap.  But even at age nine I knew that identical cousins just don't happen. I had heard of a minuet somewhere, but the Ballet Russes was also just one of those things I learned from this context: Fancy. Cultured.  In fact, I didn't know until this moment that they were actually from Paris, just with a lot of Russians involved. Brooklyn Heights I figured out was some sort of New York place that was more middle-class (though not down market.  You could tell from the house and the clothes.)

I made GF crepes for dinner tonight and wondered if I should attempt these fancy crepes sometime. I'm retired, I'm home, I have some hours to do better cooking these days than the years of Chinese Pie, Chopped Beef Stroganoff, and Hamburger in a Pea Patch that the boys grew up on. I figured it was probably one of those things that they call fancy because it's got its own Capital Name, like Alfredo or Coquilles St Jacques, which only means "it's got a sauce." Maybe it's just thin pancakes with strawberries and cream, with some cinnamon or something.  Y'know fancy. 

It's got cognac and Grand Marnier in it, and you serve it flambe. It includes "orange butter," which is orange peel rubbed with sugar cubes and whipped in the butter "until fluffy." Hmm.  That may take a while. The crepes themselves need some coordination to get right. So you have to deftly cook liquid pancakes basted in whole orange/alcohol sauce and light it on fire.  At the table.  What could possibly go wrong, eh?

I will not be making Crepes Suzette.


 Son #5 is moving and looking for a new laundromat, because the one in Southie will be too far away. It's a continuing problem.

By the way, the following geographic areas are distinct:

Southie - Your thought will be "Oh, that's the Irish one," but they are all Irish by history.

South End

South Shore - where my wife is from.  It has the highest concentration of Irish descent in the country.  See also Irish Riviera. 

The Italians went to the North End and the North Shore Communities: Stoneham, Saugus, Lynn, Wilmington.