Tuesday, October 31, 2023


I believe this is what I was really what I was thinking about when I put up "The Happy Wanderer" earlier today. The Gypsy Rover.

The song is listed as Child 200 in the catalog of ballads, from Scotland or the Borders. Not (ahem) quite the same in all versions.  Sometimes the woman is abducted, sometimes she goes willingly. The entirety of the American folk scene seems to have covered it fifty years ago. 

It depends on what one calls "authentic," doesn't it? They covered the Scots-Irish Appalachian version from Almeda Riddle, which I believe is the only version that came to America early.  Steeleye Span did it as Black Jack Davy in 1975, and it has a different feel. It is more like the 1700s version.

The idea of high-born women taking up with men of lower class seems to have bothered - or excited - the balladeers. They are all over the Child Ballads. The bloody "Lady Diamond" was a favorite in our family.  Not safe for the little ones.

Hajnal Line

It is a favored concept among the HBD crowd, and I have written about it a few times. Like more than a dozen . It has a new name on Wikipedia, where it is clearly on its way to being phased out as racist.  Not because it is racist, but because some racist people like it.  These would not be the bigots of 1960s newsreels or popular culture, who are presumed not to know any science, literature, art, etc, but "scientific racism," which means demonstrable research that is inconvenient.  

That Ta-Nehisi Coates said laughingly in the Atlantic over a decade ago that it wasn't racist won't last. He'll change, in what appears to be a subtle distinction but is just a capitulation.

The new evidence against the Hajnal Line is that much evidence from Central Europe was not available to Hajnal in the 1960s.  Not that this evidence changes anything, but you know... we know more now. Like what should be called racist and what shouldn't. Geez, can't you stupid people keep up?

Jailbirds of a Feather

From Aporia substack. Jailbirds of a Feather Flock Together, about crime statistics in Medieval and Renaissance Venice. It has genetics, crime statistics (with graphs!), medieval ideas and values, unpopular conclusions based on some evidence...what's not to like? It raises but does not answer the question of whether recidivism has more basis in environmental factors like income or surrounding criminality than the original crimes do. That could be interesting.

Autism in Older Adults

I had the impression that the Asperger's Syndrome grouping - the Autism Spectrum people I am most familiar with - shows that some symptoms worsen with age. It does fill me with some dread, because these people would be family, friends, and self, and I don't want to see it. But it's better to know the current thinking.  When looking for something else I came across this, which I think is a good summary, even though it doesn't go into any of the cutting edge or rumored stuff I was trying to find. 

Experts are confident autism itself doesn’t get worse with age. However, because there’s not a huge amount of research into autism at later life stages, we don’t know too much about the unique experiences of older autistic people.

This is partly because, It’s only now that those who were first diagnosed back in the 40s and 50s are reaching later life and taking part in groundbreaking studies.

(Some) experts may be confident, but I am not. Meltdowns, stimming*, sensitivity may get worse but in older adults acceptable forms come to the fore - telling people off, or cutting people out, humming, factoring, pleasure reading, disliking noise and having the ability to get away from it or even avoid it preemptively, unlike children who are often at the mercy of what situations adults put them in.

Others are going to be very difficult to separate from natural aging. Restricted interests, anxiety, need for routine...lots of old people have those, partly because of energy and mobility. 

My worry is when the lifetime of really skillful adaptations one has developed become less accessible, and one is increasingly alone, what happens then?

Asperger's is no longer considered a legitimate description for political reasons.  These days you have to say Level 1, meaning only low levels of support needed. That's not great either, as some Aspie, High-Functioning Autism, or "Autistic Traits" people require no added supports at all.  They may actually be providing supports for others. Autism is not a personality, it is a tendency to certain symptoms that overlays the full range of personalities that everyone else has. Even those who have "social deficits" may not have a variety of social deficits, but only a few subtle things that you wouldn't even notice unless you interacted with them under those stressors, and even then you might just think "High strung," or "quirky," or "rigid." For children with full ASD diagnoses, everyone is looking at the symptoms raw.  They haven't had time or instruction to develop adaptations.

And like many other difficulties in life, it's about adaptations. You may not be tall or fast, but you can figure out how to become a basketball coach, writer, statistician, or agent. Still in the game. Tolkien and Lewis both started out wanting to be poets.

Eloping is something worrisome in children who just need to GET OUT- well, as an adult you can get away with that.  You have more power to do what you want than when you were in fourth grade. You can cut people off with the silent treatment. You can make up an excuse to leave early.  You know how to play those cards. "I'm old enough to know that I don't have to respond to everything."  Well, maybe. But adults deal with uncomfortable situations rather than ignoring them, in general. "I would prefer not to discuss that with people outside a small circle. I'm sure you understand" accomplishes the same thing as runnig away, if we squint a bit. Simply ignoring things might not be "I'm too polite to mention this."  It might be just evasion, a schoolgirl slamming her bedroom door and saying "I won't talk to you." There are social subtleties, and sometimes it is just tending to evasion too much or too often that is the problem. But older adults can get away with it.  Trial-and-error adapttions, developing a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, an imperious attitude or sense of entitlement - those don't make people think of autism, but that might be what is happening. 

Which puts me in mind of a particular song, for no reason I can convince myself of.  Maybe it's just the title, and the strategy when one is young or middle aged of just leaving others or cutting them dead socially. You only need a few friends anyway, right?

Sure, but happens when they die or can't get out much?  What then? You no longer know how to make friends.

*Here again, I am discovering I have an array: drumming/tapping, cracking knuckles, automatically harmonising even if the music is not improved by it...harmony just feels great to do, maybe even more than singing itself. These are hard to separate from OCD symptoms like counting, grinding, or spoonerisms.

The Happy Wanderer


Monday, October 30, 2023

Controlling the Diagnostic Narrative

The need to control the narrative is not automatically a bad thing. If you fear that someone with power or influence is going to lie about you, say a police officer or a co-worker, you want to wrest the megaphone from them. Completely fair.

Yet I grew to be suspicious of people who did this automatically.  Usually this would be patients saying "No you can't talk to my mother/wife/counselor about this.  They're going to lie about me." It was something of a giveaway. 

It would occur with staff as well. I recall getting a call from a supervisor who had been talking with her equivalent at another agency about a case that two of us low-levels had been arguing about. "She was talking with the case manager there, and Diane says you told her that our hospital doesn't trust her agency." Long story short, Diane had deleted both the emails and phone messages pertinent to the discussion. Ah, the dog ate her homework.  Funny how that happens. I thought that my supervisor would recognise that this was practically an admission that she was wrong, but no such luck. She was clearly defaulting to the idea that those two women were right and I was trying to make excuses and cover something up.  I told her I would forward her the email chain and invited her to come down and at least listen to my voicemails.  I told her I would go to the trouble of redacting all the patient information from the email chain so she could forward it to the other agency.  "No, you don't have to do that.  Diane already told her what was in them." (Emphasis mine.) So now I'm thinking I really might be screwed on this one, as I didn't see a clear defense unless we went to a very formal dispute and they were required to pony up with real information.  But I hesitated, because I knew my supervisor, and I knew she was going to resent all the extra work she would have to do on that, and in the end would more likely remember that I had put her through that, than that I had been clearly, crushingly, drinking-blood-from-their-skulls vindicated.

If I didn't mistrust that agency before, I sure did now.  Not that I would ever say it.

So you learn to be suspicious of people who destroy the evidence that quickly. I can get it on voicemails, as they stack up and it is tedious to zip forward to the newest ones if you have a dozen stored. But emails?  No cost. And if they went and also deleted them a further time from trash, quite automatically and as a matter of course, I am very cautious around that person.  They are trusting in their ability to command the floor and manipulate the situation. ("No, David, that's not fair.  Some people just like deleting things off the first page because it makes it easier..."  Yeah, right.)

Here's one that I doubt is really new, but I suspect is more common these days: whoever gets to declare the diagnostic information and have it stick, at least in part, wields a lot of power.  I noticed it because of the generational difference in accepting autism diagnoses.  I come from a generation that rejects such things. How dare you say... As they reject the idea that they have done anything wrong, any purported explanation is rejected out of hand.  They are not unable to put themselves in someone else's shoes, others are just wrong. They are not absolutist in their attribution of fault at 100%-0%, others are just wrong. They are not obsessed with unimportat details, others are sloppy.  If you live like this for decades, you will of course collect some confirming information because Jimmy really was sloppy in record keeping ten years ago.  So there. 

But we now have the opposite problem, young people actively seeking diagnoses to excuse bad behavior. They aren't jerks or insensitive or rude when they don't consider your needs, they have autism, and others should make accommodation for them, or at a minimum, cut them an enormous amount of slack.

Whoever gets in first has power.  It's like whichever partner gets to the courthouse first gets to take out the restraining order on the other. A lie goes halfway around the world before truth can get its boots on.

There ain't no justice, eh?

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sultans of Swing

 The story behind the story

Not my style at the time, but the guitar work blew me away when I first heard it in 1979. It pays to watch what both guitarists and the bassist are doing.

Football Protest

The professor who the California students stopped an intercollegiate game in a protest about yesterday and are threatening a hunger strike over...  I read the background in a couple of places and have an impression. When I say this I do truly mean impression. Without interviewing her it is quite provisional.  With an actual person, some new bit(s) of information can emerge that suddenly upends a diagnostic theory. Drug use. Head injury. Catastrophic trauma. But I thought it would be entertaining if I took a stab at it just from the news accounts.

Late onset paranoid schizophrenia, which likely developed in very small increments, beginning 15 or 20 years ago, gradually accelerating. Though it is no longer a recognised category in the DSM-V, old guys like me still believe in it, having seen it with our own eyes, though admittedly rarely. It strikes women far more often than men. She is probably at least 45 years old, as the illness does not even get started until after age 30. If I were to take a roll of the dice, I would guess she was in her mid-50s. It is likely accompanied by hallucinations of smell or taste, believing that she detects gas leaks, or poisoning her food. Another possibility is a medical condition that they are convinced they have, though there is no physical evidence.  I knew one who wore a neck brace even though X-Rays revealed nothing. Lovely and brilliant woman who had been a software engineer. Her other cognitive abilities are probably intact, but she will be increasingly distracted and eventually obsessed by her sense that someone is persecuting her.  It will be threadbare evidence, but her impression will be so strong as to be unassailable. The circle of who is persecuting her may grow, but doesn’t have to. 

That she is a leftist is probably of no importance in the origins of her illness, but it very likely influences her supporters, who seem to be convinced that this is a politically-tinged persecution. 

These women don’t respond very well to antipsychotics alone, but interestingly, improve somewhat if antimanic medications are an adjunct. The delusions do not go away with those, but they are able to get on with their lives and not be obsessed with them. Their social skills remain pretty much intact, so they can be charming, and therefore retain some friends and people who will believe that her delusions must be at least partly real, because they is so convincing. Because of this, they are just heartbreaking to deal with. They seem absolutely impervious to any logic or therapy attempts to get them to look at how weak the evidence is. 

The first one I met was before I even worked at the psych hospital, when I was a hotel clerk fresh out of college. It was a woman in her 50s, who was staying at our motel, and kept detecting smells of gas, leaks, and wanting to be switched from room to room. we eventually found out she had a son in Long Island, who would take her in, and my friend Archie Archambault* and I drove my car and hers down to drop her off and then came back late at night. I met the son only briefly, and he just looked harried and discouraged, saying that he had been putting up with this for the last 10 years. When I went to work at the hospital about 3 years later I mentioned the incident and other staff remembered her, including that she had convinced two of the doctors that her ability to subtly detect gas leaks that others could not was quite real.

I can think of five in almost fifty years and 3000 patients, which likely means there are an equal number I have forgotten. They don't usually get admitted to hospitals as dangerous.

*Local artist who died a few years ago, known for pen-and-ink drawings of local scenes.

Friday, October 27, 2023

One Study at Least

Says that far-left ideologies are less likely to support civil liberties than those farther right, especially economic conservatives. That is what many of us would expect, but seeing actual data behind it is always nice.

Voice of Lewis

Recordings of CS Lewis reading from his own works in 1960 were discovered in a surprising way: a researcher from the University of Colorado was exploring materials by and about Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis, CS Lewis's wife, at the Wade Center at Wheaton College outside of Chicago in the 1980s. Joy had previously been married to Bill Gresham, who had remarried. (Her son Douglas Gresham describes a fascinating story about that.  On another day, perhaps.) This second wife, Renee, was still living in Florida and he went to interview her. She had many of Bill's literary effects. These included some reel-to-reel tapes Bill had made in 1960. After Joy's death he went to visit his sons in Oxford, who were living at the Kilns with Lewis at the time. He wanted to interview Lewis, who declined but offered to read aloud from some of his works, including Perelandra, as below.

The voice of Lewis kicks in at 34.40. I like his reading voice, and the podcasters note that the cadence and rhythm of the prose is more poetic than they expected, strongly suggesting that the sound was part of Lewis's writing, even if we don't notice it.

People tend to know Lewis either for his imaginative work, his logical apologetic work, or his academic work, and even those familiar with all tend to prefer one category over the other two. Yet it is quickly obvious how much imagination goes into his reasoning, how much tight reasoning is present (in both plain and disguised forms) in his fiction, and how much academic knowledge lies behind both. 

For Lewis, Reason revealed Truth, and Imagination provided Meaning.

Thursday, October 26, 2023


When I was about 30, I started working with a psychiatric admissions team, which received people in crisis and had to figure out quickly what was up.  Beds were scarce, and people had lives to get back to if they were deemed safe. The details are fun, but unimportant to the main point that we admitted a very buttoned-down woman who had gotten herself in trouble at a bar, dancing on a table-top, flashing the other customers, and smacking the cop who tried to take her into custody.  

Pro tip: It is considered bad luck in most jurisdictions to smack an officer of the law. 

Yet intriguingly, her blood-alcohol count was 0% a half-hour later. We suspected other drugs, but when we interviewed her the next morning she was quite calm (and humiliated) and said "No, there were no drugs. This happens to me every once in a while and I just do these things for a few hours. It breaks my husband's heart, too." She had no explanation, and frankly neither did we.  We could all make up stories based on our own priors, but as everyone at the table was well versed in such myth-generation, all could be easily shot down. We sent her home.

As she left the room, an elderly psychologist, from whom I expected a Freudian answer, instead said "Men all believe they can predict which women will dance on a table top.  They can't." He smirked and then said "This is the central problem of psychology." In a way, he had a point, that much misery in the world is connected to the puzzle in its various forms, of men thinking they know things about women and sex that they don't, and even women not knowing themselves sometimes, acting in ways that puzzle them. Or sending out false signals obliviously. Nations rise and fall on such things, and certainly individual careers and families do.

Gaming The System

Rehash of previous posts of a few years ago.

When the town I lived in moved up in the rankings of test scores for highschoolers I was suspicious.  There wasn't any obvious reason for the change, no sudden increase in Asian doctors moving in or new high-tech firm that had hired a hundred new engineers. It also seemed to be confined to the high school, not all the grades. I made a point of getting into a conversation about it with the principal, and learned that prior to testing day the teachers who were going to be proctoring the exams met to discuss the more difficult students and whose room they would be in. "I have a pretty good rapport with him.  I can get him to stay on task."  Getting the kid who was going to was going to give up half an hour in, whether obviously or quietly, nets you more points than years of finding ways to hunch your A- students up to an A.

The Finns do something similar in the PISA tests, where how well the nation scores is a matter of honor, which gives even their most helpless students some incentive to at least try. In both cases, even though it games the system a bit in terms of measuring how good the education (or more likely, the natural intelligence) is, I would be reluctant to call it out, because it is a very good societal value: everyone helps the weakest move up. The school reputation or national honor motive behind it makes it not quite altruistic, but it ain't bad. 

Crime is reduced not by inspiring the young people who have only a 1% chance of committing a serious crime to be a little bit better, but by identifying those with a 30% chance and finding ways to cut that in half, whether in seriousness or frequency.

In terms of technical improvements, the opposite may be true.  Creating the circumstances for one person to create a steam engine is better than a hundred tiny improvements in water mills. The latter is nice, certainly, and much of human progress has followed that path. But printing presses, axled wheels, or biremed ships increased advantage much more, and quite quickly.

Boyfriend Terms

More than one woman I used to work with expressed a little frustration with the lack of a suitable term for the man she lived with, or was going with. "I'm fifty-five years old.  I'm not going to call him my boyfriend like I was still in high school." Lover can also describe a merely sexual relationship, an affair, so that is usually avoided. POSSLQ was cute but it never caught on, and I can't say I miss it. There are longer phrasings, such as "the man I am going with," or indirect sentence-reconstruction approaches like "we've been together for nine years." Housemate implies no romance, significant other almost took but was clumsy, man or old man seem earthy but not formal respectable terms, sweetheart, beloved, honey convey warmth but no permanence or commitment.

I corresponded with a woman who used partner to describe her relationship of thirty years - they do not live together so I don't quite know what that means, but it does at least sound adult.  Yet it has a bit of a chilly feel to it. (She may want that but be unable to say it out loud, but that's an individual situation.) Boyfriend does sound young, but at least it is warm and affectionate. I went with a couple of girls in college who were unable to get over the hurdle of describing me as their boyfriend even after a few months of exclusive relationship - but those may also be idiosyncratic. 

I never added to the discomfort of any of these women who were floundering and searching for a best term, but neither did I rescue them with reassurances that I understood what they meant.  There's a lot of variety out there, and I usually didn't know quite what they meant. I mostly just thought to myself that this is what happens when you won't take on the terms husband and wife. The English language actually reflects the reality quite well: when you move away from those terms it is because you are going to places the culture is not used to, beginning about fifty years ago. Many people would prefer not to define their relationship very precisely, not because it wouldn't be accurate, but because it would be more accurate than they are willing to admit. It's not the language that is imprecise, it's the relationship. 

We always want to have everything both ways, don't we?

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Tim Tebow Effect and Israel-Palestine

I have written about the Tim Tebow Effect many times, those situations in which everyone in the argument believes that they are not being listened to and their view is being suppressed. It comes from a Chuck Klosterman comment

...both groups perceive themselves as the oppressed minority who are fighting against dominant public opinion

I don't mean to belittle or make light of the argument - people are dying, after all - but it does seem that this is happening WRT Israel and Palestine. I have confidence I could articulate the general position of all sides here, and I'm not even paying that much attention. I can't be the only one. 

I have an opinion which of those sides is nearer the right, but see no point in adding to the noise.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Political Rage

I direct your attention again to Scott Alexander's 2014 essay, The Toxoplasm of Rage, which I think explains a lot about modern political interactions. I have more than once called it the best essay of the 2000s thus far.

Having Children

 In 27 BCE, Augustus Caesar condemned childlessness in a speech to Rome’s equestrian class:

For you are committing murder in not begetting in the first place those who ought to be your descendants; you are committing sacrilege in putting an end to the names and honours of your ancestors; and you are guilty of impiety in that you are abolishing your families, which were instituted by the gods, and destroying the greatest of offerings to them — human life.

 Cassius Dio, Roman History LVI, quoted by Peter Frost at Aporia.   

Ancestors and Families were the thing. It makes me wonder whether ancestor-worship encourages fertility. A focus on family and lineage seems intuitively to do that, and reverence for ancestors seem related to those, but I don't know if the lego blocks quite snap together on the latter.

In our day the groups that have the most children don't express it that way.  When I see parents with three or more children out on the Rail Trail, I am tempted to ask "Catholic or Evangelical?" (I am told that LDS and some other groups also have high fertility, but I don't tend to run into many. Orthodox Jews and Amish/Mennonite groups both have many children, but I'm not sure that's deeply connected to lineage per se.) It may be that these couples have a greater awareness of lineage and ancestors.  But continuity for them is part of the continuity of the church, or the group, not the specific great-grandparents and farther back. Tracy and I have expanded and kept the ancestry records until about a decade ago, when cousins of mine started in on it, but we don't much talk about that continuity.  We taught our children some Swedishness, but it is quite attenuated at this point. Continuity for us is about church, and culture/subculture of "readers, general knowledge, regional history and All Decent Folk."

Children and number of children correlate with personal optimism, and I believe with cultural optimism though less so. It's a bit of a stretch to relate that to ancestors and families, but I see how that could be: "There should be more of us in the future.  It is important that the world has US going forward."


Of note: Frost has an interesting argument contra Lewontin regarding the existence of races. The traditional view since Lewontin is that because there is greater genetic variation within a subgroup of a species than there is between groups - that is, that Great Danes are more different from each other genetically than the average Great Dane is from the average Poodle, that races cannot be said to exist. While technically nothing is regarded as a final argument in science, this one is regarded as very powerful and convincing. Frost's view is that these types of variation are not the same thing, and Lewontin is not comparing apples with apples. 


Okay, maybe I need to read a lot more of Peter Frost. I remember him from his Evo and Proud blog years ago, when I was reading heavily in the HBD sector, which was bringing forth evidence that I was sure must be incorrect, but gradually came to accept, kicking and screaming. He mentions that people who were children of masters and slave girls were called alumni - though any fostered child that the master had an affection for might be included in that category.  I had never heard this, and have not found it entirely confirmed by DuckDuckGo. But my goodness the number of jokes and sardonic references that flow from that these days practically write themselves, don't they? 

Still interesting stuff at Evo and Proud, such as Ashkenazi Jewish IQ peaking around 1970 and declining since then. 

Trade selects for cognitive ability. The selection may act directly, through the cognitive demands of bargaining, calculating, writing, budgeting, and planning. It may also act indirectly, through a consequent increase in social complexity. For example, trade leads to use of written documents as a means to record transactions and contractual obligations, but the same skills of reading and writing also favor the development of literature in general.

I think the decline started earlier because of external causes. The Budapest Ashkenazim born between 1890 and 1920 may have been the distilled version of highest IQs ever, but many were killed in the Holocaust. Not all got out to work on the Manhattan Project.

Monday, October 23, 2023


Commenter Earl Wajenberg sent along a video about the Monotropism theory of Autism.

She is not quite the presenter I would prefer, but she is pleasant enough.

I think the theory has considerable explanatory power, as she attempts to connect this basic "tunnel vision" idea to the varied aspects of Autism. Playing this one, I also was introduced to the idea of Pathological Demand Avoidance in the youTube sidebar, which I had never heard of. I'm with her that if you want people to accept the idea of having a particular condition, you shouldn't be putting "pathological" in the name. That diagnosis is less general, only applying to a percentage of those with autism.  I thought of a couple of people this fits quite well, but found myself getting upset at these people from my past all over again, and decided there is something unhealthy about pursuing this - for me, anyway.  If I had to because of someone in my life now, I could manage it, but the emotional energy doesn't seem worth it to me. I'm no longer that curious about why they were they way they were.

And once the idea occurred to me, I realised that this was also true of learning about autism in general. There are streaks of it in my family still, perhaps including me more than any of the others.  But I no longer need to explain these behaviors to myself or anyone else.  The videos describe people having life-altering experiences of finally understanding themselves or a spouse or a child. It's hard to know what to make of these sometimes.  I have a series of successive explanations of myself, each one an improvement on the one before it, but very little is going to affect many decisions at age 70. 

So I am revisiting memories of people I would rather forget, frankly. I'm actively looking for nostalgia destruction at this point.

Thus this is mostly without comment, and the PDA videos are definitely without comment.  There may be holes in these that I have missed, but I'm not going to put in the time to find out.

Danny Boy


At 2:10 she doesn't quite hit the note - and it's just perfect anyway. When she sings that she may be dead when he returns...poor girl. Demons most of us never had to deal with.

I'm not crying.  I only look moist to you because you're crying.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Literally Iconic

True Tolkien aficionados and art historians will find much to be annoyed about. But Στέλιος Καρέλλας on FB had AI render scenes from Lord the Rings as Byzantine mosaics, and I think it's glorious. 

1. Gandalf VS Balrog

I can capture the sound, especially the voices in my imagination better than this type of representation does.  But I can't hold a candle to the mythic quality of this.

Knowledge Does Not Dislodge Myths

(Note:  Edited below) "Conversations with Tyler," which is on my sidebar, interviewed Ada Palmer (podcast and transcript available), a professor of Renaissance Studies at University of Chicago who is also a sci-fi writer and is currently writing a novel about Viking metaphysics. She is clearly very knowledgeable about some subjects dear to my heart, and I learned a few things from her in the brief conversation. Is she smart?  Well, she is definitely clever and original, and that is usually considered so.  Is she wise?  I am less sure. She imposes a women's-studies/issues overview to everything, which is always interesting in theory, pulling out perspectives previously undervalued, but can be tedious and cliched. Using terms like "genderedness" or "gender-coded" as if they were deeply meaningful, rather than jargony shorthands from many fields, tend to be a tell.  Yet she does seem to have other arrows in her quiver, and I can put up a lot of jargon when that is the case. I didn't dislike her, I just wanted to smack her a few times.

She does not close well in the discussion. She is talking about violence, competition, and especially decision-making and how it might be done better. (Italics mine in the following).

This is not a biological thing, but this is that a number of behavior patterns, including types of teambuilding and non-zero-sum thinking, are culturally coded female, and women are encouraged to do it, whereas men are encouraged more to do aggressive problem-solving, haggling, and zero-sum thinking.

In my own classroom, I often run this papal election simulation, and there’s a survey that the students have to fill out to say, “What kind of participation in this political simulation would you enjoy?” It’s always very interesting to me that while there’s a huge range of genderedness about most of the questions, the question, “Would you enjoy having a face-to-face opponent where one or the other of you has to fall for the other to rise, and there is no possibility of compromise, you just have to go head on?” That question is almost exclusively said yes to by men, or men are enthusiastic about it. Women are more wary of it.

Whereas the question, “Would you enjoy being on or leading a team and being in charge of helping a group of people work together to achieve a collaborative goal?” is disproportionately answered yes by [women]. This is a culturation thing. This is something that we learn when we’re toddlers, that we learn when we’re in elementary school, as different behaviors are encouraged or discouraged among both men and women. I think that it’s not that we need to eliminate the differences between men and women; it’s that we need to get more of those female-coded problem-solving behaviors to be welcome in positions of power in one way or another.

And how, pray, does she know that this is not biological? Answer: She doesn't, not a bit of it. Try and trace back where in our development this is taught to little boys and little girls.  Huh.  It seems that it is already present in kindergarden!  My goodness, it is presnt in four-year-olds-in three-year-olds, and signs of it are present even in babes in arms!  All the best people in the world (few of whom have children of their own, it seems) have got to figure out how government, uh, society can get in sooner to make good things happen! How does she know this is culturation? Answer: She knows no such thing. She wants it to be true, because then A) she can believe that the world can be made into a place she prefers and B) People like her will be more in demand and have higher status. When something is nearly universal across societies, I would think that might be the default. For example, slavery is near-universal for the last 10K years, with variations in practice, but a consistent presentation.  I get it that it was not practiced in Poughkeepsie or Copenhagen when you grew up, but you need to get over that. The modern era seems to be the outlier. 

She folds immediately into how to change these types of preferred decision-making in an imaginary exercise in inviting people to a worldwide conference.

Especially, if I could bring in educational administrators, people who make decisions about what kind of education gets advanced from some of the powers that shape the world,

She has no evidence that educational administrators have any effect on anything.  But she hopes that they do, because of A) and B) above.

I am not making the argument that preferences in decision-making are biological, whether by gene expression or some other mechanism.  They might be.  That would be the way to bet, with 80% having a heritable/gestational influence and the rest culturally malleable. I am making the argument that again (again...AGAIN), the environmental explanation is simply assumed for the discussion. Lip service is given to possible heritable causes, but as soon as your back is turned, they revert to their priors.  They say that they are of course taking genetics or (gestational and other) hormones into consideration, but they lie.

Their jobs and status would be in jeopardy if it were true, so they have to ignore it.

They lie.


Hmm. Ignoring the larger view in favor of the simplified and narrow view is rather an autistic trait. I wonder what the comparative percentage of autistics in academia versus the general population is? There is an irony: the autistics who know they tend that way are among the most adventurous and accurate thinkers I know (even if they don't know terms like Asperger's or HFA/PDA, etc). The ones who clearly are but don't acknowledge it are the most hidebound and self-righteous.  This looks like a subsequent post coming up.  (If you want to read ahead, look up monotropism and pathological demand avoidance, which is admittedly a terrible term that I hope gets superseded. Pathologise THIS, you bastard.)

I Only Have Eyes For You

 This song cues up in my head whenever I look up and see that there are stars when I expected clouds.

Saturday, October 21, 2023


It was supposed to be a disappointing year for foliage in NH, and as recently as two weeks ago there were articles explaining why it was so meh.

I suppose I can say I've seen better. There were not quite the electric oranges one sees some years. But this year has been great, reminding us that predictions sometimes fail.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Bagpipe Joke

"How long does it take to master the pipes, Kyle?"

"Noone ever masters the pipes, lad.  The best ye can hope for is an uneasy truce."

Thursday, October 19, 2023


So I asked Alexa (She-who-shall-not-be-named in our house) to play bagpipe music and in the first six offerings were two of  "Amazing Grace," two of "Shipping Up to Boston," and two of "Scotland the Brave."

Alexa? Stop.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023


This Aporia Magazine article talks about the focus of Muslims on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict on the concept of honor and humiliation. 

An answer was stated recently by Twitter user Yeyo: Muslims see the foundation of Israel, the Nakba, and Israel’s multiple war victories as a humiliation of the Muslim nation. And since Islam (particularly the branch of Islam practiced in the MENA region) is an honour culture, that humiliation cannot be forgotten and must be avenged. Yeyo informed me that he was given this answer by an Arab gentleman with whom he’d discussed the conflict a few years ago.

The honour culture of Islam, which is evident in practices such as honour killings and blasphemy riots, likely has roots in the customs of pre-Islamic Arab tribes. 2

What specific evidence is there that it shapes Muslims’ views of Israel/Palestine today?

There is a strong tendency in this particular conflict for people to project onto Palestinians/Hamas the same motives that they themselves have for opposing Israel/Jews in general, or attributing to them ideas about self-rule and government that they themselves have. In a very general sense this may be true.  The peoples of the world generally prefer to be oppressed by the corrupt people of their own tribe(s) than outsiders.  In that way, Hamas, and Basque separatists, and Sunnis, and various right-wing and left-wing competitors in Latin America are much the same. We'll take our chances with our own.  Get those other bastards out of here. It does rapidly get weird when one or more tribes in a nation allied with the conquering neighbor or even the colonisers and had good jobs, but are now cast out in favor of their historical rival/enemy tribe. Group A says "Finally, we are independent," while Group B says "Not so fast."

It can get even silly in Western countries.  I am reminded of Michael...Michael...liberal filmmaker, did the Columbine movie and something about the wonders of Cuban health care...

Hey, I'm actually pleased I can't remember his full name.  If you think of it don't tell me.  It is like the lyric in "Streets of Laredo," Don't mention his name and his name will pass on. Anyway, after 9/11 he wrote this screed to the various groups more or less sympathetic to the terrorists telling them that they shouldn't have bombed New York, because those people hadn't voted for Bush.  Those people weren't the problem.  As if voting for Bush was anywhere in the top ten motives of the suicide bombers. It takes a special kind of narcissism to think like that. They hate America for the same reasons that I do.  What else could it be? 

I see this projection constantly about Hamas and the Palestinians. Because they might theoretically have a semi-respectable reason for resenting the Israelis, similar to Tibet, or the Quebecois, or even the Americans at the time of our revolution, that must be the reason that they actually do have. I'm not seeing it. "You don't like school because of all the liberal authors they make you read, right, Cody?" "Oh, oh sure! Can I stay home today?"

It pays to listen to what people actually say.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

French Nun

 I don't know if she did the right thing or not.  But I have to admit I immediately admired the woman.

Short video at the link.

A french nun tackled one of the environmentalist wackos trying to blockade the construction site of a new church over its carbon footprint.

Embracing Even Bad Nostalgia

I'm just having fun at this point.  Son #2 will be over for lunch in a few minutes, and he was a big BNL fan

Influences on Children

 From Rob Henderson's X account, quoted on his substack comes a nice summary.

There are 3 Factors that shape who we are

    1. Genetics

    2 Non-shared Environment (friends, peer group, societal influence)

    3. Shared environment (parents, family, household)

Research shows that 1 is very important, 2 is somewhat important, and 3 has very little effect. Especially once children leave the house...

I have previously leaned strongly into the idea that 3 has very little effect because it doesn't in the long run. It can and often does begin to evaporate quickly.  Yet I had neglected that it does have significant effect while the children are still in that environment, usually meaning childhood.

Interesting side issue.  We consider it significant if children continue to live with their parents after reaching adulthood. We also consider it significant if they walk out and never speak to their parents again. There are good reasons and bad either way.

Dangerous Nostalgia?

A few leaves have fallen, and I pointlessly raked some down to the street. I am 70 years old.  What did this put me in mind of? I'm thinking you could make a lot of money off a candle scent of "burning leaves." Maybe not.  The romance just might not be there for people who didn't grow up with it.

Well, I've just said terrible things about how damaging nostalgia can be, but I don't think I'm seeing it here. Nostalgia was originally considered an illness. It was a homesickness, a "home-woe" in German, and considered often fatal. We're pretty sure there's no direct mortality connected to it now. But the intense versions were found in sailors, convicts (whether in gaol or transported), and African slaves. Well, one sees the point, there. It's been an illness for me lately as well, though I think the symptoms are subsiding.

I suppose if my leaf-burning caught on despite the restrictions on it, it might become a scandal and journalists would come nosing around doing stories about me and I would be a pariah wherever I went. OTOH I'm betting some guys would come around with good bottles of bourbon to slip me on that score, so it might even out.

The genre is "melodic death metal."

Or maybe this


Dear Brutus and Nostalgia Destruction

When I started a post yesterday, it was going to be Part 94 of the Nostalgia Destruction Tour. You can bet the Nostalgia Tour turning into the NDT will be in the Wyman Family Christmas Letter 2023 (which we have already started). I had an office-mate Jon, who years ago told me that the superpower you dream about says a lot about your personality. I confessed that mine was time travel, and he nodded "That probably means you have decisions you have regretted." That is most certainly true. I go back and get things Less Wrong This Time. Oddly, it is usually framed in the negative, of a course I should not have bothered to take, a job I should not have taken, a girl I should not have dated. Sometimes the positive idea comes in, as I think "I should have...," but mostly it's an Eeyorish "I should not have..." I am sure this says something unhealthy about my character, though I am not sure what.

But it's all lies anyway, even if it is useful in understanding myself and others, and is otherwise rather harmless reverie. I think I have mentioned that I tend to view the past like an old photo album in the attic, which usually means only the pleasant bits. "That's Auntie Em there on the left...and oh look! There's Toto!" Going to old places and talking with old friends, sometimes "friends," these last three years has been that out of me pretty well. A few people are as I remembered, or better.  But most of you...

Solzhenitsyn's phrase "Live Not by Lies" came into my head, though, so the destruction tour is doing its work.  Though it is a political phrase, it applies at least as well to personal affairs. The lies are usually in the direction of inflating the self, which interferes with our forgiving others. We come up against that wall often enough, having overlooked or explained away as much as we can of another person's behavior, still angry that "They were just wrong. They should never have done that to me.  They deserve to be told." We forgive because we are also sinners and have been forgiven.  Without that we marinate in our juices forever.

So I listened to the stories and often thought "Y'know, I think I'm glad I didn't do a hybrid major after all," or "if I had hung out with him more I would have picked up a lot of this attitude," and have frequently come from a bit of correspondence and said to my wife "I am so glad I married you." So it was with a bit of a chuckle that I thought "What if God granted me this gift and I went back and changed nothing? That would make a good story." Then I realised that this was already part of a story, James Barrie's "Dear Brutus," and I had already written about it. In a magical wood that appears on Midsummer's Eve, a select group gets to see glimpses of what life would have been like had they made one major decision differently. A key line below is "One lovely older couple comes back from a nice walk in the wood, having seen nothing surprising." They would not have made the decision differently, or it didn't matter anyway. It didn't matter anyway...would things have ended up about the same for us, or would small butterfly flappings have changed everything?

When I first wrote this I was struck by the beautiful poignancy.  I now have a grimmer view, which you can find at the end


Reposted from June 2019, slightly edited.

Sir J.M. Barrie wrote female characters beloved by women and girls, which is odd, because he doesn't seem to have known real-world women well. At least, his relationships with them were troubled. He was not his mother's favorite son, and when the favorite died in a skating accident, James tried to become the missing boy - including not growing older. Barrie later told the story that his mother had said with some excitement as he walked past her door "Is that you?" To which he replied "No, it's no' him.  It's only me." We know now how memory plays us false, and don't know what was actually said.  We do know that was the adult J.M. Barrie's forever impression of what was said.

He had no children of his own, sons or daughter.  When he adopted five boys whose parents had died, he did not get along with the nanny who continued to care for them, as specified in the will.

James wed a young actress, but it was believed the marriage was never consummated.* She eventually had an affair with a younger man and refused to break it off at Barrie's demand.  He eventually divorced her, but supported her the rest of her life anyway. In a poignant, theatrical gesture, he delivered the money every year at a private dinner on their wedding anniversary.

Poignant. He had a gift for poignancy in scenes involving women. Generations of girls and women have teared up when Peter Pan flies out the window at the end and Wendy says "If another little girl- if one younger than I am -- Oh, Peter, how I wish I could take you up and squdge you!" I was in a production in college and I still shiver to remember it. That is only the beginning with Barrie's plays.  In  "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals" a childless woman envies the ladies of her circle talking about their sons away at the war, so she finds the name of one with her surname and starts to write to him. When he returns, he comes to meet her, and it turns out he has lost his mother. Though it is all a comedy, then scene has considerable power.  In "The Twelve-Pound Look" an oppressive man hires a typist on the eve of his Knighthood to type the messages of congratulation, who turns out to be the wife who left him years ago once she had saved up the price of a typewriter to support herself. Twelve pounds. (At the end of the play, the second wife, about to become Lady Sims, asks upon hearing the story what the cost of a typewriter is.)  In "Quality Street" a woman pretends to be her own niece to flirt with and hopefully win a previous suitor of her own, back from the war. 

Perhaps it is only sentimentality that Sir James was good at and these women are not actually well-drawn believable characters.  Sentimentality usually depends on the reader bringing a lot to the character from their own lives and experience. Still, I find them moving even though I have zero experience being female myself.

I thought of "Dear Brutus" today as I watched a young woman at a store pause to tie up her hair to fit under a hat before going out into the rain. The play is set in an English country house on Midsummer's Eve - as we are just a few days past that it may have been lurking in my mind - and the characters we immediately meet are mostly unlikable.  They rather transparently blame others for the unhappiness in their lives, and the others are present. The host, presumably Puck in disguise,  invites a different group every year on the rumor of a magical wood appearing nearby. The characters all enter, and each sees something of what life would have been if they had made one great decision differently. There is a scene which I did in acting class where one man encounters a 15 year-old girl who he knows at a glance would have been his daughter, because of her strong resemblance to a woman who would have been her mother.  The girl speaks to him in an everyday manner, because to her this is just one day among many with her father. He however, stares at her with aching heart, knowing this is the only time he will ever see her. She asks if he likes her hair better up or down. He is unable to answer, but can eventually control himself enough to tell her she looks wonderful both ways.

I could act the part more convincingly now than I could when I was 20.

One lovely older couple comes back from a nice walk in the wood, having seen nothing surprising.  The title comes from Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves."

*That single suspicion, plus his adopting the Davies boys when their parents died, is the entire evidence for the idea that he was a pedophile. It was made nearly out of whole cloth by a biographer decades later.  One of the five Davies boys was still alive at the time and scoffed at the idea.


Back to 2023. I now see the scene with the daughter as more of a horror element. For the rest of his life the man will be haunted by her, and know that he consigned her to non-existence. Who could endure it?

Monday, October 16, 2023


My wife has a Fitbit, which I believe is an element of persecution in her life.  Yesterday she had a full day, but noticed too late that she was 18 steps short of some goal, ruining her record of 37 days in a row of...something. Her loving but stern husband keeps cautioning her that the machine is not that accurate. She lightly pounds her hand in the air while circling the house when reading, to make sure she gets credit for those steps. And if you didn't pound your hand this way...? She likely does not get credit for some steps she takes, and does get credit for some steps that are marginal. Also, there is nothing magical about the numbers. And also again, these are supposed to be for your good, not your harm.  Let It Be, says Paul McCartney. 

While she acknowledges the intellectual truth of this, it has no effect on her expectations for herself. One only gets gold stars when one actually makes it to the required number.  To take credit when that has not happened is a sham, like cheating at solitaire.*

It also persecutes her in the tallying of sleep, where it is similarly approximate. Don't get me started.

The Fitbit is made for Woman; Woman is not made for the Fitbit.  

* I cheat at solitaire all the time, BTW.  Just sayin'. "But you are only cheating yourself!" comes the cry. "Then why are you involving yourself in this?" I reply.

Serve and Volley on Peter Thiel

Grim read the New Criterion article by Peter Thiel that I recently linked to and had additional thoughts about student life as a con. He upended the golden narrative by redescribing on-campus life (and some of this applies to nearby off-campus life as well) as a gigantic real-estate scam, where because of student loans, the government owns a great many pretty good apartments in nice locations, with entertainment, gym memberships, pre-installed potential dates, cafeterias and even restaurants. The Feds thereby guarantee themselves decades of income from the graduates - and if the scheme is actually losing money, who cares? It's cash flow with no accountability. 

In that telling, the education is mostly there for decoration.

Grim considers what this does to the attitudes of the "customers" over time - encouraging them to become spoiled, and later disillusioned, both of which play into the government's hands in perpetuating the con.  It's hard to get out of the system. 

I wondered if things were better under the Northeastern University model of education. In simplest terms, the student goes to classes for six month, then to an internship in the field for six months. Rinse, repeat, and in five years you have a degree and 2.5 years experience in your field. The school does a lot of the finding of the internships.  If you are good, you likely have an offer from one of the places you interned at upon graduation. The pay for the internships is often not that great (though sometimes they make bank in certain fields, as their salary is comparatively far less as a student than as a graduate). It is a much admired, but seldom-imitated arrangement.  I think Drexel used to do something similar.  I don't know if they still do.

Are NU students as spoiled and then disillusioned as the others?  I have no idea.  The graduates I know are all in my generation and speak highly of how it all fit together. But maybe it is not imitated because it interrupts the cash flow for too many who work for government or college.

A Small Point

"Classicism and romanticism need each other in a kind of complementarianism." (Drs. Crystal and David Downing of the Wade Center) I quote them solely to show that the concept of complementarianism, which I have seen referred to only in a theology of male and female roles, does not necessarily imply condescension, as is usually claimed in that context.  It still might be condescending, of course, hiding this behind the respectability of the term in general, but it ain't necessarily so.

A More Efficient Jesus

Jesus could have had more time for miracles if he didn't have all these disciples tripping him up all the time!  

But he knew the importance of community and that they would need each other - and eventually others like them. That may have been the chief purpose of the three year ministry. In strict theological terms, Jesus could have left a one-page document at the Temple with the added note "Going off to die for everyone's sins now, then rise from the dead. Sending the Holy Spirit for all of you fairly soon." Pretty efficient. Sort of like the Ten Commandments method squared.  But he didn't choose that path  He didn't even do the Ten Commandments method cubed. He created a community that was flawed from just about its first moments, because that was what his people were going to be facing until the end of days.

It must be important.

Kathy Keller and CS Lewis

I had heard that Kathy Keller, wife of the late Tim Keller, wrote to CS Lewis when she was twelve and his reply was in the book CS Lewis Letters to Children. I thought I might reprint it, but looking through the replies, I found that he had replied to her four times, the last less than two weeks before he died. Facepalm: the book does not include her letter to him. So better to get the information another way, I think.   There is a podcast with her about that experience and his ongoing influence on her.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Heart Like A Wheel

 Sometimes I like to do an earlier version than the obvious one.

Mountains and Nature

Mountains have not always been considered beautiful. The Psalmist says that he lifts up his eyes unto the hills, and only then asks, "From whence cometh my help?" He never says that the hills are where his help comes from.  That is an entirely modern interpretation, post Romanticism.  

(It was the Romantics who believed that we learned about God through Nature. They had gotten the idea from Puritans and other NW European Protestants, who indirectly inherited it from the concept of Wyrd among the pagans of that region. I discussed that in detail in 2010. (Be warned.  It's a series) I will not repeat that here, only noting that the concept is not much found in Scripture. Psalm 19 is a bit nature-y, OK. But it's new, in England and America, and I therefore assume in Canada.) 

Those who are trying to make their living in nature do not much glorify Nature. It's a hard life and it's hard work. The glorification comes from those who see it as an escape from industrialisation. This is true even unto the present day, and I have been guilty of it myself. And no, I am not going to link to that for you.  You will have to uncover my hypocrisy yourselves.

Mountains were barriers to travel and thus trade. They were interruptions of the perfect circles of the horizon. They were dangerous places. It was more than forty years ago that I learned, to my shock, that the Abenaki did not regard climbing any of the White Mountains, not even Mount Washington, with any special spiritual significance. Mountains were a problem, not a solution.

In the scriptures it is the cities that are the expression of heaven, especially as we push the clock, uh, calendar back. The wilderness is there to toughen us and perhaps even force us to depend on God - see planter Cain resenting hunter/forager/pastoralist Abel - but that is not the final destination. It's the training ground. So keep that idea of the holy mountain or wilderness if you must, but understand that there is a necessary modification. Those things are good once they have been subdued. If you think of the Ivy League Mountain Outing Clubs you begin to get the idea. Sumner Saltonstall proves himself in the chastened wildreness, then goes back to work in the mutual fund in Boston.* The Old Mountain Man might be respected in a vague sort of way, but the Oregon Trail is a horribly dangerous obstacle one wants to get away from.  Brag about it later, sure. But it's not the destination. The forts are destinations, or the Willamette Valley, and reaching them is the achievement. Ranchers in the west are defined by what they can deliver to the "towns," like Chicago, proving themselves by their ability to live successfully on the margins of safety, not any abstract wilderness. Screw that. Dude, we're courageous, but we're not crazy and pointless.

Crossing the Rockies was important because, um, crossing.  See also Cumberland Gap. Getting a railroad in there was a big deal. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was in the mid-1800s, the Himalayas in the mid-1900s. I'm sure there were old guys for a century afterward who said "Well in my day we...," but not the point, dude. Sherpas shrugged and said "they're a little crazy, but their money is good." This worship of mountains does not owe much to ancient cultures, but it took off under Coleridge and Wordsworth.

But...but...but...that whole image of the great adventurer climbing up and looking over a vast terrain which he suddenly understood somehow?  Surely that is ancient and of deep spiritual importance?  Because it's hard to do that, man! It's an accomplishment. Well sure. I have climbed a lot of the NH 48 and still fantasise that I will somehow get the rest if I only lose forty more pounds. Not everyone does it. But this is an incredibly new idea.  Homer does not record any interest in the Greek 48, and Tibetans are proud of weaving their way through mountains to the other side, not conquering them. Their temple windows do not face up to the peaks in admiration, but outward in the glories of isolation.

*I am reminded of Grim's characterisation of Appalachian Trail through-hikers here. There is something deeply artificial about it, however physically difficult it is

Marc Chagall

Also from The New Criterion: when I went over for the Peter Thiel essay was a discussion of Marc Chagall, with Hilton Kramer trying to rehabilitate his legacy.

It is a mark of how little I know and understand these things that I didn't know his legacy needed rehabilitation. He was someone underclassmen were bubbling about when I was at school, suggesting that he had been featured in Janson's History of Art, one of the few textbooks we retained, sitting on a bottom shelf for decades. I thought he was interesting, but I didn't much like Modernist paintings then and rather shrugged him off.  As I became interested in Jewish history in the 1980's I saw a few things I liked. But not until 2001, when we had a layover of seven hours in Zurich while bringing the two Romanian sons home to America, was I quite such a fan.  We saw the stained glass windows, and I was mesmerised.  I bought a large postcard, which was on my bulletin board at work until I went part-time and became entirely deskless in 2017.  It would catch my eye and distract me.  I would stare at it a few minutes at a time over nearly two decades.

So it was a surprise to learn that had spent his later career (1887-1985), and certainly the time after, regarded as rather schlocky. Who knew? Not I, obviously. 

Thus, the crucial turn in Chagall’s life and work occurs not—as we have tended in the past to believe—in 1910, when he goes to Paris for the first time, but in 1922 when he uproots himself from his native Russia for the last time. From 1923 onward Chagall is a different kind of artist—an artist adrift in a dream of the past. There is even something apt in the choice of Gogol as the author he illustrated at this important juncture in his life, for not only does Chagall at that moment take leave of the present in order to find refuge in the past but there is a sense in which it can be said that he, too, now turns to trafficking in dead souls. The present is never again quite as real for Chagall as it was before 1922. Perhaps another way of saying this is that from this time onward he severs his connection with history. Thereafter, like those floating figures who now become so ubiquitous in his paintings—is this, perhaps, their real meaning?—he quits the realm of earthly events to enter a world of timeless and homeless archetypes, which, the further removed from real experience they become, the more they succumb to an unalloyed sentimentality. After his exit from Russia—which was also, it is worth recalling, his exit from the Revolution he served as an artist and a commissar—Chagall made some periodic attempts to re-attach his art to the realm of historical experience, most notably in the paintings he produced in 1944 as a response to the Holocaust. But by then it was too late. He no longer possessed the means of bringing that effort to an effective realization. In a sense he never touched earth again.

Well! This is rather breathtaking stuff for a man who never took an art class and only came upon such writing late in my own career as a dilettante. I look at such things and wonder how I can work it into conversations for the next year.

The Diversity Myth

The article The Diversity Myth is by Peter Thiel in The New Criterion in June of this year. It is based on his remarks at their annual gala last April, at which he was awarded the tenth Edmund Burke award for service to culture and society. 

A thought experiment might flesh this crazy theory out just a little bit more. If you were sitting here in Manhattan back in 2007, or in San Francisco, and you told me the average rent would double in the next sixteen years, I would say that’s completely impossible. People would just move. They’d figure out some other place to go. But maybe you countered, well, let’s say rent is going to double anyways—and then asked, how would that be possible?

It would be inexplicable without recourse to a kind of ideological superstructure, inflicting some version of Stockholm syndrome. If you’re a gay person, you might be told that if you ever move from Manhattan to Hoboken you’ll be beaten up by bat-wielding thugs right away. If you’re a woman living in a rat-infested apartment in San Francisco, where the rent is going up and up while you fantasize about a nice suburban house in Reno, Nevada, you might hear that, well, if you ever dare to move to Reno, you are going to be chained to your bed and forced to carry a baby to term. The only logical explanation is that a crazed, ideological intensification has distracted us from what’s really going on.

Every time I read The New Criterion I wonder why I do not read it more. It is more thoughtful and clear than other magazines on the internet, including what I am already reading. I should probably put it on my sidebar - as a reminder to myself as much as to the rest of you.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

In The Midnight Hour

I sang this with an as-yet-unnamed band in 1972, in a Methodist Church basement show.  I think Mr. Pickett's version is better.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Many Disguises

 “Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me forever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d only be a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams – all sweet and fresh and almost innocent...” (Spoken by the Lizard on a man's shoulder in Chapter 11 of The Great Divorce, by CS Lewis).

The lizard is usually interpreted as sexual sin that the man cannot free himself from - whether sin in the flesh or in the imagination does not seem to be very different at the edges of Heaven perhaps.  It illustrates the truth of Jesus's hard saying that adultery in the heart is not different from enacting it. (Matthew 5:27-28) I don't think Jesus is talking theology here, but spiritual damage to oneself.  Of course it is better to refrain from hurting another person. Yet he is saying that the damage to you is the same, and even the physical consequences in this world for everyone pale in comparison to the eternal consequences.

The occasion is that an angel is requesting permission from the man, clearly the owner of the lizard, to kill it. The man understands already that the lizard cannot come into Heaven, so the choice for him is stark: the lizard or Heaven*. And yet he wavers.

I live much of my life in my imagination now, even more so since retirement, talking with the dead, giving lectures to audiences that will never be, carrying on conversations with people I might see later this week - or ones I saw forty years ago. I reflected this week during the sermon on transforming the mind that any number of these conversations are comforting lizards I return to almost effortlessly. When I was twenty they all turned sexual rather quickly, no matter where they began, and that was my entire understanding when I first read The Great Divorce.  I wondered how Lewis had seen into my life so clearly!

But now a sexual side is much less common, and is at a farther distance - I get interrupted long before I get there most times. There are more lizards now, just as comforting and in disguise. They no longer need lust to own me - there are other sins that will do just as well.  I would like to tell you that I hate them.  Apparently I don't. I believe that this time they might be tamed. This time the good will outweigh the bad and I will get to keep them. "Almost innocent," the lizard said. They are actually old friends, topics I am as comfortable with as old clothes. A friend noted at Sunday School that she had recently heard a speaker use the analogy of rat poison, which is 98% very attractive and even quite good for the rat. This was rhema, a "word in season" for me, something I was ready to hear.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Caste in Wikipedia

The information in Wikipedia usually is accurate - but sometimes it is slanted.  Caste, and whether it is religious, cultural, or political in nature, is a topic that is controversial in India, and very much so among Indian-Americans as well.  It is easy to misstep. But this is Wikipedia, they always seem to err on the side of liberal activists, don't they?

Scholars believe that the Varnas system was never truly operational in society and there is no evidence of it ever being a reality in Indian history.

There is a 20th C woke mythology, now fully exploded, that caste was never really a big deal in India, it was something the the British exaggerated in order to keep control of the population.  The above sounds like a dead-ender attempt to keep that going. The problem is that the genetics show that these groups have been endogamous for 1500 years*, and in some cases are farther apart from each other than they are from Scandinavians.  So the phrase "never truly operational" rings a little hollow. One wonders what would count operational, if less than 1 in 200 marrying outside the group every generation for fifteen centuries doesn't cut it. 

Once you know that, the followup evidence they provide looks almost humorous.

*In some groups, only 1000.  But there is quiet but deep evidence of it going back 4000 years in some groups. Let me go all Indo-European on you: The Brahmins have considerably more Steppe ancestry than the groups around them, in all regions. As there is more Steppe ancestry in the north, some non-Brahmin jatis there have more of it than even Brahimins in the south.  But those southerners still greatly exceed the local castes in Indo-European DNA.

Worcestershire Sauce

 In my defense, I only use a little at a time, even if I do usually double whatever the recipe calls for.

Garum, the fish sauce of the Roman Empire that was traded throughout, had some similarities, in case you are wondering how "fish sauce" could have brought nations low in an effort to maintain the trade after the protecting legions had left.

Sunday, October 08, 2023


"Nice guys finish last."

"It depends on where you think the finish line is."

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Post 9400 - Wellness

I haven't decided what it is yet.  But it's another milestone.  I haven't done ABBA for a while.  No meerkats, and certainly no flamingos for the longest of times.

It won't be about Trump or Biden, I feel confident.

Here we are, from my notes last week!  My health-provider network has posters up that say that their goals are to Inspire Wellness, Heal Patients, and Serve With Compassion. This seems unfocused. How about just that second one? The other two look like they would draw energy away from that.  I think compassion is great, certainly, and expecting people to be polite and at least look like they care should be a requirement.  But I did this for a living for my whole career, and frankly, you don't always feel compassion - you can go years with only occasional compassion - but you show up in the morning and focus on your real job and do what you can.

But wellness really sends me over the edge. It is a vague idea, which always means energy dissipating all over the parking lot. A lot of hand-waving is involved, with people patiently explaining to you as if you were a seventh, fifth, third grader that if we could get people to just care about their health more and pay more attention to it, then they wouldn't have all these diseases, you know?  You know?

Well sure.  If we can get drunks to stop drinking their health would improve. Dr. Dolcino used to say that to my patients in the 1970s when they would get admitted for the nineteenth time: "If you don't stop this it will kill you.  I say this for your own good." Measuring how well that works is tricky,but I am not sanguine about such things. Maybe.  It doesn't hurt to spend a minute or two on it, I suppose.  But what that means now is that they want to ask "Are there any guns in the home?" or "Do you feel safe with all of your family members?" or "Are you always able to get the food you need?" These sound nice, I suppose, and fit with both wellness and compassion, but the effectiveness numbers are invisible, last I checked.  Stick with heart disease.

New War: Unz Review

I used to go over to the Unz Review every couple of weeks, then every couple of months.  I don't know when I last went, but I think I'm at about twice a year now.  I figured with the Hamas attack on Israel, it was time to see what those writers have to say.

They are the alternative to the alternative press. It is there you will find the bulk of the pro-Russian, anti-Israel writers that are not academic Marxians.

There are lots of lessons here about how to report in ways that...no, I leave it off. Make up your own minds.  There are a variety of opinions there.

Fake ID

When I was in late high school, to have a Fake ID was True Wealth. I got my NH driver's license at 16.5 and hit upon the stratagem of claiming to have lost it at 17. I thin I paid for a whole new four years, but very carefully doctored the old one so that the 1953 became a 1950. It didn't matter much at college, where older students were willing to buy you whatever you wanted, but it was great for coming back at Christmas or over the summer. Wear your college's shirt and you're in.

My wife does not recall ever having a cardboard license in Massachusetts, but she was not interested in fake ID's so I don't credit her memory on this anyway.

What happened in your states?  And if you were in NH at that time, I'd really like to know your memory.

New England Seafarers Mission

We don't get down to volunteer for NESM as often as we should, though we have been doing it for years. People who make their living on the sea have very hard lives: their rights are often very uncertain, being caught between countries and jurisdictions. The work as much a 100 hours/week, are away from home 8-10 months, and the smallest suspicion of an infraction can get them fired. They come from poor countries where the idea of putting up with an enormous amount of abuse in order to make a living is normal.  Indonesia, India, Philippines, SE Europe, Namibia.  So however exciting the idea of working on a cruise ship might sound, and however chummy it might sound as a mission, the reality is tough.

We were down this week, logging packages for workers who try to anticipate when delivery will come to which port. When we started thirty years ago, this service didn't exist, but now they can order online and pick up onshore.

If they can find a safe place to have it delivered. That's not automatic.

There are other services Seafarers provides, including to the merchant mariners, but I'll let Steve tell you that. It all looks so simple, until you try to do it.

So this one is on Black Falcon Ave, right on one of the major docks in Boston. This summer they started a podcast, Coffee With the Port Chaplain, which lays it out very simply in short episodes. I didn't have high expectations from nonprofessionals, but Steve is quite good.  He lets the story tell the story. Ten minutes, and then I thought I'd try one more. And then one more, and then up to the dozen that are out now. When we went on a cruise in 2014, we were very aware of what was being done for us by people doing thankless work. God bless them.  They each support a half-dozen people back home.

It has been a denominational ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church for almost 150 years. Unlike the Midwestern Swedes who were farmers who arrived 150 years ago, the East Coast Swedes were mostly mariners, or millworkers who still had relatives working on the sea, so it was a natural for them. 

If you live near Boston, come see them. It's as close to bringing light to dark places ans most Americans are ever going to get. Full Disclosure:  I think my wife and I are are going to be on a future podcast. So a chance to hear my voice, if that tickles you.

More Colonialism

Until very late, European colonialism appears to have been highly legitimate and for good reasons. Millions of people moved closer to areas of more intensive colonial rule, sent their children to colonial schools and hospitals, went beyond the call of duty in positions in colonial governments, reported crimes to colonial police, migrated from non-colonized to colonized areas, fought for colonial armies, and participated in colonial political processes—all relatively voluntary acts.(Gilley, as below)

Seems like exactly the hard evidence one would look for. And all this was in the context of colonisers that didn't actually like you all that much, and certainly had little respect for you.  But it was was seriously better than its competition.

Am I Blue?


She was 19 when this was filmed. I'm betting most 19-year-old boys would be intimidated by this. Heck, I'm intimidated now.

German Pagan All-Natural Origins

Reprinted from 2012. I have not checked the links, which sometimes expire.

Earlier related posts: Natural Vs. Artificial and Natural.

There's a lot of fun stuff here and it is link-heavy.  You could browse for hours.  I had known about Wandervogel, though I had forgotten the name, but I had never heard of Lebensreform, literally "life-reform," until I did this research. It gives better evidence for my point than anything I had thought of on my own.  Even I didn't think the connection to German paganism was that strong. I found more here, at the Children of the Sun.

I’d like to just flesh out that German pagan background to the all-natural movement. But I will first note the other side - first, that there was a British and American strain of this thinking which was only incidentally German.  Only insofar as people read Kant, Schopenhauer, and Fichte in general was that strain a Teutonic movement,  for the intelligentsia of the day also read other Europeans and Americans who were more direct influences

Second, the line from Rousseau, Emerson, Tolstoy, and Thoreau through the Fellowship of the New Life and the Fabian Society looks at first much more direct in influencing the modern pacifist, simple-living, vegetarian culture and exaltation of Nature.  Third, there were American utopian back-to-the-landers who had nothing German about them – Shakers, Brook Farm, Oneida - I don’t know how we measure who is more influential than whom, but it’s at least there and deserves mention.

I also note some things which are definitely German but don’t seem to be especially influential in pagan roots.  I have said before that the Germans were only a partially converted country to begin with, and I still think that’s true, but that doesn’t imply that everything in their culture is suspect thereby.

So fourth - you can trace those German philosophers, especially Fichte, and their fascination with will as having provided a foundation for German nationalism and ultimately, Nazism, but not necessarily pagan revival and natural living.  That came later, when their descendants decided that, as their superiority could not rest on their Christian culture, shared by others in Europe, it must reside in some previous underlying advantage – genetic, cultural, or both. Strong and adventurous gods and heroes naturally suggested themselves as causes.  That everyone else in the world also had traditional gods and heroes who were strong and adventurous was somehow not noticed.  Perhaps because they felt very deeply – there’s the romanticism and sentimentality piece – that they were strong and quite special, that was enough.  Human beings are like that, not just Germans.

Fifth, German religious groups coming to America also provided more than their share of utopian back-to-the-landers – Amish, New Harmony, Mennonites, Moravians, Hutterites – who settled in the Midwest because that was the next “open” spot in European settlement.  Yet even if these groups carried the traces of paganism in their cultures that all Christians do, it would be hard to level much accusation against them for strong influence in that direction.  Genesis and much of the OT carries the theme that living in cities causes spiritual decline while the rural life improves character – from Cain to Daniel it shows up, and is echoed in the NT with John the Baptist. The idea that things in general are deteriorating and can only be fixed by getting out into the country is recurrent in western thought.  It’s one of our panaceas. Rousseau wasn’t the first.

Thus I don’t think it accidental that Seventh Day Adventists had a lot of that healthy eating idea right from the start and grew in midwestern soil.  It was in the air; Graham and Kellogg might not have been so prosperous in other regions.  In New England that energy went into the mind-body-spirit split of the Christian Scientists, not natural versus artificial. 

Was that enough qualifiers?  It's a terrible thing to see many sides of an issue.

All those qualifiers in place, here is that introduction to the Wandervogel movement. (Same link)
There’s simple living and harmony with nature; there’s nudism (then called naturism); natural foods and strong tendencies toward vegetarianism; natural medicines, with an emphasis on remarkable powers of the body to heal it self or be healed with fairly simple regimens such as clean water, exercise, or herbals found locally; hiking and camping and getting out of the unhealthy cities; conservation of wilderness and even some proto-Gaia Worship, though under other names; they read Hesse, and Nietzsche; they eschewed the commercial music scene and favored performers from The People – many of whom went on to become commercially successful, certainly.  There is, in fact, just about everything you need philosophically to leave “the rat race” in northeastern cities and start an herb farm in Vermont   or a commune in Tennessee.  There's a hippie museum there if you ever get the urge.  
When you click together the pieces that the Nature Boys were largely German, and in specific Gypsy Boots’ parents were Wandervogel,* there’s some founder effect in hippie culture, far more than from old Pietist Christian groups.Grace Slick, Brian Wilson, and Donovan headed for Southern California, not Pennsylvania Dutch country.

It may seem strange that such a movement would penetrate Christian circles at all, but there were important points of contact: the early movement was connected to scouting in both England and America and retained that even in dark eras. The adventurous visit other areas, and when they did, would share trails, shelters, and equipment.  More important, however, was that the older Christian groups tended to do the type of farming that the hippies were moving into: small farms and local crafts rather than agribiz. Mother Earth News found itself rubbing up against such folks from earliest days, even though it was initially quite hostile to religion.  The hippies settled on being against organised religion, which was just enough stretch to accommodate everyone.  Many of the Christian groups were bent on removing themselves from The World – varying degrees of paranoia here – which the freaks could identify with, though they had different reasons.  Both were ultimately defining themselves as counterculture.

The early Jesus people were more a hippie movement than a church movement as well – They had not merely a preference but an actual disdain for the mainstream and institutional churches – which had like opinions about them.  It is ironic that mainstream denominational hierarchies have lots of folks tending toward these ideas now.  Ironic, that is, until one recognises that these were semi-hippies who were never able to make the break.  They like the overlapping fashionableness that the Church should withdraw from the world and stand against the corporate, consumerist culture of America.  It preserved their counterculture bonfides in both directions.  Two birds with one stone. Wankers.

That the Jesus Movement led more directly to independent churches that are now more conservative seems another irony, but it's not.  It’s not just that homeschooling and back-to-the-land, overlaps with that 70’s secular culture.  It’s that this particular Romantic Vision is flexible and can be called into service for various causes.  The plaid shirt, voluntary poverty, wood-chopping, vegetable growing guy fits into a lot of small slots in this culture.  Hard to peg those guys - and their lovely granola wives.

Finally, some people that Dubbahdee referred to who come much earlier in this whole Vitalism, life force, Natural Cure Movement.  Germans Benedict Lust and John Scheel (naturopathy), their predecessor Sebastian Kneipp and their follower, exercise guru Bernarr McFaddenAn excellent history of 19th C natural cures here.

*The movement spread quickly among Central European Jews, and the purification and germanisation of the movement was a rationale for the Hitler Youth.  It does give evidence that whatever the later connection, Wandervogel was not inevitably an expression of Aryan superiority.  How Jews got by that “Teutonic roots” part I don’t know, but I imagine that as with all broad movements, there were different emphases in different areas, and we all usually ignore a problem or two for the sake of larger agreements.