Thursday, November 30, 2023

Jason and the Argonauts

 "The Ancients" podcast is on my sidebar, but there are hundreds of episodes and no good search function that I can find. Still, just browsing down the list I imagine there will be things that jump out at you that you would like to here.  I keep falling farther and farther behind myself, as they add episodes faster than I listen to them. 

But this one from September 2020 was quite marvelous, an excellent storyteller named Tom Holland telling the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. It is before a live audience and there were children present, and I think the story is accessible to children to about the age of ten. 

"Medea goes to Jason and says 'Darling, I've done it.  I've saved you!' 

"And the time may come...I'm talking to the boys now...The time may come where you find you might have paired up with the wrong girlfriend. And ... Jason has is doubts about the kind of girlfriend who would slice the throat of her younger brother and cut him up into little pieces and drop him into the sea. Seeds of doubt are sown. Seeds of doubt are sown."

Really quite well done, start to finish.  It's an hour long, so you may want to save it for an airplane trip or a long car ride.  But your children will know the story cold after only one hearing, I think, and so will you.

Mr Bojangles

The things that we think we know.  I knew that the song had been written by Jerry Jeff Walker, not anyone from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which is where most of us first heard it. I knew that the the original Bojangles was Bill something* who was known in the teens and especially the '20s as a vaudeville dance performer. He is remembered mostly now for his movies with Shirley Temple in the '30s, and was dead by 1950. So he is not the man that Walker met in a cell in New Orleans when he was "down and out."


That anonymous man took the name Mr. Bojangles to have something to tell the police when they picked him up. We don't know his real name. He was a homeless itinerant white man.  Well knock me over with a feather. I suppose if you are looking for a pseudonym, you might as well pick a good one. Sammy Davis Jr, who knew the original Bojangles, sang the song and it always provoked a poignancy, because that whole dynamic of a black performer in a white industry, having to not only put up with insult and have a forced smile but to see others with talent make choices and succeed or not, and understand both. Dance, dammit. But you are either going to make a living or you ain't, and maybe there's others who depend on you.  It's the sort of choice everyone faces in life, but more stark with black performers of the time.

So maybe you might want to hear Sammy do the song with that context. "I don't feel that I'm talking about Bill Robinson, I feel that I'm talking about  all the black hoofers who never really made it." 


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

IQ Enhancement - Post 9500

From March 2006. This satire didn't work as well as I had hoped, but I still like sections of it.


Abstract: The study examined whether newer Task-Specific Instruction (TSI) is superior to the earlier Task-General Instruction (TGI) and earlier enhancement methods of raising IQ scores. Task-Specific Instruction was found to raise scores significantly better than earlier methods.

Subjects (N=124) were drawn from middle-school lacrosse players in Sudbury, MA, proportionally representing all on-field positions: 37 attack, 37 mids, 37 defense, 13 goalies. No attempt was made to differentiate the left/right/center field positions. Subjects were randomized according to the Count Off By Sixes method and assigned to five popular methods of IQ-enhancement, plus a control group. Methods studied included Unilateral Collaboration, in which children are taught to copy off the papers of brighter students; both teacher-directed methods – Hi-Indication Natural Tipoff Signs (HINTS) and the earlier Wee-Indication Natural Kinesthetic Signs (WINKS), in which the instructor rewards successive approximations of the correct answer (“You’re getting warmer”); Task-General Instruction, in which children review problems similar to the test questions immediately before the test; and Task-Specific Instruction, in which students review the precise questions, with answers, immediately before taking the test.

The instrument used was a Sanford-Bidet IQ Test, 1947 edition (because that was all we had), administered once mid-season, and again after enhancement training, during the playoffs.

All groups showed dramatic improvement, including the controls, many of whom spontaneously used Unilateral Collaboration, even without training. (See Chart A, Appendix). Group average improvements ranged from 16-31 points, TSI representing the highest score.

Discussion: It would appear that giving students the answers before they take the test is the current gold standard for raising IQ scores. And oh yeah, more research is needed on this subject.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Admit it.  When others were playing their excellent guitar or violin music at an impromptu concert when you were young, it would have been awesome to break out that beautiful concertina and take over the party in 0.6 seconds. I can't take my eyes off it.

The Rights of Alberta

I don't have much idea what is going on. There is likely another side to this that has arguments that I have not considered. But the issue seems to be "Ottawa has this idea of what everyone else should do about clean energy, and whether you yahoos approve of this or can even afford it is irrelevant." 

I have this sudden fondness for Alberta.

Examination of Conscience

Over at Grim's, Dad29 linked in the comments to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' recommendations for regular examinations of conscience. I have tried both the first one and the last one, and liked them. Well, liked is not the correct verb, but you know what I mean.

Those of us who regularly examine conscience might think such formal structures unnecessary, but there is one of those diabolical half-gainer twists that mislead us. We think we are being thorough.  More likely we are being partial in what we examine, but really, really hard on ourselves in the ones we recognise.  It feels like a serious repentance in preparation for communion.

Yet it was years ago that I saw, to my horror, that I was using my own intensity to deceive myself. God may have a particular action, or even a particular sin that He is targeting for our attention, but we are too busy wailing and gnashing our teeth about something else to notice. It is a false virtue.

Someone else's list alerts us to things we have not recently examined or confessed. Ouchies.


At book group today, someone noticed that branding for gasoline not longer seems to be a bid deal in advertising.  There was a day when whether you used Esso, or Getty, or Shell was a matter of brand loyalty. That is only true if you are in some sort of signup program to get discounts now. Mobil and Irving have convenience stores attached, and those seem to be their money makers.  While you are there, having pulled over to get gas anyway, it is reasonable to spend more for a few fast-moving items.

How does branding go away? Because American lagers are virtually identical anyway, branding is everything for Miller or Budweiser. Yet with other products it no longer seems to matter. 

I am interested in what has gone away and what has remained.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Feeling Happy


The graph was posted on X by Brian Portnoy

This not only matches the stereotype every other generation has of Millennials (by convention, those born 1981-1996*), it wildly exceeds it. One looks at it and thinks "Okay, even if that is based on some real and accurate truth, there must be something wrong with this number."

I offer the following as a possibility: it is not that their expectation of what they should and will be paid that is that far out of whack - though I would bet it is considerable - it is their definition of feel happy that is askew. It simply must include the idea that it is a condition of having no stress or worries about anything. Without that utter calm, there is no happiness. This has never been anything like the definition of happiness in any society.  There have always been individuals who feel this way, but they are few.

People in my generation and after tended to develop the idea that they should have no suffering, and that would prevent happiness, but even then stress, worry, and uncertainty were expected, and one had to learn to be happy in spite of them. Prior to that, I think most (not all) people expected that some suffering was going to come their way sometime, and happiness would consist of dealing with that.

This topic is fertile without me adding in any extra bits, but I can't help but relate this to the difficulty of Christian witness in our society. People are no longer looking for a way of dealing with suffering - it is completely unfair that it exists in their lives at all! Nor even a way to deal with stress and disappointment. They are increasingly looking for a way to have none of it.

Does it really take only two generations for this to happen?

*That would put Sons #2-5 in that generation, though the oldest (1983) is on the edge and has a personality that expects bad things, #3-4 were born in communist Transylvania to abusive and neglectful parents and don't fit the American norm entirely, and #5 (1996) may belong more to the next generation.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Nottingham Ale


 Fair Venus, the goddess of beauty and love

    Arose from the froth which swam on the sea

    Minerva leapt out of the cranium of Jove

    A coy, sullen slut, as most authors agree

    Bold Bacchus, they tell us, the prince of good fellas

    Was a natural son, pray attend to my tale

    And they that thus chatter, mistake quite the matter

    He sprung from a barrel of Nottingham Ale!


        Nottingham Ale, boys, Nottingham Ale

        No liquor on earth is like Nottingham Ale!

        Nottingham Ale, boys, Nottingham Ale

        No liquor on earth like Nottingham Ale!


And having survey'd well the cask whence he sprung

    For want of more liquor, low spirited grew

    He mounted astride to the jolly cask clung

    And away to the gods and the goddess flew

    But when he look'd down and saw the fair town

    To pay it due honours, not likely to fail

    He swore that on earth 'twas the town of his birth

    And the best – and no liquor like Nottingham ale


Ye bishops and deacons, priests, curates and vicars

    When once you have tasted, you'll own it is true

    That Nottingham Ale, it's the best of all liquors

    And who understands the good creature like you

    It expels every vapor, saves pen, ink and paper

    And when you're disposed from the pulpit to rail

    T'will open your throats, you may preach without notes

    When inspired with a bumper of Nottingham Ale


Ye doctors who more execution have done

    With powder and bolus, with potion and pill

    Than hangman with halter, or soldier with gun

    Than miser with famine, a lawyer with quill

    To dispatch us the quicker, you forbid us malt liquor

    Till our bodies consume and our faces grow pale

    But mind it what pleases and cures all diseases

    Is a comfortable dose of good Nottingham Ale


(Ye poets, who brag of the Helicon brook

    The nectar of gods, and the juice of the vine

    You say none can write well, except they invoke

    The friendly assistance of one of the nine

    Her liquor surpasses the stream of Parnassus

    The nectar Ambrosia, on which gods regale

    Experience will show it, nought makes a good poet

    Like quantum sufficit of Nottingham ale)

Dark Humor

In the McCartney lyrics podcast, Paul makes the observation that some of the dark humor of his Liverpool childhood seemed to come out of the determination to laugh at anything, no matter how dangerous or hateful. There was much about suffering and oppression that could not be fixed, or not readily.  The only thing left was to stare it down and laugh in its face.Therefore, humor that we avoid now, because it may offend or insult, was more common then, and not necessarily because they were more coarse and insensitive, but because people were too poor, or injured, or abandoned to do much about it.

We have a greater sensitivity now, and are increasingly careful to not offend.  I approve of most of this. Yet is it not founded on the idea that we can fix nearly everything about ourselves, (gulp) other people, and (double gulp) about society? Insofar as things can be fixed it is probably better not to make light of them. Yet if the fixing is not really available - if a complete absence of poverty or racism or disease is not ever going to be available in even some approximation, are we not stealing one of the best consolation prizes away from them?

And is that not then, a cruelty on our part?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Romans 5:3-4; JB Phillips

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Unnamed Provenance

I think it best to weight heavily the opinions of those who read/hear their opponents' arguments and answer them. I won't say which site - which many of you are familiar with (don't worry, they don't comment here) - prompted this. 

Good college, responsible job, raised children who are independent. They have completely lost it over the last few years. I do not regard this as an intellectual failing, but an emotional one. There is a need to be on one side of an issue no matter the data.  You don't need to know who and it isn't even important. This is simply a cautionary tale that even later in life, after you have avoided many varieties of foolishness, such things (social and emotional rather than intellectual reasoning) can still hunt you down and make you stupid. 

Tomorrow would be a good day to take a walk, but I fear it will elude me, for joyful reasons. Son #4 appeared from Tromso, Norway for Thanksgiving with his fiancee, who we had not met in the flesh before. So seeing them will be of great importance, and reflecting on whether any of my opinions acquired over the last year are founded on foolishness will have to weight. 

Fortunately, I don't think the survival of the republic urgently depends on me getting this right. I think we will avoid collapse until December 4th, when I can resume getting my opinions clean. 

I have an Advent and Christmas letter post coming soon.

Bridge Hands

Do any of you have a bridge hand site you recommend, especially for beginners?  I have disliked the layout of a few, and a couple that looked promising at first do not seem to understand even at my level.  For example, if I have four hearts and five spades and bid the spades first, he bids 1NT or 2C, which is fine, but...coming back to 2 hearts, my computer partner will pass at 2H - and when his hand shows up he has three hearts and five spades. The program does not understand that 2S would be better - ten cards in trumps rather than seven. Or in game play, my partner will play his king and win, and I expect him to come back to my ace - but he doesn't. Ever. I Don't get it.

There are any number I could register for or download, but I don't want half a dozen sites out there with my email forever. I'd risk it for a good site (Or two). What'ya got?

Friday, November 24, 2023

More Links to AVI February 2006

These are the ones that didn't quite make the cut to come forward. They might hold some interest still, depending on how much time you have.

What Should Happen To Dick Cheney? The topic was in reference to the hunting accident in which the Vice President shot an attorney who was a Republican supporter. I was surprised how many of the references I had to stop and think about for a second. I always thought George W Bush's writers missed a trick when Sarah Palin was nominated for VP and he was trying to be both supportive but distance himself.  Humor can be good for that. "If Governor Palin shoots a lawyer on a hunting trip, I'll bet that one is staying down."

I wrote about a Jesuit theologian who is often credited with influencing Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. I no longer like what I wrote that much, but  Robert Bellarmine, patron saint of catechists, is still interesting, and of the many articles on that topic, Bradley Birzer of Hillsdale College's "Just How Catholic is the Declaration of Independence?" is a pretty good brief one. Listeners to The Great Books podcast at National Review may recognise Birzer's name as an occasional co-host.

Magick Is Expensive

The Early Days of the Blogosphere. I think people just wanted to be able to tell something to the WHOLE WORLD.

Slight Contra Phonics

I have included posts on Freddie DeBoer and Mark Seidenberg in the last few years, both of whom assure us that phonics is a demonstrably better way to teach reading, and the research shows that.  I will say I still believe that.  However, in this week's "The Studies Show," Stuart Ritchie and Tom Chivers say "not so fast." The opinions are different in England, it seems. They have nothing against phonics, and even think it probably superior.  Yet they note that the evidence base is not as good as advertised. There is a fair bit of meta-analysis (a word to conjure with these days) that includes both apples and oranges in its data, so to speak. Systematic phonics is sometimes contrasted with unsystematic phonic, or Whole Word Language, or hybrids, or unspecified methods. They just don't believe that we fully know what we have got. 

Most children learn to read regardless, so we are often measuring which method fails at 1% or 2% of the population. Even the testing is not always of reading skill, but smuggles in some values one group wants children to show and another group wants de-emphasised. 

In America, a different situation prevails (see my previous posts linked above, especially Seidenberg). Education schools resist quantitative research at all. They believe teachers should be teaching love of learning, and that there is an art to this, which has nothing to do with decoding and encoding, words that sound scientific and precise but are actually ways of belittling the "mere mechanics" of teaching reading. Classroom teachers in the elementary grades aren't usually crazy or stupid and do teach such skills that they are supposed to eschew, because they do want children to learn and they sneak in ways to get them over the hump. Which is often enough. Teachers now often don't even know there is research abut this at all. So the research about the teaching of phonics may not be Phonics vs Other Methods (including WWL) but Phonics vs We-aren't-teaching-drill-and-kill, no matter what those damn ignorant conservative parents want, because we are the professionals and know what's best for your child. And to be fair, they do know a lot more than a lot of parents, who think they can land a 747 in an emergency. They wanted to be teachers and the Ed Schools worked really hard to ruin them and teach them attitudes and politics.

But some of the research is Phonics vs We don't teach Decoding, dammit, which might not tell us as much as we thought. It's a fair caution.

Reflections on the Second Commandment

First mentioned in February 2006, I have come back to this  many times.  It is a CS Lewis thought, though not original to him.  He was just versed enough in the history of Christian thinking that this understanding was a more natural one than the meaning we give the passage now. This version is from 2011.


This was one of the earliest topics I picked up on this blog. As it is not an entirely common view in this era - or in any era since the inventing of the printing press, actually - I probably should write about it more. I should write about it every month until everyone rolls their eyes and is sick of it, actually. The link is a short post from 2006. Please read it.

The injunction not to take the Lord's name in vain has nothing to do with bad language, or with oaths. It is about false prophecy, a fairly common theme of scripture. We should not forge God's signature under our own opinions. Yet many Christians, do this, and do it often. They say "God wants us to..." or "The Scriptures clearly teach..." or "Jesus said..." and I don't think they have anything near the proper caution about this.

No, the word caution is much too mild. Whenever we make a claim for what God's opinion is on any matter whatsoever, we should imagine Jesus dangling us over a cliff, held by our shirts, looking at us intently and asking "Are you absolutely sure that is what I want people to hear?" We should be petrified to make any pronouncement. I think the idea of death or torment for getting it wrong should cross our minds. If we are quoting directly from the Scriptures, giving no hint of interpretation, then perhaps we are safe. (2023 note: However, we may not be quite so much use either. We are always between the "fell incensed points" of underteaching and overclaiming.  Hence, come Holy Spirit, else we faint.)

Example: At camp meetings and revivals back in the day, some preachers would give an altar call, and on the basis of many scriptures and their own personal experience would declare unto the people that God wanted them to come forward and commit their lives to following Jesus, turning from their previous ways. They would state right out loud "Jesus wants you to come forward this night, say the sinner's prayer, and give your life to Him." Every evangelical can cite, right of the top of his head, a few dozen places in scripture where that statement could be justified.

Yet I would still shrink back from such a declaration, even though it seems obviously okay at first. I would phrase it as a question: "Is the Lord calling you...?" Or I would qualify it as an opinion based on scripture study "I believe that this may be your last chance. I believe God may be calling you tonight..." I would stress the general call; I would even hellfire-and-brimstone a story of a sinner who did not respond and died in a car accident the next night; hell, I would lie and make up stories about healings and conversions before I would let the words "Jesus is telling you to come forward this night..." escape my lips unless I was absolutely sure of what I was saying.

Because maybe it's next year. Or maybe the darkest mutterings of Calvinism are true and this is one of the damned, who will use my arrogant declaration for greater evil. Or maybe I've misunderstood completely and coming forward is irrelevant. Or maybe he came forward a dozen years ago and I am subtly teaching him to doubt his salvation. Or maybe, maybe, maybe, a hundred other things I never considered.

I believe all Christians should shrink back in horror from declaring God's will with any certainty, unless they dragged almost weeping like Isaiah or Micah or Habakkuk, or in the NT, Peter, or John of Patmos, barely daring to speak but compelled for the sake of the Gospel. We are held out over the cliff, our destruction spreading below us.

It is the Second Commandment, right? The first thing God wanted us to remember once we had first recognised Him. Don't put words in my mouth, y'hear?

In the current era, it is the apolitical who offend most in this way, those who believe that they have discerned the will of God for the world, as the "recent" 5/21/11 catastrophists were (I admit I didn't even remember what they were called or who that guy was who led them. Looking it up, he made a good and proper apology for it); next, the religious right offends, jumping in almost reflexively on particular issues, declaring "God says..." Well, maybe so. They may have read the scriptures rightly, and have understood God correctly on any or all of their issues. But I get nervous about that certainty. The fear is not in them. There is a stretch, imperceptible at times, that says because God forbids homosexuality among his people, therefore He just MUST want homosexuality to be against the law in a pluralistic society, or MUST be opposed to civil unions. Well, maybe so. But the NT actually says almost nothing about what we should be convincing the secular powers to do.

Which leads to the more quietly stated, yet I think ultimately more dangerous violations of the Second Commandment by the religious left: the absolute assurance that they are declaring God's will for society, yet seldom making it ultra-specific. They are flexible on the details of the legislation, and eager for new ideas. Yet they have no one among them who questions the basic approach. They declare with confidence, even offhandedly, that they know what Jesus intends.

Let me step back from that a bit. I have framed this in terms of the political issues, because as a recovering socialist, I am still drawn to the political questions which make the news. But those may actually be the peripheral issues to God. My reading of history would certainly suggest that Jesus originally, and then the greatest minds of the Church thereafter, were not much concerned with the political issues of their days - there is almost nothing from any of them about Christians trying to influence the secular governments, on any level, about policy toward gays, or the poor, or women. That is our prism.

Thou Who Wast Rich

I am singing with the choir for Advent and Christmas, and this piece was new to me, but I like it very much.  We will be doing it this week, and I find I am a half-step or a step not up to it in range, so have to warm up considerably or I sound strained.  Likely, I sound strained anyway.

Still, it's lovely piece of music. 2Cor 8:9

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Games Mad

Originally published in Feb 2006


The Gaelic Athletic Association sponsors both hurling and Gaelic football. Scheduled games are listed in the local paper under G.A.A. leagues, but they don’t specify which of the two games will be played. We watched Na Fianna vs. Drumcondra at Glasnevin, but didn’t know until we got there which would be played. They say Gaelic games are very big in Ireland, enough so that following soccer football is still a relatively unfamiliar concept. Tourist guides all had descriptions of huge drunken crowds watching the big Gaelic matches each year, so were unprepared for a near-empty field.

The only fans at Glasnevin were two coaches, two teenage girls (Girlfriends? Daughters? Hurling groupies?), a small boy, an older man with a pipe, and the four of us, two Americans and two Romanian-Americans. On the field, there were about 10 men whapping vicious looking sticks at a hard rubber ball. Ah, hurling match, we sports gurus knowingly concluded.  Can't fool us.

Hurling looks most like some cross between lacrosse and field hockey at first, but soon shows elements of baseball, tennis, golf, and egg-and-spoon race. If the egg-and-spoon part seems a little gentle, a little frou-frou for a man’s sport, it is because we are used to the school picnic version, with tiny spoons and no one playing defense. Imagine church picnic egg-and-spoon with defense.  Now make it young men who drink heavily.

To move the ball toward the hurling goal, you may

carry the ball in hand, but only for a few steps;

whack it forehand or backhand, either in the air or off the ground, though it takes a bit of time to windup for a good one;

kick it, but it is too small;

or balance it on the wide end of a tree root while running. That’s the egg-and-spoon part, and the least efficient of these four bad ways to make progress. Other lads are trying to strike you with their tree root in a sharpish manner throughout. Apparently you can’t throw it, which is the only method that would make any sense.

The ball does travel a long distance at times, when a goalie or defender gets an open space and a good wallop. This occurs more at the end of the game, when people are tired of running around pressuring every possession. I imagine that an over-30 league would pretty rapidly become a series of long volleys between overweight defenders, like spent boxers looking for that one knockout punch. Some of these guys can pop it 80 yards or more with some accuracy, scoring a “pint” from distance.

The scoring is quite simple. There is an H-shaped goal, with the bottom third netted. Putting the ball under the bar is 3 points, over the bar is one point. If the Irish don’t want people to make drinking jokes about them, they shouldn’t have scoring involving “3 pints equals 1goal,” or indeed anything about pints at all.

We gradually sidled up to the lone gentleman. An older man with a pipe is always a trustworthy individual, just as talking ravens always have the key to your adventure. This particular gent had played a good deal as a youth, and was able to make shrewd observations on our behalf. It is the all-stars from games like these who make up the county teams which go on to fame and glory playing in front of drunks in September. But with no sportswriters or fans, the only possibilities for choosing an all-star team would be the votes of the coaches or the players. “You remember our Kevin, he was the one who got the two late pints against you out at Glasnevin with a backsmash from the deep end.” “Thick lad, about 24?” “No the quick one, about 19. You’re thinking of our Big Kevin, then.” “Red hair?” “That’s the one.” “Allright, he’s on then.”

Gaelic football is more dangerous than hurling. I had thought the wielded tree roots would have given the concussion advantage to the older game, but O’Pipe confided that you could use the stick to defend yourself in hurling, and he actually winked. Ah, that explains it then. One enters the game with a defensive, nigh unto paranoid attitude, which is likely self-fulfilling. Gaelic football is like the Australian rules football I used to see on ESPN at 2am in the 1980’s. One allows you to pick the ball up directly from the ground and the other doesn’t, but it’s similar enough for them to have exchange matches every year.
Amazingly, many people bet on these games. While it is difficult to imagine a thriving market in wagers on games not attended, I have this from several sources. One of the bettors determined which game was closest and what bus to take by looking at my newspaper, but was unable – and unconcerned – to tell me which sort of GAA game it would be. Although Na Fianna was county champion last year, Drumcondra beat them 3-8 to 1-10. All over Dublin, money changed hands over this.

Tourists aren’t buying hurling mementoes at the sidewalk stands near O’Connell Bridge, as it is all soccer there. A pity. I would love to have had a cap that said Drumcondra Hurling Club over an unrecognizable crest (“Unrecognizable? Lad, that’s the coat of arms of the Earl of Drumcondra, who fought against Lord Killester at Donnycarney in 1782! The cursed English were comin’ up o’er the hill…”). The Irish team did well in the World Cup this year, which gives the pushcart peddlers another green thing to hawk.

One could also find overpriced rugby shirts, or flimsy T-shirts of a soccer player looking over his shoulder and grinning while urinating on another team’s jersey. There were any number of opponents you could thus insult (Same figure, different team logos. Efficient), but Manchester United seemed particularly popular. As urine recipient, that is.

The Actual Influence of African-American Vernacular English

Originally published February 2006


Introductory linguistics texts and History of English Courses usually cover this in a paragraph or two before moving on to discussions of how African-American Vernacular is not a substandard English, but a dialect, and all the other political statements academics feel should be inculcated into adolescents, who would otherwise have only the narrow views of their bigoted culture to fall back on. Then linguists get distracted into talking about black slang, Gullah dialect, literacy, and other topics which are important in themselves, but don’t tell us too much about the influence of African-Americans on our everyday language.

That paragraph usually gives a word list of terms that we get from African-Americans, like jazz, or yam, or banjo. This always struck me as a terribly condescending, everybody-gets-a-ribbon way to proceed. Did you know that several important words come from Turkish?!

The actual influence of black speakers is deeper and more profound. We have many small words in English that get enormous use, such as run, get, set, and go. Go up. Go over. Go for. Get through a crisis. Get under your skin. Get down tonight. Run up. Run out. Set up. Set out. We use dozens of idiomatic, nuanced versions of these words. Many of them have histories long before slaves were brought to America, but their use was not so extensive as it is today.

When wave after wave of people come in and learn your language as a second language, basic words tend to take on multiple uses. New speakers draw from what they already know to communicate. If you have the idea of run already in memory, then you are going to pick up the ideas of run out of water, run out on your wife more easily than emptied, or abandoned.

The French, Dutch, and Spanish all came early to America, but didn’t tend to learn English. Jews, Germans, Armenians, and Cambodians came in their own times and reinforced this pattern of multiple-use basic words. But it was the enormous number of Africans learning English as adults which originally gave American this idiomatic twist.

Anticipating objections: Yes, British English also uses these forms. It’s a long discussion, and I still stand by the above

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Seeking a Different Version

"Be Thou My Vision" might be my favorite hymn, but I grow weary of the pounding rhythm, slower every time someone new covers it.  Any hymn that gets emotional eventually starts to drag unless someone makes a clear effort not to.  For example, "How Great Thou Art" has a great bass harmony, but I find it intolerable now. It is usually called a Swedish hymn, but I have heard it is based on a Russian tune.  I believe it.  It sounds like "Volga Boatman" now. I have been looking for something bright for BTMV and frankly more Irish on YouTube but not finding one.

BTMV is supposed to be light, with the rhythm variable, like an air. (Okay, some airs.) Though airs tend to be slower, they don't have to be.  It should be uptempo, perhaps unaccompanied.  I never hear it done that way, but it's the way I sing it to myself. Sixteen to twenty seconds and done for each verse. And work in some dotted quarters and eighth notes, can ya? Most versions go above double that, and one I just listened to goes over a minute. Dramatic pause after each line, while they stand on a mountain and show you the waves pounding on the shore in a bay. Pretty, but...

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir gets it down to twenty-six, but it's got kettle drums, and when you have that many singers you can't free-form the melody. Best so far, though.

Back to Sports

I admit I just had it installed as an automatic assumption at this point, that sports journalists were mostly liberal for three reasons:

1. They think of themselves as Real Journalists, and that the have to echo what the members of The Lodge think.

2. They want to be able to get interviews with black athletes and coaches.

3. They work in urban, highly liberal markets and think those views are Middle America.

But Ethan Strauss's article on how things have changed over the last few years was quite persuasive. He contends that even though the journalists remain liberal, they are less vocal about it, because they found that a lot of their audience had tuned in to listen to sports and found the short but persistent leftist sermons were causing them to seek other outlets. It helps that Strauss writes well...

This time of year used to bring all these think pieces on how to talk to your MAGA uncle at the table or how you should purge your conservative stepfather from family functions in the name of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or whatever. Now, not so much. The liberals have settled down. The conservatives have, well, I’m not completely sure of what they’re up to because I live in the Bay Area. But I know people are gathering to eat, with a primary focus on eating.


 I just didn’t necessarily see the Charissa Thompson fallout and set my watch to Joe Biden O’Clock.

He notes that the same think happened with the more conservative outlets that initially benefited.  Someone named Clay Travis at "Outkick the Coverage" had become something of a conservative darling (I had not previously heard of him), and his opponents 

I think a lot of people in media assume that Outkick just talks about Obama and Drag Queen Story Hour all day, at the demand of its audience of braying neanderthals. But, if you actually look at its content, a lot of it … sticks to sports?

It’s pure sports, probably because readers prefer to click on sports content.

I hadn't seen/heard it until he mentioned it, but I think he's right.  We are back to sports on sports shows.  Who woulda thought?



 Being a parent means learning to watch your heart run around outside your body

Ben in Torino

Originally published in February 2006.  It was a very cool gig for Ben. Asbury still one of the few schools that gets this camera-assistant gig for its students in both sets of Olympics. He got a great Italian-designed parka and snowpants outfit out of it...and then moved to Texas within a year.  It ended up with John-Adrian in Nome.


Ben left this morning to work as a camera assistant filming the 2006 Olympics, a very cool gig worked out by Asbury College. I am thrilled, I am envious.

The word "terrorist" is never far from my thoughts. Please pray for all of them over there.

Update: We called the bank and found out that he used his ATM an hour ago, though we don't know where. You would think with the Olympics in ntown, internet access would be everywhere, but rereading the packet they sent him, it's not expected to be available until the events actually start. He is likely an hour out of Turin/Torino, up in the Alps for the Freestyle events.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Norway Maple

Well, I hate my Acer platanoides, thanks. It is now banned for sale in NH because it is considered an invasive species, but it wasn't forty years ago when they built the house and put it next to the street as an ornamental shade tree. It is a shade tree, I'll give it that.  As a matter of fact, it is still providing shade right up until today, and will through Thanksgiving weekend. But I don't need shade right now.  It's going to snow tonight.  My preference was to put down the lawn treatments just as the raking was finished at the old house.  No sense in raking up expensive bags of chemicals designed to make the soil more basic, or the winteriser (3 parts nitrogen, 1 part potassium).  All the nearby Norway Maples drop their leaves very late, but for some reason mine is the last one even of that bunch. I stare at it meaningfully every morning when I go out, but it hasn't taken the hint yet.

Update: Look at this.  Leaves still on.  Ridiculous.

I don't mind it with the beeches and oaks.  I expect them to hold a lot of their leaves until the buds push them off in the spring.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Herman's Hermits

I watch this, and am just smiling.  Being me, and a bit autistic, I am self-stimming by filling in a bass harmony that isn't there and doesn't improve the song in the least, just for the feel of it.

Peyton Place

Originally published January 2006


2006 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Peyton Place. Grace Metalious lived as an adult in Gilmanton Iron Works, and folks in that part of NH believe the book is an expose about small-town NH. Well, sort of. Grace wrote the book as an adult, and the cynical behind-the-scenes look at what respectable families were like is certainly not a child’s vision even in the worst of circumstances. And maybe the folks in Gilmanton had guilty consciences or something.

But Grace DeRepentigny grew up in Manchester, on the corner of Beech and Blodget. She went to Straw School and to Manchester Central, as I did, but they didn’t advertise the connection to young people in those days. When she died in 1964 I was in 5th grade at Straw, and no one mentioned it.

The street names in Peyton Place are not uncommon for New England in general, but how they are placed and what sort of folk live on them is pure Manchester. My mother and aunt grew up playing with Grace’s younger sister Bunny – and later, my mother was Bunny’s probation officer when, as my uncle says, “she was caught peddling her butt downtown.” That uncle was a year younger than Grace, and as much as he noticed her at all, didn’t like her much. The DeRepentigny family was abusive and irrational. To use the current word “dysfunctional” would be too mild. In retrospect, given Grace and Bunny’s Borderline-y tendencies, it seems likely that they were sexually molested, as was later claimed.

There are two ways to frame the scandals in Peyton Place. What the nation wanted to read – and later watch – was that respectable people had skeletons in the closet. Such things usually sell well, and fit with the egalitarianism and underdog-rooting of our culture. They’re not so big as they think. Lo, how the mighty have fallen. But the same data looks different if you spin it from an abused child’s perspective instead of a cynical adult’s. Horrible people are being treated as if they’re respectable. To a child, abused and invisible, this would be the real outrage.

I think the latter framing is stronger in the book. The adult cynicism is not the core, but the later explanation imposed on the anger of a girl in her early teens looking out at an unfair world.

I have wondered if Cynthia and Jean were any part of the girls in Peyton Place who have these seemingly perfect lives and are clearly resented by the narrator.

Sunday, November 19, 2023



Eric Sloane

Sloane wrote histories of Americana (especially New England) in the 50s and 60s. Old tools, old barns - wood, and weather, and folk wisdom. It looks like about forty books. He was also a painter and illustrator, and was married seven times.  Does that make him more American, or less?

My wife took four of them out for from the public library.  I browsed them and learned something from each.  The soil was wetter in the old days, did you know that?  At least, it was in New England and along the Eastern seaboard. Lands had not been drained and reclaimed so much. The moss, and duff, and topsoil absorbed water rather than allowing it to run off. Very little was paved. People wore boots more, because they walked over the varied terrain, doing chores before going to their jobs as barbers or cooks. It's why corduroy roads, which would make us crazy to deal with now, were common. Otherwise, you were badly stuck.

Did you know there were both dry coopers and wet coopers, as in "dry goods" and "liquids," but also white coopers, who did not bend wood but made buckets and such, and general coopers who worked in shipping and on the docks. Not to mention hoopers, who made those hoops that held the barrels and casks together.  I never knew that.

He throws in old anecdotes, such as how a man "from the city" - always be suspicious that an embellished tale is about to be told when you see that (Heck. Done it m'self) - used metal tins from up in his new-bought Vermont barn that were designed to transport FINE VARNISH ended up varnishing his floorboards with maple syrup.

Yet I was not tempted after my browsing to read the books cover-to-cover. There is too much sighing and sermonising about how much better things were built in the Good Olde Days, and how that was good for our character. I don't mind that terribly as a general outlook on life, craftsmanship, self-reliance, etc.  But literally everything he mentions about our ancestors' character and habits was superior. It is considered a plus in his mind that people largely made their own tools, or at least the handles, so that each was "an extension of a man's hand." He notices the little details on the backs and undersides of Early American axes (13 types), and adzes (6 types), and what slight advantage for a task each was. But now, he laments, the aim of mass production is to make a tool that gets a job done as quickly as possible. Huh. Ya see, I kind of like that approach myself, and I am betting that Elias Winthrop or Jonathan Deering in 1843 might like that better, too.  They weren't romanticising these jobs.  The sun sets about 4:15 these days, and the temperature is going down.  Any sensible person wants to stop using sharp instruments by that time. 

I think many people are capable of ignoring such irritations and just enjoying the learning.  Mike and Bethany, Dan King might be one of them. But I am not one of those.

About Those Postgraduate Voters

Originally published January 2006.  I checked until 2016, and the numbers were similar through 2012.  They were different, but not radically so, when Trump ran.  I stopped keeping up with it then.


I remember people making some noise in the run-up to the 2004 elections about the breakdown of voters by education. Democrats considered it significant that folks with some postgrad study preferred Kerry 55/44/1. I don't blame them for trumpeting it, because whatever it means, it sounds great. Someone just brought it up again in another comments section.

The overall numbers: No Highschool Diploma split 50/49 for Bush. Not much for either side to cheer about there. HS Diploma 52/47 Bush; Some college, 54/46 Bush; College Grad 52/46/1 Bush/Kerry/Nader; Postgrad study, 55/44/1, Kerry/Bush/Nader, as above.

Since that time I ran across the statistic that just under one-third of those with some graduate school took Education. This puts a whole different light on the earlier statistic. Graduate students in Education have the lowest GRE's of any field of study. Their undergraduate GPA's in non-education courses were lowest in any field of study. Their SAT's were not only lower than those who went to graduate school in other subjects, they were lower than those who went on to no graduate school at all.

Advanced degrees in science correlate moderately well with intelligence measures. Other advanced degrees, less well. Grad school is more a measure of perseverance. Persistence is a good thing. It is probably a better quality to have than intelligence. But it is not the same thing.

Also, more than any other field (I am estimating), people in Education depend on government for employment. This would create a certain amount of self-interest in voting for parties that like federal funding of education. While it sometimes feels as if there's no longer any difference between Republicans and Democrats on that, that's just grouchiness on the part of deficit-hawk Republicans. There actually still is a difference. And as for perceptions, Democrats run way ahead of Republicans among educators. Classroom teachers run 61-39 Democrat. Education professors run 92-8 Democrat. Somewhere between that must be where those with some graduate study are. Call it 75-25 Democrat.

Now take those folks with graduate study in education out of the equation, because A) they're not as qualified (generally. Lots individuals with said degrees have superb intelligence), and B) they have a vested interest.

Well, Shazam! All of a sudden Bush is up again. 52/47/1. Huh. The moral of the story is, Kerry did best among people with no HS diploma plus people with some graduate study in Education.


My relationship with the concept has been uneven over the years.  As preteen, I had the same reflexive belief that everyone does that Our People were the Best People, and at the time that meant our nation was the best nation with the best history with the bravest soldiers and the smartest thinkers and the prettisest girls and the best tomatoes and, and  just everything. I always find it annoying that people who want America to act differently, both conservative and liberal, rail against children being taught that we are good, or almost good enough if only or whatever. We were and are taught those things, but this is mostly because it is all we can hear.  We would believe this whatever we were taught in school.  Children believe we are on the Good Team, even the Best Team Ever, and it is usually only the schools and textbooks even in the early grades that cast the slightest doubt on that at all, that we did some things wrong in the past (But we're better now!  We've learned!).

Blaming the teaching of patriotism is just virtue signalling, because we would have believed such things anyway and would hear nothing other.  My sons from Romania, born before the Revolution - and even ten years after - believed that Romanians were the best in many things, even though they were a small and oppressed nation. Their teachers believed that Romanian education was superior to American.  I did not contradict them, but I sat in a couple of classes, and we observed later that our son in sixth grade did not know his tables of three. He picked up enough math under our tutelage (mostly my wife's) that summer to survive seventh grade, and eventually finished HS at slightly below-average level.

Yet I digress, as I often do. But you take the point, that we all have a natural tendency to think our own people's ways the best.

Somewhere around seventh grade, whether by seeking coolness, or natural contrariness, deciding that aggressively seeking other viewpoints, or the virtue signalling of trying to be more Christian than the average bear, I became something of an anti-patriot, considering it a low form of morality and myself easily above that.  My eighth-grade teacher wisely assigned me The Man Without a Country, which was heavy handed and not great literature, but made its point clearly. Then I listened to Pete Seeger claiming that he and his Folk Song Army were the real patriots, quoting his supposed relative Alan Seeger who wrote "I Have an Rendezvous With Death," which Pete co-opted for his own purposes.* Ah, that's the ticket!  I'm the real patriot here, you bastards. It has been used very effectively by many, including, most irritatingly to my eyes, Barack Obama lauding America for what it could be and its (unfortunately failed) aspirations, which were an entirely an echo of the Democratic National Committee. I have a brother who thinks this way still. 

Still, I did see that there were those who were reflexively supportive of American behavior and deeply committed to America First. I would argue with them online, suggesting that if just maybe, in a hundred years or so**, America was not really American anymore, couldn't you see where your patriotism should no longer be granted...? So Pat Buchanan was deeply supportive of economic protectionism because "who cares if it hurts the economy overall, these are fellow Americans," and "immigration hurts low-skilled blacks, who we have a greater obligation to" but was also deeply opposed to American foreign wars and consider America an increasing force for evil in the world, focused on empire, not nationhood.  Was he a patriot?  The question started to become increasingly interesting. 

So what if a major political figure wants America to dominate, but the sort of domination they want strikes us as ambiguous, or even not in accord with what we consider to be core American principles? Patriot or No? Who, in fact, of our current major figures does not fit that picture? Once in power, they so quickly confuse their own interests with American interests. To oppose them is to be unAmerican, so they therefore have the right to do unAmerican things to preserve their power.

I wrote a rather acerbic review of the book True Patriot many years ago. I liked rereading it, and I miss Terri. It expresses this in more detail, with more gripping writing. Sigh. I wonder if I have merely reverted to my grammar school self.  I root for Americans at the Olympics (dammit!), I think our country more beautiful, despite its many ugly places.  Our foods are tastier, our women are prettier, our core character, when the chips are down, is just better. Right? Two of my sons went into our armed services, and I thought them noble. Yet one of those has lived in Norway for thirteen years, and one could fairly say he is both the least and most patriotic of the five. If you draw him out, he is irritated at both the governments and the national character of Romanians, Norwegians, and Americans. 

What does it even mean now?  Release the hounds, as Tigerhawk over a decade ago.

* This was a communist training tactic, to use songs, poems, and images that people already loved and change them to The Cause.  "We Will Overcome" was a hymn based on Galatians 6:9 that became s union song, then a civil rights one, "We Shall Overcome."

**A hundred years. Heh. Well, that was quick, wa'n't it?