Thursday, February 29, 2024

Reasons to Marry

This is one of the reasons why it is good to marry:  I would have walked around the house for a long time looking for my hat, which had fallen into the hood on the back of my neck. Fortunately, I said aloud what I was looking for.

National Genetics

Razib has an essay* about how the Germans remain skittish about anything to do with genetics, despite having such top-flight institutions as the Max Planck Institutes. Other Europeans, including especially the British and the Estonians, have done detailed analyses of their variations, and the US has a few depth-samplings of genetic clusters. (Map previous post.) It even seems an early version of what we now call political correctness or wokeness, of refusing to know something because you might not like the answer. Greg Cochran was interviewed about genetics by a Norwegian woman who asked "but why would you even want to know these things?" 

At some point, it would be in even the most wary, risk-averse Germans’ interest to consider the reality that human genetics has long since become a modern science that sheds light on human history with almost miraculous depth and precision, and retains no material connection to the dark arts of intuitive pseudo-taxonomy practiced by misguided race scientists 80-100 years ago.

These are other geneticists. These are not the droids you are looking for.  Quoting Wally in Dilbert, "those are other men." Quoting Alison Krauss's bandmate "These are different ducks."

It's not just the Germans, of course, they were just first-to-market on this. Kambiz Kamrani at reports how the academics in that entire field seem to be intentionally sticking their fingers in their ears and singing "la la la" about anything that looks like it might be second-cousin to a racial discussion, and quelle horreur, misused by irresponsible people (most of whom are actually deeply responsible people.  I'm just sayin'). It used to be that we expected academics to be the adults in the room. Though people who attend faculty meetings will assure you this was never the case.

We can all understand these things on an individual level, and heck, we all probably have lots of doors we don't open, not because we don't know what's back there, but because we think we do. That's fine.  I see no reason to try and make you look behind any door unless there are consequences for others.  My objection comes when you disparage those who do want to know, and even try to prevent them from knowing.

*Might be paywalled

More Links from October 2006

Again, they almost made the cut.  Enjoy.

A hearings officer who, right or wrong on the issue, is nonetheless a hypocrite.

Criticisng Israel hasn't changed much in 20 years.

We discuss getting cross-imprinted jackboots.

Is It Neurodiversity?

Althouse linked to a NYT article that continues to trouble me. It is an interview with someone who describes herself as a sociopath, which she contrasts with the rest of us, whom she calls "neurotypicals." That word jumped off the page for me, because it is usually associated with the concept "not autistic," rather than "not antisocial." I am reluctant to lay this at the feet of Aspies in any way.

I have already gotten ahead of myself here.  Going back to the article, which is unlocked rather than behind a paywall, she talks about "masking," and consciously imitating what other people are doing, because you have noted that it isn't coming naturally for you for some reason and you want to be part of the rest of us. That is very much the language of many on the spectrum, or of the people trying to help them fit in. To my eyes, I'm not seeing a sex difference here whether men or women are more likely to consciously mask and imitate, though there may be some research on it that I have missed. The stereotype would be that it is women who would notice not being like the other girls and taking steps to correct that, but i have some pretty spectacular examples otherwise. Small sample size, though. 

This seems quite different from the sociopathy usually described, of a person who does see that others have needs but even then doesn't particularly bother about that.  I give her credit though most of Ann's commenters don't.  Even though she doesn't have this fellow-feeling we expect from others, she seems to recognise that it's good for society, and she likes how things go in good places, and she should try to fit into this.  There are people with more inborn conscience who can't do this.

And yet I can see how some of it might be related to autism. I don't think of sociopathy of being neurological, even though I see it as having a large genetic component - which shows how asleep at the switch I've been.  "So this relationship meets your needs.  What about the needs of your partner?" Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Yes, I suppose that's important.  I should do that, shouldn't I? That doesn't sound unkind at all. Not selfishness in the usual sense. I think of Monty Python and "It looks like I'm down a pound." He is mostly puzzled by the concept at first and we might think that the importuning man might even teach him something and soften him.  Well that doesn't happen here.

I have not run across other sociopaths who talk like Ms. Gagne, so I am wondering if she is some ASD variant rather than an APD variant, and has mostly mislabeled herself.  Or is that just a convenient explanation that allows me to keep my previous categories?

Sadie Hawkins Day

My wife just asked me to marry her.  I didn't pick up the reference and was merely puzzled, hoping that I was not missing some important romantic communication. She then told me it is Sadie Hawkins Day. I figured I had better post about that while I could and learned that February 29 is not Sadie Hawkins Day.  The Real Sadie Hawkins Day is in November, now set officially as Nov 26, and was invented by Al Capp for his Li'l Abner comic strip.  I had always thought this was based on some older Appalachian custom, which is only half true.  February 29th is Bachelor's Day, celebrated mostly in Ireland, though that might have less influence on Scots-Irish than you would initially think.  But the custom was observed in Scotland and Northern England as well, perhaps even centuries back. As these things go, there were further customs and counter-customs, often loosely based on what was considered bad luck because of associations with various religious dates, especially Lent. 

So if there is anyone out there still adhering to the older stereotype of men having any say whatsoever in marriage and weddings and women having to scramble to get in on the game before spinsterhood, have at it.  Pretend it is Sadie Hawkins Day, because how many men are going to know that you're wrong?  And you can still have November 26 as a backup.

Oh, right.  I forgot one of my other motivations for posting this.  It is not inaccurate to say that Al Capp based his characters on the type of people he saw in West Virginia and Kentucky while he was hitchhiking there as a young man. And I will note that though he was making fun of them in many ways you couldn't get away with now, he also showed many with a shrewd wisdom that was not the product of money and education, he humanised them, and he showed their universality with the rest of us despite appearances. But there is another piece as to the origins of the characters. When I went to a statewide studies progra and then worked at a statewide facility, I learned a great deal about communities that had previously only been names on a map. I was told that part of the inspiration for Li'l Abner was the residents of Seabrook, an extremely poor town on the NH coast. People from surrounding towns would snigger or roll their eyes, much as Rush used to poke at the people of Rio Linda, CA. Seabrook got most of its prominence because of the nuclear power plant, but it also had a brief notoriety during the trial of Pamela Smart, who got an underage boy to murder her husband on the basis of his sexual fascination with her. The boy and his co-conspirators were from Seabrook, attending Winnacunnet HS, which serves some more affluent communities as well. Kids from Seabrook were often seen as lesser and saw themselves as one-down in all social situations, which supposedly influenced their readiness to go along with such a scheme.

Al Capp lived for a while in Amesbury, MA, the next town over from Seabrook, and folks in that area claimed that was a larger influence than is generally credited.


 I take some of my walks at a local cemetery, a large French one with a lot of mid-20th C stones. It is interesting to see what people chose as their final statements - when they could afford to make a statement. Many short scripture verses. Lots of robed statues, usually saints, but sometimes an angel or an abstract like Death or Sorrow.

Because of the recent thaw, there are more graves than usual that have been recently opened. As some are in sections of the cemetery that are not new I get curious what the dates are. Some of the spouses died long ago, one back to 1979 that I saw yesterday.  I used to assume that this meant 45 years of widowhood for one of them and pondered the sadness of that, but we keep good enough track of our relatives of the previous two or three generations now to know that who is buried together is not always an indication of your first guess as to the reality. People remarried, but a double plot and stone had been purchased fifty years before when their first wife died. The second wife is buried in some other place. And sometimes it is clear that people moved away, leaving a birth year of 1897 inscribed but no death year.

It is still jarring to see the wide span of dates between spouses on the stone, and deaths of children recorded before their parents, sometimes long before. Memento mori. Remember that you have to die.  I have a friend who told me, almost fifty years ago now, "You will die on a day just like today."

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Bank Robber

 Well, y'know, Lynnfield.  It's not Lynn, but...

The Coastal New England accents, which people think are an exclusively Boston accent but run from Portland to Providence, are pretty good in this one.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

We Knew Long Ago

Okay, it's a funny routine.  It really is, because his delivery is so good.  And we are admittedly now applying retrospective knowledge on what we hear.  I think I was uncomfortable when I heard this, thinking "wait, what about her side of this equation," but I may be kidding myself. We tell self-serving lies to ourselves all the time, because that makes it much, much easier to tell them to others. I do know I didn't play this one for my sons. And if I'd had daughters...!! They would look at me strangely for having owned this and not destroying it, and they would be right. I was raised that a gentleman never tells, not even under duress.  Is it different when you are being generic?  Maybe. Possibly.  But I wouldn't want to be the girl, or the family of a girl, who dated Cosby casually when he was young, listening to this even decades later. I would not want to have said this and then go to a reunion.

So it's the first part that's offensive.  He mostly gets off that and tells the story of the high jump.

Links From October 2006

These didn't make the cut to come back whole, but might be interesting.

The fictitious Lowenstein Institute, widely quoted for assigning ridiculously unlikely IQ scores to our recent presidents - and somehow all the Democrats were quite high or even geniuses, while the Republicans were all dolts. Or that the entire state of Utah had an average IQ of 85, while Connecticut had 115. For the record, the range between the highest and lowest states is about 7 points, not thirty.  And even that has an uncomfortable truth behind it that no one wants to hear. 

Kofi Annan gave an abhorrent farewell to the UN. I translate it for you.

Doing "a complete 240?"

Post 9700 - But I Was Just

The story comes down in my wife's family that her father was called Stuart the Just by his mother, because he was forever saying "But I was just..." Well, children say that, and sometimes it is an entirely fair thing to say. It sometimes does signify that you would be entirely justified in your actions if people only knew the full context, which is is being neglected.  More often, it is an evasion, and attempt to repaint something black-and-white into a distracting array of colors.

Up here we now have the wry amusement of listening to people who have been hiding behind something being a "peaceful protest," even when it involves shouting at others and blocking traffic, feeling afraid now because counter-protestors are getting in their way and shouting at them. Sauce. Goose. Gander.

I wrote years ago about the Saint Benedict Center, a Feeneyite splinter group here in NH who always try to reframe the debate in terms of "they only hate us because we are traditional Catholics." Well, the Vatican disagrees that they are Catholics in good standing, for openers. It would be more accurate to say that they are Traditionalists for the years 1850-1950 in Catholic culture east of the Mississippi. Also, your neighbors aren't trying to stop you because you are traditional Catholics, they object to you lying and breaking promises. You were granted a variance for building in your compound in Richmond, NH which was quite specific.  You later decided you would rather build a chapel and did that instead.

We see through it with children: "I was just trying to teach the cat a trick." No, you were teasing the cat. "I was just trying to get home to do my chores."  No, you cut your two last classes of the day. We seem to have a harder time when adults try it, likely because we are more suave about it.  We make it sound better.  Communists used to swear in Latin America that all those people were just agrarian reformers.  When the US sends its military (and we are by no means the only ones who use this dodge) unofficially, we say "Those are just advisors."

It's almost a guarantee that when someone says "I was just..." that they weren't just doing whatever, but have been exposed as having some other, darker motive.


CS Lewis's The Problem of Pain is very much the same as The Problem of Evil, which is called theodicy. Sometimes the slightly different focus can illuminate an important point. When we consider pain instead of evil, its inevitability in any meaningful reality becomes more clear. We think of evil as some artificially-imposed difficulty on humankind, but pain we recognise as part of the overall package.  You can't get by without it, on both a practical and a theoretical level. Yet the difference, down at the root, is slight.

Lewis was quick to counter that the real problem is good, not evil. How did we come to acquire the notion?  Why is there any of it at all? A purely physical world would have just Stuff, occurring tomorrow as it did yesterday.  It would not have any good or evil, it would be neutral. Hard to see how that would be desirable. Lewis also suggests there may be pains of a sort in Heaven, partly because of memory, but also because of consequences if we are to have free activities at all. Dr. Jerry Root asks a few quick questions about second grade, who your teacher was, who your best friend was, what you studied. We do remember things but they are distant.  We realise that they had importance, because everything in fifth grade had some back-relation to it, and everything in twelfth grade had back-relation to both fifth and second grades.  Our conversion story, whatever it is, is based on events that are not only past events now, but were past-events then.  He thinks our memories in Heaven of what our lives were on earth will be like that.  Earth will not be erased, but with be subsumed in what came after.

“When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

Ireland Plans

I put up the link to the surprisingly dangerous places because friends just returned from Ireland and said that they felt unsafe in Belfast and Londonderry and recommended against staying there. Well, those were the two places we were going to stay the most nights on our counter-clockwise tour from Dublin to Aran/Limerick in May. (You can make suggestions what we should see, but the itinerary is already overcrowded and we are at the point of cutting back ruthlessly before making sleeping reservations.  We would be more interested in what you found overrated than in "overlooked gems of Ireland."  We are swimming in those, frankly. Which provokes another line of thought...) The amount of barriers and camera surveillance bothered them, but there was also a sense of ancient hatreds still being nursed rather than strangled. Even reading the tourist information I had the sense that the museums and the public displays were still Troubles-focused, as if nothing else of importance had every occurred there. (Yay, prehistory!  Yay, geology! Yay, landscapes! Some things force their way through our resentments.) 

I recalled something similar from the other side when I was in Shannon airport over a decade ago, and the bookstore had an unusual preponderance of memoirs of oppression and biographies of IRA martyrs. Can you just DROP it? I kept muttering. And now I have the same feeling in Northern Ireland Can you just drop it? Neither will, because the other won't. Yet underneath it is a phenomenon we have seen in America as well, which Chuck Klosterman, Bethany, and I have related to the Tim Tebow Effect.  Everyone believes that their side of the issue has not been heard. 

It is easy to find repeated evidence for this if you are on the scene and care about these things.  Tourists come in and don't know about the basic layout of British rule, the Scots-Irish, property ownership, jobs, and the like. Worse, they get things backwards, vaguely thinking that Michael Collins was an Ulster martyr or that Derry and Londonderry are different cities. Tourists get everyone's history everywhere wrong.  You're not special in this.  Get over it.  I saw the same thing in Romania and Hungary, where whenever I mentioned Oradea to a Hungarian they would say "Nagyvarad.  We used to own that." Just drop it, will you? Robert Kaplan mentions that every intellectual in the Balkans seems to have alternate maps in a drawer of their studies, showing the boundaries of Greater Serbia or whatever. Wars attract historical memories, so that Americans are more focused on 1770-1790 or 1850-1870 than other years. But y'know, the people who lived in 1740 or 1920 were just as important. War isn't the only thing that ever happened.

So these are in some sense low-crime areas, yet one still feels nervous. Add in the apparently growing problem of antisocial drunks and perhaps the evening especially are not the carefree times we would think.

I was a touched surprised at the other entries on the list, the northern European cities we think of as safe. Well, the nations are largely safe. Amsterdam and Rotterdam may have crime pouring in, but it's pretty quiet outside the cities.  Part of that is shear numbers. With identical crime rates, a million people are going to have a thousand times more crimes than a thousand people. But there is also the issue of who lives in these places.  People go to cities to make money, and the criminals go there to make money as well.  Going to rural places might be a great place to go to avoid the law, but you aren't going there to make your fortune breaking the law. So too in America. Grim is fond of pointing out that there are large areas in America that have zero homicide rates. Part of that is the numbers of density, sure, but some of it is who is there. 

Immigrants come to make money, and they start out in cities, unless they are specifically agricultural. The social contract is different for them.  Many become hyper-American, distancing themselves from the places they left as thoroughly as possible.  Others still retain ties to other countries to an extent that their loyalty could fairly be questioned.  The people bringing all those drugs into Rotterdam who were born in other places and still go their frequently?  What does "being Dutch" mean to them, exactly? Are they going to care about the schools, or took take a Grim favorite again, join the volunteer fire department? 

So we're figuring there won't be a lot of crime or intimidation at the Hill of Tara or Craggaunowen folk park and are doubling down on those places at the expense of the cities. Bangor has a castle, the Dark Hedges, and a museum that look like fun. We may give the Bogside Murals a glance, but the Sky Road and the Aran Islands are likely worth more of a look.  We'll catch CS Lewis Square in Belfast on the fly.  Photo op.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Dangerous Places

There are many kinds of danger. Buzzfeed's annoying ads are there, but hey, everyone's trying to make a living.

Friends just got back from Ireland and recommended against Belfast and Derry except for quick darts in to see specific sights. There is a sort of safety, but it is at the cost of constant camera surveillance, and there are more truculent people about than one finds out in the villages.

The Voice of Saruman IV

I have brought this forward a few times, because I find it significant now how dramatic and convincing Joe Biden was when I heard him on the radio in 2006. Most recently, in 2020, I noted the weakness of his defenders' assessments even then.  He is different now. 

Some things never change, though, like dishonesty.

Originally from 2006.


I caught Joe Biden on Imus this morning. I didn’t know it was he at first, but listening to his arguments, I had that Joe Biden feeling: Gee, this guy is really hitting the president with good arguments. I’m not sure I’ve got a snap answer to that point – I didn’t know that background. Then, just by chance, he wandered into an area that I happened to be reading about last night. And he was wrong on the facts. Wrong in such a way that he either completely misunderstood the document in question, or had read only excerpts. The speaker was earnest. He was forceful. He made sweeping statements with complete assurance. Hmm, I wonder if it’s Biden. I may have recognised the voice better than I thought.

I usually don’t catch him up until later, when I read someone who knows more of the facts. Biden was once angry at John Ashcroft, for example, and making an impassioned statement about how American treatment of prisoners should be one way and not another. I don’t remember the specifics of what was being debated. I think I was originally more on Biden’s side of whatever it was, because I was pleased he was making such an eloquent case. I found it especially poignant when Joe related it back to his own family, noting that he didn’t want his son, who was serving in the military, to end up being mistreated as a prisoner because of what John Ashcroft forced on the country. I thought that was a fair point.

So I was pretty angry at Biden when I read the facts: Biden’s son is a stateside military attorney. Ashcroft’s son was in Iraq at the time.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Just because young Ashcroft was in Iraq doesn’t give old Ashcroft much extra moral standing on his views. Just because young Biden is working stateside doesn’t mean that old Biden can’t be correct on the merits. But if you are Joe Biden, knowing that your son is never going to be captured for anything, where do you get off with this moral outrage at someone whose son actually is in danger? How can you make those “My. (deep breath) Son…” clutch-the-breast statements without throwing up at your own deceitfulness?

Thus, I was primed when Biden – I was now 90% sure it was Biden I was hearing on Imus – went on to his main point of the morning and stated that the NIE report completely contradicted everything Bush has been saying, and vindicated what Biden has been “saying every day for years.” Read carefully here: Not the three leaked sentences that came out earlier – Biden was talking about the three page report. Joe Biden may be correct on his assessment of Iraq and George Bush may be wrong. But the document says what it says, and Biden’s claim is just false. Yet Joe spoke with passion and earnestness, his sincerity of how deeply he cares about what happens to America oozing out of every pore.

When I read Gandalf’s interview with Saruman at Orthanc, I accept as a convention of the story that Saruman is persuasive and can daunt lesser minds. But following the conversation, I mentally wonder how Theoden’s soldiers and even Theoden can be fooled by that crap. It seems unrealistic that even a child couldn’t see through Saruman's words. Well, we have a considerable advantage, of course, because the author tells us frequently that Saruman is lying, and we have seen the destructiveness of his actions. The old wizard doesn’t seem plausible to us – we are well-defended in advance.

I believe Joe Biden when I am listening to him. There is something about him that carries such a weight of sincerity that the power of his voice pulls me in. He has the trick of sincerity.

The claim is often made that Bill Clinton is an excellent liar. How can you be an excellent liar when even your supporters know it? Even the most die-hard Friends of Bill defend him because they believe he gets the essential truth correct, and only lies to get himself out of traps that others set for him. But everyone knows he lies. I once compared Clinton’s plausibility to Saruman’s, but perhaps that only fits the later Saruman, not the wizard at his peak.

Joe Biden knows that very few people are ever going to check the statement of his son’s military duties and compare it to John Ashcroft’s son. It’s a small point in the debate, and if challenged he can always say he meant everyone’s sons, including Ashcroft’s, removing the statement from context. I heard it in context. He didn’t mean anything remotely like that. In the debate that is swarming around the NIE documents released, the cautious wording of the report gives props to W. That report may be wrong. It may be politically shaded to tell the president what he wants to hear. It may be stupid. But it says what it says, not its opposite. Joe Biden knows that most people aren’t going to read it, and will only be able to hold the earlier-leaked “we’re creating more terrorists” thought in their heads.

Is he running for president again?


From this morning's class, used in The Good and Beautiful series.

Colossians 3:3  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 

I often find it arresting and brought up short to be reminded that Christianity is not, at its center, some sort of self-improvement project of gradually coming into our best selves. Michael Card pulls the quote from some recording of his grandfather decades ago (and  grandad does it beautifully) and the old preacher puts huge emphasis on the word dies from the scriptures. The idea is repeated throughout the New Testament, but other than the moment-of-conversion and baptism emphasis of some Christian groups, it is too easily forgotten.

Jesus didn't come to make bad people good.  He came to make dead people alive.

And the George MacDonald quote "We die daily.  Happy are those who come to life as well."

Friday, February 23, 2024

National Geographic Reverts to Form

Brought forward from 2006, with the comments.


I used to love National Geographic. I'm a maps guy, a landscape guy, a people-from- different-cultures guy. I was always less interested in the exotic animals, but that was okay also. Exploring under the sea. Exploring the North Pole. Exploring caves. Microscopic organisms. Outer space. What'w not to like?

Gaia-worship, for one. I got tired of forests that were "like cathedrals." So, even though we have continued to receive the magazine, I have merely browsed most issues for a decade now. October 2006 is about "Places We Must Save." On the cover there are smaller article headlines: "America's Threatened Sanctuaries." "Paris: Space For The Soul." Nervousness on the part of the Assistant Village Idiot. But, sanctuary has a legitimate alternate meaning, related to safety, escape, asylum. And soul is pretty generic at this point, and the quasi-religious flavor of it is certainly not confined to National Geographic.

Table of Contents, no less. "Hallowed Ground." Meaning, um, parks. On to the article on page 42. First sentence includes "sanctified." I think sanctimonious might be closer. I'm done for now. Let's see what else is going on. The guy they interview is torqued off at the Bush Administration. What is it this time? Forget it. I don't think I mind that the Gospel of Gaia Lite has its own magazine. Why not? I think it that they don't know how religiously embedded they are in their views.

Actually, Gaia-worship isn't quite right. It's more of a pantheism. CS Lewis noted that historically, pantheism is the default religious position, the place that every culture goes when it's giving up its old beliefs. So why does that seem like such an advanced, enlightened view now?

Oh look, the Letters To The Editors has the comments on the soccer issue a few months ago. I like soccer. This should be mildly interesting.

I quote the letter of Steve Muench of Livingston, NJ in full.

I applaud your essays on the world's only true game. Yet you failed to examine the bigger picture of soccer's impact on sporting diplomacy. It was in 1999 that the United Nations recognized the power of soccer by locking arms with FIFA and subsequently dedicating the World Cup in Korea and Japan to children. That partnership has grown stronger ever since and reached a pinnacle in January this year when Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited FIFA's Zurich headquarters and signaled the UN's intent to strengthen a strategic partnership with the sporting world.

Well, golly. The UN locked arms with FIFA and, and dedicated the World Cup to children. Wow. I'll bet that really, like, helps. Especially those children in North Korea. What a relief it must have been to parents all over the world that someone was finally going to take notice. And to top it off, Kofi goes to the wilds of Switzerland and visited FIFA's headquarters. That is a pinnacle, eh? The UN, strengthening a strategic partnership with the sporting world. Just by visiting. I feel so much better.

No, not really. Right now I'm wishing I'd stopped to buy scotch on the way home.

Why Do You Do the Things You Do?

Not the Temptations version.  I keep thinking I remember something else out there, but I couldn't find it.  These will do. They go with the previous post as decoration.

Self Observation

Update:  Yeah I stumbled onto the right answer at the end.  Ignore what I say and listen to what the 12-steppers say instead. They know more than I do.

I continue to be fascinated by the difference among people in how much internality, how much self-observation they have.  Because I am well on one side of the continuum and have had puzzled discussions with important people from my life who are nearer the other extreme, I have had a tendency to regard this as an either-or.  As recently as my discussion of why most Bible studies in print leave me cold I have dichotomised this.

Perhaps over-fascinated. Even James, who seems to be equally comfortable with self-examination has mentioned that perhaps a full lifetime examen is not necessary before deciding whether to have the chicken or the fish at the banquet.  So yes, I can tie myself in knots needlessly, and there is always my friend Christine's "The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life ain't not picnic either."

Yet some of those on the other extreme I have now concluded are pretty thoroughly autistic.  Autism does not guarantee an avoidance of self-observation, for in fact some go to my extreme seeing it as a topic of fascination.  Yet there is a larger tendency among the autists who do not acknowledge that their behaviors outside the norm are actual symptoms who get quickly, furiously, snarlingly angry at any mention of the possibility that this could be pathological in any way.  And of course, lack of insight is an indication of severity, creating a Catch-22 in approaching the subject. 

I know one young woman who stays with her father more than her mother as an adult because of lifestyle choices, and there are fewer emotional mirrors at Dad's, as he also is evading self-observation.  And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

This expands out into not only understanding oneself, but understanding others. Would this sound different if it were a woman saying it to a man? How would I feel if someone said this to me?  Is there some ambiguity in expression I overlooked when I first wrote this?  What if this was my group he was talking about? Automatic to me.  I don't take any credit for it, I can't stop. I'm just forever puzzled when I see that others haven't done this. Conservatives explain liberal behavior or motives and v/v without the least pause of "Wait.  What does this say about me?"

It was interesting that the Path Before Us essay on fasting and asceticism came to me as I was writing this. The description that people sometimes do not do any self-examination until they are in a crisis rang true, as did his reminder that there are degrees of crisis and we don't necessarily have to be in a prison cell to rethink things.  By that measure, a lot of the "crises" would just be recognising that a problem exists. Huh. My professors aren't as charmed by my writing style as I expected. Best to go back to the old way until I figure this out. But the point holds. Some of us need to be cued, however mildly, and do not self-observe as a matter of course.

The Twelve Steps of AA and the other groups address this in some detail and see it as an ongoing project.The operative steps for this

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so
would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
admitted it. 

I probably should go over some of their material on this, as they have been at it a long time and likely have learned a few things.  I had a question I used to ask my friends in recovery, just because they had different answers and enjoyed thinking about it. "Do you regard the Twelve Steps as addiction medicine, or as food for healthy living for all of us?"

Mr. Sandman

That's 17-year-old me in the front row wondering which one to fall in love with. Any. All. Please, glance my way. And they are even French. I have made fun of American girls for years with this 25-year-old article from the Onion, but I would have been so much worse.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Snake-Handlin' Man

 I will bet your men's pub night group hardly ever discusses this song.

Courtesy Versus Politeness

Rough courtesy is better than politeness.  Of course I should give definitions for such things, but I am trusting my audience to know what I mean immediately.  To desire to treat others as well as possible even under duress is better than knowing cultural rules which are often outdated and artificial. The rules were put in place to teach courtesy, mostly to the young but also as a reminder to adults. This is similar to the law versus the spirit in the Bible. Galatians 3:24-25

24 In fact, the Law was to be our teacher until Christ came. Then we could have faith and be acceptable to God. 25 But once a person has learned to have faith, there is no more need to have the Law as a teacher.

This is echoed two chapters later in Galatians 5:22-23

 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, said that trying to make it comfortable for your family at your wedding, with all its divorces and enmities and people not speaking to each other, was better than knowing how many forks should be put out with the dinner. This is very obviously true, but sometimes it needs to be stated with such contrast in order to drive the point home. We have all heard people use politeness as a weapon to shame others and look down on them, affecting a tone of politeness which fools no one to show your superiority. We have also, if we are honest, heard that tone of voice escape our lips as well. We try to strangle such things in their cradles.

Don't get me wrong.  That is sometimes the best politeness that can be managed when a woman tries to confront the father who molested her as a child, or a man the ex-wife who intentionally bankrupted him and falsely accused him of abusing the children. We rely on the rules at such times because we have nothing we can bring forth from our own kindness. But for the ordinary offense of the day we run the risk of making things worse with "politeness" rather than courtesy.

Compare this to the recent post about polyamory on the basis of Scott Alexander's comments. The people who have good relationships do not think in terms of rules, they think in terms of making the other person happy, which buries rules. We put rules in place for the emergencies, the strenuous situations, or when we have broken so many things around us that we can only revert to the simplest attempts to learn a little something about how to treat others. On the Ethan Strauss podcast there is a discussion of the recent Emily Gould  essay on divorce from The Cut, which reportedly excited a great deal of impolite argument between readers of that sort of essay. 

I was struck first with where she went for advice: recent writers about marriage and divorce and self-fulfillment and how it all fits in to political questions, all women, I think, who were near her age when they dispensed this wisdom, all quite literary, and all quite concerned with how their feelings about themselves and their roles and their husbands and their lot and well, their feelings about everything. They are all in anguish over the same few questions.  I thought of GK Chesterton's point in Orthodoxy about the paranoid's theories, that it

explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.

Absent were any voices from the past, male or female. If we are seeking to have a multiculturalist stance, the books she read are not only not from other cultures, they are not even from other American subcultures, or sub-subcultures*. These women are all from the same pajama party. A convention of hairdressers shows more diversity.

Yet there is a deeper problem, and I sincerely don't know if it is one of training, of inborn personality, or of her temporary mental health status.  I have moments of believing any of the three. Yet we don't go into relationships to meet our own needs but to meet the needs of another, and thus, become adult, and grown, and who we were meant to be. This is obviously an ideal even the best of us cannot quite reach even on our best days. We are made of flesh and blood and we cannot carry on without some emotional fuel of encouragement. Still, we know the goal. When you have children their needs become more important than yours. When you are hurting someone else you have to step back and seriously consider whether it is you who are the problem. (It might not be. But the caution flag is up and the race should slow down.) 

Did no one tell her this as a child? Do none of her friends have the courage to take her in line and say "You have to hang on to the honor of this sacrifice as best you can.  I can hold your hand, but I cannot take this burden from you." Has she never seen a book in which the principals suffer much for others, and this is not considered a one-time exception to be paid for in the next quarter, but an acceptance that this is simply Real Life, with its own joys? She seems to still be bound by "I coulda been a contender," but this is somehow lost because of marriage. The people she reads seem to think the same.

Duty and joy can be opposed, but sometimes they are the same thing. To have done what you should at all costs has a joy of its own.  Not always.  Tomorrow you may find resentments creeping in again. Yet there it is.

*Which is one of the reasons why I think the expressions of multiculturalism are just a crock, however lofty the words sound. The people who insist on them the most are those who practice them the least. They don't mean it.

Kafka Story

 Maggie's had this up. Wednesday, from Bulldog.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, was walking through a park one day in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favourite doll. She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully.

Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her.

The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter "written" by the doll saying "please don't cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures."

Thus began a story which continued until the end of Kafka's life.

During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable.

Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one) that had returned to Berlin.

"It doesn't look like my doll at all," said the girl.

Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: "my travels have changed me." The little girl hugged the new doll and brought the doll with her to her happy home.

A year later Kafka died.

Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written:

"Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way."

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Path Before Us

The Path Before Us is a substack by Matthew Lee Anderson which was just recommended to me a few minutes ago.  I just read a post about fasting and Lent that I found quite good, "Raising the Floor: The value of asceticism."

This is the aim of a season like Lent, it seems to me—to shift the “floor” of our lives, such that we hit “rock bottom” at a point where it is safe for us and everyone around us to do so. The person who commits to abstaining from food two days a week during Lent will doubtlessly feel tempted regularly to satisfy their cravings. If they give in, though, they have—enjoyed the good gifts of creation. They fail, but upward, as it were, into a good. They will doubtlessly feel the failure as a real one, as violating one’s commitments is a serious and grave wrong. But the fast raises their “floor” for their lives, such that they hit “rock bottom” at a point at which no one is harmed besides themselves (even if others are not benefited by their lack of abstinence). Better to set the “bar” for temptation at ice cream after dinner than telling secrets to join the inner ring. Both people might experience temptation the same way, but one’s floor will be much higher than the other—and will be more equipped to deal with real temptations to sin than the other.

And Then He Kissed Me

 It scanned!  It rhymed!  It expressed a familiar sentiment!

What's not to like in 1965?

"Everybody Likes Culture Club"

One of the great moments of TV history was when a cowboy bar was about to be shut down and the A team had the novel idea that if everyone could pitch in and put on a show, they could save the club.

One looks on in dumb astonishment at Mr. T applauding Boy George as a personal favorite.


“Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it."  Isaiah 8:12

Not thinking about anything in specific, except I woman I used to work with who started out in The Boston Church, which she now recognised was a cult and had left, but said she had "Learned a lot from them." She has gone on to various concerns about prophecy, and that the churches now don't teach about this and neglect it, but we are definitely in The Last Days (not in a theological but in an immediate sense) and has thought so since I met her in the early 90's. The Mark of the Beast, the various horns and the European Union, it's all there.  As paranoids often do eventually, she has settled on the modern Jews not being the real Jews, on account of being Khazars who converted, so they can still be Illuminati and controlling all the banks and whatever and destroying the church rather than being an object of any affection.  When she married the independent Baptist preacher from Georgia who had lost his pulpit in his last three churches after less than two years each (because they could not endure the Full Word of God, you see) and attends none now, I knew the Jews were going to be in the picture soon.

Tangent: BTW, this is common among abusive men as well. They use a lot of Christian language about family and discipline and often have this fascination with odd corners of Christianity, but somehow they never last with a community because there's something wrong with all the churches around them.  I have attributed this to bad teaching in the past, but now think it is a symptom of some deeper psychological need to tell other people what to do but not be told what to do oneself. End tangent.

Anyway, of course she didn't get any of the vaccines and has a collection of explanations why. This is at least her third Mark of the Beast and I grow weary. But most important is her new one that even though they have bought a filtering system for their water, they still boil everything before drinking it. Because "you don't know what's in those filters."  My thought is that you could likely look that up these days in the amount of time it takes you to boil a gallon of water, but maybe that's just my over-trusting nature. 

Also there is just the preponderance of conspiracy beliefs now. They seem to be everywhere. I wonder if we could go back to somewhere unremarkable like Wilmington, Delaware in the 1820s and just listen in to what people were saying on the street if we would find the same amount of conspiratorial belief or it would be different. The verse from Isaiah would suggest it's a pretty stable percentage. I do know that conspiracies are hard, very hard to maintain. People have to have considerable motivation to keep terrible things secret, and when we are talking about thousands of people who would have to be in on the deal it gets more and more unlikely. People try to form conspiracies all the time. Even open societies like America have lots of people trying to keep some secret and get away with stuff. Very rarely, if you are in the Mafia or some other place where the stakes for exposure would be death for you and your family, a conspiracy will hold. Yet even then the Secret Knowledge is an open secret, it's just no one will go on record.

The General Calling

When we talk about discerning the will of God we tend to focus on concrete leadings, such as whether to buy a particular piece of property, take a particular job, or marry a particular women.  The Puritans believed in two callings:  the special calling, such as the above, about what career to have or whether to move to Holland or America, and the general calling, to be generous; to be faithful to wife, and family, and church; to seek self-improvement through the Scriptures and prayer; to be honest and all the rest.

They considered the general calling to be more important by far, and some sermons suggest that the special calling should not be even mentioned in the same breath as the general at all it was so much its superior.

We are very daily, and we get caught up in the special leadings. Part of why I believe Blackaby's books are so dangerous for Christians is that he gives a passing nod to the deeper things of God, and in his discussion of discerning God's will gives clear preference to the idea that God must be leading you to found a church or a specific ministry that should be measured by how big it is.  Until you do that, your life will suck because you are ignoring God's will. He swears it is otherwise, but his "heartwarming" examples of success are all of that nature. 

I, the Assistant Village Idiot, give you permission to ignore such things. The general leading is all, the specific leading is a throw-in.  Such things are there only to get our attention, that there is something before us and - oh my goodness!- I should have been consulting the Holy Spirit from the beginning, shouldn't I! My almost-joking but deadly serious example is 

"Lord, should I take the job in Michigan or in Oregon?"

"Look closer."

"I have looked closer, Lord.  Michigan or Oregon? So much of what will happen in my children's lives depend on this, doesn't it?"

"I want you to treat your wife better.  That will have more impact on your children's lives. Michigan and Oregon are not even on my radar."

Monday, February 19, 2024

Four From 2006

Brought forward from 2006.  Not quite broadly popular enough to be reposted

 Bullies Are Cowards

Oh, It's an Elite Conspiracy - Why didn't you say so before? 

How I Will Win at Field of Dreams Fantasy Baseball 

On Parents Getting Smart - Just when I was mellowing toward my parents and my previous resentments, I learned some more at a hard school - and saw that I was mostly right the first time.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

If the Two Majors Won't Touch Him...Third Party

 The tweet was "I have an idea for 2024.  Hear me out, he has experience..."


So maybe that's too radical for president, but we could have a proof of concept with Minneapolis, maybe.

New Favorite

This came to mind during the comments for the previous post.

I was going to just catch it and post it, but once it started playing I couldn't take my eyes off it.

You Don't Hate Polyamory, You Hate People Who Write Books

I don't want to link to anything that even hints that polyamory is an acceptable alternative, but unfortunately, it's Scott Alexander at Astral Codex Ten, making some powerful arguments about who gives relationship advice in general, and some approval of such things is thrown in along the way. He claims he knows happy people in polyamorous relationships, but they aren't the sort who write books about it. I deeply want him to be mistaken on this. In fact, he notes, people who write advice books in general are often those who don't do very well at relationships.


There are probably some acceptable times to write a memoir, like when you’ve just conquered Gaul.

 Yes, this exactly.  It may be that all the people who write memoirs shouldn't have, while a host of others whose example would be more edifying never will. 

One thing I learned during the Nostalgia Destruction Tour is that there are few witnesses or none to all those events now, and even those witnesses remember them poorly or not at all. So I could write a memoir that paid very little attention to the truth if I liked, so long as I avoided making claims for which there exist contradicting documents. Because then even if I was challenged, it would be my word against theirs. Hmm...

Unfortunately, my wife is one of the people who has a good wait, she doesn't either...

Saturday, February 17, 2024

For Eddy

I post this every few years because you won't hear it anywhere else, and I love it. You can see the Nostalgia Tour about to launch here, can't you? 


My roommate and bandmate at William & Mary, Paul Van Hook, found this obscure song somewhere and it became a standard for us. While a piano background is appropriate for the sense of the song, this particular arrangement just doesn't work to my mind. Instead I hear him singing over the top of me, not the original band while I listen, and see his expressions. I would give much to sing one night with him again.

Language Update: What the French Mean

This one, on the other hand, I am putting in both places because I sense it needs to mostly stay in its original context, but is fun here as well.


Jules Crittenden cleverly deconstructs French promises to the UN, and finds that almost none of the words are true. (HT: Instapundit) must understand that when France suggested it wanted to broker peace in Lebanon, it did not necessarily mean “broker” or “peace” or “Lebanon” in the way we might understand those words. The same is true when France further suggested it wanted to “lead” a “strong” “multinational” “force” there.

Un-Grammar Lesson

 Originally posted August 2006.  I am bringing it forward rather than reposting it because the comments were pretty good.


An attorney at a hearing I testified at today made a statement, then reworded it swiftly to get the preposition off the end of the sentence. He chuckled, looked at me and asked "Is that correct?" I assured him that either was correct, and that the rules are different now. He asked later what I meant by that, and I couldn't find the words for my thought for about a minute. I settled on something like this:

"Compromising clarity of speech for the sake of a suspect rule is now considered pedantic rather than correct."
"Don't end with a preposition" was a rule artificially imposed on English anyway, and has caused much infelicity. Vestiges of it will hang on for a century, but you may stop worrying about it anymore.

Thursday, February 15, 2024



The usual first example that comes to mind when describing "Patter Song." Predictably, it is the first mentioned on Wikipedia, and this is not undeserved. I just may be the best.

Pro Tip

 A Port-a-potty on a pier of a New England seaport in February is likely to be chilly.

Nostalgia For The Shire

When we first see the Shire we don't think much of it, and it may be that Tolkien didn't either, not at first. The people are petty and Bilbo's desire for adventure seems to have much to do with getting out of his current life and into a more interesting one. This persists through the first chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring as well, though we begin to see the change. When Bilbo becomes dissatisfied with life, he wants to get out, he knows probably permanently. He does show some twinges of things he will miss - and he is pleased to get news of it from the hobbits when they come to Rivendell - but when it is his time to go to the Grey Havens he does not make a final detour to see his old haunts.* 

So until Frodo is expressing reluctance to leave, we don't have any Shire Nostalgia ourselves. We see them as knuckleheads and want to just get out, like Bilbo.  We understand Frodo feeling attached to the place he grew up and has loved for decades, but we feel a bit impatient. By the end of LOTR we have forgotten this, and on subsequent readings we share Frodo's reluctance, but this is based on what we know from later information, when Frodo and Sam are aching for any scrap of the Shire while they are in Mordor. When people are away things look different in the rear view mirror.  They change. 

When those who go away return, they change the place. While they most obviously change it by bringing back ideas and technology (and spouses) from the war, or the trading ports, or the country they went to work in for a time, they also bring back their changed impressions of the old place. The selective forgetting of memory means they keep what they consider the essential parts - and likely modify those - and drop the ones they don't like.  Many soldiers returning from a war, often all at once, can have a profound effect on a place.  It changes for ever. Though even when it is only a few, if they are influential figures as the hobbits were they change the Shire. They remembered it a certain way, and knew what they thought was the essence of it. When they return to destruction and "set things to rights," that is not quite what they left.


Also, there is another type of "leaving and returning" in LOTR: the entry into Faerie. If you have read "Smith of Wooten Major" or know the Tam Lin legend/song, you see the leaving of this world to go to one wholly other, that plays by different rules, Faerie.  These are places where they don't just eat different foods or have different cultures, they have different digestions and different cultures.  Time flows differently there. In LOTR these would be  Old Forest and Bombadil; Rivendell and Lothlorien, the elves in their central home places; the Entwood, Fangorn. In contrast Bree is an adventure only for its events, not any abiding strangeness that changes one. The same is true for Weathertop, Rohan, Orthanc, and Gondor.  Even Moria is not quite Faerie, though its subterranean horror my be leaking Faerie out into it. Cirith Ungol? I...don't...think so, though Ungoliant is from even a greater time depth than Sauron. The paths of the dead and the ghastly dead marshes may have the same sense of difference in some ways. They are not so different from the Barrows. I don't think those qualify as Faerie, though I agree it is not quite clear.The Deeap marshes and the paths of the dead...I don't know.

In the Hobbit,there is much less of this start to finish.  Tolkien placed that story in a sort of Faerie to begin with, and only later, as he developed the tale, did he separate Middle Earth into some places that we recognise as like our own, though far remote, and places that are simply Other, though the two have interacted over the years. The forest of Mirkwood comes closest to being Deep Faerie, and Beorn as a supremely natural, more than a preternatural creature may still qualify. One could argue that is true of many residents of Faerie, I suppose.

To enter Faerie and emerge is to be changed.

*I just notice that double meaning and its roots in the context of my own Nostalgia Destruction Tour. Yes, I am likely haunted and always will be, more like Frodo than Bilbo.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Overboard Drill

I learned that for an overboard, the person who spots the victim does not take his eyes off them, even for a moment. It doesn't matter if you are the captain, navigator, whatever. Because a ship is so low in the water, and the swells change the perspective so quickly, that if you look away, there is a good chance you will never find them again.

It just sounds like a great sermon illustration for something, doesn't it?

Happy Valentine's Day

While Tracy was at her prayer time, I came out to tell her that the mouse trap had disappeared from where I had set it, suggesting that the mouse had not been killed and had run off with it in tow.  She shuddered a bit.  I grabbed a flashlight and found it immediately, dragged it forward, and confirmed that there was indeed a dead mouse trapped, killed at the neck.  I told her I would bring it outside and throw it in the yard for whatever local creatures might enjoy it. At 6 above zero, she suggested I get more dressed first, and I agreed. I took the mouse out and threw it out at the edge of the property. When I came back in, she said with clear sincerity "I am so grateful that you handle this sort of thing for me."

Well, yes. Happy Valentines Day, darling.

Court Truth Doublet

Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (so help you God)?

It is wrongly punctuated. The first comma needs to be replaced by something else. The phrase is recited as a triplet, because we like triplets. Beg, borrow, or steal; fire, flood, or famine; life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineffs. They just sound nice. They are poetic.  I find myself looking for a third element frequently when I write, just because there seems a rightness to it.

But the sentiment of the oath is not really a triplet. It is a single statement, modified by a doublet. Do you swear to tell the truth? And then the modification, the explanation: the whole truth, that is, not slyly leaving out important information to create a false impression, and nothing but the truth, which is to not tell a truth but then add untrue things to it in order to deceive. Those are the two main ways that one can technically tell the truth but actually be lying.

This happened in another twinned description turned into a triplet because an editor thought it sounded better. I discussed this almost five years ago after a friend alerted me to the comma controversy in Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."  His first editor added a comma in the second position because he thought it just sounded right. Lovely, dark, and deep, that is, they are lovely and dark, and deep, all three.  But Frost's original is intentionally darker in tone. The woods are lovely - dark and deep together describe why they are lovely, because of the suggestion of escape, suicide, abdication of responsibility by leaving the path and going into the woods, perhaps forever. 

So we can try to repunctuate, but should be careful that there is seldom such a thing as "correct" punctuation, except by convention. (Which can be important, by the way. Convention helps with clarity. It also helps show off that you have read the right books or gone to the correct schools, a less attractive motive.) Such is also true of correct spelling - humor or humour? Or correct pronunciation - do we really know where the accent goes in all these dead languages when we don't have any metrical poetry? No, these are ultimately also by convention.  Necessary convention, perhaps, but they could have gone otherwise. So also, more controversially, with meanings of words. Words are also by convention - however, the necessity of convention for understanding is much stronger when we get to the meanings of words. They are all eventually arbitrary and destructible, yes. Yet it is often better to treat their meanings by the fiction that there is something permanent, or at least more permanent about them.  It is true that the word "silly" once meant "blessed," but it is also true that if you call someone that now they won't think it's a compliment, nor should they. 

So what do we put in the slot after "truth?" A question mark works, and has the necessary power, though it creates a sentence fragment after. A colon, semicolon, and a dash all work as well, though they sap energy away from that stark tell the truth, full stop, phrase.

Depressives Should Sing

We were discussing music in worship in adult class, and one of us, perhaps me, noted that memory for music is powerful, and stored in a different place in the brain. Someone else, again maybe me, pointed out that the church has had 2000 years of music in worship, it is nearly always present, and it usually starts off a worship service or event. Not all religions do this, though many do. Much is made of meditation's ability to put people into a different mental space in preparation, and I think that is true. Fans of Eastern religions have been very excited that scientists have been able to detect subtle changes in the neurology when we meditate.


I'm betting it's not a quarter of the changes you can see when people sing out loud.  It is the most logical explanation for why it is there in the first place, that it can move you from your everyday worries to at least Somewhere Else, and once you are moving it is likely easier that you can move in a God-direction. As an added bonus, it will continue to work even if your brain isn't very good, has been injured, or is deteriorating. 

Are you depressed, anxious, discouraged?  Drag yourself to worship and sing out loud. It will help.

Additionally, Tolkien advised one of his sons in a letter to take communion, "every day if you can, in an unattractive church with a rector who has no charisma, so that the power of the sacrament alone can sustain you." He had reportedly not noticed at first that this was also a feature of lembas wafers, that they grew in efficacy the longer one relied on them alone, but agreed immediately that the Eucharist must have been an influence on him when someone asked, and kept that as an explanation.

Poster Child

Whenever the discussion turns to IQ, usually because genetics are involved and people find it offensive to think so, there is much resistance and protest.  Much ink has been spilled over why this is.  While it is difficult to discern motives, especially at a distance, I think that in the aggregate, people want credit for their other good qualities - their hard work, their resilience, their ability to get along with others, their charm, their adaptability; next, they also don't like to think that their favorite solutions may not fix some things, because that takes away their favorite sermons and pronouncements. 

As with more political arguments, there is a motte-and-bailey aspect, that "some people have all the intelligence in the world, but they never accomplish anything" or the like. They point out, as if it is somehow a new concept to me that I haven't taken into consideration, that IQ isn't everything.

It bears mentioning that I am the poster child for IQ not being everything. I entered my freshman year of college with the highest SAT's and graduated near the bottom of the class (even after my grades improved under the good influences of my eventual wife for my last three semesters). I worked at low-status jobs at first, slid my way up to medium status over time, and coul only have been described as above-average status the last few years, and even then only among certain groups.  I never made $50K in a year. I did many other things outside of work that I hope were worthy, using skills that I was not 99th percentile in, that used IQ mostly tangentially. I think I made mostly the right choices, but even now there are times when I wonder at the cost.

So yeah, I've heard the rumor that IQ isn't everything.  You needn't explain it to me in that patient tone. But it is what it is, and on the group even more than the individual level, can be quite useful.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Shallowness II

I have been thinking that the suit of clothes that fit for both intellectual and emotional shallowness does fit for spiritual shallowness as well - though with complications. Let me start with the basics first. It is not surprising that humility would be a pivot point in a spiritual question, is it? The other two uncertainties...For the set of exceptions of those who are mildly virtuous in all things, we might indeed use the word shallow in their spirituality. But then things change: if one is spiritually solid in a couple of areas - if they are quite generous, they are frequently in prayer for others, and they are chaste and disciplined in their sexual behavior, do we much mind if they are only mostly honest, grudgingly kind, and rather bare minimum in their forgiving and all the rest? So long as they are not notably evil in any of the areas, do we give them credit for being deep because of the few exceptional qualities? Or at least "not shallow?"

I can barely conceive of such a thing, frankly, and I don't know what to call it, but I think we move out of the realm of "deep" and "shallow" altogether.   So there is some hiccup here.  The Abelard standard that Grim mentioned in the comments, of looking to intention, is also new territory. We don't tend to give credit to someone who intends to think deeply or intends to give of themselves. Yet that is very much a part of what we consider important about spiritual depth.

One interesting addition. In Lord of the Rings, the intention of characters is often ambiguous and much time is spent by others trying to discern this. Sam wonders what Gollum is thinking. Frodo wonders what Boromir is thinking. Gandalf tries to penetrate the plans of Sauron, even as he understands (and exploits) his intentions. But he does not understand the intentions of Saruman, almost making fatal errors. When Gandalf returns from his encounter with Saruman at Orthanc he now reads the signs clearly. Characters do not even fully understand their own intentions, and motives are mixed, with one coming to the fore, then another.  It is very much like our own lives, where we discover other motives (usually the negative ones) only later in the story. Three people who I know to be quite brilliant and literate are also not very interested in fantasy literature (no four people...five) and also completely oblivious to their own motives. Tolkien was even singled out as being especially tedious by at least two of those. I wonder if there is some connection, thought I very much doubt whether such things are absolute.

Sunday, February 11, 2024


 "Shallow people don't know that they are shallow." The thought came to me today while listening to the sermon. For those of you who heard the same sermon and are scratching your heads, no, I don't have any clear idea how I got there either.

This leads first to some thoughts of some people we dislike or have trouble with and wondering Hmm, is what I dislike about them is that they are shallow? I got a few quick hits on that, but the inevitable next question came up quickly after: If I were shallow, would I know it?  How would I know it? 

Shallowness is a slippery word. We use it in at least three different domains, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. On the intellectual front, we use it of someone who knows only a little about a subject, only the obvious or cliched. It stretches to cover people who know a little about many things, but none with any thoroughness. Yet we are already on uncertain ground, and I think this will get interesting when we come back to it. We do have a sense that there are some people who know a great deal about a subject or three but are still shallow, usually because they assume their real knowledge in one area gives them special insights into others. I had a doctor who would explain Bible passages to me in his I'm-a-doctor voice. Something of a blowhard. (Though I have also known clergy who would explain to me very patiently about economics or politics, and what Jesus thought about these things.) And further, sometimes we do regard someone who knows a little about many things as a deep thinker in some ways, because the do not overstep, and connect things in surprising or interesting ways. Hmm, not deep, perhaps.  But we give them credit for not being shallow.

Notice that this two exceptions where the definition gets fuzzy both revolve around humility. Hold that thought.

When we switch to emotional shallowness, does the same definition apply? We regard someone as shallow when they do not give much of themselves to others. They may be pleasant, even to many people, but when the chips are down you can't count on them for even a kind word, never mind a favor, because they haven't even noticed your need. Would we call a person who refused to do a favor shallow, or would that be inadequate.  Hm. Variable. Hard to tell because people wouldn't just say "No, I refuse to do that for you."  They would have some plausible excuse. We start to need repetition to know what's up with the shallowness. As with intellectual shallowness, someone who is not generous to many but quite generous to a few doesn't get called shallow. We do restrict this to real generosity, not counting those whose "generous" action is a hidden trade. And as before, we give credit for non-shallowness when they are moderately generous to many, so long as that is also not some sort of trading, or showiness. 

So humility turns out to be important again.  Not the whole definition, but pivotal.

On to the important one then, spiritual shallowness. Let's bring the previous suit of clothes out and see if it fits this sibling as well.

I'm posting this now, and coming back to it later, probably in a separate post. I am interested in your thoughts before I go further.

Friday, February 09, 2024

Trying To Reason With the Paranoid

Brought forward from August 2006.  Since then I have related lack of insight to some variants of autism as well.  That one can be very strange, frankly, as many autists have pretty good insight and are even humorous about it, laughing when they realize what they missed: the poor boy! Here he was always getting me into tickle-fights and I loved to join in, not realising that there was this huge sexual undertone. So we go to a conference together for our project and when he asks if we should share a room to save money, I say Sure! We get there and he's about as socially clumsy as I am and tries very unskillfully to seduce me, and I yell at him, shocked!  Shocked, I say, and then I laugh at him and he is just crushed. But OF COURSE he thought I was interested in him sexually and would be at least somewhat receptive.  I had been signalling that for three months...  It worked out.  We got back together three years later and got married! But the blood still goes out of his face when I bring it up. Yet there is another subset that will hear none of it.  There is nothing wrong with them and they are tired of other people suggesting that there is. They do not well-understand what others' motivations and thoughts are, so they just make it up out of what they think is likely, with um, highly-variable hit rates on those predictions. And even when it goes very badly it doesn't occur to them to step back and rethink the whole thing.  If you asked them as a general question whether people should do that sort of rethinking they agree.  Everyone knows that! Neither side ever fully understands the other, neither side is 100% right or 100% wrong! Yet they don't actually do it in real life.

I have come to the vaguely-professional opinion that lack of insight often comes from impaired or diminished functioning of the anterior cingulate gyrus, one of the storytelling areas of the brain, predicting what other people are thinking and comparing it to ongoing results. It has almost a Bayesian quality, and when it's not operating, it takes an overwhelming amount of contrary evidence to even get them to go Hmm...


On my 13-bed acute involuntary unit seven of the current patients are paranoid, an unusually high percentage. I have therefore spent a lot of the last week trying to reason with paranoid people, and I am wondering whether there is any insight to be gained for use in reasoning with paranoid governments or leaders. It is difficult to separate out the obsessions and misinterpretations by victim cultures from true paranoia; in unstable countries, it is also hard to tell what actions by leaders are actually paranoid, as it is true that some people are plotting against them and want to kill them. Most importantly, paranoia of the schizophrenic variety is a brain illness, not a cultural or personal expression, and it may not illuminate the cultural paranoia of nations in any way.

Still, I will follow the trail and see where it leads.

It’s easiest if one doesn’t have to deal with them at all, of course, and it is best not to go looking for extra arguments solely for the purpose of telling them their world-view is wrong. But the nature of hospital commitments – as well as life in general – is that they must be approached to have various rights explained to them, questions asked of them, signatures sought, and life-tasks to accomplish (like getting up, eating, hygiene). I am heavily involved in the first three of those. Do you want an appeal hearing? Can we call your parents?

Simple questions provoke angry tangents. “Why the f- am I here? Do you think it’s fair for the police to break in without knocking and drag me to the ER where I didn’t see a doctor, just a b- nurse who lied to me…” Fierce anger may be apparent even under the attempt to appear calm. “I’d prefer that you not call anyone. I’ve decided that those relationships are toxic for me. My mother has been very interfering.” Suppressed rage, voice dripping with polite venom, can be worn as a badge of honor – supposed proof that the speaker is in control and gentle, surrounded by angry, out-of-control others. This is more common in women, but I won’t guess whether that is biological or socially conditioned.

Interviewing a patient for information may elicit anger, but the interviewer can adopt a pliant or accepting posture to deflect confrontation. Others are not so lucky. When the law requires not only that a patient must have his rights explained fully, but signatures and permissions acquired, the sidestepping of anger can go on endlessly, until a halt must be called. “You may have valid complaints, but that’s not what we’re discussing now. I need you to decide if you want an appeal or not. You can change your mind later. There is no wrong answer. It’s entirely your choice…” Non-decisions must at some point be declared decisions, and then that has to be explained to them. There are some stalemates that cannot go on forever. You must move from here or we will move you.

Paranoid patients are not the only ones to present this difficulty, but the intensity is greater at the point of conflict. It is also more surprising, because it can surface after a pleasant conversation on other subjects. Especially in late-onset paranoid schizophrenics, much of the personality has been formed competently before the intrusion of the voices or delusions, and the patient can rattle on with easy animation about sports, literature, or humor.

The fury proceeds from some issue that is of overriding importance to the patient. The police really are beaming infrared rays into their apartment. Other people really must hear those voices, but pretend not to. Mites really do infest all the clothing, and must be sealed off. A personality disordered patient may grudgingly acknowledge that his father is merely stupid and selfish rather than vindictive. People with depression can understand that there may be another way to look at things, even if they cannot bring themselves to it. But a person with paranoia will have none of that. There is a fierce insistence on a single interpretation of the issue – there is no other way to understand events. The rest of the world may not believe that satellites are beaming messages into some people’s brains, but it is true nonetheless.

To person in the grip of paranoia, this issue must be dealt with and acknowledged by others before any discussion can proceed. The things the doctors and nurses want to talk about are considered merely derivative issues. I was only violent because I was falsely accused and mistreated by the police. Of course everyone should eat, but I refuse to eat the flesh of babies. If the exterminator had done their job right and gotten rid of the bugs, I wouldn’t have had to set the floor on fire. If the priest had preached on the prophecy I wrote to him, I wouldn’t have said that God should strike him dead.

If this is sounding a bit like Iran or North Korea to you at this point, I am wondering that myself.

To try and prove themselves right on this key issue, people of many diagnoses, but especially those with paranoia, will fasten on the most amazing details as evidence, rapidly twisting them out of recognition. You’re saying that what I put into my body isn’t important… (No, I’m saying that side effects that you don’t have aren’t important to discuss) You won’t let me meet with my attorney… (You may meet with your attorney when she comes here. You cannot go there.) The replies in parentheses are more hypothetical than the complaints, because you usually don’t get to complete your sentence. Those are the types of things I am usually trying to say.

This sounds more like Hamas and Hezbollah than Iran, actually.

Next up, a look at what strategies work, or more usually, don’t work.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Listen, Don't Look

Not that they are bad dancers, they aren't. It's just that...

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

The Vice Of Tolerance

The fascinating bit is how I was frustrated by this change to a modern understanding of a virtue - and only  few years later it is now considered a vice by many of the same people.

Brought forward from August 2006


These days, if you don’t simply up and agree that tolerance is the Virtu Ultimo, you will be immediately accused of advocating intolerance. That’s what happens whenever one virtue is elevated above the others – it acquires that special cachet, that unassailable quality that allows everyone to feel all righteous by attacking you. Among individuals where chastity is the supreme virtue, suggesting it is simply one admirable quality among many lays you open to charges of advocating promiscuity. Where oathkeeping is the sine qua non of good human conduct, the least acknowledgement of possible extenuation brands you as a friend of liars and encourager of thieves.

It is therefore important for all of you to know right at the outset that I do think intolerance is just great. I have every gay person in the neighborhood on speed-dial so I can harrass and threaten them randomly four or five times a week. I taught my boys to subtly but effectively sabotage any attempts by people of color – any color – to improve their lives. We splatter red paint on campaign signs of candidates we don’t like, and I have for years been part of a super-secret organization that poisons the pets of Christians who hold heretical views on Transubstantiation, Gifts of the Spirit, and Semi-Pelagianism. Worse, I have actually advocated that everyone should vote for people they agree with.

Tolerance, also known as being non-judgmental, is an inexpensive virtue, hence its current popularity. Patience, mercy, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, generosity – these all come at a cost. Tolerance is passive, and often indistinguishable from boredom, self-centeredness, or regular bowel habits. You can be tolerant of something by ignoring it.

Curiously, the idea is widespread that tolerance is the heart of the Christian message, the most important thing that Good Ol’ Jesus taught. Not only is the idea widespread among nonbelievers, it is frequently found among Episcopalians as well (insert obvious joke here). I don’t come away from the Gospels with that impression. Jesus spoke respectfully to women and those of low status. Other than that, where does the reputation for being non-judgmental come from? The weight of judgment of Matthew chapters 5-8 is crushing. But if by tolerance we mean that brood-of-vipers, beat-the-moneylenders stuff then sign me up. Can I have an Amen?

CS Lewis, in The Problem Of Pain, contends that in that era (about 1940), the virtue elevated above the others was kindness. He criticised that virtue in much the same way I do here with tolerance: that it was too dependent on mere feelings of well-being. Sadly, I think tolerance is a natural derivative, but actually a step down from kindness.

People insisting that we be tolerant don’t really like tolerance, they just like certain categories of it, usually related to sex or to perceived underdogs. Tolerant people are actually the worst enemies of the real underdogs. Most intolerance is actually a good thing, enabling us to live next door to each other, stand in line, and drive our cars safely. Societies are built upon things they will not tolerate. We don’t tolerate spitting on the bank tellers, molesting the children, or throwing trash into the street. If societies always go overboard, it is because they are over-sensitive to the dangers of anarchy.

Entertainment Vs Content

Book club (which commenter David Foster invited me into) is discussing Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality by Neal Gabler.  I doubt we will be on it long, for reasons I will leave off here. Yet it does have some intriguing lines , especially in terms of other discussions I am in. 

Whereas television taught the magazines the news is nothing but entertainment" (Neil) Postman wrote, "the magazines have taught television that nothing but entertainment is news."

Not stunning, no, but a good turn of phrase and a good discussion starter. Or

The result was to make modern society one giant Heisenberg effect, in which the media were not really reporting what people did; they were reporting what people did to get media attention.
This sort of inversion, this "now you see it now you don't" description of reality vs media reality is common throughout the book and it gets tiring. But as many conversations interact even if you are part of them separately, it is providing me with Stuff to Think About in considering the Adult Sunday School discussion of worship styles, music, visitor interest, teaching and all the rest of what we do on Sunday mornings. America has historically moved all culture in the directions of entertainment and leveling.  High culture is made less formal, people's culture is elevated to make it safe for the children and edifying in some sense, and nowhere is this more clear than in church.  Contemporary worship music owes much to 80s country rock; traditional hymns are mostly after 1800, so the controversy is between the not-really-old versus the not -really-new. Spirituals and camp meeting tunes were brought up in structure and design, but also with improved entertainment register; formal sacred music was made informal with newer expressions. 

Or this.

I'm also tying that entertainment/content debate to children's literature - didactic but cutesy poems* and dime novels met in the middle. Also sports announcing and reporting.  It's everywhere, really.

*Okay, they rhyme and scan, I'll grudgingly grant them the status of poems.

Homo Naledi Again

This was an exciting new find in southern Africa in the late 10's, and told you about four years ago, and really, it's still an exciting new find. Yet even then there were caution flags, and Now there are even more caution flags. The most exciting claims were that these were intentional burials and stone tools about twice as old as previously suggested. Hmm.  Maybe not.  It's still a great story and very much worth keeping an eye on...just not two eyes.