Saturday, March 30, 2024


I have taken to listening to and learning Psalms 120-135, the Songs of Ascent while I am out on my walks. I loaded a batch into my archives in a single post, and I will keep adding to it.

It is much easier to learn Scripture set to music.

Emotional Intelligence

There are instruments that purport to measure this, but they have yet to show that they are more than a combination of intelligence tests plus personality tests. Conscientiousness is an advantage for some jobs or activities, agreeableness for others, risk-taking or resilience for still others. IQ helps at least a little in just about everything, but sometimes the added advantage of a few more points is negligible. Sometimes discretion matters little.  Sometimes it is everything.

There are just too many poorly-correlated traits that might be called emotionally intelligent. The star basketball player or salesman might need to be a leader - except when the school hires a top-flight coach or the company is rolling out a radical new product that requires expert knowledge, in which case the emotionally intelligent thing to do is be a follower, at least at first. Is it emotionally intelligent to listen to your people, or to not be distracted by individual complaints and get everyone moving in the same direction for at least their 40 hours per week over the next four months? Answer: Yes., depending.

IQ tests identify a g-factor, a common factor, because people who do well on one type of cognitive test tend to do well on the others. This is not especially true of personality/emotional tests. There are people who are terrible at many emotional tasks, but it is really hard to be very good at both decisiveness and consensus-building, humility and confidence, or to be both phlegmatic and sanguine, to use older terms.  Moreover, there are sociopaths who understand other people very well, to our peril. Do we call them "emotionally intelligent," with a high EQ? It is certainly possible to balance these characteristics in wisdom - in fact, that is what we are all hoping to accomplish.

It is just so transparently a consolation prize for people who overvalue intelligence to begin with. "Smart" people are admired. just like the beautiful, and they want to be admired too. Their resentment at having what they think are their important virtues devalued that they try to shove them under the rubric of some kind of intelligence. But they are eating their own tails with this. Generosity and kindness are infinitely more valuable in an eternal sense, and people like them pretty well here as well. Don't cheapen them by trying to squeeze them in to some sort of  (blank)-Quotient knockoff. Reliability, discretion, (real) tolerance, compassion...why on earth would we want to elevate something ephemeral like being "smart" by lending real value to prop up cheapness?

Seek wisdom, and the Four Cardinal Virtues and Three Theological Virtues are a great place to start. If you hve those you lack for nothing.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Passing the Wrong Test

 Luke 22:31-34 (NIV)

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

We know that after some delay, this is what happens.  Yet it seems odd to us that Peter could come so close, understand so well, be warned that something like this might happen, but just a few hours later, fulfill exactly the prophecy that he feared most.

I think Peter's focus was on the wrong test.  When they came for Jesus and took him away, Peter was unable to prevent it - and was even told not to prevent it - but he still wanted to do something. He decides to be the witness to what has occurred. Someone has to see this.  Someone has to be a witness and tell the others. Look at what he does, hovering nearby, edging closer, trying to stay within visual distance.

He knew this was dangerous.  He knew that to be exposed as a follower was to be in physical danger himself.  He told himself he didn't care about that, he had to force his way, or trick his way, or talk his way into a position to be a witness. Even that was a huge risk. He took that risk.  He did show courage. All the others had fallen away, but he was still there, still loyal.  The only one who dared. In his mind, he was passing the test, skirting the edges of danger and perhaps even death, in order to be the witness, the task he had set himself. He did pass that test.

But it was the wrong test.  Jesus had not asked him to do this. Peter thought that Jesus needed a witness - and God did bring good out that, it seems, by using the account later in the Scriptures to let us know what had happened. Yet somehow Jesus knew there would be witnesses enough. Peter's despair is from the realisation that he has devoted himself honestly to a task, but had not simply obeyed, and this had led to him denying his Lord.

Something similar but more extreme may have happened with Judas. I have read a number of interpreters suggest that Judas thought he was doing Jesus a favor by forcing him out into the open.  Judas had decided was was needed, and made sure it happened. Except...

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Acrobat Costumes

The originals of the superheroes which have survived often had costumes that they had to change into before they could perform their great feats. The costumes were often curiously like circus acrobat costumes from the previous era.

Their earlier feats were much more acrobatic as well, flying, swinging, twisting, somersaulting to land in just the right spot by surprise, ready for action. Superman and Batman have gotten more jacked as time has gone on, but early on they looked less like weightlifters, more like swimmers or gymnasts.  What were the capes for, anyway? Flashy decoration, as in performance.  Those capes may owe something to the more secretive superheroes as well, moving quietly through the shadows in disguise. The Superman could still lift enormous amounts of weight - heck, so could supergirl - but that was considered more of a magical ability like the X-Ray vision than an extreme form of what your best local athletes could do. The latter was more Caped Crusader stuff.

That doesn't seem to be why those costumes have persisted. They are clearly intended to display idealised sexual characteristics now.  Some of that was clearly present in the circus costumes as well - everybody's got to make a living, you know - but there was a clear functional aspect as well.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Sadness of NPR Christmas (in 2006)

Reposted from December 2006.  I have come back to this many times, as it is one of my most-visited posts. It is some of my best writing, looking back. I captured something that resonated with other people over the years. 

I have no idea what they do for Christmas at NPR now. I suspect the mask is increasingly off.


Year-round, NPR tends to the bittersweet, the witty rather than uproarious, the world-weary rather than the cynical, the poignant, the melancholy, the wistful. These are the attitudes of the Arts & Humanities crowd, roused to righteous anger only against those who try and rouse them to righteous anger, charmed by everything but tending to observation rather than full-bore participation. NPR has the best describers of the vignettes of daily life, of which Garrison Keillor is the archetype.

Christmas kills them. They can access faith only via nostalgia, and that well soon runs dry. Real traditions include Mom, and going to church, and immersing yourself in that whole crowd of idiot relatives. Far better to have your Christmas carols instrumental, where the mood can grip you without the trouble of the lyrics. The programs at NPR are dignified, properly appalled at the deterioration of the season into commercialism and "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer;" into the violent games or garish decorations.

This works well enough for that percentage of their audience that still holds to the Christian faith. We fear no nostalgia, and deplore many of the same things about the season. Instrumental carols and lights that don't blink are fine with us. The secular audience must be okay with this approach as well. Perhaps with NPR guiding the tour they can trust that however close the bus gets to the edge of the road it will not go over into actual religious assertion. We'll get out and take pictures of the view.

I don't have the same sense in my bones for what the Jewish storytellers are experiencing, but it seems much the same. They grew up slightly alientated from the culture's holiday, but having something of their own to build nostalgia around. Now they seem alientated from that as well. And those who had little or no faith tradition - they're trying to find something worth saving in all this. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe - it's supposed to be for weddings, but they try to make a holiday out of the same sort of elements.

Emotional distance has its advantages, and these makeshift Christmases don't seem to be tragic. There is a sort of courage about them, and shafts of real joy, and the nobility of those who refuse at least to be hypocrites. But story after story in December, as these deeply artistic and sensitive people try to capture the season, carries the theme of searching, of something missing, of arranging the dried flowers as beautifully as possible because no new ones will bloom.

Those of us who are believers are tempted to throw up our hands and say "Oh for Pete's sake! Relent for just a few days a year and allow yourself to be immersed in the faith of your youth. You'll get more out of Christmas that way. It'll do you good. Why is Jesus the one thing you can't keep?" But I think it is our own inattention to the season, our own taking it for granted, that causes us to think this way. We are so aware of how many things pull us away from Christ at Christmas that we have forgotten how dangerous it is for those outside to look in. They sense, as we should know but have forgotten, that to step inside might mean never coming back. If emotional distance does not bring warmth, it at least brings memories of warmth, with no danger of burning.

Monday, March 25, 2024


Bumped:  The bobbleheads have been found.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced today that the shipment carrying the Jagr bobbleheads for tonight's game has been stolen en route to Pittsburgh.

To which Son #2 observed "I don't know what's funnier, the idea that someone deliberately stole 10,000 Jagr bobbleheads, or the idea that someone just robbed a truck at random, opened a box, and discovered that they now own 10,000 Jagr bobbleheads and are going to be hunted down by the Pittsburgh Penguins organisation."  I mean, where can you sell them now?

"No matter what, you will not get in my way. But if it's you or those Jaromir Jagr bobbleheads, I will not hesitate. Not for a second." (A movie reference I do not get, but Ben and bsking's husband Tim assure me is perfect.  And they should know.)

The Triumph of Easter

The Triumph of Easter by Dorothy Sayers.  Second story on the PDF.

Also a Youtube Video 

She wrote in 1938, and it is about God's transforming evil rather than abolishing it.

Ilia Malinin

Ann Althouse carried this today, and I almost passed it by.  This is not a sport I am much interested in. I recall women (I'm lookin' at you Cindy Garman) swooning over John Misha Petkavich at the '72 Winter Olympics because of the new athleticism he brought to the sport, but I was unimpressed. Is that the best you guys can do? In the subsequent fifty years I might recognise a name or two. Like ballet, even the most athletic moves still have a touch of a feminine quality. The women are performing more like male gymnasts every year, so I always thought they were rather meeting in the middle. Fine.

I am glad I clicked through.  Part of it is the music, sure, and the design and progression of the routine.  But you have to be able to live up to that once it is put in place, and this kid does it.  He has that reckless got-energy-to-burn-sweetheart energy that girls get breathless over and older men nod approvingly at with a smirk. Well played, lad. Well played.  I think this will work out for you.

Icelandic Elections

"Iceland has a web page for the upcoming presidential election. You can go in and enter your name in support of a candidate. In an attempt to do so, apparently 11 people accidentally registered as candidates and are now running for president. Looking forward to the TV debates."

Yrsa Sigurdardottir on X 

AVI: I have always cared deeply for the Icelandic people and promise to work for them with every fiber of my being.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Quotable Chesterton

I asked for, and received The Quotable Chesterton for some holiday - a birthday, a Christmas before this last - and it has been lying around while I read other, "more important" things.  I picked it up today, and this was the first entry:


Though the academic authorities are proud of conducting everything by means of Examinations, they seldom indulge in what religious people used to describe as Self-Examination. The consequence is that the modern* State has educated itself in a series of ephemeral fads.

Well, that was so good that I thought I'd have another.


When modern sociologists** talk about the necessity of accommodating oneself to the trend of the time, they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely of people who will not accommodate themselves to anything.  At its worst it consists of many millions of frightened creatures all accommodating themselves to a trend that is not there.

*This was a century ago

**I suspect we would identify this group somewhat differently now than confining it to academic sociologists.  Yet it will do, it will do.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

This Man Must Be A Prophet

 From Elijah the Middleborne on X:

Me to my wife, as she is putting on my jacket "Where is your jacket?" 

Her " I don't have a jacket"

Me "You are right to say that you have no jacket, for you've had five jackets, and the jacket you have now is not your own."

The Liverbirds

 Never heard of 'em

The German girls at the Beat Club have the same facial expression as the girls on Top of the Pops: sullen, bored, almost angry. I'm not sure what that was supposed to convey.

Links From Late 2006

A remarkable new treatment for depression - from Russia.

Christopher Hitchens explains Why Women Aren't Funny. Terri had a funny response.

Using Geography To Kill Time at Boring Meetings.

I look prescient, suggesting it might be good if Donald Trump were president for one year in wartime, as the Romans used to do. 

I speculate on the neurology of Insight and Misattribution.  I was doing this stuff for a living then.  I only partly understand what I said now.

Wyman Family Christmas Letter 2006.  We really are fascinating people.


I was noticing a change in rudeness as far back at 2006. Does this mean that there has not actually been any recent change, that online behavior almost inevitably promotes a deterioration in discourse, or that the recent change I have been noticing is just the modern tendency to rudeness because of no accountability simply penetrating deeper into society, including people who used to be polite?

BTW, that post includes a comment from Copithorne, who had trouble staying on the topic, as usual.

In my post "Not Their Tribe," I suggested there was some alternative motive which partly explains why the A & H Tribe is not supporting OIF. They might be loyal only to their own tribe, and not America as a whole, perhaps. I don't leap from this to say that they are traitors, or cowards, or selfish. Each of those, while possible, would require high levels of evidence. An actual traitor might well hide behind the principle of freedom to criticize the government. A real coward might adopt religious pacifism as a cover. But this does not mean that all who criticize the government are traitors, nor that all religious pacifists are cowards.

Friday, March 22, 2024


When you subscribe on substack you usually get a few trial subscriptions to give away, most frequently for a month.  That is usually enough to go over to the archives and pull out the things that are most promising to see if you like them. I linked to one of the few posts of his that is not behind his paywall back in February, about asceticism. Anderson is an assistant professor at Baylor, D.Phil Oxford, founder of Mere Orthodoxy and podcaster on Mere Fidelity, who writes a heckuva lot about Catholic theology for an evangelical. The substack it The Path Before Us, and you get his book if you subscribe.

I've got three free monthlong subscriptions if any of you is interested.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

NYT Games


Alex on X "The NYT is a game company with a news section."

More Susan

We have "The Problem of Susan, once Queen of Narnia," again.  I mentioned in early February the YA novel Once a Queen by Sarah Arthur.  You will remember that Granite Dad had ordered it and promised to read it and get back to me.  He has not done so. 

The CS Lewis Society also authorised a play by Kat Coffin called "Lost and Found: The Lamentations of Susan Pevensie." Doug Gresham loved it. Both works seem to have avoided going for the quick everything-works-out-just-fine plot and treat the subject in more complicated fashion. It will be staged in 2025 and they are hoping to have it live-streamed. It seems that people deeply want to see her in heaven, even if Narnia is lost to her as Eden is to us. That would be um, impressive for a fictional character. The theology of it seems a bit sketchy, but apparently there is a significant groundswell of Jesus, we have to find a way to make this work

My wife became so upset by the pressure that a character in a James Clavell novel was under in the 1980s that she prayed for him after putting the book down for the night. I had a friend who prayed that Gandalf would be okay after Moria.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Lutherans on St Patrick's Day


We were Lutherans, but not Midwestern Lutherans, from 1976-1986. I come from centuries of Swedish Lutherans on one side, and some of the culture did transmit. The most famous of the Swedish-American children's books was The Golden Name Day, by my Aunt Jennie, whose grave we still visit. But while my grandmother and her sisters were close to Jennie, they recognised that she had come from the more traditional side, where Swedish was still spoken in the home, and Jennie's father Henning was the editor of the Swedish newspaper for New England (though mostly New Hampshire and mill town Massachusetts, like Lowell and Worcester. The many Swedes way up in Maine on the Canadian border weren't so much connected to our people.

We were Swedish on special occasions, and this was true of Gethsemane Lutheran Church as well by the time we were there. The distinctiveness goes away more quickly in cities, because of intermarriage with people that you met in school or in the mills and shops.  Out in the country your whole high school is likely to be drawn from one or two groups, as Lake Wobegon is. So Lutheran traditions become closely associated with ethnic traditions.  This seems to be just the way we all are.  The Greek Orthodox Church has a yearly Glendi festival that is mostly food and costumes, not much Eastern Christian theology; the anniversary celebration of the Londonderry Presbyterian Church in 1889 had a previous pastor speak who lamented that the mothers in that day no longer baked the good Scots black bread that he felt was so important to developing character.  I don't think John Calvin would have much approved. The St Benedict Center out in Richmond NH is very much in the Feeneyite tradition of traditional Catholicism that is more mill city neighborhood than it is Anselmian or Thomist. 

So the traditions hold up better in the country but become ever more ethnic than religious, and Minnesota Nice becomes a theology of its own. Keillor was already nostalgic for a Lutheranism (even though he was himself raised Brethren) that was vanishing in the 1980s, and now the nostalgia is for people who even remember the nostalgia. Lutherans aren't very Lutheran anymore, just as Congregationalists and Unitarians aren't very Puritan, and Episcopalians aren't very Anglican. A lot of Baptists don't think much about baptism these days, and Methodists don't practice much Wesleyan method. Alot of Evangelicals talk more about bad news than good news.


I have a longtime state rep in my pub night.  (It's one of the advantages of having 400 of them over a state of 1.4 million people is that it's an accessible number and just about anyone can get to know a few with only a little effort.) He is in his late 70s and among the more conservative Republicans, but notes that this year people are angrier than he has ever seen them - "both sides," he says, and we were off and running talking about it.  I had also just had this conversation with a friend who works the polls, and the topic is very much in the air at present. 

I tend to be suspicious that such things are not really so, that it is only old people grousing about "kids today who can't even shoe a horse," falsely imaging what the Good Olde Dayes were like, but I am convinced that this one has something to it. We live in a 55+ community, and let me assure you the shocking rudeness is not just kids today. "Well, maybe, but old people have always gotten crotchety when they get lonely and their knees act up haven't they? Maybe it's nothing new." Well, maybe.  I've never been old before so I may not have a clear perspective. But the people my age who have blocked me on Facebook, back when I was on it would never have just turned and walked away from a conversation in real life. A person blocked me texting, which I had only vaguely knew was possible, who would never have been rude in any way in a conversation. 

She would never have behaved that way at work, or with a visitor to her home, or she at theirs, except in the event of danger or extreme insult. So I would be tempted to call this situational, that she always would have done this if she could but was held accountable, but she has gotten used to being anonymous.  I am guessing that people who have always considered themselves polite also reframe this as exiting a conversation quietly, or politely ignoring someone's faux pas. You can do that more easily when there is no one to tell you it's actually a slap in the face.

I mentioned learning about blocking texts to Kyle, Son #5, who nodded with little surprise.  It is apparently common these days, to not bother to go through all the hassle of saying "Yes, I did have a nice time, but I just don't think we're a good fit," or "My old girlfriend called back after all," or other things that are uncomfortable to hear and to say, but keep up some of the niceties, and saving of face. It's easier to pretend it's not being rude, and if customs like this go on long enough, I suppose they won't be considered rude. Except our wiring for conversation goes back thousands of years.  It never did become acceptable to not return a phone call unless some prior announcement had been made that calls would not be returned.

But that doesn't include those of us who grew up in a different world, does it? Even neglecting to say thank you was noticed by others, and writing a little note of gratitude was considered automatic in some circles (and those aspiring to those circles). 

An interesting phenomenon has arisen, that on the political side you can hear people saying "Well the voters are angry," as if this shows how righteous their anger is.  It's a displacement. Or is it in fact justified?  People got very angry before revolutions and in the early elections after them. All sides. I have heard it described that the difference between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution versus the French and Bolshevik Revolutions was that the former were not only against something but toward something else while in the latter they were merely against something. 1688 and 1776 had a place to land, 1789 and 1917 made those up after. Oversimplified, but largely true, I think.

Do our devices create this behavior, or merely reveal what we always were?

Monday, March 18, 2024

It's Just Possible

I was speaking with a Dutch friend about our impending visit to Ireland, and how the anger and resentment are still near the surface, and how this reminded me of nothing so much as Romania and Hungary.  I took a chance and said it was a bit the same in the Netherlands with the Frisians being resentful. "Oh yeah, they grumble about everything" he laughed, and I knew he was poking fun at himself.  "And the Belgians. There's barely a difference between all the NW European populations genetically," (think of the North Sea as a large lake with trading ports with only a few farmers behind each of them), " but they hate each other."

"Ja. Ja," he said, in mock accent. "It's almost as if we have sinful nature or something, isn't it?"

Micah 6:6-8

These were the verses I was required to learn for Confirmation at First Congregational Church in 1967. I liked them.  I still do.  I learned it as "To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." I like the NIV better. But there is also to seek justice, and to love mercy, and I like that better still.

With what shall I come before the Lord
     and bow down before the exalted God?
 Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
 with calves a year old?
 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
 with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
 Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
 the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
 And what does the Lord require of you?
 To act justly and to love mercy
 and to walk humbly[a] with your God. (NIV)

These have been used in suspicious circumstances, however, especially v. 8. Because they have been used politically in prominent ways, a lot of folks who have some church background, and who like some of the ideas without looking too hard at them, they have become adored and wielded like a club against their political enemies. They have been forced into service for meanings that are not fully in the text.  I don't think I am overreaching here, because I was working among the politically focused (that is, obsessed) among the line staff at a school for emotionally disturbed boys in 1976 when Jimmy Carter* used them in his inaugural. The die was then cast, if it not been before. It intensified when I went to work at the state hospital.The religious left reasserted itself, focused on kicking Jerry Falwell. I worked among a deeply secular people, and I saw this as an opportunity to bring discussions of Scripture and thus the faith at large into our conversations.  We called that "witnessing."

Yet what I learned is how even moderately educated people have only vague ideas about what Christianity actually is. Nor are their misconceptions uniform. Some think it is obvious directions on how to Be Nice. Others think it is a list of rules, focused on sex - which really torques them off. Still others think it is "really" a political program that people who call themselves Christians refuse to do or even acknowledge.  I can think of a half-dozen other theories that I have heard called "51% correct about one of various explanations that are each 10% comprehensive."

I think things are even worse now, but that's another story which I will not go into here. 

Whenever I could get into anything specific, and these verses are a good example, I would get to impasses like "Seek justice" - well, yeah, that's what we've been saying but those other bigoted bastards won't even follow their own Bible; and "love mercy," Same thing. The bastards. And to walk humbly with your God. See, God himself agrees with me. Such infuriating conversations were part of my gradual political transitions. 

Let me propose a different reading:  Seek justice. We are to try to create or effect some sort of equitableness, or fair play, or just desserts, or whatever adult version of our fifth-grade understanding we can muster before we even get to any question of mercy.  We don't start with mercy. Mercy is only meaningful when we have achieved as much justice as we can. It's not on the table.  The concept of mercy before justice is vacant.  It is just capitulating to evil. Mercy does not necessarily have to wait until justice has been administered, but it is not even a thing until Justice is Poised.

"...and to walk" not to lead but to accompany. To continue as a matter of course rather than just check in once. A lifestyle. "...humbly" Yeah we skipped right over that didn't we?  When I heard people address that word at all, which may have been only twice but may have been a few more, they instantly thought of how those other bastards weren't being humble.  No hint that "Oh right. I have to watch myself closely. I need to listen to other possibilities of what God is thinking here."

"With your God." Not "with the cool kids who say they are the moral ones." Not "with the general consensus of major religious figures (all of whom are strangely political, like Gandhi, MLK)." Not "with all those psychologists and sociologists who have really synthesised the moral aspects of the world religions and thrown the other stuff out," but with some sort of God who is larger than you and doesn't think your opinion is necessarily correct.

*I wanted to like Carter, who seemed to be a "real" Christian, which had heretofore been unknown in 20th C American politics. Most of my Christian friends voted for him in the end.  But I had heard Steven Ford, who was at Gordon College talk about his father and this made the discussion rather agonising.  But when he was president, I heard Carter increasing smile and be affable while he was saying sweetly vicious things about people who disagreed with him, all the while insisting that his way was the Christian one.  Recently, he taught middle school Sunday School again and spent the time talking about how dangerous Donald Trump is and how he's not a Christian.  My son shook his head: "In my class we talked about Jesus."


I did a March Madness bracket again - again knowing nothing but just going over to Jeff Sokol's page at Georgia Tech about Bayesian analysis and copying that in slavishly.  I usually end up in the 80th percentile or so, and once hit 90th percentile.  That latter might be enough to win the average office pool if you feel pressured to take a whack at that and don't even know who is in the tournament. But 80th likely won't quite make it, though it will make you look smarter than the average bear. How do you know so much about college basketball Marcy?  I never hear you talk about it. "Oh, I don't follow it closely. I just have a few things that I look at that other people don't notice. And I never tell." Solid gold. People will ask Marcy next year what she thinks.  It's like my granddaughters having teams in our fantasy football league (Sarah won this year, her first.  Emily always does well. They know little.).  I figure it is a leg up for them with boys in the future. "Wait.  You have been in a fantasy league for five years, and you won once and were second another time?" Guys, OMG I need to date this girl. Men are simple creatures.

I had UConn over Houston 74-70 in the final.

Do Women Apologise?

There was a video that came up in my feed claiming that women don't apologise.  The person made some good points, including some insights I had not thought of, but I was uncomfortable with him from minute one, and quite uncomfortable with his commenters, though I suppose he has little control over that.  It all seemed very red pill, and his other videos suggest the same.  I was going to learn how to put up a video below the fold on blogspot in order to post the video less prominently, but decided not to do it at all. 

Let me tell you the speculations it aroused, though. I think there is a lot to think about here. I reluctantly nodded in agreement that I had very seldom had a woman ever apologise to me (other than my wife), even though I mostly worked among women.  I initially scoffed, because I thought of the best women I worked with who were lion(esse)s about taking responsibility and compared his statement to them. And yet, I thought, not many apologies came out of them other than the pro forma ones like "Sorry I'm late, I got caught in the hall by the medical director and couldn't get away easily." (and that reminded me that several were deferential to authority and perhaps would apologise to their department heads, though not to me.*) But personal apologies "I said that thoughtlessly and it wasn't fair and I am sorry I insulted you"...rare.

But it was not many minutes before I thought "Wait a minute. I can't think of that many men who have apologised to me either." It seems rather easy to be selective about the data here.  People in general don't tend to apologise. We can tell stories, such as the sports culture of boys that makes saying "My bad" an automatic and that somehow carrying over, and we can overvalue a few extreme examples, male or female, in out lives that would point us in the wrong direction.  But I'm not sure what we would measure here to get a firm handle on the real data. I would have to believe someone had spent a lot of time on the issue and been very suspicious of even their own motives before I would start taking their word for it.

Yet he still might be right. Looking at the men I know, and the women I know, and the examples that come to mind, he is right. Well, so what?  Small sample size, and Lord only knows what I selected for. As a practical matter, it is no longer going to be an issue in life whether men or women do this more, and I think red pill discussions breed resentments even when they are true. (As do the blue pill podcasts that excoriate men and complain about how terrible they are.) I was more interested in where this might come from, because then I might get to contemplate some evolutionary psychology, one of my favorite topics! 

Tangent. I wrote about Apology and Forgiveness, and the need for reconciliation here. And here. But maybe, just maybe, that's all rationalisation, and people giving you a kind word and a smile is more effective.

And true to form, I did think of a possibility where if it is true that men define the problem as the problem, and women define "the other person is angry" as the problem how that would come to be and how it would not be crazy.  Women in the deeper past were often in positions of very little power, in situations where they had little contact with men, sometimes even not their husbands all that much. In the presence of networks of women they had not grown up with, and of men who might be not very concerned with them and possibly abusive, what their behaviors were had less meaning than what other people felt about them.  How other people feel really is the problem in that situation, and it's still true in abusive situations now. Not even that.  It may be true in far more situations, for both men and women, that how we feel really is more of a key than an objective analysis of what we have done. We are much less rational than we pretend.  We revert to more primitive programs often and elaborately justify them with faux reasoning.

Also, I assume it's different primitive programs when we expect an apology versus when we owe one.

So how does this fit with Aspies, or those with other social impairments?  Do they/we revert to primitive programs more easily, or less? Is that different for Aspie men and Aspie women?  Have fun with this one.  I doubt there is much hard evidence, so the experience of people with high spectrum awareness such as this group may be the closest thing we have to hard evidence at the moment.  Even wrong answers may lead to good ones in the early stages of analysis.

*I do suspect, because of a few very strong examples, that people who are noticeably deferential to authority tend to have high expectations of obedience from those they have authority over, and can even be harsh and exacting about it.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Fertility Crisis

It is a common belief that social conservatism leads to couples having more babies. I have vaguely subscribed to that idea, though I have leaned more toward a having-hope-for-the-future explanation. Young evangelical and trad Catholics do seem to have more upbeat people among them, while is is the more liberal young people who foresee destruction, marry less often, and "can't see bringing a child into this terrible world." So when there is a "fertility crisis" of nations falling farther and farther behind replacement levels of population, it is natural to think that maybe that's part of the picture.

Aria Babu has an interesting twist that shows something more opposite: while the more conservative members of a society do have more of its children, the more conservative countries have fewer children overall. As societies contain many varieties of people it can be difficult to sort out which countries we would call socially conservative and which socially liberal. For example, the Scandinavian countries have significant safety nets, but are quite economically conservative otherwise. Where do we place them?  Northern and southern Italy are quite different in attitudes...what do we think is the overall? But she uses some plausible measures to show that places like Italy, South Korea, and Japan are actually quite socially conservative countries, but have plummeting birth rates, and have for two full generations now. 

Now, many of the most widely respected women don’t have children. In fact, it’s probably higher status for a woman to excel in a profession than it is for her to have three kids and raise them well. And, if she has these children, and puts in the effort, then she will harm her chances at excelling in that status-accruing career. Basically, the lesson of the last few decades is that women can’t have it all – and sometimes the thing they choose to give up is motherhood. (This is basically the underlying message of the Barbie movie.)

On an intra-national level, this theory holds up. Republicans have higher birth rates than Democrats.

But, strangely, on an international level, countries with conservative values do not have higher birth rates. My friends at the Boom campaign have written about how “family values”, as found in the European Values Survey, and TFR have a surprising correlation. More conservative values, like believing that one has a duty to society to have children, are held in countries with lower birth rates.

Fascinating stuff. I love having to relook at stuff. Sometimes I just find it unpersuasive.  More often, it causes me to modify and refine a viewpoint to a greater of lesser extent. We'll see with this one.



Beyond a given point man is not helped by more “knowing,” but only by living and doing in a partly self-forgetful way. As Goethe put it, we must plunge into experience and then reflect on the meaning of it. All reflection and no plunging drives us mad; all plunging and no reflection, and we are brutes.

― Ernest Becker, “The Denial of Death

Christine asked a question about therapy in the link back  to my "continuities" thought in the recent Nostalgia Revisted post. I answered there, but we also discussed it briefly at lunch yesterday. Other topics were more pressing. She remains fonder of insight as a tool of therapy than I am. She has seen places where it has worked for her, and also for clients. (Or so she says...😄) My experience with OCD was not so positive. I love insight.  I seek insight.  That is very nearly my natural state, paraphrasing St Paul, "Don't credit me for seeking insight.  I can't do anything else." Yet I did not find it did me any good in my own case, even after months of therapy. 

Insight is so fascinating to me that it might even be considered a temptation, and evasion when trying to solve a problem.  I am recalling a young man decades ago who shook his head sadly, saying he was determined to find out why he drank. It was always wonderful to work with the Twelve-Step people at those moments. They often go into substance counseling as a result of having been in rehab themselves, and they are all in on practical applications.  I recall one southern boy, about a decade older than me saying to him "You ain't gonna understand it until you've been sober about a year. Then you can start." I also remember him for counseling a woman who get going off the wagon because she would drive by her old bar on the way home from work and notice by the cars who was there; then a week or so later, sometimes as much as a month, she would stop in "just because I had something to tell Judy" then drive on. You see the pattern already? She would go from giving a message to Judy to talking with Judy, ordering a coke. A week later she would be drinking again. She always punished herself that she was so weak, even though she knew it was bad for her. My friend spoke up in group therapy. "Ya could just drive home another way." Revealingly, she had immediate excuses why this was not possible. He told me later that he knew those roads, and she would lose only about three minutes a day going a different way.

More sadly, I knew a dynamic psychologist who would tell us about his therapy sessions with a voyeur. "He resists the idea that the window frame is actually a picture frame, and I want him to consider what he is looking for in the painting." (Answer: mother.) I was too junior and uncredentialed to question him, but I remember thinking He's looking at pretty girls take off their clothes.  Let's not make this too complicated. So when I rail against the talk therapies that are attempting to change one from within rather than just having a whack at solving the problem, insight or no, that's what's behind it. Maybe I'm just complaining about the abuses and mistakes.

Lift Up Your Eyes

 "I will lift up my eyes, unto the hills."

We get thrown off because of the popular misconception which comes from attaching the next phrase "From whence cometh my help" in the KJV*, that the psalmist is saying that our help comes from the hills, or that maybe God is more up in the hills than here, or something. 

We are aware of this happening in the opposite direction, that when we are more hopeful, we look up more, while when we are despondent we tend to look downward. The psalmist seems to be suggesting the brain hack of looking up in order to be more hopeful. The neurological researcher Andrew Huberman has all sorts of brain hacks on YouTube. I know little of this area of brain functioning, but he has the right credentials and he has said a few things that seem surprising to others but I know to be true professionally. So even when he is making dramatic claims, I would be more inclined to believe him than not. If that seems a rather lukewarm endorsement, it is only because I know so little.

The scriptures use the image in other places.  Lift up your heads, oh ye gates suggests a joyful welcoming. So look up, look around. Cue Jewish grandmother with a New York accent:  "It couldn't hoit."

*Another reason to keep moving away from KJV.  It's not just the word "whence," even though we are less familiar with it and our brains scramble to the more comfortable parts of the saying for our understanding. It is even more the word order.  A newer translation would very quickly switch to "Where does my help come from," which removes the misconception.  Though it was Early Modern English, there was still enough use of endings that word order, especially in more poetic forms, was less strict. Nowadays we depend more on the placement of a word in the sentence. We use the inverted word order to communicate ancient speech now, as in this Tolkien imitation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Nostalgia Revisited

It occurred to me in the middle of the night (which is now less frustrating because I can dictate it as a text and send it to my email without having to turn on the lights, find a pen and paper, etc) that one of my interests in the people of my youth is not just the sighing and remembering, but considering how we got from there to here.  I mentioned the continuities of people last summer, plus how they resent the suggestion but I see it clearly.  I acknowledge that I may overfit, but I still say it holds.  There is good data that shows people can change things about themselves with effort, and that targeted therapy works, true. Anxious people can have some CBT sessions and reduce their anxiety down to manageable or even normal levels. They are unlikely to ever become phlegmatic, however. The efficacy of targeted changing and the persistence of general personality are just two sides of the same coin. People see their changes more prominently because those have been the aspects of themselves on the cutting edge: the skills or filters or self-controls that they have had to work hard at in order to be good at their marriage, or their job, or their parenting. They are proud that they have done it, and should be.  But the rest of their selves in whatever sense has not been pressed into service quite so much and has blithely marched along, looking much the same in 1974 and 2024.

I may be kidding myself, and this may be no better than merely sighing, getting weepy, and remembering old songs, but it seems a better use of my brain space.

I noticed this at 2AM because I realised that the narratives I am most interested in fall into one of two categories: either I knew a great deal of the early story, especially if I had actually seen the person interact with their parents, or I knew a great deal of the later story and wondered how it had gotten its start. If I knew a lot about the beginning, or I had a lot of information about the middle and the end, I wanted to know the rest. But people whose biographies might look more interesting on paper, but I had no solid experience of, did not charm as much.  In both cases, I think it is my own knowledge of parenting and grandparenting that makes the difference. I would not have known good from bad except in the obvious cases as an adolescent, but now I can look at what was done and think Wait. What kind of parent lets their kid be that unaccountable?  Did they...WANT her to remain a child? Why...oh dear God no...well, I wonder. Though also the positive. Now that I have some idea what their income was, spread over that many children, it's pretty impressive.  Not just that they made ends meet, but that all of them seemed to be without resentment or jealousy.  What was behind that?

I am mostly interested in puzzles more than charm.  As often happens, a few biographies I want to know more of suddenly occured to me, and a few others that I am never going to be interested in did as well.

There was another section to this, before the computer froze up and swallowed it.  I hope I remember it.

"The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali.  I still don't get it, but I feel like I get it more every year.

Who Really Cares: Finally, The Review

Brought forward from 2006.  The book is almost twenty years old now! 

I would say some things differently now, and downplay (though not eliminate) other bits. I went on too long. But I think it is still pretty solid, and am glad I was part of getting the word out. Also, good comments, including more of the young bsking and Granite Dad.  


From the first chapter:

These are, perhaps, the most common stereotypes in our modern American political discourse: the political left is compassionate and charitable toward the less fortunate, but the political right is oblivious to suffering. As I have already confessed, the stereotype once characterized my own beliefs. If you had asked me a few years ago to sum up the character of American conservatives, I would have said they were hard-headed pragmatists who were willing to throw your grandmother out into the snow to preserve some weird ideal of self-reliance. Hardworking, perhaps – but not generous. In contrast, I would have told you that even though some liberal sentiments and policies were ill-conceived, they generally emanated from a fundamental sense of compassion and charity toward others.

Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism. Arthur C. Brooks, professor of public administration at Syracuse University.

The main force of the book is twofold: demonstrating that in refutation of the stereotype, conservatives are much more generous than liberals; and discovering why is this? From the introduction through the entire first chapter, assertions leap off every page, begging to be shouted from the housetops. The common myth has it backwards. Conservatives give more by any measure: give more money to both religious and secular causes; give more time, give more blood, give more informal gifts. This is not because they have more money – they have 6% less.

My quibbles with the book are small, and I shall get them out of the way straight off. The book tells little about the 30% of moderates or centrists in the country. As Brooks is seeking to discover stark differences, this is hardly surprising. Social scientists seek trends in the data, and mixed data obscures the results. I understand that he has done this in the interests of science and clarity. Nonetheless, it’s a lot of people to leave out.

Next, most of the divide in giving is between the religious and the nonreligious. Brooks notes this in several places – once at length – but religious liberals get a bit slighted here. They are only slightly behind religious conservatives in their giving.

Thirdly, not all the differences are enormous. That the working poor are seven times more likely to give than the poor receiving government subsidies is an enormous difference that would give anyone pause. But that group A gives to X 69% of the time while group B gives only 60% is less remarkable. Over the huge data sets being considered, a 9-point difference is statistically significant. But it makes some conclusions more precarious.

Lastly, one important question is only partially answered. While it may be true that every $100 increase in government funding to a nonprofit creates a $57 decrease in private giving, and is thus less of a benefit than supposed, the non-profit would still be $43 to the good in this scenario. Brooks spends the last third of the book extolling the cumulative, multiplying, and secondary benefits of giving. While he does this convincingly enough to sell the reader on the idea that government assistance is a long-term losing proposition, he doesn’t address the short-term loss head-on.

It’s quite an amazing little book – 180 pages of lucid prose even on complex subtopics. The technical discussions are moved to the appendix for those who want to press the methodological questions, but you don’t need to understand ANOVA or regression analysis to get the idea what he’s driving at in the text. Brooks expected to find one answer and found another. When he found that religious people gave more, he thought that disparity would wash out when gifts to specifically religious causes were removed. It wasn’t. The religious people still gave more. A similar percentage of people from all religions gave – including “other” - if they actually practiced one in some measurable way.

The possible arguments explaining this away he shoots down one by one. Conservatives give less to social welfare causes and more to private educational institutions and symphony orchestras. No, the reverse is true. A small percentage of very wealthy conservatives raise the average. Conservatives give more at every income level, especially among the poor. Conservatives give money but not time. No, they volunteer more often, and for more hours when they do. They are also more likely to give blood, give to strangers, and give to friends and family. Liberals give less because they live in places where they’ve voted in more government support. Liberals give less regardless of what state they live in or what the level of government support is. Having redistributive political views seems to substitute for charity instead of encouraging it.

Brooks actually identifies a network of four value differences between liberals and conservatives that affect giving. There are more than four differences between the groups, of course, but these four, all pointing in the same direction, correlate with giving. Married people, especially those with more children, give more than single people, with or without children. People who believe it is the government’s responsibility to make incomes more equal give less. People who receive money from the government – a group that is predominantly liberal – are not only much less likely to give money to causes, they are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors – crime, substance abuse – as well. And as we noted, religious people are more likely to be generous.

Aside: I wonder if that is also true for “corporate welfare,” that the companies that receive it are more likely to be corrupt in business practices.

People who were raised in a religious tradition give more, even if they no longer practice. They fall about halfway between the religious and nonreligious groups. People who watched their parents give and volunteer, give and volunteer themselves. Brooks contrasts American generosity with European. The same web of anti-charity values is present in Europe as in liberal America, with even more dramatic results. Church attendance in Europe is also strongly correlated with charity and volunteering – but there are far fewer church attenders. Many more Europeans believe it is the government’s responsibility to equalize income (as opposed to opportunity), with a predictable drop in charity. Married Europeans with two children give much more than their single and/or childless counterparts – but there are fewer of them there.

Much has been made of the coming demographic implosion of Europe. Births per woman are far below replacement levels, which will lead ultimately to an aging, expensive population supported by few workers. Immigration may solve that problem, but at a cultural cost that will result in the disappearance of core western values. Brooks argues that this is interrelated and a deteriorating cycle. Reliance on government to support more and more citizens and level outcomes produces a people who do not give or volunteer, have few children, and experience less prosperity. Charity is a marker of social trust and optimism – that things can be fixed, that problems can be overcome. To give is to become more prosperous, as free markets improve in efficiency as trust and social cohesion improve. To give is to become happier, as more Americans say they are than Europeans.

More dramatically, to receive from the government rather than private charity or non-profits is to become more unhappy and discouraged. Perhaps this is because the receiver is less isolated, and part of a cycle of exchange. If you receive help in need from a charitable group, you can give to that same group when you have better times. No one is going to give back to the government. The government check is anonymous, and there is no immediate loss of face. But in the long run, the loss of face is subtler, and far more thorough.

The need for government support is real, and ongoing. As I noted above, it has proved a much better solution in the short run for those in distress. But the long term costs that the self-reliance advocates keep harping on are not theoretical: Brooks maps out the data showing that the receipt of such leads to less happiness, less community involvement, less confidence, and less prosperity in the long run. Short-term rescue must be balanced against long-term destruction.

I will add my own comment here that the destruction of personality does not happen because the poor or disabled are lesser beings or less moral. Many of us would show similar “loss of character” in the same situation.

Cheesy Advice

This illustrates how much bad poetry and cliched sentiment you can get away with if you just sing it pretty, with harmony. The French, by the way, is the same as the English, in case you missed it.

I don't care.  I still like it.


The poetry here is a bit better, and we get the message that Houseman is making fun of us, not joining us in regarding such things as great steps forward in wisdom.

When I Was One-And-Twenty. 

When I was one-and-twenty
       I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
       But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
       But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
       No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
       I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
       Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
       And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
       And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.


In adult Sunday School was on movement, with reference to how good it is for you, citing the only mildly evidenced but very popular claim that it produces cool brain chemicals and treats depression as well as CBT and better than SSRI's. BTW, whenever you see posted evidence on how good exercise is for depression and it has "dancing" on the top of the chart, almost an outlier because it is so much better than the other choices, you will know that you have come across a meta-analysis that doesn't care too much about the quality of studies it includes.  The dancing one has a small sample size, poor controls, and is unclear in its definitions.  Dancing may indeed be a very good treatment for depression, but that study is not evidence.

I like walking. I have a theory (for which I have no scientific evidence) that it promotes a different kind of thinking and wisdom than does meditation or other spiritual exercises. I wrote about this twice last year:


Short Walks, Long Walks  

I have nothing against those other forms.  I just think walking has been neglected as something good for more than your body and feelings in our culture. Mountain climbing is more invigorating, but I find the good feelings it produces are in a narrow range of general well-being.  Though in the long run, maybe that's better for overall thinking. I have no opinion.

Yet it occurred to me that the chapter in The Good and Beautiful You did not anywhere mention pilgrimage.  I was annoyed that the author had overlooked such an historically important Christian practice - until I noticed that I had also been overlooking it for fifty years and wasn't in much position to criticise. It was much more a European tradition and a Roman Catholic one; we don't think of it here.

My wife immediately mentioned the festivals in Jerusalem and the Sopngs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) that were sung during the long climb, so I have become a bit fascinated by those since Sunday and also with the general idea of pilgrimage.  We have people here of wide knowledge and experience.  What do you know about the subject?

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Sorina Higgins

I listened to a an interview on the All About Jack podcast (sidebar) that is also a Youtube video about  Sørina Higgins new Great Courses Audio biography of CS Lewis. It is a literary biography, not the chronological type we usually expect, which she explains in the interview. She also has a 2018 annotated Arthuriad of the Inklings,  The Inklings and King Arthur, and other books as well.  If you take a look at the video, you will see that she is one of the spooky Christians who grow up in the church and are deeply literary and interested inreading about the occult.

So of course she writes a fair bit about Charles Williams.  Her own website tells more about her. 

I met her at a conference and liked her, and I usually have a pretty low tolerance for spookiness and occultic learning. Very bright, very widely read.