Monday, April 29, 2024


I shared an office at one point with a gentleman just a little older than me, who had grown up in Chelmsford and Lowell, MA and gone to Fitchburg State. This is very much the territory of my father's family, and my father's second wife is still alive, living in Nabnasset.

One of the programs at the hospital included the place of birth of the patient. Paranoid patients would sometimes not want to tell us, wondering what terrible use were were going to put that information to. While making other demographic entries in the program I hit one puzzling entry that in a moment caused me to smile, knowing I would keep this one for years.

"Fred. Fred. Come over here.  You have to see this." There under place of birth was the entry Wusta. A wonderful New England accent moment.

Fox On the Run

 It's not actually a 1940's Earl Scruggs or Bill Monroe bluegrass tune, but late-60s Manfred Mann.

One of my favorites for years.

Sunday, April 28, 2024


In looking up logos, ethos, and pathos, Aristotle's modes of persuasion for use in a possible post*, in order to get them quite right, I found there is also kairos. Huh.  Never heard of it before.  I rather like it. It means the "right time", "season" or "opportunity".[4] Kairos is an appeal to the timeliness or context in which a presentation is publicized. (Wikipedia entry) The example given is an advertisement that relies on the same logic, appeal, and emotions it did forty years ago but has a different effect now.  I have thought that this was the one most powerful advantage of Martin Luther King, Jr.  All the logos, ethos, and pathos arguments had been made before, sometimes years before. But he sensed it was time, and leveraged the situation on that basis. Evangelists do the same, often realising it only in theory that a certain portion of their listeners will have been primed by the Holy Spirit to hear the Word this night, not on the basis of their preaching but because of how their whole lives have unfolded leading up to this moment. 

As a practical matter, we may use this far more often than we notice, only telling ourselves that we are operating from logos. We always think we are being super-logical, yet as near as we can test such things in our thinking and behavior, it seems we are usually just employing post hoc rationalisation.  Some psychologists would claim it's never any better than post hoc reasoning. I would allow that much is, perhaps even 99%.  However, why would we develop such a skill for rationalisation if it did not occasionally actually work and be recognised as superior? Why bother?

*I didn't use it directly in the previous post about inference, but it's in there, in the emanations from the penumbra.


When Christians are asked to provide a proof of the existence of God, or of the resurrection, it is a common response to use some version of the explanation "It doesn't work like that. Proof is actually a form of compulsion, that there is no possible other explanation and one simply must accept Explanation A. It is better to use what is called inference to best explanation." I will develop that no further. Others have done it better than I ever will.

I will allow that I have an initial sympathy with those who find this unsatisfying. It does have the sound of being evasive. "Well, you haven't got a proof, so you're sidestepping into some sort of second- or third-best approach instead." I don't think that argument is sustainable.  I think it is itself an evasion, because even those who use it revert immediately to inference to best explanation for everything esle they do, without noticing or acknowledging it. Yet people with OCD or Aspergerer's or a rather strict sense of laying everything out in the most provable possible sense do see why it at least seems like an evasion at first.  I would only say "Hold that thought and follow it further."

My intent here is to speak directly to the Christians about this state of affairs. Many of us would love to have a proof.  We would earnestly desire to have that level of no-escape surety, to be in effect compelled to believe because there was simply nothing else that could make it to the table. I think we miss why God runs things that way. He runs it that way because it accords with reality. If we had proof that God existed, we would without drawing another breath want a proof of exactly what sort he is, in finer and finer detail.  We would want proof that we were called to be an evangelist and want to know whether we should speak or write? To speak to crowds or to individuals? To preach revival in Memphis or in Nashville? To start the crusade at 7PM or 7:30PM? It is not only that we would be spoiled and childish, not developing any faith about it, which is the usual explanation given. It is that once one proof was given, of anything, we would never be quite sure of anything unproven ever again. And why would we not? If God proved one thing because it was so important, then why not the next thing as well?  What would be a possible reason for God not to prove himself over and over to the smallest detail?

We are given inference to best explanation as our starting point because it is also going to be our ending point and every point in between. In creating a psychiatric diagnosis, we look at the possibilities and try to fit the patients words and actions into one slot after another, hoping to find the closest fit. There are no glass slippers. Nor are there glass slippers in other parts of life.  Even the best possible matches have some downsides, some questions, some exceptions.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Swamp Yankees

Based on a conversation over at Grim's I am reminded of a joke.  I should tell more, really.

Fred Fernald came home to find that his wife had taken one of the trucks and run off with the hired man. And it was the Ford, the one with the new clutch.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Judging Update

I judged the type of event I participated in in high school, and did reasonably well at then. So I had seen, however many years ago, children of the same age do this much better than what I was seeing in front of me this morning.  At the time I was judging in the morning I had a fairly clear idea what the difference was, and could relate it back to the last time I judged, even though those events, Persuasive and Impromptu, were somewhat different from Open Interpretive and Biblical Thematic that I saw today. I had the mechanics of judging down, I had an idea I thought solid, and I discussed it with some experienced judges and coaches over lunch. They were in agreement, and thought that only a percentage of students would get what I was driving at, and those mostly older and more experienced. One coach told me that he had a boy a few years ago who had learned it by junior year, and had won at nationals two years in a row, clearly better than all the competition.

So for whatever reason (perhaps related to increased abstract reasoning somehow?) only some will get it, but they thought if I wanted to hit that idea hard in my judging comments it would be a good thing. So I did. I worked some or all of the following into every ballot I filled out this afternoon.

It's not a race. If you watch a movie, or a standup comedian, you will see that they use the pauses and hesitations as much as the words to get their character and story across. You should be pausing in the middle of some sentences, and the end of others, and when you get really good, even have some planned "false starts" where you begin a sentence again after a word or two - just as it happens in real speech. If you have gone three straight sentences without a serious pause or a hesitation anywhere, you have probably done something wrong. You should change expression in the pauses as new thoughts appear to occur to you, or sigh deeply, or shake your head.  It should take twice as long as just reading the words.

I did not write, because there was not the time, but to expand here: Consider the story of the woman taken in adultery in the Bible. When we read it aloud, it rattles right along. But to act it as a scene, there is a long pause between the question to Jesus the question changed and repeated a few times, and his answer; a painfully long pause while he draws in the dirt; a long pause between his question to the woman and her answer.  She has been weeping and is not nearly recovered.  She came up to the edge of a painful death. She still isn't sure what happened to her or who this man is. Her crying should not be wailing or shrieking, but soft, and she should have a hard time saying anything.  Then Jesus pauses again, and may even pause between "Go now...and?" and she looks at him puzzled, not knowing what to answer. When he says "Sin no more" that should take her a while to absorb as well, before she nods and walks away. It takes a minute to read verses 4-11 out loud.  It should take four minutes to act it out. Don't do that for performance at a competition - unless you have been doing this pausing for effect for a few years - but do it for practice.

Or in the chapter "The Rashness of the King" in CS Lewis's The Last Battle, the scene between Tirian and Jewel the Unicorn leading up to "...we must go on and take the adventure that comes to us."  Thirty seconds read aloud. Twice that when acted, or more. These are the most important moments of their lives you are enacting.  They aren't rushing, they are absorbing moment by moment.

Thursday, April 25, 2024


I am off to judge Christian home-school high school speech contests today, the Regional championships in Chelmsford, MA. I have done it once before, with mixed success.  Unfortunately, the improvements I noted in myself over the course of the day I cannot now recall. Starting at near-zero.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Here I Am

From "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"

Would ya look at that coffered ceiling,
Look at that chandelier.
Excuse me but how I'm feeling
IS a hundred-proof.
I could raise the roof.
I'm so happy to be here.
I've been kind of missing
Mom and Daddy,
Sort of in a spin since Cinncinatti.
The morning flight, a major bore
But then they open the cabin door
And zoot alors-
Here I am!

Lord knows I had the will
And the resources
But Mom and Dad kept saying
"Hold your horses."
I guess those ponies couldn't wait-
Pardon me folks but
They've left the gate
I may be late, but
Here I am!

The way to be, to me, is French
The way to say "La Vie" is French
So here I am, Beaumont Sur Mer, a
Big two weeks on the Rivier-a.
If I'm only dreaming
Please don't wake me.
Let the summer sun
And Breezes take me.
Excuse me if I seem jejeune,
I promise I'll find my marbles soon

But everywhere I look
It's like a scene from a book.
Open the book and
Here I am!

I mean
The air is French
That chair is French
This nice sincere sancerre is French
The skies are French
The pies are French
Those guys are French
These fries are French!
Pardon me if I
Fly off the handle,
No place else on earth
Can hold a candle

So, Veni Vidi Vici, folks
Let's face it,
Je suis ici, folks!

If i spout-
I'm letting my
Je n'sais qoi out.
I'm sorry to shout but

Here I am!

Dog in a Cat Family

Writing about depression, I recalled a case from around 1987. It doesn't illustrate anything I just wrote about particularly, it's just interesting. 

A man in his late 30's came in, a biker who had attempted suicide. He was extremely discouraged over the first 48 hours, and we were concerned. That age and cultural fit usually bounced back quickly, maybe too quickly, insisting that nothing was really wrong and we were treating him unfairly and keeping him from his life by holding him. Those folks are generally okay for quite a while.  There is usually a next time, because denying reality often has payback, but I had already read a few histories of people who has depression and suicide attempts every ten or fifteen years, but were generally able to hold jobs, have friends, raise families. But this guy was a first attempt at 37, lucky he didn't die, and not arguing with us about leaving.

It's an open question whether the Holy Spirit was speaking through me on this one. His wife visited and I had a family meeting to meet her and discuss the future. He asked her rather plaintively "Did any of the Disciples call?"  No, she had to say.  Mark's wife had called, but none of the guys in his club. 

"I've been thinking,"  I said, which was a lie, because I had not had this thought until that very moment. Can the Holy Spirit lead off with a lie like that?  It doesn't sound right, y'know? On the other hand, it felt like no thought of mine and it eventually worked.  And perhaps one could stretch a point and say I had been thinking it in the last few seconds, anyway, or that it was just a manner of speaking to soften any possible lecturing tone. You be the judge. "I don't think you're a motorcycle guy.  You just don't feel like one.  You feel more like a classic cars guy." His wife looked surprised, and said directly to him "Well, the only other people who have called were Jerry and Tom.  And your sister." He nodded, as if considering.

I looked back and forth between the two of them. "Am I right in thinking that Jerry and Tom are classic car guys?" He nodded again. "Maybe I've just been a dog in a cat family."  It was a good saying, and I've kept it. It doesn't say that dogs are bad or cats are bad, just that they aren't in the same family. "I used to be more of a classic cars guy. I've still got a lot of the tools." The next day he told me that he'd already had good offers on both his bikes. He was chipper, upbeat. I told him not to burn his bridges behind him and to say nice things to the Disciples he had ridden with.

I saw him almost a decade later at a downtown road rally with his 1958 Chevy Impala. He recognised me before I did him.  We had a nice conversation and I told him to say hello to his wife for me. There was no Great Moment, no movie-version Heartfelt Thanks or anything like that.  It would have seemed embarrassing to both of us, I think. I was glad that he looked okay.

I don't usually think of the Holy Spirit operating in terms of "what kind of guy are you?" But, well, suicidal.  And it worked.  And I swear those thoughts were not anything of mine.  I still don't know what I'd mean by a biker versus a classic cars guy.


The crusade was a late, limited, and unsuccessful imitation of the jihad. Bernard Lewis

The Weight of Glory

Ben used to work with a Methodist pastor who thought it would be good if the Christian Church could add to the scriptures over time. As his nomination from the 20th C was "Letter From Birmingham Jail," I think he has effectively illustrated what can go wrong with such things, as the MLK essay is a political document that draws from scriptural ideas.  Not the same thing, Binky.

The Roman Catholics have something a bit like adding to scripture in the Church Fathers and some of the great lights in Church history; the Episcopalians have "tradition" in their three-legged stool; the Methodists similarly have their quadrilateral. There have been Calvinists who have urged greater attention to Calvin's explanation of the Scriptures than to the Bible itself (too many Puritans in that group), and all groups can get overfond of their Small Catechism, or the volumes of Ellen G. White, or whatever.  "Our faith is built on nothing less, than Scofield's Notes and Scripture Press." 

Here is my nomination from the 20th C, The Weight of Glory, a sermon delivered by CS Lewis in 1941. Scroll down to page 13. See if that works.

There is a YouTube audio version

Monday, April 22, 2024

Long Time Coming

It has been a long time since I posted an ABBA video. The current audience may not have heard the background: Disco came in just as I was leaving college and getting out of the Top 40 experience, so ABBA always seemed a bit risible to me, especially the costumes. When I started a blog 30 years later, I put up ABBA stills and videos with heavy irony.

But I came to like them. Be careful what you make fun of.

Links from 2007

I find that my standards are uneven on these repostings.  Sometimes I think nearly all should be reposted in full, at other times I just think they are interesting and worth a link.

The elections of 1958 changed the country, for very little reason

Discussing the War - Sir James Barrie has an amusing scene about that 

Commonalities of Conspiracists -Some things never change

Relatedly, The NH Tax Protestors.

When small language problems bother me.

My caseload was a little more extreme than usual that week. 


Does Depression Exist?

From The Studies Show* again, which provides good material episode after episode, Does Depression Exist? (Transcript available)

I usually avoid the topic, not because there are no valid questions in the area, but because the valid questions are seldom asked,  and one ends up arguing against the same half-truths (or quarter truths) with your own three-quarter truths, so more heat is generated than light. On other sites I might enter into a discussion briefly, but I tend not to put it up here, because once it's happening at my cocktail party I rather have to be involved.

But this episode is good enough that I believe we can invite the vampire over the threshold this time. Yes, there are significant problems in defining and treating many mental illnesses, depression being among the worst. The short version is that the measurements are crude and don't seem to have been improved in years, and the treatments are only partly successful. 

One of the reasons that we say that intelligence is a real trait which can be somewhat measured is that when we look at many things which might go into that, we find that they are correlated. We find that the people who compute efficiently also compute quickly, also have high vocabularies, also catch on quickly to new ideas, have better memories, organise things spatially, see connections between ideas, etc.  There is still some variation, but there is a clear trend that we are observing a something. This is also true of depression, but much less so. There are usual symptoms we might associate with "being depressed" right off the top of our head, such as sad mood, less enjoyment of activities, poor sleep, poor appetite, less energy. The questions on the tests come at these basic ideas in different ways. One would think that a paper and pencil test might be able to ask things in a repeatable straightforward way, but one of the things we have learned is that depressed people don't think too hard about the answers sometimes. If you have ever taken a test that seems to be asking the same questions with maddening frequency, this is why. You ask if they have been crying more often, and they say no.  You ask if they have been getting less enjoyment out of activities they usually like and they say no. You ask if they have been more easily discouraged lately and they say no. Then you ask if they have been feeling more guilty, ruminating on past sins or bad decisions and the light goes on for them.  Yes, yes, they have, and suddenly they want to go back to those earlier questions, because come to think of it, they haven't been enjoying things as much. "Now that you mention it, I have had a harder time getting out of bed these last five weeks, even though work isn't really more difficult that usual."

The thing that is often wrong with the tests is that they are only going to give you an approximate measure at best, but people doing research have to treat an average answer of 21 at quite different from an average answer of 23.  Over a few thousand people, this is true.  But for you, sitting in front of the doctor, it's going to be +/- 4 points that are not that meaningful. 

Next up, CBT, SSRI's, SSNI's, energising or atypical antidepressants, coaching, trauma-sensitive therapy - all of these seem to help some.  Combos are often better. So why bother if it's only a little?  Because with depression, a little improvement is often enough.  We are remarkably resilient, and if we have been soldiering on when every morning feels like an oppression, even a minor lift can be huge. One of the toughest things to measure, but generally agreed to be important is the ability to rally temporarily when the chips are down. Even very depressed people can suck it up and say "It's my daughter's wedding.  No one is going to see a flicker of depression in me this weekend.  I'll collapse Monday."

One can immediately see that issues of character, of training, of duty are huge confounders when measuring depressive symptoms under such circumstances. 

But internally, we know that's what we are doing. We feel worse than we did three months ago. We have worse mood, less energy.  We call it depression because that's the word we have for it.  But all these symptoms exist on a continuum, and they are fairly evenly distributed.  The line graphs for infection show a large hump on the left-hand side, a smaller hump far, far up the scale. It's not a continuum. But for depression, there are similar numbers of people at scores of 20, 21, 22...27.  We draw lines and say "You have severe depression. You have moderate depression.  You don't have depression." 

Tangent:  I have written often over the last few years about autism/Asperger's/ASD symptoms and these are analogous. If we took an imaginary 1-10 scale for autism, it is not the case that almost everyone is at 1-3 (as would be true with infection) and there is a blip of autistic people at 8-10. It is all more level and gradual than that.  Even more, I have come to favor the histogram approach. It's messy. We all have some of it.  Some of us clearly have lots of it. We may eventually be able to narrow this down to ten separate axes that interact with each other, but at present, what we have are moderately-associated traits.

So too with depression. We all recognise that there are times we feel worse than others, and unfortunately sometimes much worse. It may or may not be related to an identified cause, such as grief or getting fired, but it's clearly there. At a certain point, we say of ourselves or of others, "this looks like depression." But it's not necessarily one thing.

Of these many symptoms, I was most familiar with dealing with those whose condition was very bad, enough to be suicidal or to stop caring for oneself altogether. I am therefore not a particularly good judge of mild depression.  My brother lived with us for six months before I came to and said "Y'know, you're depressed, and I am sorry I didn't put two and two together before." While there are collections of symptoms, it can often be one thing which is bringing on the others.  Insomnia is the most notorious of these. Your problem was originally insomnia. But now you have four problems, of irritability, discouragement, poor appetite, anhedonia. We may over the next decades learn to just break it all down into six distinct, interactive symptoms and treat each separately, calling none of them depression.

At the moment I have an unusual situation of being prescribed a chemically-abrasive cream for a week by the dermatologist. It feels like a sunburn, and as if all my life-force is being diverted to fixing my skin. I don't focus well, I am tired and easily discouraged. If by some chance I were taking a common depression test there is a good chance that I would score higher than usual on it, perhaps even high enough to red-flag a professional who saw the numbers that I needed some attention.  I would be called depressed. A new observer would wonder whether I was depressed because I look like an albino raccoon. But I don't think that is bothering me much.  I accepted that my modeling career was over many decades ago. Yet I feel depressed. Yet I know that i am not really depressed, and will be better in a week when my skin has healed.  My energy will not be directed to skin-fixing.

*Sidebar changed

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Anonymous Donors

I can see how this would definitely be true for some people. The Signal-burying Game. 

Abstract:  People sometimes make their admirable deeds and accomplishments hard to spot, such as by giving anonymously or avoiding bragging. Such ‘buried’ signals are hard to reconcile with standard models of signalling or indirect reciprocity, which motivate costly pro-social behaviour by reputational gains. To explain these phenomena, we design a simple game theory model, which we call the signal-burying game. This game has the feature that senders can bury their signal by deliberately reducing the probability of the signal being observed. If the signal is observed, however, it is identified as having been buried. We show under which conditions buried signals can be maintained, using static equilibrium concepts and calculations of the evolutionary dynamics. We apply our analysis to shed light on a number of otherwise puzzling social phenomena, including modesty, anonymous donations, subtlety in art and fashion, and overeagerness.

I wonder how widespread this is, and hope it doesn't include me.

Saturday, April 20, 2024


The Genetic Origin of Indo-Europeans

I don't want you to think I understand this stuff much.  I read through and my eye lights upon parts that I completely get, while I search in a lot of the remainder for hooks to remember things by.  I thought I was pretty well up on the various deep tribes under discussion in Eurasia, such as Caucasian Hunter Gatherer (CHG) or Ancestral North Eurasian (ANE) or Early European Farmers (EEF) - (think Otzi in the Tyrolean Alps), but they have multiplied while I slept and I have to go back over each set of initials and what they mean and where they fit to even get to the next paragraph now.  The genetics is getting very granular now, at a level unimaginable even 20 years ago.

In the link above, the following comes in at page 27.  You have to squint, (clicking enlarges) but it shows how the Pre-Yamnaya were still pretty localised around the Lower Volga, but within a very few generations were found (and likely dominant) across a wide range. This is somewhat as predicted in David Anthony's The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, which we have discussed here before, but the evidence seemed to point more to the river valleys in Ukraine, the Dneistr and the Dneipr. This is a pretty big change, considering. When I was first studying this as an undergraduate there was still considerable opinion that the Urheimat of the Indo-Europeans was in Western Poland, and Pripet Marshes (Belarus) were considered a rather daringly eastern theory. Yet the truth was out there, as they say.

The origin and spread of the first speakers of Indo-Anatolian languages. Different terminologies exist to designate the linguistic relationship of Anatolian and Indo- European languages. The traditional view includes both within an “Indo-European” (IE) group in which Anatolian languages usually represent the first split. An alternative terminology, which we use here, names the entire linguistic group “Indo-Anatolian” (IA) and uses IE to refer to the set of related non-Anatolian languages such as Tocharian, Greek, Celtic, and Sanskrit. Dates between 4300-3500 BCE have been proposed for the time of IA split predating both the first attestation of the Hittite language in Central Anatolia (post-2000 BCE) and the expansion of the Yamnaya archaeological culture (post-3300 BCE). We identify the Yamnaya population as Proto-IE for several reasons... 

The genetics of the Corded Ware and Beaker cultures are increasingly confirmed as mostly Yamnaya. 

The Yamnaya culture stands as the unifying factor of all attested Indo-European languages. Yet, the homogeneity of the Yamnaya patrilineal community was formed out of the admixture of diverse ancestors, via proximal ancestors from the Dnipro and CLV clines (Fig. 2e). Yamnaya and Anatolians share ancestry from the CLV Cline (Fig. 2e,f), and thus, if the earliest IA language speakers shared any genetic ancestry at all—the possibility of an early transfer of language without admixture must not be discounted—then the CLV Cline is where this ancestry must have come from. 

Also, you might notice that the dates keep getting moved farther back.  Much farther than when I was an undergrad, but that has slowed considerably and there is now evidence from the other direction of dates which must simply be too early.  We are narrowing it down and getting more precise. One of the things that is significant about this is that it is a very large kick in the teeth to the Anatolian hypothesis of IE origin, and even the hybrid hypothesis. I noted the new evidence for the hybrid hypothesis less than a year ago, and only six weeks later was holding my hands up going "Wait a minute. It's not holding up very well already." Genetics really is moving things along in this field that quickly. We can now see more clearly when each group came in to ultimately create the group we called Yamnaya, and we increasingly treat the terms Indo-European and Yamnaya as identical.

The idea has been around and treated with some grudging respect for decades, as it is essentially the Kurgan Hypothesis which Marija Gimbutas set into order in the 1950s from earlier evidence. But because many wanted something else to be true (too long to discuss) and Gimbutas had added in a favorite fillip that proved unsustainable, that it had overrun an essentially peaceful and matriarchal society in Europe, so it was made to sit at the children's table for a long while. It is now the 800-lb gorilla in the room. 

The overrun society was also highly patriarchal and violent, just a notch less so than our utterly insane ancestors in the Branze and Eneolithic ages. There is an occasional grave of a high-status woman.

But in related news, it may not be that roving bands of young men proving their worth by genocidal raids with capture of women (Not child slaves so much.  Those are hard to transport over distance on land. Water works better.) that wiped out the farmers in place in Europe (and Central Asia, and the Indus Valley). According to Kristian Kristiansen (interview by Razib Khan), the Yamnaya also carried the plague.  And not a milder version that only created a moderate advantage, as was initially expected on the basis of Northern European and Scandinavian graves, but full on Black Death that wiped out 40% of the invaded, and as many as 10% of even the invaders themselves. Even they had only slight immunity. 

Disease is increasingly recognised as a huge factor in migration and population replacement. Multiple sclerosis seems to go back millennia, as it is an over-response of an immune system that was living with animals 24/7 on the Steppes, as opposed to daily but more limited contact of farmers, hunter-gatherers, and foragers. The immune system is looking for work, and without microbes, goes after its host.  Something similar is true of Cystic Fibrosis, which also turns out to be ancient.  

Thursday, April 18, 2024


 Earl Wajenberg recommends her video about algorithms as well.

Her voice is a bit like bskings.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Firefly Blinks

Reposted from 2007

We have used the analogy of firefly blinks at our house for many years now…

Fireflies blink in simple patterns to identify to each other who is of the “same kind” for mating. This figures prominently in one of the Madeline L’Engle books, I think Arm of the Starfish, when one (human) character tries to trick another into believing she is of the same kind as him, on the same side in the spiritual battle. His sister uses the firefly image to warn him that the girl is not as she seems. Because we have made choice-of-wife a large topic in our family since the boys were small, the question of whether a girl has the right number of firefly blinks has been confined to romantic caution. I think the analogy applies more generally for the tribes, however. People get a sense of how many blinks you have.

The best story we have of this is (of course) Benjamin’s. Years ago he was quite taken with a girl at youth group, and to understand each other better, they agreed to read what had been the other’s favorite book as a child. This must have been Benjamin’s idea, as subsequent discussion revealed that she was not a girl who would ordinarily give, uh, testimony about herself via literary means. Ben chose Watership Down, which he had not so much read as repeatedly absorbed into his personality as a child. (Tangent: now that he is a filmmaker, if they ever remake the movie, Ben’s is the only opinion you will ever need whether you should see it.)

Ben may have suspected something was up, which is why he arranged this game to begin with. The girl asked him to read A Dog Named Kitty. This is not only from the hackneyed genre of noble-canine-croaks, it is a stunningly bad example. The dog does not die in the penultimate chapter, when he successfully fights off a wild something to save a defenseless something. The dog dies pointlessly by accident in the last chapter when a piece of pipeline falls off a truck on him. (Those darn oil companies!).

Cute as she was, the girl clearly did not have the right number of firefly blinks, which Ben reluctantly accepted. John-Adrian observed her lose her temper and hold a grudge over something small a few years later and was grateful the relationship with his brother had gone no deeper. She was not only the wrong subspecies, but a difficult person to boot.

I think the younger boys, who came here from Romania as teenagers, give off very mixed firefly blinks. Good thing they’re handsome, with very sexy accents.

Full Circle

A cartoon from 35 years ago has stuck in my head. I knew I liked it, and suspected that as I aged, I would agree with it more. An old man sits in a beach chair next to his wife, scowling out to sea. "I've come full circle. Things are what they seem."

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Reality Is Coming

"Reality Is Coming" is the ESPN headline about what a lot of WNBA stars are saying about Caitlin Clark coming into the league. I dunno, I think women's college basketball is kinda real. It's about as real as the pro version. The WNBA doesn't earn its money in the usual sense - the league is supported by $ from the men's side. I suppose you could say that the women's league has to exist for PR purposes, and if you are willing to perform that entertainment function you are earning the money.

Is it catty to notice that none of them arrived at their WNBA jobs already hated by the women already there, as Caitlin is about to experience? 

This whole concept of The Real World is one I have objected to for fifty years, at least. My in-laws objected to the new priest because he hadn't been out in The Real World but was telling the parish how to live. Well, he'd been running a Korean orphanage. Doesn't that count as some kind of reality? I worked at a psychiatric hospital, my salary paid by taxpayers.  Was that the real world?

As I wrote almost 20 years ago...

Those guys in the military, who supposedly need to be told what to do and have trouble adjusting to the real world, or teachers and professors who spend their days with the young, or at-home moms who don’t get out much – I guess that’s not the real world either. If you work off-shifts and sleep when other people are up, or spend most of your day at a computer screen, how real is that? If you trade commodities but never see any actual oil or wheat, then you are clearly not connected to the “real” world. Ministers, retirees, entertainers and athletes, wealthy people, those on welfare – pretty much everyone, I guess.

When people use the phrase "real world" in that way, they seem to mean something like "Until you have faced the difficulties I have faced, you haven't seen the real world." We have convenient definitions.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Too Many Features

Update:  I got the clock to not only go to the correct time, but set at the correct time this morning.  Tentatively, all is good. 

I am trying to reset the clock on the car. It is complicated, and you have to scroll through many other choices.  These choices include entering Grandma's Birthday, or your Anniversary, but when I finally get to the clock (Daylight Saving or Not, 12h or 24 hr clock) and change it and set it, it doesn't stay set.  It is likely something simple once you already know how to do it.  That's what directions in the manual are now for - not to tell you how to do something, but remind you when you already know. I used to see this at work when we were being trained on new software.  The directions are not the directions, they are reminders of the real directions, which don't actually exist in written form anywhere.  It's the equivalent of the old "You can't miss it" when people used to give directions.

I just want to set the clock.  Or with the phone, I just want to make a call or check the time and date. It's similar to going in and trying to just buy a cup of coffee.  I just want coffee, milk and a little sugar.  I can put up with half-and-half or cream, and a full sugar or no sugar if that's what you've got. Flexible. Just give me a cup of coffee.

Friday, April 12, 2024

James Jamerson

I heard Paul McCartney claim that before Jamerson, bass playing was pretty rote and unexciting. bum bum BOM BOM bim bim bum bum: repeat indefinitely. Mc Cartney got stuck playing bass because his guitar was so cheap and the others refused anyway, to hear him tell it.  In those days any guitarist could pick up the bass and be serviceable. But when he heard Jamerson, it opened up a whole new world to him.

There's good history about Jamerson for the first nine minutes but just after that you will start hearing the Motown music he played on and will likely recognise the lines immediately.  "Oh, that was that guy? Oh yeah, I know that. It's a great bass line."

Thr Problem of Pain - Unedited Appendix

In the All About Jack podcast there is an interview about disability which includes the original appendix by Robert Havard, CS Lewis's and JRR Tolkien's personal physician and a member of the Inklings. In all current editions the appendix to The Problem of Pain, written in 1940, reflects Lewis's editing of Havard's essay. The original has recently been unearthed and received more attention. Of particular note is that just prior to the book coming out Mrs. Moore's brother visited at The Kilns while deteriorating mentally.  Lewis sat up with him often as he became more psychotic, until he eventually had to be confined. Those who have read Perelandra may recall Weston's speech at the end, as the demonic spirit is gradually taking him over, "My God, Ransom, it's awful. You don't understand. Right down under layers and layers. Buried alive. You try to connect things and can't.They take your head off...and you can't even look back on what life was like in the rind,because you know it never did mean anything even from the beginning...Oh Ransom, Ransom! We shall be killed! Killed and pulled back under the rind..." The man had dabbled in the occult all his days, and Lewis thought this deeply connected to his growing insanity.  It had a profound effect on him (something similar is described near the end of That Hideous Strength), so when he edited Havard's appendix he cut out a great deal about mental pain. I have read Lewis's description of the man losing his mind before him, and it sounded quite biological rather than spiritual to me.  But then, it would, having witnessed such things for decades.

I wish Lewis had left it alone and let Dr. Havard's experience speak for itself. I don't find Robert's description entirely without fault either. I recognise cases similar to the ones he describes, but I am aware of many which do not look like it at all. The are the observations of a man who has seen more than most people have and thought hard about it.  But there is much more than could be said. I will not comment further. These are the thoughts of a very decent man trained in medical observation about a century ago, who was about to be a doctor in the British Navy during WWII. He would be about the height of what men might expect to see under all manner of suffering at the time. I think they are interesting in themselves, and in understanding what pain does to the human personality.

Pain is a common and definite event which can easily be recognised. Although the sufferer may attempt to conceal, distort, or even exploit his pain, its real extent can be estimated with fair accuracy. But the observation of character or behaviour is less easy, less complete, and less exact, especially in the transient, if intimate, relation of doctor and patient. So an attempt to estimate the effect of pain upon general behavior must. it seems, be subject to large inaccuracies. In spite of this difficulty certain impressions gradually take form in the course of medical practice which are confirmed as experience grows. In the next few pages, an attempt is made to describe certain conclusions selected from a multitudinous and unmanageable mass of detail. A short attack of severe physical pain is overwhelming while it lasts. The sufferer is not usually loud in his complaints. 

There is intense and obvious distress.  there are the physical sign of pain, pallor, sweating, nausea, even vomiting, and a characteristic facial expression which cannot be concealed and seldom be imitated. The sufferer is not usually loud in his complaints. He will beg for relief but does not waste his breath on elaborating his troubles. His whole energy is devoted to fighting the enemy within him. It is unusual for him to lose self control and to become wild and irrational. It is rare for the severest physical pain to become in this sense unbearable. When short, severe, physical pain passes it leaves no obvious alteration in behaviour.  It may have been met with courage and recognition or with rebellion and despair.

In either case, the patients seems to be little altered by it when it is passed.  Long continued pain has more noticeable effects. It is exhausting and is a greater trial of patience. Yet it is often accepted with little or no complaint and great strength and resignation are developed. Pride is humbled or, at times, results in a determination to conceal suffering. Women with rheumatoid arthritis show a cheerfulness which is so characteristic that it can be compared to the spes phthisica of the consumptive: But these examples of behavior due more to a slight intoxication of the patient by the infection than to an increased strength of character. They are a sign of weakness, of diminished will to activity. They are not necessarily examples of an indomitable will surmounting the weakness of a diseased body. 

Some victims of chronic pain deteriorate. They become querulous and exploit their privileged position’ as invalids to practise domestic tyranny. But the wonder is that the failures are so few and the heroes so many; there is a challenge in physical pain which most can recognise and answer. 

On the other hand, a long illness, even without pain attached to it, exhausts the mind as well as the body. It produces weakness and fatigue. There is no vigor left to fight with. The invalid gives up the struggle and drifts helplessly and plaintively into a self-pitying despair. He will be found quietly weeping, yet when questioned is unable to explain why. Even so, some, in a similar physical state, will preserve their serenity and selflessness to the end. The spirit shines more clearly through the weakness of the body. To see it is a rare but moving experience. 

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “my tooth is aching” than to say “my heart is broken”. Yet if the cause is accepted and faced, the conflict will strengthen and purify the character and in time the pain will usually pass. Sometimes, however, it persists and the effect is devastating; if the cause is not faced or not recognised, it produces the dreary state of the chronic neurotic who is bane to himself and to all with whom he comes in contact. Some, however, by pure heroism overcome even chronic mental pain. They often produce brilliant work and strengthen, harden, and sharpen their characters till they become like tempered steel. 

In actual insanity the picture is darker. The first sign of approaching insanity is often deterioration of character. In full developed insanity the character is completely hidden by the disease,which takes possession of the character so completely that the phrase "possessed of a devil" is graphically descriptive. In the whole realm of medicine there is nothing so terrible to contemplate as a man with chronic melancholia. To speak with him has all the effect of witnessing a high tragedy transferred from the stage to life. But most of the insane are not unhappy or, indeed, conscious of their condition. In either case, if they re- cover, they are surprisingly little changed. Often they remember nothing of their illness. It is impossible to form a a conception of what insanity means to the sufferers themselves. But to look after the instance is valuable discipline. It teaches gentleness and self-control. It induces a deep humility when it is recognised that reason itself is a gift which can be lost. The biological purpose of pain is to draw attention to something harmful so that it may be avoided. 

Frequently, as in physical or mental disease, human pain fails to achieve its biological purpose. It then becomes a grave disorder. But the adversity of pain provides an opportunity for the development of heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.  Any view of life in which heroism ranks higher than comfort must see that the disorder of pain when faced is less harmful when the result is good.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Turn Down Day

I saw this band's name on the WKBR Good Guys Top 30 list before I had heard anyone say it.  I thought it was pronounced Krickle. 


So many describe the eclipse as an awe-inspiring experience that I just have to contemplate why. There is a focus on the silence, the anticipation, the sense of being in a special moment of time.  Even some nonmystical friends seem to have been affected.

Here's my suggestion. The birds stopped singing because they are programmed to only sing in specific modes of light.  Therefore it was oddly silent. That's it. Everything else you are imagining is significant because of primitive man or our relationship to the heavens or whatever is just stuff you are adding in on your own. It's just birds noticing that the lights have been turned off, and they don't sing at night.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Giving and Receiving

For the real good of every gift it is essential, first, that the giver be in the gift - as God always is, for he is love - and next, that the receiver know and receive the giver in the gift. Every gift of God is but a harbinger of his greatest and only sufficing gift - that of himself. No gift unrecognized as coming from God is at its own best; therefore many things that God would gladly give us, things even that we need because we are, must wait until we ask for them, that we may know whence they come: when in all gifts we find him, then in him we shall find all things.

George MacDonald The Word of Jesus On Prayer #92. 

That the giver be in the gift and next that the receiver know and receive the giver in the gift. We know this even in earthly gifts. There has been a slow but pronounced deterioration in this over my lifetime. Indeed, it was already not very good when I was young. It was wonderful when my mother took her father's banjo-mandolin, with which he had courted my grandmother, and had it refurbished to give to me one Christmas, when I was actively in a band that played some country and bluegrass material. The instrument never lived up to its promise (it was a terrible idea for a hybrid), and I did not live up to the gift. 35 years later I found a better owner and gave it to him. 

I had thought that the ideal was that one gave a gift that showed you understood the recipient, and that the recipient in turn saw what the connection was that it was you who gave it, and that you gave it to him. The personal, communal, and interactive nature of giving and receiving was part of the process. It owes something to Christian teaching of the New People.  Whether it also descends from the Norse admiration for leaders who were great givers of gifts I don't know, but the value at least describes similarly.

Now we seem to be driven to gift cards more and more, as it is unclear what the person would particularly like or need.  We fight against it in this family, but it is a rearguard action.


I've Been at NPR for 25 Years.  Here's How We Lost America's Trust. (via Grim) The author grants them more objectivity than I would have - up until a decade ago or even later - but I might concede the point given his position and his obvious good will. I have thought that their fondness for the liberal POV was deeply tied to their style of reporting by anecdote rather than examining both sides. NPR Economic Reporting. Also, when some listeners identify as conservative, I wonder how many of those are only classical music fans or fans of the intellectual game shows, or of "Car Talk." It can't be zero. Those don't count against the political bias of the news shows in quite the same way.

Persistent rumors that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia over the election became the catnip that drove reporting. At NPR, we hitched our wagon to Trump’s most visible antagonist, Representative Adam Schiff. 

Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.

But when the Mueller report found no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.

Not the first time.

Old Sayings

They can make you feel bad in retrospect either way.  "Look before you leap," but also "He who hesitates is lost." Faint heart never won the fair" contrasts with "Give it up, dude.  She's just not that into you."

It all looks so wise in hindsight.  The chorus of Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler" - I have had people* assure me that this was an important lesson they learned in life, that they hadn't realised when they were younger. "You've got to know when to hold 'em...Know when to fold 'em..." Well sure, if you knew the answers in advance, the test is much easier, in cards or in anything else. What does that give you going forward? I suppose there is something to teaching the young folding your hand, walking away, and even running away can be respectable responses sometimes, because the young tend not to know that.  But they are going to learn that just from their biology slowing down, without any old sayings or songs.

It's just fun to sing, to be a little world-weary and pretend you have gained great wisdom. I do it all the time.

It's like listening to fans or even baseball managers bemoan "Well, with a few more timely hits we could really get something going here." Yep, that's right.  If your whole team could hit .400 with a little power in clutch situations, your won-lost record would probably improve. So how are you going to do that?

*Okay, people working the overnight shift, so maybe I should be applying a discount here.

Monday, April 08, 2024


I was Mendel in the show in the summer of 1972.  this song moved me more than any of the others, and that is still true.

So how does this fit with the Nostalgia Destruction Tour, eh?

Personality and Environment

 Personality Similarity in Twins Reared Apart and Together 

Heritability was a stronger predictor of personality traits than environment, but there was some role for environment on two of fourteen traits. From 1988.

Solely environmental models did not fit any of the scales. Although the other reduced models, including the simple additive model, did fit many of the scales, only the full model provided a satisfactory fit for all scales. Heritabilities estimated by the full model ranged from .39 to .58. Consistent with previous reports, but contrary to widely held beliefs, the overall contribution of a common family-environment component was small and negligible for all but 2 of the 14 personality measures. Evidence of significant nonadditive genetic effects, possibly emergenic (epistatic) in nature, was obtained for 3 of the measures.

As expected.  Genetic Additive, Genetic Nonadditive, Shared Family Environment, and Unshared Environment were compared.

On Pitch

 No one ever complained that the flutes were too sharp.  This generalises.

Spiritual Dryness

I am quite familiar with this.  The enthusiasms of the faith have long vanished, except for the joy of harmony in the music and being able to sing with the saints of God, plus an occasional intellectual insight that I might read or hear. Very occasionally, God will tweak me with a smiling reminder that he sees me and hears me, and delights in giving me different rescues than the ones I asked for.

As Screwtape says to his nephew, a junior demon, "Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." I think of Frodo and Sam in Mordor whenever I read that passage, and those scenes had much to do with my conversion in 1975. 

Or in the same book "Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." This is an idea that is genuinely frightening to an old man who wonders if his "spiritual maturity" is actually only resignation and false contentment. Getting to the True Self may require a consuming fire. You have heard it said that nothing is inevitable but death and taxes, but there is at least one thing more that is not only inevitable but inexorable, and that is the love of God. Unfortunately (though we hope and prayer ultimately fortunately), the inexorable love of God may be harder to bear in this life than death and taxes together.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Dogs and Wolves

David W Anthony, author and primary researcher for The Horse, The Wheel, and Language had a remarkable paper in 2017 The Dogs of War: A Bronze Age initiation ritual in the Russian steppes, about some rather grim details of how boys became warriors. I keep hearing that he is coming up with a book on the same topic, but nothing has shown yet. I want it. Dogs/wolves and imitating them shows up hugely in Indo-European cultures, but also in some of the abutting cultures.

There is a new paper on dog domestication by looking at the genomes of ancient wolves Gray Wolf genomic history reveals a dual ancestry of dogs 

"What emerged from this exhaustive genetic investigation was a nuanced picture of canine ancestry. While early dogs from diverse regions—Siberia, the Americas, East Asia, and Europe—shared a common genetic heritage with an eastern Eurasian wolf species, those from the Middle East, Africa, and southern Europe exhibited additional genetic contributions from a separate population related to modern southwest Eurasian wolves."

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Received Pronunciation vs Original Pronunciation

There is a lot of nonsense written about how things were pronounced in Shakespeare's plays, mostly based on people having imprecise ideas of how the pieces fit together in time. If something is "old," then someone is going to announce that it was "in Shakespeare's day" even if it was in 1812 and only halfway back to his time. It is the same vagueness that causes people to imagine that Henry VIII, Robin Hood, and King Arthur were all about the same time, with the thought they might possibly have known each other.* Sometimes times even more recent or more remote than that get shoved in, so that just before WWI or Romans in togas might be considered contemporaneous with one of the characters mentioned above.

Yet we can know Elizabethan pronunciation in London with fair precision. We can tell from what words rhymed when the changes from Middle English to Early Modern English occurred (key item Great Vowel Shift), and what compromises printers made in response to the variations they heard around them.

So from about 13:00 to 17:00 in the above you can hear the prologue from "Romeo and Juliet," first in Received Pronunciation, the newscaster English in Southern England, then in Original Pronunciation, researched with precision by David Crystal, followed by his son Ben Crystal, who reads here.

So now you know. This would be very much the time period of the Authorised Version of the Bible, which we know as the King James Version. 

*Robin Hood would be much closer to Henry II, who would himself be a little more than halfway back from now to King Arthur, when there were no Henry's at all, not even in France or Germany.