Monday, July 27, 2015

Social Media Signalling

I happened upon this article from the British magazine The New Statesman, The Echo Chamber of Social Media, etc. It's good right the way down, well written, and several of the other articles there were good as well. One of the early quotes is not far from things we have discussed here.
A lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is “virtue signalling” – showing off to your friends about how right on you are.
When purity leftists do actions and organising, their interest is not in reducing oppression as much as it is in reducing their own participation in it. Above all else, they want to be able to say that they are not oppressing, not that oppression has ended.
I mentioned this long ago in terms of Not In Our Name, and also suggested that Jonathan Haidt overlooks those places where liberals are just as purity vs. disgust* concerned as conservatives. (See also environmentalism, vegetarianism, NASCAR and a host of other disgust issues, including, I think wealth - though that is more ambiguous in both camps.

The site is useful because it discusses many political issues that are similar in the UK to US discussions but have a completely different cast of characters, and slightly different alignments.

*And authority driven, another trait supposedly more common among conservatives.  The imprimatur of Roberth Reich or Paul Krugman is enough in economics; climate change catastrophe is based on choice of authorities.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


I have been reading conservatives who insist that the left is eating its own, the conflicts among the coalition parts is just too enormous to continue, the center cannot hold...

I think I have been hearing this for a long time.  the closest thing to it actually happening was Ralph Nader in 2000 likely costing Al Gore the election by drawing 2% of the vote. Republicans think this level of hostility must signal imminent breakup, because among them, it would.  This much accusation, and someone's going third party. Maybe 2016 will be the year it happens to Democrats again, but I'm suspicious. They do this all the time.

On the other side, Democrats assume that whenever Republicans oppose redistribution, it can only be because of greed and selfishness.  After all, if Democrats opposed any such program it would be for that reason, so that must be true for others.  That we might not be getting a lot of bang for or buck, or that there were unfortunate unintended consequences does not occur to them, therefore, it cannot be occurring to their opponents.

Church Music II

Texan99's comment reminds me: participation in worship by th3e congregation is worth pursuing.  I heartily disliked screens with song lyrics projected when they first came on the scene.  As a book person, and a music-reading person, I liked having my Gestalt verses and my bass lines in focus as I sang.  Leading worship in a painfully small congregation I learned a different lesson:  people looking down and singing into a book do not build that sense of soaring elevation with their neighbors which leads to community worship; people looking up at screens do. It's just the physics of sound waves.

In an earlier era, when people had a limited repertoire - 100 hymns out of a hymnal of 250 - which did not change much over their lifetimes, they could sing up and out, using the hymnal only as an aid. Those days are gone.  If you want people to sing together, they either have to all know it ( a very small number these days), learn it on the spot (call-and-response or extremely simple), or put it up on the screen so they raise their heads.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Church Music

So again, another evangelical writes with dismay about the superficiality of praise songs, with the usual complaints about "happy-clappy" and limited theology.  Heck, I've done it myself years ago. But I am minded that better Christians than I sometimes think differently, and remember Retriever's comments years ago.

Yes, of course.  Trained musicians are going to find it too simple, and word-people are going to want something more substantial. So what?  Do you not realise that you are putting outsize importance on the music portion of worship? Sing the songs. It's not all of worship. The old style of five verses of complicated imagery carried its own death in its obscure references.  "Here I build my ebenezer..." always made me think of Mr. Magoo.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Flexibility of Morality

Going about our daily affairs and being exposed to the depressing news of the evils that people gradually learn to put up with, we comfort ourselves with the thought that there is a limit. There are things up with which we will not put, to paraphrase a great man.

I am not so sure.  There are things we would not put up with today, that we would riot in the streets against. I have seen people who I hadn't thought had much moral backbone at all suddenly rise up and say "No.  You shall not pass." But ten years later, twenty years later, I don't know.

Some of us are entirely influenced by the current fashions in morality, though we don't perceive that. We would take to the streets for certain causes, without realising that those causes are the ones on their way in, the ones where any inconvenience would be quite temporary, and the payback in self-righteousness great. There is a vast pool of folks for whom the popular morality is the only real morality, though we don't see that.

Beyond that, there is a greater pool who are partly influenced by the trends of the day.  I am certainly one.  I have reflexive suspicion of This Tuesday's Great Cause; yet I also have a reflexive suspicion of those who still cling to causes from the immediate preceding era that are no longer much noticed.  Dead-enders, we call them. Why die on that hill? Why beat a dead horse?

I have near-certainty that God takes his measure of real goodness entirely separately from either consideration, and I can't find strongholds in myself to dig in with Him. He may take such extenuating circumstances into account in judging us, but I doubt they are even a feather's weight in his scales of what is good and what is evil. When I wake in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep, and worry that I have lost moral determination rather than gained it over the decades, it is very disquieting.

***  ***

My wife's prayer at church this week reminds me:  we blithely talk about "God's Promises," often quoting partial verses that are general wise observations (Wisdom Literature) or promises to the Nation of Israel alone, without certain individual application. Yet God absolutely promises in several places that if we pray for wisdom, that he will give. Pray for wisdom.

Improving The Criminal Justice System

Volokh Conspiracy is publishing an interesting series by Judge Alex Kosinski on improving the criminal justice system. It exploded a few of my myths pretty rapidly. Much of the basic message is A lot of what we "know," we have no evidence for. The actual evidence about prosecutions, criminals, and trials points in a different direction.

When I served on jury duty, I felt we had eventually reached the right conclusion, but it was a near thing. Three things needed to be proven, and I believed the prosecution had established two of them clearly, but not the third.  The rest of the jury believed that none of the three items had been proven, though I can't imagine how.  Their reasons were worrisome, including one woman who said "even the prosecuting attorney admitted the boy might not have been there at the time," when it was in fact the defense attorney who had said that. There was no need to make a stand, because I also thought Point #3 was insufficiently supported, so the boy was getting off anyway.  At the time, I rationalised that maybe this was how the system did indeed "usually get the right answer."  I am now not so convinced, especially after reading Kosinski.

It was personally valuable to me to read it as well.  I was quite depressed about uncovering a significant betrayal by a friend at work, only now revealed a few years later, after he has moved on to a job elsewhere in the system. Reading about the false incarcerations reminded me that my problems are small potatoes.  Pray for those who are innocent but behind bars.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Poll-Driven Understanding

Wuthnow has an interesting article over at First Things how polling about religion has changed the way Christians understand themselves. It is an angle that never crossed my mind before. It includes an overview of the history of religious polling, pointing out that we don't know what we think we know.

Chilling of the Evening

I heard this over at Panera Bread (figures) tonight.  Hadn't heard it in 45 years. I used to sing it at coffeehouses. I now recognize it's not a very good song.

I'm sorry, that was redundant, wasn't it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Quora - Being Rich

Joe Snapper's post about being rich was interesting. If you can't find it easily, try here.

Second Commandment - Repost

I have neglected my duty.  There are really very few things I provide here that you couldn't get a hundred other places. But the reminder that the Second Commandment, not taking the Lord's name in vain, has nothing to do with bad language and swearing oaths, is one of the things you won't find elsewhere.  The intent is to prevent people from putting God's signature under their ideas.  That is what taking the Lord's name in vain means.  If you recall your OT, the Revelation, and Jesus's harshest words for blind guides and false teachers, you will see that this is what torques Him off. And so, Reflections on the Second Commandment, from 2011 and 2006. I should be on this more often, as it is a lesson that is sorely needed on FB.

This comes up because I have had several recent incidents of liberal nonbelievers making political comments with the implied backing of Jesus.  These usually take the form of "those evil hypocritical conservatives are always shoving Jesus at us, but they don't follow his most basic teachings, which are Not to Judge (homosexuals and transexuals), Heal the Sick (via gov't health insurance), and Feed the Poor (again, gov't as preferred method.)  I had neglected in my previous writing how commonly nonChristians will do this.

So today it's liberals, but conservatives are very frequently guilty of this as well - just not on my current feed. That seems to occur more from politicians, and with indirect language. We all should be paranoid about claiming that God endorses our POV. It's apparently one of the worst sins we can commit.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Old Homestead, Swanzey, NH

Imagine Garrison Keillor talking about a stage production from his childhood, a Lake Wobegon tradition, now long since defunct. Now imagine the first awakening of that Sehnsucht for Keillor, a nostalgist from his childhood, describing for young Gary a stage play from their own town that toured the country in 1900, and was a big deal then (though no one remembers it now). Theater hanging by a thread on the prairie, because people wanted to have it for a dozen reasons of their own.

*** ***

Dropping by before the production, a guy who seemed to be one of the head techs points out to me the 11 instruments that light the show, and informs me "Five of them came from an old battleship.  It's hard to get bulbs for them now."  I'll bet. I look at the stained burlap main curtain and the few bare benches on the grassy hillside.  My first thought was I have to tell my brother Jonathan about this.  And he thought Sudbury Savoyards and Plymouth State College was primitive lighting.

Thus I am surprised the next night when the four sets are elaborate and quite good. One in particular is a marvelous backdrop.

*** *** 

We have long been driving to church camp past the Potash Bowl, where they stage a community production of The Old Homestead every year. You can catch the history at the link, but the short version is this: It's a long-running community theater production in Swanzey NH. The playwright was a minor 19th C song-and-dance man who hit it big with this one script when he fell on hard times, playing the lead role 15,000 times and making a fortune. The town revived the playscript of their favorite son in 1939 as a fundraiser. It is now the third-longest-running outdoor play in the country. The Lost Colony in NC and Ramona in CA seem to be ahead of it. I can't find the definitive list, but my own search uncovers no others earlier. All of the similar productions seem to be largely professional, tourist-driven affairs about historic events, though with more modern scripts.

Whatever is fourth on the list is going to become third-longest in two years, as Swanzey is throwing in the towel after the 75th year July perfomances in 2016. (Arithmetic note: WWII. Blackouts.) I see their point, and I think they are making the right decision, but it's shame. This script and performance are historical in a different way, and I can't find anything else in the country like it. The play is not "about" the 19th C, it is from the 19th C, and produced in a fashion that would have been common then. Local musicians, local actors, local designers, directors, everything. Just the regular folks you meet in church, or the elementary school, or the aisles of stores, and the surprise is "Hey! Some of these people are really good!"

I should note that it is also historically accurate late-19th C American humor, which is less funny in a 21st C context. As in Oh, yeah, I get it now. Ha ha ha. Yeah. More on this later.

It's a midpoint between the feeling you have at every talent show, when Act#5 shows real talent* - you are pleasantly surprised - and "Britain's Got Talent" when some shy housewife shows jaw-dropping professional talent. This is between. These are the best talents of your neighbors, better than people-who-got-up-and-sang-a-duet-because-the-program-was-short, but not those magical talents that go viral on YouTube. You are so happy that they're good. You never knew. The eight guys in Act I who seemed to be pointlessly working together on someone else's farm before going home for the evening did a very decent barbershop rendition of "Massa's In The Cold, Cold Ground" and "The Old Oaken Bucket." The town band from the next community over was just fine. How do they pull such a group from so few people?

"The Old Homestead" is not a good script, though it made it to Broadway in 1903. The NYC shine and fame of Denman Thompson was the foundation for this community theater's origin, but it's the modern talent that's carrying it now.  This was before American Musical Theater. In 1900, transitions into musical numbers basically amounted to "Fellers, let's have a song." It's cornball, and the current actors get the irony lovingly. Yet back in the day, this was as good as entertainment got.  "Before you go, could you play my favorite song?" Thompson steers the script so that he can work in a pointless joke about the Centennial, and names a character Jack Hazzard so that the old coots can ask "Any relation to Hap Hazzard?" (knee slap.) The plot meanders into several of these, but the basic idea was dear to the hearts of the people of a moving, expanding, population where children went away - and we hope not astray. A country boy goes to New York and turns to drink. A NYC boy becomes a railroad tramp and turns to drink in the country. Through the kindness of strangers, they both repent, return to their homes, and are restored. Tying this together is country mouse/city mouse humor from each group encountering the other.  Plus Irish servants, old coots competing for the same woman, and a flirting girl.  Great stuff.

Before vaudeville. Not all vaudeville was great, you know. It was mostly crap, or at best, ephemeral.  The cream, the 1% that survived that, and the transition to radio and the talkies and even (gulp) TV, give us the false impression that the touring performances were just riotous, laugh-a-minute humor.  Nah. Plus, vaudeville (the earliest versions frankly suck, but you can see the potential if you squint real hard) drew on French Variety and English Music Hall entertainers, so even that was the top shelf of three cultures. And still wasn't usually all that funny, and they didn't sing or dance that well.

Even before that.

If I lived in Swanzey I would have been roped into this years ago, because I sing a little, act a little, all of that. I would bring up the average an five fronts, but not outshine the lot. My dad would have owned a succession of roles of this had it been Westford, MA. (My two younger brothers would probably have participated as teenagers and then wisely moved on.) For those inside, it's just a local thing, trying to drum up people to move scenery or work the concessions every year.  The play isn't that big in the history of theater, it's only important because (blush) well it's Swanzey, and it's all we've got. No one else came from here, and people in Keene laugh at us.

*"She also had a Minor in Voice at State U. You didn't know?"

*** ***

Next year, for the last performance, everything changes. This year, it is a Thornton Wilder universality drawn from the specific: dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of towns and stagehands and nights. In 2016, The Old Homestead enters a W.P. Kinsella, Tom Stoppard, Ionesco, Borges world.  The cliche "it works on so many levels" becomes true. This is the last dinosaur - a small one, unnoticed, disappears into the forest.

The curtain rises at 7:30pm.  Cloth being cloth, and the sun setting in the west, the scene changers after the long first act are not visible through the burlap. The audience sits impatiently, wondering what could possibly take so long in an amateur production. The town band plays on, one old song and two from Disney movies, as if losing the battle of securing us to a receding past.  But as the sky darkens and the many backstage workers need light later, their overhead hardware-store floodlights behind the curtain start to illuminate their many movements after Act II, and are fully, though eerily visible after Act III. We sit and watch the ghosts of decades of stagehands move complicated scenery to set up another 19th C moment, defiantly staking the past into the stage.  Five minutes, almost ten of human shapes disassembling a Place and assembling another. Next year it will be even more pronounced, and they will set the scene One Last Time before it slips into the abyss. It will not be some magnificent Wagnerian set they preserve against the Götterdämmerung; it's just an old farmhouse behind a scrim. Oddly, it is revealed at the end they had another curtain they could have pulled between to disguise it all along. Accident.

Touch carefully.  If you go next year you might leave this time and not get back.