Thursday, January 29, 2015


There was a link over at Maggie's to a HuffPo article on addiction. Specifically, there was a long discussion of Johann Hari's book Chasing the Scream. (No link. Deal with it.)

Hari does shove some myths about addiction up against the wall very effectively, and that's a good thing.  But the general premise is that people emotionally bond with alcohol and drugs because they don't have available friendship and support bonds in their environment, and divert to that substitute. Not 100% false.

But consider: if that were the main cause of addiction, then when young people were vulnerable and away from home for the first time we could create organisations for them that would provide emotional support. It might be better if they were same-sex, to remove the added romantic and sexual complications and provide a type of support not available in the general milieu.  Academic encouragement.  Opportunities for leadership over minor activities of life. Networking and exposure to people of different talents and interests. They could even provide venues for opposite sex interactions.

We could call these organisations fraternities and sororities to emphasise the undergirding of classical learning, camaraderie, and unsexualised bonding.

I'll bet people would hardly drink there at all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Autumn Leaves

Exaggerated.  Over-the-top. Chewing Scenery, even.

God, I love it.

The  color which the English called "Philly Mort," in the 16th C, an orange-brown hobbitish sort of color, comes from this French phrase.

(I don't know why images and videos keep disappearing without a trace when I post them)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Use of Music

The Dropkick Murphy's are incensed that Scott Walker is using their "Shipping Up To Boston" as an entrance song.  They hate him because, well, they're from Quincy, and they're Irish, and being a pro-union Democrat is simply in their blood.

I have written many songs, none memorable, and have a few other creative endeavors over the years, and I absolutely get how unfair it would feel for any of that were used in support of a cause I disagreed with.  Unfortunately for them, unions are just about the one group in the country that would be hypocrites to object to that.  It was a specific strategy in the 20th C for union organisers, taught to them by the CPUSA, to repurpose hymns, popular songs, and folk songs with new lyrics. You will find a couple on just about every Pete Seeger album.

I don't want to therefore call it a communist strategy - I think the CPUSA got it from 19th C nationalist and revolutionary groups, which in turn may have gotten it from Protestant revival groups going back to Luther, at least.  It is used because it is effective.

Small Things

My eldest son’s Facebook jab at me on Sunday was along the lines of “It seems my Dad’s day has been spent on FB arguing with people he doesn’t know, defending someone he doesn’t like, as a matter of principle.  This is a small sample of what my childhood was like.”  I got one vote of support, but it was from someone who also does the same thing. 

The impression that people have is that this is a lot of energy to expend on small, unimportant things. It does look that way, and I certainly sympathise with people trapped in situations where others have lost all sense of proportion, as that’s what I experience at work a lot.  Yet to me, that is not the problem.  The problem is that by personality and style I am not at all persuasive in those situations.  Likely, people dig in even harder after.

They may in fact be small issues.  I may be merely engaging in an extended act of self-justification here – not the first time. But I don’t think these particular small things were trivial – I think they are disguised as small things so that people can be mean and not get called on it. There has been a lot of recent research to the effect that we make up our minds about things quickly, even sub-rationally, then go in search of intellectual justifications a moment later. The latter is also very swift, but in service to the first, which is the ruler.  Jonathan Haidt’s work is prominent here.  I have only read a few excerpts and summaries of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, but it seems he reviews much of the recent literature there.

Thus, when we are discussing political ideas and candidates, we think we are evaluating tax policies, reviewing foreign policy experience, and other activities of reason, but actually are not.  Even the brightest and most rational of us are actually acting out some knee-jerk “four-legs good, two legs bad” evaluation in the first moment, then inviting the rest of the brain to come over and bail us out by constructing a logical support. We resist this idea, wanting to believe we have control of our own thoughts and decisions.  I did an extended series on it a few years ago.  (Check it out if you want, but even I didn’t go look at it again.)

Let us say that at minimum, a whole lot of people do this, and make up their minds about what their politics are going to be on the basis of what their friends or the people they admire seem to believe, or what the smart people, or the empathetic people, or the hardworking people, or the born-again people, or the black people, or the educated people believe. They may say otherwise, but the evidence is against them.  When challenged, all they can do is be insulting, resort to further clichés, or otherwise dodge. Seldom does anyone take it back, saying “it’s a small thing, I was just trying to be cute, it really was kind of unfair.”  They double down. How dare you, you petty unfair person, call me out for making a petty unfair remark.

A quick recap of the data.  A young friend had linked to a post about Palin running in 2016, with his own brief comment that he didn’t like the idea. Entirely reasonable. A young woman commented that no one from Wasilla could see Russia from their house.  I jumped in to say that Palin had not said this, Tina Fey had said it while pretending to be her. The woman replied I was being too serious and sent a video of a mentally-ill person saying foolish things, encouraging me to laugh and have a beer. Okay, she had no way of knowing how deeply offensive that is to me, because she doesn’t know who I am and what I do for a living.  But it’s offensive anyway, even if I’m not present. So it does confirm to me that this is a person who just says stuff to be funny, doesn’t care if it’s true or fair, and thinks she’s entitled to do this with no pushback.  The deeper point is that this is exactly the sort of thing that rules her politics, and how she will make her decisions. Her vote springs from this place, and she is happy to influence others of like mind in a public forum. 

She, rather obviously, doesn’t think it’s small at all. 

Other comments went in directions I didn’t pay attention to.  A couple of guys seemed to be accusing the original poster of being a damn liberal and Hillary supporter (both untrue) and getting into some rants about Obama.  He was holding his own and they weren’t listening, so I didn’t jump in there.  Only by accident did I encounter another commenter in that part of the discussion, stating he is 71 and had seen many elections, and he had never seen anyone get attacked as Obama has been.  In the old days, people got upset during elections but once a president was elected we all got behind him.
That’s just insanely inaccurate.  If he had left it that Obama was being attacked unfairly and people sure do get angry quickly I would have shrugged – evidence for that claim was right above him in the thread, after all. But now, he has to add some mythology to it as well and I contradicted him.  Hard. With evidence.  Not because I thought I had any chance of persuading him, but for any others who might be reading.  This is where his vote springs from.  Obama’s critics are some new, divisive force in America’s politics. He didn’t think it was small either, and doubled down. A person who thought it was small would back off a bit, saying that yes, other presidents had received a lot of hateful criticism, he just thought it was worse with Obama. Which I might disagree with, but is at least a reasonable POV. 

Glenn Reynolds linked back to advice he had given a few years ago about how to influence popular culture.  I suppose he’s right, but even if I were one of those big donors I’m not sure I could do it.  It seems shoddy and unfair, with no respect for one’s audience.  Knowing that people with other politics are doing this and influencing elections should perhaps convince me, but it doesn’t move the dial.

Evangelical Class On Marriage

I would like to thank my wife for talking me back from the edge every week in our Sunday School class on marriage.  I’m getting better.  This week I calmed myself down about halfway after my initial fuming.  The tone of the lessons seems to address newly-Christian or young couples who are experiencing their first disillusionment, or some reminder of this on a second or third disappointment.  We’ve been married almost forty years, and have a few hundred disillusionments each, so bright clichés aren’t all the helpful.  Y’hear? These are also much the same clichés we encountered in the 1970’s, with heavy emphasis on Adam and Eve, and the differing (but equally important!  Did we mention they were equally important?!) roles for husbands and wives. One homework assignment was to discuss what our expectations of marriage had been.  I dunno.  I’ve forgotten.  I’m sure it was important at the time.

To give credit where credit is due: it has a particularly good description of servant, sacrificial leadership that is not merely superficial enjoinders to lead family devotions and being a good example.  I was able to appreciate that when A) I had calmed down and B) my wife pointed it out.  This is why I’m staying with the class, because even a flawed tool can be useful.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out… Matthew 12:20, from Isaiah 42:3.  (See, I can still do this evangelical stuff just fine.)  Cliches have their value – that’s how they got to be clichés – and it’s good to be reminded that marriage is about God, not about us.

We didn’t know much about marriage when we first learned these things, so creating some structure, some cuphooks on which to hang the cups is likely one of the best things a teacher can do.  It probably contributed more to our understanding and adapting to differences than we give it credit for.  I say that resignedly, with bad grace.  Because now we do know something about marriage – we have friends and coworkers whose marriages have failed while others endured even through hardship;  we now understand our parents better, we have other couples who we have discussed marriage with, and have seen another generation grow up and start families.  I can now say with some confidence that what keeps marriages together and takes them apart is ultimately not whether they got Ephesians 5 right but whether they got the equal-opportunity Ten Commandments right.  At best, putting so much energy into the roles of husbands and wives is majoring in minors.  At worst, it is an excuse for bullying men or dependent women to engage in bad behavior; or a purely cultural attempt to refight the battle between the Pretend 1950’s and Pretend 1960’s yet again, misunderstanding both.

Related, tangential. A lot of politics seems to be rooted in How Women Should Act, with many different points of view trying to capture territory of whose women are smarter, stronger, more realistic, engaged in more valuable activity.  And the women seem to be doing most of that arguing, with men trying to pick up cues and say the things that the women from their group approve of. Thought:  men who do that well are loved by one of the few main sides and hated by at least one of the other sides; men who do that poorly are disliked by all sides. End tangent.

So now we have Date Night, one of those patent medicines that is good for both epilepsy and apoplexy.  We have had fun, so I am grousing to no purpose.  Perhaps I am just reacting badly to Date Night Suggestions, which seem to fall below even the level of those board games that are designed to be helpful rather than entertaining. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Words That Deserve Wider Use

This site seems to have a pretty good list.

For example, Execrable) Atrocious, wretched, deplorable, extremely inferior.We were appalled to discover that even though he had a master's degree, his spelling was execrable.

Or, Mawkish - Excessively sentimental, sappy, hopelessly trite.To her surprise, Alice found Brian's vows of love embarrassingly mawkish and cloying. Words he probably thought of as lyrical just made her feel sticky, as though she were being painted with molasses.  Not ridiculously obscure one-off words, such as is found in the notorious Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary, which I of course own, but even I don't use. eglomerate, v.t. to unwind jyotishi n. a superior fortuneteller and all-around oracle. There are some recognisable words in it, and others that look like specialised terms that might still be used by someone. But most are quite a stretch, even around here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Meldrim Thomson, Jr - Wandering Ruminations.

If one goes to look up Meldrim Thomson, governor of NH in the 1970's, by checking Bing Images, one gets a curious result. There are pictures of Mel, but also of David Souter, Louis Wyman, and my pal Chuck Douglas. If you click through, they are not just in there because they are associated with the Governor, which frequently happens on image searches.  It is actually Souter's photo in the sidebar at Bing. There are web sites with pictures of the others, identifying them in the captions as Thomson. Bizarre.

David Souter was Attorney General under Thomson, which was part of why John Sununu recommended him to President George H W Bush as a reliably conservative SCOTUS nominee.  Or, if you believe the scuttlebutt of Concord lawyers, it was how Senator Warren Rudman convinced Sununu, even though Rudman knew otherwise.  But Souter looks nothing like Thomson.

Louis C. Wyman, governor of and Senator from NH at least looks a bit like him, and was a Republican of the same era.  Louis is no close relation of mine, BTW, though our family joked that when I was a boy.  I learned a few years ago that my mother once dated his campaign manager. Yes, NH is a small state, and was smaller then. But you'd think that would make it easier to keep people straight, not harder.

Chuck Douglas, once Congressman from NH, and a member of the very small church in Concord we went to until it closed, looks even less like any of them - and is later in the political picture of NH. How someone thought he was Mel Thomson is just strange.

If anyone were to be confused with Thomson, I would have predicted William Loeb, publisher of the very conservative Manchester Union Leader.  He was a big Thomson supporter, and they were often on the dais together.

Thomson came up because Grim over at Grim's Hall was commenting about a politician in Georgia being away without explanation.  It reminded me of Mel, who had strong ties to some very right-wing groups, and was much involved with national and international issues.  He would therefore go places like Panama or South Africa while he was supposed to be working in NH.  Conservatives did love him, but in NH you had bettah attend to business heah, mistah, and not go gallivantin' all ovah creation.  It's not like there were import international trade issues that needed on-the-spot addressing. I think it was all the attention-seeking that eventually did him in up here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Meldrim Thomson, Jr.

I had thought this was going to be quick and easy, but my rough draft already needs condensing.

Mel "Ax the Tax" Thomson, from tiny Orford, NH, was governor of NH in the 1970's.  Older locals can look back and contemplate, others can look him up, or you can wait for me to surprise you.  But the topic rapidly got out-of-hand, and I will need some time to think.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It Has Been Awhile - Abba

This song would be more problematic these days, I suspect.