Friday, January 19, 2018

Kingston Trio

I grew up on the Kingston Trio, because my mother loved them. When I came to buying my own records in 1965 - California Dreamin' - I already leaned to folk music.  They brought me down the road to liberalism, I've said kiddingly, though I didn't notice that at the time - I just liked harmony. Perhaps I shouldn't kid about it. It may have been more of an influence than I credited. The send-up of the Trio in "A Mighty Wind" captured them well at the end, hastily covering a blank time on the stage by going into a serious story about the Spanish Civil War.  Their introductions did sound like that.

I had almost a dozen of their 33 1/3 rpms by the time I finished, but "Here We Go Again," "Sold Out," and "College Concert" were my originals.  Like any geeky little kid, I can sing them in order and remember the liner notes. Predictably, I still just add harmony in to any song I hear. A rumbling hummed bass line if I don't know the song, some more adventurous things if I do. It just pleases my ears.

Too Involved

I am using a twelve-day guest membership at the Y. I keep it simple, walking on the treadmill at a severe incline. I have never watched sports on the wall TV while walking on the treadmill.  I find I have to hold the railings, because I lean in to the action on the screen.  If the running back cuts left, I mimic this. Even when I tell myself not to, it merely decreases the effect, not eliminates it.

I recall from video games that I would do something similar.  Playing Pac-Man would would make me tense and wear out not only my wrist, not only my arm, but my whole upper body.  There are those who can stand immobile and gently move controls, but I suspect most people move sympathetically with the action, at least a bit. I have no doubt that I am well worse than average on this scale. It feels hard-wired. I do something like this in action movies as well, and even some whivh are not action movies.  I am far too part of what happens on the screen, like the rabbits in Watership Down when listening to a storyteller. I duck, I wince, I laugh and respond much more loudly than others. If a screen is happening, I have to pay attention to it.  If songs with lyrics are playing I cannot keep it in the background, I cannot ignore it.  Ditto the radio in another room, if the words are discernible. Only in the presence of a more powerful distraction can I not attend.

I suspect it is more like what our ancestors did - our remoter, more primitive ancestors.

It is a possible explanation why I mistrust movies.  I view them as too powerful for our neurology.  Mine anyway.

How To Lie With Maps

My wife gave me the book by Monmonier for Christmas - she likes to try and find things not on my list if she can. It's a solid book, one that you pick up to get a Cartography 101 course. There were things I knew about maps just from frequent use that I didn't know the names for, and close definitions usually give you quick, improved understanding of what you learned informally. So I'm sailing through the first 40 pages happily, even though there aren't many of the fascinating anecdotes one hopes to get from a book with such a title. Mildly challenging, head-nodding "yep...yep..." sort of stuff.

On page 41 he shows me something I have never noticed, but instantly recognise as a way to lie with maps that can be powerful: the ranges in the legend. Such as this one, which I came across a day later. (Click to enlarge)

By Bill Rankin — Citynoise (talk • contribs) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I almost missed this, following my little information trail after Grim mentioned the general topic. Just as I was about to click off I checked the population density legend and saw, by golly, exactly what Monmonier had written about. Those are curious adjoining ranges in there.
Less than 150
Over 7500

I don't say they are wrong or deceitful.  They may be the cartographer's best compromise to illustrate density.  For all I know, those ranges may be a common convention used worldwide. The downward track in the later ranges, 200%...167%...150% seems sensible, as do the Less than/Over cutoffs. Other numbers might have told the story as well, but these do the job. If "less than 250" had been chosen for the first color, then the second would be 300% higher, fitting the trend above. Perhaps Rankin though it important to add that extra level of distinction at the lowest level. One of Monmonier's repeated points is that all maps lie, because they have to suppress some information in order to highlight other information.

Yet I had unconsciously assumed the legend marked some regular interval.  Bad assumption, even with honorable, skilled cartographers. Cue Batman: "Imagine what this weapon could do if it fell into the wrong hands, Robin."

Additional notes: The only other map with NE at the top is the Appalachian Trail map, which covers an expanded version of this area. The 45-degree difference really does show the terrain and city connections differently. Another way to "lie" with a map, by telling a more important truth.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

That Was Quick

Most holidays turn into something else. Memorial Day becomes a day for all the dead. Hallowe'en is about costumes, plus candy for children and sex for adults. Not many people think about the Labor Movement on Labor Day. Presidents Day is about buying cars. And don't get me started about Christmas, which has become at least three other holidays. This despite the serious effort of many people to read the correct Bible passages and get people focused on the Incarnation every December, with a four-week warmup.

Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday isn't much about MLK now, any more than bunnies are about Easter. It's not even really about Civil Rights, though that's a bit closer.  There is at least a nod to remembering protestors.

What is it now, and what is it becoming?  I think it is a merger of Black People's Day and Liberals' Day. Conservatives quoting actual words of King are viewed as unworthily touching holy things. From what I hear at work, I have strong suspicions that it means different things to African-Americans of my generation versus the currently rising generation.  But that's a long guess on my part.  Others would know better.

The holiday isn't that old, either.

Dorogoy Dlinnoyu

James linked to this.

Fun for those of us about my age, who knew only the Mary Hopkins version.  I had thought until now that the song was from the 1970's written to be evocative of earlier, and clearly European experiences. I had thought France, because of the accordion.  (Was there an accordion?) Well, think is clearly too generous a word.  I had that impression, that is all. My wife thought Eastern European, but also thought it was more modern.

I note again that Eastern European children seem to embrace traditional songs and dances more than American children who seek to distance themselves. The judges are rather obviously drawn from the cool kids in the entertainment biz there. They are stirred, they love it.  I had thought that was Romania and the other smaller countries, whose nationalism was suppressed by the Soviets, or whose independence was more recent, such as Norway. Yet this is Russian. Were folksongs and dances suppressed in Russia?

Res ipsa loquitor

That is, "the thing speaks for itself."  Something that is so obvious that it needs no further explanation.

A tactic that is becoming common on Facebook is "I'll just leave this here." Someone will link to a story that they think says it all. No further evidence or argument offered. I'm not recalling a conservative on my feed doing this.  Thus far, it has been liberals. The ironic point is that I think all of them don't actually speak for themselves. I'm trying to remember if any of them actually speak for themselves.  Each one seems worthy of comment and further discussion, to my mind. It reminds me of people who sign off "peace," when they clearly mean "Fuck you. But I'm a morally superior person who actually wants to live in harmony with the world." It is only used when it is untrue. My current understanding of the phrase "I'll just leave this here" is this is so devastating to the people on the other side because there is no possible response to it. It is unanswerable and shows they are wrong/hypocrites/stupid/liars, etc.

Perhaps.  You may know of counterexamples.  We have reviewed many times the ways in which my sample is unrepresentative.

I am imagining one of my conservative friends at work coming up and chuckling and telling me the story of their uncle who posted on FB "My announcement for Veterans Day is that Obama is a piece of shit."  What would we think of such a thing? Even if we didn't like Obama, wouldn't we feel that the whole thing was sort of embarrassing, and that some better argument than mere name-calling should be made? We know there are such people, but would we draw attention to them?  Or during the 2016 campaign, if someone had regaled you with the humorous tale of his niece, who is quite opinionated, saying "This Fourth of July, it's important to remember that Hillary Clinton is a piece of shit." Wouldn't we think that said niece was not merely "opinionated," but rather low, unintelligent, and extremist?  Wouldn't it be odd to think that a relative would make this public, rather than just downplay it and not mention it outside the family, hoping it would go away?

This morning a psychiatrist friend came up and told me - chuckling - his niece had posted on FB: "My announcement for Martin Luther King Day is that Donald Trump is a piece of shit." To them it's res ipsa loquitor. To use that language is merely colorful, and showing the team colors ins dramatic fashion.

The words that mainstream liberals use are the same as extremist conservatives.

This is how you get more Trump.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


If I wanted to curse my enemy, I would send him vacuous affirming cliches, such as make it to motivational posters and FB shares.  You must first love yourself before you can love others. Learn to accept yourself for the woman you are, and tune out all the negativity. Follow Your Bliss. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - And It's All Small Stuff. He would then never know he had any spiritual danger.
(From the wonderful

Somewhat relatedly. Social workers and others in mental health like to post little bits of encouragement on their office wall.  Except, admonishments to be kind or to listen have one meaning if they are reminders to oneself, and quite another if they are little snippy sermons directed at everyone else.  I have written Don't Take It Personally across the top line of my notepad for years. It is there because that is one of my downfalls, and I need to tell myself frequently throughout the day.  It might mean something much less attractive if I were saying it to others.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Genes and IQ Again

That 50% number keeps coming up, this time in a Nature article "Genomic analysis of family data reveals additional genetic effects on intelligence and personality." Two things to note: this doesn't mean that the other 50% is environmental. To date, very little can be shown to be environmental with the strength that this study shows for genetics.  The remaining 50% is "other," and seems to be uncomfortably random. A Tom Stoppard world.

The second point to be alert to is that personality characteristics are being measured with more rigor and confidence, and these will increasingly enter the discussion of heritability

(HT: Steve Sailer)

Tne Narrative of Our Lives

Let me mention again how curious it is that we have a final-moments narrative not only about repentance, but about whether a person's life was happy on this earth. If a person has a generally wonderful life, with friends, family, productive activity, health, and all the fixin's yet dies alone in a last few minutes of pain and confusion, or even a bit neglected and lonely over the final year at a ripe age because loved ones are far or have already died we feel that it's all so terribly sad.  In the opposite case, a person who was abused and struggled, suffered through bad health and general privation but comes in the final year to have come to a place of joy and acceptance we tend to think of it as a good life, solely because of the happy ending.  I don't think the books and movies trained us to this (though they might have), but the books and movies reflect what is already installed in our psyches.

How the story ends works backwards on our understanding.  Even as I find this not quite sensible, and even a little horrifying, I find the feeling in myself.  To die alone is seen as a great tragedy, but is it?  I might rather be left alone with my God myself - the rest of you will do fine without having to be there. There are worse terrors than being alone.

Is this so in all cultures or only Abrahamic ones, where the triumphant end to the spiritual story primes us to treat earthly life the same way?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Least Favorite Verses

Christians seem to have a thing about favorite Bible verses.  We are more likely to learn something from our least-favorite verses. CS Lewis uses this idea as his Introduction in Reflections on the Psalms.

My own "favorite" captures some of that, but not in a heavy dose. Anything more strenuous I must be turning away from. Genesis 50, Joseph speaking after the death of their father to his brothers who sold him into slavery. Verse 20: "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." I have come to see much that has happened to me in that light.  Unfortunately, it is only much later that I come to that realisation.  It would be far better if I could see that while it was happening.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Fake News

ESPN keeping the importance of LaVar Ball artificially inflated is an excellent example of how media can do that politically as well, making something a story that has no intrinsic importance, because it meets their needs.

A Gentle Reminder

There is an essay attributed to Pope Francis circulating recently. He didn't write it.  I have linked it via the Snopes discussion just to make sure you don't lose your head and think it's real.

There is a whole subscene over at the Official C S Lewis FB page dealing with quotes falsely attributed to  Lewis. Quotes about peace and war get attributed to Einstein frequently. Lincoln, Churchill, and Gandhi often get their names slapped onto ideas that people want to puff up a bit and push into wider acceptance.

I find the ones attributed to Christians curious. The first sentence of "A Gentle Reminder" is "This life will go by fast." It just doesn't have the right ring to come from any pope, even this one who does sometimes utter thoughtless banalities when speaking off the cuff. (The writers over at "First Things" assure me he is better on his more careful, thought-through statements.) One of the false Lewis quote begins "You are never too old to dream a new dream..." I knew instantly that Lewis never said anything like that. Some of the fake quotes are not too far off, as CSL did write something like them. Yet some are just immediately impossible. When the quote-police (I am among them) come out, others get irritated, sometimes claiming that he might have said it somewhere that we just don't know about. Technically, yes, but really, no. There are any number of us at the site who have everything or nearly everything of Lewis's, and taken together, we would know. Also, the quote being shoved forward often has words or phrases that are clearly modern, that could not have been written before 1990.

But more than that, one can tell by some quality of the depth and the tone. There might be serious comments that would set us back for a time, because the phrasing and sentiment were possible. Yet these are seldom the issue.  The superficialities, the poorly-understood theology, the cliches are far more frequent. When people protest that this sense that frequent readers of Lewis have is not something real, it is something we are making up, I have to conclude that they don't see the difference themselves because their own understanding of Lewis, and likely of theology or even of God is superficial. Or they want following Christ to not be much of a hardship, to be a matter of cheerfulness and no sacrifice.

They really think that a Pope would write a letter to his flock telling them to "allow dogs to get closer," and to "give yourselves the pleasures you deserve."

Saturday, January 06, 2018


When Dr. Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel,he was ignorant of the infinite possibilities contained in the word reform. (Theodore Roosevelt, Autobiography, crediting Tom Reed of Maine with the original thought.) Let the reader note that Roosevelt considered himself a reformer.