Sunday, April 29, 2018


Eating you can do alone, dining requires friends.

I like the "Legendary Enchainment." We haven't quite done that, but we've come close a few times.

Out-herods Herod

If you haven't read Warren's piece on showing emotion, do. "In every “traditional” culture I have encountered, raw emotion is masked."
But we had once been much like them. Once, we had taken our lumps, silently; once, we had ritualized external display. And this was decency. You (anyone) will never be able to see inside a marriage that is not your own; or inside a family death. Words don’t go there.

I want to take his idea a different direction.

IIRC, actors as a group have often been, if not despised, at least considered low class. Since I live in a culture that reveres the famous, I've had to project what the reason might have been--and to me it seemed very possible that one doesn't find it easy to trust people who specialize in lying about who they are and what they think.

But this makes sense--the actors, by wildly showing emotion, would have been acting in ways decent people didn't. And so decent people disdain them. Even when they patronize them.

How did we get from there to here? Catharsis for therapy? We get to blame Freud. Somehow or another the notion arose that the stronger your emotion, and the less able to control it you therefore were, the more powerful and majestic your character must be. Maybe we can blame the artists. Or perhaps is isn't a matter of lack of control--you do the world a favor when you illustrate your glorious and sensitive nature by inflicting your spleen on the rest of us. Hmm. Or perhaps the rest of the world doesn't really exist? We get to blame the philosophers.

There are undoubtedly positives and negatives each way. You'd think we'd be more alive to the negatives in a culture we live in than one we only know from stories, but maybe not when the differences are so great that we don't understand the stories.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Giving up on satire

When I studied at U of I at Chicago Circle the campus was alive with student radicals. The editors of the student newspaper printed a series of letters I wrote designed as satires of the radicals' frantic screeds. I was ridiculously proud to overhear someone tentatively speculating that maybe one of the letters might not be real. (Ho Lee, Chairman of the Re-Education Committee--I don't know if anybody got the pun) I excoriated Sri Lankan watermelons and called for a demonstration against oppressively produced cotton, with divestiture of the same.

I kept and lost copies, which is probably no great loss: reality catches up with satire. I wrote a little satirical piece a couple of years ago explaining how I identified as a gazelle and needed trans-species surgery. I gather that at google you now can identify as a dragon without being mocked.

What do you do when people not only have no shame, they have no sense of the ridiculous?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


AVI links to an article about Japanese "rental families." You may rent actors to portray family members. A man who was too embarrassed to admit to his fiance that his parents were dead rented actors to play his parents at their wedding. Another whose wife had died and whose daughter was estranged hired actors to be his wife and daughter, so he wouldn't be so lonely.

It makes for sad reading--"It is not good for man to be alone," but how poorly we often manage the relationships we have, and how hard it is to establish new ones. Once the barrier is down and there is someone present and the illusion of a relationship, some clients aren't content to maintain the play and want something more real. Some, though, are ok with living in illusion.

The rental agency owner says 30-40% of the rental husbands wind up being proposed to by the woman. The story didn't say how many accepted--I suspect few.

But before you think "It's their choice, and it doesn't hurt anybody," notice the additional services available.

If you make a mistake at work, and a disgruntled client or customer demands to see your supervisor, you can hire Ishii to impersonate the supervisor. Ishii, identifying himself as a department head, will then apologize. If the apology isn’t accepted, a different actor can be sent to apologize as the division head. If the division head doesn’t get results, Ishii dispatches a remorseful president. These situations can get complicated, because the real department heads and presidents aren’t aware that they have apologized.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tailored Awards

Have you noticed that when the ball game is going slowly, the radio announcers regale us with statistics like "He has struck out more left-handed second basemen than any pitcher since 2005"?

"... she was named one of the most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40"

Friday, April 20, 2018

How accurate are our evaluations?

If I were inclined to gamble, I'd have risked a month's income that the two gentlemen who boarded the bus Monday were more than slightly acquainted with prison life, and probably were still gang-affiliated.

Demeanor, clothing, something about the expression and the way they looked at people--I can't pin down the details, but put it all together and it added up to "people who found the trouble they went looking for."

The newspaper publishes mug shots of those arrested or convicted, and most of the time the perp looks the part. You'd avoid him, or not trust her checks, just because of the way they looked. "The eyes are the mirror of the soul"--and maybe "a lifetime of bad character" puts a stamp on the features.

Not always. The bank robber trio consisted of a man who looked suitably violent and two younger men who looked, for a change, quite harmless. False negatives.

And my driver's license photo shows me as a malevolent zombie, which I trust is a false positive. I'm not shambling, I just have a bum knee!

But a lot of the time it works--at least within a single culture. Skillful manipulators can fool pretty much anybody, and some people (and animals) have unfortunate features that give a terrible first impression. (I'm thinking of a prognathous and jut-fanged dog that looked aggressive, but tended skittish.)

I don't know if this was replicated, but the claim that people are good at spotting the naturally empathetic was interesting. I don't think I'd put much faith in studies involving people looking at pictures--face to face evaluations include far more information. Can we put numbers to this with any reliability?

Somebody must have done some studies of this for use in jury selection. Guilty or innocent? Hmm. He's in a suit, and smiling almost normally, just as he's been coached, but we're not face to face and not talking together.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Why doesn't your soda can dissolve?

I only just found this article on aluminum cans. No, it isn't boring. Simple things, like pencils, rarely are when you look at them closely.


Given that the Syrian war is mostly unfriendlies fighting each other, why would we get involved?

I would have easily believed that the strike was a result of "policy momentum,(*)" with nobody thinking carefully about strategic interests. We've seen that show before. I could believe that we browbeat the British into joining the team. But the French? What made them join up?

After a bit of reflection, I think I get it. Poison gas and bio-weapons are the poor man's nukes. Somebody was getting a bit too liberal with their use, and several countries thought that should be discouraged. That both we and the French have a strategic interest in.

And I gather that we telegraphed the heck out of the attack, and didn't blow up all that much. Shot over the bow.

(*) We found and supported some "moderates" who turned out to be anything but, and it seemed that our moral support for one side continued out of habit.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fringes of the storm

Snow we don't mind so much--but freezing rain isn't so welcome. We took a birthday visit to the Stoughton Opera House (first time--nice place) to see the UW Russian Folk Orchestra. They were fun and the conductor is a good showman. They mixed in a Scott Joplin rag and some non-folk pieces--the Sabre Dance really needs some percussion and they didn't have it at this venue.

The prima balalaika was plucked at the apex of the triangle--they pluck the larger ones and the domra farther down on the body. I asked if anybody ever bowed the balalaika--the apex looked narrow enough that you could do it despite the instrument's flat string layout--but apparently nobody does.

I took it very slow coming back in the van--windy (*)sleet and snow over sleet, and no snowplows in sight. This morning everything was re-cased in sleet, and we had to be at church early for rehearsals--traveling slowly again.(**) I don't know that this is a day of rest, but it is in many ways a slow day.

We've light snow all this day, and supposedly into tonight too.

The track of the worst of the storm missed us. Maybe that's where all the snowplows went.

(* )A disconsolate-looking robin has stayed as close to our house as it dares, flitting only far enough to put a little distance between us and then circling back. (I saw no nest.)

(**) I am His and He is Mine (1876) has the rather clunky line "Heav’n and earth may fade and flee, Firstborn light in gloom decline". That's a clumsy but not inapt way of describing the red-shifting of the Universe's first light.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Children at the museum

There were three youngsters at the Field Museum with us the other day. Funny how what interests adults doesn't always interest the younger folk. I thought everybody would get a kick out of the mummy exhibit. Not all. I thought the notion of a simple little barnacle gnawing a hole through stone would fascinate. If so, they hid it well. And I wanted to spend a little (lot) of browsing time with the Qing Ming Festival scroll.

Still, we had a good time.

I'll have to find the scroll online.

Missing the point?

There's a business just off East Washington Street called Earthview Yoga.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Choose to do together

"Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together." (I saw this on Facebook, but it turns out to be a real quotation anyway (Barney Frank).(*) ) Except that there’s a little difference between kids negotiating a 7-player pickup game of softball, and government. Remember what it is?
Back in the late 1980s, before going into the military, I worked for a furniture dealer in Cincinnati, which supplied high-end furnishings throughout the tri-state area. Mostly I worked in the warehouse, but occasionally I was asked to take a delivery truck and run one of the orders out to a customer site. On one of these runs, I had to drive deep into the Kentucky hills, far from the main highways, and as luck would have it, the truck broke down. Remember, in those days, before cell phones, being stranded was a much greater inconvenience that it is today. I had to flag down a passing vehicle, and it was two hours before an old, decrepit pickup truck stopped for me. Getting in the cab, I noticed the driver bore every resemblance to a mountain man: overalls, long beard, floppy hat, the works. But he was friendly, and offered to drive me into the next town to find a telephone.

We drove along the narrow road for some time before the driver said, “Why don’t you reach underneath your seat and get that jug?” Uh-oh, moonshine, I thought, but I did as he asked. Yep, a clear glass jug, maybe half a gallon or so, with a pale yellow liquid filling it. “Now, how’s about you open it up?” he said. I pulled out the cork, and immediately my eyes filled with tears, and I think my eyebrows started to ignite. “Now,” the driver said, “how’s about you take a swig?”

“Oh, I’m much obliged,” I stuttered, “but you know, I’m still officially on the job, so I can’t take a drink –“ The next thing I saw was the gun, pointed at my head. The driver said, “Now, I asked, how’s about you take a drink?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and I did. I think I’d rather have been shot in the head! I gasped, I gagged, I did my best to stop heaving, I was in a cold sweat. “Smooth!” I said.

“Well, that’s real nice,” said the driver, handing me the gun. Now, how’s about you hold the gun to my head so I can take a drink?”(**)

If you take the "things we choose to do together" quota at full value, it sounds very familiar: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Kind of by definition…

"We don’t mean it that way!"

Maybe not, but for some reason that’s the way it generally works out. There's always a good reason to oversee those voluntary associations. They can't be trusted, you know--people use them as a cover for badthink. Only when everyone has pure thoughts™ will everyone do good things and we finally achieve our Utopia.

"You know what we mean--we don’t do it the way he did!"

Fortunately, though with some notable exceptions (e.g. Antifa), that's sort of true—we're not seeing many squadristi. But the squadristi are only needed until you get hold of the levers that let you hire and fire and prosecute. When you can get someone fired for this week’s badthink, why bother with inconvenient thugs?

(*) News on Facebook is marginally more reliable than the Onion's, and vastly less amusing.

(**) Shamelessly cribbed from somebody called "Old RPM Daddy." I read a different version back in the 70's.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018


I grew up thinking that fasting was going without any food, though maybe with a little water, for however long the fast might be. Even when I learned better, it was still a little startling to read that penances of year-long fasts were sometimes assigned.(*)

The Orthodox fasting rules are quite rigorous--even stricter than those of vegans.(**) To try to keep those would require coordination with other folks who also eat here. There's an old rule about accepting hospitality that says that if someone who doesn't know you are fasting offers you food, Jesus' rule about not letting people know about fasting holds, and you should accept. So, if you don't tell anybody, and someone fixes breakfast for you... I suspect that's a bit like lifting weights until you "think you're tired."

I get dizzy and fuzzy after too long without food--and both my travel and my job demand focus. And other dietary constraints apply.

Excuses, excuses.

From a site on fasting for non-monastics: "Priests, of course, do not have breakfast before serving the Liturgy, and maybe that is why some of our sermons are not as good as they could be."

(*) From the Canons of Theodore "If a man commits adultery, he is to fast 7 years, 3 days each week on bread and water" Also "If any man steals things of value, if he is a layman, he is to fast 5 years; if a subdeacon, 6 years; if a deacon, 7 years; if a masspriest, 10 years; if a bishop, 12 years." This seems to make Tetzel's wares a little more attractive. (The Canons weren't in use anymore by then, though.)

(**) Is it holiness or forgiveness that vegans seek?

Monday, April 02, 2018

Mediterranean flood

"Once upon a time there was a massive flood across the Mediterranean Sea, an in-pouring of water so huge that it excavated a canyon five kilometres deep and 20 kilometres long, and created a waterfall with a 1.5 kilometre drop."

This was about 5.3 million years ago.

Did this change in Atlantic currents have effects on the climate? I figure that if it refilled in 2 years as the article says, the volume of water moving would have been about 1/2 of the circumpolar current, so this could have been significant, especially if it drained from one direction more than another--Coriolis effect should send some north water down and out into the Atlantic. I'm not sure what effect this would have, though. These days the north-south current there is warm, not cold.

It is way too early to have any bearing on Ice Ages (2.6 million years ago).

Sunday, April 01, 2018


We sang this morning of Jesus' tearing the bars away.

But the bars are far more terrible than any iron rods for isolation--they are bars of dust and dissolution, bars of forgetfulness and loss, bars to turn glory into nothing.

You can imagine someone standing at a tomb and calling back the departed, but imagination fails at the challenge to raise yourself from nothing. That needs someone who can create from nothing--and this is an even bigger task.


David Warren had a good question: if Scalfari persistently misrepresents Francis, why does Francis keep talking with him?

Maybe they're really good friends, or maybe Francis tries to agree with Scalfari as much as he can. Or maybe Francis likes showing off how sophisticated he can be. Or maybe he fumbles his words like a couple of recent presidents we've had.

We all adjust our conversation to our companions. Well, almost all of us. "Know thy audience" is frequently heard around here.

I'm not sure where to look for an accurate appraisal. Most big media outlets are both hostile and bone ignorant, and the Vatican sometimes speaks with many voices. Maybe the Bee had a scoop.

Fortunately I'm not in a position to say what hell is like.(*) We were admonished that heaven is not something we're able to imagine, and probably hell is likewise not imaginable. C.S. Lewis experimented with some annihilation-ist like stories: talking beasts who fail the judgment in The Last Battle revert to animal, and hell in The Great Divorce is persons' shrinking themselves down into nothing. Different reference points may observe different things. Whatever it may be like, we have it on better authority than Francis' that the place/state is real and not part of our originally planned destiny. I'd avoid close investigation. That didn't stop me from writing my own story...

(*) We had to read Huis Clos in French class. My experience tells me that Sartre is dead wrong.