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Did you know: in the 2017 general election, the British Conservatives got their highest share of the popular vote since at least 1983 and possibly 1979, had their greatest increase in share of the popular vote over the previous election since 1979, and [ETA] had the biggest increase in vote share of a sitting Conservative government since 1924. What a triumph for Theresa May, eh! No wonder she looks tired. (Gah.)

Anyway, I would never have noticed any of that if not for this article on, about why the election result shouldn't have been as surprising as lots of people took it to be, and why the polls generally missed in the direction they did--i.e., they generally had a bigger gap between the Conservatives and Labor than there was in the actual vote. The upshot is they missed the way they did because the pollsters overcorrected from last time, when they underestimated the Conservative vote share by underestimating Conservative voter turnout. Which again goes to show how opaque and misleading the publicly reported poll results are, because they are not actually poll results but inferences from the poll results and some secret sauce to what the results of an election would be. If polls were just giving you poll results it would be nonsense to say that they "missed"--it would be like mistaking the current weather conditions report for the weather forecast.

Which brings me back to something I've been meaning to note about what I was saying about the flukiness of the last American election. I said that Nate Silver gave Trump about a 30% of winning, so, you run the election twice more and there's a bit better than even chance that he wins one of those, too. But I don't think that's Silver's view. I think (e.g. from his framing of the issue in his series about why Trump outperformed everyone's expectations) Silver's view is that the 0.3 probability was an epistemic probability and not an ontological probability (or however statisticians would put that)--i.e., we could say with 70% confidence that the actual probability of Trump winning was 0. To put the point another way, I think Silver thinks the result was basically determinate, and perfect polls could not have failed to predict the result perfectly (or, you know, the chances of their failing would have been practically insignificant). So if you run the election twice more--I mean the very same election on the very same day, not a Holy Shit We Elected Donald Trump do-over--the results would be more or less exactly the same. Of course you're dealing with such large numbers that it seems like there's very little wiggle room for anything to go differently--I mean for people to change their minds between the last polls and the election in a way that actually swings the result one way or another. Then again, when you look at the actual swing states, you might start to think there is enough wiggle room to make a difference. Anyway, I'm not sure I know enough to know how to think about this, but I have the feeling that there's something like a basic and more or less unresolveable problem about human freedom here. (And once again I'm reminded of Hume saying that you're better off trying to persuade the stone walls than you are trying to persuade the guard to let you out of prison.)

And in other loose ends ... it probably makes sense that mythology comes after (fantastical) history, eh? I mean that history (fantastical or otherwise) gets mythologized. This is a big part of The Diviners--the supersession of (Scottish(-Canadian) and Metis) history by mythology: Morag comes to realize that there's no point visiting the ancestral places because it's the mythology that matters and not the actual history. And so that question (it suddenly just occurs to me now) that recurs through the book, how far back it all starts, how far back anything goes, turns out to be the wrong question, or at least to have a different kind of answer. This wasn't set in motion, let alone set in stone, by all that back there (or at least, insofar as it was, that's not the important thing), but it is what it is because of how the story of all that is told....

Currently at Havelock: 19.4. High today: 29.6.
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It's around this time every late spring that I get to compiling my list of reasons why, actually, blackflies are very much preferable to mosquitoes. Which includes:

1. Blackflies mostly don't follow you inside, and if they do, they mostly just want to get back outside. This is apparently because they mostly navigate by sight, and they apparently need pretty bright light to do so.

2. Following from #1: blackflies never attack you in your sleep, or when you are trying to sleep. (I mean, assuming you are not sleeping outside in the daytime.) This is a very important point in favour of blackflies. It is so important that pretty much everything else could swing in favour of mosquitoes and blackflies might still be preferable.

3. Blackflies are slower to bite than mosquitoes: they spend a lot of time swarming around you without biting you, and when they land on you they generally crawl around for a while--sometimes for a remarkable distance inside your pant leg (which, I concede, does not seem like a point in their favour)--looking for a place to bite. This gives you more time to notice them and kill them before they bite you.

4. Blackflies pretty much never escape when they're on you and you try to kill them. They don't seem to ever even try to escape.

5. Blackfly bites are less painful than mosquito bites at the time of biting (although this varies, especially depending on where they bite you).

6. Blackfly bites generally don't get as itchy as mosquito bites (although this also varies).

7. I've never heard of blackflies carrying any diseases ... although I've been bitten by so many (so, so many) mosquitoes in my life without any apparent medical consequence that this is really not a thing I'm worried about. (I mean, until the tropical mosquitoes arrive, or I go to them for some reason.)

The main point in favour of mosquitoes over blackflies is that you don't generally get a cloud of mosquitoes around your head like you do of blackflies--when you get clouds of mosquitoes, they're most likely to be around your legs. Also, mosquitoes don't crawl into your hair--but see #3 above. Also, mosquitoes don't make bloody holes in you, but if you let them bite you for too long before you kill them, they do make bloody splatters.

All in all, blackflies are the clear winner! Tune in next month for mosquitoes vs. deer flies.

Currently at Havelock: 24.7 ... hanging around 24 and change all afternoon.
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I guess it probably isn't the case (or maybe it is, I don't know) that elections everywhere keep getting more demographically deterministic, but it does get more and more maddening to look at maps of electoral results and see, yep, there's that again. That being that you can see where all the cities are, because they're the little islands of little districts won by the party on the left, in the big sea of big districts won by the party on the right. It strikes me looking at the British electoral map this morning--you've got to love the plucky little red dots like Plymouth and Exeter--that the single biggest demographic factor determining the likelihood of your voting Labour may be how far you live from your nearest (say) thousand neighbours. (It is interesting that it works that way much more than the other way around--i.e. it looks like the SNP may control as much British territory as Labour if not more, and the LibDems aren't too far behind them by virtue of holding northern Scotland and most of Lake District National Park ... overall it looks like the Conservatives probably have the sixth-highest territory-to-seats ratio behind (in some order) the SNP, LibDems, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, and the DUP. Anyway on the whole that may make sense if you suppose that Labour is the we're-all-in-this-together party and all the others (except the LibDems, which ... exist for some reason) are different varieties and degrees of screw-you-guys parties. [ETA: I'm not unaware of the irony (not to say evidence of bias) in identifying a party with an explicit class base as the we're-all-in-this-together party.])

In other numerical curiosities this morning, right now there are two teams in the American League with losing records at home, and they are the first- and second-place teams in the Central division.

Currently at Havelock: 19.9.


Jun. 8th, 2017 02:56 pm
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Hello internet, I noticed you didn't have one of these and thought you needed one. (In 2003, sure, but nuthin ever gets old on teh intarwebs amirite.)

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Currently at Havelock: 26.
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One of a variety of related thoughts I keep coming back to is Nietzsche's line that you can put up with almost any how as long as you've got a why. Sometimes I guess you put up with the how kinda hoping that the why comes together somewhere down the line. Or else hoping that it doesn't fall apart ... any more than it has already fallen apart. But you're probably not gonna get bit by as many mosquitoes before you come inside to look at random shit on the internet ... or else write something, although you're not really sure why you're doing that either, so. (On one hand, guilt is a terrible motivator. On the other hand, "I'll feel worse if I don't than if I do" (let alone "things will be worse") is not completely lacking in motivational force, even when you feel like if you do it probably isn't going to work out very well anyway.)

Others of those related thoughts have to do with laziness, e.g. how the relation between laziness and things like learned helplessness (where "learned helplessness" may or may not be taken as a technical term) is something like the relationship I was on about between cowardice and anxiety--i.e., you could see them as two ways of describing the same thing, or you could see the latter as a cause of the former ... or you could insist that they're different. What is laziness? Obviously, to begin with, avoidance of work, of effort ... the "harder" the work is the more laziness resists it. But is laziness that, or is laziness a particular kind of psychological inclination to avoid effort ... and if so, what could that possibly be? It strikes me that one interesting thing about laziness as a vice is that it easily lends itself to the ancient style of thinking about vices and virtues in that I think people tend to think that the opposite of the lazy person--I'm not sure there's one good word for the virtue that's the opposite of laziness--is someone who isn't just willing to make an effort and work hard but who actually enjoys working hard. (It's pretty easy to start formulating explanations of why this is, having to do with the fact that (in, uh, social arrangements with which I am most familiar) work is normally done for others, and those others--starting with your parents--tend, if you're unhappy about working for them, to be unhappy with you, whether out of guilt for making you work or out of some kind of righteous anger at your ungratefulness either for being given work or at being asked to work for what you're given (and (obviously?) that righteous anger may sometimes or often or usually be a product of guilt).

Saying that laziness especially avoids "hard" work of course brings me back to the problem of what "hard" means ... although come to think of it I'm not sure I ever put down here what I was thinking about that a couple of years ago when someone said something about living at the cottage through the winter being "hard" ... I said it wasn't hard; it was just a matter of doing the things that needed to be done to get through it, and either that was possible or it wasn't, and as long as it was possible you just kept doing it until it was done. Which reminds me of digging a really big rock out of the ground today. For a while I really wasn't sure it was possible for me to get it out, but I was determined that if it was possible I was going to do it, and eventually I did it. Obviously getting that rock out of the ground was harder than getting most rocks out of the ground. I could've looked at it as being hard, and I could've given up because it was too hard. But I wasn't looking at it like that--I wasn't looking at it in terms of hard and easy; I was looking at it in terms of impossible and possible. I've always thought of getting through my PhD dissertation in the same kind of way. Like I always used to say, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until it was done. (With, uh, a lot of lying down on the ground along the way, but y'know.) It didn't seem hard; it just seemed like a thing I was going to keep doing until it was done. (Why all the lying down on the ground along the way, then, though? See, this is all not so simple.) I guess I'd venture that what might make me look at things in terms of hard and easy as opposed to impossible and possible is if they hurt ... in a way that is not very simple either, because sometimes physical pain counts as hurting in the relevant sense and sometimes it doesn't. And this takes us back to that old boa constrictor, which makes things that are very very possible also very very painful--hard as fuck in terms of hard and easy, "easy" as hell in terms of possible and impossible. (So, right then, anxiety is to laziness as anxiety is to cowardice. Excellent.)

Currently at Havelock: 16.8. High today: 18.2.
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This last week or so I've been reminded of something I was thinking this time last year: if you're somewhere in central or northern Ontario, or probably most places in temperate North America, and you see something that makes you think, geez, what was that guy doing when he did that, like he was doing something and he just forgot what he was doing or lost his mind or something and then he did that, you have to ask yourself, was it blackfly season when he was doing it?

Currently at Havelock: 20.2. High today: 21.4.
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I want to mark something, at least, before Easter morning (and so I'm going to just post a cobbled-together excerpt from some rambles I've been banging around), of my not-very-successful Lenten exercises, so, well, here we are.

Among other reasons, my Lenten homilies broke down because it became obvious to me that I am in way over my head as far as "interpreting" anything in the New Testament is concerned.

A basic problem that I have--that one has--in reading a lot of biblical texts--and that, in particular, I found made it very difficult to know what to do with some of the lectionary readings from Paul's epistles, and not knowing what to do with Paul makes it harder to know what to do with the gospels--might be described as the problem whether to read them as what I'll call, for the time being, mythology or as fantasy. (This problem has a strong bearing on what it means to treat biblical texts as "revelatory" in the sense(s) I was talking about in my last post ... on which more eventually.) By fantasy I mean (something like) stories in which things and people and events are (or were or will be) as you wish them to be in order to tell the story you want to tell. By mythology I mean (something like) stories that express insights into how things and people are (including how they may be but have not been, except potentially, yet--so some works in the "fantasy" genre are not fantasies in my sense here (and so these really may not be the best terms to make this distinction with, but I don't know what else is, so bear with me here)), and so are bound by general truths about how things and people actually are. This seems to be a way of describing the distinction Socrates makes in the Republic between stories that are simply false and stories that are only false "in words"--i.e., the things that they say happened did not happen, but they don't actually encourage you to believe anything false, and may encourage you to believe things that are true. (I don't think I want to be as hard as Socrates seems to be on stories that are simply false--on fantasy through and through--because fantasy recognized as such, besides its entertainment (or consolation or relief) value, could also, for instance, provide food for thought about why it is that it's fantastical.) Along these lines you could say that some stories are fantastical on the surface but are meant to be read mythologically, or should be read mythologically, or can be read mythologically. Obviously, e.g., the standard Greek myths are like that: they are mythology dressed up as fantasy. I would really like to see the biblical texts in the same way, but I'm not sure how well the texts can bear it, and then again I'm not sure what it means for the texts to be able to bear it or not--which gets back to the problem of the possible revelatory role(s) of the biblical texts in relation to philosophy.

Obviously there is miles of room for disagreement about what's merely fantastical and what's not. Obviously also millions of Christians regard the kind of stuff Paul says about the afterlife and so on as neither mythological nor fantastical but just the God's honest truth (which I might call reading the stories as history). And anyway the distinction between the fantastical and the mythological can't be black-and-white because fantastical stories have to be about people and/or things that we can at least recognize and relate to in some ways, and of course, given the open-endedness of human existence, there is plenty of room for disagreement about how it is at least possible for human beings to be.

This distinction between mythology and fantasy gets at something really important to me in reading fiction, or watching fiction on TV or in movies ... as I was just reminded, thinking about the two-part "Sniper" episode of Homicide that B. and I watched recently. In the end it all comes together awfully quickly and tidily in the interrogation room, as it often (but not always) does on Homicide. It seems like there's maybe too much fantasy going on there, as there often is on TV shows, which can really confuse people about what people are like and how the world works. A lot of what you learn about what people are like, you learn from fiction; chances are, more or less everything you learn about what people are like in police interrogations, on either side of the table, you learn from fiction--and what you learn there will help to shape your sense of what people are like in situations you (explicitly or not) take to be analogous. So it's really important whether or not a given piece of fiction you engage with is fantasy--and it's also really important whether, if it is fantasy, you take it to be fantasy. Fantastical portrayals of human behaviour are presuably less likely to be misleading if you believe them to be fantastical, although the lines are often fuzzy and wires get crossed in memory, particularly in the unconscious quasi-memories that shape our future responses to people.

Reading Paul's epistles, the problem of fantasy vs. mythology seems to be doubled--not only am I not sure whether to read some of what he says, particularly about the "afterlife" and Jesus's return and all that, as mythology or fantasy, I'm also not sure whether he "reads" the stories about Jesus as mythology or as fantasy. I'm inclined to be suspicious of him and assume that he's indulging in fantasy, but I have to keep wondering, especially as long as I haven't read enough of him, whether I shouldn't give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose he might be mythologizing.

A weird thing about reading Paul is that it's very easy--given that the gospels are placed first in the New Testament, and given that Paul converted after Jesus's death and presumably never met the man (uh, before the crucifixion, anyway) while the gospels claim to be first-hand accounts--to read him as responding to the gospels. It's very easy to think of the apparently anti-worldly theology of Paul as being a corruption of the gospels--but all the contemporary scholarship that isn't obviously in the grip of an ideology (which is to say, all the contemporary scholarship that isn't doctrinally bound to insist that the gospels were written by guys bearing the gospels' eponyms who actually hung out with Jesus) apparently agrees that the gospels were written after Paul's epistles. (According to Wikipedia, the current consensus is that the composition of the gospels most likely began with Mark's sometime around Paul's death and ended with John's being completed several decades later.)

A few years ago I told someone that I could never bring myself to be "a Christian" because I reject the strain of anti-worldliness (maybe not the best word--"anti-materiality" or something would be more precise) that seems to be essential to it. And yet over the last several years I have returned several times to the idea that what is absolutely central to Christianity is the incarnation. I guess I would say that my sense now is that the anti-worldly theology of Paul is diametrically at odds with (at least a possible reading of) the Christ-mythology in the gospels. I certainly don't think this is an original or even an unusual view; I suspect it or something much like it might even be the majority view among, well, I don't know, what you might call "liberal" readers of the New Testament or something. At any rate I formed the impression long ago that lots of people think it's an unfortunate accident that Paul made the cut into the canon. (And it has struck me before that there are different, maybe radically different, possible implied theologies in the gospels themselves, and I'm sure the scholars are all over all kinds of possible theological differences between the gospels.)

It struck me last week that I felt about Paul in relation to the gospels kind of how for a long time I felt about Aristotle in relation to Plato--that he messed everything up with his literal-minded blockheadedness. The last time I taught Aristotle--which was the first time I taught and read Aristotle with any real depth and breadth--I finally came around to appreciating his subtlety. So it struck me that maybe I might come around on Paul in the same way. Anyway, I will have to do a lot more reading to see about that. Maybe next year for Lent I'll give up not reading the New Testament from start to finish.

Currently at Havelock: 10.4, which is up 3.4 in the last 25 minutes. The very slow-moving, very sharp warm front that has been crossing southern Ontario all day is finally arriving. Got to Toronto 2-3 hours ago; got to Waterloo 11-12 hours ago. Everywhere from Peterborough west is around 20C.
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So, I'm falling further and further behind on my Lenten homilies ... among other things. And, uh, my Lenten project of giving up being hard on myself--gah, that wasn't the way to put it either, but it's better than "shame" or "self-loathing" (which, geez, "self-loathing" is way too strong)--is going extremely poorly. If I'd been on the ball I would've posted this--

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--on the second Sunday of Lent, for which this year's gospel reading in the lectionary is the third chapter of John. The bible that is more than any other "my bible" is one that my grandparents gave me on Easter of 1990; my grandmother wrote a little note in it that concludes, "Read the third chapter of John." Which, thinking about it now, reminds me of the time that my sister reported that our grandmother had said to her, "It's fine to read books, but I don't think [whoa, I have never, that I recall, had call to refer to myself by name here before ... it is making my brain explode a little] reads the right kind of books." Well, I doubt that my grandmother would be all that happy about how I read the right kind of books, either. (It is a funny thing how heterodox readings of scripture make you suspect from all sides.) Anyway, I did read the third chapter of John on its appointed day this Lent, and then I went off and poked about in the Greek, and realized that if I was going to write anything about it I would have to get straight about some kind of something like principles of biblical hermeneutics ... and then the whole thing just gets progressively more overwhelming. I'm reminded again of Ian Angus's Grant essay, which is all about Grant's struggle to give each of Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation, its due. As far as Angus is concerned, Grant, as a Christian believer, can't help but give revelation priority and suppose that revelation must be able to know something that reason isn't able to know ... and so Grant can't be a philosopher all the way down ... except that Grant refuses to accept that he is not a philosopher all the way down, and so he is left with an unhappily irreconcilable conflict between competing fundamental commitments. As I suggested when I brought this up before, I don't see this the same way Angus does ... and, funny, I had just written in the following parenthesis after the last sentence: "(Angus ends the essay with a line that would be a too cute and cheap joke just about anywhere except there, where it's just right: 'It's all Greek to me')"--but now it strikes me (although I still love that as a last line) that I think I differ from Angus in having a "more Greek" conception of rationality, or at least more Platonic, in that, as I have said before, I see revelation being something like the grounding movement of reason and not something different from it ... by which of course I don't mean scriptural revelation where that is supposed to mean things that scripture tells you that you couldn't otherwise know and have no reason to believe except that scripture tells you them. More broadly I don't mean propositional revelation, but revelation in the sense of a presentation of something to awareness (lousy word maybe but ... ) such that it is now an object or a possible object of thought (including of "reason" in the more limited, conventional sense of ordering propositions).

Which brings me to the gospel reading for this week in the lectionary, which is the ninth chapter of John, in which Jesus gives sight to a man who was blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, so that he was born blind (and I have to say I read that several times before it struck me--they ask whether his being born blind is punishment for his own sin!), and Jesus replies (as the NRSV puts it): "He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." "Revealed" translates φανερόω, which I recognize as being related to "phenomenon" and which Strong's Concordance tells me not only means "to make visible" but is derived from φῶς, "light". He was born blind so that God's works might be brought to light out of darkness. And, well, here's where you have to confront those principles of biblical hermeneutics, and the problem of the relation between scriptural revelation and reason. On a straightforward, face-value, orthodox, "churchy" reading, this is a miracle story. This man is blind; Jesus makes some mud with his spit and rubs it on the man's eyes; now the man can see; this proves, if the man is not lying, that Jesus has magic powers that come from God, and so the Pharisees are alarmed and pissed off. But I want to read it not as a miracle story that states in propositions that something happened which either did or did not happen, but as a story to be read as part of a basically non-propositional (i.e., non-literal) revelation of the truth of Jesus Christ (not an actual or fabricated historical figure who may or may not have been born in Bethlehem, etc., but the Jesus Christ who is the main character in the New Testament read not as a work of fact or fiction but as a work of mythology) as the light of the world ... this Jesus Christ who, because God so loved the world, was given so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life ... and who, John says at the beginning, is light as well as logos.

Which brings me back to Angus's problem with Grant. In everything I think about salvation in the New Testament I think of Kierkegaard and Heidegger and (God help us) Nietzsche--the Nietzsche whose Zarathustra's task is to affirm the eternal recurrence of all things, not to turn away from or renounce or seek retribution against anything that is, has been or will be, but to shine a light on all things and love them all. From Heidegger I learned about the eternity of every moment (which, following Heidegger, I hope is what Zarathustra's "eternal recurrence" is really all about); in Kierkegaard I see that the eternity of the moment is a truth apart from which no understanding of Christianity is possible; in Kierkegaard I see that the fundamental teaching of Christianity is that human being is a synthesis of the godly[1] and the material (such that eternal life as disembodied "afterlife" is strictly ruled out--something which I was disappointed again and again to see even my bright students fail to grasp) ... salvation consists in recognizing yourself in Christ, recognizing that things come to revelation in the lighting that you bring to them and that things once lit are lit eternally. Damnation is oblivion--not being rendered nothing at the end of your time line but rendering things and yourself nothing through your lifetime by going on and on obliviously. Salvation, ironically, involves an eternity of suffering ... among other things. There is more paradise in hell than we've been told.

Anyway: but in everything Kierkegaard and Heidegger think about eternity, among other things, they think about the New Testament. So. There is a dialectic there, or hopefully there is. (And when Angus tells you what he thinks Grant thinks the thing is that Jesus gets that Socrates doesn't, he expresses it propositionally in a rational discourse. Revelation becomes subject to rational examination, and "reason" takes the upper hand. But limited reason would have nothing to examine without revelation. "Reason" and revelation owe their lives to each other. No wonder they love and hate each other so much! (Uh, speaking of lines that may or may not be too-cute and cheap.)) Hopefully it is not merely a matter of using stories as illustrations. But you can't ever rightfully be comfortable about it.

Oh, geez, I just remembered--feeling bad about myself. That's what I somehow keep forgetting is the closest thing to the right way to put what I'm (failing to be) giving up for Lent this year. Well, that sounds a lot less dire than "self-loathing". Shame, though, that's another story.

Currently at Havelock: 0.8, which is the high for the day so far. Freezing rain this morning.

PS1: a little further mulling and I remember that when I was writing my dissertation I left the chapter about Heidegger until the end because I was so scared of it, because I didn't know whether when it came down to it I would be convinced that Heidegger was saying what I needed him to be saying for my dissertation to be a Heidegger dissertation and not just, uh, my own original philosophy or something. (Good Lord.) When I did go back and engage with the stuff I needed to engage with to write that chapter, I was at least convinced that it could be read the way I needed to read it and that you could say the principle of charity demanded it be read the way I needed to read it because as far as I was concerned reading it the way I needed to read it made it as true and as important as it could possibly be. Point being that it's not like there are any starting points here. It's dialectics all the way down.

[1] PS2: ick, not the right way to put it--well, the "godly", but not the godly, because I think you ought to come away from Kierkegaard with the idea that God does not exist apart from the incarnation, or at least some incarnation (like, you know, when God was a guy walking around Eden).
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Psalm 32 is the psalm in the Common Lectionary for today. It is about confession and forgiveness: the psalmist says that he was miserable while he kept his sin to himself, but was relieved of its burden when he confessed it to the Lord. The odd thing about this is that you would suppose that God knows what you've done without your needing to tell God. The psalmist even says to God that he was miserable because "day and night thy hand was heavy upon me". You might guess that the point is that the psalmist is relieved of his burden when he asks for God's forgiveness, but that is not what the psalm says: "I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Not only does the psalmist not ask God's forgiveness, he doesn't say he's sorry, to God or at all. (What does it mean to "be sorry"? To regret? To feel guilty? Ashamed? Chastened?) He doesn't say he won't do it again, or that he'll be good from now on, either; telling God what he has done is sufficient to be forgiven for it (and this certainly seems to be a recurring lesson in the bible: if you're going to live in good standing with God it can only be through grace and not through justice because you are not going to be able to stop yourself from transgressing over and over and over). There is supposed to be a power in saying the words out loud. This is of course a pretty standard assumption in religious and magical thinking ... one that is very much involved in my ongoing issues about saying and writing things (particularly in propositions, but not only in propositions). Obviously there is a tremendous power in saying things out loud to other people. If I confess to you then you are now (let's suppose) 100% sure that I have done the thing I confess doing, and there is really all the difference in the world between being 99% sure and 100% sure. (That said, you ought always to remember that people confess all the time to things they didn't really do, and that the thing I am confessing having done may not be the thing you hear me confessing having done.) Moreover in confessing I am calling upon you to confront and respond to the thing I've done and not turn away from it. If God always already knows what I have done, and especially if I know that God always already knows what I have done, then confessing to God can't have effects like these. Still, in saying the words out loud I am expressing my willingness to put what I have done in God's hands, even if I believe that everything is always in God's hands anyway--there is certainly nothing that requires my actions and attitudes toward God to be consistent with each other.

A couple of times in recent years I've been told (by, if you're reading this, most likely not you) that I need to "forgive myself", which to me seemed not the right way of framing the problem I was having. (There was a time when I was having a more particular problem to which forgiveness did seem very relevant, when I wished I had the kind of God available to me who will forgive you when no one else will (including yourself?)--or at least when forgiveness is not available from the only person or people from whom it would be relevant.[1]) But I don't think it's clear at all what "self-forgiveness" means. (And it is not so clear to me now that "self-forgiveness" isn't an important part of my problem, but ... it's complicated.) What it means to forgive other people is hard enough to make out. It has to have something to do with not blaming them, but what exactly it means to blame another person isn't clear either. Blame seems to have something to do with a desire for punishment or at least for some kind of evening-up or atonement or penance ... but maybe it makes sense to say that you forgive someone for something and also believe that some kind of atonement is necessary? (How exactly does the logic of confession and penance work for Catholics?) Or maybe it doesn't. At any rate it doesn't seem like I can forgive you and still want retribution against you ... forgiving you means giving up ill-will toward you. Most basically if I forgive you for something I'm not mad at you about it anymore ... except that obviously I can blame you for something, and not have forgiven you for it, while never having been mad at you for it. In fact I can blame you for something, and "hold it against you", even while never having any desire for any kind of penance on your part. In fact I might prefer that you never carry out any penance so that you can never "pay off the debt" and force me to think I should forgive you! But if I'm a nicer person, or a more detached person, I might feel like it just doesn't make any difference to me what you do about what you've done, I don't even care how you feel about it, I'm just going to hold it against you over here and you can do whatever over there.

It struck me thinking about "self-forgiveness" that there's a kind of Catch-22 involved in it: if I have done some wrong to you, my regretting having done it normally would motivate you to forgive me for it; the more I regret it, the more you should be motivated to forgive me for it. But when it comes to self-forgiveness, the more I regret doing something the less I am motivated to forgive myself for it. My regret for having done something is the thing I need to "forgive myself" to overcome. But to the extent that I regret doing it I don't forgive myself. Which leads me to another way of framing what it means to forgive another person: to hold as nothing the wrong they did to you and treat them as if they did no wrong to you. This way of framing forgiveness may make nonsense of the idea of self-forgiveness; how can I be entitled to hold as nothing the wrong I've done to you? This after all is what makes the encroachment into criminal justice of forgiveness on the part of the the wronged person so terrifyingly arbitrary--the fate of the wrongdoer becomes subject to the dispositions, not to say the whims, of the victim. Only you are entitled to forgive me for what I've done to you, and whether you do or not is entirely up to you. (But then again I can take my regret as a kind of penance and judge for myself when it is reasonable to consider myself as having completed my penance....)

But maybe I can forgive myself for wrongs I've done to myself ... and here things get even more convoluted.

I have to set this aside for now, but here are some points to depart with and depart from:

- One More Time with Feeling talks about trauma as a kind of disruption to life that makes it impossible to go on in the same way ... in its making "time elastic", in a way it makes it impossible to go on at all; the trauma keeps snapping you back in time to itself so that you're just stuck there in it.

- the final blow that completes the demolition of Winston Smith's self is his saying--out loud--under extreme duress, "do it to Julia". He is destroyed by shame imposed as a trauma.

- here is Nick Cave dealing with the trauma of his son falling off a cliff to his death. Imagine an imaginary Nick Cave dealing with the shame of having (in anger, say, but without premeditation) pushed his son off a cliff to his death. ("But when did I become an object of pity?" There are a whole range of responses from others you might have to deal with as you are dealing with your shame ... depending on what others know of it and how others perceive and judge what the shame is about. Just one aspect, not exactly the main one, but an important one.)

- the third interwoven theme of One More Time with Feeling, along with trauma and time, is narrative--you might say that trauma disrupts time (and selfhood, which also comes up--Nick Cave says he couldn't have imagined before giving the kind of interview he's giving now, not because he couldn't imagine being interviewed about his son's death but because he didn't take himself to be the kind of person who could talk about his personal life in this way) by disrupting narrative. Proposition: shame works in the same way.

- last spring I said I wanted to come back to Margaret Laurence's and Ian Angus's "Scottish takes on history" and the prospects for escape from it ... the point I was aiming at there and am still aiming at is that while the stories you tell yourself about yourself, whether as a person or as a "nation" or whatever, are indispensable to your understanding of yourself and others and to your knowing how to go on ("after this nothing happened"), it is all too easy to take the way you fit into and hang on to and live out these stories as being what is most important about your (individual or collective) life. Knowing how to go on in a certain way not only can block you from knowing how to go on in other ways but more importantly can block you from appreciating that knowing how to go on in some way (and success in doing so) is not what is most important about human existence. But a crisis in knowing how to go on can even more acutely block that because it can so intensely focus you on the problem of knowing how to go on, of what you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to do.

[1] I keep feeling like I should issue some kinda disclaimer--I mean, ya know, say it out loud (with, of course, the usual problems about why I am saying this)--concerning the possible appearance that I either have "gone Christian" or, maybe if you know me a little better, am very busily painting my sepulchre. Maybe in some way (as indicated in my Ash Wednesday homily) I am very gradually continuing to "go Christian" but not in any way that involves a personal relationship with a personal God.

Currently at Havelock: -5.6. Got below -20 this morning for what should be the last time this cold season.
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Currently at Havelock: 0.4. High today: 11.4. Just another day of high temperature records being broken by more than a full degree (including by 2.7 at Peterborough, where records go back to 1867).

I'm not sure it's ever struck me before that the fact that Pancake Day occurs around the start of maple syrup season is yet more evidence that God is having a larf. But if it was ever gonna strike me some year, this would be the year, because this is the year I got into the maple syrup business ... or at least got myself busy about maple syrup. Today I test-fired my homemade sap stove:

 photo 1ff5ab8f-f4c5-4820-9afb-b6b8605fee94_zpst3otrgtn.jpg

... which was inspired by this, and was assembled from a large piece of duct that I got at one Habitat for Humanity ReStore and a fire grate that I got at another. I paid $15 for each of them ... which I felt was maybe a bit much for the duct and a fantastic bargain for the fire grate. I also bought a piece of stovepipe for $5 but ended up using a couple of pieces that were lying around the basement here ... including one with a funnelly bit that jams perfectly in between the fire grate and the hole I cut for the stovepipe, which happened to be sitting on the floor immediately to the right of where I was cutting the duct. That all went extremely pleasingly until the fire got good and hot and the finish started disappearing off the cooking surface of stove, which is when I learned that ducts are made of galvanized steel ... and then I learned about metal fume fever, and that was extremely displeasing. But in the end I've (slightly uneasily) decided that having burned off more or less as much of the zinc coating as is going to burn off, it's probably fine, especially since the problem has to do with inhalation and not ingestion of zinc oxide fumes, so contaminating the syrup shouldn't be an issue. (Also it turns out that filing cabinets are also (usually? often? sometimes?) made of galvanized steel, so if the guy who inspired my design wasn't worried about poisoning himself then who am I to doubt Some Guy On The Internet. Also you can buy galvanized steel fire rings for your fire pit, so.) Anyway hopefully I will get to trying it out with sap tomorrow, using a stainless steel roasting pan I got for $8 at Value Village. So far I've tapped one tree and got a full two-gallon bucket of sap (after getting a little bit last week, which I boiled on the kitchen stove and made a surprisingly sweet and delicious cup of tea with, and then a tiny bit of very thin syrup which we had with our pancakes yesterday), which theoretically should make about half a pint of syrup. If that goes all right I'll tap at least one more tree next week. [ETA Mar. 2: it did not go all right. Very small quantity of syrup that tastes like ashes. Ugh.]

Long story short, I managed to produce some ashes today. Though presumably in not nearly as great a quantity as I did on Ash Wednesday two years ago.

The shape of this here blog-like thing may give the outside observer--were there to be any such thing--the impression that my life is more attuned to the liturgical year than it actually is. I guess that kinda represents something like an aspiration. There is anyway something really worthwhile to it. For instance ... being called upon to commit to some kind of sustained spiritual askesis once a year can be really helpful. You know, sometimes there's a thing you keep meaning to do and it takes an occasion, like a NaDruWriNi, to get you to do it, because otherwise you could just keep going to do it later. Last year, as you may recall, I was going to give up propositions for Lent. Obviously that's a joke, but a joke with serious intent. I certainly didn't get anywhere with it last Lent and the serious intent of it is still on the back burner. But related in a general way, this year I've been thinking of giving up [1] ... uh, I can't remember how I was putting it to myself, but it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of self-loathing. Or shame. (If you want to help me out with this, don't hold me to that. This project (supposing it is a project) has great potential to be counterproductive.) Shame is a thing that I have kept intending to say some things about, in relation to what One More Time with Feeling has to say about trauma, among other things. (I just learned the other day that before Lent, on some ways of dividing these things up, there is a thing called Shrovetide in which you're supposed to prepare for Lent, e.g. to work out what it is you're going to work on ... next year I maybe ought to get onto that.) Anyway ... the last academic thing I published was a book chapter sketching out my own kind of idiosyncratic Platonic-Heideggerian virtue ethics, framing happiness, as I've characterized it in my Heideggerian way, as a virtue to be cultivated in order to be receptive and possibly appropriately responsive to the happening of being (because what I've called "deep happiness" is a state of being intensely receptive to the happening of being). There has been an often-verging-on-overwhelming blockage in my life for years now that has been preventing me from doing that in any sustained way. I gotta do something about that.

[1] I don't think "giving up" is a helpful way of framing this kind of thing though. You risk the kind of bad faith of Sartre's "pederast" who supposes that if he just doesn't do that any more then he isn't that. I guess that's beside what is normally taken as the point of giving up things for Lent--you sacrifice something you really want as a demonstration of your devotion (like Sartre's pederast, you do nothing to change the sedimented embodiment of your desires; unlike Sartre's pederast, you acknowledge that they're there and that you're not doing anything to change them (and in fact--characteristic of us moderns, contrary to the ancients and most explicitly Aristotle--you might think it's more noble of you to not do something despite your desire to do it than it would be for you to not do it because you've extinguished the desire to do it), and you intend to go right back to acting on them)--but for me that's a pointless exercise. This reminds me of something I picked up from Howard Adelman a long time ago about sacrifice--that the point of sacrifice is to demonstrate your independence; by sacrificing the firstlings of the flock and the fat thereof you demonstrate how deep is your lack of attachment to material things (and so if Cain doesn't sacrifice the best he has--and despite what you may have heard in Sunday School, the bible doesn't say that he doesn't, but if he doesn't--his sacrifice fails because he is more dependent than Abel; Abel has God's favour in being more God-like). It has to be borne in mind that when Cain and Abel make their sacrifices, God hasn't told them to do it, let alone said anything about how to do it or what a good sacrifice is. They do it spontaneously as expressions of themselves and their relationships with God--the latter meaning whatever it will. Anyway you can take the point of a sacrifice to be demonstrative in one way or another, but sacrifice is more important if it's (also) performative--if the ascetic act is what Foucault calls askesis, transformative work on oneself.
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Currently at Havelock: -6. High today: -2.7. About seven inches of snow last night.

We might find the framing of courage in the Laches peculiar because we commonly think that to be courageous is to do x despite being afraid of doing x. (Recall: the Laches frames courage as a matter of knowing what is to be feared and what is to be dared. Things that are to be feared are things that should not be done, because they are bad. Training in courage is training to fear bad things and not to fear good things. The courageous person does things at risk of consequences that appear (to others) to be personal costs but that the courageous person does not regard as genuinely bad and so does not fear. E.g. losing my job because I take a stand for the good is not actually a bad thing because to keep my job under the conditions required to keep it would actually be a bad thing. If I would be required to do bad on the whole in order to keep my job, then on the whole I must hope to lose my job, not fear losing it. (Of course, that's too cute, because naturally in the actual event I will hope that doing good on the whole will not turn out to cause me to lose my job.) This may be one reason why the courageous person (today, when we think that being courageous means acting despite fear) doesn't feel courageous: where others see something to be feared, and in order to do good would have to act despite fear, the courageous person does not see something to be feared and acts without fear.) Insofar as this is strictly what we think, I think what we think is probably phenomenologically incoherent. To the extent that I am afraid of doing x I am incapable of doing x. Fear is a psycho-physiological brake on action. If I am thoroughly afraid of doing x then I am thoroughly incapable of doing x. Abject terror is absolutely paralyzing. (Often when you express that you have difficulty doing something because of anxiety, others in response refer to themselves or others also "hating" to do that. Hating to do something is different in quality from being afraid of doing it. Being afraid of doing something is a psycho-physiological brake preventing you from doing it in a way that hating to do it is not. The essence of the problem in doing something that I am afraid of, as opposed to doing something that I hate, is that I may become unable to do the thing I am afraid of, not (just) that I will hate doing it. I may have to flee the party. (I've done it.) I may have to hang up on you. (Not exactly?) Which is what I was on about about what it's like to have to take out the kitty litter (which I did today, through knee-high snow) as opposed to what it's like to be crushed by a boa constrictor. (Funny thing is, taking out the kitty litter is not all that hateful. But, uh, it could be? It was? It is for some people? I dunno.))

But to take a more subtle view, we might think (as is commonly thought) that to be courageous involves overcoming one's fear of doing x in order to do x. This, at least, works, in my experience. There are a couple of times I think of when I was paralyzingly afraid of doing something and made myself do it not through my fear but by using some kind of mechanism to, you could say, dissociate myself out of my fear. I think this is a pretty standard way of dealing with social anxiety. Social anxiety is rooted in a felt threat to the self, so if you can detach your self, or feel like you have detached your self, from what you're putting out there, then there is no felt threat to the self. (Consider acting ... or karaoke. Or lecturing. But the mechanisms can always break down.) I suspect that this might be a much more common way of getting through things than one might think. Some people write down scripts so that they can robot their way through phone calls; for a lot more people, robotting their way through phone calls comes "naturally". You write down the script as a way of trying to turn off the reflective mechanism that would throw your performance of it off track. Anyway, I suspect that maybe more or less everyone lives a very large part, if not most, if not more or less the entirety, of their lives in dissociative states--you can apparently quite "happily" robot your way through life--which I guess is another way of putting what Rousseau and the romantics were on about about civilized life forcing people to be false. And then there's the question whether ancient-style training in virtue could get us--get any of us--around this. (A different kind of robot-programming? You can of course argue endlessly and fruitlessly--see below--about whether it's all robot-programming all the way down anyway. But at least you can program the robot so that it doesn't have all these conflicting programs that it has to compartmentalize until it breaks down and fires Frank Poole into space.)

(Here's a proposition for you: the phenomena framed as "anxiety" in the terms of "psychology" may be framed as "cowardice" in the terms of, let's say, "character"--which of course invokes all that propaganda I used to see coming out of "psychology" deriding the framing of "disorders" as "character defects" (which--the propaganda, I mean--I don't know that there is less of, or isn't more of, these days, and I suppose is a large part of what e.g. that corporate de-stigmatization campaign is about). I don't see how it can not be the case that many psychological disorders are character defects framed in different terms, or maybe that understanding phenomena in terms of psychological disorders is a way of explaining character defects. Whatever might hang on these being competing ways of framing phenomena I suppose comes down to issues concerning responsibility: you are not responsible for your disorders; you are responsible for your character defects. (Edit: that ain't quite it. More like: you are not responsible for what you do "because of" your disorders; you are responsible for what you do "because of" your character defects. And it is not quite that simple either, in part because you are to some extent held responsible for your disorders: once you are diagnosed with them, you are responsible for submitting to treatment for them. Failing to submit to treatment of your disorders is a character defect such that now you are responsible for what you do because of your disorder because you are doing things because of your disorder because of a character defect. (Except that today I saw someone saying that failing to submit to treatment for schizophrenia is "part of" schizophrenia. So that closes that loop. And of course you can do the same trick with depression: you're too depressed to participate in the treatment of your depression. Etc. But still the movie will scold you for not taking your meds. Until you meet the nice lady who makes you want to be a better man.) Of course I find this distinction to be nonsense. (E.g. because "my brain made me do it" as an explanation of anything in particular is nonsense, because everything you do is what your brain does. Or "the mind is what the brain does", as I wanted to say Searle put it, but apparently it was (first?) Marvin Minsky ... and when I google it, the first hit I get has the title "The Mind is Just the Brain", which is not the same point at all. Anyway, maybe better "the mind does what the brain does (and vice versa)".) I suppose another thing that might separate them is transiency--a character defect might be thought to be possibly less transient than a disorder, especially a treated disorder. But on this matter I think people are likely to be badly mistaken about the phenomena whether they are framed as character defects or psychological disorders. Anyway, it seems unlikely that something concerning transiency could be either a necessary or a sufficient condition for differentiating between character defects and psychological disorders. One way or another the practical point of framing things as disorders rather than character defects is supposed to be that the disordered person is to be sympathized with and possibly offered or possibly forced to undergo treatment, as opposed to the character-defective person who is to be blamed and possibly punished. Which, sure, in many cases is fine, I guess, except that I don't see how you can ultimately justify (except by appeal to expediency) applying character discourse to some cases and psychological discourse to others. (I suppose here my thinking is basically the same as that of Thomas Szasz (edit: well, in some very general way; I don't want to get roped into defending or repudiating Thomas Szasz here), whom I thought of today when I read a bit of a column condemning the absolute discharge of the former Vincent Li that said something about (I suspect imaginary) libertarians supporting it. The one thing I know about libertarians and insanity defences is that Thomas Szasz was against them. (I mean that he was against insanity defences. He was a libertarian.) Anyway, I don't really have a dog in the insanity defence fight, but that has largely to do with the fact that criminal justice strikes me as generally insane. (And also I do think there's something that is "not being in your right mind", and that having done something bad while being not in your right mind ought to be treated differently than having done something bad while in your right mind. But, you know, I also think it sucks to be a bad person. I think it sucks to be Donald Trump, even if Donald Trump doesn't think so. I mean I think it sucks for him. It is unfortunate for him that he is like that. It is unfortunate for you to be a bad person living a bad life. (On this, at least, Athens and Jerusalem agree.) So, you know, I don't like the idea of sending Vincent Li to jail, and I'm definitely not mad that he's not in jail, but I think that incarceration is insane generally, and also that there is not likely a better practical alternative, so what the hell ya gonna do. (So, lucky him? I truly doubt it. Would you want to be him? (But, uh, lucky me? Well. I'm a seriou ... I mean, I've tried to be a serious ... I mean, I'm trying to be a goo ... well, I am probably succeeding in being a goo.) Anyway, blah blah blah. Let's talk indeed. (Edit: I should add, to give it its due, that that column about Vincent Li also got a shot in at the "Let's talk" business--that it's easy to "talk" when what you're saying is what everyone else is saying--which I guess is what has that in the brew for me today.))


Jan. 31st, 2017 11:10 am
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Sometimes I feel like birds don't realize what a huge tactical advantage being able to fly is. But maybe they don't know that I can't fly.
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This is obviously the second-best Christmas song of all time, and I can't believe I never heard it until ten minutes ago:

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Currently at Havelock: 2, which is about as good as we're getting today. But holy shit the sun's shining.

Maybe this illustrates something about why people are overconfident in their beliefs on controversial matters, and maybe it doesn't:

Let's stipulate (counterfactually) that intelligence is a matter of getting things right as opposed to wrong. Let's suppose that A is a person of average intelligence, and that A gets things wrong 20% of the time. Let's suppose that B (whom I think we can say is of very much above average intelligence) gets things wrong half as often as A does, i.e., 10% of the time. Let's stipulate (very much counterfactually) that each of A and B is as likely to be right in any given case as they are right generally (i.e., for any given case, there is an 80% chance that A gets it right and a 90% chance that B gets it right). Now: out of all cases, A and B will agree on 74% of them: in 72% of all cases they will both be right, and in 2% of cases they will both be wrong, so that, just considering cases where they agree, they will both be wrong in 2.7% of them. Out of all cases, they will disagree on 26% of them; on 8% of all cases A will be right and B will be wrong, and on 18% of all cases B will be right and A will be wrong, so that, just considering cases where they disagree, A will be wrong on 69% of those, and B will be wrong on 31%.

B knows (let's suppose) that B is wrong 10% of the time. A knows (let's suppose) that A is wrong 20% of the time. Both feel fairly well justified in believing whatever they believe. (Being wrong in one out of five cases is not great, but, ya know, Nate Silver gave Trump a 50% better chance of winning than that going into the election, and everyone (except you, of course) was still shocked when he won.) But when they disagree, each of them is wrong more than three times as often as they are in the habit of being wrong. A, obviously, is likely to be very overconfident. But even though B is much more likely to be right than A, B is also likely to be very overconfident. (However: if A can recognize people like B and is in the habit of being wrong when in disagreement with people like B, then A may actually be underconfident when it becomes apparent that B disagrees with A: A may simply assume that B is right. This would be a better strategy for A than maintaining that A is right, but a worse strategy (all other things being equal, e.g., supposing that there is no other goal than eventually getting things right) than maintaining belief that there is a 31% chance that A is right.)
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Currently at Havelock: 4.8. High today: 9.3, at midnight.

Something that struck me in my annoyance after reading Mark Lilla's NYT piece about how HRC lost the election because of "identity liberalism" is that coming up with reasons why she lost is something like coming up with reasons why a baseball team under-performed its run differential. It's really easy to tell plausible stories (the manager is an idiot! the bullpen can't hold leads in close games! the hitters aren't clutch!), but analyses informed by actual evidence and not ideologically blinkered narrative suggest that it's probably just a fluke. (Of course, there are always actual reasons you can try to discover why a team didn't score more runs or give up fewer runs than it did on the whole, and of course if HRC had won the popular vote by five million votes instead of two and half million then she probably would've won the electoral college. (Although the point is, if she had won the popular vote by two and a half million, then she very very likely would have won the electoral college.) Maybe some people didn't vote for HRC because they're mad about washrooms, why not. Definitely some people didn't vote for her because they're mad at women. Apparently some people didn't vote for her because she's a Satanist who sacrifices babies at a pizza shop or something. By the sounds of it some people didn't vote for her because they thought Donald Trump was gonna save their jobs and she wasn't. I don't know a lot about it, but it sure sounds like some people didn't vote for her (or at all) because Republicans made it harder for people who tend to vote for Democrats to vote. But, unless you're a whole lot more rational than the average pundit, you only go looking for that kind of stuff to explain why the loser lost. If it was a fluke the loser lost, then it's a fluke you went looking for that stuff. (In other words: it is as true today as it was when Trump's campaign appeared to be running off a cliff, or as it was when the RNC decided after 2012 that Republicans were in trouble if they didn't start reaching out to women and minorities, that trying to win a presidential election by appealing to angry white guys is a pretty low percentage play.)) Hey, Nate Silver said going in that there was a bit less than a one in three chance she'd lose (although ... I wonder what Nate Silver would peg the odds of her losing at given that she wins the popular vote by 1.8 percentage points (and counting)!). Run the election twice more and maybe she wins them both ... although if there was a 70% chance she wins on any given run, there's a slightly worse than even chance she wins any two in a row, so. (Just try to get the guy next to you at a game to believe that a .700 team has a worse than even chance of winning any two games in a row.) Anyway, if HRC was a baseball team, based on her run differential and lousy record in close games this season, in the basically-two-team league she's playing in, the smart money would be on her to win the championship next season.
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Currently at Havelock: -0.2. High today: 0.2.

So, back at the end of June, when I was drawing up a crude categorization of rights and lefts in the world today, one of my four categories was "a conservative left (which may be a largely empty category in public political discourse, but probably not so much in pub political discourse) that supports limits on national sovereignty over mobility of neither people nor money". Whether or not this actually describes Donald Trump (*blows out brains*), it maybe is a pretty good description of Steve Bannon:

Steve is not a deeply principled guy on politics; it’s not like he’s coming in with this ramrod agenda. He’s coming in and he’s talking about big government spending. He’s talking about trillion-dollar infrastructure packages. If you had to peg Steve down on ideology or philosophy, you’d say he’s sort of like a European far-right leader. He’s more like Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage than he is like a constitutional conservative. He doesn’t like constitutional conservatism; he thinks that it’s an obstacle in the way of building this new Third Way movement, this independent political movement that is focused on heavy spending--even some redistribution inside the country--but closed borders and tariffs for everybody outside.

(Well, I did start saying way back, it's like someone gave that guy from the pub billions of dollars and now he's running for president.)

Elsewhere in the cuckoo clock we're living in, "How conservative Angela Merkel became a champion of the left". A lot of Americans, anyway, could learn something from her about what an actual Christian conservative looks like.
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Currently in Havelock: -0.5. Spent yesterday in snowy Kingston. Don't that just take ya back.

Here's one of those things that I think of from time to time and mean to look up, and then when I look it up, it doesn't quite say what I imagined it to say--from "September 11: The View from the West", by Jonathan Raban, New York Review of Books 52:14, Sept. 22, 2005:

That week, my compatriot Christopher Hitchens, stranded in Seattle after giving a lecture on September 10 in Walla Walla, Washington, said over dinner that "at times like this, America turns into a one-party state," and reminded me of the prophecy made by Robert Lowell back in 1966, when he answered a questionnaire sent to him by the editors of Partisan Review: "I have a gloomy premonition ... that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the sinews of the tiger, an ascetic, 'moral' and authoritarian reign of piety and iron." The mood of our fellow diners in the restaurant was one of forced joviality--a few jokes and laughs too many were coming from the tables around us. "I think we've just entered the reign of piety and iron," Hitchens said.

The vague memory I had of it was that Hitchens's first reaction to 9/11 (ironically, you might think, but Hitchens was a complicated guy capable of reconciling what simpler people see as contradictions (and I note that both "complicated" and "simple" have pejorative connotations)) was something along the lines that he feared for America's soul ... which is certainly in the neighbourhood of what he actually said. Anyway, I keep thinking since the presidential election that this feels like the aftermath of 9/11 all over again, and obviously it is the other shoe dropping from that (though let's never forget that this particular shoe did not drop of anything like historical necessity, that Trump decisively lost the popular vote and would not have stood a realistic chance of winning if the US had a less, uh, quaint--say, for instance, a more French--manner of electing its president (though let's also not forget that the US is a federal union of states and that there are good historical reasons, if not compelling reasons on the whole, for arguing that the states, and not the people at large, should elect the president of the federation)). What Hitchens turns out to have specifically said actually speaks to something else I've been thinking: at least this time the Democrats are not on board. (Obviously there are also a number of powerful Republicans who are also not on board, although one of the depressing things about the exit polls is they show that self-identified Republicans voted for their party's candidate slightly more consistently than self-identified Democrats voted for theirs. (Somehow the single most depressing thing to me about the exit polls is that they show that people who made up their minds late were much more likely to vote for Trump.))

Another thing I keep thinking: this election has got to prove to any reasonable observer, who was not already convinced, that evangelical Christians in the US, on the whole, are, I don't know, utterly full of shit. The irony is that Michael Flynn's calling Islam a political ideology and not a religion has gotten so much play when nothing has ever demonstrated so well as the overwhelming support of evangelical Christians for what you might as well call the least Christ-like presidential candidate in living memory if not in history that American evangelical Christianity is a political ideology and not a religion.

I'm not sure whether the most depressing thing of all is that the alternative was the election of a neoliberal hawk to the presidency, but that is certainly up there (and again France comes to mind, with the runoff between Chirac and Le Pen ... but the current Socialist president of France is also a neoliberal hawk, so whatcha gonna do).

Definitely the most personally annoying thing about all this is that we're going to have to keep thinking about it for at least the next several years. Back in the summer I was distressed that Howard Adelman was spending so much energy writing about Donald Trump, who after all was likely going to lose and sooner or later go away after wasting everyone's time. But as I said to someone after Bush II's reelection, you can't expect history to go in a straight line.

... and insofar as the arc of history does bend toward justice (not to say the good!), it is, a la Hegel, because it bends toward increasing rationalization ... and maybe the trouble with Fukuyama's take on the end of history, as a Hegelian take, was that liberal democracy won a struggle within the forms of political reason, and not against the political forces of un-reason ... among the latter of which the "alt-right" is the JV team of "radical Islam" ...
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