It’s time for my 10th – that 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 years of blogging and 10th Holiday Spectacular. Maybe the 11th. I think I started in 2006, so whatever that adds up to. As I have every year, I am going to wing it, that is, I don’t know what I am going to write about except that it will hopefully be appropriate for Xmas and/or New Years.
The Missing Posts
I write fewer and fewer posts every year it seems. It used to be once a week, but now it is once a month. And, it just seems to me that the posts of yesteryear were more interesting. It doesn’t mean I’m less interested in writing them, but probably over the years I already wrote about most of the things that interest me.
I actually write more posts than I publish. I start any number of them and sometimes don’t post them for months, in one case, for years. Some, never. It was what I was interested in when I started writing them and then I lost interest. Here are parts of a few unfinished posts from this year:
“Title: Hate the Sinner, Love the Sin
The real phrase so often bantered about is, of course, the opposite of the title to this post - "hate the sin, love the sinner." Many such phrases, spread around anonymously actually have an origin, and this one is from St. Augustine, found in one of his letters written in in the 5th century A.D. (often misattributed as 211 A.D., long before he was born - it actually is found his collected works as letter no. 211. "Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum," is Latin (d'uh) and if you stare at the words long enough, is fairly understandable to us. Hominum we can recognize as a form of the word man or mankind. Odio is close enough still today to "odious" to be recognized. Cum is, among other meanings - with, but we still use it in English expressions in other ways. Dilectione looks, at a glance, too foreign to grasp easily, but it is a form of a word for "love" and we still say "delectable" and "delicious," both of which derive from it. Last vitiorum, from vitium - can mean a "crime" or "error" or "sin," and words like that, and we still use the word "vitiate" which derives from it. Why that thrills me is a long story and I'm sure I've written about my very love of ancient languages here before (over 4 bookshelves dedicated to them). Anyway, put the whole thing together and you get "with love of man and hate of sin" as a close translation, but "love the sinner and hate the sin" is much closer to the literal than many translations of other phrases that have found their way into modern conversations. I really don't know how this expression has been passed down over time, but Gandhi used a form of the phase in his autobiography, noting that it was easy to understand and rarely followed. He uses it in quotes, so obviously he knew it was a saying he did not create, though he does not cite Augustine. Maybe he thought it was just one of those sayings everyone knows.
It's actually interesting to read Augustine's letter. It is essentially advice for running a nunnery, and in particular he is giving counsel as what to do with a sister who has a wanton eye - spying on her, outing her, punishing her and if necessary, expelling her. One translation I found online is at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102211.htm. It's not exactly the most fascinating thing you ever read, but you can if you like.
But, Augustine, Gandhi, pikers! (I'm paraphrasing lines from one of, I think, the most universally loved movies of all time –
‘Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?’
What movie was that from? Give up? No googling until you give up - I'll tell you later).
In one case, Augustine's general thought, which is really nice and forgiving and all that, appears definitively wrong in one particular situation - whistle blowing. Whistle blowing by its very nature implies that some knowledge spread to the public or individuals to reveal something important was gotten through nefarious or unlawful means. So people may actually think its wrong but love the sinner for it. Sometimes it is criminal, sometimes just the violation of a trust, such as that someone revealed information you collected at work, particularly the government.
The benefits of whistle blowing are well known. You find out stuff you never would have if someone didn't rat or just steal the information. But, it has always been with us. The kid in the fable who shouted "The Emperor has no clothes!" is a fictional example, but shows you how long it has been around. Mark Felt, the assistant FBI director better known as "Deep Throat," is a real example. Now, it is just easier than ever.
The ability to hack into what other people right because of the internet has just brought it to the forefront and the drama of the recent election made it even more controversial than usual. Leaks and others revelations about Hillary Clinton's emails during the election that people have fairly strong opinions about hating the sinner but loving the sin or not. But the feelings were in a large part, partisan. Some people hated the sinner and the sin, whether the source of information was Russian hackers or some Clinton lieutenant with a vendetta (we usually call these people Hillary Supporters) and some think both are just nifty (we usually call this group Trump supporters). It is often with most people an issue of whose ox is being gored (an expression usually related back to Exodus in the Old Testament). I'm thinking about here whether there is any more objective way we view whistleblowers. At least those people who aren't in a party and might be open to an objective view.”
This other one is from a draft of a post on Deflategate and (bizarrely) Justice Sotomayor.
“Like many of my titles to posts, this one is made a little tongue in cheek.* It's not the end of reason, though, the power of the irrational arguments where I live - in anti-Brady, anti-Patriot New York, make it seem so. But, in pro-Brady, pro-Patriot New England, where the absence of reason is just as great.
*Tongue in cheek - what a great phrase. I have read it originally signified contempt back in the 1700s in England, but came to symbolize irony, sarcasm or humor. How such a gesture came to mean anything significant - surely there is nothing that putting a tongue in a cheek conveys which would trigger an inherited response like a frown or smile (both universally recognized unless someone has some kind of lack of affect syndrome) - is also significant as to the seemingly random way languages are formed. I don't know why, but stuff like that seems so exciting to me. No?
But, to the point -
An article in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/upshot/tom-brady-and-political-beliefs-it-depends-what-team-youre-on.html?_r=0) a while back (this post was started quite a while ago) highlighted the partisan manner that the deflategate argument has taken and compared it to political debate. The author, a Dartmouth College poli-sci professor and associates took a survey which clearly demonstrated that that belief whether Brady broke the NFL's rules was primarily determined by whether the person supported the Pats or for another team. Only 16% of Pat fans surveyed thought he had broken the rules while 90% of Colt fans thought he did. About two thirds of fans of other NFL teams (including the Colt fans) thought he did too. That's not too much of a surprise. It is well established that people look at sports the same way that they look at politics.
The more interesting part was that the survey also showed that knowledge only affected Pats fans - that is, those who were more likely to be biased for Brady. The surveyors also tested for how much the fans knew about the controversy by asking factual questions. The more they knew, the less likely they were to find Brady culpable. It is impossible to say though, whether they were convinced by the evidence or whether those who learned more were encouraged to do so because of their belief in his innocence. On the other hand, knowledge of the facts had almost no effect on opinions of fans of other teams who generally believed, or at least like to say, he had "cheated," even if he wasn't even accused of it.
This is consistent with my own experience. I live in NY. I don't know many Pats fans other than myself. Actually, I'm not sure I know any. But I do know Jet fans. And they are angry. They are not angry the way people are angry about whether or not Bobby Bonds used steroids, or whether Ray Rice striking his wife should mean he should be suspended for months or indefinitely, which one would think was a lot more important than deflategate, which was probably akin to a pitcher using a ball he had nicked on his belt buckle. These fans were red hot furious. Take for example, this outtake of texts I received from a Jet fan these past couple of weeks: ‘Tom Brady is such a whining cry baby!’ ‘Did I ever tell you how much I hate Tom Brady?’ ‘Absolutely sickening.’
It doesn't matter to them that after half time in the AFC championship last year, when the balls were definitively not deflated, the Patriots played much better than they had in the first half. It doesn't matter what the investigation found, what the commissioner ruled, what the arbitration decision was or what the judges considered or ruled. What matters is their conclusion, which they believe is unbiased. Some of them raise their voices when they discuss it, and I've seen some people online wish for Brady's death - his death! In fact, I'm pretty sure the friend who sent me those texts said the other day that he hopes he gets hit by a car. Is he serious? I don't know, but he said it.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, though as with most instances of bias, few so affected are willing to admit to their bias. As a friend of mine recently said, when I pointed out that he was a Jet fan and he always hated Brady and the Pats - everyone else was biased, but not him. He knew. I hear this in many arguments about just about everything. This blind spot to our biases is not just true of him, but everyone including myself. Even if we are sure that bias controls virtually everyone, we do not believe it affects us the same. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence showing how our judgments are affected by many factors far more than they are actual facts, we generally ignore them. Even shown how powerless to predict events, we cling to the same rationales over and over. However, the degree to which people will study an issue to come to a less biased opinion, or recognize their bias varies wildly. I do my best to insist on it for myself, unless I have personal knowledge of something. Admittedly, I have more time than most people do to read reports and cases. Plus, I like to analyze. For me it is a stress reliever. I notice for other people it creates stress. Admittedly, none of that of course proves that my answers are better than anyone else's who are just giving unsupported knee jerk opinions in any given question.
I like to think that knowledge of the facts is important though over time and in general, and I'm sure most people agree, so long as you are talking about something specific about which they are biased and have an unsupported position. And, of course, different people can look at the same facts as me and come to wildly different conclusions. Frankly, many, could be most people seem to consider it a character flaw of mine and some get really irritated by my saying I don't know, even if I'm saying I don't know what was in Tom Brady's mind without some kind of evidence (even sufficient circumstantial evidence).”
See the great fun you are missing when I don’t post?
Turkish McCain fan
I was at one of those kiosks in the mall where I had bought a couple of bracelets. This one was owned by a Turkish family. I had to go to get the bracelets shortened (perhaps Turkish women have thicker wrist than American women). It took a couple of tries (the first time I tried he didn’t understand my English and made them bigger). The second trip back the young woman (sister, wife? I don’t know) had the bracelets the right size, was there and as the mall hadn’t gotten busy yet, we had a long conversation. She was raised her from 13 on and was now raising her family here. She was telling me about Turkey (where I went once in 1991, I believe) and what she thought of America (mostly how much she loved it). She asked me if I liked Trump. I said “no.” She asked me if I liked Obama and I said “no.” Clinton? “No.” Bush? “No. Well, the first one.” I corrected myself and said I thought I liked most of them as people but not their policies. So, she said, who do you like? I answered, “John McCain has long been my favorite politician because he seems to lie far less than most of them and he goes against his own party when principle is at stake.” She smiled and said – “So many people tell me was their favorite.” Well, not enough to get him elected president (and he was not a good candidate when he had his chance, although Bush fatigue, the collapse of the economy and Obama’s appeal may have done him in anyway).
I forget when I became a “fan” of McCain. Relatively speaking, I do think he is more honest, more sincere, more courageous and that he has more of a sense of humor (which doesn’t mean he’s actually funny – Obama is actually he funniest) than most of the usual suspects. Certainly I don’t always agree with McCain, but he has only disappointed me a couple of times. In any event, he wrote an interesting article recently I thought worth reading in which he celebrates the memory of – a communist. It was in the NYTimes yesterday. Not quite what you’d expect from a man who was tortured by communists. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/opinion/john-mccain-salute-to-a-communist.html.
I was very sorry that McCain did not become president. I’m sure he would have disappointed me at many times if he had, but I think our country and world might be in better shape today and that at least some lives lost in the Middle East in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan would not be lost. But, we can never know what a different turn of the universe would have resulted in and unintended consequences are always possible. Feel free to disagree.
My favorite president
But of those actually elected, my favorite president of those in my own lifetime, from Eisenhower (who I of course do not remember – I was an infant) to Obama, was G. H. W. Bush. There was another article in the Times today about a conversation he had one Christmas. Those who were not cognizant of politics when he was president probably cannot guess at the importance in the world of the Soviet Union collapsing, but the events then were as important in the world as the crisis of terrorism seems now.
Did you ever listen to the song Twelve days of Christmas and ask yourself, what the hell is a “calling bird?” It didn’t make any sense to me, but I never got so far as to look it up – until yesterday. The reason it doesn’t make sense is because “calling” really isn’t the right or original word. It is a sound-alike that was substituted because the real word is no longer used, or so we are told by the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia. According to the article there, the first English version was published in 1780 as a game, not a song. Probably it was French in origin. Numerous versions came out over the years. It was put to the now familiar music in 1909 by Frederic Austin, an English composer, who made a few changes. Originally the song used four “colly” birds - colly meaning black. In other words “four black birds.” But I guess because no one listening would have any idea what that meant (or maybe he heard “calling”) Austin changed it to . . . “four calling birds.”
You will think of this each time you hear it in the future.
Come on, who doesn’t love to find out they were right about something they thought they were wrong about it? If you don’t, then you are either a) a Buddha or b) delusional. I suspect the latter. A few years back I decided to learn more about relativity. Looking in a few bookstores and reading reviews, I decided that Einstein’s own thin book on both theories would be the best way to learn. And I tried (although sudden naps frequently interrupted me). But, when I got to the third chapter, Einstein explained a concept and wrote at the end of a chapter basically if you did not understand a particular point, you should go no further.
My problem was – I didn’t understand it or it didn’t make sense to me. I tried hard and then gave up. I never finished the book, thinking what’s the point? Others, including a physicist, have told me they understood it easily. I can’t say it was a major blow to my ego, but I did not like that it didn’t sound right to me, and I presumed I just couldn’t understand it. There are some things I do seem have a block about. For example, I remember taking a drawing class and everyone else seemed to understand the concept of drawing a face based up drawing a big circle first. To this day I have no idea what they were doing (which may partially explain why I am such a terrible drawer). Then, just a month or so ago, reading the intellectual memoir of one of my favorite philosophers, Karl Popper, I came across this (and don’t bother about the details unless you read a lot of philosophy; even then it is a lot of gobbledygoop):
“It is an interesting fact that Einstein himself was for years a dogmatic positivist and operationalist. He later rejected this interpretation: he told me in 1950 that he regretted no mistake he ever made as much as this mistake. The mistake assumed a really serious form in his popular book, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. There he says, on page . . . ‘I would ask the reader not to proceed farther until he is fully convinced on this point.’ The point is, briefly, that ‘simultaneity’ must be defined—and defined in an operational way—since otherwise ‘I allow myself to be deceived . . . when I imagine that I am able to attach a meaning to the statement of simultaneity’. Or in other words, a term has to be operationally defined or else it is meaningless. (Here in a nutshell is the positivism later developed by the Vienna Circle under the influence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and in a very dogmatic form.)”
I realize that what I consider one of my most rewarding moments of 2016 would be the cause of distant stares or polite smiles for most everyone I know, and frankly that is how I feel reading almost any philosophy including by Popper. And maybe it is weird that I am so appreciative in reading someone who at least is considered a great philosopher (virtually every modern scientist in the world operates on principles explained by Popper, whether he knows it or not), who makes me feel I’m not quite as dumb as I thought, but, transient moments of clarity are all I ask.
Maybe someday I will read something else and learn that Einstein was right in the first place. But, until then, I feel better about it.
Probably every year I review my favorite Xmas songs. This year, I came out with this top twenty list:
1. All I want for Xmas is you (Vince Vaughn and the Vandals)
2. Baby it’s cold outside (Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting version followed by Zooey Deschanel
and Leon Redbone’s version)
3. Let it Snow (Dean Martin)
4. All I want for Xmas is you (Mariah Carey)
5. Joy to the World (Whitney Houston)
6. Snoopy and the Red Baron (Royal Guardsmen)
7. Santa Claus is coming to town (Bruce Springsteen)
8. Pachelbel’s Canon of the Bells (Trans-Siberian Orch.)
9. Christmas Eve (Trans-Siberian Orch.)
10. Siberian Sleigh Ride (Trans-Siberian Orch.)
11. Linus and Lucy (from a Charlie Brown Christmas – I think of it as a Christmas song)
12. Frosty the Snow Man (Jimmy Durante)
13. Home for the Holidays (Perry Como)
14. Christmas (Maria Carey)
15. Put one foot in front of the other (Fred Astaire)
16. Ave Maria (Andrea Bocelli)
17. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (Andy Williams)
18. Winter Wonderland (Eurythmics)
19. Santa Baby (Marilyn Monroe and also Daniela Andrade – more on her below)
20. Zat you, Santa Claus? (Louis Armstrong)
I don’t find this very easy to do. There are many Xmas songs I like and it’s like picking between favorite children. The higher the number, the more certain I am. But, when I sent it to a friend, he praised the list but said Darlene Love’s Baby, please come home should be on it. He may be right. I also felt bad about leaving off Band Aid’s Do they know it's Christmas?,The Kinks’ Father Christmas and ELP's I believe in Father Christmas. And the more I think about it, the more upset I get with not including Bach’s Sinfonia (there is a short electrical version I’m very fond of), John Lennon’s So this is Christmas and Jose Feliciano’s Felice Navida.
Then, this year, for the first time I heard or at least noticed a song by a Canadian Orthodox Jew named Leonard Cohen who died the day before Election Day. Apparently, he had a 1985 hit called Hallelujah, which is haunting and powerful, and which has been covered by a number of artists, some better than the original. I’m told he was famous and the song is played all the time, but still . . . Here’s the link to my favorite version by a Pentatonix:
If you ask me the song is really about getting the hell beat out you emotionally by a women, using a couple of Old Testament stories as analogies, but people seem to think it is 1) a Christian song and 2) a Christmas song. In any event, I can’t help but feel that it should be on a new list, which I will not complete until next year.
How I missed this song all these years I can’t explain. Oh, wait. Yes, I can. I almost never listen to the radio. But, youtube is making me at least marginally more aware these days. I also came across a Xmas song by a French trio of women who mashed up Canon of the Bells with the cellos from the Theme from Game of Thrones they call
Game of Bells and, it’s really good.
My Christmas gift
One more musical note. Earlier this year I discovered Daniela Andrade, a youtube internet star. She – a young and by appearances very sweet girl, generally records herself on a single mike in her home or bedroom and does very slow, simple covers of other people’s songs (usually) often accompanied just by her guitar, but sometimes with a friend. I love her style and her voice – something very peaceful about it. Great for taking naps to. I’ve passed her on to a few people I thought might like her and they seemed to like her too. Taste is taste and you might go blechh. But, I think she’s great and if I ever get married again (hah!), I may kidnap her and force her to perform as a ransom. Why did I write that? Now everyone will know when it happens. What am I saying? Who would actually read this besides Don and Bear and it’s not like either of them never kidnapped anyone? Anyway, try this -
Or just play any youtube song of hers and they will start playing sequentially. Just a few of them are Xmas song.
It is my Christmas gift to y’all. If you don’t like it, well, go have yourself a Merry Xmas/Happy Chanukah anyway.
That’s it until next year.