Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Mars Game

The Mars Game is a projected basketball game between the inhabitants of Earth and those of Mars, winner gets to destroy/enslave the other. Each planet sends its best five. Whether teams can practice, scout each other, have substitutions, or be coached is never part of the discussion.  One game.  Five best. We don't know whether Mars has players who are eight feet tall and 150 lbs, or four feet tall and can hit from  50 feet.  They might be much more speedy.  They might live for 700 years and have played together for 100.

It may not be the most important measure of a player - though were it to become a real game it would certainly become that - but it is interesting because it removes many of the side issues that come up in discussing who is The Greatest Ever. That ongoing discussion among tipsy and irritable fans can quickly turn into Who was the Greatest Champion (Bill Russell) or Who Had The Greatest Career (Kareem Abdul Jabbar). Which position is most important? Who made his teammates better? Who was the best all-around player? Who had the greatest season?  Who was best at his peak? The arguments are sometimes mere pretenses for choosing the hometown boy, or actually about what is the proper criteria* for evaluating players.

If someone wants the discussion of who is on my all-time baseball team, I find I cannot choose unless certain questions are answered.  Do you mean best season, best few years, best ten years, or best career?  If a single season, under what rules and era conditions will they play?  Do they get a chance in this time-travel league to adjust for a year? I would have similar cautions about choosing a basketball team.

The Mars game bypasses most of that. For the Mars game I am choosing Wilt Chamberlain first, even though he irritated me and I loved Bill Russell.  You might choose Russell or Jabbar at center if you had to play against Mars for years. But one game, I'm choosing Wilt, and it's not close.  I do have some qualms about not knowing whether there is a three-point shot, because that does bend the game significantly.  I imagine I would hedge against that by choosing Steph Curry second, even though there are ten players better than him. Though I would ask Wilt what he thought before making the pick.

Chamberlain is not who I would have chosen even as recently as last year, but I have been looking at old film and become convinced. He leapt higher, and with grace.  He may have blocked twenty shots in a game and regularly blocked ten. He was immensely strong. He was adaptable.

For the record, I am choosing Lebron well before Michael Jordan, even though I find him irritating as well.

*Every chess match is a furious argument about how chess should be played.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Faith Versus Works

In following a Wikipedia rabbit-trail about the stunning mathematician Ramanujan, I came across the Iyengar, a caste of Tamil Brahmins.  Scroll down to the section "Schism," to see something similar to a classic Christian controversy.  I liked the image of the cat-people versus the monkey-people.


I spoke with a woman today who was referring to a friend with the last name of "Houston."  I wasn't sure I had caught it, so I asked "Houston?  Like the city?"

"Yes," she said "but she doesn't have anything to do with Texas.  She's not a racist."

People might think things but not say them out loud, unless they believe that all the important people agree with them. It takes a special arrogance to say some things out loud. Yet I suppose, if you can stereotype at that level, you are already beyond the point where reason will affect you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


In reading about Ruffle Bar, off the Brooklyn bank of the Hudson, I came across an urban "survivalist" story in New York magazine.It's about what you'd expect fora young urbanite, who apparently did not belong to the Boy Scouts.
The morning of the launch is hot and muggy, but the wind starts to pick up and cool things down as we cast off from the shore in Duke’s inflatable dinghy. Broadsided by the increasing gusts, we take the better part of an hour to get the wilting rubber boat across the choppy gunmetal waves. Unbeknownst to him, Duke is testing my heterosexuality to its very limits. He’s a spry, charismatic, Mad Max–era Mel Gibson doppelgänger, with seadog tattoos and a mischievous glint in his eyes. My scrawny frame and fey affect make me slightly embarrassed to be in such rugged and self-assured company. I make a conscious effort to butch up, pretending not to be bothered that I’m sitting in an inch of chilly seawater that’s filled the bottom of Riley’s overloaded vessel. Duke hands me an oar, and we paddle the final 150 yards canoe style, enabling me to feel at least a little useful.
It is not quite a caricature, but it's close. He also brought a camera, apparently, to show off his hasty shelter.

Monday, February 19, 2018


I have argued against the validity of a person claiming to be tolerant when they are clearly intolerant of POV's they consider intolerant.  "I can tolerate anything but intolerance," and all that.

Yet I think I understand it, thinking about it on my walk today.  I am judgemental of people who are judgemental.  I don't much judge sins, as I am deeply aware of human frailty and root self-centeredness. People do lots of terrible things.  I don't pretend to be able to keep my temper and gently encourage repentance on all of them, but I think I tend that way.  Yet I lose my temper quickly at those who are quick to accuse and quick to assume bad motives. Those who are quick to adopt the prophetic voice and call the church or the nation or the world back into righteousness.  Some Christians have been the conscience of the larger group, and done great good. Just be sure you are right in that prophecy, and not just stating the preferences of your family, your group, your tribe.  Because the penalty for false prophecy is supposed to be death. Remember?

I very much don't like it when folks too readily set themselves up as a judge over others - when they claim to be simply stating facts but are being insulting; when they claim they know what Jesus would have others do.

I'd rather err on that side.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Young woman at church is suddenly fascinated by the boy-band BTS.  Some of the band's songs show more of a hip-hop influence, especially in the dance moves, but the tune with the most hits - 230 million and counting - sounds like Europop to me.

In fact, it reminds me of this, from Romania 13 years ago.

Androgynous-looking boys practicing masculine displays are age-appropriate viewing targets for girls. Safe pretending to be dangerous. It's been true for some time.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Owen Barfield on C S Lewis

On C S Lewis, by Owen Barfield

Barfield was one of Lewis's longest and closest friends, an Inkling and one of the companions on the walking tours of the 20's & 30's. Lewis praised his intellect and declared he was much indebted to him for opening out ideas of imagination to him early in his career. I have much wanted to like Barfield, and he seems a decent individual, but I have never much warmed to him.  I have never found anthroposophy in the least persuasive, too reliant on mysticism and even a bit occultic. He seemed to my naive mind a bad influence on Lewis, though I suspect Jack was up to the task of resisting anything heterodox.

I did learn some things from this collection of nine essays.  I was surprised to learn that Lewis's expression and tone of voice changed little while conversing.  He was not dramatic. Barfield denies he was much influence on Lewis after the initial years, and despite Jack's characterisation in Surprised By Joy of "The Great War" as an ongoing intellectual battle, Barfield claims they never discussed the items of contention after the 1930's at all.  He concluded that Lewis kept up the discussion himself, in his own thought, not needing much assistance. This would be consistent with the view of the other Inklings, especially Tolkien, that Lewis liked many books which were not all that good, because he supplied a good deal of the imagination and logical argument himself.

That's about it. I gained something from the 1st and 2nd essays ("C. S. Lewis" 1964; "C. S. Lewis in Conversation" 1971) and the 8th ("The Five C. S. Lewises."), but the rest were of little interest.  Unless you are already much taken by philosophy, and its discussions of precise definitions of unusual terms, or the influence of Coleridge's thought - or if you are well-enough versed in anthroposophy that its topics come naturally to you, I don't recommend the book.

Collusion and Obstruction

Andrew McCarthy continues to provide clarity. I appreciate him giving some credit to his opposition, that their acts might not have been simply partisan and evil, even if they are wrong.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New Testament Gods

I covered the Old Testament understanding of not having other gods and not making any graven images, in Molten Gods last week. After the Captivity in Babylon those were no longer an issue, though they were still used for divination.  Divination continued to be a problem up until Jesus's time, and continuing on into our days as well.

From the Catholic Catechism: All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. (Emphasis mine.  Oh well, there goes my preferred superpower of time travel. Though I suppose any superpower might have the same effect.)

There are a few things that get described as other gods in the NT.  I could make the argument that the Book of Jude is largely a warning that worshiping other gods leads to disobeying all the other Declarations.*

Jesus identifies money, or Mammon, as a rival god.  Matthew 6:24-34
v. 24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Also Luke 16:13)
We might regard wealth as something of a cross between a physical and an abstract God, but Jesus names him and makes it sound personal, as if he were talking about Zeus or Apollo. Perhaps he was only using it as a common metaphor, but I wouldn't want to count on that. It might be someone He knew personally.

Paul is talking about the more familiar types of gods that we see in books for students about "Myths of Many Lands" or the like when he speaks in the agora.  Acts: 17:24-31. Key verse is 29, Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. But that does hearken back to the household gods of the OT as well.

The Epistles in general go on to describe gods more in the way we are used to: sets of behaviors, especially greedy or sexual, that take over our lives and become "gods" to us, even if they aren't named Venus or Freya. (Though Revelation makes a strong tie-in with sacrificing to other named gods and sexual immorality Revelation 2:14  Revelation 2:20)

Colossians 3:5 
 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Galatians 5:19-21  In part
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft

Philippians 3:19 
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

Ephesians 5:3-6  v.5
 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

As I mentioned before, the commandment against adultery may not refer only to family harmony, keeping promises, and being loyal, but to refraining from worshiping other gods.  The whole town may be going out to do that for festival, and they may think their fertility cause for their flocks and fields is jeopardised by your abstaining, but you are not to join them.

*Eventually the whole list comes in.
James 4:3-5  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God

Romans 1:18-32

I think that covers the territory.  In contrast, God has chosen to speak, not through idols, or temples, or even magical ceremonies, but in words, actions in history, and actions of his people.

So here's the exercise.  What gods are behind the other commandments? Stealing is connected to wealth, certainly - though security, laziness, or revenge could also be motives.

What god is worshiped when we bear false witness, or don't keep the Sabbath?  Scratch them down.  It's a fun, and I hope revealing exercise.