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December 6, 2011

Regretsy and the Insane PayPal Clusterf*ck
Posted by Teresa at 08:40 PM *

As you’ve probably heard today, PayPal shut down, trashed, and ripped off Regretsy’s holiday toys-for-kids drive for reasons that don’t match anything PayPal says on its site about how its procedures work. They also arbitrarily froze April Winchell’s personal account and told her they’d be holding that money for six months, for no reason I can see beyond punishing her for questioning their handling of the matter. This is actually a dumber and more negligent move than than The Great Sock-Yarn-of-the-Month Banking Outrage of ‘07.

Read April Winchell’s (“Helen Killer’s”) short but punchy account of what went down: Cats 1, Kids 0.

GreenGeekGirl has an excellent analysis in depth of what PayPal claimed vs. the information that’s available on their site. Upshot: the guidelines and policies PayPal invoked while screwing over Regretsy appear nowhere on their site.

The last paragraph of the initial post on Regretsy:

Wanna tell Paypal how you feel? Here’s a list of every administrative Paypal email address and phone number The Consumerist was able to find.
Good idea, that.

This is a nontrivial issue. A lot of people who make their living from internet businesses process all their transactions through PayPal. So do lots of charities and fundraising operations. It’s unavoidable. PayPal is the 600-pound gorilla of online consumer payment transfers.

Because they have such a dominant position, it’s grossly inappropriate for PayPal’s policies to be this haphazard and self-serving. It’s likewise inappropriate for them to exercise so little oversight when they’ve given high-handed individual employees of theirs the power to put entire operations out of business, or bankrupt craftspeople and small business owners. As for arbitrarily freezing customer accounts for half a year, which gives them the interest-free use of that customer’s money for the duration, it’s at minimum a conflict of interest.

Pass it on. Make noise. And if you receive payments via PayPal and have been letting them accumulate in your account, consider transferring every penny you don’t need to have there to some other financial institution.

=====

I’d like to talk about some other disturbing features of PayPal’s interaction with Regretsy. First, an excerpt from Regretsy’s writeup:

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

YOU CAN ONLY HELP CATS

PAYPAL: Only a nonprofit can use the Donate button.
ME: That’s false. It says right in the PDF of instructions for the Donate button that it can be used for “worthy causes.”
PAYPAL: I haven’t seen that PDF. And what you’re doing is not a worthy cause, it’s charity.
ME: What’s the difference?
PAYPAL: You can use the donate button to raise money for a sick cat, but not poor people.

YOU HAVE TO START A NEW WEBSITE

ME: The problem is I’ve already bought all of these toys, so now I’m really in a position like any other merchant—which is to say, I have inventory I need to sell. Why can’t I sell them as gifts, like any other retailer?
PAYPAL: Don’t you think it would look suspicious if the same people bought them again?
ME: Why? These are my customers!
PAYPAL: If you wanted to do that, you’d have to start a new website.
ME: What? Why would I start a new website?
PAYPAL: I’m not going to argue with you.

WE WILL TRACK YOUR SHIPMENTS

PAYPAL: The only way you’d be allowed to sell these as gifts is if you sent them directly to the person who bought them. And we will track your shipments and make sure it goes to the buyer.
ME: That’s discriminatory! You don’t make other retailers send purchases to the buyer only, especially not at Christmas.
PAYPAL: No one but a nonprofit would send gifts to someone else on buyer’s behalf.
ME: What about Amazon?
PAYPAL: We know what you’re doing and we’re through playing games with you.

YOU’LL NEVER GET AWAY WITH THIS

PAYPAL: You say you’re selling these as gifts but there is no information as to what the gift is.
ME: People sell mystery gifts and grab bags all the time. What about sites where they say, let us choose for you?”
PAYPAL: It doesn’t say that on your site.
ME: Is that the problem? If I say it’s a mystery gift would that be sufficient?
PAYPAL: You aren’t going to be able to get around this. It’s too late, we know what you’re trying to do and we’re not going to let you do it.
ME: But there are hundreds of toys! Do you think it’s reasonable to create a drop down menu for hundreds of gifts, all of them different, and create an inventory for each as “one?” So that every time one sells, it’s sold out, and the customer has to keep choosng options and going through check out to see if they can find a gift that’s still available?
PAYPAL: Yes, I think it’s reasonable.

Then my brain exploded.

At this point, I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told that “No one above me will talk to you. No one at my level ever makes phone calls. We’re only doing this to help you.”

When I asked how to close my account, he said I had to “refund everything, write a letter saying you understood what you did WAS WRONG AND YOU WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN, and then request permission to close your account.”

Then, for good measure, they froze my personal account, which has revenue from my book sales, e-books and all the other Finnish Folktales Swag. They’ll be holding that money for 6 months.

That PayPal representative is a known type, one I’ve run into before: the person who is compulsively unable to admit that they’ve made an error. They’re not all that common, thank goodness, but the times when you run into them are memorable.

People with that quirk generate seriously malformed interactions. Their compulsion to deny making even trivial errors leads them into cascades of unplanned lying, which means they have to fight harder and harder to defend increasingly indefensible and eventually downright weird positions. They’re like the cognitive equivalent of drivers who panic when the police try to pull them over for a broken tail light and wind up in high-speed chases that draw felony charges.

My guess is that the entire episode grew out of single initial error: the PayPal guy’s claim that the Donate button can only be used by a nonprofit. Because he couldn’t admit his mistake and move on, and because April Winchell kept calling him on his bogus explanations faster than he could make up new ones, he had to keep raising the stakes on her.

At the point that his inventiveness failed him, he fell back on the language and tactics of a habitual abuser: I’m not going to argue with you. We know what you’re doing and we’re through playing games with you. You aren’t going to be able to get around this. It’s too late, we know what you’re trying to do and we’re not going to let you do it. No one else will talk to you. We’re only doing this to help you.

That’s well into the territory of gratuitous all-purpose free-floating blame. I’d love to know where he was previously employed.

When this failed to reduce Winchell to sobbing contrition, he moved on to the inappropriate punishment phase, imposing a six-month freeze on her personal account, demanding that she write a humiliating and bizarrely unbusinesslike letter of apology, and telling her that she would have to ask permission to cancel her account. The only other company I know of that talks to its customers like that is Publish America, which uses a nasty grade of verbal abuse on its victims as part of its blow-off strategy.

It’s extremely difficult to believe that these and other representations he made reflect PayPal’s actual policies. You don’t have to qualify as a nonprofit to use a donor button. Charities and worthy causes are and have always been overlapping categories. PayPal is not in the business of certifying exactly who is and isn’t a legitimate recipient of aid; as long as it looks reasonably respectable, they’ll handle the transactions and take their cut. Thousands of online retail sites will send gifts to the recipient of your choice, and almost all of them take PayPal. Mystery gifts, grab bags, and unspecified odd lots get sold all the time. You don’t have to have a company’s permission to close out your account and end your dealings with them. Et cetera and so forth.

So is this contretemps actually the fault of one rogue employee? Nope. It’s still PayPal’s fault. As I said earlier, this guy is a known type. There are others like him, and other types you don’t want working in that kind of public contact position, and lots of mischief that can be done by inadequately supervised employees who have access to financial accounts. PayPal should be aware of all that, and have appropriate safeguards and monitoring in place. Clearly, they don’t.

The most recent word is that PayPal is backing down, and has apologized — not surprising, given that the internet fell on their head today. It doesn’t get them off the hook. Basically, what happened to April Winchell and Regretsy ought not be possible. If the guy she dealt with has been working at PayPal for a while, they should have noticed before now that he has serious problems. If he’s new to PayPal, they shouldn’t be letting him run loose to anything like this extent. And no matter what else is going on, an individual PayPal employee shouldn’t have the unchecked power to pull stunts like that with someone else’s finances, because it’s an open invitation to corruption and abuse.

There’s some real negligence going on in that company. Chalk up one more datapoint on what having an unregulated finance industry gets you.

Comments on Regretsy and the Insane PayPal Clusterf*ck:
#1 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:14 PM:

Oh there are no words for the mental state that dealing with PayPal drives me into... And I haven't even been seriously screwed over by them.

It's a terrible thing that they dominate the small payments side of the net. Even when they're not being malicious they're being cryptic incomprehensible and broken. Last time I resubscribed to NYRSF it took a couple of weeks to get around the mystery of the invisible credit card which was attached to my account yet not attached to my account.

Of course this is a step beyond incompetence into sheer passive agressive malice.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:19 PM:

I had a eBay account and closed it because Paypal wouldn't allow me to buy anything without giving them direct access to a bank account, even though I had a credit card linked to the account.
This limitation was not stated in their account setup process.

It's a great way to skim money from people.

#3 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:30 PM:

You're right that PayPal are very useful because of their dominant position.

And this is far from the only time this pattern has occurred, and it usually seems to be worthy causes or non-profits that are on the receiving end of the stick.

I'm on the board of the oversight-and-financial-continuity body of my local SF convention. When we started accepting PayPal as a method by which people could buy memberships etc., we made sure that we sweep the contents of our PayPal account into another bank account at another bank, automatically, daily. So the most PayPal can do to us is sequester one day's income for six months. (The six month thing seems to be common in this particular pattern.) We can survive that OK, so for us PayPal is an acceptable risk.

For anybody else who accepts PayPal, I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you set up an auto-sweep like ours. This minimises your exposure to risk, and has the side effect of minimising the amount of free interest PayPal earn.

#4 ::: Nanette Furman ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:40 PM:

Re: Evans, #2.
Exactly what happened to me. I reached some "limit" of what I was allowed to spend through them!!! and unless I a)got their credit card, or b) gave them my bank account info (when Hel melts) I was not allowed to use them (with my credit card!!!) Inconvenient, but I won't and they don't get any of my money. dwolla guys. Its a new idea.
Paypal are psychotic dominance freaks.
nfurman

#5 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:55 PM:

They do have competition.... From the comments in April's article:

https://www.dwolla.com/ (Social payments, handles cash, Forbes article)

https://stripe.com/ (testimonial)

https://www.wepay.com/

#6 ::: Annie ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 09:59 PM:

I'd like to know whether the exchange on the Regretsy blog is a transcript of the actual conversation or whether it's a paraphrasing. It doesn't read like an actual spoken conversation, but many people are reacting to it as though it is. "You can use the donate button to raise money for a sick cat, but not poor people" in particular has struck a nerve.

#7 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 10:17 PM:

Another competitor from the comments, again I don't know anything directly:

https://www.obopay.com/consumer/welcome.shtml

#8 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 10:20 PM:

Paypal has had a reputation for a long time of shutting down accounts for no reason-- I was pleased to hear about dwolla, and even more please that there's a third player.

#9 ::: The Geek ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 10:29 PM:

Is that transcript actual quotes? That reads more like a supervillain monologuing to the noble hero. Which of course is a great way to put it, I'd say.

Still, paraphrasing like that will only excaberate the issue and make it worse, won't it?

#10 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2011, 11:25 PM:

From what I understand those are actual quotes of the conversation. I hope she can have some legal advice on this matter. I can't believe what they are doing to her is wholly legal.

#11 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:01 AM:

It seems like now paypal is making nice to her, and making all sorts of concessions. At some point in this process I suspect she will be asked to sign a release . . .

#12 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:19 AM:

I lost my willingness to use Paypal when they cut off all the porn sites. If Visa and MasterCard and American Express don't mind processing payments for adult entertainment, where does Paypal get off?

They are Teh Evoll. This is just the latest.

#13 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:22 AM:

My partner uses PayPal regularly. I asked him about this account-freezing business. He says that only the amount in the actual PayPal account can be frozen; once you have moved your money into a bank account (yes, even if it's the one linked to the PayPal account), they can't touch it without your express permission -- and if they do make an unauthorized withdrawal, you should report it IMMEDIATELY to the banking regulatory agency in your state.

As for merchants, he also recommends offering Google Checkout as an option, because there are people who just won't use PayPal (and there will be a lot more of them after this debacle). I have no idea whether or not Google offers anything similar to PayPal's "Donation" button, though.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:26 AM:

Also, an apology is not enough here. PayPal needs to fire that employee, period, end of sentence. And they need to issue a public policy statement acknowledging that what happened in this case was WRONG and will never happen again.

#15 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:32 AM:

Do we know if PayPal employs its own in-house customer service reps, or outsources that to a third party?

I would suspect they outsource ... most companies of their size do. As someone who spent a good chunk of time working in the outsourced customer-service business, I am sadly all too familiar with this sort of mind-bogglingly clueless and counter-productive interaction on the part of the rep. As I was reading Winchell's account of the situation last night, all I could think was, "I hope to god that call was monitored and the rep got his ass handed to him while he was shown the door." That's what would've happened if that call had been handled by the company I used to work for, anyway.

#16 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:36 AM:

@Xopher #12:

Well... Since Pypl doesn't do p0rn, they're probably not getting off...

Which may be part of the problem, come to think of it...

#17 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:56 AM:

While it's probably the smallest part of what PayPal did wrong, I'm also not impressed by an organisation that puts out a statement saying that they have resolved the problem and are working with the customer BEFORE actually contacting the customer. It makes it very clear that their priorities aren't what they ought to be.

#18 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 02:18 AM:

PayPal: like a bank, but with less regulation.

#19 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 02:39 AM:

The Raven @ #18:

Rumours have it that PayPal have tried Real Hard to avoid getting a "bank" status, because that would've meant better and harsher regulations.


Lee @ #13:

I've avoided buying things in the past due to "the only way to pay is paypal" and I have been refusing PayPal since, um, when were they started? Since about a few months after that. Makes it real fun trying to donate to worthy causes through the intertubes, let me tell you.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 06:15 AM:

Both PayPal and its telephone agent made the same classic train-wreck mistake: they turned the focus of the interaction from the problem to be solved to themselves.

From the transcript, it's clear that the agent was more interested in getting Winchell to admit that he was right than in treating her as a customer whose business his employer wanted, and to whom he owes an obligation of service and a duty of care.

Then, as praisegod barebones @17 points out, PayPal released a non-apology saying they were "working directly with the account holder on this matter" before Winchell had talked to them at all. This is the same problem as before, projected onto a larger screen: their priority is on being seen and acknowledged to be in the right rather than on solving the problem at hand.

Now, there's a degree to which, just as human abusers pass their abuse on, so do institutions in an abusive regulatory environment. PayPal seem to have grown this nugget of bad functionality around money laundering law, which is substantially a product of the War on Some Drugs fustercluck. So the seed is insanity, irrationality, and logical inconsistency; I suspect that's one reason that the fruit is so indigestible.

They're defensive because in the still watches of the night, they know the whole situation is indefensible. They rely on bullying and look to their own interests first because deep justice is not on their side.

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 06:29 AM:

I've just had some fun, though easily sorted, with a US company I do business with.

Partly, it's bad website-design. The transaction was going through a "clearing" process when I checked the website, my account debited, the payment requested from the payment processor, but the payment not yet made. And what I saw was a web-page with the outstanding debit and a "Pay Now" link.

Their billing support was OK, but the first call I made, there was a good line for the recorded messages, which plummeted in volume and signal/noise ratio as some as a real human was there. The speaker had a slight American accent, at least, so they weren't using some place incredibly distant, and it didn't sound like an over-compressed connection.

I had trouble hearing her, with the phone volume turned up. She struggled to hear me.

Second call, still a lousy line, but not so bad. I got things sorted.

Note that the noise problem wasn't background noise in the call centre, it was the sort of background noise you get on a poor analogue connection.

There's so many different outfits involved in these service operations that it doesn't surprise me when the accumulated corner cutting gets excessive.

Here in the UK, call centres, and a lot of people, seem to cope with hearing the NATO speaking alphabet. It does seem to bemuse a lot of Americans.

#22 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 07:20 AM:

A.E. Van Vogt's "Right Man" personality type at work again!

#23 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 08:59 AM:

Dave Bell #21 Here in the UK, call centres, and a lot of people, seem to cope with hearing the NATO speaking alphabet.

Back in the days when I worked in a UK call centre we were given a sheet with the NATO spelling alphabet in our reference packs. Not everyone used it, but we were all familiar with it.

#24 ::: Rick Owens ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 09:34 AM:

This sort of abuse is exactly why I will not deal with Paypal. As folks above and elsewhere have pointed out, banks have at least some regulation - if a bank abuses you, there are ways to fix the problem. With Paypal, you have no certain redress. Public shaming will sometimes make them fess up to a problem and make it right. Rather a thin reed, that. If they ever have real consumer protections applied to them, I'll reconsider dealing with them, but not until then.

#25 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 09:53 AM:

Another Paypal alternative culled from the comments at Regretsy: Squareup.com . This one looks a little more involved, with a card reader that they send you.

Oh yes, there's Google Checkout too. Google may have some baggage of their own, but I haven't heard that Checkout's been involved with that.

Also note that this is all over the mainstream news sites, just in time for Christmas. Also, people are picking up on things like their announcing that "they are working with" Ms. Winchell before actually contacting her.

#26 ::: nanette furman ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 10:08 AM:

Re:25, David Harmon

Square is brilliant, but is a physical object used for smart phones, and fantastic for small businesses (like our farm stand). Not really an internet option, as I understand it. Therefore- grin-dwolla

#27 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 10:32 AM:

Argh, Paypal.

I had to set up an acoount to be able to sell stuff on ebay, and it took about three months, three talks with nice young men at the customer service hotline, daily checking the spam folder if some legit mail might have got lost there (*needs brain bleach*), twenty e-mails, four customer surveys I helpfully filled out, and complaining to everyone who didn't run fast enough to get my account activated.

Not to mention that the block the money "just in case" the buyer is not happy. I didn't agree to this... not that I wouldn't have agreed given the chance, because there is no other way to sell stuff at ebay when you're new. The lengths I go to avoid throwing Stuff in the trash...

#28 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 10:37 AM:

And Wired has more alternatives to Paypal. Also AlertPay.com (again from the Regretsy comments).

Damn, but I had no idea they actually had so much competition -- I guess the 800-pound gorilla was blocking the view.

Note that Regretsy isn't even the only current victim -- reposted from Regretsy comments (The site is a little campy, but looks pretty genuine to me.):

Reposted from Amy Havens Hines: “We are totally shut down right now due to the same thing. We launched a new product line where a portion of all products enable us to donate to various charities on a monthly basis.‎ We were right in the middle of collecting donations to provide the children who were spending their holiday in the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters our coloring books when PayPal shut down BOTH our incoming orders with a 21 day hold (we are now unable to pay our vendors) and our donations. Do you have any media contacts who might be able to help us? I AM DESPERATE! This has devastated our business. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE if you know anyone who might be able to help us, please have them email info@nawtydawgbigheart.com. Thanks for your help:) Amy & Ecco D’Oro”

My impression is that Paypal treats any sudden influx of funds to be sufficiently suspicious as to warrant immediate shutdown and presumption of fraud. As per the OP, they've been on the Internet for more than long enough that the damn well should know better by now... and the fact that they're still doing this shit is their fault. Doing it once could have been a misunderstanding, doing it once or twice a year (and immediately correcting it) could be "bad apples", aka negligent management. Doing it repeatedly, and sticking by it until they get slammed hard enough, is "depraved indifference", not to mention willful misconduct.

#29 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 10:38 AM:

oops, open tag. I think it's time to get away from the keyboard for a bit.

#30 ::: Walter Hawn ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:09 AM:

I have, since I opened a PP account, every day, emptied the account into the connected bank account, and then my bank automatically transfers any balance over ten dollars to a separate, non-connected account. And I use a low-credit-balance credit card with the account and for no other purpose. That's because, hidden among the TOS, is a line about how PP can, if they take into their heads to do so, empty the card, too!

#31 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:35 AM:

Gracious Hosts - Would it be possible to have the first couple of paragraphs of this topic on the front page of ML and move the rest to an "after the jump"? I think I've seen you do that before, and this one's really long. Thanks.

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:45 AM:

David Harmon @ 29:

... and three times is enemy action, which seems to be how PP views its interactions with its customers.

I think I still have a PP account, since many years ago I was unable to find a way to close it when I discovered how much of a pain they were to deal with. At the time, the user interface just sent me around in circles without giving me a working "I Quit" button. So I just emptied out the money and haven't logged in since. That was in late 2001 or early 2002 IIRC.

#33 ::: Rana ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:09 PM:

One frustration I've been finding, in the discussion of the alternatives, is that most of them focus on the buyer side of things. Given that PayPal is most dangerous when one is trying to make a living using it, does anyone know of anything comparing the various services from the seller's side?

#34 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:09 PM:

The big problem is that Paypal is a bank, for purposes where it wants to be such as ACH transactions against your or someone else's bank account, and simultaneously maintains that it is not a bank for any purposes where it doesn't want to be, like oversight and regulation. (They bought a small bank early in their history, well before the acquisition by eBay, in order to get standing as a bank.)

While I don't have direct experience with it, I've been told before that the info in Lee's comment at #13 is wrong:

I've heard from a couple sources that if Paypal decides that your past transactions look "suspicious", they may transfer money out of your linked bank account to cover them, even clear it out, and then lock that money and sit on it. That would get most companies in huge hot water for wire fraud, so I don't know how they get away with it.

#35 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:31 PM:

If Paypal had had this attitude to "suspicious" transactions three years ago they wouldn't have given a few hundred pounds of mine to various small fraudsters operating through Etsy that my daughter had bought stuff from.

And if Paypal were marginally competant they would not have taken money from MY account to send to those people and then have claimed they were with their rights to do it because the accounts were at the same name and address. Basically she bought some items online, which were delivered, and then the suppliers repeatedly charged her for small amounts - and when her card account was empty Paypal switched the bills to mine.

And if Paypal had operated like a bank they would have refunded me the money they helped steal from me instead of telling me my only recourse was to sue them. Realistic idea that - suing a dozen or more people five thousand miles away in the USA for ten or twenty dollars each.

But Paylap *did* refuse to stop making payments when I asked them, and also refuse to close my account with them so it is definitely the same Paypal :-(

In the end I had to get my bank to shut down my debit card and issue me another one because there was no way to stop Paypal charging against the original card.

I'll have nothing to do with them. For my own protection I have to assume that anyone I don't know who only allows payment through Paypal is likely to be a thief.

#36 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 12:39 PM:

It was after eBay acquired PayPal, so that they not only charged you a fee to list your item and took a commission on the sale, but collected fees on the back end as well, that it became unprofitable for me to continue selling items on eBay.

#37 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Paypal has some US based call centers. They have one here in Arizona, and it has a reputation for a rather high turnover on staff -- apparently, it's hard to stay employed with them.

I am an eBay powerseller and have gone a few rounds with Paypal. I'm not surprised by this. eBay customer service is worse, but Paypal can be pretty bad.

My favorite stupid-eBay story is the Barbie shoes. Specifically, Barbie size clone shoes that have been sold in dollar stores since dollar stores were dime stores. They don't violate Mattel's trademark unless they exactly copy one of Mattel's designs, and they are widely sold on eBay. I listed a lot of Shillman shoes with the note that they "fit Barbie" and eBay pulled it as "counterfeit" Barbie shoes. I never could convince them that knockoff Barbie-size doll shoes should not be considered counterfeit, and that's a somewhat major strike against my record.

My conversations with eBay reps went about like Helen Killer's conversations with Paypal reps. (eBay owns Paypal, so ...) I particularly loved the rep who quoted the TOS section that says you can't list reproductions, counterfeits, or imitations, and wouldn't accept the dang shoes were none of the above.

I said, "Well, what about reproduction vintage Barbies made by Mattel?"

The rep said that would "not be allowed and any sellers listing reproduction Barbies are in violation of this rule." And went on to try to explain to me how to report sellers who listed reproduction vintage Barbies.

*head desk*

#38 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 01:16 PM:

eBay has also started collecting fees on sellers' shipping/postage charges. True, some sellers had been exploiting the system with low nominal item prices and huge "shipping" fees-- the latter of which were generally considered non-refundable if the buyer was dissatisfied with an item-- but I don't want to even think about the minimum total fees sucked out by eBay/PayPal from each purchase.

#39 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 02:54 PM:

Y'know what? If PayPal is now in the business of determining legitimate non-profits and their tax status, wouldn't the IRS like to know?

Most companies *beg* people not to put them in that position, because the IRS rules require experts to interpret them -- experts better employed by the potential non-profit, *not* PayPal.

If PayPal is representing itself as a tax expert (which is really what non-profit status is about), it should say so, and bring out their experts to prove it. If not, they might need to consult their lawyers, purely for research, you understand....

#40 ::: Philip Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 06:11 PM:

Why do the words "unscrupulous", "disingenuous" and just plain "clunky" keep coming to mind when one thinks of PreyPal?

Thankfully, Visa is to launch its new “V.me” service next year. The idea is similar to that offered by PayPal: you upload details of your payment cards to Visa—even if they're not Visa-branded—and Visa will process the payment without revealing your card details to the merchant.

Freedom from the clunky PreyPal at last, at least for off-eBay online merchants. And, undoubtedly, PreyPal will now atrophy back to it’s mandated use by the eBafia, from whence, without its mandated use thereon, PreyPal would never have had the success that it has had …

But, be in no doubt, except for its mandated use on whatever will be by then left of the Donahoe-devastated eBay Marketplace, the clunky PreyPal will elsewhere be buried by Visa’s professional offering, “V.me”, once it is up and running in 2012.

PayPal claims PayPal Is Not a Payments Processor!
http://forums.auctionbytes.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=24148

#41 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 06:16 PM:

I was pointed to an update on the situation here. It looks like the situation is...not getting worse?

#42 ::: Richard Hershberger ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 06:19 PM:

Back when PayPal first rose to prominence there were a lot of stories like this across the internet. They seemed credible enough that I stopped using it for purchases. I hadn't seen this sort of story for a long time and I assumed they had cleaned up their act, but I never got back into the habit of using it. It seems this was wise.

#43 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 06:24 PM:

I have a comment which has drawn the attention of the gnomes. It contained a link to a status update from Ms. Killer.

#44 ::: Philip Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 07:12 PM:

The problem we have in getting rid of the clunky middleman PreyPal is twofold:

1. PayPal is very convenient for online buyers (it’s the merchant that invariably and habitually gets it in the neck), and

2. PreyPal is effectively mandated on the eBafia Marketplace.

These hurdles are not going away until:

1. The “eBafia Don” finally succeeds in taking the eBafia Marketplace submarine, and

2. A better alternative to PreyPal arrives on the scene.

Well, at least a far better alternative will be available to off-eBay online merchants next year: Visa’s “V.me”.

eBay’s submarine experience may take a little longer. In the meantime, it’s going to be fun watching the “Pain from Bain” continue his destruction of this once great entity …

Enron / eBay / PayPal / Donahoe: Dead Men Walking.

#45 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 07:25 PM:

BTW, having followed the link to the Sock-of-the-Month outrage, I just want to highlight bryan's "complaint" there (and followups), which may well be applicable to Paypal.

Also there, I finally found a high-profile source for one of my favorite memes:

"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice." - Vernon Schryver

(The link is to his current company, as I gather the gnomes dislike google-search links, but he was apparently a big player in the development of TCP/IP.)

Also, so as not to get gnomed like Joseph M., I'll summarize instead: Paypal has agreed to make a $100 donation to each of the 200 families affected (April had asked for $100 gift certificates; I'm not sure if the donations are certificates or cash.)

I think they're hoping to get off cheap with that; the thing is, it's not going to buy back their reputation, and I haven't heard anything about the internal changes that would fix their real problem.

#46 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 07:29 PM:

Nanette Furman @26 - I had a friend who was ready to start using Square until I told her to take a close look at their terms of service. She's Pagan and was going to be selling some Pagan-related craft items... and that's a no-no according to Square. (So are some other things, as listed by Warren Ellis on June 11, 2010.)

She decided not to use Square.

#47 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 08:30 PM:

Last time I came across behaviour like that was when ebay locked my account for daring to access their web site from my mobile phone. It turns out that the browser I use (Opera Mini) proxies all its web requests through a proxy server in a different country to where I'm located. The CSR simply wouldn't accept my argument that this was perfectly legitimite use, and insisted that the fact they had requests coming to my account from two different countries within the space of a few minutes must mean I was a victim of identity theft. I'd have to change my password.

I didn't mind this, so much as the fact that I *also* had to pick new answers to new security questions. Ebay uses a set of pre-arranged security questions (e.g. "mother's maiden name", "place of birth", etc), which you have to give them the answers to two of. Unfortunately, the two that I just listed are the only two I have answers to: the others simply don't apply to me. "Name of first pet": my first pet didn't have a name. "Model of first car owned": never owned one. "Favourite colour": there are so many to choose from, it seems unfair to pick just one. "Favourite book": can *anyone* really say they have just one favourite book? And so on. Completely retarded, and they just wouldn't accept that it was totally unnecessary.

#48 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 08:44 PM:

In the latest update, apparently PreyPal has formally agreed to donate $100 to each of the 200 families Regretsy was going to help. Before they only "liked the idea."

If I'm not mistaken, that's a settlement of $20,000. Thassalottamunny.

I still won't use them because of all the other horror stories, but this makes me think they may not be Pure Evil after all. We'll see if they make a big PR fuss over it, which would undermine it somewhat.

#49 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 08:44 PM:

elise #46: Reading the comments there, the "occult materials" restriction is (1) probably coming from their credit-card processor, and (2) most likely directed at Psychic Fortune type services (and.or scams). It's also (3) poorly defined, but someone asked Square about it, and their response was:

“This is a fairly grey area even in the banking and payment card industry. It is not clearly defined what occult materials is really meant even by these regulations. We are contacting our advisors and trying to find as much information as we can. I will hopefully be in touch with you soon with more information.”

So, check back for developing news. I have to admit that in their shoes, I surely wouldn't want to have to arbitrate claims such as "this athame wasn't properly consecrated!".

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 08:56 PM:

Xopher #48: To April and her people, that's a lot of money. To Paypal, not so much. It will certainly forestall any potential lawsuit, and probably stanch the bleeding on their PR front.

Even so, a lot of people (not to mention Google) will still remember, (especially as this had a much higher profile than the prior incidents). And I suspect that those merchants who've walked away will at least continue to maintain alternatives to Paypal for their sites.

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 10:33 PM:

19
I don't have problems with P*yP*l when they're acting as a pass-through for getting money from a customer to a business. I wonder what kind of fees they're charging the businesses, though, for the convenience: is it more or less than a bank/credit union would charge?

#52 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 10:37 PM:

30
i suspected that was possible. I would have set up a small-balance account with a low-minimum card, if PP had been upfront about their 'system'.

#53 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:53 PM:

PJ, the fairly standard rate that Paypal charges merchants is 30 cents a transaction + 2.9 % of the total cost. (And if you refund a payment, the 30 cents is not refundable, though you get the 2.9% back.)

Paypal has a monopoly on eBay transactions, by the way. Sellers are no longer allowed to ask for check payments, and they can't sign up with competing card processing services -- there used to be a couple other companies you could use besides Paypal, but eBay eliminated that option. If you do business strictly on eBay, you have to take Paypal.

#54 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:02 AM:

David Harmon @49:

So, check back for developing news.

Check back? The reply from Square in faoladh's comment in that thread is from June 29, 2010, and is the last comment on the thread.

I have to admit that in their shoes, I surely wouldn't want to have to arbitrate claims such as "this athame wasn't properly consecrated!".

*blink*

If that's a joke, I don't get it, and I don't find religious discrimination amusing. I am misunderstanding you, I hope.


#55 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:16 AM:

53
Thanks - I knew they got a percentage if you used them for simply transferring money, but I didn't know what they charged merchants.
(I was wondering because quite a few non-eBay businesses use them for purchases.)

#56 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:21 AM:

P J Evans @55:
Xopher's referring to the "poorly defined" part of the "occult items" restriction... which could be understood as meaning that Square could be liable for invalid occult items, rather than their likely intended meaning.

#57 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:28 AM:

elise @ 54: I am curious: how would you tell if an athame is properly consecrated?

#58 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:37 AM:

...aaaand I got the wrong referent, should have been elise @54. Between this and managing to wedge my EC2 instance, I should take this as indicating it's past bedtime....

#59 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:39 AM:

Heresiarch, I am actually gobsmacked that you said that.

#60 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:40 AM:

Wait, I didn't see the post before it, so now I see why you said that.

Still. Kinda gobsmacked at the "shrug, it's just the pagans" overtones of David Harmon's comment. Hoping I misunderstood.

#61 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:50 AM:

Elise, see my misaimed #56. It's a snark at Square and possibly the banks, not at pagans, referring to unintended consequences of a badly worded restriction that could conceivably leave them answerable for unexpected things.

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:53 AM:

Whoa, whoah, WHOA!

David Harmon @49:
I have to admit that in their shoes, I surely wouldn't want to have to arbitrate claims such as "this athame wasn't properly consecrated!".

Well, I'd hate to arbitrate claims that "this scrap of brown wool isn't really from Teresa of Avila's habit!" too, but somehow that kind of dispute is perfectly possible under the rules as I read them. Not to mention "this bullwhip wasn't really used on the set of Indiana Jones!"

It's pretty clear why that exemption in place, and it's not the verifiability of the claim.

Even leaving that aside, tittering at people's religious beliefs is something to go...cautiously on. There are plenty of places in the web where you can do that. Making Light really isn't one of them.

heresiarch @57:
I am curious: how would you tell if an athame is properly consecrated?

An interesting question. Maybe one for another time, however, like when the people who might be interested in answering are not wondering if their dialog is going to have a laugh track.

#63 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 02:17 AM:

Jules, #47: I share your disdain for security questions of the format "favorite [X]". However, since they're surprisingly common, I've simply selected standard answers for them, which may not be literally true, but are true enough and easy for me to remember.

I tend to have problems with security questions in general, because so many of them either don't apply to me or have multiple answers. Name of first pet: do I count the puppy who got sick and died after a week? High school: which one? Street I grew up on: which of three? Again, all I can do is decide on standard answers that make internal sense to me.

Cygnet, #53: Does eBay still allow sellers to accept money orders?

#64 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 02:22 AM:

The question might as easily have been asked:

How can you, or PayPal, know whether you have purchased a vial of genuine Holy Water, or merely of ordinary water?

(... thus changing the religion-of-context to Christianity.)

The point would have been PayPal's inability to settle any such "occult" issue, by reason of their lack of "occult" expertise, in contrast to more "material" issues of buyer/seller disputes.

#65 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 02:27 AM:

Is a vial of alleged* holy water considered an occult item? If so, IMO there would be no discrimination there.


*refers to the particular vial, which may or may not be genuine

#66 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 02:38 AM:

elise at #60 writes:

> Still. Kinda gobsmacked at the "shrug, it's just the pagans" overtones of David Harmon's comment. Hoping I misunderstood.

I certainly think you did. I didn't see any trace of unpleasantness in the original comment, and am surprised that you did.

Swapping the athame reference for another religious reference would not change my opinion, if that clarifies anything.

#67 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 02:47 AM:

geekosaur 56: Xopher's referring to the "poorly defined" part of the "occult items" restriction...

Not me.

#68 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 02:53 AM:

That thing with Square and "occult materials"? It's not unique to them. Google for visa mastercard "occult materials". It seems to be one of a long list of prohibitions that Visa and MasterCard impose upon their member banks.

#69 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 04:51 AM:

I don't know very much about paganism apart from what I've learnt by listening to what people like Xopher, Nicole LeBoeuf-Little and David Harmon himself (former pagan, iirc) have had to say about it on Making Light. That said, one theme in those conversations seems to have been the eclectic and pluralistic nature of pagan ritual, and the lack of an authoritative institutional structure (and the attractions of these things.)

However, and perhaps as a result of that, I took David Harmon's comment in a different way from Pyre @ 64 and Steve Taylor @ 66. In other words, I'd imagined that the appropriate comparison is not between 'properly consecrated athame' and, say, 'properly transubstantiated communion wafer', but between 'authoritative way of determining whether an athame has been properly consecrated' and 'authoritative and enforceable statement of how liberals are required to deal with deep disagreement.' Having seen how other people took it, I'm less puzzled by elise's reaction than I was at first.

abi @ 62

'It's pretty clear why that exemption in place.'

One thing that had struck me, while thinking about the Regretsy clusterfuck and Siri's ineptness in dealing with the Matter of Britain, (and also a far smaller, but equally annoying bank snarl-up of my own), but before this particular branch of the discussion started, was that I often find it easy to see that an institution's reponse to something is screwed up without having much insight into what sort of thing might be responsible for a particular pattern of breakdown. I'm inclined to think that people who are good at testing software (and people who have good copy-editing skills) have a skill-set here which I lack (and which, on a good day, I'm well aware of lacking): namely being able to see - and eliminate - different hypotheses about what might be making something go wrong in a particular case. (Banale thought behind this: insofar as I understand how either institutions or software work, institutional procedures - especially ones that are supposed to be clearly defined and followed without too much intitiative - strike me as being analogous to software in these kinds of ways.)

In other words: Although I can think of one straightforward explanation of Square's behaviour, - it isn't immediately clear to me why that particular restriction is in place.
That's particularly true because I've found that my speculations about the causes of particular pieces of screwed up institutional behaviour often suffer from the problem of unconceived alternatives.

(It should go without saying that my personal lack of imagination insight is no reason either for people not to call out screwed up behaviour, or for institutions not to be held responible for diagnosing and dealing with it. But since this comment's pretty long already, I'll say it anyway.)

/Paarfi>

#70 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 06:17 AM:

P J Evans, #51: "I don't have problems with P*yP*l when they're acting as a pass-through for getting money from a customer to a business. I wonder what kind of fees they're charging the businesses, though, for the convenience: is it more or less than a bank/credit union would charge?"

Their base commercial fees are US$0.30 + 2.9% per transaction. If one does over $3,000 of business a month, the percentage drops to 2.5% and larger businesses get larger breaks. As far as I know, these are comparable to other credit card fees. For a very small or hobby business wishing to accept credit cards over the internet, PayPal is pretty much all that there is. Link. They also take various floats, and offer various other for-pay services.

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 08:15 AM:

For what it's worth, I've just now signed up for a Dwolla account. We'll see how useful it is. The US-only part will be a problem, but it sounds like they're working on that.

I also have a never-used Serve account -- Amex simply gave it to me -- and I'm poring over its features.

What the world really needs is tools that allow people to quickly and simply raise funds for informal good causes.

#72 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 08:35 AM:

praisegod barebones, #69: But this being in the context of what merchandise PayPal will let you sell, i.e. non-"occult", the appropriate comparison is not between 'properly consecrated athame' and, say, 'properly transubstantiated communion wafer'....

I really don't think David Harmon was launching into an (un)funny attack on "how liberals are required to deal with deep disagreement" [or the equivalent in other groups' protocols].

PayPal is utterly unsuitable to arbitrate "occult" matters between buyers and sellers, due to incapacity. If there is a dispute about material defects in an item (breakage, size or color differences, etc.), those at least are not "occult" issues, being plain to view. But if a purportedly "haunted" or "cursed" antique arrived sans ghost or malediction [hic!], how is poor PayPal to determine that? It lacks the means, and is wise to avoid the dispute.

(Note the attempt to shift the topic from religious items.)

#73 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 09:08 AM:

Xopher Halftongue @ 48

I still won't use them [Preypal] because of all the other horror stories, but this makes me think they may not be Pure Evil after all. We'll see if they make a big PR fuss over it, which would undermine it somewhat.

**Paypal, now with 22.5% less evil!**

#74 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 10:15 AM:

Former Pagan, current Catholic here.

It still strikes me the way it struck me initially, but I have said my piece (and abi said something very pertinent, I thought) and I'm going to try pondering rather than arguing, because the latter is much too attractive just now, believe me, and my day doesn't need to go that way. Nor does yours, probably.

So, how 'bout those Twins PayPal folks?

#75 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 10:52 AM:

Also, I clicked back and read through the Great Sock Yarn of the Month Banking Outrage thread, and my mood is much improved.

#76 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 10:52 AM:

praisegod barebones @ 69: ... Siri's ineptness in dealing with the Matter of Britain ...

? EXPN? Expand? That sounds like there must be a story there that I missed. (And if not, somebody should write one.)

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:07 AM:

Clifton Royston @76:

10 things Siri will help you get instead of an abortion

But Siri mishandling the Matter of Britain (the real one) would make a fantastic story. Though I find myself more interested in a discussion of her shocking neglect of Richard Burton. Had I more spoons (and thus the gumption to research her diction better, since I don't have a Siri phone to hand), I'd write the exchange.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:09 AM:

Comments 40 and 44, from a previously-unseen poster and with their insistent pushing of a Great! New! Service! from Visa, are pinging my "shill" flag. OTOH, at least the content is topical to the thread.

Clifton, #76: Google "Siri censorship" and your question will be answered.

#79 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:11 AM:

SCIENTIFFICK CAT'S CLAIMS
ABOUT VERIFIABILITY
ARE
UNVERIFIABLE

#80 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:27 AM:

Avram @ 68: "That thing with Square and "occult materials"? It's not unique to them. Google for visa mastercard "occult materials". It seems to be one of a long list of prohibitions that Visa and MasterCard impose upon their member banks."

Or don't impose. I haven't noticed any difficulty locating either adult entertainment oriented products or occult materials for sale on such little-known websites as Amazon.com. Is this the credit card company version of a decayed blue law, still on the books but no longer enforced?

#81 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:41 AM:

Heresiarch @ 80:

Or a CYA clause that keeps them out of trouble in legal gray areas, in hopes of keeping their collective posterior out of the legal sling:

"We're not responsible. We told them that they couldn't use the card that way. Don't arrest us"

-or-

"Dear client: We are sorry that you paid $100 for [insert contraband here] that was subsequently [insert negative outcome here]. However, we instructed you not to do so. Having ignored our instruction, you must now recompense us the funds we forwarded in your name."

#82 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:45 AM:

Pyre @72: PayPal is utterly unsuitable to arbitrate "occult" matters between buyers and sellers, due to incapacity. If there is a dispute about material defects in an item (breakage, size or color differences, etc.), those at least are not "occult" issues, being plain to view. But if a purportedly "haunted" or "cursed" antique arrived sans ghost or malediction [hic!], how is poor PayPal to determine that? It lacks the means, and is wise to avoid the dispute.

That raises an interesting question about eBay allowing all those listings for "haunted" items and spellcasting services, considering that PayPal is the only payment method that it formally accepts.

#83 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:55 AM:

Does nobody else have relative who refer to Harry Potter books as "those occult books"?

#84 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:12 PM:

You know, this "occult materials" thing -- could they mean "psychic readings?"

I'm pagan as well (Church of All Worlds) and I've bought loads of "occult" things over the Web, including my athame, a couple of tarot decks, and other items -- and I've used Paypal to buy some of them.

So I'm scratching my head here trying to figure out exactly what they've banned!

#85 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:34 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 76: "? EXPN? Expand? That sounds like there must be a story there that I missed. (And if not, somebody should write one.)"

See what you made me do?

#86 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:48 PM:

heresiarch @ 85... Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.

#87 ::: David Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 12:52 PM:

#83 – not just occult but actively satanic like yoga, according to this former Vatican exorcist.

#88 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 03:17 PM:

elise @83, I remember doing some fast talking to (try to) convince my parents that Magic: the Gathering cards weren't Satanic. Not sure I ever did convince them.

#89 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 03:46 PM:

Heresiarch @280, looking at Wikipedia's entry for Merchant account, I'm seeing that there are several levels of service. It's tough to put all the information together across multiple sites, because the sources that are interested in putting things in context aren't the ones interested in the fine details like the list of banned items. What I suspect is that there may be a difference between getting an account directly from a processing bank and getting one indirectly through an ISO/MSP (Independent Selling Organization / Member Service Provider).

If anyone's wondering how an industry gets into that blacklist, it seems to be either through being illegal (or very tightly regulated, like pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and weapons), or by having a historically high chargeback rate (that's when the bank forces the merchant to give a refund; I don't think the term applies when the merchant gives a refund voluntarily).

#90 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 03:46 PM:

With the caveat that my experience is in no way meant to be prescriptive of anyone else's experience:

David Harmon's initial athame crack made me giggle. It seemed pointed at the burdens that overbroad restrictions do impose downstream -- wording meant to prevent "psychic reader" fraud getting applied to good-faith sale of witches' tools.

It wasn't until elise responded that I realized what thin ice that joke walks on. abi's response was also very enlightening to me, and perfectly worded for maximum eddification. (Par for abi's course, that.)

Thinking back, I suspect the joke amused rather than pained me because of three interrelated things.

One, I'm in a good place today, emotionally. I'm full of warm curry, I've had a productive morning, and the weather is warmer and sunnier than expected. Lucky me. Also, I am not in a situation wherein the minority status of my religion is being shoved in my face multiple times a day. Extremely lucky me.

Secondly, the very specific use of "athame" in the joke made me think -- on an instinctive level that I only unpacked afterwards -- "Oh, this person knows their way around Wicca and is likely therefore not to be making jokes at my religion's expense, except possibly in that insider-comfy self-deprecating way, like in those Pagan lightbulb jokes that I get such a kick out of."

Third, David Harmon is someone I'm used to presuming good faith of, and that presumption has historically been rewarded. (Either that, or my memory for the bad stuff is uncharacteristically short.)

But, see, here's what I think's really important: points 2 and 3 rely hugely on point 1. If I were still working for that asshat who used to make cutesy Wicca jokes at me every. effin'. day that I walked into his office ("Heard you got a new chair today. Was it Wicca furniture? Get it -- Wicca, wicker? Get it?"), I would 1) not be in a good place emotionally, and 2) not be as likely to presume good faith of people making Wicca jokes. Whereas today I'm all "Oh, it's David Harmon. [Instinctive comfort level: High; Emotional level: Relaxed] This joke is funny," maybe if I were still stuck working for that asshat and thus feeling perpetually under low-level, unrelenting attack, I'd be more like "Shit! But I trusted him! I was not prepared to get this crap from him! [Instinctive comfort level: Decreasing rapidly; Emotional level: shocked and on guard] This joke makes me question if I can trust him going forward."

Some wisecracks rely for their humor on being heard by an audience who's having minimum bad-day baggage and unlimited spoons. And relying on that is at best unwise. "Listen generously" is a great maxim, but it's not always easy to do when one's been nickel-and-dimed all day, everyday it the very context of the privilege issues touched on by the joke. And none of us know, unless we're told, what each other's day/week/year has been like.

Bleargh. TL/DR: What abi said. Also, having my perspective abruptly widened makes me blink a lot.

...I was going to say some actual stuff about PayPal, but I forget most of it. So mostly just thanks for the advice to empty out one's account daily. My current freelance gigs require that I get paid by them, so it's really applicable advice.

#91 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 04:40 PM:

Nicole @ 90... What's that about unlimited spoons?

#92 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:09 PM:

heresiarch @80

It's the small businesses that have to agree to the rules. Anyone big enough that they'd actually notice a dent in their profits, they don't care, and are willing to bypass the rules.

As a web developer who's worked with a number of businesses that fall on the wrong side of Visa/Mastercard's rules about acceptable business types, I can tell you it's a total PITA. I've had clients refused merchant accounts because they sell weapons (primarily air guns, but also blank firing pistols and knives, which apparently are also considered dubious), are gaming services, or are "adult" services. In the end, the only way to circumvent the restrictions is to use third-party payment providers who are large enough that they can convince the card issuers to allow them to ignore the restrictions on the basis that they'll accept the hits in terms of chargeback fees. PayPal et al aren't willing to take that hit, but there are companies who will.

AFAICT, the "occult materials" restriction is primarily aimed at fortune tellers, psychics and other similar scams. It is unfortunate that they've chosen a phrasing that also covers a wide variety of legitimate businesses, but I think blaming Square is hardly productive in this case.

Visa and Mastercard operate a cartel in terms of international payment services, and should be held to account for their discrimination in terms of business types. Anyone who is dependent on their services, however, should not be blamed for the problems they case.

#93 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:12 PM:

s/case/cause/ in my last comment. Sorry. :)

#94 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:39 PM:

Ken @ 35 - As a legit seller on Etsy, I don't have any choice but to use PayPal for payments, or wait on paper checks or money orders. And while I would love for Etsy to switch to someone with actual, y'know, *ethics*, until that point, I have to keep and use such accounts.

PayPal is evil. Until such time as another option becomes widely available for sellers, I'm going to still have to use them, for much the same reason a lot of other people use them, including the reason Regretsy used them in this instance.

And now off to do this week's shipping run. Anyone else want jewelry from my etsy store? URL linked from name...I'll even wait on paper check from ML people. Or I also take Square.

#95 ::: Philip Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:43 PM:

“Why PayPal's bad reputation is bigger than Regretsy”

http://digitallife.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/07/9280634-why-paypals-bad-reputation-is-bigger-than-regretsy

eBay / PayPal / Donahoe: Dead Men Walking.

#96 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:47 PM:

Serge @ 91
'Spoons' is a metaphor for having limited physical and/or emotional resources. See this article.

#97 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:52 PM:

Steve Downey @ 96... Ahah...

#98 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 05:58 PM:

"Not responsible for damage due to demonic forces. Magic items to be used for entertainment purposes only. No warranty express or implied when used in nuclear reactors. Failure to abide by these provisions may result in being eaten by zombies. Void where prohibited by natural law."

Most of this territory in the realm of satire has already been claimed and well-developed by Charlie Stross in the Laundry series. Also, which one of the statements in the first paragraph is from a real legal document? And which of them is actually enforceable?

#99 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 06:33 PM:

What Nicole said.

I think it's now clear that we're not going to get laughter (or at any rate not going to get derisive comments), so I'd like to answer heresiarch's question.

I am curious: how would you tell if an athame is properly consecrated?

If you're buying an already-consecrated athame online, you can't. IMO if you think you can get a properly-consecrated athame through the mail, you are too young in the Craft to tell a consecrated tool from an unconsecrated one.

The question of whether there's actually a difference between a consecrated athame and an unconsecrated one is another question, and not all Wiccans will agree on that either.

I'm using the word 'athame' here for convenience of understanding, but in fact I stopped using that term a long time ago (when I found out it came from a complete misreading of a medieval block print). I call that tool by the esoteric terms 'knife' and/or 'dagger'.

#100 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 06:39 PM:

Bruce Cohen@98: I would guess that the second sentence is the one from a real legal document, and that the last one is the one you mean by "actually enforceable" (although to me "enforceable" means that it needs people to actually enforce it, whereas that one is automatically true at all places and times and therefore needs none).

#101 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 06:48 PM:

David 100: (although to me "enforceable" means that it needs people to actually enforce it, whereas that one is automatically true at all places and times and therefore needs none)

No, it really isn't. 'Used for entertainment purposes only' is opposed to 'used in the expectation that supernatural effects will occur'. They're not allowed to promote the idea that supernatural effects will occur in selling them, and that does require enforcement.

#102 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 07:47 PM:

Xopher @99 and anybody else: My reaction to the notion of "buying a consecrated athame" was two-fold:

1. Buy a pre-consecrated (see 2 for terminology quibble) athame or other tool? Why on earth for? The traditions of which I am aware are pretty big on people doing (or at least being part of) their own workings, and charging a working tool is definitely a Working, y'know?

2. "Consecrating" isn't the usual term where I've been. Dedicated, maybe. Charged, definitely. Attuned, sure. Blessed, yup. Consecrated, not so much. Might be just local vernacular and usage, of course.

Nicole @90: I guess I don't see athame as that much of a specialized-knowledge word these days, but I could easily be wrong. And my spoon stock has been lower than I'd like for a while, so that might have something to do with it too. I'm working on that.

Jules @92: I'm not "blaming" Square; I'm finding their business policy problematic when it comes to people I know and their artwork. Blame is hardly the issue. Being able to conduct business without having to wonder whether the boilerplate about one's particular religion or line of work is going to be invoked against one? That's an issue, and it's what my friend was dealing with. (For a really fierce Square rant, though, get Juan or someone else who's working with issues of electronic commerce started on the issue of handling credit cards and liability; I cannot reproduce it, but having heard it, I vastly prefer PayPal even with its walloping huge problems. Which are walloping and huge, but there it is.)


#103 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 09:09 PM:

Coming back to this thread belatedly, it seems that my joke was taken awry by several people.

I'm sorry, and it seems that joke was inappropriate for a general audience. The point of a joke is to be funny, and I instead offended at least a couple of people who aren't notably touchy. Given I wasn't even trying to be edgy or anything, I figure that means JOKE FAIL. Again, I apologize for the offense I clearly caused to abi, elise, any poster I missed, and likely silent lurkers.

And yes, I have been a Wiccan, which is why I picked the athame instead of something like holy water (I have never been a Christian). The point about consecrating your own tools (as per elise #102) was also in the back of my mind.

Abi #62: Without hedging my apology, the examples you give miss the mark. Both would be solidly covered under "provenance", which can be verified, and sometimes disproved. Usually this would be done by a paper trail, but sometimes by forensic examination.

In contrast, a purely magical attribute can be verified only subjectively. Moreover, in a US court, even such a subjective verification (say, by an "expert witness") would be considered "spectral evidence", and thus inadmissible.

Jules #92: I think this was actually covered in the thread on Ellis' blog, and they also thought it was pointed at the Psychic Fortunetellers.

Julie L. #82: That raises an interesting question about eBay allowing all those listings for "haunted" items and spellcasting services.

I suspect those fall under "their money's good until we have to notice the violation". Remember that both eBay and PayPal make their profit off transaction fees....

#104 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 09:12 PM:

I've heard of these Paypal scandals over the years. Now I am sure the problems are a tiny fraction of the huge number of transactions they process.

And yet, and yet—their corporate culture seems to guarantee that no problem can remain a small problem.

#105 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 09:26 PM:

Xopher@101: You're conflating -- my remarks about enforceability apply to the last sentence, not the second one.

#106 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 10:43 PM:

Not so much conflating as confused. I simply misread your comment. Mea culpa, and apologies.

#107 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 10:54 PM:

On Square's policy about not using it for various prohibited activities - I've only heard of Square as a payment service recently, and within the past day or so a friend of mine had mentioned that the loud annoying drug dealer on his street accepted it.

On security questions like "Mother's maiden name" and "favorite color", around twenty years ago a friend of mine mentioned that he always gives a password that's not his mother's maiden name in response to that question - the real one's too easy to verify, especially since everybody used to use it as a security question. As far as picking between favorite colors goes, isn't the obvious answer "Blue. No yel-- Auuuuuuuugh"?

#108 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 10:56 PM:

David Harmon @103:

Thank you a lot for telling me where you were coming from on this. I'll get my hackles down.

I'm still noodling around with the notion of verification, though, and with what's being verified, because I don't see much difference between selling a charged talisman and a blessed scapular.

In contrast, a purely magical attribute can be verified only subjectively. Moreover, in a US court, even such a subjective verification (say, by an "expert witness") would be considered "spectral evidence", and thus inadmissible.

Unless we're dealing with a case where the seller is saying, "This is a plus four Blessed Athame of Acing your LSATs!" the only attribute for your hypothetical consecrated athame is that it has been consecrated. Consecrated just means somebody did the consecration dance with it, or whatever the ritual might be for whoever did the ritualizing. I don't see a difference between that and, as others have said, various blessed or otherwise imbued-with-meaning thingamajiggies.

And really, this is all making up what might possibly be the reason for this, and I think the notion of Square having to settle an argument about whether a magical doowumpus is magic enough is a little farfetched compared to the likelihood of "no occult materials" meaning "we don't want you uncouth weirdos in here." Then again, I was raised by fundies, and am admittedly sensitized to certain phrasings and buzzwords as they are used there. But it rang those chimes for me when I saw it. But I may be an unreasonably suspicious beast.

By the way, I am told that if somebody pretends to be a priest and says the mass, the people who receive the eucharist still get the Real Deal, as it were. The pretender has some 'splaining to do, but the communicants are cool.

#109 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2011, 11:08 PM:

Eep. David, I take it all back. I just found a plus four Blessed Athame of Acing your LSATs, or something close enough.

"This Talisman brings the wearer a vast increase in any talent and a profound knowledge of every art. The possessor of this magical talisman will easily outshine their teachers. Fine Pewter, Double-sided. Shipped with a 36" cord and accent bead." PayPal preferred, of course.

Oy.

*headdesk*

*bursts into helpless laughter*

#110 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 01:49 AM:

David Harmon: And yes, I have been a Wiccan, which is why I picked the athame instead of something like holy water (I have never been a Christian).

If you had been a Christian of the variety that uses holy water, you'd likely have known that selling holy water, or any item that has been blessed or consecrated, is a sin. Simony, to be exact.

Hard to predict how PayPloy would react to that, though.

#111 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 01:58 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 100:

Believe it or not, "No warranty express or implied when used in nuclear reactors" is a slight paraphrase of a clause in the original Sun Java license. They were afraid users would think the software they were providing was reliable.

As for enforceability, IMHO (IANAL), none of them are enforceable, in the sense that some sort of liability could be established by sufficient litigation. Except possibly for the zombies.

#112 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 11:23 AM:

Teresa, you're quite right about the cannot-make-even-trivial-errors problem. For at least fifteen years, I was one of those people: raging perfectionism and desire never ever to be seen to be wrong led me to concoct exactly the kind of wild extemporaneous lies you suggest. The goal, in the end, isn't 'not to be wrong' so much as it is simply to end the interaction so the wobbly tower of lies can be laid to rest.

It was... hard to stop acting like that, but it's so restful not to have to track the states of multiple alternate worlds of lies and not to have to try to arrange that nobody to whom you have ever told a lie ever swap notes with someone to whom you have told a *different* lie... lying: much more effort than telling the truth, and it doesn't even work. (Also people hate it). Up against that, losing a tiny bit of face is really not a very harsh penalty at all.

#113 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 11:45 AM:

Ron @ 110

I thought simony only applied to some blessed/consecrated objects - Items of the mass and holy relics, yes, personal devotional objects, not as much. Rosaries, icons, and the collection of St. Joseph statues we bury in yards should be exempt. OTOH, I grew up evangelical and low-church, so I may be wrong.

#114 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 12:25 PM:

elise #109: <grin> I do note that the site seems to have squelched that one -- the page says "Auction Closed", but the item does not in fact appear on their "closed auctions" list.

Consecrated just means somebody did the consecration dance with it,

That's the materialist view. From the magician's view, the ritual is only a means toward the magical effect... and like any magic, consecrations can also fail.

The "false priest, true communion" phenomenon is a stranger beast, which I see as similar to the more famous "false teacher, true lesson". As I see it, just as it's possible to teach a lesson that you don't believe or follow, it's equally possible to tap into powers you don't actually believe in, or haven't been "duly authorized" to use. (Compare also the occasional case where someone poses as a cop to direct traffic.) In all these cases, later consequences are not relevant to the moment.

BTW, I'm using the word "consecration" as a generic term, because IIRC, that's the term used by anthropologists and the like. Who are surely influenced by Christian usage, but the etymology is also straightforward. I also consider "sacred" and "magical" to be deeply intertwined concepts, with each containing the other.

Ron Sullivan #110: Makes sense.

Sisuile #113: Is a rosary considered a "consecrated object", or simply a means of devotion? I've certainly seen more than enough accounts of people simply making them for personal use or sale, with no mention of a priest's involvement.

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 01:09 PM:

David Harmon @103:

I apologize for reacting quite so sharply to your comment. Looking back, I realize that it was because it felt to me like what I can only call "cracker threads" on sites like Pharyngula*. As I said, that is a strain of discussion that does not fit well with what we do on Making Light.

And 114:
Is a rosary considered a "consecrated object", or simply a means of devotion?

Rosaries do not need to be blessed, consecrated, or otherwise treated to be valid as rosaries. They're just beads in a particular pattern. If one doesn't have one to hand, the same prayers can be counted on fingers, using stones transferred from one bowl to another, or even just by traveling past fixed points on a route†.

Some people like having their beads blessed by a priest, and there are certainly traditions about the extra sanctity that one earns by using ones that have had been blessed, but since I don't think saving stamps for my Frequent Prayer's Card is really the point, it doesn't really matter to me. The important part of a rosary is its function as an abacus of orisons.

-----
* While I understand why such conversations are important in our shared culture around the sacred, I find them unpleasant and upsetting to read.
† Sometimes I say the rosary en route to work. After noticing that I was changing mysteries at the same places every day, I stopped draping the beads on the handlebar and started using the route as my rosary.

#116 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 01:11 PM:

David Harmon @114: Not having been Catholic, I'm not sure about Catholic Rosaries; however, Tibetan Buddhist lamas DO bless malas (prayer beads), sacred statues, and gaus (a locket or container for sacred objects).

The statues are actually hollow, and as part of the blessing procedure they are stuffed with sacred items and sealed. I have a Chenreizig and a Green Tara on my home altar* who have been blessed. Haven't had the chance to send my White Tara to the monastery yet.

As to the sales of rosaries, I know I've seen websites that sale "papal" rosaries, I'm guessing that those have been blessed by the Pope? And I have seen sites selling water from Lourdes -- does that count as "holy water?"

*I have several altars in my house, my pagan "working" altar, my altar to my matron goddess, Brighid; and the Buddhist one.

#117 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 02:51 PM:

abi #115: Apology accepted.

I don't get the referent for "cracker threads", but then I backed away from Pharyngula a few years ago, largely because I realized I was picking up bad habits.

That "rosary of the road" business sounds like it might make an interesting blog post!

#118 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 04:33 PM:

abi 115: Sometimes I say the rosary en route to work. After noticing that I was changing mysteries at the same places every day, I stopped draping the beads on the handlebar and started using the route as my rosary.

Words (any I can come up with, at least) cannot express how cool I find this! In a way, you're not just making the world your church, you're making it your rosary.

I have a question: if you visit one of the places on your route when you're NOT going to work, do you get a little echo of the mystery or prayer you've said so many times at that location? IOW does seeing one of those sites trigger the prayer-feeling OUTside of the context of saying the rosary?

Lori 116: Tibetan Buddhist lamas DO bless malas (prayer beads)

Do you know whether Tibetan Buddhists consider this essential, or whether it's nice-but-not-required as abi seems to be saying about rosaries?

I have a mala I've been using daily for years and years (mod a few brief hiatuses (hiati?) when I was sick or something else happened that prevented me); I would certainly consider it use-consecrated (which is the kind I practice(d) as a Wiccan as well).

David 117: That "rosary of the road" business sounds like it might make an interesting blog post!

Oo, oo! Dream: not just a blog post, a photo essay. I say "dream" because I know it would be a huge task, and I don't want to Chutney* abi on this.
_______
* I just invented that term just now. It's based on something I did to someone a few weeks ago, which turned out OK, as it happens, but it can be really obnoxious. Just to be formal, Chutney v.t. To suggest a project, especially a creative one, for someone else to do because you think it would be cool. Usage Note: Not used of someone who has any intention of organizing or contributing to the project; this is just "well, you should write a story about x," or something like that. Example: "Xopher gave me the idea for that bear, but I don't think he meant to Chutney me."

#119 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 04:35 PM:

I don't read Pharyngula, but just from context I guess it's discussion of communion wafers, and more generally of transubstantiation.

(For some reason nobody ever seems to mention consubstantiation.)

#120 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 04:51 PM:

elise @ #108 re fake ministers and real sacraments, that is true, at least in the Episcopal Church. "The unworthiness of the minister does not hinder the efficacy of the Sacrament" is in fact one of the Articles of Religion. I believe it has to do with the notion that it is God, not the priest, who is "doing" the Sacrament.

Another little-known item of Episcopal/Anglican theology is that anyone who has been baptized can baptize. In fact, the 1559 Book of Common Prayer (Elizabeth I's version) has a section for determining whether a person who has been baptized by a layperson in an emergency (i.e. when thought to be dying) has been baptized 'correctly' or whether it needs to be done over after the crisis has passed. It's rather sweet.

#121 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 04:56 PM:

Xopher (118): As your victim* in that Chutneying incident, I can testify that it's much more obnoxious when the Chutney-ee has no interest in the project but the Chutney-er won't shut up about it. I have a friend who does that; we don't talk about my projects any more.

*No, I'm not mad. :)

#122 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 05:04 PM:

Mary Aileen, you made that clear at the time. And I agree. Naming it that is a bit ironic, since I didn't intend to Chutney you and it gave you an idea you were interested in.

#123 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Xopher -- It's not essential -- most of my malas are unblessed. The only one I have that IS was blessed by the Karmapa, who is the head of the Kagyu lineage. Asking a lama to bless your mala is a mark of respect for their teaching.

I think repeating the mantras over the mala empowers it, which is why I have different ones for different mantras.

#124 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 05:22 PM:

Xopher -- nothing in your definition suggests that the Chutney-ee can't be interested in executing the idea. I think it's a great word.

#125 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 05:37 PM:

In case anyone here is wondering what we're talking about, it all began when Mary Aileen made this comment. If you read the next few comments, you'll get it.

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 06:11 PM:

I am Chutneyed.

But I'm not sure the geographical rosary has enough depth and complexity* to make a blog post. I can discuss it here in the comments.**

It's useful, explaining this, to spend a minute discussing how a rosary is said. I do a standard Dominican rosary, mostly, which means that I say a set of introductory prayers (on a physical rosary, these are the beads that hang off the loop), then spend one Lord's Prayer ("Our Father, who art in heaven...") and ten Hail Marys on each of five Mysteries. There's some gubbins at the end as well, but the heart of the rosary (as I say it) is the Mysteries.

There are four sets of Mysteries, but the newest set (Luminous, instituted by Pope John Paul II) don't work for me. The other three sets (Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious) were codified in the 16th century, but are much older in tradition. The Luminous just don't have the richness and complexity that the older three do; they're like a folksong written by one person.

There are various ways of parceling out the different groups of Mysteries. Some do it seasonally, so that in Advent (as we are now), one says the Joyful Mysteries; in Lent the Sorrowful; and the rest of the time the Glorious. Another scheme, which I follow when I'm in a rosary mood, rotates them by day of the week, so that Joyful are on Monday and Saturday, Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, Glorious on Wednesday and Sunday, and the latecomer Luminous on Thursdays (about which vide infra).

So there are two things going on as I say the rosary. On the one hand, I am reciting two specific prayers, which I know heart-deep. On the other, I am contemplating specific mysteries, both of themselves and as they relate to one another. I take a very literary approach, and can get quite a lot out of symbolism, symmetry, and structural considerations like chiasmus.

What the geographical rosary does is free me from the need to count Hail Marys. Instead of saying one Lord's Prayer and ten-and-only-ten Hail Marys per mystery, I say one Lord's Prayer and start on an uncounted† set of Hail Marys. My landmarks are the places where I change Mysteries within a set.

What this means is that there aren't really strong associations with the spots themselves, because they're the interstices, not the substance. (The only exception is that the rosary ends at my church. It was the fact that I was almost always finishing just as I passed it that got me noticing how consistent my pattern was.)

And the substance is a smooth flow, a complete experience of sight and sound and effort of muscle, not easily documented in a photoset.

(And Thursdays are different again. Some time ago, on another thread here, it was suggested that it might be interesting to do a rosary-like meditation on the Beatitudes. I ended up adding spacers to a standard Dominican rosary so that I could divide the beads into 8 groups as well as 5. I selected a couple of passages from Psalms to substitute for the more Marian elements of the rosary, because it felt like it might be a good idea. So on Thursdays I do something else entirely, one that requires a completely different set of landmarks.)

----
* in and of itself, as opposed to the more private elements that don't go on the internet
** I'm also not sure, given our current set of guests, that I want to put this onto the front page, though anyone reading this far down in this thread is welcome.
† For me, the value of doing ten Hail Marys is that it's a large enough number to break my 7±2. It's enough Hail Marys that I can get lost in them.

#127 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 06:55 PM:

That's beautiful, abi. I see why it doesn't really work as a photo essay. (And of course you needn't fear I'll nag you to do one anyway!)

Odd side thing: I've just realized that I know the entire Our Father/Lord's Prayer by heart in English, and the Ave Maria by heart in Latin, but not the other way around. Matter of what I've heard spoken a lot and what I've sung. I could probably sing you the whole Gloria in either language (though the Latin would take longer, because the settings of it I've known are...not compact).

Odder still, I can remember almost all of the Our Father in Old Church Slavic.

#128 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 07:40 PM:

abi #126: That is interesting... especially, I don't know much about the Mysteries, and was surprised to hear there are so many that they need to be "parceled out" like that.

the rosary ends at my church. It was the fact that I was almost always finishing just as I passed it that got me noticing how consistent my pattern was

Not to mention nicely symbolic!

#129 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 08:20 PM:

Xopher (125): And the finale is here.

'Chutney' is a great verb.

#130 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 08:49 PM:

David Harmon @114:

That's the materialist view. From the magician's view, the ritual is only a means toward the magical effect... and like any magic, consecrations can also fail.

Your Consecrations May Vary?

Actually, I think that's probably at the root of some of our mutual misunderstanding. I wish we were in person and could talk over a warm beverage.

Also, I am having a recurring gigglefit because it's a distinct novelty for me to be called materialist rather than magical or mystical. Whee!

#131 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 09:08 PM:

elise #130: Also, I am having a recurring gigglefit because it's a distinct novelty for me to be called materialist rather than magical or mystical. Whee!

Hmm. It just now occurs to me that in this context, there's also a third view, which would be the "priestly" attitude: Having done the physical ritual, they trust that their god will handle the rest; and unlike the magician, a "pure priest" (as in modern Christianity) wouldn't even hope to to be able to sense the difference.

Wicca, of course, includes both priestly and magical components, and the attitudes of various practitioners run the full spectrum. I myself leaned heavily towards the magician side -- for example, rather than simply accepting shamanic spirits as divine, I was more like "OK, there's something here, and it does talk... people say these guys know stuff."

#132 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 10:12 PM:

David Harmon @ #128: I don't know much about the Mysteries

Don't know much about the Mystery
Don't know much theology
Don't know much about an online crook
Don't know nuthin' 'bout those plums I took
But I do know that

...hm. The next line wants to be "But I do know that I love Making Light", but that has too many syllables. Any suggestions?

#133 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 10:39 PM:

Mary Aileen 129: Or more directly, this cutie.

#134 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 11:20 PM:

abi, I'm as impressed as Xopher by the geographical/landmark rosary. Besides being beautiful in and of itself, it reminds me of two things: first, the instructions in medieval recipes to boil or stir something for the length of however-many paternosters; and, second, the "house of memory" technique often attributed to Giordano Bruno, which many people seem to have learned about through Hannibal Lecter, but which I found through the much more pleasant medium of John Crowley's Little, Big.

I've tried my hand at imaginary memory-houses before. I hadn't thought of hanging memory-markers on a real-world route!

#135 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2011, 11:28 PM:

Is it me, or does this also have some potential relationship to the stations of the cross?

(hrm, been years since I last thought about that stuff, and never really understood details.)

#136 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 12:31 AM:

Paul, #132: You can fix it easily by eliminating either "do" or "that", at the cost of being slightly less parallel with the original.

#137 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 12:46 AM:

Paul @132 -- I had the same idea as Lee, leading to:
"But I know that I love Making Light,
And I know that if I post tonight,
What a wonderful blog it could be!"

#138 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 01:16 AM:

David Harmon @131: Dang. There are a bunch of things I'd like to say, and I keep running up against an aspect of "To Keep Silent." Again, it would be easier over a cuppa something, I bet.

I was an old-style enough Pagan that people calling it Wicca date themselves, in my eyes. *grin* Which is fine. (Don't get me into the minutiae of Dianics and Pagans and those who insist on saying Neo-Pagan, and so forth. Not without strong drink, anyway.)

OK, the one thing I will say is that it always amused me when Pagan folks with particular expertise would pick up a piece of jewelry I had made, and they'd get a funny look, and they'd say in rather bemused tones, "But you're not generally supposed to be able to run energy through glass...."

And I'm still not able to discuss easily what the actions of the priest(s) at Mass look like to me, through the perceptions I trained. (It's pretty cool-looking, though; I will say that.)

#139 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 01:18 AM:

Rikibeth 134: the instructions in medieval recipes to boil or stir something for the length of however-many paternosters

Which is still more informative than "until it be enough," which is a famous medieval recipe line.

#140 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 01:52 AM:

Xopher 139: oh indeed, "until it be enough" is MADDENING if you haven't got someone experienced who knows what the end product is supposed to look like to show you what you're supposed to be doing.

A lot of what they impart in culinary school that goes beyond merely following the recipe is how to tell "until it be enough." I did the pastry program, so I didn't officially get the "how to tell a steak by comparing it to regions of the palm of your hand," but I know it's there, and I'm sure you, as a talented candy-maker, know how to judge caramel by its color without resorting to a thermometer.

And then there's "take a piece of butter the size of an (egg) (walnut) (some other object that's variable in size)." That's another nuisance!

#141 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 02:59 AM:

Actually I don't do a lot of caramel, but I do rely on a thermometer when I'm making fondant...mostly because the syrup really doesn't look any different at 230F than at 250F, but you get a very different fondant with those two temperatures.

There are a bunch of things I've learned to make by feel and sight, and people are always asking me for recipes...and I have none to give. I found myself writing "to taste" and "until it's the right color" on such an attempt recently. I have no idea what AMOUNTS I'm using, and it really varies depending on various highly-variable things (in this case, how much water did I squeeze out of the tofu).

#142 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 06:14 AM:

@ Xopher: The thing about that is, though: what you're after isn't really "temperature" but "amount of water left in the syrup", and the relationship between the two varies depending on altitude and weather conditions.

I agree that using a thermometer does take a lot of the hassle out of it, but I'd still do a cold-water test as well, just to be sure.

#143 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 07:02 AM:

There was a story about Grandma's old recipe which no longer worked out because one of the instructions had been “use 50¢ of beef ”.

#144 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 07:46 AM:

The folks over on Regretsy are starting to post saying that their $100 has arrived, so it looks like PayPal followed through.

I told the whole saga to Juan, and when I got to the "$100 to 200 families, so that's 20K," he growled, "It's a start."

#145 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 08:05 AM:

elise #138: It does seem our positions are closer than either of us thought!

Meeting for a cuppa would be fun, but perhaps geographically tricky -- I'm in Central Virginia, and have somewhat limited resources for travel (non-driver + limited funds). (On the other hand, I'm doing better on several fronts than I have in a while, and it might be time to challenge my inertia.)

And why wouldn't you be able to run energy through glass? OK, I'd think working on pre-made pieces would be pretty tough, but if you mixed and shaped (or at least shaped) it yourself, you'd have full access to an utterly protean potential, with all four "material elements" in play. Certainly I've seen glass-work that seemed energetically "live".

#146 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 04:17 PM:

Dave 142: he thing about that is, though: what you're after isn't really "temperature" but "amount of water left in the syrup", and the relationship between the two varies depending on altitude and weather conditions.

True, but not enough to worry about, especially since I live at sea level (or below depending on the tide). I walk UPHILL to get to the Hudson Estuary.

My Annoying Candy Book gives syrup temperatures for this purpose. Since it insists on using a density refractometer for such delicate, sensitive applications as candying fruit, I think I can say with some confidence that temperature is an adequate measure!

#147 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 06:42 PM:

Xopher @139, 141, I've been guilty of saying "enough" in giving recipe directions, too. Partly because I never measure when cooking (rather than baking) unless I'm making a new recipe, partly because of personal tastes -- my "sufficient quantity of onion" may be very different from someone else's, and that formulation makes it clear that the exact amount doesn't matter in that application. It frustrates people no end, and understandably so, but it's usually that "until it looks right" is the best I can do.

#148 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 07:01 PM:

Rob Rusick @143 We have one of those in my family, written down by my grandmother at some point between 1920 and 1955; it calls for a 10-cent can of crushed pineapple.

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 07:40 PM:

140
The recipe for frijoles I have, written into an old and well-used cookbook, which calls for a 25-cent piece of salt pork. (ISTR that this recipe uses a pound of pinto beans, so it should be possible to turn it into a weight.)

#150 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 08:57 PM:

Xopher @139, Shakespeare might have agreed with you. Macbeth is famous for its recipes ("eye of newt and toe of frog"), and damning those who cry "Hold, enough!"

#151 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 09:00 PM:

Also "Out, damned spot!" Have any literary critics thus far written an analysis of Macbeth as a source of, or critique of, common housekeeping advice?

#152 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2011, 10:51 PM:

Lady M. Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Yet fair Febreze™ will make it fresh as spring!

#153 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 01:30 AM:

Rickbeth @ 134 you've just given me an excuse to squee. I've been told that forthcoming from Scarecrow Press, "Can These Bones Come To Life: proceedings from Kalamazoo*" includes "Our Father's Eggs: measurement of microtime in Early Modern Europe," which deals with paternoster as medieval eggtimer.

Elise @ 138 wait - you're not supposed to be able to invest glass? Huh. Good thing no one told me that. Stone is often easier for me, but not at all?

Re: mass. It often depends on the priest, I've found. My bishop? What he binds, stays bound. Ordinations, baptisms, and weddings are...spectacular. My priest doesn't have much oomph, and it's like a dull sparkle across those senses. Some of the others in the diocese have a lot more going on. I have a working theory involving headblindness, sensitivity, belief, and willingness/ability to channel, but it's a theory and under development.

cooking: Soup is the classic "until it looks right" in my family, because that's how mom was taught to make veg soup and beef stew and clam chowder and chili and...most of those things that live in the back of my head as "default" recipes. OTOH, default quantity is 6-8 and I don't know how to scale them down. If I try it doesn't look/taste right. :) All the grandkids cook this way, it's how grandma taught our moms. And so, I have yet to make a pecan pie since my grandmother died, because the baking might get salty - the first instruction is "call grandma for over temp. Preheat oven." Pie filling falls under "that looks like enough."


*or similar title. I'm not the editor.

#154 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 02:01 AM:

There's some evidence that Gilgamesh and his contemporaries weren't very good at exact quantities in recipes. Here's something from what may be the world's first ever cookbook:

MEAT ASSYRIAN STYLE

Akkadian:
me-e shirim shi-rum iz-za-az me-e tu-ka-an li-pi-a-am ta-na-ad-di [break in tablet] karsum ha-za-nu-um te-te-er-ri me-eh-rum shuhut innu i-sha-ru-tum ash-shu-ri-a-tum shi-rum iz-za-az me-e tu-ka-an li-pi-a-am ta-na-di [break in tablet] ha-za-nu-um zu-ru-mu da-ma sha du-qa-tim tu-ma-la kar-shum ha-za-nu-um te-te-er-ri me-he-er na-ag-la-bi

English Translation:
Meat (cooked in) Water. Meat is used. Prepare water; add fat, [break in tablet], mashed leek and garlic, and a corresponding amount of raw shuhutinnû. Assyrian style. Meat is used. Prepare water; add fat [break in tablet], garlic and zurumu with [break in tablet], blood, and mashed leek and garlic. Carve and serve.

#155 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 11:06 AM:

David Harmon @145: OK, I'd think working on pre-made pieces would be pretty tough, but if you mixed and shaped (or at least shaped) it yourself, you'd have full access to an utterly protean potential, with all four "material elements" in play.

Pre-made pieces is what I use. I haven't ever played with lampworking or glassmaking of that type. (Did some fused pendants once, but that was a whole 'nother thing.)

Sisuile @153: wait - you're not supposed to be able to invest glass? Huh. Good thing no one told me that. Stone is often easier for me, but not at all?

Not generally is what they said; they didn't say "not at all." It was enough to surprise them, though. Which is what surprised me. Happened enough times in near proximity that I made a note of it, though the statistical sample was fewer than twelve, so it might just have been chance.

Re: mass. It often depends on the priest, I've found. My bishop? What he binds, stays bound. Ordinations, baptisms, and weddings are...spectacular. My priest doesn't have much oomph, and it's like a dull sparkle across those senses. Some of the others in the diocese have a lot more going on.

There's one place I go sometimes where it's just amazingly beautiful. There's another place where it's ... perfectly serviceable, but seems like it's deliberately plain, if that makes any sense. Not so much a dull sparkle as it is an insistence on ordinary fish, to borrow a term that Abi and I have played with. (I can't manage to give you full context, but: An ostentatious miracle might give you glorious loaves and the best fish you've ever eaten; a miracle that was taking care not to show off might give you ordinary fish. Behold, the Miracle of Ordinary Fish! Kind of reminds me of "chop wood, carry water," but I digress. Frequently. How do I get out of these parentheses? Oh, right.)

I have a working theory involving headblindness, sensitivity, belief, and willingness/ability to channel, but it's a theory and under development.

If and when it hatches I'd be much pleased to converse about it, though again, I am much more coherent in person about these things. I think the hand gestures must help, or something.

#156 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 01:05 PM:

praisegod barebones #154: Also illustrating another problem with old recipes... raw shuhutinnû? Zurumu? Googling, I do note that the latter has several hits as a personal name, while the former appears only in discussions of this recipe. This writer seems to take it for another of the Allium family.

elise #155: Hmm. Are your pieces hand-made? Thinking about it, my "pretty tough" reaction is largely about modern machine glass -- uniform and blank, with little for "energy" to interact with. Crafted pieces are very different....

#157 ::: David Harmon has been gnomed... ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 01:06 PM:

One link, to a sort-of religious site.

#158 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 04:20 PM:

Quantities in old recipes: I have one recipe from my great-grandmother that includes "butter the size of a walnut". Having grown up with whole walnuts in my Christmas stockings, I used that for size, and it works. My ex-husband's family, OTOH, had one with "one glug of milk" - and that's very dependent on the jug or pitcher you're pouring from.

Sisuile @ 153:

If you're in the US, I have a recipe for "really lethal pecan pie" (which I've been told, is just that) (am not a fan of pecan pie, myself, but I'll make it for others) that starts:

Preheat oven to 350 deg.

(I hate to see you not making pecan pies if that's something you like to do...) (Ghods, I'm being hlepy, aren't I?)

Elise @ 155: It was enough to surprise them, though. Which is what surprised me.

Doesn't surprise me. *grin* (I have, on my thing-that's-sometimes-an-altar, a paperweight-sized chunk of glass, that's from the slag when the glass company where my father worked drained & cleaned one of the tanks. Coke bottle colored. It's fire and earth and minerals combined. Have had it since childhood...)

David Harmon @ 156: Thinking about it, my "pretty tough" reaction is largely about modern machine glass -- uniform and blank, with little for "energy" to interact with.

Interesting. I'd disagree, simply because it's not (for me, and I suspect for Elise?) the individual beads, it's the piece-as-a-whole and the work involved in transforming those beads into said work.

(I love this place; best wide-ranging conversations ever.) (I should start hanging out again...)

#159 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 04:37 PM:

The point of Ordinary Fish, by the way, is that when you've been at the feast of the loaves and the fishes, if the fish was so good—such Extraordinary Fish—that no fish you taste thereafter ever matches up, and you are forever dissatisfied with seafood, then the miracle failed.

Likewise, if you develop a taste for high Mass, so that no service without the bells and the smells and the long Latin plainchants brings you closer to God, then you had best abjure high Mass for a while till the ordinary fish is palatable again.

Conversely, a diet of ordinary fish takes no savor from a finer meal.

I've been going to lunchtime Mass from time to time, when it's convenient to do so in my working day. They manage it in 25 minutes flat, bell to bell: two up at the altar, a bare score of us in the pews, all performing our parts with the simplicity of dedication. No one is there who does not want to be. I like it; it's stripped-down and unfancified, like good wheat bread eaten plain. Like ordinary fish.

#160 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Elise @ 155 My priest isn't even up to "ordinary fish" most Sundays. I have a feeling the miracle is elsewhere in the mass for her, and so the liturgy of the table is about community and hospitality. But there are many other reasons for me to be at this place at this time, including learning a lot from her, and so I stay. (This is also the priest who says that there is nothing special about a church as a building. Not just theologically-correct-but-almost-Methodist church doesn't require a building or a 'sacred space', but that churches are just frames for the community inside and there isn't anything special about a church v. any other building. I boggled.) Said theory of the ceremonial magic aspects of the mass and the performative oomph of various clergypersons is, by necessity, going to always under development, because there is no way for me to know that much about someone else's relationship to God. I can tell many feel that they're doing something, but don't have a good grasp of what. And some know exactly what they're doing, or at least have a good enough clue that it's like watching an architect...or a carpenter. ;) The priest of the next parish over has that clue, and he builds houses - warm, comfortable houses, where one gets Ordinary Fish (these are Ordinary Fish, damn it. From Galilee, this morning. Simon brought them in. Nothing special here). The bishop has been known to build a cathedral (though not his. I wonder what his model was), full of light and glory, where one has no doubt about the extra-ordinary. It's why he's the Bishop.

Yes, sitting over tea and discussing such things would be lovely. I need to look at the travel schedule, but I am hoping to be at SuperCon if all goes well.

Glinda @ 158 - I have the recipe (or as close as we come) in my grandmother's Little Black Book. It's just hard to open the book right now. Need to do it this week, though - I'm giving cousins scanned versions. The fact of my prior possession was a matter of surprise at the funeral-and-apartment-cleaning.

For me, it can definitely be individual beads, as well as the work as a whole. Some composite pieces involve braiding the energies of glass and stone into a whole, for weaving is stronger than rope...

#161 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 05:32 PM:

David Harmon @ 156

Some further speculations on shuhtinnu and zurumu (carrots and intestines, respectively, according to this author.)

Must go to bed. Am slowly becoming taken with the idea of cooking a Mesopotamian meal.

#162 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 05:58 PM:

abi @159 I have thoughts about ritual and liturgy that I may get back to (I tend to agree with you), but "ordinary fish" sent me wandering off on a tangent.

The Miracle of the Ordinary Fish

It happened in my neighborhood, not in Bethlehem or Jerusalem or Rome
Because it is an article of faith that God is everywhere, He was there, but I can’t say I noticed Him.
We didn’t catch the fish in nets on the sea of Galilee. I bought it at Safeway.
And I can witness that it didn’t appear mysteriously on our plates.
I tried a new recipe. It wasn’t very interesting.
No apostles sat around the dining room table. No saints either, at least by my judgment.
It was not miraculous fish.
And yet.
There was fish in the store for me to buy, and bread, and abundance.
The checkout clerk was warm and friendly even though it was past her break.
I have pans in my kitchen, and after the last storm someone restored power to the house.
And we sat around the table – we have a table; there’s another.
We sat around it, we four assemblages of chemical elements on an ordinary planet circling a typical star, and lit an Advent wreath.
We gave thanks, and we ate our ordinary fish.
In the midst of ordinary miracles.

#163 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:14 PM:

OtterB (162): Oooo, I like that!

#164 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:17 PM:

In re 'till it be enough', I've been struggling with trying to write up a knitting pattern.

You see, I keep making these hats. They're very similar one to another (though done with totally different-looking yarns), so people get the idea there's A Pattern. There isn't.

It's like the difference between pastry and meatloaf -- one is a set of directions you must follow exactly or fail, and the other is ... guidelines.

It all depends so much upon the yarn you're using, and the thickness thereof. I keep trying to write it up and ending up with stuff like this:

---

Cast on 15-20 stitches on a needle 2-4 sizes smaller than the ballband of the yarn suggests. Knit stockinette until it's square, or so. The fabric should be very firm (when stretched hard between the hands, not much air between stitches), but not *stiff*. Adjust needle size until gauge is achieved.

Cast on an even number of stitches in ribbing that make a band sufficient to be about the width of the hat-recipient's hand when knit in fisherman's rib (in worsted yarn, this is 14-18 stitches; for sock yarn weights, considerably more). Knit in rib for 2-4 rows, then begin fisherman's rib pattern, which is one row repeated over and over: "Slip 1 knitwise, purl 1, *knit in the stitch below (the next stitch's mother, as it were), purl 1*. Repeat between * until end."

Knit this band (adding stripes if you like; there are additional serving suggestions for stripe variants) until it's long enough, when lightly stretched, to go around the recipient's head comfortably. Join the ends of the band by whatever means seems right to you; I do a 3-needle bindoff between the end and the cast-on, but YMMV. Do not break yarn.

Pick up stitches around the side of the brim the yarn is already sticking out of; place end-of-round marker and knit one round in stockinette. Count your stitches. Divide by 8 and find your remainder; on the next round, decrease out the remainder's number of stitches evenly. Knit enough rounds to equal (in height) half the width of your brim, then place 7 more markers (the round-end makes 8) spaced evenly around your work.

On the next round, make either left-leaning decreases right BEFORE or right-leaning decreases right AFTER each marker; this is 'a decrease round'. *Knit 4 rounds, do a decrease round* until 6 stitches remain between markers. *Knit 2 rounds, do a decrease round* until 4 stitches remain between markers [32sts]. Knit 1 round plain, then a round of *k1 dec 1* [21 sts]. Knit your last plain round, then decrease every stitch until 6sts remain.

Break yarn, run through all 6 stitches twice with yarn needle or crochet hook, pull tight, bury ends.

I also have serving suggestions for striping up the crown of the hat that I think are very handsome.

---

However, I can't, apparently, release a pattern that looks like that, even though that IS how you make the frelling hat! I have to pick a yarn weight and a needle size and write it up with exact amounts and round/row-by-row instructions, numbered. It's especially maddening because my favorite stripes-for-crown algorithm goes "Knit 4 rounds of A, then 1 of B, then 4 of A, then 2 of B" -- which interacts unpredictably with how the decreases have to go.

It's driving me batty, it is. At least with lace and colorwork I can make a chart and call it good enough ... I think it's a difference in how my brain is wired, or how I learned to knit, or something, that the foregoing seems much more sensible to me than most modern 'standard' knitting patterns.

People keep telling me I design awesome stuff and they'd totally pay money for the patterns, but I have to figure out a way to fight my way past this block if I'm ever to release one.

#165 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:21 PM:

abi #159: Hmm. In contrast, when poking into the Mysteries, I found this quote from "The Wedding at Cana", indicating that when Jesus turned the water to wine, the results at least trumped what his host had provided.

#166 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:33 PM:

Elliott Mason @164 - you might consider releasing what are often referred to as pattern recipes. (I find this an amusing idiom, given the discussion that let to your post.) Be very clear up front that you are not writing a pattern that describes what to do for every stitch, but generalizable instructions.

You wouldn't be the first - have a look at Elizabeth Zimmermann's patterns if you would like some examples. It's even an attribute in Ravelry's pattern database. (Link to search results will only work for Ravelry members, sorry.)

#167 ::: David Harmon's been gnomed again ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:34 PM:

link to catholic.org -- the gnomes do seem pretty suspicious of religion today!

#168 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:39 PM:

Elliott Mason @164:
Some knitters do use charts instead of patterns; if it works better that way, do it.

#169 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:51 PM:

Elliott Mason @164, I should also have said that while there are many knitters who will never use a pattern recipe because they are too hesitant about making mistakes, there are plenty of others (like me) who prefer the approach that someone apparently told you you can't do.

#170 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 06:54 PM:

164
That's about how mine would look. (Socks are written like that, for people who want socks to fit, rather than socks of a specific size in inches. Do this until it's big enough, then do that, then do the other....)

#171 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 07:24 PM:

Naomi @168: I may count out One Specimen Hat, and put both the algorithm and the Counted Specimen in the pattern, just to cater to both sorts.

The tediousness of the translation is defintely sucking the joy and motivation out of the project, though, so it may take a while.

#172 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 07:29 PM:

Elliott @170 - I know that pain all too well. (I have been dipping my toe in the waters of selling knitting patterns myself.)

#173 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 08:51 PM:

In the story of the wedding at Cana, John makes a point of noting that Jesus turned water not just into vin ordinaire, but into really good wine. I don't remember anyone mentioning the quality of the loaves and fishes, however.

#174 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 09:01 PM:

praisegod barebones #161: Interesting, and it looks like he put a lot of research into that.

#175 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2011, 10:38 PM:

I've often thought that the story of the Loaves and the Fishes is the Christian version of a Pagan story called Stone Soup. That is, the miracle Jesus performed was not one of drawing food from nothing, but in getting everyone to share what they were hoarding for the benefit of all. I personally think that would be harder than violating conservation of mass, but that's me.

#176 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 12:29 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue #175: An interesting thought...

A while ago I thought of an alternate version of the water to wine tale, with Jesus acting as a "trickster" type. The host would be a tax evader, with a cache of wine masquerading as water....

(Unfortunately, I have no idea if the Romans actually taxed wine in such a way.)

#177 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 12:51 AM:

I love you guys and this place.

(Just gotta say that. I'm home after a long day that included mass and hugs and gifts of earrings, and a player piano caroling party that inexplicably left me with apple cider in my hair and I didn't think we had gotten that wild, but I guess Boogie Woogie Jingle Bells did it, and a Neal and Leandra concert and more hugs and some discussion of theology and attitudes with my sponsor's husband, and now I find the thread full of delights and Ordinary Fish and architectural forms of light.)

I love you guys. And I love this place.

#178 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 12:57 AM:

Although the wine at the Wedding at Cana was good wine, no one, not even the Master of Ceremonies (who can be presumed to know his stuff) found it extraordinary. I'm sure the fish were delicious and the bread very tasty by the lakeshore, too.

But there's a difference between good-but-ordinary (ignoring the term vin ordinaire, which is a commercial classification) and the miraculously good, spoil-your-taste-for-other-stuff extraordinary. The former is healthy; the latter not at all. And that's the distinction I'm trying to make.

#179 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 02:36 AM:

Sure. I just wanted to bring that bit up because the thread reminded me of it and I've always found it amusing.

#180 ::: James Moar ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 03:50 AM:

"Meat (cooked in) Water. Meat is used. Prepare water; add fat, [break in tablet], mashed leek and garlic, and a corresponding amount of raw shuhutinnû. Assyrian style. Meat is used. Prepare water; add fat [break in tablet], garlic and zurumu with [break in tablet], blood, and mashed leek and garlic. Carve and serve."

(tries recipe)

(am not sure I should have added so many broken tablets)

#181 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 04:14 AM:

Did you try the ordinary recipe, or did you go for 'Assyrian style'?

#182 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 09:32 AM:

I'm trying to formulate a comment on more-than-ordinary fish, but it's not going into words. The gist is that there is some extraordinary-ness that doesn't spoil the ordinary (take the savor from it, as Abi says) but instead transforms our relationship to the thing as a whole.

(Note: I'm phrasing this in first-person terms because I don't want to presume to write how anybody else does it, or should do it, or whatever.) I think sometimes God uses beauty, for instance, as a way to get my attention. And a moment of beauty can change how I see a lot of things. I see a lot more beauty in places I might not have expected to, afterwards. And I'm more ready to see it in more places.)

The other thing is that hunger is a great sauce, as they say. Sometimes that contributes to the extraordinaryness of the fish of the day.

This is interesting stuff to ponder during a season when there does seem to be a frenzy to get the biggest best brightest most extraordinary anything, though. For me, this is the season I'm possibly LEAST likely to encounter extraordinary fish, so I always feel a bit at odds. (It's nice and all, but not OMG SHINING WONDERFL KRISMUS/SOLSTIS, to name the two personal points of interest in the season.)

#183 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 10:49 AM:

James Moar #180: That wins one (1) Internet. (In cuneiform. ;-) )

#184 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:13 AM:

abi -

Thank you for the "ordinary fish" explanation. I belong to (and sing in the choir of) an Extremely High church. A lot of people are here for "the liturgy", but sometimes I don't wonder if they actually mean "the drama". I mean, I'll cop to it - if we didn't get to sing Haydn and Schubert and Mozart masses, I might not be there either. I do enjoy our annual retreat where we have the option to do the offices 4x a day with a small group of Anglican brothers (monks?) in a tiny wooden chapel.

Our organ has slowly been deteriorating to the point where it's a fire hazard, and we are embarking on a sad, organ-less time while we try to put together the $1.2 million bucks or so to replace it, and then when financing is acquired, probably about 2 years for the actual organ build. While I am not as adamant as other Christians I know that it is immoral to spend the money on a musical instrument when people are starving, I'm beginning to get frustrated with the parishioners who are writing nasty-grams and rescinding their pledges because they refuse to worship in a church with no organ. Really, is the piano so bad?

#185 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:14 AM:

(of course, I did mean "ordinary wine". But I can also eat plain red snapper instead of cedar-planked salmon...)

#186 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:29 AM:

elise #182: To me that seems linked to the allure of "magical space", and in this context, "festival".

The glamour of the holidays ultimately comes from their being "festival", a time and place set aside for special experiences. When participating in such a festival, experience is heightened, everything seems more "alive", and the more so when the space is separated from the outside world.

So on one extreme, you have transformative ritual experiences, weddings and other "initiatory" family gatherings, shading into holiday dinners, and even quiet but private "family space". On a larger scale, you have explicitly magical gatherings such as the various Pagan gatherings, then festivals such as the Rainbow Gathering or Burning Man, outward even to some SF conventions.

The traditional holiday festivals are meant to be common to their societies, thus tapping into and consecrating the power of the whole. From my own heritage, there's the Passover Seder. These are scheduled by a lunar calendar, at a full moon. But reading the full moon is tricky, and when the "true" full moon was during the day, some folks might judge it fullest on either of two nights. And so, the Seder itself is held twice, on two successive nights -- specifically so that there will be one night when "every Jew in the world" is sitting down to a Seder, sharing the same festival as they have for thousands of years. (Note that the Last Supper was a Seder!)

It's a common complaint that all the public hooraw, and the progressively-earlier appearance of decorations and such, are "weakening" or "cheapening" the holidays. I think that's exactly because these are blurring the boundaries of the original festival, letting too much of it spill out from "holiday" into "ordinary time", from the household and church into the streets.

#187 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:54 AM:

And I see that the above was much wordier than it needed to be, so try this: The point of a "holy day" is to set aside one day a year -- for Christmas, that's nightfall to nightfall in the ancient fashion. And that day is to be made separate, and special. When Christmas is blurred into a "holiday season", its power and magic is likewise blurred, and diluted.

#188 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 12:29 PM:

elise @ 182: "The gist is that there is some extraordinary-ness that doesn't spoil the ordinary (take the savor from it, as Abi says) but instead transforms our relationship to the thing as a whole."

There is in the town where I grew up a mountain, and the town being the town that it is, the mountain was often not visible, or half caught in gloom or fog or cloud. But when it was visible, when the sky was right and the details of ridge and glacier were as crisp as apples, when the sun painted the mountain pink and orange as it bid farewell--to see that was to know a part of a letter of the name of the world.

To see it this way every day would have been a miracle, but I don't think I would have known it was. To see it sometimes meant to recognize the miracle was always there, though sometimes hidden behind clouds.

#189 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 12:30 PM:

David, #187: I don't completely agree with that. It's a well-known phenomenon that anticipation can enhance the pleasure of a waited-for event or experience. So I don't see anything especially wrong with having a "holiday season" per se.

However, it's equally well-known that there's a point of diminishing returns on that -- too long an anticipatory period, or too much hype, and the reality can't live up to the expectation. This is why you hear so many comments along the lines of "Christmas starting after Thanksgiving is fine; Christmas starting before Halloween, not so much." Ordinary people have a good feel for how much anticipation is too much; it's a shame that retailers (and others) don't pay attention to it.

#190 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 12:57 PM:

abi @159 when you've been at the feast of the loaves and the fishes, if the fish was so good—such Extraordinary Fish—that no fish you taste thereafter ever matches up, and you are forever dissatisfied with seafood, then the miracle failed.

Likewise, if you develop a taste for high Mass, so that no service without the bells and the smells and the long Latin plainchants brings you closer to God, then you had best abjure high Mass for a while till the ordinary fish is palatable again.

and @178 But there's a difference between good-but-ordinary ... and the miraculously good, spoil-your-taste-for-other-stuff extraordinary. The former is healthy; the latter not at all. And that's the distinction I'm trying to make.

I'm wrestling often these days with the paradox of God-as-transcendent and God-as-immanent, and that's what I see here. (Perhaps hammer, nail.) I want to come at it from several directions.

First, in my theology, God is not more present at some times and places than at others. To use David Harmon’s word @186, it’s not that “festival” times make the boundary thinner; it’s that those times and places lessen our resistance, make us more open. This, I think, goes along with elise @182, that part of the purpose of the extraordinary is to awaken us to the ordinary. “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” is more in keeping with experiences that awaken you to the savor of ordinary things than with those that make them tasteless. I’d match that with abi’s high mass example; if your sensitivity is narrowing the range in which you can encounter the numinous, it’s probably not a healthy sensitivity.

My second take, almost diametrically opposed, is that I think there’s a sense in which it’s natural for these glimpses to make us a little dissatisfied. There are a great many very good things, even sublime things, on earth. But even the best of them don’t last. And clinging to them or trying to reproduce them runs the risk of turning them from a living encounter to a stilted, static thing, in the way that counting steps and watching your feet is not dancing. heresiarch @188 says you recognize the mountain as a miracle because you don't see it every day; I agree, and add that seeing the mountain occasionally makes you aware of what you're missing on cloudy days. Which is fine until you decide you can't be happy unless it's a crystal-clear day so you can see the mountain, which I think was abi's point.

And my third take is that nerdycellist @184 has a different view of abi’s example of high mass, and that there is a difference between seeking out a physical environment (sanctuary, music, etc.) that helps me encounter God, and demanding that God be as much of a snob as I am.

#191 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 01:00 PM:

And Lee @189, I don't mind the cultural anticipation part of Christmas since anticipation is part of the religious meaning for me as well. But I admit it drives me nuts to be bombarded with Easter decorations, food, etc., during Lent, and have them all disappear just when I'm ready to celebrate.

#192 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 01:01 PM:

elise @138: Oh yes, Mass with a gifted celebrant is an eye-opener. I can also say that taking refuge or receiving an empowerment* was a revelation -- I can still tap into that energy just by thinking about it.

*To lead certain chants to various boddhisatvas, one must have received an empowerment.

#193 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 01:19 PM:

OtterB @ 190: "...seeing the mountain occasionally makes you aware of what you're missing on cloudy days."

Even beyond that: knowing the mountain is there, knowing the depth of the world, makes cloudy days also a kind of miracle.

#194 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 01:35 PM:

Lee #189: Fair enough, though I'm also annoyed that there's no gradualism -- the "season" kicks in full force, and ends only with the holiday (if then, what with modern after-holiday sales). It's one thing to have occasional reminders that Christmas (Thanksgiving, Halloween, etc.) is RSN, it's another to take over the entire month! (And yeah, overlapping the previous holiday is Just Wrong.)

#195 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 02:09 PM:

abi @115: what I can only call "cracker threads" on sites like Pharyngula

Translation, please?

elise @138: And I'm still not able to discuss easily what the actions of the priest(s) at Mass look like to me, through the perceptions I trained. (It's pretty cool-looking, though; I will say that.)

::goosebumps:: :)

Which, tangentially, reminds me (not really the right venue for this question, but), I'm shopping around for idea seeds for artwork. (I'm playing with doing some "movie posters" to fatten out my portfolio.)

Question: do the titles for your jewelry come first, or after the piece is made? Y'have any spare titles laying around you'd care to fling my way? I find them splendidly evokative.

elise @182: The gist is that there is some extraordinary-ness that doesn't spoil the ordinary (take the savor from it, as Abi says) but instead transforms our relationship to the thing as a whole.

Like the particular fondness I have for sushi, because it always reminds me of good conversation with great friends?

I think sometimes God uses beauty, for instance, as a way to get my attention.

Sometimes I'll just be sitting in my chair of an afternoon, gazing out the window at the tree outside. And something about the light, or an angle of the bough, or something, just strikes me, and I am reminded that beauty is in the seeing, more than the seen, as if it's the Universe sort of reaching around and connecting with itself through my eyes. And that prompts me to keep an eye out for Detail for a while afterwards, like standing waves in a gutter full of rainwater, or the particular flip of a squirrel's tail when she sees me and thinks I might have a nut for her.

No clue if that's the sort of thing you're talking about, but that's what your words brought to my mind.

David Harmon @186: To me that seems linked to the allure of "magical space", and in this context, "festival".

Yes, this. This is why, for me, a really good con is so wonderful. It combines elements of both the "sacred space" and the "festival," and I go home feeling renewed and refreshed. I've encountered the Extraordinary Fish hazard in this context, too. After having my mind blown at Iguanacon, the '78 MileHiCon was so disappointing. It seems I had overgeneralized my worldcon experience....

& @187: When Christmas is blurred into a "holiday season", its power and magic is likewise blurred, and diluted.

Though a period of a week, plus-or-minus, can produce the "retreat" experience, which is why I like that Worldcons are longer: One day to arrive and settle in, one day to match orbits and establish rhythms and rapport, one day to be "in community" and head-space, one day for loose ends, and one day to re-enter the world.

That third day is, for me, the meat of the experience, but it takes the first two to get there mentally, and I can't relax into it if I don't have the last two to keep the World out. I'm saying this unsatisfactorily, but anyway.

heresiarch @188: To see it this way every day would have been a miracle, but I don't think I would have known it was.

I couldn't see the Colorado sky until I'd spent a year in the midwest. Until then it was just a sky.

OtterB @190: I think there’s a sense in which it’s natural for these glimpses to make us a little dissatisfied. ... part of the purpose of the extraordinary is to awaken us to the ordinary.

One place where the Extraordinary Fish is profoundly important is where it serves as an existence-proof for the miraculous.

Before I went to Iguanacon, I had no idea that My People were out there. Similarly, it showed me that there was a context within it was okay that I was Me.

The downside is that I had the idea that I could only be Me and find My People within that context. Over the years, I've broadened out, so that I can be me all the time, and I find my people all over the place. But that initial discovery was crucial as a pointer.

#196 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 02:48 PM:

Jacque #195: And something about the light, or an angle of the bough, or something, just strikes me, and I am reminded that beauty is in the seeing, more than the seen,

I suspect that is a form of satori. Actual Buddhists may feel free to correct me as necessary.

#197 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 02:57 PM:

Jacque #195: Though a period of a week, plus-or-minus, can produce the "retreat" experience,

Taking time to adjust to the special space is reasonable; My point is that the whole is more-or-less separated from normal experience. While you can prepare somewhat, you can't "settle in" before you're there! Magical gatherings also have "entry" rituals which help people shift to the "inside" mindset; I wonder if something of the sort could be developed for cons.

#198 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 02:58 PM:

Jacque @195:

Which, tangentially, reminds me (not really the right venue for this question, but), I'm shopping around for idea seeds for artwork. (I'm playing with doing some "movie posters" to fatten out my portfolio.)

Question: do the titles for your jewelry come first, or after the piece is made? Y'have any spare titles laying around you'd care to fling my way? I find them splendidly evokative.

I actually do have a plan to make some titles available to people. A friend had a bright idea about it a while back, seeing as how some folks wanted some for art prompts and writing prompts. Throw me an email at lionesselise (gmail) and we can talk, yah?

#199 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 03:04 PM:

David Harmon @186: (Note that the Last Supper was a Seder!)

Indeed so. St. Joan's (where I go) has a Seder every Holy Week. I went for the first time last year, and it was a pretty amazing thing. Our gracious hosts TNH and PNH attended with me. The specific intent is to learn-by-doing more of the context of the Last-Supper-as-Seder. Well, that and to have a really good time with some interesting people.

T and I both got out of breath dancing, but it was so worth it.

#200 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 03:41 PM:

Quoth OtterB @190:
I think there’s a sense in which it’s natural for these glimpses to make us a little dissatisfied.

I'd agree with that. They should; that's what keeps us reaching beyond the ordinary. But if we do that at the expense of simple gifts, we're off the path.

What an obsession with Extraordinary Fish reminds me of is Edmund's Turkish Delight:

At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one's mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive...
At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating till they killed themselves.

It's so easy for extraordinariness itself to become an addiction, whether it's cordon bleu food, really fantastic sex, Christmas, or the next shiny and amusing internet meme. Finding a way back down to the ground, learning to simplify, sometimes means letting the clouds cover the mountain so that you can watch where you're walking again.

There's a Desert Fathers story that comes to mind here. There once was a novice who joined the community swearing that he was there for the Word of God and the Word of God alone. The community made its money by weaving baskets, but when he was shown his basket-making materials, he turned away. "The one thing will be sufficient for me," he declared.

The next day, he waited for the servant to come and bring him his food, but no one came. Again, the next day and the next, no food arrived. When he went to the abbot to complain, the abbot replied gently, "You said the one thing would be sufficient for you. But for there to be Mary, there must also be Martha."

#201 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 03:52 PM:

David Goldfarb @179:

I love the story for the mundane details, too. Clearly, it was a well-known custom to get everyone past the point of fine distinction in their wine-tasting with the good stuff, then fob them off on any old plonk. Saving the good wine for when everyone's taste buds were half-pickled was a notable break from that piece of shrewd cost-saving.

(Also, not how MUCH wine he makes. Six jars holding 20-30 gallons each. Something in the region of 150 gallons of fine wine. The whole neighborhood would have been sloshed for a week. Or perhaps they became vinegar-dealers.)

#202 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 03:58 PM:

abi @200 What an obsession with Extraordinary Fish reminds me of is Edmund's Turkish Delight

Absolutely. Edmund's Turkish delight was in my fragmented first draft of a post, too (though I hadn't looked up the quote).

I'd contrast that with the scene in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where (going by memory here), Lucy reads a story in a book in the magician's house, and loves it but can't quite remember it, and ever afterward what she means by a "good story" is one that reminds her of that one. That's a glimpse beyond that makes her hungry for more, but there's no suggestion that it has the poisonous, compulsive quality of Edmund's experience.

Maybe it's the compulsiveness that's the marker? A positive experience will increase your openness and your freedom to choose (though it may give you a different view of your alternatives). A negative experience will decrease your freedom and narrow your view.

#203 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 04:00 PM:

I think I've mentioned before that in a picture book I had as a child ("The Bible for Little Eyes"), it says that Jesus turned the water into grape juice.

No reference is made to the guests getting too drunk to know good wine from bad, needless to say.

#204 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 04:05 PM:

abi @201, David Goldfarb @179
I spent some time with that story in a guided meditation not too long ago and saw something I hadn't before, which is relevant to our current discussion. Notice how few people in the room actually realized what was going on. Mary knew. The servants who brought the water jars knew. But the steward didn't know. The bride, the groom, all the feasting guests? It happened right in front of them, and they didn't know it.

#205 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 04:10 PM:

OtterB @202:

The contrast with the story in the Magician's book is a good one. Note that at the end of that chapter, Aslan promises to tell it to Lucy "for years and years". What he means, I think, is that every story of her life can partake of that particular wonderfulness. (And now we're back to heresiarch @193: Even beyond that: knowing the mountain is there, knowing the depth of the world, makes cloudy days also a kind of miracle.)

#206 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 05:17 PM:

David Harmon @197: I wonder if something of the sort could be developed for cons.

Opening Ceremonies, when done well, can serve this function. I don't know if that's generally the specific intent, but that's definitely why I go to them. (Minicons live in my memory as the best of these.) It would be interesting to do a ceremony, though, with the specific intent of invoking the Sacred Space.

#207 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 05:38 PM:

abi @ 205: I loved that too. But to return to the fish -

- It isn't necessarily about the essence of the fish at all. As like as not, it's just as much about the attitudes of the guests at the fish dinner. There are people in this world who could ruin half their tablemates forever for all non-holy food, with a bit of bad acting and some cheap salt cod. There are people who could slip the Salmon of Wisdom into everybody's bagel, and all the party would remember was that they had a lot of fun in that company, and the smoked salmon and cream cheese was something a bit extra, also.

Or, taken from the guest's point of view: some people can eat the honey-cakes of the Beornings and think: I AM THE HUNNY MONSTER GIMME! And others, maybe, can take up a block of suspicious Turkish Delight, and reflect only: That was all right! So, that's what the scent of roses tastes like, when it gets thick enough. Well - a bit cloying by itself - but I understand the lusciousness of roses a bit better now. M'mmmm!

Aslan might know who needed exactly the same Turkish Delight, and exactly when. Jadis might know who could be destroyed by a taste of eucalyptus honey, and exactly how. I'm leery of externalizing such fishy business: giving the matter agency, taking it away from the people.

I have this story going on, in which elvish glamour is as monstrous as it's beautiful: eye-poisoning, brain-rotting, spirit-stunning. The tale's great hero isn't indifferent to it, but she is very nearly immune to it, because she's convinced down to the heels of her boots that there are more important things than whether she feels she's walking on starshine or not. And this is why she is enlarged and delighted by faërie when she engages with it, instead of cursed and ruined by it. It's frank mortal love to her, not transcendent adoration. She laughs at it, blows kisses at it, wants to shake it till its teeth rattle.

She's wiser and kinder than I am. But that's something like how I feel about these mysteries.

#208 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 05:56 PM:

OtterB @202: Maybe it's the compulsiveness that's the marker? A positive experience will increase your openness and your freedom to choose (though it may give you a different view of your alternatives). A negative experience will decrease your freedom and narrow your view.

No maybe about it --- Lewis wrote about this very difference explicitly in some of his non-fiction. I don't recall exactly which book it was in which he wrote that the nature of sinful pleasures is that they have a sort of addictive quality, such that the experience that once seemed pleasant is no longer enough, driving us to ever-more-intense versions. (I don't think Lewis actually used the word "addictive"; that's me summarizing.)

I should point out here that, while I've read a bunch of CS Lewis (the Space Trilogy, Pilgrim's Regress, Surprised by Joy, parts of Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man, and probably some other books that have slipped my memory, mostly in college), I've never read any of the Narnia books. This is probably the opposite experience of Lewis from what most SF fans have had.

When Lewis wrote about Joy --- the emotion, not his wife Joy Davidman --- he meant a brief glimpse of some emotion larger than his capacity to fully experience it, something he could only brush against occasionally, and those brief touches often came through fiction or poetry, and seemed to have highly connotative qualities. He mentioned in Surprised by Joy being overwhelmed by "the Idea of Autumn" while reading Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin as a child, or "uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky" by Longfellow's Saga of King Olaf.

#209 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 06:26 PM:

elise at 177: good. We love you too.

Even when I'm feeling awful, Mass helps.

#210 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 06:31 PM:

Abi @200, a somewhat similar story from Zen Buddhism: A student of zen runs excitedly up to his master, shouting "A vision! I've just had a vision of the Buddha!" The master smacks him one with his staff, and tells him "That wouldn't have happened if you'd been breathing properly."

#211 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 07:07 PM:

At first Pooh tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one's mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much honey as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the White Witch should be so inquisitive.

A colossal paw twisted Christopher Robin's head around to watch, and enormous claws were unsheathed before his eyes.

"No" he said. "It's not real. You can't make me..."

The Wardrobe swung open...

#212 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 07:30 PM:

Off on a tangent from abi #200: I actually have Turkish delight in my cupboard right now -- i picked up a box last week. (And paid a mildly excessive price for it, but whatever.) I'm not finding it terribly addictive (just sweet & sticky), but then my sweet tooth has eased up a lot over the past few years.

For anyone who hasn't bothered to Google it by now, Turkish is the original "jelly" candy, but instead of being molded into lozenges or fruit slices and covered with sugar, it's just poured into a pan and sliced up, sometimes rolled in powdered sugar.

Traditionally flavored with rosewater, though I've also seen mint flavour. Sometimes it has crushed pistachios or other nuts mixed in. My box is supposedly scented with pomegranate. The recipes I've seen are straightforward; sugar, starch (and a little cream of tartar) or gelatin, stuff for flavor & color, optional nuts.

This has been your weekly confectionery report, brought to you by the letter T.

#213 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 07:39 PM:

Last fall I went hiking in the northern Cascades.

One side-trip took me to Cashmere, WA, home of Liberty Orchards, which makes "Aplets & Cotlets" candy. I took the factory tour. A tiny place, really, but they keep it running non-stop and turn out tons and tons of the candy every year.

The stuff is essentially Turkish Delight with mashed fruit. (Looking at the company web page, they also make traditional Turkish Delight, including rose flavored.)

#214 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 07:53 PM:

Stefan Jones #213: Sounds yummy!

#215 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 10:41 PM:

200, 212, 213, etc. In the north of the Greater Toronto Area, there are many small-ish Balkan-ish delis. You can infer something about the precise ethnicity by the names on the candy boxes - "Rosewater Delight", "Cypriot Delight", etc. Rarely the "T" word.

#216 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 10:53 PM:

glinda @158: David Harmon @ 156: Thinking about it, my "pretty tough" reaction is largely about modern machine glass -- uniform and blank, with little for "energy" to interact with.

Interesting. I'd disagree, simply because it's not (for me, and I suspect for Elise?) the individual beads, it's the piece-as-a-whole and the work involved in transforming those beads into said work.

Indeed. Though they have to be the right beads to ... well, yeah, what you said.

(Drat, now I cannot remember the name of the local author who used my necklace composition by synaesthesia method as a template for her system of magic. Memory sieve tonight, alas.)

(I love this place; best wide-ranging conversations ever.) (I should start hanging out again...)

Yes. Yes, you should! *grins at you*


Lizzy @209: *grins at you too* It has a way of doing that, does it not? And thanks!

#217 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:04 PM:

I just want to say before I fall asleep that this is, like, the bestest thread that ever was a thread.

#218 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:15 PM:

Been pondering Extraordinary Fish some more, and had a thought: if Somebody hands me some Extraordinary Fish, I think the right thing to do is neither to take the fish and put it under a glass dome on a gilt doily and dust it daily, nor to refuse the fish on the grounds that ordinary fish is theologically superior/safer. I think that what I should ought to do is eat the fish, enjoy the conversation, thank the cook, and help with the washing up.

(This comes out of remembering a hilarious dinner with Jane Hirshfield once, when she was teaching at Split Rock and I was taking a class. During the day we had our sensei/student hats on respectively, and in the evening we took those off and had our friend hats on, since we'd known each other for a while. One evening we were going to go out to dinner, but there were transit and timing problems, so we defaulted to what was in the cupboard in the dorm room. I think it turned out to be some ramen-like thing. We had been talking Buddhism, and I don't remember which of us said the phrase "... only avoid picking and choosing," but I do remember both of us just about falling over laughing. It was a lovely evening.)

#219 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:23 PM:

OtterB @190: The more I reread what you wrote here, the more it unfolds something very good, and the more love and peace I feel. Really truly. Thank you for that.

#220 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2011, 11:27 PM:

Also, not to be lightminded, but "Don't know nothin;' 'bout those plums I took" is the name of /J/o/h/n/ /S/c/a/l/z/i/'/s/ my next band.

#221 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 01:24 AM:

Gray Woodland @207:

It's a long tradition that the true-hearted are immune to both miracle and magic; they have no need of the former, and present no opening for the latter.

I am told that the pure of heart can see God, which I interpret to mean that that a state of clarity and simplicity brings one to a place where the pervasiveness of the Divine is visible. Jacque @195 describes it well:

Sometimes I'll just be sitting in my chair of an afternoon, gazing out the window at the tree outside. And something about the light, or an angle of the bough, or something, just *strikes* me, and I am reminded that beauty is in the seeing, more than the seen, as if it's the Universe sort of reaching around and connecting with itself through my eyes. And that prompts me to keep an eye out for Detail for a while afterwards, like standing waves in a gutter full of rainwater, or the particular flip of a squirrel's tail when she sees me and thinks I might have a nut for her.

But who among us is always pure of heart? We may achieve it for a while, during a song well-sung or a coding session deep in the zone, but then we fall back, and are again vulnerable.

So then we have this chink in our armor, something that, as you say, either good or evil can exploit: Aslan might know who needed exactly the same Turkish Delight, and exactly when. Jadis might know who could be destroyed by a taste of eucalyptus honey, and exactly how.

I'm leery of externalizing such fishy business: giving the matter agency, taking it away from the people.

When, in these matters, is anything just one thing? In my faith, one of the places I meet God is when I stand at the head of the long shuffling line of my brothers and sisters, and another one of us holds up a piece of (yes, I will say it) cracker, and says, "the body of Christ"*. And the riddle is, what is this person talking about?

Is it the piece of bread between us, which has been the focus of singleminded devotion to this moment all of its bready life? It was baked and transported and placed on the altar for just this one thing, then subject to the undivided attention of everyone in the building who's with the program at the moment it (or one of its oven-mates, but they're all one dough there) was raised up. It was then, if you're on that page of that book, the object of a miracle†. It's the most extraordinary fish in the whole school of extraordinary fish.

Or is it us? Is it the way the eucharistic minister and I have come to this still-point, this moment of eye contact and giving and receiving? Is it also the community around us, the church throughout the world and through history, and all who travel in our general direction?

(The answer, of course, is "Amen")

----
* OK, where I am right now they say "het lichaam van Christus", but you get my point.
† Actually, if you're on that page of that book, it participated in the original miracle.

#222 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 02:29 AM:

And then Patrick was going to go to bed, only the thread was so wonderful that instead he got me out of bed to read it. We sat side-by-side in front of the screen and read the whole thing, with breaks for "OMG that's wonderful" and "So-and-so is being brilliant" and falling about laughing.

Now? Must go to bed for real. We're so sleepy it's producing relativistic effects.

More later. (That's a piece of OtterB's Ordinary Fish: that there'll be more later.)

(Note also: the Five Scientific Mysteries.)

=====

Aaaargh. This was supposed to post around 12:30. It didn't. I'll try again.

#223 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 08:03 AM:

One thing that struck me reading through this thread and thinking about Extraordinary and Ordinary Fish and then addiction.

Wondering now if drugs like heroin could be described as human made chemically synthesized attempts at Extraordinary fish.

#224 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 09:03 AM:

Electrolite: Growing Numinous by Eating Extraordinary Fish

#225 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 09:07 AM:

Gray Woodland @207: There are people who could slip the Salmon of Wisdom into everybody's bagel, and all the party would remember was that they had a lot of fun in that company, and the smoked salmon and cream cheese was something a bit extra, also.

Ah, you've had lunch with Mike too!

#226 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 09:07 AM:

Sica 223: They're especially cheater-y because they act directly on the brain to provoke the same kind of chemical response that is caused more usually by (a) good sex, (b) amazing food, (c) getting a lot of exercise if you're one of the mutants who gets endorphins off of that, (d) etc -- in other words, it is utterly counterfeiting the effect *on us* of getting Really Good Fish, and doing it turned up to 11.

So I think you're right, kind of. Because of the way it works, no usual Ordinary Fish could ever compete with a chemsynth Fish-High. I leave it as an exercise for the student whether an actual Extraordinary Fish experience could compete; certainly a bag of white powder to shoot into your arm is more reliably available than the hard stuff (easy stuff? Numinous stuff?).

Something that seems to me related: there are people who are physically and emotionally addicted to the EARLY stages of relationships -- the part where you get a spike of NRE that makes a spike of neurotransmitters, before the shiny has worn off and you have to learn how to deal with this person as a human and make a life with them. It is possible to break the addiction cycle, but a lot of people so addicted are convinced the fault is not in them, but in their partners, for failing to 'keep the magic' in the relationship.

#227 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 09:16 AM:

abi @221: (The answer, of course, is "Amen")

*loves*

#228 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 09:23 AM:

Alas, I do not make graphics, so you'll have to imagine these, but... apropos of too many comments to give numbers:

Savor ALL the fish!

Savor ALL the fish?

#229 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 10:00 AM:

elise @219, thanks.

Several things here I want to respond to but time is short and I won't get back to this until probably tomorrow. But, ooh, ooh, enjoying it.

#230 ::: Benedict Leigh ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 10:26 AM:

I'm a lurker and an infrequent commentator (feeling frequently overwhelmed by the speed and talent of the comments here) but felt I had to say how much this thread has meant to me. OtterB's poem (@162) captured something that helped me significantly in the way I think about my life. Reading Making Light has become, slowly and without my really noticing it, an important part of the way I process ideas about my ethics and religion (or lack thereof). This website is one of my ordinary fish.

#232 ::: Terry Hunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 12:14 PM:

Benedict Leigh @ #230: Every word of your comment speaks also for me, and with rather more eloquence than I am generally capable of. Thanks to you for that, and to our gracious hosts for, err, hosting, and to all of you luminescent commenters.

#233 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 03:52 PM:

OtterB:

If I could Chutney you a little, it would be to unpack your thoughts about why most of the people at the wedding didn't notice the miracle.

But I know time may be short.

#234 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 04:47 PM:

abi @233 Consider it pending

#235 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 04:58 PM:

I'm interested in OtterB's thoughts too. I always assumed they were just too drunk (since this was late in the wedding, when they don't expect to notice the quality of the wine).

#236 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 05:45 PM:

Maybe they were too busy dancing? I don't think about drinking when I'm dancing; I get thirsty and have something, but mostly it's "Must hydrate! And get back to dancing!"

#237 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 05:50 PM:

Well, you could have turned water into wine, and thence into tiny butterflies that smelled of lavender as they flew away at my wedding, and I wouldn't have had more than a 50% chance of noticing. There was a whole 'nother sacrament going on there, and I was paying attention to that.

#238 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 10:50 PM:

I remember a sermon on the wedding at Cana, which started with the minister going over to the communion table (large table front and center of the front of the church; it had a floor-length cloth on it) and pulling a 5 gallon jug of water from behind it, and setting it on top. And then another. And then another. And then another. And then, probably worried that he'd reached the structural strength of the table, he pulled another out, and stuck it in front. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And then he went to the lectern, and pulled out four more from behind there. And he went to the pulpit, and pulled out another four. Then he opened the door of the "flower room" (really a storage area) and pulled out eight more.

There was a huge wall, two deep in some places, of 24 5 gallon water cooler jugs in front of the church. And he looked at the congregation, and said, "this is the LOW end of the estimate of the quantity of water that was transformed into wine. The HIGH end is half again as much more."

Jesus clearly liked a good party.

#239 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2011, 11:23 PM:

Neither Ordinary nor Extraordinary Fish, but quite an extraordinary rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. Not for people who dislike a little giggle with their numinous awesomeness.

Someone just sent me a link to it on Facebook, and almost instantly I realized I needed to put it in this thread. It just seems to fit.

#240 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 12:36 AM:

Hum. All the links I can find with quick searches seem to be to Elliott Mason's video...but I could swear that I saw that same joke done on a TV sketch comedy show, decades ago. I thought it was Monty Python, but that doesn't seem to be it. Anyone else remember this?

#241 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 03:10 AM:

There are somewhat better videos of that, that don't start in the middle. (There seems to be a standard introduction as well.) This one's a bit blurry - but you'll figure out the card that says "..." when it's time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HkXmOIwpkQ

--Dave

#242 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 03:28 AM:

Avram #208: This:

"I don't recall exactly which book it was in which he (C S Lewis) wrote that the nature of sinful pleasures is that they have a sort of addictive quality, such that the experience that once seemed pleasant is no longer enough, driving us to ever-more-intense versions."

has been itching at my brain for two days. Was it this?:

"...the more rapacious is this desire (for novelty) the sooner it must eat up the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the Enemy forbids."

C S Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 25.

#243 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 05:04 AM:

abi @221: But who among us is always pure of heart? We may achieve it for a while, during a song well-sung or a coding session deep in the zone, but then we fall back, and are again vulnerable.

I find that the purity of heart tends to happen accidentally, or when one is on one's way to somewhere else. (The ADHD discussion else-thread reminds me of this; those moments when one notices that one's mind has wandered off ... somewhere.)

Interestingly, I have lately discovered a related thing: laying in bed, waiting to go to sleep, and it's just so good to be comfy in bed that I keep pulling my mind back from wherever it's wandered, so I can attend fully to the sensation. Sort of mediation inside-out, or something.

Or is it us?

Or is it you, the consumer of the cracker, as the cracker's matter becomes integrated with the matter of your body, and thus extending and continuing the flow of Christ-energy, in the way that kindness flows from you into those around you that you love and support?

Sica @223: Extraordinary and Ordinary Fish and then addiction. ... Wondering now if drugs like heroin could be described as human made chemically synthesized attempts at Extraordinary fish.

I think that's bang on center. And I think that's why people <gross overgeneralization> in desperate circumstances are often more vulnerable to addiction than those in well-supported circimstances.* They don't have the basis for comparison to tell the difference between ordinary and Extraordinary fish, so they think that all fish are supposed to be Extraordinary.

* Where "well-supported" might mean simply having people around them who truly love and believe in them.

Elliott Mason @226: It is possible to break the addiction cycle, but a lot of people so addicted are convinced the fault is not in them, but in their partners, for failing to 'keep the magic' in the relationship.

And it doesn't help at all that popular cultural representations are all about Teh Shiney, and teh dull-and-oxidized part as left as an exercise for the viewer/reader, except that that part almost never gets covered, except in a lampoony kind of way. I can think of a very small handful of established, long-term couples on TV: Morticia and Gomez Addams, and Duncan Macleod and Amanda, are the only two that leap to mind at the moment.

#244 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 05:53 AM:

Jacque @243:
Or is it you, the consumer of the cracker, as the cracker's matter becomes integrated with the matter of your body, and thus extending and continuing the flow of Christ-energy, in the way that kindness flows from you into those around you that you love and support?

That's a tempting middle ground, but it's important not to obscure the (perfectly orthodox) use of "the body of Christ" to mean the assembled community of people who do the work of love, completely aside from the matter of transubstantiation.

As Teresa of Avila said,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

That's a separate* and important thing. It's not a compromise; it's a true (at a minimum) duality.

-----
* as separate as any of this stuff is.

#245 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 09:09 AM:

Elliott @239:

There's also this lovely rendition of the Hallelujah chorus with cards, done by a small Alaskan village. It had me grinning like a loon. (I may well have originally seen the link here, so apologies if you're already familiar with it.)

#246 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 09:13 AM:

abi #244: Even to this "unbeliever", that's beautiful.

#247 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 09:30 AM:

Here's a complete Hallelujah Silent Monks video.

#248 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 09:54 AM:

Jacque @195: Sometimes I'll just be sitting in my chair of an afternoon, gazing out the window at the tree outside. And something about the light, or an angle of the bough, or something, just strikes me, and I am reminded that beauty is in the seeing, more than the seen, as if it's the Universe sort of reaching around and connecting with itself through my eyes. And that prompts me to keep an eye out for Detail for a while afterwards, like standing waves in a gutter full of rainwater, or the particular flip of a squirrel's tail when she sees me and thinks I might have a nut for her.

No clue if that's the sort of thing you're talking about, but that's what your words brought to my mind.

Definitely. You put it well.

For me, one of the prime characteristics of beneficial Extraordinary Fish events is that they come unlooked-for. (The thing you say later about ADD being useful? Yes!) I have to remind myself that there are pitfalls to Extraordinary Fish if people chase after them or try to buy them or demand them. I have to remind myself because it doesn't occur to me to try any of those things, because to me, they're antithetical to the whole nature of Extraordinary Fish as anything good. Extraordinary Fish just happen. They're a gift. They're grace. (Also, they don't make the recipient wonderful. They're more about the giver being wonderful.)

It's pretty easy misuse both kinds of fish. I've been around people who refuse to sing above a monotone because it's ostentatious and "we aren't like that." (Certain German Lutherans sometimes do everything like a dirge.) I've been around people who play measuring games with spiritual experiences. (Think "dick-size wars about enlightenment.") None of that stuff does the fish justice, in my opinion.

Ordinary Fish are good. Extraordinary Fish are good*. Savor all the fish. Just don't cling to them; fish are for eating**, not for holding on to and waving about. That's what I think right now, anyhow.

Dear me, I'm incoherent again. But yeah, I think what you described fits into a pocket I tend to call moments of grace. Beautiful, unexpected, timeless moments of wholeness.

Yep, definitely incoherent again. [grins at you]

* See the Buddhist thing again: a student went to the teacher and demanded to know which foods are permitted and which are forbidden. The teacher said, "None are forbidden. Only avoid picking and choosing." (Which turns out to be a lot harder in some ways than just following a Permitted List.)

** They're for eating so they can nourish a person to do the work, is what I think. And if an Extraordinary Fish brings a smile or look of delight and memory that softens somebody into a smile of wonder, and that helps them go on too, then yay for that.

#249 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 10:20 AM:

heresiarch @231: YES! Thank you SO MUCH for that! *goes off in gales of giggles*

#250 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:35 AM:

abi @244: Yes, exactly!

It's not a compromise; it's a true (at a minimum) duality.

That's what I love about this stuff: its ... holographic nature.

elise @248: I have to remind myself that there are pitfalls to Extraordinary Fish if people chase after them or try to buy them or demand them.

Or even simply expect them, which is the one that tends to trip me up.

Extraordinary Fish just happen. They're a gift. They're grace.

But this isn't to say that it's not possible to, what, make oneself open to them?

It was a big breakthrough for me when I figured out that one of the ways I could block myself in my writing or artwork was to try to work on yesterday's inspiration. It took me a long time to figure out that the inspiration fountain doesn't dry up, but any given inspiration has a fairly short shelf-life.

When I was finally able to let go of that really cool idea I had yesterday, and simply make myself available today, then new ones would come down the pike. They weren't always nifty and cool, but they were far more likely to be interesting and surprising, if that makes any sense.

Just don't cling to them; fish are for eating, not for holding on to and waving about.

This is important, and one I'm still struggling with. The thing about growing up in poverty (whether it be financial, spiritual, or emotional) is that one tends to want to hoard the good stuff. But if one only hoards it but never eats it, one doesn't get the nourishment from it, which in some sense is worse than never having had it at all. But it's hard to see that from the perspective of poverty.

[grins at you]

And I think you just knocked a couple of pieces loose for me that went together in a way I hadn't thought about before.

#251 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:40 AM:

@Cally Soukup #238: I have long suspected that the conversation reported in the NT was cleaned up for publication. It probably went more like this: "Wow . . . thish shtuff . . . y'know, the good shtuff . . . whyyouservin the good shtuff now? Cuz this is goooood shtuff, 'swhatI'msayin'."

#252 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:46 AM:

Jacque #250: The thing about growing up in poverty (whether it be financial, spiritual, or emotional) is that one tends to want to hoard the good stuff.

I've struggled with this in small (and literal) ways myself -- what got me dealing with it was seeing intended "treats" going bad in my refrigerator, or gathering dust in a drawer, because it was never "time" for them.

#253 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 12:20 PM:

Jacque @250: Oh, useful! Thank you for shifting the light to the field of art, because you're shaking loose useful stuff for me too.

Also, the stuff you and David Harmon are saying about fish-clinging and poverty? Yeah. That.

elise: Extraordinary Fish just happen. They're a gift. They're grace.

Jacque: But this isn't to say that it's not possible to, what, make oneself open to them?

Keeping one's lamp lit? Sweeping the temple, maybe; that's one of my favorite images. Maintenance. Laborare est orare and all that. Mindfulness. Attentiveness. That stuff. Is good stuff, that stuff.

But if I were to watch too hard for Extraordinary Fish, I would probably miss the Extraordinary Pickle that's on the plate where I don't see any Extraordinary Fish. (Your lunches may vary.)

It's kind of like Neil Gaiman's The Day the Saucers Came, maybe.

#254 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 12:54 PM:

Jacque, #243: I can think of a very small handful of established, long-term couples on TV: Morticia and Gomez Addams, and Duncan Macleod and Amanda, are the only two that leap to mind at the moment.

Lucy & Desi, the Honeymooners, Archie & Edith, Married With Children; I'm hampered here by not watching much TV, but those spring to my mind as well.

abi, #244: That's lovely... and, sadly, one of the attitudes which has been completely rejected by large chunks of American Christianity.

#255 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 01:33 PM:

There is something about
the simple things
a plain lunch, packed with care
some rolls, a couple fish
food for a family
taking a day off
to listen to a wandering teacher

This woman didn't know
as she tucked the cloth
around her basket
Her baking would become famous
center of a story
told through hands
Ordinary bread from an ordinary home

Fish baked in the same oven
Galilean fish, like the teacher
She was not a great cook
Just a simple one
But she'd made it with love
For her husband, and her son
not to feed five thousand

Ordinary fish and ordinary bread
fed the great crowd that day
that's the great miracle
Not manna of old
Food from an ordinary hearth
made special
by a touch of extraordinary grace

#256 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 02:13 PM:

Jacque @243 -- there's a whole raft of long-term couples on TV, with some of the best comedies included: Dick van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, Bill Cosby Show, even The Honeymooners, just for examples. And much of what makes the comedy work in those three is the private language and long-term roles that the individuals have as part of the couple. Yeah, a lot of it is sexist as hell, but they really show couples who are committed to each other. (And I see Lee got in there too, a bit later than I'd read before starting this....) Hey, what about Wash and Zoe on Firefly?

and @250 -- very good stuff, and useful.

#257 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 02:22 PM:

Marge & Homer Simpson?

#258 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 02:24 PM:

Sisule @255:

Exactly.

#259 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 02:25 PM:

Jacque, #243: I can think of a very small handful of established, long-term couples on TV: Morticia and Gomez Addams, and Duncan Macleod and Amanda, are the only two that leap to mind at the moment.

Wash and Zoe.

#260 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 02:43 PM:

I've been following this thread and have an actual post floating around in my brain, but since I'm going to run off to my last final exam equivalent of the semester (reviewing fake grants), it'll have to wait until later.

This thread's timing is really good though; it's been just less than a year since I got pounded over the head with a very large basket of my own Extraordinary Fish. I'll try to write about it when I've got more time later today.

#261 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 03:22 PM:

elise @253: Keeping one's lamp lit?

Chop wood, carry water. Yeah, that.

But if I were to watch too hard for Extraordinary Fish, I would probably miss the Extraordinary Pickle

I've finally granted myself considerable freedom (and accomplished pieces that simply wouldn't have happened otherwise) when I recognized that just because what's on the page doesn't match what's in my head, what's on the page often has merit in its own right.

" 'Mistakes' are Ghod's way of asking to play." —me

Neil Gaiman's The Day the Saucers Came

"That's why the gods so rarely grant miracles; we so often fail to notice." —Spider Robinson, Stardance

Lee @254: The difference between your list and my list is in your list, the central feature of the relationship is the conflict. In my list, the central feature is the connection. The latter is vanishingly rare in TV. Well, in any media. Unfortunately, most of the ones in Lee's list set my teeth on edge.

Tom Whitmore @256: Ah yes. The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bill Cosby Show. What!?? How could I forget Wash and Zoe??

abi @257: Marge & Homer Simpson?

Yeah. Borderline at first glance, but Marge is really a soul of Grace. In a very unlikely context, which makes her all the more remarkable and effective.

#262 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 06:44 PM:

I'd have thought that the Simpsons were too spoofy, but okay. I would think that there are/were a fair number of sitcoms about family life that would qualify -- Ward & June Cleaver, Ozzie & Harriet Nelson, Mike & Carol Brady, Steven & Elyse Keaton. Not about family life as such, but also Dick & Joanna Loudon.

How about Miles & Keiko O'Brien? Their relationship was never very central, but it lasted years and spanned two different series.

I think it's fairly obvious why single characters are in the great majority: because single characters have that much more opportunity in their lives for drama. But it's not that hard to find long-lasting committed relationships.

#263 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 07:00 PM:

In terms of long-lived couples....I like the current show Raising Hope, which features a couple (Virginia and Burt Chance) who married young because they got themselves into a teenage pregnancy....they aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they've hung together and raised their son to be a decent young man (who got into a one-night stand with a serial killer who he knocked up, and thus ended up becoming a single dad, but that's the plot premise).

#264 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 07:00 PM:

David Goldfarb @262 -- in my own life, I find more opportunity for drama when I'm in a couple than when I'm single.

Seriously, though, having stars in a serious couple tends to make them less of a sex object, decreasing the overall sex-appeal of the show. And sex is easier to sell than comedy.

#265 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 09:01 PM:

Tom Whitmore #264: And sex is easier to sell than comedy.

Which feeds back to the discussion of addictive pleasures....

#266 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 09:10 PM:

I'll put off my tv-hater hat long enough to mention Red and Kitty Forman in That 70s Show.

#267 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:10 PM:

Tom Whitmore @264: in my own life, I find more opportunity for drama when I'm in a couple than when I'm single. Thank you. That. (There's a quote from Passing Strange about "heterosexual relationships lack drama," "that's bullshit!" which I would go find, but I need to be packing and not falling into re-watching one of my favorite shows ever.)

Jacque @261: You and I are so very much on the same page, as far as liking the portrayal of couples where the central feature is connection rather than conflict. (And not just couples; the three-way thing in Nero Wolfe that Juan and I refer to as a marriage is absolutely astonishing sometimes in the way the characters of Nero, Archie, and Fritz play off each other.)

And I'm still pondering your brilliant thing in 250 about not clutching yesterday's inspiration. Useful and then some, that one.

Abi @221: It's a long tradition that the true-hearted are immune to both miracle and magic; they have no need of the former, and present no opening for the latter.

That's a new one to me, though I cheerfully admit I am not familiar with all Internet religious traditions.

Stuff I've heard has left me with a different impression, that miracles like true hearts the way dragonflies like the long grass growing around summer ponds. (Also, presenting an opening for magic is generally a good thing, in my country, says the Lioness with a goofy grin, but I accept that we've probably got very different glossaries on that one.)

But who among us is always pure of heart? We may achieve it for a while, during a song well-sung or a coding session deep in the zone, but then we fall back, and are again vulnerable.

Like Jacque, I've not experienced that as something to be achieved. In fact, I think of it as something one gets closer to by letting go of things! Dear me. If I say "by grace and not by works," somebody will throw a Lutheran tomato at me or something. Still, that's what comes to mind. But we're probably on different ends of the elephant, so our descriptions might not make sense to each other. Or maybe our metaphors are like wherever it is that they have to change the gauge of the train wheels when they go over the border.

So then we have this chink in our armor, something that, as you say, either good or evil can exploit:

I definitely think we have hold of different ends of the elephant. The part of the elephant I am on is not wearing armor.

Seriously, I don't feel any need to be on guard against those moments of transcendent beauty. Nor do I think they make me Speshul. They're not about me. They're just what they are: grace. I believe it's ok to accept them for the gift they are, and to be very thankful -- and to enjoy Ordinary Fish with a glad heart.

Because I've been dealing with some really awful depression this past year (probably at least part of it is the post-stroke depression people talk about), this stuff is on my mind, because I've been thinking about life, and how to want it, and about how to engage with it and with the good. I've been thinking about grace a lot lately, and about beauty and joy and being surprised by them both, and about "having life abundantly." As OtterB said in 190: “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” is more in keeping with experiences that awaken you to the savor of ordinary things than with those that make them tasteless. That's what those moments of beauty, of grace, of -- yes, I'll say it -- ecstasy do, when one of them hits me, out of the blue: they awaken me. They're the four bells (or more!) ringing on the wire, for those who remember the UPI teletypes. They're an urgent bulletin. They're news. Good news. The kind of good news that is sometimes a much-needed bulwark against despair and suicidal ideation. That's how come personally I don't want any armor against 'em.

From another part of the elephant, stuff probably looks different. But from this part of the elephant, it's the attachment and clutching, or the flaunting and pushing-on-others, that are the problem -- not the moments of extraordinary grace, beauty and feelings-of-wholeness.

Maybe it's that the occasional Extraordinary Fish is bad for you if it takes you out of your life, and good for you if it puts you more fully in it? (Which brings in the bits about addiction and recovery, too. Nice.)

#268 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:37 PM:

elise @267:

Abi @221: It's a long tradition that the true-hearted are immune to both miracle and magic; they have no need of the former, and present no opening for the latter.
... (Also, presenting an opening for magic is generally a good thing, in my country, says the Lioness with a goofy grin, but I accept that we've probably got very different glossaries on that one.)
The context behind Abi's tradition is that the magic being discussed is specifically compulsion, and in fact the true-hearted are traditionally considered immune to most forms of compulsion: even physical compulsion reputedly often goes awry.

#269 ::: FaultyMemory ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:45 PM:

Jacque@243:
I can think of a very small handful of established, long-term couples on TV:

Sheridan and Delenn. Which says something about how long it's been since I watched TV with any regularity.

#270 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2011, 11:55 PM:

Geekosaur @268: The context behind Abi's tradition is that the magic being discussed is specifically compulsion, and in fact the true-hearted are traditionally considered immune to most forms of compulsion: even physical compulsion reputedly often goes awry.

Ah! That's useful to know. (If it's a Narnia reference, I've never succeeded in getting into them. Bounced off every time I tried, alas.)

Thank you.

#271 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 01:35 AM:

I don't think that Sheridan and Delenn count, because for most of the series run they aren't a long-established couple; they're in the phase where they're trying to learn how things will work. We see them as such in a couple of flash-forwards, but that's not the same thing.

#272 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 01:38 AM:

elise @267:
presenting an opening for magic is generally a good thing, in my country, says the Lioness with a goofy grin, but I accept that we've probably got very different glossaries on that one.

geekosaur @269 has the right of it: I'm referring to spells cast on (frex) the heroes of fairy tales against their wills. Which mostly means compulsion and its conjoined twin, glamor.

Thinking further, the pure-hearted do seem to be able to use magical items, and use them more effectively than other characters. But magic used on them against their will or without their knowledge is more likely to slide off, unless it is mighty.

Like Jacque, I've not experienced that as something to be achieved. In fact, I think of it as something one gets closer to by letting go of things!

...which is in itself an achievement: detaching, letting go of the peripheral matters and striking for the true, decluttering your mind and your spirit.

If you do that, you don't need an Extraordinary Fish to get you going, because even the most ordinary fish in the world (€1.99 for a pack of 10 fingers in the frozen food aisle, heat oven to 220 C and cook for 7 minutes) is miraculous. So is the plate. So is the tree outside the window.

Seriously, I don't feel any need to be on guard against those moments of transcendent beauty.

Armor might not be the right word. I didn't intend to send you down that track, or to end up with you thinking I was on some track so wildly different than yours. It's not about them being a problem, and it's not a deliberate defense against them.

It's just that momentum, which is another word for single-heartedness, has its own cost. Pursuing a vocation, one does miss the peripheral miracles. I'm still pondering what OtterB might have meant about the fact that most of the people at the Wedding at Cana missed the miracle, and my earlier guess is the best one I can come up with: they were already engaged in another one. They were single-hearted and focused, and the matter of the wine was off to the side. Even laying 150 gallons of the finest stuff on them didn't get their attention.

As you say, The Day the Saucers Came.

Think about the loaves and fishes. How many people there noticed the multiplication? And how many were sitting with their friends, unpacking the sermon in conversation and argument, and absentmindedly accepted the fish and bread that was handed to them? They'll have said thanks out of habit more than out of attention, and then gone back to the discussion, having completely missed the food shortage and its solution because they were engaged in something else.

Miracles are for those who need them, I always think. I know you have, this last year, and even the most single-hearted and clear-purposed among us falters and could use a boost. But the people who are already on their way somewhere don't tend to get, or require, spectacular intervention.

#273 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 02:43 AM:

elise @ 248: "Ordinary Fish are good. Extraordinary Fish are good*. Savor all the fish. Just don't cling to them; fish are for eating**, not for holding on to and waving about."

That reminds me of a story: two monks are walking through the forest and come to a ford. A pretty young woman is waiting there, unable to cross on her own. The first monk begins to explain, unasked, how they are holy men sworn to not to touch women, but before a word passes his lips the other monk sweeps her onto his shoulders and carries her across. The young woman thanks them prettily and is on her way. The two monks continue to travel; the first fuming, the second cheerful. That night at the fire, the first monk bursts out: "How could you carry her across the river! Contact with women is forbidden!" The second monk looks up, perplexed and then sad. "Poor fellow! I put her down when I reached the other side of the river, but you have been carrying her for miles!"

This story is about letting go of transgressions and recognizing the greatest harm, but I think the lesson is just as important regarding exaltations and ecstasies: however wondrous they are, they are not to be lugged with you through the rest of your life.

(And you're welcome!)

#274 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 03:48 AM:

I'd like to apologize, by the way, for my clumsy use of "magic" to mean "compulsion and glamor magic as described in Christian-European fairy tales". They are really not the same thing, and I'm sure I've hurt a number of people who know the difference by my careless conflation.

My dominant-religion privilege is showing. I will try to do better in the future.

#275 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:53 AM:

Abi: Thinking further, the pure-hearted do seem to be able to use magical items, and use them more effectively than other characters. But magic used on them against their will or without their knowledge is more likely to slide off, unless it is mighty.

As with much mythology there, there's a mirroring to human psychology. Miracles aren't just things that happen to us; sometimes they're opportunities, something that comes to the hand rather than the eye. Those who make best use of those tend to be the ones who can simply accept them for what they are, rather than trying to take them apart or exploit them "to the fullest".

On the other side of your stories, glamour and manipulation among humans often plays against the victim's vulnerabilities -- especially their self-deceptions and self-conflicts. I once knew a woman who embodied much of what we think of as "fey"; even without malice on her part, my own weaknesses (inter alia) made her very dangerous to me. (In another era, I might have wound up starring in one of those tragic stories....) I don't think I'd be caught the same way today; I've grown and changed since then. And I'm much more wary of glamour and charisma....

#276 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:54 AM:

heresiarch @273: This story is about letting go of transgressions and recognizing the greatest harm, but I think the lesson is just as important regarding exaltations and ecstasies: however wondrous they are, they are not to be lugged with you through the rest of your life.

Very very yes. It's pretty hard to be here now if you're still there then.

There are corollaries with grief, but they're not exact. But still. (Which is another one that's been up this year, but anyhow.)

#277 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:06 AM:

More heresiarch @273:

All this has me thinking: Sarah Monette, in her new short story collection (which is excellent, by the way, and highly recommended, though I am biased for reasons obvious if one reads the story notes), talks about wanting to write not about battles but about what happens after the battle (or the war) is over.

Suddenly there's a plot-bunny nosing around, about what happens after the miracle.

#278 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:15 AM:

Reading this, I am suddenly reminded of Bujold's Chalion series. Specifically, who saints are and how the gods work through them. Those gods can't affect the world directly, they have to work through humans who open up enough to let them in. And most people are too full of their own concerns to make room for the gods to work.

#279 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:25 AM:

Too long, sorry, and I trimmed lots of "yes" responses to other things.

Benedict Lee @230 & Terry Hunt @232 OtterB's poem (@162) captured something that helped me significantly in the way I think about my life
Thank you. That response made my day. You know, I wrote that and almost didn't post it because it wasn't a sonnet or a villanelle or something of the sort. (The moral of that is, don't let the rest of the commenters scare you off from contributing your own thoughts.)

nerdycellist @184 A lot of people are here for "the liturgy", but sometimes I don't wonder if they actually mean "the drama" Thread-crossing: reminds me of the discussion in the DFD thread about people who want to interact with their image of you, not the real you. Which, when you're talking about God, I suppose is idolatry.

Jacque @195 Sometimes I'll just be sitting in my chair of an afternoon, gazing out the window at the tree outside. And something about the light, or an angle of the bough, or something, just strikes me, and I am reminded that beauty is in the seeing, more than the seen, as if it's the Universe sort of reaching around and connecting with itself through my eyes. Richard Rohr in The Naked Now calls those the kind of experiences that make you want to write poetry, pray, or just be completely silent. I thought of Making Light when I first read that description.

me @ 190 it’s that those times and places lessen our resistance, make us more open. Rohr, by the way, defines "faith" as this kind of willingness to be open, rather than intellectual assent to particular beliefs. I just read it recently and am still thinking about it, but I like it. It always bothered me that Jesus seemed to only heal people who had faith; it makes more sense to me when that means "if you can't be open to the possibility that I can help, I can't help" than when it seemed to mean "if you're not one of the in-group, tough luck."

elise @218 I think the right thing to do is neither to take the fish and put it under a glass dome on a gilt doily and dust it daily, nor to refuse the fish on the grounds that ordinary fish is theologically superior/safer. I think that what I should ought to do is eat the fish, enjoy the conversation, thank the cook, and help with the washing up.
I love this. I connect it to David Harmon @187 The point of a "holy day" is to set aside one day a year -- for Christmas, that's nightfall to nightfall in the ancient fashion. And that day is to be made separate, and special. When Christmas is blurred into a "holiday season", its power and magic is likewise blurred, and diluted.
Some of the blurring is trying to keep the season, the feeling, too long. Or trying to recreate the "perfect Christmas" of their childhood - either the one they had, or they one they wanted to have.

elise @248 Ordinary Fish are good. Extraordinary Fish are good*. Savor all the fish. Just don't cling to them; fish are for eating**, not for holding on to and waving about. Yes. But I think you're using Extraordinary Fish in a different sense than abi did originally. You're talking about the real thing. She was, I think, talking about a larger-than-life semblance of it. Bling Fish? Highly-touted fish-like substance?

Jacque @250 But if one only hoards it but never eats it, one doesn't get the nourishment from it, which in some sense is worse than never having had it at all and the thoughts about how this relates to creativity. Yes.

elise @253 Keeping one's lamp lit? Yes, this. I'd written this to a friend a few weeks ago: You know, when we read the gospel from Matthew about the wise and foolish virgins a week or two ago, this is what that passage means to me these days. Everybody's life has a lot of routine stuff - do your work, pick up the house, pay bills, visit the oil merchant :-). It's all necessary but neither glamorous nor urgently pressing. But if you don't do it when it ought to be done, then when the call comes to do something new and exciting and important, YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO ANSWER IT because you will be running around like a loon trying to buy oil at midnight when all the merchants are closed.

Also, Neil Gaiman's The Day the Saucers Came. I'd never seen this. Ah.

abi @272 Thinking further, the pure-hearted do seem to be able to use magical items, and use them more effectively than other characters. This made me think of Samwise Gamgee and the Ring. He's not completely immune to its lure, but the fact that he loves Frodo much more than he wants power protects him to a large extent.

I'm still pondering what OtterB might have meant about the fact that most of the people at the Wedding at Cana missed the miracle, and my earlier guess is the best one I can come up with: they were already engaged in another one. They were single-hearted and focused, and the matter of the wine was off to the side.

You're giving me credit for more depth than was there, I think. My original encounter with the idea was very experiential, part of an Ignatian-style meditation of imagining yourself in the scene. (I'm coming gradually to value that kind of thing in addition to valuing the kind of logical analysis and articulation we're doing here.) At the time it seemed like, not an accusation, but a mild wake-up call that there was more going on around me than I realized. Now that I think about it in light of the rest of this conversation, I think that most of the people were not supposed to notice. They had their ordinary fish - the wedding celebration - and miraculous wine calling attention to itself would have substituted bling-style Extraordinary Fish that were less nourishing, put the focus in the wrong place. (I keep hearing Herod from Jesus Christ Superstar: "Prove to me that you're no fool and walk across my swimming pool.") There were other miracles that were intended to be seen, but this wasn't one of them.

abi @272 But the people who are already on their way somewhere don't tend to get, or require, spectacular intervention. Yes. This is very much the view I'm coming to take in thinking of God in daily life. I sometimes think of my role as being Jesus's apprentice. And the kind of boss I like to work for doesn't micromanage me while I'm doing things I know how to do - though he does appreciate that they get done - but provides direction and assistance when I'm moving to something new, especially when asked.


#280 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:49 AM:

OtterB @278: Perhaps fake Extraordinary Fish are Overhyped Fish?

#281 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 11:37 AM:

Otter B @ 279 - Not only was Cana not supposed to be seen, it wasn't supposed to happen. "Mother, it is not yet my time." I've always thought of it as Mary went all Jewish mother on him, and like a good Jewish boy, he did what his mother told him to, because arguing was useless, pointless, and just doing it wasn't going to hurt anything. And of course he made extraordinary wine - if he had to sit next to Uncle Benjamin for the next two hours, he was going to have something decent to drink.

Fully human, fully divine to me has always meant that he had to deal with imperfect parents and siblings and friends and relatives. Being human means having human experience, including the uncle who insists on talking politics at dinner and the cousin who wants to borrow a sheckle, and "Why can't you be more like Jesus? He always washes his hands before dinner." "Jesus, why can't you be more normal like James? It's making things difficult for you in shul."

#282 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 11:58 AM:

On the "long-term couples on TV" subthread: it occurs to me that there seems to be a distinct preponderance of sitcoms among the examples listed.

Two examples from dramas that come to mind: Mary Beth and Harvey Lacey from "Cagney and Lacey" and Eric and Tami Taylor from "Friday Night Lights".

#283 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 12:31 PM:

elise @ 267: "Like Jacque, I've not experienced that as something to be achieved. In fact, I think of it as something one gets closer to by letting go of things!"

abi @ 272: "...which is in itself an achievement: detaching, letting go of the peripheral matters and striking for the true, decluttering your mind and your spirit."

This strikes me as very close to the paradox at the heart of Zen practice (as I understand it--IANAZM). To be enlightened, to experience the world as directly as possible, one must let go of reflective experience: the part that says I am typing on a keyboard, I am thinking about typing on a keyboard, I am thinking about thinking and so on. These are mirrors upon mirrors, no way back the things reflected.

Yet, the very act of setting the goal of seeing the world without reflection is to fail at it. How do you deliberately, consciously work towards being spontaneous and unselfconscious?

Answers to that question that can be written in words are long and complex and never quite right, but a first approximation: some dichotomies turn out to be circles rather than lines; rigorous structure and constant repetition are more like formlessness and spontaneity than we see. There is a way in which knowing can also be thing before reflection, guiding without guidance.

First you learn to know what you do not know
Then you learn to know what you know
At last you learn to not know what you know.

#284 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 02:11 PM:

it occurs to me that there seems to be a distinct preponderance of sitcoms among the examples listed.

Columbo and his wife, though she was never seen so it might not count. I think the main character on "Unforgettable" is in a long-term relationship.

#285 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 02:36 PM:

Carrie: The main character on _Unforgettable_ is not in a long-term relationship. Her partner is her ex-boyfriend; they've known each other forever. But he has a girlfriend (I admit I haven't seen the last two eps yet, so I may be a bit outdated).

What counts as long-term in TV time? Gus Grissom and Sara Seidel on CSI dated for a while and have been married for a couple of years (though he's off the show), which is a long time in TV time. On CSI: NY, two of the CSIs have been married for a couple of years, again after dating for a while.

Elliot Stabler on L&O had a long marriage (and at least 3 kids), though it wasn't always a good marriage.

On The Good Wife, Peter and Alicia have been married for something approaching 20 years, though they have been separated for several months now.

And while Desperate Housewives likes to shake things up, until Tom and Lynnette separated this season, they had been married more than 20 years. Bree was married to her first husband for maybe 15 years (I don't remember now).

In Downton Abbey, the lord and lady of the manor were married more than 20 years (maybe this doesn't count because it's period, but one of the things I like about that series was the relationship between the two of them).

#286 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 03:13 PM:

On FarScape, John and Aeryn's relationship was certainly rocky, but once they got together they stayed together, and by the end it was clear they were in for the long haul.

If a show gets some or all of its conflict from relationships between characters, the show ends when the relationship runs out of conflicts. For that reason stable relationships are death to drama (and of course vice versa!); they can occur in the background, with secondary characters, or just be very much what the show is NOT about.

Zoë and Wash can have a good, stable marriage because a) they're not the main characters and b) there's plenty of other conflict in the series. The drama relationship on that show is the one between Mal and Inara.

#287 ::: Flora ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 03:19 PM:

(What an extraordinary thread!)

I seem to recall a G.K. Chesterton essay on the question of Festival, and particularly the wrongness/ silliness of trying to prolong the season, but I'm not sure where to even begin looking for it.

And on the question of the "fake" Extraordinary Fish as a metaphor for addiction (and other things), I've always loved this quote from the Screwtape Letters to the effect that the job of a tempter demon is to ensure that we human beings spend our lives doing *neither* what we ought to *nor* what we want to. To take everything and give nothing in return.

#288 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 03:26 PM:

Xohper @ 286... stable relationships are death to drama

By 2001's "The Mummy Returns", not only have Evy and Rick tied the knot, but they did it long enough ago that they now have a kid old enough to invent a new kind of mousetrap. (Makes me think of Abi's son, come to think of it.)

#289 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 03:57 PM:

Xopher @286

A stable relationship doesn't have to be unthreatened. But perhaps the serial format, without a strong story-arc structure, still suffers from the old problem of the end-of-episode reset switch. There's a lot of murder-mystery series that seem able to cope with a stable relationship, because they're in the background. They don't have to be apart from the story, but they're more likely commentary and contrast. They can provide a sort of Porter scene, a release of tension.

Stable relationships: how do you class Holmes and Watson?


#290 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 04:08 PM:

I am not saying there can be no drama if the main characters have a stable relationship! I'm saying the drama can't be about their relationship if it's completely stable.

Dave, your point about it being threatened is a good one. The conflict can be about the THREAT to the relationship, and the challenges that produces.

#291 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 04:15 PM:

elise @267: And I'm still pondering your brilliant thing in 250 about not clutching yesterday's inspiration. Useful and then some, that one.

Please: enjoy! I burned years getting to that one.

"by grace and not by works,"

I submit that one can make oneself more available to grace by their Practice, whatever form that takes.

Seriously, I don't feel any need to be on guard against those moments of transcendent beauty. Nor do I think they make me Speshul. They're not about me.

By contrast, there are those of us who are still working through a lot of Stuff. My ego is still tangled up around worthiness. Frex, when somebody responds positively to something I've said here, I'm still so uncertain of myself that my reflex tends to be, "Oh! I said something Cool! Lemme find something else to say that's Cool so I can get me more o' dat!" instead of just cooly taking in their contribution to the discussion and moving on from there. This makes me vulnerable to flattery and self-aggrandizement. In contexts where my mind is settled, I can react to positive (or negative) feedback much more choicefully.

I think abi's "achievement" is clarity and personal integrity. Unresolved questions and uncertainties are the "chink in our armor, something that either good or evil can exploit."

Good can offer us an insight/validation/perspective that makes sense but may or may not be what we want to hear. Our personal integrity affects the degree to which we can accept that information. "Evil" exploits uncertainty and amplifies our fears. It works to supress our discernment, and cultivates our "attachment and clutching, or the flaunting and pushing-on-others."

For me, it's less about "letting go of things," than about clarifying my questions in my mind. Then, I have the attention free to sit back and listen/watch/receive. elise's "grace."

abi @272: I'm referring to spells cast on (frex) the heroes of fairy tales against their wills. Which mostly means compulsion and its conjoined twin, glamor.

Yes. These exploit fear, uncertainty, and lack of discernment (particularly glamour).

Thinking further, the pure-hearted do seem to be able to use magical items, and use them more effectively than other characters. But magic used on them against their will or without their knowledge is more likely to slide off, unless it is mighty.

The pure-hearted have personal integrity, know their own minds, and are clear on their place in the world, which makes fear-based manipulation of them inneffective. Which also means that they would have a more coherent energy to bring to bear for magical workings.

The "might" required for magic to be effective against them would be, in one form or another, the capability to shake their personal integrity, or somehow cause them doubt and fear. Raw power would be less likely to be effective. Guile and subtlety would would be more likely to work.

which is in itself an achievement: detaching, letting go of the peripheral matters and striking for the true, decluttering your mind and your spirit.

Yes! Those of us who are still Seeking have achieved that decluttering in some areas, but not others.

Armor might not be the right word.

I think it's not a bad metaphor for those areas of our lives that we're still working on. Frex, try to convert me to your fancy new cult, and I'll just look at you sideways. I will, however, listen to what you have to say with great interest, because, hey! I love talking about this stuff. But I'm very clear with my spirituality, so I don't hava a lot of hooks for manipulation.

Contrariwise, yell at me for how I behave in a meeting, and it's going to be very upsetting and take me a while to figure out how to deal with it. I'm very unsure of myself and so I have to much more elaborate armor.

But the people who are already on their way somewhere don't tend to get, or require, spectacular intervention.

And, conversely, people who are already on their way somewhere often have more attention free for the little miracles along the way.

abi @274: "magic" to mean "compulsion and glamor magic as described in Christian-European fairy tales".

I read this as a sub-class of possible magics. It's also an important class, because there's a lot of it currently flying about these days in economics and politics. (Which realms tend to have a fairly Christian-European bias, to be sure.)

Aaand David Harmon's @275 says what I was trying to get at more clearly and succinctly.

elise @276: There are corollaries with grief, but they're not exact.

The difference is that grief (done effectively) is a growth-and-shedding process (growing through the pain of loss, shedding the old identity which included that which has been lost). The monk story is an example of being stuck in an experience and not moving on.

Mary Aileen @278: Reading this, I am suddenly reminded of Bujold's Chalion series. Specifically, who saints are and how the gods work through them. Those gods can't affect the world directly, they have to work through humans who open up enough to let them in. And most people are too full of their own concerns to make room for the gods to work.

And here you have a handy elevator description of my model of artistic inspiration.

OtterB @279: elise @218 <=> David Harmon @187

:-) :-) :-)

routine stuff - do your work, pick up the house, pay bills, visit the oil merchant :-). It's all necessary but neither glamorous nor urgently pressing. But if you don't do it when it ought to be done, then when the call comes to do something new and exciting and important, YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO ANSWER IT because you will be running around like a loon trying to buy oil at midnight when all the merchants are closed.

And this, right here, is a big chunk of my current struggle. I've finally happened onto a reliable (and, far as I can tell, unlimited) source of Fish, both Extraordinary and ordinary, and I'm desperately Fish-deprived. So all I can do is Eat Fish. While I'm somewhat managing to "do work", "picking up the house" and "purchasing the oil" are really suffering because I'M DESPERATELY HUNGRY FOR FISH. (It's like I've got fifty years of privation to make up for.)

an Ignatian-style meditation of imagining yourself in the scene ... a mild wake-up call that there was more going on around me than I realized.

I had a similar encounter with that idea in my high school acting class. The scene was: we were all partiers at a cocktail party. The Experiment was: something would happen. What would be the effect on the party dynamic? On the individual partiers? It wasn't until the exercise ended and I looked over to see two classmates consoling a weeping third classmate that I learned that the Something was: someone came in and whispered to the third that his (fictional) father had just died. In the heat of the moment, I was completely oblivious to this.

heresiarch @283:

First you learn to know what you do not know
Then you learn to know what you know
At last you learn to not know what you know.

The Four Stages of Competence: you can't get from 1 to 4 without going through 2 and 3.

#292 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 04:48 PM:

Hrm, I don't want to sit on this because I think there's an important point buried in there somewhere, but I also feel like I'm doing my usual lousy job of expressing it without sounding condescending to Christians. :(

OtterB @279:

Rohr, by the way, defines "faith" as this kind of willingness to be open, rather than intellectual assent to particular beliefs. I just read it recently and am still thinking about it, but I like it. It always bothered me that Jesus seemed to only heal people who had faith
This was always clear to me for some reason. Perhaps the societal context helped: it was characterized by fear, from the top to the bottom, and refuge in Custom and Tradition and a closing to new things is a common response to that kind of pervasive fear. (For that matter, look around you....)

This is part I consider the Gospels to ring true, not as the story of a Messiah, but as the story of a teacher trying to bring Hope back into the world — while also explaining why he became a proxy for G-d.

Sometimes, in that situation, Ordinary Fish gets misrecognized as Extraordinary Fish. I do not intend any denigration of subsequent Christians, but I do wonder if this ended up weakening both the proto-Christians and the Jewish establishment: the former because seeing Ordinary Fish as Extraordinary Fish loses the essential applicability to everyone — see OtterB's original impression of "faith"; also, how many people realize the true import of the fact that Peter walked on water after Jesus' pep talk about faith? — and the latter because it seems pretty clear from remarks recorded in the Talmud that the establishment, feeling embattled from within (not-really-Extraordinary-Fish corrupting our youth!) and without (Rome), was reacting — badly — not to Jesus and his followers but to that misrecognition of Ordinary Fish.

#293 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 05:00 PM:

Generally I stay out of religious conversations, especially when they're not about my religion, but I did want to point out that Judaism does not actually require faith or belief in a deity (at least not today in the US in some versions of the religion).

It is the living of a righteous life and the doing of tikkun olam (generally interpreted as "healing the world") that matters. My rabbi has given more than one sermon on the subject, and he and I have discussed it directly as well.

#294 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 05:18 PM:

Xopher @290 -- No real relationship is that stable. The best relationships I know have a very nice ebb and flow to them. And part of making the drama happen is having the experience of thinking the relationship is threatened only to have it come through the fire stronger. A relationship at three-to-five years has a great deal of potential for drama in it, and there's continual learning about the other person -- hir history, old skeletons, and the like -- throughout the length of a relationship.

And there's a lot of fun books out there (often mysteries -- look at Craig Rice, the Lockridges, Nick and Nora Charles, etc.) based on good relationships that have interesting quirks. It's not the death of drama at all.

#295 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 05:43 PM:

Melissa Singer @293: Judaism does not actually require faith or belief in a deity ... "healing the world"

There is much intersection between Judaism and Buddhism. These are but two points. (One of my favorite books is The Jew in the Lotus. In addition to the modern parallels of Diaspora, there is apparently some possibility of early cross-polination between the two traditions.

#296 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 05:54 PM:

Jacque: I've had that book in my "to be read" pile since before my daughter was born. Maybe when she goes to college I'll have time to read it . . . .

#297 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 07:59 PM:

Xopher @ 290, et al.

"I am not saying there can be no drama if the main characters have a stable relationship! I'm saying the drama can't be about their relationship if it's completely stable."

This exactly!

One of the more frustrating conversation I've had with both fans and other writers in the game industry was about romance in games. I will elaborate:

There's a certain genre of game, primarily RPGs, where the player gets to make decisions that change the story. This is one of the things that games can do that other types of storytelling can't, so I love these games. There's one company that makes what are largely considered the best games in that genre. They allow you to choose your love interest from a selection of 4-9 companions. Some are amenable to the idea, some may not be, which makes sense.

However, there has been a pattern in the development of these games: the writers will create a character who is a platonic, reliable friend, and they will not include that character as a romantic interest, opting for more drama-filled relationship options. Players then petition the creators to make the platonic, stable character romanceable. These romances happen in tandem with a grand, world changing, dramatic adventure - they are not providing the primary story of the game. Still, they add a lot, and are partially responsible for attracting a huge female fanbase.

In their Sci-Fi series, one of these non-romanceable guys was an alien... with a carapace and mandibles. Girls requested that he be included as a love interest in the sequels, and he was. When he was a candidate for romance, he became the most popular male love interest, despite the fact that his romance story was relatively light on drama, and despite the fact that he is a crazy alien with three fingers and metallic skin.

A year later, having seemingly not absorbed the implicit lesson above, they released a game in their fantasy series. In this game, your best friend is a wise-cracking, clean-shaven, surface-dwarf writer who has decided to make you the focus of his upcoming adventure serial. Naturally, all the female players (and a huge proportion of the male players) adore him, and wish that he had been made a love interest. He's much more conventionally attractive than the alien, and seemingly even more intentionally charming and flirtatious.

I don't fault them for not including the dwarf at the outset - there's a limited amount of resources in game implementation, and I can see why they would consider the tragic revolutionary and the broody elf more appealing in general. What boggled me was this: one of the writers came forward and said that if they included the dwarf as a love interest, he would have to be written differently. She implied strongly it was impossible to have a romance where there was no tragic force separating the lovers, because without some tragic reason to be apart, there would be nothing to the romance. This statement was made in the context of a thread where fans of the game were actively saying that they would, in fact, enjoy this slightly calmer, more positive, less angsty romance... especially in the context of the tragedy-filled story of the game's main plot.

I'm not opposed to the idea of having only a small selection of characters available to romance, I'm opposed to the idea that someone who is stable, emotionally supportive, and who obviously likes you from the start is automatically disqualified from romance candidacy. This seems to be another one of those mental roadblocks in a lot of modern storytelling that frustrate me a great deal.

"Nobody likes supportive, positive romances."
"Have you ever tried writing a supportive, positive romance?"
"No, because nobody likes them!"

#298 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:01 PM:

elise@277: It's not quite a perfect fit, but there's Jo's Relentlessly Mundane.

#299 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:01 PM:

OtterB @279: Yes. But I think you're using Extraordinary Fish in a different sense than abi did originally. You're talking about the real thing. She was, I think, talking about a larger-than-life semblance of it. Bling Fish? Highly-touted fish-like substance?

I do believe you are right. I am now having an Emily Litella moment.

*lopsided smile*

#300 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:33 PM:

Apropos of too many comments to list:

Sufficient time for faith and miracles
We find we cannot fit into our days;
And nothing’s left at all that joyous dwells
Inside the heart. The spark of spirit stays
Too small for dreamburst, and all earth may prove
Inadequate for art. No human is
This potent all alone, and fear kills love . . .
Love kills fear, and alone; all-potent, this.
No human is inadequate for art,
For dreamburst; and all earth may prove too small.
The spark of spirit stays inside the heart
That joyous dwells, and nothing’s left at all
We cannot fit into our days. We find
For faith and miracles, sufficient time.

– John M. Ford

Jacque @291: The difference is that grief (done effectively) is a growth-and-shedding process (growing through the pain of loss, shedding the old identity which included that which has been lost). The monk story is an example of being stuck in an experience and not moving on.

Grief has been (is) (for me) so hard, especially when it comes to Mike. I still don't know how it's all going to work.

But, yeah, one cannot be here now if one is still there then. (But it wasn't the there, and it wasn't the then. It was the who. But we knew the job was dangerous when we took it.)

I wonder how the Twelve handled grief. Not while they were working, or not just then; I mean in the small hours of the morning, or in the sunny afternoons by the Sea of Galilee when somebody wasn't there any more.


"by grace and not by works,"

I submit that one can make oneself more available to grace by their Practice, whatever form that takes.

Sure. Definitely. One can invite grace, welcome grace, make a clear space for grace. The one thing one cannot do is earn grace. (Getting it, though, generally makes me want to do the work. You know?)

#301 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:54 PM:

elise, 300: Sure. Definitely. One can invite grace, welcome grace, make a clear space for grace. The one thing one cannot do is earn grace. (Getting it, though, generally makes me want to do the work. You know?)

Well, of course. When somebody gives you the best present ever, you want to take care of it, and you want to grow up to be the kind of person who deserves the best present ever.

#302 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:18 AM:

Elise @ 300:

I'd never seen that poem before; it's gorgeous. Thank you for posting it, and thank Mike, wherever he may be, for writing it.

heresiarch @ 273, et seq:

I find Buddhist stories like that resonate with something in me; I won't claim to be enlightened, but the sense of them makes sense to me. As I see it, the reason for sorrow is that we become entangled with the world in ways that weigh us down; the Buddhist prescription for alleviating sorrow is to untangle ourselves: live lightly in the world. That includes all forms of entanglement: desire and fear especially because they're so basic to our beings.

But if we don't get entangled, where is love? The subthread about committed couples on television implicitly assumes there's something good about that commitment (and, having experienced it, I agree wholeheartedly that there is). That commitment can also lead to sorrow (the phrase "we give our loved ones as hostages to fortune" comes to mind), but it also leads (must lead, since that's the nature of commitment) to building up, as opposed to tearing down, and this is also a part of the alleviation of sorrow. Whenever we can hold back entropy we have the chance to reduce sorrow, though that may be at the cost of later sorrow (if love reduces sorrow, it does so at the cost of the great sorrow when love is lost).

My thoughts may be little muddled perhaps, but they make some sense to me.

And speaking of the committed couples subthread, let me add a couple or two:

Michael and Fiona on Burn Notice. One of the themes of the show (especially this season) is the stress that forces from outside can put on a relationship, and how that stress can be mirrored within.

Suit and Mrs. Suit on White Collar (and also Mozie and Neal, but that's a very different type of couple and one that's been shown under a great deal of stress recently).

#303 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:56 AM:

I don't have anything intelligent to say on the religious thread, just this: Thank you very much for having this discussion. It's building up echoes in my head; the kind that get applied both in storytelling and in real world effects. (It's also the first time I've felt the urge to send both our minister emeritus and another religious friend the link to the start of the discussion, if I could but identify where it best begins to read).

Leah Miller @ 297: they would, in fact, enjoy this slightly calmer, more positive, less angsty romance... especially in the context of the tragedy-filled story of the game's main plot. Oh, this. Why does the relationship have to be itself a source of more angst and not, maybe, a rock and a resource from which to draw strength to face the conflict?

I mean, yes, I have written and lived and witnessed the complicated, angsty relationships. Sometimes they happen. But the percentages of those depicted in television are far too skewed.

But I don't actually understand the mindset that suggests the only way a committed relationship can have drama is to threaten its solidity rather than to have it as one of the solutions or supports against the drama.

For instance, almost the only time Whedon addressed Zoe/Wash directly is War Stories, where the relationship's solidity is dragged under question in exactly that "must angst" way. I grant you he redeemed that well enough and before the end of the story, but it was still a glaring misstep to me. (Also, of course, there's that annoying thing Whedon did in Serenity that is all too typically his "solution" to a potentially stable relationship.)

#304 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 07:49 AM:

elise @300 That poem of Mike's is wonderful.

#305 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:58 AM:

This is an amazing thread, and just what I have needed of late. Thank you one and all!

OtterB @ 279:

me @ 190: It always bothered me that Jesus seemed to only heal people who had faith; it makes more sense to me when that means "if you can't be open to the possibility that I can help, I can't help" than when it seemed to mean "if you're not one of the in-group, tough luck."

Yes, but it's more than that. It is not just being open, it is a matter of Faith, and faith I think, not just in the abilities of the Divine, but your own worthiness to receive them. My favorite of the miracles that showcase faith is the woman who sneaks up on Jesus, touches His robe, and thereby is healed. And He immediately stops, having "felt the power go out of Him," or words to that effect, and says "Who touched me?" And she is found and brought before Him, scared, and He lifts her up and says, "Go. Your Faith has healed you."

I think this is also interesting in light of the earlier comments regarding consecration of the wafer. The Church maintains that the only sacrament that is self-bestowed is marriage. (Marriage is bestowed by those wed on each other by their acceptance, signified by the "I do.") But the fact that the Church also holds that when the faithful unknowingly receive communion (or confession) from an individual not properly ordained, the sacrament still takes place, and grace is still received seems to imply, on some level, that these sacraments are also received through faith and the individual's will.

elise @218: I think the right thing to do is neither to take the fish and put it under a glass dome on a gilt doily and dust it daily, nor to refuse the fish on the grounds that ordinary fish is theologically superior/safer. I think that what I should ought to do is eat the fish, enjoy the conversation, thank the cook, and help with the washing up.

Beautiful. I am reminded of the end of Watchmen, and Dr. Manhattan's belated realization that he has spent his life looking, unsuccessfully, for a miracle, when each life, each birth is a miracle. In which case, our lives are one form of extraordinary fish, and by not living our lives we are choosing to ignore the miracle.

abi @272: Thinking further, the pure-hearted do seem to be able to use magical items, and use them more effectively than other characters.

The other truth about the fairy tale characters that I don't think I've seen mentioned, is that they are oriented outward, rather than inward. It is the innocent hero who always behaves with empathy, shares, sacrifices, and is willing to risk himself for others rather than for glory (which is, of course, self-serving). And in the end, it is this openness, and this willingness to use the magic/magic item for the benefit of all, that opens him to full use of the item. Or, maybe, opens full use of the item to him, either way :)

I'm still pondering what OtterB might have meant about the fact that most of the people at the Wedding at Cana missed the miracle

As someone said earlier, Jesus initially was against doing the miracle, because it was "not His time," but he does it because his mother asks [Honor thy father and mother]. However, her request is based on the fact that the hosts would be mortified if the guests know they didn't have enough wine for the entire party. If the purpose of the miracle is to keep from shaming their hosts, a grand flashy miracle would defeat the purpose. And my interpretation of the "But you, you've saved the best wine until now" comment is that Jesus's wine, being divinely created, must have been perfect.

Abi: Thank you for all this, a rare and wonderful conversation. And thanks as well for sharing your "commuter's rosary." That was itself a very extraordinary fish.

Teresa @ 222: The five scientific mysteries? I've never heard of these. Please explain or expand.


#306 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 12:29 PM:

pedantic peasant @305 In which case, our lives are one form of extraordinary fish, and by not living our lives we are choosing to ignore the miracle.

I like this view of it.

And I second the request that TNH @222 talk about the five scientific mysteries.

#308 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 08:22 AM:

Jacque @307, good one. I hadn't seen that strip before at all.

#309 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 08:35 AM:

While I have no idea what Teresa was referring to, I can certainly pick out a few aspects of science that pretty well qualify as Mysteries, with mystical overtones even. Here's one:

1) The world seems to be infinitely deep.

Around the world, scientists and their mechanical proxies peer up in the sky, dive the ocean, listen to the shifting of the earth, delve into the workings of cells and even the primal components of matter. We've been doing that for centuries now, and in every place we look, there's always more detail, more relationships, new phenomena and principles to explore... and always, trails leading into the unknown.

There was a time, a century or two ago, when we hoped to "understand everything", learning all the laws and principles governing the universe. That time is long gone. Indeed, our deepest understandings have begun to tell us that if there truly is a "most basic level" of the universe (and there may not be), it's likely to be intrinsically beyond our sight, perhaps even fundamentally beyond our comprehension. Even if we did find such a "floor of the universe", it would be nearly useless to us... because "how our world works" has little to do with such esoteric first principles. Our world emerges from innumerable layers of interaction and complexity -- whole strata of intermediate laws, processes, and relationships, with grand landscapes and vistas embedded within every level.

#310 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 09:33 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ #302, I am not now and never have been a Buddhist, but the question of how love is squared with lack of attachment is one that gnaws at me too (my Buddhist friends are emphatically NOT avoiding love or long-term relationships).

Something in the Dysfunctional Families Day thread may give a hint: there's been discussion over there of loving your fake image of your child, vs. loving who the child actually is. That would be a form of "attachment" that is clearly wrong and damaging to the relationship and to the other person. Similarly, you can appreciate, love and be in awe of the natural world without trying to own most of it, or make it into a theme park, or make it grow only those plants and animals you find congenial.

#311 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 09:36 AM:

Incidentally, IJWTS that a place where you start out complaining about PayPal and end up in a respectful and engaging theological discussion is the Best Place Evar. (Come for the snark, stay for Teh Awsum.)

#312 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 10:06 AM:

Lila #310: Is a tree "attached" to its branches, or the Earth "attached" to the Moon? It's one thing to grasp at a person or thing, saying "this is mine, I insist that it shall be with me forever". It's quite another to recognize, or admit, that each of us relates and connects to other people, and that for such a relationship to be broken is an injury to us.

#313 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 10:37 PM:

David Harmon @ 309:

I know it's not the same thing, but listening to your description, all I can picture is scientists as video gamers:

Cool! Another level! This game ain't never gonna end. I wonder what we find this time!

#314 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 11:24 PM:

pedantic peasant #313: The thing is, there are only two ways for a video game to "never end" (they can be combined). One way is for the game to repeat itself, typically with "more of the same" per level, while the other way is to generate random levels -- which eventually start to look all alike, because they're recombinations of the same elements.

And the world doesn't really do either of those -- always there are similar themes, but also genuinely new elements, and nature never seems to run out of those. And while there are some apparently-random (or at least contingent) elements, they're never just recombinations -- there's always those relations and connections tying things together. And forget about 100% completion....

#315 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 11:42 PM:

OtterB @308: good one. I hadn't seen that strip before at all.

I can't claim credit; found it in the Particles.

#316 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 12:31 AM:

David Harmon:

Oh, I know. The more varied the better, but also the more expensive and stuff.

I've been reading Reality is Broken and recently finished Diane Duane's Omnitopia Dawn.

I guess I'm trying to say it's like one, only better; that on some level, science is like the perfect game. ...sort of ...

#317 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 07:01 AM:

pedantic peasant #316: I guess I'm trying to say it's like one, only better; that on some level, science is like the perfect game. ...sort of ...

Try that the other way 'round.... Complex video games, besides the bright lights and stimuli, are trying to synthesize experiences of exploration, discovery, problem-solving. But science is the Genuine Original Fish. ;-)

#318 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 09:31 AM:

This is just to say... I love this thread!

#319 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 12:20 PM:

Much better put, David Harmon.

I guess as a high school teacher I think in terms of putting it the other way 'round in hopes the fish will hook my students ...

#320 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 12:44 PM:

pedantic peasant #319: I'd say your own phrasing shows what's wrong with that hope. ;-) Your job as a teacher is to train them to the handle end of the fishing rod....

#321 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:08 PM:

321
But then how will they get hooked on the subject?

#322 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:09 PM:

And I think there's a maxim lurking in there...

Much of life is about trying to catch Ordinary Fish; With reasonable effort and maybe some luck, you'll get your share. Occasionally you'll get an Extraordinary Fish, and there's much argument about how to better your chances of that. But Synthetic Fish are trying to catch you....

#323 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:33 PM:

David, I quoted that on Facebook for the benefit of my gamer friends...then realized I probably ought to have asked you, and asked if you wanted attribution, and if so what kind. Is it OK, do you, and what kind?

#324 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:45 PM:

pedantic peasant @305: If the purpose of the miracle is to keep from shaming their hosts, a grand flashy miracle would defeat the purpose.

So very yes.

Though with the quantity of wine, I guess it was a stealth miracle of ridiculously over-the-top proportions. I wonder if Jesus got the giggles when doing it. ("All right, all right, ma. You want wine? Hee hee hee!") Abi's thought about the neighborhood becoming vinegar dealers sure fits; what are you going to do with it all?

On another note, at mass today the homily drew from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Rebirth of Wonder" poem. The rebirth of wonder, the indwelling spirit. (One could certainly capitalize Spirit; Fr. Dennis pronounced the capital letters when he added, "The Holy Spirit.) It was pretty cool. In the midst of it I had a no-longer-reproducible-in-coherent-form (but still with me) realization that the indwelling spirit is the fish that most astonishes me in its regular appearance and good wholesomeness. How wonderful that such a thing should be! I feel like I'm flailing my arms and giving thanks for, you know, gravity, or soil, or something, but there it is. Or was. And ever shall be.

There was also a thought sparked by the homily that the indwelling spirit is a light shining from a human-shaped lamp, and my mind went off on a tangent about God designing lighting fixtures and journey-lanterns, which led to Robyn Hitchcock lyrics because Juan is sometimes given to singing about being a man with a lightbulb head, but that's even less coherent and more giggly than the others.

And I, too, hope T will say more about that Five Scientific Mysteries thing. She's in the kitchen now doing something with proto-coffeecake that's causing the most amazing good smells to waft forth, so she's kind of busy. When I said, "Five Scientific Mysteries? Folks are asking, on the thread," she nodded and said something about Fibonacci series, but baking is claiming her for the moment.

#325 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 02:05 PM:

If they'd distilled the wine made at Cana, would the resultant brandies be a Holy Spirit?

#326 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 02:18 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue #323: Thanks for asking... I'd prefer attribution; "by Dave Harmon via Making Light" is sufficient.

P J Evans: The same way as people learn to appreciate any productive endeavour: Though they may be pushed into it initially, there will be little successes and surprises along the way; these can be highlighted by the teacher until the students learn to appreciate and seek success for itself.

#327 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 09:58 AM:

Xopher @325: If they'd distilled the wine made at Cana, would the resultant brandies be a Holy Spirit?

*snrch*

And they'd certainly take up less room, which would be a win. ("Oy, Rifka, the wedding was two weeks ago but still my head hurts, I haven't caught up on sleep from the preparations, and we're still finding these humongous wine jars everywhere any time we go to put something away." Dialogue modeled on one of my relatives, may she rest in peace.)

#328 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 10:01 AM:

But I do love the Fluorosphere
And I know that if we're posting here
What a wonderful thread this could be.

#329 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 11:13 AM:

I was doing the geographical rosary as I cycled in this morning. I was on the last mystery when it started to hail, as it has been doing frequently and unexpectedly of late. The stones were small, about the size of seed pearls, but they were coming down thick and fast. And I was suddenly struck by the image of them as beads, scattered as though a thousand rosaries had come unstrung at once. What if each stone were a prayer? I thought, imagining all the different forms of contact with the Divine, each crystallized and made manifest on the path around me.

Enough distractions, I thought firmly, and started my next prayer. "Hail, Mary..."

And that's when the giggles started.

#330 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 11:18 AM:

abi @329 And that's when the giggles started.

Mine too. Oh, dear.

#331 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 01:04 PM:

abi @329: Meteorological rosary, eh?

#332 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 01:24 PM:

Abi @ 329

That is delicious. "Hail, Mary," indeed...

#333 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 02:55 PM:

Abi #329: Well, that's a much gentler distraction than last time....

Because I got curious, the etymology of hail (and yes, the two are from different sources).

#334 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 04:30 PM:

abi, if you'd pray in LATIN it wouldn't hail on you so much! :-)

#335 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 04:43 PM:

Except the aves might hit you with a less pleasant type of dropping....

#336 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 05:04 PM:

Xopher @ 286: "If a show gets some or all of its conflict from relationships between characters, the show ends when the relationship runs out of conflicts."

To slice a bit more thinly, my problem with dramatic* depictions of romantic relationships isn't that they're overwhelmingly angsty or tempestuous, but that they are so often about the question will this relationship continue to exist, and really, they're overwhelmingly about will this relationship happen at all? In my experience at least, the flirty, will-we-won't-we bit has not been the most interesting, fun, or dramatic aspect of romance. The whole universe of "we're together for the long-haul, now let's talk about the rest" is all but unexplored in comparison. (In the romantic sense--there are any number of buddy stories where the friendship is never in doubt.) Honestly, I'm much more interested in what happens after "I love you."

* both.

#337 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 05:11 PM:

heresiarch @336: me, too. I've been talking this up at RWA conferences for a few years, hoping I would get more submissions about the long haul, but this has not yet borne much fruit.

What happens 5, 10, 15 years into a marriage? How do things change when you have kids, when your kids grow up, when your job(s) change/vanish/arrive? When your parents get sick? When you do? How does love survive/change/grow with time, as people do?

My folks loved each other for 50 years. It was kind of amazing. They weren't the same people at the end of those 50 years, but they still loved each other.

#338 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 05:12 PM:

heresiarch: I'm with you.

Someone once asked Ursula LeGuin what the underlying theme of her works is and she answered without thinking, "Marriage." I'm prejudiced, me, but I think that's a worthy theme.

#339 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 06:01 PM:

Xopher @334:
abi, if you'd pray in LATIN it wouldn't hail on you so much!

You're right. The rain would just pitter Pater down instead.

#340 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 06:14 PM:

Heresiarch #336 - I suppose I agree with you there about what is more interesting is the long haul stuff, not just the immediate will we/ won't we. But I suspect such things are harder and more subtle to write, requiring a sort of investment which is rarer.

#341 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 06:29 PM:

heresiarch @336: The whole universe of "we're together for the long-haul, now let's talk about the rest" is all but unexplored in comparison.

Yes, that's what I was trying to get at. With an underlying assumption of "we're partners, and we'll treat each other well."

#342 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 08:05 PM:

heresiarch, #336: It's because the flirting stage is better self-insertion fantasy fodder for the audience, by and large. And then there's the large chunk that's holding its collective breath waiting to see when and how it finally happens.

IMO, finally letting two characters who are all about UST get together is a form of jumping the shark -- you've just killed your main characterization selling point, and you either find another one really fast or the show dies.

#343 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 02:08 AM:

heresiarch, Melissa Singer, Lila, guthrie, Jacque:

Yes, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that that's where my life has been for almost 40 years (we've been together for 41 years now), and I like to have characters I can identify with and try to learn from. One of my reasons for admiring Lois Bujold's writing is the relationship between Cordelia and Aral, especially after Miles is born and they become effectively Emperor Gregor's foster parents.

#344 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 11:38 AM:

Bruce Cohen @343: we've been together for 41 years now

You know, I can't even imagine that. And it seems unlikely in the extreme, at this point, that I will ever get to experience anything like that. ::sigh::

#345 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 12:35 PM:

Bruce @343: (we've been together for 41 years now)

Juan and I have been together for coming up on 28, and yeah. Long strange wonderful trip it's been.

#346 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 12:36 PM:

Congratulations and kudos to you both. As my brother-in-law wisely said, "Nobody's EASY to live with!"

It'll be 31 years for me and Mark next week. Best decision ever.

#347 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 01:03 PM:

So... how d'yall do it? (For the benefit of those of us who have trouble living with anybody...)

#348 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 01:37 PM:

Um, Juan's amazing?

That's not to say we don't bug the everlovin' crap out of each other sometimes.

I guess we just find kindred-spirit-comfort in particular ways together. We make sense to each other. And we keep surprising each other. I couldn't adequately sing his praises for how good he's been through the health-fu of the past few years and the recent Mayo Clinic stuff, because he's been astonishing. (Even his mother says so. She's really impressed.)

#349 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 01:52 PM:

I think the most important thing is that we've got each other's backs. When things go pear-shaped, we know we'll both be doing whatever's necessary to keep us both going (and our kids, too). There've been bad times, and we each occasionally piss the other off, but we each know that's going to pass and we'll both still be here for each other.

Another thing is courtesy. We've agreed that courtesy to each other, especially in the little every-day things, is vital; it's a kind of feedback that says continually "I'm here and I recognize that you're here, and we're working together." So we say please, and thank you, and you're welcome, and try not to take even the little gestures for granted.

#350 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 03:05 PM:

Bruce #349:
...and try not to take even the little gestures for granted.

Agreed. Fifteen years, and it's mostly this. Because the little things add up.

#351 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 03:22 PM:

At the beginning - this is a monster of a post, and I apologize in advance for the wall of text - I wanted to respond to a whole host of excellent things that people had posted in the thread, and it just kept growing.

Ok, I've been meaning to write out my thoughts on the Extraordinary Fish topic for days, and this morning is as good a time as any* - the part that really works for me is Abi's comment at #159 "Conversely, a diet of ordinary fish takes no savor from a finer meal." I'm a moderately observant, for my own values thereof, Jew and I try to make it to Shabbat services on Friday night as often as I can; it's how I was brought up, and it's become even more valuable to me as a grounding experience since moving away from Boston in 2008. At this point, I've gone to services in several Reform synagogues, both here in Berkeley and in Nashville when I was there, and I've found that I can be satisfied with both ordinary fish and extraordinary fish - most weeks, the service and the liturgy are merely ordinary, and that's more than good enough. It works; I feel part of the Jewish community and I get to have the joyful experience of praying communally (I wrap Tefillin every morning, which is a very different kind of prayer - for me, it's intensely personal and defined by the physical ritual much more than the actual words - the words are merely a guide [but that's a different post]) - occasionally, I'll go to services and the experience will be extraordinary.

I feel like this has happened more often in the last year - I've been much happier; maybe this means that I've been more open to the extraordinary glory of a well-performed service. There are just some weeks where I go, I participate and I can feel the resonances of the liturgy flow through me, as though they're bringing me perceptibly closer to the Almighty. It's often a single line from the liturgy that reverberates through my head, either in Hebrew or in English, for hours (or even days) after I've left the synagogue. I don't go to synagogue looking for the extraordinary, but I embrace it when it finds me.

I think a large part of this is that one of the two Rabbis at the synagogue I belong to strikes exactly the right balance for me - his approach is modern but grounded, and he's about the most friendly member of the rabbinate that I've met since leaving the synagogue I grew up at.

Working my way through the thread, I'm quite firmly in agreement with elise at #218 - "I think that what I should ought to do is eat the fish, enjoy the conversation, thank the cook, and help with the washing up." Can't really add much to that; I feel that in the context I've been thinking of this whole topic, the best thing I can do is be part of the community, embrace the extraordinary when it happens and add my own support to the community so that it might happen again - for other members of the community or myself.

And again, elise has said what I would at #248: "Extraordinary Fish just happen. They're a gift. They're grace. (Also, they don't make the recipient wonderful. They're more about the giver being wonderful.)" - probably the whole reason this topic resonates with me as much as it does is that it's just been a year since the largest Extraordinary Fish of my life landed on my head. I fell in love a year ago, I felt my faith truly fill me a year ago - and while the early hot rush of both has receded to something that is stable for the long term, elise's statement is exactly right. Extraordinary Fish are entirely unlooked-for, and cannot be chased after - you can try to make yourself more receptive to them, but even that is no guarantee.

On a related topic that Melissa Singer brought up at #293 "Generally I stay out of religious conversations, especially when they're not about my religion, but I did want to point out that Judaism does not actually require faith or belief in a deity (at least not today in the US in some versions of the religion)….It is the living of a righteous life and the doing of tikkun olam" - this is essentially the view that most of the people I attend synagogue with now hold to, and the collective view of most of the synagogue I grew up at - but I've found in the last few years that while I agree with some of it, I don't agree with all of it. This last year, I've found myself much more receptive to the entire idea of tikkun olam (I think being in love and developing an understanding of love is essential for this, at least for me) - but I very much have my own belief and faith in the Almighty. I'd find it fairly hard to articulate the fine details of my own faith, especially given my work as a scientist, but I find the concept of Judaism being defined solely by tikkun olam to be very odd in my own mind. I feel that It's part of the whole religion, but there's so much more that can be lost if that's the only part considered.

The most recent bit of the thread (say, Jacque at #341 and following) is, on a much smaller timescale, exactly what the Amazing Girlfriend and I try to do in our relationship. We've been together just about a year, and the bedrock of our relationship is that we're here for each other, regardless of what happens. We're grad students, with all the attendant stress that brings - but we're about the happiest graduate students we know (and we know a lot of happy grad students here) because we know we have each other for support. Bruce Cohen at #349 beat me to it by saying So we say please, and thank you, and you're welcome, and try not to take even the little gestures for granted. - that's exactly what we do, and it's one of the many amazing things about having a wonderful relationship.

*More like, it's the best chunk of time I'll probably get until after the 30th, because the Amazing Girlfriend and I are on what passes for our winter break starting tomorrow, which includes a holiday party with her friends in the south bay, hanging out in the city and Berkeley with a subset of said friends in the city and in the east bay… and oh yeah, packing to move in together in the 30th. I should post about that, but it's much more of an open thread type thing...

#352 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 03:48 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe @351 wrote, among other things, "I very much have my own belief and faith in the Almighty. I'd find it fairly hard to articulate the fine details of my own faith, especially given my work as a scientist, but I find the concept of Judaism being defined solely by tikkun olam to be very odd in my own mind. I feel that It's part of the whole religion, but there's so much more that can be lost if that's the only part considered."

Speaking as myself, I rather agree. I don't remember a time when I didn't believe in a deity, but it became very clear to me in the middle of my teen depression, at the point where, were I a different kind of person, I likely would have been seriously thinking about killing myself, that this--this horrible black blank dead dull life--was not what God intended for me. I literally heard God's voice telling me that. And while the part of my mind that appreciates science and biochemistry "knows" that that's all bushwah, my soul knows otherwise.

Not that I think God intended me for any particular or special purpose, but that I was intended to be something more than a lump in a bed or a non-person. You could say that I've spent the ensuing almost 40 years trying to figure out the rest of the message. Or you could say that I've been trying to live the message, with varying degrees of success, ever since.

I see the divine in the world, in nature and in people. Or rather, I try to stay open to the possibility of the divine in the world. There are moments when I grasp it, or grasp at it.

There is, of course, my daughter, who is the best gift from God I could ever have gotten. I give thanks to the science that made her possible.

She, otoh, isn't sure about a deity. I've told her that that's fine. She's living the principles I've tried to give her--about charity, about kindness, about striving for justice.

#353 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 04:23 PM:

Yeah, it's interesting, this whole business about deity. I grew up in a sort of vaguely Christian-like household, where my mother had her Bible that she studied and annotated, and I don't ever remember my dad saying a word one way or another about religion or spirituality.

When we'd move, we'd spend a little while shopping around different churches to see if any of them "stuck." When we moved into Boulder, my brother took up with the Mormons, and I did Sunday School at that church for a while until I got tired of the hurtin' shoes, and discovered that hunting the ditch across the road for crawdads was much more interesting.

But it was never an Issue, particularly (although watching my mom go three rounds with the neighborhood Campus Crusader For Christ was worth a coupla buckets of popcorn).

Then I read Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, and found myself very drawn to the kind of spirituality that her Merlin experienced. Then I read Spiral Dance, and sort of blinked: "Oh, that's what I am!"

I love the whole idea of ritual, in the way that seems to be common to Catholicism and the Pagans that I know, but I've never had the energy to pursue it myself; it just tickles me that such a thing exists in my world. Somebody, somewhere, is out there doing High Ritual, and that's kinda cool. My particular practice is much more meat-and-potatoes, though: doing artwork, watching TV or reading a book, hanging with friends, loving my pigs; that's where my Practice dwells. And then, every once in a while, I find myself in a Conversation, and that's really neat, too.

#354 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 04:26 PM:

Bruce #349 - so basically you've formed a partnership where the continuation of that partnership is very important, and you mutually support each other. Sounds so simple...

#355 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 05:00 PM:

Most partnerships seem to be formed with the idea in mind that the members will support each other. And sometimes it works out that way. Sometimes not, and it's often not clear which one a partnership will be after ten years or more. Having had a few long-term relationships, I'm definitely not clear on what leads one to survive well and what doesn't. I've been pretty good at getting into seven-to-ten year live-together relationships, and managed over thirty with the bookstore. Most of the long ones still have us as friendly.

#356 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 06:24 PM:

guthrie @ 354:

Sounds so simple...

And like most seemingly simple things, the details are demonologically difficult, because almost everything you do, day-to-day, affects the partnership. Most of the time habit gets you through, because anything you've done for many years leaves you with conditioned reflexes that let you do the right thing. But you have to keep an eye out to make sure that habit doesn't lead you astray in unusual circumstances, or when situations change.

I think the most useful phrase I know is, "I am really sorry, and I will damn well do it right from now on." And that works as long as you mean it and do it.

#357 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 07:12 PM:

As with so many things in life, it's all about coming at it deliberately and in good faith, I'll wager. Failure to do either (or both) is how we wind up with situations such as reported in the Dysfunctional Family Days thread.

Ways to Do It Rong:
1. Assume telepathy
2. Assume agreement
3. Assume I'm right, period.
4. Assume bad faith on the other's part
5. ...?

#358 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 07:58 PM:

Back to the importance of communication then.

(Me, I've never had a long term relationship. Hard enough to find the right person who is attractive to me and to whom I am attractive)

#359 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 08:16 PM:

Jacque @ #347, some good advice we were given early on:

1. Each of you has to give 75%.

2. When you fight, don't fight to win; fight for the marriage.

And a rule we made up for our kids when they were small: in situations where the other person can't walk away from you (e.g. riding in the car) you have to be extra nice to them. This also applies to situations in which you have a permanent commitment to each other.

Also, early on, we decided that home is supposed to be a refuge and a place of comfort; not a place where people dump on/pick on each other. We don't always get that right, but it's a goal.

Also see elise on being there in times of trouble, and Bruce on courtesy. Jonathan Coulton's song "Glasses" (you can hear it here) reminds me of my family.

#360 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 08:36 PM:

Lila, #359: in situations where the other person can't walk away from you (e.g. riding in the car) you have to be extra nice to them

Boy, I wish my parents had had that one! From about age 16 (when we moved to Nashville) until I moved out, being in the car with them was Captive Lecture Time.

#361 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 09:06 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe #351: but I find the concept of Judaism being defined solely by tikkun olam to be very odd in my own mind.

Well, the thing is, that's not all there is to being Jewish, even for a Jewish atheist... there's also the whole heritage thing, with its traditions and attitudes toward life.

And bringing in Melissa Singer #352: The thing is, I consider myself "mostly atheist"... and yet, and yet.... I've experienced, and continue to experience, things that are not usefully parsed by a purely materialist framework. To dismiss such things as hallucination or delusion, is to pointlessly deny a fairly commonplace part of human experience, which is furthermore significant to how human minds work -- how we process our experiences, how we develop our awareness and character, how we maintain our personal equilibrium, and especially how we learn about parts of our mental state that aren't accessible to logic or verbalization. (That last is a big issue for me, being on the autistic spectrum!)

Even aside from openly mystical experiences, the term "soul" doesn't only refer to "immaterial continuation of consciousness after death"... it also binds up various gestalts of human experience, and if you refuse to say the words "soul" or "spirit", you just end up talking the long way 'round (and stumbling over your language) every time something like that comes up. A concrete example: The other day at the bookstore, I found a book misfiled in the Religion section, probably because the title was Landscapes of the Soul. I brought it to my boss, commenting "it's not just religion that's concerned with the soul". His response was "quite right" (and he agreed it belonged in the Photography section). We're both Jewish atheists, but he knew exactly what I meant, with no quibbling over the word.

If I had to specify the difference between myself and religious worshipers, it would be something like this: I feel the numinous, but I don't mistake it for cosmic authority, either prescriptive or authoritative. I'm having trouble verbalizing my attitude toward spirits and the like, but I can at least say this much: No spirit has the power over the world offered by my own hands, nor the unambiguous presence of ordinary material objects.

#362 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 09:12 PM:

I think this thread may be a sort of Extraordinary Fish.

#363 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 09:30 PM:

Lee @ #360, that was actually inspired by bird behavior; in the wild the loser of a dominance struggle can fly away, but in captivity they'll peck each other to death.

#364 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 10:09 PM:

David Harmon @361: I'm somewhere on the spectrum myself (though _much_ more socialized than I used to be . . . parenting has worked more than one miracle in my life) . . .

I hear what you are saying.

That place beyond logic is frightening and marvelous at the same time. Awe-inspiring, sometimes.

I once tried to explain to someone why an abandoned lot, surrounded by chain-link fence, was so special to me. It was messy and u=overgrown and trying really hard to go back to nature, which was cool enough--but twice a day, most days, I would walk past that lot going to and from the subway. And there were these morning glories that grew all over the fence. They were the only blossoms in the lot, the only color other than lots and lots of greens. And they felt like a gift, every single time I walked by.

#365 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 10:51 PM:

Jacque at # 347: So... how d'yall do it? (For the benefit of those of us who have trouble living with anybody...)

Speaking as another person who has trouble living with anybody, one of the ways my partner and I have made it work is to live apart now and then. In 24 years together we've kept separate households for I think about 9 years in all, in different episodes. It gives each of us a refuge to rant and rave and have different housekeeping standards.

#366 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:04 AM:

David Harmon at #361 - Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that being a Jew who defines one's own Judaism through acts of tikkun olam and being a part of the larger Jewish community is somehow doing it wrong - far from it. I'm saying something much more personal - that it isn't how I see my own Judaism, or how it works (for lack of a better word) for me. I'm a theist, I'm happy being a theist, but there is no reason that everyone else should be one if that isn't their belief.

I feel like Melissa Singer at #352 really nailed it: "She, otoh, isn't sure about a deity. I've told her that that's fine. She's living the principles I've tried to give her--about charity, about kindness, about striving for justice. " I hold precisely the same view, although I'm fond of a quote from the book of Micah to attempt to define it: "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy Lord" - the first two require no belief in the Almighty, merely a desire to create a better world for us all. How can I ask more of anyone?

#367 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 03:43 AM:

Huh. I was going to answer the marriage subthread in one comment, and talk a little bit about some things in what Benjamin Wolfe @351 says about religious practice in another, but I realize that they're really the same thing.

Bruce @349 and Lila @359 both make very good points about the way that the practice of long-term partnership*—the daily observances, if you will—build up and protect the essence of the relationship. It's what the minister at my brother's wedding called "the work of love": saying please and thank you, taking the time in one's ordinary life to appreciate one's partner, doing small favors (Martin bought me a croissant at the bakery this morning because I'm hung over) and yielding on small points. These things are like wrapping Tefillin** or saying the rosary.

quoth Bruce: Most of the time habit gets you through, because anything you've done for many years leaves you with conditioned reflexes that let you do the right thing. But you have to keep an eye out to make sure that habit doesn't lead you astray in unusual circumstances, or when situations change.

The monastics say "keep the Rule, and the Rule will keep you."

Our daily practices include saying "please", "thank you" and "sorry". We have a small kitchen, so mornings (when Martin is getting the kids' lunches ready while I'm doing breakfasts and my lunch) are full of pauses while the other person is at the fridge or by the counter, punctuated with "sorry's". We say "I love you" to each other and to the kids a lot, and are liberal with physical contact.

We also expect, of ourselves and each other, a certain standard of behavior in the public spaces of the household. If any of us is not in a mood to deal with other people, we're expected to go off and sort ourselves out. Although this is a difficult discipline for all of us at times, it means that the downstairs spaces of the house are generally a peaceful and pleasant place to be.

Moving to the Netherlands was the test of all of these habits and practices. Both Martin and Alex went into profound depressions that autumn, just as my SAD started to really kick in. (It didn't help that the house we were living in had black slate floors downstairs, and inadequate lighting throughout.) But the memory of the deep engine of joy‡ that we had made of the family back in Scotland kept me going†, and I kept everyone else going until we were back in our rhythm again.

(Much as elise @348 says, it doesn't hurt that I married a pretty amazing guy, 18 1/2 years ago. But that simple amazingness would not have been enough to keep us married.)

-----
* I won't confine this discussion to marriage until it's an option for everyone
** About which I would very much like to hear more
‡ I always picture it being like the big spinning complicated thing in Serenity; it's no coincidence for me that the most deeply optimistic person on the ship is the one who makes that work.
† So did Making Light: it was that December that Patrick invited me onto the front page.

#368 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 07:57 AM:

Benjamin Wolfe #366: Nor would I deny you the worship of your god (precisely because you don't seek to enforce it on me ;-) ). I will note that it is also good to walk humbly with your fellow humans! Humility includes the courtesy Abi's been musing on, but also extends into other areas. (E.g., the incident that started this thread was, among other things, born of arrogance, which is the very opposite.)

abi #367: I'll note that you've made a technical error regarding tefillin: Checking around confirms my sense that tikkun olam refers specifically to the external aspect of mitzvah.

The use of tefillin belongs to the other aspect of mitzvah, the ritual observances. As such, it's more analogous to your rosary, with the further note that the physical objects are in fact "consecrated" items.

An aside: There's a technicality there in that the Jews have no actual priests, but in practice, we do have a few consecrated items. Aside from the temple Torah scroll itself, there is the tefillin and the mezuzzah (a talisman which is affixed to an observant Jew's doorpost). (There may well be others I haven't recalled.) Note that both of these are direct embodiments of Mosaic commandments, and physically contain ritually scribed Torah passages.

#369 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 08:15 AM:

David Harmon @368:

I'm afraid I'm not quite parsing your distinction. My understanding of the term mitzvah is clearly weak; have you got any good places I could go to clarify it?

What I was trying to say was that these regular observances, such as the practice of wrapping Tefillin or saying the rosary (or the Angelus, or sitting in silence, or chanting the names of God, or praying five times a day) are analogous to the daily actions that sustain a committed relationship between people. They are in themselves relatively small, but they're like individual bricks that make up the great structures of our emotional lives.

#370 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 09:09 AM:

abi #369: I'll have to look up appropriate links (or someone else is welcome to beat me to it, as I need to prep for a vet visit), but it's generally acknowledged within Judaism that mitzvot (literally, "commandments") have two distinct aspects, bound together specifically by that word, the idea that both are commanded by God. The external aspect, tikkun olam, represents the practice of doing good in the world, and is held in common with non-Jews. The internal, or ritual, aspect (I can't come up with a Hebrew term for it offhand) refers to those things which are specifically commanded to Jews as God's Chosen People, in order to maintain ritual purity in the eyes of God. The split between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism represents directly a variation in the importance of the ritual observations. For the Orthodox especially, it's entirely possible to be a "good person" without being a "good Jew".

The ritual side includes study of the Torah, use of the tefillin and of various other blessings.¹ It also includes keeping Kashruth (the "kosher laws"), proper observance of the Sabbath², performing the Seder, and probably other rituals that don't come to mind offhand.

¹ The Baruchas, ranging from the blessing of foods (much more specific than Christian "saying Grace"), through a variety of other situational prayers, e.g. a prayer to be said upon seeing a rainbow (think Noah).

² That's not just going to services and refraining from labor (and certain other activities) -- there is also a specific ritual ("welcoming the Sabbath"). The specificity to Jews comes into play in practice: It's forbidden, inter alia, to "kindle flames" on the Sabbath, which modern Orthodox take to include electrical switches. But temples (and even households) are free to employ a "Shabbos goy³" to handle such tasks for the occasion, notably turning on the synagogue lights before services.

³ goy, pl. goyim, a non-Jew.

#371 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 09:27 AM:

abi @369 these regular observances (snip) are analogous to the daily actions that sustain a committed relationship between people. They are in themselves relatively small, but they're like individual bricks that make up the great structures of our emotional lives.

I agree. These regular actions say that you value the relationship because it is a connection with the other participant, not just for its immediate short-term benefits. And the actions aren't just statements about the relationship, they are, as you say, bricks in it. Threads in the tapestry. As Annie Dillard says, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."

Although, to be honest, I don't think my marriage (33 years and counting) ... has enough of this. In our case we get a lot of mileage from shared values (truth, science, responsibility, our religion, our children, a quirky sense of humor). But I've been feeling something of a lack of connection and not sure what to do about it. This suggests, don't do something big. Do lots of little somethings instead. And I find that very helpful.

I wanted to go back to Bruce Cohen @302 and Lila @310 about love and attachment. As Lila put it, the question of how love is squared with lack of attachment is one that gnaws at me too

I'm not a Buddhist either, although the Christian contemplation books I'm reading recently all seem to be within hollering distance. But I have trouble with this too.

I think the answer is partly what David Harmon @312 describes as the difference between attachment-as-connection and attachment-as-possession.

The "love" part, in my mind, is an individualized, intimate knowledge and acceptance of another, and wanting all the best for them. The lack of attachment you're trying to get, I think, is the respect for them as a completely independent being. As Lila says, you're not attached to a false image of them where you claim to love a person who doesn't really exist outside your own mind. You're also not invested in any particular way for them to be or to act because of what it gives you or how it reflects on you.

(Connecting back to the marriage subthread, this doesn't mean you don't get to identify what you want and need from a relationship and negotiate to get it. It just means that you don't expect the other person to exist solely to meet your needs. And, conversely, you don't exist solely to meet theirs.)

It stretches my brain, but not painfully out of shape, to imagine that God is capable of having for each individual person the kind of deep individual love that we humans can, if we are lucky and work hard at it, have for a handful.

Bruce mentioned fear as something we are supposed to untangle from, and I think this is important too. I think some of what we think of as "love" emotions are really "fear" emotions. I'm afraid he will love someone else more than me. I'm afraid I'll be left alone. I'm afraid I'll screw this up. Being able to recognize those motivations and then let go of them is a form of detachment, and immensely freeing without meaning we love the other person any less.

Re fictional committed relationships, I don't watch much TV, but the relationship between Roarke and Eve is one of the things I enjoy most about the J.D. Robb books.

#372 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 12:32 PM:

A little quick pre-breakfast searching (before the Amazing Girlfriend hop on BART and CalTrain to go to the south bay today) turned up a pretty respectable Wikipedia article on Tikkun Olam and Mitzvot; it's certainly not perfect, but it gets the basic message through. I'd agree with its basic statement that doing mitzvot is a way to do tikkun olam (not the only way, but perhaps the major way; there have been interesting commentaries made on the role of ritual mitzvot in repairing the world indirectly).

But I need to go make breakfast now - that said, I'll promise a post on tefillin in the next few days, when I can grab the time.

#373 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 01:15 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe #372: I note that article appears to be from a very specific viewpoint -- not just Orthodox, but Kabbalistic. Kabbalism is the mystical and magical tradition of Judaism -- while it has certainly informed the wider traditions and practices, I don't think it has the dominant influence implied by a casual reading of that article.

#374 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 01:29 PM:

David, #370: The filk community, particularly on the East Coast, includes a number of Jewish folks. While I don't think there are any among them who are Orthodox enough to worry about turning on lights (or calling the elevator), I do have a button saying "Shabbos Goy" which occasionally comes out at filk-cons.

#375 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:15 PM:

OtterB 371: The "love" part, in my mind, is an individualized, intimate knowledge and acceptance of another, and wanting all the best for them.

...and savoring of their particular them-ness.

Coming up with a good way to express this, I'm minded of the day my friendship with my buddy Brian was forged. I wish I could remember the context, but we were wrangling over some lame-ass work problem, and he emitted some inspired snark. I fell over laughing.

Initially, he looked puzzled and hurt (because I was laughing at him), but when I could catch my breath, I gasped out, "Your delivery ... was just ... perfect." I could see him sort of going back over in his mind what he'd said, and how he said it, and slowly the grin came over his face and he started laughing, too.

That's one way I feel the love of Ghod come over me, as just sort of a twinkling grin of approval and appreciation.

Building that attitude into the background radiation of a long-term relationship; that would be ... lovely.

#376 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:31 PM:

abi @ 367:

I have a theory based on a slightly-deeper-than-casual acquaintance with Buddhism and the theory of martial arts (though I'm not a martial artist myself). The theory is that what the Buddhists call "right action" is governed by how you train yourself to act in the moment. Constant repetition of small actions in given contexts trains the muscles, the reflex arc circuitry, and the unconscious cognitive systems in what to do when you don't have time to think about it in advance.

That's why I don't drive at the limit of my abilities, or by cutting corners (either literally or figuratively) except when I have consciously decided that it's necessary for some reason. That way the habits of safe driving (keeping a safe braking distance ahead, not going over the lane marker, not rolling through stop signs, etc.) are being constantly reinforced, so when I need them to happen automatically they can.

I think the actions of partnership work the same way. By constantly performing small actions such as using courteous forms like "please" and "thank you", thinking about how what you're doing at the moment will affect your partner in little ways as well as big, saying "I love you" and keeping up small physical contacts, and so on, you build up the reflexes which make the actions habitual.

I honestly think that romantic love is less important to a long-term relationship than respect, friendship, and partnership. Love can get things started, but by itself it can't keep them going. It's a nice thing to have even after 40 years, though.

#377 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 03:11 PM:

As an added note, all the little relationship-y things mentioned in this thread are, or should be, imo, applicable to parenting as well.

My kid and I try very hard to say please and thank you and sorry and to do other things that grease the social wheels between us. We also remind each other when we slip up (having previously agreed that this is not cause for an argument).

#378 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 03:13 PM:

Bruce Cohen #376: I honestly think that romantic love is less important to a long-term relationship than respect, friendship, and partnership. Love can get things started,

For large sections of human history¹, romantic love has been considered a menace to parental planning. ;-) Remember Fiddler on the Roof? The idea of picking your own wife or husband simply wasn't in Tevye's and Golde's background. But their world is changing around them, and their daughters have fallen in love with men from the town. In his shock and confusion, it occurs to Tevye to ask his wife, do you love me?. And 20 years after I first heard that song on stage, the lyrics still have me tearing up.

¹ It's not as simple as "the way things used to be"... like so many other balances between individual freedom and social control, this one depends on the conditions constraining or empowering the local culture, and so it shifts back and forth across time and space.

#379 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 03:18 PM:

Jacque @375 ...and savoring of their particular them-ness. Yes, this.

Bruce Cohen @376. That reminds me of a quote from Aristotle. "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." It's one of those things that a lot of different wisdom traditions identify, probably for a reason.

I'm guilty of discounting the value of training and practice for anything not primarily involving physical reflexes, but I think you're right that it applies to the realm of human interaction as well as anywhere else. When you're under stress - tired, hungry, the kid won't quit screaming, too much month at the end of your money, etc. - and you don't have the spoons for a reasoned response, when you fall into the path of least resistance, it would be nice to have that well-worn path be one you don't mind taking.

#380 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 03:44 PM:

David, #378: Off on a slight tangent... I've always seen some parallels between Tevye's character arc in Fiddler on the Roof and Pyanfar's arc in the first 3 Chanur books. Tevye has to meet challenges from his daughters -- first, to marry a man not selected by the matchmaker; next, to marry outside the village; last, to marry outside her faith. Pyanfar has to learn to understand and work with those traditionally hated and distrusted by her culture -- first, an outlaw Clan; second, aliens in general; and finally, even the despised Kif.

The parallels aren't perfect -- Tevye doesn't quite manage to rise to the last challenge. But then, the overall stories are different, and IMO there are a lot of echoes of similarity.

#381 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 04:55 PM:

Lee #380L I actually haven't read the Chanur books, but as you describe it, that sounds like a pretty loose parallel -- on the order of "three challenges".

#382 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 05:01 PM:

OtterB @379: the value of training and practice for ... physical reflexes, [and] applies to the realm of human interaction

I can never find this, but there's a great quote in one of (I think) Robert Fulghum's books. He's talking to a young Chinese woman, and admiring the Chinese "respect for parents." "No," she says. "We don't necessarily respect our parents. We practice respect for our parents. That way, if we ever meet someone who is worthy of respect, we know how to do it."

#383 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 05:01 PM:

Lee @ #380, presumably #4 will marry a black guy (or an Arab?) and #5 will marry another woman.

#384 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 06:08 PM:

David Harmon @381:
It's a little tighter than that, at least; it's not just three challenges, but three challenges about accepting the successively more Other.


David Harmon @370:
You're thinking of the distinction between chuqim and mishpatim, roughly "the decrees of G-d" vs. "the ways of the world". There's a quote in the gemara along the lines of "mishpatim are the laws that, had they not been commanded, we would have created them anyway; chuqim are the laws that nobody would have thought to consider".

Tiqqun olam is... a complex subject. In a "mystical" sense, both chuqim and mishpatim are involved with different aspects of tiqqun olam.

Reform more or less threw out the chuqim aspect with the Pittsburgh Platform, and over the past 50 years or so has had an internal "did we throw out the baby with the bathwater?" self-examination going on. The Kabbalistic/mystical approach to tiqqun olam is in some ways the opposite of the Pittsburgh Platform; although not in the sense of discarding the mishpatim so much as pulling them into the chuqim such that they lose their "ways of the world" nature. And somewhere between those extremes lives the point that they are distinct and yet intertwined, and both are needed to maintain a healthy relationship.

#385 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 06:28 PM:

geekosaur #384: Sounds like you know more about this than I do, thanks for bringing it in!

My gripe with "pulling [the mishpatim] into the chuqim such that they lose their 'ways of the world' nature", is a straightforward extension of my comment at #361.

#386 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 06:29 PM:

W/R/T the discussion of long-term relationships, I recently ran across this poem by E.B. White.

Natural History
(A letter to Katherine, from the King Edward Hotel, Toronto)

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of her devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
She builds a ladder to the place
From which she started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

#387 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 07:47 PM:

OtterB @ 379:

When you're under stress - tired, hungry, the kid won't quit screaming, too much month at the end of your money, etc. - and you don't have the spoons for a reasoned response, when you fall into the path of least resistance, it would be nice to have that well-worn path be one you don't mind taking.

Yes, exactly. In fact, I think this idea is philosophically important in view of all the claims that free will has been proven non-existent by brain scans which show that we initiate action before our consciousness is aware of having made a decision. Both free will and moral agency still exist, but they don't happen at the time we act; they happen when we train ourselves how to act.

#388 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 08:12 PM:

Bruce, that brain-scan evidence is limited to actions already decided upon, where the false "decision" was the timing of the action. That's doesn't really say jack about free will.

#389 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 10:46 PM:

Thanks geekosaur for going into more detail on the nature of mitzvot; your comments on the post-Pittsburg shifts in the Reform movement dovetail very neatly with my own - I'd argue that the reintegration of the chuqim into some Reform practice is part of a greater shift in some Reform circles towards a greater desire for the mystical and spiritual aspects of Judaism that the Reform movement as a whole tried to set aside with the Platform(1). Myself, I'm very much in agreement with your idea "And somewhere between those extremes lives the point that they are distinct and yet intertwined, and both are needed to maintain a healthy relationship." I'm, for lack of a better description, happier when obeying some of the chuqim is part of my life.

(1) It's interesting; I'm pretty sure there's been a series of major shifts within the Reform movement in the last fifty years away from the Pittsburgh Platform, at least in the way its authors conceived it. I'm put in mind of the Rabbi who lead the synagogue I grew up at - ordained in the early 1960s if I recall correctly - and the differences between his practice of Judaism and my understanding of his beliefs (he's a family friend) and the Rabbi who leads the same synagogue now (who was ordained about ten years ago). They're both Reform Rabbis, but of very different generations - and I'm, myself, a product of the movement away from the Pittsburg platform and its direct descendants.

The range that the Reform movement has (and its own acceptance of its own range of belief, faith and practice) is probably why I'm as happy as I am with my own faith and practice. The only reaction I've ever gotten to my own ritual practices has been acceptance and curiosity - how can I not extend that same acceptance to the other members of my community?

#390 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 11:54 PM:

I'm not all the way caught up, but my late-night exhaustion brain has tossed up two comments I think are cromulent to current subthreads.

Making Partnerships Work
(note: not limited to romantic partnerships; I've witnessed longterm professional relationships, co-ownerships of business and such, that used some of the same techniques as mentioned upthread)

There was a therapist, and I really don't have time to google-safari for it, who started interviewing newlywed (or just pre-marriage) couples with a video camera. Then he went back and did it again at intervals. He had an instinctive guess, which turned out to be backed up by evidence, at how to tell which marriages would last (and therefore, some interventions to try on couples that looked Non-Lasty) ... he asked them a series of very open-ended questions, including things like "What was the first / most recent thing you had an argument about." If one or both members of a couple, while speaking about that argument, used dismissive and contemptuous language about their partner, the couple was, without fail, divorced within three years of the first interview. Most of the couples didn't notice the poisonousness of the language used, instead focussing in their self-descriptions of the relationship about how much they 'loved' each other, their 'soulmate' status, etc.

Which is to say, be respectful, assume your partner is operating in good faith and from a set of starting assumptions that are logical TO THEM, and do everyday kindnesses. Work to make everyday kindnesses, and kindness of mind, utterly reflexive.

And here I will add what I always write in those silly 'write in our book because we just got married!' books at weddings: "I'd wish you love, and good fortune, and all good things, but I'm sure everyone else here today has that covered. So I'm going to wish you something else: I wish you laughter. Because with laughter, everything else is easier. Laughing makes the good times better, the bad times bearable, and the horrible times far less lonely. If you can laugh together every day, even about something little and silly, the love will take care of itself."

Love Without Attachment
What comes to mind for me when contemplating this concept is the difference between "my boots" and "my son", i.e. the fact that there should BE one. If you are loving something that has agency, even as little as a hamster or a dog, your love should take into account that your loved one is not your posession, and has some rights and preferences of their own. This is not to say that they get to run the entire household, but it's very different.

Of course, I'm by nature a personifier (Personifiers of the World, Unite! You Have Nothing To Lose But Mr. Dignity!!"), so I probably take this a lot farther than other people. I view houses, for example, as large, slow-living entities of a sort, with a history far deeper than mine and the right to a future far longer than mine shall be. I experience visceral emotional reactions when I come across 'mistreated' houses, disrespectful or damaging remodels/ers, and new-house building standards that lead to structures that will HAVE to be pulled down as unusuable in 20 years or less. It hits most of the same buttons for me as animal cruelty does, though obviously not with precisely the same strength.

I admit that I overreact, but knowing that other people do not react as strongly does not change my emotional connection to these houses. They feel like occupy-able redwoods or extremely sessile elephants or something, in my mind, crossed with the historical punch of an extremely, extremely minor Lascaux-style-cave historical artifact.

For me, proper remodeling (and designing my home as a machine for living) is a daily observance of a spiritual sort, because to me the purpose of sentience is to fight entropy, to build things that will last. I can go more into my personal beliefs if anybody's actually interested; they're idiosyncratic, fairly eclectic, and in no way evangelical.

#391 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:10 AM:

And because I'm an addict, I couldn't actually just post my last, close the window, and go to bed. Therefore, I am now caught up. :->

Melissa Singer @377 said: As an added note, all the little relationship-y things mentioned in this thread are, or should be, imo, applicable to parenting as well. My kid and I try very hard to say please and thank you and sorry and to do other things that grease the social wheels between us. We also remind each other when we slip up (having previously agreed that this is not cause for an argument).

Oh, so much this. I've had other adults around me (and sometimes other parents) remark repeatedly on two separate behaviors (one mine, one my daughter's) that are really two sides of this maxim. To paraphrase many encounters into exemplar sentences:

(in response to a reflexive 2-year-old "Tank oo" and sweet smile when handed something requested) "Oh, what lovely manners she has!"

(in response to seeing me in an requested/received interaction with my child) "I think it's lovely that you say Thank You and You're Welcome to her, I don't see grownups being respectful of children in that way very often."

The first is, of course, because of the second. John and I started training ourselves about midway through the pregnancy in the communication habits we wanted the kid to pick up by reflex and osmosis, included but not limited to: an ASL vocabulary, what to call us and other grownups, and good manners [please/thank you/you're welcome/yes, you may/no thank you/are you all right/yes, I'm fine/can you help me/I would like some of your breakfast].

It was tough, and still is somewhat. We haven't yet managed to completely eliminate descriptive language that many pearl-clutching gaspers out there think are completely unsuitable for tiny ears; I'm sure she'll start parroting some of them soon and get us In Trouble with someone in mild authority. But we do our darnedest to talk about (and lampshade [caution! TVTropes link! Timesink alert!]) mental states as a matter of course, and use language that implies agency in and respect for the one we are talking to.

#392 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:32 AM:

geekosaur, #384: Yes. Thank you for pointing it out when I forgot to make that aspect explicit.

Elliott, #390: the difference between "my boots" and "my son", i.e. the fact that there should BE one

This is key, and should perhaps be reposted into the Dysfunctional Families thread. There seem to be a LOT of people out there who don't get that there is an essential difference between "my boots" and "my spouse/child". Sometimes that's referred to as "boundary problems", but IMO much of it stems from what I call "delusions of ownership".

#393 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:22 AM:

Xopher @ 388:

Well, I agree with you, but I've had several long debates on the subject, most recently on Peter Watts' blog, and I haven't been able to convince anyone on the other side of the question. My opinion is that the very notion of free will is so poorly defined that we don't even really agree on what we're arguing about. I still haven't heard a refutation of Daniel Dennet's ideas in Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting that makes sense to me, and people have been trying to refute it since it was published in 1984.

#394 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:48 AM:

Pursuant to my 390, a disclaimer: I Am Not A Buddhist. It just seems to me that loving "my son" as if he were "my boots" would be an example of an emotional foundation that might, um, impede transit towards Nirvana.

#395 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:52 AM:

Elliot Mason @ 390:

not limited to romantic partnerships

I agree completely. Several of the relationships in TV programs that I consider well-depicted are not romantic or sexually-based, and I'm rather surprised, because TV rarely shows that. I'm thinking of Cagny and Lacey, Neal Caffrey and Mozzie in White Collar, and Mal and Zoe in Serenity (which makes an interesting triangle with Zoe and Wash, proving that those two relationships aren't mutually exclusive).

Because with laughter, everything else is easier.

Those words should be written in fire in the sky. Laughter, properly shared, could actually result in world peace if we could convince enough people to let go long enough to laugh. I count a day when Eva and I don't laugh together as a day that needs fixing. And that was actually the first thing that attracted us together: we both loved to riff.

Of course, I'm by nature a personifier (Personifiers of the World, Unite! You Have Nothing To Lose But Mr. Dignity!!"), so I probably take this a lot farther than other people.

I'm not really a personifier, but I find I feel about many "inanimate" things the way you feel about houses: that they have rights and a sort of life. Books for instance, and works of art have a right to continue to exist and shouldn't be used as firewood or toilet paper, even though their materials would make that possible. Some engineered objects have similar rights: especially those designed and built with elegance and appropriateness to their function. And I feel about some houses that they are like some domesticated animals: they've been modified over time to fit their inhabitants and they do so well enough to have become a part of a family even while they perform a job for which they were created.

If you are loving something that has agency, even as little as a hamster or a dog, your love should take into account that your loved one is not your posession, and has some rights and preferences of their own.

That's absolutely true, but it's only part of an even bigger point: whether you love the agent or not, possession of agency requires that you respect the agent and recognize their rights and preferences. I think that all evil has one common attribute: it treats one or more agents as objects.

#396 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 07:24 AM:

Elliot Mason: I'm by nature a personifier

Also seen as "Don't anthropomorphize computers. They don't like it." ;-)

Much wisdom coming up here!

Regarding the
"lives" of long-lived objects, I think a key point is the intersection of humility and patience. Most humans do want to change the world according to their desires; but the arrogant and impatient want that to be immediate and absolute, to simply lay down their wishes and have them made real on the spot, with no concern for what was there before.

That betrays a number of character faults, beginning with a basic failure to grasp how the world works. -- both the natural world and the human world. The arrogant person thinks that their power makes things happen, simply by giving orders. Thus they neglect the complexities of actually building stuff. Also, they dismiss whatever they don't value (or understand), without considering that it may be important to others, or even for their own purposes. A stand of trees is simply "in the way of the housing development", anyone who tries to slow or block the rush to action is just a "nattering nabob of negativity" (remember that line?).

This feeds into impatience, because having dismissed anything in their way as unimportant, they're offended that what they want isn't being done already... so they destroy what cannot be remade, cancel testing runs, bribe or bully their way past regulations, build things however is fastest and cheapest. But this fails the real-world test as well; there's a reason why "act in haste, repent at leisure" is an ancient maxim. Nature's developmental processes aren't slow because they don't have a proper authority, they're slow because building something strong, or durable, or reliable (let alone all three), takes time, and more than the obvious resources. What's made fast tends to be shallow, brittle, or simply short-lived, and this applies to human structures and societies as well. And destruction is always easier and quicker than creation....

#397 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 07:40 AM:

Hmm, looking at my #396, that start seems to have come out looking wrong. That "much wisdom" was meant to refer to prior commenters, not to my own blathering.

#398 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 08:01 AM:

BTW, I'd like to observe that Pyanfar Chanur also failed in an important sense: she learned to embrace the Other, but the price was losing the ability to embrace her own kind (see Chanur's Legacy, which starts there and frrf Uvysl, jub unq tbggra fghpx fbzrjurer orgjrra gurer naq Bgurearff, tenqhnyyl chyyrq vagb n cbfvgvba jurer fur pna erpbapvyr gur gjb).

#399 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 08:05 AM:

David Harmon @397, there is a great deal of wisdom coming up here, and yours is part of it.

One of the religious concepts that appeals to me is the idea of our role as co-creators with God. Bruce Cohen @395 and David Harmon @396 are resonating with that. The call then becomes, in big things or in small, in craftsmanship or in relationship, to build something that (a) serves a positive purpose, and (b) respects the nature of our tools, our materials, and our companions.

#400 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 08:26 AM:

OtterB @ 399:

"We are as gods and might as well get good at it." - Stewart Brand

#401 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 11:56 AM:

OtterB @ 399... our role as co-creators with God

"We made trees and shrubs. We helped make all this."
"Whew! That's not bad."
"Yeah. But did we get a thimble full of credit for it? No! All we got was the sack. Just for creating the Pink Bunkadoo."
"Pink Bunkadoo?"
"Yeah. Beautiful trees that was. Og designed it. 600 feet high, bright red, and smelled terrible."

:-)

#402 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:06 PM:

Serge @401 I had to go google that; I've never seen the movie but would like to one of these days.

#403 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:06 PM:

Serge @401 I had to go google that; I've never seen the movie but would like to one of these days.

#404 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:08 PM:

Aaggh! Double post, sorry.

#405 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:28 PM:

OtterB... By the way, the movie features David Warner in a role that will not surprise you - he plays Evil.

#406 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:57 PM:

David Harmon @ 361: "I've experienced, and continue to experience, things that are not usefully parsed by a purely materialist framework."

The key distinction is, I think, in the word "material," which is a much over-worked and much abused term. Here, you seem to be using it in the common scientific sense: measurably existing within space-time, understandable through (correct me if I'm wrong.) There are many other definitions of materialism floating around, but when I describe myself as a materialist what I mean isn't "things which exist tangibly (measurably) are the only things that really exist!" but "everything that exists, exists in the same way: materially." Which is to say, what I reject isn't the existence of the phenomena called supernatural or divine, but the idea that they exist on a separate plane essentially divided from the mundane.

Did I post the thing about cathedrals and the transcendence of stones, or did I scrap it? Hm. Well, the point is about the immanent/transcendent contradiction that OtterB mentioned up here. For me, the divine isn't something out there, intrinsically separate from the material; rather it is an aspect of the things around us, of ourselves, which we do not understand. Transcendence, then, isn't about reaching a higher plane but about more fully inhabiting the plane we are already on. But from another point of view the substance of the world is by-definition removed from our mode of existence, because all we can know is just the echo the world makes our minds: to transcend that, to get at that immanent nature of what-is, is--well--transcendent. Chase one far enough and it becomes the other.

OtterB @ 371: "The "love" part, in my mind, is an individualized, intimate knowledge and acceptance of another, and wanting all the best for them. The lack of attachment you're trying to get, I think, is the respect for them as a completely independent being."

I think this is very true. Another way of putting it might be loving-for-what-it-is versus loving-for-what-it-does-to-me. To my mind, independence perhaps isn't quite the right word, because I feel that the recognition of interdependence is very central to the practice of love. Respect for them as a being with agency, maybe?

#407 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Serge @405: I had to Google it too - it had been so long since I'd seen the movie, I'd forgotten that line.

And I'd had no idea who David Warner was, back then, so I wouldn't have connected him to it. Once you mentioned his name, though, I was entirely unsurprised by the role - I know him best as mad, bad, dangerous-to-know Captain Sawyer in the Horatio Hornblower movies "Mutiny" and "Retribution."

I'd love to see him play Lear one day. It's not in his IMDB listing. I think he'd be amazing at the role.

#408 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:32 PM:

Rikkibeth @ 407:

I've seen David Warner in an awful lot of roles, and I've loved them all. But I will never forget the first movie I ever saw him in: Morgan!. Maybe it was the gorilla suit ...

#409 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:45 PM:

And how could Rikibeth not know that David Warner played evil Jack the Ripper in "Time After Time", and evil computer program Sark in "Tron"?
Today's young people...
Bah!

#410 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:49 PM:

heresiarch @406 To my mind, independence perhaps isn't quite the right word, because I feel that the recognition of interdependence is very central to the practice of love. Respect for them as a being with agency, maybe?

Certainly respect for them as a being with agency. I think I mean "independent" in two different ways. One is the sense in which they are a person whose worth and dignity are entirely independent of my own. It doesn't mean they operate independently; none of us do. I value interdependence, and agree that it's central to a long-term adult relationship. But even there, I think you have to sustain at least a certain level of independence to have something to bring to the relationship, and that's the second sense of independence that I mean. For a relationship of give-and-take, each party needs to have something to give.

ObSF, Val Con to Miri in Lee & Miller's Plan B: "Together, cha'trez, we are -- hell on wheels."

#411 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:19 PM:

Serge @409: I said "know him best," not "know him only," didn't I? ;-)

Between Hornblower, Garrow's Law, and the entire Patrick O'Brian oeuvre both literary and film, my brain is lodged firmly in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century right now, for all love.

#412 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Elliott Mason @390: I wish you laughter. Because with laughter, everything else is easier. Laughing makes the good times better, the bad times bearable, and the horrible times far less lonely. If you can laugh together every day, even about something little and silly, the love will take care of itself.

My buddy Matt's handfasting last year made many of the principles you outline explicit. I was privileged to issue the sixth and last challenge:

Q: Blessed be, delightful playmates. Will you take yourselves too seriously?

A: We may.

Q: "Will you look for the brightness and fun in life and give yourselves room for imperfection, absurdity, and wanton silliness?"

A: We will.

Love Without Attachment ... Of course, I'm by nature a personifier (Personifiers of the World, Unite! You Have Nothing To Lose But Mr. Dignity!!")

::giggle:: As Sufan says, "I will anthropomorphize anything that sits still long enough."

I probably take this a lot farther than other people. ... It hits most of the same buttons for me as animal cruelty does, though obviously not with precisely the same strength.

It hurts me when I see made things dropped or abandoned on the side of the road, or otherwise neglected and abused. It's "silly," and I don't know where the hell that reaction comes from, but it's deep and sincere nonetheless.

I can go more into my personal beliefs if anybody's actually interested; they're idiosyncratic, fairly eclectic, and in no way evangelical.

Yes, please. :-)

Lee @392: "delusions of ownership".

And, as a matter of law, it has only been comparatively recently that much of this "ownership" has been overturned. It's startling to me to recall that, within my lifetime, women were unable to, frex, obtain loans on their own merits. Children are still, in too many respects, treated as chattel.

David Harmon @396: Most humans do want to change the world according to their desires; ... with no concern for what was there before.

One of the frustrations of living in Boulder County is that, while the county values and works to preserve open (undeveloped) land, the state property tax structure makes this very difficult and expensive. The bias is written into the very language: vacant land is "unimproved." Buildings are "improvements." Which is precisely backwards, in my personal value system.

they neglect the complexities of actually building stuff.

... and the consequences.

OtterB @399: One of the religious concepts that appeals to me is the idea of our role as co-creators with God. Bruce Cohen @395 and David Harmon @396 are resonating with that. The call then becomes, in big things or in small, in craftsmanship or in relationship, to build something that (a) serves a positive purpose, and (b) respects the nature of our tools, our materials, and our companions.

Just agreeing and admiring... :-)

heresiarch @406: independence perhaps isn't quite the right word

Individuality?

#413 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:36 PM:

Rikibeth @ 411... My wife and I have enjoyed "Garrow's Law". Alas, the 2nd season doens't appear to be available on NetFlix. :-(

#414 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:44 PM:

Serge @413: Would you like Megavideo links? I mainlined the series that way last week and now plan to buy the DVD box sets, because it's pure catnip to me.

#415 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:54 PM:

heresiarch 406: My favorite imperfect formulation of my theological approach is "The divine nature of the universe is manifest in its physical substance as such." That is, I don't feel the need to believe in any transcendent immaterial consciousness, or even that the universe is somehow self-aware; the observable and verifiable scientific facts about the universe are quite enough to fill me with awe and wonder, and are more than enough to hang my spirituality on. Natura sola sufficit.

The difference between me and an atheist is I choose to think of this response as spiritual, and that part of my response is to create (and borrow) ritual and metaphor, and to do the ritual and act on the metaphor. In short, I choose worship as an attitude and a practice. Please note: worship is a choice, and it's independent of faith. Faith is a gift (if you remember that not every gift is a blessing, the fact that faith is a two-edged sword won't bother you so much), but it's one I haven't been given and have no capacity for.

I worship anyway.

#416 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:56 PM:

Rikibeth @ 414... Sure. I can easily plug my laptop into our TV set. (That is, when I don't let the laptop drop off the coffee table. Poor thing had to have its brain replaced, and I lost quite a few emails because I was lax with taking backups.)

#417 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:03 PM:

This post has links for all the episodes of all the seasons:

http://mswyrr.tumblr.com/post/14019092722/bienenwolf-evewithanapple-evewithanapple

#418 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:07 PM:

Thanks, Rikibeth!

#419 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:59 PM:

OtterB #399, Bruce Cohen #400: Amen!

heresiarch #406: but when I describe myself as a materialist what I mean isn't "things which exist tangibly (measurably) are the only things that really exist!" but "everything that exists, exists in the same way: materially."

Well, your first formulation is just a strawman version of "scientism". Science has pretty much always recognized that not everything was accessible to measurement, at least not by current equipment (though they'd often try anyway, just in case). Nowadays... well, "epiphenomenon" is a hot buzzword these past few years, and it represents an area we've barely begun to understand.

Strangely enough, it's your second formulation that stands against my experience! Such things as shamanic spirits¹ and magic circles² appear in most respects to be "subjective" experiences -- and yet they're oddly stable, often repeated not just among persons, but between cultures... and sometimes shared among participants in a ritual. I have to admit they exist in some sense... but certainly not in the same way as a rock, or my dog.

Jacque #412: Here in Charlottesville (VA), we've got an open tension, and sometimes direct conflict, between the "planners" trying to balance development against greenspace and alternative transportation, versus the developers themselves, who are often "excessively eager". At least one major project has been fought over for so long that the individual participants on each side have been almost completely "turned over" with time, and the surrounding power balance (involving the state as well as county) has changed drastically.

¹ As a side note, the traditional view of spirits considers them as having human-scale agency. Me, I'm not so sure....

² Specifically, I'm thinking of the "blue glow" (I'd call it indigo) that not only I, but many other participants, have often seen marking the perimeter of ritual circles, and in certain other contexts. It's consistent enough to have acquired a color name among practitioners -- "Akashic purple".

#420 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 04:35 PM:

David, I've never seen the circle manifest visually, but I don't get a lot of the spirit stuff on that sense channel anyway. I did see a cone of power in purple once, after an extended period of dark adaptation, but I was in a ritually-altered state of consciousness then and can't really consider my perception dependable; among other things, at the time I saw it as the skirts of a towering Hekate.

#421 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 04:51 PM:

David, I usually feel the circle more than see it -- with one exception: during a sweatlodge the dark sides of the lodge went to Star Wars blue* and there were more shadows moving in front of it than there were participants inside the lodge.

As empathy is my major gift, the person leading the sweat thought I may have been picking up the vibes of an earlier ceremony.

*Now when I cast a circle that's the shade I visualize emerging from my blade.

#422 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 05:14 PM:

When I cast a circle, the color I imagine emerging from the tool* was something I called "a blacker shade of dark."† This was especially used for our Ritual of Singing Darkness, which we did at Dark Moon. I used that casting color by default, using other colors for special purposes; for example, at Harvest I used straw-gold.


*In my tradition we learned to cast with all the tools, with a "home direction" tool for each person. Since I was an Earth person by nature, my home direction was North, and my primary tool was a pentacle, so I often cast with that.

†Yes, the reference to the Procul Harum song was intentional.

#423 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 05:48 PM:

Lori Coulson #421: if by "Star Wars blue" you mean the background colors here, the hue I see is in that range, though for me it's generally translucent (thus paler against any given background).

Xopher #420: I was in a ritually-altered state of consciousness then and can't really consider my perception dependable

"Dependable" to what standard? Much of the point of non-ordinary consciousness is to perceive things that aren't visible while in the ordinary state of consciousness. Clearly these are not things you could photograph or record, but then that was part of my point in #419; they're not part of "mundane reality". Certainly such perceptions vary; the astonishing thing is that they're not completely idiosyncratic.

And yeah, it's not limited to visuals; I happen to get mostly visuals, but that's probably just because vision is my most reliable mundane sense, so that's where I'm accustomed to seek "extra" information. (Hearing damaged, touch variable, odor and taste often cryptic.)

#424 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 05:55 PM:

Well...there's altered and there's altered. The world looked very different right after that ritual. Some friends commented that they could tell who'd been to it by "that thousand-mile stare."

Your point is well taken, but I meant that I was visioning more than actually seeing, if you understand me. I don't know if I was seeing a manifestation of the cone and imposed my vision of Her on it, or if She actually appeared to my physical eye, or if the whole thing was in the realm of the other sight.

I do know that other people saw Her too (possible suggestion due to a very intense invocation of Her early in the ritual) and others saw flashes of that same color.

Does that make sense? I'm not 100% sure it makes sense even to me, actually.

#425 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 07:06 PM:

Xopher #424: It makes perfect sense... you're just trying to parse it in a way that leaves you confused -- specifically, you're taking a single experience, and trying to split it apart, wondering which parts were "real".

Me, I'd certainly interpret it as "the whole thing was in the realm of the other sight", and frankly, I don't see a problem with that being so, especially since the vision¹ was "in circle" -- that is, contained within an explicitly magical context. I'm also unsurprised that you retained some "magical vision" afterwards, because powerful rituals can do that -- it's not always possible (or even desirable) for everyone to drop all the way back to ordinary consciousness the moment the circle is opened.

Personally, I think it's important to be capable of distinguishing between magical and ordinary experience... but you know, a lot of folks get by with a much fuzzier border than I maintain, and nevermind tribal societies². As long as it doesn't lead them to harm others, I'm fine with that. (I do reserve the right to award them confused looks on occasion. ;-) )

¹ It's quite common for some parts of a magical vision to be more or less vivid than others, or for parts to be uncertain or outright ambiguous.

² Some of the societies Michael Harner studied didn't draw such a distinction at all; he wrote about them in The Way of the Shaman, and perhaps elsewhere. TWotS is the most reliable guide I know of, for entering a specific form of magical consciousness with remarkably consistent and obvious results.

#426 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 08:40 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @424: I meant that I was visioning more than actually seeing, if you understand me.

Though I wouldn't discount the "actually seeing." Not the same thing at all I'm sure, but: one of the things that fascinates me about drawing is how it alters my perception after I'm done drawing. If I'm doing line art, edges are more prominent in my world. Half-tone pencil: shadings and lighting. Color? Saturation and hue.

To the very limited degree I've played with it, music/sound affects/is affected the same way.

It's fascinating to me how we can sort of cut a parameter out of the perception herd, if you will, and crank the gain on it. I'd be fascinating to run fMRI experiments both in Xopher's example, and in mine.

#427 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 09:23 PM:

Jacque, #412: More here about that ownership thing, and how it's changed over the past 50 years.

#428 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 10:08 PM:

HERE's a link (realplayer) to an old time radio show called Family Theater. The episode is called "A Day to Remember". It was broadcast in 1958.

Family Theater was an extremely normative and very popular radio show. It opened and closed with an exhortation to pray together as a family, and was developed as a show by a Catholic priest.

The particular show I've linked to was about women having checking accounts. It was firmly against it. A direct quote of a conversation between husband and wife:

W: "Mrs. Bartlet down the street stopped in yesterday, and do you know what she told me? She said that Mr. Bartlett opened a [shocked tone] bank account for her!
H: "A bank account? For heaven's sake, what for? Is he sick?"
W: Oh no, no. He felt she should have her own money, to buy things and to pay the bills.
H: "Polly, I hope you don't approve of such an idea! A wife and mother has no business being involved in the sordid exchange of money. Dealing with collectors and tradesmen is not the duty of a self-respecting woman. And the hand that rocks the cradle shouldn't be" [interruption here].

"Against my better judgment" he gives her a bank account. (Notice that he has to open it for her. She's incapable of opening one for herself. All the money, after all, is his. And depending on what state she lived in, legally she might not have been able to open an account without his permission even WITH her own money. I know people of my mother's generation that had that problem.) He then has to teach her how to write a check.

Well, since she's absolutely unaware of how bank accounts work (and he hasn't bothered to tell her), she immediately goes out and (for the best possible reasons) buys a house at auction. Which is a bit of a problem, since the account only had $100 in it. Women are so foolish, you see, they don't understand checking accounts. Which makes sense, since she was NEVER TAUGHT ABOUT THEM. The story ends with her giving up the account, with a happy little giggle about how foolish she is, and the husband's (and narrating son's) clear approval. Women shouldn't have to bother their little heads about bank accounts.

She isn't allowed any financial identity of her own. And to back this up, when she IS given a financial identity of her own, as a gift from her husband, she immediately screws it up, thus proving that women should only stand in the shadow of their husband's legal and financial identity. The whole show is built around reinforcing this.

And it was broadcast only 53 years ago.

#429 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 10:40 PM:

Cally Soukup @428: "The family that prays together, stays together."

I don't remember that particular episode (checking accounts were probably over my head when I was 12), but that slogan stuck (and was parodied often: "The family that preys together, slays together," et al.)

#430 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 11:21 PM:

Why is 'Family' a dog-whistle for "regressive socially and politically"? It's not new, either. As Cally just demonstrated, it's older than me.

#431 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 01:48 AM:

myself @ 395:

Looking back, I realize I must have been too tired to remember something I wanted to mention about houses. Those of you who are familiar with the architect Christopher Alexander may be more familiar with his impact on the software community than his architectural work. In a series of books and experimental projects, Alexander built up a theory and practice for understanding houses and other buildings as being built up from patterns for various parts and functions. These patterns are created by putting together other patterns and fitting those patterns to the place and function of the building. He created what he called pattern languages out of collections of these basic patterns.

He also explicitly called for understanding how buildings change over time to fit changes in the inhabitants lives, in the environment of the building, and in the functions the building must perform. Those changes were to be made by rearranging, replacing, or modifying existing patterns, or by adding new ones. In reading some of his books I've found his ideas to be very close to what we're talking about in terms of respecting the organic individuality of agents and of objects we feel should be treated as agents.

#432 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 09:32 AM:

Jacque @ 412

It hurts me when I see made things dropped or abandoned on the side of the road, or otherwise neglected and abused. It's "silly," and I don't know where the hell that reaction comes from, but it's deep and sincere nonetheless.

I bet you cried at the IKEA abandoned lamp ad just like me.

#433 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 11:32 AM:

There's no questions that things have changed, family-wise, in less than the last 50 years. Not all things, but some. Here are bits of both:

When I was in elementary school (40+ years ago), almost every child in my classroom had a bank account--serviced by a local bank that provided special school accounts to children. I assume this was an attempt to get our parents to bank with them, but nonetheless, we all had those little deposit envelopes that we put something into every week, even if it was just a quarter. Boy or girl, it made no difference.

However, even 10 years later, my mother--who was working almost full-time--received en envelope of "housekeeping money" from my father every week. They had joint accounts, but he kept the budget, paid the bills, and balanced the checkbook. And every week, he gave my mother a wad of cash for grocery shopping, paying the woman who came to clean the house every two weeks (the family cleaned the other weeks), etc. And my mother would talk proudly about how she saved the leftover money until she could buy herself a new pair of shoes or a purse or whatever without having to ask my dad for the money and without having to charge the purchase. The fact that some of it actually was her money to start with did not change this. It was weird, because she was (they were) very liberated in many other ways.

For instance, when my mother began to get credit cards, around 40 years ago, she had running battles with department stores and other card issuers because she wanted her own name on the cards. Not Mrs. My Father's Name, or even Mrs. Her Name. Just Her Name. Once--I don't remember which store--someplace flat-out refused until my father got on the phone and insisted; most other places gave in after a few rounds of badgering. She was rather proud of the fact that her cards were in her name (even though my father was writing the checks that paid the bills).

The 70s were a strange time.

#434 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 11:42 AM:

Heresiarch @ 406

when I describe myself as a materialist what I mean isn't "things which exist tangibly (measurably) are the only things that really exist!" but "everything that exists, exists in the same way: materially." Which is to say, what I reject isn't the existence of the phenomena called supernatural or divine, but the idea that they exist on a separate plane essentially divided from the mundane.

What do you think about numbers? (Or fictional characters, for that matter?)

XHT@430

Why is 'Family' a dog-whistle for "regressive socially and politically"? It's not new, either.

Perhaps not just in the USA either. Hereabouts, when applied to restaurants, it's also shorthand for 'doesn't serve alcohol', which tends to correlate quite well with those two last. (The thing that's regressive here, I guess, is not taking there to be a religious prohibition on drinking alcohol, but taking there to be a prohibition which it's okay for single men to ignore, but no-one else.)

#435 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 12:29 PM:

praisegod barebones @ #434:

I don't see where you get "only single men and no-one else" from.

It seems to me the key point is that families have children. Keeping alcohol out of reach of children is not a bad idea. Keeping alcohol out of reach of the adults in charge of a group that includes children is not necessarily such a bad idea either.

That said, I do now find myself wondering whether a married couple with no children counts as a "family", in the sense meant by whoever labelled the restaurant.

#436 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 12:50 PM:

David Harmon @423 -- yep, that's it and translucent too.

#437 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 01:02 PM:

Paul A., perhaps not so much keeping kids and alcohol separate as keeping kids and (heavy) drinkers separate. I would neither like my small kid to listen to a drunken rant about the current TV sporting event, nor like to do my partying in an environment where I had to keep my speech and behavior in a range suitable for an audience of 6-year-olds.

Also, around here "family restaurant" means "we have booster seats, crayons and paper placemats, and at least some food that most kids will consider edible."

I do agree with the larger point re "family" as in "family values" which means "to hell with YOUR family, especially if you are darker than me or talk funny, or have slightly different marital arangements."

#438 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 01:20 PM:

Paul, #435: The thing that jumps out at me about "family restaurant = no alcohol" is that they don't trust parents to be able to control either their children's consumption or their own. Over here, we have plenty of restaurant chains that label themselves "family" but still have a bar; I think it's code for "you can bring your young children and we won't complain".

OTOH, "family bookstore" here is code for "religious bookstore", which is just dumb.

#439 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 01:49 PM:

Paul A., IIRC praisegod lives in Turkey. WAY different rules on alcohol.

#440 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 04:46 PM:

David Harmon @ 419: "Well, your first formulation is just a strawman version of "scientism"."

It's not, actually; if the parenthetical is misleading you then please disregard it. The distinction is between defining "material" as something which can be touched, and defining it as something which can be apprehended.

"I have to admit they exist in some sense... but certainly not in the same way as a rock, or my dog."

Quarks don't exist in the same way as your dog either.

praisegod barebones @ 434: "What do you think about numbers? (Or fictional characters, for that matter?)"

Numbers exist, albeit in a different way than, though not separate from, atoms and such like. Fictional characters exist as well, clearly in a different way than, though not separate from, real characters.

#441 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 05:02 PM:

433
My mother was the one who handled the money in my family: she wrote the checks, did the shopping, and made sure my father had a checkbook with a few hundred dollars for when he needed more money than what he had in his wallet. The credit cards had his name on them, though.

#442 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 06:18 PM:

Cally Soukup @28: Women shouldn't have to bother their little heads about bank accounts.... And it was broadcast only 53 years ago.

You know, this makes me think about my mother a little differently. She would have been roughly contemporaneous with the woman in this play.

I'd always assumed it was because she was a bookkeeper by trade. But she made for ghoddamned sure I could write a check and balance an account.

Xopher HalfTongue @430: Why is 'Family' a dog-whistle

Because, Hallmark cards and Bing Crosby notwithstanding, "family" has always been completely bound up in the power structure of a society. It's how you manage the little fiefdom of people immediately below you in the pecking order. I'm trying to think of a counter-example, and coming up dry. Possibly aside from modern techno-urban culture, anyway.

Heather Rose Jones @432: I bet you cried at the IKEA abandoned lamp ad just like me.

Hadn't actually seen it, but yeah. I get this IRL on a fairly regular basis, when neighbors put stuff out by the dumpsters in the "take it if you want it" place. I really struggle to resist the urge to "rescue" every plausibly useful item and save it from the landfill.

Lila @437: I do agree with the larger point re "family" as in "family values" which means "to hell with YOUR family, especially if you are darker than me or talk funny, or have slightly different marital arangements."

Living in the northern portion of the Colorado Front Range, it might amuse you to know that a popular bumper sticker around here is "Focus on your own damn family."

#443 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 07:27 PM:

heresiarch #440: Quarks may not be accessible to ordinary perception, but their existence is inferred by multiple chains of experiment and reasoning -- notably the point that we're still finding particles which were predicted by quantum chromodynamics, and which we would not otherwise have reason to suspect the existence of. ISTR there's three or four left to complete that set....

While the Chi-b(3P) particle is not something you could turn up in your kitchen, the point of the scientific method is that anyone with the appropriate equipment¹ could verify the discovery. (And likely will in due course.)

Indeed, my personal knowledge of quarks is basically through "authority" -- I accept the network of trust and authority representing "science", which tells me about this and much else that I couldn't personally verify. But then, my trust in science is based in large part on the fact that it features a damn big "near edge" of hard data facts and information that I could verify for myself (subject to my industry and available time), and that stuff is joined to the more esoteric material both by chains of reasoning (much of which I can follow), and by human factors such as the codes of scientific behavior, and the "scientific attitude" (which I likewise have personal experience with).²

In theory, shamanic spirits could be investigated via experimental psychology, but there are both practical and theoretical problems there. Aside from "funding problems", experimental psychology isn't nearly as tightly bound into the scientific body of knowledge as is physics. If the mass of "scientific knowledge" is visualized as a vast building/city, obscure particles might be placed on a high tower -- difficult to access, but still centrally located, based on solid material, and well-supported from all sides. In contrast, any experiment dealing with shamanic spirits would be way out on (or beyond) a "forward edge" of science, in territory where even the experimental protocols are insecurely founded, let alone the chains of reasoning used to interpret data.³

And so, I'm left with pragmatism and a tolerance for ambiguity....

¹ The fact that in this case the equipment is very big and expensive doesn't really undercut the principle -- much the same applies to varying degrees in other areas, such as viruses (electron microscopes and such), or X-ray astronomy (spaceships and satellites). On the technology side, you couldn't make (or analyze, for that matter) a modern CPU in your garage, but there's no argument that they're therefore mystical.

² Mathematics at first looks like a special case; but in fact, the reason it's so utterly trusted is precisely that it's so utterly reliable in dealing with the real world. I like to call mathematics "the science of material-independent phenomena".

³ That far out, the "city"'s street signs are magic-marker on cardboard! ;-)

#444 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 10:45 PM:

Xopher @415: That is beautiful, that thing you wrote there. Thank you for it. I gonna ponder it for quite a while. (For values of "ponder" that equal "carry it back to my nest and make cooing noises at it.")

It really reminded me of a discussion in my RCIA class, too, but I can't put it into words. But please to imagine me grinning in companionable fashion at you, ok?

#445 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 10:53 PM:

Jacque @ #442, re impulse to rescue discarded household items: that's nothing. I just "rescued" a pumpkin seed that sprouted in my kitchen, and planted it in a pot of dirt. I know with complete certainty that I will not be able to nurse it through the winter indoors. But it was TRYING SO HARD!!!

(Also: I **love**that bumper sticker!)

#446 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 11:30 PM:

Wow, elise...*blush* Thanks!

#447 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 11:36 PM:

I'm rolling my eyes over the radio show Cally Soukup dredged up.

My maternal grandfather was, in the 1920s and 1930s, a highway contractor in the state of Missouri. My grandmother handled the bookkeeping for him; he died in an accident while he had a project under contract and she finished it out, because they couldn't afford to lose the completion bond he'd posted.

My grandfather's mother (who was, I will note, born around 1850) ran a store she and her brothers owned after her first husband died, and handled all the bookkeeping, as her brothers were riverboat captains and didn't have a lot of time for such details. After she married my great-grandfather, she did the accounts for his livery stable.

During World War II, while my father was overseas, he set up his pay so that he got an allotment for pocket money, and my mother got the bulk of his pay, with a power of attorney; one reason he gave for doing this was that this way he wouldn't be distracted by trying to sort out money problems at home in the middle of a war (the other, which they didn't dwell on, was that if he was killed, having handled the money all along would make that part of things easier for her). Of course, she was 25 when they married, and had been working and handling her own money for some time, so this was not a new strange thing for her.

When he knew he would be coming back from Europe in August 1945, he asked her to find a place to rent in the college town where he worked. She couldn't find a rental she felt they could afford, so she bought a house. He didn't argue about that too much when he got home, either--she gave him a cost comparison of the rental prices and the mortgage payment.

I'm afraid that the reaction that episode of Family Theater would have received among my relatives would not have been the intended one.

#448 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:30 AM:

The Five Scientific Mysteries: This partly came out of my irritation at JPII for coming up with the Five Luminous Mysteries, and partly from my fossiliferous rosary project.

The irritations: 1. We didn't need a new set of rosary mysteries. 2. There were plenty of pressing issues he needed to be attending to. 3. The Luminous Mysteries aren't a good fit with the existing sets.

The real irritation: A contrary sense that being Pope doesn't mean you're entitled to impose your devotional fanfic on a longstanding popular devotion. ("Popular" = "Belongs to the rank and file.")

The fossiliferous rosary thing arose when I was moderating Boing Boing. I was up to here with Ditchins-style atheists' pronouncements about what Christians do and don't believe. "Christians are against the theory of evolution" was a favorite of theirs.

When my repeated explanations that this is not so failed to put a dent in their belief, I made rosaries out of fossils. I don't know if it got through to any of them, but one of my rosaries did wind up in a museum case in Castel Gandolfo, which is pretty cool. (Thank you, thank you, Brother Guy.)

Somewhere in there, the idea of there being Five Scientific Mysteries started bubbling up in my head. I propose them as a chew toy of the mind, not a devotion.

Fibonacci numbers would have to be one of them -- the simple self-generating number sequence that generates the curve of the spiral nautilus, arranges the composite flowerets in the centers of sunflowers, disposes leaves around plant stems, and turns up in innumerable other structures.

Personally, I'm fond of the slow work of the stromatolites, stumpy structures built up over millennia from dust trapped in their thin surface mats of cyanobacteria. Over long stretches of time they produced the oxygen that turned the sky blue, caused iron to precipitate out of the ancient oceans to form all the world's banded iron formations, and, rising to the upper edge of the atmosphere, became the makings for the first ozone layer, which enabled the proliferation of further life by blocking solar UV.

Any ideas?

#449 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:51 AM:

Cantor's diagonal method, from the original proof that the reals are larger than the integers despite both being "infinite" up to Gödel's theorem wherein number theory proved that it (that is, number theory itself) must always be imperfect. There's just something about feeding a theorem to itself and watching the nonintuitive results.

#450 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:56 AM:

TNH @448, isn't imposing your personal fanfic one of the explicit Pope powers? What is bound in fanon shall be bound in canon, and so on.

#451 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 01:04 AM:

Teresa @ 448:

The One Big Mystery that amazes me is the explainability of the world: that so much of what makes up the world is actually explainable in concepts that we can understand. There's no reason I know of why this should be so. A part of this is the unexpected power of mathematics to model the world (and I guess this would include the ubiquity of the Fibonacci series you mentioned): that numbers and relations among them should be so ingrained in the structure of the universe.

There are are other mysteries that fascinate me, of course. One is why complexity is so common in the universe. Matter, life, consciousness, and a lot of other epiphenomena exist because there are many ways for lots of simple things to interact so that new properties emerge. Of course, we wouldn't be here to see that if it wasn't true, but it still seems so very unlikely when I think about it.

#452 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 02:08 AM:

I love the Fibonacci series SO MUCH. When I was a teenager, and taking weaving classes as an art elective, I did a Fibonacci plaid scarf. The warp was stripes in two colors, one color starting at the narrowest on each side and alternating with the other color, so the narrowest of one color was separated from the next in the series by the widest of the other, and they met at the center with stripes of equal width; the warp repeated the same alternation, but with the measurements in inches instead of threads.

Sadly, the scarf got lost somewhere over attendance at two different colleges. I wish I still had it.

#453 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 02:15 AM:

The self-similarity of fractals and their ubiquity throughout the world; and that very simple self-referential equations can have incredible complexity hidden within them. Or perhaps an even bigger mystery is just how much self-reference changes the nature of logical discourse, leading to paradoxes (vide Russell) as well as a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. We don't get far in the world without postulating a self, but talking about it is incredibly potent.

#454 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 08:01 AM:

I've been trying to work up a set of mysteries about the Limits of Knowledge: Besides Goedel, It would also include the Halting Problem, and Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions (Chaos). (Quantum indeterminacy fits thematically, but leaps from mathematics into physics.)

The problem I'm running into is that each of these separately requires a fair bit of explanation, which seems inappropriate for the format.

Another one would center around relativity - how the equations of relativity strongly suggest a static plenum, which would imply that the future is predestined and potentially knowable... and yet, at every turn,we seem to be disallowed from actually getting at that future, much less time travel. Every actual time-travel scheme I've seen involves a "device" of such scale and power that building it would amount to reengineering the space-time continuum, or outright conjuring a change in the universe (e.g., hyperspace) for which no evidence has presented itself.

Another Mystery would be "how small are we, and yet how far we see" -- We are basically a scrap of froth clinging to a single planet orbiting a minor star -- and yet we've been able to make surprisingly strong conclusions about the nature and history of the universe. (Though John C. Wright has been exploring a possible problem with that... as he puts it, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.")

#455 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 08:08 AM:

How about: every movement in animals with muscle is produced by pulling. Even pushing is done with pulling.

#456 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 09:42 AM:

My favorite mystery is the plasticity of the human nervous system (well, of all nervous systems really, but the human one is the one I get to observe at work the most). We used to think this was only true in small children or in the immediate aftermath of an injury, but not so--your brain is constantly remodeling itself, and it is capable of extremely drastic remodeling, given enough of the right input.

A small everyday example--when a born-blind person learns to read Braille, the part of the brain doing the work is not the sensory area pertaining to the fingertips--it's the visual cortex.

#457 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 09:49 AM:

(On a previous subtopic: So, that whole marriage and childrearing thing?

Hasn't been working as well as I thought it was. Sorry for the hypocrisy. Will stick to cool factoids in future.)

#458 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 11:58 AM:

Lila @445: I just "rescued" a pumpkin seed that sprouted in my kitchen,

If we were in the same place, I would want to read you a passage from CRESS DELAHANTY, one of my favorite books ever (and one of the few books recommended to me by my sister, which made it much dearer to me besides it being a good book), about an olive seed.

(Also, I'd offer you a comfy place to sit and be looked after for a bit if that would help; #457 makes me want to do something good and helpful for you. Just sayin', in case the sentiment is helpful itself.)

#459 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:02 PM:

My candidate for a scientific mystery is lightspeed. The fact that it means that we can literally see into the past is insanely awesome.

#460 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:03 PM:

elise: Thanks. You already have helped in more ways than one (particularly "Engines of Desire II" which I shall be wearing to Christmas dinner). Keep being the ornament to the universe that you are.

#461 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:10 PM:

Melissa Singer @433 said: The 70s were a strange time.

I just picked up at a thrift store Elizabeth Peters' Borrower of the Night. It has a copyright date of 1973, and gives no sign it is intended to be set other than 'now'. The heroine has an awful lot of internal feminist snark -- but also a lot of internalized antifeminist self-hatred.

I was not alive in 1973, much less sentient enough to pay attention and understand how this book was MEANT to be read … has anyone else here read it? I'm enjoying it, I'm just wondering how much of it was meant to be snark (with the opponent characters understood by all readers to be troglodytes), and how much it was black humor (with the main character's deliberately "odd" and overly-meta mindset making her the freak who speaks truth to power).

And in re fidelio @: There is evidence over and over that the post-WWII 'pervasive' 'traditional' social values were widely imposed in an attempt to bring back an imagined Golden Age (of gender relations, economics, household relationships, etc), that never quite existed the way the imaginers thought it did.

See also all these conservatives working to recreate their own idealized vision of what the 'good bits' of the 50s/60s were like ... or the 30s. Um, yeah, there are large swaths of the 30s I do NOT want to go back to.

I also keep running across stories talking about how 'a traditional American Christmas' is several layers of imposed invention atop each other -- traditional Southern celebratory food was very different before the editor of a New England-based magazine (I want to say Godey's Lady Book or Harper's, but I can't remember exactly; NPR did a big story on this but Google is failing me) decided in the wake of the Civil War that we needed to unify the country around family-based, return-to-rurality-and-tradition holidays, like a Thanksgiving feast with turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and pies ...

And then there is the relevant xkcd, which shows that radio airplay at this time of year is desperately trying to recreate the Christmases of the Baby Boomers' childhoods.

I think the 1950s postwar period, and the children raised therein, will display an awful lot of trauma-based reactions and overreactions to sociologists of the 2200s (who will be far enough away from them to be rational-ish about it).

#462 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:21 PM:

461
My mother said that the 50s were a good time to raise kids - but she didn't want to live in them again.

(I keep wondering if we ought to go for Brunner's 'paid avoidance areas', where people get tax breaks for doing without modern conveniences. Let the people who want to live in the past try it for real.)

#463 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Elliott, #461: AKA The Way We Never Were. As the publisher's review puts it, "Leave It To Beaver was not a documentary."

#464 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 01:39 PM:

Lee @463: It is telling that all of the negative reviews of that book range in their criticism from "She's a lying leftie who's changing history to reflect her current biases" all the way to "But **I** had a HAPPY childhood in the fifties, so she's a horrible lying liar who says things weren't like I remember them!"

Oh, and on who completely dismisses her because she only spends one sentence on the Moynihan Report, which apparently that reviewer thought should have been central to any such discussion.

#465 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 04:49 PM:

Elliott Mason @461, I have read and enjoyed Borrower of the Night, though not recently. (I have bounced off Amelia Peabody repeatedly, but I like Vicky Bliss) I didn't come to it until at least 10 years after it was published, probably 15. I remember a certain level of Vicky not being taken seriously, but in my mind it ties more closely to things like Stephanie Plum than it does to serious gender bias. But then, I was in high school in 1973 and it wouldn't surprise me if I had internalized some of the attitudes of the era.

#466 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 05:01 PM:

Lila @457 I have on occasion sat here pontificating on God or the nature of love rather than, y'know, actually being loving to the people who share my household. I don't think that counts as hypocrisy. I think it counts as working on figuring it out.

#467 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 08:41 PM:

For everybody, I wish peace and plenty and intriguing things to think about and good company in the ways you most need it. And if you are one of the folks for whom today and tomorrow are some kind of Fish, I wish for you some good and nourishing and sufficient Fish, and good folks to share it with.

#468 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2011, 05:11 AM:

Avram @450:
Isn't imposing your personal fanfic one of the explicit Pope powers? What is bound in fanon shall be bound in canon, and so on.

Well, yes, and it's the traditional power of the rest of the church to treat your fanfic like Highlander 2.

#469 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 12:13 PM:

Belated thanks to tnh @448 for explaining the thinking behind the scientific mysteries, and to those who proposed some. I'm with Bruce Cohen @451 and Tom Whitmore @453 in counting complexity and interconnectedness among the things I most admire.

And in terms of the mystery we don't notice, I have to reference the desert island xkcd. That's posted on my refrigerator, and has been since it was first published, but I didn't think of it when we were discussing this earlier.

Wishing everyone a 2012 of encounters with the deep and the numinous in whatever way your worldview would experience it.

#470 ::: Lenore Jean Jones/jonesnori ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2012, 07:19 PM:

#461 ::: Elliott Mason
And in re fidelio @: There is evidence over and over that the post-WWII 'pervasive' 'traditional' social values were widely imposed in an attempt to bring back an imagined Golden Age (of gender relations, economics, household relationships, etc), that never quite existed the way the imaginers thought it did.

Exactly. This was an attempt to put all of those Rosie the Riveters back in the home, rather than a representation of reality at the time.

#471 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2012, 09:10 PM:

Lenore/jonesnori @470: Unfortunately, (some subset of) kids growing up then internalized the propaganda as truth, and then raised this 'truth' on a pedestal as an ideal for all families in all times.

#472 ::: OtterB sees probable spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2012, 10:21 AM:

spam probe, I guess

#473 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2012, 01:02 PM:

Xopher @ 415: "My favorite imperfect formulation of my theological approach is "The divine nature of the universe is manifest in its physical substance as such." That is, I don't feel the need to believe in any transcendent immaterial consciousness, or even that the universe is somehow self-aware; the observable and verifiable scientific facts about the universe are quite enough to fill me with awe and wonder, and are more than enough to hang my spirituality on. Natura sola sufficit.

The difference between me and an atheist is I choose to think of this response as spiritual, and that part of my response is to create (and borrow) ritual and metaphor, and to do the ritual and act on the metaphor."

I meant to say, "yes, this" earlier but I forgot. Then I read this and was reminded:

The new materialists (or speculative realists, or new vitalists) see that what we've done by proving that there is no special agency (mover, designer, thinker, or spirit) behind the material world, is on the contrary to show that material reality itself is its own mover, is its own designer, that thought and thinker are identical, and that material reality is spirit. 'Enchanted materialism' indeed.

#474 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2012, 10:32 PM:

And I see I missed responding to heresiarch #406:

David Harmon @ 361: "I've experienced, and continue to experience, things that are not usefully parsed by a purely materialist framework."

The key distinction is, I think, in the word "material," which is a much over-worked and much abused term. Here, you seem to be using it in the common scientific sense: measurably existing within space-time, understandable through (correct me if I'm wrong.) There are many other definitions of materialism floating around, but when I describe myself as a materialist what I mean isn't "things which exist tangibly (measurably) are the only things that really exist!" but "everything that exists, exists in the same way: materially." Which is to say, what I reject isn't the existence of the phenomena called supernatural or divine, but the idea that they exist on a separate plane essentially divided from the mundane.

The difference there is basically of emphasis, there's no real contradiction. I'll note that "only tangible things exist" is an old strawman against materialist philosophy, as if scientists couldn't understand verbs. ;-)

There's always been recognition of phenomena as distinct from objects, and ongoing discussion about abstractions such as numbers. For modern thinking, epiphenomenon is the key word, as we're delving into more and more situations where a system is clearly working by principles that emerge non-obviously from the combination of the parts.

#475 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2013, 10:36 PM:

Update: PayPal just pulled the same stunt again, only this time they did it to a fundraising drive to help finance Jay Lake's cancer treatments. The logic is the same as before: that much money coming in that fast can't possibly be legitimate.

What this tells us is that PayPal has fixed nothing in the wake of the previous incidents. At this point, a lot of us are just waiting for a viable competitor to arise.

#476 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2013, 02:12 AM:

To their credit, Paypal resolved the issue... after they took an immediate and vigorous drubbing on Twitter, and have donated $500. They're still scumbags for doing it in the first place, but their response time has improved.

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