Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Jesus in Samaria (Notes on John 4:27-42)

Continuing on from the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman:
[27] And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?
Since none of the disciples witnessed Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, the account in the Gospel must be based on information from either Jesus or the woman, or else on hearsay. Since the disciples were astonished to see Jesus conversing with a Samaritan, we can assume that they themselves would never do such a thing, and that the Gospel account is therefore not based on a direct interview with the woman. We are also told here that the disciples didn't ask Jesus any questions about his conversation with the woman. It's possible that Jesus later told them the whole story, but it seems more likely that the account we have is hearsay, based on rumors circulating in Samaria about how he "told her everything that ever she did." Some of the more sensational details, then, such as the five husbands, may be nothing more than rumor, but I would assume that the author of the Gospel, who knew Jesus and his ideas well, would have captured the latter fairly accurately in his record. Whether or not the actual conversation was much like the Gospel account, I think we can be fairly confident that the statements about living water, Mt. Gerizim and Jerusalem, etc. represent actual teachings of Jesus.

[28] The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, [29] Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? 
[30] Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.
Remember that the Samaritans acknowledged no prophets other than Moses and the Messiah (Taheb), and many held that even the Messiah would not be a second prophet but would be the second coming of Moses himself. From the Samaritan point of view, if Jesus was a prophet -- as his paranormal knowledge of the woman's life would suggest -- he could only be the prophet, the Messiah himself.

I have discussed elsewhere the Samaritan expectation that the Messiah would "tell us all things" -- which apparently derives from an alternative reading of Deuteronomy 18:18.

[31] In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat.
[32] But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.
[33] Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat?
[34] Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
"Meat" here just means food, with no connotation of animal flesh.

Was Jesus really like this in conversation? It seems like it would have been rather maddening! I guess the justification for this mode of discourse -- deliberately confusing his interlocutors, letting them talk among themselves for a minute trying to figure out what he mean, and then explaining -- is that it would have engaged the disciples' attention more fully and made the final epigram more memorable.

The characterization of the Father as "he that sent me" is distinctively Johannine. The string "sent me" occurs 34 times in the Fourth Gospel and only 7 times in the other three Gospels combined.

Finishing God's work sounds like a once-and-for-all thing -- but Jesus calls it his food. Eating food is not the grand culmination of one's life's work; it is something we have to do again and again, day after day, for as long as we live. It is interesting to juxtapose this saying with the prayer, attributed to Jesus in the Synoptics, "Give us this day our daily bread"; also with the line from Deuteronomy supposedly quoted by Jesus when tempted by Satan, "man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live."

Elsewhere in the Gospel it is suggested that God's work can be "finished" more than once. Shortly before his execution (apparently at the "Last Supper") Jesus says "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4), even though few would be willing to say Jesus had already finished his work before his death. Later, on the cross, his last words are "It is finished" (19:30), but I think it's safe to say his work wasn't really finished until the resurrection -- or, for those who expect a Second Coming, not until then. Come to think of it, if we believe Moses, God's work had already been pronounced "finished" long before the time of Jesus: "the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work" (Genesis 2:1-2). The belief that, pace Moses, God's work wasn't really finished until the resurrection is probably what underlies the longstanding Christian custom of keeping Sabbath on Sunday rather than on the seventh day.

Is the work of God ever really finished? The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi criticizes those who would say, "behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work" (2 Nephi 28:5). "There is no God today" is rather a striking way of putting it -- Joseph Smith anticipated Nietzsche's famous statement "God is dead" by some 50 years -- but isn't a God who is done, who is never going to do anything ever again, world without end, the functional equivalent of one who no longer exists?

If the work of God can ever be completely finished, what then? An eternity of nothing to do, of hanging around, of resting on laurels? But on the other hand, supposing the work of God can't ever be finished, doesn't that reduce everything to a sort of Sisyphean futility? The only solution that works for me comes from combining the Book of Mormon with Spinoza: "Men are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25), and "Joy is man's passage from a lesser to a greater perfection" (Ethics, 3, defs. 2 & 3). There is no endpoint of absolute perfection such as the Classical Theist imagines God to enjoy, but the lack of a finish line does not make the race an exercise in futility, since the joy in the passage to a greater perfection, not in the static enjoyment of absolute perfection. Another way of expressing the same point is to say that God's definitive role is not "Supreme Being" but rather Creator -- characterized not by static perfection but by continuous making-things-better. "The knowledge and power of God are expanding," says a Mormon hymn to which many a Christian might object. But of course they are; otherwise, how could he have joy?

[35] Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. [36] And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. [37] And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. [38] I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.
The harvest of wheat and barley (the crops being alluded to by "the fields are white") was typically in April or May, so this episode apparently took place four months earlier, in December or January.

This was a favorite passage of Joseph Smith's, alluded to again and again in the Doctrine & Covenants, apparently with reference to the work of proclaiming the gospel and "harvesting" converts. It's hard to be sure whether or not that was also the meaning originally intended by Jesus.

[39] And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. [40] So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days.
[41] And many more believed because of his own word; [42] And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.
This is one of only two places in the Bible where the title "Saviour of the world" is used; the other is in the anonymous First Epistle of John (4:14) -- called "of John" because it is almost certainly by the author of the Fourth Gospel, for whom the name John has become conventional. It seems highly likely that the author is here putting his own ideas in the mouths of the Samaritans. Neither the Jews nor the Samaritans were anticipating a savior of the world; the Taheb and the Messiah were only expected to save Israel.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Taking a stand against anti-Mormons

Yet I confess that sometimes I
Still manage to annoy
My dearest friends, but that’s a fault
Of many a Mormon boy.
-- a formerly-beloved Mormon song
I'm not sure why this seemingly trivial matter should seem so very important to me right now, but it has nevertheless become for me a matter of great spiritual urgency that I be done with tolerance and passive resistance and just nail my theses to the door already.

I will no longer link to anyone who employs euphemisms such as "Restored Christian" in order to avoid using the word "Mormon." Update: That would essentially mean not linking to any faithful church-Mormons, which has turned out to be too much of a constraint. I now link freely to these people, as to lots of other people I disagree with.

I will no longer publish comments that employ euphemisms such as "Restored Christian" in order to avoid using the word "Mormon."

To be clear, I have no problem whatsoever with calling the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by its full, revealed name -- but it is increasingly clear to me that the real thrust behind the current rectification-of-names campaign is not so much to encourage the use of the revealed name as to to suppress "the M-word."

In case you hadn't noticed, "Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square" does not include the revealed name of the church any more than the oldspeak "Mormon Tabernacle Choir" did. "Restored Christianity" is no more the revealed name of the Mormon religion than "Mormonism" is. These changes are being made for reasons other than those stated, and I do not support them.

A little free association

Just a few stops on this express-train of thought:

Corona → beer → beer hall → putsch → and we've arrived!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Still no racial data on the birdemic

I have scoured the Net for any numbers whatsoever on this, and there's just nothing at all. Age, sex, and comorbidity, yes -- but not race. All my searches have turned up are:

1. Lots and lots of articles about birdemic-related discrimination against Asians -- people not going to Chinese restaurants, hatepuns like "Kung Flu," the hatefulness of the American president Mr. Trump calling it "the Chinese virus" rather than using its proper name, that sort of thing. One Twitter user said that anti-Asian sentiment was particularly wrongheaded because so far not a single one of the victims in New York has been of Asian extraction -- but I have no idea where that information came from, since no racial data about victims in New York or anywhere else have been published.

2. A handful of articles debunking the rumor that black people are particularly resistant to the birdemic -- and by "debunking" I mean simply asserting that the rumors are wrong without providing any data. A few prove that the incidence rate among blacks is not literally zero by mentioning that one black actor says he and his wife have tested positive (with no symptoms).

3. Saying Asians are particularly susceptible is hatespeak. Saying blacks are particularly resistant is also hatespeak. Hence -- presumably -- the silence on the whole issue, since any results deviating at all, in either direction, from mathematical equality would be "problematic"!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Black dogs and Reubens

I dreamt that as I was walking home -- to my current home, in Taiwan -- black dogs from my past started to follow me, one by one, until by the time I arrived at the front door, every black dog I had ever known was there -- but only the black ones. They were all very much smaller than in real life, about the size of guinea pigs, though I saw nothing strange in this during the dream.

Among those present was the first dog I ever owned as a child in America, a black Lab-Pointer mix whose name had been determined for her by the white zigzag mark running down her chest. She was dancing all around, wagging her entire body in a transport of delight, and my first thought was to find my cell phone and call my wife. "Wait till she hears that Lightning has come back!" (In the real world, of course, my wife never knew Lightning, who died many years before we met.)

Later my wife was there, too, standing with me in front of the house, and I pointed out to her the one dog I didn't recognize, a curly-haired female something like a Labradoodle. "That's Fournier!" she said. "That's the new dog!" -- and though that means nothing to me in real life, in the dream I accepted it as a sufficient explanation.

"Shall we bring them all into the house?" I said. "But I'm afraid they'll poop."


Later I dreamt that I saw several variations on the same Internet meme:

Something like this

This made perfect sense to me. A priest had, as it says, tried and failed to housebreak a dog, and when he died the new priest wanted to cover up this embarrassing failure by saying that his predecessor had actually succeeded. But, being unwilling to commit so brazen a lie to writing, he compromised by writing "1/8" -- meaning that the old priest had been one-eighth successful in housebreaking the dog (i.e., it still pooped in the house seven-eighths of the time). Haha, priests, amirite?


Later still I was at a very large house party where everyone was milling about. I saw somebody eating a sandwich and suddenly decided that I wanted a Reuben -- corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye -- but didn't know where to find one or even the ingredients to make one. I wanted to ask someone at the party, but I didn't really know anyone.

Then finally I saw someone I knew -- one of my old linguistics professors from my college days, a Dr. Levine. I was about to walk up to him and ask if he knew a kosher-style deli in the area, but then I suddenly got cold feet. "He's going to think I'm asking him because he's Jewish," I thought, "not because he's the only person I know. And a Reuben's not even kosher anyway; it's like asking a Chinese guy where I can buy fortune cookies." So I just gave him a nod and a smile and walked away.

Then I suddenly thought, "Wait. I have a big nose. I have an Eastern European name. He probably assumes I'm Jewish. It won't be offensive at all!" But it was too late; he had disappeared into the crowd.

When all the stars are falling down

When I was 14 or thereabouts, I was assigned as a home teaching companion to one Brother Barr (not his real name), a somewhat eccentric lawyer who, like the Dormouse in Alice, seemed perpetually on the verge of falling asleep. Some years later, when Brother Barr became a counselor to the bishop and used to sit up in front of the congregation every Sunday, counting how many times he nodded off and jerked awake again was an amusing way of whiling away the occasional dull sacrament meeting. (He always sat with one leg crossed over the other, and the moment his chin hit his chest, his leg would start bouncing up and down spasmodically, waking him up for another few minutes. It really was quite entertaining.)

But what was harmless fun when it occurred in church was rather another matter when Brother Barr was behind the wheel of a moving automobile -- which was the situation when he took me out home teaching. We covered a rather rural part of Ohio, which meant long drives along silent country roads after dark, and I spent those drives -- well, "in a state of abject terror" would be an exaggeration, but "braced for impact" would not -- and I must admit the whole experience sowed doubts in my mind as to whether forbidding the use of coffee were really the most effective way of fending off the destroying angel.

In an effort to keep him awake, I used to have Brother Barr regale me with tales of his misspent youth -- and by "misspent" I am of course referring to the game of Dungeons & Dragons. I heard his (predictably, somewhat eccentric) D&D stories again and again. The time he killed the Great Granddaddy of Assassins ("I just shot him. Saw him flying around overhead and just shot him!"). The time he faced a bad guy who was surrounded by a reddish-gold cloud which -- get this -- turned out to be a red dragon and a gold dragon flying around in circles so fast that they looked like a cloud! Eventually, though, the familiar tales of derring-do would peter out, and Brother Barr would have recourse to the old standby of cranking the air-conditioning up to eleven and playing the radio.

One night the radio happened to be playing "Melancholy Man" by the Moody Blues. I had just recently become interested in that band but had not yet acquired that particular album, and so it got my attention. I thought it certainly sounded like the Moodies but wasn't entirely sure, so I listened very closely, hoping the DJ would mention the band's name at the end.


The reason I remember this all so clearly is what happened during the song. Just as Mike Pinder sang, "When all the stars are falling down," a positively gigantic meteor, like a long-tailed fireball, streaked downwards across the sky in front of us and disappeared behind the trees.

I've never had any sense of direction, but I nevertheless felt quite certain that my house was in that direction and that the meteor "had my name on it." Throughout the rest of the drive I was lost in a fantasy of coming home and finding a smoldering crater where my house had been -- perhaps with an outsize mushroom or two.

Meteorites breed giant mushrooms.
Surely everyone knows this.

Of course in the end I found -- with a sense of relief tinged with disappointment -- that the shooting star had not struck my house and that everything was just as it had always been, but the fantasy had been so extraordinarily vivid, and I had felt so sure about it, that it has stayed with me all these years and still comes to mind every time I hear "Melancholy Man."

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A prophetic bull's-eye from Bruce Charlton

In case you've forgotten about it, go back and take a look at "Apocalypse Now!?" -- posted by Bruce Charlton on 27 November 2019. Here are some of the key passages (italics in original; boldface mine).
I get the feeling that the Apocalypse, which began some fifty years ago, is reaching a crescendo Now. There is a tremendous urgency towards the goal of a global totalitarian takeover by the 'Ahrimanic' powers of evil: that is to say, the type of evil which is cold, calculating, systematic, anti-spiritual, anti-human, bureaucratic and transhumanist.
[. . .]
The interesting aspect is the sheer urgency. There is a very obvious attempt to create a worldwide sense of emergency, of imminent cataclysm, of terrible things that are Just About To Happen... unless, we hand over complete power to the Establishment (preferably the-day-after-tomorrow, or quicker).
And this handover - this Power Grab by the Global Establishment - is being aimed-at Very Soon; on a timescale of months, not years.
[. . .] 
I don't know why this should be, but I am more convinced with each passing month; what is being attempted - now and on a daily basis - is the biggest shift in power in the history of the world; the attempt of a tiny global 'elite' (possessed-by and serving demonic powers) to impose a complete system of behavioural and thought control.
And it is now; this is the Apocalypse; this is what it looks-like from the inside!
If the urgency of the Establishment has a reason, then that will soon become apparent; one way or another (depending upon the individual choices of millions of people) we shall -within the year - see huge changes in everybodys' lives.
It is difficult to believe, I hardly believe it myself; but - as I say - there must surely be a reason for the extreme urgency of this power grab. I don't know what that reason is; but it must be expected to take effect on a timescale of months. 
I can't say I am exactly looking-forward to discovering the answer; because I don't suppose the surprise will be a pleasant one. However, I haven't long to wait.
"I haven't long to wait" was an understatement. Amazingly, this was posted just four days before the first corvids appeared in China, and less than three months before the WHO declared the situation an official birdemic necessitating the ongoing worldwide totalitarian takeover which will without a doubt mean "huge changes in everybody's lives" well within the year. Talk about hitting it out of the park!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Reprise

Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
-- Job
They sang this at the beginning of the era. Here it is again at the End. I have no time for those who say Dylan wasn't a prophet.


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Crow(n) Moon


I missed the full moon this month because it was overcast, but caught it one day after full, when skies were clearer and it was still strikingly large and beautiful.

I happened to mention this to a Taiwanese colleague, and she said (in English), "Yes, everyone's talking about it because it's a Crown Moon" -- anyway, I thought that was what she said.

"Sorry, a Crown Moon? What's that?" -- switching to Chinese -- "Do you mean the moon has a corona tonight? I didn't see one. There aren't any clouds!"

She replied in English, "No, a Krau Moon."

"Crowd Moon?"

"No, C-R-O-W, Crow" -- but she had been mispronouncing it so that it rhymed with now rather than with know.

"Oh, a Crow Moon! -- but what's that?"

She didn't know, either, but a quick online search showed that it's a traditional North American term for the full moon of March, also known as the Worm Moon. (Why would the fact that it occurred in March make this full moon especially noteworthy? Your guess is as good as mine.)


So my colleague had been trying to say crow and I figured she must be talking about a corona. Anyone who has been following Bruce Charlton's recent posts about "corvids" will know why I consider that a sort of synchronicity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

How "dead" were those raised by Jesus?

Vasily Polenov, The Raising of Jairus' Daughter (1871)
I have been reading Sylvan Muldoon's very interesting book The Projection of the Astral Body (1929), based on the author's own extensive experience with fully conscious astral projection, supplemented by the scholarship of paranormal researcher Hereward Carrington. He explains that the during an out-of-body experience, the astral body is connected to its material counterpart by a "line of force" or "astral cable" -- something like an ethereal umbilical cord -- and that this is what keeps the physical body alive while out of coincidence with the astral body which normally animates it. This is what distinguishes astral projection from death; in the latter condition, the astral cable is severed.

When the astral body is absent for a prolonged period, the physical body enters a state of deep catalepsy something like hibernation, in which its physical needs (for food, water, even oxygen) are minimal, and this state may easily be mistaken for death.
It is obvious that, during an extensive and prolonged projection [of the astral body] the material counterpart might assume the characteristics of a corpse, and the temperature drop exceedingly low -- even to such an extent that the misunderstanding people of the world would pronounce the subject "dead." I have concluded, as the result of a study of this subject, that the heart may actually cease beating for some time, and yet the astral cord may not be disconnected. . . .
Mr. Carrington has . . . summarized many cases of premature burial. "There can be no doubt," says this authority, "that many hundreds of persons have been buried alive, during the centuries which have preceded us. Societies for the Prevention of Premature Burial have actually been formed in England, America, etc. Cases of trance, catalepsy, suspended animation, etc., were mistaken for death, before our modern methods of diagnosis were introduced."
Muldoon cites many examples of people returning from deep, death-like trances (understood by him to be cases of astral projection, whether deliberate or spontaneous), of which the following -- apparently well attested by trustworthy witnesses -- is one of the most remarkable.
Some years ago, a celebrated fakir from the Province of Lahore, India, was buried for a period of thirty days, under the supervision of Prince Ranjeet Singh and Sir Claude Wade. The fakir was placed in a sack -- after entering the state of catalepsy -- which was securely tied. This sack was then placed in a box, which was locked -- the keys being kept by the British General.
The box was then deposited in a brick vault, the door of which was sealed with Ranjeet Singh's seal, and a guard of British soldiers was detailed to guard the vault day and night. At the end of the thirty days, the vault was opened, the box and sack unfastened, and the fakir -- very emaciated, but still alive -- was resuscitated by his friends!
Muldoon then goes on to draw parallels between such cases and biblical accounts of raising the dead.
In the Bible there are several accounts of individuals who were brought back to life. Take, for example, Christ's resurrection of his friend Lazarus [in John 11]. If Lazarus were actually dead and the astral cable disconnected, then Christ did perform a miracle; but it the cable was still engaged, it was an apparent miracle, and the resurrection was merely a resuscitation. 
Christ was a marvellous occultist and seer, the peer of mediums, and was a friend of Lazarus. Might it not be possible that Lazarus was an astral projector? There seems to have been some misunderstanding on the part of the disciples as to whether Lazarus was really dead or not. Christ first of all told his followers that Lazarus was not dead: "This sickness is not unto death." Next He told them that Lazarus was asleep: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go now that I may awake him from sleep." 
Christ next went to the grave where Lazarus lay -- a cave with a stone upon it; He ordered the stone to be removed and with a loud voice cried, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he that was dead came forth. Could not a similar demonstration be given to-day -- by a hypnotist and an astral projector? 
Another Bible instance of resuscitation is the bringing to life of a certain ruler's daughter [the daughter of Jairus, in Mark 5]. "And he cometh to the house of a ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. And when he was come in, he said unto them, 'Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.' And they laughed him to scorn. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entered in where the damsel was lying. And he took the damsel by the hand, and he said unto her, 'Talitha-cumi'; which is, being interpreted: 'Damsel, I say unto thee, arise!' And straightway the damsel arose and walked." 
For these few singular demonstrations Christ gained the reputation of being capable of resurrecting the dead; but in every case Jesus himself stated that the subjects were not dead, but sleeping. If the persons were literally dead -- if the line of force had actually been severed -- and still they were brought back to life, is it not a wonder that more were not likewise revived? Surely there were others, begging to be reunited with their loved ones -- innocent children crying for their mothers, lovers begging for their sweethearts who lay in death -- pathetic mourners all about -- and yet only a few were resurrected!
This line of speculation, with its implication that Jesus did not in fact have the power to resurrect the dead, strikes at the heart of Christianity, even suggesting that Jesus' own resurrection -- the Resurrection -- may not have been quite what it appeared to be. It also represents a somewhat unique challenge because it is not based on the assumptions of materialism or on dismissing the gospel accounts as fables. Muldoon accepts the accounts as factual and accepts a "supernatural" explanation of what took place -- but a different supernatural explanation, one that would make Jesus merely a "marvellous occultist and seer, the peer of mediums," able to rectify the occasional astral projection gone wrong, rather than someone who was fully divine and brought genuine salvation from death.


So, how plausible is the Muldoon theory?

In the case of the daughter of Jairus, I think Muldoon's theory makes perfect sense. Jesus actually says that "the damsel is not dead," and the miracle is not prefaced with any "I am the resurrection and the life" type claims about being able to raise the dead. Jairus had previously said, "My little daughter lieth at the point of death" -- possibly in the cataleptic state described by Muldoon -- and after her resuscitation he "commanded that something should be given her to eat," perhaps suggesting that like the Indian fakir, she was still alive but in a greatly weakened state and required careful nursing back to full health.

What about Lazarus? Muldoon makes much of Jesus' statement that Lazarus was asleep but rather misleadingly elides the two verses that follow this statement: "Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead." He had told the mourners of Jairus's daughter not to weep because she was not dead -- but when he saw Lazarus's grave, Jesus wept -- because he was dead. To Lazarus's sister, he says not, "Thy brother is not dead," but, "Thy brother shall rise again. . . . I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." If Lazarus was not actually dead, such talk can only be interpreted as deliberate dishonesty, as pretending to be able to raise the dead.

Finally, and most importantly, what about Jesus' own death and resurrection? Muldoon doesn't explicitly venture into such controversial waters, but his theory certainly implies that Jesus, too, may have been resuscitated from a cataleptic state rather than raised from the dead. There are, if one is looking for them, hints of this possibility in the Gospels. Mark reports that "Pilate marvelled if he were already dead" -- meaning that crucifixion would not normally have killed a man so quickly. Jesus' legs were not broken (which would have killed him if he were not already dead), and his body was never embalmed (ditto). After coming out of the tomb, he still had his crucifixion wounds, which on the face of it is more consistent with survival in a wounded body than with resurrection in a perfect, immortal body. Against this survival hypothesis we have the fact that Jesus looked different (was unrecognizable) after his resurrection and was also reportedly able to walk through walls and such -- and, of course, explicit claims by Jesus and his disciples that he had died and returned to life.

It is obvious that belief in, or rejection of, Jesus' resurrection must be based on something more substantial than speculations based on the rather sparse accounts that have come down to us all these centuries later. Opinions may differ about Lazarus and the others, but if Jesus himself was not resurrected, Christianity is pointless.


Traditional Christian opinion is that Jesus himself was the first to be properly resurrected and that those who preceded him -- Lazarus (John 11), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5), and the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7) -- were merely restored from death to ordinary mortal life (meaning that, unlike resurrected beings, they would still die again). I have slowly brought around (by Bruce Charlton) to the opinion that Lazarus was in fact resurrected in the fullest sense -- that he was the first, and Jesus himself the second -- but what of the others? Muldoon makes a good point: If Jesus had the power to restore the dead to life, why did he so seldom exercise it? He seems to have been willing to heal just about anyone who needed healing, so why are the accounts of his raising the dead so few and far between? Lazarus was Jesus' closest friend (and perhaps brother-in-law), but what was so special about the daughter of Jairus and the young man of Nain? Perhaps, as Muldoon suggests, what was special about them was that they were not actually dead but in the sort of cataleptic state he describes.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Silent Generation produced fewer governors, too.

In the previous post I noted that there never has been -- and, barring a win by Biden or Sanders this November, never will be -- a U.S. president from the "Silent Generation" (i.e., born in the 1925-1945 period). However, there have only been 11 presidents born in the 20th century, too small a population for any apparent patterns to be statistically significant.

Following up a hunch that it was, nevertheless, a genuine pattern, I looked at the birthdates of U.S. governors born in the 20th century (excluding Alaska and Hawaii because they could not have had governors born before 1929). Of course there have thus far only been a few governors from Generation X since that cohort is still relatively young, so I focused on the 559 governors born in the 1901-1960 period, comprising three generations. Not all researchers define the generations in the same way, so I excluded from consideration those gray areas (1925-1927, 1943-1945, and 1961-1964) that are sometimes assigned to one generation and sometimes to another. Here are the results:

Average number of U.S. governors born per year

I haven't bothered to calculate a p-value or anything like that, but just eyeballing it, it seems pretty obvious that the Silent Generation is indeed different, producing only 8 governors per year as opposed to 10 for both the Greatest Generation and the Boomers.


The chart below (click to enlarge) shows the raw data, presented without "generational" assumptions, for presidential and gubernatorial births in the 1901-1960 period.

U.S. presidents and governors born per year, 1901-1960

No very obvious three-generation pattern immediately jumps out from this chart, but what does immediately jump out is that fact that, of the 10 presidents born in this time period, not a single one of them was born in a year that produced a below-median number of governors (the median being 9 governors).

Of the 60 years under consideration, 32 of them produced at least 9 governors. The chance that 10 out of 10 presidents would just happen to be born in one such year is (32/60)10 = 0.186%, or 1 in 537. This strongly suggests that there is some real sense in which some years produce more executive-branch material than others.


The chart below shows the same data, plotted for 5-year periods (lustra) rather than for individual years.


Plotted thus, the two-decade flatline of the Silent Generation, bookended by the twin towers of the early '20s and late '40s, is immediately apparent. It is also apparent that the Boomers, unlike the Silents, do not really cohere as a generation as far as gubernatorial potential goes. The highest bar on the graph (late '40s) is immediately followed by the lowest (early '50s), both representing parts of the Baby Boom generation. And again we see that presidents were born only in lustra which also produced an above-median number of governors.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

There will never be a Silent Generation president

This is about as close to a "topical" post as you'll ever see on this blog.

Donald Trump, born in 1946 (the same year as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), was the oldest president ever to be inaugurated -- but it's looking like his nominal challenger this year will be even older, either Joe Biden (b. 1942) or Bernie Sanders (b. 1941). Not that either of them has a cat in hell's chance of winning.

Though there have been two presidents born in 1924 (Jimmy Carter and Bush père) and three born in 1946, not a single person born in the 21 years between those two dates has ever been elected president. Of the 12 generations (as identified by Strauss and Howe) from George Washington to Barack Obama, every one has produced presidents with the single exception of the "Silent Generation" of Biden and Sanders.

The graph below shows, for each Strauss-Howe generation, how many years it held the presidency vs. how many years of birth the generation spans. For example, Strauss and Howe define the Greatest Generation (actually they call it the "G.I. Generation") as those born in a 24-year period (1901-1924), but members of that generation held the presidency from Kennedy to Bush père, for a total of 32 years, for a ratio of 32:24 or 1.33. (The graph assumes that Trump will be reelected, giving the Boomers -- actually, giving people born in 1946 -- 24 years in office.)


Why did the presidency skip that entire generation? I have no idea. There is a similar gap in British PM birth years between Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925) and John Major (b. 1943), though Mrs. Thatcher does just barely qualify as a member of the Silent Generation according to Strauss and Howe's dates. However, Silents dominated the U.S. Senate for just as long as any other generation, so it's not as if there was a shortage of political talent.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Not just fear; dogs can smell leonine thoughts

Blue bipedal lions with Mesopotamian beards: Dogs don't like them

Anyone who, like me, makes a habit of rambling through the neighborhood somewhere around one-thirty or two a.m. in the morning, when only the goblins are out, has to deal with the occasional overly aggressive dog.

For a long time, my go-to technique for scaring off dogs was the old standby of stooping down as if I were going to pick up a stone, but a year or so ago I inadvertently discovered another method. I was writing about the World card of the Tarot at that time, which involved much brooding over the Four Living Creatures, one of which is the lion. Several pye-dogs were out and about, minding their own business. As I was walking along, I suddenly visualized myself as a lion -- specifically, as the bipedal lion depicted on the cover of the Rolling Stones album Bridges to Babylon -- and the instant I did so, all the dogs stopped, looked at me, and then turned tail and ran!

A few nights later, I was out walking again, and a big black dog came running at me full speed, teeth bared and snarling, so I tried it again. I just kept walking as before but imagined myself as a lion. Again, the reaction was instantaneous. The dog fairly skidded to a stop, scrambled a bit, and then took off whimpering back the way he had come. Since then, I've used this technique every time a dog comes looking for trouble, and it works every single time. (On dogs only. Cats and herons are unaffected.)

How does it work? I suppose that the visualization must cause some tiny, unconscious changes in my body language, and that the dogs pick up on that -- but that doesn't explain why, the first time, I somehow got the attention even of dogs that hadn't been looking at me before. Perhaps, as the headline suggests, they do literally smell our states of mind, via changes in hormones and sweat and such -- or perhaps it's something more mysterious. In any case, I offer it as a possible tool for anyone who sometimes finds it necessary to strike fear into canine hearts.

Visualizing gnomon series for the figurate numbers modulo 10

In modular arithmetic, the integers modulo k form a closed figure -- a polygon with k vertices -- rather than a line. The decagon below represents the integers modulo 10. To count, start at +1 and follow the black lines clockwise. The numbers on the left side of the figure are negative because n ≡ n - 10 (mod 10); thus, 5 ≡ -5, 6 ≡ -4, 7 ≡ -3, and so on.


The number that may be added to the nth figurate number to yield the (n + 1)th is called a gnomon. To generate the series of triangular numbers, you start with 0, then add 1, then add 2, then add 3, and so on through the natural numbers. In other words, the gnomon series for triangular numbers is (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, ...) -- which is congruent (mod 10) to (+1, +2, +3, +4, ±5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0) endlessly repeated. To get the gnomon series for the triangular numbers, start at +1 on the decagon and follow the black lines clockwise.

For the triangular numbers, the difference between the nth gnomon is the (n - 1)th gnomon is 1. I shall express this by saying that the gnomon interval for the triangular numbers is 1. For the squares, the gnomon interval is 2; for the pentagonal numbers, it is 3; and so on. The gnomon interval for the n-gonal numbers is always equal to n - 2.

The gnomon series for the n-gonal numbers modulo 10 may be read off our decagon by starting at +1 and going clockwise, reading every (n - 2)th vertex. It is readily apparent that there are only 10 possible gnomon series, since reading every (n + 10)th vertex is the same as reading every nth vertex. The gnomon series are:

  • 3-gonal: black lines clockwise (+1, +2, +3, +4, ±5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0)
  • 4-gonal: red lines clockwise (+1, +3, ±5, -3, -1)
  • 5-gonal: green lines clockwise (+1, +4, -3, 0, +3, -4, -1, +2, ±5, -2)
  • 6-gonal: purple lines clockwise (+1, ±5, -1, +3, -3)
  • 7-gonal: orange line (+1, -4)
  • 8-gonal: purple lines counterclockwise (+1, -3, +3, -1, ±5)
  • 9-gonal: green lines counterclockwise (+1, -2, ±5, +2, -1, -4, +3, 0, -3, +4, +1)
  • 10-gonal: red lines couterclockwise (+1, -1, -3, ±5, +3)
  • 11-gonal: black lines counterclockwise (+1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, ±5, +4, +3, +2)
  • 12-gonal: only one vertex (+1)
After the 12-gonal numbers, the gnomon series repeat; the (n + 10)-gonal numbers are congruent to the n-gonal numbers (mod 10).

Which of these gnomon series will generate a repeating palindromic series? All those, and only those, whose representation on the decagon exhibits left-right symmetry -- that is, all figurate numbers except the 7-gonal (the orange line), the 12-gonal (a single non-centered point), and those congruent to them (the 17-gonal, 22-gonal, etc.).

When first looking for RPSs in figurate numbers mod 10, I only got as far as the 10-gonal numbers, so the 7-gonal numbers seemed to be the only exceptions to the RPS rule. This new postulate predicts that the 12-gonal numbers will also be an exception -- and indeed they are. The 12-gonal numbers mod 10 are (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) endlessly repeated, which is not a palindrome.

Two tasks remain: (1) proving what I have just asserted, and (2) devising a way to predict, for any modulus, which gnomon intervals will yield a left-right symmetrical pattern. 

Five cornerstones

I recently received another batch of emails from a correspondent who keeps encountering repetitions of the number 5 (55, 555, etc.). This ma...