the turtle speaks

Luke Hartman's home on the web.

Apr 3
“But we often have cause to regret having said too much, and we would rarely have cause for regret if we spoke less rather than more.” The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey’s Godi

Mar 13

Three Maxims on Knowledge, Belief, Action

  1. Don’t claim to know what you merely believe even on good evidence.
  2. Don’t claim to believe what you are not prepared to act upon.
  3. Don’t let insufficient evidence prevent you from believing what you are better off believing in the long run than not believing in the long run.

Mar 12
“And this raises one of life’s greatest mysteries. Why do some of us value good books above bread while others of us are indifferent to them? A harsh answer tempts me: the latter are human only in a biological sense. But I warn myself not to succumb to misanthropy.”

Dec 3

Man is godlike and therefore proud. He becomes even more godlike when he humbles himself.

The central thought of Christianity, true or not, is one so repellent to the natural human pride of life that one ought at least to entertain the unlikelihood of its having a merely human origin. The thought is that God humbled himself to the point of entering the world in the miserably helpless and indigent way we in fact do, inter faeces et urinam [between feces and urine], and to the point of leaving it in the most horrendous way the brutal Romans could devise, and from a most undistinguished spot, a hill in an obscure desert outpost of their empire.

Bill Vallicella

Nov 25
“We have reasoned our way to uniformly conditional relationships. This is at the very center of the crisis of the family, since the word means, if it means anything, that certain people exist on special terms which each other, which terms are more of less unconditional. We have instead decided to respect our parents, maybe, if they meet our stringent standards of deserving. Just so do our children respect us, maybe.” Marilynne Robinson

Oct 30
“At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. There is a regular news story of a lunch lady who, unbeknownst to all who knew her, died rich and leaves it all to a cat or a charity or some such. Books about the modest lives of the rich like to tell us how they drive Buicks instead of BMWs. What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.”

The Logic of Stupid Poor People | tressiemc (via ayjay)

Solid reminder.

(via ayjay)

Oct 16

Love means never having to say You’re not forgiven

It’s been said that you don’t really know someone until you’ve had a fight with them. It may also be true that you don’t know if you love someone until you’ve had to forgive them.

Much is made in Christian circles about how forgiveness should take place: do we forgive and forget? Forgive but not forget? Forget and not forgive? Eschew these modern distinctions?

The specifics of forgiveness may be up for debate. The requirement for forgiveness is not. We are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven 490 times whenever a brother asks.

So what’s with Christian marriages?

Why do so many marriages between Christians fail? Some spouses abandon their faith along with their marriage, but for those who don’t the disconnect between the clear teaching of Jesus on the issue of forgiveness and the dysfunction of so many Christian relationships is puzzling.

Christians are obligated to love one another - even if they are married. - Hauerwas

While the command is simple and frequent, the application is by no means easy. But the idea that love (even of the marital kind) and discipleship should be easy is at best misleading and at most destructive. What better way to mirror the redemptive love and divine forgiveness than in stories and examples of radical, relationship-changing love that confounds expectations? What better witness to a broken world than the repair of marriages through forgiveness? What better way to encourage the growth and development of your spouse and marriage than creating a culture where forgiveness is assumed — though not taken for granted — and people are free to be who they are and better themselves.

That Christians should love their neighbor is paramount and well known. Unfortunately many find it easier to forgive people they don’t have frequent contact with and a more difficult time showing love through forgiveness to those closest to them.

We are to love our neighbor. Most of us don’t have a more constant neighbor than the person we’re married to. - Dale Hartman

Love means that the desire to forgive needs to overwhelm the desire to feel right or to feel wronged. This may take time — years perhaps — but it’s what we’re called to do.

I close with some parting advice a 90-year-old grandmother shared on the health of her marriage.

My cousin asked, “Grandma, what’s the best thing you ever did for your marriage?”

She thought about it for a minute and then said, “Each night, before we fell asleep, we would turn to each other and say, ‘I’m sorry if I hurt you today. I love you.’”

The initial point about not knowing if you love someone until you need to forgive them is up for debate. It could be that we have to forgive others, and strangers, for not meeting our expectations of who they should be. It could be that some have to forgive God for not being or doing what they’d like. It could be that the whole point is wrong.

Sep 30

Marriage is increasingly the big sociological divide in American life. Getting and staying married makes you part of a privileged elite.

As Charles Murray documents in his 2012 book “Coming Apart,” that divide tracks the income divide, with low-income whites much less likely to be married than their high-income counterparts. (I criticized a different aspect of Murray’s book in this column.) The causality is debatable. Maybe poorer people have a harder time getting married. Maybe being married makes it easier to earn more. Maybe some third factor causes both phenomena. But what is clear is that you’re most likely to have a better life if you’re married — even if, it turns out, you get cancer.

Virginia Postrel (via ayjay)

May 3

My dad speaks of roses as some men speak of wines:

This one has a particularly strong aroma

Publications are scoured for pedigrees, new offerings, and desirable traits; clippers and gloves sit in the car floorboard ready to prune the unruly bush at a park or business; pilgrimages are made to the growers to buy when the age is right; and roses grown in a hothouse for profit are identified by their lack of scent — an unforgivable defect.

The name comes from a family in France who have bred this one for decades

My dad tends roses at several houses in Oklahoma, the church where he preaches, the YMCA in Midwest City, and a few locations in Sydney Australia. There are roses blooming literally year-round due to his care. We have given bucketfuls to widows, the sick, teachers, neighbors, and — most importantly — my mother.

pH levels affect the growth of the plant and the blooms

Roses take him back to the garden: the fertile Australian soil of my youth, the arid red soil of his western Oklahoma youth, and the primal garden from the Good Book. God made man to have his hands in the dirt, to tend the land he created, to help bring beauty from decay. And this he does when time and energy permit. When the unforgiving Oklahoma climate and unrelenting pastoral duties conspire against the bushes they get replaced with heartier stock from the latest publications.

Do you think a red or a white or a pink would pair best with this meal?

Some men buy a dozen roses; more thoughtful men try to teach their sons to do the same. My dad bought a dozen rose bushes for our backyard. I came home to my boys helping my father put mulch around the new bushes. They’re learning — as I did with the 80 or 90 rose bushes from my childhood backyard — about earth, growth, patience, pruning deadness, and how to bring beautiful things to mothers.

This one’s beautiful and intoxicating

I’m not interested in roses to the same degree. But I have an interest in my father and a primal need — on occasion — to mar my hands with soil and thorns. I’m grateful my father’s hobby lives on in our backyard and will die in slow petal showers from vases inside our home.

Mar 3

Calculating the exchange rate on civilian life

Recently my son needed to learn how to convert currency for a Cub Scout project. Got me thinking about how we can calculate other exchange rates. So here’s a textbook example for calculating the ALV.

Calculating the ALV (American Life Value) for foreign values

The war in Iraq was prompted, to some degree at least, by the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). In the aftermath of 9/11, it was determined that such things needed to be sought out to prevent the future death of Americans. The subsequent war in Iraq was costly, both in monetary terms and in terms of human life. Here we can begin our valuation of human life by comparing the lives taken to determine how much each life is valued:

  • American civilians lost on 9/11: 2,977
  • Iraqi civilians lost in US war: 111,390 – 121,736

While the American casualites did nothing to deserve death, the Iraqi civilians neither chose their country of origin nor to hide the stockpiles of WMDs that precipitated the attack on their country.

By divding the two values, we have an inital ALV-ILV (Iraqi Life Value) exchange between 37.42 and 40.89. This number shows how many Iraqi civilians the average American civilian is worth.

Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to calculate the ALV for other nations and situations.

Try this

Civilian deaths are not the only casualties. Calcalculate the ALV-ILV exchange rate for fighting casualties, including combat-only and combat + non-combat US deaths.

  • Americans lost in war: 4,488. In combat: 3,532
  • Iraqi insurgents lost in war: 21,22126,405

Exercises for the reader

  1. Calculate a composite exchange rate by combining civilian and military casualties to get a war exchange rate.

  2. Work out the rate not as direct numbers, but as a percentage of population. The American civilian casualty rate is one for every 104,131 people while the Iraqi civilian rate is one for every 269 people. Calculate these values as a percentage and then as a ratio against each other.

  3. Some conversions only involve a different scale, but remain constant (Fahrenheit-Celcius, feet-meters, etc) while oher conversions have adjusting values, like currency. Is the ALV a constant or does it change over time?

  4. Plot the American and Iraqi casualties as well as the yearly ALV-ILV over the last decade. HINT: you will need the number of American casualties for each year since the Iraqi war started in 2003. Be sure to label your axes!

  5. Find another comparison of civilian deaths and calculate the ALV rate for civilians.

Integrate what you’ve learned

Talk with your history or civics teacher to determine how many of the 2,977 American civilian casualties were caused by Iraqis. Recalculate your ALV/ILV based on these new numbers. Also determine how many American civilians were saved based on the massive piles of WMDs that were discovered. Determine a formula to take these saved lives into account.

Dec 21

Why we named our third son Carper

Because this awesome guy is on our family line:

Account of Arthur Green Carper’s Civil War and “Pony Express” Service

Taken from a letter written to Michael Cummings by Lloyd George Melgard, 17 December 1979

“Your great great grandmother, Francis Elmira Iona Carper, had a brother, Arthur Green Carper, b. 8 December 1851, d. 3 Nov. 1934 in Sayre, Oklahoma, who escaped the stockaded school of Notre Dame where his Mother, Mariah Cline Firestone Carper, had placed him to keep him from joining the Civil War volunteers. He bribed a negro washerwoman to carry him out on her head with the dirty laundry and he worked his way south to join the union forces as a drummer boy and saw much action. When the Civil War was over he was too scared of his Mother to return home so he joined the Pony Express and on one of his runs he decided to cross the Oklahoma Indian Territory to save time and was captured, stripped, tied to a stake, had slivers of wood stuck in his flesh by the Indian women and set afire. He showed no fear and such bravery that the Indian chief had the fire doused and had him brought to his tent where he was treated for burns all over his body and he was out of his head for weeks. He became the chief’s slave or personal servant and had to sleep at his feet each night. After many years,he began to think of his Mother and his family in South Whitley, Indiana, and he planned his escape. One night when all were asleep, he dragged the end of his lariet through the camp fire’s coals and loosening the tether rope for the horses, he got on the chief’s white horse which was the fastest and whirled his flaming lariet over the horses causing them to stampede and then he set out for the territory’s boundary. It took time for the Indians to take chase and they pursued him shooting him so full of bullets and arrows that he was able later in life to pass knitting needles through his arms and legs without feeling any pain. The next morning a doctor married to an Indian woman and living on the border came out of his home to find a white horse covered with blood and a man hanging under his belly. He brought him in and worked to save him and he was delerious for months. Finally he learned that he was from South Whitley, Indiana, so we wrote a newspaper there asking if anyone knew of a man of such a height, weight and facial features and his Mother read and realized that this must be he son so she hired two of the best doctors and set out in a stage coach for the Indian territory but the closer they got, the more frightened the doctors became and they both left her. She brought him home and it took a long time before he realized he was no longer an Indian with Indian ways. He married and returned to Oklahoma when it was opened and had a farm there”

Oct 26
“Rather than say: “I am too busy, I don’t have any time for X.” I realize I can be honest and say I am not interested enough in X to do it.” Great quote. Sobering to realize how it reflects priorities.


Oct 25
Sitting on the shoulders of giants.

Or Granddaddy.

Sitting on the shoulders of giants.

Or Granddaddy.

Oct 24
The pumpkin murder of 2012? It was the boys. In the kitchen. With the carving knife.

The pumpkin murder of 2012? It was the boys. In the kitchen. With the carving knife.

Marriage as a joke

My sons love jokes. Bad jokes, Laffy Taffy™ jokes1, knock-knock jokes, puns; usual young boy stuff. They also love comics, especially Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes. The comics, however, are often read to us from the backseat or recited from memory without the [vital] accompanying pictures.

Dad, funny Far Side. Oh no Wilson! [premature laugh] Look what you sat in! [laugh]

I’m starting to understand their fascination with jokes beyond their understanding and humor level. One of my favorite bloggers, ACU psychologist Richard Beck, explains the phenomenon in Joking Matters. He notes jokes function to reinforce stereotypes and boundary markers. They are funny to those who are on the inside and share the worldview of the joke teller.

…most jokes are highly compressed which demands that the listener fill in the background assumptions, values, and beliefs that make the joke work. If the listener cannot fill in this background he doesn’t “get it” and the joke fails to produce spontaneous laughter. Curiously, if you don’t “get” a joke no amount of post-joke explaining, filling in the background you were supposed to produce on your own, makes the joke suddenly funny to you. You can’t explain a joke into being funny. You either get it, or you don’t.

Why do my boys love older jokes? Why do they laugh out loud at what they don’t understand? They want to feel included and bigger, participating in a world of knowledge and experiences they can only guess at as they gaze in wonder at the adults in their lives.

One of the best things of marriage is sharing the little inside things that I find so meaningful. I will find myself looking for examples or parallels that only Kate understands and that I know will make her laugh. I’m attracted to her quotation of an event or moment from our shared experiences. These references bind us together and reinforce our boundary markers.

Jokes mark off a shared space. A space of shared attitudes and experiences. A joke is compressed because it functions as a kind of test. Do you share my view of the world? Are you with me? Are you an insider or an outsider?

Joking is a risky venture when meeting someone for the first time. Will they accept my attempt at humor? I find myself laughing or enjoying a joke or humorous story because I’m drawn to the person telling it. I want to share in their world. Conversely when I find myself scoffing or merely enduring a joke or story, it’s because I want to distance myself from that person.

It seems to me a key to marriage is to want to reinforce those boundaries with your spouse. Purposefully create a shared space only the two of you inhabit. Find things you can joke about and cherish. Enjoy that space; relish it. Consistently pass the test of the joke.

In short, when someone likes our jokes we’ve found a kindred spirit, someone who sees the world like we do. This is the joy of laughter and humor.

But there is a dark side here as well. This very feature of jokes makes them potentially harmful and forms of exclusion.

Marriage and jokes, in the best form, are both community building experiences. When this works, it’s beautiful: couples who visibly delight in the share space and comfort of their spouse are inspiring. When it doesn’t, couples use (ironically insider) jokes to ridicule or demean. You’ve seen it.

Listen and participate in the marriage like you would a [good] joke. Decides to form and inhabit that space. Make the most of it. Do not allow it to be toxic.

And laugh.

  1. Does anyone aspire to be a Laffy Taffy joke writer?

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