Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements

Not wanting to consider on this fine morning all the writing and reading and blog post drafts, not to mention job hunting, that I have not much positive to report on, and yet, today entering my fifth (5th) day in a row of not feeling like crap, we instead offer this brief interlude for your possible amusement.

My best, highest use these day is evidently providing conversation and amusement to my 80-year old mother in law, who has been living with us for the past year or so. She has weathered a number of health issues and is really doing quite well, she’s just having to deal with no more driving and not being able to live on her own. So I, spending most of these past 4 months at home, have had more time to spend with here. I’m not really kidding about this being my best, highest use. Sometimes, it’s what falls unbidden into your lap that is what needs to be done.

My base mode of human interaction is to avoid it, but where that’s not possible or desirable, I default to joshing kidder mode. I can only hope other people take this well. They do tend to smile a lot, while backing slowly toward the door…

So: whenever we take grandma out (she’s grandma to the kids, mom to Mrs. Yardsale, and Helen to me. This can get confusing), we have to round up 1.) her sunglasses; 2) her reading glasses; and 3) her rosary. Can’t leave home without them.They usually reside on the table next to the recliner she often occupies in the living room, where she has spent many hours viewing British murder mysteries on Netflix.  We do something, usually daily Mass, just about every day, and then there’s doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, so she’s out and about quite a bit, which suits her fine.

Once Helen was feeling better and we fell into this routine, we also fell into the practice of assigning someone to wrangle the three items mentioned above every time we head out the door with her. A while ago, I both assumed this duty and decided that grandma’s stuff needed a name less cumbersome and more evocative than “grandma’s sunglasses, reading glasses and rosary.” Thus, the Holy Accoutrements. As we head out the door, one would hear “I’ve got the Holy Accoutrements!” or “Anybody seen the Holy Accoutrements?” This amuses me and Helen.

Grand Seneschal of the Royal Accoutrements, per original specifications

Holy Accoutrements cannot be entrusted to just *anyone*. So, after some consideration, I granted myself the title of Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements. This also seemed to amuse Helen. It certainly amuses me. I’m in the process of deciding on the exact title for official designate who is to handle the Holy Accoutrements if I for whatever reason are indisposed to the duty. Sub Grand Seneschal is the uncomfortable front-runner. There’s got to be something a little more delicious. I want to be able to say things like: “David, discharge your duties as Sub Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements!” Few are the households whose general tenor would not be improved with such florid verbal ornaments!

(Update: 14 year old son just suggested Seneschal Inferior of the Holy Accoutrements. Raising that boy right, I tells ya!)

The other running joke has to do with a Brit murder mystery series that evidently has been in production since the Clinton Administration: Midsomer Murders. 19 seasons are on Netflix, and another 2-3 have been produced. Each visually beautiful 90 minute episode involves at least one, and usually several murders. Why  anyone would continue to live in the blood-soaked

Related image
As delivered. More or less.

insanity that is Midsomer is a question the show does not address. Sure, attractive, well dressed people talk in charming accents amidst the gorgeous English countryside – but they seem unable to stop KILLING EACH OTHER.  This leads to routine exchanges such as “Good morning Helen. Anybody still alive in Midsomer?”  We’ve made it to the end of the available episodes, and so are now exploring other shows featuring attractive English people with charming accents galavanting around beautiful setting while they engage in KILLING EACH OTHER. It’s like its own genre, a need the BBC has gone all in to fulfill. There are variations, such as a gritter drama set in Wales where slightly less attractive people with somewhat more colorful accents spend time in less charming labs and libraries doing research into why the people in the area KEEP KILLING EACH OTHER. There’s even one where an attractive, well-dressed British detective with a charming accent is sent to the Caribbean, a different but no less visually stunning setting just dripping with yet more attractive people with yet more charming accents KILLING EACH OTHER. The twist seems to be that the detective, the nominal lead, get bumped off himself, I think twice now in like 3 seasons? I’m fuzzy on the details, since I never actually watch the shows.

I spent some time reviewing the shows Netflix suggests (“Because you watched Midsomer Murders…”), trying to pick out ones grandma would like. The cable/Nintendo/Netflix/TV interface is barely within my competence, and not something she’s going to figure out, so I am her research arm. She likes her gruesome murders largely off camera. and well-dressed characters who spend more time in manor houses and on fox hunts than in labs and libraries. I thought I’d found a winner, one with Kenneth Branagh as the attractive, well-dressed detective with a charming accent, who in the little sample I saw was driving through gorgeous English farm country and meeting with a craggy old farmer about a young woman who was wandering about his fields. Sir Kenneth plays it as an English Phillip Marlowe, world-weary and little bleary eyed. He tries to talk to the young woman out in the field, who then douses herself with gasoline and sets herself on fire…

That would be a ‘no’.

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Wednesday Ramble: Predestination, etc.

(Man, gotta get back to blogging and writing. Just still not feeling well, and more than a little down about losing my job, And other things. Anyway – )

(Edit: just reread the first few sentences of this post, and – wow, I need to make sure the coffee is fully kicked in before posting. Seriously incoherent. Here’s what I think I was trying to say:)  Woke up this morning musing about Hegel. I was getting angry. People take this guy seriously? His more direct followers – Marxists – cut to the chase and apply his ‘reasoning’ in such a way that its inherent nihilism, which Hegel dresses in the sheep’s clothing of the sweetness and light of Christian eschatology, gets exposed to anyone willing to see it. Just not so exposed that Marxists and all the little people who have absorbed their methods and assumptions while being somewhat unaware of the origins, can’t pretend otherwise. (whew! That’s better, I think.)

Hidden under Hegel’s haystacks of verbiage is essentially an angry narcissism, the soul reacting to the hopelessness evident in, for example, Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Sola – alone – is the rallying cry. Schola – together – is the largely unspoken enemy.  Luther (and Calvin) puts it simply, Hegel buries it under of mountain of words: We are not actors in our own salvation, not even in the tiny yet cosmic Catholic sense that God’s great good gift to us is a sacred freedom, vouchsafed by God’s Will alone, which grants to each of us the mysterious and paradoxical ability to give our ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to That Will. Instead, we suffer alone. We cannot act.

Stripped of its religious trappings, predestination is determinism. The soul does not exist in any manner different from how a rock exists, inert and passive. The soul, as conceived by the Greeks, Christians and a myriad other cultures, does not exist. We, however we chose to conceive of ourselves, don’t matter.

The sanest reaction is to reject the premise. We all, from the most callow Pelagianist to the most hubris-ridden materialist, reject determinism whenever we do anything at all. We can then explain to ourselves how the whole cycle of intellection and choice is an illusion, but we are of course incapable of behaving as if it were true.

Once the religious sheep clothing is yanked off and Hegelianism’s superficial reliance on God/Spirit is bled out, we’re left with a ravening wolf. Even this wolf dresses down, in gutted Christian mysticism, promising us the pie-in-the-sky Worker’s Paradise, codename: Progress, for which all sacrifices (of others) are immediately justified beyond question.

(If you personally are called upon to sacrifice, that’s a sure sign you are not of the Elect, not of the Vanguard, and are probably a useful idiot. The absolute Calvinist-style sign that you are among the Revolutionary Chosen is that you have the power to make others do the sacrificing. See, for reference, HISTORY.)

Thus my fevered mind, stuffed full of Hegel and Marx and with a couple decades to stew on them, concludes. The issues Hegel presents to Reason, even apart from the religious context, even without any sort of Christian faith, should cause all men with any claim of being or desire to be rational and logical to reject his vile nonsense, especially as distilled by Marx, especially as clothed (see a trend here?) in academic robes. Critical Theory, which – you can look it up – is merely Marxism reformatted for dissemination through all available academic channels, must be denounced by any who claim to be rational and have any shred of integrity.

First: the rejection of the Law of Noncontradiction is not, as some imagine, a subtle criticism of the hubris of rigorous logic, a valid criticism in some deep philosophical sense even if nonsensical in all practical senses. No law of noncontradiction = no science and no law, for example. No – it is a rejection of even the possibility of communication between people. Without the Law of Noncontradiction, everything I say and everything you say can both mean and not mean whatever the words themselves might suggest. Any and no understanding of what you or I may mean or not mean is equally invalid, or valid. The Tower of Babel prevails.

Nihilism, again. Sola, again. Every man is an island, surrounded by unbreachable reefs of confusion.

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An NPC in a Che hat, evidently.

Whenever we say Gender or Science or Class Consciousness is a social construct, we are  simply putting a Che hat on the  meaninglessness of nihilism. This is an intellectual ouroboros; this is turtles all the way down, except the existence of the turtles is simultaneously denied. It all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is – and, by definition (which is of course simultaneously impossible) is means isn’t. Is means nothing.

The price of admission to the academic cool kids club is not pointing out the idiotic nakedness of these non-ideas. The price of secular intellectual salvation is to keep pointing it out, to never bow to it, to challenge it whenever presented. I am reminded of the words Robert Bolt puts in Thomas More’s mouth as he talks to his daughter: Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.

 

 

Halloween, Hieronymus Bosch & Ephesians

This morning, had a discussion about slavery in the Roman Empire triggered by the Epistle to the Ephesians read this morning at Mass:

Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling,
in sincerity of heart, as to Christ,
not only when being watched, as currying favor,
but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
willingly serving the Lord and not men,
knowing that each will be requited from the Lord
for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
Masters, act in the same way towards them, and stop bullying,
knowing that both they and you have a Master in heaven
and that with him there is no partiality.

The usual commentary here goes something like: here is a revolutionary Christian proposal by Paul, that slaves, who have no rights under Roman law, must still be treated as brothers, and that masters will be judged by God on how well they treat them.

And, of course, this is true, and this new understanding in fact set the stage for the elimination of slavery wherever Christianity held sway. (Of course, given human nature, slavery pops right back up whenever we take our eye off the ball, but one or the other – slavery or Christianity – must prevail.)

I was making the point that understanding slavery under the Romans is a little tricky for Americans, as we have this history of racial slavery, where, because Americans were nominally Christians, they could not justify enslaving other men. Therefore, black Africans had to be thought of as less than men at least to some degree in order to keep the guilt and cognitive dissonance at bay.

The Romans, while as arrogant and bigoted as any conquerors, did not necessarily consider slaves as inferior men just from the fact of their slavery alone. A brave and noble man might just get unlucky, might be cursed by the gods, and simply be on the losing side of a war, and end up a slave through no real fault of his own. This is not to say that Romans didn’t look down on slaves, or treat them terribly – they did – but they did not imagine them a different, fundamentally inferior species. In general.

Also, a vast gulf exited between household slave and agricultural slaves. Sometimes, free men would sell themselves into slavery to a patrician, in order to have some hope of upward mobility – perhaps the nobleman had business interests that he might put the slave in charge of, if the slave proved himself dependable and talented. Then, if all went well, the slave could then buy or have given to him freedom for his children. At least, he probably wouldn’t starve in the meantime.

Agricultural slaves, on the other hand, seem to have been largely treated as animals. I have not run across any stories of agricultural slaves, who made up the vast bulk of slaves under the Empire, working their or their children’s way to freedom. But again, my reading in this area is slight.

Anyway, the only point, and it is a small one, is that it might have been lass shocking to the Romans and their Greek subjects to hear that a slave must be treated as a brother than it would have been for a Southern slave owner. In fact, the American slave owner just refused to hear it.

And this discussion lead, in that ineffable way my mind works, to consideration of Hieronymus Bosch, and why there are not more Halloween costumes and parties based on his works. The connection is that slavery isn’t the only thing that the Romans thought very differently than we do. Their sense of honor doesn’t map exactly to ours, for one thing, and the same noble Roman who would die unflinching for his Republic had most likely a deep and abiding affection for scatological humor. It’s a mistake to think of them in our terms. They inhabited a very different emotional and esthetic universe, it seems.

Hieronymus Bosch inhabited another very weird universe, one that – thankfully, I think – is very different from ours. It’s not just that his work is bizarre and often obscene – that might just be a personal quirk – it’s that his work was enormously popular. For a century after his death, people came to admire it. There are hundreds of copies drawn, painted or sculpted from that time. His work was hung in public places for people to see, and people traveled to see it. People really dug this stuff.

So I hit the web. And the answer is that first, there are plenty of Bosch themed costumes out there, if Google images is to be believed, and, second, that even a few parties along those lines have taken place. So, OK, even in these modern times Bosch has some appeal.

Then, for the first time in years, I looked, like really looked, at some Bosch.

Yikes.

 

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And this is kinda tame. There’s stuff I won’t even put up here. 
Image result for hieronymus bosch details
The ice skate/funnel/red cape/yoyo combo really sets off the cross beak/letter look. 
Image result for hieronymus bosch details
As a costume, you’d need the right attitude to make that fish head with butterfly wings cape, sword and shield look work. 

And these are some of the less disturbing ones.

As Halloween costume inspirations, it seems to me Bosch would not be very appropriate, at least, under what I hope are modern American sensibilities. For Catholics, we dress up as scary or even evil characters in order to mock them, to show them we no longer fear them. Oh Death, where is thy sting? after all. Bosch does seem to be mocking something. The mockery has a hard time cutting through the disturbing, at least for me.

Conclusion: the 15th and 16th century Netherlanders, and the Germans, Spaniards and Italians who admired and copied Bosch, did not look at the world the same way we do. At least most of us. And I’d frankly like to avoid the ones among us who do.

The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the second: Gather Us In

So far, two of my generous readers have made very worthy proposals for the next modern liturgical ditty to get the Deus Vult treatment: aetherfilledskyproductions nominates Lord of the Dance and Richard A thinks Gather Us In should be very firmly kicked, um, up a notch. I agree with both. We’ll start with Richard’s suggestion merely because my muse is more intrigued by it at the moment.

My analysis of Gather Us In can be found here. To sum up, word count exercise reveals:

Us, We, Our, Ours, People, Peoples: 30 instances.

God, Jesus, Lord, (and related terms, such as Savior, King, etc): 0 instances. There’s an implied God behind the gathering, couple of pronouns wander by, but overall there seems to be a quaint delicacy about just naming Him, let alone thanking and praising Him. Almost like we think Dad’s asleep and don’t want to wake him. He might come down and see what we’re up to.

We also have here the subtle despair of low expectations. Pick any beloved old hymn and  the poetry paints a vivid, concrete picture and puts us in it. Here? Vague feelz, curious circumlocutions, a general resistance to saying clearly what we are doing. Space and Place instead of Church; Awaken and arise to the sound of our names – what? See, the temptation for those of us paying attention is to provide logical backfill so that the lines say something – “I guess he means…” But really, it’s a hymn, not a reading comprehension test.

Must say, this might be the perfect song for the Deus Vult treatment, as it wants to gather us, just not into a holy army; it wants to change us, but not into Soldiers for Christ; it wants us to awaken, but not to repentance and holy fear of the Lord.

We can fix that.

Deus Vult 6
Too subtle? Goodness knows we don’t want to be too subtle here.

Continue reading “The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the second: Gather Us In”

The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the first

Enough is enough. Steps must be taken. For too long have we put up with wretched modern hymns, whining, sure, but doing nothing.

I here propose that we – I and anybody else who wants to play – Do Something. How about we take specific egregious hymns and through the magic of Scripture and doctrine married to classic hymn structures, write something that answers and corrects the pablum and heresy? Line by line, verse by verse, with references, we answer the drivel, the incoherences, the feels and, yes, the occasional overt heresy, with lines that mean something, advance the faith, and even rhyme!

We must for now set aside the ear-achingly bad music and focus on the texts. However numbingly awful modern church ditties may be, bad music most of the time merely insults taste and decorum, not Divine Truth directly. Besides, if we write our texts in any one of dozens of perfectly nice hymn formats, any number of existing tunes should fit them suitably.

Deus Vult 1
Just spitballing here…

We shall call this little exercise the Deus Vult Hymnal. Just because.

Deus Vult 2
Maybe this?

Today’s execrable hymn crying out to heaven for rebuttal if not vengeance, is the little Haugen tune All Are Welcome. Here, Mr. Haugen tries his musical hand at reinventing the Lutheran hymn, and the results are really not bad – musically speaking. The text, however, is a sort of motte and bailey: if we object to singing the Hegelian We Are Church Spirit into existence, we can be accused of objecting to being welcoming. Surely, the very least love of neighbor requires is welcome!

Continue reading “The Deus Vult Hymnal – part the first”

More Polanyi: Mysticism & Fantasy

Part II of my review of this book.

I’m well into the second half of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, and, while I’m getting a crash course in 18th & 19th English history through looking up all his references to events and people I’ve never heard of or that are just names to me, tedium is setting in. Late last night, while plowing through a few pages, I broke down and did something I almost never do and advise against doing until after you’ve read the book for yourself: looked at what other people say about this work. Read what the authors themselves say as much as possible, to avoid the inevitable biases and lacunas that predigested takes contain by their nature. In my frustration, curiosity about who, if anyone, takes Polanyi seriously got the better of me. Yes, I am weak.

Criticism fell into two distinct groups, with no one in the middle: Marxists critical theorists who love, love, love Great Transformation and consider it the seminal work on economics of the last 100 years, and non-Marxist economists – real economists, in other words – who would hurt themselves if they rolled their eyes any harder.

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Some kula in a museum. Subsistence farmers on remote islands make and trade these as part of a complex social ritual intended to reinforce social ties and thus avoid war. When all you got is yams, fish, palm fronds, and no realistic hope for anything more, the perennial human hobbies of sex and murder come to dominate your thoughts and rituals. Even more, I mean. 

The criticisms I laid down in my preliminary comments here and here were echoed and reinforced by his negative critics. For example, one critice makes a point Chesterton also made a couple of times in other contexts: primitive peoples alive today are not our ancestors. Rather, they are as much modern people as we are, except that for whatever reasons they have not made much technological or cultural progress. While our actual European ancestors were  inventing science and technology and cities and architecture and experimenting with complex social relationships, the Trobriand Islanders were cultivating yams and developing ritual trading designed to reinforce social relationships to keep the peace.

To point to tribal peoples living today as examples of man in nature is to ignore that our actual ancestors, who did develop what eventually became the modern world, were every bit as natural in the sense ‘natural’ is used here. Our actual ancestors, despite what Rousseau may think, were also natural men who did whatever they did by nature – they eventually developed the gold standard and international trade just as naturally as islanders grow yams and murder each other.  A ‘primitive’ Italian like Marco Polo, for example, clearly did engage in international truck and barter – around the time the Trobriand Islanders first arrived in their little paradise and started building grass huts. Polo is an ancestor to the West. The islanders are not.

Enough. Returning to my reading, here is a paragraph from the second half of the book I find quite revealing of how Polanyi thinks:

Let us return to what we have called the double movement. It can be personified as the action of two organizing principles in society, each of them setting itself specific institutional aims, having the support of definite social forces and using its own distinctive methods. The one was the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self-regulating market, relying on the support of the trading classes, and using largely laissez-faire and free trade as its methods; the other was the principle of social protection aiming at the conservation of man and nature as well as productive organization, relying on the varying support of those most immediately affected by the deleterious action of the market—primarily, but not exclusively, the working and the landed classes—and using protective legislation,
restrictive associations, and other instruments of intervention as its methods.

Notice anything odd? How about the odd use of the word ‘personified’? Polanyi is here saying that two competing ‘organizing principles’ are – persons?

It would be easy to explain this away, a little goof in the midst of a long book, something a good editors maybe should have caught, but clearly I don’t think so. I think that this personification of abstract forces is exactly what this book is about. The individual is nothing, the masses everything, after all. And the masses is a seething, suffering – abstraction.

To Polanyi, great lumbering forces, abstractions that manifest themselves in Capital, or the Gold Standard, or the Labor Market are the persons of History, while people are just at best the raw material History acts upon. These persons, these gods-who-are-not-gods, correspond to Hegel’s Spirit, in that History is not made from a cumulation of millions of little decisions by millions of little people, but rather History acts upon the little people, with their decisions merely reflecting the gradual expression of Historical forces.

History, then, is always inevitable, even if we can’t see it until our illusory choices have slipped into the past. Marx’s claim to see the future is a claim that History is as deterministic as a wind-up clock. In 3 hours it will be 5:45; in the fullness of time it will be the Worker’s Paradise.

Hidden here is the perennial bait and switch, or perhaps motte and bailey: our sympathies are engaged by the very real suffering (usually) of the Little People, but the analysis and proposed solutions are always about presumed inevitable forces. The Polanyis of the world flip from one to the other with greater or lesser skill: questions about the framework are answered by implied or, increasingly, shrill accusations that you don’t care about the little people; focus on practical steps directed at the little people, get reminded that it’s the system, man.

I’ll try to get this finished off and post a final review soon.

Wednesday Flotsam, Including Science!

A. Stray thought: there is evidence that we’re in a Golden Age in at least some fields, and not just the obvious technological ones. Besides, we’re so close to the birth of technical fields such as computer and material sciences that calling this a Golden Age in that respect seems too premature to mean much. No, I mean areas old enough to have gone through a few boom/bust cycles.  There seem to be an awful lot of people, many  young or youngish masters, doing very impressive work across a number of fields.

Further, while Golden a Ages seem to feature a disproportionate number of true masters, I would think that the true measure isn’t the individual genius (who can pop up anywhere at any time, it seems) but rather the number of competent to great practitioners beneath them. For example, the 16th and early 17th centuries were the Golden Age of polyphony. Everybody who knows anything about that era can name Palestrina, de Lasso, Victoria, Byrd. But what’s astounding is that the few times I’ve gotten to perform stuff written by the supposed 2nd tier guys, I’ve been blown away. There seems to have been a lot of great music written back then, for which Palestrina in particular has been chosen as the poster boy, with everybody else getting at most a ‘oh, yea, him too’ reference. (1)

Years ago, listened to an interview with some pianists involved in competitions. Turns out there’s a general consensus that there are more fabulous piano players alive now than at any time in history. Used to be that, for example, Rachmaninov’s piano concertos used to be the peak of the virtuoso mountain, attempted by only the best of the best. Today, there are thousands of 15 year olds around the world knocking them off. It’s gotten to the point where, in competitions, as single mistake will disqualify you; as one young pianist said: it’s like they’re judging your soul. Technical perfection is simply the price of admission.

Sticking with music, Rick Beato, an accomplished musician with a Youtube channel I follow, mentions in one of his videos the growing number of utterly excellent guitar players out there today. He tells a story familiar to any of us older, say, over 50, guys: when we were young, a new song would come out and you’d throw the vinyl record on the turntable and wear it out while you figured out how to play it. A noble, useful exercise, but time-intensive and often frustrating.

Today? On Youtube, you can likely find a dozen videos of people, occasionally, even the original performers, showing you how to play the song. Technical issues such as fingerings and voicings that are often difficult picking up from the recording become clear. You still have to do the work, but it is so much faster and less frustrating to see it worked through, especially when you’re a relative beginner.

Same general principle holds for woodworking, blacksmithing and boat building, and no doubt a thousand other crafts and arts. There’s some normalish guy out there building a Bombay chest, a classic rapier or a cedar strip canoe right this minute, and his work will stand comparison the the best that’s out there.

But the real value is more subtle: you get to see normal people doing extraordinary things. Teenage girls will shred their way through Eruption or arrangements of Beethoven sonatas; you can watch her hands and see how she’s doing it. Dude will show you how to do epic, Japanese-flavored woodworking projects in his home shop. A guy will build a 45′ steel boat in his front yard; a young couple will build a ketch from scratch with the intention of sailing the world. A 20 year year old kid will make swords that should be hanging in museums. And on and on.

There’s even a sort of Art Tatum of this crafty world, a guy whose patient perfectionism and awesome skills might intimidate you even he wasn’t so matter of fact and charming: on his Clickspring channel he’s building a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism out of sheets of brass, often using tools he makes for the purpose. It must be seen to be believed.

Is it just that social media makes all this cool stuff easily seen, when in the past it was hidden from all but the hardest hardcore hobbyists? I don’t think that’s the whole story. Rather, I think there’s a general spreading of inspiration, that people everywhere are seeing that people just like them can do these incredible projects, and that some of those people then start incredible projects of their own.

I think this a very good thing, if true. People with a sense of accomplishment are much less likely to get blown about in the winds of political and social fashion, seems to me. They’re not looking, or looking less, for that practical sense of meaning in their daily lives that mastery of a craft gives you. People who finally master that instrument, build that boat, or finish that home addition are more likely to be stable, solid citizens.

Maybe. I could be delusionally optimistic. Wouldn’t be the first time.

B. In comments to  this article from the Medical Press, a nuclear physicist points out that even elite scientists often screw up their statistical analyses. In the initial paper, data was collected from a carefully selected representative sample of people who use statistics. Just kidding! I slay me! Using an ‘instrument’ of some kind, some college students were asked to solve questions where the solution required following 3 or more logical steps OR really knowing stat so that you could plug some numbers into standard stat formulas. There is an example in the initial paper.

Now, knowing quite a few people, including myself, I’d say the likelihood a high percentage of any group of people who aren’t professional statisticians or logicians to solve such problems is slim to none. It would fall well below half. I’d expect single digits among, say, pedicurists, long haul truckers and journalists – you know, fields were being able to follow 2 or more steps of logic isn’t a job requirement.  No knock – if we don’t use it, our minds are pretty good at freeing up space for something else.

The purpose of the study was no doubt to obtain a stick with a patina of science on it with which to beat some target or other. Since the reason suggested – I hope you’re sitting down – is that statistics is taught very badly in schools, it looks like the target is people whose money the state wants for funding reliable statist voters, such as ‘educators’ and teachers. The state of eternal school reform must be maintained, while at the same time all who question why we would pay for something that has failed to work for 200+ years are automatically excommunicated.

I don’t think teaching will help much, unless lots of us peons somehow reach the conclusion that following logic very carefully is something we can’t live without. Until then, even ignoring any possible issues with native intelligence, people aren’t going to learn this. For those who might want to know how to think a little but for whom the schools have  succeeded in their stated goal of preventing just such thought, well, they could start with Dr. Briggs’ book.  In it, he shows convincingly that probability and statistics are branches of philosophy (and thus necessarily, of logic) with a little math attached. In other words, knowing what you are doing and what is possible comes first. Do that, and the math is either completely unnecessary or firmly secondary.

Statistics properly understood is both a powerful tool and a cautionary tale. As Briggs explains in his book, there are more interesting questions in this world about which statistics can tell us nothing than there are ones where statistics can give us great insight. I’d guess exactly 98.83% of all statistical analyses you’ll ever hear about are out and out nonsense, at least as presented. How the data is gathered, what the data even is, whether the subject matter even admits of numerical analysis – these are philosophical questions that get booted even before the perp gets a chance to screw up the math.

  1. And it’s even worse than that, in that about a half dozen works by Palestrina are well known among the tiny subset of people who care about this stuff. Palestrina and de Lasso were very prolific, writing hundreds of pieces over their careers. Palestrina also maintained legendarily high standards – all his work is good to epically great. It’s too much! So we get to hear the same small set of pieces repeatedly, and just take the experts word for it being representative. And that’s not even counting any of the other masters who you’ve never heard of and whose names I promptly forget.