Brick Oven Blowout: Gearing Up

The last 3.5 posts have been like, heavy, man – death of God, Luther, bad Science!, even quoting Camille Paglia! Therefore, to keep the silly/light quotient adequately high:

Sunday, we’re going to go for a total Brick Oven/Summer’s Over Blowout. Should have the oven door completed by then, which opens up a whole new world of stuff you can bake. Going to fire up the oven around noon or even earlier, heat it for a good 3-4 hours, then, around 3:00 p.m., we’ll start in on pizzas. I’ve been researching recipes that use a brick oven, and have found plenty – not surprising for a 2,500+ year old technology. The goal, such as it is, is just to try stuff, see what works, and, in the process, get to know the oven better.

Been surfing the interwebs in search of ideas. In addition to pizzas, we’ll be trying:

  • Breads – at least pizza-dough style and some light rye, maybe sourdough and ciabatta.
  • Baked potatoes
  • Carrots – saw a roasted honey-glazed recipe that looked pretty good
  • Steaks – skirt steak, if I can find any
IMG_4476
Charcoal and ash from a 90 minute burn. Will be shooting for a minimum 4 hour burn. To do real Italian-style bread properly, would probably require a minimum 6 hour burn – need to very thoroughly heat all that brick, mortar and concrete so it will hold the temp long enough to bake the bread. But that’s what this whole experiment is about.

The key to many of the vegetable items is cast iron cookware, of which we have some. You preheat the cast iron pans/pots in the oven, then add stuff, then let it bake/fry.

Saw Alton Brown do skirt steaks by simply throwing them – very briefly – directly onto 1000F charcoal. Sounds like fun.

We’ve invited maybe 15-20 people over. I’ve got 10lbs of brisket normalizing (soaking in plain water to pull some of the salt back out and even things up) after 6 days of brining, to make fresh pastrami. So we’ll need some brick oven bread suitable for sandwiches. There will be homemade sauerkraut and olives (from homegrown olives) as well as a few fresh off the vine tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers (late in the season, didn’t have very good volume this year). Hatch green chile is in the local Safeway, roasted a few pounds, so there will be authentic New Mexico style green chile sauce. What does one put authentic New Mexico style green chile sauce on? Just about anything!

Hatch Green Chile
Hatch Green Chile, grown in and around Hatch, New Mexico, is only available fresh for a few weeks in the fall. In Santa Fe, a couple hour’s drive north of Hatch, people buy it in 40 lbs boxes at the local grocery stores. Guys will set up roasters – 50-gallon drums where much of the sides have been replaced by expanded metal, on a rotating spindle over a fire – in the parking lot. Throw them a few bucks, and they’ll dump your box of chile into the barrel, spin it over the flames for a few minutes, then dump it back into your box (lined with plastic – doesn’t seem to melt it). You take it home, wipe the charred skin off with a cloth, throw the chile into baggies, and toss the baggies into the freezer. You’re now set for all your green chile needs until next year – if you go easy on it, that is. 

In addition to making the door, I might make a little expanded metal grill-on-legs that one can put into the oven to suspend foods over the coals (some people seem to like that, others throw everything right on the hot bricks or coals) Also got a metal pizza peel with too short a handle for reaching breads toward the back – got a long wooden handle, which I’ll need to swap out.

Got some shopping to do. Should be fun.

On an entirely different and more serious note: my wife heard an interview on NPR (the CD player in the car was giving her trouble, turned on the radio and that’s what was on) wherein a reporter who wrote a book on the Trump campaign opined that denying the results of a Pew study, which Trump is said to have done, was the same as denying gravity – anti-Science! Oh no! Couldn’t find a transcript, just the audio of the interview – and haven’t the time nor stomach to listen through to get the exact quotation. Will try later, time permitting. Suffice it to say that anyone who thinks polling data demands anything like the agreement an honest man gives to the theory of gravity and all its beautiful and useful math is a helpless babe in the woods, to be lead wherever her betters choose to lead her.

And then she presumes to lead us. With a sneer. O dolour!

But the party will be fun!

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Lord of the World and the Death of God

As so often happens, a philosophical confluence. In the course of my more or less random reading, came across two writes, a century apart and coming at the issue from different angles, who notice the same thing. First, in Robert Hugh Benson’s wonderful and multiple-Pope-recommended 1907 novel Lord of the World, the rising English politician Oliver Brand thinks through what would nowadays be called his worldview:

As he looked from his window and saw that vast limit of London laid peaceably before him, as his imagination ran out over Europe and saw everywhere that steady triumph of common sense and fact over the wild fairy-stories of Christianity, it seemed intolerable that there should be even a possibility that all this should be swept back again into the barbarous turmoil of sects and dogmas…. Even Catholicism would revive, he told himself, that strange faith that had blazed so often as persecution had been dashed to quench it; and, of all forms of faith, to Oliver’s mind Catholicism was the most grotesque and enslaving….  There was but one hope on the religious side, as he had told Mabel a dozen times, and that was that the Quietistic Pantheism which for the last century had made such giant strides in East and West alike, among Mohammedans, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists and the rest, should avail to check the supernatural frenzy that inspired their exoteric brethren. Pantheism, he understood, was what he held himself; for him “God” was the developing sum of created life, and impersonal Unity was the essence of His being; competition then was the great heresy that set men one against another and delayed all progress; for, to his mind, progress lay in the merging of the individual in the family, of the family in the commonwealth, of the commonwealth in the continent, and of the continent in the world. Finally, the world itself at any moment was no more than the mood of impersonal life. It was, in fact, the Catholic idea with the supernatural left out, a union of earthly fortunes, an abandonment of individualism on the one side, and of supernaturalism on the other. It was treason to appeal from God Immanent to God Transcendent; there was no God transcendent; God, so far as He could be known, was man.

Later, Brand reads in the paper an account of the brave new world being ushered in by one Julian Felsenburgh, a mysterious American who is being called the Savior of the World:

“It is understood now, by fanatic barbarians as well as by civilised nations, that the reign of War is ended. ‘Not peace but a sword,’ said CHRIST; and bitterly true have those words proved to be. ‘Not a sword but peace’ is the retort, articulate at last, from those who have renounced CHRIST’S claims or have never accepted them. The principle of love and union learned however falteringly in the West during the last century, has been taken up in the East as well. There shall be no more an appeal to arms, but to justice; no longer a crying after a God Who hides Himself, but to Man who has learned his own Divinity. The Supernatural is dead; rather, we know now that it never yet has been alive. What remains is to work out this new lesson, to bring every action, word and thought to the bar of Love and Justice; and this will be, no doubt, the task of years. Every code must be reversed; every barrier thrown down; party must unite with party, country with country, and continent with continent. There is no longer the fear of fear, the dread of the hereafter, or the paralysis of strife. Man has groaned long enough in the travails of birth; his blood has been poured out like water through his own foolishness; but at length he understands himself and is at peace.

“Let it be seen at least that England is not behind the nations in this work of reformation; let no national isolation, pride of race, or drunkenness of wealth hold her hands back from this enormous work. The responsibility is incalculable, but the victory certain. Let us go softly, humbled by the knowledge of our crimes in the past, confident in the hope of our achievements in the future, towards that reward which is in sight at last—the reward hidden so long by the selfishness of men, the darkness of religion, and the strife of tongues—the reward promised by one who knew not what he said and denied what he asserted—Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, for they shall inherit the earth, be named the children of God, and find mercy.”

and Brand’s young wife Mabel,  trying to convince her dying mother in law to abandon Catholicism:

“Mother,” said the girl, “let me tell you again. Do you not understand that all which Jesus Christ promised has come true, though in another way? The reign of God has really begun; but we know now who God is. You said just now you wanted the Forgiveness of Sins; well, you have that; we all have it, because there is no such thing as sin. There is only Crime. And then Communion. You used to believe that that made you a partaker of God; well, we are all partakers of God, because we are human beings. Don’t you see that Christianity is only one way of saying all that? I dare say it was the only way, for a time; but that is all over now. Oh! and how much better this is! It is true—true. You can see it to be true!”

She paused a moment, forcing herself to look at that piteous old face, the flushed wrinkled cheeks, the writhing knotted hands on the coverlet.

“Look how Christianity has failed—how it has divided people; think of all the cruelties—the Inquisition, the Religious Wars; the separations between husband and wife and parents and children—the disobedience to the State, the treasons. Oh! you cannot believe that these were right. What kind of a God would that be! And then Hell; how could you ever have believed in that?… Oh! mother, don’t believe anything so frightful…. Don’t you understand that that God has gone—that He never existed at all—that it was all a hideous nightmare; and that now we all know at last what the truth is…. Mother! think of what happened last night—how He came—the Man of whom you were so frightened. I told you what He was like—so quiet and strong—how every one was silent—of the—the extraordinary atmosphere, and how six millions of people saw Him. And think what He has done—how He has healed all the old wounds—how the whole world is at peace at last—and of what is going to happen. Oh! mother, give up those horrible old lies; give them up; be brave.”

Written in 1907.

Next, came across the Death of  God Fifty Years On by Matthew Rose at First Things, published a year ago. In 1966, Time magazine’s cover story was entitled “Is God Dead?” This article, what we would now call click bait, created a furor. For youngsters, way back then people took magazines like Time seriously as not only purveyors of “news” but as important social and cultural barometers. Weird, huh?

Rose’s essay is very hard to excerpt, as it spins together, from paragraph to paragraph, many sources and writers to paint its picture. What follows gives some of the flavor, but it’s well worth reading the entire essay:

Altizer was taken with Nietzsche’s idea that Christianity generated its own fatal undermining. But he challenged ­Nietzsche on a critical point: It was not Christians who murdered God, but God who abolished himself. Altizer arrived at this conclusion through a controversial reading of other theologians. Among them was Karl Barth, who according to Altizer had initiated the Death of God movement. (Alasdair MacIntyre made a similar reading of the Swiss theologian in 1967.)

A central thesis of Barth’s theology is that God’s nature is bound up with his revelation in salvation history. Since we cannot know God apart from his self-revelation, argued Barth, we have true ­knowledge of the divine only through Jesus Christ. Altizer translated this claim about knowledge into a metaphysical thesis. He stipulated that God has no being apart from the historical person of Jesus. This allowed Altizer to say, with quite shocking matter-of-factness, that God is dead because he died in history, on the cross. God is incarnate in Jesus—and he dies in Jesus. “The radical Christian,” Altizer wrote in his 1966 manifesto The Gospel of Christian Atheism, “proclaims that God has actually died in Christ, that this death is both a historical and cosmic event.”

From the perspective of classical Christian ­theology, Altizer’s views can only appear nonsensical, but his understanding of God differed in fundamental ways from that tradition. Its roots were in the nineteenth-century philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, who interpreted history as the progressive realization of human freedom. Hegel’s main idea was that contradiction—or more precisely, the overcoming of contradiction—is the law of life.

His Phenomenology of Spirit told the speculative story of how human beings attain free ­self-consciousness through conflict that always leads to a higher resolution. In this history, he claimed, we learn to see historical conceptions of God as symbolic representations of the human drama of cultural ­development.

Hegel was deeply entangled with Christian theology and saw himself as preserving the spirit of Christianity rather than overturning it. He maintained, with perfect sincerity and considerable ingenuity, that his philosophy advanced a rational articulation of the teachings of the Bible. There are many twists and turns to Hegel’s philosophical re-narration of the scriptural story, but its most important claim is that God entered history in order to abolish his separation from it. History’s meaning and purpose are no longer “above,” but instead operate within the ongoing flow of human affairs. God’s coming into the world in Christ represents, symbolically, man’s coming-to-himself as the rational author of his own destiny.

The essay concludes by remarking that, while the theology of the death of God has had little academic traction, as a reflection of what was going on in the culture, however inarticulately, it was dead on.

Benson might have agreed.

Finally, how does this sort of thing metastasize across a culture? Benson gives a clue earlier in his novel. Mabel and her mother in law went to hear Oliver deliver a speech. The people gathered began to sing:

There was no doubt that these Londoners could sing. It was as if a giant voice hummed the sonorous melody, rising to enthusiasm till the music of massed bands followed it as a flag follows a flag-stick. The hymn was one composed ten years before, and all England was familiar with it. Old Mrs. Bland lifted the printed paper mechanically to her eyes, and saw the words that she knew so well:

The Lord that dwells in earth and sea.” …

She glanced down the verses, that from the Humanitarian point of view had been composed with both skill and ardour. They had a religious ring; the unintelligent Christian could sing them without a qualm; yet their sense was plain enough—the old human creed that man was all. Even Christ’s, words themselves were quoted. The kingdom of God, it was said, lay within the human heart, and the greatest of all graces was Charity.

In Today’s Education News

Via Twitter:

First Things has a little piece on the always interesting Camille Paglia – she’s not down with special snowflakes, and thinks kids need to learn some history:

 “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

and

[students have not had a] “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.”

This only reinforces my bad habit of asking people sympathetic to Marx and Communism if they’ve read or even heard of Gramsci or the Fabian Society. I’ve yet to find one who had even heard of them, let alone was familiar with what they did. (Not hanging out in the faculty lounge these days, I must admit. I’m not entirely sure it would matter.)

And then there’s this, where I back Dr. Paglia by noting that the abundant good times we live in perversely enough seem to get in the way of our recognizing that we live in abundant good times.

Is better education the solution? Can virtue be taught? Whatever else are we supposed to try? A good many saints seemed to have died in something of despair – of this world, not of the next. Still, we’re not allowed to give up – on people, that is. All institutions are as grass, all we think so compelling in this world today withers tomorrow.

And how do we learn this? How teach it?

 

Science! And Hilarity Ensued

Coincidentally, I was reading about the Permian–Triassic extinction event, where the CO2 level reached something like 2500 ppm, when the news broke that some people on the climate panic side of things were owning up to the reality that the ‘carbon budget’ was not quite so dire, that there’s no way by 2022 the earth will heat up by a total of the 1.5 C that the models predicted . Strangely – or not – this little bit of news, the 2nd item on the Google science news feed when I first saw it this morning, had disappeared entirely from the 20 page 1 science articles by this afternoon.

(Correction: it’s now item #14, but the emphasis has not so subtly changed: the article leading the charge is now We Can Still Reach The Most Optimistic Target of The Paris Climate Deal, Says New Study emphasizing not that the climate models have been wrong for 20+ years, but rather how the new less-panicky conclusions mean that we can still meet the Paris targets! In other words, rather than call the validity of the carbon targets themselves into question, we focus on how the fool’s errand of assuming people can manage world-wide climate now looks more promising, once we acknowledge that carbon dioxide doesn’t affect temperature nearly as much as we thought. The real question: in light of this admission of error new finding, does CO2 within any plausible range over the next century or two actually change anything for the worse? This is not addressed, even though it is surely the question inquiring minds would like to know. )

Wonder why? First off, looking at the bit of the abstract I can find without paying, the devil is in the details I can’t see. Quotes from the scientists involved are not very straight-forward, and are provided by Breitbart, which I gather is a tainted source. Here they are:

Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change at University College London and one of the study’s authors, admitted that his previous prediction had been wrong.

He stated during the climate summit in Paris in December 2015: “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.”

Speaking to The Times, he said: “When the facts change, I change my mind, as Keynes said.

“It’s still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought.”

and

Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and another author of the paper, said: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”

He said that the group of about a dozen computer models, produced by government research institutes and universities around the world, had been assembled a decade ago “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”.

He said that too many of the models used “were on the hot side”, meaning they forecast too much warming.

The reporters comments:

Note the disingenuousness here.

Grubb is claiming that the facts have changed. Which they haven’t. Climate skeptics have been saying for years that the IPCC climate models have been running “too hot.” Indeed, the Global Warming Policy Foundation produced a paper stating this three years ago. Naturally it was ignored by alarmists who have always sought to marginalize the GWPF as a denialist institution which they claim – erroneously – is in the pay of sinister fossil fuel interests.

If the pattern I’ve observed before recurs, the news will reappear once the proper spin has been worked up. (See correction above – they’re getting faster at this!) Or not – kind of hard to spin this, not that I doubt for a moment that it’s being worked on. (I’m wrong again! Spin rules!)

In the Permian die-off, the CO2 levels got very high, but it seems more likely than not that it was an effect, not a significant cause. Things did get hot – seas in the equatorial regions were probably over 100F for many thousands of years. But this was the time the Siberian Traps were forming as well, when a couple million square miles of Siberia were covered by a million cubic miles of lava over a very short time, geologically speaking – which could mess things up, one imagines. Dumping a lot of heat and gas into the air, for one thing.

At any rate, it seems sometimes that people need to be reminded that Star Trek was a fantasy. Socialism doesn’t really work. Oh, and the science was make-believe, too.

Weekend Update: Pizza and Luther

Hectic. Intense. Ready for a break.

But found time for some fun! On Saturday, we had a couple religious sisters over for dinner and the night (they sell books at Catholic events, were over in the East Bay from their house on the Peninsula, had some more gigs lined up in the Concord area for Sunday morning early, and didn’t want to do the drive home late, drive back early thing – if you’ve driven around here, you will be sympathetic). Took the occasion to do more wood-fired brick oven pizza! Woohoo!

One thing the interwebs in their inscrutable majesty tell us is that every brick oven is different, and one must just keep using it to learn how your particular one works. Seems ours is on the large size for a pizza oven, because I also anticipated baking bread in it, and so made it large – it’s maybe half way between a pizza oven and a smallish bread oven, size-wise. This means that heat time is longer – took about 2 hours to get the floor up to 800F, a proper temperature for Neapolitan-style pizzas.  Even then, could probably have used another 1/2 hour to really load enough heat in the 1/2 ton or so of bricks, mortar and concrete that make up the oven, to do more than a few pizzas.

But it worked! Ended up making 4 pizzas, two strictly traditional – simple flour, yeast, salt & water crusts, crushed fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and a dribble of olive oil – and two with a little more adventure to them.

At 800F, takes 2 minutes or less to cook a thin pizza. We didn’t quite make it – it cooled to a bit over 700F by the time the pies hit the bricks – so it took 3-4 minutes (That’s why I think we need that additional 30 minutes of heating).

How do I know the temps? This:

Fancy-dan laser infrared thermometer gun! My son and I were taking the temperatures of anything and anyone who wandered into rang. Just don’t shoot them in the eyes! Fun gadget – always impressed by how technology works it way down, so that I have a very sophisticated computer masquerading as a phone in my pocket – with satellite GPS uplinks and access to the WWW.  And it’s just a phone no better than that owned by hundreds of millions of people. Here, we have laser and infrared technology combined into a little plastic gadget that can measure temperature up to maybe 16′ away – for under $30, price of a medium fancy lunch.

Amazing. Life can be fun, if you let it.

Rereading Lord of the World. It stands up to and might even require rereading.

Next up, while shopping for pizza ingredients, got a call from my daughter at Thomas More College where the juniors are now reading Luther.

She was exasperated – people fell for this? Luther is completely unconvincing and is borderline incoherent much of the time!

She said that she at least expected him to be a smart guy, making somewhat sophisticated arguments. She, like her father and mother before her, had been recently reading the likes of Augustine and Thomas right before running into Luther, and so had developed a very high standard for rational argument. It’s hard, in that context, to see Luther’s arguments as much more than the logical equivalent of a monkey flinging poo: you don’t like the Church – we get it. Anyone who disagrees with you is evil or stupid or both – right. Your arguments, such as they are and no matter how they torture understanding and context, are the simple and pure light of the Spirit shining through – gotcha.

So she called me to vent. She’d gotten to the reading – Christian Liberty – before her roommates, and had ranted to the empty dorm room – oh, come on! – then had the experience of hearing her roommates do the same when they got to the reading. And of course she’d grown up hearing me rant about how idiotic and vile Luther’s actual words are, as opposed to what people imagine them to be in that weird space he seems to occupy in Protestant mythology.

The hard part: realizing that the followers are sincere. Educated Catholic reactions to Luther’s arguments and claims have, from the very first, been something like: that’s utterly ridiculous! You have to cherry-pick and torture Scripture to get it to say that! You ignore all context, gloss over all history, dance around basic logical question – and then call your opponents names when they point it out! What a knucklehead!

Yet – yet – those who speak of his fiery style and manly vigor, who see him as this saint who lead the world back to real Christianity, truly do not see the ridiculousness of his arguments and claims. Educated Catholics have a very hard time arguing calmly in such an environment, where each page, each paragraph, presents another absurdity, overreach and attack on opponents.

But we must. I read an essay once by prominent Protestant theologian saying he had a hard time letting go of the beauty of the basic Protestant view of Christian life, and saw it as perfectly viable and comparable to the Catholic view – a matter of taste, as it were.

Wow. Just – wow. But he is an exception – in general, admirers of Luther follow Luther’s own example when reading Scripture when they read Luther – vast amounts of authority and value are given to certain selected passages, while the bulk of Luther’s writings are explained away or simply ignored in light of those cherry-picked passages.

So: I’m going to redouble my efforts to by sympathetic to Lutherans and their Protestant brethren who take Luther seriously enough to have read some of him. I’ll try to listen, and hear where they’re coming from. THEN I’ll start quoting Luther back to them! BUWAHAHA!

No, wait – I’ll be even more patient. I’ll try to plant one little seed – and then shut up, and leave it to God. Because, frankly, this is hard.

Then there’s the rank and file – people who have read little or no Luther, and so imagine him, based on reputation alone, to be sweetness and light itself. They, like the bulk of Lutherans since before Luther’s body was even cold in the grave, more or less ignore most of what he said without even being aware of it. His Bondage of the Will teaches a predestination that is every bit as extreme  as Calvin’s – yet Lutherans don’t typically talk like Calvinists in this regard. For example.

In one of those odd confluences so typical of Real Life(tm), on Catholic Radio this morning was an interview with a bunch of converts from Lutheranism and Protestantism in general who are recently back from taking a tour of Germany to visit the various sites associated with Luther. Needless to say, they were not your typical such tourists. As converts from the mish-mash fathered by Luther, they were much more prepared than I would have been to engage – and they, by the accounts they gave, were at least as brutal as I would have been.

One point one the guys made to a tour guide at a Luther museum: 60% of the people of Germany claim to be irreligious. Well? If Luther were such a positive religious influence, why have the sheep so relentlessly fled the fold, rejecting any fold? When the guide answered that it was Communism, he replied that Poland, right next door, suffered at least as much as Germany did under the Communists – yet, united in their Catholic faith, they remain a strongly religious people. Strong enough to lead the way throwing out the Reds.

So, there is that. I, on the other hand, have to reign in my tongue. Fortunately, I suppose, have not had occasion to discuss Luther with any of his admirers for a number of years now.

Review: Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy

History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy by [Machiavelli, Niccolò]Written toward the end of a lifetime (1469 – 1527) spent as a diplomat and adviser, Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy is not the book of his most people read – that would be the Prince, the realpolitik described within it giving us the adjective Machiavellian.

Since I first read the Prince as a youth, I’ve belonged to the minority of non-Italian readers who think the amoral and murderous advice he gives is rather more a cautionary tale than advice per se – that Machiavelli, who pleads throughout for the particular prince to whom the book is dedicated to take action, is hoping to avoid, as much as possible, the violence he describes from copious historical examples. But that’s decidedly a minority opinion, outside of Italy.

Among Italians, I’ve been told, Machiavelli is viewed much more as an Italian patriot than as an advocate of Athens’ position in the Melian Dialogues (“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”). And so I wanted to read this, his history of the city and nation he so clearly loved.

The book opens with the Fall of Rome, giving what I assume is the 16th century Italian angle on the Vandals – Stilicho and his family – and Visigoths – Alaric and his – and the End of the World, as Lafferty would have it. By the 16th century, it is more than a little odd to talk about Italians as if they could be distinguished in a practical sense from the Germanic auxiliaries/invaders/settlers from which a huge percentage of the norther Italians were descended. Nonetheless, there’s a pro-Italian flavor to Machiavelli’s account I don’t see in Belloc’s or Lafferty’s.

Then comes Odoacer and about 6 centuries about which I know so little it is hard to follow. Turmoil is the main theme here, as it is for almost all history almost everywhere. Italy was shattered, eventually, after the Fall of Rome, and spent the next 1500 years trying to pull itself together.

One main thing gleaned from this period: with all the turmoil, all the ambition petty and grand, that resulted in the endless bloodshed and war and intrigue, it’s much more easy to find some sympathy for the  various popes and their bloodshed, wars and intrigue. Toward the end of the book, Machiavelli says that it’s best, when there’s a choice, not to make alliances with popes, as they don’t generally rule long and you never know what the next one will do. That, (I liberally paraphrase) and the pope might just have religious considerations that muck things up!

Not in any way attempting to excuse the often brutal and murderous behaviors of many of the popes especially starting in the 15th century, just pointing out that a pope back then actually needed armies and land if he didn’t want to spend his reign locked up in somebody’s closet. As bad as a pope might occasionally be, the secular princes could be counted on to be consistently worse.

Things picked up for me in the 13th century, as I started to see more familiar names and her more familiar stories, mostly familiar from having read Dante (he puts in a brief appearance) and art history.

Starting with the 13th century, the History gets to be much more detailed. As the 15th century starts, Machiavelli begins to go into much more detail, as the events were still in living memory when he was a boy. Finally, as 1500 approaches, he starts referring to the Florentines as ‘we’ – this is the history he lived through.

And what a troubled yet glorious time it was, with Lorenzo the Magnificent rising to power, surviving an assassination attempt that claimed his brother, attacked by both the King of Naples and the pope, deserted by allies in Milan and Venice, making a daring trip to Naples to seek reconciliation with the king, succeeding, and then sending ambassadors to the pope – and succeeding again! – riding out troubles at home, and coming out of all that as the most powerful man in Italy, pretty much.

While Machiavelli only touches lightly upon it, at the same time all this violence and insecurity were afflicting Florence, more great art was being produced in that one little corner of the world than anywhere else in such a small place any time in history, with the possible exception a couple of centuries in Athens. Truly amazing.

C. S. Lewis advises one to read an old book each time you’ve read a new one, or, if you must, after each two new ones. You could do much worse for an old book than the History of Florence.

Quick Review: Osborn’s Rock & Roll: The New Madrid Fault System

Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System by [Osborn, Stephanie]Stephanie Osborn, that is.  Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System is a 50 or so page essay Dr. Osborn (who has a very Renaissance Woman vita: Rocket scientist? Check. Geologist? Check. Author? Yep. And so on.) on the basics of the New Madrid fault system.

Osborn takes us through a brief tour of earthquake dynamics and terminology – Horst and Graben might not work as a band name, but a law firm? Oh yea – on her way to telling us that everyone in the lower midwest (or whatever people call Missouri, Western Tennessee and all adjoining areas) are DOOMED TO BE SWALLOWED BY THE EARTH IN A CATASTROPHE OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS. Not to put too fine a point on it.

You see, not only is there this major fault system right there in and around New Madrid, but when it pops, the areas affected dwarf what goes on here in California, and you get more of the more interesting earthquake effects, such as dramatic surface waves that may OPEN HUGE YAWNING CRACKS AT YOUR FEET. As Osborn explains, the underlying geology in California is solid rock to a fairly good depth, so that while earthquakes can certainly be severe, the rigid structure tends to stop the movement fairly quickly, and to not propagate those nasty rolling earthquake waves very well, comparatively speaking.

The vast area in and around the New Madrid fault, by contrast, is fractured and unstable and therefore more elastic rock covered by many feet of sediment that has not been crushed yet into solid rock. And earthquake in California is like someone bumping

OzzyChangingHands02-20-2010new.jpg
No, not this Osbourne – Rock n Roll, sure, but geology? Not so much.

a table; when the New Madrid faults pop, it’s like whacking a giant bowl of Jello. (My colorful analogy, not hers.)

So, yes, if you happen to live in the affected area, when the next Big One hits in Mid America, you will see you buildings, crops and livestock tossed into the air, rivers flowing backwards and forging new courses, all your building reduced to piles of rubble – at least, you’ll see it until THE EARTH BENEATH YOU OPENS UP LIKE THE MAW OF HELL AND SWALLOWS YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU LOVE BEFORE SNAPPING CLOSED LIKE THE MOUTH OF AN ENORMOUS CROCODILIAN DEMON-BEAST!!! While we out here in California will die more prosaic deaths such as being crushed by falling masonry or freeway overpases, midwesterners get the full Biblical style Judgement of the Most High there-one-moment-swallowed-up-and-vanished-the-next deaths. So, major style points to the Midwest.

Seems to happens every 3-4 centuries. Last really nasty earthquake swarm was 1811-1812. So, if you live there, you may be good for a few centuries. Or maybe not. Just be aware: Californians may be slow on the uptake, but after a few rounds of having building drop on people’s heads, we have taken many steps to keep that sort of thing to a minimum. Masonry building here are either a facade over a steel frame, or 75 or more years old (and small – the bigger building tend to be the ones more damaged in quakes.) Earthquake retrofitting, where typically steel and reinforced concrete are more or less discretely added to older buildings, is an industry here.

The Midwest, in my fairly extensive experience driving around there, seems to be infested with a LOT of brick and stone buildings. Lots and lots.

You’ll want to avoid those during a quake. To put it mildly.

Rock and Roll is by design and necessity a pretty light read, with a very extensive bibliography in case you want to dig deeper. (Osborn’s list of references is about 50% the number of pages as the essay itself.) As I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit like reading a very long Wikipedia article written by somebody with verve – it’s an easy and often charming read.

So, if you live in the frankly doomed, so doomed, area within a 1,000 miles of New Madrid, you might want to pick up a copy and give it a read. At the very least, it may cure you of any tendency to think how dumb Californians are for building right on top of major faults they just know are going to kill them all one day.

Ha. And the weather is really nice out here.