Let’s Go There: Traditionis Custodes

More specifically, reactions to it. For my beloved non-Catholic readers, this is a little inside baseball. The pope just issued a letter – that’s what the Latin above refers to – that reverses the permissions and guidelines of the last 2 popes regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Pope St. John Paul had permitted the TLM with the permission of the local bishop, which he encouraged them to grant; Pope Benedict had essentially ruled that such permission is presumed granted, and encouraged the TLM as an important spiritual practice. There was great joy among many Catholics, and the TLM, while still a tiny fraction of the masses being celebrated world-wide, enjoyed a resurgence such that you could fairly easily find one in most dioceses in America, at least. Francis latest letter is trying to crush this movement in favor of the ‘Ordinary Form’, or the Mass in the vernacular according to the practices developed after Vatican II.

You’ve been warned!

Bunch of background, trying to keep it simple here.

To us Catholics, the mass is THE prayer, the source and summit of all Christian life. It is the closest thing to Heaven on earth, with the Body of Christ manifested in the gathered faithful, the proclamation of the Scripture, and most especially in the Eucharist. Over the course of 2,000 years, this prayer has taken on many forms. Today, within the Catholic Church, there are dozens of forms of the Mass, from different cultures and times – the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is used in a variety of forms by some Eastern Rite Catholics; there is a Dominican rite from the 13th century Dominican order, a Syriac Rite from the earliest centuries in Syria, and so on.

The Roman part of the Catholic Church, as distinct from the Syriac, Eastern Rite, Coptic Catholics, and so on, is by far the largest. This Latin Church includes Catholics in areas that were once part of the Western Roman Empire, their descendants scattered around the globe, but most especially the peoples proselytized and converted over the centuries by missionaries who trace back to these areas – Latin America, the Philippines, much of Africa. Most people think the Catholic Church only refers to this collection of people, but in reality it includes many smaller groups who are, in the language of the Church, “in communion with Rome” – who accept the teachings of the Church and recognize the primacy of the Pope in matters of faith and morals. These groups each have their own forms of the mass, generally passed down for centuries and often tracing back to the Apostles themselves.

For the Latin Church, the dominant form over the last 1,000 years has been by far (with relatively minor variations) what is called the Latin Mass. For over 400 years, from the Council of Trent until Vatican II, what is called the Pius V Mass was the one canonically required form to be celebrated in all Roman Catholic parishes worldwide. This uniformity was instituted as part of the Church’s efforts to address the laxity and corruption that had greatly contributed to the Reformation and the resulting fragmentation of Christianity.

It is this Pius V Mass, again with relatively minor updates, that is now referred to as the TLM. If you grew up Catholic in America before 1970, the mass to you and almost all Catholics worldwide meant the Pius V Mass. Note that despite the numerical dominance of the Roman part of the Catholic Church, and despite the recognition of the primacy of the Pope by all Catholics, the Church has always allowed for various forms of the Mass to accommodate the ancient and varied traditions of Catholics with roots outside Western Europe.

One way I like to think about the Mass is by thinking about this:

The high altar in the cathedral in Rouen

Once Christianity was legalized by Constantine in 313, Catholics started building big, beautiful churches. In the West, the relative chaos of Late Antiquity slowed things down until Charlemagne kicked things back into gear, having built hundreds of churches, monasteries (each with a church) and palaces (each with a chapel) by the time he died in 814. Another relative low followed, until in 1137, Abbot Suger decided to remodel the great abbey church of St. Denis, kicking off the Gothic building boom.

Looking toward the main altar from high in the nave, the cathedral in Siena.

Why do Catholics build and love their churches so much? Because that is where the Mass is celebrated, where Heaven and earth meet, where we receive the Body of Christ. We all want to do the best we can, so we build the finest buildings, adorn them with the greatest art, and fill them with the most beautiful music.

This has much less to do with wealth than one might imagine, An emperor could get Hagia Sophia built in 5 years; an important city could get a major Gothic church built in 50; a lesser town might take 100 years or more. But no matter what the resources, Catholics have done whatever we can do to have as beautiful a church as possible. Consider:

This is the interior of St. Mary’s Church in Newport, RI, the third parish church built for and largely by the Irish laborers imported to do the work of building Fort Adams . The men of the parish volunteered 1 day’s labor to “dig the trenches”. When they decided to build this church in 1846, the parish had 586 people in it, almost all of them poor Irish immigrants. Or:

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina, TX
St. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church, Dubina, TX, 1912

My ancestors on my mother’s side were Czech immigrants to East Texas. Like the Irish laborers above, among the first things they wanted to do once they got settled was build suitable churches. The Czech rural tradition was to paint the inside of parish churches, something the locals could do without having to spend money they didn’t have. Thus, the exteriors of the these “painted churches” are built of the stone you can get from neighborhood, the interiors tend to be wood and plaster painted to look like heaven. These parishes had maybe 500 – 700 souls in total, yet they built these beauties.

Slide 4
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Praha, TX. 1895

(While poking around for pictures, found this video on the Painted Churches of East Texas. In the Czech Republic, rural churches are often painted like this. It’s what you do to make your church as beautiful as possible when you can’t afford Carrara marble and carved stone statues.)

And over and over again, all around the world. The engine driving all this building and beautification is the Mass. To Catholics, a church is not just a gathering place, or even just a place of prayer. It is holy ground, made holy by God, who is especially present and with us and in us at Mass.

The TLM was not just a part of the efforts of typical Catholics to have a nice church. For 1,000 years, it was the reason we wanted a nice church.

The greatest work of art in history, the deepest, most moving, human creation, is a high mass celebrated in a great cathedral. Imagine: a long procession of gorgeously attired figures walks solemnly up the columned nave, candles and incense burning, choirs filling the air with the greatest music ever written. For the next hour and a half, a carefully choreographed ritual is performed, culminating in the dramatic proclamation: “this is My Body; this is My Blood” while bells ring a choirs sing. We respond in words inspired by the centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

Even considered only as human art, it is magnificent; considered as God’s ultimate sacrament, His ultimate Presence among us, the mass is ineffable.

The TLM is one with that experience, as the liturgy, buildings, art, and music developed together for more than 1,000 years! Certainly, a typical parish mass over the last 2,000 years has rarely approached this sublime level artistically, but has approached it spiritually more often than one might imagine. Many Catholics have been to an Easter Vigil or Christmas Midnight Mass that was profoundly, spiritually moving, that shared in the nature of a great high mass in a great building even if falling short in material magnificence.

Now, I am not a hater of the New Mass. I have been blessed to attend many that were beautiful and spiritually fulfilling. I attend a TLM maybe 4-5 times a year, tops. But only a dedicated partisan could claim that the Ordinary Form is not extraordinarily prone to abuse. I go way out of my way to avoid particularly egregious parishes. Despite my efforts, I’ve been a part of way too many liturgies that make a mockery of the beauty and joy that is by nature present in the Mass.

Also, I was 12 in 1970, and saw first hand how brutally and arbitrarily the New Mass was imposed. The fantasy world where lovers of the TLM are just grouchy fuddy-duddies is an evil, evil lie. Anyone who dared question the sudden and dictatorial suppression of the old mass and imposition of the new were verbally abused, called names, ignored, humiliated, and mocked FOR DECADES. Sure, some were jerks – in a church with over a billion members, your going to get millions of jerks. But I knew some people, not all little old ladies or cranky old men, many were almost as young as I was, who were devastated. They read all the documents, to see if they could understand what was happening and why. When they discovered that virtually NOTHING in the documents required or even supported what they were told was required, they were abused some more, for not getting the ‘spirit of Vatican II’. All the sudden, some hippy ‘liturgist’ or goofball priest was the local pope. If they said rock band in the sanctuary, jackhammer out the communion rail, throw a cheap table up as an altar, no more kneeling, communion only in the hand, sing stupid, infantile, unsingable songs instead of the classic hymns everybody knows, and on and on – and you objected on the grounds that none of that was required, and much of it was diametrically opposed to the express wishes of the Council – well, YOU are the problem!

And those aren’t even the most appalling examples of things done in the Spirit of Vatican II. The final insult: defend Catholic teaching a bit too far, in the eyes of the hierarchy? Expect a ruthless and prompt smackdown. Deny the Real Presence while doing a little modern dance number during your clown mass (and this is a real thing, don’t be gaslighted about it!)? The hierarchy can’t be bothered by such minor problems. One sort of ‘abuse’ calls for prompt action; other kinds get a shrug, if they even get a reaction at all.

But even allowing for the bitterness of some of the older crowd, the TLM is taking off because *young people* love it! Anyone under 55 simply cannot have had the TLM experience in the regular parish growing up. They missed the worst part of the abuse, in fact, until this letter, they’d possibly only heard about the mistreatment of their older TLM loving friends. Now they know. Since my children and their friends are among the younger lovers of the TLM, I know that what they yearn for is beauty and reverence. They are not naturally trying to divide anyone from anything – they just want to worship worthily.

So, yes, there is a yearning for something beautiful, profound, and worthy – which the TLM provides in spades. Is the TLM perfect in practice? Of course not. Can it be abused? Here’s the funny part – not really. Every word and motion is constrained by the letter of the ritual in a way the Ordinary Form is not. You can only mess up the TLM by willfully or carelessly not doing what you are supposed to do, while the Ordinary Form invites improv.

So the pope thinks the problem is the divisiveness of people who love the TLM, so much so that the TLM needs to be suppressed? That simply does not fly.

A Gripping Tale of Getting My Teeth Cleaned, and Other Exquisite Drama

These remarkably clean, white, straight, unchipped teeth are not mine. Is there such a thing as a teeth model? I bet there is…

Got my teeth cleaned for the first time since the Coof. Walked in, the guy working reception told me to put on a mask. OK, dentist with a lot of elderly patients probably needs to put them at ease…

Next, the hygienist comes out. There are 3 who work for this dentist, two of whom I know pretty well from the last 25 years of being his patient. This was the 3rd, who may have done my teeth once or twice over the decades. So I don’t know her well enough to kid around with her. Well, she’s got the thermometer gun and the finger thermometer thing, and starts quizzing me as she’s taking my (perfectly normal) temperature.

She finally asks: “Have you been vaccinated?” I respond: “Do you know HIPAA?” She responds, a little flustered, “I think we can ask…” I go, “Maybe, but I don’t need to answer.”

Awkward silence. Finally, I add: “I’m not sick.”

Aaand -she let it go.

The dentist himself is a great guy, but not completely free of Branch Covidian dogmas. At least, he didn’t seem too worried, and made noises about the whole thing being overblown.

Walked out to talk to the reception guy and pay my bill. Didn’t mask up. No issues at all.

Next, went to mass this morning at a parish where, during an earlier stage of the Covidiocy, the priest had one day moved a daily mass inside because it was pouring rain outside – and got upbraided by Karen. She, you see, would rather have old people catch their death of cold out in the rain than see 30 masked up people in a church that seats 500 sitting 10+’ apart. Because something something.

Anyway, not sure if this is a milestone or tipping point, but for the first time since this insanity took hold, an obvious majority of the people in church were unmasked. Now, the masked-up people get to feel like the weirdos, and have their finely-honed instinct to comply triggered. You don’t want to be the last person wearing a mask, do you? One can only hope.

Finally, I’ve been working, off and on, on a COVID dictionary. Here’s a sample:

A Covid Dictionary

These are trying times for speakers of standard English. A lifetime spent using simple words to convey clear ideas leaves one ill-equipped for understanding what one reads and hears today. Here is a possibly helpful dictionary of terms currently in vogue, for those wedded to the now archaic idea that words are to be used to communicate. 

In today’s brave new world, any dictionary has an ever-contracting useful life. The notion that words should correspond to anything in objective reality is viewed as a dangerous anachronism. Therefore, the definitions below are good only for the current moment, and will be changed as soon as found expedient by our present wordsmiths. 

Believing the Science: An act of faith performed by acolytes who have not read the studies, would not understand them if they did, but parrot exactly what the nice people in lab coats on TV tell them to. 

Conspiracy Theory: a ritual allegation that relieves the speaker from all obligations to look at evidence

COVID Case: anyone who shows any signs of having, or ever having had, any of the symptoms common to a cold, flu, seasonal allergy, asthma, or related afflictions, or who gets a positive test result on a COVID test, regardless of how many cycles the test is run. Archaic: someone who presents for medical care while showing clear symptoms of COVID – never use case in this sense!

COVID Test: a highly sophisticated and, as used, highly oversensitive test wherein, when desired, a sample is processed as many times as it takes to get a positive result. Standards call for 40 or more cycles in cases of COVID, while other uses of the same technology to diagnose other diseases stop at 20 to prevent rampant false positives. 

Denier: See ‘Conspiracy Theory’

Established Science: A set of ever-changing dogmas found politically useful regardless of evidence or valid criticism. 

Scientific Consensus: The principle under which people defend the ideas that bloodletting is a good treatment for a wide variety of diseases, and that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies. Antonym: Scientific Method. 

Pandemic: Any real or imagined health problem the government declares to require massive government intervention to address. 

Have a nice weekend!

Some Badthink, While We Still Can

Perspective is important. One constant gotcha is scale. Saw something like this once, couldn’t find it, so I mocked it up myself:

On the very, very small chance anyone tries to look at the numbers, they are most likely to see something like this:

What you are supposed to notice: that scary red line way up over the weekly death totals from previous years, starting in March, 2020.

(What you are not supposed to notice: the dotted green line, which shows deaths from all causes other than COVID in 2021. That dotted green line should be – should be, by all common sense – ABOVE all previous years except 2020. The population has risen and aged significantly over this period; we should expect year over year death numbers to be higher. Yet, by some miracle, if it weren’t for COVID bringing the total 2021 solid green line up to where it might reasonably be, significantly fewer people have died in 2021 than history and common sense would have predicted. Makes a fellah wonder…)

What do these numbers look like if we put the deaths on the same scale as the population? They look like this:

All numbers from MacroTrends here and here

What this chart shows is the gradual increase in US population over the last decade, and a death rate consistently just under 1%. That means around 3M people die in the US every year in the normal course of things no matter what we do. Next, we will add in the attributed number of deaths ‘involving ‘ COVID in 2020. (2021 has been effectively flat, so I’m ignoring it). Note, not the number of excess deaths claimed by the CDC, which is about 360,000, but the 500,000 number of COVID deaths that is still getting tossed around. In other words, I’m following the ‘use the worst numbers in the worst way’ practice used incessantly by the media and government:

If you have good eyes and look very carefully, you can barely detect a tiny bump up for 2020. As tragic as any particular death may be, on a population basis of 333 million, even 500,000 additional deaths doesn’t change the big picture at all. If this seems cold, first, note that numbers don’t care.

As pointed out by many, many people, what a sane layman means by a disease killing somebody bears little resemblance to how the press has reported the CDC ‘death involving’ numbers. Most likely, at least 2/3rds of the deaths attributed to COVID are elderly, sickly people who were already dying of something else. People in nursing homes are there for a reason, and are most likely going to die soon, COVID or not. Yet we count them and panic while simply ignoring into oblivion the INEVITABLE, INESCAPABLE death toll of the lockdowns themselves.

Next let’s consider a pandemic about the existence of which there is little dispute: the Black Death. The numbers are not hard, as people at the time were too busy burying the dead and trying not to die to do any large-scale demographics for our benefit. Roughly, 30%-60% of the population of Europe died over the years 1347-1351. The population may have been as high as 75 million. Since we’re just ballparking here, and have to guess anyway, we’ll use a mathematically reasonable 4% annual death rate, which is about the guesstimate for agricultural pre-modern societies. I’m open to better suggestions here, but I merely point out that up or down a percentage point or two won’t make much difference to overall picture I’m painting.

Putting this into a graph, and making the simplifying assumption that the Plague killed about the same percentage of people from 1347 to 1351 so that the total adds up to about 60%, the graph looks something like this:

For illustration only. I’m not using hard numbers, but then again, no one else is either.

The first point is that you can actually see changes in deaths: from about 3 million a year as a baseline to almost 10,000,000 deaths in 1347, and the about 40 million who died over the duration of the Plague.

The second thing to note: the population went down, and went down drastically. It was centuries before the overall population of Europe again reached 1300 levels. Meanwhile, under COVID, the US population ROSE, and continues to rise.

The CDC is claiming COVID increased the death rate in America by about 10%, from about 2.9 million to about 3.2 million. That’s counting every ‘death involving’ COVID as a COVID death and ignoring INEVITABLE, INESCAPABLE deaths due to the lockdowns and masks. The The Black death increased the death rate about 300% annually, from about 3 million deaths to about 10 million deaths per year.

I have heard more than one person compare Sars2 to the Black Death. No. To get in the ballpark, a hundred million Americans would have to die, 20 times even the wildest overestimations floating about.

To put it in personal terms, every European during the Black Death saw his chances of dying a horrible death soon go up astronomically; COVID adds a tiny fraction of a percent more risk to an average, reasonably healthy American. During the Black Death, people had not just heard about a fatal disease, but saw many, many people in their families and villages die before their eyes. Mass graves, containing hundreds or even thousands, were needed to dispose of the dead. Death was an immediate, irrefutable fact for all but the most isolated Europeans. In America, while everyone who listens to the media has heard of COVID deaths, almost nobody personally knows an otherwise healthy person who died of COVID. Not elderly, not obese, not diabetic, not having underlying heart or lung issues, not having survived cancer (the the damage to their immune systems and overall strength surviving cancer usually entails).

Claiming a person so ill that they were consigned to a nursing home was killed by COVID defies common sense. Mortuaries are not and never were overworked any more than usual; hospitals are not and never were overwhelmed any more than usual. A cold is as much or more a threat than COVID to about 99% of everybody.

Footnote: I was so pleased and relieved to see back at church today someone who could have become, if she had died, the first person I personally knew to die of COVID. She’s a wonderful lady, 87 years old, generally vigorous but having had a couple falls in the last few months. She refused to wear masks or otherwise go around terrified. She is said to have caught the disease, ended up in the hospital – and then recovered just fine, like 99.9%+ of reasonably healthy people who catch it. Something is going to get her – something is going to get all of us! – but I’m so thankful it wasn’t the Coof in her case. May she live another decade! Everybody else I know who has had it has recovered promptly. A few had lingering symptoms. People seem to have forgotten catching that flu that just won’t go away, takes a couple months before we feel truly right. Used to be a sign you were human. Now, it’s a sign of the Apocalypse.

Iceland Volcano News – as Covered by Mondrian:

A volcano is erupting in Iceland, and has been erupting since my birthday back in March. At least two 24/7 live camera setups have been deployed to help us watch from the safety of our laptops. This one seems to be run by Mondrian:

From his little known Gray Period. It does get cloudy and foggy in Iceland, even if, this time of year, it is rarely dark. I didn’t manage to capture an active eruption in the fog, which is very cool: same Mondrian style image, except exploring a bit of an orange color scheme.

When it’s clear and the volcano is active, looks more like this:

This is from a local who just hikes up and shoots video. From here.
Same guy

Anyway, as I quipped: The Great Icelandic Traps: the Early Years. 5 months in, and the volcano seems to be pacing itself: crazy-dramatic eruptions, with rivers of lava flowing into the valleys, punctuate long periods of not much.

This sort of eruption may go on for years. This particular volcano hasn’t seen any eruptions for about 6,000 years. Iceland in general is hardly ever without at least one eruption somewhere.

UPDATE: Fog lifted, volcano got busy:

Another set of cameras

What’s Shakin’ Update: the World is Not Ending Quite Yet.

Yesterday, we had a non-trivial 6.0 earthquake over near the Nevada border, in a thankfully very thinly populated area, as discussed here. Nobody was hurt, and I’ve heard of no significant property damage. My question: it seemed to me that the number and intensity of the aftershocks was higher than usual. Was I simply succumbing to recently bias, forgetting how previous aftershock maps looked? The USGS does aftershock forecasts for most 5.0 or larger earthquakes. Here’s their forecast for yesterday’s quake.

Not exactly:

According to our forecast, over the next 1 Week there is a 3 % chance of one or more aftershocks that are larger than magnitude 6.0. It is likely that there will be smaller earthquakes over the next 1 Week, with 10 to 53 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks. Magnitude 3 and above are large enough to be felt near the epicenter. The number of aftershocks will drop off over time, but a large aftershock can increase the numbers again, temporarily.

from the forecast linked to above

Just counted them up: there have been 41 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks within 20 hours of the quake, way over the lower threshold and nearing the upper threshold for the week’s worth of forecasted activity. Unless this thing calms down a lot pretty quickly, it’s going to push significantly past those numbers. There have been 136 2.5 or higher aftershocks so far, including 13 in the last 4 hours. So, slowing, but still pretty active. (SEE UPDATE BELOW- I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THIS CORRECTLY)

Is this anything to worry about? Nope, at least, no more than usual. Predicting earthquakes is still very much a very broad and inaccurate proposition. Predict a major quake in California sometimes over the next century? Pretty safe bet, especially since you won’t live long enough to face the consequences of getting it wrong. Anything much shorter than that? Seems likely, based on prior experiences, but, like the brokers say: past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Very confusing. The quake is referred to as the Antelope Valley Quake, but 99% of Californians who have heard of Antelope Valley will think, first, of the city of Antelope Valley on the outskirts of L.A., not the thinly-populated area up on the Nevada border. And then this map puts the marker in Nevada, when I’m pretty sure most of the valley is in California…

Maybe, inch by inch over the next 100 million years, much of California will fall into the ocean, in the sense of becoming something like an island. This is assuming the whole eastern slope of the Sierra thing is where the real action is. The San Andreas Fault is where costal California from just south of San Francisco all the way down to the Sea of Cortez is moving north relative to the rest of the state. If this continues (no guarantees, remember) L.A. will end up a suburb of S.F. well within 100 million years. Doesn’t seem to be any falling onto the ocean action there.

On the other hand, the relatively new Sierra Nevada range, only about 10 million years old, was pushed up (they say) by a process of rising magma along its current eastern edge, thinning and lightening a huge block of granite crust, which then ascended to its present great height. The western edge is like the base of a pivot, as if a gigantic 40,000 foot thick granite table had been lifted along the eastern edge – which is pretty much what happened. Along the western edge, the slope if fairly gentle, except where glaciers carved it up, most famously in Yosemite:

Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP - Diliff.jpg
It’s even more beautiful and impressive in person.

On the eastern edge, it’s crazy-steep. It’s even more extreme that it appears, because the terrain at the base is something like 5,000′ high, so you only see an 8,000 foot change in elevation, while you get the full 14,000 ascending from the west.

Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet, viewed from the east. The eastern slopes tend toward dramatic, often jagged, drop offs. Driving to lake Tahoe, for example, one gets about an hour to enjoy the gradual climb, with rivers and forests. Descending from Tahoe into Nevada, it’s like dropping off a cliff into a desert.

Back to earthquakes: the Sierra is still rising. Hot magma is still there under the surface along the eastern slope. The crust has been shattered from east of Bakersfield up to north of Tahoe, with historically huge quakes – an estimated 7.9 back in 1872, in Owen’s Valley, where the valley floor dropped 20′ and a new 86 acre lake was formed – occurring with geologic regularity along dozens of faults.

And then there’s the Long Valley Caldera, formed during what would now be a civilization-ending volcanic explosion 760,000 years ago. Geologist don’t think that is likely to happen again, but my confidence in that prediction is tempered by geologist not having much of an idea for how the volcanism in the area happened in the first place.

Anyway: doesn’t seem this earthquake portends the End Times. I have mixed feeling about this, as, on the one hand, I haven’t gotten this year’s apricot crop in yet. Among other unfinished business. On the other hand, I’m ready to see this clown show end.

P.S.: another 7 2.5 or better aftershocks hit while I was typing this up, including another 3.0. So there is that…

UPDATE: The USGS forecast is – odd. The ‘over the next 1 week’ part is not over the week following the earthquake, but rather over the week following the forecast publication date and time. The forecast is updated regularly. This means that the total I was counting up, from the earthquake to now, does not tie in any way to the forecast numbers. The forecast is forward looking as of roughly now, and is useless for any historical comparisons. I guess that makes sense for a public-facing document, where people might go (layers deep into a government website – yeah, that’s where everybody’s granny is going for her info…) just to see if they should expect to feel anymore earthquakes (3.0 being the smallest earthquake anyone can feel under anything less than ideal circumstances.)

So, to whine a bit: here we are, at the nadir of public understanding of science in the West since maybe 900 AD (not kidding), and a page very narrowly useful, and to only a very small subset of people, is located somewhere where only very curious and somewhat search-savvy people can find it. How’s that supposed to work to anyone’s benefit? Now, while my proposed use of the data is, if anything, even more obscure, at least it’s conceptually simple. That any significant number of people would be interested in the data as presented beyond the blanket reassurance provided by the super-high-level summary – there will probably be some small quakes over the next week or so, gradually tapering off. The chances of another bigger quake are small- requires a faith in the curiosity of the American public that is not seen in reality.

What’s Shakin? Earthquakes, That’s What

Check this out:

USGS Map This is a very sparsely populated area between Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe right along the Nevada border.

25 earthquakes between 2.5 and 5.9 on the Richter Scale, all in about 90 minutes starting at 3:49 PDT today. And they keep coming – there were 2 more as I typed this,

We’re maybe 200 miles away, but I felt the first one – 5.9 – and so checked the USGS Map linked to above, as I habitually do in such cases.

This area, the backside of the Sierra Nevada range, is geologically interesting. 700,000 years ago, a giant volcanic eruption left a 20 x 10 mile caldera. The San Andreas fault system get the press, for the very good reason that much of its course lies under or near heavily populated areas. But there is also a lot of geologic activity along the eastern Sierra Nevada, a very sparsely populated area.

don’t know what, if anything, is up, but I’ll keep y’all posted. We’re up to *30* earthquakes of 2.5 or greater in the time it took me to write this post. Very unusual.

Rereading Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”

Some people don’t like this book, but it is my favorite Lewis after “Till We Have Faces,” which is his masterpiece and a great book by any standards. I’ve read the Space Trilogy any number of times, and, while Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are among my favorite books, I find my thoughts most often returning to scenes in the last book of the Trilogy, what Lewis called a fairytale for grown ups.

When we headed out for our little trip mentioned a couple posts ago, I grabbed some books that happened to be lying about to take for in-car reading. Then, again almost on a whim, chose That Hideous Strength out of the pile on the drive up. Perhaps an odd choice for reading on a romantic getaway, perhaps not in our current world. So for the first hour and a half that we drove, before the weather, scenery, and winding roads required we put the top down on the car for the last half hour, my beloved read out loud.

So many quotable passages! Here’s one: Mark Studdock is told to write a piece of propaganda for Fairy Hardcastle, while trying to figure out what is going on with the N.I.C.E:

“I don’t believe you can do that,” said Mark. “Not with the papers that are read by educated people.”

“That shows you’re still in the nursery, lovey,” said Miss Hardcastle. Haven’t you yet realized that it’s the other way round ?”

“How do you mean ?”

“Why, you fool, it’s the educated readers who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers ? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the lead paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem: we have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

“As one of the class you mention,” said Mark with a smile, “I just don’t believe it.”

“Good Lord ! ” said the Fairy, “ where are your eyes ? Look at what the weeklies have got away with! Look at the Weeldy Question. There’s a paper for you. When Basic English came in simply as the invention of a free- thinking Cambridge don, nothing was too good for it; as soon as it was taken up by a Tory Prime Minister it became a menace to the purity of our language. And wasn’t the Monarchy an expensive absurdity for ten years ? And then, when the Duke of Windsor abdicated, didn’t the Question go all monarchist and legitimist for about a fortnight? Did they drop a single reader? Don’t you see that the educated reader can’t stop reading the high- brow weeklies whatever they do ? He can’t. He’s been conditioned.”

CH 5

As I’ve frequently said here: it’s not enough for the schools to render their inmates mindless, obedient sheep, they must also immunize them against ever having a thought by convincing them they are the most enlightened, intelligent, and moral people to ever walk the face of the earth.

A second point is to note that propaganda has, as we business people like to say, a target market. Any halfway sophisticated propaganda is written and promulgated with a particular demographic in mind. Lewis, writing during the concluding years of the war, had seen it in action first hand. Propaganda appeals, fundamentally, to people’s vanity. Smart, enlightened people all believe X; only stupid, backward people believe Y. The little people, the workers and shopkeepers and so on, just want to be left alone in peace, and so are a hard target for propaganda. But people who have become convinced that they are the most enlightened, intelligent, moral people ever – and who have been conditioned away from entertaining any other view – are eager to know what the teacher wants them to parrot, lest they be cast into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth with the unwashed.

Before and immediately after the Night of the Long Knives, it was not important to Goebbels and his team what the little people believed. Those little people had learned over the centuries that their leaders regularly knifed each other, and that there was little they could do about it except to keep their heads down. But it was important that no serious pushback for government-sponsored extra-legal mass executions be permitted to simmer. Thus, propaganda was aimed at judges, the police, the press, university professors, and the professional class in general, a class that, like our own, was convinced they were the best educated, most enlightened, most moral people ever to grace the planet.

It was an easy job, in other words. In 1934 Germany, the well-educated wanted to be on the winning team first of all. They were easily convinced that letting their government commit a few thousand murders to prevent what they were told was a coup attempt was not only justified, but mandated by patriotic prudence. Thus, no arrests were made, no trials held, no lectures delivered opposing the murders, no articles published questioning the government. Rule by government murder was accepted and praised by all the best people. The underclasses were hardly a concern, merely unfinished business to be mopped up later.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity! While half-truths and fear are often used to soften up the target – to quash whatever residuum of thought might linger after all that schooling – the main appeal of propaganda is vanity. The Kool Kids all think A; only the losers think B. You don’t want to be a loser, do you? All the Kool Kids will look down on you.

Easy-peasy.

Anyway, half way through the reread. Fun stuff, if terrifyingly prescient and depressingly accurate accounts of current events can be called ‘fun.’

Power and Glory

Trying hard to stay positive this Independence Day.

Happened to be reading Maccabees recently. 2 Maccabees especially emphasizes the divine nature and reality of come-from-behind upset victories. Good to remember. On a practical level, guys fighting on their home turf in defense of their wives, kids, and God fight a lot harder than mercenaries and bureaucrats.

Finally, after a lot of bloodshed, Simon, who saw his brothers Judas, Jonathan, Eleazar, and John all die for the cause:

He brought peace to the land,

and Israel was filled with great joy.

Every one sat under his vine and fig tree,

with no one to disturb them.

1 Maccabees 14: 11-12

So, you know, it can happen.

Then, if I’m not careful, I’ll think of all the prayers said by, for example, the people during the Black Death, the Christians besieged in Constantinople in 1453, the people on ships lost at sea, and so on, a million times – these people were certainly not less deserving or sincere than we Americans. Yet they died in the disasters they prayed to be spared from.

I guess the take-away for this July 4th: the Maccabees prayed, then fought like hell. No guarantees, but a sound plan.

Vacation Adventures

View from where I’m siting at the moment

I am typing sitting at a table in a cabin looking out at a redwood stand overlooking a tributary to the Russian River in Northern California. For the first time in 3 years, my beloved and I were able to get away by ourselves for two whole nights. Left Monday afternoon, will get back Wednesday afternoon, This is all thanks to my wife’s double little sister – biological and Dominican – spending her annual home visit with her mother, who lives with us. God’s blessing on her! Yea us!

The Pacific from Bodega Head yesterday.

On Monday night, we went to dinner in a lovely restaurant right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Wrap-around floor to ceiling windows, and the sun set during our meal. We had to park up Highway 1 a bit. It was very dark, the stars were breathtaking on our walk back. I’d never seen stars that bright other than from in mountains.

But this isn’t all about ME! Any more than usual, I mean. On the one hand, not a mask in sight at the restaurant. Patrons tended to be older (like us) and very gabby. We arrived at 8:00 and were I think the second to last group to be seated. The place was full, and didn’t really start to empty until well after 9:00. We weren’t the last people leaving when we left after 10:00. It was so PLEASANT to simply hang out like normal people!

On the other hand, we went to mass the next morning in Sebastopol, a small town inland a bit. It was beautiful, lovely priest gave a lovely homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

We we the only two people not wearing masks. On the next level of insanity, a woman walked the aisle during communion squirting hand sanitizer into people’s hands. Let’s give thanks for our membership in the Body of Christ by treating all other members first and foremost as potential disease vectors.

All other interactions were mixed: shopping, we ran into some masked, some not. When we hiked around at Bodega Head, a few people – out in the sun, with wind that could almost knock you over – were masked. One interesting thing: the proprietor of our B&B is in nearly the highest risk group – he’s not old, but he’s a cancer survivor, given almost no chance to live 16 years ago when he was diagnosed. (That’s how he ended up owning a beautiful set of cabins in a redwood stand – when you’re pretty sure you’re going to die, you live the dream NOW.) Yet – no mask. In general, the cancer survivors I know truly understand that, with what the cancer and the treatments have done to their bodies, the next freaking COLD could kill them, let alone anything more serious than that. And, with no exceptions, they do not cower in their rooms, locked away from all human contact in fear. (Although if they did lock themselves away for ‘safety’, I’d be less likely to know them in the first place.)

The fear/risk relationship has no basis in reality. Masking children, who neither get nor transmit the disease in any numbers, makes no sense. Our host here would absolutely get a pass from me if he were to get all masks & social distance on us – his risk may be low (it is) but it’s real, like it is from a cold or a flu.

But he would rather live now. I respect him for that, just as I respect Herman Caine, another cancer survivor who refused to cower in fear. He died – he was going to die at some point, probably sooner rather than later – but got in another dozen year after his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you have been around cancer victims, you know it’s unpredictable how people are going to react. Some people look and act absolutely fine, after having surgery, chemo, radiation, only to fairly suddenly drop dead. Others are sickly, even bedridden, after treatment, and live some number of years. It seems to be a crap shoot, although a positive attitude seems to help.

Anyway, back to fun stuff. Our host will be delivering our fresh-baked goods for breakfast soon; we will pack up and head out for a leisurely drive home, working in a stop for fresh bread, local cheese, ice cream, maybe look at some junk antiques we have no place for and can’t afford – the usual. Then, back to the real world.

Today’s Adventures in Science!

In somebody’s comments on another blog the other day, a discussion was taking place over the safety of the untested, experimental drugs being more and more insistently pushed upon people for prevention of what is, except for few and generally easily identified populations, a very minor illness. The exasperated pro-drug party was patiently explaining, in scientifilicious terms, how drugs that mess with your cell’s genetic materials are no different or more risky than traditional vaccines.

Maybe he knew exactly what he was talking about, I don’t know, it was getting a little over my head. I was struck by what might be called, with apologies to Darwin, the ‘Darwinization’ of the discussion: just as evolutionary arguments are presumed settled once a plausible scenario is presented under which selection pressures could be imagined to have brought about the observed features or behaviors, the need for actually TESTING THE DRUG has been obviated by a pleasant theory about how it works.

Darwin and his more serious followers recognize they are in a tough spot: testing an evolutionary theory is difficult bordering on impossible even in theory. So you’re going to have to be happy with plausible theories in almost every case. But drug makers have been doing extensive and expensive testing for years. And, sure enough, that testing routinely reveals that, not only do most drugs not work, but many have unintended consequences like, for example, killing you.

ALL of the modern drugs you buy at the drug store were developed at great expense and with great care by experts in Big Pharma. To get one drug approved, many more start the testing process but get cancelled at some point because 1) they harm people; 2) they don’t demonstrably work; or 3) both. Any that do get approved have been run through about a decade and about a billion dollars of testing. Even approved drugs still have risks, but it has been determined through the testing and approval process that the risks are worth the benefit.

Even then, from a strictly scientific perspective, the rigorous drug testing needed to get FDA approval is fatally flawed: in order to truly understand the risks and effectiveness in the real world, you’d need to test across the inevitable drug interactions real people will in practice experience, at least. But this level of testing would mean no new drugs were ever going to get approved. Having drugs tested and approved before they are unleashed on the public is a policy, not a science, question. The policy is to do enough testing to feel good about some level of cost/benefit tradeoff. For the record, this seems reasonable to me, in theory at least.

BUT! Good news! According to the exasperated commenter mentioned above, we can skip all this testing – provided we have a good theory about how the drug can’t have bad side effects! Even the minimal short term testing that was performed was unnecessary in the face of well understood (I’m told) theoretical considerations showing the drug worked harmlessly. All concerns over the mid- and long-term effects, which simply CANNOT have been tested for, are misplaced – THEORY says these drugs are safe.

Big Pharma has to be thrilled! It’s Science!