Another World Entirely

Due to a confluence of forces, my 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter, who went east to visit Thomas More College and stayed to visit their aunts, uncles and cousins in and around NYC, spent their last night at the New York Athletic Club.   We live in a universe where mysteries abound. How such things happen to a couple of suburban kids from Northern California is such a mystery. Let’s just say we owe certain uncles big time.

Overlooking Central Park. Nice.

Anyway, Daughter was struck by the ubiquitously posted dress code, which was even on their room keys. No jeans or sneakers anywhere in the City House. If you are not in suitable attire, such as a business suit, use the side entrance. No cell phones or other electronics in public areas.

Despite these limitations, the kids thought it was nice. Ah, to be young!

My wife’s comment: “It’s like they’re trying to reinvent civilization, but don’t know where to put it.”

Kids got back safe and sound yesterday. We went out for Indian food. It was good.


History: When I Got a Clue That Something Fishy Was Going On

Fichte meets Marx

Don’t remember when I first noticed this – high school, I’m thinking – but whenever it was, when I first started reading a little about the Nazis and what the fascists were trying to do, something rang very false: we’re calling these guys right wing extremists? Everything about them is left wing – they want to socialize everything, destroy religion and build a worker’s paradise. Isn’t that the diametric opposite of what even their enemies say right wingers are about?

I was a simple boy back then. Eventually, I learned that they weren’t real socialists because they worked with the capitalists instead of killing them all off, and were highly loyal to their own country. Real socialists want to kill rich people and hate their country – something like that, it was never put that clearly.

But as this article points out, Hitler was just more realistic. Those capitalists, while perhaps loathsome, were exactly the people who knew how to make things and generate cash for the state. The Reich needed those kind of people. Nowadays, we implicitly believe that we don’t really need people with demonstrated ability to get things done, that your average OWSer or community organizer can do just as well as Elon Musk or Bill Gates.  Hey, when fantasizing, don’t be a piker – your magic should be powerful and your dragons huge.

Earlier, I posted about the process of dropping into history as a way of freeing oneself from modern nonsense. This is just one case where it’s easy to see that something fishy is going on.

Another related case, sickening and horrible, went on during the Winter Olympics. In the mandatory host country celebration of nationalism, the Russians presented a fantasy of Soviet history that was not only not terrible, but downright positive. Slave labor? Death camps? Tens of millions murdered outright? Let’s not bicker about who killed who. This is a happy occasion.

And our talking heads ate it all up. Not one, as far as I heard, called them on it, even from the safety of the broadcast booth: “You know, Bob, while that’s a very pretty parade going on down there, I can’t help but marvel how this version of Russian history glorifies the people that murdered 20 million Ukrainians and sent Solzhenitsyn to the gulag, among other atrocities. Maybe they’ll bring that up in the closing ceremonies?” That guy, if he got out of Russia alive, would have a career as a speaker all lined up for him. Except he’d get hired only by people he didn’t like.

Once, I was shocked into silence by a liberal friend of mine who said, with no apparent irony or insincerity, that Hitler killing 6 million Jews was worse than Stalin killing tens of millions because Hitler killed out of racist hatred while Stalin was trying to do something good. This was one of the first times I was brought face to face with the phenomenon John C. Wright expressed most clearly: that it is characteristic of progressive thinking to insist on being judged by intentions, not by outcomes. Therefore, Stalin’s intention to build a worker’s paradise absolves him from mass murder, while Hitler’s desire to build a worker’s paradise doesn’t.

Oops! Therefore, to excuse Stalin, who wanted what Progressives still want, we have to impute other motives to Hitler – even if their motives were demonstrably and historically the same.

The ends do not justify the means. We note in passing that neither Hitler nor Stalin got the ends they chose. But the people they killed still died.

h/t to a tweet by William Briggs.

Pseudoscience: It’s Not Just for Ignorant Bumkins

Via a tweet from the Statistician to the Stars: Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience.

Ya think?

Probioitic Acidophilus Liquid Strawberry <p>Contains a natural balance of specially selected strains of acidophilic cultures</p><p>Each serving provides over 20 billion "friendly" organisms for intestinal health◊**</p><p>Nutritionally supports healthy digestion**</p><p>Helps maintain a favorable environment for the absorption of nutrients**</p><p>Contributes to healthy immune function**</p><p class="disclaime
This is the first thing that came up when I googled ‘probiotics’. Just love this company’s name: Puritan’s Pride. So now we’ve got the hard-core witch-burning Calvinists telling us what our bodies need? Stay fit until you either burn for eternity or enjoy utterly unmerited eternal bliss?

I once mentioned that anyone concerned with protecting the scientific integrity of evolutionary theory would be at least as upset with X-Men stories as with Creationism. As this essay points out, it’s a difference in clientele: Creationism is promoted by those who are sufficiently and officially other, while my friends and I shop at Whole Foods (that’s the hypothetical ‘my friends and I’ – I think I’ve been in a Whole Foods once in my life) and catch X-Men: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Physics at the multiplex.

 If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?

Well, no—there isn’t really much difference, if the promulgation of pseudoscience in the public sphere is, strictly speaking, the only issue at play. By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods’ existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it’s clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn’t quite as important to many of us as we might believe. Just ask all those scientists in the aisles of my local Whole Foods.

So, why do many of us perceive Whole Foods and the Creation Museum so differently? The most common liberal answer to that question isn’t quite correct: namely, that creationists harm society in a way that homeopaths don’t. I’m not saying that homeopathy is especially harmful; I’m saying that creationism may be relatively harmless. In isolation, unless you’re a biologist, your thoughts on creation don’t matter terribly much to your fellow citizens; and unless you’re a physician, your reliance on Sacred Healing Food to cure all ills is your own business.

No has yet to explain why Creationists are a threat to all that is good and true, while the hemp-wearing, women-studies majoring consumers of probiotics are not. Creationists are very unlikely to sit on the local state university board making funding and hiring decisions, while people who think – and teach their students – that science is nothing more than a tool of patriarchal oppression most certainly do, and are not shy about using their power against any enemies – like, say, scientists with enough integrity to challenge their stupid fantasies.

So, to recap: Academics and their sycophants bravely go after Creationists, who have very little power to do much of anything to their lives and livelihoods, to the applause of their peers. These same people give a complete pass to those among their peers who promote even more egregious pseudoscience and anti-science in the various ‘studies’ departments and elsewhere on campus, but who do have the ability to damage their careers and livelihoods.

I’m unconvinced by claims such folks are motivated by a love of science.

Education History Reading, Continued: Pestalozzi Wrap-up

NOTE: This post sat in the drafts folder for months, as in trying to complete it, came to the conclusion that I don’t understand Pestalozzi at all. I’m going to try to hunt up some other works by him, but my hope is not too high – if it were not for Einstein, who attended a Pestalozzi prep school and spoke highly of it (“it made me clearly realize how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority.”) I’d give up. What’s mind boggling is that Fichte saw what he needed in Pestalozzi (with unspecified modification) for his complete state-focused “reforms” of schooling and that Einstein, famously distrustful of authority, end up praising the same source. There’s something to be figured out here. It may have to do with Einstein attending at an age later than what sounds like the endless drill and micromanagement of childhood, so he gets the freedom without being run through the wringer first. Or, even more likely given the confusing nature of Pestalozzi’s writing, his model acts as a Rorschach test mirroring whatever his reader wants to see, all shrouded in words of sympathy and, frankly, egomania. Anyway:

The Pest-Man! Woot!

Finished How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, Pestalozzi’s attempt to explain his ‘Method’ via a series of letters to an admirer. First part here.

The most striking thing about this book is a juxtaposition: Pestalozzi’s insistence that education result in the formation of clear ideas, and the almost complete lack of clear ideas in this book. Compounding the problem is 1st person issue – there is almost no mention of any actual students, but rather we are invited into Pestalozzi’s thought processes and hardships and challenges. Here, for a randomly chosen example:

I saw their misery ; but I lost myself in the vast prospect of its scattered and isolated sources ; and while my insight into their real condition became ever more wide, I did not move a step forward in the practical power of remedying the evil. Even the book that my sense of this condition forced from me, even “Leonard and Gertrude” was a proof of this my inner helplessness. I stood there among my contemporaries, like a stone that tells of life, and is dead. Many men glanced at it, but understood as little of me and my aims, as I understood the details of skilled labour and knowledge that were necessary to accomplish them.

Quick count: References to Pestalozzi (I, me, my): 12; possible references to children (them, they): 3.  And this is not atypical, throughout the first 2/3 of the book. Pages and pages are devoted to Pestalozzi’s laments, his thought processes, his insights, and so on. He must have been very charming in person, one can only imagine.

His disciples, at least at first, fared no better in penetrating his thinking. He quotes letters from three of his key followers, and all three begin with words to the effect that “I can’t figure out what he’s talking about” and end with “OK, after months or years, I sort of get it.”

In the last 1/3 are his attempts to get more concrete. It doesn’t work. About all I could glean from it was that he is in favor of breaking subjects down into little itty-bitty pieces that must be mastered before the next step can be attempted. Teaching and, one presumes, learning are best or only done by invariant little tiny steps directed by the teacher. Two observations: first, this atomization of knowledge is by no means how all people learn all things. Sometimes, seeing and appreciating the whole of something is indispensable to understanding why and even how one should learn. Imagine learning woodworking if you’d never seen a chair, or the piano if you’d never heard any pieces. That why great teachers tend to be examples and masters of what it is they are trying to teach.

But second, this approach puts great emphasis and burden on the teacher, who now must understand the world so that things worth learning fall into subjects, and those subjects can be divvied up into daily activities that add up, over time, into KNOWLEDGE – or, at least, for Pestalozzi, the skills needed to hold down the kind of jobs currently available.  The temptation to use this idea – that the teacher must first decipher the world, then present it predigested, as it were, to the student under carefully controlled conditions – is one Fichte, not to mention everyone from Mann to James to Woodrow Wilson to our current betters, to ‘move forward’ and ‘make progress’ according to their undoubtedly correct (Hegelian) understanding of the world…

What could possibly go wrong?

Darwin Catholic’s Immediate Book List:

(I refuse to use the word ‘meme’ except in jest.) Everybody’s in on this, it seems.  Just look here and here, for example.

The idea is to report on what your current reading habits and plans are, to wit:

1. What book are you reading now?

The Rule of St. Benedict – short, almost done.

2. What book did you just finish?

Story of a Soul, St. Therese

Categories. On Interpretation. Prior Analytics,  Aristotle. Although I must sit down and reread the logic rules with a pencil and paper handy.

3. What do you plan to read next?

Lumen Fidei. It’s next up at the parish reading group.

No! Don’t do it! Don’t click to look inside!! It’s the Modern World, in all it’s smug, incoherent and banal evilness! Dressed up purdy-like in all these big words and run-on sentences, where a pronoun pops up after 10 nouns have immediately preceded it, just to make sure you’re never sure exactly what he’s saying. Evil!!

More Hegel. No really. Especially Phenomenology of Spirit. Years off of Purgatory.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Oh, man. Like, what don’t I keep meaning to finish?

Tacitus. Was more than half way when the book, an old paperback I’d had for decades, proceeded to fall apart – so, can’t take it on trips, can’t read it in bed. Going to need to find another copy.

A History of Education in Antiquity, Similar to the above, but not quite so bad. Almost done.

Bunch of Hegel.

And, if I were, in the words of Simcha Fisher, to pull the bed away from the wall and look, probably a dozen more.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Phenomenology of Spirit.

6. What is your current reading trend?

German Philosophers (just hit me in the head with a brick now), education history (still looking for some free or cheap Pestalozzi, because one lengthy book of incoherent babbling isn’t enough) Spiritual stuff for the reading group (we try to alternate old & new, scholarly and more popular. Been fun)  and History.

But the overall trend is: not nearly enough. Been trying to take care of a bunch of deferred maintenance on the house. Very time and energy consuming.

You? Post over at Darwin, if you do.

UPDATE: A glance at the floor by the bed revealed I’d omitted (I blame debilitating guilt) the dozen or so works by Michael Flynn and John C Wright that I got a couple months ago in a fit of optimism, as well as several books on education history. Now, if I just quite my job and let the house and the family rot, I could probably make a good size dent in the pile before I’m evicted/murdered/crushed by falling ceiling breams….

More Science! Surveys

While it takes time to read all those beautiful books stacked by my bed, it’s easy to read stupid Science! articles! So, here’s another.

Solar SystemPutting on my pedant hat (yes, I do occasionally take it off, thank you), we will now review another sorry survey: Basic Scientific Facts That Americans Don’t Know. There’s a couple issues here that give me a nervous tick, the first and most egregious being the insouciant assumption that a “scientific fact” is “whatever scientists are pretty sure about”. Noooo, that’s not it. What’s more, it is of the very nature of science that the distinction between facts, which are built of the observable, measurable, physical THINGS that form the material upon which science works, be kept separate, as far as possible, from theories based on those facts. But let’s get specific – here’s the questions and answers, with my comments:

1. The center of the earth is very hot 

Correct answer: True

Sure. I’d like to meet the dude with a thermometer who took the measurement, but – sure.

2. The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move 

Correct answer: True

OK. Since we can measure the seafloor spreading, applying the Uniformitarianism assumption makes this so darn near a fact I can’t get too worked up.

3. Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

Correct answer: Earth around Sun

Now, a high school-level pedant would merely point out that they both revolve around their common center of gravity. But I am (barely) above that. So, OK.

4. All radioactivity is man-made

Correct answer: False

Wouldn’t one need to know what radioactivity is before answering this? I’d like to have the victims of this survey first tell us what radioactivity is before answering. But as a self-contained question, it passes.

5. Electrons are smaller than atoms 

Correct answer: True

Here’s where the college-level pedant starts talking all wave packet and probabilistic positions and how the concept of ‘size’ might be simply inapplicable here and …. even I’m getting bored. So, OK.

We’re half way through, and the questions all get a pass – so far.

6. Lasers work by focusing sound waves 

Correct answer: False

Only quibble: that’s a technology question. Not that anybody makes that distinction anymore.

7. The universe began with a huge explosion 

Correct answer: True

Here’s the first one that gets me. The Big Bang is a theory that accounts for a wide range of observations in a tidy way. However, in recent years, one cannot help but notice that it has started accumulating epicycles: Dark matter? Dark energy? Further, I’ve always disliked the discontinuity – the antiuniformitarianism, if you will: the idea that what amounts to a humongous black hole just blows up because it feels like it – that’s kinda weak. Whatever is assumed to have happened at the Big Bang happened only once, under unique conditions, and involved mechanisms fell and ineffable. These are not generally hallmarks of good science.

Making the Big Bang a shibboleth for Science! learnin’ seems not entirely cricket.

And it’s not a fact.

8. It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl

Correct answer: True

Weeeell – kinda. Pretty much. Could be worded better.

9. Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria 

Correct answer: False

This question seems to have snuck in from the ‘Do You Listen to Your Doctor?’ survey. How many of the survey respondents could tell you the difference between a virus and a bacterium? Isn’t this like laughing at the people of the Old Testament for calling bats a type of bird? You can get by in the world just fine if you have only one large mental category for ‘things that can make you sick’ that includes both viruses and bacteria. So, what is the answer really telling you about the respondent?

10. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals

Correct answer: True

Tedious. I’d be tempted to respond: all the human beings *I* know today were born of other human beings – they didn’t do any developing other than growing up. It’s like the question writer was trying too hard not to use the word ‘species’. He wasn’t afraid of ‘bacteria’ or ‘electron’, but species – which could make this question make sense as an English sentence – is too technical?

Again, the Descent of Man has one and three quarters of a foot in the land of theory as opposed to fact, because while it can be argued evolution has been effectively observed in microorganisms, no one has observed human speciation. Given how comparatively slowly we reproduce, no one is likely to observe it any time soon.

Do I think humans evolved from other animals? Sure. Would I be shocked if it were disproven? Absolutely. Is it a scientific fact? Nope. It has a toe-hold in the realm of fact because other types of organisms have been observed to do what looks a lot like speciate, and it would be surprising if humans (and all larger animals, none of which has been observed to speciate) didn’t arise in the same way.

In Today’s Survey News:

Remember, surveys are not science – all they tell you is what some people were willing to say to an interviewer asking particular questions in a particular way at a particular time. They are like the Reality TV Stars of Science: we keep looking, even though we’re appalled by what we see and know there’s no there there.  So, you’ve been warned.

From James Lindgren, a law professor who directs something called Demography of Diversity Project at Northwestern University, via a tweet from William Briggs via Hot Air comes this little gem: Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?

Evidently, Democrats:

Table 1

I won’t even point out the flaws here – have at it, if you’d like. What I find interesting about this is not the results, exactly, (see disclaimer above) but the reactions (if any) that this paper will generate among Democrats. My main exposure to the thinking of my Liberal Democrat friends these days come via Facebook, which I check religiously about once every 3 months, when my stomach can handle it But I think I’ll check soon, just to see (or not see) reactions to this paper by the same exact people who never miss an opportunity to post any and all claims that Republicans are the stupidest stupids that ever stupided things up, no matter how far fetched or transparently partisan such claims are. Thus, they KNOW that smart states vote Democrat (even if states don’t vote – people do), the better educated you are, the more likely to vote Democrat – and that belief in astrology correlates to being a dumb Republican hick.

Just as they were unable to grasp that the problem with G W Bush was not that he is stupid, but that many of his policies were bad, they are unable to comprehend that Republicans might be very smart, smarter, even than they are – and still be wrong. Nope – Bush was just stupid, Cheney was just evil (well, they might have something there…)  and supporters of these guys had to be idiots, fools and dupes lacking the intellectual clarity to see how dumb and evil these guys were.

Similarly, their guys are so smart, they can be trusted to the ends of the earth to do the right thing, even when it’s the same damn things Bush was doing. We don’t need no stinkin’ Constitution!