The Nation State Fetish

We didn’t talk about the Old Country much in my family – never with my dad, (who, like a lot of Americans, seems to have had too many old countries to feel any real attachment to any of them), and rarely with my mom. One of the few bits I remember from conversations with my mom is her off-hand correction whenever I’d refer to our Bohemian ancestry – her family was Moravian. Calling them Czech was OK – Bohemians and Moravians, as well as Slovaks, speak Czech. But the distinction  was important enough to her to make it. Maybe it had something to do with the ethnic slur of her childhood, where the real Americans ™ of Texas called those funny-talkin’ immigrants ‘bohunks’. No, she was not a bohunk. She wasn’t even a Bohemian.

(Even more complicated: her maiden name was Polansky – the Pole. Her dad always claimed his family was Polish nobility chased out of Poland some centuries prior as a result of some political misfortune. Plausible enough. The relatives did not seem overly impressed by this claim, however.)

In a book that I can’t lay my hands on at the moment (buried in The Pile) on the Paris peace conference, they mention the problem with Wilson’s plebiscite idea: the people in the villages in the disputed areas didn’t think of themselves primarily as members of a nation, but as members of their villages. That they spoke German or Polish or Czech might incline them to identify with other speakers of those languages, but didn’t necessarily mean they thought of themselves first and foremost as members of a nation comprised of speakers of that language. I wonder how the votes (assuming they took place – did they?) would have gone if it had been presented thus:

  1. You can vote to be identified primarily with speakers of your language. If speakers of your language win the vote, you get to keep your village, and all speakers of other languages will be driven out, presumably to live among speakers of their languages. If you lose, YOU get driven out and lose everything. You are voting that the interests of villages are second to the interests of nation-states.
  2. You can vote to leave things as they are, to hell with some progressive’s desire to divvy up everybody into conveniently managed nation-states. If so, everybody has to be cool with everybody else in the neighborhood, but everybody gets to stay and keep their stuff. You are voting that the interests of nation-states are secondary to the interests of villages.

Not saying this would work, but I find it interesting to contemplate. My mother knew the exact Moravian village her family had come from (one of those places with far too many vowels).  The son of a friend from Croatia recently went back, found the village of his family’s origin, showed up unannounced and showed his name in English to the first people he met. Within an hour, he was invited into homes of more or less distant relatives, and treated as a sort of prodigal son in the good sense – he visited and smiled and took pictures and ate food, all with people he’d never seen before and whose language he couldn’t speak. While it was family that gave him the welcome, it was the village that enabled him to find them.

Next, how much of human progress has taken place in city-states versus nation-states? For more than a few centuries, Athens and Florence punched far above their weight as civilizations. Adjusted for population, we Americans are comparative pikers, once we allow for that whole ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ thing, where we got a HUGE leg up from, among others, Athens and Florence. I look at my own home town, with a population of 120,000, twice the population of either Athens or Florence at the time they were setting the world on fire. In the last 100 years, we’ve produced a famous actor, a famous jazz musician, an Olympic swimmer – and that’s about it. The only interesting buildings in town are a few old Victorians and an adobe hacienda. The less said about the public art, the better. There was a 100 year period in Athens where she produced 2 of the greatest philosophers and several of the greatest playwrights while artists build timeless monuments and carved unsurpassed sculptures. Florence, in under 100 years, produced Dante, Giotto, and Chimabue, among others – and this was before what is usually considered the beginning of the Renaissance, when Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Fra Angelico, Lippi, Botticelli,  Galileo, and so on lived and worked there.

That 350 million Americans manage to create reality TV and comic book movies is just not that awesome by comparison.

I’m kidding – a little. I’m a big fan of the modern age, and wouldn’t want to live any other time or place than here and now. It’s the medicine, food and indoor plumbing. And law, the police and all that. But the idea that somehow civilization (which, after all, means ‘city life’) only got going once gigantic, centrally-governed nation-states took hold is clearly wrong.

The point here is that assuming the trade-offs favor nations over cities isn’t always true.

But the real thing that’s been nagging at me is this: that there are attitudes that derive from being part of a great nation that are opposed to the attitudes of the city or village, and that we’ve adopted them without thinking, and certainly without thinking we’ve surrendered anything. Yea, yea, everybody knows this, I suppose, but I’ll take a shot: how we see ourselves in relationship to other people becomes how we define ourselves. Catholics and other Christians often think of ourselves first as the Body of Christ – surely, that is a very different self-image than to think of oneself as primarily a voter.

Yet, is that not how we Americans think of ourselves, when we think of our primary relationship to the community with which we identify (“I’m an American!”)? Isn’t the very definition of unjust discrimination denying somebody the vote?  How detached from our neighbors do we have to be to think this way? How is it that we think our identity is tied, not to the guy next door, or the people we see at church on Sunday, or the parents of the kids our kids play with, but with this incomprehensible abstraction that is our nation-state? Perhaps this is why we Americans love war: in war, in the foxhole or on the ship or marching in formation, we form bonds with other ‘Americans’. The soldier next to us, in whose hands is our life, might be a farm boy from Iowa, a hustler from Queens or a suburban kid from Los Angeles – but we are all Americans.

And this is beautiful and good. The bond between soldiers fighting for a good cause is one of the noblest things on the earth. But when there is no war? We return to our lives, return to detachment from those around us. We Americans are not like the people from that Croatian village, or that Moravian village with too many vowels in its name. We are not Florentines like Dante, or Athenians like Socrates. We – too many of us, me – grew up with little or no attachment to our hometowns (blessed are those who have kept that attachment!). My parents were born of people who were not from where they lived: Cherokees and Scottsmen ended up in Oklahoma; Moravians ended up in East Texas; two of their children ended up in Southern California; I, their son, ended up 500 miles away in Northern California. The best I can claim is that I fled less far, and that I love my state. But do I know my neighbors?

It’s odd how love of place, especially love of birthplace, inspires so much beauty and sanctity. Dante is not Italian, fundamentally, but a son of Florence; Socrates is not in his heart a Greek, but an Athenian. How many Americans feel that way about their hometowns in their hearts? And look at all the medieval villages with their gorgeous Gothic churches – towns one tenth the size of my American suburb managed to build for themselves and the Glory of God an immovable masterpiece, a piece of art as permanent and solid as the town itself. As often as not, the people who started it didn’t live to see it finished – and they didn’t care. If their grandkids got to use it, that was enough.

The vote is good. Democracy is good. (Although representative democracy under law with prudent checks on ambitions and guarentees of personal rights are even better – heard we had one of those, once upon a time.) But our highest expressions of communal life – of civilization – is much more like the building of a church than the casting of a vote.

Quote of the Day

The particular topic being addressed is secondary to the general applicability of this statement:

After the tired thoughtlessness of USA Today, it’s almost refreshing to get a real argument by someone who’s deeply read on the subject, even if he is a heretic. 

Testify, brother! It’s so refreshing to read a real argument, even when the steps are faulty and the conclusions are wrong, after being dirtied for so long under the mud-slinging that is often passed off as argument. Like, for example, the ‘argument’ being dissected here.

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!

Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises).

(Deacon: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.)
Deacon: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right and just.

It is truly right and just,
with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.

Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.

This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

happy fault
that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
a flame divided but undimmed,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honour of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

O sons and daughters, let us sing!
The King of Heaven, the glorious King,
Over death today rose triumphing.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

An angel clad in white they see,
Who sat, and spake unto the three,
“Your Lord doth go to Galilee.”
Alleluia! Alleluia!

That night th’apostles met in fear;
Amidst them came their Lord most dear,
And said, “My peace be on all here.”
Alleluia! Alleluia!

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
How they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

“My piercèd side, O Thomas, see;
My hands, My feet, I show to thee;
Not faithless but believing be.”
Alleluia! Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

How blessed are they who have not seen,
And yet whose faith has constant been;
For they eternal life shall win.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

On this most holy day of days
Our hearts and voices, Lord, we raise
To Thee, in jubilee and praise.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

(The internets have semi-failed me yet again! Where is the version of this beloved song sung by a medium sized, good, enthusiastic choir at non-dirge tempo? This version has a descent tempo, and the singers are OK, but the acoustices  suggest 5 people in college dorm bathroom. But let’s not bicker about ‘o killed ‘o – this is a happy occasion!)

Good Friday of the Most Holy Triduum

Some appropriate music:

A nice bit from Choral Public Domain Library about the Lamentations of Jeremiah:

The Lamentations have received a peculiar distinction in the Liturgy of the Church in the Office of Passion Week. If Christ Himself designated His death as the destruction of a temple, “he spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21), then the Church surely has a right to pour out her grief over His death in those Lamentations which were sung over the ruins of the temple destroyed by the sins of the nation.

The text of the above, just a snippet from the Lamentations:

Chapter 2

2:8 HETH. The LORD determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion; he marked it off by the line; he restrained not his hand from destroying; he caused rampart and wall to lament, they languish together.

2:9 TETH. Her gates have sunk into the ground; he has ruined and broken her bars; her king and princes are among the nations; the law is no more, and her prophets obtain no vision from the LORD.

2:10 IOD. The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have cast dust on their heads and put on sackcloth; the maidens of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.

Victoria also did a beautiful setting of another part of the text:

May the blessings of Our Lord be upon you this Triduum!

Math in the Real World: Case Study

A couple of smart guys working for a giant company everybody has heard of are given an impossible task: Build a model that generates usable economic numbers reflecting behaviors for which there are no data.

Monte Carlo Integration screenshot 1 - Monte Carlo Integration is a model that helps you view a simulation of this algorithm.

Sorry if I’m being too vague here – it’s just business. The model is fairly straight-forward: a few user inputs, a bunch of basic arithmetic, a tiny bit of algebra – and, bada-boom, you got some numbers that look reasonable.

Except for one thing: one critical piece of information comes from a Monte Carlo simulation of expected behavior for which they have no data. The philosophical question: what does it even mean to do a Monte Carlo simulation on data you don’t have?

Now, these guys are smart – they know they don’t have the data. But the boss wanted a model, so they built one, right on down to an embedded Monte Carlo simulator. What does it simulate? Why, whatever you want it to! They thoughtfully built an interface that allows four different methods by which a user could input (made up) data to drive the simulation, which dutifully provides a range of possible outcomes, each with an estimated likelihood expressed as percentages out to 2 decimal places – an outcome of X is 13.72% likely to obtain, for example. These values, when plugged into the rest of the model, generate numbers upon which economic decisions will be made. Real money is intended to change hands as a result of the output.

It’s all very beautiful and accurate sounding. My role in all this: to give an opinion as to whether the model as explained could be implemented as part of project I’m working on. Sure! It’s just a bunch of math. We can implement math all week long and twice on Sundays! (Whatever that means.) Of course, I did venture that actually using it would in fact generate the sort of data needed to make it useful – that they would obtain as feedback the actual pertinent information they currently lacked. Therefore, the strategy should be to try hard not to loose their collective shirts before they have enough real data to populate the model well enough for it to generate meaningful results. Then, lose the model, use the hard-won data, and Bingo! everybody makes a lot of dough. In theory, at least.

We’ll see how this goes. The model is expected to be refined over time. No plan for how the key refinement – getting the actual data upon which you build the simulations – was offered. Maybe they have one they didn’t share, who knows.

A Happy, Holy & Blessed Holy Thursday!

Mystical Supper, Simon Ushakov (1626-1686)

Let’s go with the King James translation:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1


48 I am that bread of life.

49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.

50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.

58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

John 6


26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Matthew 26


16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

1 Corinthians 10


Then, we have St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of Peter and John, from around 110 AD:

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

Letter to the Smyrnaeans, chs.6-7

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.

Letter to the Philadelphians, Ch. 4

…and so on, through the ages, down to the present day.

In the lovely Catholicism series, Fr, Barron makes a great point: the Christ in John 1 is He through whom everything described in Genesis 1 was created. By His Word, everything that is came to be. What He says becomes what He tells it to be – that is what it means to be the Creator. So, when says “this is My Body” and “this is My Blood”, His Word makes it so – it is His Word that has called  into and sustains everything in being.

The Triduum is more the feast of the Incarnation than even Christmas and the Annunciation. Those beautiful feasts announce Christ’s entry into time, while the Triduum shows forth the fullness of the Incarnation in supper, sacrifice and glory. The Triduum announces our entry into eternal life as members of Christ’s Body.

Random Flotsam

1. Tyson recalls (not fondly, one assumes) 75,000 lbs of nuggets –

Tyson Foods last week said it is recalling 75,320 pounds of frozen chicken nuggets because they could contain small pieces of plastic in the filling, a situation that has already caused injuries to consumers unlucky enough to bite into the tainted nuggets.

I post this only because “Tainted Nuggets” would be a pretty good name for a rock band.

2. This is not what this story is about. It appears under Google’s Science news feed.

Researchers net ‘zombie bass’ with electricity

Not this:

Zombie Fish
Shark, bass – whatever. The internets let me down: no pictures specifically of zombie bass. My life is naught but a swamp of disappointments…

But rather:

Momentarily incapacitated by a weak electrical charge that’s fed into the water from a boat equipped with a humming generator, fish large and small floated motionless to the surface during an electrofishing trip last week. They were scooped up with a net and placed into an aerated holding tank.

Eyes wide and mouths agape, stunned fish were measured, weighed and checked for illnesses and parasites. Within a few minutes the animals snapped out of a zombie-like state, and workers put them back in the water to swim away.

Oh. Never mind.

3. Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Getting Major Makeover

About time. Ever since they lost track of all that valuable air and space, something needed to be done.

Next, someone needs to look into the 16 1/2 prime acres missing from the Field Museum.

(On a geek-out note: a few years back, took the family to D.C. on our way to a family wedding – of all the very cool things in the Air & Space museum, the Me 262 had me twitching: first production jet. Like how the Monitor ironclad got all the wooden warship orders cancelled, once that Me 262 went jetting past the wonderful state of the art prop driven P-51 Mustangs, the era of prop-driven fighters was effectively over. Anyway – they have one of the very few surviving Me 262s there – they look like lethal catfish.)

4. Mars finally comes to opposition this week

After years of laboring under false consciousness, Mars, the God of War,  finally grasped the fundamental and all-explaining TRVTH of Marxism, and crossed over to the more Progressive camp in Parliament, joining the not all that loyal opposition….

Oh, wait – that’s not it at all! It’s the word ‘finally’ that threw me – like, we were waiting impatiently for Mars to get around to opposition? Heck, Ptolemy could have told you when the opposition was going to take place with more than passing accuracy.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson: Pluto Is Not A Planet So ‘Get Over It’. Big whoop. I’m not even going to link to this. What gets me is how some fairly arcane classification system gets developed over time, and people in charge of it think somehow it makes any difference at all to the rest of the world. It reminds me of the New Atheist gotcha about the Bible classifying bats as birds, therefore no God – nobody asks who gets to make up the classification categories,  when they get made up, and whether it makes any difference to anybody who is not a specialist.  Or Melville having Ishmael make a long argument in the middle of Moby Dick about whales being fish or not.

So: if you are not teaching astronomy, go ahead and call Pluto a planet if you feel like it. It just doesn’t matter what the professional astronomers want to call it. NdGT (yes, he is now a set of initials, with a precious small ‘d’ and everything) will just have to get over it.