The (University of) Oregon Trail: Weekend Adventure & Roundup

1. Heading up to Eugene, OR, for the graduation of my sister’s younger daughter. Not sure what her degree is in, but she’s planning on going into Phrenology, as far as I can tell, so has a bunch of post graduate work ahead of her. I’ve given her a couple Feynman books over the years, but I don’t think they took. But she’s sweet and beautiful and full of vim, so the future looks bright.

I’m kind of the black sheep in my family, in that, out of 8 surviving children, I’m the only practicing Catholic and have that rabid anti-school thing working. Nobody else reads much, either, with the possible exception of my Marxist brother. So, we just don’t talk about anything except sports and maybe music.  The last time politics came up, it didn’t come up for long. So, the net effect is that my 6 nieces and nephews have spent no time hanging out with crazy Uncle Joe since they’ve been old enough to benefit from it. We might play a little music together, have some dinner, but nothing real gets talked about.

I suppose it could be worse. Heck, I know it could be much worse.

Willits, CA, a dangerously quaint little town on 101 right as you get out the redwoods and mountains.

2. On the way back, we’re going to visit Crater Lake, then head out to Crescent City on the coast to spend the night. Then, down the coast through the redwoods and Eureka and more redwoods, winding through some rugged mountains and out of Mendocino County into the north end of Sonoma Valley and a series of cute towns,* on past Santa Rosa and down into the Bay Area (or, as Herb Caen used to say: San Francisco and its suburbs).

We have enough time to not have to rush it, unlike the trip up.

3. The last major university graduation I attended was at Cal about 20 years ago. English Department. Two young women were honored for something, got to come to the podium and say a few words – they acted like complete asses. Glad I wasn’t their dad – although, as a California taxpayer, they were showing complete disrespect to taxpayer-funded gift they were getting honored for haven taken. But, having perused a few of the texts they used, idiot barbarians is what I should have expected.

2014 U of O won’t be like that. Please tell me it won’t. Don’t know if I could maintain control if it got that stupid. If they have to drag my heckling behind out of there, I’m guessing the family might upgrade me from ‘black sheep’ status to something a little more untouchable.

4. Huge Hidden Ocean Is Found Near Earth’s Core So, when do we start drilling? Words like ‘reservoir’ and ‘ocean’ seem to suggest we could just, you know, go get it. Except it is 400 miles below the earth’s surface, chemically locked into ringwoodite as hydroxide ions. So, maybe not. And the earth’s radius is about 3900 miles – so, like, 400 hundred miles down isn’t anywhere near the core.

But what does that matter when there’s eyeballs to hook and stuff to sell! Let’s not bicker about the headline writer’s rogue exuberance.

* While searching around for a quaint picture of Willits, came across the Tree Spirit Project, which evidently is trying to save the planet via having mostly flabby white people get naked in the woods and pose for photographs. Ah, California! Land of my birth! The connections between out of control narcissism getting naked in public and saving the forests/little fury varmints/the planet is one so sublime as to be imperceptible to lesser mortals. But it seems to be universally recognized by Whole Foods shoppers and crystal energized Bodhisattvas who no doubt walked the couple hundred miles up to Willits from Berkeley in sandals woven from organically grown hemp. Maybe it would all become clear with a little chakra adjustment and reflexology? Somebody needs somethin’ adjusted, that much is clear.

Douglas Adams and the Fall of Lucifer

Here, I play at theologian, in the same way I play at philosopher, scientist, mathematician, historian and economist. It is well, perhaps, to keep in mind that, unless I’m talking equipment finance (the one field where I am a recognized stone expert. Yay, me.), my opinions aren’t worth the electromagnetic medium they’re written on. That said:

On the radio, heard this memorable bit from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

 The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with the nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen it to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

The assumption that God wants faith as a positive good, to be preferred for some reason to knowledge is, I think, wrong. (Shocking, I know.) Both the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve and the tradition of the Fall of Lucifer show sin in the light of certain knowledge of God’s existence: He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and Lucifer lived in his presence, yet all three sinned in choosing their will over the will of the God that called them into being. The question of certainty in God’s existence does not seem to be relevant to the question of His free and rational creatures choosing to love Him or not.

Dante froze Lucifer in Hell – kinda like how his choice froze him in relation to God.

In Lucifer’s case, as an eternal being with full knowledge of God’s existence, his choices are eternal – unlike people in the temporal world, who choose one thing today and another tomorrow, if an angel chooses, that choice is always and everywhere. We, while we live here, can both sin and repent from sin. Lucifer and the fallen angels chose once and for all.

But we too are eternal beings. Now, with the possible exception of a few great mystics, we only gets glimpses of that eternity which is our true home while we walk this earth. If we were to stand in the full light of that eternity and still chose our will over God’s, our sin would be like that of the fallen angels, a choice made in eternity.

Therefore, as a feature of our created natures and likely for our own good, the particular brand of miracle that nonbelievers think they want, a miracle of irresistible persuasive power, does not exist. We, like Zola, can always deny the miracle in front of out eyes.

But that’s not the worst of it – we, like Lucifer, can know with certainty the God of all miracles and still choose not to love him. If we were to see with clarity the workings of God around us, we’d have a foot on the threshhold of eternity, where all choices are eternal. Therefore, to have any hope in salvation, a good has been brought out of the results of the Fall: our darkened intellects and weakened wills prevent us, for the most part, from making one single act that determines our eternal state while we live on earth. Our choices are made for the most part over a lifetime, and can be revised and reversed as long as we live. Once we become truly present in eternity, our wills are fixed as the angels.

But what do I know? If you want to know the cash flow implications of a manufacturer’s blind discount on the economics of a lease, I’m your boy. Eternal truths, not so much.

A Speech and a Couple Paragraphs on Romance

[Picture: St. George and the Dragon]Coincidentally, within a couple days of each other, John C. Wright wrote one of his amazing Chestertonian bits, and my beloved wife gave a brief commencement speech on the same topic.

First, Mr. Wright (and do follow the link and read the whole thing):

Let me say something of the wild poetry that now rules my life.

I have a charm chalked on my front door to call a blessing down from wide heaven, and carry a rosary like a deadly weapon in my pocket, and hang the medallion of Saint Justin, patron of philosophers, whose name I take as my True Name, atop my computer monitor where he can stare at me.

Two angels follow me unseen as I walk, and I live in a world of exorcists and barefoot friars, muses and prophets, healers who lay on hands, mighty spiritual warriors hidden in crippled bodies, and fallen angels made of pure malicious
spirit obeying their damned and darkened Sultan from his darkest throne in hell. And I live in a world where a holy child was born beneath a magic star secretly as king, and the animals knelt and prayed. And from that dread king that small child will save us.

You might think my world inane, or insane, or uncouth, or false, but by the beard of Saint Nicholas, by the Breastplate of St. Patrick, and by the severed head of Saint Valentine, no one can say it is not romantic.

My life these days is a storybook story: if there were more romance in it, it be enough to choke Jonah’s Whale.

Anne-Martine gave this talk to the graduating class at our utterly secular school:

Thank you to this year’s graduates for asking me to speak at their commencement exercises.  It has been my pleasure and honor to know each of you, at least a little.  Out of several possibilities, I chose the word “Commencement” for today’s festivities because it means “beginning.”  This is the end of one stage of your life, but it is the end of a stage because it is the beginning of the next stage.  You have completed the period of time that our modern, wealthy, and oh-so-enlightened corner of the world has set aside for compulsory education.  Now you are taking on more responsibility and therefore will have more freedom with your time.  If you were graduating from another school I would say that you were taking up this responsibility for the first time, but here you have always had it.  Now you are taking it up at a new level.

Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  Fairy tales have within them the wit and wisdom and experience of humanity.  In fairy tales you can find the good, the beautiful, the true.  Fairy tales can be more connected with the deepest reality than any pragmatic approach to life will ever be.

That quotation from Einstein reminds me of why G.K. Chesterton is one of my favorite authors.  When I read Chesterton I can tell that he sees the world for what it really is, not what we have obscured it to be.  In truth, life is an amazing adventure and unbelievable gift.  In truth you all are princes and princesses, sons and daughters of a king, dearly beloved sons and daughters of a king who have been separated from your true birthright.  Your whole life is the adventure of how you reclaim your kingdom, how you journey back to your true home.

You must always remember that all those you meet, your traveling companions, chance strangers, brief acquaintances are your brothers and sisters, they also are sons and daughters of the king.  They are never to despised; they must be honored.  Like you they have a story to live, like you they have a gift to give the world that no one else can give.  Remember the old lady who visits the arrogant prince at the beginning of the tale of “Beauty and the Beast”?  She looks ugly – she probably had warts and was snaggle-toothed, and I bet she didn’t smell very good either.  And that is what the prince saw, but he didn’t care to look deeply, to see what mattered beyond the tip of his own good-looking nose.  And so the fairy tale tells us that he was put under a spell so that all could see the “beast” he was being.  You yourselves may not be so lucky.  We all sometimes get away with acting like beasts and no one catches us out to reveal the truth.

We are living in a world under the enchantment of an evil wizard who has cast a hum-drum spell so that for the most part we cannot see how amazing our world truly is.  We must not allow ourselves to be taken in by that spell and pat ourselves on the back for being “realists.”

Neil Gaiman says that “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  We all know that dragons exist.  We must hold onto the truth that they do not have to win just because they are big and strong with nasty teeth and fiery breath.

And we must not go through life waiting only for the dramatic moment – that is another part of the hum-drum spell.  Each moment, this moment is the only moment we have.  We must deal with this moment’s dragon or we will never be strong enough to deal with the bigger dragons that will waylay us .  And every victory over a dragon is a victory for all of us.  The little, unseen victories, no less than the big public ones.  No less?  In deed, often far, far more.  That is another thing fairy tales teach us.  That we often misjudge a person by his appearance and that we are often wrong when we imagine it is the big, public things that are important.  Fairy tales teach us the value of the everyday, the little, the overlooked, the forgotten.

We must care that everyone gets rescued from the dragons.  Not just us, standing alone as shining heroes; not just our closest friends.  And when someone else strikes a blow against the dragon we must cheer.  Clearly only an evil enchanter could make us believe that someone else’s strength or achievement diminishes our own.

Why is it so much faster for you to get to Cowell Park now than it was years ago when some of you walked there on park days?  Is it because your legs are longer and your lungs stronger?  Yes.  Is it because you keep your goal more firmly fixed in your mind?  Yes.  But it is also because young children have not been entirely overcome by the hum-drum spell.  They can see how amazing that flower is.  How curious that stick is.  What interesting colors that pebble has.  Try to keep fighting against that hum-drum spell so that you won’t miss what there is to see.

And if the world around us is such a stunning gift, how much more so the people in it.  Hold out against that evil enchanter.  Know that true love is possible.  And what is true love?  It is desiring the good of the other as other – not just as means to something we want for ourselves.  It is when the Beast cares more about Belle’s happiness than the possibility of his own that the enchantment is broken.

You have each brought fairy tale enchantment into my life.  Thank you.  I wish you all the best as you move on to the next chapters in your stories.  And if you do not keep in touch, I will send that evil enchanter after you!!

Science, Medieval Philosophy, and the University Divided

St Albert the Great. Master of the Question Method, and dude who used to lie in fields drawing plants.

Let’s pull a few things together:

Many people – me, for example – claim that science is the product of Christianity. This claim is often violently disputed, typically by people who show no knowledge of what they’re talking about. It seems like an obvious claim to make to anyone with any familiarity with history at all – after all, science in the modern sense of a systematic, culturally supported effort to understand the physical world did arise only in what used to be called Christendom. Perhaps what is needed is a more systematic laying out of how – one is tempted to say ‘mechanically’ – this adoption and development of science came about.

Let’s take a look at how Noble prize winner, atheist and all around science god Richard Feynman explains real science versus fake Science!

From Feynman’s 1974 Cal Tech Commencement Address:

But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. …

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

(Clarification: Here, just want to make clear one particular relationship between medieval philosophy and modern science. Please read Mike Flynn’s essays linked below for a much fuller exposition of the more general topic.)

Now, to steal borrow from the esteemed Mike Flynn’s blog, here is a description of the Question format used for centuries in the Medieval universities across Europe. This is how hundreds of thousands of people were taught to think, including the great-grandchildren of the ‘pre-logical’ Franks and the other barbarians who dominated Europe north of the Alps.

One approaches the problem to be discussed by laying it out in the following way:

  1. The Question to be answered; sometimes broken down into separate articles.
  2. The principles Objections (Antitheses) or arguments against the questions.  (It would seem not, because…)
  3. The principle argument in favor of the question (the Thesis)   (On the contrary…)
  4. The determination of the question (Synthesis)  (I answer that…)
  5. The specific rebuttals of the Antitheses.

Notice the similarities? What Feynman says is the key to real science is exactly the goal that is embodied by the Question method: an extraordinary honesty expressed in giving fair credit to the possible problems with your conclusions. All good science, just as all European philosophy before the Reformation, does this – it acknowledges any possible problems and addresses them head on. It doesn’t start out by disparaging opponents and ignoring or caricaturing their arguments, but rather by giving them their due. *

With Questions, you begin by stating what you think is true – then immediately express all counterarguments that might lead someone to disagree. In the medieval university classroom, the goal in setting Objections was to see how well and strongly one could express the opposing arguments – otherwise, you’re fighting a straw man. So students and teachers would bat around the Objections until that had them in the cleanest, strongest form they could get them in. Often, the Objections developed in this way are the strongest arguments available anywhere, stronger, even, than those proposed by actual proponents of the Antitheses. (Thus, Thomas’s statement of the two reasons to conclude that God does not exist** are tighter and stronger than any offered by modern atheists, who evidently lack the discipline to tighten up their own arguments, or even to distinguish an actual argument from a petulant assertion.) Continue reading “Science, Medieval Philosophy, and the University Divided”

In Today’s Education News

Something more than a little shocking:

L.A. judge strikes down California’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissal

California’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissal are unconstitutional, a Los Angeles trial judge has ruled.

In a case brought on behalf of nine schoolchildren, Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in a decision released Tuesday morning that the evidence “shocks the conscience” and that “there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

And, of course:

But enforcement of the much-awaiting ruling will be delayed pending an appeal by the lawsuit’s defendants, the state and California’s two major teachers unions.

Fun numbers:

Moreover, because of cumbersome dismissal procedures, Students Matter said, in 10 years only 91 of California’s teachers, who now number 285,000, have been fired, most for inappropriate conduct. And, the group noted that only 19 were dismissed for unsatisfactory performance.

So, the bottom 20% of college graduates by class ranking – who make up the bulk of teachers – are far, far more competent at their jobs that the rest of us: only .0007% get let go each year because they’re no good at their jobs – yet their jobs are so demanding that we pay them more per hour (adjusted for actual hours worked) than computer programmers and almost as much as engineers:

Teacher salaries
Select per hour compensation, from the 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.       2 notes: most people work about 2,000 hours a year, so a rough annualized amount is hourly rate X 2000; in California, teachers make 125% of the national average.

So, teaching is a really hard job that nobody fails at. OK, OK – there’s really high attrition, so perhaps teachers as a group are so self-aware that they fire themselves via quitting. The judge in the article above doesn’t seem to think that’s it.

Here’s a philosophical thought: unions exist to further the interests of the workers in the union – they have no other reason to exist. This is well and good. Unions do not exist to ensure the quality of the product. Nobody died on the picket lines to make sure the coal got dug properly or that the buttons got sewed on in accordance with the highest standards of button-sewing. That’s management’s job – the job of the union is to get the best deal for the union members.

Yet, here in California, we are constantly told that doing anything at all to reign in the teacher’s union will harm the children. Unless they’re running a protection racket (not as entirely ridiculous a thought as it should be), how is that supposed to work? By assuring that no incompetent or child-abusing teachers ever get fired? Right.

I would propose a simple rule: any union that plays any card other than the perfectly legitimate ‘we’re here to protect our members’ card gets immediately disbanded. You want craven liars who think you’re stupid teaching your children?

Anyway, I would love to be wrong, but here’s how I see this playing out: While the union circles the elected officials it bought fair and square, the current strategy of slandering the people who brought the lawsuit will be expanded to include the judge. Behind the scenes, political pressure will be brought to bear on him, and legal maneuvers begun to get him off the case. Meanwhile, the protests of which this lawsuit is an aspect will simultaneously allow people to harmlessly blow off stream – you know, like the whole Occupy thing that changed nothing – and cause the real troublemakers to identify themselves, in case it gets serious.

It’s a tough juggling act: on the one hand, the union must claim that its members are the finest group of teachers ever to stand in a classroom, while on the other claiming the abject and manifest failure of our schools screams for more funding – yet that failure is in no way the responsibility of those excellent teachers. At some point, ya gotta ask – isn’t time to give something else a try?

Weekend Up-rounding

1. #2 son graduated on Saturday. We had the graduation reception/family get-together/school end of the year party all day celebration. I could hardly move by 9:00 p.m. But it was fun.

2. Today, we attended Mass and then another party for the graduates. Now, we’re *almost* done, once the rental chairs get returned. So, summer proper begins late morning tomorrow. In California, weather wise it’s been summer since May, and will continue to be summer until about October. But summer-summer, when the kids are out of school – that starts tomorrow.

3. Except for the trip to Oregon for a niece’s college graduation next weekend. We have to leave at the crack of dawn Saturday to make it up to Eugene before 5:00 for the first event. It’s a 10 hour drive, once you stop for lunch. But on Monday, we can semi-mosey our way back. The Big Decision: do we go down the middle of the states, and follow the chain of volcanoes? We’d see Crater Lake:

And Mt. Shasta:

And Klamath Falls and a lot of mountains on the north end and farmland on the south end.

Or: head for the coast, and do the sea lion caves:

And follow the super-dramatic coast highway – mile after mile of sheer cliffs 300′ or more off the ocean, down through redwood forests:

And the northern Sonoma Valley. Or some combination – we could do Crater lake, then cut over to the redwoods…

Decisions, decisions.

4. My beloved wife gave a short and wonderful graduation address, which she says I can post here – now, just have to extract it from her, which, given her state of exhaustion, could take a couple days. The graduates vote on speakers – they asked my youngest daughter, who will graduate next year, to begin the ceremony ( I think she is the current School Meeting chair), then each of three staff members were asked to say a few words – my beloved went first – then the President of the Assembly, which, for the first time in a decade, I am not. But they did ask me, as the outgoing President, to hand out the diplomas, since I’ve handed out so many over the years. I was touched.

The whole thing was over in under 40 minutes. The kids run a tight ship.

5. The daughters backed cakes for the graduation and the Disney-themed end-of-the year party:

018
Each of the little items corresponds to a graduate. and it was yummy.
100
This one was yummy too.

101

Cute.

 

 

The Human Face of Self-Appointed Victimhood

Preamble: As all three regular readers of this blog can attest, I’ve waged my humble war against the endless abstraction of human suffering and sin from the people doing the suffering and sinning. What I mean is that Hegelian and particularly Marxist compulsion to see the complete and final explanation of all things in gigantic impersonal forces, such a the Spirit or Capital or Power Dynamics, insisting that the division of everyone into Oppressed and Oppressors is the ultimate truth and lens to reality. The idea that the experiences and behaviors of actual people could overturn such an understanding is dismissed out of hand. If one insists that the reality of the personal experiences of real people trumps the fantasy of theory – well, at best one is guilty of trying to Turn Back the Clock from the Wrong Side of History. At best.

This Oppressor/Oppressed idea is just true enough often enough to encourage them. No sane person is denying that, for example, the Soviet Communists, as a matter of principle, interfered with the rights and happiness of their subjects by, say, murdering and enslaving them by the tens of millions. (At least for all meaningful values of ‘sane’.) Nobody is denying that there really were Robber Barons who manipulated and abused their workers and their power in the markets, and that principles of Capitalism, as understood by Social Darwinists, played at least the role of intellectual back-fill. (What is being challenged is the equating  of Soviet totalitarianism with Walmart, except that Walmart is so much worse that we can forget all about the Communists. But that brings us back to what the meaning of ‘sane’ is.)

The competing fundamental ideas can be called Human Nature/Original Sin versus the Dialectic/Power Dynamics. The first view permits one to take the individual experiences of real people as data points, as it were, data points that can falsify our bigger theories. For example, the continued existence of happily married people with families is allowed to challenge the theory that marriage and families are merely a part of a structure of oppression created by elites for their own benefit. The second accepts only Marx’s miserable family life as a data point, and an unacknowledged on at that.

What this Oppressed/Oppressor framework encourages – indeed, insists on – is that we DO NOT look at the experiences of individuals except insofar as those experiences can be framed within the Power Dynamic du jour. Thus, again, that most women (and men!) all through history, and even most today, have found their greatest happiness and fulfillment in marriage and child rearing – well, they are only happy or most likely fooled into thinking they are happy because Power Dynamic! So, instead of acknowledging to our little girls and boys that, chances are, you’ll be most happy if you prepare yourself to be a good wife or husband and take great care in finding a mate and commit yourself wholly and permanently to them when you find them, we fret and wail over the lack of women astrophysicists, or female left tackles in the NFL. That vanishingly few kids of either sex will find future fulfillment as astrophysicists or left tackles is beside the ideological point – if little girls say they want to be mommies when they grow up, we have to set them straight and hold up ANY other goal as an ideal. Any little girl who grows up to be a wife and mommy has clearly betrayed the cause. If they only understood real happiness, they’d fight to be miserable. Or something.

Of course, one would need a chapeau appropriate to Evil League of Evil lordship. Too much?

On to what this post is really about. The elegantly behatted & Evil Legion of Evil promoter John C Wright writes here and links therein to an essay by Sarah Hoyt – both are well worth reading. The subject under discussion is the amazingly bad behavior of an entire class of people who claim victimhood as their defining characteristic, indeed, as the defining relationship of all humankind. People who may otherwise show signs of intelligence become, suddenly, absolute tantruming toddlers when exposed to any real or imagined challenge to their status as the greatest, most victimy victim ever victimized, even to the extent of cat-fights with other victimy victims over who is suffering the greatest victimization.

The comments section is worth perusing. I opined in the comboxes:

In an attempt at sympathy:

Having been involved in a K-12 school for most of the last couple decades, one thing is very clear: the world is full of furiously angry little boys and girls. Here I mean real chronological boys and girls. Their parents have betrayed them, first, by depriving them of a stable home with a mother an father in it, and second and far more evilly, by then refusing to take any responsibility for it. The child is left in the untenable position of being terribly hurt yet being told he can’t be hurt, nobody has hurt him – mommy and daddy just didn’t love each other anymore, and needed to move apart. No big deal – you’ll get over it, insofar as it’s anything you even need to get over.

Now, take these emotionally shattered children, who have just been told that mommy and daddy can stop loving somebody if they just don’t feel like it anymore, and stick ‘em day care for 10 hours a day to be raised up by minimum wage workers. Mommy or (occasionally) daddy will drop them off no matter how much they scream and cry. They’ll spend almost all of their waking hours in the care of people who may very well try to love them – but they got 10 other kids to look after, too.

Now, evolutionary biology and common sense say: a small child cannot hate his parents and survive. When we’r
e little, we are utterly dependent on adults – love is how we cling to them. So the child deals with the anger that comes from being deserted and having no consistent love by fixing that anger on something else. Most anything will serve, but it seems most commonly to be some authority figure or other. Makes school real fun.

We’ve had now 3 complete generations where a huge percentage of kids have grown up like this. Now, there are enough of them so that they can escape the feeble hold of sane culture, and flee into a large and growing group of people who say: all tradition is evil. All culture is oppressive:, All restrictions on what you want are evil.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen parents with furious children who have never entertained the idea for a moment that their own behavior is the source of the fury. Nope. They, themselves, as damaged little kids only older, cannot imagine they have failed their own children.

OF COURSE there are exception. But this happens a lot.

Now, we should hope that, at some point, people grow up, regardless of emotional trauma. I think in the past, where there were clear societal and religious expectations, it was perhaps more likely to happen. Now? Why? Nobody else in your crowd is acting like a grownup.

Finally, since not everybody can have their pouty little way all the time, a day of reckoning is coming, and traditionally cultured and religious people will have nothing to do with instigating it – the pouty will, like a barrel full of squid, start eating each other. It seems to already be starting here and there. It will not be pretty.

To expand on that last thought: well before the body of the last external enemy has stopped twitching, this modern incarnation of devotees to Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité will turn their sharp, sharp knives on each other – this increasingly bitter fight over who is the most victimized will grow into an all-out purity battle, with the losers consigned to the outside with the other oppressors. Thus, for example, the definitions of who, exactly, is white, will grow to include anyone who does not show adequate antipathy toward ‘white’ culture (whatever that may mean), regardless of their current ethnic or racial classification within the Power Dynamic. You see the problem: lots of South Americans and other putative victims don’t quite fit into the victim class, or, worse, fail to see all things as an effect of an evil Power Dynamic in the first place. This state of affairs is intolerable.

I don’t know how violent things will get – not too violent, one hopes. Perhaps it will stop with getting people fired and making them unemployable – bad, but not too bad, historically speaking. But you never know, and restraint and reason have hardly characterized things up to now.

What history, especially the history of the French Revolution, tells us: once victory in the larger battle seems assured, attention will turn toward who gets power in the new order. So we will see if Trotsky or Lenin is the truly-true communist – by seeing who can kill off the other without dying first. The guillotine will get broken in on the necks of plausibly guilty enemies, but will soon get a chance to work on the necks of the merely unenthusiastic, before really getting to work on the losers within the victors’ ranks. And a Stalin, he who is most uninhibited in the use of violence, will rise to the top.

The sad part: the mere whiners, those who think the world owes them compensation and revenge, will find out exactly how deep the supposed sympathy of the powerful for their cause runs. When push comes to shove, those in power will recognize that their devotion to the idea that they should be in power is far greater than their devotion to the causes of the oppressed. If the oppressed fail to get into line, by, for example, insisting on some real power for themselves to do what the powerful do not want done, they will see just how quickly they can become enemies of the revolution, and victims of the guillotine themselves.

I sincerely pray is does not come to that.

Book Review: Eifelheim

Glad to say I’ve finally gotten a chance to read Michael Flynn‘s excellent book Eifelheim, which had been sitting in the pile on the floor near the bed for some number of months now.

In a nutshell: Good book. Go read it.

In addition to great storytelling and loveable, warty characters, what makes this story of alien first contact excellent is the sympathetic treatment of 2 mysterious peoples: medieval villagers and space aliens. In the hands of Carl Sagan, for example, space aliens are presented in the guise of the long-lost daddy to the now grown little girl who lost her father as a child – in other words, every emotional card is played to show the aliens in what, in retrospect, is an impossibly positive light. They exhibit a sort of perfect benevolence unknown in this space-time continuum – no religious overtones, there, uh-uh. Or, to take the other extreme, in the movie Solaris, the aliens are so alien as to be utterly incomprehensible – although they try the exact same trick of appearing as lost humans beloved by the crew.

Many other stories go the Star Trek/My Favorite Martian route, and have often avuncular aliens more like humans than most humans, caricatures of caricatures, as it were: Klingons are more Roman than the Romans; Vulcans are the French Revolutionaries scrubbed clean of all ugly reality; and Uncle Martin is, well, an uncle.

These seem to be the available flavors for aliens who are not out to destroy/enslave/eat us. Yet Flynn, while opting for the classic insectoid type alien on the physical level, manages  to come up with another type altogether: the Krenken, aliens who don’t know everything in the same way as humans don’t know everything; aliens confident in their assumptions like we humans are confident in our assumptions; aliens alternately fascinated and infuriated by challenges to those assumptions.

The trick, which Flynn pulls off  completely, is creating interesting and believable differences in knowledge and assumptions and reactions between the humans and aliens. Creating a societal structure based on the very different evolutionary origins of the aliens, Flynn helps the reader comes to both believe and understand why the aliens behave as they do, and how, over the course of the story, many of them become largely integrated into medieval village life.  Much of the subtle drama of the story hinges on why the Krenken don’t just grab their blasters and take over by force – they are both ‘superior’ and yet able to learn from and dependent upon the villagers.

Which brings us to the truly alien aliens. For the several generations now whose understanding of medieval life is based on the witch scene in Monte Python and the Holy Grail (which is evidently a step up from what you’d learn in school), Flynn’s portrayal of medieval German villagers as real people living real lives is probably a shock. They don’t burn any witches  or engage in any superstitious silliness  – at least, no more than we do today. They live their lives within a social structure that provides some degree of respect and protection to all by means of nested, carefully-delineated rights and duties. Meanwhile, the larger world roils with intrigue and war – kind of like today, like every age forever. Flynn wryly touches on the theological and liturgical battles of the day – again, not so different than now.

We get a flawed yet admirable Lord with his flawed yet admirable household, peasants who are the usual blend of saints and sinners, and Fr. Dietrich, a Thomist exile from Paris laying low as the parish priest in Oberhochwald for reasons only slowly revealed. Dietrich’s interactions with the aliens allows for two very well formed world views to interact and be expounded. The beauty of this story is how what could be dry moments of theoretical arcana jump to life as real issues with concrete bearing on the plot.

In the end, the Black Death comes to the village, putting all theory and philosophy to the test.

In parallel to the scenes unfolding in a village in the Black Forest in 1348 and 1349 are scenes of a modern couple consisting of a physicist and a ‘cliologist’ – a metrical historian, as opposed to a narrative historian. The cliologist is obsessed with the disappearance, and, more important, the failure to reappear of an obscure German village known as Eifelheim. He eventually drags his physicist partner into it as well. The story of their research is told along side the medieval story they are trying to discover. These chapters add some drive and drama to the story, as well as much of the requisite scientific veneer, as first contact stories must be supplied with either eons or a warp drive equivalent.

Very fun, very cool book. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out!

Thursday Round-up

1. I can’t say round-up without visions of dead and dying weeds.

2. Today’s Inigo Montoya moment:

 

Tilting Delaware bridge called a transportation ‘DEFCON-5. Per the Oracle Wikipedia:

Readiness condition Exercise term Description Readiness Color
DEFCON 1 COCKED PISTOL Nuclear war is imminent Maximum readiness      White
DEFCON 2 FAST PACE Next step to nuclear war Armed Forces ready to deploy and engage in less than 6 hours      Red
DEFCON 3 ROUND HOUSE Increase in force readiness above that required for normal readiness Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes      Yellow
DEFCON 4 DOUBLE TAKE Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures Above normal readiness      Green
DEFCON 5 FADE OUT Lowest state of readiness Normal readiness      Blue

As is so often the case, we have met the enemy, and he is us: having a giant, critical bridge in Delaware start to fall apart really is DEFCON 5 – normal state of affairs. Nothing to see here, move along.

Arsène Houssaye. Could be a closer for the Giants.

3. Harvard says library includes book bound in human skin. It is really tempting to write something snotty about Harvard right here, perhaps involving politically incorrect staff or recently deposed presidents. But I’ll try to be nice for a change.

It’s worth noting that the book in question is a French work on mortality and life after death from the 1880s, penned by the hirsute gentleman in the picture. He was flattered to his face and mocked behind his back by Baudelaire – because Houssaye held various gatekeeper functions in the art and literary worlds of the time. 2nd rate talent, first rate wheeler-dealer. So, a doctor friend and admirer decides to get this book of his bound in the skin of a woman mental patient who died of a stroke. Le temp mange le vie!

Ah, the late Romantics! Such tender hearts and soaring spirits!

4. A couple weeks back, was driving to help at a class for parents whose children were to receive First Communion, when, on a quiet residential street, a young man in a Ford Ranger ran a stop sign and destroyed our minivan. He left about 80′ of skid marks, and was still going fast enough on impact to to stave in the passenger side door, set off all the passenger side curtain air bags, and spin the van 110 degrees.

On a quiet residential street. Where kids, pets, and little old ladies hang out. Less than 2 blocks from a grade school and a church.

Nobody was seriously hurt (I’ve merely been a little achy from being spun around; the other driver and his passenger said they were OK), so it took an hour for me to finally go: what the hell? Don’t know if  the cops from the 4 squad cars that showed up arrested the guy or not. I just wanted to get the car towed and go home. But, seriously: what the hell?

5. Finally, this from the OFloinn:

Just because President A was/is terrible doesn’t mean President B isn’t/wasn’t terrible, too.

Post-Coherent Academia: Heavily Credentialed Gibberish

Some guy writes a book, with the long yet graspable title Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It. I have nothing to say about this book, brought to my attention by indomitable Statistician to the Stars via Twitter. 

However, Mr. Briggs linked to a review of this book. The review was written by a Thomas F. Bertonneau, who the little trailing bio tells us “is a long-time visiting professor on SUNY Oswego’s English faculty. He writes about literature, music, religion, politics, and culture.”

OK, then. Professor Bertonneau, one assumes, teaches English? To college kids? And writes like this:

In his latest book, James Kalb has produced, among many other things, a phenomenology of the modern liberal mentality. Although in design Against Inclusiveness consists, in the main part, in a sustained critique of the regnant mandatory egalitarianism, including its characteristic policies of diversity and multiculturalism, Kalb’s studious reconstruction of the self-denominating progressive  Weltanschauung calls attention to itself meritoriously, not least in its repeated insistence on the paradoxical religiosity of the aggressively secular view about existence.

This is paragraph 1 of a 12 paragraph review,  all of it written in the same style. Now, I, as a highly-skilled reader of English with a background in philosophy and what is generally regarded as a huge vocabulary, can in fact parse this out. I’d do it right now, but I don’t know if I’ve got the stamina to spare. I mean, ‘regnant mandatory egalitarianism’  has a certain lilt to it, a certain joie de vivre. But is there any rational excuse for ‘self-denominating progressive Weltanschauung’? I suspect not.  When every sentence contains some such unneeded and semi-opaque baroque construction, it gets old pretty fast.

Professor Bertonneau is very possibly a wonderful guy, fun at parties, good with children and dogs – I have no reason to suspect otherwise. I just have to wonder if I’d want him anywhere near my kids when it’s time for them to learn to write English.

What makes this funnier to me  is that the review is from something called the University Bookman, which has something to do with Russell Kirk. From their ‘about’ page:

For over five decades, the University Bookman, founded by Russell Kirk, has sought to redeem the time by identifying and discussing those books that diagnose the modern age and support the renewal of culture and the common good. Currently published only online, the Bookman continues its mission of examining our times through the prism of what Kirk called the Permanent Things.

Sounds good – I’m all in favor of capital ‘p’ Permanent Things. Deathless prose, for example. There’s more than one way to make one’s written thoughts ephemeral – not having any is the current fav approach, but expressing them in an arcane manner tends to work, too.

I will own my ignorance: Russell Kirk is just a name to me, some famous Conservative dude. So I googled around a little, and am now an stone expert. Here’s a sample of Kirk’s writing, chosen from among the more florid examples:

In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that “liberty inheres in some sensible object,” are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable “liberty” at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise.

Most of the quotations I found are more pithy and declarative than the above. I will assert here, based on nothing more than a few scraps of text from these two authors, that Russ was a better writer than Tom.  Perhaps Kirk is renowned as a master of English, so this might be no slight to  Bertonneau, I don’t know.

Why do I mention all this? It bothers me to read a book review where the language acts as a shibboleth, where within one paragraph one knows the review is intended for those in the academic fold, for those for whom  Weltanschauung is as transparent as ‘world view’ and ‘self-denominating’ is something you might say to your friends over coffee. It amused me that this would appear on a website dedicated to the proposition that there are things of man worth keeping in the world. Is not  unlarded communication one of them? Is not the plain spoken man the bugaboo of the very people against whom this site, and conservatism in general, are arrayed in battle?

It bothers me that academia rewards such writing. It bothers me that those who produce it are allowed anywhere near gullible young students.