Edward Feser Tackles the Dilemma…

of those of us arguing against the current views of our enlightened betters:

So, the skeptic’s position is ultimately incoherent.  But rhetorically he has an advantage.  With every move you try to make, he can simply refuse to concede the assumptions you need in order to make it, leaving you constantly scrambling to find new footing.  He will in the process be undermining his own position too, because his skepticism is so radical it takes down everything, including what he needs in order to make his position intelligible.  But it will be harder to see this at first, because he is playing offense and you are playing defense.  It falsely seems that you are the one making all the controversial assumptions whereas he is assuming nothing.  Hence, while your position is in fact rationally superior, it is the skeptic’s position that will, perversely, appear to be rationally superior.  People bizarrely give him the benefit of the doubt and put the burden of proof on you.

This, I submit, is the situation defenders of traditional sexual morality are in vis-à-vis the proponents of “same-sex marriage.”  The liberal position is a kind of radical skepticism, a calling into question of something that has always been part of common sense, viz. that marriage is inherently heterosexual.  Like belief in the reality of the external world — or in the reality of the past, or the reality of other minds, or the reality of change, or any other part of common sense that philosophical skeptics have challenged — what makes the claim in question hard to justify is not that it is unreasonable, but, on the contrary, that it has always been regarded as a paradigm of reasonableness.  Belief in the external world (or the past, or other minds, or change, etc.) has always been regarded as partially constitutive of rationality.  Hence, when some philosophical skeptic challenges it precisely in the name of rationality, the average person doesn’t know what to make of the challenge.  Disoriented, he responds with arguments that seem superficial, question-begging, dogmatic, or otherwise unimpressive.  Similarly, heterosexuality has always been regarded as constitutive of marriage.  Hence, when someone proposes that there can be such a thing as same-sex marriage, the average person is, in this case too, disoriented, and responds with arguments that appear similarly unimpressive.

Feser concludes:

So, things look pretty bad.  But like the defender of our commonsense belief in the external world, the opponent of “same-sex marriage” has at least one reliable ally on his side: reality.  And reality absolutely always wins out in the end.  It always wins at least partially even in the short run — no one ever is or could be a consistent skeptic — and wins completely in the long run.  The trouble is just that the enemies of reality, though doomed, can do a hell of lot of damage in the meantime.

(Do go read the whole thing!)

And remember, kids: argue with vigor when you need to argue – argue to win –  but remember we are dealing with wounded souls like ourselves, who, like us, are inclined to lash out in their pain, and need love, no matter how hard they make it on us to love them. So it is much more important to be patient, kind and gentle, to turn the other cheek, as we endure our little sufferings, than it is to ‘win’ an argument. (I’m mostly talking to myself here, for sure.)

Asbestos Handbasket Sales Reach All Time High

Others have covered the late unpleasantness of our judges appointing themselves legislators (to the cheers of the elected legislators, who are thus relieved from the unpleasant duty of changing laws, which involves all sorts of icky contact with those unsavory voter-people, and as often as not results in handing one’s opponents something to beat them with at the next election).

Thus, representative democracy dies. Of, by and for the people? Please! Our betters have been trying to wean us off that nonsense ever since some wild-eyed radicals proposed it back in the late 1700s – useful, perhaps, in getting people to fight and die to break free from the British Crown, but hardly workable! Are we really to believe that the people of the United States are not only the seat of all legitimate political power in this nation, but – ridiculous! – also *wiser* than the institutions they set up and the people they elect?

No, much better to have 5 of 9 old people educated at 2 almost identical schools* a couple hours drive from each other in the heart of the blue-blooded Yankee homeland make the laws. Somebody has to tell us poor dears what to think.

So the White House is lit with rainbow colors, as a sign that, no matter what issues may divide us, we are still one nation, characterized by humble and brotherly acceptance of each other, despite our flaws. Meanwhile, here in the Bay Area, we’ve gotten ‘spontaneous’ parades and marches. I’m sure that the organizers wrestled with their consciences about not wanting too overt of celebrations, not wanting to offend their fellow Americans who, while they may have been on the wrong side of this issue, will, tomorrow, be showing up at work and family gatherings and need to be treated with respect, so that we can all return to building up our beloved country as brothers. Right? So we settled on jamming the roadways and shutting down the streets for most of today – spontaneously, of course.

Not at all like this:

Others have more ably traced the roots of this latest outrage to the 7th Lambeth Conference, or no-fault divorce or the Pill or whatever, and they have their points. However, none of this works unless you can count on people adhering to the group – a group defined by the government. What we are seeing now is the culmination of a 180 year effort to make Americans reliably fall into step with whatever their betters dictate, on fear of being excluded from the group and thereby losing their very identity. When Horace Mann brought Prussian style schooling to America, he had no interest in the 3 Rs or helping kids reach their potential or any such nonsense – he wanted to reduce us to pliable order-takers. He ran head-on into all that fluff mentioned above: Americans didn’t see themselves as followers of men like Mann. They didn’t see themselves as followers at all. Of, by and for the People, after all. God, Family and Nation – in that order.

So, step by step, God and Family had to go. The chosen tool: schooling. Compulsory, universal education. Religious school were quickly brought to heel. In order to win the battle for their existence, they had to surrender the true war – they had to follow the Prussian graded classroom model, which they do to this day. It took until the 1940s to eliminate the one-room schools, but they got it done. Homeschooling is a bump in the road, but notice how viciously the education establishment attacks it – can’t have a rebirth of loyalty to family and church, not after so much success killing it off.

Then you have to wait a few generations for all who remember what it was like before to die off.

Thus, today, with fitful moments of semi-awareness, we take it for granted that the state raises our children for us – education and morality alike. What is the one question every grade school kid knows the answer to, the first question one kid asks another upon meeting?

“What grade are you in?”

Because it doesn’t matter who your family is, what you may or may not know, but it is of supreme importance that you know your state-determined *place*.

So, today, all the media and government need to establish is that the cool kids all agree that the Supreme Court did the right thing by usurping the legislative power, because the end result was right, and a huge majority of Americans, having learned through 12 or more years of school what it’s like to have the cool kids treat them with disdain, will fall eagerly, fawningly in line. Like, say, WordPress going with the rainbow banner – see, cool kids? They want you to love them!

The next small step, one already taken in principle but in a roundabout way: have the executive declare that his power does not come from the laws themselves, but, like the laws, come from the will of the people. Therefore, if the laws get in the way of the will of the people, he has every right, nay, a duty to ignore them, and do what the people want.

That’s a little history test, right there. Has such a thing ever happened before?

* Yale and Harvard. 9 of 9 Supremes were educated at those two schools. Yay, diversity!

Brownson: The American Republic – Preliminaries

Before I start in with a chapter by chapter review of this work, thought it best to cover a few historical and biographical preliminaries. Context, and all that.

Orestes Brownson (1) was born in Vermont in 1803, and grew up on a small farm there. His father died when he was very young, and his mother felt compelled to have him adopted by a nearby family, who raised him in a strict yet loving Presbyterian Calvinism. A voracious reader, he had almost no formal education, yet learned enough Latin to translate Virgil by age 19. He went on to teach at several universities, off and on.

Around this time, Harvard, the intellectual gravitational center of America, had converted from Calvinistic Puritanism to Unitarian Universalism. In other words, converted from the belief that God both saves and damns without reference to human actions – no free will – to the belief that God has saved everyone through his Son. Still no free will in any meaningful sense, but much nicer predestination. The emphasis switches from being righteous to being nice, and Scripture changes from being the essential and central deposit of God’s Truth to being a real nice tool for helping people be, well, real nice.

Brownson was baptized a Presbyterian at age 19, but immediately found himself in theological conflict – a recurring theme of his life. By this time, the new enlightened religion of Harvard and the Boston intellectual circles provided an option, which he took, becoming at age 20 a Unitarian Universalist, and a minister a few years later. He edited and wrote for Universalist publications, where he tended to stir up controversy – another recurring theme of his life.

About this time, Tammany Hall was feeling its oats down in New York, and, not having learned that a key to any good political machine is to pay off that portion of the the voters who vote for it (and punish any who don’t) was a little too transparently corrupt. Orestes threw his support behind the Workingman’s Party, the major achievement of which was to bring the benefits of paying off your grassroots supporters to the attention of Tammany Hall. Within 10 years, the Workingman’s Party had dissolved as Tammany Hall both cheated to stay in power and started making sure the various workers got paid – a formula that ensured its continuation in power for almost another century.

Brownson was that rare individual who thought that the world should make sense, and so soon became unhappy with Universalism. He got caught in the gravitational pull of the core beliefs, and so came to deny divine revelation, the divinity of Christ, and any future judgement. Not a man for half measure, he ended up supporting the Workingman’s Party under the wings of Robert Dale Owen, a socialist and anti-Christian crusader, who – history is fascinating in its consistency – attacked the institution of marriage, among other things.

With the dissolution of the party, Brownson discovered that bettering the situation of workers was not something that could be achieved by political actions (I imagine it was his up close and personal look at those actions that convinced him) but required social change – and that required religion of some sort. So, in 1831, he went back to preaching as a Universalist (2) and publishing another magazine (yet another recurring theme).

When the magazine failed, Brownson became committed to Transcendentalism, which, while it does not in fact involve getting beyond teeth, did involve a belief in the fundamental goodness of people and nature, which goodness was only corrupted by society. Transcendentalism arose as a protest against – ready? – the Unitarian Universalists at Harvard (3). However, since Universalists don’t actually believe much of anything, Brownson found that he could stay a Unitarian preacher while at the same time being a Transcendentalist. Handy, that.

In 1836, he organized the Society for Christian Union and Progress, and soon began publishing the Boston Quarterly Review. His views made him popular in the Democratic Party, even while he denounced the idea of popular sovereignty as just another name for mob rule and tyranny.

Then he was bit unwise, politically speaking:

In his “Review” for July, 1840, he carried the democratic principles to their extreme logical conclusions, and urged the abolition of Christianity; meaning, of course, the only Christianity he was acquainted with, if, indeed, it be Christianity; denounced the penal code, as bearing with peculiar severity on the poor, and the expense to the poor in civil cases; and, accepting the doctrine of Locke, Jefferson, Mirabeau, Portalis, Kent, and Blackstone, that the right to devise or bequeath property is based on statute, not on natural,law, he objected to the testamentary and hereditary descent of property; and, what gave more offencethan all the rest, he condemned the modern industrial system, especially the system of labour at wages. In all this he only carried out the doctrine of European Socialists and the Saint-Simonians. Democrats were horrified by the article; Whigs paraded it as what Democrats were aiming at; and Van Buren, who was a candidate for a second term as President, blamed it as the main cause of his defeat. The manner in which he was assailed aroused Brownson’s indignation, and he defended his essay with vigour in the following number of his “Review”, and silenced the clamours against him, more than regaining the ground he had lost, so that he never commanded more attention, or had a more promising career open before him…

And then finally, suicidal, politically speaking:

…than when, in 1844, he turned his back on honours and popularity to become a Catholic.

The slavery question was starting to boil over. Brownson intensified his writings about politics, now focusing more on the nature and origins of nations and governments, now from a fully Catholic perspective. He was strongly for preserving the Union and strongly for ending slavery – both views lost him support, almost completely among Southerners, and largely among Northerners hoping to avoid war.

After the war, he compiled and reworked his writing and ideas into the book we’ll start reviewing soon. Brownson died in 1875 at age 72.

We’ll get to reviewing the work shortly. In the meantime, here are two quotations, unrelated to the American Republic, that give a flavor of his thinking:

First, of his decades of experience arguing with Protestants, which has carried over to the arguments of moderns, except its only gotten worse:

Convict [your opponent] from tradition, and he appeals to the Bible; convict him from the Bible, and he appeals to reason; convict him from reason, and he appeals to private sentiment; convict him from private sentiment, and he appeals to skepticism, or flies back to reason, to Scripture, or tradition, and alternately from one to the other, never scrupling to affirm, one moment, what he denied the moment before, nor blushing to be found maintaining, that, of contraries, both may be true. He is indifferent as to what he asserts or denies, if able for the moment to obtain an apparent covert from his pursuers.

and, his opposition to Prussian education:

A government system of education in Prussia is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society, for there all wisdom is supposed to be lodged in the government. But the thing is wholly inadmissible here not because the government may be in the hands of Whigs or Democrats, but because, according to our theory, the people are supposed to be wiser than the government. Here [in the U.S.] the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give the law to the government. To entrust, then, the government with the power of determining the education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power to be our master. This fundamental difference between the two countries, we apprehend, has been overlooked by the board of education and its supporters. In a free government, there can be no teaching by authority, and all attempts to teach by authority are so many blows struck at its freedom. (Brownson, 1839, quoted by Tozer, 2002, p. 75)

1. Also see the Oracle Wikipedia’s take.

2. As Kurt Vonnegut put it: “Unitarians don’t believe in anything. I’m a Unitarian.”

3. Transcendentalism is one of those things where I start gagging about 2 sentences in, so I’m sure I’m missing the beauty and sublime truths contained therein, but – oh, come on!

Writing Update: The Systems

Somewhat to my surprise, discovered that three stories I’ve been working on (in the sense that they’ve been rattling around in my head) for years all exist in the same fictional universe, which now has the working title ‘The Systems’. This realization motivated me to make sure that these stories where both plausible and consistent. This meant doing some research. Soooo, even though one story is about 90% first draft complete, and another is well begun (the third is just an idea), I’m sort of stuck until I answer some basic questions to my satisfaction. Might as well answer them here on this blog, right?

The big three questions one must address if writing space adventures seem to me to be:

  1. Faster than light travel?
  2. Suspended animation?
  3. If ‘no’ to 1 and 2, how do you get around and where do you go in a reasonable amount of time?

I’ve never liked warp drive equivalents.  While lots of good stories use them, it just is too easy. This is not to say I won’t use one in the future, but not in the Systems.  So that’s ‘no’ to #1.

Suspended animation is another thing I don’t like – not as much as I don’t like warp drive, but my mind always goes to how you’d need to fill a body with effectively magical nanites of some sort to prevent/repair the damage freezing/cooling causes. Not outrageously unlikely, but I don’t tossing stuff in just to solve one problem. Plus, little if any real progress has been made here. #2 also get a ‘no’.

That puts us in a bit of a predicament. I want my people to be explorers and settlers, which doesn’t work too well if generations live and die in space. Well, it could, just not for the stories I have in mind. So, I imagine a set of star systems – The Systems, natch – comprising a tertiary star system. What this gets for me is the possibility of having multiple habitable planets and moons within, say, a 30 or 40 AU radius.

A crude diagram.

Imagine a star system with two central stars, one about .9 solar masses and the other maybe .85, orbiting each other about say maybe 12 AUs apart. Each has its own system of rocky planets with stable orbits within a couple AUs, and maybe a gas giant or two farther out, but still close enough to be firmly in the grasp of its star. Then, in a circumbinary orbit with a mean radius of 20 AUs is a mostly burned out star which is too unstable to live near. It could have a gas giant with interesting moons, perhaps.

Anyway, orbital mechanics, habitable zones and stellar evolution not being something I know off the top of my head (heck, I think I read a book on this once when I was a kid, maybe, but other than that, it’s Sci Fi stories and TV shows that I’ve got whatever info I had), I found myself surfing, reading and cutting and pasting into a document all sorts of fascinating stuff.

The idea is to have at least 4 comfortably habitable planets, like where you can breath the atmosphere and not die if you go outside for an hour without a spacesuit. A bit of terraforming, but of the throw algae in the ocean type, not the Star Trek Project Genesis mumbo jumbo. Plus a bunch of planets, moons, asteroids which, while not Eden, can be lived on within suitable habitats – the usual.

Now, getting around would involve the ever popular solar sails (1). To keep transit times down, there will be inter-system acceleration/deceleration lasers powered by solar collectors arranged in Dyson ring fragments. Or maybe throw them in some of the many Lagrange points such systems may provide – more research, there. I would think L4 and L5 would be stable so long as the stars are far enough apart…. (2)

And then, the kicker: for interstellar travel to and from the Systems, they’ll be a truly massive laser or two orbiting the unstable star. It does take many years, probably generations, to get to or from the Systems, but it must be done at least once in a while.

Anyway, the idea is that many trips between a number of inhabited worlds can be made within a few months, and the whole Systems can be crossed in maybe a year. Most of the traffic is between the inner binary systems.

It occurred to me (much later) that something like this is the implied arrangement in Firefly. (Pause while I Google). Nope – they seem to have assumed one large system with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons”. Pretty sure that wouldn’t work – maybe three planets could fall within the Goldilocks zone of a single star (some people think Sol’s habitable zone encompasses Earth, Mars and almost Venus). Maybe a giant planet with lots of planet-sized moons. What the heck, who am I to question Whedon?

I think I have enough now to complete the first story, which involves the least travel. Used to know an actual rocket scientist, who would be a good reality-check reader, but haven’t spoken to her in years.

Here are some fun links to some of this stuff:

Scale animated diagrams to the orbits of planets discovered by the Kepler mission.

Lagrange points.

Circumstellar Habitable Zones

1. Note that I’ve been working on these stories from well before I read any Mike Flynn or John C. Wright, so the use of sailing ships is not theft/borrowing but rather great minds thinking alike.  Or of one not so great mind thinking kind of along the lines of a couple great minds.

2. With three stellar masses locked together like this, would there not be some pretty groovy L4 and L5 points arrayed between them? More research.

Student Debt: A Nihilist Speaks

This was making the rounds: Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. In it, a writer with a master’s degree from Columbia absolves himself from having to repay his student loans.

Here’s a little something I wrote about student loans and other bank subsidies. One might think I’d be more sympathetic with Mr. Siegel, since I agree with him that student loans are a racket. But self-identified nihilists have voted themselves out of the pool – by their own standards, my sympathy would mean nothing. Therefore, I look only at the destructive nature of his attitude – not the default itself, a relatively minor thing, but his petulant sense of entitlement and superiority. What, I wonder, would this man not do to feed his delicate yet zeppelin-like ego? He forgives himself for lying to the banks he borrowed money from, and advises credit card fraud as a viable economic strategy, with little more than a condescending wave of the hand. He follows that up with a smug dismissal of any concerns that universal adoption of his recommended behaviors would cause economic and social chaos. And, unsurprising, he was caught sock-puppetting (is that a word?) his own blog at The New Republic and suspended, but, of course, he’s a fully accredited member of the intelligentsia with a master’s from Columbia he paid for with stolen money, so he gets a pass. Such concerns are beneath the parasitic yet special snowflake we have before us.

See, the moral nicety here is this: that student loans and college tuition are a mutually supporting racket does not provide a presumptive excuse for behaving dishonorably, if, in fact, honor has anything to do with it. Which, for a nihilist, would be a stupid claim to make. But if you did care about honor, you’d have to make a better argument as to why it was OK to steal the Ferrari than you really wanted a Ferrari and deserved it more than the guy who had it (how does one deserve anything besides death and eternal obscurity in a nihilistic universe, anyway? There I go again, expecting a little logical consistency). State U was just so plebeian, and besides, you won’t make the kind of contacts you need at State U to get a job at the New Republic and a pass on lying to and abusing your readers – you know, your employer’s customers.

The most interesting thing about all this to me is the combination of nihilism and narcissism. I suppose in a universe devoid of meaning, you’d just as well be a narcissist as anything else. But at first blush it does seem odd that his narcissism would lead him to write an essay bound to provoke a backlash from, oh, tax-payers, people who pay their debts, people who went to State U, people who didn’t get to go to even State U, baby-popping primitives who don’t even care about the difference between Columbia and State U – you know, all the people it’s perfectly say to insult nowadays. But then again,.what good is being a special snowflake if you can’t laugh at the yokels?

Enough. This man’s name is Legion, and, except for the threat to sanity that his views contain, would be so tedious and yawn-worthy as to make TV look good. Instead, I wondered: is there any relationship in the real world between getting a degree from Columbia and being a good writer? Fortunately, it seems somebody from Columbia is working Wikipedia, which contains long lists of Important People who took classes there.

I was frankly surprised at the number of authors on the list I recognized. Isaac Azimov, Joseph Heller, Upton Sinclair, Hunter Thompson, James Blish, Paul Gallico (Poseidon Adventure – recognized the book, not the author), Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Millett, J. D. Salinger, Robert Silverberg, Mark Van Doren (Great Books guy!), Eudora Welty, Herman Wouk, and Roger Zelazny. And a couple sportswriters, too, although I don’t know how proudly a writing graduate school would embrace them.

Some observations about this list: First, I’m unlikely to know many authors from the last 50 years or so – I don’t keep up with modern literature at all – got better things to read. I’m well aware that means I’ve probably missed so really good stuff, but the needle in a haystack nature of the search coupled with not reading something else makes that a decision I’ll live with. Second, speculative fiction is especially well-represented. Third, despite his high and lonely calling to writer-hood, Siegel isn’t on the list. I’m sure he’ll make the proper authorities aware of this tragic omission.

Started to take a look at the connections these writers had to Columbia, and it was interesting. These observations are not scientific or exhaustive by any means – I got bored. But of the ones I did check or knew about: Most of them did not get a degree in English or writing. Some, like Azimov, took degrees in other fields; others, like Upton Sinclair, dropped out; Hunter Thompson audited a couple courses. Of the ones who did get degrees in English or writing, Communists and other idiots are well-represented. Then there’s Kate Millet, for crying out loud.

Compare this list with a list of great writers who did little if any college, let alone high prestige schools that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend.  Elite colleges are all about making connections. Why the education of a George W Bush is dismissed because he went to elite colleges to make connections, while a Siegel is expecting his misbehavior in pursuing such connections to be brushed away as necessary is a subject for further contemplation.

Psalm 149 and Freedom of Religion

Bear with me for a minute – I get someplace eventually, I hope.

The first 5 lines of Psalm 149:

Praise the Lord.[a]

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.

One notable omission from this part of this wonderful psalm is any mention of the temple. In other words, it does not say to go to the temple, march into the Holy of Holies, and cut loose with timbrel while singing praise music and gettin’ giggy wit it.

Seriously, as can be seen in the 5th verse, this joy, this singing, dancing and playing of musical instruments is meant for *life* – you are encouraged to rejoice and sing in bed, even!

Yet, today, at a beautiful Confirmation Mass celebrated with our wonderful bishop Michael Barber, we had some music that sounded a little like Pink Floyd (1) – if they had had a profound conversion experience and suffered debilitating brain damage. Pseudo power ballad without any of Floyd’s sense of humor or irony.  And it was *better* than some of the other music.

Now, the Spirit truly was present, as the music hardly dented the overall solemnity and joy of the Mass. It was beautiful and holy. The question, a question now 50 years old and running, is: How does such music get into the liturgy in the first place?

The Israelites under David, the traditional author of that psalm, clearly did not believe that such celebrations as described above could only take place within temple worship. Rather, the unspoken assumption is that the singing, dancing and music would take place in the midsts of the people’s lives – in the streets, in the home, on their beds, even.

Just as the Catholic argument for marriage was surrendered in the ’60s with no fault divorce, a situation that only now becomes obvious, perhaps the argument for freedom of worship versus freedom of religion (as explained here) was lost when it was somehow decided, in the wake of Vatican II, that whatever art or folk art that could be considered God-directed had to be included within the liturgy. Instead of maintaining a place for specific formal temple worship style ritual AND a place for other forms of worship outside the formal liturgy, we insisted on all things taking place within the liturgy – and thereby ceded the world outside the church walls to the secularists.

I’ve sometimes mused that any church musicians who think their music is more popular or accessible than traditional hymns and chants should be made to prove it – by getting paying gigs performing their music any place except within the liturgy. Does anyone imagine any Catholics would consistently show up for a dance or a drink or anything else at all if the music was praise music and Marty Haugen? Really? (2)

Be that as it may, have we not ceded the field to the freedom of worship crowd by having virtually no religious practices outside of formal worship? Are there any informal, popular public expressions of religion left in the Catholic Church in America? That would be where, if anywhere,  all the ‘contemporary’ liturgical music would have its natural home. Does any religious practice have a normal, comfortable place in public life any more?

1. Not a Floyd fan, but I can admire their ability to take a minimal musical idea and spin it out into a 6+ minute hypnotic semi-jam. And they are often witty. Praise music, not so much.

2. I’d be curious if the consumption of sacred music outside the liturgy by the culture vulture and fuddy duddy sets (sheepishly raises hand) is greater, in terms of money or participation, than what praise and folk or whatever they’re calling it nowadays music is consumed outside liturgy. If not, how about we adjust for exposure: what if kids heard chant and Victoria from the cradle, instead of St. Louis Jebbies and Cary Landry? Generally, and all anecdotal experience confirms this, kids exposed to crap alone tend to just leave the church.

Feeble Attempt at Humor…

…inspired by this from Dr. Boli, written long ago, based on the Eagle’s tune Desperado:

Esperanto – Why don’t you come to your senses?
You’ve been out fixing tenses for so long now
You’re not a hard one,
but I know that you’ve got your reasons.
These things that are pleasin’ you
are hard to pronounce.

Don’t rewrite all our declensions, boy!
We’ll beat you, if we’re able.
You know a common lexicon is your best bet.
Now it seems to me some fine things
have been set up in your tables,
but you only want acceptance that you can’t get.

Esperanto, ah, you ain’t gettin’ no younger.
Yet only freaks and fanatics speak you at home.
English and Russian. That’s just some people talkin’
You’re a knight errant walking through this world all alone.

Don’t your words get cold in the garbage can?
The phrase won’t flow, sentence won’t scan.
It’s hard to keep pushing this thing all day.
You’re gettin’  all these panicked looks.
Ain’t it funny how the people back away?

Esperanto, why don’t you come to your senses?
Your head’s in the clouds, now, open the gate.
It may be Spanish, Or maybe French, even Urdu.
You better learn some other language
You better learn some other language
before it’s too late.


Way busy with graduation, my older sister’s terminal illness, and, today, the confirmation (and subsequent party at our house) for our German student houseguest.

Will get back to the fascinating world of bad science and even worse philosophy, as well as movies and books I may or may not like, soon.

Review: Monster Hunter International & Update

Monster Hunter International (Monster Hunters International Book 1)Being up front here: Urban fantasy wherein weapons, explosions and the gruesome deaths of creatures both eldrich and fell are described in loving detail are not my cup of tea. Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International is the first such book I’ve ever read, as far as I can remember. So, I’m not really the right guy to review this book. That said – it was a load of fun! You can get it for your Kindle free right now, which is how I came to have it.

Short & sweet – if you need an action-packed, often hilarious diversion for that trip to the beach, this is your book. More fun than a barrel of red neck elves! A week later, and I’m still giggling at some of the scenes and dialogue. The books aims to be fun, awesome, and entertaining, and hits that description out of the park.

The flavor of the book is captured in the opening lines:

On an otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American Dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.

Then there’s the gun love:

“You know that ‘no weapons at work’ policy?” I asked the twitching and growing hairy monstrosity standing less than ten feet from me. His yellow eyes bored into me with raw animal hatred. There was nothing recognizably human in that look.

“I never did like that rule,” I said as I bent down and drew my gun from my ankle holster, put the front sight on the target and rapidly fired all five shots from my stub-nosed .357 Smith & Wesson into Mr. Huffman’s body. God bless Texas.

And so on. Like almost all good stories, it’s a love story, a finding your true self story, and an adventure story – just built around way cool weapons and vampires, werewolves, wights, and deathless horrors from beyond time and space.

Quick spoiler-free recap: Owen Zastava Pitt is a newly-hired accountant who discovers one evening that his “incompetent jackass of a boss” happens to be a werewolf. Instead of getting eaten, however, Owen manages through sheer cussedness and small arms fire to shove him out a window to his death. He is seriously mauled in the process.

This is unusual, to say the least. Owen wakes up in a hospital bed with tubes and wires and bandages all over his body – and two government agents, one of whom holds a gun on him. From there, Owen is swept up into a secret organization called Monster Hunters International, which, in less than friendly competition with a similar government branch, seeks to kill and collect bounties on all sorts of evil creatures infesting the world.

He falls in love with the daughter of the head of MHI, is visited in his dreams by a WWII-era Jewish monster hunter from Nazi Germany, and goes on adventures and adds to MHI massive body count of zombies, wights, and other evil things.

But this time, it’s not just the usual motley crew of monsters – there’s something big going on. Of course, only Owen can stop it.

There are plenty of laughs, and plenty of moments of righteous get-even-itude. We got heavy-metal loving orcs, trailer trash elves, a wacky cast of monster hunters, who don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

So, it’s not like your mind will be raised to dazzling heights of truth and beauty by this book – but you won’t be bored, and will probably laugh out loud. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out. It’s even free right now, what do you want?

Update: After reviewing a couple John C. Wright collections I’ve read in the cracks, will be shifting gear away from mostly speculative fiction back to history, philosophy & education. For a while, at least, while my stamina holds up. On the list:

The American Republic by Orestes Brownson – this will require multiple essays. Brownson is fascinating, not only as a public intellectual from back when such people were not ignored in favor of reality TV (a step rightly taken, these days), but as the typical American autodidact and as a Catholic convert from the Burned Over district and the Second Great Awakening. He wrote this at the conclusion of the Civil War with great optimism that America would finally grow up. He only lived another 10 years, so he just missed all the mishegas around Rutherford B. Hayes – which would have killed him anyway, most likely. 

Been working on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit for a quite a while now. Am well into the body of the work; will continue with the section-by-section commentary.

Will pick one of my growing collection of biographies of the early American educators, and use it to proof-text my crazy educational ideas. Ooops! I mean plumb its black depths for more dirt on our better’s endless and brutal efforts to keep us little people in line. Or something like that.

Hey. I read these books so you don’t have to.

Review: Architect of Aeons

The Architect of Aeons (Count To A Trillion Book 4)Quick review: buy and read it, already! Lots of fun, full of cool sci-fi speculation, and another cliff-hanger or two. Trends are extrapolated, worlds built and moral quandaries examined.

The 4th novel in John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion hexology, The Architect of Aeons takes up the story of Menelaus Montrose and Ximen del Azarchel after they were exiled from earth at the end of The Judge of Ages by the very post-humans Montrose had engineered to defeat del Azarchel’s schemes. Meany wants people to be free; Blackie wants to bioengineer people to be better slaves to the soon to arrive super-intelligences from Hyades. And they are both in love with the same woman – who took a little trip to M3 and won’t be back for millennia.

Meany and Blackie wake from stasis after the Hyades, having won an epic battle, swept the earth of most of its inhabitants and shipped them off to various nearby (sidereally speaking) planets. It seems that the economics of the Hyades and their masters indicate that the only value people have in the big scheme of things is to work to ‘wake up’ various planets and stars by converting the bulk of their masses to logic crystal. That the people of earth in their present state are fatally unfit for this work doesn’t matter – the Hyades seed many planets with people by simply dumping them there, whether or not those worlds are suitable for (post) human life.

The people of earth must adapt or die. Further, the Hyades will be back in a few millennia for another sweep. Much of the first part of the book is concerned with what Montrose does to try to defend earth against this second attack. Meanwhile, del Azarchel heads off the the Sagittarius Arm with a bunch of his heavily modified minions to check out another contraterrene star and monument. The second sweep and Montrose’s planned war against it take place while Blackie is gone.

It does not go as planned. It does not go well. The theme of these books might be: the best laid plans of mice and cliometricians…

Montrose, a man who insists on freedom, who is a bit put out that some poxy Yankee state got the motto that rightfully belongs to his Texas – Live Free or Die – is a cliometric singularity. Funny things happen, mathematically speaking, wherever he treads. So the Hyades give him a choice.

The last bit of this book was my favorite by far, one of my favorite sections in the whole series. Wright channels Cordwainer Smith (specifically, Alpha Ralpha Boulevard and The Ballad of Lost C-mell sprang to mind) and Jack Vance. After Montrose cut his deal with the Hyades, the various creatures of earth origin develop elaborate cultures – no more elaborate than, say, Italian Renaissance courtly culture, but, needing to incorporate the social implications of space-faring, as well as all sorts of biotech and nanotech and what have you. The story achieves the sort of bizarre yet believable formality that Vance trafficked in, as well as his penchant for detective stories and gasping reveals. Totally fun.

This book gives the reader more insight into del Azarchel’s character. Wright walks the fine line between making him sympathetic, but not too sympathetic – you feel sorry for the guy, for sure, but still want him to lose big.The book ends with choice, where a creature with (to us) godlike powers lays them down for something she knows is better. Del Azarchel cannot believe it – and that’s the point.

Architects of Aeons is one of, if not the, best book in the series. I’ll readily admit that this assessment is partly the result of Wright’s deft echos of Cordwainer Smith and Jack Vance (and probably other writers I don’t know as well – that’s for someone else to comment on). But the thinking is deepening, too. The philosophical speculations that are the backbone of the hexology are coming into sharper focus, and the longer term implication of what man decides to do are laid out across eons. We are all cliometric singularities, after all – that’s what Free Will means. Ultimately, vast historical calculus is not the work of men, nor angels. We don’t throw the switch and KNOW that the trolley will kill the man in the alley (or that that is the best outcome if it were to happen); we don’t KNOW that if we just kill enough of the right people, the worker’s paradise will spontaneously arise. We only know that it is good to love, good to be loved, and that life and this universe are achingly beautiful – and we should be on the side of that life and beauty, even if, especially if it costs us.

Go read the book! I’m ready for Volumes 5 and 6.