Election News, Gell-Mann, and Why I Don’t Watch TV

Stuck in the local Dodge dealer’s service department waiting room while highly trained technicians figure out why they can’t successfully screw some small but essential engine component into place so that the oil stays *in* the engine where it belongs, in under three tries. I’m imagining a seminar being called, with guys in oily blue uniforms sitting at a long oak table, calling each other by their last names: “Mr. Jones, that is a fascinating approach, but, as Mr. Rodriguez here just pointed out, the direct and disintermediated strategy of, and I quote, ‘just gettin’ down there and looking at the darn thing’ runs contrary to the Dodge corporate zeitgeist …”

Something like that. 2 hours later, on our third trip taking the car in over the last 5 days, it seems they might have fixed it. Tricksy, tricksy oil filter seals!

So I got two relaxing hours during which I could check the time every 90 seconds or so and email work that I’d be in late. But even beyond such highlights, which would certainly headline most days, I got to watch about 15 minutes of broadcast news. That I did not promptly kill myself is a testament to my dread of the loss of the joys of heaven and of the pains of hell. After that more than sufficient dose of state-of-the-art intelligence-lowering treatment, I took a walk.

First up, the talking heads went on about the outrage over the killing of that gorilla who made the fatal mistake of having a small child fall into its enclosure. People who have seen way too many movies featuring dramatic rescues are aghast that the zoo, whose primary obligation is to the safety of the *people* visiting, ended up having to shoot and kill the majestic animal.

And it is sad. Not nearly as sad as a small child being ripped or bitten in half, or having his head torn off – things a mature gorilla is entirely capable of doing. So the zoo did the right thing, not having the Mission: Impossible squad or Scotty on the transporter handy to effect a rescue less fatal to the animal.

What made my brain hurt: the entire broadcast team and the experts they called in were obsessing over the *legal* obligations of the zoo. Not once in this 5 minute or so segment did anyone say: too bad we had to kill that gorilla, but, obviously, we had to save the boy, because, you know, the boy is a person and the gorilla is not.

The ongoing efforts to make law the sole arbiter of right and wrong proceeds apace. Rather than recognizing, as everyone before Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. recognized, that the law is merely a better or worse reflection of a higher order of reality, we instead try to make law, whatever the judges may say it is, to *be* that highest standard.

  • Your personal rights are whatever the judges say the law says they are.(1)
  • The family is not the fundamental unit upon which all societies are built, but just another legal entity – the family is whatever the judges say the law says it is.
  • Human life is whatever the judges say the law says it is, and has whatever value the judges assign to it.

And so on. But we were just getting warmed up. Next came election coverage. I tend to avoid all election coverage because I don’t want to test the limits of my dread of the loss of the joys of heaven, so it has been a while.

In the first segment, the reporter interviewed some Democratic party operative. It was hard to tell which was which, not that it mattered. The first problem: Bernie will not go away and let Hillary be president, even though it her turn! One of the people on screen made sure to let us know that, of course Hillary supports Bernie’s right to keep running just as long as he’d like, provided only that he face reality eventually and support Hillary. Because the big thing,  now that a new standard has been set for rule by presidential fiat, is that we don’t let Trump be president. They didn’t actually say that penultimate part, probably because it’s not in the plans for anybody not on the right team to use all those new presidential powers Obama kept finding under his pillow, left there by the presidential powers fairy. And we don’t want to alienate potential voters.

The second problem is that this whole State Department email thing just won’t go away. They both – the reporter and the operative – really, really just want it to go away, but, darn it all, stuff keeps coming up if they leave any air- or mind-space for it, so they have to say something. What they said was that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also sent email from their personal accounts, and that rules are really unclear, and that, sure, mistakes were made, but everything is cool now, so JUST SHUT UP. (That bold faced stuff was just implied by the context.)

If one of the people on the screen could be said to be in some sense a reporter, it is interesting to note that she raised no objections or even any questions at all about these claims. They were let stand as if beyond question. I bet she got ‘A’s in journalism school. No discussion of what it was, exactly, that Powell and Rice did, and, more important, if they should then have cells adjoining Hillary’s. There are no sunlit lands above, Puddleglum.

This, for me, is step one in fighting off the eternal Gell-Mann amnesia effect (2), where you hear something you know by personal experience is simply untrue, yet reported as if it’s just plain fact. Like anyone who works with high-tech or financial institutions, I’ve run into security requirements. Dodd-Frank, which Hillary supports and thinks doesn’t go far enough(3), imposes massive new information-gathering and reporting requirements on financial institutions, while at the same time broadening the definition of what kind of institutions fall under its purview.

In the modern world, anyone with a job where they touch either intellectual property or confidential personal or corporate data has it beaten into them that they must do that work on a secure corporate machine, using the corporate network behind a firewall. It’s not like the bank or software house wants you to spend a second asking yourself if what you’re working on is important or not – if it’s work, it’s on the corporate servers and behind the corporate firewalls. And don’t imagine we don’t have multiple back-up copies for everything you’ve ever done – we do, stored both locally and off-site, because we want the records if we ever get sued.

Period. No nuance.So easy to understand that millions of gesers like me and Gen-Xers get it. The government rules are the same – official communications are government records, to be communicated and stored via approved government processes and channels.

The very idea that a senior official in government, a lawyer to boot, is to be presumed to not get this is beyond stupid. Just casually start doing business through my own private network outside the firewall? No back-ups? This is even before the interesting phenomenon that getting a Hillary email is the most destructive virus ever devised – why, your system will just DIE and all your data be lost!! Wierd.

This is so preposterously stupid and manifestly dishonest that it should inoculate me against Gell-Mann Amnesia for the rest of my life.

Finally, they got around to beating up reporting on Trump. They can’t spare a few seconds of airtime to question the laughably stupid claims about Hillary’s emails that, in more enlightened times, would be intended to keep her from facing a firing squad. But they got plenty of time to investigate where Trump donated money. Because, I suppose, traitorously criminal behavior by a high-ranking government official who now wants to be president doesn’t sell airtime.

Right after we eliminate compulsory public schools and federally-funded colleges and universities, establishing a free press would be nice.

  1. A hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson, that titan of progressive enlightenment, found the time in his busy schedule (what with segregating blacks out of the federal government, supporting eugenics, and getting us into a world war he’d promised repeatedly to keep us out of) to opine that the constitution was obsolete. Now highbrow organs like the New Yorker promote this line of thinking, careful to assure us that it’s really just a tune-up. Right.
  2. From the late Michael Crichton’s 2002 essay “Why Speculate?”Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.) Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know. That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
  3. Like progress, one would also like to know, not merely that movement is taking place, but in what direction said movement is going. It’s not that Dodd-Frank doesn’t go far enough, it’s that it doesn’t go at all in the right direction. Smaller specialty finance companies and banks, who played no part in the meltdown, are now having to gather more customer information, which must then be kept confidential, and report on it, which requires investment in systems and people to do the reporting. These are non-trivial expenses, to be borne by those who had nothing to do with the collapse and stand no chance of causing another one. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs, which actually did play a part in the financial collapse and is as perfectly positioned to profit from the next meltdown as they did from the last, gets to do whatever they want, at least insofar as new regulation is concerned. They supply all the upper management at the US Treasury – out of the patriotic goodness of their hearts, no doubt.

Movie Review: Zootopia

Just in time for you not to be able to catch it in the theaters. The book reviews are coming, I promise, but they take longer to write…

The temptation to view this piece of pretty fluff as just another harmless kiddie cartoon should be resisted. Maybe 90% of the messages in this movie is, in fact, harmless to good: we should all get along, do not judge people by appearances, dream big and work hard and your dreams can be yours, Mom and Dad are hopeless yahoos who just want to hold you back – the usual.  Well, that last one, a recurring theme in Disney flicks since whenever, is a little off, as is the idea that wherever you find yourself is WRONG – you must leave family and home to achieve what Destiny has in store for you. There’s even an extended scene in which Mom and Dad explain how dreams are OK, but one must settle – and, boy, how they’ve settled.

Judy, with her erudite and sophisticated parents

That Mom and Dad (still together, at least – I guess that’s part of the bumpkin vibe they’re selling) run a successful farm and raise a huge family is not viewed as having succeeded in any real sense, not like, say, running off to the big city to be a cop. Judy, out rabbit protagonist, has a little soliloquy in which she counts down all that’s sad about the room she’s renting in the Big City – greasy wall, lumpy bed, insane neighbors, etc. – and then says: “I love it!” But she’s not settling.

All this is, as mentioned above, pretty much standard Disney fare.(1) As such, I suppose it’s tolerable enough – if, for example, the charm and beauty of Snow White, an orphan living under a witch, or  Sleeping Beauty, where the only father figures are incompetent ninnies, can get you past those drawbacks (works for me) then the awesome visuals and often witty dialogue and characterizations could get you past the claptrap in Zootopia.

But then there’s this exchange between Judy and Benjamin, the cop at the front desk, an overweight big cat of some sort:

Judy: – Excuse me!

Benjamin: – Hmm?

J: Down here! – Hi.

B: – O… M… Goodness! They really did hire a bunny. Ho-whop! I gotta tell you,
you’re even cuter than I thought you’d be.

J: Ooh, ah, you probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny ‘cute’,
but when other animals do it, that’s a little…

B: Ohhh. I am so sorry! Me, Benjamin Clawhauser. The guy everyone thinks is just
a flabby donut-loving cop, stereotyping you.

J: – Oh.

B: – No, it’s okay.

So, Judy is breaking it to Benjamin: it’s not just a matter of a cute bunny being tired of being told she’s cute, it’s a SYSTEMIC problem, wherein it’s OK for any rabbit to tell any other rabbit she’s cute, but not OK for any non-rabbit to ever tell a rabbit she’s cute.

‘Cute’ is here being equated with the ‘N’ word. Right? Am I missing something? The trials of being a cute rabbit – not being taken seriously and being denied certain jobs(2) – are here being equated with being reminded you were considered and may still be considered subhuman.

Judy has removed the problem from just something that might (and no doubt does) change depending on the particular people involved – some rabbits may not mind being called cute! – to something that Society Must Deal With. We are to learn, it appears, that it’s not enough to simply tell someone you’d prefer not to be called ‘cute’, or, even better, that grownups suck it up rather than take offense when it can plausibly be assumed the other party meant no harm, but that the World must change to preserve ME from perceived microaggression. The excessive groveling apology from Benjamin, hammer-like, drives the point home.

To be fair, it is a fun little story, a who done it/mystery with any number of amusing characters and the fabulous artwork we’ve come to expect from modern CGI geniuses. At the time, all I did was figuratively roll my eyes and keep watching. I was often entertained, and our 12 year old seemed to like it.

But now, the next day, that jarring, stupid scene keeps leaping to mind.

  1. Which is why I love Mulan so much – actual heroic, loveable dad and a daughter who wants nothing more than to spare him, and then come back home. I cried at that scene – I’m a dad with daughters, after all. Point being, this sort of thing is very, very rare in Disney films.
  2. And for good reason: is she really bringing in a miscreant rhino or polar bear? If wolves are attacking you, you call for the cops and a rabbit shows up, are you going to be happy? Is justice going to be served? Or will it be more like this?

Guitars & Kids

One thing I’ve tried to do for my kids is get them instruments and lessons if they ask for them. So far, the girls both play the piano and guitar and sing, and Daughter #1 plays a little violin; Oldest son, may he rest in peace, learned to play a little Bach on the piano before deciding he wasn’t interested. Youngest son plays fiddle quite well, sings a little and has expressed interest in learning piano and other instruments as well. (I tell him: show me you’ll practice on your own for a year or two, then we’ll see. So far, we’re sticking to violin, as I do need to get after him a bit – hey, he’s 12.)

But middle son, age 20,  has never played anything, and, when his voice changed (it’s way deeper than mine, which is a little disconcerting) something happened that seems to have made him unwilling or unable to sing. BUT – he started in a couple months ago saying he wanted to learn to play guitar.

So off we went to Guitar Center, and shopped. Found him a cheap-ish flamenco style nylon string (1). Why that kind of guitar? Because he wants to learn this song:

What? I mean, slow enough and a month of practice, I can sort of play maybe 75% of Rodrigo’s part, but hardly know where to start with Gabriela’s insane strumming percussion. This is pretty damn advanced guitar. Yet, never having tried guitar, this is what our Thomas wants to do.

Aaand – he’s doing it. After 1 freakin’ week, he can play that slower main melody section from the middle. Not to speed, not clean – but he can play it. I figure it out a bit at a time (Rodrigo y Gabriela have very helpfully posted a ‘tips’ video for this very song – phew!) show it to him, and he’s spent several hours a day working on it.

Here I am worried he’s going to get so frustrated that he’ll never pick up the guitar again, and he’s smiling ear to ear every time I see him, running through those 16 measures or so of the song. I can even, in a very un-Gabriela-like way, strum the chords behind him. I can probably show him that intro section next, at about 25% speed. Then he’ll be in for it, because the solo is insane, and the little strumming fills Rodrigo plays are Not Easy.

We’ll see what happens then. I do know an outstanding guitar teacher, and asked Thomas if he’d want to take a few lessons over the summer, and he’s interested – good thing, too, because I’m going to be in over my head in a few weeks at this rate.

Thomas makes the off-hand comment that, when he started in fencing 6 years ago, he had no idea what it meant to practice. But since he’s not a natural athlete and since he had a very good instructor, he learned how – to practice. Now, he’s applying that skill set to the guitar.

Kids never cease to amaze me. Mine do most of the amazing for the simple reason they’re the ones I see all the time. I do have high expectations for my kids, but all around how they behave, not around trying to make them great musicians or scholars. They have wildly exceeded all  expectations on both fronts. I am truly blessed.

(By freakish coincidence, Rodrigo y Gabriela just happen to be playing in Napa next weekend – a 45 minute drive. Yep, the whole clan is going – woohoo!)

  1. The quality of cheap guitars keeps rising while their cost, adjusted for inflation, keeps falling. I love the free market!

Immediate Book Meme from Darwin Catholic

Over at Darwin Catholic, Mrs. Darwin posts:

There are plenty of memes that want to know all about your book history and your all-time greats and your grand ambitions, but let’s focus on something more revealing: the books you’re actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read. Let’s call it The Immediate Book Meme.

Sounds like fun. Here’s my answers to the stated questions:

1. What book are you reading now?

Somewither, by John C. Wright. Read this over a period of a couple months, rereading it now as I feel haven’t really given it its due. It’s a weird combination of goofy and profound, high-brow slapstick and baroque language and imagery. But that, or most of that, can be said of most of his works.

Still rereading A History of Education in Antiquity. It’s fun. Unlike reading about American and specifically American Catholic education history, it doesn’t make my blood boil or head spin. It’s also just great to see how different people view education, their goals and methods. Reinforces how ahistorical and bizarre current methods are – assuming education in any coherent sense is what you’re trying to do.

2. What book did you just finish?

Mission: Tomorrow, a compilation by a pantheon of modern SciFi writers on the theme: now that NASA is all but dead and private interests are getting into space, what now? Mike Flynn, who contributed a good story to this collection, actually has a series of novels beginning with Firestar that expand on this very theme. In both the novels and the short story, he makes use of the social arrangements and sensibilities of the Age of Sail, cowboys, frontiersmen, as well as geeks and business people and more traditional space jockeys, in giving verisimilitude to his cast of characters. It’s both amusing and convincing. Why wouldn’t the barkeep be like a saloon keeper in an old Western, or the investigator like Phillip Marlowe?

Anyway, I’ll do a detailed review in next few days. It’s a good collection, well worth the read.

The Iron Chamber of Memory, John C. Wright. Man, I still have a foot or more of shelf space tied up by Mike Flynn and John C. Wright novels I have yet to read. But at least I got to this one! A very odd story that, at first, frankly, left me feeling like I was just being jerked around by all the unrequited love and confusion despite all the clues that All Is Not As It Seems. In the last half, though, we start peeling through the onion only to find it’s not an onion at all its – nope, not that either, until we come to discover… Well, better stop there. The ending is oddly tear-jerking, even though it satisfies everything that was set up – except that the world is now so different, it seems like tragic loss, which it is….

Very well and beautifully written. I’ll give it a full review – you know the drill.

God, Robot, another compilation, on the idea of Theological Robots – what happens if the Three Laws are replaced by, instead, the Two Great Commandments? What, indeed. Well, a bunch of good to great writer, the latter set including John C. Wright (natch), L. Jagi Lamplighter (John’s wife) and the much maligned Vox Day, took it on. I don’t think I’d read any of Lamplighter’s or Day’s fiction before – both are very talented writers. Lamplighter, who got the closing story (I don’t know how the editor, Anthony Marchetta, arranged this – did he assign parts?) was remarkable, taking a weirdly grim premise and making something weirdly luminous out of it.

Anyway, yada yada.

3. What do you plan to read next?

Souldancer, by Brian Niemeier. More SciFi. This is the sequel to Nethereal, a bizarre and mind-bending space opera about pirates and Hell. Dante meets a more troubled and moral Jack Sparrow. Something like that. This book promises to expand on What the Hell Was That All About? Introduced in the first book. Ya know?

If I’ve not sated my thirst to get away from education and Hegel reading after Souldancer, I’ll read some more Flynn, Wright or Gene Wolfe – or hit some more classic SciFi. Then back to the salt mines (typo-ed ‘salt minds’ – Freud might be beaming from wherever in Hell I imagine he’s roasting in my less charitable moments) of education History and Phenomenology of Spirit.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Phenomenology of Spirit. Grim duty time. Although sometimes Hegel is almost a guilty pleasure, with the right attitude. Almost. I’m weird.

War and Peace – got about 500 pages into it about 30 years ago, and – I’m a fraud! I admit it! How can anybody NOT have read W&P? Exposed, I am! Does having read a bunch of Hegel, Kant and Fichte, not to mention Cervantes and Dante, get me any slack? I imagine not. And my knowledge of Shakespeare is woefully inadequate… There are too few hours in the day…

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

There’s this pile, see…. About 2’ of shelf space is tied up with education history, studies and biographies, not to mention stuff on my Kindle. So there’s that.

6. What is your current reading trend?

Right now, I’m taking a break from Hegel and Education to read some SciFi. That should tie me up through the end of the year, at least.

Then, the plan over the next couple years is to reread a bunch of Aristotle, Plato and Thomas, a bunch of mythology (that’s another growing pile) and more general history – I particularly want to know more about Al Smith’s campaign, and the anti-Catholic backlash his crushing defeat had in the Democratic Party – FDR had NO high-profile Catholics in his administration, which was probably the price of getting elected, which he gladly paid, by all accounts.

But I need to investigate.

I Am More Enlightened Than You

(Was reading Facebook – yes, yes, DUMB! – wherein some poor soul was celebrating her enlightenment, and how she now knew The Way Things Are. I was thus inspired…)

Nothing quite matches the thrill, the comfort and sense of complete superiority that comes in that moment when one realizes that one has shed the chains of false consciousness, escaped the narrow perspective of class (however defined) and reached a higher plain of Enlightenment. We know we have freed ourselves from the tentacles of mindless conformity when we find ourselves in total agreement with our college professors and our neighbors in Berkeley and San Francisco: we share the same ill-defined goals, the same largely fictional political heroes, and, most important, we hold the same people and the ideas we ascribe to them in utter contempt.

Of course, except among ourselves, we would be unlikely to put it quite so baldly. Among the unenlightened, who by the very fact that they don’t agree with us have demonstrated an impenetrable ignorance and fundamental irrationality which makes them irredeemably evil, we don’t waste time trying to explain our positions. Mostly, we merely explain to them what it is they really believe – largely for our own catharsis, since there’s virtually no chance such vile creatures can ever be made to see the truth. As to listening to what the unenlightened have to say, well, what could be more absurd! Whatever fantasy world they may have constructed for themselves in which they tell themselves stories about human nature, basic math, toleration that falls short of complete adoration and personal responsibility even in a world of structural evil, we know that they act solely out of bigotry, racism and hatred. Because we, after all, are more enlightened than they are.

All well and good, as far as it goes. But here is something that might perhaps send a chill down your spine: what if there is a higher level of enlightenment beyond that which you have achieved? What if one were to see the world as clearly as you and your favorite sociology professors do, yet find that it is possible to see even that exalted level of enlightenment as falling short, somehow, of an even greater state of clarity?

I am here to break the bad news: I am more enlightened than you.

Wow. I can see it now! Free markets really are the worst form of economics. Except for all other forms…

Yes, I have read Marx. And Hegel. And Freud.(1) You have no doubt had pre-digested bits of that revered trinity spoon-fed to you by academics with agendas, so it’s really not surprising that you’ve gotten a somewhat distorted idea of what they’re up to. Even if you’d read them instead of read about them, you, not being  nearly as enlightened as I am, lack the context under which these thinkers can be actually understood. I’ve read hundreds of *other* books, too, the ones that provide the context within which Marx, Hegel and Freud can be understood. Because I am more enlightened than you.

It’s true that I  have read only a smattering of Marx’s innumerable spawn – the feminists, the political theorists, the gender studies people, the critical analyzers and so on. Pointing that out is like saying I’ve only done a tiny fraction of all possible arithmetic problems. I know how to do the math. I know what species the answers will be. Because, let me remind you, I am more enlightened than you.

Being more enlightened, I can of course understand  the appeal of the Hegelian, Marxist and Freudian ideas that permeate what passes for thought among you less enlightened people. Wouldn’t it be nice if all that was required to achieve heaven on earth is for enough people to get on the right side of History? As an aside, an exercise in thinking, try to get clear in your mind what ‘the right side of History’ means. Hint: being more enlightened than you, I can see that it is both a shibboleth  (you can look that word up later) and an order to do as you are told, couched in an otherwise meaningless collection of words.

Further, wouldn’t it be nice if our personal happiness depended largely on not suppressing our sexual desires? If we just did what we wanted to do, to or with whomever or whatever we wanted to do it, why, we would be right as rain! Being more enlightened and also a healthy human being, I can again understand how this idea would appeal to the less enlightened. But, because I am more enlightened than you, I can also see that, in practice, this approach involves treating everyone else as primarily a means (or hinderance) to our own self-fulfillment. If you were as enlightened as I am, you’d see that no amount of talking around this issue will make it go away: my rights correspond to somebody else’s duty. What if I’m unhappy because, oh, I don’t know, a younger Cheryl Tiegs-equivalent never consented to have a wild, passionate fling with me? How do I solve that? More important, how does the world solve that for me? How does it work out, once we’re all on the right side of History, that Cheryl realizes – or is made to realize – her duty to jump in the sack with me? And these, my made-up fantasies, are way, way on the tame end of the gamut – I would not be excited by, for example, Cheryl’s corpse – but there are people who would be. How do we decide whose fantasies are rights and whose are not?

Oh, sure, being much less enlightened than me, you can unleash a snowstorm of counterarguments. Like a snowstorm, all those arguments will do is blind one to where one is standing. Once the snow settles, and clarity resumes, you’re stuck. If you were as enlightened as I am, you’d see it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all government and economic problems could be solved by putting all political and economic decisions in the hands of enlightened people, who would be fair and honest and good? Like Uncle Bernie! What a nice man! He would never be mean!

You poor, unenlightened child. If you were as enlightened as I am, you’d realize, first, that the sort of people who find this idea attractive are precisely the people who are not nearly as enlightened as I am. If people as enlightened as I am were, somehow, put in power, all we’d do is restore the rule of law, tighten up election rules, return the election of senators and the appointment of electoral college members to the state legislatures, abolish the Department of Education and a bunch of other make-work programs, and raise the voting age to at least 25. Then we’d call a general election – and step down. Being much less enlightened than I am, this is not what you think you want.

Second, if you were as enlightened as I am, you’d see that it takes a whole lot of raw power to take things away from people – their freedom to buy or sell what they want, their money, their stuff, their politics. We enlightened people, being much more enlightened than you, call that level of power ‘totalitarianism’. That kind of power attracts a certain type of person, and it isn’t the idealized Uncle Bernie. And before you launch into the ritualized ‘European Socialism!’ incantations, know that we enlightened people notice things like the direction of traffic: there are lots more Swedes in America than Americans in Sweden. This hasn’t changed in 200 years. The phenomenon – people flowing from socialist states to free market democracies – gets more extreme the more perfectly socialism is implemented. Perfectly socialist states such as Cuba and East Germany had people willing to risk death to get out.

I could go on, but you’d need to be much more enlightened than you are now to get anything out of it. Go read a book, preferably one written at least a couple hundred years ago. Try to be skeptical of the ideas you love, not just those you hate. And call your mother.

  1. And Fichte (you’ve never heard of him – that’s part of the problem, sweetheart.)


Not in Kansas Anymore

Literally. Just back from Atchison, where the clan attended the graduation from Benedictine of our lovely, talented and good #1 daughter, magna cum laude with a double major in music and theater. OK, I’m bragging. But c’mon!

(Imagine how well she would have done if only we had made her go to a regular school, take classes and tests, and do homework, instead of letting her go to a school with no classes, tests or homework and do whatever she wanted to do for the entirety of her k-12 experience. But I digress…)

Couple things:

Between long airplane rides and sitting around waiting for stuff to happen, got a lot of reading in! Yea, me. Finished off Mission: Tomorrow, The Iron Chamber of Memory, God, Robot, other stuff I’m forgetting at the moment, and restarted Somewhither, which I read in such a disjointed manner that I decided I needed to read it again.

In brief:

Mission: Tomorrow is well worth the read. Lots of good-to-great stories by top authors. Mike Flynn’s “In Panic Town, on the Backward Moon” should fulfill your space Western gumshoe murder mystery requirements, which you have, even if you didn’t know it until now.

The Iron Chamber of Memory is about 4 novels in one, and not in a bad way. Plot twists? Oh, yeah. Well worth the read. John C Wright’s flare for detail and research are used to good effect.

God, Robot is a lot of fun, if a bit uneven in places. A good, fun read. The three stories that stood out to me both in theme and execution were by Vox Day, John C Wright and L. Jagi Lamplighter. The first two, especially the one by Wright, are easily the darkest pieces in the collection; Lamplighter’s is easily the brightest, even though it starts plenty dark enough. I think this may be the first story of hers I’ve ever read, and I was impressed – there’s a luminous quality to it that’s impossible to put my finger on.

Now that I’m back, and caught up (more or less) on sleep, I’ll try to do full reviews in the next few days.

One last thing: this happens all the time, but I was struck by it this occasion for some reason. I made the mistake of reading Facebook (yea, I know. Stooopid.) wherein some poor soul entered a comment challenging the factual basis of some other guy’s objections to global warming hysteria.

It was practically a case study: None of the specific claims of the poster were rebutted head on, but, instead, a whole list of “facts” were presented that 1) were not facts in any objective, scientific sense, and 2) often had nothing to do with climate.

So, for example, issues of simple fact – the extent of the polar ice sheets or measured temperatures, for example – are rebutted with the claim that we were destroying the planet with DDT, and do Bad Things to the planet all the time, therefore the fear-mongering dooms of global warming alarmists must be true.

What was striking was how transparent the filtering mechanism was: clearly, this individual was not interested in the claims themselves, but rather was describing the criteria under which outside input is allowed into his mind. He has become convinced that We Are Destroying the Planet, and therefore great weight is given to any claim that supports that article of faith, and contradictory claims are rejected out of hand.

Thus Marx – and Hegel, and Luther and Calvin – continue to live on, unseen, in the properly formed modern mind. It really does trace back to the Great Reformers. Luther and Calvin made preposterous, easily refuted historical claims – the Great Apostasy, the origin of the canonical Scriptures, the state of then-current biblical scholarship, for example – as well as irrational innovations – the solas, the bondage of the will, the claim that Scripture is perspicacious – yet they, and their followers, far from being interested in whether these claims had any merit, knew in their hearts that the Church was Evil, and therefore any attack on it, no matter how absurd and unsupported, was to be cherished, while anything that supported its position was, by that fact alone, tainted and wrong. When confronted with contradictory evidence or reasons, they learned to double down.

Our evangelical brethren, who still take this stuff seriously, sometimes convert to Catholicism once their love of the truth (and the Truth) bring this weird state of affairs into focus. But the more mainline Protestants and their secular descendants, the Progressives, having rejected any literal understanding of Scripture and dogmas of any kind (insofar as those dogmas might entail doing anything we might not want to do) hang on. Hegel’s great role in the history of ideas is to give cover to the rather intellectually brutish approach of Calvin and Luther. He redefines speculative reason to mean that which is over and above logic in the classical sense, and that which gives us access to and knowledge of the activities of the Spirit. This knowledge consists fundamentally in the idea that the Spirit unfolds over time, and that past ages could not know what the enlightened modern knows, because it had not been revealed yet. This rule applies to history as well – we only understand history to the extent that the Spirit, as unfolded at this point in time, gives us the context in which to understand it.

Thus, Protestantism does not rely on logic or history for its foundation, and neither logic nor history can be used to refute it, insofar as it represents a further unfolding of the Spirit.

Handy, that.

All that’s left is for Marx to come along and get rid of the Spirit, and replace it with a strangely volitional History full of strangely willful forces, and to strip Hegel of his one bit of humility – the idea that we can only see as far as the Spirit has unfolded itself to be seen. Nope, Marx can see all the way to Christmas – the Worker’s Paradise. That the state, and capital, and the bourgeoisie  and human nature show, then and today, no indication that they are going away doesn’t mean Marx can’t know – KNOW, I tell you! – that pass away they must.

So a loaded gun, an A-bomb, a fatal virus is handed to people with even more modest intellectual chops than Marx. They KNOW what the future is going to look like! Any evidence that maybe its not going to look like that is conclusive proof that the presenter of such evidence is a man of bad faith, a tool of oppression, and the enemy of all that is good!

Shields are up. Filters engaged. It will take a miracle for anything to get through.

Fortunately, life is full of miracles.


Science! and Real Science: Coming Clean?

Answer: No.

A sociologist writes a paper (itself an act of aggression against the illiterate – but I digress) wondering out loud if the progressive “biosocial agenda” embraced by sociologists can be reconciled with the “priorities of biology itself”. Using historical tools (hmmm – wonder what those might be?)  to perform a bit of “historical revisionism” (Oh! Those historical tools!)  one can reconcile sociology with biology because of “recent developments” in biology.  (H/T to a retweet from William Briggs of a tweet from a Charles Murray. William Briggs’ blog can be found here.)

Although sociologists in Britain have debated the nature of their field’s relationship with biology since the late nineteenth century, interest in the full range of responses has only grown in recent years. This paper contributes to the spirit of historical revisionism by turning to the work of the biologist and first director of UNESCO, Julian Huxley (1887–1975). Paying particular attention to the doctrine he called ‘scientific humanism’ and his ideas about a biosocial agenda separate from the priorities of biology itself, the paper uses historical tools to address a concern that has frequently cast a shadow over debates about biosocial science: does it interfere with the progressive agenda sociologists have traditionally seen themselves as contributing to? The paper argues that Huxley’s work is evidence that biosocial science is compatible with progressive goals and that recent developments in biology mean it may be the ideal time to reconsider long-standing attitudes. (non-italics mine – ed.)

In English: can the insistence of biologists that they’re doing science and not social activism be reconciled with the progressive agenda that trumps any science and under which sociologists operate?  Can biologists who insist on finding stuff about Nature that could be construed by certain troglodytes as failing to confirm the progressive biosocial agenda be beaten into submission?

Why, yes! Yes they can! Because of “recent developments”. Let me guess: campus witch hunts against any who dare bring science to bear on progressives’ pet dogmas? The fear of losing one’s job or even career if one crosses the powers that be in the University system? Note: humanities + soft science faculties at virtually all universities outnumber real scientists and professors in other fields that depend at least to some extent on objective verification. The raging director of the Women’s Studies department generally carries the same weight as a physicist in hiring and funding decisions, and she and her buddies outnumber you and yours. She will be appeased!

And so on down the line. Add in the extreme touchiness of professors who know in their hearts that they have their positions through no merit of their own, but only because they conformed to expectations and allowed the hiring committee to check off the right boxes, and you have a fundamentally petty and volatile mix, ready to explode at the slightest trigger. To suggest that the sociologists, to take the present example, are frauds using professorships to fund political activism, no matter how patently true and confirmed by their own words (see: above) is high heresy! You will be handed over to the PC Inquisition, which sadly lacks the balance and restraint of the historical Inquisition.

Temple of Doom. Harvard, the Vatican of a Religion whose main dogma is that we little people need to be controlled and managed and kept in our places – only then can we be perfected! Or eliminated, one or the other.

We pay for this. More-or-less innocent children – our children(1) – are subjected to this. People steeped in these effluvia are made to believe that they are educated, open minded and morally superior to those who reject it, and taught to whine and burst into tears of rage when challenged. The progressive immune system treats any real idea as a foreign body to be attacked and destroyed. And for good reason: once you start thinking, the ectoplasm dissipates.

Once we’ve brought down the K-12 schooling system, the colleges and universities are next. Man’s gotta dream.

Minor update: Googled the vaguely familiar sounding Julian Huxley, mentioned in the abstract as the go-to dude for the sociology-biology historical revisionist, and – piece of work! He was a eugenicist – no surprise, that, as all the right people were and are. Huxley, coming as he did from a large herd of prominent Huxleys and Arnolds, could see quite plainly the manifest benefits of good breeding. It’s just  that the little issue of Hitler and the Holocaust has tainted the otherwise noble and helpful movement – noble and helpful, that is, unless you’re one of the people of which there are too many.

So, the authors of the Wikipedia article go out of their way to show that Huxley was a kinder, gentler arrogant elitist prick by noting that he just wanted the indigent sterilized and the poor bribed with goods on the condition that they didn’t have any more kids, and of denying healthcare to the really poor so that their kids were more likely to die off. But not like rounding them up and euthanizing them – no! That would be a little extreme! Unless you really, really needed to, I suppose…

In other words, the sociologists have found in this biologist a kindred spirit! Lacking all imagination, they cannot envision a case where *they* are the targets of control and extermination. It’s like they never heard of the French or Russian revolutions at all, or, more likely, had those stories defanged by the historical revisionists, who, after all, have a progressive agenda of their own.

  1. Well, not mine and probably not yours. Thank God for the Newman List.

A Thought on Arguments Regarding the Upcoming Election

Man In Black:  Really. Pause. In that case, I challenge you to a battle of wits.

Vizzini:  For the princess? The Man in Black nods. To the death?  Nods again.  I accept.  Sheaths dagger.

Man In Black:  Good.   Then pour the wine.  Sits, pulls out a small vial, uncorks it, and offers it to Vizzini.  Inhale this, but do not touch.

Vizzini:Sniffs vial.  I smell nothing. Returns vial.

Man In Black:  What you do not smell is called Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.

Vizzini:  Hmm.

Man In Black: Turns away from Vizzini with the goblets, to pour the poison in. Goblets replaced on the table, one in front of each.  All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.

Vizzini:  But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you:  are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man In Black:  You’ve made your decision then?

Vizzini:  Not remotely. Because Iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Man In Black:  Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Vizzini:  WAIT TILL I GET GOING! Where was I?

Man In Black:  Australia.

Vizzini:  Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man In Black: You’re just stalling now.

Vizzini:  YOU’D LIKE TO THINK THAT, WOULDN’T YOU?  You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man In Black:  You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.


Man In Black:  Then make your choice.

Vizzini:  I will, and I choose– What in the world can that be? Vizzini gestures up and away from the table. The Man In Black looks.

Man In Black:  What? Where? Vizzini switches the goblets. Turning back. I don’t see anything.

Vizzini:  Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. Smirks.

Man In Black:  What’s so funny?

Vizzini:  I’ll tell you in a minute. First, let’s drink. Me from my glass, Picks up glass. and you from yours.
They drink.

Man In Black: Pointing. You guessed wrong.

Vizzini:  You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this:  never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha– Stops suddenly, and falls dead, to his right.

The Man in Black removes Buttercup’s blindfold.

Buttercup:  Who are you?

Man In Black:  I’m no one to be trifled with. That is all you ever need know. He unties her hands and feet.

Buttercup:  And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.

Man In Black:  They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to Iocane powder. He grabs her arm and they run off.

Weekend Roundup. May Involve Actual Dead Weeds

A. Better Living Through Chemistry. I think the critical aspect of the herbicide Roundup for us suburb dwellers is the sense that one has Done Something. Sure, I could grab a hoe – as the son of my farmer father, I have decent hoe-chops (ha!) as a birthright – or even, God forbid, get down on my hands and knees and *pull* those kale-without-a-P.R.- firm members of the Green Stuff family. But what fun would that be? Instead, through application of a *gasp* chemical substance, I can feel good knowing that those leafy bastards have been Taken Care Of. And I didn’t even have to bend over.

Then there’s the whole p*ssing off the right people aspect of the thing. By now, millions and millions of gallons of Roundup have been sprayed on virtually every acre of land where people live that isn’t paved – and a lot of the paved stuff, too. Not much bad has happened. So, while the chemicals in Roundup are no doubt bad for us in some as yet to be determined concentration, so far, if they were bad in ways that, say, water isn’t, it seems that we’d know it by now, what with the inevitable mounds of corpses and armies of mutant zombies. Ya know?

The proper attitude is simple prudence. Use only as much as is necessary, and pay attention to what happens. And just pull the dumb weeds on the side yard, for crying out loud!

B. In yesterday’s science news as recapped in the previous post, this deathless line appeared in the abstract to a paper in Nature:

Here we report observations of three short-period Earth-sized planets transiting an ultracool dwarf star only 12 parsecs away.

I focused my attention on making fun of the absolutely technically correct yet odd-sounding phrase “ultracool dwarf star” by imagining they were thinking of Peter Dinklage – yes, I am that childish. But today, we kick it up a notch, and take on the preposterous adjective ‘only’, as in we’re ‘only’ 12 parsecs from these three maybe earth-like (or Venus-like, take your pick – what difference could it make?) planets.

12 parsecs is about 230 trillion miles. That’s about 40 light years. At a comfortable 1 G acceleration, it would take about 2 years to reach about 97% of the speed of light. Let’s just say you coasted at that point until you needed to flip your ship and do 1 G of deceleration for 2 years so that you don’t just go whipping past Peter Dinklage too fast to even get an autograph. So, yea, armchair physics says it’s not *impossible*.

That’s assuming 1. you solve the engineering problems involved in achieving and maintaining 1 G of acceleration for 4 years (2 starting and 2 stopping) and 2. don’t hit *anything*. A grain of sand, at 97% the speed of light, packs the punch of a freight train. Technically speaking.

So, say you hollow out an asteroid and put a boatload of fissionable material in it to power a couple big-ass (another technical term) nuclear reactors for a long time. You use the reactors to power drives of some sort that ionize asteroid rock and fling it out the back at very high speeds. And power life support for your crew, stuff like that.

With enough stuff, you could theoretically get your asteroid in gear to the tune of 1 G, not to be confused with the tunes of Kenny G, assuming that the mass of the reactors, fissionable materials and rock to be ionized don’t weigh so much that you can’t lift yourself by your bootstraps – can’t accelerate and decelerate all that stuff that much over 4 years given the efficiency of your engines. Also, let’s imagine some sort of shielding, something that keeps dust and dirt and anything larger from striking your ship. Magnetic? Automated lasers that reduce targets in the flight path to even smaller grains, grains it is fervently to be hoped are small enough that your ship could survive if it hit one?  Let’s just assume you solve that problem. With relativistic effects and a little luck, you might just make it there and back in your lifetime.

You’re ready to go – after all, you’re only 12 parsecs away! Just like I’m only about $100 billion from being the richest man in the world. Not to be a wet blanket, but 12 parsecs might as well be a million parsecs, given the current and short-term imagined state of technology.  But again, only 12 parsecs! A man’s got to dream!

3. Home Improvement Projects – of Doom! I have this pile of bricks, see. And a vivid imagination. On Craig’s list, it is easy to find yet more bricks for little or free. So, we need, as in clearly can’t survive without, a brick oven, a brick grill – and a brick walk up to the front door. Which would entail a brick ramp in lieu of hard-for-elderly-relatives-to-manage 2 steps. And a couple brick planters along the path for definition. And a little wall, same thing. Maybe some railings – they have these welding classes down at the Crucible. The front porch is ridiculously small, after the manner current in tract homes built in California 65 years ago – it could clearly be expanded to a more usable size…

No, there I draw the line – the porch project would probably require a permit in the eyes of the city, so it will have to wait a few years. However, these here bricks… I spend time at Mass meditating on the pleasing aesthetics of keystones in brick  arches, arranging imaginary fruit trees in our (really kinda tiny) front yard, placing imaginary half-wine barrel planters along an imaginary front walk. Web surfing keeps bringing me around to brick p@rn. Like this. Not that I mean to, it just that I’m a *little* *tiny* bit obsessive, sometimes.

The odd part is that I’ve had these bricks, maybe 15% of what the project would require, for years. Why now? Empty nest syndrome? Do it while my knees still work? In case you’re wondering, yes, I have done a couple brick projects over the years, nothing nearly this

extensive, but the real deal. Even own a good trowel, and have used it enough to understand what makes a trowel good. I find these projects very satisfying, so much so that, like a mother (Mother’s Day tie-in! See?) forgetting the pain of childbirth, I have forgotten the sore back, sore knees and frustrations in light of the cool brickwork.

Perhaps I’ll finally hurt myself or otherwise become convinced that I’m too old for this sort of thing, and should focus on reading and writing. If not, hey, cool brickwork! And fresh wood fire pizza!

Science!Anything But Politics!

Whacking myself in the head with a ball-peen hammer* would be less painful than thinking about American politics at the present moment, so we turn to Science! for all our humor and entertainment needs…

1, Pluto Behaves More Like a Planet Than Thought. See, a planet is big chunk of rock wending its way through space, while thought, insofar as it can be said to do anything, just sort of sits there, wherever ‘there’ might be. So, Pluto, being a big chunk of rock, albeit perhaps not a planet-sized level of big but certainly really really big, by flying through space, is, insofar as it can be said to behave, behaving more like a planet than like thought, because exactly how thought can be said to behave is, at best, undefined…

Yea, that’s the ticket.The article goes on about solar wind or something, which stands even less chance of being funny than the above exercise in excruciating pedantry and headline mocking. Speaking of headlines of the Damned…

2. NASA News: Scientists Discovered Habitable Planets. And These Earth-like planets could harbor alien life. We have another couple of Inigo Montoya moments here: these words, ‘habitable’ and ‘earth-like’ – I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

Perhaps I shouldn’t pick on Science World Report, from which that first headline came, because a moment’s inspection reveals that the authors, in addition to having a most tenuous grip on science, are not native English speakers. For example:

They were shocked when they compared the sizes and temperature of these worlds to Earth and Venus; it was matchless, and highly known as the outstanding objective so far in researching outside the solar system. Then the results were directly issued today in the journal Nature.

I should work “Highly known as the outstanding objective” into my next bit of business writing to be directly issued. It would be matchless.

Likewise, Metro, from which the second headline was ripped in bloody tatters, seems to be an attempt to get hits from young city dwellers with disposable income, and can therefore hardly be expected to aim very high, science-wise or even English-wise. Both these articles are riffing off a paper published in Nature: Temperate Earth-sized planets transiting a nearby ultracool dwarf star. Here, you the reader are expected to know what ‘transiting’ is, and to have some idea what an ‘ultracool dwarf star’ is. For example, not this:

Nor this:

The abstract (everything else is behind a paywall – boohoo) to the published study says:
Core-accretion theory predicts that, given the small masses of these ultracool dwarfs, and the small sizes of their protoplanetary disks3,4, there should be a large but hitherto undetected population of terrestrial planets orbiting them5—ranging from metal-rich Mercury-sized planets6 to more hospitable volatile-rich Earth-sized planets7. Here we report observations of three short-period Earth-sized planets transiting an ultracool dwarf star only 12 parsecs away.** The inner two planets receive four times and two times the irradiation of Earth, respectively, placing them close to the inner edge of the habitable zone of the star8. Our data suggest that 11 orbits remain possible for the third planet, the most likely resulting in irradiation significantly less than that received by Earth.
Now, I’m a bit rusty, but I seem to recall that once stars get much smaller than the sun, any planet in their Goldilocks Zone was almost certain to be tidally locked. In such cases, barring some as yet unknown planetary process by which heat could be efficiently transferred from light to dark side over millions of years so as to average things out somewhat, the atmosphere, if any, would get boiled off on one side and freeze on the other. But, as economists are wont to say: on average, everything would be just ducky!
Anyway, the point, insofar as I have one, is that, yet again, making any claims about how habitable or earthlike such planets may or may not be is more than a bit premature, unless we mean ‘could possible live there  but never step outdoors without a spacesuit at least’ and ‘about the same size’. Which ain’t stopin’ anybody. And we can always hope.
3. 35 Tons of Dead Fish Appear in China Lake. Totally not funny, except that I was thinking this China Lake, down in Kern County, CA, near Bakersfield, out in the semi-desert. Imagining how 35 tons of fish could somehow show up in a dry lake not far from the Mojave Desert certainly worked as click-bait. Fish, bait – ha! But no, some lake in China – a China Lake, as it were –  got inundated in dead little fish because of water pumps or something – totally not funny.
Thinking and working too much to write – this must stop! Then there’s reading. Got a couple Mike Flynn stories to review, including one in the Analog that arrived in yesterday’s mail. And, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ve obtained a book of Mussolini’s early speeches, tracing his transition from an international socialist – a soviet commie – to a national socialist – a fascist. Note the continuity there, a connection studiously avoided unless it needs to be brutally shouted down by people who desperately need their socialist fantasies untainted by their crazy disowned fascist brother. But brothers they remain – the family resemblance is striking. Similarly, got a book of Gramsci’s thoughts – another Italian commie, except, after the fashion of the blood feud it most certainly is, the fascist socialist Mussolini locked up the soviet socialist Gramsci and let him rot in jail. Boys will be boys.  Anyway, on the theory that one should know what one’s enemies have to say in their own words, feeling like I should read at least some of these. Maybe I can put together a Who Said This? list – Mussolini, Gramsci or the Bern? Could be amusing.
* Comedy rule: if you’ve got to use a hammer, ball-peen is the way to go.
** Dude! Who’s up for a Kessel run?