What We Should Never Forget

We’re doing it wrong, this whole ‘never forget’ thing. We are forgetting, as the growing enthusiasm for euthanasia and genetic engineering testify.(1)  You start with the idea that some people are better off dead, and kill them, at first only those who we can pretend to plausibly have chosen to die. But come on, that old guy in a vegetative state (2) over there – he’d *want* to die if he were only able to think clearly. And grandma, who’s burning through my inheritance a lot of health care that could go to someone with a higher quality of life – she may think she doesn’t want to die, but she really does. And those morons over there on the Wrong Side of History, who refuse to get with the program and are causing trouble for the good and enlightened people over here – well, it goes without saying they’re better off dead…

When you set up a template to manufacture something, it’s a given you’ll knock off at least a few rejects until you get it right. The lower the experience level and the harder the engineering, the higher the likelihood of lots of rejects. Genetic engineering is really hard, and we don’t know much about it compared to what we don’t. Those rejects will be what would have been considered people in more primitive times. Letting them live would be contrary to spirit of the whole experiment.

We’re having trouble cultivating even the low threshold of memory required to never forget that Germans – good, solid, dependable, logical Germans, makers of excellent beer, cars and poppy seed strudel, people who loved their children and pets – people remarkably like us! – somehow came to kill about 6 million Jews for the crime of being Jews, and around 6 million others for the crimes of being disabled, gay, or otherwise On The Wrong Side of History. In the name of Progress.

We should never forget that, especially the part about them being mostly likeable people remarkably like us. Germans hold Oktoberfest every year – they only killed 6 million Jews one time! We might add never forgetting that they elected a demagogue who promised to fix things and didn’t let little things like laws and rights get in his way, a fate likely to soon befall us regardless of which of the 3 leading candidates we end up electing.

But these are not the points of this essay. What we really need to never forget is that the Holocaust, for all its horror, is hardly unique. Not only have horrible slaughters been visited on people throughout history for the crime of not being or not doing what their betters wanted, but, even in the 20th century, the Holocaust only ranks as the third most horrible slaughter of innocents in the name of Progress.

Number 1 goes to Maoist China, where at least several 10s of millions died in the Cultural Revolution. We don’t have a better guess, because it happened in China, and they aren’t telling. It seems many Chinese wound up on the Wrong Side of History, and so wound up in the ground.

Number 2 goes to Stalin, or maybe, to expand the timeframe to encompass the whole Russian Revolution project, to the whole Bolshevik Menshevik etc. gang. Stalin slaughtered about 20 million Ukrainians; the Revolution did in a few million more. Again, the capital crimes these victims committed were being on the Wrong Side of History and hindering Progress.

Surely, that many eggs should have resulted in bigger and better omelettes than places people were willing to risk death to leave.  Let alone Cuba and Venezuela.

Hitler also believed in History and Progress. His differences with the Russian and Chinese Communists were for the most part what might best be called arcane theological squabbles – on the root ideas that History dictated a new world order, and that they were the chosen leaders of Progress toward that order, and that the people who stood in the way needed to die, they completely agreed.(3)

So we need to expand our memories to encompass the reality that nice Chinese and Russian people can be brought to slaughter millions of their helpless fellow citizens/subjects without feeling all that bad about it. That’s the world we live in. That’s the world we’re trying to save.

Here is the idea: It is a good thing that Holocaust museums have sprung up around the world, and that Auschwitz and other death camps have been preserved, so that we Never Forget. What would kick the whole memory thing up a few notches, and make these more general ideas as outlined above more sticky, is the creation of a set of genocide museums for each of the modern genocides, where each building is built to represent the relative scale of the slaughter. Each museum, furthermore, would be split between one wing which shows all the charming and delightful characteristics of the people doing the slaughtering, while the other half would be dedicated to the victims. The buildings and exhibits should creatively reflect what is known about the murders. They should be arranged largest slaughter first, so the scale of the horrors can be understood at a glance. We should build this in D.C., on or right off the Mall. Thus:

The Museum of Chinese Cultural Revolution: 700,000 square feet, maybe built like a pagoda or chinese temple. On the right as you enter will be a museum of traditional Chinese life circa 1965, with all the respect, honor, learning and refinement that characterizes the best of China. Included should be exhibits on peasant life – rice farming is hard! – and some on the aristocracy and royalty. Include exhibits of children’s toys, feasts and festivals, clothing – you know, the good, human stuff. The restaurant will serve both a basic peasant menu of beans and rice (and, I’m sure, lots of local variations – China’s a big place) and more refined fare. All in all, a great introduction to a great and ancient country.

Then, on the left, will be as detailed an account ot the slaughter of the Cultural Revolution as can be assembled.

The Museum of the Russian Revolution: 250,000 square feet, perhaps a brightly colored onion-domed palace. Same drill: on the right, exhibits of everyday and noble life from the turn of the 20th century. Nested dolls, faberge eggs, colorful clothing. Special emphasis on the life of the kulaks. The restaurant again serves both peasant and high cuisine, again from representative parts of the areas affected.

On the left, we have photos and 1st person accounts of the Ukrainian massacre and the Gulags, with special emphasis on the complicity of the American press in keeping all this out of the news and singing the praises of Stalin – that’s one thing we should Never. Forget.

New Holocaust Museum: 100,000 square feet. Same as above – on the right, emphasize the truth, that the Germans under the Third Reich were not really very different from us, just nice normal people doing their jobs and living their lives. The early supporters of the National Socialists tended to be from the professional classes – your lawyer and dentist were more likely to be members than the dairy farmer or working stiff that lived next door. We could include fun educational activities. (I’d include a section of quotations, where the reader would be asked to guess whether it was said by a Nazi or a contemporary American politician. Hilarity ensues. Dark, bitter hilarity – the best kind!)

Obviously, the buildings – I’m thinking split-timber waddle and daub just maxing out the cute, but I could be convinced to go fairytale castle –  should enclose a beer garden! Tutonic beauties with fistfulls of steins! Strudel!

Annnd – on the left side are your standard Holocaust displays.

Maybe we need a refinement: one must go through the section celebrating German (or Russian or Chinese) life *first*, then the restaurant, THEN the slaughter part. The messaging – what to Never Forget – is better that way, and the restaurants are likely to do better business.

And so on. The Armenian Genocide might get a 15,000 square foot display; Pol Pot would get around 30,000 square feet – research would need to be done, the whole exercise might need to be scaled up so that these smaller genocides – the ones around a million or so – would get enough space. Then maybe, at the end, a single large museum with rooms for the yet smaller slaughters.

We could expand the time frame – that would be entertaining! The indians slaughtered by the Conquistadores (as opposed to those killed inadvertently by disease) would get a largish room; the Spanish Inquisition would get a file drawer. The American Indian genocide would, again, get a largish room, even if we rolled the entire 4 centuries into one event. The European witch hunts get a file in a drawer. Again, research needs to be done.

Heck, we could even apply the same principles to other historical horrors. We could build, for example, a Europeans Enslaving Africans museum – which would be dwarfed by the Muslims Enslaving Africans museum next door. (And that last museum would remain under construction to this day.) The Africans Enslaving Africans museum would surely start many an earnest discussion. The possibilities are many!

So, yes, as the Pope visits Armenia last week and Auschwitz later in July, let us Never Forget. But let us up our game, and learn more about what we ought not ever forget.

  1. What is the point of genetic engineering if some people aren’t genetically better than others?
  2. Whatever that means – we should also never forget that definitions that are used as lines that may not be crossed tend to get flexible over time. People want stuff that’s off limits, which creates pressures to evolve the definitions. As Rocket and Drax so amply illustrate in Guardians of the Galaxy:

Rocket: Question. What if I see something that I want to take, and it belongs to someone else?
Corpsman Dey: Well you will be arrested.
Rocket: But what if I want it more than the person who has it?
Corpsman Dey: Still illegal.
Rocket: That doesn’t follow. No, I want it more, sir. Do you understand?
[to Gamora who’s laughing]
Rocket: What are you laughing at? Why? I can’t have a discussion with this gentleman?
[he starts following Gamora towards the Milano]
Drax: What if someone does something irksome and I decide to remove his spine?
Corpsman Dey: That’s…that’s actually murder. It’s one of the worst crimes of all, so also illegal.
Drax: Hmm.

3. The other material differences, as far as I can tell, are that National Socialists were overt Nationalist, while the Russians lied about being nationalists (the Chinese are about as unrepentant a bunch of nationalists under any scenario as one can find); that the Russians and Chinese accepted the idea that there’s nothing special about industrialists or bankers or generals – any party hack can do that job! – and so slaughtered them all, while Hitler thought maybe those guys knew something, and instead bent them to his will. I assume he’d have eventually gotten around to slaughtering them all, too, once he’d conquered the world, on the well-established principle that all excellence is a threat to the tyrant, but who knows? Other points of disagreement between the National Socialists and International (sic) Communists seem like so much smoke in practice.

EU Flaw: A Nation Must Be Naturally Constituted

At least, according to Orestes Brownson in his The American Republic. He observes that history shows that any legal constitution imposed on a people who do not naturally ‘constitute’ a nation fails. Further, any such legal constitution must arise out of a sense of that natural unity, and cannot be imposed by a outside force. Finally, no legal constitution can survive if it is based on theories and goals foreign to the naturally constituted nation upon which it is being imposed.

The French revolution was fresh in his mind, as were various attempts by the British to get their colonies to behave like little Englands. On the other hand, he recognized the success of certain empires, such as the Roman Empire, where the conquering power allowed the conquered to keep their laws and custom as much as possible. An empire – a collection of tribes, peoples and naturally-constituted nations who share in common only that they have the same conqueror – can be quite stable as long as the it respects to a large degree the laws and customs of the conquered.

What will fail, what has always failed in Brownson’s view, are attempts to make a nation by fiat out of disparate peoples with different histories and loyalties. Any legal constitution must be imposed on such nations, insofar as it cannot arise out of their common experiences and histories. Imposed laws rankle, especially when they seem deaf to the concerns of the people on which they are imposed.

A naturally constituted nation is not mystical or magical in Brownson’s view, but arises in the same way that families, extended families, villages, and tribes arise: when people speak the same language, hold the same stories and histories dear, see others as logical potential mates for their children, practice the same religion, and celebrate the same festivals, they are able to recognize they share a natural nation with their neighbors. Also, Brownson doesn’t think naturally constituted nations are necessarily permanent or inevitable. Plenty of peoples never become nations, and nations sometimes die in fragmentation. Tyrannies seem to be the natural state of many peoples – they were unable to rise to nationhood, and can be governed only by force.

Neither does being naturally constituted mean a nation is perfect or pure. Some are stuck under royalty because organization under kings best reflects the nature of that nation. Others harbor what amount to closely related but antagonistic tribes only fitfully forming a nation.

Brownson noted that America was the only naturally constituted nation from which our particular legal constitution could arise. All attempts, either external or internal,  to impose representative democracy on people to whom such ideas are foreign are doomed to fail. That a people might become a nation, and that nation might grow  to desire representative democracy was the outcome Brownson most fervently hoped for.

Which brings us to the EU and this morning’s exit by Great Britain. What, exactly, in practice, was the EU supposed to be? Certainly not a nation, although it arose at least partially out of a shared European horror at the World Wars. Nor could it be an Empire in the traditional sense, because, in theory, it was to be a voluntary association without a conquering authority.

I think The EU was supposed to be this new thing: a voluntary Empire. Naturally constituted nations such as France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain were to all agreed to be subjects. The deal was that you, a nation in the EU, had been effectively conquered and were subject to the EU bureaucracy, but that, like a Roman province, you’d get to keep most of your local government under EU oversight.

I don’t think it was ever sold this way. It certainly didn’t work out that way, as the EU bureaucracy, following the irresistible natural inclinations of bureaucracies everywhere, could never be happy in such a restricted role. Thus, we have EU rules forbidding restaurants from serving olive oil in bowls or refillable containers, to use a recent example.

Promising ‘economic union’ is a lot like promising ‘hope and change’ – you are being invited to see whatever future you want to see. Someone who wants more open internal borders, removal of tariffs and the opportunity to sell goods anywhere in Europe sees a future at odds with the utopia a communist sees – and yet both are economic union.

Even apart from the inevitable corruption, the goals and mechanisms of the EU were fatally flawed out of the box.  A series of treaties between independent nations could achieve the free flow of goods and labor, at least in theory. But the whole point of the greatest champions of the EU was to do away with that traditional mechanism in favor of something new. What that new thing was to be was a chimera composed of nations that were not sovereign. A square circle.


The Mystery of Workforce Participation

I’m willing to bet that workforce participation in hunter-gatherer societies is darn near 100% for the key demographic of men aged 24 – 54. Ya know? So, if all we want is high workforce participation, all we’d have to do is return to a hunter-gatherer economy.

Men aged 25-54, fully employed

Despite the great progress toward a return to just such an impoverished, backward economy made here in recent years(1), I’m thinking there’s more to it, for example, how many of us are willing to tolerate living in a less than total employment economy for benefits such as cell phones, indoor plumbing and hospitals.

Yet, invariably, any report of a decrease in the percentage of the adult working age population in the workforce is greeted as bad news. This one, for example. And, I hasten to add, it may be. But it might not be.

Question: are the countries more desireable to live in as one moves left to right on this chart? If not, why would one care about workforce participation? Should I prefer to live in Mexico or the Slovak Republic because a higher percentage of males work? Or does pay and opportunity figure into it? 

The implied judgement: Higher and increasing workforce participation = good; lower and falling workforce participation = bad. Is this true? Or only sort of true within a certain range and for certain people?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the percentage of working aged people who no longer worked because they didn’t have to were routinely reported?  Sure, one imagines that many of the people not in the workforce would like to have a good paying job. One also imagines that most of the working age people in or out of the workforce would love to be in a position that they didn’t have to work unless they wanted to. That’s me, for sure – I’d retire in a heartbeat if I could, if, somehow, a few million bucks fell in my lap. Why not? I have plenty to keep me busy and entertained and useful every waking hour. Imagine all the essential blogging I’d do! Or not.

Starting 0ver 20 years ago, it became quite possible, even common, for some mid-level guy or gal in the tech field to get some stock options or make a few astute stock purchases and then, a few years later, find themselves sitting on millions in assets. A lot of those folks looked in the mirror one morning, and thought: I don’t actually have to go to work anymore. And some of those soon didn’t. And more still do every day.

Rather than being some sort of problem, this is in fact the outcome of a free market most to be desired from an individual’s perspective. If I had a few million in the bank-equivelent, think of all the good I could do! Think of all the time I’d have!

Now think of a nation with a growing number of such people, people who are attached in some sense to their money because they did, in some sense, earn it. What a wonderful place that would be! (That’s also the nightmare of statists everywhere, but that’s another story.)  If you were married or the adult child of such an one, you, too, might be able to not work if you didn’t want to – how cool is that? Soon, we’d have a growing pool of people with resources and time. Sure, I suppose, some waste it. But many would not – I fervently believe I would not. The possibilities of local action to make life better are endless!

So, while I’d readily believe that such people make up a small percentage of the decrease in workforce participation, should we not at least break them out of the total? Should we not celebrate them at least as much as we lament those who’d like a job but can’t get one?

On a more serious level, this equating work with prosperity and, ultimately, with personal goodness itself (the hoary Protestant Work Ethic) is merely an example of how economic reporting, reflecting economic teaching, makes things much simpler and black-and-white than they really are (2). Is growing manufacturing output a good or bad thing? How about a falling average workweek? Growing GDP? Falling consumer debt? Are these things, in and of themselves, good or bad? How can you tell? There are situations were they might be good or bad or indifferent. They might be good for some people, bad for others, and indifferent to others or on the whole. And there are plenty of  other cases like this as well. At the very least, the standard disclaimer should say something like: Within a certain range, all other things being equal. Note: all other things are never equal.


  1. Just think of the low carbon footprint! I quiver!
  2. And that’s even before you reach the Marxist/Bernie level of willful stupid. Nope, here I’m talking about economics as understood by people at least trying to make sense.

Science! I Can Feel Machinery!

Megafauna Extinction
Just look at those big, happy, fuzzy guys! I bet they’re delicious!

Over the years, of the many chagrin-evoking bits in Science! (as opposed to real science) reporting (as opposed to – well, we still await something opposed to what passes for science reporting – Retraction Watch, maybe?) is how the obvious answer to the question: what happened to American megafauna? has become this PC minefield. Here’s some pertinent info: 1) people show up in the Americas about 15,000 years ago; 2) American megafauna became extinct by around 12,000 years ago; 3) those people were *hunters*; 4) those American megafauna evolved in an environment without human hunters and thus might – might! – have been easier to hunt than, say, African animals who evolved with the people who hunt them; and, finally,  5) there are plenty of megafauna remains found with stone spear points stuck in their spines or slash marks on their bones from where they were butchered.

Thus, one might innocently imagine that the ancient ancestors of American Indians, relatively freshly arrived here, in their search for food and having not found the local 7-11, just might see a large animal and think, not what a splendid creature,  co-equal (at least) with me in dignity and rights, but instead might think: Baby’s gotta eat. I’ve got this spear, here, and know how to use it – wonder how mastodon steaks taste? In other words, our primitive ancestors (mine, anyway – well, some small but non-zero fraction of mine) might behave like any other group of people anywhere in the world, and eat what’s there for the eatin’.

Of course, other factors may very well be involved – they almost always are. But at the very least, the whole ‘Indians killed and ate them’ theory comports well with everything we know about how people – all people – behave in similar situations. One might innocently imagine you’d start there, then add other factors as necessary. Big whoop. No value judgement implied.

BUT! Trumping all this is the heartfelt dogma that American Indians (as played by Italian character actors in the public service announcements) were kind, nature-loving greenies who treaded softly on Gaia, leaving only footprints, while thinking ahead seven generations, until the evil, evil white men (1)  got here and introduced those they didn’t slaughter outright into the concept of killing and eating large animals.

Or something.

All my life, every time I read about the disappearance of the American megafauna, it seems to be required by some law to NOT say: mostly, the Indians ate ’em. Took ’em less than 3,000 years to eat ’em all. Sure, the ice sheets were retreating at that same time, so the populations were surely stressed – but just as surely, they’d weathered that storm as species before, as there had been several interglacial periods prior to the arrival of men, and those didn’t seem to wipe them out. So, basically, they got et.

Instead, we have endless articles like this: Megafauna Extinction Driven By Climate Change. Or Megafauna mystery: What killed off the mastodons, mammoths, and giant sloths? Because, in the case of the first article, Climate change is responsible for everything from hangnails to the Warrior’s losing game 7, and, in the second, inconvenient facts can always be blunted by calling them a mystery. (2)

Of course, that’s not what the paper is reported to have said. (From the CSM article linked above)

“Although an interaction between human activities and climate change is often mentioned as a possible cause of the end-Pleistocene extinction event, this paper is one of the few that actually presents evidence for this claim,” Emily Lindsey, a visiting paleoecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not part of this study, tells the Monitor in an email.

It’s even allowed:

It isn’t a new idea that humans and climate change could have both contributed to the megafaunal extinction. Scientists have often suggested that the two could have been a deadly team.

“It has become commonplace to attribute these extinctions to a combination of people and climate,” Donald Grayson, an archaeologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not part of the study, says in an email to the Monitor.

OK, cool. We want to float a theory that climate change – the periodic retreat of the glaciers and globally higher temperatures and locally higher rainfall in some places – made life harder on giant animals. Sure – it would be nice, however, if they at least mentioned that about once every 100,000 years or so over the last 3 or 4 million years, very similar climate change conditions prevailed. The American mastodon first appeared about 4 million years ago – and so would have had to survive several of those cycles at least.  That there is one of those data points your science type people would want to account for. And that’s just one off the top of my head – there were a large variety of American megafauna (3) that lasted over millions of years – so, how come those other interglacials didn’t kill them all off?

Fine theory and all, no theoretical problems with it – but I think Occam would turn a gimlet eye and take his razor to it.

  1. White women having, apparently, nothing to do with it apart from getting oppressed into having the male babies of white men.
  2. Unless it’s Darwin, in which case there are by fiat no mysteries, everything is understood and there is no room for questions. I love Darwin, so it grieves me that his supposed friends do more damage to the actual science than any of his supposed enemies…
  3. Giant marmots!!! Boodog!!!

2016 Diablo Valley School Graduation Address

From the talented, lovely and wise Mrs. Yardsale, this year’s graduation speech.  (edited slightly, to remove a couple personal references and clean up some not-meant-for-the-final-copy bits – this survives only as a late draft. Anne-Martine goes off script as a matter of course, so she rarely makes a final draft.) 5 graduates out of 48 or so students – a big class at  Diablo Valley School.

Thank you for asking me to speak at your graduation.  It is an honor to be asked to speak, but for me, the greater honor has been the opportunity to get to know each of you a bit.  Welcome to all your admiring friends and families – I hope they will forgive me if I address my remarks chiefly to you, the graduating class of 2016.  A graduating class of five, not very big.  Right before our camping trip I attended a high school graduation at the Concord Pavilion of somewhere between 400 and 500 students. Something that was true there, and everywhere, is more easily seen here, in the smaller, more intimate picture.

The five of you are so different.  I count each of you a friend, and what different friends!  What different conversations we have.  We must all resist the temptation when we are with larger groups of people to lose the truth of how different each one is, that if “unique” is an over-used word, it is a word that got that way by conveying an important truth.  

Among many quotable things, Aristotle said, “the only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.”  And equal no where else, I might add.  You are not equal in height; you are not equal in the number of times you have colored your hair; you are not equal in what music you listen to, or play, what makes you smile, what drives you crazy, what you like to eat, what you like to wear; in the skills you have developed and the things that excite you.   But, unlike that larger graduating class, I would venture, you have had hands on experience of working in a community striving to treat all its members equally before the law, the law that you have also had a hand in making and refining.

You have all served on the Judicial Committee. You have all experienced being written up.  Some of you have been JC Clerks – whether for many or very few sessions.  You shared in the work of addressing unequal people equally before the law.  These experiences of how different you are from your fellow graduates and also how the same in some ways, how different it is to handle mess complaints with five-year-olds, and how the same, illustrate a point I want to make this morning.  The world is complex; don’t allow yourselves to be tricked into flattening our very three-dimensional beautiful world into a two-dimensional boring landscape.  Don’t start to see the world as populated by good and bad people – especially if the criteria for being “good people” is agreeing with your own particular values/criteria at the moment.  Good, interesting, complex, people can do things that are not great things to do.  That does not turn them into bad people.  Resist the pressure you will feel to flatten your moral landscape.

Daniel Greenberg, one of the founders of Sudbury Valley School, after which our school is patterned said it can be so hard to describe Sudbury schooling and how it works because it is much like a tapestry.  Different colored threads are woven together and it is in their interplay that one can see from a distance a picture emerge.  Up close, one sees bits of color, but not always what those bits of color are doing to contribute to the whole picture.  One can tease a single thread out of a tapestry.  It is then easier to see the thread, but it does not at all help you see or understand the tapestry.  As a matter of fact, it is harder to see the picture of the tapestry with that thread pulled out of the whole.

Your lives have been woven together with the lives of others here.  As you go on now, your lives will be interwoven with more people, places, things.  Hold on to something you have been learning in JC –  to judge the action, not the person.  C2, mess, and B11, inappropriate response, these are names of actions we  want those we share space with to give up because these actions make it harder to have a peaceful community, not because the people taking those actions are bad people.

I have been reading a speech of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, in which he addresses teachers to whom he gives the job of sorting a class of persons who are to forego the privileges of a liberal education in order to be fitted to perform specific difficult manual tasks.  Wilson says this is of necessity the much larger class of people.  The implication that the teachers have themselves been sorted into a group trusted to sort and train those “below” them while serving the purposes of the elite is left unsaid and I doubt that the teachers to whom he spoke picked up on his contempt for them as tools.  

This is the education system you are avoiding in attending this Sudbury school.  Do not be sucked back into its judgments once you leave here.   Judgment is a necessary and valuable function of human brains.  But like many good tools, it can cause a lot of damage if misused.  Use your judgment to decide a course of action, to evaluate and choose between options, to find the true and the good from among a lot of chaff that will get blown your way.  Do not use your judgment to diminish other people, to think that because you disagree on something another person is a two-dimensional bad guy instead of another wonderful, complex, unrepeatable gift to the world.

When it comes to dealing with other people, our job may sometime be to judge their actions, as it is in the Judicial Committee, but it is above all to love them as persons because that is the only way we can truly see others, that is the only lens that brings people into better focus.  It is also the real power that makes any change possible.



Accidental Funky Fun

Spent the weekend in LA, Hollywood, specifically, with the family to attend and support our daughter Teresa in her one-woman version of Taming of the Shrew in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It was fun, she did great.

The accidental part: hunting up a cheap motel in Hollywood, chose the Highland Gardens Motel because, frankly, the price was right. Turns out that this little place was built back in the ’50s in an architecturally vigorous style, back when you could put up thrusting, angular balconies, handrails and walls in vibrant pastels without any sense of irony. It was built onto/into the side of a hill, so that walking back through the central courtyards entails climbing up a series of terraces. Here, look:


A key benefit is that the rooms are a bit removed from the street noise. Ours may have been the quietest motel room I’d ever slept in.

Like everything else in Tinseltown, it was a bit run down, but not as bad as most places in the price range. Bonus: Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose in room 105 back in 1970! We didn’t stay in that room…

If you are looking for thoroughly modern accommodations cleaned and maintained at the highest standards, um, go someplace else. But for a cheap(ish – hey, Hollywood) crashpad, this was fun.

As mentioned in previous posts, I don’t do the Hollywood tourist thing. However, Highland Gardens is a couple blocks off the Walk of Fame and the Dolby (Oscars) and Chinese (famous hand- and footprints in concrete) theaters. Walking with my son, came across Stevie Wonder’s star. Thomas is a huge fan (hey, I did a few dad-things right) so we grabbed this picture:

The Thomas Aquinas College hoodie + Stevie Wonder’s star: a somewhat unlikely combination? 

Glad to be back in the relatively civilized North, where I can do book reviews (no, really! I promise!) and finish this story I’m working on (also no, really!)


Thomas Aquinas College Graduation Address: Archbishop Cordileone

Can be found in its entirety here. As usual, TAC gets great speakers who give great speeches.

A couple of choice points, made by C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox 60+ years ago in a book quoted by His Excellency:

In a book written by a friend of mine about C.S. Lewis and Msgr. Ronald Knox, two great religious literary figures of the 20th century, the author characterizes their contributions in a broad framework of public commentary and criticism. He notes that, while popular writers in the 20th century were always saying that the western world had moved from the age of faith to the age of science, Ronald Knox responded that discussion of public issues had in fact entered into the age of assertion. The author explains Knox’s perspective in this way:

“…points of view are proclaimed forcefully, even stridently, but there is little real discussion. People simply assume that their position is self-evidently right and seek like-minded company. When contending parties meet, it is uncommon for the conversation to turn on matters of principle or substantive argumentation – rather, each side seeks to shout the other side down, resorting to ad hominem attacks and acrimonious remarks.1

Of course, this is not an argument at all. Indeed, it simply suggests that many ideas in society are linked by underlying principles or assumptions. What such asserters fail to point out is that they may be linked in error just as easily as they are linked in truth.


Both C.S. Lewis and Msgr. Ronald Knox were equally prescient in seeing through the fallacy of relativism in relation to the truth. As my author-friend puts it, for Lewis and Knox:

“Relativism means the death of healthy argument: if truth is not something upon which minds can meet, why discuss anything? It is also intellectually dishonest. When someone says, ‘That may be true for you …’ what he really means is that it is not true at all (or he would affirm it) and that if you think that it is true there is no point in even discussing the matter with you. Knox and Lewis realized that if something is only true for some, then it is not true at all.”

It’s the old problem of premises that destroy the very possibility of rational discussion. The key step is to make sure that the best educated portion of the population supports rather than derides such stupidity. Thus, critical theory, for and eminent example, becomes not just ubiquitous in academia, but a sacred tenant to speak against which is heresy. (1)

TAC hopes to give its graduates the intellectual tools to defend their faith, and the concept of truth itself, against the Principalities and Powers of this earth. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, after all.

  1. The first time I heard critical theory explained, it called to mind an aphorism of Salvor Hardin, Mayor of Terminus: “An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.” Anything you can create with critical theory can be easily destroyed by it – a truth it requires a small degree of studiously avoided intellectual clarity to see.

Taking a Trip Out to L.A.

A. #1 Daughter, fresh off collecting her bachelors (magna cum laude – hey, if I don’t brag, who will?) from Benedictine in Atchison, in music and theater, is down in Hollywood doing a one-woman show based on her senior project (which, in turn, was based on Taming of the Shrew) in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Her brother and sister, who, in turn, are just in from their freshman year at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More, respectively, were pressed into service as, again respectively, tech and stage managers (if one can properly be said to be managing a crew of one that is also one’s self). Daddy has, so far, taken tickets and handed out programs. 2 shows down, three more to go. P 3744 i 2534242

The show is amazing. She had to cut it down to 50 minutes to fit the Fringe requirements. This on top of the cutting she did to get it down to 90 minutes for her senior project. (Her professors are who encouraged her to take it to Fringe.) So you have this one young lady with a single prop – a mustache on a chain around her neck that is used to indicate someone in disguise – and a stage manager (if that’s the right term for this) who sits off to the side and writes scene changes and characters on a whiteboard (including little mustaches if said characters are in disguise). All she then has to do is to convey the different characters somehow, all while delivering what amounts to a 50 minute monologue (and she must remember what she cut out from the 90 minute version!) while leaping around the stage and from character to character.

*I* was impressed – it’s pretty darn funny, and amazing. Which I already said. The amazing part.

So, if by some chance you find yourself in or near Hollywood tomorrow or next Friday/Saturday, and have $10 and an hour to spend, come on down! I’ll take you out to lunch.

B. This weekend, the shows were set for Friday and Sunday, which is how I find myself sitting in a cheap (well, by Hollywood standards) motel typing a blog post on a Saturday afternoon. Teresa and I stayed over Saturday rather than put another 800 miles on the cars. The other kids took my car back home to attend graduations for their friends. My wife and the Caboose (12 year old David) stayed because she works at the school and was giving a graduation address, and David wanted to attend the end of the year party – a hoary tradition at Diablo Valley  School tracing all the way back (barely) to the last century!

So, at about 5:00 A.M. tomorrow morning, the wife and kids will be making a bombing run down to Hollywood – we’ll catch the 11:00 Mass at Blessed Sacrament (where I went to mass sometimes in my youth when staying with my Aunt Bea and Uncle Art and cousins – but that’s another story), then the Show Must Go On and all that. Then, it’s the 5-6 hour drive home! Wheeee! And then we’ll do something very much like this again next weekend!

Yes, I and we are insane. This wasn’t obvious already?

C. Today I spent several hours walking around Hollywood, but not as one might think. As mentioned above, I spent weeks at a time in Hollywood with my cousins growing up, where we’d catch movies at the Grauman’s Chinese like you’d catch a picture at your local cinema – because it *was* the local cinema. That high school dance scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? My cousins went to that high school (Hollywood High).  And so on.

Anyway, it is, as mentioned, another story. Suffice it to say that Hollywood never held any mystique for me – it was just where my cousins lived. Emotional underpinnings laid in childhood can be very persistent. So no Walk of Fame or chasing down celebrity homes or gawking at studios for me.

So, instead, after hunting down a passable cup of coffee, I walked up to the Monastery of the Angels and did some Adoration. Then, took a nap, worked on a story, and took a walk to Immaculate Heart of Mary to go to confession. It was good. I was on my own as my daughter wanted to catch some shows, and on foot because my car went north with the middle kids.

D. Hollywood is interesting seen from the ground. It’s like one giant run-down strip mall – miles and miles of roads that could use some work flanked by businesses that, more often than not, are housed in commercial buildings past their useful life expectancies.

It goes on like this for miles and miles. Frankly, it’s a dump punctuated every once in a while by a landmark or show of wealth in the form of an expensive building. Even the few studios left in town look like light manufacturing tilt-ups – which I suppose they are, in some sense.

About every 25th to 50th person one comes across looks like they belong in the movies – snappily dressed, made up, showing too much skin or wearing too tight clothes (mostly but not entirely the women) (1)

E. Freeways are a sort of societal low spot or gravity well. Absent countervailing forces, weak and dead things and people seem to sink to them, or rather to the scars and voids they create. When walking around L.A. on foot (and what sort of nut would do that? I think Bradbury identified the problem in Fahrenheit 451. He did live around here, after all) you notice how unnatural and disruptive to a city the mere physical presence of freeways is. My wandering took me over and aside the 101 at various points. In some places, access and egress to the freeway took up entire city blocks: you’d cross the two lanes of exiting traffic, then the bridge that spanned the freeway, then two more lanes of traffic existing from the other direction. Only most of this expanse is paved or walled freeway – the rest are little islands and long strips of land where everything from weeds to trees spring up – and homeless encampments and their open-air toilets, to give it too dignified a term.

Thus, it also seems to happen that those willing to build here don’t seem to want to build too close to the freeway, unless, somehow, they can shield their customers from the reality that these lacunas attract. There’s pretty much nothing else to be done – these areas are an inevitable result of the traffic engineers art, and society is no nearly confident enough to say: homeless is crazy. (2) You want to live in a strip of feces-laden dirt 5 feet from freeway traffic? We say: No. You will stay in facilities provided even if we have to make you. And so we look the other way, and civilization in the form of people doing peaceful, legal commerce or even taking a walk retreats a bit.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused a number of freeways in San Francisco and Oakland to be removed. I, for one, was very surprised at what a vast improvement the affected areas underwent. Blighted areas got revitalized, foot traffic returned, and so, therefore, did businesses. Perhaps the cost of freeways is too high for a civilization worthy of the name to pay.

F. Finally, I’m considering staying up late and writing a bunch of book reviews I’ve been meaning to write. What they heck, sleep is overrated. That’s the ticket.

  1. You know those times when you think of the perfect thing to say when it’s too late to say it? Today, I had a sort of Mobius inverse of that: I actually thought of the snappy thing to say – something about one can never be too ready for the next wet t-shirt contest – and actually had the presence of mind NOT to say it. Yeah, me. Although it would have been fun, in a stupid comedy sort of way, to see her reaction. On the other hand, I’m alive now to wonder….
  2. Had some run-ins with homeless people today. Mostly, they are just sad people, and their state is easy enough for me to imagine being in myself. Any number of things can cause a soul to lose whatever it is that makes us get up and do those things we call ‘sane’. I did run into a frantic woman at the Monastery when I went back to get my hat I’d left on the pew. I spoke with her – rather, I listened to her – for a long time until she seemed calmer, all the while praying for guidance. My general rule, which I sadly do not live up to all the time, is to give people who ask money if I can, and to try to be pleasant and treat street people like people – smile, return hellos, that sort of thing. This lady was sure she’d just died – that her heart had stopped – but somehow she’d recovered. Her tale included much current sci-fi, including how she needed to find the secret entrances so she could get back to her job at Area 51, and how her sister had died just as she was making a drop-off as her last assignment before retiring – that sort of thing, phenomenal imagination and often right on the edge of coherent. Eventually, I excused myself and wished her well (what else can one do?) which she accepted fairly graciously. I prayed a rosary for her on my walk back to the motel. Again, what is one supposed to do?

Hilarious Science! About-Face: This way… Wait, no, that way…

Dr Lazarus
“You were holding it upside down, weren’t you?” “Shut up.” “You know, with the makeup and everything I actually thought he was smart for a second…”

At the wonderful Retraction Watch site, under the title Epic Correction of the Decade, we find out that that study which purported to show that conservative people are more authoritarian and prone to “psychoticism” than their clearly better adjusted and more stable liberal neighbors, a report you could have read about in just about every major publication in this country – I saw it at the NYT – got a couple things a tinsy bit wrong – as in completely and stunningly  diametrically opposite the truth wrong:

The authors regret that there is an error in the published version of “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51. The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed.

A little background: I’ve lived in California all but 7 years of my life, the last 30+ years in the Bay Area. I’ve lived in San Francisco and Berkeley. I’ve been here long enough to have caught (inadvertently) a Gay Pride parade, and walked on the Cal Berkeley and San Francisco State campuses enough to catch a bit of the local, um, color, socially and politically speaking. (1) I’ve played at parties thrown by Unitarians, taken teacher’s union officials to dinner, and attended a longshoremen’s union meeting. Plus, for the last 20 years, I’ve been deeply involved with an alternative school.

In other words, I’ve had LOTS of experience with what used to be the lunatic fringe of the Left, but has come to be pretty much the mainstream.

One thing stands out above all others in my sample: These are not happy people. They are consistently mad about something, and seem to be even madder that you aren’t just as mad, and maddest of all that you ain’t buying what they’re selling. Had to look up psychoticism – another bit of fancy psychobabble that seems to add a patina of legitimacy in the eyes of the Easily and Deeply Impressed – and the term fits perfectly: As the oracle Wikipedia puts it, “Psychoticism refers to a personality pattern typified by aggressiveness and interpersonal hostility.” I’d add ‘projection’ to that list as well: having participated in a number of Walks for Life, wherein the most aggressive thing 99% of the people in the Walk do is sing a hymn, yet they  are relentlessly heckled with bullhorns and posters and banners meant to be provocative and insulting. Yet, invariably, if anyone is accused of ‘aggression’, it’s the walkers.

The union officials I’ve met seemed more than anything to want somebody to die a miserable death, preferably now, right here where they can watch. Think I’m kidding? That longshoremen’s meeting was my first encounter with a dude – president of that particular union – throwing a complete spittle-flecked Marxist nutty. From his comments, it was clear there was nothing management could do that would satisfy him short of roasting in hellfire. It was bracing. He also was apoplectic over management’s resistance to unionization. Um, dude – why would someone you want dead want to cooperate with you? And I have never been treated to the level of dripping, condescending contempt I experienced when I was part of a group taking some teacher’s union leaders out to dinner as part of a business meeting. It was surreal, but the message was clear.

Anyway, suffice it to say that my personal dataset of interactions with self-identified liberals out here in California would not have backed up the original, uncorrected conclusions of the study.

But, boy, did that study get way more than its 15 minutes of fame!

The retraction? Oh, not so much. We still await massive front page  banners such as ‘That Bit About Conservatives Being Aggressive Authoritarians? Turns Out It’s Liberals’ complete with blushing apologies from all the people who were so eager to indulge their confirmation biases that the study achieved Sacred Text status before the figurative ink was dry.

And we will continue to wait, and the largely useless and defeatist division of the entire country into liberals and conservatives will continue to be used by demagogues to inflame the passions and chaos that are the necessary conditions under which tyrants seize power.

h/t to Simcha Fisher, who posted the first link to this I saw.

  1. I took Greek at the one school and got an MBA at the other, so I was off the beaten track, politically – but still, it’s unavoidable. I could tell stories…
  2. I agree with a certain point John C Wright recently made: the label Conservative, like the label Capitalist, is just a leftist swear word for people who disagree with them. The reality is that I, like a  lot of the more intellectually inclined people name-called Conservatives, am completely neutral both on conserving things and changing things – until you spell out exactly what you want conserved or exactly what you want changed and into what you’d change it. Some changes are good – for example, simply abolishing compulsory state schooling would be an unmitigated good. Some conservation is bad – for example, conserving the insane abortion on demand laws we’ve had for 40+ years is an ongoing disaster. I have never used ‘Conservative’ in any unqualified sense about myself.