Bullet Points,Stream of Consciousness Friday – You Weird, Too?

(TMI. You’ve been warned!)

Stream of consciousness:

  • Image result for weird talesDo you recall the point at which you became officially weird? That point where you realized that the rest of the world wasn’t sure what to make of you and wasn’t particularly interested in figuring it out? For me, two incidents from 5th grade made this all clear. I don’t remember the order, but, taken together, I came to realize that I really didn’t fit in. These, along with a couple other less amusing incidents, are what made me, effectively, a drop-out in spirit: my body was in the desk, but my mind was elsewhere.
  • Incident 1, circa 1968: someone had the brilliant idea to get TVs for all the classrooms at St. Mary’s of the Assumption School in Whittier. This being SoCal and all, sometimes it was so hot and smoggy that, by the afternoon, teachers and students hTaj Mahal in March 2004.jpgad had their fill. Our 5th grade teacher decided one day that enough was enough, and deployed the TV – she let us watch Jeopardy! for a half hour. So, suburban 5th graders hear an answer something like: “This masterpiece was designed by Ahmad Lahauri to house the remains of the Shah’s favorite wife.” – something like that. From the back of the room where I was even then hiding out, 10-year-old me says: “What is the Taj Mahal?” followed one beat later by “What is the Taj Mahal?” from the TV. Approximately 3 dozen sets of eyes turned toward me – at least, that’s how it seemed to me.
  • Image result for moonIncident 2, same circa: The teacher was trying to explain astronomy, and said that the moon, since it always faces the earth, does not rotate on its axis. Well, I started in simply objecting: of course it does, once every orbit. A room full of eyes rolled hard. Then, having not learned to shut up – a lesson still not learned nearly 50 years later – I jumped up, and walked around the teacher, showing that, if I did not turn, I would be facing the window – only by turning could I keep facing the teacher. Didn’t click. After wearing out the already thin patience of the class, I sat back down in frustration. In some fuzzy way, I learned that I was not like other people.
  • A thought constantly before my mind: I am an intellectual cripple. Oh, sure, I’ve got more than enough horsepower to be a pretty good scholar, but I almost completely lack – something. Perseverance? A methodical approach? Patience? Whatever it is, on those rare occasions where I try to be scholarly about something, really get down and understand and properly reference my sources and build valid arguments from well-supported premises, I usually end up petrified in short order.
  • Instead, mostly, I rely on what might be called a gift, but might be a curse or might be at least a temptation: my mind’s barely, if at all, conscious compulsion to make connections. On a trivial level: almost any event can trigger a song to run through my head. If I deign to notice it, I will find that it is in fact the perfect song for the situation, that the lyrics fit exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment. Weird. A more profound example: I went from questioning school to Calvin’s Catechism in an instant, when the whole inevitable drift from the anti-reason of the great reformers to the current totalitarianism most perfectly expressed  in classroom schooling (1) was suddenly clear. While recognizing the risk of confirmation bias, it’s still true that everything I’ve read since that touches on the topics confirms this.
  • My mind works like that all the time. I’m often unable to sleep, or sleep very poorly, because these connections suggest themselves, and will not leave me alone. If only I were a better scholar, maybe I could write them out, as in write them until they are out.

On the reading front:

  • Conclusion to an epic review and analysis of Nethereal (pronounced to rhyme with ‘ethereal’ – isn’t that much better?) found here, spread across many posts at the Puppy of the Month Book Club. Spoiler-rich, so read the book first. Even though I’ve read Nethereal three times, the review was still full of stuff I didn’t catch/didn’t know. In addition to increasing my appreciation for the novel, I came away in awe of the reviewer’s chops – he’s catching Biblical, Dante, anime, RPG and video game sources, as well as the usual SFF stuff. I mean, dude! Dude!
  • Finishing up Souldancer, the middle volume in the Soul Cycle trilogy after Nethereal. Next up on my reading list is Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs of the renowned Statistician to the Stars blog. Since I lack the both the math chops and the discipline to get them any time soon, I’m boning up on logic instead. This was really interesting, and reminded me of how difficult, at first, I found the classic Monty Hall problem. If any additional evidence of the poor state of mathematical reasoning to which I have descended were for some ineffable reason required, it took me several passes to get how the base rate fallacy worked – just as Feynman recounts the story of the two mathematicians arguing over a proposition, where the first asserted that it was obvious, then proceeded to perform a half-hour long explication, at which point the other mathematician concurred: ‘You’re right – it’s obvious.’
  • After that, will try to work in Nine Princes in Amber in the next month, as it is the next book up in the Puppy of the Month Book Club. My wife read it years ago, says it was good – I never have. It’s short – we’ll see how it goes.
  • Then, as the days grow short and darkness envelopes the earth (and, sure, spring has always followed winter in the past, but are we really sure it will again this year? Huh?)  I will turn my baleful eyes back to Hegel, education history, and the biographies of the great educationists. Then write essays, blog posts and even perhaps a book about it.
  • Also will try to sneak in some Flynn, Wright, and Wolfe which have been giving me the stern, accusing eye from their lofty perches up in the bookcase for lo these many months. And there’s a couple novels on the Kindle still to get to. And  a disorderly pile of Asimov’s and Analogs on the floor…
  • Aaaaand – just bought Feast of Elves, the second book in John C. Wright’s  A Tale of Moth and Cobweb series. Book 1, Swan Knight’s Son, I review here. At least it’s not too long…

As far as writing goes:

  • There are reasons I’ve got 67 and counting draft blog posts in the folder, chief of which is that, somewhere during the drafting, I lost hold of whatever weakly-formed ideas I thought I was pursuing, so that, like one whose ill-behaved dogs got off leash, I’m reduced to comically chasing them around the park, intermittently pausing to shake a fist and utter curses. Which gets old fast, and doesn’t make for a very good blog post. So, before I inflict any more of them on you, my gentle readers, I’ll try to ask that eternal, hard question: what, exactly, am I trying to say, here? and require a satisfactory answer before hitting publish.
  • Seems I’ve got maybe a couple dozen pages of notes and diagrams that represent what might be generously called research or, even more generously, an outline to this dream of a shadow of an idea for a novel that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple decades. I need to do more: since I envision it, in however a blurry fashion, as episodic – one could think of it as checking in with the protagonists and their descendents every few decades or centuries – it would be quite possible, nay, advisable, even, to simply write it as a series of short stories/novelitos. I’ve even sorta kinda started doing just that more or less on purpose. I need to sit down and get serious, settle on and spell out in some detail a timeline, major characters’ development, tech, and, most important of all, the social underpinnings. All that, and setting up a decent final story – so far, I’ve got three major arcs going, roughly settlement, a crisis of connection, and a bit of romantic/comic relief.  The second story is very dramatic and tragic, but I think it needs to be second. The first might end up as two or even three stories…. See why I’ve got to get serious?
  1. A good portion of this blog is devoted to this idea. Short version: the Aristotelian/Thomistic idea that all truth is one, that what is known through science cannot contradict or be contradicted by what is know through revelation, was targeted by the Reformers immediately. No, revelation (which, in practice, meant Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretations of Scripture, no matter how idiosyncratic or inconsistent) trumps human reason always. Luther responded in a very modern way when any of his myriad logical inconsistencies were pointed out – he attacked his interlocutor, accusing him of being at best an idiot or scatologically gifted devil. See: Erasmus and Luther‘s back and forth for examples – while Erasmus is not above the occasional low blow, Luther has nothing else. Luther wanted the state, assumed to be and always remain under the control of solid Lutherans, to run the schools – in order to produce those solid Lutherans, complete with his solid contempt for human reason. From this foundation springs Kant, Fichte and Hegel, from which springs Harvard and Horace Mann, from which spring schools designed to make our children mindless sheep.


Heidegger, Nihilism, the Sunset of the West (in 3 paragraphs)

From First Things, 1993, via a random tweet, wherein

Several members of the Philosophy, History, and Political Science faculties at the University of Tulsa recently completed a Martin Heidegger reading group, which read and discussed the principal writings of this important German philosopher. Among the many topics discussed was whether Heidegger’s philosophy is related to his membership in and support of Germany’s National Socialist Party during his tenure as Chairman of the Philosophy Department and Rector at the University of Freiburg in the 1930s.

As a basis for discussion, the group assigned William Hughes, a “civilian” member of the reading group and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, to present the case against Heidegger. What follows, in the form of a prosecutor’s closing argument, is his summation. The argument is based on Heidegger’s philosophical works (principally Being and Time and What Is a Thing ) and on lectures and interviews given by Heidegger before and after the war.


First, the defense will argue that the individualism of the defendant’s ethic of self is fundamentally inconsistent with the corporatism of National Socialism. But we know from our modern experience that an ethic of self, if anything, increases the state’s intrusions into the private life of individual man: an ethic of self first weakens and then destroys the institutions and group norms of society, creating a vacuum soon filled by the power of the few through a state they control, unimpeded by any coherent voice in opposition or by any principle of obligation owed by one man to another.


I have read very little Heidegger because he’s very dense, very long-winded and life is short – I’d rather read more Aristotle. But I do think that some influential writers need to be read and understood because they are terrible. So, if my personal life is long enough and my eyesight hangs in there, maybe someday….

On Running Them Through With the Sword

(Minor addendum: reread this, and want to be clear – in a state worthy of the name, citizens don’t get to use the sword except in self-defence. St. Louis’ comment is made as a king, not as a subject/citizen. We are to appeal to the proper secular authorities in cases – apart from self-defence/defence of others – where violence may be called for. This essay is not a call for violence. Just FYI.)

Image result for st louis of france
St. Louis, taking a break from skewering heretics to hold the Crown of Thorns, as represented in the Sainte-Chapelle,  the chapel he built to house it.

“Reason with them, or run them through with the sword.”

This phrase is attributed to St. Louis of France, as his response to the question “How does one deal with heretics (or barbarians, depending on source)?” Whether you sagely nod or recoil in horror says a lot about your world view, here meaning your grip on reality. For a polite rephrasing of the underlying challenge here would be: argue if you can, because, once the arguing stops, all that is left is violence.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the same people who attempt to end all arguments – about what constitutes marriage, human life, proper individual rights, or even if people are DESTROYING THE PLANET – simultaneously seek, and often succeed, in commandeering the state’s power to use violence to further their cause. This attempt to use state violence, which is expressed in the state’s unique legal power to restrict your rights, seize your stuff and even take your life, is merely the next obvious and inevitable step after excusing all other violence in support of the cause. If shouting down or forbidding free speech, fining businesses into bankruptcy, creating new taxes on your opponents, dragging your opponents into court merely to bankrupt them with court costs, rioting, looting and murder don’t bring about the righteous enlightenment of the masses, then the state should lock them away, take all their stuff, ‘educate’ their children without their consent, and so on.

Image result for b.o.b. monsters vs aliens
Dr. Cockroach: “Forgive him, but as you can see, he has no brain.”  B.O.B. “Turns out, you don’t need one! Totally overrated!”

It should be obvious upon a moment’s reflection that the modern age is almost completely uninterested in rational discussion. The exceptions are, with unfortunately decreasing regularity, science and, because of the very real possibility that the Real World will have the last word, business and other routine human activities, such as building a house or a computer. Outside those things where reality holds a clear and more or less immediate veto, modern people will not use their minds if they can possible help it.

This aversion to reason is not, as one might presume, a result purely of fallen human nature.  No, while the mind is found in an unfortunately weakened state in all of us, millennia of experience has proven that, with proper exercise, the mind can become, if not completely healed, at least robust enough for many valuable uses. We even, to a greater or lesser extent, are born curious, eager for exactly the exercises that would make our minds stronger. As with all natural traits, a healthy environment – in this case, life among knowledgeable, wise and curious adults – is all that is needed for natural development of reason as a way to satisfy valid curiosity.

No, in the modern world, the fruits of the darkening of the intellect are carefully cultivated through 12 or more years of schooling, during which being ‘nice’ (however defined) and regurgitating the ‘correct’ answers to the allowed questions is the ticket to gold stars in this life, and a good job in the next. That next life is increasing a government-funded job, since all that training tends to produce ‘product’ incapable of anything better. Or welfare of a more direct sort – what matters is that we have learned not to trouble our little heads with mattera our betters will be deciding for us in any event.

We are expected and trained to join a Tribe of Nodding Agreement. The only recognized and punishable sin is failure to recognize the authority of the Tribe. What the Tribe wants is the power, all power, needed to enforce its will against all, people within or outside the Tribe, who dare disagree. This is what the current cultural battle is all about, whether it takes the form of getting a judge to overturn the ‘incorrect’ votes of the people, shouting down or banning from campus any speaker who says anything against the Tribe, rioting against those who point out the errors in the Tribe’s claims, creating ‘safe spaces’ where the unreasonable can be safe from argument, driving those who fail to comply out of business, and, finally, getting political power to enact as law their positions, so that the battle can be waged through the police powers of the state itself.(1)

It is some comfort to know that, insofar as the Tribe wins, its members will commence to eat each other. Once the battle against The (Straw) Man is won, then the various people inside the Tribe start to notice that their interests are actually often mutually exclusive, sharing only that the reviled enemy disapproves of them. Thus feminists start to notice that gay men are very often the worst misogynists and don’t often hide it all that well; blacks start to see that they are dragged into sexual politics with only a tenuous and dubious relationship to their goals, and, ultimately, the Marxists trying to drive this train recognize that not all, maybe not even most, of the passengers are all that wedded to Marxism.

Of course, Marxists have a well established scruples-free practice of simply purging the useful idiots once they are no longer useful. This includes both those who were never really Marxists to begin with – although, given the thinking-free environment carefully fostered, they can probably be cowed into line as often as not – but most especially, those whose flavor of or take on Marxism differs from those who hold power at the moment. The only real difference seems to be that Kulaks in their millions are dispatched with relative dispassion, while Trotsky gets soundly denounced before getting an ice pick in the head.

But for the sane, it has come to this: no more hiding, no more reasoning at least until our efforts are reciprocated (it takes two to argue, after all). Instead, we must disagree, out loud, to their faces, and never give an inch. We can do it now, when all we face is spittle and fists, or wait to do it when the Tribe has legally empowered firing squads.

It is not going to get any better on its own. There will not be a better time than now. While the collapse of the Tribe is inevitable (lies cannot stand forever) there’s no guarantee it will be a collapse into, say, the chaos of Trump rather than a 1,000 years of tyranny.

Sorry to get so dark. St. Louis of France – Pray for us!

  1. William Briggs points out the error in thinking we can argue our way out of this here.

Book Review: Swan Knight’s Son

Short and sweet: Swan Knight’s Son is a lot of fun, charming and even a quick read, which is not something one can say about most of John C. Wright’s typically much longer books. It is, as far as I know, Mr. Wright’s first foray into YA fantasy. Am now reading it aloud to our 12 year old son, who laughs out loud, especially at the antics of the Ruff the magical dog and Bruno the one-eyed bear dojo master. Fun read for a grown-up, but more fun read to a tween, if just to see his reaction to the comic relief. First in a series, buy it now so you and your kids can rip through it and wait impatiently for the next installment. Well, click the link – what are you waiting for?

As the Amazon blurb says: “SWAN KNIGHT’S SON is the first book of THE GREEN KNIGHT’S SQUIRE, the first volume of MOTH & COBWEB, an astonishing new series about magical worlds of Day, Night, and Twilight by John C. Wright.” I have only one question, and perhaps I need to address it to Mr. Wright’s muse: Here, for the first time outside a short story, Mr. Wright expounds and explores a merely dazzling array of ideas and sources. This, as opposed to his typical 2+ novels worth of ideas per chapter amidst a few dozen references to classical and world mythology and the fringes of science, with character names both evocative and really, really long. Well, Miss Muse, are you going soft? Not that I mind or anything…

Silver-haired Gilberic Parzival Moth is a kid as remarkable as his name, who gets thrown out of high school for busting up some kids and drugs situation. He perhaps used a little too much force, and perhaps got on the wrong side of the principal for reasons he doesn’t understand. He and his mom move around at the drop of a hat, crossing the country, and he fears that she will make them move again. After a lifetime of having his mother answer his questions with evasions and riddles, he wants to know why they have to move all the time, why they seem to always be hiding from something, who his father is, indeed, who he is.

Things get a little spooky. Gil takes it for granted, as totally unremarkable, that he can talk to animals – when he says a little bird told him, he means a little bird told him. Ruff, the dog, is both completely dog and wiser than most people, always ready with enthusiastic advise or a dead squirrel as the situation calls for. One night as he heads home very late, Gil sees all the townspeople walking in a trance, and is warned away and rescued by someone he cannot see from inside a boarded up church he could not possibly have gotten into – yet there he is.

His beautiful silver-haired and ageless mother is ready to move again, but ends up merely throwing Gil out of the house – he can’t go back to school, so he must find honest work. She will not let him sleep at home, and she does not want to discuss the doorway that appears wherever they live – on the proper nights when the moon is full – leading somewhere  decidedly else.

So Gil and Ruff set out to get Gil a job – and thus the adventures begin. Talking animals, mermaids, knights, elves, and a fight for his life. That’s about all I can say without spoilers, and you really don’t want spoilers, you really want to go buy this book and read it. Really fun book!

Politics, Family Life & the Flat Moral Universe

(Another from the Draft folder! This + weeding = only 67 to go!)

Here, I contrasted the rich and varied moral universe of Dante – of the Church – with the flat moral universe of Marx and Modernity. Briefly: in his Divine Comedy, Dante lays out  a world of complex – nuanced, even – moral choices and consequences. It is possible for an individual to commit a wide variety of sins. (1) Depending on the nature and severity of these sins, different consequences follow both in the Hell of one’s own soul and, equally important for Dante, in the Church and what might be called the extended State – extended to include all the family and social relationships that found and sustain the State.

In such a world – the real world – any little sin can result in much evil, and great sins can destroy empires and civilizations. The first identified sinners, after Dante himself, are Paolo and Francesco, whose sin of adultery starts a chain of evils that includes their own deaths at the hands of Francesco’s husband, children left bereft of a mother or father, and conflict between the families and, ultimately, the cities those families were prominent in.

Paolo’s and Francesco’s sin is presented as a comparatively small sin, mitigated by circumstances – through Dante’s example, we are invited to sympathize with the two lovers who are only following where their love leads. Yet, Dante opens with this sin, hardly a sin at all in the modern view, in order to show how even such sins can ruin many lives.

But the modern world rejects a subtly varied moral world, where individual people make their own choices, in favor of a flat moral universe, where personal decisions have little if any effect. In the old view, the evil (and good!) in the world to at least some extent is an expression or culmination of all the personal decisions made by individual people. This is rejected.  Instead, some presumed impersonal yet oddly meddlesome god-like forces do bad, bad things. Thus, instead of examining whether abandoning my wife and children for this year’s fling is a culpable evil act on my part, I look to some ism or other to account for the misery in the world.

There’s a direct inverse correlation between accepting personal responsibility for moral acts and believing that racism, sexisim, capitalism, or some other ism du jour is the problem. Am I sad? That’s because I’m oppressed, somehow. Are my children sad? Well, as long as they don’t entertain the notion that *my* acts have anything to do with it, they can be made to see that it’s some global force at work in their lives.

I wish I were making this up. If I hadn’t seen it repeatedly over the last few decades, I would not have believed an adult would use his own children’s desire to have a mom and dad as a weapon to get them to pretend to accept that it’s OK that mommy and daddy broke up on a whim, that, as a condition of having one or the other parent in their lives, they must pretend that nothing much happened when the kids had all emotional security in their lives torn away from them by divorce. It must be of no consequence that the people who say they love you can up and decide they no longer love daddy or mommy – a kid simply cannot draw the conclusion that the parent’s professions of love for the kid are likewise subject to sudden, arbitrary reversal.

The Hegelian and Marxist faith that some big factors (History, Spirit) outside personal acts form human fate and, in Marx’s case, are the sole sources of evil (2) in the world conveniently lets you off the hook for falling short, even falling short of today’s low standards. That many people have lived good and decent lives in relative poverty under oppressive regimes is simply invisible, impossible, even, for a Marxist, as is that, today, many people less well off than your politically enlightened self are simply happier and healthier. No, to the the True Believer, I and mine must be miserable and deluded, and our happiness based on the advantages (whatever they are) that accrue to me via my group’s oppression of everybody else. My wife and kids, to whom I have dedicated my life and for whom I would lay it down, are nonetheless oppressed by me, because white male. (3) If only their consciousness were raised, they’d despise me, as is only proper, I suppose.

In the more complex universe of reality, it can be acknowledged that, indeed, oppression exists; it is even acknowledged that institutional oppression exists. But such systemic oppression is not somehow independent from the acts of the people involved. (4) The Enlightened seem always impatient (despite patience being perhaps the biggest single sign of maturity), such that any proposed action or inaction that addresses individual people as individuals is never enough: the System (whatever that is, functionally) must be changed – no, not changed, but brought down! And, since destruction of the System is such an overarching good (despite the lack of any coherent idea of what the Good means within a Marxist universe – but logical consistency is for the little people, as often pointed out) , any and all acts that the benighted bourgeoisie might, under their false consciousness, consider evil, such as starving 20 million Kulak men, women & children, murdering unnumbered insufficiently pure Chinese or using power tools to drill holes in the heads of Cambodians  for the crime of having learned to read – such acts are neither good nor bad in themselves, but are to be judged based on how well they advance the Revolution. No, really.

  1. And, by necessity, also makes it possible for an individual to perform a wide range of virtuous acts. It is always good to remember that the same nature of Man and the spiritual world that makes the evil of sin impossible to contain also spreads the good of virtuous acts in ways we can hardly imagine. Every loving gesture and act of self-sacrifice reverberates through time and space. A great saint always leaves in his wake a trail of little saints.
  2. Although there is no basis within Marx’s world for the concept of ‘evil’ – an inconsistency that falls under the ‘logic is for little people’ rubric. If you’re not outraged, you’re paying a little too much attention, as it were.
  3. Mostly. I’m 1/64 Cherokee, and therefore 1/128 less evil on the White Male Scale of Evil. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
  4. The esteemed and much missed Dr. Boli lays out a classic example of how complicated and inextricably intertwined the relationship between the individual’s desire to do good and the social situations within which that desire must operate here.

I Want These!

Both for their very stylish artwork and the not so subtle socio-political statements. From the Wright Stuff shop on Zazzle:


(Found here)

We are awake in this hellish Night Land, surrounded by degenerate lying Night Hounds and Abhumans, lured to our doom by the vile House of Silence under the unsleeping eyes of the Watching Things. We can’t step outside our Redoubt unless we are well Prepared. Everything points to our eventual extermination – yet we, awake,  hope.


Escape the Dark Tower! T-Shirt

(Found here)

The Dark Tower, with its weary determinism and vile minions, wants us to believe in Progress All is Fated, that we are doomed to live lives as they say, with no chance at freedom, that all struggle against our dark fate is merely calling down the wrath of the Tower, which will increase our suffering at their hands. But we know that the Dark Astrologers cannot see past an act of virtue, of bravery, love, or hope! All good acts are free, and confound and infuriate the Tower! Let us call on our God and smite the Tower in his Name! Escape the Dark Tower!

Or they’re just cool-cat t-shirts, take your pick from them or the dozens of other Wright Stuff merchandise. I myself know what I’m getting for Christmas – already sent my beloved the email.

Update From Kansas: A Data Point on Education

(Another post salvaged from the Drafts folder. This is from 3 months back. And I found 1 to throw away – down to 69!)

On the road in Atchison, where we visited the Amelia Earhart home of birth and ate at local restaurants – and attended the graduation of our lovely and beloved and good Daughter #1 of Renown and Honor. Education data point, and, yes, I am bragging: we have been told that we ‘ruined’ our daughter and her siblings by not making them go to a real school – we sent them to a school where they were free to hang out, play video games, watch movies, sleep – whatever they wanted that didn’t interfere with what others wanted or risk the wrath of the Law. After 10 years of this horrible, ruinous schooling, this daughter went to college. To repeat: she took no classes in reading, writing or math in grade school or high school. She was assigned no homework. She wrote no papers. No one watched over her or directed her educational activities in any way, until she decided to go to college.

Yesterday, she graduated magna cum laude from Benedictine College with a double major in music and theater.  She will be attending an acting program in LA for the next two years, and then plans to pursue a master’s, either in theology or classics/Great Books. Anybody want to bet against her?

The point here: K-12  is a waste of time at best, a tool designed by our self-appointed betters to make our kids stupid and easily managed. It works great. Just don’t do it! You will be reviled and threatened by family, friends and state, but just say NO! Your kids will be happier, smarter and saner for it. As a side benefit, our family life was free of arguments over homework or grades, and free of parent-teacher conferences and all other busywork and insults to our intelligence.

Is my daughter a genius? Yes – but as John Taylor Gatto said after decades of teaching in public school, often in impoverished areas, genius is a common as dirt. It is the opportunity to develop and use it that is denied most people.

It doesn’t matter if your child learns to read at 4 or 14 – It. Doesn’t. Matter. It doesn’t matter if they learn algebra when they’re 15, or 6, or – gasp – never. They can always learn it when they need it, if they have learned that they can learn. The whole idea of ‘grade level’ is a tool used to keep kids – and their parents – in line. Grade level is a evil fantasy that didn’t exist until our betters decided people needed to be graded like so many eggs or so much lumber. How about we help people learn what they want to learn when they need to learn it? You don’t need graded classrooms for that – even the greatest scholars did without them until 200 years ago – and, I’d wager, the greatest scholars today found them more hindrance than help.

Our next two children, raised and educated in exactly the same negligent and ruinous manner, have joined us in Atchison from Thomas Aquinas College and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where they each just now successfully completed their freshman year – Latin, Euclid, heavy reading and writing loads. Both ‘A’ students. Both never took any reading, writing or math classes in grade school or high school.

So, who here is crazy? Me, who claims all that compulsory graded classroom education crap is as stupid and harmful as any objective analysis reveals it to be? Or the millions of parents who have been cajoled and threatened – and patted on the head and given gold stars – to make them think they needed to send their kids to school or they would be ruined? Ruined, I say!

Big Data B.S. and Picnicking in the Mindfield

(All right! Down to a mere 70 draft items once I hit publish on this one. Woo, and, I might add, Hoo…)

My company held its annual all-hands strategic planning day yesterday (two months ago – old draft), during which we had the inevitable review of current and future technology and trends.

I tend toward a grizzled veteran’s view of tech trends: if it’s obvious, proven and clearly will make or save a ton of money, it will only take 10 – 20 years to get adopted. A large part is that the providers and their inside champions need to sell the idea to mostly risk-averse management (1) – and that takes time.  But the main factor, the one I’ve seen in just about every case, is that the people proposing the technology woefully underestimate how much trouble it will be for a company to implement it. I myself have committed this sin – I’ve tried to get people to use certain analytics without recognizing, at first, how difficult – well-nigh impossible – it is to get usable data upon which to do the fancy-dan analysis (2). Everybody – well, almost – thinks what I’m proposing is cool, and if they could get the data without having to design a massive IT project and get it funded, they might do it. In other words, it ain’t happenin’.

Take system integration. Now, things are mostly integrated – your phone gets emails and can access Wikipedia and perform stock trades and get you on an airplane, among hundreds of other things. Which is pretty darn cool. All it took was about 30 years of tech and infrastructure development costing billions, maybe trillions, to pull off. We old guys can remember, or were even involved in, efforts 30+ years ago to get things integrated. Everybody could see the value. For some levels of basic integration, the tech was there. The savings/revenues were obvious.

30 years later, headway has been made!

That said, we’re hitting at least the 10 year mark on Big Data. To me, a very lightweight math guy but possessed of some philosophy chops, the underlying concept of big data analysis are – fraught with risk sounds a little dire, but something like that. The simple, obvious risk is that we’ll get it wrong – that by applying Big Data analysis, we will come to think we understand things that we don’t understand. Then, with that confident misunderstanding – hey, it’s backed by Big Data! – we’ll make predictions and chart courses that don’t work, that have unpleasant unintended consequences, or lead people to take actions that harm people for no benefits. (3)

The other, larger problem is well-illustrated by those scenes from that Captain America movie, sort of psychohistory-lite, where Hydra claims, in a totally Big Data way, to have identified all the troublemakers out there, who will of course now, like so many Kulaks, be executed.

Nothing in the last century, certainly not J. Edgar Hoover’s blackmailing his way to the top nor 100 years of Chicago politics, would lead one to worry that Big Data would be misused, and the examples of  the Soviet, Chinese, and Cambodian mass slaughter of unarmed civilians can’t possibly apply to this country – our socialist are like Uncle Bernie, not like Uncle Joe! Right?

So far, we see only benign things, like Amazon suggesting that, based on my other searches, I might be interested in the works of some guy named Homer. However, one thing has long seemed odd to me: Is it a coincidence that, once the Chicago Machine was able to apply its years of, um, expertise to the Federal government,  Congress’s ancient jealousy of the White House infringing on its Constitutional powers seemed to fade away, after the manner of any opposition to J. Edgar? Would it be unduly mean-spirited to consider the possibility that a city with a porous government/mafia interface(4), as it were, would use the unprecedented domestic spying powers the government granted itself after 9/11 to reach an understanding with a few key congress critters?

Nah, that could *never* happen.

Effectively unlimited domestic spying + Big Data + political ambitions – any discernable moral restraint = uh oh.

  1. Management is risk averse for very good reasons, as the paragraphs that follow show.
  2. I’m working on another project at the moment that will, as a side benefit, collect exactly the data needed for the analysis – woot! Once more, dear readers, into the breech!
  3. As I understand it, and I got this from reading some Google documents years ago, the premise with Big Data is that you do correlation analysis without first having any hypotheses about causality – you don’t know or even have a theory about what the relations should be. Then, by thus naively crunching huge amounts of data, trends and correlations will be revealed. Next, if you were doing it right, you’d create hypotheses about what *causes* those relationships, assuming that there is a cause (that it is not accidental in the Greek sense), and test them with further data analysis.  But this last part is likely to get skipped. Some more or less innocent things will happen immediately (they are already happening): since people under 30 who use Uber on Tuesdays tend to order pizza when out of town, we’ll sell ads to out of town pizza vendors and push them at the victims whenever they travel! But there are other ideas that are not nearly so innocuous.
  4. Fred Roti, a known La Cosa Nostra made man, who ran the Chicago city government for over 20 years as an alderman – the kind of alderman who always voted first, so everybody else would know how they were to vote – was only put away in the 1990’s. As Wikipedia so delicately puts it: “Roti’s legacy lives on through the many City of Chicago employees whose hiring he effected.” Ya think? Those would be the people behind our current administration.

A Whirlwind Tour of Christian Rationality by John C. Wright

In his inimitable style, Mr. Wright sums up the arguments against the proposition that, while Atheism is utterly rational, belief in Christianity is irrational in all respects. In the course of doing so, he produces a syllabus of philosophical errors tracing back to Descartes.

Mr. Wright begins with something he (and I and, frankly, anyone who tries to make a purely rational point in this woeful age) always run up against: the near total inability of a modern person to follow an argument. Education only increases density, until the typical PhD is diamond-hard in his resistance to reason, while you might have some luck with a first grader. It is both insightful and entertaining. He then compares the rationality – not the truth, but merely how rational they are – of the positions of atheists and Christians.

Keeping with my strategy of being as lightly read in as many places as possible, I paste here my long comment from there:

One other thing, to pile on a bit: another thing people don’t get (likely because it is studiously avoided in everything they’ll ever hear or read) is how the Perennial Philosophy came to be discredited. Luther and Calvin both waged war against human reason (Luther’s criticisms are legendary (and legendarily scattological) “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore” and so on, Calvin is more subtle, as in making reason a competitor with the Spirit, as it were, in the proper understanding of Scripture). They were competing against the Scholastics, who famously trusted reason as a gift from God that tended by its nature to move the reasoner toward Him, staffed and founded Universities all over Europe, and educated all the key players in both the Medieval industrial revolution and the birth of Science.

In 1630, Descartes comes along with his radical skepticism, and all Hell breaks loose with Hume, Kant, etc. Descartes proved a good stick with which to beat the Scholastics. One of the peculiarities from that time on: nobody even talks about the Thomists, except to dismissively wave them off. It’s like how the Enlightenment slandered the great cathedrals as ‘gothic’ – i.e., barbaric – when they themselves could produce nothing nearly as original and beautiful.

On marches science, using the logic of Aristotle by way of the medieval Questions method + gadgets and math. Meanwhile, Kant finally runs radical skepticism to ground, or perhaps into the ground – dead end. Hegel then reanimate Calvin’s corpse, declaring that reason (as understood by everyone prior to him with the possible exception of Fichte) is for the little people, that real philosophers just get stuff unfolded to them by the Spirit in History. Finally, a philosophy that makes sense out of Calvin and Luther – they’re not reasonable, but they’re not supposed to be! They are instead on the right side of History, where the Spirit unfolds, where you just have to be right.

Somewhere in here, science decides it’s all about making practical discoveries (see Boyle’s listhttp://tiny.cc/8n5yey h/t to TOF) and basically lobotomizes itself to get rid of all that pesky philosophy that doesn’t help further that goal (more or less). Science and philosophy march more or less side by side, but more and more aren’t on speaking terms. A century and a half later, Von Humboldt invents the research university in Prussia: practical research (and the birth of publish or perish) over here, other stuff over there.

Meanwhile, the Puritans come to America to escape religious freedom – they are very sure they have a handle on the best way to live, and want anybody under their jurisdiction to live that way – and establish Harvard and staff it with people from Cambridge even the English Protestants at the time thought a bit much. The model of the American University is established: the place where we train the people who will make other people conform to our ideals. While those ideals sure changed – from Calvinist Puritanism (see the connection? Way ahead of me…) to Unitarianism to secular humanism all within a few generations – the belief that the University’s mission is to teach the one best way everything should be and enforce it on everybody else did not change.

So Harvard, and, through its role as intellectual disease vector, all other American universities, knows that what it wants is right, not by reason – that would play into the hands of the Thomists, even though their very existence is whistled past – but, as Calvin might say, vouchsafed by the Spirit – the Spirit of History, of the age, the Spirit of Progress.

Thus you, and anyone educated in the Universities, if he is so unfortunate as to take philosophy, will hear plenty about Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx and on through the current schools (last count: 1,476) of Analytic Philosophy but will hear nothing of A-T (Aristotelian-Thomistic) Philosophy except to have it dismissed. The truly enlightened are not subject to reason, which is, after all, a construct of the white male patriarchy meant only to oppress this week’s designated oppressed group – reason is for the little people. You know, the people who use reason to build the power plants that supply the lighting in the room where Woman’s Studies majors fire up their laptops to send emails about how oppressed they are.

But I digress.