American Heresy

OK, that’s a little grand. And I’m posting on Good Friday – I mean, really, I and you have nothing better to do? Onward:

Voting age is in the news. People draw exactly opposite conclusions based on the same facts. A bunch of presumed teenagers are calling for repealing the 2nd Amendment (please – can we stop pretending otherwise?), from which fact we seem to conclude either:

  • the voting age should be lowered to 16 (or thereabouts)
  • the voting age should never have been lowered to 18/should be raised to 35 (or thereabouts)

Oh, yes, some of these teenagers went through a truly traumatic experience, which is further assumed to to bless their opinions beyond other people’s, and indeed beyond question. This moral high ground is granted despite the wisdom of Rocket Racoon:

Oh, boo hoo hoo! Everybody’s got dead people. It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way!

spideymans: “It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way. ” always going to be my favorite line

The kidder in me is sore tempted to point out that the Founders never dreamed of modern medicine and plenty. In their day, the average musket-wielding farmer was dead before 40, and kids bred up by the destitute (who were even more likely to die young) got farmed out to more responsible and successful relatives or sent to orphanages – if they were lucky.  Life was hard. Even attaining 21 years was, for most, an actual achievement, back in 1776.

If they’d have known that any ill-bred, irresponsible jerk was as liable as not to live to 80, on the way to which he might very well breed up a passel of even more ill-bred and irresponsible offspring, why, they would never had allowed voting without some sort of test of mature adulthood. Maybe a firearm proficiency and safety test? Just spitballing here.

Now, before the coffee has fully kicked in, I’m sore tempted to give credence to the theory that progressives are watching in horror as their voting base disappears (note here an historical account of how they got a part of that base in the first place).  If voter ID were required and systems of voting otherwise hardened against fraud (*cough* Chicago *cough*), why, Fabian Socialists and their useful idiots might never win another election! It’s clear that successful people with non-frou-frou college degrees, for example, do not vote for progressive nutcases (e.g., the California government) in very large numbers.

But the products of modern state schooling do – at least, until they butt into some reality. Modern colleges are designed to prevent them from butting into reality for 4 to 5 more years, and to inoculate them against it during that time. It works surprisingly well for a fantasy. So, let’s get more of *those* people on the rolls! People we can count on to be on the Right Side of History, since we’ve spent 12 years of their lives putting them there.

What could go wrong?

There are a number of American Heresies. True to our Puritan roots, we can’t seem to shake the idea that we can build Heaven on Earth if only we establish the right state religion. (Over the years, what exactly the right religion is had changed, but not our faith in the need to establish it.) People just need to cooperate, perhaps even in the business of exterminating those who won’t. Egg, omelette, and all. Only mean people insist that (fallen) human nature stands in the way. NO! If we stamp our little feet hard enough, we can conjure New Soviet Men from the blood and ashes! Don’t make me sad!

But today we consider another heresy: The assumption that politics defines us. We *are* a Democrat or Republican. We *are* a Liberal or Conservative. We *are* enlightened Progressives or fascist scum who should be lined up and shot by designated government officials using appropriately non-scary but nonetheless lethal guns.

You know, the usual buckets.

What, in America, is the ultimate confirmation of our value as human beings? The right to vote. Our role in politics is our role in life. Someone can be – and many are – without mother or father or family, without roots or friends, without God or church. This counts as nothing, we are not allowed to even consider how much being deprived of such things limits or destroys the space in which a person can be human and free. But not being able to vote? Outrage!

Aristotle said that we are political animals. He’s saying that we by nature live in a polis – a city. Human beings by nature live in and by means of relationships. The town or city is the daily functional unit of those relationships. (1)

He’s not saying that being a worthwhile person means being constantly involved in a minutia of government, or even being involved in government at all. It does not mean being a courtesan.

It does not mean having the right to vote.

But starting before the Revolution, with No Taxation without Representation, with tarring and feathering the King’s agents, with Abigail Adams, we drank in the notion that voting = the ultimate confirmation of full personhood.

The political state cannot grant or add to our basic human value. I fear that rootless people unconsciously cling to the fantasy that it can. Without mother or father or family worthy of the names, without acknowledging relationships that supercede any choice to be in them, many people grasp at the demagogue’s promise to give their lives the meaning they are deprived of by the lack of those real relationships. They think they are citizens of the omnicompetent state; they are citizens of no real city on earth, let alone the City of God. They will not have rest.

Before we grant 16-going-on-11 year olds the right to vote, maybe we should think through the point of voting in the first place.

Rather than seeing the running of government as one among many tasks adults must perform in order to provide and protect the space needed for the real, natural relationships that give life meaning, it becomes, somehow, the essential expression of that meaning. It was not enough for Abigail Adams – a thoroughly admirable woman, mother and wife – to be the beloved daughter, spouse and mother she clearly was. She wanted the vote. I get it – she was far more intelligent, educated and prudent than all but a few of the men around her. She assumed that women in general were or could become at least as well qualified to run the government as their fathers, brothers and husbands.

Perhaps she was right. Certainly, we as a nation could do (and have done) much worse than being ruled by the likes of Abigail Adams. What’s missing from the calculation here is that women who are called to be wives and mothers are now expected to also be sufficiently conversant in politics at all levels to vote and rule well. Is this reasonable or desireable from the women’s point of view? Why? Is politics really that empowering, or is it more like taking out the trash or dying in defense of your country?

Why would most women bother, given a choice? Under critical theory, women would bother because they’re victims of oppression, and political action is the only way to move forward on the Right Side of History. But if you truly find your freedom among your family and friends in the community you were granted to live in, and men are not your natural enemies but rather the natural sources and objects of love, would it at not at least bear consideration that the nuisance and duty of government is best left to somebody else? So that one might better focus on what is most valuable and important in life? We see here foreshadowed the ugly myth of the Woman Who Has It All – the job, the kids, the responsibility – except for the relationships that might make those other things worthwhile. The myth becomes a stick, with which to fend off or perhaps beat the reality of the lonely female cube-dweller, whose work is drudgery and whose family is chaos.

What if the running of the city were left, along with war and taking out the garbage, to some subset of adult men, say those 35 and older who have done some well-understood service for their community? That this is generally outrageous and unimaginable is the whole point of this essay. It doesn’t matter, for the argument, if the definition of the cadre of voters is altered to include some women or some younger people – but not everybody. What matters is that voting is seen primarily as a duty, and that this duty exists to protect the real world of relationships in which a person can be free and find meaning.

This duty must be taken up by somebody. That somebody must have the time and energy to fulfill it. From the point of view of the city as Aristotle envisioned it, men have always been more expendable than women and children. Men could and did and do go off to war, and many do not come back. Yet the web of relationships in the city survive. Would the same happen if the women were to leave and the men stay behind? We’re running that experiment now. Preliminary reports are not encouraging.

Again: much more important than who votes and holds office – I don’t really care, except for wanting to exclude as many gullible children of all ages as can be excluded – is recognizing the primacy of natural relationships over political actions. The latter serves the former, not the other way around.

  1. The functional big cities Aristotle knew of contained around 50,000 people. Most were smaller.

 

A Fine Art Triduum

Some art I like for the Holiest of Days. Have a happy, holy and blessed Triduum!

Image result for last supper
The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century
Duccio di Buoninsegna: Jezus wast de voeten van de apostelen (Maestà)
Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1255 – 1319

 

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The Agony In The Garden by Guiseppe Cesari
Ciseri – Behold the Man
File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1880).jpg
Bouguereau – the Flagellation of Christ
Related image
Christ Meeting His Mother on the Way to Calvary.

 

Image result for bouguereau Christ
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Compassion 
Image result for bouguereau christ
Bouguereau – Pieta
Image result for bouguereau christ
Bouguereau – Mourning Virgin Mother
Image result for Ciseri
Ciseri – The transport of Christ to the sepulcher
Image result for sansepolcro piero della francesca
Piero della Francesca – Resurrection
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Bouguereau – the Holy Women at the Tomb

 

 

Random Writing: One Day…

Image result for 1953 indian motorcycle“He was heading down to Success when he tried to moon that trucker.”

“Hogs. Hauling hogs. And he weren’t trying nothin – he mooned him good.”

“Well, I suppose,” Bill looked up from his coffee, “However righteously you moon somebody, I think you lose points if you die.”

Edgar folded his large hands on the formica table top. “Nobody knows he died.” He squinted at Bill. “Folks in Biloxi say they saw him just last month.”

I interrupted. “So, let me get this straight. Caleb Jones may or may not have died mooning a trucker?”

“Hauling hogs.” Edgar squinted at me, the wrinkles around his eyes disappearing under his ball cap. “Musta cut him off. Caleb was a bit militant ’bout the need to share the road.”

“Nice bike,” Bill added.

“Indian. Somebody ought to drag the river.”

A lone fly was playing chicken with the ceiling fan. Edgar had finished the scrambled eggs he’d topped with an alarming volume of hot sauce. Bill nursed a coffee. I was having orange juice.

“Vicksburg Bridge.” Edgar continued. “Caleb took that big beautiful Indian, think it was a ’53, on his business trips.”

“And like Ed says, trucker hauling hogs must of cut ’em off.” Bill continued.

“So Caleb, who always was a bit of a hothead…”

“And more than a bit of a showoff…”

“Pulls in front of the trucker…”

“Stands up on the saddle of his Indian…”

“Nice bike,” Edgar mused.

Bill, warming, soldiered on, “Stands on the saddle, going 50…”

“60!”

“And dropped trou!”

Edgar and Bill shook their heads in amazed, admiring tandem.

I was trying to follow. “So a man in his 70s riding a classic motorcycle traveling at high speed on the Vicksburg Bridge, stands on the saddle and drops his pants because a trucker cut him off?”

“Hauling hogs,” added Edgar.

“Indian. Nice bike,” said Bill.

“Damn racoon,” Edgar muttered.

“Now Ed, what the hell would a racoon be doing out in the middle of the Vicksburg Bridge?”

“Who the hell knows why a coon does anything? I saw him!”

Bill shook his head. “Next thing you know, Caleb and that beautiful bike of his are spiraling off down toward the muddy Mississippi.”

“Pants around his ankles. Head over heels.”

“Missed all the stanchions.”

“Always was a lucky sumbitch.”

“Don’t know where this supposed racoon got to. Just disappear?”

“They do that.”

Silence fell. Edgar and Bill glared at each other.

“So, you both saw this? Why didn’t it make the news? Why is there no police report?”

“Ed and me was working on an engineering study,” Bill began.

“Infrastructure. Deferred maintenance.”

“We was in one of those painter car things, hanging off the north side of the bridge.”

“Perfect view.”

“Happened pretty quick.”

“Dunno if anybody else saw it.”

“The trucker, for one.”

“Hauling hogs.”

“Probably thought he was hallucinating.”

“Yep. And anyhow, tell that story, and they pull your license.”

Success MS
The Ghost Town of Success, MS. 3 hours southeast of the Vicksburg Bridge. In case you were wondering. 

Critical Theory: How it “Works”

Not so much what it is – in brief: Marxism taylored for the academic world – but just how it works in practice.

Brief recap: starting with the Greeks, philosophers began to view Nature and reality as a whole as something that could be understood. Not completely or perfectly, but certainly to some extent. This is the beginning of what we call Western Philosophy, and is a big piece of what make the West the West – fundamentally different from everywhere else in the world.

Fitfully at first, but settling in to the extreme rigor of Aristotle by the 4th century B.C., the approach was logical: try to find the most fundamental premises you could, the most general statements of reality, and reason according to strict logic from there. This approach requires (or results in – there’s a bit of a chicken/egg question, at least in my mind) a three-fold epistemology: there must be Required Truths, that without which nothing can be known or even discussed; Conditional Truths that depend on the truth of premises and the rigor of logic, where the conclusions may be ontologically ‘wrong’ even if logically correct because the premises may not be true; and opinion, which may be more or less informed, but is neither required nor explicitly conditioned on premises and logic.

Initially, these efforts to understand the world were a purely theoretical exercise. Nobody did philosophy to make a buck or for any practical gain. Indeed, as a hobby of the at least semi-leisured, philosophy as a means to anything other than self-improvement was considered gauche. Archimedes, famous for his inventions, legendarily did not think it worthy to write anything down about them. So we get fantastical reports – and physical evidence such as the Antikythera Mechanism – but no follow up or disciples. Philosophy was to produce the examined life worth living.

Christian shared with the Greeks (and Jews) the radical idea that the world was comprehensible by the human mind – and that it was worthy for a Christian to make the effort to understand it. ‘The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God’ after all, and we live to give Him glory. By the 11th century, Christians began to apply the rigors of Aristotle’s logic and method to pretty much everything. Albert the Great, a 13th century Dominican philosopher, was into everything and used to draw very careful and detailed pictures of plants – because, why not? God is in the details of a leaf as much as in the stars and seas.

Image result for hubble pictures
The Heavens proclaiming the Glory of God.

The effort of traditional Western philosophy – the Perennial Philosophy – stands on 4 legs. Along with the faith that the world can and should be understood, the three-tiered epistemology of required truths, conditional truths, and opinion, and logical rigor, one other thing is required to make any headway in understanding the world: the idea of Primacy of Being. This is so basic that it is rarely laid out separately in my experience. Instead, it is assumed, most commonly as part of the Law of Non-contradiction: a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time.

Like so much of Aristotle, he’s saying something so simple and obvious that it’s easy to miss how profound it is. At least, it was easy to miss it until Hegel and Marx came along.

The Perennial Philosophy and its daughter Modern Science work by investigating and describing what something IS. When defining something – saying what something is – one must say what it is not. If you cannot say what something is not, communication is impossible. If my yes could be no, or over here could be over there, or my cat could be my dog, meaningful discussion grinds instantly to a halt. Science could get nowhere. Math would be meaningless. Communication through language would be impossible.

Everybody got this. The Law of Non-contradiction is not some arcane point of logic. It is the very heart of experience, understanding, and communication. So of course Hegel attacks it, and Marx buries it.

Instead, we are told that we live in a world of becoming. Talk of being reveals one to be among the little people, incapable of real philosophy. Real philosophers understand that you can only speak truthfully about being when all reality is abstracted from it – because reality is always becoming. The Law of Non-contradiction cannot apply to the real world of becoming, because in the real world nothing ever holds still long enough to be anything, and, even if it did so, real understanding of it would require understanding where it has been and where it is going.

This is a paraphrase of the Hegelian dialectic: the idea that a thesis – a statement (of being?) – is contradicted by a antithesis – another statement (of being?) – which contradiction is never resolved, but is instead held in suspense in the synthesis. That synthesis becomes the new thesis, subject to unfolding into a new dialectic.

Hegel humbly acknowledged that, given that we don’t know the future, we cannot predict the next synthesis. We must wait for the Spirit to unfold Itself in History. We cannot use logic or reason our way to the next unfolding, both because logic and reason are invalid and because it is the nature of the Unfolding of the Spirit in History to, let’s say, raise consciousness – to reveal new, unanticipated truths.

Marx, a more practical (and intellectually limited) man, will not accept this: he KNOWS how it comes out, he’s worked it out! A bit – well, a lot – fuzzy on the details, but he, as the chosen prophet of the not-at-all-Godlike History, will lay it down for us: History is unfolding into a Worker’s Paradise, where all nations and governments shall wither away, and all men will live in peace and plenty.

He makes the mistake common to most End Time prophets, in that while he’s really, really vague on most things, he nonetheless lays out too many detailed that can be proven wrong. Among the details he didn’t get right: Workers of the world are to unite to lose their chains, not Russian and Chinese serfs; Communism is to arrise from among the rebels, not be imposed by sociopathic criminals like Lenin, Mao and Che. Capitalism (his swear word for free markets) is to run itself into the ground enslaving everybody, not bring many millions of people into a far better life than even the richest Capitalist enjoyed in Marx’s day; The revolution was to be organic and inevitable, not something brought about by the lies and machinations of Fabian Socialists and Gramsciite Critical Theorists.

The Critical Theorists took on the job of polluting Academia and culture with Marx’s lies and distortions. Here’s how applying Marx to academic fields works:

  • We already know how it comes out, we don’t need to prove anything;
  • We’re much smarter and more enlightened than any other people anywhere ever.
  • Everything – everything – is explicable by a oppressor/oppressed dynamic;
  • Offering any other explanations, any other predicted outcomes simply prove you are an oppressor or a tool of oppression, and are in either case on the wrong side of History;
  • We don’t have to make sense. Demanding we do is oppression;

The results are as predictable as they are sad. First off, every traditional explanation for ANYTHING that cannot be made into an effect of an oppressor/oppressed dynamic is WRONG. History, for example, whenever it shows cultures developing peacefully, or religious beliefs having a positive affect, or wars being fought for anything other than the right to oppress people – IS WRONG.

In another context, was disputing a critical theorist’s assertion that, not only is the West not a product of Greek culture, but there really isn’t a ‘West’ to begin with. As another person quipped: sure, Eritrea and America – exactly the same. For now, it is enough to note that for over a thousand years people in the West have recognized a difference between themselves and all other cultures, and that the trajectory of the West has been far different than that of any other culture. Therefore, a critical theorist must deny this, evidence in front of their eyes notwithstanding.

History has sides. Those who accept and promote the inevitability of a Worker’s Paradise populated by New Soviet Men magically freed from all human faults are on the Right Side of History. Those who insist that people have natures – human nature – and so are not infinitely reformable, or in any other way deny the inevitability or desirability of the Worker’s Paradise, are on the Wrong Side of History. Note: those on the wrong side of History are scheduled for culling.

Scholarship is reduced to identifying the oppressor/oppressed dynamic that is making people unhappy. If people aren’t unhappy, it’s your job to fix it. Thus, the endless stream of before/after pictures of kids going to college, where cheery, normal-looking 18 year olds become bitter, frowning 20 year olds with shaved heads and Che t-shirts. They thought, you see, that they were suburban kids going off on a great college adventure, only to discover that they are miserable oppressors, victims of oppression, or both, and need to promote the Revolution.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK. Any dogma divorced from reality will soon tangle itself into knots of nonsense. Critical theory teaches us to *embrace* that nonsense!  Intersectionality, for example, or simultaneous claims that Science Has Shown and that science is a social construct, or using tools created almost entirely by men – computers, the internet, electrical systems, heck, indoor plumbing – to popularize the idea that men are always oppressors. Except that ‘men’ are likewise a social construct.

The nonsense never ends.

Gramsci laid out the targets to be destroyed: Family, village, church. These are where normal people find happiness. Happiness leads to not wanting to kill your oppressors and put the likes of Pol Pot in charge, and therefore is the enemy.

Yes, happiness is no less the enemy of critical theory than reality itself. It works by trying to destroy happiness.

I imagine most critical theorists are useful idiots. This is more generous than to imagine they all understand it and keep doing it anyway. Some do, for sure, but not most – I’d like to think. Doesn’t really matter, except that the useful idiots are likely to follow to wherever the cool kids are sitting, so that if the true believers are shown to be uncool, the battle is largely won.

Meanwhile, the fruits of the Philosophy of Being are being harvested every day: science and technology cannot discover or build anything using a philosophy that denies logic and dismisses definition and communication, so scientists and technologists stick to Aristotle and the Scholastics, even if they’ve been taught that it isn’t so. To their credit, scientists tend strongly to hold philosophers in contempt – because the philosophers with which they are familiar hold contemptible ideas. Among them: critical theory.

All good men have a duty to be reasonable, happy and lovers of family, village and Church. It’s a duty – and it makes critical theorist heads explode. Win-win.

 

 

“The party that once embraced Catholics”

The above quotation is from Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. He writes to discuss two burning issues for New Yorkers where he in his role of Catholic leader is vehemently opposed by the Democratic Party: school choice and abortion. (He is for the first and against the second.) As has always been the case in my limited experience reading Dolan’s writings, he is very politic and polite.

I’m not. I’m freed from the need to attempt to work with New York politicians, and so can be more forthcoming. The images that sprang to mind with the word “embraced” were a strangler’s embrace of his victim’s neck, or shackles embrace on a prisoner. The relationship of the Democratic Party to Catholics has never been one of equals, but one of useful peons paid off by their political betters. This is both painfully obvious and painful to behold in the eternally enchanted loyalist Democratic Catholics.

Dolan only slips up once in his role as peace-maker and pleader, when he mentions his Grandmother’s whisper: “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.” That’s a lot more representative of the attitudes of the Catholics I grew up around: it’s not we Catholics, as sheep among wolves, make necessarily uneasy and conditional alliances trying to be, as Christ commanded, wise as serpents – it’s that we trust one party and distrust the other.

Why? The history of the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church is one of Catholics being used, marginalized and discarded. Tammany Hall, in Dolan’s own New York, was coextensive with the Democratic Party, legendarily corrupt – but by 1817, took care of Catholic and other immigrants as they stepped off the boats.

Tammany Hall was a political force in New York City from its 1789 inception as a benevolent association to mayoral campaigns in the 1950s. Frequently its leadership was identical to the Executive Committee of the local Democratic party, and it was a major or controlling faction in the party in 1821-1872 and 1905-1932. Key Tammany bosses through the years included William M. Tweed, Richard F. Croker, and Charles F. Murray.

Although its name was synonymous with corruption to many, Tammany Hall’s popularity and endurance resulted from its willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations. Irish immigrants forced Tammany Hall to admit them as members in 1817, and the Irish thereafter never lost their tie with it. Because in the 1820s Tammany successfully fought to extend the franchise to all propertyless white males, it was popular with the working class. A close association with the Democratic party was also forged in the Jacksonian era.

“Willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations.” This “help” was in exchange for absolute political loyalty: woe to the immigrant who dared to support any other party! With local ward bosses in near complete control of every neighborhood, and surrounded by neighbors and relatives who owed their jobs to the machine, the Tammany Hall bosses were assured that they would grow richer and more powerful if only they kept the unwashed mass of immigrants contented.

(Orestes Brownson went to New York City in 1829 as part of the Working Men’s Party, in order to get men paid for work performed, which wasn’t always happening under the more direct beneficiaries of Tammany’s largess. Those who bribed their ways into valuable city franchises were not always completely fair and honest with their workers. Go figure. This action seems to have motivated and cemented the convention that, no matter how corrupt Tammany Hall got, you still had to pay the little people to keep them in line, so that the big dogs can get richer.)

Imagine an Irish or Italian immigrant stepping off the boat in New York circa 1850. He’s fleeing oppression, poverty or both, having lived under governments that exploited him at best and actively tried to kill him and his family at worst. Somebody meets him on the docks, makes sure he has a place to sleep and food, and gets him in touch with people who can help him find a job.

It would be like being greeted by St. Peter at the gates of Heaven, only without that whole uncomfortable judgement thing. The only thing they ask in return, a very little thing, is that you support your benefactors forever more. You might notice they are corrupt – but compared to what you just escaped from? Tammany Hall looked like Boy Scouts compared to the British in Ireland! Small price to pay.

Small price to keep paying. On and on. Generation after generation. And don’t trust the Republicans.

Similar things were done in Chicago, Boston and other Democratic cities. Loyalties to the local ward boss were rolled up to the city, state and eventually national level. Catholics were just assumed – almost always correctly – to be Democrats.

All this Catholic loyalty culminated in the nomination of Al Smith in 1928 as the first Catholic to run for President from a major political party.

He lost in a landslide. Many non-Catholic Northern Democrats and virtually all Southern Democrats (effectively none of whom were Catholic) were hesitant, to say the least, to vote for a Papist.  Smith carried much of the South, as the typical Democrat had to decide if he hated Catholics or Republicans more, and went with Republicans.

1928 election

Live and learn. What happened next is what’s really instructive. In the 1932 elections, the Democrats ran Roosevelt over Smith’s strenuous opposition – but, good American Catholic that he was, he gave a key speech in favor of FDR, who won in an equally large landslide.

Roosevelt then began to pursue exactly the policies Smith had opposed, leading to the formation of the American Liberty League, which Smith joined. Much more telling: the assent of Catholics within the Democratic party was sharply curtailed. By 1940, about the only prominent Catholic FDR appointed was Joe Kennedy, who was ambassador to the UK – safely out of the way, as it were – who he nonetheless replaced when Joe was perceived as too negative about Britain’s chances in WWII.

By Roosevelt’s time, it had been firmly established that the Democrats needed Catholic votes, but didn’t really need to do much to get them. Joe Kennedy’s sons became the poster children for Catholics You Can Use: they maintained their Catholic identity while rejecting any loyalty to the Church’s teachings in favor of whatever the Democratic party wanted. And were rewarded handsomely for it.

To this day, Catholics have been played for fools by the Democratic Party. Like Esau, we trade a birthright for a full belly. Worse, lead by the likes of Ted Kennedy, we’ve learned to shed any moral qualms we might have about the particulars of the Democratic platform and not merely hold our noses and allow them, but to actively embrace them. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, anyone?

Maybe Dolan’s timid letter, which reads more like the laments of a jilted lover than of an independent leader, will be the beginning of change. Only when the Democratic Party knows it can’t assume the Catholic vote is there any hope of meaningful change. As it is, we’re still wedded to the party of abortion, destruction of marriage, and the limitless state. These are not Catholic values. It’s only been so for about 50 years. Now we notice?

Politics is always messy and dirty. We can’t just not play. But Christ sent us as sheep among wolves and commanded we be wise as serpents. Wedding ourselves to one party or the other is not wise. Being used for somebody else’s gain at the cost of our souls is worse than stupid.

Friday Flotsam

1. Zuckerberg. Ah, Zuckerberg. Not a big fan of armchair psychology unless it’s me that’s doing it. So, grain of salt and all that.

Over the years, have run into a number of people in my position: working with techies without being a techie. People in sales, PR, management, even a retired corporate psychologist. It’s remarkable how the discussion will eventually, usually pretty quickly, get around to the same issue; the blindness of successful techies to how normal people think and react. Stereotypes get that way because they’re so often accurate.

If I have a big Theory of Life, it might be described as Filter Theory: with greater or lesser intent, people are sorted and assigned roles according to filters. Nobody becomes a cop, for example, unless he can tolerate lots of rules and bureaucracy and don’t shy away from the threat of violence. The vast majority of people, it seems to me, would not make very good cops, at least according to the current job description. We find common denominators across all sorts of otherwise different people if they share a profession. (1) Nothing too profound here, just an observation to keep in mind.

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Our once and future robot overlord. 

Nobody can become successful in computer technology unless he can tolerate sitting in front of a screen for hours every day and stay focused on increasingly arcane minutia. People with a high need for human interaction need not apply. In fact, finding human interaction baffling or unpleasant would tend to drive people toward careers where they can be successful without having to deal too much with other human beings.

Further, there are kinds of insanity that result in sleeping in a cardboard box or padded cell; there are also kinds that result in becoming CEO or sales leader. In the case of tech, there are many, many really good guys who are aware on some level that they’re not very good at picking up what other people are feeling or thinking. These folks tend to be that sort of shy geek that is easy to love – and who rarely rises much in the hierarchy.

Then there are those who, if not out and out sociopaths, are at least blissfully unaware of how other people think and react. They just assume other people are stupid or ignorant. They are confident that things would go so much better if only they were in charge. In a tech environment, these people tend to become management. Sometimes – woe to us! – they even come up with a good enough idea that they found a company or 3.

Thus, we get the spectacle of Zuckerman. I believe he really, truly does not get how hopelessly arrogant and frankly stupid he looks to normal people. The most terrifying aspect: he’s rich enough to have gotten away with it so far. His ego is probably utterly impenetrable. He is absolutely sure the only problem here is that everybody else is stupid.

I passionately hope somebody finds a way to put him in jail for a year or two. That’s about the only hope we have of getting through to these fools. It’s a slim hope, but it’s about all we’ve got.

2. A discussion of this article took place on this blog. Here we have Science! in all its glory: some sample of people in nations around the world are asked, using a variety of ‘instruments’ no doubt, about how ‘religious’ they are and how ‘happy’ they are. Then, tossing all this ‘data’ in a blender, we are called to conclude that the more religious the people in an area are, the more unhappy the people in that area will be.

Where to even start? Note first of all that it’s not claimed that the it’s same people – in other words, one set of people might be very religious and happy, while another set, let’s say a bigger set, is mildly irreligious and very miserable. The average – whatever that might mean! Average of what, exactly? – might show relatively high religiosity on average and relatively high misery on average, but miss entirely *who* was happy and who was miserable.

Really, too much stupidity to be sorted through. Let’s landry-list this thing, at least the high points:

  • Reification. To plot the graphs shown, you would need *numbers*. Happiness, sadness, religiosity are NOT in ANY WAY numerical. Nobody is 0.7 happy, nor 28.334 sad, nor 87% religious. Do not pass go until you understand this. It is simply nonsense to assign numbers to responses on a poll and act like you can then add them up and perform math on them. Simple and complete nonsense. Cooking up an ‘instrument’ that forces people to give numerical answers doesn’t magically make the thing numerical.
  • Polls. Undefined terms. So some undergrad needing extra credit shoves a poll into somebody somewhere who has time to answer polling questions, and asks something like: on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? Somebody says 8. Somebody else says 6. Yet another person says 3. Well? Who is happier? WE DON’T KNOW!!!! Happiness is not numerical, and, even if it were, 3 people will each have his own unique and possibly mutually exclusive ideas of what happiness means.
  • Self reporting. In America, one routinely asks ‘how you doing?’ and routinely gets a reply such as ‘fine’. In Italy, nobody asks how you are doing, because the answer will be a litany of ills. Yet we assume without any objective check that the American who says 8 is really twice as happy that the Italian who says 4?
  • Cultural differences. See above. Even apart from individual differences, some cultures consider themselves happy, others consider it bad form to tout one’s happiness. Yet all answers are treated as the same.
  • Religion. The poll assumes that Calvinism is a religion in the same way Islam is, or Hinduism, Buddhism or every flavor of Animism is. Just no. The concept of a devout Animist is absurd. Calling Buddhism a religion in the same way Lutheranism is a religion is absurd. Within each subset, similar problems are revealed by a moment’s reflection: Catholics – a group I know fairly well – consist both of those who were last in a church when baptised and will next be in a church for their funeral, who couldn’t give an account of what the Church believes, who nonetheless see themselves as devout, and those who attend daily Mass and study the catechism, who nonetheless feel themselves but meager Catholics. We count them all the same?
Image result for happy baby
This baby is EXACTLY 9.7365 happy. EXACTLY! It’s SCIENCE!

And so on, across problems with language – do the terms mean the same things across all languages? – sampling questions, consistency, methodology – non of which matters in the least because HAPPINESS AND RELIGIOSITY ARE NOT NUMBERS.

If you call yourself a scientist or even a supporter of science, and fell for this, you are an ignorant fool. Not to put too fine a point on it.

3. Looks like we’re done with the rainy season here in Contra Costa County and perhaps the state as a whole. Last storms are petering out in the eastern mountains, and nothing else is forecast. We typically get very little rain after March.

I got a weighted average of 72.26% (speaking of ridiculous claims of accuracy – but hey, it’s math!) of average rainfall over the 30 rainfall gauges of the Contra Costa Flood Control District. Last year, we had 178% even over 29 gauges. Over the last 2 years, according to my highly suspect but probably about right methodology, we got 125% of average rainfall.

So? I don’t know, but it seems to me we should probably not have to worry about water supply now, except the long-term worry about how we capture, distribute and use it. How about a 50 year project to improve water capture, reduce transportation system loses, examine if we’re using water wisely and returning a large chunk of the Delta to wetlands? Instead of shrill panic? A man’s gotta dream.

  1. A favorite example from childhood: read an article, probably in Sports Illustrated, where a guy claimed to be able to tell whether a professional American football player played offence or defense just by looking at his locker: offensive players would have all their stuff neatly hung up and organized; defensive players would just stuff their gear or pile it on the floor. Why? because offensive players who reach professional level have to be able to execute a very specific and detailed plan for each play, while defensive players are filtered by their ability to disrupt those detailed plans. In the article, an exception was pointed out: there was an offensive lineman in this particular locker room whose gear was piled on the floor. A moment of interrogation revealed he’d been a defensive lineman until switched to offense in the pros.

Story Telling

Apropos of nothing: Was reading in comments to a Mike Flynn blog post about how he came to be a writer, more accurately, a story-teller, and started in thinking of why I, with little success as success is usually counted, want to tell stories. In other words, what follows is autobiographical navel-gazing. You’ve been warned. Here goes:

We were not a literary family. Mom read Reader’s Digest condensed novels, a brother or two read the sports pages. Nobody that I can remember read to us when we were little. In a way, it’s a little amazing more than half of us 9 kids got through college – three of us overcompensated with Masters (one of my sisters has *3*); one even got a JD.

Dad always thought and said that education was for getting a job. He himself had pursued all sorts of vo-tech stuff, back in the day, learning first how to do office work (he decided early on being an Oklahoma farm boy was not his vocation) and then how to do everything in sheet metal fabrication. He stayed home during WWII – a crack welder with two small children was the kind of guy they were happy to have stay to help build and repair stuff.

So education = job prep. Reading was something mom did in her very limited free time, or guys did to see how the pennant race was going.

Let’s say I didn’t fit in. Didn’t learn to read until I was 6, I think because nobody showed me how. I remember learning phonics (dark time, 1964!) and going wow! THAT’s how it works! and driving the family nuts for a few weeks sounding out every street sign and billboard that went by as we drove.

(This is also when I had my first splash of cold water in school: I LOVED to read, and did it very well – and so teacher never called on me in class. She would ask, I’d practically jump out of my seat, hand held high – and never got called on. Because – and this logic baffled me then – because I could do it. But I had to stay in class anyway…)

Discovered the school library in 4th grade. Tore through the Time-Life Science books – picture books with science-lite in them, but good enough for a kid. I even read a college level history of Rome (have no idea what it was doing in a grade school library, but there it was) because one of those Iowa basic tests said I read at a college level in like 5th grade, and so, literalist that I was, thought I should start reading college level books. Well, I could sound out all the words, sure, and knew 99% of the vocabulary, but I don’t think I was quite ready intellectually. At any rate, don’t think I learned much. Did muscle through the whole thing.

Around the same time, due to the accident of there being a series of short books in the bookcase under the windows in the 5th grade classroom, I read a lot of biographies. Mostly American heroes. I’d learned that if I sat in the back and didn’t bother anybody, the teacher would leave me alone. I sat in the back near that bookcase, and wold grab a volume when I thought no one was looking. So I began the habit of ignoring what went on in class and surreptitiously reading something. Became my M.O. well into college, when I discovered I couldn’t pass the classes if I didn’t pay attention. Go figure.

Image result for Time-Life science books
If I’m remembering correctly (50 years ago!) this volume has the instructions on how to build an electric motor out of paperclips, thumb tacks, a couple nails and some wire. I built it – it worked!

I early developed this bias that a serious reader read real stuff, not that frou-frou fiction stuff. In my innocence, I thought Time-Life science books were real stuff. Wasn’t until about 6th grade that I got into fiction – science fiction. Bradbury was my first love, followed by Asimov. By my junior year in high school, I’d switched to philosophy – Plato, mainly – because I’d decided to go to St. John’s College and thought I’d get a head start.

 

But there were mom’s Readers Digest condensed books lying around the house, so I read those. Occasionally somebody would suggest something and I’d read it (read Lord of the Rings, was not impressed. Hey, I was young and stupid. Now at least I’m not young). And I’d thumbed through hundreds of books at the Whittier Public Library, read a few on fairly random topics (e.g., frogs, ancient maps, paleoanthropology). No program, just pulling stuff off the shelves.

What does this have to do with story-telling? Outside Bradbury, Asimov and Star Trek TOS, I din’t really have much experience even hearing stories, let alone telling them. Nobody I knew wrote much of anything. The world of writing was as distant and theoretical as the world of doctors, lawyers and professors. The typical adult I knew was a welder or a housewife. The kids I knew read comic books if they read anything.

In college I discovered a new world, where everybody, it seems, was the son or daughter of a lawyer or doctor, everybody had read a ton of books, people kept folders or files with stuff they wrote in it, and all in all treated this intellectual stuff as if it were work! As if it had value.

Hmmm.

Sometime after college I discovered that I really liked writing. By then, I’d hacked my way through the Great Books as well as a more broad selection of fiction. But emotionally, it was never real work, the results were of mere mystical value, not like the sheet metal buildings and cabinets my dad turned out. Always felt weirdly guilty about writing, and could hardly work up the perseverance to finish anything very long – I mean, it’s not like it has any value…

My wife, in a fit of inexplicable foolishness, married me when I was 29 and almost an adult. We had our first child in 1991, with additions roughly 2 years apart until we hit 4 in 1997. I built a weird bunk bed – queen on the bottom, twin on the top – out of scrap lumber (we still have it). To give my poor wife a break, I’d put the kids to bed – I’d lay in the bottom bunk, 2, 3, or 4 kids cuddled up next to me.

And tell stories. Eventually, I’d let each child pick one or two characters and then try to work them into a story. Got pretty weird, with video game characters, Disney princesses, made up creatures (that would come with rambling dissertations about exactly what they were like and what powers they had, and woe to dad if he forgot to work those into the story!) and so on.

It was a challenge and a delight. Must have told several hundred of those stories over the years. Perfect audience. The race was to see if they would fall asleep before I did – even money.

Then the kids wanted to tell stories, too. I served as stenographer to the two oldest and the Caboose. Hope I can find those stories to embarrass them at their weddings.

Then came this blog. Here I can write as long or short a piece as I want and just throw it out there. Well over a 1,000 posts and 1,000,000 words. I suppose that counts for something, like carving a statue out of a grain of rice – cool, sorta, but why?

There’s now this pile of story ideas and drafts and even a few completed ones. Couple novel outlines. I had hoped to get into it more about a year ago, but then life got really complicated – no, really, much more complicated than it had been, with many additional obligations which sap my time and energy. So – maybe next year.

Either I’ll learn how to work around life, life will get a bit simpler, or it won’t.