De la Salle & Normal Schools

Am plowing through biographies and writings of the major players in Catholic schooling. Unfortunately, so far, have found nothing on Mother Seton’s teaching methods, which, given the timeframe of the early 19th century, would be interesting. Now looking over Jean Baptiste de la Salle, and creating a series of spreadsheets with timelines on them – since none of the stuff I’ve read so far correlates event s and lives in any sort of systematic fashion, guess I’ve got to do it.

De la Salle is credited with inventing the ‘Normal School’, viewed as the forerunner of all modern teachers colleges. The name comes from de la Salle’s observation that the impoverished boys he was trying to educate lacked even rudimentary social skills, and, further, so did the sort of men who would volunteer to teach them.

His first stab at addressing the issue was to simply invite the teachers over for dinner. In 1680, this caused great scandal among his relatives, since de la Salle was a nobleman with a mansion, and the teachers were all commoners. He found dinner wasn’t enough immersion in cultured life, so he had the commoner-teachers move in. His relatives managed, through legal wrangling, to get his house away from him, putting the kibosh on his uncouth fraternizing.

So he founded normal school, to instill in would-be teachers the norms of civilized life. The SJW have gotten to the Wikipedia page, and so we read:

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the École Normale, in ReimsChampagneFrance. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instill and reinforce particular norms within students. “Norms” included historical behavioral norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum.

Of course, there’s an implied judgement in there. It seems the writer doesn’t approve of the ‘ideologies and dominant narratives’ the likes of de la Salle would ‘instill.’ De la Salle made a timeless observation: You’ll get farther if you know how to act like a gentleman than if you always act like a thug. It’s along the lines of catching flies with sugar rather than vinegar.

I note here a reality: schools are an artifact and a conduit of culture. Either your schools teach and reinforce the culture, or they replace it. In de la Salle’s case, he wanted what he saw as a better culture taught to his charges, both students and teachers. In a sense, he was attempting to replace the culture, such as it was, of the impoverished boys and teachers in his charge; looked at another way, he was trying to take the best from the culture he shared with the poor, and make it more available to them. He certainly thought knowing how to act like a gentleman would improve the economic and social prospects of his students and teachers.

Our school cannot but serve the same purpose. They are not about the 3 Rs, and never were. The 3 Rs are just part of the culture the schools traditionally tried to pass on. All the great teachers of history knew they weren’t getting anywhere with students who did not know, for example, how to act toward a teacher. The great schools in Athens would not admit you unless you knew Euclid and Homer, as in: could do all of Euclid’s proofs, and recite the Iliad and the Odyssey. It was not so much that this proved you were a true Greek – although it did do that – as show that you knew how to study and learn. How to behave in school.

Fichte is therefore not breaking new ground in trying to use schools to impart a culture. His innovation is to teach that compulsory state-run Rousseauian/Pestalozzian schools could create a new and Utopian society in a generation or so – if only the influence of parents, family, religion, and village could be eliminated. This remains a (usually) tacit assumption of schools ever since.

Wikipedia continues:

The first public normal school in the United States was founded in Concord, Vermont, by Samuel Read Hall in 1823 to train teachers. In 1839, the first state-supported normal school was established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the northeast corner of the historic Lexington Battle Green; it evolved into Framingham State University. The first modern teacher training school in China was established by educator Sheng Xuanhuai in 1895 as the normal school of the Nanyang Public School (now Shanghai Jiao Tong University) in Shanghai during the Qing dynasty.[2]

Massachusetts – it’s the Balkans of education: producing more history than it can consume locally. My curiosity was piqued by Samuel Read Hall – don’t remember him. A contemporary of Mann, but beat him to the punch in founding a Normal School. So, I clicked the link:

Hall was a preacher, or at least, a trained minister. At a young age – mid 20s – he was already running and founding schools. Wonder if he’s yet another childless man pontificating on children? The Oracle does not say.

In 1829, he helped found an educational society,  American Institute of Instruction , whose purpose was – to get Massachusetts to create the office od superintendent of schools. The succeeded. Horace Mann got the gig…

It is shocking/not shocking how often education reform seeks not so much improved education as the establishment of offices with the power, it is more or less sincerely hoped, to improve education.

Here’s Hall’s major beefs:

In his Lectures on School Keeping, he points out significant obstacles to the instruction of children in the American schools of 1829:

Lack of simple display media such as a globe of the world. (He is credited with inventing the blackboard, and the blackboard eraser)

Political factions within the school district, at war with each other at the expense of educational progress.

Wealthy citizens sending their children to private schools.

Schools exact no moral influence, in turn becoming a school for bad behavior.

Poorly qualified teachers.

Poor remuneration of qualified teachers.

Poor quality of textbooks, or lack of fitness for learning capacity of student.

It’s tempting to pick this apart. In 1829, America was less than 50 years removed from the Federalist Papers – published in the popular press, which would suggest that, in general, the newspaper-buying public could read at a very high level. And there were a lot of newspapers back then, publishing a lot of editions, so that public must have been large. Again, reading can only be an important part of schooling if the culture the school is passing along thinks it’s important. At any rate, it doesn’t look like reading was considered a problem by Hall.

“Political factions” – he doesn’t mean “people who disagree with me,” does he? Then again: rich people sending their kids to private schools as a problem suggests he does. Don’t want to read too much into this, but it is interesting that he doesn’t seem to want to reform those private schools, but rather, wants rich people’s kids in public schools like his. Again, one wonders: is ‘wealthy’ defined here as ‘willing to spend money to keep them out of my schools’?

Rabbit hole. Important note: once one recognizes schools as tools to impart culture, it becomes very, very important to consider who is in charge, what culture is being imparted. The news suggests: not the one any sane people would want imparted.

New Page: Education History Sources (preliminary, work in progress)

This is a very preliminary and partial list of the sources that are key parts of my thinking about education history as reflected in the blog posts here.

I hope to update it regularly, as I work to outline/draft a book on what is wrong with, and how to fix, public education in general and Catholic schooling in particular. As it is, it’s not 10% of the stuff I’ve read/am reading. Sheesh.

For example, these are some I pulled to go through that aren’t on the list yet. Got to get more organized…

So, if you’re looking for reading materials, like, say, you’re an insomniac….

By the Way…

This was on Twitter, posted by a person with BLM and Antifa in her name. The comments were universally positive – meaning, in favor of destroying Western Civilization. That’s because she simply eliminated any that weren’t, because clearly those people were stupid and evil. (There is a lesson in this.)


The very least we can do, in fact, what we must do, is refuse to use their language. A key battle in this war is getting everyone to accept the language in which these terrorists frame the issues. That’s why they go insane when someone suggests All Lives Matter: the key message is that BLM controls the discussion. Any deviation from their terminology is immediately denounced as, of course, racist.

Therefore: I will never refer to someone’s sex as ‘gender’, never use ‘systemic racism’ except to mock it, always use ‘markets’ instead of ‘capitalism’ and others I’m nt recalling at the moment. We should start a list. Even ‘problematic’ is, well, problematic. Usually what is meant is ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’, but those words don’t signal in group membership the way problematic does. Class, oppression, progress need to be handled with care.

Language is the ground we cannot cede. Our enemies already control the public discussion through their stooges in the media, academia and government. We cannot let this pass.

How Crazy Are We?

Among some of the Twitter Catholics I follow, there seems to be a growing horror that some Catholics are not sufficient mortified, or not mortified according to currently popular norms, over racism. People I would have thought level-headed are outraged somebody might say, for example, that systemic racism doesn’t exist – that was the specific example given for why a certain apologist should lose his job – should be canceled. Yes, evidently with no irony at all, Catholics – good Catholics, I’m sure, better, at least than these sinners – were suggesting – well, demanding – that somebody loose their livelihood over not adopting the current language around racism.

If that’s going to be the shibboleth, I guess I should prepare for my tar and feathering, as I like to have terms defined in some clear way before giving full assent to what has become a popular catchphrase. I would request, first, not a reference to some feelings or trends, but a real, functional, definition by which one can distinguish what a thing is and is not. Right now, I can acknowledge racism is a problem; I can acknowledge the existence of systems and therefore the existence of systemic problems. What I’m lacking is a functional definition of what system we’re talking about, how, exactly and concretely it is racist, and clear, concrete examples of that system committing, if that’s the right word, racist acts.

That people are racist, sure. Am I? First, I note I am a sinner as much as any man ever, with the usual, boring yet deadly faults of Pride in its myriad forms, of sloth and cruelty and bitterness and lust – you know the list. When I can muster the courage to look into my own black heart, I am moved to throw myself at the feet of Our Lord and beg His mercy. The thought of the justice I deserve for my sins freezes my blood. Lord, have mercy!

But am I a racist? Well, let’s just say that a definition of racisms by which I am racist would be very, very broad, so broad as to encompass clearly unintentional and unconscious acts. By its nature, such a definition will convict me of a racism I don’t will and of which I am unaware, of a racism that is not, therefore, by any rational definition, a sin.

But the accusation is that the racism we must now concern ourselves with – and, evidently, acknowledge and repent of to retain one’s standing as a good Catholic – is *systemic*. OK, this must mean, if it means anything, that it’s specifically NOT personal. If, on the contrary, it is personal, willed racism, what does the word ‘systemic’ add? Assuming the word systemic is meant to distinguish this particular flavor of racism from run of the mill personal racisms, I, as a person, cannot be guilty of systemic racism. Or?

So far, I see no way I can personally be responsible for systemic racism, UNLESS I am personally responsible for the system in which that racism is manifested. Again, am I? This would require identifying the system, and my role in it.

Well? What system are we talking about here? The answer seems to be: ‘everything’ or ‘culture’ or ‘society’. Again, on the one hand, that’s so broad as to be meaningless; on the other, how can it be that I, one man among billions, is responsible for this rather amorphous system? If all I can do is try my best to be virtuous within whatever system I may find myself in, then I’m already committed to doing what I can do to fight this systemic racism, whatever it may be.

There are more problems with this idea. But, skipping ahead a little, I note that the idea of systemic racism is championed by critical theorists and other Marxists, most prominently by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Now, a truly awesome intellect, truly refined according to Aristotle’s definition (a refined mind is one that can consider an idea without accepting it), could consider the claims of BLM and Antifa without first noting that they, according to their own websites and proud proclamations, want the Church destroyed, America and all its institutions burned to the ground, and reactionaries who oppose them executed. No, really – look it up. I can sort of pull it off, but I can’t pretend this idea of systemic racism exists in a vacuum. It’s a ploy, sports fans. BLM and Antifa don’t want racism to go away, they want to use it to burn the world to the ground.

That Marxists who want me dead would propose and use as a battering ram the idea that racism is the problem, and not just the kind of racism we individuals can mitigate by our own free wills, but a *systemic* racism that requires DESTRUCTION OF THE SYSTEM, which simply is Western Civilization – well, the appeal is not apparent. I like Western Civilization, and love the Church that built it.

And, not being historically illiterate, I know our nation is by any measure the least racist large nation that has ever existed. But I suppose saying that proves I’m a racist?

So: do I rush in where angels fear to tread, and try to counter these folks? Or do I let it go?

Book Review: Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You

Brian Niemeier‘s 90-page book Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You, is a kick in the pants to those of us who are still drifting along sedated by nostalgia, still paying for the privilege of a front-row seat to the mutilation and ultimate destruction of our own culture, willfully oblivious to the contempt and hatred of those who have appointed themselves our betters. I needed that kick – while I have long since revoked access to my wallet to Hollywood movies, and have never been much for games and comics, I still sometimes click on mainstream news articles and shop with major corporations. As explained below, these are now as much of the problem as the direct culture war waged in films and print. Many major corporations do all in their power to prove their hatred for me and mine and everything we believe and love. Don’t give them your money. Don’t give them your clicks.

So if you still are paying to consume blockbusters, comic book movies, video games, mainstream books and comics, or patronizing sports teams, retail outlets and ‘news’ media that have gone way, way out of their way to let you and the entire world know they hate you and everything you love – read this book. Now.

DGMTPWHY provides a quick tour through the who, when, where, what, and why of our current state of all but unwatchable, unreadable and unplayable ‘entertainment. The creators of mainstream entertainment have gotten converged, and, despite the hit to their corporate wallets, are now purveyors of nihilist propaganda masquerading as movies, comics, books, and games.

They must subvert and destroy what we, the sheep they despise, love. Manly men trying to be honorable, heroic and manly, and feminine women trying to be honorable, heroic and feminine, are right out – they are tools of the patriarchy, the cultural hegemony of oppression under which we sheep labor, and from which our purple-haired, nose ringed genderfluid betters are going to save us – or make sure we die from their trying. A character as complex as Rick in Casa Blanca, or even Luke in Star Wars, is to be simplified for the purposes of the cause. If you are so unwoke as to *like* such complex characters, well, our betters plan to fix that – by stories with no heroes and no villains, which leaves them with no plots or even logic. So things blow up.

And, of course, this all boils down to hatred of God. I’ve long held that all heresies are denials of the Incarnation. The basic ingredients of the dogma are a transcendent yet merciful God, creator of the Universe, Who, in an unfathomable act of humility and love, becomes one of us, suffers for us, and saves us. He defeats evil, and gives us hope. The purveyors of modern culture reject and mock each of these ingredients one by one, specifically. There is no God, nor any evil to defeat, nor good to defend. There can be no heroes, and no villains. Nothing is created from love, which is a lie. Humility is stupid; suffering is pointless. Only power matters, if anything matters.

There is no hope.

Modernism, of which this whole cultural war is the current manifestation, battles to defeat the good, the true, and the beautiful, even in such seemingly trivial forms as comic books and movies. But popular entertainment, from Homer to Shakespeare to Star Wars, is the way a culture is defined, nourished, and passed along. Just because it’s Batman and Thor getting the Social Justice treatment instead of (for the moment) Bach and Dante, doesn’t make it less dangerous Indeed, a lot more people have their morality formed by Superman and Harry Potter than by Milton and Flannery O’Conner. In a sane, healthy society, the popular culture and the highest high culture are formed by, share and communicate the same moral messages. For a century or more, that has not been the case in the West: our high culture is a cesspool of nihilism, while, up until the last 50 years, popular culture was still dominated by the theme of good versus evil – and the now novel idea that it’s better if good wins.

Brian published this work in April, before the rioting and the Antifa/Black Lives Matters psyops took over the ‘news’, and wrote it, I imagine, before the COVID hysteria and lockup. These are of a piece: the same people who show their hatred of you in movies and books have broadened their channels, and now show their murderous intent through the flexes and humiliation rituals of the lockup and masks and ‘social distancing’ (a phrase no one had heard of 4 months ago that is now treated like the Wisdom of the Ages), and by their apologetics, encouragement, and approval of those who would literally burn our country down. They destroy statues as phase one of an effort to memory hole anything that doesn’t conform to their contempt. I exaggerate not one iota when I say: Antifa and BLM dream of getting to kill you and your family. They are driven by the Marxist fantasy that bad people on the Wrong Side of History are all that stand in the way of paradise on earth. That paradise is the glorious End that justifies any means, including the slaughter of all who, in the minds of the Marxists, oppose it. Stalin and Mao, with their purges and Great Leap Forward, are not seen as history’s greatest criminals, but as role models. You and I are those bad people. They want us dead.

Don’t believe me? Read what they have to say for themselves.

The companies that even today are bending the knee and falling all over themselves in their rush to issue statements, not in condemnation of wanton property destruction and threatened and real physical harm up to and including murder, but rather in *support* of the rioters and vandals. The very idea that there are significant numbers of ‘peaceful protesters’ was always ludicrous: useful idiots and bored, antsy teenager of all ages, sure. Large numbers of people who take to the streets for weeks on end because a fellous thug who once robbed a pregnant woman at gunpoint while she pleaded for her life got himself killed by an out of control cop who is in jail awaiting trial?

That’s not what’s happening.

Back to the book. I know what Brian is talking about. Star Wars came out the summer after my freshman year in college. My girlfriend at the time kept raving about this movie we had to go see, even though she’d seen it several times already. I, a callous sophisticate as only a 19 year old can be, remained cool.

Then we hit the theater – with a line around the block. From the first scene, I was hooked. Awesome, and so much fun! So, of course, went back several times, and saw the sequels also several times each in the theaters, and got the videos as soon as they came out, and did my best to wear them out. So, yea – I get it.

Even after the road kill that was the prequels, with dread in my heart, I went to see the Force Awakens – and was mildly entertained. BUT – never felt the slightest urge to see it again, or get the DVD. Upon reflection, the movie got worse and worse: the pageantry and special effects – and the still-not-bone-dry well of good will earned by the original trilogy – distracted me from the cardboard characters, the utter lack of character development, the stupid, derivative plot, the relentlessly nonsensical motivations (or lack thereof) driving what little story they had. Rather than Luke’s textbook hero’s journey, we get a total Mary Sue; rather than family, honor, and friendship invigorating the characters, we had – what, exactly?

I’ve seen none of the subsequent movies. Since Brian first mentioned his rule – never give money to people who hate you – a few years ago, my inchoate disgust got a name and a focus, and rather than just avoiding movies because I didn’t want to feel used, I began avoiding them on principle – the principle of this book.

Now, we need to expand the field in which this dictum operates to include all corporations and businesses that have kowtowed to BLM and Antifa: No, Corporate America, you do not need to prove you aren’t racist by anything beside treating all your customers with respect, providing good value for the dollar, and hiring and promoting people based solely on how well they do those first two things. Pandering to bullies earns my contempt, not my dollars; actively supporting people who want me and mine dead gets me fired up to look for and promote alternatives to anything you might offer.

Home “Improvement” Micro-update

Remember my recent follies with garden hose repair? Which resulted in this?

Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson are appalled….

…which failed within seconds of trying it? Good times.

So I did eventually run down to Ace and pick up hose repair items. There was another hose to repair that I didn’t show the first time around, where I assessed the problem, got the right size/wrong direction (needed the female, got the male), BUT! after that small diversion & an exchange, patched it up in 2 minutes, back in use, no problem since. So, I can, in fact, do this, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

No, really.

So: the abomination up above had no such easy solution. Ace didn’t carry the exact kit I needed – this funky spiral hose is smaller than the standard sizes, so I had to get one just a *tiny* bit too large. This meant I couldn’t get the hose to slide cleanly on, so had to try a number of things…

Eventually, maybe 3rd? fourth? try, I used a lighter to heat up the hose, softening and expanding it, and was thus able to wrestle it onto the little nub, and, well:

There you go. What I should have done the first time. Except for that whole “is this cheap old hose even worth repairing?” question, with the implied “it will only break somewhere else if I fix it here” niggling concern….

It seems like it was only yesterday – because it was only yesterday – that I got the initial problem solved satisfactorily, after giving the tangled hose a pull and popping the hose off the repair shown above. Heated it more, wrestled it farther on, clamped it down good, looked/worked good.

Watering the plant on and around the patio this morning, the hose started leaking audibly from the connection to the faucet. In keeping with this comedy of errors, the picture I took of the problem also failed somehow – a first for this phone camera.

Sooooo – I’d need probably a little tiny pipe clamp to fix this. Or I could, you know, get another hose.

But that would be too easy….

Monday Mish-Mash

A. This scrap of flash fiction seems somehow relevant.

Minchinhampton Common: where the cow is king but only just ...

B. At first glance, I thought Amazon was trying to sell me bulk shotgun shells:

“Your go-to Solution” seemed a little dark for corporate America.

C. Is that, is that – Caleb Jones?

D. On a less light note: the recent Supreme Court ruling giving those confused about their sex cover as a protected class is, ultimately, the final puzzle piece in the 200+ year effort to bring all schools completely under the control of the state. As usual, the stated goals are a smokescreen: the champions of this ruling were talking fairness, discrimination, and mean old bigots, not ‘we can now sue private schools out of existence and lock up homeschoolers and take away their kids.’ But that is what this is about.

More detailed post when I can stomach it.

Brief (promise!) D*mn Virus Update

By now, I’ve despaired of convincing anyone who can open their own eyes and look around and is yet not convinced that the COVID 19 panic is and has been from the beginning a fraud. If you can’t see that, I don’t know what I could say to convince you. But, for my own satisfaction:

Way, way back on April 3, using then-available number, basic logic and a little math, I came up with an infection fatality rate (IFR) of around 0.25%, and said that was still probably quite a bit high. About 6 weeks later, the CDC published their “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios“. Digging around a bit, their most likely scenario used an IFR of. 0.15 to 0.26%. That means the CDC expects about 15 to 26 out of every 10,000 infected people to die.

Imagine. And they evidently based this on their very ‘generous’ counting of COVID deaths. Now, I’m not some genius sleuth or anything, just pointing out that the data needed to reach these very-much-not-worth-panicking-over-numbers were right there all along, so that even I could reach them. And I’d still bet the CDC IRF is high by a factor of maybe 4. Just a hunch.

Thus: even accepting a world where we all are encouraged to imagine ourselves under dire threat from a disease where 95% of the attributed deaths are among very sick, often very elderly, people with multiple health problems and short, as in months, life expectancies, that risk is still TINY according to the CDC driving the panic. If you’re not in a nursing home or otherwise under palliative care, you are literally under more risk crossing the street than from catching this virus.

Those watching Our Betters decide that rioting over the approved issues immunizes people, while golf or church or a visit to a restaurant is literally courting DEATH for MILLIONS, all while even the ridiculously ‘generous’ death counts plummet, and STILL think the lockup was a good idea and people who don’t wear masks are evil, are not going to be convinced otherwise by math and facts. But I tried.

Charts, because we haven’t done those since they got boring:

Worldometers, as usual. They are the worst-case numbers reporters. John Hopkins and the CDC are always lower by about 10%.

In the US, boy, are they trying to make it seem bad despite all the evidence to the contrary. In a country with 330M people, where close to 8,000 people die on an average day, we’re supposed to cower like rabbits because, with ‘generous’ counting, because around 500 people (and falling), almost all of whom were very sick and most near death before they (may or may not have) gotten infected, are dying while infected per day.

No deaths at all since May 26. Note the hilarious “correction” on May 25, where they can’t say: “we overcounted deaths by a couple thousand, which is about 10% of the total,” Because that would be too easy. Instead, they said:

“Spain: On May 25th, the government decreased the number of total cases by 372 and the number of deaths to 26837. The discrepancy is the result of the validation of the same data by the autonomous communities and the transition to a new surveillance strategy. Discrepancies could persist for several days. We’ve adjusted our figures to reflect the new numbers [source] [source] [source]”

Over. Was over once a) it had ripped through the nursing homes; and b) spring weather arrived.

Stick a fork in it.

Turned the corner yet? Hard to say. Southern hemisphere, but the population is mostly in tropical and subtropical climates – usually hard on airborne viruses. Not sure what’s happening, but remember: 220M people, many living in very poor conditions – kind of like Wuhan tenements. This level of deaths, while certainly tragic on a personal level, is not something to panic over. Will keep an eye on this.


Mexico (pop: 129M, or twice Italy or France) is approaching the Top 6 in deaths (above). Will keep an eye on our neighbor to the south.

Also also: William Briggs took the data in the CDC report linked to above, and produced this chart, showing graphically the about 62M infections generating those 1.7M cases we’ve heard about. Again, it’s that whole functionally numerate thing: if this doesn’t make you guffaw, maybe numbers aren’t your thing?

And Dr. Briggs’ analysis:

As of Wednesday night, and using our standard sources (which exaggerate death counts), there were 1,689,630 reported “cases” (positive tests) and 94,352 reported deaths. The crude CFR was 94,352/1,689,630 = 5.6%. Again, this bug is not killing 5.6% of those with symptoms. The RFR was 0.03%.

The number of estimated actual cases are anywhere from 8 to 30 million Americans. That is, about 2.4% to 9.1% of the US’s population had symptoms or were otherwise cases.

The number of estimated actual infections are anywhere from 37 to 62 million people. That is, about 11% to 19% of the US’s population are already infected.

If actual deaths are lower, then all these numbers will be too high.

The point of all this: to find more cases, all you’d have to do is run more tests – the infection is out there in millions of (asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic) people. Panicking over increased cases is idiotic. Or, to be more generous, shows a lack of understanding of the data.

Would China Destroy its Economy if the Pandemic Wasn’t Real? YES.

This morning, we’re hearing about how there’s a new outbreak of COVID 19 in Beijing, and that flights are being canceled. The already tottering Chinese economy will take another massive hit; what, if anything, is left of Chinese credibility will be completely gone.

Is this not proof the pandemic is real? Note: the question is not: is COVID 19 a real disease? Of course it is. The question, put more pointedly, is: does this not prove that lockdowns, masks, social distancing and the ongoing panic is justified?

No, it does not. Let me explain. Way back in the 90s, my thesis adviser, a Chinese (probably Taiwanese, I didn’t ask) economics professor and I used to shoot the breeze talking about how little Americans really understood the Chinese Communist government. At the time, America was well into a China policy of economic engagement, under the express theory espoused especially by the Bush clan that if China were to move into a Western style economic model, they would necessarily also move toward a Western style liberal democracy. (That the Bush clan is alleged to have made many millions from facilitating Chinese trade deals was not part of the public discussion at the time.) That was under Bush the Elder; Shrub tried the same theory in the Islamic world a decade later, this time with guns.

I specifically remember discussing two scenarios with my thesis advisor: if the Chinese Communist would kill 100,000,000 of their own subjects if that’s what it took to retain power – answer: without a moment’s hesitation – and whether, if it had to choose between power and the vast wealth created by their snow-job, parasitic faux capitalist economy, if they would destroy that economy – answer: yes, although they might hesitate for a moment. Hey, wealth is fun.

This was 30 years ago. A few things to note:

A. 1958-1962: Mao, on what looks in retrospect almost like a whim, launched the Great Leap Forward, resulting it the deaths of an estimated 65 million of his own people. He did succeed in destroying to a large extent traditional social structures and village life, and instilled a fear that anybody could turn you in at the drop of a hat. The killing was generally carried out by young, ignorant thugs (Solzenitzen describes a similar use of the young and stupid under Stalin). There’s not the slightest evidence Mao or his fellow dons felt the least hesitation or regret. Just business, Communist style.

B. 1989: At Tiananmen Square, about 10,000 unarmed student protesters were ground into gore by Communist tanks; bulldozers were used to scrap up the mess. About a thousand who escaped getting crushed were offered safe passage if they would leave; they were machine-gunned on their way out. Again, business as usual.

C. Under Bush the Elder, we chose to make these people, the leaders of Communist China, preferred trading partners. At first, the cost in stolen IP and out and out espionage seemed minor, especially since it was generally private companies paying it. And the elites weren’t losing their jobs to Chinese slave- and near-slave labor, only those hicks in flyover country. And oh, those cheap goods! Wow!

Eventually, the IP theft, espionage losses and currency manipulation to ensure Chinese goods remained insanely cheap got more serious. By then, an interesting dynamic was in place: Nobody in the world market wants Chinese currency – no one outside of China does, and even there, they wouldn’t if there were an option. Trade banks demand Chinese deals be secured with $US, because they’re not idiots. Therefore, in order to do all those billions of dollars in trade, China needed to hold billions of dollars in US dollar-denominated securities: US Treasuries. The US government needed to issue treasuries to fund various bailout – and look! The Chinese Communists needed to buy those treasuries in order to secure trade financing (which all international trade requires).

So a huge chunk of the US dollars going to China to buy Chinese goods (and support all the theft, espionage, slavery and tyranny that involves) ended up coming back to the US, which issued treasuries to the Chinese so that they could keep doing what they were doing.

Trump, to his credit, knows this. He has a long history of denouncing US reliance on trade with China.

D. Hong Kong, with their British-founded banking system and history as a trading hub, is a pinch-point for all this trade: trading banks around the world have histories with Hong Kong banks – banking does come down to trust in the end – and so, while NOT trusting the Communist Chinese, they could and did do business through the Hong Kong banks, who provided a buffer. It was the Hong Kong banks that told the Chinese Communists what they would need to do and how they would need to behave in order to get this trade gravy train rolling.

And so, the Chinese Communists kept their hands more or less off Hong Kong for several decades. That has come to an end. Funny how COVID 19 drove the Hong Kong protest right off the news. Anybody know if protesters are getting machine gunned down or driven over with tanks? Yet, I mean?

The Bush clan was right, to some extent. At least in Hong Kong, a taste of freedom lit a bit of a fire. People there, all of whom have relatives and connections in mainland China, don’t want to be absorbed into the hive. The Chinese Communists must have figured they had established enough of a relationship with the trading banks to keep this train running without the mediation of the Hong Kong banks. I doubt it – the reality would be something like: Trade bank makes tons of money off Chinese trade mediated through Hong Kong banks; Hong Kong banks are crushed/brought to heel by the Party; having seen this movie before, trade banks look at how they can extricate themselves with as little damage as possible. Takes time. I bet it’s well under way.

E. Put this all together: The Chinese economy was going down ALREADY. (I didn’t even mention the costs of the one-child policy in terms of shrinking cheap labor force & social unrest. That’s a real economic crisis in itself!) Under Trump, America was clamping down on IP theft, currency manipulation, and espionage. Trump was piushing for onshoring of all critical pipeline items, and repatriation of manufacturing jobs. As the recovery boomed, the end of an endless supply of US treasuries loomed. The world’s trading and banking professionals are all over this: while the Bush clan was wrong about free trade pushing the Chinese toward democracy internally, the rest of the world has had enough.

The Chinese Communists hate Trump as much as any other deranged leftists. While, objectively, the gravy train’s days were numbered anyway, it’s not clear the Chinese Communist leadership acknowledged it, and Trump’s trade crackdown and a booming US economy certainly didn’t help. Would they pitch in, as it were, jump-starting Son of the Panic by overeating to a few COVID 19 cases in Beijing? Note: the reports are – ready? – 86 cases have turned up, 7 of them asymptomatic. So they lock down hard and cancel a thousand flights.

Beijing has a population of over 21 million.

I say, and I think history bears this out: yes. The Chinese Communists have their backs against the wall. Having read Sun Tzu, they know to try to appear strong when they are weak. But they are in much worse shape than the outside world is being lead to believe.

We may have already had our one unexpected miracle: the largely peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union. Should not count on getting another one. This time, we have a wounded animal cornered. No telling what they will do, but it’s prudent to remember that nothing, and I mean nothing, is off the table.

Making the Sausage: Building and Using Models in the Real World (pt 2)

Something must be done!

THIS is something!

This must be done!

This little unfunny joke reminds me of one of the greatest of Sun Tzu’s teachings: the greatest victory is the battle not fought. When you can achieve your ends without having to roll out the army, that’s the real victory. But, the great Chinese general also points out, there’s no glory in that, since the less enlightened won’t be able to see the victory in the battle not fought. It takes the wisdom and confidence of a great general to have the guts to not fight the battle.

Another bit of real-world experience: the less people know about modelling, the more they expect out of it. The completely ignorant want magic, and, not understanding how models work, get put out when you can’t deliver. In the business world, there’s a great push for predictive analytics. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to know which deals would go into default before you did them? Or how money costs were going to change over the next decade? Or even what the federal tax rates and rules were going to be?

Like any other model, predictive analytics are an expression of the prejudices of the model builder. Only when what happens in the real world show that the assumptions built into the model conform enough to reality to be useful do those assumptions become anything more than prejudices. Note I’m here talking about *predictive* analytics. The point is that only when they are no longer truly predictive are they be useful -only when they fundamentally say: assuming what has happened in the past continues to happen or happens again, THEN this is what will happen – are they any more than prejudices.

Predicting what will happen based on unknowns, based on things that have never happened before, is fantasy. The Drake Equation (1) is fantasy. Anthropomorphic Global Warming is essentially a fantasy (2). The giant unknowns – what factors causes climate in general – dwarf any supposed science behind a relatively minor greenhouse gas. It could could gain some reality if clear data existed over meaningful periods of time showing the correlation and – big part – accounting for all the other factors, known and unknown, that have caused the climate to change incessantly over a couple billion years. Since that hasn’t happened, and is unlikely to happen any time soon, what we’re left with are prejudices dressed up in math.

But something must be done! We’re all gonna die!

In the business world, the check upon crystal-ball promises is money and reality. The most success has been had in taking well-understood marketing data – through years of gumshoe-level marketing research, we know our ideal prospect has these buying habits and characteristics – then applying Big Data to finding more of those customers. The more you depart from such processes, the riskier it becomes. It certainly can work, but I’ll bet the purveyors of Big Data make sure we hear a lot about success stories, and not so much about the failures. At any rate, the money will soon dry up if there are not results. (3)

But in the world at large, especially if a government is bankrolling the ‘research’ behind a model, these restrictions don’t apply. Ferguson, while still trailing by miles, is now in the race with Erlich for the ant-Cassandra crown: the more wrong he is, the more credible he is assumed to be.

Governments, as giant bureaucracies run, according to Pournelle’s Iron Law, by careerist bureaucrats, will never willingly let a crisis go to waste. Something must be done, and they’ll find the something that most involves government action.

We had no Sun Tzu. A great victory could have been won by doing next to nothing, but an even greater defeat was delivered in its stead. There is no honor to be had, despite the claims of back-patting fear mongers.

Another relevant Sun Tzu saying: If you know yourself and know your enemy, victory is assured; if you know yourself and don’t know the enemy, you may win the battle half the time; victory is impossible if you know neither yourself nor the enemy. Since the enemy – COVID 19 – was (studiously) not known before the war was declared, and who ‘we’ are was unknown, victory as any sane person of good will would understand it was impossible from the get go.

  1. TL;DR version:

“This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses-just so we’re clear-are merely expressions of prejudice.

“Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.”

2. From the same source:

“Just as the earliest studies of nuclear winter stated that the uncertainties were so great that probabilities could never be known, so, too the first pronouncements on global warming argued strong limits on what could be determined with certainty about climate change.

“The 1995 IPCC draft report said, “Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” It also said, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes.”

“Those statements were removed, and in their place appeared: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on climate.” What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policy have become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outside observer to ask serious questions about the conduct of investigations into global warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps to improve the quality of our observational data records, whether we are systematically obtaining the information that will clarify existing uncertainties, whether we have any organized disinterested mechanism to direct research in this contentious area.

“The answer to all these questions is no. We don’t.”

3. There are crazy people in business, of course, as in any other group of people, so sometimes the money for a crazy project doesn’t run out before the money in general runs out. But not usually.