“Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow”

Shafts of light pierced the swirling snow, revealing the wolf hides draped over the massive thighs of the two stern warriors at whose feet she lay prostrate. The sun descended below the clouds, filling the huge stone form they flanked with an eerie inner light. The warriors pounded the mountaintop with the butts of their bronze spears. The crouching idol spoke:

“Type, worm, and I may judge your vow fulfilled!”

(from my comment here.)

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Currently Reading:

Polanyi, The Great Transformation. According to a friend, this book figures into Deenan’s Why Liberalism Failed, and, since it is available free online, I started there. Will get to Deenan later, I hope.

50 pages of 375 in snapshot: after reading the forward by Joseph Stiglitz and the introduction by Fred Block, and the first chapter or so, had to google who this Karl Polanyi and these dudes were. Stiglitz is a New Keynesian economist with all the awards and sheepskins; Block is a prominent sociologist.

Keynes was the official economist of the Fabian movement – he was General-Secretary and later president of the Royal Economic Society, which was founded by Fabians to promote their communist views. As a New Keynesian, Stiglitz is one of a long line of Fabian economists, and part of the effort to salvage Keynes from the unfortunate (in the eyes of Marxists) success of the modern world in reducing violence and poverty to previously unimaginable levels. More people live safer, more secure and affluent lives now than ever before in history, and the trends are all good – so, who needs socialism, let alone communism? So New Keynesians focus on what, in the big picture, are blips in the overall trends, and ignore the overall story of success. (1)

Reminder: this is the original Fabian Society coat of arm: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Fabians are nothing other than Communists, except even more devoted to lies and deception, if that’s possible.

Keep in mind that while Marx was infatuated with economics and legendarily whiled away several years doing research in the British Museum Reading Room, he’s also notorious for his extraordinarily weak grasp of the actual economic activity of the world he lived in, as well as for his use of nonsensical footnotes and references. (2) He established a tradition, in other words.

Block is a Critical Theorist, as are all prominent Sociologists, although it is customary to portray their devotion to Marx as merely one influence among others and a prompt to acting as gadflies against other, more ossified and less Progressive theories. (See: my theory of filters – once the heirs of the Fabians get control of a university department, they can then filter out the non pliable, let alone any outright opponents. After a couple generations, harmony is achieved. This harmony is achieved at the cost of honesty and academic freedom, which, following Gobels and Alansky, is what those enforcing that harmony claim their opponents are attacking. This would be amusing if it weren’t true.) Critical Theory is Marxism as manifested in academia. Take a gander at the home page of the American Sociological Association, and judge for yourself what they’re up to.

Stiglitz and Block are of course effusive in their praise of Polanyi.

Polanyi was also a Fabian, but is said to have a ‘complex’ relationship with Marxism, which, translated into English, means he did not find it expedient to tout his Marxism always and everywhere. His wife Ilona Duczynska worked in the propaganda department of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and she was a member of the Budapest Central Revolutionary Worker and Soldier Council. So I think we can assume Polanyi had a high degree of sympathy, at least, with revolutionary ideas.

Anticipating a completely predictable read in at least this sense: anything bad or less than perfect that happens where free markets reign will be presented as proof of the conceptual failure of Capitalism; any failures under socialism, up to and including mass murder, will, if acknowledged at all, be attributed to human failings of one sort of another. Further, ‘democratic’ will be used to mean ‘rule by the enlightened few who, as communists, believe they have the right and duty to do whatever they want to the demos in the name of achieving the glorious future.’ This is the sense in which Stalin and Che were men of the people, not despite, but especially when murdering unarmed men, women and children. (3)  History proves socialism correct provided you assume your conclusion as the sole acceptable lens through which history may be viewed.

In the first 50 pages, that’s what I got. Also, there’s the heartfelt sympathy for those poor little people who suffer under the vagaries of free markets that is somehow not present at all for those who suffer under socialism. The theory is pure and correct, after all, so such suffering under socialism cannot be caused by it, while free markets are evil, so that any suffering, no matter how temporal or complicated it causes, no matter how much a blip on an otherwise very hopeful trend, proves that free markets must be snuffed out (along with, as history has shown, any *people* who do not sufficiently hate them. But that’s the small ‘h’ history where people do and suffer things, not the capital ‘H’ History that drives Progress.)

Will review when completed.

 

  1. Marx is said to have been revolutionary in his insistence on viewing economic activity as a whole, taking, one might say, a macro view of microeconomics. History is marching forward – what the little people actually do can only be understood as results or even side effects of this march of Progress. New Keynesians are, according to Wikipedia, involved in using microeconomics to prop up Keynes against the persistent claim that his analysis and policies make no sense, and, specifically, that history over the last 50 years or so has shown doesn’t, you know, work. The irony amuses me.
  2. I’ve heard this ‘Marx’s footnote and references are nonsense’ comment from a couple of sources that I now cannot of course find; I myself will never live long enough to actually look up the copious footnotes in Capital. I long for someone to write a book on Marx’s footnotes – that, I’d try to read.
  3. It’s no accident Fabians were huge proponents of eugenics. especially via the sterilization of the less fit (and one guess who would be defined as ‘less fit’ if they ever gained power).

AGAINST GREAT BOOKS

An essay with the title above by Patrick Deenan came out a few years back, I saw it earlier this year and wanted to comment, but that abortive attempt became draft #103 moldering in my drafts folder. So, let’s do this now.

Deenan begins by restating arguments that Great Books are the core of any liberal education worthy of the name, but then casts doubts on that claim:

I have long sympathized with these arguments, but in recent years I have come to suspect that the very source of the decline of the study of the great books comes not in spite of the lessons of the great books, but is to be found in the very arguments within a number of the great books. The broader assault on the liberal arts derives much of its intellectual fuel from a number of the great books themselves.

Thus, those who insist upon an education in the great books end up recommending texts and arguments that undermine their own beliefs in the central importance of liberal arts education.

Certainly, from Descartes on, the philosophy in the Great Books consciously and actively discounts and dismisses everything that came before. The Reformers believed – correctly, in my view – that Aristotle, through the mediation of St. Thomas, was irretrievably tainted by Catholicism. Since the medieval world against which they were rebelling was intellectually formed and sustained by Aristotle more than any other writer, he became the enemy, and any who could trace their intellectual heritage and methods to him had to be destroyed.

As Deenan shows below, one philosopher after another proposed philosophies that might be classified as Anything Other Than Aristotle. Since the medieval idea of education was largely applied Aristotelianism as baptised by Thomas, it had to go.

Arguments against this form of education became common among elite thinkers in the early modern period, who sought to justify a new kind of science that had as its aim the expansion of human control over nature. Arguing strenuously against the content of books by authors such as Aristotle, Francis Bacon castigated previous thinkers for their “despair” and tendency to “think things impossible.” Asserting that “knowledge is power,” he rejected the idea that knowledge consists first in acknowledging human limits and claimed that it was necessary to wipe clear “waxen tablets” inscribed with older writing in order to inscribe new lessons upon them. Books were more often than not one manifestation of the “idols of the cave,” or illusions that obscured true enlightenment, and in the schools “men’s studies? . . . [were] confined and imprisoned in the writings of certain authors.” His book Novum Organum is devoted to arguing against the flawed inheritance of the past, including the arguments found in the great books of his age.

One charming aspect of Aristotle, especially when viewed after having read the early modern Enlightenment writers, is his willingness to identify limits. Was the world created or eternal? Who knows? the Philosopher answers. All knowledge of contingent things is contingent – such is life in this world of change, a necessarily humble life of uncertainty. With Thomas, we get invigorated to pursue even imperfect knowledge of Creation, because the Heavens proclaim the glory of God. In our imperfect and humble understanding of created things we experience the ineffable Divine.

But limits have gone from realities any sane man recognizes and tries to understand, which he might rationally embrace or challenge on a case by case basis, to something that is evil and to be overcome in all cases. A classic man, a victim, one might say, of the philosophy in those pre-Enlightenment Great Books, would first want to know himself and come to grips with his passions and his fixed days. If he were a Christian, he’d recall that all is grass and grace, his days are numbered, and it profits a man nothing if he gains the whole world but loses his soul. Yet God loves him into being nonetheless, and blesses him such that his life need not be in vain.

The post Enlightenment man has increasingly rejected any ‘despair’ or what the pre-Enlightenment man would consider proper humility, and chaffs at all limits. What began as a not entirely unsympathetic rejection of the limits imposed by a Church ends with the entirely insane rejection of reality. The very idea of human nature became nonsensical under Hegel and an affront under Marx. Whatever you found yourself to be at the moment could become something else entirely under the influence of the Spirit unfolding or History progressing. Limits oppress; to believe in any limits is to be an oppressor, even and especially when those limits exist by nature.

Novum Organum is now one of our great books—a great book that recommends against the lessons of previous great books. His work inaugurated a long line of great books that argued against an education in books. Another in this genre is René Descartes’ Discourse on Method, which begins with a similar condemnation of book learning as an obstacle to true understanding. “As soon as my age permitted me to pass from under the control of my instructors,” he wrote, “I entirely abandoned the study of letters, and resolved no longer to seek any other science than the knowledge of myself, or of the great book of the world.” Books are the repository of foolishness: “When I look with the eye of a philosopher at the varied courses and pursuits of mankind at large, I find scarcely one which does not appear in vain and useless.”

Descartes’ view is shared, it seems, by scientists and students of science as much as by various ‘studies’ professors and their acolytes. The first group believes above all else that their study of nature is the only road to knowledge, doesn’t want to hear otherwise, and at any rate knows ‘philosophy’ only as delivered by the academic philosophers who infest their campuses. The student of science correctly concludes that Analytic Philosophy is at best useless, an overly-intellectual tail trying to wag the productive scientific dog.

The second group sees any philosophy that embraces limits as oppressive; they mistake the untethered emoting and manipulation of Critical Theory as the only necessary and pure philosophy. They rank themselves by how oppressed they are, and start in trying to kill each other at the first opportunity, according to the nature of a philosophy without limits.

Centuries later, this line of argumentation would be employed in the United States in defense of disassembling existing curricula oriented to the study of the great books. Widely regarded as America’s most influential educational reformer, John Dewey, in books that continue to exert great influence in schools of education, argued that learning should be accomplished “experientially” rather than through an encounter with books. In his short work Experience and Education, he argues strenuously that an education based in books transmitted “static” knowledge to a citizenry that needed to be better enabled to face a world of rapid change. Learning through books is “to a large extent the cultural product of societies that assumed the future would be much like the past, and yet it is used as educational food in a society where change is the rule, not the exception.” Accordingly, he founded an institution in Chicago called the Lab School. Laboratory was to replace library, experiment would substitute for knowledge gleaned from the past.

Dewey was also a Communist apologist, who rejected categorically the concept of objective morality.  Think killing a few 10s of millions of Kulaks will speed the dawn of the Worker’s Paradise? The only moral question is: did it work? (And if it didn’t, it’s likely not enough Kulaks were murdered. But I digress.) “Static” knowledge is nonsensical under Marx – all is Becoming, nothing Is. What is needed, as spelled out by Freire, are children educated to be revolutionaries. Math? Reading? History? Pointless and dangerous!

Dewey makes this case in pointed terms in his book Democracy and Education, asking, “Why does a savage group perpetuate savagery, and a civilized group civilization?” He answers that “in a sense the mind of savage peoples is an effect, rather than a cause, of their backward institutions. Their social activities are such as to restrict their objects of attention and interest, and hence to limit the stimuli to mental development.”

Even as regards the objects that come within the scope of attention, primitive social customs tend to arrest observation and imagination upon qualities which do not fructify in the mind. Lack of control of natural forces means that a scant number of natural objects enter into associated behavior. Only a small number of natural resources are utilized and they are not worked for what they are worth. The advance of civilization means that a larger number of natural forces and objects have been transformed into instrumentalities of action, into means for securing ends.

There is and cannot be any human nature – that would limit what people can become, and limits are evil in themselves. Instead, “their social activities as such” limit what we can become. (Dewey here deigns to consider civilized people as somehow more progressed than savages – he needed to get way, way more woke!) If one were to ask where these social activities come from, the answer is: History! The term ‘History’ as used by Marxists means the non-god god and unconscious consciousness that drives us forward, and on whose wrong side one must not get. That whole what happened in the past stuff is called history only insofar as it captures the non-active activity of the non-god god in causing Progress. They rarely put it this way, because it’s as stupid as it sounds.

Thus, two distinct and contradictory conceptions of liberty have been advanced in a long succession of great books. The first of these commends the study of great books for an education in virtue in light of a recognition of human membership in a created order to which we must conform and that we do not ultimately govern. The other argues against the study of great books and asserts a form of human greatness that seeks the human mastery of nature, particularly by the emphasis of modern science. This latter conception of liberty does not seek merely to coexist alongside an older conception, but requires the active dismantling of this idea of liberty and hence the transformation of education away from the study of great books and toward the study of “the great book of nature” with the end of its mastery.

One of the contradictions yet to be subsumed and suspended in the dialectic is the hard or real science versus soft or fake science: everyone want to dress their claims in the sacred Lab Coat of Science, even and especially when there is no science, properly understood in the modern sense, involved. Mean people who believe in reality are going to challenge claims that sociology, psychology and modern education theory, for starters, are in any functional sense science. They do not measure the properties of measurable bodies; they do not follow well-established protocols such as using clear methods and publishing all data and subjecting all claims to skeptical replication. As Groucho Marx – the good Marx – said: the key to success in this business is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Since those older Great Books contradict all this, and the newer Great Books are irrelevant by their own admissions, they must be destroyed.

The older conception of liberty held that liberty was ultimately a form of self-government. In a constrained world, the human propensity to desire and consume without limit and end inclined people toward a condition of slavery, understood to be enslavement to the base desires. This older conception of liberty was displaced by our regnant conception of liberty, the liberty to pursue our desires ceaselessly with growing prospects of ongoing fulfillment through the conquest of nature, accompanied by the constant generation of new desires that demand ever greater expansion of the human project of mastery. The decline of the role of great books in our universities today is not due merely to financial constraints, or to the requirement of federal funding for scientific inquiry, or even to science itself. Preceding all of this was an argument that the study of great books should be displaced from the heart of education.

The concept of limits includes both possibilities and consequences. I cannot flap my arms and fly to the moon, no matter how woke I am, and neither can anybody else. Why we can’t is a unaddressed problem for the Enlightened. I cannot eat everything in sight or have sex round the clock without the piper eventually demanding his due.

So we must learn to accept fat people as not fat, as beautiful and perfect right up until they drop dead of a heart attack or stroke or diabetes around age 40. In fact, what’s with this whole death thing? It’s so unfair! Thus the cult of Transhumanism offers the false hope that we can, ultimately escape all limits and their consequences. Somehow. And treatments and prevention of venereal diseases and babies must be assumed, free, and supported by all. Broken hearts are an illusion.

So, yes, the Great Books are not a solution to societal collapse and the perpetual ignorance of the certifiably educated when applied in our current state.

My only push back against Dr. Deenan is this: that read fearlessly and with a desire for Truth that will not bow to fad and peer pressure, the glory of the pre-Enlightenment Great Books will reveal the latter books to be superficial, dishonest and inferior. This does happen: someone, even someone not forewarned by Christianity, may read the Great Books and conclude that some – Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, the wisdom of the poets, and others – are much greater than the others. Some are worthy of a serious person. Many are not.

Alas, this sort of self-enlightenment and devotion to the Truth is not likely to be found among conventionally educated 18 year olds.

We Don’t Know the Future

Image result for crystal ballI might add that we don’t know the past, either. The future, however, is categorically unknownable until it ceases to be the future, while the past is at least in theory knowable to some extent…

But I digress.

The Greeks loved their oracles, or at least consulted them a lot. They’d trapse on down to Delphi, offering in hand, even though just about every story and myth about such future-tellers is a cautionary tale. The Oracle, it seems, is correct, just never in the way the people to whom the prediction is given could ever figure out or use – until it’s not the future anymore.

And that’s the lighter side of things.

Image result for belloq opens the ark

People who claimed to tell the future were held in low esteem, to put it mildly, in both the Old and New Testaments, unless they spoke from God (and woe to those who claim to speak for God when they don’t!).  Fortune tellers and necromancers (who were most often doing the same thing – looking into the future), among others, were lumped in with child sacrificers, and put under the ban, for one thing because they were so often the same people. For the pagans, the entrails of animals were good enough for day to day use, but divining the future when a kingdom was on the line often required a human sacrifice.

I fear things haven’t changed all that much. Just as the human penchants for slavery and rape reassert themselves as the strictures of Christianity fade, the sort of witchcraft that commits abominations and horrors because they are abominations and horrors is bound to reassert itself as well. Practitioners sense (correctly) that only unnatural, horrendous offerings can recruit and appease the forces that might grant their desires.

The ghoulish love of late term abortion springs to mind. For the first few decades, abortionists were shy of the sunlight – few and rare, right? – but now we have them pointing out on Twitter, with an eye roll, that late term babies don’t scream because step one is slitting their throats. You can’t even hope to shame them. Theirs are jealous gods.

I mention this here because abortion advocates claim to know the future: life will be so much better for the mother and death better for the baby than would be the case if the baby got born. When one suggests that life is better than death, things work out unexpectedly to the good as often as the bad, that nothing is fated and at any rate no one can know how things will work out in the future, the ground shifts to RIGHTS. (And shifts somewhere else once you push back on rights – but that’s another topic.)

Even within the constraining context of Christian morality and belief, this human desire to know the future is treated with great caution. We are told not to worry about tomorrow, for this day has problems enough, and that even though we are promised a glorious life beyond our understanding, the exact time and manner are not ours to know. Be prudent, of course, and live a Christian life, but don’t waste any time worrying about the Apocalypse or even where tomorrow’s bread is coming from. There’s no place for fortune telling in a simple, holy life focused on doing the right thing right now.

I think even Hegel’s somewhat surprising restraint when addressing the future unfolding of the Spirit, his insistence that we cannot know what the future syntheses will be but must live with what the Spirit is unfolding now, manifests his proper Christian reticence about the future.

Marx shed this reticence along with any other shreds of functional daily Christianity in Hegel, and proposed that he, Marx, was the great prophet, and saw a vision of the inevitable future, the Workers’ Paradise that awaits all those who believe. The only virtue is faith in Marx alone; the only sin failure to believe. (1)

Capital-H History, Marxists’ god who shall never be called a god (but woe to any who get on this jealous deity’s Wrong Side!) demands his sacrifices as well. Lenin must murder his thousands and Stalin and Mao their millions, or else the promised Future won’t come! Che must murder his unarmed men, women and children, as must Pol Pot. Yet the gods of wealth are not yet appeased! So Antifa mentions the millions more that need to be killed to bring about the glorious future.

And so on. Blood is the price of knowing the future. The demons we invoke and feed can fulfill their promises, but only after the fashion of the Greek myths: you’ll get what was foretold, but it won’t be what you want and the price will be far too high.

Well, that got grim fast. On a slightly lighter note – slightly – many racists (2) arguments about who should or should not be allowed to immigrate. One of many things wrong with these arguments is that those making them also claim to know the future: they claim that one very narrow, cherry-picked set of history proves that certain races should not be allowed to immigrate to the US, because members of such races are not capable of becoming good American citizens.

There’s a certain circularity to the argument: American is defined as at least partially a genetic trait, national in the original meaning the term, and not a cultural or political term. If so, then it would of course be true that no one other than someone of English descent such as were found in the original colonies could possibly be an American.

The historical pedant in me wants to know: is that Celtic Brits? All 5 nations, including those in Brittany? Danish English? Roman? Saxon? French? Assuming Hilaire Belloc would qualify, exactly how much really truly English, however defined, do you have to be? How much other stuff is allowed to pollute it?

Personally, as a 1/2 Czech Slav 1/2 mutt including some Cherokee (right out, correct?) and low-life Scotch, and as the father of children who are about 3/8th Irish and 1/8 Jewish, I and my family aren’t passing any meaningful genetic American test. I am loath to think we’re not as good Americans as anyone else.

The less cherry-picked history of America contains at least two bits that blow this all up: first, the social troubles in this country caused by elitist snobs who believe it their duty to control us peons is entirely the product of the descendents of exactly those pure (ish) English colonists. Our blue blooded nobility uses people of other races and cultures as convenient sticks – but the ideas are all theirs. A case can be made that, if we want an America populated by citizens who love her, a home of the brave and land of the free, and were going to throw anybody out or exclude anybody (note: I’m not in favor of this), the people we’d get rid of FIRST would be the lily-white faculties at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and their ilk and the blue-bloods running the banks and the government, and their herd of sycophants and courtiers. For starters. I don’t know if many of us little people would cause much trouble without their ‘leadership’ and instigation.

Second, the Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians and so on were hated just as much – you can look it up – as the current least favored. And, in most cases, there was some basis to it, just like there’s some basis to fearing immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. Some mobsters and IRA members did, in fact, make it over here, and did and do in fact break a lot of laws and cause a lot of evil.

But, just like the nice North African Muslim ladies who help my wife care for her mom, and the Muslim taxi drivers I get a ride to the airport from once in a while, most of the Irish, Germans, Jews, etc., did in fact want to be Americans and obey the laws and fit in. In the cases where there are problems, it’s because they don’t want to obey the laws and fit in – and that is reason to exclude them.

Side note: I don’t expect your average Muslim to be any clearer on the long-term implications of their faith than the average Christian. They may embrace a world-conquering, infidel-slaying eschaton with all the vigor and clarity with which the typical Christians accepts the admonition to die to ourselves or not commit adultery in our hearts. I don’t know.  If they did live in anticipation of annihilating America and imposing Sharia law, that would be a reason to not let them in. I don’t think it possible to make a blanket call against entire classes of people. Would probably help the average Mohammed and Zahra if we could keep the looney Imams out, however.

To sum up: too many variables are in play to convincingly make the claim that America is for some mythical genetic Americans. Too many counter examples exist of good Americans of non-English and non-white extraction for such arguments to carry any weight. Too many things are wrong with this country right now that have little if anything to do with racial origins to think that some sort of purity is going to solve them.

We don’t know the future. We can’t say that not letting people in or expelling people from this or that group or place is going to solve anything. The certain doom being preached by so-called race realists isn’t certain. Not only is it a fantasy to imagine anything like an English America, it distracts from the more pressing problems of an amoral and narcissistic America – the product of exactly those ‘real’ Americans were supposed to want to purify the nation for.

  1. It fell to Lenin (as discussed here and in the preceding sections) and Gramsci to restore, via the usual Marxist twisted infernal parody of Christianity, the notion that we know not the hour, that there were steps that needed to be taken between the oppressive now and the happy eschaton.
  2. Please note that I’m using ‘racist’ here as an actual carrier of meaning, not just a swear word, to describe people who make non-trivial distinctions between people based solely on race.

 

Be the Wall & Weekend Bullet Points

1. Be the Wall. Many years ago, my beloved and I attended a few child rearing classes, from which the one thing I remember was the stern admonition to Be the Wall. Kids are going to want to test their ideas and your limits. If they get all emotional and vehement, interpret that to mean they trust you, their mother and father, enough to risk real exposure. This works from toddlerhood all the way to adulthood, and is in no way contradictory to being loving, supportive and gentle. Kids need to push to grow up, and pushing against people they love and trust, and who they know will love and trust them back even if – especially if! – the answer is ‘no’ is the best way for them to learn self control, self respect, and how to stand firm themselves.

So, parents must be the wall, neither giving an inch nor overreacting to the pushing. Not always easy, but necessary. A key part: knowing what you stand for, knowing the places you will not give. These should be few, and consistent. Everything else should be negotiable. With any luck, children so raised will be able to carry these lessons out into the world, and distinguish between principles and necessary rules, and things that can be negotiated. They will be able to behave as adults.

Image result for wall falling downWe live in a world of feral children – of all ages. They have pushed, and found no wall. Many times found no mother or father. They pushed, and one time, the wall fell with hardly a breeze; the next time, it pushed back violently. They pushed and pushed, and ended up in the streets, looking for something, anything, that will push back.

Thinks that should have been learned in the privacy of family life and that can only be learned in family life are now lacking in public life. Our feral children find no walls. The drive to push is unsatisfied and unabated.

2. Fight the Urge to Dirge. Ye Sons and Daughters is one fine Easter song, great tune, tells the story in a charming, memorable way. Only one problem: for some inexplicable reason, choir directors seem almost universally to take what should be something like a bouncy waltz, tempo and feel wise, and turn it into something more like a funeral processional. With a bit a vim, the song is catchy and easy; plodding, it is just another forgettable church song.

You can imagine what brought about these thoughts. We did do some glorious Easter hymns yesterday as well. But it hurts to see such a charming tune done so – bleech.

3. White Sunday/Mercy Sunday Pizza bash! Invited all sorts of Catholics with whom it is meet and just to be celebrating the end of the Easter Octave over – had maybe 30 adults and a dozen or more kids (many of whom wanted to make their own pizzas, which we did – maybe made 20 pizzas in all). Kept it going from 2:30 until after 9. A lot of fun.

Two thoughts, and if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears: when inviting people to something like this, it is customary for them to ask ‘what can we bring? aaaand customary for me (who tends to be the major cook for these things) to say ‘nothing’ or ‘something to drink’ – because trying to manage who brings what is just more trouble than it’s worth, But: people want to bring something, at least, I know I do when the roles (and, possibly, rolls) are reversed. So, this time, due to the large and uncertain numbers of people, I said: we’ll be providing main courses, you needn’t bring anything, but you can if you want.

So, yesterday, at 10:00 at night, I’m packing away A LOT of food. We ran through the pizza stuff, sure, but I made a vat of guacamole and about 8-9 lbs of pastrami with ciabatta rolls and fixings to match and – lots of stuff. But lovely and generous people also brought lots of delicious things, much of which got left. Into the freeze went pastrami, a couple chickens, a couple dozen ciabatta rolls. The fridge and a couple coolers are packed with salads and vegetables; my wife made delicious pashka and kulich – which got lost in a sea of wonderful desserts. So, into the freezer or coolers it goes.

There are only 4 to 6 of us at home (it varies because – story). I hate throwing food, especially really good food, out, so now I’m looking for homes for at least some of the more perishable stuff. Work, school, neighbors are all likely to get some nice gifts – but this becomes another task on top of set up, food prep and clean up.

I also hate telling people how to be generous and all the planning it takes to be able to say: no, we have enough salads, how about a dessert or some wine? Or whatever.

Thoughts?

Finally think I’m getting the hang of the brick oven. The usual advice is that each oven is different, you just have to use it and see what works. What works for this oven: at least a two-hour burn before you start cooking. Three hours is better, although this probably had something to do with all the rain making the whole oven a little damp. Then: just keep it going – at least 2 or three logs burning at the back in addition to all the hot coals while you cook. By the end, we were popping pizzas in and out in 2-3 minutes each. And they were excellent.

If I ever build another brick oven, please shoot me. I mean, I’ll make it more massive and better insulated. Also, getting the hang of Naples-style pizza dough, which you make a few days in advance and let chill until a few hours before you’ll be using it – slightly sour taste, excellent stretchy texture for making those lovely thin-crust pizzas that work so well in a brick oven. (I honestly cringed a little when the kids were manhandling those beautiful dough balls on the way to making cheese and olive or pepperoni over store-bought sauce pizzas – but that’s what they were there for! Deep breath. I do love kids more than cooking. Really. And they had a blast.)

Great fun. Looking forward to doing it again next year.

4. Finally, I compulsively reread this bit of flash fiction fluff, and got a little worried that people might think I was making fun of Southerners, when nothing was farther from my mind – Edgar and Bill are perfectly competent adults who love telling tales and maybe messing with the out of towner a bit. Colorful locals, in other words, not red neck morons. I worry some people don’t know the difference, one difference being that, in my experience, there are many more of the former than the latter.

Anyway, came across this YouTube video, wherein an English shipwright is rebuilding the Tally Ho, a hundred year old classic harbor clipper style racing yacht. He’s rebuilding it in Washington state, but needed a lot of extra-sturdy Southern live oak for the structural members.

Turns out that a man named Steve Cross in southern Georgia runs the only mill in America that handles live oak – the very characteristics that make it ideal for ship structural members render it very difficult and uneconomical for commercial mills to deal with. So Steve builds his own Rube Goldberg style mill out of parts from tractors, forklifts and combines and whatever else was lying around, and serves ship builders and restorers around the world.

He’s clearly a mechanical genius of sorts – and is just as clearly one of those colorful locals messing a bit – a completely friendly bit – with English Leo the shipwright.

Weather Oops

Two weeks back, went way out on a limb, thrill seeker that I am, and predicted the end of the 2017-2018 rainy season here in Bay Area. It rarely rains much after March, was the impeccable logic used.

Oops.

current rain map
Current radar rain map as of 9:00 a.m. Thursday. 

The system moving our way:

forecast rain
A ‘Pineapple Express’ situation: tropical moisture from around Hawaii heading straight at us, getting sucked up into a swirly Gulf of Alaska storm hitting British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. 

Current prediction is for an inch or more of rain in the lowlands, 2 to 4 inches in the mountains and hills by Saturday morning. Rain at the Casa de Moore supposed to start tonight. The odd part: as of now (these things change) the storm is moving north east in such a way as to miss Southern California entirely.

Should rake across the Sierra pretty solidly from north to south. Since (as of now) that norther colder storm isn’t supposed to push very far south, the snow level will be very high, like 7,000 or even 8,000 feet in most of the Sierra. The ski resorts will be happy for the most part, but this won’t help the snowpack any lower down. Unless the cold air pushes down south, which it sometimes does. More rain is predicted for next week as well, but with the high level of uncertainty that accompanies forecasts more than 3 days out.

So, um, yea, looks like April will be a bit rainier than average this year.

My original estimate was that we’d come in with something like 75% of average rainfall for the year here in Contra Costa County. We’re sitting at 73.5% right now, based on a weighted average across the 30 rain gauges of the local flood control district. An inch or two more rain will bring that up past 80%, which is only panic zone if your panic threshold is very low. Snowpack affect too early to call.

For those new to my local weather obsession, I got into this because 1) California’s state hobby seems to be panicking over droughts, which seem to be defined, roughly, as any water situation that’s not as good as the better situations we’ve seen over the last 30 or 40 years; 2) there’s a bunch of good current data available (I really do need to send that fan letter to the Contra Costa Flood Control District, which throw tons of great stuff up on the Web for free – brings a tear to me eye!); 3) it is apparently required by law for bureaucrats and media-critters to mention climate change no matter what happens, good, bad or average.

It is in my self-appointed role as Science! monitor that I aggregate these things and point out the odd fact, such as that the really good data really only goes back 30-40 years. Before that, we had somebody manually spot-checking snow depth or rain gauges or thermometers in a very few locations across a huge, very geologically diverse state – and even that only goes back maybe 150, 175 years. Everything else we think we know are reconstructions based on assumptions – nothing wrong with that, per se, as long as we remember such reconstructions are really not a lot better than educated but still rough guesses. We must factor in a high level of uncertainty.

Think of this weather thing as a case study in how an amatuer can think his way through the scientific evidence.

Actual versus Potential: Aristotle and Quantum Probability

I only understand maybe 50% (and that may be optimistic) of the esteemed William Briggs’ latest post, but must share: Quantum Potency & Probability.

Here’s my take on the issue: I’ve heard most of my life about how, at a quantum level, reality is probabilistic. What this seems to mean to people propounding it is that reality, viewed on a fine enough level, is not governed by the laws of cause and effect, nor even by the law of noncontradiction. Things can come into being and pass out of being for no reason; and some things can truly be said to both be and not be at the same time in the same way.

To be fair, it’s not often put exactly like that, but it sometimes seems to be. ( As is almost always the case, the better the scientist, the more careful they are about how they express themselves. Heisenberg was a great scientist, and so he was generally careful. His acolytes, and especially those who use him as a club with which to beat their enemies, not so much.) And to honest, as mentioned above, it’s not like I understand the math or even the finer points of the experimentation that is claimed to lead to these assertions. What I do understand is that math is not reality, however useful and even indispensable math may be to our understanding and using of the world.

In his book on the philosophy of statistical analysis Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics (which I still need to reread and review here! Time eats life, as some French dude once said) Dr. Briggs takes great care to distinguish between epistemology – how we understand things – and ontology – how things are. Applied mathematics belongs to the world of epistemology. I am reminded of a section of the Feynman lectures where he pauses after having filled a couple large blackboards with equations to note that it sure took a lot of math to describe what was, essentially, a simple motion, and that nature in doing what it does certainly isn’t doing all that math.

Related imageAnd, for me, that is the point. Just because quanta are nigh impossible to see and measure and appear to behave in incomprehensible ways doesn’t mean that their states are not caused, nor that they are anything other than what they are regardless of what we are able to deduce about what they are. It is a radical and unnecessary step, and contradicts the minimalist approach embodied in Occam’s Razor, to assume a new principle: that there are classes of uncaused phenomena, not just phenomena the causes of which we don’t yet understand.

The discussion on Dr. Briggs’ blog is far more nuanced and deep than my feeble understanding. One part I do understand, and which is commonly discussed on this blog: Insofar as science actually advances, they are following Aristotle and not any of the post 1630 philosophers. (1) Hylomorphism – the understanding that any object in the real world that we can consider is made up of form and matter – is, of course, how science routinely understands the world, even if the terminology has been beaten out of it. Modern science desperately wants there to be material and efficient causes only, and so does its best to pretend that there are no formal or final causes. This results in the absurdity of saying, for example, that a bird’s wings are not *for* flying, that it is not possible to describe them in terms of how they are to be used.

Of course, nobody talks this way except when pushed to the wall. But our analytic philosopher comrades, living on the cutting edge of the early Enlightenment, must insist that we don’t know and can’t meaningfully talk about formal and final causes lest we fall into the trap of *gasp* metaphysics. Can’t have that. Can’t live without it, either, but that just makes them mad.

Anyway, the most fascinating idea:

Additionally, hylomorphism entails a gradual spectrum of material beings with greater degrees of potentiality to greater degrees of actuality. Something has greater actuality if it has more determinate form (or qualities) and something has higher potency if it is more indeterminate with respect to being more receptacle to various forms. For example, a piece of clay has higher potency insofar as it is more malleable than a rock and thus more receptacle to various forms. A rock can likewise be modified to receive various forms, but it requires a physical entity with greater actuality or power to do so because it has more more determinate form as a solid object… [H]ylormophism predicts that you will find higher levels of potency because you are getting closer to prime matter. This is precisely what we find in QM. The macroscopic world has more actuality, which is why we experience it as more definite or determinate, whereas the microscopic world has far less actuality, thereby creating far less determinate behavioral patterns.

Briggs quoting Gil Sanders “An Aristotelian Approach to Quantum Mechanics” (which I haven’t read yet, but will). My paraphrase: the higher up a thing is on the scale of being – the more ensouled, the more natural in the sense of having a fuller nature – the more primary is form. The lower one goes, the less primary is form. Thus I am a human animal, among the most natural objects in the universe, one where over my 60 years has had pretty much all the matter in my body swapped out one or more times. Yet no one sane doubts that my form – human animal – has persisted through all those changes. Once we get down to barely perceptible objects, we barely are able to perceive their form at all – all we can see are the mysterious undulations of prime matter as various forms subsume it. And this is what an Aristotelian would expect: less or lower forms, less nature, less definition.

Mind blown. I’m going to need to think this over a lot.

  1. 1630, more or less, is the year Descartes retreated to his room, drew the curtains, contemplated his navel and started producing the anti-Thomist philosophy that spawned all the crap since. I wouldn’t object to using 1517 as the real start date, but it’s Easter Week! We’re playing nice!