TMI

Let’s do this like good poetry: start with the immediate, move to the universal, then bring it back home.

For the first time in several years, I seem to have caught a cold or maybe the flu. Or maybe the Dreaded Coof. Since I don’t have either of the only two distinguishing symptoms – no sudden acute respiratory issues, and sense of taste is as good as it’s ever been – I’m sticking with ‘flu’ on the ancient principle that distinctions that make no difference should be ignored.

My wife and son are also under the weather, although my wife has long been bulletproof as far as minor illnesses go, and so she’s acting as if she’s fine. If she ever really looked and acted sick, I’d be taking her to the emergency room. The son has a bit of asthma, which amplifies the effects of any sort of cold or flu, so he’s a little more out of it.

(Aside: could you imagine anything more tedious than people typing up and detailing their flu symptoms on a blog? For crying out loud, in the distant past of 2 whole years ago, such a one would be regaling anyone he could button hole over by the water cooler, and be avoided if at all possible. Now? It’s an art form. There will probably end up being a Pulitzer category for most epic description of a minor illness. The competition will be stiff.)

Day 3 – today – woke up at the usual time, took the traditional (for me) acetaminophen/ibuprofen + vitamin C and cough drops cocktail, and went back to bed. Now, a few hours later, I’m doing OK, much better than yesterday. Went from ‘eh’ on Monday morning to bouts of shivering in the evening (30 minutes in a hot bathtub works wonders on that). Slept half the day on Tuesday. I’m betting on ‘feeling tired’ as the outcome on Thursday.

Big whoop. I’ve now had two of my 4 living kids get the Coof with about this level of symptoms or less, and dozens of friends and acquaintances. A total of zero deaths and one hospitalization – an 87 year old who made a quick recovery.

I have sympathy for anyone who lost a loved one over the last two years. I don’t know anyone who has lost a reasonably healthy loved one to the Coof – anyone, that is, that they were emotionally and geographically close enough to to know first hand how healthy they were. (This long disclaimer is occasioned by friends who lost a relative living 10,000 miles away. Just no way to tell much of anything about such a situation.) What I don’t have too much sympathy for is people who put mom in a nursing home who then are sure the Coof killed her, who then try to guilt me for not caring. No, nursing homes are where people are warehoused until they die, mostly within 6 to 9 months. At worst, the Coof sped it up a little; more likely, the Coof showed up on the death cert because that way the nursing home gets government money for caring for a Kung Flu patient.

We had a wedding and reception last weekend. Under the soon to be tightened up rules from our self-appointed betters, such gatherings will be forbidden. Cost and benefits are not being weighed here.

(Now for the real TMI.) It should go without saying that such weddings and receptions are the stuff upon which any civilization worth having is built. My wife and I were married in 1987. We raised 5 kids with, essentially, no help from either of our families. I can make excuses for them, but the base reality is that neither family cared enough to make it happen. Both our families of origin are torn apart in various ways – geography, goals, beliefs – and by various hurts both petty and profound.

My wife and I were very aware of this, and decided to do whatever we can to not let it happen to our kids. First, we work together, and stay together. For reasons that I can’t say I understand, our kids have all become best friends for each other. One cute example: younger daughter drove older daughter to her wedding in my convertible, so older daughter insisted on driving younger daughter to her wedding in my car as well. It just seemed like the thing to do to them.

The kids stay in touch with each other constantly; they have made trips, sometimes cross country trips, to visit each other while they were in school. Now, 2 live close to each other, a third is talking about moving closer once he’s done with grad school, and the youngest is with us. And we’re planning to move much closer to both daughters ASAP.

This should be no big deal, it should be something anybody with kids would be hoping to do, anybody with beloved siblings would want. But is it? Instead, a marriage as traditionally understood, where the whole goal is 1) for the spouses to support and sustain each other; and 2) produce and raise children, is laughed off stage, replaced with ‘fulfillment’ or some other seductive ephemera. Over the last 30 years, marriage was first mocked (my wife and I, living in San Francisco, were personally so mocked by gay men) as something only stupid ‘breeders’ did. Then marriage was invaded, then destroyed.

Our little experience of non-support from our families is now the norm. Kids (if any) are expected to leave the nest – and never look back. Not that it would matter – people my age and maybe 10 to 20 years younger seem to be far too self-absorbed to even consider making changes, let alone sacrifices, for kids who probably hardly know them and don’t really like them.

Which brings us back to weddings and receptions, celebrations of exactly those family ties most hated by our current cockroach overlords. Such events held in the cold of winter (even here in California it gets cold-ish) are really good places to catch a cold, the flu, or even – gasp! – the Coof! So – do we stop doing it? Do refuse to live well so that we can ‘live’ wrapped in bubble wrap and terror?

So, I sincerely hope all the other guests are OK, if, indeed, the wedding festivities are where we picked this bug up. (Probably not, right? 2-day incubation seems pretty quick. More likely picked it up earlier in the week? But what do I know?). I, for one, would not have traded the wedding gatherings for any mere safety from a cold or flu – “It’s a dangerous business, walking out one’s front door”.

How to Lie with Data

It was Chesterton, I think, who said: No lie is more dangerous than when it is very nearly true. Propaganda is much more about very nearly telling the truth than about out and out lies. The big lies, the ones repeated over and over until they have beaten down the weak, are usually built upon small half truths. But even the most dedicated propagandist tells the truth much of the time – just not the whole truth.

So we hear that, finally, CDC officials have acknowledged that 43% Covid hospitalizations are *with* not *for* Covid; and that in 75% of Covid deaths the deceased had 4 or more ‘comorbidities’.

Statements such as these should cause a sane person not to trust anything the CDC says. Why is this being mentioned now, when those of us capable of looking at the data could have told- and did tell! – you the same thing back in March of 2020? So one is left playing Kremlinology, trying to suss out why we are being told this now, when one was labelled a terrorist for mentioning it a month ago?

Tedious but necessary background. Looking at any old actuarial mortality table for the US, we see the following pattern: almost everybody lives to be at least 50, then, between ages 50 and 100, almost everybody dies. Before about age 80, most Americans are dead. Between 50 and 80, a little less than half of all Americans die; the other little less than half die between 80 and 100. (Or so – only a comparatively tiny number make it past 100.)

From age 1 to 50, comparatively few people die. Leading causes of death in this age range are accidents, murders, suicides, plus some number of people who just drew a bad hand, and were sickly or caught some nasty disease. But taken all together, less than 8% of men and 4.5% of women don’t make it to 50. By comparison, a mere 15 years later, at age 65, 20% of all American males are dead – it took 50 years to kill off the first 8%, and only 15 to kill off the next 12%. The death rate accelerates from there. A 50 year old man runs only about a .5% chance of death that year; a 90 year old man has a 16% chance of death that year.

This should be common sense. Certainly, we are much more surprised and saddened when somebody under 50 dies; when somebody over 80 dies, it is, or should be, no shock at all.

Keeping this all in mind, let’s talk about ‘comorbidities’. I have 2 comorbidities – I’m fat, and have high blood pressure. Eventually – sooner rather than later, as I’m 63 years old – these health problems are likely to catch up with me and could even kill me. But short term, like over the next 5 to 10 years, probably not, but there’s certainly no guarantee. So my comorbidities are a cause for concern (and action! working on it!), but they are not, so far, interfering with my day to day life.

Now let’s talk about the population where most of the attributed Coved deaths take place: those in nursing homes and hospitals. Such people also have comorbidities, usually a lot of them. But here’s the difference, what is being lied about through omission: the comorbidities of nursing home prisoners HAS destroyed their ability to function. Their health is so poor that they are put in special places where others can care for their most basic needs.

Comorbidities among nursing home incarcerees typically include such things as cancer, renal failure, heart problems, severe respiratory problems. The CDC rules don’t allow ‘old age’ as a cause of death, so, when an old person whose body is failing in a hundred ways finally passes on, the doctor is forced to put something, or some short list of somethings, as the cause of death. Prior to the Covid panic, heart failure and pneumonia were top causes.

In this environment, where a large number of people are awaiting death, and where any old cold or flu is likely to push them over the edge, we add Covid. AND we put in very loose guidelines for a Covid diagnosis, AND we financially incent people to care for Covid patients, AND we remove all independent oversight (visitors) – well, it turns out an awful lot of people, with comorbiditeis like lung cancer and congestive heart failure are all the sudden showing up as Covid deaths.

While it is refreshing to see the CDC talking about comorbidities at all, it would be much more honest (yeah, like that’s gonna happen) to talk about where these people are dying – namely, nursing homes and hospitals. In a nursing home? You’re not long for this world,* Covid or not; not in a nursing home or otherwise very ill? Covid is no worry at all, no more than a cold or flu.

*with the usual caveat that those in dementia care sometimes live years until the decay of their bodies catches up with the decay of their minds. But those in for basic bodily sickness are unlikely to last for more than a year or so, usually much less.

Three Quotations and a Link and an UPDATE

Off in a bit to begin the ceremonies – rehearsal, rehearsal dinner today, then wedding and reception tomorrow – demarking the handing off of Younger Daughter to her husband.

UPDATE: Logistics are a bit – interesting for this wedding. The church is a little over an hour away, near where Younger Daughter lives; the hall where the reception will be is about 20 minutes from there. BUT: the team doing the catering is my middle son (bride’s older brother) and his lovely wife of all of 6 months. They both have years of experience in food service, so it’s not as crazy as it seems. Issue: our nice kitchen has been volunteered for all the food prep – an hour and a half away from the hall. The hall also has a nice kitchen. The proprietors of the hall generously allowed us access starting at 3:00 today for a reception that start around noon tomorrow. But (almost) everybody involved is in the wedding itself, so we need to do as much set up between 3:00 and 4:40 (5:00 start of the rehearsal, a 20 minute drive away). Then, morning of, do the final cooking of the hot stuff so that it comes out warm around noon.

Future son-in-law knows a big Catholic family, the patriarch of which also knows my middle son and his wife – two of his daughters worked with them in the kitchens at Thomas Aquinas College. So, as we’re prepping here like mad, son gets a call from the matriarch of the above large family asking: how many of my kids do you want me to send over to help? So three daughters, two of whom have worked with and for my son, will be meeting the posse at the reception hall at 3:00 to help with set up and prep. Pretty darn cool. One friend of a friend also volunteered to get the cooking started morning of the wedding.

So, it’s working out. I rented a house for tonight in the neighborhood of the church, so we all can crash after the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and the finishing touches on the reception hall, and mom can support the bride without a 1:30 (at least – there’s snow on the mountains, skiers will be jamming the road Saturday morning) drive. Again, we are grateful and blessed.

So, quotations – first up: Eddie Burke, because why not?

Where trade and manufactures are wanting to a people, an the spirit of nobility and religion remains, sentiment supplies, and not always ill supplies their place; but if commerce and the arts should be lost in an experiment to try how well a state may stand without these old fundamental principles, what sort of a thing must be a nation of gross, stupid, ferocious, and at the same time, poor and sordid barbarians, destitute of religion, honor, or manly pride, possessing nothing at present, and hoping for nothing hereafter? I wish you may not be going fast, and by the shortest cut, to that horrible and disgustful situation. Already there appears a poverty of conception, a coarseness and vulgarity in all the proceedings of the assembly and of all their instructors. Their liberty is not liberal. Their science is presumptuous ignorance. Their humanity is savage and brutal.

Reflections on the Revolution in France

And

All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about in many instances by means the most absurd and ridiculous; in the most ridiculous modes; and apparently, by the most contemptible instruments. Every thing seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.
In viewing this tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror.

Ditto
Ready, Eddy?

The consistently incisive and depressingly accurate analysis of Clarissa, who grew up under the Soviet Union and teaches at Woke State someplace, commenting on the thought processes of the Supreme Court considered as a bunch of aging Boomers:

Sotomayor has already asked how “a human spewing virus is different from a machine spewing sparks.” As one’s brain ossifies with age, one begins to perceive the world through analogy. Everything gets referred back to one’s past experience. Everything is “just like.” Accepting that anything can be genuinely new means facing that one is outdated, possibly even mortal. And no, not every old person is like that. There are rare but important exceptions. For the most part, though, this is exactly how it works. If you don’t subject your brain to rigorous daily training in processing new information from new sources, you will become that sad old fart who “justlikes” every conversation into the ground.

And her further thoughts. Sigh. I’m so sick of her being right.

Finally, a slightly more amusing quotation:

“Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it.”

St. Philip Neri

Probably check in again next week. Until then, party hardy.

Old Guy’s Books

This is how it always works for me:

  1. Son and lovely daughter-in-law are in from Denver for little sis’s wedding, and, heroically, have offered to do all the reception food (they both have much experience in the food service industry; we have a nice, big kitchen). So the kitchen has been taken over;
  2. I have my computer and books for the history class I’m teaching on the kitchen table. So I need to put them back on my bedroom office desk.
  3. The bedroom office desk and the floor around it were filled with books and papers – I’m using it as the staging area for packing up the bedroom. And, frankly, I’ve just been piling up all the education history and some of the sci-fi I’m supposed to be reading. The idea is to pack up the books I’m unlikely to need for at least the next 3-4 months and stick them in the front of the garage until we get the Pods to stick them in.
  4. The front of the garage is full of largely undifferentiated ‘stuff’ the largest single component of which is – books. 20+ boxes of books that we’ve never unpacked since (at least) 16 years ago when we had to pack up for the remodel.
  5. These boxes have been rifled through repeatedly as kids went to school, looking for copies of the Classics, of which we have at least 2 copies, one from my collection and one from the spousal unit’s collection from when we both studied Great Books.
  6. These boxes of rifled through books were no longer tape sealed and, having had some books pulled from many of them, had sort of collapsed, the upper ones crushing the empty space out of the lower ones. So I can’t just throw more boxes of book on top, without risking further collapse and damage.
  7. Rats. Yep, they’re enough space under the door for rats to have gotten into the front part of the garage. Nothing too recent-looking, but – rats, and the messes and shredding that entails. Icky.

Sooooo – in order to clear my desk so that I can work, I needed, as the essential beginning of a series of steps, to clean up and repack 20+ largish boxes of books so that they were sturdy enough to stack yet MORE boxes of books on top, THEN pack up some books and papers in my bedroom and move them into the garage.

Now, I’m a piker as a reader – I read, but every since we’ve had kids, if I get more than 2 books read in a month, that’s a lot for me. But that adds up over time, and, when I was younger, I read more. Wife is the same. And then there’s the dozens of books I’ve bought that I’ve yet to read for my education history obsession… Inside the house, just counting the ground floor, there are at least a dozen full size bookcases packed with the books we have unpacked. Every one of 4 bedroom upstairs has at least a bookcase full. So, those 20 or so boxes in the garage represent a minority of our books.

AND and – of course, I’ve got to look at some of the books and papers… I found, for example, a collection of letters to the editors I wrote from 1989; funny (at least to me) memos and projects from work from the same period. Evidently, I would draft up what I wanted to say, file it, then do the boring actual writing the bosses wanted. You work in Insurance, you do what must.

On the plus side, found a couple books I’d been missing, in the sense that I couldn’t lay my hands on them when last I looked in the amount of time I was willing to devote to the task:

The Barnard bio is the short one I was looking for when I found the much longer one I did read; the Lafferty I wanted for some quotations for my students. Both were right where they were supposed to be, but somehow I didn’t see them until I started pulling and reorganizing books…

The Great Pack Up and Move has now begun in earnest. This New Year, I also need to crack a book when i get up in the morning, rather than wasting an hour or two surfing the net. Otherwise, I really won’t live long enough to read all this stuff.

Predictions from Last Year, and for This Year

William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, asks every year for his readers to make predictions, then, early the next year, scores those predictions. I play along and then promptly forget them until reminded the following year when Briggs publishes the results.

His rules:

  1. Number your predictions, using numbers, like this.
  2. Limit your predictions to 5, a number less than 6 or more.
  3. No sports.
  4. Be specific and provide a way to verify your projections.
  5. Attach a probability word if you are less than certain.
  6. Verified predictions of our coming Doom will receive very little weight unless they are quite specific.

Here are mine for 2021, with Brigg’s comments after the quotation, and my comments in bold italics after that:

My 2021 predictions:

1. “By year end, the state will begin to take away the children of those who fail to comply with ‘public health’ orders, for the kids protection.” This indeed happened, but in isolated cases, usually divorces. Will pick up this year.

2. “A cold war will grow between the schools and those parents who (finally) see what the schools teach.” This happened, you terrorists. Will get worse.

3. “The lockdown it simply too intoxicating to ever end. A new strain will be ‘discovered’, CHILDREN ARE DYING!!!” Yes, twice over. Bingo.

4. “Websites such as this will either be simply eliminated, or, if small enough, shadow-banned.” We are shadow-banned in at least several universities, as anons have written to say.

5. “The election fraud stands, but something else – the inevitable power struggle among the victors, the sudden, unexpected collapse of China, somebody key breaking ranks, enough people starting to actively resist…” Not quite. I don’t remember exactly what I was predicting here – more chaos than we got, something like that. Maybe this year.

Here are mine for 2022:

  1. 2022 is the year the Branch Covidians are phased out and the Greta Fan Club takes over: more and more controls are enforced and less and less freedoms allowed, but the alleged cause gradually switches from fauxvid to Climate Change ™.
  2. Similarly, our all but mandated social scores, currently based on ‘vax’ status, will come to include some sort of carbon score or suchlike.
  3. “The rich” discover that they are not homogenous. The unending power struggles among our betters increase as saner heads try to reign things in. The Soroses and Buffetts of the world may have enough wealth in enough areas to ride out almost anything, but some people who imagine they are wealthy are going to discover they aren’t. Some rich people, for example, have much of their wealth in shipping or airlines. They are not as happy with the direction of things as are the more satanic vermin like Soros, whose fortune is based on currency manipulation. This one is likely complicated to verify, but can be read between the lines when certain industries push back against the control mechanisms.
  4. Public school attendance falls sharply. Private schools boom even as laws and regulations are enforced against them. Conflicts move from school board meetings into the actual schools. (Again, could be hard to verify, as the only reporting will frame the parents as ‘terrorists’ if it gets reported at all.)
  5. Prayers that the pope speedily comes to enjoy his eternal reward will increase in frequency and fervor, but he will hang on for another year.

You heard it here first! Maybe.

Obsessing About Weather: Acting Normally (for me)

Let’s take ourselves on wings of nostalgia as it were and try to help ourselves forget, perhaps, for a while, our drab wretched lives: Let us return to a subject written about here before the world lost its mind. All 12 longtime readers might recall my neurotic obsession interest in California weather. My interest was at first piqued by the incessant harping on and doomsday predictions over what, when looked at objectively, was just typical California weather. Namely: precipitation varies a lot from year to year here in the Golden State. Most years, we get less than average rainfall. Some years, we get a lot more than average rainfall. That’s the pattern evident in the data since there has data to look at.

So, a few years in a row of below average rainfall is not a drought. In any decade, you might get 5, 6, 7 years of below average rainfall, sometimes in a row. Such a pattern seems to simply be the way weather works here on the West Coast, at least since the last glacial maximum ended 10,000 years ago. The existence of California’s extensive system of reservoirs and canals testifies that at some point, some Californians understood that this is the pattern – and built a lot of reservoirs in an attempt to even it out a bit. That these reservoirs are sometimes near empty is a feature, not a bug. If they were always full, that would mean that precipitation around the state was always orderly and consistent. If they were always full, we wouldn’t need them.

Similarly, the three major rivers in the L.A. basin have been turned into concrete lined storm channels. 100 years ago, Angelinos got tired of having their city washed away about every decade, and so made sure the water from the occasional epic storm had somewhere to go. Most years, there will be more skateboarders than water in those channels. But once in a while…

Calling ‘average’ ‘normal’, so that mundane variation become, not ‘below average’, but ‘abnormal’ simply adds to the atmosphere of panic.

So: for the last year, we’ve been hearing about how California had sunk into an unprecedented drought since the epic rain year of 2016/2017 when, you may recall, 200%+ of average rainfall and snowpack nearly washed out the Oroville Dam. the state’s largest reservoir. That ended the then current unprecedented ‘drought’. Before that, the 2005/2006 epic rain year ended another unprecedented drought. And so on, back through the decades. As one remarkably sane meteorologist put it. there are only a few storms between drought and plenty in California.

How are we doing this year? Glad you asked. According to my crazy spread sheet*:

The at a glance summary section of my spreadsheet. The “gages over %” numbers show how many of the 32 total gages have reached the various arbitrary milestones. I’m just amusing myself.

The real accuracy here is probably more in the range of 10 percentage points, rather than the displayed 1/100th of a percentage point -but where’s the fun in that? So, despite the faux accuracy above, we’re really more like something between 70 and 80% of the season average as of today.

Any still here and not drifting into a coma may be interested in the overall pattern of rainfall over time in Contra Costa County, which I’ve determined from other datasets:

Again, while it would be easy (I do it all the time) to come up with a bunch of reasons why it’s wrong to do the math this way, and wrong to mix data from different sets, and so on, it’s also reciprocally hard to come up with any reasons the number would be very off – a bunch of different people calculating rainfall over many years and over a fairly contained and consistent area are not likely to get significantly different results.

The rain season here stretches from July through the following June. The seasonal pattern is something like this: On average, about 16% of total rainfall falls from July through November; about 10% falls in April, May, and June. The other 74% falls in December, January, February, and March.

Using the above as a baseline, as of the end of December, we get on average about 35% of our season total rainfall. This year, we’re at over 200% of expected average rainfall to date so far, and about 75% of the average seasonal total – with the bulk of the rainy season still to come. The Sierra snowpack, the melting of which following summer replenishes many reservoirs, is in a similar state: about 150% of average to date, about 50% of seasonal average.

So, we can stop worrying about the drought for now? Well – no. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the rain and snow to just – stop. A near or completely dry month or two or three, even the peak months, happens regularly. It would be a little unusual if, after a very rainy first half of the season, we got a very dry second half – but hardly unprecedented.

Isn’t this all fascinating? No?

The table is set for a nice 200% year, which would shut up the drought doomsayers for a while, at least. Yet, alas, even only 100% isn’t a sure bet at this point. I’ll keep y’all posted.

*The Contra Costa County Flood Control District maintains a set of 32 rain gages spread across the county. These gages are meant to track current rainfall against a set of “critical antecedent conditions” so as to allow predictions of flooding. The tables on the web page are automatically updated every 15 minutes, allowing the obsessive attentive observer to watch the rainfall spread out across the county in almost real time. These gages are situated at various altitudes and terrain, so that the experts at the CCC Flood Control District can see where the water is piling up and where it will go. I misuse these gages to measure broad rainfall totals, doing a series of logically and mathematically dubious sums and calculations in order to arrive at the magic number you see above – EXACTLY 76.93% of expected seasonal rainfall has, well, fallen so far. Riiiight. Summing up rainfall and averages across a range of gages and then dividing to get percentages – not strictly scientific. I also do averages of averages, which also has its shortcomings. BUT – I tell myself – the situation is such that these iffy methods are probably roughly right. I’m not applying for grant money are trying to whip up some panic here – I just like taking a stab at a broader measure of rainfall.

The Predicament & “Experts”

(Wow – that last Predicament post was all over the place. There’s a real idea in there someplace, at least I imagine there is. Here’s another crack at it.)

When I was 23? 24? I thought I’d like to go to grad school and get a masters in – Liturgy. No, really. The reasoning was as bass ackwards as it sounds: I had already learned a little about the Catholic Mass and traditions through a volunteer job I had after graduation, and wanted to share my (24 year old. Sheesh.) wisdom – but nobody’s going to listen to me! But if I had a *masters* in Liturgy, they’d have to! Right?

And then it dawned on me: that’s all supposed expertise is, in the ‘reality will not be allowed to disprove you’ world of most academics- I get the advanced degree so that I can push my own special brand of nonsense on the world, and they have to listen because I’m an *expert*! In the vastly less popular ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ fields such as engineering or even business, your degree might get you a job, but you run a real risk of losing that job if you fail to perform. Not so with ‘education’ or social work or the odd liberal arts degree. Those are ‘reputational’ fields, success at which consists of getting and maintaining a suitable reputation among others in that field.

Impressive-sounding degrees really help get that reputation going. There’s also a strong feedback loop: once you get that Master’s or PhD or law degree, you become part of the pool of people who set reputations. Since their reputations begin with the sort of official certification they have received – he’s a *doctor*! She’s a *lawyer*! – people in the field are very unlikely to disparage such degrees, at least to ‘laymen’. To take an extreme example: people who get a degree in Gender Studies will not get very far – build a solid reputation in the field – by disparaging Gender Studies degrees. Perhaps lawyers among themselves talk about law as the votech field it is, I don’t know. But just try having an opinion about law around a lawyer, and see how fast (however subtly) they will mount their defense upon the barbican of their degree. Since the whole law degree/bar exam thing was set up as a way to restrict supply (and raise prices/income) by what are effectively lawyer’s guilds, the magic of the law degree must first of all be defended against laymen. John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, who practiced law rather successfully without the benefit of formal academic training in law, are not the model here, regardless of their reputations.

Over time, the highest reputations in reputational fields will necessarily be held by the people who pay the most attention to reputations. Thus, when introduced to such people, we will often find out quickly their degrees, where their PhD was obtained and where they teach, maybe about some publication that enhanced their reputation in the field. Most important, these high-reputation people then become the gatekeepers of – reputation.

Such people then generalize their expertise. Reputation comes to equal brilliance – he teaches at Stanford or Harvard! He must be an expert! A genius, even! Such a one’s intellectual dogs are soon off the leash, so to speak, nosing about in every field that smells promising. Given the feedback loop of reputational fields described above, if I, the sort of glib poser who is the type-specimen here, hold a degree and agree with the experts in my field, I am likewise a genius and an expert! I of course will pay a certain reverence to my betters in my field, as a primitive worships the sun whose light is the source of his reflected glory. But to outsiders, I am a recognized expert! Bow to me!

First order of business for the expert class: keep the non-credentialed posers in line. In business school, I had to take a business ethics class. Can virtue be taught? Who cares, as long as there’s a paying gig to offer required classes in it. The prof was as bad as you might imagine, a procedure obsessed self-righteous prick. He’d explain his grading methodology in elaborate detail, so we’d all know how fair and transparent it was, and then ask us open ended moral questions for which there were no wrong answers unless he didn’t like them.

He didn’t like mine very much.

Seriously, how does one become an *expert* in business ethics? Is there this long noble tradition of business ethicists, experts in how to be virtuous at business, respected if not loved by their enlightened and now equally virtuous students? To ask the question is to laugh. Instead, a vita is constructed wherein degrees and studies and even experience are aligned in such a way as to make the claim of expertise in business ethics palatable – to the ‘experts’ on the hiring committee. Oh, he studied philosophy, and then worked in industry where he was on an ethical review committee? Then got a PhD in something? Good enough! Once you get that first job as a professor of business ethics, that becomes the star of your vita, and the battle is over.

Similarly, there is science, and there is policy. They are not the same thing, any more than the principles of business are morality. The charge of the electron is something scientists – Mikkelsen and his successors – figured out in a series of elegant experiments. Arsenic was isolated by Albertus Magnus, and, centuries earlier, a process to isolate it was described by Jabir ibn Hayyan (I had to look that one up – full disclosure). But knowing everything about the observable properties of electrons or arsenic tells us nothing about whether we should drive an electric car or poison somebody.

The Predicament rears its ugly head: we want to follow somebody, an expert seems like somebody good to follow, but we humans seem incapable of distinguishing what, exactly, an expert is an expert *in*, let alone only following the lead of experts insofar as what they are leading us through is what they are experts in.

We seem – I think, maybe not, the world is insane – to know that an auto mechanic fixes cars, but is not by that fact an expert on where or how you ought to drive the car he just fixed for you. Somehow, we shelve this simple, obvious truth when faced with more decorated and aggressive (and thin-skinned) experts.

Our predicament: most of us all of the time, and all of us some of the time, must rely on somebody else’s opinions. We have been taught to rely on the opinions of experts. We have not been taught to question the nature and limits of expertise. Therefore, most of us all of the time, and all of us some of the time, are made uncomfortable if not angry by the mere thought of pushing back or questioning the limits of expert opinion.

In the expert opinion of the founders of this nation and of centuries of English law, the most crucial, life and death decisions are too important to leave to experts. What else are trials by jury and elections than the manifestation of our long-standing distrust of experts?

Yet, as a people we are lost, terrified, and angered by anyone who questions the approved experts. This needs to stop. An expert worth respecting acknowledges the limits of his own expertise. Does he have special knowledge of proper policy? Really? How did he get it? If not, why is he attempting to dictate policy?

Merry Christmas! Links, Music & Good Wishes

May the blessings and happiness of this holy season come to you and yours!

First: my favorite carol:

Love everything about this – the lyrics, the song, the performance. Wonderful.

Next, this had me weeping like a baby – in a good way. Via Caroline Furlong’s blog:

The culture our enemies want to kill.

Foxfier shared this metal version of Angels We Have Heard on High. This singer actually sounds like he’s seen some angels – after recovering from being terrified out of your wits, you’d not be singing about the vision like some whimpy kid’s choir. You’d be belting it out like you mean it!

Finally, at Midnight Mass the choir sang Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium, which I have written about before. This polished gem of a work may be the most perfect motet ever written. It’s certainly among the most beautiful and profound:

Merry Christmas!

The Predicament

(4;30 a.m., wide awake, so let’s blog!)

What I’m here calling the Predicament is something with a thousand faces, touched on in a million ways; Pournelle’s Iron Law, Gell-Mann Amnesia Affect, herd mentality, group think, mass psychosis, class distinctions, compulsory schooling, ‘news’, ‘political campaigns’, sports fandom, and I’ll think of more.

Call it human nature, if you want. Or, better, canine nature. Even allowing for the irresistible tendency of people to project human motivations onto the behaviors of dogs (itself yet another example of the Predicament), dogs and people have a lot in common. When we say dogs are pack animals, what we mean is that the typical dog just wants to know who’s in charge. Dogs are easy to train, because, once the trainer establishes that he is in charge, the dog becomes eager to do what he wants. A skillful trainer first never lets the dog wonder who is in charge, and second is good at communicating what he wants the dog to do.* A happy dog is one that knows exactly where he stands in the pack hierarchy.

In feral packs, some dog becomes the alpha. Sometimes, there are battles between the alpha and wanna be alphas, but most often, the lead dog can just stare down any pretenders. The important part here: almost all the dogs just want to know who is in charge. They really don’t care which dog leads, they just want a leader. The average dog just wants to follow, and is really unhappy when he doesn’t know who to follow.

Once read a blogger’s story about being drummed out of the army. Turns out he was naturally immune to the intimidation techniques used by drill sergeants to break down the recruits.** When his would yell at and bully him, he just laughed, and couldn’t control himself. They had to get him out of there, fast, before he destroyed the whole process for the other recruits.

So: the Predicament. Whatever we may think, whatever we may pledge ourselves to, even when we are most rebellious – hell, sometimes *especially* when we’re most rebellious – what’s really going on is that we’re just looking to see who is the big dog, who it is that we’re supposed to follow.

(Agent Smith voice:) I had a little revelation, in my old age here: without ever trying, without ever even desiring it, I won almost every alpha male battle I was ever in. Now, while I may look a little like an alpha – 6’2″ tall and, as a young man at least, strapping – I’m about as intimidating as a puppy. BUT – by a combination of cluelessness and not having any f’s to give, I was simply immune to a lot of the gamesmanship and intimidation used to establish pecking orders. So, on sports teams, in social groups, in groups of volunteers, at work, when the subtle little games got played by which people are put in their places, I ignored them (if i were even aware of them) – and so I won. I got voted team captain, head of the crew, head of the department, the guy people looked to for ideas. People would see that I was not backing down and not being intimidated in any way, and assumed I was the alpha – and so I was.

Huh? Me? But the facts stand. I tell this story only to illustrate how desperately and reflexively people want a leader to follow.

So here is our predicament: wanting to belong -which, in practice, means wanting to know who to follow – is a need so dramatically and powerfully prior to any desire for the truth that the truth simply doesn’t enter into it. The truth will be sacrificed; hell, the truth will never be acknowledged. It is so dreadfully uncomfortable, so terrifying, really, to not know who you are following, that 2+2 really does equal 5, as far as you are concerned, for all of us most of the time, and for most of us all of the time.

The drumbeat of lies we’re being subjected to doesn’t even register with most people. They just want to know who is in charge, and find some relief in belonging to the vast herd of followers. The level of trauma needed to disabuse most of us probably exceeds death – many of us would rather die than to fall out with our group. We won’t even notice the inconsistencies, the hypocrisy, the insanity of our beliefs. When Goebbels said he could make a Brown from a Red in a couple weeks – turn a fanatical Communist into a fanatical Brownshirt – he meant that he, a master propogandist, could leave the fundamental fanaticism intact while changing the object of allegiance. He could take advantage of the fanatic’s overwhelming desire to belong to swap out the much less real object of his fanaticism.

And we, ourselves, we habitually skeptical few, will fall for some of it some of the time. We are only human, after all. The price of sanity is eternal vigilance, it seems.

*A little twist worth thinking about: dogs who are best at doing what the humans want get to breed; dogs who defy their humans don’t. Over time, only sports defy their humans.

** Militaries have learned over time that the more human instincts of the recruits need to be broken down and replaced with those that promote obedience and unit cohesion. That’s what basic training is all about. In the Civil War, all sorts of untrained volunteers quickly assembled into regiments and divisions and headed straight off into battle. When the guy next to him got blown apart, that volunteer turned out to be unimpressed by orders from his commanding officers – Ohio farm boys and New England shopkeeper’s sons tended to drop their arms and walk away after a few hours of battle, tops. So – boot camp, to minimize that sort of thing. They minimize it largely through – you guessed it, right? – peer pressure. The deserter is the outcast.

Year End(?) Update: Wedding, Writing, Stuff

I’m going to use the following feeble excuses for not writing here for over a week:

  1. Younger daughter is getting married in 3 weeks;
  2. I’m ‘working,’ mostly in the sense of worrying about and planning, the sale of our house in (we hope) March;
  3. It’s the week before Christmas.
  4. Volunteered to help the Caboose execute his Eagle Scout project, which tied up the better part of the last 2 weekends.
A local cemetery, managed by our parish, has suffered from neglect and vandals for many years. It is the resting place of many of the pioneers of our town, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. The local historical society as well as the parish and some of the neighbors have been trying to fix it up. The Caboose’s Eagle project: put in two benches, replace the vandalized and missing cross from the central monument, and clean up. Above: one of the benches, concrete still wet.
An epoxy resin cross (getting granite was not in the budget) affixed atop the central monument, from which vandals had destroyed the original. It came out way better than anticipated – this angle distorts the scale and might make it appear too small, but it’s not.

Other than that, I got nothing. What I have been doing:

A. Making Christmas gifts for the family. They are coming out nice, but, since it’s possible some of the recipients might read this blog, I’ll have to skip the pictures and of course any further details until they have been delivered.

B. Finishing the Gloria I’ve been working on, and working on the Kyrie. I’m at the point where I need to let the Gloria sit – I can keep tweaking it forever, but I probably will just let it go.

I switched over completely to composing in Musescore. It – just works, and revisions are so, so, much easier. Sigh. All that time mastering buggy whip making writing fair score by hand is now useless. My son-in-law swears by Musescore as a composition tool, as you can get instant playback as you go and the fair copy is a print command away. Beats stomping stuff out on piano, which is my usual method.

Sheepish request: any musicians out there with Musescore who would like to hear it/offer feedback? It’s all of 4 minutes long. If so, send me an email at yardsale of the mind (without the gaps) at G-mail dot etc. and I will email you the file.

C. Watching a Youtube series on counterpoint and fugal writing, based on Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassus. On the one hand, I know some of this stuff; on the other, I’m largely an ignorant fool. As I think Nadia Boulanger once said: composition is not theory, but technique, and you get technique by practicing. Will I live long enough to work my way through all of Fux’s and Gran’s exercises? Writing in this style – counterpoint and fuges – is highly technical and mathematical – there is structural stuff you need to work out before you get very far . I’m very bad at that part. Don’t know how many times I’ve written myself into a corner…

D. Had this very vivid idea for a story. Of course, I’ve got half a dozen other writing projects I have not been working on, so now I get another idea. Saw a meme the other day, where this writer is musing something like: “Some people got to bed and *sleep*? They don’t toss and turn working out the plots for a 7-book series? And then they wake up *refreshed*?” I haven’t slept well in years anyway, seems I just need to get mor4e productive about it. I may throw up a chapter as semi-flash fiction when I get a minute.

F. 3 years into involuntary semi-retirement. I need to get a job. Don’t need the big bucks anymore, just something reasonable.

Aaaand – that’s all I have time for at the moment. Tomorrow and Friday begin the annual Great Christmas Cooking & Baking Event. With married kids, we have multiple Christmas/New Year’s/Epiphany parties to go to/host, my beloved is in demand as a pie maker, and I’m always making something, too. So, maybe catch y’all next year.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Christmas season, not to end before Epiphany at the earliest!