Education Reading Update

I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.

Also, found The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916 on Arhive.org. This is a periodical founded by Pace & Shields which ran for decades. Sigh. I’m going to slog through at least this volume, just to get a feel for it. Finally, have a dead tree copy of Shields’ The Philosophy of Education (1917) in the stacks here, got to fish it out and read it next. Then, I must return to Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States, which I never finished reviewing. Burns got his PhD from Catholic University in 1906 under Shields and Pace, wrote the definitive history of American Catholic schools, and went on to be president of Notre Dame.

Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.

All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.

Right.

The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.

A couple notes:

The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916

– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.

– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.

Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.

– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

CH V, Alternating Phases of Development

So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.

That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.

– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.

Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.

Education History Reading: Thomas Shield’s First Book (1917) pt 1?

Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.

Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.

But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.

Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.

But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.

Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.

Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.

More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.

Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.

So, who is Thomas Edward Shields? Here what Encyclopedia.com has to say:

Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.

Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.

For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):

Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.

Pace did his doctoral work in psychology in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt. He wrote his dissertation on Herbert Spencer and evolution.

Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.[1]

Here’s Shields in his element, from Wikisource, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.

There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.

Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker: Book Review

Here, I mention that I started reading Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 classic Star Maker. Just finished it up. Stapledon sets for himself the task of imaginatively describing all of creation, all of the possible universes, from, ultimately, God’s perspective. Star Maker was a very influential book – C.S. Lewis almost certainly is thinking of it in his Preface to That Hideous Strength:

I believe that one of the central ideas of this tale came into my head from conversations I had with a scientific colleague, some time before I met a rather similar suggestion in the works of Mr. Olaf Stapledon. If I am mistaken in this, Mr. Stapledon is so rich in invention that he can well afford to lend, and I admire his invention (though not his philosophy) so much that I should feel no shame to borrow

After the fashion of Dante in his Paradiso, Stapledon strives to achieve an effect of awesomeness and wonder by repeated references to how indescribable, how beyond imagination, are the visions he sees. He describes things as indescribable. This devise increases in frequency and vehemence as the book progresses, following the first-person narrator as he mysteriouly tours the universe through both space and time, until he finally meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker turns out to be a catch-all God with features that, by themselves, would be at home in any number of religious imaginations, although Christian and Gnostic sources seem to dominate. In the end, this Star Maker ends up a hideous monster. C.S. Lewis commented that the book descended to mere devil-worship by the end. I agree.

On the plus side, in the latter 2/3rd of the book. Stapledon reveals a profound imagination much harder to see, I think, in the first third. Not that I’m all that well-read in the speculative fiction classics, but this book contains a number of SciFi trope firsts, for me at least:

  • multiverse
  • intelligent stars
  • group minds
  • sentient plant-things

And probably a few more I’m missing.

Alas, Stapledon’s soaring imagination, which incorporate a multiverse, a demiurge, eon-spanning visions, the accretion of multi-species group minds, sentient plant-things, symbiotic intelligences, conscious stars and nebulae, galactic and cosmos-spanning intelligences, intergalactic telepathy, and a host of further wonders, can’t imagine any other political analysis or Utopia than taught by Marx, or a theology much different than Hegel’s. The most outlandish and dazzlingly imagined races still are trapped in capitalistic decadence on the horns of a dialectical dilemma, as it were. His Star Maker is coming to know himself through his unfolding in history, more or less. Worse, his solutions to all problems are a particularly egregious sort of expertise-itis fantasies – the little people are all looking to their glorious leaders to sort things out, meekly following their lead, up to an including suicide or euthanasia, to which they enthusiastically agree.

We noted that the new world-orders were very diverse. This was, of course, to be expected, since biologically, psychologically, culturally, these worlds were very different. The perfected world-order of an Echinoderm race had of course to be different from that of the symbiotic Ichthyoids and Arachnoids; and this from that of a Nautiloid world, and so on. But we noted also in all these victorious worlds a remarkable identity. For instance, in the loosest possible sense, all were communistic; for in all of them the means of production were communally owned, and no individual could control the labor of others for private profit. Again, in a sense all these world-orders were democratic, since the final sanction of policy was world-opinion. But in many cases there was no democratic machinery, no legal channel for the expression of world-opinion. Instead, a highly specialized bureaucracy, or even a world-dictator, might carry out the business of organizing the world’s activity with legally absolute power, but under constant supervision by popular will expressed through the radio. We were amazed to find that in a truly awakened world even a dictatorship could be in essence democratic. We observed with incredulity situations in which the “absolute” world-government, faced with some exceptionally momentous and doubtful matter of policy, had made urgent appeals for a formal democratic decision, only to receive from all regions the reply, “We cannot advise. You must decide as your professional experience suggests. We will abide by your decision.”

Most of the book is concerned with the various challenges the ever-growing and merging group minds face on their Hegelian journey toward ever more enlightenment and self-realization. The goal is always idealized communism, always toward a group identity, unified group thought, and unified group action. The individual, while maybe not nothing as orthodox Marxism demands, certainly ain’t much. Stapledon repeatedly insists collective group identity is the fulfillment of all individual desires, so much so that the individual cells in the group will happily be murdered, die or even kill themselves if the group thinks it right. Only in the early, unenlightened days do individuals buck against the collective’s wisdom.

It’s tedious. Stapledon’s inventive genius is almost interesting enough to carry the reader through the endless barrage of one-note commie-think. This is not helped by this book being the one example I’ve ever read that goes all in on ‘tell, don’t show.’ Not 1% of the book is ‘show’ – it is just the first person narrator telling us about his adventure, with only one other named character in the entire book. That it works as well as it does is food for thought, from a writing perspective.

In the end, The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

By the end of the story, our narrator is a part of a multi-galaxy telepathically linked group mind, containing all the accumulated wisdom to all the member races. It is in this state, as the most exalted of group minds, that he meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combinations of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

After his interview with the Star Maker, the narrator finds himself back on earth, back to be an individual Englishman. He pauses to describe the world of 1937, with the perspective gained through his journeys. In case we missed it, he hammers home again how the Soviet Union and communists in general are the good guys. Here, for example:

Further on, the Spanish night was ablaze with the murder of cities. Away to the left lay Germany, with its forests and factories, its music, its steel helmets. In cathedral squares I seemed to see the young men ranked together in thousands, exalted, possessed, saluting the flood-lit Fuhrer. In Italy too, land of memories and illusions, the mob’s idol spell-bound the young.

Far left-wards again, Russia, an appreciably convex segment of our globe, snow-pale in the darkness, spread out under the stars and cloud tracts. Inevitably I saw the spires of the Kremlin, confronting the Red Square. There Lenin lay, victorious. 

Victorious. Right. Then he describes the battle facing the world:

One antagonist appeared as the will to dare for the sake of the new, the longed for, the reasonable and joyful, world, in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind. The other seemed essentially the myopic fear of the unknown; or was it more sinister? Was it the cunning will for private mastery, which fomented for its own ends the archaic, reason-hating, and vindictive, passion of the tribe.

“…in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind.” Propaganda always sounds so kindly, so drenched in sympathy. The key aspect of the story, the climax, is the narrator learning that God is not bound by human ideas of love, that he is free to torture his creations if he feels like it, all in pursuit of a cosmos that adequately expresses his creative. The narrator finds himself repulsed by the evil the Star Maker does, casually and without feeling, in the name of, well, progress. But he confesses he loves him, including his evil aspects. I’m reminded of John Dewey’s defense of Trotsky, where he asserts that the only moral standard is: does it move the Revolution closer? Need to destroy worlds, murder billions, enslave billions, consign billions more to hell, in the search for a better cosmos? Who are we to judge?

Stapledon’s God is a demon, and Stapledon’s urge to worship him is diabolical.

Testing for Real (yes, the d*mn virus)

Aside: I often think that what I write couldn’t possibly need to be said, that anybody who has enough mental horsepower to read what I’m saying couldn’t possibly have missed the point. But then, it often happens to me that hearing somebody else express what should be common knowledge makes it more clear or vivid to me. I assume this is true for others? Anyway, here goes another post on something I find it hard to believe anyone could miss. But I’m an odd duck, with odd blind spots…

A hundred years ago, medicines didn’t get tested – they got tried out on anyone willing to try them. That’s how people in the 1920’s ended up drinking Radithor. A William J. A. Bailey, a Harvard product (although he did drop out, I’ll give him that) manufactured and sold an elixir of distilled water and radium from 1918 to 1928. His biggest fan, the young billionaire socialite and athlete Eben Byers, died in 1932 from what at the time was diagnosed as radium poisoning, but now would be attributed to cancers caused by radiation. As the Wall Street Journal put it: “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off”.

After that rather gruesome and highly publicized death, the FDA started getting more involved in testing drugs for safety and effectiveness. It took some time to get up to speed. For example, thalidomide was tested in the 1950s and approved for use against a number of diseases, but famously was not tested for effects on unborn children. The result of having it prescribed to pregnant women was over 10,000 thalidomide babies born with severe birth defects.

Thalidomide was introduced in 1956 and was aggressively marketed by the German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal under the trade name Contergan as a medication for anxietytrouble sleeping, “tension”, and morning sickness.[3][4] It was introduced as a sedative and medication for morning sickness without having been tested on pregnant women.[5] While initially deemed to be safe in pregnancy, concerns regarding birth defects were noted in 1961, and the medication was removed from the market in Europe that year.[3][6]

The Oracle Wikipedia

As a result, in the 1960s another round of tightening of testing requirements went into effect. This process has been refined and tightened ever since. Now, almost 90 years since Radithor, there’s a giant FDA bureaucracy dedicated to making sure any proposed drug goes through a rigorous regimen of testing before being released on the public. In the US, this testing generally lasts about a decade and may cost a $1B.

Super-high level summery: To get FDA approval, a drug must be shown, first, not to excessively harm lab animals; then, to not excessively harm people. It is important to remember that there’s no such thing as completely safe. The FDA’s approval process recognizes this once-common sense understanding of the world: anything can kill you, and what might be safe for you might kill somebody else. Drugs have to be shown not to be too dangerous, since if it were required to prove a drug was completely safe, no new drugs would ever be approved. It’s logically impossible to prove anything completely safe, so reasonably safe is the goal, for some value of reasonably.

Only once proven ‘safe’ is it tested to see if it actually does anything. Once it is shown to be reasonably safe and to do something positive, it gets approved. ‘Something positive’ is, again, a judgement call. No amount of testing can prove cause and effect, but it can prove really high correlation. Antibiotics seem to correlate very well with recovery from certain infections, for example. (Antibiotics also kill or maim some small percentage of users, but the risk has been determined to be worth the benefit.)

This FDA testing process simply must take years. You test your drug on lab animals – and WAIT to see if there are bad effects. You then test it on people – and WAIT again! If you don’t wait, you are simply failing to test mid-term and long-term effects. To repeat: if you don’t test FOR YEARS you simply are NOT TESTING FOR MID-TERM AND LONG TERM PROBLEMS. Then, once you’ve demonstrated an acceptable level of safety, you can test to see if it works. (1)

That’s why Moderna, which has been around for 11 years, had NO, as in ZERO, as in NADA, products on the market prior to getting their COVID drug approved for use – with about 3 months of testing. Because their drug and similar drugs were not tested for mid-term and long-term side effects, drug companies demanded immunity from damages for all side effects – which the government granted to them. You, if you get vaccinated, are agreeing to this – the drug companies cannot be sued for damages if you experience side effects, even if they cripple or kill you. Side effects have not been tested for – given the limited amount of time devoted to testing, they simply cannot have been.

Prior to getting their COVID drug approved on an emergency basis, Moderna had losses of $1.5B, and returned nothing to a lot of high-profile investors, who have $3.5B invested in the company. Now? They made $803M in 2020, which I’m sure they’ve exceeded handily this year already. AND work is well underway to sell the notion of the need for boosters – forever. Similar situations prevail at other ‘vaccine’ makers using the novel, experimental mRNA approach.

Similarly, mid and long term effectiveness simply CANNOT have been tested for. All that it is possible to know is effectiveness over some period of time no longer than the testing period. That – and the economics involved – is why it is now being ‘discovered’ that vaccinated people are going to need booster shots effectively forever. Nice work if you can get it.

The take-aways:

  1. Nothing in this life is ‘safe’. Aspirin kills and cripples people; so do peanuts and shellfish. Drug testing is merely designed to gather data for a cost/benefit analysis. Anyone who tells you something is ‘completely safe’ is lying his hindquarters off.
  2. Drug testing developed over the last 90 years in response to drugs killing and maiming people.
  3. Testing got more and more rigorous as drugs such as thalidomide proved to having terrible effects in some cases.
  4. Current FDA approval for a new drug requires about 10 years and in the neighborhood of a billion dollars worth of testing
  5. If years are not spent testing a drug, it is simply impossible to discover any mid and long term side effects. Drugs that have been tested for a matter of months have unknown mid and long term effects.
  6. Drug companies demanded and got immunity from being sued for any effects from these ‘vaccines’. Drug companies cannot be sued for any bad effects resulting from these drugs.
  7. Long term effectiveness of the drugs is unknown, but is currently being found to be short, as in 4 months or so in some cases.

Still think it’s a good idea to get vaccinated against a disease that, in its current form, harms less than 0.01% of its victims?

  1. Drug companies are highly motivated to find further uses for drugs that have already been approved. They can skip directly to the ‘does something positive’ stage of testing – saving years and hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s why you see, sometimes, drugs approved for use in treating a bewildering array of illnesses. This whole testing routine is also why Big Pharma has been fined many billions of dollars for falsifying results. (note: this list only includes stuff they couldn’t bribe their way out of, reality being what it is.) If the drug doesn’t actually do anything, you’re out a lot of cash and a decade of testing, so tweak a study here, lie through statistics there…
  2. My late oldest sister was a patent chaser for a (since merged out of existence) pharmaceutical company. A patent chaser tries to find any pertinent already-existing patents that might limit the ability of the drug maker to secure their rights and cash in, and also helps write up the new patent applications to avoid stepping on any existing claims. It takes high levels of technical competence in biochemistry and law. My sister was a sharp gal.

Some Badthink, While We Still Can

Perspective is important. One constant gotcha is scale. Saw something like this once, couldn’t find it, so I mocked it up myself:

On the very, very small chance anyone tries to look at the numbers, they are most likely to see something like this:

What you are supposed to notice: that scary red line way up over the weekly death totals from previous years, starting in March, 2020.

(What you are not supposed to notice: the dotted green line, which shows deaths from all causes other than COVID in 2021. That dotted green line should be – should be, by all common sense – ABOVE all previous years except 2020. The population has risen and aged significantly over this period; we should expect year over year death numbers to be higher. Yet, by some miracle, if it weren’t for COVID bringing the total 2021 solid green line up to where it might reasonably be, significantly fewer people have died in 2021 than history and common sense would have predicted. Makes a fellah wonder…)

What do these numbers look like if we put the deaths on the same scale as the population? They look like this:

All numbers from MacroTrends here and here

What this chart shows is the gradual increase in US population over the last decade, and a death rate consistently just under 1%. That means around 3M people die in the US every year in the normal course of things no matter what we do. Next, we will add in the attributed number of deaths ‘involving ‘ COVID in 2020. (2021 has been effectively flat, so I’m ignoring it). Note, not the number of excess deaths claimed by the CDC, which is about 360,000, but the 500,000 number of COVID deaths that is still getting tossed around. In other words, I’m following the ‘use the worst numbers in the worst way’ practice used incessantly by the media and government:

If you have good eyes and look very carefully, you can barely detect a tiny bump up for 2020. As tragic as any particular death may be, on a population basis of 333 million, even 500,000 additional deaths doesn’t change the big picture at all. If this seems cold, first, note that numbers don’t care.

As pointed out by many, many people, what a sane layman means by a disease killing somebody bears little resemblance to how the press has reported the CDC ‘death involving’ numbers. Most likely, at least 2/3rds of the deaths attributed to COVID are elderly, sickly people who were already dying of something else. People in nursing homes are there for a reason, and are most likely going to die soon, COVID or not. Yet we count them and panic while simply ignoring into oblivion the INEVITABLE, INESCAPABLE death toll of the lockdowns themselves.

Next let’s consider a pandemic about the existence of which there is little dispute: the Black Death. The numbers are not hard, as people at the time were too busy burying the dead and trying not to die to do any large-scale demographics for our benefit. Roughly, 30%-60% of the population of Europe died over the years 1347-1351. The population may have been as high as 75 million. Since we’re just ballparking here, and have to guess anyway, we’ll use a mathematically reasonable 4% annual death rate, which is about the guesstimate for agricultural pre-modern societies. I’m open to better suggestions here, but I merely point out that up or down a percentage point or two won’t make much difference to overall picture I’m painting.

Putting this into a graph, and making the simplifying assumption that the Plague killed about the same percentage of people from 1347 to 1351 so that the total adds up to about 60%, the graph looks something like this:

For illustration only. I’m not using hard numbers, but then again, no one else is either.

The first point is that you can actually see changes in deaths: from about 3 million a year as a baseline to almost 10,000,000 deaths in 1347, and the about 40 million who died over the duration of the Plague.

The second thing to note: the population went down, and went down drastically. It was centuries before the overall population of Europe again reached 1300 levels. Meanwhile, under COVID, the US population ROSE, and continues to rise.

The CDC is claiming COVID increased the death rate in America by about 10%, from about 2.9 million to about 3.2 million. That’s counting every ‘death involving’ COVID as a COVID death and ignoring INEVITABLE, INESCAPABLE deaths due to the lockdowns and masks. The The Black death increased the death rate about 300% annually, from about 3 million deaths to about 10 million deaths per year.

I have heard more than one person compare Sars2 to the Black Death. No. To get in the ballpark, a hundred million Americans would have to die, 20 times even the wildest overestimations floating about.

To put it in personal terms, every European during the Black Death saw his chances of dying a horrible death soon go up astronomically; COVID adds a tiny fraction of a percent more risk to an average, reasonably healthy American. During the Black Death, people had not just heard about a fatal disease, but saw many, many people in their families and villages die before their eyes. Mass graves, containing hundreds or even thousands, were needed to dispose of the dead. Death was an immediate, irrefutable fact for all but the most isolated Europeans. In America, while everyone who listens to the media has heard of COVID deaths, almost nobody personally knows an otherwise healthy person who died of COVID. Not elderly, not obese, not diabetic, not having underlying heart or lung issues, not having survived cancer (the the damage to their immune systems and overall strength surviving cancer usually entails).

Claiming a person so ill that they were consigned to a nursing home was killed by COVID defies common sense. Mortuaries are not and never were overworked any more than usual; hospitals are not and never were overwhelmed any more than usual. A cold is as much or more a threat than COVID to about 99% of everybody.

Footnote: I was so pleased and relieved to see back at church today someone who could have become, if she had died, the first person I personally knew to die of COVID. She’s a wonderful lady, 87 years old, generally vigorous but having had a couple falls in the last few months. She refused to wear masks or otherwise go around terrified. She is said to have caught the disease, ended up in the hospital – and then recovered just fine, like 99.9%+ of reasonably healthy people who catch it. Something is going to get her – something is going to get all of us! – but I’m so thankful it wasn’t the Coof in her case. May she live another decade! Everybody else I know who has had it has recovered promptly. A few had lingering symptoms. People seem to have forgotten catching that flu that just won’t go away, takes a couple months before we feel truly right. Used to be a sign you were human. Now, it’s a sign of the Apocalypse.

Fun (by which we mean ‘terror’) With History

People who don’t read Scripture are missing out on a lot of good stuff, from a merely historical/political perspective. Want to know just how vile and violent people can be? It’s all there in 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles. Consider this little bit from 2 Kings 10. Jehu was a military commander in Israel who managed to kill both Jehoram, the king of Israel and the son of Ahab and Jezebel, and Ahaziah, the king of Judah, whose mother was Jehoram’s sister Athaliah. Both of the slain kings were of the house of Ahab more or less directly, a son and grandson.

Back in Samaria, where Jehoram had reigned, there were living 70 sons of the house of Ahab. Those sons had legitimate claims on the throne and were therefore a threat to Jehu. Thus:

Now there were in Samaria seventy sons of the house of Ahab. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria: to the officials of Jezreel, to the elders and to the guardians of Ahab’s children. He said, 2 “You have your master’s sons with you and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city and weapons. Now as soon as this letter reaches you, 3 choose the best and most worthy of your master’s sons and set him on his father’s throne. Then fight for your master’s house.”

4 But they were terrified and said, “If two kings could not resist him, how can we?”

5 So the palace administrator, the city governor, the elders and the guardians sent this message to Jehu: “We are your servants and we will do anything you say. We will not appoint anyone as king; you do whatever you think best.”

6 Then Jehu wrote them a second letter, saying, “If you are on my side and will obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me in Jezreel by this time tomorrow.”

Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were rearing them. 7 When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel. 8 When the messenger arrived, he told Jehu, “They have brought the heads of the princes.”

Then Jehu ordered, “Put them in two piles at the entrance of the city gate until morning.”

9 The next morning Jehu went out. He stood before all the people and said, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these? 10 Know, then, that not a word the Lord has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail. The Lord has done what he announced through his servant Elijah.” 11 So Jehu killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends and his priests, leaving him no survivor.

2 Kings 10: 1-11

See the little trick there? Scholars say the double meaning in English is also present in Hebrew: the ‘heads’ of the sons could be the men in charge of their upbringing; the leaders who received the letters interpreted Jehu’s demand more literally. The ambiguity allowed him to disavow having ordered the murders of all these sons, many of whom would have to have been children, ‘Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ style.

But, of course, that’s what he really meant. He didn’t need a conversation with the men raising those kids – he needed those boys dead. He then follows up by having all those men killed – the sons would have been being raised by ‘all his (Ahab’s) chief men, his close friends and his priests.’ New king with shaky claims to the throne? Everybody associated with the previous regime gets to die.

And it hardly stops there: Athaliah, mother of the late king Ahaziah, Ahab’s daughter and Jehu’s sister, now finds herself in an awkward position in Judah: she’s the Queen Mother of a dead king; everyone of her house in Samaria has been murdered; Jehu would likely want her dead as well. If one of her grandsons – the logical heirs – were to ascend to the throne of Judah, they might kill her off as a gesture of good-will toward Jehu, who has an army. Worse, her own family in Judah has some claim to the throne of Israel, being descendants of the legitimate king Ahab. Jehu might attack Judah and kill them all off just to keep things tidy.

So, you’re the mom or grandmother of a bunch of children, whose very existence puts you in a precarious life or death situation. What do you do?

Kill them all, of course:

11 When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family.

2 Kings 11:1

But she missed some:

But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. 3 He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.

2 Kings 11:2-3
“Joash is rescued by his aunt Jehosheba”, print by Harmen Jansz Muller, c. 1565–69; the pair are visible at far left – By Rijksmuseum – http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.collect.156988, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84868815

Joash was an infant when his aunt Jehosheba hid him away. Jehosheba happened to be the wife of the priest Jehoiada, which made hiding Joash in the temple more convenient, I suppose.

Of course, after hiding him for six years, the priests along with the temple guard present him as king – and Athaliah gets dragged from the temple and executed. Thus, the Lord’s vengeance (conveniently aligned here with Machiavellian political expediency) is brought to completion: the house of Ahab is destroyed (with the exception, one supposes, of Jehosheba). Also, the line of David, present in Joash through his father, survives.

There’s a lot more political murder and mayhem in Israel and Judah during the time of the two kingdoms – 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles are full of intrigue and assassinations. When history is conceived of as the deeds of great men, it is mostly a lot of political murder and mayhem, everywhere from China to Aztec Mexico, and everywhen from as long as records exist.

We are not like this, no sir! We’re moderns. Ever since the French Revolution, we have improved from murdering all real and potential rivals and putting conquered cities under the ban to rounding up and executing millions of our fellow citizens or starving them to death. Jehu and Athaliah are total pikers, squeamish little girls, compared to Stalin and Mao. Hell, the H-Man himself is not really in the running for G.O.A.T in the ‘murdering you own citizens/subjects’ H.O.F.

The point, if any: don’t ever underestimate the level of violence and horror power-hungry people will be willing to commit, if that’s what it takes to hold onto power. Don’t project your own hesitancy or quaint morality onto the kind of ambitious men who rise to power.

The minor tragedy here: Athaliah is a pretty name! Yet, where outside a Melville novel would anyone dare name somebody that?

An Old Post on Clarissa’s Blog: on Leaving the USSR

Way, way back in 2012, Clarissa, an academic who immigrated from the Ukraine, answered the question: since the USSR was so evil, why didn’t people leave? Seems appropriate, topical, even, somehow. Here is her answer:

The question doesn’t sound in the least stupid to me. The Soviet reality is so different from anything people have experienced or can imagine in other countries that it is, indeed, very difficult to comprehend it.

Leaving the USSR was next to impossible. People who applied for visas (mostly the Jews who had relatives outside of the country) were persecuted, sometimes imprisoned, and sometimes placed in psychiatric wards. The idea behind this was that anybody who wanted to leave the Soviet paradise had to, of necessity, be insane. Such people would be put on massive amounts of powerful psychotropic drugs with the goal of “curing” them of their desire to emigrate.

The only people who could leave the country for a short visit overseas were the ones who were considered “reliable” by the regime. You had to be an artist going on a tour or a very famous scientist traveling to a conference with a group of other Soviet people, many of whom were KGB informants and were following your every move. Of course, if you were a Jew, you wouldn’t be able to travel at all because Jews were considered unreliable by default.

All of this vigilance didn’t always work and some of the artists or scientists did end up asking for refuge in the countries they visited. This meant that they would never see their families again and could not even hope to get in touch with their relatives back in the USSR. People were never allowed to travel with their families, and who could face losing everybody you know and love for good? Single people were not allowed to travel precisely for this reason. If you wanted to work as a diplomat, for example, you had to get married because only then could the government keep your wife and children as hostages whenever it liked to do so.

In Captain Capitalism’s reality, people can just get on a plane and fly to Finland. This is a great, beautiful reality, and I really love it that there are people in the world who think in these terms. A Soviet person, however, could not have imagined such a possibility. Even traveling by train from one city to another in the USSR was very problematic. You needed to be prepared to show paperwork explaining why you needed to travel just to buy a ticket. Getting on a train or a plane to travel within the country was extraordinarily difficult. And when I imagine a poor Soviet citizen approaching the ticket counter at a Soviet airport and asking for a ticket to Finland (Bulgaria, Poland, etc.), I feel bad for that hypothetical Soviet traveler already. This person would have ended up at the police station and then the psychiatric hospital within minutes.

Gosh, folks, you couldn’t even make a phone call to another country. Talking to a foreign tourist in the street would put you in jail. We were completely isolated from the world because the Soviet government knew that the only way to keep people from running away in droves was to lock them down.

It’s true that Siberia is vast and sparsely populated. Obviously, nobody could guard the entire expanse of the border perfectly. However, you have to possess very special training to survive the climatic conditions. Besides, you need to know where exactly to go to have a chance to cross the border. Remember that one thing that you could never ever hope to purchase in the USSR was a map. Of anything. All maps were top secret. Also, a person who tried fleeing the country in that way – even if s/he were successful – was destroying the lives of every family member for generations to come as a result of the flight. How many people can face something like this?

I hate the Soviet Union.

The several hundred comment at the end are also enlightening.

We’re preparing for a trip to attend our son’s wedding, and therefore need to constantly check the ever-changing and utterly arbitrary travel restrictions the airlines and the states have imposed; we are hoping the whole vaccine passport idea dies the quick death it deserves. Our son is – finally! – getting to go on a week-long Boy Scout camping trip – and the insane, ever-changing restrictions and requirements are infuriating. If you dare to resist the siren call inject children with experimental vaccines against a disease that doesn’t affect them, then you will be required to submit recent clean COVID test results on inconveniently short notice prior to travel. Teenage boys healthy enough to attempt a week-long wilderness hike are literally at more risk of getting eaten by a bear than dying of COVID; my son quipped that masks reduce their peripheral vision, thus putting them at increased risk of injury out in the wild.

Yet, here we are. We don’t want to flee, but must be kept terrified and obedient to arbitrary rules so that we don’t gather and talk to each other, thus spreading ‘disinformation’ about what Our Own Lying Eyes see with dazzling clarity.

Working

How could anyone fall for such obvious nonsense? This question, in various forms, some much less polite, has been nagging at us for decades now. Standard answers to particular incarnations of these questions have been formulated: Marxism is a revenge fantasy for people with daddy issues; years of government training produces mindless sheep by design; participation trophy culture teaches sticking to your group *is* the achievement; theories by which any personal lack of achievement or feelings of inadequacy are conclusively presumed to be somebody else’s fault appeal to many, especially grown children of divorce.

This morning, adding another divide: how you think of work. Up until about 1900, half or more of Americans lived on farms or at least in rural communities. On a farm, there is near instant feedback on many of your efforts. Didn’t feed the chickens and gather the eggs? The results of that failure will soon come home to roost. Labors and the outcomes of those labors were spread across a range of timeframes: it might take an hour to eat the green beans you just picked; a month to see what you planted growing in the garden; a season to harvest the wheat; a couple years to get to finally plant the bottom land you spend a couple years clearing, and 5 years or more before that vineyard and orchard start producing in volume.

While farming isn’t unique in this regard – any real craftsmanship has similar effort and payoff timeframes – it was formative for many millions of Americans for 200+ years. Even if we never set foot on a farm, chances are we lived among relatives who did or used to, so that the farmer’s instincts about work were something we all, or almost all, absorbed to some degree at least.

A farmer knows:

  • Many things figure into the outcome of my efforts. Some I can control, some not.
  • The number 1 thing I can control is my efforts.
  • The number 2 thing I can control is my skill level.
  • Diligent application of effort and skill tremendously improve my chances of a good outcome.
  • No effort and no skill all but guarantee a bad outcome.
  • Try as I might, sometimes things don’t work out as planned.
  • Sometimes, you get lucky. Don’t count on it.

We’ve replaced the near-universal experience of farm life with the near-universal experience of compulsory graded classroom schooling. Farmers saw, moment by moment, year by year, the direct relationship between their effort and skill and the quality of their lives. Sure, the world was then as it is now, unpredictable – unfair, one might even say – such that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, and so on. But the general pattern was unmistakable: the industrious and skillful did better, in the long run, than the lazy and stupid, in what seemed like a pretty direct proportion to how industrious and skillful one was.

Things could and did often go wrong: the rains didn’t come, or came too much, or came at the wrong time; the horse pulled up lame; bugs ate the turnips; somebody got sick and died. Even the most industrious and skillful farmer could get wiped out by disasters out of his control. For centuries, in America at least, the most common attitude seems to have been: Stuff happens. Keep your head down, say your prayers, and keep working. Keeping on is what a man or a woman worthy of the name does. (1)

I have mentioned here the big bait and switch of public education. Reaching prominence in the late 19th century and championed by William Torey Harris, and not finally ending until the 1960s under the influence of John Dewey, the sales pitch for compulsory public schools included the claim that kids – the smart ones, anyway – would need a serious education at least through high school. The key feature of this new educational standard was that Mom and Dad and the nice young lady teaching in the local one room schoolhouse would not be able to deliver it. Nope, only highly trained and skilled teachers processed through the Normal Schools could teach all that Greek, Latin, Calculus, and Science little Eta and Ira were going to need to – work in a Ford factory? 16 years after Harris was outlining his ideal curriculum, Woodrow Wilson was telling the New York City School Teachers Association:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

So that idea that America needed standardized, highly-trained teachers in order to produce these excellent little Hegelians was ignored by the President of Princeton when talking to these highly trained teachers, in favor of producing plenty of obedient manual workers. Inside, this is how the higher-level drones talk; the rhetoric we little people were until recently subjected to still lightly echoed Harris. Now, of course, it’s Dewey (and Frere) all the way.

Harris thought What America Needed was a bunch of well-trained Hegelians to Move Us Forward as the Spirit Unfolded Itself Through History. He was not a very practical man. Dewey, a huge fan of the Russian Revolution and Marx, stood Harris’s Hegelianism on its head, and preached a kinder, gentler education jail that would leave students stupid and compliant. (2) That’s the model we’ve been implementing since the 1960s at least.

Initially, public schools that in fact aspired to Harris’ ideal level of 1 – 12 education were created; many Catholic parochial schools attempted to follow suit. High schools – a few, at least – were becoming prep schools for admission to Harvard. The small minority of kids who did successfully attend these schools did get an education that makes modern Master’s in most fields look like finger painting by comparison.

Farmers were convinced or mollified by the claim that these modern consolidated schools were teaching the sort of things a kid needed to learn for the brave new world they would be facing. Once the Depression and the Dust Bowl and the invention of the school bus wiped out the already-dying one room schools, the one last public competitor to the One Best System For All that Fichte, Pestalozzi, Mann, etc. dreamed of imposing was removed. The pedal was taken off the gas, although the momentum seems have been enough to coast through the next 30 years still maintaining the pretext that schools were intended to make everybody elite. (One of the reasons I love Have Space Suit Will Travel is Heinlein’s brutal takedown of Kip’s public high school – written in 1958. The mask had already slipped.)

My parents were born in 1917 and 1919; dad grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, mom among Czech farmers in East Texas – although her dad was a sheet metal guy. Both had that ‘just do it’ attitude about work. Dad, who started his own sheet metal fabrication company at age 45, would remind us kids that 10-12 hours a day in the shop were still far better than farming in Oklahoma. They were a part of that huge wave of country kids who moved to the city. (My parents moved to SoCal – thank you, Lord!). I, sadly, saw but did not experience the farmer’s work ethic and feedback loop. By farming standards, I’m incredibly lazy – yet considered some sort of high-energy output machine by some of my friends. Even a little taste, it seems, leaves its mark.

It’s no coincidence that the core employees at my dad’s shop were escaped hillbillies and immigrants from Mexico. Billy Joe and Delbert and Juan and Jose (who went by John and Little Joe (being the smallest of 3 Joes working there)) shared my dad’s Just Do It farm boy approach.

Meanwhile, kids attending school succeeded by doing what they were told and regurgitating on command. When I was a kid in the 60s, it was still possible to achieve some limited objective success around the edges of school – sports did not yet hand out participation trophies, you could objectively win a pinewood derby. But, in general, there were even then no real objective measures of success within school. Indeed, real success was denigrated: we were supposed to learn to read, but, if you did, your reward was to sit in class bored out of your mind while every other kid learned to read. Clearly, ‘group cohesion’ trumped any actual achievement. Same with math, writing, EVERYTHING: one earned suspicion and soul-destroying boredom by actually promptly learning anything at school.

I have a bunch of hobbies which produce concrete results: I build stuff out of wood and bricks. As I type, I am surrounded by things I have made with my own two hands. Meanwhile, I was possibly the worst student you will ever meet. Wish I could say I was a rebel, but honestly, I was a passive-aggressive coward, constantly testing the limits of how little work one could do in school without getting into serious trouble (ans: very, very little.). Unfortunately, this has lead to my own underappreciation of mental work. Writing is just barely becoming ‘work’ to me.

But what if that’s all you’ve got? I’m thinking of several acquaintances from college who, in the unlikely event they were ever to do a physical project, would feel like brave adventurers on an anthropological expedition. Let’s go experience what it’s like for the little people! They saved their papers and projects their school as proud and admirable work products, proof that they are ‘accomplished’. Certainly, in the eyes of the school, anything else they accomplish outside school is a hobby, in no way comparable to their ‘achievements’ in school.

Here’s the distinction: I look at the dining room table I’m sitting at as I type, the brick pizza oven I built, the shed, playhouse, bookcases, fences I put up. I take a daily tour of the fruit trees I’ve planted and the garden I’ve put in. None of these things are masterpieces, some are borderline junk – but I don’t need anyone’s approval for their base existence. They speak for themselves; good, bad, or indifferent, I made them. The works of my hands, however humble, have given me more pleasure and satisfaction than any desk job or scholarly achievement. I’m primitive that way.

Meanwhile, how does a good student know they are a good student? In what sense can one be, objectively, a good student, and how does this sense line up with what it means to be a good student in the eyes of the schools? Do their papers and test scores speak for themselves?

When I look at the penultimate former president, the glorious Light Bringer, that toward which our age aspires and from which its self-image flows, I see someone whose measure of success is simply the approval of others, others who can’t help but disparage and despise those who disapprove of him. When I think of the people he grew up around, his academic commie mom and her commie parents and the sort of crowd they would hang with, and I can see O getting patted on the head and told what a good, smart boy he is – at the same time he’s cycling through fathers and father figures who can hardly be troubled to stay in touch, and a mom who does her thing without any apparent regard for what her own son wants or needs.

Whenever I’ve been part of a voluntary work party at schools or church, a critical part of how successful they have been at getting any work done is how well organized they are: are there lists of clearly-defined tasks? Some method of assigning them? Somebody who can answer questions? Lacking this management structure, work days in my experience devolve to a bunch of people standing around and a few people working. As a people, it’s not just that we don’t seem to know what to unless somebody tells us what to do, it’s that we don’t know, on a pretty deep level, if we’ve even done something unless we get that pat on the head, that gold start, that participation trophy.

  1. All that said, if we are to accept the results of the votes of people’s feet, farming sucks, at least compared to other options. Given the option, the children of farmers have voted overwhelmingly for city life, factory and office work, and an apartment in the city or house in the suburbs.
  2. Haven’t read anywhere Dewey formalizing this goal – that perhaps had to wait for Frere, another huge fan of Marx and author of texts used in Ed Schools for 50 years now. Frere says that there is no point to an education that does not radicalize the students. Reading, writing, math are a distraction from the goal of overthrowing the System, man.

Obvious, Sublime, Ridiculous

Roundup/update:

A. AI is fundamentally a model of how humans think. It has to be, because the only example of ‘intelligence’ with which we are familiar is human intelligence. (The same can be said of the concept of ‘artificial.’) As a model, AI is going to tell us what we tell it to tell us. It simply can’t do otherwise. People who understand how models really work understand this limitation – it is obvious.

Concern over AI getting too intelligent and deciding it doesn’t need us puny humans any more is misdirected. The idea that an independent meta-human intelligence will arise, Athena-like, as an emergent property from anything we can build is fantasy. Our idea of meta-intelligence is as limited as our idea of Superman: just as Superman is, fundamentally, a man, just stronger, faster, and incorporating better versions of human tech (laser eyeballs, flight), an AI is – must be! – imagined to be fundamentally human intelligence, only more so – faster, able to process more data at a pop, able to draw connections and conclusions farther and faster. And even this remains fantasy – we have no idea how all this works, but since it does in humans, it must work in our model! The dogma that the human mind simply is a machine demands it.

Putting these two ideas together and acknowledging the limitation inherent in them: What AI may eventually produce is a very fast, very large process that will – must! – be a model of intelligence and the world as the model builders imagine those things to be. AI will produce what its builders tell it to produce.

What we need to be concerned with, then, is not some imagined mysterious, emergent power of AI that no one can control or predict; what we need to be concerned with is what the builders of AI believe and want. That’s what AI will give us. It will give us nothing else. The surprise will be for the builders, as AI demonstrates what they, the builders, truly believe and want.

Leslie Nielsen? The AI running Robbie the Robot seems very human in this classic retelling of Shakespeare’s the Tempest.
How did Anne Francis never get cast as Catwoman? Where was I? Oh, yea, AI…

B. In traditional, by which I mean, obsolete, warfare, an aircraft carrier is the bee’s knees: one modern carrier projects force like nobody’s business. Trouble is, those suckers are expensive: the USS Gerald R. Ford ran a sweet $13 billion to build. And, to make matters worse, a single cruise missile can sink one – Tomahawk cruise missiles, for example, only cost $1.9 million each. You could determine that you needed to launch 1,000 cruise missiles at the Gerald R. Ford to make sure one got through to sink it – and have spent only a bit over 10% of the cost of the carrier to eliminate it. And there are other ways of taking out carriers, such as submarine attack, which are similarly cheaper than building one in the first place.

Knowing this, no carriers go galivanting about unaccompanied. Carriers travel in carrier groups, which include destroyers, frigates, a guided missile cruiser, sometimes submarines – which, all in, will run you $20-$30 billion per group to build, and billions more per year to operate. The main goal of the carrier group is to keep the carrier from getting sunk. So, now, you’ve invested $20-$30 billion, plus billions more per year in operating costs, just to be able to project force along the world’s coasts.

If you wanted to sink a carrier, and had 1,000 cruise missiles at you disposal, and the carrier group was an astounding 99.9% effective in stopping those cruise missiles – you win. But it’s way worse than that:

“The exercise was called Millennium Challenge 2002,” Blake Stilwell wrote for We Are the Mighty.

It was designed by the Joint Forces Command over the course of two years. It had 13,500 participants, numerous live and simulated training sites, and was supposed to pit an Iran-like Middle Eastern country against the U.S. military, which would be fielding advanced technology it didn’t plan to implement until five years later.

The war game would begin with a forced-entry exercise that included the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Division. When the blue forces issued a surrender ultimatum, Van Riper, commanding the red forces, turned them down. Since the Bush Doctrine of the period included preemptive strikes against perceived enemies, Van Riper knew the blue forces would be coming for him. And they did.

But the three-star general didn’t spend 41 years in the Marine Corps by being timid. As soon as the Navy was beyond the point of no return, he hit them and hit them hard. Missiles from land-based units, civilian boats, and low-flying planes tore through the fleet as explosive-ladened speedboats decimated the Navy using suicide tactics. His code to initiate the attack was a coded message sent from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer.

In less than 10 minutes, the whole thing was over and Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper was victorious.

Micah Zenko provided some context in a piece for War on the Rocks. “The impact of the [opposing force’s] ability to render a U.S. carrier battle group — the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy — militarily worthless stunned most of the MC ’02 participants.”

from National Interest, Oct 15, 2019

So, in a war game, a Marine general was given the resources of an Iran-equivalent power and told to take on the combined might of a large chunk of the US Navy – and, using the few missiles at his disposal, plus suicide speedboats and civilian boats and aircraft, took them out in 10 minutes.

Lt. Gen Paul Van Riper. For real. Damn. My only issue with this: nowhere I can find listed among General Van Riper’s assets ‘armored battle goats’. Because – well, because. As hard as it is to imagine, he somehow won without them.

Um, oops. As Sun Tzu so aptly put it: to know your enemy, you must become your enemy.

No reason I’m thinking about this. What could possibly go wrong? I’m sure our current president, what with his razor sharp intellect and surrounded as he is by Top Men Humanoids, has this sort of thing completely under control, no matter who the enemy might turn out to be in this best of all possible worlds.

BBQ talking points for people working in Indigenous ...

C. Been under the weather due to circumstances well within my control that I, nevertheless, failed to control. Something about making sure prescriptions got filled before health plans flipped. Dolly Parton once quipped: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Does it take a lot of brains to be this stupid? No, I think I just have a talent for it.

But much better now! Will get back to the writing soon. No, really! Haven’t totally neglected it, but not going gangbusters, either.

D. Looking like we might have an epic fruit season out in the front yard micro-orchard. This past winter, I was better about clean-up, trimming, fertilizing, and spraying copper fungicide. Also watering a bit more, as we only had 40% of average rainfall this season:

  • Fig tree has lots of breba figs on it
  • Cherry tree has several times as many cherries as last year
  • Pomegranate just starting to bloom, looking beautiful
  • Our latest additions, two blueberry bushes, seem to be doing well – one is covered in fruit and blossoms, the other has less but is growing vigorously
Blueberries.
  • 4-in-1 pear tree, devastated last season by that loathsome leaf curl fungus, is now looking pretty good, with way, way too much fruit setting – I’m going to need to thin by about 80%!
  • My two little peach trees are doing well. Last year, one caught the leaf curl from the pear tree next to it, and lost all its fruit and leaves, but recovered enough to put out enough leaves to survive – it actually looks good, and has a fair amount of fruit on it. The other peach, a dwarf variety, is insane:
This picture doesn’t even capture how much fruit is packed onto these little branches. I’m thinning as I go, need to take more than half of them off.
  • Apricots are doing very well, too

The nicest thing: the Minneola tree our late son Andrew grew from a seed as a child is, for the first time, covered in blossoms:

You can kind of see it.

This tree is over 15 years old. Last year was the best ever – about a dozen fruit. Now, if even 10% of the blossoms set fruit, we’re looking at many dozens. The fruit is good, nice and sweet.

Andrew wrote a poem about it (it was presumed to be an orange tree at the time):

My Orange Tree by the Wall
by Andrew Moore

My orange tree by the wall
For many a spring and fall
Has grown and grown and grown
And done nothing much else at all

But then in spring one day
I shout ‘hip hip hooray!’
For blossoms it shows me
And oranges it grows me
For many a long summer day

E. Further updates as events warrant.

A Few Threads

Returning to a topic discussed previously:

The unexamined acceptance of the inevitability of Progress as an obvious unassailable fact is under discussion at Rotten Chestnuts. Starting with the Enlightenment, the notion that Change, in the form of Progress, is, so to speak, the only constant, took over polite society. So understood, Progress is not, in any rational sense, a conclusion. Progress can only be a framing devise, a filter, a way to pre-process information.

It might seem odd that an age that produced wave after wave of increasingly insane skepticism about just about everything would accept and vigorously promote as obvious the notion that Progress is a positive force governing Human Development through History. Descartes claims to doubt everything except his own existence; Hume claims to doubt cause and effect; Kant throws out the entire idea anyone can know anything about objective reality (although he says he doesn’t – he says a lot of contradictory things); Fichte simply states that all reality is subjective; Hegel denies the law of non-contradiction and all logic while claiming to be ‘scientific’.

John C. Wright speaks of how unserious philosophy became starting with the Enlightenment. A Socrates might die for his philosophy; a St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that it is in fact necessary to be willing to die for a correct philosophy. Hume famously decides to go shoot some billiards when it all becomes too much. How would anyone from Descartes on know that dying for one’s philosophy is a good thing? Severian has a page dedicated to the worst argument in the world, of which there are many variation sharing the same skeleton. This argument boils down to: we cannot know anything about things in themselves.

Yet we are to assume universal Progress, except insofar as reactionaries of one flavor or another have temporarily turned back the clock on the wrong side of History.

Here’s the thing: the only area where it can be confidently asserted that humanity has steadily progressed over the last, say, 1,000 years, is technology. Technology is undoubtedly better today than it was 10 years ago; it was better 10 years ago than it was 20 years ago; and so on, back to maybe 900 AD in the West.

Everything else? People can and have made arguments in favor of these following examples, but – clear? Beyond dispute?

  • Government “progressed” from a peak of some semblance of liberal democracy to – Pol Pot? Stalin? Mao? That’s progress?
  • Art “progressed” from Rafael to Pollock? Let alone a crucifix in a jar of urine?
  • Architecture “progressed” from Gothic to Brutalism?

And so on. Sure, there are reasonable people who will argue that Van Gogh is an improvement on Bouguereau, but they’re basically arguing on taste alone. On every technical and aesthetic basis, Bouguereau is the superior artist (and I love Van Gogh!). There are people- damaged, sad people, for the most part – who will and have argued that Brutalist architecture is superior to Gothic. There is no aesthetic of technical basis for such a claim. Rather, it seems that Progress, acting as filter, simply demands that the products of modern minds is definitionally better than the products of less progressive minds.

So, one might imagine the great Enlightenment philosophies start with technology as the basis for their claims. There is quite a bit of that early on, as where Francis Bacon says:

I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave. … [S]o may I succeed in my only earthly wish, namely to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds.

Francis Bacon, The Masculine Birth of Time, ch. 1. (from Mike Flynn’s essay on the Masque of Science, which you all would be better off reading instead of this post.)

Bacon wants to put science -materialist science as he understood it – in the driver’s seat for pretty much all human activities. The distinction we sometimes make between science and technology seems less clear here. Nature was something to be conquered and put to use by man. In this sense, science – the study of nature in order to understand it – and technology – using that scientific knowledge to conquer and control nature – are separate only in concept: for Bacon, it would be pointless to talk of one independent of the other.

So: Bacon saw himself and other natural philosophers (scientists) as clearly progressing from his (weird caricature?) of Aristotle to the starting line of modern science. Bacon saw his efforts as the beginning of the true program of science – understanding nature so as to control it – with nothing but Progress from there on out indefinitely.

And progress was made – eventually. Bacon lived in the late 16th and early 17th century. Life expectancy in England was around 35 (high infant and young people mortality) in 1600. As a result of the Bacon-lead scientific and technological revolution, life expectancy shot all the way up to around 40 – after a mere 200 years. (The population in England in 1600 is estimated to have been about 85% of what it had been during the high middle ages 250 years earlier, before plague, famine, and increasing political unrest cut in by around 60%. It nearly doubled from 1600 to 1800, to about 50% larger than it had been in 1290.)

Maybe this conquest of Nature thing and all the improvements to human life that would follow upon it wasn’t so obvious to the little people? Who seemed to be dying as readily as before, up until the late 1700s, at any rate? But it was very striking to the better off, who could not get over it. Still can’t. Of course, technological progress kicked in like crazy once the 19th century got going, and life expectancies began to rise, to around 50 by 1900 to around 80 by 2000. That’s progress anyone who prefers not to be dead can readily see.

Our self-appointed betters seemed to have extrapolated from technological improvements, and made the categorical error of thinking that the obvious progress in technology proved that other fields, such as politics and philosophy, must also have made similar progress. Hegel, who lived from 1770 to 1831, in what was at the time the most technologically advanced culture on earth, went to far as to write a book telling us that logic, as that term was understood by everyone else, had failed to progress and was therefore clearly insufficient. Logic had remained essentially unchanged since Aristotle, unlike all other fields (besides basic arithmetic and geometry, ethics, and writing – he doesn’t mention those, IIRC) and therefore, by that fact alone, was no longer valid.

Savor this: classic Aristotelian logic, the application of which was at the core of all the scientific and technological progress made since Bacon, needed to be rejected – OK, suspended in a dialectical synthesis, which, practically, means rejected – because, and solely because, it had not changed in 2500 years. The only unalloyed and inescapable support for the notion of Progress – technology – is to be rejected – in the name of Progress.

Hegel was aware that all technology and science depended on exactly the logic he had just discarded. He graciously allows that old-timey logic might be important and useful to the little people – mathematicians, scientists, technologists – but was certainly nothing a *real * philosopher need concern himself with. Law of non-contradiction? Out! Logical arguments? Beneath a real philosopher’s dignity. Only the calculated incoherence of Hegel and those wise and enlightened souls who, naturally, agreed with Hegel, need be considered.

From this it falls, naturally, that 2+2 can indeed equal 5, if such is required by *real* philosophers like Hegel. Motte and Baily. Progress is obvious to everyone! You doubt our latest developments in Critical Theory mark the inexorable march of Progress? What? You want to go back to living in the Dark Ages, you moron?

Thus, a priori, any information that might cast a shadow on the notion that we all live right now in the Best of All Possible Worlds, until dawn tomorrow reveals and even better best, is right out. Only a reactionary Luddite would dare mention how all this Progress has some downsides, how it might even lead to something undesirable. Even worse are those (me, I hope) who reject and mock the very idea that Progress stands athwart the modern world, no feet of clay anywhere to be seen!

Enough!