AI, AI, Oh.

Old MacBezos Had a Server Farm…

Free-associating there, a little. Pardon me.

Seems AI is on a lot of people’s minds these days. I, along with many, have my doubts:

My opinion: there are a lot of physical processes well suited to the very fancy automation that today is called AI. Such AI could put most underwriters, investment analysts, and hardware designers out of a job, like telegraph agents and buggy whip makers before them. I also think there’s an awful lot of the ‘we’re almost there!’ noise surrounding AI that has surrounded commercial nuclear fusion for my entire life – it’s always just around the corner, it’s always just a few technical details that need working out.

But it’s still not here. Both commercial nuclear fusion and AI, in the manner I am talking about, may come, and may even come soon. But I’m not holding my breath.

And this is not the sort of strong AI – you know, the Commander Data kind of AI – that gets human rights for robots discussions going. For philosophical reasons, I have my doubts human beings can create intellect (other than in the old fashioned baby-making way), no matter how much emergent properties handwavium is applied. Onward:

Here is the esteemed William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, taking a shot at the “burgeoning digital afterlife industry”. Some geniuses have decided to one-up the standard Las Vegas psychic lounge routine, where by a combination of research (“hot readings”) and clever dialogue (“cold readings”), a performer can give the gullible the impression he is a mind reader, by training computers to do it.

Hot readings are cheating. Cons peek in wallets, purses, and now on the Internet, and note relevant facts, such as addresses, birthdays, and various other bits of personal information. Cold readings are when the con probes the mark, trying many different lines of inquiry—“I see the letter ‘M’”—which rely on the mark providing relevant feedback. “I had a pet duck when I was four named Missy?” “That’s it! Missy misses you from Duck Heaven.” “You can see!”

You might not believe it, but cold reading is shockingly effective. I have used it many times in practicing mentalism (mental magic), all under the guise of “scientific psychological theory.” People want to believe in psychics, and they want to believe in science maybe even more.

Briggs notes that this is a form of the Turing Test, and points to a wonderful 1990 interview of Mortimer Adler by William F. Buckley, wherein they discuss the notions of intellect,. brain, and human thought. Well worth the 10 minutes to watch.

In Machine Learning Disability, esteemed writer and theologian Brian Niemeier recounts, first, a story much like I reference in my tweet pasted in above: how a algorithm trained to do one thing – identify hit songs across many media in near real time – generates an hilarious false positive when an old pirated and memed clip goes viral.

Then it gets all serious. All this Big Data science you’ve been hearing of, and upon which the Google, Facebook and Amazon fortunes are built, is very, very iffy, no better than the Billboard algorithms that generated the false positive. Less obvious are people now using Big Data science to prove all sorts of things. In my gimlet-eyed take, doing research on giant datasets is a great way to bury your assumptions and biases so that they’re very hard to find. This, on top of the errors built in to the sampling, the methodology and algorithms themselves – errors upon errors upon errors.

As Niemeier points out, just having huge amounts of data is no guarantee you are doing good science, in in fact multiplies to opportunity to get it wrong. Briggs points out in his essay how easily people are fooled, and how doggedly they’ll stick to their beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence. You put these things together, and it’s pretty scary out there.

I’m always amazed that people who have worked around computers fall for any of this. Every geek with a shred of self-awareness (not a given by any means) has multiple stories about programs and hardware doing stupid things, how no one could have possibly imagined a user doing X, and so (best case) X crashes the system or (worse case) X propagates and goes unnoticed for years until the error is subtle, ingrained and permanent. Depending on the error, this could be bad. Big Data is a perfect environment for this latter result.

John C. Wright also gets in on the AI kerfuffle, referencing the Briggs post and adding his own inimitable comments.

Finally, Dust, a Youtube channel featuring science fiction short films, recently had an “AI Week” where the shorts were all based on AI themes. One film took a machine learning tool, fed it a bunch of Sci Fi classics and not so classics, and had it write a script, following the procedure used by short film competitions. And then shot the film. The results are always painful, but occasionally painfully funny. The actors should get Oscar nominations in the new Lucas Memorial Best Straight Faces When Saying Really Stupid Dialogue category:

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Wet Enough for You? Philip Marlowe Edition

From the L.A. Times: Why L.A. is having such a wet winter after years of drought conditions. (Warning: they’ll let you look at their site for a while, then cut you off like a barkeep when closing time approaches.) Haven’t looked at the article yet, but I’ll fall off my chair if the answer doesn’t contain global warming/climate change.

But I have some ideas of my own. Historical data on seasonal rainfall totals for Los Angeles over the last 140+ year is readily available on the web. I took that data, and did a little light analysis.

Average seasonal rainfall in L.A. is 14.07″. 60% of the time, rainfall is below average; 40% above. Percentage of seasons with:

  • less than 75% of average rain: 32.62
  • between 75% and 125%: 39.01
  • over 75%: 28.37

“Normal” rainfall covers a pretty wide range, one would reasonably suppose. Getting a lot or a little seems somewhat more likely than getting somewhere around average. This fits with my experience growing up in L.A. (18 year sample size, use with caution.)

The last 20 years look like:

Season (July 1-June 30)Total Rainfall, InchesVariance from Avg
2017-20184.79-9.91
2016-201719.004.3
2015-20169.65-5.05
2014-20158.52-6.18
2013-20146.08-8.62
2012-20135.85-8.85
2011-20128.69-6.01
2010-201120.205.5
2009-201016.361.66
2008-20099.08-5.62
2007-200813.53-1.17
2006-20073.21-11.49
2005-200613.19-1.51
2004-200537.2522.55
2003-20049.24-5.46
2002-200316.491.79
2001-20024.42-10.28
2000-200117.943.24
1999-200011.57-3.13
1998-19999.09-5.61

14 years out of 20 (70%) are under average; 6 above. Those 5 years in a row stand out, as does the 9 out of 11 years under from 2005-2006 to 2015-2016. (That 22.55 inches in 2004-2005 also stands out – very wet year by L.A. standards.)

Wow, that does look bad. So does this stretch, with 7 out of 8 under:

1924-19257.38-7.32
1923-19246.67-8.03
1922-19239.59-5.11
1921-192219.664.96
1920-192113.71-0.99
1919-192012.52-2.18
1918-19198.58-6.12
1917-191813.86-0.84

And this one, with 10 out of 11:

1954-195511.94-2.76
1953-195411.99-2.71
1952-19539.46-5.24
1951-195226.2111.51
1950-19518.21-6.49
1949-195010.60-4.1
1948-19497.99-6.71
1947-19487.22-7.48
1946-194712.61-2.09
1945-194612.13-2.57
1944-194511.58-3.12

Or this, with 6 out of 7:

1964-196513.69-1.01
1963-19647.93-6.77
1962-19638.38-6.32
1961-196218.794.09
1960-19614.85-9.85
1959-19608.18-6.52
1958-19595.58-9.12

This last cherry-picked selection is also like the most recent years in that annual rainfall is not just under, but way under. This last sample shows more than 6″ under, in 5 out of 6 years. In the recent sample, 5 out of the last 7 years prior to this year were more than 6″ under, and one over 5″ under.

How often does L.A. get rainfall 6″ or more under average? About 22% of the time. So, hardly unusual, and, given a big enough sample (evidently not very big), you would expect to find the sorts of patterns we see here, even if, as it would be foolish to assume, every year’s rainfall is a completely independent event from the preceding year or years. It would make at least as much sense to think there are big, multi-year, multi-decade, multi-century and so on cycles – cycles that would take much larger samples of seasonal rainfall to detect. And those cycles could very well interact – cycles within cycles.

Problem is, I’ve got 141 years of data, so I can’t say. I suspect nobody can. Given the poorly understood cycles in the oceans and sun, and the effect of the moon on the oceans and atmosphere, which it would be reasonable to assume affect weather and rainfall, we’re far from discovering the causes of the little patterns cherry picking the data might present to us. They only tell us that rainfall seems to fall into patterns, where one dry year is often followed by one or two or even four or five more dry years. And sometimes not.

L.A. also gets stretches such as this:

1943-194419.214.51
1942-194319.174.47
1941-194211.18-3.52
1940-194132.7618.06
1939-194018.964.26
1938-193913.06-1.64
1937-193823.438.73
1936-193722.417.71
1935-193612.07-2.63
1934-193521.666.96

Not only are 7 out of 10 years wetter than average, the 3 years under average are only a little short. This would help explain why it is so often raining in Raymond Chandler stories set in L.A. – this sample of years overlaps most of his masterpieces.

Image result for philip marlowe
It could be raining outside – hard to tell, and I don’t remember. Just work with me here, OK?

The L.A. Times sees something in this data-based Rorschach test; I see nothing much. Let’s see what the article says:

Nothing. The headline writer, editor and writer evidently don’t talk to each other, as the article as published makes no attempt to answer or even address the question implied in the headline. It’s just a glorified weather report cobbled together from interviews from over the last several months. Conclusion: things seem OK, water system wise, for now, but keep some panic on slow simmer, just in case. Something like that.

Oh, well. You win some, you lose some. That *thunk* you hear is me falling out of my chair.

How’s the Weather? 2018/2019 Update

In a recent post here you could almost hear the disappointment in the climate scientists’ words as they recounted the terrible truth: that, despite what the models were saying would happen, snowpack in the mountains of the western U.S. had not declined at all over the last 35 years. This got me thinking about the weather, as weather over time equals climate. So I looked into the history of the Sierra snowpack. Interesting stuff.

From a September 2015 article from the LA Times

This chart accompanies a September 14th, 2015 article in the LA Times: Sierra Nevada snowpack is much worse than thought: a 500-year low.

When California Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a snowless Sierra Nevada meadow on April 1 and ordered unprecedented drought restrictions, it was the first time in 75 years that the area had lacked any sign of spring snow.

Now researchers say this year’s record-low snowpack may be far more historic — and ominous — than previously realized.

A couple of commendable things stand out from this chart, and I would like to commend them: first, it is a very pleasant surprise to see the data sources acknowledged. From 1930 on, people took direct measurements of the snowpack. The way they do it today is two-fold: sticking a long, hollow calibrated pole into the snow until they hit dirt. They can simply read the numbers off the side of the pole to see how deep it is. The snow tends to stick inside the pole, which they can then weigh to see how much water is in the snow. They take these measurements in the same places on the same dates over the years, to get as close to an apples to apples comparison as they can. Very elegant and scientifilicious.

They also have many automated station that measure such things in a fancy automatic way. I assume they did it the first way back in 1930, and added the fancy way over time as the tech become available. Either way, we’re looking at actual snow more or less directly.

Today’s results from the automated system. From the California Data Exchange System.

Prior to 1930, there were no standard way of doing this, and I’d suppose, prior to the early 1800s at the earliest, nobody really thought much about doing it. Instead, modern researchers looked at tree rings to get a ballpark idea.

I have some confidence in their proxy method simply because it passes the eye test: in that first chart, the patterns and extremes in the proxies look pretty much exactly like the patterns and extremes measured more directly over the past 85 years. But that’s just a gut feel, maybe there’s some unconscious forcing going on, some understatement of uncertainty, or some other factors making the pre-1930 estimates less like the post 1930 measurements. But it’s good solid science to own up to the different nature of the numbers. We’re not doing an apples to apples comparison, even if it looks pretty reasonable.

The second thing to commend the Times on: they included this chart, even though it in fact does not support the panic mongering in the headline. It would have been very easy to leave it out, and avoid the admittedly small chance readers might notice that, while the claim that the 2015 snowpack was the lowest in 500 might conceivably be true, having a similar very low snowpack has been a pretty regular occurrence over that same 500 years. Further, they might notice those very low years have been soon followed by some really high years, without exception.

Ominous, we are told. What did happen? 2015-2016 snowpack was around the average, 2016-2017 was near record deep, 2017-2018 also around average. So far, the 2018-2019 season, as the chart from the automatic system shows, is at 128% of season to date average. What the chart doesn’t show: a huge storm is rolling in later this week, forecast to drop 5 to 8 feet of additional snow. This should put us well above the April 1 average, which date is around the usual maximum snowpack date, with 7 more weeks to go. Even without additional snow, this will be a good year. If we get a few more storm between now and April 1, it could be a very good year.

And I will predict, with high confidence, that, over the next 10 years, we’ll have one or two or maybe even 3 years well below average. Because, lacking a cause to change it, that’s been the pattern for centuries.

Just as the climate researchers mentioned in the previous post were disappointed Nature failed to comply with their models, the panic mongering of the Times 3.5 years ago has also proven inaccurate. In both cases, without even looking it up, we know what kind of answer we will be given: this is an inexplicable aberration! It will get hotter and dryer! Eventually! Or it won’t, for reasons, none of which shall entail admitting our models are wrong.

It’s a truism in weather forecasting that simply predicting tomorrow’s weather will be a lot like today’s is a really accurate method. If those researchers from the last post and the Times had simply looked at their own data and predicted future snowpacks would be a lot like past ones, they’d have been pretty accurate, too.

Still waiting for the next mega-storm season, like 1861-1862. I should hope it never happens, as it would wipe out much of California’s water infrastructure and flood out millions of people. But, if it’s going to happen anyway, I’d just as soon get to see it. Or is that too morbid?

K Street, Inundation of the State Capitol, City of Sacramento, 1862.jpg
Great Flood of 1862. Via Wikipedia.

Feser and the Galileo Trap

File:Bertini fresco of Galileo Galilei and Doge of Venice.jpg
Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use a telescope.

Edward Feser here tackles the irrationality on daily display via the Covington Catholic affair, and references a more detailed description of skepticism gone crazy:

As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be.  This is a misinterpretation and overgeneralization of certain cases in the history of modern science where common sense turned out to be wrong, and when applied to moral and social issues it yields variations on the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with thinkers like Nietzsche and Marx.  

Readers of this blog may recognize in Feser discussion above what I refer to as the Galileo Trap: the tendency or perhaps pathology that rejects all common experiences to embrace complex, difficult explanations that contradict them. In Galileo’s case, it happens that all common experiences tell you the world is stationary. Sure does not look or feel like we are moving at all. That the planet “really” is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and whipping through space even faster proves, somehow, that all those gullible rubes relying on their lying eyes are wrong! Similar situations arise with relativity and motion in general, where the accepted science does not square with simple understanding based on common experience.

Historically, science sometimes presents explanations that, by accurately accommodating more esoteric observations, make common observations much more complicated to understand. Galileo notably failed to explain how life on the surface of a spinning globe spiraling through space could appear so bucolic. By offering a more elegant explanation of the motion of other planets, he made understanding the apparent and easily observed immobility of this one something requiring a complex account. But Galileo proved to be (more or less) correct; over the course of the next couple centuries, theories were developed and accepted that accounted for the apparent discrepancies between common appearance and reality.

We see an arrow arch through the air, slow, and fall; we see a feather fall more slowly than a rock. Somehow, we think Aristotle was stupid for failing to discover and apply Newton’s laws. While they wonderfully explain the extraordinarily difficult to see motion of the planets, they also require the introduction of a number of other factors to explain a falling leaf you can see out the kitchen window.

Thus, because in few critical areas of hard science – or, as we say here, simply science – useful, elegant and more general explanations sometimes make common experiences harder to understand, it has become common to believe it is a feature of the universe that what’s *really* going on contradicts any simple understanding. Rather than the default position being ‘stick with the simple explanation unless forced by evidence to move off it,’ the general attitude seems to be the real explanation is always hidden and contradicts appearances. This boils down to the belief we cannot trust any common, simple, direct explanations. We cannot trust tradition or authority, which tend to formulate and pass on common sense explanations, even and especially in science!

Such pessimism, as Feser calls it, is bad enough in science. It is the disaster he describes in politics and culture. Simply, it matters if you expect hidden, subtle explanations and reject common experience. You become an easy mark for conspiracy theories.

I’ve commented here on how Hegel classifies the world into enlightened people who agree with him, and the ignorant, unwashed masses who don’t. He establishes, in other words, a cool kid’s club. Oh sure, some of the little people need logic and math and other such crutches, but the pure speculative philosophers epitomized by Hegel have transcended such weakness. Marx and Freud make effusive and near-exclusive use of this approach as well. Today’s ‘woke’ population is this same idea mass-produced for general consumption.

Since at least Luther in the West, the rhetorical tool of accusing your opponent of being unenlightened, evil or both in lieu of addressing the argument itself has come to dominate public discourse.

A clue to the real attraction of conspiracy theories, I would suggest, lies in the rhetoric of theorists themselves, which is filled with self-congratulatory descriptions of those who accept such theories as “willing to think,” “educated,” “independent-minded,” and so forth, and with invective against the “uninformed” and “unthinking” “sheeple” who “blindly follow authority.” The world of the conspiracy theorist is Manichean: either you are intelligent, well-informed, and honest, and therefore question all authority and received opinion; or you accept what popular opinion or an authority says and therefore must be stupid, dishonest, and ignorant. There is no third option.

Feser traces the roots:

Crude as this dichotomy is, anyone familiar with the intellectual and cultural history of the last several hundred years might hear in it at least an echo of the rhetoric of the Enlightenment, and of much of the philosophical and political thought that has followed in its wake. The core of the Enlightenment narrative – you might call it the “official story” – is that the Western world languished for centuries in a superstitious and authoritarian darkness, in thrall to a corrupt and power-hungry Church which stifled free inquiry. Then came Science, whose brave practitioners “spoke truth to power,” liberating us from the dead hand of ecclesiastical authority and exposing the falsity of its outmoded dogmas. Ever since, all has been progress, freedom, smiles and good cheer.

If being enlightened, having raised one’s consciousness or being woke meant anything positive, it would mean coming to grips with the appalling stupidity of the “official story”. It’s also amusing that science itself is under attack. It’s a social construct of the hegemony, used to oppress us, you see. Thus the snake eats its tail: this radical skepticism owes its appeal to the rare valid cases where science showed common experiences misleading, and yet now it attacks the science which is its only non-neurotic basis.

Science! Strikes Again: Saving the Theory from the Data

An amusing headline: For 35 years, the Pacific Ocean has largely spared West’s mountain snow from effects of global warming. A “study” by “scientists” is used to explain what, in a saner world, might simply be stated as follows: “Western mountain snowpack shows no evidence of global warming over the the last 35 years.”

In the article, we learn that models predict that snowpack in Washington’s portion of the Cascade Range, for example, should have fallen by 2% – 44% over the the last 35 years, but in fact have shown no significant decline. Now a crass, narrow-minded person, clearly not in the cool kids club, might leap to the conclusion that the data here contradicts the model, therefore – you’re sitting down, right? – the model is wrong. The whole purpose and entire source of validation for a model is predictions. You build a model hoping to capture some aspect of the real world. You use this model to make concrete, measurable predictions that can be checked against the real world, to see if your model is useful. If the facts don’t match the predictions, you throw out the model and start over. This is called science.

Here, instead, the study invokes a cause not in the model. We know this cause was not in the model since, if it were in the model, the model would have presumably produced useful predictions.

“There were a lot of discussions within the department of the surprising stability of the western U.S. snowpack, because it went against the predictions,” said co-author Cristian Proistosescu, a postdoctoral researcher at the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean.

The discussion did not, evidently, include the obvious conclusion required by basic science: our model is wrong. Nope, this inescapable conclusion is masked behind an appeal to additional causes. Natural variations in the Pacific Ocean kept the snowpack stable, it is asserted.

Stop right here: if your model needs to appeal to factors outside itself, factors not built into the model, that means your model is wrong. Call it incomplete if you want, but the short, English word for that state where the model does not provide useful, validated predictions is ‘wrong’. Throw it out. Build a new model that includes the newly-discovered (!) causes, if you want, make some more predictions, and see what happens. But clinging to a model that’s been proven wrong by real world data is pathetic, and patiently anti-science.

It’s not just the Western U.S. mountains that fail to validate those models. It’s not like the hundreds of different climate models floating around have some sort of sterling track record otherwise, so that we’d lose predictive power if we just tossed them all. No, they all predict that the earth would be much warmer now than it actually is. The Arctic would be ice free by 2000 2013 2016 2050. (Pro-tip: always make your predictions take place out beyond your funding cycle, to mitigate the slim chance people will remember you made them by the time the next grant proposal needs filing.)

A slightly – very slightly – more subtle point: we all know there’s such a thing as ‘natural variations’ in all sorts of areas. In practice, especially when building models, natural variations are nothing more than a collective name for causes we don’t understand well enough to build into the model. Even admitting the existence of natural variations that affect the thing being modeled that are not included in the model is to admit the model is at best incomplete.

One might leave out potential causes on the assumption that, while they might theoretically affect predictions, in practice they are not material. When we say acceleration under gravity at the earth’s surface is 32’sec^2, we leave out air resistance (and air pressure variations, and humidity, and no doubt a bunch of other things) because that formula has proven to be useful quite a bit of the time. Only in very fussy situations do we need something else, as long as we’re testing near the earth’s surface.

We know we can ignore some complexities only because we used our model to predict outcomes, measured those outcomes and found them good enough. To admit there are natural variations that render a model’s predictions useless is to admit that the phenomenon being modeled is beyond our skill as modelers. No amount of statistical sleight of hand can make this go away.

Another issue is the baseline question: this study considers 35 years of data. With few exceptions, the mountains of the Western U.S. have been there, experiencing snowpack and natural variations, for at least several hundred thousand times that long. This data covers something less than 0.00001% of the potential dataset.

Well? Is that enough? Can we justify any conclusions drawn from such a tiny sample? Can we say with any confidence what ‘average’ or ‘normal’ conditions are for snowpack in these mountains? The natural variations we know about include ice ages, glaciers and glacial lakes. Precipitation levels almost certainly vary wildly over thousands, let alone millions, of years. On what basis should we conclude that the snowpack should stay the same, grow, shrink or do anything in particular over a given 35 year period?

Enough. The monotonous similarity of these sorts of “studies” in their steadfast resistance to apply even a little basic science or common sense to their analyses tires me.

Weekend Update & Link-fest

A. Trying to write a review of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, and it’s painful. I’ll get it done in the next few days. Pure Communist propaganda hiding behind reams of faux erudition. Since a simple straightforward statement of his Marxist ideas would invite withering criticism from anyone who has not drunk the kool aid, he lards on irrelevancies with the implied ad hominem – you only disagree because you are not enlightened enough to get it. Or cold-hearted – look at all this suffering! If only enlightened managers had control, why, they’d fix everything! But don’t look at the gulags or killing fields.

He wrote a few years before Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, and before the post-war worldwide economic boom (still ongoing, despite a few comparatively brief hiccups) began driving world-wide material poverty and suffering down and health and life expectancies up year after year, everywhere in proportion as Marxist ideas are not implemented. Back then, it was still possible for your typical Marxist to claim the Soviet Union is the future that works, not a bloodbath of totalitarian control. Funny how that didn’t pan out.

B. Revisiting the heresy of Americanism. Foxifer was kind enough to link to my humble speculations over on American Catholic. The comments are interesting.

It’s easy (and convenient) to dismiss Americanism, as the near-contemporary Catholic Encyclopedia and, to a lesser extent, Wikipedia today do, as a phantom heresy: just some rabble rousers getting in the Pope’s ear, Pope overreacts, nothing to see here, move along.

Related image

But let’s break that down a bit. The Pope’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons is a typical Vatican-style letter (old school division) where the praise is general and the condemnations relatively more specific. A more general way to state the issue: are you judging America by the Church’s standards, or the Church by America’s? Pope Leo XIII condemned:

  1. undue insistence on interior initiative in the spiritual life, as leading to disobedience
  2. attacks on religious vows, and disparagement of the value of religious orders in the modern world
  3. minimizing Catholic doctrine
  4. minimizing the importance of spiritual direction

Unless one is in utter denial, the absolute best one could seriously argue here is that Leo jumped the gun by a few decades. But I don’t think that’s the case.

In the last post, I mentioned in this connection Archbishop John Ireland, the leading ‘liberal’ in the American hierarchy at the turn of the last century. He’s yet another figure I’ll need to find out a lot more about. Superficially, at least, his actions imply serious cluelessness or worse, casual dishonesty. Right around this time, he gave a speech before the National Education Association, an institution that was viewed by many Catholic leaders as, at the very least, latently anti-Catholic. The NEA’s main thrust, then as now, was improving the lot of public school teachers through support of compulsory public schools and standardization through certification of teachers. The Catholic Church ran thousands of private schools staffed by religious sisters who were trained on the job and whose relevant certification was that they were Catholic sisters, not tools of a state that hated Catholics.

For Ireland to address such a crowd and suggest that, soon and very soon, Catholics would just accept the public schools and send their kids there, would be – insane? Unbelievably clueless? Dishonest? At the very least, wouldn’t this idea be something you’d float among the other bishops first? You know, the people who shepherd the flocks whose toil and money went into building all the parochial schools created specifically to keep their kids out of the public schools? When the other bishops reacted with predictable horror, Ireland tried to downplay the incident. The pope’s letter Gibbons, especially in light of his previous letter praising those who sacrificed much to keep their kids out of anti-Catholic schools, certainly would not have cast Ireland in a positive light.

Ireland’s actions could be seen as supporting at least points 2, 3, and 4 from Leo’s letter. You send your kids to public schools, and they’re learning by immersion that 1. the vows taken by those Catholic sisters teaching in the parochial schools don’t really matter much, certainly not as much as state certification; 2. at best, not hearing Catholic doctrine every day in the classroom, with the very real likelihood you’ll hear subtle and not so subtle disparagement of doctrine, is no big deal; and 3. being undirected spiritually – again, a best-case scenario – is perfectly OK for kids, as their parents will of course undo all the damage and supply the guidance between 5:30 and bedtime, minus dinner and homework time.

But the most important observation: everything the Pope condemns has passed into routine Catholic practice in America at some point in the last century or so. It either sprang Athena-like from some Progressive forehead in, I dunno, 1955? 1960?, or it was in fact a current among certain Catholics dating back to some period before Leo’s letter. How we personally feel about God and Church teachings is primary; vocations have fallen off a cliff, relatively speaking; priests are afraid (or letting their silence imply consent to dissident positions) of speaking out about hard doctrine from the pulpit or anywhere else for that matter; and spiritual direction? What’s that?

Of course, I generalize, and, at least in some areas, a corner has been turned. But anyone who thinks this is not the state of the American Catholic Church is living in a bubble. Go teach a 1st communion or confirmation class, and get back to us.

C. Related: turns out Isaac Hecker, the French intro to whose biography triggered Leo’s letter to Gibbons, was in fact well acquainted with Orestes Brownson, and was greatly influenced by him – Hecker reconsidered and then joined the Catholic Church after Brownson converted, and they discussed the matter in correspondence. He became a priest after consulting Brownson. So, while I have no first-hand information on Hecker’s views as yet, Brownson’s views I’ve discussed here. Writing as the Civil War concluded, Brownson was extremely optimistic about the Church’s future in America, declaring that it was God’s Providence that had created America in order to form one united Catholic nation comprising the entire Western Hemisphere. Since the principles upon which the Republic is established can only be supported by uniquely Catholic doctrines (that’s Brownson, not me, to be clear), it becomes inevitable that all the states of the New World will join America:

There was no statesmanship in proclaiming the “Monroe doctrine,” for the statesman keeps always, as far as possible, his government free to act according to the exigencies of the case when it comes up, unembarrassed by previous declarations of principles. Yet the doctrine only expresses the destiny of the American people, and which nothing but their own fault can prevent them from realizing in its own good time. Napoleon will not succeed in his Mexican policy, and Mexico will add some fifteen or twenty new States to the American Union as soon as it is clearly for the interests of all parties that it should be done, and it can be done by mutual consent, without war or violence. The Union will fight to maintain the integrity of her domain and the supremacy of her laws within it, but she can never, consistently with her principles or her interests, enter upon a career of war and conquest. Her system is violated, endangered, not extended, by subjugating her neighbors, for subjugation and liberty go not together. Annexation, when it takes place, must be on terms of perfect equality and by the free act of the state annexed. The Union can admit of no inequality of rights and franchises between the States of which it is composed. The Canadian Provinces and the Mexican and Central American States, when annexed, must be as free as the original States of the Union, sharing alike in the power and the protection of the Republic—alike in its authority, its freedom, its grandeur, and its glory, as one free, independent, self-governing people. They may gain much, but must lose nothing by annexation.

Brownson, the American Republic

Note first the primacy of place given to American doctrines, as the clear expression of what is implicit in Church teaching. Next, we have, as the cool kids say, immanentized the eschaton big time. Finally, note the implicit criticism of Europe and the non-American Church. If America is the (Hegelian historical?) expression of the Church, the European Church is chopped liver, more or less.

Now we look back at the French writer of the introduction to Hecker’s biography, who was by all accounts looking to America and America’s native saint (Hecker is a Servant of God as of 2008, first step toward canonization) for inspiration in restructuring European Church/State relations and in moving power to the people.

What could possibly go wrong?

D. I found this totally refreshing and revealing:

College Student to Synod Organizers: Don’t Listen to Me!

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom.”

Even as the bishops attending this month’s Youth Synod in Rome strive mightily to demonstrate that they hear the wishes and concerns of young people, I was surprised when a Catholic college student told me that he doesn’t much care if the Church listens to him.
Isaac Cross first heard about the Youth Synod when he was asked to participate in the preparatory survey. One of the opening questions has stuck with him: “As a young person, do you feel that the Church listens to you?”

Isaac didn’t like the question.

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom,” he told me. “The Church is built upon thousands of years of tradition and doctrine, and I have especially found at college how striving to understand that doctrine of the Church is a vital means of strengthening [one’s] faith.”

I don’t like lies. From the late 60s on, it was one lie after another from advocates of Church reform: we were told that all the changes were mandated by Vatican II – no, they were not; we were told the new music was for us kids – no, it was not, no one ever asked us if we wanted insipid pseudo-folk music; they claimed to be listening to us – never happened, except for those kids coached to say what our managers wanted to hear. All objections were treated as tantamount to heresy, never mind that no where in the documents actually issued by the Church Council could support be found for what was being rammed down our throats. (1)

So, here’s a kid willing to state the obvious: kids are stupid. We love them, we trust them, we educate them by example – but we would be even more stupid to expect wisdom from the mouth of babes on any but a rare exception basis. Goodness, innocence and charity, yes – the sense in which we are to be like children. But not so much gun control, immigration and tax policy. Or Church direction.

E. Don’t remember where I wandered across this:

“Time to Consider Changing the Name of Woodrow Wilson High School”?

Seems – finally – someone noticed that Wilson’s racism as evidenced by his resegregation of the federal government, which involved demotion or out and out firing of thousands of black federal workers, was a bad thing. Who’da thunk it? As an icon of progressive liberal thought, as architect of the League of Nations, as a champion eugenics and of public schooling (designed, after the wishes of the recently retired William Torrey Harris, to keep the population stupid and docile), Wilson has gotten the usual Liberal pass. See, a Confederate hero, for example, even if not a slave owner or even if personally opposed to slavery, is to be condemned – and here’s the important part – without discussion. A progressive hero is to be lionized, again, without discussion. And have schools named after him.

This could be very dangerous. What if people start looking even harder at Wilson? What if they start looking at, oh, Margaret Singer? John Dewey? (He’s got schools named after him, too.) Heck, any of the left’s heroes from around that time? If we give them a pass because all the cool kids were doing it at the time, I hope we’ve kept those Confederate statues safe, because we’d need to put them back up on the same principle.

Not that consistency has ever mattered much. I predict that their betters will put the anti-Wilson forces back in line, and nothing will happen. But I’d love to wrong, and I’d love to see dominos start to fall. Logic does have its own inertia and gravity, requiring a strong, steady stream of lies to keep it at bay. But the lies cannot be recognized as lies by too many people, or the damn breaks.

  1. As mentioned elsewhere, I have recently been blessed to attend the Novus Ordo said reverently in Latin ad orientem with chant – in other words, as the actual council documents describe it. If that had been allowed, back in the 60s and 70s, most of trauma – and it was traumatic – caused by the sudden, vehement and merciless adoption of the Spirit of Vatican II version of the Mass could have been avoided. One suspects the trauma was the point for many of those involved in implementing the changes.

The Schools Will Burn

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The esteemable William Briggs comments on a teacher who was fired for failing to use male pronouns to address a girl whose parents had decided she was a boy.  Many parents protested, and the principal involved said she could appreciate their feelings, but that the offending teacher would remain fired. 

Dr. Briggs, who himself, despite sterling credentials and years of experience,  is no longer employed as a professor due to his failure to comply, points out that this is just one incident among many. The few remaining teachers and academics at all levels who see through the nonsense have learned to keep their heads down and pay lip service to gender theory and, by extension, all critical theory, which is explicitly the weaponized academic aspect of Marxism. If they want to keep their jobs, that is. 

We are at a very interesting juncture in history, in exactly that sense in which we pray God to spare us from interesting times. Two forces are arrayed in diametric and mortal conflict: the force of those sharing a largely inchoate love for simple, personal things: family, friends, the quiet enjoyment of what can most rightly be called theirs, versus the force of destruction, a force that above all hates those things.

In both parties, a large number, perhaps even a huge majority, are not yet aware of, let alone completely clear on, what they believe, what is at stake and how the battle will be fought and won. Thus, those whose actions and statements support destruction scoff at this characterisation. I, too, they may well say, have friends and family I love. In fact, I’m saving the planet for them, saving the government for them. For them, I want every person on the planet to be free to come to America without any hindrance or judgement of their motives – because these things are essential to any world my family and friends want to live in, or would want to live in were they more enlightened.  

Similarly, I suppose the major characteristic of the vast majority of people opposed to these positions is annoyance. What is with all this wild stuff that keeps coming down? I mean, geez, sure, let women have access to all the professions and opportunities men have, leave gay people alone, protect blacks and immigrants against poor treatment, and so on – but doesn’t this train ever stop? Do we really need to pretend boys are girls and visa versa? Do we really have to pretend that two guys are as much a married couple as any married mom and dad? Do women really not have to put up any evidence or proof to destroy a man’s life with accusations of rape or even accusations he was a cad once? Where does it stop? 

This vagueness plays strongly into the hands of the forces of destruction. Where a focused, strong response is required, a tepid sense of annoyance is all that’s offered. Thus, the schools will burn. They should burn, but through having all public funding removed yesterday, K through PhD. and all compulsory education laws revoked. You think you’re going to get the indoctrination stopped any other way? You think people addicted to lying are going to respond to persuasion? Polite pressure?

No. Two things would happen if all state and federal funding and compulsion were removed from education. The make-work aspect would end. People would figure out alternatives, like people did for centuries before Fichte. If the schools were burned down in this manner – and I’m not real hopeful here – the teachers who can really teach anything people might actually want their kids to learn will end up with teaching jobs. High-end Vo-Tech like law and business degrees will find a level the market will support, and some people will make a living teaching those things. And all the more traditional jobs training, from welding school to beauticians, will employ teachers as they have done. Those unable to find work weren’t really providing any value before. 

But what about those kids whose parents won’t force them to get educated? We’d fail them! We’d leave them behind!

Guess what? We’re failing them now. They are left behind now. Even with the billions spent on education, even with the full power of the state’s enforcement arm behind forcing kids into schools, a huge (and consistently understated) percentage, well over 50%, of kids in ‘underperforming’ schools drop out anyway. Got that? The full strength of the law and billions of dollars, and huge numbers of kids fail under the terms set by schools themselves! 

The people who support compulsory state run schools and the gamut of state ‘free’ services do not really desire the supposed outcomes of these programs. Stop and consider this again: the people in favor of compulsory state benefit programs do not in fact desire the outcomes promised by those programs. That’s not what attracts them and fires their enthusiasm. They lie to themselves, or let others lie to them. The tell-tale signs: these are the people undeterred by repeated failures (how’s that war on poverty coming? Any day now, right?). Further, these are the people who will brook no discussion of how things are supposed to work when they get their way. As Alinsky puts it:

RULE 12: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”


In other words, do not allow the lack of a constructive alternative to derail your attack. The attack is the important thing. Committed progressives will not name that toward which we are assumed to be progressing in any but vague, ultimately meaningless phrases. Fairness. Equality. Democracy. When pressed, they retreat into some variety of ad hominem. What are you, some sort of nut who doesn’t want equality and fairness? Are you opposed to the will of the people?  

Recall, for an example still fresh in many minds: Obamacare. Critics pointed out two critical and obvious flaws: That there were no mechanisms in the law to control costs in a meaningful way, and that layering on new requirements effectively destroys many existing plans. The first objection means that, under Obamacare, healthcare costs should be expected to  continue to rise, most likely faster (after a brief pause for digestion) than they would have otherwise, as a massive new set of rules and the bureaucracy to enforce them  must also be paid for. If you extensively redefine what is an acceptable healthcare plan, it’s only because you don’t like the way current healthcare plans are set up. It’s only because you *want* to make those old plans illegal. You want to make them go away. 

So, we got two bald-faced lies: first, that Obamacare would make healthcare cheaper in the long run, and second, that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. 

The important point is not that these statements have proven to be lies, and were known to be lies when they were uttered. It’s not even that some people may have believed them. It’s that proponents of the bill didn’t care in the slightest. In their minds, the details of how it was supposed to work, and even the little detail of if it could work at all, just didn’t matter. They were not looking for a concrete mechanism to improve healthcare. They were looking for the Promised Land. They were voting to hasten the coming of the holy millennium of peace and justice. It was the abstract idea embodied the the bill’s *title* that carried the weight, that embodied all hopes and desires: Affordable Health Care. Pointing out the problems with the mechanisms enacted by the actual legislation merely marks one for future culling. 

This is the pattern. How many times do we hear that Socialism has not failed, it just have never been tried. This is only true if one assumes there are options to the leaders who have already tried to put it into practice, people not at all like the power-crazed amoral zealots (and those are the better class of socialist!) who are all we’ve ever seen, for mysterious reasons. No, all socialism needs to succeed is a limitless supply of genius saintly bureaucrats, incorruptible politicians and the deaths of the millions who dare oppose or criticize it (or can be plausibly imagined to possible criticize it in the future, or who are simply in the way). With the exception of Antifa level crazies, socialists are a little hazy on that last requirement. But killing millions is a requirement. In fact, it’s a major attraction. 

The striking thing, one that has impressed itself on me more and more recently, is that supporters of utopian fantasy – communists, socialists, progressives, along with anarchists and self-identified liberals – are simply not interested in real-world outcomes. No amount of failure will ever impress them. (1) Insisting on pointing out the failures, or, worse, pointing out how based on everything we know that a particular course of action, say, Obamacare, is doomed, merely labels us as reactionary fuddy-duddies, stupid (that one always cracks me up!) and, in any event, one to be reeducated or worse once power has been seized people vote in the right leaders. 

So, we burn the schools, or they do. What they will do, following Freire, is dispense with the fiction that the schools are anything else beside indoctrination centers and reeducation camps, after, of course, burning down all alternatives. The hatred the left evinces toward homeschoolers and, indeed, anyone who chooses any other way than public schooling is truly frightening. Or do you think the Bern supports college for everyone out of the (what would be the incredibly stupid, even for him) belief that college education creates good jobs for every grad? I’d bet a lot, without even checking, that, in addition to his popularity among college kids, his support among teachers unions and ‘educators’ was very, very high.  In fact, the former is a result of the latter. The logic is compelling: compulsory state schooling is good! Only bad, evil, stupid people disagree. We will destroy their schools and plans for their own good! (And destroy them, themselves, if they make a fuss.)  

My only hope, and it’s not one I’m proud of, is that the left’s program of eating each other progresses fast and far enough to cause a collapse before they set match to kindling.

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The point of all the above: the enemy does not have a plan. Or rather, watching the world burn IS the plan. I was continually amazed at the resistance and petulant anger with which met any questioning along the lines of ‘how is that supposed to work, exactly?’ until I realized, as expressed here, that this lack of interest in real-world outcomes is a feature, really the key feature, and not a bug. Gramsci points out that you have to destroy the ‘hegemony’ – essentially, what normal people love about the world, but framed as, somehow, the mechanisms of oppression (2) –  in order to bring about the glorious people’s revolution. Their enemy is nothing other than happiness. Their enemy is Truth.