We Don’t Know the Future

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

But I digress.

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

And that’s the lighter side of things.

Image result for belloq opens the ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Weather Oops

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

Oops.

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

The system moving our way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Heresy

OK, that’s a little grand. And I’m posting on Good Friday – I mean, really, I and you have nothing better to do? Onward:

Voting age is in the news. People draw exactly opposite conclusions based on the same facts. A bunch of presumed teenagers are calling for repealing the 2nd Amendment (please – can we stop pretending otherwise?), from which fact we seem to conclude either:

  • the voting age should be lowered to 16 (or thereabouts)
  • the voting age should never have been lowered to 18/should be raised to 35 (or thereabouts)

Oh, yes, some of these teenagers went through a truly traumatic experience, which is further assumed to to bless their opinions beyond other people’s, and indeed beyond question. This moral high ground is granted despite the wisdom of Rocket Racoon:

Oh, boo hoo hoo! Everybody’s got dead people. It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way!

spideymans: “It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way. ” always going to be my favorite line

The kidder in me is sore tempted to point out that the Founders never dreamed of modern medicine and plenty. In their day, the average musket-wielding farmer was dead before 40, and kids bred up by the destitute (who were even more likely to die young) got farmed out to more responsible and successful relatives or sent to orphanages – if they were lucky.  Life was hard. Even attaining 21 years was, for most, an actual achievement, back in 1776.

If they’d have known that any ill-bred, irresponsible jerk was as liable as not to live to 80, on the way to which he might very well breed up a passel of even more ill-bred and irresponsible offspring, why, they would never had allowed voting without some sort of test of mature adulthood. Maybe a firearm proficiency and safety test? Just spitballing here.

Now, before the coffee has fully kicked in, I’m sore tempted to give credence to the theory that progressives are watching in horror as their voting base disappears (note here an historical account of how they got a part of that base in the first place).  If voter ID were required and systems of voting otherwise hardened against fraud (*cough* Chicago *cough*), why, Fabian Socialists and their useful idiots might never win another election! It’s clear that successful people with non-frou-frou college degrees, for example, do not vote for progressive nutcases (e.g., the California government) in very large numbers.

But the products of modern state schooling do – at least, until they butt into some reality. Modern colleges are designed to prevent them from butting into reality for 4 to 5 more years, and to inoculate them against it during that time. It works surprisingly well for a fantasy. So, let’s get more of *those* people on the rolls! People we can count on to be on the Right Side of History, since we’ve spent 12 years of their lives putting them there.

What could go wrong?

There are a number of American Heresies. True to our Puritan roots, we can’t seem to shake the idea that we can build Heaven on Earth if only we establish the right state religion. (Over the years, what exactly the right religion is had changed, but not our faith in the need to establish it.) People just need to cooperate, perhaps even in the business of exterminating those who won’t. Egg, omelette, and all. Only mean people insist that (fallen) human nature stands in the way. NO! If we stamp our little feet hard enough, we can conjure New Soviet Men from the blood and ashes! Don’t make me sad!

But today we consider another heresy: The assumption that politics defines us. We *are* a Democrat or Republican. We *are* a Liberal or Conservative. We *are* enlightened Progressives or fascist scum who should be lined up and shot by designated government officials using appropriately non-scary but nonetheless lethal guns.

You know, the usual buckets.

What, in America, is the ultimate confirmation of our value as human beings? The right to vote. Our role in politics is our role in life. Someone can be – and many are – without mother or father or family, without roots or friends, without God or church. This counts as nothing, we are not allowed to even consider how much being deprived of such things limits or destroys the space in which a person can be human and free. But not being able to vote? Outrage!

Aristotle said that we are political animals. He’s saying that we by nature live in a polis – a city. Human beings by nature live in and by means of relationships. The town or city is the daily functional unit of those relationships. (1)

He’s not saying that being a worthwhile person means being constantly involved in a minutia of government, or even being involved in government at all. It does not mean being a courtesan.

It does not mean having the right to vote.

But starting before the Revolution, with No Taxation without Representation, with tarring and feathering the King’s agents, with Abigail Adams, we drank in the notion that voting = the ultimate confirmation of full personhood.

The political state cannot grant or add to our basic human value. I fear that rootless people unconsciously cling to the fantasy that it can. Without mother or father or family worthy of the names, without acknowledging relationships that supercede any choice to be in them, many people grasp at the demagogue’s promise to give their lives the meaning they are deprived of by the lack of those real relationships. They think they are citizens of the omnicompetent state; they are citizens of no real city on earth, let alone the City of God. They will not have rest.

Before we grant 16-going-on-11 year olds the right to vote, maybe we should think through the point of voting in the first place.

Rather than seeing the running of government as one among many tasks adults must perform in order to provide and protect the space needed for the real, natural relationships that give life meaning, it becomes, somehow, the essential expression of that meaning. It was not enough for Abigail Adams – a thoroughly admirable woman, mother and wife – to be the beloved daughter, spouse and mother she clearly was. She wanted the vote. I get it – she was far more intelligent, educated and prudent than all but a few of the men around her. She assumed that women in general were or could become at least as well qualified to run the government as their fathers, brothers and husbands.

Perhaps she was right. Certainly, we as a nation could do (and have done) much worse than being ruled by the likes of Abigail Adams. What’s missing from the calculation here is that women who are called to be wives and mothers are now expected to also be sufficiently conversant in politics at all levels to vote and rule well. Is this reasonable or desireable from the women’s point of view? Why? Is politics really that empowering, or is it more like taking out the trash or dying in defense of your country?

Why would most women bother, given a choice? Under critical theory, women would bother because they’re victims of oppression, and political action is the only way to move forward on the Right Side of History. But if you truly find your freedom among your family and friends in the community you were granted to live in, and men are not your natural enemies but rather the natural sources and objects of love, would it at not at least bear consideration that the nuisance and duty of government is best left to somebody else? So that one might better focus on what is most valuable and important in life? We see here foreshadowed the ugly myth of the Woman Who Has It All – the job, the kids, the responsibility – except for the relationships that might make those other things worthwhile. The myth becomes a stick, with which to fend off or perhaps beat the reality of the lonely female cube-dweller, whose work is drudgery and whose family is chaos.

What if the running of the city were left, along with war and taking out the garbage, to some subset of adult men, say those 35 and older who have done some well-understood service for their community? That this is generally outrageous and unimaginable is the whole point of this essay. It doesn’t matter, for the argument, if the definition of the cadre of voters is altered to include some women or some younger people – but not everybody. What matters is that voting is seen primarily as a duty, and that this duty exists to protect the real world of relationships in which a person can be free and find meaning.

This duty must be taken up by somebody. That somebody must have the time and energy to fulfill it. From the point of view of the city as Aristotle envisioned it, men have always been more expendable than women and children. Men could and did and do go off to war, and many do not come back. Yet the web of relationships in the city survive. Would the same happen if the women were to leave and the men stay behind? We’re running that experiment now. Preliminary reports are not encouraging.

Again: much more important than who votes and holds office – I don’t really care, except for wanting to exclude as many gullible children of all ages as can be excluded – is recognizing the primacy of natural relationships over political actions. The latter serves the former, not the other way around.

  1. The functional big cities Aristotle knew of contained around 50,000 people. Most were smaller.

 

“The party that once embraced Catholics”

The above quotation is from Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. He writes to discuss two burning issues for New Yorkers where he in his role of Catholic leader is vehemently opposed by the Democratic Party: school choice and abortion. (He is for the first and against the second.) As has always been the case in my limited experience reading Dolan’s writings, he is very politic and polite.

I’m not. I’m freed from the need to attempt to work with New York politicians, and so can be more forthcoming. The images that sprang to mind with the word “embraced” were a strangler’s embrace of his victim’s neck, or shackles embrace on a prisoner. The relationship of the Democratic Party to Catholics has never been one of equals, but one of useful peons paid off by their political betters. This is both painfully obvious and painful to behold in the eternally enchanted loyalist Democratic Catholics.

Dolan only slips up once in his role as peace-maker and pleader, when he mentions his Grandmother’s whisper: “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.” That’s a lot more representative of the attitudes of the Catholics I grew up around: it’s not we Catholics, as sheep among wolves, make necessarily uneasy and conditional alliances trying to be, as Christ commanded, wise as serpents – it’s that we trust one party and distrust the other.

Why? The history of the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church is one of Catholics being used, marginalized and discarded. Tammany Hall, in Dolan’s own New York, was coextensive with the Democratic Party, legendarily corrupt – but by 1817, took care of Catholic and other immigrants as they stepped off the boats.

Tammany Hall was a political force in New York City from its 1789 inception as a benevolent association to mayoral campaigns in the 1950s. Frequently its leadership was identical to the Executive Committee of the local Democratic party, and it was a major or controlling faction in the party in 1821-1872 and 1905-1932. Key Tammany bosses through the years included William M. Tweed, Richard F. Croker, and Charles F. Murray.

Although its name was synonymous with corruption to many, Tammany Hall’s popularity and endurance resulted from its willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations. Irish immigrants forced Tammany Hall to admit them as members in 1817, and the Irish thereafter never lost their tie with it. Because in the 1820s Tammany successfully fought to extend the franchise to all propertyless white males, it was popular with the working class. A close association with the Democratic party was also forged in the Jacksonian era.

“Willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations.” This “help” was in exchange for absolute political loyalty: woe to the immigrant who dared to support any other party! With local ward bosses in near complete control of every neighborhood, and surrounded by neighbors and relatives who owed their jobs to the machine, the Tammany Hall bosses were assured that they would grow richer and more powerful if only they kept the unwashed mass of immigrants contented.

(Orestes Brownson went to New York City in 1829 as part of the Working Men’s Party, in order to get men paid for work performed, which wasn’t always happening under the more direct beneficiaries of Tammany’s largess. Those who bribed their ways into valuable city franchises were not always completely fair and honest with their workers. Go figure. This action seems to have motivated and cemented the convention that, no matter how corrupt Tammany Hall got, you still had to pay the little people to keep them in line, so that the big dogs can get richer.)

Imagine an Irish or Italian immigrant stepping off the boat in New York circa 1850. He’s fleeing oppression, poverty or both, having lived under governments that exploited him at best and actively tried to kill him and his family at worst. Somebody meets him on the docks, makes sure he has a place to sleep and food, and gets him in touch with people who can help him find a job.

It would be like being greeted by St. Peter at the gates of Heaven, only without that whole uncomfortable judgement thing. The only thing they ask in return, a very little thing, is that you support your benefactors forever more. You might notice they are corrupt – but compared to what you just escaped from? Tammany Hall looked like Boy Scouts compared to the British in Ireland! Small price to pay.

Small price to keep paying. On and on. Generation after generation. And don’t trust the Republicans.

Similar things were done in Chicago, Boston and other Democratic cities. Loyalties to the local ward boss were rolled up to the city, state and eventually national level. Catholics were just assumed – almost always correctly – to be Democrats.

All this Catholic loyalty culminated in the nomination of Al Smith in 1928 as the first Catholic to run for President from a major political party.

He lost in a landslide. Many non-Catholic Northern Democrats and virtually all Southern Democrats (effectively none of whom were Catholic) were hesitant, to say the least, to vote for a Papist.  Smith carried much of the South, as the typical Democrat had to decide if he hated Catholics or Republicans more, and went with Republicans.

1928 election

Live and learn. What happened next is what’s really instructive. In the 1932 elections, the Democrats ran Roosevelt over Smith’s strenuous opposition – but, good American Catholic that he was, he gave a key speech in favor of FDR, who won in an equally large landslide.

Roosevelt then began to pursue exactly the policies Smith had opposed, leading to the formation of the American Liberty League, which Smith joined. Much more telling: the assent of Catholics within the Democratic party was sharply curtailed. By 1940, about the only prominent Catholic FDR appointed was Joe Kennedy, who was ambassador to the UK – safely out of the way, as it were – who he nonetheless replaced when Joe was perceived as too negative about Britain’s chances in WWII.

By Roosevelt’s time, it had been firmly established that the Democrats needed Catholic votes, but didn’t really need to do much to get them. Joe Kennedy’s sons became the poster children for Catholics You Can Use: they maintained their Catholic identity while rejecting any loyalty to the Church’s teachings in favor of whatever the Democratic party wanted. And were rewarded handsomely for it.

To this day, Catholics have been played for fools by the Democratic Party. Like Esau, we trade a birthright for a full belly. Worse, lead by the likes of Ted Kennedy, we’ve learned to shed any moral qualms we might have about the particulars of the Democratic platform and not merely hold our noses and allow them, but to actively embrace them. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, anyone?

Maybe Dolan’s timid letter, which reads more like the laments of a jilted lover than of an independent leader, will be the beginning of change. Only when the Democratic Party knows it can’t assume the Catholic vote is there any hope of meaningful change. As it is, we’re still wedded to the party of abortion, destruction of marriage, and the limitless state. These are not Catholic values. It’s only been so for about 50 years. Now we notice?

Politics is always messy and dirty. We can’t just not play. But Christ sent us as sheep among wolves and commanded we be wise as serpents. Wedding ourselves to one party or the other is not wise. Being used for somebody else’s gain at the cost of our souls is worse than stupid.

Weather ’tis Nobler…

Have laid off the constant weather reports because this rain year, unlike last year, has been, frankly, boring. After a dry February here in Contra Costa County and the Sierra, the 2017-2018 precipitation year was shaping up to come in at under 1/2 average. Despite the shrill claims that this would have been some sort of disaster, it’s completely normal, if by normal you mean something that happens fairly often in the natural course of things, like how a 5’3″ tall man is completely normal, even if he’s below average height.  50% of average one year, 150% of average the next, and everything in between – that’s normal.

But that ain’t selling any beer or shampoo. So we get California May Be Returning to Drought Again and Sierra Snow Droughts May Become More Common, from early February, which, oddly, comes up far above Nearly 16 Feet of Snow Has Fallen in California’s Sierra Nevada in 18 Days, an article from the same site 2 days ago, when one googles ‘Sierra snow’. It’s like they don’t want you to stop worrying.

March rolled in like a lion. In addition to the 200 – and counting – inches of snow so far this month, we’ve had between just under 3″ to well over 8″ of rain at various spots here in Contra Costa County – the eastern part of The Bay Area, or, as Herb Caen used to say, San Francisco and its suburbs.

Right now, we’re just getting into one of those great combo storm, where the typical Gulf of Alaska cold front moves in and combines with a ‘pineapple express’ storm coming up from Hawaii. The latter is warm and full of water, the former is cold and lowers the snow level. Together, they tend to dump tons of snow in the mountains – forecast is 60″ over the next few days.

Image result for rainThere’s also rain. This particular storm is centered south of here, with the brunt hitting land around San Luis Obispo and then sliding south into Santa Barbara on into LA. They’re looking at 4 – 8 inches in the mountains, with over an inch in the flats. Since brush fires exposed a lot of bare ground down south this fall, mudslides are likely. They’re predicting snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5 where it winds through the mountains north of LA) which will create traffic chaos. Good week not to drive.

We’re just getting the edge of the storm, but still should get a not insignificant amount of rain. The southern Sierra, where all the really tall mountains are, is going to be really buried – that 60″ guess is for our end of the range, which is lower and not the center of this storm’s bullseye.

So, what does this all mean? My very amatuer guess is that we’ll end up with about 75% of average precipitation this year, which, on the back of last year’s 200% and current above normal reservoir levels, should be a JUST FINE.  And because the snow came so late, the ski resorts should be able to stay open through all or most of the spring. Right now, however, skiing is being snowed out. Can’t ski in a blizzard, especially when the roads are closed. But over the next couple months, should be excellent.

Why do I care, and more to the point, why should you care? I think the odd slants and filters on the news are perhaps most easily seen where the topic is not too emotional. Here, we have the safest topic of all – the weather. Yet, even such a mundane and non controversial topic can’t escape. Weather any different than it was last year or as it is selectively remembered to have been a decade or two ago? Must be global warming! Our reservoirs and aqueducts built for the completely different state we had 50 – 100 years ago? Drought! And global warming! We use pristine mountain water to wash circuit boards dozens of times so that the effluvia is clean enough to dump in the bay? Water shortage! Due to global warming!!

Folks, it’s just weather. We have 35 million+ Californians using water delivered largely by an old, creaky and leaky system designed for half that many, often using it in stupid ways. That means we have to be a little more circumspect and spend some money on infrastructure and maintenance. It’s not the end of the world. It does not require institution of a global tyranny to micromanage everybody’s lives.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading the news.

Convoluted Nonsense: Chicago

(Something from the draft pile from a month or two ago, that is sadly still pertinent.)

Over the course of reading American history and especially the history of education in America, I’ve developed an interest in Chicago’s history. Also, there was a time about 15-20 years ago when I had a number of customers in Chicago, and so made a trip or three there each year. I still get there occasionally. I’m familiar enough with the city to get the Chicago references in the Matrix without having to look them up.

Today’s absurdities/fake news comes out of Chicago – hardly a surprise. Chicago’s press, such as it is, is remarkable for its ability to ignore the obvious and simultaneously double down and minimize anything that makes the city, and, more importantly, the progressive project the city embodies, look bad. (1) I recall a while back, when googling around for information on Fred Roti, a lifetime Illinois politician, long-time city alderman, son of Mafia hit man Bruno “the Bomber” Roti, FBI-identified made man and convicted criminal, that I found an article about how Fred was just the nicest guy, a true lover of the city and patriot, that the FBI was clearly picking on him, and that law enforcement was the real criminal here. This appeared in one of the major Chicago papers back in the early 90s. This was the man who, for his decades as an alderman, always voted first – clearly, the rest of the city council, in their humility, needed the guidance of his example before doing something so stupid as voting against Roti.

The eminations coming out of the Chicago press defending Chicago are suspect in exactly the same way as the enthusiasm of the 2nd alderman to vote after Roti.

Problem: Chicago has a huge problem with gun violence. People kill each other with alarming frequency. Here’s not at all ever fake news CNN:

Chicago marked 2016 as the deadliest year in nearly two decades, data released by the Chicago Police Department shows.

The city saw a surge in gun violence in 2016: 762 murders, 3,550 shooting incidents, and 4,331 shooting victims, according to a statement released by the department on Sunday.

There were 480 murders in 2015, the most in the city since 1997.

Sounds like things are getting worse. Compare this with the situation in Houston, a similar sized city with a similarly diverse population:

Houston had 302 homicides in 2016, one fewer than a recorded 303 homicides in 2015, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced.

Houston has about 2.2 million people, Chicago about 2.7 million. By the magic of math, we see that Houston has a murder rate per 100,000 people of 14; while Chicago’s is 28. In other words, if murders are evenly distributed (fat chance), one would have twice as high a chance of getting murdered in Chicago as in Houston. However the murders are distributed, there were twice as many per capita in Chicago as in Houston in 2016. Further, Houston had a slight decrease in murders while Chicago had about a 59% increase.

Now, one might conclude from this that it seems likely, barring some pertinent additional information, that whatever the city of Chicago is doing to reduce murder rates isn’t working, while whatever Houston is doing seems to be working a better.

One might turn to the piece linked below in search of whatever might explain the murder rate differences. It is, after all, titled A Reporter Explains What Out-Of-Towners Keep Getting Wrong About Chicago Violence. Hey! I’m an out of towner! And I think Chicago’s murder rate – violence par excellence! – is twice as high as Houston’s because, well, it is. So, what am I getting wrong?

A reporter with the fine name of Evan Moore (no relation as far as I know) was approached by people wanting to make a documentary about Chicago, to get a sort of insider view.

After running down a list of what he liked about my work, he asked me to take him somewhere “relatively safe” on the South Side.

After shaking my head in disbelief, I wrote back asking what his definition of “safe” was. I didn’t hear back from him, but his associate offered a meeting at a coffee shop.

It was clear that the guy wanted to cover the violence in Chicago from a controlled environment. More importantly, he already had a preconceived notion about Chicago that he was going to use to shape his film.

I find this fascinating. I once visited the South Side – University of Chicago, to be specific – and *locals* were giving me all sorts of ‘stay away from there’ advise. They, people living on the South Side, seemed to have opinions more like the people doing the documentary than Mr. Moore. (2)

Also, as is so often the case among our media, our intrepid reporter has leet mind-reading skillz. He *knows* the documentary maker is going to use ‘preconceived notions’ to ‘shape’ his film.  Now, it is fair to assume that the filmmaker has notions about Chicago. They may even be ‘preconceived’ if by that phrase we mean ‘different from what he would have if he knew the city better’. What’s missing are reasons to suppose bad intent on the part of the filmmaker, other than the reporter supposing it.

Now, a simple man, especially a simple man with no bone to pick, might imagine that the documentary maker was soliciting input from locals precisely to ameliorate the effects of his ignorance, with the hope that he would then be able to present a better, truer picture of Chicago in his film. How Moore knows the filmmaker is going to ‘shape’ the film using ‘preconceived’ notions is, based on the information given in the article, borderline calumny – he wants us to believe that this unnamed documentary film maker is out to get Chicago, to sell preconceived notions – meaning negative notions, of course – to show how bad he imagines violence in the city to be. A responsible reporter (I slay me!) would never suggest such an unfavorable interpretation without, well, some facts.

Related image
Downtown, under the L. I’ve whiled away hours walking these streets. Fun. Very alive place. The picture captures, I think, something essential about Chicago’s soul: we need a train here. So stick it here! Not something you’d see in London or even LA.

Now, to be fair, I’ve lived in either LA and the Bay Area almost all my life, and people do get crazy notions about safety. You want to go to Watts or Compton or East LA? Fine, nobody will bother you if you just do your business. Just don’t leave stuff in your car, or park someplace out of the way where it might get stolen or stripped. And don’t just go hang out on the streets in the wee hours. Same goes for Oakland, except that about 75% of that city is really pretty suburban or even upscale. The only time I’ve gotten mugged in my life was at the LA Coliseum when I was a teen, and that was because I was lost in thought and got separated from my friends (who came back to check on me before things got ugly). Stuff happens. Personally, Berkeley, especially around Cal, is the worse, because people will steal your stuff in the blink of an eye. Kind of like in Rome.

So, yea, people get wrong ideas. But you straighten them out. You don’t accuse them of trying to set you up and produce propaganda – unless you’re willing to lay down a lot more evidence to support that idea than is presented in the article.

I understand why people want to come to Chicago to document the violence here. After all, Chicago has a long history of it—from Al Capone to Chief Keef. Chicago has always been considered sexy due to the violence. From the outside looking in, many media pundits, parachute journalists, and the people in the comment section in every media outlet known to man seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.

Who considers Chicago ‘sexy’ due to the violence? Any real people you can name? I would not use the word ‘sexy’ to describe anything about Chicago, let alone the violence. (And starting the violence with Capone is late – how about “Bathhouse” John Coughlin- or the Haymarket Riot, occasioned at least partly by voting fraud that never takes place? The not at all sexy history of violence in Chicago goes way back.) Millennium Park is cool, the Art Institute is lovely, the architecture down town is beautiful. Great restaurants. Nice museums. Other than that, it’s mostly a big, kinda dirty city – that is full of life, which is why, I suppose, people like big cities so much in the first place. I can dig it. Colorful might be a better overall term.

“…seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.” Let’s see: 762 divided by 365 would indicate that, on average, more than 2 people are getting murdered by *somebody* someplace in Chicago on a daily basis – which might explain the attitude. This would be the point at which a responsible reporter (can’t slay me, already dead) would throw down some facts, something that contradicts what seems on the surface a pretty reasonable position. The statistics I’ve seen largely support the idea that white people killing other white people or white people killing black people isn’t nearly the problem black people killing black people is – but hey, Mr. Reporter, I could be persuaded by some clear information here.

I’m thinking it’s the “…no one in those communities seems to care” that is the point of interest. But wait: Who, again, would imagine such a thing? I, for one, would not in a million years suppose that the people *in the community* in which the murders are taking place don’t “care” – I would assume that they care passionately. How could they not, if it’s their children and brothers and fathers getting killed? The idea that there are people imagining they don’t care is preposterous. One might get that impression cherry-picking the Internet, I suppose. But how about somebody on the record saying such a thing?

Who I would assume don’t care are those who do not live in the neighborhood. Political ideologues, for example, don’t care, those for whom murder is a complex and difficult problem the causes of which are nothing so simple as anger, jealousy, greed, and the desperation and insanity that spring up and thrive like so many mushrooms on the wreckage of destroyed families. (3)  If your ideology requires that you hate and oppose all the traditional supports for families – churches, making divorce hard, making abortion illegal, recognizing marriage and family as greater, more fundamental goods than any state – then you’ll be forced to come up with other supposed supports, such as ever-growing social services, even if such ‘help’ by its very nature divorces the individual from local ties and marries him to a distant bureaucracy. Like Vietnamese villages, we evidently must destroy the neighborhoods in order to save them.

Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. If so, arguments and numbers might be presented to explain it, or at least to suggest an avenue of exploration. There are no numbers in the article itself. Numbers may be what are giving out of towners their wrong impressions, after all. There are a few links to other articles in the same paper that take exactly the same approach – but do have some numbers. Maybe I’ll take a crack at them later. On the surface, none struck me as very helpful presentations, in that they do, in fact, show Chicago as a comparative disaster in terms of murder rates, yet never really offer any reasons why that aren’t highly speculative and frankly self-serving.

They focus on the amount of deaths and shootings, but not the systemic issues that have festered over time. That’s where the meat of Chicago’s problems are at.

Here’s an assertion. Given the lack of data and argument, one might call it a religious dogma. What gives Chicago such a tragic high and lonely destiny, murder wise, as opposed to other large, diverse American cities? Why don’t those systemic issues show up in the same magnitude in New York? Or Houston?

Chicago is increasingly a talking point of white supremacists and conservative media. After all, Chicago is often looked upon as everything that can wrong when you let liberals run a big city. President Donald Trump recently threatened to send in the National Guard (or in his words, “the feds”), and recently discussed our city with a select group of black people. Previously, Trump falsely claimed that two people were shot during President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago. He tweeted the numbers of shootings and killings in Chicago, along with calling our city “War Zone,” in meeting with black “leaders” at the White House.

Ah! Now we play the white supremacist card, and link it with the simple word ‘and’ to conservative media. Sure. Why not? That a Chicago neighborhood dweller can’t see any material difference is not an indictment of his eyesight, but rather proof that the overlap of the Venn diagram is near perfect. In classic critical theory, everything is explained as a function of economics, thus rendering all non-economic causes invisible. Here, in accord with the current more flexible iteration of critical theory, race takes the place of economics – that the (undefined – kind of a running theme, here) conservative media might say something from a place other than mere racism is conclusively presumed to be impossible.

Next, if any black person deigns to talk with Trump, that fact alone proves conclusively that they are not black leaders, but black “leaders”.

As you may have noticed, our president, and those who chide our city from the outside, never mention how it’s a small sample of hurt people in hurt communities that commit violent acts towards one another. That stance is willfully ignorant of the importance of investing in poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies that can help our communities in the long-run.

There are no arguments. We are merely presented with a story about preconceived notions, the presumed bad intent of some filmmaker, wild and nonsensical accusations that unnamed out of towners think locals don’t care about their family members and neighbors getting killed, a dismissal of the idea – supported by the numbers we’re not seeing – that minorities in the neighborhoods tend to kill each other at a much higher rate than the larger community. We are then told, in conclusion, what to do: invest in “poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies”.  Because it’s not like Chicago has been at the forefront of such efforts for a century or more, with the results we see before our eyes….

We report, you decide has passed even from memory; we report and decide has been taken off life support. We’ll tell you what to think is passing before our eyes into we’ll tell you what to feel on its way to we’ll tell you what to do.

  1. Which, if they ever even acknowledge anything wrong with the way the city is run, is always nuanced and complicated, in their view, and in any event the possibility it might have something to do with 100 years of Progressive politics is never raised except to be mocked.  As the linked piece demonstrates.
  2. The University employs 140 police officers. Not security guards, but people with police powers, who patrol University grounds and also patrol some of the nearby streets. I don’t think UCLA or Stanford does this.
  3. I tended to discount stories about how social programs destroy families – seemed overstated, at least. However,  we’ve gotten to know a young family through the local Gabriel Project. Black, poor, from shattered families, but heroic – the mom kept her baby, dad didn’t run away but stayed and eventually married the mother of his child. They both work low end jobs. Crazy hard life, but they’re trying! Well, the mom told my wife recently that a social services person told her that her husband should move out, that as long as he stayed, there were severe limits on what they could do for her and the baby, but if he were out of the picture, there would be more aid available. Pure evil. I wish I could be sure this is an unintended consequence.

In Today’s Education News: The Kimono Slips

If it weren’t for double standards, our education establishment wouldn’t have any standards at all.

D.C. Public Schools graduation rate on track to decline this year. Of course, as is all but universally the case in newspaper articles about schooling, this article hides rather than reveals what’s going on here. You read enough of this stuff, and a clear pattern emerges: the education system investigates itself in order to produce two seemingly contradictory outputs. One the one hand, Something Must Be Done. That something, boiled down, is always, without exception, More Schooling. On the other hand, Something Is Being Done, and this time it will work!

Don’t pass Go until you’ve firmly grasped the main feature here: the education system investigating and reporting on itself. Just as parents are strictly forbidden access to the classroom except under strictly controlled and supervised conditions, there is no independent ongoing oversight of schools. Think about how nice your job would be if no one else was allowed to review what you do, you got to define your own challenges and measure your success against standards you get to determine. I’ve read but have not independently verified that school finances are similarly opaque: they do not report or budget according to GAAP or any other standard, but report and budget in a manner unique to schools.

A prime feature of education as an institution is that its operations are all but invisible to the outside observer. At the K-12 level, this means simply keeping parents out of the schools when schooling is actually taking place. School boards, which used to represent parents’ interests, have dwindled in number and power until they provide, if anything, merely a place for putative adults to blow off steam. They used to hire and fire all school officials. Now? You’ll take what you’re given and be happy.

At the college level, in addition to banning parents from the classroom, the opacity of school operations has the additional weapon of ‘academic freedom’. There was a time, difficult as it is to imagine, when parents and even students could get even the President of Harvard fired. People who worked at colleges were expected to be outstanding individuals, since the formation of the youth was being entrusted to them.  But for about a hundred years now, under the guise of ‘academic freedom’, we peons who pay the bills aren’t allowed to judge, let alone fire, any professor – only their peers, with their magic peer-wisdom (peer review, anyone?) are even allowed to have an opinion. Very handy for critical theorists, deconstructionists and other parasitic bottom-dwellers.

But kids eventually graduate, or at least leave. Those kids, having been thoroughly processed (whether they graduate or not) are then handed back to the Public, as it were. As long as they were in school, they were in a certain sense invisible. We certainly couldn’t walk in and check on them, that’s for sure. But more deeply, they were in someone else’s custody and under someone else’s control. They were not our problem.

But once they graduate, they might just be our problem. Who is micromanaging them now? Now graduation fits the above description to a ‘t’ – the education establishment decides who gets to graduate according to rules they and they alone make up and enforce. If you read the article, note that the schools set standards, the schools failed to enforce those standards to allow for ‘improved’ graduation rates. THEN the schools decided to enforce them, at least a little, and graduation rates plummet.

What’s going on here – and, again, spend a few decades reading these sorts of articles, and it will be evident – is what I call a state of permanent education reform. There must be Problems to be solved. The solution must always be More Schooling. But the solution cannot be allowed to actually solve anything, because then the crisis would pass. We must believe there’s a crisis to justify the endless cries for more funding and more teachers – the guise More Schooling takes. The idea that less schooling could address all these problems must never be thought: Crimestop has been taught, perhaps the only thing successfully taught, for 3 generations now and running.

Reading that article, would you hire anyone based on his having received a diploma from a DC high school? Did you spot the part where a kid would flunk out if he skipped *30* classes? There’s only about 150 class days per year. The level of hand-holding – of extra credit, summer schools, special programs, of the system stepping in to manage the children in order to obtain (part of) the results the system wants – does not bode well for the future success of these kids once they’re on their own.

It’s long been contended by critics that only about 50% of public high school students in America graduate in 4 years. In other words, half drop out one way or another, even if many go back later to get a GED or finish up later. But nobody keeps track of this, because how is knowing what kids do after they escape the system supposed to help the system?

D.C. graduation rates reflect the percentage of students who receive their diplomas in four years. Twenty-six percent of students who started freshman year with the class of 2018 have either withdrawn or transferred out of the D.C. Public Schools system. The city still needs to determine how many of these students transferred to another school, and how many dropped out.

In other words, the single fact of most interest to the public – how do the students do after they’ve left – is the question the schools “still needs to determine”.

The next time you hear criticism of homeschooling, unschooling or any other method of raising children, remember that for every weirdo parent teaching their kid the world is flat (figuratively speaking) there are a 1,000 kids being processed by the current schools who can’t even graduate based on requirements determined by those same schools. The homeschooler will be judged by standards never applied to the public schools.

And that homeschooler took responsibility, and didn’t take public funds. The same can hardly be said for the public schools.