Science! Zombie Ants & Rain

1. As readers of this blog no doubt recall, I have a deep and abiding interest in Nature, especially when it’s behaving in a blood-curdling, utterly horrifying way, such that it would make a slasher movie writer blanch. For purely scientific reasons, of course. Check here and here to whet your purely scientific curiosity.

Off hand, I don’t know what unspeakable horrors the innocent-looking carpenter ants have committed to deserve this, but check this out:

“How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds.” As in:

Attacks of the Brain-Controlling Parasites | WIRED
This is a dead carpenter ant clinging to a leaf. That thing on its head is the fruiting body of a fungus. Said fungus infected the ant, took over its body, had it climb up high enough to maximize fungal growth and spore dispersion. Over an ant trail. It then converted ant-flesh to fungus and released its spores. The cycle repeats.

The subheading piles on thus: “The infamous parasite’s methods are more complex and more sinister than anyone suspected.”

Image result for count rugen
I’m sure you’ve discovered my deep and abiding interest in ants.

Okee-dokee, then. So Nature has produced, via, one supposes, the tender ministrations of Natural Selection, funguses that infect ants’ – oh, let’s just go there, cut to the chase – YOUR body, paralyze your mind so that you are reduced to a mute witness to your own long, horrid and painful destruction, causes you to shamble about for its own purposes – then devours you from the inside out, reducing your soft, Western-raised flesh to its own offspring – and then causes your body to sprout hideous protrusions to release them so that they may do the same to your loved ones. Got that?

More or less. I may have extrapolated a little. You  probably have nothing to worry about. For now. Sleep tight.

Here’s how the folks at the Atlantic put it:

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

For the sake of brevity, we will let pass the question of if ants have minds in any meaningful sense (It is part of the modern project to insist that minds and brains are the same thing. The insistence is instantiated via pretending there isn’t any question.). The reason these poor ants are back in the news (how are they ever off the news, BTW? Why aren’t there 24×7 cable and YouTube channels devoted to this? Has Capitalism let me down *again*?!?) is that there also exists in Nature the kind of researchers who will a) devote their lives to the study of this fungus; b) gather infected ant bodies in the jungle; c) cut these bodies up into 50-micron thick slices; and d) study said slices under electron microscopes until they have some idea exactly how the fungus works its evil magic.

Turns out:

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. There are other parasites that manipulate their hosts without destroying their brains, says Kelly Weinersmithfrom Rice University. For example, one flatworm forms a carpet-like layer over the brain of the California killifish, leaving the brain intact while forcing the fish to behave erratically and draw the attention of birds—the flatworm’s next host. “But manipulation of ants by Ophiocordyceps is so exquisitely precise that it is perhaps surprising that the fungus doesn’t invade the brain of its host,” Weinersmith says.

In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.

(Note how we switch back to talking about brains without even pumping the breaks? That’s how moderns ‘win’ arguments – by pretending they don’t exist. But I digress…)

This article is so judgemental! The fungus is not ‘sinister’ or ‘malevolent’ or any other of the many harsh terms applied to it by the Atlantic writer. It’s just doing it’s thing – to ants we’d promptly wash away with bleach and rags if they set foot in our houses. Yet, here we are, all high and mighty! It’s stuff like this that separates the *real* nature lovers from squeamish posers!

Image result for captain picard
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Doctor, the sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish as it roams the oceans. It is not evil; it is feeding. The same may be true of the Entity.
Dr. Kila Marr: That would be small comfort for those who have died to feed it. We’re not talking about cuttlefish; we’re talking about people!
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I would argue that the Crystalline Entity has as much right to be here as we do. 
Dr. Kila Marr:  Well then, step the hell right up to the front of the lunch line, Captain Cuttlefish! Don’t let me and my unevolved survival instincts slow you down. (mumbles: Pompous ass…)*

*may not be the canonical version of that dialogue. But it should be.

2. Finally got some rain. Over an inch and a half in the last 24 hours, which in California nearly qualifies as a epic storm. All in, for the season we’re a couple inches into our supposed average of around 17 inches. Good start.

For my part, I’m predicting another 1862 event, as discussed briefly here by Michael Flynn. Why? Well, why not? First, I heard somewhere that weather years, just like daily weather, tend to travel in packs – the best predictor of tomorrow’s weather is today’s weather; the best predictor of next year’s weather is this year’s weather. If it’s cold and rainy today, it’s more than likely to be cold and rainy tomorrow, and so on.

Thus, since the 2016-2017 California rainy season was EPIC! I’m going with predicting the 2017-2018 season will be MEGA EPIC!! Why let the Bible-thumper End Times dudes have all the fun? Seriously, let’s hope not, as California’s infrastructure, especially the dams, irrigation canals, water systems and aging levees (you knew California has a LOT of levees, right? No?) are in no way ready for it, and would probably be destroyed. So, no, let’s not – except I want to be on record having predicted it, just in case. Consistency, hobgoblins, and all that.

How it works: every few hundred years, the educated guesses go, that whole atmospheric river thing starts dipping into its major stash of steroids, and you get, using the 1861-1862 season for example, 43 straight days of pounding rain spread across the entire state. You get 250% of the snowpack, and many feet of rain on the western slopes of the Sierra. The Central Valley, into which ALL the rivers coming out of the western slopes of the Sierra drain, and which, in turn drains ONLY out the Sacramento River Delta into San Francisco Bay, turns into a giant lake. Over the century and a half since 1862, miles and miles of levees have been built in the delta, turning hundreds of square miles of wetlands into farmland – much of which is below river level, and all of which is below flood level.

Meanwhile, many urban water systems have been built along the river and delta – the one my house gets its water from, for example – that, should the river flood and the old, poorly maintained levees break, would be washed away, clogged up, or, when the flood water recedes, flooded with the salt water that is what makes up the bulk of the San Francisco Bay Estuary and which is currently held back from reaching the drinking water supply by those same levees. And SoCal gets a huge portion of its water via aqueducts that are fed, ultimately, from the dams in the Sierra – which are not likely to survive a megastorm.

Ugly. Just like the drivers this morning who honked at me, first because I did not close the two car length gap that opened up on the light change with sufficient alacrity, second because I had the temerity to change lanes into the space the honker had let open up in front of him – the nerve! Californians do not, alas, respond well to the traffic jams these early storm inevitably create.


The Fluidity of Blame

So, as they say, grab some popcorn. We all have front-row seats to Pandora’s box’s grand opening: Once the smallest cracks in the raw political power of the big shots in entertainment (and elsewhere – we’ll get to that) began to show, people who’d been silenced for years began to spill their stories of ‘sexual misconduct’ a catch-all term for any sexual activities that have yet to be normalized.

Not sure what it means to say that all that’s coming out now is what everybody already knew – I’d have to assume everybody except proper law enforcement agencies? Or are they in on this, too? (Sadly, one could easily imagine it. Think of the pressure that could be brought to bear on the Hollywood or even LA Chief of Police by a bunch of famous millionaires. The kind of people who throw political fundraisers for the right kinds of politicians. The kind of people who’ve made a lot of money off Kevin Spacey flicks. Not hard to imagine some aspiring actress or crew member being advised by the police to, in so many words, shut up and take the money. Not saying this is what happened, just that it’s not hard to imagine.)

Now this catharsis, if that’s what it is, has spread to other areas. Apart from his fine last name, I know nothing of this Judge Moore person, except that the Democrats of both parties loathe him and that, one month before the election that would put him into Congress allegations of sexual misconduct from 30 to 40 years ago have been raised. Reactions have ranged from ‘he should step down immediately’ all the way to ‘he should step down immediately if the accusations are true’.

Judge Moore has vehemently denied the allegations and pointed out the very convenient political timing and the fact that these women have had decades to make their accusations but did not. Unfortunately for him, the Hollywood situation appears to take the wind out of that last point. In Hollywood, the story goes, a climate of fear prevailed that only now (magically?) has been breached. Decades of silence in the face of such institutional intimidation is understandable and even to be expected. That no case (that I’ve heard of) has been made that Moore was part of such an institutional reign of terror seems to be missed.

I’m in no position to judge the believability of Moore’s accusers. Neither is anyone else, really – that’s what trials are for. That’s also the point: there will be no trial, or, at the very least, no trail before the elections. The accusers have no chance to make their case; Moore has no chance to clear his name. As I’ve said, I have no opinion on any of these folks, don’t know them from Adam and Eve. The situation, however, stinks.

What I wanted to address here today is strategy, and how the political divide is also of necessity a strategic divide. Moore takes the classic position: he denies the accusations. Politically, he forces people to either say: Moore is tainted, he must step down *even if* he’s innocent (that last part is optional – his enemies want him out, and don’t care if massive injustice is committed doing it) OR accusations are cheap, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and the timing of all this is very questionable at best and pure political character assassination at worst. Moore should carry on.

In other words, Moore’s strategy is to rely on personal responsibility – he either did stuff, or he didn’t. If he did, throw the book at him; if he didn’t, throw it at his accusers. In the meantime, stay the course and get into Congress. If the accusations prove true, you can throw him out. Moore seems confident (but of course he would have to to follow this strategy) that he will be exonerated.

But the other side is not playing that game. Weinstein, who never really denied the accusations, instead headed for 6 whole days of therapy somewhere out of reach of US law enforcement, to be cured of his sickness. Based on the miraculous cure Weinstein reported, Spacey, after the most tepid of excuses, headed for the same clinic. I expect similar scenarios – call it the Polanski Option – to play out over time.

Various articles have been published on the culture of Hollywood and even the culture of the 70s (Weinstein’s own personal absolution) to explain why these men behaved as they did. It’s the culture! Don’t blame *me*! I’m another victim here, just like the adolescents I sodomized!

These criminals are sick, you see, and not to be held responsible, or at least not completely responsible, for their actions. The culture the poor innocents were raised in made them that way! You don’t want to beat up on sick people who threatened, bullied and raped your daughters and sons – that would be mean! Instead, we need to fix the culture! Recalibrate the power dynamic! That’s the only real solution.

One is tempted to point out that Judge Moore’s approach is that of a man who hopes to be proven innocent. Whether he’s innocent or not, he would at least have to believe that the legal evidence against him is not overwhelming.  Weinstein, Spacy and the growing bandwagon of famous perps would only pursue the strategy they do if they knew the evidence was overwhelmingly against them. The day in court where their victims presented their evidence would likely be the last day they walked free for a long, long, time.

Here, Critical Theory in all its evil glory intersects with reality: if all unhappiness is the result of power dynamics, and if all rights result from how well one conforms themselves to true consciousness – how woke you are – then the only thing that matters is achieving and spreading enlightenment. Actions can only be judged by how well they further the Revolution. The individual is nothing, the collective is all, as Trotsky and other true believers have pointed out.

So, just as Stalin’s slaughter of millions of unarmed men, women and children cannot be judged evil in itself, but must be weighed against the glory of his ultimate goal – the dawning of the Workers’ Paradise – so Weinstein’s crimes – weaknesses, really – are more than offset by the good he does promoting Progressive causes – that old Workers’ Paradise, again.  (Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, as Walter Durante, a non-egg, pointed out.)

So: I predict Weinstein will get a full or partial pass by a distressingly large number of people. Not much of a prediction, since it’s already happening. And that Judge Moore will be held in contempt even if he’s totally exonerated. Again, not much of a prediction, since there’s already an unquenchable hatred for the guy in many hearts.

One last point, one often evidently forgotten or forcibly suppressed: A system of law and justice only works when personal responsibility is conclusively assumed, where one can say if A murdered B, A is guilty of murder. If class determines blame, then all that needs to be done is to show membership in an innocent class – and repent from membership in any guilty classes (ah, the joys of intersectionality!). So, if Weinstein, Spacey et al can prove they’re on the Right Side of History ™ and grovel enough for being rich, white and male – well, all will be right as rain! Judge Moore, on the other hand, is white, male, heterosexual – the list of blame and evil goes on and on – and unrepentant. No mere facts could ever absolve him.

Image result for this little rat is guilty
This little rat is guilty!

We’ve reached the Cliffs of Insanity.


Prayer. Always prayer. Perhaps, today, these:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.



Lord, look upon your servants
laboring under bodily weakness.
Cherish and revive the souls
which you have created
so that, purified by their suffering
they may soon find themselves healed by your mercy.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sts. Joseph & Michael are the patrons of a Holy Death & a merciful final judgement (Michael, in his role as defender of humanity, is sometimes conceived as protecting the souls of the newly deceased and bringing them safely before the judgement seat), so it would be well to ask their aid. And of course the Blessed Mother, whose prayers we always ask for ‘now and at the hour of our death.’

Science! It’s Not Getting Better

Tales from the Old Wooden Art Table: Magical Movie Monday ...
Unlike Science! reporting, this former newt got better. 

After the cheery weekend of pizza, steak and ciabatta, was fortified to take a look at what passes for science – Science! – on the Google news feed.

It’s not getting better.

First up, USA Today – which we’d laugh off, except many people don’t – ran the usual breathless article on yet another giant iceberg breaking off an Antarctic glacier: Iceberg 4 times the size of Manhattan breaks off Antarctica. Now, back, way back, when I used to write jokes for an internet humor list and magazine, the joke was that peak USA Today would simply not have text at all, as its target audience was looking at the pictures and, presumably, hooting and perhaps jumping up and down.

As it is, the text remains minimal, and minimally useful. In this 7 paragraph, 10 sentence article (with 2 pictures and a video), we are of course given no context – are giant icebergs calving off even more giant antarctic glaciers good, bad or indifferent? How would we know? Nope, instead we get this:

The Washington Post reports the iceberg disconnected from Pine Island Glacier, a part of West Antarctica that already loses 45 billion tons of ice annually, contributing to sea level rises.

Is 45 billion tons of ice a lot? Is it increasing, decreasing or remaining constant? Over what period of time? Seems kind of important if one wanted to make any sense of these factoids. Also, so sea levels are rising? Thought the data was a bit ambiguous on that point; at least, the rate of rise is so small that, were it to continue (and why would we suppose that? How sure are we?)  we’d have many generations to address any inconveniences it might cause.

But I’m doubting this iceberg is doing much as far as raising sea level. The picture shows this:

That looks an awful lot like the leading edge of the glacier is already in the water back for miles – can’t be sure from the picture, but that’s what it looks like. What this would mean is that the ice is already displacing as much seawater as it’s going to displace when it melts, so that, like ice melting in your glass of ice tea, the change from ice to water in itself isn’t going to raise the water level. (Now, if the water melts and then heats up enough, then it would expand, and that might raise sea level, but the melting itself isn’t going to.)

Conclusion: information free article with pretty pictures. Useless.

Next up was advocacy disguised as reporting, where the discovery of bits of plastic in the arctic ice means we must immediately institute a totalitarian world government or we’re doomed – something like that, the reasoning was a little loose. Not gonna link.

Finally, somehow, some real science – well, material technology, really, but I’ll take it – made it past the keep it stupid filters: Nanoparticle Supersoap Creates ‘Bijel’ With Potential as Sculptable Fluid

A new two-dimensional film, made of polymers and nanoparticles and developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), can direct two different non-mixing liquids into a variety of exotic architectures. This finding could lead to soft robotics, liquid circuitry, shape-shifting fluids, and a host of new materials that use soft, rather than solid, substances.

Monsters vs. Aliens (movie) B.O.B. in Monsters vs. Aliens ...
Dr. Cockroach Ph.D.: [about B.O.B] Forgive him, but as you can see, he has no brain.
B.O.B.: Turns out, you don’t need one. Totally overrated!
Sounds cool and sci-fi ready! Combine the usual apocalyptic AI stuff with goopy robots, and you get: B.O.B.!

Bijels. Pronounced By-Jells? Bee-Jills, just to be difficult?

The study, reported Sept. 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, presents the newest entry in a class of substances known as bicontinuous jammed emulsion gels, or bijels, which hold promise as a malleable liquid that can support catalytic reactions, electrical conductivity, and energy conversion.

This kind of stuff is really where it’s happening, and has long been. We love our Newtons and Einsteins, but it’s the schmucks working away in some lab trying to put cool ideas into practice who do the real heavy lifting as far a making life materially better. Everybody knows Galileo, who personally contributed next to nothing to astronomy that somebody else didn’t find at about the same time – he was part of a cohort of star-gazers who fell all over each other discovering the same stuff, often within days of each other. But who knows the names of the people who brought us the Green Revolution, nitrogen fixing tech and all these varieties of plants that now make famine the result of political and not natural problems?

And a hundred other things. Cell phones work – that should blow your mind. GPS works. CAT scans work. And on and on. All required a lot of basic science – but vastly more applied tech. Bijels seem a promising field for yet more cool and life-enhancing tech.

“Bijels are really a new material, and also excitingly weird in that they are kinetically arrested in these unusual configurations,” said study co-author Brett Helms, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “The discovery that you can make these bijels with simple ingredients is a surprise. We all have access to oils and water and nanocrystals, allowing broad tunability in bijel properties. This platform also allows us to experiment with new ways to control their shape and function since they are both responsive and reconfigurable.”



In Today’s Education News

Via Twitter:

First Things has a little piece on the always interesting Camille Paglia – she’s not down with special snowflakes, and thinks kids need to learn some history:

 “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”


[students have not had a] “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.”

This only reinforces my bad habit of asking people sympathetic to Marx and Communism if they’ve read or even heard of Gramsci or the Fabian Society. I’ve yet to find one who had even heard of them, let alone was familiar with what they did. (Not hanging out in the faculty lounge these days, I must admit. I’m not entirely sure it would matter.)

And then there’s this, where I back Dr. Paglia by noting that the abundant good times we live in perversely enough seem to get in the way of our recognizing that we live in abundant good times.

Is better education the solution? Can virtue be taught? Whatever else are we supposed to try? A good many saints seemed to have died in something of despair – of this world, not of the next. Still, we’re not allowed to give up – on people, that is. All institutions are as grass, all we think so compelling in this world today withers tomorrow.

And how do we learn this? How teach it?


Science! And Hilarity Ensued

Coincidentally, I was reading about the Permian–Triassic extinction event, where the CO2 level reached something like 2500 ppm, when the news broke that some people on the climate panic side of things were owning up to the reality that the ‘carbon budget’ was not quite so dire, that there’s no way by 2022 the earth will heat up by a total of the 1.5 C that the models predicted . Strangely – or not – this little bit of news, the 2nd item on the Google science news feed when I first saw it this morning, had disappeared entirely from the 20 page 1 science articles by this afternoon.

(Correction: it’s now item #14, but the emphasis has not so subtly changed: the article leading the charge is now We Can Still Reach The Most Optimistic Target of The Paris Climate Deal, Says New Study emphasizing not that the climate models have been wrong for 20+ years, but rather how the new less-panicky conclusions mean that we can still meet the Paris targets! In other words, rather than call the validity of the carbon targets themselves into question, we focus on how the fool’s errand of assuming people can manage world-wide climate now looks more promising, once we acknowledge that carbon dioxide doesn’t affect temperature nearly as much as we thought. The real question: in light of this admission of error new finding, does CO2 within any plausible range over the next century or two actually change anything for the worse? This is not addressed, even though it is surely the question inquiring minds would like to know. )

Wonder why? First off, looking at the bit of the abstract I can find without paying, the devil is in the details I can’t see. Quotes from the scientists involved are not very straight-forward, and are provided by Breitbart, which I gather is a tainted source. Here they are:

Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change at University College London and one of the study’s authors, admitted that his previous prediction had been wrong.

He stated during the climate summit in Paris in December 2015: “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.”

Speaking to The Times, he said: “When the facts change, I change my mind, as Keynes said.

“It’s still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought.”


Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and another author of the paper, said: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”

He said that the group of about a dozen computer models, produced by government research institutes and universities around the world, had been assembled a decade ago “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”.

He said that too many of the models used “were on the hot side”, meaning they forecast too much warming.

The reporters comments:

Note the disingenuousness here.

Grubb is claiming that the facts have changed. Which they haven’t. Climate skeptics have been saying for years that the IPCC climate models have been running “too hot.” Indeed, the Global Warming Policy Foundation produced a paper stating this three years ago. Naturally it was ignored by alarmists who have always sought to marginalize the GWPF as a denialist institution which they claim – erroneously – is in the pay of sinister fossil fuel interests.

If the pattern I’ve observed before recurs, the news will reappear once the proper spin has been worked up. (See correction above – they’re getting faster at this!) Or not – kind of hard to spin this, not that I doubt for a moment that it’s being worked on. (I’m wrong again! Spin rules!)

In the Permian die-off, the CO2 levels got very high, but it seems more likely than not that it was an effect, not a significant cause. Things did get hot – seas in the equatorial regions were probably over 100F for many thousands of years. But this was the time the Siberian Traps were forming as well, when a couple million square miles of Siberia were covered by a million cubic miles of lava over a very short time, geologically speaking – which could mess things up, one imagines. Dumping a lot of heat and gas into the air, for one thing.

At any rate, it seems sometimes that people need to be reminded that Star Trek was a fantasy. Socialism doesn’t really work. Oh, and the science was make-believe, too.

Some Links & Thoughts

A. Here is a collection of quotes from writers about their education. Some are better than others.  Here are a couple I like:

“Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent then disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”  –George Bernard Shaw


“Let none say that I am scoffing at uneducated people; it is not their uneducation but their education that I scoff at. Let none mistake this for a sneer at the half-educated; what I dislike is the educated half. But I dislike it, not because I dislike education, but because, given the modern philosophy or absence of philosophy, education is turned against itself, destroying that very sense of variety and proportion which it is the object of education to give. No man who worships education has got the best out of education; no man who sacrifices everything to education is even educated. . . . What is wrong is a neglect of principle; and the principle is that, without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman’s education is complete.”  –G.K. Chesterson in The Illustrated London News, 1930


“You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.”  –Ray Bradbury, in an interview with Sam Weller

Bradbury was my favorite writer in grade school and into high school; Chesterton is probably my favorite writer now.

It’s interesting to note that paeans to one-room schools exist in some numbers, as mentioned by Wayne E. Fuller in this book. (1) Country kids often remembered their non-age-segregated, highly personalized and relevant schooling, schooling most often managed by an amatuer over many fewer hours than now, with great fondness. Does anyone in the last, say, 50 years write about how wonderful were his experiences at PS Whatever? Praising a particular teacher or coach, sure, but the experience as a whole? Maybe kids away from the big urban centers?

B. I’m getting a little bit of a jilted lover thing over SciAm’s enthusiastic backing of gender theory, which is somewhat less scientific than phrenology and astrology and much more virulent & harmful. SciAm – I used to love you! Why? WHY? But mostly, I have a sort of bitter admiration of the ability of the anti-science Marxists – but I repeat myself – to take over a venerable magazine with just the right name from a propaganda perspective and turn it so deftly. It’s akin to my dark admiration for Rahm Emanuel, LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover – vile men, all, but remarkably good at what they did and do. What they did and do will most likely end up with them rotting in Hell, but, boy, are they good at it.

The argument fails at every point – is the subject matter amenable to study using the scientific method? No. Or, to put it another way, are the conclusions something that could even in theory be produced using science? No. Handwavium all the way down.

But millions will  be swayed and have their feelings on the subject validated. In a better world, people committing this sort of abuse of the word ‘science’  would be locked up as enemies of the Republic and peace. They are enemies of truth.

C. Quoting William Tory Harris & myself from a few months back, but this just needs to be harped on:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

This wisdom comes from William Torey Harris, the fourth United States Commissioner of Education, from 1889 – 1906. Note the phrase “subsumption of the individual” – Harris was an enthusiastic Hegelian, and subsumption is a term of art.  In a dialectic, the thesis and antithesis contradict each other, and the contradiction is not logically resolved but rather ‘subsumed’ in a dialectical synthesis – they remain in contradiction, but, in the synthesis they exist in a new creative tension that is revealed in concrete History to be true in some greater sense, the law of  noncontradiction be damned (explicitly – see Hegel’s Logic).

In this case, the contradiction to be subsumed is between the idea that people, including children, have rights, among which is the right to pursue happiness however they see fit, and the idea that, in the words of Trotsky, the individual is nothing, only the goal – conforming to the successive unfoldings of the Spirit for Hegelians, the Worker’s Paradise for Marxists – gives any meaning to any individual’s life.

Harris, and all Hegelians and Marxists, needs to have the concept of individual rights eliminated – subsumed, in their usual dishonest and evasive language – in order to achieve the great future History they have been so privileged and enlightened to see. They thank their gods they are not like other men!

And this need to destroy the individual is alive and well TODAY. There was never a reform of the reform, where Harris and his evil ideas were rejected. Woodrow Wilson, an elitist, racist pig if ever there were one,  was down with this, as was Dewey, a ‘can’t make an omelet’ apologist for the slaughters of the Russian Revolution, as were and are all the major gatekeepers to power in the education system. Gender theory is just a flavor of Critical Theory, which is just applied Marxism. As mentioned in an earlier post, Freire’s application of critical theory to education is required reading in all the prestigious schools of education. After the usual fluff, wherein Freire tries to gain our sympathy and tells us how much suffering will be alleviated if only we follow his plan, he gets around to mentioning that, of course, there are no such things as innate human rights, that people who reject and oppose Marxism have by that fact alone no rights, but that people who accept Marxism gain rights in proportion to the degree of their enlightenment. Thus, with perhaps a mitigating tear in our eyes, we can do anything we want deem necessary to our opponents in order to further the revolution – take their stuff goes without saying, but locking them away or murdering them are options completely on the table.

You want to be a teacher today? Chances are you’ll be required to study Freire by enthusiastic acolytes, and it’s a given that you superiors will either actually believe this or, at best, be exactly the kind of useful idiots such a system requires.

The thing missed today is that IT WORKS! We peons are not of the 1%, but are of the 99%! WE are the automata, “careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom”. Sure, many of us have our doubts and even rebel on some level, but it’s pretty depressing to see how much we all – most definitely including me! – fall in line. With alarming frequency, we identify as members of a political party; we don’t talk about things we know we’re not supposed to talk about, and remain silent in the face of things that should call us to arms, at least figuratively. We accept random things as Gospel – both Chesterton and Lewis point out that it’s the assumptions of schooling that we absorb and make foundational more so than anything actively taught.

We send our kids to school.

D. Finally, all this has me thinking of 1984. Two things: Winston Smith is made to say that 2+2=5, not because his torturers believe it, but to make sure he will agree with anything they say. That’s the level of control sought – total control.

Finally, Orwell, though a socialist himself, was not blind: he names the government under Big Brother Ingsol – short for English Socialism. I’ve long thought and said that it’s a tragedy that we paint all Nazis as monsters – sure, plenty of monsters at the top and even among the rank and file. But the vast majority were not materially different, morally, than you and me. But if we somehow absorb the idea that because the person in front of us does not appear to be a monster, he simply cannot be promoting or supporting evil, we become ripe for supporting evil ourselves. A bunch of perfectly nice people – your dentist or college professor was as likely as not a Nazi if you were a German in 1935 – enabled the Holocaust. That’s the real lesson to be learned.

So Orwell makes Big Brother the end game of what he saw among the people – English Socialists – that he most likely knew best! It’s not going to be skinheads or even Antifa that enable the evil – it will be college professors and doctors and (understandably) frustrated Bernie supporters who open the door for growing evil.

Man, I need to take a walk!

  1. The blurb from One-Room Schools of the Middle West: An Illustrated History: “The Midwest’s one-room schools were, Fuller observes, the most democratic in the nation. Located in small, independent school districts, these schools virtually wiped out illiteracy, promoted democratic values, and opened up new vistas beyond the borders of their students’ lives. Entire communities, Fuller shows, revolved around these schools. At various times they were used as churches, polling places, sites of political caucuses, and meeting halls for local organizations. But as America urbanized and the movement to consolidate took hold in rural counties, these little centers of learning were left at the margins of the educational system. Some were torn down, some left to weather away, some sold at auction, and still others transformed into museums. Despite its demise, Fuller argues, here was a school system that worked. His book offers a timely reminder of what schools can accomplish when communities work closely together to educate their children.” Yep.