Bach is Good

Bach is good. I just know you were all waiting breathlessly for me to tell  you that. But really, Bach is good in so many ways. Trying to play some Bach on the piano focuses and calms the mind. Even fairly simple Bach – all I’m ever likely to try – occasions that lovely combination of real learning and humility one gets, often, from reading Great Books – on the one hand, you have the thrill of learning new and beautiful things, while on the other, a growing certainty that you’re missing even more, and more profound, stuff, so that if you kept at it for the rest of your life you might not plumb the depths.

The side benefits include improved technique – I don’t know if I’ve ever tried a new piece of Bach’s without running into some requirement that I’d never run across before, framed up so that you’re dying to get it down. Also, the thrill you feel the first time, however haltingly, you play one of those little pieces all the way through – hard to describe, other than ‘satisfying.’

Bach may be the poster child for Chesterton’s quip that whatever is worth doing is worth doing badly.

You are without doubt the worst pirate I've ever heard of ...
Going the other direction, here: he can only be the worst pirate you’ve ever heard of if, indeed, he is a pirate. 

I am a terrible piano player. No false modesty here – I suck. But, like Jack Sparrow being a pirate, I am a piano player – just not a very good one. To put it generously.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve been hacking away at the Well-Tempered Clavier off and on. It’s Just So Good. My playing would cause good musicians to cover their ears or leave the room. I’ve hacked through maybe half a dozen of the preludes and fugues so that I at one time could kinda play them all the way through without cratering too obviously, and a dozen more where there’s at least a few spots, often more, where, as they politely say of Rolls Royces, it fails to proceed.

The pattern: I get all enthusiastic, have my 40 year old copy of the WTC open on the piano, and start hacking away. My reading sucks – I look like a nearly blind man deciphering hieroglyphics as I stare at the mysterious black squiggles, and sound almost that good. Painful. But after a few tries, my one musical talent – I can memorize, at least short term, like a boss – I’ve uploaded the music into RAM. (This talent, not coincidentally, contributes to why I’m such a poor reader. That, and my squirrel-level attention span and focus. And lazy. Always figure lazy into it.)

So I start pounding away. Bach is very unforgiving of poor fingering, and of course my default fingering sucks, so I start in with the pencil, writing little numbers next to notes, circling them, arrows, stars – whatever it takes to remember I need a ‘1’ there or my left hand will look like a knot by the end of the phrase. And it won’t sound very good.

Hack hack hack. After a hundred times through, the fingering starts to feel natural, things start to get a little smoother. And –

Ever seen a little kid playing basketball start throwing up 30 ft shots?  Because his idol Steph Curry throws up 30 ft shots? The little kid ignores his own inability to make a layup and the couple of decades Curry spent honing his ungodly natural talents.  The kid doesn’t make very many Curry style.

Invariably, right about the time I start getting it down at a nice slow pace, I go all Glenn Gould or Vladimir Ashkenazy, playing it way too fast for me, because a lot of these little pieces sound good real fast, and that’s how the big dogs play it.

Here’s Daniel Berenboim playing the C# Major Prelude. This isn’t even particularly fast for this little piece.

I can play it that fast. Kind of. Even sounds OK about every third try if you don’t listen too hard. But at about 75% of that speed, I can play it so it’s not horrible – where the two hands mostly stay together, and the little turn-arounds Bach puts in about every 2 measures (anybody who’s tried this knows exactly what I’m talking about) where there are fingering landmines and just awkward bits (like notes that need to be crisp, fast and played with the 4th and 5th fingers of the left hand) – well, still working on getting those right at pro speed.

Anyway, the next step, after a few weeks, couple months, tops, is I get frustrated, bored or distracted and wander off to the next shiny object in view, with another 2-3 preludes and fugues almost down, not quite – and the memory bleed-off starts.

A year or three later, after ignoring the piano or playing blues and lame renditions of jazz and ‘free improv’ (to give a hoity-toity name to just futzing around to see if I can make something pretty), I’ll see that WTC sitting there, and maybe try to play one of the now half-forgotten pieces, and maybe remember how much fun it was, spend most of the time trying to relearn what I forgot, then add maybe another piece or two…

So, I’m in maybe the second or third week of another Bach WTC obsession. Got the E-Minor fugue nearly down (at light speed, with brio, because I’m weak – I do not play it nice and restrained and tidy as in the following video)

and the C# Major prelude, but still need (need?) to get it ever so slightly faster than Berenboim’s tempo above (Why? Don’t ask that!). I’d almost had these 2 down last obsession cycle. Then, need to dust off/relearn the four preludes and fugues in C  – the 4 part C–Major fugue it the hard one, for me, about as hard as anything I’ve ever played. Fingering from hell, and trying to play so it’s 4 lines, not just a bunch of notes. And the D-minor set, which I had pretty cold at one point years ago, but has bled away…

Then pick a couple new ones to learn (I’ve hacked through 90% of them at some point, so I have ideas.)

And get this done while I’m still hot to trot. Because, if history is any indication, in a few more weeks something will distract me…

Bach remains good, even when I abuse or ignore his little masterpieces.


Happy 4th! Weekend Update

A happy and blessed fourth to you and yours. Two thoughts on patriotism: first, *you* are the pater, the father, to your country. Your job is to look after your country. It is not your country’s job to look after you. Second, and related, is something Chesterton said (paraphrasing drastically): that a patriot hopes to be worthy of the great gift of his own country. I would go so far as to say: a patriot, as any father, should hope and strive to be worthy of his own child.

Note that there’s nothing much individualistic about this attitude:  no sane man could hope to take care of an entire nation on his own, but rather should hope to care for the little corner that has fallen to his responsibility, and should seek out the company of good men and women who strive to be responsible for theirs. Together, we try to keep the long-term health of our nation in sight. This is the true meaning of a republic, a commonwealth: we have received our great nation as a gift, and with it the duty to make sure that we can also give it as a gift.

On to the more mundane. The weather today was perfect: low 80s, low humidity, light breeze. We had both brunch and dinner on the back patio under the shade of our massive walnut tree:

For brunch, Younger Daughter made blueberry pancakes with fresh strawberry syrup and whipped cream – red, white and blue. For dinner, fresh guacamole, burgers, tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, home made sweet potato fries. After dinner, we did an hour of Adoration at a local church, then caught some fireworks, then came home to Younger Daughter’s home made Baked Alaska – she made vanilla ice cream with strawberry, raspberry and Macadamia nut brownie swirls – outrageously good.

One of the best 4ths we’ve ever had.

On the Home Improvement front, over this weekend: (This is so ridiculous I’ll put in a break to make it easier to skip over. Really, amateur hour at the hardware store. Fascinating. )

Continue reading “Happy 4th! Weekend Update”

Uncertainty in Scholarship

Not talking Science! here today, just more mundane scholarship.

On the one hand, I am grateful for all the endless effort many men and women of great talent and perseverance have put into the scholarly investigation of many fascinating topics. I’m counting on R. A. Lafferty, for example, to not mislead me about the Visigoths and Romans, because a) I’ll never live long enough to do the level of research he has done, and b) ditto on learning the languages he seems to know (Classical Latin, at least).

So I trust him. I’ve trusted, more or less explicitly, hundreds and thousands of scholars over the years – the people who have written the books I’ve read, as well as the other scholars those authors have used as well.

On the other hand – where to start? How about toward the deep end: when I read a scholar such as Menand, I am very nearly seduced by his excellent prose and feigned (I think now) sympathy with ideas that might not fly at a typical Manhattan cocktail party. Then he will write, as he recently did, apologetics for Marx – a subject I know enough about from other sources (say, Marx’s own writings!) to see for the craven propaganda it most definitely is.

Image result for Marx
See? A kindly hippy-dude who only wishes peace! Just like Menand himself!

But I so want to trust him on other subjects! Because he writes so beautifully and points out things I find fascinating. Yet, he’s clearly willing to lie (most likely unconsciously, and to himself first, I’m willing to assume) about Marx. So, should I believe him about Harvard and early 19th century America, because I find his take more palatable? And because he pointed me toward topics I’ve since read more on, and found even more palatable? Or am I just playing his game in reverse? Picking and choosing from among the things Menand says, and paying attention to and judging true only the parts I like?

The only solution, it seems to me, is to read broadly enough that one can at least weight the opinions of the scholars relative to each other; study philosophy and logic so that the nature and structure of the arguments can be made clear; and read history – what has happened – to get some context.

Unlike the deconstructionists and other relativists, I don’t think such an approach is completely circular; the philosophy and logic parts allows one to at least eliminate utter nonsense, which then will cause the collapse partial or full of the ideas built upon that nonsense. In this regard, trying to get to the bottom of even a little Hegel makes a lot of the modern world and its addictions much more clear.  It is not man’s lot to understand with complete clarity and conviction, but the world does admit of better and worse degrees of knowledge.

The trouble is even so meager and humble a scholar as I am is still, evidently, an extreme outlier. Do 10% of people actually read, reason, compare, analyze much of anything in life? 1%? 0.1%? I really don’t know, and perhaps the actual life most people are living has much in it that is too important for such digressions. Family, friends, God and neighbors spring to mind.  But unless we are protected by the sort of education and life epitomized by Samwise Gamgee, this lack of interest tends to make us pliable, gullible fools – more so, I mean, than we all are by default already.

On the other hand, back on the shallow end, we – by which I mean I – have the recurring experience of having to listen to people tell us this or that MUST be TRUE since this or that group of scholars have reached that opinion. Often, this undue confidence is mostly harmless. Recently heard a homily in which the lovely priest, for whom I thank God daily, mentioned as fact that the Apostle Peter didn’t write 1 Peter. Now, that’s possible, and has certainly been an opinion I’ve heard before (not as much as with 2 Peter, which all the right people are stone certain could not be the work of Peter).  But the certainty with which such an idea should be expressed is very, very slight – the claim seems to hang on a) not having sufficiently old manuscripts, and b) not seeming like the work of a fisherman from the Levant.  In other words, the oldest manuscripts seem to come from decades after Peter’s death, and the Greek in which the letter is written seems pretty sophisticated from some dumb fisherman.

That these are not particularly strong arguments, and have been shot down repeatedly by other arguments at least as strong (it’s a bit of a miracle that we have ANY ancient documents , and a bit of a crapshoot which are saved and which not, Peter used a scribe, who would have gussied up the language as a matter of course. Tradition as old or older that any manuscripts assigns authorship to Peter.)  And – here’s the point – in and of itself, it doesn’t matter much. But in context, it matters because it spreads the ideas that modern smart people have, once again, overturned what all those ancient dumb people thought. This is pernicious, dishonest – and an assumption upon which the Modern World since at least Hegel has made.  Much woe has resulted.

This is hardly restricted to religious texts. Just about all of the modern ‘soft’ ‘sciences’ depend on this misplaced trust in scholarship to turn, in the best cases, poorly supported claims into hard and fast facts.

If, on the other hand, the views of scholars were presented as informed opinions that might be of interest but must be always be recognized as necessarily carrying a large load of doubt, we might, however unlikely, learn to weigh such opinions with broad scales – to include in the balance however wide a range of items as might be applicable.

It spirals out of control from there: somebody heard Beloved Expert X say that such and such a thing has been proven or disproven by scholars, and then repeats it as fact, which then becomes common sense or at least common knowledge, so that disagreeing make one an ignorant fuddy-duddy at best and a willfully ignorant hater at worst.

Wish I could believe this has all come about through more or less innocent human weaknesses, not cold calculation.

Light Bulb Goes On

Just today dawned on me, while contemplating how far Scientific American and other once noble scientific organs and organizations (like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists mentioned in the last post) have fallen or have been conquered by political hacks: given Pournelle’s Iron Law, to take over an organization, one needn’t take over the leadership positions – one merely needs to take over the bureaucracy. Sooner rather than later, that bureaucracy will become the real leaders, and can then get whoever they want as nominal leaders.

One day, I imagine some lover of science who established or joined some group in order to further science will wake up to find some hack who joined in order to run the bureaucracy is his boss, or the one who approves his hires or funding – and he leaves or is driven out. Someone more amenable to the bureaucracy’s goals then get the job or position.

So if you want to co-op an existing organization for your ends, don’t go after the leadership jobs – just get appointed manager or assistant treasurer or HR head – and be patient (and not all that patient) and you can soon call the shots.

This explains a number of things I’ve seen. Y’all probably knew this already?

Guacamole Problems & Pool

On the lighter side – reminiscing –

Coining a phrase here: Guacamole Problem. A guacamole problem is where you think you’re up against a serious or challenging obstacle, but it turns out not to be much of a challenge and you end up feeling foolish for having taken it so seriously. A Guacamole Problem is not worth winning, or at least not worth investing any worry in.

Origin: once in my callow youth, there was a girl. Keeping this sub-novel length, she liked me, I sort of liked her – and this other guy, a nice guy, really liked her. I was (and, to a lesser extent, still am) socially pretty clueless, so I was picking up on none of this.

Well, we were part of a chambers singer group, so what with rehearsals and travel and such, hung out together a lot. Dude B was trying to get attention from the girl, who paid attention to me – that I hardly noticed. The subject of guacamole comes up, and he says: I make great guacamole. I say: so do I! So we agree to each make guacamole and bring it to the next get together.

Well, as a Southern Californian and amatuer cook, I take my guacamole seriously: fresh minced garlic, fresh squeezed limes, finely chopped red onions, Mexican (has to be mexican!) oregano, New Mexican ground red Hatch chile powder – you get the drift. I make damn fine guacamole.

So I make a nice big bowl, eager to see what Dude B has to bring. But I had no dog in the fight – I was not desperate for the girl’s attention (I sort of had it anyway more or less by accident), nor did I need validation that my guac rocked. Dude B, on the other hand, really wanted the girl’s attention, really needed validation – and, sadly, made totally pedestrian guacamole.

So, I “won”, without really knowing what I’d won. Dude B was crushed – he was taking this all very seriously, but he felt compelled – he really was a nice guy – to tell me how very much better my guacamole was. As the reality of the situation slowly entered my dull and dense mind, I just felt bad for him. He hadn’t lost a dumb food contest – in his mind, he’d gone a long way toward losing the girl I didn’t really even want! (On a side note, I gotta admit that most any girl worth having would have to prefer the guy who makes the better guacamole, other things being close to equal. There is that.)

Image result for shooting poolSecond, we are going out in a moment on a company team building exercise. It will involve opportunities to bowl and shoot pool, among other teamy things. My knees are not up to much bowling, although I do enjoy it. BUT: back in the day – WAY back in the day, I was pretty good at pool.

At St. John’s, as a freshman I got a dorm room that shared a wall with the Upper Common Room (meaning: not much sleep if there were a party) and upstairs from a pool table. Did I mention I’m a terrible student? One of the ways that manifested was that I spent a lot more time shooting pool than, say, studying Greek. (I was 18 and possibly stupider than most – it got a little better over time.)

So, I started gettin good. In the second semester, somebody put together an 8-ball tournament, singles and doubles. Well, Wes, a sophomore, was the only guy in the school I couldn’t regularly beat, couple other guys were about my level, and everybody else had to get lucky to beat me. So, I lose the singles to Wes – but he got cocky, and got his girlfriend to be his doubles partner.

I recruited a dude for my partner who was a fidgety mess – unless he was stoned. Stoned, he shot pretty good pool.

Well, he showed up for the finals stoned. Wes played brilliantly, and, had he picked a decent partner, would have most likely beat us. But his partner – a lovely young woman, and, you know, OK at pool, wasn’t good enough. It was a pure defensive battle – no leaves. But the girl wasn’t good enough to not leave me and my partner some shots – and, every time she did, we’d just kill ’em.

It was close. Wes was really good, and my partner was really stoned – but we won! The prize was dinner at a local restaurant.

Due to transportation issues, the winners decided to go together. So, Wes, a sophomore, of course takes his girlfriend with his singles champion prize. I end up with a date with a stoner sophomore dude – who had money, back then, to do a dinner date? Not me or him.

It was weird. Food was good, though.

Anyway, I have to go easy on the bowling for my knees’ sake, and I have to go easy on the pool for my ego’s sake, since I’ve hardly shot since – had to go cold turkey or they’d have thrown me out of school eventually. I get rusty fast if I’m not shooting all the time.

Hope your day is going well!


Choosing Ends vs Means

Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with the Trolley Problem, because in it a whole mess of Bad Things converge in a uniquely clear way. Further, it seems to me the Trolley Problem is a clear example of what I was getting on about that, somehow, was brought to the attention of and earned the scorn of some Reddit folks. Yet further, Mike Flynn posted about how poorly the Democratic Party is forming and attempting to make its points regarding the so-called Affordable Care Act, which, as is so often the case with obsessions, brought the Trolley Problem back to mind. Because it’s all related. No, really!

Funny ol’ world, innit?

So, first, at the post linked above, the esteemed TOF gives an example of what really qualifies as not only fake news, but really inept political maneuvering:

Recently, for example, the Democratic Party was shocked, shocked we tell you, to learn that the Republican Party intended to follow through on its promise to dismantle the Affordable [sic] Care Act. The skyrocketing insurance costs in premiums and deductibles consequent to this act was one of the factors leading to the narrow defeat of its perceived heir and champion, Mrs. Clinton, in the recent election, although this has not been much mentioned. So the Democrats in Congress held a photo op announcing their intention to oppose this opposition. So far, so good. This is the normal procedure — sic et non — pioneered in the medieval world.

This was their opposition:

One immediately senses the overall ineptness that led the Party to its losses of Congressional seats, state legislatures, governorships, and now the presidency itself. Their sound-bite fails on two levels: the visceral and the rational.

The slogan “Make America Sick Again”, TOF asserts, fails on a visceral level, since, among other things, it’s not even clear who or what is being blamed until one (not likely) reads the fine print.  Further, the slogan makes no sense: neither the ACA nor its repeal will cause or fail to cause any sickness. The ACA is all about who *pays* for *care* of sickness.

Read the whole thing. While I agree with all this, I think there’s another level, and it has to do with what the ACA is in the minds of the audience: is it merely one among many government (and private sector!) programs designed to help defray and control the costs of medical care? Or is it Wonderful Healthcare for Everyone at Very Little Cost (or WHEVLC)? In other words, is support for the specific laws, regulations, and bureaucracies set up in the actual 1,990 page, 363,086 word bill itself, or is support based on the belief that the ACA is the same as WHEVLC?

I think the answer is obvious: those who supported the bill stated, almost without exception (that I can think of at the moment) that they were favoring WHEVLC. There were practically no popular discussions of specific provisions by those who favored the bill except for touting the Big Three of Pre-existing conditions(1), kids stay on parents’ insurance until they’re 48 or so (I may be off a little, something like that) and subsidies for people too poor to buy insurance. The other 1,900+ pages? Not talked about much.

Meanwhile, almost all opposition to the bill focused on details and mechanics. The most pertinent detail was the express need to pass the bill to see what was in it. That seems somewhat dubious, but it makes complete sense: the supporters of the ACA really didn’t care about how the worker’s paradise WHEVLC worked mechanically, because they were voting for WHEVLC, not the details. Problems, if any, would get ironed out in a few years, then everybody in America could walk into glistening medical facilities any time they needed to, get top notch care from caring professionals for anything that ailed them, and walk out confident the bill would be taken care of! Who could possibly oppose that?

Basically (and of course there are exceptions) one side viewed the decision to be between two ends: the then-current health care system, and WHEVLC; the other saw the decision as picking means: does the ACA make things better?  As I commented on Mr. Flynn’s blog:

One must assume the ends are known, because decisions are made, in the modern world, by choosing between ends. The Pragmatists, starting with Pierce, want to make the ends justify the means, so they habitually assume they know the outcomes and are deciding on them. A Pragmatist of the John Dewey species would be lost at sea if one were to demand moral decisions be made on principles, because, practically, the ends are unknown in any but very trivial cases. This is a Forbidden Thought.

Thus, the “Trolley Problem” is used as an example of moral decision making: a fantastic set of assumptions where all the crucial pieces are assumed to be known with certainty so that only the ends – 1 guy dies or 5 guys die – is considered relevant.

A real example of a moral decision might be: You promised to love, honor, serve and be faithful to your wife, but this morning you found out you didn’t like her anymore. What do you do?

No ends in sight. But that sort of question wouldn’t be very popular, less so the answer. So we assume, instead, that we know the ends *for sure* so that we can be Good People and chose Wonderful Healthcare for Everybody at Very Little Cost (WHEVLC, let’s say). And then make up whatever numbers and stories we need to help us feel good about it. In such a moral world, those who don’t like the ACA don’t want WHEVLC = what evil, evil people! The idea that there’s a difference between choosing ACA and getting WHEVLC cannot be entertained.

Back to the inane slogan. What seems to be happening to me is that the Democrats have decided, consciously or not, to abandon trying to convince the ‘undecided’ voters, in this case, those who may have become disenchanted with the ACA over the past 6 years. This slogan is perfect for the die-hard fans: it parodies Trump’s hateful (to them) campaign slogan, and hangs all the *inevitable* evil to come from failing to love WHEVLC on Trump’s shoulders. And the people who hate poor people and women – you know, people who would dare ask how this WHEVLC voodoo is supposed to work – well, they are, what is the word? Oh, yes, contemptible! Oops, meant Deplorable! That’s it!

On some level, I wonder if the current core of the Democratic Party believes people’s minds can be changed by argument or information. I suspect not. Therefore, a ‘better’ slogan might not be possible.

Finally, if one of those Reddit readers were to wander by, I ask: Did you ever hear about the trolley problem in school? How was it presented? Was a vigorous counterargument proposed and championed? More generally, was the possibility that moral decisions simply cannot be based on ends seriously discussed?  I suspect, but do not know, that Pragmatism is taught, more or less unconsciously, and that objections – fatal objections – to it are simply not seriously discussed. Well?

If this post isn’t enough, check here for further dissection.

  1. In insurance-land, that pre-existing conditions clause invites what is called ‘adverse selection’. In general, it means that buyers have information sellers don’t. People are more likely to buy insurance if they’re sure or think it likely they’ll need it. If I buy lots of life insurance because I know that the Mafia has a contract out on me, but don’t relay that information to the life insurance salesman, that’s adverse selection. That pre-existing conditions coverage clause codifies adverse selection – the seller must at least pretend they don’t know about your heart troubles, etc. Thus, the wisest, if not most moral, path is to buy insurance when you need it, say, right before you go into the hospital for surgery you’ve known about needing for years. Further, if you are young and healthy, it’s only a small risk that you’ll be hit with something bad before you have a chance to buy insurance for it. The premiums of healthy people who don’t make many big claims help keep costs down for sick people who do. This means sellers of insurance must take into account 1) having healthy people not contribute to the system (This reality is recognized – a little  – by penalizing those who don’t buy insurance. Then it’s just math: is the penalty or the insurance cheaper?) and 2) having to cover expensive treatment for people who only contribute a few payments into the system while taking large amounts out. Ultimately, this means prices have to go up – for everybody. Hmmm – did they? Every sane businessman and economist predicted they would.

Friday Bullets

simbang-gabi1. Simbang Gabi! Today starts the 9 day novena in preparation for Christmas celebrated by Filipinos everywhere. Filipinos in our area have long gathered at 5:30 a.m. for mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, followed by a more-or-less traditional Filipino breakfast: chicken soup (which comes in a surprising variety of forms), salabat (sweet ginger tea), hard boiled eggs and – things. Among the things are, in some combination, tangerines, rolls, ham/sausage, and a selection of wildly-colored sweet things.
(Once asked someone at a Related imageSimbang Gabi breakfast why the sweet things were always bright purple or orange or some other neon color – she were completely baffled by the question. I gather these are the natural (for some values of ‘natural’) colors for these delicacies.)

The reason we get up at 5:00 a.m. for Simbang Gabi isn’t the food. It’s the chance to pray and prepare for Christmas with the wonderful, warm and welcoming people.

2. This is interesting. The unnaturally strong – heroic, even – ability to embrace cognitive dissonance can be understood as a necessary condition to embracing Marx and Hegel. Hegel, after all, makes it a big point to reject the Law of Noncontradiction. The dedicated acolyte merely awaits the explication of the proper synthesis that suspends the contradiction and reveals, respectively, the Right Side of History or the Spirit unfolding. Sure, it makes no sense – but it doesn’t have to! Just so long as you have the proper feeelings about things. Insights are like the gifts of the Holy Spirit – beyond understanding.

Most enthusiasts seem to be simply crazy, or, more mercifully if more dangerously, they value their group membership and sense of rectitude more than logical consistency. What is a little – well, a lot of – inconsistency compared to properly-fanned righteous indignation and commitment to the Right Side of History?

This enthusiasm in the face of disconfirmation even claims for itself the title of reasonable and science based. Back when I was young and naive, I would have found this beyond amazing.

3.Was talking with a braver man than I last night. He mentioned that one of his neighbors had bought a Tesla, and was waxing rhapsodic (use even pressure and a soft cloth) about its virtues, when my friend mentioned that perhaps he should thank him and all his other neighbors for subsidizing his toy. He pursued it enough to get the new toy owner to admit that, well, yea, there is that, but who wouldn’t take advantage of such a deal?

How about all of us who have not bought Teslas?

4. Reading When Prophecy Fails on the recommendation (I think) of John C. Wright, as a means to understanding the fervor and desperation of the folks who believe the last election was *wrong*. I should not be surprised – zealots and courtesans always think free elections are wrong, unless they somehow manage to keep the fire lit(1) and the king’s table well-provisioned. Any result that calls into question that for which they are zealous or threatens to thin the king’s larder or – God forbid – the king’s rule – that’s a *wrong* result.

Anyway, the authors propose that, when events ‘disconfirm’ (what a dumb word) the prophesy, adherents double down – proselytising intensifies, roughly in proportion to the mockery of outsiders.  The authors point out how holding onto a disconfirmed belief is hard on your own – you’d have to be crazy! – but, if you get enough people together, you have a support group, and can make up theories, make new predictions, explain stuff away to each other and otherwise keep the hounds of cognitive dissonance at bay.

The theory here seems to be that the Left thought that they really were on the right side of history, and that the sparkly unicorns of Marx would soon – it’s inevitable! – spread the magic fairy-dust of progressive Nirvana across the land. Bernie Hillary would take all the stuff from the mean bad people and give it to the needy people in a totally non totalitarian way! Goodthink would drive out Badthink, everybody would accept everybody else and their preferred pronouns, Muslims, who were only acting up because Christian white people were picking on them, would embrace (rather than throw off the top of a minaret)  uppity women and gays. Sure, you might have to kill a few million people – billion, tops – who cling to their God and guns, but, as Lord Farquaad put it: “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

Then people elected the wrong guy! Their bubble world was shattered! Weeping! Threats! Machinations! Inside-out proselytizing by attempting to suppress that part of the fake news that said mean things. (The fake news that still hasn’t disowned Walter Duranty – the fakest news man ever, who would make Baghdad Bob blush – are OK. They may lie like rugs, but their hearts are in the right place and they aren’t *mean*!)

The bad news (insofar as we are buying what is, after all, a nice theory with only two hand-picked examples to back it up. Best one can say is that it seems reasonable) is that it will take a series of extreme, irrefutable, and clear disconfirmations before the group breaks up. For now, what you see is what you get: doubling down, telling each other stories, trying to spin it so that they didn’t *really* lose.

The fall of the Soviet Union set this crowd back a bit, but they very neatly transferred allegiance back to a more spiritual Communism, one untainted by the failures of the past.(2) The election of Trump, oddly, seems to have caused way more panic than Moscow’s face-plant. The desperate silence over Venezuela and contemptible whitewashing of Castro are shadows of the monstrous horrors this same crowd overlooked in the Soviet Union and continues to overlook in China. The continued ‘religion of peace’ nonsense regarding Islam’s 1,400 year sacking of the West continues. They soldier on.

So, maybe what we’d need is for Trump to be a wild success, super popular and cruise to reelection. I’m not holding my breath, but I will say that, so far, he’s exceeded my admittedly very modest expectations. It may be enough that he proves to not be Hitler. At any rate, per the theory in the book, it will take at least another mega-disconfirmation or two to bring the beast down for good. In the meantime, perhaps there will be some room for a little sense and reason in all those heads emptied by exploding? One can hope.

  1. True zealots are never happy with incremental victory, but always desire to burn things down to the ground. Only way you can be sure you got *all* the bad guys. Then they start burning each other just to make really, really sure. Then the people embrace Napoleon to make it stop.
  2. That’s why we hear talk of the end of history – if history were still going on, this whole movement would be revealed for the doomed failure it is and always has been. No, we must assume a new heaven and a new earth, one in which what has always failed will now, by magic, succeed.