Life, the Universe, and Everything: A User’s Guide

That title is a wee bit over the top. A bit. Here’s the real deal: I am the RCIA sponsor this year to a very bright young man, 16, who asks a lot of good questions and really seems to want to understand things. But he, alas, is a product of the schools, and therefore has systematically been denied any whiff of real education.

So, I thought to myself, I did, that maybe I could hook him on some basic logic and philosophy and steal him from the clutches of those who would dumb him down and control him. I could feed him just a bit of real, honest thought. Seemed like a plan. But given the realities of modern ‘education’, I should keep it real short.

A seriously furrowed brow. There just must be some serious thinking going on in there, right?

Here it is: a one page outline of Truth. What do you, my esteemed readers, think?

An Introduction to Truth, Facts, and Reasoning

Truth: A man is said to have the truth when his understanding corresponds to reality.

Necessary Truths: Those things which must be true if anything is true. Or, put another way, those things that must be true if you know anything at all about reality. Necessary truths do not depend on anything in particular you see, hear, feel, smell, etc., but rather must be true IF you see, hear, feel, smell or touch ANYTHING AT ALL.

The study of Necessary Truths is called metaphysics. (Today, the term metaphysics is applied to all sorts of stupid ideas, but this is what it means when used correctly.)

Necessary truths include:

  • An objective world exists. We call this world ‘reality’.
  • Truth exists. We can understand reality, at least some parts of it, at least a little.
  • The law of noncontradiction: A thing cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time.
  • All the other rules of logic. We use those rules to understand the rest of reality, but the rest of reality doesn’t help us in any way to understand those rules.
  • The rules of math. Same as the rules of logic.

Conditional or Contingent Truth: Truth that depends on conditions or assumptions. Conditional truths all take for granted the necessary truths. You can’t have any conditional truths without the necessary truths.

Conditional truths are very important. Almost everything we know are conditional truths.

Facts: Units of conditional truth created when the necessarily true rules of reasoning are validly applied to observations.

Conditional truths include:

  • All science. All science begins with observations and measurements, which are conditional because we can get them wrong. Science applies the rules of logic and math, which are necessarily true, to those observations and measurements to create scientific facts.
  • All theology. Because it includes revelation and observation!
  • All philosophy besides metaphysics.

Informed Opinion: A kind of conditional knowledge that has not been thought through completely, such as what a good craftsman knows about his craft. He hasn’t worked through all the logic or examined all the assumptions, but he ‘knows’ what works.

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Weekend Update & Link-fest

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

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

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

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

Related image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brownson, the American Republic

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

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

What could possibly go wrong?

D. I found this totally refreshing and revealing:

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

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

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

Isaac didn’t like the question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: The Education History Reading List

Image result for mountains of books
Random licensed for reuse pic off the interwebs. I take better care of my books than that. Usually.

For at least 4 or 5 years, I’ve been thinking about/taking feeble stabs at putting together what I would call a real education history reading list. I have started putting this list together as a project for 2019. Such a list would be heavy on contemporary source documents (contemporary with the events being discussed, not contemporary with the reader) and light on latter-day analyses framing the past as merely the inevitable, and inevitably inferior, precursor to our current modern state of affairs. As C. S. Lewis put it in another context, don’t read about Plato, read Plato. As much as possible and practical, that’s the goal.

Nonetheless, I will include some overviews and summaries, such as Marrou’s A History of Education in Antiquity, because, in this case, I can’t touch his level of scholarship, and the reality is that, even if translations of all his sources were available in English (unlikely), I simply won’t live long enough to track them all down – a snippet here, an engraving there, sometimes a paragraph or two elsewhere, in 2000+ year old Greek or Latin, that only a true scholar such as Marrou could have tracked down over the course of a decade or two. And Walch’s Parish Schools, because he provides the overview and references without which it would be very difficult to even know where to look for source materials. Similarly, the late great John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education, which pointed me to Fichte, among many other sources. Perhaps a couple more.

Back to original sources. Many works leap out for inclusion: The Republic, Rousseau’s Emile and Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education, and so on, well known works of reasonable length with multiple translations and editions readily available. Others, such as Fichte’s Addresses to the German People or any of Pestalozzi’s inscrutable works, which are not as accessible, and are hardly intelligible without some historical context. Or Martin Luther’s letters, of which two (it seems – I won’t live long enough to read them all) address education specifically. A half hour of internet research suggests that Luther often touched on the topic of education, but mostly more or less in passing, in the many letters he wrote. (1)

Which brings me to providing some context. This is a tall order, as I acutely feel my own lack of proper historical education. Nonetheless, I’ve read a lot of books, and seem to have a minor intellectual gift for making connections (the plus side of having a brain that runs nonstop like hamsters on speed, I suppose). So I’ll take a stab, such as any regular reader of this blog has seen in many posts here. Seeing the amazing lack of context displayed in what passes for public discourse emboldens me to imagine even my feeble efforts might help a little. My experiences with Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed revealed to me something shocking that, I suppose, should not have been: that modern students at education schools will not understand what they read, even when, as is the case with Freire, it is patent communist propaganda. He says sympathetic sounding things about the plight of the poor and proposes education as the way to help them – and that’s about the limit of a modern ed school victim’s reading comprehension. They will miss all the commie buzzwords, and have no chance of grokking that the critical step to achieving Freire’s little utopia is dividing the people into sheep and goats based on the shibboleth of Marxist enlightenment, and, basically, robbing and killing the goats. He says as much, toward the end of the book, long after the eager ed student’s eyes have glazed over, but one would need to be familiar with the way Marxists talk to see it.

(It’s fascinating to see that the new president of Brazil has stated flatly that the indispensable first step in reforming Brazil’s schools is to purge them of Marxism and Marxists. Freire taught a generation of Brazilian ‘educators’ that the goal of education is to radicalize the students, that all that reading, writing and arithmetic stuff was merely a distraction when it wasn’t an out and out tool of oppression. Now imagine trying to unite your fellow citizens to build a first world country, when the schools have been cranking out practically illiterate and innumerate ‘radicals’ for the last 3-4 generations – and are proud of it! Or rather, don’t imagine it – just watch our own country over the next generation or two. We already have created a class of college grads who think pleasing an employer in order to get paid and thus pay back the money they borrowed to get that studies degree is to be a traitor to their class and ideals. There are only so many grievance professional and barista jobs out there…)

So the list may contain works that are there merely to provide context. This will be a tough call, and I’ll try not to bloat it too much. And the holes will be bigger by an order of magnitude or two than the areas covered no matter what I include. Better than nothing, I hope.

I’ll make the list a page on the blog. It will include some brief summaries and links back to blog posts that discuss the work. I’ll throw up a post when anything changes much. And as always, I’m open to suggestions and criticisms. Just play nice.

  1. It also suggests that Lutherans are very proud of the economic superiority of nations where Protestantism dominates, and of Luther’s role in promoting universal literacy so that people could read the Bible, the source of their beliefs. Here I am, wondering when economic achievement became a measure of Christian success, and when the Bible supplanted Jesus as the source of Christian beliefs. But hey, I’m one of those dense, irrational papists, so what do you expect? Oops, was supposed to play nice, sorry.

2018: Let Me ‘Splain…

Image result for inigo montoya let me sum up

Life is good. Having breakfast (Huevos Rancheros with both red and green New Mexico chile sauces – the only way to fly) with our kids and their grandmother on a cold, crisp Sunday morning after attending a lovely Mass together – what more is there to life in this world? I am indeed blessed.

Elder daughter is off being courted at the moment. Nice young man. Elder son is studying. He had a meeting yesterday with his thesis advisor – at our home! Seems he and his wife were up in the area to visit a brand-new grandchild, and so came over to visit. Charming an intelligent conversation ensued.

Younger daughter is having that experience I’ve warned them about: the reward for competence is getting more work. We are for the most part a competent family, and end up organizing, executing and cleaning up after a lot of things. It’s worth it, but can get exasperating at times. Beats the alternative. She (both daughters, actually) is an excellent seamstress. A young lady who teaches at our school and has been staying with us for the last 2 years is getting married, and younger daughter volunteered to make her wedding dress. She loves doing this sort of thing, but it’s a big job.

Wedding dresses tend strongly toward the ‘more involved’ end of the dressmaking spectrum. So, this being our daughter’s only real break between now and the wedding, as she will be writing her senior thesis during the 2nd semester of her senior year, she is trying to get it done this week. So, since she should be doing her seminar readings now, my beloved wife is reading aloud to her while she sews.

Younger son, the Caboose, is indulging in some video games. I need to take him Christmas shopping, since he’s the only one who can’t drive himself and we will be having our gift-giving on January 1. We had it on Epiphany for many years, but recently the kids have been drawn away to jobs and school, so we tend to have it on the last day everybody is here – New Years Day this year.

On Thursday, we met up with a young family visiting San Francisco. College friends of elder daughter. After lunch, we had only a couple hours to show them around, and chose the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. This is a 140 year old large wooden greenhouse stocked with rare tropical plants and flowers, the oldest public collection of its kind in America. They have dozens of different carnivorous plants, including some pitcher plants whose traps could hold a good size bird or rat. Funky looking.

I took a few pictures. They aren’t very good. If you want to see good pictures of flowers, check out Zoopraxiscope.

Wacky-looking yellow spirally flowers on a typically weird tropical plant. You know, I suppose I could have taken a picture of the little placard, and thus told you what this here thing is. I’ll try to remember that in the future…
Tiny yellow orchids. And plenty of ’em. They have lots of orchids, too, in the less sweaty/drippy rooms.

2018 was an interesting year:

  • Our middle two kids completed the first half of their senior years at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More. Have two graduation to look forward to in 2019 – on opposite coasts one week apart. Of course. I’m a happy daddy.
  • Singing in a Sunday choir for the first time in over a decade. The relentless poor quality of the music and the lack of any aspirations to sing anything better drove me off. But a friend got a twice a month job doing the Saturday anticipatory mass, and she’s doing chant and Watershed stuff, so I’m now in. Didn’t realize how much I missed it.
  • Youngest son progresses with violin. He can fiddle up a storm. He also decided on his own to join Boy Scouts. The particular group he joined seems good, and has not yet completely fallen to PC nonsense. He needs 3-4 years to make Eagle, so if the troop can hold out that long… He loves the outdoor activities and getting to hang with some relatively sane kids his own age.
  • Home Improvement projects proceeded at a crawl. Got a few thousand more bricks to lay out front, and some wrought iron-style fencing and some rails and steps to put in. Did make the carcass for a king-size bed platform out of oak veneer plywood. Unfortunately, had to press it into service before I had time (and decent weather – have to work on projects this large outside) to finish it. Therefore added another threshold to overcome before finishing it: taking it back out of the bedroom. In my mind’s eye it’s very nice, sort of reminiscent of Mission style. As it is, it’s a big plywood box.
  • Didn’t read nearly as many books this year as the last couple. Plan to remedy that.
Collected in one pile the reading materials I’ve pulled off the shelves over the last few months to read or reread. Now located next to a comfy chair by a window. That helps.
  • Did get almost done (what is with me and getting near the end of books and not finishing? I’ve not always been this way…) with Polanyi – what a load! – and a couple education books (dreary for the most part). Did read – and even finished! – a half dozen SciFi books this year. But, man, gotta pick up the pace. I spend an unproductive amount of time reading materials on the internet. Some are critical, such as source materials on education. Others – not so much. Must remedy this as well.
  • Continuing with an hour or two of piano just about every day. Got Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique to the point where I can hack my way through it. Only took me about 12 months. Now, if I’d just put in another 6 months, I might get it to the point where I’d not be embarrassed to play it for somebody. Also worked up some rag time and a couple fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier. Tried a little Chopin, but – looks like a lot of work. So, maybe. Or maybe some more Beethoven or some Shubert. It’s fun
  • Over the last 6 months, made a miserable effort to get disciplined about writing. I could blame a series of minor injuries/illnesses, and there would be some truth to it, but many people have written through as bad or worse, so – no escaping it. I tried and failed.
  • On the other hand, did finish at least rough drafts of 3 stories, wrote several thousand words on the Eternal Novel of Infinite Enertia, and did a ton of blogging. There is that. But it’s not enough, not by a mile.
  • Lost my job June 30. I’m 60, 4-5 more years and I could have retired. Now? Got to come up with some way to get us through the next decade financially. No call for sympathy here, we’re doing way better that most people, it’s just I thought I had it licked, and – not so much.
  • Medically interesting year, which one does not want. Gone are the decades during which I never missed work and rarely had so much as a cold. Again, nothing worthy of sympathy – I’m just getting old and paying the price of letting myself go. I suspect regular exercise, eating like I’m sitting around all day instead of like I’m heading out to plow the south forty, and the related loss of, oh, 100 lbs, and I’d be a lot better off.

All in all, life is good. Good marriage, family I’m very happy to be a part of, no more than the usual amount of issues and problems. Can’t complain.

For 2019: We’ll see about writing some more. I could use a spiritual director. A job or some other income would be very good. Some discipline around food and exercise is required (hmmm – this sounds strangely familiar…) Reengaging a systematic prayer life would no doubt help. Pray, hope, and don’t worry, as St. Padre Pio put it. Yea, like that’s gonna happen. But nothing is impossible with God.

We wrap up 2018 tomorrow by finding an Adoration chapel to spend the last moments of the old year and the first of the new, then Mass, presents, breakfast and teary goodbyes to the older 2 kids. *sniff*.

Then we run it back for 2019! Interesting times. Good, but interesting.

2018 Simbang Gabi & Update: Happy, Holy & Blessed Christmas

(Yes, It’s still 5 whole hours until 1st Vespers/Vigil Mass, but it will be less than that by the time you read this, and possibly even already Christmas proper, so I don’t care. After getting up at 5:00 a.m. to attend the closing of Simbang Gabi at the local parish, Advent has been right properly celebrated here at Casa de Yardsaleofthemind.)

We were discussing this morning with a lovely couple at our table how many years we’ve been doing the 5:30 a.m. Masses of the Simbang Gabi advent novena, and we came up with 6? 7? 9? Somewhere in there. I have never made all 9 mornings myself in any of those years, caught 5 this year, I think 7 or 8 is my best effort, but Mrs Yardsale and one or two of the offspring have attended all 9 once or twice. Straight to Heaven go such folks.

Brief recap: stories differ, but the one I like goes like this: centuries ago in the Philippines, land owners would not make time for their field workers to attend mass, even in Advent. The only chance to attend mass before spending the day in the fields was to have it before dawn. Locals asked their priest if he’d be willing to say a pre-dawn novena of Advent masses for them, he of course said yes. Everybody brought gifts of food for the priest (all they likely would have had to give) and he turned right around and invited them to breakfast. So now the tradition is for a predawn Mass followed by a traditional Filipino breakfast:

Certain aspects, such as plastic plates and processed cheese seem to be part of more recent tradition. The roll is split, and cheese and meat put on it (pineapple-fried ham this morning – yum!):

Completely lacking this year in pretty pictures of the more religious aspect of this lovely tradition. It will have to suffice to say that the Sacrament works by working, and its efficacy is aided by Mass said at an awkward time with many devoted people present.

Onward, update wise: Did some caroling Saturday at a local nursing home followed by a potluck. It was fun, kids all got to come. Eldest daughter and I try to throw in a harmony part or two – funny, for as long as I’ve sung these carols, I’m still real sketchy on the harmonies, partly because there are lots of different settings, but mostly because of my very meager musical talents.

Speaking of which, for the first time in over a decade, I will be singing at a Christmas morning Mass. A wonderful lady and excellent musician has taken on the task of reintroducing some good music at a local parish, in the quiet, humble way such things are required to be approached. She’s been after me to sing with them, in a very gentle way. My meager musical talents do extent – barely – to being able to learn and carry a hymn part in a couple passes. A little chant, a little Latin, some hymns and an occasional honest to goodness choir piece. No risk of heresy or musical stupidity. Cool.

I didn’t know how much I missed singing in a choir. It had come down to having to either sing insufferable ‘contemporary’ music of dubious orthodoxy or drive for a half-hour or more to a real choir. Inertia won. But this church is 5 minutes away. So here goes nothing.

Next up: Listening to music made by a family in Napa. Beautiful stuff. CD was given to eldest daughter on a first date with a young man whose family has been in Napa for five generations. That sort of permanence and roots is rare these days, and to be admired.

Lingering cold moved on to maybe a sinus infection, which seems on its way out. I’d really like to feel well for a few months at a time, just to mix things up.

Have no idea why anyone would be reading this on this day, or any of the next few, but if you are, God bless you and yours, and have a Happy, Holy and Blessed Christmas – all 12 days of it!

Reading the Unwoke

Since I have it on good authority that I should be made to live up to my own rules in order that the Glorious Worker’s Revolution can take place, I got some reading to do. If I have one rule about reading/research, it’s go to the source first. Then, once you’ve taken a respectable crack at understanding what writers have to say for themselves, read commentaries and summaries if necessary or desirable.

gramsci
Antonio Gramsci. His father was a bureaucrat from a well-off family who did time for embezzlement, and his mother the daughter of landowners. Definitely not a prol – they were poor because daddy was an incompetent crook – and definitely had daddy issues – the classic Red profile. 

Thus, recognizing that I’ve never seriously read anything but summaries and excerpts from Gramsci and Alinsky, I cruised the ever-helpful if hegemonically managed internets, and downloaded some – stuff. Knuckle up. 

Also skimmed some Gramsci online. Based on a few of his many journalistic articles I looked over, my enthusiasm for the task of working through his prose is well contained. Starting with Kant, who in his defense can be said to be merely an innocent victim of the lack of writing talent (maybe), subsequent philosophers have discovered the value in being as verbose and obscure as possible. This puts the writer in the position of always being able to accuse critics of not understanding him, and allows him to stand figuratively with Newton and Einstein – geniuses whose thoughts are legitimately hard for almost everyone to understand. Newton and Einstein are hard to understand, see, yet have proven foundational to scientific understanding – just like me and philosophy! Woohoo!

That it’s perfectly possible, in fact more likely, that hard to understand writing is the product of muddled thinking and bad ideas, is a notion not allowed standing. Nope, when I say stuff like “Dasein’s experiential-bodying-forth as being-in-the-world with-Others” I’m showing, not an inability to use English or, more fundamentally, to think my way out of wet paper bag, (1) but that I’m *deep*. Right. 

Gramsci, based on the slight fairly random sample of his newspaper editorials I just read, can in fact form perfectly straight-forward sentences and even string a few together. (2) This is not nothing, far from it, and I am grateful. However, he will then turn around and write: \

Understanding and knowing how to accurately assess one’s enemy, means possessing a necessary condition for victory. Understanding and knowing how to assess one’s own forces, and their position on the battlefield, means possessing another very important condition for victory.

You mean, maybe, “To win, you must know your enemy and know yourself, and where you stand.” That whole “possessing necessary conditions” is the tag that says “I’ve read Marx! And Hegel!” but otherwise adds nothing, or, since I’ve read them, too, can be said to be empty of concrete reality. But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I am much more enlightened than Gramsci. He is so unenlightened that he fails to see his stage of enlightenment as merely a stagnant backwater, a stage long subsumed and suspended in a synthesis itself long subsumed. History, to continue to speak a language he would find familiar, has unfolded yet further stages of enlightenment far past his, until, finally, it unfolded me! 

It’s how the rules of wokeness work: the less woke simply cannot understand the more woke. Until you get woke, the mechanics of which make the mysteries of human participation in redemptive grace seem trivial, you Just Don’t Get It. Therefore, my standing as a World Historic Individual (to continue to use language familiar to the tragically less woke) will simply be invisible and incomprehensible to poor Gramsci and his ilk. Just the way it is.    

Moving along: as evidenced by the increase in blog post frequency, I’m feeling better these days. I’m now antsy to finish the shameful backlog of half-read books I’ve started and petered out on over the last, well, year or two? So a book-review-alanche may be in the offing. 

The list includes, among many others: 

  • School of Darkness, Bella Dodd
  • The Great Transformation, Polanyi (almost done, darn it!)
  • Parish Schools, Timothy Walsh (actually a reread of sorts. But I never really reviewed the book as a whole.)
  • That goofy book on r/K selection theory (actually finished, but did not review)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday (only have about 70 pages to go! Why did I stop?) 
  • Philosophy of Spirit, Hegel (reread. Stalled out after the Preface 2 years ago. Sheesh.)

And so on and so forth. 

And then I’ve got to find a job or otherwise figure out how to get to a financial place where we can retire. Suggested to the wife this morning that we simply move to Costa Rica. We could live like minor nobility down there! The picture look good, and they have internet!  And we’d be a 1,000+ miles from all our friends and family! 

Right. So look for a job it is. Plus – I’m not even brave enough to face this yet – there’s this small boatload of stories and 15,000 words of a novel and that book on the history of Catholic education I’m pretending to write by reading other books and creating mountains of notes… Soon, and very soon? 

  1. It dawns on me – I’m slow, sometimes – that I’ve used this expression a couple times without explanation, which may not be fair. If it’s clear, pardon my pedantry, if not: It’s a play on a possibly obscure boxing insult: “He couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag.” I’ve loved this since I first heard it, because it captures the failure of a presumed expert to execute that upon which their expertise is predicated. A boxer who can’t punch even through damp paper isn’t even a boxer. Thus so-called intellectuals who can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag. Well, it amuses me.
  2. Or maybe his translator. The translators of Hegel, for example, have been accused on occasion of reading more coherence into the text than is actually there.  But I think not in this case. 

Some Monday Links and Asides

In the too cool department: Some animated satellite orbits, with representations of speed, altitude, etc., all linked up so that if you click on anything, you get background information.  Looks like this: 

This is just a picture. The original is animated so that you can get a feel for the relative speeds involved, and has the links.  

I found it trying to research a sky-hook type element for a story, you know, to make it all sciency and stuff, and then of course burned an hour or two checking it out. (Not about to do pages of math to figure this out, but will google around a bit.) Did you know that there’s an  Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee ? I do now. If you go to the link and click on Graveyard Orbit, that’s the kind of stuff that will turn up. 

Not sure if I’m happy or sad there was no internet when I was a kid. 

David Warren is at it again, elegantly and wittily telling us we’re all so, so doomed. He pens such gems as: 

It is the policy of the High Doganate to discourage rioting, even in France.

and 

For many of the older citizens, this must bring 1968 to mind. I know that I felt a twinge (ah, to be fifteen again, and wiser than those passing through their “terrible twos”). Indeed, Paris — where I once learnt the cobbles are numbered on the bottom so they may be put back in place after they’ve been used for missiles — has been unusually peaceful this last half-century. There used to be a revolution every ten or twenty years, and lesser annual uprisings over this and that. I can understand nostalgia.

and

But, according at least to me, the French are not unrepresentative of humankind. 

I have not made it to France yet, although I have flown over it to get to Italy a couple times. Should try to make it before I die, or before Notre Dame is replaced with a victory mosque. Whichever comes first. 

The phrase “sans-culottes” is one of those many phrases or words I have to google every time I see it. Just won’t stick. So here’s an experiment: if I blog about forgetting it, will I remember it? 

If this works, you may be seeing a lot more words and phrases I can’t seem to remember. 

Life in the past is neither rosy nor relentlessly desperate, even if it did run more often than not a lot closer to the relentlessly desperate end of the scale. But just because we would panic and despair if we were forced to live as medieval peasants doesn’t mean they were panicking and despairing. Mostly, it seems their lives were pretty OK by them. They certainly had the time and energy to build a large number of very nice buildings, for example, something relentlessly starving, desperate people can’t really do. You don’t build things that take lifetimes to complete if you’ve despaired. 

Was thinking of the Battle of Towton, specifically the Towton grave. This was the bloodiest battle of the War of the Roses; the Towton grave contains a few dozen of the estimated 28,000 men who died that day. On the one hand, this battle reinforces the notion that the Middle Ages were barbarically violent. On the other hand, the 38 men who were buried in the Towton grave were, first of all, fit enough and far enough from starvation to fight. In an article I of course can’t find at the moment (my google-foo has failed me!) the writers described that the bones were of men age about 16 to 50, mostly sturdy individuals with, for example, their teeth largely intact – at least, intact right up until a broad axe to the face loosened them up a bit.

Even the healed wounds tell of a life somewhat short of total desperation. Most all the skeletons showed signs of healed over injury, many having taken – and recovered from! – blows to the head serious enough to leave evidence of trauma in the skull bones! Yikes! But this shows that wounds were not always fatal, that the Medievals knew enough to take care of them hygienically enough that the body could heal even serious wounds, at least some of the time. 

Life was hard, death was close, but not so hard or close that it was not well worth living to the people living it, it seems. These people were fighting to the death, but not killing themselves in any great numbers. Instead, they built churches. Hmmm.

Thanks to all for the suggestions for what my mother in law might want to watch next. Taking a break from watching shows where good-looking people with charming accents kill each other in beautiful locales, she has settled into watching Heartland, a multi-generational soap opera – with horses! Attractive people with, sadly, bland American accents galavant around beautiful countrysides riding, taking care of talking about horses. The horses are pretty.

The plot and subplots as far as I’ve made out walking through the living room while the show is on seem to involve a lot of dramatic confrontations and arguments. So far, nobody has killed anybody that I’ve noticed. This thing has been in production for 10 season, of which Helen has gotten through maybe 2 – so there’s plenty of time still. 

The few minutes of it I have watched in passing illustrate a plot device similar to the notorious Idiot Ball: drive the plot by having people wildly overreact to every challenge and situation. On my occasional forays through the living room, I’ve seen characters engaged in vein-throbbing confrontations over business ideas, whether somebody loves her horse enough, trespassing, and butting in. Like Idiot Ball, if the people would stay calm and ask and answer a few reasonable questions, life would go on – but the show would not. Every routine interaction must become an existential crisis or challenge to somebody’s manhood or something. 

I’ve not watched more than a few minutes of soap operas over a lifetime to this point. I imagine this craziness is of the nature of the beast?