Weekend Update/Pointless Post

Unless you like pretty pictures of food and second thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s no excuse for this post, and no reason for you to read it. Just being upfront.

A. Did get a bunch of reading in last week, will do a couple more book reviews soon. I could get used to this. In addition to the client visit/long plane flights/boring evenings in hotels providing opportunity to read, I felt well, which reinforced how not well I have been feeling since about November. Nothing in particular, just draggy, sleepy, unfocused. Might be blood pressure meds – but those have been the same for years. Will be seeing the doctor soon, but, as usual, I always feel better after making an appointment. (If only this worked for dentists – chipped teeth and decaying fillings just heal themselves once you’ve got a date to get them fixed. No?)

B. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy II a second time because it’s Father’s Day, it’s 105F outside, and my younger daughter had not yet seen it. Gotta say: as goofy as the action is, as unnecessary 90% of the (slight, I’ll admit) potty talk is, this movie works so well on an emotional level it’s shocking. Yondu steals most scenes he’s in, manages to convince you you’ve misunderstood him all along, and gets you crying (well, I, at least, had something in my eye) near the end – and then they ratchet it up from there – and it works. One of the reasons I wanted to see it again was exactly that: had I just fallen for cynical manipulation the first time? I kind of think not – I think they really understood that the only stakes worth raising were emotional stakes, and they went at it with everything they had, and it worked.

C. Speaking of pretty pictures of food: this year, my basil crop has been and continues to be outstanding. If you’ve got basil, make pesto; if you have fresh homemade pesto, make pasta; if you have homemade pesto pasta, you must bake fresh bread. I do understand that wasting people’s time with pictures of food is lame. I’m making an exception this once (well, except for my daughters’ cakes – but those are art) because my family kept going on about how beautiful this particular loaf of bread was:

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So, yea, it’s a picturesque loaf, I’ll grant. It’s the simplest loaf of yeast bread I know how to make – this one just came out particularly beautiful after the manner of its kind.  Tasty, too.

D. On the flight back from Atlanta, got to see lots of snow. There was plenty in the Rockies near the New Mexico-Colorado border, on  into Utah (especially considering I was on the right side of the plane heading west, meaning I was mostly looking at south-facing and thus less snowy slopes) .

The real snow action was the Sierra:

 

We seemed to be flying right over Yosemite, so my view was of Mono Lake (too low for snow, just north and east if Mt. Whitney and just north of the Long Valley Caldera), Hetch Hetchy, which is the valley on the western slopes just north of Yosemite and which contains San Francisco’s main reservoir, and the high granite domes which make up the bulk of the high southern Sierra.

Lots of snow, even in mid-June. Several ski areas have announced that they will be open through August! The pictures are too small to see this, I suppose, but even from the air you could see areas above 8,000 or 9,000 feet just buried in snow. Along the western side, I could see white-water waterfalls coming off those high granite domes down into the valleys, and all the rivers were likewise white until well into the foothills. Spectacular.

E. My son asked long ago for me to make him a shield. After googling around, I decided to try fiberglass. Just because I’ve never done it before. So I made a hardboard form, if you will, gave it three coats of varnish to seal it, had my son apply 4 coats of wax to it. I’d attached some 3X2 boards along the sides, screwed in a couple big hooks, had my son lean on it in the middle, them wired between the hooks to get the curve:

 

Then we applied the world’s sloppiest gel coat – hey, it was our first time! As soon as we can get 2 uninterrupted hours, we will put on 4 layers – 2 mat, 2 cloth – and epoxy in a handle and adjustable strap. Then let cure over night.

And pray we can get it off the form!

St. Jerome’s Tips on Teaching a Child to Read

Via Twitter:

403 A.D., St. Jerome instructing Laeta how she should teach her daughter Paula to read. Over 1500 yrs later I got the exact same education.

First, this is utterly charming, especially given Jerome’s well-earned curmudgeonly reputation. Second, a literate woman teaching her daughter to read is given encouraging advise by a Church Father – those evil misogynistic Catholics at it again! Almost as bad as Francis de Sale’s obvious care and affection for “Philothea”.

But third, here is clear evidence that people believed that a mom could teach her own young daughter to read.  Everybody in every culture always believed that any responsible adult could teach their own children anything that similarly competent adults knew – reading, say, or basic math. Plato, 2400 years ago: Charging money to teach children what every competent adult knows is fraud.  The amazing thing: over the course of 150 years in the West, the newly developed class known as educators have managed to convince hundreds of millions of adults that they are *incompetent* to teach their own kids much of anything at all.

Recall that Horace Mann’s complaint, following Fichte, wasn’t that kids were deficient in reading and writing – they were *morally* deficient. No, really.

So, professional educators, from Day 1, with more or less personal awareness on the part of the personnel involved, have been committed to the *moral* education of our kids. Mann found out that this idea was repulsive to the citizens of Massachusetts, who would not vote for compulsory, tax-funded schools – for their kids. Once the Potato Famine sent a million Irish Catholics their way, then the good solid Americans were ready to make *those* people, patently morally inferior to *our* people,  attend moral reeducation camps – schools. In order to sell this, people had to be convinced, or at least cowed into silence on this issue, that parents, grandparents and so on are incompetent to teach their own children. Talk ‘performing to grade level’, don’t talk about educators’ more or less conscious contempt for the morality of the peons. See: the current phase of the sexual revolution, or critical theory, or ‘truth is relative’ or – you get the drift.

What constitutes morality may have changed, but the puritanical zeal of our betters to educate us, the unwashed masses, in it only keeps growing.

Book Review: Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels

Short & Sweet: Buy and read Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels – it’s fun, cheap at the moment on Amazon, and different. I liked it quite a bit, and it’s a quick read. Support indie. Support superversive.

All in all, a fun read, good characters, and the action both physical and spiritual never stops. It reminds me a little of two very different authors’ works – Jagi Lamplighter and Robert Hugh Benson. Both these authors are very successful in very different ways at portraying the inner workings of their characters’ minds and souls. Witzke is likewise able to describe how things look to a 17 year old girl trying hard to be good in a world set up as an attractive slip-n-slide to evil. Everywhere, her world is ready with both pleasures and pains to push you down the wrong path. Benson derives his force by austere and deep insights into three different souls. Lamplighter puts her lead characters in fantasy world’s emotional and spiritual  blender where decisions good and bad have to be made with never enough time or calm. Witzke put her heroine on a journey paced more like real life, with decisions big and small coming at the most awkward and dangerous times.  All three capture an essential truth: we can only find our true selves in this world when we are not of this world.

If you had to categorize it – and you don’t – this would be a distopian YA story with a twist: it’s full of virtue, hope and heroism by characters who – gasp! – are Christians. This short (199 pp – in the range of all those 1950’s Heinlein books!) stands all those Post Apocalyptic Preludes I was on about on their heads:  After the end of the world as we know it, religion is outlawed because nobody would ever fight and steal and murder and bully if it weren’t for religion. Religion here meaning, of course, not atheistic communism (100 M murders and counting) nor Islam (14 centuries of uninterrupted bloody conquest, slaughter and slavery) but Christianity, specifically Catholicism, which, while hardly violence free, pales in comparison to those last two. Hey, it’s just history.

Path Of Angels (Underground Series Book 1) by [Witzke, Dawn]Back to the book. The characters are hardly goodie-two-shoes. The book opens with some rather shocking violence in the name of Christ – understandable as you read the story, but hardly cricket. As the book progresses, Aadi and Mischa, two young people living under an atheist regime in a partly ruined world, are given a task: bring a relic of Mother Theresa to a priest in a distant town.  After many adventures and narrow escapes, and seeing both friends and foes suffer horrible fates, they reach their destination, only to run into their greatest spiritual threat so far. They suffer temptations like those suffered by our teenage children (of all ages) and even fail – but that doesn’t destroy their faith or make them surrender to evil.

The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, because you strongly suspect that they’re not getting away *that* easy! But the story stands.

If you decide to give it to your kids to read, be advised: there are some scenes that will make anybody under, say, 15 or 16 blush. They’re done tastefully enough, but I’m just thinking how *I* would have blushed reading these scenes to my kids, and – no.

So, good book. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out.

 

In Atlanta: Reading Update

Brief update: Visiting a customer this week to help with the roll out of a new product of ours. This time of year in Atlanta, it is merely quite warm and humid, but certainly tolerable. I hope to take a couple long walks, with luck all the way to the Cathedral of Christ the King 2 miles away. Next month, it gets pretty icky here for a spoiled Californian like me.

A couple cross country flights and nights stuck in a hotel room mean one excellent thing: Reading Time! I’m trying to finish up William Briggs’s excellent Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. I am reminded a little of the experience of first reading Aristotle many years ago: you must understand the phrase before you understand the sentence, and then understand that sentence before going on to the next, or you will soon be lost.  While it is true that this book is not a math treatise, per se, it is also true that there’s a density to it like the density of math, where a simple formula can sometimes mean the world. I can breeze through a chapter and get something out of it, but if I really want to understand – well, then it’s one sentence at a time, don’t proceed until you’ve got that one clear.

But this is not a bad thing – when you actually do make the effort, what is understood is well worth understanding. I’m thinking I might do a chapter by chapter review, more or less, since I’d like to reread it anyway, and thinking about each chapter would be a good exercise. So, maybe next week.

Also reading Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels because, what the heck, it sounded interesting, isn’t too long, and was cheap! Also picked up a couple of Heinlein novels from this stack:

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So, after I get back from this trip, thing are looking up reading and book reviewing wise. Writing, OTOH, suffers a little when I travel since I’m often tired or agitated one way or another – but I’ll give that a try, too. Things might be much better next week – let us hope.

Graduation: Cakes

My beloved younger daughter made cakes for the Diablo Valley School graduation and 20th anniversary party. First the graduation cake:

Raspberry cream filling and frosting on a vanilla cake. Even more delicious than it looks!

And my lovely daughter.

The theme for the 20th anniversary party was disco tea party. My daughter responded:


On one side and she put silhouettes of disco dancers:


She also handed detailed the flowers:


All I can say is that I hope somebody at school ask for a death Star cake some year, because I’d really like to see that!

We had fun. People were duly impressed.

Post Apocalyptic Prelude

Been watching a lot of short sci-fi videos (Dust is good, especially this one as posted before) because, I dunno, some of them are pretty good and you can skip ahead when it gets dull.

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Our machine overlords always seem to have the best tech. Which figures, I guess.

One feature of many such films is the Post Apocalyptic Prelude, the little placards at the beginning that give you text with enough back story so that the action can be fit into a 10 – 15 minute film. The better the film, the less likely a Post Apocalyptic Prelude will be needed, or at least it will be shorter. But that’s not the real issue I have: every one of these assumes the same brand of DOOM. The apocalypse is always brought about by this week’s looming evil – global warming, right wing or religious totalitarians, tech run amok, aerosol spray propellant, whatever, you get the drift. The post apocalyptic world is likewise dominated by similar evils, or, for those with slightly better imaginations, mere chaos.

Prelude
A typical sample. That I can’t even remember what the little film was about is kind of the point here.  A person with more imagination might wonder why and how religious fanatics came to rule.  What superior survival characteristics did they possess?  What was lacking in their opponents? And, contrary to all human history so far, those who eschew technology dominate those who do not?

I will never make a film like these, which show as often as not some seriously cool film making chops. But I am sure I could come up with a better, or at least less boring and more thought-provoking Post Apocalyptic Prelude. For example:

The world’s major cities lie in ruins, their infrastructure destroyed in the Cleansing. Sociology professors, convinced any sufficiently woke person could run society’s complex machinery, seized power and brought about destruction. 

Flyover, a mysterious land of near-legendary wealth and evil, stretches from the People’s Republic of Canada to the Rio Grande Marches, and from Stockton, California, to the Appalachian Mountains. Gripped with fear yet desperate to escape the chaos and hunger, a band of  city dwellers use the last remaining charge in their Tesla to cross the Altamont Pass….  

Ya know? What you  got?

Thursday Links

Got a week on-site with a customer next week doing new product roll-out, Diablo Valley School’s graduation and year-end party (20th anniversary!) on Saturday, while my beloved and overworked wife is getting grandma settled and providing huge amounts of care (grandma needs help to stand, sit, get dressed, etc. – prayers for both of them appreciated)  so I have no excuse to be blogging – here are some links:

A: Climate Science here and here via TOF’s blog. The comments are enlightening.

B. Dear to my heart, an explanation of how a non-scientist can nontheless tell that the current climate change panic is bogus, by the estimable John C. Wright. His explanation is from the perspective of a lawyer (although I strongly suspect his experience as a newsman plays a part as well). My perspective is similar, but, since I’m not a lawyer, flavored more strongly by my life-long love of science. This love includes the realization early on that the claims of science are conditional, limited, and only as strong as the challenges they are able to survive. Planck’s quip – that science advances one funeral at a time – reveals a deep truth about people: that we are not likely to give up beliefs, especially those upon which our careers and livelihoods are built, just because somebody poses a question or provides evidence that doesn’t fit. Since facts can always be understood in more than one way, even, often, contradictory ways, our default behavior as human beings is to choose a way to understand the facts that doesn’t require us to abandon what we hold dear.

The foregoing is how I account for the true believers who are actual scientists. There really don’t seem to be many of those – real scientists preaching unfettered panic and insisting on the institutions of global controls that can only be called totalitarian. Instead, we have scientists in love with their babies – oops, models – who can’t accept the reality of the failure of those models. The existence of multiple models is, in itself, a nearly definitive proof that the science is not settled – what it would settle on, if it were settled, would be one basic model reflecting one nearly complete and useful theory. This, I should think, is blindingly obvious.

What the truth about human nature expressed in Planck’s quip does not account for are the easily-impressed rabble (scientifically speaking – I trust these folks are decent enough where it matters, are kind to their pets and call their mothers often)  who, in the words Robert Bolt places in Henry VIII’s mouth, will follow anything that moves. They do not understand science well enough to notice that Sagan, deGrasse Tyson, or even Bill Freakin’ Nye (1) are cheerleaders, whose pronouncements are not science and as often as not, could not be science in principle. As Belloc said:

…it is the mark of modern insufficiency that it can conceive of no other form of certitude save certitude through demonstration, and therefore does not, as a rule, appreciate even its own unproved first principles.

Finally, we have a few (I sincerely hope) of the fine moral specimens exemplified by Rahm Emmanuel: those who not only won’t let a good crisis go to waste, but will eagerly foment one when it serves their purposes. These Machiavellians find the previous two groups useful, and therefore fan the flames. Our obligations as lovers of truth are to fight these last, seek to inform the vast crowd in the middle, and, I suppose, mourn appropriately at the funerals of the first.

C. An Open Letter to the Author. This is amusing.

D. And Then I Popped Him One is interesting, and reflects what I once read somewhere that Raymond Chandler said: a fight scene can’t go by too quickly in a story, or it will disappoint the reader. If you’ve spent 50 pages working up to it, it can’t go by in a paragraph. This brought to mind the wonderful opening to Farewell, My Lovely, which is one of the most perfect noir detective opening I’ve ever read.  The bar scene, while not the climactic fight scene, it sets the stage for all that follows.

Image result for Farewell, My LovelyA man, described by Chandler as “…a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck” recently released from prison stops by the bar where his girl, Velma, worked when he was put away 5 years ago.  In the intervening years, the bar had become a ‘colored’ bar, an obvious fact which nonetheless escapes his notice. He asks after Velma, who of course no one there has heard of, and encounters the bouncer:

The bouncer frowned. He was not used to being talked to like that. He took his hand off the shirt and doubled it into a fist about the size and color of a large eggplant. He had his job, his reputation for toughness, his public esteem to consider. He considered them for a second and made a mistake. He swung the fist very hard and short with a sudden outward jerk of the elbow and hit the big man on the side of the jaw. A soft sigh went around the room.

It was a good punch. The shoulder dropped and the body swung behind it. There was a lot of weight in that punch and the man who landed it had had plenty of practice.

The big man didn’t move his head more than an inch. He didn’t try to block the punch. He took it, shook himself lightly, made a quiet sound in his throat and took hold of the bouncer by the throat.

The bouncer tried to knee him in the groin. The big man turned him in the air and slid his gaudy shoes apart on the scaly linoleum that covered the floor. He bent the bouncer backwards and shifted his right hand to the bouncer’s belt. The belt broke like a piece of butcher’s string. The big man put his enormous hands flat against the bouncer’s spine and heaved; He threw him clear across the room, spinning and staggering and flailing with his arms. Three men jumped out of the way. The bouncer went over with a table and smacked into the baseboard with a crash that must have been heard in Denver. His legs twitched. Then he lay still.

“Some guys,” the big man said, “has got wrong ideas about when to get tough.”

Makes we want to go reread a bunch of Chandler.

  1. Of the three, NdGT is at least a prominent scientist in real life, meaning I’d pay rapt attention to what he has to say – about the science of which he is a prominent practitioner. Sagan was a work-a-day college professor whose ambitions are better measured in Q-rating than in scientific achievement, and Nye holds less of a claim to being a scientist than I do. Failure to parrot whatever these clowns have to say about anything at all is, nonetheless, seen as being anti-science.