Pictures, Visualizations, Graphs

Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words.

Maybe. Consider Euclid, Book I, Proposition 16:

In any triangle, if one of the sides is produced, then the exterior angle is greater than either of the interior and opposite angles.

Diagram found here

Euclid is a language unto itself. The words are part of the language, but few people, it seems, can understand the words without the diagram, even if they only picture the diagram in their heads. I know I can’t – I immediately construct the picture in my mind, at the very least. Once you’ve got the picture, then the words help you walk through the proof.

But the picture itself doesn’t tell you what you are to prove from it. Those 2 dozen words in italics that describe what the picture is for do that. This picture might be worth a thousand words, but those thousand words don’t include what the picture means.

I’ve mentioned before how I was epically terrible at Greek, back in collage, yet epically great at Euclid. It’s just a knack, and I’ve done little with it, but I was that annoying kid who could just read the proposition, look at the diagram, and, 9 times out of 10, produce the proof without having to look at the text. Other people could glance at the rules for forming verbs in Greek, and just get them, while they were a plate of spaghetti to me. Just one of those things.

I watched the other students struggle their way through Euclid. I never had that experience, the glory, even, that some people had when the brilliant truth of Euclid’s modest claims broke through – but it was beautiful. Some kids had very limited ideas of what was true, and seeing how the logic of a Euclidian proof compels agreement was the dawn of a new world to them. I think I had a similar experience in 4th grade, when I first understood how the hard sciences can prove something true. Given a set of assumptions and definitions and the rules of logic, a really well-constructed experiment can really prove something, within, of course, the limitations of the observations and definitions.

But I digress. The point here: diagrams don’t speak for themselves You have to speak their language to understand them, and sometimes need many additional words of explanation. One more point: practice makes perfect. If you, like a St. John’s freshman, are working through Euclid pretty much every day, you start to get the hang of how he works, so that each successive proposition tends to make sense more quickly and easily than the last. (This is offset by the generally increasing complexity of the propositions, but you get the drift.)

I write all this to explain to myself how it is that diagrams such as the one below don’t seem to impress people:

So let’s spell it out:

  1. This chart displays deaths by age band by week per 100,000 people in that age group.
  2. The order of the lines on the graph are the inverse of the order of the ages in the list to the right. That is, the bottom group in the list is the top line in the chart, and visa versa.
  3. The y-axis scale peaks at 50 deaths per week, which the line for weekly deaths in the 75+ Years group slightly exceeds at a couple of points. This means that a little more than 50 age 75+ people per 100,000 died over a week a couple of times.
  4. Conversely, at no point are any deaths per 100,000 of those under 40 evident. Given the scale, where 1 death per week is noticeable as a slight bump, this means that, at most, something well under 1 death per week per 100,000 occurred for those under 40.
  5. For those under 50, the peak weeks might be as high as 1 per 100,000 at a couple of points. Since the under 40 are invisible at this scale, if you add them all together to get a weekly deaths per 100,000 for all those under 50, your total weekly deaths per 100,000 over the 7 age groupings added together reaches a max of about 1 at two points over the last 18 months.

But what does this all mean? It means, first, deaths among the elderly have been high, and deaths among those under 50 have been low, with deaths among those between 50 and 75 being measurable but much lower than those 75 and over. For those under 40, deaths per week doesn’t even register at this scale.

One more piece of information not presented here is the age distribution across the population. That’s not the point of this diagram, which is expressly concerned with deaths per 100,000. But to get your arms around what this means in terms of total deaths, you’d also need to consider how many people fall into the various categories.

Here’s a 2019 distribution from the Kaiser Foundation:

(aside: I can never seem to find population distributions by age expressed with the same age banding that the CDC uses. I’ve wasted time backing into the numbers, but it just seems odd that the data is most generally presented with wide age bands that one cannot easily change. So this is going to be sloppier than I’d like, but I think the point will still be clear. End gripe.)

The US population is estimated at about 332M. Almost a quarter of that population, or about 78 million people, are under age 18. Last I checked, about a week ago, 380 Americans under 18 – children – had deaths ‘involving’ COVID (that’s the CDC’s language, not mine). As Briggs points out, that’s less than half as many children as died of pneumonia over the same period. And before you go there, recall that pneumonia also can have lingering or permanent effects on those who survive it.

On the other end, 16.5% are over 65, or about 55 million Americans. Backing into the numbers on the chart above, at the two peaks in April 2020 and January 2021, it looks like as many as 75 people 65 and older died per week. Multiplying that per 100,000 number by the 550 units of 100,000 in 55 million, you get peak weekly deaths in the 65+ age groups of about 41,000 deaths. Peak weekly deaths ‘involving’ COVID for people 65 and over were about 100 times the TOTAL deaths of children over the entire 18 months of the pandemic.

Therefore, taking these CDC numbers at face value, COVID is a threat to the elderly, and not a threat to children. The overall risk of death for children is not significantly increased by the presence of COVID in the environment. Indeed, the overall risk of death for those under 50 is not meaningfully increased by the presence of COVID in the environment.

This situation was evident, as in screaming from the page, with the very first Imperial College report back in March of 2020. But do you hear about it on the news? No?

Yesterday’s Homily

The soul of humility is obedience. Without the willingness to set aside our own wishes in obedience to proper authority, claims of humility are empty. That’s why St. Thomas, in his prayer after communion, includes “Let this Holy Communion strengthen us in love and patience, humility and obedience, and all the virtues.” Love is first – without love, no other virtue lives. Love endures in patience. But the very next virtues listed are humility and obedience – humility, the virtue corresponding to the fear of the Lord, and obedience, by which this humility is made real.

Yesterday’s homily was not about any of this. Instead, we were treated to the spectacle of a man inexplicably proud of his intellect – of which, in the years I’ve known him, has been on display with enlightening infrequency – telling us that love of self, neighbor, and God demands we do exactly what the latest COVID panic mongers demand, that failing to get vaccinated and wear masks means – he was specific – that we, the guilty, love not God, our neighbor, nor ourselves. He didn’t explicitly add: and are going straight to hell, but the implication was strong.

Further, he used the example of poor Cardinal Burke as the sort of “moron” who doesn’t mask or get vaccinated and thus, by ending up in the hospital (he has since recovered, thank God) with COVID, proves the truth of his position. The blessed cardinal is a man who is a) elderly, b) extremely busy and probably exhausted, c) probably interacts with thousands of people in a typical week, and d) is under insane levels of pressure and spiritual attack. And he recovered, like 99.9%+ of people who aren’t actively dying.

So imagine me and mine, who along with dozens of other people, are sitting OUTDOORS IN THE SUNLIGHT at mass, unmasked, hearing this dim bulb call a saintly man, who incidentally is vastly and demonstrably his intellectual superior, a “moron” for failing to do as he is told by such genius humanitarians as Fauci, Brix, and Ferguson. My wife tried to talk with him after mass, with the predictable dismissive results. (I was loading up the car w/ grandma at the time, and hadn’t even noticed she’d gone until she was almost through. I’m also a coward with a temper – bad combination for rational discourse when I’m pissed off.)

The totalitarianism of postmodernism has found ready adherents in the well-schooled. This Dominican (!) teaches at the local ‘catholic’ boy’s high school – ‘catholic’ in quotes, as they are of course too inclusive as to take a stand on anything as icky as Catholic dogmas. (Their sister school, the girl’s school next door, prays “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier” because that Father-Son stuff can offend some poor snowflakes, and they want to be inclusive. While this girls school did allow for a Pro-Life club, they likewise allowed – on campus – an organized protest *against* the Pro-Life club. Very Catholic and inclusive.) I’ve had occasion to get to know the products of these schools – fine young cannibals, all. Any attempt at discussion of the faith is met with utter ignorance and indifference. Very well schooled rabbits.

Yet this priest’s high self opinion, expressed in meandering stories of his adventures in lieu of homilies with any reference to the feast or readings, compel him to attempt to shame and anathema a group of fine people who have had it with the lies he, himself, cannot acknowledge, lest his world crumble and he dies!

And that’s what we’re up against now: the panic rabbits have built their entire identities on obedience, on doing as they are told, on getting the pat on the head, the gold star, the participation trophy. This priest, as a high school teacher, is even more integrated into this system and has his identity and sense of self-worth even more tied to conforming and getting others to conform. Doing as he is told is the highest virtue, while defying the authorities warrants heavy anathemas. That’s been his life for 40 years.

Getting back to humility and obedience: Thomas notes that true authority, the authority we must always obey, comes from doing the will of God. A king is legitimate insofar – and only insofar – as he is doing God’s will. Yet I think Thomas, while perhaps having something to say about the idea that legitimate government rests upon consent of the governed, would agree with the sentiments of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

The philosophical errors here are certainly overshadowed by the glorious vigor of people yearning to be free.

Thomas would of course be very, very circumspect regarding when a long train of abuses becomes intolerable, because he had knowledge of what it’s like when there is no king or other legitimate authority. Better to endure, and be obedient, whenever possible. Our sterling example in this was another St. Thomas, St. Thomas More. He harbored few illusions about Henry, yet loved and obeyed him to the very end – except when such obedience would contradict the law of God.

And we should be just a circumspect, and be humble in our judgements. In my case, I have made the judgement – and may God have mercy on my soul! – that obedience to these authorities causes more harm than good, and that the authorities have long since abandoned any defensible claim of legitimacy other than mere inertia. Therefore, I will not comply, except insofar as my noncompliance would get an innocent person – a store clerk, for example -in trouble. And that’s on a case-by-case basis.

Sci Fi Classic Book Review: Verne’s Master of the World

I like to read up on the authors as I go through these classic Sci Fi works off of John C. Wright’s Essential Sci Fi Reading List. Reading up on Jules Verne, I discovered that many of the English translation of his novels were rushed and abridged, as American and English publishers thought they could most quickly cash in on Verne as an author of children’s books. While better translations have long been available, these abridged editions seem to make up a good portion of Verne’s works available for free on the web. Now I’m left to wonder what, if any, Verne I’ve actually read, and how many watered-down and condensed English versions I’ve instead plowed through.

Book Cover

Dead give-away: the translation/condensation of Master of the World I’ve just finished lists no translator, and is only about 140 pages long. I spent a few minutes conducting a by no means thorough search for an unabridged translation for free on the web, to no avail. Serious, non-abridged English translations of Verne began shortly after his death in 1905, so they’re out there and out of copyright. Amazon offers this collection at a $1.99, which says it’s ‘unexpurgated’.

So until I get a chance to read the full novel, this review of the kiddy version will have to do.

One of the things I enjoy about Verne is that he treats Americans as the exotic species we really are. In From the Earth to the Moon, Verne gives Americans fanciful names and absurd behaviors which I imagine were very amusing to his continental readers back in 1865. The one thing he latched on to, and a thing he might well have intended as a rebuke to his countrymen, is America’s can-do attitude: a bunch of American artillery men, fresh off the ‘glories’ of the Civil War, turn their attention to firing humans to the moon out of a giant canon, because why not? Master of the World is likewise a tale of audacious Americans.

Our narrator John Strock is presented as the great detective working for the (mythical?) Federal Police, who have time, budget, and portfolio to pursue odd events in rural North Carolina. Peculiar happenings have been observed atop a lonely mountain called the Great Eyrie. This inaccessible peak is topped by a sheer 100′ cliff that completely encircles it, such that no one has ever surmounted it. Yet over the course of days, fires, lights, and noises originate from its hidden peak.

Strock gets a team together to go investigate, but they are stymied by the cliffs. He needs the funding and permission to get some more extensive climbing or tunneling equipment to access the peak. His boss isn’t ready quite yet to commit, as another series of strange phenomena have since drawn attention away from the Great Eyrie. One or more strange monsters or perhaps vehicles has been sighted in Boston Harbor as a boat, in Wisconsin as a car, in a mythical lake in Kansas as a submarine. The nation’s and eventually the world’s attention is riveted.

So Strock is sent to investigate, but not before he receives a very threatening letter telling him to back off from the Great Eyrie, or else. He takes it as a joke, and does not discuss it with his boss.

Eventually, the conviction grows that these sightings are of a single machine, an incredible contraption that is faster than any automobile, faster than any ship, and can dive as a submarine to escape any pursuers. The Government of the US, followed by the governments of all the major powers, publish offers to buy the technology from its inventor for fabulous sums. A letter is sent to the Federal Police declining the offer, taunting the world’s powers, and claiming to be impervious to any means they have of stopping him. Signed: The Master of the World.

From there, the story follows Strock and his team as they try to track down and capture, or, if necessary, destroy the inventor and his machine.

Not as scientifilicious as some of Verne’s other works. The contraptions are no more fantastic than the Nautilus, of which he conceived decades earlier. This is the earliest use of a super villain of which I am aware. His ideas about heavier than air flight are not much advanced on da Vinci’s, and had already been superseded by the Wright Brothers by the time this book went to press.

A good, entertaining story, even in its condensed form.

Update to the Update: Moving Plans, etc.

A. Thanks for all the kind thoughts about our upcoming move. We’re not planning on being out of the house before March, 2022 – our youngest needs to get his Eagle Scout stuff done, and I agreed to teach another year of history/literature. The meeting with the realtor was just to help me establish priorities and a to do list. First order of business: get the house tented for termites (minimal damage, but they’re here) – and that’s not until mid-October. Then, exterior paint, some tree trimming, lots of relatively minor repairs, etc. By end of March, we hope to be out of here. Probably rent a house near Sacramento, to get to know the area. Or, if the insanity escalates, go check out Iowa/Midwest.

We’ve got +/- 6 months to pack up the house. Sigh.

B. Have tons to do to prep for classes starting Tuesday, so of course I did a quick but utterly unnecessary woodworking project instead. Behold! A charcuterie board!

I readily admit I had no idea what charcuterie was maybe 2 years ago. But – it’s good!
Made from walnut form the tree we cut down in our front yard maybe 8 years ago. Chose heavily figured pieces. The wood is too warped to make big things out of, but one can wrestle it into small projects like this.

Walnut is not usually used for food tools – cutting boards, rolling pins, that sort of thing – because the grain is too open. But I figure, one, we’ll call it a board, not a cutting board, to reduce the usage and wear, and, two, I don’t care. Still needs last coat of butcher block oil and good buffing. Looks pretty good now.

C. The writing projects ground to a halt this past month and a half. Sigh. BUT! Hope springs eternal! I again find myself thinking about them – the SciFi work and the Science Essentials book – when doing other things. So:

Rather than just being me venting on our rampant scientific illiteracy, I think I’ll rework the science book into something more like Essentials of Science, and aim it at high school and college age people. Tone it down, introduce a bunch of history, focus on the basics that apply to all sciences worthy of our respect. Then maybe pitch it to the homeschooling/ catholic schooling crowd.

The other book just needs work. Have to ram it through.

But, hey, my life is shaping up to be: teach class, pack up the house, get items off the punchlist, read every day, and – write. I’ll need the change of pace. We’ll see how it goes.

D. Weirdly, out of nowhere, I started writing an a capella mass in Latin about 6 weeks ago. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a composer. What I liked to compose was a capella pieces, the market for which is small, to say the least. By my late 20s, I also wanted to get married and raise a family, so I consciously set the music aside. Now, after a nearly 40 year gap, I find myself, sitting at the piano pencil in hand, writing out 6-part vocal works in a dead language.

About 2/3rds of the way through the Agnus, maybe half way through the Gloria. My style (I laugh to myself) is basically a poor man’s John Williams meets a homeless man’s Faure, and has an ugly child. This is a pretty intensely inside joke: Williams loves mediant and sub-mediant modulations and horn-call like melodies, and Faure loves odd modes and half-step changes, and intense dissonances within his voice leading. I love all those things, too! I just don’t have anything near the training and talent of either of those guys. To put it very mildly.

Trying to live well, stay sane, and enjoy life. It’s the only way out.

Movin’ On Out – Update

More Classic SciFi Book Reviews to follow soon, as I am retreating into comfort reading as I deal poorly with the stress of living in insane times. But for now:

Met with a realtor today. Walking around the property, it finally became real that we’ll be moving out. Going through rooms and talking over features and issues, I relived some of the 25 years we’ve lived here, and the childhoods of the 5 children we’ve raised here.

Not as bad as it looks – the roof is the only thing really sad, but that’s enough to condemn it.

I found myself getting quieter and more introspective as the tour went on. I’m going to tear down the three story playhouse above that my two younger sons and I built – it’s not in too good a shape, and it would be simpler to destroy than to repair. The trampoline stays, I guess, since the realtor thinks the dedicated trampoline spot would look funny without it. The pizza oven is a feature, I hope. Need to make the front garden look less unfinished, but I don’t think I can bring myself to finish it as originally planned.

Had this for about 20 years. Kids used to sleep on it with their friends. Is it the same trampoline if I’ve replaced the springs once, the bed twice and the netting three times?

We’ll take cuttings from the little fig tree that has become such a delight to us – delicious figs, and the tree is so peaceful. We must see if we can take grafts from the citrus tree grown from a seed by out late son Andrew, that now sits planted in the front orchard. Have to research how to do this. The dead-looking tree below is actually very alive – another Andrew project, he found a buckeye out walking and asked what it was and what would happen if he planted it. It’s been in pots and now a half wine barrel ever since. We must figure out how to take it with us, and then plant it wherever we end up. It loses its leaves very early every year – it wants to be in the ground!

The native chestnut tree, grown from a buckeye Andrew found. This thing is like 20+ years old!
This Mineola tree is likewise 20+ years old, Started in a plastic cup, IIRC, then moved to a succession of larger pots, until we finally stuck it in the ground 5 years ago. Just trimmed it severely yesterday – it has long aspired to be 30′ tall; I insist on about 8′.
My beloved bought this dwarf fig from a neighbor, it lived in a half wine barrel for many years, likewise planted it 5 years ago. It’s been yielding 20-30 nice figs a day for weeks now.

25 years. A lot of water under this bridge. We never planned to live here this long, it was supposed to be our starter home. But that’s how it worked out.

A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool – Classic SciFi Book Review

The Moon Pool is the second Abraham Merritt book I’ve read from John C. Wright’s Essential Sci Fi Library. Published in 1919, the story concerns a first-person narrator Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, a scientist/adventurer traveling about Polynesia. He runs into Throckmorton, an old friend, who is in ragged shape and whose face flashes strange signs of ecstasy mixed with profound horror. He tells Goodwin that his wife and their companions were taken by some eldritch horror while he and his team were exploring some very ancient ruins near Borneo. Classic ‘can’t get the natives to help, they all leave for 3 days around the full moon, great evil lives in those ruins! Run! Ruuuun!’ situation – but of course they don’t. They discover some ancient gateway that only opens when enough moonlight strikes it, and out from which comes the Shining Horror. On three consecutive nights, the Thing grabs a team member until only a desperate and nearly deranged Throckmorton is left.

THE MOON POOL | A. Merritt | Later edition

On board the ship Goodwin and Throckmorton are taking to Australia for supplies to help get Mrs. Throckmorton and friends back, the full moon rises over the ocean. On the first night, Throckmorton is spared by overcast skies. But eventually, the moonlight reaches the ship – and Goodwin sees sees his friend taken before his eyes!

Goodwin thinks the story is too insane to tell the crew, and has no hope of finding Throckmorton alive out in the ocean, so he keeps quiet. He gathers the equipment he needs, then gathers a set of heroes: Larry O’Keefe, the brave, dashing, handsome Irish-American aviator who happens to go down with his plane within sight of Goodwin’s ship, and Olaf, a giant Norwegian sea captain who had his wife and daughter taken by the Shining Horror and is attempting to follow them. They set out for the ruins…

Merritt has a wonderful archaic vocabulary, and loves detailed descriptions of everything. He also has an over-the-top pulp sensibility about adventures and love. Of course, there’s an evil but irresistibly beautiful priestess and a pure and valiant Handmaiden of the Silent Ones, both of whom fall madly for O’Keefe. The love triangle plays out in the most dramatic, swashbuckling way possible. Narrow escapes, betrayal, evil Russian scientist, human sacrifice, mistreated slaves, frogmen, deadly plants, poisonous jellyfish of doom – and the Shining One, a creature of unparalleled beauty – and evil!

I made the mistake of reading other people’s reviews of this book, who modern readers give 3.3 stars, on average. One even said they were repelled by the obvious racism – Merritt commits the unforgivable sins of mentioning the Chinese tend to have slanted eyes, and that Polynesians tend to be short and wide – and other such horrors. That his heroes include frogmen and some of these same Polynesians doesn’t seem to register with woke readers. Pshaw! If you get into the spirit of the thing, this book is loads of fun.

I don’t know enough to say how old or widespread or, indeed, original, the tropes found in this book are, but Merritt is the earliest stuff that I’ve read that includes many of them – anti-gravity, ancient civilizations under the earth, many different intelligent species, panspermia, the whole natives won’t go there, stupid white man thing, disintegrator rays, evil Russian scientist, spring to mind. Goodwin is always making scientific asides and footnotes to make it seem real – Merritt was as up on the ‘modern’ science of 1919 as Verne or Heinlein was on the science of their times.

Merritt had an obvious influence on Lovecraft, seems to me. While the exotic adventure story is certainly nothing unique to Merritt, I don’t recall anyone else who creates such a brooding sense of horror blended with science – until Lovecraft. Edgar Rice Burroughs definitely does the exotic setting in fine detail thing, and the over the top adventure and love story stuff, but not with the science background – at least not to the degree of Merritt. I’m sure there are a number of threads leading to and from Merritt in the world of speculative fiction – I’m not well read enough yet to point them out with any confidence.

Kindle has that wonderful lookup function, with bailed me out a number of times with Merritt’s vocabulary. I recalled ‘lambent’ and ‘ebon’ from The Metal Monster, but he had some new ones here. I like learning new words, bring ’em on!

So, 5 stars. Lots of fun. Indulge your inner Indiana Jones and just go with it, and it’s great.

Cheery Sunday Thoughts

Just kidding. Over on Rotten Chestnuts, Severian references a theory of brain washing/thought control by a Robert Lifton, a psychiatrist of whom I readily admit I’ve never heard. Some of his ideas are familiar, but I did live under the same roof with a cult deprogrammer for a couple years in my youth.

Severian’s take is well worth reading. Here, since I don’t know what I’m talking about, I whittle it down to a few observations on Lifton’s ideas as transmitted via the article linked by Rotten Chestnuts. The following quotations are from the just-linked website. Quotations in italic, my comments in plain text, any highlighting is by me.

1. Milieu Control

Control of communication within the group environment resulting in a significant degree of isolation from the surrounding society. Includes other techniques to restrict members’ contact with outside world and to be able to make critical, rational judgments about information: overwork, busy-ness, multiple lengthy meetings, etc. [First thought: school. We old guys reminisce about the hours of childhood we whiled away unsupervised. Now, kids are never trusted to be alone, and have their every moment filled with school busywork. Age-segregated classrooms = “multiple lengthy meetings” during which individual thought is strictly discouraged. Not to mention, you know, lockdowns & masks.] Lifton: “The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. [If you can lock everybody up, restrict their ability to associate, maybe mask them so as to add a level on anonymity – that would work.] [This includes] not only the individual’s communication with the outside…, but also…his communication with himself... [Questioning the Coof or the elections is badthink. Don’t even go there! ][T]hought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known… [Let’s have everybody everywhere present papers to do anything outside their own homes. Let’s call out all the deniers and scofflaws.*] Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth…, they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this ‘truth.’ [The group member] is deprived of the combination of external information and inner reflection which anyone requires to test the realities of his environment and to maintain a measure of identity separate from it…”

Severian points out that this process isn’t just about what we typically think of as cults, but that elites of whatever kind undergo the same processes. This establishing of in-group credos and rules that must be followed to identify who is and isn’t in an elite – the Kool Kids Klub, as I call it – parallels and mutually reinforces the argot and shibboleths used only by the elite. For example, talking about sex differences signals out-group membership. The in-group discusses gendered roles. Some chosen topics can only be discussed using in-group language; other topics simply cannot be discussed at all. See: the automatic preemptive dismissal of any discussion of evidence, either for the Coof or the validity elections.

8. Dispensing of Existence

The group arrogates to itself the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. [Antifa leaders have casually stated that they will need to kill 125 million of us to bring about their Marxist utopia. Freire mentions in passing in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (required reading in our education schools) that rights are contingent upon acceptance of his revolutionary vision, a round about way of saying his properly-educated children can kill us if it advances the revolution. Sometimes, the group’s decision of who gets to live is quite literal.] Usually held non-literally, this means that those outside the group are unspiritual, worldly, satanic, “unconscious,” or whatever, and that they must be converted to the ideas of the group or they will be lost. If they refuse to join the group, then they must be rejected by the group members, even if they are family members. In rare cases this concept gives the group the right to terminate the outsider’s life.[Not nearly as rare as one might imagine. These are the operative principles in all the ideological totalitarian regimes known to man.] Lifton: “The totalist environment always draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right… [O]ne underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false… For the individual, the polar emotional conflict is the ultimate existential one of ‘being versus nothingness.’ [The misalignment between reality and their belief system leads the more aware to simply embrace nihilism. The fanatic is fanatical because, without his fanaticism, he is nothing; the more cynical/realistic recognize their beliefs as being self-contradictory morasses; their murderous rage masks despair and meaninglessness.] He is likely to be drawn to a conversion experience, which he sees as the only means of attaining a path of existence for the future… The totalist environment… thus stimulates in everyone a fear of extinction or annihilation… A person can overcome this fear and find… ‘confirmation,’ not in his individual relationships, but only from the fount of all existence, the totalist Organization. Existence comes to depend upon creed (I believe, therefore I am), upon submission (I obey, therefore I am) and beyond these, upon a sense of total merger with the ideological movement. Ultimately of course one compromises and combines the totalist ‘confirmation’ with independent elements of personal identity; but one is ever made aware that, should he stray too far along this ‘erroneous path,’ his right to existence may be withdrawn.”

Interesting to think, as Severian invites us to think, of this process as characteristic of elites as well as cults. Or is elitism just another cult?

Finally, compare this analysis of elitism to Lewis’s ‘inner rings’. Is there a difference?

* Clarissa, who grew up under the Soviet Union, explains how this works. In fact, her post deserves its own post here.

Thursday Updates, Including Interaction with the Medical Community

A. Another first for me: replaced two dishwashers. No, I’m not hiring manager for a restaurant. Going on 16 years ago now, we went with two dishwashers in our remodeled kitchen – a good choice, very handy, especially with 5 kids at home at the time. But 16 years is like 90 appliance years – these things were failing in their final cause.

Old units awaiting their fate.

On Monday, I made the drive down to the former Sears Outlet in San Leandro to pick up 2 out of box display models of a couple cheapish but well-rated Whirlpool dishwashers, thus saving about $250 over the best retail prices I could find. Bonus: Worked in a side trip to a TLM in Oakland on the way back. Of course, this means I, at 63 years old, am hauling dishwashers in and out of my minivan. Fortunately, these modern units are very light.

Next up: watch a bunch of YouTube videos on how to install dishwashers. Then, spend a couple hours on my knees and back turning water off, unscrewing, unhooking, unwiring, and sliding old units out, then screwing in, hooking up, plugging in, turning water on, and shoving new units in. Only needed 1 (one) trip to Ace for parts! Ickiest part: a lot of gross stuff, including stuff mysteriously glued to the floor, had accumulated under the old dishwashers over the years. Cleaned it all up, so that, in a decade or so, when the next guy replaces the dishwashers, he’ll have a cleaner floor to look at.

Much better. Need to clean those smudges off the front. The important thing: it cleans dishes real good, and doesn’t leak!

Only difficult part: the drain hose hook up for the unit next to the main sink (the 2nd unit is connected to the rinse sink on the kitchen island) is to an air vent located way to the back behind our oversized sink. No way you can even see it; had to lie on my back and disconnect and reconnect the hoses by feel. Let us pray I did a good job – it will be a pain in the back most literally to fix it if it leaks.

Now to load the old units in the minivan and take them to the appliance disposal center, where, last time, it was about $25 a pop for them to take the junkers off my hands. My dad fu is strong. 😉

B. School starts again in a couple weeks. I will be teaching a combined History/Lit class to nine 8th and 9th graders this year. From Greece through the Middle Ages. Should be fun, especially since I will not be creating the class plans and assignments from scratch this year, and also since it’s a combined class, not two classes like last year. Maybe 3 total hours of classroom time per week.

C. Pizza! This Saturday, when it is predicted to be 100F outside, we will be holding a pizza party for the third consecutive weekend – younger daughter’s birthday, little brother’s family visit, and now kickoff for the new school year. I invited the Board, students, and their families – at least 25-30 people, could be much higher.

From the top: Margarita, some Frankenstein abomination, and the house special: smoked salmon, goat cheese, and capers on an Alfredo sauce. These were the last 3 coming out of the oven last Friday.

Should be fun. A pizza party ends up taking about 3-4 hours of prep, then 3-4 hours of standing in front of a blazing hot oven. I enjoy it, but it leaves me pretty worn out by the end.

D. Had to go see my doctor, where we eventually got around to discussing my non-vaccinated status. The discussion went nowhere. He was getting pissed by the end. I kept asking for numbers, he’d show me gross numbers, I’d try to explain what they meant, round and round. He’s convinced 600K+ people have died of the Coof; I point out that 2/3rds of that number don’t show up in the total deaths; I’d say his chance of dying if he caught it is about 1 in 50,000 (young healthy male) while he thinks it’s 1.7% – the gross number you get from the John Hopkins report, which includes all the sick, old people – of which he is not.

It was too rushed. That a doctor would confuse the risk of a population for his personal risk is not inspiring. Let’s say 50,000 Americans die of breast cancer each year (making it up) – his chance of dying of breast cancer remains zero (almost) – because he’s not a woman. I assume he understands that. But then to turn around and accept a ridiculous 1.7% fatality rate as applicable to him, when by far the major risk is to elderly, sickly people? I also asked him if 5 to 10 years of children hospitalization data was available, so that we can rationally judge if COVID has in fact measurably increased juvenile hospitalization rates. He ignored it.

Really nice guy, good doctor and all – but, like 99.9% of everybody, doesn’t understand numbers nor science. Facts do not speak for themselves – they require understanding of the factors that fed into them before they can be understood.


ADDENDUM: Another family ‘tradition’: losing the can opener. Sure, we’ve had plenty of standard manual can openers over the years, but is seems we inevitably lose them until we have only one – and then lose that one, until ut turns up someplace we all swear we already looked for it. Most common use: to open cans of evaporated milk, which several of us prefer in our tea.

So, years ago, when one of our can openers broke, we fixed it. Broke again, fixed it again. Finally, the handle was unsalvageable, but the business end was still good, if unuseable. So we threw it in a drawer, because the next time I had the woodworking tools out, I would just make it another handle, and then we’d have *2* openers to lose.

That was years ago. This morning, I noticed the forlorn opener fragment, and said to myself, I did: why not now? So, I found a suitable scrap of walnut, grabbed a saw, a rasp, drills, sander, clamps, and got to work.

At first, it was going to be strictly functional – just get a handle on it that won’t give anybody splinters, through some tung oil on it, call it a day. Buuuuut…

It started looking good. Walnut is beautiful. So, by the time I had got it all fitted up, it was looking pretty cool. So, last step before oiling: glue in the metal part.

After 15 seconds of looking around, I opted for Super Glue – because, you know, there was a tube in the junk drawer. Checked the fit and alignment one more time, then shot some glue into the cavity, applied a little to the plastic sleeve, and started twisting it in…

And the glue instantly set up about halfway in, with the business end at an odd angle. The amount of force it would take to move it would have broken the wood:

Oh, well. We’ll just lose it anyway.

Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker: Book Review

Here, I mention that I started reading Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 classic Star Maker. Just finished it up. Stapledon sets for himself the task of imaginatively describing all of creation, all of the possible universes, from, ultimately, God’s perspective. Star Maker was a very influential book – C.S. Lewis almost certainly is thinking of it in his Preface to That Hideous Strength:

I believe that one of the central ideas of this tale came into my head from conversations I had with a scientific colleague, some time before I met a rather similar suggestion in the works of Mr. Olaf Stapledon. If I am mistaken in this, Mr. Stapledon is so rich in invention that he can well afford to lend, and I admire his invention (though not his philosophy) so much that I should feel no shame to borrow

After the fashion of Dante in his Paradiso, Stapledon strives to achieve an effect of awesomeness and wonder by repeated references to how indescribable, how beyond imagination, are the visions he sees. He describes things as indescribable. This devise increases in frequency and vehemence as the book progresses, following the first-person narrator as he mysteriouly tours the universe through both space and time, until he finally meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker turns out to be a catch-all God with features that, by themselves, would be at home in any number of religious imaginations, although Christian and Gnostic sources seem to dominate. In the end, this Star Maker ends up a hideous monster. C.S. Lewis commented that the book descended to mere devil-worship by the end. I agree.

On the plus side, in the latter 2/3rd of the book. Stapledon reveals a profound imagination much harder to see, I think, in the first third. Not that I’m all that well-read in the speculative fiction classics, but this book contains a number of SciFi trope firsts, for me at least:

  • multiverse
  • intelligent stars
  • group minds
  • sentient plant-things

And probably a few more I’m missing.

Alas, Stapledon’s soaring imagination, which incorporate a multiverse, a demiurge, eon-spanning visions, the accretion of multi-species group minds, sentient plant-things, symbiotic intelligences, conscious stars and nebulae, galactic and cosmos-spanning intelligences, intergalactic telepathy, and a host of further wonders, can’t imagine any other political analysis or Utopia than taught by Marx, or a theology much different than Hegel’s. The most outlandish and dazzlingly imagined races still are trapped in capitalistic decadence on the horns of a dialectical dilemma, as it were. His Star Maker is coming to know himself through his unfolding in history, more or less. Worse, his solutions to all problems are a particularly egregious sort of expertise-itis fantasies – the little people are all looking to their glorious leaders to sort things out, meekly following their lead, up to an including suicide or euthanasia, to which they enthusiastically agree.

We noted that the new world-orders were very diverse. This was, of course, to be expected, since biologically, psychologically, culturally, these worlds were very different. The perfected world-order of an Echinoderm race had of course to be different from that of the symbiotic Ichthyoids and Arachnoids; and this from that of a Nautiloid world, and so on. But we noted also in all these victorious worlds a remarkable identity. For instance, in the loosest possible sense, all were communistic; for in all of them the means of production were communally owned, and no individual could control the labor of others for private profit. Again, in a sense all these world-orders were democratic, since the final sanction of policy was world-opinion. But in many cases there was no democratic machinery, no legal channel for the expression of world-opinion. Instead, a highly specialized bureaucracy, or even a world-dictator, might carry out the business of organizing the world’s activity with legally absolute power, but under constant supervision by popular will expressed through the radio. We were amazed to find that in a truly awakened world even a dictatorship could be in essence democratic. We observed with incredulity situations in which the “absolute” world-government, faced with some exceptionally momentous and doubtful matter of policy, had made urgent appeals for a formal democratic decision, only to receive from all regions the reply, “We cannot advise. You must decide as your professional experience suggests. We will abide by your decision.”

Most of the book is concerned with the various challenges the ever-growing and merging group minds face on their Hegelian journey toward ever more enlightenment and self-realization. The goal is always idealized communism, always toward a group identity, unified group thought, and unified group action. The individual, while maybe not nothing as orthodox Marxism demands, certainly ain’t much. Stapledon repeatedly insists collective group identity is the fulfillment of all individual desires, so much so that the individual cells in the group will happily be murdered, die or even kill themselves if the group thinks it right. Only in the early, unenlightened days do individuals buck against the collective’s wisdom.

It’s tedious. Stapledon’s inventive genius is almost interesting enough to carry the reader through the endless barrage of one-note commie-think. This is not helped by this book being the one example I’ve ever read that goes all in on ‘tell, don’t show.’ Not 1% of the book is ‘show’ – it is just the first person narrator telling us about his adventure, with only one other named character in the entire book. That it works as well as it does is food for thought, from a writing perspective.

In the end, The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

By the end of the story, our narrator is a part of a multi-galaxy telepathically linked group mind, containing all the accumulated wisdom to all the member races. It is in this state, as the most exalted of group minds, that he meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combinations of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

After his interview with the Star Maker, the narrator finds himself back on earth, back to be an individual Englishman. He pauses to describe the world of 1937, with the perspective gained through his journeys. In case we missed it, he hammers home again how the Soviet Union and communists in general are the good guys. Here, for example:

Further on, the Spanish night was ablaze with the murder of cities. Away to the left lay Germany, with its forests and factories, its music, its steel helmets. In cathedral squares I seemed to see the young men ranked together in thousands, exalted, possessed, saluting the flood-lit Fuhrer. In Italy too, land of memories and illusions, the mob’s idol spell-bound the young.

Far left-wards again, Russia, an appreciably convex segment of our globe, snow-pale in the darkness, spread out under the stars and cloud tracts. Inevitably I saw the spires of the Kremlin, confronting the Red Square. There Lenin lay, victorious. 

Victorious. Right. Then he describes the battle facing the world:

One antagonist appeared as the will to dare for the sake of the new, the longed for, the reasonable and joyful, world, in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind. The other seemed essentially the myopic fear of the unknown; or was it more sinister? Was it the cunning will for private mastery, which fomented for its own ends the archaic, reason-hating, and vindictive, passion of the tribe.

“…in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind.” Propaganda always sounds so kindly, so drenched in sympathy. The key aspect of the story, the climax, is the narrator learning that God is not bound by human ideas of love, that he is free to torture his creations if he feels like it, all in pursuit of a cosmos that adequately expresses his creative. The narrator finds himself repulsed by the evil the Star Maker does, casually and without feeling, in the name of, well, progress. But he confesses he loves him, including his evil aspects. I’m reminded of John Dewey’s defense of Trotsky, where he asserts that the only moral standard is: does it move the Revolution closer? Need to destroy worlds, murder billions, enslave billions, consign billions more to hell, in the search for a better cosmos? Who are we to judge?

Stapledon’s God is a demon, and Stapledon’s urge to worship him is diabolical.

More Family Humor

We were sitting around discussing the possibility of buying some land and building houses for us and the kids on it. I used the term ‘compound’ which didn’t go over well with younger daughter. “That is what it would be called,” I replied, “I won’t be writing a manifesto or anything “ She suggested ‘homestead’ which I objected to because it’s wrong – we’re not going to be homesteading.

Youngest son suggested we call our fantasy future digs a “fun size gated community.”