Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Odd News


Facing a state budget crisis in July, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fired about 10,000 temporary and part-time workers and ordered the 200,000 permanent employees to be paid only the minimum wage of $6.55 an hour until the legislature passed a crisis-solving budget.

However, a week later the State Controller John Chiang pointed out that state payroll records could not be changed to accommodate the cut because they were written in the antiquated COBOL computer language, and virtually the only state employees who knew the code were some of the part-timers Schwarzenegger had just fired. [Sacramento Bee, 8-5-08]

Rewarding Sloth

London's Daily Mail profiled two 10-children British families in October to illustrate the inconsistencies of government benefit awards. Sean and Anne Tate and their children live on Sean's truck-driver salary of the equivalent of about $23,000 a year, plus the government's standard per-child benefit.

Harry Crompton has been out of work for 15 years, and his wife, Tracey, has never held a paid job, yet they receive the equivalent of $48,000 in various government benefits, which The Daily Mail said would require a tax-paying family to earn the equivalent of $68,000 a year to draw. The Daily Mail reporter also noted that the Tate home is immaculate and the Cromptons' home, messy. [Daily Mail, 10-17-08]

No pithy headling for this one because it's too grimly serious; this is what's called a slippery slope:

Two of Oregon's unique public health markers clashed dramatically for resident Barbara Wagner this summer when she was informed that the universal medical care available to everyone in the state (but with certain service restrictions) would not pay for her expensive lung cancer drug (because her five-year survival likelihood was poor), but was told, at the same time, that the state would pay for any necessary drugs under its Death With Dignity Law (i.e., suicide). [ABC News, 8-6-08]

Universal health care could mean sending the infirm to the glue factory to save you, the taxpayer, money. Dystopian science fiction has predicted this for years.

And here it is.

Global Warming Sham

This report by a panel of nongovernmental scientists calling themselves the NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change) tears apart the UN-sponsored IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) conclusions.

Their document, Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Planet, takes down the IPCC's political, agenda-driven whitewash with cold hard facts.

The IPCC's core claim is that modern warming is "very likely" due to human influences. They have no real basis for that claim.

The NIPCC's main points are:

-- the so-called "hockey-stick" temperature diagram has been discredited;

-- CO2 and temperature correlations are weak;

-- the computer models are based on curve-fitting with made-up parameters, not basic science;

-- some logical consequences of the human-caused warming theory, if it were true, are not being seen;

-- most of the warming is due to natural causes, depending on the Sun and clouds;

-- the computer models ignore many important effects;

-- the computer models fail to agree with other observed phenomena;

-- the IPCC economic models are strange, predicting North Korea and Estonia, for example, to be richer per capita in 2100 than the Unites States will be;

-- modest warming is a net positive effect anyway.

Embracing a carbon tax for a non-existent problem is ludicrous.

It is nothing more than a deliberate plan to limit our propserity, steal our wealth, and hand it to foreigners.

With Al Gore skimming off the top.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What We've Lost

The loss of aristocratic gentlemanliness (what I wish a return of when I speak of neo-Victorianism, and relate certain historical events in support), Judeo-Christian religiosity, and a classical education leads to faulty mental programming and nihilism which is exploitable by demagogues.

Their goal is the eradication of our Constitutional Republic, to be replaced by their personal social utopia.

Wretchard illustrates the depths of mental illness to which some segments of our population has descended in this video clip of Earth First!ers wailing and whining the loss of trees in a drum circle of absurdity.

This essay by J. R. Nyquist sums up the background of the problem:
At least two writers in the 19th century foresaw the advent of totalitarianism. The first was Dostoevsky and the second was Nietzsche. Both writers grasped the intellectual trend of their day. As education advanced, as the human spirit was given new opportunities for understanding, the result was intellectual radicalism.

In the 18th century Edmund Burke warned his contemporaries that education without religion or aristocratic principles would turn against mankind. Burke wrote: “Learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.” Burke added, “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but gallows.” Overwhelmed with a similar insight, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche updated Burke’s lament. In Dostoevsky’s novel, The Possessed, a radical young intellectual advocated a world in which Cicero would have his tongue cut out, Copernicus would have his eyes put out, and Shakespeare would be stoned to death – in the name of universal equality.

[As discussed here, today's modern "liberal" prizes "equality" in this sense over individual liberty, unlike the conservative. --RDS]

Dostoevsky predicted that the radical mentality – emerging in the 19th century – would kill 100 million people in the 20th century. [And he was right! --RDS] Those without vision, without a sense of where the world was headed, disbelieved Dostoevsky’s prophecy. Such a calamity could never happen, because the world is not a madhouse.

Enter Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Enter, as well, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and today’s politically correct mob. What characterizes them, besides their egotism and narcissism, is their false idealism and moral posturing. According to Edmund Burke: “Nothing is more certain, than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; and were indeed the result of both combined; I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion.”

Since Burke’s time, modern intellectuals have overthrown the spirit of a gentleman and the spirit of religion. Every structure, every religious precept, every honored tradition, came under intellectual attack. God and country were targeted. Religion and patriotism were targeted. The main surviving ideals of our day are those of leveling, equalizing and taxing into penury. Envy is the Holy Grail of our intelligentsia, and the annihilation of all values is their ultimate end.
Be sure to read the rest.

The commenter Mongoose at Belmont Club elaborates with an eloquent tour de force:
Really, there is not much difference between man’s relationship to “nature” in the past as opposed to today; certainly little has changed since Shakespeare’s day. Excluding better science, knowledge and capability, these psychotic ninnies and the vile propagandists of the Left that manipulates them are the chief differences.

OK, here is the chief difference: Today we actually take these lunatics seriously and, unbelievably, give them power over the rest of us. This is because we have become a tribe of fearful, sentimental, dimwitted and spoiled children who are afraid of their heritage, particularly their religious and material ones. This is sentimental hogwash that only a society with piles of spare wealth can tolerate. No society can survive this silliness for long should it allow itself to hold these notions as core beliefs. In Shakespeare’s day these nincompoops would have been laughed of the stage. Literally.

Political environmentalism at this level is just a modern expression of the crudest form of paganism or animism; to more refined “acolytes” it is a sort of parody of Christianity, complete with its own Genesis myth, Original Sin and even Indulgences. Hitler was surrounded by the same sort of tree hugging idiots, and should our collectivists’ propagandists achieve his sort of power for their masters then these loon’s fates will be the much same as that of their coreligionist way back then.

Moreover, if the voters cannot see through this nonsense, then they deserve what they get. Environmentalists and their Marxist puppetmasters have to be constantly exposed for the fools and knaves they are, and at every level they are encountered.

Mankind apart from nature? How can we be anything else but apart? This is what it means to be human. This is one of the signal points of the human experience: Man is perforce apart from yet amidst “nature”. It is the core mystery of our experience.

This is an age old question with many facets: The faces of which are alternately sentemental and emotional, physical and practical, intellectual and philosophical, and, most importantly, religious. Man is unique among all creatures in his ability to pose this question or seek its answer, and that metaphysical fact precludes man ever being “at one” with nature or “at peace with nature” in the senses that these sentimentalists maintain in all their dreary treacle. The West came up with unique and powerful answers to this problem and we would be wise to stick with them.

Most certainly at one level, the sentimental level, “nature” is mostly a point of view. It rests as much on imagination and inclination as it does on experience or reality, though it is colored by one’s experience and circumstances. However, no matter what poets say to their patrons, for most of history man viewed “nature” as a dark force to protect against or a powerful mystery to placate. The whole business was hardly seen as a walk in the park, so to speak. The sentimental regard of “nature” as a paradise would seem to require considerable distance from nature itself.

Here these yahoos expose themselves for the fools they are for they would not survive 2 month in the woods. “Nature” is a reverie they have while they are showering in their air conditioned room at the local Holiday Inn after one of their “outing”.

Whatever the case, one is free to feel as “close to nature” as one wishes; our times hardly require a particular view on “nature”, particularly when on can purchase all that nifty outdoor gear and all that dehydrated camp food to boil and eat.

In a physical sense it is, of course, an impossibility for man to be truly “apart form nature” altogether, though thankfully modern science can limit the damage which being “part of nature” generally incurs. Thank the heavens for pharmaceuticals.

One does imagine that at times people in the past would rather be all too glad to be “apart from nature” for a day or two, say like during a plague year.

On the positive side more people have more access to “nature” — and more leisure time to enjoy it — than ever before in history. What do you imagine that the poor folks of London did for “nature” 500 years ago when their extremely short and brutal lives where one of grueling day to day struggle to survive. On top of that, we have far greater understanding of “nature” and more control over it. This is a very good thing.

But does knowledge subdue awe? Only in savages. Does our great store of scientific and practical knowledge really diminish nature before us? It only increases our amazement.

Again, our command of nature, to the extent that we have it, is an altogether good thing.

But “nature” or the worship of it will not answer the fundamental problems of being human.

Chesterson once said:

The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.

We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.

(please, let us avoid any discussion of evolution — it is a completely absurd and irrelevant issue to me. I am making a point about the human spirit in the world.)

There have been nature cults throughout history and they have all lead to barbarism. Modern Scientism can be view in a way as a nature cult. They all miss the point for there is no useful morality to the natural world in and of itself and all attempts at find it through animism, shamanism, spiritualism and all other forms of paganism leads to darkness. Judaism threw back this darkness; Christianity added to the light. From the Christian POV, God removed himself from the world after he created it and only through the mediation of mankind in the world can sanctity reenter it and god be immanent in it again. Man can only do this through redemption.
(OK, there are lots of variations on this, but you get the point I am sure.)

This is a main lesson of the West, and no matter what one’s beliefs, the working out of the Christian faith has created our humanworld, and that world includes our sciences for science would have been impossible without Christianity fecund base.

So the response of the Christian West to “nature” is a singularly profound and rich heritage — it is exquisitely more powerful in real terms than that of any other civilization, religion or culture past or present.

We forget this at our peril.

Another commenter, Programmer, adds:
What I am pondering is that the human brain, is to a great extent, a computer, or more to my point, the computer models a human brain,… as well as it can be made to do so. Computers resemble human brains more and more because humans think, design, and build computers to extend the reach of the human mind and extend the range of human senses, to magnify the ability to store and retrieve information. However, in my opinion, for this very reason computers are not to be feared, as some sci-fi writers would have. Humans teach and condition the computer to do as they wish. (I choose to avoid discussing Windows Vista at this time).
So now, it seems, we have large numbers of people who are subjected to constant bombardment of false and foolish information. In a video game, kids learn that if they need to win, they just die over and over again until they get it right and go to the next level. Games, television shows, and movies beat the constant drum for solutions to problems that just don’t work in the real world.
So my question resolves to simply: What effect is the cognitive dissonance between observed reality and politically correct falsehoods having on the programming of young brains? There is an old saying in the programming trade, “Garbage in, garbage out”. The human brain is a marvelous thing. But it must be programmed well. Truth, or the very best information we possess is required. And those truths need to be tested rigorously and constantly. Good critical thinking skill must be taught and absorbed. Anything else leads, in my opinion, to a form of mental illness.

Those poor lost souls, sitting in the drum circle, mourning and keening for loss of they know not what may be just the end result of faulty programming. Their brains have been damaged by constant bombardement with bad data and untested algorithms. So instead of being able to do something useful with their lives, they use up resources and clutter up the air with noise. Instead of becoming one with the forest and learning how to husband and harvest the valuable resources therein, benefitting others with their skills and in nonce, learning applied physics, applied chemistry, applied botany, and a whole other host of really neat stuff, they sit and whine.

Something is dying in America. I fear it is the ability of a lot of Americans to engage in critical thinking. They cannot discern what is real, truthful, and what isn’t and they have no idea how to do so if they even wanted to try. No wonder we have economic issues. These hippies and others are merely consumers and produce nothing.
The answer is to learn something, and one can start by reading these great books by Dead White Males.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dangerous Ignorance And Its Cure

Ridiculous and pernicious ideas are striding across the globe -- moral equivalence, CO2 as a pollutant, collectivist statism, retreat and appeasement in the face of islamic banditry.

And we're the lucky ones, here in the West and particularly in the Anglosphere, who have the luxury of undeservedly coasting (for the time being) on the legacy of our forebearers who hewed our political rights, rational mindset, and economic opportunities from the Hobbesian darkness.
Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This inevitably leads to conflict, a "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes), and thus lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
How to reclaim our heritage?

How to fight the tide of pernicious ignorance?

The answer is education.

Indeed, self-education!

Getting back to basics.

The classics.

Specifically, the canon of great books is the place to start -- including the foundational texts of our political and economic systems. (I am dismayed, for example, at the lack of knowledge -- indeed, of disinformation -- concerning how the U.S. Electoral College works, the real purpose of which I explain here and also here. There's really a good reason for it, and it's not to thwart the will of the people!)

See a fascinating discussion of some potential lists here. The first list by David Allen White (DAW) is novel-heavy; the second list by John Mark Reynolds (JMR) is more to my personal liking with a balance of important political and historical treatises.

The two professors discuss their picks in the accompanying transcript. For example:
People who don’t have time to read are going to be ineffectual, rotten at what they do, and are not going to be the leaders that we need, particularly in the conservative movement today.
JMR: Yes, so sorry. I think Virgil’s Aeneid is also important. If you’re going to read Dante and Homer, Virgil counts. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everybody in your audience should go home and memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, if they haven’t done it already. That’s what I’m going to work on this year, actually, as a private project, and read and totally imbibe the spirit of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. We’re at war, but we’re not at war with human beings, in one way, but with bad ideas. Christians, at least, my tradition, are called to love their enemies. That doesn’t mean we can’t do justice on them. But we need to start thinking about our enemies, I think the way Lincoln thought about his enemies.
DAW: My sense is, and this is personal opinion, it’s a miracle we’re here at all, it’s quite extraordinary. But one of the things I, at least, think most people should do in the time that they spend on this planet, is have a sense of the greatest [gift] that’s been given to us. A life itself is the greatest gift, to have an immortal soul is extraordinary, but in beginning to understand what that means, I think you’ve got to turn to the greatest writers who can give you some sense of what it’s all been about, why you’re here, what it means and where you’re going. And that means you’ve got to delve into the great writers.

[As an aside, since fiction writers can "stack the deck" in terms of plot and outcome, I've always advocated studying the history of war to understand the human condition, because it's all there -- tragedy, triumph, sacrifice, irony, etc. -- and it's all real. -- RDS]

HH: John Mark Reynolds, why this list? What’s it do?

JMR: We need young men and women with souls that are good, true and beautiful. And if we’re going to form souls that are good, true and beautiful, we can’t begin with our own souls, because all of us are in process, too. The great writers know how to shape us morally, to get to goodness. They know how to help us find the big ideas, the truths that never change from culture to culture. And they know most importantly how to make us beautiful, so that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking only things that work matter. We need beauty in our lives as well.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are miracles of modern thought, taken the 18th Century forward as modern, and we sometimes forget that just because we’re Americans doesn’t mean that we can’t be proud of something we did. I also think to understand those works, you should have read the Federalist Papers, and Democracy In America.
JMR: Everybody should read Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and its contrast, the Communist Manifesto by Marx. If you’re ever tempted to be a socialist, the Communist Manifesto will argue you out of it.
DAW: Well, here we go. I agree with the Odyssey. The Odyssey’s got to be on there. Here’s a curiosity. It’s the first complete play we have. It’s Aeschylus’ Oresteia. And it’s about the establishing of the courts of justice in the city of Athens. It really is in a way the dawn of Western civilization, and one of the great plays ever written. So I’m going with Aeschylus’ Oresteia.
I’m going to include one of my favorites, everybody who wants to be married has to read it, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

HH: Oh, that’s a disaster for the men listening here.

DAW: No, no, no. It’s a great book, and boy, they can learn something about being a man. She had a better sense of manhood than most men in our time…

HH: Can we watch the movie instead, David Allen White?

DAW: No, you’ve got to read it. The sentences are exquisite, and the wisdom of this woman is profound. Here’s one, again you can call it a cheat, but this book actually exists. And in fact, I bought it when I was in high school. It’s still out there. It’s called the Immortal Poems of the English Language. It’s an anthology – Sidney, Spencer, Marlowe, Jonson, Donne, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickenson, Frost, all in one volume.
JMR: If you’re at war, you ought to be reading Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy.

HH: Wait. What? That is alien to me. I have no idea what you just said.

DAW: Oh, it’s a great work, Hugh.

JMR: Yeah, it’s the work that deals with fate and God’s relationship to fate. The world’s a tough place to live in, and how should we handle the tough things that happen to us?

HH: Go back over the title and the author again slowly.

JMR: It’s Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy. And for about five hundred or six hundred years, it was the most widely read book in the Western world.

HH: Wow.

JMR: So it’s an important one to take a look at. I’m going to agree with the Orestia. And then for my students, I’m going to add Cicero on Friendship and on Duties. These are must reads for modern people who have forgotten all about doing their duty, and the nature of friendship as well. And then finally, a book that I think is vile and evil, but everyone should have read at least some of, is Hobbes’ Leviathan, if you want to see the kind of state we want to avoid at all cost.
Now I’ve got to ask you both, given that there is so much agreement about the canon, and there really is. If you talk to educated people who are serious about ideas, they always say the same thing. Why isn’t it taught, David Allen White?

DAW: Because modern universities and colleges are the biggest fraud on the planet.

JMR: Here, here.

DAW: And they continue to get away from it. They loathe Western civilization. They hate Western civilization, and they will do anything to destroy it, which means destroying the canon. If you don’t teach the young where they came from, and the greatness of the past, you can do away with the whole thing. And sadly, I think that’s what’s happening.
JMR: We end up with waiting lists of people begging to get into this kind of thing. You know what? People eventually understand that they’re being defrauded of their roots, they’re being defrauded of a good education. And as you start to help them get a hold of the real thing, they become hungry for it, with a passion that passes anything you’ve ever seen. Our students aren’t worse than they were 100 years ago. The teachers are worse. We’re worse.
JMR: Some things are hard to learn, but they’re worth learning. You need to press on and trying to get what you can. Repetitive reading of books is a great idea. If a book’s worth reading once, it’s generally worth reading multiple times.

[I've always believed in repetitive drill, especially in math -- "rote" learning has gotten a bad name. -- RDS]
DAW: the Divine Comedy, when Dante’s taking his journey, he’s got to have Virgil there to guide him, and then Beatrice and then St. Bernard. You know, you’ve got to have a guide.
Read the full transcript carefully, and start reading those books!

And make your own lists of essential reading!

And share with your friends and children!

The long hard slog of re-education is essential for defeating the leftist disease rotting out the core of our civilization. We must reclaim a pride in our heritage, which first requires knowing what it even is!

Otherwise our society could easily end up like this commenter at Belmont Club observes of certain others -- that our civilization is different is an incredible gift; it didn't have to be that way:
Witnessing the differences in culture up close for so long has changed my mind about the likelihood of success. The nature of the Arab/Muslim society is so dysfunctional and unsuited for modern democracy and a free society I don’t see how we can withdraw in three years with any chance of lasting change.

The symbiosis of tribal life and Islam seems to mold a society that is at the simultaneous moment aggressive and abrasive and claimant to victim status. The shame culture leads to perpetual deceit and the inability to reconcile one’s mistakes and make changes. The perpetual degradation of women is abetted by other women and results in a male female dynamic we in the west would never tolerate. From my discussions with our guest, who blamed her sister for her brother’s repeated beatings of same sister, the entire nation suffers from battered woman syndrome.

Then there is the Inshallah syndrome, which means you never have to take initiative or sort anything out really, much less think rationally.
Perhaps that assessment is too pessimistic -- maybe the culture can change, especially if they can get away from the bondage of islam.

But if we can't be bothered to pick up a book and learn where all our freedoms and bounty came from, we are unworthy of these gifts.

The solution is to get serious and learn.

The notion of discrediting the "dead white males" was designed to weaken our culture so it could be destroyed.

Don't fall for it!

Here are the lists; the side notes are from the Professors:
Professor David Allen White, U.S. Naval Academy
Dialogs of Plato
Homer's Iliad
Dante's Divine Comedy
Cervantes' Don Quixote [I read it every year]
Dickens' David Copperfield [great story, great storyteller]
Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov [historical, philosophical]
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [the great book of our age]
Homer's Odyssey
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Aristole's Ethics
Virgil's Aeneid
Aquinas' Summa Theologica
Pensees – Blaise Pascal [French for "thoughts"]
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen [everyone who wants to be married has to read this]
Immortal Poems of the English Language – edited by Oscar Williams
Moby Dick – Herman Melville [greatest book written by an American]
Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Song of Roland, Chanson de Geste [great battle poem of all time, extraordinary character study]
Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
Alice In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll [understand the modern mind]
Through The Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll [here is the modern world in spades]
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Collected Poems, 1909-1962 – T.S. Eliot
Witness – Whittaker Chambers
The Complete Stories – Flannery O'Connor
Of A Fire On The Moon – Norman Mailer
Lost In The Cosmos – Walker Percy

Professor John Mark Reynolds, Biola University
Homer's Odyssey
Aristole's Ethics [learn to think about things correctly]
Plato's Republic [I reread every semester of my life]
Sophocles' Oedipus Rex [understand the nature of truth, and where theater comes from]
Augustine's Confessions [I read every year]
The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri [great poetry, great science, great theology]
The 2nd Treatise on Government – John Locke [one of the hardest books to read]
Virgil's Aeneid
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address
Declaration of Independence [miracles of modern thought]
Constitution of the United States
Federalist Papers – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
Democracy In America – Alexis de Tocqueville
Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith
Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx
On the Origin of Species – Charles Darwin [it's not fascinating, it's important]
The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals – Friedrich Nietzsche
Civilization And Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud
Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis [best essay written in the 20th Century]
Aquinas' Summa Theologica
Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser [C.S. Lewis described as a psychologically purifying moment]
Calvin's Institutes
Paradise Lost – John Milton
The Consolation of Philosophy – Ancius Boethius [tough things, fate, God's relationship to fate]
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Cicero's On Friendship and On Duties
Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes [a vile and evil book]