Monday, April 22, 2024

Moving to Substack, Housekeeping

 In my blogging journey since 2015, I've created new blogs for a number of reasons, previously all on Googles Blogger until now. 

The original was Moosetracks created on Blogger because it was really easy, and I was busy with a career. The link is to the post that officially ended that blog and contains the rather sad reasons why that happened. 

The reasons for moving are. 

  • Substacks editing and general interface is better.
  • I suspect that Google is likely to end the blogger function at some point. 
  • The complexity of linkages between this blog and the links in there ending up redirecting to this blog is a frustrating technical issue that I decided was better solved by a fresh start on a better-known platform. 
  • It is (probably wishful thinking) more likely I will be "found" out there. 
Since what goes on the internet tends to hang around so far, supposedly over 700k clicks on 4300 posts, have been made there. Probably nearly all of them were some forms of "bot" rather than a human, but who knows. Numbers often have little or no relationship to the real world. 

In the meantime, if you are following me via this blog, it is time to switch to Substack Home - Bill’s Substack

I blog to keep track of my reading and thinking with no real interest beyond that. It is definitely a labor of love with little in the way of expectations. 

Unfortunately for those reading this, such moves are likely to come with "glitches". If I knew what those were, I would avoid them, but predictions being hard to make -- especially about the future (Yogi Berra), it will be what it will be.

City of God, Saint Augustine

The biggest reason that I took on the immense challenge of making it through this work is "perspective".  Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410, Augustine began this work 3 years later in 413 and did not complete it until 426.

Rome had BEEN "civilization" for a thousand years prior, and naturally in 410, St Augustine and his peers believed they were living in "modern times", all be it a time of great change and disruption at the ending of a thousand-year reign which they had assumed would last forever.

The work is remarkably lengthy and wordy (867 rather small type pages in my copy) and decidedly NOT an "easy read". I must say though that the sheer volume and many asides and references to other scholars of the day give an insight into the intellectual life of the very elite of that day that feels important in a way that is hard to express. Perhaps the difference between walking across the US vs flying over it in a jet?

 I will include this one rather lengthy quote as an example of the style and the fact of "every age believes they are modern" ... and highly superior to those that have gone before. Note the reference to "less educated ages", but interestingly from the perspective of "only 600 years"! How much more arrogant we have become in our day -- we are nearing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, yet it is hard to imagine someone asserting ONLY 500 years! Today, the year 2000 seems "ages ago" to many of our clickbait attention spans. 
It is most worthy of remark in Romulus, that other men who are said to have become gods lived in less educated ages, when there was a greater propensity to the fabulous, and when the uninstructed were easily persuaded to believe anything. But the age of Romulus was barely six hundred years ago, and already literature and science had dispelled the beliefs that attach to an uncultured age. And a little after he says of the same Romulus words to this effect: From this we may perceive that Homer had flourished long before Romulus, and that there was now so much learning in individuals, and so generally diffused an enlightenment, that scarcely any room was left for fable. For antiquity admitted fables, and sometimes even very clumsy ones; but this age [of Romulus] was sufficiently enlightened to reject whatever had not the air of truth. Thus, one of the most learned men, and certainly the most eloquent, M. Tullius Cicero, says that it is surprising that the divinity of Romulus was believed in, because the times were already so enlightened that they would not accept a fabulous fiction. But who believed that Romulus was a god except Rome, which was itself small and in its infancy?
The work starts with a lengthy defense of Christianity against the charge made by many in that day that failure to pray to the gods of Rome due to the conversion to Christianity was the cause of the city being sacked. It then discusses the "City of God" -- the Church, vs "The City of Man". Secular government all in MUCH detail, with references to Plato and other Greek thought which start The Church on a path of melding Greek Philosophy (especially Plato) and reason into Christian theology. This "Hellenization" of Christianity is the major historical effect of this work.

At its simplest, it is the story of the city of man -- selfish, mistaking means with ends, worshiping the temporal, attempting to glorify the profane physical human. The story of war, death, destruction and eventually eternal pain.

And of the City of God -- selfless and caring, realizing that the end is pre-ordained and guaranteed by the blood of Christ (the 2nd Adam) to be perfect. Glorifying only God. The story of Grace, Peace, Faith, Love slowly traveling in a path known only to God to perfect union, Love and bliss for all Eternity.

It is not a book that I would necessarily recommend for most -- it is CERTAINLY not "efficient", and one would be well served by skimming and focusing on key chapters -- say "books" 14, 19 and 22. If you desire a worthy challenge however, and want to be rather humbled by perspective, I do believe that you will find yourself rewarded!

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Not Accountable. - Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Unions

 Book Review: Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions | Cato Institute

I maintain that our once "Shining City on a Hill" Republic has been turned into a corrupt Oligarchy, and that the main driver of the conversion is public unions. Two quotes are worthy of remembering: 

FDR could hardly have been firmer: Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government … The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.
Until the rights revolution in the 1960s, the idea of negotiating against the public interest was unthinkable. AFL-CIO president George Meany in 1955 stated bluntly that it is “impossible to bargain collectively with the Government.”
The Administrative State is staffed by public union employees. 
Micromanagement and expansive rights became integral to the public union playbook for control—no innovation is allowed unless the official can show it complies with a rule; no decision about a public employee’s performance is valid without objective proof in a trial‐​type hearing. Clearing out the legal underbrush is what’s needed to restore officials’ freedom to use common sense in daily choices.

Why do Americans feel that their votes are essentially useless? 
No matter which party is elected, no matter what its priorities, the one certainty is that government operations will not be made more efficient, or responsive, or, as with schools and police accountability, even functional. Public employee unions keep it that way by layers of legal armor and by the exercise of brute political force.
The book does not discuss what I consider to be the immediate crisis. Our "justice" department personnel are union employees.  As Chuck Schumer said, “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,”. 

This is obvious to anyone but a fully committed Democrat, and it is obvious to many of them, and they LOVE it! 

Democrats see public unions as their meal ticket. Republican leaders treat public unions like an unfriendly sovereign power that must be dealt with, even if its demands are unreasonable and cause America harm. Would-be reformers of either party, determined to run government prudently, approach unions hat in hand. Any reforms at the margins come at a high price. With two notable exceptions, every effort to rein in union excesses has resulted in abject political defeat. The unions, meanwhile, continue to tighten their grip over government operations.

The book suggests some measures that might help, but I find them inadequate. I believe the SCOTUS is our only hope. 

Public Intellectuals, Richard Posner

I was unable to find a decent review of this work, so I'll substitute the intro from the Harvard University Press

In this timely book, the first comprehensive study of the modern American public intellectual--that individual who speaks to the public on issues of political or ideological moment--Richard Posner charts the decline of a venerable institution that included worthies from Socrates to John Dewey.

With the rapid growth of the media in recent years, highly visible forums for discussion have multiplied, while greater academic specialization has yielded a growing number of narrowly trained scholars. Posner tracks these two trends to their inevitable intersection: a proliferation of modern academics commenting on topics outside their ken. The resulting scene--one of off-the-cuff pronouncements, erroneous predictions, and ignorant policy proposals--compares poorly with the performance of earlier public intellectuals, largely nonacademic whose erudition and breadth of knowledge were well suited to public discourse.

Leveling a balanced attack on liberal and conservative pundits alike, Posner describes the styles and genres, constraints and incentives, of the activity of public intellectuals. He identifies a market for this activity--one with recognizable patterns and conventions but an absence of quality controls. And he offers modest proposals for improving the performance of this market--and the quality of public discussion in America today.

Posner identifies intellectuals as "those who opine to an educated public on questions of or inflected by a political or ideological concern."

My definition of an intellectual is a person whose "product" is ideas. An often-repeated quote allegedly from Aesop is applicable to public intellectuals - 

"After all is said and done, more is said than done." 

Posner spends a lot of time defining who is and is not a "Public Intellectual". I'd be happy with "I know one when I see one", but for those who would like a bit more definition: 

The public intellectual has been with us for a very long time, even if we ignore the ancient world. His exemplars include Machiavelli, Milton, Locke, Voltaire, and Montesquieu, and his ideologist is Kant, who linked philosophy to politics through the argument that the only morally defensible politics is one based on reason.

I found this quote to be worth some thought: 

One of the chief sources of cultural pessimism is the tendency to compare the best of the past with the average of the present, because the passage of time operates to filter out the worst of the past.

This certainly the case with personal nostalgia as we age. We much prefer to remember the good fondly and forget as much of the bad as we are able. Culturally however, I'd argue that like all human thought, our analysis is heavily tainted by our biases ... chief among them, progressivism vs conservatism.  For a progressive the past is inherently bad while the future would be bright if the nasty conservatives would just be finally defeated. That may take genocide, gulags, and other unpopular measures, but to a progressive, the (undefined) ends justify the means. Conservatives are largely guilty as charged ... we "remember" a past that is largely imagined filtered through rose colored glasses. 

Much of what I try to do in this book is simply to place the public-intellectual market in perspective by showing that, and why, its average quality is low ("disappointing") and perhaps falling.
The problem with being a public intellectual is you get more and more public and less and less intellectual.

I recommend the book to those who are inclined to intellectual commentary vs producing something that is of real value.  I personally "gave at the office" in 34 years at IBM, now I relax and comment from the cheap seats. 

When I've read the book on Kindle and shared my comments on Goodreads, I may try to do more of this sharing for those that want a deeper dive

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Mill, "On Liberty"

 On Liberty - John Stuart Mill (

I decided I needed to re-read this because it was referenced so much in "Public Intellectuals", soon to be reviewed. 

Mill is one of the early foundational progressive thinkers. He is heavily influenced by Bentham, the famous Utilitarian.

Mill recognizes it (personal liberty)"as the vital question of the future". Civil liberty was not a widespread thing for much of history, and Mill acknowledges that: "Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement." However, once mankind "have attained a capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion" -- which, by his time, he believed mankind certainly generally had -- then compulsion is no longer an acceptable means of rule.

Mill believed that in 1859, man had "improved" to the point of being able to decide good and evil by "conviction or persuasion". He also assumes that it is fairly easy for a vast majority to recognize "barbarians". 

"Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign", Mill insists. It sounds convincing, and sensible, but the issue isn't quite so simple. In restating his guiding belief, Mill adds the standard liberal caveat:

"The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it."

We are somewhat familiar with the problems here. Who decides what is "impeding"? The right to hire and fire whomever you want can "impede" the ability of others to obtain wealth. If the government decides you MUST wear a seatbelt, they are clearly impeding your liberty, and not depriving others. Once you allow government such intrusion, where does it end?  It seems doubtful that mandatory vaccination will be the last intrusion on liberty. 

As with all progressive thought, there is the assumption that humans "progress" by some undefined "arc of history", assumed to be more and more radical individualism. He does realize that intolerance is a natural
human trait.

"Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized."

While progressives believe that the universe and humans were created by random events, they also believe that there is some innate (also randomly created) social order that includes society evolving toward more "liberty". 

He indicates freedom of the press and speech are "absolutes" ... although he is cognizant of the "yelling fire in a crowded theatre" type of issue. Apparently, his assurance of "progress" in "conviction and persuasion" would include such advances as suppression of "hate speech", "disinformation", "misgendering", etc. 

He doesn't see that human attempts to create "values, morality, etc." have to fail, since radical individualism creates an atomized "set" of people with no common ground beyond universal selfishness, greed, envy, assorted vices, with right and wrong determined by power. 

The faith in the long march toward godless human utopia took some major hits with WWI and WWII. A reading of the Gulag Archipelago ought to be enough to convince most that the evidence of history since Mill's confident statements does not seem to validate his assumptions in any area save technology. 

As we see our fragile distracted click addicted young largely fail to reproduce, there may be hints that godless "progress" is not particularly adaptive. Evolutionary "progress" has some dependency on survival of succeeding generations.