Saturday, October 22, 2022

Chip Wars

 https://spectatorworld.com/topic/semiconductors-key-fight-china/

There is a joke in Taipei that if China invades Taiwan the best place to shelter is in microchip factories, the only places the People’s Liberation Army can’t afford to destroy. The country that controls advanced chips controls the future of technology — and Taiwan’s chip fabrication foundries (“fabs”) are the finest in the world. Successful reunification between the mainland and its renegade province would give China a virtual monopoly over the most advanced fabs. Given that Xi Jinping has made clear his intention to take control of Taiwan by 2032, it is no wonder that the American government is worried about the concentration of cutting-edge semiconductor technology on the island.

I tend to like those sort of dark humor jokes. I'm trying to develop one something like "Biden is building us back to a better stoneage". 

The idea is that with all of his attacks on energy production and now the rising tensions with both Russia and China, we may have some form of nuclear, or advanced drone, cyber, and almost certainly targeted mRNA viruses in our fairly near future.  

One statement that I often make is "The greater the efficiency in a system, the greater the fragility". It seems I ought to be able to quote someone on this fact, however it may just be too obvious for anyone with intelligence to write it down. (now we know where that leaves me)

Our supply chains are generally VERY efficient  "Just In Time" manufacturing with near zero inventory, and single source suppliers are very common. Have a pandemic, shut down a single link in your supply chain, and you can't produce your product. 

The whole article (short) is worth your time. Just consider this ... 

At present there is only one company in the world that can make lithography machines that print wafers at the five-nanometer gauge. Based in a nondescript suburb of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography is perhaps the world’s least well-known hi-tech business. Yet it ranks just behind Shell as the fourth-largest company in Europe.

ASML’s highest tech machines use a process called “extreme ultraviolet” lithogra- phy, which makes them the only systems that can do lithography below 13.5 nanometers. The company produces approximately fifty machines a year at $150 million a pop (plus service contract). As a result, it owns that rare commodity — a market monopoly.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

What's So Special About Ukraine?

https://claremontreviewofbooks.com/why-are-we-in-ukraine/ 

https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/6100-the-conflict-between-the-west-and-russia-is-a-religious-one

The first link is the one I'll focus on, the second mainly says that Russia became religiously orthodox after 1991, and is not woke, while wokenss is the new religion of the West. A quote from the 2nd article:

As early as 2005, scholars Ira Straus and Edward Lozansky remarked upon a pronounced negative coverage of Russia in the US media, contrasting negative media sentiment with largely positive sentiment of the American public and US government. As Russia displayed increasing signs of a Christian revival, so the media reporting in the West became increasingly hostile. Only rarely however did journalists openly attack Russia for its “Christianization”; normally, columnists, conscious of the fact that large numbers of people in the West continued to describe themselves as Christian, portrayed their anti-Russian commentary as a result of Russia's “aggression,” “corruption,” or “lack of democracy.” All that however changed with the new abortion law of 2011. Now the attacks against Russia became explicitly ideological. The Russians, we were told, were oppressing women and turning their backs on “progress.”

The 2nd linked article is worth the read, but it is mainly going to make the point that from the Western POV, Ukraine is "woke/progressive", and Russia is in the social dark ages, converting to radically backward and dangerous Christian values. This quote from the second article agrees with the first, but then the article goes deeper. 

On March 24, a month after Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, the Biden White House summoned America’s partners (as its allies are now called) to a civilizational crusade. The administration proclaimed its commitment to those affected by Russia’s recent invasion—“especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and persons with disabilities.” At noon that same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted about the “massive, unprecedented consequences” American sanctions were wreaking on Russia, and claimed Russia’s economic “collapse” was imminent.

I tend to compare the highlighted with my observation that the following headline would not be a surprise to me if such a disaster happened: 

"Three fourths of planet destroyed by meteor -- vulnerable populations like women, children, etc ... the worst affected".  

My belief is that Biden, Putin, etc could care less about pretty much anything but their power and personal pleasure, so nearly 100% of their attention is focused there. In the event things go bad, "the lulnerable" will be sacrificed with no reticence.  

Pretty much everyone right and left is convinced that the US is currently, and willl remain "top dog",  no matter how much debt we have, how weak our woke military gets, and how clueless the "leadership" that we "elect: is. So why worry? 

The attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one. Twenty years ago, under George W. Bush, the United States removed the Iraqi deterrent from Iran’s neighborhood, transforming Iran overnight into a regional power. This year, under Joe Biden, the United States has made China a gift of Russia’s exportable food and mineral resources. We are displaying an outright genius for identifying our most dangerous military adversary and solving its most pressing strategic challenge. The attention of China is now engaged. Joe Biden argues that any wavering in the cause of obliterating Russia will be understood by China as a green light on Taiwan. He may have a point, but the U.S. management of the Ukraine situation over the past decade has constituted encouragement enough.

We have managed to get to a place where we are likely to end up in a shooting war with Russia, while China absconds with Taiwan. The article does a great job of explaining the complexity of the situation in a fairly simple way ... although not all that concisely. (I'm nearly as qualified to throw stones about failure to be concise as I am about failure to be skinny) 

Those with a passing familiarity with history realize that underestimating Russia, while definitely a Western tradition,  has not always turned out as everyone was certain it would. 
Reducing Russia’s dimensions appears to be America’s overriding war aim. It is a risky one. Those Western leaders with the ambition to bring Europe to the gates of Moscow have sometimes brought the warriors of the Eurasian steppes onto the streets of Paris and Berlin.
Certainly nuclear weapons change the strategic chessboard, but I really suspect that the vast majority of the West just folds without electricity and fossil fuel. The Western energy grids are so vulnerable that taking them out with some exploding drones would be a snap. Tactical nukes? 80% of the Western population will surrender if their cell phones and internet are removed. 

The whole CRB article is very much worth the read. The financial risks, even if the war risks come to nothing, are very sigificant. 

Why does nobody in the West care? The usual reasons ... arrogance, distraction, complacency, decadence, selfishness, ignorance of history, and maybe most of all,   nearly total ignorance of reality. 

I leave you with this ... a point I've been trying to make to many people, only to watch their eyes glaze over in total incomprehension. 

The Ukraine war is special, though. American immunity from danger may be illusory. The progress of technology has imperceptibly eroded a longstanding distinction between supporting a combatant and entering the fray as a combatant oneself. In June, the U.S. began providing Ukraine with M142 HIMARS computer-targeted rocket artillery systems, and these present the problem in an acute form: the role of technology in the lethality of a weapon has grown to the point where the role of the human warrior is, relatively speaking, rendered negligible. An encounter with a sword is an encounter with a swordsman. An encounter with an arrow is an encounter with an only slightly more distant bowman. But an encounter with an M31 rocket fired from a HIMARS launcher is an encounter with General Dynamics. And it is the human warrior who is the repository of all the longings-to-be-vindicated and the sacrifices-freely-undertaken that consecrate war as a cause. With advanced weaponry, the soldier operating it almost doesn’t need to be there. Which is to say that, in this proxy war between Russia and the United States, Ukraine doesn’t need to be there. In these HIMARS artillery strikes, in the assassinations by drone of Russian officers, in the sinking of naval ships with advanced missiles,

Nobody seems to get this. If I hire you to kill my wife, you do, and it is discovred that I hired you, I get tried for murder one, just like you do. Is this really that hard to understand? 

Apparently so. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Asimov's Guide To Shakespeare

 I couldn't find a good review of this book, and I believe I understand why ... Book 1 is 670 pages, Book 2 is 790. 

In the intro there is a reference to a fairly well known tale of a woman who read Hamlet and remarked "I don't see why people admire the play so, it is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together". That is much less true of this book, however the lack iof general public comprehension of what they are reading is probably similar.

This book is much more history than "Shakespeare", although it does have a significant number of the more famous lines in it.  It focuses on the context of the period, what real or literary/legendary person the lines are likely referring to, and why.

Shakespeare was writing for both the common man as well as the wealthy aristocracy and royalty.  What a "commoner" needed to know about Greek, Roman, Italian, the Bible, English history, etc gives a little insight as to why even the "educated" our day, being "experts" of only their iPhones and the latest Netfix binge watch, have a hard time understanding why throwing a trillllion dollars into an "Inflation Rediuction Act" might cause some brows to raise. "Common Sense" is far from common today.

Also, if Shakespere had put in any obvious snark like I just did, he would likely be "cancelled" by literally losing his head. He was marvelously subtle with his little jabs. 

On Page 9, a helpful map of the Roman and Greek gods, with their role is presented. To cover a few of the more popular ones, in Greek we have Zeus, chief of the gods, Athena, goddess of wisdom, Ares, god of war. 

In the Roman version we have the corresponding Jupiter, Minerva, Mars ... you need to understand these references to keep up between the Roman and Greek plays. 

A very helpful page for those of us that don't have the memory of our youth, and received at best a very cursory understanding of the ancient world. Volume 1 covers the Greek, Roman, and Italian plays. The Italian plays are probably the most familar ... Love's Labor Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlermen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing,  As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Measure For Measure, The Tempest. 

The book is loaded with inline cross references to where subjects are covered in the other plays, in order to better understand what is being covered ... the audience at the time of writing had a common understanding of the world they lived in, including the history, and had good memories ... uncluttered by shallow media entertainment.  

Asimov made a number of desisions as to how to present this vast environment to the modern reader, largely unaware of the world of Shakesphere. I think of it a bit as a kalidiscope of "worlds", with sometimes definite and sometimes completely fictional references to real, mythological, current, recent historical, fictional charachters invented for the story, etc. 

Asimov is in a way trying to put us into the Shakespere world  ... a BIT like todays "Marvel Universe", "Star Trek Universe", "Star Wars Universe", etc Think of a reference to "Captain Kirk" 500 years in the future. Yes, I know, that is shallow ... maybe "Winston Churchill", or maybe "Dostoevsky" would be a better example. 

The big differece is that while Shakespere is "fictional entertainment" it has much more connection to thew reality of the time. Maybe something like "The Crown" today. 

Do I recommend the book? To the common reader of today, I really can't, because they are likely to just be frustrated and lost. Certainly there are a decent number of people FAR more qualified than I to read and enjoy the work. Perhaps I'm an arrogant pessimist, I just don't think the audience to actually read it is very wide ... it does however look good on a shelf, unless it is full of tabs like mine is. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self

 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/rise-triumph-modern-self-carl-trueman/

We know that we live in the era of "it's all about ME" ... what most don't ponder very much is what is "me"? Certainly a body, and in current times, the body and especially the genitals, or the denial of same are critical to "identity".

The man, woman, or "whatever" on the street usually admits to having a brain -- however what it means to have a brain that according to most biologists, is genetically "human",  falls far short of what it means to be "human" in the sense of the modern self is quite vague. Is there something beyond the physical? And if so, does it matter? 

A term that arises often in the book is the "social imaginary" (link followers be warned). To simplify, it can be thought of as "worldview". A fairly short way to scratch this surface a little deeper is "Moral Believing Animals". Communication between other "humans" requires some sort of shared "social imaginary", and since what that now shifts in timeframes that are historically unimaginable, we are all in undiscovered country, almost all the time. 

In 2008, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were firm on the thousands year old fact that marriage was a sacred union between a man and a woman.  By 2012, Obama supported gay "marriage".  In 2015, with the SCOTUS Obergefell ruling, it was the law of the land. By 2022, a SCOTUS nominee was unable to define what a "woman" is. There is every expectation that the pace of this kind of massive change in the Social Imaginary will accelerate. Even worse, the stakes of at least adequately pretending to keep up are rising at a similar pace. 

Not being completely up to date and showing complete fealty to whatever got "imagined" in maybe the past few hours, can cause loss relationship with friends, family, your employer, and increasingly even your freedom of action ... the FBI may identify you as a "semi fascist".  It can certainly be an issue if you want to use a phrase like "sexual preference" if you are trying to get on the SCOTUS. In the case of Amy Coney Barrett, the term was fine in the AM, but had been redefined to be "offensive" by the PM!

Sane people realize that it is not possible for each one of us to define ourselves in any way we see fit (at this moment), and expect the rest of society to totally buy into that definition of the moment (see proper pronouns). As in the case of Barrett, the meaning of what you say may be changed in a matter of hours! 

The book opens with:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement as has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: "I am a woman trapped in a man's body". 

The book does an excellent and reasonably concise explanation of how we got here. The foreword by Rod Dreher, contains a much shorter explanation of the "how" from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ... "Men have forgotten God, and that is why all this as happened". He was referring to the tragedy of the USSR, but it applies equally well here. 

The linked review is excellent, well worth quite minimal time to read it.  Fortunately there is a more concise version of  this book that is reviewed by Clairmont. For those that know me, it will be unsurprising that I took the long version. 

Here is a link to that book on Amazon  - Strange New World - How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

A quote from the introduction that cut to the soul is: "The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives, but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them." 

As with pretty much all such books at this time, suggestions of what to do are sparse. Prayer is always one answer, because it is going to take action from God to change this Social Imaginary. Perhaps his solution is already baked in ... those that buy into the Social Imaginary of our times tend not to reproduce ... which can make an particular Social Imaginary future less bright!

The review contains this: 

Another weakness is the relative lack of suggestions for combating Western culture’s increasing decadence. Important as they are, a mere six pages of 400 are dedicated to navigating our way out of the ruins. Trueman proposes three suggestions. First, Christians must better understand the interplay between aesthetics and formation—both within and outside the church. Here Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.” Second, in a world of constant flux wherein liquid modernity provides ever-shifting foundations for identity, Trueman calls the church to a greater sense of community. Only this will counteract the hollowing out of institutions that more securely anchored human identity in the past. Third—and of particular importance to me, I confess—Trueman argues that Protestant Christians need greater familiarity with natural law, but not because it will necessarily convince skeptics but because it will provide grounding for a theology of human embodiment, which will counteract the transient Gnosticisms of modernity.

Gnosticism - the idea that it is your "knowledge/timeless wisdom/etc" that will save/set you free/make you happy/etc.

As stated above: "Trueman insists that moral legitimacy cannot be achieved by emotion or narrative, but by “the being of God and his act of creation.”"

To a Christian, the "being of God" is the Holy Trinity, with the Holy Spirit being the indwelling of God that through "The Way, The Truth, and The Life" (Christ). To others it may be "the Great Spirit", the Tao, El Shaddai, Adonai, Dirawong, Sango, Odin, etc. I'm struggling through Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life at this time -- seeking a way to help people understand that since they are human, they DO have a God. Based on my search, I believe there is much to suggest Christianity, however, the BEGINNING of wisdom is the fear (respect) of God. We all need to understand that it isn't all about ME ... which this book is a help in realizing.

My personal "search for God" (or proof of his absence) went through a lot of books, meditations and practices -- if you seek you will find, or if you are willing to submit, Christ will find you. Understanding the real stakes of everyone living an isolated, meaningless life is important these days. Your faith WILL be questioned! Christians need to all be defenders of their faith, and the reasons to believe -- ideally in terms that an atheist secularist can at least understand. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius"Eternalized Review" (ER)


As always, I'm a lazy moose. I read some translation of Meditations long ago, probably in my "I think I'm an atheist, but something in me is rejecting it" phase. The two links above explore some of the thoughts that were flowing through the river of my consciousness then,  and to some degree now. Time can be seen as a river, though I often find the eddies to be the parts of the flow to pay attention to.

Having grown up in a strict Baptist church being "saved" by "giving my life to Christ". For some reason I didn't blog in those days (I worked on an IBM S/3 at the time, a full 512K of memory that we had trouble even using on the HUGE model 15D. When there are no graphics and the operating system is written in assembler, memory pressure is much reduced.,

 My "deep thinking" about life, the universe and everything" in the late 1970's. early '80's can be somewhat understood by the aside that the  S/3 had a 2 digit display for telling the operators / system programmers what went wrong. The small troop of new hires tasked with minor enhancements and mostly maintenance always wanted to slip a "4Q" halt in. Ah, juvenile humor -- I believe that Marcus, and certainly Christ would admonish against it, though both understand the frailties of human nature, especially in youth. 

Oh how our pitiful human brains work, don't work, and work strangely  -- this book connected me to many past memories. 

Marcus was very aware of the shortness of this life, and the metaphysical (though not necessarily spiritual) uncertainty of death. ER says of Stoicism: 
Logos designates rational and connected thought. It exists in individuals as the faculty of reason and on the cosmos as the rational principle that governs the organisation of the universe. Thus, rationality and clear-mindedness allow one to live in harmony with the logos.

In Christianity, Christ is the logos ... in the form of the Holy Spirit on 199, Marcus  says "... and obedient to your own daemon (the god that is within you ...". While Marcus seems to beat around the bush a bit, he seems clear on man having a spirit, there being "god's". If the universe has a logos that governs all, then there is a God. If there is no logos, than all is random. Marcus accepts that as a possibility, however in reading the book, it seems very clear that that he really believes in the gods and the logos, and even that God at least CAN be within you. 

CMC says: 

The ethical preoccupations of Marcus and the New Testament writers are much the same: what it means to be just and good, the importance of living with purpose and without luxury, the requirements of stewardship and serving others, the role of prayer and Providence, the danger of making false value judgments and blaming others, the need to control desire and the passions, etc. Of course, there are important differences, and therein lie the distinctions that cast Christianity in bold relief and help to explain why Christianity captured the moral imagination of the ancient world in a way that Stoicism failed to do. These distinctions may also offer some prophetic insights into the fate of Stoicism’s dramatic resurgence in our secular age.
A prime dilemma of the modern age is that man by nature seeks to judge, but by what standard? Matter and science say nothing of good nor evil, but if one assumes "telos" as Marcus does, perhaps we can convince ourselves that we are good by nature. The belief in "the noble savage" .... the idea that man is good, but society corrupts him. 

EC says: 
Marcus insists that we always follow Nature, as it is good and rational – driven by logos. Since we are all interconnected, man is good by nature and nothing natural is evil.

On the list of philosophical, theological and political conundrums, man being "basically good" vs "basically fallen or evil"  is a primary question. If nature or natures god are "good", why is there evil in the world? The theological and philosophical study of this question is theodicy. Verty worthy to consider, but way too complicated for a blog post.

As James Madison said in Federalist 51, "But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

While Marcus may firmly wish, and even believe, that his basic nature is "good", his accepting the task of Roman emperor and expanding the empire to its greatest extent (his reign was one of continuous warfare)  shows that by action, his beliefs were not in alignment with his actions. One of the base issues of being a human seeking "the good". 

Are men and philosophies to be judged by what they do, or by what they wish to do? Certainly something to be meditated on. 

This is a very human problem, and for me one that helped convince me that I needed an internal "spirit of truth" to improve the course of my life, as well as a practice to allow that spirit vs my weak flesh to improve my conformance to the good.  As Paul says in Romans 7 15-20:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

The only time in the book that Marcus mentions Christianity is on page 180: 

A soul is ready, if at any moment it must be separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist; but so this readiness comes from a man's own judgment, not from the mere stubbornness, as with the Christians, but considerably and with dignity and in a way to persuade another without a tragic show. 

My interpretation of that statement is that while Marcus tried to value the holding of many possible spiritual realities (eg the soul being extinguished, dispersed, or continue to exist), he did not like the specifics of Christianity -- in fact persecution of Christians increased under his rule. 

On page 148 we find: 

When another blames you or hates you, or when men say about you anything injurious, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. You will discover that there is no reason to take any trouble that these men may have this or that opinion about you. However, you must be well disposed towards them, for by nature they are friends. And the gods too aid them in all ways, by dreams, by signs, towards the attainment of those things on which they set a value.

We might summarize that with "love your neighbor as yourself"  ... even if he is wrong, a slanderer,  a person having strong beliefs in opposition to yours, etc. If we were all solidly practicing Stoics or Christians, tolderation would abound, and the realization that we are fellow travelers on the sinking boat of our short lives. In the physical world, there are no survivors, and Marcus does a good job of clearly pointing out the importance of keeping that perspective before you. 

In Roman Stoicism there are 3 principles (from ER): 

The first one is the discipline of perception. It requires that we maintain absolute objectivity of thought. It is not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem. Our duty is to exercise control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error.
The second one is the discipline of action. It relates to our relationship with other human beings. Marcus frequently repeats that we were made not for ourselves but for others, our nature is fundamentally unselfish. However, our duty to act justly does not mean that we must treat others as our equals; it means that we must treat them as they deserve.
The third one is the discipline of will. While the discipline of action governs our approach to the things in our control, those that we do; the discipline of will governs our attitude to things that are not within our control, those that we have done to us (by others or by nature).

 The translation I read has good reviews and I found it very readable. Having at least a passing understanding of Stoicism in these contentious times seems an aid to discipline of perception, a worthy goal.



Monday, August 29, 2022

"Unknown" The Leading Cause Of Death

 https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/deaths-with-unknown-causes-now-alberta-s-top-killer-province-1.5975536

It's probably a Trump conspiracy that has hit the Calgary news.  "Unknown" is now the leading cause of death in Alberta Canada. 

The unknown causes of death category only began appearing on the list in 2019 — there is no record of it ranking before then, dating back to 2001.

The article helpfully goes on to say that it probably has "something" to do with Covid -- but apparently not the vaccine. (if it is "unknown" that seems an interesting conclusion). Covid came in 3rd, and it has always been interesting to see how "causal" Covid is as opposed to dying WITH Covid ... and heart disease, pneumonia, kidney disease, etc. 

Being an idiot, I find it quite interesting that medical professionals would resign themselves to "unknown".  Alzheimer's is listed as #2, and diagnosing Alzheimer's as the CAUSE is quite problematic, but the powerful Alzheimer's lobby has been pushing to make it the cause, because it "starts the chain". 

Not having an appetite, difficulty in swallowing (sometimes causing food aspiration to lungs, possibly causing pneumonia, etc) 

Since the incidence of death in the population is 100%, everyone dies of something. Did they have cancer, but it appeared to be in remission before they died of a blood clot caused by their inactivity because the cancer had made them effectively bedridden?

Do we want to focus on what tipped over the first domino, or on the last? 

I'd vote for the last, because the first could be an undiagnosed concussion in childhood, undetected heart damage from a HOST of sources (infections, parasites, undetected valve issues, etc). 

Even better, list that the person died of X, and WITH a set of contributing conditions. We definitely have the computing and data storage capacity to spot trends in underlying factors that seem irrelevant when you are looking at a cadaver. 

The fact that a given person is dead is going  to overshadow more complete analysis and data gathering ... and then of course you have biases, political pressure, drug company pressure, family pressure (you aren't REALLY going to say they died of alcoholism when it was clearly liver failure, are you?), etc 

My thoughts could drag on, but UNKNOWN as the top? Really??? 

There is a certain odor about that. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Against The Tide, Roger Scruton

https://newcriterion.com/issues/2022/4/scrutonian-selections

I subscribe to the "New Criterion", so I'm not positive if the link will work for you. This is a great quote from the book via the review: 

It is good to have been born in this time of decay. Our generation was granted a privilege that future generations may never know—a view of Western civilization in its totality, and a knowledge of its inner meaning. We were given the pure truths of the Christian religion, and the morality of sacrifice which turns renunciation into triumph and suffering into a secret joy. We also had the chance to see what will happen should we lose these gifts. . . . Of course it is hard to feel the full confidence that those teachings require. But they are addressed to each of us individually, and their validity is not affected by what others think or do. We have within ourselves the source of our salvation: all that is needed is to summon it, and to go out into the world.

As I age, I realize it is always "The best of times and the worst of times", the more complete quote from Dickens "The Tale of Two Cities":

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
I've felt for at least 30 years that the peak of Western civilization was the Moon Landing. I had high hopes for the Reagan years, and a spark of lesser hopes in the Trump years. Whatever one's faith ... God's will, fate, random chance, some undefined "arc of history",  age and death make it clear that the answer is not in our grasp. A brief consideration of Covid should be enough for the masses to understand "we don't control our destiny. WWI and WWII could have also provided hints if one's eyes were open.

The book is tightly written, and deserves to be read and enjoyed rather than attempting to summarize it in a review, let alone a blog entry. 

"Freud and Fraud" was a favorite chapter, a quote "the destruction of morality by the habit of explaining it". Indeed ... poor childhood?, a mental deficiency or syndrome? It is NEVER your "fault" if you are a liberal. OTOH, if you have Christian Conservative leanings, the best way to understand your actions is to look at Hitler ... your beliefs are your "original sin". 

"The Conservative Conscience" hit me hard as well. I'll skip his description of modern "culture" and focus on his appraisal of it's result. 
"These things threaten to populate the world with a new human species - cold hearted, disloyal, promiscuous, uncultured and godless - whose sole pursuit is present pleasure, and who looks on the sufferings of others with indifference or delight". 

I sit watching our lake and the frequent breathtaking sunsets aware that the time that I've lived through, and this location, which I hope to be my last stop to eternity are blessings beyond my feeble understanding. 

Years of reading, writing, and discussion gave me too much of an illusion that I might make a difference. 

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Through Christ, we can experience a foretaste of overcoming the world. 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Influence, The Psychology Of Persuatioin

 I looked around for a review that I thought would just "stick to the facts" rather than be an introduction to the book as a marketing training tool. (which it certainly can be). I failed, so I could not avoid doing some work as much as I hate it! 

In the introduction, Cialdini presents himself has the "perpetual patsy",  so he decided to become  an experimental social psychologist, to understand how "the compliance professionals" -- the marketers, salesmen, politicians, store clerks, etc were getting him to do what they wanted, vs what he wanted.

There are thousands of variations, but they are categorized in this book under six: 

  1. Consistency -- If we just agreed to one proposition as correct, how can we claim that this same/similar one is incorrect? Don't you go to the doctor? If you do, how can you not "follow the science" on Covid? 

  2. Reciprocity -- I scratched your back, certainly you will scratch mine. We have all seen the "free" mailing labels arrive, with a request for a donation. It is against human nature not to donate. 

  3. Social Proof - "Everyone's doing it". "A majority of people say" ... etc, etc. From time immemorial, "following the crowd" has generally been an adaptive shortcut. That tendency is often used against us, and modern mass media and the internet only make it easier to apply. 

  4. Authority - You have got to follow "the experts", or "the science", don't you? If they say that two weeks of shutdown will put Covid behind us, or if you take the vaccine, you won't get Covid, you would be a FOOL to not agree! From listening to your parents as a child, or the teacher in school, the urge to believe authority is strong, and VERY dangerous! 

    Consider the "Milgram Experiment" where all of the people that were "teachers" were willing to give the subjects lethal or potentially lethal shocks under the direction of "authority". 

    A little remembrance of Jonestown where 900 people "followed the leader" may be of interest as well,

    We all know the most popular cigarette with doctors is Camel! 




    Doctors nearly never get things wrong: https://bilber99.blogspot.com/2006/04/elbow-ec.html 

  5. Liking - Look at that pretty girl next to that car! I think I really like that car! As one woman said about a referendum "It's a real tough decision. They've got big stars speaking  for it, and they've got big stars speaking against it, You don't know how to vote!!" If the person I like on TV, the star of my sports team, or my friend at the club is voting for hio, how can I go wrong? 

  6. Scarcity - This is the last Cutlass Ciera in the country! The production line is stopped! You have GOT to buy this one RIGHT NOW! Sadly, we often put a very high value on something that we had always had plenty of, but is now scarce (or higher priced). 
As I said, there are thousands of variations on these, We have met the enemy, and the enemy is human nature. We are limited creatures, so when certain "programs" are triggered in our brains, we tend to operate on autopilot like mama turkey. Cialdini uses the example of a certain "cheap" made by a healthy baby turkey that the mother responds to and provides care. Sick/deformed chicks don't make the cheap, and are ignored. If the researcher puts a stuffed skunk in the nest that makes the cheap, it gets care. 

Humans are loaded with the same sort of "program triggers" ... we require them in order to deal with our complex world. If we can avoid thinking, we do -- and modern marketing, media, politicians, and human predators of all types use them to great advantage. 

You have been warned. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Complete Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses S Grant

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1387894897?psc=1&ref=ppx_pop_dt_b_product_details

The link is to the edition I read, there are a bunch out there. My complaint with this edition was that the maps were WAY too compressed to be useful. 

Grant is such a towering figure in history that multiple biographies need to be read to get a glimpse of the man. I would say that starting your journey here is a better way to place Grant in US history. 

What this book provides is an interior view of a brilliant general and what goes into the craft of war. 

Logistics, logistics, logistics is a good start. The intricate dance between moving armies of tens of thousands of men (and horses in those days), plus food, ammo, medical services, communications (telegraph back then), and countless other factors loom large. 

Understanding the personalities of your subordinates and your adversaries is also key. Some generals are overly cautious, others are overly aggressive. Some need to be given strict and very detailed orders, since they really don't want to take responsibility for anything but success. If the battle is won, they love to report their brilliant moves ... if it fails, they will produce your detailed orders to show that "they were only following orders". 

The influence of media was strong factor even then. The media tended to idolize the brilliance of the dashing Lee, while poking fun at the apparently hapless Northern generals. Grant says nearly nothing about the problems of the Army of the Potomac. He does point out the criticality of the victory at Gettysburg, and Vicksburg happening on the same 4th of July as likely saving the Union. Yet another book I'd like to read ... "The Most Glorious 4th". 

In the press, Lee was portrayed as a brilliant tactician, with nothing of his strategic advantages being pointed out. Grant was portrayed as a "butcher" ... a man of little intelligence and poor character. The mostly apocryphal stories of him as a "drunk", are crafted by his competitors and detractors from his time alone in California, when he did drink to excess, or from injuries sustained that were attributed to him being drunk by his enemies, but not supported by evidence. Neither alcohol or cigars are discussed in the book ... the cigars likely because he was dying of painful throat cancer as he struggled to write the book.

 When he was writing this, he was virtually penniless, and the sales of the book were his only option to provide something for his family after he passed. He finished the manuscript on July 18, 1885.  He died five days later on July 23.  Mark Twain was a huge factor in his writing of the book and it's promotion (also not mentioned in the book). 

The South was fighting on their home turf, defending their entire way of life. They were on defense. Clausewitz said that as a general rule of thumb, attacking forces have to be at least three times stronger than defending forces.

Given these facts ... largely ignored in reporting at the time, and even in history, the North was at grave disadvantage because their strength rarely if ever approached those ratios, In fact, the South often brought greater force. When Lee went on offense at Gettysburg, he lost. 

The North was fighting for a "principle" ... something along the lines of "a house divided cannot stand". Certainly, "slavery is a terrible evil" was always a factor, and it was increasingly so as the war wore on. Principles are very important, however the willingness to die for your principles is not as common in human nature than we like to believe it to be. Willingness to die for your culture and property tend to be a stronger motivation. As in athletic competition, "heart" matters. Something well covered in the book.

The book is highly detailed relative to the conception and execution of many battles ... not just the famous ones. It was originally published in two volumes (my version is a single volume), There is far more attention paid to the Western campaign than is typical of Civil War books. The importance of the rivers and gunboats being used in battle was something I was aware of, but sadly lacking detailed knowledge of. 

On page 93, Grant states what is fairly obvious to people with a passing of knowledge of the Constitution: 
"The fact is the Constitution did not apply to such contingency as the one existing from.1861 to 1865. Its framers never dreamed of such a contingency occurring. If they had forseen it, the probabilities are they would have sanctioned the right of a State or States withdraw rather than that there should be war between brothers."

There are many ironies of the Civil War, but one of the big ones is that the Democrats were the "conservatives", concerned with the Constitution, and tradition. The Republicans were the "radicals", willing to risk life and treasure for an idea, and their view of "righteousness". 

Whole books are written on the issue of whether the Civil War effectively killed the Constitution and initiated the idea of "progressivism" in the US ... a subject to long and complicated to go into here.