Well, Right

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

People are not voting for Trump (or Sanders). People are just voting, finally, to destroy the establishment.

Why is this so hard for so many people to understand?

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Tales From Decrypt

By now you have all heard of the DOJ’s effort to force Apple to unlock a phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack. Here again we have an example of technology advancing far too quickly for our sluggish political institutions to keep up.

Codes and ciphers are as old as writing. What is new, obviously, is that people anywhere on Earth can now write to other, on portable devices, with zero latency, zero cost, and virtually no physical footprint.

Governments like to snoop. Governments are not always benevolent. When they are not, snooping is how they know where, and against whom, to project their power.

People like privacy. They believe their personal communications should be nobody’s business but their own. Moreover, they know that governments like to snoop.

Governments have the job of protecting public order. This is easiest in organically ordered societies, but the West is no longer an amalgam of organically ordered societies; it has been consciously and deliberately disordered for many decades. It is now a chaotic place, deeply infected with human pathogens that seek to cause it harm.

Human pathogens like privacy, too. It makes their work easier and more efficient. Attentive citizens of the West understand this. If they are sufficiently intelligent and attentive, though, they are also beginning to understand that the societies they live in have been deliberately disordered and weakened by their rulers. More and more of the people of the West are coming to realize that for some reason their own governments, like the pathogens those governments have opened the doors to, apparently also intend to cause them harm. (How else to explain, for example, what has happened to Europe?)

This means that their governments cannot rationally be understood as wholly “benevolent”. And when governments are not benevolent, snooping — on their own citizens — is how they know where, and against whom, to project their power.

So, the citizens are in what is sometimes called a “cleft stick”. Should they empower their governments to snoop, knowing that the government cannot be counted on to act benevolently toward them? Or should they resist, knowing that this will empower the pathogens now at large within their social organism?

My own feeling is that, death-by-government having had a vastly higher body count over the past century or so than even the bloodiest wars (and astronomically higher than any act of terrorism), we should choose to protect our privacy. Just in case.

Here’s one way to do that.

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Who? Whom?

The Washington Post asks:

Trump has lit a fire. Can it be contained?

This isn’t arson. It is the inevitable combustion of an oil-soaked pyre exposed to a continuous shower of sparks.

The Post should be asking: who built that pyre? It’s been long in the making, and its existence is due neither to accident nor negligence.

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Make Much of Time

I was remiss not to have noted here the death of the great George Martin, who left us, earlier this week, at the age of 90. He was a visionary artist, and by all accounts a gentleman. The Beatles would not have been what they were without him.

Now he is joined in death by Keith Emerson, who, sadly, appears to have taken his own life.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
  Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
  To-morrow will be dying.

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Truth And Consequences

With a hat-tip to our e-pal hbd*chick (whose blog you should be reading), here’s an article called The Bermuda Triangle of Science. It’s about a dangerous place where careers go to vanish.

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View From The Right

Nick Steves has posted this week’s reactionary roundup. He gave ‘Best of the Week’ to this essay by Mark Christensen, and it seems a good choice.

In the essay, Mr. Christensen quotes Mencius Moldbug:

All schools of libertarianism, whether Rothbardian or Randian or (nearly-stillborn) Nozickian, rest on the idea of limited government. Note the intrinsic absurdity of this concept. If some government is limited by its own volition, it can abandon these limits at any time. (Historical experience suggests that the “sacred-document” trick is of extremely limited utility in preventing it from doing so.) If the government is limited by some external power, it is not a government in the usual sense of the word, and we should direct our attention to the limiting power.

It is at this point that the libertarian typically reveals his inner democrat, and suggests that the sovereign power of the People will preserve liberty. First, this hasn’t exactly worked in practice. Second, true sovereignty demands actual military superiority, which may have existed in 1787 but has certainly gone missing since then. If the military of any modern country faced off against the rest of its population, each side being united, the former would win every time. And third, the State can escape this check quite easily, because it can indoctrinate its subjects to despise rebellion and love its motherly care.

Mr. Christensen continues:

The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham.

These are central reactionary ideas:

‣   That sovereignty always exists somewhere, and is conserved;

‣   That popular government, by slicing sovereignty into infinitesimals, makes possible its covert aggregation (by what Sir Henry Sumner Maine called “wire-pullers“) while creating a fiction, for the enfranchised multitudes, of owning a meaningful share of equably distributed sovereignty;

‣   That power is not, at bottom, physical in any way, but is rather a matter only of belief;

‣   That therefore politics, and power, are downstream, as Gramsci and the Frankfurt school understood all too well, from “metapolitics” — the laborious seeding of the culture with methodically inculcated values, and, where necessary, the uprooting of existing values to prepare the soil. (It is no coincidence, after all, that “cultivation”, “culture”, and “cult” all share the same Latin root cultus, which has, among its more familiar meanings, “worship” and “reverence”.)

Read Nick’s digest here.

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If You Don’t Mind…

Questions for mind-body dualists:

1) What features of mental life, if any, are instantiated in the physical body? Memory? Intelligence? Learned cognitive skills? To put this another way, what aspects of mind besides pure conscious awareness require a metaphysical explanation?

2) If any aspects of mind beyond pure awareness have do a non-physical basis, then why do physical changes to the brain affect them? Why, for example, would brain trauma affect memory and cognition?

3) If consciousness merely inhabits the body, rather than being a product of the brain’s substance and activity, why can we delete it at will with anesthesia? Even if what anesthesia does is to force consciousness to leave the body temporarily, why doesn’t our subjectivity stay with it, instead of switching off when the brain is drugged?

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Merciful and Mighty

There’s a good article by Mark Yuray, over at Social Matter, on making a career out of secular holiness. A longish excerpt:

More than 1 million illegal Middle Eastern and African migrants entered Germany in 2015, with the invitation of the German government. This year, hundreds of thousands have already arrived and a 1-2 million yearly migration from Asia and Africa into Germany is beginning to sound like the new normal. This migration is in contravention of EU and German law. It is opposed by majorities of people in Germany and in every country that has received any of these migrants. These migrants are unchecked, unvetted, uncontrolled and more than 13% of them completely disappear once in Germany, some 130,000 people.

As if the obvious danger of allowing millions of people, mostly young men, from countries that are smouldering craters or terrorist warzones wasn’t enough, these migrants have already been implicated in mass rapes, thefts, murders and unprecedented (for Europe) terrorism.

Sane observers, much like noticing how insane progressive activists are, will notice how insane the German government seems to be. Why import millions of useless and dangerous people every single year? Why take on these huge social and financial costs when Europe is already facing so many problems? Before the Migrant Crisis, Europe was facing a veritable Euro Crisis, a Greek Crisis, a youth unemployment crisis, and even an admitted integration crisis with legal non-European immigrants, and many other crises besides. All was not well in the Old World. Why would anybody willingly add this to a cluttered plate?

Sane observers of this crisis have been numerous, owing to its sheer preposterousness. They have made many sane points. If the German government wants to solve its demographic problem, why invite a group of migrants that are 80% male? They won’t be producing children. If the German government wants to solve economic problems, why invite Africans and Middle Easterners instead of Chinese and Vietnamese? Surely the Germans are aware that East Asians have a better reputation for productive work and education, and they are no less willing than West Asians to migrate to Europe, given the opportunity. If the German government simply thinks sheltering “refugees” is a humanitarian necessity, why not accept any refugees from the ongoing war in Ukraine?

If the government needed migrants to solve its problems, why did it wait until the migrants broke the border laws of eleven different countries to announce it? Why wasn’t the Merkel administration organizing mega-consulates in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to snatch up and legally fly all these migrants to Germany in 2012, 2013 or 2014? Lots of inconsistencies here.

Spandrell has had some theories on what’s going on in Germany. Frankly, I think the activist’s article from the top of this page provides a much better and more obvious explanation. Quite simply, arguing about the economic, humanitarian or demographic merits of the migrants is pointless because that assumes there is some reasonable entity in charge of Germany making reasoned decisions on what migrants to allow to enter Germany based on their relative merits weighed against each other in some kind of singular complex calculus. But that is wrong. There is nobody in charge of Germany, and the people making compartmentalized decisions about migration, multiculturalism and integration have absolutely no use for smart, intelligent, well-adjusted, economically productive and peaceful migrants.

The people working in public schools and universities, social agencies, left-wing political parties, federal ministries, humanitarian non-profits and the like actively want horrible migrants to arrive and stay in Germany. That the migrants are mostly male, unlikely to ever work a job, but very likely to commit a violent crime is not a negative for these people – it is an unambiguous positive, and they know it.

What could signal one’s belief in human rights, human equality, the power of government education and the true value of every human being more than importing 1 million of the people least likely to ever be re-educated or made valuable? And how else to gain power these days? With tens of thousands of at-risk jihadists in Germany every public school, university, social agency, left-wing party and non-profit is going to double in size, funding, and power. The more migrants, the more need for these people, and the more dysfunctional, the better – the more resources that will be necessary to sink and the more these people can skim off the top, and the more holiness they can proclaim and keep for themselves.

They might even get their face on the cover of TIME magazine. Sane solutions have been declared anti-democratic, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, hateful, anti-constitutional and evil a priori, so progressive solutions are the only ones allowed, even if they never work. In fact, the less they work the better – if they ever solved a problem, hundreds if not thousands of people would be out of an easy and high-status job.

Read the whole thing here. And keep in mind, folks, this kind of thing isn’t like religion. It is religion.

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“This Deal…”

Hot Air reports on a little wrinkle in the Iran deal. According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Islamic Republic might even be about to walk out on the thing altogether.

Well, on the bright side, at least they got all that money they’ve been wanting for so long before the whole thing fell apart.

It’s nice to see our friends doing well. Kinda makes you proud to be an American.

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It’s a Black Thing

Here.

I Kid You Not

Feminist glaciology. Not a parody.

Here.

Festering Europa

Gates of Vienna has posted two video clips taken from a discussion panel at the latest CPAC conference. The subject was the fate of Europe. (At this point it might well be a post-mortem; Europe has already gone far beyond the “tipping point”, and is now, barring a full-on revolt by its indigenous peoples, nothing more than a cut flower.)

The speakers are Lars Hedegaard and Paul Weston.

Mr. Hedegaard asks: why did Europe’s leaders allow this to happen?

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People, Get Ready

The evidence that most human traits are highly heritable — not just obvious physical traits, mind you, but cognitive and behavioral qualities and dispositions as well — is accumulating rapidly, and will soon be overwhelming. (In scientific terms it already is, but what is about to be overwhelmed is the nurturist and culturist dogma that has formed the foundation of the modern social sciences, and that has been the basis of half a century of completely ineffectual, and often disastrous, public policy.)

Charles Murray has called this an “unstoppable train” that would be arriving within the next three years. How long it will be before “race is a social construct” is replaced in public discourse by the far more plausible “societies are racial constructs” is anybody’s guess, but I’d say this item from the Boston Globe is a sign that the rails are beginning to vibrate.

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Live and Learn

A recent post by our friend Bill Vallicella exposes the philosophical ineptitude of militant atheists such as, in this case, Richard Dawkins. Here his target is the hidden axiom scientists (and I use the term in the sense of “those who practice scientism”) must rely on in order to deny the possible role of a Creator in the existence and evolution of the world. That axiom is, to paraphrase Bill’s words, “the rule that everything can and must be accounted for naturalistically, i.e., in terms of the space-time system and the laws that govern it.”

As a non-theist myself, I am intuitively disposed to accept that axiom. But I am no longer the pugnacious atheist I used to be, and I understand that this premise is an axiom, not a theorem, and is therefore unprovable, and that its negation — the proposition that there stands outside the space-time system a Creator responsible for the existence and evolution of the space-time system and its laws — is not, at least so far as I am aware, refutable.

This was, as you might imagine, a difficult pill for me to swallow — but this was because, having been marinated in scientism all my life, I had never bothered to engage with any serious philosophical opposition. That changed about ten years ago, when my online life began to bring me into contact with people like Dr. Vallicella, and through him, other theist philosophers, such as Edward Feser.

I am still an unbeliever, and a Darwinist, but the big difference is that I now understand that my framework for understanding the world rests on a doxastic choice, rather than on some bedrock truth that should be apparent as such to anyone of sufficient intelligence. (This unreflective assumption was in my case especially lazy and foolish, as I have all my life known religious men of exceptional intelligence — for example my own grandfather Ralph Calder, who was a Congregationalist minister in Scotland, and two very close family friends, namely the Rev. Robert Montgomery, chaplain of Princeton University, and the eminent scholar of Christian history, Dr. Horton Davies. That I never explored these questions with them during the decades of my youth when I knew them well, and saw them often, now grieves me more than I can say.)

Bill and I have our differences — in particular regarding his belief that consciousness is necessary for intentionality (see here for an old question of mine that he has never answered) — but on this he has persuaded me. I thank him for that. Let it not be said that nobody ever changes another’s mind by argument.

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Rise and Fall

I’ve lived in the same brownstone building in Park Slope, Brooklyn, since March of 1982. (Geological notes about the area here.)

When the lovely Nina and I first moved here, it was a sketchy neighborhood, having fallen into serious decline during the city’s general depression of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The neighborhood’s gracious architecture was in disrepair, and scarred with graffiti, and there were many Irish and Italian gangs. The day we moved in, I found a bullet in our area-way, and no car was safe on the street. (Our own car was broken into more times than I can remember, and was stolen twice.)

Things changed. The feckless Koch and Dinkins administrations gave way to the tough-on-crime Giuliani regime, which immediately instituted tougher policies — such things as “stop-and-frisk”, and the “broken windows” approach that cracks down on petty crimes on the idea that such low-level disorder has cascading, entropic effects.

Before long the neighborhood began to improve dramatically. Empty houses and storefronts found buyers and tenants, street crimes fell off sharply, property values began a decades-long rise (my neighbor Bob bought his three-story brownstone sometime in the 1970s at a very low price; its value has now increased sixtyfold.) Crack houses were gutted and renovated, and filled with young families. Old bars full of daytime drunks moved out; grocery stores, clothing stores, doctors, dentists, and good restaurants moved in.

Well, what goes up must come down. We have a new mayor now: a gangling Communist, a grievance-mongering social-justice warrior — and he has begun setting things in order (that is to say, dismantling hard-won order to pave the way for chaos). Many of the old, effective policing methods had to go — because, of course, they were racist — and as we noted in a recent post, in order to solidify this worldview as government policy for all time, there is now a movement afoot to extend the voting franchise to anyone who can find a place to live in the city, regardless of immigration status. Crime rates are tilting upward, and in yesterday’s news we learned of a new police detail assigned to look into an epidemic of slashings in the subways.

Yesterday afternoon my next-door neighbor, a woman in her nineties whom we have known for thirty-four years, was followed into her entryway, choked, and robbed at gunpoint. The story is here.

I realize that this is hardly Aleppo. But in high civilizations, decline is centripetal. That we are already seeing it here is not encouraging.

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Melting Pot? No, Just Melting

You’ve heard all about Donald Trump’s shocking notion to secure our borders, I’m sure. Have you heard about the recent chicanery by the Justice Department regarding voter-ID laws in four American states?

In brief, here’s what happened: the good people of Kansas, Georgia, Arizona, and Alabama, exercising their states’ right under the Constitution, decided to require that voters show ID. The Election Assistance Commission, which is a Federal agency that certifies voting systems, agreed to let them do so. This caused so irritated various leftist organizations that they filed a lawsuit in Federal court seeking an injunction against the EAC, in order to prevent the states from imposing this requirement.

So on one side, we have an array of left-wing activists, seeking to expand their franchise to include anyone who can show up at a polling booth. On the other hand, we have the DOJ, whose job it is to defend the government when it is sued.

But when the DOJ lawyers showed up in court, they immediately filed a pleading that agreed with the plaintiffs, and consented to the injunction they sought.

Think about how sneaky that is. If the EAC had simply refused to allow the states to require ID, they’d have had a fight on their hands, one that would probably have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. (And with one of the solicitors being Kansas’s Kris Kobach, they’d have had a real scrap on their hands.) But by playing it this way, they turned the lawsuit around, and then all they had to do was to show up and cave in. Their little rope-a-dope didn’t work, though, thanks to Judge Richard J. Leon (may he live long and prosper), who gave them the spanking they so richly deserved. Read the rest of the story here, and a follow-up here.

Meanwhile, here in New York City (where, under current management you’ll soon be singing this in the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium), voters soon won’t even have to pretend to be American citizens. More about that, here.

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Don Ho, Call Your Office

Here is something I had not heard about until today: it appears that water infused with tiny bubbles (and I mean really tiny, with diameters near the wavelength of visible light), has many useful properties. My first glimpse of this was here. I’m curious to learn more.

Here’s a remarkable statement (my emphasis):

Some studies have shown that fish raised in an environment with fine bubbles more than double the weight and size of fish in a control environment.

Crikey! It’s getting hard to keep up.

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The Marshmallow Test

In a 2013 post, Culture and Metaculture, I quoted a lengthy passage from the late Leszek Kolakowski’s Modernity on Endless Trial, in which he explains the way radical multiculturalism causes what I will call a kind of historical “stenosis”. As more cultures are added to the mix, all of which must be given equal weight, the area of “overlap” — the foundation of possible commonality in the new metaculture — becomes smaller and smaller. Because culture is heritage, the effect is that history is “tied off”, like a newborn’s umbilicus. (I’ve touched on this often, for example in my post Simple Common Sense About Diversity And Immigration.)

In Culture And Metaculture I wrote:

What remains of the high culture of the West in our new, barbarian metaculture is shrunken, withered, pecked by crows. As for the metaculture itself: what are its pillars? Where are its heroes, its mythos, its religion, its language, its great literature? Where are the commonalities that bind its people together? Gone, gone, gone.

Worse: where is its history? Not only gone, but despised. Our new “culture” has lost its sense of extension in time. Under modernity’s ascendant doctrine, the long history of the West is only a litany of sins, deserving not propagation, but repudiation. We have no legacy, no heritage, to cherish for posterity; we have pulled up our own roots. If our new American “culture” has any history worth remembering at all, it is no more than a few decades old, and consists almost entirely of the destruction of the past.

In our “brave new world”, then, we are cut off from both past and future, imprisoned in the present as no generation of people has ever been before. We have lost — jettisoned — both our rudder and our compass, and are unmoored and adrift.

In short, we have lost our sense of extension in time. Until now, every generation of every civilization saw itself as a living bridge between past and future — as heirs and beneficiaries of the productive labor of their forebears, and stewards of that treasure for children yet unborn. But now, having pulled up our roots (and salted the earth from which they sprang), we have no inheritance to cherish and preserve; that which we have not simply squandered, we have taught ourselves to despise. We have, therefore, nothing to offer our posterity, and so if we think of it at all, it is only to turn away in guilt, and to focus on what we can take for ourselves right now. If that weren’t enough, we also find ourselves in a time of exponential social and technological change. Even those of us who do seek to preserve our inheritance can hardly imagine how.

It’s often been said that civilization is, at bottom, the organization of “low time preference”: the deferral of present consumption to take advantage of the increase of the relative value of future goods. But in order for that strategy to work, one has to be confident in a stable future. When things change too rapidly, and we can no longer be sure that our efforts today stand a reasonable chance of bearing fruit in later years, it drives time preference toward the present. And that, in turn, undermines the very foundation upon which civilization is erected.

So when a civilization becomes unstable, or when the pace of change becomes too rapid, there is a cascading time-preference effect, a kind of negative-feedback loop that begins to take hold.

All of these things, then, work together: multiculturalism, through a process of historical “stenosis”, severs the past; this loss of heritage, in turn, diminishes a society’s sense of obligation to its ancestors, and stewardship for its descendants; rapid technological and social change diminishes the surety of the future. All of this drives time-preference toward the present — which manifests itself in hedonism, present consumption, loss of social cohesion (why pull together when there’s nothing to pull for?), and declining birth-rates. Finally, the foreshortening of time-preference attacks the bedrock of civilization itself, in an accelerating, destructive cycle.

It is the daunting task of the new Right to break this cycle, somehow.

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Is Wisdom Obsolete?

Our previous post argued that because the world is now changing faster than it ever has, with even the pace of change itself accelerating sharply, any conservative or reactionary ideology that seeks simply to roll back the clock is doomed to fail. What I said was that any hope for an effective New Right depended on whether it could draw for this “brave new world” a blueprint for a living, organic system, built on sufficient wisdom about the permanent features and variations of human nature as to be capable of effective adaptation to a rapidly changing environment.

In the comment-thread, our ex-pat e-pal Horace Jeffery Hodges (you should be reading his excellent blog) asked:

Wisdom is insight gained through reflection on experience, and it worked well as a guide to dealing with a future that would be similar to the past, but the future we face threatens to be radically unlike the past, so what role remains to wisdom?

It’s a stimulating question, and I am interested to hear what our readers have to say about it. I’ll get the ball rolling.

I agree with Jeffery that wisdom is insight gained through reflection on experience. I’ll say also that, like anything of value, it has to be paid for; a life composed entirely of luck and ease may be a pleasant road to travel, but without suffering (intentional suffering will do just as well as the aleatoric kind, if chance won’t steepen your path), you haven’t paid the toll.

There’s an old saw about a student and his teacher:

“Master, what is wisdom?”

“Good judgment.”

“But how do we learn good judgment?”

Bad judgment.”

But is wisdom nothing more than “a guide to a future that would be similar to the past”? It is that, of course, but I think it is much more than that; above all I think wisdom is knowledge of what it is to be human. Real wisdom, and the sort of wisdom we are going to need in these unpredictable times — when the only thing we can be sure of is explosive change — will be the ability to see what we must hold onto, and what we can let go of, in order to shape the future of human societies so as to let us live in harmony with the permanent features of our nature. Many people, for example Edmund Burke, Chesterton, and Hayek, have reminded us that our traditions condense and preserve a storehouse of knowledge and experience vaster than any mind can hold. (I’ve commented on this often myself, for example here.) But Jeffery is right; much of that experience was of a world very different from the one we will soon inhabit.

What makes this explosive transformation so unsettling is that our technology is changing faster than we are. We cannot know what this new world will be, but we are, willy-nilly, going to have to live in it. We must hope at least that we know ourselves.

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What Next?

Conservatives, and especially reactionaries, are often criticized as grumpy old geezers, yearning for a bygone world that is never coming back, and that was never, in fact, nearly as nice as they’d like to think it was.

This is a fair point. It’s only older folks who have the perspective to see what’s really changed, and what’s really been lost — and of course the world changes irreversibly, every day. Some changes, such as improvements in medical technique, or the recent proliferation of excellent breweries in America, are uncontroversially changes for the better. (Those were the only two I could come up with off the top of my head, but I admit my list is probably not exhaustive.) Others, however, really are a matter of perspective, involving complex trade-offs with long-term consequences that are still evolving. Others things are obviously much, much worse now than they used to be.

One thing is for sure, though, just as Omar the Tentmaker warned us so long ago:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Not only has the world changed irreversibly, it is going to change at an almost unimaginably faster pace in the next few decades.

Peter Diamandis of Singularity University has begun a series of posts about what’s coming up next. He lists eight powerful technologies, all of which are advancing at an exponential pace. They are:

1. Computation

2. Internet of Things (Sensors & Networks)

3. Robotics/Drones

4. Artificial Intelligence

5. 3D Printing

6. Materials Science

7. Virtual/Augmented Reality

8. Synthetic Biology

It’s easy to see that rapid advancement in any of these might have enormous social and economic effects, but they are all accelerating — and what’s more, advances in many of these fields immediately spur faster progress in the others. It’s very clear that, as much as things have changed in the last few decades, we ain’t seen nothing yet. (You can read Mr. Diamandis’s first two posts in this series here and here. I don’t know whether they will gladden or horrify you; I suppose that depends, for example, on whether the adjective “disruptive” puts you in a positive state of mind.)

Let’s face facts: the only way out of this mess is forward. (Or, as Churchill said, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going!”) So what’s the proper task of the Right, in these choppy and uncharted waters?

Here’s what it isn’t: getting behind this or that candidate in the next election. That’s like choosing which side of the barrel you’re going to sit on as you go over the Falls.

Here’s what it is, in three parts:

1) Understanding what happened. How did we get here, and why? How did the great promise of the Enlightenment, and of the Framing, bring us to this point? What can we learn from the way this experiment in popular government — which was, in 1787, a radical and previously untested inversion of the near-universal tradition of monarchy — has worked out? Looking back over the span of 230 years, what principles of government can we say were tested and failed? What principles were abandoned that we ought to have stuck to? What are the “system requirements” for such a program of ideas to run without crashing? Where were they met, and where were they not? We have faced a great many problems in the history of this experiment, and tried to solve them in many different ways. Which solutions worked? Which didn’t? Why? Finally, and these are perhaps the most important questions of all: How do we define “success”? What is the purpose of government? What is a happy society? How do we define human flourishing, especially given that different cultures and ways of living, rather than simply falling from the sky onto whatever human population happens to be passing underneath, are the specific, phenotypic expressions of particular peoples?

2) If we have managed to answer the many questions in part 1 — and while some of them have obvious answers, some are very hard — then we should see taking shape a set of general principles worthy of preservation and adaptation for the future. What can we discard? What, on the other hand, can we identify as being essential for our flourishing? Which principles were specific only to a particular time, or to a particular state of technological capacity? Which are universal enough to be adapted successfully to a world transformed by the extraordinary new powers that we are soon to possess — in particular, the power to alter the human genome?

3) Finally, we need to do our best to keep abreast of the pace of technological change, and to try to anticipate the ways in which it will change the context of human life. In particular, we will need to understand how it will distort the pressures and incentives that shape the channels in which human history flows.

Only when we have done all of this very difficult work — and it may well beyond our best efforts — can we work wisely and effectively to create a truly relevant and responsive Right, one that has any hope of restoring an organic and livable culture for our children. There is no doubt, as Peter Diamandis says, that “disruption” is ahead; my own feeling is that much of it is going to be profoundly unpleasant. But going backward is not an option; nor is trying to graft, in mechanical and simplistic ways, the vanished past onto a radically different future. “Disruption” may turn out to be an opportunity to rebuild some things of forgotten value in brand-new ways.

All of this is very grandiose, and very vague; I am really just thinking out loud (which is what blogs are so helpful for). The point I’m really trying to make here is that much of what we think of as the Right in the modern West is, for the most part, really nothing of the sort; it is either just the caboose of a fast train heading Left, or it is a kind of doomed and static nostalgia. What it is not, as far as I can tell, is a living, organic system, built on sufficient wisdom about the permanent features and variations of human nature as to be capable of effective adaptation to a rapidly changing environment. It must become this, or it will die. And much that is of incalculable value for human happiness will die with it.

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Music of the Spheres

Recently we noted a major scientific event: the detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO experiment.

The other day, the physicist and cosmologist Brian Greene visited Stephen Colbert (yes, I’m linking to Stephen Colbert) to give an explanation and demonstration of the experiment. Watch it here.

The big payoff: the actual “sound” of two black holes colliding. Wait for it!

h/t: my boy Nick.

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Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

I had occasion today to pay a visit to one of the websites on our sidebar: The Fallacy Files. It’s one-stop shopping for examples of logical fallacies; I hadn’t visited for a while, and I’m glad to see it’s still in business. Even more comprehensive than our political comment-threads, I think.

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Another Post About Physics

The results are still coming in as I write, but it seems Donald Trump has scored another crushing victory, this time in Nevada. It is becoming increasingly apparent that his campaign is, if anything, gaining momentum, and that he will likely be the one to take the field against whichever champion the Democrats put up in November. He may very well win.

From a quick survey of Twitter, it seems this is causing a good deal of concern over on the Democratic side of things. I’ve just read a lot of incredulous remarks about fascism, racism, bigotry, Hitler, how-could-such-a-thing-actually-be-happening-in-America, and so on. (As far as I can gather, the general idea seems to be that we are nothing more than a “proposition nation of immigrants”, or something like that, and so none of this makes any sense at all.)

Come on, people. This is all as lawful, and predictable, as the sunrise. Don’t they teach you anything in school anymore? Bueller? Bueller?

Pull a great and immensely heavy pendulum as far and as high as you can, as fast as you can. (Maybe you can even get some of your Republican friends to help.) Pull and pull and pull it, until your grip fails.

This is what happens next. Duh.

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Forward!

I want to thank everybody once again who emailed me in response to my previous post, and to all who commented. I had begun to have very serious doubts about whether I was really doing anything useful or helpful here, or just shouting up a drainpipe, and the many responses I received were enormously encouraging. Although I hate to single anyone out, the very first comment — a link to this essay by Albert Jay Nock — affected me deeply, and I thank the commenter (whose name refers to a strange and creepy idea known as “Roko’s Basilisk“) very much for posting it.

I do want to make some changes, though. I’ll still pound away, perhaps a little less exclusively, about political, social, and related issues. I will try to make the tone a little less polemic, though, which will mostly mean pruning some normative adjectives. (I certainly won’t shy away from, for example, pointing out that various extremely powerful parties have deep antipathies to American or Western traditions, that others are running what amounts to an international criminal syndicate masquerading as a charitable foundation, or that so-and-so is in fact a person of doubtful character, and so on — but I will try to rant a little less and explain a little more.)

I also intend to adjust the balance of topics so as to pay more attention to the things I used to write about, and new things besides. Yes, our civilization is still on a runaway train to the edge of a very nasty cliff, but the scenery is still attractive, and it is worth trying to enjoy the ride just a bit more.

The comment-policy needs improving. I realize threads can wander off-topic, though I will ask commenters to try not to; what I really need to eliminate, though, are insulting comments that do nothing to advance the discussion at hand. I am going to delete those. (I am not innocent of this myself, especially lately, and have been pretty short-tempered at times too, so I share this burden.) What I don’t want to have, on political or related threads, and will no longer allow, is mere name-calling and poo-flinging.

In order to have any productive discussion at all, however, there must be sufficient common ground. People with incommensurable axioms, or who use words to mean entirely different things, or whose disdain for the Other Side is so visceral as to make them think in purely moralistic (or as I see it, crypto-religious) terms about opposing views, simply cannot engage productively, and when I see that happening I’m going to shut it down, because it’s a waste of our time. In particular, it is a waste of my time to respond at tedious length to thousand-word comments based on a system of beliefs with which my own worldview, my own set of axioms, has little or no congruence. (An example of such incompatibility lies at the very heart of most “conservative/liberal” differences; it is, as a great many observers have explained, a difference about the malleability and the limits of human nature.) Often such comments pose — and often convincingly so to sympathetic or less-astute readers — as litanies of “facts”, but “facts” require context, and often require a great deal of unpacking before they reveal underlying assumptions, methodological vaguenesses, selection biases, and other hidden variables and liabilities. Facts are nothing without theories to connect them.

In short, if I am writing about political or social matters, I am doing so from my own viewpoint, which is, for the most part, traditionally conservative (or, perhaps more accurately, “reactionary”). I am skeptical about many things that most people, especially what I sometimes call “goodthinkful” people, hold as axioms. These include such intensely polarized topics as: so-called “social justice”; the relative values of various political systems and political enfranchisements; human biological variation; what to do about climate change; the value of tradition and traditional roles; the differences between the sexes; the value of hierarchies; and, I’m sure, many others that I don’t need to enumerate here. If the very fact that I would question any of the “progress” we have made in these areas irritates you, or strikes you as a sign of moral weakness, then you don’t belong here, and I’m going to tell you so. I will tell you also that my aim in examining all of this — even if you find it hard to believe — is simply to understand what makes for happy, harmonious, safe, fecund and prosperous societies. (Furthermore, I will add that the solution to that problem, in my opinion, varies a great deal for different human populations, and that a naive universalism about this is at the root of many of the woes of the modern world. If that irritates you, or strikes you as a sign of moral weakness, then you probably don’t belong here either, and I’m telling you so now. Stick around only if you think I might persuade you — and I ask you to be honest with yourself about that.)

That’s really all I have to say about all of this. I’ll probably excerpt some of what I’ve written above and stick it to the main page someplace.

Again I must thank all of you, as always, for reading this blog. It’s been nearly eleven years now, and this is post number four thousand forty-seven. I hope to keep at it for many years to come.

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What am I doing here?

Our commenter ‘Musey’, in response to our previous post about Special Relativity, wrote from Australia to tell me her husband Martin said I’d “explained that very well”.

Readers, if you look at my early archives you’ll see that I used to explain a lot of things in here that had nothing at all to do with political matters. I’m now so very deeply sick of writing and arguing about politics and decline — sick of picking unwinnable fights, preaching to the choir, alienating old friends, changing nobody’s mind about anything, and all the while making myself socially radioactive, that I might just go back, at least mostly, to other things.

Yes, as far as politics and society are concerned I do believe, as I explained to a commenter recently, that I see a great division widening in America; that our current course is unsustainable; that the traditional American nation, which generations fought and died for, is tottering, under continuous assault from within; that if we look to Europe we see a foreshadowing of what may well happen here; that it is hard for me to see how the deepening fissures dividing our nation can ever be bridged; that the original “operating system” installed at the nation’s founding is increasingly incompatible with the “hardware” it must run on today; that the nation is too vast and too diverse for a centralized government to manage it effectively; that there is a boiling anger in much of America that threatens to tear the nation to pieces; that human biodiversity is both real and vitally important to understanding both history and human societies, and that a great civilizational crisis will soon occur in the West, and in fact is already underway. I believe also that democracy itself has dangerous, perhaps inevitably fatal, liabilities, and that those liabilities are sharply increased by high heterogeneity and universal suffrage. I believe that the West has been committing voluntary suicide through mass Third-World immigration (particularly mass Muslim immigration, which is the fastest path to social and cultural self-extinction that any Western nation can follow.)

But I’ve said all this, by now, many times over. What has any of it accomplished? As far as I can see, absolutely nothing at all. So why bang on about it? It’s not like I don’t have other interests — and the late days of a great civilization, at least the part prior to violent collapse, can actually be rather a pleasant, crepuscular interval, for those with the means to enjoy it.

I really have to think this over.

(For examples of what this blog used to be like, you might have a look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

See also our linked series on free will, beginning here, and on the mind-body problem, beginning here. There’s lots more, but you get the idea.)

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How To Explain Special Relativity To Anyone Of Normal Intelligence In Ten Minutes

What we will explain is why, for objects moving uniformly in a straight line, time runs slower. We’ll use no mathematical symbols, and won’t even need any pictures!

OK, here goes:

Before we begin, you have to accept two facts. The first is that if you are in uniform motion, all the laws of physics appear exactly the same as if you were standing still. Think about it: if you are in a smoothly moving airplane, you can pour coffee into a cup, etc., just as if you were sitting on the runway. In short: if you are in a windowless box, unless you are accelerating, going around a curve (which is the same thing), etc., you can’t tell if you’re moving or standing still. Agreed? This is called the Principle of Relativity. The first person to point it out (that we know of) was Galileo.

The second fact is that the speed of light through space is constant, for all observers. This is just a curious fact of the world, but it’s been shown to be true. If I’m standing still, and a beam of light whizzes past me, and you take off after it at a million miles an hour, we are still both going to measure the speed of the receding beam at about 186,282 miles per second — a value known as c. I won’t belabor this part — but, for example, if the speed of light weren’t constant, then light coming toward Earth from a faraway planet when it’s moving toward us in its orbit would travel toward us faster than light shining from the planet when it’s moving away, and we’d see everything all out of sync. For that not to be true, there’d have to be some medium (like air for sound waves) that held the velocity constant. But we know there isn’t, thanks to the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887. Everybody, no matter how they are moving, always sees light moving at the same speed. That’s just the way it is.

The rest is really easy.

Imagine a special kind of clock. It consists of a mirror on the floor, a mirror on the ceiling, and a pulse of light that bounces endlessly back and forth between them. Call the time this takes one “tick”. Because the speed of light is constant, the length of the ticks are always exactly the same.

Now imagine mounting one of these in a railway car. Let’s also put a very accurate conventional clock on the wall of the car. They should run nicely in sync, because, after all, they are both very accurate clocks.

Now set the train in motion, whizzing by as you stand on the platform. (We’ll give the railway car a glass wall, so we can see in.) The train runs very smoothly and steadily. Inside the train is an observer (let’s call him Al) with his back to the window. The train runs so smoothly, he can’t even tell for sure if he’s moving at all.

For Al, each tick of the clock takes a constant time, which is the height of the car (i.e., the distance between the mirrors), divided by the speed of light.

But things are different for you, standing on the platform, watching the train go by. By the time the light travels the height of the car, the bottom mirror has moved down the track a little way (along with the rest of the train). And by the time it bounces back to the ceiling, the train has moved the same distance, again. This means that, as far as you are concerned, the light didn’t go straight up and down, but made a sort of zigzag down the track, which is a longer path. (To be specific, the length of each bounce is the hypotenuse of a right triangle that has the height of the car as one leg, and the distance traveled by the train as the other.)

Are we clear about this so far? Can you picture it?

What this means, then — because as far as you can see, the distance traveled by the light is longer on the moving train, and because the speed of light is always constant — is that each tick of the clock, as seen by you on the platform, takes longer than it does as seen by Al on the train. (Remember that Al doesn’t even know if he’s really moving or not, and so for him the light just seems to be bouncing straight up and down.) And if you think that this is just some jiggery-pokery involving weird light-clocks designed just to give this effect, remember that if the light-clock were to get out of sync with the wall clock, Al would notice, and would therefore be able to tell he was moving! But we already know he can’t possibly be able to tell in any way whether he’s moving or not, thanks to the Principle of Relativity.

So there it is: since time is what clocks measure, and since clocks tick slower on a moving train, then time runs slower on a moving train! Simple, right?

If you want to figure out just how much slower, it’s easy; it’s all just a bunch of right triangles, and a little algebra. You can do it. (Maybe I’ll do it for you in another post, but it’s really not hard at all.)

Last thing: that train gets shorter, too. If you want to understand that, just turn the clock so it’s lined up lengthwise down the train. I’ll leave that one to you.

So: want to have some fun? Teach a little kid how Special Relativity works. You’ll both feel great.

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Thomas Sowell Endorses Ted Cruz

His column begins:

Amid the petty bickering, loud rhetoric and sordid attack ads in this year’s primary election campaigns, the death of a giant — Justice Antonin Scalia — suddenly overshadows all of that.

The vacancy created on the Supreme Court makes painfully clear the huge stakes involved when we choose a President of the United States, just one of whose many powers is the power to nominate justices of the Supreme Court.

Read the rest here.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

Time to look away, for a moment, from the gloomy downhill parade of current events. Instead, here’s a look at one of the most difficult systems of Chinese martial arts, as performed by Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung. (The quality of the video is poor, but the quality of the kung fu is exquisite.)

I have to say — it’s a little difficult for me to watch this five weeks after knee replacement!

P.S. This site is a rich source of vintage videos, particularly of master performances of the system I’ve studied for 40 years, Hung Ga (a.k.a. Hung Gar, Hung Kuen, Hung Kyun). Here, for example, is our long-staff form, as performed by Wu Waan Fei in 1949.

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On The Confirmation Of Justices

Jonah Goldberg (with whom I agree about some things and not about others, as I do with pretty much everyone else on whatever we might very broadly call “the Right”) has posted some thoughtful remarks about the death of Antonin Scalia. You can read them here.

This in particular stood out:

The division of blame for the ugliness of these fights is not equal. Yes, there’s hypocrisy on all sides of the aisle as the tables spin around and around. But philosophically this is a world liberals created. They have invested in the courts’ having power the Framers never intended. Their doctrine of the living Constitution has given, in theory, an open-ended warrant for courts to do whatever they want. People lament the rush of money into politics, but that money is made necessary by a government that has evermore control over the economy and peoples’ lives. Similarly, when we turned justices into monarchs, we increased the incentives for people to care much more than they should. If Scalia’s interpretation of the Constitution held sway in the land, the Court and the government would have much less power over our lives. And that, more than anything else, explains why the Left hated him so much.

In his post Mr. Goldberg mentions Chuck Schumer’s July 2007 call (that is, 18 months before the next president would be due to take office) for the Senate to refuse to confirm any of George W. Bush’s remaining judicial nominees. Mr. Schumer had this to say (video here):

… I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court except in extraordinary circumstances. They must prove by actions not words that they are in the mainstream rather than we have to prove that they are not…

This is just a prologue considering the constitutional harm and dramatic departures that are in store if those few are joined by one more ideological ally. We have to, in my judgment, stick by the precepts that I’ve elaborated. I will do everything in my power to prevent one more ideological ally from joining Roberts and Alito on the court.

Here’s Barack Obama in 2006, as he prepared to join, for purely ideological reasons, a filibuster against the confirmation of Samuel Alito:

As we all know, there’s been a lot of discussion in the country about how the Senate should approach this confirmation process. There are some who believe that the President, having won the election, should have the complete authority to appoint his nominee, and the Senate should only examine whether or not the Justice is intellectually capable and an all-around nice guy. That once you get beyond intellect and personal character, there should be no further question whether the judge should be confirmed.

I disagree with this view. I believe firmly that the Constitution calls for the Senate to advise and consent. I believe that it calls for meaningful advice and consent that includes an examination of a judge’s philosophy, ideology, and record. And when I examine the philosophy, ideology, and record of Samuel Alito, I’m deeply troubled. I have no doubt that Judge Alito has the training and qualifications necessary to serve. He’s an intelligent man and an accomplished jurist. And there’s no indication he’s not a man of great character. But when you look at his record – when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American’s individual rights.

Remember, also, the vile campaign the Left waged against Robert Bork, one of the most extravagantly qualified SCOTUS nominees ever to sit for confirmation.

So please let’s not hear any more tendentious claptrap about constitutional “responsibilities” or “obligations” to consider lame-duck appointments at a time of ideological war. The old norms have fallen away completely now in America — as anyone who watched the passage of Obamacare ought to know — and all that’s left is the struggle for power, and a mortal contest between competing visions of the American nation, and of civilization itself.

Well fine, then. Bring it.

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The Rump Court

What does Antonin Scalia’s death mean for the action of the Court? In the broadest terms, there are four scenarios; three of which are unaffected, at least in purely numerical terms:

The Supreme Court reviews lower-court decisions. Let us call decisions that would be upheld by conservative justices (Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and, generally speaking, Roberts) ‘R’ decisions, and those that would be upheld by liberal justices (Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg) ‘L’ decisions. The swing vote is, as always, Anthony Kennedy (who in recent years has been, de facto, his own branch of government).

— For an ‘R’ lower-court decision in which Kennedy joins the liberal bloc, the ruling will be reversed. This outcome is unchanged by Justice Scalia’s death; the ruling will simply be reversed now by a larger margin.

— For an ‘L’ decision where Kennedy joins the liberal justices, the lower-court decision will stand. This is also unchanged by Mr. Scalia’s death.

— For an ‘R’ decision where Kennedy joins the conservative justices, a ruling that would have been upheld will be left unchanged, because lower-court rulings cannot be overturned by an evenly divided Court. Again, this outcome is the same as it would have been were Justice Scalia still alive.

— For an ‘L’ decision where Kennedy joins the conservatives, however, a ruling that would have been reversed will be allowed to stand. I am not sure, offhand, how many pending cases this is likely to apply to, but it’s going to be painful to watch it happen.

None of this takes into account, of course, Justice Scalia’s ability to persuade his fellow justices, in particular Mr. Kennedy.

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Antonin Scalia, 1936-2016

It was with the profoundest shock and sorrow that I learned, early this evening, of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

This is devastating news. I was an enormous admirer of this great jurist — not only as an irreplaceable defender of the Constitution, but as writer, a philosopher, a scholar, a humorist, a raconteur, and a patriot. His opinions stood out, always, for their clarity, scholarship, wit, and rigor — but also, without fail, for their unshakable fidelity to the Constitution, to the wisdom of the Framers, and to the principles upon which this extraordinary nation was founded. His opinions — perhaps, most of all, his withering dissents — will be an immortal contribution to the literature of jurisprudence.

This is also a political shock of the first magnitude. With the nation deeply, perhaps fatally, riven along widening and perhaps unbridgeable fissures, and a presidential election underway, what will happen now? The Republicans, such as they are, control the Senate; there are major cases on the SCOTUS docket; the Court (and the Constitution) has now lost its most reliable and articulate conservative champion. How will this all play out in the coming months? Already the battle lines are forming; would that there were a stouter heart than Mitch McConnell leading the Senate majority.

An old saying: “The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.” Cold comfort to the living; this is a shattering blow. There is rough water ahead, and perilous times.

Thank you, Justice Scalia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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It Was A Bright Cold Day In April

Here’s your frisson du jour.

Service Notice

I’ve been using the hosting service Bluehost for eleven years now, and until recently I’ve been thrilled with their service, and have recommended them often to other bloggers. Lately, though, they’ve been scaling up, and downtime’s increased. Worse, their tech support, which used to be prompt and helpful, has been all but unreachable lately.

We’ve just had another outage today. If you were trying to pay us a visit, I apologize. I might have to start shopping around.

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New Wave

It’s a big day in physics: researchers using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have confirmed the existence and propagation of ripples in spacetime caused by the movement of massive objects.

The observation of such waves is a posthumous triumph for Albert Einstein, who first predicted their existence a century ago this year. While I’m sure he would have been happy, I doubt he’d have been surprised. In 1919, Arthur Eddington’s observations of a solar eclipse confirmed Einstein’s prediction of the warping of spacetime by large masses (in this case, the Sun). When a report of this reached Einstein, he received the news without much excitement, saying he knew that he had to be right. A graduate student, Ilse Schneider, asked what his reaction would have been had the experiment violated his prediction. He replied, “Then I would have been sorry for the dear Lord; the theory is correct.”

Also worth noting here is that the LIGO apparatus, which very sensitively compared the length of two perpendicular axes to detect expansions and contractions, is almost perfectly analogous to the famous (and shocking!) Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887, which also used perpendicular-axis interferometry to refute the idea of the “luminiferous aether”, which until then was assumed by nearly all physical scientists to be a rarefied medium, filling all of space, that acted as a substrate for the propagation of light waves. Despite an all-but unanimous consensus, the MM experiment showed the science not to be “settled” at all, and threw theorists into a bit of a panic. Into this breach stepped the young genius Einstein, who, in 1905 (his annus mirabilis), began a new era of physics with his paper On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, which introduced the idea that came to be known as “Special Relativity”. (It took Einstein another 11 years of difficult work to generalize the theory to include gravitation.)

Learn more about today’s historic result here.

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Today’s Assignment

With the presidential campaign now at cruising speed, I thought it might be helpful to offer some readings and reflections on the nature of democracy itself: what it really is, what it isn’t, and how it really works.

Really, if you want to understand this contraption, what you ought to read is a book that I’ve mentioned in these pages before: Popular Government, by Sir Henry Sumner Maine. (You can read it free of charge here, thanks to Google.) But for today we’ll have something at least slightly briefer.

What is democracy? It is a form of government, and nothing more. Given that sovereignty is conserved, and always rests somewhere (though not always, or perhaps even usually, where it is thought to repose), we are always subjects to some sovereign or other; democracy, in theory at least, then becomes nothing more than a kind of inverted monarchy. The courtiers still grovel and flatter, and we, who imagine ourselves sovereign, flatter ourselves in turn that our infinitesimal slivers of power — what Bishop Berkeley, in another context, called the “ghosts of departed quantities” — confer upon us something august, and even more imaginatively, something real.

Curiously, despite the obvious liabilities of universal suffrage, most of us seem somehow to imagine also that every expansion of the franchise somehow improves our position, or at least does not diminish it. Perhaps this reveals a subliminal, and sophisticated, understanding of the irreducible teensiness of infinitesimals, though I rather doubt it. More likely, I suppose, it simply reflects a “good feeling” about democracy — as if it were in fact more important to be able to choose who governs than actually to be governed well — or perhaps it expresses what Mencken called “a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

Anyway, what I have for you today is an old piece by the pseudonymous Mencius Moldbug, on what, for the sake of discussion, he calls ‘cis-‘ versus ‘trans-‘ democracy: in other words, the various settings of the suffrage-knob ranging from ‘one’ to ‘all’, and on where actual power goes as the knob is turned. Along the way we’ll meet Senator Benjamin Hill, Deng Xiaoping, Lawrence Tribe (be sure to read his letter), Eugene Volokh, and yes, Sir Henry Maine. Astute readers will also note, in the final paragraphs, yet another summary of Auster’s First Law.

The essay is here. Take your time, and read it all.

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Sherp

I. Want. This.

Not So Fast

Here’s a heartening item:

Supreme Court freezes Obama plan to limit carbon emissions

We read:

The court granted a stay request from more than two dozen states, utilities and coal miners who said the Environmental Protection Agency was overstepping its powers…

The stay means that questions about the legality of the program will remain after Obama leaves office. An appeals court is not scheduled to hear the case until June, and the Supreme Court’s order said the stay would remain in effect while the losing side petitions the Supreme Court for an ultimate decision.

As is its custom in stay requests, the court did not give a reason for its action. The court’s four liberal justices objected to the decision, but they did not give an explanation.

Once again, everything teeters on the balance of the Court. For now.

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Toxoprogmosis

About three years ago I wrote a brief item about Toxoplasma gondii, which is a cat-borne parasite that causes behavioral aberrations in mice — and appears to do the same in humans too. The article I originally linked to is here, and today I’ll add a link to another article, here.

At the time, however, I overlooked a related item, to wit, a 2013 article in Psychology Today explaining that liberals are much fonder of cats than conservatives are.

The effect of T. gondii is to make prey species less wary of predators. Draw your own conclusions.

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Res Ipsa Schmipsa

“Evidence is fact that discriminates between one theory and another. Facts do not “speak for themselves.” They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.”

— Thomas Sowell, A Conflict Of Visions

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Yeah, Yeah

The other day our President, Barack Hussein Obama, took time out of his busy schedule to visit a Baltimore mosque. There he delivered an obsequious panegyric about the glorious role of Islam in America’s history. (If there is a major, or even mid-tier, religion that has in fact played a lesser role in America’s founding, history and rise to greatness, I’m hard-pressed to think of one; if you leave out the prominent role of Muslims in capturing slaves in Africa, then the salient appearances of Islam on the American stage have only been our difficulties with the Barbary pirates in the early 1800s, and the terror attacks of the past few decades. From the Mayflower to the Revolution, from the Framing to the Westward Expansion to the Great War to the Sixties and beyond, you will scour the annals of American history in vain for a notable Muslim patriot.) Mr. Obama also made sure, as usual, to castigate the rest of us for our egregious abuse of Muslims, and for thinking that the noble religion of Islam might be anything other than a great beacon of peace, casting a lambent aura of love upon all the world.

I’d comment at length, but I haven’t the oomph tonight. Others have, though. See, for example, here, here, here, and here.

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Gone Away, Is The Bluebird

Snow in Wellfleet today. The view out our front door this afternoon:

 

Skinless And Boneless

I’ve just read the testimony that Border Patrol agent Brandon Judd gave to the House Judiciary committee today.

Some longish excerpts:

In the late 1990s as a young Border Patrol Agent, I witnessed first-hand how adept these criminal cartels were at exploiting our policies. While I was working in the Buttercup Dunes in the remote California desert, smugglers would drive their products across the United States/Mexico International Boundary, easily making it to Interstate 8 just a few hundred yards away. In almost all cases the smugglers would drive west towards El Centro, California. If we attempted to stop the vehicle, the smugglers would drive across the median and continue west in the eastbound lanes and into oncoming traffic. At night it was worse, the smugglers would turn their headlights off as they drove into the oncoming traffic. The moment they crossed the median and began driving into oncoming traffic, we had to immediately terminate our pursuit.

The policy was that it was better for narcotics and illegal immigrants to enter the United States without apprehension than to put the general public at risk of vehicle accidents. Whether you believe this policy was sound or not, it was a policy that was exploited by the cartels. It took years for the Border Patrol to install vehicle barriers in this area and stop these drive throughs from taking place. During that time the cartel more or less operated with impunity…

Another example was the 500 pound marijuana smuggling threshold the U.S. Attorney’s office imposed on the Border Patrol in the mid-2000s. Due to prosecutorial discretion, Border Patrol Agents were not allowed to refer for prosecution anyone who smuggled or attempted to smuggle less than 500 pounds of marijuana into the country. Not surprisingly we started making quite a few 480 pound seizures.

Today our largest trouble area is in Texas. Criminal cartels are once again proving adept at understanding and working around our policies. Late in the year of 2013 and throughout all of 2014, anunprecedented number of unaccompanied minors entered our country illegally through the Rio Grande Valley Sector of operations. Instead of presenting themselves legally at Ports of Entry and asking for asylum, the unaccompanied minors were forced by the cartels to enter illegally at dangerous points along the border. In most cases, these minors were not trying to escape or evade apprehension, they were simply crossing the border illegally and giving themselves up.

The cartels understood that the unaccompanied minors would force the Border Patrol to deploy Agents to these crossing areas in order to take the minors into custody. I want to stress this point because it has been completely overlooked by the press. The unaccompanied minors could have walked right up to the Port of Entry and asked for asylum. Why did the cartels drive them to the middle of the desert and then have them cross over the Rio Grande only to surrender to the first Border Patrol Agent they came across? The reason is that it completely tied up our manpower and allowed the cartels to smuggle whatever they wanted across our border.

The creating of holes in Border Patrol operations was only one benefit to the cartels by the unaccompanied minor surge. The other was the exploration of our “catch and release” policy. As this surge became too much to handle, the Border Patrol and the Enforcement and Removal Office began releasing nearly everyone we arrested. I believe this release allowed the cartels to increase their smuggling profits. With catch and release, the cartels could credibly say to potential customers that they would be able to remain in the United States without fear of deportation as long as they asked for asylum upon being apprehended. Although the problem began with unaccompanied minors, as word quickly spread of everyone being released, we started to see more crossings of complete family units, leading to a bigger problem than what we had in 2014. And once again we are playing catchup to a problem that in part we created through policy.

All individuals that were released during this period of time were given an official document that ordered them to appear before an immigration judge at some future date. These orders are called Notices to Appear (NTA). The only problem, however, is that these official orders are usually ignored; so much so that Border Patrol Agents have dubbed them Notices to Disappear. The latest data that I have seen shows that approximately 40 percent of the individuals being issued NTAs do not show up.

The willful failure to show up for court appearances by persons that were arrested and released by the Border Patrol has become an extreme embarrassment for the Department of Homeland Security. It has been so embarrassing that DHS and the U.S. Attorney’s office has come up with a new policy. Simply put, the policy makes mandatory the release, without an NTA, of any person arrested by the Border Patrol for being in the country illegally, as long as they do not have a previous felony arrest conviction and as long as they claim to have been continuously in the United States since January of 2014. The operative word in this policy is “claim.” The policy does not require the person to prove they have been here which is the same burden placed on them during deportation proceedings. Instead, it simply requires them to claim to have been here since January of 2014.

Not only do we release these individuals that by law are subject to removal proceedings, we do it without any means of tracking their whereabouts. Agents believe this exploitable policy was set in place because DHS was embarrassed at the sheer number of those who choose not to follow the law by showing up for their court appearances. In essence, we pull these persons out of the shadows and into the light just to release them right back to those same shadows from whence they came…

Immigration laws today appear to be mere suggestions. There are little or no consequences for breaking the laws and that fact is well known in other countries. If government agencies like DHS or CBP are allowed to bypass Congress by legislating through policy, we might as well abolish our immigration laws altogether.

Once again, you saps fellow citizens, the word is “anarcho-tyranny”. Are you getting angry yet?

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Bob Elliott, 1923-2016

Bob Elliott, the surviving member of the great comedy duo Bob & Ray, has died. He was 92.

Nobody much younger than I am will even know who these people were. It’s the curse of the old that only they know, as the great mill of history grinds the past into dust, what has been lost. And if you don’t know, why would you care?

You can enjoy some Bob & Ray here.

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Duck Song

Among the most entertaining accounts on Twitter over the past year or so has been the reactionary heckler known to his audience as “The Duck” (@jokeocracy). With Twitter apparently getting ready to crack down on dissident-right accounts, the Duck decided to go out in blazing style, and spent a recent Sunday trolling mainstream, in particular “conservative”, journalists.

As expected, the Duck’s account was permanently suspended by the Twitter management when they showed up for work the next morning, and his oeuvre is no longer visible. But the flight-path of his kamikaze mission was recorded, and preserved for posterity, here.

The Duck gave a post-mortem interview with Radix Journal, which you can read here. I’ll excerpt one brief snippet, about the rise of Donald Trump (who has much support around the reactosphere, and is what is known in those circles as a “shitlord”):

[Interviewer]: In your opinion, how has the rise of Donald Trump galvanized what has come to be known as the “alt-right” on Twitter?

D: Trump recognized that the white working class had no voice in today’s American politics, and he’s become a rallying point for everyone who feels that the establishment needs to be torn down. His specific beliefs and policies are for the most part unimportant, he serves as a Schelling point for a deep anti-establishment feeling that has grown strong in the absence of any other permitted outlets to vent that emotion.

Yes, of course that’s it exactly.

At best, the situation in America today is like a computer that’s been left on for far too long, running thousands of buggy and leaky processes, with its firewall down and its anti-virus software disabled. At the very least, it must have a reboot, or it will soon crash. More likely, however, is that the national “hardware” no longer meets the system requirements of the original OS, as I explained here.

Meanwhile, if you feel the effects of your last red pill wearing off, and need to grab another fistful pronto, I’ll direct you as always to Nick Steves’ This Week In Reaction for a heapin’ helpin’.

P.S: A chain of links in Nick Steves’ digest led me back to this NRO piece from last spring. It’s as horrifying now as it was then.

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How’s The Water, Frogs?

From CNN:

The Department of Homeland Security said Monday that the acting administrator for the Transportation Security Administration would be reassigned, following a report that airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover team conducted at dozens of airports.

According to a report based on an internal investigation, “red teams” with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General were able to get banned items through the screening process in 67 out of 70 tests it conducted across the nation.

Meanwhile, we ordinary chumps citizens are delayed, herded, groped, humiliated, and blasted with radiation for, as we see above, purely theatrical purposes.

The word is ‘anarcho-tyranny’, in case you need reminding. Have you had enough yet?

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Misc.

Sorry — the little grey cells are resting tonight, so all I have is a few small items.

‣   The State Department recently announced that it would not be releasing some of the emails taken from the private, unsecured server Hillary Clinton kept in her bathroom in Chappaqua, because they are too secret.

Former Federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy comments here:

The reasoning behind that conclusion is alarming. It is not just that the intelligence community (IC) understandably wishes to keep top secret national-defense information under wraps. Because of how recklessly Clinton and her top aides handled classified information, the IC must operate under the assumption that there are copies of these 22 emails floating around – whether in the possession of current or former government officials but unaccounted for or, worse, in the possession of, say, foreign governments that managed to hack into Clinton’s unsecured private system. If the State Department were to release publicly even redacted copies of the emails, those who may have complete copies will be able to figure out the SAP information and use that knowledge both to compromise government sources and programs, and in analyzing other U.S. government information to which they’ve gained access.

In other words, it is potentially catastrophic.

Not to worry, Mrs. Clinton. We have it on good authority (well, actually we heard from one of our commenters) that there’s nothing amiss here.

‣   Meanwhile, an item at VDare reminds the GOP that its dream of burnishing the brand with Hispanic voters is a fool’s errand, and that Mexicans are not Cubans or Puerto Ricans.

‣   Here’s why we need to colonize outer space, and soon.

‣   This is cute.

‣   Stern words from Solzhenitzyn.

‣   Probably the top story of the day, however, is this weird fish.

Update, a few hours later: should also have included this.

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Plug

Readers will be aware that I’m recovering, slowly, from having my left knee replaced. (It’ll be three weeks tomorrow since the surgery.) The operation was actually a redo of the original job, last March, which turned out to have been botched.

Total knee replacement is major surgery — it inflicts a grievous wound, and the recovery is slow and painful. For several weeks the patient must take strong medications for pain. That makes it hard to concentrate without fatigue, and, for me at least, it made reading and writing productively all but impossible.

To pass the time, then, I found myself listening to the radio a lot. And the best thing about that, both this time around and last, has been listening to John Batchelor in the evenings. If you’ve never heard his show, I recommend it to you all; it’s on the air for four hours, six days a week, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Batchelor is something of a political conservative, but that’s not the attraction here: he is a cultured man of high intelligence, with a roving curiosity that seems to touch upon, if you listen long enough, just about every topic imaginable. (This isn’t to say he doesn’t have particular interests, though: he does, and they are history, global politics, strategic security, and space exploration.) He is joined every night by erudite guests, and the conversation is always entertaining and informative. It’s real, old-fashioned, grown-up stuff, and you should tune in sometime. You can hear him during broadcast hours by going to the WABC-AM website and catching the live stream, or download podcasts from his own site.

I’m grateful to John Batchelor for easing many weary and uncomfortable evenings. If there’s a bright side to knee arthroplasty, this is it.

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Confess!

We’ve written often (for example, here) about the unbroken ideological and doctrinal thread connecting the Puritanism of the Massachusetts Bay Colony with the modern, secular religion of the Left. The “mission into the wilderness” continues unabated, its outward forms unaltered. All that changes is the temporal object of the mission: the MacGuffin varies from picture to picture, but the plot, and the acting, is always the same. The sin, the atonement, the soteriology are all still there, perfectly intact; why, one hardly even misses God.

Here’s a very good piece, by John McWhorter, on “anti-racism” as an expression of this religious impulse.

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Circling The Drain

I meant to comment on this when it happened a few days ago:

Rome’s nude statues covered up ahead of Rouhani visit

In further concession to Iranian president, official dinner with Italian PM does not include wine on the menu

What a craven, flabby, neutered thing our civilization has become. This is what ACID syndrome does to its victims: it sickens and enervates them with doubt; it destroys and disables their confidence, potency, and virility; it paralyzes them in the face of peril; it turns their bones and sinews to jelly.

In contrast: Winston Churchill, who was to host a dinner attended by ibn Saud, was told by the Arabian king that those attending must not drink or smoke in his presence. His response?

I said that if it was his religion that made him say such things, my religion prescribed as an absolute sacred ritual smoking cigars and drinking alcohol before, after and if need be during, all meals and the intervals between them. Complete surrender.

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What Say You, Tea Leaves?

It’s been almost a year — it was February 28th, 2015 — since I predicted that Hillary Clinton would not be the Democratic nominee. (Readers can find the historic vaticination — upon which I immediately staked a bottle of whisky in a wager with our commenter ‘The One Eyed Man’ — in the comment-thread here.) Among the reasons I gave, which of course hardly scratch the surface: too old, too sick, too unprincipled, too incompetent, too dishonest, too nasty, too much baggage.

How’s it looking? About as I expected it would. Some of you may be old enough to remember the old Clairol slogan: “the closer she gets, the better she looks”; I expected that this would be precisely the opposite of what would happen with Mrs. Clinton, and I have not been disappointed. Everywhere you look her support seems to be declining; at this rate, were she to stay in the race, the only votes she’d end up getting come Election Day would be Bill, Chelsea, George Stephanapolous, our monocular commenter, and perhaps Chelsea’s father, Webb Hubbell. (Why, just now I read an Op-Ed piece by Charles Blow over at the New York Times; even the comment-section there is overwhelmingly unsupportive, if not downright antagonistic, toward the former First Basilisk. And if you’ve lost Charles Blow’s commentariat, well…)

It’s obvious that this email business is pretty serious; Mrs. Clinton had things on her private server that should only have been viewable in a SCIF — a secure facility to which access is only granted on a strict case-by-case, need-to-know, eyes-only basis. The material in question is of the most sensitive sort, with a security classification above Top Secret — the kind of stuff that, if leaked, puts human lives at risk. (We can rest assured that as a result of its having been hosted in the Clinton’s bathroom, it is now read at leisure in Beijing, Moscow, Pyongyang, and God-knows-where else.) The FBI has been investigating, but of course the FBI cannot bring an indictment; that duty rests with the Department of Justice — i.e., Loretta Lynch, and ultimately Barack Obama.

So what’s going to happen? The chattering classes have been predicting all sorts of things. Out of this welter of opinions, what has coalesced in my own mind as the most persuasive analysis, and the most likely sequence of events, includes these key points:

1) This thing will not go away. The security breach is too egregious, and the penalties for any ordinary person so severe, that even Hillary Clinton will not be able to walk away from it.

2) Barack Obama controls the DOJ, but even for a man with as little regard for the rule of law as he has, there’s too much pressure building for him just to switch the whole thing off, even if he wanted to. And are we sure he wants to? Because, after all…

3) …the Clintons and the Obamas hate each other. Any leniency that Mr. Obama might show Mrs. Clinton depends exclusively on the following:

      a) His concern for his own legacy, and for the future course of the Democratic Party. Given that Mrs. Clinton will likely yank the party back toward the center relative to where Mr. Obama would like it to go, and given also that Mrs. Clinton is hardly a person of natural political talent, or of charismatic personal charm, it’s hard to believe that Mr. Obama is thrilled to see her as his heir;

      b) His concern for any dirt that the Clintons may have on him. I will not speculate here about what that may be, but we can be sure that if Mr. Obama spurns and discards Mrs. Clinton, then the Clinton machine will bring its guns to bear, and that is not nothing.

4) My own impression is that Mr. Obama has the advantage as regards item 3). This opinion is reinforced by the asymmetrical toadying we’ve been seeing lately; it seems that Mrs. Clinton has been going out of her way to praise and bend the knee to the incumbent in recent weeks. We would not see this sharp uptick in ass-kissing if something were not afoot.

5) My feeling, then, is that Mr. Obama is turning away from Mrs. Clinton, and will turn loose the DOJ when the moment is right.

6) When will the moment be right? When she’s down, of course; he will want her prospects to slip as much as possible before siccing the dogs on her. So if she does poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, then expect it sooner; if she does better than she seems likely to in those contests, then expect more damaging FBI leaks for a little while longer.

7) Does this mean that Mr. Obama now supports Bernie Sanders? No. In fact Mr. Sanders was summoned to the White House just the other day, and I bet he was told as much. Bernie Sanders is too kooky, too untethered from reality, too flighty to be a steady hand on the tiller once Mr. Obama leaves office. No, what this White House wants is someone more tractable, more middle-of-the-road, more biddable. And who is that?

8) Why, Joe Biden, of course. I predict that Mr. Biden is going to get back into this race, and soon — probably right after bad showings by Mrs. Clinton in Iowa and NH, if things go as I expect they will. And there is someone sitting in the wings, someone who checks a lot of desirable Democratic boxes, who would make a perfect running-mate — someone who has been very strangely quiet these past few months: Elizabeth Warren. At this point in this crazy political season, I think an Uncle-Choo-Choo/Fauxcahontas ticket could really have legs for the D’s, and I bet a lot of other people think so too.

Now none of this is particularly original; it’s just a distillation of my own thoughts and of what a lot of other political observers have been suggesting. But it’s what makes the most sense to me at this point, so I thought I’d write it all down.

Peter, no hurry here of course, as there are months to go yet, but I think I’d like a Highland Park 15. Nectar o’ the gods.

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