Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hitch and Mother Teresa

A thought-experiment: Imagine that God and Heaven and Hell all exist. (some of you already believe all of that, I know.)

Imagine that Christopher Hitchens -- "Hitch" to many of his friends and admirers -- went to Heaven when he died. Hitch is surprised that Heaven exists, and surprised again that he's being let in. "You guys are good sports," he says to Saint Peter. (Hitch says this because he was an atheist and extremely critical of religion. The subtitle of one of his books is "How Religion Poisons Everything.") Saint Peter smiles, holding open the gate, and corrects Hitch: "Not 'us guys.' just one guys decides who's in. Just the Big Guy."

Hitch is so overcome with emotion that when he tries to speak he cannot. Saint Peter smiles and nods. It's pretty clear to see what Hitch is thinking and feeling. To Hitch's unspoken but obviously-visible statement, Peter replies, "Yeah, you're gonna like the Big Guy. Everybody does."

With the gate closed behind him, Hitch walk on in over the floor of clouds, spotting Jimi Hendrix, and Jean-Paul Sarte -- and there's Abraham Lincoln! And Lincoln recognizes him, and waves! Hitch is very surprised and flattered that Lincoln would take any notice of him --

-- and then he see Mother Teresa and gets very upset.

The reason this is funny, as some of you know, is that Hitch was severely critical of Mother Teresa, portraying not as an angel of mercy but as a sadistic monster who thrived on the suffering of others and did much less to alleviate that suffering than she is widely believed to have done, and much less than anyone in her position could easily have done.

And the reason I wrote out this little thought experiment is that for a very long time I assumed that Hitch's portrait of Mother Teresa (see his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, published in 1995) was accurate. (Yes, the book's title is a bit egregiously nasty. Well, nasty is a subjective call.) Just very recently, though, it occurred to me that my negative image of Mother Teresa relied entirely on Hitch's say-so, and I reflected that I had been taking the word of the same man who flatly stated that religious poisons everything, which I find to be an utterly absurd oversimplification of the actions of billions of people over the course of tens of thousands of years or more, actions which I cannot characterize as 100% poisonous; and that Hitch is also the same man, and for all I know the only person on Earth, who supported both W's invasion of Iraq in 2002 and Ralph Nader's campaign for the Presidency in 2004; and that he, like most or all of the other leading New Atheists, made many statements about Islam which I find to be beyond the pale -- in short, it occurred to me just very recently that for decades I had been taking the word of a man about Mother Teresa, a man whose word I generally didn't take about most things. We both believe that God was invented by mankind and not that mankind was created by God, but -- now that it occurs to me that he has been the sole authority for my picture of Mother Teresa, so that I wonder whether that picture is accurate -- I can't think of anything else on which we agree.

Well, there's the so-called Hitch's Razor: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." But it's not as if I hadn't already figured that out. Okay, if I tried hard I might find a dozen things upon which Hitch and I agree. But without trying hard at all I can find many more than a dozen things he wrote or said which I find to be perfectly absurd.

And so I find myself compelled to wonder: is there anything at all to Hitch's version of Mother Teresa's care for the poor and sick, which seems like it was a terrible misfortune for those poor and sick people? (He also described Bill Clinton as a monster. Add that to the list of his opinions I find to be absurd.)

I know there are many of you who assume that Mother Teresa was a monster, as I did until -- well, until just a few days ago, actually. Maybe she was. I don't actually know. But for those of you who assume so, I have only one question -- do you have any evidence for this view other than what Hitch said and wrote?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Someone Suggested That We "Ban The Cross"

The more I think about that rallying cry, "Let's ban the cross!" the more aggravated I get.

Unless the dude was just satirizing things like "Let's ban burkas," in which case, good one, he got me! Or if he means that crucifixion should be banned. I'm down with that, because crucifixion is a particularly cruel method of execution. But I don't think that's what he means.

I'm afraid this guy really meant it, but what exactly does he have in mind -- confiscating things, smashing them up because they don't coincide with his world view? I'm assuming that this, unfortunately, isn't a joke. New Atheists, not all of them, but a few of the more excitable ones, do say things like this now and then. When the Taliban or ISIS actually do things like that, they're first in line to denounce it, but they rarely if ever seem to see how much their words have in common with some of the deeds they denounce.

And they're also first in line, whenever Islamist extremist make headlines, to demand things like "banning Islam," which of course is about as stupid as trying to "ban the cross."

Are we talking about crosses on government property, or everywhere? I assume the crosses on rosaries would be included -- how many millions of those crosses are there? Plus all the non-rosary crucifixes on necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc.

does this maniac want to destroy only 3-D crosses, or is he also going after depictions of crosses in paintings, and in books about art which have reproductions of those paintings?

I can't imagine that this guy has thought this through.

It's clear that I'm against the suggestion of banning the cross, right? I think it's a completely cuckoo-bananas idea. And even most New Atheists, I believe, would not go along with it.

Well -- maybe most of them would. It's not as if they ever do anything practical or meaningful, in their capacities as New Atheists.

There are pictures of crosses on this blog, does this bozo want to come after my blog? You know what, there's a picture of a cross in one of his online avatars as well. I wonder whether he'd make an exception for satirical and/or obscene or scatological anti-religious pictures. If not, he'd not only have to destroy his own avatar somehow, he'd have to go after a lot of images made by and for other New Atheists.

When someone suggests destroying every copy of the Koran, New Atheists don't generally get upset and say Sit down and shut up you idiot. As a matter a fact, although, obviously, they're incapable of destroying every Koran, they have destroyed a few, and acted very proud of themselves, like they think they accomplished something. At least one of the leaders of New Atheism, PZ Myers, piled garbage and excrement onto a copy of the Koran and took pictures of it and put them on the Internet.

Often New Atheists claim that they're against all religions equally, and that may actually be true in some cases. Often they'll come right out and say that they're more against Islam than any other religion. Typically, they'll add that Islamophobia doesn't exist.

And, they often look at public opinion polls saying so-and-so-many percent of Amurrkins would never vote for an atheist for President, and they wonder why. The atheists who are currently most famous for being atheists are fanatically, stupidly Islamophobic, and generally crude and clueless on other religions too. They don't go around demanding that the cross be banned, but they're not that far from such stupid public statements either. They've bred the subculture where a call to ban the cross generates hardly a batted eye or a Hey what do you mean you moron. They don't denounce stupid anti-religious statements, they make constant excuses for them. And they are, for worse, for much worse, currently the public face of atheism. Vote for Myers or Sam Harris for President? Neither one could get elected dog-catcher of Portland. If either of them ran against a jihadist for POTUS, the jihadist's chances would be good.

Atheists who aren't idiots need to stand up to the idiots. For our own good. Having the answer to one question in common with them isn't enough to overlook their stupid, hare-filled fanaticism.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Modern Marketing

Interestingly enough, this is the main slogan from eHarmony's new advertising campaign. There are rumors that not everyone at eHarmony's advertising agency was on board with the new slogan. But apparently they all agreed that anything would be better than any more of the commercials featuring eHarmony's skeevy old CEO. It seems a study done by the advertising firm's (They asked not to be named, and who can blame them for that?) marketing division indicated that no-one, anywhere, ever, had been made to feel romantic, or horny, or pleasant in any way whatsoever, by seeing eHarmony's CEO. Orville Redenbacher he ain't!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Philosophy And Politics And Tania Lombrozo's Piece For NPR

In a recent piece for NPR, Tania Lombrozo called for philosophers to be more engaged in public life.

I'm very much interested in philosophy, so why do I have a negative reaction to this NPR article? Perhaps it aroused the Epicurean in me. In ancient Greece, Stoic philosophers believed that the more fortunate members of society had a duty to serve society, while Epicurean philosophers thought that the wise thing to do was to enjoy life with a circle of close fiends and ignore the rest of the world as thoroughly as possible. Perhaps I have a Stoic approach to politics, except that I want to keep my Epicurean philosophy separate from it. Oscar Wilde loved art, including theatre, and he wanted to see society become more democratic and more responsive to the needs of those who needs were greatest, and yet he was opposed to the Realist plays which were in a great vogue during his lifetime, plays which sought to address social inequities. Wilde insisted: "All art is quite useless." Perhaps he felt that plays were the last thing which were suited to enacting great social change. And perhaps my involvement with philosophy boils down to something resembling Wilde's involvement with art -- it's something I dearly love, but I wouldn't recommend it as a cure for society's ills.

If we're going to involve philosophers in public life -- what kind of philosophers? Philosophers tend to constantly and sharply disagree with one another about just about everything imaginable, and have since ancient Greece. As far as I can tell, the most influential single philosopher in the politics of the US of the past 100 years has been Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind and instructor, at the University of Chicago, of a very nasty and powerful brood of Republican neocons.

My favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was emphatically ivory-tower. He wanted no part of any political party. Epicurean all the way, he was. "Beneath him and behind him" was how, in his opinion, every true philosopher should regard politics. And given Nietzsche's views on women, perhaps it's very much for the best that he never involved himself in politics. (Saying that Nietzsche is my favorite philosopher is far from saying that I agree with him about everything. In fact, I disagree with just about every single thing Nietzsche says about women in his philosophical works. Turning directly from those works to the letters he wrote to actual individual women, it's hard to believe that the misogynistic philosopher and the downright nice letter-writer are one and the same.)

I know of only 2 philosopher-kings, both Roman Emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Julian. Neither one a bad Emperor -- Julian is admirable for his concerted although unsuccessful attempt to oppose Christianity's intolerance of all other religions -- but neither one a particularly interesting philosopher either. (I think a case can be made that both Alexander the Great and Napoleon were philosopher-kings, and quite interesting philosophers, but I mention that only as an aside in this post because the general consensus is that they were not philosophers.)

I must be honest and point out that one reason for my negative response to Lombrozo's article is that I have heard of none of the living philosophers mentioned in it. I read mostly philosophers from bygone eras. Peter Sloterdijk, and dead guys. For all I know, all the people Lombrozo mentioned are perfectly brilliant, and their participation in public life could be nothing but tremendously good, and I'm missing an incredible amount of top-notch philosophizing which puts Sloterdijk to shame. I doubt it, but it's possible.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Bazillionth Attempt To Make Myself Even Clearer About What Exactly My Problem With New Atheists Is

A was saying that religion is a vast and complex topic and that there was no simple answer about whether it was bad or good. It had done bad and good. And A also pointed out that there are many different religions, not one. B answered that religion was bad. I said: the New Atheists are right, so shut up! I added that "We're right, so shut up!" had worked very well 1600 years ago for the Christians, and that I could only hope that this time around more people would see it coming. B protested: I'm arguing on the basis of history. I said: Oh, on the basis of history! Well, that changes everything! B said that I was above such one-liners.

One-liners. One liners, huh, black-kettle B. A was pointing out that this is a huge and complicated subject. And A was right about that. And I don't think A was arguing on the basis of a Ouija board. There are billions of religious people on this planet, and I am DONE, DONE, DONE lending any support to any people who think something that big can be reduced to 3 words like "Jesus is Lord" or "religion poisons everything." I'm still an atheist, same as I ever was. I still think it would be good if religious belief goes away, and that sooner would be better than later, same as I ever did. But I want no part of black-and-white, religion-bad-atheism-good positions. Fuck all that nonsense. The world is complicated and people are complicated and every judgment about good and bad is subjective. A see a whole lot of grey around religion. And I realize that it's not going to die out this week, or this year.

I think that belief in God is ridiculous. That is not even up for debate with me. No more than it ever was. But I'm not going to take sides in any conflicts based on the religion or lack of it of the people on either side. No more of that for me. I'm out. I was barely ever in that, I was part-way in for a matter of weeks or months before I had a clear idea of what New Atheism was, but I'm out now, out and loud and proud. I love some religious people and I detest some atheists. I don't have a one-category life.

One-liners. Well, B, sometimes you have to try to laugh to keep from crying. And whenever New Atheists, movement atheists, billboard-making atheists, fans of Harris and Hitch, whatever you want to call them, whenever they claim to be the only experts on history around -- no, no. I must re-phrase that -- whenever New Atheists suggest so much as that there are legitimate historians among them, I don't know whether to laugh, cry, shit or go blind.

Revised Fuel Cost Estimate For Plug-In Electric Vehicles

In in a previous Wrong Monkey blog post, I incorrectly stated that the fuel costs for a plug-in electric vehicle are about half those of a hybrid vehicle of comparable size and performance, and that that hybrid uses about half as much fuel as a comparable conventional vehicle.

Well, loyal Wring Monkey readers, I'm sorry. I should've done a little more research before shooting my mouth off with such sensationalistic figures, because the truth is that for many drivers of electric vehicles, their fuel cost is not 50% of a hybrid and 25% of a conventional vehicle -- but 0% of anything. Nada. Zip. The null set. Just exactly squat.

And I'm not talking about the example I gave in the earlier post about someone living in a zero-energy house which generated enough energy for the car as well. I'm talking about people who drive electric vehicles and are having all of the electricity for those vehicles given to them. For example, anybody who owns a Tesla and is in driving distance of one of these dots:

Those are Tesla recharging stations. Any Tesla can be recharged at one of those stations any time for free. There are more of those stations per square miles in the US than in other parts of the world, but Tesla is working on that. They're also helping people convert their houses into ones which will generate all the electricity from solar, plus enough left over for the car. (What is this Elon Musk guy trying to prove, anyway? And can we all agree that he's proving it?)

In addition, many employers are now providing free recharges to their employees who drive plug-ins. This Department of Energy website has some info about that. Not everybody can afford a Tesla, but if you shop around for a good sale or lease bargain on, say, a Nissan Leaf, and factor in a fuel cost of Squat annually, it no longer seems like you need to be Donald Trump or Elon Musk to get in on this.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Solar Settlement

The more I find out about sustainable energy, the more I wonder why it hasn't already become the dominant model, and the harder it is for me to believe that the petrochemical industry isn't actively blocking the flow of information. Which makes me officially a crazy conspiracy theorist, according to some people. Who no doubt work for the petrochemical industry, probably through lobbyists and shell companies and whatnot.

On the one hand we've got God damn fracking going on all over the world. On the other hand there are things like Solar Settlement, a housing development of 59 homes built in Freiburg, Germany, between 2000 and 2005, all fully occupied since then, selling an average of $5600 worth of electricity per home per year to the grid since then.

But of course this is in the extremely sunny location of Freiburg. You couldn't expect to re-produce such results elsewhere. Of course I'm joking, Freiburg is in freakin Germany and it gets an average of less than 5 hours of sunlight year-round. Imagine a setup like this in Phoenix.

This development was finished 10 years ago. What exactly is the hold-up? Why aren't newer and improved versions of this everywhere, why doesn't the world already have much more electricity than it knows what to do with after having shut down every single coal-, oil- and gas-burning and nuclear power plant in the world? What exactly are we waiting for? If the very fact that big oil is still big doesn't make you angry -- what's wrong with you?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Really Want The 2015 Nobel Prize -IN- Literature --

-- a lot.

Look at it from my point of view for once:

I'd receive a million bucks or two. (The amount of the prize goes up and down from year to year.) That would be nice. Really nice. Very, very nice.

It would also make me famous. You might not think so from how smooth I am in the written version, but I'm autistic and I have a lot of very serious difficulties when it comes to socializing. I get somewhat lonely sometimes. I think that being very famous would help me meet people.

In addition to the large cash part of the Prize, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature would, presumably, help me to get some of my writing published in book form, and it might even possibly help me to sell lots and lots of books. This would lead to me receiving even more great big stacks of money. Which would be great.

If Hemingway deserved one then I definitely deserve it more. I'm not even going to debate that. Sorry, Hemingway fans, but this one is clear-cut.

Besides being a brilliant writer, both my Mom and my therapist agree that I am a very good person.

I've always wanted to be a huge success. Up until now my siblings and step-siblings have been making me look very bad in the success department. You have no idea.


Thank you.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

I Can't Believe That So Few People See The Pattern Here

Gaze in awe, my beloved readers, as we march backwards in time inspecting the majestic Parade Of No-Can-Do:

2015: "You can't honestly believe that people all over the world will ever figure out that religion is made up of illusions, and just give it up."

1880: "You can't honestly believe that someday people will orbit the moon and walk on it and then return to Earth."

1840: "You can't honestly believe that you can design a machine that will fly through the air with you riding it and not kill yourself."

1500: "You can't honestly believe that you can harness the power of steam to to run mills and ships."

800: "You can't honestly believe that someday people all over the world will give up their slaves because they believe that owning other people is wrong."

1000 BC: "You can't honestly believe that someday women will rule entire nations."

20,000 BC: "You can't honestly believe you can get on a horse's back and ride it around and make it go where you want to go."

4,000,000 BC: "You can't honestly believe that you can make a sharp stick and use it to kill animals that are bigger and stronger than we are."

1,000,000,000 BC "You can't honestly believe that someday our descendants will climb up out of the water and live somewhere else."

Nietzsche And The Nazis

Nietzsche referred very often and very clearly to anti-Semites as the scum of the Earth, and to him, nationalists of any sort weren't much better. Certainly not German nationalists. His books positively overflow with disparaging remarks about Germany. There are only a small fraction as many positive remarks about Germany.

So how did so many people come to associate Nietzsche with the Nazis, including many Nazis themselves? The fact that Nazis ternded not to be at all well-read is only part of the story.

The thing about Nietzsche and the Nazis is that his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, WAS both an extreme antisemite, and the executor of Nietzsche's affairs from the time he went insane in 1889 until she died in 1935. Elizabeth's husband was the leader of a political party which actually had "antisemitic" in its name, in case anyone wasn't clear about where the party was coming from.

Even before 1889 Elizabeth did everything she could to associate her famous brother with her political causes. Nietzsche protested this, even threatened to publicly disown her over it. After 1889 he wasn't able to protest any more. She altered new editions of his books. The book Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power) isn't actually by Nietzsche. Elizabeth put it together from his notebooks.

Anyway, if you look at Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche and her influence, and not just at the original editions of Nietzsche's works or recent ones which have been restored to the way Nietzsche wrote them, then it becomes easier to understand how so many people came to think that Nietzsche was one of the forerunners of the Nazis. If you only look at what Nietzsche actually wrote, it's as obvious as can be that he was, in Allan Bloom's words, "the very opposite of an anti-Semite." (The Closing of the American Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987, p 149.) That's one of the comparatively few things about which Bloom and I agree. No one who is at all familiar with Nietzsche's authentic work, the work which is really his, unaltered by his vile crazy racist sister, can help but agree about that. His opposition to anti-Semitism is about as clear as anything in his works, which of course are full of difficult and ambiguous passages. There's nothing ambiguous about his opposition to anti-Semitism. Nothing. Period. Next!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Suetoni Tranquilii Vita Tiberi, Cap 14-16

[14] Rediit octavo post secessum anno, magna nec incerta spe futurorum, quam et ostentis et praedictionibus ab initio aetatis conceperat.

Praegnans eo Livia cum an marem editura esset, variis captaret ominibus, ovum incubanti gallinae subductum nunc sua nunc ministrarum manu per vices usque fovit, quoad pullus insigniter cristatus exclusus est. Ac de infante Scribonius mathematicus praeclara spopondit, etiam regnaturum quandoque, sed sine regio insigni, ignota scilicet tunc adhuc Caesarum potestate. Et ingresso primam expeditionem ac per Macedoniam ducente exercitum in Syriam, accidit ut apud Philippos sacratae olim victricium legionum arae sponte subitis conlucerent ignibus; et mox, cum Illyricum petens iuxta Patavium adisset Geryonis oraculum, sorte tracta, qua monebatur ut de consultationibus in Aponi fontem talos aureos iaceret, evenit ut summum numerum iacti ab eo ostenderent; hodieque sub aqua visuntur hi tali. Ante paucos vero quam revocaretur dies aquila numquam antea Rhodi conspecta in culmine domus eius assedit; et pridie quam de reditu certior fieret, vestimenta mutanti tunica ardere visa est. Thrasyllum quoque mathematicum, quem ut sapientiae professorem contubernio admoverat, tum maxime expertus est affirmantem nave provisa gaudium afferri; cum quidem illum durius et contra praedicta cadentibus rebus ut falsum et secretorum temere conscium, eo ipso momento, dum spatiatur una, praecipitare in mare destinasset.

[15] Romam reversus deducto in forum filio Druso statim e Carinis ac Pompeiana domo Esquilias in hortos Maecenatianos transmigravit totumque se ad quietem contulit, privata modo officia obiens ac publicorum munerum expers.

Gaio et Lucio intra triennium defunctis adoptatur ab Augusto simul cum fratre eorum M. Agrippa, coactus prius ipse Germanicum fratris sui filium adoptare. Nec quicquam postea pro patre familias egit aut ius, quod amiserat, ex ulla parte retinuit. Nam neque donavit neque manumisit, ne hereditatem quidem aut legata percepit ulla aliter quam ut peculio referret accepta. Nihil ex eo tempore praetermissum est ad maiestatem eius augendam ac multo magis, postquam Agrippa abdicato atque seposito certum erat, uni spem successionis incumbere.

[16] Data rursus potestas tribunicia in quinquennium, delegatus pacandae Germaniae status, Parthorum legati mandatis Augusto Romae redditis eum quoque adire in provincia iussi. Sed nuntiata Illyrici defectione transiit ad curam novi belli, quod gravissimum omnium externorum bellorum post Punica, per quindecim legiones paremque auxiliorum copiam triennio gessit in magnis omnium rerum difficultatibus summaque frugum inopia. Et quanquam saepius revocaretur, tamen perseveravit, metuens ne vicinus et praevalens hostis instaret ultro cedentibus. Ac perseverantiae grande pretium tulit, toto Illyrico, quod inter Italiam regnumque Noricum et Thraciam et Macedoniam interque Danuvium flumen et sinum maris Hadriatici patet, perdomito et in dicionem redacto.

Often, Atheists Discussing The American Revolution Sound Like Fundamentalists Discussing The Bible

"Thomas Jefferson said it, I believe it and that settles it." It wouldn't surprise me if that is an actual bumpersticker by now. Anything to avoid thinking for themselves. Of course, much like the fundies, these dingbats don't actually know very much about that in which they supposedly believe.

The truth is that some of the founders of the US were Christians, and the rest, except for Tom Paine and Benjamin Franklin, pretended to be when in public or writing for the public. We only know about the deistic and theistic tendencies of some of them from their private letters. Thomas Jefferson, who in many New Atheist circles seems to have taken the place of Jesus -- because so many of them so recently were Southern Baptists? Yes, probably that has a lot to do with it -- Jefferson was an Anglican deacon and, while President of the US, he led weekly prayer meetings of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty begins: "Whereas Almighty God Hath created the mind free[...]" The "Jefferson Bible" which has recently become so famous was not meant to be seen by the public, no more than Jefferson wanted it to be publicly known that he and his slave Sally Hemings had children. Whatever private impulses may have led Jefferson to include the language about separation of church and state in his public writings and statements, he belonged to the very church from which so many Americans wanted to separate their state: the Anglican church, the church whose supreme head was the King of England. The major impulse for the separation of church and state came from Puritans in Massachusetts -- the same ones who killed all of those people in the 1690's because they thought they were witches. When the Puritans talked about freedom of religion, at least at first, they meant no more or less than freedom from the Anglican church; and the Anglican church was only created in the 1530's because Henry VIII, up until then a very loyal Catholic, wanted the freedom to divorce Anne Boleyn.

Things change, of course. The Congregationalists were Puritans in the 17th century when they fled from England and burnt witches, and today they're quite liberal on social issues as Christians go, and in 1776 and 1789 they were something in between. John Adams, born a Congregationalist, became a Unitarian, and some atheists have misunderstood this to mean that he was like a 21st-century Unitarian: either an atheist, or at the very least very friendly toward atheism. But the Unitarian Church in the 18th and 19th centuries wasn't exactly like the present-day version, and Adams wasn't its least traditionally-Christian member, just as his sometimes friend and sometimes enemy Jefferson was not the most traditionally-Christian member of the Anglican church. And it's not as if Adams was just Christian for show, like Jefferson; consider this passage from his diary of 1796:

"The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity, let the blackguard Paine say what he will; it is resignation to God, it is goodness itself to man."

The world is complicated, and things change.

And, of course, the actual writings, both public and private, of Adams and Jefferson and many of their contemporaries, have been preserved and are quite conveniently available for the perusal of all of us in the general public. Go to any large library in the US which uses the Dewey decimal system, and go to the shelves marked 973 through 978, or to the shelves marked E in libraries using the Library of Congress system, and you will find shelves groaning with volumes of the actual written words of Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Hamilton and many of their contemporaries. Original documents from the early history of the US are all over the place.

Primary documents aren't for everybody, of course. But some of us occasionally want to appear as if we know what we're talking about.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pope Francis' Emphatic, Reality-Based Remarks On The Environment

"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."

That's from Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si," released today. You can read the whole thing in English here if you like.

As I understand it, Papal encyclicals are still written in Latin, and then translated from Latin into many other languages. I've never been able to find any Catholic doscuments written post-Vatican-II (post-1962) in book form, and I haven't been able to find "Laudato Si" in Latin on the Internet. However, to my great surprise, today I found this page on the Vatican website which contains Latin versions of some documents written by Francis, including his 1st encyclical, which was published in 2013, so I assume -- no, I don't assume. I hope, but the Vatican website has disappointed and puzzled me so severely so many times that I no longer assume anything at all about it -- I hope that "Laudato Si," Francis' 2nd encyclical, will soon be on this page in its original Latin.

For now, back to the English version: Francis mentions that every one of his predecessors going back to John XXIII spoke out against the destruction of our environment; that many of those most badly affected by this destruction are the poorest of humanity, that many of the Earth's wealthy seem more concerned with covering up the problems of pollution and global warming than in addressing them; denounces "social exclusion" and "an inequitable distribution of energy and other services;" points out that fresh waters supplies are quickly dwindling while "access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right;” and that plant and animals species are dying out very rapidly, with disastrous results for remaining life; denounces previous political responses to the environmental crisis as weak, saying that international environmental summits "have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements;" opposes free-market capitalism with remarks such as “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion;” assets that when it comes to how we interact with the Earth's enviroinment, "we need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity." [...]

In short: over and over again in this encyclical, Francis says things about the environment and politics which we all know are true, and which almost of the politicians in the GOP in the US say are false, and it's full of a sort of common decency which is in short supply in the GOP. (I apologize to my international readers for this conclusion to a post about an international figure and his statements on an international problem, but the contrast between Francis and the GOP is so striking that I had to mention it. I'm sure that much of the same is true of many political parties in other countries.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chess Log: Black Ignores A Pawn On c6 And That Allows A Weaker Oppenent To Reach A Quick Checkmate

5-0 blitz, I played White:

1. e4 b6 2. d4 ♗b7 3. d5 d6 4. ♘c3 ♘d7 5. ♗b5 g6 6. ♗c6 ♗xc6 7. dxc6 ♘b8 8. ♕d4 ♘f6 9. ♗g5 ♗g7 10. e5 dxe5 11. ♕xd8 ♔xd8 12. O-O-O ♔e8 13. ♘f3 a6 14. ♘xe5 ♘h5 15. ♘d7 ♘xc6 16. ♘d5 ♖c8 17. ♖he1 h6 18. ♗xe7 ♘xe7 19. ♖xe7 ♔d8 20. ♖xf7 ♖g8 21. ♘7f6 ♘xf6 22. ♘xf6 1-0 {Black checkmated}

1. e4 b6 is known as Owen's Defense. It receives just 2 columns of coverage in the MCO-13, under "Unusual King's Pawns Defenses." 2. d4 ♗b7 is the first line given in the MCO-13, but my 3. d5 takes us out of the book. Way out of it, as far as I can tell. The book's 3rd moves for White are ♗d3, ♘c3 and ♘d2. And I respect the book and want to learn from it. The book is the book for a reason, and that reason is that guys and gals who are thousands of times better at chess than I am wrote it. When an opening I've favored turns out to be out of the book, I always think very carefully about adopting one of the book lines, and that respect has paid off very well for me. And I must emphasize: it tends to pay off even when I can't understand the logic behind a book line. I'm all like: "No, I don't understand, but you're the chess geniuses, and if this is what you recommend, that's good enough for me." Sometimes I gradually start to understand the reasoning behind a book line long after I've been winning with it. That's right: following the book has let me win chess games without even understanding why I'm winning. That's how good the book is.

Nevertheless: the book is written by and for grandmasters, and most of my opponents, even the ones who are far better chessplayers than I, are still far from being grandmasters. And 1. e4 b6 2. d4 ♗b7 3. d5 has been working very well for me so far. So I'm going to study the standard responses to 1. e4 b6 2. d4 ♗b7, but at this point I regard 3. d5 as not broken, and not in need of fixing.

At this point. But the thing about chess is that all chessplayers, at every level, are always learning, and it may be that there is something wrong with 3. d5 which is obvious to Carlsen and Kasparov, so obvious that there was no need to even mention it in MCO-13, and which will eventually become obvious to obvious to me and the players I play. (The possibility that 3. d5 is a brilliant innovation on the Grandmaster level, which I stumbled across, is somewhat like the possibility that a lottery ticket worth $300 million will be on the sidewalk the next time I go outside, and that no one else will claim it.)

The thing about this game is that, although 3. d5 has been working well for me, I can't recall its having worked this well. My opponent is ranked more than 100 points higher than I, and none of his moves was an obvious blunder to me. So my reaction is a pronounced What happened?! Did my opponent make a blunder I didn't see, but still benefited from? Did I actually play very well? Will I be able to spot something in this game other than sheer luck? and if so -- will I be able to do it again?

Okay, maybe the whole story here that I put a pawn on c6 on my 7th move, and that Black should've captured it while he could. Black could have taken that pawn on his 8th move, on his 9th move, on his 12th move -- yeah, I'm think that in Black's place I might have paid more attention to that pawn on c6. Again on his 13th move Black declined to capture on c6. With 14. ♘xe5 I finally managed to protect that pawn, and by then it may have been too late for Black to stop me.

So my amateur guess is that the story of this game is that Black let a weaker opponent stomp him by ignoring the pawn on c6. He let several opportunities to take it go by. With a different 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th or 13th move -- namely, if any one of those moves had been to capture that pawn -- the game might have turned out completely differently. I don't think I can claim an achievement of chess genius here. In retrospect in seems clear that not taking that pawn amounts to a blunder on Black's part, and that I was able to capitalize on that blunder.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


T H Huxley coined the term "agnostic" as an antonym of "gnosis," from the Greek term for "knowledge." Some early Christian groups referred to themselves as Gnostics because they felt they had special, secret knowledge. (Keep this is mind because it makes the rest of this post even funnier.) Gnostics lost out in power and influence to other Christian groups who asserted that the knowledge of Jesus and His salvation was meant for all mankind, not just for an elite group.

Here is Huxley's account of how he came up with the term "agnostic."

When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure that they had attained a certain "gnosis"--had more or less successfully solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion ...

What the Hell is "the problem of existence"? Have you ever heard an atheist claim that he or she had solved it, even more or less? Yeah, me neither. Do you see a difference between atheists and freethinkers anywhere except in bizarre descriptions of them by agnostics, like this one? Yeah, me neither.

If there are any atheists who are completely sure that no God or god exists and would not change their minds on the subject if shown convincing evidence that He or She or they exist, they are a tiny minority of the group of atheists, statistically insignificant and sharply at odds with the rest of us on this point.

And that's just one point, one topic, one question, the question of the existence of God or gods. Whatever "the question of existence" might be, I'm having an awful time imagining it being something other than a question, a topic, which is far, far broader than the question of God or gods. (For the rest of this post, whenever I write "God," just assume I mean "God or any gods.")

I can think of some people whom the term "agnostic" sensibly fits. I'm not thinking of Huxley nor of most of the self-identifying agnostics, but of people who sometimes think that God exists and sometimes think he doesn't. I believe that some or all of the people who call themselves believers who have had "crises of faith" come under this category. In addition, there are some people who simply aren't sure at all, who could go one way or the other, either to atheism or theism.

But Huxley and most of the people who identify as agnostics don't think of God's existence as being more likely than do we atheists. The whole agnostic movement isn't about theology, it's about misuse of semantics and claims of intellectual superiority. Bertrand Russell illustrated this very nicely with his example of the teapot in space, orbiting the Sun somewhere between Earth and Mars. That teapot is like God: Russell couldn't refute its existence, and didn't need to; although if he meant this as a refutation of the supposed special status of agnosticism, he was much too nice to say so directly. (Luckily, I am not.) We do not know, any of us, with absolute certainty, that God doesn't exist. However, that does not say anything about God, or about any unique or special or even unusual properties which God may possess. On the contrary, God is exactly the same as everything else in this respect, because we do not know anything at all with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, we do not go around constantly wasting our time emphasizing that we cannot disprove the existence of that teapot in space, or of 10-foot-tall man-eating parrots just out of our sight, or of Bigfoot. And it takes an agnostic of the Huxley variety not to understand that God is no different than any other absurd proposition in this respect.

Agnostics like to think -- and very much want you to think, that they're -- you know, not like everybody says, like... stupid! They're smart! And they want some respect!

Well, Sparky, respect is a give-and-take thing. It has to be earned. Some people give no respect whatsoever to strangers. Most of us are a little more trusting and give everybody a little respect on first meeting, on credit, just to help things go. But you can go through that credit pretty quickly. You want respect? Give it. Agnostics, if you want the respect of atheists, go to the trouble of learning what we actually do and don't believe, before you start telling us what we're all about. Hear what we believe in our own words. Not in the words of your fellow agnostics. I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. If you're listening, you'll see that when it comes to the question of God, we believe what you do. You'll see that you're just one more of this vast group of atheists out here in the very general public, and that if you want to be more special than all of us, you'll have to do it some other way.

Except of course that you won't see any of this, because it's all so simple and clear that anyone who wants to see it already has, without any help from me. So you go right on thinking that you're much smarter than all of us, and that the only reason people like me verbally abuse you is because we're jealous cause you're so cool.

And for everybody else, my advice about T H Huxley is to read Mark Twain instead.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Outstanding Articles Which Have Been Published So Far Talking Me Up For The Nobel Prize -IN- Literature

It's always possible that some have been published but haven't yet come to my attention, but the only such articles I know of are ones written by myself. And I won't lie to you, that's a little bit discouraging. But faint heart never won fair lady, it's always darkest before the dawn, if I don't believe in myself why should I expect others to believe in me, once more into the breach, yada yada.

Let's start with a piece which appeared in March in the prestigious blog The Wrong Monkey entitled Let's Get Serious And Get Me the 2015 Nobel Prize For Literature. Well, first off, it's got a nice straightforward title, right to the point. It underscores how winning the Nobel Prize -IN- Literature is basically a 2-step process: 1) A writer writes wicked cool outstanding poetry and/or prose -- so, yeah, I got that covered already, and 2) others recognize the outstanding nature of what the writer has written. They spread the word. The piece begins with a discussion of the Tom Petty Ab-So-Lute-Ly Bass-Ackwards Law of Microeconomics, which at first glance might seem to undercut my case: I actually need that Nobel, and Petty's Law states that someone's need for something is in inverse proportion to their chances of getting it. But if you stop your consideration of the matter at that point, you may be completely missing the entire point of Petty's Law: Petty formulated it in order to encourage others to break it, to work against the Ab-So-Lute-Ly Bass-Ackwardness. Laws of economics are completely different from those of physics in their great degree of mutability. You can break these laws and very often you should if you can. Petty's Law states what is and should not be. Awarding me the 2015 Nobel Prize -IN- Literature would not merely break Petty's Law, it would resoundingly smash it. The economic consequences would be breathtaking.

In the same article I also vow that when I win the Nobel, my Nobel Lecture, in its entirelty, will be thank yu verr much pleez, and mock Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway, who of course deserves it.

Moving on: in April, in the same prominent blog, The Wrong Monkey, there appeared the essay You Are Feeling Very Sleepy... In retrospect, it occurs to me that this article, in addition to serving the purpose of hypnotizing readers of The Wrong Monkey and filling them with joyous determination to ensure that I win the Nobel, can also be read aloud by those readers in order to hypnotize still others.

Thirdly, we come to a marvelously-crafted piece of prose entitled Apparently Some Of You Still Need Some Convincing That I Deserve The Nobel Prize In Literature, published in May in a brilliant blog known as The Wrong Monkey. Written by me. This article underscores both the urgency of people's action on behalf my winning the Nobel -- even more urgent now than when the piece was first published -- and some of the reasons why it's important that I win. Such as how badly I want certain things I can't afford at present, things like solid-platinum watches. Res ipsa loquitur; however, I suppose I could add that although I mostly refer to platinum wrist watches, because wrist watches are mostly what are made today, especially for the high end of the market, I would have no objection whtsoever to owning platinum pocket watches. Nor to gold watches. I think rose gold is pretty cool.

And of course, all of the over 700 posts which have appeared on the blog so far solidly make the case that I am brilliant and deserve the Nobel, and the world deserves to know such quality writing better, and winning the Nobel will aid in that noble cause by making me much more famous.


Automobiles Between Cugnot (1768) And Benz (1886)

If you're anything like me, you've heard a lot about Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's steam-powered powered vehicle built in 1768, often referred to as the first automobile:

and about Karl Benz' car made in 1886, with a petroleum-fueled internal-combustion engine and often referred to as the first "true" automobile:

and just about exactly Jack W Squat about automobiles built between 1768 and 1886, and so you're really looking forward to reading this. I know slightly more than squat. Just slightly.

According to Britannica.com, Cugnot's vehicle "was said to have run for 20 minutes at 2.25 miles (3.6 km) per hour while carrying four people and to have recuperated sufficient steam power to move again after standing for 20 minutes." Many fat people can move at 2.25 miles per hour for 20 minutes and then move again after 20 minutes' rest, and many fat horses can do much better than that, and of course, generally speaking, lean people and horses can do much better still, so clearly, Cugnot's achievement was notable for its novelty much more than for its utility. Still, first is first. Chapeau, Monsieur Cugnot!

Two Englishmen built automobiles in the 1780's: William Murdock operated a model steam carriage in 1784, and Robert Fourness exhibited a full-sized steam tractor in 1788. I have no statistics about how long or fast these vehicles ran.

The next self-propelled road vehicle I've been able to identify was built by Charles Dallery of Amiens in 1790. I know absolutely nothing at all about the vehicle except that it was steam-powered and ran on roads. Dallery was known for many inventions besides this automobile. I also have no details to give about the steam vehicles of Nathan Read of Salem, Massachusetts, and Apollos Kinsley of Hartford, Connecticut, other than that they ran between 1790 and 1800.

Apparently steam-powered trains and ships were not in operation until after 1800. Automobiles were first. But of course, once steam engines were put into railway engines and ships, they developed very rapidly and greatly outstripped the achievements of early- and mid-19th automobiles. The steam engines of this era, it seems, were simply a bit too big and heavy to work well on the open road.

Still, people tried. Steam buses were running in Paris around 1800. Who designed and built them, and how well they ran, I cannot tell you. A steam dredge built by Oliver Evans ran in Philadelphia in 1804 -- again, I have no idea how well it ran.

For several months in 1833 or 1834 an automobile service operated by Sir Charles Dance carried paying passengers for 9 miles each way, 4 round trips daily, between Gloucester and Cheltenham in England. How big this vehicle was, how many passengers it could carry at once, or even whether we're talking about one vehicle or several, I have not been able to determine. Britannica.com says it managed the 9-mile stretch in 45 minutes "under favourable conditions," but it seems that conditions were often far from favourable, with frequent breakdowns. The carriage made itself quite unpopular with local people by its noise, smokiness and the considerable damage which it caused to the roads.

Walter Hancock is said to have operated the most successful road-going steam carriage business of the 1830's, from 1831 to 1838, with 9 vehicles, or possibly more, covering routes as lengthy as that between London and Cambridge. But the vehicles continued to be extremely unpopular with the general public, and also the horse-carriage industry, and by 1840 extreme legal measures began to be put in place which essentially ended the steam-automobile business in England, although inventors continued to turn out improved models which they were only allowed to operate on roads on private land. Also, steam-powered tractors began to appear and to function well enough that some farmers preferred them to horse-drawn models. Between the 1830's and the 1880's steam-powered vehicles were allowed to run on the roads in the US and several European countries, inventors managed to make steam engines smaller and smaller for such vehicles, and railways, steamships and bicycles were all much more successful commercially -- and written about much more extensively.

So I didn't have all that much delightful information to share with you. In 1885, Karl Benz ran a two-stroke, one-cylinder gasoline-powered car for four laps on a cinder track, stalling "only" twice before its drive-chain (yeah, like on a bicycle or motorcycle) snapped, and it was still a huge, triumphant improvement over steam, and the rest is extremely well-documented history. I suppose you might sum up the era of road-going automobiles between 1768 and 1886 in the sentence: "Steam didn't really work."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

So Suppose We Just Convert Away from Petro-Fuels. "We" Being The Whole Planet

Where my engineers at? What would it take, just in terms of logistics, leaving politics completely out of it for the moment, to relegate petrochemical to the status of lubricants, and possibly also plastic? We need to talk about plastic too, as well as burning oil and gas and coal.

Of course, politics is a huge part of this, maybe the biggest part. I think that the single greatest threat to our survival is the continuing burning of fossil fuels, and I think that one of the things the petrochemical industry is doing to prevent the transition to more sustainable sources of energy is suppressing information about how easily this transition could be done. I just did a Google search for suppression of information about renewable, and apparently the fact that I think oil companies are blocking the flow of information means I'm a conspiracy theorist. Or maybe I'm just a normal alert citizen and the thing about the conspiracy theory is just more petrochemical industry BS.

Let's look at 2 pages in a world atlas, pp 96-97 in the 2008 edition of the Oxford Atlas of the World. On p 96 a graph shows some information on worldwide energy consumption -- but wait, it shows only consumption of petrochemicals and nuclear and hydroelectric power. "Excluded are biomass fuels such as wood, peat, and animal waste, and wind, solar and geothermal energy which, though important locally in some counties, are not always reliably documented statistically." That's strange, isn't it? What's this tiny fine print under the graph? "Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2007." Okay, not so strange at all anymore, is it?

On p 97 there's a little chart of worldwide wind energy generating capacity yearly from 1980 to 2007, not provided by BP. Because, you know, BP is concerned about the reliability of such figures. Terribly concerned about reliability. Yeah, I'm delusional when I say that oil companies are interfering with the flow of information. 1980, 10 megawatts of worldwide wide energy generating capacity; 2007, 74,300 megawatts. 10 megawatts to 74,300 megawatts in 27 years. Yep, only a totally cuckoo-bananas conspiracy theorist would ask why such figures would be left out of a graph on worldwide energy consumption. Provided by an oil company. To the makers of a world atlas. Who put the figures on wind energy on the next page anyway. Please note, I'm only claiming that it's as obvious as can be and in our faces everywhere we turn that the oil companies are trying to keep the general public ignorant about big basic energy issues, and not necessarily that they're any good at it or are succeeding.

Neil deGrasse Tyson And Eugene Mirman Put Terraforming Into Perspective: TERRAFORM EARTH!

Terraforming: it's made for some great images in sci-fi movies, and provided comforting fantasies for people worried about the Earth no longer being able to sustain human life: we go to another planet, seed it skillfully with the ingredients of an Earth-like atmosphere, and boom! one instant paradise of a pristine planet full of lush vegatation, untouched by Man.

"Untouched by Man," and yet also 100% human-made. Yes. Well. Moving on --

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a wondeful show on National Geographic TV, "StarTalk," which also is and/or used to be a radio show and podcast, and different episodes feature different co-hosts, and on a recent episode the co-host was the comedian Eugene Mirman, and Mirman is more than just a pretty face, he's also wicked smart.

And someone brought up the subject of terraforming Mars, and Tyson provided the discouraging information that terraforming Mars would be extremely difficult because of factors such as: it hasn't rained on Mars in BILLIONS of years -- and Mirman interjected: "Terraform Earth!" And Tyson beamed and gave Mirman such a proud look, like: "Bingo! This is why you're on my show!"

We can make this planet inhabitable, much more easily than we can any other planet. Put it on bumperstickers, T-shirts and billboards:


Friday, June 12, 2015

Dream Log: Cruisin' With Dan Fielding, Plus A Young Lady Rides In Cars And Cats Are Aliens From Outer Space

I dreamed that I was hanging out with Dan Fielding, the District Attorney from the TV show "Night Court" (1984-1992). Not with John Larroquette, who played Fielding, but with Dan Fielding himself. Similarly, early on in the dream, while I was in the courtroom waiting for Dan's shift to end, I saw Judge Harry Stone and Public Defender Christine Sullivan. They looked exactly like Harry Anderson and Marky Post, the actors who portrayed them, but they were Judge Stone and Ms Sullivan.

Like Dan, I was wearing a very nice 3-piece suit and a nice coat over it. In order to make Dan feel less self-conscious about his hair, I had shaved away a lot of my hair to make me look balding. (In the dream, Dan's hairline was receding. In real life, Larroquette has a remarkably full head of hair, even now, two decades after "Night Court" ended.)

Dan and I set out into the night to Cruise Chicks, which Dan did relentlessly on the show, although I cannot recall his ever having had a Wing Man. Actually, we ended up just riding the subway all over the city. It was a very old version of the NYC subway. For example, the seats were made of wood. Dan and I were still on the train went we met a pair of women. Very soon one of the women was cuddling with Dan and the other with me. Dan and his date vanished without saying goodbye.

I had sincere and respectful feelings for this woman I had just met, although I wasn't sure I convinced her of this. She took the initiative physically. We stayed on the subway for a while, hugging and kissing. But her emotions were very hard for me to read. I pointed out that I was not really bald, that I had shaved part of my head for the sake of Dan's feelings and that soon I would once again have a full head of hair. Her reaction to this news was hard to read.

We said goodbye for now. But I had to see her again. I went to the house where she lived with several generations of her family. Dozens of them were just sitting down to dinner in a huge dining room with rustic stone walls. The room had something of the bustling and cheerful atmosphere of a beer hall. Her family members apparently had heard of me -- the guy from the subway -- and seemed very glad to see me, physically pulling me into the house and down into a seat in the dining room. I took this reception as a very good sign about those feelings of hers which I had had trouble reading. But then she came into the dining room, and as soon as she saw me she turned her back and left the room again, and again I wasn't sure how to take this: was it shyness, or something significantly worse? Had I seriously offended her by coming uninvited to her home?

This bafflement and concerned continued for a while, and then suddenly I was dreaming about something else entirely: a young woman, a different woman, who was doing something or other which was brave and noble for some reason, and involved her being driven around in a car for a half dozen miles or so at a stretch while she recorded something. I did not know this second woman personally. I was following her story on the Internet. One website was providing detailed coverage, with a line or two of the significant data from each 4- or 5- or 6-mile car ride. She was very pretty, like a 20-year-old Jennifer Garner. I tried to convince myself that I was following the website's coverage of her research, complete with many photos and some videos as well, for the sake of science and not because she was so pretty. But I knew that both reasons were involved.

The woman had a dispute with her driver, who refused to continue providing the 4-to-6 mile rides, and so she hailed a cab. The cabbie recognized her and refused to accept any cab fare for the ride.

Then I had a medium-sized grey housecat laying on my lap and purring, and I suddenly realized that cats are benevolent aliens from outer space, here doing research and sending the findings back to their home planet. I realized that the purring was both an expression of pleasure and the sound the cats made when they transmitted to the mothership.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bias Toward Assuming That Jesus Existed

Clearly, in our culture the topic of Jesus is not handled the way that other topics are. In a culture which has been built around Jesus for 1600 years (ca AD 400 being the time in which public expressions of non-Christian worldview started to be severely curtailed), it should come as no surprise that the discussion of the historical Jesus does not resemble that of the historical Achilles or Arthur.

So, while I'm not telling you anything new when I say that Jesus has a unique place in our culture, I think it might be helpful to try to constantly keep this uniqueness in mind when we're talking about Jesus' historicity or lack of it. Habits of thought and speech which have accumulated over the course of thousands of years, and reinforced by deviations from acceptable expression being punished by torture and death, are not going to be shed so easily. Indeed, I doubt that it's yet possible even to be conscious of the extent of those habits.

And in addition to the effect that Christianity has had on our entire civilization, there is the added fact that for most of the past 1600 years, the Christian clergy held a a very tight monopoly on our educational institutions. For a large portion of the Middles Ages in Western Europe it was rather rare that someone who wasn't a member of the clergy could read. See how many Medieval works of history or science or philosophy you can find, let alone theology proper, which don't begin with a mention of Jesus. Investigate the relationships between the leaders of universities and the Catholic Inquisitions and Protestant witch hunts. This tight hold has relaxed somewhat, but we still don't find it odd -- if and when we pause to think about it at all, that is -- that very many of our leading universities in the US are run by churches, or how often private grammar and high schools run by religious institutions are still thought of as the best ones. In the Middle Ages Christian theology was called the Queen of the sciences, and theologians were the heads of the universities. Today theologians are only sometimes the presidents and chancellors of universities. But the line between Biblical scholars and theologians is still either very blurry or non-existent at most American universities.

What I'm saying is: OF COURSE there remains a great bias in favor of the assumption that Jesus existed and against any examination of that assumption. Of course the study of Jesus is dominated by a last-ditch defense of powers and authorities which used to come close to those of monarchs in many cases, and which exceeded those of monarchs in many others, besides those instances in which the local Prince and the local Bishop were one and the same. Of course many alliances between secular political power and Christian power and academic power remain, some plain to see and others decently shielded from the light of day. And of course tradition will be much more powerful in faculties of theology and Biblical studies than in some other faculties.

Where I came in was: the topic of Jesus is discussed differently than other topics. It receives many times more attention than the topic of whether Odysseus really existed. Or Paris and Helen. No one bats an eyes if you ask whether there really was a Helen. It's not a traumatic subject to anyone these days, with the possible exception of a few dozen especially-passionate Classical scholars. People react completely differently to the topic of Jesus. Of course they do. They very often lose their composure and, temporarily, a bit of their minds, whether in a pro- or anti-Christian way.

And I do think that there's a sort of traditionalist last stand going on in the very places which should be in charge of doing away with it: the places where academics specialize in the study of the New Testament and Early Christianity and Jesus. I'd be lying if I told you that the reaction of the experts to doubts about Jesus' existence didn't seem different to me, not only from contemporary academia in general, but also the reactions of the very same Biblical scholars when the topic is anything else. Anything else at all: Abraham's existence, Moses' existence, David's existence, John the Baptist's existence, Jesus' actual words, his actual deeds -- every single imaginable topic except for the topic of Jesus' actual existence. Bring that up, and a lot of them go kind of nuts. And almost all the rest go completely nuts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chess Log: On Not Wanting To Analyze Games I've Lost. Plus An Analysis Of A Game I Lost

All of the chess games I've written about on this blog have been games I've won, I think. I may have included a long game or two which I narrowly lost, but I doubt it.

I have noticed, in publications such as Chess Informant, that of the games commented upon by one of the players, the winners provide the commentaries much more often than the loser and much more often than either player in the case of ties. I have also noticed that World Champions comment on their losses much more often than other Grandmasters do.

And I've wondered whether this reflects one of the reasons they have been World Champions, one of the things which has singled them out from the herd of Grandmasters, all of whom probably could checkmate me 10 games out of 10 in 20 moves or less: chess is a game of mistakes. Doesn't is stand to reason that people who face their mistakes and carefully analyze what went wrong are less likely to repeat those mistakes than those who angrily turn away from their lost games and gloat over their wins instead?

Someone just handed my ass to me twice and I'm upset about it. I'll take a look at one of those games here. Can't guarantee I'll have any useful insights, because -- I'm upset and I don't want to do this.

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 ♕xd5 3. ♘c3 ♕e6 4. ♕e2 ♕xe2 5. ♗xe2 ♘c6 6. ♘f3 f6 7. O-O e5 8. d3 h5 9. h3 g5 10. ♘h2 g4 11. h4 ♗c5 12. ♘e4 ♗b6 13. ♗e3 f5 14. ♗xb6 axb6 15. ♘g5 ♘f6 16. ♖fe1 f4 17. d4 e4 18. f3 g3 19. ♘f1 e3 20. ♗b5 ♗f5 21. ♘h3 ♖a5 22. a4 ♗xh3 23. gxh3 ♔e7 24. c3 ♘d5 25. ♘d2 ♔f6 26. ♘e4 ♔f5 27. c4 ♘db4 28. ♖e2 ♘xd4 29. ♖g2 ♘xf3 30. ♔f1 ♔xe4 31. c5 bxc5 32. ♖d1 c6 33. ♗d3 ♘xd3 34. ♖c2 ♘h2 35. ♔g2 ♖g8 36. ♖c4 ♔d5 37. b3 f3 38. ♔g1 f2 39. ♔g2 f1=Q 40. ♖xf1 ♘xf1 41. ♔xf1 ♖f8 42. ♔e2 ♘e5 0-1 {White forfeits on time}

I played White. I noticed that Black was rated about 130 points higher than I, and I was thinking that I might gain some big points after 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 ♕xd5 3. ♘c3 ♕e6+, an opening I've seen quite a few times as White and which usually turns out well for me as I am able to develop faster than Black. But in this game, by 9. [...]g5 at the latest, I was already badly constricted by Black's pawn attack. It took me until my 15th move to get a Rook to e1, and I was never even close to checking Black's King with that Rook.

During the game it always seemed -- well, until the 30th move or so -- that I was just a move or two away from mounting a strong attack. But I never did. I wonder whether Black intentionally dangled what looked to me like openings: the diagonal from h5 to his King with 6. [...] f6, for example, or the diagonal from the other side with 19. [...] e3, in order to get me to overextend myself with attacks which weren't quite put together. I wonder whether Black was that far into my head, or if I was merely obliging him by played surprisingly badly.

By 29. [...] ♘xf3+ it was pretty much over, or maybe earlier than that, and it took me that long to become thoroughly discouraged.

We all already knew I was never going to be a Grandmaster. I can't guarantee that I'll do much analysis of my losses. It's really aggravating, just as brutal losses themselves are painful while they're happening. I don't claim to have analyzed this loss at all thoroughly. The next time I see 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 ♕xd5 3. ♘c3 ♕e6 I'll be more aware of developing my King-side pawns. I don't know how much of a difference that would've made in this game. It could hardly have made things worse.

PS, 21. October 2015: Recently I saw Guy Ritchie's film Revolver for the first time, and since then I've seen it a bunch more times. Among other other things, it deals with the involvement of the ego in the game of chess -- the interference of the ego with good play. Several times it's repeated that one must play stronger opponents in order to improve. (Also, the film has a bunch of Kabbalah symbolism. Did Guy get into Kabbalah because Madonna was into it? Or maybe vice-versa?) (It's also the only action-adventure crime drama I know which ends with talking-head appearances by several psychiatrists portraying themselves.)

Dream Log: Rushing Around In What May Have Been A Fictional Alternate Version Of Paris

I dreamed I was in a city which was neither NYC, the city I've dreamt about most frequently since before it was my home for a while, not the city I've dreamt about 2nd most frequently, another former home, Knoxville, Tennessee. I'm not sure whether my dream ever specified the identity of the city. As usual in my dreams, the dream city was significantly different from any actual city known to me.

This was a big city. Its sidewalks were thronging with great crowds of people like those in many parts of Paris, and like Paris, most of its buildings were not particularly tall by contemporary skyscraper standards. Unlike real-life Paris, much of its construction had a very new, even plastic-y feel. I didn't see any of the grand Neoclassical buildings which abound in central Paris. I didn't see the Eiffel tower either, but that doesn't mean that this wasn't supposed to be Paris, because the real-life Eiffel Tower was a great disappointment and bore to me.

I and a dozen or so young adults who didn't remind me of anyone I know in real life were rushing around the city in an activity which was hard to classify: it wasn't clear whether we were engaged in a game, a search, or some other activity, or a blend of several sorts of activities. Many things were unclear, such as whether we all could be considered one team or if we were competing against each other; and, if we were competing, whether the competition was friendly or lethal or somewhere in between. It felt much more serious than, say, a scavenger hunt, although I didn't know whether the seriousness was because we were deeply absorbed in the activity in purely an aesthetic way, or because we were prepared to do each other some kind of financial or even physical harm, or for some other reason still. I began to suspect that whatever real seriousness was involved here might be hidden from all one dozen or so of us. That we might be pawns in some game we didn't see.

The difficulty in classifying our activity reminded me of my idea of the Glasperlenspiel (glass bead game) in Hermann Hesse' novel of the same name. I don't know how accurate my conception of that game is, because I've still never gotten more than a couple of dozen pages deep into the novel.

There were maps of neighborhoods semi-affixed to structures in the sidewalks about the size of pool tables. We navigated by these maps, rushing from map to map. Someone could easily have ripped these maps away from the tables: each map was pasted or stapled down in only a few places. But no one in our group ripped away any of the maps. On the contrary, despite being in a great hurry, sometimes one of us would stop to try to fasten a map more securely to its table if it seemed to be coming loose. We had no maps of the entire city, so we had to rush from one of these neighborhood maps to the next.

Some of the regions of the city through which we rushed felt quite rural, like certain parts of Queens or Berlin: a house isolated here and there in a woods, a smell only of woods and not of city.

After a while I started to feel like discussing what we were doing with the others, asking them whether perhaps we weren't exerting ourselves either completely senselessly, or only for the benefit of someone else who might not have had our best interests at heart. (I feel very much the same a lot of the time in waking life, by the way. A LOT of the time.) But before I got around to raising the topic, I woke up.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Chess Log: 8-Move Checkmate

1. e4 g6 2. d4 ♗g7 3. ♘f3 d6 4. ♗c4 ♗g4 5. ♕d3 ♗xf3 6. ♕xf3 ♘c6??? 7. ♕xf7 ♔d7 8. ♗e6 1-0 {Black checkmated}

6th moves for Black which would've been better include ♘f6, ♗f6, e6, f6, and f5?! would've been better than the game move but I'm not sure it would've been good.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Numbers Of Manuscripts Of Some Classical Authors.

This in no way resembles any sort of comprehensive list of all known Classical manuscripts. I wish such a list had been gathered conveniently between book covers, and I could just refer you to the title and ISBN.

Maybe such a list exists. I haven't found it yet. What I have found is some running totals of the numbers of manuscripts known for this or that author. I've found some of these figures in volumes I've had for a while. They've often been hiding in plain sight in the footnotes, where I only recently thought to look.

In A Companion to Homer, ed by Wace and Stubbings, London: MacMillan, 1962, on p 229, in the footnotes to JA Davison's chapter "The Transmission of the Text," we learn that TW Allen had listed 190 medieval and post-medieval manuscripts of the Iliad in his 1931 edition, including 7 which also include the Odyssey, that Allen had listed 75 manuscripts of the Odyssey in volume V of the Papers of the British School at Rome, including those 7 already mentioned, for a total of 258 medieval and post-medieval manuscripts of Homer. Davison' notes also mention ancient manuscripts of Homer listed in RA Pack, Greek and Latin Litrerary Texts from Graeco-Roman Egypt, published in 1952: 381 manuscripts of the Iliad and 111 for the Odyssey. That adds up to a nice round total of 750 manuscript of Homer. Davison points out that these figures do not include quotations of Homer in the works of other authors, nor indirect sources.

And remember, this was in 1962. I would imagine that more Homeric manuscripts have come to light since then. How many more? I dunno. Can I provide an example of even one specific discovery made since 1962? Strangely, I cannot. There's a ton of stuff online about Homeric manuscripts in general and Homeric papyri in particular, and from my personal point of view, none of it is user-friendly.

In Die Platonhandschriften Und Ihre Gegenseitigen Beziehungen by Martin Wohlrab, published in 1887 in Leipzig by Teubner, page 643, Wohlrab says that his survey includes 147 manuscripts. (This Teubner volume is a reprint from an academic journal, and begins on page 643.) Also on p 643 Wohlrab said that surely many more manuscripts of Plato would be found. This was before the Oxyrhynchus excavations began. How many papyrii of Plato have been found at Oxyrhynchus? And down the road at Fayum? I dunno. Lots, I would imagine. But Wohlrab was talking about manuscripts laying around in libraries which hadn't yet been catalogued. Was he right, in the 1880, when he predicted that many more manuscripts of Plato would be found in libraries? I dunno. I would guess he was right.

In Texts and Transmission, ed by LD Reynolds, Oxford, 1983, on page xxvii, Reynolds counts up some surviving manuscripts of Sallust: 2 from the 9th century, 4 from the 10th, 33 from the 11th, 58 from the 12th, 39 from the 13th, 46 from the 14th and 330 from the 15th, for a total of 482, and adds in a footnote: "The figures are incomplete, especially for the later period." In addition to these medieval manuscripts of Sallust, there are 4 ancient papyrii. 486, but "the figures are incomplete."

On p 36 of Texts and Transmission, Michael Winterbottom mentions 162 recent and unimportant manuscripts of Caesar. I was unable to find a figure which included both the unimportant and the important manuscripts.

On p 412 of Texts and Transmission, Michael Reeve informs us that we have over 650 manuscripts of Terence and adds, "Published estimates stop at 450. I owe the new figure to Claudia Villa."

On p 394, Reeve mentions "over 160 manuscripts" of Statius' Thebiad. Just of the Thebiad. The total number of manuscripts of Statius is more. How many more? I dunno.

I don't know how many manuscripts there are of Cicero. I don't want to know. I'm not a fan. (There are lots and lots.)

And one more time for Reeve: on p 107 of Studies in Latin Literature and its Tradition: in Honour of C O Brink, Cambridge, 1989, he counts up 154 of the 3rd decade of Livy. That's just for the 3rd decade (books 21-30). The total number of Livy manuscripts is somewhat more. How many more? I dunno.

On p vi of his 2004 Oxford edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses, RJ Tarrant informs us that we have over 400 manuscripts of that poem. How many manuscripts do we have of all of Ovid's works? I dunno. Very many, I would imagine.