New Years Day, Observed (U.S.) 2017

  1. Outside the Domain of Knowledge
  2. The Nietzschean Superior Man
  3. Description ≠ Explanation
  4. Numbers That Should Bother Us
  5. “Reagan Forever” R.I.P.
  6. B.H.O. Appreciation
  7. How the Democratic Party Can Save Itself

1

Remember in “Othello” how the seasoned warrior is coaxed away from the realm of knowledge and into the adjacent territories of inference and rumor, by his old friend Iago? The minute he is severed from real life, on the “rack” of his own thoughts, declaring “Iago is most honest” after Iago has confided to us, “I am not what I am,” the noble Moor can’t be sure of a thing. Our pollsters, our pundits, our sources of “news” — our know-it-all selves — work much the same ground, though perhaps with less malicious intent, to persuade us that hearsay + opinion + guesswork = truth.

Greater access to knowledge is one of the glories of our age. Even many of our most materially deprived neighbors have the Library of Alexandria, multiplied by a factor of roughly infinity, in the palm of their hands, as no generation before ours has had. The amount of data in our control is part of what has made our lives richer and happier than ever before …

But one thing that happens when we acquire too much “knowledge” is that, like Othello, we sometimes fail to distinguish it from what can never be known, which may not be untrue. Another is that we’re tempted to lose sight of the distinction between those realms, like science and health, where the more data we have, the better, and others, like human relations, where the opposite may be true.

Knowledge comes to seem an end in itself, and then we gobble it down and gobble it down without stopping to realize that it’s Iago — or that anonymous writer of the Wikipedia entry — who’s serving it up to us, and that wisdom sometimes depends on seeing how much knowledge doesn’t know and how much every day is shaped by unexpectedness.

As a boy I was aware that knowledge was the coolest form of power around; nearly every adolescent wants to be in the know. What I couldn’t see was that it’s precisely in matters of highest importance — love, terror, is there a God, and why is Iago possessed by the Devil? — that we’re outside the domain of knowledge ….

(Pico Iyer)

2

H.L. Mencken, translator, interpreter, and passionate admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote that someone who acquires a million dollars by dishonest means is superior, in Nietzschean terms, to an honest man who has nothing.

(Marilynne Robinson, Cosmology, an essay in When I Was a Child, I Read Books)

3

Consider this strangely persistent materialism of the new atheist science. Its great confident seems to be based on a fundamental error. It takes whatever has been observed and described as having been explained. To describe the processes of ontogeny or mortality does not explain why we were born or why we die. Users of the Internet have downloaded instructions for making compost and instructions for making truck bombs. Both involve nitrogen. Their differences are vastly more important than their similarities, however. If their components and their assembly are described, and even if their effects are noted, they are still not explained. Explanation would necessarily involve an account of the intention behind their making.

(Marilynne Robinson, Cosmology, an essay in When I Was a Child, I Read Books)

4

Why am I writing about new automobile purchase costs and financing instead of how much fun it is to take the Audi 3.0T around curves, or how well the car’s all-wheel-drive system works in nasty weather?

The numbers bother me.

I’ve been going over vehicle finance reports by Interest.com, a consumer finance company, and they disturb me. Heck, they should disturb everyone in the automobile industry.

According to Interest.com and similar consumer finance reports, most residents of the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas can’t comfortably afford the current average new-vehicle price of $32,086. It has to do with median household income and new-vehicle down payments. Here’s the thing, according to Interest.com: Only well-employed folks in Washington, D.C., one of those 25 metropolitan areas — largely enhanced by federal largesse boosting the area’s average annual household income to about $75,000 — can comfortably afford a new car costing $32,086.

(Warren Brown, waxing a bit philosophical in a car review in the Washington Post)

We’re in the twilight of motoring anyway you cut it, despite all the chatter about electric cars and “driverless” cars … [O]ur problems with money and debt are so severe that the motoring paradigm is more prone to fail on the basis of car loan scarcity and unworthy borrows before the fueling issues even kick in. Every year, fewer Americans can afford to buy any kind of car — the way they’re used to buying them, on installment loans. The industry has gone the limit to help them — seven-year loans for used cars! — but they have no more room to maneuver. The car financing system is broken. Bear in mind the original suburbanization of America back in the 20th century — along with its accessory automobiles — must be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. So, a rebuild of all this stuff would represent more and possibly even greater malinvestment. We could have applied our post-WW2 treasure to building beautiful walkable towns and cities with some capacity for adaptive re-use, but we blew it in order to enjoy life in a one-time demolition derby. Life is tragic. Societies make poor choices sometimes, and then there are consequences.

(James Howard Kunstler, emphasis added) These are not quotes I pass along because I’ve come to dislike VW-Audi or because Kunstler writes colorfully. It has become my own conviction that peak oil is real (some who read this may laugh derisively, as they do about “global warming” when Mother Nature dishes up an especially cold winter day; to them I say “grow up” and “just wait”), and that I therefore cannot responsibly drive a really hot supercar that I personally could afford to buy and to fuel. Indeed, though my fair city is a bit hilly, I expect to make bicycling more feasible by getting an electric-assist bicycle for routine use April through October.

One of the really haunting, and seemingly plausible, views of the future is that the center cities will continue to revitalize and gentrify as the suburbs drift toward being occupied by people who will become poorer and poorer by the necessity of owning and fueling cars as fuel and auto prices climb. Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose.

5

The more time you spend complaining about a given feature of the political or cultural landscape, the more you can come to take its power and permanence for granted, to imagine that its decadence must be too resilient to overthrow.

In the case of the G.O.P., that decadence was the party’s “Reagan yesterday, Reagan today, Reagan forever” commitments, which seemed to me misguided but powerfully entrenched, so that an assault on party orthodoxy as frontal as the one that Trump mounted would eventually forge a defensive unity among the party’s politicians and ideological enforcers.

As indeed it did — in exactly one place, the Wisconsin primary. But everywhere else, from the talk radio dial to the halls of Congress to Fox News, Trump’s assault revealed that the party’s would-be statesmen were mostly hollow men and its enforcers were mostly ratings-hungry cynics. I had thought that the G.O.P. was run by true believers in a dated catechism. But really it was run by people for whom the Reaganite catechism only mattered because they controlled the inquisition, and once Trump’s army of heretics refused to disperse they had no stomach for a fight.

(Ross Douthat, fessing up once more on how he misjudged the Presidential race)

6

This is not calculated to endear me to my former party.

I often wonder how many kids look at our current president the way I once looked at President Clinton. Barack Obama was elected during my second year of college, and save for his skin color, he had much in common with Bill Clinton: Despite an unstable life with a single mother, aided by two loving grandparents, he had made in his adulthood a family life that seemed to embody my sense of the American ideal.

I suspected that there were skeletons lurking in his closet, too. Surely this was a man with a secret sex addiction, or at least an alcohol problem. I secretly guessed that before the end of his term, some major personal scandal would reveal his family life to be a sham. I disagreed with many of his positions, so perhaps a dark part of me wanted such a scandal to come out. But it never came. He and his wife treated each other with clear love and respect, and he adored and cared for his children. Whatever scars his childhood left, he refused to let those scars control him.

It is one of the great failures of recent political history that the Republican Party was too often unable to disconnect legitimate political disagreements from the fact that the president himself is an admirable man. Part of this opposition comes from this uniquely polarized moment in our politics, part of it comes from Mr. Obama’s leadership style — more disconnected and cerebral than personal and emotive — and part of it (though a smaller amount than many on the left suppose) comes from the color of his skin.

On Jan. 20, the political side of my brain will breathe a sigh of relief at Mr. Obama’s departure. I will hope for better policy from the new administration, a health reform package closer to my ideological preferences, and a new approach to foreign policy.

But the child who so desperately wanted an American dream, with a happy family at its core will feel something different. For at a pivotal time in my life, Barack Obama gave me hope that a boy who grew up like me could still achieve the most important of my dreams. For that, I’ll miss him, and the example he set.

(J.D. Vance)

I have excoriated Barack Obama for a few things, including his position on religious freedom, but for the traits I’ve pulled from Mr. Vance’s essay — particularly his exemplary family life and his “more disconnected and cerebral than personal and emotive” tone — part of me, too, will miss him.

Need I add that the personal and emotive tone of the President-Elect will be like nails on my personal chalkboard for however long he lasts in office?

You got a problem with that?

7

A Republic cannot long survive if one of its major parties is a cancer on the body politic. The Democratic Party should take the recent election results as an opportunity to reflect upon itself—its purpose, form and conduct …

Democrats can now do one of two things: they can console themselves with the unsophisticated notion that they “won the popular vote”–or they can take seriously the fact that President-Elect Trump’s victory is for all intents and purposes a victory on behalf of a coalition once built by Democrats and taken from them by Republicans since the times of Nixon—or given to Republicans ever since Democrats decided to rebel against America rather than represent it. A serious Democratic Party would not make the mistake of lamenting the existence of the Electoral College, endeavoring to tear down yet another pillar of American politics. A sane Democratic Party would stop opposing the American character and seek to represent and refine its better aspects in accordance with the Party’s great traditions. To do so would necessitate that, amongst other things, Democrats rediscover those traditions.

1. Abolish the super-delegates

First and foremost, the party of President Andrew Jackson—who fought to give the vote to every American rather than retaining it as a privilege for the rich and powerful and the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who busted the Party Machines and their Bosses in places like Tammany Hall in favor of the Common Man—can no longer remain the party which uses 500 “super delegates” appointed by party bosses to tilt primaries in favor of the bosses and against the people. The “super delegate” system must be abolished, and a democratic system must exist within the Democratic Party nominating process ….

(Peter S. Rieth, How the Democratic Party Can Save Itself)

The party kvetching about the undemocratic Electoral College uses boss-picked super-delegates! Hmmm.

I have never heard anyone speculate on the origins and functions of irony, but I can say with confidence that it is only a little less pervasive in our universe than carbon.

(Marilynne Robinson, Cosmology, an essay in When I Was a Child, I Read Books)

Snarky comments about irony aside, I have no more problem in principle with super-delegates than I have with the Electoral College. But the party bosses who appoint them strike me as out-of-touch and well left of the American political center, which I think was essentially the intention back in ’72. I’ve said before that ’72 is when the Democrats ceased being the party of the common man. And I do worry about the country should that continue (though perhaps a Democrat collapse would make room for the American Solidarity Party).

Maybe the 500 super-delegates should be allocated exactly 10 per state? Wouldn’t that make the party more competitive in the Electoral College? (Tee hee!)

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

About readerjohn

I am a retired lawyer and an Orthodox Christian, living in a collapsing civilization, the modern West. There are things I'll miss when it's gone. There are others I won't. That it is collapsing is partly due to calculated subversion, summarized by the moniker "deathworks." This blog is now dedicated to exposing and warring against those deathwork - without ceasing to spread a little light.
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