## Turtles All The Way Down

From this Quora question: In a Joe Rogan podcast, mathematician Eric Weinstein stated that the basis of all math is founded upon a few assumptions that cannot be proven. Can someone explain this to me?   One good answer from a frequent Quora poster, Andy Lund: [i]

…… Now suppose you have the number 1 and I give you another number 1, what number do you have? There is no number 1 in the physical universe. There is 1 goldfish, there is 1 oak tree, there is 1 cloud, but there is not just a plain number 1. You cannot just collect some numbers and count how many you have the way you can collect baseball cards. But we know 1+1=2. How do you prove it?

The Greek mathematician Euclid said that any two points can be connected by a line segment. How do you prove such a statement? There are no points in the universe, and no line segments either, only things that approximate points and segments. In fact, Euclid did not even tell us what a point of a line segment is, he just assumes we know what he is talking about. This kind of statement is called an axiom. It is just something that is assumed to be true because it makes sense. It is so basic that there is nothing from which it can be proven……

These assumptions are so basic that they cannot be proven, yet they are the basis for all Euclidean geometry (stuff you can draw on an infinitely large piece of paper). Try it yourself, try to prove any one of Euclid’s axioms. You cannot even show that a circle exists, it doesn’t in any real sense as everything in the real world breaks down at microscopic or subatomic levels. So how can you prove something so basic as any of Euclid’s axioms?

Math is like a tower; each new level is built on the ones below. At the bottom of the tower is the foundation, but what is that built on? It is nothing more than assumptions. Math ain’t turtles all the way down. [ii]  Quora

Hawking’s Equation

Math is the basis for most of modern science from physics to chemistry to the sophisticated statistical analysis of economics, sociology and even psychology. The foundation of the technological marvels of computer science, GPS navigation, the internet, CGI movies, everything that has so emphatically and irreversibly transformed our daily lives, is some complex mathematics.

Once we get past arithmetic, trigonometry, algebra, and basic geometry, maybe a smattering of calculus, the set of people that understands or can explain the math gets a little thin. There may be a few folks (I am not one of them) reading this who can explain and understand the depths of quantum physics or the seemingly simple “Hawking’s equation” that Stephen Hawking derived and put on his tombstone. Hawking’s most important discovery, it calculates entropy or the amount of disorder in a black hole system and changes everything apparently in understanding how the universe changes over time. Who knew? I know what pi means, that’s worth something, right?

All of it below where the turtles live is axiomatic – assumptions — are givens that we understand or intuit as true. Yet we moderns trust these turtles and more and more base our lives on what has been contrived from them. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Just writing this post relies on a laptop that relies on some math quite a few turtles down. And yet have we left something behind in our blind trust that technology and science alone will lead us eventually to the promised land of human perfection? Does this complex tapestry of science, as beautiful and elegant as it may be, contain all the truth we need?  That we will need?

“(T)he good news is that you can rearrange any subject to learn most of it very, very quickly. The bad news is that it will feel terrible because you will be told that you are doing the wrong thing and dooming yourself to a life of mediocrity as a jack of many trades, master of none – but in fact, the problem is that the jack of one trade is the connector of none.”  Eric R. Weinstein

In his essay, “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?” Leo Tolstoy writes of the slow, incremental process by which the character Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” decided to kill the old woman. “That question was decided….  When he was doing nothing and was only thinking, when only his consciousness was active: and in that consciousness tiny, tiny alterations were taking place…. Tiny, tiny alterations—-but on them depend the most immense and terrible consequences…and boundless results of unimaginable importance may follow from the most minute alterations occurring in the domain of consciousness.” [iii]

After a few centuries of deeply embedded ideas compiled from Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Hume, and many others, the tiny, tiny alterations accruing in the minds of all of us have changed us. The water in our goldfish bowl has come to be understood as all there is.  What was not that long ago discussed solely in late night sessions in the upper reaches of academia and in sophomore dorm rooms has trickled down to the commonplace axioms of post-modern humanity. We do not acknowledge that a constriction of mind has taken place, but we now operate with the unspoken assumption that only the material world we can see, touch, observe with sophisticated instruments and describe with the language of science matters in any real sense. Is the scientific method the sole crucible in which we can grind away until all is made clear?

Let us imagine that the beauty of metaphor, poetry, art, philosophy, and yes, even theology, also may contain another, a greater, more edifying, and elevated deeper truth. Let us imagine that to acquiesce in our gradually learned self-imprisonment, we have disdained the marvels to be discovered in other disciplines of our mind. In restricting our vision to only that of the science department, let me suggest that our lifelong education has become too purse-mouthed, pinched, squint eyed, and parsimonious – a stingy worldview that constricts and restricts our understanding.

“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald was writing of the first Dutch explorers who landed on Manhattan Island, but in his most quoted passage, he was calling all of us to much more than an historical reflection. He was calling us to contemplate our “capacity for wonder.” In this most perplexing winter of 2020/2021, such reflection would be very fruitful for any of us: an ‘aesthetic contemplation’ and a conversation most needed.

We correctly take advantage every day of the giant construct that math and science has raised above the foundation of axioms and self-evident assumptions, but other axioms and their attendant beliefs have been left behind. If we are honest in our ‘aesthetic contemplation,’ other self-evident axioms answer other deeper questions most of us fear to ask because the answers will change our lives and change us.

What is the basis for the intelligibility of the universe that undergirds every aspect of science and math and the insatiable human need to know and understand? Why is the universe intelligible and possessed of an order that allows investigation and not a hot chaotic mess or a void? Why is there something rather than nothing? Below all the turtles where regress finds its base, does there exist an Axiom, an Intelligence and Will beyond our tiny imaginings? An “Ipsum esse subsistens?[iv]

What is basis for beauty and its resonance in the human spirit? All the way down below harmony, color, tone, balance, and perspective, does there exist Beauty itself that can be known?

Intelligibility and Beauty ain’t turtles all the way down.

And we know it.

“As to that which I am ignorant of concerning myself, I remain ignorant of it until my darkness shall be made as the noonday in Your sight.” The Confessions of St. Augustine

[ii]Turtles all the way down” is an expression of the problem of infinite regress. The saying alludes to the mythological idea of a World Turtle that supports the flat earth on its back. It suggests that this turtle rests on the back of an even larger turtle, which itself is part of a column of increasingly large world turtles that continues indefinitely (i.e., “turtles all the way down”) .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down

[iii] Thanks to the piece “Tolstoy’s Prosaic Wisdom” by Gary Saul Morson in the Winter Edition 2020 of “Evangelization & Culture, The Journal of the Word on Fire Institute.”

[iv] Ipsum Esse Subsistens is a phrase popularized by Thomas Aquinas, that means the subsistent act of to-be itself. https://ipsumessesubsistens.com/

Filed under Culture views

## A sampling of 2020 walks

Filed under Uncategorized

## The Widening Gyre

“The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. (from “Rediscovering Lost Values”)” Dr. Martin Luther King

In 1972 my idealism, zeal, and what I came to learn was my naivete, led me to volunteer to participate in the nuts and bolts of activism within a political party rather than the demonstrations to which I previously had  been predisposed. First, we helped staff the survey phones for George McGovern. We were given a list of scripted issue questions, which carefully avoided directly asking for whom the subject planned to vote. After each call, we noted on our call sheet a ranking based on their answers from 1 to 5 with a 1 strongly supporting the other candidate and awarding a 5 if we thought they enthusiastically were on the side of the angels.

After some other tasks like signs and posters, on election day we newbies monitored voters at tables provided for party workers near the presiding officials at the polls. We carefully marked off each voter as they were announced, and late in the afternoon, delivered the marked off lists to our party coordinator. I was assured others would contact voters that favored us and offer them rides to the polls. I was living in Massachusetts, which was the only state the feckless Senator McGovern campaign carried, so I must have done a great job. We felt like insiders who worked the levers. How little did we know. I believe now we were “useful idiots,” as Vlad the First would say.

Years later, I learned through some who  are much more aware of how the world really works (as they are well established elected Democrat machine pols), that what really happened with my marked up list was likely some others more in tune with the party were sent in to vote for those who had not yet showed up. Especially targeted were the elderly and other registered voters known to be unlikely to venture out late in the day. Whether they were tallied in our surveys was irrelevant. Once when I was voting in the nineties before photo IDs were required, I personally witnessed at a polling place in Rhode Island[i] a chartered school bus parked out front in the early evening. A line of tired folks slogging through their civic duty was patiently queued up to reload the bus. One fellow near the front of the line asked another fellow checking names off a clipboard where they were headed next.

Before you grasp your head and moan that I am promulgating voter fraud myths and proposing that President Trump really won, I am not and cannot possibly know. Five hundred odd votes in Florida in Bush/Gore in 2000 are not 146,000 votes in Michigan in 2020. If I truly believed that voter fraud could be perpetrated on such a massive scale, I might despair. [ii]However, to believe that none occurs is to be as naïve as I was fifty years ago. I am a firm supporter of photo IDs, which we now have in Rhode Island, and they are not an onerous burden, as unwelcome as they are to the apparatchiks.

Then, again, tired poll workers may not have matched up signatures on millions of mailed in ballots as diligently as one would hope, and their training as graphologists may have been somewhat perfunctory. Lies and deceit on the scale needed to steal this most recent election seem inconceivable, but I have become a cynic, which is to be nothing more than an oft disappointed idealist.

“Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.” Mark Twain

Lies as morally acceptable in pursuit of desired ideological goals, the ethics of utility, relativism, and radical subjectivism should be considered in any discussion of election fraud. What is justified if our goals are considered (to us anyway) as noble and right? Does the whole democratic (small “d”) project break down when such malleable values are permissible? Are we asking the right questions?

Rita and I are more than a little wonky – no surprise, I am sure, to many of you. One night this week we streamed from a website that Rita found a ninety-minute panel discussion in 2015 between George Weigel and Yoram Hazony, well known writers and thinkers from the U.S. and Israel. A portion of the annual Advanced Institute in Jerusalem of the Tikvah Fund, the 2015 seminars covered in depth “God, Politics, and the Future of Europe.” “Tikvah hosted a conversation on “Modernity, Religion and Morality” to discuss the decline of Western Civilization and to probe some of the reasons behind it. What happens when faith in the God of the Bible deteriorates? How does that affect faith in reason and are the values of liberalism enough to sustain a society?”[iii]  See link in the notes below.

Many topics were touched on which have great relevance to that which so divides our society and whether Biblical morality has been overwhelmed by an aggressive secularization agenda, especially of the left. “Separation of Church and State,” both presenters contended means only no state intrusion into the practice of anyone’s faith (or lack of faith) and no designated state religion. Yet we seem to have decreed through an activist judiciary and press that no conscience informed by its faith has sufficient credentials to speak out on the vital moral issues of the day.  Is religion merely to be privatized, a pleasant, relatively harmless hobby for the weak, and no religiously informed conscience to be considered legitimate in public debate? The late Father Richard John Neuhaus coined a name for this public forum denuded of religion: the “naked public square,” wherein only non-religious voices should be heard. To me, these voices of objective reason informed by centuries of tradition are sorely needed, indeed critical, in a violently divided culture. What G.K. Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead” must not be silenced.

In these pages there have been previous discussions of the prerequisite of a morally sound electorate to sustain a democracy[iv]. I will not pursue those arguments again here, but I will suggest that a society deracinated of moral traditions could topple. A hundred years ago, one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, wrote this (first stanza of “Second Coming”), probably his most quoted verse and the source of dozens of titles of blogs and books:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

In our own individual lives and in the life of our mutual and precarious society, has the falcon flown beyond hearing range from the Source of wisdom, prudence, mercy, and justice? Have we pulled up all the essential moorings and, adrift, look helplessly at the rocks and surf? Is our battle spiritual, not merely political and ideological?

With a sigh of relief, maybe we are liberated from four years of turmoil and tweets; we apparently sent the traveling circus train packing and revived the progressive Kool-Aid express in a national election. Or maybe we would benefit from re-reading the fable of the scorpion and the frog[v] and wondering whom we are carrying across the river now.

What we next encounter may be an uncertain future, however the same necessary voices that the progressive vision seeks to marginalize are those which murmur their prayers and talk quietly of hope, trust, kindness, and love for every person from tiny to aged. May these voices be heard, here and now, and by their Source and Benefactor.

Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.” 2 Jn 8-9

[i] We boast a more than 90% Democrat legislature here in Lil Rhody, a textbook of venal corruption.

[ii] This is not to say that concerns of the defeated should be ignored. All legal means of verification must be pursued to their end. I did some analysis by state, and margins in the closely decided states are razor thin. In Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, (easily enough to change the final results), the average margins per voting precinct are 5.7, 6.1,6.3 and 4.7 respectively. Per thousand voters, the average margins for the same states are 3.2, 2.8, 8.8 and 6.2. A switch of between three and four voters per precinct in these states would flip the outcome. The coronation by the media notwithstanding.

[iii] From the introduction text to the video. Well worth your time some evening when CGI superhero fantasies and the bread and circuses of professional sports are not your viewing pleasure. https://tikvahfund.org/posts/modernity-religion-and-morality-a-conversation-with-george-weigel-and-yoram-hazony/

[v] The scorpion that could not swim asked the frog to carry him on his back across the river. The frog refused because he did not want the scorpion to sting him. The scorpion pointed out that if he did that, both would drown, so the frog agreed to take him across. Halfway across the river the scorpion struck, and the dying frog cried out, “You’ve killed us both. Why did you do it?” The scorpion replied, “Because it is my nature.”

Filed under Culture views, Politics and government

## Consistency

“The Tudors hated to be wrong, and therefore never were.” Jeane Westin, “His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester,” New American Library, New York, 2010

Arguably, the two most divisive and bitter disputes in our nation’s history, not to mention the bloodiest, remain the nadir of the deep rifts in our country still. The first was dodged deliberately by the writers of the Constitution, and the second not even conceived of as a possibility. Both of these conflicting visions were rooted in a fundamental disagreement about the nature of human dignity and held positions of prominence most clearly drafted by the largest political parties: positions which were utterly opposed to one another, adamantly maintained, and the same party was in grievous error on both. And for the same reason.

The first was temporarily remedied by President Lincoln in a dubiously legal executive order designated as the “Emancipation Proclamation.” A more permanent solution enshrined in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution was bitterly opposed by the Democrat Party. The 13th and first post-Civil war amendment ended slavery (except as a punishment for those convicted of crimes!?!).  Sending a constitutional amendment on to the states for ratification requires a two thirds majority in both branches of the Federal legislature.

The first step to ratification cleared quickly in the Senate. This remedy for the most grievous sin of the original Constitution was almost derailed by a larger minority Democrat contingent in the House. Passage in the House needed twenty Democrat votes added to all the Republican votes to attain a two thirds majority. Republican votes were secure in a party founded in anti-slavery convictions.  Only Lincoln’s arm twisting and procuring patronage jobs for soon to be unemployed lame duck Democrat representatives gained the requisite minimum Democrat votes, and the vote had to be taken before the post-election new Congress was formed. Some of the lame duck “yea” voters were menaced by other House Democrats who judged their self-serving betrayal of the party line as a capital crime. A few shots were fired, beatings inflicted, and dire threats abounded.

What immense harm and folly undoubtedly would befall the country if slavery were ended? What other ridiculous indulgences would follow? Would “n****rs” (their term) be granted full citizenship and, God forbid, the franchise to vote? Impossible. Most Southern Democrats saw this as a sure road to perdition and chaos. Democrats had owned all the slaves, and Democrats founded the Ku Klux Klan. Their Democrat political heirs wrote and enacted at the state level all the Jim Crow laws that perpetuated the degradation of the black population for another ninety years, and Democrats bitterly fought every measure of full equality.

As one result of the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties led by the heroes (and martyrs) of non-violence like Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson and others, those horrendous laws and practices belittling the dignity and worth of human beings based on their color finally were put to a well-deserved end. All men and women of any color in our country can sit now in the front of the bus, eat in any restaurant, sleep in any hotel, and drink from any fountain of water to slake their thirst.[i]

“I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.” Colonel Frank Slade as played by the wonderful Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

In the latter decades of the twentieth century and persisting to this day arose the second divisive issue that assails our unity: abortion “rights” vs. “pro-life” advocates. Along with “Black Lives Matter,” not much will heat up the temperature in a room more quickly than this topic. Whether the discussion is elections, judicial appointments or endless social media diatribes, the positions seem ever more entrenched. The crux of the argument seems eerily like the first one, and just as intractable with no easy compromise possible. Is the tiny person in the womb a human being with inherent dignity and worth, and thus worthy of every protection she can be afforded? Or is she chattel, disposable, a relatively easily discarded encumbrance, and with her very life vulnerable to the decision of her mother, many times herself in desperate, lonely circumstances? Does the tragedy of the circumstances of the mother outweigh the humanity of a new victim? And if so, how are these conflicting needs to be resolved without multiplying tragedies?

The embryology, and thus the science, is undisputed: a newly conceived fetus (from the Latin meaning pregnancy, childbirth, and offspring) is forever uniquely endowed with genes from her mother and father. She begins at conception a continuum lacking only oxygen, food, and protection from harm, and without violent interruption, she is inevitably bound towards a life as a mature fully formed adult human being. The science is clear. Her fate is not.

Democrats who are not completely on board with public funding for abortion for any reason at any stage of fetal development up to birth are subject to harassment, stripped of Democrat credentials and political power or threatened with being “primaried,” which has become a coercive verb. Disavowed, disinherited, expunged from the record and party support. The money behind this comes from Midas wealthy and seemingly bottomless sources like Planned Parenthood and George Soros. They will not quit, and their pink shirted, vagina hat wearing, full throated, true believer underlings flood state houses across the land to intimidate and shout down all opposition to their program.

After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many lamented the passing of this brilliant long serving jurist. Agree with her judicial philosophy or not, her dedicated service as a jurist was defining. Sadly, mourning was co-opted by the abortion agenda in many places. Here in Rhode Island, an RGB shrine was set up at the State House as for a saint, ostensibly to honor the memory of Justice Ginsburg, but the hardcore subtext of this shrine was the perceived peril to unfettered abortion access, the blasphemous sacrament of the progressive movement. If any doubt exists about its primacy, zoom in on the picture of the Rhode Island statehouse shrine to RBG shown above.

Just as after many battles the dignity of the individual human person of color was declared and clarified in the civil rights struggle, will the innate humanity of tiny people worthy of love and safeguarding be similarly clarified and authenticated?  Will choices we make about who is free, who prospers and who dies continue to be utilitarian decisions, disregarding the intrinsic worth of that single life created Imago Dei? By denying the innate value of even one human person because of their race, gender, ethnicity, degree of imperfection or tiny size, we diminish the value of every life, including our own.

Those, dear friends, are questions worth pondering and the answers to them will characterize our civilization or its degradation, and inevitably form our individual hearts.[ii] Will we hasten our slide into dehumanizing the most vulnerable individual human life, or will we begin to claw back up the hill towards rediscovering and resurrecting our humanity? Quo vadis, America?

“’I hope you care to be recalled to life?’

‘I can’t say.’”     Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities”, Chapman and Hall, London, 1859

[i] This is not to say that all Democrats of that era were bigots or persisted in fighting for repression of and disrespect for the dignity of black people through these heinous rules and regs. Certainly, John and Robert Kennedy along with Senator Hubert Humphrey come to mind. Ultimately after the assassination of JFK, the powers in the Democrat Party saw begrudging opportunity in the franchise for black voters, and they shifted to the cynical sanctimony many still pretend to.  When President Lyndon Johnson was speaking to his mentor and friend, Southern Democrat, Senator Richard Russell, who was leading the longest filibuster in Senate history (over 75 days) against the Civil Rights Bill (as reported by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book” “Lyndon  Johnson and the American Dream”), Johnson said this:

“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”

[ii] In relating these two issues,  I was struck also by the other egregious instances of utilitarian dehumanizing of innocent men, women and children perpetrated by the United States government: the firebombing of Bremen, Dresden, Tokyo and most other large cities in Germany and Japan near the end of WWII. As well, the only use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations in world history in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was by the U.S.

One also is reminded of the stigmatizing of Japanese Americans, many of them generations deep as American citizens by the Roosevelt administration, which sequestered them involuntarily based solely on their race in stockade internment camps during WWII, judging them as less than human and not worthy of trust, respect or dignity.

All these atrocities were presided over by Democrat presidents. First it is necessary to strip human beings of their status as human beings, and once dehumanized, almost anything is possible from lynching, mass murders and imprisonment to abortion and slavery. The common factor in these affronts to human dignity is obvious: the party of the perpetrators.

Filed under Politics and government

## Diner Revisited 2020

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Art Institute of Chicago

“A poet could write volumes about diners because they’re so beautiful. They’re brightly lit, with chrome and booths and Naugahyde and great waitresses.” David Lynch (Interview with Brian Hiatt in “Food and Wine,” March 2015)

Josef Stalin once said that a single death is a tragedy, while a million are a statistic. I thought of that this week when I read that New York City restaurants are suing the city for two billion dollars due to the losses incurred by the COVID restrictions and shutdowns. Estimates are that forty-five to fifty percent of restaurants here on Aquidneck Island will not be able to reopen when the dust settles over the corona demolition explosion imposed, necessarily or excessively, by a flourishing bureaucracy. Months, maybe years, and much analysis may determine eventually the wisdom of all the moves. Lives and businesses are holed and many shipwrecked by the torpedoing; some will recover and heal over time. Some will not.

We also heard recently that Reidy’s Family Restaurant in Portsmouth, which closed temporarily in March when the state shut down restaurant dining, will not reopen. Two years ago I posted on this blog a piece titled simply “Diner” on our first visit to Reidy’s and our affection for all good diners. We enjoyed quite a few breakfasts there, especially after Mass on Sunday, so their demise is a bit personal, as it is even more to many others. Crowded, hectic, friendly with a special regard for military veterans and with a crew of regular servers and customers.

While not a ‘regular’ daily visitor as some were for morning coffee and muffin and reading the Newport Daily News, a closed restaurant leaves a hole, especially for the owners, but also for the customers who frequent them and build a stop into their routine. Conversations with other first name regulars, sharing intimacies sometimes not even shared with family. Some of the NYC restaurants signed on for the lawsuit are large corporate affairs, but many are not. However, a place like a fifty something year old local diner has neither the resources nor wherewithal for such legal strategies.

Each such enterprise has an ambiance, carefully designed, or evolved; a vision, someone’s dream and fruit of long, exhausting days and nights. A neighborhood gathering place. Exhilarating days with a collapse into bed afterwards. Hopes rewarded. Years of challenges, disappointments and recoveries, victories, anxiety, and obstacles overcome; persistence rewarded. Friends made with familiar faces. The nearby Dunkin Donuts has a group of its own regulars, who while they cannot yet go inside to their accustomed booth, still gather every morning for an hour or so outside in the parking lot sitting in lawn chairs they haul over in their cars. Reidy’s familiars do not have that option. There is no facility or room for a drive through to sell their great coffee to go. So, what was a large part of a schedule, for some a lonely schedule living alone, is no longer.

As ol’ Joe said, each death is someone’s tragedy, and I wonder today, if with more prudent management and attention to some of the collateral damage from a state bureaucracy and progressive governor,[i] how many of these little deaths were essential to public safety.

“I just feel like the most important conversations I’ve had in my life have been at a diner counter.” Ramy Youssef

[i] The state of Rhode Island despite hour upon hour of public relations daily press conferences is fifth in COVID mortality in the country and worst in the country with over 80% of COVID deaths taking place in nursing homes or assisted living facilities among its most vulnerable when 94% of COVID deaths occur with those having one or more comorbidity factors. All the sanctimonious posturing notwithstanding, the state remains the only state in the northeast still on other area state’s mandatory quarantine list. Meanwhile, so many local businesses are shuttered. It seems the governor paid attention to the wrong vulnerabilities, both among its businesses and citizens.

Filed under Personal and family life, Politics and government

## Unconventional

“This was the bursting of the dam of potential trouble that had been building for years. The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people…[who are the products of] a tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West, saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality, and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.” Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, (as quoted in “The Handwriting on the Wall “, George Weigel, “Fragility of Order,” Ignatius Press, 2018)

Kenosha Sunset

Rabbi Sacks was commenting upon the violent 2011 riots that swept major British cities in August of 2011 after the shooting of a black man, Mark Duggan, by police. Looting expensive shops, destroying whole sections of London by fire, pelting police with thrown objects, and burning buildings and cars, the rioters distinguished themselves with their viciousness, not unlike Milwaukee, Seattle, Chicago, Portland, New York,  and now Kenosha.

I am reminded of some of the peaceful demonstrations and some of the riots in 1968 here in the United States, in Chicago, but quickly metastasizing across many campuses and cities. Protests with many of the same causes began with signs, marches, speeches with hand-held amplifiers, prayers, chants, and songs: legitimate issues of concerned citizens that needed redressing and attention. Demonstrations of the heartfelt passions of citizens then too were co-opted by bad actors, many of whom had a Marxist agenda. They too diverted the protests into looting, riots, and violence, planting social unrest, fear, and chaos. Social unrest that manipulation of the media feeds by design; far Left activism grasps for power as is its nature.

Disillusionment with leaders like those from the Weather Underground[i] and Black Liberation Army drove some, maybe many, of my naïve, romantic, deceived, and idealistic generation to opt out of continuing to battle for necessary reform, retreating into a dope smoking perpetual “summer of love” haze or other more comforting options like joining the cadre of the privileged Baby Boomer generation repurposed into the unprecedented opulence of eighties greed and material acquisitions. Swap that VW bus with the tie die paint job and hand painted protest signs for the Benz, vegan restaurants, and health spas.

Bob Dylan, bard of the Sixties, wrote many protest songs in the sixties that became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war protests. “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rains a gonna Fall,” and others. As he matured in his experience, genius, and craft, Dylan regretted some of them and the purpose to which they were put by others. He saw them as less nuanced and more simplistic than the understanding of the culture into which he grew later, and he was disappointed by their exploitation. He said this in interviews and in some of his later songs, most notably in “My Back Pages:”[ii]

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate, ” I screamed

Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed

Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now….

A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool

Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school

“Equality, ” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

“When I was at the Academy,” I said, “we had to read about it (Battle of Waterloo). The Duke’s[iii] army was full of riffraff, a lot of them had been grabbed off the street by press gangs, a lot of them let out of prison to fight.”

Virgil nodded, watching the horsemen.

“So,” I said. “Somebody asks the Duke before the battle how he feels about his army. And he says, ‘I don’t know if they will scare the French, but they scare the hell out of me.”  Robert Parker, “Resolution,” G.P. Putnam’s Sons, London, 2008

Kenosha Sunrise

The words “unconventional” and “convention” as well as “convent,” and even the derivation “coven” originate in Latin roots that mean “coming together.” Some irony exists in what political conventions have become: gatherings of the like-minded to feed division. The latest iterations, even with the COVID remote restrictions, were no exception, and there are far too many examples to cover in a blog post.

We will benefit from looking at just one.

The Democrat party convention avoided discussion of its complicity with, tacit approval of, and even advocacy for two notable and unpopular instances of violence. The tame press corps did nothing to call them to account. No surprise the Republicans sought to exploit the vulnerability.[iv]

The first instance was to ignore almost entirely the riots, looting, chaos and violence that still is rolling like a stormy tide over city streets, destroying businesses already barely surviving from COVID stress, invading residential neighborhoods, and attacking police with thrown rocks, improvised explosives and vision damaging lasers. Very few Americans irrespective of their positions on the protest issues support the violence, yet the party remains mute, fearful lest they displease the most radical elements of their base.

The second ignored violence was worse. The Biden/Harris ticket is the most radical ever of any major political party in support of abortion “rights.” Even with Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court decisions usurping all legislative prerogatives and costing the lives of sixty million tiny Americans, upping the toll remains high on the list of Democrat priorities. The Democrat platform supports abortion for any reason at any stage in human gestation up to and even past birth as well as pushing for government funding for these grotesque procedures.

Kamala Harris, when she was Attorney General in California, conspired with Planned Parenthood to prosecute and bankrupt David Daleiden[v], who published undercover videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s illegal sale of fetal body parts for profit[vi]. Harris has openly stated she favors prosecuting pro-life activities as hate speech. The convention tried to project her as moderate.

Only 17% of Americans support this radical position. Over 75% support at least some restrictions after the first trimester. Sadly, many Americans believe those restrictions are in place and are dismayed when they learn they are not. No dismay at the Democrat party, however. Their political war chest is well provisioned with funds from the wealthy abortion lobby and its allies.

In the closely scripted theatrics of the 2020 convention, they thoroughly avoided mention of the extreme methods to which they subscribe. No doubt, polling, focus groups, and highly paid consultants advised a low profile on that one. The consultants were right to try and hide the agenda; they were tragically wrong on the unfiltered agenda’s intended purpose.

Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” John F. Kennedy, Presidential inaugural address, 1960

[i] Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, spoke openly on tape of her and fellow founders being ‘trained Marxists.’ They were protégés of former Weather Underground member, Eric Mann. The Weather Underground was a Marxist terrorist organization with a string of convictions for cop killing, armed bank truck robberies and murders. Their name was derived from a line from the Bob Dylan song Subterranean Homesick Blues:  “Don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

[ii]My Back Pages,” Thirtieth Anniversary concert with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Roger McQuinn and others.

[iii] Duke of Wellington, who’s British forces defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, ending a bloody war and ending the string of victories for the “Le Petit Caparal” and his aspirations for empire.

[iv][iv] Four speakers at the Republican convention were explicit in this: Daniel Cameron, Attorney General of Kentucky, Abby Johnson, former Employee of the year at Planned Parenthood who now directs an organization dedicated to helping employees of that organization to extricate themselves, and Sister Dede Byrne, surgeon, retired Army Colonel and now a member of a religious order dedicated to serving the poor. Perhaps most moving was Ann Dorn, widow of retired police captain David Dorn, who went to his friend’s small store in St. Louis to try and protect it from looters. He was murdered, and his murderers posted his killing on Facebook.

[v] Webinar on Daleiden persecution by Harris from Thomas More Society, which defends religious freedom and pro-life work. https://youtu.be/tHH9Y40jikE

[vi] Watch the videos yourself and make up your mind if disclosing the illegal Planned Parenthood activity merited coverage by Daleiden. http://www.centerformedicalprogress.org/cmp/investigative-footage/

## Transcendent

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo Buonarroti

On Pentecost Sunday in May of 1972, Laszlo Toth, a Hungarian-born Australian geologist, attacked with a hammer and seriously damaged Michelangelo’s marble Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City[i]. He was never charged with a crime, but in a pretrial hearing he was found mentally incompetent. Sentenced to two years in an Italian mental institution out of “One Flew Out of a Cuckoo’s Nest,[ii] he underwent twelve electro-shock treatments, was eventually released, and immediately was deported back to Australia where he faded into obscurity. The Pieta had one exquisite eyelid and the nose of the Blessed Virgin smashed off, her right hand broken to pieces and her left arm and hand smashed and knocked off. A painstaking restoration that took eight months ensued with over a hundred pieces, including many tiny chips carefully collected at the site. Some pieces stolen by tourists at the scene were never recovered and had to be reconstructed.

Why such a massive endeavor of many skilled artists and art historians to fix a busted-up statue[iii] that a madman took a geologist’s hammer to? In just one aspect of the effort, to perfectly match the stone, like a graft in a careful reconstruction of a damaged human being, a small block was removed from her back to reconstruct her nose from the exact mold made of the statue before the attack. Donations from around the world funded the rescue project[iv].

Michelangelo only signed this one sculpture in his life and told others the large block of marble he located after a long search in Tuscan Carrera quarries was the single most perfect piece of stone he had ever found. He began an almost two-year project with a broad chisel and chipped away large pieces of marble. Slowly, carefully with exquisite attention to the least detail, he refined his work to tiny careful strokes with small tools and polishing until, as he once said, only the piece in his vision that had been potential in the stone from the beginning was revealed. From the folds of her garment, the veins in the dead Christ’s arm, the realism of her eyes and suffering of her soul, the Pietà is unique in skill, conception, and accomplishment. Considered by many the most important sculpture of the Italian Renaissance, this marvel merged the classical ideal of beauty with the astonishing naturalism and skill that made his art priceless and irreplaceable. This fortuitous marriage of the natural beauty of marble and genius is unique. No effort at restoration could be too diligent.[v]

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” Economist and Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling

Why would the anger and insanity[vi] of an extremely bright troubled man express itself in such radical iconoclasm with a mad passion to destroy beauty? Perhaps that can never be answered either in our current batch of angry iconoclasts or ever. Beauty evokes the transcendent, and beauty is objective in the hearts of human beings. There are subjective modes and varying ideas of what exactly is beautiful, but Beauty itself resonates whether in nature, sculpture, painting, music, or the eyes of our beloved.

“Transcendent” derives from the Latin meaning “climbing over.” From what, we ask? To where, we wonder?  I read recently that we mistake heaven as “somewhere” else, and the more accurate insight is “somehow” else. Not a different place, but a different manner of being entirely outside of time or space.

In a time long ago when Michelangelo, Dante, and Shakespeare roamed the earth, the “transcendentals” were three: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. All were aspects of the nature of God to those who understood themselves to be creatures fashioned in Love. Now we understand ourselves to be lucky sentient conglomerations of organized protoplasm and beneath that random collections of molecules, atoms, quarks, quantum variations and energy fields. Accidentally sentient. Protoplasm organized by Whom, we dare not speak.

As to the True, that has disappeared into a pit of radical skepticism. “There is your truth and my truth and who knows?” The Good has melted away into the miasma of the “dictatorship of relativism.”[vii] “Who are you to tell me how to pursue what I desire, etc.” But Beauty still holds its own, and desecrating beauty still offends some deep aspect of our humanity. And Beauty draws us to God.

Bishop Robert Barron describes this far better in a passage from his newest book, “Renewing Our Hope,”[viii] which I advise you to buy immediately and explore in depth:

”Following Dietrich von Hildebrand, we should say that the truly beautiful is an objective value, to be sharply distinguished from what is merely subjectively satisfying.[ix]  This means that the beautiful does not merely entertain; rather it invades, chooses and changes the one to whom it deigns to appear. It is not absorbed into subjectivity; it re-arranges and re-directs subjectivity, sending it on a trajectory toward the open sea of the Beautiful itself.”

Well before the war that defined him, Winston Churchill wrote an essay in which he imagined a future where mankind had secured a life of great pleasure, wealth, and convenience. But, Churchill wondered, would that be sufficient for happiness?

Learning to infuse our souls with the reality of the transcendentals Beauty, Goodness and Truth and their Author is the basis for our final happiness.

“What did they know more than we know about the answers to the simple questions which man has asked since the earliest dawn of reason—‘Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Whither are we going?’ No material progress, even though it takes shapes we cannot now conceive, or however it may expand the faculties of man, can bring comfort to his soul.” Winston Churchill, 1931

[v] Controversy surrounded the restoration. Some maintained the marks of violence should be left unrepaired to signify the violence of the times. Others said restoration should leave lines and signs of repair for authenticity, but finally due to the uniqueness and precious nature of the work, the decision was to make the restoration as flawless as possible.

[vi] While striking twelve blows with his hammer, Toth alternatively screamed he was Jesus Christ and Michelangelo.

[vii] Phrase from Benedict XVI. “In recent years I find myself noting, how the more relativism becomes the generally accepted way of thinking, the more it tends toward intolerance. Political correctness … seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past. It presents itself as the only way to think and speak — if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. … I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment, which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion.” Without Roots, Joseph Ratzinger, New York, Basic Books, 2006

[viii] Renewing Our Hope, Robert Barron, Washington, DC, The Catholic University of America Press, 2020, https://bishopbarronbooks.com/renewing-our-hope

[ix]  Christian Ethics, Dietrich von Hildebrand, New York, David McKay Company, Inc., 1953

Filed under Culture views

## Quaker Hill

“There is a hill about 7 miles from Newport, and on the Eastern side of this Island, called Quaker Hill, from whence there is a very fine view of all the N. part of the Island, and of the adjacent islands, and the Continent for many miles. The many fine and well cultivated islands, and the beautiful bays and inlets, with the distant view of towns, farms and cultivated lands intermixed with Woods, together with the many vies of the adjacent waters, contribute to make this (even at this bleak season of the year) the finest, most diversified, and extensive prospect I have seen in America…. In the beginning of Summer this must be a delightful vista, and I should think hardly to be equalled in America, or any other Country. Major Frederick Mackenzie, British Army occupying Aquidneck Island, 1778[i]

When we do not have the time for one of our favorite longer excursions on the beaches or wildlife refuges, we will walk to the bottom of Pine Tree Street and turn north on Middle Road past our bovine friends in the heifer pen at Escobar Farm. We turn back home after a mile or so at the Friends Evangelical Meeting House and old cemetery. The Friends Meeting House was founded in 1658, and the current building constructed in 1700.  There is a small group of Quaker Friends who thankfully have been doing some meeting and renovating to this marvelous building.

We live on the back side of Quaker Hill and walk by most of it on the way to the Friends Meeting House. Unwavering men battled and died on Quaker Hill in the August 29th dénouement of the 1778 Battle of Rhode Island when an expeditionary force was sent from Fort Barton in Tiverton to free Newport from British occupation. Led by General John Sullivan, the Americans were forced finally to an orderly retreat. After a full-blown hurricane had devastated the allied French fleet that was to have aided the Americans, the better positioned and dug in British forces held the advantage.

Sullivan laid a trap for the British 22nd Regiment luring them with collapsing skirmish lines on the north end of Aquidneck Island, and after repeated assaults on Butt’s and Quaker Hills, the combined British and Hessian troops eventually deserted the field with heavy losses abandoning their dead and wounded. Major Samuel Ward commanded a division of black troops promised their freedom; they repulsed at least three desperate concentrated attacks by the much-feared Hessians, fighting bayonet to bayonet. Lafayette rode seventy miles in seven hours to Boston to convince the French Admiral d’Estaing to return to the battle, but to no avail. Without the French fleet to prevent British ships from cutting them off, General Sullivan had no option but to retreat to safe mainland positions lest they all be trapped. The only major battle of the Revolution in the state, it was one of the largest of the war. The Battle of Rhode Island saw 211 Americans killed or missing; 1,023 British and Hessian troops died or were captured.

Thus, Newport remained in British hands for another two years and through the terrible winter of 1778-1779 when Narraganset Bay froze over.  Those that could fled to the mainland to avoid freezing and starvation. Many did not. The thousands of occupying British troops looted and destroyed homes, stealing firewood, livestock, vegetable stores, clothing, and furniture. They displaced occupants who had been generations in their homes and moved in. Burning about 300 cords of wood a day, not a tree remained standing within five miles of the harbor. No fence post or wooden grave marker escaped the campfires. Scarcely a tree survived on the entire island. Of the thousand or so buildings in the once prosperous trading city, about half were destroyed. Many invaluable books from the Redwood Library were brought to England. Occasionally, they forayed to the mainland and burned and ransacked the towns of Bristol and Warren. At the end of the war, when the Brits moved out two years later, they burned more buildings and filled the wells with dirt and garbage; they scuttled many of their own ships in the harbor to render it impassable and deny use of them to the remaining citizens. The Newporters who lost most of what they had built for 150 years, never lost their resolve to be free.

It took a hundred years for the once major city to begin to recover, and Newport never regained its former prominence in commerce or general prosperity, even with the famous mansions of out of towners on the southern end of the island.

“It only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth.” Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights, 1977

The Newporters were Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Jews and even a few Papists. The first synagogue in America is still there. Newport’s founders fled the Puritan excesses of Massachusetts, and Newport was one of the first true hubs of religious freedom and tolerance.  What they shared along with the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was a common understanding: that human beings found true happiness in and aspired to virtue and in a relationship with the transcendent Creator. However they varied in their specific interpretations from Deists like Thomas Jefferson to devout Christians like John Adams, all agreed that the democratic experiment was possible only with a people willing to sacrifice their own pleasure and prosperity for the good of all and to forgo immediate comfort for the future well-being, freedom and security of their children.

“No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and . . . . their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice . . . . These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.” Thomas Jefferson

“To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” James Madison

“Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.” George Washington

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Benjamin Franklin

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams [i]

Yes, Jefferson and Washington were slave owners. John Adams was a poor father to his sons. Franklin was a libertine. All of them had quirks, foibles and flaws. Are we better prepared to address the new challenges that face us by ‘cancelling’ them or studying them in their complexity, both the good and the bad? How do we benefit from deconstructing and revising our history from the true with all its blemishes to the tokenism that mirrors current politics?  What have we lost by dumping the objective reality of ‘the good, the true and the beautiful’ as ideals and ditching the pursuit of virtues like prudence, fortitude, temperance, and blind justice without grievance politics?  How does splashing paint, burning books and tearing down monuments to saints elevate necessary conversation? And how do those things differ from the Taliban destroying ancient Buddhist monuments or brown shirts burning books in pre-war Germany when ideology overpowers reasoned thought?

As we walk along Quaker Hill, we reflect on our current state and wonder how our current citizens, bickering over trivial inconveniences like hunkering down a bit to protect one another’s health or grocery stores running out of toilet paper, would bear up to the deprivations of 1778. Mired in splintered ever shrinking groups, each with their own complaints real and imagined and self-serving remedies, is there still a cohesive vision for us as a society? [ii]Can a post-modern culture of entitlement, pleasure seeking, radical subjective individualism, shattered common truths, and abandoned moral guideposts hold together a still experimental project and vision called America? Does such a vision even still exist? Questions we and our children must ponder and resolve.  Or not.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Martin Luther

[i] Quote taken from Newport: A Lively Experiment 1639-1969, Rockwell Stensrud, © 2015 by Lively Experiment LLC and Rockwell Stensrud, D Giles Limited, London, in association with the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, RI

[ii] And many others, including those of luminaries of democracy in other countries:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsel of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” Edmund Burke

## Magnanimous

“There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

In two of my favorite Oscar winning Peter O’Toole movies he played the same historical figure, Henry II of England. In the first, “Becket,” the young Henry eventually has his former close friend St. Thomas Becket, played by Richard Burton, murdered in the cathedral. Both O’Toole and Burton were nominated for Best Actor for the film. In the second, “Lion in Winter,” late in life, Henry bickers bitterly and poignantly with his exiled wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wonderfully portrayed by Katherine Hepburn; they spar brilliantly over succession among the sons Richard the Lionhearted, Jeffrey and John. John, of course, eventually becomes king after the death of Richard and is the villain of the Robin Hood legends. Battles, conspiracies, crusades, and palace intrigue follow all of them all their lives.

King John, devious, adulterous and with a vindictive pettiness that alienated the nobles of the land was forced by the barons to sign the Magna Carta (the Great Charter), a foundational document of the Western world. The king for the first time acknowledges that a king too is subject to the law and that his subjects have rights, including a trial by jury and the beginnings of what evolved into a representative parliamentary form of governance.

“Be afraid only of thoughtlessness and pusillanimity.”  St. Pope John Paul to thousands of young people in Krakow, Poland, June 1979

The word “magnanimous” is a combination of the same Latin root from the Magna Carta, “magnus” or great and “animus,” meaning soul or mind. “Animus” also gives us animated and animal (self-locomotive as opposed to a vegetable). Magnanimous is ‘great souled’ and has come to connote generous and forgiving. A thesaurus gives us noble, benevolent, and altruistic.

“Pusillanimous” is similarly derived from the Latin root “animus,” but the preceding root “pusill” comes from the Latin meaning “very small,” so the combination produces “small minded” or “tiny souled.” Today it has come to mean “lacking determination” or “lacking courage.”  The same thesaurus suggests spineless or cowardly.

Since human beings are uniquely in possession of souls, it matters whether ours are great or tiny. Inextricable from our bodies, we are not ghosts imprisoned in machines. Souls are without material existence, and their fusion with material bodies causes no end of complication and sin, original and actual. Our bodies crave food, comfort, pleasure, protection and retain a controlling drive to propagate other bodies a lot like our own. Our long-suffering souls contend with our material cravings all our short mortal lives seeking wholeness and holiness. Our bodies consist of the same elements that comprise the rest of the universe, forged in the stars and spewed out in vast volume every millisecond of the thirteen billion years of known time. We are spirit and material: stardust and soul.

Pusillanimity and tiny souls seem to govern our public discourse and especially in media, social or otherwise. Whether the ‘cancel culture’ or COVID controversies or environmental crises or proper governance or religion or even what is good for us to eat, our predilection for unreflective rote, rancorous and repetitive talking points in lieu of thoughtful discourse in pursuit of an objective understanding of our perilous situation is disheartening and portends no good outcome.

We have a desperate want for some more great souls: some new beginning with the magnanimous, starting with our own tiny souls and then among our leaders on all sides.

Our ephemeral and ever-changing challenges flood in from every streaming stimuli and seem daunting enough, but that ain’t the half of it. Some recent articles suggest we have more pressing long-term challenges that make COVID, destroying and denying history, neo-Nazi white supremacy, neo-Marxist Black Lives Matter, and defunding police seem like easily resolved minor troubles and soon to be footnotes.

“As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began,

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire…” Rudyard Kipling

To quote the great philosopher Ian Malcolm in the movie “Jurassic Park”: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think whether they should. Indeed, “should” or “ought” appear to have lost their cache altogether. Moral relativism and a narrow material view of our existence without metaphysics have the podium and the gavel and no inclination to give them up.

One article on Science.com laid waste to the soothing idea that CRISPR technology gene tinkering with human embryos was the work of a single rogue Chinese scientist a couple of years ago. And he conveniently disappeared as inconvenient people tend to do in the People’s Republic. Read CRISPR Gene Editing Prompts Chaos in DNA of Human Embryos about recent experiments on human embryos at the Francis Crick Institute, Columbia University and the Oregon Health and Science Institute. The researchers were concerned that although the experimenters were able to successfully ‘fix’ some troubling genes, there was significant disruption and damage to adjacent gene pairs that were unpredictable in their impact. Maybe future tinkering will make us better at it and avoid the troubling unintended collateral damage? They were careful to point out that there was care and concern that the embryos should not be allowed to develop further into larger specimens of human beings, so destroying them after the experiments was essential. Of course, the underlying assumption that experimenting on undeveloped human beings and destroying them was not particularly morally problematic. We have been destroying human embryos routinely for forty years and calling it woman’s healthcare.

In another article[i] and website[ii], the progressive future of humankind was proposed to offer a way forward to a new perfected kind of human being: immortal, always healthy, more brilliant, and stronger. Perfecting CRISPR was only part of the solution; a hybrid human being with some experiments already underway for embedding chips providing us with ready-made super memories crammed full of immediate access to all manner of useful information. Combined with corrected genes helping to make the vexing protoplasm portion of the mix more perfect, we will create a progressive vision of human perfectibility and utopian society. We have tried this many times with murderous results, but we will get it right this time[iii].  Our future children will have just cause to sue parents who do not optimize their genes when they had the chance in the Petrie dishes prior to implantation.

[iv]“Brave New World” is an anodyne fairy tale compared to this. Tilt back the recliner, make some popcorn, pour a cold beer and watch “Jurassic Park” or “Young Frankenstein” for some laughs.  Maybe listen to Ian Malcolm again.

Or pray for a return of a magnanimous, courageous, and determined moral leadership.

“Look not in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with your hand on the helm! Turn not your back to the compass…” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

[ii] The futurist idealists have a perfected super race in mind for us. I think we may have seen this before, perhaps in mid twentieth century Germany. Browse this site or buy the book if you want and see what they have in store for us: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species.

[iii] The overly familiar line about not forgetting history because we will be doomed to repeat it is often misattributed to Winston Churchill. It originated with the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana in “The Life of Reason, Volume 1.” In context, Santayana cautions us that retention of learning is necessary, as is “plasticity” to use that learning to adapt to new situations. When we are young, the tendency is to radical intemperate change without considering the wisdom of the past. And when we are old, the tendency is to hold on too rigidly and not be open to self-criticism, reflection, and necessary beneficial change. The ideal is mature adulthood with a balance of both he states.

Churchill was less optimistic that we learned our lessons. In a 1936 speech to the House of Commons, he warns of the coming cataclysm: When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.

Filed under Culture views

## Truth Over Facts

“We choose truth over facts!”  from a former Vice President Joe Biden campaign speech[i]

Mistakenly believed to be one of Joe Biden’s frequent verbal gaffes, his talking point is instructive and defines the reality of political life across the ideological spectrum: the narrative is all encompassing. The truth is what we say it is, and the facts be damned. Facts, particularly statistics, [ii]are leavened, kneaded, baked, and circulated to influence the social media mob and especially voters to push us to get off our recliners and out of our summer hammocks. Confusion thrives: what has suffered most is universal credibility. We do not believe much of what we see and hear. We strive to discern what to believe out of the onslaught of data and information that hits our screens and speakers every day. But more often, we filter what we read and hear through our “mythscape,” our accepted narrative, retain what fits it and reject what does not. We give that filtering a serious sounding name: “confirmation bias,” but attribute it as a shortcoming of others and never one of our own.

A project manager with two large apartment construction contracts going once emailed me[iii] on a Friday afternoon after an exceptionally outrageous week, “Would someone please throw a tent over this circus?” It stuck immediately as the motto of our group, and it seems to me suits our current situation.

“Would someone please throw a tent over this circus!”

George Weigel in his excellent 2018 book, “Fragility of Order,” comments on the historian Christopher Clark’s study of the origins of the First World War that in so many ways was not only the first act of the bloodiest century  of human history, but like all good plays, was what spawned so much of  what followed. “Christopher Clark usefully reminds us that, in seeking to understand how such a cataclysm could have begun, we must reckon with the fact that all the key actors in our story filtered the world through narratives that were built from pieces of experience glued together with fears, projections, and interests masquerading as maxims.” When we filter our new experience through our “mythscape,” we merely render social media debate farcical. However, when our leaders will not (or lack the ability to) put in the hard work, study, and introspection necessary to understand complex reality and then offer us their banal wisdom as predictable regurgitation of their narrative, disasters inevitably follow.

”Order, it has become clear, is a very fragile thing; and order is especially vulnerable under the cultural conditions of a postmodern world unsure about its grasp on the truth of anything.” George Weigel from the introduction to “The Fragility of Order.” Ignatius Press, 2018

We tend to hold our beliefs as binary: One predominant narrative without exception or the other. Is it not possible that reasoned arguments could be made, listening could be our first response, and the purpose of discussion is to put aside our embedded presuppositions and work mutually to discover some objective truth about these matters? Every issue seems to bleed over into rote political diatribes and expands quickly into all the contending issues.  We start out talking about racial injustice and within a sentence or two we are citing the talking points of Trumpism or anti-Trumpism, transgender pronouns and abortion. As an exercise, sticking to one subject means examining some of the assumptions of both common narratives regarding one complex emotional issue.

The current frenzied muddle of destroyed statues, looted stores, brutally slain arrested men, sincere non-violent protestors, and pandering politicians wearing Ghanaian Kente ceremonial cloths is just the most recent version, albeit a poignant and troublesome one. Because it has become a circus, does not mean we just can wait it out until the next headline grabbing tragedy pushes it below the fold of the front page.

One narrative’s axiom is that the police are hunting and shooting black men, so the cops should be defunded and gutted with the money being redistributed to social programs. A common statistic cited is that a black man is 2.5 times more likely to be shot by a cop than a white one. Is that a valid reading of the numbers? On first look, black men comprise 6% of the population and are consistently year after year 23% to 25% of those killed by police while being arrested,[iv] so that makes sense. On a second look, black men account for 53% of the murder arrests in a year and 52% of robberies. [v]Most of those crimes are black on black. An in-depth Harvard Economics study in 2018 by Roland Fryer, found no evidence of racial trends in those killed by police once arrest statistics were factored in.[vi]

Perhaps what needs to be looked at is how the poverty and desperation and alienation of black men account for such a high percentage of violent crime. A major contributing factor is that over 72% of black children are raised in single family homes, up from 21% in 1960. [vii]While children in single family homes are up across all demographics, in black families, it is a catastrophic rise. Another study found that for every 10% increase in the rate of single parent households, there is a 17% rise in crime rates. Study after study shows the best environment for children regarding educational and career success as well as lower incarceration rates and almost all other indices is a household with both a father and a mother. Not even close. A single mother is five times more likely to wind up below the poverty line than one with a spouse.

As we redistribute funds from police services to social programs, we must try to anticipate the unintended consequences of those programs.[viii] After Lyndon Johnson’s poverty and welfare programs became institutionalized with their “no man in the house” rule as a qualifier to  receive aid, the single-family rate among the poor in general and especially in black families soared.   Great care must be taken in designing salvation from the government, and most of all with programs that have a hidden agenda to secure votes.[ix]

Surveys also show most law-abiding black citizens with high violent crime rates in their neighborhoods do not want to see a lowered police presence.[x] When terrorists with semi-automatic weapons start killing dozens in night clubs in Miami or country concerts in Las Vegas or someone is cruising our streets murdering our neighbors in drive-by shootings, do we really want the best option to be sending in the community organizers?

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” –- Helen Keller

Now fairness demands an examination of one of the alternative narrative’s truisms: that there is no evidence of systemic racism and unjustified excessive police force employed against minorities.  The same Harvard study that finds no racial trends in those killed by police shows remarkable racial tendencies in the use of force, excessive or otherwise, during confrontations with police. So, shootings, no correlation, which is not surprising when we realize that those decisions are made in fractions of a second as a response to a perceived threat. But there is a full 50% increased chance of force being used by police against minorities than against white suspects. Is this due to minorities offering resistance or seeking confrontation? The study found that among those who remain compliant during police interactions, there is a 21% greater risk of force being used against minorities. Black men are not being unreasonable when they are wary about any interaction with police.  Whether that is evidence of rogue cops that are not culled from the troop due to over-protective unions or timid supervisors or whether it is evidence of systemic racism is not addressed by the study, but the statistics are clear.

When we consider that some of the most egregious recent examples of deaths of black men caused by police are not shootings, but arrests gone bad, the propensity for police using force with minorities gives us great cause for concern. George Floyd was killed when a cop knelt on his neck and throttled his breathing for eight and a half minutes. Eric Garner died in a police choke hold in NYC in 2014. Nor are white men exempt from excessive force. Joseph Hutchinson was killed when a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy knelt on his neck, cutting off his breath after he acted erratically in a police station. The rules need to change on proper use of force in every department and police officers with disciplinary actions against them for excessive force need to find another job or go to jail. Some things are one and out.

For those of us sheltered from the black experience, several recent articles call out an inherent bias built into our assumptions if we are not black, no matter how innocent we judge ourselves to be of it. A black Catholic priest tells of being in a grocery store in his ‘civvies’ without his collar and being followed around by security, and that this was not a unique experience for him. A black off duty policeman out of uniform tells of being pulled over by other police several times when he was driving through a white neighborhood and breaking no traffic laws.

The most moving was an enlightening article explaining what is meant by white privilege by a professional young black writer chronicling  her experiences growing up and in school at UCLA and Harvard.[xi] She relates in detail the incidents that are most illustrative, then ends each with a quote to tie them together. Below are a few of those quotes. I cannot do the article’s detail justice; please take the time to read it. White privilege was something I told myself was exaggerated. I was wrong.

• if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege.
• if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege.
• if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

A personal anecdote causes me no small embarrassment. Recently I was waiting at a busy discount gas outlet. The lines were long. Two ahead of me was a sparkling luxury car worth five times more than any auto I have ever owned. The line was held up as the fueling of the sedan was taking a long time, and I was growing increasingly impatient. I could not see the person pumping gas. When it was full, the owner moved to return the hose to the pump, and the driver was a younger black guy.  I was resentful of the wait and of the luxury car owner. Was my first thought that he was a partner in a law firm or managed a portion of a hedge fund or owned a real estate development company or was a cardiac surgeon? No. My first thought was wondering if he played for the Patriots or the Red Sox, and if I recognized him. My assumption was not what it may have been had he been a young white guy holding up the line.

I congratulate myself that I’ve never worn a white sheet and pointy hat; I’ve never knowingly discriminated against anyone in the workplace or socially because of race; I’ve demonstrated for civil rights: I am superior to those that do espouse such ignorant and mean spirited beliefs, right? But am I free of innate prejudice buried deep? I think not. I have more listening to do. A lot more listening to do.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. . . . And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

[ii] Mark Twain: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

[iii] For younger readers, emailing was what we did last century instead of texting or posting pictures on Instagram.

[iv] See Washington Post comprehensive compilation of all police caused deaths. I put the listing into a spreadsheet to make it easier to analyze with a Pivot Table.  Every name, every weapon they carried, if any, how they died and their race. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/

[v] Here is a link to the FBI tracking of crime rates for various offenses by race. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/tables/table-43 Consistent percentages within a narrow range since 2015. The latest complete one is 2018, which I also put into a spreadsheet to do some analysis. I’ll email those downloaded spreadsheets with the totals to  anyone who  wants them.

[vi] Here is the abstract from the Harvard study: This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On nonlethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than 50 percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force—officer-involved shootings—we find no racial differences either in the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of whom have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.

The full report can be found easily on line in PDF form at this link: https://www.nber.org/papers/w24238

[viii] When Rita was working as a student nurse at the old inner city Boston City Hospital, the head nurse on her floor with thirty years’ experience was discussing the new Johnson Aid to  Families with Dependent Children war on poverty welfare program with its ‘no man in the house’ restriction on which families could collect. She presciently told Rita that it would be the ruination of the black family. Truer words, etc.