The Dictionary of Old English

Acquired Savants

It's an interesting fact that severe brain injuries rarely, but sometimes, reveal remarkable talents in people that they never had before.  The Atlantic has an interesting article thinking about the problems that fact raises.

Let me just note, though, that these problems disappear if you adopt the view of consciousness that I have sometimes advocated here.  If consciousness is received by the brain rather than produced by it, an adjustment to the brain will receive a different part of the signal.  Think of an old television set, when we used to broadcast TV through the air.  The whole of television was in the signal, invisible, impossible to notice without a system that was structured in just the right way.

With such a system, though, you would find yourself watching a baseball game.  But that wasn't the whole of the signal:  retune the receiver, and you'd be watching a Western or a soap opera.  All of it was there:  it was how you tuned the receiver that determined what you got.

By the same token, if you gave the TV a good whack, sometimes you'd find that the signal became rather fuzzy.  But sometimes it would improve!  Sometimes it was just that whack that would bring the picture into extraordinary focus.

Of course, whack it hard enough and you might end up trying to show two programs at once; or, in fact, you might break the mechanism that was capable of receiving the signal.  In that case you'd end up with a piece of junk that was once a television, a physical object now insensitive to the invisible signal in the air.

If that's the way consciousness works -- that is, if there is a unitary consciousness that our individual minds express individually because we are uniquely tuned to it -- then this phenomenon is no surprise at all.  Make a significant adjustment to the manner in which the brain is tuned, and you will receive a different part of the signal.

A proper wedding

I may have posted this before; if so, I apologize.  It occurred to me again because my neighbor's son is marrying a Jewish woman and will have a (moderately) Jewish ceremony.  I'm going to crochet a chuppah covering for them because, as we all know, no chuppah, no shtuppah.  The father of the groom, a fine carpenter, will build the chuppah structure.

This is the ideal wedding dance.  It always gives me goosebumps.

Speaking of rituals, I finally realized that what I needed to do was have a proper Episcopalian church funeral for my aunt right here in my hometown, just for me and my friends and neighbors.  That way I can attend the family thing that's going to happen in San Antonio next month without any tension.  I've engaged a bagpiper, chosen the Old and New Testament readings and hymns, and set everything up for next Friday.  A friend is going to be kind enough to drive down from Houston.

I'll Have Another Does It Again

Another squeaker.  I'm enjoying these:

Come On, Guys

If this is the plan, it's time to rethink the plan.
If the law is upheld, Republicans will take to the floor to tear out its most controversial pieces, such as the individual mandate and requirements that employers provide insurance or face fines
If the law is partially or fully overturned they’ll draw up bills to keep the popular, consumer-friendly portions in place — like allowing adult children to remain on parents’ health care plans until age 26, and forcing insurance companies to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Ripping these provisions from law is too politically risky, Republicans say.
Apparently it's not politically risky to require insurance companies to go out of business, though, which is what this plan will in fact require.  What you're going to get out of this plan is insurance companies that must provide coverage to anyone who asks, even if they wait until they get sick to ask; but without the funding that the individual mandate (however unconstitutionally) ensured.

Employers will drop their plans, and insurance companies will go out of business.  Now what?

Courage is the most important political virtue, as Machiavelli reminds us.  If you're going to fight for principled constitutionalism, have the courage to make an argument.  It's not too hard to explain that the government ought not to demand that businesses are run in ways that make them go bankrupt.  It's not too hard to explain that people are better off being able to obtain insurance than not.

If you haven't the guts to make that argument to the People, it's time to start drawing up single payer plans.  That's where this plan gets us.  If you want them at the state level, get going on it now.  Otherwise, we'll have to amend the Constitution to permit it at the Federal level -- or just do what our left-leaning brothers and sisters do, and learn to ignore the Constitutional limits entirely.

Answering One of the Old Questions

The general disruption of philosophy in the contemporary era is demonstrated by questions like this.  But that's OK; questions are a good thing to have.
We all believe that death is bad. But why is death bad? 
In thinking about this question, I am simply going to assume that the death of my body is the end of my existence as a person. (If you don't believe me, read the first nine chapters of my book.) But if death is my end, how can it be bad for me to die? After all, once I'm dead, I don't exist. If I don't exist, how can being dead be bad for me? 
People sometimes respond that death isn't bad for the person who is dead. Death is bad for the survivors. But I don't think that can be central to what's bad about death. Compare two stories.
Story 1. Your friend is about to go on the spaceship that is leaving for 100 Earth years to explore a distant solar system. By the time the spaceship comes back, you will be long dead. Worse still, 20 minutes after the ship takes off, all radio contact between the Earth and the ship will be lost until its return. You're losing all contact with your closest friend. 
Story 2. The spaceship takes off, and then 25 minutes into the flight, it explodes and everybody on board is killed instantly. 
Story 2 is worse. But why? It can't be the separation, because we had that in Story 1. What's worse is that your friend has died. Admittedly, that is worse for you, too, since you care about your friend. But that upsets you because it is bad for her to have died. But how can it be true that death is bad for the person who dies?
This is one of those questions that we once understood to have a clear answer.  We've discussed a mild version of Avicenna's proof for a Necessary Existent:

1)  Everything we know that comes to exist gets its existence from something else.
2)  An actual infinite series cannot exist,

3) At least one thing exists of its own nature, rather than getting existence from something else.

Exactly what that thing is has been subject to much debate -- Allah, for Avicenna; God for Aquinas; perhaps some meta-laws that give parameters to the expression of quantum fields for contemporary physics (but where and how do these laws exist?).  The point is that the first existent exists by nature; everything that follows from it exists contingently.

Thus to exist is to be like the first thing -- like God, like Allah, like the ultimate source of reality and therefore of all goods.  Indeed, for Avicenna and Aquinas, existence and 'the good' were the same thing.  To die, insofar as that means 'to cease to exist,' is to lose a likeness and a connection to that thing.  To die is only a good if you die to actualize some perfect and lasting virtue, some beauty or some good so strong that it even more perfectly ties you to that everlasting source of good.  So says the Havamal:  'Cattle die, kinsmen die, and you also will die:  but the one thing I know never dies is the fame of the heroic dead.'

Once that was the easy knowledge of pagan and heathen, Christian and Muslim alike.  Now a professor of philosophy from Yale seems not to be aware that the argument ever existed at all.

"I'm sorry, your race card is no longer accepted at this establishment"

James O'Keefe is at it again, this time with video showing that voters are on the registration rolls even though they've been excused from jury duty as non-citizens.  That was a clever trick, cross-checking the voting rolls against the jury records.  There's something unusually offensive about using one's lack of citizenship as an excuse to avoid jury duty, then trying to vote anyway.

I swiped the title from one of the article's commenters.  My astonishment that voter I.D. has become a race issue knows no bounds, as does my astonishment at people who think that there's no voter fraud.

The Texas primary is right around the corner.  Early voting, in fact, already has begun.  As I'll be traveling to a wedding on election day, I'm going to early-vote any day now, as soon as I figure out what to do about some of the less-publicized races.  Any comments from people knowledgeable about races such as the Texas Supreme Court justices or the Railroad Commission (our oil & gas body) are encouraged to hold forth in the comments section.  This will be the first election in ages in which we've have some realistic choices for a U.S. Representative other than Ron Paul, not only because he's not running again but because the district lines have been redrawn.  Our new (to us) incumbent, Blake Farenthold, is a bit of a Tea Party type but not a Pauline.

Road Hammers

Since we were just talking about long-haul truckers, I was delighted to find a new band devoted to them.

They know something about their roots -- nobody ought to sing about truckers who doesn't know Georgia's own Jerry Reed.

But maybe some of you don't know Jerry Reed.

Everybody's ridden that Monteagle grade, right?  It's something to see, coming down toward Chattanooga.

Drawing Lines

This is a challenging expression:
When I was young, a pastor said, whenever you draw a line between us and them, bear in mind that Jesus is on the other side of that line.
There may be something useful there; but I must say I doubt that it's true.  Jesus himself was quite fond of drawing lines:  he came, as he said, to send not peace but a sundering sword.
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Are we to take it that there is no right side of that line?