The Problem of Ancient Primary Sources

Having finished one philosophical discussion, Grim recently asked for suggestions for the next project. I suggested maybe a discussion of how to read these texts. How can someone today read and understand Plato, or Aristotle, or other ancient philosophical works?

Many years ago I took some courses in reading classical Chinese. The textbook gave us selections from primary sources like Confucius, Mencius, and Tang Dynasty poets, and also provided extensive glossaries, and we were expected to translate a selection before each class. In class, we would each read our translations, and then we would discuss where we had problems, or where noticeable differences between our translations had appeared.

At one point, I started feeling like I was getting it. Not like I was an expert, but the texts started making sense more naturally. I did what I thought was a good translation of a particular text and felt kinda proud of it, for a beginner.

When I read my translation to the class, the professor paused for a moment. "That's a very plausible translation," he said. "But I'm afraid it's wrong." And he proceeded to give the correct translation.

I understood where I had erred, but not why. Surely there must be some marker in the text that would have indicated the change he gave me, a marker I wasn't aware of. So I asked him, how could I know which way to translate this?

"Well," he replied, with a touch of reluctance, "you have to know the story before you begin."

So then much more recently we were discussing akratēs at the Hall, "the puzzle of someone who knows what is right but does the wrong thing anyway." In the comments, I was trying to work through a definition of virtue, and Grim made a suggestion. "You probably need to read Plato's Parminedes. Socrates was very young when that conversation is supposed to have happened; and it raises all these questions beyond the practical to the metaphysical."

The phrase "beyond the practical to the metaphysical" should have been put in flashing red lettering. In any case, I thought I was going to read more about virtue, but instead ... well, here. I'll put a selection from the beginning of it below the fold, with some discussion of difficulties I had reading it.

Two Days’ Riding

Winter’s almost over, kids. 

Bryson City, NC, motorcycle parking.

Chili burger and fries, Bryson City, as recommended by the local Harley dealer.

Pisgah National Forest

The Devil's Courthouse, as seen from NC 215

Charley's Creek

A Revolution from Above, to Empower the Already Powerful

This is an interesting argument. The opening frame is worth hearing; the rest is impossible given the structures of power, so you can stop whenever you want once he starts talking about the Ivy Leagues. Harvard and Yale and Duke may burn in a revolution, but they will never roll over in the way he discusses. 

If only I still traveled

I confess, I never liked to travel.  I liked being in faraway places, for a short while, at least, but getting there got to be less and less fun the more I had to do it, the deeper a disgust I developed for hotels, and the more nightmarish airports became.  I've traveled very little since 9/11 and none at all since COVID.  I like where I am.

Still, if I knew anyone still forced to submit to the indignities of airlines and airless hotel rooms, this would certainly be a tempting purchase:  a compact, hard-shell suitcase on wheels that pops up to become a closet full of shelves.  It's almost too bad I haven't any use for such a well-designed little product.  It reminds me of the "object" that Diana Villiers has made for Stephen Maturin in the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.

What to do Next?

I'm done with the read-through of Plato's Laws. Perhaps I should now read secondary literature on it, and try to turn that into a publication of some sort; but on the other hand, this doesn't seem like the right time in history for a genuinely academic work. The reason to read things like this is to try to find a way forward; in more peaceful times, it might be better to write for an academic audience.

Is there any philosophical text that you have always wanted to read, but never gotten around to reading? Especially if it might be relevant to the presently brewing troubles?

On second thought

Isn't police defunding the real public health crisis confronting America today?  Why not divert COVID funding to fill the hole in Chicago?

Plato's Laws XII: The End

At the end of his last dialogue, Plato has his Athenian return to the subject of virtue, its divisions, and its central importance to good governance. These arguments should be familiar even if you have only read my summary of Plato; students of Plato will know them backwards and forwards. Yet it is worth looking at them one last time, as he chooses to do.

The Athenian closes his long miscellany by raising a worry that, although they have set up excellent laws, the state's longevity and security has not been assured. He likens this to the spinning of wool, which needs a knot at the end to prevent the work from all coming undone. What sort of knot could ensure that all this carefully-spun pattern of laws and institutions should continue to hold together across generations? 

The answer that he comes to is to empower the nocturnal council with the power of serving as a general committee on the virtue of the citizenry and the state, which to a reader living after the French Revolution and the various Communist movements is as terrifying an answer as it is easy to contemplate. Let us agree that pragmatism has proven this approach to be a false answer. It is still worth looking through the argument to see if we could identify where it goes wrong.

First: keeping the state from going astray from virtue is analogical to navigating a ship to its proper destination, or leading an army to victory rather than defeat. Thus, just as a ship needs a captain and an army needs a general, someone needs to be firmly in charge of making sure that the proper end (virtue, the right destination, victory) is kept always in view and adjustments are made as necessary to get there.

Second: the state is like an animal's body in that it has different organs that serve different purposes. Just as an animal needs sense organs like eyes to identify threats in the world, the state will need a sense organ (apparently the sort of thing we would call an intelligence service, the Athenian proposing elements to survey both domestic and foreign environments). Just as the animal needs a mind to make decisions about what to do with the information sensed by the sense organs, the state will need a decision-making body. Just as the animal's mind will only be successful if it has the right kind of understanding to make correct judgments about what its senses detect, the decision-making body needs to be composed of individuals with a very high level of practical understanding.

Third: we call the qualities they will need "virtues," but we also call them collectively "virtue." The Athenian had already divided them all the way back in Book I into four parts (courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice). Now we get a very Socratic move: the right people to be on this council will be the ones who can say exactly why it's acceptable to call them four, and in what way they are separate; and also who can say why it is right to call them one, and in what way they are the same.

Socrates at least as Plato presents him to us was very concerned with this proposition. Virtue is a kind of knowledge, and thus is rational. Rationally, things are either one thing or they are more than one thing. They are a unity, or they are not a unity. Courage is a kind of wisdom, because it is a practical wisdom about what to do in the face of danger. It is a 'practical' wisdom because it embraces both the knowledge of what to do, and the capacity to do it. But if you have courage, then, you should be able to say exactly what it is that you have -- you should be able to give a rational account of this rational quality.

Back in Book One, I said that the Athenian gave an account that doesn't seem to follow a rational order of priority. Wisdom is the chief virtue, but a precondition for justice. If that's the way we rank the virtues, then the priority of wisdom arises from the fact that you must have it in order to attain the others; it is thus prior in the literal sense. Yet courage is also a precondition for justice, and it is said to be lesser ranked. Here in Book XII, the Athenian says that courage is partly bestial, which seems like it is therefore not rational, at least not fully. 

Ath. There is no difficulty in seeing in what way the two [virtues] differ from one another, and have received two names, and so of the rest. But there is more difficulty in explaining why we call these two and the rest of them by the single name of virtue.

Cle. How do you mean?
Ath. I have no difficulty in explaining what I mean. Let us distribute the subject questions and answers.

Cle. Once more, what do you mean?
Ath. Ask me what is that one thing which call virtue, and then again speak of as two, one part being courage and the other wisdom. I will tell you how that occurs:-One of them has to do with fear; in this the beasts also participate, and quite young children-I mean courage; for a courageous temper is a gift of nature and not of reason. But without reason there never has been, or is, or will be a wise and understanding soul; it is of a different nature.

If courage is not (fully) rational, then you shouldn't necessarily be able to give an account of it of the type he is demanding. If it is a precondition for justice, then, justice itself has an irrational root. You shouldn't expect to be able to give a fully rational account of it if it is predicated on a partly irrational quality.

Plus, this deeply complicates the idea that courage and wisdom are two parts of a greater whole. Wisdom is said to be "a gift of nature and not of reason" and thus "of a different nature" from wisdom. (Hamilton gives this last as "the cases are utterly different.") Why should we expect to find a rational account of the unity of the virtues if they are neither fully rational in all cases, nor of the same nature?

The Athenian does not give us the answer, which would allow prospective council members to cheat by just repeating what he has to say, but he does give us a hint of how to proceed that students of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists will recognize. 

Ath. [W]e ought to proceed to some more exact training than any which has preceded.

Cle. Certainly.
Ath. And must not that of which we are in need be the one to which we were just now alluding?

Cle. Very true.
Ath. Did we not say that the workman or guardian, if he be perfect in every respect, ought not only to be able to see the many aims, but he should press onward to the one? this he should know, and knowing, order all things with a view to it.

Cle. True.
Ath. And can any one have a more exact way of considering or contemplating. anything, than the being able to look at one idea gathered from many different things?

Cle. Perhaps not.
Ath. Not "Perhaps not," but "Certainly not," my good sir, is the right answer. There never has been a truer method than this discovered by any man.

The answer is philosophical training with an eye towards appreciating the Forms. The Forms are supposed to be fully rational (Aristotle says that they are pure activities, and thus stripped of all mere potentiality -- and as such, you should be able to appreciate them intellectually). However, they have an interpenetrating quality. Because they are not material, they are capable of being 'all together in one place,' yet intellectually distinguishable from one another. Perhaps you have an idea of number, for example; and in a way, all the numbers you know are 'there.' But in another way, you can distinguish the numbers 1 and 4, or any other numbers, and say exactly why they are different, and exactly in what ways they are the same. 

This requires a type of philosophical training that the Athenian admits he has no idea how to perform, and in fact can't devise for students. They have to figure it out for themselves, by doing the work, where they need to go next. 

Ath. In the first place, a list would have to be made out of those who by their ages and studies and dispositions and habits are well fitted for the duty of a guardian. In the next place, it will not be easy for them to discover themselves what they ought to learn, or become the disciple of one who has already made the discovery. Furthermore, to write down the times at which, and during which, they ought to receive the several kinds of instruction, would be a vain thing; for the learners themselves do not know what is learned to advantage until the knowledge which is the result of learning has found a place in the soul of each. And so these details, although they could not be truly said to be secret, might be said to be incapable of being stated beforehand, because when stated they would have no meaning.

He is capable of saying a few things about what kinds of things they must learn, and the first one is that they must develop a fear of God. No one without a firm conviction on the proof of the divine, and the soul that orders the world, can be trusted with power. That part of the argument was actually given in the text, so potential Guardians on the council must show that they have understood and accepted the argument. The world is ensouled, and the soul that began all motions is deeply ordered and driven by a commitment to justice. 

The rest of it he likens to a game of dice, with three dice, where the winning throw will be only three aces or three sixes (e.g., 1 chance in 108, although I think here Mr. 5,040 is thinking more of the metaphor of very long odds than a specific mathematical number). It may be nearly impossible; but if it can be done, he says to Cleinias, "you will obtain the greatest glory; or at any rate you will be thought the most courageous of men in the estimation of posterity."

So: where did he go wrong? Was it a failure to wrestle with the irrational roots of what he wanted to be fully rational virtues? Was it the idea that godly men would rule fitly, which pragmatically seems to have been disproven by the long history of the Vatican and its council of Cardinals? Was it the analogy of the state to a body? The analogy of statesmanship to the captaincy of a ship or being general of an army? Was it the idea that human beings would benefit from being subject to the rulership of virtuous guardians? 

Or was it just that the philosophical training that was necessary but nearly impossible proved actually impossible to convey? If you did have guardians who fully understood the relationship of courage and wisdom and temperance to justice, could they guide the community justly? Or would they, too, fall into the human weaknesses that Aristotle warns against in the Rhetoric? 
First, to find one man, or a few men, who are sensible persons and capable of legislating and administering justice is easier than to find a large number.... The weightiest reason of all is that the decision of the lawgiver is not particular but prospective and general, whereas members of the assembly and the jury find it their duty to decide on definite cases brought before them. They will often have allowed themselves to be so much influenced by feelings of friendship or hatred or self-interest that they lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgement obscured by considerations of personal pleasure or pain.
At the end of this reading, I hope you have questions, and that you feel inclined to voice them or to engage them. If you'd like to do so privately, rather than in public, feel free to email me. But one of the greatest goods of Plato is the invitation to all to join the field of philosophy. He doesn't end up having all the answers either, and is often aware that the things he wants to say sound incoherent. Don't be afraid to compete; even the masters of this game have given no perfect answers, and no sure way forward. The best the Athenian can say is that he wants to try, but admits that the odds are very much against him.


An essay and lecture. 

The devil you say

 When that that happen?

Worth Considering

It's not true that the 'Woke' are strictly Marxists, not most of them: I know some who are, strictly, but most of them are just adapting Marxist argument styles to issues of gender or race. This author argues that they aren't at all Marxists, however, because they've abandoned collectivism. 

I'm going to think about that for a bit before I respond to it. I feel like it's wrong, but I'm going to work through it for a while before I decide. The one thing I will say now is that a good friend of mine who actually is a self-declared Marxist is happily working on reparations programs around the black community in one town in Georgia. He's right that the community was abused, historically and not all that long ago, by the expansion of the local university. Some of his ideas for making that right are not terrible;  and ironically, sometimes it requires him to defend non-Marxist things like property rights. 

So maybe there's flexibility, and maybe there's cross-pollination; but it does seem to me like there's a lot of compatibility, at least. I'll think about it; in the meantime, read his argument.

BB: Man Asks You Use His Preferred Adjectives

“It distresses me when people use adjectives I don’t identify as,” Becker later explained. “Like ‘creepy,’ ‘weird,’ or ‘off-putting.’ That’s basically denying my existence and trying to genocide me.” Many would call that statement ‘nutty,’ but that is not from Becker’s list of approved adjectives.
The Bee is tremendously good at this stuff, although really we're already there. You're not only supposed to use the preferred pronouns, but adjectives like "female" or "male" and nouns like "man" or "woman" as preferred, too. Otherwise it's, like, genocide.

And genocide is only ok if it's one of your cultural norms!

I Too Can Write From My Interpretation of My Own Experience

In fairness, the most famous practitioner of this genre went on to be President twice.

Nina Navajas Pertegás, assistant professor and researcher at the UV Department of Social Work and Social Services, has carried out a study on the consequences of fatphobia and the cultural imposition of thinness through her own experience, with a body itinerary that ranges from her childhood to adulthood. This scientific methodology, called autoethnography...

That doubly doesn't make sense. An intrinsically subjective method is not in any sense 'science.' Nor, by definition, can one be one's own 'ethnic group.' The whole concept of ethnicity is collective, not personal nor individual. 

Apparently you can get a tenure track job for this nonsense, though. 

Friday Night Action

Excess Deaths

Some CDC figures on overdose deaths, which are up 25%. 

He's a dreamer

 From Marty Makary in the WSJ:

Some medical experts privately agreed with my prediction that there may be very little Covid-19 by April but suggested that I not to talk publicly about herd immunity because people might become complacent and fail to take precautions or might decline the vaccine. But scientists shouldn’t try to manipulate the public by hiding the truth.

A Proverb of William Wallace

Dico tibi verum, Libertas optima rerum; Nunquam servili, sub nexu vivito, fili.

His uncle, a priest, is supposed to have taught him this saying. It translates: 

'I tell you a truth: Liberty is the best of things, my son; never live under any slavish bond.'

Plato's Laws XII

The final book of the Laws has the feeling of a miscellany. To some degree that has been true of earlier books as well, but at this point the Athenian is bouncing around and returning to say more about topics already covered. There is more about crime here; also, more about military service and the general regimentation of the life of citizens. All citizens, we are told, are to have officers to whom they report. Male and female, young and old, they are to live all of their lives in a military discipline with superior officers ordering their lives.

It's a bit strange to me that the Athenian takes such care about military punishments, which are much less harsh than the ones suggested for other crimes. The military life is supposed to be the ordering principle of the citizenry, in order to defend the state; all of life and education is built around it. Yet while death is the regular punishment for almost any crime, military cowardice is to be punished with fines and dishonor. Even if you abandon your arms and your post, you are not executed.

Ath. If a person having arms is overtaken by the enemy and does not turn round and defend himself, but lets them go voluntarily or throws them away, choosing a base life and a swift escape rather than a courageous and noble and blessed death-in such a case of the throwing away of arms let justice be done, but the judge need take no note of the case just now mentioned; for the bad man ought always to be punished, in the hope that he may be improved, but not the unfortunate, for there is no advantage in that. And what shall be the punishment suited to him who has thrown away his weapons of defence? Tradition says that Caeneus, the Thessalian, was changed by a God from a woman into a man; but the converse miracle cannot now be wrought, or no punishment would be more proper than that the man who throws away his shield should be changed into a woman. This however is impossible, and therefore let us make a law as nearly like this as we can-that he who loves his life too well shall be in no danger for the remainder of his days, but shall live for ever under the stigma of cowardice. And let the law be in the following terms:-When a man is found guilty of disgracefully throwing away his arms in war, no general or military officer shall allow him to serve as a soldier, or give him any place at all in the ranks of soldiers; and the officer who gives the coward any place, shall suffer a penalty which the public examiner shall exact of him; and if he be of the highest dass, he shall pay a thousand drachmae; or if he be of the second class, five minae; or if he be of the third, three minae; or if he be of the fourth class, one mina. And he who is found guilty of cowardice, shall not only be dismissed from manly dangers, which is a disgrace appropriate to his nature, but he shall pay a thousand drachmae, if he be of the highest class, and five minae if he be of the second class, and three if he be of the third class, and a mina, like the preceding, if he be of the fourth class.

Now "death before dishonor" is something I've said myself, and Kant holds to it as well; but it's rare to see it put into practice in a legal code. When he suggested 'transforming a man into a woman' as a punishment, I thought he was going to propose castration or something like that; but no, it really is just stigma and fines. 

There is also a lot more care in the piece to making sure that no one suffers even this punishment unfairly. What if you fell off a cliff, and that's how you lost your arms? That's not the same thing! And what if you were overcome by a mass of enemies, and they stole away your shield and spear in spite of your best efforts? That's not the same thing either! And what if you fell into the sea? Etc. 

Along the way there are regulations for ambassadors, both outgoing and incoming; how long the dead shall be lain out before burying (three days, just to make sure they're really dead and not just in a trance); selecting magistrates; more about lawsuits; competitions for best citizens; and so forth. 

I won't have much to say about this book, but I am going to write one more thing about the discussion of virtue and its various kinds that comes at the end of it. That will be, I think, my final post on the Laws.

Not a Communist

Perseverance on the ground and transmitting imagery.

Eric Hines

Plato's Laws XI, 3: Family Law and More Crimes

This will be the final post on Book XI. There is a lot covered here, but I've decided that mostly we don't need to delve into it because much of it is a set of technical discussions and distinctions we would never consider adopting. A lot of it turns on family law particular to the colony, which even the Athenian admits looks like nothing else anyone in Greece would do because of the basic law that there remain precisely 5,040 households. Thus, being dismissed from a household means exile; you can't just move across town, rent a house, and start earning a living working for the shopkeeper. You're forbidden to move, forbidden to rent, and forbidden to work at the trades. You have to leave the colony and go somewhere with quite different laws in order to make a life. 

One point of interest comes in the discussion of divorce and widowry. Because of the importance of maintaining the precise number of households, we've already seen that married couples who prove unproductive of children will be forcibly separated if necessary. Divorces for irreconcilable differences are also permitted, although there is a negotiation process meant to produce accord that is unlikely to succeed because it involves 20 advocates (ten male and ten female). That's too many people in the room for an agreement to result.

Yet the interesting point comes after divorce is agreed to be in the best interests, and a new partner needs to be selected; or, in the case of widowry, when death has brought about the end of the marriage. The Athenian acknowledges a view of marriage that separates the functions of it by age.

Ath. Those who have no children, or only a few, at the time of their separation, should choose their new partners with a view to the procreation of children; but those who have a sufficient number of children should separate and marry again in order that they may have some one to grow old with and that the pair may take care of one another in age. 

Now you may remember from the discussion we had in our own society of 'gay marriage' that the position of the Church, and many religious people in general, is that marriage is a sacrament and as such has one particular end. A 'sacrament' is a kind of blessing by which God gives people a way of overcoming sinful nature. In the case of marriage, the sin is the sin of lust: marriage regulates lust in such a way as one can live virtuously with one's sinful nature. Lust is brought within a system that allows its expression in a non-sinful way: there are in fact three goods of marital sex according to Aquinas, and all of them are perfectly attained in marriage. The principal end and primary good, reproduction, is perfectly attained only in this way because in this way are children brought into the world in the right position to be supported and loved by their parents, sustained and educated into adulthood, and brought into the community as a fully-formed member. 

For the Athenian, there is no sin, but only vice. It is vicious for citizens to have sex with slaves, for example; he talks about how notorious that is, and how it should be punished by exile of the guilty citizen as well as the slave and their children. Marriage is not a sacrament, since there is no sin; the regulatory function is to be performed by the personal virtue of temperance, rather than by an institution like marriage. One does not give into lust even with one's spouse, in other words; it is the sort of thing that Chesterton celebrated as an advantage of the Church over the virtuous pagans of old.
Christian doctrine detected the oddities of life. It not only discovered the law, but it foresaw the exceptions. Those underrate Christianity who say that it discovered mercy; any one might discover mercy. In fact every one did. But to discover a plan for being merciful and also severe -- that was to anticipate a strange need of human nature. For no one wants to be forgiven for a big sin as if it were a little one. Any one might say that we should be neither quite miserable nor quite happy. But to find out how far one may be quite miserable without making it impossible to be quite happy -- that was a discovery in psychology. Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel"; and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger and there you can grovel" -- that was an emancipation.

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble, upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years.
Yet here it is the pagans who have the advantage, because they have admitted a truth about human nature that the Church continues not to do. The institution of marriage is an institution of human nature; and its basic function changes as we age because we change as we age. There are old men who are still driven by lust, but not so many; and the function of marriage transforms, with time, from the care and raising of the youth to the sustaining and comfort of the old. Admitting this second end for marriage is more humane than trying to restrict it to the single end (as the Medieval priests did, having no wives and few children, but observing society from a place of detachment in which support for the elderly was provided by their Orders). 

The Athenian punishes disrespectful or inattentive children with heavy fines, and then returns -- through a frightening leap of logic -- to criminal matters via the need to punish poisoners. He has a careful division of poisoners into kinds that is Kantian in that all of the carefully constructed branches lead to the same conclusion: the sentence of death. One might have taken the reasonable short-cut that poisoning is particularly wicked and thus worthy of death whenever proven, however it was done; but philosophers often love these sort of precise and careful but ultimately practically inapplicable categories. 

There are also rules for lunatics, who are a private matter that the family is bound to control; and a discussion of the various kinds of lunacy, if anyone is interested in ancient Greek opinions on psychology. 

Finally, there is a general admonition against greed and its distorting effects on law and justice. 

Ath. There are many noble things in human life, but to most of them attach evils which are fated to corrupt and spoil them. Is not justice noble, which has been the civilizer of humanity? How then can the advocate of justice be other than noble? And yet upon this profession which is presented to us under the fair name of art has come an evil reputation. In the first place; we are told that by ingenious pleas and the help of an advocate the law enables a man to win a particular cause, whether just or unjust; and the power of speech which is thereby imparted, are at the service of him sho is willing to pay for them. Now in our state this so-called art, whether really an art or only an experience and practice destitute of any art, ought if possible never to come into existence, or if existing among us should litten to the request of the legislator and go away into another land, and not speak contrary to justice. If the offenders obey we say no more; but those who disobey, the voice of the law is as follows:-If anyone thinks that he will pervert the power of justice in the minds of the judges, and unseasonably litigate or advocate, let any one who likes indict him for malpractices of law and dishonest advocacy, and let him be judged in the court of select judges; and if he be convicted, let the court determine whether he may be supposed to act from a love of money or from contentiousness. And if he is supposed to act from contentiousness, the court shall fix a time during which he shall not be allowed to institute or plead a cause; and if he is supposed to act as be does from love of money, in case he be a stranger, he shall leave the country, and never return under penalty of death; but if he be a citizen, he shall die, because he is a lover of money, in whatever manner gained; and equally, if he be judged to have acted more than once from contentiousness, he shall die.

A firm hand to restrain the litigious nature of society! Overall, though I agree that lawsuits can be pernicious if brought for the wrong reasons, I prefer the old Icelandic system from the sagas to Plato's ruthless state.

Power mixes

 I'm already reading inanities about hotcoldwetdry (is there anything it can't do?) to explain why global warming results in arctic freezes.  My favorite from today is the notion that the polar air heated up so much that it became unstable and drifted down into the southern U.S.  I think it's also possible it was depressed by seeing so much white supremacy.  But as my husband asks, if objective reason is racist, can the science ever really be settled any more?

Anyway, at the risk of reinforcing white supremacy, here are some helpful graphics showing not only the drastic impacts on different power sources in the Texas deep-freeze, but also the contemporaneous mix of power sources in other grids around the nation.  In Texas, wind power fell off a cliff, so natural gas took up a lot of the slack.  However, even gas took a hit from the freeze (pipelines malfunctioned), and demand took off like a rocket.  Presto:  blackouts.

I'm trying to figure out why rolling blackouts became fixed patches of power that stayed on for days next to power that stayed off for days.  At first I read vague statements about how it was too hard to roll the outages when certain areas had been off too long.  Today I found a new statement about how it was too hard to roll the outages when the percentage of outage was too great across the system.  No explanations so far, and neither of those statements is obvious.  Is there a technical explanation that's too difficult to wheel out for the public?

Also, this morning there are renewed calls to force Texas to stop evading FERC jurisdiction by maintaining its own power grid, ERCOT.  I popped over to the FERC site to see what fresh ideas they had to offer, and found this.

Liberalism: the "alien machine" to prevent civil war

This Cathy Young contribution to the Slate Star Codex drama makes more sense to me than most, and one heck of a lot more than the incoherent, spiteful mess published by the execrable New York Times.

From Alexander himself:
People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell — the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable — until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.

A funny new idea: don't lie

Glenn Greenwald continues to buck the trend:
One can — and should — condemn the January 6 riot without inflating the threat it posed. And one can — and should — insist on both factual accuracy and sober restraint without standing accused of sympathy for the rioters.

Requiescat in Pace, Rush Limbaugh

I first heard of Rush Limbaugh from a left-wing teacher, who was animated about him even in the early 1990s. I started listening to his show just to see what had the guy so upset. What I found, as some of you may have as well, was the first real education I ever received in conservative political principles. I'd grown up around conservative Democrats in the Bible Belt of rural Georgia, but none of them expressed principles clearly. To some degree I think they'd just inherited their ideas, and knew what 'right looked like,' but not how to express just why it was right. I didn't always agree with those principles as he expressed them, but I found real value in understanding.

My father began listening to him after hearing me talk about him, and Dad developed a great affection for his show. Dad was politically very conservative as he got older; less so in his youth. He appreciated the way that Rush would lay things out in a way that was definitely not what you'd hear on the traditional news: a legitimate, alternative perspective from which to consider things. Over time I think Dad became convinced of much of it. 

Rush was widely hated all that time, and not only because people on the left often think people on the right are secret racists and monsters of one sort or another. They also hated him, I think, because he mocked them. He was an entertainer, and sometimes he switched from serious talk to humor of the sort of which it could be unpleasant to be on the receiving end. I understand that they didn't appreciate that, but conservatives of any sort are subject to much more regular and much more vicious humor from the society at large; late night television has turned into a festival of mockery for that part of America.

President Trump awarded Rush Limbaugh a medal at the State of the Union, an honor that he probably merited for his work in education alone. I wish his family peace, and his soul forgiveness and rest. 

Different Cultural Norms

Joe Biden gave an interview last night in which he was directly asked about the genocide against the Uighur being conducted by the People's Republic of China. He said there were "different cultural norms," which is true -- the PRC's culture is apparently perfectly OK with genocide -- but a shocking and awful thing to have said. 

Jack Posobiec points out that some of these cultural norms embrace kidnapping the children from their mothers, putting them in camps, and making them proclaim their love for Mother China.  A German study suggests forced sterilization is ongoing; the State Department has reported on systematic rape. Presumably this is the same idea as in Braveheart: "The problem with Scotland is that it's full of Scots... we'll breed them out." Except, of course, in the movie it was only for one night; on China's "New Frontier," it's every night, while you're held in a camp rather than allowed to go home. 

The Thirty Tyrants (sadly far more than thirty of them this time) are hard at work to praise their true friends and allies, the leadership of the People's Republic of China. For our own sake as well as that of the suffering Uighur, we must not let them get away with this. At least the truth about what is happening must be spoken. 

"Why No One Believes Anything"

An article at National Review today addresses the general collapse of trust in news reports.
Andrew Cuomo, the Emmy Award–winning governor that a swooning press held up as the enlightened standard for an effective pandemic response... may have covered up nursing-home fatalities....

The Lincoln Project, the great conquering super PAC of the 2020 election, hailed as the work of geniuses and lavished with attention on cable news, has imploded upon revelations that it is a sleazy scam.

And the widely circulated story of the death of Officer Brian Sicknick, a key element of Trump’s second impeachment, is at the very least murky and more complicated than first reported.
You could extend the list a lot longer than that, and I'm sure each of you has your own favorite example. 

When speaking of the wilder conspiracy theories like Qanon, I've lately been proposing that they're successful because they actually are more plausible than the official story. The official story is that Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. 

The author says there are no ready solutions, but there are: there just aren't ready actors. The solutions are to speak the truth, to stop treating journalism as a front for cultural warfare, and to stop believing that 'your team' are the good guys. Not 'playing for the team' is apparently not an option, however; 'winning' or 'advancing the ball' seems to be what journalism has become. 

Costs exist, however. Credibility and attention are the currency, and if you become incredible people stop paying attention, too. Then what have you got? You've got people looking for alternative sources, and some of those sources believe in lizard people.


My little coastal county doesn't fare well in extreme cold. We do have Yankee transplants here, but there's no accounting for citizens who appear to think that "rare freezes" are the same as "impossible freezes." This was an unusual cold spell in that many people have lost power not just for a few hours but for days on end, so the simplest coldproofing steps suddenly proved inadequate. Pipes will freeze now that would have been OK if house heat had stayed on. Not many thought to empty the pipes when the heat went off, and a day or two later--when it became clear that the outages weren't "rolling"--it was too late.

To make matters worse, when everyone drips pipes, or when pipes burst, water pressure goes to nothing. When the municipal water system loses power it can't make the treatment plant work and can't maintain water pressure. Many are outraged to be told that they should boil water, which they can't do because they are helpless without electrical power to boil water with. Or a few have power to boil with, but now no water pressure and so no water to boil. Seems like they would join forces with the contingent on the next block and get some water boiled.

You wouldn't believe how many people haven't got the means even to light a cooking fire in a grill. This cold snap didn't exactly sneak up on us, but many lost water pressure last night without having filled a single container. The stores lack power and haven't been restocked this week--no bottled water! There is no gasoline for sale; too many pumps are still without power. And this is in a county that's not even five years past its last hurricane-related weeks-long power outage.

Communications are strangely stable. I assume people are using smartphones and charging in their cars.

As uncomfortable as this all is, our temperatures have not been what you would call dangerous: upper teens, at the worst. There's no reason for anyone to risk exposure as long as they have dry shelter out of the wind. I doubt there's anyone reading this post who hasn't camped outside in worse. A few large buildings, like churches, have generators, but most are simply larger versions of the cold, uncomfortable boxes that the homes have become, and so are useless as shelters. Better to pile on the blankets at home and wait it out, assuming you keep some food and water in the house.

The weirdest thing I've heard all week: it's barely risen above freezing for several days now, but people are letting food go bad in their unpowered refrigerators. I just read about someone in another town worried about the safety of her insulin supply. What do they think refrigerators do?

One thing I'm pleased about: we had very few wrecks on icy roads. I dreaded hearing that people would skid off the causeway into the bay.

A few look at this situation and think: I should plan right now for improved backup systems in case something like this happens again. The rest want to know the name and phone number of someone they can call and complain to about the lousy service at this hotel.

Six Days on the Road

All right, so after Aggie mentioned it in the comments on Friday night, I decided to extend this series long enough that we could do this song on the sixth day after "Six Decks to Darwin." 

So here you go: the great trucker classic.

Although in fairness you shouldn't wind up a trucker song series without "Convoy," so here it is too.

And, really, something from the late, great Jerry Reed. 

Chill Map

In case you want it for comparison, or just to see how cold it really is out there.

"The Models Work"

Some of you may have followed a long discussion at AVI's place on the validity of weather models. I learned quite a bit about what weather predictors think they are doing, and why their models are so bad. I'm not sure it's worth your time to read through it, but essentially they're confident enough in computer modeling in which they are only estimating the initial conditions that they think they can run computer models of weather that are as accurate as computer models of gambling games. The probability model they're using is simplistic and non-Bayesian. 

Because it's non-Bayesian, it's impossible to distinguish between 'the model worked, but the unlikely event occurred' and 'the model was full of crap.' If the event you predicted happened, the model was accurate. If the event you predicted wasn't likely to occur happened, the model was still right -- it predicted a chance of something else happening, after all. The models are never wrong.

A Dark Time in America

The calls for gun control were always expected, because disarming the American people has been at or near the top of the to-do list for the left forever. Yet there is no crisis to reference; gun violence is in fact way up, but not gun violence of the type they'd like to ban. Almost all of the spike in gun murders is committed with handguns that are already illegally possessed, and usually stolen. The left wants to ban civilian possession of semiautomatic rifles, among other things, but rifles of all kinds put together are used only in a tiny fraction of gun violence (about two-thirds of which 'violence' is suicide, causing gun control advocates to suddenly become anti-suicide advocates when the left normally embraces euthanasia as it does abortion).

So they're reaching back three years to a school shooting that happened -- the one where the police cowered outside instead of attacking the gunman. 

Yet what a strange thing to do: propose a law to address a problem that has completely ended. There are no school shootings in America anymore, because in-person instruction has largely ended. We've found a 100% effective solution to the problem, and it doesn't involve gun control. All we need to do is shift public education permanently to a virtual model, which the teacher's unions seem to want to do anyway.

So you can solve the problem, please the unions, and not create a massive affront among the citizenry who believes (accurately) that you're violating their most basic Constitutional rights. Win-win-win! Why not do that? 

You know why not. Solving the problem isn't the real issue; the real issue for them is disarming their victims, or at least turning them into criminals against whom state violence can be lawfully used.

Of course you can call your Congressfolk to ask them to oppose all this, but none of them can actually stop any of it. You're already effectively disenfranchised in America at the Federal level. Real resistance will have to be at the state and local level, there are already attempts to organize efforts to block enforcement of unconstitutional Federal laws, refuse to cooperate with the Federal law enforcement agencies (as the left was already refusing to cooperate with ICE), elect sheriffs who refuse to enforce such laws, or even arrest them for violating our constitutional rights. 

These mechanisms explain the push to purge "extremists" from both police agencies and the military. Note that this "there is no room in society for people to hold extremist views" rhetoric extends to all Americans:

“There is zero room, not only in society, but more so in professions of public trust and service, for people to have extremist views, regardless of ideology,” said Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association[,]

We are staging up for an ugly time, it appears: having 'fortified' the election, the new government has literally fortified the capital, and is now moving on to the part where they pass unconstitutional laws meant to disarm the populace. The suppression of speech is ongoing as well. This is no longer the America that I was born in; it's very rapidly turning into something else. 

More from Georgia's Fulton County

Fulton County just fired its election manager

Former President Donald Trump falsely alleged irregularities in Fulton County voting including the counting of ballots after a water line break at State Farm Arena and other unproven claims.

Falsely, you say? So why was the guy fired?

"Issues cited were his handling of the 2020 elections & firing of whistleblowers Bridget Thorne & Suzi Voyles, who testified in Georgia fraud hearings," http://VOTERGA.ORG's Garland Favorito said.

Georgia has competing investigations into election fraud, including one that alleges wrongdoing by newly-minted Senator Warnick (from an earlier election, however). The State Election Board just filed 35 cases for prosecution by local DAs or state officials; Fulton County's Democratically-elected DA is trying to prosecute, you guessed it, Donald Trump.

Monday Night Truckin'

 This one's originally by Claude Gray, but I default to the Outlaw Coe whenever he's got a version. 

Happy Barack Obama Day

It used to be "Presidents' Day," but at this point he's the only one you're really allowed to celebrate. You may be allowed to wink past Clinton's actions, but that's getting thinner and thinner each year. You are allowed to pretend that Joe Biden really won the election, though that will get thinner each year too.

Sunday Night Truckin'

 Gotta get the truck's perspective, to be fair to all parties involved.

Saturday Night Truckin’


Plato's Laws XI, 2: Of Sound Mind

The second matter from Book XI that draws my attention is the question of disposing of one's property in a last will and testament. Now, before we even look at this we know that the Athenian is going to be interested in preserving a proportionate equality among the 5,040 households. Thus, without reading a word of what he has to say, we're going to expect him to require the citizens to pass their legacy on to their lawful heir, and not to dispose of it as they may prefer. Inheritance is inherently political.

This was a substantial issue during the Middle Ages, for example, when nobility would often donate large holdings to the Church -- with the Church's encouragement -- in return for regular prayers for their souls. The family might have preferred that this not occur as often as it did, but the Powers that Be included the Church, and the Church was eager to receive such donations. The Church and the various royalties were mutually supporting, whereas the royalty often found its greatest practical competitor in the nobility --- though that should not have been true under the form of feudalism; in theory, the nobility and the royalty should have been mutually loyal and supportive, as the nobility grew out of the war band that upheld the king. Yet as time passed, the comitatus who became the Comes and then the Counts, and the Dux Bellorum who became the Dux and then the Duke, had their own competing interests. The kings were on the side of the Church both because the Popes tended to support kings, and because it bled off some of the wealth and power of their chief competitors and most dangerous potentially rebellious subjects. 

So too we will find here.

Ath. we must begin with the testamentary wishes of the dying and the case of those who may have happened to die intestate. When I said, Cleinias, that we must regulate them, I had in my mind the difficulty and perplexity in which all such matters are involved. You cannot leave them unregulated, for individuals would make regulations at variance with one another, and repugnant to the laws and habits of the living and to their own previous habits, if a person were simply allowed to make any will which he pleased, and this were to take effect in whatever state he may have been at the end of his life; for most of us lose our senses in a manner, and feel crushed when we think that we are about to die.

Cle. What do you mean, Stranger?
Ath. O Cleinias, a man when he is about to die is an intractable creature, and is apt to use language which causes a great deal of anxiety and trouble to the legislator.

Cle. In what way?
Ath. He wants to have the entire control of all his property, and will use angry words.

Cle. Such as what?
Ath. O ye Gods, he will say, how monstrous that I am not allowed to give, or not to give my own to whom I will-less to him who has been bad to me, and more to him who has been good to me, and whose badness and goodness have been tested by me in time of sickness or in old age and in every other sort of fortune!

Cle. Well Stranger, and may he not very fairly say so?
Ath. In my opinion, Cleinias, the ancient legislators were too good-natured, and made laws without sufficient observation or consideration of human things.

Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. I mean, my friend that they were afraid of the testator's reproaches, and so they passed a law to the effect that a man should be allowed to dispose of his property in all respects as he liked; but you and I, if I am not mistaken, will have something better to say to our departing citizens.

Two guesses what that 'something better' is, and the first one doesn't count.

It's a fairly intricate set of dispositions, actually, but it preserves the basic point. The original lot, from the 5,040, is to preserved intact to the son who is named heir. Other sons may be adopted off or granted portions of any additional wealth that has been accumulated -- remember that you could get up to four times the original lot before the state instituted its 100% tax, so you might have enough for up to four sons. The other sons may receive that much wealth, but it won't be in land, so they'll need to head off to other countries and colonies to set themselves up. If any of them have managed to set themselves up with lots already, they should not further partake of the patrimony.

Daughters should be married off, and if it happens that a man dies with only daughters, the legislator gets to pick out a good husband for her to take over the family lot. Oh, but this part is pretty ugly, as the Athenian himself admits; but he makes it much uglier by insisting that the marriage be of near-kin if at all possible, cousins or suchlike, in order to keep the wealth in the family. The woman is only consulted, instead of the state, if no suitable kin exist. "[I]f there be a lack of kinsmen in a family extending to grandchildren of a brother, or to the grandchildren of a grandfather's children, the maiden may choose with the consent of her guardians any one of the citizens who is willing and whom she wills, and he shall be the heir of the dead man, and the husband of his daughter."

Now, in fairness, cousin-marriage is much more ordinary in human history than we always understand; and genetics were as yet unknown to science and philosophy alike at the time. Keeping wealth united via cousin-marriage was (and remains, in some places) an ordinary consideration, not an idea that originates with Plato. Marriage-for-love was probably a Medieval innovation, whereas ancient marriage was always a family negotiation -- here the state is entering into the role the father has abandoned by dying before securing his own heir.

Still, the Athenian concludes, Now we must not conceal from ourselves that such laws are apt to be oppressive and that there may sometimes be a hardship in the lawgiver commanding the kinsman of the dead man to marry his relation... Persons may fancy that the legislator never thought of this, but they are mistaken; wherefore let us make a common prelude on behalf of the lawgiver and of his subjects, the law begging the latter to forgive the legislator, in that he, having to take care of the common weal, cannot order at the same time the various circumstances of individuals, and begging him to pardon them if naturally they are sometimes unable to fulfil the act which he in his ignorance imposes upon them.

Forgive us, citizens; we know exactly what we do.

Jackson Crawford on Not Being Called "Dr. Crawford."

It's clear from the length and rambling nature of this that he's uncomfortable talking about why he's abandoning use of the title "Dr.", but the basic facts are honorable. 

1) He never thought that a title like this would make him 'better than my grandfather, which is absurd,' but now that it seems people do think so he doesn't want any part of that.

2) He detests academic pretense -- as he puts it, 'even grad students' often look down on him because he's 'not the right kind.' He's done the work, and merits the title, but he doesn't want to be part of their world any more than they want him there. 

3) He doesn't want to detract from the honor due to medical professionals, who deserve special respect in his view, by claiming an equivalent title. 

Now, in fairness I appreciated his early use of the title on his YouTube channel just because it signaled that this guy might actually know what he was talking about. It's a subject that interests me, as it interested Tolkien and others, and yet it's also an area where a lot of people are making stuff up. It was nice to know that you'd get some grounded information if you listened to this guy. Sometimes he's not willing to go as far as even I am in making deductive leaps; but I know that what he does say is going to be solidly grounded.

Also, as I've mentioned here before, the medical professionals are the ones glomming on to the title; its medieval usage was far closer to what he's doing than what they're doing. It's interesting that he doesn't mention the source of the debate we were having that motivated him to make this decision, i.e., Dr. Jill Biden. He's clearly not siding with her, and backing off of his own better claim (as a Ph.D., who were more or less the original 'doctors,' rather than the far-less-rigorous and ancient Ed.D.) to avoid the pretentiousness of which she is accused. 

In any case, I think the general point holds: this is a courtesy title, and thus you should use it for someone who has merited it if it is important to you to pay them a courtesy. Since Jackson Crawford, Ph.D., no longer wishes this courtesy to be paid to him, it would be polite not to use it for him. Yet he has a better claim to it than he admits, perhaps even to himself. 

Let Them Die

Per D29, the UK has decided to issue Do Not Resuscitate orders for COVID patients with 'learning disabilities.' 

People with learning disabilities have been given do not resuscitate orders during the second wave of the pandemic, in spite of widespread condemnation of the practice last year and an urgent investigation by the care watchdog.

Mencap said it had received reports in January from people with learning disabilities that they had been told they would not be resuscitated if they were taken ill with Covid-19....

The disclosure comes as campaigners put growing pressure on ministers to reconsider a decision not to give people with learning disabilities priority for vaccinations. 

Iceland had famously almost eliminated Downs Syndrome through a similar approach, although they've become shy about it since it got a lot of press.

Friday Night Truckin

Appropriate Civility

A nice change from the rhetoric of recent years.

UPDATE: Jack Posobiec claims the article is fake, though he links to no evidence. 

Plato's Laws XI

You might have thought that we'd adequately covered business transactions in previous books, but no, it's the subject of Book XI as well. Now that we have the apparatus in place to punish people for wrongdoing, we need to re-examine punishments for immoral business practices -- which, surprise!, are often going to be treated as incidents of either blasphemy or treason.

In spite of this harshness, the book contains first principles that are really reasonable and moral. Here's the very opening, for example:

Ath. In the next place, dealings between man and man require to be suitably regulated. The principle of them is very simple:-Thou shalt not, if thou canst help, touch that which is mine, or remove the least thing which belongs to me without my consent; and may I be of a sound mind, and do to others as I would that they should do to me.

Who could object to these simple principles? I would like others to respect my property, and not handle or dispose of it without my consent; and, as a rational being, I recognize that I ought to extend this same protection to others since I want it myself. This is John Wayne stuff.

The Athenian immediately departs into a place more Beowulf than The Shootist. What to do if a man has laid up treasure in a tomb, and it is discovered, and none of his family remain behind? As we all know from the Beowulf (and The Hobbit) the best thing to do is not to touch it, not even one cup of it, lest you bring down the dragon. For Plato this isn't a literal dragon, nor even a literary one, but the punishment of the gods upon the soul of the man who 'takes up what he did not lay down.' You will not, the Athenian warns, do better financially than you will suffer in the quality of your soul if you steal treasure from the dead.

Similarly, when considering the trades -- innkeepers are his particular example here -- the Athenian lays down what at first sounds like a very moral and correct first principle. Trade is good! After all, it's just how we deal with the fact that Citizen A has lots of timber, more than he needs; and Citizen B has more honey than he can use, but might want some timber. Trade is how we get these inefficiencies dealt with, and goods distributed to those who need them. 

Ath. Retail trade in a city is not by nature intended to do any harm, but quite the contrary; for is not he a benefactor who reduces the inequalities and incommensurabilities of goods to equality and common measure? And this is what the power of money accomplishes, and the merchant may be said to be appointed for this purpose. The hireling and the tavern-keeper, and many other occupations, some of them more and others less seemly-alike have this object;-they seek to satisfy our needs and equalize our possessions.

Yes, he admits, we look down on these merchants; but if good and moral people were in these trades, they'd do so well that we'd think as well of these trades as of institutions like motherhood that are the business of the best kind of people.

Ath. For if what I trust may never be and will not be, we were to compel, if I may venture to say a ridiculous thing, the best men everywhere to keep taverns for a time, or carry on retail trade, or do anything of that sort; or if, in consequence of some fate or necessity, the best women were compelled to follow similar callings, then we should know how agreeable and pleasant all these things are; and if all such occupations were managed on incorrupt principles, they would be honoured as we honour a mother or a nurse. But now that a man goes to desert places and builds bouses which can only be reached be long journeys, for the sake of retail trade, and receives strangers who are in need at the welcome resting-place, and gives them peace and calm when they are tossed by the storm, or cool shade in the heat....

That's a wonderful service, as he correctly points out; the only problem is that innkeepers are greedy (he claims) and want to be paid extortionate prices for their hospitality, rather than treating their guests as friends. 

Now it might seem as if he has the principles in place to construct an admirable solution: assign these duties a special honor, and make them a part of the business of the kind of wealthy citizens for whom hospitality can be generous and profit from the service need not be tremendous. Of course he does not come to that conclusion, but the opposite one: no citizens should be allowed to participate in these ventures "either voluntarily or involuntarily," but only foreigners and resident aliens. Any citizen who runs an inn, or other tradesman-like ventures, is to be imprisoned for a year, and the punishment doubled and redoubled for any repeat offenses. 

Then, having restricted innkeeping etc. to the very class that will most need to make a profit from it, as they haven't other lands and ways of drawing incomes like the citizens do, we simply regulate them by law so that they must behave the way a generous citizen might. 

So, instead of following the argument to what seems like its natural conclusion, we follow the logic of the social class prejudice inherent in ancient Greece. These things are lowly; they would be better done if better people did them; therefore, no better people may do them, but only poor people who must be punished if they don't act as if they were richer than they are. 

Plato wasn't a businessman, and we've seen the Athenian's hostility to business throughout this work. Still, in a work that is supposedly structured to order society in such a way as to bring about moral improvements, here is a clear missed opportunity that his own stated principles might have led him to endorse.

Silly Governor

He should have known he had nothing to fear from Federal prosecutors. Not even now. 

Vaccinated people are both contagious and not contagious

The CDC now says that people who have completed their two-dose course of the vaccination and waited two weeks no longer need to quarantine if they are exposed to a known COVID case. They do, however, need to continue wearing masks all the time and continue social distancing, because reasons. Up to now, I'd have thought that the purpose of quarantine and masks was roughly the same, but a matter of degree: we treat everyone as a potential carrier who's deadly to those with whom he comes into contact, because even though non-symptomatic transfer is minimal, the new rule is life has to be 100% safe or we can't live it at all. What's more, if someone has actually been exposed to a known carrier, it's not enough to wear a mask and stay six feet from everyone: he has to lock himself in his home.
“Vaccinated persons with an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following criteria.”
The criteria include having had both shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — the two shots that are available to the U.S. public at the moment — and that at least two weeks have gone by since the second dose was administered. Studies have shown that full immunity is not built up until a couple of weeks after finishing the vaccine regimen.
* * *
The agency maintained that vaccinated people should continue following all other health guidance, including wearing a mask and social distancing when possible. Studies have shown that those who have been inoculated could still hold the virus in their noses and throats and transmit it to those around them.
So now, if you've been vaccinated, you don't have to lock yourself up, because you're not dangerous. You only have to avoid exposing your exhalations to anyone, forever, because you're dangerous. Is the idea supposed to be that you're still contagious, just not very? Because that argument hasn't worked so far in any attempt to make our pandemic policy adhere to reason or evidence.

Six Decks Bound for Darwin

Thanks to James (h/t AVI) for this Australian trucking song. 

Now, I grew up with trucking thanks to my grandfather, but 'I've got six decks' isn't a part of the lingo that's familiar to me from American sources. I'm pretty sure this points to one of the substantial differences between American and Australian trucking:  the road train.

The biggest one of these you're likely to see in the United States is only two deep, what we usually call "a double bottom." In the Australian Outback they often run road trains far larger than any North American setup. One driver can pull a lot of freight a long way. In the song, he's headed with cattle to the seaport at Darwin, where it may be floating to feed hungry mouths in China or elsewhere. 

Plato's Laws X, 6

This will be the last bit on the tenth book, after which we will move on to the final sixth of the Laws.

The Athenian returns to the idea of 'evil souls,' though not necessarily to 'the evil soul,' in a myth he decides to tell the people in order to enjoin good behavior. This is one of two mechanisms he sets up to try to apply external pressure to people to do right. His argument that no one will do wrong if he or she really believes in the gods, coupled with the proof of the gods, was supposed to eliminate the need for this. He found it embarrassing that people so well brought-up in the paths of righteousness as his colony's citizenry would even need punishments at all. But we're going to get reinforcing, overlapping systems -- which proves, I think, that Plato knows that such an approach will be necessary (and probably not even adequate) over and above right religion and philosophy.

The first system is mythic. In The Republic, a similar myth is proposed for the same reason: social control. However, in The Republic the system was intended for the ordinary people -- the elite Guardian class would understand that it was a myth that was constructed to ease the task of government. Here, the idea is that the myth should be taught to everyone, and they should all be encouraged to believe in it as firmly as they can be convinced to be, at every level of society.  It is, if anything, more important that the executors of the legislator's will be convinced of the myth that says that what they are doing is right and divinely warranted. 

So the myth is simply that our souls are transformed by our actions, and that they shall after death 'find their place' among the souls of the dead. Some of these souls are better, because they did right, and 'their place' is 'higher,' that is, they enjoy a sort of ascension to heavenly realms of the sort that the older stories say are populated by the gods. Worse souls 'sink' 'lower,' closer to the center of the earth, where the old stories say the realm of the unblessed souls lay: think of Achilles' shade in Hades, miserable and angry. 

Wait -- Achilles was a great hero, wasn't he? One of the best? Well, yes; this is part of Plato's problem with Homer. No getting around that, because the Athenian  has to endorse the old stories as part of upholding the ancient ways and civic pride. 

In any case, this is the answer to the 'evidence of our eyes.' Justice will be meted out after death, where we can't see it, but must believe it was done.

Ath. This is the justice of the Gods who inhabit Olympus. O youth or young man, who fancy that you are neglected by the Gods, know that if you become worse you shall go to the worse souls, or if better to the better, and in every succession of life and death you will do and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like. This is the justice of heaven, which neither you nor any other unfortunate will ever glory in escaping, and which the ordaining powers have specially ordained; take good heed thereof, for it will be sure to take heed of you. If you say:-I am small and will creep into the depths of the earth, or I am high and will fly up to heaven, you are not so small or so high but that you shall pay the fitting penalty, either here or in the world below or in some still more savage place whither you shall be conveyed. This is also the explanation of the fate of those whom you saw, who had done unholy and evil deeds, and from small beginnings had grown great, and you fancied that from being miserable they had become happy; and in their actions, as in a mirror, you seemed to see the universal neglect of the Gods, not knowing how they make all things work together and contribute to the great whole. 

Now one thing I want to say about this higher/lower thing is that it fits very nicely with Aristotle's physics, which transformed but was rooted on the physics of those who came before him. The idea of 'natural place' is key to understanding why this physics was so plausible to the Greeks, and to many who came after Aristotle. 

It was a thing you could prove. There were supposed to be four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. You can encounter these things in nature, and see that they are each quite different from the others. You could see that each one had a natural place, too: light a fire, and the fire goes up toward the heavens. Drop a rock into the water, and it falls through it to a lower place yet. Air stays in between the ground and the heavens to which the fire seems to rush, where lights like fires burn in the sky. 

So what is being proposed about souls is that they are either purifying themselves of base compositions, or taking on such compositions, by their decisions in life. They are becoming lighter or heavier, we might say; but more purely aethereal, or else more weighted with the base elements. They will, after death, find their natural place among the better and worse souls. It's a model that would have seemed very natural to Greeks of the period because it matches how they understand the natural world. 

(Note that the implications here are the opposite of the ones you usually hear, i.e., that this model was 'arrogant' because 'it put earth at the center of the universe.' No, it put earth at the center because (a) the Greeks knew they were on a sphere, having calculated its circumference, and (b) things made of earth always fell towards the center of the sphere, whereas fire ran away from it. The earth wasn't put at the center because it was religiously special, but because scientific observations of the era proved that was where it belonged; and not because it was glorious, but because it was base.)

This myth carries on:

Ath. Perhaps they might be compared to the generals of armies, or they might be likened to physicians providing against the diseases which make war upon the body, or to husbandmen observing anxiously the effects of the seasons on the growth of plants; or I perhaps, to shepherds of flocks. For as we acknowledge the world to be full of many goods and also of evils, and of more evils than goods, there is, as we affirm, an immortal conflict going on among us, which requires marvellous watchfulness; and in that conflict the Gods and demigods are our allies, and we are their property. Injustice and insolence and folly are the destruction of us, and justice and temperance and wisdom are our salvation; and the place of these latter is in the life of the Gods, although some vestige of them may occasionally be discerned among mankind. But upon this earth we know that there dwell souls possessing an unjust spirit, who may be compared to brute animals, which fawn upon their keepers, whether dogs or shepherds, or the best and most perfect masters; for they in like manner, as the voices of the wicked declare, prevail by flattery and prayers and incantations, and are allowed to make their gains with impunity. And this sin, which is termed dishonesty, is an evil of the same kind as what is termed disease in living bodies or pestilence in years or seasons of the year, and in cities and governments has another name, which is injustice.

On this model human beings are not rightly free, but are property of the gods. Some of that property does rightly and well, like a good dog assisting a shepherd. Other dogs fawn upon their masters (i.e., the gods) and pretend to be good, but steal eggs or kill chickens when they think the master isn't watching. The life of the righteous is the life of being a good dog, as it were; which, honestly, good dogs are surely favored by heaven, as everyone knows. I am less confident about how good the analogy is for people and gods, or the divine in general.

In any case, the myth isn't going to be enough either. Neither philosophy nor religion will really ensure obedience to the law. Both are used to reinforce the law. At this point the Athenian has, however, made enough arguments to be able to assert that every sort of lawbreaking is a kind of impiety and blasphemy: and thus, that punishments for any violation of the law should be quite harsh, since blasphemy is a worse crime on this model than even treason.

Ath. After the prelude shall follow a discourse, which will be the interpreter of the law; this shall proclaim to all impious persons:-that they must depart from their ways and go over to the pious. And to those who disobey, let the law about impiety be as follows:-If a man is guilty of any impiety in word or deed, any one who happens to present shall give information to the magistrates, in aid of the law; and let the magistrates who. first receive the information bring him before the appointed court according to the law; and if a magistrate, after receiving information, refuses to act, he shall be tried for impiety... 

There shall be three prisons in the state: the first of them is to be the common prison in the neighbourhood of the agora for the safe-keeping of the generality of offenders; another is to be in the neighbourhood of the nocturnal council, and is to be called the "House of Reformation"; another, to be situated in some wild and desolate region in the centre of the country, shall be called by some name expressive of retribution. Now, men fall into impiety from three causes, which have been already mentioned, and from each of these causes arise two sorts of impiety, in all six, which are worth distinguishing, and should not all have the same punishment. For he who does not believe in Gods, and yet has a righteous nature, hates the wicked and dislikes and refuses to do injustice, and avoids unrighteous men, and loves the righteous. But they who besides believing that the world is devoid of Gods are intemperate, and have at the same time good memories and quick wits, are worse... the other who holds the same opinions and is called a clever man, is full of stratagem and deceit-men of this class deal in prophecy and jugglery of all kinds, and out of their ranks sometimes come tyrants and demagogues and generals and hierophants of private mysteries and the Sophists, as they are termed, with their ingenious devices. 

There are many kinds of unbelievers, but two only for whom legislation is required; one the hypocritical sort, whose crime is deserving of death many times over, while the other needs only bonds and admonition.... let those who have been made what they are only from want of understanding, and not from malice or an evil nature, be placed by the judge in the House of Reformation, and ordered to suffer imprisonment during a period of not less than five years. And in the meantime let them have no intercourse with the other citizens, except with members of the nocturnal council, and with them let them converse with a view to the improvement of their soul's health. And when the time of their imprisonment has expired, if any of them be of sound mind let him be restored to sane company, but if not, and if he be condemned a second time, let him be punished with death. 

As to that class of monstrous natures who not only believe that there are no Gods, or that they are negligent, or to be propitiated, but in contempt of mankind conjure the souls of the living and say that they can conjure the dead and promise to charm the Gods with sacrifices and prayers, and will utterly overthrow individuals and whole houses and states for the sake of money-let him who is guilty of any of these things be condemned by the court to be bound according to law in the prison which is in the centre of the land, and let no freeman ever approach him, but let him receive the rations of food appointed by the guardians of the law from the hands of the public slaves; and when he is dead let him be cast beyond the borders unburied... 

And if a person be proven guilty of impiety, not merely from childish levity, but such as grown-up men may be guilty of, whether he have sacrificed publicly or privately to any Gods, let him be punished with death, for his sacrifice is impure. Whether the deed has been done in earnest, or only from childish levity, let the guardians of the law determine, before they bring the matter into court and prosecute the offender for impiety.

So the best case is someone who doesn't understand the philosophical arguments; he should be sent to prison for five years, and if he still doesn't understand that the gods are real afterwards, he should be executed. However, he might be readmitted to society if he proves to have developed the correct opinions and is able to repeat the myths convincingly. 

The ordinary person who commits offenses is a hypocrite, having affirmed right philosophy and religion and then betrayed it. Death.

The worst sort of all, though, is the one who affirms the teachings but distorts them in practice. People who claim to speak with the dead, or to make prophecies, or to reveal philosophical teachings at variance with the legislator's ("Sophists") are to be imprisoned for life in miserable conditions, and then subjected to the worst sort of public shaming after death. Like Hector until Priam came to beg for him, they are to be left for the birds and beasts to tear apart, beyond the borders of their civic society, without honors of any sort.

In the end, the philosophy and the religion and the myth all turn out to reinforce human-made law and the power of the state. A very sad conclusion to this book, in my opinion; unless, of course, Plato is speaking 'ironically,' and trying to get us all to see through the Athenian how the mechanisms of state power adopt what is truly and righteously highest and best, i.e., philosophy and our relationship to the divine. Unless, that is, the point of the Athenian dramatically is to reveal the way the state steals and distorts the human interest in what is good and true, and turns it into just another set of justifications for its own power.