Obamacare tactics so nice, we had to try them twice

I assume everyone's already heard about Schumer's legislative ploy to get around the Senate filibuster on the Federalize Voting Fraud bill. The Senate passed a benign bill addressing the need to renew some leasing powers of NASA, which then went to the House, which stripped out ever word and filled the empty vessel with an unholy mixture of two pending "Enable All the Election Fraud" bills that have been floating around for the last year without getting enough support to pass. The House plans to pass this Trojan Horse with its slim majority, which I take it is feasible, and send it back to the Senate for final approval. The idea is that the filibuster doesn't apply in this situation, perhaps because it's supposed to be done under reconciliation rules? Even though it's clearly not a spending bill?

I'm a little lost, but here's what Neo has to say about it, and she tends to get this stuff right: the NASA empty-suit-filled-with-election-fraud-goodness scam bypasses only the need for 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor for debate, not the 60 votes needed actually to pass it. Whether Manchin would vote against bringing it to the floor for a vote—thus denying it even the 51-vote majority I guess is required for that purpose—I don’t know. He might be willing to have it debated even if he would refuse to vote for it on the merits in the end.

As for Manchin's vote on the merits, the word is that he initially supported a bill to make it more difficult for state legislatures to block Electoral College certifications, a measure that enjoys some bipartisan support.  Nevertheless, he does not at all support the measures like outlawing voter i.d.'s, legalizing ballot-harvesting, etc., that Schumer deems necessary to preserve democracy as we know it. If Neo is correct that in the end Fraudulus could not pass without 60 votes, I'm relieved. I'd rather not worry so much about Mr. Manchin's principles.

Enchiridion: An Aside

In the comments to the last post, J. Melcher writes:
It's a challenge to resist the human -- even animalistic -- urge to punish offenses against our instinctive sense of proper behaviors. Chickens will leave off feeding to enforce their status in the local pecking order. Canines defend their fair share of a carcass brought down in a pack hunt -- and enforce their rights to a hunting territory. Social animals will form mobs to drive away individuals who seem crazy or sick or challenging to the existing order.

I trust there will be a recommendation coming up about how to find the balance between accepting the trivial and standing up for what seems important.
There are some considerations that need to be raised about this. Epictetus was a long-time slave, for one; much of his life was not the life of a free man. Second, even when he was free he was a Roman citizen in the era of Empire rather than in the old Republic. Marcus Auerilius has a lot of concern with the public sphere, being an Emperor of Rome. Epictetus has relatively little. 

Our society of free men -- empowered to defend themselves and conduct citizens' arrests in cases of violence against the common peace and lawful order -- draws heavily on Medieval liberties that had not come to be in the time of Rome. The right to bear arms was a Medieval liberty of knights and lords, which came to be extended to free men in England through the process historian Sidney Painter described. The right of self-defense -- the right to defend one's home, because 'every Englishman's home is his castle,' the root of our Castle Doctrine -- these things arose in a later time, in the face of a weaker state that needed to reach out to ordinary people to support it and keep it stable. Sometimes these rights were compelled by rebellion against a state that tried to deny them, and could not successfully oppose its people, its knights, or its lords. 

These rights have also not always flourished. In some generations they have waned, because even natural rights must be remade in every generation. Nature provides grapes, but we must in every generation make the wine ourselves.

If you read the introduction to the Enchiridion at the page we are using, they point out that the Stoics became of interest in the early Modern age precisely for this reason.
That there was a rebirth of Stoicism in the centuries of rebirth which marked the emergence of the modern age was not mere chance. Philosophical, moral, and social conditions of the time united to cause it. Roman Stoicism had been developed in times of despotism as a philosophy of lonely and courageous souls who had recognized the redeeming power of philosophical reason in all the moral and social purposes of life. Philosophy as a way of life makes men free. It is the last ditch stand of liberty in a world of servitude. Many elements in the new age led to thought which had structural affinity with Roman Stoicism. Modern times had created the independent thinker, the free intellectual in a secular civilization. Modern times had destroyed medieval liberties and had established the new despotism of the absolute state supported by ecclesiastical authority.
Emphasis added. It is worth noting that the 'ecclesiastical authority' enlisted to support the absolute monarchy often represented a fragmentation of the earlier Church: in Germany as in England, the Catholic Church's authority was rejected because it was a source of opposition to the throne. In France and Spain, king and bishop found ways to reinforce one another. The space for liberty arises when powers are opposed, as our Federal government and our states are in key cases opposed; as our Supreme Court is meant to oppose the Congress or the Executive, and so forth. In the early Modern era, those oppositions often failed. 

The free mind is a space of liberty even when all else is constrained. Even if you are not free to stand up for what is right practically, you may still think what you will. Even if speaking your opposition would destroy you and your family, your means of making a living or perhaps even you actual freedom to exist outside prison walls -- or to exist at all -- your mind can remain free. This was true even of a Roman slave, who managed to inspire generations after him who came up in bad times. 

It does not excuse us who are free from fighting for our practical freedom, nor does it excuse us from dying for it if necessary. Yet we should recognize Epictetus as a comrade in the fight for liberty, even if he never was as free as any of us have been.

I have another theory

 A NYT writer muses (link is to HotAir, not NYT) on why people are having public tantrums:

Being told you can’t have x, y, or z is no longer just a disappointment, it’s a challenge and a reminder that you’re not in control of anything. And I think that when you cram a bunch of people already feeling that way into a tight space like an airplane, it’s not surprising that a lot more fights are breaking out than usual.
Maybe something else to consider is why a lot of people failed to learn any life strategies for situations when they didn't get exactly what they want as soon as they demanded it.

Enchiridion IV


When you set about any action, remind yourself of what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, represent to yourself the incidents usual in the bath—some persons pouring out, others pushing in, others scolding, others pilfering. And thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, “I will now go to bathe and keep my own will in harmony with nature.” And so with regard to every other action. For thus, if any impediment arises in bathing, you will be able to say, “It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my will in harmony with nature; and I shall not keep it thus if I am out of humor at things that happen.”

Obviously the example turns on a public bath, a Roman tradition. This is very urbane advice: if you should see some pilfering going on in the city, forget it, Jake. ("It's Chinatown.") The nature of the thing -- the city -- means that there will be a certain number of thieves about. You'll see a certain number of homeless. Beggars will confront you. The poor will always be with you. It's just the way it is.

Accepting the world as it is, according to the nature of the thing, is another core insight. The nature of the city is of course human nature, and the city is the environment that is in a sense the most human of all: the environment reformed by human will in accord with human nature. It is human nature that produces the thieves.

Trusting the experts

It appears to amaze some of my acquaintances, particularly constituents who don't know me very well and evidently pay no attention to information about the usual origin of my opinions, that I don't universally despise experts. Uncritically believe them, no, of course not, but there is an initial step required to induce enough doubt to justify a personal investigation. That initial step, contrary to popular view, involves facts rather than feelz.

In recent weeks, my community has been roiled by a series of podcasts and letters to the editor suggesting that an old "red bed" on the edge of the county is going to destroy our local environment. Red beds are disposal pits for the residue of smelting aluminum from bauxite ore. Very little aluminum smelting gets done in the U.S. any more, the local manufacturers having been subjected to new environmental standards that drastically reduced the more troublesome trace products in the residue, while simultaneously making the process so much more expensive that recycling is now more cost-effective. Apparently the U.S. currently relies more on recycled aluminum than mined, though China, for instance, is still smelting like crazy. Nevertheless, decades of previous smelting have left a lot of red beds full of bauxite residue. 

Red beds don't take their lurid color from anything exotic, just a high proportion of iron oxide (rust) in the bauxite. The usual bad rap against aluminum smelting is not so much the chemical byproducts as the fact that it's an absolute electricity hog, because the smelting process is a kind of electrolysis, like a giant battery. In addition, however, red mud is extremely alkaline (pH 10 to 13), so you definitely do not want it to escape its confinement and flow into any waterways in high concentrations. In a few highly publicized disasters, such as one in Hungary, this has happened on a large enough scale to sterilize a waterway, at least temporarily. Dilution apparently clears the problem up eventually, but it's serious. What's more, although red beds that dispose of relatively new and cleaner smelting may be chemically fairly benign other than their alkalinity, the fact remains that residue from older or dirtier smelters may contain a variety of toxins such as mercury and various hydrocarbons, including flouride compounds. In the case of a smelter in the county to our north, the red beds were of a particularly vile sort that dumped enough mercury into the bay system to prompt a Superfund designation. The mercury levels have been reported to have dropped substantially in the years since the designation and remediation.

The red bed at issue in my own county today is on the other end, to the south, and is not a Superfund site. Until today, all I could find out from people with their hair on fire was that they feared this complex of red beds was like the red beds to the north, or like other worse examples elsewhere in the world. The state version of the EPA, called Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) doesn't think so, but of course there is the usual suspicion that they're in league with industry flacks, as must be anyone who believes a word TCEQ says. Also, it's obvious that the red beds are deadly because the complex paid a lot of ad valorem taxes without ensuring that the locals participated somehow in their profits. I need more than the first argument to be excited into action, and the second argument I reject with contempt.

This morning, however, to my delight, someone forwarded me a genuinely helpful and informative document: a soil- and water-testing report, admittedly over 20 years old, attached to a TCEQ motion filed in 2016 in the federal bankruptcy proceedings of the former owner of the red beds. I can't tell offhand how serious are the problems it identified, but it did identify some, thus establishing that at least some of the red mud at this site came from some of the older and dirtier smelting sites, and some of the problems did make their way into some groundwater. With that lead, I can figure out what happened in the bankruptcy, including who is the current owner and what entities are still stuck with the clean-up liability, which was reported to have been estimated some years ago at $10MM minimum. Did TCEQ manage to find a solvent entity to undertake remediation, and was it effective? Have followup tests been done? The concerned citizens this time around allege that TCEQ is engaging in a "closure" rather than a remediation, which may be true; it may even be warranted. Evidently the most common strategy for red beds is to leave them alone and let them dry in place, while controlling red dust in dry and windy conditions. There's some effort to learn cost-effective ways to extract their more valuable trace elements, but I don't think anything like that is being attempted here.

In the meantime, people are posting podcasts showing the bright red ponds and letting that image work on the public's feelz. This is a state-law regulation issue, not a county one, but the concerned citizens believe, with some justification, that if TCEQ is dropping the ball then the county leadership should investigate and light a fire under them. I'm willing to do the investigation. I'd have been more willing sooner if I'd been approached with more light and less heat, and far less jumping to conclusions about the ulterior motives of anyone whose hair isn't equally on fire. Why do people think it's a winning strategy to appear at a public meeting to denounce motives? Even a skeptical governing body would be more likely to be brought on board if the concerned citizens concentrated on providing clear evidence of a problem instead of speculating about cover-ups for nefarious purposes. The defensive rage spurred by a question like "But what makes you conclude that TCEQ's remediation efforts have been ineffective to date?" is amazing. "Stop attacking me! You're part of the problem! You must think money is more important that preventing the poisoning of our bays!" There's also a serious difficulty in distinguishing between being attacked and not being believed uncritically--especially not being believed about things that even the concerned citizen hasn't investigated yet, let alone ones that I personally haven't investigated yet.

I'm not running for this office again, I'm done at the end of 2022. This has been enough service, I guess. I may paint and crochet for the rest of my life with a perfectly clear conscience.

Our Opponents are Psychopaths Part MCMLXIII

I suppose we should give some credit for willingness to declare that Trump-supporting was not the key metric. Still:

[W]e found that it’s not conservatives in general who tend to promote false information, but rather a smaller subset of them who also share two psychological traits: low levels of conscientiousness and an appetite for chaos. Importantly, we found that several other factors we tested for — including support for former President Donald Trump — did not reliably predict an inclination to share misinformation.

You can make of that what you want, I guess, but they claim that "in the early months of the pandemic, conservatives were more likely to believe Covid-19 was a hoax, and to downplay the virus’ severity." I seem to recall that, in the early months, it was the Nancy Pelosis of the world who declared that you should go join the Chinese New Year celebrations in your local town. Trump's ban on travel from China was painted as racist, and not by conservatives. His follow-on ban on travel from Europe was painted as wild-eyed.

Can LCCs be prevented from sharing falsities? One of the most common measures for combating misinformation is using accurate messaging or fact-checker interventions, which have been shown to reduce the sharing of misinformation. Unfortunately, in two studies, we found that fact-checking warnings were inadequate: LCCs continued to share fake news stories at a higher rate compared with liberals and high-conscientiousness conservatives, despite being told the news was inaccurate.

This would be more persuasive if the "fact-checkers" weren't so reliably pro-establishment propaganda. I can't recall one I've read recently that wasn't designed to short-circuit debate and reaffirm the position of the powerful. 

At the same time, our research overall suggests a path forward. First, those seeking to combat false information online can now target their interventions toward a smaller subset of the population: LCCs. More targeted approaches have been shown to be effective in influencing individual behavior in the past.

Second, our research makes clear that anyone trying to reach LCCs needs to experiment with interventions that go beyond fact-checking. We believe the onus falls primarily on social media companies. There is plenty of evidence that a user’s personality and political ideology can be inferred based on their social media activity. If these companies can identify LCCs, that means they can also be proactive in making sure LCCs are presented with reliable information, and not with falsities.

Misinformation is a serious threat to American democracy that deserves serious attention. 

This sounds like a desire to identify likely enemies and make sure they don't have access to any information that isn't approved by their betters. Thoughts must be controlled to protect democracy.

I have an alternative suggestion: why not have real debates in which people can put forward their views honestly as they understand them? I don't listen to podcasts, but Joe Rogan's apparently hosted an alternative viewpoint that embarrassed him -- and his response was to admit that his opponent was smart and well-informed, but then to cite his source for having believed otherwise.

Reasonable people are grappling with all this stuff as well as they can. If democracy is in fact the goal, you have to begin by accepting that ordinary people will be making decisions. While expert opinions may be helpful to them in areas where they are not themselves experts, they also don't know which experts are trustworthy and legitimate. The more the powerful seem to be trying to winnow the field to eliminate opposing views, the less trust they're going to have for the ones endorsed by the powerful.

Open and honest discussion is the only real way forward. Rogan is a mixed martial arts guy, not a scientist. But everyone is grappling with this, whatever their backgrounds. All of them have to come to individual decisions about what to do: that's real democracy. You've got to trust them to engage the discussion, and give them space to do it well. The more the powerful try to suppress and control, the more they end up delegitimizing their preferred speakers in the eyes of the ordinary person. They may not be expert enough to understand the science or to identify the true expert from the fake one, but they can definitely tell when pressure is being employed to try to keep them from reaching any but the approved conclusion. 

Tech crash?

Or maybe just tech bailout? If they're woke enough. Linked by Powerline:
You have a certain fire in your 20’s. Ready to reform and change everything. You get noticed when you perform. Promoted, bonuses, etc. But eventually you keep hitting the same problems or gatekeepers over and over. I recall asking an older coworker (mid-thirties at the time) what drove him, and he said he just does it for the paycheck now. I’m at that point. Lost the fire for career and collecting my paycheck for other purposes in life where the fire has been rekindled.
I worked remote for 5 years at a prior job and this was never the case. There’s something special about this combo of remote and “your feelings are valid”.
I know this isn’t just my company because I’ve interviewed at many other companies (Big Tech and Unicorns). Awful conduct at interviews. Demoralized employees who show up late, unprepared, or absolutely do not want to be there.
Things my coworkers spend an enormous amount of their day on: – Coming up with a “clever” new Zoom background each day (something Harry Potter or Star Wars like children) – Clever Slack emojis – Reddit style responses in threads (“First!) and other low brow irony for the lulz.

Dog-eat-dog competition

From Arnold King:
If you think that competition for wealth in a capitalist economy is bad, consider the alternatives. In particular, think about competition for money and power in an economy where markets are weak and government is strong.
Recall Bryan Caplan’s aphorism:
Free markets are awesome because they give business incentives to do good stuff that sounds bad. Governments are awful because they give politicians incentives to do bad stuff that sounds good.
The institutions that emerged out of the Enlightenment that set up competition in various realms, including scientific research and business, all worked well for a long time. But those institutions are threatened by people offering false utopian alternatives.

Dirty underwear

You've got to wonder when people are going to learn not to confess their corrupted professional ethics in emails.

The emails unveiled this week reveal no good scientific reason at all for why these leading virologists changed their minds and became deniers rather than believers in even the remote possibility of a lab leak, all in just a few days in February 2020. No new data, no new arguments. But they do very clearly reveal a blatant political reason for the volte-face. Speculating about a lab leak, said Ron Fouchier, a Dutch researcher, might ‘do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular’. Francis Collins was pithier, worrying about ‘doing great potential harm to science and international harmony’. Contradicting Donald Trump, protecting science’s reputation at all costs and keeping in with those who dole out large grants are pretty strong incentives to change one’s mind.
And then they whine that no one will believe the science. I believe in science, but not in all scientists.

Enchiridion III


With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind or contribute to use or are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles: if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond of—for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child or your wife, that you embrace a mortal—and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.

This one moves quickly from the trivial to the most catastrophic losses. In that way it may seem to equate them, though Epictetus clearly intends to set a priority: begin with the most trivial, and continue all the long way. 

Romans lost children a lot more often than we do, and wives as well due to the heightened likelihood of death in childbirth. A preparation for this likelihood of devastating experience is one of the things that people would have found attractive in Stoicism. 

Among the dictates, this one in particular reminds me of Zen instruction. "See the cup as already broken," Zen advises, recognizing not only that it is the kind of thing that can be broken -- "remind yourself of what nature they are" -- but that its breaking is so certain that you should already be aware that it will ultimately not survive. For a while you may continue with it, but it is broken at some point in future time: when you get there, well, you were always going to get there. 

Death is certain, too, your own and not only the deaths of others. Keeping that thought in the forefront of the mind will prove to be a crucial part of the Stoic approach. So too Zen, at least as expressed in bushido.

In Praise of Senator Sinema

Senator Sinema, defending the filibuster, sounds more like a statesman worthy of the body than anyone else sitting there. Democrats may not believe it today, but they will soon be grateful that she defended this tool that allows the minority to prevent sweeping legislation that lacks widespread consent. 

Honesty is a Virtue

Being honest with yourself, especially; but being honest with the public in a public matter, also.
Had she been held to the previous criteria, she would have failed, according to her score sheet and memo. The change was so recent that her scores were still marked as a failure on electronic records when she took the test in late March 2021, since the grading database wasn’t updated with the new rubric, according to the paperwork and a source familiar with it....

The author of the anonymous letter said the female airman has tried to quit training three times — twice in water confidence sessions and once during land navigation. Self-elimination has long meant that an airman’s attempt to join special tactics is over, yet documents show a different standard applied to the female captain.... She was allowed to continue despite the instructors’ objections, the trainer said.

It may well be that historians will record these diversity efforts as heralding the end of American military dominance, and with it the American-led global order. They may not be American historians, though.  

Hate Speech at Facebook

This story at the Washington Post begins with a two-paragraph lurid example targeting 'the Squad,' followed by several paragraphs of Facebook 'balking' in a way that is described as 'on the side of racists.' The whole piece is structured to assert that Facebook is actively trying to expose black people especially to harmful views. 

Yet there are two paragraphs in the middle that draw the eye.
The algorithm was aggressively detecting comments denigrating White people more than attacks on every other group, according to several of the documents. One April 2020 document said roughly 90 percent of “hate speech” subject to content takedowns were statements of contempt, inferiority and disgust directed at White people and men, though the time frame is unclear. And it consistently failed to remove the most derogatory, racist content. The Post previously reported on a portion of the project.

Researchers also found in 2019 that the hate speech algorithms were out of step with actual reports of harmful speech on the platform. In that year, the researchers discovered that 55 percent of the content users reported to Facebook as most harmful was directed at just four minority groups: Blacks, Muslims, the LGBTQ community and Jews, according to the documents.

When human users report hate speech, then, 55% of reports are of speech targeting blacks, Muslims, the LGBTQ community and/or Jews; but when the machine blindly identifies and removes denigrating comments, 90% of them target white people and/or men. 

The piece's clear perspective is that this shows that the algorithm is failing, as it is identifying content to remove that is different from what the human users think should be removed. The alternative is that our society has a clear bias towards allowing hate speech towards men and/or white people, and that it is only the other sorts of bias that violate our norms enough for people to report it.  

Enchiridion II


Remember that desire demands the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion demands the avoidance of that to which you are averse; that he who fails of the object of his desires is disappointed; and he who incurs the object of his aversion is wretched. If, then, you shun only those undesirable things which you can control, you will never incur anything which you shun; but if you shun sickness, or death, or poverty, you will run the risk of wretchedness. Remove [the habit of] aversion, then, from all things that are not within our power, and apply it to things undesirable which are within our power. But for the present, altogether restrain desire; for if you desire any of the things not within our own power, you must necessarily be disappointed; and you are not yet secure of those which are within our power, and so are legitimate objects of desire. Where it is practically necessary for you to pursue or avoid anything, do even this with discretion and gentleness and moderation.

What are the undesirable things that you can control? They are things like your attitudes towards events or people. Things occur that are outside your control, but you do get to decide how you react to them. Ray Wylie Hubbard put this in the end of his talking blues song "Mother Blues" as 'keeping his gratitude higher than his expectations.' The same things are happening to you externally, but the internal thing that you can control changes what the experience is like for you in crucial ways. You can shun the bad reactions, and pursue the good ones.

I saw someone remark the other day that if you choose not to find the joy in snowy days then your life will have less joy, but the same amount of snow. That is roughly the insight here.

The virus was still there, but we did not die of it any more


Enchiridion I



There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.

Now the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you; you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.

Aiming, therefore, at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself any inclination, however slight, toward the attainment of the others; but that you must entirely quit some of them, and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would have these, and possess power and wealth likewise, you may miss the latter in seeking the former; and you will certainly fail of that by which alone happiness and freedom are procured.

Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every unpleasing semblance, “You are but a semblance and by no means the real thing.” And then examine it by those rules which [you have; and first and chiefly by this: whether it concerns the things which are within our own power or those which are not; and if it concerns anything beyond our power, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

In defining everything outside our own mind as a 'semblance,' Epictetus predicts the move that Immanuel Kant will make during the Modern era. For Kant, everything we know about the outside world has to go through a process of simplification he calls 'transcendental apperception.' For example, our mind takes the evidence of our five different senses about some outside event and unifies it into a single event. Thus, in an important way Epictetus is correct: our evidence about what is going on outside of our mind is a kind of semblance, something different from what the things out there really are. His claim that we can dismiss these things as 'merely' a semblance is more difficult, but even Kant will affirm that we can only know the semblances -- the phenomena -- and not the true world outside (the noumena). 

In the first section we get the core charge, which is stunning in its difficulty. Who among us could really not care if we suffered in our body, for example? I ride motorcycles fully aware that I run the hazard of being crippled every time I do, but that does not imply that I have no concern about the matter. The same with horses; one might break one's back doing that, but the fact that one rides anyway does not imply that one does not care if one broke one's back. Nor, ordinarily, would we regard a failure to be concerned about dangers like this as if it were praiseworthy. Aristotle would call it a kind of rashness, not a true form of courage but its excess. 

Once Lancelot conveyed his willingness to face injury or death in battle to a lady, though, saying, "All shall be welcome that God sends." Arguably this is the fault of Job, who endured losses such as are described here without complaint until the losses touched his own body (as Satan thought would be the case). By the end of the book he confesses that God's judgment, and not his own, is the righteous one; and Jesus, asking that 'this cup' might pass him, nevertheless adds that it should be according to the will of the Father and not his own. There is good warrant in myth and faith that Epictetus is on to something here. 

In any case this is the heart of the thing: to divide the world into that which we can master, and that over which we ultimately have no control, and then to concern ourselves with the area of our own mastery. That is what principally concerns us, and the thing we have the power -- and perhaps the honor -- to perfect. 

The Enchiridion

Last year we got through several works of Plato's here, and I think that was time well spent. This year I want to start with something a little different: a work of Stoicism. Stoicism is an approach to philosophy deeply informed by both Plato and Aristotle, but different in character and in expression. Like Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics are concerned with virtue. For the earlier thinkers, though, virtue was about action that was meant to shape the world. For Plato, virtue might enable the construction of a good society in which the heights of the human condition might be attained. For Aristotle, courage was the virtue that won wars, and magnanimity the virtue that shone the path to the highest and noblest accomplishments. By nature, wars and honorable accomplishments are public matters, and entail striving in the public sphere and sometimes against others who are in competition. 

The Stoics are going to propose an inward looking approach to virtue, one that sets aside the outer world as being imperfectly (at best) within our sphere of influence. Thus, they will suggest, we should focus on that which we really do control: our attitudes, our reactions, our thoughts, ourselves. In this way we relinquish concern with that whose gain or loss we cannot really control, and become intimately concerned with what we can perfectly shape. Courage is not about winning wars, although you might win a war along the way. It is about learning to face danger and potential loss -- even of the body, as one might in war -- without being concerned about it. 

The Stoics did sometimes nevertheless win public honors; Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, in fact, and accounted one of the good ones. We are going to begin with a work by Epictetus, who was born a slave. He attained his freedom sometime after the death of Nero, in Rome, and began to teach; later, Rome banned philosophers and he had to retreat to another corner of the empire. 

The Enchiridion reads to me much more like Zen philosophy than the Greek philosophy from which it properly draws. There are fifty-one sections; some of them are only one sentence long. Nevertheless, like the Zen aphorisms they merit reflection and consideration. They are unlike the extended narratives of Plato, or the extended arguments of Aristotle. I do not think that I will need to comment nearly as extensively on them to make them accessible, but I will as I think appropriate. Mostly I will put them in front of you, and we can discuss them. I'll try to do one a day, which will take us through the two coldest months of the year with good thoughts as our company. 

More good news

During Kyle Rittenhouse's trial, the prosecutor brought what I thought were vindictive charges against Rittenhouse's friend Dominic Black immediately after Rittenhouse testified to how Black supplied him with a rifle on the day of the shootings.  The prosecutor appears to have thrown in the towel on those charges, or almost.

I can't find the original link, which may have been from PJ Media, but this NY Post article is similar.

Supply line blues

Our grocery store continues to have a slightly iffy inventory, but not too bad. What was surprising today was to find that Sherwin Williams may need a month or even two to supply us with the paint we want for a long-delayed project. The oil-based products, in particular, are arriving at stores in the Texas Coastal Bend only every few or weeks or even months. I briefly considered trying out one of the new latex trim paints, but can't quite make myself do it. Latex trim paint was a horrible product in my youth, but my youth is now several decades away. Supposedly the new ones dry to a very hard, durable finish, have better adherence to an undercoat of oil-based trim paint, and have much better flow. Nevertheless, if I'm going to give the newfangled latex product a try, it won't be in the most public room of my house.

So the painting project, which took me over six months to find a painter ready to work on it, will now be delayed for another month or two. On the plus side, we survived hosting our first political shindig last night and don't have to dive directly into boxing up hundreds of books today so as to get the bookcases ready to paint.

We conducted an indoor clean sweep fore and aft in preparation for the party, in case the weather chased us and our guests inside (which it didn't), so I've put away my craft oil-painting station at last. Because I'm starting an oil-painting class that will meet for 3 hours every Thursday morning for the next seven weeks, it's probably best to assume that will satisfy my painting urges for now. That left no choice, naturally, but to take up another crochet project. Whether or not my idle hands are the Devil's workshop, the fact remains that I pretty need to be doing something with my hands at all times.


Project Gutenberg's series of Biblical exegeses continue to engross me. Most recently I've been working on the Gospel of Matthew, learning lots of Greek and enjoying the technical challenges--but I'm always brought up short by the verses when Christ says, "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me." "I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink." I thought of this message again while watching a clip of an interview with recently deceased Sidney Poitier, in which he recounts how a patron of the restaurant where he bussed tables taught him to read after hours. The man saw a need and addressed it personally with great simplicity. Six or seven decades later, Poitier could scarecely recount the story without choking up.


Here's a nice bit of news about my little town. Our county airport is one of the sanest spots in local government. The director attracts businessmen who have their heads screwed on straight, including this couple who moved here after the 2017 hurricane and started innovating. FAA rules make it quite difficult to run an airport-based B&B, but they managed to work it out.

Go, Mighty Bulldogs

Georgia has not won a National championship since 1980, when soon-to-be Senator Herschel Walker was carrying the ball. Georgia has been in a national championship game recently, versus Alabama which beat her in the second half after a massive Georgia lead in the first. Alabama also spoiled an undefeated Georgia year this year in an upset win over a UGA team that was considered a ready favorite. 

So tonight the championship game comes down to these two again. Can Georgia defeat the Crimson Tide, given the huge psychological advantage Alabama has? We shall see

UPDATE: Indeed they could. Congratulations to the National Champions, the mighty Georgia Bulldogs.

CDC Director Walensky on Comorbidity in COVID Deaths

NOTE: See the update at the bottom of this post for essential context.

According to Walensky, over 75% of COVID deaths occurred in people with 4 or more comorbidities.

4 plus is actually a surprise for me; I would have guessed 1 or more. I wonder what the percentage is for people with no comorbidities.

To compare with the flu, according to the CDC, anywhere from 12,000 to 52,000 people died in the US from the flu each year from 2010 to 2020. According to the WHO, the number is 290,000 to 650,000 worldwide. Presumably, most people who die from the flu also have comorbidities. According to the CDC, the US has had about 835,000 deaths from COVID since Jan. 21, 2020, or an average of roughly 417,500 annually.

UPDATE: Elise has very helpfully pointed out that the context for Walensky's remark was a discussion of COVID deaths among the vaccinated. Contrary to what I first thought, she was NOT saying that 75% of all deaths from COVID had 4+ comorbidities. Instead, among the tiny number of vaccinated people who have died from COVID, 75% had 4+ comorbidities. That's a big difference.

Return of Omerta

The new mayor of New York City appointed his brother to a high-paying NYPD leadership position. Asked if he understood that this provoked concerns about nepotism among taxpayers and voters, he responded:
I don’t understand that. Protection is personal. With the increase in anarchists in this city, we have a serious problem with white supremacy.
I admit that I was under the impression that 'white supremacists' were supposed to be fascists rather than anarchists in the current narrative, but whatever. The point is that this makes perfect sense. If you cannot trust anyone except blood kin with your safety, then of course it makes sense to appoint blood kin to manage your security arrangements. 

It makes sense the way it makes sense for the mafia, anyway. Even in Dune, House Atreides trusted a non-family member -- Thurfir Hawat, Master of Assassins -- with the security of their core leadership. 

How it makes sense in New York City is harder to say. Indeed, it seems to make nonsense of the whole idea of a community like New York City, which is predicated on the idea that people from all over can come together and form a community of mutual respect and common faith. If that is no longer true -- if 'white supremacy' means not only that white people cannot be trusted as ranking police, nor that people of your own race could suffice, but that no one but your own blood kin can be -- then the whole structure that made New York City possible has vanished. No city of the sort New York aspired to be could survive such a truth, if indeed it is true. 

"Little" Evidence

The important caveat here is that there is "little scientific evidence" that biological males have advantages in sport. That merely means that relatively few studies have dared to consider the question, unsurprising in an environment in which studying it would quickly end your career. 

There is, however, plenty of anecdotal evidence -- for example, the fact that they keep cleaning up in sports competitions. The case they open with is a great one. There's little scientific evidence that this person has advantages over biological females; however, 'she' just set two Ivy League records, thus out-competing every woman in that league who has ever competed in this sport. 

"No Evidence" Again

I had never heard the phrase "mass formation psychosis" before it was apparently used on a popular podcast (which I did not hear, as I never listen to podcasts -- if you can't write it down for me so that I can read it quickly rather than dawdle over it for an hour or two, it can't be that important). I do notice that there is a rush to discredit the idea among the very people who would be responsible for it, however.

Reuters' approach is particularly amusing. 
“Mass formation psychosis” is not an academic term recognized in the field of psychology, nor is there evidence of any such phenomenon occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple experts in crowd psychology have told Reuters.
"Term X doesn't mean anything" is actually incompatible with the claim that "there is no evidence that X is occurring." In order to measure whether or not X is occurring, we would have to know what X is well enough to study the question. Maybe it doesn't mean anything, but that only means that whatever is happening can't be described that way; it doesn't mean that nothing is happening. 

There is definitely evidence that people have departed from reality on the question: Justice Sotomayor's claim that 100,000 children are on ventilators with Omicron is rooted in something, but it isn't reality. Yet I heard a very similar claim from my mother in our last conversation, which predated the SCOTUS hearing (the latter of which she won't have listened to anyway: she gets her news exclusively from morning TV shows on the major networks of her youth). She is prepared to come out of retirement to teach her granddaughter kindergarten so that the child will not be forced to return to school for another year, lest she be exposed to a disease that poses almost no risk at all to a five year old in good health. This, in spite of the clear and obvious benefits the child is experiencing from going to kindergarten -- hers has chickens they are raising, and many friends she's come to love after more than a year in isolation. 

I don't know what "mass formation psychosis" is supposed to mean, or if it's a real term in use by psychologists in academia. But I do know that I worry about the level of paranoia I see from people about all this. I'm not talking about those who have legitimate concerns that are well-grounded in numbers. I'm talking about the Sotomayors and, well, my-mothers out there. They're clearly not grounded in reality, and they are causing harm while presumably meaning to help. Somehow mass culture is supporting them in this, because these people have no other obvious point of connection besides exposure to the mainstream press.