Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Federalist Papers #17 - #20: Tribalism will save us from Tyranny.

Bunc will appreciate a reference to his homeland:

"This is not an assertion founded merely in speculation or conjecture. Among other illustrations of its truth which might be cited, Scotland will furnish a cogent example. The spirit of clanship which was, at an early day, introduced into that kingdom, uniting the nobles and their dependants by ties equivalent to those of kindred, rendered the aristocracy a constant overmatch for the power of the monarch, till the incorporation with England subdued its fierce and ungovernable spirit, and reduced it within those rules of subordination which a more rational and more energetic system of civil polity had previously established in the latter kingdom. " - Paper 17

The argument here is that the states don't need to fear the federal government because people are naturally more inclined to support their local tribe than some distant federation. Unless, that is, the local barons become corrupt as in Scotland.

The next three papers go into various federation attempts as derived from Thucydides, Polybius, and the more recent feudal federations in Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. All these examples come off pretty bad, so it is a wonder that they were chosen. The implied argument must be that the US federal government would have a proper judiciary to provide credibility, while not having a capricious monarch.

One thing that is clear in these papers is that the US constitution is meant to build on the collective wisdom of history to the extent feasible. Thus, the need to be acquainted with an extensive amount of historical literature.
The Federalist Papers: Republics vs. Democracy.

The distinction proposed here between a republic and a democracy is that in a republic, only the representatives govern, whereas in a democracy everyone is involved:

"It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region." - Paper 14

Much of the arguments following are that the US can be a Republic because the representatives can regularly travel to a central meeting point, whereas this isn't possible with a democracy. This is also a sigh of relief, because the democracies of the classical era ended in populist anarchy. In the internet age, it is possible to have a democracy over an extended geographical range.

Papers 15 and 16 discuss the insufficiency of the then current federation where the resolutions of the congress were frequently ignored by one or more states. Thus, the decisions of congress were mere suggestions, rather than laws. The argument is that a constitution will fix this problem. My instincts tell me that people can ignore laws whether they are derived from a constitution or not, but history tells us that the federal government did establish the necessary authority.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Canadian judge calls prostitution laws unconstitutional.

Here I am blogging about the Federalist Papers and the US Constitution, and I didn't know that Canada even had a constitution! Yikes! Or maybe the Canadian judge was educated in an American law school and was parroting our rulings. Obviously I have some more homework to do.

The wiki description of the Canadian Constitution includes this:

"The composition of the Constitution of Canada is defined in subsection 52(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 as consisting of the Canada Act 1982 (including the Constitution Act, 1982), all acts and orders referred to in the schedule (including the Constitution Act, 1867, formerly the British North America Act), and any amendments to these documents. The Supreme Court of Canada held that the list is not exhaustive and includes unwritten components as well."

Wow! A constitution with "unwritten components"! At least the components of the US Constitution are all written, albeit with the stipulation that the interpretation is what counts and there is no need for a relationship between the interpretation and the corresponding English language meaning of the ordered words that constitute the written component.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Federalist Papers #13: The Quantum Theory Of Government.

This is completely new to me. The theory states that all governments are required to expend the same fixed amount of bureaucratic energy to accomplish the governance of a people:

"If the States are united under one government, there will be but one national civil list to support; if they are divided into several confederacies, there will be as many different national civil lists to be provided for--and each of them, as to the principal departments, coextensive with that which would be necessary for a government of the whole. ... When the dimensions of a State attain to a certain magnitude, it requires the same energy of government and the same forms of administration which are requisite in one of much greater extent." - Paper 13

Thus, the overall costs to the thirteen colonies of having three confederacies would be treble what it would be for a single federal government. This theory was clearly ahead of its time. It still is ahead of its time. Eventually, however, someone will resurrect it and justify imposing a single government on the entire galaxy. Some assistance from The Force will undoubtedly be necessary to accomplish this.
The Federalist Papers #11 and #12: Commerce and Industry

This paper is clearly from an earlier time when the word Industry was related to Industrious and not considered a four-letter word. There is a strong belief in free trade, but a stronger belief that free trade can only come about with a strong military to bring the conniving Europeans to cooperate.

"A navy of the United States, as it would embrace the resources of all, is an object far less remote than a navy of any single State or partial confederacy, which would only embrace the resources of a single part." - Paper 11

Earlier Publius talked about the threat to liberty of a standing army. Here, however, he talks about the enormous benefit of a floating navy. The reason for this is to keep from being bullied by the Europeans and um, well, perhaps to threaten a bit of bullying on our part also. Thus, a key part of the purpose of the United States of America is this:

"Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it." - Paper 11

So there!

Paper 12 introduces the radical notion that the government should care about industry and commerce flourishing so that there will be something to generate tax revenues. This contrasts to our modern notion that commerce and industry are vices to be tolerated, a bit like prostitution, but worse. Import duties are expected to keep the government going, while the union will clearly make this feasible due to trade being conducted through a limited number of ports where taxes can be levied. In fact, the first specific tax proposed for this new government is a vice tax:

"The single article of ardent spirits, under federal regulation, might be made to furnish a considerable revenue. Upon a ratio to the importation into this State, the whole quantity imported into the United States may be estimated at four millions of gallons; which, at a shilling per gallon, would produce two hundred thousand pounds. That article would well bear this rate of duty; and if it should tend to diminish the consumption of it, such an effect would be equally favorable to the agriculture, to the economy, to the morals, and to the health of the society. There is, perhaps, nothing so much a subject of national extravagance as these spirits. " - Paper 12
The Federalist Papers: Factions

This paper is worth a book in itself as it discusses the various groupings that form and fight for their particular principles. He enumerates ways of dealing with faction in an attempt to bring harmony.

"There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. ... The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed." - Paper 10

Of course this was before there was a single, government education system. Today we have political correctness where an intellectual hyper-elite tries to impose a uniformity of opinion on the nation, at least in some matters. The cure again is not to suppress these factions, but rather to provide a framework - the constitutional Republic - that can regulate these passions:

"The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State. " - Paper 10

How many 'improper or wicked projects' did Publius list that have come into being?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Introduction to Rock Mechanics.

My career specialties is engineering mechanics, and I picked up this book for some light reading. Here is a tidbit that might be of broader interest:

"Table A.3.3 lists the periods of geological history. Time names should be included with the petrologic rock name in engineering practice, particularly when dealing with sedimentary rocks. In a general way, the older rocks tend to be harder and more permanently cemented." - Appendix 3.

I guess that settles it. But not so fast; let's read the next sentence:

"There are, unfortunately, important and dramatic exceptions; for example, uncemented montmorillonite clays are found in rock units from the lower Paleozoic. To those conversant with engineering geology, however, rock age names do imply associated engineering attributes more effectively than does any single index property. Every worker in rock mechanics should know these names and use them routinely in rock descriptions."

A little bit of doubt creeps in. A little more when we consider that this is the last paragraph of an appendix at the end of the book. If we actually delve into the content, we see other contradictions:

"There was no discernible connection between durability and geological age but durability increased linearly with density and inversely with natural water content. Based upon his results, Gamble proposed a classification of slake durability." - Chapter 2.7.

Durability, however, is a direct function of how the rocks are cemented, as well as morphology in general. From material science, however, we know that morphology relates to how a material was formed, not when. Furthermore, how is all about the pressure-temperature process that produced the crystal structure - the morphology. If geological ages are the significant index, then we are forced into a belief that all rocks of a fix age, such as Devonian, were formed under the same conditions of heat and pressure ... and constituent minerals ... regardless of where on the planet they happened to be formed.

This book only has one more related statement claiming that in general rock is denser the deeper it is. Of course lower rocks probably experienced greater pressure and heat, which would have affected the structure of the cement between crystals, as well as caused less porosity.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

iPhone4 Antenna Issues.

The picture is looking along Valpe Ridge from the 2,800 foot elevation level. The top right horizon has Mount Tamalpais with San Francisco just to the left. I am still recovering and felt weak, so turned around just past here.

The antenna issue? I did a test call to my wife from near where the picture was taken - just below the ridge so there wouldn't be a clear line-of-sight to a tower. The reception was excellent! My Nokia phone was useless before. I should do some more testing to see how much of the Ohlone Wilderness is in cell phone range now. Rattlesnake bites? No worry! I can call for help.
Federalist Papers: Republican government (the style, not the party!)

Paper 9 begins with a bold statement:

"A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection." - Paper 9

This assertion apparently was met with skepticism, so arguments are made that not all the ancient republics were dysfunctional, while the Lycian League was given as an example of a success. An even more bold statement is a little further in:

"The science of politics, however, like most other sciences, has received great improvement. The efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients. The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election: these are wholly new discoveries, or have made their principal progress towards perfection in modern times." - Paper 9

This does remind me a bit of how the rhetoric of 'science' has been co-opted in modern times for political partisanship. In the mind of Publius, scientific progress was the development of institutions that would mediate the partisanship, whereas our modern era exclusively refers to progress in terms of the actual decisions which are made. Having just read Appian's chronicle of the breakdown of the Roman republic, it is notable to me that the major factors were the violation of the constitution and a rise in corruption at the highest level: The redirection of funds and favors to politicians and mobs alike. Demagogues vied with one another with their populist proposals, only to degenerate to tyrants. Certainly it can happen again, but I pray that it won't.

A final assertion is that the Republic would allow the generally virtuous states to bring the few dysfunctional ones back into line. One would need to be extraordinarily dull to see that this hasn't happened. California's chronically dysfunctional budget is being bailed out by the other states. Nevada's gambling industry has spread everywhere. Checks and balances of one state upon another seem to be good, bad and neutral at various times.
The Federalist Papers: Standing Armies.

Paper 8 begins with the assumption that standing armies are a threat to liberty, and then claims that a union of the states under a federal government would eliminate the need for a standing army. An excerpt:

"The disciplined armies always kept on foot on the continent of Europe, though they bear a malignant aspect to liberty and economy, have, notwithstanding, been productive of the signal advantage of rendering sudden conquests impracticable, and of preventing that rapid desolation which used to mark the progress of war prior to their introduction." - Paper 8

I have a number of issues with this, starting from the fact that it didn't anticipate the modern police state which split off domestic control and foreign wars into different departments. Historically we also have an issue when we look at the Republic of Rome. In the early years of the Republic, war was a seasonal thing to be done when farming couldn't be done:

"In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem." - 2 Samuel 11:1

Rome was a loser at the beginning of the Punic wars, but the reform of the army into a permanent fixture was the catalyst that brought both victory and empire. The later maintenance of the frontiers also required standing armies. Certainly there is an economic cost to maintaining an army, but there is also an economic cost when invaders wander about pillaging. Then there was the perpetual threat to Rome and China from barbarian northern invaders. I wonder why Publius didn't mention this?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Federalist Papers: Just causes of war.

There are several papers advocating a federal government based on Just Was notions:

"If this remark be just, it becomes useful to inquire whether so many JUST causes of war are likely to be given by UNITED AMERICA as by DISUNITED America; for if it should turn out that United America will probably give the fewest, then it will follow that in this respect the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations. " - Paper 3

Listening further, it is clear that Publius believes that 'Just Causes' of war multiply like flies between states and amount to any pretext that can be plausibly peddled as just. This, however, includes just about anything, no matter how unjust, so there really isn't any distinction. In defending this he gives examples throughout history starting with Pericles and continuing to the 18th century. At the same time, however, Publius notes that in classical times republics were no less prone to engaging in war than monarchies.

Another significant argument for the union is that it will reduce the petty wars:

"Not a single Indian war has yet been occasioned by aggressions of the present federal government, feeble as it is; but there are several instances of Indian hostilities having been provoked by the improper conduct of individual States, who, either unable or unwilling to restrain or punish offenses, have given occasion to the slaughter of many innocent inhabitants." - Paper 3

This is quite a forthright acknowledgment of a problem. Paper 6 & 7 discusses potential disputes between states and suggest that a federal government will greatly mitigate these. A primary item is interstate trade and the potential for tariffs:

"The opportunities which some States would have of rendering others tributary to them by commercial regulations would be impatiently submitted to by the tributary States. The relative situation of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey would afford an example of this kind. New York, from the necessities of revenue, must lay duties on her importations." - Paper 7

One of the greatest achievements of the US federal government was the construction of a free trade zone among the various states.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Federalist Papers: Religion and language in the thirteen colonies.

This book is supposedly *must* reading for anyone who is to understand the US Constitution at a serious level. I am listening to this book on my iPhone to try to catch up on this. It begins with a defense of the notion that there should be one federal government overseeing all the colonies. Here is the first premise for why it makes sense for there to be one federal government and one constitution for the American people:

"With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence." - Paper 2

Publius was oversimplifying a bit, but this doesn't strike me as the sort of argument that a modern multiculturalist would like.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Appian (95AD-165): God and Men.

"They then spoke much more freely because of the offer of the priesthood and pressed him to support peace, to which he replied, 'It is against the law of heaven, and against the law of men, but none the less I will do what you want.'" - The Civil Wars, II.132.

"So straight away the attention that Antonius had until now devoted to every matter was completely blunted, and whatever Cleopatra commanded was done, without consideration of what was right in the eyes of man or god." - The Civil Wars, V.9

Both instances involved characters who gave themselves wholly to their desires and were condemned by Appian for having violated moral laws. The first example shows a politician wanting to gain the attention of the priesthood. Of course today the only thing that would offend the gods is theocracy - according to the elites who talk about moral things - and the only way we can avoid being a theocracy is for the government to actively support desecrations and immorality. Thus, the desecrations of this earlier era were done for purely base motives, while the desecrations of the current era are done with the sole intent of giving offense.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Garin Park Rattlesnake.

I encountered this young man today and asked him if he would participate in a photo shoot. He quite willingly joined in and posed patiently for this striking photo. Mrs. Looney was with me this time and wasn't too enthusiastic about our antics, so we called things off prematurely and continued.
Appian (95AD-165): Class discrimination and executions.

Christian authorities frequently state that crucifixion was reserved for common criminals in the ancient world, but provide no supporting evidence. As I read Appian, the pattern seems to be based more on class. The slaves were crucified:

"The crowd immediately followed him, and on seeing them began to set fire to the place, until Antonius sent more soldiers. Some of the rioters resisted and were killed, while others were arrested and crucified, if they were slaves, or hurled from the Tarpeian rock, if they were free men." - The Civil Wars, III.3

The remnants of the army of Sparticus were crucified. The first mention of crucifixion I have seen is from Herodotus where Darius crucified the rich leaders of Babylon on the second conquest of the city.

For the upper classes, a different final punishment was given:

"They are proscribed without trial, their property is confiscated, they are put to death uncondemned in homes, in alleyways, and on holy ground by soldiers, slaves and personal enemies. They are dragged from their hiding-places and pursued wherever they go, in spite of the fact that the law permits voluntary exile. The heads of men who were but yesterday consuls, praetors, tribunes, aediles, and members of the equestrian order lie exposed in the forum, where we never used to bring a single enemy head, but only their weapons and the rams of their ships." - The Civil Wars, IV.95

Punishment for the elite was frequently exile or suicide. In the era of proscriptions the heads were chopped off. Thus, from a Roman viewpoint, John the Baptist was given the execution reserved for the elite, while Jesus was executed in the manner of a slave.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Appian (95AD-165): Just War

"They all shouted 'Forward!' and urged Cassius to lead them on at once. Delighted with their enthusiasm, he called again for silence and resumed: 'May the gods who control just wars reward you, fellow-soldiers, for your loyalty and enthusiasm. ...'" - The Civil Wars, IV.99

This Cassius (85-42BC) is the Cassius who participated in the murder of Julius Caesar. The quote is a snippet from the speech supposedly given to his troops as a battle of the civil war was beginning. Although attributed to Cassius, all we can deduce here is that the notion of 'just war' was known to Appian. For some reason my memory tells me a commentary attributed 'just war' to Cicero, but I haven't come across this quote yet. My interest in this subject is due to certain modernists crediting Augustine with inventing the notion of a 'just war', yet my reading of Augustine is that his 'just war' was simply invoking an earlier Roman concept. In this instance, 'just war' is an excuse for an aggressive, offensive action against Antonius and Octavian under the pretext of restoring the democratic republic. To get an idea of how brutal this 'just war' concept was, consider how he raised funds at Rhodes:

"He pillaged all the money and gold or silver from the sacred and public treasuries, and ordered those who possessed private wealth to produce it on a particular day. He announced that any who concealed it would be rewarded with death, while informers were to receive ten per cent, and slave their freedom as well." - The Civil Wars, IV.73

It does appear that 'just war' was simply a notion between him and the soldiers - that what they were fighting for was just. For everyone else, well ...
Appian: Regarding how the senate was reformed.

"The total of those condemned to death and confiscation of property was about 300 senators and 2,000 equestrians. These included brothers and uncles of the men who proscribed them and of their subordinates, if they had done anything to offend the leaders or these subordinates." - The Civil Wars, IV.5

Civil War is nasty.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tolstoy: The Death Of Ivan Ilyich.

"Resistance is futile."

My first workout in two weeks was a bit short, but that was enough time to listen to this novel. It was both delightful and pathetic. Ivan Ilyich was a 19th century professional, but being a later middle aged 21st century professional leaves much the same. A life invested in career, social status, pretense of family and house, ... and emptiness. You are far richer than the peasants, but never have enough to live on. Throw in a bit of family conflict with grouchy personalities and the whole thing can look bitter from the inside while looking wonderful from the outside.

This is also a story of decorum. It begins with decorum introducing the few Christian symbols, but then decorum does the opposite. Even though this Russian nation is clearly Christian in decorum, decorum precludes any acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in Ivan as well as his family, friends, and other relationships. Even for himself as he is heading down the path that leads to death, the decorum of his mind imposes a complete blackout of Christianity. The process is described in detail as the pain steadily increases while despair is interrupted periodically with false hopes, the last being a confession and communion.

The ending is a politically and ecumenically correct moment where Ivan finally stumbles on the notion of forgiveness. His waning mind is a bit nebulous on this, but oh well. Despair is finally conquered and death becomes something viewed as progress. This all vaguely reminds me of other works from this time frame. Kipling's Kim is one where the Buddhist monk has some experience just as he is dying. Then there is Henry Van Dyke's The Other Wise Man where he discusses the fate of a Zoroastrian magi who was too busy doing good works to come to Jesus. Jesus gave us the clear command "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, ...". Yet Christians are so resourceful in arguing that we don't need to be disciples.
One more snake.

This is a Garter Snake which greeted me at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. I took my family to Santa Cruz and decided to check this out since it was the easiest redwood park to get to. This is really a good place to visit with the elderly or when in a time crunch. Some of the redwoods are as big as anything in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, but getting in and out of Henry Cowell is much easier.

Frosty Morning.

Our camping at Yellowstone finished with a light frost in the morning. We quickly packed the tent and headed out to one of the hot springs areas to beat the rush and hopefully see some animals. Not much to report for the animals - one elk fleeing through the woods - but it was certainly a different feel with the valley full of steam from the various geysers and the like. This place is called Artist Paint Pots.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Project Gutenberg and the Unknown Author.

In checking for audio books, I came across this collection of perhaps a thousand free classic books. Just about everything in there has an author except for a small collection where the author is listed as "Unknown". The first of these "Unknown" books is the Book of James from the Bible which begins with the extremely tricky verse below:

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings." - James 1:1

Obviously only a moron would deduce that this might have been written by someone named James. The "Unknown" author category consists of Biblical books along with the Magna Carta, which apparently is also of dubious origin. For comparison, the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence have the author listed as "United States", who we all know to have been an extraordinarily prolific writer. Certainly this is more precise than the unknown authorship of the recent health care bill and the financial overhaul bill, not to mention presidential speeches. To be fair, however, the Federalist Papers weren't listed under the author "Publius", although I am not quite sure if the rule was consistently followed for books listed under "Mark Twain".

Before I launch off into one of my anti-intellectual tirades and their obvious double standards, however, I have been compelled to modify my judgment based on the following:

"As the Upanishads are not ascribed to any known authors they are looked upon as revealed texts and in keeping with the divine status accorded to them, they are the highest and final authority in respect of all Vedantic teachings." - Yet Another Book On Vedanta, The Texts.

Perhaps the intellectual super geniuses are listing the authorship of the Book of James as "Unknown" because they want to emphasize the divine nature of the text?

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I bought one of these because my old phone was dying. The challenge now is to make good use of this. One task is to set the ringer to a loon call. Then I must figure out how to get some good classic audio books downloaded. Lots to do.
"Taxpayer losses from seizures of Fannie, Freddie may top $400 billion ..."

Perhaps someone can explain to me how the government's seizure of what the government already owns and controls can cost the taxpayer $400 billion. Fannie Mae is America's largest bank, yet curiously it doesn't show up in the government's list of America's top banks.
Some more Teton National Park pictures.

Snakes have been strangely attracted to me recently. This has me thinking about Conan the Barbarian.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guests At Yellowstone Lodge.

It is a child friendly place.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Appian (95AD-165): Some anomalous events.

The following is a quote regarding the circumstances of Rome just prior to the civil war between Caesar and Pompeius:

"Many marvels and signs from heaven occurred: the sky seemed to rain blood, ancient statues of the gods sweated, several temples were struck by lightning, and a mule foaled; and there were many other prodigies which portended the destruction and permanent transformation of the constitution. By public proclamation prayers were offered up, as in times of crisis." - The Civil Wars, Book II.37

Yesterday there was another internet discussion on minimalism. One of the notions the minimalist scholars seem to have is that ancient historians were all like modern secular atheist scholars, only lacking a bit on thoroughness. The Bible's Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Acts, however, were religious tracts according to this meta-narrative. Thus, they justify treating all classical historians as serious and more or less accurate, while treating the Bible as being written by a bunch of buffoons who couldn't get anything right. This junk scholarship is then formalized in terms of 'genre studies' and 'literary scholarship'. Next we have a pseudo-conservative scholarship which builds on top of this high-brow junk scholarship and insists that there is a legitimate spiritual message to be found in spite of the textual defects.

The quote from Appian above was just what I happened to come across today in the book I happened to be reading, and there were only a few pages that I read. Picking any classical history will result in one encountering these sorts of passages every several pages. It is a simple fact that the people of the classical world saw themselves as players in a spiritual world that they didn't understand. There were no secular atheists. Christianity introduced a new paradigm that changed these ways of thinking. Moving into the early church fathers - especially Augustine - we see that they sit somewhere between the classical and Christian world views. Without some sort of sensible appreciation of the classical and Christian world views, it is impossible to understand these writers.

I won't criticize someone simply for being a modern secular atheist. Where I get offended is when someone tries to pretend that a classical writer was more or less a modern secular atheist, or to insist that classical writings must be interpreted according to modern secular atheist hermeneutics. This is in fact no different from the caricature of the fundamentalist - someone who reads everything in King James English, misunderstands half, and then interprets the classical world from a backwoods, redneck world view. They are equally illiterate, yet the misguided intellectual throws around classical names like Thucydides and Arrian, along with invoking technical vocabulary to try to impress.
Yellowstone Hot Pot.

The activity of the boiling hot mud is amazing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Liberalism: Classical vs. Modern.

The classical world had a notion of 'liberal' for which I included some other notes in the index. What I am interested in is the attitude of 'liberal' towards various cultures. In this sense, the first real example is Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484-425BC). He lived roughly at the border of Greek and Persian civilization where interactions forced both an awareness and a tolerance of different cultures. In Book 1 of The Histories, he gives an account of differences, both praiseworthy and contemptible, as he compares the culture of the Greeks, Babylonians and Persians.

For me, this is the ideal of classical liberalism: We seek to know at some level the differences in culture, including both pros and cons. Ideally this will involve a total immersion into that culture for a period of time, because only through the total immersion can we truly break free to see the other culture in context. At the same time, however, classical liberalism isn't about abandoning who you are. The Spartan general Pausanius did this after defeating the Persians, as did Alexander the Great. The result was a loud condemnation from their own people. The very liberal thinking T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) has a wonderful quote on this here.

Having noted the cultural differences, however, there is also plenty that is common in human nature. Much of what is in classical philosophy addresses things that are a universal part of the human condition, whether in terms of vices or virtues.

As I consider the modern liberal, the notions seem to me very much different from the classical. The classical liberal sees different societies as having some values in common and some values different, some values which are praiseworthy and some which are contemptible. The modern liberal in a sense denies the existence of values. At one level a value is automatically treated as bad and challenged simply for being a value. At the other end, we are expected to view each person as an individual (rightly so) to the extent that any generalization regarding values is condemned as stereotyping. The end result is a denial of values, or the only value being that there are no values. This mindset isn't something that can be followed to a logically consistent end, so in fact the modern liberal does as much simplistic stereotyping as the backwoods redneck. Whereas Herodotus would present the good, the bad, and the ugly, however, the modern liberal dwells on the bad and ugly of his own culture, while focusing on the good of the others. Regarding what is common to all cultures, however, the modern liberal is still at a near total loss: The same inductive skills that are needed to identify generalized differences are needed to identify generalized similarities.

As I have presented this, the modern liberal and the conservative are opposites. The classical liberal, however, is something that is fully compatible with being conservative.
Appian: The Civil Wars

I am sick with the flu which has limited by ability to concentrate on more difficult texts. Following a story is easier and this looked like a good one that I haven't read yet. Appian's history traces the period of transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. Most of the bickering we have in our current American republic seems to be echoes from this time: Class warfare, unpayable debts by the underclass, property rights, citizenship for non-Romans, and an array of devious leaders exploiting the various factions. Being a leader means never having to suffer a long debilitating illness before death! Appian tells of how the non-violent political intrigue eventually transitions to various stages of violence followed by full blown civil war involving armies. I haven't come across many memorable quotes, but the overall story is worth reading.

Friday, September 10, 2010

More bull for the blog.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Quick visit to Boise and Marf.

This town could use some more time, but we were rushing through to get home. I do wish Marf the best of success as he settles into a new life in Boise.

Idaho is mostly hard core country, but Boise tries hard to be otherwise. My wife ordered this breakfast burrito:

Pardon my desecration ...

Up until last week desecration was a sacred and patriotic duty of all Americans. Even Christian theologians were clamoring for government sponsored desecration of Christian values so that we could prove to God that we aren't a Christian theocracy. This week, thanks to Terry Jones, America is reconsidering. Or maybe not. There is plenty of material on desecration to work with, ranging from the sacrifice of a pig in the temple of Jerusalem by Antiochus IV to the cultural revolution of China. A few years ago a mosque in India was torn down because it had been built on the site of a Hindu temple which caused extensive rioting. Things get tricky when the only way to remove a desecration is to commit another desecration.

What is lost in all this is what the Bible tells Christians about desecration. A story in Acts is an important example. Paul taught Christianity in Ephesus a long time. Lost business caused some artisans to riot, but the head of the city gave this testimony:

"You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess." - Acts 19:37

We should go about our business without trying to offend others. There is also something more important:

"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." - 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

The Bible gives us a long list of sins related to sexual immorality, and all of these relate to a desecration - of ourselves. It seems to me that when Christians go out of their way to desecrate someone else's icons, we are begging for trouble. For those of us who condemn desecrations, we have to ask ourselves, "Do I desecrate?". There is one more passage of interest:

"A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas." - Acts 19:19

Certainly this is a kind of desecration. In this case, however, these people used to practice sorcery, but decided to throw away what they now consider wrong. Someone could do the same by burning a computer game, or a political party card. The important thing to note is that this is a statement about 'me'. They aren't buying or making symbols of something they never were to make a statement about the values of 'them'.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Starry Night.

We camped three nights on this trip. There was just a touch of frost each morning, while the cold, clear, high-altitude air made for plenty of good star watching.


It is tough keeping up with the competition in Yellowstone National Park. Of course a truly talented photographer could get great pictures from a cell phone anywhere.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Endless roads ...

We covered more than 2,400 miles and finally made it back home.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bearly Able To Swim.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Grand Teton National Park.

This isn't quite a European holiday for our 29th anniversary, but these days everyone has to cut their budgets.

We got this camp site for $20.

Jackson Hole with a view of the nearby ski slopes.

Elk Antlers.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010