Own It. You’ll Be Much Happier.

While most actual theologians place a high importance on repentance, I’ve been emphasizing forgiveness.

This is because so many sinners cling to the argument that their sin was somebody else’s fault. How can you repent your sin if you’re dodging responsibility for it? Free will means you have the power to make your own decisions. Others may try to limit your options, but ultimately it’s your choice.

Jim Geraghty, remarking in today’s Jolt about the Las Vegas murder spree, observes:

We’re going to hear a lot of questions in the coming days about “why did he do it? Does it matter? Aren’t all of these shooters more or less the same?” In their minds, they’ve been wronged by the world; the world owed them something, and it refused to give it to them. The Isla Vista shooter believed he deserved pretty women; the Alexandria shooter who tried to kill GOP congressmen believed he deserved a world where his party was in charge. The Columbine killers believed they deserved a world where they would never feel ostracized.

Those are the kinds of sins that can get one’s soul consigned to hell, sins even the perpetrators know are monstrous, and can only commit after convincing themselves it’s somebody else’s fault.

This makes me worry too about people who never actually do anything monstrous, but who believe when monstrous things happen the victims had it coming. Because they were stuck up, or they voted the wrong way, or they professed the wrong faith.

God wants us all to atone, and repent, and forgive. It sounds so simple, but in the history of mankind it has always been the exception, not the rule.

When people tear down the institutions that make civil society seem normal, we discover in horrifying ways what this world’s real default looks like.

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Đis Kould Get Silly

Does it seem like one of the surest ways to spot a crank is when they start complaining about how irrational the rules are in the English language?

The rules are kind of irrational compared to other languages, but this is because English is one of the most acquisitive languages ever to thrive; it’s collected words from pretty much every language it’s encountered — like the Borg, it assimilates other languages’ distinctiveness and makes them its own. As a result, the pronunciations of various letter combinations can differ wildly depending on which language family we stole them from.

Seems to me since we already steal words, we could address some of this by stealing letters from other languages as well. It would be far simpler to tell which sound associated with th is intended if we were to dump th in favor of Đ and Þ; ðen I þink ðere would be a good deal less confusion. In fact, we could do away wiþ a lot of our difþong problem by raiding oðer alfabets or, you know, ditching unnecessary combinations like ph altogeðer.

And why do we need ðe letter C when we already have K and S? Talk about unnesessary! Đe only þing C is good for is ðe ch sound, so why not re-employ C to do someþing useful for a cange? As for sh, ðe Syrillik alfabet has ðe perfektly good Ш — it шould work just as well for us as for ðem, шouldn’t it? Or would it? Maybe ðat kould use some more þought.

Oh, and ðose instanses where we use whole silent kombinations of letters, like ðe “ugh” in þought? Yeah, I þot not. You mit þink ðis kould get pretty ruf (gh is anoðer unnesessary difþong, when it izn’t part ov a silent slug of Engliш’s pointless letteraj) but I þink it’s worþ taking a canse. It kan only make Engliш eziir tu understand!

And furðermore, when do we ever use Q wiþout U? Let’s dispense wiþ ðe U in ðoze wordz, and be qik about it! It’s —

What’s ðat? Time for my medikaш’nz?

Caveman Chic

From the time the prehistoric existence of Homo neanderthalensis was detected, it’s been a standard trope to call someone with allegedly primitive habits of thought, a Neanderthal.

But in recent years it’s been discovered that Neanderthal Man didn’t simply die off; his DNA now exists in wide swaths of modern humanity. Essentially, anyone with ancestry from any part of the world outside of Africa is now presumed to have a small but significant amount of Neanderthal DNA.

The inventors of agriculture? Part Neanderthal. Builders of the first civilizations? Part Neanderthal. Developers of the world’s great philosophical schools? Part Neanderthal.

The great cities of today — centers of economic, social and cultural progress — are brimming with descendants of that handful of cavemen who got to Europe and Asia millennia before Homo sapiens made it.

If there’s any part of the human race that can genuinely claim to be of pure blood, it’s the Africans.

Something for the white nationalists to contemplate.

That Fascinating Big Picture

While people talk about who’ll run against Trump in 2020 — assuming he seeks a second term — I’m thinking about how we’ve just had three consecutive eight-year presidencies: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

That is exceptional.

Only three times in U.S. History has the republic had a span of 24 years (or more) with only three men heading up the executive branch of the federal government.

The first was 1801 to 1825, with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

Next, the unique span from 1933 to 1961 when Franklin Roosevelt was elected four times only to die in office after being reinaugurated three months earlier, then Harry Truman serving out FDR’s fourth term and winning one of his own, to be followed by Dwight Eisenhower who served two full terms.

There has never been a span in which four consecutive presidents of the United States all served two complete terms. Jefferson’s predecessor served only one, as did Monroe’s successor. Herbert Hoover lost to FDR in 1932, and Eisenhower’s successor was the ill-fated John Kennedy.

Clinton, of course, beat Dubya’s father in 1992.

I’m old enough to remember when we had a succession of short-tenured presidents. Even Lyndon Johnson, despite having won a term in his own right in 1964 and having been constitutionally eligible in 1968, didn’t have eight years. Richard Nixon resigned. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were both defeated for re-election.

As uproarious as American electoral politics have become in recent decades, it’s phenomenal that our incumbent presidents keep getting re-elected, and leaving office on schedule rather than vacating early by resignation, impeachment, or extralegal means.

Maybe the divisiveness of our politics is like so many stories told to us lately: not entirely true.

Of Wolves and Men

Having recently posted a “filk” of a song by Steppenwolf, I thought I ought to finally get around to reading the Hermann Hesse novel that the band’s name cites.

First I looked the work up on Wikipedia, and found that it

reflects a profound crisis in Hesse’s spiritual world during the 1920s while memorably portraying the protagonist’s split between his humanity and his wolf-like aggression and homelessness.

Both of my e-published short stories have touched on this human duality, so I was immediately interested.

I found it available as an ebook but given the Wikipedia description I decided to hold off on buying it until I had read the free sample. Unfortunately I didn’t get far.

In the preface, Hesse’s protagonist meets the man, Harry Haller, who is the “Steppenwolf,” when the latter takes a room at his aunt’s house. He invites Haller to a lecture by “a celebrated historian, philosopher, and critic, a man of European fame,” who instantly disappoints Haller merely by flattering the audience. Hesse’s protagonist somehow manages to read an entire, eloquent critique of early 20th-century Western civilization in Haller’s fleeting expression. I couldn’t help but imagine the “Steppenwolf” having an identical disappointment upon reading the paragraph.

I’ll say this about the theme as described by Wikipedia’s editoriat, since I doubt I’d ever get through the novel itself.

As the story begins, the hero [Haller] is beset by reflections on his being ill-suited for the world of everyday, regular people, specifically for frivolous bourgeois society. In his aimless wanderings about the city he encounters a person carrying an advertisement for a magic theatre who gives him a small book, Treatise on the Steppenwolf. This treatise, cited in full in the novel’s text as Harry reads it, addresses Harry by name and strikes him as describing himself uncannily. It is a discourse on a man who believes himself to be of two natures: one high, the spiritual nature of man; the other is low and animalistic, a “wolf of the steppes”. This man is entangled in an irresolvable struggle, never content with either nature because he cannot see beyond this self-made concept.

One of the things about cowboy fiction that distinguishes it from most other genres is that it often places the characters in a wild situation where whatever civilized sensibilities upon which they might have built their self-image will be challenged, with life-or-death stakes. This is not to say that cowboy stories were the first to do this; James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo tales, of which only the last actually takes place in what we now think of as cowboy country (though several decades early), may be the first American examples.

The usual outcome of a cowboy story is that the good guy, who champions the moral code of the civilized but resorts to lethal necessity in extremis, wins out over those who have shed not only the trappings but the ethos of civilization. The latter have resolved the duality issue by going all-wolf; the former, by recognizing and to some extent domesticating his inner wolf in service to his humanity.

The theme is that people need both facets of their humanity to survive in a world of blood and dirt. Civilization is no better served by those who keep their monster irretrievably caged even in case of need, than by those who feed their inner angel to it and let it rampage uncontrolled.

Update, a few hours later: I’ve resumed reading the sample, still in the preface. Hesse has his prefatory protagonist and the Steppenwolf speak of being caught between two ages.

To me, the time between ages is itself an age. Having been born when I was, I’ve been through at least a couple of these; they’re easier to get used to than Herr Hesse might have believed.

That droll hippie observation about “…there you are” could be just as apt about when.

I have long believed, though, that very little of German philosophical writing has aged — or exported — well. This isn’t doing much to challenge that opinion.

So why has so much German philosophy gained such wide currency? It’s not always easy to see the holes in inapt criticism when one does not yet know oneself. Today especially, inapt criticism has found fertile ground in recent generations deprived of a complete background in their own history.

Obviously though, this is by no means new.

‘Nother update: Turns out the preface is the most readable part of the novel.

Upward Mobility Ain’t What It Used to Be

I can remember when upward mobility meant upward in terms of income, and the attendant opportunities to do the things you wanted to do.

Now it’s upward in terms of the esteem of the hive mind? Is this how we Boomers raised you kids?

Premium mediocrity is a pattern of consumption that publicly signals upward mobile aspirations, with consciously insincere pretensions to refined taste, while navigating the realities of inexorable downward mobility with sincere anxiety. There are more important things to think about than actually learning to appreciate wine and cheese, such as making rent. But at least pretending to appreciate wine and cheese is necessary to not fall through the cracks…

Clearly, premium mediocrity is a generational thing, something you “had to be there” to experience in full. It is not for the comfortable-in-your-own-skin, because all skin is off-the-rack and therefore very much not premium.

Actually, though it’s a long slog, read it all. I’ve been riffing above on my initial reaction to the piece, because it’s easy to quit partway through and come away misunderstanding it. For myself, if I had kids, I would want to know that they are dealing with real circumstances sensibly and practically, rather than putting up a front. But my parents lived through the Great Depression, and the skills and attitudes they picked up then had a lot to do with how we made it through our own hard times in the ’60s and ’70s.

Opinions Are Like…

The old saying comparing opinions to a body part is wrong. It isn’t that everybody has one, it’s that everybody has an endless supply.

So, opinions are not like that body part, they’re like what comes out of it.

Making that realization, however, can suck all the gratuitous drama out of life. If you like gratuitous drama.

TAXI!

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote this:

Those annoying little drones are about to change the way aircraft are designed and built.

Multi-rotor drones are more stable because the lift footprint (if there’s such a phrase) is wider, and when the rotors are distributed around the edges, the body interferes less with the air’s downward motion, which means the rotors provide more actual thrust.

By not wasting thrust you get more lift with shorter rotors, which require less power to rotate faster, amplifying the benefit of more rotors.

Processing power used in miniature drones allows the thrust on each rotor to be adjusted more responsively to changing conditions.

While I’m not big on the idea of pilotless passenger drones, I can see these innovations making the piloting of small aircraft simpler with computer-assist (as most of us already have to some extent in our cars), which could finally put personal VTOL flight within reach.

Today, via Drudge, I saw this:

German automobile firm Daimler and other investors have invested more than $29 million dollars (25 million euro) in aviation start-up Volocopter.

Volocopter plans to use the money to invest in further developing its electrically powered, autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft and ‘conquer’ the market for flying air taxis.

Volocopter’s ‘Volocopter 2X’ is a fully electric VTOL with 18 quiet rotors and a maximum airspeed of 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour – and it can transport two passengers without a pilot.

<Heather O’Rourke> They’re here. </Heather O’Rourke>

The Volocopter is all-electric, and therefore has the same limitations as an electric car — range, and recharge time — but you have to start somewhere.