Is Philosophy for Private Gardens?

A friend of mine who is a philosophy professor was discussing the current decline of civilization with me and made an interesting remark: philosophy may have to go back to the gardens. He explained that until the middle ages, when Christendom created the universities, philosophy was a private thing carried out among friends in places they would not be overheard, like in gardens.

Some would write, of course; there’s a reason why we have Plato’s writings, after all. But historically philosophy was not an overly safe practice and was best done where it would not be misunderstood. And of course a common approach in those who did write was to write very obliquely, leaving it to clever readers to figure out the implications of what they said while less clever readers would take things at face value or not even notice that anything of significance was said. Of course that didn’t always work out well; unfortunately for Avicenna, Al Ghazali could understand him and exposed him.

Still, it’s something to think about as the modern world degenerates. It’s possible that philosophy will retreat into the gardens again. Like all things it will probably me mixed in its effects; it’s just possible that Shakespeare wouldn’t have written so many excellent plays if he could legally have written Catholic prose.

God’s Blessings on March 1, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the first day of March in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

The popularity of videos is an interesting subject, especially for someone who runs a youtube channel. Here are my last few with their views, from most recent to oldest:

Christian Asceticism: 87
Thoughts about Bishop Barron prayer: 132
Believing the Incomprehensible: 248
Why I Don’t Debate Atheists: 948
Just for Fun: A Debate Challenge from Deconverted Man: 491
Channel Update & Thoughts on Disagreement: 171
The Value of Debate: 171
To Err is Human: 214
What the Burden of Proof is: 179
The Burden of Proof Isn’t a Logical Fallacy: 375
Good and Evil are Asymmetric: 249
Discussing Social Media w/ Russell Newquist: 142
Logic Lesson for Atheists: 528
Why Atheists Can’t Logic: Answering Deflated Atheism: 1,527
The Burden of Proof: A Few Quick Thoughts: 293
Sci-Fi Author Brian Niemeier, A Conversation: 139
Chesterton’s Post: 183
Occam’s Razor: 459

(I should note that the way that youtube works is that there is a big bump in views in the first day or two for a video as subscribers notice it and it goes through whatever recommendation process is used for recommending new videos, then things tend to settle down to a steady state of getting a few new views most days. Thus a video with the same number of views as one which came out before it is more popular.)

So as you can see, it’s all over the place. There are some definite themes; things which are explicitly about atheism tend to do better than things which aren’t. In particular I find it interesting that Why I Don’t Debate Atheists is about 5.5 times more popular than The Value of Debate, despite being more recent, and despite it being basically just an application of The Value of Debate. I actually suggest watching The Value of Debate instead for a more positive take on it in the description of Why I Don’t Debate Atheists.

Now, in fairness, there is a three minute section in the beginning of Why I Don’t Debate Atheists in which I sarcastically summarize it as:

  1. I’m too scared to. If I ever heard an atheist say, “where’s your evidence” or “that’s not evidence” my faith would shatter.
  2. I’m too arrogant to. I already know everything.
  3. This makes me a bad Christian because Christians should always treat public blasphemy with the utmost respect.

I think a lot of Christians have been accused of all this many times, so I suspect that my sarcastic “executive summary” in the beginning was cathartic for more than just myself. So it might have gotten shared or recommended more often. Still, it’s interesting to consider what relationship the subject matter and title have on viewership. And I hope it should be obvious that I don’t blame anybody for watching only what they think is likely to be of direct interest to them and their lives; we all have very limited time and a great deal of things clamoring for our attention. Anyhow, it’s interesting to observe and consider.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 27, 2017

God’s blessings on this the twenty seventh day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

So, I’m clearly not very good at keeping up the daily blogging. I did get a video out over the weekend, though:

It’s some commentary on Bishop Barron’s video on prayer, which is much better:

Still, he didn’t say it, so it might be worth saying.

I also put up a few videos recently about a debate challenge which I got from Deconverted Man and why I don’t debate atheists. Both drew a fair number of comments from people who, shall we say, do not appear to be rocket surgeons. (I like mixing metaphors to spice things up.) The most noticeable sort are from people who can’t seem to get that I am not trying to debate anyone in those videos. The first is me making fun of a ridiculous debate challenge (which was absurdly specific about things which needed no specificity and absurdly under-specified in the things which did). Specifically, making fun of a debate challenge from a fellow who criticized a previous video of mine as being irrational. The other is an explanation of why I, personally, don’t debate atheists at this point in my life. Very explicitly so; I say that in the first minute. And yet I got comments from people critiquing it as if it were one side of a debate.

I also got a tweet from “Mr Oz Atheist” snarking,

Wouldn’t have thought it takes a video 32 minutes long to say ‘Because I have no valid arguments’

I’ve dealt with him before and he’s not exactly the sharpest light bulb in the picnic basket, if you know what I mean. But the really curious thing is that I then got a comment on my video:

Let me help you out and shorten your video. You don’t, because you can’t provide good evidence, just logical leaps and fallacies.

Now, I have no proof that he’s one of Mr. Oz Atheist’s followers, but the timing and the phrasing is suggestive. Which raises an interesting question, even if it didn’t happen in this particular case: why do people go to following links in order to leave comments on things they haven’t watched? Unless the comments are original thoughts derived from the title (and hence won’t be very original since most everyone sees the same possibilities in titles), they have to be just parroting whatever it was they read about the video. Why would a human being think that’s valuable? Is it that their Dear Leader’s thoughts are so wonderful they must be shared, and Dear Leader has too little time to leave comments on every video he comes across? Are they hoping that they’ll be noticed by Dear Leader and get praised? Is this purely a pack instinct to attack anything perceived as an enemy? There must be some explanation, but at present I’m at a loss to understand it.

Incidentally, what is this odd obsession atheists have with valid arguments? There are valid arguments for everything. They’re the easiest things in the world to construct. Just take modus ponens:

∴ q

Where q is the conclusion you want and put anything at all for p. Here, with p being 2+2=5 and q being God exists:

If 2+2 = 5, then God exists.
2+2 = 5
Therefore, God exists.

It’s perfectly valid, as an argument. If the premises are true, the conclusion certainly follows from them. What it’s not is a sound argument. (A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises.) More colloquially, what it is not is a good argument.

Sometimes I’m tempted to thank these atheists for making atheism look so bad. But the thing is, all this idiocy doesn’t make me angry, it makes me sad. These poor creatures should be taken care of by people more able to think than they are; the strong should protect the weak. But these poor people have fallen into the clutches of atheists who are typically only a little bit smarter than they are and not really any better educated (as opposed to schooled) and they’re suffering from it. Pray for them with me, if you will.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 22, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty second day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

My recent video where I made fun of the debate challenge I was given sparked a lot of comments. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s here:

Now, straight up, that was not a nice thing to do. This is making fun of Deconverted Man. But, it should be noted, niceness is not a virtue. To put it bluntly, Deconverted Man is an idiot who presumes to lecture people about how they’re wrong when he clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. This is something he should be corrected on, and equally importantly, since his errors are proclaimed publicly, it is right that he should be corrected publicly. The public good is disturbed when ignorance is proclaimed as knowledge and that goes unchecked.

I suspect that what makes me (and at least a few other people) uncomfortable with this is that it’s ungentlemanly. A gentleman never draws attention to the failings of another. It is unpleasant, and in polite society unnecessary. When someone is acting intolerably that is best handled by avoiding to invite them to your parties. But polite society is a fiction created by wealth in order to be an ornament (at best). This sort of thing pretends to Christian virtue because it can seem like the idea of not judging others, but it in fact is not that. This sort of politeness has no problem at all judging others; it’s concerned entirely with the enforcement of that judgment.

Now, here’s the problem. Me making fun of Deconverted Man is a bit like a young man beating up an aged grandmother. It’s not a fair fight. But that doesn’t mean that I should therefore let Deconverted Man get away with publicly proclaiming falsehoods. And with thick-skulled idiots like him, gentle criticism from somebody who is an out-group member (since I’m a “theist” and he’s an atheist) will have precisely no effect. Moreover, his idiocy is public. Subtlety does not work for most people. It’s very commonly liked because it’s gentle and doesn’t lead to bad feelings, except that it often does lead to misunderstandings and bad feelings anyway. But subtlety is, I suspect, far more often an act of cowardice than it is an act of love.

And a lot of people really dislike “drama”. That is, they dislike unpleasant feelings. And being around people who are not getting along generates a lot of unpleasant feelings. Which is fair. Human beings are not meant to live in very large groups; we’re much better off with small groups of people we’ve known for many, many years. We work much better in that sort of environment. I suspect that they should be honest with themselves that they just can’t handle the truth, though (which is fine; we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, and can’t handle everything we should—I can’t either).

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 16, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventeenth of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Last night I did a hangout with Max of the Escaping Atheism project on YouTube, if you’re interested you can watch it here:

We spoke about the style of talking with Atheists (primarily what I call kakangelical atheists—atheists who want to spread the bad news), and how there are different styles and a place for Escaping Atheism’s blunt, combative style.

To give a brief summary of why, especially on the internet there are a lot of kakangelical atheists whose approach is to be very confident and very aggressive to believers, asserting in very forceful tones that they’re delusional idiots for believing in a magic sky fairy with no evidence! Etc. And I think that there is value to some people equally forcefully responding, “no, you’re the delusional idiot for thinking God is like a magic sky fairy, for asserting that there is no evidence in plain contradiction of simple fact, and for not having bothered to learn anything before spouting off about it.”

It’s not that this will convince anyone that they’re wrong, but curiously it will sometimes convince people to go do some studying, not because they are inspired to better themselves, but because having done no studying they have no reply, and so may go do some studying just to procure some better rhetorical weapons. Along the way, they may end up learning something. That said, the real important part of this is that it neutralizes what amounts to bullying. Powerfully presented confidence is intimidating; to see it on both sides reduces its effect, giving space for reason to operate. This is especially important for the young; as I mentioned in the video that forceful approach shook me a lot when I was a teenager. Now that I’m getting close to forty I tend to just reply with equal confidence and move on, occasionally amused at the names I get called for doing what the other guy just did (that is, asserting that I was right and the other guy wrong). I don’t think I’ll ever understand thin-skinned people who lead with insults. Thick-skinned people who open with insults make sense to me, but how have the thin-skinned ones not learned to moderate their approach in pure self-defense?

Now, it might be brought up that one catches far more flies with a tablespoon of honey than with a gallon of vinegar. It’s a great saying, and in certain situations very true. I’m not sure of the literal fact behind the metaphor, though; I’ve seen a lot of dead flies in a bowl of apple cider vinegar which was accidentally left open. That being said, if you want to find people who responded with mild language in the face of blasphemy, I suggest you read something other than the bible. As the meme goes:


Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 15, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fifteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

There are a lot of trials in being a parent, but I think that the hardest is sleep deprivation. At least for me, I find it very difficult to function when I’m underslept. There is an element, I think, in Christian psychology in the modern west where we expect that carrying our crosses will be glamorous. Well, not glamorous, exactly, but the sort of thing people would write stories about. We’re so soaked in fiction that we think about a great deal of life in terms of how it would be summarized in a story. And after all, Jesus carrying his cross was written about in a story. Surely, so our emotions sometimes go, our cross to carry will be similarly story-worthy.

But our crosses to bear are often things like, “sure, Child, I will walk you to the bathroom at 3am then tuck you back into bed; don’t worry, I’ll get back to sleep eventually” and dealing with the exhaustion and headaches the next day.

Some wag apparently said that there were enough putative fragments of the true cross of Christ to make a ship, whereas in reality there are something like four kilograms worth of fragments claimed to be from the true cross, but in any event one night of little rest is not like a splinter from one’s cross. For many of us, I think we carry our crosses one splinter at a time, and over the years they add up to a cross, so we don’t notice and it’s very easy to complain because we don’t think of them the right way.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 14, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fourteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I’m not feeling much today in terms of a subject to write about, but here’s a video I did recently on the subject of to err is human:

I look at the side of to err is human which holds that making mistakes is part of being human, and why that can’t be true. (I don’t object to the idea that we should be realistic about how all men make mistakes, and should be understanding of them when they do, and I don’t address the sense of contrast in the original, “to err is human to forgive divine”.)

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 13, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the thirteenth day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

There’s an interesting phenomena going on right now in the “skeptic community” which is very approximately the branch of the online atheist community who dislikes identity politics. An extremely brief summary of it is that some prominent members of the skeptic community gave paid endorsements to a company promoting an app/social media site called Candid. (I’m not being coy, by the way, I haven’t followed enough to know who they all are. I suspect it’s public knowledge, but it’s not relevant here.) A less prominent member of the community (going by the name Harmful Opinions) then called Candid into question as being, far from a dedicated to free speech, seeming to use an AI in order to police speech more stringently than it has been before. The truth of the accusations I don’t know; I’ve seen some evidence presented by Harmful Opinions in a video, but without tracking down original sources that’s not really different from ignorance. It’s not really relevant to me since I’ve never heard of the social media platform makes it sound like I’d never try it, so it’s just not relevant to my life.

What is relevant is that a rift in the skeptic community where prominent skeptics are being taken down a peg certainly seems like good news to those of us who are on the receiving end of their followers blind faith in the sufficiency of atheism as a worldview. And to be explicit, I believe that one part (not the whole) of the confidence that many slow-witted atheists have that atheism has all of the answers to life’s questions which are necessary to live a good life is because they see more intelligent, charismatic people like the prominent skeptics being (apparently) content living the atheist life and take their confidence from that.

So I think that there is a hopeful pleasure to be seen in this which can be distinguished from simple schadenfreude (“shameful joy”) at bad things happening one one’s enemies. I say to “one’s enemies” but they’re not really my enemies; if they’re anyone’s enemies they are the enemies of those they are leading astray. They’re not really doing anything to me. (Also I run far too small a channel for them to even know I exist, so none of them have ever mentioned me or anything like that.)

This is also something which touches on the issue of “atheists can be just as moral as Christians” which comes up less these days than it did decades ago, I think, but it still comes up because it is true that a given atheist can be personally better than a given Christian. Which is to say that the best atheist is better than the worst Christian. But as it becoming ever clearer, that’s mostly a theoretical statement. The rate at which atheists are degenerating is startling to the point of being scary. Of course, they are degenerating in the sense of coming to believe that if God is dead all things are permitted, not that if God is dead, you can get away with everything. Which is to say that they are considering worse and worse things to be perfectly moral. So if you want to murder your child in the womb after a three day cocaine bender/orgy with married people, that’s your own business and doesn’t make you any less moral than anyone else.

What’s going to be really bad is the people who are raised this way, by the way. People who were raised with morals but then overthrew them still have most of the inhibitions of their youth, at least for a few decades and often for the rest of their life. People who were raised with the idea that they can do anything they want so long as everyone consents—whatever that means given that they also don’t believe free will exists—will act very differently. It’s not likely to be pretty. Be that as it may, there may be some effect of this for the intermediate people who still have some scruples against lying (does anyone consent to be lied to? But being hung up on telling the truth is a Christian hang-up; I suppose the usual atheist approach is to not think about it). Seeing that many of the prominent atheists they look up to as living a good atheist life are in fact willing to lie and sell out their followers for money may shake some people’s confidence that atheism is in fact a viable path to a good life. So I think that greeting this scandal in the skeptic community with glee is defensible on this ground.

Though I think it’s important for Christians to be careful here; this sort of thing can very easily turn into gossiping. But that does not mean that tarnishing the good name of a villain is wrong; to uphold the reputation of a liar is to be complicit with his lies. So while great care is warranted, I do think that there is a legitimate way of receiving this news with mixed pleasure. Of course, no sin can properly be the occasion of pleasure, so it cannot be a pure pleasure in hearing this, but that truth may finally be revealed to those who have been in darkness is worth celebrating.

(And if anyone wants to draw a false equivalence between this and misdeeds by priests or pastors, the key distinction is this: no one can actually convict the atheists of having done anything wrong on atheist principles. About the most you can convict them of doing is possibly acting sub-optimally from a species-benefit perspective. Or possibly being incompetent in their self-interest. When a priest does something immoral, he can be convicted by the Christian morality he himself acknowledges. In short, the key difference is that if the prominent skeptics acted badly, they cannot be charged with being hypocrites. Which is a far greater condemnation of them.)

If you can, say a prayer for all of the members of the skeptic community, prominent and anonymous alike. They sure as hell need it.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on February 7, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventh day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I got in a conversation about church hymns today. For anyone who doesn’t know, after the switch from Latin to the customary vernacular which happened in the 1960s, the Catholic Church in America was in great need of English language hymns, and the hymnal which was put together very quickly, well, sounds like it was. There are some really good songs in the hymnal—in the sense of both having beautiful music as well as having theological content in the words—but then there are also some songs whose inclusion is hard to understand apart from the poor judgment which goes along with desperation and lack of sleep. Or possibly very weird taste born of living in a very strange time, which the 1960s in America certainly seems to have been. I do think that people get too worked up over this; if the worst cross one has to bear is singing some bad hymns while getting to celebrate our salvation by eating the body and drinking the blood of God, one has very little to complain about. And I expect that better hymnals will be produced within a few decades; on the scale of a 2000 year old church that’s nearly the blink of an eye. Still, that’s not quite so fast by the standards of a human life, and while Marty Haugen wrote some competent melodies it seems that anything to which he wrote the words is a penance to sing. So, for anyone who’s suffered through the hymns of Marty Haugen and his similarly-talented contemporaries, take solace with me in this fun parody (no idea who to attribute it to):

Glory to God in the highest.

Time Chasers

One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Time Chasers. It’s not my favorite—that’s Overdrawn at the Memory Bank—but it’s up there. I was recently reminded of the scene where Bob Evil (actual name: J.K. Robertson; President of Gencorp) quotes a clause in the contract his company has with Nick Miller (the main character) saying that if anything in the time transport project is deemed of value or a threat to national safety, the government will appoint a project supervisor, and that supervisor will have total control overriding any previous agreements established within the contract. Bob evil then goes on to say, with impressive defensiveness, “That’s a government law, not a Gencorp one.” As opposed to all those other Gencorp laws, I assume. I don’t think that was intentional self-parody; I think it really was an impressively fiction-based understanding of reality. If you like MST3K and haven’t seen this episode, I highly recommend it, it’s a huge amount of fun.

God’s Blessings on February 7, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the seventh day of February in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I got the video about the asymmetry between good and evil up, if you’re interested:

And my friend Eve Keneinan mentioned an interesting approach to describing this sort of asymmetry, which is that of truth. Truths cannot contradict each other, but falsehoods can contradict both truth and other falsehoods. It’s not precisely the same relationship, but it does describe a similar asymmetry.

Towards the end of my video I mentioned that it has implications on writing. I do think that this is another source for the idea that flawed characters are essential to good writing. Flaws in characters can’t help but remind us of goodness by contrast, since flaws are in a sense the shadows cast by virtues; they are in any event a painful reminder of where virtues are supposed to be. And this is, I think, another reason why I dislike the flawed character dictum; it would be much better to call to mind virtue by actually calling it to mind, rather than by using shadows which remind us of virtue. Of course, it’s more work, which is why it’s done less often. Also, I’m thinking of changing the thumbnail on the video to this:


I’m curious whether it’s an improvement. It’s meant to be suggestive of the metaphor of evil like a shadow—a thing with a purely negative existence, not a positive existence. It’s by no means a perfect representation of the shadow metaphor since evil is the privation of good, not merely the absence of good. That is, it is the absence of good where there should be good. Hence why lying is evil, but staying silent when there is no need to talk is not evil. But, even though it’s definitely not perfect as an illustration, I do kind of like it aesthetically. And as a thumbnail rather than an illustration within the video, I think it wouldn’t be likely to confuse anyone. If you had a moment to tell me what you think in the comments, I’d be grateful for the feedback.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 30, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the thirtieth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

A life tip which is on my mind today for very practical reasons is that if one is out of sorts for whatever, but to take my example a lot of work to get done by a deadline which is not far off and a lack of sleep making it hard to get that work done. Now, one should always try to avoid making one’s problems someone else’s problems, and that extends very much to being out of sorts. If I’m having a bad day that should not mean that anyone else around me has a bad day because of it.

Alas, for people—like me—who are not perfect, keeping our troubles to ourselves doesn’t always happen, even though it should. (N.B. I’m not referring to keeping things bottled up, but rather keeping them from affecting one’s patience, tone of voice, charity, etc.) Because this sort of failure is something one can often predict, one should be on the lookout for it, and wherever it seems to be happening, it’s a good idea to tell the people affected about your stressors, so that they have context. I’m not talking about complaining at them, because that just makes their day worse. (Asterisk; if you know how to use self-deprecating humor to make complaining palatable, that can work, though it does take a lot of skill. That’s more something that should be plan B for if you catch yourself complaining that being plan A.) Rather, one should warn others not to take you too seriously right now because you are under stressors that make your actions and reactions atypical. Now, to be clear, this is not something that others owe one; it is asking for a specific type of charity. But it’s usually not a difficult charity to give, and if people are fore-warned they’re usually pretty indulgent if they don’t need to indulge you in this way too often. And one doesn’t have to be highly specific, something as general as, “I’m sorry, I’m just having a really bad day so please don’t take anything I say today too seriously? Thanks, and I’m sorry.” In my experience, people are very understanding of that sort of thing since we all have bad days where we could benefit from some charity applied to the things we say and how we say them.

Also very important on bad days: don’t forget to smile at people. Smiles which are unconscious reflexes are cute in babies, but really fairly private things in adults. Smiling at someone is primarily a form of communication, conveying:

  1. I mean you good, not harm
  2. I consider you a net positive in my life
  3. Things are, for the next few moments anyway, OK

Whether or not you feel these things to be true, if you know them to be true, you should smile at people to communicate those things to them. Feelings can be highly misleading, and in the same way that if the “gas tank is empty light” on your car has burned out you should still put fuel in the tank when the needle is on empty, you should communicate true things to people even if you don’t feel them. This will improve:

  1. their day
  2. everyone else’s day who comes in contact with them, including
  3. your day
  4. and at least as importantly, your honesty

Yes, your honesty. Honesty consists of giving people truth. There are lies of omission, and if your honesty is not “authentic” in the sense of being spontaneously done without thinking about it, all that means is that you need to build better habits. In the mean time, you’re supposed to use your rational control over yourself to act according to what you know to be true, and that includes what you communicate to other people. Because, unfortunately for our laziness, a neutral expression or an unhappy expression communicates things to, and often things which aren’t true. Being a social animal requires more work than being a hermit. That may be inconvenient, but it beats the alternative.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 29, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty ninth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Today’s a super busy day so I don’t really have time to write much. So I wanted to share a fun quote with you:

Marriage, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two. –Ambrose Bierce

Though I will say that my preferred metaphor for marriage is a two-person military unit. Two people bound together to accomplish great things under very harsh conditions. No metaphor is ever perfect, though.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 28, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty eighth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I was reminded recently of the advice I’ve given to young people a few times on picking a career. At least when I was in school the vast array of possible choices meant that a lot of emphasis was placed on this, and it was generally suggested that one should figure out what one was most passionate about, and try to pursue that as a career. Obviously, what one was most passionate about that could be a career. Taking naps was right out. And many things require modification to be a career, such as painting landscapes of dogs might have to turn into painting portraits of people’s pets.

And of course some dreams are just very hard to follow, like being an astronaut or a professional novelist. In many cases, you have an only slightly better chance of these than of professionally winning the lottery.

But, still, those caveats aside, it was the general advice given, and it never struck me as good advice. It has, for a very long time, struck me as a much better idea to pick one’s second favorite thing and turn that into a career. All work done for pay involves compromise, because the person paying the money has a say in the work. If this is one’s favorite thing in life, those compromises are extraordinarily painful, and there is little one can do for solace. By contrast, compromising in one’s second favorite thing isn’t great, but it’s not too bad (assuming one is talking about things like aesthetic or prudential judgment and not morality), but one can always take solace in something one loves better. The compromises necessary to make such an activity something other people will pay for is also much easier to tolerate.

Good for thought, anyway.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 27, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the twenty seventh day of January, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I didn’t post a God’s Blessings post yesterday, but I did post an interview, so I’m going to call that a wash.

I recently came across a private discussion about the nature of forgiveness, and how my Christian friend was having to point out to a secular co-worker that forgiveness does not mean automatically pretending that nothing has happened, especially when there has been no repentance. Let’s call the people A and B, and stipulate that as co-workers B betrayed A’s trust and in fact stabbed him in the back on some occasion to A’s significant detriment. Let’s further stipulate that B does not admit to any wrongdoing, and has never apologized, repented of his wickedness, nor tried to make any sort of amends.

Now, I know what Christians mean when they say that they are not required to forgive in such a circumstance, but that’s technically incorrect. Christians are to forgive in all circumstances, because forgiveness just means that one does not cease loving a person. And as Bishop Barron puts it, love is to desire the good of the other as other. Which means that pouring out the infinite goodness of God which we ourselves are given, we give to others according to our ability to give and their ability to receive. That last part is key, and is the key to this whole problem.

Forgiveness means that we should not withhold any good from a man that we can give him, but it does not mean that we should give goods to a man who cannot receive them. In this case, a man who betrays trust is not trustworthy. Forgiving him means that if he needs help, one should help him. By all means A should (if practical) take a day off work to help B move his stuff from one apartment to another. If B is hungry, A should feed him. But there is absolutely nothing in the concept of forgiveness that means that A should trust B when there is no reason to believe that B is trustworthy and good reason to believe that B is not. Forgiveness means not holding grudges, it does not mean being unrealistic. Now, I should probably add that it is possible for people to reform, and for a man who was untrustworthy to become trustworthy. And forgiveness should be open to that possibility. But that does not in any sense mean that forgiveness should assume that such a thing has happened in default of evidence that it has, and still less in the face of evidence that it hasn’t.

And in fact, it is uncharitable to tempt a man who struggles with temptation. If B has a hard time keeping trust, it is uncharitable to place trust in him and thus expose him to the temptation to violate that trust. Telling secrets to a gossip is not only unwise, but it is unkind.

There are those who want to simply forget the past, of course, mostly because they had conflict and want it to magically disappear. That’s not forgiveness, that’s cowardice. Of course, cowardice will always try to disguise itself as something else; that’s part of the nature of cowardice. After all, you can’t expect cowardice to have the bravery to admit what it is.

In short, forgiveness means being willing to give what you can, even to a man who has hurt you. It does not mean being willing to give what you can’t.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 25, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the twenty fifth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

So I missed yesterday, too. It’s not entirely my fault; I meant to write something in the evening but then fell asleep when I was putting my children to bed. It’s one of the hazards of parenthood, especially when tired. But at the same time I put it off because I didn’t have a subject I felt like writing about. But not because my mind was blank; I think I’m letting the times I wrote on a more important subject raise the threshold of what I consider fit for writing about, and the problem with that is that it’s not what the daily blog post is supposed to be about. I’d love for everything to be great, of course, and will certainly do the best I can, but when that means I’m not writing at least one post a day, this has certainly ventured into the territory of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Incidentally, while it’s a great sentiment that one shouldn’t do that, I really don’t like how imprecise the saying is.  In a truly strict sense, Hell consists in letting the good become the enemy of the perfect. In that sense, therefore, the perfect should always be the enemy of the good. And I mention this because I’ve seen people use the phrase “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good” to mean preferring mediocre solutions to spending more effort on better solutions. More fully specified, the saying would be, “don’t let an unattainable level of quality stop one from achieving an achievable level of quality”. Less catchy, but it can’t be the slogan of hell, so that’s a plus.

In other news, I put out a video yesterday in which I answered a rhetorical question posed by Deflating Atheism in one of his videos:

I’ve used the idea of answering a rhetorical question in some of my novels. I don’t do it much myself, but I really like it in fiction because it’s a nice reversal of expectations. I have done it in real life, though, like when I was speaking with an acquaintance who said, rhetorically, “You can’t have everything. If you did, where would you put it.” I immediately answered, “Right where it is, since you’d own that too, wouldn’t you?” Now, his saying did speak to a real truth; that while human greed is infinite the human capacity for enjoyment is finite and so greed is pointless. But my reversal does speak to a real truth too, which is that if you owned everything you’d have a fundamentally different relationship to it than a man who owns only one house. Since you owned everything you wouldn’t need to change anything; and there’s the hint that you might as well let the people currently using your stuff go on using it because this way at least they’ll take care of it rather than letting it fall apart. It touches on a mistake atheists make, though not very directly, and only abstractly; but a universal relationship is not a particular relationship multiplied out. It’s a fundamentally different kind of relationship.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 19, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the nineteenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I recently read Brian Niemeier’s free short story, Izcacus. It was an interesting read, both while I was reading it and afterwards. It’s a good use of fifteen minutes. Unfortunately short stories lend themselves to short reviews, because (when well written) they’re so tightly written that talking about them gives away too much information. At least I have that problem. Russell Newquist would probably find a way around it, as he’s very good at writing reviews, I’ve noticed.

But I am going to talk about Izcacus, so this is your warning that there will be spoilers. If you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here (until you’ve gone and read the story, at which point please come back).


Or here, that would work too.


Even here, really. But that’s it. The next paragraph will have spoilers in it, so stop reading now if you haven’t read it and don’t want to encounter spoilers.


I should begin by saying that I went in knowing that Izcacus was written as an attempt to bridge the gap between religious vampires and scientific vampires. So I didn’t some at it with perfectly fresh eyes, as it were. That will naturally color my thoughts on the story, but probably it has a bigger impact on my reaction to it than my considered thoughts about it.

The first thing I find interesting about Izcacus is that it uses what my friend Michael referred to as epistolary narration. That is, several characters narrate the story in the form of emails, letters, blog posts, journal entries, and most interestingly letters to a dead brother. It’s by no means an unheard of device, but it’s not overly common, and as Michael reminded me, it is also the narrative device in Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I doubt that coincidence is accidental, though I haven’t asked Brian about it. He uses the device well and avoids its weakness—it can easily become very confusing to have multiple narrators—while taking advantage of its strength. In particular, it allows a lot of character development in few words, since the voice of the character tells you a lot about them. Not merely the words they choose or their commentary, but also what they choose to talk about and what they leave out. Editorial decisions tell you as much about a person as creative decisions, if they tell it to you more subtly.

Second is that one of the problems that every horror author is faced with in the modern world is that horror and modern technology don’t blend well. I don’t mean that they can’t, but a person with a cell phone can—in normal circumstances—call for help so that they won’t feel alone. Of course, that doesn’t always do much. (There was a news story a while back about a russian teenager who called her mother on the phone while a bear was eating her. She died before any help could arrive. More locally, there was a hunter who shot himself with a crossbow and called 911 but was dead before they arrived. If a broadhead cuts a major blood vessel, you can bleed to death in as little as about 45 seconds. I’ve seen a deer pass out in about 20 seconds.) But there is still a big difference in mood between knowing that help is on its way and won’t arrive in time versus not even being able to call for help. By setting the story on a remote mountain without cell service, and further where they had to trespass russian law to even be, this problem was solved very neatly. There are plenty of very remote places in the world and if you haven’t told anyone that you’re going there, no one will ever come looking for you there. (One reason why the Pennsylvania hunter safety course emphasizes telling people where you are going hunting and when you will be back, every single time.) Structurally, I really like this.

The mood is done well about isolation and danger and so on, but in general I’m far more interested in structure than mood—possibly because I have a very powerful and active imagination and can imagine the mood for myself even if it is not described, but my philosophical side rebels against plot holes. Pleasantly, there are no plot holes in Izcacus, which I appreciated. And the structure is very interesting indeed when we come to the central point of the story: vampirism. Izcacus, we find out, means “blood-drinker” in the local dialect, and the mountain climbers eventually find a cave with some old but suspiciously fresh corpses. And here is where Brian marries religious with scientific vampires. Vampirism is a form of demonic possession, but possession requires the cooperation of the possessed. And so the demons have created a virus—which walks the line between living and inanimate—as a means of entering healthy hosts. The virus acts in its natural fashion to weaken the host; by putting them in extremes of pain and weakness, the host becomes more willing to accept the possession which will rid them of the pain. And as the story (or rather, one of its characters) noted, after death the body becomes merely material. This is a very interesting take on vampirism, adding some very interesting technical detail to the mechanism of becoming a vampire. It’s not as blood-centric as vampirism traditionally is, and in fact one weakness of the story is that it isn’t made very clear why the vampires are called blood-drinkers at all. No one is exsanguinated that I can recall, and any wound seems to suffice for entrance of the virus. Granted, one of the characters was bitten on the neck, but another seemed to be infected by a cut on her shoulder. And this is somewhat inherent in the nature of blood-born viruses. If saliva will work for transmission, blood-to-blood contact will as well. (As will semen-to-blood transmission, but fortunately Izcacus is not that sort of story.) So while it’s an interesting step forward for the mechanics of vampirism, it seems to come somewhat at the expense of some of the (recent) traditional lore of vampirism. (Update: Brian clarified what I misunderstood.)

(That is not in itself bad, of course; I gather one staple of horror is re-interpreting older horror stories so as to create fresh lore; essentially producing a sense of realism by treating previous fiction as existing but inaccurate. Horror is not one of the genres I normally seek out, so I’m not very familiar with its conventions—or perhaps I should say its unconventions. And if you want to take that as a semi-punning reference to the undead, I’m powerless to stop you. But if you do, please feel a deep and lasting sense of shame because of it. That’s not really a pun.)

But, what it sacrifices in traditional vampire lore, it makes up for in the reason why anyone is going near the wretched things in the first place. My two favorite vampire stories are Dracula (by Bram Stoker) and Interview with the Vampire (the movie; I’ve never read the book, which a good friend has told me isn’t as good; the screenplay for the movie was written by Ann Rice who wrote the book, so it is plausible that her second try was better than her first). In both cases the vampires can pass as living men and come into human society on their own, though in Dracula he does at first lure Jonathan Harker to his castle in Transylvania by engaging his legal services. But it is really Harker’s legal services which are required, there, he isn’t interested in Harker as food (at least not for himself). In Izcacus the vampires are not nearly so able to pass in human society, so the humans must come to them. This is in line with other stories (most of which I haven’t seen or read) where the humans venture into the vampire’s territory. I think that there the lure is some sort of treasure, whether real or actual, but while greedy protagonists make for relatively pity-free vampire chow, they don’t make for sympathetic protagonists. In Izcacus there are really two motives which drive the characters; a noble motive which drives all but one of them, and a far more sinister motive which drives her. The official reason for this clandestine meeting is to recover the bodies of people who had died trying to summit Izcacus, while the hidden reason is to recover samples of the disease which was the reason the Russians sealed off access to Izcacus in the first place. Thus it is the backers of terrorism who are funding the expedition in the hope of retrieving such a virulent virus to be used as a bio-terrorism weapon (thinking of it only as deadly, and not as diabolical). I find that very satisfying because instead of a pedestrian tale like greed going wrong (who doesn’t know greed will go wrong?), it’s the much more richly symbolic tale of the problem with making deals with the devil. As Chesterton noted, the devil is a gentleman and doesn’t keep his word. The devil may promise power, but has no interest in delivering on it. I’m told there’s a line in one of the tellings of Faust where after selling his soul for knowledge, mephistopheles tells faust he doesn’t have that knowledge to give, whereupon Faust is indignant that he had been lied to. As I understand it, Mephistopheles basically said, “I’m a devil, what did you expect?” It’s one of the reasons why I’m so fond of the short form of the baptismal vows in the Catholic rite of baptism. “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?” It’s a terrible idea to expect the devil to keep his promises; it’s more his style to bite the hand he’s shaking.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 17, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the seventeenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I’m thinking about doing a video about the topic of the burden of proof. This is something of a pet peeve for my friend Eve Keneinan, who has a hilarious post on The Burden of Proof Fairy and the You Have To Believe Everything Monster. The topic under consideration is usually phrased, “the person making the claim has the burden of proof”. Which, as Eve rightly points out, is a claim, so she immediately invites the claimant to abide by their own principle and shoulder the burden of proof for that claim. For some reason she attracts a lot of stupid atheists on twitter so the results can be funny. The best are the people who add “this is not a claim” to the end of their claims, as if they’re children saying, “no tag-backs” in a game of tag.

I’m not sure what direction I want to go in my video. I’m thinking of starting out talking about the burden of proof in law, which is where one man (the prosecution) claims the right to punish another man (the defendant). The prosecution must meet some threshold of evidence for his claim to be granted, while the defense may try to poke holes in the prosecution’s attempt to demonstrate this. The thing is, the threshold for what evidence the prosecution must bring varies widely. In some places merely alleging the guilt of the defendant is meeting it, and the defendant must work very hard to show that the prosecution is in error. In other places, at least in theory, the prosecution must work hard to show that he’s correct beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defense does not need to prove the prosecution mistaken, only to cast doubt that the prosecution is correct. Whoever has the harder job is said to have the burden of proof, though in truth the prosecution always must meet some threshold in order to prosecute, and a defense which merely rested without saying anything will virtually never win.

Now, ordinarily no fool ever thought that courts of law provided epistemological certainty. I think many people—possibly not just fools—thought courts generally reliable. But no one ever thought the courts infallible. I’m not sure who ever thought to try to make this practical principle an epistemological one, but certainly one meets people who try to establish it as such.  (Epistemology is the study of knowledge.) Of course, no one consistently applies this as an epistemological principle. I’ve yet to hear of the man who replied to, “Hi, my name is Brian” with “Prove it.” Or, “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” with “Where’s your evidence that it’s a nice day?” No, in general the burden-of-proofers will just look up, investigate the natural world for themselves, come to their own conclusion, and then share it. That is, they’ll say, “yes it is” or possibly, “for now, but it looks like it’s going to rain”.

Of course what’s going on is that this isn’t a principle at all, it’s more of a heuristic. When it isn’t just an excuse to get out of thinking, that is. I wrote about that in We Are All Beasts of Burden. And that is really my main critique of the concept of the burden of proof as it is commonly used. It’s an attempt to avoid thinking while retaining the respect accorded to one who thinks. That’s almost a theme of the modern world. What is divorce but the attempt to retain the respectability of marriage while breaking the vows of marriage? As Chesterton said, our world is one wild divorce court, divorcing all things from each other but pretending not to.

And it’s that last part that I think is so especially troubling. A society which is pretending it is doing something other than it is doing is very far from recovery. On the other hand this is just restating the truism that the first step in solving your problem is admitting that you have a problem.

In any event, it is amusing to ask somebody who states the burden of proof is on the person making the claim if they have any evidence that they’re not a moron. In my experience the will stutter and be outraged that you would transgress the social norm of assuming that they’re not. It’s always amusing when people are angry with you for following their principles.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 13, 2017

God’s blessings on this the thirteenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I apologize for not posting yesterday. I don’t mean to let that become a habit.

So I discovered that the method I had been using to record video of me talking for my youtube channel fails after a few minutes. It’s actually an nondeterministic amount of time, but the problem is that if the camera skips any frames, guvcview doesn’t know about it and so the video and the audio go out of sync. I’m pretty sure that the video I have where this happened is just lost, because it’s not a gradual problem which can be cured by speeding up the audio; it’s that just something the time between the two permanently changes. On the plus side, I can always record it again.

But not with guvcview. And cheese is out too. (I use ubuntu, and these are all Linux software.) A friend recommended using ffmpeg, which is a command line utility. I’ve been a linux user for about 20 years now, so that’s not scary, but it does mean a ton of command line options to get ffmpeg to do what I want (because it’s an incredibly flexible piece of software). On the plus side, I’ve downloaded the source and compiled it, so I’ve got it working with nvenc which lets it do video encoding on my video card. So after a bunch of playing around, I got it to work. If anyone got to this blog post because they’re searching for a decent way to reliably capture a webcam in Linux, this is the command line I ended up using:

ffmpeg -f v4l2 -input_format mjpeg -video_size 1280×720 -framerate 30 -i /dev/video0 \
-f pulse -sample_rate 48000 -channels 1 -i default \
-c:v h264_nvenc -preset slow -profile:v high -rc vbr -cq 18 \
-c:a flac \
-copytb 1 \

I put it in a shell script (so I wouldn’t have to type that out all the time), so $OUTPUT is the name of the file to store the video in (whatever.mkv). This is for capturing video from my Logitech C920 and audio from whatever I’ve configured as the input source in pulse audio (which is to say, in the default sound configuration utility). Normally I use a shotgun mic, but of course one can also use the microphone built into the webcam. Using mjpeg (motion jpeg) from the webcam seems to produce higher quality output then getting h264 from it, and since I’m recompressing it anyway, I might as well use mjpeg as the source. Btw, you’ll need to use the apeture priority mode for the automatic exposure control in order to achieve 30 frames per second, otherwise there’s a good chance the camera won’t have enough light to achieve that framerate and it will go to a lower framerate, which looks awful.

Video is a surprisingly tricky thing. Video codecs are kind of amazing, when you get down to it. Using inter-frame compression, they’re able achieve huge levels of compression. But the tradeoff is that they’re very complex things, and complexity and reliability are usually enemies. And so it is with video standards; they are very complex things, which enables them to be implemented widely in both expensive and inexpensive devices, but the downside is that implementations vary and not all implementations work with each other. And what I’m finding is a common thing: it’s often best to go with the most popular solution because it will be best debugged. That’s not strictly true, though, because I still use guvcview to manipulate the camera’s settings. For example, I’ve turned off automatic focus because I stay in one place and this way the camera doesn’t try to re-focus if I lift my hands up.

Anyway, I’m also considering investing in a decent camcorder, like this. The solution I have works, but a camcorder produces much better video because it has a much larger lens and sensor. That means far less noise in the pixels. And it’s got thoroughly tested software on board to make sure that it never drops frames and that the audio and video are perfectly synced up. It also has a zoom mode which means I could set the camera up further away from me, which would make my face look more normal. Cameras close to their subjects distort faces because they exaggerate roundness. That’s why portrait artists often use 100mm lenses from 10-12 feet away. (100mm is about a 2x magnification, if you’re comparing it to binocular magnification.) It makes the face look more natural to have some distance between you and the face. The magnification is irrelevant except to get quality because in portraiture you want the face, not the background. It’s all about the change in angle between the surface and the camera sensor; the further away one is, the smaller the change in angularity.

But, while that’s not very expensive, it’s not cheap either, so I’m going to see if I can get decent results using my current setup, at least for a while.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 11, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the eleventh day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

Yesterday I put up a quick video I did about Occam’s Razor:

So far it got 105 views in the less than 24 hours it’s been up compared to 85 views for my quick review of Groucho Marx’s autobiography which has been up for almost four days.

This is something of a testament to the effect of making videos on subjects which people are interested in. I’ve heard that described by some popular youtubers as the viewers won’t let you make videos off of your main subject, which seems unfair to me. People have limited time and watch what they find interesting. I’m certainly no exception to that and I doubt that more popular youtubers are either. Not everyone finds everything interesting, and while certainly some people grow to trust a youtuber and watch whatever they make because that trust has been rewarded in the past, most subscribers subscribe because they like something that a youtuber does and want to see if he does more of that. Which strikes me as entirely reasonable.

But it also brings up the interesting and complicated question which Russell Newquist and I talked about as the chief one of the age in which distribution is nearly free: discoverability. If a youtuber makes videos about swords—a fairly popular subject—and one of his videos gets widely shared, that will result in him getting discovered by a fairly large number of people. This has compound effects because youtube makes recommendations for watching videos on the basis of how many people have watched a video before, so more watched videos tend to get more recommendations, and hence even more views. Good for server caching for fast playback, bad for unknown youtubers. Be that as it may, it does mean that a great deal of discovery for youtubers tends to be relatively narrow. It also poses a big problem for people just starting out: with no views on your videos, youtube (effectively) won’t recommend them, including ranking in search results.

What eventually got my videos views and hence my channel subscribers was when I met some people on Twitter with similar interests and more twitter followers, and who told their followers about my videos. Technically this can be called promotion, but it’s actually far more organic than that. I made friends based on shared interests, then made something which I thought my friends would find interesting and so I showed it to them, and because of the shared interests they told their twitter followers about it. That got me enough views to start getting youtube recommendations, and my channel has been growing since. As of this writing it has 217 subscribers, which is up by 54 subscribers over the last 30 days. (In the last few months I also did a few hangouts with other youtubers, which helped to gain me subscribers because there was enough overlap in what we did that some of their viewers checked it out and found my stuff interesting too.)

So this does illustrate the importance of sticking with things; every video, or every blog post, or every novel, or every whatever is a lottery ticket, and most win at least very small; but small adds up over time and a few big ones can really be significant since viewers and readers (etc) tend to stay. It also illustrates the benefit of making friends. And contrary to sleazy salesmen depicted in movies, the best thing about this is that friends helping each other is mostly in mutual interest. At least these days in the age of cheap distribution. Back when having a book printed required an investment of thousands of dollars in a book run then access to a distribution network that was very expensive to maintain, it was possible for someone to do you a big favor where they gave you a lot and didn’t get much in return commensurate with what they gave you. But for someone on twitter, telling their followers about something their followers will probably find interesting reinforces why the followers are following. After all, they’re following in order to come across interesting things. And there’s no point in them promoting something which their followers won’t find interesting, because their followers won’t click through and won’t stick around if they do; the result being that everyone’s interests line up.This sort of promotion is not asking for something like a free commercial from a TV network, it’s much closer to telling a friend about a book they’ll enjoy reading. Only you happen to be the author.

This requires honesty, of course, but the good news is that the incentives are lined up such that it only requires ordinary amounts of honesty and not heroic honesty. Compulsive liars will have problems, but by and large ordinary people with ordinary amounts of honesty and patience will only tell their friends about things their friends are likely to find interesting, and their friends are only likely to tell their followers/readers/whatever about things they will find interesting, and things will work out to everyone’s benefit. The only downside is that this requires time, but that’s not all that big a downside, when you think about it, because the alternative where stardom can happen in an instant is that it doesn’t last. Today’s hot model is replaced by next year’s hot model and forgotten about. And to some degree that works whether you’re talking about cars or people.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessing on January 10, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the tenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I apologize for not posting anything yesterday. A subject hadn’t recommended itself to me in the morning and then things got very hectic. On the plus side—at least if you watch my youtube channel—I interviewed Brian Niemeier last night. I hope to have it edited and published in the next few days. It was a very interesting conversation covering a variety of topics, but generally linked to writing. (Brian is a professional writer of fiction.)

In other news, The Daytime Renegade wrote an interesting blog post about what he calls people dressed in grey. That is, the sort of mandarin class America has saddled itself with where almost twenty years of schooling has taught the managerial class to be masters at conformity, if at little else. It’s an interesting take on a societal problem which I recommend reading, but there’s one part I wanted to comment on. He talks about how the sort of bad manager most of us have gotten used to are—however imperfect—at least familiar, and therefore after a fashion comfortable, and when given the opportunity for change most of us end up preferring the devil we know. Not being willing to go quietly into that good night, he says:

Maybe we should support those who want to shake things up, or at the very least think about said changes, before reflexively dismissing them. If we say we really want change and resent these non-entities, maybe we should act like it.

In the limited sense in which he means it, I believe he’s right. But in another sense, I’m not so sure. Americans all (or almost all) grow up with what I can only call a sense of potential greatness.  I don’t mean that there’s something special about us as Americans, but rather that we all have the sense that greatness is something actually achievable if only we work hard enough. That should be tempered with the caveat, “and if God smiles on our endeavors,” but, well, there’s a reason why we’re a nation in decline. Anyway, this is something at the back of why Americans do most of the things we do—whether we’re motivated by it or shamed by it and compensating, we have the sense that everyone should be aiming high.

And this sort of makes sense in a nation of immigrants because a nation of immigrants is self-selected from the general pool of humanity to be the especially ambitious ones. But something which befalls all self-selected societies is that however uniform the personalities of the people who self-selected into a group of like-minded individuals, their children will be representative of the variety of humanity. This is why the only narrow societies which last are those that are made up of people who have forsworn having children and live within a larger society where they can recruit similarly unusual people to join their ranks. Basically, monastics. (The shakers made a go of living in what can be thought of as co-ed monasteries, but for the most part men and women find that if they’re not going to be having children, the opposite sex is far more trouble than it’s worth. If you are going to be having trouble, then of course the opposite sex is indispensable not just for the engendering of children but the raising of them into healthy adults. It’s all a matter of figuring out which cross is yours to carry and carrying it rather than someone else’s. Like Simon of Cyrene, sometimes you must carry someone else’s cross for a bit, but that’s a temporary thing, and temporary things work very differently than life-long ones.)

So while we were a nation of immigrants and frontiersmen, this idea of greatness was a fairly viable one, even if it was typically more theory than practice. Though considering it more theory than practice may under-estimate the difficulty of raising a family where the children are better-off than their parents; in any event it is not the norm for children to be better off than their parents; in a sense it’s even somewhat unnatural. The nature of begetting is to make something like yourself; and in this sense it is most natural for children to be neither better nor worse off than their parents, but like their parents. However that goes, it is not statistically normal for children to be better off than their parents, except in the sense of having a universally rising standard of living by dint of technological improvement.

And here’s where we come to the Daytime Renegade’s point: if we can’t make things much better, it is often a better bet to try to keep them the same. It’s all too easy to slip up and make things worse; and so I think that many people would prefer the bosses dressed in grey because they seem a good bet for stability. It may well be that those of us who want to pursue the dreams of greatness that being an American makes unavoidable (the dreams, not the pursuing) is for us to form small enclaves within society from which we recruit other like-minded people. It’s a good argument in favor of small companies because exceptions must always be small.

As a sort of post-script, I should add that I don’t mean that the bosses dressed in grey in fact are our best bet for stability. As Chesterton said:

We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 6, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the sixth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation, 2017.

There’s a fair amount of unhappiness in youtube-land for reasons relating to people not seeing videos from channels to which they are subscribed. There seem to be two main causes, the first being that youtube doesn’t actually notify you about new videos from channels unless you go to the channel page and click a button to specifically indicate you want to be notified of all of the channel’s videos. As Skallagrim said, I’d have thought that’s what subscribing does, but what do I know. The other issue is that from time to time people discover that they’ve been unsubscribed from channels and have to re-subscribe.

The first one makes a certain amount of sense as being consonant with YouTube’s interests. It is certainly the case that for many of the people I subscribe to I only watch some of their videos; this is especially true of people who put out several videos a week. I imagine it’s generally true; certainly for people with more than tiny subscription rates the number of views on an average video seems to be somewhere between a tenth and a quarter of their subscriber number. (For videos that are a few days old, which is what notifications are for. Obviously the view numbers keep going up, but in the main not by subscribers being notified.) This wouldn’t be a problem except that the normal human reaction to being notified of things we’re not interested in is that we rapidly stop paying attention. This is why advertising has so little (direct) effect. I can understand why YouTube, who wants people to watch as many YouTube videos as possible, would want to adjust how often they show people notifications of new videos, ideally keeping it only to the new videos they think the subscriber will actually watch. I suspect the optimal hit rate for notifications is somewhere between 60% and 80%. High enough that the notifications are always worth checking out, but taking enough chances that not everything works. So while this is certainly counter-intuitive from a subscriber’s point of view, it does make a certain amount of sense from YouTube’s.

The other issue, though, is very strange. I’ve heard it explained that YouTube wants to get rid of a subscription model and move to a pure recommendation-based system. I haven’t seen the evidence for this, though, and there’s at least some counter-evidence. For one thing, they really encourage content creators (I loathe that term, but it’s the one that’s used) to try to get subscribers. They outright tell you in the first lessons that subscribers are very valuable because they tend to watch to the end, and that the best way to get more subscribers is to couple an on-screen request to subscribe with a verbal request to subscribe. Furthermore, they make resources available to content creators in several tiers, with the bottom tier (which is just a web interface) being available to everyone, and the higher tiers—which include perks like the ability to book studio time at YouTube studios—being available on the basis of the number of subscribers to the channel. Now, in big companies sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what he right hand is doing, and the foot may not even know that there is a right hand, etc. But still, this is certainly counter-evidence to the idea that YouTube wants to get rid of subscriptions entirely. They could just as easily have based the perk-tiers on the number of views last month or the number of minute watched last month. So while I have heard this idea from sources I’m not inclined to dismiss—and as a programmer I have no idea how one would have a bug that unsubscribes people from channels unless the code is very bad—I’m still skeptical and would like to see better evidence that it’s true. Like many things, it will be very interesting to see, a few months from now, what happened over the last few months. News is inherently unreliable, but once dust has had a chance to settle things are usually clearer.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessing on January 5, 2017

God’s blessing to you on this the fifth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I’ve been watching a bunch of Camille and Kennerly’s videos. Well, mostly listening, but occasionally watching. Here’s one:

I find it interesting that unlike a lot of twins, they don’t seem to feel a need to distinguish themselves. It’s possible that this is just a show-business gimmick and that in daily life they always make sure to wear their hair differently, or wear differently colored clothes, or something like that. But in the videos they make no effort whatever to indicate which one is Camille and which one is Kennerly. According to the wikipedia page on them (which calls them the Kitt sisters), they seem to collaborate a lot. For example, they both did Tae Kwon Do together (until they gave it up to focus on the harp).  Apparently they’re both third degree black belts, which suggests that they’re fairly confident, or what will suffice, goal-oriented. It’s curious to speculate that might be why they don’t overly feel the need to differentiate themselves from the other. People with a sense of self don’t usually need to make sure others feel it. Anyway, I’ve got no conclusions about this; obviously I don’t actually know anything about them. I just find it interesting. (Fun fact: I have a friend who has an identical twin brother. At each one’s wedding the other wore a button saying, “Not The Groom”.)

Camille and Kennerly are fond of filming their videos in ruins, which are generally very pretty. Role playing games are very often set in ruins too, though for somewhat different reasons. RPGs need unrealistic arcs for characters to gain power (both heroes and villains, actually). Or more properly, they need unusual ways for characters to gain power. If there was a shop where for a day’s wages you could buy magically unbreakable swords of sharpness which could cleave through stone in a single blow, those swords would be an utterly unremarkable part of the world. Our modern steel knives are really quite amazing by the standards of the bronze age, but we can buy them for a few dollars at the store and no one writes a story where the hook is that someone has a tempered, high-carbon steel knife. Of course high carbon steel knives still can’t easily cut through stone, so it’s not the same thing, but on the flip side whatever can make a sword unbreakable can make armor unbreakable too. So there must be an explanation for why the heroes weapons and armor are rare. It being created by a great sorcerer is a popular enough explanation, but it’s usually a good idea to make the great sorcerers rare or some explanation must be given for why they aren’t the hero. After all, if they can create the hero’s weapon, they can probably kick the hero’s butt, and consequently the butt of whomever the hero has to kick in order to be the hero. A very practical solution to this problem is for the sorcerer to be dead. And not just technically dead, like a lich, but actually dead, as in, doing as much magic these days as the average door nail.

Plus this means that the hero gets to explore ruins to find his weapons of barely stoppable power (if they were unstoppable, where would the excitement be? and if they were very stoppable, why bother getting them?). And ruins are interesting because they’re so very suggestive. People lived in ruins, once. In fact, much of what makes ruins to interesting is that there were people who took them for granted. It’s a curious pseudo-paradox, but what makes most old things interesting is that long-dead people didn’t find them interesting. This is distinct from something like a monument, which, in general, we find interesting for the same reason that the people who erected it found it interesting, and so we don’t tend to appreciate it for being old nearly as much as we do with antiques. (The Statue of Liberty is impressive because it is large and detailed; we may appreciate the craftsmanship, but not generally the millions of tourists who came before us and appreciated the craftsmanship too.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings on January 4, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fourth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation, 2017.

First, if you’ve ever heard of Prince Rupert’s Drops, this video is awesome:

Second, yesterday and the day before, I talked about character growth. To continue with that idea, I think that the most interesting character arcs to see in adult characters is character revelation, not character growth. That is, we don’t want the character himself to change, we want circumstances to reveal what his character actually is. There are two ways this can happen; one is through action and the other through conversation.

Action is fairly straightforward. Talk is cheap, and many virtues are simply never tried by real life. Thus it is interesting to see circumstances where a character is put in a situation which requires a virtue and he has it. Far more interesting, though, is when a character is put in a situation which requires a balance of virtues, and he has them in a reasonable balance. Merely showing one virtue is what results in flat characters. Thus the hero needs to be brave, and is, and no one much cares. Well, outside of fiction for children. They’re thrilled by simple things, as Chesterton noted. But unfortunately the reaction to adults finding this uninteresting has been to try to make it interesting by having the adult fail at the virtue. Usually not completely, or rather not consistently; it seems like about half the time the hero who failed at first gets a second try and succeeds then. Yay. The other half the time, he fails but the writer is with him and circumstances make him magically succeed anyway. Yay. Of course part of what I don’t like is that these approaches have been done to death, but what I dislike far more is that they all involve the hero failing through a lack of virtue. Moral virtue, I mean. 80s action movies consisted almost entirely of heroes who failed through lack of natural virtue but who then acquired natural virtue. Usually the ability to punch quickly, hard, and in the correct spot. The Karate Kid is perhaps one of the best examples of this, where Daniel gets beaten up, then trains at Karate and manages to win. Though of course there is that kid part. Mr. Miagi is revealed over time, but he doesn’t really grow; it is his having already grown which is what allows Daniel to grow.

In terms of adults acquiring natural virtue, that is in part what the Christopher Nolan movie Batman Begins is about. Of course it does—sort of—have moral growth on the part of Bruce Wane too, but most of that is in the first few minutes. Mostly Bruce Wayne knows that he wants to use his wealth to defeat crime, but he lacks the ability to do so and his transformation is gaining that ability. The Batman comic series which came after Knightfall—oh, right, Knightquest—is about Batman, his spine having been broken by Bane, going on a quest to regain his ability to walk. He isn’t acquiring moral virtue, he’s acquiring physical virtue. Virtually every episode of Macguyver was about Macguyver acquiring the power necessary to defeat the villains through knowledge, ingenuity, and courage.

The problem with requiring only one virtue of the hero is that a single virtue isn’t all that hard. Don’t get me wrong—in real life many people fail to be virtuous in situations which require only a single virtue. But that’s between them and God. There’s no intellectual problem to be solved, and therefore nothing to interest anyone who isn’t that person or God. The thing that’s really interesting is when virtues must be balanced against each other. When courage must be balanced against compassion, or compassion against justice, or truth against justice; these are always interesting stories, though they often have disappointing endings if the writers are not wise. That’s the problem with writing really good stories: only good men can do it. There’s an interesting section in the, I think second, preface to The Screwtape Letters, where C.S. Lewis says that the Letters are only half of the book, the other half being the letters from an archangel to the guardian angel of Wormwood’s “patient”. But, Lewis said, he couldn’t possibly write them. The letters of a fallen creature like a devil can admit of faults, but the letters of a perfect creature would have to be faultless, and even if they contained no errors, the beauty of their style would be as integral to their perfect as would the wisdom of the words. A fallen man can reasonably presume put words into the mouth of a devil, but not into the mouth of an angel. (One reason there’s never been a successful novel with Jesus as a character.)

Telling the tale of a good but fallen man is accessible to other fallen men, but while you can fake virtue, you cannot fake knowledge. What is the right balance between two virtues which both have a legitimate claim requires quite a bit of that knowledge we call wisdom. There’s really no way around this, and I don’t think that the right solution is for fools to use crutches like making the hero vicious; I think the right solution is for writers to do their damndest to become wise. It will have more benefits besides making their writing better.

And before I go, here’s Camille and Kennerly playing Pahcabel’s Canon in D:

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessing on January 2, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the second day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

I watched part of an interesting discussion of why other people than the lady making the video liked the movie Rogue One:

There was a point she came back to several times which I found interesting: that the characters had no arc. I don’t know whether she has a rule that all good fiction has character arcs where the characters grow and develop; certainly that would rule out short fiction which usually is about revealing interesting things about a character, not about developing that character in the sense of the character themselves changing. (And, as a side note, I generally contend that in structure movies are far more like short stories than they are like novels, but that’s a conversation for another day.) There’s also the possibility that her problem with Rogue One was something else—such as boring characters with no personalities—and she is merely describing that as them not having an arc. I’ve read the advice from more than one screenwriter that feedback from non-writers tends to be correct about where the problems are and wrong about what the solutions are. This is, I think, a more general issue that people who are complaining about something will often reach for the most ready description to hand which might fit even a little bit, rather than give a truly accurate complaint. It results in a lot of complaints which at the same time—but in different senses—are correct, but also wrong. This is especially true whenever anyone’s real complaint is that another person’s displaying of a group identity which isn’t shared made the speaker feel out-group, and their complaint is either that or the person in question didn’t do enough to make them feel in-group anyway. Such complaints are almost never of that form, I think in part because people would feel childish saying, “I felt excluded because there are things we don’t have in common.” Unfortunately there’s no way to say that which isn’t childish because it is a childish feeling. Best to control one’s feelings (or rather, how much one pays attention to them and how one acts or doesn’t based on them), but at the very least accurately describing problems would be a step forward. But alas we live in a very fallen world and so such feelings are usually placed on the other person (“she’s trying too hard”, “she doesn’t care about her appearance”, “no one needs an 80# bow”, etc.) in order to preserve the dignity of the person acting in an undignified manner.

Anyway, if we assume for the moment that what might be imprecise passing comments describing a feeling are in fact carefully thought out critiques of story construction, Ms. Nicholson’s comments bring up an interesting question about whether and to what degree we really want the characters in a story to change (or “grow,” which usually means, “become morally better”). Certainly we don’t want all of the characters to change. This is especially the case in one of my favorite genres—detective fiction. I want the detective unraveling the mystery, not personally growing. If he still has significant amounts of growth to do, he shouldn’t be the detective at all. The same is true of wise old men. I want them to be wise and old, not learning and growing. Some people in life should be growing, and ideally they should be young. Others should have already grown. Star Wars wouldn’t have been half as good if Obi Wan had lots of room for character growth. If he had, there would have been no one to make Han Solo and Luke grow up. I don’t know whether stories need characters who are effectively—if not chronologically—children in them, but they certainly need some adults in them, or the children in them have no way of growing.

This only scratches the surface of the topic, which I will certainly revisit later as time permits.

Glory to God in the highest.

God’s Blessings To You on January 1, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the first day of January, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.

For those of you who celebrate it, happy new year. Last night my wife and I played Oregon Trail: The Card Game. I loved the game I played as a child on Apple II computers in school. This was nothing like that, except that a few words were similar. The tagline on the box is “you died of dysentery,” which probably should have been a warning. The game consists of very little except getting calamity cards and trying to not die, which one often fails at. It’s a bit like starting out with a banker’s health and a farmer’s wealth, and being extraordinarily unlucky. If you possibly can, I recommend you avoid this game. We didn’t even have much fun complaining about it once it was clear that the game was no fun. The original game, by contrast, was a lot of fun. I don’t know how well it would hold up these days, and I can’t help but wonder if there might be a remake where the hunting scenes are 3D rendered first-person shooters. One can hope, anyway.

Russell Newquist’s Lyonesse project was funded, which was very cool to see. I hope it does well, because it would be wonderful for there to be a viable market in short fiction.

Since it’s the season for it, I hope you have a wonderful year in 2017.

Glory to God in the highest.

Good Morning December 29, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty ninth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

Yesterday, I wrote about a post by Brian Niemeier. He stopped by and left a comment I found very interesting, so I’m copying it here:

Hi, Chris. I can certainly empathize with your problem.

Here’s a piece of advice from a friend who is far more financially astute than me: If you don’t have money, you can substitute time.

That advice dovetails nicely with a second key principle of indie publishing that I didn’t have space for in the OP, which is learn to do as much as you can by yourself. If you can do an hour of online research per day, take a community college night class, or attend a web seminar on cover art, formatting, or web design, you’ll gain skills that will slash your overall publishing costs.

And even if you don’t have extra time for learning new skills, producing professional quality books doesn’t have to be expensive. On average, each of my books cost me around $650 total to make and get to market. Building good professional relationships is key.

God bless,

In other news, I read this post by Russell Newquist. (If you missed my interview of him, here it is.) It’s in response to this post by Daytime Renegade, which was pondering the purpose of his blog. These posts bring up two things to me, which to some degree are variants on what Russell said. The first is about traffic growth. This blog has yet to gain much traction, or at least in ways that I know about. I’m not sure how much wordpress’s page view metrics capture people who read my posts in the wordpress news feed (supposedly 30 people are subscribed to my blog) and in RSS readers like newsblur. It might or might not, I just don’t know. My youtube channel certainly has gained more. As of the writing of this post I’m up to 182 subscribers, and there the subscriber count certainly followed something like an exponential growth pattern. (The mathematician in me really wants to point out that 1.000001n is exponential, but very close to linear.) But certainly it’s the case that since youtube recommends things based on view counts and just what people happen to watch, small numbers of views result in small numbers of recommendations. As one gets more views, one gets more recommendations, and hence more views. And thus more subscribers. But even without youtube’s recommendation engine, the same thing happens by way of more normal recommendations. In blogs this is shares on social media as well as other blogs linking to and talking about blog posts. Few readers generate few links and shares, but more generate more. The exponential growth curve is (more or less) inherent to the platform. It’s not merely how things work, it is (absent advertising) how things have to work. As Russell and I talked about in our interview, with production costs approaching zero, the key problem of our age is discoverability. And it is discoverability which produces this sort of growth curve. Patience may be the most practical of the virtues.

The other thing which I thought about was the subject of uniqueness, as Russell put it, or being an expert, as Daytime Renegade put it. Russell is right that originality is overrated. Russell gives this example:

You feel like none of your thoughts are new – but this is precisely because of all the time you spend reading: reading books, reading news, reading other blogs. You make the mistake of assuming that your readership is already familiar with all of the ideas you’re familiar with, because of course everyone else has read all the stuff you read. Doesn’t everybody?

In a word, no. Even other highly intelligent, highly educated people haven’t read everything you have. They can’t. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs on the Internet today. Roughly 1,000 new books are published every day on Amazon, with roughly five million already available in their Kindle catalog. Nobody can possibly read all of that, even if they’re independently wealthy and all they ever do is read.

That is, he gives the example of having read something that many if not most of your readers haven’t, so passing it on is giving them something that they could have gotten elsewhere, but didn’t. That is valuable, but there’s another reason that originality is overrated: in a somewhat different sense, originality is guaranteed. God is simple, but creation is complex. Every being in creation reflects some unique aspect of the goodness of God, and moreover created things work together to synergistically reflect some aspect of the goodness of God which they can’t reflect on their own. (This is related to how composite beings are real, which hyper-reductionism misses.) And rational creatures such as ourselves are each given the ability to appreciate some aspects of the goodness of God. I like archery and another man likes roller coasters; we each some some aspect of the goodness of God reflected by these created things which the other does not see. To some degree we can share these things—especially by describing the wonder of them through language. But also we can teach each other how to see these things. And here is where the guaranteed uniqueness comes from. Because each of us sees some different aspects of the goodness of God, whenever we describe anything to others, we do not describe it in precisely the same way. What is important, what is not; what we emphasize and what we don’t; what connections we make and what analogies we use—all these things may be similar, but will not the same, as what everyone else does when describing the same insight or truth. And equally true, not all readers will find all choices, emphasis, connections, and analogies intelligible; it depends on what they have been given to see. So having the same truth explained in many slightly different ways can really be of value to many people; as they find the people who explain truths in ways they find easy to understand, things they have have encountered before become intelligible. For all people, it’s quite possible that there are more than a few people who can’t learn from a smarter blogger than you just because what that blogger can give and what these people can receive are not compatible.

This is getting absurdly long so I’m going to cut it short, but one of the big themes of creation is that of delegation. When we feed a hungry person, we become God’s gift of food to that person. When two parents create a child, they become God’s act of creation of that child. In this way, by delegating his power to us, God incorporates us into himself. (This makes the incarnation, and the ancient Christian saying that God became man so that man could become God especially relevant, I think.) But it seems that within creation there is a great deal of delegation too. It’s easy to see in professions where people make tools for others to use, and so we share in each other, but this is specially relevant in intellectual matters. Geniuses can rarely explain things well except to very intelligent people, and very intelligent people can rarely explain things well except to intelligent people, and so on. There is variation, of course, and teaching is a learned skill, etc. But for those who think that they have nothing to contribute, it is no small matter to take the work of someone greater and make it intelligible to someone lesser. We all have our place within the hierarchy of being, and the greats often need the merely highly intelligent in order to have any impact at all. Socrates may have been the wisest man who lived, but his wisdom would not have helped nearly so many people were it not for an army of teachers who followed after him to explain his wisdom to people who couldn’t get it directly from his words.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 28, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty eighth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I read an interesting blog post by Brian Niemeier on the subject of how an indie author pays for all of the work he does while wearing his publisher hat. I think this accurately sumarizes his conclusion:

Never give anyone a percentage of the royalties for one-time work on a self-published project.

So far I’ve followed that myself, though Brian (being a much more popular author) comes at it from a very different angle than I do. He discusses at length why giving away a large part of what you own—let’s face it, as important as the cover, editing, etc. are, without the book they’d be nothing—is a really bad idea financially. And let’s face it, authors do not typically have a smooth, even, reliable income stream in the way that, say, university professors do. And to be clear, it’s obvious in his post that he’s talking about paying a fair one-time price for a person’s work, such that they’ve been well compensated for the value of the time they put in.

But I’ve got the opposite problem. My royalties don’t amount to much, yet—I’m still only in year 3 of my 20 year plan—and until one starts to make real money from books there’s absolutely no guarantee that one ever will. (So far sales have paid for one cover and part of the second cover.) Especially in my case where I’ve never been the stuff of which popularity is made. So I’ve got a strong preference for paying a one-time fee for work such as cover art and copy-editing (I haven’t been able to afford to pay for full editing yet), because this ensures that the person I’m dealing with has been paid fairly for their time. I’m not asking anyone else to share in my risk.

God bless you.

Good Evening December 27, 2016

Good evening on this the twenty seventh day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I’m sorry I missed the last few days. Things have been really crazy. On the plus side, I did the interview with Russell Newquist:

It was a great conversation, and while it did digress a few times—all conversations which involve me as a participant digress, it seems to be an iron law of conversation—I think it hit on a number of interesting subjects and I found Russell’s perspective quite interesting.

I also suspect he’s right that advertising as a business model is probably going to be increasingly non-viable to support writing, and that with distribution coming ever closer to being free, the big problem that we’re going to have to solve is discoverability.

Good Evening December 22, 2016

Good evening on this the twenty second year of December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

So I got the idea to interview some of the authors that I know on my youtube channel. Specifically I’ve lined up Russell Newquist and Brian Niemeier. Both men are Catholic, and thoughtful, so I think there’s some rich ground to explore. One of the great things about the Catholic faith is that it is universal in the sense of being for all sorts of men, not for being a cookie-cutter that can make all men alike. That is, I think, the ideal for conversation: enough in common real subjects can be talked about; enough different that different ideas can be exchanged.

Actually, I should mention that Russell is also an indie publisher with a nascent publishing house in addition to being an author. His publishing house is called Silver Empire, and  they’ve got a project in the works called Lyonesse. It’s a way Russell has conceived of making short stories economically viable in the modern age (with magazines having gone the way of the horse drawn carriage. Incidentally, I actually was driving behind a horse drawn carriage two nights ago, for a minute or two, before it turned off the main road. (I think it was some kind of Christmas gimmick.)

I think that we’ll have interesting discussions, but of course one motivation for Russell and Brian is that doing these interviews functions as publicity. But my channel isn’t very big. Right now it’s only got about 170 subscribers. But publicity doesn’t need to be all that big; there is of course the issue that it’s not about how many people you reach but how many of the right people you reach. (By “the right people” I mean people who want to buy what you’re selling.) But for things to reach a large audience without you having to pay for it with money, you have to pay for it with something, and generally that something is interesting content. And that’s where doing an interview on a small-time youtube channel can be worth it. I don’t have many viewers (compared to what you need for selling enough books to make a living at it), but if the interview is interesting, Russell and Brian have friends with larger audiences who will spread the word about the interview. This is related to a mistake that self-published authors sometimes make. Your friends are not your market; they’re your marketing. At least if you write a book that they can be proud of. If you write something they would be embarrassed about, that’s a different matter. But if you do that, you’ve probably got bigger problems on your hand.

Anyway, it’s part of a nice situation where things are mutually beneficial, at least as long as I do a good job interviewing them. 🙂

God bless you.

Good Morning December 21, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty first day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I ran into this description of knowledge on twitter:

Which, in case twitter ever goes away, said, in reponse to my saying that you can tell which actions are good and which evil, “by all the normal methods of discovering how the world works”:

You mean my senses filtering information to my brain, which reasons and makes choices based on past experience?

Unless I’m badly misreading the guy, he’s gone full Hume. As the saying goes, never go full Hume. Oddly, he’s also one of the people who argued with me about alinguism. If knowledge is “knowledge” by which we mean anticipation of future sense experience by way of past associations of sense experience (that’s not Hume’s definition word-for-word, but it’s close enough), then “language” would indeed not mean anything. To some degree this is just a testimony of how little atheists think about what they or anyone else says.

I think that I may do a video on alinguism, issuing a challenge to atheists to provide evidence of language to me. If I do, I’ll have a section where I anticipate the most common “evidence” of “language” so I can get those out of the way. I may even have a section at the end where I give the game away and explain that the problem is that atheists fall back on hyper-reductionism, where no composite entities are real; only the indivisible elements out of which they are made is real, and since language is not an indivisible element, this hyper-reductionism doesn’t permit believing in language. What makes this work is that composite entities have a different mode of being than indivisible entities, and consequently a different sort of reality. Because these different sorts of reality can be distinguished, one can be denied while the other is affirmed. This is appalling nonsense, of course, since as human beings they are composite entities and to deny the reality of composite entities is to deny their own reality. And yet they continue to exist.

Oh well. Atheists will frequently say that their believing in morality while being an atheist proves that morality is in no way dependent on God. I have no idea what to do with a person who is not in the habit of thinking about what he himself says. Fortunately, we can pray for him.

God bless you.

Good Evening December 20, 2016

Good evening on this the twentieth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I don’t have much because today my oldest son was recovering from a minor outpatient surgery he had yesterday. It went well, and he’s doing quite well—up and active—but he gets upset very easily in an atypical way that suggests that all is not normal. Which I wouldn’t expect it to be, it’s just in the category of appearances can be deceiving since he seems to be doing so well.

Yesterday on twitter I declared myself an alinguist. That is, someone who lacks a belief that language exists. Words exist, of course, but they’re brute facts and “language” is just a fiction that bronze-age people used to explain words. And since I don’t believe in language but communicate just fine, communicating with words is obviously not evidence of language. But if anyone has such evidence, I’d be glad to hear it. After which I will summarily dismiss it as not evidence, of course, since there cannot be evidence that language exists, but being willing to listen marks me out as being very virtuous. And just to make things clear, linguists don’t believe in Klingon or Sindarin, I just don’t believe in their language either.

And so forth. Sometimes one needs the emotional release afforded by parody. It’s not like any atheists will actually get it, of course, but on the other hand you never know when you’ve tilled the ground so that someone else can plant the seed that will one day turn into the tree that will bear fruit. And the inspiring incident was some twitter atheists showing up out of nowhere and saying stupid things at me with all the self-assurance that goes along with an impressive incompetence at the basics of logical thinking. Which is not in itself a justification for making fun of them, but on the other hand making fun of them may be a bitter medicine which helps them. Some of them are so bad at thinking that the only response which seems at all honest is to point out that they’re far too bad at thinking to be attempting thinking on serious issues, and should go back to the beginning. That sounds harsh, but where it’s true—and the people I’m talking about are incompetent at secular thinking, not just thinking on religious matters—anything else would be doing them the disservice of allowing their false notion of competence to go unchecked. Such people won’t learn from me, of course—I often recommend courses in logic at local community colleges for that reason—but they weren’t going to do that anyway. If a man has a clear compound fracture in his leg, but for some reason challenges you to a 5k, the thing to do is not to politely humor him and slow up so he’s not too far behind. The thing to do is your best to get him to a hospital. Now imagine if both his legs had multiple compound fractures, and there was a gaping wound in his left arm, and you saw him struggling mightily to lift a gun to his head because (due to loss of blood) he thought it was a fly swatter. Now just replace all those things which the epistemological beliefs of the average twitatheist, and you’ve got an idea how badly off these people are. Sportsmanship is for healthy people. Who are playing sports.

God bless you.