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Your host, PM 'Papa' Carpenter


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November 30, 2017


The first thing I read this morning was this. The second thing I read this morning was a piece at Vox on the eruption of a volcano in Bali. Included in that piece was a Pathe news reel of a similar deadly eruption back in 1963 where the news reader on the reel rather contemptuously remarked that hundreds died in that eruption because they chose to kneel in prayer to their Gods rather than flee. Human nature never really changes much does it?

The solution to volcanic eruptions is more tax cuts. Didn't you get the memo?

On a completely unrelated note, I've been re-reading Philip Hitti's classic "History of the Arabs," and I've found what has to be one of my all-time favorite sentences in historiography:

"Though using in most instances a Latin translation of a Hebrew rendition of an Arabic commentary upon an Arabic translation of a Syriac translation of a Greek original, the minds of the Christian schoolmen and scholars of medieval Europe were agitated by ibn-Rushd's Aristotle as by no other author."

Thus was the Renaissance born, as Greek originals, mostly lost to time, found their way back to Europe by the hands of Arab scholars.

Could someone please correct me if I'm wrong about recent American history? Weren't trillions of dollars in welfare handouts to the wealthy passed during the first term of Bush the Lesser? And didn't republicans who were still in control of everything in 2005 try to put social security on the chopping block with their privatization scheme? And it failed spectacularly? I know we are in uncharted territory these days but if this abomination succeeds, is there at least some small measure of hope we will survive it?

And why were these Greek originals mostly lost to time? I would think that the burning of the library in Alexandria in 390 A.D. was a big part of that.

Then, as now, there was a strain of anti-intellectualism fed by the "religious right" of its day; the Catholic church and its zealous popes.

They have a motto. If at first you don't fail the American people, try try again.

On a not completely unrelated note, I had an insight when listening to a podcast on the ideas of F. Nietzsche.

Nietzsche formulated the idea of "master morality", based on hierarchy and power, and "slave morality", based on love and egalitarianism. Nietzsche came down quite definitely on the side of "master morality", making him Hitler's favorite philosopher.

Anyway, the part of the podcast that hit me was the statement that in the "master morality", there are two sets of moral rules; one for the master class and another for the "slave class". The master class is not obligated to abide by a set of moral rules which apply to everybody.

The Republicans, whether directly or indirectly, have imbibed this philosophy. Their tax legislation takes from the poor and gives to the rich, because they can, and because they proudly believe that a different set of moral rules applies to them. They owe Nietzsche a debt of thanks for giving their natural proclivities a veneer of justification.

Sadly, how much they fail the American people is how they measure their own success.

HAHA. Thanks, so much. Wonderful. Way beyond the legendary comment by a Manchester Guardian critic about TV:
"Television...The word is half Greek, half Latin. No good will come of it."

Thank you for the Nietzsche education. I read one of his books once and didn't understand any of it. Yes, I read it in English. The problem seems to be that so many in the slave class agree with this philosophy and that helps the master class get away with so much evil.

Pro tip: Only unrepentant nerds have "all-time favorite sentences in historiography." Mea culpa.

For all of that, little was lost in translation. I always thought that nearly miraculous and a credit to scholars throughout the ages. For this we owe a huge debt to one man, William of Moerbeke. It was his direct translations in Byzantium of preserved Greek texts straight to Latin that showed all those other translators got it mostly right. The irony to me is that while this ignited the Renaissance and practically turned Aristotle into a god, Aristotle was mostly wrong about everything. No Ari, the speed at which things fall is not proportionate to their weight.

You'll notice that no one is correcting you.

This really rings true to me, Tony. That the "master class" believe that "a different set of moral rules applies to them." This philosophy is evident throughout history and prevails today. Just look at congress members who enjoy the best health plans while turning their backs on most Americans.

And as Anne posits, the very people who stand to lose the most are ignorant as to how they often enable their own lower status in life.

Having said the above, I don't actually know exactly what members get in terms of health coverage. Rather I admit that I'm repeating what I have heard and read. Is this true that their health coverage is far and above what most people can reasonably obtain?

We should not expect Aristotle to have been a proper physicist.

I confess to a liking of his theory of the Golden Mean. You can also find the same ideas in the Buddha's doctrine of the 'middle way'

I also think that his ideas about teleology are not to be dismissed out of hand in all cases.

To be fair, most of the more obnoxious interpretations of Nietzsche's works are not entirely his fault. It is not as if he ever said that if a serial killer found that metier life-affirming, which was his main theme, then they should keep on slaying. I always though he got about half way there. Okay, so you want to liberate humanity, or at least permit them to question existing received morality then you ought to offer the alternative.

No but I would have expected him to notice the obvious. Sure he didn't have a vacuum tower to observe that a feather and a ten pound weight fall at the same rate. But he sure as hell could see there is no detectable difference between the rate at which a hundred pound weight and a ten pound weight fall to the ground. My chief beef with Aristotle is his rather foolish belief that the universe should operate in accord with how he thinks it should behave rather than how it actually does. Experiment played no part in his philosophy.
To his credit his works ignited thinking about how the universe around us works. But when it became simply dogma it held things up quite a bit. The Greeks came within a hairbreadth of realizing the fundamental idea underlying Calculus, convergence in the limit. Philosophy screwed that up.

Good question. I thought that Congresspeople were covered under Obamacare, but got the high end plans. And keep getting them after they leave Congress. I will investigate this.

You are right that "master class" ideas permeate history. Think of British royalty, Eastern European feudalism, American slavery. These examples were hampered by needing to pay lip service to Christian values of love and egalitarianism. Nietzsche made "master class" ideas intellectually acceptable so that their members could actually revel in their privilege and cruelty without pangs of conscience. And do so today.

At least some of the self-defeating ignorance of the lower classes comes about because of the lack of opportunity imposed on them by "master morality". Or so I believe.

I found this article:

My summary: Congresspeople are required to get healthcare coverage through Obamacare. If they get a gold plan (only) they are reimbursed 72% of the cost by the government. This seems to me a good deal for them because their income levels would make them otherwise ineligible for subsidies.

They also have free outpatient services in military hospitals. When they retire, they get insurance through government employee plans (paid 72% by the government), thus do not need to worry about the effects of Obamacare repeal.

One of the things we ought to guard against is judging people by how much we now know. And as Newton said, "if I have seen farther than others, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

I give Aristotle a pass on falling objects. Things fall so fast that one could easily miss the fact that it doesn't depend on weight. And experiment was foreign to Aristotle, as well as other Greeks (Archimedes may have been an exception). At least, in his biological observations, Aristotle established empirical observation as preferable to first-principle reasoning.

I should like to meet the mind behind this:

There were probably several episodes of the library of Alexandria burning, starting with Julius Caesar in 49 BCE, then another in about 270 AD, and the 391 burning, which wasn't the main library, but an annex. One of the first two was probably the one most destructive to original Greek texts, but by then many had already been copied for other libraries. The Romans clearly had copies, but most of those were probably lost in 410 during the sack of Rome, and the further barbarian invasions did damage all over the western empire. Perhaps what was left in Alexandria was burned by the invading Arabs during their initial expansion into north Africa. You would also need to consider the destruction of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204, and that of Baghdad caused by the Mongols in the 1258s. So there's a lot of blame to go around. Considering all of this, it's really a miracle any of it was preserved, and we mostly have Islamic scholars to thank for it.

I did not know about this mechanism. Thanks for informing me about it. I suspect Archimedes or some of his students. Hipparchus probably had the mind to conceive of this, too, but maybe not the mechanical ability to build it. But then, what do I know, being merely a 21st century inheritor of past scientific tradition?

Thanks for finding the article and for the summary, Tony. I'll have a chance to read it later but it's interesting that the rest of the citizenry gets the subsidies only at the silver level, which is one lower level from the gold level that congress gets. And of course ordinary folks only get the subsidies if their income is low enough. So, not even having read the article yet, I'd say it's true that they are getting something better than everyone else.

Yes, this is a fascinating story. Thanks for explaining it to me.

In fairness to the Congress, they get benefits comparable to other people working for large companies. It is not uncommon for employers to offer health plans which are reimbursed by the company at the 70 - 80% level. What is unusual is that, unlike workplace insurance plans, Congressmen are mandated to use plans on an Obamacare exchange (I believe that was initially a Republican amendment which was an attempt to keep a few Democrats from voting for Obamacare. It didn't work.)

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