Shaw on Physical Hardihood and Spiritual Cowardice

“If there are dangerous precipices about, it is much easier and cheaper to forbid people to walk near the edge than to put up an effective fence: that is why both legislators and parents and the paid deputies of parents are always inhibiting and prohibiting and punishing and scolding and laming and cramping and delaying progress and growth instead of making the dangerous places as safe as possible and then boldly taking and allowing others to take the irreducible minimum of risk.

“It is easier to convert most people to the need for allowing their children to run physical risks than moral ones. I can remember a relative of mine who, when I was a small child, unused to horses and very much afraid of them, insisted on putting me on a rather rumbustious pony with little spurs on my heels (knowing that in my agitation I would use them unconsciously), and being enormously amused at my terrors. Yet when that same lady discovered that I had found a copy of The Arabian Nights and was devouring it with avidity, she was horrified, and hid it away from me lest it should break my soul as the pony might have broken my neck. This way of producing hardy bodies and timid souls is so common in country houses that you may spend hours in them listening to stories of broken collar bones, broken backs, and broken necks without coming upon a single spiritual adventure or daring thought.”

A Treatise on Parents and CHildren

It’s better to teach someone to swim, chainsaw, and parachute through practice and explanation and practice rather than deadly Darwinian experience. The same goes for the moral and intellectual hazards of life.

August Reads

Dip

The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

Liber Regulae Pastoralis by St. Gregory the Great

Dive

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Hammond

Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric

  1. Russ Roberts critiques utilitarian economics.
  1. Will MacAskill denies he’s a utilitarian, just as I predicted.
  1. Charitable giving advice from Tyler 
  1. The dissolution of the monasteries and economic growth. Interesting.
  1. Difference in gullibility between nonbelievers and believers.
  1. Prompting yourself to be a better writer.
  1. Media outlets that didn’t pass High School writing and research.
  1. Aesthetics matter.
  1. Athens and Jerusalem and Silicon Valley: Three Cities 

Podcast episodes that made my mind dance to the exact chord that animates creation:

Tyler grills Will. Will responds well. It’s a glass bead extravaganza.

Zohar elicits deep insight about the nature of Torah and economics.

This. Agnes Callard offers a vision of a new literacy which allows us to know ourselves.

July Reads

Devoured all these:

Hybrid Homeschools by Mike McShane

A quick and tasteful overview of one fast-growing model of school. The type that is 1 day a week or more in a traditional classroom, but not 5 days a week. It’s a good book, and a great model. More people should try both.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer 

I can’t tell if I like the style, in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. The condescending tone of the narrator at times bleeds into the condescension of the author. Though there are some things about the tone I do very much appreciate. I can’t tell if I like the author. She sometimes seems to be a total show off and other times convinces me of her brilliance. I know that I like the world that she created, and find it believable, albeit melodramatic. And I know that I am intrigued by the themes she’s developing.

The Deluge by Adam Tooze.

Adam Tooze’s epic globe-trotting foray into the politics and economics of the interwar period. The book sometimes suffers from a heavy reliance upon characterization, but the genius of the work is how states interact with each other as though they are unitary actors, yet each state knows that the political conditions on the homefront determine the boundaries of the diplomatic negotiations, and so there is deep complexity about what each state can credibly commit to. Some moments were absolutely cinematic. The negotiations at Versailles, the domestic politics of Japan, basically everything about Lloyd George. The vision of the post WWI liberal order changed my historical worldview about the force of ideology in history, upgrading it a good deal. It’s not only the Soviet’s who were possessed by an Idea. At the same time, I also adjusted my views about the relationship between economic crises and internal political decay in the US and abroad.

Articles

Already a classic biology essay.
Today is better than then!
Modernism is history.
Time to Rekindle Poetry

June Reads

Devour

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. A phenomenal compendium about designing physical space to promote and pull people into human flourishing. Some of it is starry-eyed wishful thinking, other aspects deeply practical advice. Everything from how neighborhood streets should be arranged, to a living room, to front porches and offices.

Dive

Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian. I’m searching for clues into the process of great great formation in education. Quintilian was a staple for a reason!

Dip

Autobiography by John Stuart Mill. Some great examples of how forced elaboration hones the understanding of a subject. His father would go on walks delivering him a lecture on political economy, and then have him dictate back the lecture the next day – a grueling exercise that caused learning.

Some works are so good that you can’t devour them. Instead they nibble at you. The Bible, the best poetry, and Moby Dick are like this to me. Like a fine glass of bourbon, I can’t drink but a sip before my head gets dizzy and my mind goes chasing after some invisible infinite thread. But I am almost finished with Moby Dick, at last. I say ‘at last’ because I have been on its line for a long time, unable to wriggle away, yet unable to devour the whole hook, line, and reel. A fast fish, soon to be loose again.

Best Articles in June

Don’t let the students “choose their own adventure.”
Evidence that Science is Hard and getting Harder.
Bengal almost industrialized.
The state of the art of nuclear power construction costs.
Secret Theological-philosophy.


March Reads

This month I wrote far more than normal. Three complete articles, two drafts, and comments on some papers. No dips and no devours; just some semi-weekly dives.

Dive

Utopia by Thomas More. Thomas’ in the Prologue of how difficult it is to find time for self-study and intellectual wandering was like a TUMS, calming my nerves.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Here are some choice cuts from this past week.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life.

Chapter 72 The Monkey rope

[The context is that the giant head of a sperm whale hangs attached to the side of the ship. The crew has killed a Right Whale, and plan on balancing it out with another head of a lesser Leviathan].

In good time, Flask’s saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Chapter 73 Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

February Reads

February

Devour

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott – This is a great introduction to these two men. Excellently written. The prose style creates tension and drama.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser. I love Ed.

Economic Hierarchies by Gordon Tullock.

Dive

Alternatives in Assessment of Achievements, Learning Processes, and Prior Knowledge* Helpful in the discussion about how coherent a curriculum needs to be.

Dip

Keynes’ General Theory: Reports of Three Decades

The Land that Never Was: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History by David Sinclair. I hope to return to this and devour it.

Questions about the Early Jesuits

Tyler is reading *The Jesuits: A History*:

Here is one passage that for obvious reasons caught his eye:

The Jesuits invested the lion’s share of their bureaucratic efforts in personnel planning.  We have already encountered the Society’s obsession with the quality, education, and development of its members several times — this passion was translated into bureaucratic procedures to an astounding degree.  Every Jesuit’s mental, spiritual, intellectual, and physical capacity was routinely evaluated.  The Society devised elaborate procedures for conducting such examinations.  Even the wording of these assessments was prescribed.  A kind of grading system with standard content was devised that was then used to answer about a dozen questions from each member.  Every three years, local and provincial superiors were required to prepare interviews of the staff under their authority, whom they were required to assess in table form.  These catalogues have justly been celebrated as an outstanding example of the bureaucratization of the modern period.

The 17th and 18th century Jesuits seem like a miracle of human capital formation.

Last year I read three books on the Jesuits for quite similar reasons. My thought was how did such a small organization create a culture of excellence that pushed the bounds of science, sociology, and politics so well (or did it? Maybe Jesuit mythos and reality are quite separate?), and what mistakes caused it to be suppressed?

The bureaucratic excellence might be one such reason. I am almost disturbed by the level of obedience these men had to superiors. The intense cultivation of ability combined with the “state capacity” to aim member’s abilities towards all manner of problems. That combination does seem frightening to anyone without such organizational competence. Don’t compete with this superhuman foe, the king and lords of Spain thought, shoot for suppression.

How much internal dissension was there? How was it dealt with? What were the most politically unwise or impolitic moves the Jesuits made in the 18th century? Who were the Jesuits enemies and why? How can we compare Jesuit accomplishments to the secular accomplishments of the day? What was the Jesuit role in the wars between the enlightenment secularism and the Catholic Church? Which Jesuits engaged with John Locke or Montesquieu?

I am not satisfied with any of the answers I have found, though I now know a fair deal more about Jesuit education. I need more nuts and bolts of Jesuit organization in the 17th – 18th century. I lust for more details.

Jesuits: a Multibiography (1997)

St. Ignatius’ Idea of a Jesuit University (1957)

Jesuit Education in Light of Modern Educational Problems (1904)

January Reads

This year I want to record my reading in a way that matches how I read. So I am dividing books into three general categories Dip, Dive, Devour based on some combination of energy, insight, and follow through.

Absolutely Devoured:

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

No comment needed. It’s better written and faster paced than I expected, a classic for a reason. My contrary reading is that the Encyclopedia actually did save civilization, and though this is obvious throughout the novel, none of the characters know it.

Knowledge Spaces: Application in Education

This is the first step in getting much more serious in thinking about assessment and useful tools in education. Thanks to Jimmy Koppel for the pointer. I am going to test out Aleks with some students in a month or so.

Took a Dive into:

In the Service of the Republic: the Art and Science of Economic Policy by Vijay Kelkar. This book feels more like an outline of ideas than a book, but the ideas are important and serious. Public choice and the realization that incentives only increase in importance over time are crucial insights for government.

Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. More nuanced than I was expecting and more balanced than his enemies give him credit for. No surprise there. He is not some laissez-faire zealot and acknowledges from the beginning the tenuous link between democracy and the free market.

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen. I actually share a lot of aesthetic values with Anthony. Yet despite the shared love of group singing, traditional church music, and kids running in the streets, I find this mode of cultural critique to be blind and useless. He has to paint with a broad brush to compensate for his ignorance of flourishing subcultures. In his view, the world is a monoculture of either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ culture. Furthermore, most of the book lacked any notion of the causal forces behind aesthetic and cultural change; my library copy dutifully supplied one with a neatly written anti-Jewish comment in the margins of the penultimate chapter. Not recommended except for the literary style, which is why Tanner Greer recommended it to me in the first place.

Keynes: a very brief introduction by Robert Skidelsky. I didn’t know Keynes was so lively and such a florid writer. Had I known this earlier, I would have started imitating him sooner. Like Antony above, his ability to write invective and turn a colorful phrase makes true writers green with envy and makes economists blush for shame.

Took a Dip in:

Aquinas – always dipping
Talmud – just keep dipping
Critique of Pure Reason by Kant – down this road lies madness?
Human Action by Ludwig Mises – intrigued

Book Dump 2021

I dived into a lot of books in 2021, more than ever. But finished only a few. Here are my favorite and most recommended books from the year, followed up by a fairly complete and ridiculously long list of books I spent a substantial amount time with.

My favorite and most recommended books of 2021.

Pity the Beautiful by Dana Gioia. Poetry, modern. Excellent.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Fantasy, long. Worth it.
The Model Thinker by Scott E Page. Math and epistemology. Phenomenal.
An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics by James Franklin. Math and philosophy. Excellent.
Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century by Joel Kaye. Economics, medieval philosophy, history, and Latin. What could be better?
The Wars of the Roses by Gillingham. I checked out every book on The Wars of the Roses; this is one is clearly the best written, even if a little more out of date. When history is well written I fall in love again. Highly recommended.
The History of Chemistry by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Isabelle Stengers. This is the best history of chemistry in print, and there is no coincidence that it is a translation from French.
Talmud: from Classics of Western Spirituality Series. The Classics of Western Spirituality is hit or miss frequently, but I am enjoying the the selections from the Talmud here.

Below are all the books from 2021 by category.

Fiction:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  2. The Napoleon of Nottinghill by G.K. Chesterton
  3. The Ship of Theseus by V. Straka
  4. Pity the Beautiful by Dana Gioia
  5. Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
  6. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  7. Cenodoxus by Jacob Bidermann
  8. The Golden Country by Shusako Endo
  9. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Philosophy and Social Science

  1. The Model Thinker by Scott E Page
  2. On Commerce, by David Hume
  3. The Use of Knowledge in Society, F. Hayek
  4. The Wealth of Nations Book I by Adam Smith
  5. Protagoras by Plato
  6. Charter schools and their Enemies by Thomas Sowell.
  7. Universal Economics by Armen Alchian (incomplete)
  8. An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics by James Franklin
  9. Saint Ignatius’ Idea of a Jesuit University by Ganss
  10. Economy and Nature in the 14th Century by Joel Kaye
  11. The Interests and the Passions: Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph by A. O. Hirschman
  12. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
  13. Open Borders: the Science and Ethics of Immigration by Bryan Caplan and Zach Wienersmith
  14. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
  15. The Cult of Smart: How our Broken Education System Perpetuates Injustice by Frederick deBoeur
  16. The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan
  17. Jesuit Education in Light of Modern Educational Problems by Shwikerath
  18. 10% Less Democracy, Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less By Garett Jones.

History

  1. Viking-age War Fleets: Ship-Building, Resource Management in Maritime Warfare in 11th century Denmark by Morten Raven
  2. Qumran in Context reassessing in the archaeological evidence by Yizhar Hirschfeld
  3. The Wars of the Roses by Gillingham
  4. Book Wars: the Digital Revolution in Publishing by John B. Thompson
  5. Battlegrounds by H. R. McMaster
  6. Keaton by Tom Dardis
  7. The Letters of Alcuin by Rolph Barrows 1909
  8. Kissinger: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson 

STEM

  1. The History of Chemistry by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Isabelle Stengers
  2. Calculus for the Applied, Life, and Social Sciences
  3. Introduction to Chemistry by John D. Mays
  4. The Richness of Life the Selected Writings of Stephen J. Gould
  5. The Double Helix: a Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D Watson.
  6. Biotechnology 101 by Brian Robert Shmaefsky
  7. Vectors and their Applications by Anthony Pettifrezzo
  8. The Molecular Biology of the Cell by various authors (sc. Not all)

Religion

  1. Jesuits: A Multibiography
  2. Decreation the End of all Things by Paul Griffiths
  3. The Life of Brother Jordan of Saxony by anonymous
  4. Super Boethius de Trinitate by Thomas Aquinas
  5. The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola
  6. A Rabbi Talks With Jesus by Jacob Neusner  (incomplete)
  7. Talmud Classics of Western Spirituality Series


Science and Technology Read 2020

The Devil’s Doctor by Philip BallTerribly meandering book. Had very little to do with Paracelsus, mostly because the author realized that Paracelsus is an incomprehensible charlatan. However, The book offers a very pleasant overview of 16th century flavor. And has good references to more interesting vistas, namely De Re Mettalica.
De Re Metallica by Georg AgricolaA thorough and systematic treatment of metals from finding the ore, to setting up the company, to digging, refining, and crafting. I wish more books were like this! This is a true science and engineering text. Perhaps the first truly comprehensive one in history. The Hoovers were wise to translate this and promote its place in the history of science.
Every Tool’s A Hammer by Adam SavageInspirational anecdotes about creating things.
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua FoerJournalist adventures into the art of memorizing. This volume while filled with stories, had just enough information for the reader to figure out how to start crafting memory palaces, and begin their own adventures in memorization.
Speed Reading in a Week by Tina KonstantI wanted to investigate the speed reading literature because even a modest improvement in my reading speed could mean an extra book or two read per year.
Evelyn Wood Speed ReadingBut it turns out that speed reading only kind of exists as a learnable skill. Most of the techniques are actually just extensions of the methods for reading well found in How to Read a Book, which is a far better use of one’s time.
Nuclear 2.0: Why A Green Future Needs Nuclear Power, Mark LynasMark Lynas is environmental activist who advocates nuclear and GMO proponent. In the book he talks about the anti-nuclear myths held by a lot of green activists which are holding back the fight against climate change.
I didn’t know about these myths, but somehow I had come to believe some of them, especially the idea that nuclear waste is a BIG PROBLEM holding back scaling up nuclear power production. Turns out it’s not.

People are the under the impression that if a reactor goes bad or is hit by an earthquake it will explode killing hundreds of people and damaging the environment for centuries. But a Japanese Nuclear Plant close to the epicenter of the 2011 earthquake took no damage, and while Fukushima melted down, 1 person died and there was some environmental contamination.

But other sources of power contaminate the lungs of workers, spill in the oceans, and spread CO2 in the atmosphere (or as the other alternate fuels are – inefficient and are NIMBY’d to death). To the bigger political point though, nuclear energy summons great fears in the minds of people; the grassroot support isn’t there.
Wiring CompleteVery helpful guide in how to wire things around the house! Highly Recommended!