Quote of the Week: No Good Choices

“Except it wasn’t your cheek to turn, was it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you hadn’t shot that guy — with his wife and his kids and his mom who loved him — he’d have thrown that grenade and killed every single one of us. Nicki. Jim. And your girlfriend Lady Liberty too.”

I looked away from him so he wouldn’t see me blushing. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

“I bet if you asked them, you’d find out they have moms too. Nicki and Jim. Meredith. They maybe all have moms.”

“Maybe even you,” I said.

“Well, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Palmer drawled.

I walked another moment in silence. It was a pretty miserable choice, you know. You either kill a guy or he kills your friends. Either the murderous rebels win or the murderous government. It was like the whole country was just one big series of bad choices.

If We Survive, YA novel by Andrew Klavan, p. 229

Five Reasons You Should Read This Book

The Quest for Cosmic Justice, by Thomas Sowell, 1999
  1. It’s short (189 pages, not counting index and endnotes). You can read it in a weekend.
  2. The author is a black man, educated at Harvard, Columbia and University of Chicago, and was a Marxist in his 20s but is no more. In the video below, you can see him give some of his story.
  3. Endnotes! There are gobs of endnotes citing books, Supreme Court cases, and other sources. Besides backing up the book’s claims, these are a useful source for further reading. Sowell cites his own works a lot, but we can hardly blame him considering how prolific of a writer he’s been. I now fully intend to read through his entire corpus of work.
  4. Amazingly quotable. I thought about posting quotes from this book this week, but was afraid I would get to posting long sections and then just the entire book. Below, I will include a quote from each of the book’s four parts … but this is minimal, as each section has many passages that are equally weighty, clever, and succinct.
  5. Happy Fourth of July! One of the heroes of this book is the American constitutional system: mistrust of all authority; limited government; and the rule of law, not of people. You probably can’t order Quest in time to read it on the 4th, but always remember that you heard about it in time for that holiday.

Quotations from The Quest for Cosmic Justice

From Part I, “The Quest for Cosmic Justice”:

Since “undeserved inequalities” extend beyond prejudicial decisions made by others to encompass biological differences among individuals and groups — the fact that women are usually not as large or physically strong as men, for example — and profound differences in the geographical settings in which whole races and nations have evolved culturally, not to mention individual and group differences in child-rearing practices and moral values, cosmic justice requires — or assumes — vastly more knowledge than is necessary for traditional justice. …

With justice, as with equality, the question is not whether more is better, but whether it is better at all costs. We need to consider what those who believe in the vision of cosmic justice seldom want to consider — the nature of those costs and how they change the very nature of justice itself.

Quest, p. 13, 27

From Part II, “The Mirage of Equality”:

The difficulties of satisfying envy … increase exponentially when there is no unambiguous way to say that A is better off than B in whatever dimension each values. Many parents, for example, are familiar with the situation in which each child thinks that a sibling is being treated better by the parents and therefore each has envy and resentment of the other or others. Nor can an objective third party, if one could be found, necessarily be able to declare which person has the net advantage when one is more fortunate according to one array of characteristics and possessions and the other is more fortunate according to another array of characteristics and possessions. Moreover, even in cases in which a third party regards A as clearly better off than B, it does not follow that either A or B will value and weigh the particular advantages and disadvantages the same way as this third party, much less the same as each other.

Quest, p. 91

From Part III, “The Tyranny of Visions”:

On issue after issue, the morally self-anointed visionaries have for centuries argued as if no honest disagreement were possible, as if those who opposed them were not merely in error but in sin. This has long been a hallmark of those with a cosmic vision of the world and of themselves as saviors of the world, whether they are saving it from war, overpopulation, capitalism, genetic degradation, environmental destruction, or whatever the crisis du jour might be. Given this exalted vision of their role by the anointed visionaries, those who disagree with them must be correspondingly degraded or demonized.

Quest, p. 103

From Part IV, “The Quiet Repeal of the American Revolution”:

There is no way to specify in precise general rules, known beforehand, what might be necessary [for employers] to achieve results that would meet the standards of cosmic justice. In short, there can be no rule of law for such things and courts seeking cosmic justice can no longer strike down such laws as “void for vagueness.” These edicts do not happen to be vague, they are necessarily vague. They could not be otherwise. … For purposes of cosmic justice, discrimination must be defined by retrospective results, whether “disparate impact” or “hostile environments” or failure to provide “reasonable accommodation.” This is only one of many ways in which the quest for cosmic justice is incompatible with the rule of law.

Quest, pp. 159 – 160

Happy Birthday, Prof. Sowell!

P.S. Serendipitously, after I had already written and scheduled this post, I found out that this week is Prof. Sowell’s 90th birthday! I am beyond happy that he has had such a long and prolific career. Click here for an econ blog’s birthday post about him which summarizes his thinking and makes some suggestions about how we can apply his principles of “traditional justice” (as opposed to cosmic justice) to reduce bad outcomes for black Americans.

The Right of Every Man to Go his Own Way

“What I know about Mendoza,” Palmer said slowly after a while, “is that he’s a petty gangster who enjoys pushing people around. I’ve already told you what I think of Cobar: a psycho killer.”

“But in his book –“

“I know,” Palmer said, lifting a hand. “But a killer who writes a book is still a killer — even if it’s a book about peace and justice. A thug with a lot of high-blown political ideas is still just a thug in the end.”

“But he’s at war with a brutal government …”

“Gangsters get in wars with each other all the time,” said Palmer. “That doesn’t make one side good and the other bad. And it doesn’t mean I have to care which bunch of bullies and thugs wins the day. You think the people in this village will be any better off when it’s Cobar’s government murdering them instead of the government they had before? The only one who’ll feel better about it is you, because you’ll think it’s all for some higher cause — fairness or justice or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. Whatever they do call it, it always translates to the same thing in the end: obey the man with the gun or he’ll kill you. The truth is, Professor, there’s only one higher cause I know of. That’s the right of every man to go his own way and spend his own money and speak his own mind and find his own salvation. You show me the side that stands for that and I’ll fight for them.”

If We Survive, YA book by Andrew Klavan, pp. 218 – 219

Jaundiced Literary Quote of the Week

Somehow, your protagonist has to be able to do something heroic, or you might as well be James Joyce.

There are people who read James Joyce. Most of them are graduate students. You can’t do that to undergraduates. They’re not ready for it. They don’t have the discipline to put up with that amount of garbage.

Orson Scott Card, in his interview with Ben Shapiro, May 23, 2020

Gobekli Tepe, the World’s Oldest Temple?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

I wonder whether you’ve ever heard of Gobekli Tepe. I hadn’t until just a few years ago, which makes sense because it wasn’t rediscovered (and so, presumably, begun to be excavated) until the 1990s.

It’s called the world’s oldest temple because it dates back more than 10,000 years. In the article I will link to below, dates of 11,500 years ago and even 15,000 years ago are mentioned. This puts it in the Neolithic: the Stone Age. Like many other ancient complexes that have been given more recent dates, it is made of megaliths placed with geometrical precision.

The Dating of Gobekli Tepe

It sounds really to cool to say that a til-recently-unknown stone structure in Turkey with an exotic name is the “world’s oldest temple.” But as we sometimes mention on this blog, it’s very possible that some of the other megalithic structures found around the world are in fact older than conventional dating would have it. An argument has been made, for example, that the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza are closer to 20,000 years old. Gobekli Tepe, then, is the oldest megalithic temple that has been able to convince mainstream archaeologists of its bona fides. At any rate, it clearly hails from a very ancient time when people all over the world were for some reason (and with some method???) building stuff with megaliths.

The ancientness of Gobekli Tepe creates a problem for its excavators when its obvious sophistication comes into a head-on collision with their beliefs about the abilities of Stone Age humans. That clash happens several times in the Jerusalem Post article Israeli researchers unveil architecture secrets of ‘world’s oldest temple.’

Two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, PhD candidate Gil Haklay and his supervisor, Prof. Avi Gopher, have now unveiled new secrets of its sophisticated architecture, highlighting an intricate geometrical pattern that was conceived before humans had even discovered agriculture or pottery.

Ibid

… Um, are you sure they hadn’t discovered agriculture or pottery, Professors?

Göbekli Tepe features dozens of monolithic pillars four to five meters tall placed along at least 20 concentric rings, which archaeologists refer to as “enclosures.” The pillars are decorated with remarkable reliefs depicting animals including gazelles, jaguars, Asiatic wild donkeys and wild sheep. …

“We found that there is a center point in each enclosure, which we identified not only in the three in the main excavation area, but also in others located outside it,” Haklay explained. “We also found out that the center of these enclosures was always located between the two large central pillars aligned with the front side. These pillars also presented an anthropomorphic structure and they have a front side. In each enclosure based on the surrounding peripheral pillars was found an alignment with the narrow front side. This was our first observation: an abstract design rule.“We later noticed that the role of those center points extended beyond an individual enclosure, because the three center points of enclosures B, C and D form an almost perfect equilateral triangle,” he added.

Haklay highlighted that they went on to verify whether the geometric pattern was confirmed by further observations, for example the orientation of the central pillars. They found many other elements supporting it. Among others, the main access to the structure was located between the only two pillars carrying anthropomorphic as opposed to animal reliefs.

Ibid

But how was all this accomplished?

[I]t is not clear how long its construction took but it might have been centuries if not more, with different people initiating it and adding to it.

Ibid

But yet later, we get this:

This discovery also overcame a previous theory common among researchers that the enclosures were conceived and built in unrelated stages.

Ibid

Huh? So it was built over hundreds of years, added to a little at a time, but yet planned by one or a few masterminds?

“We are talking about hunter-gatherers, but at the same time we see signs of a very complex social structure,” Haklay said …

But how could such a complex design be envisioned by people who did not even know how to create a simple pottery vessel?

Ibid

Oh, stop. Just … stop.

Gobekli Tepe in Fiction

There is one novel that I know of which focuses squarely on Gobekli Tepe: The Genesis Secret, 2009, by Tom Knox. See my review of it here. Interestingly, though Knox is not a believer in the Judeo-Christian God (quite the opposite, in fact), he takes seriously the accounts of giants walking the earth in Genesis 6 and, in fact, his novel ends up revealing that Gobekli Tepe was built at the initiation of a violent, giant race who left large, misshapen skulls behind them.

In film, within the last year I saw on a Netflix a Turkish show called The Gift. In it, a young artist who lives in Istanbul finds that a symbol she has spontaneously drawn all her life has recently been uncovered at the ancient site of Gobekli Tepe. I enjoyed this show, but be warned it has some entirely gratuitous sex scenes.

And Now, for a Really Wild Speculation …

People who take Genesis seriously as history have speculated about the location of the original Garden of Eden. Genesis mentions four rivers as arising from the Garden (or running into it; the linguistics are ambiguous). Two of these are the Tigris and Euphrates. The other two (the Gihon and the Pishon) have been lost to time.

Of course, to try and locate the original Garden is probably impossible. If you suspect, as I do, that the Flood was a result of continental-drift like changes in the Earth’s geography, then nothing anymore is located where it was in Adam’s day, including rivers. On this view, the modern-day Tigris and Euphrates are probably just named after some much more ancient rivers, which could have been in a completely different location.

But if we assume that the continents look more or less the same now as they did in Adam’s day, we can try to guess the region where Eden once stood. One likely candidate is northeastern Africa, or even what is now the floor of the Red Sea (sea levels having risen).

Another candidate is the mountainous region of eastern Turkey, near the headwaters of the modern-day Tigris and Euphrates, along with several other rivers.

And also not too far from Gobekli Tepe.

Just sayin’.

What My Favorite Characters Would Be Doing in Quarantine

Up till now I’ve tried to make posts that don’t mention you know what, because I figure that readers come to Out of Babel for fun and weirdness, not for more mentions of you know what. But, I saw this super fun tag over in the book nook of The Orangutan Librarian. I hope by trying it I’m not letting you down. As you can see, I’ve spun it a little, imagining how the characters would handle coronavirus in their own worlds.

Rules

  • Take 5 or more of your favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world.
  • You can have them be in their own squad if you want, or working on their own.
  • Tag 5 friends.
  • Link back to this post and credit Reader Voracious.

Narnia Quarantine

Wardrobe

The Pevensie kids, of course, would not even be here …

For some reason I imagine Edmund and Lucy quarantining with their cousin Eustace and his parents rather than being with their parents (who got stuck in Greece) or with Peter and Susan (who got stuck at their respective universities). Eustace, though less of a know-it-all since his first trip to Narnia, is still extremely well-informed about epidemiology, government policy, and all the latest economic and medical updates. His mother, Alberta, insists that everyone wear masks and gloves even inside the house.

Middle Earth Quarantine

two bare trees beside each other during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Gandalf the Grey would have caught the coronavirus early (because he travels a lot), come down with complications (because it hits old people the hardest), died, and been resurrected.

Sam Gamgee, humble, hardworking, and patient, would be the perfect person to quarantine with. He’s also a very resourceful cook.

Faramir and Eowyn would be climbing the walls, holed up in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.

Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter are immune to human ills and they also take a long view of the death of much of the rest of the world.

Gimli would rather risk death than give up smoking.

 

Tony Hillerman Quarantine

Sacred Clowns book

Sadly, in real life, the coronavirus has hit the Navajo nation really hard. Tony Hillerman’s Navajo cop characters, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, would be reacting very differently. Leaphorn, who is older and more of a homebody, would be happily hanging out with his wife Emma at his home in Window Rock. Chee, who is young and restless, would be running around the reservation trying to help everyone he could. He would go to be with an older relative who is dying of the virus, making sure that the person is moved outside as per tradition and that they have someone with them. Though young and healthy, he would unexpectedly develop a bad case himself and would be found recovering in the hospital at the very end of the book, being visited by his girlfriend Janet or Bernie, depending upon where we are in the series.

Emberverse Quarantine

Corvallis

Junie and Mike of the Emberverse have already been through a society-destroying event that resulted in most people dying. Junie heads up a neo-pagan community near Corvallis, Oregon, and Mike runs a more specialized, military one just northwest of Salem. Since the Change destroyed all modern technology, the inhabitants of the Emberverse would probably barely notice the coronavirus. Fewer people develop the diseases of civilization (heart disease, diabetes) in their medieval-style world, living conditions are less crowded, and there are no nursing homes or hospitals. Probably all they would notice was a particularly bad seasonal flu endangering the few remaining old people. They’d be grateful that this sickness, unlike many, was not threatening little children. Junie would be using her herbology and caretaking skills to help as many of her subjects as possible. Because Junie and Mike both grew up in the modern world, before “the Change” happened, they are aware of germ theory and this would help them enforce hygiene on their people.

Agatha Christie Quarantine

photo of teacup on top of books
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Miss Marple has lived through two world wars. She would gamely go along with whatever deprivations and regulations the quarantine brought. She’s been through worse. If anyone complained, she would smile sweetly while silently judging you and simply say, “So many things are difficult.”

Hercule Poirot is already a bit of a germophobe. He would take enthusiastically to masks and hand sanitizer, but would become peevish when unable to procure the foods that he’s used to.  Whenever Hastings began to panic about the many unknowns, Hercule Poirot would calm his fears through the use of the Little Grey Cells.

P.G. Wodehouse Quarantine

alcohol bar blur celebration
Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

Airheaded bachelor Bertie could not stand not going to his club. He would beg Jeeves to come up with a way that Bertie could skirt the rules to get out and about. Jeeves would do so, knowing that within hours, Bertie would be back home with a horrible hangover that he would need to sleep off and then drink one of Jeeves’s miraculous restoratives. Jeeves knows that the coronavirus mostly endangers older people, so even if Bertie should become a carrier, there is little danger that he would infect anyone because even in normal circumstances he cannot be induced to visit his Aunt Agatha.

And … I can’t resist … Quarantine with my own characters!

architecture buildings city cityscape
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Nirri is, essentially, already in quarantine all the time. He broke his spine in a fall from the Tower of Babel, becoming paraplegic, and is now being reluctantly cared for by people with whom he does not share a language. He is the nightmare person to be quarantined with: arrogant, demanding, unable to communicate or be reasoned with. Though 130 years old, he is healthy as a horse and there is no way he is dying from this.  On the bright side, he is an accomplished musician. Give him a lute and he will entertain you all evening, even if you don’t understand the words to his songs.

Zillah is a born caretaker and the tribe’s resident medical expert. It was she who insisted they rescue Nirri. Though young and even middle-aged people don’t usually show symptoms of the virus, in a tribe their size there might be one or two who do. Zillah would spend herself caring for them, and then get sick herself (she is the tribe’s second oldest person, after Nirri). She would survive, cared for by her daughter Ninna, and the weeks when she was sick would be the loneliest of Nirri’s life.

You Sure You Wanna Do This?

If you do, I tag …

  • Jyvurentropy, who has been posting so much that I can’t keep up with her
  • Bookstooge, for his sarcasm
  • Colin, because I want to hear his thoughts
  • The hilarious Christopher Waldrop, even though I’m unable to comment on his posts
  • … and the always insightful Eustacia, if she has time to do this tag

Raised by the Dictionary

[Five-year-old] Thomas sat on the dusty brown carpet between his two brothers with a well-worn dictionary in his lap. He kept it with him when he watched TV in case he came across a new word.

“What is it Mom and Dad do with these people?” he asked.

[Thomas’s brother] Henry stared at the TV and pushed the buttons on the remote. “Exorcisms,” he said.

“Exorcisms,” Thomas thought out loud as he flipped through his dictionary. “How do you spell that?”

Henry smiled derisively. “X-O-R-S-I-S-U-M-S.”

Thomas raised a skeptical eyebrow and flipped to the “E” section.

The next half hour passed quickly as he read about existence, existentialism, exit permits, exorcism, exoskeletons, and exotic dancers.

–The Resolve of Immortal Flesh, by Rich Colburn, p. 13

Finally Read This

TBR Naya Nuki
Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma, Grandview Publishing Co., Jackson, Wyoming, 1983

This children’s book is based on actual events. At the age of eleven, Naya Nuki and her friend Sacajawea (yes, that Sacajawea) were kidnapped during a raid and marched about 1,000 miles to the east, into what is now North Dakota, to serve as slaves of the more prosperous Minnetare.

Naya Nuki determines to escape. She begins preparing before the outbound journey is even over, memorizing landmarks and so on. (Luckily, in order to get back to her home country, she basically just has to follow the Missouri River.) She then busies herself being a model prisoner, while also obtaining and hiding the things she will need for her journey, such as a buffalo robe (basically, a winter coat/sleeping bag), moccasins, extra food, and even a knife.

Sacajawea isn’t interested in trying to escape, being fairly sure that the girls will be quickly run down and killed by their captors. Shortly before Naya Nuki’s escape, Sacajawea tells her that she has been sold to a white man. (I knew Sacajawea was married to a Frenchman, and I’d always wondered whether it was a romantic interracial love match. Turns out, not so much.)

Naya Nuki cleverly waits for a stormy night to escape. She travels by night at first in case she is being tracked and continues to think like a fugitive throughout her journey. Once she gets well out of range of her captors, she then “only” has to deal with things like illness, snowstorms, and even a grizzly bear.

This little eleven-year-old girl walks all the way back to her people. She seems so capable throughout most of the book. It’s not until the end, when she and her mother are crying and embracing, that she seems like a little girl again. Her people change her name to Naya Nuki, which means Girl Who Ran. We don’t know what her name was before that, so Thomasma calls her Naya Nuki throughout the book.

Four years later, Sacajawea shows up at the Shoshoni camp again, this time in the company of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and carrying the baby she had with her French husband, Charbonneau.

I’ve always admired Sacajawea for making that journey with a baby, but Naya Nuki … wow.

Here are some charts I’ve created to illustrate my reaction to this true story.

Strength Chart

Naya Nuki, while a lot physically stronger than yours truly, is still an eleven-year-old girl, not a grown man. She doesn’t have unlimited strength, speed, or endurance.

Toughness Chart

But her mental toughness knows no bounds.

Two Indie Authors to Check Out

What’s your stereotype of “indie” (independently published) books? Is it a tame memoir that would interest only the author’s family? A bitter rant where the author finally gets to have their say? An amateurish sci-fi filled with cringe-inducing grammatical errors?

I’ve read all of these types. (And, for the record, my opinion is not the same about all of them. The family memoirs, in particular, will be valuable historical records one day.) But in case you didn’t know it, there is so much more to the world of indie books. Here are two indie authors I’ve discovered, both worth reading and each weirder than the last.

Spectre

Specter by Katie Jane Gallagher

I discovered Katie right here on WordPress. She likes horror, which I didn’t think was really my speed, but I just had to buy her book to see the results of her self-publishing. The book is, in a word, professional. The cover, the formatting, the editing … it all looks and reads just like any high-quality YA paranormal book you’d pick up in a bookstore (or, in my case, a library). And no, it’s not a paranormal romance where the ghost is the girl’s love interest. (Thank God.)  It just features a normal, smart high schooler who starts seeing ghosts. And, refreshingly, her parents are all right, unlike in so many YA books where the parents are either dead, clueless or part of the problem.

And the horror? Well, there are some horrible revelations at the end … but they didn’t turn out to be anything I couldn’t handle. Perhaps I’ve been toughened up by watching Stranger Things.

The Collision series by Rich Colburn

Full disclosure: I knew Rich before he wrote these books. He’s weird. (I honestly don’t think he’ll be offended if he reads that.)  When, having not seen him for years, I heard that Rich had indie published a couple of books, I eagerly bought them. They are exactly the kind of books I would have expected from him, which makes them a little hard to describe.

From the Amazon blurb: “What if the spirit world was rampant with technology sophisticated beyond anything mankind has imagined? What if a sociopath got his hands on a powerful piece of this technology? What if you couldn’t die no matter how much damage your body sustained?
“Join a reluctant hero on his quest to discover what the heck he should do with his time now that he has unlimited power and the world as he knew it collides with the unseen world. Will demon-possessed biomechanical monsters kill everyone? Will there be enough coffee to last through to the end of the world? Will that play into our hero’s decision whether or not to bother saving it? These are questions we’ve all wondered about. Explore these and other important philosophical questions as you follow the adventure that was contrived to do just that.
“The Collision series offers a technological explanation for the supernatural. Human psychology, questions of life and death, and the nature of the supernatural play a critical role in the story of a man who becomes aware of the technology used by beings existing in higher modes of reality.”

The Collision books are slightly less professional than Specter. They could have used a second pass with an editor. But they are a joy to read because they are just so darned clever. To take a sampling of the chapter titles from Resolve:

Chapter 34: When an Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object, It’s Best If They Avoid Eye Contact

Chapter 35: Omnipotence: It’s There When You Least Expect It

Chapter 36: I Love the Java Jive but the Java Jive has Found Me Wanting

Chapter 37: Seriously? Another Plot-Thickening Thread?

Chapter 41: It Came From My Parents’ Basement

Believe it or not, these titles are not just one-liners. All of them make sense when you read the chapter. I really don’t think a traditionally published book could have gotten away with chapter titles like this.

So now you are probably thinking that the Collision series is like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And it sort of is, if that book had been written by a Christian. But it’s not just metaphysics and humor. The book also becomes surprisingly poignant (in the context of all the weirdness), and also very horrifying and tense. Especially the scene in the parents’ basement. Also, be it noted that the monster made out of corpses in Stranger Things was familiar to me because an even more horrifying version had already roamed the pages of Formulacrum.