Saturday 31 July 2021

Book review: Euthyphro

By Plato (insert std.p-or-s). Written on phone on hols may update once home.

E and S meet and discuss Piety.

Preliminary: S is sarcastic and ironic; in philosophy, these are flaws. E is a poor adversary so P is strawmanning, another flaw.

S asks E for a defn of Piety; he gives instead an example; S complains of this and E offers instead "what is dear to the gods". S says the gods often disagree (an answer no longer available and also rather dull). S, absurdly, asks E to prove that all gods agree murder is bad; E actually offers to do this but S wimps out and shifts to a more interesting matter: is the Pious holy because loved by the gods, or loved because holy? (in the dialogue E fails to understand and S does one of his lengthy explanations-by-dodgy-analogy, but really that is for the readers benefit). E goes for loved cos pious. S then goes aha-gotcha! Cos E has not defn pious, he's just given an attribute of it: something the gods love.

So, this is half what we now know as the E dilemma, but S/P fails to notice the other half: E could have chosen pious cos loved (and if P were honest he'd admit that was what E originally said: "piety is that which is dear to the gods"; only after S has done his characteristic confuzalum does E reverse the sense so S can attack... ah, and this is disguised by inserting but-gods-disagree digression). The std problem with this choice in modern terms is that if the gods loved murder, it would then be pious (the std.prob with the other choice is that it limits gods omnipotence; again, S doesn't notice this).

There's some more word-dancing to no purpose after this, then E very sensibly gets bored and leaves.

Wiki manages "One criticism... is that the dilemma implies you must search for a definition that fits piety rather than work backwards by deciding pious acts (ie. you must know what piety is before you can list acts which are pious)" which is correct but badly incomplete: P (as Popper says) really did believe in essentialist defns: there really is for him such a thing, only waiting for us to seize it. Whereas Popper believes the reverse: defns are just shorthands; in this way, E's attempt to define-by-example is correct.

Another item of interest: the specific reason for E is his prosecuting his father, who has (perhaps accidentally, by tying him up and throwing him in a ditch whilst waiting for an answer of what to do with him) killed a poor dependent of E's who in turn had killed a slave. Now (a) S is highly doubtful that E should prosecute, which means he has a low valuation of the lives of poor men, which is contra his good reputation; (b) that the opinion of the authority asked, though by now it must be available, is not quoted; this is strange: (c) it does not occur to them that prosecuting could be a way of determining guilt; instead, weirdly, S insists on absolute certainty in advance.

Saturday 24 July 2021

New laptop: Lenovo

PXL_20210724_180409742 I have a new Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 1i 81VT0001UK Laptop, Intel Celeron Processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC Storage, 11.6", Platinum Grey, for £179.99. Why? Because: some time ago - maybe a couple of years; before the start of lock-down, my old Toshiba started to misbehave, in that it would crash for no obvious reason after a couple of hours use. Grrr. Also, before that, it had developed an inability to run Chrome, even if re-installed, and I was forced onto Chrome Canary. And, just as this was about to get annoying enough that I took it to WoC, lockdown came along, I brought my work laptop home, and started using that, and my personal laptop was quietly forgotten for a year and more.

But now I've left Qualcomm and handed back my laptop, so I need a new one... probably. Unless I use the Roku one I might get? So I went to John Lewis to see if they had anything to inspire me, and I saw this and thought it quite cheap, and it is light, so just for once instead of endless wibblings I simply bought it.

I don't think it is ideal; certainly, it is a bit slow. But, meh, it will do for now. I'll need to get a new sticker. I wonder when I bought the Toshiba? I see that on Sat, 27 Jul 2013 I refer to it as "my shiny new laptop" so it is now 8+ years old, ripe for retirement.

Monday 19 July 2021

Play review: The Comedy of Errors

PXL_20210719_165715046~2 By Shakespeare. Not perhaps one of his finest, but suitable for a hot Saturday matinee in Downing. And happily I got there early enough to get seats in the shade. Impetus provided by Marjoie. M also came along; E was in Wales; D declined. See wiki for details.

Some bits: the Duke was nicely played. He appears foppish and silly, but elegant, holding his glass of wine. The tale of the separation of the twin twins was cute - see my pic, though these weren't the actors on the day we saw it - with more of the same, and model ships. At first following the language was a strain, as I had little idea of the story, but by the end when it was all clear I could relax and find it actually funny.

Some of the comedy is of the rather tedious crowbarred-in "what do you call a man with a stoat? Marry sir a weasel" and so on. But better is the (ridiculously contrived) series of mishaps, which build upon each other. Until all is happily resolved.

Thursday 15 July 2021

Book review: Shikasta

theymightbeShikasta by Doris Lessing is famous. Wiki hints at some problems but is mostly positive. Goodreads, as well as gush, has some more perceptive comments; the one you want is probably The entire ideology Lessing apparently admires is ignorant and reprehensible.

On the trivia level, we get some initial stuff about giants, for no especially obvious reason. Perhaps it really is biblical re-telling. But it is about as useful as the interpretation of this pic.

I should say something good about it: I am bothering to read it after all. Some of it has some imagination to it. But some of it is very dull indeed. Umm. That's almost the best I can do.

If you read the book casually - as I did last time - and get sucked into the Canopus-are-good, the narrator is one of them, and so his "wisdom" must be wise, it is easy to gloss over the many terrible things in it. Perhaps it helps to have read Hayek and Popper. Consider: The biggest change [degeneration] was that more children were being born than before. The safeguards had been forgotten: gone was the knowledge of who should give birth, who should mate, what type of person was a proper parent. The knowledges and uses of sex had been forgotten. And whereas previously an individual who died before the natural term of a thousand years was unlucky, it was clear that life-span was about to fluctuate. So... you want to live in a society where someone wise and noble gets to decide who is a proper parent? In fact, if you say it in the right way, and she does, you can fool the unaware into agreeing. So is this all a test: you're supposed to reject everything she says? I don't think she is that subtle. Aside: the last sentence about lifespan illustrates her impatience, despite the nominal vast-sweep-of-time stuff: she knows that she's about to cut their lifespans short, for no clear reason, but she can't let it happen and have us see it: oh no, her all-wise and apparently prescient observer tells us about it. Despite his apparent inability to predict many other important things.

Consider: We are all creatures of the stars and their forces, they make us, we make them, we are part of a dance from which we by no means and not ever may consider ourselves separate. Um, astrology, predestination?

Consider: To identify with ourselves as individuals - this is the very essence of the Degenerative Disease, and every one of us in the Canopean Empire is taught to value ourselves only insofar as we are in harmony with the plan, the phases of our evolution. This is all desperately tribal, throwing away classical liberalism.

Consider: After World War II, in the Northwest fringes and in the Isolated Northern Continent, corruption, the low level of public life, was obvious. The two 'minor' wars conducted by the Isolated Northern Continent reduced its governmental agencies, even those visible and presented to the public inspection, to public scandal. Leaders of the nation were murdered. Bribery, looting, theft, from the top of the pyramids of power to the bottom, were the norm. People were taught to live for their own advancement and the acquisition of goods. Consumption of food, drink, every possible commodity was built into the economic structure of every society... And yet these repulsive symptoms of decay were not seen as direct consequences of the wars that ruled their lives. How depressive, despairing, ignorant her life must have been. And yet that wrong-headed assessment is combined with contradictory wrong-headedness: In large parts of the northern hemisphere was a standard of living that had recently belonged only to emperors and their courts. Particularly in the Isolated Northern Continent, the wealth was a scandal, even to many of their own citizens. Poor people lived there as the rich have done in previous epochs. The continent was heaped with waste, with wreckage, with the spoils of the rest of the world. Around every city, town, even a minor settlement in a desert, rose middens full of discarded goods and food that in other less favoured parts of the globe would mean the difference between life and death to millions. Visitors to this continent marvelled - but at what people could be taught to believe was their due, and their right. These failed states are somehow also unimaginably rich - but of course, raising people's standard of living is no good, if done in a way that La Lessing disapproves of. She is clearly appalled by consumerist society, and would like to find something to replace it with. But this is doomed to fail: life has no external purpose, there is nothing to replace "what people want" with. All she has to offer is a rather vague "being nice" which of course people should be, but that's far from a full theory and she has no more.

Consider: The real purposes of life - so long ago perverted, kept alive with such difficulty by us, maintained at such a cost had been forgotten, were ridiculed by those who had ever heard of them, for distorted inklings of the truth remained in the religions. But what are the "real purposes"? She doesn't say. There is implied that Obedience to the Plan is the True Purpose... all good Socialist / Communist type stuff, but do you want to live in her Plan? After all, they seem incompetent to carry out their plans.

Consider: Within a couple of decades, of the billions upon billions of Shikasta perhaps 1 percent remained. The substance-of-we-feeling, previously shared among these multitudes, was now enough to sustain, and keep them all sweet, and whole, and healthy. The inhabitants of Shikasta, restored to themselves, looked about, could not believe what they saw - and wondered why they had been mad. This also is rather typical: the world would be better off with fewer people, it seems. And the idea that people can only be sane when fed her weird SOWF is not sane either.

Consider: What is to be done with them? What can be done? Only what has had to be done so often before, with the children of Shammat, Shammat the disgraced and the disgraceful. And then the space lasers come in and Canopus kills millions. And yet blaming their problems on Shammat seems dubious: this is a colonised planet of Canopus, with Sirius. Shammat, sneaking in, must be a very minor presence. Can the glorious Canopus be so weak that their world is destroyed by a few Shammat? If so, perhaps they aren't being honest about how strong they are.

Consider: For Duty, in that last time, was all but forgotten. What Duty was, was not known. That something was Due, by them, was strange, inconceivable news they could not take in, absorb. They were set only for taking. Or for being given. They were all open mouths and hands held out for gifts - Shammat! All grab and grasp - Shammat! Shammat!... they had dues to pay to Canopus who had bred them, would sustain them through their long dark time, was protecting them against Shammat... so these are not free people; they are indentured to Canopus. As for the "protecting" - see previous comment.

This gets me as as far as p 150. I'll slog on a bit further and if I find anything to change my mind I'll update this.

Her prophecy is as poor as Marx and the others: Already in the eighth decade every government on Shikasta was preoccupied, often fearfully and secretively, with the consequences of mass unemployment, and particularly among the young. By then it was evident that the new (and often unforeseen) technologies would make mass unemployment inevitable everywhere, even without the world economic crisis which was due mostly to the spending of the wealth and resources of the planet primarily on wars and the preparations for wars; inevitable even if the population was not increasing at such a rate. These are familiar errors: mistaking the temporary for the long-term; fearing tech even though there are plenty of past examples (farming; spinning; ...); over-emphasis on war. I existed in the 80s. Things were not that bad.

There's a sequence of sketches of people-from-those-times; did she have those lying around and decided to stuff them in? As a part of a novel, they're odd. I'm now around p 300, George Sherban growing up.

Within that, I find something that I've seen before (and is explicitly there at the beginning of The Sirian Experiments): the idea that you should be able to understand, but that it can't be explained. Thus things happen, and (in this instance) RS asks her parents to explain, and they say "well you remember that time..." and she says "yes" and they say "and that's how it is" and nothing is explained. I think this is because La Lessing has not really worked things out; she cannot explain them; and is thus forced into these smokescreens of implicit-understanding: if you're the right sort of person you'll understand, if you aren't... well, sorry. Contrast this with say science: if you want to understand GR or QM, it is all carefully written down in detail. You might not understand it - if you're not the right sort of person you won't be good enough to - but the info is really there. Whereas for her stuff, it isn't.

Finished. Whew. It doesn't get better. We get a block of "George Sherban" growing up, as seen by other people (the book as a whole doesn't fit well together. It gives the impression of various bits written at various times rammed together with little revision), and the a "Trial" of the White Race by other people, but bizarrely and implausibly lead by GS. Typical stuff: 'The people who did this were the barbarians. They were...' and here came the familiar indictment: 'They were arrogant. Their exploitation of India was done in the name of progress and of their own superiority. Superior! Those ugly clumsy people with their thick minds and bodies! Yet these superior people were incapable of learning even the languages of the people they subjugated. They were ignorant of our customs, our history, our ways of thought. They were never anything but stupid people, stupid, ignorant, and self-satisfied.' And more of the same. It's not very imaginative. The defence is "but you do this too", with the examples of Africans enslaving Africans and from India, the Untouchables. The answer of course is that the White Folk had tech first so were able to act on a larger scale; that's all. Not that they were at base very different. Indeed, saying they were is the racism people making these accusations pretend to deplore. Does DL realise this? It is hard to tell.

Does the book have some kind of moral, or idea? It must have: because as a story it is meh, and as literature ditto. But the ideas I can find in it, per the above, are all bad.

Bonus mini-review: the Sirian Experiments

Kinda "the other side's perspective", i.e. the Sirian side (I don't think we ever get to see the Shammat viewpoint). Initially (this is a re-read) I found it better, with a bit more story, but it fades. Her irritating total ignorance of physics continues (at one point Earth, for no readily apparent reason, suddenly reverses axial rotation, then returns back, but with a tilt so we now have seasons. WTF? Why? This pointless and impossible catastrophe appears to happen only because she associates seasons with moral decline somehow... possibly some residual of coming from Africa to Europe?).

Some of the text confirms what I previously thought: that Canopus really is good, in her tales. At least Sirius believes it.

And once again there is the bizarre obscurantist mysticism: Klorathy tells her that things happen due to the need; or perhaps the Need. Why does he do this? He isn't stupid; he knows Ambien II doesn't understand. Is he really incapable of saying what he means, or is he just dressing up his own ignorance in mumbo-jumbo? You know what I think.

Lending-money-at-interest is, of course, condemned. Ironically - because she has to say it, but fails to think about it - she says "of course this practice kept coming back no matter how hard we tried to stamp it out". For her, this is evidence of the malign state of civilisation. It doesn't occur to ask whether the practice keeps recurring because it is useful; because people want it.

Lots of this is, effectively, "about" "colonialism", because we have the Sirians gaily shuffling populations around and then trying to learn better from the "wise" Canopean. At least, it seems to be about that because it is unsubtly rammed in your face. And yet the analogy, if it is one, seems poor.

Lastly, I agree that there are things that cannot be said, and have to be understood. But... they can be approximated, can be aimed at. Her constant use of the trope for all things is careless, lazy, fat.

Sunday 11 July 2021

July 2021: Lake District: Kendal

Very brief notes from a short week's holiday. With abroad iffy, we wanted to go somewhere, and having considered the North Pennines, Wales, Scotland and some elsewhere's, we ended up in the lakes; specifically, Kendal: partly because it had places to stay, partly because it seemed large enough to wander around for books and coffee, and partly because it was reasonably well connected. We did, however, find ourselves driving through Windermere and Ambleside most days, so perhaps next time I'd consider one of those as a base. Kendal itself looks somewhat sorry for itself. Whether that is generic, or whether Covid has been unkind, is unclear. It has a reasonable number of restos, most of which were shut on Monday and Tuesday.

Links are to GPS traces, where you'll find pix.

Sunday: pack am; drive up; arrive about 5. Find the place once we realise Kendal has a one-way system. The car park is in a "yard" behind; the appt itself will do us fine: downstairs has been tarted up in the modern taste; upstairs the bedrooms are OK (except they forgot sheets on D's bed, and a towel for him, and soap in the bathroom, and any spare bog paper).

Monday: wait out the early morning rain; then walk out of town off to Staveley along the Kent, which is about 10 km away. This turns out to be a nice walk, but importantly a fairly easy one, as M and I are finding our feet.

Tuesday: drive to Coniston, walk up the Old Man. M was unsure of her legs on this much ascent, so we dropped D+E in the village to slog up 200 m, and drove to the Walna Scar car park, which is up a fairly scary road. We joined up with D+E at 310 m, at the pass connecting The Bell. pm: walk quietly from Coniston to the lake, but the path takes a while to get to the lake if you want a lake walk, may be better to start elsewhere.

Wednesday: to Great Langdale, to Raven Crag, which is just behind the Old Dungeon Ghyll. This was our sunniest day, and was sunny, so we had great views from the climbs. M rested at the foot of the crag; I lead Middlefell Buttress (Diff, with the chimney start S, apparently; D did the VS 4c direct start) with D+E; then we did Original Route, having seen a couple of other parties do it. From the side it looks quite extreme, as it appears to be overhanging; but it isn't. We did have some route finding issues above the pinnacle; see my UKC logbook for both.

Thursday: Helvellyn via Striding Edge from Glenridding: good. D zoomed off into the distance early on; ME+I stayed together. We (I) got a little lost on the top, which was in cloud: Squirrel edge really isn't far along from the summit.

Friday: was leave-at-11 day, and we did. First M and I "did" the castle, which E had run to on her first morning; it has a bleak beauty. Then coffee in Brew Bros, which is just over the road. Then, since we could, we left via "the sea side" at Arnside and Silverdale. Both are pleasant enough to stop at, but unexciting.