Gesta Caroli

I’ve been neglecting the blog. Here is a series of disconnected thoughts:

  • WordPress comments have a severe spam problem. I just deleted 140 spam comments, usually promoting some kind of porn or timeshare in Cyrillic text.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold is a good writer. I suspect she’s also a progressive, but is emphatic and kind enough in her characterizations that it isn’t a problem. Very much of the Miles Vorkosigan saga is free on It’s a pretty good space opera with a 5′ main character, son of a war criminal, who accidentally takes over a mercenary fleet while out on holiday. I am listening to them again as I drive.
  • On Audible: I have been listening to a lot of books. I am currently on the 1 book a month plan. I was tempted to pay in advance, getting a discount, but that plan gives me 12 credits all at once at the beginning of the plan. I would use them all up and then be without credits.
  • On books: New books are generally leaving me cold. I have been re-reading stuff that I know I like. Bujold, as mentioned above, Larry Correia’s Sons of the Black Sword, which is ok. I think I’m going to read Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series, which is a gem. Of course, it’s almost time for Tolkien again. Andy Serkis has a Silmarillion narration that I’ll probably buy.
  • I was stuck in a situation where I watched some TV. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I don’t mean streaming, which can be good, but over-the-air TV, which is nearly completely devoid of worth. An absolute zero for the soul. Don’t do it!
  • I made Carolina Reaper Jelly, from scratch, with raspberries. It’s perfect. I also canned it! First time.

Blogging and the Death of Politics


I used to blog a lot in the early days. I would tell the world what I thought about the news of the day and rail against scoundrels in government, as if it would matter. I don’t do it anymore in public. What difference would it make? Public discourse by learned people (such as I considered myself to be) only makes a difference in a society that values discourse, that knows how to reason from premises to conclusions, and that has the humility to be able to change its mind when a compelling argument is made. This hasn’t been the case in my society for years.

Nobody is ever convinced by an argument. Emerson says “tell me your tribe and I know your argument,” but nowadays it doesn’t even matter. Tell me your tribe and no argument is needed.

I’d rather post here on esoteric bits of ancient Greek or about Homer or about strength training, and leave the dead to bury their dead. It’s not as if there’s an Aragorn out there. And if there were, it wouldn’t make any difference what I do.

Authorial reserve

I’m not the biggest Cormac McCarthy fan, but I saw a reference that he would turn down requests to discuss his works on college campuses, saying that he had said all he wanted to in the books themselves. “Everything he had to say was there on the page.”

This authorial reserve is rare these days. I’ve met a few authors, W. P. Kinsella, who was pleasant, Lois McMaster Bujold, who simply read from her novels, and Roger Zelazny. I also met Alasdair McIntyre, but I’m only counting fiction writers. Zelazny was the most interesting. I was a young man at the time working my way through the Amber novels, and I mentioned how it would be good for him to have a synopsis of what had gone before in front of each novel, since I was thoroughly confused. He smiled, said “Good!” and signed my book.

If you are a writer of fiction, your art is in the book. Let it speak for itself. As a counter-example, see J. K. Rowling, who can’t stop retconning her own work. Leave it alone! Writing is an elliptical art, leaving as much unsaid as said. The reader, at least the good reader, makes most of the experience of the book by him or herself. The gaps that the author leaves are where you come in. If the author tells you too much what the books mean, the experience is ruined.

In addition, as Socrates complained in the Apology, often the poets don’t really know what they mean anyway. The greatness of the book exists in spite of them, not because of them. “Rage, sing Muse the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles!” The Muses are real, and they don’t like it when you try to peek behind the curtain.

By the way, Kinsella’s works are nice, Bujold is worth reading, and Zelazny reached a peak in Lord of Light.

The recovery of property rights

It has become trendy these days to say “it’s just property,” when malefactors engage in organized theft. After all, there’s insurance! Is property worth a life?

When you attempt to homestead, even to the small extent I’m doing it, you realize that this is the wrong way to put it. Property is life. It’s the way in which I’m getting my food, and if you came and took it from me, you’d be stealing my food, which is another way of stealing my life. This may be less evident in the modern deracinated economy, but it’s still true. The 5th and 6th commandments are connected.


Points of View or Thoughts

“People should not have points of view, but thoughts!”


–Nietzsche, Friedrich


Do you have points of view? Are you part of a team, following an ideology, thinking the same way that everyone else on your team thinks? If this is the case, it’s likely that you aren’t thinking at all. You aren’t trying to reason from true premises to a true conclusion, but are adopting conclusions of people you like. Cialdini remarks in Influence that people will follow authority because, for the most part, it’s a more efficient way to live than to think. It usually works pretty well. But it’s not thinking.

You are familiar with the NPC meme, right? The crowd of grey people who say the same things at the same time? Don’t be too hard on them, since this is the way most people act throughout most of life. It’s like tying your shoes. You don’t stop to think about it because that would be inefficient. You just do it the same way every day, rather than reasoning out the best way to fasten the laces on your shoes.

Why would you do the inefficient act of thinking? According to Aristotle, it’s because of wonder. For Socrates, it’s because of eros. Some of us love wisdom, are philosophers, who find joy in understanding the truths of things, the causes, even the first causes. But such people are rare. Most of us just have points of view.

Artificial Intelligence got you down?

Everybody’s thinking about AI these days. What’s it going to mean for the world? Imagine a world where millions of middle managers and e-mail writers are out of work. Where will they go? What will they do? This is a real problem. Most people don’t work real jobs. By this I mean that they don’t work jobs that contribute to the material well-being of their fellow citizens. They don’t grow food, they don’t build houses, they don’t make sure the water is clean. What they do is arrange words in electronic files for other people to read and respond to, conduct zoom meetings, or create “content.” How can such jobs survive predictive language models?

In fact, how can any human activity survive? This is why AI is a completely different thing than the car replacing the buggy whip. Everyone will bring up that the car put buggy whip manufacturers out of business. This is true, but the car was not a decision tree. The car did not design its own replacements. It was still relatively close to the human decision maker. The car is still a tool of a human user. The AI will soon replace the user.
What is the distinctive human activity? Is there something that humans can do better than these predictive language models? I don’t think there really is. Since they are predictive language models, they are using a probabilistic approach to the grand total of human experience and knowledge. What human doctor is going to do better than an AI doc that can compare symptoms and diagnosis across millions of cases. I don’t think there’s any function that is necessarily done better by a human. We’ve already seen this in chess. Stockfish can beat every single human in the world.

The problem is trying to find worth using the function, as if humans are valuable because of something they can do. That’s wrong. The human is valuable simply because of what it is, simply because it’s human. We don’t need any other reason. If we’re going to start the Butlerian Jihad, we don’t need any reason except that humans are what we prefer. If you are a religious person, you can get a justification for this from the verse about humans being made in the image and likeness of God. If you are not, just admit that like prefers like, and that you are a human and therefore prefer humans.

More Greek Treasures

Today is, for some of us, the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Not the Republican. A publican is a tax collector, one who makes sure all the fees are collected for the government. The story is short: the Pharisee stands in the front of the temple bragging about how good he is. He probably is pretty good, actually, but the bragging seems to be the part that is frowned upon.

The publican stands in the back, eyes down, and says: ” Ὁ θεός, ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ”, usually translated as “O God, have mercy on me a sinner!” This is fine, as far as it goes, but the verb ἱλάσθητί is not in the present tense. It’s an aorist/past tense imperative. Something like “O God, may you have had mercy on me already, a sinner!” It’s very hard to do in English. “O God, already have mercy on me a sinner?”

How does this change the meaning? I don’t know. Perhaps the publican is giving thanks for mercies already received?

(It’s also not the verb for “have mercy”, but rather the verb for “appease”. “O God, already be appeased on my sake, a sinner?”

Pretty neat, huh?

UPDATE: I looked into the aorist imperative, and found some help on the wonderful website textkit. Greek verb tenses express both tense (the time it happened) and aspect (how it happened–was it completed or not?). An aorist imperative tells the person “Do it once!”, while a present imperative would mean “do it and keep doing it!” In this text, the publican is telling God to be appeased once, not to keep being appeased. Make of this what you will. Perhaps it’s a sign of repentance that he doesn’t expect to need continual mercy.

Original Languages: Why Bother?

This post isn’t about biblical theology, but about language.

Do you read texts in their original langauges? Most people don’t. I understand why—it takes a long time to get reading competency in a language. Not as long as you think, but longer than you’re probably prepared to study. But, if you do, treasures are revealed to you.

Today in some churches is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbs a tree to see Jesus as he passes by. Jesus has dinner with him, and everybody complains because he is a sinner, etc.

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

This is the translation approved by the US Catholic bishops. After this, Jesus says that salvation has come to his house. Seems straightforward, right? Bad guy repents and gets saved.

But let’s look at the Greek for verse 8:

Ἰδοὺ τὰ ἡμίσειά μου τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, κύριε, τοῖς πτωχοῖς δίδωμι, καὶ εἴ τινός τι ἐσυκοφάντησα ἀποδίδωμι τετραπλοῦν.

The verbs are bolded for you convenience. The first one (pronounced something like “didomi”) means “I give”. It’s present active indicative, not future or subjunctive as the New American Bible has it. “Behold I give half my possessions to the poor. . .” It’s the same with the second verb, “apodidomi”, “I restore” or “I repay”. Zacchaeus is literally saying that right now, this very moment, that’s what he does, not that he will do it in the future.

So, it could be interpreted differently, not that he was a bad man who repented, but that he was a good man. What to make of “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham?” It could be his eagerness to climb the tree that is the key, couldn’t it?

I don’t know the answer. As I said, this post isn’t about the Bible as theology. But because I can read a little Greek, I can see that the text itself is not the same as the translations. The translation is an interpretation. At Online Great Books, we encourage people to read the original texts (in translation) rather than commentaries on the text, because we want you to interpret it for yourself. Translations often contain hidden interpretations, and if you can read something in the original langauge, you probably should.

I know it takes time and effort, but imagine how many languages you could learn if you quit Netflix.

Briefly on the gods

Everyone’s first instinct when reading the ancient Greeks is to think that the gods are merely personifications of natural forces. The story is that the ancients would see things happen, and then, being dumb primitives, would say: “That thing there, that was done by a god!” Pretty silly, right?

But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t even think modern people think this way. When we are hit by natural forces, we feel like we percieve something personal in the attack. Stand outside in the storm, and you will know that Zeus exists, and just might hit you with a thunderbolt. Yes, I know that as a Christian I am not to believe literally in the Greek gods, except perhaps as demons. My point is that your experience of the powers of the world is every bit as personal as the ancients.

Consider the god Apollo, the god of light and music, but also the destroyer. He is called, in the beginning of the Iliad, “Farshooter Apollo”. ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος. It might be better translated as “crack-shot Apollo.” Deadeye Apollo? Sniper of snipers, Apollo. Whatever he aims at, he hits. But what does he shoot? In the beginning of the Iliad, it’s plague. He sends disease, unerringly to you. When you get sick and die, it’s because the gods have targeted you.

The modern equivalent: consider the way people think about cancer. It’s not a merely natural misfortune that happens, but rather a malevolent force that steals away life and loved ones. People even say “Cancer is a bitch,” personifying the disease as a goddess.

One of my rules of reading is that the ancients were not morons. If they believed something, they had good reason to believe it. Your job as a reader is to figure out what they believed and why. Victor Hugo says somewhere the job of history is to understand, not to judge. Now, beware of Eagle-eye Apollo!

The will of Zeus is being accomlished

The imperfect tense. If you think of verb tenses as determining just the time of an action (future, past, presesnt) you are missing something important. Tense tells also the way in which the action happens. The most common distinction is between a perfect tense and an imperfect tense. The perfect tense tells you that the action has been completed. Imperfect means that the action has not been completed, generally in the past. Let me give you an example.
Iliad line 5:

Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

“And the will of God was being accomplished.”

Look at the word τελέω: it is pronounced “teleo” and means “fulfill, accomplish, execute, perform.” If you read Aristotle, you see him talk of the telos, which is the good toward which actions are directed. Here it is the verb whose subject is the word “will.” But it’s not present or simple past. It is the imperfect tense. So, it means that while everything else happens, the rage of Achilles, the heroes being thrust into Hades, the will of Zeus is not yet accomplished, but is in process of being accomplished.

So, when you read the Iliad, the whole thing is the working out of Zeus’ will. He wants it all to happen. Troy must fall, but so must the Acheans who die in front of the city. Zeus wants it all, and is continuing to want it.