Plato’s Big Mistake (Louis Markos, January 31st, 2024, Imaginative Conservative)

Every time I reread the Protagoras or Meno, I am surprised anew that a man of Plato’s towering intellect and searing insight into human nature could have been so mistaken about the human propensity to sin and rebellion. Luckily for the development of Europe, the dangers inherent in Plato’s big mistake were neutralized for two millennia, partially by the corrections by Aristotle and then fully by the Christian doctrine of original sin, especially as it is developed in the writings of Augustine, Aquinas, and Dante.

As the late Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment, however, a rather unlikely character arose who gave new life to Plato’s belief that knowledge is virtue: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s motivation, of course, for adopting his view of human evil arose from quite a different source than that of Plato. As a pre-Christian thinker, Plato did not place himself in knowing opposition to the doctrine of original sin. Rousseau, on the other hand, as a post-Christian writer, was both conscious and intentional in his rejection of the biblical belief than man is by nature fallen and that his “problem”—that which keeps him from perfecting himself and building a perfect world—is his inborn propensity for sin and disobedience.

For Rousseau, man in his natural state was both free and innocent. It was external social corruption—not an internal state of rebellion—that was holding man back from his full potential. Man is born free, he cried out in the famous opening sentence of The Social Contract, but is everywhere in chains. It is only by throwing off the chains of convention and false hierarchy that man can return to his original state of purity: a state which Rousseau fancied he would find amongst the “noble savages” who lived on distant South Sea Islands and were thus isolated from the corruption of Western civilization. For Rousseau and his heirs the vehicle for freeing humanity from its chains was not so much spiritual as educational. Rousseau, though he would have disagreed with Plato in most other areas, agreed wholeheartedly that ignorance was the cause of most evil and that education was therefore the key to reforming the world.

Beginning with the French Revolution, an event which was inspired in great part by the writings of Rousseau, those who believed that the trouble with man was sin and rebellion would be labeled “conservative,” while those who countered that the problem was ignorance would be labeled “liberals.” What this meant in the practical political sphere is that conservatives were “law and order” rulers who felt the best way to deal with the sinful side of man was to establish social, political, legal, and religious barriers to contain and hem in that sinfulness. Liberals, on the other hand, nurtured a very different vision of government as an engine for the reforming and reshaping of man and society.

Up to this point, Rousseau, and Plato behind him, sounds like the teacher’s best friend. Can there be any nobler goal than that of eradicating ignorance? I know that I was motivated to pursue a career in education by the promise that I could use my gifts to help draw students up to higher levels of understanding and, by so doing, empower them to live lives of greater purpose and virtue. But then, I also knew that this promise was as exciting as it was illusory—that a man with a sixth grade education can be a saint, while a PhD can be both self-centered and immoral. And I knew—or learned—a third thing: that the promise and the illusion can be reconciled. As long as education is viewed within a realistic context of man’s natural propensity to sin, we can pledge ourselves with full gusto to the idealistic goal of moderating (rather than eliminating) the ignorance of that part of humanity which comes within our sphere.

But when the two views—the realistic and the idealistic—are cut off from one another, when society’s “planners” come to believe that they can reeducate all people in accordance with some national or global program, then is the lid of Pandora’s box thrown open wide and the world left prey to the egalitarian demons lurking therein.

It is the great tragedy of the Continent that the French led them into this mass murderous dead end.


“God’s Own Descent”: Dante, the Incarnation, & Frost’s “The Trial by Existence” (Myah Gebhard, February 6th, 2024, Imaginative Conservative)

However, Frost introduces his own poetic shift in these braided traditions by suddenly plunging into an incarnational focus at the end of the poem with the Christological figure of the brave soul. In the sixth stanza, he writes, “Nor is there wanting in the press / Some spirit to stand simply forth / Heroic in its nakedness, / Against the uttermost of earth…./ And the mind whirls and the heart sings, / And a shout greets the daring one…. / And the awe passes wonder then, / and a hush falls for all acclaim.”25 Frost’s previous reference to the daring souls as those “that are slain” and the description of this choice as a “sacrifice” is strongly reminiscent of the thirteenth chapter of Revelation, where silence falls in heaven before Christ appears as the Lamb “slain before the foundation of the world.”26 Scholar Cai Pei-Lin has noted that, besides the biblical resonances, Frost also appears to allude here to Milton’s figure of the Son of God.27 In Book III of Paradise Lost, God asks if anyone in heaven is willing to descend to earth to “redeem / Man’s mortal crime, and just the unjust to save.” The angels stand “mute / And silence was in heaven,” until the Son stands forth to become mortal flesh for man’s sake, telling the Father: “Behold me then: me for him, life for life / I offer…. / Account me Man; I for his sake will leave / Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee / Freely put off.”28

Frost’s allusion to Milton indicates that the sacrifice of this soul that all the other spirits behold at the top of the mountain is, in fact, the sacrifice of the Son of God in becoming flesh. Pei-Lin has also noted that Frost’s later description in “The Trial by Existence” of this event as God breaking “a flower of gold” is another reference to Milton. Further on in Book III, after the Son has declared his intention to become incarnate, Milton moves into a description of amaranth and gold as flowers connected with the Tree of Life and divinity itself: “Their crowns inwove with amaranth and gold / Immortal amaranth, a flower which once / In Paradise, fast by the tree of life / Began to bloom, but soon for man’s offence / To Heaven removed where first it grew, there grows / And flowers aloft shading the fount of life.”29 The association of this golden flower with the Son means that its “breaking” in the final stanzas points to a certain cruciform move inherent in the Incarnation itself. Thus, Frost pushes past Dante’s reticence by emphasizing that the vision at the top of this purgatorial-type mountain is Christ: in other words, the beatific vision is God-in-the-flesh. The human souls in his poem ascend the cliffs in order to look with “awe [passing] wonder” on Christ as the “brave soul” that chose to become flesh and broken for our binding together.30

From this turn towards the Incarnation, Frost moves into a deeply sacramental view of the world, one in which spirit and matter are irrevocably knitted together and purified by Christ’s presence. After describing the Son of God as a broken flower of gold, Frost continues to explain that God has used this broken flower as “the mystic link to bind and hold / Spirit to matter until death come.”31 Christ is portrayed here as ultimately fulfilling what Frost sees as the essential poetic vocation: to unite spirit and matter. The Incarnation is the final word, there will never be a future in which the spiritual is disconnected from the material. For Frost, paradise cannot be the place where one beholds pure spirit; instead, it is the place where one is finally able to experience their full unification in a divine affirmation of creation and matter.

In the last stanza, Frost turns to the experience of earthly life. Although spirit and matter are bound together in Christ as the broken flower, this does not mean that persons have this perception during their life. In fact, forgetfulness and lack of perception are a key aspect of earthly suffering. Frost draws attention to this in his recognition that “the essence of life here” is “still to lack / The lasting memory at all clear, / That life has for us on the wrack / Nothing but what we somehow chose.”32 These lines express how earthly life is often characterized by an inability to perceive meaning or freedom within suffering; Frost thinks this is because we cannot remember our own will to become enfleshed. However, he finds comfort in the fact that we are not alone in the suffering of earthly experience: “in the pain” there is “one close, / Bearing it crushed and mystified.”33

The description of this “one” as “crushed” and “bearing” human pain immediately recalls the image of Christ as the crushed flower in the previous stanza. His sharing in human flesh means that he is capable of being “close” in human suffering, and this proximity of divine presence is capable of transforming that experience. Frost’s grammar here is creatively ambiguous: one can read “crushed and mystified” as applying both to Christ himself and to the pain that is borne. This connection reinforces the idea of transformation. The descriptor “crushed” alludes to the breaking of the flower and also likely to Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ as “crushed” for man’s healing.34 The description “mystified” likewise contains a multilayered significance. Its more modern and common meaning of confusion echoes the forgetfulness of human experience that Frost attended to earlier in the poem. However, it also has the etymological source and older meaning of “full of mystery,” “mystical… of secret rites,” and mystic as “one who has been initiated.”35 This reading of the word in Frost’s final line emphasizes the sacramental significance of human experience and all of physical creation. Finally, Frost says that it is through this union that we are “wholly stripped of pride.”36 The binding together of spirit and matter allows for a process of purification that is a creative reworking of Dante’s Purgatorio, closely linking purgation as well as paradise closely to earth.

“The Trial by Existence” is an example of Frost’s strong and brilliant reworking of Dante’s poetic tradition in his own work. He incorporates many of Dante’s images, but he also pushes past the ending silence of Paradiso by making the incarnate Christ the sight at the top of the mountain. For Frost, the Incarnation is the religious pinnacle and affirmation of his poetic vocation to unite spirit and matter. It means that no matter how deeply one may enter into the spiritual, one never gets beyond the physical: they always mutually reveal one another. The religious concept of a sacrament or mystery expresses this very thing and is thus deeply incorporated into the ending of Frost’s poem. These theological themes make sense of the way that Frost continually uses his poetry to ascend to the highest spiritual places and yet always return with the conviction that “Earth’s the right place for love,” for Christ is the one in both these movements come together: in which divine descent and human ascent are united.37

It required Christ’s despair for the unification to occur.


Why Liberalism Needs Piety (Lee Trepanier, 2/13/24, Public Discourse)

[T]here has been little discussion of Aristotle’s view of piety and how it could enrich liberal politics. Mary P. Nichols, professor emerita of political science at Baylor University, fills in this gap with her book, Aristotle’s Discovery of the Human: Piety and Politics in the “Nicomachean Ethics.”

Beginning with Aristotle’s famous statement in his Politics—“Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god”—Nichols argues that Aristotle believes human flourishing occupies a middle ground between these two extremes. People need one another to flourish. By rising above our bestial natures, that is, learning how to live with others, we discover what is most akin to the divine in ourselves. But this also requires us to accept our limitations. We are not, and cannot become, gods. “A good human life, which reflects both the virtues and the limitations of the human,” writes Nichols, “would therefore neither deny the human connection to the divine nor try to eliminate the distance between the two.”

According to Nichols, Aristotelian human flourishing requires piety, the acknowledgment that humans are akin to the divine but cannot be divine themselves. The task of the political community is to support the life of piety. Aristotle refers to the works of the statesman, in securing the good of his community, as divine, including the honors we assign to the gods. Because we can wonder at the divine, we are elevated above the beasts and consequently can deliberate, make choices, and act in forming a political community that aims at the common good. And because we do not receive our ethical virtues from nature, we must be educated and acquire them through our efforts. As Nichols writes, it is, paradoxically, our piety that leads us to discover what is truly human within us, allowing us to cultivate life-giving community.

Whereas the moderns aspire to become gods, Aristotle’s piety limits human ambitions. He claims that we can become “blessed”—a state attributed to the gods—but only as human beings. We can think “divine thoughts,” but recognize that the source of those thoughts is outside of ourselves. The piety that emerges from Aristotle’s philosophy is “a source at the same time of confidence, on the one hand, and moderation, on the other.” Human flourishing occurs in a middle place between beasts and gods.


A Knife Forged in Fire: The author wanted a Japanese-style kitchen blade made for him by hand. What he witnessed was a combination of artistry and atomic magic. (LAURENCE GONZALES, JANUARY 9, 2024,Chicago)

Sam brought out what looked like a deck of tarot cards with nothing on them. No Hermit. No Hanged Man. No Fool. They were gray, thicker than ordinary cards, and clearly heavy in his hands. Inside of them a message waited. He had a long ritual to perform to release it.

As he shuffled the cards, they clattered together, revealing the first hint of their message: They were made of steel. He stacked them and squared up the edges so that all of the cards were nice and straight, nothing sticking out or crooked. Everything neat. The alchemical precision favored by Newton in his dim laboratories.

He clamped them in an industrial vise. Now the cards made a block about the size of a thick paperback book. They would never be individual cards again, these 12 pounds of two different kinds of steel, arranged in alternating layers.

The vise was mounted on a large metal table in the shop that Sam shares with his two brothers, who are fine woodworkers. The shop is in Skokie, which means “marsh” in the Potawatomi language, for these environs were once rich and populous wetlands before they were drained and turned into rows of low industrial buildings like this one and sturdy, modest residential homes. But the brothers have transformed this space into a marvelous cabinet of wonders in which to create whatever they might dream. Much of what is inside could have come from the 19th or early 20th century, great cast-iron machines of fabulous design, embossed with symbols no longer thought necessary to display on slick modern devices. In addition, some of the things in this sprawling realm of clutter might have come from another galaxy, like the ballistic cartridge for the table saw. If you accidentally touch the blade, it senses electrical conductivity and retracts. It’s gone so fast that it can’t cut you. It’s all part of the magic of this place of transformations.

Sam lowered his black face shield and picked up the MIG welder and pulled the trigger. The room lit up to an intensity such that Sam was cast as a silhouetted troupe of antic spiders dancing on the walls and floor and ceiling, sparks flying around him like a cracked nest of hornets and in his hands a burning blue hole at the center of things. All this to the roar of the forge’s fire across the room, heating up toward 2,400 degrees, and the insect chattering of the welder chewing away at liquid metal.

Sam bent over the light, his body curved around it like some sorcerer who’d caught a star and had it pinned there on the bench and was leaning over to examine it and chip away the edges. The bits were falling all around him and bouncing up in little arcs off the diamond floor of heaven. It was positively spooky the way that light stole the glory of the crisp and sunny autumn day outside the open roll-up door.

When he was done and I could look more closely without safety glasses, I saw that he had tacked the cards together with a misshapen bead of melted metal at each end of the stack. As a 12-pound solid oblong block of steel with runes inside, the stack would now be called a billet. To finish it off, he welded a two-foot length of steel rebar to one end to make a handle so that he could hold it.

Sam is afraid of some of his machines in the way that the lion tamer is afraid of his cats. You are confident. You know your skills. You have been doing this a long time. But you know that wild animals are always wild animals, and a false gesture, perhaps an unexpected noise, could set in motion events that could not be stopped. This pact requires utter honesty, complete truth. Sam is harnessing powers that few of us ever encounter in our lives. He’s directing them in order to reach down inside of this deck of tarot cards and transform the very atomic nature of its being. He’s doing what sorcerers do: magic.

John Maynard Keynes, a British economist, owned some of Isaac Newton’s papers. They were about alchemy, which was Newton’s lifelong obsession. Keynes gradually came to the conclusion that Newton “was not the first of the age of reason.” No, Keynes said, “he was the last of the magicians.”

Not the last. We have some right here in Chicago.

Sam Goldbroch is a knife maker. He was getting ready to make me a traditional Japanese-style kitchen knife.

Dieterich Buxtehude, Music, & the Experience of Life (Michael De Sapio, February 5th, 2024, Imaginative Conservative)

“Classical music” is itself a fairly recent concept, going back no further than the early Romantic period, and the formation of a distinct canon of works associated with the term was the work of the 19th and 20th centuries. “Classical music” would have been an entirely foreign concept to, say, Johann Sebastian Bach. For him, music was now, and he had to supply a constant demand of it for the functions of everyday life. The idea of creating art for posterity was characteristic of Romanticism. In Bach’s era the idea was for an artist to do a good job, to be a faithful servant, in the here and now.

And in Bach’s day, music was something to be done, not thought about. Music lovers did not spend hours debating how violinist X and violinist Y played executed a trill differently. They were too busy actually making music.

And music was everywhere. In church, in the village square, in elegant salons of the noblemen. Music for courtly dancing; music for theatrical performances: opera, plays, ballets. Real music, performed by live human beings. Music was experiential to a degree we can scarcely imagine today, when recordings have “frozen” the art form, making it something more like painting or architecture. (And yet recording has its own virtues, allowing us to preserve ideals of performance for reference, enjoyment, and study, to diffuse music widely and allow it to “last longer”—to some extent overcoming its limited and ephemeral nature. This too is a great good.)

We see Bach as the beginning of the Common Practice Period. This is the period that constitutes the mainstream “classical music” repertoire, and it includes the great Germanic line of composers from Bach and Handel through Bach’s sons, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (the Viennese Classicists), and on through Schubert and the German Romantics.

Anything before Bach is typically classed as “early music” and is a somewhat specialized field of interest. This is unfortunate, because there are many musical riches before Bach. Music is a continuing tradition, with each generation building upon the last. Bach’s genius and accomplishments were enormous, but they did not come out of a vacuum. He had an important early inspiration and mentor. His name was Dieterich Buxtehude.

What follows is a brief sketch of this pivotal yet all-too-little-known composer and musician. I wish to highlight in particular how he (like other artists of his day) made music a part of life. In this sense Buxtehude is an illustration of how music used to be enjoyed in a world very different from our own.


Seeing Thomas Hart Benton’s Panorama of American Life from Another Angle: The series of murals collectively known as “America Today” depict vignettes of a growing, changing nation in vibrant color. (J. McMahon • 01/15/24, NY Observer)

I asked my old friend and teacher from the Art Students League, Costa Vavagiakis, master of painting technique himself, to comment on Breton, whom he greatly admires. “Thomas Hart Benton was an intensely erudite progressive who saw the beauty in the need and function of all things… He comes from the lineage of Michelangelo, Cambiaso, Tintoretto and El Greco.”

Each of Breton’s ten panels has a theme. In City Activities With Subway, burlesque dancers on stage balance boxers in the ring along the top while strap hangers commute in anonymity, ignoring one another, while across the canvas lovers make out on a park bench. Down the center, the mass of humanity works and prays and trogs through life, all depicted in the same muscular, flowing style.

Across the room, the Deep South panel shows a world a thousand miles away from big city life. where black men fill bags with cotton and transport the white fluff to a waiting river boat with horse and carriage while white men use machines to do the same job on the opposing side. From both sides the cotton is loaded onto an old paddle steamer boat of the kind that was already part of the past when Benton painted the panel, having witnessed and sketched just such a scene on the Missouri River when he was traveling. Capturing in one panel past, present and future.

Throughout the work, which celebrates the dynamism of the Jazz Age, there are reminiscences of times past, and also of hard times to come. We see biplanes in the sky and giant steam shovels gouging out mountains but we also see ranch hands corralling stock and dead tired laborers bent over pickaxes. Money flows freely as couples dance in elegant nightclubs and sit in cinemas, but the spewing ticker tape machine boxes the looming economic crisis to come.

In a piece about “America Today” for Smithsonian magazine, Paul Theroux wrote: “None of it was fanciful or exaggerated; it is a true portrait of the Jazz Age, which was also the era of intense industrialization in the United States when cotton was king and oil was beginning to gush; of clearing land for the planting of wheat and cotton, the making of steel and mining of coal, when New York skyscrapers were rising and the city was bursting with life.”


A Sense of Where You Are: What makes a truly great basketball player? (John McPhee, January 25, 1965, The New Yorker)

Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year’s Southern Conference champion, from the N.C.A.A. championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple—two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton boys shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from twenty feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots—the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball—and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.

Bradley has a few unorthodox shots, too. He dislikes flamboyance, and, unlike some of basketball’s greatest stars, has apparently never made a move merely to attract attention. While some players are eccentric in their shooting, his shots, with only occasional exceptions, are straightforward and unexaggerated. Nonetheless, he does make something of a spectacle of himself when he moves in rapidly parallel to the baseline, glides through the air with his back to the basket, looks for a teammate he can pass to, and, finding none, tosses the ball into the basket over one shoulder, like a pinch of salt. Only when the ball is actually dropping through the net does he look around to see what has happened, on the chance that something might have gone wrong, in which case he would have to go for the rebound. That shot has the essential characteristics of a wild accident, which is what many people stubbornly think they have witnessed until they see him do it for the third time in a row. All shots in basketball are supposed to have names—the set, the hook, the lay-up, the jump shot, and so on—and one weekend last July, while Bradley was in Princeton working on his senior thesis and putting in some time in the Princeton gymnasium to keep himself in form for the Olympics, I asked him what he called his over-the-shoulder shot. He said that he had never heard a name for it, but that he had seen Oscar Robertson, of the Cincinnati Royals, and Jerry West, of the Los Angeles Lakers, do it, and had worked it out for himself. He went on to say that it is a much simpler shot than it appears to be, and, to illustrate, he tossed a ball over his shoulder and into the basket while he was talking and looking me in the eye. I retrieved the ball and handed it back to him. “When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t need to look at the basket when you are in close like this,” he said, throwing it over his shoulder again and right through the hoop. “You develop a sense of where you are.”

Bradley is not an innovator. Actually, basketball has had only a few innovators in its history—players like Hank Luisetti, of Stanford, whose introduction in 1936 of the running one-hander did as much to open up the game for scoring as the forward pass did for football; and Joe Fulks, of the old Philadelphia Warriors, whose twisting two-handed heaves, made while he was leaping like a salmon, were the beginnings of the jump shot, which seems to be basketball’s ultimate weapon. Most basketball players appropriate fragments of other players’ styles, and thus develop their own. This is what Bradley has done, but one of the things that set him apart from nearly everyone else is that the process has been conscious rather than osmotic. His jump shot, for example, has had two principal influences. One is Jerry West, who has one of the best jumpers in basketball. At a summer basketball camp in Missouri some years ago, West told Bradley that he always gives an extra hard bounce to the last dribble before a jump shot, since this seems to catapult him to added height. Bradley has been doing that ever since. Terry Dischinger, of the Detroit Pistons, has told Bradley that he always slams his foot to the floor on the last step before a jump shot, because this stops his momentum and thus prevents drift. Drifting while aloft is the mark of a sloppy jump shot. Bradley’s graceful hook shot is a masterpiece of eclecticism. It consists of the high-lifted knee of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Darrall Imhoff, the arms of Bill Russell, of the Boston Celtics, who extends his idle hand far under his shooting arm and thus magically stabilizes the shot, and the general corporeal form of Kentucky’s Cotton Nash, a rookie this year with the Lakers. Bradley carries his analyses of shots further than merely identifying them with pieces of other people. “There arc five parts to the hook shot,” he explains to anyone who asks. As he continues, he picks up a ball and stands about eighteen feet from a basket. “Crouch,” he says, crouching, and goes on to demonstrate the other moves. “Turn your head to look for the basket, step, kick, follow through with your arms.” Once, as he was explaining this to me, the ball curled around the rim and failed to go in.

“What happened then?” I asked him.

“I didn’t kick high enough,” he said.

“Do you always know exactly why you’ve missed a shot?”

“Yes,” he said, missing another one.

“What happened that time?”

“I was talking to you. I didn’t concentrate. The secret of shooting is concentration.”

His set shot is borrowed from Ed Macauley, who was a St. Louis University All-American in the late forties and was later a star member of the Boston Celtics and the St. Louis Hawks. Macauley runs the basketball camp Bradley first went to when he was fifteen. In describing the set shot, Bradley is probably quoting a Macauley lecture. “Crouch like Groucho Marx,” he says. “Go off your feet a few inches. You shoot with your legs. Your arms merely guide the ball.” Bradley says that he has more confidence in his set shot than in any other. However, he seldom uses it, because he seldom has to. A set shot is a long shot, usually a twenty-footer, and Bradley, with his speed and footwork, can almost always take some other kind of shot, closer to the basket. He will take set shots when they are given to him, though. Two seasons ago, Davidson lost to Princeton, using a compact zone defense that ignored the remoter areas of the court. In one brief sequence, Bradley sent up seven set shots, missing only one. The missed one happened to rebound in Bradley’s direction, and he leaped up, caught it with one hand, and scored. Even his lay-up shot has an ancestral form; he is full of admiration for “the way Cliff Hagan pops up anywhere within six feet of the basket,” and he tries to do the same. Hagan is a former Kentucky star who now plays for the St. Louis Hawks. Because opposing teams always do everything they can to stop Bradley, he gets an unusual number of foul shots. When he was in high school, he used to imitate Bob Pettit, of the St. Louis Hawks, and Bill Sharman of the Boston Celtics, but now his free throw is more or less his own. With his left foot back about eighteen inches—“wherever it feels comfortable,” he says—he shoots with a deep-bending rhythm of knees and arms, one-handed, his left hand acting as a kind of gantry for the ball until the moment of release. What is most interesting, though, is that he concentrates his attention on one of the tiny steel eyelets that are welded under the rim of the basket to hold the net to the hoop—on the center eyelet, of course—before he lets fly. One night, he scored over twenty points on free throws alone; Cornell hacked at him so heavily that he was given twenty-one free throws, and he made all twenty-one, finishing the game with a total of thirty-seven points. When Bradley, working out alone, practices his set shots, hook shots, and jump shots, he moves systematically from one place to another around the basket, his distance from it being appropriate to the shot, and he does not permit himself to move on until he has made at least ten shots out of thirteen from each location. He applies this standard to every kind of shot, with either hand, from any distance. Many basketball players, including reasonably good ones, could spend five years in a gym and not make ten out of thirteen left-handed hook shots, but that is part of Bradley’s daily routine. He talks to himself while he is shooting, usually reminding himself to concentrate but sometimes talking to himself the way every high-school j.v. basketball player has done since the dim twenties—more or less imitating a radio announcer, and saying, as he gathers himself up for a shot, “It’s pandemonium in Dillon Gymnasium. The clock is running out. He’s up with a jumper. Swish!” Last summer, the floor of the Princeton gym was being resurfaced, so Bradley had to put in several practice sessions at the Lawrenceville School. His first afternoon at Lawrenceville, he began by shooting fourteen-foot jump shots from the right side. He got off to a bad start, and he kept missing them. Six in a row hit the back rim of the basket and bounced out. He stopped, looking discomfited, and seemed to be making an adjustment in his mind. Then he went up for another jump shot from the same spot and hit it cleanly. Four more shots went in without a miss, and then he paused and said, “You want to know something? That basket is about an inch and a half low.” Some weeks later, I went back to Lawrenceville with a steel tape, borrowed a stepladder, and measured the height of the basket. It was nine feet ten and seven-eighths inches above the floor, or one and one-eighth inches too low.


Thomas Piketty’s Motte and Bailey: Don’t expect new research to convince the egalitarians’ leading ido (Vincent Geloso, Jan 18 2024, City Journal)

To understand the contemporary debate about income inequality, it helps to be familiar with the deceptive rhetorical technique known as the motte-and-bailey. The motte-and-bailey involves a party making a tenuous, radical claim, then redirecting the argument toward a more agreed-upon, defensible claim when challenged on the radical one, only later to return to the tenuous claim. The technique is named for a style of medieval defensive settlements, in which a defensible stone keep (the motte) is situated on a raised earthwork. A courtyard and ditch (the bailey) surround the motte. The motte is the stronger position, while the bailey is the weaker. Defenders retreat to the motte when attacked, then, once the threat has subsided, return to the bailey.

Economist Thomas Piketty and his collaborators Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman are skilled motte-and-bailey technicians, extending indefensible claims about rising inequality, retreating to agreed-upon facts of social and economic change, and then reclaiming their radical baileys once attacks fade. […]

This radical bailey position is made untenable in three ways. First, my work with Phil Magness, John Moore, and Phil Schlosser (published in Economic Journal and Economic Inquiry) suggests that Piketty was careless in his usage of historical source materials and made numerous important errors in estimating inequality pre-1960. One involved his application of a rough estimation of income, though original sources contained data that could have enabled a more precise calculation. My coauthors and I tried to refine these pre-1960 estimates. Further, Piketty’s work contained significant historical inaccuracies (such as overlooking the exemption of state and local government employees from federal taxes before 1938) and misrepresented several steps in his methodology. We addressed these errors, too. Overall, we discovered that Piketty overstated inequality levels before the 1960s by about 20 percent.

Second, our work in Economic Inquiry showed that most of the levelling in the 1930s occurred as a result of the wiping out of capital gains. Roughly four-fifths of the “golden age” of equality (between 1950 and 1980) owed to the Great Depression, not tax policy. This finding is hard to celebrate because it means that greater equality was achieved while everyone was getting poorer. It also eliminates most of the purported influence of higher tax rates in generating the “golden age” of equality.

Third, the work of Gerald Auten and David Splinter shows that the golden age was not so golden. Once they corrected for how tax policy often encouraged changes in how taxpayers organized their income sources according to corporate or personal identities, they found that inequality started from a higher floor in the 1960s than Piketty and his colleagues presume. They also find a milder increase in inequality since the 1980s.


The 1990s card game that ‘predicted’ 9/11, Donald Trump, Covid and the Capitol riot: Illuminati: New World Order continues to attract conspiracy theorists three decades after its launch for its apparently uncanny ability to foretell the future (Joe Sommerlad, 29 April 2021, The Independent)

Illuminati: New World Order was released by Steve Jackson Games and cast the player as a puppet-master pursuing world domination on behalf of their chosen mythic secret society, the game offering a choice of the Bavarian Illuminati, the Discordian Society, the UFOs, the Servants of Cthulhu, the Bermuda Triangle and the Gnomes of Zurich.

The goal of Illuminati – spun off from the same company’s 1982 board game that was in turn inspired by The Illuminatis! Trilogy (1975) fantasy novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson – is to develop and consolidate a power structure through which to rule the globe from the shadows on behalf of your chosen order, manipulating society and dealing out apocalyptic blows to your opponents as you go.

“Maybe the Illuminati are behind this game,” Mr Shea wrote in his introduction to the original game’s rulebook.

“They must be – they are, by definition, behind everything.”

While the game’s preoccupation with globalist deep state conspiracy themes was clearly wildly ahead of its time, anticipating our bamboozled, boggle-brained era of fictional election-rigging claims, QAnon, anti-vaxxers, 5G paranoia and seething app-based nonsense cauldrons like Telegram, it’s the 2,000AD, Tarot-style illustrations on the cards themselves that are the real source of fascination. […]

Illuminati has long-since been discontinued and become a collector’s item, with unsealed decks sold on Amazon and eBay for almost $2,000, the wildly inflated price an indicator of high demand among a certain sort of feverish-minded consumer.

In addition to the game’s artwork, a further source of intrigue is the fact that the Secret Service raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas, on 1 March 1990 and confiscated hard drives and documents, some of which pertained to the board game.

While conspiracy theorists believe this represented the feds moving in to hastily hush up Illuminati and stop the developers revealing the existence of its secret societies to the wider world (why would you choose to make that information public in board game form, rather than, say, by hosting a press conference?), this is simply untrue.

One of the company’s employees, Loyd Blankenship, was also a hacker who served as the system operator for a messaging board that had published a stolen set of files detailed how America’s 911 emergency response systems worked, a fact the Secret Service had been tipped off to and been a granted a search warrant to investigate.


CRACKING THE CODE OF LINEAR B (Theodore Nash, 1/18/24, Antigone)

It is one thing to excavate material, but quite another to publish it. Though Evans did produce the monumental Palace of Minos (6 vols, 1921–35), this was more a synthesis of Minoan culture as he had come to understand it than a proper archaeological publication. When Evans died in 1941 (believing, if we can credit Maurice Bowra’s report, that Knossos had just been bombed by the Germans), the vast bulk of the tablets remained unpublished. So responsibility for this material passed to Sir John Myres, the recently retired Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford. Myres had worked with Evans on Crete as far back as the 1890s, but in his retirement lacked the vigour required for this difficult task.

That Evans had published so few of the tablets in his lifetime undoubtedly delayed the possibility of decipherment. When investigating an unknown script, the greater the quantity of evidence available, the greater the possibility that recurring patterns may become visible, and from these the underlying structures deduced. Alice Kober, a professor at Brooklyn College, embraced this challenge in spite of the limited material, managing to make observations that guided the way to a successful decipherment.

From 1943 to 1950, Kober published a series of articles in which she demonstrated that Linear B was used to spell an inflected language – that is, a language (like Latin and Greek) which changes the endings of words to express their grammatical function. Kober would eventually collaborate with Myres to get the Knossos tablets published, but died in 1950, aged only 43, too early to see flowers blossom in the garden that she had so painstakingly tended.

More significant even than the publication of the Knossos tablets was the beginning of excavation atop the Englianos ridge in Western Messenia in 1939. Here Carl Blegen, returning to Greece after his great excavations at Troy, would uncover the Palace of Nestor at the Homeric “sandy Pylos”. On the first day of excavation he uncovered the palace’s archive room, and in that year alone found some 600 tablets. He entrusted study and publication of these to one of his graduate students, Emmett Bennett, who, after the interruption of war, was able to complete from photographs a study of the Linear B signs in the Pylos tablets. This in 1947: in 1951 he added a full transcription of the same tablets, which would provide a major stimulus to Ventris.

Especially in recent years, which have seen a new celebration of Kober’s work, it is probably Bennett’s achievement which is the most overlooked in popular accounts. But it was he who established which variations were possible within individual signs (as I vs I) and which truly separated two signs (as G vs C). Without this, of course, no attempt at decipherment could stand on steady feet.

It was against this background that a young English architect took an interest in the problem. When Michael Ventris was still a pupil at Stowe School he saw a display of Greek and Minoan art at Burlington House; and by the sort of accident that changes the path of one’s life, was given an impromptu tour by Sir Arthur Evans, who happened also to be visiting. After viewing some tablets, Ventris had to confirm something that he had heard: “Did you say the tablets haven’t been deciphered, Sir?”