Zhang Fei
Since Oct 4, 2004

view home page, enter name:
Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always.

General Douglas A. MacArthur (at the Japanese surrender ceremony)

Christendom is honor and the fatherland and man with his back to the wall. It is the glory of lost causes and the splendor of certain defeat...

Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, The Bankruptcy of American Optimism

There is no such thing as was — only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow.

William Faulkner

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge

Let's not ignore the Wisdom of the East:
Taoism: The knockout game that can be spoken of is not the true knockout game.
Confucianism: The Master said: What the superior man seeks is in himself. What the mean man seeks is to knock out the superior man.
Legalism: If the people fear the knockout game, they will be docile, and the nation will be strong.

John Derbyshire on the knockout game, viewed through an Oriental lens.

To be or not to be knocked out, that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the fists and boots of outraged Polar Bear Hunters or to take arms against a sea of troubles.


Given the complexity and throw-away nature of today's products, I've come to the conclusion that it would take less time and effort to get a part-time job slinging burgers and use the extra income to buy a new device.

mike at electronicspoint.com on DIY efforts to repair electronic products

A problem for a lot of lesbians is that they are trapped in an essentialist construction that says that lesbians have to be female. If they were more open to relationships with members of the male lesbian community they might find their sex lives getting more active. The activist group Dykes With D**ks has been working on these issues for some time now.

A very knowing American at isteve.blogspot.com

In the twentieth century, some of the major advocates of utilitarianism were Communists. While a soft-hearted, soft-headed bourgeois Kantian moralist might think torture or mass murder were just wrong, a sophisticated dialectical thinker would realize that they're OK as long as they're carried out by a revolutionary vanguard to hasten the advent of utopia for hundreds of millions. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

The history of Communism shows one of the big problems with utilitarianism. Even if you think it's OK in principle to sacrifice the few for the many, you have to be leery of the fact that somehow it was the guys doing the utilitarian calculus who seemed to wind up with the omelet, such as it was, and other people's eggs that got broken.

Robert Wright correctly emphasizes how much our moral judgements are likely to be skewed by self-serving self-deception. The commandment to maximize total happiness — subject to no side constraints on avoiding harm, leaving well-enough alone, and minding one's own business — may allow an especially wide scope for screwing people over in the name of Doing Good.

A very knowing American at isteve.blogspot.com

This new meme about the bizarre, inexplicable paradox of wildly successful companies being way too white and male seems to be very much like the classic recurring New York Times headline:

"Falling Crime, Teeming Prisons" Oct 29, 2011

"Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates" Nov 8, 2004

"Record 454,136 in prison as crime rates fall" Aug 28, 1984

Less crime, more guys* in prison? What possible connection could there be? Something to do with the enduring legacy of Jim Crow or Prohibition or something. Or maybe there are some things mankind** was just not meant to understand.

* people. Sorry.
** humankind. Really, really sorry.

A very knowing American at isteve.blogspot.com

Great stuff. This seems to be a big difference between ancient Greek and Chinese intellectual life. A good book here is "The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early Greece and China," by Geoffrey Lloyd, historian of Greek science, and Nathan Sivin, historian of Chinese science. The book makes clear that apart from differences in content, the two traditions had huge differences in style, Greeks being more confrontational, and deliberately courting controversy, Chinese harking back to the ancestors as authorities.

The Chinese approach seems to work OK for technology (if my machine works, this doesn't have to mean your machine doesn't work), but not so well for science (if my theory of the solar system is true, then yours is crap).

A telling bit is Aristotle writing about how Plato had been a great teacher and friend, but then declaring that truth is greater than friendship, and ripping into the guy.

A very knowing American at isteve.blogspot.com

I think Wagner, although a massive figure in Western culture, sort of falls off the radar screen even for a lot of educated people because you can't really squeeze him into a Great Books curriculum with Dante and Dostoevsky, nor do you get as much out of sticking him on the CD player as you do with a lot of other composers. Performance is really crucial: The New York Metropolitan Opera broadcast the Ring cycle in live HD over the last two years, and the experience was pretty amazing.

Also, everybody knows Wagner was a Bad Person: a German nationalist, an anti-Semite, etc. But an awful lot of even educated people don't know that his work, far from worshiping power, is saturated in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, by way of Schopenhauer: love is annihilation of the self, all striving is suffering that ends in death, etc. Wagner actually considered writing a "Buddhist" opera, including reincarnation, to be called Die Sieger (The Conquerors), although he never got around to it. It messes with people's heads to think that a Bad Person could actually be doing something Good and multiculturally correct like responding sympathetically and intelligently to the Wisdom of the East.

A very knowing American at isteve.blogspot.com

And in an effort to prevent others from finding their own way to the top, from time to time the various organs of the Republic would engage in a disinformation campaign. Histories of successful people were reportedly distorted and 'enhanced,' to make their later success easier to understand, while at the same time ensuring that their efforts could not be easily duplicated by simply copying their behaviors & actions. It was trivial to enact: those who had achieved great wealth often enjoyed the ego-feeding exercise of believing that they were predestined to achieve it, that they were special; rather than the reality that at that age, they had run calculation after calculation, and were never sure of their own success.

The effects were plain to see -> a heavily romanced view of reality often lead to others internalizing the various actions of the characters seen on screen and in books; watchers would come away, thinking that if they were simply passionate enough about their chosen road to riches, then they could achieve all things; the prerequisites for achieving this success were sadly glossed over, and almost totally unreplicable. Just as 'Stand and Deliver' gave way to an entire generation of teachers who believed that they could change things by just caring a little more / fighting the system on behalf of their students, the point of these works was to activate the emotional centers of the brain, while deactivating the logical centers. Thus you ended up with what is essentially a headless army -> people willing to do something, but with no idea how to actually achieve it; they bought the kit for an airplane, which they believe will give them wondrous weekend holidays in Canada, but lack the instructions and know how to put it together.

It would be three centuries before anyone realized how damaging these efforts were, and an additional 150 years before they would be disbanded.

Lightnight at apple.slashdot.org

The big achievement of the West is not some magically higher number of geniuses, it’s the culture of cultivation of geniuses. Godfrey Hardy used to say that discovering Ramanujan was his biggest achievement in mathematics. If he hadn’t dragged the guy out of India no one would know about his work. Hardy himself used to say that he didn’t want to do any “useful”, applied work because it could be used for war.

In England, these guys could get paid to work on their “useless” number theory which actually has found a lot of use and Hardy would probably be disappointed by how much of his innocent number theory is now used in cryptography and war. In just about any other society Ramanujan would have been dismissed as a freak and Hardy would have been considered useless. The culture that tolerates and supports an academic subculture that produces nothing that the rulers can even understand, that is a rare achievement.

Jaakko Raipala at isteve.blogspot.com

Zhang Fei (? - 221 AD) was a military official who served the Shu Han kingdom (in what is now China) during the Three Kingdoms era (220 - 280 AD). During the 60-year extent of the Three Kingdoms era, the Roman empire had 21 successive emperors (some via inheritance, others via popular acclaim), 19 of whom died unnatural deaths. It was a period of great turmoil in Europe, North Africa, the Near East and Northeast Asia. In a Wikipedia entry, a common cause is posited for these disturbances:

William H. McNeill (b.1917), a world historian, noted in chapter three of his book Plagues and Peoples (1976) that the Roman Empire suffered the severe and protracted Antonine Plague starting around 165 A.D. For about twenty years, waves of one or more diseases, possibly the first epidemics of smallpox and/or measles, swept through the Empire, ultimately killing about half the population. Similar epidemics also occurred in the third century. McNeill argues that the severe fall in population left the state apparatus and army too large for the population to support, leading to further economic and social decline that eventually killed the Western Empire. The Eastern half survived due to its larger population, which even after the plagues was sufficient for an effective state apparatus.

This theory can also be extended to the time after the fall of the Western Empire and to other parts of the world. Similar epidemics caused by new diseases may have weakened the Chinese Han empire and contributed to its collapse. This was followed by the long and chaotic episode known as the Six Dynasties period. Later, the Plague of Justinian may have been the first instance of bubonic plague. It, and subsequent recurrences, may have been so devastating that they helped the Arab conquest of most of the Eastern Empire and the whole of the Sassanid Empire. Archaeological evidence is showing that Europe continued to have a steady downward trend in population starting as early as the 2nd century and continuing through the 7th century. The European recovery may have started only when the population, through natural selection, had gained some resistance to the new diseases.

In popular culture, Zhang Fei is a character in the 14th century Chinese epic novel "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms", collated much as the Iliad was, from oral traditions - real or embroidered - passed on over the centuries. This saga is available in an English translation by CH Brewitt Taylor. It begins with:

Empires wax and wane;
states cleave asunder and coalesce.
and ends with
All down the ages rings the note of change,
For fate so rules it; none escapes its sway.
The three kingdoms have vanished as a dream,
The useless misery is ours to grieve.
Resources: A History of China, Wolfram Eberhard.