Insignificant Speech as madness

There is yet another fault in the Discourses of some men; which may also be numbred amongst the sorts of Madnesse; namely, that abuse of words, whereof I have spoken before in the fifth chapter, by the Name of Absurdity.

And that is, when men speak such words, as put together, have in them no signification at all; but are fallen upon by some, through misunderstanding of the words they have received, and repeat by rote; by others, from intention to deceive by obscurity. And this is incident to none but those, that converse in questions of matters incomprehensible, as the Schoole-men; or in questions of abstruse Philosophy.

The common sort of men seldome speak Insignificantly, and are therefore, by those other Egregious persons counted Idiots. But to be assured their words are without any thing correspondent to them in the mind, there would need some Examples; which if any man require, let him take a Schoole-man into his hands, and see if he can translate any one chapter concerning any difficult point; as the Trinity; the Deity; the nature of Christ; Transubstantiation; Free-will. &c. into any of the moderne tongues, so as to make the same intelligible; or into any tolerable Latine, such as they were acquainted withall, that lived when the Latine tongue was Vulgar.

What is the meaning of these words. “The first cause does not necessarily inflow any thing into the second, by force of the Essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help it to worke?” They are the Translation of the Title of the sixth chapter of Suarez first Booke, Of The Concourse, Motion, And Help Of God. When men write whole volumes of such stuffe, are they not Mad, or intend to make others so?

And particularly, in the question of Transubstantiation; where after certain words spoken, they that say, the White-nesse, Round-nesse, Magni-tude, Quali-ty, Corruptibility, all which are incorporeall, &c. go out of the Wafer, into the Body of our blessed Saviour, do they not make those Nesses, Tudes and Ties, to be so many spirits possessing his body? For by Spirits, they mean alwayes things, that being incorporeall, are neverthelesse moveable from one place to another.

So that this kind of Absurdity, may rightly be numbred amongst the many sorts of Madnesse; and all the time that guided by clear Thoughts of their worldly lust, they forbear disputing, or writing thus, but Lucide Intervals. And thus much of the Vertues and Defects Intellectuall.

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Back to work

The world of work has been slow to revive since Freedom Day. The trains have been filling up for a while and the masks coming off, but the latter may be going into reverse.

Many are still working from home. Many (I suspect) will find the end of furlough is the beginning of unemployment, but with the economy picking up faster than expected, we might not be looking out at the apocalyptic wasteland we feared.

The trains are a lot busier than a fortnight ago, but even before then they were beginning to fill up. I saw passengers standing in the aisles this morning – albeit because they were still reluctant to squash bottom-to-bottom with fellow travellers.

Masks are still generally worn on the Tube in London in the morning at least. That will take a while to wear off, or a change in the Mayor’s commandment.

Shops, many of them, still display pious signs about wearing a face-muzzle and using that allergic goo on your hands, but I have seen no evidence of insistence, except in a couple of particularly close-confined venues in the Midlands.

Work itself does not stop. Builders have continued to build and to improve  buildings throughout the COVID period and shops have opened in hope in spite of the efforts of government to destroy them. Had the professions  which serve this activity actually stopped in lockdown then the economy would have collapsed irretrievably. The revolution has been the technology and broad broadband allowing some desk-jockeys to work almost seamlessly from home: this would not have been possible even a few years ago and for many it still would not be possible.

(It did seem sometimes that a few, those who ignored the lockdown and carried on as normal, were bearing the whole burden of keeping the ship from running into the rocks. It would need a better analysis to say how far that is true than a frustrated observation from behind an office desk.)

The working population now seems split into four: the dismissive and the fearful and the bullies as observed in earlier articles, but the majority are the meekly compliant. The  latter are dangerous. How can there be resistance to tyranny if even in Britain, the well-spring of individual freedom, there is such docility?

It looks from here as if lockdown did not end on 19 July 2021, but just started to fade away. There are still bullies who delight in putting hazard tape on the pavements and shouting signs on every highway. Now at least I feel better able to laugh in their faces, maskless, as they are made powerless.

You have to be the change you want to see. I want a change to normality.

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Wonder of the Peak 0: introduction

De Mirabilibus Pecci is one of the lesser works of Thomas Hobbes, but influential, as others have followed him to explore and describe the Seven Wonders of the Peak. Over the next seven days (if I can manage it) I would like to look at them too.

William Camden may have been to record the tradition of seven wonders in the Peak District:

There are in High Peake wonders three,
A deepe hole, Cave, and Den,
Commodities as many bee,
Led, Grasse, and Sheepe in pen.
And Beauties three there are withall,
A Castle, Bath, Chatsworth.
With places more yet meet you shall
That are of meaner worth.

The Peak District is a wonderous place, certainly, and choosing just seven places for a list is limiting. The list, by Camden then by Hobbes, is fixed now, and ranges in themes that explore the eclectic nature of the Peak District.

Hobbes was born, of course, in Wiltshire, but he travelled widely, and lived for many years as a guest of the Earls of Devonshire, his patrons. He composed De Mirabilibus Pecci (‘Of the Wonders of the Peak’) as a grateful tribute to the 3rd Earl, his former pupil and his patron (who owned much of the Peak). It is a long poem, in Latin so I cannot comment on the quality of the poetry. The quality of the seven wonders he listed however I can explore. Mercifully for readers, I will do so in prose.

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0 Introduction – 1 Chatsworth2 The Ebbing and Flowing Well3 Eldon Hole4 St Ann’s Well5 Poole’s Cavern6 Mam Tor7 The Devil’s Arse

Lockdown breakdown

Approaching Freedom Day, I looked around at how the nation is reacting in different places. We thought the nation was divided over Brexit, but Maskxit…

In London, the original plague-pit of COVID-19, masks are a rare, exotic fashion accessory. Shops still insist, but wearing one in the street draws a double-take. On the Tube the full force of law demands that all travellers be muzzled, but I have seen journeys where only a minority are. The young and fit frequently do not bother, and they must know that if they get it they are barely at risk. The double-jabbed (as I am) should not have to worry, but the law still insists, and if one is to be a pillar of the community one is expected to look like a pillock in the community. As soon as the crowd though crushes together through the exit, the masks are ripped off in disgust.

One observation: amongst those of East Asian extraction, masks are more commonly worn on the street – maybe more amongst those visiting from those plague-ridden lands who are in the habit.

In other towns there is no observable pattern, other than to see that lockdown is breaking down and has been for some time, not just in anticipation of Freedom Day. The vulnerable elderly are more likely to be in masks, even though presumably they have been jabbed, and it is one-use surgical masks as the muzzle of choice. (Cambridge I found works by a different rhythm: you see more masks on the street, worn apparently for virtue-signalling, or a political statement. You can tell the type.)

Shops are a mixture. Some do the bare minimum on masks and things: they know it has all got a bit silly. Some are all so uptight and demanding on muzzles, tracking, one-way systems and that goo that causes your hands to come out in blotches, that you wonder if they actually want customers. Some pubs will allow no one through threshold unless they have the government’s spy-app (so I go elsewhere). On the other side, in plenty of shops and pubs no one wears a mask, so it would be impolite to do so myself: it would look as if I were silently judging everyone who goes bare-faced.

Monday approaches; Freedom Day. However it is far from back to normal. The lamentable Mayor of London is insisting on masks on London Underground for as long as the virus is with us – but since it is now endemic in the population, that will be forever. He may find his rule impossible to enforce: even when the rule is law, it is commonly flouted. Several venues public and private up and down the land have announced that face-nappies must still be worn, without an end date. (What are they worried about? They can’t be prosecuted or blamed.)

Self-isolation is to remain too, and they are not even allowing the partial exemption for the fully vaccinated until August (and that exemption will be limited even so). It is particularly poor timing that Sajid Javid has just been tested positive with a snuffle: it has fuelled demands for eternal lockdown. Well, if the disease has still been spreading in spite of the lockdown, it’s not going to help to do it again.

It comes down to the analysis Fay wrote at the beginning: the nation is divided into the terrified the fed up and the bullies. The bullies are certainly in the ascendant at the moment.

It is a stifled cheer then for Freedom Day on Monday, but a look forward to genuine freedom when the unofficial lockdown breaks down entirely.

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Victory in the heights

Soaring above 50 miles high in a beauty of a vessel, the age of space tourism began. The Unity-22 flight by Virgin Galactic, with a British pilot and British passengers, opens a new era, not just for multi-millionaires who can afford the experience, but for options for spaceflight in general.

Yes, Blue Origin will be coming along later, and their New Shepard is a most brilliant machine, but it does not swoop out across the sky and glide home with the elegance of a swallow, as Branson’s did. Virgin Galactic has built an aeroplane to space.

It was a very Branson occasion. The flight was short, the presentation glitzy, with a rock band plying for the crowds, whoops and cheers, and a presentation reminding us of all the other Virgin-branded endeavours Richard Branson is leading – including his investment in Elon Musk’s hyperloop.

For those who have followed the career of Burt Rutan, Spaceship Two, of which Unity is the one flying example at them moment, is unmistakably his: it has his familiar curves all over it and crowns a most remarkable life of aircraft design. (That said, he has not stopped, even in retirement.)

It shows us how things have changed. This is not the X-15 rocket-plane, with a pilot cramped inside a cabin barely big enough to move his arms, fighting to keep control of a wayward machine – Unity has a passenger cabin with comfy seats, lounge room, yet it flies as high and as fast as the X-15.

Up until now, we have always had astronauts who were carefully chosen men, the best pilots entrusted with the fasted aircraft, young and trained to the peak of fitness, as they had to be so as endure being confined in a narrow box, to endure the crushing forces of blast-off on a converted ICBM, and to keep exact control of a tumbling capsule. Now we have Richard Branson, fit perhaps but 70 years old, stepping from the spacecraft at the end without showing any discomfort. That is a great achievement.

Jeff Bezos will be taking an eighty year-old lady, a veteran pilot: that too shows how far rocketry has come.

The key element of both Spaceship Two and New Shepard is 100% reusability. Spaceship Two is a spaceplane and New Shepard a vertical rocket, two very different concepts. There is room for each, and for SpaceX, which will take passengers even into orbit. The idea of a spaceplane is to use up the fuel in the ascent, and then glide back to Earth empty, while for a reusable rocket there are no wings, which reduces friction but requires the vessel to keep much of the propellant ready to relight the engines for a controlled descent.

Space for everyone is in reach. There has been talk of taking Tom Cruise to the International Space Station just to film a scene for a Mission Impossible film: that would have been inconceivable before Elon Musk made it a reality.

Will Virgin Galactic put paying passengers into orbit? They have put satellites into orbit. After yesterday, it is only a matter of time before customers are taken on orbital flights, and whether they will beat Blue Origin I do not know.

The years ahead of us will be exciting.

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Fiction: