Moral condescension, David Hume, snow in Denver, and a Rossby wave of books

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The very late, very great David Hume has had a mixed time of it recently; his name was disassociated from an undistinguished 1960s building in Edinburgh, but this only happened because the University of Edinburgh gave in to the moral condescension of a handful of activists.  Maybe Hume has had the better of the exchange as his reputation as an Enlightenment colossus will survive the de-naming, but the University's reputation as a place where responsible people work looks much less secure.  The confident moral condescension (Edward Ball's telling phrase) of the activists – the arrogance that had they been around when Hume was alive, they'd have behaved differently – is worryingly commonplace.  The pretext for this activism was rebarbative views on race on Hume's part, but the motivation of the activists had nothing to do with these, it was all (and always is) about power.  Edinburgh must be an easy place for bullies like these, as the university is such a push over.

Alex Massie, writing in the Times, suggests that in the calculus of such reckonings with history we might usefully follow the lead of Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, a think tank, who recommends these questions in trying to assess how someone's suddenly problematic views balance against their other contributions to our lives.  Thus:

  • What are they accused of?
  • What are they best known for?
  • What is their principal achievement?
  • What is actually being recognised by any memorialisation?

On these terms, Hume remains a towering figure.

Meanwhile, in Denver, the temperature was 34 degrees Celsius on September 7th about 6 degrees above what passes for the norm.  A day later it was below freezing.  The culprit was not a bunch of activists but our old friend the jet stream.  Rossby waves, I read, are pressure systems that influence the jet (and, as is the way with these complex systems, are in their turn influenced by it).  Apparently, one of these waves broke (think 3-dimentional, high altitude surfing) and spilled polar air over Colorado, Wyoming, etc.  Climate change related?  Well, maybe, but will climate change make such wave-breaking more likely?  You bet.

An odd debate (I quite forget where I saw it) about how best to arrange books on shelves: by genre?  by subject?  by author?  by date?  I do a bit of all of these at the same time which can be a bit challenging.  Someone suggested by spine colour which seems perverse; you might use spine thickness as well.  Mind you, the most satisfying is surely by height as there is nothing more pleasing to the eye than a gentle wave of books along a shelf.  Think Rossby waves on a flat surface.  Ahh!

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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