Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

De moralitate atheorum

Elsewhere, the Usual Suspects brought up a perennial question, and it amused me to take the counterarguments and the sed contra from what seem at first unlikely sources.

Question: Whether those who do not believe in God may act morally. 

Objection 1. It would seem not, because  as Jean-Paul Sartre held in
"Existentialism is a Humanism, there disappears with God all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that 'the good' exists, that one must be honest or not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.

Objection 2.  Furthermore, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 
The_Twilight_of_the_Idols,   "when one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands."

Objection 3. In addition, the atheist philosopher Richard Rorty wrote, in
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, "For liberal ironists, there is no answer to the question 'Why not be cruel?' - no noncicular theoretical backup for the belief that cruelty is horrible. ... Anyone who thinks that there are well grounded theoretical answers to this sort of question - algorithms for resolving moral dilemmas of this sort - is still, in his heart, a theologian or metaphysician.  He believes in an order beyond time and change which both determines the point of human existence and establishes a hierarchy of repsonisbilities." 

Objection 4.  Also Voltaire did not believe in God but wanted his butler to believe because he thought he would then be robbed less. And Rousseau thought that a nation needed a religion if it was to accept laws and policies directed at the long term future. Without religion, people would insist on immediate gain, to their eventual cost. Clearly, they believed that without religion there would be no morality, save among the Enlightened. 

Objection 5. Also Alex Rosenberg, in
"The Disenchanted Naturalists Guide to Reality, asserts that naturalism denies the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort. All attempts to evade this conclusion, to reconcile naturalism with our common sense understanding of human life, inevitably fail, and we just have to learn to live with that. A belief in meanings and purposes is what puts us on a “slippery slope” to religion.

On the Contrary, St. Paul
writes in
Romans 2:11-16, "There is no partiality with God.  All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it.  For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified.  For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law unto themselves...  They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus." 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Come, Let Us Reason Together

            .
What is odd about this report?

LiveScience reports.
"Warming temperatures are melting patches of ice that have been in place for thousands of years in the mountains of the Canadian High Arctic and in turn revealing a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools,"

They cite as examples:
In 1997, sheep hunters discovered a 4,300-year-old dart shaft in caribou dung that had become exposed as the ice receded. . . . [Archaeologist Tom] Andrews and his team (including members of the indigenous Shutaot'ine or Mountain Dene) have found 2,400-year-old spear throwing tools, a 1000-year-old ground squirrel snare, and bows and arrows dating back 850 years.
So what does this dire news add up to?  Prizes -- the adulation of other correspondents here in the Siberia of the Internet -- to the first correspondent who spots it.......

Friday, April 23, 2010

Oderint dum Metuant

For your amusement, a short draft passage from In the Lion's Mouth

In this passage, Donovan is a passenger on the ship of Gidula, one of the leaders of a revolution among the Shadow-agents of the Confederation.  The rebels are trying to convince Donovan to join them.  Present are Donovan (whom the rebels call "Gesh"), Gidula, and Gidula's servant Podiin, who has just brought some appetizers and drinks.  Gidula calls citizens of the Periphery "Peripherals," and praises Confederal society thusly:

A Disturbing Headline to Read in Your Morning Paper


"Locusts on Pizzas a 'Tasty' New Topping"--headline, Metro.co.uk, April 21

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Religious Congregations as Political Beasts

Religious Congregations as Political Beasts

Beware Theocracy!  The White Evangelicals are Coming!  The White Evangelicals are Coming! 
Oh, wait.  No, they're not.  Duke University did a survey.  The results are:


The most politically active congregations are Black Protestant and Catholic.  The article says that synagogues are in line with this.  Both mainline and evangelical white Protestants are by contrast less engaged.
Duke University

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Breeze Wafts Tidings of Great Joy

The USPS delivered up to me a cheque from Tor in prompt payment for the publication of Up Jim River.  It is now up to you to do your part by buying a sufficient number of copies to repay this investment, lest the Lords of Publication decide I am too paltry a writer to be worthy of their beneficence. 

In the same envelope, an unexpected Easter Egg, a lagniappe; to wit, an additional cheque for additional sales of the audiobook of Eifelheim.  Eifelheim is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.  It was not much, but it was not nothing.  I thank you and the IRS thanks you. 


Alas, the royalty statement for the audiobook of The January Dancer yielded no new dollars; one reason I suppose why they passed on the sequel, the audiobook of which will be done by Tantor, a different company.  www.tantor.com/BookDetail.asp

Tidbits

Quote of the Day

We have -- but do not need -- a pestilent swarm of exceedingly clever persons who call themselves public servants when everything about them and us proclaims that they are in fact our masters. They make laws (and regulations and judicial decisions that have the force of laws) faster and more assiduously than any factory in the world makes chains; and they lay them on us.
-- Gene Wolfe, "The Best Introduction to the Mountains"
Joke of the Day

3.14162 |XX
3.14161 |XXX
3.14160 |XXXXX
3.14159 |XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
3.14158 |XXX
3.14157 |X

Friday, April 9, 2010

What Kind of Country Is This

when stuff like this happens? 

A Pakistani-American cab driver in New York lived in "a mixed but mostly white area of Queens , with many Italian-Americans, some Jews, and he thought some Irish.  After the [9/11] attacks, some of the men had come to him. 

'My wife does not go out without a head cover,' he explained.  The men had come to tell him that if anyone bothered her, or his family, he must come to them. 

'I must tell them and must not be afraid.  Do you know,' he said in a voice suddenly sharp, 'what would have happened if Americans had done this kind of attack in my country?  Every American -- every Christian, every non-Muslim -- would have been slaughtered, blood would have run in the streets.  I know the kind of country this is.  Thanks be to God I can give this to my children.' " 

-- Dorothy Rabonowitz, Wall Street Journal, 8 April 2010

Such behavior! 

Welcome to the Future

The following musings are by James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal: 


"How can we learn to say no?" asks David Leonhardt, "Economic Scene" columnist for the New York Times. Put your tongue on your palate, aspirate and round your lips? Nah, that's not what he means. His column is on health-care policy:
The federal government is now starting to build the institutions that will try to reduce the soaring growth of health care costs. There will be a group to compare the effectiveness of different treatments, a so-called Medicare innovation center and a Medicare oversight board that can set payment rates.
But all these groups will face the same basic problem. Deep down, Americans tend to believe that more care is better care. We recoil from efforts to restrict care.
These new institutions are necessary, Leonhardt explains, because the "try-anything-and-everything instinct," which is "ingrained in our culture," is expensive: "From an economic perspective, health reform will fail if we can't sometimes push back against the try-anything instinct."
Leonhardt argues that sometimes costs can be cut without reducing the quality of care:
When patients are given information about potential benefits and risks, they seem to choose less invasive care, on average, than doctors do, according to early studies. Some people, of course, decide that aggressive care is right for them. . . . They are willing to accept the risks and side effects that come with treatment. Many people, however, go the other way once they understand the trade-offs.
They decide the risk of incontinence and impotence isn't worth the marginal chance of preventing prostate cancer. Or they choose cardiac drugs and lifestyle changes over stenting. Or they opt to skip the prenatal test to determine if their baby has Down syndrome. Or, in the toughest situation of all, they decide to leave an intensive care unit and enter a hospice.
Still, patients' voluntarily forgoing treatments whose costs outweigh the benefits may not be enough. Having taken on, over the objections of the public, the responsibility for everyone's medical care, the federal government may not be able to keep its promise: "Eventually, we may well have to decide against paying for expensive treatments with only modest benefits."
Oops, sorry about that, Gramps!
It seems as though this is a pretty strong argument against ObamaCare. But we need to encapsulate it in a pithy phrase. What would you call governmental institutions that empower bureaucrats to decide when to deny medical treatment--panels, as it were, that have the authority to determine when a patient's death is necessary for the health of the fisc?
Coming up with a suitable term is a high-powered intellectual challenge. Our thinking cap is on, and we'll get back to you as soon as something dawns on us.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On the Methodology of Science


Greenpeace had recently the following on its blog:

Emerging battle-bruised from the disaster zone of Copenhagen, but ever-hopeful, a rider on horseback brought news of darkness and light: "The politicians have failed. Now it's up to us. We must break the law to make the laws we need: laws that are supposed to protect society, and protect our future. Until our laws do that, screw being climate lobbyists. Screw being climate activists. It's not working. We need an army of climate outlaws."

The proper channels have failed. It's time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and skepticism.

If you're one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let's talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like.

If you're one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fueling spurious debates around false solutions, and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this:

We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work.
And we be many, but you be few.

This be followed by a disclaimer that this would all be peaceful because Greenpeace be like peaceful.  Of course, one may intimidate and browbeat in entirely peaceful ways in these days of flash-mobs.  The key is to regard your enemy as not simply wrong; but irredeemably evil.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wonk On, Oh Hard Scientist, Wonk On

If the Young Sun was 75% fainter than the present sun, as usually thought, how did life ever get started?  Earth should have iced over.  One possible answer comes from study of κ Ceti, which is very like the sun is thought to have been in its early life.  Apparently, its greater activity makes up for its dimness and throws a protective magnetic blanket over any prospective planets there.  If the same is true of Young Sol, it would shield the earth from galactic cosmic rays, preventing the formation of albedo-enhancing cloud cover, thus keeping prospective planets warmer than they would otherwise be from radiative effects alone. 

How did the Sun affect the climate when life evolved on the Earth?

Abstract: Using kappa Ceti as a proxy for the young Sun we show that not only was the young Sun much more effective in protecting the Earth environment from galactic cosmic rays than the present day Sun; it also had flare and corona mass ejection rates up to three orders of magnitude larger than the present day Sun. The reduction in the galactic cosmic ray influx caused by the young Sun's enhanced shielding capability has been suggested as a solution to what is known as the faint young Sun paradox, i.e. the fact that the luminosity of the young Sun was only around 75% of its present value when life started to evolve on our planet around four billion years ago. This suggestion relies on the hypothesis that the changing solar activity results in a changing influx of galactic cosmic rays to the Earth, which results in a changing low-altitude cloud coverage and thus a changing climate. Here we show how the larger corona mass ejection rates of the young Sun would have had an effect on the climate with a magnitude similar to the enhanced shielding capability of the young Sun.
Comments: 5 pages, 1 figure, submitted to Astronomische Nachrichten
Subjects: Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)
Cite as: arXiv:1003.6043v1 [astro-ph.SR]

Aliens on the Roof of the World

A great deal of SF deals with the encounters between alien beings -- usually Earthlings being one of them. This is not such an unprecedented thing, for the history of Earth has been largely the history of encounters between aliens.  Here is a book review of a book detailing one such encounter: between a Jesuit on a mission [to go where no (Western) man has gone before] to Tibet.  The author is a Tibetanist and a Catholic theologian, and so well equipped to suss out both participants in the encounter.  Not only what Tibet was like for the Italian Jesuit, but what the Jesuit seemed like to the Tibetans.  I have not read the book myself; I have only just learned of it.  But it might make a good handbook for skiffy encounters of the Third Kind.
www.firstthings.com/article/2010/03/six-years-in-tibet

A Sci-Fi Connection

In Odd Corners of the World

Like, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, etc., you can find various sorts of ceremonies.  For example, on another blog was a comment that Fundamentalists don't seem to realize the Orthodox Church exists.  Dan Brown, for example, in his potboilers pulls up every fundamentalist or gnostic trope he can lay his hands on, claiming "the Vatican" made it all up.  Never mind that a lot of the stuff supposedly made up was not only prior to the Roman Pope setting up on Vatican Hill, but was prior to the Pope becoming Last One Standing (as the various ancient patriarchates split off or were immersed in the muslim tide.)  The Orthodox Churches maintain most of the same beliefs as the Roman one.  There are some distinctions, but actually rather few in theology.  That's why the split is called a schism, not a heresy.  It is entirely possible that the ancient See of Constantinople will be extinguished in the near future.  It is under muslim rule.  Turkey is secular, but they are secular muslims.  Consequently, there has been no authorized seminary in operation in Turkey for many years.  Further, a secular law states that the Patriarch of Constantinople must be a Turkish citizen.  Add the two together, and there is no possible successor to Bartholomew I.  When that happens, the Patriarch of Moscow will assert his primacy among the Orthodox prelates; but the non-Russian Orthodox may not care for that. 

But there are other Churches beyond even the Orthodox.  Unlike the Roman/Orthodox split, these Churches were formally declared heretical by Ecumenical Councils.  If the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Patriarch are "brothers", then these churches are "cousins."  However, there has been a sense in recent times that the ancient arguments were really arguments about Greek grammar.