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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Toot Suite

A few days back I treated you to some musical entertainment.  Thanks to Mark Shea, we can bring to you now the stunning virtuosity of the St. Luke Bottle Band playing Scott Joplin's Peacherine Rag. 



Followed by Auld Lang Syne and the Quickstep from the 1812 overture, complete with cannons. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The On-going Re-def of Marriage

Remember, the objectum sexuals?  Neither do we, but to refresh your memory, here is the story of the woman who married the Eiffel Tower
For three years, the professional archer from San Francisco would visit the object of her affection, going for weeks at a time, spending all day touching the tower. And then on April 8, 2007, Erika LaBrie became Erika Eiffel in a commitment ceremony before 10 of her closest friends.
Now, from China, comes the next phase:
Chen Wei-yih has posed for a set of photos in a flowing white dress, enlisted a wedding planner and rented a banquet hall for a marriage celebration with 30 friends.  But there is no groom. Chen will marry herself.

A good man is hard to find, the song runs.  Apparently very hard, in some cases. 

One wonders if when she dies, the French government now has dibs on Mrs. Eiffel's property.  And who gets what if Mrs. Chen divorces? 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Goosey Goosey Gander

Upstairs, Downstairs

Kirk Myers, Seminole County Environmental News Examiner has compiled a fascinating list of quotes, many of which are below:

"The climate of New-York and the contiguous Atlantic seaboard has long been a study of great interest. We have just experienced a remarkable instance of its peculiarity. The Hudson River, by a singular freak of temperature, has thrown off its icy mantle and opened its waters to navigation.”
– New York Times, Jan. 2, 1870

“Is our climate changing? The succession of temperate summers and open winters through several years, culminating last winter in the almost total failure of the ice crop throughout the valley of the Hudson, makes the question pertinent. The older inhabitants tell us that the winters are not as cold now as when they were young, and we have all observed a marked diminution of the average cold even in this last decade.”
– New York Times, June 23, 1890
========================
“The question is again being discussed whether recent and long-continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period, when the countries now basking in the fostering warmth of a tropical sun will ultimately give way to the perennial frost and snow of the polar regions.”
– New York Times, Feb. 24, 1895
========================
“The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot,” [according to a Commerce Department report].

“Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers. . . all point to a radical change in climate conditions and . . . unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone . . . Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones . . . while at many points well-known glaciers have entirely disappeared.”
--Washington Post, Nov. 2, 1922
========================
Professor Gregory of Yale University stated that “another world ice-epoch is due.” He was the American representative to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress and warned that North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes, and huge parts of Asia and Europe would be “wiped out.”
– Chicago Tribune, Aug. 9, 1923

“The discoveries of changes in the sun's heat and southward advance of glaciers in recent years have given rise to the conjectures of the possible advent of a new ice age
– Time Magazine, Sept. 10, 1923
===========================
Headline: “America in Longest Warm Spell Since 1776; Temperature Line Records a 25-year Rise”
– New York Times, March 27, 1933
==================
“America is believed by Weather Bureau scientists to be on the verge of a change of climate, with a return to increasing rains and deeper snows and the colder winters of grandfather's day.”
– Associated Press, Dec. 15, 1934
======================
Warming Arctic Climate Melting Glaciers Faster, Raising Ocean Level, Scientist Says – “A mysterious warming of the climate is slowly manifesting itself in the Arctic, engendering a "serious international problem," Dr. Hans Ahlmann, noted Swedish geophysicist, said today.
– New York Times, May 30, 1937

Greenland's polar climate has moderated so consistently that communities of hunters have evolved into fishing villages. Sea mammals, vanishing from the west coast, have been replaced by codfish and other fish species in the area's southern waters.”
– New York Times, Aug. 29, 1954

“An analysis of weather records from Little America shows a steady warming of climate over the last half century. The rise in average temperature at the Antarctic outpost has been about five degrees Fahrenheit.”
– New York Times, May 31, 1958

“Several thousand scientists of many nations have recently been climbing mountains, digging tunnels in glaciers, journeying to the Antarctic, camping on floating Arctic ice. Their object has been to solve a fascinating riddle: what is happening to the world's ice?
– New York Times, Dec. 7, 1958
========================
“After a week of discussions on the causes of climate change, an assembly of specialists from several continents seems to have reached unanimous agreement on only one point: it is getting colder.
– New York Times, Jan. 30, 1961

“Like an outrigger canoe riding before a huge comber, the earth with its inhabitants is caught on the downslope of an immense climatic wave that is plunging us toward another Ice Age.”
– Los Angeles Times, Dec. 23, 1962
=================
“Col. Bernt Balchen, polar explorer and flier, is circulating a paper among polar specialists proposing that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two."
 
– New York Times, Feb. 20, 1969
=======================

Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor, "the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.”
– Newsweek magazine, Jan. 26, 1970

“The United States and the Soviet Union are mounting large-scale investigations to determine why the Arctic climate is becoming more frigid, why parts of the Arctic sea ice have recently become ominously thicker and whether the extent of that ice cover contributes to the onset of ice ages.”
– New York Times, July 18, 1970

“In the next 50 years, fine dust that humans discharge into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel will screen out so much of the sun's rays that the Earth's average temperature could fall by six degrees. Sustained emissions over five to 10 years, could be sufficient to trigger an ice age."
– Washington Post, July 9, 1971

It's already getting colder. Some midsummer day, perhaps not too far in the future, a hard, killing frost will sweep down on the wheat fields of Saskatchewan, the Dakotas and the Russian steppes...”
– Los Angles Times, Oct. 24, 1971

“An international team of specialists has concluded from eight indexes of climate that there is no end in sight to the cooling trend of the last 30 years, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.”
– New York Times, Jan. 5, 1978
======================
“A poll of climate specialists in seven countries has found a consensus that there will be no catastrophic changes in the climate by the end of the century. But the specialists were almost equally divided on whether there would be a warming, a cooling or no change at all.”
– New York Times, Feb. 18, 1978
===============
“A global warming trend could bring heat waves, dust-dry farmland and disease, the experts said... Under this scenario, the resort town of Ocean City, Md., will lose 39 feet of shoreline by 2000 and a total of 85 feet within the next 25 years.”
– San Jose Mercury News, June 11, 1986

Global warming could force Americans to build 86 more power plants -- at a cost of $110 billion -- to keep all their air conditioners running 20 years from now, a new study says...Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide two degrees by 2010, and the drain on power would require the building of 86 new midsize power plants
– Associated Press, May 15, 1989

New York will probably be like Florida 15 years from now.”
-- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 17, 1989

"[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots . . . [By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers . . . The Mexican police will round up illegal American migrants surging into Mexico seeking work as field hands.”
– "Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect," Michael Oppenheimer and Robert H. Boyle, 1990.

"It appears that we have a very good case for suggesting that the El Ninos are going to become more frequent, and they're going to become more intense and in a few years, or a decade or so, we'll go into a permanent El Nino. So instead of having cool water periods for a year or two, we'll have El Nino upon El Nino, and that will become the norm. And you'll have an El Nino, that instead of lasting 18 months, lasts 18 years,” according to Dr. Russ Schnell, a scientist doing atmospheric research at Mauna Loa Observatory.
– BBC, Nov. 7, 1997

"Scientists are warning that some of the Himalayan glaciers could vanish within ten years because of global warming. A build-up of greenhouse gases is blamed for the meltdown, which could lead to drought and flooding in the region affecting millions of people."
-- The Birmingham Post in England, July 26, 1999

“This year (2007) is likely to be the warmest year on record globally, beating the current record set in 1998.”
– ScienceDaily, Jan. 5, 2007

Arctic warming has become so dramatic that the North Pole may melt this summer (2008), report scientists studying the effects of climate change in the field. "We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history]," David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker.
– National Geographic News, June 20, 2008

"So the climate will continue to change, even if we make maximum effort to slow the growth of carbon dioxide. Arctic sea ice will melt away in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear - practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years. . . Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know . . . We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 metres higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually."
-- Dr. James Hansen (NASA GISS), The Observer, Feb. 15, 2009.

Right Here. Right Now.


h/t Mark Shea

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Suffer the Little Children

Posted Without Comment

From a medical study at Mediscape, excerpted at First Things

Neonatal survival after withdrawal of artificial hydration and nutrition can last up to 26 days, according to a case series presented here at the 18th International Congress on Palliative Care. Although physical distress is not apparent in the infants, the psychological distress of parents and clinicians builds with the length of survival, said Hal Siden, MD, from Canuck Place Children’s Hospice in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“These babies live much, much longer than anybody expects. I think that neonatologists and nurses and palliative care clinicians need to be alerted to this,” he said. “The time between withdrawal of feeding and end of life is something that is not predictable, and you need to be cautioned very strongly about that if you are going to do this work.” He presented a series of 5 cases that clinicians at his hospice had overseen over a 5-year period. Two infants had severe neurologic impairment, 2 had severe hypoxic ischemia, and 1 had severe bowel atresia.
...


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who Sez There's No Telos in Nature?


 

(Photo from Conversion Diary)

when even plants strive toward something beyond themselves? 

Without this "towardness" there would be no laws of nature, since there would be no reason why A→B "always or for the most part."  Efficient causes thus depend on finality for their coherence. This is why final causes have been called "the cause of causes." 

In particular, evolution (transformism) would make no sense without this intentionality of living things, since the efficient cause (natural selection) would at best simply weed out the unfit.  It is precisely the striving of living things to go on living that leads them to exploit new mutations and new environments.  To seek out new life and new civilizations; to go where no....  Wait a minute.    OK.  Natural selection, as an efficient cause would not necessarily select for better fitness unless there were an intentionality in living things, a towardness in nature for better fitness. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tidbits

Quote of the Day

Regarding the recent essay on the brain atoms collectively called Prof. Haggard, Mr. Chesterton chimes in:

Similarly you may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say "thank you" for the mustard.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy



Syllogism of the Day

In a related vein

Major premise:
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  -- John 8:32

Minor premise:
"There is no such thing as the truth."  -- Scott Rudin, producer of The Social Network

Conclusion
Left as an exercise to the reader.

The Musical Mood Continues

with the Finale to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, conducted by a 3-yr old named Jonathan.  One really must watch up to the end.
h/t The Anchoress

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In a Musical Mood

Those of you who remember so far back as In the Country of the Blind will recall that Red Malone played at the clarinet and was heard from time to time attempting the clarinet obligato from High Society, a test piece for jazz clarinetists.  In the final scene, the he plays it successfully in concert with Sarah Beaumont and others. 

In the interests of full disclosure, I also played the clarinet; or rather played at the clarinet.  I was passable for marching band, and could get partway through the slow movement of Mozart's concerto; but I never got really good at it, alas.  But that does not stop me from admiring the expertise of others. 

To get in the mood while writing In the Country of the Blind, I would play a "record" -- these were discs of vinyl on which music was recorded by an analog process.  The record was by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, and so the music was arranged for a small orchestra heavy on band instruments.  This was the sort of orchestra which in the early 1900s played in movie theaters, skating rinks, municipal bandstands, dance halls, etc. 

I found the cut on YouTube!  Though I cannot answer for the odd graphic the tuber chose to accompany it!  Forsooth.  The clarinet solo comes in about halfway through.  In the trio section, the passage is first a violin andante, then a clarinet solo, the both together.  Enjoy.


And, since I am now in a ragtime/jazz mood, I present as a bonus feature "A Real Slow Drag" from Scott Joplin's second opera Treemonisha.  A YouTube commentator on one of the rags said that if Joplin had not been black they would have made a statue of him.  Of course, they did.  It's in the San Antonio Opera House.  Notice that a drag is not a rag; but neither is it a cakewalk.  But the arms-linked side by side goose-stepping was characteristic of it.  (A lot of the popular dances of the early 1900s were adapted from military marches.  In fact, we might compare Joplin to Sousa.


And last but not least, to march you out with your head held high, and feet high stepping, we will close this evening's concert with Preservation Hall Dixieland Jazz Band.  Dixieland is not ragtime.  Rags keep a regular beat in the left hand (bass) but syncopate the right hand (treble).  Dixieland jazzed up both clefs.  (Although they did not either swing or rock the beat.  Swinging meant to play two eighth notes as if they were the first and third note of a triplet.  Swing high and swing low depended on which direction the notes went.  Rock means to shift the beat from 1-2-3-4 to the back beat 1-2-3-4.  But we digress. 

In any case, here is The Gettysburg March.  They play it first in march time, then they jazz it up. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Mindless Machine Tries to Convince Us We Are Mindless Machines

It's hard to fathom the obsession some scientists have with trying to prove that they have no minds.  In Neuroscience, free will and determinism: 'I'm just a machine', the electrochemical reactions in the brain belonging to Prof. Patrick Haggard try to do just that.  This is a bit like Parmenides trying to sway [move] his listeners into believing there is no motion in the world.  But no doubt these chemical reactions were compelled to make the useless effort. 

The reactions in the Haggard brain have devised a technique -- "transcendental magnetic stimulation" -- which supposedly demonstrates that:

"We don't have free will, in the spiritual sense. What you're seeing is the last output stage of a machine. There are lots of things that happen before this stage – plans, goals, learning – and those are the reasons we do more interesting things than just waggle fingers. But there's no ghost in the machine."

The chemical reactions reactions accomplish this by manipulating an "assistant" into using a magic wand to generate a magnetic field in the brain, triggering certain neurons into twitching a finger.  Whereupon the entire edifice of Western Thought since Plato comes tumbling down. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Autumn of the Modern Ages

The Modern Ages began conventionally ca. 1500 and ran until fairly recently. Just as the 15th century was the "Autumn of the Middle Ages" (as Johan Huizinga's book was titled) so too has the 20th century been the Autumn of the Modern Ages.  All those things that marked the Modern Age began to fade or change: Cities, the Bourgeois, Science, Privacy, Science, Industry, and so on.  It is not that the new age (whatever it is to be called) will be better or worse.  The Classical Ages faded into a barbarian Dark Age; the Middle Ages faded into a Renaissance.  Which was the worse disaster is anyone's guess.  

We always imagine the future as being something like the present, only more so.  In the 50s, the future was going to be the 50s -- with flying cars.  In the 70s, it was going to be sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll forever.  But an age is not defined by its gadgets.  Even if we one day get our flying cars, they will not make that age like the gung-ho, white-bread, techno-worshiping 50s.  Sorry, Jetsons.  An age is defined by the type of person who lives in it. 

The beginning of the end for the Modern Ages lay in Europe's mutual suicide pact of 1914-1945 (with intermission).  But when can we say the Modern Ages ended?

Art, as usual, runs ahead of the curve.  What we call "modern art" is decidedly "post-modern," since the essence of the Modern Ages was representational. 

Quiz: Below the cut are pictures of couples and pictures of artwork from each of the Modern Ages.  Between which set do your find a break in the Modern tradition? 

On the LiveJournal, I added some YouTube sections for music for each of the sections.  Play each one for a few minutes and see when you note the musical break. 

I warn you.  The shift is very subtle. 


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gliese 581g, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Here Today


Gone Tomorrow

Fire and Ice

Michael Mann discovered that the thermometer measurements of recent decades diverged from the tree ring proxies for the same times, so he dropped the tree ring data from the tail end of his chart and replaced it with thermometer data.  This was to "hide the decline" showed by the tree ring data.  But what it showed was that tree rings are not good proxies for temperature.  And if not now, then not in the past.

So what happens when you leave tree rings out of the pictures. 

h/t j.pourmelle

Ye Olde Statistician

Today's Statistics Lesson


Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Banners of the Shadows of the Names


Beneath the Velvet Glove

In line with this, this, and this, the continuing scold of government discourse continues.  This seemed to be a genuine parody, except it's not.   The last screen and its warning, 'no exceptions, no excuses and no escape' is very much in line with "click it or ticket" and all the other threats that have replaced persuasion on the lips of officialdom.  Remember, Daddy Knows Best.  It seems significant that even humor takes the iron fist in the velvet glove merely as given.  


h/t John Wright

This Wonderful Modern World

Science Marches On

Headline
$918,856 Federal Study:

Bar Fights Tend to Happen in Darker, Dirtier Bars Frequented by Heavy Drinking, Less Agreeable People

That clattering sound you hear is that of jaws dropping in astonishment!  Isn't science wonderful that it can winkle out such subtle and unexpected secrets of the world? 


+
More Irony Than Even the Old Bethlehem Steel Could Process

American Postal Workers Union ballots lost in the mail. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Tin Ear of the Self-Righteous



Okay.  Remember this one from last Super Bowl?



Now we have this one.  ((Warning: disturbing scenes))


It got pulled the day it went up and was replaced with a note saying Gosh, it was supposed to be funny.  But does anyone detect the faint whiff of armbands and jackboots in this trend?  Not only the Green Police, but the way that after watching children and other people murdered not even because they opposed, but because they were indifferent, to end the video with "no pressure" sounded a bit like a thuggish threat.  Even so, some voices have spoken out in support of the 1010 video!  Lighten up (they say).  And don't be a traitor to your planet.  (Or else.) 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quote of the Day


"There will always be a niche for incredibly bad schools. I just don't think the state has an obligation to supply them." 
-- David Warren

 
"If you cannot be an inspiring example to your children, then you should be a terrible warning to them."
-- Anne Muggeridge

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Putting on my Top Hat

I ran across an intriguing abstract the other day that ties into Thom's topological catastrophe surfaces.  But alas I cannot get hold of the whole article. 

First Things First
Rene Thom developed catastrophe theory in algebraic topology many years ago.  Like so-called "chaos" theory, it is somewhat mis-named.  In French, apparently, "catastrophe" means only a sudden, discontinuous change, as when a stretched rubber band stops growing longer and snaps; or when a waterfall changes from laminar flow to turbulent flow.
The catastrophe surface is a manifold in response (or "state") space that consists of all the equilibrium points of the response variables over all values of the parameter variables.  The are the "attractors" toward which a system will move in systems governed by a potential function; and thus they function as a type of Aristotelian "final cause."  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Apparently These Things Are Important

In no particular order. 

1. A group proposes to build a religious establishment on their own property near a site associated with great pain and significance for some people.  These people, rightly or wrongly, associate that religion with the many deaths that were caused and so raise a great ruckus in protest against the said establishment.  For their part, the religious establishment pleas that they intend to pray for all who died there, including their own co-religionists.  But this plea is dismissed. 

I pause while you assume the proper attitude. 

I write, of course, of the Polish sisters who wanted to establish a convent near Auschwitz, which created a great outcry that it was insensitive to Jewish concerns.  The Pope intervened and told the sisters to place their convent elsewhere, since if they remained intransigent they would do more harm than good.  That they had a right to do what they planned did not mean it was right to do it. 

Now, of course, there is a similar contretemps in Manhattan regarding a proposed Islamic center.  It would be curious to compare the stated opinions of people in both matters.  Curiously, in a survey by Elaph, an electronic daily in the Arab world, 58% say the "Ground Zero Mosque" is a project of folly.

2. A pastor of a sect of 50 people announces that he will burn copies of the Qur'an, sending the entire world into a tizzy.  The POTUS intervenes personally to beg him not to do so as such a burning will deeply offend many people.  (Unlike, say, the burning of a US flag.)  Curiously, in a TV shot, all the copied stacked up appear to be in English and thus not legitimately Qur'ans.  (The true Qur'an is written only in Arabic.) 

3. OTOH, Charles Merrill, cousin to Merrill Lynch co-founder, burned a Qur'an valued at $60,000 (in the apparenly magick belief that it would "eliminate homophobic hate."  This book was not only a genuine Qur'an (in Arabic) but was a rare manuscript given to his late wife, Evangeline Johnson Merrill of Johnson & Johnson, by the late king of Jordan during a UN mission in the 1950s.  So not only was it a real Qur'an, but a precious antique, and a diplomatic gift by the King of Jordan, and he actually did burn it.  Not a peep. 

So why the tizzy over #2 but not over #3?  Was it because #2 fits the media paradigm of backwoods Bible-thumping bigoted yahoos while #3 involves a rich artist guy who is gay and atheist?  And so he cannot be a yahoo bigot, or even a vandal destroying a significant a work of art?  There are no templates or paradigms for him? 

Fouad Ajami tells us: Elaph was at it again in the aftermath of Pastor Terry Jones's threat to burn copies of the Quran: It queried its readers as to whether America was a "tolerant" or a "bigoted" society. The split was 63% to 37% in favor of those who accepted the good faith and pluralism of this country.

4. And how does #3 compare to the Taliban blowing up Buddhist statues, vandalism-of-artwork-wise?  Why is one denounced on artistic heritage grounds (forget about offending Buddhist religious sensibilities) and the other is not? 

5. The POTUS comes out and defends (in a wishy-washy way) the 1st Amendment right of the people wanting to build the Islamic Center in Manhattan; but regarding Molly Norris, erstwhile cartoonist for the alternative paper Seattle Weekly, who has had to go into hiding not a peep in her defense.