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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Quote of the Day


Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem
(I bid you be slow to speak and slow to approach the chat-room.)
-- Thomas Aquinas, Epistola de modo studendi (A Letter on the Method of Study)
Found at FideCogitActio

A word on "chat-room".  That is a more or less literal translation of "locutorium."  If an auditor-ium is for auditors (for those-who-listen), a locutor-ium is for locutors (those-who-talk).  It referred to a room in people's homes in Late Imperial times that was reserved for amiable gathering and chatting.  It is usually translated as "parlor" or "salon."  However, Tom tended toward the colloquial and concrete in his imagery, and the sense of the locutorium is actually well-captured by "chat-room."  

Well, except for being physically present and all. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who, Indeed?

The great classics never die

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Iron Shirts

A novelette scheduled for release on April 27th by Tor.com in Kindle format for the princely sum of $0.99 each. But early and buy often.




Product Description
In a world in which horses survived to flourish in 13th-century America, the wars and rivalries of thirteenth-century Ireland have new players: the mysterious warriors from across the Western Sea, called by some the “รณ Gonklins.” They and their Irish hosts have much in common—enough to misunderstand one another far more than utter aliens ever could.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Far-Seeing Looking Glass Goes to China

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Toby Huff has written a fascinating book: Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution in which he studies the spread of the telescope following its invention in Holland and its effect on science in Europe, China, and the two main muslim regions: the Ottoman Middle East and Mughal India.  What follows is a summary of how the telescope went to China and what did not happen as a result.  
Astronomy in China
Astronomy in China is a state monopoly conducted by the Bureau of Mathematics and Astronomy within the Ministry of Rites, under the Third Minister reporting to the Grand Secretary.  The Ministry of Rites is responsible for state ceremonies, rituals, sacrifices, licensing Buddhist and Daoist priests, etc.  The Bureau of Mathematics and Astronomy has the main task of preparing the annual calendar (and its regional spin-offs) and identifying lucky and unlucky days.  This is the sole purpose of Chinese astronomy, which is why astronomers are called “calendar-makers.”  Scientific investigation of the natural world is outside the box.  The annual calendar is presented to the Emperor in a grand public ceremony.  It includes ephemerides giving meteorological forecasts for each region.  Since a failure of the calendar reflects the Mandate of Heaven, it can be dangerous to get these forecasts wrong. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Book Galileo Was Supposed to Write

The Renaissance Mathematicus cites a paper by Prof. Christoper Graney:
 
In his Almagestum novum from 1651, the Jesuit scientist Giovanni Battista Riccioli "provides a list of 126 arguments pro and contra heliocentricity (49 for, 77 against). ... Seen through Riccioli’s 126 arguments, the debate over the Copernican hypothesis appears dynamic and indeed similar to more modern scientific debates. Both sides present good arguments as point and counter-point. Religious arguments play a minor role in the debate; careful, reproducible experiments a major role. To Riccioli, the anti-Copernican arguments carry the greater weight, on the basis of a few key arguments against which the Copernicans have no good response. These include arguments based on telescopic observations of stars, and on the apparent absence of what today would be called “Coriolis Effect” phenomena; both have been overlooked by the historical record... Given the available scientific knowledge in 1651, a geo-heliocentric hypothesis clearly had real strength, but Riccioli presents it as merely the “least absurd” available model – perhaps comparable to the Standard Model in particle physics today – and not as a fully coherent theory."
Recall that Pope Urban had encouraged Galileo to write a book comparing the systems of the world, listing the strengths and weaknesses of each.  What he got was an advocacy for the Copernican system that ignored some vital objections and a satire of a Ptolemaic model which had already been abandoned by Aristotelians.  The phases of Venus had decisively falsified the basic Ptolemaic model, but were equally well explained by the Copernican and the Tychonic models.  The Tychonic model (and the related Ursine model) were the most popular among scientists by the time Galileo wrote the Dialogue, but he does not so much as mention them, let alone refute them.  As it turned out, it was the Keplerian model, with its elliptical orbits, that turned out to be correct.  Riccioli's book is more like what the Pope had in mind.  Not until there was empirical evidence to choose one model over the other could you say it was fact; and that evidence was not forthcoming until the late 1700s and early 1800s. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Adventures

Adventures of Pere

The other day my father was attracted by a commotion outside his house.  He went to the living room window and looked out on the street.  This is a small town, with small streets down which few cars venture; but there were two cars stopped in the middle of the street. 

Two men were beating up on a third man with their fists and feet.  They were really lambasting him.  So Pere whips out his cell phone which, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, he does know how to use and prepares to call 911.  Then he notices two things.  First, that two people from a house across the way are standing on their front porch watching without any sign of agitation.  Second, a flash of handcuffs in the afternoon sun.  The third man is clapped in irons and escorted into one of the cars.  The men who had been beating on him a moment before solicitously guide his head into the backseat so he does not bump it against the door frame.  This strikes him as a cop gesture, and he wonders if the two, garbed in plain clothes, are federal agents of some sort.  (They are not local fuzz.) 

A day or two later, he asks a neighbor, who is also my cousin and who has Asked Around.  The two men were bounty hunters, not cops, and the man was a bail jumper from somewhere or other.  It was all the sort of thing you expect to see on TV, he said. 
+ + +

Quote of the Day


Anent our little item on state marriage bureaus (or for that matter their private enterprise Scientologist or Planned Parenthood versions), the following quote swam across our visual field. 

[T]he problem with eugenics is eugenics itself. It’s not just that the eugenics practiced by the Nazis was coercive. The idea predated the Nazis. The book Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) was not written by the Nazis. It was written by German progressives in the Weimar period, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, who were, respectively (as I recall), a jurist and a medical doctor. And they weren’t thugs like the Nazis; they were well-educated, well-intentioned, polite people—the kind of people that you’d be pleased to have dinner with.
-- Robert George, in an interview with Arthur Caplan conducted by Sherif Girgis

Caplan disagreed and replied that only coercive eugenics was wrong, and so we get a sense why it continues in polite circles even today.

Thought of the Day


The Wall Street Journal weblog reports that:

CNN.com has a "gallery" of the "meanest budget cuts" in the legislation Congress approved this week. One is the Administration on Aging:
This agency, which helps senior citizens navigate the maze of federal bureaucracy and maintain independent lives, saw its budget of over $2 billion cut by $16 million.
Mathematically, this is a budget cut of 16/2000 = 0.008 = 0.8%, just south of a whole percentage point.  This is well and truly "mean"

mean. adj. lacking distinction or eminence, humble; of poor shabby inferior quality or status, worthy of little regard

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Age of Romance



PALEOFUTURE clues us in to the way the future was. 

In the year 1933 physician Ira S. Wile predicted what marriage would be like in 2033.  In his day, Darwinism was all the rage, and all the Best Thinkers were looking forward to the day when marriage would be put on a rational and scientific basis.  In this future, there would be


"a bureau of records under government control that would begin monitoring people the day they were born. ...Everything about a person would be recorded; from someone's physical and mental defects at birth to the subjective progress and imperfections of that person throughout their life. Then, when someone wished to be married, they would be assessed by bureaucrats and found a suitable mate based upon case cards that have been cross-indexed against members of the opposite sex. These assessments would be made based on class and desirable physical and mental traits." 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Dreaded Red Squamish

The aforesaid disease, called DRS (sometimes DRSq), afflicts one in ten citizens.  It results in the decay of the reasoning process, causing sufferers to utter strings of complete gibberish.  But as you see when the number of incidents is looked at geographically, DRS is not equally distributed.  The geography is simulated by a 10x10 grid, each square of which is like a congressional district: roughly equal in population. 

As you can see, there are two townships in which DRQ is concentrated.  The township at (A2:B4), known as Appletown, has an occurrence rate which is five times the national average of c-bar=0.1!  The other cluster is just west of the Interstate (column I) at (H3:I5), which is called Barkleyville.  The occurrence rate here is even higher: nearly seven times the national average.  There are only three scattered incidents in the remainder of the region. 

Incidents of Dreaded Red Squamish (DRS)

ABCDEFGHIJ
10000000000
20
100000000
31000000100
41000000110
50000000100
60000000000
70000000000
80000000000
90010000001
100000010000

Something Must Be Done! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Contra pusillanimitatem saeculorum

There is a scene in the movie Of God and Men, in which an official of the crypto-fascist Algerian government blames the then-current Islamist terrorism on, you guessed it, France.  None of this would be happening, he said, had it not been for colonialism.  I don't know if this is a true recounting of the meeting - for the movie is about actual events - or if the movie makers simply added a gratuitous "so there!" against wicked colonialism.  That is not our point today.  Nor are we determined to point out that Algeria prior to the French period was nothing to write home about either, it being a center for the Barbary pirates. 

No, it is the "anthropology" of the comment that drew our attention.  The official clearly saw the unrest as something that had been done to his countrymen, rather than something his countrymen were doing.