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

Monday, April 29, 2013

I Know You're Thinking. I Can Smell the Smoke

"Earth's Core 1,800 Degrees Hotter Than Thought"--headline, NBCNews.com, April 25

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Creation Myth

James Chastek has an interesting comment entitled Note on “science destroys creation myths”, where he riffs on a comment by someone named Mike Williamson, whose c.v. is otherwise unspecified:
Religion has really become a bad joke. Physics destroys creation myths. Biology destroys creation myths. Geology destroys creation myths. Either Creation is a tale told to Bronze Age peasants as a way to explain a universe they couldn’t grasp, or this God person is running a serious long con.
Now this is the usual boilerplate of the science-worshiper who mistakes crowing invective for reasoned discourse.  A series of strident assertions does not even pause to wonder if the stories might not have been told to Iron Age peasants, let alone what metallurgy has to do with anything.  But Mr. Chastek observes something more interesting:

But is this the problem, sc. myth itself? Are we no longer able to take intellectual satisfaction in myth, which makes us think that to see something as mythical is the same as to say it has nothing to offer our intellect, i.e. it is not true? Is “science” the only thing that is allowed to satisfy the intellect now and give us an account of the way the world is? Quite the opposite seems to be the case – far from wanting to do away with myth it seems we’re more interested in advancing a scientific mythology. Science in the popular imagination is idealized (science cannot explain everything or solve all our problems now, but just give it time!); and only its successes are seen as integral to it (i.e. vaccinations, space travel, and computers are seen as the direct and proper work of science while Hiroshima, Tuskegee, Mustard gas, scientific eugenics and sterilization programs, Josef Mengele, climate change, industrial pollution, etc. are never seen as the necessary products of “science”). IOW, this is obviously not a scientific view of science but one that makes it into an exalted, inerrant  messiah that will set everything right if we only give it our total devotion.  Ultimately, it’s not that we want to destroy creation myths with science but that we want to replace an ancient creation myth with a modern one.
 That phrase -- not a scientific view of science -- is especially apt, as it captures the essentially salvific nature of the whole enterprise.  (As well as its inner contradiction.)  If we throw in the Singularity and transhumanism (putting on a new, incorruptible body) the suite is near complete.  The whole is a timely reminder that myth is what we make it. 

Chastek also notes that "We don’t need sciences to know that myths are, well, myths."  Now, while some equate "myth" with "untrue," it is actually an organizing narrative that a society uses to explain itself to itself.  It doesn't need to be factual to be true.  "But to wonder if a myth is also a scientific truth is a reasonable thing to wonder and to hold as a hypothesis, and the worst that can happen is that our hypothesis fails and we are left with the same myth we started with."  This echoes something that Augustine wrote a millennium and a half ago:

In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. 
In other words the mythic account is figurative for sure and might also be factual.  If it turns out not, Augustine wrote, no big deal.  


Friday, April 26, 2013

Headline of the Week

"Complex being built to last"  -- Express-Times 25 April 2013

My first thought on spotting this headline was that complex beings generally don't last as long as simpler ones because there are more things that can go wrong.  The longest-lasting being is likely to be one that is radically simple, not a compound nor composed of parts.

But then reading further it transpired that "complex" was a noun not an adjective, and "being" was a participle not a noun; and it referred to the construction of a hockey arena.*

Go figure. 

(*) Hockey arena.  A local billboard taken out by a dental practice proclaimed their support for the facility. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A New Definition of Chutzpah

A young woman who works in the welfare office in a certain county received a call from someone requesting food stamps.
What is your annual income? she said.
$175,000
(silence, followed by:)
I'm sorry, but you aren't eligible for food stamps.  
I don't see why not!
(looking up SSI data...)
It says here you own two rental properties in New York City and make $6000/mo.
Why does that matter?
+ + +

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Would be Redefined Must First be Destroyed

The Washington Post reports:

    …It’s hard to overstate the breakdown of marriage and the rise of single-parent families. Consider out-of-wedlock births. In 1980, about 18 percent of births were to unmarried women; by 2009, the proportion was 41 percent. Among whites, the increase was from 11 percent to 36 percent; among African Americans, from 56 percent to 72 percent; among Hispanics, from 37 percent (1990) to 53 percent. Or look at the share of children living with two parents. Since 1970, that’s dropped from 82 percent to 63 percent. Among whites, the decline is from 87 percent to 73 percent; among African Americans, from 57 percent to 31 percent; among Hispanics, from 78 percent to 57 percent.

That's for births to unmarried women:
1980→2009
18→41
11→36
56→72
37→53

and for children in natural households
1970→2009
82→63
87→73
57→31
78→57

You can almost see the poverty rates, impoverished women, and the children missing a parent. 



The Arithmetic of the Struggle

"However, to bring down America we do not need to strike big. In such an environment of security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve fewer players and less time to launch and thus we may circumvent the security barriers America has worked so hard to erect. This strategy of attacking the enemy with smaller, but more frequent operations is what some may refer to the strategy of a thousand cuts. The aim is to bleed the enemy to death."
-- the late* Samir Khan, explaining "Operation Hemorrhage," (Inspire, Nov. 2010)
In Adam Gadahn's May 2010 message entitled "A Call to Arms," Gadahn counsels lone wolf jihadists to follow a three-pronged target selection process. They should choose a target with which they are well acquainted, a target that is feasible to hit and a target that, when struck, will have a major impact. The Tsarnaev brothers did all three in Boston.

(*) late.  US missile strike in the Yemen.

Read more: Why the Boston Bombers Succeeded | Stratfor
Two thousand pounds of education
  Drops to a ten-rupee jezail 
-- Rudyard Kipling, "Arithmetic on the Frontier" 

Monday, April 22, 2013

What Does a Baby Look Like

when going into his second heart surgery? 

Like this: 
He obviously has complete confidence in his parents and the pediatric intensive care doctors, nurses, and technicians.  How could it be otherwise? 

For those wondering, he is my cousin's grandson, named Colin, which makes him my first cousin twice removed.  (The cousin is my milk-sister cousin, who is on the German side.)  He came through the first operation with flying colors, and there is a third one in his future.  His father had this to say about his present travails:
Well, Colin always seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve for the CVICU doctors and that means he is still in the CVICU recovering as of today. Earlier in the week, he developed a fairly painful stomach issue, which the GI doctors believed was caused by the stress of the hospitalization. We agreed on a comfort plan with the doctors and after a couple days of strong anti-acid meds he seems to be back on track. Today we are beginning to limit the anti-acid meds.

As noted in an earlier post, the surgeon rerouted Colin’s MAPCAs into the pulmonary arteries. The left and right pulmonary arteries were then surgically connected to the aorta (a central shunt). The result of this surgery is increased blood flow and pressure to the lungs, which requires several days for the lungs to adjust with ventilator help. Colin’s adjustment process has been slow and is still he is receiving considerable help from the ventilator (with a CPAP mask – he is not intubated).

The best analogy that was provided to me with respect to Colin’s progress is the following. If you think of the lungs, when deflated, like a deflated balloon that you want manually to blow up. The balloon will not inflate unless that first push of air into the balloon is strong enough to begin inflation, and then less pressure is required to continue inflating the balloon until it has reached its optimal size. If we apply the analogy to Colin, the ventilator is keeping some air in Colin’s lungs after he exhales; therefore he does not have to work so hard to inflate them in order to maintain the optimal oxygen levels in the blood, which [the blood] is now flowing into his lungs at an increased rate and pressure as a result of the surgery. The doctors have gradually attempted to decrease the ventilator setting that keeps air pressure in his lungs upon exhalation, but Colin has not been able to progress past a certain setting for several days….. until today! Today, he has tolerated a lower setting, which is really good news. On top of that, he has been very interactive and is in obvious much less discomfort and stress. In additional, Colin has been displaying much more energy – for example, he has been extremely aggressive with his pacifier, which he has generally not wanted until today, and has been elusively attempting to figure out ways to take the CPAP mask off.

So we hit a few speed bumps over the last few days, but seem to be back on track now! Fingers crossed. Prayers and positive thoughts continue for steady progress from this point forward. Today was a good day and we are enjoying it.
I am as certain as anyone can be that no one will want to wipe that smile off Colin's face.  It's something the world has not enough of these days.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Much is Thereby Explained

From Dr. Boli's Illustrated Magazine

A disastrous fire in a suburban Virginia warehouse complex has destroyed “a significant portion” of the United States Government’s archive of Paperwork Reduction Act notices, according to a spokesman from the Bureau of Paperwork Reduction Act Compliance. Nearly five acres of warehouses just east of Leesburg were completely destroyed in the blaze, which burned out of control for at least a day and a half, fueled by more than three decades’ worth of dried paper stored in the buildings. According to the spokesman, as many as 10% of the government’s archived Paperwork Reduction Act notices may have perished. Efforts to replace the lost notices are already under way, and the Bureau has asked Congress for emergency funding, citing the requirement that each reissued notice be accompanied by a separate Paperwork Reduction Act notice explaining why it is being reissued.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why Texas is Rich and California is Not

Found on Chaos Manor:

A Coyote Tale…

California:

  • The Governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks the Governor’s dog, then bites the Governor.
  • The Governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie "Bambi" and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural.
  • He calls Animal Control. Animal Control captures the coyote and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it.
  • He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases.
  • The Governor goes to hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and on getting his bite wound bandaged.
  • The running trail gets shut down for 6 months while Fish & Game conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals.
  • The Governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a "coyote awareness program" for residents of the area.
  • The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world.
  • The Governor’s security agent is fired for not stopping the attack. The State spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training regarding the nature of coyotes.
  • PETA protests the coyote’s relocation and files a $5 million suit against the State.

Texas:

  • The Governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks his dog.
  • The Governor shoots the coyote with his State-issued pistol and keeps jogging. The Governor has spent $0.50 on a .45 ACP hollow point cartridge.
  • The buzzards eat the dead coyote.

   
And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not.

The Writing Life


Writer Scott Turow has gone to Moscow and seen the future:



"Last October, I visited Moscow and met with a group of authors who described the sad fate of writing as a livelihood in Russia. There is only a handful of publishers left, while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced. As a result, in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation."

Notes from the Untergang

In an audio conference entitled Why Get Married? author Masha Gessen had this to say:
“It’s a no-brainer that (homosexual activists) should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist. …(F)ighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. 
The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist. And I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. That’s sort of not what I had in mind when I came out thirty years ago. 
I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally… I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three… And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.”
And speaking of polygamy...
While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice. More importantly, it would actually help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families.
 Slippery slope?  What slippery slope? 

Meanwhile, life gets really, really complicated:
But despite their commitment to gender equality, many feminist institutions have long had trouble seeing trans women as part of the movement. Cisgender feminists of the 1970s often viewed their trans sisters with suspicion, as though they were men in dresses trying to invade “real” womanhood. Some women’s centers, rape-support organizations, and lesbian-rights groups have gone as far as expelling trans women from their midst. The legendary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has always barred trans women from entry (and still does). Second-wave thought leaders like Mary Daly called them “Frankensteins” and in her book, The Transsexual Empire, radical anti-trans feminist Janice Raymond accuses trans women of “appropriating” the female body and many other much less pleasant things.
Cisgender?  Transgender?  Sigh.  Who knew there were such terms?  LGBT life can be complicated, apparently.

What next?  Normalizing pedophilia?  Oh, wait.
Like many forms of sexual deviance, pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a sexual orientation as immutable as heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a deep-rooted predisposition — limited almost entirely to men — that becomes clear during puberty and does not change.   
Well, as long as it's a natural sexual orientation...  The article makes no outlandish pleas, and is actually a reasonable analysis - simple word substitution suggests itself - yet one cannot help but wonder.  How long to Tolerance?  How long after that to Celebration?  After all, when orthodoxy becomes optional it will eventually become outlawed.  

Perhaps we can simplify by dividing folks into Eloi and Morlocks:
The buzzword among cognoscenti is “post-person,” defined in a much-cited 2009 Philosophy and Public Affairs paper by tenured Duke professor Allen Buchanan, as those “who would have a higher moral status than that possessed by normal human beings” (emphasis original). Buchanan admits crafting chromosomal übermenschen “might be profoundly troubling from the perspective of the unenhanced (the mere persons) who would no longer enjoy the highest moral status, as they did when there were only persons and nonpersons (‘lower animals’).” 
Oh, those whacky cognoscenti....

Better yet, the neuroscientists can help out, because Neuroscience™ can tell us whether a criminal is more likely to lapse back into crime! 
Identification of factors that predict recurrent antisocial behavior is integral to the social sciences, criminal justice procedures, and the effective treatment of high-risk individuals. Here we show that error-related brain activity elicited during performance of an inhibitory task prospectively predicted subsequent rearrest among adult offenders within 4 y of release (N = 96). The odds that an offender with relatively low anterior cingulate activity would be rearrested were approximately double that of an offender with high activity in this region, holding constant other observed risk factors. These results suggest a potential neurocognitive biomarker for persistent antisocial behavior. 
 Aren't they cute when they pretend to do Science™?  Never mind what you have or have not done.  The Brain Scan™ does not lie! 

Or maybe not.
Weak statistics are the downfall of many neuroscience studies, according to researchers that analyzed the statistical strategies employed by dozens of published reports in the field. Especially lacking in statistical power are human neuroimaging studies—especially those that use fMRI to infer brain activity—noted the coauthors of the analysis, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience last week (April 10).
Phrenology has been rediscovered and really-truly scientificalized.  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we substitute correlation for causation.  But that's what happens when we try to apply methods devised to study inanimate matter to matter that can talk back. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Eugenie Satterwaithe

Another excerpt from The Wreck of "The River of Stars"
This one is a retrospective on the career of Eugenie Satterwaithe, sailing master on the Riv'. 

Pleased at the Movies: 42

TOF and the Incomparable Marge went to the movies today and saw 42.  No, not forty-two movies, a movie about Jackie Robinson, No. 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Although a black man had played pro ball for the old Toledo Blue Stockings back in the early days of base ball, Robinson was the first in the modern era of Major League baseball.  His spirit and valor cannot be underestimated.

As TOF understands the story, the movie seems to have gotten it pretty much correct. Durocher's lecture; Chapman's vile hazing.  Bragan's change of heart.  Pee Wee Reese's magnificent gesture in Cincinnati.  The two major exceptions were that Dixie Walker, who had circulated a petition against playing with Robinson, actually grew to respect him, which the movie does not show.  The other is that Durocher's 1947 suspension was due to his association with gamblers, not due to a Catholic Youth Organization boycott threat over his adultery. 

TOF grew up as a Brooklyn Dodger fan, favoring Duke Snider, who rookied the same year as Robinson, though less memorably.  By then, much of the 1947 team was gone - Reiser, Branca, Walker, et al. - cut Reese, Furillo, and Hodges were still in place.  Robinson by then was playing 3rd base instead of 1st.  It never occurred to TOF that there was anything strange about black men playing baseball.  In fact, TOF was a Pennsylvania boy and never saw or heard any of that Jim Crow crap until in college when he met a student from Baltimore.  The Incomparable Marge, however, grew up in Tulsa and 'whites only' water fountains and the like were the rule.  She once as a child tried to drink from a 'coloreds only' fountain and could not understand why she was prevented.  She was thirsty. 

TOF gives the movie three approving nods of his head.  (The nod is my new rating system.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Quotes of the Day

But isn’t objectivity an ideal? No: because the purpose of human knowledge—indeed, of human life itself—is not accuracy, and not even certainty; it is understanding.
-- John Lukacs

Our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.
-- C.S. Lewis

Finally, an old inspiring quote from the Late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, known with tender affection as Dr. Death.  Sometimes the mask slips, a little.
I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim . . . It is not simply to help suffering or doomed persons to kill themselves—that is merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation (now called medicide) . . . What I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish—in a word, obitiatry. [emph. added]
-- J. Kevorkian, Prescription: Medicide, p. 214

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On the Exigencies of Translation

Cover art for the Wreck
prior to composition
While browsing through that well-known, though not well-sold, SF classic, The Wreck of "The River of Stars," TOF ran across the following line.
Beneath Grubb’s singlet she could mark the contours of his affection and so knew not only his longing, but how long it was. 

A bit of archly lascivious punning.  Impelled by curiosity, TOF consulted Der Fluss der Sterne, where he found the line rendered thusly:
An Grubbs leichter Hose zeichneten sich die Konturen seiner Zuneigung ab - sie konnte nicht nur sein Verlangen erkennen, sondern wusste auch, wie groß es war. 
At iGoogle, this back-translates as 
At Grubbs lighter pants loomed the contours of his affection - she could not only recognize his desire, but also knew how big it was.
And then El Naufragio de "El Rio de las Estrellas," where it ran as follows:
Bajo la camiseta de Grubb podía apreciar los contornos de su afecto y por tanto sabía no sólo de sus ansias sino también que eran antiguas. 
This back translates from iGoogle translations as
Under Grubb's shirt [she] could see the outlines of his affection and therefore know not only their anxieties but they were old.
The intriguing thing is that neither translation preserves the pun between longing and long.  Both translate the crude physical reality: that the Lotus Jewel could see Grubb's erection outlined in his coveralls. 

The German Verlangen does have the quality of English "longing": ver-langen.  But "long" has been grossly rendered as groß, which can be translated: big, great, tall, high, wide, long, grand, full, etc., though there is a perfectly good adjective lange, which would have preserved the pun:
...sie konnte nicht nur sein Verlangen erkennen, sondern wusste auch, wie lang es war. 
It's also noteworthy that while English gets by with a single "knew" ("...knew not only his longing, but how long it was."), the German wants two verbs.  The longing was erkennten but the length was wusste.  I'm reasonably certain that this is because the latter is known by direct sensing but the former is known by intuition or inference. 


The Spanish translation is odder, at least do far as TOF can tell, which is admittedly not very far.  Ansia includes "longing" among its meanings, but also anxiety, anguish, and worry, which is not strictly denoted by either longing or Verlangen.  If antiguas was an attempt to pun -- perhaps the ansias/antiguas pronunciations are similar? -- it produced a strange meaning.  Old?  I admit I don't get it. 
Digression: English needed 23 words to say this and German needed 24.  (TOF counted "zeichneten ... ab" as a single word: "abzeichnen" but the reflexive form "sich abzeichnen" as two words.)  The Spanish needed 26 words.  TOF understands that Spanish generally needs more words, mostly perhaps because where German can add -s or English can add -'s, without increasing word-count, Spanish adds de or de los or something of the sort, one or two extra words.  Also the German ability multiwordcombines to create and the English word-trove that lets us shade a meaning by word choice rather than by adding an adjective or adverb.  
 So the thought for the day is that you can't always depend on a translation to capture every nuance of the original.  In German, "the cow is on the ice" is not a scientific assessment of bovines on frozen water.  It is an idiom that means one is confronted with a difficult problem.  (Think: how do you get a cow off the ice?)  There will be turns of phrase, shades of meaning that will be lost from one language to another.  St. Augustine noted that "in some languages there are words that cannot be translated into the idiom of another language."  And he gives multiple examples of faulty translation of Hebrew and Greek into Latin.  
But hasty and careless readers are led astray by many and manifold obscurities and ambiguities, substituting one meaning for another; and in some places they cannot hit upon even a fair interpretation. Some of the expressions are so obscure as to shroud the meaning in the thickest darkness.
-- Augustine of Hippo, On Christian doctrine, II:6

Monday, April 1, 2013

Headline of the Month

"Despite a reputation for social liberalism, California scores badly on personal freedoms."
That "despite" is priceless.  



Best Coin Ever Spent

h/t Mark Shea

He sure could write 'em.