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, March 17, 2017

The March of the Tabs

March comes in like a lion, the proverb says, and this is surely true of the march of the tabs, which have accumulated unpruned on TOF's tab-bar over the unruly winter months, frozen on the branches like cherry blossoms in global warming. Hereunder, with appropriately short shrift:

1. "Everything Old is New Again" Remember the torrential rains in California this past winter? The following article appeared in Scientific American back in 2013:
THE INTENSE RAINSTORMS SWEEPING IN FROM the Pacific Ocean began to pound central California on Christmas Eve in 1861 and continued virtually unabated for 43 days. The deluges quickly transformed rivers running down from the Sierra Nevada mountains along the state’s eastern border into raging torrents that swept away entire communities and mining settlements. The rivers and rains poured into the state’s vast Central Valley, turning it into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide. Thousands of people died, and one quarter of the state’s estimated 800,000 cattle drowned. Downtown Sacramento was submerged under 10 feet of brown water filled with debris from countless mudslides on the region’s steep slopes. California’s legislature, unable to function, moved to San Francisco until Sacramento dried out—six months later. By then, the state was bankrupt. 
It gives the usual nod to "but this time the rains will be worse because global warming blah-blah-blah," but it's hard to overlook the pre-emptive catatastrophes that look so much like those of today.  

However, when the "rivers in the sky" were reported during the California deluge this winter, none of this background was reported. This was not likely because they wished to conceal the context, but because the needed more air-time for commercials. These days, you may notice they sometimes don't have enough time to complete a sentence. 

2. La Grande Scazzottata Copernica is up. If you read Italian, enjoy it.

4. One Reason Might Be Because It Isn't There
Dark matter is a fascinating, frustrating scientific mystery. Astronomers claim that much of it forms halos surrounding galaxies, yet “no one has ever seen this material or been able to study it”. Hence, anticipation accompanied delivery of the “Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - 02” to the International Space Station in May 2011. Although a goal was to discover this elusive stuff, nothing conclusive has been found. Dark matter supposedly explains gravitational effects, which suggests the merit of analyzing colliding galaxies because gravitational dragging should distort those halos. However, such behavior was not detected; what happened was consistent without the supposed presence of dark matter. A recently-concluded, highly-sensitive and anticipated “Large Underground Xenon” experiment failed to detect a single trace of dark matter. With these and other consistently negative findings, why should we believe this material exists?
Dark matter is a deduction from a mathematical model, not an actual obervation. Rather like deducing the presence of as grizzly bear from the footprints of a rabbit supposedly frightened by it.

5. The Earth's Magnetic Field is a Floppy Kind of Thing

6. It's Not Cold Fusion... But It's Something
Says Scientific American

7. Robert Boyle's To-Do List
Back in the 1600s, Robert Boyle put together a list of the biggest problems facing science. The most remarkable things about the list is how few of the problems are actually scientific. Most are technological and practical inventions. They sound like a list of sci-fi stories from the Golden Age

 8. Taking the Quality Out of Equality
I hope you brought enough for everyone.
Remember when if you couldn't share withe everyone, you couldn't share with anyone? That's right, the equality police are at it again, making sure misery and inconvenience are equally shared. U. Cal. Berkeley had made a library of 20,000
video lectures available for free to the public. Alas, two employees of Gallaudet University filed a complaint with DOJ alleging that Berkeley's online content was inaccessible to the hearing-disabled community. After looking into the matter, DOJ determined that Berkeley had indeed violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Berkeley had two choices: spend a fortune adding closed captioning to the videos, or remove them from public view. Cost-conscious administrators chose the latter option
But then, Gallaudet also tells us curing deaf people is cultural genocide. No foolin'

9. The Map is Not the Territory
Chastek points out that maps can be very useful things, but are not the same thing as the territory itself. I mean, mathematical, measurable properties are very useful things, but they are not the physical objects themselves. But we are so used to equating things with their measurements -- time with what clocks measure; extent with what rods measure -- that we forget there was ever a distinction and we suppose Zeno's Paradoxes were resolved by the infinitesimal calculus. Meanwhile, we have moved on to equating intelligence with what IQ tests measure.  See Item 4, above.

Elsewhere, Chastek writes:
[Aristotle] wouldn’t have seen figuring out our distance from the sun as a scientific triumph nor as playing a role in a scientific account of the world.  Ditto for a precise mathematical account of the arc of a projectile. The point was to identify a causal chain of some genus, terminating in the universal cause of that genus.
Kinetic energy seems to count as some sort of universal cause of change of place, but kinetic energy is not defined in a way that allows us to answer the question [of causality]. since no one can say if it is just a mathematical convenience, a cause of motion, an effect of being in motion, or a dozen other things.
10. Eve Keneinan on the Closing of the Islamic Mind
The whole cause-effect thingie got answered differently in Islan, at least in the Ashari aqida. By good fortune, David Hume, who reached the same conclusions did not scuttle science in the Western world

11. ISIS fails audit
The ISIS financial model is in serious trouble, Allah be praised.

12. Bigotry on Campus

Feser writes that a bigot is someone who "evaluates the evidence in light of his beliefs rather than evaluating his beliefs in light of the evidence."  It is not the content of his beliefs that make him a bigot, but the manner in which he holds them: whether by calm, reasoned argument and open to counter-argument or by screaming emotional fits and resort to violence. Charles Murray writes on the state of bigotry on at least one college campus

13. Old New England
in the Black Sea? Saxon nobles who fled from the Norman conquest apparently set up shop as a Byzantine dependency in the Crimea before the Slavs got established there. Go figure. Does that mean that Old Blighty has a claim on the territory?

14. Alternative Facts
There was much hoo-hoo over the use of this term not too long ago, mostly as a laughing point; but is it not unfamiliar to scientists, lawyers, engineers, and the like. Any viewer of TV medical or detective/courtroom dramas knows that there are often conflicting sets of facts around the same events. Sometimes these are supplementary facts that put previous facts into context or which shed new light on them. Sometimes previous facts are not as facty as they seemed, or they did not mean what they seemed to mean. (The iridium-enriched stratum at the K/T boundary may have been produced by an asteroid strike; but it may have been produced by the long-term eruption of the Deccan Traps. IOW, what does the iridium mean?)
Some discussion of the concept is here:

15. The Dead of Chicago
Donald Trump came in for some mockery after the election for suggesting that he had won even the (irrelevant) popular vote had it not been for "millions of illegals voting." Unlike assertions that "the commies Russians interfered with the elections," Trump's assertion was always coupled with the phrase "offered no proof." But proverbially, the Dead of Chicago are said to vote early and often and it became a proverb by being true. When newsreaders insistently told us that there was "no evidence" of voting fraud, TOF wondered, how would they know? What they meant was that they could find no newspaper stories about it in the LEXIS database. But successful fraud would not have made a footprint in the media. Often, instances could be dismissed as malfunctions, such as voting machines in Butler Co. PA in which votes for Trump auto-switched to votes to Clinton. There seem to have been no reported instances of Clinton votes suddenly flipping to Trump votes. Similarly, in Michigan recounts, there were more votes tallied by the optical scanners than there had been voters signing the poll book. (This can be accomplished by running the same ballot through the counter multiple times, as a precinct-worker was caught doing in Chicago in 1982.) However, you cannot form a statistical estimate from fortuitously uncovered instances like these. We know there was fraudulent voting, both deliberate and malfunction, but we don't know the magnitude.

16. “What do we want?” “Goo-goos!” “When do want them?” “Now!”
Some observations from a 14th century type north of the border in Her Majesty's Dominion regarding the hysteria of disappointment and again here regarding media accuracy.

17. Political Correctness

An essay on the origin and rise of political correctness on the Old Left and the New.


  1. TOF,

    Sometimes, as Aristotle asserts somewhere, a lie is just a lie--not an alternative fact. A lack of proof for voter fraud is not just confined to newspaper stories. The onus probandi rests with those who insist that there is such fraud.

    1. Sure thing. What about recent reports that estimated 1.8 million illegals voting in the last election.

  2. 1862 kept coming up when I was looking at record rainfall and snowpack for California, but I didn't realize the epic nature of that season's storms until your link. Yikes.

    This whole California mega-storm thing breaks the camel's back: people really, truly should not move to California. Tectonic death is mostly localized (albeit in places where most of the people live); wildfires, mudslides, avalanches, flooding - same deal. And the bad ones don't really happen all that often. Almost always, 95%+ of Californians can tisk tisk from relative safety on those rare occassions.

    But from the description in that SciAm piece you linked to, a megastorm is an equal-opportunity natural disaster. When everywhere from British Columbia to Baja California is under water, there's no handy safe spot to tisk tisk from!

    One thing they don't describe in detail: most of the drinking water in California comes via the Sacramento Valley and delta. We could have a water, water everywhere and not a thing to drink situation in a totally not funny way.

    Just great. I'm high enough and well-drained enough (my house, I mean) that I'll be the guy with 25 people from Sacramento camped in our living room for 6 months waiting for their homes to dry out. And the sewage treatment plants will be flooded as well - I should just buy a couple portapotties now, stick 'em the back yard just in case.