Monday, December 27, 2010

The Decline and Fall

An alert reader at First Things magazine did a Google search on the frequency with which two words appeared in books in various periods: "virtue" and "sex".  While the decline of one and the increase of the others is no surprise -- we'll leave it as a surprise to guess which declined and which increased -- it was startling to see how quickly they flipped.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Just in Time!

Expectations high for panel targeting teen pregnancy;
Critics fear emphasis on condoms

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein; The Washington Times

Leaders of a new national campaign against teen pregnancy say they plan to reduce the teen-pregnancy rate by one-third by 2005, although they're not sure how.

Well, they are never quite sure how; but intentions are all that matter.  It's all about feeling good about yourself. 

And just in time, too: 

US teen birth rate at all-time low, economy cited
-- headline, Lehigh Valley Express-Times  (et al.) 

Okay.  I know pregnancy rate > birth rate.  The difference is largely in the abortion rate, though there are also miscarriages and things of that sort.  Even so, the target of my wrath is this tidbit:

The U.S. teen birth rate in 2009 fell to its lowest point in almost 70 years of record-keeping — a decline that stunned experts who believe it's partly due to the recession.

Due to the recession?  Due to the recession??  The recession!!!?  A wet towel, please, until the anguish passes. 

Don't these people look at the data?  The article in the local paper included a graph and reprinted the wire story as if the graph did not exist.  I was unable to find the graph in on-line versions of the story in the Express-Times, the Washington Post, and a couple other spot checks; so I recreated it myself from the Statistical Abstracts of the United States.  There is this caveat: the birth rates for any given year sometimes change in the tables from later years.  I did not have time to resolve that point and in most of the cases I glanced at, the adjustment was not very large. 

OK.  Here it is:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Irony Award of 2010

"Lawyers for Julian Assange have expressed anger about an alleged smear campaign against the Australian WikiLeaks founder," the Australian reports:
In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange's closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: "Not only had it been the world's worst screw, it had also been violent."
Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. "It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position," he told a colleague.
"I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing--trying to make Julian look bad."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Interchangeable, Suburban Men

John Lukacs wrote in The Passing of the Modern Age (1970):

Except for two republics [France and Switzerland] as late as 1910 every European state was still a monarchy, but the actual political power of the monarchs was dwindling everywhere.... 

Of course it is very often true that officials of a central government, sitting in their capital, gravely and injudiciously interfere with the lives and property of citizens in distant provinces or towns, without having consulted them at all, and without either considering or understanding their particular problems.  But there is no longer any guarantee (if there ever was) that people elected or appointed locally will be more capable or even more considerate...

Why is the election of supervisors of townships, or mayors of small towns, an even less inspiring exercise of one's civic duties than the election of a governor or a president?  Is it because people feel... that these locally elected men have little power?  Not necessarily: the budgets that local governments and school boards handle nowadays are enormous, their powers of regulating properties are very large indeed.  The answer, I submit, is to be found elsewhere.  People have become distrustful of the kind of men and women who are interested in holding this kind of power at all. 

In the long run the rule of aristocracy has been succeeded not by the rule of democracy but by the rule of bureaucracy.  Let us examine this pallid aphorism a little more closely.  If one does not like aristocracy one is, most probably, a democrat by preference; or the other way around.  But one's exasperation with bureaucracy is a different matter: it is at the same time more superficial and more profound than our dislike for either form of government.  The democratic exercise of periodic elections does not compensate people sufficiently against their deep-seated knowledge that they are being ruled by hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, in every level of government, in every institution, on every level of life. 

These bureaucrats are not the trainees of a rigid state apparatus, or of capitalist institutions, as their caricatures during the nineteenth century showed them.  They are the interchangeable, suburban men and women of the forever present, willing employees of the monster Progress

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Time is Here, By Golly

Yesterday, Margie and I wended to the wilds of Manhattan, where we had lunch at Rolf's German Restaurant, with its tastefully understated Christmas decorations (see left).  We were hosted by my esteemed editor, David Hartwell of Tor.  I had Jäger Schnitzl mit Spätzl with creamed herring for appetizer.  I asked if anyone wanted to help me eat the fish, but I had no herring aid. 

David indicated that he had finished reading In the Lion's Mouth and in his opinion, it was "magnificent." 

Now I am not one to disagree, but I thought it was crap.  Of course, that's what I always think when I have gotten to the end of a book.  All of its flaws are so glaring!  But there you have it.  He said he especially liked the linkage to Huizinga's book, which he had sensed in the Shadow culture even before he got to my acknowledgments.  How did he finish it so quickly, I asked.  He said he couldn't stop reading it. 

On the Disappearance of Science Fiction

Kirkus Reviews has revealed the Best SF of 2010.  I am sure that all the books they list are very good, but I was interested to note the virtual absence of SF from the list.  As near as I can tell only two of the fifteen books are SFnal, and there is something very borderline about the last one. 

How much of this is due to the collapse of the Modern Ages?  Recall that the modern ages were bourgeois, industrial, and scientific, and it is no surprise that a type of fiction developed that featured imaginable technological innovation as a key background element.  In early genre fiction, it even comprised the foreground! 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Odds and Ends

Quick on the Uptake

Our ever-vigilant Congress has come down hard on that great vexing issue of our times: TV ads that are louder than the programs they pay for.  Yes, we're talking about the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM Act.  (The Honorable Members invest a great deal of effort in devising apposite acronymable titles for their Acts.)  Sponsoring Rep. the Hon. Anna Eshoo (Gesundheit, D-CA) announced, "Consumers have been asking for a solution to this problem for decades, and today they finally have it."  For decades?  There is no stopping the blitzkrieg of the congressional juggernaut.  "[The bill] gives consumers peace of mind, because it puts them in control of the sound in their homes."  Anyone with small children at home realizes how elusive that control is. 

Of course, all this is after pretty much everybody has a TiVo or a DVR and hence the ability to skip commercials entirely.

Next up: "The pressing problems of junk faxes..."
(h/t: WSJ Best of the Web)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Words of Wisdom

Quote of the Day

If you never feel stupid, you're an idiot.   -- Brandon Watson

Looking for Space Aliens?

Here's a good candidate.  Pretty eerie-looking critter.  And what are those balls atop its thorax for?

Help Me Bubba-wan! You Are My Only Hope!

And who better than The Man from Hope?  Yet there is something ineffably sad about this scene.  The president, hopelessly out of his pay grade, calls upon the Pro from Dover, who delivers as always.  And then, in media res, simply wanders off because he has, well, other things to do.  Everything may be factual.  He may very well have had other things to do.  But there is an odd tone-deafness to the imagery in this, the post-modern Age of Image.  Visually, he seems to announce his own irrelevance.  This is not what his supporters thought they were electing; and in a way it is not what his opponents thought they were resisting, either. 

(h/t The Anchoress; Instapundit)

Give us Reagan or give us Nixon!  Give us FDR or give us LBJ!  Our presidents should succeed greatly or fail gloriously.  Give us Jesus or give us Barabbas!  But don't give us the smoke. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sometimes, the Mask Slips, a Little

A quote that is disheartening to read:

Then, in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC’s] publications, in their website, was a straight line—suddenly it changed, and showed a very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide gauge. And that didn’t look so nice. It looked as though they had recorded something; but they hadn’t recorded anything. It was the original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a “correction factor,” which they took from the tide gauge. So it was not a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside. I accused them of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow—I said you have introduced factors from outside; it’s not a measurement. It looks like it is measured from the satellite, but you don’t say what really happened. And they answered, that we had to do it, because otherwise we would not have gotten any trend!
-- Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner

Klimaschutz hat mit Umweltschutz kaum mehr etwas zu tun, sagt der Ökonom Ottmar Edenhofer. Der nächste Weltklimagipfel in Cancún sei eigentlich ein Wirtschaftsgipfel, bei dem es um die Verteilung der Ressourcen gehe.
-- Klimapolitik verteilt das Weltvermögen neu
(Climate policy has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection, says the German economist and IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer. The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economics summit during which the distribution of the world's resources will be negotiated.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Headline of the Day

Just in Case You've Forgotten
"Three Suicides in Peoria in 24 Hours Prompts [sic] Police to Remind Residents Not to Kill Themselves"
--headline, Phoenix New Times website, Dec. 7

Irony of the Week Award
"It was 54 deg. F in Cancun this morning — a record low for the date."

The Gore Effect is in full swing!  


Arsenic and Old Lace

Does a New Life Form Mean God Is Dead?

The recent NASA announcement of bacteria that use arsenic in place of phosphorous in their DNA chains has prompted the Usual Suspects to attempt a metaphysical conclusion from a tentative derivative measurement.  To wit:

"The polite thing to say is that discoveries such as this don't really impeach the credibility of established religion, but in truth of course they really do," David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association (AHA), a leading secularist organization, said of this week's revelations about the microbes discovered in Lake Mono in California.

"The fact that life can spring forth in this way from nature, taken in context with what else we've learned in recent centuries about space and time, surely makes it less plausible that the human animal is the specially favored creation of all-powerful, all-knowing divinity," Niose said.

Why do people who proclaim the superiority of reason do such a persistently poor job of using it?  One expects poor reasoning from Young Earth Creationists, but at least they make no claims to worship at the altar of the cerebral. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Forest of Time

Free Story!!

Arc Manor, which has brought out my old collection, The Forest of Time and Other Stories, with some updates and enhancements, offers a story, selection or a book free as an ebook. 

They are offering the title story from the Anthology - "The Forest of Time" - as their free give-away in December.

The story is set in an independent, German-speaking Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, on the brink of war with her neighbors: New York, Wyoming Valley, the Long House, and Virginia.  The US never gelled and we have dozens of little quarrelsome principalities at about pre-WW1 level technology.  Machine guns but no airships or radio.  Into this mess steps Hernando Kelly, a cross-time traveler from our world-line, and in him Chief Scout Rudi Knecht, the Hexmajor, and Festungskommodant Vondervogel take keen interest.  Is he a spy for the yankees in Wilkes-Barre?  A madman?  Or exactly what he claims to be?

The coupon code is 9992374 and instructions and links are at our catalogue at

Feel free to publicize this as you will. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ye Olde Booke Store

Mailed a bunch of books off to a blogfriend, then strolled across the street to a little used book store I patronize.  Browsed a bit and fortuitously encountered A.C.Crombie's Medieval and Early Modern Science.  It's vol. ii, but that's the fun centuries: XIII - XVII cent.  Except for that Black Death thingie.  Then, a couple bookcases later, John Lukacs' Outgrowing Democracy, in which he describes the collapse of the American Republic: The Degeneration of Popular Democracy to a Publicity Contest. The Passage from a Democratic Order to a Bureaucratic State. 

I asked the proprietor, an elderly fellow - i.e., older than me - if he could secure some particular books for me.  It's worth a few bucks to me not to have to hunt around.  I've been looking for W. Edwards Deming's The Statistical Adjustment of Data, because I have become interested in how the climate scientists adjust the raw data they harvest from the surface stations.  My impression is that there are no statisticians on "The Team."  To my surprise, the proprietor knew of Deming.  It turns out his father had been good friends with W.Ed back in the 1930s.  The number of intermediate acquaintances is always smaller than people suppose.  I also asked for another Lukacs book: The Passing of the Modern Age, which I had read years ago in a library copy.  I wanted this to inform an article I'm trying to write on the end of the Modern Ages. 

Meanwhile, finishing up Harry Turtledove's deCampian novel, Owls to Athens, and still going back to Huizinga's The Autumn of the Middle Ages, which requires slower reading, as well as Gilson's tome on Thomistic philosophy, ditto.

All this made possible by the sending unto Tor of the ms for In the Lion's Mouth, after a second pass by yr. obt. svt. that left 8000 words of immortal prose writhing in the blood and sand. 

The War Between Fact and Theory

Another message board had the following exchange: 

A: So much of what is taught in school is still technically "Theory" even as it is being taught as fact - like The Big Bang, for instance.

B: The statement quoted above mostly just signals a rather low level of scientific literacy--a lack of awareness of how the words "fact" and "theory" are typically used in science and how that usage differs from the vernacular.

Now my own peculiar experience is that many folks who make the latter point understand the difference no better than those who make the former.  This includes scientists, who frequently make very poor philosophers.  (The distinction between theory and fact is a philosophical one, not a scientific one.  Neither theories nor facts are physical bodies measurable by science.)  There are those who suggest, for example, that a theory that has been verified a great many times becomes a fact.  This is a little like saying that a baseball team that wins a great many games becomes a base hit. 

The Layer Cake of Science

The distinction between Fact, Law, and Theory was laid out by the logical positivists of yore.  These were philosophers of science like Poincare, Mach, Duhem, and Einstein that P.Z.Meyers once derided as running alongside the mighty Locomotive of Science, hollering advice and observations to the likes of the puissant Baconian engineer P.Z.Meyers. 

Start from the bottom, at which we find Empirical Experiences.  Things that we see, hear, feel, etc.  Both science and philosophy start here, but move in different directions.  The scientific direction runs thusly:

1. Facts.  When these experiences can be operationally measured, they become facts.  Factum est being the participle of "to make," a fact is "something made," a "feat."  Measurement creates facts because the same thing measured in two different ways will often produce two different results.  The experiment is the premier fact-producing machine, but facts may also be made by meticulously described qualitative observations, such as those Darwin made.  (The distinction is oft expressed as between "active" and "passive" statistics.) 

2. Laws.  Regularities or patterns in the facts are called laws, especially when they can be expressed in mathematical terms.  But they can also be expressed verbally.  Newton originally did so.  The equations associated with his three laws came later - and don't quite correspond to the three laws as he actually stated them.  There is no math at all in Darwin, but he did enunciate some laws or principles of evolution. 
3. Physical Theories.  These are stories or narratives in the context of which a specified body of facts "makes sense."  Newton's theory of gravitation "made sense" of Kepler's astronomical observations and mathematical laws.  Given a physical theory, the natural laws may be deduced and the facts predicted.  When facts are predicted beyond those originally used to develop the theory and then are subsequently found, the theory is further supported.  But no amount of support will change a theory into a fact, as such. 

Stop the Presses!

Who Would Have Suspected?

An especially clueless atheist has discovered that a Catholic hospital endorses, well, Catholicism.

In a blog post, he whines: 
I am a strong atheist by definition, and I have a great job and love my profession except I feel completely stifled at work. I work for a private catholic hospital and they REALLY push religion down our throats as well as those that use the facility. There are pamphlets lying around everywhere about coming to christ and how the "good" lord will solve all the problems of the word-including the sick and dying patients. They broadcast a prayer twice a day and each time I hear it I simply become angry.

The On-going Collapse of the Modern Ages

Remember the people who married inanimate objects , like the Eiffel Tower (in a touching ceremony attended by a few close friends), and the woman who (possibly in a very expensive joke) married herself?
The on-going redefinition of marriage continues now with an Australian man who has married his pet dog:

"Puppy Love: Man Marries a Real Dog"--headline, Toowoomba (Australia) Chronicle, Dec. 1

A YOUNG Toowoomba man yesterday tied the knot with his best friend – a five-year-old labrador.
In perhaps a first for the Garden City, Laurel Bank Park hosted the wedding of Joseph Guiso and Honey, a labrador he adopted five years ago.
Thirty of the couple’s closest friends and family were in attendance for the emotional ceremony, held at dusk.
"You’re my best friend and you make every part of my day better," Mr Guiso’s vows read.
The couple decided on the location – and to tie the knot - after stumbling upon a wedding in Laurel Bank Park during an afternoon walk.
"I said that could be us," Mr Guiso said.
"She didn’t say anything so I took that as a yes."
That "perhaps a first" was a nice touch.  It's not clear if the bride's age is an issue under Australian law.  Nor is it clear how many of the wedding guests were from the bride's side.  But one imagines a sordid possibility in which a smooth-talking seducer, waving a porterhouse steak before Honey, entices her to leave her husband and get a divorce.  Would the she be entitled to a share of Mr. Guiso's property?  What if Mr. Guiso feeds another dog?  Would that constitute unfaithfulness?  If the marriage is not consummated, can it then be annulled?  The mind boggles!

OK.  No it doesn't.  But that's because everyone knows (except perhaps Mr. Guiso) that this is not a real marriage.  There are no potential offspring to protect; no family alliances.  It is only play-marriage, one more example of how the Post-Modern Age's use of the forms of Modern institutions without adopting the matter of the institution.  And form without matter is not substantial.* 

And isn't the emptying out of the substance of marriage the whole point? 

(* form without substance.  For another example, consider how Late Modern dictatorships and tyrannies employ the forms of democracy - elections, plebiscites, parliaments - without the substance.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pope Approves of Gun-Brandishing During Bank Robberies!

Recently, the Pope said in an interview
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a bank robber uses an unloaded gun, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization,  a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of bank robbery. That can really lie only in a humanization of economics. 

Oh, wait.  What he said was this:

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

in Greek is εὐχαριστία (eukharistia) or Eucharist. 

There is a school of thought in the US, often called "rugged individualism" in which the individual (envisioned as "rugged", usually male and adult) claims that he stands in a grand and solitary isolation, owing no-but nothing to no one.  He is under no obligation to others, and words like altruism, generosity, charity, and so forth are hurtful to his ears. 

This is nonsense, of course. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Mystery of Galileo

Much of the following is due to a fascinating essay at The Renaissance Mathematicus entitled Galileo’s great bluff and part of the reason why Kuhn is wrong

An abiding puzzle for many is: why were the physicists and astronomers opposed to Galileo's Copernicanism?  Most of his supporters were "Renaissance men," i.e., artists and men of letters who took a dilettante's interest in science.  There were some physicists who famously refused to look through the newfangled telescope.  This while the Jesuits were making significant telescopic investigations of their own; and were in fact teaching the Copernican calculation methods at the Roman College. 

Much of the confusion, imho, comes from looking at history backwards instead of forwards.  Backwards, meaning looking from the present into the past, and so looking with foreknowledge of what came after and often with the unexamined assumptions of the Late Modern Ages.  But one achieves a better understanding by looking at history from its own past, and not allowing knowledge of next year to affect the view of this year.

Continued here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Musical Moment

While driving back from the doctor's office today, Bob Gibson streamed down from the satellite on the folk music channel.  YouTube has a version credited to Shel Silverstein, Bob Gibson, and John Hartford.  The video is nothing, but the song has a peculiar effect on me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Among the Skiffoids

This weekend was Philcon.  It was curiously small, and I heard this attributed to the Con Committee not sending out Program Participation invites until three weeks before the Con itself.  In any case, there were very few pro writers.  I saw Bud Sparhawk, Tom Purdom, and Gardner Dozois.  I suppose fantasy writers and gamesters were thick as ticks on a hound dog's back, but on panels I saw they introduced their oeuvre with the names of small publishers.  Some were impressive nonetheless.  A twelve-book series of YA fantasy is no mean accomplishment.  But the SF content seems to be getting thinner each year. 

One fellow had an interesting talk about the Apollo Guidance computer.  He had one, discussed the programs, the primitive nature of the hardware and the architecture lo these many years later. 

My own adventures ran as follows. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In the Lion's Mouth

O frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay! 
The frumious Bandersnatch is slain!
It now remains to dress the carcass.

One man with a dream, at pleasure, 
Shall go forth and conquer a crown; 
And three with a new song’s measure 
Can trample an empire down.
 – Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1844-1881), “We Are the Music Makers”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shocking Lapse in Elementary Logic Discovered!

BERLIN, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Climate change could lead to colder winters in northern regions, according to a study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on Tuesday.

Next up:  Hitting the ground could lead to more falls!  Or perhaps: Breathing could lead to more respiration!  Evolution could lead to different species!

Change is not a cause.  It is an effect. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Enemy has Capitulated!

General Order General Headquarters, A. E. F.

No. 203 France, November 12, 1918

The enemy has capitulated. It is fitting that I address myself in thanks directly to the officers and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces, who by their heroic efforts have made possible this glorious result.

Our Armies, hurriedly raised and hastily trained, met a veteran enemy, and by courage, discipline and skill always defeated him. Without complaint you have endured incessant toil, privation and danger. You have seen many of your comrades make the Supreme Sacrifice that freedom may live.

I thank you for your patience and courage with which j-ou have endured. I congratulate you upon the splendid fruits of victory, which your heroism and the blood of our gallant dead are now presenting to our nation. Your deeds will live forever on the most glorious pages of America's history.

Those things you have done. There remains now a harder task which will test your soldierly qualities to the utmost. Success in this and little note will be taken and few praises sung; fail, and the light of your glorious achievements of the past will be sadly dimmed.

But you will not fail. Every natural tendency may urge towards relaxation in discipline, in conduct, in appearance, in everything that marks the soldier. Yet you will remember that each officer and EACH SOLDIER IS THE REPRESENTATIVE IN EUROPE OF HIS PEOPLE and that his brilliant deeds of yesterday permit no action of today to pass unnoticed by friend or foe.

You will meet this test as gallantly as you met the test of the battlefield. Sustained by your high ideals and inspired by the heroic part you have played, you will carry back to your people the proud consciousness of a new Americanism born of sacrifice.


John J. Pershing,
General, Commander-in-Chief.

Now This is Funny

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Civil War Blog

Disunion is a new NY Times blog that will be covering the events of the Civil War in “real-time” as it happened 150 years ago. From one of the first posts about the last ordinary day:
[November 1, 1860] was an ordinary day in America: one of the last such days for a very long time to come.
In dusty San Antonio, Colonel Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Army had just submitted a long report to Washington about recent skirmishes against marauding Comanches and Mexican banditti. In Louisiana, William Tecumseh Sherman was in the midst of a tedious week interviewing teenage applicants to the military academy where he served as superintendent. In Galena, Ill., passers-by might have seen a man in a shabby military greatcoat and slouch hat trudging to work that Thursday morning, as he did every weekday. He was Ulysses Grant, a middle-aged shop clerk in his family’s leather-goods store.

The trick to history, John Lukacs used to say, is to study Salamis as if the Persians might still win.  But can we really read the above and think of Lee as just an Indian fighter, and Grant as no more than a dry goods clerk?  As if the trajectories of their lives were not about to get knocked skew-wise by great and terrible events to come? 

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Philadelphia Opera Company

sure do like to sing, even while shopping.  You saw them last at Reading Terminal Market singing opera.  Now, along with 650 close friends and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, they do a little seasonal chorale.  A word of explanation on the venue: Wanamaker's was the old downtown department story in Philadelphia, which features a huge organ that plays for shoppers.  There is also a large sculpture of an eagle that is iconic for Philadelphians.  "I'll meet you under the Eagle" was a common phrase when I was going to college down there, and explains all those people we would see sitting around at its feet.  It is also why the Philadelphia Football Team bears that name. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Unclear on the Concept

The WSJ reports on its Best of the Web blog

"Students have vowed to protest or block North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel until the university's chancellor gives guarantees that no hate speech will be allowed there," Raleigh's WRAL-TV reports:
[Sophomore Monique] Bonds said that graffiti demeaning many different groups is common in the tunnel.
"It's free expression, but nobody is walking through, regulating it," she said. "They're just letting it happen, and it's not just racism, but gender, sexuality and religious discrimination."
And that is too delicious not to count as todays Quote of the Day

"It's free expression, but nobody is walking through, regulating it."  -- Monique Bonds

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Gales of November

All politics is local, they say; so here is this here locale

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
As of 10:00 PM but with some updating to 10:30   63% of districts counted (now higher)

The political geography.  There are three Pennsylvanias
  1. Philadelphia metro
  2. Pittsburgh metro
  3. The T (Everyone else)

Dies Irae

Dies iræ! dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla !

which means

Day of wrath! that day
Dissolves the world in ashes:
As foretold by David and the sibyl!

The wrath in question is that of the voters, and the sibyls are the pollsters.  Supposedly, these will be made manifest most everywhere save New York, Connecticut, and possibly California, as the voters replace one band of nitwits by another.  The winners will fall to their knees to pray that our short attention spans will make them safe in two years.  Our liberties are secured by inducing fear in the hearts of legislators.  No more safe seats! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sometimes, the Mask Slips, a Little

Usually, it's in a passing remark in which the speaker wishes we could be more like China or that the President could just issue decrees to get things done.  At other times, it is simply shouting down or flashmobbing a disfavored double-plus ungood speaker.  But sometimes people get hurt.

50 women injured, and one hospitalized

Heaven and Earth, Horatio

Friends, you can't make this stuff up. The Wall Street Journal informs us

Colorado Flying-Saucer Believers Have Ghost Hunters in Their Sights.

DENVER—There has been plenty of partisan rancor across Colorado as Election Day approaches. Here in the capital, it's out of this world.

Ballot Initiative 300 would require the city to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, stocked with Ph.D. scientists, to “ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact “with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.” . . .

Promoting the initiative: Jeff Peckman, a silver-haired entrepreneur who lives with his parents. "Low overhead," he explains. Mr. Peckman is a firm believer in intergalactic life, though he has never been personally contacted by an alien. That gives him more credibility, he says; it's harder to dismiss him as biased. ....

“We need to get this out of the realm of the Tooth Fairy and into the realm of diplomatic protocol,” says Ricky Butterfass, who works on the campaign.
But wait. It gets better. The major opponent is... a ghost-hunter. Bryan Bonner "dismisses the unidentified-flying-object buffs as delusional if not outright frauds."
One thing about Mr. Bonner: He spends his spare time crawling through spooky spaces, deploying remote digital thermometers, seismographs, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and Nerf balls in pursuit of evidence of the paranormal. He is, in short, a ghost hunter.

And he has rallied his colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society to fight Initiative 300 as an embarrassment to science—and to Denver.

Replies Clifford Clift, a Colorado UFO researcher: "The paranormal group is saying we're outlandish?"
So apparently the paranormal folks are accusing the UFO folks of being an embarrassment to science; and a ghost hunter is calling UFO hunters "delusional." Friends, if the irony were any thicker, we could coke it up and smelt steel.

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.

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


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

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

$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. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Odds and Ends and Tallahassee

Quote of the Day:

"Isn't it great to live in a society where the penalty for lying to a congressman can be up to 30 years in jail, but the penalty for a congressman lying to you is another two years in office."
-- Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun sports writer, concerning the indictment of Roger Clemens

Bonus Quote of the Day:

“Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.”
— Guy Consolmagno, one of the Vatican’s astronomers, on whether he would baptize an alien.

It's a Good Thing He Ain't Bush:

The Obama administration has urged a federal appeals court to allow the government, without a court warrant, to affix GPS devices on suspects' vehicles to track their every move.

An Irish Emigration Song, paraphrased

And it's good-bye Mick, and good-bye Pat, and good-bye all you lassies.
The anchor's away and the gangplank's up.  I'm bound for Tallahassee. 

Four frolicsome days teaching statistics!  Woo-hoo. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Hermeneutics of Stephen Hawking

This is the true quill, because I got it neu from Hermen himself. 

Physicists, when they are off the reservation, say the cutest things.  Many of them hold philosophy in contempt because "there are never any final answers" in philosophy.  Unlike physics, where the phlogiston...  I mean, the impetus....  Well, you know what I mean.  But as Mary Midgley said, "People who refuse to have anything to do with philosophy have become enslaved to outdated forms of it." 

Actually, final answers only come from mathematics.  Physics, appears final to the extent it appears mathematical.  That was Descartes' original programme: could we but reduce science to mathematics, we could reach scientific conclusions with all the certainty of mathematical ones.  Well, Popper put a stop to that nonsense.  It gave us new nonsenses, but that is another matter. 

But physics is the most mathematical of the natural sciences.  In the sense of the Scientific Revolution, that makes it the most scientific of the sciences and recently, carried away by a fit of mathematical certainty, the estimable Dr. Stephen Hawking wrote:

"As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

One is initially struck by several points.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Horatio Strikes Back

Skepticism about the variation in the fine structure inconstant.  (h/t John Farrell)  Pretty much correlates with which telescope was used.  Hence, with which folks made the observations.  This makes my little pointy quality engineer ears perk up.  Scientists are notoriously careless about issues of measurement system reliability.  (cf. surface station temperature measurements.) 

Scientists take all the fun out of science, double-checking and questioning results that fly in the face of orthodoxy.  Pfui, sez I.  Now we have the inconstancy denialists. 

I had begun to wonder whether the directionality had to do with the solar system's motion through the aether, aka black matter.  Or that of the spiral arm.  After all, if there really was a directional difference that just happened to coincide with which galaxies could be seen with which telescope, the two would be confounded. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stranger Things, Horatio. Stranger Things.

A team of astrophysicists based in Australia and England has uncovered evidence that the laws of physics are different in different parts of the universe

The report describes how one of the supposed fundamental constants of Nature appears not to be constant after all. Instead, this 'magic number' known as the fine-structure constant -- 'alpha' for short -- appears to vary throughout the universe.
"After measuring alpha in around 300 distant galaxies, a consistency emerged: this magic number, which tells us the strength of electromagnetism, is not the same everywhere as it is here on Earth, and seems to vary continuously along a preferred axis through the universe," Professor John Webb from the University of New South Wales said.
Skiffy Connections?
If the laws of physics turn out to be merely 'local by-laws', it might be that whilst our observable part of the universe favours the existence of life and human beings, other far more distant regions may exist where different laws preclude the formation of life, at least as we know it."
And if we have a far future intergalactic space opera (with Space Princesses, of course) what happens to the electromagnetic equipment on the ship?  Are neural impulses electromagnetic?  Any physicists out there?

Add this to the dark energy and "lithium-free bubble" comments earlier, our local neighborhood begins to look a lot more user friendly than the rest of the Stuff out there. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How Long Do Some People Remember Historical Dates?

Jan Sobieski.  

On September 10, 1683, the papal legate sang a great outdoor mass on the Kahlenberg, west of Vienna, for King Jan III Sobieski and his 16,000 troops. The king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been named commander of the field army of some 85,000 troops, including not only the Polish–Lithuanian contingent, but also troops of the Habsburg Monarchy, Bavaria, Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and the Zaporozhian Cossacks -- collectively: the Holy League.

In The Belly of the Whale: Publisher's Weekly Review & Pre-Order Links

 Hello Fans of Michael Flynn. I am pleased to let you know that Dad's novel In the Belly of the Whale will be released by CAEZIK on July...