Thursday, February 28, 2013

Natural Genetic Engineering

Shapiro, looking excited
We live in exciting times, when we are finally beginning to understand the workings of evolution.

One of the things Aristotle said about living beings is that they contain within themselves the principles of their own movement.  The more we learn about genetics, the more this seems true, down to the deepest levels.   In  his latest blog on natural genetic engineering, James Shapiro has some interesting things to say.  It is worth quoting the entry extensively. 

First caution.  By "natural genetic engineering" (NGE) Shapiro does not mean an explanatory principle, but rather all the biochemical mechanisms cells possess to "cut, splice, copy, polymerize and otherwise manipulate the structure of internal DNA molecules, transport DNA from one cell to another, or acquire DNA from the environment. Totally novel sequences can result from de novo untemplated polymerization or reverse transcription of processed RNA molecules." 

On the Razor's Edge

A book description appears on Amazon, which I share with you:

The secret war among the Shadows of the Name is escalating, and there are hints that it is not so secret as the Shadows had thought. The scarred man, Donovan buigh, half honored guest and half prisoner, is carried deeper into the Confederation, all the way to Holy Terra herself, to help plan the rebel assault on the Secret City. If he does not soon remember the key information locked inside his fractured mind, his rebel friends may resort to torture to pull it from his subconscious.

Meanwhile, Bridget ban has organized a posse—a pack of Hounds—to go in pursuit of her kidnapped daughter, despite knowing that Ravn Olafsdottr kidnapped the harper precisely to lure Bridget ban in her wake. The Hound, the harper, and the scarred man wind deeper into a web of deceit and treachery certain of only one thing: nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it seems to be.

Banners of the Shadows

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Shipwrecks of Time - Excerpt

I'm early by a couple of days.  

There'll probably be two more after this one.  I think.  I can't put the whole thing up here, guys, and I'm skipping some of the kool stuff regarding Ogier the Dane, Gregory of Tour's History of the Franks, and the Res gestae arturi britanni.  Not to mention what Frank will find early next year at the Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe. 
     Frank wore a blue blazer over dark slacks and, as a concession against the snow, big rubber galoshes with metal clasps.  He shed these and the overcoat, muffler, and fur-lined cap at the coat-check and followed Nelson into the Stone Toad.  As instructed, he rubbed the Toad on the head before circling the fountain into the night club.
     “Let’s see what’s on display tonight,” Nelson called into his ear.  
See what's on display here


Inanity or Insanity? You Decide!

The science blog at the Guardian contains this fascinating gem:
The RSC's Shakes Sphere talks are designed to explore Shakespeare's world, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council provides funding for research. It occurred to me that comparing fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans of the brain of an actor with those of an astronomer might yield some clues to Galileo and Shakespeare's drives.
Why would such a bizarre notion occur to the writer?  Galileo and Shakespeare are both as dead as Francisco Franco and their brains are unavailable for scanning.  So we get this:

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Shipwrecks of Time - excerpt

This may be the next-to-last excerpt.  

     Wilma decided that Jonathan Henkle could be remarkably dense.  He absolutely could not understand why she had gone ape-shit over Delacorte’s assignment.  “This is my third year at the Institute,” she told him when she confronted him in his office, “and I’ve never been sent to Europe for so much as a demitasse!” 


Boskone 50

Back from Boskone.  Boston was snowed up, but not impenetrably so.  I am told that a week earlier was a different story, but that is ever a risk for a con in mid-February in Boston.  On the waterfront.  The Westin was its usual self, with the additional twist that its main restaurant no longer served dinner.  Well, it was pricey-plus.  But the "pub" is not large enough to handle the dinner crowd.  Fortunately, I didn't care, since I was staying in a different hotel entirely. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday

This is the first day of the Season of Doing Without.  The Christian Ramadan, as some have put it, perhaps confused a bit over which came first.  

One of the thing the Late Modern mind has difficulty grasping is allowing an appetite to go unslaked.  If it feels good, DO IT!  What do we want?  You name it.  When do we want it?  NOW! 

The ancient hedonists never confused pleasure with the good.  The indulgence of the senses results in a flabby mind and body; and modern neuroscience tells us that habituating such neural patterns interferes with the formation of neural patters originating in the neocortex.  Or in the older formulation: "Sin makes you stupid." 

But the Late Modern is as unfamiliar with the stern pagan virtues as he is with the laughing Christian ones.  But "virtue" means "strength" and a season of Lent could be thought of as a month at a fat farm or in the gym.  Exercising muscle groups is the flip side of exercising moral muscles.  Of course, as the "obesity epidemic" demonstrates, we are as adverse to the one as to the other.  As the Greeks, Romans, and Christians observed, the two tend to go together.  Mens sana in corpore sano

So Lent is not only about giving up pleasures (if only to prove that we can.  Who is the master, after all?)  It is also about building positive strengths.  Toning down lust may help strengthen love.  Fighting sloth may improve commitment.  Give me ten reps on the Temperance machine.  Half an hour on the moral elliptical. 
Some years ago, my friend Raj, who is a Hindu, announced that he was giving up both beef and single malt whiskey.  He wanted some favor from the gods and, as he explained it, if you want to get something, you must give up something.  It struck me as curious that, as a Hindu, he was giving up beef.  Wasn't he supposed to avoid beef to begin with?  I am not a northerner, he said by way of explanation.  Apparently, southern India is more laid back about such things.  When we went to eat, he would explain to the waiter, "I am being vegetarian this month."  The whole thing seemed oddly mechanical, as if his gods were cosmic vending machines.  If you inserted the requisite sacrifice in the slot, the desired good would fall into the tray.  But this is a blindness not at all restricted to him. 
But when it comes to Giving Up Something for Lent, Benedict XVI has set the bar awfully high.  I mean, look at what he is giving up...
+ + +

And of course the mainstream media can't get past the horserace mentality.  The touting has begun.  One really wishes the Spook would pull something out of his back pocket, just to irritate the punditry.  Everything is power and politics, of course; and matters are judged accordingly as they agree with Caesar's view of things or not.  Already, voices at the Times and the WaPo have  wondered breathlessly whether this time the Church will Get With It on the pelvic issues that so obsess modern secular culture, as if these thing were simply policy decisions made by an administration.  Life is hell for people stuck inside their own paradigm. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Slow Burn of Wilma Masterson

A new excerpt from The Shipwrecks of Time has been put on the  BOOK & STORY PREVIEWS page. 

     The ceiling of the Institute library was an elaborate Victorian affair comprised of hammered copper panels bearing geometric designs, a legacy of the building’s original designer.  But strategically placed among the sunbursts and scrollwork were small mirrors that granted Stacy Petros unobtrusive surveillance of the Stacks.  A few years before Wilma’s arrival, Stacy had once told her, a grad student from one of the universities had tried to smuggle out an original Boccaccio easily worth five thousand dollars.  When Wilma arrived to return Fichtenau’s The Carolingian Empire and Knowles’ The Evolution of Medieval Thought, Stacy was watching a young grad student, tugging volumes from the shelves and putting them back. 
     “It’s when they hunt around,” Stacy said without turning her head, “that my agita kicks in.”

Read more

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Odd Ends of Odds and Ends

Yes, it's that time again.  Clearing out bunch of ends and odds.
  • The Little Ironies of Life
  • Life Used to be So Much Simpler
  • The Music of a Generation
  • Hot Enough For Ya? 
  • Return of the Quanta

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bad News

The diocese of Allentown and the parish of Our Lady of Mercy have thrown in the towel on the possibility of raising the money needed to repair the main church building.  The church, formerly St. Joseph's, was closed two weeks ago and all operations were transferred to the oratory, formerly St. Bernard's.   

That the parish had two church buildings may seem odd.  However:
  • St. Joseph's was the largest of the church buildings and therefore was able to accommodate the three combined parishes. 
  • St. Bernard's was the oldest parish in this part of Pennsylvania, the "mother church" for all the rest, including St. Joseph's.
So there were practical and historico-sentimental reasons for keeping both in operation.  Now the large and liturgically rich church will be used only on Christmas and Easter and for Kirchweihe and the like.  Marriages and funerals will be done in it, if requested. 

A farewell to old St. Joseph

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gold Rush

Years ago at TOF's over-the-hill 40th b'day party he was given a "newspaper" full of headlines and such from the year he was born.  Included was a list of the price of several things in birth year versus then-current year, including the median wage, an ounce of gold, a new home, a new Ford automobile, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and some thou. 

Headline of the Day

Unexpected Proof of Teleology in Saltationist Evolution

"Report: Hornets Plan to Become Pelicans"--headline, Associated Press, Jan. 23

Sometimes You Learn That You Did Something Right

Learned today that my son up at Univ. Alaska - Anchorage saw a native man attempt suicide by swallowing a bunch of pills out on the street.  He called 911 and then stayed with and encouraged the man until help came.  (While other good Samaritans diverted car traffic around them.)  

Sometimes you wonder if you were a good enough father, and then you get proof.  Well done, Dennis.  We are proud of you. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Shipwrecks of Time

I have ducked back a chapter to introduce some of the other characters and a new complication.  We are back with Frank Delacorte.  He has left the Institute on that first day with a list of potential lodgings that Mrs. S has given him.
     The first address on the list was an apartment building on the same block, but that was too good to be true and when Frank got there, he was told that the last remaining room had been rented the week before.  “The kids are coming in for the new semester,” the apartment manager told him, just in case he cared.  Armed with that information, Frank studied the list more carefully, compared it to his map, and crossed off all the buildings closer to the University than where he now stood.  His best chances lay in those boarding houses and apartments farther west.  He set off into the wilderness at a brisk pace. 
Continue reading.  

In the next, and possibly final installment, we will learn something of the plot problem that will confront Frank.  

Thinking with the wrong glands

Yes, he was arrested for "child endangerment."
Beginning in the 1950s, Jacques Barzun noted that the phrase "I think that..." was being replaced by "I feel that..."  You might take count for a few days how often you hear people say that.  "I feel we should eat at this restaurant."  "I feel the president is a sage (and/or fool)."  "I feel we ought to do something about Iran."  And so on.  Lost in all this are two important things: thoughts and feelings.  When everything is felt and nothing is thought, genuine feelings, the significance of feelings themselves, can be diluted like homeopathic philosophy.

In the old Aristotelian dispensation, the intellect was prior to the will.  That is, the will was regarded as the intellective appetite, a hunger for the products of the intellect.  After all, you cannot want what you do not know.  (And because the knowledge is hardly ever perfectly certain, the will is hardly ever perfectly determined, and hence is free.)

You go, Will!
But we live now in the age of the Triumph of the Will, and more often, the triumph of the appetites, and we want what we want when we want it.  What do we want?  You name it.  When do we want it?  NOW!  There are times when this is understandable, when a man who hates evil is impatient for its crushing.  But it is not uncommon to find that people desire things that are contrary to the intellect.  Adam wants to eat lots of chocolate and not get fat; but the universal verdict of the intellect is that that ain't gonna happen, no matter how much he might "love" chocolate.  And we intuit the nature of sin as a defectus boni when we say "Too much chocolate is bad for you."  (Bad?  How dare we make value judgments!)  So we have a society that eats when its hungry and is afterward shocked, shocked to discover an "epidemic" of obesity in its midst.

New Story from Michael F. Flynn

 Greetings All.    Mike (Dad) has a new story in the July/August edition of Analog . I know Analog is available on Kindle store and Analog ...