Thursday, June 30, 2005

Nancy Pelosi writes me to say

"George Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq in the WORST possible way -- and he did."

Heh. Indeed.

I assume this is, as usual, an old pun.


BrickBible and Drum being dumb or dogmatically disreligious

Via a less-rare-than-usual Fontana Labs post at Unfogged, The Brick Testament. E.g., this heartwarming sequence. Not as good as a certain Angel episode, but still worth checking out.

Kevin Drum attacks Scientology. Does he know that he should go on to the other popular religions next to be consistent? Anyway, maybe Tom Cruise understands all that stuff about aliens metaphorically.

Some beautiful cynicism

Steve Sailer has some diabolical thoughts on why we haven't sealed Iraq's Syrian border.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Drum on the War

That screw-up by the VA in estimating their costs? It's a consequence of the usual hubris/politicization: the Cheney Administration "vastly underestimated the number of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking medical treatment".

Want a good argument for getting out of Iraq - one that's pitched in conservative terms? Try "troop level reform" á la welfare reform to encourage the Iraqis to become self-reliant.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Divine command theory

DCT, meet the Euthyphro Dilemma. Long story short, the mainstream philosophical view seems to be that if your god tells you to do something, make up your own mind whether it's a good thing to do.

Related note - I had until recently thought that ethics and morality were separate concepts - that ethics were a logical construct based on maximizing some sort of equity or utility function, while morality was a construct based on commands and precepts derived from a religious text or tradition. The latter seemed to me to be uninteresting from the point of view of serious thought, but liable to be a tested and successful way to organize a society, and one with the virtue that a supreme being might actually define (instantiate?) a moral metric. But somewhere deep in an Obsidian Wings thread a month or so ago I was informed by Hilzoy (wearing her philosopher hat) that morality is ethics and ethics is morality. I would entertain the idea of learning enough to fight the point, but the above link seems to me to make the question moot.

Re mootness, I suspect that ethics runs into the problem one meets in (I think) Bayesian statistics, what variable do I choose to treat? If I take a flat prior in x, what happens in x**2? What if I want the tails of the distribution to behave in some nice way? Note to self, read this, maybe useful on the subject.

Anyway, it's all angel-on-a-pin-counting from the chairs-and-people-are-heaps-of-elementary-particles viewpoint.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Hilzoy blogs up a storm

Hilzoy blogs up a storm. Her work alone is sufficient reason for the bsphere.

Note that the "up" link, something David Brooks desperately needs to read but won't, is especially more worth reading than this post.

My New Bible, Book 0, Chapter 0

  1. In the untime before Time,
  2. God dreamt a Creation of unity and light.
  3. And God saw that it was beautiful and good,
  4. And Her joy was infinite.
  5. And God saw this this Creation was empty of life,
  6. And Her pain was greater,
  7. So great it split Her Being.
  8. And thence issued forth our Universe,
  9. Its stars burning with unbearable light
  10. Only to collapse into infinite dark
  11. Or burst or fall into futility,
  12. And between them stretched vast depths of cold
  13. Still rippling with God's scream;
  14. And scattered upon the deep were worlds
  15. Where intelligence arose
  16. To look upon God's pain and join Her suffering.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

More dogmatic religionism from Mark Kleiman

here. E.g., "Much of it is silly village-atheist stuff from people who seem to regard their contempt for theists as among their most precious possessions and who resent any attempt to suggest that the vast majority of humankind, present and past -- including, for example, Socrates and Lincoln -- aren't and weren't believers in obvious nonsense."

Translation: "People who think I'm wrong are unsophisticated monomaniacs so dumb they think that 2k years of human thought gives them an advantage over Socrates in assessing reality."

And "Such criticism isn't worth responding to in detail. If P.Z. Meyers gets as much enjoyment from his belief that all relgious belief is simply congealed ignorance as Jerry Falwell does from his belief that all non-theists are damned, why should I play the spoilsport?"

Translation: "I don't want to be made to look dumb in public by arguing with a sophisticated monomaniac with a degree in hard science (just reading those lengthy posts gives me a headache), so I'll just be contemptuous."

He goes on to off-handedly argue against analytic thought when it comes to belief. Sorry to see Kleiman siding with the UFO, astrology, Scientology, your-favorite-religion-which-you're-sure-is-right-because-of-faith crowd.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Friday blue-footed booby blogging

two blue-footed boobies Posted by Hello


A snowball in hell takes heart

The above phrase is about to appear on the web for the first time in an ironic comment of mine, so if you got to this page through a google search hoping to make a similar post, nyah nyah nyah.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Mark Kleiman defends Santaclausism and Satanism


Silly of me to hold the opinion that knowledge is good for humanity and superstition bad.

"We became animals"

A friend directs me to this moving essay about fatherhood and loss by Dutch writer P. F. Thomése (about whom I know zilch).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


A quote from Roger Zelazny's novel Lord of Light (maybe derived from some Upanishad or whatever):
The deathgod smiled. "Catch your breath quickly now, while you may," he stated. "Breath is the least appreciated gift of the gods. None sing hymns to it, praising the good air, breathed by king and beggar, master and dog alike. But, oh to be without it! Appreciate each breath, Rild, as though it were your last-- for that one, too, is near at hand!"
When a sail isn't catching the wind correctly and as a consequence flaps (as the sails did on our boat), it is said to "luff", which may or may not be related to the German word "Luft", "air". There is some sort of bird in the Galapagos, probably a frigate, that makes a luffing sound by vibrating its neck, maybe as part of a mating ritual. It was a bit like a râle or what I imagine a death rattle sounds like.

I went snorkling for the first time there. This involved getting dropped off a dingy into a choppy sea in a current leading towards some rocks; a badly-adjusted snorkel; and my usual brick wall when trying to swim actively; plus some anxiety on the part of my wife observing the above, and some anxiety on my part observing the above and observing her anxiety. After a couple of breaths of sea water and a leg cramp, I was about ready to drown in my overlarge and hence very buoyant wetsuit, but made it back to the dingy where I spent the next maybe half hour with my heart racing, trying to catch my breath. Even after a long nap I couldn't seem to get enough air into my lungs, but after dinner I felt ok. The experience was extremely unpleasant but I tried snorkling again the next day under easier circumstances and had an excellent time.

After a week in the islands, we went back to Quito, which is a striking place to see from the air. It's at about 2.8 kilometers above sea level, making it the second-highest city in the world. We then went up the mountain another 0.3 km or so to a sort of resort (formerly a Jesuit retreat). I've never been at that altitude, and felt a bit out of breath and dizzy and headachy. It started getting cold as soon as the sun began to set. The rooms there have fireplaces for heat. The one my wife and I ended up in smelled rather smoky, but someone came and looked at the flue and we were told it would be ok. After dinner I was struck by a migraine and managed to stumble back to our room to lie down. A fire had just been laid. As I pulled the covers over my head I noticed the smell of smoke, and realized it probably wasn't a great idea to be breathing the air, but getting up was not an option at that point. Eventually my wife came along, insisted we be given a new room with breathable air, and managed to move me there. She was suffering back pains so at least we were miserable together. Probably one of the worst nights of my life.

Reading this horribly vivid diary about asthma when I got back gave me some perspective on the above.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Compared With vs Compared To

I saw many amazing things in the Galapagos, but what could compare to the following sentence from the Continental Airlines in-flight magazine?

"... [Nick] Hornby's voice consistently echoes to universal acclaim, generating a fandom rivallling that of another London great, Charles Dickens, with whom Hornby is frequently compared." That's from memory, but I reread the claim a few times to be sure it meant what it seemed to. Perhaps there's a sly use of "compared with" instead of "compared to" - i.e., maybe the article's author meant that there are a lot of book reviewers out there writing "Hornby can't hold a candle to Dickens" at this very moment - but probably I'm splitting a split hair [but see 1 below].

Here's the opening paragraph of Bleak House:
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
I was going to quote the next paragraph, but I saw the next few were also as good, and the next few, and ...

I finally convinced Mrs. R to read Great Expectations a few months ago. She thought it was quote unquote fabulous. Wake me up when Hornby writes something that will produce the same effect.

  1. From Fowler's Modern English Usage on "compare": In the sense suggest or state a similarity is regularly followed by to, not with; in the sense examine or set forth the details of a supposed similarity or estimate its degree, it is regularly followed by with, not to. He compared me to Demosthenes means that he suggested that I was comparable to him or put me in the same class; He compared me with Demosthenes means that he instituted a detailed comparison or pointed out where and how far I resembled or failed to resemble him.

Yes, the above is a fake footnote. So shoot me.

Oh, by the way, note the odd lack of punctuation in Fowler's entry above: "In the sense suggest or state a similarity is regularly followed" is exactly how it begins, while "degree," is also verbatim. I also like "class; He".

Friday, June 17, 2005

Honey, where's the scopolamine?

The stuff works for me. Or I don't get seasick in relatively calm waters. I do wish that I had my landlegs back after two full days ashore. Though really it's my landhead -I'm ok when my spine is vertical but it seems that when my head leans off-axis I get a bit dizzy. Anyway, go to the Galapagos if you can.

Friday booby blogging

Nazca booby and hat Posted by Hello


Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Silence Opens

(actually haven't made it that far in this ...)

Bagger 288

Via Brad DeLong's comments, pictures of a big machine, for example this one.

Friday, June 03, 2005

To politics, sex, and religion...

... add genetics. Researchers claim that the diseases prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews are the result of genetic adaptations to increase intelligence. They present a testable hypothesis so expect light to be shed on the issue after a period of heat.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Foam Of His Gasping

The Destruction of Sennacherib is a widely anthologized poem - like another such, it's not the best thing ever written, but it's about the best serious anapestic poem in English that I know of. Timothy Steele, a good contemporary poet and author of the excellent book on meter (esp. iambic pentameter) All The Fun's In How You Say A Thing, scans it here.

(For contrast, here's a Robert Browning poem in the opposite meter. The "lost leader" is Wordsworth.)

I took up jogging recently (as noted here) - though I'll have to learn how to convince my bad-knee leg to go along with the program. On the circuit I take in my neighborhood, I pass an intersection that has three hand-written signs with the verses of "The Destruction" on them. When I see the line which the title of this post is drawn from, I wonder if I should slow down. Of course Phidippides famously died after running the first marathon (having just run some 300 miles to Sparta and back from Athens in a failed bid to get troops for the battle of Marathon), but I don't think I've heard of anyone doing that in modern times. The Three Musketeers are always riding their horses to death - maybe another argument for bipedalism.

The signs were posted by students from a nearby girls' school for reasons that only became apparent to me when I mentioned the poem and its author to my beloved. She pointed out that I was running on Byron St.