“You Know How Much I Love Watching You Work.”

Prince Humperdinck: Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.
Count Rugen: Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.

So, over in Syria, another horrible, bloody yet minor chapter in Islam’s conquest of the West is playing out. In saner times, we – the Christian West – would go to the aid of our rapidly being martyred Christian brothers and sisters with, oh, maybe an army. And impose order. In a largely unicultural way, with a measured lack of sympathy for a culture that consider it a father’s right to murder his daughter if he feels like it or burn people to death within their churches if they are infidels.

The question that has not been answered: under what plausible scenario would it make any sense for Assad to gas civilians? As Jerry Pournelle points out:

“The provocation is about 100 civilians killed by war gas. The death of those civilian Syrians could not have been very useful to Bashar al-Assad, and thus he would have had to be a very stupid man to have ordered their use against that target: if you are going to cross a line in the sand, you don’t do it by spitting across it.”

Yet our warmongering President is pitching real hard to get to drop a few cruise missiles on somebody swarthy over there. Not enough to impose our will on them, because that would be wrong – imperialism, and all that – but enough to make sure everybody knows we’re determined and tough, and will not stand for people getting in the way of the spring-time blossoming of democracy and freedom in soil that has ever produced tyranny and wars of conquest. Even, perhaps especially, the ones who get to die so that our dream for them can live. Even, perhaps especially, when those flowers look a lot like the desert weeds that have grown there for the last 1300 years.


Science versus Science!

Lovely post by the inimitable Mike Flynn discussing, among other things,  a canard that’s annoyed me for years: the assumption that in the Old Days, people were stupid, unlike us smart guys now days.  For example, in the old days, those pathetic morons had to amuse themselves making stuff like this:

And this:

:Reims Kathedrale

And make do with art like this:

File:Laocoon Pio-Clementino Inv1059-1064-1067.jpg

Or this:


But we, who have invented reality TV and People magazine – we’re the smart ones. Riiight.

Continue reading “Science versus Science!”

T. Swift & Daughter #2

Here, behold Daughter #2, recently turned 16, and three of her friends writing Taylor Swift lyrics on the dresses they will be wearing to a T. Swift concert in Sacramento tomorrow. Daughter is on the left, with her hair braided so that it will be really wavy tomorrow.


Daughter made each of the dresses, each different. Then each of the girls chose a Taylor Swift album, and are now writing the lyrics to every song on that album on her dress. This is the epitome of fun and cool.

Tomorrow, the eldest girl, who has a red Mustang convertible, drives the team the 60 miles to Sacramento. Then, dinner, the concert, and a night in a hotel (one of the girls’ mom works in the hotel industry and got them a deal).  Sounds like major fun.

While it would be a gargantuan understatement to say Swift’s music is not to my taste, I’m still very impressed that my daughter and her friends were able to pull this off.

4,500+ Miles,

13 states,10 motels, almost 10,000 feet in elevation difference, a dozen or so natural wonders, thousands of photos, thousands of cows, hundreds of horses, dozens of sheep, a herd of elk, a dozen or so llamas, 6 camels, 2 donkeys, 2 buffalo (or, as my children lept to correct me, bison), 2 pronghorn, and a young grizzly bear later – back in the saddle. Kids voted Craters of the Moon their favorite, just ahead of Yellowstone, but this has much to do with them getting to spend hours climbing around in lava tube caves, as opposed to staring at stuff through the car windows. We need to go back and spend a week or two at several of these spots. (Tetons National Park was my fav – very impressive and beautiful, and where we saw the bear.)

So far, mostly been trying to catch up on my reading of other bloggers. Next time, I must remember to politely request that everybody I read stop thinking and writing while I’m away.

That not being the case, there were a couple things that were allowed to transpire without my participation, a shortcoming to be addressed ASAP.

Update: In. Sane. Roadtrip

1. 2,400+ miles in. Writing from Hays, KS on our way back from dropping off Eldest Daughter at Benedictine College in Atchison. Kansas, as well as eastern New Mexico, has been getting a lot of summer thunderstorms, so everything has been lush and green.  We ended up driving the Old Santa Fe Trail much of the way – didn’t really think about it before hand, but makes sense if you’re going from Santa Fe in the general direction of St. Louis that that’s the road you’d take.

2. While we shall keep the pictures to a minimum, here’s one:

Death Valley

We will use this cute picture as a segue into a discussion of taking the temperature.  Turns out that this location, Furnace Creek, out in the flats 190′ below sea level, is where the hottest temperature ever recorded was registered back in 1913. Started googling around, came across the following. Can’t attest to its accuracy – I found no corroborating information.

A few years back, they built a new temperature station at Badwater, which is even lower down. Funny thing: instead of putting the station out in the center of the valley, it’s on one side – the west facing side – up against some cliffs. If you wanted to pick a spot where you’d be likely to set an all time high, this would be it: low down, where the Death Valley inversion layer will trap the heat and near cliffs that will absorb and re-radiate out the heat towards your thermometer.

So, why build a new station in Death Valley, when you have one 20 miles away that’s been in continuous use for decades? Because, according to the link above, nothing is more annoying to the global warming crowd than really old record high temperatures.  Or, to put it the other way, record high temperatures are their bread and butter, so that when they fail to happen, it might look bad. Really old record highs suggest that it’s not way hotter now than it used to be.  But, alas! 11 years later and still no new record high, even after stacking the deck to get one. Even if this report turns out to be inaccurate, it is an interesting data point that some record highs are really old – 100 years or more.

3. Now writing from Westminster, CO, near Denver, from the living room of a college friend of my wife’s. A delightful thunderstorm is driving temps into the ‘very comfortable’ range, in addition to supplying a nice show.

4. Benedictine College is a pretty school on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. The Benedictines arrived there in 1858. The brothers have an abbey as part of the college. The sisters have a convent a couple miles south. Both ran schools, for men and women respectively. Some years back, they decided to merge into one college. Then, they decided maintaining two physical plants was too much; now, just about everything is conducted in the buildings surrounding the abbey.

Lots and lots of brick, which looks odd to a Californian. Brick is not a good choice where there are earthquakes. One striking thing about the brickwork on the older buildings – much of it looks a bit slapdash, with uneven rows and joints and partial, broken bricks. I’m guessing it was originally plastered over or had some sort of fascia to cover it up, because it runs against the convenient myth that craftsmanship was much better in the old days. While that may be true, it’s also true that poorly made things tend not to last, so that well made things are overrepresented in surviving old things. However it has come about, as the buildings are remodeled and repurposed, there is now plenty of exposed brick and stone work that, while perhaps not first rate to my gimlet eye, is nonetheless beautiful and cool as all heck:


Makes a fellah want to crack open a classic and get at it.

5. Santa Fe’s population has almost doubled from what it was when I first got there in 1976, from 35,000 to almost 68,000. It is a beautiful place, so it is not surprising people want to live there. One has to wonder: how do people make a living there? There’s state and city government, two small colleges, a prison, and? Sure, there are plenty of art galleries, hotels and restaurants, but these more often than not provide low and uncertain wages to most of the people who work in them.

Odd how a place can feel more like home when visited for a day or two than it ever felt when I lived there.

6. Heading up to Wyoming Catholic College tomorrow, then on to Yellowstone and Idaho Falls Friday, Elko, NV Saturday and on home Sunday. 4,200+ miles. The kids have been total troopers so far.

The In. Sane. Summer Road Trip

He looks almost happy. What could go wrong?

At least once in a man’s life, I suppose, it is required to do an insane road trip. Not just a long road trip, but one with enough moving parts to invite disaster from multiple directions. So, at crack of dawn tomorrow:

– Driving #1 daughter back to school at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. We live in the Bay Area. Covering over 4,000 miles in 12 days.

– Bringing the entire family, except the dog and snake. So: 6 people in a minivan for 70+ hours of driving. No chance to get a break from my charming company. My poor kids!

– Hitting as many of the sites along the way as possible: Mono Lake, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Santa Fe, Wyoming Catholic College, Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon.

– Only twice will we spend 24 hours without needing to drive – one day each in Santa Fe and Atchison.

In. Sane. So: may bring the laptop and try to blog a little. Might not. See y’all later!

Gateway to “Mysticism”, Part II – Logic

Part of series. Background:

I may have mentioned this before: Carl Sagan managed to reeeeeally rub me the wrong way back in the early 80s when I first became aware of him through Cosmos, a comically overrated Science! series. One thing that got me was his repeated sneering dismissal of ‘mysticism’, a term whose functional definition was anything Carl didn’t like: God and religion, of course, but also philosophy and especially metaphysics, insofar as they have anything to say about Science!.

Painting of David Hume.jpg
Nice hat. Did he just step out of the shower?

Next, after explaining what math is and where in the material world it comes from, the materialist should have a ready answer to this question: where, in the material world, is logic observable? A related, and slightly more subtle question: why should anyone care? Why prefer rationality to irrationality?

I, and Hume and Kant and others, fail to see any material basis for logic. Not only do we not see logic, we are stumped by the question: what would a material manifestation of logic look like? Not only is logic not observable in the natural world, but it is impossible to imagine how it could be observable. Sense impressions flood us, one after another or all at once, and we decide that it is reasonable to assume that some small subset of those impressions follow invisible laws (which I always imagine as an old man with a white beard in the sky), and that, following those laws is reasonable.

No, rather logic is something mysterious, mystical, even, that we (assuming there’s a ‘we’ – might just be a ‘me’, how could we/I tell?) that we bring to the game, not deduce from it.  After reading Hume, Kant felt obliged to create the concept of categories of perception – he concluded that pure reason is entirely the product of the mind and that categories condition our perceptions in such a way that we truly cannot imagine what, if anhy, relationship exists between our thoughts and the world of independently existing things.

Kant may be wrong, but he is convincing in his assertion that the thing he is describing is completely mystical in the sense Sagan uses – logic and reason are certainly not flowing out from objective observation. They are not facts under any consistent materialist theory.

You get nowhere in science without math and logic. Math and logic are immaterial and unobservable. Therefore, in Sagan’s sense, Science is founded on Mysticism.


Facts, Theory and What is Important?

Mike Flynn and William Briggs have both been discussing, each in their own inimitable style, the foibles and follies of modern Science! and its legions of devotees and sycophants, here, here, and here. An endless, unpleasant task. Both Sisyphus and the Augean Stable come to mine.

File:Aristotle in Nuremberg Chronicle.jpg
Nice hat.

One point TOF mentions here, one he has brought up occasionally in the past as well, is that a fact is, at its roots, a thing made – the product of an effort. That effort involves a theory, most often unconscious, of what is worthy to be be noticed and how it is to be taken. This seems to me commensurate with Aristotle’s concept of a ‘this’, something that by its nature steps out of the background as perceived by us, in accordance with our nature. Nothing is more natural, so to speak, than a man noticing a horse. However, if I were not human, but rather a gigantic intelligence whose nature it was to notice, say, ecosystems over time, that same horse, being as horsy as ever, might not step out for my notice. Instead, for this imagined intelligence, an ecosystem might be a ‘this’, and a horse no more noticeable than an individual hair on that horse to a human being.

The point here, besides noticing again how cool and simultaneously subtle and obvious Aristotle can be, is that it is of our nature to notice some things and not notice others. On a completely natural level, in the sense of what happens always or for the most part, we tend to notice things that are relevant to our happiness or survival. No surprise there – Darwin would say as much, I suppose.

Such noticing is the first step in making a fact. By the time we say or think ‘that’s a horse’, theory has entered in it – a whole theory of horses, including the criteria by which we identify a largish quadruped as a horse, not a cow or an elephant. This theory is so natural that we usually fail to notice we’re using it. Even less would we imagine questioning the validity of our Horse Corollary (the OK Corollary, perhaps?) to our Theory of Everything by which we live.  We would never imagine doubting it without the ‘help’ of the likes of Descartes, Hume and Kant. In our day to day lives, anyone who acts as if this theory isn’t true is taken away by the men in white coats. People who talk as if they doubt it tend to be confined to universities, for their and our safety.

Of this big Theory of Everything, by which things separate themselves out from the background for our notice according to our nature, science is a partly a subset and partly a development. In other words – Aristotle’s – we need a theory of Form and Matter to do science.  Things have to be and have natures before we can, within this theory, create facts by studying them. To pretend otherwise is baffling, to say the least – names, language, communication are all predicated on this theory, and are meaningless without it (sorry, Kant et al).

Not happening. One or both are thinking: Lunch!

But let’s back up a couple steps. It might be tempting to think that this Theory of Everything is mere animal nature – don’t lions and rabbits do as much? They scan the background for prey or elil, respectively, and note them and, it may be presumed, make facts according to some leonine or lapine theory. Yet human nature, despite myths of Mogli, has first of all distinguished between man and animal. Almost always and almost everywhere outside a PETA meeting, human beings have recognized the obvious difference. There’s another layer to human nature, a higher nature, that is what allows us to make facts from sense perceptions.

Why would people think this? Is it just speciesism? Chesterton, in his amusing way, notices that birds don’t build nests by choosing properly arched twigs that express their spiritual aspirations. People do the equivalent, and a million other things nonsensical within a Darwinian world shaped by natural selection. (It’s amusing to note that the people most adamant about the all-explaining power of evolution don’t, you know, have more babies than other people, which certainly seems inconsistent. On the other hand, they do seem to be overrepresented among people in favor of the extermination of peoples they would not wish their offspring to breed with – way too many of those brown and black babies out there, don’t you know? That is at least consistent.)

No, it seems human nature isn’t just inclining us to notice those things which figure into our survival and reproduction. We also pay a lot of attention to a lot of other things as well – writing blog posts and playing the piano, for example, even though those activities burn resources and don’t contribute to survival.

Here’s the point of all this: which, typically, has a stronger hold on a man’s interest – scientific investigation or his mother? Does a happy man care more about the Unified Field Theory or his own children? What is a more important fact to ascertain: the boiling point of water at 1 atmosphere, or why your son seems down today?

Trying to fit the second set of answers into a world where only the first set is seen as worthy is a decision, a choice few happy people would ever make. Instead, isn’t it more sane to spend effort and apply understanding to the whole world we live in, filled with people we love and institutions with claims on our loyalty and energy, than to try to use a highly specialized method designed to tease out facts from the metrical properties of physical bodies on EVERYTHING?

It is a decision. You can have a Theory of Everything in which knowledge about other people and your duties toward them are the most important things. If your archetypical fact is that you love your wife, a fact as certain, more certain, even, than that 2 + 2 = 4, won’t the insistence that only facts that can be ascertained with a ruler and thermometer are *real* facts seem crazy?

A philosopher, I contend, has chosen – it is a choice – to embrace a theory under which facts about his family, city and nation are primary facts, the archetype of facts. It’s a feature, not a bug, that our knowledge of such ‘soft’ things is never complete, and often woefully sketchy. Yet they are worthy of our effort in a way that math and science will never be worthy. Science and math may enable us to build the bomb, but have nothing to say about whether we should then use it to vaporize another man’s wife and kids.

A man who has chosen to make the facts of science his archetype of what a fact is has chosen poorly. He cannot consistently live in accordance with his choice, as it fails to allow for any useful understanding of what it is that makes life worth living.


Updates and Links and Thoughts on Writing Blog Posts

And, once I get to the top, there will be a guy with a sword waiting to kill me.

– Had this plan to write 3-4 posts on how it often happens in the world that things can come to look a lot like a conspiracy without, you know, being a *conspiracy* conspiracy. Even got section I written. For section II, went to look for some quotes from the Reformers, and ended up with half a dozen tabs opened to stuff from or about Luther and Calvin which, while supplying exactly the quotes I needed, were also things I hadn’t read before, so now I think I should read them, and, well, you get the picture – I’m climbing the Cliffs of Insanity!  I have this thing: when I’m saying something  that might be inflammatory in print,  I want to be able to stand behind it with a reasonable degree of confidence.  Then comes the ‘turn over half a library to write a single blog post’ stage, and things end up in the draft folder for a year or two. Seriously.

Maybe an Inigo Montoya will throw me a rope?

– Reading all these different German authors in close proximity with each others  is a strange experience. From Luther to Hegel, as different as they are, they all share some hard to pin down ways of looking at the world – that I don’t share. As best I can figure, the mature expression of one thread is Hegel’s idea of the Spirit unfolding through time.  This concept of unfolding seems to be a metaphor based on what a flower does: complicated buds are tightly wrapped, with the folds and crinkles of the petals intertwined in such a way that it’s impossible to envision from the bud what the flower will look like. Yet, as it unfolds, its true nature as expressed in the full bloom comes gradually into view.  But there’s more to it than that, at least in Hegel.

Another item that’s just everywhere in these writers – Luther, Kant, Pestalozzi, Fichte and Hegel – is an absolute dismissal of the Scholastics.  Not even a nod that st. Thomas had anything to say at all, but rather out of hand disparagement. It’s so bad that Luther says that nobody knows why, in his day, there had been a rebirth of interest in Greek and Hebrew. Um, Martin – over the preceding 2 and half centuries, the Scholastics have been scouring  the known world for source texts that happen to be in Greek; and despite your convenient delusions to the contrary, the Church has been studying Scripture non-stop since she compiled it. Hebrew has never gone out of fashion. You, Martin Luther, learned these languages in the universities set up and run by the Scholastics.  Luther: making mysteries out of facts and facts out of mysteries.

– We have William Briggs quoting Hillaire Belloc.  What more do you want? Well, if it’s TOF commenting on it, it has that, too.

– Pardon the adolescent nature of this next picture, but this slayed me so many ways. From Simcha Fisher’s on line store: Continue reading “Updates and Links and Thoughts on Writing Blog Posts”