Another World Entirely

Due to a confluence of forces, my 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter, who went east to visit Thomas More College and stayed to visit their aunts, uncles and cousins in and around NYC, spent their last night at the New York Athletic Club.   We live in a universe where mysteries abound. How such things happen to a couple of suburban kids from Northern California is such a mystery. Let’s just say we owe certain uncles big time.

Overlooking Central Park. Nice.

Anyway, Daughter was struck by the ubiquitously posted dress code, which was even on their room keys. No jeans or sneakers anywhere in the City House. If you are not in suitable attire, such as a business suit, use the side entrance. No cell phones or other electronics in public areas.

Despite these limitations, the kids thought it was nice. Ah, to be young!

My wife’s comment: “It’s like they’re trying to reinvent civilization, but don’t know where to put it.”

Kids got back safe and sound yesterday. We went out for Indian food. It was good.

History: When I Got a Clue That Something Fishy Was Going On

Fichte meets Marx

Don’t remember when I first noticed this – high school, I’m thinking – but whenever it was, when I first started reading a little about the Nazis and what the fascists were trying to do, something rang very false: we’re calling these guys right wing extremists? Everything about them is left wing – they want to socialize everything, destroy religion and build a worker’s paradise. Isn’t that the diametric opposite of what even their enemies say right wingers are about?

I was a simple boy back then. Eventually, I learned that they weren’t real socialists because they worked with the capitalists instead of killing them all off, and were highly loyal to their own country. Real socialists want to kill rich people and hate their country – something like that, it was never put that clearly.

But as this article points out, Hitler was just more realistic. Those capitalists, while perhaps loathsome, were exactly the people who knew how to make things and generate cash for the state. The Reich needed those kind of people. Nowadays, we implicitly believe that we don’t really need people with demonstrated ability to get things done, that your average OWSer or community organizer can do just as well as Elon Musk or Bill Gates.  Hey, when fantasizing, don’t be a piker – your magic should be powerful and your dragons huge.

Earlier, I posted about the process of dropping into history as a way of freeing oneself from modern nonsense. This is just one case where it’s easy to see that something fishy is going on.

Another related case, sickening and horrible, went on during the Winter Olympics. In the mandatory host country celebration of nationalism, the Russians presented a fantasy of Soviet history that was not only not terrible, but downright positive. Slave labor? Death camps? Tens of millions murdered outright? Let’s not bicker about who killed who. This is a happy occasion.

And our talking heads ate it all up. Not one, as far as I heard, called them on it, even from the safety of the broadcast booth: “You know, Bob, while that’s a very pretty parade going on down there, I can’t help but marvel how this version of Russian history glorifies the people that murdered 20 million Ukrainians and sent Solzhenitsyn to the gulag, among other atrocities. Maybe they’ll bring that up in the closing ceremonies?” That guy, if he got out of Russia alive, would have a career as a speaker all lined up for him. Except he’d get hired only by people he didn’t like.

Once, I was shocked into silence by a liberal friend of mine who said, with no apparent irony or insincerity, that Hitler killing 6 million Jews was worse than Stalin killing tens of millions because Hitler killed out of racist hatred while Stalin was trying to do something good. This was one of the first times I was brought face to face with the phenomenon John C. Wright expressed most clearly: that it is characteristic of progressive thinking to insist on being judged by intentions, not by outcomes. Therefore, Stalin’s intention to build a worker’s paradise absolves him from mass murder, while Hitler’s desire to build a worker’s paradise doesn’t.

Oops! Therefore, to excuse Stalin, who wanted what Progressives still want, we have to impute other motives to Hitler – even if their motives were demonstrably and historically the same.

The ends do not justify the means. We note in passing that neither Hitler nor Stalin got the ends they chose. But the people they killed still died.

h/t to a tweet by William Briggs.

Pseudoscience: It’s Not Just for Ignorant Bumkins

Via a tweet from the Statistician to the Stars: Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience.

Ya think?

Probioitic Acidophilus Liquid Strawberry <p>Contains a natural balance of specially selected strains of acidophilic cultures</p><p>Each serving provides over 20 billion "friendly" organisms for intestinal health◊**</p><p>Nutritionally supports healthy digestion**</p><p>Helps maintain a favorable environment for the absorption of nutrients**</p><p>Contributes to healthy immune function**</p><p class="disclaime
This is the first thing that came up when I googled ‘probiotics’. Just love this company’s name: Puritan’s Pride. So now we’ve got the hard-core witch-burning Calvinists telling us what our bodies need? Stay fit until you either burn for eternity or enjoy utterly unmerited eternal bliss?

I once mentioned that anyone concerned with protecting the scientific integrity of evolutionary theory would be at least as upset with X-Men stories as with Creationism. As this essay points out, it’s a difference in clientele: Creationism is promoted by those who are sufficiently and officially other, while my friends and I shop at Whole Foods (that’s the hypothetical ‘my friends and I’ – I think I’ve been in a Whole Foods once in my life) and catch X-Men: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Physics at the multiplex.

 If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?

Well, no—there isn’t really much difference, if the promulgation of pseudoscience in the public sphere is, strictly speaking, the only issue at play. By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods’ existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it’s clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn’t quite as important to many of us as we might believe. Just ask all those scientists in the aisles of my local Whole Foods.

So, why do many of us perceive Whole Foods and the Creation Museum so differently? The most common liberal answer to that question isn’t quite correct: namely, that creationists harm society in a way that homeopaths don’t. I’m not saying that homeopathy is especially harmful; I’m saying that creationism may be relatively harmless. In isolation, unless you’re a biologist, your thoughts on creation don’t matter terribly much to your fellow citizens; and unless you’re a physician, your reliance on Sacred Healing Food to cure all ills is your own business.

No has yet to explain why Creationists are a threat to all that is good and true, while the hemp-wearing, women-studies majoring consumers of probiotics are not. Creationists are very unlikely to sit on the local state university board making funding and hiring decisions, while people who think – and teach their students – that science is nothing more than a tool of patriarchal oppression most certainly do, and are not shy about using their power against any enemies – like, say, scientists with enough integrity to challenge their stupid fantasies.

So, to recap: Academics and their sycophants bravely go after Creationists, who have very little power to do much of anything to their lives and livelihoods, to the applause of their peers. These same people give a complete pass to those among their peers who promote even more egregious pseudoscience and anti-science in the various ‘studies’ departments and elsewhere on campus, but who do have the ability to damage their careers and livelihoods.

I’m unconvinced by claims such folks are motivated by a love of science.

Education History Reading, Continued: Pestalozzi Wrap-up

NOTE: This post sat in the drafts folder for months, as in trying to complete it, came to the conclusion that I don’t understand Pestalozzi at all. I’m going to try to hunt up some other works by him, but my hope is not too high – if it were not for Einstein, who attended a Pestalozzi prep school and spoke highly of it (“it made me clearly realize how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority.”) I’d give up. What’s mind boggling is that Fichte saw what he needed in Pestalozzi (with unspecified modification) for his complete state-focused “reforms” of schooling and that Einstein, famously distrustful of authority, end up praising the same source. There’s something to be figured out here. It may have to do with Einstein attending at an age later than what sounds like the endless drill and micromanagement of childhood, so he gets the freedom without being run through the wringer first. Or, even more likely given the confusing nature of Pestalozzi’s writing, his model acts as a Rorschach test mirroring whatever his reader wants to see, all shrouded in words of sympathy and, frankly, egomania. Anyway:

The Pest-Man! Woot!

Finished How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, Pestalozzi’s attempt to explain his ‘Method’ via a series of letters to an admirer. First part here.

The most striking thing about this book is a juxtaposition: Pestalozzi’s insistence that education result in the formation of clear ideas, and the almost complete lack of clear ideas in this book. Compounding the problem is 1st person issue – there is almost no mention of any actual students, but rather we are invited into Pestalozzi’s thought processes and hardships and challenges. Here, for a randomly chosen example:

I saw their misery ; but I lost myself in the vast prospect of its scattered and isolated sources ; and while my insight into their real condition became ever more wide, I did not move a step forward in the practical power of remedying the evil. Even the book that my sense of this condition forced from me, even “Leonard and Gertrude” was a proof of this my inner helplessness. I stood there among my contemporaries, like a stone that tells of life, and is dead. Many men glanced at it, but understood as little of me and my aims, as I understood the details of skilled labour and knowledge that were necessary to accomplish them.

Quick count: References to Pestalozzi (I, me, my): 12; possible references to children (them, they): 3.  And this is not atypical, throughout the first 2/3 of the book. Pages and pages are devoted to Pestalozzi’s laments, his thought processes, his insights, and so on. He must have been very charming in person, one can only imagine.

His disciples, at least at first, fared no better in penetrating his thinking. He quotes letters from three of his key followers, and all three begin with words to the effect that “I can’t figure out what he’s talking about” and end with “OK, after months or years, I sort of get it.”

In the last 1/3 are his attempts to get more concrete. It doesn’t work. About all I could glean from it was that he is in favor of breaking subjects down into little itty-bitty pieces that must be mastered before the next step can be attempted. Teaching and, one presumes, learning are best or only done by invariant little tiny steps directed by the teacher. Two observations: first, this atomization of knowledge is by no means how all people learn all things. Sometimes, seeing and appreciating the whole of something is indispensable to understanding why and even how one should learn. Imagine learning woodworking if you’d never seen a chair, or the piano if you’d never heard any pieces. That why great teachers tend to be examples and masters of what it is they are trying to teach.

But second, this approach puts great emphasis and burden on the teacher, who now must understand the world so that things worth learning fall into subjects, and those subjects can be divvied up into daily activities that add up, over time, into KNOWLEDGE – or, at least, for Pestalozzi, the skills needed to hold down the kind of jobs currently available.  The temptation to use this idea – that the teacher must first decipher the world, then present it predigested, as it were, to the student under carefully controlled conditions – is one Fichte, not to mention everyone from Mann to James to Woodrow Wilson to our current betters, to ‘move forward’ and ‘make progress’ according to their undoubtedly correct (Hegelian) understanding of the world…

What could possibly go wrong?

Darwin Catholic’s Immediate Book List:

(I refuse to use the word ‘meme’ except in jest.) Everybody’s in on this, it seems.  Just look here and here, for example.

The idea is to report on what your current reading habits and plans are, to wit:

1. What book are you reading now?

The Rule of St. Benedict – short, almost done.

2. What book did you just finish?

Story of a Soul, St. Therese

Categories. On Interpretation. Prior Analytics,  Aristotle. Although I must sit down and reread the logic rules with a pencil and paper handy.

3. What do you plan to read next?

Lumen Fidei. It’s next up at the parish reading group.

No! Don’t do it! Don’t click to look inside!! It’s the Modern World, in all it’s smug, incoherent and banal evilness! Dressed up purdy-like in all these big words and run-on sentences, where a pronoun pops up after 10 nouns have immediately preceded it, just to make sure you’re never sure exactly what he’s saying. Evil!!

More Hegel. No really. Especially Phenomenology of Spirit. Years off of Purgatory.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Oh, man. Like, what don’t I keep meaning to finish?

Tacitus. Was more than half way when the book, an old paperback I’d had for decades, proceeded to fall apart – so, can’t take it on trips, can’t read it in bed. Going to need to find another copy.

A History of Education in Antiquity, Similar to the above, but not quite so bad. Almost done.

Bunch of Hegel.

And, if I were, in the words of Simcha Fisher, to pull the bed away from the wall and look, probably a dozen more.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Phenomenology of Spirit.

6. What is your current reading trend?

German Philosophers (just hit me in the head with a brick now), education history (still looking for some free or cheap Pestalozzi, because one lengthy book of incoherent babbling isn’t enough) Spiritual stuff for the reading group (we try to alternate old & new, scholarly and more popular. Been fun)  and History.

But the overall trend is: not nearly enough. Been trying to take care of a bunch of deferred maintenance on the house. Very time and energy consuming.

You? Post over at Darwin, if you do.

UPDATE: A glance at the floor by the bed revealed I’d omitted (I blame debilitating guilt) the dozen or so works by Michael Flynn and John C Wright that I got a couple months ago in a fit of optimism, as well as several books on education history. Now, if I just quite my job and let the house and the family rot, I could probably make a good size dent in the pile before I’m evicted/murdered/crushed by falling ceiling breams….

More Science! Surveys

While it takes time to read all those beautiful books stacked by my bed, it’s easy to read stupid Science! articles! So, here’s another.

Solar SystemPutting on my pedant hat (yes, I do occasionally take it off, thank you), we will now review another sorry survey: Basic Scientific Facts That Americans Don’t Know. There’s a couple issues here that give me a nervous tick, the first and most egregious being the insouciant assumption that a “scientific fact” is “whatever scientists are pretty sure about”. Noooo, that’s not it. What’s more, it is of the very nature of science that the distinction between facts, which are built of the observable, measurable, physical THINGS that form the material upon which science works, be kept separate, as far as possible, from theories based on those facts. But let’s get specific – here’s the questions and answers, with my comments:

1. The center of the earth is very hot 

Correct answer: True

Sure. I’d like to meet the dude with a thermometer who took the measurement, but – sure.

2. The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move 

Correct answer: True

OK. Since we can measure the seafloor spreading, applying the Uniformitarianism assumption makes this so darn near a fact I can’t get too worked up.

3. Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

Correct answer: Earth around Sun

Now, a high school-level pedant would merely point out that they both revolve around their common center of gravity. But I am (barely) above that. So, OK.

4. All radioactivity is man-made

Correct answer: False

Wouldn’t one need to know what radioactivity is before answering this? I’d like to have the victims of this survey first tell us what radioactivity is before answering. But as a self-contained question, it passes.

5. Electrons are smaller than atoms 

Correct answer: True

Here’s where the college-level pedant starts talking all wave packet and probabilistic positions and how the concept of ‘size’ might be simply inapplicable here and …. even I’m getting bored. So, OK.

We’re half way through, and the questions all get a pass – so far.

6. Lasers work by focusing sound waves 

Correct answer: False

Only quibble: that’s a technology question. Not that anybody makes that distinction anymore.

7. The universe began with a huge explosion 

Correct answer: True

Here’s the first one that gets me. The Big Bang is a theory that accounts for a wide range of observations in a tidy way. However, in recent years, one cannot help but notice that it has started accumulating epicycles: Dark matter? Dark energy? Further, I’ve always disliked the discontinuity – the antiuniformitarianism, if you will: the idea that what amounts to a humongous black hole just blows up because it feels like it – that’s kinda weak. Whatever is assumed to have happened at the Big Bang happened only once, under unique conditions, and involved mechanisms fell and ineffable. These are not generally hallmarks of good science.

Making the Big Bang a shibboleth for Science! learnin’ seems not entirely cricket.

And it’s not a fact.

8. It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl

Correct answer: True

Weeeell – kinda. Pretty much. Could be worded better.

9. Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria 

Correct answer: False

This question seems to have snuck in from the ‘Do You Listen to Your Doctor?’ survey. How many of the survey respondents could tell you the difference between a virus and a bacterium? Isn’t this like laughing at the people of the Old Testament for calling bats a type of bird? You can get by in the world just fine if you have only one large mental category for ‘things that can make you sick’ that includes both viruses and bacteria. So, what is the answer really telling you about the respondent?

10. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals

Correct answer: True

Tedious. I’d be tempted to respond: all the human beings *I* know today were born of other human beings – they didn’t do any developing other than growing up. It’s like the question writer was trying too hard not to use the word ‘species’. He wasn’t afraid of ‘bacteria’ or ‘electron’, but species – which could make this question make sense as an English sentence – is too technical?

Again, the Descent of Man has one and three quarters of a foot in the land of theory as opposed to fact, because while it can be argued evolution has been effectively observed in microorganisms, no one has observed human speciation. Given how comparatively slowly we reproduce, no one is likely to observe it any time soon.

Do I think humans evolved from other animals? Sure. Would I be shocked if it were disproven? Absolutely. Is it a scientific fact? Nope. It has a toe-hold in the realm of fact because other types of organisms have been observed to do what looks a lot like speciate, and it would be surprising if humans (and all larger animals, none of which has been observed to speciate) didn’t arise in the same way.

In Today’s Survey News:

Remember, surveys are not science – all they tell you is what some people were willing to say to an interviewer asking particular questions in a particular way at a particular time. They are like the Reality TV Stars of Science: we keep looking, even though we’re appalled by what we see and know there’s no there there.  So, you’ve been warned.

From James Lindgren, a law professor who directs something called Demography of Diversity Project at Northwestern University, via a tweet from William Briggs via Hot Air comes this little gem: Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?

Evidently, Democrats:

Table 1

I won’t even point out the flaws here – have at it, if you’d like. What I find interesting about this is not the results, exactly, (see disclaimer above) but the reactions (if any) that this paper will generate among Democrats. My main exposure to the thinking of my Liberal Democrat friends these days come via Facebook, which I check religiously about once every 3 months, when my stomach can handle it But I think I’ll check soon, just to see (or not see) reactions to this paper by the same exact people who never miss an opportunity to post any and all claims that Republicans are the stupidest stupids that ever stupided things up, no matter how far fetched or transparently partisan such claims are. Thus, they KNOW that smart states vote Democrat (even if states don’t vote – people do), the better educated you are, the more likely to vote Democrat – and that belief in astrology correlates to being a dumb Republican hick.

Just as they were unable to grasp that the problem with G W Bush was not that he is stupid, but that many of his policies were bad, they are unable to comprehend that Republicans might be very smart, smarter, even than they are – and still be wrong. Nope – Bush was just stupid, Cheney was just evil (well, they might have something there…)  and supporters of these guys had to be idiots, fools and dupes lacking the intellectual clarity to see how dumb and evil these guys were.

Similarly, their guys are so smart, they can be trusted to the ends of the earth to do the right thing, even when it’s the same damn things Bush was doing. We don’t need no stinkin’ Constitution!

How Old is the Greenland Ice Sheet, Anyway?

File:Topographic map of Greenland bedrock.jpg
Greenland with its ice sheet removed.

Lying awake last night, the question in the title above rattled around in my head: how old is the Greenland ice sheet? Turns out it’s about 110,000 years old.  Before that, during the last interglacial period 125,000 years ago, Greenland was covered by forests. Why does this matter? Well:

– We’re in an interglacial period at the moment, and have been for about 12,000 years.

– If the Greenland ice sheet melts during interglacial periods, we should expect that it might melt at some point before the next glacial period (due anywhere from soon to 50,000 years out). Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but it’s a possibility we should consider.

– there’s enough ice in the ice sheet to raise sea levels about 20′, which would make life very difficult for most coastal cities – if it happens fast. If it happens gradually over centuries, not so much – gradually moving your city to higher ground or abandoning it or building dikes around it aren’t a big deal, really, if you have centuries to execute.

But the real point here is that the ice sheet has formed and melted away at least a few times well before humans did much of anything to influence the climate, or, indeed, were around at all. So, it’s something to consider. The concern is that the whole sheet might melt fast enough – say, over less than a century – to cause problems for coastal dwellers. How likely is that?

Not very. Here’s a little bit from the Oracle Wikipedia. Note especially the last part:

If the entire 2,850,000 km3 (684,000 cu mi) of ice were to melt, global sea levels would rise 7.2 m (24 ft).[3] Recently, fears have grown that continued climate change will make the Greenland Ice Sheet cross a threshold where long-term melting of the ice sheet is inevitable. Climate models project that local warming in Greenland will be 3 °C (5 °F) to 9 °C (16 °F) during this century. Ice sheet models project that such a warming would initiate the long-term melting of the ice sheet, leading to a complete melting of the ice sheet (over centuries), resulting in a global sea level rise of about 7 metres (23 ft).[6] Such a rise would inundate almost every major coastal city in the world. How fast the melt would eventually occur is a matter of discussion. According to the IPCC 2001 report,[3] such warming would, if kept from rising further after the 21st Century, result in 1 to 5 meter sea level rise over the next millennium due to Greenland ice sheet melting (see image below). However, in a study published in Nature in 2013, 133 researchers analyzed a Greenland ice core from the Eemian interglacial. They concluded that GIS had been 8 degrees C warmer than today for 6000 years. The large and long-lasting warming had a modest effect on the ice sheet, leaving it largely intact.[11]

I’m continually struck by how often – virtually always – the least panicky information is put at the end of paragraph or essay, even in august sources like Wikipedia – I mean, like the NYT and SciAm. If you skimmed, or didn’t read to the end, you’d most likely miss it. As someone who dabbles in marketing professionally, the drill in marketing writing is to put what you want the customer to remember up front in as catchy (meaning: as emotionally charged) a manner as you can effect.  Anything you’d rather they not pay attention to but you must say for some reason is put in small print at the end, or spoken really fast.  I’ll make special note of such occurrences going forward.

Getting back to the topic, let’s take a detailed look at how that paragraph is structured:

Item 1: “If the entire 2,850,000 km3 (684,000 cu mi) of ice were to melt, global sea levels would rise 7.2 m (24 ft).[3]“. Very good – this is just math: X volume of water in the ice sheets spread over Y area  of oceans = rise of Z length – adjustment (if any) for increased total ocean area as low lying land become shallow ocean. 

Item 2: “Recently, fears have grown that continued climate change will make the Greenland Ice Sheet cross a threshold where long-term melting of the ice sheet is inevitable.” Fears have been felt by unnamed fear-feeling people: if temperatures continue to rise (note the awkward but evidently-required-by-some-law circumlocution: “continued climate change will make the Greenland Ice Sheet cross a threshold”)  long-term melting of the ice sheet becomes inevitable. (Never mind that long-term melting of the ice sheet is inevitable anyway, given enough time.)

Item 3: ” Climate models project that local warming in Greenland will be 3 °C (5 °F) to 9 °C (16 °F) during this century.” Climate models predict an increase in temperature in Greenland. Note that we’ve gone, so far, from good solid math in item 1 to fear being passively felt in item 2 to model output. Model output is not data. Also, this is a little nit-picky, but it bears keeping in mind that models don’t predict – people using the output of models predict. Saying models predict gives everything an undeserved aura of detachment, making the claim a passive inevitability rather than something somebody is saying.

Item 4: “Ice sheet models project that such a warming would initiate the long-term melting of the ice sheet, leading to a complete melting of the ice sheet (over centuries), resulting in a global sea level rise of about 7 metres (23 ft).” The author or authors are nearly repeating themselves here with the sea level rise numbers, but that’s not the best part – that would be the parenthetical “over centuries”. So, OK, we don’t have to panic, then? And also note we have another autonomous model making predictions all by itself.

Item 5: “Such a rise would inundate almost every major coastal city in the world.”  Yep – over the course of centuries.

Item 6: “How fast the melt would eventually occur is a matter of discussion. According to the IPCC 2001 report,[3] such warming would, if kept from rising further after the 21st Century, result in 1 to 5 meter sea level rise over the next millennium due to Greenland ice sheet melting (see image below).” Pop Quiz: How many of the world’s larger coastal cities existed at all 1,000 years ago at anything like their present sizes? How large was the coastal population 1,000 years ago? In Greece, there’s this interesting thing about the locations of port towns: they move. Marshes and deltas silt up, leaving the original city far from the coast, or filling up the harbor to the point where the port is moved.  Cities often cease to be coastal cities, or move to follow the new cost or harbor.

If the ancient Greeks could do it (often, it seems, without really noticing that that’s what they were doing), then I think, given centuries, we could do it, too. And it won’t even be a big deal – hardly noticed by any one generation – because our building with few exceptions don’t last for centuries, so, as they can be replaced over the centuries by building farther inland without much fuss.

But – fear being felt again – we are warned that the temperatures could increase even more. Yep, sure could. With that in mind, we should be very careful to check our model outputs against actual data, to make sure we get good, usable answers. If there were a big hike in temperatures over a short time – the graph would look something like a hockey stick – then we’d know we might not have the whole millennium to move our cities uphill a bit. We might only have a few centuries.

Item 7: “However, in a study published in Nature in 2013, 133 researchers analyzed a Greenland ice core from the Eemian interglacial.” Oh, look! Some real data!  Actual ice cores – physical evidence! – to examine, rather than model output. We get all the way to item 7 before any data is dragged to the witness stand.

Item 8: “They concluded that GIS had been 8 degrees C warmer than today for 6000 years. The large and long-lasting warming had a modest effect on the ice sheet, leaving it largely intact.[11]”  Looking at the physical evidence, upon which science is based and to which all models must conform or die and all modelers bow, we see it ain’t gonna happen, it being the ice sheets melting suddenly. 8 degrees C warmer than now for 6,000 years didn’t melt the ‘GIS’. So, barring a hockey-stick event even more scary-looking than those that haunt Al Gore’s dreams, that drives temperatures in Greenland up more than 8 degrees C, it looks like, based on the evidence of historical (non)meltings, we have plenty of time to take prudent steps in response to the all but inevitable eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

So, not to pick too much on the authors of the paragraph above, but it would be nice, if unconventional, if once in a while when discussing science we followed a paragraph structure not taken directly from tabloid writing. I would humbly suggest that this could be achieved by two simple steps:

– Start with the data and math. They are king. Model output, if necessary, follows. Always recognize the difference between physical evidence/data and model output. One is real, the other wishful thinking unless and until backed up by the data.*

– Skip the unnamed sources who ‘fear’ or have other emotions. Emotional appeals make for good marketing and bad science.

What scientific conclusions can a layman make here? There’s a couple, always keeping the tentative nature of scientific conclusions in mind:

– The Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt at some point;

– That point is likely at least thousands of years out UNLESS;

– Temperature in Greenland increase a lot and stay hotter for a long time, therefore;

– We should keep a close eye on temperatures in Greenland.

A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

* We’re talking *future* data. In other words, a model is only and exactly as good as the degree to which predictions based on its output match what really happens. That a model matches the historical data used to build the model is a prerequisite, not a proof.

Kids in NH; Trained to Heel; Lamb of God: Weekend Roundup

Barn in the winter
The Barn at TMC in NH

1. Yesterday morning, put our #2 son and #2 daughter on a plane to New Hampshire. They’re off visiting Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. Our 16 year old daughter was intrigued by the idea of college far away someplace where it snows, and TMC has a Great Books program and a semester in Rome – so, she is quite intrigued.  Our 18 year old son was easily convinced to accompany her, as he’s looking at colleges, too. They wanted to do it without a parent along for the trip (I gave them the option) so, since #1 daughter is at Benedictine in Kansas, my beloved wife and I are at home with only our 9 year old son – a preview of what it’s likely to look like in a year or two. And, today, Sunday, my wife is up visiting her mom in Petaluma, to give her a ride to Mass, as she – the mother in law – is recovering from the now ubiquitous knee replacement surgery.

So, for most of this day, I’m on my own with the ECU. (That’s the Evil Canine Unit, the dog’s current fave nickname.)

It is not good for man to be alone.

After years with 4 or 5 kids, even 3 seems thin. I am not looking forward to an empty nest; I am hoping for grandchildren.

The kids will be visiting the college until Tuesday, then visiting relatives and family friends in the area, ending up with an aunt and uncle and kids in Manhattan, before flying back home a week from Tuesday. On this end, the Caboose and I caught the Lego Movie last night (it was good); tonight, Mom & he will be seeing Frozen,  Then, on Thursday afternoon, we three are heading up to Lake Tahoe to a friend’s cabin for a couple days of snow. Have I mentioned our very sane practice regarding snow out here in California? We keep it up in the mountains where you can admire it from a safe distance and visit it if you want for as long as you want. Then go back home where it’s well above freezing.  So, should be a fun, if sort of melancholy for the parents, week.

2. I seriously wonder if getting someplace on time is worth the indignity and outrage of airport ‘security’. Should not a man worthy of the name Just Say No? No, you petty Napoleon, you may not herd me around like a cow, and riffle through my stuff or pat me down or technologically strip-search me. You herd of make-work craven bureaucrats may not treat me like a subject or a slave.

Of course, then you miss your flight. Nothing they do makes anyone any safer. Everything they do reinforces the lesson that any rights we have are granted at the whim of a fickle, sadistic government.

Yet, I submit – and fume.  Thus the lobster of the democratic Republic is placed in the pot, and the water slowly brought to a boil.

3. Over on the Catholic channel at Patheos, a discussion about catechesis has evidently broken out, with the claim that we’re clearly doing it all wrong, and have been since way before V-II.  I’ve read very little of it, but it seems we’re doing a poor job catechizing children and especially adults. And the sun still sets in the west. I thought it might interest you all to hear how it is done within our laissez-faire, free-range, seat of the pants child rearing here in Rancho de Moore:

– There are numerous Bibles and a couple catechisms lying about the house. They are even picked up and read once in a while. The kids know where the stuff we say comes from.

– We make sure that we back fill the sacramental preparation they receive at the local parishes. For the last decade or so, we’ve mostly had to deal with well-intentioned but woefully incomplete and ineffective teaching. We ask the kids how the class went, and – it is a great comfort – they are often able to tell us where, exactly, the teachers went wrong. Mostly, the problems orbit two issues: first, omissions, wherein the whole point, such as the True Presence or the efficacy of Penance or the Grace of Confirmation, kinda sorta don’t get taught, and second, failure to offer clarification or correction when somebody says something untrue – participation trumps truth. And, of course, the metastasis of one-person magesteria has not been fully excised (and probably never will be), so that a Confirmation teacher, for example,  will offer that of course the Church is wrong about this whole no priestesses or married priests thing, but other than that, the Church is mostly OK enough.  By the time they reach the age to understand the issues, our kids are well-informed enough to know there’s a problem, and we can correct it.

– Theological and moral issues are addressed as they arise. Both my beloved wife and I have read the catechism and many other theologically solid books, so we’re pretty sure we can answer a kid’s questions. If not – hey, the source materials are right there.

– My poor innocent children do occasionally get trapped in the car with me on longish drives. Muhaha! For example, yesterday morning on our way to the airport, I commented on the snide remark made by a friend of a friend of the kids, to the effect that the Eucharist is ritualized cannibalism, as follows:

In the Old Testament, Isaac asks Abraham: we have the fire and the wood, but where is the sacrifice? And Abraham replies: God will provide the lamb. And God provides – a ram. The Israelites understood by this story that they were still waiting for the Lamb that would be sacrificed instead of – them.

Next, in Exodus, the people are spared by the blood of lambs, which turns away the angel of death from their homes, and nourished by the lamb’s flesh. I took the opportunity to explain how, in Israel as well as the ancient world in general, animal sacrifices of larger animals were not generally of the whole animal, but rather an animal was ritually slaughtered, some parts of it were burnt up – but the rest was eaten (thus, in Acts, converts have to be reminded to refrain from eating the flesh of animals sacrificed to idols).  Thus, it would not be a totally foreign concept to the Israelites that they were to eat the Lamb of God – somehow.

Next, referred to John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Sin offerings were a regular part of the temple services. Jesus is being identified as He Who will be sacrificed for our sins, Whose Blood will keep the Angel of Death away – and whose Flesh will be consumed. Just in case there was any doubt, John the Evangelist says, at the Crucifixion: “For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.” an explicit and utterly clear reference to the Paschal lamb. A few chapters earlier, John reports:

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The first century Jews, like their ancestors, were faced with a mystery: we’re not cannibals, yet we are to be saved by the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins – and we eat those lambs sacrificed for our sins.  When Phillip intercepted the eunuch in Acts, the issue is: Who is the Lamb of God, and what does it mean?

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

You start with the lamb lead to slaughter, and from there you come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

In conclusion, one could call this ‘ritualized cannibalism’ only to the extent that one refuses to recognize both the context and theology of Christ’s incarnation – the God Who can become personally present in this world, as the person of Jesus, the Lamb of God, can also become present in the Bread and Wine of sacrifice. It is God we consume. Cannibalism is too timid a word for this claim.

Fire Ant Follow-up: Crazy Ants?

We interrupt our previously schedule in-depth analysis of dismal, boring topics to bring you this update: You may recall previous discussions of the fire ant, a South American species that has invaded and largely conquered the American South. It seems they may have met their match in another invasive South American species:

The Rise of the Crazy Ants

Does she look crazy to you?

What sort of willies-inducing behaviors do these 6-legged horrors engage in, in their billions? I’m sure you’re wondering. I live to serve:

Crazy ants produce chemicals they then rub on themselves as an antidote to fire ant venom. And the acidic substance exuded from where a stinger would be located on other ant species also doubles as a chemical weapon they spray at foes, allowing the crazy ants to defeat competitors that would otherwise help keep them in check.

Crazy ants … are known for infiltrating any available cavities for nesting, be they pipes, a fuse box or the inner-workings of a car, increasing the likelihood of property damage.

After the wily crazy ants descend on a household it’s difficult to estimate how many are there, but LeBrun says it is enough that when pesticide is applied “snowdrifts of dead ants” ring the buildings and people sweep them up by the “dustpan-full.” Their populations are so large that even after pesticide is applied, a few months later a colony can rebound—requiring more treatments.

Enough crazy ants can short out fuse boxes. They will move into the walls of your house. The piles of their twiching dead will encircle your abode.

So what in the name of Science! are we to do? We start out by painting their little butts closed. No, really:

For this work LeBrun placed a dab of nail polish on the insect’s glandular hind opening to block it from exuding its secretions, and then, to create a control group, put an equal amount of nail polish on the sides of other crazy ants. Then he placed the ants among attacking fire ants. Crazy ants without blocked glands were able to hold their own—surviving attacks by the fire ants almost 100 percent of the time. Among the attacked crazy ants with blocked capabilities, about half died. And although some of the ants with sealed openings may have survived because the nail polish bubbled and allowed tiny bits of the protective secretions to emerge, the still-striking differences in survival rates indicates that this secretion and accompanying movement was protecting the ants.

Is the human thirst for TRVTH beautiful, or what? So, properly immunized against the stings of the fire ants, the crazy ants can then defeat them in battle, even going so far as to take over fire ant nests. The environment of the American South is thus upgraded from nasty, swarming ants that could conceivably sting you to death to nasty swarming ants that will move into your house, short out its power, maybe kill your car. And, on a serious note, eat every other little insect, thereby reducing the food supply for many types of birds. Which is no laughing matter.

HOWEVER: Scientific American lets me down, and not for the first nor probably last time: no news on if or how crazy ants kill and eat Burmese pythons.