A. Wesley Smith at First Things is hammering on the point I’m trying to make here about Science! in its capitalized and exclamatory expression. I got into philosophy and the Great Books second – science was my first love. After a few years spent thumbing through every science book (we’re counting the Time-Life rah-rah Science! series as science for the purposes of this discussion – hey, I was in 4th grade) in St. Mary’s Whittier’s tiny library, I’d already more or less dimly reached the conclusion that science just can’t tell us the answers to most of the really interesting questions. (This also explains the brevity of my fling with Plato – the ‘I only know that I don’t know’ schtick gets old fast.) By the time I’d reached college, I’d honed my eye to a fine gimlet, science-claims wise.
Under the Science! category here are numerous examples of science either done or used wrongly, and most egregiously, claims made in the name of science that are not possible to make on scientific grounds even in theory – moral claims, for example. Smith’s fine essay provides the general context.
B. Stilicho was not only more Roman than the Emperor and more Catholic than the Pope – he was evidently Klingon. Making my happy way through Lafferty’s Fall of Rome, came across a scene where Alaric, age 17, commanding about 14,000 crack Gothic troops in defence of the Emperor Theodosius from the usurper Eugenius, has spent a day fighting his bloody way through a narrow valley. He has lost 10,000 men, and reached the plains near sundown only to see a huge army in front of him. He sends a message to Stilicho, Master General of the Empire and his commander, asking if he should proceed into almost certain death, or retreat and rendezvous with the other forces.
It takes time for messengers to ride. Alaric – 17 years old, remember – decides that in lieu of countermanding orders, he will lead his men into the fight and die. Just then, the messenger returns with Stilicho’s orders: Where Alaric stood “is as good a graveyard as any.”
Perhaps it is a good day to die. These were manly men. Gik’tal!
(Grandfather: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.
Grandfather: The eel doesn’t get her. Now, I’m explaining to you
because you look nervous.
Grandson: I wasn’t nervous. Well, maybe I was a little bit
concerned, but that’s not the same thing.)
3. As requested by absolutely no one, I’ll be doing a final California Weather 2016-2017: That was the Rain Year that Was post as soon as I’m really sure we’re done. They’re predicting more rain in a week, so – not yet. The rule, as I understand it, is that over 3 days out, the forecast strongly converges with the almanac – if you bet season average, you’d be as close as any prediction. Exceptions include the conditions we had this year, where those atmospheric rivers could be spotted a week in advance out over the Pacific, and had nowhere to go but the West Coast. With those things, the only variable seems to be timing: when, not if.
In addition to being very wet, it’s also been cooler in general. The atmospheric river thing does draw in tropical moisture and therefore lingering tropical warmth. But that tends more toward mitigating lows than actually pushing highs much higher, it seems – I’ll look over the data to confirm. It’s only in the last few days that temperatures reached the 80F for the first time this calendar year – we sometimes get 80 degree days even in late February and certainly in March and April, but not this year until the last days of April. Now the forecast says 90s for the next couple days – not at all unheard of for May, but high. Then, it’s back down into the 80s and 70s. 85F is the average high for summers here, with 105F and 75F not being unusual highs.
Boooooring! The only point of interest is just how variable weather really is. From year to year, California weather can be dramatically different. The climate – weather over time – is perhaps generally dry and warm, but within that generalization there’s very dry, very warm, very wet and so on. ‘Normal’ is a fairly broad range.
4. Back to the Fall of Rome: Lafferty’s asides are both edifying and hilarious. At one point, he mentions that the political and palace intrigue conducted upon Theodosius’s death was too complicated to be understood in these simpler times. He mentions that, while we have assurances that the Church will endure, that doesn’t mean all its worldly furniture can’t be made to disappear. And so on – laugh a minute, with the fate of the world in the balance and men killing each other left and right. Read an historian once who quipped that, by modern standards, all ancient peoples were sociopathic – slaughtering each other just didn’t seem to bug them as much as one would hope.
I worry that rising above that baseline human behavior is quite anti-entropic, and as people enthusiastically kick away the cultural props from under our modern restraint, social gravity, as it were, will bring us right back down to ambient. The experiences of the 20th century, even and especially in supposedly civilized Europe, are not encouraging.