Saturday, April 17, 2004

camel spiders

The first time I saw this picture on the Internet, I think it was cropped and the perspective made the camel spiders look like they are a foot long. But if you look closely at the cloth on the right, it is the opening of a man's sleeve and it is right next to the camel spiders. In that new perspective they are obviously no more than two or three inches long. Nuts.

Whoever wrote the blurb for Snopes didn't seem to get that part of the picture.

UPDATE: Apparently the buttheads at Snopes have some software to discourage people from linking to images on their site by sending the wrong image. I copied the camel spider image to my web site so you can see it now. I won't be linking to Snopes in the future. Buttheads.

Jamie Gorelick

As various sources have noted, Jamie Gorelick a member of the 9/11 commission, has a serious conflict of interest --there are policies she set up and events she was involved in that need to be investigated by the commission. Various people have called for her resignation from the committee and Kos and Atrios haven't had anything to say about it. This is another difference I've noted between the conservative blogs and the leftist ones: when the left accuses the right of something, the right always responds. When the right accuses the left of something, the left often ignores it. It's a good strategy on their part, of course. They control the major media so they can keep people from hearing the accusation. By responding they give accusation wider play.

However, besides being a good strategy, it is also a cynical one. It says that they don't actually have to defend their beliefs, all they have to do is prevent people from hearing critics of their beliefs. It also gives the lie to their insistence that the media is not biased in their favor (or the grotesque claim by some that the media is actually biased the other way) -- if the media were not on their side, this tactic could not possibly work.

A rigged BBC poll and bin Laden’s EU truce offer

Ouch. A pants-down spanking for the BBC by Michael Morris at The American Thinker.
If we ever needed proof that anti-American poll rigging by the BBC gives comfort, and provides strategic momentum to al-Qaeda, bin Laden, by his own words, delivers it to us on a plate.

Thanks to James for the pointer.

Conservative science fiction and fantasy, part III

This is the third and probably last in my series on speculative fiction authors with conservative credentials. The other two are here and here.

Keith Laumer (1925-1993) was an Air Force officer and served in the US Foreign Service. He wrote a series hilarious books based on his experience in the Foreign Service. The hero is one Jame Reteif, a junior diplomat from Earth to various alien planets. Laumer is absolutely merciless to the rest of the Foreign Service which is entirely staffed by people (other than Reteif) who are exemplars of all that is bad with the US Foreign Service today, from supporting brutal dictators to insisting on the moral equivalence of all actions to being more concerned with the interests of foreign governments than their own, to... you name it.

Laumer has another semi-conservative claim to fame: his Bolo stories. Bolos are enormous tanks with artificial intelligence. The stories are conservative in the sense that they so affectionately honor and praise heroism. It just happens that the heroes in these stories are honorable and heroic machines. I never though Asimov with his famous robot books ever came close to Laumer in his ability to humanize machine intelligence. And what is remarkable is that Laumer did it with machine characters who were relatively one-dimensional and unemotional. Most of them were simply stoic, relentless warriors who never thought about much other than getting the job done. I think the difference is that Asimov's robots are all either too human or too alien. Laumer's Bolos are just at that right place in between.

That's all the authors that I can (1) think of, (2) highly recommend (3) consider to have a strong claim to conservative credentials. Some other noteworthies are

Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988): a noted libertarian. His best fiction is juvenile (The Star Beast, Starship Troopers, Farmer in the Sky, Have Spacesuit, will travel, Tunnel in the Sky), while his adult fiction (Stranger in a Strange Land, Methuselah's Children) is pretty lousy. So, if you are a juvenile, look for the juvenile books, and if you are an adult, look for Keith Laumer.

David Drake writes very good, gritty military fiction, but there is nothing particularly conservative about it. The warriors aren't very noble (his best-known series Hammer's Slammers is about a unit of mercenaries). I can't say that Drake writes anything especially edifying, although he is a great story-teller.

David Weber writes some tremendous military fiction, much of it at the strategic and political level. His heroes are somewhat better role models than Drake's, but he has the annoying liberal habit of pretending that women and men are for all practical purposes identical. I can tolerate a significant percentage of women in the space navy and one or two great women naval commanders, but Drake is careful to make the representation at least 50/50, if not more women heroes and great commanders. I want to read about future humans, not some species superficially similar to humans where men and women have identical social roles.

Gordon Dickson writes some books that are arguably sympathetic to religion in the Childe Cycle, although his treatment of religion strikes me as the sort of thing a sympathetic outsider would write, rather like an anthropologist writing about a foreign culture. He also wrote a series of short stores about the Weapons Shops of Ishtar with a libertarian slant. His war stories had some reasonably good role models as soldiers, but the stories weren't that good. His best book was The Dragon and the George a comedy/fantasy. This very good novel was then expanded into a not-so-great series (not bad, but not great).

Timothy Zahn writes some very good military fiction with noble and sympathetic warriors, but again, that's not enough for me to really credit him with any conservative credentials. Lot's of people honor warriors without being anything I would consider conservative.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Orson Scott Card on The Passion

Orson Scott Card has up to now been known as a first-tier science fiction author, but if he keeps writing columns like this, he is very quickly going to become known as a first-tier political columnist.

Thanks to The Corner for the link.

La Shawn Barber on Clarence Page on John Kerry

Ouch. That's what we call a pants-down spanking.

sue Viacom

Junkyard Blog (isn't that a great name for a blog?) has a very good article on the Viacom/CBS connection and how they support leftist causes. I've always wondered if share-holders in corporations like that couldn't sue the company for using corporate resources for private political purposes. It would be pretty hard for Viacom to argue that Democrats are better for the profitability of Viacom than Republicans.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

fortune cookie

I just got the following fortune in my fortune cookie:
Share your companion's world. Two worlds are richer than one.
Whao! That's deep. So following instructions, I rifled through the desk drawers of some of the people in my office to share their world, and found a twenty in one guys drawer. Woohoo! The cookie was right. I'm richer by twenty bucks. I could get into this world-sharing business.

the Symington principle

Link from James. From the Drudge Report:

In December '03, Kerry announced that he loaned his campaign $6.4 Million by mortgaging a share of a Boston home he jointly owns with his wife.

Teresa Heinz Kerry paid cash for the Beacon Hill mansion in January 1995.

But according To Kerry's own 1994 senate personal financial disclosure [signed May, 15, 1995], Kerry's own personal net worth was somewhere between a negative $130,000 to positive $34,995.

The current loan on the house carries an annual interest payment of $200,000, records show, more than Kerry's $158,000 Senate salary.

Kerry's campaign insists he intends to pay off the 30-year mortgage himself.

"Sen. Kerry is a man who has considerable assets," spokesman Michael Meehan explains.

But Kerry's own financial disclosures show no assets sufficient to pay the loan -- or even a way to keep up with the interest payments!
Anyone remember an Arizona governor by the name of Fife Symington? The Republican who was impeached and removed from office and sentenced to prison for fraud because he gave different accounts of his assets on different forms? When applying for a loan, he included his wife's assets and when filing for bankruptcy, he excluded his wife's assets. Did Kerry do something like this? And if he did, will the left call for him to be prosecuted like they did Symington?

Note: Symington never actually served any prison time because Clinton pardoned him.

leftist blogs

One of the things that strikes me frequently when reading the leftist blogs is how little interest they have in facts. You read a conservative blog and they say things like "X did Y and that's bad because Z". In leftist blogs you read things like this
Yes, Matt, we're all annoyed and horrified by the prospect that Negroponte may be getting a new job soon. But, we were all pretty horrified that he got his current cushy job in the Bush administration too. How many times can you get outraged by the same guy?
or this
But this is the same Bush who appointed John Negroponte to be ambassador to the United Nations--an ambassador who comes to his new post trailing an abysmal record of official mendacity and a murky relation to the darkest of deeds.
So what did Negroponte do to get them so upset? I have no idea. Most of their readers have no idea. All they care about is that they are told this is yet another thing to be outraged at Bush about.

Or this
I'm of the opinion that the single most partisan act of the commission hearings came from the Attorney General of the United States when he appeared before them and testified as if he were a political hatchet man for Dick Nixon.
So what did the AG do that was so awful? I have no idea, but it was Nixonish which is another word for Satanic.

Or this, from an actual news article
And now, we learn today, at this peak moment, Tenet hears about Moussaoui. Someone might have added 2 + 2 + 2 and possibly busted up the conspiracy. But the president was down on the ranch, taking it easy.
So how would Bush's presence have made a difference? I have no idea. Neither, I suspect does the author. Why should Bush have been so much more concerned about this memo about hijacking an airliner (not crashing it into buildings, mind, just hijacking) and he should have been so much less concerned about reports that Saddam was trying to develop nuclear weapons? I have no idea. But it's something to hate Bush for, so let's not analyze too deeply.

Or this comment about Bush's new policy on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:
In an obvious move to recover some votes that he rightly loses by being an incompetent buffoon, he panders to the Jewish vote, undoes a couple of decades of slow, spotty progress, and pisses off a huge group of people that we should be trying harder to understand... people with whom we're attempting to occupy the same planet.
What progress did Bush undo? How was the situation any better yesterday than it was decades ago, and how is it worse today? I have no idea.

another engineer joke

A mechanical engineer dies and after judgement finds himself in hell. He decides he doesn't like the environment. He sets to work draining lakes of fire and designing, building and testing an air conditioning system. He catches Satan's eye with his improvements.

The next time Satan apperas before God, God says, "I want that engineer up here in heaven." Satan says, "You sent him to hell and can't have him back." God says "I'll sue!" Satan says, "And just where are you going to find lawyer?"
Thanks to Ken for the joke.


Ballon Juice is reporting that an offensive photo of a US National Guardsman and two Iraqi kids is a fake. In the first photo, the sign says "Lcpl Bourdeaux killed my dad then he knocked up my sister!" In the second photo (supposedly original) the sign says "Lcpl Bourdeaux saved my dad then he rescued my sister!" I think the second one is the fake. First, the first sign makes sense while the second one is awkward. Why not "Lcpl Bourdeaux rescued my dad and sister!"?Second, the guy has a joking grin on his face that goes with the first sign but not the second. Third, the guy obviously wrote the sign himself because the spelling and English are perfect. So either the guy is an insufferably egotistical hero or a joker --I vote for number two. Fourth, where are the dad and sister? Aren't they grateful enough for being rescued to be in the photo? Fifth, if someone had photo-shopped the second into the first to create a stir, they would have said the Lcpl raped his sister, not knocked her up.

Sorry to all the conservatives who are embarrassing themselves defending this guy, but he's a joker. A better conservative response would be to say "It's a joke! Get over it!" That's exactly what the leftists would be saying if they didn't think they could exploit this for political advantage.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

what's so bad about a gas tax?

Gregory Mankiw proposed a 50 cent/gallon gas tax in 1999. He spells out several benefits it would have in altering the choices people make: using carpools or public transportation, buying smaller cars, etc. I think 50 cents/gallon is too little. We should start adding a petroleum tax (not an at-the-pump gas tax) equivalent to about 3 cents/gallon every month for four years, raising the tax eventually by $1.44 per gallon.

I'm serious about this. Many of the problems in the middle east as are caused by wealthy tyrants supported by our petroleum dollars and by nations and wealthy individuals who support them for financial gain. Our money is going to support and enrich this cesspit of powerful people whose only interest is in keeping the region under control so as not to lose revenue. Reducing our dependence on petroleum is another step in the war on terror --eliminate their financial support.

The gas tax would not only cause people to make more conservative decisions, it would create a big market for energy-saving technologies. Instead of the government wasting its money on politically motivated funding for energy research and dumb projects like windmill farms, let the market control the innovation. The people with real solutions will succeed and the failures will fail. Cut all government subsidies in energy studies just to make sure the failures aren't propped up patrons in Congress. This technology, once produced by a motivated market economy, will quickly spread world wide, reducing the entire world's dependence on petroleum.

I'd add another restriction though, every dollar brought in by this new tax must be offset by a reduction in other taxes. It can't be allowed to become an additional burden to the economy, it is a replacement burden. The same amount of money is taken out of the economy as now, but instead of taxing people for working or investing, we tax people for using non-renewable resources. The tax is inherently progressive, which leftists should like, because it is directly related to how much you consume. Practically all production requires energy.

I'd go further and apply this scheme to all non-renewable resources. My reasoning is this: using up non-renewable resources has a cost which isn't accounted for in just the cost of extracting and preparing the resource for sale, there is also the cost that the resource will no longer be available to our descendents. In the interests of those who come after us, we should try to encode this cost into the modern economy.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is calling for a $1.00/gallon gas tax with arguments similar to Manikw's. He gets a good fisking from Ramesh Ponnuru who also favors the idea, just not for those reasons. Ponnuru thinks it will transfer income from the oil-producing states to the US Treasury. My own justification is closer to Sullivan's and is actually not consistent with Ponnuru's because Ponnuru assumes the oil producing states will lower prices to maintain some ideal price at the pump Either way, we all want to raise taxes, just like the democrats!

more on church history

Bob sends me the following review of Wolfgang Simson's church history: Houses that Change the World. No mention of the anti-capitalist policies mentioned by Cliff, but very interesting:
There is so much great stuff I am re-reading that it is hard to narrow
it down.

Basically, Constantine became a Christian in AD 312 and made
Christianity the state religion. Christians, tired of persecution, saw
him as a savior, of sorts. In the following years the church became
highly professional, ie needing priests to perform weddings in a more
public and professional manner, etc.

"The church needed to be "fit for the king" and his company, and that
meant cathedrals, not shabby houses. Thus, the great divide between
clergy and laity not only emerged, but was sanctioned,
institutionalized, sealed and protected by the state, an error that has
cost the lives of millions of martyrs right up to the present day,
killed by the hand of secular soldiers, at the instigation of "properly
organized and registered" advocates of Christendom. "

He then talks about how the church became unable to be a
counter-culture movement, because it was now married to the very
culture it should be opposing.

In AD 380 two bishops named Theodosius and Gratian ordered that there
should only be one state-recognized faith, one church, one dogma, and
every Roman citizen was forced to be a member. This meant the legal end
of the house church. As Simson points out, church buildings weren't
even allowed until the rule of Severus, around AD 222-35. The only
place Christians could meet was in homes. But now began a new era, the
persecution of the church in the name of "the church"

Wolfgang also talks about some wonderful theological works and
movements that took place during the Dark Ages. He claims that one of
the most overlooked facts of history is that it was not the Roman
Catholic church that converted Europe, but the Celts. He gives a little
history to back this up.

Anyway, here is the downward spiral of the Church: (this is basically
quoted from the book)
431 The Council of Ephesus proclaims the worship of Mary as the mother
of God
440 Leo the Great pronounces himself Bishop of Rome
Appr 500 Priesthood starts to adopt a common dress code
607 Boniface III, after the fall of Rome, was the first Bishop to
adopt the title Pope. Previously, the title, Pontifex maximus,
meaning "big bridgebuilder", had been used by the Roman Emperors to
describe themselves as high priests and gods of the Roman Empire.
709 Kissing the Pope's foot introduced
786 Worship of images and relics develops
850 First use of holy water
995 Canonization of dead saints
998 Fasting on Fridays and before Lent introduced
1079 Celibacy of the priesthood instituted
1090 Prayer beads adopted from several pagan religious systems
1184 The Inquisition, the policing of the faith begins: millions of
Jews and witches (and later, after the Reformation, Protestant
believers) will die at the hands of the church of Rome. It is
officially established by Pope Innocent IV in 1252. The Reformation
churches later joined in the same spirit.
1190 The sale of indulgences instituted
1215 Transubstantiation of the wafer and wine declared
1229 Bible declared to be too holy for ordinary people to read and was
forbidden to laymen
1414 Communion cup was forbidden to lay people
1439 Doctrine of Purgatory decreed
1545 The traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church granted
equal authority with the Bible at the Council of Trent

Very interesting book. He also talks about how the reformation
challenged theology, but never questioned the actual structure of the

Cheney and flip/flopping

While bloggers are examining John Kerry's past to point out various contradictions in his opinions, the New York Times is doing the same for Bush and Cheney. That's because the New York Times is as impartial and non-partisan as the bloggers in question. Kos links to their dramatic exposure of a kind-of contradiction by Cheney. It seems that in 1986 Cheney introduced legislation to put a large tariff on oil imports. He is quoted as saying
Let us rid ourselves of the fiction that low oil prices are somehow good for the United States.
Kos alleges that this is some sort of flip/flop but he is missing several important ingredients of a flip/flop. As a public service for him and all the other leftists who are trying desperately to change the subject from their own mendacity, let me list the essential characteristics of a flip/flop to help you recognize one.
The person must make two different statements that contradict one another.
It doesn't count if you find two different people who say two different things that contradict one another. Since you don't have a quote from Cheney contradicting Cheney, this is not a flip/flop. Republicans aren't like the Borg, a distributed body with a single mind. Each person in that administration, including Cheney, has his own personal mind and, presumably, his own personal opinions.
The contradictory statements much actually contradict each other.
This means, for example, that if Cheney says a high tax on gasoline at the pump is bad, and a high tariff on imported petroleum is good, this is not a contradiction since these two things, taxes at the pump and tariffs at the dock have different effects.
The contradictory statements must take place in comparable contexts.
For example in 1986 there was concern that the Saudis were dumping oil on the world market in an attempt to drive other producers out of business. Under those circumstances, a tariff on oil would have different effects than it would have today so it is not contradictory to have a different opinion on what should be done today vs. what should have been done back in 1986. This is called "responding to changing conditions" not flip/flopping.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

why La Shawn should move to San Francisco

Everyone wants La Shawn Barber to move to their city (read the comments) and I've been trying to think of a good reason for her to move to San Francisco where I live. La Shawn, in San Francisco you can't hardly spit without hitting a leftist. In your current mood I thought that might appeal to you.

Beside, you've got a big fan to show you around.
P.S. That's me.
P.P.S The fan I mean. I'm the big fan who would show you around. Just send me an email.
P.P.P.S. When I say "big" fan, I mean "big" to describe my fandom, not my physical size.
P.P.P.P.S. Not that I'm not physically large, just that I wasn't using "big" in that way.
P.P.P.P.P.S. Not that I'm huge or anything, just larger than average.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Not that anyone really cares.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Not that anyone really cares about my size, I mean.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S Is there a record for the number of post-scripts in a blog posting?

the left is getting ready for the next phase in Iraq

Kos is trying to preload a negative story for the left to use when Bush officially turns power over to the Iraqis. Of course their main hope is that Bush will have to delay the turnover so they can accuse Bush (again) of colonialism. Then, whenever the takeover finally takes place they will say that Bush was forced into it by the national and world outcry. But what if it goes through on schedule? The left has to have something else to criticize Bush for, and here is Kos's plan:
So you're a war supporter, and Iraq is going to hell. You want to pull the troops out, but doing so might require admitting defeat. And admitting defeat would mean that the bloodbath in Iraq was all for naught.
What to do? Easy.

Blame Iraqis. Talk about how the US came in, altruistic at heart, hoping to spread "freedom" to the Iraqi people. And then, pointing to the current broad-based rebellion, screech about how "ungrateful" the Iraqis are to the US for bringing said "freedom" to the country.

And then cut tail and run.

Watch the Right. It's gonna happen.
So if the turn-over takes place on schedule, the left will claim that we are cutting tail and running, abandoning Iraq to her fate. They won't be able to quote any war supporters talking about how ungrateful the Iraqis are to the US, but they will claim it's being said anyway, and by sheer repetition will cause many people to take it for granted (just like the "Bush lied" lie). Then any rebellions that take place afterward will be blamed on the US for turning over control to an unready and unpopular government.

Watch the Left. It's gonna happen.

Atrios admits he's a thug

Atrios admits he's a thug in this posting
Like Jim, I have immense sympathy for the troops - even those (hopefully few) who may be guilty of committing horrible unnecessary atrocities. In their situation I can imagine my behavior could be atrocious as well. I have no sympathy for the people who wrongly put them there, or for their cowardly non-enlisting supporters. They put these men and women in an impossible situation. One should not be surprised by their reactions.
I've argued before that people who are so sure the Americans are acting like thugs in Iraq are simply projecting their own personalities onto our troops. We all project of course. If I were in that situation I believe I would act honorably so I assume in general that others do as well.

The first time I ran into this was in a discussion of gun ownership. The man I was arguing with said that conflicts are much more likely to become deadly when there is a gun around. I scoffed, "Oh come on. No stable person is going to pull out a gun and shoot someone just because they are arguing." He answered that he could see himself doing that. I was astonished. After a moment of thought I said agreed with him: he should definitely not own a gun. Since then whenever someone tells me that they don't think it is safe for people to own guns I tell them that if they feel that way, they probably are better off without one. We should respect people's own opinions of human nature, not as it pertains to others in general but as it pertains to them.

In the same article Atrios says
I don't doubt that many soldiers in Iraq perceive that "anti-war" folk are somehow against them, I also don't doubt that there are many soldiers there who believe that the "pro-war" folk are the ones who are against them.
Because Atrios can't imagine himself being proud to defend America from her enemies, he can't imagine that anyone else is either. He thinks the soldiers are all hapless victims of circumstance. Signed up for a free education and ended up getting shot at. Poor fools.

I on the other hand would have been honored to have been able to serve my country like that and so I assume most of the soldiers feel like I would. I imagine they don't see themselves as victims but as heroes. And I imagine that they are proud to be heroes. I would be. They are becoming a part of history. They may also be killed or maimed. That's why they're heroes. If Ted Kennedy has his way they will become a part of another shameful defeat like Vietnam, but if Bush succeeds they will be able to go back to Iraq in forty years with their grandkids and show them where they fought to make Iraq the second great democracy in the middle east -- the domino that changed the entire region into a model of peace and prosperity, like WWII vets could have done with Germany. That's the outcome I'm hoping for. Which one are you hoping for, Atrios?

against Iraneus

I received the following email in reponse to my post about the Church and scientific progress:
Your need to defend Christianity against responsibility for the backward slide in scientific knowledge that occurred between 500 AD and 1000 AD is misplaced. You are not catholic (small ‘c’) and you are not one of the Parishum (Pharisees). The error of the Parishum is to conflate traditional values and beliefs with piety and truth. Jesus argued against this practice better than I ever could so I will cite his condemnation and move on. The catholic view is that choosing (heresy means ‘the act of choice’) is inherently wrong and that submission to authority is a requirement of piety and the only path to truth. I believe that this view is the greatest source of misery there is. I have no evidence that this is true, but I claim it anyway.

Iraneus (fourth century) began the descent into the dark ages by creating the orthodoxy and insisting that books that disputed it be burned and that people that disputed it be tortured and killed. At the same time, Christianity became powerful in the Empire. The Church became the most powerful force in Europe over the next two hundred years. The Church had three doctrines that guaranteed the decline of civilization. First, the inherent inequality of man was proclaimed in the support of slavery (and serfdom), the support of an aristocracy, and the principle of the ‘divine right of kings’. Second, the vibrant capitalism of the Greek and Roman times was destroyed by Church doctrines that prohibited lending money at interest and discouraged private ownership. Without commerce, both in ideas and goods, scientific development is impossible and it is impossible to create enough wealth to have a civil society. Third, the view that ideas thought to differ from the current convictions of the Church leaders were considered apostasy. This is the one most commonly dramatized about the conflict between science and religion, but it probably comes in only third. The Church held the Parishum view that traditional beliefs were inviolate. That view, wherever it exists, inhibits thinking and wealth creation. Ignorance and poverty are always its children. The Church’s defense of that famous Christian, Aristotle, is silly in retrospect, but it is no sillier or less destructive than the appeal to tradition in the Gospels.

There is nothing about the view of the Medieval Church that you support (the commies would be more comfortable with them than you would), so why would you argue that these views that we have seen to be so destructive in our own time would be less destructive of life and liberty then.


Blaise Pascal

Peter Robinson post a beautiful passage about man and the infinite on the NRO Corner. For some reason it reminded me of a passage in Pensees by Blaise Pascal. It is such a striking passage that I still remembered the line "between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing" after having read it many years ago. I'll excerpt but you can find the whole book on-line:
72. Man's disproportion.--... Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond an imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses itself in that thought.
Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?

But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. ... He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels....

For, in fact, what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.
Pascal was a great scientist and mathematician. He invented the field of probability. He was also a devout Christian who dedicated the last years of his short life to religious study and writing. I've read that his extreme religious devotion contributed to his early death, but I no longer recall the details. I believe it had something to do with self flagellation or something similarly ill-conceived. A great tragedy. Pascal had a programming language was named after him, and one book on the language contained a tribute to him: "Pascal was a mathematician and religious fanatic of the seventeenth century." So much complexity, dismissed in so simple a caricature.

Monday, April 12, 2004

the experts speak

Here are some articles by some people who actually seem to know what they are talking about, backing up my amateur opinion that it was the anti-coalition forces in trouble in Falluja and Baghdad, not the coalition forces: the Belmont Club, dgci, Silent Running, Citizen Smash

Sunday, April 11, 2004

dimensions of dogmatism

In my earlier post about meaning, I don't think I was careful enough to distinguish my view from subjectivism -- the view that all truth is self-constructed. Subjectivism is usually called relativism, but this is a misnomer; it confused the relative with the subjective. Facts can be both relative and objective.

Imagine a toy train running on tracks on a flatcar of a real train. The real train is running on it's own real tracks. Albert, a toy-train buff sitting on the flatcar, measures the speed of the toy train at 3 mph. The real train is moving a 5 mph, and Blevin, a compulsive measurer, is standing beside the real train tracks looking for something to measure. Spotting the toy train running along the tracks on the real train, he takes some rapid and expert sightings to determine the position of the toy train at two different times and calculate its speed. Blevin uses marks fixed to the ground to determine the toy train's position, so he measures the speed as 8 mph.

Later that evening Albert and Blevin run into each other at a local single's bar and being both afraid to talk to women, they naturally end up talking to each other, discussing the day's excitement. Albert announces proudly that his toy train was running at 3 mph. Blevin contradicts him: "No, it was moving at 8 mph. I'm an expert measurer, you know." Albert is annoyed that Blevin has the temerity to dispute his detailed knowledge of model railroading and insists that the train was moving at only 3 mph, not the absurd 8 mph measured by Blevin. Blevin is shocked that anyone would question his expertise at measurement and answers hotly that he determined the speed quite precisely. They argue about it in ever more intemperate words until Blevin makes an unfortunate remark concerning Albert's mother and Albert responds by throwing his beer in Blevin's face which leads to blows and a night in jail for both of them.

To what do we owe this unfortunate incident? An subjectivist might say that both men were right, that they each had their own personal story and that there was no objective fact of the matter. That rather than arguing fruitlessly over matters with no fundamental answers the two men should simply have admitted that the real source of their hostility was their suppressed homosexual urges. An absolutist might point out that Albert was mistaken because he didn't take all the facts into account, that Blevin had the true measurement because he measured correctly and that he quite properly brought into question the progeny of that ignoramus, Albert. Other absolutists might side with Albert or dispute both of them.

The real answer, of course is that both men were right. Each of them measured correctly, but according to different frame of reference. The speed of the rain is relative to the frame of reference, but within a given frame of reference, there is an objectively correct number. The question "how fast was the toy train moving" has an objective but relative answer.

Absoluteness/relativity is not on the same scale with objectiveness/subjections. The two properties are orthogonal dimensions in the sense that all four combinations are possible: absolute and objective, absolute and subjective, relative and objective, relative and subjective. There are other disputes that follow this pattern: one group claims that some statement is absolute, objective, factual, certain, apriori or real while another group claims that the statement is relative, subjective, arbitrary, uncertain, aposteriori or reducible. The first set of positions may be called dogmatic positions while the second group are skeptical. In many of these disputes I think that both sides are improperly conflating different orthogonal issues. These properties should be considered orthogonal dimensions in the space of the various issues between dogmatists and skeptics and should be discussed separately.

blogging woes

I couldn't update my blog yesterday for some reason. When I tried, the browser would just flash at me for a few minutes and time out. Everything else seemed to be working though. Weird.