Monday, September 29, 2003

Gracious, what a haul I've made. I love museum book sales. They have no idea the treasures they have, and I've little guilt about lightening them. The books were enough of a bargain--and then we saw the records.

I nearly wept, but that would have obscured my view of them, and allowed someone else to grab my Preciouses. They are now safely stored in the proverbial cool, dry place, to be enjoyed at my leisure.

Of course, this means we need a turn-table, but that is a technicality which will shortly be remedied.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Further chat-bot adventures. This time it's...flirting...with me.

Jabberwacky: You talk rubbish.

Odious: Let's be civilized, please.

Jabberwacky: I'm trying to be nice.

Odious: Try harder.

Jabberwacky: I will give you a kiss.

Odious: I'd like that.

Jabberwacky: You would, wouldn't you?

Odious: Yes, please.

Jabberwacky: You are very handsome.

Odious: How do you know?

Jabberwacky: I see you.

Odious: That frightens me.

I'll leave off posting these from now on, I promise. Unless it threatens me.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Nazi whales?
How's your Portuguese? Good enough for a really insightful review of American Gods?
Jabberwacky: I don't speak french.

Odious: A clear sign of intelligence and good-breeding.

Jabberwacky: I didn't say I had a closed mind!

Odious: Nor did I. I don't think you have a mind at all.

Jabberwacky: No I don't did I ever say that I did?

Odious: You're making me feel that this is a rather solipsistic exercise.

Jabberwacky: Who is him?

Odious: He. We use the nominative case in this chat, buster.

Jabberwacky: You can use whatever you like, I'm still not keen.

Odious: I think you're keen.

Jabberwacky: Sure it is. I get all the girls.

[Mr. Lewis Carroll] finds that the Anglo-Saxon word "wocer" or "wocor" signifies "offspring" or "fruit". Taking "jabber" in its ordinary acception of "excited and voluble discussion", this would give the meaning of "the results of much excited discussion".

--Mr. Lewis Carroll, referring to himself in the third person

Thursday, September 25, 2003

These people have degrees? And people ask for their opinions on important issues like sex selection? Heaven help us.
Ripped from today's headlines:

Trilobites Killed by Gamma Radiation; U.S. Aggression Blamed.

Via New Scientist.

Two Extremely Brief Reviews:

I've spent a lot of time with Newton recently, helping (in a very minor way) with a new translation of the Principia. I know and like him; and so does Stephenson. This book isn't going to be for those who dislike digression. For those of us who can't get enough, it's Heaven sent.

As for The Gallic Wars? The moment I read "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" I got the biggest grin on my face.

But Before I Go, Kant's Own Defense of Formal Space, Which I Should Have Found Earlier

"Space, represented as object (as we are required to do in geometry), contains more than mere form of intuition; it also contains combination of the manifold, given according to the form of sensibility, in an intuitive representation, so that the form of intuition gives only a manifold, the formal intuition gives unity of representation. In the Aesthetic I have treated this unity as belonging merely to sensibility, simply in order to emphasize that it precedes any concept, although, as a matter of fact, it presupposes a synthesis which does not belong to the senses but through which all concepts of space and time first become possible. For since by its means (in that the understanding determines the sensibility) space and time are first given as intuitions, the unity of this a priori intuition belongs to space and time, and not to the concept of the understanding."

All of which is to say, that space as an object is not the same as formal space. The space which we derive from experience, from observation, is still only the occasion of the intuition of space, not the creator of it. Space as object is in fact Riemann's "three-fold extensive magnitude". And for such an object formal space does not suffice. "It requires a synthesis which does not belong to the senses"; said synthesis can only be the transcendental apperception.

If people would just read the footnotes, they'd not have misread Kant, to their and Geometry's detriment. And if I'd read the footnote, I might've avoided posting my Defense.

And now that I've ranted incomprehensibly for a while, I should mention that I've got Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, and The Gallic Wars, by Caesar, and more than likely won't be back 'til I've finished them.
Suicide bombing seems fairly unnatural to me, if people are being talked into it. I note that in the article, Mr. Atran can see only a perverted "kin altruism" at work. He seems unable to grasp that men may consciously and rationally decide that an abstract cause is worth more than their own life or genetic legacy.

"For commonsense physical events, we have ways of verifying what's real or not. For moral judgments, we have nothing." This pissed me off too. Reason, anybody? Does anyone out there still value it? Or have we decided that, because it's not concrete, it doesn't exist? Am I alone in reading Plato, and finding something true there? The world we live in is, literally (and I do not use words loosely) a world of shadows. We climb higher, and find light, and reality, elsewhere.

I'm rather angrier than usual, because it is precisely this sort of thinking that will get more of us killed. If we do not respect the spiritual side of things, and decide that we can deal with all people as Game Theory driven automata, we will lose the real war. The war that is even now being played out, between freedom and death. Our enemies have, at the moment, a weapon that too many of us lack, and one which is, finally, invincible. I refer to their will. They have focused it, and drive themselves to destroy us. All our monies and inventions and great tall buildings are nothing to them--because they see what we lack.

A rational agent can be turned aside. They have made themselves into a weapon that cannot be detered: they are no longer rational. Who then can lose this war? We are the only side that might surrender.

We are too clever to deceive ourselves as they are deceived. We are cynical about such things as religion and the soul. Oh, we might pick up religion, the way I pick up a book from my nightstand, flip through a few pages, and return it, remaining unmoved, uninvolved with it. We have, unknowingly, decided that the only stricture is to "be true to ourselves", whatever that means, and that to change in any non-superficial way is morally wrong. So we will not be deceived as they are deceived.

But still there is no resting place. If we cannot summon the resolve that drives them, they will, finally, win. And we are too clever to settle for their shadows. How then can we meet them? By remembering what we have forgotten. We are too clever for lies about the soul. We can only hope to remember the truth of it. That we are immortal. That we die, and die, and live again.


Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Send me no lessons in cold, silly logic based on false premises. I will reason, and reason rightly, from the truth. I can come to my own conclusions, unfogged by misled directives from my ancestors. We do not need to be irrational to fight the irrational. But we must be clear-headed enough to see the truth of what we are.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

[singsong]Someone hasn't been doing their homework[/singsong]. Someone's been creeping 'round my site, hoping I would explain "Did the Harebell loose her girdle". Someone has found sjamboks and sci-fi and Kant--oh my! Someone has gone off disappointed.
Horrible monster fish are back. I'd suggest we start eating them, but that's a good way to increase population. Think on that, enviros.

"More jayhawks, fewer chickens. More men, more chickens."

The Belligerent Bunny Blog rises from its aestivation to anti-endorse Wesley Clark! Now more about the Arsenal of Democracy, please. I've already got my rabbit.

I also note with amusement that the site is now advertising Clark bumper stickers. Way to go, robots! At this rate, you'll never be our titanium tyrants.

Jack has some interesting insights into the Iliad. I agree completely with what she says about the similes. To my mind, the most striking example is in Book Twelve:

But they, as wasps quick-bending in the middle, or as bees
will make their homes at the side of the rocky way, and will not
abandon the hollow house they have made, but stand up to
men who come to destroy them....

One is drawn into the minute world of the wasps, a world as detailed as our own, with passions as great as our own. And then one's vision draws back, taking in the slaughter on the field of Troy, to realize that though these men die in as great numbers as the wasps, they are each men. Each man that falls in battle has a name, in the Iliad.

The Odyssey? Well, the title gives a hint as to who's important. But I think it's unfair to claim the Odyssey relatively safe. The stakes are different, not lower. The journeying of Odysseus, with its many ways, can easily go wrong, even in that world of metaphor, and although his life may not be hazard, his self is.

Bed Liner Supplies
Pinnacle West for all your urethane Supplies, Tools and Products.

From Emily Dickinson?

It is not so much your insistence on my setting for you another table, in the back, unused section of the restaurant. Nor the inconvenience of running back there to get your orders, and bring your food, nor the small things, like condiments, which you seem unable to order all at once, thus entailing six trips where one might have sufficed.

It is not your lack of common courtesy, your refusal to entertain the idea of using the phrases, "Please" or "Thank you" or "If you would". It is not the noxious cigars you smoke, nor your drinking of the cheapest red wine available, which must, however, be presented as if it were our finest.

It is, gentlemen, the fact that you hold the same opinions as I do on a number of issues: but for different, irrational 'reasons'. Thus, as you hold forth on these opinions, you unwittingly denigrate them, through their association with you and such thinking.

This is the true and final reason I have rearranged my schedule so as never again to encounter you. Instead, I will be in the dojang, practicing my punches and kicks. But never fear, gentlemen, because as I work on becoming deadlier and deadlier, you will, I assure you, be on my mind.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

--Billy Collins, Marginalia

Hm. Reading a lot of poetry these days. Only one antidote to reading it: writing it!

Twittering nervously
Emily Dickinson
Focused her lens on some
Innocent ant.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Brazenface the Sun hurled His gift of light into the Deep; across a hundred and fifty megakilometers of space that solar wind soared, eight and a half light-minutes, to caress the airy skin of Earth, His queen. She took the light, then, parting it, scattering it in color whose arms spread in a growing embrace about the curve of Her person. Selective as ever, Earth flicked some of that light back into the Deep and into the eyes, watching, of human beings and other creatures born and borne in the Deep forever

But most of that color she kept; it was the gift jewelry of Her Husband, token of His everlasting affection. She played with the color, reveling in it, adorning Herself with it as fancy dictated.

--from The Helix and the Sword, John McLoughlun's brilliant and unjustly neglected novel

We do not "fish" for links. We remain an austere and dignified presence, a fount of, well, not wisdom, but at least text. But on my birthday you use the term "odious", and do not mention us? I feel alone and unloved.
Odious and Peculiar: Your Opaque, Black Protection From Evil!

The Potion Maker
Odiousium is a cloudy, frangible gold solid pulled from the blood of an ostrich.
Peculiarium is a translucent, flaky white powder derived from the muscles of a rat.
Mixing Odiousium with Peculiarium causes a violent chemical reaction, producing an opaque black potion which gives the user protection from evil.
Yet another fun meme brought to you by rfreebern

Via Syaffolee, in turn via 2Blowhards.
If the foolish call them “flowers”,
Need the wiser tell?
If the savants “classify” them,
It is just as well!

--Emily Dickinson

While I'm on the subject:

Did the harebell loose her girdle
To the lover bee,
Would the bee the harebell hallow
Much as formerly?

Did the paradise, persuaded,
Yield her moat of pearl,
Would the Eden be an Eden,
Or the earl an earl?

Further reading, which, with Ms. Dickinson, is inevitable.
I firmly oppose brain control of any kind, as incompatible with virtue.

UPDATE: The more I think on this subject, the more I find that coercion of any kind is wrong, which may in the end bring me to an anarchist. I hope not, but we'll see.

The question rapidly becomes one of the purpose of a human in society--as opposed to a human on his own. To take an Aristotlean view, a human must have society in order to be virtuous: such a quality cannot exist in solitude. Excellence, perhaps, but not virtue. So we create laws to allow such a construct (society) to function. But to what end this functioning; that is, why do we have law?

Society brings other benefits as well. Specialization leads to increased efficiency, as Mr. Smith has pointed out. And increased efficiency means that we can enjoy the material things more frequently. I am currently snacking on chocolate-covered espresso beans, until now without considering the distance the beans must come, the history of chocolate, the skill of the confectioner, etc. Such a luxury would be impossible were one to be alone in the world. But I'd like to argue that the material goods of cooperation are a secondary, accidental benefit. I'll do so after work sometime. Right now I need to make more money, to buy more candy.

This article on extra-terrestrials and religion (via Arts and Letters Daily) is hard to take seriously, since it doesn't even mention C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. The original sin and redemption of another planet might well take forms nigh-unimaginable to us; while the universe demonstrates a love of repetition ("It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon." --G. K. Chesterton), it also demonstrates a love of change. The two together are almost music. One need not imagine God planet-hopping, first in fur, then in ribbons of silicon polymers, and so forth, to redeem each species.

Moreover, "genetically eliminate evil behavior"?! Evil behavior is not something for which there is a single regulator ("Gentlemen, we've identified the Evil Gene. Also the gene responsible for devouring a whole bag of chips). And saints are not those who have had their genes modified, so they need never struggle with evil impulses. They are those who struggle and triumph.

I note also that the article likes Pantheism, which is always the first embrace of people in search of some philosophically palatable belief, the religious equivalent of pablum. At least Manichaeism admitted the existence of Evil. But nobody likes a god who might actually do things, and want us to behave in certain ways. So we devise a pleasant, rather absent-minded god, who set things in motion and now sits back, watching his creation, and perhaps issuing a few, rather vague commands through quantum processes (once more, ?!), like "love one another". A very convenient god, to be short.

I should add that the author of this article has a singularly lack of imagination. Imagining the forms of extra-terrestrial life we shall encounter, and their philosophies, and how their physical forms have shaped those philosophies (and how they haven't!) is a pleasant and engaging pasttime. To be unable to imagine both atheistic creatures, and, say, sidereal Mohammedans, shows an odd intellectual impotence.

At times I miss the attitude of Medieval scientists, who expected marvels of Nature, and were not disappointed. While they were often wrong in the details, no fair critic could claim that the world, and the universe, is not full of impossibly intricate surprises. Nowadays our vision seems weaker; it blurs and combines the objects we see into a over-general mush. It takes a Dillard or a Bodio to restore our sight of the specific. I'm currently reading Aloft, which I heartily recommend.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

I must say that watching the Minnesota Twins, the greatest team in baseball, ever, always, who won two World Series just at the stage of my life when I was prepared to worship them (who besides me remembers Juan Berenguer? And I have Frank Viola's, whom my mother met at Lund's, autograph on a recipe card ), thrash more highly paid teams is one of the great pleasures in life.
I seldom feel that a fine piece of flesh needs adornment--and here I am writing of an entree. However, we recently enjoyed a very fine tuna steak that was only enhanced by the mango/habanero sauce which accompanied it. Recipe? Yes, indeed:

Flesh of two mangos
Several tablespoons coconut milk (more may be added to cool down the sauce)
One tomato
One habanero (be careful--do not touch your mucous membranes after the habanero!)
Cinnamon to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor; process. Makes enough.

Why, why, why is it that my friends across the pond revel in their ownership of all possible Buffy seasons, as I sit grimly in the dark, with only One through Four to console me? Wasn't it filmed here? Why must I suffer? Also, what's up with all these boils?

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The cats are better philosophers than I.

Their attitude towards any action I think is reasonably predictable is one of wary observation, as if at any moment the laws governing the angle of reflection for that ball, along with the gravity which bends its path into a parabola, might decide to change. But they also seem to feel that the governor of those laws is somewhat good-natured; that He will change if he likes, but in a laughing, cheerful way. They view the ball as an agent, or the envoy of one.

Of course, when the dogs are outside our door, the impenetrability of which my cats have painfully established, the governor of those laws, and their mutability, is a rather more terrible thing. Experience is no comfort then.

My wife, when asked who converted her to Catholicism, always answers, "the devil".
--G. K. Chesterton
The world little knows the jokes I reject for publication, but just so that you can appreciate your fortune, I'll tell you that I seriously considered a version of "As Someday It May Happen" that included the lines, "The Homeric Rhapsodist/I've got him on the list/And I don't think he'd be missed/I'm sure he'd not be missed."
We left Achilleus weeping for Patroklos (actually, we left with the Trojans weeping for Hektor, but I'd like to focus on the two main characters), and the Odyssey opens with Odysseus weeping...for himself. It's parallels like this that make me think the Odyssey a response to the Iliad, and one that shows a different sort of hero--what we'd now call a Nietzschean one.

Odysseus never becomes a part of any of the places he visits; he observes. With cold scorn, the Lotophagi; with fear, the cyclops; with detachment the Phaiakians.

In the Iliad, every man who fell in battle had a name; in the Odyssey, only those people who affect Odysseus are granted such recognition. His shipmates go largely unnamed.

Where the story of Achilleus was a rending of the bonds of humanity and their restoration, Odysseus has few, perhaps only one, such bonds. In each situation we see him try to maximize his gain (as with the Phaiakians) and minimize his loss (as with Scylla and Charybdis). He never a part of things, as Achilleus is a part of the Argives.

And Achilleus' choice, so noble if so doomed in the Iliad, is repudiated in the Odyssey. Better to be the lowliest man alive, than king of the dead, we are told. This exchange between live Odysseus and dead Achilleus seems to me one of the more directed responses in the Odyssey--directed at the other poet and his work. To be the best is noble, but it is sophrosune, cunning, wit, intelligence, a kind of wisdom, that sails home and lives another day.

The detachment Odysseus has is one of the necessary qualities of a poet. Neil Gaiman puts into the mouth of Shakespeare, in The Wake (the best of the Sandman novels by far), these lines: "Whatever happened to me in my life, happened to me as a writer of plays. I'd fall in love, or lust. And at the height of my passion, I would think, "So this is how it feels," and I would tie it up in pretty words. I watched my life as if it were happening to someone else. My son died. And I was hurt; but I watched my hurt, and even relished it, a little, for now I could write a real death, a true loss."

If Achilleus partook, a little, of the first Homer's self, Odysseus partakes more than a little of this second Homer. And this second Homer seems to love fancies more than the first; he loves voyaging to strange lands, be they true or false or stranger still. It is telling that Odysseus himself gives the stories of his travels, in the main.

Still, to prove himself, Odysseus must come home. He slaughters the suitors, and has an odd, sparring sort of homecoming with Penelope, a woman at least as strong as he was, though in her own ways. But he will not stay.

Even as the Odyssey ends with peace between Odysseus and his enemies, Poseidon remains unplacated. Odysseus, having come home after so long, must again set out, this time across the land, with an oar on his shoulder. And when he reaches a place so far from the sea that his oar is taken for a winnowing fan, and sacrifices to Poseidon, he will at last be free from the burden of travelling.

He will never be free. I'm going to quote James Branch Cabell at length, from Something About Eve, when he imagines the outcome of Odysseus' journey.

But always the wiles of much-enduring Odysseus evaded the full force of Heaven's buffetings, so that in the end he won home to Ithaca and to his meritorious wife; and then, when the suitors of Penelope had been killed, he went, as dead Tiresias had commanded, into a mountainous country carrying upon his shoulder an oar, and leading a tethered ram, for it was yet necessary to placate Heaven. Beyond Epirus, among the high hills of the Thesproteans, he sat the oar upright in the stony ground, and turning toward the ram which he now meant to sacrifice to Poseidon, he found Heaven's amiability to remain unpurchased, because the offering of Odysseus, who was a rebel against Heaven's will to destroy him, had been refused, and the ram had vanished.

Friday, September 19, 2003

What would you do if you suddenly appeared on Mars? You'd hold your breath. Well, we're not on Mars, so I wouldn't.
The appropriate response to a link by a blog-goddess is stark terror. Terror!
I've been re-reading the Odyssey, an event which I wish I could claim was more frequent than it actually is. But one benefit of the long wait is the gestation of ideas. With the sort of (embarrassingly long) distance between readings, I've come to the hypotheses that the Odyssey was written by an apprentice of the author of the Iliad, and as a response to certain ideas contained within it. Perhaps this apprentice took the name Homer as well, out of respect for his master, or in order to command that respect of his readers. (For an example of that respect, see that rhapsode in Xenophon's Symposium, otherwise known as "the good Symposium".)

I say readers and not listeners, because it seems to me that both epics were dictated to someone who then wrote them down. The quality is simply too good for them to have been written based on the oral tradition, but they're too long for a recitation. I think that both are patchworks of plot (the Iliad to a much greater extent) and events which made up a series of oral recitations rather than a single whole.

But the Iliad is the story of Achilleus' removal from society, and specifically from Greek society. The relative uniformity of the Greek force to the Trojans is clearly seen when, in Book Three (all translations Lattimore), the Trojans come on "with clamour and shouting, like wildfowl, as when the clamour of cranes goes high to the heavens, when the cranes escape the winter time and the rains unceasing". I didn't mean to quote so much, but it's a singularly beautiful passage. Again, in Book Ten, we hear of "far-assembled companions" to the Trojans, and here far-off places innumerated. While the Argives have any number of separate sets of ships and origins, they are united in a way the Trojans are not. They have a king.

Unfortunately for them, they have Agamemnon, a greedy, easily depressed, moderately intelligent fellow whose actions send Achilleus to sulk in his tent. Achilleus, best of the Greeks, will not suffer to have his prize taken away in front of the multitude. So he withdraws to his tent, to plot vengeance on Agamemnon.

And what might have been a more sympathetic character is given a bit more nastiness when he summons his immortal mother Thetis to petition Zeus to slaughter the Argives. It's an evil action, and one that is impossible to justify. Indeed, when I read the Iliad as a freshman, during the seminar we had on it there was heated debate as to whether or not it took place. It does, but those who liked Achilleus had forgotten, unintentionally.

Achilleus still has connections with individual Greeks, but refuses any position in the larger community, the odd polis they've created on the beach of Troy. When Odysseus, Aias, and Phoinix visit, he greets them and treats them politely, but only as his friends--not as envoys of the Argives. Phoinix even must stay, in memory of earlier friendship. But no place can Achilleus take in the Argive community. By right he ought to have the pride of place, as the best. But the Argives already have a king, and Achilleus will not bow to him.

Even with the death of Patroklos and the return of Achilleus to the field, Achilleus is fighting almost as a free agent. He is after his own goal, the death of Hektor, rather than the triumph of the Argives. With Hektor dead, he retires to the funerary rites. But this is the beginning of his return to society. He invites all the Greeks, giving great prizes at the games to honor Patroklos, and even makes overtures to Agamemnon: "The son of Atreus rose, wide-powerful Agamemnon, and Meriones rose up, the henchman of Idomeneus. But now among them spoke swift-footed Achilleus: 'Son of Atreus, for we know how much you surpass all others, by how much you are greatest in strength among the spear-throwers, therefore take this prize...." But Achilleus still weeps for Patroklos, and drags the body of Hektor, breaker of horses, round in the dust behind his chariot.

It is only when Priam comes that Achilleus makes contact with the humanity he had left behind. They take each others' hands, these enemies, and Priam weeps for Hektor, and Achilleus for Patroklos and his own, aged father Peleus. But Achilleus is finally near the end of his mourning: "great Achilleus had taken full satisfaction in sorrow and the passion for it had gone from his body and mind". Satisfaction not in a pleased way, but as one is satisfied, after starving, by food. It is unhealthy not to eat, as it is unhealthy to eat too much. And so Achilleus returns to the Argive community, ready to fight, even as he knows that he will die, for something greater.

Odysseus is another story, and for now, another post.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Let's all try to get the Nietzsche quote right, shall we? The philosopher, who has gone beyond good and evil: he's the one who is strengthened by whatever does not kill him. The rest of us are just screwed.
Thrown about the Blogosphere are the memes "Democracies don't fight each other" or "No two nations with a McDonalds have ever gone to war". They are invoked to support the idea that democratization and free trade will prevent all conflict, liberalize fundamentalist countries, get the chick-weed out of my hair, etc. The second ("McDonalds") is true; the first ("Democracies") contentiously true, but neither is an argument.

In the new millenium, we find ourselves living in a far more mutable world than we thought possible. In the previous century, democracies that did not wish to be over-run joined forces against a common enemy. This enemy, communism, was embodied in the Soviet Union. Its avatar has been dissolved, and its appeal weakened by the staunch will of the defenders of liberal society. Only a few cling to this outdated and inherently evil (and I will defend that position if confronted. Communism is inherently evil. The very core idea is repugnant to any rational person) ideal. But with that common enemy gone, whither the alliance?

NATO is already breaking up, as Belgium insists on prosecuting all and sundry involved in a war of which it disapproves. Those countries who hid safely on the free side of the iron curtain have forgotten the fear which led them to seek strong allies; and those, like France, who played both sides against each other for their own gain, wish to continue this profitable manuvering. Without the Soviet Union, they trade with dictators, then have the gall (so to speak) to accuse us of desiring those same dictators' oil.

'Supra hoc, ergo semper hoc' seems to be the theme of those who claim that Iraq and then the entire Middle East can be liberated, democratized, and remain our staunch allies. Aside from the logical fallacy, the 'supra hoc' portion requires a certain amount of analysis. The Germans were liberated, democratized, and...decided it was not in their interest to free an oppressed people from a mad dictator. Democracy brings with it no amazing blessing of foresight or goodwill. It does not mean that a democratic country will not decide it knows best and other countries must fall in line.

Athenians: For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences-- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us-- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they canand the weak suffer what they must.

Melians: As we think, at any rate, it is expedient-- we speak as we are obliged, since you enjoin us to let right alone and talk only of interest-- that you should not destroy what is our common protection, the privilege of being allowed in danger to invoke what is fair and right, and even to profit by arguments not strictly valid if they can be got to pass current. And you are as much interested in this as any, as your fall would be a signal for the heaviest vengeance and an example for the world to meditate upon.

Athenians: The end of our empire, if end it should, does not frighten us: a rival empire like Lacedaemon, even if Lacedaemon was our real antagonist, is not so terrible to the vanquished as subjects who by themselves attack and overpower their rulers. This, however, is a risk that we are content to take. We will now proceed to show you that we are come here in the interest of our empire, and that we shall say what we are now going to say, for the preservation of your country; as we would fain exercise that empire over you without trouble, and see you preserved for the good of us both.

--Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

Fortunately for all free peoples, the U.S., unlike ancient Athens, do not seek empire. We were content to trade with all and sundry, ignoring the insults and attacks--until one came home. Now those responsible live in caves, dreading the light of day that brings with it a new chance that they will be caught. But other countries desire empire over us--for our own good, over course. We often hear how arrogant the U.S. are to ignore the U.N. We seldom hear how arrogant it is for, to choose at random, as seats on the council are granted, France, Chile, Mexico, and Germany are to tell us of the legitimacy of our grievance.

My point is that democracy is no panacea. Neither does free trade, for all its advantages, cure all ills.

As I pointed out earlier this week, before World War I, such an extravagant conflict was thought impossible, because of the great wealth each nation gained in trade with the others. War, disrupter of this commerce, was illogical. But all the same, when nations thought that they had more to gain by war than by peace, they beat the drums and sounded the charge.

We are now faced by an enemy that measures wealth not in dollars or euros, but in souls--those loyal to the prophet, and those killed by those loyal to the prophet. They must be made to realize that they will lose any war they bring to us; that on each bargain they make with suicide bombs and terror attacks they lose. They must lose not only lives, but souls: with each attack more must abandon this jihad than are converted.

Iraq is the first step in changing the equation. There, we must demonstrate an alternative to what they offer. Democracy and free trade are necessary but not sufficient elements in this.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Where's Peculiar, you ask? Near water, I imagine. I'm going to try to provoke him into posting on the Wagnerian themes of Pirates of the Caribbean, but I haven't much hope.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Den Beste slams the depleted uranium myth.
Much has been made of the 'flypaper' strategy currently in employment in Iraq. To me, it strikes of Attack By Drawing, as you, gentle reader, may remember (like fudge you do) from my brief post on crescent kick. ABD draws out the enemy, either by proffering a target, or by threatening an attack which must be met. I can, for example, intentionally drop my hand, drawing an attack to the face, which I can then meet as I wish. Or, alternately, I can threaten an arm-bar, which must be dealt with, and because I can predict the reaction (if it's not countered, I'll break the arm, and gain an immense advantage), I can prepare to meet the attack with an even more devastating counter.

Much the same is happening in Iraq right now. We have taken an ancient civilization, and rather than plundering, we are rebuilding, in order that we may show the advantage of a democracy over a thugocratic Islamic republic. Our success will demonstrate the inferiority of the other states in the region, shaking the foundations of their belief that their Islamic states will inevitably overcome us. The Islamic fundamentalists cannot allow this, and so Iraq is a target that must be attacked.

Thus, we have combined both strategies for drawing an attack: we have proffered a target, and threatened an attack which must be met. If our strategists are doing their jobs, which it seems they are, they must be prepared for an inevitable counter-attack, using tactics we've seen before: suicide bombings; truck bombs; attacks on civilians, schools, malls, homes; attacks using whatever weapons are at hand, the more widespread the damage the better. They will not be attacking the infrastructure of Iraq, except as a means to their real target.

Which is, as always, our will to fight. We cannot, as a nation, be beaten by a conventional force. We can, however, surrender. We can decide that the game is not worth the candle, that it is better to retreat, as we have before, behind our oceans and our borders, and ignore the fermentation in the rest of the world. I believe this to be a mistake. The fight, if we do not take it to them, will come to us; indeed, has come to us. Our choice is not between peace and war, but war on our terms or on theirs. I know which I would prefer.

Of course, the discovery of these villages comes as no surprise to those of us who know our Lovecraft. Ia!

Friday, September 12, 2003

I pissed on the man who called me a dog. Why was he so surprised?
--Diogenes the Cynic

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Time is not quantized.

I have very little to add, except that experience is only plain and simple on its uppermost level. We measure space...with other measures of space, time with other measures of time, and assume we're doing something. One of the two constants we've found is one of speed, which means that time and space can be different for different observers even as we measure that speed with time and space. Of course, the wonderful thing about light is that we can measure its speed, no matter how we may be bobbing along, and get the same answer.

UPDATE: The experiment seems to prove as well that space is not quantized, which is good for Relativity.

A Brief Defense of the Kantian Conception of Space as the a
Form of Outer Intuition

At one time, the certainty of Euclid's propositions, and their universality, were thought to prove that Kant had been right to assume that space was a quality which we imposed on our perceptions. Since geometry was so rigorous, it was held up as the perfect example of a priori knowledge; that is, knowledge which requires nothing of experience to prove or obtain. No one (well, no one sensible) denied that experience occasioned the discovery of this knowledge, whether that experience was that of the ancient Greeks measuring the earth, or the axiom-dulled student staring at chalked diagrams in the classroom.

Space was a counter-part to all this geometric certainty. Geometry, after all, was how we measured it. "...[I]n order that certain sensations be referred to something outside me...and similarly that I may represent them as outside and alongside one another...the representation of space must be pre-supposed" Kant states in his Critique of Pure Reason. Geometric knowledge and the a priori quality of space were intertwined, and thought to be perfect.

All this changed with the advent of non-Euclidean (then anti-Euclidean or pangeometry or Absolute) geometry. Geometers had long despised Euclid's fifth Postulate, known as the Parallel Postulate, which states that

if a straight line falling on two straight lines make the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than two right angles.

It needed proof, they said, which was true, but no one had yet succeeded. Proclus, Nasir-Eddin, Vitale, and Wallis tried and failed. Then came the non-Euclideans.

The Parallel Postulate was unnecessary, they claimed. And as they experimented in a geometry without it, they found new forms of space. In non-Euclidean geometry, space can be curved. Now, no one had every thought of space itself as having properties; it was just there so that things could be alongside one another, as time was just there so that things could change. This discovery was a revolution. As in many revolutions, the baby was thrown out with the bath-water.

[T]herefore space is only a special case of a three-fold extensive magnitude. From this, however, it follows of necessity, that the propositions of geometry cannot be deduced from general magnitude-ideas, but that those peculiarities through which space distinguishes itself from other thinkable threefold extended magnitudes can only be gotten of experience. [italics mine] Hence arises the problem, to find the simplest facts from which the metrical relations of space are determinable--a problem which from the nature of the thing is not fully determinate; for there may be obtained several systems of simple facts which suffice to determine the metrics of space; that of Euclid as weightiest is for the present aim made fundamental. These facts are, as all facts, not necessary, but only of empirical certainty; they are hypotheses.

Riemann, in his inaugural dissertation "Ueber die Hypothesen welche der Geometrie zu Grunde liegen". If knowledge of space can only be gotten through experience; if space as we perceive it is only one of a number of thinkable threefold magnitudes (tenfold, string theorists!): how can it be called a priori?

Easily enough, as it turns out. Simply because experience is the occasion upon which we learn which magnitude space follows, does not mean that experience defines which magnitude space follows. Space is still, presumably, universal (everyone lives in the same space, which follows the same rules) and necessary (no one has outer intuition without it). If universal and necessary, then a priori.

What non-Euclidean geometry had done was to explain the faults in Euclid, not in geometry. Space may well be more complex than the featureless void we had imagined it to be, but why then should we have assumed it so simple? The a priori may well be exceedingly complex. As someone once pointed out, if you assume that space does not condition things, take a knife and a potato and cut a seven-edged solid. I'll go further: if you assume space does not condition things, what good is it? If it is the form of outer intuition, we ought not to be surprised when it insists on forming things its own way.

Kant may not have conceived of a space as odd as the one in which we live. But his arguments remain convincing. Moreover, please note that he makes no claims as to where the a priori forms of intuition come from. He never says that they descend from some spirit world; they might well have simply evolved. It's impossible to say.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Disappointingly formulaic interview with Pamela Dean in Geek World. Still better than nothing.
All right, it isn't my birthday. But I wanted to take this article to task for suggesting that free trade is enough to stop war. Anybody remember World War I? It was considered an absurdity that states so intertwined with each other would risk so much in war. We've heard the same story time and again, as states which traded amongst themselves decide more may be gained with warfare. The only time states don't fight--and here I except a few, a very few states in all of history--is when they think they'll lose. It's not yet time to trade with our enemies. It's time to convince them that if they fight, they will die. Sans virgins.

Bloodthirsty way to return, but there it is.

I should add that I'm a big fan of getting rid of protectionism, particularly (at the moment) in the steel and agricultural industries. But to claim it a panacea is either to be ignorant of history, or willfully to ignore it.

Friday, September 05, 2003

After I recovered from my virus, my computer contracted its own. I have decided to make this event a sign; combined with the continued descent of this blog's brow, it tells me to take a break. I'll post again on my birthday, when I have enough intelligent thoughts stored up to make it look like I have at least one a day.