Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tornadic thunderstorm in White Sands.

One of the least successful trips of my life ended (unplanned and unsought) in White Sands. A bit of weather like this would only have been icing on the cake. Think car trouble, and a plan to propose to my girlfriend that gang'd far a-gley.
I meant to blog this discovery some time ago, and I'm sure you've all seen it by now, but cheers! for the possibilty of a Martian Sea.
Decent lecture on global warming by Mr. Crichton. Quibbles to follow.

The evidence suggests to me that global warming is occurring and has a man-made (the word "anthropogenic" is a abomination) component. There remain two questions: what effect will it have on the weather, and what should we do about it?

The first seems to me unpleasantly difficult to answer with any certainty, but I don't like messing with complex systems. Safety first when you're playing God, that's my motto.

What to do about it? Well, there I have an answer, but nobody likes it. Go nuclear! Let's get ourselves some of those nifty pebble-bed reactors and bring our energy production our of the Stone Age. We've been burning things for power since we first got thumbs. Let's advance a little, shall we?

This is not a popular stance. It falls smack into NIMBY trouble, and the word "nuclear" is enough to freak some people out. But no other source is adaptable enough for our current energy demands, and I see few signs of the world embracing a pastoral-romantical lifestyle. There is absolute a role for solar and wind power, as well as hydro-electric, in our lives. But I have yet to have it demonstrated that such sources can be anything more than augments to a more reliable one. Fusion? Call me when it's working.

Quibble two? Galileo's persecution is in fact the perfect example of Mr. Crichton's complaint. It was the Aristotelians of the time, as well as the men Galileo had ridiculed, who brought the Church's wrath on him; and that wrath fell due not only to concerns of heresy, but also the absence of decent evidence for Galileo's hypothesis. The Scientific American is acting not as the Church acted when confronted with Galileo's proofs, but even as scientists of the time reacted.

Via Naginata.
I believe we have beaten Mr. Barry to the latest in "snake found in toilet" stories.

Via Drudge.

But seriously, a little six footer? C'mon. The only way that could really hurt you is if Thulsa Doom shot it at you like an arrow. Although he would need one of those Yanomamo bows.
Images of Titan. But not from Huygens:
Several of the world's large ground-based telescopes were also active during this exciting event, observing Titan before and near the Huygens encounter, within the framework of a dedicated campaign coordinated by the members of the Huygens Project Scientist Team. Indeed, large astronomical telescopes with state-of-the art adaptive optics systems allow scientists to image Titan's disc in quite some detail. Moreover, ground-based observations are not restricted to the limited period of the fly-by of Cassini and landing of Huygens. They hence complement ideally the data gathered by this NASA/ESA mission, further optimising the overall scientific return
Via Eurekalert.

UPDATE: Ah, the things I don't know:
Titan is tidally-locked to Saturn, and hence always presents the same face towards the planet. To image all sides of Titan (from the Earth) therefore requires observations during almost one entire orbital period, 16 days. The trailing hemisphere is the one we see when Titan moves away from us in its course around Saturn. The leading hemisphere is the one on the other side.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Happy birthday to Georg Friederich Händel, in whom the world gained a great musician this day 1685 A.D. Moreover, the world avoided one more lawyer when Händel's father allowed him to study music.
How to Destroy the World.

The Earth was built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.

This is not a guide for wusses whose aim is merely to wipe out humanity. I can in no way guarantee the complete extinction of the human race via any of these methods, real or imaginary. Humanity is wily and resourceful, and many of the methods outlined below will take many years to even become available, let alone implement, by which time mankind may well have spread to other planets; indeed, other star systems. If total human genocide is your ultimate goal, you are reading the wrong document. There are far more efficient ways of doing this, many which are available and feasible RIGHT NOW. Nor is this a guide for those wanting to annihilate everything from single-celled life upwards, render Earth uninhabitable or simply conquer it. These are trivial goals in comparison.

This is a guide for those who do not want the Earth to be there anymore.

At least two of the methods made me want to write long posts about their impossibility, but that's exactly what makes this sort of thing so enjoyable: sitting around in one's lair, surrounded by like-minded maniacs, with everybody trying to prove that their way's best. Minions! Another Orange Crush!

I got it from Science Fiction Blog, who in turn got it from Electrolite.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Over the Rhine is playing Portland and Eugene. Since they seem to have planned past tours with the desire to avoid me as completely as possible, this is a rather nice development.
I wish I had the voice of Homer
To sing of rectal carcinoma,
Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,
Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.
Yet, thanks to modern surgeons' skills,
It can be killed before it kills
Upon a scientific basis
In nineteen out of twenty cases.
I noticed I was passing blood
(Only a few drops, not a flood).
So pausing on my homeward way
From Tallahassee to Bombay
I asked a doctor, now my friend,
To peer into my hinder end,
To prove or disprove the rumour
That I had a malignant tumour.
They pumped in BaSO4
Till I could really stand no more,
And, when sufficient had been pressed in,
They photographed my large intestine.
In order to decide the issue
They next scraped out some bits of tissue.
(Before they did so, some good pal
Had knocked me out with pentothal,
Whose action is extremely quick,
And does not leave me feeling sick.)
The microscope returned the answer
That I had certainly got cancer.
So I was wheeled into the theatre
Where holes were made to make me better.
One set is in my perineum
Where I can feel, but can't yet see 'em.
Another made me like a kipper
Or female prey of Jack the Ripper.
Through this incision, I don't doubt,
The neoplasm was taken out,
Along with colon, and lymph nodes
Where cancer cells might find abodes.
A third much smaller hole is meant
To function as a ventral vent:
So now I am like two-faced Janus
The only* god who sees his anus.
(*In India there are several more
With extra faces, up to four,
But both in Brahma and in Shiva
I own myself an unbeliever.)
I'll swear, without the risk of perjury,
It was a snappy bit of surgery.
My rectum is a serious loss to me,
But I've a very neat colostomy,
And hope, as soon as I am able,
To make it keep a fixed time-table.
So do not wait for aches and pains
To have a surgeon mend your drains;
If he says 'cancer' you're a dunce
Unless you have it out at once,
For if you wait it's sure to swell,
And may have progeny as well.
My final word, before I'm done,
Is 'Cancer can be rather fun.'
Thanks to the nurses and Nye Bevan
The NHS is quite like heaven
Provided one confronts the tumour
With a sufficient sense of humour.
I know that cancer often kills,
But so do cars and sleeping pills;
And it can hurt one till one sweats,
So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.
A spot of laughter, I am sure,
Often accelerates one's cure;
So let us patients do our bit
To help the surgeons make us fit.

-- J.B.S. Haldane

Who was a real bastard, by the way, but could turn out the doggerel. I see it illustrated by Edward Gorey.
Violence is a currency accepted by all mortal merchants!

Your iPod's glaring whiteness is relaying signals back to the humans. Protect yourself from harmful rays in style with this hand-crafted hip cozy made of (possibly) organic felt.
Squamous...rugose...what more could I ask? And how great is that "(possibly)"?

Ganked sans peur et sans merci from Eve Tushnet.

Lucy's Sense of Snowe

As Kate has mentioned, I've been reading Villette, and finding it very odd. Part of the problem is that its companions on my nightstand are mostly Germans, which give an unfortunate contrast to anything written well. Reading translated German slowly begins to give one the false impression that anything incomprehensible is necessarily deep with meaning;¹, and contrariwise that anything one can enjoy is intellectually shallow, which Villette certainly is not.

But it is well written, and it is odd. For the first two or three chapters I was uncertain as to the identity of the main character. The narrator had a distinct voice, but Polly seemed to demand the reader's attention, as did young Graham. Polly shows up like a fairy-tale princess to the house; her father is ill, her mother dead, and she herself is "a neat, completely fashioned little figure, light, slight, and straight. Seated on my godmother's lap, she looked a mere doll; her neck, delicate as wax, her head of silky curls...."

A proper fairy-tale would have Lucy as its heroine. It is after all her godmother with whom she and Polly stay, and Lucy would therefore seem to have the rights to any bounty to be distributed by that time-honored agent of advancement. She refuses them. Later, she will refuse Graham himself, in a typically subtle, unacknowledged way. It is no accident that Lucy Snowe tells her story in the first person. She tells the reader as much as she pleases, which often pleases the reader rather less. We know nothing of Lucy's family, from start to finish. We are withheld information vital to our understanding of her actions, and even the ending is deliberately ambiguous. My wife continues to insist that the book ends happily; I am not as confident.

Lucy's relationships with others are, I think, all attempts to lessen the pain of their refusal to affect and be affected by her. She is desperate for someone who will take her seriously: consider not only her pleasure but her good; listen when she speaks and speak when she listens. When she cannot find such a person, she withdraws into loneliness.

The philosopher, we are told, is never lonesome. Socrates was noted not only for his ability to deal with all men as equals, but also for his long spells of silent thought, indifferent to his surroundings, presumably rapt in contemplation of the movement of the spheres.
He started wrestling with some problem or other about sunrise one morning, and stood there lost in thought, and when the answer wouldn't come he still stood there thinking and refused to give it up. Time went on, and by about midday the troops noticed what was happening, and naturally they were rather surprised and began telling each other how Socrates had been standing there thinking ever since daybreak....Well, he stood there till morning, and then at sunrise he said his prayers to the sun and went away.
Of course, Socrates has a constant companion in his daimon, which tells him what not to do. His method of inquiry, dialogue, requires this sort of doubled self, which apparently suffices for him. Indeed, "I think it better, my good friend, that my lyre should be discordant and out of tune, and any chorus I might train, and that the majority of mankind should disagree with and oppose me, rather than that I who am but one man should be out of tune with and contradict myself." (emphasis added, naturally). Harmony, of course, requires at least two notes, and Socrates, though one man, claims to have at least those two notes within himself. He is self-sufficient; within himself he finds a partner which allows him to set boundaries for himself--to define himself.

Lucy stands in stark challenge to this claim. She has no such company within her. Anything she finds within her is only herself, and therefore useless for the purpose of self-definition. Only through some outside interaction can she test the boundaries of her self and thereby discover and claim them. And only human interaction can accomplish this for her. The most harrowing passage in the book comes after Lucy is bereft of even the elemental company of Ginevra Fanshawe, Mme. Beck, and the other dim students and faculty of the school.
[T]he house was left quite empty, but for me, a servant, and a poor deformed and imbecile pupil, a sort of cretin whom her stepmother in a distant province would not allow to return home.

My heart almost died within me; miserable longings strained its chords. How long were the September days! How silent, how lifeless! How vast and void seemed the desolate premises!... My spirits had long been sinking; now that the prop of employment was withdrawn, they went down fast. Even to look forward was not to hope: the dumb future spoke no comfort, offered no promise, gave no inducement to bear present evil in reliance on future good.


The cretin did not seem unhappy. I did my best to feed her well and keep her warm, and she asked only food and sunshine, or when that lacked, fire. Her weak faculties approved of inertion: her brain, her eyes, her ears, her heart slept content; they could not wake to work, so lethargy was their Paradise.


It was some relief when an aunt of the cretin, a kind old woman, came one day, and took away my strange, deformed companion. The hapless creature had been at times a heavy charge; I could not take her out beyond the garden, and I could not leave her a minute alone; for her poor mind, like her body, was warped: its propensity was to evil. A vague bent to mischief , an aimless malevolence made constant vigilance indispensable. As she very rarely spoke, and would sit for hours together moping and mowing and distorting her features with indescribable grimaces, it was more like being prisoned with some strange tameless animal, than associating with a human being. There were personal attentions to be rendered which required the nerve of a hospital nurse; my resolution was so tried, it sometimes fell dead-sick.
It has become common to speak of the wonders of nature, the joys of it, and to see divinity in its works. We forget what a world deprived of meaning and reason looks like--a speechless, mindless thing, twisting itself into new shapes, behind which is a dull malevolence. I am reminded of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, when, as the heroes pursue Sunday, they discuss their impressions of him. The fanatical secretary has just decribed pouring his heart out before him.
"Then, after a long silence, the Thing began to shake, and I thought it was shaken by some secret malady. It shook like a loathsome and living jelly. It reminded me of everything I had ever read about the base bodies that are the origin of life--the deep sea lumps and protoplasm. It seemed like the final form of matter, the most shapeless and most shameful.... And then it broke upon me that the bestial mountain was shaking with a lonely laughter, and the laughter was at me."
The sensible Inspector Radcliffe insists that Sunday's true creepiness lies elsewhere: he is absent-minded. "Now, absent-mindedness is just a bit too awful in a bad man.... [H]ow do you bear an absent-minded man who, if he happens to see you, will kill you? That is what tries the nerves, abstraction combined with cruelty. Men have felt it sometimes when they went throught wild forests, and felt that the animals there were at once innocent and pitiless. They might ignore or slay. How would you like to pass ten mortal hours in a parlour with an absent-minded tiger?" And Chesterton is echoing, like Lucy, the unanswerable voice which answered Job.
Behold, Behemoth
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox.
Behold, his strength in his loins,
and the power in the muscles of his belly.
He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like bars of iron.

He is the first of the works of God;
let him who made him bring near his sword!
For the mountains yield food for him
where all the wild beasts play.
Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh.
For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him.
Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened;
he is confident though Jordan rushes against him.
Can one take him with hooks,
or pierce his nose with a snare?
This incomprehensible world is what is left to Lucy after the withdrawal of all speaking persons from her. It is notable that she faces the world in its appalling muteness, rather than retreating into a comfortable romanticism. Throughout the book we see this quality in her: she cannot be satisfied by less than true contact. Even when such contact is without any reason, without the element of humanity she longs for, she does not supply it herself. However, at the end of her vacation, the strain of this delirium drives her into what stands, for her, as the most abhorrent of creeds, and she enters into a Catholic church. "Any solemn rite, any spectacle of sincere worship, any opening for appeal to God was as welcome to me then as bread to one in extremity of want." This attitude mixes poorly with the amount of venom which is poured over Catholicism throughout the rest of the book. Lucy is at the last unable to bear this companionless world, and succumbs to seeking both divine and human company where she presumes neither is to be found. That the priest is revealed as the agent of her later distress drives home this point: never in falseness can one find relief (and seldom if ever in truth). Lucy leaves the chruch and collapses.

She awakes in a sort of dream: she has returned to the rooms of her youth, in her godmother's home. Every detail is just as it was years ago.

(More when I have time.)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Les Miserables the 2D fighting game. I play as Eponine, but Cosette will drop you so fast your beret will spin.

Via Mutant Frog.

UPDATE: As Enjorlas I managed to--I have no idea how--drop a barricade on my opponent and then climb onto it in triumph. Take that, forces of oppression!