Thursday, March 31, 2005

This situation is easy enough to avoid. But I wouldn't suggest my own method for anyone. Ever.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The sort of article about which I usually just post "interesting article" over at the Chronicle. But I think that it shows the modern misunderstanding of the ways in which we deal with the world.

A false dichotomy is espoused in the article:
Either our behavior is a consequence of prior events (modern readers can substitute "contingencies of reinforcement," "genetic predispositions toward fitness maximization," "electrochemical events taking place across neuronal membranes," and so forth), in which case we are not responsible for such actions, or it is truly spontaneous and thus random, in which case we are, if anything, even less responsible.
Why should this grim choice even need to be made? It's this relevation of 'free will' to the ability to choose, rather than that of creation that forces us into these dead-ends of inquiry. If we view the will as the faculty which decides between two choices, we are very quickly brought to the conclusion that the will is, rather, no faculty at all. If the choices are equal in worth, our will is random. If the choices are not equal, our choice is pre-determined ("for no one chooses evil over good"). The only option, when faced with two choices, is for the willing-subject to create a third.

Most people are creatures of habit, and all people are creatures of habit most of the time. Our habits give the impression that all our actions are predictable, but this hypothesis is manifestly false. I have a proof of this existence of free-will which does not work over the Internet. (It involves hitting.)

The real problem, however, is that this attempt to explain the past through various hypotheses about the origin of human behavior neglects to understand the needs of the future, though this is only to be expected. The faculty of reason is always and only interested in the past: it cannot deal in anything but the past. Even in its predictions it must create a "future past", in which the events it predicts are posited as, in a sense, already having occurred. Not only must their causes be found in the past, but the future which contains these events is itself present, in that reason hypothesizes it. The whole of time is, in this system, viewed "all at once"; as though we stood at the end of it and looked back. The faculty of the future, however, is the will, in the use of which we look forward.

The will, unlike reason, cannot deal with the past at all. Any attempt to bring it to bear on events past creates nothing but wind-eggs and daydreams. However, the will is perfectly capable of creating the future, and does so at each moment that we are conscious of our actions. When we are merely being creatures of habit, we create nothing, living out only the predictions of reason. When we are present, however, causality can have only the claims which it has previously established; it can dictate no terms not previously agreed upon.

Of course, with each moment that the will allows to slip from future to past, reason assumes domination of that moment, applying its categories and interpretations to what is now its rightful prey. Thus, causality, whose existence is no more firmly established than freedom, and is in fact the mirror image of that quality, presumes to dictate why and how such things have come about. The fact that presently we tend to believe firmly in reason and causality, and disbelieve in freedom and will, is an historical accident without philosophical basis. It is instead based on the undeniable fact that at this point in time more people are comfortable than at any other in history. We have sold our birthright for a pottage of lentils.

We view, then, all events through this distorted backwards glance, and deny the existence of anything before it. "It is one thing, however, to insist on being loved for one's self, and not, for example, because of a hefty trust account; quite another to demand that love emerge spontaneously, somehow bubbling up and taking form without any cause whatsoever." And yet a 'cause' for love is entirely unsatisfactory. One may have a ground and reason for love, and indeed should, but a caused love is not love at all. It is a great mystery, as G. K. Chesterton pointed out, that many things must be loved before they are loveable. This power of loving the unloveable cannot be justified retroactively. Only the forward-looking will can perform this task for us. It is the loss of faith in our power to do so--to change things for the better, to alter our own narrative of how things will be--that is so worrisome to me.

I should be the last to deny or decline to accept more control over the forces around me. But to claim that those forces are the only things in existence removes all reason for me to do so. Our goals are set, not be reason, which can only tell us what is, but by our will, which allows us to make things as they ought to be.

Via Arts and Letters Daily.

UPDATE:

I should probably mention Nietzsche. His myth of eternal recurrence is the ultimate vision of an eternal past. Since our will is an illusion, our only hope is to align ourselves with the events around us. What would we do, he asks, if a demon came to us and told us that we would live our lives over and over again wthout end? Personally, I'd kick the d-mned thing, but he suggests that there are moments when we would thank it.
Yep. And it doesn't taste like chicken (quite).

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Holy moly! This story can't possibly be getting the press it deserves. They found dinosaur soft tissue (T-rex, to be precise)!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Thursday, March 24, 2005

How odd. In any case, all responsibility for the image below is mine. Apologies.

Impale a Pike Posted by Hello

How to Deal with Fish


Dispatch all Shads
With an adze
But for Haddock
Employ a mattock.
Impale a Pike
Upon a spike
(Like a shrike.)
Beat your Perch
With rods of birch;
For Tench,
A wrench.
The Muskellunge
Must be well wrung.
The common Bream
Is drowned in cream.
Whiting
Wants biting.
Stab Crucian Carp
With anything sharp.
But only a lout
Would harm a Trout

--Adapted from various folk ballads and lore by G. W. Sleevesworth, O.F.M.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I see your patristics and raise you.

I am not terrifically serious about starting a "who can find the most writings of the Fathers of the Church online" contest. It is, however, a lot better than "words that start with vowels".
In truth I think opera, or falconry, or Greek poetry, or philosophy, or barnacles, or martial arts all to be worthy of a little obsession. Certainly they all reward it in precisely the manner you suggest. It's the niggling collection of crossroad gossip that's really worrisome--my own most prominent demon of which is encountered in the form of the Roguelike Game. I also recall a conversation we had while slinging, about the terrifying nearness of becoming connoisseurs of aerodynamic rocks....

But the great truths and disciplines illuminate not only themselves, but the source and method of knowledge, as you say. It's not just that one learns how to move from martial arts, but also that from moving, one learns the art.

I shall certainly miss your posts, but I do understand the apathy towards blogging. I've got a bit of it myself these days. My recent promotion at work has given me a number of new procedures (I feel exactly like I did in second grade, when I cheated on an art test and the teacher called on me first for the rest of the year, thinking that I knew what was going on) and... modes of being, I guess... to learn, which has made me less interested in (for example) tracking down articles about the Mount Mihara suicides. C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est le pomme de terre.

Heavens, my first paragraph reads Dadaist back to me, now that I look it over. That'll put marzipan in your pie-plate, bingo!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I can't exit on that last note, though. Here's a nice online collection of patristic writings, if anyone's interested. I quite like St. Basil the Great's Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature.
Yes, yes, Odious. I am of course the last person to deny that grand opera is a very dangerous habit indeed. But there are many worse: I could wind up as, say, a falconer married to an orchid grower, and attain really exalted heights of penurious insanity, a slave to organisms more imperious and seductive than any spear-wielding soprano. Or, on the other hand, I could join the Japanese Anne of Green Gables cult, and be a slave to... I really can't fathom what. Given my obsessive personality, I'm thankful I got off with something as easy as opera.

The problem is, of course, that any fascination worth having at all tends to reward deep involvement. History, geology, astronomy, biology, music (especially Wagner), Icelandic (and other) literature, Eastern Orthodoxy, all such friendships blossom sportive and run wild once the first seed has infiltrated. A branch of knowledge you once thought you could hold in your hand and admire as a fine but small adornment to the world, you now see broad beyond fathoming, permeating the world everywhere you look. Every minute of continued study rewards you with further unveilings; the impossibly strange becomes familiar and the familiar so wonderful you can scarcely remember how it looked on first acquaintance. Certainly such passions endanger your relationship with other realms of reality, and can even imperil the necessities of life (ahem, falconers!). But these subjects don't bloom in any other way, don't fully reward balanced, sober, non-obsessive study. If your intellectual passions aren't bearing such dangerous fruits, consider well that you may be wasting your time.

All this is apropos, I guess, in that my own deep engagement with one of the above-named fields has, to be honest, left me with very little interest in blogging. I'm sorry, readers, and I especially hope Odious will forgive me. But I just don't miss it. You haven't heard the last of me; I'm definitely not vowing never to post again. If I'm inspired to write a post then I'll write it. But it may not be very often.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Speaking of Pre-Raphaelites, here's a page with Dante Gabriel Rossetti's doodles. I am particularly fond of "Economies √Čl√©phantines", which is currently here at the Portland Art Museum. I would link directly to this charming pachyderm, but the page seems to lack the desired image.
William Holman Hunt
Was a religious chap.
His painting of a goat in the Holy Land
Is considered grand.
A quick wine review: the Siskiyou Vineyards 2000 Pinot Noir.

We picked up this wine on a whim, and are pleased to have done so. A deep nose of red and black cherry as well as plum. In the mouth, lovely, lovely oak and spice, though a bit too much fruit for my taste, and a hint of tobacco and leather. The finish is long and long on the palate and the sides of the tongue. It feels to me like it needs another year in the bottle, and could be laid up for five with great success, but we won't know until 2010, will we? Quite full-bodied, especially for a Pinot, and able to punch above its weight, so to speak, against a number of red meat dishes. Flank steak, yes please!
I should be much obliged in any reader might suggest a tune to which this poem of Anacreon's might be sung. Something rousing, and preferably without political connotations.
When Neil Gaiman cares to, he can write an excellent short story. I note that "Rache" also calls himself "Sigerson", which of course is from The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, by Mr. Daniel Pinkwater, and references the greatest detective in the world (and an accomplished avocado amateur), Osgood Sigerson. The Snarkout Boys also contains a passage some of us (and I include myself in this number) might do well to heed:

Everybody ate in silence until the Bullfrog Root Beer was served. Then the conversation at the table got started. Aunt Terwilliger began making a sort of speech about grand opera. She was against it. Later, Rat told us that her aunt had just about every opera recording ever made. Her aunt spent hours in her bedroom listening to them, but all the rest of her time was spent arguing that people shouldn't listen to operas, and, above all, they shouldn't go to see them performed. Rat said that Aunt Terwilliger makes regular appearances in Blueberry Park, where she tries to convince people to live their lives opera-free. She feels that operas take up too much time. Also, she has an idea that people who like opera will become unrealistic, and not take their everyday lives seriously. Most of all, she believes that operas are habit-forming, and once a person starts listening to them, it's hard to stop, and one tends to listen to more and more operas until one's life is ruined.

Aunt Terwilliger has pamphlets printed up that she hands out. Her most popular one is called "Grand Opera: an Invention of the Devil."
I can't be the only one who went through age fourteen with an enormous crush on Rat, can I?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Anatomy of a Political Post

The Title

Your Title should be memorable and humorous, and by "humorous" I mean contain a simplistic, humorless pun. For example, if you were discussing Canadian anti-trust reform, you'd want to "liven things up" by titling your post, "A Hole Lot of Trouble for Tim Horton's". You might even italicize hole, since you can never drive your point home too firmly! Notice how this Title fulfills the dictionary definition of a "joke" without the formal quality of funniness. Funniness, you see, might distract from your Vital Points.

The Body

The Body of your post is where you'll bring up those Vital Points, but first we need to introduce the reader to our subject. Your Opening Paragraph should not only give the reader the facts about the issue, but also establish the "slant" of your blog. The "slant" is the political perspective from which you address all issues. All issues. Without fail. "Slant" is why people come to your blog, so if you're blogging about how great kittens are, and you're a conservative, be sure to add something about how liberals hate kittens because they hate freedom. Otherwise you will lose your audience.

Now, the Opening Paragraph. Insofar as the aforementioned ("insofar" and "aforementioned" are what we call "six-dollar words". Use them lots; it doesn't matter where) Canadian anti-trust reform has been in the news, the National Fitz-Spielbergo has run a brief article quoting Sen. David Ivannajob (D-South Dakota) as saying, "If this will help us get more delicious donuts, I'm all for it." A conservative blogger's Opening Paragraph might read like the following:

"So the Demoncrats are finally admitting what we all knew anyway. They're trying to turn the U. S. of A. into red Canada. They want to take away our guns, and give us what in exchange? Donuts. Donuts won't protect you and your loved ones from crack-head atheist earthshoe-wearing plant-eating PETA terrorists when they break into your home at three in the morning to steal our values, like freedom, which they hate."
See? You've given the reader all the information contained in the article, as well as political commentary!

The great advantage of the blogosphere is the number of voices that address each issue, as opposed to the monolithic structure of "Old Media". As the body of your post continues, your Vital Points should reflect your own, unique views and experiences. Steal most of them from newspapers, and the rest from bigger bloggers. Don't forget a "hat-tip"!

The other advantage of the blogosphere is links. Make sure that your article has lots of them, making it seem as though you researched the issue thoroughly. The links can be to any d-mn thing, as no one follows them. Ever. At least one should be "real", however, in case someone does call you on it, so that you can "*sigh*" and point them to it, as though that answered all their objections.

Wrong:
"Naturally, rBST must be banned from all planets and satellites in the inner solar system. Trans-Jovian space should have heavy restrictions on this deadliest of chemicals, far more potent than heroin or depleted uranium when mainlined."
Right:
"Naturally, rBST must be banned from all planets and satellites in the inner solar system. Trans-Jovian space should have heavy restrictions on this deadliest of chemicals, far more potent than heroin or depleted uranium when mainlined."
As you continue writing, you'll find that you have some ideas that just don't fit into this post. No problem! One sentence paragraphs make even the dumbest, more irrelevant nonsense seem profound:
"...thus demonstrating the inherent flaws in the free-market system. The evidence is simply too weighty to ignore.

Everyone should have to wear see-through pants, so we can check if they're wearing underwear or not.

Socialists, marginalized in our classist, anti-transgressive society, have no choice but to invade Iceland and establish..."
Note how, after the one sentence paragraph (or "OSP"), the main argument was picked up as though nothing had happened. This is the blogging equivalent of picking your nose while talking to someone, and has the same distrating effect, confounding your opponent! For extra points, follow an "OSP" with several others, and get a reputation as a deep, heart-felt writer. Once again, the "OSPs" don't need to connect to each other or anything else.

"...a neo-Trotskyite utopia. Freedom can only bloom when watered by the blood of a thousand capitalist blondes.

I like Ikea.

Why can't people see? Why?

Sometimes I think discussing politics online is better than smelling pretty.

I could really go for a handful of Splenda packets right now.

Why? WHY?"
When you've run out of ad hominem attacks and slurs, you'll want to wrap this post up. You haven't got all day, after all! Unless, like many bloggers, you do, in which case, hey, go for it. For those of us with lives, it's time for our Conclusion, beginning with the Concluding Paragraph.

The Conclusion

The Concluding Paragraph is actually mis-named, and we'll get to why in a moment. Meanwhile, know that the Concluding Paragraph should summarize your argument as succinctly as possible, so that lazy people can skip to the end for their political affirmation.

"In conclusion, donuts are good, but Celine Dion should go back where she came from."
Or:

"To sum up, the obvious solution is to have all home-schooled children watched twenty-four hours a day by FBI agents through cameras hooked up to the Inter Nets. Only this way will there truly be No Child Left Behind."
With your Concluding Paragraph done, it's time for the real Concluding Paragraph. Just when everybody thought you were done, you get in one last zinger!

"...back where she came from.

They can send all the bacon they want, though."
Zing! Or:

"... will there truly be No Child Left Behind.

But I guess low taxes are more important to some people than the lives of our children."
Ka-POW, baby! Or:

"...radical opposition to bio-technological advances is inherently self-defeating.

Heh."
FLAWLESS VICTORY!

A nice touch is to add an "Additional Reading" section at the end of you post. This is a list of links purporting to pertain (that's twelve dollars right there!) to the matter of your post. As with links within the post proper, these links need have no connection to anything at all. Why not start with Homestar Runner?

In conclusion, good luck.

Monday, March 07, 2005

All of Calvin and Hobbes is available online.

Via Second Breakfast.

You can't see me, but I'm doing the Happy Hamster Hop.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Excellent post on the future of sumo at Mutant Frog.

For some time I followed sumo, tracking its champions and watching what few bouts I could. It was my secret ambition to become a sumo wrestler (and those of you who know my frame will laugh mockingly). I even--and in my defense, I was very young, and had somewhat confused ideas about the sport, equating it on some level with professional wrestling--had a pseudonym and costume picked out. The first should tell you something of the second; I was to be Usagi.
The most irritating website in the world. It's as though a million web-browsers suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
I'd like to stop linking Eurekalert, but I've been away, and they just keep pushing my buttons, as shown by this bit on hobbit brainpower.

"I thought the Homo floresiensis brain would look like a chimp's," Falk said. "I was wrong. There were fancier things on LB1's brain."
The slow dance of galaxies is slower than we thought.

Via ditto.
"It was just a joke! You mean those d-mn research assistants actually looked?"

Researchers find three major beetle groups coming up one testicle short

BERKELEY – A surprisingly large number of beetles are missing one of their testes, the male gonads of insects. As far as the researchers who discovered this can tell, the insects are not in any way bothered or impaired by this absence.

The discovery is striking because most animals are bilaterally symmetrical, which means the left and right sides of the body roughly mirror each other. This bilateralism extends to many internal organs, although some systems, such as the human heart and liver, develop or are positioned asymmetrically.

There are pictures.

Via Eurekalert.
Octopi indeed:
The Aquarium had an octopus expert, Roland Anderson, answering questions, so I soon asked him the one that has been bothering me. Among mammals and birds, the smartest are social, long lived, and have few children. Octopuses may be the smartest invertebrate, and they are asocial, short lived, and have many children. (If I caught one of the talks right, Sappho will be looking forward to somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 blessed events.) So, my question was: Why are octopuses so smart? Part of the answer is that they are not terribly smart, perhaps as smart as a rat, rather than a crow or monkey. For the rest, no one really seems to know, though some think that octopuses may have traded a shell for smarts millons of years ago.
The nice thing about evolution is that, as the old joke goes, we don't have to outrun the bear, we just have to outrun you. With "the bear" being perfection and "you" being the next species over, if that wasn't clear. To people who ask, Why this way and not another, the answer is usually, Well, then we'd be [species X], which does do things that way. It's just got to work; it doesn't have to be pretty.

Via the incomparable Natalie Solent.
Everything that the Romancer Who Awakens the World has written falls within the bounds of plausibility except the episode in which the young man buys a father, which does seem a trifle fantastic. When readers get to that point, they will think they have discovered a flaw in his writing and will apply their harshest critical standards. However, when they read on and see that the pair were originally father and son and that the adoption was "all Heaven's doing," they will find it quite normal and not in the least implausible. From this example we can see that writing well is like being a good man and doing good deeds; first you must surprise people, then tempt them to criticize you; and finally, when their suspicions have gathered and their resentment is on the rise, you suddenly reveal all the good things that accrue to your hero and convince them that it takes patient effort to be a good man and do good deeds, after which they will be loud in their praise. Grasp this point and you will know how to write--and also how to read.

--Li Yu, discussing his own work.
HeLa cells
Henrietta's cells were, and still are, some of the strongest cells known to science--they reproduce an entire generation every 24 hours. "If allowed to grow uninhibited," Howard Jones and his Hopkins colleagues said in 1971, "[HeLa cells] would have taken over the world by this time." This strength provided a research workhorse to irradiate, poison, and manipulate without inflicting harm; but it also meant research labs were only big enough for one culture: HeLa.

Though it took three decades for the Geys to succeed with their efforts to create a human cell line, after their success with HeLa, culturing cells became suspiciously easy. Researchers cultivated tissue samples from their own bodies and the bodies of their families and patients. Most grew successfully. Sure, the samples struggled during the first few weeks, or even months, in culture, but then, suddenly, they flourished. Samples blossomed into full-blown healthy cell lines with the strength of, well, the HeLa cell.

In 1974, a researcher by the name of Walter Nelson-Rees started what everyone called a nasty rumor: HeLa cells, he claimed, had infiltrated the world's stock of cell cultures. No one wanted to believe him. For almost three decades researchers had done complex experiments on what they thought were breast cells, prostate cells, or placental cells, and suddenly, rumor had it they'd been working with HeLa cells all along. To believe this would be to believe that years of work and millions of dollars had, in essence, been wasted.
We have Henrietta Lacks to thank for any number of treatments, including the polio vaccine. Her cancer became our cures.
No, seriously, the question is, do boundaries imply an unbounded?
Promoted at work. Dealing. Baksun!
Okay, I'm game:

"Shaaaaa!" (Seven Samurai) (Not Wayne's World, d-mmit!)

"Look at the size of that thing!" (Star Wars, A New Hope)

"It doesn't matter to be drunken or not." (Deadly China Hero)

"This day we fight!" (Return of the King)

"So I got that going for me. Which is good." (Caddyshack)