Sunday, October 30, 2005

quomodo sedet sola civitas
plena populo
facta est quasi vidua
domina gentium
princeps provinciarum
facta est sub tributo
A Tolkein work I'd never heard of: an original poem in Gothic (annotated version here). Euphonious excerpt:
Brunaim bairiþ bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.
Courtesy of Languagehat.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Man-high, smooth-coated in short blackly iridescent feathers, red of eye and each wearing a diamond-studded Regency orange collar, Washington and Moscow were delivered to Lothar IV by the Sisterhood. Thenceforth, they accompanied Lothar IV everywhere he went, standing outside his chambers when he slept, beside him as he ate. They became his trademarks, and his joys, and the agents of his Regental wrath as well.


"Well, my hearties!" Lothar IV stroked the long muscle-bulged necks of his arcane synes-companion, and Washington and Moscow whistled softly from somewhere deep in their throats. They bobbed their long toothed heads and flicked nictating membranes birdlike across their stony eyes as they stood there beside him.... Again the Regent winked; the scans turned to the three terrified cooks, the guards stepped away and Dyson Tessier closed his eyes as Washington and Moscow raised the feathery crests at the back of their narrow skulls and advanced to the task of sacrificing the Regent's three scapegoats.
--The Helix and the Sword, John C. McLoughlin

Closer every day.
Megafowl Inc. is proud to announce the culmination of its extensive research program in chicken biology with the arrival of the SuperHEN® II, a transgenic domestic chicken that has set new records for height and weight.

"Our first two prototypes, a cock whom we call 'Meehan,' and a hen named 'Linda,' are representative of a new generation of chicken. Advances in biotechnology have enabled us to reach new pinnacles in avian breeding," said Dr. Fritz Mazzocchi (mah-ZO-chee), founder and CSO of Megafowl Inc.

"Meehan" stands five feet tall, and weighs approximately 143 pounds, or 65 kilograms. "Linda" is four feet, seven inches, and weighs approximately 103 pounds, or 46.8 kilograms, reported Dr. Mazzocchi.
A heck of a lot closer than any posited Singularity, anyway. I wonder if Dr. Mazzocchi has had any luck with the Alligatron.
Following advice from La Larissa, as one must and does, I have begun Brideshead Revisited, and I feel like I have discovered a new color or a new kind of light. What an astonishingly perfect novel it is. I want to quote at length from it. Charles has just left Brideshead in disgrace, and is determined that in leaving it behind he will also leave behind illusion. "Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions--with the aid of my five sense." But in Paris he gives a dinner for Rex, and the tragedy of the schism between mind and body, and the impossibility of leaving behind illusion, is drawn.
He plainly wished to talk of his own affairs; they could wait, I thought, for the hour of tolerance and repletion, for the cognac; they could wait until the attention was blunted and one could listen with half the mind only; now in the keen moment when the maître d'hôtel was turning the blinis over in the pan, and, in the background, two humbler men were preparing the press, we would talk of myself.
And the meal itself goes back and forth between news of the family Charles loves, told by the efficient--the very efficient--Rex, and the food before him:
"I'll tell you a thing, Charles, that Ma Marchmain hasn't let on to anyone. She's a very sick woman. Might peg out any minute. George Anstruther saw her in the autumn and put it at two years."

"How on earth do you know?"

"It's the kind of thing I hear. With the way her family are going on at the moment, I wouldn't give her a year. I know just the man for her in Vienna. He put Sonia Bamfshire on her feet when everyone including Anstruther has despaired of her. But Ma Marchmain won't do anything about it. I suppose it's something to do with her crack-brain religion, not to take care of the body."

The sole was so simple and unobtrusive that Rex failed to notice it. We ate to the music of the press -- the crunch of bones, the drip of blood and marrow, the tap of the spoon basting the thin slices of breast. There was a pause here of a quarter of an hour, while I drank the first glass of the Clos de Bère and Rex smoked his first cigarette. He leaned back, blew a cloud of smoke across the table, and remarked, "You know, the food here isn't half bad; someone ought to take this place up and make something of it."
I loved that, after remarking that not taking care of the body had something to do with Lady Marchmain's Catholicism, Rex "failed to notice" the simple and unobtrusive sole. Rex has a talent for reverse alchemy: he can turn anything into dross. Charles, who has saved the best wine (here, cognac) for last, sees this miracle despised. And after the feast, we learn that the wedding of Rex and Julia, an event which this same miracle became the first sign and which was thereby hallowed even further, was no celebration, although we do not learn the details.

I have not finished; if anyone tells me anything about the rest of the book I will find them and cause them unimaginable distress. Brideshead Revisited is one of those books, like The Wind in the Willows, or The Reivers, that one wishes one could read again for the first time. Thus: Unimaginable. Distress.
Yes. I could not possibly agree more.
So what of the world, and art's place in it? I can only go by the evidence of my own experience, small and insignificant in the larger scheme as that is. But it is this: that art, so far from engaging the world, should provide the means by which we are encouraged to transcend it. Turning from the ridiculous to the sublime, it is this which differentiates works like, say, Tristan, the canvases of Mark Rothko and the music of Morton Feldman from works like Angels in America, the canvases of Rauschenberg and the music of–oh, I don't know, everybody from Eminem to Kander & Ebb. As Kant will happily tell you, there's no escaping the boundaries of human sensual experience, but as Schopenhauer will whisper in your ear, you can always seek to transcend it through renunciation of the world and through the highest expressions of sensuality itself.
I can only add a quote from Tolkien:
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which 'Escape' is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
--On Fairy-Stories, 1938 Andrew Lang Lecture, University of St. Andrews

Original link from About Last Night.
Further yarn atrocity: the digestive system.

From the Corner.
And, because I'm reading Eurekalert, I've learned that we're one step closer to quantum computers:
Experiments on single nitrogen–vacancy (N–V) centres in diamond, which include electron spin resonance, Rabi oscillations, single-shot spin readout and two-qubit operations with a nearby13C nuclear spin, show the potential of this spin system for solid-state quantum information processing. Moreover, N–V centre ensembles can have spin-coherence times exceeding 50 s at room temperature. We have developed an angle-resolved magneto-photoluminescence microscope apparatus to investigate the anisotropic electron-spin interactions of single N–V centres at room temperature. We observe negative peaks in the photoluminescence as a function of both magnetic-field magnitude and angle that are explained by coherent spin precession and anisotropic relaxation at spin-level anti-crossings. In addition, precise field alignment unmasks the resonant coupling to neighbouring 'dark' nitrogen spins, otherwise undetected by photoluminescence. These results demonstrate the capability of our spectroscopic technique for measuring small numbers of dark spins by means of a single bright spin under ambient conditions.
The Diamond Age is looking prescient. Full article; registration required.

Untimely torn from waterbones.
What would we do without researchers?

Lack of sex could be signpost to extinction, claim researchers.
The f. of the s. is more d. than the m. This article records a cool example of very quick speciation.
Picky female frogs in a tiny rainforest outpost of Australia have driven the evolution of a new species in 8,000 years or less, according to scientists from the University of Queensland, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

"That's lightning-fast," said co-author Craig Moritz, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. "To find a recently evolved species like this is exceptional, at least in my experience."

The yet-to-be- named species arose after two isolated populations of the green-eyed tree frog reestablished contact less than 8,000 years ago and found that their hybrid offspring were less viable. To avoid hybridizing with the wrong frogs and ensure healthy offspring, one group of females preferentially chose mates from their own lineage. Over several thousand years, this behavior created a reproductively isolated population - essentially a new species - that is unable to mate with either of the original frog populations.
The northern females didn't care which breed they mated with, and their offspring grew to adulthood, although more slowly than north/north or south/south offspring. The offspring of southern females who mated with northern males, however, never moved past tadpole stage. Southern females became pickier; southern males further differentiated their song from northerners. Reinforcement as evolutionary engine.

Also worth noting is the researcher's statement that the rainforest serves almost as an archipelago:
"In this tropical system, we have had long periods of isolation between populations, and each one, when they come back together, have got a separate evolutionary experiment going on. And some of those pan out and some don't. But if they head off in different directions, the products themselves can be new species. And I think that's kinda cool. It gives us a mechanism for very rapid speciation."
There's no inherent advantage to a high-pitched mating call.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Oh yes, I got married, didn't I? Jolly good thing too, I highly recommend it, provided you can find a willing partner of the caliber of my Jack or Kate. I also recommend a Bokharan wedding robe, since it makes you feel that you may command anyone importunious to be cast forthwith into the bug pit. Farewell to importunity! Contemplating bizarre forms of execution is a very useful release valve when planning a wedding, believe me.

The bride ponders the fearful burden of being "helpmeet" to such a fellow.

You Knit What??
I know! A double breasted jacket with a poncho-esque collar! A poncho-esque collar that resembles football* player shoulder pads! With fringy bits all over! 'Cause fringe rules! And a wide open neckline that won't keep me warm at all! With sleeves that are too short!!! Hooray!
All right, at last, I'll post something: (full disclosure: I just sent Glenn Reynolds a very mundane e-mail, but I'm terrified lest, in some chance drunkeness or other neurological affliction, he be fool enough to link to us.)

First, courtesy of John Derbyshire is a really wonderful and very un-PC sample of the poetry of Bertans de Born. Excerpt (trans. Ezra Pound):

And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might 'gainst all darkness opposing.
Here's a good and quite correct opinion from John J. Miller on why one ought to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe before The Magician's Nephew. It contains some very good advice from Lewis on approaching literature, which I had not run across before:
He believed that readers should try to share a poet's consciousness rather than study it. "I look with his eyes, not at him," wrote Lewis. "The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says 'look at that' and points; the more I follow the pointing of his finger the less I can possibly see of him." Lewis put the matter more succinctly in a letter toward the end of his life: "An author doesn't necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else."
That has certainly been my experience with poetry (which shall never be reproduced here). I the author am the last person who had any clue what I was writing. The effects I intended were either unnoticeable or appalling; any real inspiration was only noticed by myself months later. Any lover of classical music is quite aware of this. The interiors of Handel, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner, Debussy, &c are not psyches to which I want any priveleged access. But the works which were somehow born of them are the best we humans can boast of.

I think I enjoy landscape photography so much because it combines the delight of boasting with the virtue of promoting a genius not one's own. It doesn't create; it just points a finger in skillful fashion. If you agree, check out Jim Wark's pictures at Airphoto.
His gallery is endless, with brilliant shots of the entire American West, as well as industrial, geological and meteorological subjects.

Finally, if you have anything to spare, consider donating to relief for the Kashmir earthquakes. The relief efforts really seem to be hard up, and surely the people are truly desperate. I know the Katrina folks have it rough, but most of them have rooves and food by now. The Kashmiris are facing cold, unpleasant death, soon. Those of us who have bivouaced in high country know that exposed nights in the mountains are no joke. Imaging sleeping on the ground in the above photograph. Please help.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Thank you Steve for pointing out this object.

It's a member of a very rare set, viz. modern sculpture that's intriguing. It's intriguing because it's mathematical, of course:

The subject of the projection is a regular 4-dimensional solid of intermediate complexity, which Ocneanu calls an "octacube." It has 24 vertices, 96 edges and 96 triangular faces, which enclose 24 three-dimensional "rooms." Windows cut in faces allow the viewer to see within the structure, the same way that a window in a cubic room opens to the inside of the cube. Physically, the sculpture is a giant puzzle of 96 triangular pieces cut from stainless steel and bent into spherical shape.
How wonderful! I can't comment on the mathematics, as a) the article doesn't offer enough, and 2) honestly, I can barely visualize a simple hypercube. Again I say, how wonderful! I also find the hopes of the sculpture's sponsor refreshingly optimistic concerning the spiritual benefits of experiencing mathematical truth: "It would be great if everyone who views the Octacube walks away with the feeling that being kind to others is a good way to live." She need fear no disappointment of this noble desire: for the regularity and beauty of noumenal truth can never fail to regulate and beautify the soul, and though such truth move the soul only through the shadowy and imperfect pathway of the senses, yet still, if she be allowed to come into contact with the inward mind of man, his deepest mind will surely seek accord with such evident perfection.

Can anyone point me toward more photos or better explanation of this creation?

There really ought to be a name for the realization that not only has one seen this episode of the Simpsons before, but one can recite the entirety of the dialogue without prompting.
To steal a phrase in some disuse, This Week I Am In Love With: Lucy Honeychurch.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Everyone needs the occasional recipe for a zesty vinaigrette.
I'm not worried either. Bird flu is over-hyped.
I have been watching the progress of bird flu with attention if not exactly alarm. Being I hope a prudent sort, and one who believes in self- sufficiency, I have laid in a supply of Tamiflu and have Relenza on order. But this story is becoming the hysteria of the week, replacing even hurricanes. Does anyone even remember West Nile hysteria? SARS?

The worst aspect may be that it strengthens the hands of the ever- eager and rather strange new coalition of animal rights activists, big ag, and ambitious congressmen (see here for a gushing article on Rick Santorum, the "conservative" presidential hopeful in bed with PETA) who want the iron hand of government to clamp down on pet keepers, breeders of small creatures, hunting dog owners, and practicioners of small- scale sustainable farming.
Rick Santorum. Is there anything about that guy that isn't creepy?
Yes, it is true: I am appallingly ill-read. But in my defense, the list of 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century was made up almost entirely of...well, of 20th century novels, which are as a rule mad, bad, and deadly dull to read. We're working off the Radcliffe Publishing List; which follows, should you have any desire to check my illiteracy. Bolded, I've read.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
23. Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
38. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
39. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
40. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
41. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence

49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
51. My Antonia by Willa Cather
52. Howards End by E. M. Forster
53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
57. Sophie's Choice by William Styron
58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
59. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
61. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
64. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
66. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
68. Light in August by William Faulkner
69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
72. A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Tokias by Gertrude Stein
79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
85. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
87. The Bostonians by Henry James
88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
93. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling

96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster
99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
100. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

This is not a meme, should such things even exist. This is a conscious thought and free-will blog (with occasional slips).

Saturday, October 22, 2005

For let it be granted that it has a beginning. A beginning is an existence which is preceded by a time in which the thing does not exist. On the above supposition, it follows that there must have been a time in which the world did not exist, that is, a void time. But in a void time the origination of a thing is impossible; because no part of any such time contains a distinctive condition of being, in preference to that of non-being (whether the supposed thing originate of itself, or by means of some other cause). Consequently, many series of things may have a beginning in the world, but the world itself cannot have a beginning, and is, therefore, in relation to past time, infinite.
--Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Neener. I thought these antinomies were old news. The previous article also fails to convince.

And no, Proclus, this doesn't mean I'm a Kantian.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Reid Farmer is on a roll over at Querencia. So far as I can tell, the theme is "preserved things".
Warning: spoilers for the Penultimate Peril.


Sunny's Sense of Sin. I wish I had taken Mr. Snicket's warnings seriously. I dismissed them as hyperbolic. But as the Baudelaires have grown, and begun to make their way in the world, I see that when he advised me to "put this book down and escape safely...because this awful story is so very dark and wretched...", he was accurate enough. I am no longer sure, in the easy, careless way I was previously, that everything will end well.

I had assumed that it would. The series had the trappings of a fairy-tale: the lost parents, the evil replacement, the convoluted quests with their seemingly nonsensical rules. The happy ending was part of the deal. But a change has taken place in the challenges faced by the Baudelaires in recent books.

I hate feeling helpless. It drives me to distraction when a character in a book or movie is confronted with such overwhelming opposition that resistance is useless. When someone is trapped or beaten I want to rescue them, to appear in the story with a swift roundhouse kick to the head of their attacker and make everything all right. The early perils of the Baudelaires all played to this impulse.

They were powerless children before the adult strength of Count Olaf (as, for example, when Olaf strikes Klaus). Only their sharp wits, their knowledge, and their loyalty to each other let them survive. This weapons are precisely those used by all children against adults. Helpless in any direct confrontation, the orphans became adept at temporary escapes and solutions. But they could never truly escape Olaf, because they lacked the power to implement a terminal solution.

As they grew up, however, they were no longer physically helpless. They were attacked seldom, and the villains began to rely on force multipliers in these confrontations. People stopped grabbing them successfully. Violet, and to some extent Klaus, matured as a sexual being, gaining, in a sense, a real body for the first time. When Sunny declared that she was not a baby, she spoke for all the siblings. They were no longer children, but agents in their own right. They could face their troubles on an equal footing.

Which ought to have been their triumph. They should have been able to do away with Count Olaf, rescue themselves and anyone else who needed it, and live happily ever after. I expected something along these lines.

But Mr. Snicket surprised me with a far more serious theme. Even as the Baudelaires gained power, the effects of its use came back to haunt them. They burned down the carnival, an act which hearkened directly to their enemies' methods. They began to question their own tactics, and their own righteousness. They learned regret.

The Penultimate Peril takes place in a great hotel, which is reflected in a pond before it so perfectly that at first glance one cannot tell the reflection from the reflected. It is managed by two identical brothers, one good, one evil. The constant presence of enantiomorphs plays to the Baudelaires' growing inability to judge by appearances, as they were able to do successfully as children. Now their choices have consequences that reach beyond themselves. It also highlights their ambivalence to their new roles as agents rather than victims. None of them can answer the question, "Are you who I think you are?". The mirrored hotel, the mirrored people bring with them a loss of identity.

If the Grim Grotto taught them that people are not simply villains or volunteers, but a sort of chef's salad, the Penultimate Peril teaches them not that they cannot trust others--a lesson they have learned time and again--but that they cannot trust themselves. When Violet helps Carmelita obtain a harpoon gun, is she acting as a volunteer or a villain? When that harpoon gun goes off and kills their friend Dewey? When the children assist Olaf in burning down the hotel?

The Baudelaires are confronted with a change in identity brought on by a loss of innocence. From a simple tale of good, but powerless children outsmarting an overwhelming evil (the solution to which dilemma would be, gain power), the Series of Unfortunate Events has become a story of three children becoming adults: gaining power even as they lose faith in their ability to use that power with wisdom. The lines between good and evil, which were smeared in previous books, are erased completely now.

We've seen this confusion before, in the constant failure of those around them to develop a maxim with universal applicability; i.e. a categorical imperative. "He (or she) who hesitates is lost", "Give people what the want", etc. all failed in the end. The lesson the Baudelaires have learned is not to trust maxims. But they have not yet learned by what standards they may judge. Or even, in the face of these maxims' constant failure, if such standards exist.

They have lost their innocence and joined forces with the worst villain of them all. Even as they begin to penetrate the mysteries of VFD, learning the codes and customs which so excited them before, these studies seem frivolous in the face of one unanswered question: What does it mean to be a good person? And what do I do if I'm not one?

Because even the goodness of their parents in brought into question. Kit Snicket tells a thrilling tale of espionage at the opera. But her story gains terrible significance when other information strongly suggests that the Baudelaire parents orphaned Olaf. Is the entire story not one of valiant volunteers and vicious villains, but instead a cycle of violence and vengeance? We do not learn the details. But this possibility tears away the last moral certainty of the orphans. If they can't trust the VFD, nor yet their friends, nor their parents, nor, it seems, themselves, what is left for them?

It's a question everyone must deal with at some point. What do I do, now that I am no longer a good person? What do I do, now that I can't make it right? What do I do, now that I don't even know what it means to be good? It's a serious question, and a genuinely heart-wrenching one. I wish I knew how the Baudelaires will answer it.
Natalie Solent on Horatio Nelson's piety. I've always liked Mr. Hayes' prayer:
Oh Lord, we are about to join battle with vastly superior numbers of the enemy, and, Heavenly Father, we would like for you to be on our side and help us; but if you can't do it, for Christ's sake don't go over to the enemy, but just lie low and keep dark, and you'll see one of the damndest fights you ever saw in all your born days. Amen.
Elsewhere, they have acquired the letters of an eleven-year-old midshipman who was at Trafalgar.

Via Cronaca.
Parrots on the bass, alas. Hatebeak has the most talented avian vocalist in the realm of metal. That I've heard.
How do recording sessions look like? What tricks do you use to make Waldo sing the way you want him to? Or maybe you record his vocals first and then try to mix it with the music?

WALDO is quite talkative and has always responded to music in general. We can tell he likes metal because he stands on one leg when he's happy. This happens anytime we play Carcass, Left Hand Path by Entombed, pretty much anything from the early Earache catalog (except Scorn). He's also a big Tomas Skogsberg fan. No Scott Burns, though, he gets cranky and soils his cage if we play Deicide or Obituary. He gets very hyper and talkative when we play music he likes and we usually record his outbursts following an extended listening period. We take the best parts and track them with the rest of the music.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

And Proclus weighs in on Miers. I vaguely remember that discussion, despite being across the room when it took place.
BellaLinda is absolutely right about these patterns:
Please, can we let the furry yarn thing go away and die peacefully now? The whole magazine is full of it, from the Falling Leaves Jacket that is almost freeform loveliness, except where the mange hasn't taken it yet, to Glitz on the Go! (does anyone really need a fuzzy, hot pink jacket?), to the Heaven-Sent Wrap Jacket that appears to be made from a skinned Wookie. (View all the oddities on the Contents page.)

And I want to slap whoever coined the term "mancho." I suppose it would accent one's murse (man purse) quite well, but for the rest of us...No. Just. No.
These patterns are the crochet equivalent of Vogon poetry.
This sort of ranking really ought to be handicapped for difficulty of conquest, as well as duration of rule. Genghis Khan would still be way out in front of the pack, though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Why do we believe in God? One might take the wild leap of asking some believers. But instead, since the belief in a Prime Mover is so absurd as to be unworthy of the millenia of discussion men have engaged in regarding it, we'd better just chalk it up to some genetic advantage inherent in being wrong. Having posited the existence of such a gene, let's find it!

I'm more and more distressed to see each and every idea thrown into the sausage grinder of hard Natural Selection. Don't get me wrong: I am no Creationist, nor do I think I.D. has any demonstrable validity. But creatures have survived under rather greater difficulties than spending one day a week at rest. Societies have survived under some rather peculiar taboos. A brief study of history will show that not only do customs have more causes and effects than we know, but more than we can know.

Moreover, it is rather frightening to see that the search for truth has been reduced to the search for ideas which allow us to prosper. The test for truth must not be a test for an idea which provides an increased chance of survival, since the conditions for such survival (on a human level, anyway) change daily. To reduce it so is also to limit the permitted areas of inquiry rather astonishingly. Whether or not the non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part 1/2 has little to do with my projected lifespan. Presumably then this hypothesis has no possible proof.

Although this does give me an excellent idea for a new scientific method a la Emperor Frederick. Take two groups of children, indoctrinate each with one side of the hypothesis being debated, and release them into the wild. The group that survives is the one in possession of the truth.

And where does the gentleman get off using "religion" and "Christianity" as synonyms? Christianity is an astoundingly strange religion, as such things go; it claims that the infinite touched historical time in the form of a man, and has various records which support this claim. It is, shortly, a fact-based religion, in the empirical sense. If some evidence perfectly disproving the resurrection came to light, Christianity would crumble. Other elements of other religions, for example theism or moral assertions, would be unchanged. I can only think that the assumption is either that most Christians believe for reasons other than the evidence, and thus are essential identical with believers in other religions, or that such an oddity was simply ignored.

I've noticed, in fact, that all studies of religious belief with regard to modern science have been studies of Christianity (almost always Protestant), or, if the researchers are feeling charitable, Buddhism. Two of the strangest religions in the world (looking to their ontological claims) are the baseline? The most successful religions draw the most attention, naturally, but surely this same success indicates some significant difference between them and the failures. To lump them all together is evidence that one's conclusions on the matter are already formed.

I've said before that I think looking for a psychological cause for a belief is rude. Let me go a little further and claim that it is self-defeating. Unless one's opinion is that all men but oneself are mere meme-infected automata, to reduce all opinion to the product of environment and heredity, rather than conscious thought, is to invite that same reduction on oneself. And if one has decided against the existence of other minds, why is one discussing things at all?

In short, if you ask the wrong questions, you get a certain amount of nonsense back at you. You're apt to end up like Gunther in A Double Shadow, with a twenty-five volume attempt to define scientifically the term "aesthetic". "Religion" has not been so completely refuted that we need to investigate why a few silly people still follow outdated creeds.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Without mention of Lavoisier's heroic final experiment. Dr. Dalrymple discusses beheadings.
Charles I was beheaded with an axe: Such a death was considered nobler and more dignified than mere hanging, a form of execution unbecoming for the upper classes. Beheading remained the prerogative of the well-born in Europe until Dr. Guillotin, in the name of humanity, proposed his democratic beheading machine after the Convention decreed in 1792 that all executions henceforth should be by decapitation; the machine swiftly proved popular with the crowds and was last used in public in France in 1939. There was once a considerable and learned medical debate in France not only about the most humane method of severing the head from the body, but about whether consciousness survived beheading, the lips and eyes of the beheaded having sometimes been seen in the basket to move for some seconds after separation from the neck.

Since then, our sensibility in the matter of decapitation has changed greatly. During the war the Japanese beheaded many of their prisoners, not as a tribute to their nobility, but as an expression of complete contempt for them. This provoked our revulsion. Beheading of any kind henceforth seemed to us barbaric and primitive. One might have moral qualms about the hygienically sound, quasi-medical, almost euphemistic executions by injection that take place in chambers bearing a too-close resemblance to operating rooms, but no one would propose beheading as an alternative.
Via Tinkerty Tonk.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Serenity is a Burkean conservative movie. Am I really the first to notice?

UPDATE: VR pointed me here. The claim is made that the western (that is, bang! fill your hands you S.O.B. western, not the Not Eastern western) essence of Firefly necessitated the reactionary, traditional message. This seems like nonsense to me. But the article is worth a read.

UPDATE II: Another take. I have to admit that I didn't see any real equivalence drawn between the Alliance and the Reavers. Also, I don't think that it was democracy qua democracy being derided, but rather a corrupt pseudo-democratic system. Parallels to modern institutions left for the reader.

UPDATE III: Frustration over what might have been.

UPDATE IV: A more literary review.
On the Appropriate Division of a Platypus; Or, A Wedding Toast

The bride and groom having now divided amongst them the platypus, it is my amiable task to discuss the reasoning behind this act.

The whale and sturgeon, when taken off the coast of England, belonged to the King, because "of [their] superior excellence". Judged to be the royalty of their respective classes, they were the natural prey of that highest class of man. And so the platypus, which may well be judged the king and acme of monotremes.

Today the bride and groom are become the queen and king of a new household. They are royalty, in the truest sense of the word, just as Adam and Eve were true monarchs. Thus, their right to the platypus itself. But how to divide it?

One may see that the platypus is now in two unequal pieces, the groom receiving the anterior, and the bride the posterior, slice. So it was with the whale and sturgeon, with the king receiving the head, and the queen the tail. As Melville in Moby Dick points out, this division is on the surface nonsensical. The whalebone for ladies' accoutrements is from the head, not the tail. But, as he says, "an allegorical meaning may lurk here".

Let us consider the Apostle Paul's words on marriage, in his letter to the Ephesians.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one." This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The husband, then, is the head of the household, and appropriately receives the head of the beast, just as the woman receives the tail. However poor haberdashery this division may be, it is decent theology. When we learn that the head is where the whale's oil is found, and consider the use of oil in consecration, we contemplate the man's role as head of his wife, just "as Christ is the head of the church".

But the head has another use. It is the portion of its self that the whale uses against its enemies, smashing them to flinders, and potentially thus sacrificing itself. The husband is called on to be like Christ. He must not, then, hesitate to sacrifice himself for his wife; he must be prepared to break his body for her, that she may live, just as Christ sacrificed himself for all mankind.

Then, too, we must consider the wife, and the tail. The whale's strength is in its tail, and almost the whole of its motive force. This tail is a mighty helpmeet indeed! "The more I consider the tail, the more do I deplore my inability to express it." It is, Melville tells us, indomitable, sensitive, and graceful.

And so this head-and-tail division, which was nonsensical at first, serves to remind us of the true form of marriage. And the platypus is fertile ground for such analysis: one need only recall the venomous spurs of the rear legs, and draw the obvious conclusion.

But one must also remember that marriage is a uniting of man and woman. They are no longer separate, but must work together, and love one another without fail. Without this love, they are like a divided platypus: incapable of meaningful activity. While they have disparate roles, they are one flesh.

And so the bride and groom, the queen and king of their household, the church and her Christ, are become one body, head and tail, in the union of matrimony. Many years!
Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Peculiar, by this time off to Utah on their honeymoon. It has seldom been my privilege to witness something as sublime as these two, clearly deeply in love, joined together in matrimony. A lovely couple, a rolicking wedding. May God bless their union and grant them many years!