Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Death of Spock and Logic

One of my youthful heroes, Leonard Nimoy, has passed away, although there is a sense that he must surely come back to life in another episode.  What struck me is the notion of a future Federation of Planets where to be a leader you needed to be an impulsive, self-seeking moron.  Yet logic was still permitted within the geographic limits of this empire.  This permissiveness, however, wasn't due to any regard for logic, but rather an artifact of multi-cultural toleration among alien species.  The Act of Toleration of Logic was achieved only after several planet systems were obliterated and trillions of souls were exterminated.

It was our current era, however, where reason degenerated so that the greatest philosophical accomplishment of the 20th century was the bumper sticker, and of the 21st century, all the philosophical hopes of civilization were reduced to the Tweet.  Thus, Spock really represented an anachronistic character from the past plugged into a completely irrational future.  So live long and prosper.  But keep logic out of it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gender-Fascism and the Tech Industry

I have been seeing a steady stream of articles lamenting the low participation rate of females in the tech industry.  A selection of articles on computer science is here and here.  For engineering, we have this and that.  Given that I am a male engineer who happens to do a lot of coding, the clear takeaway from these articles is that I am a condescending chauvinist and also hostile and unwelcoming towards females.  Of course this should be obvious, since those who go into engineering and computer science typically relate to machines and equations much better than they relate to people, thus, we are all socially challenged.  What no one seems ready to study is whether or not engineers and computer scientists are equally condescending chauvinists, hostile and unwelcoming to their own gender.  And how do we behave towards kittens and puppies?

There is a flip side to this, that the dominance of women in many majors (medical assistants, education, psychology) is comparable to the dominance of men in engineering and computer science.  Anything involving people, whether dead or alive, will prefer females, so that the large majority of forensics students are female.  Then there is the fact that something like 60% of college degrees are awarded to women.  A popular version of this was part of the Grand Torino movie which left us with another famous quote from a Clint Eastwood movie:  "Hmong girls over here fit in better.  The girls go to college and the boys go to jail".

Clearly gender is a complicated thing.  Perhaps we can hope for a future convergence as bionic females attract more male interest due to the imbedded coding requirements and females take more of an interest in counseling and softening the artificial intelligence derived personalities of the terminators.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Vulcan Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is the one that disturbs my sense of the logical order of the universe more than any other.  Why is it that those female Earthlings are attracted to red roses?  And why is it that this ritual must take place in the middle of winter when flowers in their Northern Hemisphere are mostly not blooming?  Then there is the fact that if a husband fails to obtain roses for his wife on Valentine's Day, he will be condemned for having never bought a flower for his wife in his life, even if he had bought innumerable flowers for her at earlier times.  Then there is the issue that the flower must be cut, which greatly shortens the flower's life expectancy.  A flower in a pot with dirt won't do, even if it will continually bloom for months.  The Valentine's rose must also have the fresh cut fragrance, even if the recipient is allergic to the flower.  And we haven't yet gotten into discussing the history of this special day.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Loss of Faith in Science?

Full Disclosure:  I earn a living doing scientific and engineering software development, thus, I have a direct financial interest in this topic.

The San Jose Mercury News has this editorial: "Scientists must solve growing trust problem."  I don't believe in the existence of these mythological beings called "scientists", but there seems to have been a convention where thousands of people dressed up for SCIENCE-CON, which is a bit like COMIC-CON (TM), except that the costumes are different.

Anyway, they are worried about the loss of faith trust in science.  No, this really isn't a joke.  The country that has been indoctrinated more than any other on the conflict between faith and science now has "scientists" worrying about the lack of "trust", which is a synonym for faith.

Setting this aside, the intellectualoids really are facing a new problem.  Conservatives have been the main doubters over the past 150 years, but the general response to conservative doubts has been to vastly increase the funding.  The most infamous was that of the fetal stem cell ban that conservatives tried to enforce, since it involved aborted fetuses.  The Dr. Frankensteins took this and whipped up hysteria about the anti-science freaks.  Eventually this landed them billions of taxpayer funds.

The problem now is that big science means big pharmacy, big medicine, big agriculture, and big chemicals for food substitutes.  This has the left's voter base freaking out, which is a completely different dynamic than upsetting conservatives.  Then there is the more basic leftists moral and justice concerns about a professor earning $250,000 per year doing taxpayer subsidized R&D for a rapacious multi-national corporation when there are poor people going to bed every day who didn't get to smoke some marijuana that day.  And why is the government not working harder to increase the production and purity of hallucinogens?

Of course the "scientists" weren't bothered at all from the 60's through the 90's as this same class of people bought their magic crystals and went into new age spirituality.  But now this is costing real money, and the SCIENCE-CON gurus have noted a 10% drop in science funding over the last 6 years, in spite of the fact that we have a pro-science president.

I won't pass any judgment on this.  It is just fun to sit back and note the various strains of cognitive dissonance that flow through our society.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Guizot: On the origin of Communes

The chapter on Communes and the Third Estate gives a rather surprising (to me) explanation for the origin of the Communes.  These begin as a response to Feudalism, so Feudalism needs to be understood first.  After the Germanic invasion, there was no central government and petty nobles gradually took control of lands that extended about as far as you could see from the top of your house.  That is, there were countless little zones of several square miles ruled by a lord, protected by knights, and these would enslave and tax the serfs.  Since squabbles between the petty lords were endless, so was the need for taxation.  For towns, we generally had the same situation, except that the petty noble was usually tied in with the bishop, unless the bishop was the petty noble.

When the peasantry revolted and deposed the petty noble, or perhaps executed the bishop and burned his property, there would be a brief time of self governance.  This was a commune.  The problem was that the sort of uncivilized barbarity that characterized the bishops and nobles and which prompted the peasants to revolt was fairly common among the peasants also, so the usual consequence of the throwing off of the bishops and nobles was an explosion of crime and violence by your neighbors.  Eventually the peasants would be compelled to seek a strong lord to bring back order.  As Guizot put it, there was an inevitable conflict between freedom and security, so that it was impossible to have both at the same time.  The communes were thus never stable, since anarchy, the central government, and the nearby nobles all conspired against them.  Yet they did spring up here and there over much of France until the central government succeeded in weakening the feudal system.  To the north in Flanders, the economy flourished on trade and crafts, so that the system of communes was much more durable.


To be honest, I don't believe in synchronicity.  But I just had an experience that would seem to me to be of the sort that the true believers would find compelling evidence.  My wife and I were at the grocery store two days ago where she was eyeing a bag of chocolate candy that she knows I would love to consume with her.  After going through several paroxysms related to my chocolate addiction, I summoned the moral strength to say 'no', and we reluctantly returned the bag to its position on the shelf.  Then a day later a parcel arrived from my parents with an even larger container full of chocolates.   Synchronicity?

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Of Communes and the Third Estate: French History according to the French

I have been listening to A Popular History of France From the Earliest Times, by François Guizot (1787-1874), who was a French historian and politician active in the 19th century.  This is really a follow on to my previous foray into the writings of the communists Trotsky and Lenin.  What I gather immediately is that the communists formulated their rhetoric on the French/German revolutions of 1848 and the earlier French revolution.  These events in turn were sparked by earlier circumstances, so any sensible attempt to grapple with the subject will necessitate going back to the beginning.  The beginning being Clovis (466-511) and his expansion of the Frankish kingdom together with embracing Nicaean Christianity.

Guizot's history is 100 hours of listening time, compared to the Bible at 40 hours.  Thus, this is going into a fair amount of detail, yet still leaving out much from the chronicles from which it is derived.  What has stood out so far is the degree to which the Norman conquest of England based on fraudulent claims was to create centuries of cross-channel claims and conflicts between England and France.  I have now reached a chapter entitled Communes and the Third Estate, which I can't really comment on since it hasn't started yet.  At the same time, however, I can note that these two institutions start in the feudal era.  Guizot notes that there is considerable confusion in his own time regarding the meaning of Third Estate.

Thus, we have the wonderful observation that while each phase of history is a reaction to what went before, and tracing it must necessarily be taken in order, at each phase the reaction to the previous phases is based on poor understandings, which become worse as time goes on.  Thus, at some point we must distinguish between the history and what people believed about the history.  This is most important with the communists, since they are basically disgruntled children of the bourgeoisie who have decided to exploit class envy to bring the wrath of those less fortunate against the "rich", noting that the "rich" are those who the bourgeoisie is jealous of.  In stirring up the envy, however, the upper class communists will habitually twist everything.

20 hours of listening are now complete, with 80 to go.  One side benefit is that most of the history so far is parallel to what I have learned in a church history class.  When this is done, there are two or three histories of the French Revolution to go through, and I should then be sufficiently prepped to dive into Marx and Engels!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Winter Swimming Update

This was to be the first year for me to swim through the winter season.  My schedule continued nicely into January, but then I got hit with the flu, which was the third time since September.  This kept me out of the water for a few weeks, and I am still not fully recovered.  My muscles are itching to get some exercise, so I finally took the cold dip on Monday of this week.  As soon as my head went into the water, I was gasping for breath.  This lasted about 10 minutes until I calmed down and was able to do about 1,000 yards (900 meters).  The gasping is related to a nerve in the face which has a reflex behavior when dipped in cold water that causes the heart to start beating hard and the lungs to contract.  Since I was regularly swimming in cold water through December, however, this had gone away for me.  The few weeks of slacking off caused me to revert to a more normal reflex behavior.

Yesterday I swam again and the gasping reflex was mostly gone.  Today I skipped, but tomorrow I will try again.  The water temperature is likely a bit less than 50F (10C), but my swim partners are the ones with the thermometers and they are all avoiding the lake at the moment.

Finally there was the low water level which was due to the "drought" over the summer.  Water is now being pumped from the local arroyo into the lake, so the level has increased by perhaps 6 inches.  It could use another 6 feet to get back to a reasonable level.  Restarting to a regular schedule mid-winter is somewhat more difficult than just keeping it going through the fall.  A final note is that the lake cools rapidly in the fall, but it warms much more slowly.  The cold water will be with me until mid-April.