Friday, June 12, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why aren't you reading "the Snob" yet?

Here's Exhibit F-12, or something, for why I love the Snob. He's discussing the impending collapse of old dead-tree rag media:

Those who sit at their desks off of Morrissey Boulevard and cannot imagine the Times company making the decision to close or otherwise divest themselves of the Globe should consider LSD, or other imagination-enhancing substances. Should they decide to sell it off, in this market the top bids will likely come from search-engine optimization firms and spam-blog advertising companies eager to leach off the traffic of a century of content.

Well, yeah. It makes me want to shout, "Hello? Newspaper people, journalists... yoo-hooo! You are all content providers! This is what you get paid to do! Discard the nostalgic accoutrements and ditch the outmoded delivery system!" These people care about the environment? He continues:

My advice, to those who still wish to make a career in this business, is to go get a job with a publication owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you ask him what the fundamental purpose of the News corporation is, I would bet a Benjamin that he'd say "to make money." That is the sort of general you want to follow into battle.


Obama Revisionism

Here's a thorough fisking of some good ol' par-for-the-course Obama revisionism. It's written by Frank J. Tipler, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University.

In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, President Barack Obama claimed: “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing.”

Obama is not much of a “student of history” if he believes this. Almost every advance he attributes to the Muslims was due to someone else.

The non-Muslim Chinese invented the magnetic compass and printing (Gutenberg invented not printing, but movable type). The non-Muslim Hindu Indians invented algebra and the decimal numbering system. The non-Muslim European Christians invented the university.

I can’t address advances in medicine, but I have studied the history of astronomy and physics. The Muslims contributed nothing.

This stuff is important to point out because it's political pandering on the President's part, and there are still people who think somehow Obama is beyond politics and politcal calculations. Obama is not an idiot, but he certainly knows how to leverage the idiocy of the general populace. Check this out from page 2 of Tipler's article:

The reason Muslims never developed fundamental physics is because the leading Muslim theologians declared the idea of fixed physical laws to be heretical. The Qur’an (verse 6:64) states: “The Jews have said, ‘God’s hand is fettered.’ Fettered are their hands, and they are cursed for what they have said. Nay, but His hands are outspread; He expends how He will.” The standard Muslim interpretation of this passage has been that there cannot be unchanging physical laws because Allah may change the laws at any moment. In 1982, the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan, criticized a chemistry textbook by saying: “There is latent poison present in the subheading Energy Causes Changes because it gives the impression that energy is the true cause rather than Allah. Similarly it is unIslamic to teach that mixing hydrogen and oxygen automatically produces water. The Islamic way is this: when atoms of hydrogen approach atoms of oxygen, then by the Will of Allah water is produced.” The implication is clear: next week, Allah may change his mind about water being a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. With this sort of worldview, how could one possibly be a scientist?

The cosmology of the Qur’an is obviously geocentric, and as a consequence, Al-Azhar University, which Obama singles out for praise in his speech, still teaches Ptolemaic astronomy.

There was one truly great “Muslim” physicist, the Nobel Prize winning Pakistani, Mohammed Abdus Salam. I put “Muslim” in quotes, because Salam belonged to the Ahmadi sect of Islam, a sect that accepts modern science. But in 1974, the Pakistani parliament declared the Ahmadi sect heretical, and its members are currently being persecuted in Pakistan. Contemporary Muslim historians generally do not list Salam as an important Muslim scientist. Had he remained in Pakistan, he quite possibly would have been killed.

So some Catholics told Galileo to shut up over 300 years ago and we're still hearing about how unscientific Christianity is. Meanwhile the Muslim's produce one serious scientist in modern times and they disown him, persecute his sect and drive him from his homeland out of fear for his life. Now that's enlightened.

In spouting all this garbage, we're coddling Muslim's by inflating their self-esteem, just like we do with underperforming kids in public schools. This is merely going to perpetuate their envy and disappointment. In effect, here's what Obama's message should sound like: "Continue to be angry and envious of others and please keep festering in your persecution complex. Be proud of your great contributions to the world such as female genital mutilation, fashionable explosive vests and hatred of the Jews, and the fact that we use a few of your words in our language." We need a guy with an Obama voice to do speech impersonations, but I'm not holding my breath for the show-business honeymoon with this guy ending soon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Let's go upstaris and read my Tarot cards"

Love the cheap-ass video effects. Kewwwwwl!

Information Flow and the "Transcendence Deficit"

The blogosphere is sort of like a fun house with a vast array of forked paths which defy normal architecture. You'll start reading one thing, but jump to a link in the middle of a paragraph and you might never go back. This is why I think the term web-surfing as derived from channel surfing is a shade inaccurate; channel surfing with a TV remote is merely a sequential scan of options whereas the following of links from one page to another has a logical connection or at least some sort of subjective relationship in the reader's mind.

This is true even when no explicit link is provided. I was reading a post by Amy Welborn last week called "Coming to you from Yale" about her daughter's application interview to the Ivy League school. At some point she completely removed the post, most likely due to comments which were candidly discussing the pros and cons of attending a prestigious university which is terribly expensive and not terribly friendly to the claims and moral principles of Christianity. One of the readers brought up the infamous smeared fetus art exhibit as an example of the poison ivy league culture.

Another comment pointed out a piece by Walter Kirn called "How I lost my mind at Princeton" which I found by Googling. It was certainly worth wading through the banalities of Welborn's temporary post to find Kirn's nightmarish recollection of his mental breakdown.

Twenty-five years ago, at age 19, I lost my mind at Princeton University, the place where I'd gone to find my mind (and, if possible, enlarge it) after sailing away from my rural Midwestern home on the magic carpet of high standardized-test scores. My breakdown was social and intellectual rather than narrowly psychological, triggered by two great sources of grinding stress: a class system dominated by the wealthy that kept me in the shadows of campus life and, No. 2, the mental confusion bred by the baffling new academic fashions known as “Deconstructionism” and “Theory.” The clubby rich descendants of the old guard, with their scuffed-up Topsider shoes and sun-bleached polo shirts, their guaranteed jobs at family brokerages, and their spiffy BMW coupes for weekend jaunts to Nantucket and the Cape, made me feel marginal and shabby, while the lofty proponents of Theory made me feel dumb.

I always feel like a marginal and shabby writer when I read prose this great. But then I remember that I'm a blogger not a writer. Duh.

This was my favorite part, about his hitting bottom in terms of intellect.

And ultimately, once my alienation had festered, I could barely communicate or think. At the low point of my breakdown, spoken words sounded like globs of sonic mud, while written words writhed on the page like dying spiders. I could still speak, but I knew not what I uttered. I merely moved my lips and hoped.

Note that Mr. Kirn must have gotten his mind back to be able to write this, so that's good news. Unfortunately not every acid casualty Humpty Dumpty kid gets put back together again; I personally know examples to the contrary and I'm sure you do as well. He does admit that a lot of his troubles were "of his own making", but it does seem like the backdrop of cultural vacuity didn't help him any. Here's his attempt to define the cause of this intellectual breakdown.

The nemesis we'd confronted, our common adversary, was an impoverished definition of human intelligence itself—one that inevitably, I came to think, molded and deformed our spirits. To young people born under the weird planet of the SAT (the Scholastic Aptitude Test) and raised on the pseudo-scientific notion that mental worth can be ranked in cold "percentiles," intelligence was equated with agility, with raw acuity. It was an empty vessel, void of content and void of passion, too.

I think he comes close to the problem here; I'd suggest the problem goes much deeper than a realization of the crassness of SAT scoring, a measuring method to which the alternative is to let wealth and nepotism dictate admissions entirely. Modern science has completely bought into and promoted this "impoverished definition of human intelligence" with evangelistic fervor. The latest evidence of this pervasive materialistic attitude is an increasingly common attempt to analogize our consciousness with computer components. For example, Kurzweil has recently stated on NPR that we'll be able to "upload" our entire consciousness onto an electronic platform in the near future. This kind of thinking represents what I call a transcendence deficit which I believe is what Kirn experienced as a young man, a moment in which he incarnated the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. Young people still hope for meaning. As they get older they acquire coping mechanisms that allow them to become functional in their quiet desperation devoid, as Kirn writes, "...of content, void of passion, too."

Of course, religion has classically provided the answers to transcendent and ultimate questions of life. The problem is that everyone is afraid religion might offend somebody. Therefore we will continue to accept insanity instead as the lesser of two evils, even among the best and brightest among us. I guess "a mind is a terrible thing to waste" is old hat in the modern world. Welcome to Princeton; here's your straight jacket.