Under The Sun

Monday, May 24, 2004

The thunderstorms here de-powered our ISP, so I've been 'Net-less for three days. Now I'm digging out from under the pile. Blogging will resume (to its usual level of intermittance) shortly.

Friday, May 21, 2004


Write your Congresscritters.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

"For the record, I do have a sense of humor, and one thing that amuses me is to answer misguided emotional outbursts with arid rationalism. The opportunity to compose this aridly rationalistic comment contributed significantly to my enjoyment of this afternoon. Thank you. :-)."

Monday, May 17, 2004

"Two former weapons inspectors--Hans Blix and David Kay--said the shell was likely a stray weapon that had been scavenged by militants and did not signify that Iraq had large stockpiles of such weapons."

Where did they scavenge it from?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

This is far too sensible. Call the secret police.

"So turning her back on traditional medicine, Milton-Jones was relying on the Austrian physician, Dr. Mohammad Khalifa, and his "knee tissue manipulation," which is believed to stimulate re-growth of the tissue in a non-invasive procedure. Khalifa told Milton-Jones his hands are so sensitive that he can feel the nerve endings in the body, and by rubbing his thumbs in a circular motion on the front of Milton-Jones' knee, Khalifa believes he stimulates those nerve endings to help encourage the body's natural healing process.

"Milton-Jones, who has started for the Los Angeles Sparks for the past five seasons, wanted desperately to believe. The WNBA season was just around the corner, and the Olympics were a mere six months away. Surgery would surely put both in jeopardy, so Khalifa and the two 90-minute sessions a week he required were certainly worth taking a chance on.

"If only those thumbs would stop digging. And then, they did.

""Stand up," Khalifa said.

"Milton-Jones grabbed for her crutches, but Khalifa shook his head. Then he asked the unthinkable: "Jog in place."

"So Milton-Jones took a tentative step. Quickly, she realized the knee felt stable, almost normal. And pretty soon, Khalifa had her jumping off the injured knee as if going for a layup, then doing defensive slides -- completely pain-free.

""How does it feel?" he asked. The knee felt good, but Khalifa wasn't satisfied.

""We do not want 'good,' " he said. "We want perfect."

"Khalifa then went to work rubbing the back of Milton-Jones' knee. And when he was done and had her go through the same drills, the knee, in fact, felt perfect. She had good range of motion, and the swelling was minimal.

""It was a miracle," Milton-Jones said recently when recounting the experience during a phone interview.

"How else can you describe her recovery? Although two MRIs -- one by USA Basketball shortly after the initial injury and a second test five weeks later by the L.A. Sparks -- indicated a complete tear of the ACL in her right knee, Milton-Jones' latest MRI shows scar tissue but no tear."

Emphasis in the original.

Something happened here, and we have no idea what. (We'd have a slightly better idea if the writer, Nancy Lieberman, were a competent journalist rather than a former basketball star--"two 90-minute sessions a week" is not instantaneous healing.) Perhaps--probably--even Dr. Khalifa doesn't correctly understand how or why his treatment really works. Perhaps it doesn't work at all. But we have more than hearsay evidence that an ACL was torn and isn't anymore. If I were a research physician, I would set up an MRI machine in Dr. Khalifa's clinic and take daily MRIs of as many of his patients as possible. This is not a miracle; it's medicine. We can, and must, understand why and how it works.

Josh Chafetz, like my entire family, doesn't understand evangelical Christianity.

> the idea that religion has to be hip to be relevant

It's not about "hip"; it's about "engaged". God, too, lives in the real, present world. That world includes skateboards and body piercings. God is all things to all people (he is large, he contains multitudes). To me he's a philosopher. To a sk8er boi he may be a sk8er boi. Neither diminishes him.

> in the long term, I think most of us want transcendence

God is *both* transcendent and immanent. The God of the suburban megachurch and the old red hymnal isn't transcendent, he's just absent.

>, and bringing religion down to the level of

This may be "down", but it's the down of heaven -> earth, not the down of high -> low. The whole point of Christianity is that God descended, and descends, to our level, because he loves us. He doesn't need or even want us to leave our lives and go to some idealized fairyland in order to worship him. He meets us where we are.

[Now playing: "God Is In" by Billy Jonas.]

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Friday, May 14, 2004

Lynn Sislo has a question: why is one of these paragraphs "better" writing?

"I close. We are not we must not be aliens or enemies but fellow countrymen and brethren... The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation."

"I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies... The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

The former is William Seward's first draft, and the latter is Abraham Lincoln's revision, from the close of Lincoln's first Inaugural Address. Lincoln was right, and he was right because of St.-Exupery's Principle: the perfection of design is not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Or (as one of Lynn's commenters mentioned) Strunk and White's Rule #17: Omit Needless Words.

"I close. (We are not) we must not be (aliens or) enemies but (fellow countrymen and) brethren... The mystic chords (which proceeding) from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and (all the) hearths in this broad continent (of ours) will yet again harmonize (in their ancient music) when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation."

Everything in parentheses can be omitted--and indeed, that's fairly close to what Lincoln did. He also substituted simpler words for pretentious ones.

"I [am loth to][1] close. [We are not][2] enemies, but _friends_. We must not be enemies[3]... The mystic chords [of memory][4], stretching[5] from every battlefield[,][6] and patriot grave, to [every living][7] heart and [hearthstone][8], all over this broad _land_, will yet [swell the chorus][9] [of the Union][10], when again touched[11], [as surely they will be][12], by the [better angels of our nature][13]."

[1]: "I close" was deemed too brusque. Judgment call. Lincoln's version is more human, which is rarely a bad thing.
[2]: I thought this could be omitted. Lincoln disagreed. After some thought, I agree with him.
[3]: The separate, short sentence is more emphatic.
[4]: As Mike said: What chords?
[5]: Much more active than "proceeding".
[6]: I don't understand what that comma is doing.
[7]: "living" is an upbeat, vibrant word.
[8]: As Harvey noted, "hearthstone" is easier to say out loud.
[9]: Vibrant!
[10]: Union!
[11]: "breathed upon" is distant; "touched" is intimate.
[12]: Hope!
[13]: This speech is about us, not about some angel.

All of these changes--plus the two word choices I underscored--improve on Seward's draft. That's the difference between good writing and great writing.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Also just noticed that my attempt to set Comments open didn't work. I'll see what I can do about that, but in the meantime, feel free to email blumsha (at) juno (dot) com.

About this, on the other hand, Fred is 100% correct.

(UPDATE: clued in to the web-server's cluelessness. It's the essay titled "Crimes", on top as of this writing.)

And this: "If memory serves, God (Leviticus, I think) did say we should stone homosexuals to death. While I am not antireligious, God and I are going to differ on this one. Call it jury nullification."(--"Gay Marriage")

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I am not an evolutionary biologist. But one doesn't have to be an expert to solve most, if not all, of these problems. (Link via Donald Sensing.)

>> 1) A fair number of people are deathly allergic to bee stings, going into anaphylactic shock and dying. In any but a protected urban setting, children are virtually certain to be stung many times before reaching puberty. Assured death before reproduction would seem a robust variety of selective pressure.

An allergy is an overreaction by the immune system. Having a strong (=reactive) immune system is good. Dying of pnemonia or infection is just as bad as dying of a bee sting. And I'm not convinced that bee stings are quite that common, especially among people who actually have to pay attention to the world around them in order to survive.

>> The same reasoning applies to a long list of genetic diseases that kill children before they reach adulthood. (Yes, I too can imagine plausible explanations. Plausibility isn’t evidence.)

By itself, no. But there's very strong evidence that the theory of evolution in general is true, so it's reasonable for scientists to conjecture about how it applies to cases on which evidence is lacking.

(I do not, by the way, believe that the theory of evolution is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt. But I do think it's good science, and my religion--Reformed Christianity, to which I converted as an adult--tells me that I should believe good science unless it directly contradicts divine revelation (e.g. Scripture), which evolution doesn't.)

>> Homosexuality in males works strongly against reproduction. Why have the genetic traits predisposing to homosexuality not been eliminated long ago?

(1) There is evidence that homosexuality becomes significantly more common when overpopulation is more likely than extinction. This has been observed in swans, iirc. (2) Genes for homosexual preference are passed on when gays are forced by society to suppress or repress their preferences and therefore often marry and have children. The significant number of "ex"-gays, who are rightly seen as a triumph of will over instinct, are the current incarnation of this. The only way out of this trap is to consign gay men to a celibate priesthood....

(Which may tend to explain why homosexuality has become more common since the Reformation. If it has; I have no data.)

>> Pain serves to warn an animal that it is being injured, or to make it favor, say, a wounded leg so that it can heal. Fair enough. But then why did we evolve the nerves that produce the agony of kidney stones--about which an animal can do absolutely nothing?

Most persons who suffer from kidney stones are past prime reproductive age.

>> the genes exist for the brains of a Gauss or Newton, the phenomenal vision of Ted Williams, the physical prowess of Cassius Clay. Presumably (a tricky word) in a pre-civilized world, strong and intelligent people with superbly acute (for humans) senses would be more likely to survive and spread their genes, leading to a race of supermen. Is this what we observe?

Compared to Cro-Magnons? Absolutely.

>> Here we come to an interesting question: Do the superior pass along their genes more reliably than the inferior? In primitive tribal societies do we observe that the brighter have more children than the not so bright?

It's not clear how much of an advantage above-average intelligence is in primitive tribal societies.

>> evolutionists [] make intellectual pretzels trying to prove that the attractive and the fit are one and the same. Well, they aren’t.

Not anymore. But standards of attractiveness change much more quickly than genes evolve, so that doesn't prove much.

>> If intelligence promotes survival, why did it appear so late?

Because it's very complicated, so it took a long time to develop, and very sophisticated, so it isn't very useful until quite late in the game.

>> People have a wretched sense of smell and mediocre hearing.


>> People are weak. [] Were we already packing heat when we swung down from the trees?

(1) It is quite possible that we were already throwing rocks and sticks. Predators are lazy; two or three rocks is usually plenty. (2) That's why we developed intelligence and tigers didn't. (3) Does anything prey on monkeys?

>> So much of evolution contradicts other parts. Sparrows evolved drab and brown so that predators won’t see them. Cockatoos and guacamayas are gaudy as casinos in Las Vegas so they can find each other and mate.

What eats sparrows? Sparrow-hawks, and other such raptors. Are there any raptors in rain forests? No, because it's impossible to hunt from the air in a rain forest. So it's safe to be eye-catching.

In response to Marc Moffett:

>> The puzzle of Escher sentences is that we don't notice their semantic infelicity.

I don't see why this is a puzzle at all; it's a fact about human psychology, not a fact about semantics. We can understand incorrect sentences the same way we can understand misspelled English.

Relatedly, the question how a given speech act should be interpreted is quite independent of the question what the sentence formally means; interpretation, moreover, depends crucially on context, so I don't think it's correct to say that "[i]t's actually clear in broad terms what [is] intended". I agree that one particular interpretation of this particular sentence recommends itself as most likely, but that certainly doesn't make the sentence "mean" that interpretation.

Formally, it seems to me, "More people have thought about Escher sentences than I have." is a statement whose truth depends on the number of people I "have"; there are certainly contexts in which one may be said to have people, e.g. when making a dinner reservation. But that's irrelevant to the sentence's Escherness, which doesn't even require that the sentence have a meaning at all. Escherness is merely a psychological phenomenon, not really a language puzzle at all.

OxBlog notes a proposal to cut the US Navy's submarine force by up to a third. This would cost a bunch of jobs in Massachusetts, but those can be readily replaced by standard defense-budget pork. The serious question is whether cutting the submarine force is a good idea, and I suspect it is: submarines are a classical weapon--an advanced one, of course, but based on strategic and tactical needs that are now obsolete. What good are submarines against terrorists? So it seems to me that buying fewer two-billion-dollar submarines is a reasonable way to trim spending.

Administrative Notice: the Bundy223.org server is down while its owner is moving into his new house, so I've returned to Blogspot until the DSL installers get their act together. Sorry for the inconvenience.