Archive for May, 2008

Global Dimming

One does what one can to give science, religion, art, and culture a good name, but sometimes all you get is a load of Bovine Excrement (and if we didn’t laugh, we’d crack!):

1.  Australian catastrophist Tim Flannery has argued that a good way to fight global warming is by pumping sulphur into the atmosphere.  The idea would be to promote “global dimming.”  I think dim is too gentle a word for this specific “plan,” which would turn the sky red all day.  In fact, sky color is perhaps the most benign consequence of this scheme.  As the article reports:

He [Flannery] conceded there were risks to global dimming via sulphur.
“The consequences of doing that are unknown.”

Yet Flannery claims, “It’s the last resort that we have, it’s the last barrier to a climate collapse.”  So…we don’t know what pumping sulphur into the atmosphere will do, but we somehow know that it is the last resort.  We don’t know what to do, but let’s do something.  Note that the article never questions Flannery about any of this.

By the way, here’s a note from Wikipedia’s entry on sulfur (or sulphur):

Environmental impact
The burning of coal and/or petroleum by industry and power plants generates sulfur dioxide (SO2), which reacts with atmospheric water and oxygen to produce sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This sulfuric acid is a component of acid rain, which lowers the pH of soil and freshwater bodies, sometimes resulting in substantial damage to the environment and chemical weathering of statues and structures. Fuel standards increasingly require sulfur to be extracted from fossil fuels to prevent the formation of acid rain.

So, we’ll die of acid rain rather than global warming….

2.  There have been reports about the decline in reading of late.  Kenneth Goldsmith is not going to help matters one bit.  He’s against writing, at least writing as we’ve alway known it (i.e., writing).  An article on Goldsmith on Bookforum reports that instead of writing, say, an essay he

he’d turn in a piece of found art that had nothing to do with anybody’s book collection, or he’d transcribe our conversation, with all the ums and uhs (mostly mine—he’s on the Oscar Wilde end of the articulateness spectrum), or he’d plagiarize some other column and transform it into a sound poem by singing it and then post it to UbuWeb, the on¬line repository for the avant-garde arts that he founded in 1996. His position on writing is as follows: Modernism and postmodernism are over, and the literary arts have entered a new technology-driven paradigm. Originality is out the window. “Writers don’t need to write anything more,” he says. “They just need to manage the language that already exists.”

The author of this laudatory piece on Goldsmith, managing editor of Paris Review, Radhika Jones, writes (I guess…):

There is something utterly intoxicating about this idea. At least, that’s how I felt hearing it from Goldsmith on a recent visit to his Chelsea loft, where he lives with his wife, the video artist and painter Cheryl Donegan, and their two sons. Perhaps what sold me was the realization I had, in the midst of Goldsmith explaining his monumental tome Day (2003)—for which he retyped an entire edition of the New York Times, including all the ad copy, cover to cover—that to be Kenneth Goldsmith is to have vanquished writer’s block, because there are countless texts just waiting to be retyped. It’s just as reassuring to hear that Goldsmith doesn’t actually expect anyone to read Day or his recently completed American trilogy, Weather (2005), Traffic (2007), and Sports (2008)—transcriptions of, respectively, a year’s worth of radio weather reports; a twenty-four-hour traffic cycle, every ten minutes from 1010 wins; and the radio broadcast of a long and dull Yankees game, ads included. “You can’t read these books,” he says, with ebullience. “I can’t read them. People tell me they do, but they’re absolutely impossible.” He just wants us to think about them. “These are the things we don’t think about,” he says, “and they’re very profound when we do.” In Goldsmith’s projects, the conception of the work also inscribes its meaning—together with the way each time-consuming endeavor changes him. He imparts similar lessons in his Uncreative Writing class at the University of Pennsylvania, where students are directed to transcribe, plagiarize, thieve, and appropriate, all in the name of learning to write. “If we retyped Kerouac,” he says, “we’d learn much more about Kerouac than by writing in the style of Kerouac.”

Bovine Excrement!  More signs of global dimming of another sort.

3.  And who can resist a headline like this:  “Religion is a product of evolution, software suggests“?  This first line is:

God may work in mysterious ways, but a simple computer program may explain how religion evolved.

Well, it may–in the sense of not being logically impossible; it won’t–in the sense of having anything whatever to do with reality. 

Now I like the New Scientist magazine a lot, and I’m a subscriber.  But this piece is more Bovine Excrement.  You have to read it (if you still can read…) to (not) believe it.  Here’s my (okay, slightly churlish…) interlinear critique of James Dow’s efforts:

To determine if it was possible for religion to emerge as an adaptation, Dow wrote a simple computer program that focuses on the evolutionary benefits people receive from their interactions with one another.

“What people are adapting to is other people,” he says.

To simplify matters [UH-OH…simplifying complex matters can lead to significant trouble], Dow picked a defining trait of religion: the desire to proclaim religious information to others [This is a DEFINING TRAIT of religion…religion is defined by the trait of conveying religious information?  But what is religion/religious?  Doesn’t say…], such as a belief in the afterlife. He assumed [UH-OH] that this trait was genetic.

The model assumes [UH-OH] , in other words, that a small number of people have a genetic predisposition to communicate unverifiable information [here he refers to “unverifiable information”] to others [WHY?]. They passed on that trait to their children, but they also interacted with people who didn’t spread unreal information [here he refers to “unreal information”–so “unverifiable” equals “unreal”? So I would guess all his assumptions, qua unverifiable, are unreal…].

The model looks at the reproductive success of the two sorts of people – those who pass on real information, and those who pass on unreal information [ “real” vs. “unreal”…no bias here, right? ].

Under most scenarios [simple–simplistic–computer model scenarios, designed from thin air by the programmer], “believers in the unreal” went extinct. But when Dow included the assumption that non-believers would be attracted to religious people because of some clear, but arbitrary, signal, religion flourished.

“Somehow [ “Somehow” …but how?  Why?  Maybe what gets communicated is not, contra the assumption, “unreal.” ] the communicators of unreal information are attracting others to communicate real information to them,” Dow says, speculating that perhaps the non-believers are touched by the faith of the religious.

It is rubbish to take any of this as science, new or otherwise.


And what does it say about the state of global dimming that we have to go to Cracked! to get a healthy does of critical thinking?  I’ve long been hooked on Cracked! (please, please quote that with precision!).  Cracked! magazine was my favorite by-flashlight reading when we kids camped out.  We can only be grateful for the enlightenment provided by their recent “6 Most Frequently Cited Bullsh*t Statistics” to help scrape some of the Bovine Excrement off of us.  For each bullsh*t statistic, the article explains why it is a load of crap, who started it, and who’s been fooled by it.  It’s great stuff…don’t miss it!

But sometimes, it is easy to see why we might get fooled by some of this flapdoodle.  For example, #5 is:  “We only use 10% of our brains.”  The article traces the error to inferring from the fact that humans can survive even if missing some parts of their brain to the (mistaken) idea that we only use parts of our brain.  But I think there is even a better explanation for thinking humans only use 10% of their brains:  Clearly, as from the stories reported above, some humans are using only 10% of their brains (if that).  We simply generalize….


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Happy Birthday, G.K. Chesterton!

Today is the birthday of G. K. Chesterton, one of the most quotable writers of modern times.  Here are some samples:

“There are arguments for atheism, and they do not depend, and never did depend, upon science. They are arguable enough, as far as they go, upon a general survey of life; only it happens to be a superficial survey of life.” (ILN 1-3-31)

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – Everlasting Man, 1925

“Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.” – The Speaker, 12/15/00

“He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – Tremendous Trifles, 1909

“Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.” – The Man Who was Thursday, 1908

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.” – ILN 10-28-22

“A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish.” – Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox

“War is not ‘the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.” – ILN, 7/24/15

“The only defensible war is a war of defense.” – Autobiography, 1937

“Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.” – Christendom in Dublin, 1933

“The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.” – Chapter 19, What I Saw In America, 1922

“He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative.” – Varied Types

“It is the mark of our whole modern history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this time that the Party System has been popular only in the sense that a football match is popular.” – A Short History of England. 156

“I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism. I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel.” – The Judgement of Dr. Johnson, Act III

“It is terrible to contemplete how few politicians are hanged.” – The Cleveland Press, 3/1/21

“It is a good sign in a nation when things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on.” – “Patriotism and Sport,” All Things Considered

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” – ILN, 4/19/24

“Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.” – Heretics, 1905

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” – ILN, 7/16/10

“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.” – ILN 1-3-20

“There is no bigot like the atheist.” (Magic)

“Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks.” – Daily News, 2/21/02

“Truth is sacred; and if you tell the truth too often nobody will believe it.” – ILN, 2/24/06

“There are only two kinds of people, those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it.” (“The Mercy of Mr. Arnold Bennett” Fancies vs. Fads)

“A great curse has fallen upon modern life with the discovery of the vastness of the word Education.” (“A Grammar of Shelley” A Handful of Authors)

There are many, many more gems here.  Happy Birthday, G.K.!!


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Blogging is good for you…

…which probably explains why I’ve felt like crap lately.  I’ve been spending too much time in airplanes instead of blogging (yeah, like that’s what I’d most likely be doing were I not in airplanes!  Have you seen this weather???).  Anyway, blogging, like creative writing, is supposed to be good for you:

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

Have I mentioned I’ve spent A LOT OF TIME IN AIRPLANES LATELY???

There…I feel a little better already.  But wait, have I not been mucking up the environment and contributing to global warming with all this traveling?  I am starting to feel guilty, ashamed, sinful.  Freeman Dyson can explain that.  In reviewing a couple of new books on global warming, he notes:

All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

I must’ve got religion, ’cause I feel convicted.  In fact, we should all feel convicted.  Dyson continues:

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Yet isn’t that what Czech President Vaclav Klaus, famed global warming denier, has being going on about lately?  He doesn’t think this is a religion we can or ought to share.  He complains in a recent book:

The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy, and prosperity at the end of the 20th and at the beginning of the 21st century is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism.

Klaus sees no hope at all in the religion of environmentalism.  He’s worried about his country’s economy.  So are the leaders of India, China, and Brazil, to name just three who are unlikely to get the new-time religion.  Money talks; piety walks.

But to go back to Dyson:  he concludes by suggesting that while the morality of environmentalism is good and righteous, it does not have to be the case that global warming deniers are automatically consigned to the coal-fired flames of hell.  You can still be a conservationist while being agnostic about global warming.  And are there not other equally important moral challenges that confront us?

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice.

I think the John McCain approach to global warming is fair enough:  “but what if it is true?”  Okay, so let’s take some steps to clean up our act.  But it seems to me that too many people seem to pick this issue to get most passionate about, I think, because it is so “easy.”  Not easy to solve but easy to be passionate about.  Apparently you can be passionate about global warming all the way along your commute to work each morning, all alone in your car.  I mean, you don’t have to ride the trolley or, God forbid, walk.  Certainly you wouldn’t be required to sell your house and buy a condo in a high-rise across the street from your office.  You wouldn’t have to quit your travel-demanding job or stop going to international conferences because of the pollution it generates–perhaps you could just buy carbon offset credits.  You wouldn’t have to give up t.v. or the internet; you could just buy “Al Gore lightbulbs.”  You know what I mean…nobody wants to get crazy about it or anything.  And let those other countries endanger their economic well-being.  We’re already taken care of.  But by all means, let’s end global warming now.

On the other hand, if instead of the environment you were passionate about, say, hunger, homelessness, or the intense struggles in some of our inner-city schools, well then you’d have tostep outside your front door and actually do something that might be risky, that would get you out of your comfort zone, that might have you looking into the eyes of a hungry, homeless person with a first and last name.  They might have a knife, and who know the last time they’ve bathed.  Scares the daylights out of me!  Way too hard.

So I’m allowing myself to enteratain a certain level of global warming guilt.  In atonement, I’m working on the environment.  I’ve got my  “Al Gore lightbulbs” (except in my reading lamp, because you can’t see a thing with those spirally things).  I walked to work today (how about you?)  I’m going to cancel an upcoming trip (have I MENTIONED HOW MUCH FRICKIN’ TIME I’M SPENDING IN AIRPLANES?!).  I turn the lights off when I leave the office, even to go to the copier (which I’m going to try to use less of).  I’m doing my part.

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Trinity Sunday

As always, I’ve been traveling a lot.  Just back from a conference and meetings in sunny–yes, sunny–Ireland, and I’m overseas again on Tuesday.  Good for frequent flyer miles; bad for blogging.

Your Peripatetic Prattler was cited as “quote of the day” in the religion blog at the Dallas Morning News:

A transdisciplinary approach aims at the real. It is a realism in a way that any reductionism, always a product of unbound reason, ultimately, is not.

My mom, who is never less than forthright, wrote to me about this little notice:

Congrats!  But I have to confess my ignorance.  I haven’t a clue what it means.

Hope you love me anyway.

Well, of course I do!

Anyway, today is Trinity Sunday, or the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.  On this day, it is traditional to recite the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult) at Prime.  Here is the traditional rendition of this Creed:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Etneral and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal. As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not Three Almighties but One Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not Three Lords but One Lord. For, like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, there be Three Gods or Three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting Salvation, that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.

God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of His mother, born into the world. Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but One Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by Unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one Man, so God and Man is one Christ. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into Hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

I think the seminary jest regarding the Athanasian Creed is this:  “The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible….the whole thing incomprehensible!”

It seems to me that what mom writes to her dear philosopher-son would do nicely for a prayer regarding God’s revealing of God’s self as Trinity:  “I have to confess my ignorance; I haven’t a clue what it means; I hope You love me anyway!”

Since it is less than two months until the Metanexus conference in Madrid, let’s let El Greco set the mood for us on this Trinity Sunday…


The Holy Trinity, 1577, Museo del Prado (Madrid)

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