Friday, April 30, 2010

Dissing and Consequences

Everything old is new again. Cyrano’s extreme sensitivity to any hint of insult works well enough in literature, but it isn’t so pleasant to meet it on the street. Once again, reputation is everything on the street. This time around, instead of "honor and the duel" we have the drive-by shooting (another one yesterday). Although I wonder how different it really is: how often did the prickly dandies of old resort to surprise in the alley? Risking your skin for your honor can be a little costly, unless you’re up against a hapless civilian. Maybe part of the mechanical brutality we see is a function of the organization into gangs; but that can’t be the whole reason for the difference since the duelists of centuries past were often members of deadly groups too.

I don’t yearn for the days of duels. A well-trained tough guy could throw his weight around secure that the ordinary Joe would just have to bite his tongue: just like gangsters do today. And the excuse of duels could mask a lot of ordinary murder. But I wonder if duels helped buffer a deadly focus on reputation by requiring that the offendee meet the offender on terms of a kind of equality. There’s probably no way to tell, though.

GM Dissembling

If you just watch the evening news, you might think think this was wonderful news. GM paying back its debt is great, right? Except that it is all smoke and mirrors. It is ironic in a grim sort of way: the banks, ground zero for the collapse, seem to be on their way to getting their loans repaid, and some of them are in such very deep trouble that nobody will talk about it. GM is using borrowed money to pay their debts in order to borrow more.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Juggler of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

200 Years Before the Discovery of the Ringworld

This is a sequel/parallel to Fleet of Worlds and to Neutron Star. The story touches on and slightly ties together many short stories, which starts to get slightly annoying.

The thesis is that civilizations have to use the insane to manage relations with other civilizations: relatively courageous Puppeteers (defined to be insane by the rest of the herd) and paranoid humans. And so we have the interwoven stories of Nessus the Puppeteer and Sigmund Ausfaller the human.

Since Ausfaller (in charge of anticipating and foiling nefarious maneuvers by various aliens) is seriously paranoid, it is hard to make him a sympathetic character, and the book relies heavily on Niven's trademark puzzles. For a change, a character shows some jealousy when his inamorata goes for someone else--Niven hasn't been very realistic at portraying human love lives in the past. This must be Lerner's influence.

The Puppeteers appear as less than super-intelligent, with emotion-driven politics and sometimes surprising carelessness.

I don't want to introduce spoilers, but since the action all happens before Ringworld you know in advance that there has to be some benign resolution to the plots and counterplots and growing threats. Let me just say that the denouement ties together so many threads and puzzles that I don't see much more room for new stories in Known Space, without introducing an entirely new cast of alien characters. The Ringworld series is tied up and early Known Space is now pretty much tied up: pre-Known Space might have a few stories in it, but probably not many puzzles.

I understand that other authors have written some Known Space works (some in the Man-Kzin War series, for example), but I have read none of them.

Not the best, but if you like Known Space you should read it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

200 Years Before the Discovery of the Ringworld

Niven's “Known Space” series seemed to be tapped out, but four years ago the authors found a section where some new problem could fit. As you can probably guess from the title, Puppeteers figure prominently here: most of the characters are Citizens (Puppeteers) or Colonists (hmm....) most of the latter of whom work on the farm planets. Nessus (remember him?) is one of the main characters, and much of the story comes from his perspective. The time is set a little after the Puppeteers disappeared, and Nessus and three Colonists are serving as scouts for the Fleet of Worlds.

One rather startling new feature of this entry—something I haven't seen in Niven's Known Space before—is the importance of moral concerns. Niven's stories always have some kind of puzzle, and this is no exception—though its setting seems a smidgeon contrived. The Puppeteers are generally believable and the culture seems to work OK. The Colonist's reaction seems a little premature, but justified in the end. Fitting a story into an existing framework and tying up loose ends from other stories is always tricky, but Niven seems to have learned how to do it.

On the whole a competent book, and if you like Known Space you'll probably like this.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Media Woes are Old

"If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed." Mark Twain

I'd love to read what that wonderful wordsmith would have made of the TV news and news channels...

An economic view of contraception

In an interesting exercise, Reichert looks at the effect of contraception on relations between the sexes using "microeconomic reasoning." He concludes that it has resulted in "a massive redistribution of wealth and power from women and children to men." Have a look and see what you think.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru

A wise man once said that the easiest way to learn to hate a man was to do him some injury. Because most of us aren’t eager to ask forgiveness, we try to justify ourselves—“he deserved it”—and grow to hate the man we hurt.

Ponnuru doesn’t deal with that aspect, but I think it is an important driver in the abortion wars. A person cannot “not know” that abortion kills humans, and the only way to keep from facing that knowledge is to deny the humanity of others, and begin clinging to a utilitarian view of people that measures value by what they can do. That view and its logic unites abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, eugenic policies, destructive embryonic research, and so on.

Ponnuru tells the story of Roe vs Wade and its lesser-known sibling Bolton, which together make abortion legal through all 9 months for any or no reason whatever. This pair of decisions didn’t arise in a vacuum, but out of a population control campaign and mindset, and they have corrupted the political, legal, and ethical framework of the nation. More than that, once such things are defined as rights there rises a guilty compulsion to spread abortion around the world.

It is not exactly secret among lawyers, even the most staunchly pro-abortion ones, that Roe had no constitutional foundation. Nor is it secret that Roe is not limited, nor that “health” is not restricted to meaning physical or mental health. But these details are not widely known in the general public because of the campaign of lies clouding the issue. I use the word lies deliberately and justifiably.

Ponnuru systematically goes through the many aspects of the debate, from the Cuomo “my personal beliefs cannot drive my public policy” equivocations through the partial birth abortion lies, the obfuscation and illogic, the insane logic of Casey (“the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” was taken as a reason to support killing), and the corruption of history (historians subverted their own research to provide a pro-abortion brief for Webster). The first point he addresses is the silly claim that opposition to abortion is necessarily religious. You don't need to follow any religion whatever to notice that there is no demarcation between a baby with one foot out of the womb and one still inside, and none between either and an adult--all are on the same continuum of development.

Ponnuru shows the cultural and logical links to euthanasia and infanticide. Singer (the proponent of infanticide) is alleged by pro-abortion stalwarts to be beyond the pale, but he was hired by and works without complaint from colleagues who march railing against pro-life speakers at the drop of a hat. The Clintons get applause in the media for “recognizing the painful decisions in abortion” and wanting them to be “rare,” but the record of both is unremittingly and extremely pro-abortion, rejecting even such modest modifications as requiring parental consent for minors. NARAL has evan objected to maternal care programs on the basis that they would discourage abortions.

The abortion issue has almost completely corrupted the Democratic party—Ponnuru tells of of member after member who changed their minds when their ambitions turned national and they wanted the backing of the party masters. The Republican party is nominally opposed to abortion, but in practice not very interested in protecting the unborn. The mainstream media is thoroughly in the tank for abortion, carefully labeling any restrictions as extreme and all opponents as oppressive.

Ponnuru’s analysis of the political situation is excessively rosy, not at all anticipating the election of a President who supported killing infants who survived abortion and a Congress and Senate to go along with him.

The book is not pleasant reading; as it is an expose of the lies and corruption that support this culture of death. Read it anyway.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Did you read the online contract?

Did you buy from GameStation?

You might want to review the fine print. You'll be eternally grateful :-)

And let no-one ever say that computer game manufacturers are soul-less money-grubbers.

I wonder who's toes were trodden on?

I remember reading the Wisconsin story in the run-up to Easter, noting that the headline indicted Ratzinger. The time-line didn't agree with the headline, though—as a story about Ratzinger it was a non-story. About Weakland, maybe; but even that would be a little thin. The Munich story appeared at the same time—I saw that a couple days later—and again, the time-line was odd. The Munich bishop deserved a thrashing, but the outcome had nothing to to with Ratzinger.

The stories were scheduled for the usual Easter news slot for attacking orthodoxy, but the Irish story could still have had legs: it was big enough and dramatic enough. Why try to use such weak material to attack Benedict?

Two or three simultaneous stories focused on one individual. Simultaneity itself is trivial to arrange that close to Easter (or Christmas): newspapers seem to reserve non-breaking stories until an appropriate season. Give them a story a month in advance, and they'll write it up and sit on it until Holy Week. Giving them the story much before that and you run the risk of having somebody on staff actually read it and wonder about the headline.

So, who's toes were being trodden on? You'd think it might have something to do with the US bishop's opposition to the Reid/Pelosi health-care chaos-o-tron, but why would one of the stories originate in Germany? And if local politics were the issue you'd expect the focus to be on the local “pestilent priests.”

But from the beginning of his current tenure Benedict has been the target of an amazing animus. I can't tell if this is personal, or something he represents (that John Paul II didn't??), or if this is driven by some behind-the-scenes politics in the Vatican. Right now I'd pick one of “unreasoning personal hatred” (like that for Palin), or “Vatican politics.” Maybe both?

Hunting with a metal detector

Our neighbor across the street was packing up what looked like a sonar gizmo for fishing. I asked him if he was going fishing; he answered that he was going meteorite hunting on a friend's 50 acres out by the Mississippi where the fireball ended up a couple of days ago. I warned him that the fragment that was found on a guy's roof was stony, so the (now I understood) metal detector wasn't going to help.

Sounds like a fun afternoon. With a little more notice I'd have tried to see if I could invite myself and youngest son along :-)

While I was occupied

We seem to have wound up with a wealth of weirdnesses.

We get so much information from the little flat panel on the desk that perhaps it is no surprise that telescreens work two ways. Though I thought schools were in loco parentis and not "in loco older sibling."

What in the name of the Constitution of the United States is Obama thinking of? Publicly ordering the extra-judicial execution of an American citizen is so far off base I don't know where to start. Granted, this is wartime and the guy is reputed to be working with the enemy. But if necessity requires you to resort to such underhanded actions you don't brag about violating the law; you arrange it quietly and pray nobody ever finds out. And if caught, then you can fall back on the Texas "He wanted killin'" defense and hope the jury agrees. But you never, ever pretend that this is legal.

Tommy Thompson (former governor, pretty popular) was smart. At a Tea Party rally he said that new blood was needed, and that he wasn't going to run for Senate. As far as I can tell (I have only heard reports--been too busy to go to one) the Tea Party folks object bitterly to the insane deficits and arrogance of our "public servants." The Republican rulers by and large are OK with larger and more intrusive government, while the Democrats are enthusiastic about it: neither matches the Tea Party intent. And Thompson, for all his popularity, was one of those status quo Republicans; not likely to ride a Tea Party wave to success.

It is amusing how much of our amazing technology can be sidelined by a minor volcano. Gervasio warned us today that he was stuck in Spain and not able to attend the big alignment meeting--probably all otherwise open seats on the trains are full with would-be air travelers. I'm supposed to head over in June, joined later by my better half for a 30'th anniversary trip. I wonder if we'll make it. If the volcano keeps burping I foresee a rise in Atlanta-Spain+railroad trips to Europe.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Michael Spencer

Farewell to the Internet Monk and may God bless his family and rest his soul.


15:00. Another for the running log.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday

It wasn't clear until Jesus that Isaiah's suffering servant was the Messiah. I suppose it is often that way—an answer sits unrecognized right before us. Yet it should have been clear.

God who in his unimaginable Now created the world, also sustains it. His will and ours combine to shape this world, and no home is built or threat sounded or murder done without His power sustaining both the builder and the robber. In giving us our freedom He has deigned to be our servant—and because our hearts have turned wicked, a suffering servant.

And so, in retrospect, it seems fitting that to redeem us ungrateful wretches who are ever trying to implicate God in our wickedness, He should join us more fully—take on our sin and implicate Himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us, and having atoned, made us clean. He redeemed us and this war zone of a world, joining us to God.

Here within time the war is still going on and we face wicked hearts and wicked problems, and Jesus said it would get worse. But death could not hold Him and it will not hold the world He joined and won.