A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hillbilly Thomism

My brother Sean sent me this, for which I thank him.

No Question, These Dogs Can Bark
Washington Free Beacon / Micah Meadowcroft

Question. Whether Dominican Friars Can Play Bluegrass

Objection 1. It seems that a handful of Dominican friars (two handfuls on the album<>) should not be a bestselling bluegrass band. Bluegrass is Protestant stuff, soulful songs for whitewashed independent Baptist churches and big homey kitchens and not Latin nerds in white habits in Northeast D.C.

Objection 2. Further, bluegrass is as Americana as anything, and until John F. Kennedy bedded the White House and Bill Buckley built the conservative coalition, Catholics were not exactly accepted or accepting of the American thing. Americanism is a heresy after all.

Objection 3. Further, as Fr. Thomas Joseph White admitted in opening their concert near the White House this past week, bluegrass is as often about murder and unrequited love as it is about God. That a bunch of religious should sell thousands of copies of such music may strike as odd, considering their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

On the contrary, inspiring these good Catholic boys, Flannery O'Connor said of herself, "Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas . . . I'm a hillbilly Thomist," and band-member Br. Justin Bolger said in his original song "I'm a Dog"—after the traditional domini canis "hound of the Lord" pun on Dominican—"I’m a dog with a torch in my mouth for my Lord / Making noise while I got time."

I answer that, in an eponymous album and great live show under the watching eyes of the Catholic Information Center's wall-covering icons, "The Hillbilly Thomists" have marked their territory in the bluegrass world. To combine jargon hip both with the kids these days and with Dominicans—this music is fire.

Reply to Objection 1. They came to bluegrass and Thomism the usual ways, which is to say, through their culture—Catholics south of Dixie who love and play music. Fr. White learned mandolin in Kentucky while living in Cincinnati 16 years ago before moving to D.C., and with time, enough like-minded and like-voiced friars congregated here to make Hillbilly Thomists a going concern.

Reply to Objection 2. While bluegrass became what it is, adopting and combining English ballads and hymns and gospel and blues, Catholic sacred music was set in a traditional Latin liturgical context with Gregorian chant and all the other related resplendent smells and bells. But that hardly means when they take up the banjo that Thomas Aquinas's spiritual brothers are engaged in the—post-Vatican II—fairly common appropriation seen in singing a Luther hymn at Mass. For another influence on Americana is distinctly Catholic: Irish folk music.

Reply to Objection 3. The fathers and brothers of the Dominican House of Studies take a break from their scholarship to record an album of sacred music every year, to be sold to support the house's work and facilities, and the funds raised by this kitchen-table casual departure from convention will go to, apropos, a new kitchen. But homey as the music is, it is sacred nonetheless. Here's to hoping for more from the Hillbilly Thomists.

The post No Question, These Dogs Can Bark appeared first on Washington Free Beacon.

Or like this...

That old deaf guy sure knew how to write 'em

They just don't write them like this any more

I first heard the 1812 in Freshman history class at Notre Dame HS, when Miss Wagner played it for intro to the Napoleonic Wars.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Air Disasters

One of the lessons hammered home in the Smithsonian Channel's show Air Disasters -- do not look for it on your next in-flight movie selections -- is that as a general rule no air crash has a single cause. Rather, it is generally a nexus of causes that happen together that result in the crash. The same is usually the case in quality assurance, especially for those problems we call "common cause" variation; that is, those variations that are due to the system rather than to breakdowns in the system.

For example, if you throw two dice and the result is a 13, there is usually a particular ("assignable") cause for the outcome. There is an extra dot on one of the 6s; the dots have been miscounted; a third die has been introduced. IOW, some extraneous cause not normally part of the system has upset matters. OTOH, if the outcome is a 12, there is no particular cause. That is, the outcome is the result of a host of "small" causes, no one of which would the elimination thereof eliminate the 12s. And this is true no matter how undesirable the 12 may be.

Note that this does not mean that there is no cause, as some devotees of quantum mechanics might incline to say; but rather that there are a host of causes, no one of which determines the outcome. Rather, all of them in concert determine the outcome. The velocity of the dice when thrown, the angle at which they strike the surface, the coefficient of friction of the carpet, etc., etc. Throw the dice more gently, and the 12s will not be eliminated -- even if it appears to work at first. Control the angle of the throw, and the 12s will not be eliminated -- even if it appears to work at first.

Only by altering the system -- in this case, by changing the design of the dice -- can the undesirable outcome be eliminated. We could load the dice, reducing the likelihood of the 12. We could white-out one dot on one of the 6s. We could switch to tetrahedral dice. And so on. But no operational changes will solve the problem.

Why folks expect that socio-economic problems are mono-causal TOF does not know. It cannot be because they are simpler. Even those who repeat nostrums about "changing the system" seldom think through what that actually entails, and they will simply repeat the same "causes" that theory demands.

A favorite cause of the "male/female wage gap" is "gender discrimination." But there is no indication of what sort of discrimination this might be or how it is implemented in this day and age. Of course, there is likely some of this going down, despite decades of affirmative action to the contrary. Never underestimate the ability of even the most liberal managers to speak from both sides of the mouth. But a study of college majors undertaken by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce some while back might be instructive.

According to the Center, the ten most remunerative majors and the proportion who majored in them were:

1.   Petroleum Engineering: 87% male
2.   Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration: 48% male
3.   Mathematics and Computer Science: 67% male
4.   Aerospace Engineering: 88% male
5.   Chemical Engineering: 72% male
6.   Electrical Engineering: 89% male
7.   Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering: 97% male
8.   Mechanical Engineering: 90% male
9.   Metallurgical Engineering: 83% male
10. Mining and Mineral Engineering: 90% male

Of these, only Pharmacy majors included a significant proportions of women.

The ten least remunerative majors were:

1.  Counseling Psychology: 74% female
2.  Early Childhood Education: 97% female
3.  Theology and Religious Vocations: 34% female
4.  Human Services and Community Organization: 81% female
5.  Social Work: 88% female
6.  Drama and Theater Arts: 60% female
7.   Studio Arts: 66% female
8.   Communication Disorders Sciences and Services: 94% female
9.   Visual and Performing Arts: 77% female
10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs: 55% female

Of these, only Theology was predominately men, although a couple of others approached parity.

Thus, one major factor affecting the wage gap is that women choose not to major in disciplines like Petroleum Engineering or Mining Engineering that command high salaries and gravitate toward lower paying careers in Early Childhood Education and Community Organizing.

These examples should also do to indicate there is no relationship between the remuneration in a profession and its social importance. A job is paid at a rate that reflects the ability to replace the person in it, and this is a function of the specialized skills and knowledge required.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dancing with the Internet

1. Another "earth-like" planet bites the dust.

A trinary star system. Alpha Centauri AB, a double star, on left; Beta Centauri on right; Proxima Centauri, circled in red is at 5:00 relative to Alph.

Too bad, because it's real close by, circling Proxima Centauri (the "proxima" is a dead give-away), the closest star to ours. The planet is only 30% more massive than earth (1.3 earths) and circles Prox within its "habitable" zone. Alas, there is more to "earth-like" than size and distance from its sun. It has to be the right kind of sun. Prox is a red dwarf. (No, not that Red Dwarf.) Which means the planet must orbit real close to the star (0.05 AU), and hence whirl real fast (1 year = 11.2 earth-days). This probably puts it into tidal lock, with one side always facing the star and the other in perpetual night. Red dwarves are stable, but given to periodic petulant outbursts: X-ray flares that could strip water vapor from the atmosphere and sterilize the sunside of the planet.

Yeah, earth-like.

2. Was the Early Universe Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal?

Robert Scherrer, a cosmologist at Vanderbilt, wonders how lumpy the early universe was.

3. The Madness Continues

I bet you didn't know that data and statistics were racist. Neither did TOF! And yet, according to a "discipline" called "QuantCrit" and "Critical Race Theory", which sound awfully serious and academicalistic, they apparently are.
Quantitative research enjoys heightened esteem among policy-makers, media, and the general public. Whereas qualitative research is frequently dismissed as subjective and impressionistic, statistics are often assumed to be objective and factual. We argue that these distinctions are wholly false; quantitative data is no less socially constructed than any other form of research material. The first part of the paper presents a conceptual critique of the field with empirical examples that expose and challenge hidden assumptions that frequently encode racist perspectives beneath the façade of supposed quantitative objectivity. The second part of the paper draws on the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) to set out some principles to guide the future use and analysis of quantitative data. These ‘QuantCrit’ ideas concern (1) the centrality of racism as a complex and deeply rooted aspect of society that is not readily amenable to quantification; (2) numbers are not neutral and should be interrogated for their role in promoting deficit analyses that serve White racial interests; (3) categories are neither ‘natural’ nor given and so the units and forms of analysis must be critically evaluated; (4) voice and insight are vital: data cannot ‘speak for itself’ and critical analyses should be informed by the experiential knowledge of marginalized groups; (5) statistical analyses have no inherent value but can play a role in struggles for social justice.
-- David Gillborn, Paul Warmington & Sean Demack. "QuantCrit: education, policy, ‘Big Data’ and principles for a critical race theory of statistics." (Race Ethnicity and Education, Vol. 21, 2018 - Issue 2: QuantCrit:Rectifying Quantitative Methods Through Critical Race Theory.)
Reading between the lines, TOF suspects the authors are writing about quantitative analysis in something called social "sciences," and in this TOF actually agrees with them. As Daniel Dennett observed regarding efforts to study "religion" in the social "sciences,"
There can be no science of any hard empirical variety when the very act of identifying one’s object of study is already an act of interpretation, contingent on a collection of purely arbitrary reductions, dubious categorizations, and biased observations. 
which is essentially the same complaint as made by Gillborn et al. Of course, to them, it is all in service to white (is there any other kind?) racism. When your only tool is a hammer, everything becomes a nail, and one can never expect a paper appearing in a journal entitle Race Ethnicity and Education to discover a case of no racism!

However, TOF disagrees with them that reified numbers are themselves racist, let alone that we may "interrogate" them. One may as well call genes "selfish." LOL. It is entirely possible that data are used by racists -- we note that all three co-authors are white and therefore, ipso facto, racists (though TOF notices a deficit among those who find society "deeply rooted" in racism to include themselves among those entangled in those roots); but it is more likely that their confreres have been using statistics ineptly in an effort to imitate real scientists. Their efforts to measure the immeasurable are cute, but calling a questionnaire an "instrument" does not make it the equivalent of a micrometer or a telescope.

It is not likely that confirmation bias has allowed the authors to see that this applies equally well to "studies" of religious believers, "free will," Republicans, conservatives, or any other targets of their colleagues' gimlet eyes.

4. A Lament for Canada

By David Warren may sound familiar to more southern [USAn] ears. The whole is worth reading.
We confront today a State which has taken upon itself an interventionist rôle in every aspect of daily life; which claims an authority far beyond that of the Church in the most remote theocratic corner of the Dark Ages. And through modern technology, neutral in itself, the State has acquired absolute power to enforce its authority and its whims.

We have what I now call the State as Twisted Nanny, imposing her insatiable will on the motherless children of our post-modern orphanage, now that the traditional family is largely destroyed. Twisted Nanny treats her “clients” as wayward children, of no individual significance, and with “rights” only insofar as they are organized in groups for whining, and need to be bought off. 
-- David Warren, "News to a foreign country" (Essays in Idleness)
Commenting on the "media," he goes on to say:
"I would call very few of my former [journalist] colleagues Leftists or fanatics of any kind, or even uncritical supporters of the mainstream progressive agenda. In private, many will utter things that would explode the heads of the politically correct — if they were listening. But first they look around to see who is listening. That caution, about being overheard, is a sign of our times.
Never expect the agents of publicity to be on your side; think one step ahead of them, instead. They won’t be on your side today or tomorrow, or until the day that you win everything, and even then, they won’t be on your side. For they will be on the side of power and comfort, as they always were. If the whole country turned Mediaeval Catholic, tomorrow morning, they would kneel and take up their Rosaries; and have as much faith as they had the day before."

 5. Le Steampunk Ancien

Mark Koyama, an economist at George Mason University specializing in economic history, law and economics and institutional economics, enthralled by an alt-hist novel, Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale, asks, "Could Rome Have Had an Industrial Revolution?"

The short answer is, "Of course not." The rather longer answer, by Mr. Koyama, is "Sure could have!" He writes:
"Dale forces us to consider Jesus as a religious extremist in a Roman world not unlike our own. The novel throws new light on our own attitudes to terrorism, globalization, torture, and the clash of cultures. It is highly recommended."
Well, whatever. When the only mental tool you have is a hammer, all of history is full of nails. Another possibility is that Jesus was of no particular secular consequence at the time, and it was Rome that was into torture and globalization, and wrt to the Jews [and the Gauls] was on a roll clash-of-cultures-wise. Not to mention the Persians. with whom they were more-or-less in a permanent state of clash.

Mention is made of Heron of Alexandria's invention of the "steam engine" in Early Imperial times and suggests that this did not catch on because the vast number of slaves meant human labor never lost its economic comparative advantage, almost as if Progress™ were a given unless something "impedes" it. This analysis loses its charm when we realize that Heron's aeolipile was not in fact an engine of any sort. That is, it could not do work, for the excellent reason that the arts of metallurgy were not sufficiently advanced to produce steam boilers sufficient to retain the necessary pressures to drive jack. Prior art matters. 

Dale, a lawyer, speculates that an early industrial revolution might have been realized had Archimedes not been killed during Marcellus' sack of Syracus. But this supposes that Archimedes was an inventor of some practical kind based on yarns about his inventions during the siege, some of which are downright fantastical. Now, these gadgets had been built well before to illustrate theorems in geometry and just happened to be sitting there when the Romans showed up. Others had done so in ages past, only to be denounced by Plato for involving base matter in what should have been the pure spiritual pursuit of geometry. In Plutarch's Life of Marcellus (written ca. AD 75 about events that took place in 212 BC) we find the source for these stories and learn that:
Yet Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of scientific knowledge, that though these inventions had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, of the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration. 
 IOW, it is unlikely whether, had he lived, Archimedes would have been the Spark of an Industrial Revolution. The mental attitudes were not there. He certainly had not been so up to then. As Brian Stock wrote in "Science, Technology, and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages," [the Roman’s] "daily experience led him to believe that nature’s forces could be imitated, even placated; he was less sure they could be understood." In the same essay he adds, "The failure of Greece and Rome to increase productivity through innovation is as notorious as the inability of historians from Gibbon to the present to account for it."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The 32 Lost Years of Antibiotics

We live in a culture of “research” and “planning.” I’m not against honest research (which is rare), but mortally opposed to “planning.” The best it can ever achieve is defeat, when its ham-fist efforts fail to prevent some beauty, truth, or good from emerging. Countless billions, yanked from the taxpayers’ pockets, and collected through highly professional, tear-jerking campaigns, are spent “trying to find a cure” for this or that. When and if it comes, it is invariably the product of some nerd somewhere, with a messy lab.
-- David Warren, "That's funny."

The 32 Lost Years of Antibiotics

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Are We Teaching Math All Wrong?

William Whewell once contended that math education should build upon geometry, which focuses on logic and concrete objects, rather than upon analysis (algebra, calculus), which focuses on abstractions and symbol manipulation. Oddly enough, another blogger -- James Chastek at Just Thomism -- seems to have encountered the same post today and had this to say:
We’ve clearly fallen into exactly the fault that Whewell wanted to avoid, and have dumped the geometrical approach almost entirely while dedicating years to teaching analytic methods. The fundamental pedagogical mistake is in this approach is that it teaches abstractions before teaching what they are abstracted from.
Not content with this error, we went in the 1970s to teaching New Math; viz., abstract set theory in grade school! A lot of geometry taught today is actually analytical geometry: The focus is on formulas for calculating lengths, areas, volumes of sundry geometric figures. Few indeed are those fortunate enough to prove geometrical properties with straightedge and compass and reasoning from the postulates, as TOF was, Lo!, these many years ago in geometry class from Sr. Amelia. 

That was sophomore year. Freshman year was given over to Algebra. In my section -- Freshman 7 -- we covered both Algebra I and Algebra II, the latter being normally reserved to Junior year. If I read Whewell, Siris, and Chastek aright, we should do Geometry first and postpone Algebra until later.

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology aphorisms Aquinas argument from motion Aristotelianism art atheism autumn of the modern ages books brains breaking news captive dreams cartoon charts chieftain clannafhloinn comix commentary counterattack crusades culcha dogheads easton stuff economics eifelheim evolution factoids on parade fake news fallen angels Feeders fir trees in lungs firestar flicks floods flynncestry flynnstuff forecasts forest of time fun facts gandersauce gimlet eye global warming glvwg headlines henchmen high frontier history home front how to lie with statistics humor hush-hush hypatia in the house of submission irish Iron Shirts irrationalism january dancer jihad journeyman kabuki kool letter lion's mouth lunacon maps mayerling medieval metrology miscellany modern mythology moose zombies music new years nexus odds odds and ends paleofuture passing of the modern age philosophy philosophy math poetry politics psyched out! public service quality quiet sun quote of the day razor's edge redefinition of marriage religio reviews river of stars scandal science science marches on scientism scrivening shipwrecks of time shroud skiffy skiffy in the news skools slipping masks some people will believe anything stats stories stranger things the auld curmudgeon the madness continues the new fascism the spiral arm the writing life thomism thread o' years tofspot topology untergang des abendlandes untergang des morgenlandes up jim river video clips vignettes war on science we get letters we're all gonna die whimsy words at play xmas you can't make this stuff up