Tuesday, January 16, 2018

On not exaggerating the impact of nuclear weapons

So in Hawaii, they accidentally sent out news that said "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediately shelter. This is not a drill." Understandably, there was pretty widespread panic. One man had a massive heart attack. Obviously, the concern was that North Korea had sent it, so some people wanted to blame the President for it, although it seems to have been a mistake made on the state level.

Nuclear weapons are one of those things that people just have a magical view of. Plain old radiation is another one. It's the ultimate evil, it's the end of everything, anything that gets close to it is dead or poisoned forever. I don't mean to minimize the impact of nuclear weapons, but they're just a type of large bomb with the potential to cause long-lasting injury and illness for those who survive. That's terrible enough that we don't need to exaggerate it. Considering the type of bomb North Korea could potentially use, you'd have to be relatively close to ground zero to be affected by a nuclear bomb going off. You can go over to Nukemap, type in Honolulu, type in 150 kiloton yield (or scroll down to "North Korean weapon tested in 2017"), and hit detonate. The large majority of Oahu wouldn't even be touched. In fact, you should move ground zero over to Pearl Harbor, which is what a bomb would probably be targeting, or maybe Marine Corps Base Hawaii near Kaneohe. Regardless, most of the island would be untouched. Then change the location to your own home town and see how far the impact would be.

Yes, there are significantly bigger bombs out there -- Nukemap lets you go up to the 100,000 kiloton Tsar bomba the Russians tested in 1961 -- which have huge yields. And under many circumstances, a city would be hit by multiple bombs in order to increase the yield as well. But the concern now is with North Korea, and they simply don't have the capacity to do much. Again, I'm not trying to downplay it, I just want to ease people's fears. If this doesn't help, just ignore it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New world music

I love the music of Antonin Dvorak (or Dvořák if you want to be fancy), and the piece that brought me into the fold is the famous Largo from his New World Symphony.

I never thought much about what was "New World" about it -- if I thought about it at all I probably figured it was originally performed in the States or something. Well, I recently discovered that the haunting and simple melody the Largo begins with was meant to sound like a Negro spiritual. And not only was Dvorak successful in capturing that sound, one of his students eventually wrote lyrics to it and made it into an actual song, "Goin' Home." Of course, the "home" in question is heaven.

I still can't believe how beautiful all of this is. It captures the yearning for heaven as good as anything I've ever heard.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Recent acquisitions

For Christmas I received the best present you can give someone like me: gift cards for Powell's books. Online I bought 20 books for $40, then I went into the stores and used up the rest of the cards. It was glorious. I've also received some other books recently from various provenances.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Great Books of the Western World, vols. 19-20: Aquinas I-II).
F. Samuel Brainard, Reality's Fugue: Reconciling Worldviews in Philosophy, Religion, and Science.
Confucius, The Analects.
W.T. Jones, Kant and the Nineteenth Century: A History of Western Philosophy IV.
Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.
Maurice Mandelbaum, The Problem of Historical Knowledge: An Answer to Relativism.
Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?, 2nd ed.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.
Charles S. Peirce, Selected Writings (Values in a Universe of Chance).
Leslie Stevenson, Seven Theories of Human Nature, 2nd ed.
Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Brian W. Aldiss, Helliconia Spring.
John Barnes. Orbital Resonance.
James Blish, The Quincunx of Time.
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine.
Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey 2.
Arthur C. Clarke, 2061: Odyssey 3.
Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End.
Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama.
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, The Light of Other Days.
Gardner Dozois, ed., The Year's Best Science Fiction, vol. 5.
Harry Harrison and Carol Pugner, eds., A Science Fiction Reader.
Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road.
Robert A. Heinlein, The Star Beast.
Elizabeth Moon, Lunar Activity.
Larry Niven, Rainbow Mars.
Larry Niven, The Draco Tavern.
Larry Niven, The Integral Trees.
Ben Orkow, When Time Stood Still.
John Ringo, Live Free or Die.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Book of Lost Tales, part 1.
John Twelve Hawks, The Traveler.
Gene Wolfe, There Are Doors.


1. First and foremost, I received Dozois's fifth volume of his Year's Best SF free from someone on a comments thread on another blog. I pointed out that I had most of the series, and she said she had one of the ones I was missing and offered to mail it to me. I am very, very thankful to her. With this, I now have volumes 3-32 and 34. Volumes 1 and 2 are collectors' items and absurdly expensive, so I don't plan on getting those. Volume 33 is recent (published in 2016, collecting stories from 2015), so I'll wait until it's cheaper.

2. A bunch of these books were very cheap. The ones I bought for 95¢ are 2010, 2065, Light of Other Days, Helliconia Spring, and The Traveler. The ones I bought for $1.50 are Quincunx of Time, Orbital Resonance, Book of Lost Tales part 1, There are Doors, A Science Fiction Reader, The Analects, The Case for Faith, and Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Thirteen books for $16.75.

3. I've been wanting to get a collection of Peirce's writings for a while, so I'm very happy with that purchase -- as I am with the Kant, the Wittgenstein, and the Nietzsche. I want a broadly representative library of the more important philosophical works in history. I say "library" -- right now they all fit on two shelves, two feet wide.

4. I'm also very happy with the Aquinas: it doesn't contain all of the second and third parts of the Summa, but I'm happy to have it on my shelf. Until now, the only Aquinas I had was his commentary on Boethius's De Trinitate. This is one of a few volumes I have in the Great Books of the Western World series; I also have two volumes on Aristotle and one on Kant. Next, I plan to get some of the science editions, like volumes 16 (Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler) and 49 (Darwin).

5. I had the first edition of The Gospel and the Greeks, but it got lost in shipping when we moved back to the States a few years ago. I'm glad to have it again. Admittedly, it's written by a philosopher rather than a historian or theologian, but he really debunks the whole "Christ myth myth" very well, if my recollection is accurate. I got two other books that are re-purchases of books that got lost in shipping as well. First, The Analects. I toyed with Confucianism in my early-20s, although I appreciated Taoism much more at the time. I'm still fascinated by the history of Chinese philosophy. Second, The Case for Faith which is a collection of interviews with theologians, philosophers, and other assorted folks dealing with some of the most prominent objections to Christianity. I appreciate books like this because, due to my particular mindset, they played a big role for me in my early days as a Christian. Nevertheless, they sometimes end up looking like the little Dutch boy trying to prevent the flood by putting his finger in the dam.

6. Elizabeth Moon is most known for her military science-fiction. I'm not averse to military sci-fi per se (witness my purchase of Live Free or Die), but none of the synopses I've read of Moon's books in that genre have appealed to me. However, two other books she wrote did, and they are both fantastic: The Speed of Dark and Remnant Population, both of which show the great value of people who are often discarded in our society (an autistic in Speed of Dark and an elderly widow in Remnant Population). The book I just bought is a collection of her short stories, which I think includes some military sci-fi, so we'll see if I get hooked.

7. Bradbury may not be deep literature, but he is able to encapsulate emotions better than any writer I know. His short story "The Fog Horn" is just the definition of loneliness. And Dandelion Wine is a perfect expression of nostalgia.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy anniversary to me

As of today I've been writing this blog for ten years. Ten freakin' years. It's older than my kids. Here's my first post.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Uh, sorry

On the sidebar is the blog archive. I started out strong, but then settled down into around a hundred posts a year. In 2011 and 2012 I managed 88 posts each year. But starting in 2014, the number of annual posts dropped dramatically. Finally, this year, I got back into the swing of things. And as I entered December, I had 82 posts, with a good chance of breaking 90, and very good odds I would at least reach the 88 posts that I had in previous years. I already had a few meaty posts that were mostly written and just needed another short paragraph or so before clicking "Publish." But then, for no readily apparent reason, I kept finding other things to do. So with this post, I'm at 84 posts for the year. Not too shabby, but I had such high hopes. So, to apologize for hardly posting anything this month, I'll link you to Dave Barry's 2017 Year in Review. Merry belated Christmas and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A few more spacey links

-- Incredible. They recently fired up Voyager 1's trajectory thrusters, and they worked perfectly. It took over 39 hours after they first broadcast the signal to hear back from the spacecraft that it was a success because it's 19 and a half light hours away. More here.

-- Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian, has another book out about a Moon base, Artemis. Ima gotsta get it. Popular Mechanics explores the science and technology behind it.

-- What looks to be the beginning of an interesting series of articles: "How the Apollo fire propelled NASA to the Moon".

-- Some new discoveries make it (slightly) more likely that Jupiter's moon Europa could harbor life.

Update (11 December): Another big link: Trump orders NASA to send American astronauts to the Moon, Mars.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


-- This is amazing. It is the oldest piece of music known, dating from about 1400 BC. Obviously there is a lot of interpretation since it wasn't written in our musical notation, but it's still incredible. I'm linking to it instead of embedding it because you need to read the comments section.

-- I've written before about the book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence by philosopher David Benatar. I've always asked, jokingly, "Did he dedicate it to his parents?" Well, a new article in the New Yorker reveals that he actually did. Bill Vallicella comments on Benatar's position, called anti-natalism, and actually points (here and here) to Christian anti-natalism: that is, that the Christian position should be to not bring any more people into existence.

-- "Flows of 'water' on Mars may actually be sand, new study reveals". I thought we already knew this. At least, I remember linking to a study that suggested it, but I can't find the post now, so it may have been on another blog.

-- The inestimable Edward Feser reviews the inestimable Daniel Dennett's most recent book, the inestimable From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. Feser's review is entitled One Long Circular Argument. It begins thus:

How do you get blood from a stone? Easy. Start by redefining “blood” to mean “a variety of stone.” Next, maintaining as straight a face as possible, dramatically expound upon some trivial respect in which stone is similar to blood. For example, describe how, when a red stone is pulverized and stirred into water, the resulting mixture looks sort of like blood. Condescendingly roll your eyes at your incredulous listener’s insistence that there are other and more important respects in which stone and blood are dissimilar. Accuse him of obscurantism and bad faith. Finally, wax erudite about the latest research in mineralogy, insinuating that it somehow shows that to reject your thesis is to reject Science Itself. 
Of course, no one would be fooled by so farcical a procedure. But substitute “mind” for “blood” and “matter” for “stone,” and you have the recipe for Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back.

I haven't read the book yet, but that description sums up Dennett's whole oeuvre so well it's a little disturbing.

-- J.R. Lucas, "The Gödelian Argument: Turn Over the Page"Etica e Politica 5/1 (2003).

-- Peter van Inwagen, "The Compatibility of Darwinism and Design", in Neil A. Manson, ed., God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 2003).

-- Ted Chiang, "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", Subterranean Press (this last one is science-fiction, if you're wondering).

Friday, November 24, 2017


A Sufi mosque in Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula on the Mediterranean, was subject to a horrific terrorist attack. 235 people are reported dead so far. 235, including 15 to 25 children. My gosh, just pray for them. It's absolutely horrific. I've written before that Sufism is usually considered a mystical form of Islam, but many Muslims (perhaps most) consider it heretical. I presume that would be the motive here, but the larger part of me isn't interested in the motives of evil people for committing evil but on asking how we stop them.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Flatsy McFlathead

For earlier posts on flat earth advocates, see here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Malcolm Young died. Here are some reactions from various rockers.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

On prayer, again

So we've had another couple of spree shootings, both by people without any ties to terror organizations, but with apparently significant mental and emotional problems. Neither shooter could legally own guns. The first was in a church in Texas on November 5, and 26 people were killed. Naturally, many people began to pray for the survivors and the families of those who were killed. Out came the knives. Rather than link to some of the venomous statements, I'll just summarize and sanitize them: "The people in the church were already praying and it didn't stop the massacre. Why do you think more praying will have any impact. Instead of praying (read: stop praying), try doing something instead."

Now I discussed this before, but one point I didn't make is that this kind of objection only works if we assume that God is some kind of mechanism, and praying to him automatically (or at least, in significant proportions) produces the desired effect. But of course, this contradicts the actual religions of the people doing the praying. God is a person, a mind, with free will. We can't make him do anything. This certainly creates an issue, which is commonly called the problem of evil, but that doesn't account for the condemnation and malice directed towards those who pray. This quote by C.S. Lewis gives a good summary of why asking whether prayer works is basically a category mistake.

But there was another issue that struck me in the aftermath of the Texas shooting. It has two parts. First, a few days beforehand, on Halloween, there was a terrorist attack in New York, where a man, claiming to be acting on behalf of ISIS, drove a truck over a bunch of pedestrians, killing eight and injuring a dozen more. The man called out the takbir, "Allahu akbar" (God is greater, or the greatest) which is a very common phrase in Islam, stated during all kinds of things, good and bad. It has, unfortunately, become strongly associated with terrorism, as terrorists say it when committing their atrocities. The takbir is a prayer, although it's not a petitionary prayer -- that is, it's not specifically asking God for something, but is instead praising him. And for days afterwards, there were several opinion pieces in the media defending this prayer, trying to separate it from its association with terrorism (examples here, here, and here). Fine. But this created a sharp contrast. When a Muslim prays while committing an act of horrendous evil, his prayer is defended. When Christians pray after a horrendous evil has been committed against them, their prayer is condemned.

Second, a few days after the Texas shooting, on the anniversary of the Presidential election, people in several cities who were, shall we say, displeased with the results, congregated to scream at the sky. That's pretty darn close to prayers offered in the aftermath of a horrendous evil, and I suspect (though I can't prove) that most of the people who engaged in this activity were those who would defend the takbir and lambaste the Christians praying.

The point, which I hope is obvious, is that there is some pretty severe hypocrisy going on by those who condemn Christians for having the audacity to pray after a horrific event. The Texas shooting was sandwiched between two events which provoked radically different responses from the same people. 1) Evil man cries out to God while committing his evil, 2) Christians cry out to God after evil man commits evil against them, 3) people congregate to cry out to God because of the political situation in the United States. If you're only condemning the second case, you're not being consistent.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

Our present condition, then, is explained by the fact that we are members of a spoiled species. I do not mean that our sufferings are a punishment for being what we cannot now help being nor that we are morally responsible for the rebellion of a remote ancestor. If, nonetheless, I call our present condition one of original Sin, and not merely one of original misfortune, that is because our actual religious experience does not allow us to regard it in any other way. Theoretically, I suppose, we might say "Yes: we behave like vermin, but then that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault." But the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to commit. The situation is not nearly so hard to understand as some people make out. It arises among human beings whenever a very badly brought up boy is introduced into a decent family. They rightly remind themselves that it is "not his own fault" that he is a bully, a coward, a tale-bearer and a liar. But, however it came there, his present character is nonetheless detestable. They not only hate it, but ought to hate it. They cannot love him for what he is, they can only try to turn him into what he is not. In the meantime, though the boy is most unfortunate in having been so brought up, you cannot quite call his character a "misfortune" as if he were one thing and his character another. It is he -- he himself -- who bullies and sneaks and likes doing it. And if he begins to mend he will inevitably feel shame and guilt at what he is just beginning to cease to be.

C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain

Thursday, November 9, 2017


-- Here's an interesting (and long) series of quotes by political pundits on their reactions in the lead-up to, in the midst of, and in the aftermath of, the 2016 Presidential election. I couldn't focus on the election because I was still too overwhelmed by the flat-out miracle of the Cubs winning the World Series a few days earlier.

-- Huh. 84 confirmed facts in the last 16 chapters of the book of Acts.

-- Here's an article on "The Poisoned Will of Jean Meslier", an 18th century French priest, who wrote a book condemning all religion as evil, and which was only found after his death. If you want to read the poison itself, here ya go.

-- I know about the philosopher Sally Haslanger because I very briefly reference her husband in my book, but I don't know that much about her. This account of her career frustrates me. Immensely. Right out of her doctoral studies in the mid-1980s, she got a tenure-track position at UCal Irvine. Then a year later, she got a tenure-track position at Princeton. At this point, she hadn't published anything. Three years later she went to a tenure-track position at U Michigan, and in 1992, was offered a tenured (not tenure-track, but tenured) position at Cornell. At this point she had only published three articles. I assume things were different then, but I find that account nearly miraculous. I've published several articles and a book and I'm only an adjunct. I can't even find a non-tenure-track but full-time position. But that's not what frustrates me about the account of her career. Again, I assume that it was easier to get a tenure-track position then, and I strongly suspect that she knew the right people and knew how to network, two areas where I am sadly lacking. No, what frustrates me is that Haslanger says she has "a deep well of rage" inside her because of how shabbily she's been treated. Her career is proof of miracles and she says she's been mistreated. I have no words.

-- I'm sorry, but this is hilarious.

-- This is cool. Going over old astronomical photographic plates, scientists discovered evidence of planets orbiting other stars a hundred years ago, but the scientists of the time just didn't understand what it meant.

-- This . . . seems weird. A student group at a Catholic university (Georgetown) is being condemned by the university for defending and upholding official Catholic teaching on the nature of sexuality. I mean, I can understand why the topic would be controversial, but they're only promoting official Catholic teaching on that topic at a Catholic institution. They're being threatened with having their status as an official student group removed.

-- Alvin Plantinga, "A Valid Ontological Argument?" Philosophical Review 70 (1961): 93-101.

-- Dallas Willard, "The Case against Quine's Case for Psychologism," in Perspectives in Psychologism, ed. Mark Notturno (New York: Brill, 1989), 286-295.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Tu sei morta"

A few years ago I linked to a video of an aria from Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo. I linked to it because I couldn't embed it. Now I can, so here it is. Monteverdi was, depending on how you look at it, either a late Renaissance composer or an early Baroque composer. He died before any of the Baroque composers we all know and love were even born, but he was clearly developing music beyond Renaissance concepts. L'Orfeo is about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the aria below is after Eurydice has died and Orpheus vows to go to the underworld and sing to Hades to try to convince him to let her return to the land of the living. I chose a video that translates his words, but for some reason doesn't translate the last line Orpheus sings before leaving for the underworld: "Goodbye earth, goodbye sky, and sun, goodbye." I find it heartbreaking.