Religion is where you find it.

Yesterday was a bit educational. The “bit” comes in largely from observing what went on in the Yankee government. We had (modern) democrats voting to reward corporate oligarchs for failure and (modern) republicans apparently paying heed to their constituents. Is there some fundamental aspect being revealed here or is it simply a matter of worrying about election?

But I did find the scape goating of Ms. Pelosi delightfully sectarian. Can we now consider political partisanship a newly recognized form of religious divisiveness? Is the deity a (modern) republican or a (modern) democrat, or, wonder for the world!, something else entirely with what looks like probability one?

The bit was further enlivened by finding out that the concentration of greehouse gases in the atmosphere went up by 0.03 last year. [Link] I do not want to enter into the discussion/debate/dissonance over whether global climate change is caused by humans primarily/partially/marginally/not-at-all. Such has become about as religious in character and stridency as the sugaring of Wall Street. The fundamental issue is not wo or what causes the matter but that humans ameliorate it before we have catastrophes that make wars and famines look tame.

And how about the “network” as religion. Certainly it has assumed the same dimensions and pervasive foundation for many people’s lives that the Roman Catholic did for serfs and peasants during the Middle Ages. So the question of whether Gooey is trying to secularize the “network” seems not inappropriate. [Link] The problem, I suspect, is that of the blinders over the eyes of analysts in the great metropolises who are out of touch with the hinterland of America. Yes, in the canyons of civilization the issue is which provider; in the wasteland that is the majority of American area, it is whether there is a provider available. And while the search for public WiFi is not quite as dismal as the search for a radio station that is not country, or some form of mystical rhetoric, either religious or political, if not both, the difference is scant in terms of discouragement.

Bilge Pump

One of the metaphors for nation-state is the ship. So far as I can tell from an interested but superficial literature survey – I have visited several libraries and reviewed their bound collections for books on the subject that I perused – the metaphor is at least as old as political cartoons.

I came to consider this after receiving an email from a colleague, Voltage Spin. The matter had started as part of an ongoing discussion of the demographics of nerdery with the new information I blogged on earlier on dyscalculia. My colleague interrupted with the diversion of how does one visualize the magnitude of the “bail out”? This reignited my consideration of the matter.

After some consideration, I advanced that the matter might be compared to the Manhattan Project. At the time, this was the biggest extraordinary project the Yankee government had yet attempted, and over the period for the Great Patriotic War and up until the Soviets exploded their own bomb several billions of dollars were spent on the program, which was considered horribly expensive. The program escaped public outcry by its security, of course.

Now since then, the cost of stuff has gone up by approximately two orders of magnitude. Put in a more exact sense, a penny in 1943 has (approximately) the buying value of a dollar in 2008. Comparisons on individual things are difficult but a combination of similar things relevant to both dates would pretty well bear this up.

So the Wall Street bail out is pretty much the same order of magnitude as the Manhattan Project. I leave consideration of the differences to the reader. But I will comment on two connotations associated with the term “bail”. One is to remove water from a boat to prevent it sinking. Unless the boat is grounded quickly, bailing is a continuous activity. The other meaning is to obtain the release of someone accused of criminal activity from jail. This is dependent on good behavior and appearance at trial.

Sancuary of Sanctuary

I noticed a letter to the New Yawk Times the other day from Harry Kamen. [Link] In it he argues, claims rather, that paying taxes is patriotic.

I would disagree with him. Paying taxes is a cost of living in this country. It falls on citizens and non-citizens alike albeit unequally. Mr. Kamen acknowledges this and caveats his claim “with a good heart”. I have to presume he is speaking metaphorically because he does not support any connection between cardiac health and paying taxes.

But what disturbs is when this is combined with an article from the Washington Times on how some pulpit pongos were supposed to defy the Yankee government yesterday and issue sermon endorsements of political candidates. [Link] At risk is loss of their tax free status, presumably as in non-profit organization since the matter is policed by the Yankee government’s Internal Revenue Service.

I have to admit to reading the latter article rather more avidly than the former, mostly because having been conceived and nurtured in the old Confederacy, I was totally unaware of any such restriction. So far as I can recall, preachers and ministers have always advanced the causes of those they favor. The absence, which has been rare, has been been limited to situations when none of those on the ballot were worthy of anything but silent condemnation.

So has the Yankee government been remiss all of these years? And why should we expect them to suddenly find any motivation now?

Education as Metamorphosis

Alexa Harrington has done it again. Earlier this week she posted a blot entitled “What is a College Education?” [Link] The content of that blot is and is not contained in the simplicity and directness of the title. And I have to admit to having treasured the considerations emerging from this blot.

Those considerations are multi-dimensional, as is the question itself, as are so many of these simply phrased questions. Some of those dimensions will, I am sure, never make the leap to a blot, but the question is one of great worth for the value of the answer.

In recent years we, as a society in the Yankee republic, have largely been spared the rigors of this question. Since the end of the Great Patriotic War, college attendance has become more and more part of the norm of young life, of the transition from adolescence to adulthood. As such the question of what is a college education has largely been abandoned in the lemming drive to attendance and a degree.

For as is typical of Americans we see college attendance and degree not in terms of a transformation but in terms of attainment. When I attended college, degrees were conferred or bestowed, today they have been reduced to possessions, bought with money. mostly money, and a bit of attention span and time. The difference is largely one of competition. Degrees that are conferred imply that one has been triumphant in some form of competition; degrees that are possessed are little more than warranties of services provided.

The springboard of Ms. Harrington’s blot is an article in the Dartmouth Review “What is a College Education?” by Jeffrey Hart. [Link] Professor Hart prescribes what he thinks is a college education by a comprehension of what he calls “Jerusalem and Athens”. This is achieved by reading a series of books he lists, and thinking about these writings within the context of lectures about them.

I must take exception with Professor Hart. I should recognize that Ms. Harrington takes exception also but in a much more civilized manner than myself. My overall objection is with Professor Hart’s simplicity which admits of excluding enormous portions of what college education is about. Fundamentally, what Professor Hart prescribes is a college education for a pedantically educated major in the literary thought he lists. Patently this is a small subset of what any college offers and a small subset of what education is.

The argument may be advanced, although it is a rather dated liberal arts argument, that the technical information taught by a college, whether that technical information be science or engineering, law or medicine, business or home economics, is nothing but training. The argument is relevant here because it raises the issue of the difference between education and training. That difference is simple and complex, training is learning a body of knowledge, and the skills that enable the application of that body in an ordered environment. Education on the other hand is attaining an aspect of cognition, an ability, as it be, to think about certain things. The latter, by definition, transcends order and rises into the realms of creativity and originality.

This is the fundamental problem with Professor Hart’s prescription, that is is training rather than education. In effect, his prescription is to study a particular set of thoughts, an admittedly worthy set, but a particular set nonetheless and hence training rather than education. The nature of this is well expressed by him,

“The main job in getting a college education is to make sure the large essential parts are firmly in place, after which you can build upon them.”

The prescription is clear. And must be just as clearly refuted.

This is not to say that education can be achieved without accumulating some background information. In the case of a college education, that background information comes from studying what has gone before, conveniently arranged in courses. But this in and of itself transcends training only in surpassing the prescriptive. What is important in comprising education is not rote learning but thinking that goes beyond mere facts, however complex those facts may be.

This is not an easy concept. College students are given to heated discussions about what they have been exposed to, and while these are important steps on the way to being educated, they are not sufficient demonstrations of education. What emerges must go beyond the mere manipulation of what has gone before; an aspect of originality and creativity is necessary.

Back in the days when I got to abuse large children with the arcana of mechanics, one of the ways we knew when it was time for a student to graduate, and I am talking graduate students here, was when that student quit coming to class and went off and did new things on his own. At that point the student had moved from taking what we had to teach to learning on his own. And when what he learned were new things not done before, he was educated.

This is what a college education is. It does not matter whether the background information is classical greek philosophy, or comparative nomadic religions, or even technical matters dismissed by the liberal arts as unworthy. What matters is what one builds, not what one has been given.

Simplicity in Action

People are wonderful systems. We seem to continually be discovering more and more natural causes of our depravity and apparent irrationality. Now, courtesy of researchers at New Yawk U we are advised that people panic and overbid on eBay not from an aversion to risk, but due to “fear of losing”. [Link] And while the study is based on a rather embarrassingly SMALL sample population, it rings true at the anecdotal level.

I have to admit that I do use eBay. I collect things. Stuff that FD SCP would declaim as junk were it not for her own collections of sewing instrumentality, cloth, and whatnot. My weakness is old implements of nerdishness: nerd electronic calculators of the ’70’s and early ’80’s, some slide rules of the period just before that, and the occasional piece of lab equipment. She has extracted from me a promise not to purchase anything that generates large scalar or vector potential differences – like van de Graff generators or Tesla coils or multi-ton electromagnets – although things like large solar mirrors or hefty lasers are acceptable so long as I don’t use them to shoo off the pseudo-feral cats and dogs in the neighborhood that the Greater Metropolitan Arab animal police ignore for political reasons. She is also not quite sure about the Foucault pendulum bob I just got, not because of the bob itself but because of the frame I need to build in the yard to make use of the bob. I suspect those plans will join the one for the tennis ball trebuchet that got nixed because of the day care center that would have been within range, a casualty of my reputation as a mower of lawns while doing contour integrals mentally.

I have had to learn to deal with the loss aspect of eBay – there are, after all, a plethora of retired and retiring nerds out there who want to go loudly into the dark – but I have taken the sensations as something to be learned and internalized, rather like one learns how to deal with continual rejection in public shul. But the matter of “fear of losing” may explain the apparently ubiquitous hatred for “snipers” and their increase, as evidence by the healthy growth of businesses who mediate such. Selah.

Then, courtesy of Live Science, which is a bit suspect inherently, as a rehash of a Pew survey, we find that the female of the species is dominant. [Link] Our primary response has to be confirmation, not creativity. But, as with most such human interactions, the whole thing is rather oversimplified. The whole things fails to specify the conditions of decision making, whether it is one member of the partnership exercising power over the other, or one member making a decision that beneifts the other more, as a gesture of altruism or devotion, or even a surrender of decision making on similar basis. Why, there may even be some aspect of rationality involved.

When I got to do management every day, there were some decisions I recognized a manager should not make but allow those managed to make. These were often the important decisions that had the direct potential for doing great damage to the organization. The same applies to marriages. No matter how simplistic the portrayal by the media.

And while we are on being overly simplistic, research at U Western Ontario indicates that some minds can’t handle maths. [Link] Avoiding the obvious comment about the name indicating pork barrelism in Canada, the researchers identify a condition akin to dyslexia called dyscalcula whereby maths are not mentated properly.
The example given is the inability to connect finger counting with numerals. Again, this seems simplistic. I speak now anecdotally. Since I was about ten, I have been aware that I have a maths condition akin to dyslexia although I lacked any term for it other than maths dyslexia. As some people print letters backwards – another good reason for teaching all cursive! – some people get their maths backwards. The most common form of this is transposing a pair of numbers although in some extreme cases the who decimal must be transposed. Such folks often melt down when confronted with transcendental numbers like pi.

I must admit to being one of these people. I have no problems at all with symbolic maths but I am an absolute klutz at arithmetic. Square roots are only mentally realizable if I do them by Taylor expansions. And I leave the basic four of arithmetics to calculators and spreadsheet clients. So again, an iceburg situation yet to be scientifically explored. Go it, guys!

Saturnine Saturday

The economic situation continues to deepen. The only obvious bright side to all this is the somewhat macabre opportunity to watch the gradual, mostly calm slide into destruction. I did pull out an article about the Yankee government seizing Washington Mutual, aka WaMu this Thursday. The obvious pain of the investors aside, the equally obvious question arose of whether this was in any way related to their innane television commercials? Were such a matter of stupidity among bankers, or stupidity among advertising agents. And if the latter, is it a combination of both. Or, has there been any non-stupidity among advertising agents in many years?

I have to admit to growing up in the youth of television. My early years were flavored with Howdy Doody and the Do-Bee, my later years with George Toffel and Science Fiction Theater. In those days, television commercials had a presence. Members of my age cohort are always commenting on some advertising icon or jingle that grabbed some primordial aspect of the human mind. But by acknowledging that we have to ask where are those momory grabbers today?

Yes, in those days we had the horrible commercials of Honest Whosits selling used automobiles or some other sleaze. Now, even the sleaze merchants like the folks who sell annuity compaction or insurance have prettied up and reduced the entirety of advertising to mundanity while the people who should be deliberate and confidence inspiring are overexcited primates – like WaMu.

I also see, courtesy of the United Nations practice of ineffective observation that by end of year, presumably the calendar year of Europe?, that there will be 4M cellular phone users on the planet, closer to two-thirds than a half. [Link] My first thought on hearing this is whether anyone has informed Mr. Gore from Tennessee, the self-appointed wizard of warming and former – thankfully – deputy chief executive of the Yankee government? Surely all of these people talking on telephones all the time has an increasing effect on global warming. And, pray note, all of what comes out of their mouths is carbon dioxide, with a bit of nitrogen and trace gases, including methane and ammonia. Something must be done about this! This run away stoking of the planetary heat budget by phone users must be quenched. Perhaps legislation, after the Yankee congress solves the Well Street problem, to restrict cellular phone use to one hour per person per day? Or perhaps a bounty on the ears of cellular phone users? After all, they are not protected like wolves. Or have wolves been unprotected again by Wall Street?

And while we are again on the matter of idiocy, it appears that not only will people blythly install malware on their computers – at leat the Windows users – to “make the pop ups go away”, it seems that they will gladly sell passwords and other vital personal information for a gift voucher. [Link] And while this study is a trifle suspect since it was conducted by a company that sells security clients, (when did clients cease to be people and become software?) it fits, and brings us to the wonder of why we should trust ourselves with either money or cellular phones. But it does offer a resounding illumination of why we have so much religious fervor. If we will give away our personal wealth for an immediate payment of less than $10, then what will we do for a promise of eternal boredom and slavery?

And lastly, Yves Rossy has become the first human aircraft to fly the English Channel – successfully. [Link] I am not at all sure that whether this is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand I am all in favor of a bit of individualism and proper disrespect for false authority, but I do wonder about such things in an era of rampant consumerism and corporate greed. Can we not expect a proliferation of such commercially. Will the man frame aircraft become the new motor scooter of tomorrow?

On the bright side this will do wonderful things for global climate change by stirring up the otherwise placid pockets of greenhouse gases and reducing our population numbers. Tales of air surfers who run out of fuel and crash to their deaths or are struck by lightening, and in places like Huntsville, the Shining City on the Hill of Nowth Alibam, shot from the sky as terrorists by alert Army guards at beautiful Redstone Arsenal will be so commonplace that not even the blatantly aggrandizing news readers of local television news programs – like the ones from Huntsville itself – will find benefit from reporting them. But it will make our daily lives more difficult with these folks crashing through our roofs and into our paths while driving. After all, it is hard enough to watch in two dimensions without having to do so in three. Although this will likely revitailze Detroit with all the changes in automobiles made necessary, such as those bobble tops they have never been able to sell – mostly because of the greenhouse effect in miniature – and new sensors to avoid falling homo flierensis.

Of course, our wise and proactive government will surely protect us from such. After all, noting like this can be permitted without it being regulated and taxed, and the automobile metaphor is clearly inoperant since the model of the flying test will not work. Or perhaps they will propose an inspector wing walk on these tiny strap-ons? Of course, these may be like cellular phones, unregulated and proliferating faster than antibiotic resistant bacteria in a sterile hospital.

Current (?) Events

Roman military field practice: dissatisfaction among the troops

Gambit 1: Donative

Donative Don”a*tive, n. [L. donativum, fr. donare: cf. F. donatif. See Donate.]
1. A gift; a largess; a gratuity; a present. “The Romans were entertained with shows and donatives.” –Dryden. [1913 Webster]

2. (Eccl. Law) A benefice conferred on a person by the founder or patron, without either presentation or institution by the ordinary, or induction by his orders. See the Note under Benefice, n., 3. [1913 Webster]

Gambit 2: Decimation

Decimation Dec`i*ma”tion, n. [L. decimatio: cf. F. d[‘e]cimation.]
1. A tithing. [Obs.] –State Trials (1630). [1913 Webster]

2. A selection of every tenth person by lot, as for punishment. –Shak. [1913 Webster]

Food for thought?