Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 12 August 2002

The Git's first job in Tasmania was undraped model for the life class at the Launceston Art School. The pay was quite good for the time (1970) -- $A2.50/hr for three hours work once a week, some $A1.50 more than the $A6/week unemployment benefit. Mind you, it was also quite difficult work. The short poses were calculated to display The Git's musculature and holding a pose for ten minutes with muscles bulging made those muscles ache. The long reclining pose was just as bad. The urge to move and make the blood circulate to remove the build-up of acids causing aches here and there was sometimes overwhelming.

The Git put a lot of effort into his brief stint of modelling. There were two reasons for this: the first that he never does things half-heartedly, the second that he was responding to the students' enthusiasm. Most of the models they had experience of were women and despite all the rhetoric from the feminazis, women's bodies have a muscle-concealing layer of subcutaneous fat. The few male models they had the joy of drawing were not 100% fat-free as The Git was back then, and they had all worn jockstraps to conceal their "naughty" bits. The Git was unaware of this latter, not that he had any spare cash to purchase one.

Most of the students were female and most of them were young. The time was just past the cusp between the stultifying prudishness that peaked in the 1950s and the wave of hedonism that started sweeping Australia in the late 1960s. But this was Tasmania, behind The Mainland which itself was behind the US and swinging London. It was easy to detect the differences in attitude between the students. Some produced a quick, dark scribble to represent The Git's genitals, others drew them with exquisite care and attention to detail. Not to mention different sizes. It was all most fascinating to a late adolescent Git with an intense curiosity about himself and how others perceived him.

All of this came to mind as The Git ponders the world and his role in it. While male musculature can teach the art student more about skeletal structure and so forth, the female form has more beauty. Perhaps because it appears less utilitarian. There is now a permanent link to DOMAI at the top of this page and should you decide to subscribe, The Git receives a commission. Clicking the link will only take you to DOMAI's Beauty of the Day, no ads, no harrassment. 

Eolake Stobblehouse, creator of DOMAI, is a man of many talents. He has written a sparse outline, WhatMeArtist, that provides useful information for unleashing your creativity regardless of the medium(s) you choose. Especially useful if you have yet to explore your talents. The Git remembers laughing at an old man these many years since for declaring everyone to be an artist. Having successfully lost the blinkers of youth, I can now declare that to be almost true. Everyone certainly has the ability to be an artist, but for reasons that escape me, most are discouraged in their attempts by often well-meaning people. Since The Git has found nothing to quite equal the feelings engendered by creativity, this saddens him.

Thought for the day:

The criterion of true beauty is that it increases on examination; if false, that it lessens. There is therefore, something in true beauty that corresponds with right reason, and is not the mere creation of fancy.

Lord Greville

Current Listening

Joan Armatrading -- Secret Secrets


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Wednesday 14 August 2002

The Git spent the day attempting to do things with a computer for a client. The hard disk, an 8 GB Western Digital, had gained a second bad block, so it was given a thorough going over with Steve Gibson's Spinrite. The Western Digital diagnostic had given the disk a pass, but the customer decided to accept my offer of a second hand 2 GB Seagate to mirror the OS and data so that if the main disk failed, he could use the backup immediately.

The Git defragged then resized the partition on the Western Dig to a little less than the available space and used Partition Magic 5 to copy the partition over to the Seagate. At the 97% mark, partition magic complained that the FATs weren't identical. Assuming the error was in the copy, The Git ran Spinrite on the Seagate and it received a blemish-free report. Scandisk says no problems with the Western Dig, but a second attempt at cloning the original partition produced the same error at the 97% mark! Cloning the partition to free space on the same hard disk works fine. Some days The Git hates computers!

-oOo-

Mike Pepperday writes:

Dear Pompous,

Well done for digging out those definitions of religion up - just like that. I have enjoyed taking them apart. If this is a bit long for you, tell me -- perhaps leave off the pontifications on Sufism at the end.

The definitions were:

Jerry Moyer: "Religion is a system of beliefs by which a people reduce anxiety over natural phenomena through some means of explication."

Paul Tillich: "Religious is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern"

Robert Bellah: "a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence."

Anthony Wallace: "a set of rituals, rationalized by myth, which mobilizes supernatural powers for the purpose of achieving or preventing transformations of state in man or nature."

H.L. Menken: [Religion's] "...single function is to give man access to the powers which seem to control his destiny, and its single purpose is to induce those powers to be friendly to him."

-------

Such a lot of fuzzy thinking.

Moyer is beside the point; science also provides explanation (or "explication"). So religion and science are the same thing? This gets us nowhere. And if we are anxious about natural phenomena -- if -- why would explication relieve the anxiety? So you know what causes the nearby volcano to erupt (the peripatetic god in it or tectonic pressures -- take your pick) -- are you now relieved? File Moyer under "useless".

Tillich and Bellah are content-free psycho-babble. File them in the WPB.

Wallace's superciliousness leads him astray. It is not "myth'". It is Truth. This is crucial. If your religion was not true, what would you be doing fooling with it? Often enough science turns out to be wrong. Religion is never wrong. They are not necessarily "rituals" -- any more than washing your hands after going to the toilet is a ritual. They are logical actions carried out because they are known to be necessary (for, say, the purpose he gives in the second clause). It is patronising to dismiss others' practices as "myths" and "rituals" so it serves him right if an important point eludes him. File him under "ethnocentric conceit."

Wallace could also reduce the long-winded second clause to "... for the purpose of achieving control". I presume that is what he means. That religion would give us a (perceived) means of control at least seems more plausible and useful than providing us with an "explication" of natural phenomena. Trouble is, since giving us a means of control is what science does (or would as plausibly do), it means that it is, again, not illuminating for we are not seeing difference but similarity.

To Mencken. His "access to the powers" is closer to my point about prayer being of the essence. By prayer I include a rain dance or corresponding behaviour which gets the higher power on side and which necessarily requires that said higher power's proclivities include interfering in earthly matters. His word "destiny" is unnecessarily flowery. "Give us this day our daily bread." we request, rather than "Ensure us our destiny". In our religious invocations we seek a good harvest, many sons, a successful raid -- our daily lives rather than our "destiny".

But I don't care for his "seem to control". "Seem"? Yes, gods are known to be fickle, however having doubts about their ability to control the harvest or the outcome of the raid is heresy and a recipe for incurring their displeasure and hence disaster. They are fickle because they have to be approached the right way and if someone in the ranks did not believe (ie whose heart is not true and who consequently cannot make the proper supplications etc) then disaster may befall everyone. It follows that when things go wrong the reason the gods did not smile must have been because someone undermined the group. A witch-hunt will be required so that the cancer may be excised and powers appeased and future offence avoided.

Let's be generous and file Mencken under "close but no cigar".

What is left of Menken would be: "Religion's single function is to give man access to the powers which control his life, and its single purpose is to induce those powers to be friendly to him."

I don't see that that is wrong (phew) but there are two problems. Firstly, like all the above definitions, it's just an assertion. What/how would he (or I) know? Secondly, sadly, we once more have this business of similarity to science for if you substitute "science" for "religion" you have quite a sensible sentence. (Use "technology" if you prefer.) The "powers" would be the laws of physics and "be friendly to" we'd take to mean "serve". So (again) are religion and science the same thing? Surely not, so why point out the similarities? What are the differences? I think if he'd said "pray to the powers" instead of "give man access to" you could not so readily substitute "science" for "religion".

-------

Evidently, none of those definitions defines religion. A couple hint at the distinguishing feature of prayer but none show any awareness of that other distinguishing feature, namely that religion is certain and science is uncertain. Moyer and Wallace even seem to imply the opposite.

They weren't out to show showing religion and science to be similar - they just didn't think it through.

I think I would say this: No prayer -- no religion. No certainty -- no genuine religion.

Got any more definitions? Or am I the only one who has seen the truth and the light?

The assertion that both religion and science give us control is probably the clue to why science displaces religion. The positive reinforcement from turning on the sprinklers is obviously more immediate and plainer that that from praying for rain. You are likely to feel that praying is superfluous -- and if you don't pray, well, you aren't religious.

You say that "Quakers, Deists and Sufis seem to manage quite well without a priesthood, or literal belief in the inerrancy of a particular book." The priesthood and the book are trimmings and not central. But the inerrancy sure is. I don't know about Deists and Sufis but those Quakers... Did they manage quite well? What was that little incident at Salem? You can tell people's confidence in their belief by their behaviour and that was the ultimate display of certain knowledge.

We need to know why people do things to each other. People whose knowledge is certain, can do terrible things. The Taliban is a topical instance.

-------

Sufism is an ascetic sect and as such is a religious manifestation of a particular minority mindset. Asceticism is the tendency of men who are cut off from the socialising influences of www (women, work and war) to withdraw from society and from social intercourse. It is not intrinsically religious but is a type of political culture. In the past it would have been almost invariably associated with religion, as practically everything was. It is a worldview of a person (a man) who pays no attention to the scramble for worldly goods (females, fortune and fame) because he finds these goods to be in excess. Examples are Buddha, Diogenes, Howard Hughes, Steppenwolf, hermits, begging monks, radio hams and other middle-aged men in our society. Such a person, because he is not in the competition for material resources, is politically detatched from society, is not part of the rat-race.

His implicit (and occasionally explicit) life-aim is to transcend the material world and seek knowledge of more meaningful things. Presumably the Sufi manifestation would be to get to know God for if you have an all-powerful God, knowing Him will be the route to transcendent knowledge. Since they are not interested in worldly goods they would not pray for them. They would pray (or dance) for God to show them the path to knowledge and enlightenment. (I'm curious to know what the incidence of female Sufis were/are.)

Mike Pepperday

I'm not sure about the point you're trying to make regarding Quakers and Salem. Those cursed by witches claimed to be able to read Quaker texts with no ill-effect, but reading the Bible caused them to suffer horrible effects.

While your definition of religion as: "No prayer -- no religion. No certainty -- no genuine religion" would appear to exclude Taoism as a religion. You would not be the first to do so.

"We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond." -- Creed of the Western Reform Taoist Congregation

Perhaps a better term would be faith-system. That way we can lump the scientific humanists and Taoists into one camp and everyone else into the religion camp.

Harry Erwin recently wrote to Jerry Pournelle:

One issue is that I'm not sure anyone can claim they see the world as it really is. Mammals seem to live in an internal model that is updated asynchronously based on sensory data, and they choose their behavior based on that model, not on their sensations. This is particularly clear in bats, where we see the Wiederorientierung phenomenon: bats flying in a familiar area often seem to ignore sensory afference and instead depend almost exclusively on their memory of the area. First reported by Möhres and Öttingen-Spielberg in 1949, it describes two states: . Erstorientierung-when bats first encounter a novel situation. . Wiederorientierung-when bats fly in a familiar space. It was observed in the behavior of a bat that was accustomed to roosting in a cage in a room. The researchers rotated the cage and eventually removed it, and noted that the bat continued to behave as if the cage were in its normal position until forced to reorient. This suggests that bats use and maintain a world model that is only modified if circumstances force it to.

Rawson and Griffin investigated this further (see Griffin, Listening in the dark, the Acoustic Orientation of Bats and Men, Yale, 1958, and Griffin, "Cognitive aspects of echolocation," in Nachtigall and Moore, ed., Animal Sonar: Processes and Performance, Plenum Press , 1988). . Asked whether the bats even made cries at all. . Experiment involved placing and moving obstacles in a flight room. . Answer: the bat still made echolocation cries, but seemed to ignore the resulting returns. Maintenance of congruence between the internal model and the environment is asynchronous, low-rate, effortful, and involves a 'dialog' (Griffin) between the animal and its environment. There is also evidence from human psychology for similar ideas (see Walter J Freeman, 1995, Societies of Brains, LEA). The concept that brains are isolated from the objective world is called epistemological (not metaphysical!) solipsism.

Why do I mention epistemological solipsism? Because it implies everyone lives in an internal model in more or less incomplete agreement with objective reality. The interpretations of 9/11 as a martyrdom and as a war by terrorists are both descriptions of internal models in incomplete congruence with reality. Objectively, it was an event involving the deaths of thousands, made 'meaningful' only by those internal models of how things 'really' work.

The implication for me is that since those internal models are causal (i.e., minds express intention), we need to understand them to predict them. (Note that one interpretation of evolution in Homo is that need has driven brain growth!) Calling them 'fantasies' begs the question. To some extent, everyone lives in a fantasy world, but being able to model the fantasies of others allows us to predict their actions.

Thought for the day:

Life is like an envelope. You don't have to lick it, just make sure you keep pushing it.

Eolake Stobblehouse

Current Listening

Otway and Barrett -- Deep and Meaningless


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Thursday 15 August 2002

Short shrift today, but some interesting reading for you all:

Before reading this, please set your irony detector to the on position. The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991. What teachers are really teaching. If you haven't read this before, it's a must-read.

Feedback Factors (Thermohaline Circulation)

In view of these several observations - and the thoughts of the scientists who have studied them -- we conclude that the surface of the planet is so configured at the present time as to resist the occurrence of inordinately high global air temperatures.

Full Transcript Broadcast Monday 29 July 2002 with Richard Aedy

Yes, this is the transcript of Richard Aedy's interview with The Git and several other bloggers. For those outside Australia, this particularly interesting radio station carries many thought-provoking stories in much greater depth than is usual and the broadcasts are available live via the Internet through a link here. The Science Show and Ockham's Razor are highly recommended. It's not all serious, though. This station is responsible for me discovering some of my favourite music.

John Ray writes: 

Since my paper dissecting Leftism was published in Front Page Magazine of 20th June, 2002, I have received many comments from readers worldwide that have given me ideas for expansion of the paper. I am therefore treating the paper as a "blog" (continuously updated internet document) and putting up ever-expanding versions of it [here].

Thought for the day:

I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.

Steve Martin

Current Listening

Kim Carnes -- Mistaken Identity


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Saturday 17 August 2002

The Git's son Thomas put a Hollywood DVD decoder card and DVD drive into the P200 we acquired recently. It will play not just DVD movies, but also MP3s made from my collection of vinyl records and audio cassettes. Getting it to play movies took some time. We failed utterly to get the DVD player application to work with the Hollywood card under Win95. It insisted the drivers weren't installed, though we installed the latest version. We gave up and installed Win98.

The Git loathes Win98. For an OS that is supposedly a bug fix of Win95, it introduces too many bugs of its own. We didn't need its one valuable feature, USB support. We certainly didn't want to run an OS that consumes any more of the 48 MB of RAM than was necessary. Given more RAM, we would have installed Win2k. Whatever, the Hollywood card and drivers played ball with Win98, so we had made a start.

The TV is a Grundig with a SCART connector on the back. The Git had a local video repair shop make an adapter to connect it to the VCR. The SCART connector that came with the TV has S-Video and RCA audio leads and the AKAI VCR has only RCA connectors. Connecting the Hollywood card via the S-video to SCART worked, but only in monochrome. The Git remembered testing the concept some two years ago when he purchased the two machines with Hollywood cards and DVD drives. He also purchased a 2 metre long S-video lead, but it was a plug both ends and he didn't recall using an adapter to make one end female, We did have an adapter to convert RCA to S-video, but that gave the same result -- mono video.

Since we had used the Hollywood card from Thomas's machine and the original TV test had been performed with The Git's, we swapped Hollywood cards. And then we swapped DVD drives as a long shot. All the while, we were scouring the Internet and playing with the Expert settings in the DVD player software. The Git was convinced he'd used the 2 metre S-video lead for the trial though and took a longer look through the boxes of various adapters and leads accumulated over decades of audio, video and computer fiddle-faddling. This time he found what was needed.

The Git had purchased a SCART connector with an S-video socket, three RCA sockets and a switch to change between input and output. Using the long S-video lead produced what we had been after. While all this takes only paragraphs to describe, we spent between us some 3-4 man-hours all told. No doubt we would have been better off purchasing a new DVD player that can also play MP3s. But this, being a computer, means we can record as well as play.

A couple of lessons learned along the way. Writing things down at the time beats trying to remember what happened. Knowing how fallible memory is, I wasn't certain that my recollection of using the 2 metre S-video lead was accurate. Despite Thomas's well-honed Internet search skills, he failed to find the solution to our exact problem. We have no idea why the "official" SCART to S-video didn't work, or why the S-video to RCA adapter also failed to work. That SCART connector without the adapter definitely works with the VCR. 

We also discovered that there is nothing in the instruction manual that came with the TV of much use. Yes, we keep manuals! Curiously, under troubleshooting it refers to changing the colour level if the display is monochrome. The TV has only power, volume and channel switching controls. The remote adds a few more functions, including brightness and contrast, but there are no instructions for controlling the colour level! We can only do that through the Hollywood player software.

All's well that ends well as The Git's favourite Elizabethan playwright once wrote. The DVD we used during the testing phase was The Matrix. Once things were working, we watched and listened to Episode 3 of Long Way to the Top, (Billy Killed the Fish), the ABC broadcast about the Australian music industry in the early 1970s. Thomas at 17 gets a great kick out of seeing what my generation did for fun when we were his age: sex, drugs, nudity and great rock and roll! And a lesson for Thomas is when I point out my friends on (and off) screen that now are dead -- not all through drug overdoses and/or suicide I might add.

Thought for the day:

People are going to be most creative and productive when they're doing something they're really interested in. So having fun isn't an outrageous idea at all. It's a very sensible one.

John Sculley

Current Listening

Bob Marley -- Survival


 

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© Jonathan Sturm 2002

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© Jonathan Sturm 2002