Saturday, July 23, 2011

St. Birgitta Birgersdotter of Vadstena

Today is the Feast Day of St. Birgitta Birgersdotter of Vadstena, much more commonly known in English as St. Bridget of Sweden; she is one of the six patron saints of Europe (and after St. Benedict of Nursia the one who is most commonly thought of as the patron saint of Europe). She was born into a wealthy and extremely important family, and was married off at the age of 13 to Ulf Gudmarsson, lord of Närke; she bore him four daughters and four sons. After Ulf's death in 1344, she founded the Birgittines, which for a while were extraordinarily important. They were largely destroyed by the Reformation, but there are some scattered convents and monasteries still alive today, and the Order seems to have done quite well in general for the past forty years.

Her most famous work is the Revelations, a recounting of her visions. Here is a sample, from Chapter 14:

There are three kinds of people who serve me in this world: The first are those who believe me to be God, the Creator and giver of all things and mighty ruler over everything. They serve me with the intention of gaining honor and worldly things, but the things of heaven are considered as nothing to them so that they would gladly do without it if they, instead, could gain the perishable and present things. According to their desire, worldly pleasure falls to them in everything and so they lose the eternal things, but I recompense them with worldly benefits for all the good things they have done for my sake right down to the last farthing and the very last moment.

The second are those who believe me to be God almighty and a strict judge, and these serve me because of fear of punishment but not out of love for the heavenly glory. If they were not afraid of suffering, they would not serve me.

The third are those who believe me to be the Creator of all things and true God and who believe me to be just and merciful. These do not serve me because of any fear of punishment but because of divine love and charity. Rather, they would prefer and endure every punishment, if they could bear it, than to even once provoke me to wrath. These truly deserve to be heard in their prayers, for their will is according to my will.

But the ones who belong to the first kind shall never escape from the place of punishment and torment or get to see my face. The ones who belong to the second kind shall not be punished and tormented as much, but will still be unable to see my face, unless he corrects his fear through penitence and amendment.

Algorithm as Folk Dance

I saw this over at Nick Carter's place a while back, but only just now got to looking at the link. AlgoRythmics has a number of sorting algorithms represented by folk dances. Here's a taste, a Quick-sort algorithm as a Hungarian folk dance:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Then Gallop, Boy, Gallop

The Pony Express
by Bret Harte

In times of adventure, of battle and song,
When the heralds of victory galloped along,
They spurred their faint steeds, lest the tidings too late
Might change a day's fortune, a throne, or a state.
Though theirs was all honor and glory -- no less
Is his, the bold Knight of the Pony Express.
No corselet, no vizor, nor helmet he wears,
No war-stirring trumpet or banner he bears,
But pressing the sinewy flanks of his steed,
Behold the fond missives that bid him "God-speed."
Some ride for ambition, for glory, or less,
"Five dollars an ounce" asks the Pony Express.

Trip lightly, trip lightly, just out of the town,
Then canter and canter, o'er upland and down,
Then trot, pony, trot, over upland and hill,
Then gallop, boy, gallop, and galloping still,
Till the ring of each horse-hoof, as forward ye press,
Is lost in the track of the Pony Express.

By marshes and meadow, by river and lake,
By upland and lowland, by forest and brake,
By dell and by cañon, by bog and by fen,
By dingle and hollow, by cliff and by glen,
By prairie and desert, and vast wilderness,
At morn, noon, and evening, God speed the Express.

Peirce on the Observational Part of Philosophy

To assume, however, that the observational part of philosophy, because it is not particularly laborious, is therefore easy, is a dreadful mistake, into which the student is very apt to fall, and which gives the death-blow to any possibility of his success in this study. It is, on the contrary, extremely difficult to bring our attention to elements of experience which are continually present. For we have nothing in experience with which to contrast them; and without contrast, they cannot excite our attention. We can only contrast them with imaginary states of things; but even what we imagine is but a crazy-quilt of bits snipped off from actual experiences. The result is that roundabout devices have to be resorted to, in order to enable us to perceive what stares us in the face with a glare that, once noticed, becomes almost oppressive with its insistency. This circumstance alone would be sufficient to render philosophical observation difficult — much more difficult, for example, than the kind of observation which the painter has to exercise.

C. S. Peirce (CP 1.133-4). Peirce develops the analogy to the artist's eye elsewhere; the philosopher's eye, so to speak, he takes to be a capacity of observation in a way that takes into account, and compensates for, distortions of bias, recognizing all the various ways in which one could understand whatever it is that is before the mind. See Charles S. Peirce's Phaneroscopy and Phenomenology. (ht)

Super Big Canada

Robert Kaplan has a column in The Globe and Mail arguing for an active policy of immigration to raise the Canadian population to 100 million. The comments on it are overwhelmingly critical, and they are almost all quite correct: not only is the idea embarrassingly bad, all the arguments are embarrassingly bad. He gives about six arguments for the position.

Our culture would be less strained to survive. Our arts, books, magazines, newspapers, movies and music, electronic media, with more than triple the producers and consumers would become self-sustaining. They might even become better. Our comedians could be funnier. Our elusive search for definition as Canadians could be realized.

When I lived in Canada I was always amused by the "search for definition as Canadians," which really does take up a large amount of Canadian time; a result of the fact that you can't be True North without being north of something, and we all know the self-assured and charming loudmouth nation Canada is north of. It's a completely absurd kind of insecurity, since Canadians are pretty good at being Canadian without having any definitions in hand, but societies don't always function rationally. It takes a very peculiar kind of Canadian, however, to think that the way to define what it is to be a Canadian is to import people to tell you.

Canadians could better take up our vast opportunities. Domestic markets that justify branch plant operations today could attract Canadian entrepreneurs from the start. We would be a serious stand-alone market. Truncation could be reversed. Foreign capital coming in would be more challenged by growing Canadian domestic capital.

I confess that I simply don't understand this argument. In what sense would having a larger population make Canada a serious stand-alone market given that Canada would still be directly north of the world's longest trade-permeable border from a certain nation that would still have a massively larger population, massively greater production capability, and the wealthiest consumer market in the world? There's a perfectly reasonable sense in which Canada is a stand-alone market already; and the senses in which it is not are not magically fixed by having lots more people hanging around. I must be missing something, misreading something, or just plain overlooking something. I suppose, though, that it makes some sense if Kaplan's policy is to import millions of millionaires and billionaires; that would do wonders for Canadian domestic capital.

On the world stage, our skills at exercising soft power by finding project partners and leading by example could be supplemented by some “hard” power. We could address and solve problems single handedly if we wanted. Our military could be comfortably triple its present size, as could our aid programmes.

If Canada had three times the population, I guarantee you that its military would be nowhere near three times as large, and that if its military were three times as large, it would not be sufficient to address and solve problems single-handedly. The United States has problems addressing and solving problems single-handedly, and we have a military that's over twenty times as large as the Canadian Forces, not counting reserves, which we also use to a somewhat embarrassing extent. I also guarantee you that most of Canada's good reputation on the world scene is due to the fact that she doesn't do much supplementing with "hard" power, and, indeed, often resists it actively; it's one of the few things that keeps people from automatically assuming that Canada is a bogus front for U.S. foreign policy.

We Canadians believe we stand for something good in the world, that we have some values and some institutions worth promoting in the interests of international social harmony, peace and prosperity. At 100 million, the world audience might be more alert.

Yes, because we know how alert the world is to the cultural values of Nigeria and Bangladesh, which have populations in excess of 100 million, and how nobody is influenced by the Dutch, the Swiss, the Danes, and the Israelis, with populations much smaller than Canada has now. In what conceivable way does population affect how much people pay attention to you? And even if it correlated perfectly, you'd just have moved up from position 35 to position 12, ahead of Britain, Germany, and France, to be sure, but in the same league as the Philippines. Be a source of wealth, health, or life endangerment, and people will pay attention to you. Big population, not so much.

Canada’s ecology is changing. We oppose global warming for good reasons and should continue to do so, but we can see it coming, and it brings certain advantages to Canada. We will have much more arable land and a much broader range of foods that we will be able to grow – foods that the world needs. This is already happening. More farmers are needed. Also Northern opportunity is becoming, and has become, viable. Northern waterways are now accessible eight months a year, a window that is increasing. We need cities up there, and people for them.

Now, Canadian waterways do seem to be opening up a bit, and that will have an effect, but global warming doesn't create massive quantities of arable land and habitable terrain in Nunavut and Northwest Territories. There aren't going to be plantations on Ungava Bay, and Iqaluit will never be a big port city, even when its deepwater port gets developed. Most of the soil in these regions is a light sprinkle over hard rock, and where it is not, it is not what one could call a rich, black loam. Some viable farmland will come open, the population capacity of towns might expand by a few thousand, but we aren't talking hugely significant numbers here.

we should not ignore the growing world population and the growing number of refugees worldwide. It is not inconceivable that world organizations may begin telling us to increase what we now consider to be a generous immigration policy. Today’s limits are stingy for us. We could get ahead of this and gain world respect for doing so.

The number of people in the world today who in any significant way measure their respect for a nation by how generous it is in taking in refugees cannot be an extraordinarily large number. And obviously intake of refugees is better determined by how well they can be helped rather than by an attempt to get up to quota.

Of course, Kaplan does recognize one potential problem with the whole plan, namely, that in practice it would consist of flooding most of this 60-70 million new people into Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. So, says Kaplan, only let them in on condition that they reside for ten years where we tell them to! Which will go very well with the mobility rights of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; while those mobility rights do have limits, it does seem unlikely that the Supreme Court of Canada would hold that decade-long conditions tying immigrants to a given province can be reasonably required by the needs of the poor or of a free society, which are the major limitations to such rights. You'd really have to do it by incentives. And a population about twice as large as your current population is a lot of people to incentivize.

I enjoyed reading this column because it reminded me that American politicians are not unique.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rule of Parsimony

Funny Pictures

The basic point here -- that reasonable criteria for simplicity depend on the ends we have in view and thus are not the same from problem to problem -- is an extraordinarily important one.

Berkeley on Platonic Ideas

337. The most refined humane intellect exerted to its utmost reach can only seize some imperfect glympses of the divine ideas, abstracted from all things corporeal, sensible, and imaginable. Therefore Pythagoras and Plato treated them in a mysterious manner, concealing rather than exposing them to vulgar eyes; so far were they from thinking, that those abstract things, altho' the most real, were the fittest to influence common minds, or become principles of knowledge, not to say duty and virtue, to the generality of mankind.

338. Aristotle and his followers have made a monstrous representation of the Platonic ideas; and some of Plato's own school have said very odd things concerning them. But if that philosopher himself was not read only, but studied also with care, and made his own interpreter, I believe the prejudice that now lies against him would soon wear off or be even converted into a high esteem for those exalted notions and fine hints, that sparkle and shine throughout his writings; which seem to contain not only the most valuable learning of Athens and Greece, but also a treasure of the most remote traditions and early science of the east.

George Berkeley, Siris. On Berkeley's conception of Platonic ideas, ideas aren't abstract in the sense of being 'abstract ideas', but in the sense of not being sensible. Ideas like beauty and goodness are instead active causes, intellectual beings that have more reality and stability than sensible things do. Although he doesn't explicitly say so -- the book is devoted to throwing out 'hints' rather than outright statements -- the point in context seems clearly that Berkeley takes Platonism to be true, or at least a likely speculation, insofar as the the Platonic Ideas can be regarded as God Himself.

But, of course, the question of Berkeley's Platonism has not gotten quite the study required to answer the complicated questions the subject raises.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Weakness, Part II

(Part I)

Later that night, the Matriarch of Syan was lying in bed when a chime came from the door. Now, you must undestand that the Matriarchs of Syan do not sleep in ordinary bedrooms like you and I do. The previous Matriarch always worried that someone would try to kill her with a bomb. That was how she had become Infanta, in fact: the Matriarch before her had ordered a bombing, which she alone of the seven members of her family had survived. By a remarkable coincidence, it was also how she had become Matriarch; that bombing had been blamed on anti-Syan terrorist groups. Even more remarkably, two of the three Infantas prior to Enira had died in the same way. It is remarkable how lax Syan security must have been at that time, and it shows you that the prior Matriarch had had reason to fear assassination by flame. When Enira became Matriarch by blade, she was returning to a simpler and more elegant time; she was, in many ways, a traditionalist.

You will not be surprised, then, when I tell you that the Matriarch's bedroom was less a bedroom than an underground bunker, with eight inches of steel everywhere except at the doors, and eight inches of concrete outside of that. You will not be surprised that it had partitions along one wall hiding a pantry, a communications room, and a room for monitoring the internal environment of the bedroom. You will not be surprised that the bedroom had an inner and outer door, both made of steel. You will not be surprised when I tell you that this inner and outer door were connected by a long hallway. And you will not be surprised that when the Matriarch heard the chime she pressed a button on her nightstand that made a panel on the wall slide away, nor tha that this revealed a screeen showing the hallway and the man outside the door. The man, of course, was Diran.

The Matriarch looked over to her looking glass and carefully put a few misplaced strands back into place, and pressed a button on her nightstand to open the outer door. When Diran had reached the inner door, she looked quickly in the looking glass again to make sure that she had the effect she wanted, and she pressed another button to let him in. When he entered and saw her, he smiled.

Any man would have. If any painter had seen that scene, with the beautiful Matriarch looking for all the world like a flame-haired princess from a fairy tale, the only thing that would have prevented him from painting it is the knowledge that painting the Matriarch in bed would have meant being flayed alive. Some painters, perhaps, would have done it anyway. But like many beautiful scenes in this world, there were no painters to see it, only Diran. It was a scene to remember for the rest of one's life, and Diran would.

He stood and smiled at her a moment, and she at him.

"We did it," he finally said.

"Yes," the Matriarch said. "I had thought the day would never come when I would finally manage to do it."

"I have a gift for you." He walked over to the bed and held out a long, narrow box.

She laughed and took it from him, quickly untying the ribbon that held the box closed. Inside was a dagger, somewhat shorter than the one she had left in the Matriarch, with a beautiful golden hilt of ornate leaf-and-flower tracery.

"It is beautiful," she said. She gazed at it for a moment, then gently placed it on her nightstand and looked up at him.

"I have been thinking over ways to choose an Infanta," she said.

Diran took off his jacket and began taking off his shoes. "Surely it is too early for that?" he said. "That always takes time, and we need to consolidate things here."

She looked off to the side. "What would you recommend I do?"

"Well," said Diran, "there are a number of border disputes that are wasting the energy of the Syan fleet and armies. Your predecessor recently moved the fleet into position to protect the disputed territories out past Eliogabulus. That was a waste, and will only drain the treasury in squabbles with the Tregor. We should probably think about ordering them back. If the Tregor take Eliogabulus, we can always retake it when things quiet down here." He started unbuttoning his shirt.

The Matriarch of Syan lay back and gazed at the ceiling, her expression serious. "Perhaps I shall do that," she said quietly.

He finished unbuttoning the shirt and came to stand over her, thrusting his head between her gaze and the ceiling. He looked down at her, blue eyes shining brightly, handsome face smiling. "Together," he said, "we will do great things."

She quirked a smile at him. "There are indeed a great many things for me to do."

He bent down and kissed her. And lest I be flayed alive, I will leave it at that.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Links and Notes

* An excellent discussion of Dugald Stewart by Murray Rothbard, at the Mises Institute Blog.

* An interesting attempt to lay out Aristotle's account of the four causes in a straightforward way.

* The Codex Calixtanus has been stolen from Santiago de Campostela.

* Janet Smith asks, "Are all falsehoods lies?" The answer to that, of course, is obviously not. It was also never the issue, which was about deliberately speaking falsehoods in order to deceive another person; there are many situations in which one might speak a falsehood without any hint of deception -- when examining why it is false, for instance. Her account of the history of the matter also seems to me rather dubious at several points: claims are torn from context. But I've discussed that matter at enough length elsewhere, and Smith's article raises no new issues.

* David T suggests a reason some people avoid classical philosophy.

* Ed Feser discusses the problems with some common poorly-thought-out objections to the cosmological argument.

* Maclin Horton on Coventry Patmore and C. S. Lewis.

* This article gives a fair amount of insight into how religions look from the outside, although it takes some work to distinguish that from something it also gives insight into, namely, how religions look to self-important jackasses -- sorry, I mean, 'game designers', synonyms always trip me up -- who don't know anything about religion. (ht)

* Michael Flynn looks at what makes a good story.

* It recently and suddenly occurred to me that in the recent discussions of usury I had regularly been conflating St. Bernardino of Siena and Bl. Bernardino of Feltre (also know as Blessed Bernardino of the Pawnshops). Both of them are relevant to the discussion, but they were rather different. Blessed Bernardino founded a number of lending institutions (some of which still exist today) to serve as alternatives to moneylenders; he was controversial at the time because he had them charge interest on loans. It was to recognize these institutions as legitimate and to reprimand Bl. Bernardino's critics that the famous Fifth Lateran bull on usury was issued. Bernardino of Siena was in the previous generation, and did discuss usury; he was also influential on the early history of the monti di pieta from which the modern banking system developed. But Bernardino of Siena takes a much more conservative line on the subject than Bernardino of Feltre.

Music on My Mind

(Chris and Deanna Gestrin, "Ay He Nockio")

Good for early mornings or quiet evenings. This song is hard to find; it seems to have been specially made for an episode in the first season of the TV show, The Dead Zone. The episode, "Shaman," while quieter and more slow-moving than one usually expects from television, is in many ways the best episode of the season. At present it is available from, for those interested.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weakness, Part I

This is the first part of a short-story draft.

The Matriarch of Syan was extraordinarily beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful in the entire line of Matriarchs. Because of this, her Accession to the Matriarchate has always been a favorite of the painters of Syan. Each such painting is unique, of course, but they share some common features. In each, she is standing in a dress of exquisite cream or white, looking straight out of the painting. There is a great light radiating on her from the left; it makes her flame-colored hair gleam with hints of gold. A few strands waft across her pale forehead, which brings out the sea-green eyes just below. Those eyes blaze with exultation. Her smile, too, exults, although the fine red lips are firmly pressed together and restrained. At her feet, dark in shadow, is a crumpled figure: the former Matriarch. A dagger sticks out from her body, the finely shaped hilt gleaming in the same light that streams over the Matriarch. A true master, a Valer or a Misson, can make it a breathtaking scene.

What always interests me, however, is what the painters do not show. The Matriarch stands gazing at something or someone. But at what? To be sure, a person can exult to an empty room, but the Matriarch is always clearly looking at someone.

Suppose we had the power to step into the painting, to put ourselves in the scene as silent and invisible observers. Step in, turn around, and look, not at the Matriarch, but at the room she sees.

A fire burns on the left wall. Across the room, standing in a doorway with his arms folded, is a handsome man, dressed in dark blue velvet that brings out the blue of his eyes. His hair is black and curly, and his beard, too, is black and curly. The blue eyes exult, too.

"We have done it," says the Matriarch.

"It is you who have done it, Enira," the man says in reply. "Or, as I should say, Matriarch."

The Matriarch's smile deepened. "It was all successful at your end?"

The man nodded. "The Old Man never saw it coming. Young Bedros is now the head of the Guard. Do you think he can be trusted?"

"Yes," the Matriarch said. Then, as an afterthought, "As much as anyone can, at this point."

"It will have to do. There are other departments that will have to be purged, but as soon as word spreads, the ones she appointed will either pledge their loyalty to you or flee." He unfolded his arms and walked into the room. Looking down at the dead body of the previous Matriarch, he said, "We will have to do something about this."

The Matriarch looked down at the body. She put out her hand toward the dagger's hilt and there it hovered a moment. Then she decided against taking it and let her hand fall back to her side. She looked up at the man again. "Diran, there was a moment when I thought it was all over, that she knew already and was just toying with me. If she had known...."

He cupped his hands around her face and said, "But she did not, and that was all that mattered. You are the Matriarch, Enira. She lost. We won."

They kissed for a moment, and when they drew apart, the Matriarch took a deep breath and said, "There are things I must still arrange. But I want to see you again before morning. We have much celebrating to do."

The dark-haired man smiled, and said, "I will see you later."

She brushed past him and left the room. He stood for a while looking down at the dead former Matriarch. She looked almost peaceful, with her gray hair splayed out as if she were merely sleeping, but there was a slight frown on her face, and a twinge like pain around her eyes. "So we beat you, old hag," he said. "You thought you were smarter, but I was smarter still." He delivered a sharp, ruthless kick to the body and then with a handsome but cold smile left the room himself.

As the Matriarch walked down the hall, she came across a young, sandy-haired man in uniform. "Infanta!" he said, with a bow.

"It is Matriarch, now, Bedros" she replied.

He raised his gray eyes to her face a moment, and then went down on one knee. "Of course, Matriarch. How may I serve you?"

"My predecessor is in the West Hearthroom; send some men to carry her and bury her. It must be done quietly. And in the morning I will need a list of people under your command you think can be trusted and people you think cannot. We must proceed very carefully over the next few months."

"Of course, Matriarch," he said, rising swiftly. As he walked briskly away, the Matriarch smiled to herself. Her smile, too, was cold.

(to be continued)

HP&DH Pt. 2

The air conditioner in my apartment went down yesterday (for the second time this summer!), so, after submitting my maintenance request at the office, I decided to go to the theater to catch the last Harry Potter movie. Some thoughts.

* It was a bit jumbled; the things that had been changed in earlier movies really have added up, and there are any number of things that are just thrown together here.

* But overall, it works. They don't manage to make clear why Harry comes back, however, which is a pretty significant weakness -- it seems contrived.

* While nobody's going to focus on them, McRory and Bonham Carter do some really excellent acting here.

* Holy moly, Matthew Lewis has gotten tall! It's a long way from the short chubby Neville at the beginning. He just towers over everybody else.

* Can I count the ways in which the Smurf movie looks like it is going to be awful? No, because then I would have to remember the awful trailer.

It turned out that the air conditioner problem was just a faulty wire. So now I might be able to get some sleep tonight; 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what my apartment was last night, is a bit warm for sleeping.