Saturday, February 11, 2012


I don't know if it's a bug I've been made susceptible to by the oscillations of hot and cold, or if it's allergies, but I've come down with a nasty cough -- so nasty I had to break out the Buckley's. Buckley's has as its slogan, "Tastes Awful. And It Works" and had the very famous and quite funny advertising campaign in which Frank Buckley, the son of the founder, would just walk up to the microphone, say, "I wake up with nightmares that someone gives me a taste of my own medicine," or "Our largest bottle is 200 ml; anything more would be cruel," and then shuffle off.  And they run ads saying things like, "People swear by us. And at us." Or "Feared by more people than ever before." Pure genius. I find it works pretty well. But with that advertising campaign -- even if it didn't work, I'd want it to.

The funny thing is, I've always thought it tasted pretty decent, and am apparently the only one on the planet who thinks this. When I was growing up, my mom always used Robitussin and I hated the stuff. It even took me ages to get used to red wine because at some point I would take a mouthful and it would suddenly start reminding me of Robitussin.

Music on My Mind

Yakko's Universe Song! And he's right, you know. Suppose that this period is the size of the earth:


Then this is the size of the sun, more or less, in earth-size-units:


If we were to take a period to indicate an earth-diameter, then the distance from the earth to the sun would be somewhat more than eleven thousand six hundred periods. Suppose that this is the entire distance between the earth and the sun (an AU):


Then this is the radius of the solar system in AUs, more or less, if we take it to include everything within the orbit of Pluto:


That's the radius, mind you; the diameter would be twice as long. But it's bigger than that, really; if we include all the comets orbiting the sun, then it would end up being somewhat more than a thousand times longer. I will spare you that. Likewise, the distance to the Proxima Centauri, the nearest start to our sun, would be about six or seven thousand times longer than the above sequence.

Suppose that this is the diameter of the whole solar system, including the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud (which is the measure that's more-or-less a thousand times the above sequence of periods):


Then the distance to Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our sun, doesn't look so bad, being a bit shorter than this in whole-solar-system-units:


But if we wanted to indicate the radius of the Milky Way, we would need a fair number more than ten thousand periods.

Suppose that this is the diameter of the entire Milky Way galaxy:


Maybe you want to get to the nearest galaxy, not counting the Canis Major Dwarf galaxy, which is technically within the Milky Way itself. That would probably be the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical galaxy, which is (if you find the diameter of the Milky Way to be a conveniently traversable distance) quite close in diameter-of-Milky-Way units:


A little closer than that, actually.

But what if the real action is in the nearest spiral galaxy? That's Andromeda. Taking the same measure, diameter-of-Milky-Way units, the distance is, more or less:


The local neighborhood is (conveniently, if a bit self-centeredly) called the Local Group, and in diameter it is about a hundred times our diameter-of-Milky-Way unit. Suppose this is one galaxy, like the Milky Way:


There are at least this many galaxies in the Local Group:


They are not all the same size. The Milky Way is the second largest; Andromeda is larger. (Although if we measure by mass, the Milky Way might be the largest.) Most of the others are small as galaxies go, which is still very, very big.

The Local Group is one of the two major groups in the Virgo Supercluster, the other being the Virgo Cluster. If this is diameter of the Local Group:


Then this is more or less the diameter of the Virgo Supercluster:


The Virgo Supercluster is a small supercluster among a large population of superclusters. There are about 10 million superclusters in the observable universe. Truly, truly, it's a great big universe.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I like Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas; they are probably my favorite teas after the standard Darjeeling. Earl Grey and Lady Grey are flavored with bergamot, and while I had a vague notion that bergamot was a citrus fruit, I knew nothing about it. So I've been looking things up. There are a number of plants called bergamot; the one used here is indeed a citrus fruit, Citrus bergamia. It is generally thought to have originated as a hybrid of lemon and sour orange, which gives a sense of what it tastes like on its own, and thus is found in fruit or pulp in almost nothing, although I have seen recipes for marmalades, preserves, and candies. The oils, however, are highly prized. Besides Earl Grey, the oil is a standard component of eau de cologne. The fruit is relatively difficult to find -- the overwhelming bulk of true bergamot is grown in a few thousand acres of southern Italy. It will grow elsewhere, but the quality of the oil is universally regarded as inferior -- it's the magic of the soil of Calabria, some mix of limestone and other minerals, that seems to bring out the flavor and aroma that has made the fruit's oil famous. Such local subtleties are not to be underestimated.

In any case, that explains the refreshing character of the scent of Earl Grey, and perhaps also the fact that Lady Grey, despite adding lemon and orange peel, always seems slightly milder.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Links of Note

* Christopher Tollefsen argues that there are alternatives to thinking of moral principles in terms of commands at "Public Discourse".

* Jason Zarri has a critique of Alison Jaggar on abortion

* The February 2012 Biblioblog Carnival is Babylon 5 themed!

* A recent encyclopedia on the Tlingit language is facing a curious problem: no Tlingit speakers can make sense of the Tlingit presented in the encyclopedia.

* Some PDFs on Christine de Pizan:

Christine de Pizan and the Querelle de la Rose (Margaret E. Loebe)
Christine de Pizan and Jean Gerson on the Body Politic (Cary J. Nederman)
Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defence of Women (Rosalind Brown-Grant)

* Some interesting SEP articles on the philosophy of physics:

The Equivalence of Mass and Energy  (Francisco Fernflores)
Space and Time: Inertial Frames  (Robert diSalle)
Space and Time: The Hole Argument (John D. Norton)
Conventionality of Simultaneity (Allen Janis)
Early Philosophical Interpretations of General Relativity (Thomas A. Ryckman)

The first one, on E=mc2, is especially recommended: both readable and fascinating; this is what an article in a philosophical encyclopedia should be.

* Bill Vallicella suggests that the fallacy of composition is not an informal fallacy.

* John Wilkins has an interesting post on the history of the label 'Aristotelian essentialism' in contemporary philosophy of science.

* DarwinCatholic on the notion of material cooperation


* Dr. Seuss for the Symbolism-Challenged

Seal of All the Fathers

Today is the feast of one of the most important theologians in Christian history, St. Cyril of Alexandria, confessor and Doctor of the Church, defender of the truth, consistent teacher of orthodoxy, glory of Alexandria, and many more titles. It's difficult to pin down a lot of details about Cyril's life, because he was born, was raised, and lived in Alexandria during a time of tumult that was unusual even for that famously tumultuous city. The Alexandrians were famous for rioting at the least notice, the politics was mean and ruthless, and the whole city constantly turned this way and that by political factions. Cyril seems to have become Patriarch of Alexandria in 412, and thrown himself into navigating the jungle of Alexandrian life and maintaining the eminence of Alexandria among other sees. There was not a single moment of his thirty-two year career as Pope of Alexandria that was not spent in some heated dispute or other. What is remarkable is how many of these disputes ended well, and in great measure this was due to Cyril's skill, indefatigability, and focus on argument. No one involved in Alexandrian politics, whether ecclesiastical or secular, could avoid making controversial decisions; Alexandrian politics was famously contentious, and it was notoriously difficult to make any decisions in that city without someone somewhere trying to incite people to a violent uprising over it. Even Cyril did not manage to keep things under control all the time. What is notable is how often he did. And his influence has been extraordinary, being found in the third, fourth, and fifth ecumenical councils (he was the major player in the third council, the Council of Ephesus).

From the Scholia on the Incarnation of Christ, section 36:

Saint Paul sets forth to us the Saving Passion, for he saith at one time, By the Grace of God for all tasted He death and also, For I delivered to you in the first place that which I too received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day: moreover the most wise Peter also saith, Forasmuch as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh. Seeing therefore we believe that One is our Lord Jesus Christ, i. e. God the Word beheld in human form or made man as we, in what manner can we attribute Passion to Him and still hold Him impassible, as God?

The Passion therefore will belong to the Economy, God the Word esteeming as His own the things which pertain to His own Flesh, by reason of the Ineffable Union, and remaining external to suffering as far as pertains to His own Nature, for God is Impassible. And no wonder, since we see that the soul itself of a man, if its body suffer somewhat, remains external to the suffering as far as belongs to its own nature, yet is it not conceived of as external to suffering, in that the body which suffers is its very own: and albeit it be impalpable and simple, yet is that which suffers not foreign to it. Thus will you understand of Christ too the Saviour of all.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Beauteous Pair

From Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, Canto XXII, as translated by William Stewart Rose:
  But it behoves that, ere the rest I say,
  I Bradamant and good Rogero find.
  After the horn had ceased, and, far away,
  The beauteous pair had left the dome behind,
  Rogero looked, and knew what till that day
  He had seen not, by Atlantes rendered blind.
  Atlantes had effected by his power,
  They should not know each other till that hour.

  Rogero looks on Bradamant, and she
  Looks on Rogero in profound surprise
  That for so many days that witchery
  Had so obscurred her altered mind and eyes.
  Rejoiced, Rogero clasps his lady free,
  Crimsoning with deeper than the rose's dyes,
  And his fair love's first blossoms, while he clips
  The gentle damsel, gathers from her lips.
  A thousand times they their embrace renew,
  And closely each is by the other prest;
  While so delighted are those lovers two,
  Their joys are ill contained within their breast.
  Deluded by enchantments, much they rue
  That while they were within the wizard's rest,
  They should not e'er have one another known,
  And have so many happy days foregone.
  The gentle Bradamant, who was i' the vein
  To grant whatever prudent virgin might,
  To solace her desiring lover's pain,
  So that her honour should receive no slight;
  — If the last fruits he of her love would gain,
  Nor find her ever stubborn, bade the knight,
  Her of Duke Aymon through fair mean demand;
  But be baptized before he claimed her hand.

The story of Bradamant/Bradamante and Ruggiero/Rogero/Roger is my favorite part of the Carolovingian tales; when I was in high school I did a re-write of their story (based on the version in Bulfinch's Mythology) which I called The Unicorns. Bradamante is interesting, because she is a knight, and, indeed, the stories are all quite clear that she is one of the best knights in France (and Ariosto makes quite clear that she is the equal of her brother, Rinaldo/Renault/Renaud, who is among the creme-de-la-creme of Carlovingian knighthood). She has a magic lance that never fails to unhorse its target and a magic ring that nullifies all enchantments, but even when she doesn't have these things she is virtually always successful. She rides around like any other knight, usually rescuing maidens in distress; the ruffian-knights she unhorses are often quite put out when later they discover that they were outmatched in arms by a woman. However, she happens to fall in love with a Moorish knight, who is Roger. She ends up having to rescue him from the clutches of an evil enchanter (getting captured by enchanters is almost as common for these Carlovingian knights as losing their horses), and in the course of this quest she meets Merlin, or, rather, his spirit, who is in the care of a good enchantress named Melissa. Merlin prophesies her great destiny. She manages to free Roger, but unfortunately a hippogriff absconds with him and Roger ends up flying away to many adventures, leaving Bradamante once more to look for him. Roger ends up finally getting the hippogriff to stop, and when he does, he finds Astolphe/Astolfo, her English cousin, who having been kidnapped by a whale had become turned into a myrtle tree. It's a long story. Anyway, they get into a terrible situation with the enchantress Alcina; but Melissa comes along to the save the day. Both Roger and Bradamante are eventually captured -- by an enchanter, as it happens -- and Astolphe, who has lost his horse Rabican but found the hippogriff, comes flying in to save them. This leads to the scene above. Now, finally, they are able to express their love -- at least, as Ariosto carefully notes, "whatever prudent virgin might" -- and they definitely want to marry. But there is an impediment: Bradamante is a good Catholic girl, of course, but Roger is Muslim. However, Roger for a number of reasons is somewhat cool at this point toward Moorish chivalry, and Bradamante is, after all, not only an extraordinary knight but a beautiful woman, so he'll be baptized and they'll marry. Since the end of the book hasn't come yet, it turns out not to be that easy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Diamond Jubilee

This year is the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II; her reign started on February 6, 1952.. She is the second longest-reigning monarch in British history, after Queen Victoria, and all she has to do is last four more years to become the longest-reigning. Her precise style has two official versions, one Latin:

Elizabeth II, Dei Gratia Britanniarum Regnorumque Suorum Ceterorum Regina, Consortionis Populorum Princeps, Fidei Defensor

And one English:

Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith

"God Save the Queen" would seem fitting. The British usually only sing the first and sometimes the third verse, but as is often the case with anthems, the best verse is the one usually left out:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

That's the anthem of a sensible people.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Admin Note, Especially for Australians

I've noticed in the statistics over the past few months a pretty heavy uptick in people ending up at, which is the Australian version. It usually happens, of course, with Australians (sometimes New Zealanders -- given the Kiwis I've known, they probably find being lumped in with the Australians irritating, so I hope it's not a constant thing) who get here by Google, but also at least sometimes from elsewhere.

This can affect the reading of the blog, especially if you comment here -- comments show up on the .com edition, not the address.

If it keeps redirecting you to no matter what you do, you should be able to get around this by adding a No Country Redirect. It's easy enough to do; just type in

This will always get you to the American version, which is the One True Version, at least of this blog.

Google is doing this with Blogspot because of increasingly specific laws for various countries regarding internet content. It will become more common in the future, and will certainly spread out from Australia, so it's worth knowing even if you are not Australian.

UPDATE: Also, additional testing shows that at present any comments made on .au posts disappear into oblivion. I'll look into seeing if I can get around this without going crazy.

UPDATE 2: OK, even further experimentation shows that comments put on the .au page do show up in the comments thread RSS -- but as far as I can discover, nowhere else. This is a problem; I'll still be looking into this.

UPDATE 3: Although I only occasionally get readers from India, it looks like it's an issue for India, as well (and checking my logs I find that this is certainly happening, although I hadn't noticed it before). I wonder if Google keeps a list of which country redirects they are currently using? The article linked to by the link mentions Brazil, Honduras, and Germany; I don't get many Brazilians or Hondurans, but I do get people from Germany, and haven't noticed this happening with them yet. Vikram Johri at the link wonders if NCR will last; if it doesn't, it will be a pain. But it probably is not going to last forever.

The Strangest Whim

Relishing life with Chesterton today....

A Ballade of Suicide
by G.K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours on the wall
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall
I see a little cloud all pink and grey
Perhaps the rector's mother will NOT call
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way
I never read the works of Juvenal
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The Bearer of Burdens

There were three men walking up a steep hill, each very tired, with a heavy burden on his back. Then there stepped up to them a strong kind man, who said to them, "Let me take your burdens; I will carry them for you." But the first man said, "I have no burden," for he had carried his burden so long that it seemed like his clothes, or like part of his body, so that he did not feel it, and did not know how much better he could walk without it. So the first man would not have his burden touched.

The second man was very selfish and unkind himself, and he thought that all other people must be selfish and unkind, so he said, "You want to play me some trick; I do not believe you want to carry my burden; I will not let you touch it."

The third man was very tired indeed, and was saying to himself, "Oh, who can help me? for I feel that I cannot carry this terrible weight any further;" and when he felt the stranger touch him on the shoulder, and offer to take his burden, he said at once, "It is very kind of you; I am very thankful; please take it, for I see you can bear it and I cannot."

Edwin Abbott Abbott, Parables for Children. Abbott is most famous for being the author of Flatland.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

That Inward Eye: Mill and Wordsworth

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
(also known as "The Daffodils")
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I spent some time on this poem in my Ethics class on Thursday. What's the connection with ethics? John Stuart Mill.

John Stuart Mill's father, James Mill, was a friend and follower of Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarians. The Benthamites were very much the reforming kind: laws, prisons, and everything. Education was one of their reforming interests, and thus little John Stuart was made a sort of guinea pig. He was, as we would say today, homeschooled and then some. And being very bright natively, it worked quite well for a while. Mill's father started him on learning ancient Greek and, it seems, arithmetic, at the age of three. He began reading extensively, mostly in history. At eight he began Latin, started reading the Iliad both in the original and in Pope's translation, and began study Euclid for geometry. Then he read extensively in the classics. He also started on algebra and then a bit into the differential calculus, but he himself says his father had difficulty understanding that he did not have a completely adequate background yet, and that he therefore did not learn these subjects very thoroughly. This brings us about to the age of twelve, at which point he began studying logic by means of Aristotle's Organon, but he says here, too, he was simply not prepared for parts of it (the Posterior Analytics in particular); he also read some scholastic manuals (we do not, as far as I know, know which ones) and Hobbes on the same subject. (Mill would later rank the logic with the Latin and Greek as truly invaluable parts of his education.) At the age of twelve he also began helping his father research the history of India (which became James Mill's claim to fame). At the age of thirteen he began studying political economy, mostly Ricardo and Adam Smith. At the age of fourteen he spent a year in France, where he became fluent in French and conversed with the greatest French economists of the day, including Say himself. At the age of fifteen he began reading law with John Austin, the legal positivist, who was also a Benthamite; it was also at this time he started reading Bentham and became Bentham's research assistant for a book on legal evidence. He started learning German, joined a study club, and began to publish. And at the age of twenty he had what may have been a nervous breakdown, the result of which was a severe state of depression that lasted for quite some time. After a few months he found that reading poetry helped ease things. In the fall of 1828, at the age of twenty-two, he began reading Wordsworth for the first time -- and it opened up a world he had hardly even glimpsed.

Mill would later blame his breakdown on his education, not the intensity of it, nor the material that he learned -- in fact, he continued to point to himself as a reason to think that children could be brought up learning far more than they usually did at the time -- but rather on the onesidedness of it. Bentham had no real sense of the sympathetic, imaginative, and poetic side of life (among people who knew Bentham, Mill is not the only person to have mentioned this), and it carried along to his philosophy, and through that into his reforms. Wordsworth showed him what his education had been missing. As he put it in his Autobiography:

What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a Source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connexion with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence.

The poem above is a good poem for giving this. While not Wordsworth's best, it is very typical in form and subject matter, and it describes explicitly Wordsworth's approach to poetry in generam, the 'sentiment recollected in tranquillity' that he saw as the key to making poetry truly philosophical. With the help of Wordsworth, Mill grew out of his depressive state, never again to be troubled by it. And it is clear from several of Mill's works that this was more than a surface change: it changed his whole attitude to everything, including ethics. It is certainly due to Wordsworth that Mill made the crucial adjustment to Bentham's utilitarianism, arguing that in order to pursue happiness it was not enough merely to look at quantity of pleasure; one also had to look at quality, for some pleasures were not just more pleasurable but better kinds of pleasures. Pleasures like poetry. The event had other effects, too, but this is the one that's easiest to pin down for the purpose of ethics.