When fusion bombs

I have just returned from my G.P. pro tem, with news from my various tests and things. My cholesterol is high and my thyroid is low, both of which are treatable with common sense and a bit of Synthroid. My neck troubles are more serious: in fact, probably incurable. It seems that somehow two of my cervical vertebrae have fused together, probably by the improper healing of a slight fracture sustained when I fell down the stairs a couple of years ago. So I can expect my limited range of neck movement, and my recurring pains, to go on for the rest of my days; unless someone comes up with a treatment for cracking the bones apart and rebuilding the joint between (without damaging the spinal cord in the process).

No Sir, no Ma’am, spinal fusion is not what the kids till recently called ‘the bomb’; especially when done, not by a surgeon, but by a flight of ice-covered concrete stairs. At least I shall be able to bore people, when all other boring topics fail, with boring stories about my broken neck.

Huzzahs and bemusements

SciPhiJournal2_180

I must say, that fellow John C. Wright knows how to throw a party. He has just finished the fair draft of his latest book, The Vindication of Man, and this is how he announces the blessed event:

Unlimber the big guns, ring the church bells, release the kraken, remit all executions, free the gladiators, gather the greenskinned Orion dancing girls, decree a clone parade of endless twins, and have the Death Star blow up the peaceful and unarmed planet Alderaan in joyful celebration! Two firkins of water shall be distributed to every Fremen!

Read the rest.

In other news:

Earlier today, I received from CreateSpace my printed copy of Sci Phi Journal #2, in which Yr. Obt. Svt. has the honour to be published. It makes a lovely product on paper, with a single caveat: Somewhere in the production process, an extra blank page got added at the beginning, so that all the odd-numbered pages are on the left and even numbers on the right. I am hoping this oversight will be corrected for future printings (if that is the cromulent word for the single-copy print runs of print-on-demand books).

On her Superversive blog, L. Jagi Lamplighter conducts an excellent interview with my Honourable Number One Boss, the publisher/editor of Abyss & Apex, Wendy S. Delmater.

And over on the SuperversiveSF site (my, how that word is getting around!), Jason Rennie (who is also the publisher/editor of Sci Phi Journal) takes a well-aimed shot at the racist and sexist claptrap of K. Tempest Bradford. Yr. obt. svt. is mentioned therein, to his nearly infinite surprise.

On a personal note, tomorrow I am due to see my G.P. for the results of the tests, pictures, pokings, proddings, and siphonings that have been performed on me over the past couple of weeks, in the interest of diagnosing more accurately what is wrong with me and why I cannot concentrate well enough to get any damned work done. My apologies to those among my 3.6 Loyal Readers who have been expecting blog posts and/or fiction from me.

Shooting blanks

A champion of reason uses fact, and the logical deductions from facts, as the basis for his beliefs. He does not use falsehood. Why bother? No man shoots blanks at a foe when he has bullets.

John C. Wright

Distinguo: There are two kinds of men who may shoot blanks when they have bullets. One is the man who is so ignorant of firearms that he cannot tell the difference, and loads his gun with both indiscriminately. The other is the man who is such a bad shot that he knows he cannot hit anything, and only wants to make a lot of noise.

I note, however, that extending the analogy in this way does not make it any more flattering to the liar who pretends to be a champion of reason.

‘The War of Ignorance versus Faith’

Yet another ignoramus announces his belief, founded upon nothing but prejudice and public education (but I repeat myself), that the Catholic Church is the mortal enemy of science; and John C. Wright boils over with justified dudgeon. In his response, he lists well over 200 Catholic scientists, and not merely Catholics, but Catholic clergymen every one, new and old, living and dead, who have made important (dare I say cardinal?) contributions to the sciences, from José de Acosta to Giovanni Battista Zupi. (I confess my own ignorance: I myself had never heard of quite half of these persons.)

Hmph. I just came across another antieducated sophophobe who declared there to be a war between science and faith, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

I asked him to name the Papal Bull or Encyclical, or any other official document of the Church prohibiting or condemning the practice of scientific inquiry. He did not know what a ‘bull’ was.

I asked him if he knew anything about science and the history of science, and he said yes. I asked him for the evidence of any Catholic interference, or even lack of enthusiastic support, for any scientific inquiry of any kind, in any time or place?

He mentioned Galileo. I asked him if he knew the circumstances of Galileo’s trial, or what Galileo was accused of? He said no. I asked him if he knew who Cardinal Bellarmine was. He said no.

I asked him if he had read Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences? He did not even know what the book was, much less who the characters in it were, or what positions in the contemporary debates they represented.…

Calibrating my questions to the level of someone without a Saint John’s College level of education,  I asked him if he knew who Albertus Magnus, William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, Nicholas Steno were. He said no.

I asked him who invented the mechanical escapement used in clockwork. Or when. He did not know what mechanical escapement was. (Villard de Honnecourt circa 1237, in case you are wondering.)

Recalibrating my question to the high school level, I asked him if he knew who Pascal was, Copernicus, Descartes. He said no. Mendel. No. Still no.

He then told me that all the European inventions in mathematics and medicine came from the Muslim world. I asked him if he knew where Andalusia was, or when the Reconquista happened. Did not recognize those terms. I asked him what religion the people were in the lands conquered by the Muslims in the Seven, Eighth, and Ninth Centuries, et cetera? He guessed that they were some sort of pagans.

I did not bother to ask him if he knew who Abu Hamid al-Ghazali was.

He did not even know enough to raise and throw into my face the old, tired, and oft-refuted slander about Hypatia the neoplatonic philosopher (always described as a female scientist) being flayed to death by a Christian mob wielding sharpened clamshells.

In other words, I could have argued in favor of the War between Science and the Church better than he. He had not even memorized his side’s own talking points.

He was a disgrace to the forces of evil.

Go and read the whole thing; or better yet, bookmark it for permanent reference. Links are included to information about nearly every scientist in the list. (At the moment, there is no link for Fr. Benito Viñes, who does not have his own page on Wikipedia, though he is mentioned in other articles there. Fr. Viñes was a Jesuit priest who invented the first system for forecasting hurricanes.)

‘From the Competency Plateau to Mastery Mountain’

Comfort is the antithesis of greatness, whether it be in art or athletics. Don’t listen to people who claim art is easy, who offer formulas and simple unbreakable rules, or tell you not to strive to create something new because “everything’s been done before.”

Sarah Dimento

Wise words from a fellow climber. What she says about dabblers, hobbyists and hacks is particularly wise. Go and read.

The artist as citizen

In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.

And, after all, the worst crimes are not always the punishable ones. By encouraging necrophilic reveries one probably does quite as much harm as by, say, picking pockets at the races. One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other.

The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.

—George Orwell, ‘Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dalí

(Paragraph breaks and boldface added.)

And yet here we are, less than a hundred years later, and the Hollywood elite lionizes and defends the likes of Roman Polanski, who did not quite stoop to raping little girls in railway carriages, but is no Shakespeare, either. I will say it plainly: We live in disgusting times.

Isaac Bashevis Who?

From The Daily Beast (hat tip to The Passive Voice):

John Glusman, vice president and editor in chief at W. W. Norton, can still remember his first job in publishing. It was the summer of 1980 and he was fresh out of grad school, working as an intern at Viking. One of his duties was to file carbon copies of each week’s typewritten rejection letters. One Friday, as he burrowed into a filing cabinet, Glusman came upon an ancient rejection letter, written back in the 1950s. The book under consideration was a collection of short stories by an unknown author—in Yiddish.

The editor, obviously displeased at having to consider such an obscure book, scrawled on the typed rejection letter: “WHO IN HELL IS I. B. SINGER?”

Answer: the writer who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.

It’s nice to see that the Official Curators of Literary Culture in New York have always been doing the same bang-up job that they are doing today.

On purple prose

Another repost of a comment on The Passive Voice.


The phrase ‘purple prose’ goes back to Horace’s Ars Poetica; and in Horace’s time, purple dye was a rare luxury, and purple was the colour of kings. He objected to ‘purple patches’ not because they were rich or ornate, but because they were patches and did not match the fabric of the whole story. Here is a translation of the passage in which he coined the phrase:

Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches; as when describing a sacred grove, or the altar of Diana, or a stream meandering through fields, or the river Rhine, or a rainbow; but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?

You can see that it is extraneous purple that he objects to, and not purple per se.

McStudge’s guide to capitalism

Reposted from a comment on The Passive Voice, in response to a discussion on Amazon, and why consumers hate and fear it so. (This remark may possibly have been made with the tongue somewhere in the vicinity of the cheek.)


Well, that’s capitalism for you.

You see, my poppets, under the capitalist system, the Wicked Capitalist (who always wears a top hat and a waxed moustache, like Snidely Whiplash; that is how you recognize him) gets his money by forcibly abducting Sweet Cathy Consumer and tying her to the railroad tracks in front of an onrushing locomotive: on which, for reasons not yet fully understood, is mounted a furiously whirling buzz saw. Nobody ever buys anything voluntarily, you see; it is all done by force and fraud. And of course Snidely twirls his moustache whilst he is doing it. That bit is Very Important.

All genuinely cultured and caring persons, including (it goes without saying) Great Authors and the Great Publishers who graciously permit them to live on leftover dog kibble, and occasionally on even richer and more Lucullan repasts than this, believe that there is a far more enlightened system, under which Sweet Cathy Consumer gives all her money to a Wise and Benevolent Bureaucracy, which then spends it for her on the Things That Really Matter (such as dog kibble for the right kind of Great Authors, and Mercedes-Benzes for the bureaucrats). Of course, if Sweet Cathy is insufficiently public-spirited (as, for some perverse reason, she almost always is), the Wise and Benevolent Bureaucrats will themselves have to resort to the locomotive and buzz saw to get her money out of her. But this is totally different from when a Wicked Capitalist does it, because, you see, it is All For Her Own Good and the Good of Society. Also the Benevolent Bureaucrats are clean-shaven, so they do not twirl their moustaches.

Just remember, nobody ever bought anything voluntarily from Evil Amazon. Then, my poppets, you will be properly educated so as to swallow the rest of the stories we require you to believe.

   (signed)
   H. Smiggy McStudge

One definition of knowledge

The way the word knowledge is used by many intellectuals often arbitrarily limits what verified information is to be considered knowledge. This arbitrary limitation of the scope of the word was expressed in a parody verse about Benjamin Jowett, master of Balliol College at Oxford University:

First come I; my name is Jowett.
There’s no knowledge but I know it.
I am master of this college:
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.

—Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society

(The ‘parody verse’ is generally attributed to Henry Beeching. I have here substituted the original for Sowell’s paraphrase, because the original scans better.)