Saturday, September 5, 2009

This is a painting. For real.

Although this looks like some nightmare from algebra class, or the crazed need of a math teacher to deface all the cultured spaces of the world with his own obsessions, the following is, believe it or not, an objet d'art in the Musée des something or other:

Entitled Rythme du millimètre, which, in English, translates as Descarte's Dream or Ha Ha, Suckers

If someone knows French and is interested in going to the museum's web page, reading up on it, and explaining to me why this is actually a worthwhile piece, I welcome his or her attempt. In the meantime, I shall not discontinue mocking it.

UPDATE: Here's what Babelfish has to say about it:

The voice of the millimetre is thin. It is necessary to pay a very interior attention to perceive it. Four rigorously identical white squares are delimited by two black lines of 114 centimetres, l' a vertical, l' another horizontal. Their crossing, symbolic system, create a fifth square, black. Each element raises the question of l' space and that of the matter in metaphysics terms: of what cosmos (l' is made; order of the lines), how s' organize chaos (the confusion of each point of l' spaces), which is their direction? C' is with l' art of the abstract geometrical painters that d' is attached; Aurélie Nemours since 1953. But more than Mondrian, it pushes its artistic experiment towards l' asceticism. It is included/understood since this s' creation; organize in the series: Rate/rhythm of the millimetre indicates a whole of tables of which that of the museum is one of the elements. Its more total effect s' thus connect with that d' a repetitive music: it plunges us in contemplation, millimetre per millimetre.

It's gonna take more than that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Parents Are So Likely to Fall for Torture

I've been trying to figure out why parents are so likely to toss out the "I would torture to save my own little boy or girl and you're a weak and worthless would-be parent if you would do less!" defense of torture. I think I've figured out why this is plausible to us.

In a culture in which our morality flows only from our own personal commitment to that particular ethic, there is nothing more beautifully self-immolating than giving up your own morality for the sake of the kid. Dying for your child means only giving up your life. Breaking your own moral code for the sake of the child means giving up something closer to the center of your being for the sake of your kid, which is so much cooler.

I knew there was a reason bishops weren't allowed to have kids.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ironically, for People Who Make This Much Freaking Money, These Guys Have No Clue What They're Doing

Top hedge fund managers do well in a down year

These guys have well worked-out equations and algorithms that can reliably predict what the market will do (at the moment), but they don't know why they work. They just know they work. The problem with that is that it means that they don't know if they're facilitating just trades that increase wealth, or whether they're taking advantage of unintended consequences of the system as we have it.

It could be possible, I suppose, that they've very thoroughly analyzed each part of the market and have all the just-trade possibilities worked out in their heads and they're doing nothing but facilitating just trades. But if that's the case, fire Tim Geithner and put these guys to work. They apparently know what to do with the market.

But I will bet a silk pajama that they've got Darwinian algorithms and fancy equations that are busy exploring the possible solution spaces for market trades, but they have no freaking clue what any of those solutions actually means or whether it represents a just trade. And given the history of the last 6 months and what has come to light about our financial system, I think these guys are almost certainly taking advantage of unintended consequences of our system, unintended consequences that (since they were unintended) actually represent grave injustice. And by "grave injustice" I don't mean that they're going into the inner city and stealing money from welfare mothers. I mean mean their trades cause people to think there's money when there isn't, which ends up being the same thing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Evangelicals and Catholics Together ... in Laconia

So I was talking to a friend of mine after mass, today, and I asked her whether the Catholic community in the Lakes Region was providing much support to the local pregnancy care center, and she told me that significant cooperation was still hampered to some extent by theological differences.

Booo! Theological differences, booo! Why can't we just get along while we build the kingdom of God? All this rarefied theological blather is just getting in the way of all the great work we could be doing, says the Pragmatic American Full of His Own Self-Righteousness in His All-Holy Pragmatism.

This is roughly equivalent to a general who says, "Who cares which direction the guns are pointing! Just pull the d*** trigger!" Stupid, stupid, stupid pragmatic American: that's what I say.

But just because theological differences do, indeed, make a difference doesn't mean we have to just give up on the whole project. Back in the late eighties or early nineties, Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus started working on Evangelicals and Catholics Together: some sort of togetherness statement that emphasized all that we have in common. Excellent.

The problem with such a document is that it's a great statement of position, but unless our faith produces some works, then it's dead (at least so says the Bible), and so a statement of common faith ought to produce some common works. Is it?

But I was thinking, it's kind of nice for Colson and Neuhaus to do all that for us, but the fact of the matter is that their statement is not binding, and it was a labor of love produced by two friends, so it ought to be used as a model. What we need are for local Evangelicals and Catholics to get together and outline their theological and doctrinal commonalities and use this process to help them in common works: common works that flow from common faith.

So I see in my dreams pastors and laity from the various churches getting together so that they know each other and coming up with some shared statements of faith that are oriented towards what common works they can do, common works that will be a flowering of their common faith. But these statements of faith will be used for real work and will therefore be real statements of faith, not just rehashings of old arguments and so on and so forth.

And I have officially used the phrase "common works ... common faith" way too much. Feel free to make fun of me.



Friday, March 13, 2009

Definition of Community

The word "community" keeps getting thrown around. It's so hip to think/worry/talk about that my friend has made it a drinking game. Every time someone says "community" we take a shot. (Except we only pretend to take a shot because communally minded people can't be going around completely smashed all the time.) Anyway, I finally figured out what a community is....

community - nexus of inescapable responsibility

Notice that within a society of no-fault divorce with rates that hover around 50%, a family is not a community. Duh. It also makes the government the only community we have. No wonder "community organizers" become president.

That's 8 shots, Liz. You're buying.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why Do Religious People Dislike Evolution?

If the only time you saw a car it was being used to drive over your mother, you might develop an irrational prejudice against automobiles, too.

What is your mother doing in the middle of the road?

She's a traffic cop.

Traffic cops suck. They deserve to be driven over.

Well, okay then....

The United States is an extremely pragmatic society and, as a result, tends to lend a great deal of moral authority to what "works". Science "works", and therefore possesses an enormous amount of moral authority in our society. Of course, the problem with with moral authority -- as people have pointed out ad nauseum (Eek! a bishop!) -- is that it frequently gets co-opted by the powers that be, and not always for moral purposes. Now, if the saying is true that the United States is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes, then we would expect the political and moral philosophy of the ruling powers of the United States to not be particularly friendly towards Christianity.

Furthermore, human beings being what they are, we would expect the moral authority of science to be co-opted by the same powers (whatever they are) for the sake of defeating the opposition in the public square. And, fascinatingly enough, that is what we do find. Creation "Scientists" are not the only ones declaring with confidence that Christianity and Evolutionary Biology are incompatible. Many others on the "side of evolution" say so, too. But of course there are quite a few of the powers-that-be who have no problem with the idea of Christianity co-existing with evolution. What shall we say to them?

The real point of contention in any society will always turn out to be moral. If we find evolution being co-opted in a philosophically simplistic way to defeat Christian morality in the public square, then there is good evidence that the moral authority of science is being invoked for a particular agenda which it does not necessarily support.

[A lot, I admit, hinges on the phrase "philosophically simplistic". I get extremely weary of the impatience of a pragmatic people with philosophy. Philosophy is of first importance, and if we ignore thinking about what is really true and good it is because either we all agree completely on what is good and true or else we for some reason don't want to discuss it.]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Note to Evolution Enthusiasts

Do you understand why devout religious people see Darwinian evolution as a threat to their faith? It's not because it is. It's because people like this guy think and say that it is. When the only time you see a baseball bat is when you're getting smashed in the face with it, you're probably not going to want to play ball.

Money quote:

It's true that spiritual beliefs of one form or another are universal, almost as defining of humanity as language is. But the universality of language and the fact that bits of the human brain are clearly specialised to do language suggest that our genes give us language-learning brains. Is the same true of religion?
Most people in the public don't have the philosophical training to understand why what this guy is saying ranks with "let's have a character named Jar-Jar" as one of the stupidest ideas ever to make a gentle plopping sound as it fell onto a soft head. Of course we're hard-wired to have certain kinds of experiences. But that cannnot ipso facto invalidate the truth of those experiences. His comparison to language is particularly infelicitous, since language is the means by which we get each other to recognize what is good and true. That we're hard-wired for language just makes it better, not worse, for religion.

Darwinian biologists need to grab their philosophical Louisville Slugger and bat this guy around for a while.