THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 455 February 26 - March 4, 2007
Highlights this week:
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February 26, 2007
There's interesting mail over at Chaos Manor Reviews.
Al Gore won his Oscar as expected. He said this is not a political issue, but a moral issue. I agree. What's at stake is science itself.
The timing is interesting. They're freezing in Washington, and it was cold on the red carpet at Hollywood and Highland. Such anecdotes are not scientific data, but they may be augurs.
Over the weekend we had a small discussion of how Niven and I won the Cold War. (Go read it before you get upset.)
And it's time to work on Inferno. I'm pounding it out as fast as I can.
|This week:||Tuesday, February
Regarding the "bones of Jesus": I have known Cameron for a long time, and it is unlikely that he is involved in anything he doesn't believe in. On the other hand, he has no great expertise in these matters.
If we found a family crypt that had the bones of people named Robert and John and Theodore and Jacqueline we would not be terribly astonished; and if someone then said that having found that in Washington DC we should conclude that this was a famous family from Massachusetts most would be skeptical.
In fact this "family tomb" has been known for a dozen years, and no scholar has found it exciting; how they managed to get Cameron involved I don't know. Jesus was the 6th most common name in those days; Mary was the most common. And why a Nazarene (or Bethlehem; Joseph may have owned property there, and moved to Galilee to work on the big project Herod was creating up there; Joseph was a "technon" which is often translated as carpenter but might mean architect or contractor; in any event a technon would go where the work was) -- why a Nazarene or Bethlehemite would have a family tomb in Jerusalem isn't easily explained.
I think it's a non-story. I also think Cameron is quite sincere and what you see is what you get.
http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=012207B Discusses Murray on Education, and criticizes the use of IQ as a single dimension figure of merit.
I understand what he's trying to say, and I agree that IQ tests shouldn't be the only factor in determining who goes to college and who goes to vocational training. At the same time, IQ tests have this property: they are the best predictor of success that we have. And at the gross level they really are valuable. An IQ difference between, say, 110 and 118 may not be reliable; but when one has IQ scores of 90 and another of 120, you may be certain that the difference is real. The chap with the 90 is not going to learn differential equations and is a very poor candidate for engineering school. He may or may not do well in the Education Department, depending on the college, but he's more likely to do better there than as a physics major. You may be able to get a degree in psychology with IQ 90 -- again depending on the department -- but you won't manage it in math.
For that matter with IQ 90 you aren't likely to do well in psychology, or history, or anything else requiring manipulation of abstract symbols. On the other hand, there's lot of skill based education (or training) that you can profit from, and some of those vocations will lead to higher income and social standing than the random graduate of a sociology department.
IQ measures ability to deal with abstract symbols. Now it's not true that high IQ people can't be plumbers or mechanics or longshoremen (Eric Hoffer is an existence proof); but it is true that low IQ people aren't going to be mathematicians. On the other hand, computers are very good at symbol manipulation, so maybe it won't be so important in future. Maybe.
In any event Kling's essay is worth reading; he marshals the evidence against Murray pretty well. And it is very much worth remembering that trying to reduce human beings to a single figure of merit is not only d0omed to failure but morally wrong.
Once again I recall that a long time ago Jacques Barzun, ever a fountain of good sense, wrote about this in the essay "Your IQ or your life", a chapter in his essential Teacher in America. If you haven't read that book, you should.
February 28, 2007
If you have not yet caught on to why public schools, once the pillar of Americanization, are now one of the greatest dangers, try this: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=022107C
The interesting part is that few teachers will see what is wrong with what was done here.
[APOLOGIES: This appears to be a private school. Thanks to readers for pointing that out. I must have been in Inferno rather than paying attention. Apologies again. JEP March 1 2007]
There is at least one sane Florida judge. I am astonished. A Florida judge has decided he doesn't have jurisdiction over a baby born in the Bahamas and registered there. Since, short of ordering marshals to invade the Bahamas and pull off an Evian style rescue, there wasn't any way to enforce a Florida decree, this should not be a surprise to anyone.
While a California court is going to hear a lawsuit against two Aruba lads who are alleged to know more than they should about the death of an Alabama girl who decided to go beach partying in Aruba and thus inspired Greta van Scandal to new heights surpassed only by fascination with what will happen to a rapidly deteriorating corpse held in Florida for burial in either the Bahamas or Texas.
And those were the first items on my morning news. Ye gods.
Interesting mail today including a letter asking about JP Aerospace "Airship to Orbit" concepts. There's also a pointer to a book of old formulae.
Yesterday was enormously productive, but on fiction: Niven and I went on a long hike up to Mulholland then to lunch, and I did a key scene. I'm eager to continue, so there's not a lot of time for commentary on the news; I fear the mail will have to do. I will say, perhaps immodestly, that I have the most interesting mail section of any web commentary I know. We get both depth and breadth.
Of course when I go into frantic fiction mode everything else gets somewhat slighted, and the subscriptions fall off. Not much I can do about that, I fear, other than remind people that if they were thinking of subscribing, this would be a good time to do it...
This is typical of several letters:
Subject: Banning Legos
Do note that this is a private school. As stupid as the Lego incident sounds, if someone wants to run a private school that is dedicated to socialist principles, and if parents want to send their children to such a school, that is their right. They are paying for it, they own it (and yes, the irony in that statement is intentional).
Regards, Bill Ghrist
Apologies for my inattention, and thanks to those who have corrected me.
Have done about 3,000 words on Inferno this week. It's really rolling along. And I am keeping the mail up. And I have some crackerjack material for the column.
I had a good conversation with the Inferno editor at Tor, and we'll get together in Washington while I am back east for Balticon this Memorial Day. We can discuss another major Niven and Pournelle work at that time. So that goes well. Alas, this part of my life is getting shorter shrift.
I do have some new material coming in on the Global Warming mess; there is some good science being done, but it's lost in the shouting. Stand by. All I have to do is keep things going while I get this book done.
Thanks to those who have recently subscribed. I much appreciate it.
I'll have more commentary on the state of the world shortly. Just now I need to get back up to the monk's cell and pound out another thousand words or so...
March 3, 2007
I am moving right along on Inferno 2.
In a couple of weeks Niven and I will drive to Phoenix for Henry Vanderbilt's Space Access Society get-together (Space Access '07, March 22-24, at the Best Western Grace Inn in Phoenix Arizona http://www.space-access.org/ ) . Last year on the way back we came up with a key scene, and pretty well nailed down one of the climactic events. This year I expect to have 70,000 finished words down before we go, so we will be able to discuss all details to end the book.
On Memorial Day Weekend, Niven and I will be at Balticon, after which we'll have a few days in Washington DC with out editor. I hope to have delivered Inferno 2 by then so we can discuss it, and also pitch our next work.
Of course all the above is an explanation (not excuse) for why the View has been a bit sparse for the last couple of weeks. I will point out that Mail is still as good as ever.
The world remains bizarre, but I confess I am paying less attention to the details.
Strategy of Technology in pdf format:
Now grinding on the column and mailbag. And I am eager to get back into Hell...
March 4, 2007
Here is a fascinating short piece on urban vs. rural recruits who join our military. It says something about education. I suspect it also says something about the collective g of rural vs urban populations, but I will leave that to the reader.
Why is anyone astonished? Rural schools are a bit closer to the citizens. But it's another data point. The Republic is slowly succumbing to the liberal view of the world. Unions, bureaucrats, regulations, anything but freedom and responsibility. And the beat goes on...
For why I don't Digg, see mail.
I have put up more of Joanne Dow's Daily Diatribes. Apologies for the enormous format. She sends these and I paste them in and I really don't have time today to go through and reduce each one. I apologize if you have trouble reading them, but there's not much I can do about it.
This is hurried because I have to do the column, but: Tonight is the big Discovery expose of the Tomb of Jesus, in which it is apparently alleged that (1) the Disciples buried Jesus in a tomb that was neither hidden nor revered, in an upper class area a long way from Calvary, with his wife and mother and son and one Matthew who doesn't appear to belong in that tomb at all but may have been a brother in law or something. And (2) the Disciples knew all about this but continued to build the Church.
If so, one thing is clear. Paul, who persecuted Christians before his conversion, didn't know about it. He says in his first epistle to the Corinthians:
15:12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 15:13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15:15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
Now if lots of people knew where this ossuary is -- it wasn't particularly hidden and was marked with a rose as if to call attention to it -- then surely one would have told Paul? In which case Paul's incentive to travel all over the Middle East is pretty hard to discern.
I had actually intended to address the probabilistic model they give, but on looking at it, it's absurd. They took the frequencies of the names in those times, assumed they were independent, and multiplied the probabilities. That produces a very small number.
Which is silly. First, if this were a Christian family, the probabilities of the names aren't independent at all. Second, what has that to do with whose bones were found anyway? Third, they did DNA to show that the two women weren't related, maybe; but they haven't established that this is a family ossuary to begin with. If it's not, the fact that two people in there aren't biological relatives is hardly startling.
A better probability model would be to estimate the chances (1) that a family known to have property in Bethlehem and Nazareth would decide to establish a family ossuary in Jerusalem, (2) not anywhere near the tomb originally loaned by Joseph of Arimathea which was known to near Calvary; (3) mark it with a rose and make no attempt to hide it; (4) and fill it with ossuaries that aren't very well inscribed. I don't know the actual numbers here, but none of those events looks very probable, say no more than 1/10 surely? I think the rose on the tomb is relatively rare, and ossuaries with bad inscriptions aren't rare at all: call the rose 1/5 and the badly done inscriptions 1/2. The others we were merely guessing at. But we get (1/10)*(1/10)*(1/5)*(1/2) = 1/1000. See what I can do with numbers? Depending on the assumptions -- say I throw in the fact that fewer than 3/4 of the tombs have both sexes, and maybe the probability that the ossuary was made of a particular stone -- I can get just about any result I like.
It's more likely that this was an ossuary of a Christian family, and may well contain non-biologically related people who considered themselves members of a single family (early Christians often did). How probable? There's no way to figure that because we don't have much in the way of data. But taking a series of name frequencies and multiplying them to give a result and treating that result as if it has any real meaning is just plain silly. I don't blame Cameron for being impressed with this pseudoscience, but some of the people involved in this ought to know better.
Having seen the program -- I am ashamed to say that I wrote the above after seeing only secondary sources about it -- I probably would have written a somewhat different essay had I seen it first, but I don't think of any substantial changes to make.
(I did say "marked with a rose" when I should have described the distinctive marking somewhat differently, but that hardly matters: it was distinctive, meaning that it doesn't appear to be hidden or clandestine.)
We are dealing with a tempest in a teapot, and the much vaunted "statistical analysis" is the bunk.
Once again I don't really blame Cameron for being interested. The tomb really should have been given more attention by the archeologists. It's worth studying to learn more about Judao-Christians in an important era. But it changes nothing.
Christianity is based on an event well outside the bounds of probability estimates. Miracles by definition always are, and the Resurrection was an extraordinary miracle. Extraordinary hypotheses require extraordinary proof, said Descartes as echoed by Carl Sagan; Saul of Tarsus thought he had seen extraordinary proof, so that he changed from persecuting early Christians in the name of Judaism to becoming St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. He interviewed hundreds of witnesses. If there had been some sort of conspiracy -- it would have had to involve a Roman execution detail and Herod's temple guards and watch (who were presumably bribable, and who would presumably have been terrified by the furor their botched execution caused and thus would have an incentive not to brag when in their cups), as well as a number of disciples so terrified that their chief denied their leader three times before dawn -- it is unlikely that Paul would not have learned of it. Whatever else Paul may have been, he was charismatic and persuasive both before his conversion and after. It seems to me that he would have found out. His Epistles do not reflect any such guilty knowledge; nor do his deeds.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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