Saturday, September 28, 2013

Twitter is a Bad Idea

I don't use Twitter, because I think the length limitation is a bad idea. It is one reason that the media has made note of a very small number of college professors. Confined to just a sentence or two, these men resort to primitive emotional rhetoric that wounds. One does not wish to wound with words, but rather to woo or at least promote understanding. Of all people, a college professor should understand that. I find it hard to believe that some of these Twitter feeds came from educated men. I believe those college professors that have posted horrible things must suffer from Asperger's Syndrome. They do not understand how to make other people understand, a severe limitation for an educator.

Being a college professor is a very privileged position indeed, coveted by many, but requires a delicate balancing act. One is an educator, but also an entertainer and a politician as well. If a college professor suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, then he should not use Twitter, and if he uses the Internet in other ways, he should be careful and take reasonable precautions that his words will not come back to haunt him.

I do not know whether a college professor should be fired for posting something on Twitter. The highly educated man that has limited social intelligence is to be pitied, because his is a life of hard work and little recognition. How many friends does such a man have? People will use his work, indeed they may steal his work, but he will not be remembered. Only those with social intelligence are remembered. If an apology is tendered, perhaps the administrators should allow the possibility that the educator can be further educated. Surely there are worse offences than posting a line of text that is in poor taste.

But of course, Twitter is a bad idea for everybody. Why should one wish to post little quips which then get recorded until the end of time for all posterity? Is it always so easy to express oneself in just a few sentences?

I think the desire for attention is pernicious. The only thing about celebrity that is remotely desirable is wealth.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Reflections on Patrick O'Brian

I was struck today by how Patrick O'Brian focuses upon things in his writing--things, not people. Stephen Maturin dwells more upon his drugs--laudanum and coca leaf--and his hobbies--insects, reptiles, mammals, and plants--than his wife, the love of his life. Captain Jack Aubrey is much the same, more concerned with his ship than with anyone else, even his wife and children. I guess that is why I feel O'Brian is essentially a masculine writer, because he puts things above people, whereas a feminine writer like Jane Austen is more concerned with people and their relationships with one another and much less with things. O'Brian, like his characters, has an in-depth mastery of things, ships and animals and plants, but I feel his characters' relationships are a bit sketchy, not quite compelling enough. Almost all the characters are cardboard except for the two main ones, Aubrey and Maturin. At the moment, I'm reading O'Brian's "The Wine-Dark Sea," and I have found my attention stray as Stephen Maturin rides a llama along the Peruvian Highlands chewing on coca leaf and suffering frostbite. I've put the book down about a dozen times, which tells me that it isn't as compelling as other O'Brian novels, that it lacks a certain force. Definitely the earlier Aubrey/Maturin novels are the better ones.

About Jesus

I read an interesting article today concerning five myths about Jesus. I have to admit I believed some of the myths. For instance, although I've heard the title "Jesus of Nazareth," I assumed he was born in Bethlehem. The author underlines one of the greatest problems with the Gospels, accuracy. If the Gospels cannot be trusted as to which town Jesus was born in or the manner of his burial, then transforming water into wine is very much in doubt.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Antibiotics to be Replaced by T-cells

Antibiotics are a primitive remedy for infection, because they kill indiscriminately and foster the evolution of resistance in germs. I have not accepted an antibiotic prescription in over twenty years. If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic for a mild or moderate condition, one that is not persistent or life-threatening, he is in error. The remedy does more harm than good. Most often, antibiotics do not have the intended effect. They destroy bacteria within the body, but the specific variety of bacteria or the viruses that caused the illness remain unscathed. Humans require certain microbes in order to live well.

In the future, if there is a future, that is, if humans don't destroy their civilization through neglect or anger, antibiotics will be replaced by T-cell therapy. T-cells with the body's own signature will be induced to grow in the laboratory or within the body to target the specific illness and no other. This will eliminate the ravages of sickness and disease without the disadvantages of antibiotics.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tolkien's Inspiration for The Silmarillion

Tolkien found inspiration for The Silmarillion in the Bible, mythology, legend and lore, but also in the Dialogues of Plato, where Socrates discusses the soul at great length, comparing it to harmony, which to this Tolkien reader brings to mind the harmony created by Eru (the One God in Tolkien's theology) and his Ainur (archangels) before the making of the world. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien writes of this harmony forming both Middle Earth and foretelling the deeds thereupon, which is why prophecies are always fulfilled. The discordant notes introduced by the lone dissenting Ainur, Melkor (Tolkien's spin on Satan) do not succeed in destroying the harmony, but only alter the musical composition to create even more powerful music in the end.

In contrast to the silence of the Bible, Tolkien tackles head-on the one really essential question for a monotheist, "Why is there evil in the world?" The reason is art and beauty. That may not be a satisfying answer to most human beings, but why should a god view the world in the same way as a human being? Eru merely wants to create great music, perhaps due to pride, vanity or a delight in beauty. Tolkien explains evil as the black that offers contrast and greater poignancy to the white. The great god, Eru, is an artist first and a moralist second. Eru is concerned with creating great music, great art. He values beauty above righteousness or possibly equates the two. In Tolkien's works, the beautiful are good, and the evil are ugly, with few exceptions, one of them being Sauron when he lived among men. Eru is forever concerned about the endurance of his creation, Middle Earth, and its beauty and power. He is not as concerned with the fate of individuals or even of nations, although a handful of heroes have managed to catch his attention, or rather the attention of his lieutenants, on very rare occasions.

When reading the Old Testament, "Yahweh" seems to me a neglectful, vengeful father-figure, who allows temptations to arise and does nothing to reduce their influence. Nevertheless, he expects rather arbitrary rules to be obeyed precisely at all times, and when they aren't, exacts group punishment on all, the good, the bad and the innocent alike, and his punishments are cruel, like a tyrant's. In "The Silmarillion," Eru has far fewer rules, and no expectation of worship or devotion, not being a vain god. Therefore, I like Eru better than the classical god. However, with both Eru and Yahweh, one gets the sense of mankind being mere playthings, toys from which the greater being derives amusement or a sense of purpose. Men and elves are called "The Children of Eru," yet they are treated less like children than like toys. One protects children, but toys may be discarded or allowed to be damaged or destroyed at a whim, and Eru extends little protection from either Melkor or the ravages of nature and time. Yahweh, for his part, does not protect mankind from Satan, a shadowy figure that appears seldom in the Bible, I believe only in Genesis, when tempting Jesus in the desert, and in Revelations.

As a theology, "The Silmarillion" is far more satisfying than those derived from the Bible. I liked how Tolkien fleshed out the precise relationship between the central god and his opponent and explained most of what happens to people after they die. People have a strong desire to know what happens after death, but the Bible is silent on that issue other than to say one will be with God, whatever that means, and that could mean anything at all, and the nature of God is not clear either. The nature of Eru and his personality is much clearer and likeable, a more modern-thinking god, where Yahweh was a bloody tyrant that bashed people over the head when they did not agree with him. In "The Silmarillion," the archangels are all named and described, and the reasons for Melkor's dispute with them is better understood. The Bible leaves much room for speculation due to its ambiguities, with disastrous consequences for the Church, which attempted for centuries to eliminate "heresies" by violence. In Middle Earth, there is no room for any other religion, because Eru has made himself known through his lieutenants by direct intervention. There are living beings that have seen and dined with the archangels, and miracles happen in Middle Earth. The existence of Eru is never in dispute. Would that modern religions could make a similar claim! I think the absence of God and of miracles argues against the existence of either.

The most compelling connection between Plato's Dialogues and The Silmarillion can be found in Phaedo, my favorite portion of the Dialogues, where Socrates tells a charming tale to Simmias of the Earth, its geography, and of a special land where men live much longer than ordinary and possess supernatural powers of perception and endurance, and where gems are far more beautiful, and where the gods dwell in temples and let their wishes be known to men.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Vampire Dream

Today was Friday the Thirteenth, after all.

The night before, I went to bed late, around 0500, and had a nightmare that derived from "True Blood." Vampires were stalking my friends and I, and we were hiding out in different houses to escape, but somehow they would find us. I don't remember blood-drinking, a vampire-myth that I always found implausible, but they drained our life-force by painful touch. Each vampire had marked one of us for his own. In our absence, each vampire would starve, because they could only feed upon us and no one else. Starvation caused the vampire to lose their looks and become hideous, monstrous, savage-looking, which made them scarier. When they fed upon us, they recovered their looks. I remember the dreadful knocking on the door and then the door being opened and the monster coming in to find his prey and feed.

I awoke and found it most curious that I was dreaming about vampires, but then again, I had spent much of the night before playing Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, and my player-character happens to be a Demonspawn Necromancer that had mastered a spell known as Vampiric Draining. I achieved final victory with this character in "The Pits" scenario of Sprint.

Later in the day, I found myself alone in a big empty building that is supposedly haunted by a noisy ghost. My friends have sworn that they have seen and heard this ghost. Of course I am skeptical, but I kept my skepticism to myself, because I have learned that people who believe in ghosts do not like to hear the opinions of those that do not. It is the same with religion. No believer really wants to hear the opinions of an atheist, especially not in person. In social settings, my object is to get along with people, not to persuade them of my beliefs. This blog is like the vault for my private opinions and philosophy.

I was asked if I felt scared to be working in the haunted building all alone, and I replied I was not. I thought to myself that if I saw a ghost, it would be a very good thing, because it would serve as a refutation of my opinions, and I would welcome the evidence. I would not say that a ghost is proof of the afterlife, because it could be many other things, but I would like very much to see one, even if I would feel frightened. I am willing to feel frightened if the reward is seeing something far out of the ordinary that will give me new knowledge. There was a time in my life when I called upon deities and certain supernatural beings to reveal themselves to me in any fashion whatsoever, but they did not choose to trifle with me. A supernatural event might have led me to belief, but such did not come.

I did not hurry and was not timid when I worked tonight. But I did not see or hear a ghost nor anything out of the ordinary. I believe the human brain is very creative and imaginative, and sometimes I wonder about ghosts, and I am willing to meet one, but I never have, and so I do not believe in ghosts.

Grob is Over

I used to play the Grob (1. g4) often, when I was studying it, and was able to achieve many wins against higher-rated players with it, but I perceive that the opening has been over-analyzed. Too often do players have a ready response against it, and that I think makes a difficult opening nigh impossible.

I actually have achieved better results with the obscure and universally scorned Barne's Defense (1. f3) than with the Grob. A number of players waste time during the game pondering a sortie with their Queen against my kingside or actually performing it with dismal results.

While I appreciate that the Grob is difficult to play, it receives what seems to me fanatical and unreasoning hatred from some quarters. I have read "refutations" of the Grob many times that failed to persuade me. I maintain the opening is sound and cannot be refuted. As with other unpopular openings, a draw can be achieved if both players play precise moves. I have seen 1. g4 d5 2. h3 e5 3. Bg2 Nc6 set forth as being better for Black. I would counter with 4. c4 Be6 5. cxd5 Bxd5 6. Bxd5 Qxd5 7. Nf3 and now the position seems to me by a slight degree to favor White, which stands to gain a tempo with Nc3, unless Black opts to trade a bishop for a knight (recapture with dxc3, and Black gains a tempo via O-O-O, but White's King has a good post at c2, and I like White's chances).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Patrick O'Brian & Gore Vidal

I was amused to find a reference to Gore Vidal in O'Brian's "The Wine-Dark Sea" on p.157. A midshipman or petty officer named Vidal is described as chapelist, democratic or even republican in his views, in other words a left-winger, that is, for early 19th century England. There the resemblance begins and, perhaps, ends. This Vidal conspires to free an imprisoned Frenchman by the name of Dutourd, who seems to be a pacifist that wants to start a democratic, money-optional commune on a deserted island. The reference may pass unnoticed by anyone that hasn't read Gore Vidal. At first I wondered whether O'Brian intended a mild rebuke of Gore Vidal's political views, but upon reflection I think the author just meant to tip his cap to a fellow historical novelist. I can't assume that O'Brian's views were that much different than Gore Vidal's, other than on the subject of homosexuality, where O'Brian had difficulty.

Gore Vidal's literary criticism is remarkable in its profound silence upon O'Brian. I only found one sentence indicating Gore Vidal was even aware of O'Brian. I think Gore may have found O'Brian too abundant with minute facts and technical details, too objective, and lacking that strong point of view which Gore always invested in his own work. Gore had a profound distaste for war and did not like to read or write portrayals of war. By contrast, O'Brian's books drip with blood and gore.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Silly Sisters

The Silly Sisters released two musical gems in "The Lass of Loch Royal" and "Geordie," both so excellent that I can't decide which is better. Sometimes I favor one, sometimes the other. For now, I prefer "Geordie." Everything about the two songs is superb. It is very strange that the songs and their performers are not better known.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dennis Rodman

Rodman is a lightning rod, now that he's gone to North Korea and declared he's BFF's with the North Korean tyrant. As a target, he is too easy, and for a while I declined to blog about the issue, but it bothers me. I used to watch Braves baseball and used to root for Dennis Rodman when he was part of their team.

That the tyrant uses Rodman at certain moments as a distraction is clear. Recently, the tyrant murdered his ex-girlfriend and her friends, out of mere pique, and sent their families to prison camps. Just a few days after that story broke in the media, Rodman was invited to North Korea, and of course he accepted.

Rodman, for his part, seeks to use the tyrant to promote various business deals. Looking at his picture in the media, wearing a silver hat and sunglasses and sucking on a cigar, I am reminded of the "thug lifestyle" espoused by so many rappers, an ideology devoid of ethics or loyalty that justifies the pursuit of money and power at any price. What a boring and pointless existence to lead. I think that if I had been a fan of Rodman, I would no longer be one after he cozied up to the dictator. Such sycophancy is evil and casts a long, dark shadow over everything Rodman has ever done or ever will do. A thousand years from now, any chapter on the life of Rodman must include a section on his dealings with the bloody tyrant, the callousness shown to the tyrant's innocent victims, and the praise that Rodman lavished upon the violent dictatorship, all of which Rodman did of his own free will, even while being a millionaire and living in a free country. Rodman has marred his legacy forever.

There is a comparison to be made between Eric Snowden and Dennis Rodman, their contrasting motivations and possible outcomes, the benefits and drawbacks of wickedness versus acts of conscience. Some men do a selfless act for what they deem to be the greater good, even at considerable risk to themselves. Other men do a wicked deed for selfish gain at little or no risk to themselves. Is there an unseen advantage to selfless acts of good? Is there a God watching in the sky with a ledger, taking account of all the good deeds and evil ones and weighing them for later judgment of the soul? Perhaps that extravagant fantasy cannot hold water in the popular consciousness, but still there may be subtle and difficult to understand advantages of good. What is the purpose of life? What is the value of existence? Maybe being a catalyst for positive change is its own reward. Maybe the advantage accrues not to the individual, but to current and later generations. Good people may view themselves as expendable, and take comfort in the good works that they do and the good effects that are achieved by their sacrifices.

Gore No Fount of Wisdom

After watching a documentary on Gore Vidal last night, I was reminded of my late hero's unwise traffic with Timothy McVeigh. I think Gore was a whore for attention and lacked discretion in distinguishing good attention from bad attention. I think Gore gained nothing by that traffic and gave his ideological opponents a gift that keeps on giving. Perhaps Gore had grown decrepit in his old age and lost some of his judgement or perhaps his decisions were all in character. Killing a bunch of people should not be a means to get attention for a cause, or else civilization is truly dead. The terrorist committed an act of war, and there is not much to discuss about war. War is answered by war, violence begets violence and so on.

Viewing clips of Gore through the years, I agree with others in finding him foremost an entertainer, secondly a critic, and only last a philosopher. Many things that he said do ring true, but he exaggerated for dramatic effect, as writers like to do to stave off their nemesis, the reader's boredom. I think Gore could have chosen his battles more carefully, but then would Gore have still been Gore, and would anyone have ever heard of him at all? Perhaps he reckoned on accruing occasional setbacks in seeking the greater goal of achieving notoriety and success as an entertainer. I would not make the mistake of asserting that Gore was wise however. Clever, yes, very, and cunning as well. Perhaps he was wise in the sense that his personal life seemed surprisingly neat and solid. He never wanted for money, and his relationship with his partner endured to his death. He seemed quite content and lived to a ripe old age, enjoying the admiration of a legion of fans right to the end. In reading Gore, I think it is important to perceive that he exaggerates and sometimes takes extreme positions that seem far out on a limb because he is a performer, an entertainer that is doing his best to engage an audience that he may indeed hold in some secret contempt.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Realpolitik in Syria

I can't fathom Obama's readiness to bomb Syria other than through realpolitik. Chemical weapons are nasty, but the West used them in massive quantities in World War I.

The realpolitik is that over time, Syria has become a proxy war between Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand and Israel on the other. Defeating or diminishing Assad deals a blow to Hezbollah and Iran. Isolating terrorist Hezbollah is good in principle, but unanswered is who takes Assad's place.

There are uncalculated costs to war, the opium of our leaders. They dwell upon Syria, when they should be sorting out serious problems in the U.S. Perhaps that is the real reason they allow Syria to seize their attention. It is a perfect diversion, ideal in every way. Our leaders do not really want to bother with sorting out the wretched economy and other difficult problems. War is simple. The technical aspects are farmed out to military professionals. The leaders can strut about, playing the warlord, savoring their power, and watching the drama unfold on television from the comfort of their armchairs. Corporate America likes it, because demand for expensive armaments increases with every conflict. War diverts the masses from the wretched economy, climate change and the poor implementation of health care due to Republican obstructionism. Even if the war won't make Israel safer, there is hope that it will, and that helps sell the war. There is talk about setting an example for rogue states like Iran and North Korea. Unanswered is why the U.S. has to be the policeman of the world, a policeman who draws no salary and receives no gratitude and is resented for being a policeman.

I'm skeptical of this war, but pragmatic. If the deed is done, then let us hope the outcome is more like "Libya 2" rather than "Iraq 2". I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a nation to possess such enormous and expensive military power and not to use it. And it is true a large part of the fixed costs, such as destroyers and trained soldiers, have already been paid for, and the variable costs, munitions and so forth, are small by comparison. I wonder though what kind of aid package our leaders are going to feel obligated to lavish upon Syria after the war. Again the door to our treasury opens, and out flows the money that we borrowed from China, lavished upon a foreign nation and a foreign culture that has no notion of kinship to us nor allegiance to our ideals. The debt we incur through these foreign adventures will either be repaid by our children or, more likely, defaulted.

The sniping from other media around the world aimed at the U.S., claiming we've "lost the will to lead," or that Obama is diminished somehow by a vote against war, is pure poppycock, demolished in two minutes. The other countries are all too glad to let us pay all the bills, while they reap a benefit or at least get to watch the fireworks with amusement at no cost to themselves. They need to learn about paying for the costs of security, rather than mooching off the unpaid policeman of the world. Otherwise, they can learn about fighting wars by themselves with their own means.

I wish the politicians worked half as hard fixing the economy as they are beating the drums for war. Once again, our politicians are confused as to which nation they represent. They think they represent Syria. In reality, they are supposed to be working for America. Someone needs to remind them. The greatest threat this nation faces is the poor economy. Perhaps the politicians spend too much time in fantasy land and not enough time in the real world.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The DEA's Fishing Expeditions

Here's an interesting article about how AT&T feeds the DEA information concerning their customers. Remember that old yarn about how only terrorists would be targeted for warrantless surveillance? Now the target list includes suspected drug dealers--or anyone remotely related to them. No need for a warrant in today's America. We've abandoned that right. Technology has reduced the labor cost of law enforcement fishing expeditions to such an extent that little basis is needed to justify the cost in time or money. Just as spammers can reach out to millions at no cost, so can the government. An undercover identity on Facebook may be reused millions of times. If compromised, the name and location can be changed, and all the other information reused. Email text can be recycled, with minor alterations if needed. Artificial intelligence in software programs can eliminate much of the human involvement ordinarily needed in these operations. The government stoops to using the tactics and methods of spammers. So I think that that George Orwell's prophetic work, 1984, is closer to being a reality. Government and corporations work hand-in-hand to compile massive databases about people, while concealing their methods and their motives. Who really knows who is targeted and for what reasons? Who knows what is being planned for the future? Anyone that informs the public about the massive ongoing violations of citizen's rights is pursued to the ends of the Earth and faces the severe punishment reserved for murderers.
techlorebyigor is my personal journal for ideas & opinions