gall and gumption

Monday, April 04, 2005

Wonderful World

Stir and simmer the following.

First, David Hume:

no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish....' When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

Second, Wallace Stevens:

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

Third, Niobraraand do go and read the whole thing, by PZ Myers at PharyngulaPharyngula:

There is a geological formation in Kansas called the Niobrara Chalk. Actually, it's not just in Kansas; it extends all the way up into Canada, but the Niobrara has been exposed by erosion over much of northwestern Kansas, making it easy to dig into. And this is where the Sternbergs and Cope and Marsh went hunting for sea monsters.

Chalk is interesting stuff. It's made of a mineral calcium carbonate, that is formed into the shells of microscopic, one-celled golden brown algae. These Chrysophyceae are photosynthesizing organisms that float in large numbers at the surface of the sea, gather sunlight for energy and scavenging calcium dissolved in the water to build their protective shells. They occasionally shed the the minute calcium plates, and when the plants die, their skeletons drift slowly downward. The seas have a slow, soft, invisible rain of tiny flecks of calcium carbonate that very, very slowly builds up at the bottom.

The Niobrara Chalk formation is 600 feet thick.

It was building up for a long, long time, tens of millions of years. The exposed chalks of northwestern Kansas are also old, dating to between 87 and 82 million years ago, near the end of the Mesozoic era and deep in the Late Cretaceous...

The inescapable conclusion is that Kansas was under water during the age of the dinosaurs. During the Mesozoic, the world was warm and the oceans were at a high level, and the entire central part of North America was a great, shallow, inland sea, a warm soup rich in microorganisms that were busily living and dying and slowly accumulating into deep dense chalk beds on the bottom.....

That would be Kansas. Where the latest Monkey Trial is taking place with the anti monkey "Intelligent Design" creationist crowd represented by some of the stupidest people on the planet. After watching them fail, by their own admission, the Hume test (short version, what is the likelihood that this loon knows what he/she is talking about?) they then really quite dismally fail the next test. Does their theory have any aesthetic merit (e.g., richness of content, depth of reflection)? And they fail the next one, the test of can this theory actually deliver any information about ANYthing?

Their "theory" is the guesswork of their sclerotic and uninformed imaginations, and they insist that no one can do any better than that. To stoop to debating evidence with them is to consent to the propostion that there is some kind of equivalence between such wretched ignorance and actually knowing something.

I worked with a tech writer who was a fundamentalist evangelical creationist who loved to try to engage people in debates over evolution. He would trot out all this "evidence" -- he only had evidence that supported his theory. This neat package. He could rattle this stuff off at you without being in any danger of running out of it. It was tedious and annoying. What he could not do was simply describe the world. What damns the creationists is that poverty of imagination: they cannot conceive that the world might be more interesting than their narrow idea of it. They're missing out, well, tough, but when they want to deprive everybody else of the pleasure of discovery, they are just out of order. This whole discussion should not be happening at all.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Back to Mac

When I left the Bay Area I left behind an old Mac Performa and took an old Dell laptop with me to the islands. That Dell worked without failing me but, as PCs do, it has gradually sort of filled up with all sorts of unsolicited rubbish, and it has gotten slower and slower. Plus there were little mechanical problems like the 'g' key is broken. But there it was I had no hope of affording a new machine and as long as it worked for my small needs that would have to do.

My mother, however, thought otherwise. She simply decided that it was time for me to have a new laptop and her choice was aG4 iBook. It arrived today. I took it out of the box and had it running online, no wire, in about 20 minutes.

Well, as I told my mother, that should keep me from being crabby for a few days.