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May 23, 2008

Comments

Dear Russell. Thanks for your note.

Hey! I was talking about a NOVEL. Authors are allowed to try out outlandish hypotheses, aren't they? (Smiles)

And for 99 plus percent of human history, we did NOT have the kind of high energy/high technology we have today. IF, somehow, our tech stopped working ALL at once, it WILL mean diaster and death for about 95 percent of the human race.

Also, DESPERATE, starving people WILL fight and kill for food if that is what it takes for their families SURVIVAL. It would take TIME for a new society to emerge from the ruins of the old. Most likely, a neo feudal setup would arise. That is, farmers depending on war lords for protection from bandits and other warlords.

But, I hope you read SM Stirling's DIES THE FIRE. It truly is a good, fascinating read.

Yes, I got your email. Many thanks. I replied, including the link to my discussion of the Dungan book. I hope you got it.

Sincerely, Sean

Dear Sean,

The topic of a collapse or destruction of technological society is a recurring theme in SF. No doubt Gary can provide many examples.

In the real world, even though we surely face a decline in availability of cheap energy, I doubt it will be sudden or catastrophic.

I for one do not wish to live in a pre-technological society. It has many discomforts I prefer to avoid.

Cockeyed optimist that I am, I choose to believe that somehow we will muddle through and even perhaps wind up with a better society. This will require much ingenuity to achieve (both technical and political) but I think it can be accomplished.

"There are no alien space bats."

I don't think you can prove that.

"The human race survived for 99.9% (approximately) of its time here on earth without our high energy, high technology civilization."

With a fraction of the population.

"Hey! I was talking about a NOVEL. Authors are allowed to try out outlandish hypotheses, aren't they?"

In science fiction, it's practically a requirement.

As you probably know, Sean, Steve Stirling's website is here. The book you refer to is, in fact, the first of a trilogy; you can find sample chapters of the succeeding two books there, as well as some additional material. The first 11 chapters are here, if you want to recommend them to someone.

It's also set in the same universe Steve used for Island in the Sea of Time; here is a quick review and plot summary of Dies The Fire, for anyone interested.

Continued in next comment, due to number of links.

Although I've read some of Steve's other novels, I've not read any of those -- though I've done freelance work in the past for both Baen and Roc; I do recommend, if you like after-the-apocalypse survival tales, the older classics Earth Abides, by George Stewart, and Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank. You might also try Vernor Vinge's The Peace War, and the sequel, Marooned In Realtime, collected in Across Realtime (these were originally Bluejay Books, Jim Frenkel's now defunct company, back when I was doing a lot of freelance work for Jim).

You might also, perhaps, give my old friend Bob Wilson's Spin a try. (I'd recommend more or less all of Bob's work to those looking for a bit more of a high end approach than Steve Stirling.)

Incidentally, Sean, what did you think of the Wiccan aspect of DTF?

"I for one do not wish to live in a pre-technological society."

Ah, but there may be many possible sorts of post-technological societies. Or ones where, say, manipulated biology is the primary technology. Or nanotechnology is taken to some pre-Singularity, but powerful level.

"IF, somehow, our tech stopped working ALL at once, it WILL mean diaster and death for about 95 percent of the human race."

I have to agree with Sean there, although the probablility of such a thing happening is, shall we say, on the low side. Maybe if somehow we were bombarded with recurring EMPs from space, or other equally low-probability events took place. But, y'know, given Sean's phrasing, he is correct, no matter that it's more a matter of fiction and thought-experiment, rather than something to lose sleep about.

At least on a planetary level. One's own small corner of Earth might be a different matter, depending upon where one is.

I think the most likely realistic scenarios are (a) large-scale nuclear war and (b) large asteroid impact. Both, I hope, low probability.

Alien space bats I would be willing to bet against.

Yes, I guess it's too late for "pre-technological." I should have been more careful in my choice of word.

I also don't care for the likely transition to the sort of post-technological, non-utopian world that we've been discussing. It would be -ahem- unpleasant.

"Alien space bats I would be willing to bet against."

I'll bet you a nickel they'll drop by in our lifetime, just so I can have a win-win bet.

I do like the careful, non-redundant, phrasing, since we're presumably distingishing from the non-alien space bats.

Soc.history.what-if used to be fond of them, though.

This does make me wonder what Sean might make of Ken MacLeod's stuff. Oh, kewl, Ken started blogging again while I wasn't looking.

The real problem we're facing now, the high-probability one, is that cumulative consequences of lots of things will overwhelm us thanks to synergistic effects. It's a bit like AIDS that way: it's not that AIDS kills you by itself, but that it weakens your body's ability to fight off anything else, so that every last obscure infection in your vicinity is now a potential killer.

The most accessible writing I know of on the subject of catastrophic climate change, past and present, comes from U of Washington biologist Peter Ward. Under a Green Sky summarizes the state of the art in research into the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era and why it's relevant to contemporary policy and planning. Throughout his work there's a strong emphasis on the complexities nobody foresaw, and how actual living systems are much more complex than the sum of their isolated parts. It is, frankly, not an encouraging picture, but it's important.

Side note on SF: Steve Stirling is often taken to be a conservative because of his opposition to certain aspects of liberal culture, and outright misread as a fascist for his interest in the circumstances under which a fictional fascist society might flourish. (That is, twits take him as endorsing the alternate history of his Draka stories. No, he doesn't.) In fact he's a Canadian gentleman residing in these southron lands, and very much in favor of national health care and other features many of his most vocal fans would hate. He's a strong believer in the importance of strong, healthy communities in which foreseeable, preventable problems get foreseen and prevented.

(Disclaimer: I like Steve, and am happy for the years we chatted on GEnie, as well as being a fan of his work.)

When my daughter was very young, maybe 4 years old, once when my wife picked her up from pre-K she started crying. When asked, "what's wrong," she replied "how will I ever learn everything?"

ObWi makes me sympathize.

Ral: I hear ya. :)

My advisor in college said that part of a liberal arts education should be learning what you can trust others to know, and find out who to trust to know it for you.

Your advisor's wise words, Bruce, should be updated to include that what's now equally crucial is learning how to find information on the internet that you can trust, and how to distinguish it from just information on the internet.

G'night.

The reason for that Bruce is because your college advisor assumed the people to be stupid.

Agreed, Gary. I'm pleased at how much of what I learned in the mid-1980s about evaluating sources quickly still applies, but there's room for someone to write a good compact guide that takes the general principles and focuses specifically on common net searches, investigating spammed/recirculated claims, and like that.

BOB, if you have any other insights into the matter, Dr. Cooney's now the dean of Townson University's college of liberal arts, and you can contact him. He might not give you much time, given as how you haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, but who knows?

(No link provided because I don't really want to make it too easy to harass him. I left U of Puget Sound amid bad feelings all around, but it was a long time ago, and mostly the result of health problems that were weird and scary all around. Terry doesn't deserve utterly pointless rambling, not when I'm being appreciative of his good influence.)

Well he made Dean of Townson University's college of liberal arts. That’s great. I’ll keep my potatoes. Hugs and kisses.

I really need to remember not to feed the troll.

"The reason for that Bruce is because your college advisor assumed the people to be stupid."

It continues to be remarkable, Bill, how everyone but you is stupid.

Stupid college people! [/homer voice]

Of course, it's doubtless my genetic defect that makes such thoughts occur to me.

I'd still love to hear more about this: "Jews are some of the smartest people on the planet. But they have a consistent track record of being on the wrong side of history. I believe that this has to do with their thought processes."

Tell us more about their thought processes, Bill, and the genetic "defect especially prevalent in Jews" that "afflict[s]" our "minds," please.

Don't stop when you're on a roll.

Gary, you've helped me find BOB's voice. It's in the Weird Al Yankovic movie UHF, except without the kung fu prowess and all.

Bruce is calling me names. There is a rule against that.

Hi Gary, here's a two drink rule violation:

Two of my wife’s ancestral families were wiped out. They were farmers. “You can carry the child to term if it turns out to be a girl”. Jump a ship. Not Germans though. Englishmen and Russians.

Nonetheless, she objects to firearms in the house. She is brilliant, but sometimes I do not understand her thought processes.

"There are no alien space bats."

I don't think you can prove that.

You got me there. I retract my statement that there are no alien space bats.

"The human race survived for 99.9% (approximately) of its time here on earth without our high energy, high technology civilization."

With a fraction of the population.

Quite right.

Look, we've had a relatively free ride for 100 or so years. Oil's a very convenient energy source.

As predicted over 50 years ago, it's going to be increasingly expensive. At some point, it won't be practical to use it the way we do.

A lot of things will have to change. We can change them thoughtfully, or change can be imposed on us.

My guess is that it will play out as a mix of those things. Based on the history of the human race, my guess is also that it will involve a lot of disruption, bad behavior, short-sighted stupidity, and violence.

We can either do our best to figure it out, or we can hole up in our bunkers with our potatoes and AK47s.

Whichever choice we make, we should all realize that holing up in our bunkers isn't going to give us anything approaching real security. There will always be somebody out there with a bigger gun.

And, all of that said, if you live in this particular country, this kind of talk is a lot of silly cartoonish posturing.

There are food riots in Haiti, there is a genocidal low-grade civil war in Darfur over access to water. Other examples exist. They're all tragic. They're not here.

We get up in the morning, eat breakfast, fill up our tanks, and go about our business. Nobody's coming to steal our potatoes. Lucky us.

We have the time and the means to make the thoughtful and intelligent decisions that will enable us to do what we need to do without shooting at each other.

So, let's do that. Maybe we can even help some other folks do the same.

AK's apparently do make good varmint guns. And by 'varmints' I mean destructive rodents like groundhogs. Not people. So, Bill, your investment need not be wasted. The potato you save may be your own.

Thanks -

Dear Ral: Thanks for your note.

As a very long term SF fan, I have read my share of post Apocalyptic novels. Some of them being Frank's ALAS, BABYLON, Walter Miller's A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, Poul Anderson's AFTER DOOMSDAY. And later examples being Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's LUCIFER'S HAMMER and FALLEN ANGELS.

I agree, because it cannot be denied, that oil is not likely to ever again be as cheap as it used to be. IMO, the answer to that is to REPLACE or supplement oil. More nuclear power plants, solar energy beamed down from satellites in near Earth orbits, hydrogen fuel (GM and Ford have interesting experiments in hydrogen fueled cars), etc.

And, of course, the real future of the human race lies in space, with settling other worlds. We need to get OFF this rock.

Like you, I would not care to live in a pre technological world. I would NOT be likely to survive! (Smiles)

Sincerely, Sean

Thank you, OCSteve (5-25-08/8:37 am)

Thank you.

Just saw your note. Yesterday was a rare day off, even more rare since I didn't log on even to check my email (got to get back to doing that more often, being computer-free for a day or two can unto itself give you a peaceful, easy feeling).

Cut the grass. Watched the Phillies on TV. Played horeshoes (by myself!). My 9-year-old boy was too absorbed w/ his buddy across the street, whose grandfather just opened the pool -- try competing against a just-opened pool -- and my wife isn't a horsehoes thrower.

I did have some interaction w/ CoCo, my Golden Retriever mix, who has taken Bonzo's place as the ball-catcher. I throw the ball against the house, and she chases it, hoping,as I do, that we get a good richochet.

Bowser is a strange one. A 70-pound Border Collie mix, he will spend a few token minutes outside w/ us -- but has it in his head that he is an inside dog.

Hamilton loves the outdoors, and the indoors. He goes wherever he thinks he has the best chance of getting food. And if he's outside, being a Beagle he bays and bays, and sniffs and sniffs, and despite his advanced age, 14-year-old Hamilton loves to chase 7-year-old CoCo. She wins every time, toys w/ him, and seems to just put up w/ him. But it's funny to watch Hamilton become young again during their chases.

CoCo, she keeps me smiling. She's my pretty girl and is the real outside dog. First dog I ever had that chases the lawn mower, even nipping the tires. Cracks me up. Yet she's afraid of the vacuum cleaner. Go figure.

Look, Steve, you got me going again about dogs.

Have a nice Memorial Day everybody.

It's beautiful here in Newark, Delaware, and my son and I have tickets to tonight's Phillies game:)

"I retract my statement that there are no alien space bats."

That is the best thing I will read on the internet this month.

Properly set in a feature film, it could become a cult phrase. Or, I guess, clause.

Properly set in a feature film, it could become a cult phrase.

I think you're on to something.

"Alien Space Bat vs Tyrant King Porn Dragon". Could be bigger than Godzilla vs Mothra.

It could, single-handedly, bring back the drive-in movie.

A guy can dream.

Thanks -

Dear Gary:

Thanks for the notes you sent to me. I'll try to comment on the major points you addressed to me.

One reason I like SF more than most other types of fiction is because the best SF is so DARING and imaginative. Boring mainstream fiction about kinky sex and middle class angst does NOT appeal to me. (Smiles)

Yes, I'm familiar with Mr. Stirling's work, altho I have not read everything he wrote. The first Stirling book I read was UNDER THE YOKE, about 19 or 20 years ago.

Besides DIES THE FIRE, I've also read Stirling's THE PROTECTOR'S WAR, and A MEETING AT CORVALLIS. And I have read the ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME series as well.

Any comments about non series novels of Stirling like THE PESHAWAR LANCERS and CONQUISTADOR?

You asked for my opinion of Stirling's use of Wiccaism in his DIES THE FIRE books. Truth to say I find Wicca singularly UNCONVINCING. I don't believe in the Wiccan gods. To me, Wicca is empty of both solid theological content and a rigorously worked out system of ethics. Yes, I'm a Catholic and monotheist raised under an Aristotelian/Scholastic ethical system. (Smiles)

But, it was interesting to see how some desperate post Change suvivors glommed onto Wicca as something which gave some MEANING back in their lives. And it was interesting how Wicca was used to shape the new Mackenzie clan polity.

In DIES THE FIRE and its sequels, Stirling kinda makes it plain the Change was not a gruesome accident. Rather, "alien space bats" with a more advanced technology simply STOPPED our technology. For reasons unknown.

Thanks for recommending the works of Ken MacLeod and Bob Wilson to me. Alas, it's so impossible to read everything we should. I grew up reading Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Poul Anderson. With PA being my SPECIAL favorite. And I like the works of later SF writers such as Julian May, Harry Turtledove, etc. Others, like Robert Silverberg's Majipoor books comes to mind too.

Sincerely, Sean

So... my wife and I are out back eating lunch today, when overhead flies: a bat.

At noon. On a cloudless day. Bright sunshine everywhere.

Clearly, this was no ordinary bat.

So, you never know.

Thanks -

To me, Wicca is empty of both solid theological content and a rigorously worked out system of ethics.

Open thread, right?

Has anyone here ever read any of Miriam Simos (aka Starhawk)'s stuff on Wicca?

I've read her "Fifth Sacred Thing" (itself a work of dystopian fantasy fiction) and have read a number of articles by her, mostly having to do with her political work. She seems like someone who has thought through the meaning and practice of her (Wiccan, or at least pagan) beliefs.

I'm not sure if Wicca would have something akin to the kind of 'solid theological content' or 'rigorously worked out system of ethics' that characterizes, for instance, the output of the Catholic magisterium. So, if you were interested in gaining an understanding of it, you might have to consider other kinds of things.

Just throwing it out there as yet another point of view.

Thanks -

"Bruce is calling me names."

Really? What names is he calling you? Cite?

"We can either do our best to figure it out, or we can hole up in our bunkers with our potatoes and AK47s."

My helpful tip for the day: best not to confuse the two.

"We need to get OFF this rock."

Let's say "hurrah" for this, then, eh, Sean? Hip hip.

"One reason I like SF more than most other types of fiction is because the best SF is so DARING and imaginative."

I don't know if you've picked up on it, but in case you haven't, I've worked on and off (mostly off, in the 21st century, so far) as an sf editor, and in various other capacities in book and magazine publishing, since my first working as an "Assistant Editor," aka "slush reader" at Amazing and Fantastic, in 1975, when my old friend Ted White was editor, and my now deceased friend Lou Stathis (who went on to do much work in many venues, including at Heavy Metal, Vertigo, High Times, with Howie Chaykin, as an author of many novels under pseudonyms (New Hardy Boys, anyone), and much much more, before he died a few years ago of a brain tumor) was overloaded and passed on tons of work to me for the princely rate of $.25/manuscript. I was 16.

And I first became active in sf fandom, doing fanzines, and working on conventions, and so on, in 1971, eventually running a lot of bits of NYC's Lunacon in the mid-Seventies, and particularly on the 1977 and 1978 Worldcon (and to other degrees for other years in the early Eighties), including as Director of Operations in '78 and '82, and retroactive Vice-Chair in '78, as well as for many years accumulating one of the top 15 collections of sf fanzines and memorablia in the world, and becoming one of the top ten experts in the world on the history of science fiction fandom (I've done something over 100 panels and the like, as well as, well, lots of stuff).

So while I've been almost entirely gafiated from sf fandom since around 2001, sf and sf fandom was the core of my life for most of my life; even before I finally made contact, I'd been searching for ways to contact sf fandom for years, since July of 1967, until I finally found fanzines in 1971.

So I have plenty of back talk on sf, among other subjects.

In other news, I'm finding myself unexpectedly partially responsible for, and living with, a kitten, among other complications. It helps keep me off the internet, and out of trouble, but kitty does want to participate in ObWi by keyboarding from her place on my stomach, clearly. She says "mu" to everyone.

Russell, I’ve read “The Fifth Sacred Thing” many times. I treasure it exactly because Starhawk tried to work out, and make a picture of, Wiccan “ethics” in practice. I don’t know that much about Wicca, but as someone who was raised Catholic and left all that behind a long time ago, I'm pretty sure you're right that trying to understand it (Wicca) by trying to find equivalents to things like “the magisterium” will be...not fruitful.

Another point of contact -- from TiO recently, but I didn’t have time to respond when it came up -- your mention of WER, and the further mention, by ferrydust, of an article by Candace Pert which I think was this one:
http://www.nancho.net/earthour/bodymind.html>”The Material Basis of Emotions”. I've got dogeared photocopies of that article in my files because I have referred back to it so many times over the years....... Great stuff.

I wonder if, when I’m in the Boston area for work, we were to pass each other on the street, would there be some kind of “zing” of recognition, kind of mysterious like that bat flying around in the sunshine.... ;)

"I wonder if, when I’m in the Boston area for work, we were to pass each other on the street, would there be some kind of “zing” of recognition, kind of mysterious like that bat flying around in the sunshine.... ;)"

If at least a handful of folks would be interested in some kind of ObWiCon, some kind of gathering/party for a day or weekend, say, in the Maryland/D.C./Baltimore/Virginia area, perhaps sometime this fall, or winter, I'd be happy to offer to take the responsibility to do as much as I could at a distance to, if a couple of other people would also volunteer to take on tasks, make venue arrangements, and see that it comes off. It's a doable drive from Raleigh, after all, and I'd figure it would be somewhere between 10-40 people, max, most likely, so not a big deal compared to the 8000+ attendee conventions, with 200+ program items, many standing exhibits and activities, and so on, that I spent many years working on Back In The Day.

Just a thought for possible discussion, and if not in Open Thread, where?, and if not now, why?, and if not me, who?

I have a big problem with Starhawk: she insists that several of my friends don't exist. Or rather, she has no room in her system for the existence of transgendered as anything but delusional gay people. She's kind of sort of softened a bit on this, but it's still a big failed reality check in the socio-spiritual neighborhood where I live, and it make me wonder what else she's missing that I happen not to have an independent window onto.

But then for ethics I tend to end up with some Christian mystics and some Daoist ones, anyway.

Sean: I liked Peshawar Lancers a lot. I haven't gotten to Conquistador yet, but likely will some day. (My reading list at the moment is kind of heavy on '60s-'80s sci-fantasy and books on mass extinctions, because I've got a kind of neo-sci-fantasy idea churning in my brain.) No intent to lecture you on Steve's ouevre, by the way, and apologies if it sounded hamhanded or anything; I've just run into a lot of folks for whom Dies the Fire is their first experience of Steve's work. I could have asked, and thanks for answering the question I omitted. :)

Bruce -- I didn't pick up on a specific attitude about transgendered people in anything of Starhawk's that I read (maybe it went right by me in 5th Sacred Thing). But I do find the approach to gender in anything that requires "god/goddess" to explain the world to be not sufficient for my purposes.

On the other hand, some of the most wonderful people I have ever been associated with (years ago, in workshops called "Essential Peacemaking: Women and Men") had an overly narrow notion of gender, in my opinion. But they were great folks, and willing to listen, so maybe we learned something from each other. One of the major things I tried to say to them was that (from my point of view as a person more or less homosexual, but somewhat biemotional, and while not transgendered, nevertheless in a vexed relationship to conventional notions of gender) they were confusing relationship “stuff” with gender “stuff” -- and couldn’t tell the difference, since they were all “straight.” (Long topic......I'm oversimplifying, to say the least.)

In that respect as in many others, I am more apt to pick and choose what works for me from a variety of sources, than to take any system whole. There's a lot in what I've read of Starhawk that has been useful to me, and unlike the Catholic Church, no Wiccan has ever told me I’m going to burn in hell unless I believe everything they do. ;)

As for gods and goddesses: I once had a profound experience in a workshop where one of the steps in the process we were doing was to imagine some "negative" feeling as a god or goddess with a message that we needed to hear. I couldn't bring myself to use that terminology, but found that "deity" worked fine. And since I had 3 "negative" emotions I was working on (anger, jealousy, and fear), it was a neat fit to call them my "Great Trinity."

Gary -- a get-together would be fun. It would depend on timing...but that's probably true for just about everyone.

JanieM, I completely agree that even the best people in the world have their blind spots. Perfection is not a practical standards. I think it makes sense of reach individual to be concerned about how systems work with regard to themselves and the people they care about (and the places and things, too), on the grounds that we live where we live.

Yo, Russell! Just a short note!

What! You may have seen an alien space bat?
(Smiles)

Just kidding!

Sincerely, Sean

Dear Russell. Another note!

No, I haven't read any of Miriam Simos' books. What I know of Wicca comes from both a good friend of mine and Catherine Edwards Sanders book WICCA'S CHARM.

Candidly, I have my doubts any kind of neo paganism will have philosophers and theologians like St. Augustine, Anicius M.S. Boethius, St. Thomas Aquinas, or Jacques Maritain. HOW can it, when Wiccans don't even agree on which gods to believe?

After all, Aristotle and Plato, to name two of the ancient philosophers, were disdainful or skeptical of the pagan gods of their times. They leaned more to SOME kind of monotheism.

So, while I'm willing to learn more about Wicca, I'm still skeptical!

Sincerely, Sean

Dear Bruce. Thanks for your note.

Rest assured, I was not offended by anything you said to me.

I'm glad you liked Stirling's THE PESHAWAR LANCERS. Probably one of his best novels. I was interested to see how Anglicanism seemed to be on the way to being ABSORBED by Hinduism in a British Empire centered in India.

Sincerely, Sean

f at least a handful of folks would be interested in some kind of ObWiCon, some kind of gathering/party for a day or weekend, say, in the Maryland/D.C./Baltimore/Virginia area, perhaps sometime this fall, or winter,

Oh, sure, AFTER I move all the way back to Cleveland comes an event where I could meet you guys. >:(

To me, Wicca is empty of both solid theological content and a rigorously worked out system of ethics.

"Unlike Christianity, of course," he said sardonically.

Your “bigger gun theory” is flawed Russell, but many people believe it. The “big guns” were in the Bastille. Those big guns are a subset of politics, which are local. Semi-automatic rifle technology is a mature technology; it has not been improved upon since 1947, and probably never will be. So AKs are probably as big as guns will ever get. Fancy does not equal big. Hitting cans at 50 yards is good enough. Rugged is better than fancy. There are plenty of bolt-actions anyway.

I again state that mine are purely defensive and I hope to never use them.

I had to fire a guy once whom I knew had a Glock. It had unfortunately gotten personal. It was extremely unnerving to me. I believe that the fear I felt that day was understood by the Founding Fathers and is the basis of the 2nd Amendment. I think that those guys were some of the smartest people to ever walk the planet.

Thoughts and prayers for those fighting and dying in this idiotic war.

"Candidly, I have my doubts any kind of neo paganism will have philosophers and theologians like St. Augustine, Anicius M.S. Boethius, St. Thomas Aquinas, or Jacques Maritain. HOW can it, when Wiccans don't even agree on which gods to believe?"

Christians disagree about plenty, themselves, and always have. Ditto every other religious tradition.

Time and sufficient population and the right cultural conditions and incentives bring forth great religious art and thinking and philosophizing. I see no objective evidence to indicate that any one religion has an inherent advantage over another in producing those reults, beyond the aforementioned conditions allowing. Your Mileage May Vary.

And, to be sure, I'm not a follower of any religion, though I have great respect for many aspects of many religions, and how some people practice them -- and less respect for other aspects, and other forms of practice.

"'Unlike Christianity, of course,' he said sardonically."

Phil, do you really want to start a religion flame war?

Wouldn't an OS flame war be more productive? Or spending time exchanging slaps with big wet fishes in the face with everyone?

But speaking as someone with no shred of Christianity (I'm a, if we have to pin labels, which I don't feel a particular need to do for myself, more or less atheist ethnic Jew), I have no problem whatever saying that I think it's an objectively fair statement to say that a number of flavors of Christianity, and specifically including various traditions of Catholicism, have produced at various times, "solid theological content and a [fairly] rigorously worked out system of ethics."

I don't share the theology at all, and there are many bits of some of the ethical systems that I don't agree with, but I don't see why that statement is unreasonable, or in any way indicative of, say, an intolerant attitude saying that only Christianity or Catholicism can have those things.

And I find Thomas Aquinas a valuable thinker, well worth reading, no matter that I'm not in the least Catholic. Just as I find much of worth in some Taoist writings, some Buddhist writings, some Jewish writings (Maimonides, and many in the rabbinic tradition), in some Christian Protestant writings, in some Hindu writings, and so on and so forth.

Again, YMMV, but you can probably have the last word, if you like.

Wicca lacks "both solid theological content and a rigorously worked out system of ethics"

I suspect that Wiccans consider that a feature, not a bug.

Re: rigorously-worked-out systems of ethics, allow me to quote Merton's paraphrase of Chuang Tzu:

The invention
of weights and measures
makes robbery easier.

Signing contracts, setting seals,
makes robbery more sure.

Teaching love and duty
provides a fitting language
with which to prove that robbery
is really for the general good.

As a practicing lawyer, I think Chuang Tzu was on to something.

I like that quote, Anderson.

In theory I approve of detailed analysis applied to belief systems. But the older I get, the more I tilt toward works. I'd rather live in a world of people completely confused about their doctrines but totally reliable in their practical ethics - their kindness, compassion, generosity, cooperation, and so on - than in a world of people with completely correct belief and no practical charity. And it doesn't seem like past a certain very basic point there's any correlation between one's philosophy or theology and one's ability and desire to live humanely.

In the extreme case, I'd rather live in a world where nobody believes in anything numinous but everybody does good. Right now we seem too often close to the other extreme.

John McCain wishes Barack Obama a happy Memorial Day:

Republican John McCain on Monday sharply criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama for not having been to Iraq since 2006, and said they should visit the war zone together.

"Look at what happened in the last two years since Senator Obama visited and declared the war lost," the GOP nominee-in-waiting told The Associated Press in an interview, noting that the Illinois senator's last trip to Iraq came before the military buildup that is credited with curbing violence.

"He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time," the Arizona senator added. "If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn't had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly."

[...]

"For him to talk about dates for withdrawal, which basically is surrender in Iraq after we're succeeding so well is, I think, really inexcusable," said McCain, who has been to Iraq eight times, most recently in March.

I bet Obama enjoys nibbling on fancy cheese and speaks fluent French, too.

I'd be up for an ObWiCon if it's relatively near DC.

My big event for the day was trekking out to Rockville to check out Kam Sam Supermarket. There aren't any Chinese groceries in DC anymore, probably because rents in our sad little Chinatown have become prohibitive. Not that I ever got around to visiting them in the years when they may have existed.

Bought about $15 worth of stuff after spending 45 minutes going through all the aisles and examining cans and bottles of all sorts of stuff looking for English text. I did find the Sichuan things I intended to get.

At the moment I'm cooking some unidentified (except in Chinese) leaves and stems that I think are young Chinese broccoli.

"I'd rather live in a world of people completely confused about their doctrines but totally reliable in their practical ethics - their kindness, compassion, generosity, cooperation, and so on - than in a world of people with completely correct belief and no practical charity."

Yes.

At this point I'm simply reminded of the elaborate outline for what she was once looking for in a perfect boyfriend that Bridget Fonda described in Cameron Crowe's Singles, and how she wound up saying she'd be willing to settle for someone who said "gesundheit" when she sneezes.

(I paraphrase slightly.)

"I bet Obama enjoys nibbling on fancy cheese and speaks fluent French, too."

Muslim French cheese. It wants to cut your throat and surrender.

Hmmm, is there a link between cheesecloth and muslin that Powerline or Malkin could express outrage over? Muslin is named for Mosul after all. I'm certain more digging will reveal the breadth of the conspiracy.

The">http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010262.html">The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the Phoenix probe as it was parachuting through Mars' atmosphere. I am stunned, in a happy happy way.

Bruce, your link is broken but you can see this on the JPL front page.

I was wondering when Phoenix would show up in this thread.

Whoops, thanks.

I've been friends with Phoenix Mission Leader Peter Smith for just over 25 years now. At times like these we don't see much of him but giant kudos, congratulations and warm regards go out to him and his entire crew for another splendid, awe-inspiring job. Bravo Space Cadets!

"'Unlike Christianity, of course,' he said sardonically."

Phil, do you really want to start a religion flame war?

Is that what I was doing? It's not possible that I simply was making an observation about how people tend to view religions that they do not themselves practice, albeit in a perhaps sarcastic manner?

If it's all the same to you, I'd rather you not vet my comments, Gary. If and when I ever want to start a flame war, both you and the recipient of the flame will be well aware.

But speaking as someone with no shred of Christianity . . . I have no problem whatever saying that I think it's an objectively fair statement to say that a number of flavors of Christianity . . have produced at various times, "solid theological content and a [fairly] rigorously worked out system of ethics."

How does one tell if one has encountered "solid theological content" or not? I mean, it's all pretty much just made up, no?

How does one tell if one has encountered "solid theological content" or not? I mean, it's all pretty much just made up, no?

Well, speaking as an ex-Christian myself, I think there's something "solid" there, which perhaps might be better labeled, in the way of the sciences, "robust." As I understand it, that term refers to a theory or methodology that works pretty well even when the data fit is far from perfect.


What I see is that over a long period of time a large number of people have worked out (various) systems of interpretation that (1) are internally consistent, and yet (2) can be adapted, as needed, into a variant system without the whole religion collapsing.

The same could be said, of course, for Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam: "robust" religions with theologies that have evolved over many generations, often through heated debate, and have survived and adapted. They don't fall apart when the founder/leader(s) are gone; they are not vulnerable to simple refutation through unforeseen contradiction.

And within such systems, it is possible to perceive EVERYTHING as making sense, because theologians have pretty much covered every base, at least to the satisfaction of believers.

None of this has anything to do with whether any of these religions is actually true or not, of course. But they do distinguish the major "world religions" from other less-developed belief systems (which in turn may or may not be true).

I'd rather live in a world of people completely confused about their doctrines but totally reliable in their practical ethics - their kindness, compassion, generosity, cooperation, and so on - than in a world of people with completely correct belief and no practical charity.

I'm with you.

Lately, my wife and I attend a church that has no formal creed. Instead, there is a covenant, binding the members to God and in mutual responsibility to each other.

Doctrinal details are for each person to work out for themselves, according to their understanding of things.

We like it there.

My helpful tip for the day: best not to confuse the two.

Dude, two words: spud gun.

Thoughts and prayers for those fighting and dying in this idiotic war.

Amen.

Janie, I'll keep my antennae out for the zing.

Thanks -

...and my son and I have tickets to tonight's Phillies game:)

So, btfb, did you stick around for all 20 runs last night? (if you're still paying attention to this thread)


OK, I am reminded of a joke.

Theologian (to philosopher): You philosophers are searching in a dark cellar at midnight in a coal scuttle for a black cat that doesn't exist.

Philosopher: You theologians find it.

Count me in for ObWiCon -- I live in California but I'd love to meet you all and with enough advance notice I probably can make it.

Woohoo! I'm going to be in the room for the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting Saturday, along with quite a few other DC for Democracy folks. We'll try to avoid fistfights.

hairshirthedonist: for some reason (hyperlexia?), my brain always reads your ObWi name as "Hair Shirt The Dentist."

Just thought you should know. ;-)

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather you not vet my comments, Gary."

I'm quite certain I have no such capacity. Is it okay with you if I occasionally comment on your comments, which is what I thought I was doing?

"Is that what I was doing?"

Potentially. Intent certainly has nothing to do with it. But with luck it's nipped in the bud.

"How does one tell if one has encountered 'solid theological content' or not?"

It's a matter of opinion, obviously, but me, I'd pretty much say that something that strikes me as powerfully reasoned and internally consistent, and with thoughts worth thinking about, is fairly describable that way, and not so much if otherwise.

"I mean, it's all pretty much just made up, no?"

All thought is, isn't it? How does philosophizing in a religious tradition differ from most philosophizing, and thinking, in regard to whether it's "all pretty much just made up," would you say? Is "it's all just thoughts/pretty much just made up" something that you think is inherently negative, or a criticism?

dr ngo: "As I understand it, that term refers to a theory or methodology that works pretty well even when the data fit is far from perfect."

Yes. And there's also elegance as a consideration, whether in science, or any other set of concepts.

"Dude, two words: spud gun."

Excellent point. Or not so pointy.

"Count me in for ObWiCon -- I live in California but I'd love to meet you all and with enough advance notice I probably can make it."

I'd start to take it seriously if we get two things: a) at least one of the blog-owners lending approval; and b) at least 15 people stating a clear, though uncommitted, intention that they would be highly likely to show up.

On further thinking, though, while I suggested the DC/Baltimore/Maryland/Virginia area as a site as reasonably central to most folks as anywhere in the U.S. (and possible future such gatherings can, of course, be organized in future, wherever), and I still think that makes sense, someone within convenient range of wherever we'd pick would be required to actually look at whatever site we'd want to use, be it a motel, tiny bit of a hotel, or what have you, and so if I'm going to take on that task, which I'd be happy to do, assuming my life seems sufficiently stable to allow for me to spend energy on this come fall/winter, either I'd be volunteering to do it in the Raleigh/Chapel Hill/Durham triangle area, or needing to coordinate with someone in said or another area who would otherwise need to eyeball the location and approve it, and so on. So perhaps down here further south might work better.

But let's not get horses out ahead of carts.

And now that I think of it, I'm thinking that waiting until after Election Day is probably wise, so as to not have to spend much energy on this before that day, and to everyone, or at least me, will have as much possible time and energy to spare for use in election campaigning.

But we would't want to get too close to Christmas, either, and conflict with that. So maybe either some time in November or the first week of December, or maybe after New Year's, before the end of March?

I'm just tossing ideas out for discussion, and to be shot down.

Again, it doesn't seem to me to be particularly appropriate to go too far with such an idea without some at least tacit approval, if not enthusiasm, expressed by at least one of the blog-owners/posters of ObWi. The support of at least one in terms of promoting here would be, of course, a necessity. But I don't see that any further work by any of them would be required; just being willing to make an occasional post about it, and encourage people to come out for it.

We could maybe have a couple of day outing options for something fun/interesting to do on one or two days, and a party on one or two evenings in a hotel suite, is more or less what I'm thinking. Nothing much more elaborate, though whatever is suggested should be given all the consideration it deserves.

If there are other events it might make sense to make an ObWiCon an adjunct to, suggestions also welcome. (A philospher's convention? A lawyer's conference? A clown college? A fair? An entertainment premiere/event? Too bad I don't live in NYC any more....)

"Woohoo! I'm going to be in the room for the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting Saturday, along with quite a few other DC for Democracy folks."

I greatly look forward to your write-up!

The Comicon!

(The fact that it is in my home city certainly did nothing to influence my decision.) ;)

Sebastian, when Comicon goes on, as you know, no hotel rooms can be had for something like a hundred miles around or more.

Other events to be avoided for use as add-ons to: the Republican National Convention, the Democratic National Convention, the Super Bowl, similarly popular sports events, similarly popular events in general, and anything that makes hotel/motel facilities unavailable or highly expensive on a given weekend or week.

And, personally, I want to avoid hot weather, because I can't stand hot weather.

Now, if you wanted to talk about doing an ObWiCon as an addendum to a reasonably sized comics or sf or somesuch con, that would be perfectly sensible.

In that event, one idea I'd consider would be that there's no way I'd be ready for this year's Readercon, but 2009 might work for me, at least. Or perhaps Wiscon, 2009.

No, I'm not planning on going back to Denver any time soon.

But keep those cards and suggestions coming, folks!

And does this mean the idea of such an event meets with your approval, Sebastian? Would you be up for making occasional posts about it here if it seemed like there were enough folks interested, and I started running with the ball? (In which case, hey, other volunteers to help eagerly eagerly solicited!)

hairshirthedonist: for some reason (hyperlexia?), my brain always reads your ObWi name as "Hair Shirt The Dentist."

Just thought you should know. ;-)

Thanks, man. [In case you're female or a small child of either (sorry, I mean "any," given some recent threads) gender, xanax, please note that I refer to anyone as "man" in instances such as this.]

At the moment I'm cooking some unidentified (except in Chinese) leaves and stems that I think are young Chinese broccoli.

I've been eating that stuff for years, and I still don't know what the hell it's called. It's used rather extensively in noodle soups, if memory serves.

We try to make a point of acquiring some around hot pot season, which is (here, anyway) generally sometime around Chinese New Year. There's also a kind of spinach that comes from that part of the world that's unusually colored, in addition to teh tastiness.

As with most Chinese cooking, though, the secret is in the additives. You can collect all the fresh stuff you please, but you're not going to get anywhere near that wonderful taste you recall without the proper sauce, or splash of rice wine. What those sauces are made of, I have no idea, and I think in this case ignorance is probably bliss.

Still, it's helpful to know what goes best with what else. My wife took a Chinese cooking course from a nice lady who grew up in Hong Kong, and some of the recipes are just out of this world. My wife does those best; I'm no slouch in the kitchen, but where it comes to Chinese food, I've learned to just shut up and prep.

Don't worry about the heat, Gary. It is never really hot in San Diego. (Ok, never is a strong word. It breaks 80 for a couple of weeks and 85 maybe 15 days a year.)

I'm definitely interested in meeting y'all, but preferably not on a major holiday weekend. I'm almost always at a volleyball tournament during those.

Slart, after some googling I'm pretty sure it is young Chinese broccoli, aka baby kai-lan. Definitely not broccolini, which seems to have bigger flowers and smaller leaves.

My main purpose was to track down Sichuan broad bean paste with chili. I'll see later today how that works for mapo tofu. I did get some rice wine as well, and "Sichuan preserved vegetable", and various other random things. It would have been a good place to buy Sichuan peppercorns, except that I'd already bought those a few weeks back for a lot more money at Williams-Sonoma, the only place I could find them.

Best open thread ObWi's had in ages. :)

hairshirthedonist (10:40 am/5-27-08)

Thanks for letting me know the Phils hit the 20-run mark. The way they were going -- and the way the Rockies were pitching -- I thought they might.

Your post is the first I've heard of the 20-run final. Just not as good as I used to be about making a point to tuning in SportsCenter, or checking the local stations.

My son and I left when the Phillies were leading 16-4 at the end of seven, I believe, and that was good enough for us. We were happy.

Don't know if I will be posting much today. I am tired, just tired, tired of work, tired of not being able to pay bills, tired from everything.

Tired of my asshole boss (probably shouldn't be writing that at work, but f--- it, I'm leaving in a few minutes: playing the sick card).

Tired of not being able to give my wife everything she wants/deserves/needs/I don't know.

Tired of wondering when the next bill will come in and where in the hell I will get the money to pay for it.

Tired of working, working, working, and all the asshole, demaning customers that come through these doors. Where did all the regular, decent, not demeaning, not demanding people go?

Tired.

I'd be up for a meeting. Baltimore/DC are of course best for me, but other places are possible.

hairshirthedonist: for some reason (hyperlexia?), my brain always reads your ObWi name as "Hair Shirt The Dentist."

I always keep thinking: "What the heck is a donist?"

My favorite one, though, is a product called "therapist helper". Their web-site is www.therapisthelper.com.

And for donists everywhere, there is this list.

I'd certainly have an interest in meeting people.

Petroleum =/= energy.

We don't get most of our energy from petroleum. We get most of our energy from coal. We are not short of coal. There's enough coal in Wyoming alone to supply the US at current levels of consumption for about 1000 years.

You can do everything with coal that you can do with petroleum; some applications just cost a bit more, while some are cheaper. When you're burning it to boil water coal is cheaper.

Turning coal into liquid fuels is a bit more expensive.

It works out to around $50-$70 per barrel. Costs for oil shale, tar sands and other "unconventional" sources (eg, Orinoco ultra-heavy crude) are in a similar range.

These substitutes haven't been used before because the price of petroleum hasn't been consistently over $60 or so, in 2008 dollars. Up until recently, it was usually less than $15 a barrel.

At those levels, doing the necessary infrastructure and R&D didn't make sense.

When oil did get over that crucial $50 level (where alternates became competitive), the Saudis turned on the tap to wipe out the investments of those who started tapping those sources.

Once bitten, twice shy; people stopped doing it.

The Saudis can't do that any more since they're no longer a swing producer, so multi megabillions are going into substitutes.

This will reduce the costs of these alternatives, as R&D and economies of scale kick in.

Eventually they will be cheaper than petroleum was in the first place -- that's the reason virtually all "natural resources" get cheaper over time, regardless of consumption.

In other words, high prices produce low prices, and scarcity produces abundance, provided your friendly government doesn't screw things up.

Saying "it'll be different this time" is sort of unconvincing. Why should it be?

That's how market economics works, in a culture which has the scientific method.

And it's why "static" ecological-type analysis is always wrong when applied to such human societies, as was embarassingly proven by the Club of Rome stuff in the 1970's. If the Mouse Eating Fox is faced with a mouse population crash, it just dies.

We don't do that.

When the price of X rises, people move resources in accordance with market pricing signals to:

a) develop ways to find and access more of X;
b) find ways to get more output per unit of X;
c) find substitutes for X

And the substitutes for X eventually become cheaper and better than X was (as coal became cheapter than charcoal).

Example of a): Brazil just discovered an ultra-deep offshore oilfield which will turn Brazil from a major importer to a major exporter. This field couldn't even have been detected 10 years ago, much less accessed.

Example of b): we currently need only about 50% as much petroleum to produce a unit of GDP output as we did in 1970. There is no reason to believe this trend won't continue.

For one small example of how this works, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid starts production next year, and uses no particularly hard technology; 40-mile range electric cars aren't exactly rocket science, and neither are small gasoline generator sets.

The Volt runs on battery power until it reaches 40 miles, and then switches to the IC-engine/generator. Since the median daily trip for an American automobile is about 33 miles, it gets about 150-250 mpg _of petroleum_. If I had one, I'd have to buy about 7 tanks of gas a year.

The rest of its energy needs come from conventional grid electricity, which is mostly generated by coal or nuclear energy, and costs the equivalent of gas at $0.80 per gallon.

Furthermore, plug-ins could replace 70% of the current car-and-light-truck fleet without the need for any new generating capacity or distribution systems, simply by using off-peak hours for recharging.

That would -reduce- the cost of electricity, by increasing the capital intensity of generating plant. It would also have a bunch of spinoffs -- reduced pollution, for example, because of the massive thermal efficiency advantages of big central generating plants over many small IC engines.

Look, fellahs, problems with oil are not an existential crisis. They are not the Vanishing of the Mouse Supply.

They're just _engineering_ problems. And engineering problems are _inherently_ solvable.

It's _political_ problems that are sticky.

I've seen this "DOOM IS UPON US" syndrome before; I knew plenty of survivalists back in the 70's and 80's.

It's always a crock. The sky never falls. Some people _wish_ the sky would fall, because they think it would be cool.

In books, maybe.

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