Apocalypse yet?

Harold Camping:

That undead preacher from Poltergeist:


I think not.


Who's this 'We,' Kemosabe?

National Geographic says:

We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.
Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction. There IS a trace of both men having said, "We must not hit each other in the holy place." They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean.

Knowledge & Belief

Knowledge & Belief:

Here is an interesting article from the frontier between science and philosophy. A scientist from CERN is talking about knowledge versus belief.

The European: What is the difference between justified opinion and belief?
Heuer: Justified opinion or knowledge is something that you can at least partially prove. Belief or philosophical thought cannot be examined through experiments.

The European: For Aristotle, physics was the primary science that could tell us almost anything about the cosmos. But he also thought that all things had an innate capacity – the telos – to develop to their full potential.

And so it fell to philosophy to investigate the nature of things.
Heuer: At the edge of physics, it becomes linked to philosophy. But in the case of particle physics, it is really not a question of “believing” but of deducing something from a larger theoretical framework or from experimental data. Once you can prove something, it is no longer a question of philosophy.
That's not right, actually; philosophy deals as much as it can in things that can be proven. There are far fewer of those things than is commonly believed, but we'll leave that for the moment.

There are two questions here, and the scientist misses the import of the second one entirely. What he wants to say is that nothing has a telos; this is to say that there is no reason why things are what they are. To say that there is no telos behind the physics is to say that there is no metaphysics, which is what scientists usually say. What they fail to realize is that "there is no metaphysics" is itself a metaphysical claim: there is no standard by which to judge it other than metaphysics. (By that standard, I would argue, it doesn't fare well; but we'll leave that as well.)

The other problem is that he divides knowledge from belief, but the normal formula for knowledge includes belief. (An aside: can you have an opinion you don't believe?) Knowledge until Gettier raised his flag was supposed to be "justified true belief," that is, rather stronger than 'justified opinion.' Justified opinion can't be knowledge if it is not true, after all: otherwise you are saying that you could know something that is false. You could certainly believe something that was false; but if that is "knowledge," then there's no reason to distinguish between justified opinions that are true and those that are false. The only question to ask is: how good is your justification?

Some who work in epistemology (that is, the study of just what constitutes knowledge) want to include only things that are not just true, but safely true. If you made a lucky guess that the roulette wheel would turn up black this round, that shouldn't count as having known that the wheel would come up black -- no matter how strong your opinion, or whatever your justification.

Quantum physics is an area in which we end up admitting that we don't know very much; it's largely a set of gambles, where the science lies in establishing the range of possibilities as exactly as possible. It's not clear to me how you can know much of anything here. You can have an opinion; and you can have a justification. Whatever that is, it isn't knowledge.

Lenin 1917

Manifest Destiny:

Lenin in 1917... 'You know what probably won't happen soon? A Communist revolution.'

Prediction is hard work, even for those with Historic Destiny on their side!

Free Market

Your Free Market at Work:

Headline: "Is college too pricey to pay off? 57% say yes."

Percentage of Americans with a college degree: 38.74%.

The Control of Nature

The Control of Nature

If you've never read John McPhee's fine piece on the Atchafalaya River Basin's ambition to capture the Mississippi River, or even if it's just been a while, now is a good time to take advantage of The New Yorker's decision to move it out from behind the paywall:

Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand—frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions. Always it is the river’s purpose to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient. As the mouth advances southward and the river lengthens, the gradient declines, the current slows, and sediment builds up the bed. Eventually, it builds up so much that the river spills to one side. Major shifts of that nature have tended to occur roughly once a millennium. . . . By the nineteen-fifties, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the Gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it. By the route of the Atchafalaya, the distance across the delta plain was a hundred and forty-five miles—well under half the length of the route of the master stream.

For the Mississippi to make such a change was completely natural, but in the interval since the last shift Europeans had settled beside the river, a nation had developed, and the nation could not afford nature. The consequences of the Atchafalaya’s conquest of the Mississippi would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans.

. . .

[Just north of Baton Rouge, on the west bank of the Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] dug into a piece of dry ground and built what appeared for a time to be an incongruous, waterless bridge. Five hundred and sixty-six feet long, [the Morganza Spillway] stood parallel to the Mississippi and about a thousand yards back from the water. Between its abutments were ten piers, framing eleven gates that could be lifted or dropped, opened or shut, like windows. To this structure, and through it, there soon came a new Old River—an excavated channel leading in from the Mississippi and out seven miles to the Red-Atchafalaya. The Corps was not intending to accommodate nature. Its engineers were intending to control it in space and arrest it in time. In 1950, shortly before the project began, the Atchafalaya was taking thirty per cent of the water that came down from the north to Old River. This water was known as the latitude flow, and it consisted of a little in the Red, a lot in the Mississippi. The United States Congress, in its deliberations, decided that “the distribution of flow and sediment in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers is now in desirable proportions and should be so maintained.” The Corps was thereby ordered to preserve 1950. In perpetuity, at Old River, thirty per cent of the latitude flow was to pass to the Atchafalaya.
Until it doesn't. During the 1973 flood, the Morganza spillway floodgates had to open wide, sending a good part of the Mississippi floodwaters through the Old River channel across to the Atchafalaya to the west:
In mid-March,Raphael G. Kazmann, author of a book called “Modern Hydrology” and professor of civil engineering at Louisiana State University . . . got into his car, crossed the Mississippi on the high bridge at Baton Rouge, and made his way north to Old River. He parked, got out, and began to walk the [Morganza Spillway] structure. An extremely low percentage of its five hundred and sixty-six feet eradicated his curiosity. “That whole miserable structure was vibrating,” he recalled in 1986, adding that he had felt as if he were standing on a platform at a small rural train station when “a fully loaded freight goes through.” Kazmann opted not to wait for the caboose. “I thought, This thing weighs two hundred thousand tons. When two hundred thousand tons vibrates like this, this is no place for R. G. Kazmann."
It makes you wonder whether the Atchafalaya will win this time. The whole McPhee article, including an account of the levee system beginning in the early 18th century, is worth reading.



H/t: Our brothers at the BSBFBs.

No right to resist

No Right to Resist:

McQ is rather outraged over this, and with some reason.

Overturning a common law dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.
The author of the story reporting this is right – somehow the ISC managed, in one fell swoop, to overturn almost 900 years of precedent, going back to the Magna Carta.
In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David writing for the court said if a police officer wants to enter a home for any reason or no reason at all, a homeowner cannot do anything to block the officer’s entry.
One might almost say: OK, as long as there's a mandatory death penalty on any policeman who attempts to enter my home without legal cause. We can sort that out in court, rather than on the occasion; but if it is proven that he forced entry to my house under arms without legal cause, thus putting my family in jeopardy of their lives for no reason, he must die. As long as we make the stakes that high, the principle could be preserved.

Almost, I say, because those rights we have from the days of the Manga Carta are rights won on the field of arms. They are the core of our rights. We may not surrender them for any cause, nor license such surrender by any procedure. It does not matter what the court says; the court is as wrong as was King John. We have the same duty that our ancestors did, if the courts do not recognize their error.

Avoiding a mugging

Avoiding a Mugging:

A philosophy major, who has also had the honor of being a victim of mugging multiple times, chimes in.

So . . . I was walking back from the home of Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman and instead of doing the normal thing and taking Q Street west to 5th and then walking south, I wanted to take a shortcut by walking south on North Capitol to then cut southwest on New York. But then lo and behold right by Catania Bakery a couple of dudes ran up from behind, punched me in the head, then kicked me a couple of times before running off. Once, years ago, in Amsterdam a guy threatened me with a knife and took my money. These guys took nothing, and just inflicted a bit of pain. All things considered the threaten/rob model of crime seems a lot more beneficial to both parties than the punch-and-run model. But I guess it takes all kinds.

To offer a policy observation, higher density helps reduce street crime in an urban environment in two ways. One is that in a higher density city, any given street is less likely to be empty of passersby at any given time. The other is that if a given patch of land has more citizens, that means it can also support a larger base of police officers. And for policing efficacy both the ratio of cops to citzens and of cops to land matters. Therefore, all else being equal a denser city will be a better policed city.
Speaking as a fellow student of philosophy, allow me to suggest that police are probably not the answer. Even in the best-policed city, police will not be on every corner at every moment. I've traveled in Manila, Zamboanga, Shanghai, D.C., Iraq and Kuwait, and no one ever thought to try to mug me. I would suggest that the best defense is a clear and unmistakable potential for a good offense. There are several ways of providing yourself with that, if nature has not done so; but one way or the other, it's what you really want.

Now, as a philosophical argument -- an empirical one -- that ends up harmonizing unpleasantly with the argument that rape victims might have protected themselves by dressing more conservatively. It is worth noticing where these arguments align and where they diverge. It is true, for example, both that women should be able to dress as they like without being raped; and also that a defenseless man ought to be able to walk where he likes without being mugged.

Mr. Yglesias' argument is explicitly about countermeasures, though, not the rights of victims. However it should be, in fact rape and assault are dangers; and given the dangers (indeed, given both dangers), it is best to be able to defend yourself than to rely upon others. The best defense is personal, and clearly stated to observers: that gives you both the capacity to defend yourself, and a reduced probability of having to do so.

Ignore heathen

Ignore that Heathen, Chums. Onward to Adventure!

It's amazing how reasonable this course of action can seem, when presented in the form of a silent movie.

Cowboying Kerry

Le 'Cow-boy,' c'est moi.

Good to see everyone's favorite unilateralist buckaroo out there defending American interests.

The United States will consider all its options, including a raid inside Pakistan, if it knows the whereabouts of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, US Senator John Kerry said on Saturday.
The internal polling on the Bin Laden thing must be looking really good.