For the Math Nerds

I was just thinking about the song Finite Simple Group (Of Order 2), and if you have studied graduate level math and haven’t heard it, you really should:

If you haven’t studied graduate level math, the many, many puns will not be funny—in many cases they get the meaning at least approximately correct in both senses, which is the ideal form for a pun. There is something interesting to contemplate without watching the video, though.

It is curious how context-dependent humor can be. This can, of course, become a problem. For about a year after I left grad school, I could barely make jokes which other people would understand. In fact, I often could barely make jokes because I was constantly interrupting them with, “oh, wait, that won’t make any sense to you.”

The problem was not that I couldn’t think of things to joke about that would be of general interest, but that all of the similes and analogies which sprang to mind were esoteric. Since the essence of wit is making suddenly obvious connections which are normally hidden, it proved disastrous because I couldn’t find the things which would make the connections obvious to others.

One of the things necessary for the skill of comedy, then, is to keep familiar with the things one’s audience will be familiar with, whatever those are. As can be seen by the laughter which Kleinfour (the a cappella group in the video) got, this can be esoteric if your audience happens to be made up of people who all share that esoteric knowledge.

Just a subset of the dictum, know your audience, I suppose.

A Michaelmas Book Sale

My friend and publisher, Russell Newquist, is having a Michaelmas sale this weekend on his books since they feature a modern day paladin who fights with the sword of Saint Michael (the archangel). If you’re in the mood for Catholic action-horror (Amazon calls it “Christian fantasy”) check out:

“Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden collides with Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter
International in this supernatural thriller that goes straight to Hell!”

Also, the sequel:

“There’s a dragon in the church.”

I have to confess that these are still on my shelf waiting to be read, but I have read Russell’s short story Who’s Afraid of the Dark? (which is about a character who appears in War Demons and Vigil) and it was very good. So if you’re not busy writing murder mysteries and have time to read other people’s work, I strongly recommend checking them out.

This weekend the sale prices for War Demons are:
Ebook: $0.99
Paperback: $9.99
Hardcover: $19.99

The sale prices for Vigil are:
Ebook: $0.99
Paperback: $4.99

Bishop Barron on Giving and Receiving

In an interesting review of a book/movie called The Gold Finch, Bishop Barron talks about the subject of giving and receiving:

It’s a good video and I recommend watching it.

I’d like to add that people (not Bishop Barron) tend to view giving as if it is somehow the enemy of having, but it is, in reality, the receipt of something else. People too often take the idea that we are made in the image of God to be exclusively about how we are rational. It is, certainly, about that, but I think people too often neglect that, in the words of Saint James, God is love. Love being the willing of the good of the other for his own sake, this can also be translated that God is gift.

To be made in the image of God means not only that we can rationally understand the nature of creation, and not only that we have the intellect and will to choose good or evil, but that we partake in this divine nature of giving. In us, who are contingent creatures, we must first receive in order to give. But in giving away what we’ve been given, we are receiving the gift of taking part in the divine life of generosity.

Too often, people think of giving things away as reducing the self. As a noble self-sacrifice, it is true, but none the less as a form of self sacrifice. As if it is good to diminish ourselves. But this is not right; it is not good that we become less. The key is that in giving away, we become more, because giving is participation in the divine. It is a privilege to be able to give.

For us finite human beings it is complicated, of course, by the fact that we are surrounded by more recipients than we have ability to give to. This is probably magnified a thousand fold in modern life where we are surrounded by strangers and only a phone call away from a few billion people. Figuring out what it is given to us to give and what it is not given to us to give is an enormous challenge. In fact, much sin has at its root grasping at something we were not given to give.

Looking at life from the right perspective does not make it easy to get right, but it does at least make it possible to get right.

Pretty Good Advice

In this view, JP Sears gives some pretty good advice on how become depressed:

It should be noted that he concentrates on the things within one’s control. The death of loved ones, loss of a job, etc. would all work too, but they’re outside of one’s control.

Oddly, fixating on the possibility of them would probably help to get further depressed, then, but he forgets to give the advice of focusing only on what one cannot control.

No one’s perfect, I suppose.

(NOTE, SINCE INTERNET: this is all humor.)

Interesting Video On Why Germany Lost World War II

In an interesting video, TIK talks about Germany’s access to oil and oil supplies and why these dictated its actions during World War II, and why they made its downfall all but certain:

It is said that when it comes to war, amateurs think in terms of tactics and professionals in terms of logistics. This is related to the saying that an army fights on its belly, that is, if it’s not fed, it doesn’t fight.

Feeding and watering an army—both men and horses—has been the concern of generals for thousands of years. (Horses were often relatively self-sustaining, since they eat grass, but they do better on grain if you want them to be constantly working.) Thus tactics like burning crop fields during retreat, so as to starve an invading army.

World War II was in many ways the first truly mechanized war, and thus the problem of logistics expanded into the economic sphere. Machines are produced only by a thriving economy, and machines run only on oil. In order to fight an effective mechanized war, one must have a strong economy and lots of fuel.

This, by the way, has strong social implications outside of war. In order to remain in peace, one must have the strength to defeat attackers. In order to do this in the modern context of mechanized warfare, one must have a high-production modern economy. One doesn’t need to be able to produce the weapons of war oneself, but one must be able to buy them. That requires a modern economy, which requires at least much of modern social organization.

Those who want to bring back the good parts of traditional social organization need to understand this well. Whatever form modern society takes, it must be one that powers a modern economy which can power a modern army. If it’s not, it will be short-lived.

Phone vs. DSLR Competition

Over at Linus Tech Tips, they had an absolutely hilarious video where they gave Linus (who is a tech geek) a high end DSLR in a series of challenges, while they gave Brandon (who is a professional photographer and videographer) a pixel 3 phone. It was interesting to see how it turned out, but the main thing is that it was just hilarious all the way through:

The origin of this challenge was Brandon complaining about phone companies saying that one doesn’t need a DSLR any more because their phones are such excellent cameras. He was, apparently, the one who came up with the format of the challenge because of course someone who isn’t a good photographer with a phone will have inferior pictures to someone who is a professional photographer using high end equipment. But there’s another problem, which is people who want to become photographers buying high end cameras instead of learning the craft of photography. So swapping them tested both things at once!

Which is, of course, a horrible way to test things if you’re interested in a controlled experiment, but it is a fascinating way to test them if one is more broad-minded than that. (Having background knowledge of photography really helped to interpret the results.)

Anyway, I strongly recommend watching it if you can find the time, because it’s both enormously entertaining and quite interesting. I just wish that they had showed us more of the pictures taken.

Young Scientist, Old Scientist

There’s a very interesting Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic about a scientist as a young woman and an old woman:

This is remarkably correct, and one sees it all the time. Science is, by its nature, the examination of things which is productive to examine in the way that science examines things.

Speaking broadly, this means that science is the study of things which are easily classified, or can easily be experimented upon in controlled experiments, or the relationships between things which can be measured in standardized units. By limiting inquiry to these things, the scientist can use a set of tools which has been developed over the centuries to analyze such things.

I meant that metaphorically, but it’s actually as often true literally as metaphorically. Scientists frequently use tools which were developed for other scientists; accurate scales, measurements of distance, radio trackers, microscopes, telescopes, etc.—all these things the modern scientist buys ready-made. (This is an oft neglected aspect of how what has been studied before determines what is studied now, but that’s a subject for another day.)

This limitation of investigation to such subjects as lend themselves to such investigation is very narrowing; most interesting questions in life do not lend themselves to being studied in this way. Most answers that scientists come up with are not interesting to most people. In fact, outside of science, the almost only people who study real science with any rigor are engineers. Even the degree to which they study the results of science can be exaggerated; the good old 80/20 rule applies where 80% of utility comes from 20% of science. But, still, it’s very limiting.

This is part of why scientists are so often stereotyped as hyper-focused nerds uninterested and incompetent at the ordinary business of living. The stereotype is actually quite often not true, but this is in no small part because science has become an institutional career in which the science itself is only one part of a scientist’s day-to-day life.

That said, the stereotype exists for a reason: science is just not normal.

There are two ways of dealing with this fact. One of them is to engage in the hyper-focus of science during the day and then to hang up one’s lab coat and focus on being a full human being at night. This is not really any different than a carpenter or a plumber putting away his tools at the end of the day and focusing on all the things in life which are not carpenting or plumbing.

The other way of dealing with this is to shrink the world until one’s narrow focus encompasses it. This is what the comic I linked to at the start of this article captures so very well.

The cobbler should stick to his last as an authority, but it is a tragedy of he sticks to his last as a man.

The Onion: Breaking News

Originally made almost ten years ago, this video of a generic news story still applies as if it were made today (note: rough language not suitable for young children):

It’s a spot-on parody of news stories and their utter vacuity. The basic problem with news as a business is that the world produces important news at whatever rate it feels like, while new publications must publish on whatever schedule they’ve chosen; these days often hourly.

It should be noted that this introduces selection pressures which cause evolutionary changes in the people who present news as a business.

Possibly more interesting, however, is surprise that a ten year old piece of humor should still apply today. Why wouldn’t it? It’s making fun of something human beings do, and human beings do not change very much. There is the minor technological dependency on the particular thing being done, in the firehose of news depends upon technology which permits instant publishing. True, several hundred years ago one couldn’t say “in a desperate attempt to fill 24 hours of programming”.

But even several hundred years ago newspapers had a regular publishing schedule because men become hungry on a regular schedule and must therefore have money with which to buy food on a regular schedule. And several hundred years ago, as today, the world produces important news on whatever schedule it wishes, without regard to the bellies of newspapermen.

To wit, this advice of Thomas Jefferson to a fellow about how to run a newspaper is as true today as it was in 1807, when it was written, and can be adapted with only the slightest changes to television and internet news:

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knolege with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables. General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, &c., &c.; but no details can be relied on. I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2d, Probabilities. 3d, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The 2d would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The 3d & 4th should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.

14 June 1807 Works 10:417–18

Thoughts From an Aging Sex Symbol

One of my better videos, now two years old, is Satanic Banality:

In it, I mention that celebrities can only sell the image of the bad life turning out well for a while, and when they wise up they lose their relevance. Which reminded me of this article by Raquel Welch, back in 2010. As the kids would say, here’s the nut graf:

Seriously, folks, if an aging sex symbol like me starts waving the red flag of caution over how low moral standards have plummeted, you know it’s gotta be pretty bad. In fact, it’s precisely because of the sexy image I’ve had that it’s important for me to speak up and say: Come on girls! Time to pull up our socks! We’re capable of so much better.

But in 2010, so far as I can tell, Raquel Welch no longer had any influence, so it didn’t matter. That’s the resilience of an engine which feeds on ignorance and spits out wiser people as spent fuel. When they were ignorant, the machine gave them their power. Once spit out, their knowledge is powerless.

(Except in individual cases; saving souls tends to be a personal business, not done over television screens.)

Real Lawyer Reacts to My Cousin Vinny—And Likes It!

I ran across a really curious video on YouTube where a (putatively real) lawyer examined the movie My Cousin Vinny and talked about how accurate it was. To my great surprise he said that—allowing for parts that were obviously just comedic—it was actually very well done and parts of it could be used for teaching lawyers!

If you’ve never seen it, by the way, I highly recommend the movie My Cousin Vinny. It’s a ton of fun and has a lot of quotable lines.

Nerf Gun as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Here’s an interesting post about some creative cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s not that long but out of courtesy I don’t want to quote the whole thing. Here’s the key setup:

i say, are you gonna shoot me with a nerf gun in this professional setting.
he happily informs me that that’s really up to me, isn’t it. and sits back down. and gestures, like, go ahead, what were you saying?
and i squint suspiciously and start back up about how i’m having too much anxiety to leave the house to run errands, like it was a miracle to even get here, like i’ve forgone getting groceries for the past week and that’s so stupid, what a stupid issue, i’m an idiot, how could i–
a foam dart hits me in the leg.


There’s a curious issue brought up in the specifics of the example linked. Self-criticism is a very important ability. People who can’t diagnose their own faults can’t improve, and worse tend to blame everyone but themselves which as a strong alienating effect. Yet, in the example in the link (and partially quoted above), what’s being done is not really self-criticism. It looks like it because the language is negative, but it’s, to use modern cant, disempowering. That is, it makes the one being criticized helpless.

It does this by attributing the failing, not to the will, but to the intellect. That is, it places the defect in the origin, not in the execution. By placing the defect in the origin, nothing can be done about it. A bad tree can’t produce good fruit, or perhaps more aptly, you can’t get blood from a stone.

The problem, in short, is that every time the person complains about himself, he’s giving up. He’s saying, not how he can do better, but that he can’t do better. And this is, indeed, the exact opposite of doing better. What he rephrases his complaints to illustrates the point nicely:

i say, slowly, it’s– not a stupid issue, i’m not stupid, but it’s frustrating me and i don’t want it to be a problem i’m having.

This has reframed it from despair to frustrating, i.e. from having given up to facing one’s problems. Giving up may look like facing problems, but in reality it’s the exact opposite. It’s burying one’s head in the ground so that one doesn’t have to face one’s problems. It is the false hope that one can fix problems without facing them, pretending to be facing them.

You see this a lot with problems; non-solutions love to pretend that they’re actually solutions.

This is related to why my favorite of the baptismal vows is, “Do you reject Satan? And all his empty promises?”

Wattle And Daub Medieval Houses

A very interesting video from Shadiversity about the medieval wattle-and-daub style house construction and why it resulted in the iconic wood-squares-and-white look:

It actually reminds me, mildly, of a very modern type of house construction technique called “insulating concrete forms” where the forms used for pouring concrete are made of rigid foam insulation and form part of the resulting structure. Though obviously far more rigid—and far more modern—than wattle-and-daub houses, it does have the thick, dense walls in common that are much better at blocking out outside sound. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to, but I hope some day to have a home made from insulated concrete forms—they seem very nice.

A Medieval Satirical Love Poem

Today at A Clerk of Oxford, she posted a medieval poem which satirizes the romantic poems popular at the time. It may take a few readings to be able to deal with the unusual spellings, but it’s worth it because the poem is quite fun.

This may be my favorite stanza from it:

Whosoever wist what life I lead,
In mine observance in divers wise;
From time that I go to my bed
I eat no meat till that I rise.
Ye might tell it for a great emprise, [triumph]
That men thus mourneth for your sake;
So much I think on your service,
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

One of the two books in which this poem is found was in a commonplace book owned by a grocer, in the 1500s. It’s also fun to see, though the expression is somewhat different, the sense of humor is very much the same as what one might get from Chesterton or even a more modern wit.

Just to illustrate my point, compare this with Chesterton’s poem The Logical Vegetarian:

You will find me drinking rum,
    Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian
    You will find me drinking gin 
    In the lowest kind of inn
Because I am a rigid Vegetarian.

Paganism on the Rise

I just saw this video from Bishop Barron and Brandon Vogt discussing the rise of paganism:

I can’t help but think of some commentary from G.K. Chesterton (in Orthodoxy) on the relative virtue of paganism:

Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

All the same, it will be as well if Jones does not worship the sun and moon. If he does, there is a tendency for him to imitate them; to say, that because the sun burns insects alive, he may burn insects alive. He thinks that because the sun gives people sun-stroke, he may give his neighbour measles. He thinks that because the moon is said to drive men mad, he may drive his wife mad. This ugly side of mere external optimism had also shown itself in the ancient world. About the time when the Stoic idealism had begun to show the weaknesses of pessimism, the old nature worship of the ancients had begun to show the enormous weaknesses of optimism. Nature worship is natural enough while the society is young, or, in other words, Pantheism is all right as long as it is the worship of Pan. But Nature has another side which experience and sin are not slow in finding out, and it is no flippancy to say of the god Pan that he soon showed the cloven hoof. The only objection to Natural Religion is that somehow it always becomes unnatural. A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull’s blood, as did Julian the Apostate. The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshipped. Stars and mountains must not be taken seriously. If they are, we end where the pagan nature worship ended. Because the earth is kind, we can imitate all her cruelties. Because sexuality is sane, we can all go mad about sexuality. Mere optimism had reached its insane and appropriate termination. The theory that everything was good had become an orgy of everything that was bad.