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Friday, October 28, 2005

"This is not a blue dress."

Blondesense liveblogs Washington turmoil springing from the lies which underpinned the invasion of Iraq. Lewis Libby, aide to Dick Cheney, has been indicted on 5 charges and has resigned.

Last Tomato


Jane Ledwell's first book of poetry was launched this evening at the Beaconsfield Carriage House in Charlottetown. Damn good turnout, standing room only.








Edited by yours truly. I'm pleased.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chicago White Sox, Your 2005 World Series Champions

Dave Studeman takes a quick look at the White Sox and their season. I might have been able to get more excited about this postseason and this team if Frank Thomas, Hall of Famer in waiting (both articles are from 2003, but the Big Hurt ain't hurt his chances since then) had been healthy and able to play, and if I hadn't had to listen and read all season about how the White Sox were an old-style, small ball, throwback sort of team. The 2005 White Sox weren't that sort of team, at all.

The 2005 White Sox were a long ball team in a hitter-friendly park. They hit 200 home runs during the regular season, good for fourth in total home runs in the American League and fifth overall in the majors. That power didn't disppear in October, either. If anything, it increased. I don't know what percentage of their runs the Sox scored via the home run in the regular season, but while I was having my first coffee of the day I got interested in what that percentage was for the post-season. So I checked the box scores and put together the numbers.

Vs Red Sox
Total runs: 24
Total runs via HR: 15
Percentage via HR: 63

Vs Angels
Total runs: 23
Total runs via HR: 8
Percentage via HR: 35

Vs Astros
Total runs: 20
Total runs via HR: 9
Percentage via HR: 45

White Sox postseason
Total runs: 67
Total runs via HR: 32
Percentage via HR: 48

The White Sox outscored their postseason opponents by 67-34. That's right, during the postseason, the White Sox scored 2 less runs via the home run than their opponents scored in total in any manner. I don't want to hear another word about the Sox being a small ball team.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Evolution, Intelligence, and Morality

The theory of evolution by natural selection keeps being hammered at by creationists and by “scientific” revisionists of all stripes. It results in such idiocies as governments legislating that creationism must be taught in schools as an alternative “theory” of the origin of species — I say you can teach whatever the hell you want in school, but you can no more legislate away the fact of evolution than you can legislate away the fact that water is wet. Anyway, enough of my ranting. On to my raving....

Evolution, Intelligence, and Morality: Being a tentative — in intent, if not in tone — exploration of morality as a product or emergent property of evolution and intelligence.

Biological systems and sub-systems of self-replication, e.g., species and individual organisms, exhibit complexity because random replication errors (variations) by self-replicating agents occur and propagate.

Systems tend to increase in complexity because of the propagation of errors: increased errors = increased information = increased complexity.
The greater amount of time a system is in existence, the more time it has to produce variations: more time = more variations = more complexity.

There are viable variations and non-viable variations. Viable variations tend to increase efficiency of replication, thereby increasing a system’s complexity and stability as an effect of the increase in the number of copies of the viable variations.

Non-viable variations tend to decrease efficiency of replication, thereby increasing a system’s complexity but at the cost of decreasing its stability by clogging it with inefficient replicators. Therefore, non-viable variations tend to delete themselves or be deleted from a system. Systems in which non-viable variations become the primary replicators don’t last long; they are very vulnerable to system failures resulting from pressures on, or privations of, system resources. As a result, they tend to experience catastrophic system failure — they crash, baby, they crash and burn.

This is how biological systems might be said to be self-organizing. Perhaps no other theory of complexity is needed to explain the appearance, extension, and maintenance of structure in living organisms.

Natural selection is simply the propagation through replication of viable variations (a process more commonly thought of as competition to reproduce, and even more commonly referred to as “survival of the fittest”).

Evolution, then, is three-pronged: time, variation, and natural selection.

The theories of evolution, and of its driving engine, natural selection, have withstood every test thrown at them. As Steven Pinker points out, they are falsifiable.1 Evolution’s power to explain the existence, origin, and emergence of biological organisms is unparalleled.

Once we accept the fact of evolution, which is not so hard to do, really, considering the preponderance of geological, archeological, and paleontological evidence that has been amassed in its favour over the past 150 years, we realize that there is no need to invoke a god or a Grand Designer to explain either the fact of our existence or our ability to marvel at the fact of our existence.

Make no mistake: our existence is marvelous, not miraculous. We were not created in some unknowable god’s image. No, our great marvel is that we are the result of ages upon ages of accumulating copying errors — from this, intelligence and awareness arose!

The human mind itself, with its possibly illusory “I,” whether it’s an emergent property or an artifact of the various information processing modules of the brain, that massive parallel processor, is a result of evolution. (It’s quite possible that the brain’s immense processing capabilities are themselves only the three prongs of evolution — time, variation, and selection — in constant, realtime action.)

So now we come finally to morality.

We have intelligence and awareness but it is the result of evolution rather than the Design of a Creator.2 Does this imply that we are not moral agents, or, that lacking an Ultimate Arbiter, we necessarily have no basis for determining right and wrong? Does the lack of a god imply that morality must be culturally or societally contextual: that is, that a particular morality is relative only to a particular culture or society, and that an individual’s or an institution’s actions can only be judged in the context of their own culture or society?

I say no. And I say no for reasons I think are strong enough to combat the notion that the lack of a god implies there can be no moral standard by which to judge our actions, or, alternatively, that moral standards are completely fluid and relevant only contextually.

First of all, we have, apparently, intelligence, and awareness of our actions and of the actions of others. Awareness allows us to feel pain, joy, satisfaction (unless we’re Mick Jagger), envy, hunger, etc., and to observe that these feelings also appear to manifest in others. Intelligence allows us to link our feelings and our observation of similar feelings in others to particular events and/or actions of ourselves and of others. Intelligence and awareness, combined with experience (prior observations of events, actions, and outcomes), allow us to predict the result of an action.

I suggest that, this being so, these facts saddle us with a responsibility to minimize the degree of harm we might do not only to ourselves, and to the rest of humanity, but to the world (indeed, to the universe) in general. I suggest that morality is emergent from evolution, intelligence, and awareness, and that it can be best thought about and discussed in terms of the theory and mechanisms of evolution.

I also suggest that morality, while being somewhat flexible (what successful strategy or variation doesn’t exhibit a degree of flexibility?) both in individuals and in humanity as a whole, is not completely elastic. In order for it to be and remain viable, it must have a firm enough structure and be amenable enough to further efficient variation that it neither collapses nor becomes completely rigid.

I further suggest that some of the evidence necessary to postulate or prove an inherent morality can be found in Donald E. Brown’s list of Human Universals.


1 "Anything that showed signs of design [function plus complexity of structure] but did not come from a long line of replicators could not be explained by — in fact, would refute — the theory of natural selection: natural species that lacked reproductive organs, insects growing like crystals out of rocks, television sets on the moon, eyes spewing out of vents on the ocean floor….”

Steven Pinker, How The Mind Works, p 174; W. W. Norton and Company, 1997. [Inserted text mine.]


2 Evolution’s power to explain the world disposes of any need for the existence of a god, or a Grand Designer or Creator of humanity and Earth, and, by extension, of the universe. And Occam’s Razor then lets us assume that if we and the universe don’t need a creator, a creator doesn’t exist.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

And Yet More Widgets

But weal web widgets this time, wabbit; silverorange's web application toolkit, in fact. What can you do with it? Well, what do you want to do with it? The demos look good.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Cremation of Sam McGee (Robert Service)

My grandfather used to recite The Cremation of Sam McGee years ago. I starting reciting it from memory as a teenager. It's just fun to do. Normally, I take it slower but I had to hurry it some today because of audioblogger's time constraints, and, as it is, the final bit got cut off. Which isn't so bad, as it's just a reprise of the first bit.


this is an audio post - click to play

More Widgets

I seem to be having a widget week. I've added the Webster's Rosetta Edition searchbox at the top of the page just under the blog title. You can either type or paste in a word and click search, or double-click on any word on the page to get a definition. If you select the "Non-English" option before searching or double-clicking you should get a translation of the word in question. Try both options on "quiero."

To my Firefox browser I've added the Mozilla Internet Dictionary. You want resources at your fingertips? MID provides them.

And I've downloaded and am using the Google Web Accelerator which you can't get from Google anymore, as they've stopped downloads for the time being due to traffic, but you can get it here. I haven't yet made up mind how I feel about this widget and/or its usefulness.

By the way, if anyone wants a Gmail account, email me and I'll send you an invite. I seem to have 100 invites and no clue what to do with them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

AVG in action

The two images below are of the AVG anti-virus program's interfaces. I'm trying out the trial version of the product the product AVG offers for sale, and while it's a pretty sweet thing to have, I'm coming to the conclusion that, for my purposes as a home computer user, the basic version, AVG Free, provides more than enough protection, and so I'll be switching back to AVG Free when the trial period is up.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Useful Free Utilities for Windows Systems

If you run a Windows operating system, and are at all interested in security, privacy, and something approaching optimal performance, check out this list of free utilities. My personal favourites are Firefox (I use the Littlefox theme), Ewido, Spybot search and destroy, Ad-aware, Prevx, AVG, Spyblaster, aida32, and the Gadwin screenshot utility. Here's a shot of Ewido in action:



note: Keep in mind that I am no software expert. What little I know I've learned through trial and error. Before downloading and/or installing any program, it is prudent to do a search on what might be known about the software. Take no one person's word on the safety or utility of a program. Check and compare various sources in order that decisions made are as well-informed as possible. A little paranoia goes a long way in protecting your system.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Of Fembots, Blue Herons, & Shooting Stars

Tonight the Fembots played the bar at which I work the door. They're on tour to promote their new album, The City. If they're going to be playing near you, go see 'em. I don't know what they themselves call their style, but what most of what I heard tonight had a fine alt-country feel to me.

The bicycle ride home from work a bit ago was cool and peaceful. It was about 2:30 am, and not a single car passed me as I rode across the Hillsborough Bridge. The wind, which blew hard out of the nor' east most of the day, had moved around to the east and died down to a mile or two per hour. Just as I started up the bridge, a blue heron came out of the darkness above the harbour and flew barely five feet above my head. Moments later, as I turned my head back from trying to catch one last glimpse of the heron's wings beating that long, slow rhythm, I saw the quick flare of a shooting star.

And
now I'm listening to the Fembots' somnambulantly punkish 2003 album, Small Town Murder Scene.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

If I could bite into the whole earth (audio)

Just an audio version of the poem in the previous post.
this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, October 10, 2005

If I could bite into the whole earth (Fernando Pessoa)

A while back — couple weeks now, I guess — I received an email from another John MacKenzie with a blog; this one living in Chile. He sent a Fernando Pessoa poem which he thought I might like. And I did like it, liked it so much that I tried translating it. Here's the original (my current version is below):

Si yo pudiera morder la tierra toda

Si yo pudiera morder la tierra toda
y sentirle el sabor sería más feliz por un momento...
Pero no siempre quiero ser feliz
es necesario ser de vez en cuando infeliz para poder ser natural...
No todo es días de sol
y la lluvia cuando falta mucho, se pide.
Por eso tomo la infelicidad con la felicidad.
Naturalmente como quien no se extraña
con que existan montañas y planicies y que haya rocas y hierbas...
Lo que es necesario es ser natural y calmado en la felicidad o en la
infelicidad.
Sentir como quien mira. Pensar como quien anda,
y cuando se ha de morir,
Recordar que el día muere y que el poniente
es bello y es bella la noche que queda.
Así es y así sea.

Fernando Pessoa


If I could bite into the whole earth

If I could bite into the whole earth
and feel the flavour of all its life in my mouth
I'd be happier for a little while.
But I don't want to to be happy all the time —
to be sad is just as necessary, just as natural....

Even the sun can't shine every day;
when there's been no rain for weeks, we ask for it.
And so we must balance grief with joy.

Naturally — as those who aren't surprised
that both mountains and plains exist
and that there are rocks as well as grass —
that's how we need to live, to be calm and natural
in joy or in grief.

To feel like someone looking a long way off.
To think like a man walking a long way,
and, when it's time to die,
to remember each day dies
and that the setting sun is beautiful
and that emptiness is the beauty of the night.

And that's how it is. That's how it is.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Irony

Skimming through the transcript of the U.S. "president's" speech to some body called the National Endowment for Democracy, I found stuff like the following (I made no effort to be fair or impartial, just cherrypicked):
  • Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience must be taken very seriously, and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.

    Defeating a militant network is difficult because it thrives like a parasite on the suffering and frustration of others.

    The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution....

  • ...we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with unalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world.

    No act of ours invited the rage of the killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.

    On the contrary, they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence....

  • We have seen this kind of shameless cruelty before, in the heartless zealotry that led to the gulags and the Cultural Revolution and the killing fields.

    Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy pursues totalitarian aims. Its leaders pretend to be in an aggrieved party, representing the powerless against imperial enemies.

    In truth, they have endless ambitions of imperial domination, and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves.

    Under their rule, they have banned books and desecrated historical monuments and brutalized women.

    They seek to end dissent in every form and to control every aspect of life and to rule the soul itself.

    While promising a future of justice and holiness, the terrorists are preparing for a future of oppression and misery.

    Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy is dismissive of free peoples, claiming that men and women who live in liberty are weak and decadent....

  • By fearing freedom, by distrusting human creativity and punishing change and limiting the contributions of half the population, this ideology undermines the very qualities that make human progress possible and human society successful.

    The only thing modern about the militants' vision is the weapons they want to use against us. The rest of their grim vision is defined by a warped image of the past, a declaration of war on the idea of progress itself.

    And whatever lies ahead in the war against this ideology, the outcome is not in doubt: Those who despise freedom and progress have condemned themselves to isolation decline and collapse....

  • The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them, because they're equally as guilty of murder.

    Any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has also chosen to be an enemy of civilization. And the civilized world must hold those regimes to account....

  • As Americans, we believe that people everywhere -- everywhere prefer freedom to slavery and that liberty, once chosen, improves the lives of all....
  • By standing for the hope and freedom of others we make our own freedom more secure....
  • We're standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes, because we know that the dissidents of today will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow.

    We're making our case through public diplomacy, stating clearly and confidently our belief in self-determination and the rule of law and religious freedom and equal rights for women; beliefs that are right and true in every land and in every culture....

  • With the rise of a deadly enemy and the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history will be remembered for new challenges and unprecedented dangers. And yet the fight we have joined is also the current expression of an ancient struggle between those who put their faith in dictators and those who put their faith in the people.

    Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision. And they end up alienating decent people across the globe.

    Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure until those societies collapse in corruption and decay.

    Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent until the day that free men and women defeat them....




Monday, October 03, 2005