Sunday, March 26, 2006

Liar! Liar!

There was a much bally-hooed report in the Journal Nature not too long ago that purported to find that Wikipedia was really not that much less accurate than the Encyclopædia Britannica. Well, the folks at Britannica have fired back and said, in essence, that not only are they superior to Wikipedia but Nature's study was flawed and that when they asked Nature for the data so they could attempt to replicate it and correct the errors that Nature refused to share anything more than the excerpts and summaries that they published. Read for yourself here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Book

I'm not feeling much like posting, but I have been meaning to mention that I finished Enter the Saint and it wasn't too bad. Agatha Christie on an off day. The prose wasn't as overwrought as in Knight Templar, and the stories didn't rely on criminal-mastermind-geniuses quite so much. Anyway.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Well, it could have been worse. Duke, LSU, UCLA, Gonzaga, and Florida all won. BC beat Montana, but I had Iowa pegged to win, so that didn't matter any longer. Wichita St. beat Tennessee and UW beat Illinois so now only UConn is left of my teams in the DC regional and they're my Final Four team.

Today isn't shaping up much better yet. Bradley beat Pitt and George Mason leads UNC as I type this, so by the end of the day I may be in really bad shape.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

NCAA Tournament Day 3

Well, Day 2 was pretty bad. Both NC State and Arizona won, and both were picks I had reversed once I decided to go exclusively with the strength ratings. Worse, however, was the fact that Kansas and Iowa both bit the dust in the first round because I had both of them slotted in as Elite Eight teams. My picks are 23 out of 32 coming out of the first round, but even with every possible success in the second round my best hope is to be 13 of 16 and then to get 6 of 8 in the round after that. On the upside, my Final Four picks are all still intact.

Friday, March 17, 2006

NCAA Tournament Day 2

Well, it wasn't too bad on the first day. Of the 16 games played, my picks had 12 of them correct. The only disappointments really were that I had picked Montana to upset Nevada and GW to beat NC Wilmington before going strictly by the strength rankings. On the other hand, I had also picked Utah St to upset UW and Seton Hall to knock off Wichita St, so I suppose it all comes out in the wash. The damage is minimal, because with the exception of having Nevada pegged to upset BC in the next round, each of the games where my pick was off is slated to lose in the next round anyway, so the ripple effect shouldn't bother me too much.

Going into today's games Arizona vs. Wisconsin and NC St vs. Cal are the only games I would have picked differently on my own.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tournament Brackets





NCAA Basketball Tournament

The NCAA tournament starts tomorrow and I have my picks made. I made them at Yahoo! because it was easy, and while I can't link them for you to see, I'll get some screen caps and put them in my next post so you can see my bracket in detail should you be inclined. (Blogger is really slow right now, so that may take a bit of time.) What I did was to take the research done by a couple UNC business profs and slavishly follow it. In each potential game I chose as winner the team which they ranked as being the stronger. Now, since we are dealing with probabilities rather than certainties, it doesn't follow that this will be exactly correct. But since Yahoo! doesn't weight upsets, as long as I predict more outcomes correctly, I will do better. This is partially offset by the fact that Yahoo! does weight later games more heavily than early round games, but I'm hoping that with enough correct predictions in the early rounds, I'll have enough teams left to garner me good points in the later rounds as well. And, I really couldn't do much worse than I did last time anyway.

Going by the strength ratings means that I haven't picked very many upsets, only six in all. The upsets I did pick are:

First Round
Atlanta Regional
9 NC Wilmington over 8 George Washington
Oakland Regional
10 Alabama over 7 Marquette
Minneapolis Regional
9 Wisconsin over 8 Arizona

Second Round
Minneapolis Regional
5 Nevada over 4 Boston College

Third Round
Atlanta Regional
3 Iowa over 2 Texas
Oakland Regional
4 Kansas over 1 Memphis

Fourth Round
None

Semi-Finals and Finals
These are a bit fuzzier since these teams weren't seeded against each other. So I have Duke beating UCLA and Villanova beating UConn and then Duke beating Villanova for the championship. No real upsets to speak of.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

New Blog, New Link

A very good friend of mine from college, Holly Moe, has started her own blog. Check it out here, or with the link I added to your left (if you're facing the screen).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Conservative Mind

The last few quotes from The Conservative Mind. All are from Kirk.
In sober fact, do men have souls, or do they not? Upon one's solution of this inquiry rests the basis of politics; for if men do not possess souls, if there is no higher will, then they may be treated as parts of a machine---indeed, they cannot be treated otherwise.

Modern romanticism and modern science, though superficially inimical, share a disastrous impressionism; for both have surrendered to the theory of ceaseless flux, with no principle of judgment except the shifting pleasure of the individual. This is Pragmatism, the cancer of our intellect.

When property is insecure, the spirit of materialism flourishes.

The twentieth-century conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character---with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest; but it cannot be accomplished as a deliberate program of social reform, "political Christianity." As Christopher Dawson observes, "There is a tendency, especially among the English-speaking Protestant peoples, to treat religion as a kind of social tonic in order to extract a further degree of moral effort from the people."

The assault on institutional religion, on old-fashioned economic methods, on family authority, and on small political communities has set the individual free from nearly everything, truly; but that freedom is a terrifying thing, the freedom of a baby deserted by his parents to do as he pleases.

Books

What follows immediately is something I wrote a day or so ago and didn't get around to posting right away. I've read another Heinlein book since then that I'll discuss separately.

I've read two Heinlein books in the past week and part of a third. The two I read were Starman Jones and Podkayne of Mars. Each of those was an enjoyable, if not particularly great or memorable, sci-fi story. Each deals with an individual who yearns to travel in space and their adventures once they are able to do so. The latter is told in a first person perspective that is interesting and combines an elements of a thriller with the standard sci-fi space yarn. The former is just straight sci-fi goodness. Neither will earn a spot on my shelves, nor do I have plans to re-read them, but they weren't bad. (Pet peeve: Why does Heinlein need to call his interstellar navigators "astrogators"? It's annoying. And how is that pronounced anyway? "A-strog-a-tor"? "Astro-gator"? That last sounds like it was an carnivorous space-reptile.)

The Heinlein book of which I read merely part was Stranger in a Strange Land. It started out well, with an interesting hook about the first mission to Mars being unsuccessful and the second mission years later finding that Mars was inhabited and that there was one survivor of the original expedition. But after this survivor was transported back to Earth, the feel of the book changed. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but something was off. So I skimmed ahead and read some Amazon review information online and discovered that the book turns quickly away from anything to do with science fiction and is instead a Randian anti-religious, free love screed. All the religions of the world are corrupt and wrong, everyone is a god, god is just what feels good, nothing is bad as long as everyone present is a consenting adult, etc. It was inane, amateurish and repulsive. Granted, the other books of his that I have read (the two mentioned above and Starship Troopers) were not masterpieces of plot and dialogue, but at least they weren't insulting grade-school philosophies dressed up as the wisdom of the ages spoken through the mouth of a fictional "prophet". The only reason I can come up with to explain how such a book became a best-seller is to note that it was originally published in the 1960's when there were more people willing to give credence to such nonsense and the fact that many people will always welcome a philosophy that tells them that they don't have to do anything different, that what they are already doing is just fine.

Since I wrote that I've also read Heinlein's Glory Road, and my opinion of him hasn't really changed. His work is puerile and the only redeeming quality is that he can sometimes come up with a pretty good plot that his writing and characterizations don't completely destroy. Glory Road was nothing more than adolescent male fantasy expanded to book length. A young ex-soldier bumming around Europe is picked up by a beautiful woman who recruits him to be her sci-fi knight-champion and after he does several deeds of derring-do, he marries her, finds out she's Queen of the universe(s) and then he finds out she doesn't feel at all possessive and he can basically have his pick of all the women in the universe(s) and she won't care. Throughout the book most of the women are remarkably attractive and wear remarkably few clothes. While there aren't any outright sex scenes, the implication is certainly there. What's ridiculous is that what could have been a half-way decent sci-fi story similar to Alan Dean Foster's trilogy The Damned (A Call to Arms, The False Mirror and The Spoils of War), though on a much smaller scope. The conclusion at which I am arriving regarding the fiction of Mr Heinlein is not so much that it is really bad, but that it is extremely immature.

The last new book I read was one of the earliest of the Saint novels, Knight Templar. This book, in contrast to Heinlein was not necessarily immature, but it was bad. It was mind-numbingly awful. The writing was like the detective stories that Wodehouse parodied in his Jeeves and Wooster novels. As an example take this description of the Saint himself:
He lounged against the binnacle, a fresh white cylinder between his lips, his lighter flaring in his hand. The adventure had swept him up again: she could mark all the signs. The incident of which he had returned to speak so airily was a slight thing in itself, as he would have seen it; but it had turned a subtle scale. Though he lounged there so lazily relaxed, so easy and debonair, it was a dynamic and turbulent repose. There was nothing about it of permanence or even pause: it was the calm of a couched [sic] panther. And she saw the mocking curve of the eager fighting lips, the set of the finely chiseled jaw, the glimmer of laughter in the clear eyes half-sheathed by languid lids; and she read his destiny again in that moment's silence.
As Bertie would say, "I mean to say, what?" And consider that something like that crops up every third page or so. But I have read a Saint story (written several decades later than this one) that wasn't bad at all, so I'll probably sample a few more books before giving the up as a lost cause.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Conservative Mind

Yeah, I know, not much original content for a while. I'll have my thoughts on the Heinlein books I've been reading up on the site a little later this week. Been a bit busy lately, my daughter had her first birthday, my wife's birthday is coming up later this week and my mother-in-law is in town visiting.

Quoting J.F. Stephen)
"I believe that many men are bad, a vast majority of men indifferent, and many good, and that the great mass of indifferent people sway this way or that according to the circumstances, one of the most important of which circumstances is the predominance for the time being of bad or good."

Kirk:
Men who cannot hope for salvation or dread damnation will make a Roman candle of their world.

The grand scheme of God is inscrutable; the object of life is virtue, not pleasure; and obedience, not liberty, is the means of its attainment.

Thus the class that paid the expenses of local government was lost in the mass of those who might benefit from expenditures. Taxation without representation has more forms than one.

(Quoting W.H. Mallock)
"Labor in itself is no more the cause of wealth than Shakespeare's pen was the cause of his writing 'Hamlet.' The cause is in the motives, of which labor is the outward index." The principle motive is inequality; and the principal producer of wealth is not Labor, but Ability.
Kirk:
Out of the application of pure democracy in Russia will come a host of squalid new oligarchs, dominated by a tyrant who, secretly repudiating the ideas upon which he rose, still will continue to exhort the masses to "revolution" and "democracy" while he proceeds to stamp out resistance to a new absolutism, necessary because revolution has made the life of everyone intolerable.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Conservative Mind

It is curious, Hawthorne remarks in The Marble Faun, that Americans pay for portrait busts: "The brief duration of our families, as a hereditary household, renders it next to a certainty that the great-grandchildren will not know their father's grandfather, and that half a century hence, at farthest, the hammer of the auctioneer will thump its knock-down blow against his blockhead, sold at so much for the pound of stone!"

Without personal religion, secular knowledge commonly is a tool of unbelief. Conviction is not produced by the logic of words, nor by the accumulation of facts. Physical science cannot bring certitude, for the most plausible scientific theories are no more than probable suppositions founded upon such scanty facts as we are able to grub together in our fumbling human way.

Without a foundation of first principles, science itself is worthless---a meaningless accumulation of unrelated facts. Our first principles are not obtained by heaping together data, after Bacon's method, and drawing inferences. "Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action: to act you must assume, and that assumption is faith." Reason does not impel our impressions and our actions; it follows them.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

More from The Conservative Mind

(Quoting Calhoun)
Now, as individuals differ greatly from each other, in intelligence, sagacity, energy, perseverance, skill, habits of industry and economy, physical power, position and opportunity,--the necessary effect of leaving all free to exert themselves to better their condition, must be a corresponding inequality between those who possess these qualities and advantages in a high degree, and those who may be deficient in them. The only means by which this result can be prevented are, either to impose such restrictions on the exertions of those who may possess them in a high degree, as will place them on a level with those who do not; or to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions. But to impose such restrictions on them would be destructive of liberty,--while, to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions, would be to destroy the desire of bettering their condition. It is, indeed, this inequality of condition between the front and rear ranks, in the march of progress, which gives so strong an impulse to the former to maintain their position, and to the latter to press forward into their files. This gives progress its greatest impulse. To force the front rank back to the rear, or attempt to push forward the rear into line with the front, by the interposition of the government, would put an end to the impulse, and effectually arrest the march of progress.

Kirk himself:
Hitherto no one in the United States has dared advance the maxim that everything is permissible for the interests of society, an impious adage which seems to have been invented in an age of freedom to shelter tyrants.

On his fifty-eighth birthday, Emerson remarked, "I could never give much reality to evil and pain." Now evil and pain are the tremendous problems of Christian thought, and a man who cannot "give much reality" to those terrible and inexorable facts is no trustworthy guide for the modern mind. The whole social tendency of Emersonianism has been either to advocate some radical and summary measure, a Solomon's judgment without its saving cunning, or (if this will not suffice) to pretend that the problem does not exist.