Archive for August, 2010

Dealing with Idiots

Posted in Reviews with tags on August, 2010 by melendwyr

I’ve lately come to remember why I don’t read or respond to mtraven, owner of the Omniorthogonal blog. In short: he’s a fool.

See this post and its associated comments. Consider particularly this bit:

The essential difference between mathematics and the natural sciences is that theorems of mathematics can be proved, whereas theories of natural science can only be disproved. You would not say that mathematics was empirical if you understood the nature of proof.

Both statements are wrong. Disproof is equivalent to proof of its negation; if it were not possible to prove statements about natural science, disproof would be equally impossible. If mathematical statements could not be disproven, they couldn’t be proven either.

‘Proof’ as it is meant in mathematics means that a stated derivation of an assertion has been generated through application of logical operation from more rudimentary operations, and this derivation has been evaluated as valid by analysis. It is fundamentally empirical.

As for ‘social construction’, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the concept. mtraven is utterly and completely wrong about what it means to say that a thing is socially constructed. The Wikipedia entry on the subject is perfectly acceptable, although mtraven rejects it out of hand.

Thoughts on the Iraq and Afganistan Wars

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August, 2010 by melendwyr

What follows is a brief excerpt from The Art of War:

1. Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand LI, the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.

Compare this ancient advice to our war on two fronts, and see where we measure up. We’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars on these disastrous conflicts (and can’t even account for where tens of billions ended up). We’ve extended the tours of duty for our soldiers, and then we extended them again. We’ve gotten no support from the societies we’re supposedly trying to help, because we’re trying to generate a new societal structure from the ground up.

I understand that there still isn’t a functioning Iraqi government more than five months since elections were held, because no one got a majority and the various factions can’t agree on how to share power. That’s just fantastic.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Posted in Politics and Society, Reviews, Things You Should Read with tags on August, 2010 by melendwyr

I’d heard of Edward Gibbon’s great work even as a child (Dairine Callahan claims it’s the last book she read when her computer is compiling her profile in High Wizardry, but I’d never read it. Then I found an abridged version at a used book sale and bought it up immediately.

It’s very old-fashioned, which is no surprise given it was written in the eighteenth century, but entertaining in a slow way. In some places, in a rapid way. Chapter Fifteen is possibly the most drolly tongue-in-cheek material on the absurdity of Western religion I’ve ever read, and the book was well worth reading for it alone.

It’s very interesting trying to determine which of Gibbon’s conclusions are fully derived from the data, and which are the conclusions he’s building through selective perception and presentation of specific evidence. I have nothing to point to which suggests that he’s skewing the data he’s feeding us, but there is of course the inevitable distortion that all information acquires when passing through a sentient mind. The very vividness of language that makes the history a pleasure to read also makes me wary of its persuasiveness.

Definitely something you should take a look at if you get the chance.