Saturday, April 26, 2008

Crazy Ape Bonkers Physical Chemistry Metaphor Weekend, Day Two

in which Dr Clam gets out of a bind that has been worrying him dreadfully for a long time

Another thing I have been waiting on for a long time is an outline and defence of the orthodox Islamo-Christian doctrine of ‘Hell’. I had gone on at length in the very early days of the Accidental Blog about how, as I understood it, this was a pernicious doctrine that led logically to the conclusion that the human race should be exterminated. This was because of the introduction of an ‘infinite’ amount of suffering into any calculation of the consequences of our actions throws the whole thing out of whack. More generally, how can an ‘infinite’ amount of punishment be logically applied to a finite creature?

Infinity is the problem.So long as the sufferings of Hell can be understood in such a way as to be finite, there is no intrinsic reason why the existence of Hell cannot be reconciled with a perfectly just and merciful God. Like so:

Justice is served if the sum total of the punishment of the finite creature is exactly as much as it deserves.

Mercy is served in that the finite creature is given exactly what it most truly desires – separation from God – and is not punished one jot or tittle more than is just.

I have realised that the answer was there all the time in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’. The denizens of the ‘suburbs of Hell’ in this book are finite creatures who are insubstantial phantoms. The appear to be evaporating away, fading, over the course of the story. Why can’t they do this forever? Shrink away, but never reach pure nothingness. If they do this, than their total suffering will be finite, although they are infinitely extended in time.

This will make more sense with an equation. Take this one, which I came across the other day while deriving the Equipartition Theorem:

The area under this function, from x = 0 to infinity, is not infinite, just π1/2/4. So we can get any finite amount of suffering that is necessary out of the infinitely-prolonged existence of a finite creature.

So we have not really introduced infinities into the moral equation.

And it does not logically follow that a belief in Hell implies the human race should be destroyed.

Which is good.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Crazy Ape Bonkers Physical Chemistry Metaphor Weekend, Day One

I have been hanging out for a lucid counter-narrative to my narrative for the Iraq War(s) for some time now. As you may recall, my problem is not there aren’t any reasonably consistent counter-narratives, it’s just that none I can think of can possibly be the informing counter-narrative of the omnipresent anti-war establishment I see around me.

Here are the counter-narratives I have thought of:

1. The Ground is the Image. This is just how my narrative appears if you think human rights are bollocks and you might be next on the regime-change to-do list. As my long-long-ago post about Darfur suggests, this to-do list logically expands to encompass Russia and the RMP, so it is not surprising that they would not be onside. This worldview will also to a very large extend determine the position of the United Nations, as the higher ideals many nations may want to express through that body will tend to be dragged down to the level of the unrepresentative swill. I have no sympathy with this counter-narrative, as might be expected.

2. They’re hopeless. Hopeless! GWB et al are so incompetent that there is no chance that their Napoleonic project will come off. As a pragmatist, I can see the sense in this counter-narrative. But as outlined in the Hillel Halkin piece that I circulated to kick off our ‘warblogging by email’ so many years ago, this logically suggests that once the war is underway, anyone who shares the view that human rights are not bollocks should chip in and help. And anyone in the United States who does not want to see their country take a serious hit to their prestige and influence ought to chip in and help. It could be argued that the war would still fail, even with our help; or as Andrew did in 2003, that if we make it too easy, GWB et al will just try it again. But once it becomes evident that the project will probably come off, but with a great deal of difficulty, these arguments no longer apply. I think this is basically the counter-narrative of McCain. This narrative also applies much more to Afghanistan than to Iraq. Iraq is flat, urbanised, educated, close to allied states, strategically important, and has a track record of being successfully conquered. Afghanistan is not any of these things.

3. The US is the Great Satan. If you are Noam Chomsky or John Pilger, you believe in human rights and the rule of law (I think) but you see the world through a lens that magnifies all the transgressions of the United States and makes it *the* great evil in the world. You can select your data, I think, so that you could honestly hold this view. But if you are one of these people, you will have no strong feelings on whether Obama or McCain should be president. You know what Kennedy and Johnson got up to. You wrote articles saying that Clinton was a Nazi when he was president. You protested against the war on Serbia, and you know that a Democratic victory is still a victory for the Military-Industrial complex. As a contrarian, I have some admiration for those who cleave honestly to this narrative. Opposing someone who is stronger than you and could crush you like a bug *because* they are stronger than you and could crush you like a bug is stirring and noble and appeals to the small fraction of Irishness in my blood.

4. My Kingdom is Not of this World. The transcendent moral law prohibits war. There is a greater spiritual universe compared to which this mortal world is an insignificant mote, and the disfiguring effect of war on just one soul outweighs any temporal benefit. It is better to be butchered with a clear conscience than to take up arms. To hold this position, you need to believe in moral absolutes, like Tolstoy or Gandhi or Pope Benedict. And if you do, you will have protested just as loudly when the war machine rolled out over Serbia and Afghanistan. As an idealist, I admire this narrative. This is the narrative that sometimes gives me pause.

But my problem remains. These counter-narratives are not the counter-narratives of the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald or of Nancy Pelosi. I believe that the apparent consensus view of educated people in the West is not a coherent counter-narrative to my narrative at all, but a muddled superposition of all these counter-narratives. Like a molecular orbital can be represented as a linear combination of orthogonal atomic orbitals, this counter-narrative is a linear combination of orthogonal counter-narratives. It does not form a consistent structure that can be described by classical narrative theory, but is a decoherent quantum superposition of narratives.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Of course, the text on that T-shirt needs to be horizontal, Marco, in order to sneak past security. Handera, my one-time dwarven rogue from World of Warcraft, will demonstrate:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

20/20 Summit

It's good to see that the government is taking the problem seriously.

I just hope they follow the talk with some action.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cry Havoc

Most countries in our peer group got rid of private armies a long time ago. Instead, the government decides how many soldiers the country needs. It decides how much they are going to be paid. It decides where they should be stationed, and how many, and sends them there. This seems to work.

We also have a government-run system for internal security. The government decides how many police we need, how much to pay them, and where to put them. This also seems to work.

In our country, we have a system of public schools which is run along similar lines. The government decides where we should put schools, decides how much the people who work in them should be paid, and distributes teachers to schools where they are needed. This seems to work reasonably well. It would work better if the government were not simultaneously supporting a parallel private sector system with a massive system of inequitable subsidies. But still, you never read about the schools in Wilcannia, for instance, going under because they can’t find teachers.

So what is the problem with rural doctors? If we are going to have medicine controlled by the public sector, then let’s have medicine controlled by the public sector. We shouldn’t have to put up with a private army of health care mercenaries when we could have a professional service. Why can’t the government just decide how many doctors the country needs? Decide how much they are going to be paid? Decide where to put them? And send them there? Why wouldn’t this work? Sure, there might be some leakage to the private sector, just as there is with schools, but I don’t see why this should be a big problem. Public sector GPs could have rostered days off. They could work reasonable hours. They wouldn’t have to worry about paying enormous insurance bills. I’ve heard the argument that doctors would all go overseas if we tried this, but that would only prove we were training the wrong people to be doctors. People motivated solely by greed, with no true calling to public service. After all, our army isn’t haemorrhaging people going overseas to join private armies. Our police force isn’t decamping en masse to serve in Sweden. Even our public school teachers seem to be staying in the country, by and large.

You'd think this would be the right time, with a 70+% approval rating and a bulging surplus, for a Labor prime minister to take on the AMA. Time to start putting together a professional public health service as world-class as our professional public armed services. I will keep myself in readiness to read all about it in the papers!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Once more, with thinking...

Just to reiterate my problem with Obama via another link.

Note that I am not at all inclined to wax Miltonic in an ad hominem way about it, like I did with Kerry.

That's because Obama's conclusions are perfectly valid deductions from certain premises. I think those premises are wrong, but I would not claim that they are self-evidently wrong. I can see how someone brought up with those premises, even an intelligent someone, could muddle along without cottoning on to the fact that they were wrong.

Kerry, the blackguard, claimed publicly to share similar premises to mine. From such premises no sane person can validly deduce 'pro-choice' conclusions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Obama for Prez

Lexifab's devastating logic has convinced me. How could I have been so blind? It seems so obvious now- Obama is what America needs most, a charismatic public speaker.

It finally struck me last night: if elected, he would be the most inexperienced and the most radical President since... since... well, since Lincoln!

So things could hardly not turn out well.

Roll on the Jubilee!



Unless, I guess, the parallel ran to half the country being in ruins, and millions of dead Americans.

(Damn it, I just don't have what it takes to pull off these April Fool's Day posts...)