Print Story Thrown in the fire but never get burn
By TheophileEscargot (Mon May 12, 2008 at 09:05:46 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Aeons: The Search for the Beginning of Time". Watching: BSG whining. Web.

What I'm Reading
Aeons: The Search for the Beginning of Time by Martin Gorst. A pop science book covering the subject from Theophilus of Antioch 5,698 years, through Bishop Usher, Hutton's geology, Kelvin's temperature calculations through to the big bang.

Usher seems to have a bit of an unfair reputation in some ways: he was actually a pioneering and diligent scholar who spent decades on textual analysis and historical research. He taught himself several ancient languages like Samaritan to investigate manuscripts in those languages, only to conclude that those manuscripts were later and less useful. His breakthrough was to spot a reference in Kings 25:27 to the beginning of the reign of Evil-merodach King of Babylon. Evil-merodach's father was Nebuchadnezzar; Ptolemy mentions Nebuchadnezzar's death; so Usher was able to tie Jewish and Greek history together for the first time.

However, the earliest books of the Bible are more ambiguous, and Usher's creation date of 4,004 BC is rather suspicious. An ancient Talmudic prophecy states: "The world is to exist 6,000 years. The first 2,000 are to be void; the next 2,000 years are the period of the Torah; and the following 2,000 years are the period of the Messiah". Usher's chronology had Jesus born in 4 BC, which fits the prophecy a little too neatly. Also I don't remember the world ending in 1996.

The scientific sections of the book are a bit more familiar to me, but still an interesting study into the pitfalls and breakthroughs of science. Occam's razor let us down with Kelvin's calculations: he thought the Sun's energy came from gravitational collapse, and so it couldn't be more than 100 million years old. It actually turned out there was a completely new and different form of energy, atomic energy, messing everything up. Kelvin apparently never accepted radioactivity, believing to the end that radium was just absorbing energy from somewhere else.

Other scientists were a bit more flexible. Darwin overestimated the age of the earth with his Weald calculation, assuming an implausibly slow erosion of a local chalk bed. He retracted this later, removing the calculation from the Origin of Species.

Overall, a light but interesting book. Won't tell you that much that's new, but good at showing the big picture, and telling you a little about the people as well as the science.

What I'm Watching
A bit disappointed by Battlestar Galactica this season. (Spoilers for current series throughout). I think I read that Ronald Moore has basically disappeared to work on the Bionic Woman project.

One thing that annoys me is the trivial fake dilemmas that keep popping up. The first one was over whether the fleet should follow Starbuck's hunch or their original course. Obvious thing to do since it's a fleet: send one ship off one way, the rest of the fleet the other. But everyone has to scream and sweat and point guns and take hostages before they decide to split the Demetrius off from the fleet.

Now I could forgive that one, but a couple of episodes later what happens? Aboard the Demetrius, they can't decide whether to jump back to the rendezvous point or go to the base star. Cue shouting, sweating, mutiny, guns pointed, Gaeta shot in the leg before they decide, duh, to send a Raptor to the base star while the Demetrius makes the rendezvous.

Coming next week: Starbuck wants to make peanut butter sandwiches while Adama wants jelly sandwiches. Cue shouting, sweating, mutiny, gunshots...

Also while I'm whinging, what the hell is a sewage processing spaceship anyway? Has the Demetrius always done that, or just since it joined the fleet? It sounds like it was designed for it, but why do you need an FTL-equipped starship to process sewage? Are there a bunch of space stations with no sewage reprocessing facility that require a spaceship to come round at regular intervals? If a ship has to come round anyway, wouldn't it be easier to just bring in new food and water and dump the sewage into space?

On the other hand, I do like the cylon civil war. Hopefully they'll stop marking time and get back on track with some actual plot development.

Stephen Pollard on political memoirs.

Dignity. Steven Pinker: Conservative bioethics' latest, most dangerous ploy. Plant dignity.

< A little OGame gloat | Insighful >
Thrown in the fire but never get burn | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 hidden)
'Dignity' is no less frivolous a concept than by jxg (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon May 12, 2008 at 09:46:12 PM EST
'coercion', the most favored power word of the American libertarian, so in large measure Pinker (as his career in public intellectual studies shows him so prone to) is just shifting the goalposts so he can get out an oily bon mot.

Just as an essay, though, the construction around the ice-cream quote is masterful.

Not sure they're identically frivolous by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #2 Mon May 12, 2008 at 11:13:49 PM EST
"Coercion" is a pretty ambiguous term, and libertarians tend to be tricksy about defining it. They generally exclude concepts like economic coercion, cultural coecion, and retaliatory force from the definition; which can make it pretty different from other people's idea of it.

But even so, I think it's a more useful concept than dignity. It's pretty hard to have a viable system of ethics without some concept of coercion, wherever you draw the boundaries of the term. You can manage pretty well without including "dignity" though.

[ Parent ]
dignity is a necessary condition for coercion by lm (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue May 13, 2008 at 04:20:05 AM EST
No speaks of coercing rocks. Few speak of coercing meat animals. Many speak of coercing persons. Why is this?

The obvious is answer is because humans have dignity, an internal worthiness and an attribute which most people think that other beings either lack or have in a lesser degree. But there are probably other ways to answer that question. So YMMV.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
I would say by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #20 Tue May 13, 2008 at 04:37:50 AM EST
I see concepts like free will, intelligence, self-awareness, soul, "consciousness" and so on used more often to make that distinction.

In one sense, your average horse is probably more dignified than your average reality TV contestant. From the ice-cream analogy in TFA, it seems that that meaning of dignity is considered to be the same concept as the "internal worthiness" you mention. It does seem a bit frivolous to combine the two senses into one.

[ Parent ]
All of those concepts are at least as fungible by lm (4.00 / 1) #21 Tue May 13, 2008 at 04:57:23 AM EST
For a bloke like me, firmly in the Aristotelean segment of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, I know what I mean when I say `soul' or `free-will' or even `consciousness.' But the meanings of those words are pretty heatedly disputed in the marketplace of ideas, probably more so than the idea of dignity.

But as for TFA, I think Pinker spends too much time agonizing over what is probably best summed up as `GWB puts together another council based on personal loyalty and ideology rather than merit; the expected results follow.'

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
also, for clarity's sake by lm (4.00 / 1) #22 Tue May 13, 2008 at 07:59:32 AM EST
Will can be argued to follow form. A rock intends to be a rock. Reducing that rock to rubble to make concrete is a violation of its will, its rockness.

Likewise, a cow intends to be a cow. Reducing that cow to hamburgers is a violation of its cowness and subsequent intent to remain a cow.

On the face of it, it isn't clear to me that violation of a person's will to hold onto a particular personal possession or to commit a particular act is different in kind. It does seem to me to be clearly different in extent in that men and women have more sophisticated wants, desires, and intentions. Aquinas, adopting a very Aristotelean understanding of being, thought that this complexity alone was sufficient to justify the violation of the being of lower ordered (less complex) creatures for the sake of higher ordered (more complex) creatures. So for an animal to eat a plant is a net good but for a plant to eat an animal is a net evil. And of course, he put humans at the top of all of these orders.

In this view, the dignity of the human person, who alone among material creatures is created in the likeness of God, does not vary from human individual to human individual. Consequently, the violation of will of one person by another person is also a violation of dignity.

But that's just one view. I'm sure that there are other views of dignity and of will. My only real point is that I don't think the question of free will is any less nebulous with regards to public discourse as the idea of dignity. Different schools of thought have different ideas on what it means to be free just as they have on what it means to be human and to be dignified.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
I might not have made my complaint clear enough by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #23 Tue May 13, 2008 at 11:42:05 PM EST
If it's useful to have a quality that differentiated things to be treated as human from things to be treated as non-human, then it's useful to give that quality a name.

But it seems to me as it's used in the extracts from that article, "dignity" combines two distinct concepts.

Dignity A is the quality that makes one eat an ice cream with a spoon instead of licking it.

Dignity B is the quality that determines whether an entity is considered to be a human being.

I don't think it's sensible to combine these into a single concept, because of difference between them.

Dignity A is highly culturally dependent. Old ettiquette manuals explain how to eat bananas in a dignified manner by cutting them up with a knife and fork. That would be considered absurd in most contexts now. However, dignity B really should be as culturally independent as possible.

Also, people generally try to make Dignity B a binary concept: an entity either has human rights or does not. Declaring some entities to have only a limited degree of humanity has produced some rather unpleasant consequences in the past. Dignity A however seems to be a scalar quality, which exists in a variety of different degrees.

So, combining these two qualities together seems to me a poor choice, since that means combining a binary, culturally-independent quality with a scalar, culturally-dependent quality; and saying that they are essentially the same things.

[ Parent ]
Space Station Dumps by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #3 Tue May 13, 2008 at 12:53:56 AM EST

Having a tanker of some sort going round the stations does make sense. You don't want to mess up your local environment with assorted organics, especially if you're a manufacturing plant of some sort. It's also a bugger getting the window cleaner round to clean the crap off the outside.

It's the equivalent of getting a tanker round to pump out your septic tank once in a while rather than just having the pipes having the outfall in the local stream. It might work for you, but the next house downstream isn't going to be happy.

Space is big by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #4 Tue May 13, 2008 at 01:02:00 AM EST
And it'll dehydrate or freeze into a solid lump pretty quick. Just give it a little nudge and push it off somewhere a few thousand kilometrons out of the way.

[ Parent ]
But the bits of it being used are fairly small by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #5 Tue May 13, 2008 at 01:11:32 AM EST

It's likely that the stations will be in clusters in particular orbits though, metal refineries supplying the nearby shipyards for instance, probably the equivalent of North Sea accomodation rigs near clusters of oil production rigs. Even with earth level space programmes there are problems with debris and they try really hard not to create anything that will hang around. By the time you've got enough space borne activity that you get 5000 survivors from an attack on each of 12 colony worlds (Just under 50k in Galactica's fleet, say 7K with Pegasus and a number of random ships) that's a lot of waste has to be dealt with.

[ Parent ]
So have a garbage dump by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #6 Tue May 13, 2008 at 01:30:55 AM EST
Sewage germs from a dump aren't going to cross-contaminate your air or water supply. On Earth when we process sewage that's what we care about, but in space it's not a problem.

Build up a big ball of crap somewhere and push your sewage towards it.

[ Parent ]
There's the other reason ("Gaia"'s) by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #7 Tue May 13, 2008 at 01:36:56 AM EST
You don't want to be wasting all that organic matter which you could be using somewhere else. After all, that's the reason that sewage exists in this earth.

[ Parent ]
If it's that useful by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #8 Tue May 13, 2008 at 01:56:12 AM EST
Why process it on an FTL spaceship?

If the stations need the processed output, why not have their own processing plant, especially if they are huge clusters like Vulch thinks.

Or if it's used on planets, just ship it to the planets in a standard freighter and process it there.

Why have the interstellar equivalent of a "sewage processing truck"?

[ Parent ]
You're examining this too closely by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue May 13, 2008 at 02:25:19 AM EST

Why have a Tylium ore processing ship with FTL capability? It would make more sense for it to be something fixed to the asteroid being mined. When the asteroid was exhausted you'd maybe move the refinery to a new one in several sections.

Why do so many of the transports previously used for hops between the colonies have living quarters for passengers when the journeys are relatively quick? The longest route seems to be about the same duration as a trip to New Zealand.

Why is the prison transport ship so big? A Raptor carries an FTL drive, with that you'd expect something more the size of a Group 4 truck.

[ Parent ]
I assume FTL drives are expensive by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #11 Tue May 13, 2008 at 02:49:57 AM EST
And from the last episode it seems a Raptor FTL drive is powerful enough to move a base star. So if you're not in the military, it's more cost-effective to stick a big spaceship on your expensive FTL drive.

An ore processing ship makes more sense. If the asteroids are small, you may have to move it around quite a lot: you don't want to have to keep disassembling and reassembling it every few days. Not sure what advantage it would give you to split it up into sections. On Earth you might want to split it up to truck it around more easily, but from the diversity of the fleet it seems that you can move pretty much any shape you like with ease.

And if you're only extracting a little Tylium from a large amount of ore, you don't want to have to lug all that ore back to a planet for processing. With sewage, presumably you want most or all of it.

[ Parent ]
I thought they were using the Raptor for by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #12 Tue May 13, 2008 at 03:05:09 AM EST
navigation, and to control the Cylon FTL drive.

As to why Raptor's have FTL, they're scout ships.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
If FTL drives are expensive... by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #16 Tue May 13, 2008 at 03:35:00 AM EST

...Then you don't want to have them sitting around at all. You'd be more likely to build a very large frame with an FTL drive and conventional engines to move large things around and keep it working. Imagine something getting on for the size of Galactica but the shape of Thunderbird 2 without a pod.

The using a Raptor to jump a Basestar thing throws this comparison off a bit, but jet engines are expensive yet non-military users still build small airframes around them instead of everything being an A380. There aren't many 747s used on short haul flights, and just how many prisoners need to be transported to parole hearings at once anyway?

[ Parent ]
Prison ship by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #24 Wed May 14, 2008 at 02:34:29 PM EST
I've put way too much thought into this and it seems apparent to me that the prison barge is simply a freighter of sorts which has been converted to prison duty. It's best for the operational fleet to isolate the prisoners who can't be reformed immediately and to do it safely. Niven teaches us that all spacecraft are weapons, so keep the number of vulnerable ships to a minimum. Additionally, it's a great plot device.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
We once looked by ana (4.00 / 3) #10 Tue May 13, 2008 at 02:32:31 AM EST
at deploying a science instrument on the outside of what became the international space station. Like the shuttle, it's really a very dirty environment, with stuff going over the side all the time, plating out on whatever cold surfaces it finds (like detectors). Some kind of garbage control is really a necessity.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
Space is dark. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #13 Tue May 13, 2008 at 03:05:50 AM EST

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
Not in a solar system by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #14 Tue May 13, 2008 at 03:20:36 AM EST
Also, there's DRADIS; and presumably shipping lanes and buoys and space traffic controllers if things are as crowded as Vulch thinks. Can't be that hard to avoid crashing into the space-midden.

[ Parent ]
whoosh by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #15 Tue May 13, 2008 at 03:31:52 AM EST
Makes "hand swooshing over head sign".
Space is big
Space is Dark
It's hard to find
A place to park

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
Never heard of that by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #17 Tue May 13, 2008 at 03:38:53 AM EST
It's a USian thing by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #19 Tue May 13, 2008 at 04:34:56 AM EST
Burma-shave ads.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
citation? by Dr H0ffm4n (4.00 / 1) #25 Fri May 16, 2008 at 06:32:14 AM EST
an ancient Talmudic prophecy states: "The world is to exist 6,000 years. The first 2,000 are to be void; the next 2,000 years are the period of the Torah; and the following 2,000 years are the period of the Messiah"

The book's back at the library now by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #26 Fri May 16, 2008 at 07:14:18 AM EST
But from a quick Google that seems to come from the Mishnah Tanna debe Eliyyahu.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Thrown in the fire but never get burn | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 hidden)