Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Photo of Tulips

Missouri Botanical ("Shaw's") Garden, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - tulips

Tulips, photographed this morning at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Modern Morality

MODERN MORALITY (I know, I know, doesn't that sound like an oxymoron?) is distinctly a forward-looking system, that is, it attempts to take basic moral principles and apply them to complex circumstances. This process is called casuistry, which is kind of a dirty word, but it still is a valid endeavor. This ought to be contrasted with the traditional, backwards-looking approach to morality, which seeks to find basic moral principles, and emphasizes the study of famous texts from throughout history.

I am reminded of this distinction because of this week's visit by Professor Peter Singer of Princeton, to Washington University in Saint Louis. Singer is perhaps the most famous, or perhaps most notorious philosopher of bioethics working today, being one of the intellectual founders of the contemporary animal rights movement.  His work is seen to justify abortion, eugenics, euthanasia, and other things I don't care to mention.   See this article by Steve Skojec which covers some of his ideas.

Singer's conclusions are based on the theory of Utilitarianism, which is a kind of quantitative and reductionistic calculus of morality. As a kind of moral mathematics, a utilitarian can plug in moral principles and the technique spits out various conclusions, which of course are highly influenced by basic moral assumptions. Typically, 'happiness' is the variable that the mathematics attempts to maximize, but the varying definitions of happiness leads to various schools of Utilitarian thought.

Being one of the cornerstone ideas of the Enlightenment, both the Left and the Right make great use of this theory. If we assume that money equals happiness, and that a billion dollars will make you a thousand times happier than a million dollars, then Utilitarianism equals classical economic theory. But if we assume that pleasure equals happiness ('hedonism'), and that short-term pleasures are more important than long term pleasure, then the consequences of Utilitarianism include Planned Parenthood and sex education in Kindergarden. Aquinas has a few things to say about both definitions of happiness.

The founders of Utilitarianism appeared on the Index librorum prohibitorum, or index of forbidden books, as being harmful to the faith and morals of the Catholic laity. The reason for this is because the theory, at its core, is essentially that "the ends justify the means", which is the creed of tyrants.

As far as I know, Prof. Singer is a decent enough chap, and we both have something in common. Some of his Jewish relatives, and some of my Catholic relatives, were killed together by the Neo-Pagan Nazis in Łódź, Poland, because of their Lebensunwertes Leben  — life unworthy of life.

Wisteria

This is the same wisteria bush from last week, now in full bloom.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Photo of Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Saint Alphonsus Liguori ("Rock") Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help 2

This photo was taken at the Saint Alphonsus Liguori ("Rock") Church two months before that parish suffered a major fire.

Photo of Old Lafayette Park Police Station

Old Lafayette Park police station, in the Lafayette Square neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

This is the old police station, dating from 1870, in Lafayette Park, in Saint Louis.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Due to Gasoline Prices

I haven't been driving around taking church photos lately. I hope you all don't mind.

Photo of an Old Fountain

Lafayette Square Neigborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - old fountain

An old fountain, now a planter, in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of Saint Louis.
Saint Francis de Sales Oratory, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - exterior at night

Saint Francis de Sales Oratory

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Armchair Generals Needed

CYBER NATIONS is a simple, enjoyable, and free game of international relations.  You play it with just your web browser.   This has been a fun diversion for me for the past year.

A great war is threatened in Cyber Nations, and soldiers are needed to fight against an evil axis. Join now!


Most of the fun in the game takes place in the various alliances.  Theses alliances provide mutual protection, game knowledge, and financial aid.   My alliance is GATO, found here:


Gameplay is typically just a few minutes a day.  It is fascinating how the game plays out:  you can see some alliances adopting a strategy of pure power politics, while others take the Just War doctrine of Saint Augustine very seriously.

More Photos from the Soulard Neighborhood

The Soulard Neighborhood in Saint Louis is known for its largely intact collection of 19th century buildings; a remnant which barely survived the mid-20th century "urban renewal" which leveled square miles of the city. The neighborhood is home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and the large employment nearby makes this area a popular lunchtime spot.

The architecture of the New World, from the time of its European colonization, has always been influenced by international fashions, and so the buildings of historical districts will have a certain familiarity. Distinctiveness often comes after a generation or so of experience with local conditions, where a unique local style will naturally develop. Then a new fashion fad starts the process all over again.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 3

Overhanging eves and covered porches, especially on the south side of a building, are well suited to warm, sunny Summer climates like we find in Saint Louis, and are particularly useful to prevent sunlight from entering the building during the warmest part of the day. These features were quickly adopted by the French colonists in this region, and covered porches such as this one are very common in older homes in the city.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 8

Americans who moved here after the Louisiana Purchase brought their own building styles with them. However, New England style homes are ill suited to our climate, and will be extremely hot in the summertime.  This building has a garret apartment, which is probably unlivable without air conditioning, and the windows are exposed to the full force of the summer sun.  But note the covered porch in the back; most homes here, no matter what style or era, are eventually retrofit with one.

The buildings here are almost universally made of clay brick, which was mined and manufactured locally.  This was mandated by a city ordinance, after a steamboat explosion sparked a massive fire which destroyed much of downtown.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - boarded up building

Handyman needed. Since the latest real estate boom has ended, this particular building will likely remain unoccupied for a while. Soulard still has many buildings that need restoration.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 2

The homes here are relatively large, although they sit on small lots. This is a tall, deep, but very narrow building.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 4

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 7

Townhouses, narrow, but large.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - brick sidewalk

Brick sidewalk. The streets are brick underneath the asphalt. Some neighborhoods nearby still have exposed brick streets.

John D McGurk Irish Pub, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - door 2

Saint Joseph Croatian Catholic Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - door

Door to Saint Joseph (Croatian) Catholic Church.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 6

Soulard still has industry, but used to have much more, interspersed among the housing. This former factory is now apartments. Soulard still has many examples of that traditional institution, the corner tavern.

Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 5

Click here for older photos of Soulard. And one more.

Tuips

tulips

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wisteria in Bloom

Wisteria

Photo taken on Wednesday.
Soulard neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - building 1

Some buildings in the Soulard neighborhood of Saint Louis, at sunset.

National Borders to be Eliminated by EU

THE EUROPEAN Union was created specifically as a way of promoting peace in Europe. While originally seen as being a means of promoting good international relations via free trade, it now appears to be completely determined to centralize power and eliminate existing nationalities.



This map shows the boundaries of a proposed new legislative assembly; England and France are to be eliminated. Generally, all of the EU is to be divided into transnational zones which purposefully cross international borders. The original can be found at the Telegraph.

Haven't the Great Powers of Europe learned their lesson about the disasters that arise from arbitrarily drawing borders on the map?  Especially ones that either split nationalities, or force separate nations into the same state?  For example:


View Larger Map

Or:


View Larger Map

Englishwoman Hilary White has a few comments about this plan.

Often you can help the cause of peace just by leaving people alone and allowing them to manage their own affairs.  Forcing diverse people to 'share' and to 'get along' is the strategy of Kindergarten teachers, but in the real world it causes civil wars.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Globalism

GLOBALISM IS merely the policy of ensuring that the prices of goods and services, worldwide, are determined by actual costs, with economic entities determining for themselves how much something is worth to produce or consume.  This system assumes that the only objective value of anything is its cost, although of course everyone can subjectively value something over another.  There are no externally imposed value judgements other than money, which is the only measurement of value.

This system has consequences.  If something is too expensive to buy, they consumers go without, and unfortunately one of those commodities is now food in many places in the world, including even wealthy Japan, where rationing is now being imposed.  Under globalization, food has no more intrinsic value than does windshield wiper blades.
People are also considered commodities, and under globalization, they are to be able to move freely where labor is needed, even it it destroys the culture of the source or destination country.  And if labor is not required of individuals, due to local cost structures, then they will go without work.

Seeking lower costs, many nations are now purchasing their military weapons overseas, even though in wartime, spare parts, or strategic supplies of all kinds may not be available.

Removing all barriers to trade and movement of peoples may become a disaster, but we must not give into the temptation to erect total barriers to these movements, which proved to be an economic and social disaster in the 1930s.

Globalism has some goals that we ought to consider seriously.  Lower costs and greater access to goods are usually considered good things, while trade and travel can help build global solidarity.  Some regions may have certain expertise, or access to raw materials, making trade highly desirable.  These goals of globalism are admirable.  Show me a country that has no trade and migration, and that country will most likely be a harsh dictatorship, whose subjects are starving to death.

Access to good and services at reasonable prices, and prudent use of global resources are what can be termed the 'first-order' consequences to globalism.  'Higher-order' consequences, due to changes in prices, or changes in the rate of change of prices or availability are often ruthlessly exploited; indeed, some investors claim that taking advantage of these higher-order economic effects is the best way to reliably make lots of money.  Clearly, those who play second-order economics provide liquidity to primary markets, but a little goes a long way; certainly there is far too much attention, time, and talent paid to these kinds of financial markets.  Whereas primary trade is ideally a win-win situation for those involved, financial markets tend to be closer to a zero-sum game.  The stock market ought to be primarily the domain of well-to-do retirees, and not a general obsession!  When you move away from real goods crossing borders to secondary markets, you descend into the cave of darkness:  where changing opinion, unreliable perception, and shadowy appearances rule, rather than facts. Rather than supplies, expertise, raw materials, transportation costs, and so forth controlling the system, instead we have public relations and disinformation having the greatest effect, which is quite an irrational system.

Such a system tends toward chaotic behavior, with prices fluctuating wildly, for no apparent reason, and goes against the stated purpose of globalization.  Perhaps those who are intelligent and know how to game the system will be successful; but should ruthless competition, where the winner takes all, ought to be the goal of globalization?  I think not.

Others use globalism as an excuse for moral license.  Recall that by definition, globalism considers money to be the only objective value; not truth, not goodness, and not beauty. Whereas individual producers and consumers have their own values, these only indirectly affect the system.  This is the great flaw in libertarian thinking:  some people are willing to produce defective goods for short-term profit, even though the long-term consequences may be severe. Just consider the tainted animal feed from China.  A libertarian may think that the 'invisible hand' will correct the system of such abuses, but that system is mostly reactive, and the damage has already been done.  The doctrine of Original Sin tells us that such abuses are to be expected, even if they are not the general rule. 


In engineering, the control of dynamically changing systems has been intensely studied, with many lessons learned.  Predicting how the components of a system interact with each other, and how they collectively react to external disturbances, is in general an extremely difficult problem unless the system has been carefully designed.  Systems are classified as either linear or non-linear, with the linear systems being tractable, while the non-linear ones are not. Linear systems respond to external influences in a predictable way, and we can say that all of the components of the system respond harmoniously, even more so if they are properly tuned. Non-linear systems are chaotic and unpredictable; minor changes in one part of the system cause devastating consequences elsewhere.

That we use the musical terms 'harmony' and 'tuning' here is no coincidence.  Linear systems theory is classical music theory.  Only when a string on a harp, for example, responds in a linear way when plucked, will it sound musical.  Multiple singers or instruments will only sound together in harmony if certain rules of linearity are followed, otherwise they will be dissonant and unmusical. Human voices must be trained, and musical instruments must be very carefully constructed and operated before musicians are free to make music, otherwise noise results. This is not a limitation of the freedom of musicians, for a great variety can result, and well-trained musicians in a group can improvise at will, while the whole group remains harmonious.

Generally, music abhors second-order processes — nonlinearities — and goes to great lengths to eliminate or tame them.

It should come as no surprise that musical training was a great priority in classical education in both the West and Far East.  The theory is that harmony in music gives children an appreciation for harmony in society.  A harmonious society is not static and changeless, but rather reacts to changes in a predictable, smooth way, with each part reinforcing the other. Even though each component of a harmonious society is independent, the linkages between the components acts to reinforce the whole; like each independent string in a well-designed violin produces a pleasing sound through the agency of the whole instrument.

A well-tuned and harmonious system of globalization will eliminate as much as possible anharmonic or higher-order effects which are found with excessive speculation and 'gaming the system'.  The two most common methods of doing this in linear systems theory are damping and inertia; damping is friction, and can be identified with regulation and taxation, while inertia can be identified with long-term contracts and established institutions.  Both are absolutely necessary for a harmonic system, but must be used prudently; I would prefer inertia (or tradition or conservatism) as being more in keeping with the good society, while damping can easily lead to a totalitarian state.  It ought to be noted that globalists want to eliminate both; however, the lack of inertia in general can lead to chaos, possibly leading to the destruction of the system, while the lack of damping can prolong the effects of disturbances indefinitely.

Another factor absolutely required for a harmonious musical instrument or a harmonious society is a solid norm, and forces which restore the system back to normality.  In a violin or piano, this norm is the bridge, and the force is the tension on the string;  with too little tension, musical notes cannot be produced, while too much tension will break the string.  In society, the norm is fixed on various standards and morality, and social disapproval and pressure ought to be proportional to deviation from the norm in either direction.  Obviously conditions can and even must fluctuate, but are there forces in place that will tend to bring them back in line?  This ought to be contrasted with our current system that encourages unlimited freedom within bounds, with harsh criminal penalties when those bounds are crossed, which is a highly non-linear, and therefore chaotic system.  The proper tension in a musical instrument or an economy is a matter of prudent tuning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Photo of River-Houses on the Meramec

MY BROTHER and I went canoeing on Sunday, and spotted these river-houses on the bank of the Meramec River, just above its confluence with the Mississippi.

River-houses on the bank of the Meramec River, in Jefferson County, Missouri, USA, just above the mouth at the Mississippi River

Buildings along the major rivers in this region are often built on stilts to avoid flood waters.

Tagged

I WAS tagged by Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me, and now I must answer these questions:

1) What I was doing ten years ago:
  • Climbing the corporate ladder.
2) Five Things in My To-Do List
  • Clean the cat litter boxes.
  • Find a good Catholic girl to date.
  • Clean out the overgrown vegetation in the back yard.
  • Clean up the house.
  • Get out more often.
3) Things I Would Do if I Were a Billionaire
  • Be a patron of the arts.
  • Worry a lot.
4) Three of My Bad Habits
  • Sloth
  • Gluttony
  • Concupiscence
5) Five Places I Have Visited
  • Europe
  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • The Republic of Texas
6) Five Jobs I've Had
  • Science researcher
  • Truck driver
  • Computer programmer
  • Robot designer
  • Automation engineer
7) Five Snacks I Enjoy
  • Beef jerky
  • Sweet Tarts
  • Dried fruit/nut mix
  • Chocolate
  • Bananas and oranges
8) Five Places I've Lived
  • Affton, Missouri
  • Pasadena, California
  • Saint Louis, Missouri
  • Fairfield, California
I hereby tag anyone who wants to be tagged!

Photos of Flora and Fauna at Rockwoods Reservation

ROCKWOODS RESERVATION in western Saint Louis County, Missouri, is one of the oldest conservation areas in the state, dating from 1938, and has long been a favorite place for my family. Here are some photos of the flora, fauna, and minerals of that park.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - hills

A view from a lookout point, near sunset. The ranger station and road down below are invisible among the trees.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - Redbud tree

A Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). In other parts of the world, this species is called the Judas tree.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - Spring Beauty blossom

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), one of the earliest opening flowers in the state.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - Common Violet blossom

Common violet (Viola sororia)

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - Dutchman's Breeches blossoms

Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - Trillium foliage

Trillium species, almost ready to bloom.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - old railroad stone wall

This is not a pristine forest, and the works of man are evident. This stone wall was once part of a raised railroad bed, used to haul stone out from the quarries.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - rocks 2

Moss covers most rock surfaces in sheltered areas.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - cliff 2

This cliff was once likely a wall of a quarry.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - cliff 1

Rockwoods has many caves, including these at the bottom of the cliff.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - cave

The interior of one of the caves. The entrance is rather awkward, and I didn't want to get muddy, so I just put my camera into the narrow cave opening.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - cave 2

Another cave. Generally speaking, Missouri's caves tend to be 'living', that is, are still being formed and enlarged due to the action of flowing water. The state's caves are also teeming with life, often with many rare species that are only found in a few caves.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - deer

A Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - yellow blossoms

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - meadow

A rich, moist meadow at the bottom of an old quarry. The paths seen here have numerous deer hoof-prints.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - swamp and rocks

Further down the quarry floor is this swamp, with large blocks in the background.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - rocks

It is hard to tell if this pile of boulders is natural, or if they were placed here by quarrymen.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - sponge rock

A close-up of sponge-rock. Water slowly dissolves the stone, eventually leading to the formation of caves. This porous limestone was often used in decorative stonework. Increased standardization in construction has led to the disuse of interesting local materials such as this.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - pale flower

This flower looks like it may be from the Rose family.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - ferns 1

Ferns, which thrive in coolness, shade, and moisture, are abundant on this particular north-facing, sheltered hillside.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - ferns 2

Young fern fronds, called fiddleheads or croziers, are considered a delicacy: but they have to be carefully cooked and eaten sparingly.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - valley

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - flint

The upper reaches of the hills are covered by flint, used by the Indians to make arrowheads and other tools.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - budding leaves

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - blue flowers

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - springs

While the uplands at Rockwoods have many caves, the valley floor has many springs.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - lawn

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - snake 1

The ranger station has a small museum, including these native animals. This is a Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus).

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - tarantula

Tarantulas are normally thought of a desert species; in the United States these are usually found in the desert Southwest. Missouri has no deserts, but dry, exposed, and rocky south-facing slopes — called glades — are good habitat for tarantulas, scorpions, and other desert species. This is a Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi), and is as big as your hand. I've been told that they make good pets.

Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA - snake 2

This is a Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus holbrooki). Like the other snake shown here, this is a harmless species. However, big, deadly poisonous vipers are commonly found in Missouri, including Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Rattlesnakes