Tuesday, January 16, 2018

On not exaggerating the impact of nuclear weapons

So in Hawaii, they accidentally sent out news that said "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediately shelter. This is not a drill." Understandably, there was pretty widespread panic. One man had a massive heart attack. Obviously, the concern was that North Korea had sent it, so some people wanted to blame the President for it, although it seems to have been a mistake made on the state level.

Nuclear weapons are one of those things that people just have a magical view of. Plain old radiation is another one. It's the ultimate evil, it's the end of everything, anything that gets close to it is dead or poisoned forever. I don't mean to minimize the impact of nuclear weapons, but they're just a type of large bomb with the potential to cause long-lasting injury and illness for those who survive. That's terrible enough that we don't need to exaggerate it. Considering the type of bomb North Korea could potentially use, you'd have to be relatively close to ground zero to be affected by a nuclear bomb going off. You can go over to Nukemap, type in Honolulu, type in 150 kiloton yield (or scroll down to "North Korean weapon tested in 2017"), and hit detonate. The large majority of Oahu wouldn't even be touched. In fact, you should move ground zero over to Pearl Harbor, which is what a bomb would probably be targeting, or maybe Marine Corps Base Hawaii near Kaneohe. Regardless, most of the island would be untouched. Then change the location to your own home town and see how far the impact would be.

Yes, there are significantly bigger bombs out there -- Nukemap lets you go up to the 100,000 kiloton Tsar bomba the Russians tested in 1961 -- which have huge yields. And under many circumstances, a city would be hit by multiple bombs in order to increase the yield as well. But the concern now is with North Korea, and they simply don't have the capacity to do much. Again, I'm not trying to downplay it, I just want to ease people's fears. If this doesn't help, just ignore it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New world music

I love the music of Antonin Dvorak (or Dvořák if you want to be fancy), and the piece that brought me into the fold is the famous Largo from his New World Symphony.

I never thought much about what was "New World" about it -- if I thought about it at all I probably figured it was originally performed in the States or something. Well, I recently discovered that the haunting and simple melody the Largo begins with was meant to sound like a Negro spiritual. And not only was Dvorak successful in capturing that sound, one of his students eventually wrote lyrics to it and made it into an actual song, "Goin' Home." Of course, the "home" in question is heaven.

I still can't believe how beautiful all of this is. It captures the yearning for heaven as good as anything I've ever heard.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Recent acquisitions

For Christmas I received the best present you can give someone like me: gift cards for Powell's books. Online I bought 20 books for $40, then I went into the stores and used up the rest of the cards. It was glorious. I've also received some other books recently from various provenances.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Great Books of the Western World, vols. 19-20: Aquinas I-II).
F. Samuel Brainard, Reality's Fugue: Reconciling Worldviews in Philosophy, Religion, and Science.
Confucius, The Analects.
W.T. Jones, Kant and the Nineteenth Century: A History of Western Philosophy IV.
Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.
Maurice Mandelbaum, The Problem of Historical Knowledge: An Answer to Relativism.
Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?, 2nd ed.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.
Charles S. Peirce, Selected Writings (Values in a Universe of Chance).
Leslie Stevenson, Seven Theories of Human Nature, 2nd ed.
Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Brian W. Aldiss, Helliconia Spring.
John Barnes. Orbital Resonance.
James Blish, The Quincunx of Time.
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine.
Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey 2.
Arthur C. Clarke, 2061: Odyssey 3.
Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End.
Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama.
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, The Light of Other Days.
Gardner Dozois, ed., The Year's Best Science Fiction, vol. 5.
Harry Harrison and Carol Pugner, eds., A Science Fiction Reader.
Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road.
Robert A. Heinlein, The Star Beast.
Elizabeth Moon, Lunar Activity.
Larry Niven, Rainbow Mars.
Larry Niven, The Draco Tavern.
Larry Niven, The Integral Trees.
Ben Orkow, When Time Stood Still.
John Ringo, Live Free or Die.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Book of Lost Tales, part 1.
John Twelve Hawks, The Traveler.
Gene Wolfe, There Are Doors.


1. First and foremost, I received Dozois's fifth volume of his Year's Best SF free from someone on a comments thread on another blog. I pointed out that I had most of the series, and she said she had one of the ones I was missing and offered to mail it to me. I am very, very thankful to her. With this, I now have volumes 3-32 and 34. Volumes 1 and 2 are collectors' items and absurdly expensive, so I don't plan on getting those. Volume 33 is recent (published in 2016, collecting stories from 2015), so I'll wait until it's cheaper.

2. A bunch of these books were very cheap. The ones I bought for 95¢ are 2010, 2065, Light of Other Days, Helliconia Spring, and The Traveler. The ones I bought for $1.50 are Quincunx of Time, Orbital Resonance, Book of Lost Tales part 1, There are Doors, A Science Fiction Reader, The Analects, The Case for Faith, and Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Thirteen books for $16.75.

3. I've been wanting to get a collection of Peirce's writings for a while, so I'm very happy with that purchase -- as I am with the Kant, the Wittgenstein, and the Nietzsche. I want a broadly representative library of the more important philosophical works in history. I say "library" -- right now they all fit on two shelves, two feet wide.

4. I'm also very happy with the Aquinas: it doesn't contain all of the second and third parts of the Summa, but I'm happy to have it on my shelf. Until now, the only Aquinas I had was his commentary on Boethius's De Trinitate. This is one of a few volumes I have in the Great Books of the Western World series; I also have two volumes on Aristotle and one on Kant. Next, I plan to get some of the science editions, like volumes 16 (Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler) and 49 (Darwin).

5. I had the first edition of The Gospel and the Greeks, but it got lost in shipping when we moved back to the States a few years ago. I'm glad to have it again. Admittedly, it's written by a philosopher rather than a historian or theologian, but he really debunks the whole "Christ myth myth" very well, if my recollection is accurate. I got two other books that are re-purchases of books that got lost in shipping as well. First, The Analects. I toyed with Confucianism in my early-20s, although I appreciated Taoism much more at the time. I'm still fascinated by the history of Chinese philosophy. Second, The Case for Faith which is a collection of interviews with theologians, philosophers, and other assorted folks dealing with some of the most prominent objections to Christianity. I appreciate books like this because, due to my particular mindset, they played a big role for me in my early days as a Christian. Nevertheless, they sometimes end up looking like the little Dutch boy trying to prevent the flood by putting his finger in the dam.

6. Elizabeth Moon is most known for her military science-fiction. I'm not averse to military sci-fi per se (witness my purchase of Live Free or Die), but none of the synopses I've read of Moon's books in that genre have appealed to me. However, two other books she wrote did, and they are both fantastic: The Speed of Dark and Remnant Population, both of which show the great value of people who are often discarded in our society (an autistic in Speed of Dark and an elderly widow in Remnant Population). The book I just bought is a collection of her short stories, which I think includes some military sci-fi, so we'll see if I get hooked.

7. Bradbury may not be deep literature, but he is able to encapsulate emotions better than any writer I know. His short story "The Fog Horn" is just the definition of loneliness. And Dandelion Wine is a perfect expression of nostalgia.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy anniversary to me

As of today I've been writing this blog for ten years. Ten freakin' years. It's older than my kids. Here's my first post.