Monday, December 28, 2015

For the Holy Innocents

This is another perhaps-unusual pairing, perhaps yet more unusual in this blog's context... These voices, though, singing these words...

"Covering", as it is called, Leonard Cohen... strangely similar accompaniment, too.

(As the Humbug and Milo both learned, one can swim through the whole ocean of Knowledge and walk out dry.)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

And that's all.

Most of the rest of this blog is brag and bluster,
but, really:

Merry Christmas!

and that's enough.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dates of Things

The Julian Calendar, the longest-lasting civil influence of a troublesome Imperator-General, was a marked improvement over the previous system, under which an intercalary month would be, on occasion, specifially declared by fiat, the Republic Officer in charge being titled Pontifex Maximus. As the last such Pontifex Maximus, Gaius Julius had grown tired of the corrupting pressure on a PM who might be bought off with a cut of profits from bills due in the new year, and of the antinomian tendency stirred up by an official State Calendar which was blatantly four months out of sync with the Sun. The switch to prescribed Leap-Years, intercalating but a single day at any time (doubling the ante-diem sextius Calendas Martiis), was stroke in favour of Republican Liberty, Rule of Law, and Sensible Scheduling.

It was, I repeat, a marked improvement. And it was just good enough to get into trouble.

How good? The Julian cycle was a bit less than one day too long every Hundred years. That is: it was just long enough to start going measurably wrong, on average, just as soon as everyone who was used to the start of it was dead. If the error had been just a bit greater, corrections could have been made much sooner. Had the error (by some Astronomical fortuity) been smaller, well, so much the better!

But it was what it was, which has some curious consequences for the Catholic Church, and our current Calendar of Feasts, movable and otherwise.

Much is made, as it happens, of the apparent confluence of Christmas (25th December) and Satyrnalia (Winter Solstice (though no-one really announces Satyrnalia anymore...)). I'm sure we're all quite bored with that. The point, however, is: it was part of the business of an early post-Milvian Council to confirm the schedules for celebrating both Christmas and Easter, and there is an important difference between these schedules: Christmas is fixed to a Solar Date, and Easter is fixed to a Sunday around a Lunisolar Date. The curious circumstance between the scheduling decisions is that: In the First Year of Our Lord, the Winter Solstice fell about 25th of December, the vernal equinox about the 25th of March; and by the time of the relevant Coucil, Julian's Error had stretched the calendar about three or four days late, the actual equinox and solstice falling therefore about three or four days earlier than on paper. And so the interesting decision was: to confirm the Solar Date of Christmas, now out of sync with Solstice and Satyrs, and to adopt the Present equinox date of 21st March, for the calculation of Easter.

That is, while Easter was already a Movable Feast and its motion could be re-regulated to the Sun without causing any hassle, the Calendar Date of Christmas was considered Too Important to adjust it to the Solstice as well.

This indicates (quite stongly, I think) that the Date of Christmas was a Very Old and Important Tradition indeed, having its roots in a period well before there was any risk of paganising syncretism in the Church, or schemes to capture the hearts of specifically-roman pagans with a great feast to cover their own... um... friskier... feast.

There are other external indications towards this quite reasonable supposition that Our Lord really was born on Christmas Day, but I do so enjoy an internal logic argument about Things.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


For Thursday and Friday. They are Different.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Internet is a Weird Place

... full of weird people who don't have to practise sociable reservation... somewhat like the Industrial English Countryside.

Do you know there are people who are seriously worried that an Artificial General Intelligence will eventually be constructed and will, that it will "escape into the internet", and then enslave/kill/plow through us all. There are books written about this worry.

I think this worry is hilarious. Machines do not need to be intelligent to enslave/kill/plow through us all. And they do not need the internet to do this. It is sufficient that people using the machines be themselves thoughtless. I have enough problems with machines that are insensible and without guile. Did you know that most "trading" on the stock market is done by computers? It happens so quickly and so voluminously they laid a straighter, shorter fiber optic connection over Telegraph Plateau between New York and England, to save microseconds off transatlantic trading time; this was considered a Good Investment. And because part of the fun of this trading game is anticipating when the Other Firms' Computers are going to initiate their "trade"s (then you can maybe undercut them! or other things!) that Insanely Fancy Maths is used to complicate these timing patterns and confuse the other computers. Billions of Imaginary Dollars, and the trade commodities supposedly backing them, are already thoroughly at the mercy of several competing artificial untelligences; and it doesn't always work out well for us.

And do you remember a huge power outage in 2003? It cut off electrical power to 55 million people for several days. That was a machine (The Grid) that went just a little bit wrong.

Dear Master Gray,

I think I should warn you against imagining suffering people. It is unkind of you to imagine people, and then make them suffer in your imagination! Please desist!

At least, it is at least as unkind as making a machine that you arbitrarily construe as modeling (and hence doing) rational thought and sensation, and observing it, as you construe, to be modeling (and hence doing) suffering. In fact, I suggest your imagination of suffering people is probably crueller! Because I'm sure you can imagine all the more realistically the suffering of a realistic person, all the more out of proportion to their imagined deeds or imagined natures than might reasonably be modeled in an electronic machine. Why, no, I don't insist on electronics. You can do the modelling on paper, or in patterned braids of thread, if that suits your fancy. Except, of course, because of the suffering of the paper-modeled thing, you shouldn't model it at all. That would be cruel.

the ironist