The Long View 2005-12-27: Boxing Day, ID, & Discreditable Enthusiasms

Alton Brown's aged eggnog

Alton Brown's aged eggnog

This year, we've made a batch of Alton Brown's aged eggnog. It is quietly mellowing in the back of my fridge as we speak.


Boxing Day, ID, & Discreditable Enthusiasms

 

Ever have mulled wine? A retired English couple in exile from Blairistan were kind enough to ask me over for high tea on Boxing Day (just try to rent a pair of jodhpurs on short notice over Christmas) and they had made some mulled wine. It tastes like warm, liquified apple pie, spiked with cinnamon and brandy. It's pretty good, really, but like Christmas eggnog, it's one of those drinks you need an excuse to make.

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Intelligent Design has never been one of my enthusiasms, so I have no reason to quarrel with the holding in the decision by Judge John Jones of the Federal Middle District of Pennsylvania striking down the requirement by a local school board that would have made an allusion to Intelligent Design mandatory in biology classes. It was not necessary for the court to touch on any profound philosophical issues to decide the case. Unfortunately, the judge did, and so wrote passages like this in his opinion:

Further support for the proposition that ID requires supernatural creation is found in the book Pandas, to which students in Dover’s ninth grade biology class are directed. Pandas indicates that there are two kinds of causes, natural and intelligent, which demonstrate that intelligent causes are beyond nature...Professor Haught, who as noted was the only theologian to testify in this case, explained that in Western intellectual tradition, non-natural causes occupy a space reserved for ultimate religious explanations.

The judge seems to be saying here that intelligence is non-natural, and so cannot be the object of scientific inquiry. This is a weird proposition. However, the weirdness is not of the judge's making. For years now, the scientific investigation of consciousness has tied itself in knots because the investigators generally begin with the assumption that the phenomenon they are trying to explain does not exist. Strictly speaking, this premise would preclude government support for any SETI project, because a search for intelligence would be, by the judge's definition, a search for the supernatural

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This headline made me grumpy, even under the influence of mulled wine:

Amazon.com Customers Order over 108 Million Items Worldwide During 11th Holiday Season; More Than 99 Percent of Orders Shipped in Time to Meet Holiday Deadlines Worldwide

This was the first year when I had trouble with Amazon. I ordered in good time, but they cancelled one order and, just before Christmas, told me the rest would not arrive until almost the end of the year. In a dazzling display of misplaced efficiency, Amazon did manage to deliver the remaining items, on Christmas Eve, but not before I had bought replacement presents.

Amazon is always polite and helpful, but maybe they have bitten off more than they can chew.

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Perhaps you know NUMB3RS, the CBS television series about the mathematician who solves crimes in consultation with his police detective brother, under the benevolent eye of their retired father, played by Judd Hirsch. I like the series, and I have read enough popular science to be able to recognize the math. What strikes me, though, is that the investigations are a little like Gulliver's adventures on the flying island of Laputa. The island is ruled by natural philosophers, the 18th-century precursors of scientists, who never encounter a problem so small or obvious that they cannot complexify it past the point of comprehensibility.

In any case, I mention the series here because I was looking for some information about it, and I found that much the best source was the Wikipedia link. This is getting spooky. The scope of Wikipedia has reached the stage where I am afraid to ask "What have I got in my pockets?" for fear of finding out that Wiki already knows.

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Speaking of popular culture, the Grinch-like Mark Steyn observes that familiarity with it is quite consistent with a lack of sympathy for the wider culture it imperfectly reflects:

The two are not mutually exclusive. They never have been. The Merry Widow was both the biggest smash on Broadway and Hitler’s favourite operetta. In a not entirely persuasive attempt to humanize the old KGB hard man, Yuri Andropov was widely touted as a Glenn Miller fan. The world’s former Numero Uno Commie, China’s Jiang Zemin, could hardly attend a state banquet without getting up and singing Elvis’ “Love Me Tender”. Saddam Hussein is not just assimilated with western culture, he’s eerily assimilated with National Review’s back page columnist: The old Baathist mass-murderer and I share the same favorite singer – Frank Sinatra. If you dialed up Amazon.com’s “We have recommendations for you!” CD page, Saddam’s and mine would be identical.

On the subject of Hitler, we all know that Hitler's favorite movie was the 1933 version of King Kong. At any rate, we all say that, but there is some difficulty in sourcing that assertion. I've read it, too, but I cannot remember where. The assertion is not in any of my books. Any ideas?

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Wikipedia does not know everything. Here is what other people keep in their pockets.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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