The Long View 2006-08-24: Automation; Celestial Justice; Darwin Award Stats; The Negligence of the Clerks

This was written six years before Hurricane Sandy inundated the New York and New Jersey shores. As John surmised, the flooded subways weren't nearly as much of a problem as the storm surge damage to houses.


Automation; Celestial Justice; Darwin Award Stats; The Negligence of the Clerks

 

Was it Philip Dick who wrote a story about a completely automated newspaper, one that continued to chronicle events even after civilization collapsed? Anyway, there is no reason to be surprised by this report:

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice....Thomson started writing computer programs for different types of stories, at a cost of $150,000-$200,000 (£79,623-£106,190) per project, to try to catch up with rivals such as Reuters and Bloomberg. Thomson has also hired hundreds of specialist reporters to boost its news operations. Reuters said it automatically generated some stories, while Bloomberg said it did not.

In fairness, we should note that the kind of story in question is so formulaic that the information might as easily be presented in tabular format. And how many blogs would pass the Turing Test?

* * *

The Cosmic Fraud has been exposed, at last:

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight...Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Okay, but if Pluto is not a planet because it has not swept Neptune from its orbit, then why is Neptune still a planet when it shares part of it's orbit with Pluto? The only really satisfactory description of the solar system is that it consists of the sun, Jupiter, and some debris.

If you think the recategorization of Pluto will cause unhappiness in the primary grades, just wait until they try to explain to the kids that the typical dinosaur was the size of a dog.

* * *

The Left is winning the Darwin Award, it is widely believed, and Arthur C. Brooks has some numbers to that effect in a piece in Opinion Journal called The Fertility Gap:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids....Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today....The fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race--or even religion.

To this one must add a cautionary note: any philosophy that receives no other support than the fertility of those who currently hold it probably does not have much of a future, either.

* * *

Speaking of the mark of dubious ideas, AP sent me this link to a French-language wiki in the early stages of development, Christ Le Roi. It is maintained and augmented, wonderful to relate, by members of the Society of Pius X, the schismatic Catholic group whose devotion to tradition often seems to slide into Tradition. Even if you don't read French, you can see at a glance that it divides its contents into articles about Evil and articles about Good. The former collection is much the larger.

* * *

As for a Darwin Award-winning strategic policy, I have a new essay online entitled Tokugawa America that attempts to describe a consistent isolationism.

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Hurricanes in Florida not scary enough for you? Consider these thoughts from Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center:

Or how about a major hurricane racing up the east coast to the New York-New Jersey area, with its millions of people and billions of dollars of pricey real estate? "One of the highest storm surges possible anywhere in the country is where Long Island juts out at nearly right angles to the New Jersey coast. They could get 25 to 30 feet (7.6 to 9.1 meters) of storm surge ... even going up the Hudson River," Mayfield said. "The subways are going to flood. Some people might think 'Hey, I'll go into the subways and I'll be safe.' No, they are going to flood."

Forget about the damn subways. The disaster waiting to happen is the southern shore of Long Island: 5 million people living in houses made of ticky-tacky on an island that cannot be evacuated.

* * *

What has the Church to say to the World about 21st-century geopolitics? Not nearly enough, according to Wilfred McClay blogging at First Things, and most of what the Church does have to say is pretty stupid:

[T]he most important intellectual and institutional expressions of the Christian faith, including Rome and Canterbury, have found almost nothing of value to say about the current Middle East crises, and more generally about the West’s struggle against militant Islam and terrorism, and the terrifying possibilities now facing the entire civilized world. The patent inadequacy (to put it mildly) of the current cease-fire in Lebanon, which was precisely what the world’s most vocal Christian leaders had sought, is but the latest indication of all the reasons why no one in his right mind would go to them for counsel in these matters. ...Even those who gravitate toward harsh criticism of the Iraq War and of Bush-era American foreign policy do not avail themselves, except in the occasional rhetorical flourish, of the pronouncements of religious authorities. ...It is a problem when a crisis that penetrates to the very core of our civilization is not being freshly and meaningfully addressed and interpreted by the institutional representatives of what is, arguably, that civilization’s single most important formative force. It is a problem that gives fresh plausibility to a very old charge against Christianity, put forward by the likes of Gibbon and Rousseau, that it disarms citizens and disables the polity.

Unless the Church is ready to issue a new theology of history, the less it says the better.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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