Photos: Allegheny Valley Bike Ride

Inspired both by Ed’s posts about riding out in Oklahoma County and by the fact that I finally took Functional out on a┬ánon-commuting ride this season, here’s a very photo-heavy post of the route I did with some friends/in-laws.

For the Pittsburgh area, it was a very flat ride with some nice views along the Allegheny River. It wasn’t quite an official cycling route with proper lanes, etc., but it wasn’t hostile. The tightest spot was probably going over the bridge, and even that wasn’t too bad. Even the car-heavy parts on Freeport Road had plenty of room to make it comfortable. I was able to really enjoy the ride instead of dreading the next hill, when I wasn’t trying to hold on to . I felt like a modern Sagittarius, but with a bicycle instead of hooves and a cell phone instead of a bow and arrow (but there’s an app for that).

The area, being a remnant of the Rust Belt, had plenty of places along the way to stop and check out if you’re an industrial history buff. Or like to break windows in abandoned buildings…not that we did that (really, we didn’t).


Evidence is Not Enough

Carl Sagan, as usual when it came to epistemology, was wrong. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is applicable when speaking of empirical, falsifiable claims. Fine when you’re dealing with the hard sciences, or if for some reason you’re a positivist (impossible to be one, so we won’t go there today), but achieving a functional navigation in the physical world requires an actor to be much more epistemically open. It’s not something we have to think about, since it’s achieved on autopilot. You wouldn’t be able to step out your front door without it.

Just Thomism approaches it differently:

The humdrum thing you point at (soot jiggling in a jar) might have no proportion to the magnitude of the thing it is evidence for (the composition of all bodies in the universe). So what are we to make of the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? This obviously isn’t true if evidence is just “what one points to to prove the case”: jiggling soot is hardly an extraordinary thing to point to, though a claim about the composition of the entire universe clearly is. So it must mean that an extraordinary claim requires an extraordinary story or argument in defense of it.

In other words: evidence is not and cannot be incontrovertible, undeniable, or “hard.” It requires an explanation, and bringing language into the argument’s existence drags it outright into the realm of the subjective.

Doubleplusungood Thoughts on Slavery

Growing up with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a favorite movie, I got the impression that slavery was all about capturing young able-bodied children for mine work. Roots sat on the head-end of my timeline but if I saw that I’d have additional prejudices about slavery. Most of us who have grown up inside the public school system and with mass media in the home may have similar preconceptions. That’s not a value judgment but a matter of fact.

Picture this: your village was attached, scorched-earth style, by a roving horde of Fu-Manchued Barbarians, and most of the men who bothered to fight back were killed or injured. There’s zero usable infrastructure within a twenty mile radius, and the nearest (friendly) village is 100 hundred miles away. By the way, you have no car, no horse, and no wagon—remember, those were destroyed. Why do you have a car, anyways? There’s no proper pavement system conceived yet.

In this scenario, your only hope is to walk 100 miles while (possibly) injured, with no money or food, hope that you don’t get jumped by roadside bandits, mauled by bears, or collapse from starvation. So you’re pretty desperate, and Head Fu-Manchued Barbarian knows this: he may be violent but he’s not an idiot, since people who are able to successfully plan and execute a thousand-man, thousand-mile hack-and-slash fest on horseback are by definition no idiot. What do you think he’d do? Killing you is an option but why waste energy and resources for little to no return? He could use a good cook, scullery maid, or blacksmith back home in Barbaria. Better yet, he knows Fellow Fu-Manchued Barbarian a few huts down who is more desperate for your expertise and is willing to part with some big denarii for your skill set. You, however, have no options besides death. Head Fu-Manchued Barbarian (as mentioned, he’s not an idiot) knows this, and despite the quivering, unsheathed sabre in his hand, he cools off for a few seconds to let his frontal lobe recharge. He makes you an offer. Enter slavery.

This is a very specific example, but it may have been the origin story for a lot of slavery throughout history. One has to arrive to a very unsavory but very strong inference that slavery was more for the benefit of the slave than the slaveholder. In this situation that you’re in, it’s kind of unavoidable, and again in this situation, launching all the “slavery is bad” arguments miss the point. It’s not slavery that’s the worse thing, it’s war, and slavery is an unfortunate result of it.

You can probably look up statistics for yourselves, but the fact that waning of slavery’s popularity or “usefulness” coincided suspiciously with the creeping flood of industrialization and legislative action. In other words, industrialization began to make slavery the less attractive option for cost/benefit purposes, and the political aspect piggybacked on the wave of cultural shift. A politician outlawing slavery when neither slaves nor slaveholders would want it outlawed would get laughed at and soundly thrashed, but if popular opinion shifts the opposite direction, a career bureaucrat stands to gain by making a show of creating laws and reaping the social currency of a movement that was already underway without their meddling. As incentives change, so goes the politician, but also the nature of the slaveowner. As slavery slowly became financially impractical, it may have been the case that the more cruelty-oriented of them held onto the institution and rent-seeked for government services—southern American slaveowners relied on state authorities to capture runaway slaves. Without the benefit of the state, the real profit-seekers would be relying on the sectors with time-saving technology, leaving the those that prefer cruelty over profits as the bulk of slaveholders. This makes it easier to create a case for slavery’s abolition and thus, in popular memory, we are left with the slaveholder as the cruel actor.

The Epistemology of Road Signs

There are about four stop signs near my house on the way to the bus stop that I generally ignore. Two of them literally have no consequence if one is obedient to them or not. I guess I should explain that I’m riding my bike when I fly through these, but some people have a really strange allegiance to silly rules and have a huge crush on following all traffic laws and signs, despite their ineffectiveness.

I’m not a bicycle evangelist by most means, but here’s what’s great about riding one: compared to cars, I have no visual impairments when riding my bike. In fact, I have an even greater field of vision since bicycles sit slightly higher than car height, but that doesn’t apply when comparing to vans. This 100%+ capability doesn’t go down because I don’t have mirrors, since I have a side mirror attached to the handlebar that provides what I need.

I even have 100% hearing capabilities, whereas in a car you have 0% up to maybe 50% if you roll your side’s window down. Utilizing hearing might not sound (heh) like much of an advantage, but there is one when you’re on a quiet mode of transport and need to be fully aware of transports that make lots of noise. I suppose, too, there’s an evolutionary argument that can be made where vision and hearing combined adds up to a certain awareness of surroundings, an awareness of a greater degree than if you just added them together.

Basically, unless there is an invisible, completely silent, faster-than-light car actively on the American auto market, I’m in no danger if I blow through a stop sign. I’m pretty good at meta-analyzing my sense’s current states, and if they were mitigated in some way I’d compensate with the correct amount of caution. In optimal conditions, I’m confident my powers of observation provide me with better decision-making information than a painted piece of metal.

Castle in the Sky – Sheeta and the Pirates

Castle in the Sky - robot flower
Bear with me if you’ve never seen Castle in the Sky, or you’ve forgotten it. Some time ago, on Facebook or on some message board had mentioned the odd interest the pirates took in Sheeta’s presence on their ship. If I had a clip of the relevant scenes, I would link them here, but it’s a film distributed by Disney so its been outlawed from being viewed anywhere online.

I call the interest “odd” because Sheeta, as well as Pazu, are portrayed as early teenagers or younger (depending on which version you’re watching), and having grown men a few steps short of accosting a fairly captive young girl is inappropriate for any movie geared somewhat towards children. But there’s no overt indication that the pirate’s interest in Sheeta is prurient. They live on a ship with their mother, Dola, as the only feminine presence in their life, and she’s far from matronly. How could she not be? She has to keep her sons and ship in line—like Mama Fratelli from The Goonies, she has no avenue to really fill the mom role. Sheeta played that part well, however temporarily, while on their ship.

Yes, there’s the lolita culture in Japan, but Miyazaki’s films have been largely immune from it. I think the suggestion of Sheeta vs Dola’s gang as being prurient is more a western or American perception. Some of us just can’t help but read sexuality into ambiguities.

Getting Trolled By Video Game Music

I listen to a playlist of video game music at work or when I’m writing. Like film scores, most of it is designed to be unobtrusive enough to help someone maintain focus on something else. There are two songs in my playlist that intruded into my attention the other day though, through tiny idiosyncrasies like pinpricks onto a balloon.

The first is the “super arrange” version of a song that’s appeared in all of the Wanderers from Ys games. It’s normally called “The Trading Town of Redmont” but this particular version was ambitious enough for the producers to give it the title “Prelude ~Prelude to the Adventure~ Town of Redmont.”

At around 1:30, the main melody begins, and about halfway through there’s what sounds to be a time change from 4/4 to 7/8, for one measure. You can hear it a little more clearly at 2:10 when the “orchestra” is a little more con fuoco and there’s an accompanying tambourine. The tambourine, playing syncopated or “on the and” in between beats, does the “7/8 stutter” with an accompanying cymbal crash, and ends up playing on the actual beat after the time change. Later on in the melody there’s another cymbal crash on the beat, so I had assumed somewhere there was another measure of 7/8 to bring the tambourine back into syncopation.

I spent a dedicated 20 minutes on the bus, in between chapters of Madame Bovary, trying to figure where the other darn 7/8 measure was, even wondering if the strings and brass sections kept in 4/4 the whole time, producing a polymeter. I pretty much abandoned hope until I listened to some of the different versions of the song from other Ys games, in particular this one, from Ys III. You can tell from the more straightforward rock drumming that there’s no one-measure change to 7/8—the music simply starts “early” on the and beat of the 4 count. Without the drums in there it’s easy (for me) to think it was something more complicated.

The other song in question—”Quatera Woods” from another Ys game, Ark of the Nepishtim—wasn’t nearly so maddening. I just had noticed the main melody (starting at 1:07 and ends at around 1:30) never joins in the resolution, instead it just leaves off the last note. I think I had mentally filled in the last note because I was expecting it.

Photo: Whitin Reservoir – Douglas, MA

I‘ve been on vacation for the week, visiting family in Massachusetts, so there haven’t been much activity. The week preceding vacation I was working on finishing up a redesign of the Mission to El Salvador site, so there was even more time away from the ol’ blog.

Here’s a photo of the Whitin Reservoir in Douglas, a town in south central Massachusetts. At the reservoir there’s a tiny beach and some water slides. When we went it was fairly well-populated but I was able to get a shot of the pond away from all the activity.

Whitin Reservoir photo

“Look at Me. I Did It Too.”

God’s not in the business of sticking around only to cover up for your stupidity or hubris, though I am sure there are provisions sent that can account for that. To a certain extent God honors what a church body corporately focuses on—their “mission,” if you will—at least insofar that the body adheres to God’s character and not a cheap, passing cultural type. Paradoxically, with mass communication as a norm, signals will get distorted: is a church’s goal something God put under their dominion or is it the sweep of culture and that’s driving action?

There’s an issue when we fulfill a role or conform to an image set for us by a church culture that holds no accountability to the outcome of adhering to the role. With very few exceptions, if someone else isn’t vested, personally and materially, into the outcome your mission, you’d better be gosh darn sure it’s really your mission. A random person on Facebook doesn’t count as accountability, and neither does the glom of “likes” you can secure get for unlocking the right cultural achievements, to borrow a RPG gaming term.

Consider something pastors don’t really mention when in sermonizing mode, if they acknowledge it at all. There’s a danger in patterning your life after Biblical characters. The people who were written about in those 66 books were quite literally one in a million, and those Old Testament prophets that acted as God’s mouthpiece lead strange and often miserable earthly existences. You, however, aren’t so special. There were countless people who lived from Adam to John who lead very holy but very ordinary lives—lives that many of us would dismiss as not “radically transformed” enough for us to consider exemplary of Christian life. By nature we can’t all achieve fame. We should remember that this response is this fallen world’s sentiment, amplified by the boredom that comes with safe living and affluence: that the worst hell is an unremarkable life.

Being Necessary to Create God

I‘ve mentioned it before on here plenty of times, but I note the not-very-groundbreaking, Voltairean idea that a disbelief in God will necessary a man to find divine attributes in the physical or abstract—not metaphysical—universe (as such, Volataire’s quote is more accurate if we put “find” instead of “it would be necessary to invent him.”). Just Thomism explicitly defined that as idolatry:

Since idolatry is imputing divine characteristics to nature and to human art, we can replace this definition with the word. Put this way, the first three steps are well known:

It fits, though for some reason I’ve been passing it over. Basing idolatry solely on scriptural instances doesn’t help since most of those were the worship of other (supposed) gods. No one cares about pagan gods anymore, and accusing people of idolatry nowadays is on the same social relevance level as gluttony.

On a related note, I have a forthcoming post about paganism and modern science. No, I’m not calling scientists pagans and you’re not a secret pagan if you think science is cool.