Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Benjamin Franklin on Natural Selection

"By the way, When do you intend to live? i.e. to enjoy Life. When will you retire to your Villa, give your self Repose, delight in Viewing the Operations of Nature in the vegetable Creation, assist her in her Works, get your ingenious Friends at times about you, make them happy with your Conversation, and enjoy theirs; or, if alone, amuse yourself with your Books and elegant Collections? To be hurried about perpetually from one sick Chamber to another, is not Living. Do you please yourself with the Fancy that you are doing Good? You are mistaken. Half the Lives you save are not worth saving, as being useless; and almost the other Half ought not to be sav’d, as being mischievous. Does your Conscience never hint to you the Impiety of being in constant Warfare against the Plans of Providence? Disease was intended as the Punishment of Intemperance, Sloth, and other Vices; and the Example of that Punishment was intended to promote and strengthen the opposite Virtues. But here you step in officiously with your Art, disappoint those wise Intentions of Nature, and make Men safe in their Excesses. Whereby you seem to me to be of just the same Service to Society as some favourite first Minister, who out of the great Benevolence of his Heart should procure Pardons for all Criminals that apply’d to him. Only think of the Consequences!"

-- Benjamin Franklin, letter to Dr. John Fothergill, March 14, 1764

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Like oysters observing the sun

“Methinks we have hugely mistaken the matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water was thinnest air. Methinks my body is the lees of my better being. In fact, take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.”

-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter VII, The Chapel

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sadly, college isn't for everyone

The Atlantic
"The College Board has suggested a “college readiness benchmark” that works out to roughly 500 on each portion of the SAT as a score below which students are not likely to achieve at least a B-minus average at “a four-year college”—presumably an average one. (By comparison, at Ohio State University, a considerably better-than-average school ranked 52nd among U.S. universities by U.S. News & World Report, freshmen entering in 2014 averaged 605 on the reading section of the SAT and 668 on the math section.)
How many high-school students are capable of meeting the College Board benchmark? This is not easy to answer, because in most states, large numbers of students never take a college-entrance exam (in California, for example, at most 43 percent of high-school students sit for the SAT or the ACT). To get a general sense, though, we can look to Delaware, Idaho, Maine, and the District of Columbia, which provide the SAT for free and have SAT participation rates above 90 percent, according to The Washington Post. In these states in 2015, the percentage of students averaging at least 500 on the reading section ranged from 33 percent (in D.C.) to 40 percent (in Maine), with similar distributions scoring 500 or more on the math and writing sections. Considering that these data don’t include dropouts, it seems safe to say that no more than one in three American high-school students is capable of hitting the College Board’s benchmark. Quibble with the details all you want, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that most Americans aren’t smart enough to do something we are told is an essential step toward succeeding in our new, brain-centric economy—namely, get through four years of college with moderately good grades."

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lion -- Michael Hettich

Behind that door
in a white room we keep
a man who thinks
he is a lion.
You can see he's kept safe.
He thinks he's a lion!

Once he escaped
and ran through the city.
Changed his name.
Actually this isn't him,
this is a lion.

And this is a picture
of the African plains.
We'll slip it beneath
his door now; he'll look at it
smiling, draw
an animal on it
and himself running
to catch it, slip
the picture back under
the door.

thus we study
the workings of his mind.

Today he's drawn
a bowl, that's a bowl
of soup, being carried
by a stick figure, a woman.

That's him smiling.
Notice the hair
is wild, that he wears
no shirt.
Each day the picture
is different, but he always
smiles. Tonight his dinner

is soup, of course,
and a woman, but what
do you think of his smile,
his naked chest, skinny
after months in the white room
but still wild --

What do you think
he looks like, who do you
think he is, who do you
think he thinks
he is, we are? These are some
of the questions we ask ourselves.
A wild man! A lion!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I Would Be in Love -- Frank Sinatra

If I lived the past over, saw today from yesterday
I would be in love anyway
If I knew that you'd leave me, if I knew you wouldn't stay
I would be in love anyway

Sometimes I think, think about before
Sometime I think, if I knew then what I know now
I don't believe I'd ever change somehow
 Though you'll never be with me, and there are no words to say
I'll still be in love anyway

If I knew then what I know now, I don't believe I'd ever change
Somehow if I knew then what I know now
I don't believe I'd ever change somehow


Friday, June 17, 2016

Learning through aphorisms

"For a word that literally means definition, the aphorism is a rather indefinite genre. It bears a family resemblance to the fragment, the proverb, the maxim, the hypomnema, the epigram, the mantra, the parable, and the prose poem. Coined sometime between the fifth and third centuries BC as the title for one of the books of the Corpus Hippocraticum, the Aphorismi were originally a compendium of the latest medical knowledge. The penultimate aphorism, “In chronic disease an excessive flux from the bowels is bad,” is more representative of the collection’s contents than the first—“Life is short, art is long”—for which it is best known.
But in those six words lies a clue to the particular space aphorisms were supposed to define. Thanks to a semantic slippage between the Greek word techne and its English translation (via the Latin ars), the saying is often taken to mean that the works of human beings outlast their days. But in its original context, Hippocrates or his editors probably intended something more pragmatic: the craft of medicine takes a long time to learn, and physicians have a short time in which to learn it."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History

My Lai massacre.jpg
Lest we forget. On March 16, 1968, in a single morning, U.S. soldiers murdered between 347 and 504 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians, including women, children, and infants. Only one U.S. soldier was ever convicted for the crimes. He ended up serving only three and a half years under house arrest.

"Harry Stanley, a machine gunner from the Charlie Company, said during the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division's (CID) inquiry that the killings started without warning. He first observed a member of the 1st Platoon strike a Vietnamese man with a bayonet. Then, the same trooper pushed another villager into a well and threw a grenade in the well. Further, he saw fifteen or twenty people, mainly women and children, kneeling around a temple with burning incense. They were praying and crying. They were all killed by shots in the head. ...
A large group of approximately 70–80 villagers was rounded up by the 1st Platoon in Xom Lang, and then led to an irrigation ditch to the east of the settlement. All detainees were pushed into the ditch and then killed after repeated orders issued by Lieutenant Calley, who was also shooting. Paul Meadlo, a Private First Class (PFC), testified that he expended several M16 magazines. He recollected that women were allegedly saying "No VC" and were trying to shield their children. ...
William Thomas Allison, a professor of Military History at Georgia Southern University, wrote, "By midmorning, members of Charlie Company had killed hundreds of civilians and raped or assaulted countless women and young girls. They encountered no enemy fire and found no weapons in My Lai itself"."