North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest


with one comment

This is a maintenance post that can be safely ignored. Moving some accounts has meant that some images that I was hosting elsewhere are no longer appearing in the site, as the links have broken. I’m attempting to restore the links and have the images hosted here.





Written by Curt

December 8, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Blogging

Harper’s capital mistake

with 2 comments

This is the dumbest thing the Tories have done since winning their current minority government.

It is simply wrong to rely on courts to achieve a high enough standard of justice to warrant the taking of a human life.

It is logically inconsistent to hold that our courts should not have the right to apply the death penalty, but others do. Canadians will rightly draw the conclusion that what’s coming next is a death penalty debate in Canada. I don’t think Canadians will want any part of this idea, and they will thrash a party that tries to foist it on them.  The recent Ontario election seems a likely model.

What’s more, this abrupt course change can be used by the opposition parties as ammunition against the Tories’ omnibus crime bill, a bill the Tories have been daring the opposition to bring down the government over. That’s been a good tactic, one that I don’t expect the opposition to take. With this action, however, that bill can now be cast in a new light. And it does not flatter the Tories.

If anything has been missing from this government, keeping it from being able to seek an election with some degree of confidence that it will gain seats – and possibly even a majority in the house – it has been a lack of statesmanship. It’s not that statesmanship has been entirely lacking, but magnanimity and generosity have not been on display in quantities large enough to sway a leery voter.

I can’t see the upside of this in any way. 

Written by Curt

November 2, 2007 at 6:59 pm

The future of text

with one comment

The New Yorker still does great prose:

The Google Library Project has so far received mixed reviews. Google shows the reader a scanned version of the page; it is generally accurate and readable. But Google also uses optical character recognition to produce a second version, for its search engine to use, and this double process has some quirks. In a scriptorium lit by the sun, a scribe could mistakenly transcribe a “u” as an “n,” or vice versa. Curiously, the computer makes the same mistake. If you enter qualitas—an important term in medieval philosophy—into Google Book Search, you’ll find almost two thousand appearances. But if you enter “qnalitas” you’ll be rewarded with more than five hundred references that you wouldn’t necessarily have found. Sometimes the scanner operators miss pages, or scan them out of order. Sometimes the copy is not in good condition. The cataloguing data that identify an item are often incomplete or confusing. And the key terms that Google provides in order to characterize individual books are sometimes unintentionally comic. It’s not all that helpful, when you’re thinking about how to use an 1878 Baedeker guide to Paris, to be told that one of its keywords is “fauteuils.”

Taken from a story about the future of text by Anthony Grafton. 

Written by Curt

November 2, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Tech, Uncategorized, Writing

Evolved Truths are not Truths

with 11 comments

Here Theodore Darymaple takes on the new atheists and finds the arguments not only weak, but weaker than arguments for atheism need to be – except, perhaps, that of Daniel Dennett. Kicking over the view typified by Dennett was instrumental in overcoming a life of agnosticism for me, so I find this sort of argument particularly worth watching. Whenever an Al Gore-esque “the science is irrefutable” erupts in these debates, hypocrisy lurks. Scientific conclusions are always tentative, and if you think they are not, you are not using science, but have leapt into the world of metaphysics.

Here is Darymaple on the difficulties of Dennett’s argument:

Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is the least bad-tempered of the new atheist books, but it is deeply condescending to all religious people. Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.

For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one [evolution], are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.

Written by Curt

October 31, 2007 at 5:54 pm

The Source of Law

with 2 comments

This book review, found on an aggregator, is on a subject that is irresistible to a certain kind of geek – such as myself. What’s more, this is a good question to ponder on the day that our Parliament issues its throne speech, setting out its agenda for the coming sitting of the lower house:

Brague does not attempt to answer the Socratic question — what is divine law? — by un-Socratic means. He instead sets out to show that this idea — its articulation by the ancient Greeks and the three monotheisms, and in its rejection by modernity — carries within it the essence of how we understand ourselves today.

The story begins in Jerusalem and Athens. Brague isn’t the first to link the two by contrasting their interpretations of law. “The leading idea upon which Greeks and Jews agree,” Leo Strauss said, “is precisely the idea of divine law as of a unique and all-encompassing law that is at the same time a religious law, a civil law and a moral law.” But the two civilizations, Strauss added, interpreted that idea “in a diametrically opposed manner.”

In the Bible, the law’s divinity derives from its revealed character; the law is divine because commanded by God. For the Greek philosophers, however, the law is divine because it is perfect, an expression of natural order. The law is permanent, unwritten, and requires no proclamation. Sophocles talks of laws “that live on high; laws begotten in the clear air of heaven, whose only father is Olympus; no mortal nature brought them to birth, no forgetfulness shall lull them to sleep.”

So it is no surprise that although it imposed sacred obligations toward one’s family and city, Hellenic culture furnished no holy books. Its gods — as conceived by the philosophers — give advice and warnings, but they seldom command. No particular law is issued by a god; as Heraclitus puts it in the first Greek mention of the term, “all the laws of men are nourished by one law, the divine law.” The divine issues not in external command, but in the intellect that emanates from both nature and man.

If the Greek thinkers emphasized the natural character of law, the Israelites called forth its revealed, historical character; thereby, Brague says, they “revolutionized the relations between the normative and the divine.” Unlike the Greeks, the Hebrew Bible invents a law that is both written and divine; in fact, it is said to be written by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18). This law, moreover, becomes the instrument of a covenant with God: the first appearance in history of an alliance between a people and its god.

A great read; the article raises many interesting questions.

The other story I want to share is one that I read even before Scott Adams linked to it. The story, from Scientific American, is about a neuroscientist who claims to have discovered a part of the brain that contributes to “religious experiences.” Interesting in its own right, the thing that surprised me most was a the acknowledgement – albeit at the very end of the story – that:

Moreover, no matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God’s interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns’ forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe.


Written by Curt

October 16, 2007 at 7:46 pm

What kind of reader are you?

leave a comment »

Let’s see… very little activity here of late. Considered ending this project a few times but can’t bring myself to do it. Then, in the last two days I came across a number of stories that are worth sharing.

 Lets start with a quiz, shall we?

 From the virtual pages of Crunchy Con, What kind of a reader are you?


What Kind of Reader Are You?

Your Result: Literate Good Citizen



You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you’re not nerdy about it. You’ve read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm



Dedicated Reader



Book Snob



Fad Reader






What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Written by Curt

October 16, 2007 at 7:06 pm

What a bitch

leave a comment »

Unbelievable. What a bitch this Maier woman is. “A stalwart member of the left…” says The Globe; I never would have guessed. ‘I really regret it. I really regret having children

And this story of hers is funny and sad, but not in the way she thinks:


“We went to a family dinner in the suburbs of Paris. It took us a lot of time to go there with the children, and we went because the children wanted to go. We didn’t want to go, my partner and I, and it was a bit boring, but we took them anyway,” she says with a Gallic nonchalance, strolling across an empty floor in the enormous, art-filled house in one of the better corners of Brussels where she lives in a kind of exile from France with her partner, Yves, 45, their daughter Laure, 13, and son, Cecil, 10.

“And on the way back, the two of us thought that it would be nice to see an exhibition on Belgian surrealists. Once inside the museum, the children began to be awful.” Laure said that the exhibition was “bullshit.” Cecil began to scream, so Yves took him outside. “And I started yelling at him for this: ‘Why aren’t you more strong with him?’ And we began to argue. We didn’t see anything. And at that point, I thought, ‘I really regret it, I regret having children.’ “

Who gets surprised that kids react badly to an exhibition on Belgian surrealists, after what has already been a busy day for them? Who expects kids to be just like adults, and not just any adult, but ones that think just like me me me?


Judging by her book on work, she probably isn’t any fun to work with either.

Written by Curt

September 29, 2007 at 5:25 pm