Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Social Privilege Quiz

Oh, dear. Some social scientist has put together a quiz on "Social Class" or privilege. I won't go over all of it here, but the guys at the Boar's Head Tavern have been tearing it up pretty good. (As well as Scalzi and Megan McArdle here and here.)

But to comment on a few of the questions which are poorly written for the purposes the author wants to use them:

*If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.

How far out do we go? I've got one first cousin (out of about 16 or so) who's a pediatrician. Does that count?

Of course, if we talk about my conditions today, I'm a professor, myself. My wife is. And I've got other cousins getting their Ph.D.s right now. But I figure he means, "when you were a kid."

*If your family was the same or higher class than your high school teachers

How would I know?!?! In my upbringing, we were taught not to compare our family with others in this way! We didn't think in terms of "class," and my father never told me what he made. In fact, he explicitly said he would not tell us kids, so that we wouldn't go and compare ourselves with the other kids' families. It's poor quality upbringing that has people going around thinking about questions like these.

*If the people in the media who dress and talk like you were portrayed positively.

No. People who dress and talk like the East Tennessee hillbilly that I am are made fun of in the media. Aside from that, tough, people whom he wants to flush out as "privileged" would be more likely to answer "no" to this question, because that "class" is generally made out as the bad guys on TV and in the movies. I happen to be an exception, because there's a real stereotype against us Southern rural types that Hollywood still revels in.

*If you had or will have no student loans when you graduate.

Academic scholarships. Wonderful things.

*If your parent owned their own house or apartment when you were a child or teen

Out in the country, who doesn't?! If you're not a sharecropper, it's kind of hard not to own your own house ("or apartment"? Hah, hah, hah! I always thought the people who lived in apartments were ones to pity, whether or not they owned them.). Heck, the family living up the cove from us who were dirt-poor tobacco and cattle farmers and lived in a two-room cabin? They owned their own house, too. And probably a good 20-30 acres to go with it! Hardly had a cent to their names, but they owned a house and a decent bit of land, and that's more than I can say for the "privileged" class growing up in New York City, poor slobs.

*If there was original art in your house as a child or teen

Sure enough! Grandmother was something of an artist, and we had some of hers hanging on the walls. An old girlfriend of my dad's had also painted a nice landscape, and it hung above the mantle. Wait--so that puts me in the privileged class?

*If were read children's books by a parent when you were growing up

Of course. And I fail to see how this makes me more "privileged" than one who didn't. It has nothing to do with money or status or "social class." It has only to do with the care my parents took for me when they read those 95-cent Little Golden Books. Anyone could afford to do that, but not everyone would choose to!

Anyway, I dislike these sorts of things, just as a matter of principle. They're all about breaking down the good manners you were reared on--in not "keeping up with the Joneses" and not comparing your financial/social/etc. status with others--and trying to get you to obsess about it. [grumble]

Kentuck and Ohio in archaeological dispute

Here's some nearly local news for us: a boulder carved with a face, a house, and some names, has been recovered from the Ohio River after being submerged for 87 years. It's from Portsmouth, Ohio, and was probably a navigation marker along the shore there, from back in the early days of the city's settlement. Its existence was recorded by the late 1800s, and there are names of some of the early residents carved onto it.

For reasons that are beyond me, the government of Kentucky is claiming ownership of it, since it had sunk into the river (most of which is inside Kentucky's borders). Now, as much as I like the state of Kentucky, I've got to stand up against that attitude, here. It was, apparently, carved by residents of Portsmouth, Ohio, it stood on the Ohio banks (actually, the story doesn't say that, but I'm guessing, from the background information--if it had been on the Kentucky shore this whole time, that puts a different light on it!), and it was only lost to the waves around 1920. Since when does falling into the water mean the government of another state gets to claim permanent ownership, even after it's pulled back out?

The attitude of wanting government control by default is a nasty one. Or even, in this case, outright government possession by default! Even worse. Heaven help me if I find an arrowhead on the Ohio River banks!

Pravda on the Lost Cosmonauts

Instapundit had a link to this, the other day. Pravda has gone from being the official newspaper in Communist Russia (yes, I know it was the Communist Party paper, but they ran the country) to filling a niche in post-Commie Russia for news about UFOs, news of the weird, and conspiracy theories. (Incidentally, take a look at this article on the "USA plung[ing] into poverty." (I'm quoting the headline.) How do you like the photo that accompanies it? This, for a story about the percentage of Washington state (only) residents under the poverty level increasing from 10% in 2001 to 12% in 2005. I like the half-naked kids climbing onto the family wagon (pulled by a horse, of course), surrounded by piles of junk. Very illustrative.)

Aaaaanyway. Glenn had a link to this 2001 story about supposed cosmonauts before Gagarin, but who died during their missions. There have been rumors about this in the West for decades, and given the secrecy with which the Soviet space program was conducted, it's not surprising. But nothing's come of them, even after records were opened up. There is, even less surprisingly, plenty of stuff out there on the web about these. The Encyclopedia Astronautica has a whole list of the names that have popped up in the "Lost Cosmonaut" rumors over the years, and they've thrown in Maj. Tony Nelson and Roger Healy for good measure. (Find the link for "Lost Cosmonauts.") The latter two they must have had fun with, as their biographies are done totally deadpan. Mentions Major Nelson's wife, Jeannie Nelson (formerly of Baghdad), as well as some of his career milestones and some problems that popped up along the way. Like when he had bad eyesight, nearly keeping him from a flight, until it mysteriously fixed itself a day later. (One of the kids brightened up when I read this part, and she said, "I know that episode!") Includes his later Space Shuttle career. Longest-serving US astronaut!

I can only hope that Stalin and Lenin and the rest of their murderous crew are spinning in their graves, to find that Pravda now has "Showbiz" and "Style" sections, just like the decadent West! And isn't it interesting that it's Pravda, of all rags, that's trading in Communist cover-ups now?!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bloch Heads

I wrote the other day about the embarrassment that Muslims feel at the actions of terrorists and that physicists feel at the actions of faculty protesters. But in fact the pope too must feel some embarrassment at the actions of some of his self-anointed efenders. At the same time that terrorists were twisting his words to justify their actions, there were those who stepped up to defend the pope by saying, "he was right to call Muslims irrational", although he did not call Muslims irrational. Now that activist faculty members are twisting his words in order to justify their actions, Benedict XVI has his defenders arguing, "he was right to condemn Galileo", although he did not condemn Galileo. Never mind what he actually said. It turns out that the internet is full of geocentrists (Who knew?), and they are quick to crown themselves with the papal tiara.

Most of these Galileophobes of the blogosphere are basing their condemnation of heliocentrism on arguments largely identical to those of Ernst Bloch, as quoted by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1990:

According to Bloch, the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity. Bloch writes, in his own words: ‘From the moment that, with the abolition of the presupposition of an empty and immobile space, movement is no longer produced towards something, but there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves, and therefore the measurement of that [movement] depends to a great extent on the choice of a body to serve as a point of reference, in this case is it not merely the complexity of calculations that renders the [geocentric] hypothesis impractical? Then as now, one can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile.”

What is missing from this argument is that it was Galileo himself who first proposed the Principle of Relativity, that there is no such thing as absolute motion, but "there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves, and therefore the measurement of that [movement] depends to a great extent on the choice of a body to serve as a point of reference". It is precisely relative movement that is a Galilean invariant, that is, a quantity that is the same regardless of your frame of reference. And it is this Galilean invariant that means that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa, both in the sun's frame of reference and in every other inertial frame of reference as well.

To see an example of this, first consider this proof that the earth rotates on its axis, and that it is not stationary with the universe revolving around it every 24 hours. Abe and Bill are both on ships on opposite sides of the world on the equator. As Abe watches the sunrise, Bill is on the other side of the world watching it set. At that moment, due to the spin of the earth, Abe, sitting peacefully on the deck of his ship, is actually heading toward the sun at 1000 miles per hour. Likewise, Bill is moving away from the sun at 1000 miles an hour. The magnitude of their relative motion, the motion relative to each other, is thus 2000 miles per hour.

"Ah", but Abe says, "you are saying this from a geocentro-centric point of view. Your reference frame is the center of the earth. From my point of view, I am not moving at all. It is the sun which is moving toward me at 1000 mph, and my buddy Bill is moving away from the sun at 2000 mph." And Abe is precisely right. But what Abe and I both agree on is that the relative motion between him and Bill has a magnitude of 2000 mph. There is no getting around it, their relative motion is a Galilean invariant. The fact that Abe and Bill, both standing stock still on the surface of the earth, have a relative motion of 2000 mph is a sure sign that the earth is rotating, and it is rotating in every Galilean reference frame.

The same thing applies mutatis mutandis to the earth's revolution around the sun. "One can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile", says Bloch, but can you really? I tell the geocentrist that he is moving 30 km/s around a stationary sun. "Not at all", says the geocentrist. "I am stationary. It is the sun that is moving 30 km/s."

Fine, in his inertial reference frame he is not moving, and the sun is. But in six months, in that same frame, he will be moving 60 km/s, and in the same direction as the sun, which will still be moving 30 km/s! In what sense, then, can the geocentrist continue to assert that he is not moving? Sure, he can construct reference frames where the earth is stationary for one instant every year, but he cannot escape the fact that the motion of the earth in January relative to the earth in July is 60 km/s. The relative motion of the sun in January to the sun in July, on the other hand, is negligibly small.

"But wait", says the Galileophobe, "Galileo believed in absolute space and absolute time. Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (ESTR) did away with all that. Those Galilean invariants aren't invariant at all. The Galilean Principle of Relativity (GPR) is completely wrong"

Actually, at speeds characteristic of the solar system, those Galilean invariants really are very nearly invariant, and GPR is true. But let's cut our Galileophobe a break, and pretend that we are whipping by the solar system in a spaceship at 90% the speed of light. (In that case, GPR really doesn't work.) And as why fly by, we are trying to ascertain whether the sun goes around the earth, or the earth the sun.

Since GPR doesn't work, we cannot rely on the Galilean invariant, the relative motion of the earth in January and July, to answer our question. We can, however, rely on Lorentz invariants. One example of a Lorentz invariant is the 4 dimensional momentum of the earth in January relative to that of the earth in July. Like the relative velocity in GPR, this Lorentz invariant is constant in all inertial reference frames in ESTR. It is quite analogous to relative velocity in GPR, right down to indicating that the earth is rotating about its axis in every ESTR reference frame, and that it is revolving around the sun, and not vice versa, in every ESTR reference frame.

In a sense, Bloch and like-minded bloggers have internalized the Principle of Relativity too well, better than GPR, or ESTR for that matter, can hold. GPR and ESTR hold for translational motion, but not for rotation or revolution, as has been demonstrated by a straightforward application of these theories themselves. The reason for this is that translational motion is qualitatively different from rotation and revolution in its very definition. Unlike translational motion, rotation and revolution always imply acceleration.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Muslims and Physicists

On 12 September 2006 in Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture titled "Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections". In that lecture, the Pope quoted a question by Christian Emperor Manuel II Paleologus put to the Muslim Worthy Mouterizes. It was a rude question, asked "with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded", said the pope. He recounted this dialogue between the Emperor and the Worthy in order to demonstrate the difficulties involved in inter-religious dialogue, but very soon his lecture itself became a parable of the perils of that dialogue. The pope's words were repeated out of context around the world. Muslim terrorists used these words as an excuse to commit those actions for which they are always cooking up an excuse. In the days that followed, churches were burned and bombed, Christians were lynched, and most notably a nun was murdered along with her muslim bodyguards.

Muslims everywhere were mortified and embarrassed by the actions of their terroristic co-religionists. The killers of the nun have been arrested by the Islamic government of Somalia, and they will be punished.

But today it is the turn of Physicists to be embarrassed. The physics faculty at Sapienza, the university of Rome, have organized a protest against the pope's planned visit to the university. They have enlisted as allies in their protest Italy's radical homosexual movement, elements of which have called for the assassination of Cardinal Bagnasco, and the anti-globalization movement that rioted during the July 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. Those 2001 protests had left over 400 injured and 1 dead.

Needless to say, the pope did the decent thing and cancelled the visit. He released the text of his banned speech; a translation is available here, courtesy of Asia News.

So what exactly, are these physicists so outraged about? Benedict XVI had visited Sapienza before, but then he had been named Joseph Cardinal Raztinger. On March 15, 1990 he had given an address called "The Crisis of Faith in Science". At that time, the professors say, he said that the conviction of Galileo had been "rational and just". Appalling!

But just like the terrorists in 2006, the activists of 2008 had quoted Ratzinger quoting someone else, and had purposefully taken that quote out of context. National Catholic Reporter has provided a translation of the address here.

In his address, Ratzinger quoted the usual anti-science suspects. His longest quote was from the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, who spouted off the usual drivel, that Einstein had refuted Galileo once and for all. Does the Earth orbit the Sun, or the Sun orbit the Earth? It's all relative! One is as good as the other! (Sheesh.) But the money quote was from agnostic anarchist Feyerabend, saying the "verdict against Galileo was rational and just". Ratzinger then went on to cite the illustrious physicist Carl Friedrich Baron von Weizsaecker who marked a direct path from Galileo to the atomic bomb.

So why was Ratzinger quoting all this negative spin about Galileo? Was he saying, "let's have more of this dirt on Galileo, let's pile it on!"? Not hardly. He was talking about a crisis of faith in Science, a crisis closely linked to post-modern philosophers. He used these philosophers as a negative example for Christians, "The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason..." Christians should resist the resentment that turns Galileo into a scapegoat for the atomic bomb or anything else.

The ultimate irony of the faculty's successful attempt to ban the pope is the text of the banned speech itself. Early on Pope Ratzinger mentioned his earlier address at Regensburg. Perhaps he had Regensburg on his mind when he warned of a danger to reason in the last paragraphs: "that reason in the end may bow to the pressures of partisan interests and instrumental value".