Some matters to which I wish to take exception.

Cray, the supercomputer company, is selling a desktop unit called the CX1. Their product literature uses the term “personal supercomputing” here and there. Also HPC, high performance computing.  A bit of scouting with Mr Google turns up a price of $25,000 (and up) for one of these units. If I had a CX1 I could finally get those hydrodynamic simulations finished for my cold fusion reactor.

I’ve never been able to refer to a computer as a machine. It’s a circuit. Somehow the flow of a few coulombs of charge across the bandgap and through the microscopic vias of lithographed and ion implanted junctions never qualified in my internal taxonomy as a machine.  Surely there are countless pencil necks and Poindexters out there who will line up to quibble. But, it’s a damned circuit. The cooling fan is a machine. The screws that hold the major components are elementary machines. The Klikkenhooters on the mouse are machine-like I suppose.  

My eyes cross every time I hear some silly sod in the IT department solemnly state that they have fixed a problem in some persons “machine”.  Oh, is that true skippy? Chances are that young Edison selected a pull down menu and changed the state of some software variable or swapped out an errant disk drive. Machines make you greasy. You skin your knuckles tightening bolts on them. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a machine. A Dell laptop is not.

Fiat Lux

On an altogether different topic, an article entitled the Amoral Manifesto over at Philosophy Now raises some interesting issues regarding the basis of morality. The author is starting to get his arms around the qestion of morality without an absolute cosmic foundation. If you look at the physical universe, one of the first things that sorta jumps out at ya is the fact that everything is floating in space. Maybe we should take that as a kind of metaphor when considering absolutisms. We should learn to get along for its own sake, and not just to please angry, dispeptic spirits.  Not that those jabbering snake handling pentecostals would take any notice …

Speaking of dipeptic, Pastor Wingnut in Florida should consider another alternative to book burning. Simply down load copies of the Quran and repeatedly delete them until he feels that warm flush of righteous satisfaction.*  But I think we all know this wouldn’t have quite the spectacle of an actual public immolation. A book burning isn’t about individual books. It is a form of ceremony.  It is a ritual for all to particpate in and is part of the liturgy of indignation. Producing a show like this is in the skill set of any preacher, actually. They are expected to rouse  the emotions of their flock. It’s their job.  Some of it is quite interesting to watch in terms of the art of persuasion.

The pastor in Florida makes the case for why a great many of us do not want a government based on theological notions of law.  Whose law takes precedence- the Baptists?  Whose voice is speaking to you, really? And did you get all of the details? Exactly what kind of authority does an angry but righteous-in-the-Word mob get to have, anyway? How do bronze-age principles help us determine quotas for banana imports, plumbing codes, and the standards governing interstate trucking? Good gravy, we have to figure these things out ourselves people.

The eternal problem of civilization is to find the balance between high principle and pragmatic practice.  Civilization should be run by the living, not dictated by those who claim to know the intent of the long dead. The dead had their time in the sun. It is the privilege and responsibility of the those living the eternal now to sow the seeds of their fate. Easy retreat to the demon-haunted, authoritarian world of spiritualism is the realm of ignorance and fear. And fearful people are especially prone to being driven like sheep at the convenience of the vain and ruthless. History books are full of examples. So instead of burning the Quran, let’s read a few of the others. Maybe take some notes.

* Thanks to the Daily Kos.