And Colorado Flips to the ‘Has-Visited’ Column

Another state falls to my travel adventures as I am currently in Colorado, attempting a research conference and presenting a paper on creative self-efficacy. Most important, of course, is the current Electoral College map of states visited and not visited. (A visited state is one in which I have purchased something or eaten a meal, not in an airport.

Other changes since last time include the addition of Washington, the removal of West Virginia (which should not have been included anyway), and the greying out of Tennessee and Alabama — while I have eaten meals in them, I was too young to remember them.

Review of “For all the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose

Recently, I finished For all the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. I listened to the unabridged audio edition, narrated by the author (who also produced the ‘trailer’ for the book):

For all the Tea in China is the story of Robert Fortune, a botanist and explore/industrial espionage agent. Indeed, Sarah Frost spends a good deal of time on the essential nature of these titles. Indeed, the protagonist is remarkably similar to those who are accused of exactly such crimes. Technically educated, personally ambitious, patriotic, and not scrupulous about the laws of the country he visits, a similar book may one day be written about Baidu’s attacks on Google. Like some of the Chinese scientists accused of corporate espionage, Fortune was professionally published (he has a number of plants named after him, three of which are prominent enough to have their own Wikipedia pages), as well as popular books which are available from Google:

Sarah Rose frames the story as one of two countries, HEIC (technically, Mughal) India and Manchu China, and two flowers, opium and tea. Indian opium was exchanged for Chinese tea, a precarious balance that could be easily be tilted if the Qing ever decided to regulate & tax opium. The HEIC did not believe it could rely on the incompetence of the Qing dynasty forever, and so began its only form of protection: attempting to grow tea.

For all the Tea in China reminds me of Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age, in that it is the story of the tremendous research and development efforts a monopolist can make. While Crystal Fire revolved around AT&T (the American Telephone & Telegraph Company), For all the Tea in China is the chronicle of HEIC (the Honorable East India Company). For HEIC not only did the hard work of maintaining experimental tea farms in India, sending explorers into India, providing them with contacts and cover stories, taking care of shipping… but also invention. While Fortune did not invent the Wardian case which would allow the first successful tea transplantation, he did pioneer their use as a portable incubator for tea plants.

The tone of the book is slightly feminine, as while the history is told ‘straight,’ the context of the story focuses on the life and relationships of Robert Fortune, as opposed to the geopolitical context. The somewhat Gothic nature of his marriage is emphasized more than, say, the global catastrophe which looms over Fortunes adventures. (He visits China shortly before the Taiping Rebellion, India before the Sepoy Mutiny, and America before the Civil War). While this aspect is missing from other female historians, like Barbara Tuchman, is adds another dimension to the book.

For all the Tea in China is an exciting tale of the East India Company, the Qing Dynasty, and the trade is neuroactive flowers that enmeshed them both. It is available from Amazon.com and Audible.

The Bad and the Good

The ratio of Obama’s presidency is 3-7: for every three natural disasters, seven man-made disasters.

On Open and Closed Government

Bad news:

The Obama Administration and Goldman Sachs are in a kabuki dance with the intent on institutionalizing the bailout system.

The Obama Administration wants to make it illegal to buy computers without spyware. Seperately, Obama is negotiationg a copyright ‘treaty’ in secret, and won’t let you see the working text.

Chinese science produces faked results. So does British science.a

Obama is fighting a class war against the middle class, to make sure the poor never have to earn money and the rich never have to lose money

Continue reading

Thug Police

Via Slashdot, a really spooky story about a cover-up by the Seattle Police Department

Eric Rachner, a Seattle cyber security expert and one of the golf players, wasn’t satisfied when the city dismissed charges against him after a possibly illegal arrest for refusing to provide identification.

Rachner discovered through sleuthing that police had withheld video-recorded evidence in his case.

Rachner also hired Seattle attorney Cleveland Stockmeyer to look at his case and probably others where arrests might have been illegal or where police claimed to have destroyed valuable arrest videos that weren’t, in fact, erased.

“How many people are sitting in jail who asked for their tapes and were told no, they can’t have them,” says Stockmeyer. “I don’t know. But I tell you we’re going to freaking find out.”

Thank goodness there are heroes like Eric Rachner to stand up to the Officer Crowleys of the world.

So Where Have I Been?

Here is a picture of some pieces of paper:

Now here is the story behind it:

Up until very late, I was under the impression that I would be able to graduate this May. I had an email conversation with my adviser to this effect the morning before the deadline of finishing up everything.

One of the people who needed to sign off, however, had not read my entire document. He is a very smart guy, with very specialized skills and training, but also with other priorities. He was finally able to read the first part of the document at about that time. So in a rather stressful and heartbreaking way, the deadline slipped bye.

Since that time I have been in a cycle of either working very long days (~17.5 hrs) on changes, or else pestering him to share his thoughts. The dissertation emerged from this process is substantially improved — it reflects his skills and input tremendously.

Comparing the draft that he commented on to what we have now, a brief four page section of Chapter III (Methodology) has been expanded to a detailed 13 page discussion, the entire first half of Chapter IV (Results) has been rewritten, from 17 exploratory pages to 34 hypothesis-driven pages, and Chapter V has been expanded and revised, from 18 pages to 28 pages. As other things have been altered as well, the main body of the dissertation text has been expanded and improved fro 163 pages to 210 pages

Ironically, the full document is only about 4 pages longer, as a 38 page technical appendix has bee spun off into its own project. Thus, the full 281 page document now contains 12 appendices, 14 tables, and 19 figures.

This made the 1,405 pages I needed to print out to give everyone on my committee a hard copy rather fun!

So I will defend, probably early or mid next month, and then file a copy with the library. And then — I’ll be able to live my life’s dreaming — forcing people call to me Dr. in social situations!

Rationality and Historical Validity of Faiths

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1

The word for Word, of course, is ‘Logos,’ which means ‘Word,’ ‘Account,’ ‘Fraction,’ or ‘Reason.’

Its somewhat self-referential, but a comparison of religions from the Christian perspective is really a comparison of Reasons, and determining which one is most rational. Of course, religion predates the tool of science, so I’m not saying that religion is scientific, but in the Christian tradition religion is rational.

Therefore, a first cut through the world’s religions removes irrational religions, such as mysticism or animism, as simply not compatible with what a religion should be. These may be avenues or reflections of something that is true in a religion, but they cannot be rational religions in themselves.

This reduces the number of possible religions rather sharply, and we are basically left with two rational traditions

  • Abrahamic
  • Dharmic

I think from an evolution of thought perspective these two systems seem to be the most ‘fit.’ For instance, take this striking visualization

With which only a few present a historical account or reason why it is valid instead of others. Many faiths appear to faith, of course, but those that provide a system of evidence of arguing that their historical claims are actually true.
As far as I’ve read, the faiths that present an argument from historical validity may be classified as

  • Catholic Christianity
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Rabbinical Judaism
  • Islam (most varieties)
  • Sri Lankan Buddhism
  • Chinese Buddhism

Faiths I am specifically and intentionally excluding include:

  • Protestant Christianity: A coherent adherence to Sola Scriptura removes these faiths from the need for historical validty, and a rejection of Sola Scriptura is incoherent
  • Zen Buddhism: Tibetan Buddhism is a form of spirit worship
  • Japanese Shinto/Buddhism: ditto, but with nature worship too
  • Mormonism/Scientology: Science-fiction faiths which are empirically testable, and thus not faiths, but rather (astoundingly improbable) scientific theories

So back to the list

Sri Lankan Buddhism is very well attested, but I am not sure that it is not simply a form of atheism.

In areas where Chinese Buddhism contradicts Sri Lankan Buddhism, (a) Sri Lankan Buddhism’s version is attested hundreds of years earlier, and just as suspiciously, (b) Chinese Buddhism is remarkably similar to Nestorian Christianity (even has a Trinity!), which was introduced to China at about the time at Chinese Buddhism formed

So of the four that remain, all incorporate by reference a trail of documents and books stretching back to Abraham in the desert, all have rather details accounted of the Roman Empire, and all hinge on specific teachings given by Jesus which we can only access second- or third- hand.

Of these four, the Islamic tradition is the worst attested. The Koran contains numerous innovations that contradict the both Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Judaism, some of which are simply unattested (Did Abraham offer up Isaac or Ishmael) and some of which are very improbable (the Koran’s claim that Jews worship Ezra as the Son of God):

“And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!
—Qur’an, Sura At-Tawba”

This is a striking passage. I cannot think of a similar one in another tradition, in which a major tenant of a rival religion is stated incorrectly. It would be akin to Luther arguing that Catholics believe that Mary is the Pope — it’s not just a caricature of the belief, it doesn’t even make sense as a slander.

Between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism, the question is more difficult, as both are in a real sense bolted on to the now vanished faith of Temple Judaism. They may both be considered to incorporate the Old Testament, to have a follow-on system of laws or interpretations (the New Testament for the Catholics and Orthodox, the Oral Torah for Rabbinical Jews), and to emphasize the role of context in understanding these.

Between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism, I would argue that the Catholic/Orthodox tradition is older (seemingly formed by AD 70 by Romanized Jews in Palestine) than the Rabbincal tradition (seemingly dating from AD 200 by Romanized Jews throughout the Empire). But ultimately this time difference is not very great in the scale of things, so here my argument becomes more tenuous.

The question between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions is more narrow yet, as it relies on a long-running debate over Church governance and the proper role of Church-State relations. The debate is almost identical to the debate between Trotsky and Stalin — is it best to have a world-wide revolutionary movement that opportunistically seeks to subvert States to its own ends (the Catholic/Trotskyite strategy) or it is best to build ‘in one country,’ with the Church/Party as the ‘heart’ of the State (the Orthodox/Stalinist strategy). Basically, the entire debate comes down to interpreting Paul’s words on government. I really don’t like the idea of National Churches, but perhaps that is my own cultural and intellectual bias.

Either way, that’s how I arrive at Catholicism — a focus on rationality, historic validity, and interpretation of a couple stray verses!