I guess a suitably random place to start is here:
♦ On the topic of Inklings, St. Lewis wrote a propaganda essay, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature”, with the goal of reconciling Iceland to having been invaded by the British during WWII. Although, probably the essay reflected his real beliefs, since he was a huge affectionado of Norse literature, as discussed in his autobiography Surpised by Joy, as well as the essay "First and Second Things" (which can be found in God in the Dock, or better yet in the more complete collection C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection and Stories, if you find a cheap enough copy.)
♦ Speaking of which, if you ever time travel back to the WWII era, and need to know who is likely to be a Nazi sympathizer (assuming you can't easily hop back to the future to check their wikipedia articles), here is your definitive guide. Somewhat revealing concerning its assumptions about social class stratifications which no longer exist in the same form in contemporary America... yet I feel there is still something universal to be learned about totalitarian impulses, which can be extracted from this bundle of prejudices.
♦ Speaking of propagandists, a professional metaphor maker talks about tools of the trade.
♦ And a warning about the use of metaphors to explain science. Of course, people often think they are getting rid of metaphors and talking literally, when really they are merely changing which metaphor they are using...
♦ A chemist blogs humorous descriptions of substances which no sane chemist should ever work with. Some samples:
And if you liked being terrified by those, here are some more...
♦ If you prefer metaphorical explosions, here's a form of therapy where you insult and challenge the other person, so that they argue against you and thus become more positive and self-confident? Pretty sure this is not for everyone, but sometimes reverse psychology can do wonders. Not too surprisingly, it doesn't work properly unless you do it with love and humor.
♦ Sometimes a sense of conventional responsibility (avoiding risks) can make a person do terrible things (such as killing their own offspring through the sin of abortion).
In a similar vein, I'm reminded of a certain woman I knew in college, who was taught by her mother that it was "irresponsible" to marry someone and have kids, before you are in your 30s and have built up a successful career. (Never mind that biology makes it easier to start a family when you're younger!) Of course, she still fell in love with people and dated them in the meantime, breaking the heart of one of my friends along the way.
Perhaps we modern people could use to refocus our sense of duty a bit, away from guilt about lack of our own self-advancement, and more towards an old-fashioned sense of "doing the right thing" by other people?
♦ Another of my friends from college has a new blog about the intersection of ecology and theology.
♦ Speaking of theologians, did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a short book entirely on the question of whether the world could have been eternal?
♦ Speaking of ecology, an interview with Hayao Miyazaki. (If you haven't seen any of his movies, you should drop whatever it is you are doing now, and watch one.)
♦ Speaking of St. John's College, I was recently besmazzled when I learned that a fellow alumnus (St. Ben Sasse) has managed to get himself elected to the U.S. Senate! (He has also studied at some lesser institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, and Yale.)
In accordance with tradition, he remained silent for a year after his election, observing the institution. Then he got up and delivered an insightful, nonpartisan speech describing some of the issues with the Senate as an institution. (I was able to figure out his partisan affiliation from reading the speech, but it was reasonably subtle.)
I first encountered the speech as it was linked from Sun and Shield, and then when he started talking about Socrates, I said to myself "Could it possibly be??? A Johnnie in the Senate? But we're so tiny and insignificant in the world's eyes!" And then I checked his wikipedia page and sure enough, he had an M.A. from St. John's in Annapolis. (The Masters is basically a condensed version of the undergraduate program).
♦ Arrow's Theorem says that there are no perfect voting systems involving at least 2 voters and at least 3 choices. They always sometimes lead to paradoxical results. An example of such a voting paradox arose recently in the 3rd circuit court of appeals. Be sure to read this comment. Be sure to scroll down to the comment by "L Pseudonymous" about hypothetical future judges Alpha, Beta, and Gamma...
Regarding the resolution of the paradox, I think for a court of appeals, issue voting makes a lot more sense than outcome voting. In a legal system based on precedent, we want judges to be focussed on making the rules that make the most sense, not focussed on which parties should win in any given case. It also makes it easier to determine what precedent is set in future cases.
It especially makes sense to separate votes on standing (i.e. whether the party is sufficiently affected by the situation to be allowed to sue) from the merits of the case (i.e. who is right about the law). If there's no standing, the Judges have no jurisdiction and are required to dismiss the suit without considering the merits. (That's because Article III of the US constitution only empowers Judges to decide "Cases" and "Controversies" between actual affected parties, not to issue advisory opinions on abstract questions of law.)
But what if a majority thinks there is standing, and a minority doesn't? It doesn't seem reasonable that the minority shouldn't be allowed to have an opinion about the merits of the case, once the court has definitively (and precendentially) decided by majority vote that standing exists. (The other rule would lead to perverse incentives: Judges would be tempted to find standing so that their opinion about the merits could be considered.)
One potential problem with issue voting in general, is that the power to decide which way the "issues" are listed, may determine the outcome of the case. In fact I seem to recall it's a theorem, that any time there's a voting paradox, the person who decides which order the yes/no questions are presented in (assuming people vote honestly) can always control the final outcome. But the distinction between standing and the merits is so fundamental to US judicial proceedings (and the order to consider them in is also clear), that at least these two stages can be separated, without such ambiguity.
♦ An article about the eccentricities of J.H. Conway, one of the greatest living mathematicians. Most famous among outsiders for his cellular automaton "Life", but he also made important contributions to Group Theory, invented Surreal Numbers (useful for the theory of games), and a bunch of other things.
♦ And on the topic of games, here's a free game you can download, invented by a group of radical Bayesians, to see if your probability estimates are properly calibrated. It's like a trivia game, but you have to decide how sure you are that your guess is right, and the scoring system is designed so that honest play is the best strategy (but you don't need to understand why, in order to enjoy the game).