April 30, 2007

Would You Rather?

Would you rather…

  • Live in chaos or
  • Live under a dictator?

The chaos is violently chaotic. On the other hand, the dictator is oppressive, and not politically aligned with you.

Posted by James at 6:22 AM | Comments (20)

April 28, 2007

EMail Address Policy

If you share your email address with me, I automatically assume that you don’t want me sharing it with anyone else.

Occasionally, people ask me for someone else’s email address. My base answer is “no” with an explanation that people share their email addresses with me in confidence. I will sometimes suggest an alternate method of getting in touch with them (their website, a forum).

If a good friend asks for another good friend’s email, and they are both friends, I make a judgment call. Usually there are special circumstances (someone has changed jobs, and no longer has access to the old address, for example, but I know the two people are on email terms). And such decisions are nearly always very easy. But I try hard to err on the side of caution.

One sticky place is sending out group emails. I don’t do that often, but hwen I do I am sometimes careful about spreading around addresses. I should be more careful, perhaps using BCC instead of To or CC so that people can’t see the other recipients. But usually, if I am sending a group message, it’s among people who know each other already and inter-email.

Work has a similar set of rules, although work email addresses are usually specifically for sharing among work associates.

If you’re a complete stranger, you’re going to get referred elsewhere to find the email address. If I’m feeling like I’ve got time on my hands, I will sometimes send your email address along to the person in question and let them decide if they want to contact you back.

Do you consciously protect your address book?

Posted by James at 1:28 PM | Comments (6)

April 27, 2007

Two Phrases From Vonnegut

Karen posted a link to a good Kurt Vonnegut article. Here’s Karen’s post and here’s the article. It’s called “15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will.”

Two things that hit me particularly hard:

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.”

and

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

The first relates to many thoughts I’ve had lately on humans and understanding. The second reminds me of a favorite Ghandi quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Posted by James at 2:35 PM | Comments (4)

Bears Beets Shotgun

Posted by James at 2:32 PM | Comments (2)

April 26, 2007

Buying the War

Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln wearing a flight suit and delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. He was hailed by media stars as a "breathtaking" example of presidential leadership in toppling Saddam Hussein. Despite profound questions over the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won. MSNBC's Chris Matthews declared, "We're all neo-cons now;" NPR's Bob Edwards said, "The war in Iraq is essentially over;" and Fortune magazine's Jeff Birnbaum said, "It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context."

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? [...]

Bill Moyers has returned to PBS with his Bill Moyers Journal. I'm hearing (on the radio, from Mike Moran) that last night's installment about the media dropping the ball on the Iraq war was worth watching. But I missed it. Luckily, they've got it online and they'll likely re-run it.

Keep your eyes peeled for Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War.

[Edited to add:]

I've thought about this before. I've heard interesting answers to the "Mission Accomplished" silliness. Some have just dismissed the banner, which I think is ridiculous, considering the other indications that there was an attitude that we had already won at that point. Some said that it was that ship's mission alone which was accomplished (as if you have a banner like that and a president on your ship every time you complete a mission).

A more plausible explanation was that the administration was so concerned with removing Saddam that there was very little thought about what would come after. So they really wanted to define success by the part of the conflict they were really excited about, and disregard the messy aftermath. They actually were drinking their own liberator Kool Aid. And, of course, we quickly learned that these were the wrong people to have in charge of liberating a country.

But they really had a good deal of the country, the media included, along for the ride.

In the case of the media, I don't want to excuse anyone, but I can't help but notice that there are market forces which drive the media. Were they telling us what the administration wanted to hear, or what we, as a people, wanted to hear? I think the administration played on what people wanted to hear; instead of leading, they were exploiting. .

Posted by James at 9:48 AM | Comments (5)

April 24, 2007

Stupid Bridges of the SouthCoast

Bridge Opening

Brightman Street Bridge Closed to Traffic

Just want to let you folks know the fun it’s been commuting to work lately. Traffic Gripe coming up.

They’ve closed the Brightman Street Bridge for repairs. Repairs are on schedule, but we’re still in the middle of the two week period of time during which the bridge is closed to traffic. This is the bridge that people north of Rte 6 in Somerset use to get to Fall River and points East.

When this bridge is closed, traffic going East must go west and south to Wilbur Ave and get onto 195 East. From there they will use the Braga Bridge to cross the Taunton River.

The approaches to the onramp at Wilbur Ave. are not built for that sort of traffic. This means tons of backup at the intersections anywhere near the onramp. Once you’re past that fun and you’re on 195 E, you’re in for another treat.

There are lane restrictions on the Braga Bridge. And lane restrictions going under Fall River’s Government Center.

And, today, some sort of accident on the highway.

I haven’t timed it, but I’m guessing that my commute has doubled. It’s gotten worse as time has gone on. I wonder if the bad weather was keeping people indoors last week. Now they’re all out and about, clogging the roads.

This gripe brought to you by the Massachusetts Highway Department. We wouldn’t have this problem if they’d finished the new bridge, which was delayed for lack of funds. Where did those funds go? The Big Dig, of course. Ka-ching!

There’s work going on in New Bedford, too, on 195 E. Lucky for me, my commute now includes 195 E in New Bedford. Yay!

Links:

Posted by James at 8:36 AM | Comments (36)

Park Road

I’m not sure what house it is anymore. It’s funny that I think it is on the south side of the street. I’ve never located it on a satellite photo. Satellite photos were science fiction the last time I was there.

But I can still smell my grandparents’ house. I don’t know how old I was the last time I was there. When I was young, they both were retired and moved to the Cape, leaving Park Road forever. Thirty years or so ago.

I guess old houses have a smell. It must be in the wood, or in the horsehair plaster. And when the weather outside hits the high 60’s and stays there for a time, the warming house and the fresh air coming through the newly-opened windows introduce a completely different atmosphere.

My daughter said it smells like summer, but it’s not the smell of summer from the 70’s house I grew up in. This is an old house smell that I remember from my grandparents’ old house. It was one of the things that attracted me to this house we live in now. Something I remembered from my childhood.

In the intervening years, I have added plenty of adult memories from the summers spent in this house. It’s an uplifting feeling that accompanies that smell. But what impresses me more is that whether you like it or not, certain smells are going to make you feel something.

I am looking at the satellite photo. I don’t remember which house it is on Park Road and I can’t see from this distance. I can’t see it, but I can still feel it.

Posted by James at 12:31 AM

April 23, 2007

O'Reilly Calls God Delusion "Best Book"

Specifically, O’Reilly referred to The God Delusion as a mega-selling best book. I suspect he actually meant to call it a mega-bestselling book.

We don’t usually (OK, ever) watch “The O’Reilly Factor” but Maggie wanted to see Captain Falafel interview Professor Dawkins. Wow - is O’Reilly always so nervous in interviews? He couldn’t get the words “atheist” or “agnostic” out.

It was a very brief interview, if you can really call what O’Reilly does an interview. To those unfamiliar, it’s just him saying what he thinks, and then the guest has a couple of seconds to try to respond before O’Reilly interrupts. So what you actually get to see is O’Reilly talking in the presence of the guest.

O’Reilly referred to the tides and their “physiology” (“also throwing in an ‘if you will’ for good measure) and misrepresented Hitler as an atheist.

The biggest shock of the interview was when O’Reilly said his Roman Catholicism made him feel good, and Dawkins said “that’s different. If it helps you, that’s great, but it doesn’t make it true.” This must have thrown the host for a loop because O’Reilly threw “it’s true for me” at Dawkins. Oh no you didn’t Relativism! As Dawkins tried to explain that what is true for one is true for all, O’Reilly asserted and reasserted a relativistic stance.

Let me quote from the wikipedia page:

The Roman Catholic Church, especially under John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, has identified relativism as one of the most significant moral problems of today. [2]

Moral Relativism is often cited as one of the sins of the liberal world. I expect O’Reilly to be up on this stuff.

O’Reilly always gets the last word, and he basically said that Hitler and Stalin were atheists. Dawkins disputed on Hitler, agreed on Stalin, but pointed out that they also both had mustaches. So without any other data you could equally pin their faults on the mustaches. Bill spat out that they obviously had no moral center and immediately ended the segment, talking over Dawkins who was trying to agree that he also thought Stalin and Hitler had moral problems.

No opportunity for Dawkins to clarify why this had nothing to do with Stalin’s atheism.

Except for that jaw-dropping lapse into Relativism, and the “physiology” comment which caused us to pause the DVR until the laughter died down, the interview was boring and pathetic. I expected that O’Reilly would have read some of the book, and not throw out so many arguments that are destroyed in it. I hoped he would stick to maybe attacking something he thought Dawkins was weak on, not just throw out a bunch of stuff Dawkins could easily answer, but move so rapidly that the answers had to be short.

I don’t know why I expected better. But at least it didn’t get ugly. Dawkins is articulate and fun to watch.

Posted by James at 8:38 PM | Comments (7)

Bazing, It's Spring

Vinca

Vinca (minor?)

The sudden improvement in the weather shocked us so much we were forced outdoors to enjoy it.

The girls and I leisurely grabbed our first two geocaches of the year. One was in an old house foundation in Berkley. The other was near a very old Liriodendron Tulipifera (picture, description). This particular tree was apparently planted by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, namely William Ellery.

Unfortunately, the Liriodendron was not in bloom. We’ll have to go back in May and check it out to see if it’s got leaves and blooms by then.

Be careful when beginning physical activity after a winter’s inactivity. You need to ease into it. Inactivity wasn’t this poor fellow’s problem — you likely can’t run even half of a marathon if you haven’t trained. Nonetheless, it pays to keep moderation in mind during these seasonal transitions, and when the weather is unexpectedly warm.

BTW - the Vinca (periwinkle?) pictured in this post was growing in the old abandoned foundation and through the surrounding woods. Vinca is an invasive cultivated plant, and it’s interesting to imagine the folks who lived in the house long ago before the forest took over again. Their human family has moved on, but the Vinca that they cared for remains, tenaciously clinging to the area.

Posted by James at 9:13 AM

April 22, 2007

Would You Rather?

Which mutant ability Would You Rather have?

  • An ability that ensures you will always encounter green traffic lights at any intersection or
  • The ability to turn your urine into high-octane gasoline
Posted by James at 9:36 PM | Comments (20)

Lush Health News

Good news for tipsy health-conscious folks!

Scientists trying to find a way to keep strawberries fresh during storage discovered an interesting fact:

Adding ethanol — the type of alcohol found in rum, vodka, tequila and other spirits — boosted the antioxidant nutrients in strawberries and blackberries, the researchers found.

Look out, strawberry season. Here come rum and vodka. If you can’t wait the length of time it takes me to “invent” a drink, a strawberry margarita will probably tide you over. It’s the only healthy thing to do.

Posted by James at 2:00 PM | Comments (2)

April 21, 2007

Scientists Find Evidence Contradicting Existence of Catholic Limbo

Oops - that headline isn’t right. It was Pope Benedict XVI who approved a Vatican report reversing Catholic teachings the unbaptized children go to Limbo (a place of some sort of natural bliss, but apart from Heaven).

But rather than reverting to St. Augustine’s view that unbaptized children are damned to Hell, it looks like they might go to Heaven after all.

“If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace,” said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Woot! Or something. So it turns out that baptism is not for removing the stain of original sin. Congratulations to all unbaptized babies!

My favorite quote from the article:

It stressed, however, that “these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.”

I feel a grant proposal coming on!

Posted by James at 12:25 PM | Comments (9)

April 20, 2007

Late-ish Shotgun

Whoops! Here it is.

Posted by James at 4:38 PM | Comments (5)

April 18, 2007

A Moment Of Silence

An actual moment of silence after a tragedy would be far preferable to a culture of people glued to their TV for days trying to understand something tragic that has no good explanation.

An actual moment of silence is a personal moment spent alone with your thoughts, in reflection of some difficult-to-process information and emotion. It would be up to you to decide how to process a tragedy which has happened to someone else somewhere in the world. My moment of silence would possibly go through this sort of a cycle:

  • What if something like this happened to my family or friends?
  • That would be horrible.
  • Those poor people.
  • I’m glad it didn’t happen to my family or friends.
  • I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help.
  • I should appreciate how lucky I am, since these random things happen.
  • I should hug my kids/kiss my wife/spend more time with my friends/etc.

MTMV - My thoughts may vary. And so might yours. But the important thing would be that you’re processing and realizing that you have a life to focus on. Coming out of your reflection with any sort of realization is a good bonus. Hopefully you get some peace as well. Maybe you come out with some ideas that you feel you want to share with others.

In today’s noise-saturated world, it’s harder than ever to get your moment of silence. You have to work to carve it out. We are more prone to get bombarded than to get a chance for reflection. From CNN Headline news to Dancing With the Stars and American Idol, people feel the need not to give you any special insight that came out of their reflection, but rather to make the obligatory noises.

Maggie posted some of her thoughts on the now-predictable cycle of comments related to the tragedy, and the responses of outraged people who think this is not the right time to do anything but parrot the obligatory noises.

I feel this is related to what I was saying last week about the sort of respect you owe your readers. And I feel this respect affects my motivation to post original and sincere thoughts.1 If I’m going to post these thoughts, I have to respect that you as a reader are responsible for what you choose to read, and the thoughts you think. I have to take the attitude that I don’t know what’s best for you; you know what’s best for you. I should remove the presumption (or self-deluded elitist idea) that you need me to pre-chew ideas to make thoughts more palatable to you.

After a tragedy, there is an idea that floats around that suddenly the only way to respect you is for me to not be honest. If I am for arming teachers, this is not the time for me to say it. If I am for stricter gun laws, this is not the time to say it. Instead, I should parrot the obligatory noises, as if the only possible sincere statement I could make would be the same base-level of human sympathy with the victims. But if you and I are only loosely connected to the tragedy, you don’t need my sympathy. If I were speaking directly to the victims, I would want to say something more personal.

Do people feel that they’re being manipulated if you give them your sincere thoughts? You might have an agenda. But an agenda can be sincere. You can sincerely be driven by the belief that the world needs to change.2 Am I to believe that my sincere thoughts are poorly timed just because other people might conclude that my agenda is not sincere? I actually don’t get it.

If I am trying to manipulate you with my sincere thoughts, I should do it honestly with a good argument. Argument is manipulation. If the timing is a problem for you, that’s your responsibility, not a problem with my sincerity.

If, on the other hand, I’m a phony, then the timing doesn’t matter. I’m probably a phony all the time. Tragedy somewhere in the world doesn’t suddenly make me a phony. Clearly, sincerity is a separate issue.

I think it’s a big mistake, and disrespectful, to apply an artificial, arbitrary and external time judgment on opinions. And it’s a mistake to assume that you’re not being manipulated just because someone is telling you they understand how horrible the tragedy is. Or because somebody waited a while before they used your feelings. You should make those judgments independently.

There’s never a bad time from promoting sincere ideas, and never a good time for cynically using people. If timing leads people to confuse one or the other, then they need to learn there is a weakness in their thinking. Maybe a moment of silence could help.

Related Links:


1 Sometimes… heck, often I post humor and sarcasm. But even sarcasm (which is by definition insincere) can come from a place of sincerity. Honest!

2 Leaders have greater responsibilities than Joe Citizen. This responsibility is related to their job which includes reassuring people when fear threatens to grow to a destructive level, or to motivate people when despair threatens to immobilize people. Joe Citizen is participating by feeding the marketplace of ideas with unique points of view.

Posted by James at 7:49 AM | Comments (5)

April 17, 2007

It's Free Cone Day

…at Ben and Jerry’s.

The closest participating B&J scoop shops are on Bannister’s Wharf in Newport and in Providence on Thames St. Not really convenient.

But if you’re near one, I suggest you find your way over there after noon.

Mark your calendar, though, because May 2nd is Baskin Robbins Free Scoop night. And there’s one of those very nearby home and work.

Posted by James at 9:53 AM | Comments (30)

April 16, 2007

Museum Pix

Cave Bear Fossil

Cave Bear Skull

I’ve uploaded a full set of pictures from our recent visit to Boston science-oriented museums. Gaze here if you’re interested.

Posted by James at 4:40 PM | Comments (10)

Would You Rather

Would you rather

  • Have your inner voice sound like Fran Drescher or
  • Have your inner voice eat while it’s talking to you
Posted by James at 12:36 PM | Comments (14)

April 15, 2007

Administrative Note on Spam

I’ve modified my blog software to help me catch the latest deluge of spam. I’ve gotten sick of deleting it. I haven’t yet instituted the hated automatic moderation, CAPTCHA or forced-registrations (although I have not ruled them out in the future) but I am instituting keyword scoring.

Certain words and words in certain combinations are now more likely to flag a comment as either likely junk, or subject to moderation. However, if you’re a friendly human, you get bonus points that keep things flowing smoothly.

What this means to you: The software might tell you that your comment is awaiting moderation if you use certain words and/or are not acting like a friendly human.

What are those words? Since they are subject to change, it doesn’t make sense to tell you so you can try to avoid them. But think credit card consolidation and Viagra and you get the idea.

What’s a “friendly human”? Someone who uses a consistent email address can be recognized as friendly the next time they post, and so the system scores them as human more highly. The URL field is another opportunity to rack up bonus human points. In the current system, the way I’ve set it up, it’s harder to get your comment rejected if you use the same email address every time you post, and the same URL. If you want to leave those fields blank, you start out at zero points. If you fill them with something generic (fakemail@somedomain.com), I’m going to have to consider rejecting them because it poisons the scoring system.

If your comment falls into the moderation bin, I get notified, and I can publish it. If it gets junked, I don’t get notified. The comment is not lost, but I won’t be checking the junk drawer that frequently. So, be a friendly human if you like things to go smoothly!

Posted by James at 11:40 AM | Comments (15)

April 13, 2007

Shortgun

Yeah, kinda busy. Shortgun today.

  • Bone Clones Inc. Osteological Replicas (history,science,shopping,toys,wishlist)
    • Short enough on funds? Bone Clones will help you assemble your own fake natural history museum. You can get a decent cheapish (low hundreds) Australopithecus skull, but I want the full saber tooth cat with tar pit finish for $7,500.
  • 'Getting Things Done' In 60 Seconds (gtd,howto,productivity,reference,work)
    • Want to get things done but don't have time to read "Getting Things Done"? Try this sixty second summary. Implement this system in your life and decide whether you'd like to try the book.
  • How to Freeze Anything - AOL Living: Food (reference,howto,food,article)
    • RealSimple article on the guidelines of freezing to preserve food.
Posted by James at 1:04 PM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2007

Angry Atheist

Have you heard of the angry atheist?

He was brought up Catholic. He makes jokes about the Catholic Church1 that indicate he thinks they left him with a guilt complex. He had some sort of bad experience, got angry at the Church and eventually left.

Now he calls himself an atheist, and he takes every chance he can get to bash the Church. He also seems to dislike Christianity in general, so he takes potshots at them, too. He’s got nothing but criticism for them, he overreacts, he really seems to be full of anger.

I get the feeling that this is what people imagine when they think of an atheist. (Ignoring for a moment that, in some places in this country they think an atheist is basically some sort of satanic baby-eater).

Lately, I like to think of myself as a happy Humanist. I was a Catholic. My memories of the Church are positive. My thoughts about the Christians I know are generally positive.

If I have no specific beef with the Church, and I have positive feelings, why did I stop going to Church? Was I just lazy?

No, it’s mainly because I realized that I’m not a theist, purely on the grounds of my understanding of the world. Because of this, I felt it would be hypocritical to remain in the Church. I don’t take that lightly. And in the case of my children, I felt it would be counterproductive to teach them things I believed were untrue; it’s hard enough to teach children the right things, let alone have to unteach them things.

I think it’s easier for people to assume you are not a theist for emotional reasons. Maybe that’s because many people are theists for emotional reasons, I don’t know. I don’t automatically see emotional reasons as bad reasons.2 The image of an angry atheist is counterproductive and, I think, largely inaccurate. As a non-theist in a largely theist world, a lot of what we have to talk about is where clashes occur. This contributes to the idea of atheists as misanthropes. A culture that is steeped in Christian symbols and assumptions is going to find its rut and soon everybody thinks in default Christian terms.

People who don’t conform present opportunities to “raise the consciousness” of Christians (and other theists). But people don’t like having their consciousness raised because it knocks them out of their comfort zone, annoys them, makes them feel the world is overly-complicated, and perhaps makes them feel bad about past actions that they made when their consciousness was on a narrow track.

I am interested in consciousness raising. If someone thinks twice before assuming you are a Christian, I think that’s progress.3

As a Humanist, it bothers me that my sometimes-contentious writing will hurt feelings or will clash with people’s beliefs. But I have realized a few things — slow realizations — over the years I have written this blog.

  1. Watered down opinions are next to worthless.
  2. You don’t help people when you mollycoddle them.
  3. If your ideas are worthy, they’re worth communicating. If you feel they’re not worth communicating, then they can’t be very worthy.
    1. If you feel people can’t handle your supposedly-controversial ideas, what is it you’re afraid of? If you’re afraid people can’t handle your ideas, you are being presumptuous and elitist, and you’re saying you know better than they do what ideas they should hear. Either you value your ideas or you don’t. People should respect you for honesty and the ability to be clear and focused on ideas, not for being patronizing.
  4. If people’s beliefs are strong, you’re not unlikely to shake them, or upset them. If their beliefs are fragile then they need to entertain thoughtful criticism.
    1. If they have a crisis of faith, they need to work that out.
  5. Respectful dialogue means honest dialogue that focuses on ideas, even if you judge those ideas harshly.
  6. If you criticise a person’s ideas and the person takes that as a personal attack, that is a result of a lack of confidence that a person has in his or her idea, not a fault in your criticism.
    1. Unless you did attack them personally.
    2. Of course, your criticism can be wrong, and you should be prepared to have your ideas treated harshly and be able to defend them.
  7. If your ideas are wrong, you’ll never know unless you give people a chance to criticise you. Then you’ll live in ignorance.

What is left is the ability to effectively communicate over this, and other, media. Sometimes you can try to be reasonable, but the message gets mangled because of poor communication. I worry about that a lot. I worry that, if I were having a conversation in person rather than writing on my blog, people would better understand what I am saying. But I think that’s not a problem with the medium; it’s a problem of my skill in the medium.

My criticisms of theist ideas is likely to be harsh, and to remain honest.

I also can’t deny I have a huge snarky streak. I truly cannot help myself that I tend to inject humor and sarcasm all over the place. Maybe sometimes where it doesn’t belong. For a long time I’ve known that humor is one of the most powerful and dangerous tools of communication. And people wield it like a loaded gun, including myself, often firing away willy nilly. The only promise I can give on that count is that I’m still working on my humor.

This is an effort to help people see atheists, but particularly me, more accurately. But also, I hope, to understand why I post, and will continue to post, criticisms of ideas I feel are wrong, counterproductive, misleading or even dangerous, even if they are widely held beliefs. Irreverent in the second definition, but also making the distinction that you can be respectful of people even if you do not respect their ideas. Or lack respect for their ideas but hold respect for the people. And that could be a whole post on its own.


1 This is not the sort of joke I am referring to: After the Baptism of his baby brother in church, little Johnny sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That priest said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.”

2 In fact, my understanding that moral decisions in the brain are tied to emotional responses, and therefore have a biological basis that is common among humans, is one of the aspects of the world that supports my choice to be a Humanist.

3 Better still if he doesn’t assume you’re a Jew or Moslem either.

Posted by James at 8:55 AM | Comments (38)

April 11, 2007

Benedict, NOMA and Gaps

The Pope’s views on evolution and creation were revealed today:

Pope Benedict, elaborating his views on evolution for the first time as Pontiff, says science has narrowed the way life’s origins are understood and Christians should take a broader approach to the question.

The article goes on to say that the Pope’s view is that science and religion need not conflict. This is a view that some scientists hold. It was the opinion of Stephen Jay Gould, for example. And it’s a position I long held, even after I dropped my theist beliefs. The concept was described by Gould as “NOMA” - nonoverlapping magisteria.

From Gould:

The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.
This resolution might remain all neat and clean if the nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA) of science and religion were separated by an extensive no man’s land. But, in fact, the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border.

Pope Benedict’s thoughts also include a swipe at the strength of our scientific understanding of evolution. He criticises it for being not completely provable because it cannot be reproduced in a laboratory. The Gould article I referenced covers this subject as well, and I would characterize Benedict’s statements as a step backwards to Pius XII’s admonition against adopting evolution as “a certain, proven doctrine”. Since the 1950 Humani Generis encyclical of Pius, Pope John Paul’s words in 1996 had recognized that evolution was supported not by a laboratory proof, but by the years of growing data which both refined and strengthened the theory.

So, to me it seems Benedict is leaning backwards here, at least to the 1950’s. I don’t find that to be much of a surprise with Benedict. And though it would be mostly Catholics who care about the Pope’s views, his voice as a world figure does carry.

NOMA can be seen as a fairly friendly view - that science and religion exist in separate worlds. Gould liked that it allowed respectful discourse.

The space of this post is too brief for me to launch into a full analysis of my opinion on NOMA, and I need to think on Gould’s article a while longer. I think evolution, as we understand it, provides such a compelling explanation of how the universe can produce complexity that it puts NOMA on shaky ground.

Benedict acknowledges a conflict between science and religion when he mentions the “god of the gaps” — the idea that as science expands, “God” as an explanation for the existence of the universe fits into smaller and smaller gaps. I should like to see his full comments, but it seems to me he has a very thin line to walk. “I would not depend on faith alone to explain the whole picture.” is meaninglessly obvious out of context. Would a biologist get very far if he replaced his scientific understanding with faith alone? I’ve never heard anyone even consider it.

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the guy is also using words that misrepresent science and evolution in ways that creationists have done. For example:

Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.

“The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability,” he said.

“This … inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science … where did this rationality come from?” he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the “creative reason” of God.

I want to know whether he actually talked about “purely random selection” or whether this is a misinterpretation in reporting the story. Natural selection is anything but random. That’s the point of evolution by natural selection, as a principle. The universe has evolving phenomena because there is a natural process by which certain successful forms thrive while others do not. And repeated application of many small instances of this process (and some large ones, according to punctuated equilibrium) produce astonishing complexity.

With that last statement Benedict has hit on exactly why many people go from theist to atheist when they understand natural selection. If a creative choice were necessary many might find a need in that for an external actor — a creative force — to guide that moment and to explain evolution. But the fact is, and this has even been seen in the laboratory, the only thing you must accept for evolution by natural selection to make sense at that “creative” moment is that small differences result in survival vs. extinction. It is not a creative choice that affects survival, but simply a difference in advantages. No creative choice is made when the microorganism that cannot move quickly has less success feeding itself and eventually is crowded out.

I am actually puzzled at why Benedict focuses on that moment he calls a choice as being the mystical part of the process. Because, of course, variation is also needed. But the means by which variations occur is also explained quite well and does not need a creative force to be assumed.

In any case, though Benedict denies “the god of the gaps” — the moment of natural selection seems like an awfully small gap to hang one’s hat on… or stuff one’s hat into.

[Edited: added missing link to Pope article]

Posted by James at 8:40 AM | Comments (4)

April 10, 2007

Museum Scoldings

Glyptodont

Glypto-do or Glypto-don’t?

From Harvard Museum of Natural History

First Incident:

I took a photo with a flash in the Peabody Museum. The exhibits there are delicate, so you’re not supposed to use a flash. I had forgotten that from my previous visit and had to be reminded by the staff. OK - no problem. I actually wanted to take no-flash pictures anyhow because they look better. I apologized the museum staff and thanked her for the reminder.

But I was definitely embarrassed and felt stupid for forgetting.

Second Incident:

Much later in the day, I was taking photos in the Darwin exhibit in the Boston Museum of Science. Oops — you’re not supposed to take photos there at all. M actually warned me, but I thought that, like the Peabody Museum, they were only worried about the flash. No, they didn’t want any pictures taken at all. I’d already taken about 13 comparative photos of different animal skeletons (some were really cool shots, especially the chimpanzee) but a man came over and sternly told me he was going to have to watch me delete all the photos. No problem; I do not intend to be a disruptive element when I visit a museum. I deleted the photos.

After being scolded twice in one day (albeit in different locations) I was in a repentant mood and a bit subdued.

Third Incident

We always enjoy the Glyptodont fossil at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s in a special case with other huge mammals, the prehistoric ground sloth and the toxodon. All of them are really cool. But they’re actual fossils so they are behind glass and a railing so that you cannot touch them. You shouldn’t touch them anyhow, of course.

But back at the Darwin exhibit within the Boston Museum of Science there was a Glyptodont fossil model. And it had a sign on it saying that it was OK to touch the model. Nice!

The kids went over and touched the model. They had fun touching it and tried to get me to come over and touch it, but I was busy looking at the Green Iguana. Soon after, K was telling me that not only could you touch the model, but the tail moved. You could pose it back and forth. She wanted me to give it a shot. I declined at that moment, because I was trying to see if the tortoises were going to move so I could get a better look at them.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I wandered over to the Glyptodont with M. Indeed - it appeared that the tail was both touchable and poseable. It was attached on a hinge of some kind and glided easily with a slight push over about 35 degrees, and stayed where you put it. Not very exciting to me, but perhaps more so when you are a kid. It’s an odd-shaped tail, because the model only contains the fossil. So what you’re really looking at is the armor from the tail — a big rectangular pad of hard shell. It’s not very tail-like, or tapered. It was very fake-looking. As M touched it I made a childish joke about “Glyptodont poop” and she recoiled her hand. Then K started telling M she wasn’t supposed to touch it. I thought this was the usual sibling strife we experience, but just then a museum staff member excitedly rushed over to stop me from touching the tail, telling me we weren’t supposed to be moving it.

Thinking this was not my day for museums, I apologized yet again for my transgressions, not mentioning that there was a “Please Touch Me” sign on the thing, because I don’t go into museums looking for trouble. And, of course, now I realized that someone must have told K the tail was off-limits after she touched it.

I told M to just touch the side of the model, if she still wanted to touch it at all, but she no longer seemed that interested. Then I went back to look at the tortoises, which were right next to the Glyptodont.

Final Incident

I couple of minutes later I saw a museum staff member (or exhibit staff — I don’t know if they’re separate) scolding my kids about touching the tail. I thought this was odd because

  1. I had thought we’d already gone over this.
  2. They were standing near the head which, on a Glyptodont, is pretty far from the tail.
  3. I think someone really needs to acknowledge that when you put a “touch me” sign on something, it’s not beyond the pale that they’re going to touch the damned thing.

His tone became more harsh. “I told you to stay away from the tail!”

Oops. That got my blood up. I strode over, forgetting that I don’t like to cause trouble in museums.

I sidled up next to him and said, probably a little too loudly, “Do we have a problem?”

This seemed to cow the fellow, and he looked at the floor and muttered at me that he’d warned them not to touch the tail and they were touching the tail. I was right next to that display, about 3 strides away. The kids had stayed away from the tail. I figured that he must have spoken to the woman who warned me, and he thought he needed to intervene as well.

“I’m the one who touched the tail.” I said.

“I warned them before, and then…” I cut him off.

“Yes, you warned her (I indicated K) but then I came over and moved the tail because I didn’t know.” He was still muttering. As he continued muttering, I asked M to be sure: “Did you…?” and she shook her head “no”, soberly.

“…and I’ve warned them two or three times now…”

It’s plain not possible to have to warn my kids not to do something two or three times in a museum (and was it two or three — they are different numbers). They may have trouble sometimes listening to us at home, but except for a tendency to touch glass display cases now and again, which I think is universal for children, they are very respectful in a museum. They didn’t even complain when the staff gave them instructions that conflicted slightly with the sign.

“No, that’s not what happened. You warned her, and she didn’t touch the tail again. Then I touched the tail and a lady came over and warned me against it…” He interrupted me this time.

“Well she’s one of the scientists…” (Ah, I see. So her rebuke wasn’t official and he had to add his two cents)

“… and after that, nobody touched the tail.” I finished.

He continued looking at the floor. “Well, now you know.”

“Yeah, now I know you need a better sign.” I let that one slip, and we walked away from the Glyptodont as staff guy scurried back to wherever his post was.

You know, I really don’t want to cause trouble in museums. And I hate when kids are disrespectful of exhibits, even and maybe especially my own kids. And I appreciate how difficult it must be at times to manage an exhibit with kids running around and how tired museum workers must be after a busy day (Good Friday - a no school day for many).

But there isn’t a quicker way to gain my ire than to unfairly criticise or scold my kids. And I’m not quick to cool down from it, either.

[Edited to add: Even though my photo above is from the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the 2nd, 3rd and Final incidents described all happened at the Boston Museum of Science Darwin Exhibit. I know it’s kinda confusing, but I wasn’t allowed to take photos at the Darwin Exhibit, so I don’t have any from our visit. And I happened to snap a Glyptodont fossil picture earlier in the day at the Harvard Museum. Sorry for the confusion; I don’t want Harvard’s wonderful museum to be tarnished by this. The only incident which happened there was me getting warned about my flash, which was my fault entirely. ]

Posted by James at 8:50 AM | Comments (17)

Pulling On The Strings of Our World

Pearls Before Breakfast

Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

Unbelievably talented Joshua Bell playing a street musician in the DC metro. I found this story fascinating. Some of the interviews with the people who passed him by were interesting, but I was most interested up to the point when you find out what happened, over all, during rush hour, and how different people reacted.

I love that Partita no. 3.

Posted by James at 12:59 AM | Comments (12)

April 9, 2007

Would You Rather?

You are attending your high school reunion. Would you rather:

  1. Have everyone say something along the lines of “Wow - you’ve aged.” or
  2. Have nobody recognize you.

You make the call!

Posted by James at 11:20 AM | Comments (11)

The Secret: Is it even worth debunking?

In case you hadn’t already seen or heard of it (and I’ll bet many of my readers haven’t) a craze has been going on surrounding an Oprah-endorsed book called “The Secret”. The book is so popular, it’s pretty much everywhere. I even saw it at the Boston Museum of Science gift shop last week.

Put simply, “The Secret” is a new age self help book that encourages its readers to envision success and it will simply happen. It’s the age old idea of “attraction” — that you bring on your own success or failure not through working hard, or thinking about solutions, or anything of substance. Instead, pretending you’re successful, and envisioning that you are is what makes things happen.

Now, I have long thought that if you change the way you think it can motivate yourself to surpass some of your limitations. But that’s more to get beyond problems like a lack of self confidence, or underestimating your abilities if you tend to have those problems. “The Secret” wants you to believe that if you think differently, or play pretend, the external world will actually change. From a WaPo article:

In the book, investment trainer David Schirmer describes his own experience. He used to receive bills every day. “So I got a bank statement, I whited out the total, and I put a new total in there,” he says. “I thought, ‘What if I just visualized a bunch of checks coming in the mail’? Within just one month, things started to change. It is amazing; today I just get checks in the mail. I get a few bills, but I get more checks than bills.”

Read the rest of the article, if you have a chance. It goes on to point out some of the dangers of this line of belief, for example how it encourages you to conclude that those who receive misfortune are bringing it on themselves by their negative thoughts. While it’s true that you can get caught up in negative thoughts, and that depression is rarely a path to success, such thoughts only affect your life insofar as they affect your perception of the world and the actions you take in the world. Imagining that the world is a bad place doesn’t suddenly bring on serial killers and debt. This is such a loony idea, it almost doesn’t deserve a post on my blog.

However, the book is so popular that it seems to warrant a mention. There is danger associated with the crazy belief that any sort of mantra or thoughts or play-acting will cause a mystical force to activate and bring you good things. If people abandon practical, realistic approaches to solving their problems in hope of a miracle, their lives and the world will be worse off for it.

This post and that article and any skeptical criticism of The Secret is going to fall on either deaf or disinterested ears. Because I expect that if you’re reading my blog regularly, you probably have very little interest in candy-coated bullshit like “The Secret”. For us it’s either a curiosity or a frightening statement on how little things have changed since we crawled out of the superstition of the dark ages. Look around and you wonder if the Age of Enlightenment ever happened.

“The Secret” shouldn’t need debunking, but, sadly, people have bought it eagerly. Literally and figuratively.

Posted by James at 8:38 AM | Comments (10)

April 8, 2007

Bunnyween Roundup

Weekend brain dump.

Happy Bunnyween

DrMomentum’s official bunny of Bunnyween 2007 is Spanky.

Hope yours went/is going well. Don’t eat too much chocolate, but (and as I said to Some Guy With A Pen) grab life by the ears.

Turbodog

Sara left some Abita Turbodog in my fridge. Sara is one of my favorite people. There’s a sort of symmetry to it because now Abita Turbodog is one of my favorite beers.

Turbodog is a brown ale made with German alt yeast. It’s a malty, like German altbiers I have tried but not heavy in the sweetness. I didn’t make tasting notes, but it went really well with a rib eye steak.

Turbodog has inspired me.

I’ve not gone out of my way to try different altbiers, which is crazy since I like the style so much. So it’s time for an altbeir taste-off. Look for this in the future of Aces Full of Links. I will announce the beers ahead of time for those that want to follow along at home and have the means to get their hands on one or more of the beers in question. We are nothing if not an interactive blog here at Aces Full. If you have a suggestion for an alt that you love, send it along.

Museums

We had a decent trip to the museum(s) on Friday. Photos to follow.

I was scolded by different museum staff a total of 3 times on Friday. Once gently, once sternly, and once excitedly. And I also had to get stern with exhibit staff who were trying to scold my kids. Story in a later post.

Building Names

Meet me in LARTS and we’ll walk over to SENG together. Alums familiar with the layout of UMass Dartmouth will now have to recall fondly the bygone days of “Group I” and “Group II”. Gorup I is now the poetically named “LARTS”.

See here, on this page which explains the renaming of the buildings. Sure, the names “Group I” and “Group VI” were confusing to neophytes, but they were the names we’d always had. And they were pronounceable. Apparently, no effort was made in the new names to come up with abbreviations which would lend themselves to be used in everyday conversation.

Look at the name of the building that my job has moved to. The “old” name was the AT&T building or Fairhaven. Now it’s called “FHVN”. That plain sucks. We could use a better name, I agree, but FHVN is not it.

Woody Woodpecker

We think we might have seen a Hairy Woodpecker at the feeder in Westport on Easter. Downy Woodpeckers are reasonably common, but it is unusual to see the Hairy type. They’re tough to tell apart.

Narrows

Some cool acts coming to the Narrows Center in Fall River:

  • Cracker (Thu, April 26)
  • Ronnie Earl (Fri, June 8)
  • Iris Dement (Fri, Nov 9)
  • Crooked Still (Sat, Nov 10)

Crooked Still! Woohoo!

Posted by James at 10:36 PM | Comments (7)

April 7, 2007

Scientifically Impatient

I’ve heard a lot of people lately who are frustrated or seem to be losing patience with science. I guess I’m losing patience for their frustration.

Yes, it’s frustrating that science doesn’t give us the answers to everything right this very second. If you want answers to all your questions right now, turn to superstition or myth, or just make up some answers.

Yes, it’s frustrating that science often gives us very fuzzy answers and takes a very long time to fill in the details. Yes, it’s frustrating that there are bad studies because there are bad scientists or sometimes just mistakes or bad luck. Or because a problem is very complex and a small peek isn’t helpful.

Science is so gosh-darned successful that everybody loves it. Even people who don’t want to admit they love it want to pretend that they have science on their side. Because science is so popular, people feel familiar with it. They watch the news and when the newest study is being reported, they think they can apply it to their lives immediately and have… dare I say… better living through science.

Never mind the way certain shysters wrap themselves in science. I’m thinking of religious zealots who feel that pretending to be scientists will give their dogma weight and I’m also thinking of this commercial I’m watching on TV where some fly-by-night company is claiming to have a pill to make a “certain male body part” bigger — and parading people in lab coats around to convince you to open your wallet.

Yeah, it’s not a perfect system because it is a human system. Yeah, it’s frustrating that the self-correcting effect of science can be very slow. But the good news is that while superstition relies on the perpetuation of bullshit, whenever bullshit infects science its days are numbered. There are too many forces gunning for bullshit. Peers review data and have little or no loyalty to bad conclusions. New scientists are born every day who care about uncovering good science and care nothing for covering up bad science. Good scientists see bad science as an opportunity, not a treasure.

It’s a big universe out there. It takes some time to sort it out. In this fast food world, science isn’t something you’re going to get to have your way. It very likely will take more than 30 minutes and next one isn’t free.

Posted by James at 10:27 AM

April 6, 2007

Research Building Photos

Iris Scanner

It’s a biometric iris scanner.

UMass Dartmouth will open a new 22,000 square foot research building on April 5 at 4 p.m. The facility, which will focus on bio-engineering, molecular biology, and cell biology, will be the home of the National Botulinum Research Center and the first core campus facility devoted entirely to research. (from the press release)

I attended the ribbon-cutting yesterday with Becky, SH and Sara to show our support, represent our research center and set up a display so that others could see some of our Math Ed. research.

Check out this set of pictures on Flickr, if you’re interested.

The research building will house a center to study botulinum in an effort to find ways to counter bioterrorism. Because of the extreme toxicity of botulinum toxin (the most toxic substance known to man, according to the researchers I spoke to) extraordinary safety measures are necessary. But beyond what you would expect for a lab, security measures are also in place. A large wall prevents vehicles from driving up to the building. Biometric csanners and other security measures prevent access to the botulinum lab. Wild stuff.

Posted by James at 9:51 AM | Comments (2)

Museum Wandering Shotgun

Eat lots of fish today! It's eat-like-a-pelican-day!

We'll be in Cambridge and Boston for the celebration, looking at a Darwin exhibit and other exciting natural history stuff. Later!

  • CHIC CHICK BOOM (animation,drawing,flash,fun,game)
    • Nintendo-powered battle of the pens.
  • NIN - Year Zero (music,online,free)
    • You can listen to the album free online. This is cool. And I'm kinda digging the album. Will it lead to downloads?
  • Email Inbox Of Nardo Pace, The Empire's Worst Engineer (blog,funny,humor,parody,starwars)
    • Ha - I wouldn't want to be in charge of the trash compactors on the Death Star. This guy has a tough job.
  • Indestructotank (game,flash,fun)
    • In this game you try to get hit so you can rocket yourself up and bounce off the helicopters. Make sure you use your EXP to purchase power-ups!
  • Internet Access CAPTCHAs (humor,internet)
    • I suspect some of my readers would agree with this elitist version of an internet "Turing" test.
  • HiTask - free online task management (free,lifehacks,productivity,resources,tools,web)
    • Having trouble breaking down and managing tasks? HiTask claims to help make it easy.
  • Muhammad? (islam,cartoon,humour,religion,wtf)
    • At what point does this series of pictures become sinful?
  • CarBuyingTips.com (automobile,howto,consumerism,scams,shopping,tips)
    • Huge amount of detail on new and used car buying... dealer scams, strategies for buyers... the whole deal.
  • Confessions of a Car Salesman (consumerism,journalism,howto,reference,tips,shopping,automobile)
    • Read and learn about the tricks of the trade in car salesmanship, from an undercover journalist who worked as a salesman.
  • Nikon | Universcale (science,visualization,flash)
    • On this logarithmic scale check out the relative sizes of things in the universe. Kind of like a Flash Powers of Ten.
Posted by James at 9:46 AM | Comments (2)

April 4, 2007

Nancy Health Plan

Chuck has a good post on Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria. I won’t repeat the points he’s made; you can read them for yourself.

This morning an interesting thing happened to me. I heard the local midday radio personality demonizing Speaker Pelosi for her trip to Syria. Also, he attacked all members of (“the Democratic”) congress who were on junkets trying to build connections between our country and the world. He called them traitors for having their own view of the way we should be interacting with the world. He was livid that anyone would suggest that the Democrats have ideas for foreign policy and would work toward them. He parroted the president’s accusations that the congress didn’t send him a military spending bill he could sign (for reference, they did send him a bill which funds the war, but the president is going to take his veto pen and sulk in the corner if congress doesn’t send him exactly the bill he wants.).

And listening to the conservative talk show host had a startling effect on my blood pressure. My blood pressure stayed exactly where it was before.

Amazing what checks and balances can do. The Democrats in congress finally have some balls (took long enough and they still are tentative). But the government is no longer the frustrating unchecked lunatic Cheneyan wet dream. Other countries are waking up to the fact that they might be able to work with a more reasonable government, and so they have begun talking to members of congress who are building diplomatic bridges. Bush’s foreign policy is a disaster, and it irks his supporters that congress is trying to pick up the pieces and look to the future. Democrats are supposed to sit around and whine and moan, right?

I got immense satisfaction to be able to hear such an over-the-top radio diatribe and feel calm about it. Regardless of the fruits of Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Syria, the angry folks who have been running the country into the ground and plaguing the radio waves are taken down a peg. They’ve tossed the “traitor” epithet around so much, it barely means anything anymore. By some of their definitions (combined) I bet you could tag 90%+ of the population as traitors. But where before they had the ear of the government, with MOC’s gleefully relabeling menu items to remove the word “French” and other unproductive childishness, now there is desperation in their voices. It’s not desperation that the country is going the wrong way, or even that the country is out of their control. It’s desperation that there are fewer and fewer receptive ears to their brand of blue-faced hyperbole.

Thanks for the health boost, Speaker Pelosi.

Bonus:

On DailyKos: 4 Things Bush doesn’t want you to know about Pelosi’s Syria visit.

(Among them: Israel is happy Pelosi is visiting Syria and there are also Republican congressmen in Syria with Bush’s approval. Loud Pelosi detractors are looking like morons. Agreeing with the president is dangerous because chances are you’re going to have egg on your face sooner or later. That’s your reward for trusting the guy.)

Posted by James at 6:01 PM | Comments (4)

CNN Center

CNN Center - Night

The CNN Center at night

There was a shooting in the CNN Center yesterday. A woman was killed when a domestic argument turned violent. The gunman was stopped by security and is in critical condition.

We were just there less than two weeks ago for the NCTM Conference (a few pictures are in Flickr, more for logged-in friends as usual). We wandered around the center late one night and then had lunch there the next day. The place is chock full of people at lunchtime, if our visit was any indication. It is strange to have something like this happen so far away and still have the location so fresh in my mind.

Atlanta was not my favorite business trip destination by a long shot. If it hadn’t been for the good folks who accompanied me there, I would find little to recommend the experience.

They say an armed society is a polite society. I don’t know about polite, but it sure seems that a gun can put an end to an argument really quick.

When we walked through the Centennial Olympic Park, it didn’t even occur to me that we were in the location of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing incident. That’s what a business trip will do to me. So wrapped up in business and responsibilities I could be on the moon and I might not notice.

Posted by James at 9:19 AM

April 3, 2007

Wow, You Smell Like God!

While some people feel that religion is constantly in their faces, a company has now launched an effort to get god up your nose.

“Virtue” - from the IBI fragrance company in Orange County — is designed to be a reminder of “God, Christ, spiritual self and soul.”

My take? I believe it is designed to be a money-maker for IBI, crassly exploiting religious belief to get a boost in sales rather than relying on how the product smells. With this product, God goes where other revered figures Elizabeth Taylor, Kramer, and that Old Spice Guy have already treaded.

This press release is chock full of BS, but I really enjoyed the reference to Mark 5:30:

For example, in the King James Version of the New Testament, virtue is recognized as both a power and a presence. When the lady touched Christ’s robe it says, “And Jesus, immediately knew in himself that virtue had gone out of Him, turned Him about in the press and said, who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). Christ understood virtue’s power and presence - and knew when some of it left him.

In the New International Version it is described as “some power” leaving him. This passage always confused me as a child. The quote above leaves out Jesus telling the woman that her faith has healed her, not any power or virtue. So some virtue or power left him, but her faith is what healed her. Then what was the power for? Ok, whatever.

But the dedicated are supposed to figure out how scripture makes sense - not to criticise it. So, I suppose it could be interpreted as her faith allowing her to tap into the power that clung to Jesus like money to a megachurch. Wait. Now there is an interesting idea.

“The natural oils of Virtue® blend with the wearer’s own body chemistry to form your own signature fragrance.” — yeah, and so does garlic, curry, and pretty much anything you put on your body. If the producers of this fragrance had real skill, and some mystical chops, they would have produced a fragrance that was a little less pedestrian. They would have read Mark 5:30 a little more carefully and created a fragrance that was untapped only by your faith, and your actual virtue.

Wearers with Christ-like virtue who treat their fellow man with respect would exude an aroma that was supernaturally endearing. Wearers of low virtue who are so focused on the appearance that they have forsaken the substance would smell like mud, sewage and flop sweat.

People who sell their religion have always smelled bad to me. I wonder if they’d be able to wear their own product.

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Posted by James at 8:22 AM | Comments (6)

April 2, 2007

Wrenched But Lucky? Maybe.

Wrenched

Skreeee-crack!

You may remember my saga about trying to get my tires replaced and being sent home wanting. You only got the short version, which is good because the long version was boring. The endeavor took over an hour because the folks at BJ’s took all my tires off and sent me on my way before checking to see if the tires they had were really the tires that fit on my Jeep.

In any case, I’ve been looking to buy new tires since then, and I finally found the set I want on Tire Rack. But I know some people who work at Town Fair Tire, and it’s conveniently close to work, so I’ll be going there.

The bad news is, I got a flat and had to change it this weekend.

The experience reminded me of the story of the Warrior and the Stallion. I don’t know where the story comes from, but at some point it was told on the TV show Northern Exposure.

My uncle once told me about a warrior who had a fine stallion.
Everybody said how lucky he was to have such a horse.
Maybe, he said.
One day the stallion ran off. The people said the warrior was unlucky.
Maybe, he said.
The next day, the stallion returned, leading a string of fine ponies.
The people said it was very lucky.
Maybe, the warrior said.
Later, the warrior’s son was thrown from one of the ponies and broke his leg.
The people said it was unlucky.
Maybe, the warrior said.
The next week, the chief led a war party against another tribe. Many young men were killed.
But, because of his broken leg, the warrior’s son was left behind, and so was spared.

When I saw I had the flat tire, I thought “damn, this sucks.” But I’ve had many flats before, so on Sunday I went out to change it.

And that’s when I ran into trouble. My spare was flat. But I was in my driveway and so I just inflated the flat with my little air compressor. It took a while, but it works.

Things got worse when I tried to get the lug nuts off. Three came off with unusually difficult effort, and the other two wouldn’t budge at all. I pulled with all my strength and weight, eventually tearing the OEM Jeep wrench apart (see picture). Yikes!

I ended up using a steel pole to increase the leverage of one of my nicer wrenches. This effort began to rip apart the lug nuts (I’m not kidding, it nearly ripped the cap off one of them) until cousin Bob came over and helped me to hammer the socket all the way over the nut and wrench the thing off the stud.

By the way, thank you, B.J.’s, for tightening them so much. (One was cross-threaded, but not bad enough to ruin the threads on the stud).

However, I was really glad that all this happened in my driveway. If I’d had the flat away from home, I’d have been sitting there with a broken wrench and a flat spare. So, it was lucky! Maybe…

Luck is in how you look at things, not an inherent quality of anything. This is what people mean when they say “look on the bright side.” Everything is connected. Not in a mystical sense. I mean that the cause and effect sequence of events means that one thing leads to another. And, like it or not, the bad things in our lives often eventually lead us to good things as well. It’s not magic, it’s just the way things are.

Posted by James at 9:35 AM | Comments (3)