Friday, December 29, 2006

Political Fashion

Dark, but funny dig from Talking Points:

In unexpected dig against Jeff Greenfield, entire Bush war cabinet adopts Ahmadinejad look.
LA Times Top-Ten Most Viewed Stories For 2006

We like schlock!
Annoyed Christian Goes Postal

Or at least starts issuing challenges to atheists:
By celebrating Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion, you show how out of touch you are with the overwhelming majority of the world's population.

... So much for tolerance and open-mindedness. In Dawkins' view, and presumably Singer's, religion is the source of all evil, while atheism is the path of enlightenment, brotherhood and liberation.

... And never mind that even non-religious academics, such as Prof Rodney Stark, have claimed with massive amounts of documentation that Christianity created Western civilisation.

Prof Stark points out that most of the benefits of the West, such as freedom, democracy and prosperity, are largely due to the Christian religion.

Another secular author says that for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger.

Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people.

God may not help amputees sprout new limbs, but churches do galvanise their members to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics that otherwise would not exist.

Religious constituencies have pushed for more action on AIDS, malaria, sex trafficking and genocide in Darfur.

Believers often give large proportions of their incomes to charities that are a lifeline to the neediest.

I am not aware of any hospitals or charitable works set up by atheists.

And never mind that many noted philosophers have pointed out that it was the Christian emphasis on reason that gave rise to modern science.

Singer and Dawkins are way out of their depth, showing their ignorance about the gospel accounts in particular and theology in general. They really should keep silent on subjects they clearly know so little about.

... Singer says we should all worship at the altar of reason.

That is just what the revolutionaries argued in the French Revolution when churches were ransacked and believers were sent to the guillotine.

The truth is, a lot of open minds need to be closed for repairs. The nasty diatribes launched by Dawkins and Singer are examples of secular fundamentalism and intolerance.

Indeed, they seek to make a sharp distinction between faith and reason, between religion and science. They claim that science gives us truth, but faith is simply myth.

But more sober minds on both sides of the debate recognise these to be false polarisations. Faith, at least in the Christian religion, is informed by reason. It may at times go beyond reason, but it does not run counter to it.

And the scientific enterprise is also characterised by faith commitment.

There are all kinds of unproven assumptions and presuppositions which may or may not be testable.

The myth of complete scientific neutrality and objectivity has been countered by many important thinkers.

Singer is free to engage in her simplistic thinking and crude materialism, in which only matter matters.

But for billions, non-material things such as truth, beauty, justice, love and even God are very meaningful realities, which the narrow world of atheism will never fully enjoy nor understand.
Toad War

I should have killed that toad at Mt. Glorious when I had a chance, but I had grown leery of killing things:
Environmentalists have asked Australia's military to wage war on cane toads, which have spread across the country's north in near-plague proportions.

The toads, introduced in a batch of 101 from Hawaii in 1935 in a failed bid to control native cane beetles, have spread 3,000 km (1,900 miles) from northeast Queensland to Darwin in Australia's tropical north. There are now more than 200 million.

"We need as many people on the ground as we can possibly get, and if the military can work out strategies for controlling toads on their ground, well that's fine with us," Frog Watch spokesman Ian Morris told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday.

Cane toads are one of Australia's worst environmental mistakes, ranking alongside the catastrophic introduction of rabbits.

The spread of the toads, whose skin is poisonous, has led to dramatic declines in populations of native snakes, goanna lizards and quolls. A quoll is a cat-sized marsupial.

Killing the hardy toads with anything from golf clubs to air rifles has become a northern Australian pastime, and their carcasses are turned into comic tourist ornaments and fertilizer.
Scientist Waxes Poetical About The Mars Rovers

Those rovers can inspire!:
Which is why these little rovers mean so much to me. They're MY eyes on Mars, my representatives there. I talked in that last poem about Spirit about "walking alongside" the rover, and that's really how I feel. Like many "Mars enthusiasts", I check rover-related websites (Exploratorium, UMSF etc) several times a day, looking for new pics, following the latest leg of the journey. Every time the rovers move and bring a new horizon into view I feel a genuine thrill of discovery, of exploration. That run-up to the edge of VC was UNBEARABLE! Every day so close, so close... then we were there, "Oppy" and I, on the edge, looking into and across it... well, Steve Squyres' long, tight-throated pause in his interview with Doug Ellison on the Unmanned Spaceflight forum (Google it, you won't regret it) described my own feelings superbly. It was like the very first time I saw Yosemite Valley, after emerging from that long tunnel into the sunlight to see The View, where giant hands had reached down from the heavens and wrenched the Earth apart. Look. At. That.
That Depends On What The Meaning Of The Word "Success" Is

Regarding the effort to capture Osama bin Laden. Brings back memories of what the meaning of the word "is" is:
HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.
Las Vegas School Board Meetings

Looks like I've been missing out! Maybe better than a Las Vegas show!:
NEAR THE END OF THE MOST RECENT school board meeting, Clark County Board of School Trustees President Ruth Johnson was wailing and begging for mercy.

"I'm not going to allow myself to be attacked! Please don't attack me personally anymore!" she wept.

Trustee Shirley Barber pounded angrily on a table with an I-will-bury-you force.

"I'm going to file an ethics complaint with the Attorney General! You do not control me! You do not control this board!" Barber bellowed back, pinning Johnson against the rhetorical ropes with blow after blow.

"We're violating laws here!" Barber continued. "We have not been honest in evaluating ourselves and our superintendent! This is not acceptable!"

Johnson shrank, punch-drunk, and babbled tearfully about false accusations and her family's honor. Yet that didn't stop Barber from pummeling her. There was no referee. Johnson screamed at the audio man to shut down the microphones. Barber howled at him to leave them on.

The few stragglers in the audience (it was late) were riveted to their seats, wide-eyed, mouths agape.

...But Barber is black. As is a large contingent of the area she represents. For years Barber has watched schools in her district struggle without basic necessities while schools in more affluent areas have flourished.

...This gruesome threesome that Barber consistently condemns as impediments to progress in the school district are Johnson and trustees Sheila Moulton and Mary Beth Scow. An unspoken implication of their cat-fighting is that the rumble is, sadly, really about race and religion.

"The past is not dead," William Faulkner said. "In fact, it's not even past."

... What finally stopped it? I did. In 20 years of teaching I've stopped hundreds of such fights. That's part of what I do. I'm a trained professional. I started applauding loudly while the women were going at it.

... "Thank you! That was excellent! I love performance art! You should be proud of yourselves! I'm sure 18,000 teachers in the district would appreciate the incompetence you have demonstrated here tonight as they slave for poverty-level wages in the trenches of our overcrowded classrooms! Bravo! Beautiful! Thank you!"
Adam Departs For The East Coast

I'm interpreting the sudden calm in the Sacramento noosphere to mean that Adam Taylor has departed for his family's home in North Carolina. This is for the good, since Sacramento can be quite harsh for dreamers, especially in the winter, and it's always better to be near family.

I will miss Adam a lot, although he often caused no small amount of chaos this year, starting at the end of January when he began working on various projects around my house. He meant well, but he just didn't have the resources necessary to make a satisfactory go at life out on the West Coast.

Dreamers frequently misread California. The entire chaotic history of the Gold Rush is one example. My own family's abortive move to San Diego in 1971, when I was a teenager, was a particularly-vivid, personal, second example. Adam's adventure is third.

Down, maybe, but not out. Adam intends to make another shot at California in two years or so. Maybe then he and E. will spar again. They both kept each other on their toes. Not always a bad thing....

Saki has a story called "The Unrest Cure". It should be dedicated to Adam....
A Dream About Time Management

Under various pressures ("Mame" letting out quite late; the normal, but early, Friday 8 a.m. staff meeting) I fell asleep last night at 1:30 a.m. (early for me), awoke at 5:30 a.m., but fell asleep again.

I dreamt I needed to take a train to the East Coast. Waiting with me at the train station were a number of local musical theater stalwarts (e.g., Michael Miiller, Scott Griffith).

I realized I was mildly hungry, so I left the station and walked six or eight miles to a country-style restaurant, where, after much shopping, I decided to purchase four convenience-store-size packets of Fig Newton bars. Then I walked two miles over to Steve and Jan's house, where there was much animated conversation. I unpacked and removed my shoes to get comfortable, and discovered a variety of unsuspected debris in the shoes, including sawdust, chunks of wood, and waffle fragments.

Realizing it was getting late, I repacked, but had trouble finding everything, including the Australian money. So I hurriedly tried to leave, but just then, a church group arrived. As I tried to slip out the door and down the sidewalk, a reed player in the DMTC orchestra waylaid me. She explained that a garish light-blue-and-purple oval painted on the side of Steve and Jan's house had the wrong combination of colors and glues, suitable only for releasing hazardous fumes. I politely listened, but in the distance, I could hear the train approaching....

I awoke at 7:36 a.m., and hurriedly scrambled for work, leaving by 7:55 a.m. for the two-mile drive. And when I arrived, I discovered the staff meeting had been cancelled (the E-Mail was sent out somewhat late last night).

I think I need a secretary....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Getting "Mame" Ready

Boy, I think we're all beginning to get a little ragged from putting together a show (DMTC's "Mame" previews New Year's Eve) at the same time we are Christmas shopping and attending to a myriad of year-end details! Rehearsals start earlier than ever, and end just as late as they ever did! If I get there by 6 p.m., I'm late! If I leave before 11 p.m., I'm early! Dang!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Strange Pairings

For those who don't like funerals of soulless Republican Presidents, there is always the consolation of funerals for soulful musicians: Ray Charles died about the same time as Ronald Reagan and James Brown died about the same time as Gerald Ford.
A Second Opinion About Australian Drought

A useful second opinion about Australia's drought.

The weather forecasts for the next week actually look pretty favorable, with lots of rain hitting drought-stricken SE Australia. Various cut-off lows from the jet stream are helping out, which seems counter to my understanding that tropical rains are supposed to be making the biggest dent right now. But from wherever it comes from, it's welcome. Hopefully they'll get enough rain to keep all the forests from burning down and all the rivers from drying up.:
THE drought gripping southeast Australia is due to natural variations in climate rather than the greenhouse effect.

... "It is very, very highly likely that what we are seeing at the moment is natural climatic variability," researcher Barrie Hunt told The Australian, saying the CSIRO's model of 10,000 years of natural climate variability put the current drought into perspective.

... Mr Hunt's research focused on three 500 sq km sites in Australia: one on the Queensland-NSW border, going down to the coast; southeast Australia, which included Melbourne, Sydney and much of the Murray River basin; and southwest Western Australia, including the Perth region.

He looked at the frequency of dry sequences lasting eight years or longer.

"In each of those places there are about 30 occasions over 10,000 years where you get one of these eight or more years sequences," he said.

"The longest sequence was 14 years in Queensland-NSW, 11 in the southeast and 10 in the southwest."

Mr Hunt said the Queensland-NSW area had had an 800-year period without an eight-year dry, "but there is another period of 462 years where you get five of these".

Mr Hunt said the onset, duration and termination of the long dries could not be predicted because they were due to random processes. He said the current drought was an example of a dry sequence that began with an El Nino weather system.

"It starts a drought and you get sea-surface temperatures flickering backwards and forwards a bit. The rainfall may go back to fairly near normal but it is still below average, and then you get another El Nino," he said.

"This can go on for a decade. Eventually it breaks. You don't know why, it is a random thing. This is just part of the beauty of the climatic system."

Most of Victoria is in a 10-year dry sequence, the Murray River is in its sixth year of drought, while Brisbane and much of NSW are also experiencing a six-year dry.

"It is important that people realise that natural variability says it will break. It may not break next year, because one of these things went on for 14 years, but it will break," Mr Hunt said.

... Mr Hunt said the dry sequence in the southwest was different, with a decline over 30 years, which included the odd year of above-average rainfall.

"It isn't violating what I am saying, but it is a very unusual sequence of events there," he said.
Gerald Ford, Do Not RIP

So, kind, genial Gerald Ford is dead. Kind, genial, and a fool - the one who let Richard Nixon escape in 1974 without paying for his Watergate crimes with hard prison time. Ford was desperate to rid himself of the Watergate monkey, but we all paid a price for his desperation. If Nixon had been tried and served time, Dick Cheney's ambitious program to resurrect the (supposedly) lost powers of the presidency would have been handicapped, and George Bush would have been much less able to embark on his current series of madcap criminal escapades, from Guatanamo to the Iraq War to spying on everyone. It was time then, and it is time now, for the Chief Executive to pay some kind of real penalty for using the Constitution as firewood kindling.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Disappearing Act

I'm skeptical about blaming the disappearance of a tropical island entirely on global warming. River delta islands are constantly being reworked by tides and river sedimentation, so some other cause may have had more to do with the island's disappearance than global warming.
Recovering Archimedes

From the pages of a palimpsest, or recycled book, using new technologies.

Really interesting article regarding Michael DeBakey's aneurysm. At age 98, DeBakey is, by far, the world's most-experienced heart surgeon, the fellow who has transplanted more hearts than anyone, so he was uniquely-qualified to advise his own treatment:
“It never occurred to me to call 911 or my physician,” Dr. DeBakey said, adding: “As foolish as it may appear, you are, in a sense, a prisoner of the pain, which was intolerable. You’re thinking, What could I do to relieve myself of it. If it becomes intense enough, you’re perfectly willing to accept cardiac arrest as a possible way of getting rid of the pain.”

But when his heart kept beating, Dr. DeBakey suspected that he was not having a heart attack. As he sat alone, he decided that a ballooning had probably weakened the aorta, the main artery leading from the heart, and that the inner lining of the artery had torn, known as a dissecting aortic aneurysm.

No one in the world was more qualified to make that diagnosis than Dr. DeBakey because, as a younger man, he devised the operation to repair such torn aortas, a condition virtually always fatal. The operation has been performed at least 10,000 times around the world and is among the most demanding for surgeons and patients.

...He refused to be admitted to a hospital until late January. As his health deteriorated and he became unresponsive in the hospital in early February, his surgical partner of 40 years, Dr. George P. Noon, decided an operation was the only way to save his life. But the hospital’s anesthesiologists refused to put Dr. DeBakey to sleep because such an operation had never been performed on someone his age and in his condition. Also, they said Dr. DeBakey had signed a directive that forbade surgery.

As the hospital’s ethics committee debated in a late-night emergency meeting on the 12th floor of Methodist Hospital, Dr. DeBakey’s wife, Katrin, barged in to demand that the operation begin immediately.

In the end, the ethics committee approved the operation; an anesthesiology colleague of Dr. DeBakey’s, who now works at a different hospital, agreed to put him to sleep; and the seven-hour operation began shortly before midnight on Feb. 9. “It is a miracle,” Dr. DeBakey said as he sat eating dinner in a Houston restaurant recently. “I really should not be here.”
Watching The Christmas Shoppers

Fun weekend doing amateur anthropology - watching the Christmas shoppers at the mall!

Saw one woman at Macy's downtown plowing through a Bin O' Purses. She had ten purses arrayed on her left arm as she furiously dug with her right hand, but the more she dug the more agitated she got. Don't know why - presumably that 'special' purse had stolen away in the night, taken by Santa for some other well-deserving lady.

In contrast, the mood at the Galleria in Roseville was calm - as relaxed a group of Christmas shoppers as I have ever seen. Everyone well-dressed and well-mannered, with the ladies arrayed in pastel sweaters. I saw one kid denied his immediate wants by his father, and the kid started blubbering, but since he was behind the glass of a storefront, he looked more like a museum exhibit than a real kid.

One thing that struck me was that the shoppers weren't carrying that many shopping bags. There were several possible reasons, including:
  • the majority of their shopping was already done, so they were there on Christmas Eve mostly to socialize with friends;
  • they were buying smaller objects that were easier to conceal; but also maybe,
  • despite all appearances, they didn't have that much money, and were socializing out of necessity than out of desire.

The last possibility might make sense if people are overextended on credit - the consumer economy of the last decade finally sailing into the coral reefs of debt. But you'd never guess on appearances alone!

There were other vignettes too:

  • saw an eight-year-old girl skating by with shoes that were unfamiliar to me - a cross between roller blades and tennis shoes, with wheels on the heels only;
  • saw a teenage girl with a hot pink cast on her right hand - ah, I bet there's a story there!;
  • saw a man walking into Macy's with several leaf rakes - seemed pretty random;
  • saw a woman with a SARS-type mask in the Food Court - wonder why?;
  • saw a woman in Macy's with her three-year-old son. The boy ran ahead, reached out and touched the leg of a female mannikin, and the mother said, with an eerie high-pitched voice and a plastic grimace that would have made film director David Lynch proud: "So, you like to touch the girls!"
Apocalypto II

Went to Thunder Valley Saturday night. Did very well for a time, up as far as $1,800, then slowly declined to $1,100 ahead, then lost money so abruptly it took my breath away. Total loss: $685.

Mel Gibson does Central American adventure! It was especially interesting to see how how Gibson rendered the bloody ceremonial rituals (something rarely attempted by Hollywood, partly because the censorious Spanish Conquistadors, appalled by the bloodshed, did such a thorough job of erasing the historical record). All that turquoise, too (much of which, by the way, would have had to have been mined in Cerrillos, New Mexico, and traded south)! The movie works very well as thrilling adventure, with a message of defiance against all odds:
I am Jaguar Paw! This is my forest! My sons and their sons will hunt here after I am gone!
Nevertheless, there were plenty of cringe-inducing moments, like the whole locker-room, boys-will-be-boys opening, or the conflation of Mayans with Aztecs. Plus the fortuitous, unanticipated total eclipse of the sun (Central Americans knew their calendar, so the priests at the very least would have known long in advance of an eclipse).

But still, a fine, bloody, exciting adventure movie!
A Rorschach Test - Celine Dion Covers AC/DC

I suppose people's reactions depend partly on age and partly on whether one likes one's rock-and-roll "authentic." For myself, I like it. Celine Dion covers AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long"