Wednesday, June 29, 2011

summertime and the living is queasy

There are summer days in Washington DC when the sky is a grayish solvent in which clouds become soggy, and then completely disolve. The weight of this added humidity makes the air semi-liquid, and the surface of the Potomac River in summer looses definition as a phase boundary between liquid and gas. Gills might be better suited to breathe this air.

The skin of moist amphibians is permeable to both oxygen and carbon-dioxide. They can breathe through their skin. Mammalian pores that gasp for air in the Washington DC summer heat might be trying to recapture some vestigial respiratory function, but they just vomit forth constant streams of sweat. The sweat is seamlessly miscible with the humid air.

At any moment the air will abandon its vain attempts at standing on the gaseous side of phase-change. Instead of just licking surfaces it will condense into festering oily pools. The world threatens to become the worst Jacuzzi ever.

What better time for AYD and I to fly out to DC for a vacation. Yay!

We will visit the Nation’s Klansman.

National Klansman
 

Looking up at its pointy top I will relate to AYD how President Zachary Taylor (standing right where we happen to be standing) spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for this great monument on July 4th 1850. Since I have no idea where ZT actually stood I will have no problem finding the exact spot. It was so hot that he eagerly slurped up a cool bowl of cherries and milk which happened to be poisoned. Five days later, at 10 AM on July 9th, ZT said “I’m ready to die”; then did.

“If it is hot enough” I’ll add pointing towards the White House “You can hear the echoing relief in President Taylor’s voice. Or the hint of guilt when he said ‘My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me.’ He knew they had weeks of DC summer heat yet to go”.

DC is so full of history. I should also be able to point to the tidal basin from the Washington Monument.
“There” I’ll say “Is where, at 2 AM on October 9th 1974, Fannie Foxxe jumped into the Tidal basin trying to escape both Wilbur Mills and the DC police. It wasn’t as hot in October as it was that August when, on the 8th of August 1974, Richard Nixon resigned.”
It is so interesting to talk of presidential history during the start of a presidential election cycle.

I think a lot of our trip will be spent flitting from air-conditioned metro-stop to air conditioned museum. I’ll point out the decay of artistic sensibility captured in the National Museum of Art’s historical collections. It is amazing to actually see firsthand through changes in art how abilities and skills simply evaporated when Christianity took over Europe. Maybe we will discuss Michelle Bachman at the same time.

We will also flit into air-conditioned Starbucks. The nearest Starbucks to my house is over 30 miles away. I plan to be amazed by their presence on every street corner; it gets me every time. I may even jack into the WiFi and do a blog entry or two.


Monday, June 27, 2011

They see you! Run!

It should come as no big surprise that the local papers here in Utah don’t sport banner headlines about this weekend’s legalization of same sex marriage in New York. It happened, after all, in New York not Utah. However, the weeks leading up to, and months leading away from, the California Prop 8 vote garnered several well-placed news stories. Perhaps there is something more important about California to Utah? In the run-up to the 2008 elections millions of dollars in morality export money was sent to California from Utah. We here knew something about Morality that Californians needed to hear. Don’t think Utah was only willing to give money either; many people from Utah would have come over in person to help Californians vote if they could have.

I bet the family of Lidia Tovar age 36 wished she had. I never knew Linda, but I wish she had gone to California for the November 2008 elections, and then stayed a few more weeks. Linda was crossing South Temple in a properly-marked crosswalk near 300 East on December 29th 2008 when she was hit by a car that was attempting a left turn. The massive brain injury she suffered as a result of the collision ended her life a short time later. The driver said she ”didn’t see” Linda in the crosswalk, and was not issued a citation.

That sort of interaction is viewed differently in California. Here is an extended quote from the “California Driver Handbook Laws and Rules of the Road”:

Pedestrian deaths occur in 17 percent of all traffic fatalities. Drive cautiously when pedestrians are near because they may suddenly cross your path.
----
• Respect the right-of-way of pedestrians. Always stop for any pedestrian crossing at corners or other crosswalks, even if the crosswalk is in the middle of the block, at corners with or without traffic lights, whether or not the crosswalks are marked by painted lines.
• Remember, if a pedestrian makes eye contact with you, he or she is ready to cross the street. Yield to the pedestrian.
• Allow older pedestrians, disabled pedestrians and pedestrians with young children sufficient time to cross the street.


Crosswalks


A crosswalk is the part of the roadway set aside for pedestrian traffic. Most intersections have a pedestrian crosswalk whether or not lines are painted on the street. Most crosswalks are located at corners, but they can also be located in the middle of the block. Before turning a corner, watch for people about to cross the street. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks.
Crosswalks are often marked with white lines. Yellow crosswalk lines may be painted at school crossings. Most often, crosswalks in residential areas are not marked.
Some crosswalks have flashing lights to warn you that pedestrians may be crossing. Look for pedestrians and be prepared to stop, whether or not the lights are flashing.
The Utah code has information about crosswalks and pedestrians. Unless it is a school crosswalk the most important piece of information is:

41-6a-1001-1) A pedestrian shall obey the instructions of a traffic-control device specifically applicable to the pedestrian unless otherwise directed by a peace officer.
There is common sense advice for pedestrians in Utah also: “Get out of the road FAST if you see cars”.

According to California spokesperson Carrie Prejean the reason why same-sex marriage must not be made legal is because of families. Families == children. The kids are going to be hurt or something somewhere if people get married and then have the same type of sex....

The fact that some middle-aged men might be seen nodding in agreement with Ms. Prejean does not necessarily mean they agree with her; it does not even mean they are listening to what she is saying.

New York may have slipped from Utah’s moral hold, but California may still be receptive. With prop 8 still in judicial limbo perhaps we can get started educating California on other moral imperatives. Does anyone in California know how many extra points one gets for a woman in a wheelchair IF she has a Pomeranian on her lap?

This weekend two young girls were crossing 5400 south near 3400 (don’t get too strung out about the extra 0s, that’s just the way streets are numbered in Salt Lake City) in Salt Lake City. When the light turned green for the eastbound minivan the 11 year old girl had not finished crossing the crosswalk. She will never celebrate her 12th birthday. Taylorsville police sergeant Tracy Wyant described the accident this way:

"The light had just switched for eastbound traffic and it appears as though they got across too late" -- Tracy Wyant

Wyant went on to point out that the driver of the minivan had the green light, and likely will not be cited.

It is interesting to note that New York’s crosswalk laws are more similar to Utah’s than to California’s. Perhaps Utah has been exporting a different type of morality to New York?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Epiphanot

Life often affords only a tenuous grasp on reality, but some would tighten their grip to a stranglehold in the hope of gaining a firmer attachment to it; squeezing not just with the gray-matter-bound tendons of perception, but sympathetically with bulging temple veins, clenched teeth, and irritated bowels. They would destroy what they know of reality rather than let it slip away.

Unfortunately many of the people with this manic compulsion have both an internet connection, and a firm faith in a theist god. The reality they want to hold onto is one where their god and the machinery of existence platonically cohabitate. As the theist ages they realize that these two entities will never get married. There is no real sense of commitment between the two. God is going to leave and abandon sanity for reality to raise on its own. God rarely provides sanity support after he leaves.

However, there are those moments when everything seems to fit. Reality and god appear meant for each other.  The last puzzle piece of a great picture slides perfectly into place. This is what is meant by knowledge! This is the unknowable pathway to perfect truth! This defines the ultimate purpose for mankind! All history leads up to this time of knowing! The physical forces of reality begin to curve around the brand new node of pure thought that has spontaneously winked into being somewhere in your temporal lobe! A new eye opens and sees for the first time!

That means that our whole solar system could be, like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being. This is too much! That means one tiny atom in my fingernail could be...” – From the movie “Animal House

Then the night gets old, and sleep comes. The morning (or perhaps late afternoon) sun finds that you have come down (sometimes literally) from the mountain. You realize that your epiphany was an epiphanot.

I once had the awkward pleasure of having a very literally minded Lutheran minister explain to me how plate tectonics proved that the world was only 6,000 years old. He said the idea "just came to him", and that it was perfect. God had stored up all this water underground, and when he released the water it formed a lubricant that the plates slid all over the globe on.

I had him repeat it a couple of times just to be sure I got the gist correct. He corrected me when I asked incredulously to clarify that he thought all the plates slid all over the globe in just forty days!

“No” he said “It was more like 24 hours...or less”

Though this may remain one of the best theories I have ever had seriously pitched at me a great contender surfaced yesterday.

It started with a assertion:

“The apparent contradiction [between the biblical 6,000 year old creation time-span and science's 14 billionish time-span] arises from the assumption that the creation of the universe will be at the beginning of the timeline of history, with no past behind it. But that can't be true. ….. So the creation of time would inherently involve the creation of a past as well as a present and future.”

Which, after several thousand words, was clarified a couple of times. Here is one clarification (just to polish to a nice shine this precious gem):

"I do think that the creation story in Genesis does not contradict mainstream science's view of the history of the universe. The six-day creation may have been the creation of a universe with a past, present, and future. In fact, it must have been that, because time can have no conceptual boundary or starting point. So, for example, when the sun was created, it may have been created not merely with a present and a future, but also with a past. This seems entirely plausible to me biblically and philosophically, and as long as it is, I don't think there is a contradiction between Genesis and an old earth, etc."


This is a Calvinist cosmology. At least it is Calvinist if we place some stringent and mundane controls on god's ability to create. If we simply examine god's abilities on the evidence of what he is postulated to be capable of things get way-cool. This logic actually allows god to make himself. All god needs to do is get around to making himself with enough past so that he has time to get around to making himself.

There are things we cannot be too sure about. God might not have gotten around to making the universe yet. We could be living in a future that is about to be created at some past time. This could explain the appalling lack of miracles. Perhaps god has been too busy trying to make enough time to create himself, and therefore has not gotten around to making the future we are living in now.

When god finally gets around to that special time 6,000 years ago so that he can make the universe the way the bible says I'm sure things will not only be radically different, but they will have been the same forever.

I hope that when god gets around to writing the bible we have been reading forever he leaves out Leviticus.


Friday, June 24, 2011

One Is Too Many

The symbol of the skep (a type of beehive) is a ubiquitous symbol in Utah. It represents to many the industrious nature of Mormons. There was a conscious decision to relate the societal structure of of the frontier Mormon settlement in Utah with a colony of eusocial insects. Despite the fact that such an association has gathered up images of Orwellian dictatorship and a loss of individuality like a snowball rolling down the frozen sledding hill of time the image is still lovingly propagated.

When the Mormon settlers chose the skep as a symbol of their industriousness in the mid 1800s the skep had been supplanted as the beehive design of choice. The modern Langstroth hive would be invented just over four years after Brigham Young looked out over the Salt Lake Valley and proclaimed: “This is The Place”.
Image from the Utah State Flag

Today use of skeps for beekeeping is illegal in many states. Because the comb is fused to the wicker bell it is almost impossible to check the hive for disease or parasites. The bees should be especially happy about the obsolescence of the skep as the way honey is harvested from a skep is to place the skep in a press and squish it, and every living thing in it, till the honey leaks out. On the plus side skep honey should have a much higher protein content.

For some the details of the skep-type hive are also representative of aspects of Utah's authoritarian culture.

It seems like there are adds with smiling faces atop a tag-line stating they are Mormon placed all over everywhere in both virtual and real environments. They could be saying “I'm a bee”. Maybe they are saying “join the hive and get some honey”. Scrutinizing the mechanism of Utah's authoritarian machine can come across like a slap across those million smiling “I'm a Mormon” testifying faces.

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” – George Orwell 1984

I joke about Utah and its one party system. The ideal of a one-party system in a democracy is one where a community is so similarly-minded that election results are foregone conclusions. Kinda like Chicago and the string of amazing victories by the Mayors Daily. Sometimes, however, one party is just a bit too much democracy for Utah.

I've written earlier about how John Huntsman was elected to governor using moneys from only a handful of individual donors. It turns out that he only needed a handful of individual votes to get elected also.

When Huntsman began his campaign for governor the sitting governor was the hugely popular Olene Walker. Olene was easily the hardest-working person in Utah politics. Her approval ratings were typically above 70%; I remember hearing that they hit 85% at times. If the voters of Utah elected Olene there would have been no question that it would have been the result of singleness of preference, but they never got the chance.

On May 8th 2004 the Utah state Republican convention elected not to put Olene on the ballot for the June 22nd primary. Instead they decided to run Nolan Karras against John Huntsman. Who was Nolan Karras? Most people never will know. Huntsman was nominated with a plurality of the vote.

Olene went on to become president of Primary at the Bloomington 7th ward. Huntsman went on to a 2008 gubernatorial re-election where he won 77.7% of the popular vote.

To the nation Huntsman will always be remembered as the guy who delivered a rousing nominating speech for Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican National convention.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

If you can make it there.

Some believe that the GOP nomination for president will be clinched in the next few months. The clincher, as it is with so many things, will be cash. In 2007 most candidates experienced a major bump in campaign contributions during the second quarter. The bump was not equaled except in the campaigns of those candidates who were successfully nominated.

Utah is expected to deliver huge bags of cash to Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. In 2007-2008 Utah residents (a state with less than 1% of the population of the US) donated 11% of the money Mitt Romney received from private donors. The top zip code for donations to Romney’s 2008 presidential bid was 84604 (Provo Utah) where the haul was almost 30% greater than the next highest (06830, Greenwich CT). For all other candidates the donations from Utah mirrored Utah’s tiny population size.

One of the things that makes the Utah financial support for Romney interesting is that Utah’ns generally do not contribute to political candidates. There are not state limits on contributions, and state elections do not generally involve the use of a robust two-party system. John Huntsman is recorded as running a successful gubernatorial campaign on just $150,000.00 dollars in individual contributions (that’s right, just $150K). For this he needed just 130 donors. Because of the $2,300.00 (now $2,500.00) contribution limit for federal campaigns Romney had to pull in several thousand Utah donors.

Being a Mormon is the most significant plus for most Utah donors; though if Harry Reid ran for president the donations from Utah would be less than what we have seen for Mitt Romney. This same attribute is seen as a significant negative to donors in other parts of the country. To counter this the Mormon church has been pummeling media outlets with a multi-million dollar “I’m a Mormon” campaign. The campaign features people talking normal, or just looking normal, who then say “I’m a Mormon”. The campaign kicked into high gear co-incidental with the vital second-quarter contribution window.

Quentin L. Cook (Member of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Twelve) was quoted about the LDS church efforts to modify their image in a Deseret News article titled “Coverage of Romney's Mormon religion appears more fair than in '08” . He says the LDS church “visited the editorial boards of most of the major newspapers, starting with the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and all across the country” with suggestions about how to properly talk about Mormons.


The bill for the New York campaign was about a million bucks. One of its features was a 40 foot digital billboard in Times square playing “I’m a Mormon” clips on infinite loop. New York was specifically targeted because the playing of “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway was seen by the LDS church as an “enormous opportunity”.

The effort by the LDS church is a foray into anti-negative politics. On the face of it the effort is a welcome relief from Rove-Boat attack politics. It is wonderful to imagine an election where third party money is spent on erasing a candidate’s negatives rather than inventing negatives for his opponent. However, the impulse for religions to create general attacks on atheists in order to craft a positive image for themselves may be too tempting.

I can’t help thinking that if Trey Parker and Matt Stone had not been beaten down by the Scientologists we could be talking about a scientology presidency. Tom Cruise?

I don’t think that the positive flavor of this initial campaign interest is indicative of the all the tricks in Utah’s political strategy bag. After the Utah’s successful venture into Californian politics with proposition 8 we may be ready for the national stage.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Point 5 Failure

Yesterday I posted an entry about Monday’s Salt Lake Tribune article which suggested that the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” would be good for both the LDS church, and LDS presedential candidates. Yesterday a new article was published in the Salt Lake Tribune that whined on about some of the same persecution points developed in Monday’s article.

It was in the regular Peggy Fletcher Stack and Kristen Moulton “Following Faith” column. In it they present LDS blogger Jana Riess’s five conversational clues to tell when someone is anti-Mormon.

1.You claim that a religion is inherently violent or dangerous, much like many American Christians say about Islam and some say about Mormonism.

2. You claim that the religion has deviant or illicit sexual practices — as people said about Mormons even after the LDS Church abandoned polygamy.

3. You choose its more esoteric or odd-sounding beliefs to represent the whole tradition as in statements about the LDS belief that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri or that God lives on a planet called Kolob.

4. You place it outside your culture’s dominant history as in the way Nazis “distinguished between 'good Aryans' and the 'dirty Jews' who had turned everything wrong for Germany in the interwar years."

5. You suggest that its people are less moral than you are, or unfit for full rights in society.

The last point is, for Riess, “the most damaging.”

Many Mormons hold with the idea presented by Mitt Romney that: “Freedom requires religion”. Since Freedom is a big placeholder in the “full rights in society” section of American culture I think Mormons show a big point 5 failure. What Mormons object to is the more specific statement that freedom might require a specific non-Mormon religion.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Ballot Box of Mormon Musical

Poll after poll shows that atheists are the most distrusted minority in the USofA. Atheists are constantly at the bottom of lists with titles like: “who would you vote for for public office”. Part of the reason for this is that almost nobody cares. Mormons are also low on such lists, but people do care about this placement.

Here in Utah both of our major newspapers (The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News) regularly mention this prejudice (the anti-Mormon one, NOT the anti-atheist one). With the announcement of two Mormon candidates for the Republican presidential nomination the mentioning of this polling information has become a high-pitched whine. Yesterday there was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune completely dedicated to this polling information.

Towards the end of the piece the article suggested one influence that might help raise the numbers of people who would vote for a Mormon:

"Romney and Huntsman could even be helped by the pro-religion feeling generated by some positive media, including the highly popular and acclaimed Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.”" -- Michael Muskal in the Salt Lake Tribune 20 June 2011


I had not thought about the creators of South Park as forces for political ideology. Of course, now that I think about it, Team America World Police may have given the Bush Doctrine a bit of a lift.

In “The Book of Mormon” musical one of the songs (The song called "I Believe") delivers selected fragments of Mormon theology:

….
I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America…
….
I believe that God has a plan for all of us.
I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.
And I believe; that the current President of The Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God….
….
I believe that Satan has a hold of you
I believe that the Lord, God, has sent me here
And I believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about black people!...
….
I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.
And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri….
From the song “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” musical

Read this a couple of times while humming.
Now, how do you feel about voting for Mitt Romney?


Litha!

Today at 1716 UTC (1016 here in the mountain time-zone) the tilt of the earth will reach one of its two annual maximums. The sun will appear to have traveled to its most northerly position in the sky. The time has come to celebrate another summer solstice! I wish you a most joyous Alban Hefin! Happy Litha!

As we approach this most awesome of days it becomes obvious that the progression of the sun (or more correctly the wobble of the earth) appears to slow. The movement of the sun has become more than an order of magnitude less than the size of the sun itself. Without careful measurement the sun has moved as far north as it intends to, and now hangs out in its summer parking space.

Because of the protracted nature of the apparent solstice the exact dates of celebrations recognizing it are all over the next few days. St John’s day is typically on the 24th, and may actually recognize the date when more obvious progression of the sun re-commences.

To the casually interested observer the solstice lasts for a week, and what days and nights that week can enjoy!

Midsummer’s nights! The day’s girth compresses the nights into their pure essence. The added humidity of summer defines twinkle in the winking gaze of stars. Bonfires throw a rich new orange glow that reflects the day’s revelry off glistening skin. I am tempted deeper into the night till the warning reds of dawn send me home.

Why not escape into the night? What else is there to find? How many hours can you turn your pillow searching for its last cool spot?

The solstice is the night of magic herbs. Herbs gathered on this night are supposed to be especially potent.

Fennel (an invasive weed in much of the US) is traditionally gathered and hung around the house to repel evil spirits. Fennel is supposed to be able to repel fleas which can be especially evil this time of year if one’s roommate has infested pets. The long days concentrate the fennel’s para-methoxyphenylpropene, when bruised the leaves exude its pleasant licorice-like scent. Though the notes of anise can become a bit much for prolonged use there are a few days after midsummer’s eve when the scent effectively repels (or at least covers) the less pleasant spirits of summer.

St John’s wort shares it’s name with a popular midsummer’s celebration. Tradition has this herb hung, burned and ingested for the celebration of Litha. This plant may be effective at repelling the most elusive of evil spirits; those caged in the human mind. Clinical tests have shown that extracts of this plant are more effective than placebo (and as effective as many pharmaceutical substances) at treating major depression.

My favorite midsummer’s herb is the common clover. There is a synergistic relationship between bacteria of the genus Rhizobium and clover which fixes gaseous nitrogen from the air. It is traditionally woven into a loosely braided crown meant to be placed lovingly on a woman’s head. Alban Hefin is one of those delicious times when a woman can be fully clothed wearing only a crown of clover, a smile, and the night air.

Wish you were here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Troll Solomon's Mind

Over the past week and a half or so I have consciously engaged a troll in the comment section on one of my posts. I don’t get a lot of comments so it is, perhaps, a little too easy to engage me with them. The blog has steadily been increasing in popularity. Last week I was named “Atheist Blog of the Week” by Atheist Connect (a new online atheist magazine). So I should probably develop some kind of comment policy. It was obvious from my troll-dealings that a “be civil and intelligent” policy would be quickly tested by even the slightest increase in traffic. However, I’m not ready to develop (or more likely steal) a policy as it seems a bit premature at this point.

I’ve got the Spam filters set on high, and I delete out anything with Viagra adds or links to Indonesian escort services.

It was a bit indulgent to engage the troll who called himself “Solomon”, but I gleened some amusement in dealing with him/her.

Solomon distinguished himself by launching into a general attack on atheists. He had nothing to actually say about the post he commented on. In fact he sounded like he was just commenting on the title of the blog. I called him on this, and invited him to actually read the blog he was commenting on. By way of an admission that he never planned on even reading the blog he was commenting on he said:

“Thanks for inviting me to read your post which I might consider.” – Troll Solomon
Interestingly enough he shoots off a hypothetical philosophical question:

“A toy is produced in an assembly line in a shoddy factory.Suddenly the toy claim of its own origin.  The manufacturer or the toy has the authority or knowledge of claiming the toys origin??? “ -- Troll Solomon
At this point it appears as if he does not speak English well. However, his English appears good enough to hunt down the meaning behind his hypothetical.

I figure he must mean something specific about the subject’s ability to know anything. Since a toy lacks the ability to know anything it being unaware of anything in particular is trivial. Why did he choose toys as his example? I decide to press some detail out of him:

“Who is going to play with all those toys?” – AOA
Troll Solomon is having none of my fact finding:

“Don't worry about the toy. They can take care of themselves.” – Troll Solomon


Which suggests that his hypothetical toys might have some animation in them. This is important because it suggests that he may be defining his toys with the ability to know what he does not want them to know defined away. This is a great metaphor for the believing religious mind. I decide it would be great to see how he/she would see this if it was laid bare for them.

Unfortunately he also goes off about how wonderful things are, and about an ant being taken to the moon and dying. He needs to get back on track. After another prod he comes back with the most telling description of his philosophy I will get:

“If you just pretend not to understand, the story is about the atheists who always claim to figure out the origin of human base on their own thinking, in other words the claim came from within the human itself.An existing being or thing would not exactly know the real origin of itself if not told by the creator or the builder.” -- Troll Solomon

Around this time someone else chimes in, and TS responds with a mixture of belligerence and ignorance. I try to get things back on track by directly addressing the issue I have:

“If you are trying to make the point that the lack of knowledge in the toy is not a feature of the toy's capacity for knowledge then choosing an example with no capacity for knowledge (unless they are magical) is a very poor way of progressing with your thesis. Does a toy know anything? If a toy knows nothing is it the fact that is does not know it was created on an assembly line any less trivial than the fact that it does not know the price of 7-11 burritos in Ohio? If you do not know the price of 7-11 burritos in Ohio does it mean your knowledge on anything else is as limited as the toy?” -- AOA


In response TS bifurcates the argument. The original gets defined as:

“At this point they are just wondering or guessing how they originate.Thats what I say, they must be told of their origin by their creator, its a simple 1,2,3 concept.Its not possible or even un logic for they themselves to determine their origins. “ – Troll Solomon


The new one gets introduced like this:

“Look here, now you're gettin confused.
A human, compared to the wondrous creations or phenomenons around them & things that they have'nt know yet is as disdain as the toy, unless they think they're superior enough.(the atheists)” – Troll Solomon


Premise 1 has been fleshed out just a smidge more. The problem is in communication. The created entities can understand, but they cannot figure it out for themselves. The only thing needed to do here is describe a plausible situation where the magic toys figure out that they have been created without directly hearing it from their maker. I picture a group of magic toys leaving their small town, traveling to the factory's main headquarters in Ohio, and then finding a set of toy plans hidden in a dusty file-cabinet. This plausible (in a children’s story way) scenario directly communicates many aspects of their creator without the need for direct creator communication.

The second point sounds like some immature moralizing. I begin to suspect that my fundie commenter is a 13-year-old agnostic trying to gain attention his parents will not give him. What of the fabulous creations, what of man’s place in the creation, and what does this tell us about our ability to examine evidence for our conclusions? I, of course, push him on a this a bit.

“A human, being a weak creature in terms of physical, mental or other fields as compared to the other miraculous gods creations is worthy to be compared to the shoddy toy unlike the atheists lots who boasts around in what they thought they have been superior enough.
Is that understood?” -- Troll Solomon


No I think…No that is not understood at all. In fact...WTF! Are atheists not human? Do other creations, like armadillos who argualbly know nothing, know more about this creator? How do I deconvolute the sentence enough to disagree? I ask him if he is a native speaker of English. Some of this has to be the result of a language barrier. This sends him into complete paranoia:

“A favorite question the atheists usually ask...
Design to mock theists of their incapability to communicate in English or a way to find out from which region they came from.” -- Troll Solomon.


I find TS’s use of the word “theist” quite interesting. I’m fairly sure at this point that he is a 13-year-old agnostic pretending to be a fundie at this point. TS refuses to answer the language question then admits not being a native speaker, but refuses to say what his primary language is. I suspect that his primary language is “teenspeak”. He drops this interesting description while not telling me his primary language:

“I have to keep it KIV for a while, who knows you might keep a hidden agenda to backfire it on me later.” – Troll Solomon


Did he just redundantly use a pop-culture English-derived acronym (Keep it Keep in View)? I decide it may be best to talk about what most 13-year-olds really want to talk about…themselves. I fire off an eight-point condemnation of TS’s character.

Then, to my surprise he sortof apologizes:

“Its not what you might think author regarding my character. You will later find me more reasonable and rational than what you might expect.” -- Troll Solomon


Then he says he has to go to bed (at noon MST). Did his Mom call to him? Someone outside the conversation advises me that TS may be a serious east-European orthodox fundie. We agree that TS is probably 13 and male.

As if making my out-of-conversation advisor’s point TS comes in with yet another philosophical path:

“The brains comes in package with other parts or organs of the body. Suddenly the brains spoke of the origins of the whole body existence.Would you hear what the brains claims?” -- Troll Solomon


“Come on now” I think “This is one of my least favorite fundie approaches to rational conversation: lets just keep changing direction so it looks like we are going somewhere in the conversation”

This must be the lamest question yet. What besides the brain would speak of the origins of anything? Does TS really think this is a philosophical chestnut? I reply in kind:

“Your fingers comes in package with other parts or organs of the body. Suddenly the fingers type out nonsense they claim comes from a brain. Should I pay attention to what your fingers type?” – AOA


To which TS says:

“"clever"....
But not so clever....
Nothing significant to respond to...
Just uttering of words I suppose... “


This kindof clinches that I am wrong about the young agnostic playing pranks. This is the standard “You must not be listening because you have not said I am right” form of fundie discourse. I am suddenly quite tired. This guy won’t ever fess up to what is irritating his psyche. His pain, boredom, and sense of personal inadequacy will simply fester in his personality. Nobody will ever measure up. When he grows to an adult he will probably abandon his children, and use complex indictments of their character to justify the holes in his own.

“I don't think you will find anything that you find worthy of responding to here on this blog.” – AOA

“Atheists are !!!FOOOOLLSSS!!!
Fooled none other by a wicked heart.
Who will inherit !!HELL!!
Unless they repent...” -- Troll Solomon


Early in the conversation TS had insisted that there was: “one true religion & one true God Almighty”. I decide to start calling him a Muslim.

“Reasonable....
Only a camouflage...
Right beneath is a !!FIERY!! wicked, sick heart!” – Troll Solomon


“I'am just telling the truth.
You will be burned in !!HELL!!
Unless you repent.” – Troll Solomon


To his credit he begins to calm down after I question his ability to interpret the Qu’ran. Even if he is a fundie I will interact with him if he acts civily. I give two understandings common in civil discourse, and also offer to try and use his primary language for part of the conversation:

“1) Can you recognize the difference between someone showing you where you are wrong and attacking you, and are you willing to do so in this conversation?
2) You will need to be able to at least recognize when a point has been made, and change your mind about the concreteness of your position when it has. This point does not mean that you need to give up on your mystery beliefs, or admit that you are wrong about everything, but I think many of your arguments are flawed, and you must be open to reasonably recognizing that in order for any conversation on your issues to be productive. “ – AOA


TS responds calling the conditions of civility “traps”. I must have done irreparable damage by calling him a Muslim. Oh well…win some…lose some…and if I had to choose one to lose this would be high on the list.

Finally he demands my compliance to whatever he wishes:

“You have been ranting around with irrelevant issues within this 10 days without debating on the real arguments that I posted. If you keep on demonstrating such behavior I won't hesitate to abandon this blog which is quite boring.” – Troll Solomon


Since he established early on that he wasn’t going to actually read the blog the comment about him being bored lacked the resonance I believe he hoped for. I think he got the message hidden in my reply:

“Please go away” – AOA


Because he has not written since.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dorkonium

“What is the name of the newest element in the universe?”

AOD had stumbled upon a series of articles about advancements in technology realized in the year 2010. She had already enlightened us on LHC details, that King Tut had now died of malaria, that hobbit people found in Indonesia were named Homo floresiensis (which I found especially interesting), and that someone had rolled out a prototype mosquito-zapping laser fence.

DORK-MINIUM!” answered AYD.

“It is Element 117, and a halide. It was discovered in Dubna Russia. They observed six atoms of the new element, each of which decayed in less than a millisecond.” continued AOD without pause.

DORK-ONIUM!” Answered AYD.

Ununseptium; though this is just a temporary name. They will choose a permanent name once the experiments showing it exists have been repeated.” answered AOD.

“If it is a halide shouldn't the name end in 'ine; like chlorine or bromine, or iodine?” I asked.

DORK-INE!” answered AYD.

AYD was having a difficult time with AOD. AOD had messed up a delicate arrangement of the father's day Buckyballs AYD had been carefully sculpting since I had unwrapped them earlier in the day.

“If they were looking for this new element then how could they ever see it?” I asked. “According to some folks the density of observation causes a collapse of wavefunctions that actually can stop time. The observervation couples the wavefunction to its environment, and there fore prevents it from changing at the moment it is observed. The more a particular situation is observed the less time there is for it to change; observe a wavefunction continuously, and time stops. If you have a situation where a particular state is not known to exist until is observed to be decaying isn't that the same as continuously observing it? It's called the Turing or quantum Zeno effect.


“That sounds stupid” stated AYD.

“Have you heard of Schrodinger’s cat?” I asked.

“That's the cat that is both dead and alive. Like a zombie or something.” Answered AYD.

“Schrodinger’s cat was in a box that had a bottle of poison gas in it. The bottle was broken when a particle decay was detected. “ began AOD.

“That was Schrodinger’s diabolical mechanism” I chimed in. “A way of coupling a microscopic event with macroscopic effect”

“The cat both alive and dead until someone looks in the box and sees it either alive or dead” continued AOD.

“That sounds stupid also” stated AYD.

“It does sound stupid.” I replied. “That's why Schrodinger came up with the cat-in-a-box word picture. It was his attempt at reductio-ad-absurdum. Now-adays a lot of folks think this was actually an attempt at describing the way he thought things really were. What if the person looking into the box had no idea there was a cat in it? What if they thought the cat Schrodinger put in the box was actually in Ohio? Would the cat exist in a dead-Ohio-alive triple-state until someone looked in?”

“Well Mr' Schrodinger would have observed the cat in the box when he put it in.” replied AOD “Therefore you could not have an Ohio triple-state”.

“Let's say I devise a diabolical mechanism to place the cat in the box without anyone seeing”. I add

“It's still a forgone conclusion that it will occur” replied AOD “If you closed your eyes when you put the cat in the box you would still have enough data to know it was in there”.

“If the decay of the particle that released the poison occurred with a sub-zeptosecond half-life, and we waited a year wouldn't we be as certain as anything that was real that the cat was dead?” I asked.

“What's a zeptosecond?” asked AYD.

“One sixtillionth of one second” I replied “Ten to the minus twenty-one seconds. As small as I can think of off the top of my head. Really-really-really-really small.”

“That's a dead cat” Stated AYD.

“What does that mean for physics?” asked AOD.

“I'm not sure” I replied “Some people believe we can take what is an absurd notion and apply it to other aspects of our world-view because people who understand the 'standard theory' of quantum mechanics have stated it. If something sounds ridiculous we should demand more explanation and proof for it rather than use it as explanations for other ridiculous notions. Generally things that sound ridiculous are; of course things that sound ridiculous and are not can be very cool.”

“So what about Ununseptium?” asked AOD.

“Dumb name” I replied “I like dorkonium much better.”


DORKMINIUM” chimed AYD.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Saga Dawa Duchen

I have been told that: “Buddhists are religious atheists” many times, but have yet to divine a good primary source for the saying. Most of the people who have said it to me were evangelical Christians so they meant it as a terrible insult. It is always important to know one's audience when delivering insults or punchlines.
A smiling TV corespondent with perfect hair decides to crack a little joke for the Dali Lama.
“OK, so, A guy walks into a Pizza parlor and says 'Can you make me one with everything'.” he says
“We can help you with that” Says DL.
“You get it...right?” asks the TV person.
“What is 'Pizza'?” asks DL.
Today's full moon marks the anniversary of Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment at the age of 35 in Bodhgaya, India. It is a great day to go out, enjoy the summer's first real full moon, and circumambulate a stupa.

I will not be out circumambulating much of anything as I was savagely attacked by a dog last night, and have four deep puncture wounds in my left calf. The attack occurred over 18 hours ago, and the wounds no longer bleed whenever I stand up.

There are so many things I like about Buddhism that I find it easy to both ignore and focus on the things I dislike about it. I can ignore the unsavory elements because they are outweighed by so much non-theistic (should I say trans-theistic) practice. I can focus on them because they form a small enough definable subset that I can wrap my mind around them.

One of the things I can't swallow is the whole reincarnation thing. Though this concept is quite central to Buddhist philosophy it is rather ancillary to the details of much Buddhist practice. By this I mean that many practices can survive the substitution of more rational motivations for that of reincarnation, and retain significantly purposeful attributes.

I'm sure it can feel comforting to believe that a long-time-pet might “come back” as a human. Some folks even take their pets on long walks around stupas hoping that their clockwise “walkies” will translate to much needed pet-karma. I'm also sure there is some sort of severe karmactic penalty for not cleaning up after your pet on such walks.

When I had our feline-pet of several years put down a couple of springtimes ago I felt guilty. Perhaps if I had banked up a bunch of walking karma for our cat I would have felt better. However, our cat was never one for being taken for a walk, especially on a leash.

He was a particularly large black long-haired cat; we named him “Merlin”. He was a stray. We live at the edge of town, and every couple of days someone deposits a no-longer-cute former kitten near our house; the coyotes love this practice.

A couple of years into Merlin's residency with us he developed a condition called “mega-colon” which is a usually fatal progressively-severe blockage of the large intestine. It is probably due to a paralytic infection caused perhaps by a species of neurotoxic Clostriduium. Though it has been suggested that it could be Mycobacterial.

For several years Merlin suffered through monthly, then weekly, then (for the last few weeks) daily enemas.  I had never before considered the posibility of cat enemas, and would have told you they were imposible to perform on an unanesthetized cat if I had.  Finally he was reduced to being unable to walk more than a few steps before doubling over in pain.  Then he would announce his discomfort with a mournful wail that only a dying cat could muster.

AOD and I took Merlin to the vet. I think it is best to hire someone to put down one's pets. I think it is just a bit more civilized to not kill one's pet with the same hands that nurtured, stroked, and fed it.

I was worried about how the putting down would go down. We only had one other pet die in our household. It was a Chameleon named “Bob” that was little more than a energetic houseplant, and only survived a few weeks before kicking the bucket. Bob's funeral was a splendid affair. AOD said a beautiful eeulogy for Bob.  Everyone's eyes watered up.

We called the vet, and set up an appointment. Though we were not a minute too early they ended up not being ready for us, and so we waited with Merlin in the pickup for 45 minutes. He was more animated than he had been in weeks. He tried climbing from AOD's lap to mine. He pushed his head under our hands insisting into each stroke by arching his neck. When his damaged intestine caught up with his movements he would try to slip to the floor of the truck. He was strangely silent except for the now weakly purring motor that sputtered with pain.

“I think he is getting better” said AOD through hopeful tears.

He was limp from exertion when the vet was finally ready for us. I carried his unprotesting body into the examination room. He was calmly purring under my stoking as the vet explained that he would be injecting him with a lethal dose of tranquilizer.

Tears freely flowed from AOD's eyes. She was silent except when an inhale would catch unexpectedly on something invisible.

I think I remember Merlin responding to the hypodermic needle as it was inserted into his paw. The response was very small. Like his involuntarily flinch after I caught his ear wrong while scratching his head.

AOD said nothing till long after we got home.

Behind our house there are a couple of gamble oaks that have Tibetan prayer flags draped between them. Millennia from now someone will uncover a parcel of bones wrapped in non-biodegradable polyester blankets, and surrounded by a assortment of small seemingly random items.

Farther up the hill behind our house (several hundred feet of elevation gain farther up the hill) is a spot with a beautiful view. From high on the hill I can sometimes catch a glimpse of a fluttering red or blue or yellow flag. In the winter green seems easiest to spot. I bicycle up to it often. It is a strenuous climb. Yesterday AOD bicycled up to it for the first time with me.
Tooele Panorama

The mad rush downhill from the overlook is slowed by only a couple of dips. The trail becomes a paved road for a few blocks and dips through a small development with six custom homes. Then it veers off pavement for another almost mile of gravity fueled thrill before popping out a half-block from my house. My enormous gravitational advantage over AOD gave me a fifty-foot lead when the dog came out onto the road.

It was an old fat dog. I instantly knew I could outrun it, but if I did it would be on track to intercept AOD. The typical bike-dog interaction is one where the dog comes bounding off the porch and barks till you have passed out of it's territory Then it goes back to the porch confident that it has won. This dog was not barking.

I slowed down a little hoping that AOD would pass while the dog was interested in me. AOD slowed down also.

I think the dog was a little surprised to so easily catch me. It may have wondered for a second what to do. In my mind's replay I imagine tazing the dog at this moment,and avoiding what came next.

The dog latched onto my calf, and then began violently shaking its head trying to dislodge a mouthful of AOA meat. I dismounted (perhaps fell is a better description) jamming my hip, arm, and scratching the shiny new look of my not-month-old hardtail 29er mountain bike. I positioned the bike between the dog and myself, brandished it as a weapon, and began yelling in French. People miles away looked around in horror to see who was yelling at them.

The dog was confused by my transformation from lunch wagon to aggressive, armed, and very loud stranger. It was effectively channeling its inner Cujo, but I responded to it's bare-toothed lunges with deftly-wielded aluminum bike-frame.  It cowered, and I pressed my advantage.

I was not going to allow the dog to focus it's attention on the now horrified AOD.  A bike-frame is an awkward weapon.  I tried to identify cobble-sized rocks which could be used to severely wound the animal.

The irony of planning the violent putting down of someones aged pet in front of the same young woman who witnessed me facilitating the caring and protracted putting down of Merlin was lost on me till some hours later.

I was still yelling at the top of my voice when we saw a woman in a red shirt come out of one of the larger (probably 8,000 sq ft) houses and call to the dog. The dog wisely thought going to it's master was the best choice, and took off running.

I tried to sit down, but ended up on my side. Blood was pouring out of my leg at a rate that would have given me at least a half hour before passing out. I yelled to the woman's back for help. She disapeard. I continued yelling as I removed my jersey and applied pressure to the wound. For some reason I distinctly remember the sensation of my sock being wet; the wounds did not hurt.

AOD was shocked, but scared. I asked her to go to our house so that I could be taken to the hospital in the truck. I was drenched in sweat from overheating my way up the mountain, but I was cold now, and shivering. AOD began biking back up the mountain to a cutoff trail that was a shortcut for home. It was a technically steep trail, and I began picturing her also going to th hospital for injuries incurred during her mad dash home. I called her back. She bicycled back to me, dropped her bike and began running for home. She was running in the wrong direction. I called her back again. She was shaking too.

It looked like the pressure was stopping the free-flow bleeding. I continued to yell for help, but none came. I did not trust the idea of sending AOD up to these unconscionably uncivil people's doors to knock for help. I tied the jersey around my calf, and l limped home using my bike as a crutch.

By the time we got to the urgent care facility the swelling was pronounced. The wounds were also making up for their tardy messaging of my pain receptors.  Like all good point swelling we compared its extent to sports equipment.

“Ping-pong balls”

“No, they are all fused together into half a baseball.”

All dog-bites that require hospital intervention result in a mandatory police report. After we had picked up my antibiotics, and a question of jurisdiction had been resolved (The location of the attack was just outside the city limits) I was visited by the sheriff.

Ever noticed how an injury and hospital visit makes you smell weird? Since that was coupled with the sweat of the pre-attack hill-climb I was ripe. The doctor told me to avoid getting the wound wet for a while so I smell worse right now.

Still the young tattoo-ed sheriff took my statement, and went up to deliver a citation to the dog owners. It was around midnight.

Shortly after he left I got a call.

“You sure this is the right house. They say they don't have a dog.”

I said I would show him, then hopped in the truck, drove up, and pointed out the house. He went and knocked on the door again. After quite a while it opened. They spoke for a bit, and then he came back and asked if I was sure about the description of the dog.

“Was it a poodle?” he asked. 
“No, a old fat cream colored lab. Definitely not a poodle.”

He went back up to the dog owners, and after another 15 minutes of conversation the attacking dog appeared on a leash. I identified it, spoke to the sheriff a little more. Then went home.

The owners apparently “never heard nothin”. The dog was “Never out of the the kennel all day”. And of course “would never attack nobody”.

The moon that to some signifies the start of Saga Dawa Duchen was full by the time I went to bed. Supposedly this holiday is a dharma multiplier day. The karmactic effect of whatever one does is multiplied by ten million.

How auspicious!



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hitler was so not a vegan

 Long before I abandoned my tottering deism I developed this personal maxim:

“Avoid all groups that dictate what you can eat”

I had developed this dogma in response to ongoing battles between vegans, vegetarians, and almost everyone else I knew in graduate school. I was ahead of my time with the idea that cultural ideology could effectively be boiled down to off-the-cuff one-liners.

When I moved to Kensington MD my quipy philosophy was often interpreted as a directed anti-kosher, and therefore anti-Semitic, statement. This misinterpretation helped me to throw out my deist sympathies. It made more sense to dispense with the irrational motivations for dietary restrictions than to rely on some special dogma. I must say that cleaning out my psychological shed by throwing out as many special purpose dogmas as I could find has been a very pleasant growth experience. I recommend it to everyone.

Though the vegan-vegetarian-omnivore arguments had many competing flavors there were a few persistent sour notes that would occasionally present themselves. My least favorite was:

“Hitler was a vegetarian”

I have been told many times: that once someone uses Hitler in an argument, that they have lost the argument. Despite knowing full well that the argument was lost I would continue at length after stating Hitler’s food preference. Perhaps once the argument can no longer fly I am incapable of looking away as it crashes and burns.

The tailspin would inevitably uncover some of the same elements:
  1. Hitler was not a vegan, and the vegans in the argument were sanctimonious about their epicurean superiority.
  2. That the attractive, but shockingly thin, vegetarian: “Would never allow lips that touched meat to touch her’s”.
  3. That Hitler was not a real vegetarian because of some failure to comply with some vegetarian code of conduct.
  4. That: “No I could not have their fries even though they might have been cooked in animal fat”

The fact that Hitler was a vegetarian has itself been debated. On the one hand people think he was a vegetarian because he said so, had his advisors say so, and was described as a vegetarian by credible sources. On the other hand there are several sources that describe him as a either a voluntary or unwitting meat eater. Some also point out that Hitler willingly had bull testicle extract injected into his buttocks, and that this was not very vegetarian of him.

What seems clear is that the holocaust had little to do with whatever Hitler’s menu choices were. I suppose an argument could be made that the bull-testicle injections caused some sort of Holocaust-contributing ‘roid rage, but I have not seen that theory developed to any extent.

The Vegans always maintained that if Hitler had given up eggs and cheese the holocaust would never have happened.

 Lately I have encountered increasingly vocal denouncements of atheism prefaced by a familiar statement:

“Hitler was an atheist”

Hitler did do some denouncing of organized religions; especially those religions that stood in his way. Those that did not, like the roman Catholics, were spared much of the Nazi’s wrath.

 Hitler also came out as an evangelical-sounding Christian when it suited him:

My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.... When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited.
-Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

Sure there was a rich history of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe. Sure the blood libel and protocols of Zion may have been effective tools in informing the mob-motivating hate needed to buoy a demagogue. Sure the term “final solution” suggests that there were previous unsuccessful solutions. But none of this means that the Holocaust was not invented de-novo out of some new atheist philosophy loosely attributed to Hitler.

The Hitler-Atheist argument is worn threadbare. There are no elements of the premise that have not been examined and discarded. This is simply “Reductio ad Hitlerum”.

 I much prefer it when religious apologists simply hint at Hitler: 
People like Richard Dawkins have occasionally risen to rule nations, and the horrific consequences of their intolerance of religious expression and aggressive assertions of atheism are matter of historical record. It is a curious blindness which fails to perceive that it is the very presence of the Church that ensures the ‘tolerance for all religions’.” -- Archbishop Cranmer

That just seems so much more congenial; doncha think?


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pearl of Great Price

“From seeds of doubt grow mighty ideas”

I have been to a couple commencement ceremonies where at least one person takes it upon themselves to inform the graduating class that: “The world is their oyster”. One commencement at the California State University at Long Beach actually had posters made with this idiom presented as the tagline for the ceremony. I was a graduate student in the Microbiology department at the time so the oyster thing made me think of cholera.

Pistol: Why then the world's mine oyster/Which I with sword will open” --William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act 2, scene 2


The idea behind this idiom is that oysters have pearls in them, and the pearls have significant value. A person who knows how to open an oyster can do so with ease. They simply push the thin blade of a shucking knife into the oyster and sever its adductor muscle. Once the adductor is cut the rock-like oyster falls open. If it has a pearl in it then you’ve got yourself a pearl. The oyster idiom refers to obtaining something of great value with relative ease if you know the correct procedure.

Pearls are valuable, but not very useful. Their value is primarily in them being pretty-shiny objects. The value is set by supply-and-demand. If pearls are too common you might need a whole handful to buy even a sickly goat. There is an incentive, therefore, not to divulge the secrets of proper oyster shucking to too many people. The easier a time you have of collecting pearls the more pearls I will need to use for simple trades, and the appearance of my goat herd will suffer.

The subtleties concerning the nature of value, trade, and secret intellectual property to enhance the means of production, are not referenced in the “world is your oyster” idiom mainly due to the fact that the idiom suggests that you only get one, and that one is the whole world.

In common use even more potentially interesting dissections of the idiom are ignored. The pearl is “just there” in the oyster, so "go and get it". Talk of shucking is avoided as well as what must be the single most powerful source of oyster-idiom metaphors. I talk of seeding oysters for pearls.

Perl seeding is a procedure where tiny bits of material are added to living oysters. The oysters then form a pearl around this material. The material acts as a "seed" for the pearl by –get this- irritating the oyster.

With a world-oyster one could form giant pearls by introducing irritable bits of stuff.

The world is your oyster… Go forth and cause it irritation

Superficially this sounds like a less-than-optimal message, but what really irritates the world? What is more irritating than change? Could the metaphorical world-oyster be seeded with ideas, or doubt, or art, or expression, or opinion, or constructive activity?

What a cornucopia of delicious metaphors! Why are they so often overlooked?

Of course, if I was pegged to give a “World-is-your-Oyster” speech, I would probably talk about cholera.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Uncle Keith's Condo

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the LDS church’s decision to allow African Americans into the priesthood. This is such an important date that Mormons speak of remembering hearing of it the way many folks recount hearing of 9/11 or JFK’s assassination:

“Those who were there for that remarkable day have said that they can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.”
On the face of it this does not sound like a big deal. There are many churches that to this day have not extended priesthood to anyone who does not have proper racial attributes. In most cases when priesthood is extended nobody really cares. I don’t even know if there has ever been an African American priest for a Korean Presbyterian church, and if someone was to set me straight on this I would have to try a little to care. Before Sammy Davis Jr how many Jewish Rabbis were African American? I don’t know.

The reason it is a bigger deal in the LDS church is that receiving the priesthood is essentially synonymous with what “getting baptized” means in many Christian churches. There is a bit of title inflation in the LDS church. What most people would call lay-priests the LDS church calls “Bishops”. What many might call “pope” or “grand-puba” the Mormons refer to as “the true prophet”. Of course as far as the prophet is concerned his words do carry a weight equal to that of the biblical prophets.

So in normal-speak yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Mormons letting African Americans join their church at all. So, with what the church estimates as six million members in the USA, this is a little interesting.

Still…I would not have known about it if an article in the Salt Lake Tribune titled: “Black Mormon defends priesthood ban 33 years after it was lifted” did not catch my eye.

"They" land in temple square

The article quotes Keith N. Hamilton, an attorney, historian, former member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, and black man. Keith just wrote a book called “Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon” that is apparently chuc full of quotables.

“Withholding the priesthood from blacks was part of God’s unfolding plan to bring Christ’s gospel to different groups in a kind of progression — from Jew to Gentile to Americans, then Europeans, then finally to all the peoples of the world.”

it was “no man-made policy, no quick-fix solution to mob threats, nor a policy instituted because some white LDS Church leader(s) had concerns about black-white relations. It was done in the wisdom of God, in accordance with his wise purposes.”

While many American churches were built with the principles of racism serving as strong platform planks the LDS church was not. Before Joseph Smith was run out of Kirtland Ohio for shady dealings and ultra-marital promiscuity, the LDS church admitted African Americans into its priesthood.

Elijah Abel, a freed African-American slave from Maryland, was given the priesthood by none other than Joseph smith himself (in 1836). He rose to prominence in the early rag-tag Mormon church. He became a member of the council of seventy in 1839. As an African-American man in the mid 1800s his missionary work must have most effectively targeted potential African-American converts. Elijah served many missions before died in 1884.

Somehow the LDS church received the message that people with Elijah’s skin-tine could no longer be real members of the church. I wonder what form that divine communication came in?

One of the reasons why the LDS church should be important to Atheists in particular is that one of the front-runners for republican candidate for President of the United States is a Mormon. Mitt Romney also happens to be one of the most vocal anti-atheist candidates:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. . . . Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust. We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders.”
"I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs "
"The nation does need to have people of different faiths but we need to have a person of faith lead the country."

Romney calls for a faith-test for president; just not a test of his faith. He wants religion analyzed, but only if it is secular humanism.

If Romney (or Huntsman for that matter) were members of a county-club that had excluded people on the basis of their skin color they would be asked about it. If they replied with something as schizophrenically-vacant as “it was a holy and divinely perfect part of god’s emerging plan” we would only stop telling people to not vote for them long enough to laugh derisively.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Eww, pi-water

For the past couple of days I have been dissecting a device designed to enhance water so that it will provide magical benefit.

I like water. I like swimming in water. I like drinking water. I like washing myself in water; though some suggest I do not perform this purifying ritual often enough.

I like mixing things with water. Just this morning I poured hot water over the slightly baked beans of a tropical tree and made magic.

I am mostly water.

The surface of the planet I call home is mostly water.

If I do not drink enough water I will die. If I drink too much water I will die. If I drink water with bad stuff in it I will get sick. If I drink water with good stuff in it while cycling I can go farther and faster.

Water also has aesthetic qualities. Clear water bends or reflects light in pleasant ways. Some water tastes better than other water.

There is room in the totality of our cultural experience with water to make many claims about the interaction of man with water. The device I have been taking apart is associated with several specific claims. The device uses PIMag magic to produce water sometimes called PI-water. PI-Water will supposedly:

  • -Eradicate Stomach cancer
  • - Decrease of brain tumor
  • - Improvement in leukemia
  • - Dermatitis improvement
  • - Improvement with alopecia
  • -Improvement in diabetes
  • -Improved liver function after hepatitis
  • -Lowered blood pressure
  • - Improvement in cardiac output
  • -Rapid recovery from stroke
  • -Relief of headaches and stiff joints
  • -Relief of constipation
  • -Improved overall health
  • -Improved immunity (intake of pi-water should be increased in the early stages of. A cold, flu or virus
  • -AIDS virus reportedly does not seem to multiply in this high-energy environment.
  • - Pi-water has been used to store tissue samples instead of placing them in a hormone solution. The structure of the tissues remained intact for over 30 years using this process.
  • - soaking meats increases tenderness
  • - Fewer spices were needed as the tastes of foods were intensified.
  • - Cleaning fruits and vegetables with pi-water removes toxins and prolongs their freshness
  • - Unripened bananas can be soaked for 30 minutes to sweeten their taste.
  • - Spraying plants with pi-water improves their colors, watering with pi- water increases root growth and foliage. . Pi-water may also prove very useful in preserving our natural habitats.
  • - Pets exhibit a higher energy level when drinking pi-water
  • - It is also beneficial as an odor remover when simply sprayed by a spray
  • bottle or if the pet consumes the water.
  • - Spraying their coat with the water will enhance shinier and cleaner fur.
  • - Improved hair cleanliness, as well as skin
  • - Laundry doesn’t yellow as easily.
Quite an impressive list of beneficial uses! How many other cancer therapeutics are known also to reduce the yellowing of laundry? It is hard to reasonably imagine how one would get that sort of information about other cancer therapeutics.

The patient is frail beyond his years, and almost floats on the cushioning of the comfy chair instead of settling in. It is late in the nurse’s shift, but she still manages a well worn but calming banter while preparing his chemotherapy IV.

“How are we feeling today?” she asks

“I’m a bit tired” the patient responds “Do you think that stuff you’re putting into my vein would make a good laundry additive?”

“Hmmmm?” She asks reflexively while simultaneously uncapping the IV’s needle.

“Do you think, if I sprayed this on cat pee, it would reduce the smell?” Asks the patient.

“Lovely weather we’re having” On “we’re” she pushes the needle into a vein in the bend of his left elbow.

“Ungh” He responds, and then “I would love to dip some bananas in this stuff”
Such an impressive list of positive uses does not grow from typical lines of inquiry. This list grew from the intellectual fertilizer of direct marketing. The manufacturer may never have considered PI-water for constipation, but a quick thinking direct marketer may have believed that one of his customers was cured of the complaint by using this product.

The list positive benefits grows with the popularity of a device. Only if the list gets too long, and gets too much attention does it demand a response from the manufacturer of the device. Then it can be easier to discontinue the device than address the bogosity of the claims. Nikken has discontinued both the Optimizer and its replacement the Optimizer II, and currently Nikken has no functional replacement in its product line (on the US site…It looks like one can still get the Optimizer II on the Australian site).

The sites that make the amplified claims also come and go. I will provide hyperlinks to the sites I quote from, but I doubt they will be operational after a few months.

The manufacturer presents much more conservative claims about its PI-Water, and supplies them in a little story.

Near a small town in Japan is an area with unusual topographical features. A narrow stream flows between two hills. As it happens, one of these hills is largely composed of a mineral called magnetite. The other hill contains calcium compounds. The stream between them courses over a bed of silicates, the material that forms natural crystal. And here, Japanese scientists discovered that the water from this stream had amazing results on the surrounding plants.

What they saw astounded them. They named this substance pi water. Then they set out to duplicate these natural conditions in the laboratory. Researchers found that by using special materials, they could reproduce the environment that led to pi water in nature. These discoveries are incorporated in Nikken PiMag™ products.
 
From there the story grows wild. Various sites provide enhanced information. Pi refers to the Pi meson (or Pion) which is specially enhanced in number or activity in PI-Water. There is also a structuring, or un-structuring of the water. Magnets play a role, as well as special ceramic technology.

The technology is supposed to help replace the need for a water softener, and it works best if one starts with glass-distilled water. It is also interesting to note that there are supposed to be more calcium ions in the PI-Water than in “normal” water.

 I can believe some of the claims. If one does laundry in essentially distilled water there should be fewer yellowing situations.

The claims mentioned in this entry are what I call the “High order” claims. One of the interesting things about PI-Water is that there is an elaborate set of lower order claims concerning its physical structure.

The nature of the lower order claims appears comprehensively intricate from a simple surface scan. There are strange spectroscopic measurements. There is even a rare physical parameter called, and I am not making this up: “Eww”. Delving into this information causes my head to spin slightly on one of its axis. I hope to calm down soon, and spin you up an entry from what I’ve been learning.

Perhaps I should go drink a glass of water, or take a hot shower to help calm down?




Sunday, June 5, 2011

Divine Pitcher Assembly

In this second part of the Magic Blender disassembly I will be tackling the DPA. The DPA has only one sub-assembly that requires disassembling; that is the Magic Basket (MB).

A saw and pliers made quick work of the MB.


Once opened the contents of the MB spilled out.


I was able to pull out five different kind of magic material from the MB.


There were four different colors of magic beads, and a gravel-like material that looked like bits of shell and coral.


The black beads probably contain ferrous material, as they are attracted to magnets.


The brown and tan bead appear to be some sort of ceramic.

That the MB contains a mixture of materials suggests that each component is designed to impart a special attribute to the magically altered water.  The next step will be dissecting the magical claims, and ascribing sets of them to each of the materials isolated from the MB.