Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Made a Review of Makers

"Perry though has the better sex scene in the book, with minor but well-rounded character Hilda." ... from my just posted review of Cory Doctorow's book Makers.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

On talking to God...

"...you talk to God once and it changes your life. You talk to him every weekend and it's not long before you're both going, So what's new? Ehh. Yeah, same here. " -- Steven R. Boyett

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hawking No Heaven

Thoughts on The Washington Post's Stephen Hawking 'There is no Heaven...'

I haven't read Hawking's book, The Grand Design. I did read this book:
"The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" by Francis Collins

I don't really recommend it, mostly it made me more annoyed than ever at C.S. Lewis, whom the author quotes liberally. It was full of faulty arguments about how animals aren't altruistic, so people are special (there have been psychology experiments indicating the opposite) and other such propaganda.

The only one of these Washington Post essays that I've read so far is the one by Ramdas Lamb, the ex-Hindu monk. He's also got some weak arguments. (Always a red flag when an assertion includes the word "clearly": referring to the possibility of 'spontaneous creation': "but it is clearly not something that has been proven." It's either been proven or not, adding clearly is just like raising your voice, it's a threat action, not an elucidation.)

But worse is later when he tries to combine the first law of thermodynamics (preservation of energy) with the eternal identity of a soul. This is one of those kinds of arguments that only takes one counter example to invalidate: a clay vase can be shattered, and it's components all still exist as fragments of pottery, but the vase, as an entity, is gone.

If Mr. Lamb had simply started and ended with his final paragraph he would have been a winner: "... I do not care what people choose to believe, whether they are atheist or theist, whether they believe in a soul or not. What is far more important is how we treat each other. Some of the most giving and decent people I know are atheist and some of the most vile claim to believe in a God. ..."

That's the important stuff. Not as much fun as pondering about whether a Creator-God is necessary. So on that topic I'm inclined to trust Hawking that one isn't necessary. I also think that adding one only begs the question of who, then, created God? When it was a giant turtle that was said to hold up the (flat) earth, and a wise man was asked what the turtle stands on, the reply was "another turtle, and it's turtles all the way down". Gods and meta-gods all the way up, then?

These days I'm less interested in the Big Bang and more interested in the little ones. My favorite example of "magic in the small" -- sleight of hand type stuff, not disappearing the Statue of Liberty scale spectacles -- is magnets. Magnets just can't work. They can neither attract nor repel each other, there's nothing connecting them, no solid substance to push the force across. Yet they do work, they repel (or attract) across air (or space, if you can find a vacuum). Just not something that our minds can grasp, at least not mine.

And if little pieces of rock are possessed of magic such as this, then a brain and body, with it's manifold wrinkles and sinews and purposes, can surely act across distance and connect with other beings that may be unseen but are not unfelt.

So there may not be a Creator, but there is mystery aplenty.

My thoughts at 3:00 AM, somewhere in a police headquarters basement, a little north of the Hamptons, NY.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Marriages and Tornadoes and Terrorists, Oh My !

I certainly share the ambivalence felt by many over the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. I heard the news, as many did, while watching baseball on ESPN, the Mets at the Phillies (Mets 2-1 in 14 innings). There was ninth inning irony in the players’ ignorance as the crowd chanted “USA, USA, USA” after viewing their phones and twitter feeds while the athletes just played ball.

My own twitter feed started bringing in satisfaction (@DanielPink “RT @markknoller: Cheering crowd outside White House estimated at 2500.”) and angst at the President’s delay (@HeatherOsborn “I love that it took approximately 10 minutes for people to start bitching about Obama being late. I'm gonna go ahead and believe he is BUSY.”) and jokes (@TheThomason: “Obama: ‘Anybody else wanna see my birth certificate?’ Drops mic. Walks away.” Or: @CaitKitt “Also, now that we killed the dude, can the TSA stop fondling all our junk? #prettyplease” 9:54 PM May 1, 2011)

Unlike a lot of other people who first heard of OBL’s death while watching TV, but like a fair number of other North Alabamians, I was in a hotel room dozens of miles or more from home. We were avoiding the 600,000 person power outage that resulted from the “April Fury” tornadoes. Our house was fine, other than one downed tree top and one leaky window, and some slowly spoiling food as our fridge and freezers lost their cool. We are very fortunate to afford to simply drive to a Nashville suburb and check into a La Quinta with hot showers, clean sheets and breakfast. Many of my neighbors took this option, or went to relatives in nearby towns. We’re “rich” Americans. It’s incredible. But it’s also incredible how fragile our way of life is. Without electricity and Internet and gasoline and open stores and cell phones we were quickly reduced to land line phones (those of us who still have them) and battery powered radios. Hello 1952.

But those weren’t the problems that haunted me in the La Quinta in Smyrna, Tennessee on May 1st that kept me from truly processing the news of the death of bin Laden. Nor were they the problems that had kept me from gagging on the syrup drenched royal nuptials of William and Kate two days earlier, marriage coverage that censored the anti-austerity protests pervading Great Britain. I’ve gone without electricity enough in my life not to sweat it much. What was nagging at my mind was the damage from swirling storms that don’t even get names but, acre for acre, do much more damage than hurricanes. And the stories from friends and acquaintances that kept spinning out to me through the phone, the e-mail and the web (yep, wireless internet in the hotel, too).

A colleague runs a swim club with his son as a side business and it got hit; he was at the pool between storms, but went home at the urging of son and girlfriend just in time. I’m sure the pool office and bathhouses are gone. We saw what’s left of the bordering trees, snapped and twisted, from the adjacent highway on our drive home. Next to the highway we saw a house with only rafters for a roof left, the next house was just the concrete slab and debris – nothing bigger than a few feet long. Across the highway and into a subdivision a newlywed couple we know from the running community lost their house, and so far their cat. She runs about my speed, when I’m in shape. Their brick house disintegrated around the young woman, one wall at a time and even the rug she was on got sucked away (the husband wasn’t home). Their car was in the driveway and is now a neighbor’s lawn ornament, but the woman is banged up but okay. They would be staying at her parents’ home in nearby Tanner, Alabama, except that their house was also destroyed by one of the tornadoes.

A local photographer, who we also know from running, has posted an offer to provide free disks of photos she'd taken for anyone if they lost theirs in the storms.

A friend family’s daughter was in Tuscaloosa, she goes to the University of Alabama there, at her boyfriend's apartment. They are fine, but the gas station directly across the street is gone, as is the sideview mirror from her car. The neighbor of another friend’s daughter also went to Alabama; she won’t be coming home. They cancelled finals at UA, students get the grades they had, or they can schedule a final with their instructor. Tuscaloosa had one of the biggest tornadoes and it was the one to hit the most populated area. 5,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

600 people attended the funeral yesterday of a 12 year old girl who was the classmate of another friend’s son. There were 8 family members in a trailer, none escaped injury, but it was the youngest who was taken.

My office is still without power. Internet came back at my house late yesterday and is still out for many people so I don’t yet know who else has a story to tell. So I’ve been brooding on these twisters, these nameless micro-hurricanes that last for minutes rather than days, and it has kept me from digesting the death of Osama. But I know I’m glad that he, and his twisted soul, are gone.