To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

I guess it's time to think about New Year's resolutions. F has one resolution that she makes every year: she resolves not to throw rocks at the Loch Ness monster, and so far she has demonstrated 100% compliance. While I am impressed by her record, I have to say that as a goal her resolution doesn't quite come up to S.M.A.R.T. standards: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and with a Time factor. It is all those things except relevant, although if F were to visit Scotland at some point in the coming year I suppose her goal could become that. (Or she might rethink it.)

As I have mentioned before, New Year's resolutions are a good time for examining one's life goals to make sure they are appropriate and on track. I usually try to think about mine in catagories: health, home, spiritual, personal development, finances, family. And I don't worry about finalizing my resolutions until February or so.

So I hope my readers (both of you) will have, or have had, a good New Year's celebration: a little bit serious, a little bit silly, and a good beginning to 2006.
This was fun.

Your Personality Profile

You are nurturing, kind, and lucky.
Like mother nature, you want to help everyone.
You are good at keeping secrets and tend to be secretive.

A seeker of harmony, you are a natural peacemaker.
You are good natured and people enjoy your company.
You put people at ease and make them feel at home with you.

Friday, December 30, 2005


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

- Shelley

And by the way, if you can find a copy of Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard, it's well worth a read. You'll never think of Byron, Keats, or Shelley the same way again. Or vampires, or Frankenstein, or standing stones, or a whole bunch of other things. F had quite a jolt when she found out that Shelley really did die in a sailing accident.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The question has been asked of me, why have I said I would never post about evolution v. intelligent design.

The answer is that I commented nicely about this subject on someone's blog and some other commenters jumped all over me and called me names. I see this a lot about this issue, and I have to say that when people react violently to other people's expressed opinions I think that is very telling.

Look at this thoughtful and interesting blog post, and then scroll down and look at some of the comments. Here is one sample sentence: "Perfesser, you are a lying sack of doo-doo." Charming, right? Mature and nuanced.

C.S. Lewis had a teacher in his youth who had this motto: "Let us never live with amousia, the absence of the Muses." That means that we should remember to include beauty in our lives, of course, in the form of art and music and poetry and what not, but it also means that we should avoid ugliness. I do not mind it when people disagree with me. I do mind when they tell me I am stupid and call me names because we disagree. It's unnecessary and I won't put up with it. Life's too short.

So I wish we could all (all of us who care) have honest and civil discussions about this issue. If we don't reach consensus, at least we may each develop our own understandings a little further, which would be a good thing.

And on a lighter note, I wonder how much of my tendency to want to see both arguments presented fairly and weighed against each other has to do with my being a Libra! Ha ha.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I'm going to post again about the thing I said I'd never post about. I have three thoughts to put forth.

1 - I've seen some discussion regarding the nature of "truth". Truth is what happened, end of story. If God created life on Earth, but 9 billion humans think it happened by chance, then the existence of the Creator is truth. Conversely, if 9 billion humans believe in existence of a creator God, but what actually happened was that everything on Earth developed by chance, then the truth is that we all developed by chance. I don't see what's so hard about that. If truth is what we are after, then no one should be afraid of asking questions. And I see fear in some of the arguments adamantly opposing one side or the other, sometimes hysterically and venomously and profanely. The truth will out, right? The truth will make you free? So chill.

2 - I have a book that I cannot find right now (got to straighten out those bookshelves) by Marilyn vos Savant, in which she talks about statistics. There's a fairly unpleasant example she gives that involves a reported statistic that the average rape victim waits one year before reporting the crime. All kinds of rationales were put forth for that. It takes time to come to terms with what has happened ... rape is such a stigma still in our society ... the turning of the seasons causes her to relive what happened ... and so on. But it turned out that in a sample of 10 women, 9 reported the crime to the police immediately, and 1 waited 10 years and then told a girlfriend. That averages out to one year, but no woman actually reported her rape after one year. All of the twists and turns taken to explain that one-year wait were based on a very basic misunderstanding of the data.

Evolutionists admit that they cannot rule out the possibility of a creator God. The question of whether God exists or not, or if he does exist, how he has acted and does act, simply isn't in the realm of science, they say. If in fact God did bring about life on Earth as we know it, and if ID proponents are right when they point out irreducibly complex features that they say are hallmarks of design, then for evolutionists to insist on trying to squeeze and bend their theories this way and that to account for those features without God is the same as those theorists who tried to figure out why a woman would wait one year before reporting a rape. They're trying to explain something that never happened. That isn't the path to truth.

3 - As for people on the other side, who say that evolution can't be true because it's not in the Bible, I invite them to imagine how God would have explained natural selection to the author of Genesis.

"Four billion year ago - let's see, that's 200 million score - hm. If you counted the fingers and toes of everybody on Earth, living and dead, even people you don't know about ...

Well, anyway. A very long time ago, I started with bacteria. Okay, bacteria are these little tiny animals. They're so small you can't see them, but they're everywhere. Yes, really. They're on your skin, and in your gut, even though you can't see them or feel or hear them ...

Okay, never mind. It's beside the point anyway. A very, very long time ago I created the Earth and everything on it."

Because that's the point, right, that he made everything we see and know? 'Nough said.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Another engineer story.

An engineer died and went up to heaven. But St. Peter turned him away at the pearly gates. He shrugged and went trudging down to hell.

St. Peter liked to call Satan up on the telephone every now and then, just to check up on things, and a few days after that engineer was turned away, he called - "What's up?"

"Oh, things aren't too bad, I guess," Satan said. "We've got an engineer down here now, and he's fixed the flush toilets. It's kind of nice."

Peter hung up a bit perplexed. A few days later he called again.

"That engineer you sent down here got the air conditioner working! It's cooling off already!" Satan said.

Well, that didn't set too well with St. Peter, so after a few days he called Satan again. This time he heard laughing and loud music in the background.

"Our new engineer fixed the refrigerators! We have ice for our drinks! Sorry I can't hear very well - we're having a party!" Satan shouted.

This upset St. Peter, and he told Satan that the engineer didn't belong there after all and he had to send him up to heaven right away.

"I don't think so!" Satan yelled. "We like having him here!"

"I'm telling you, a mistake was made! You have to send him up right now!"

"No!" Satan said.

"Send him up right away or I'll see you in court!" St. Peter shouted.

Satan burst out laughing. "Yeah, right! And where are YOU going to get a lawyer!"

Monday, December 26, 2005

We just got back from my sister's house in Tupelo. I guess that was the last hurrah of Christmas 2005 for my family. We did have church services on Christmas Day, in addition to the 11:00 PM C. Eve service. Also went to R's family in town here. Ate a bunch of stuff, including too many sweets. And there were gift exchanges of course. Among other things, I received a collection of short stories by Edith Wharton that I did not previously have, as well a book by Ann Rule, and from F, a gorgeous book about Queen Victoria's granddaughters. Q. Victoria and the next two or three generations after her are a hobby of F's and mine, although F is a little more interested in the Russian royals; of course, that's all connected. The picture on the dust jacket is so beautiful that she had to struggle to give the book to me rather than keep it for herself. I appreciate the sacrifice. From me and R and the cats, F received DVDs: "Gigi", "My Fair Lady", and "V: The Final Battle"; a collection of Katherine Anne Porter short novels; a nice leather jacket; gift certificates for iTunes and McDonalds; some appropriately nerdy t-shirts from; and some stuff for her computer. R's main gift was an overcoat that he needed, and he picked out one he really liked. F had some thoughtful gifts for him too. So we're set, and I'll go to bed soon, because somehow I have to go to work tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all;
And his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall:
With the poor and meek and lowly lived on Earth our Savior holy.

And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love;
For that child, so dear and gentle, is our Lord in heaven above:
And he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in Heaven, set at God’s right hand on high;
There His children gather round bright like stars, with glory crowned.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I swore I would stop talking about Intelligent Design, but I've slipped up in comments elsewhere and stuck in a sentence or two. I guess I can say what I like on my own blog, though.

Something I have tried to impress upon my daughter is that sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking. I think this is particularly true in the whole evolution/ID - well, I can't call it dialog, because both sides are talking past each other.

Some time ago I read the sequel to Jurassic Park (and found it disappointing, shallow and stupid, unlike JP which was very good) and I found a statement that I will have to paraphrase, because I can't find my copy to quote directly. The statement was to the effect that dinosaurs evolved a family structure because they needed to.

Okay, the way natural selection works is that changes are constantly happening when DNA is passed from one generation to the next. The changes may be copying errors, or they may be caused by some mutagen, or they happen for some other reason. Anyway, sometimes those changes are disastrous, and the offspring can't live. Sometimes they don't make any difference. And sometimes when they happen in a particular species living in a particular environment, they give the offspring some advantage so that it is better able to pass its DNA, with that alteration in place, along to the next generation. Over time the changed DNA and whatever physical way it manifests itself becomes more prevalent in the group. That's it in a nutshell.

But the change has to happen first, in a strictly random manner, and then prove advantageous or not. To say that any characteristic evolved "because it needed to" is completely incompatible with the idea of natural selection. One could argue that it's just an informal way of stating that the environment was such that only the dinosaurs that randomly acquired family structure could survive. But the problem comes in with the ID debate.

I know there is more to the concept called Intelligent Design than "something or someone caused this to happen". I've read Darwin's Black Box, and I'm frustrated by the fact that my background in life sciences is insufficient for me to determine whether Behe's arguments hold water or not. But I will say that if, for example, God brought about the dinosaurs using whatever combination of natural selection and direct design he found appropriate; and then he thought that it would be interesting, and they would have a better chance of survival, if they formed family groups, and then he caused that to happen: that makes sense. It flows. It's internally consistent.

I'm not saying that dinosaurs didn't get their family structures from natural selection in its purest form. I don't know how they got them. I don't know that they did in fact get them. But I do know that if a scientist insists on excluding the idea of a designer with unmerciful rigidity, then he should be rigorous in excluding sloppy language. He should be able to state his ideas in such a way that they make perfect sense without the concept of a designer deciding something was "needed" or whatever. Otherwise it looks like he's trying to have it both ways.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Mad Gardener's Song

He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
"At length I realise," he said,
"The bitterness of Life!"

He thought he saw a Bufffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
"Unless you leave this house," he said,
"I'll send for the Police!"

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
"The one thing I regret," he said,
"Is that it cannot speak!"

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
"If this should stay to dine," he said,
"There won't be much for us!"

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
"Were I to swallow this," he said,
"I should be very ill!"

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
"Poor thing," he said, "poor silly thing!
It's waiting to be fed!"

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage Stamp.
"You'd best be getting home," he said:
"The nights are very damp!"

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
"And all its mystery," he said,
"Is clear as day to me!"

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
"A fact so dread," he faintly said,
"Extinguishes all hope!"

- Lewis Carroll, of course.
So I walked past the bulletin board at work today with my coworker J, who is black. We paused to look at Christmas cards that had been sent by various vendors and so forth. I pointed to one card that had a photograph on the front showing about 30 people, all wearing red shirts and lined up in rows, and said, "Who's that?" J told me - it's a lab we do outsourcing to. We contemplated the card a moment, and then I asked, "Where are they?" "Minnesota," J said. "Oh!" I said. I nodded, and she nodded, and after another moment I blurted out, "Because I was wondering - where are the black folks?" J burst out laughing and clapped her hand on my shoulder and said, "See, that's why I stand next to you! I was thinking that but I wouldn't say it, but you would - you'll say anything! All I got to do is stand here!" And we both cracked up.

It's funny what you get used to seeing, and you don't really think about it until you see something different. Sometimes it takes me a moment to think about what that something different is.

But it's not really true that I will say anything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

F wrapped Christmas presents the other day while R and I were at work, and she got lots of expert help. She grabbed the camera and got a few shots, and converted them to gift tags. Here are two of them.

I think they're the cutest things.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I've been keeping up with the stem cell scandal in South Korea. Here is an article about it. There are those who suggest that the solution to keeping this sort of thing from happening is to train young scientists in ethics.

I doubt that you can train ethics into a person. You can explain exactly what falsification consists of, so that a person doesn't falsify by mistake, thinking that what he is doing is OK. I have found crumpled pieces of paper in the garbage, that turned out to be someone's original observations (sample weights, for instance) that were copied over because the papers were torn or had solvent spilled on them, and had to explain that that is raw data and you never discard it. If the technician truly doesn't know that and never repeats the error, that's one thing. If the technician has done it before and excuses himself by saying that he thought no one would know, that's something else again. My mom says character is what you do when no one is looking, and I think she's right.

The cruelest thing in the stem cell case is this:

"When I had a spinal injury 21 years ago, it was a death sentence that I couldn't walk again," said Jeong, 50, head of the Korea Spinal Cord Injury Association.

But, with talk of stem cells, "I began to hold a string of hope. I want to keep holding that string of hope," he said.

It is so wrong to lie to people like that. I don't know how people who lie like that can live with themselves. I wonder if the lies start out small, and are rationalized because they could become true with enough support for the research, and eventually take on a life of their own. It's why it is so important to be truthful even in small things that don't seem to matter. That internal commitment to the truth has to be there. It has to be guarded, even when the truth is disappointing, or embarrassing, or obstructive to what we want to do. I just don't think you can train that into a person.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet--
You by the fire and we in the street--
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison--
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow--
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go--
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
`Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!'

- Kenneth Grahame

Friday, December 16, 2005

F and I are looking at pictures of Patagonia. ("We're nerds, you realize", she said.) We ran across this:

It's a cave painting where it looks like the inhabitants placed their hands on the cave wall and somehow sprayed paint to leave silhouettes. Look at their thumbs - they're not offset. What's up with that? Or is it our thumbs that are unusual? Are the hands of modern-day Argentinian and Chilean Indians like that? Any North American Indians? Polynesians? The internet answers many questions but it also raises others.

Here's the site.

I did get one fairly obscure question answered last year. When Molly came to us I wondered if the way her coloring is distributed on her body could be a map of her development as an embryo. Strangely enough, I found several websites related to cat embryology, and discovered that I was right. Here is an example.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

R and I are making fudge tonight. I add stuff and he stirs. We're making a batch each of chocolate and eggnog flavor. I have to take some to work tomorrow, and R probably will too, and I signed up to bring dessert to our Sunday School party Friday. Here's the recipe, for those of you who do not get it on the back of your marshmallow cream (excuse me, creme).

3 cups sugar
1-1/2 stick (3/4 cup) butter or margarine
5 oz (2/3 cup) evaporated milk

Stir this in a pot on the stove over medium heat until it reaches 234F. You really need to do this with a candy thermometer. We tried to wing it for years until we gave up, and it makes a huge difference. Once it reaches 234F, take it off the stove and add

12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 jar (7oz) marshmallow "creme"

and STIR. This is where R comes in - it's too hard for me to stir this until it's mixed thoroughly. While he's stirring, I'm lining a 9-in. square pan with aluminum foil. Once everything is mixed together, pour into the pan and allow it to cool. You shouldn't cool in the refrigerator, because if it cools too fast it will form crystals. Once it's mostly solid, you can dump it out and cut it into little squares, and then put that in the refrigerator.

Eggnog fudge is the same, except that you substitute eggnog for evaporated milk, almond bark for chocolate chips, and skip the vanilla flavoring; and I always sprinkle it with nutmeg before I cut it. Also, it won't really solidify enough to dump out and cut unless you refrigerate it first.

We'll make two more batches this weekend because R's family has come to expect it. Plus, we will want to eat some more. I don't know why we don't all gain 40 pounds and develop diabetes every December.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Audit's over. I think we did OK. They found Findings, of course, they always do, and we will have Corrective Actions. And so it goes.
I suppose the audit is going OK. They have found a couple of things but they're pretty minor. At least, I think they are. One more day of this, then on to the next thing. I'm trying to change some things about my job to make it less stressful. The most stressful thing to me is that I never get finished, or even to a reasonable stopping place. If I have to miss a day, I can get somebody to at least check data so that doesn't pile up on my desk. But if I go back into the lab for even half a day, I don't have backup with the data and it's a nightmare. And I need to be spending more time in the lab; that's my job and it stresses me that I can't seem to do it. Another stressful thing is that even the things I have time to do, I don't think I'm doing well enough. I'm spending too much time on stupid details and running down minor problems. I keep thinking about "the tyranny of the urgent", where urgent things take precedence over important things to the point that the important things never get done. It's kind of like "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" where the wrong wheel is squeaking. The Peter Principle comes to mind too, and I wonder if I am there. I have got to make some changes. Maybe I can learn from all this, how to be better organized, or delegate better, or prioritize better, or push back at my boss so that I'm not spending so much time doing inconsequential things. (She probably would say I do that enough). They tell me quality in the department is tremendously improved since I came in. I know it's still not really good enough.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Third Sunday of Advent

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day:
I would my true love did so chance
to see the legend of my play,
to call my true love to my dance.
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Thus was I born of a Virgin pure,
of her I took fleshly substance;
To knit myself to man's nature,
to call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

In a manger laid and wrapped I was,
so very poor, this was my chance,
betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
to call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The concert went well. My parents came up for it like they always do. The music included a very nice arrangement of "O Holy Night", some contemporary stuff and some carols and so forth, but as always my very favorite was the "Hallelujah Chorus" which we did last. I liked all of the other music, but the Handel just seemed transcendent, like if you were going to call the other stuff "music" you should invent a different word for it. It seemed that way to me anyway. I could do nothing but baroque the rest of my life and never miss the rest. It's the real deal.

Well, I enjoyed the orchestra's encore, too: Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Back home. F is upstairs sleeping, of course. Sadly, my migraine did not go away, but woke me up in the wee hours. I hate when that happens. I woke R at 5:30 and he helped me get on top of it. I'm OK now but I always feel strange for a while after those things.

Tonight we have the company Christmas party, at a downtown hotel. Last year I wore a fairly dressy outfit, but there were those present in chiffon and sequins. So I'm a little spiffier this year. I found a dress at April Cornell that supposedly was originally $198 but was marked down to $20. Maybe I'll get a picture.

Tomorrow evening is the Christmas concert at church. I am in the choir, so I also have to go to the non-singing rehearsal in the morning. Sunday is church, of course, and Monday and Tuesday at work we are being audited by our biggest customer. They're very nice but they'll find something; they always do. They won't feel that they have done their job if they don't. I've joked about leaving something minor for them to find so they can stop looking, but I'm only partly joking when I say that. Facing these things is a little like Judgment Day. All your secret sins will be found out, even ones you didn't know you committed, and you can only hope for mercy and reasonableness. I have a little button that says "I just hope God grades on a curve". Maybe I'll wear it under my (freshly washed) lab coat.

There's something Wednesday but I refuse to try to remember what. Gee, I wonder why I had a migraine.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here is a delicious short story by Edith Wharton: The Lady's Maid's Bell. It's a ghost story, first published in 1902.

Now I'm going to take my migraine to bed. We go to Mississippi tomorrow to bring F back for Christmas break.
When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

- Walt Whitman
A couple had been married for many years. They had no children, but they did have a poodle that they both loved dearly. The wife was a sweet, sensitive woman who had a lifetime dream of going to Europe. The husband loved his wife but he had a reputation for having no tact at all. This his wife took in stride, because she knew how he was.

Finally the woman was able to realize her dream of traveling overseas. She was very excited when she arrived in New York, ready to board her flight across the Atlantic. She called her husband one last time from the airport.

"Hi, honey!"

"The dog's dead."


The wife, crying, then accused her husband: "It's true what they say about you: you have no tact at all."

"What did you want me to say? The dog's dead." (He was upset about it, too.)

"Well, you could have told me the dog was on the roof. Then when I called from Rome you could have said the dog fell off the roof. When I called from Paris, you could have said, 'Honey, the dog's at the vet, and he's not doing well at all.' Then when I called from London on my way home, you could have told me the dog didn't make it."

"OK, I'm sorry! I know I don't know how to word things! You know how I am! Sorry!"

The woman's flight was boarding, and she had to get hold of herself and try to end the conversation on a positive note.

"How's mother?"

"Uh - she's on the roof!"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I made a big pot of chicken soup yesterday to keep in the refrigerator and heat up bowls of as needed. It's cold enough now to really appreciate a bowl of hot homemade soup. I cooked the chicken first, then removed the bones and shredded the meat, then added broccoli, halved cherry tomatoes, diced onion, and rice.

BUT - I put way too much rice in. And I let it simmer too long. When I went to check it, I found that the rice had taken up all of the available liquid. It looked kind of off-putting, too. I had half a bottle of V-8 in the frig and I dumped that in and stirred it around. It didn't help much. I put it in the frig and picked up some bread on the way home from work today in case R looked at my creation and balked. I figured he could at least have a sandwich.

But actually, he didn't. He put some of that strange-looking glop in a bowl and added water, and cooked it in the microwave and stirred it all around, and then he ate it and pronounced it good. And in one of those funny Gift of the Magi moments, it turned out that while I was stopping on the way home to get bread for his hypothetical sandwich, he was stopping on the way home to pick up cornbread muffins to go with my soup. And R doesn't typically like cornbread.

I remember once when R and I were newly wed, I let the rice boil dry and when I served it, it was crunchy. I told R he didn't have to eat it, but he told me it was fine (crunch, crunch). I think his mama must have trained him well.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The sermon at church yesterday was about peace. Peace, of course, is not just the absence of conflict. The preacher said you can't have peace without justice, and that's true but it's not the whole story either.

William F. Buckley, in Happy Days Were Here Again, had this to say about John Lennon's "Imagine":

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

"Well, we certainly want to imagine a world in which everyone lives in peace, but you see, that is only possible in a world in which people are willing to die for causes. There'd have been peace for heaven knows (assuming heaven exists) how long in the South, except that men were willing to die to free the slaves, and Hitler would have died maybe about the time that John Lennon did, at Berchtesgarden, at age ninety-one, happy in a Jewless Europe."

So is peace really the most important thing? THE most important thing? Patrick Henry famously said, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? ... Give me liberty, or give me death." (Ironically, he was himself a slave owner, and he felt funny about that, but not funny enough to do anything about it.)

Suppose your neighbor was beating his toddler in his front yard - would you walk over and make him stop, or would you go in your house and shut your door, and tell youself, "After all, the important thing is for me to live in peace with my neighbor."

In a marriage, sooner or later one has to decide how much of his or her partner's bad temper, etc., to put up with silently to stay peaceful, and at what point he must speak up and risk conflict in order to adjust the relationship. This also happens between sibs, and between parents and their adult offspring. It's usually considered a sign of mental ill-health to put up with too much abuse in order to "keep peace".

So what is peace, really? And how important is it? What should we be willing to give up for it? What should we not be willing to give up for it?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

You young folks, like change destiny, can't fully appreciate how technology has changed in the lifetimes of even us not-yet-old ones. F asked me once what computer games I liked when I was a little girl.
There were no computer games when I was a little girl.
Remember the scene in Apollo 13, where Tom Hanks waves his hand at a building and says it contains "the computer"? And the scene where people in the control room were doing calculations with slide rules? I was 9 years old then. When I started college, you could play Pac Man and Space Invaders in an arcade, and that was about it. Papers were typed on typewriters. Research was done in the library, with actual books. A notebook was a three-ring binder with paper in it. The Internet was a subject for science fiction.

So every now and then I hear a phrase, or run across one in my surfing, and it gives me a little jolt to think about what we would have made of it when I was a teenager.
- I went to Office Depot to buy a little wheel for my mouse.
- A worm shut down the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles and the New York Times (this happened a few years ago, remember?)
- If you get email from the FBI, don't open it - it's a virus.
- The server has crashed. We might as well go home.
- I'm going to blog about this.
Second Sunday of Advent
O come, O come Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ayn Rand's name has popped up a few times recently, sometimes because I've mentioned her and sometimes because somebody else has. She is a woman of controversy, that's for sure.

I've read her major works and thought about them, and I've also read the two biography/memoirs by the Brandens. Here's what I think:

I think her ideas were not without merit. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when I was in my 20's and it helped me to crystalize a couple of things: that if you want something it's up to you to go after it and make it happen, and that you shouldn't look to other people to fulfill you as a person. We all like and need affirmation from others, of course, which is one reason why we like for people to comment on our blogs. But we should be OK without it.

I think her insistence on selfishness was fairly silly. I think everything we do is from a mixture of motives. If I give money to a panhandler, it's for several reasons. One is that I don't want a fellow human to be hungry. You can call that pity, or compassion, or fellow-feeling; I don't know what it is, except that it's as simple as that. One is that Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry. One is that I am expressing my gratitude to God that not only can I provide for myself, I have enough to share. It's true that I work very hard for my money, but it's also true that I was born with a certain amount of intelligence, parents who didn't screw up my psyche, the opportunity to get an education, and so forth, that I did nothing to deserve. One is probably a superstitious feeling in the back of my mind that if I don't help someone when I can, someday I will need help and won't get it. Kind of like karma. I don't really think that, but I can't say the idea isn't running around in my head. If Rand liked me, and knew that I gave money to a panhandler, she would try to excuse it on the basis that I did it to benefit myself somehow. No other reason would be acceptable. That's dumb.

And obviously I don't agree with her outright rejection of religion. In fact, I think that without meaning to she found herself at the center of a cult. Nathaniel Branden touched on something in his book that I think bears some reflection: he wonders if the hero-worship he and the other members of the "collective" bestowed on her didn't encourage her tendency to self-aggrandize. From reading about her actions during and after writing Atlas Shrugged, I wonder if they didn't help push her right over the edge into mental illness.

Her insistence on exaggerated moralism while semi-secretly carrying on an adulterous affair was nuts.

Plus the fact that she was a feminist's nightmare. No, I don't care for her attitude towards women at all.

Friday, December 02, 2005

R has a textbook entitled Modern Electricity: Science, History, Theory, and Practice. It was published in 1904. Here is the first paragraph:

The true nature of electricity has not yet been discovered. Many think it a quality, inherent in nearly all the substances, and accompanied by a peculiar movement or arrangement of the molecule. Some assume that the phenomona of electricity are due to a peculiar state of strain or tension in the ether which is present everywhere, even in and between the atoms of the most solid bodies. If the latter theory should be the true one, and if the atmosphere of the earth is surrounded by the same ether, it may be possible to establish these assumptions as facts. The most modern supposition regarding this matter, by Maxwell, is that light itself is founded on electricity, and the light waves are merely electro-magnetic waves [italics in the original]. The theory "that electricity is related to, or identical with, the luminiferous ether," has been accepted by the most prominent scientists.

Isn't that charming?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Had a brief discussion with M, my coworker, today. His son, who is in 3rd grade, is learning about animals; specifically, predators. Kids love that stuff, you know. And parasites. They talked about fleas and ticks at school, but M told his son about tapeworms. It took the kid a moment to understand what M was telling him, and then - oh my God.

You know, it's fun to gross out or startle a child like that. Usually it's the other way around with the bathroom humor and all. They think they have it all over their parents for outrageousness. They forget we were once kids, too.

Edward Gorey knew it.