Friday, December 30, 2011

Encouraging Story

A friend emailed this story to me. I found it encouraging and thought I would pass it on to all my readers. Have a Happy New Year, everybody:

"Change Your Thinking It will take just 37 seconds to read this and change your thinking.. Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.. Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and colour of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene. One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band - he could see it in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words. Days, weeks and months passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed. It faced a blank wall.. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, 'Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.' Epilogue: There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations. Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy. 'Today is a gift, that is why it is called The Present .'"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Request for Advice on Praying Mantis Eggs

There was a praying mantis egg case (ootheca) attached to the wall of the building next door to where I work. It had been there since late October, when the weather started to become chilly. Recently, they started doing some work on repairing the wall and knocked the egg case off. I managed to find it in the dirt and thought it might need a safer place until the eggs hatched. So I took it home and it is now in a plastic container in my refrigerator. Does anyone know how long it is safe to leave it in my refrigerator? Should I try to find a safe place for it outside, instead?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

John Cleese on Scientific Reductionism

John Cleese on Scientific Reductionism. Thanks, ENV, I needed that, though I've never known Mr. Cleese to lag in humor.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hitchens Remembered

My Take: An evangelical remembers his friend Hitchens: "I first met Christopher Hitchens at the Edinburgh International Festival. We were both there for the same event, and foremost in my mind was the sort of man I would meet. A journalist and polemicist, his reputation as a critic of religion, politics, Britain's royal family, and, well, just about everything else was unparalleled. As an evangelical, I was certain that he would hate me. When the expected knock came at my hotel room door, I braced for the fire-breather who surely stood on the other side of it. With trepidation, I opened it and he burst forth into my room. Wheeling on me, he began the conversation as if it was the continuance of some earlier encounter:" more

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Obama Will Not Stop the Scariness

Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: "Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay. Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of "a war that appears to have no end". The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the "war on terror" to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention. The legislation's supporters in Congress say it simply codifies existing practice, such as the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. But the law's critics describe it as a draconian piece of legislation that extends the reach of detention without trial to include US citizens arrested in their own country. "It's something so radical that it would have been considered crazy had it been pushed by the Bush administration," said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. 'It establishes precisely the kind of system that the United States has consistently urged other countries not to adopt. At a time when the United States is urging Egypt, for example, to scrap its emergency law and military courts, this is not consistent.'"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Scariness Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors: Congress Trying to Force Indefinite Detention Bill on Americans: Maybe you spent the last weekend shopping for gifts, writing out holiday cards or studying for final exams. For most of America, the end of the year is a busy time. In Congress, this is a season usually spent trying to jam through bad bills while they hope no one is looking. The Senate voted last Thursday to pass S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial. Prison based on suspicion alone. The power is so sweeping that the president would be able to direct the military to use its powers within the United States itself, and even lock up American citizens without charge or trial. No corner of the world, not even your own home, would be off-limits to the military. And there is no exception for American citizens. Section 1031 — one of the indefinite detention provisions — of the Senate-approved version of the NDAA has no limitations whatsoever based on geography, duration or citizenship. And the entire Senate bill was drafted in secret, with no hearing, and with committee votes behind closed doors.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Original Sin

"This [first] sin has been described by Saint Augustine as the result of Pride, of the movement whereby a creature (that is, an essentially dependent being whose principle of existence lies not in itself but in another) tries to set up on its own, to exist for itself. Such a sin requires no complex social conditions, no extended experience, no great intellectual development. From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the centre is opened to it. This sin is committed daily by young children and ignorant peasants as well as by sophisticated persons, by solitaries no less than by those who live in society: it is the fall in every individual life, and in each day of each individual life, the basic sin behind all particular sins: at this very moment you and I are either committing it, or about to commit it, or repenting it. We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God's feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day and God's share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of 'our own' pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel, to be 'our own'. A man starts a new job with a sense of vocation and perhaps, for the first week still keeps the discharge of the vocation as his end, taking the pleasures and pains from God's hand, as they come, as 'accidents'. But in the second week he is beginning to 'know the ropes': by the third, he has quarried out of the total job his own plan for himself within that job, and when he can pursue this he feels that he is getting no more than his rights, and, when he cannot, that he is being interfered with. A lover, in obedience to a quite uncalculating impulse, which may be full of good will as well as of desire and need not be forgetful of God, embraces his beloved, and then, quite innocently, experiences a thrill of sexual pleasure; but the second embrace may have that pleasure in view, may be a means to an end, may be the first downward step towards the state of regarding a fellow creature as a thing, as a machine to be used for his pleasure. Thus the bloom of innocence, the element of obedience and the readiness to take what comes is rubbed off every activity. Thoughts undertaken for God's sake - like that on which we are engaged at the moment - are continued as if they were an end in themselves, and then as if our pleasure in thinking were the end, and finally as if our pride or celebrity were the end. Thus all day long, and all the days of our life, we are sliding, slipping, falling away - as if God were, to our present consciousness, a smooth inclined plane on which there is no resting. And indeed we are now of such a nature that we must slip off, and the sin, because it is unavoidable, may be venial [excusable]." (The Problem of Pain, "The Fall of Man," pp.63-64)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

1984 and the Scariness

If you haven't read George Orwell's 1984, I recommend that you do. It is the story of a totalitarian government that spies on its citizens and arrests anyone it considers a threat to its existence.

How did this government come into existence? Orwell doesn't say, but one of the things we learn is that this government is in a perpetual state of war with other governments.

And that's the secret to its success. Since it is at war, it is justified in spying on its citizens, in case any of them are traitors, and justified in arresting anyone who would threaten its existence. For when you are at war, it is of the utmost importance that you defeat your enemies at all costs.

It's 2011, now. Is there anyone out there who doesn't think our government is spying on us as much as it wishes to do so, without the need of a search warrant?

And now Congress is about to give the military the right to arrest anyone it deems a terrorist, without the requirement to produce evidence, and with the right to hold that person as long as they like.

How is it that this state of affairs came about? Because we are at war. At war against terrorism. And since terrorism may strike any place, any time, by anyone, our government has the right to spy on all of us and arrest whoever it says is a terrorist. For when you are at war, it is of the utmost importance that you defeat your enemies at all costs.

1984, just 27 years later than Orwell expected.

The Revolutionary Morality of the Old Testament

You all know the story of Jonah and the whale. ("It wasn't a whale, it was a big fish," I hear you Creationists complain. Whatever). What few of you realize is the revolutionary morality that the story contains.

God tells Jonah to go warn the city of Nineveh that God is about to destroy it, because of its evil ways. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, which was the major existential threat to the nation of Israel. The best thing that could happen to Israel would be for Nineveh to be destroyed. So naturally Jonah, a patriotic Israelite, does what he thinks best for Israel. Instead of going to warn Nineveh, he goes in the exact opposite direction, by boarding a ship destined for Tarshish, at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea.

God, who is not easily fooled and whose plans are not easily thwarted, causes a storm to rise and tosses the ship about. The sailors cast lots to see who is responsible for angering the gods. The lot falls to Jonah, who explains to the sailors that yes, indeed, it is his god, Yahweh, who is causing all the storm because of Jonah, and that if they want to live, they should throw him overboard. The sailors reluctantly comply and the sea becomes calm. Jonah is swallowed by a, big fish. After three days of surviving in the fish, Jonah cries out to God for mercy. God has the fish throw him up on dry land, and Jonah goes to Nineveh and fulfills God's wishes.

Well, the people of Nineveh repent, and God changes his mind and doesn't destroy the city. Jonah is pissed off, because this is exactly what he didn't want to happen. He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He's been waiting outside the city to see what happens. God causes a plant to grow, to give shade to Jonah. Then God causes the plant to die. Jonah mourns the death of the plant. The story ends with God asking Jonah why he thinks the death of the plant is such a tragedy, but not the death of thousands of men, women, and children, not counting all the animals in the city.

The moral of the story is that God loves even our enemies, and expects us to love them, also.

So when someone (especially someone who doesn't understand his own heritage) writes:

"Religious morality appears to change under only two conditions: either secular morality moves ahead of religious morality, causing it to change (e.g., treatment of women and gays or, in this case, condom use and birth control), or scientific advances show that the scriptural basis of religious morality is simply wrong (e.g., there’s no Adam and Eve and hence no Original Sin),"

go tell him to read the story of Jonah and the wha...big fish.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Scariness Continues

Senate Poised to Pass Indefinite Detention Without Charge or Trial:

"This bill puts military detention authority on steroids and makes it permanent. If it becomes law, American citizens and others are at real risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial."