Monday, May 29, 2006

No more drudgery!

I’ve never been a fan of fufu myself, but if hours of drudgery can be done away with, this might be a good idea. Of course, it has to be affordable; but the miller was a fixture in Medieval England—he made wheat convenient enough to warrant the extra cost.

Is That a Hint?

I’ve been reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. This afternoon I read the chapter on fasting. As soon as I was done we went to a Memorial Day party at the neighbor’s house. (Two brats, red beans and rice, ice cream…) I came back after a while and started reading the chapter on Silence and Solitude. Youngest Son came home a few minutes later and started telling me all about his planned parody of Star Wars, with a “Death Grill.” All the details about it.


At lunch today Youngest Son announced that he was “giving his Lord of the Rings action figures as hand-me-downs” to Youngest Daughter. He is 12. She is 15.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Why no book reviews?

I have been writing, just not here. Our church needs some material for introductory classes, so I wrote it. What with the many other things going on at the same time (writing DAQ software for one experiment, scrounging parts for a spark chamber demo, working on the silicon detector trigger for another experiment, trying to revamp a muon trigger, and puzzling through an astrophysics problem--not to mention family obligations) I've been a wee bit short of time.

I don't really think of them as book reviews so much as holding up my end of a dialog between the author and myself.

But I've read a few books along the way. Developing Talents by Temple Grandin is about how Aspergers folks can find jobs. I'm buying our own copy. Ten Questions to Diagnose your Spritual Health by Donald Whitney is just what it says: a set of questions and examples to set you trying to decide what is keeping you from growing as a Christian and how to get rid of it. Not perfect, but very much worth reading and thinking about. The Day of the False King by Brad Geagley is the second book (oops) in a series of detective stories about an ancient Egyptian detective. My wife says the first (The Year of the Hyena) is better, which doesn't surprise me. The False King tries very hard to give a flavor of the environment, but leaves out lots of details like what people ate--it left an unbalanced feel. The Insect Room was both a foolish plot-hole and not nearly so horrible as the real punishments the Babylonians had in store.

I still plan to write about Dogs of God.

I'm reading slowly through Prayer; re-reading Watership Down (we've got a new rabbit), reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Persian Mirrors, Reflections on the Psalms, From Babel to Dragomans, Exploring Java, and re-reading My Favorite Intermissions.

I don't think I'll be finished with any of them this week.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DaVinci Code

I've been hearing two reactions in church to the upcoming movie: opportunity and boycott.

Boycott is the wrong word for my reaction. Boycotting presumes that I would be withholding my regular business. But that's backwards: it is the movie-makers' job to entice me to part with 20 of my dollars and 2 hours of my time. I looked at the movie listings, and none of them succeeded. There's almost nothing I'd bother to go look at even if it were free and next door. Maybe "Over the Hedge."

That doesn't even include the other demands on my time: I haven't even seen the Narnia movie yet, and that was on my list. (The kids have a copy, so I'll get to it sooner or later.)

So no, I won't be boycotting the movie. I won't be bothering.

And no, I don't think it offers an opportunity to discuss the foundations of Christianity with the curious. I judge that the popularity of the book comes because some people want to believe in secret conspiracies, and because there's been a huge PR push. People following the PR push don't care about whether it is true or not, and trying to reason with conspiracy fans is hopeless.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Time and Mother

The past is always with us. I feel this most with my wife: a moment with her recalls other moments. We shaped each other’s lives, and the marks each moment made are more than merely memories. We clean the kitchen, and in that time lives a little of the other times we’ve cleaned or kissed there. Not every echo is welcome—I remember times I’ve screwed up too—but each smile holds others; from shy beginnings to comfortable welcomings.

But my mother and I did not meet as equals. My parents were “in loco deus” for a while to me. True, I turned her life upside down (I was the firstborn), but I was completely unaware of that at the time. All I knew was that, for a time, she and my father were the center of my universe. Of course my universe grew, and eventually, thanks in part to their guidance, I met the God they served; and I have in my turn served (all too feebly) in the same capacity to my own children.

We meet as equals now: she a mother, I a father (and older now than she was when I left home). We’re equals and yet not equals, because the past is with us. The time for obedience is over, but the shape to my life from the times of obedience is still there for me, and the shape is there for her.

I remember, and try to imitate, her self-disciplined love—devoting her efforts to the needs we had, and looking out for ways to bring joy. I’m not nearly so good at figuring those out.

I love my mother.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Policeman to the world

The Darfur situation has been eliciting calls for intervention. Some of the same people are calling for us to intervene in the Sudan who despise our intervention in Iraq, though the latter would be justified by their own arguments. A lot of this looks like "When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout" nonsense. These folks don't bother to think through the implications of action. "We've got to do something" isn't a plan. Stern rebukes didn't work, economic sanctions aren't going anywhere, so what's left? War or supporting a civil war.

I have no trouble with the assertion that Khartoum is the major culprit in this affair, or that Zimbabwe would be a happier land if Mugabe and a few hundred of his cronies lay at room temperature. These are almost certainly true statements. I also suspect that, on balance, Zimbabwe would be better off suffering a quick invasion, with all the destruction and turmoil that produces, if it succeeded in ridding them of the tyrant and gave them some help in reconstruction.

What I am afraid of is the soul-destroying attitude that says I have the right to do this because I know what's best. It is a dangerous temptation because the claim is (at least in these obvious case) so nearly correct.

I find that I cannot abide a holier-than-thou attitude in others. That reaction seems quite common. If I assert my right to judge other nations (either in my own capacity or as a citizen of a relatively benign country), I put myself in this same holier-than-thou position that I can't stand in other people. This naturally evokes an intense dislike from others, and it cultivates in me an attitude of superiority. And then it doesn't take very long to slide from "I am superior because I am doing the right things" to "what I do is right because I am superior." And then, of course, I become Mugabe myself.

Yes, I know that you are ethical, and will monitor yourself and not succomb to such temptations. But will you warrant the same for your children? And I'll guarantee that your grandchildren will not have your scruples. They'll inherit power, and experience it as entitlement.

I do not mean to impugn the motives of people who want us to become a humanitarian policeman to the world. There are a lot of terrible things happening, and we could help. You need to be either careless or hard-hearted to stand by and let them fester.

But I believe that we, and the world, will be far safer if we fight on more self-interested grounds.

We didn't resume the war against Iraq to liberate the people of Iraq from a brutal tyrant, though I hear that cited a lot as justification. That was a useful side effect, but not one of our principle objectives. We invaded for sound strategic reasons: the origins of the attacks against us lie in the vicious theocracies of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and Iraq provides a useful staging area; all the evidence said Saddam's nuclear and anthrax programs were alive and well (and there are still some missing pieces, as the report noted); we suspected (and later found the smoking gun for) Saddam's support for anti-American terrorist groups; we saw the sanctions program failing and judged that an Iraq in charge of most of the world's oil and nuclear armed was an unsupportable threat; and maybe, if we lucked out and the Iraqis locked onto a stable free government, we could start to drain the swamp of the Middle East.

Pretty much self-interest all the way, isn't it? And self-interest isn't pretty.

But I think "ugly self interest" will keep us humbler, and safer to the rest of the world and ourselves, than trying to be the world's liberator.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sweet sentiments?

If your honey is a naturalist, fascinated by wild creatures great and small, perhaps she would appreciate what you find when you excavate into the small hole in the garden that conceals a nest, from which flies an annoyed bumbling mother bee. Will you offer her a bee mine, valentine?


When I was young I saw shapes not just in clouds but also in maps. Everybody knows the Italian boot, but did you see that New Zealand is one also (albeit slightly broken)? If you look at Indonesia and the Philippines, you can see a skeleton riding a jet-ski.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Left Behind

Years ago Eldest Son was fascinated by constellations: not just any, but those of the Southern Sky. My wife decided he should have a shirt with the Southern Sky on it, and she got a dark shirt and fabric paint, and I painted the stars and lettering from Rey’s book. Eldest Son loved it, but outgrew it. Youngest Son outgrew it recently. The stars are still mostly there.

About the same time I picked up a packet of glow-in-the dark dots for stars, and mapped out where each star in the southern sky should be on the ceiling of my son’s room. With ruler and checklist and dots I spent several hours to do one quadrant of the ceiling. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the way things were turning out: reference marks were tricky and the pattern wasn’t quite right.

Evenings I generally spent with monitoring homework and other chores, and days had work to do. It has been over a dozen years, and the ceiling still only has one quadrant’s worth of stars. Eldest Son doesn’t live at home any more. I wonder if Youngest Son even notices the stars, or wonders why they aren’t all there.

The dresser and desk and original bed were gifts to Eldest Son from a neighbor in Aurora. (I fixed them up a bit) We chose the paint and accent wallpaper strip (of sailing ships) to match the furniture. You could tell it was a boy’s room, even without looking at the bookcase or the floor.

Eldest Son isn’t a boy anymore. A few relics of his are still in the room—a few figurines, a few books, the Space Shuttle poster—but most pertain to Youngest Son these days. Bionicle parts mingle with Legos (some of the Lego pieces I played with 40 years ago) and K-Nex on the floor now, and there’s a large box of pencils, which fascinate Youngest Son. A busted Space Shuttle is on the dresser and a crane (from the Crane Foundation, of course) hangs from the ceiling. The top bunk is abandoned to a K-Nex ferris wheel and roller coaster now.

Another half a dozen years and Youngest Son will be heading off for college too. I wonder what relics he’ll be leaving behind. I wonder if I’ll ever get the rest of those stars up.