Sunday, December 31, 2006

Uses of fantasy

Youngest daughter spent a few years running all ideas she couldn't quite fathom through her imaginary zebrahan herd--the queen would pass some law dealing with a question and she'd imagine the dramatized setting. It didn't always--or even often--seem to result in an understanding that reflected the real world, and we tried to explain why laws that demanded that zebrahans had to sacrifice to give their children an education were misplaced. (OK, see, yes they should do their best for their kids, but how is a queen going to know what their best is, and who died and made her God?)

Youngest son is now doing the same thing, except with his colony on Mars. We've had some very interesting discussions as a result. Of course, on Mars in a fragile colony you lose a lot of freedoms you take for granted on Earth (no pets, for example), but we've had some interesting times explaining to him why freedom of speech is a good thing, and why capital punishment for theft is a bit excessive.

I've noticed that when youngest son wants to imagine something new, put himself in a story, combine characters from different stories, and so on, he doesn't say "What if." He says "I had a dream that."

The light of the world

How much would we give to live back when Jesus lived, hear His voice, ask Him questions (and be able to understand Aramaic too)?

And yet in John 16 Jesus says we're better off with Him not around that way anymore. It seems odd, but that's what He said.

We can't bring gifts to Him like the Magi did, but He said in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of those around us we do to Him.

We can't see Him, but wherever two or three are gathered in His name He's with them--and in Israel He could only be in one place at a time: as though He showed up in Walnut Street but not in Door Creek.

We can't hear Him answer our questions and teach us, but the Holy Spirit is with us now, and we can learn if we humbly listen. And that humility includes listening to each other.

Jesus said that we would do even greater works than He did (excepting His atoning sacrifice, of course). What ought those works to be, and where are they?

Saturday, December 30, 2006


There was no hint that the post would appear twice--no hint of a glitch. This is blogger beta, so maybe there's a few hitches yet.

Was there nothing else to write about?

In the Wisconsin State Journal this morning one of the Hussein stories analysed the probable effects of Hussein's death on Bush's approval ratings. You can devise more foolish and tasteless reports, but it takes effort. The focus is the only marginally relevant and certainly manipulable "approval ratings," the assumption is that the outcome of a trial conducted in a different country is supposed to reflect how well the president of this one is doing his job, and the matter in hand is merely the speculation of nominal experts. That's not terribly more important or useful than discussing whether young singers will start wearing clothes again.


Saddam Hussein was hanged last night.

I decline to worry about procedural issues in his trial—it sounded very much as though he was allowed to make his case freely, Ramsey Clark to the contrary. How our country wound up with a man like Clark in a position of responsibility is still a mystery to me

Nor do I worry that this will infuriate his supporters. I’d guess that what little effect this hanging will have will be a short pulse of vengeance violence followed by a small resignation decline. Most of the fighting is driven by current issues, not a fallen leader from yesterday.

Nor do I get my shorts in a knot about the death penalty, as though it were somehow excessive for such a tyrant.

Our family wasn’t bothering to follow the case in great detail. Not our tyrant, not our courts, not our laws. I assumed that he’d be found guilty, and presumably hanged for his crimes; so there wasn’t going to be much surprise about it.

But it was odd to see the headline last night and feel slightly sad. When Ford died I thought of Antony’s “the good that men do lives after them,” as Ford entered into rest. But with Hussein there is no such hope. He made his bed, he must lie in it; may the Lord have mercy on his misbegotten soul. The world is a better place without him: a terrifying verdict on a life.

Tyrants like him are a dime a dozen, of course. He happened to be ruling a rich and powerful country, and lived long enough to thoroughly identify himself with the state. Mugabe has to work harder to get the same corpse count, ruling a poorer and less easily controlled country. I could undertake to find equally brutal characters in my own neighborhood, though they’d lack Hussein’s cunning and ambition—and therefore his scope of action, and therefore his crimes. We must only judge the deeds, not the heart, and by that appropriate standard my brutal neighbors are relatively innocent and Hussein exceedingly criminal.

We did not remark on the headlines in the paper this morning. My youngest son is fascinated with a Star Trek episode he’s seen a few times: Encounter at Farpoint. Two weeks ago he built a Lego courtroom like that used in the show, studded with Lego and Bionicle figures. This morning he built a gallows for it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I wonder if Ford knew what the pardon would do to his career. Politicians miscalculate all the time, perhaps he did too.

Or maybe he was exactly what he seemed, and really thought that it was best for the country; and was willing to sacrifice his career for the country.

We long for that attitude in our leaders. I wish we could see it. There's a tiny handful whom I suspect we could trust to do the right thing, a far larger number I'm sure would not, and a heap in the middle who might--just might--rise to the occasion.

I know one politician who made an unpopular vote and lost the resulting recall election. It wasn't a life or death issue--it just had to do with public financing of a stadium--but he thought it was important and so did a lot of angry voters. He told me he'd vote the same way if he had to do it again, and I believe him.

Not many ever risk as much as the real hero of Camp David--the man who initiated the talks, made the unpopular concessions that benefitted his country, and was murdered for it. Anwar Sadat was no saint, but give him credit for showing a quality rare enough even in democracies.

I think Ford was what he seemed to be, and I think we got the man we needed when we needed him.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Who was Joseph? We slide over him--the shepherds get more air time than he does in the Christmas plays. Of course he wasn't the father, and wasn't the husband--yet. Either would have been a position of authority--everybody knew to look first to the father in the family. But he was only a stand-in.

Of course God was turning the old order on its head, and now the ruler was helpless and God's power shone in weakness. But even so, Joseph wasn't the worldly family ruler yet. He hadn't even married Mary yet--accepted and acknowledged, but not married.

Why not marry her and forestall the odd looks? There might have been some prosaic problem like a lack of funds to pay the expenses, but my guess is that he was too awed to marry yet. Something holy was happening, and he had to wait. So he had reverence and practical (maybe even emotional) patience.

We're told he was just (or righteous--the word's the same). When he found that Mary was pregnant, which meant she had been unfaithful/impure, he remembered his duty to God's justice. There's a punishment for lawlessness, even for those dear to you. He tempered this with mercy--not Divine gracious mercy that shares the punishment, but the honorable mercy of a man who tries to mitigate the punishment. But he listened when God told him what was really about to happen.

What would that message have meant to Joseph? In his home the Savior would grow up. He was a poor man--how can he possibly prepare things correctly for the Savior? Would the Savior need to go study under the greatest rabbi?

If the mother governs the nest, representing the welcome and nurture and growth, the father is the guardian of the threshold, looking both ways and representing the claims of the family to the world and of the world to the family. He must be both just and loyal, and in some way justice must come first. He has the responsibility of the sword to fight for his family, and it is evil to do that without justice. Joseph was just.

He took on the responsibilities of being the husband without being the husband yet. He took on the responsiblities of being the father, without being the father-yet. He unexpectedly took on the ludicrous role of protector of God.

In the great drama he was not going to be a central character, though he probably expected to be important, and didn't know he would completely vanish from the scene. Mary was to be the archetypal Christian. Joseph was more like John the Baptist: she must increase and I must decrease. Or perhaps like Martha, with the necessary lesser duties.

I imagine Joseph outside the stable with the livestock, keeping an eye on the displaced beasts that panic at the smell of blood, waiting and hearing the pain he cannot protect Mary from. Wondering how he's going to try to raise a prophet and Savior. And now and then wondering how he's going to pay the midwife. For he was a just man.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Autism and the God Connection by William Stillman

I heard the last two minutes of an NPR show featuring the author, and decided to check out his book.

Stillman is not a good writer. As Twain noticed, there’s a bit of difference between the “lightening” and the “lightening bug,” and Stillman's editor, if he had one, was asleep at the switch.

The title is grossly misleading. Stillman doesn’t write much about God, and even when he does he much prefers to say “Higher Power.” He does, however, write a lot about ghosts, angels, dreams, and “Spirit.” The book is chock-a-block with anecdotes of supernatural occurrences surrounding people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome (of which he is one).

From these incidents he concludes that mystical experiences are to be expected (though not always found, he admits) around autistic people, who ought to be reverenced as spiritual guides for the rest of us.

There is only one thing in the book I’d consider worth the effort to read, and I can save you the time of finding the book.

He believes that mental retardation and insanity are no more common among the autistic than among the rest of us, and that most of the autistic are normally intelligent and emotional people imprisoned in some sensory overload or inability to communicate. My experience with Asperger’s people and with autistic people via the AUSome Society suggests that he is correct.

Reread my last paragraph and skip the book.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cells

Does it get any clearer than this?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Mark Neubauer gave a talk on "Observation of WZ Production at CDF," which included a short bit at the end on the limits they got for ZZ production. Expected background was .009 events, expected ZZ to 4 leptons was about 2.6 events; we saw 1 event so all we can give is a limit rather than an observation. They used a clever scheme to get around missing bits of lepton coverage by looking at stiff tracks (with minimal calorimeter energy) going into cracks as a kind of generic lepton: could be a muon, could be an electron, almost certainly not a hadron. They didn't use forward muons from the forward muon detector! And wouldn't you know it, in the 1 event they found, one of their "generic muons" was pointing right at a forward muon stub. Be nice if they'd mentioned it: a little credit would have been good for us lonely forward muon folks. We spotted it right away in the event display.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why is AIDS so much more common in Africa?

The BBC reports on a study in Science that says malaria can increase the "viral-load" of viruses in the blood stream, obviously making the chances of infection greater. I'd been wondering if there was some genetic factor, or maybe a "sexual practices" factor that would predispose to easier transmission, but this seems more plausible. Unfortunately malaria is hard to beat down.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


You can stand and watch the mountains for a long time. Even on a clear day they always seem to be slightly changing, just below perceptibility. Probably the changing light makes it seem so, together with the fact that they are too big to take in entirely, so you have to keep working to grasp what you're seeing.

You can't watch them for long, of course--there's work to do, places to go, people to see. The mountains only appear in glimpses when the clouds of daily action part to unveil them.

I find that I both forget them and don't forget them. I may be arguing over procedures or brainstorming the cause of an intermittent error, but somehow I'm still distantly aware of the hidden peaks, just as I'm distantly aware in the warm office of the frigid wind outside. There's a faint background to the day, brought to sharp foreground when I pass a window facing east or west.

The mountains do not care, and have no bearing on my work or play. God does.

Why can't my day be as infused with awareness of God as it can be with awareness of the mountains?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Perhaps not quite what they meant

We drove behind a truck labeled Natural Oven Bakery. Youngest son and I discussed whether their natural oven was a geyser or a volcano.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Selecting for deafness

Other people have commented on the deaf lesbian couple who selected for a deaf child, and covered (better) the points I'd have made. All I can add is that I am amazed at the vast gulf that divides me from those who think "selecting for defects" is legitimate. They act as though the child is like a car that has to fit in their garage; like an adornment and not a person.

I suppose I shouldn't be too startled. Our country (pretty much every country, actually) has allowed people to be treated as property. We got rid of that, but the attitude was taken for granted by millions for centuries.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Water is a flavor too

The water in different places tastes different. So when great chefs compose a recipe, is it only really perfect using the water supplied to their restaurant? A different mineral taste is bound to effect the flavor.

I'm not sure how one would cook using the high-sulfer (rotten eggs!) water supplied to my late grandfather's place near Picayune, but that's an extreme case.