Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Youngest Son likes bike riding, and likes grocery errands as an excuse to ride his bike. So when the Better Half said she needed cukes, YS volunteered, and rode off with a list in his pocket and a backpack on his back.

When he returned he had the cherry tomatoes, but misunderstanding the verbal and hand-written instructions, had also bought a chocolate cake mix. We had a good laugh, and dove quickly into dinner. It had been close: cucumber ≈ "Cake: Umber"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Share the anger, pass it on

I dropped off a letter at the post office, and carefully pulled back out of the parking space (someone else was coming in), when the fat man in the pale blue sports car with the micro-dog in his lap revved his way back almost into my car. I pulled on forward to exit--waiting to let a car from the drop-off lane pull out. Mr. Impatient honked at me. The cars ahead turned out onto the busy road, and when it came my turn and I rolled up to the exit, he honked at me again. Then his car rear ended mine.

Now I was the furious one, and he was rapidly saying he didn't intend to hit me, the car just rolled, it had nothing to do with the horn, it had nothing to do with the horn. I tried to keep from snarling as I said "If there's no damage, the heck with it."

There wasn't, fortunately. That helped me calm down, I guess, so I suppose I wasn't able to pass the anger on. Maybe next time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sympathetic Magic

I discovered a guaranteed way to precipitate a downpour: get out the feather pillows and have a wild pillow fight.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dr. Boli strikes again

Perhaps you are not familiar with Dr. Boli's eclectic web site. This is an ear-perfect ad for a seeker-driven worship service.


The last opera of the NY Met Opera broadcast season is Götterdämmerung. I remember the first time I heard the synopsis of it. It seemed a silly letdown, with an unmotivated climax.

How come everything catches fire? Why does the death of this human woman destroy the gods? The series has had giants and gods and dragons and wild valkyries and it comes down with a thump into a love triangle with a magic potion. And why is the ring's curse always just a little offstage, with plausible deniability ringing it round?

OK, I'm a little older now, and I think I get the point: the woman Brünnhilde is still a valkyrie with power to destroy, and the ring gives its power to someone who forswears love--and her suicide does that rather emphatically. So the ending makes logical sense. It still doesn't seem quite fitting; not quite dramatically motivated.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Henry Cardinal Newman

He wrote this in 1864 to explain why a good Anglican and leader in the Oxford Movement chucked it and became a Catholic.

The library book sale had it for a buck, and he's fairly well known, so I tried it.

The book is his autobiography, written in less than three months as a defense against charges of being a traitor to his faith and dissembler. His attacker apparently didn't bother to research his victim, and was fairly easily trounced.

Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism would have made fewer waves if he hadn't been so prominent, but his autobiography shows that it wasn't a huge shift. In an effort to combat what he calls "Liberalism" (the ancestor of today's liberal theology--which would have made his hair stand on end), he pushed for a rethinking of Anglicanism along High Church lines that closely reflected Roman Catholic thought.

He was a High Church type of Anglican, with very high regard for Mary and for the Catholicity of the church, with a strong belief in the importance of tradition.

The biography is careful and painfully honest and interesting in places (I learned a bit about casuistry--enough to appreciate some of the problems involved in building a system that covers all the bases; though as a scientist I knew that already :-) He doesn't waste ink on discussions of obvious "heresies"(*) like Lutheranism or Calvinism, but they weren't an important part of his early life; so I suppose you have to look elsewhere to find him engaging with those churches.

The style is clause-heavy, but readable. The intellectual journey from English Catholic to Roman Catholic doesn't make for a very long trip, but his personal battles are interesting.

You can probably live long and prosper without having read the book.

(*)His word, not mine.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fourth American Republic?

Someone named DeLong has an interesting, if perhaps overly optimistic, sketch of trends in American government.


My better half was explaining why she got a full perm rather than a partial: apparently so much hair had grown in since the last one that it wasn't really cost-effective. I asked her if the hairdresser charged by the inch. "No, by the rod."

Rapunzel had a rod's worth, but apparently this is a different kind.

Life style changes coming up

From the bus window I saw a little red 2-seater Porsche, with a boxed crib kit in the back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Signs of the times

The FFRF bought poster-room on the side of a bus: it says "Sleep in on Sunday." I suspect they don't suspect the irony of the slogan: without Christianity Sunday wouldn't be a holiday--it would be more in keeping with the Microsoft Way ("If you don't show up for work at 7 on Saturday, don't even bother coming to work Sunday").

A building near campus, which looks rather like it used to be a church, holds a building called the Church Key, specializing in liquor. Since the instrument sometimes known as a church key has been largely superseded by pull tabs, the pun escapes notice; and signs outside the building now advertise it as "C.Key" Embarrassed, are they?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Lord's Supper, Second Part

In the first part I tried to determine what was the minimum one could say about the Lord's Supper. One clear conclusion is that this is more than a symbol; that Jesus is present in some fashion during the service. But what are the characteristics and limits of this presence?

I don't know anyone who seriously argues that a church potluck is an instance of the Lord's Supper (Paul seems to be trying to distinguish the two). There seems to be no great groundswell claiming that every single morsel must be individually broken by the officiant/leader—in fact Jesus told the disciples to divide it themselves. The consecration/blessing/prayer for one part is taken as being for it all, which is both a reasonable extrapolation of the example and a practical necessity.

Clearly the blessing/consecration/prayer is for the food being served at that time, and not for any other bread that might be lying nearby—but it includes all that is intended to be served at that time, whether immediately in hand or not. This seems like a fairly obvious point, and it isn't disputed, but it represents one of the limits.

Does the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine extend beyond the ceremony? One obvious answer is yes, since He is present with His worshipers who have eaten these things in obedience to His command. But another answer is no: when all is done the leftovers are merely what they are. This is not explicitly spelled out in scripture (or there wouldn't have been arguments over the centuries!), but there seems to be a clear analogy in John:

John 6:63

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

The words Jesus spoke were sounds; sounds which dissipated into heat and were gone—except where they found a hearing in human beings. They were life and spirit only insofar as they were received by men. They were not life or spirit for the wandering birds, but they are for us who do not even hear them directly anymore.

The life that comes with the words of Jesus has to come from an interaction with God, not from an extension of our ordinary bodily life. Sounds, however pleasant, don't repair broken DNA or clear up wrinkles. The interaction with God is real; just not physical. The wandering birds did not experience that interaction with God, and so for them the words were not spirit.

In the same way the mouse I mentioned last time, though it eats from the prayed-for/blessed/consecrated bread, does not interact with God or experience the presence of Jesus.

The bread and wine then do not undergo an intrinsic change, but only become Jesus body and blood in relation to the worshipers.

Perhaps this analogy is not convincing. Ask this, then: do the leftovers, since they were consecrated/set apart/made holy, remain holy?

If they are to be reused at a later ceremony, then in obedience to Paul's instructions they should be blessed again. This militates against the “permanently holy” interpretation, and suggests that adoration of the bread after the ceremony is not called for. It is of course offensive to attempt to misuse these elements, but if a hungry beggar appeared at the door after the service I do not think it would be blasphemous to offer him the food available; but only after the service, by no means during it.

My thoughts on the matter tend to study the operational rather than deciding about natures. This is partly from a personal bias in the way I analyze things, and partly because I judge the word “spiritual” to be a placeholder for things whose structure is not clear to us. We can call both angels and God “spiritual” but because one is created and the other the Creator the difference between their natures has to be profound.

How does participation unite us with Christ and with each other? I haven't a clue. It does—provided we partake in worthy manner.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Yesterday was both Youngest Daughter's 18'th birthday and the New York Metropolitan Opera's broadcast of Die Valkyrie, so she spent a good chunk of the day listening to it. Eldest Son asked if Wagner wrote in German or Entish, since it seemed to take him so long to get to the point. ( A summary is available on youtube: she listened to it afterwards)

I like the music too. Can't make head or tail of German, though.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Lord's Supper

An education in higher mathematics has several side effects. The student learns how vast his ignorance is and always will be, but he also gains a cheerful insouciant confidence that he can tackle the same problems that exercised the great masters. In that humble spirit I want to think about the institution established by our Lord on the night we celebrate today.

Begin with the documents. The passages cited are from BibleGateway, NIV edition.


26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."

27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

30When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.


22While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."

23Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

24"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25"I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

26When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.


14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."

17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

John 7

25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"

26Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

28Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

29Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

30So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

32Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

34"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."

35Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

41At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven'?"

43"Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. 44"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

53Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

1 Corinthians 10

14Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

18Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. 22Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

1 Corinthians 11

17In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

33So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

1 Corinthians 12

13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The passage from John’s gospel is inexplicable apart from the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus states an identity between himself and bread from God and his flesh. Nobody understood what he was talking about at the time, and the claim lost him a lot of disciples.

Look to what He did for an explanation. From Matthew, Mark and Luke we find that he gave thanks, broke the bread and told the disciples to divide the bread among them, telling them it was his body. It wasn’t his body, it was bread; but this is Jesus speaking. He gave thanks and gave them the cup and told them it was a new covenant in his blood. It wasn’t blood, it was wine; but this is Jesus speaking.

Paul gives a slightly different account. He wrote earlier than the rest, but presumably had access to the same body of testimony from which the gospel writers drew. Why the details differ I cannot say, but I guess that the “in remembrance of me” was dropped from the other version in the interests of succinctness.

Paul seems to be trying to distinguish between this observance and ordinary potluck dinners (though he’s not happy with their church dinners either). Important details here are that

  1. the communion includes both the bread and the wine
  2. this is to be done “in remembrance” of Jesus
  3. participants must recognize the body of the Lord
  4. participants must do this in a worthy manner
  5. participants must examine and judge themselves
  6. failure to partake properly brings judgment (and possibly physical punishment—sickness or death)
  7. participants should “wait for each other”
  8. the cup is a cup of thanksgiving and a participation in the blood of Christ
  9. we are to do this “whenever” we do it
  10. the loaf is a participation in the body of Christ, and an emblem (and possibly one source) of our unity

Some Old Testament sacrifices were eaten by the worshippers, and it seems clear enough that some pagan rites worked the same way. Some sacrifices were holocausts, others eaten by the priests, but some were eaten by the offerers. Paul warns against joining in their sacrificial meals and becoming participants with demons. This suggests that Paul saw some similarity between the two meals: not that one was transcendentally different from the other.

I’ve heard it asserted that the bread is “merely a symbol” of the body of Jesus. That flatly contradicts Paul’s passage, which says we must recognize Jesus’ body (and since when do mere symbols bring judgment on you?), and Jesus’ claims in John’s gospel that this bread and wine bring eternal life. This is clearly more than a symbol.

On the other hand it is universally recognized that this is bread and wine. Some hold that the “accidents” are the same but the nature is different. Some hold that the physical nature is the same but it has a spiritual nature. Another view is that it is a physical object but becomes a spiritual food when taken in obedience (or disobedience, per Paul). There seem to be quite a few subtle variations on these themes—and though they seem similar they have different operational consequences.

Let me introduce some test cases. My favorite test case is the repentant thief on the cross. He was never baptized, never ate the Lord’s Supper, never did anything but turn to Jesus and ask him to remember him—and he was promised paradise. (I don’t think it is safe to distinguish paradise and the salvation offered believers—there is no warrant for it.)

Another test case is the mouse. It has happened that a wafer or morsel of bread is dropped, and gotten away. A mouse eats it. What is the effect of the food on the mouse?

Let me be clear: I do not thoroughly understand what is meant by “spiritual” or “real presence.” These are things that are outside ordinary experience, and for which we have only the loosest sort of words. We experience our own selves, but we do not understand our selves in any clear and undisputed way—how much less the presence of Christ in bread and wine? Call it projection or “dog in the manger” if you like, but I don’t think the professional theologians understand “spiritual” much better than the laymen. “Spiritual” is a place-holder word to label aspects of reality outside our physical experiences.

If the bread changes its nature after the consecration and becomes Jesus’ body in all but the “accidents” then it makes sense to adore it and take every precaution with every bit of it; burning or burying the leftovers. If the bread is spiritual food, it is more plausible to say that it is spiritual only in relation to men, since bread is not notably naturally spiritual. Leftovers can be disposed of as convenient, and it is nearly idolatrous to adore it outside the service.

The operational implications are significant. If the Lord’s Supper is a reenactment of the sacrificial meal (as one would conclude from the once-for-all language in Hebrews), then a priest is not so essential, and if the bread is the body of Jesus only in relation to the worshippers there seems to be no need for a priest at all. The High Priest and Sacrifice is already ready, and there is nothing to take care of afterwards.

Enter the mouse. In the first case, if the mouse eats the wafer the mouse is eating the real body of Jesus—and if not sacrilege this is at least defilement. In the second case the mouse, having no spiritual nature, cannot relate to the presence of Jesus; which therefore does not exist for the mouse. This is unbefitting, but not a sacrilege.

Given our inevitable ignorance about spiritual natures, what can we safely say about nature of the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is not intrinsically required for salvation/eternal life. The case of the thief on the cross shows this. He was not baptized because it was impossible, not a participant in the Lord’s Supper because it was not possible. For almost all the rest of us it is possible, and for us refusing to partake is disobedient and ungrateful. It is not our own acts that save us, but rejecting the means of grace is not a route to salvation. Jesus seems to have thought this important (verse 56), and we should follow his lead.

Jesus is present, in some way, in the bread and wine. I am suspicious of theories about the nature of this presence. The minimal statement I know how to make is that he is present there in relation to us as worshippers, as we gather to obey his command. When we eat and drink we participate in some way in his life.

At a minimum, he is present in the elements for the duration of the service (and for any later services when things are brought to shut-ins).

If we participate carelessly or without recalling our own sins, we risk God’s judgment. I do not know how this will manifest itself.

Participation together in the Supper makes us participants in Jesus’ life somehow, and also in each other.

Paul said he had further instructions, but presumably these are the important details.

How should we participate in the Lord’s Supper?

We must come together with the intention of celebrating it together. Unity is an aspect of the celebration.

We must prepare ourselves, examining our consciences and judging ourselves.

We must remember Jesus’ sacrifice, and remember his presence in the bread and wine

We ought to give thanks, as Jesus did

It is customary to recite scripture describing the original supper to (at minimum) remind us of the purpose of the service.

It seems fitting, as far as is reasonably possible, to use similar elements to the original ones: a loaf of bread and cup of wine. If there is no wheat, use rice or whatever will make the emblem of the broken loaf (and daily bread). These were simple ingredients; ordinary staples.

Singing hymns seems appropriate, since this is what was done at the first Lord’s Supper and is a natural part of worship

How often isn’t indicated, but I know no good reason why “very frequently” isn’t a good answer.

Lord, thank you for your inexpressible and mysterious gift.

Part 2

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


It says here this blog has passed the 1000-post mark. I think that may include a couple of drafts that never got posted, but still...

Christian nation?

There seems to be some pushback to Obama's claim that the US is not a Christian nation. There are a number of different senses in which one could take his statement; in some of them it is true and in others it is nonsense.

But the complaints I've seen completely overlook his audience: Turks. In the Middle East there are only 3 nations which have secular governments: Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey. And Turkey is sliding back into that Islamic prison. Of course Obama's going to emphasize the secular nature of the US, if he's been given any sane guidance at all about what to say in Turkey. And he'll make believe that Muslims form a noticeable and important part of the nation--because it plays well with the Turks, whose view of the US is warped by the Middle East media. This stuff isn't meant for US consumption.

Aura again

This afternoon. The previous one was recent.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dinner surprise

Our eldest daughter had brought a friend over for dinner, so the table was full again. Eldest Son had just taken the youngest two off to church youth group, when we got a phone call from middle daughter in Senegal.

She put her friend Pascal (from Casamance) on the line. His English is much improved, and he asked my permission to marry my daughter. (Not a surprise: I'd already guessed that was the purpose of this trip.)

They know the difficulties, and the "fish out of water" problems in both directions; and have a few milestones to be worked out first. I said "Oui."

Update: Strictly speaking, he asked permission to enter the family as a son.

Palm Sunday

We remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem this Sunday. We know the story: everything seems right with the world, with people cheering God’s prophet as he comes into the city and starts cleaning out the corruption of worship. In the following days he astonishes the crowds with his teaching. He has to be the liberator. He has the applause of the crowd—for a while. Again.

He’d had crowds of disciples following him before, and something happened: many quit following him. Can you blame them? Jesus wasn’t making sense. Who could accept this kind of teaching?

And in the same way the crowds of Jerusalem, feeling betrayed by the man they thought would liberate them, called for his execution as a false prophet. Would a real redeemer of Israel have let himself be ignominiously captured?

After the Resurrection we learned that Jesus came not to rescue Israel from the Romans, but from themselves, and the Romans from themselves, and us all from the slavery to evil. He came not to make a paradise for the lucky few who survived, but redeem catastrophe for everyone; and by sharing the night with us all, to show us God in the dark times. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil—for God is with me and lived this too.

Can you blame the crowd? Even we who know better, and are eager to follow Jesus when the road looks bright, are apt to feel betrayed when it leads into darkness and shame. “Surely he can’t mean that I have to show up for service with everyone looking at me after what I did.” “Why does the nursery worker never get applause, and dozens lining up to shake her hand after the service?” “I tried to help that couple and they stole my kid’s purse.”

Our church doesn’t celebrate Palm Sunday, unfortunately. It is useful to remember the difference between natural celebration of what even the world can recognize, and Jesus' call.

Microsoft Office

I'm running the 2007 Office suite, and starting to wonder a bit about the quirks of the programmers they have. Everybody knows the story of the dictionary they used to use: If you mis-spell a word MSWord offers a list of possible words that have spellings close to what you typed, and for "zzzz" it used to offer "sex" as an option.

I typed "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" and it highlighted "fear." Pretty sure I'd spelled it right, I moved the mouse over to see what options it preferred. "Hear"

Saturday, April 04, 2009


It is that time of year again: blue skies, tulips coming up through the lawn (stray bulbs), plans for the garden, pheasants in the fields and 5 inches of snow tomorrow.

Friday, April 03, 2009


On a lighter note...

I posted this in the comments at Shores of the Dirac Sea (an interesting physics blog), and figured why not here too? Not Shakespeare, but... Berenstein asked if we could put the quark names in a poem.

We rise up each morning and head down to work–
It is strange such dry toil should have charm!
Are we lovers of beauty and seekers of truth
Or (at bottom) not top of the line?
Just winos of symmetry, tangled in strings
Monte-carlo betting our careers
That our Tweedledum histograms differ enough
And our neural nets won’t overtrain

(Rhyming is an extra cost option)

"Wino" is the hypothetical super-symmetric partner of the W.


I'm still waiting for an explanation of why Obama demanded Wagoner's resignation.

Any sort of explanation--was he clearly incompetent? making threats?

Was he ousted to set an example for the rest, not for any failing of his own?

Or was he forced out just because Obama wanted to show that he could?

I say "Obama" because he's the head of state, but for all I know the driving force might be Geithner, who later threatened further ousters. All I can tell for sure is that this is the beginning of another level of cronyism. Whether or not you think Obama is a man of integrity (I don't), we all know that men like Senator Dodd are not; and this precedent hands them huge power. We already had trouble with money buying "influence:" we're going to get it in spades now.

And don't bother bringing up "campaign finance reform." All that will mean, in this environment, is that rules will be designed to prevent incumbents from being unseated, enforced with federal bureaucrats and money.

UPDATE It is already worse than I thought. Control is the focus, not recovery.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Chesterton said it well in The Spice of Life:
The man who forgets nationality instantly becomes less human and less European. He seems somehow to have turned into a walking abstraction, a resolution of some committee, a programme of some political movement, and to be by some unmistakable transformation, striking chill like the touch of a fish, less of a living man. The European man is a man through his patriotism and the particular civilization of his people. The cosmopolitan is not a European, still less a good European. He is a traveller in Europe, as if he were a tourist from the moon. In other words, what has happened is this; that for good or evil, European history has produced European nations by a European process; they are the organs of the organic life of our race, at least in recent times; and unless we receive our natural European inheritance through those natural organs, we do not really receive it at all. We receive something else; a priggish and provincial abstraction, invented by a few modern and more or less ignorant men.

I do not believe the EU will last any substantial time, because all that I have seen or heard points to it being the work of "cosmopolitan man" rather than an organic cultural growth. The Greeks seem to feel no need to sacrifice for the benefit of the Poles, nor the French for the English. The elites with whom I work are happy to work together, since it benefits us all, but (as recent months remind us) life doesn't promise us desk jobs and eternally good salaries. I sense no glue to hold people together in hard times.

I'd be happy to be wrong, but I don't think I am.


Studies, yes. Science, no. But why?

The experimenter is not automatically isolated from his experiment, since the subject responds to him, adjusts his attitudes, looks for responses from the experimenter--and sometimes figures out what the experimenter is looking for. The experimenter cannot study processes in the subject in isolation unless the subject is in some way isolated from the experimenter. Reproducibility isn't possible (no two people are alike, and the same person will react differently to the same situation a second time, from boredom if nothing else).

The only way found to deal with this is misdirection and abstraction so that the subject cannot figure out what is going on.

This distancing means that the experimenter deals with the subject as if he were a thing and not a person. Ignoring the most fundamental thing about your subject matter seems like trying to study physics without ever thinking about energy.


The mystery sea-monster of the Scottish loch seems to come and go--as though it wasn't there all the time. Maybe it isn't. Perhaps this is a form of lycanthropy: wolves in Europe, leopards in west Africa, a sea serpent in Scotland? If so we need to pay close attention to keep them from vanishing: we need to maintain a Were-Ness.

Cognitive dissonance

We got a flier in the mail today: a joint production of Kathleen Falk (Dane County Executive) and Shirley Abrahamson (Supreme Court) asking for re-election. "Who will stand up for you? They will stand up for you!" says the blurb, with a picture of a young woman and her toddler. The very first thing on their list inside the flier--their first priority--is abortion; aka disposing of kids before they grow to be toddlers. And it is not just first in the list--that single item is longer than the rest of the list of priorities put together. I think the word I'm looking for is "hypocritical."