Wednesday, February 29, 2012


It's strange how life intersects sometimes. Last week, I happened to see an old episode of The West Wing television series. At one point President Bartlett asks his newly hired deputy communications director: "Why is an American life worth more than any other life?" The response he receives is: "I don't know, sir, but it is."

After a few days of brooding, the president orders American troops into the fictional African country of Equatorial Kundu to end a Rwandan-like genocide.

And then, within a week, I saw the American Experience's portrait of Bill Clinton. And we see the president announce what came to be known as the Clinton Doctrine -- developed as a response to the Bosnian genocide:

It's easy ... to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brush land in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.

The civilian death count in Syria is now beyond 6400. And, the success of the Arab Spring in Syria and elsewhere is the surest way to protect ourselves against terrorism. So, how does the conflict in Syria not implicate our interests and values? Syria is not even all that hard to pronounce. America's Alibis for Not Helping Syria

More From Dave Van Ronk

My favorite Dave Van Ronk song (Teddy Bear's Picnic is a close second):

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't Ask Don't Tell Is Dead

Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan coming back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and is greeted by his boyfriend in Hawaii with a big kiss.

Obama's international program

Apparently Schenley Barack Obama Academy is not the only International Baccalaureate program in Pittsburgh. Upper St. Clair, which I thought dropped the program in 2006, not only still has a high school program but is attempting to get it into a grade school. (See Upper St. Clair OKs International Baccalaureate program) Actually, Vincentian Academy, a private school, has the third IB program in Pittsburgh.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent as a change to our quotidian existence

There once was a lady from Kent,
Who routinely felt wholly content.
But she thought about dying,
And the bed we must lie in,
So reversed how she did it for Lent!

"It's so easy in our quotidian existence to get and stay in our rut — the things we do, the things we think about, the way we treat people and ourselves."
—Peter Harvey

"So for Lent we should all lie in our beds in reverse of how we normally do"
—Hmm…someone in the Harvey family in a Lenten epistle

"We all make the bed we must lie in
      and tuck ourselves into it too.
And if somebody kicks, that will be me, dear,
      and if someone gets kicked that will be you."
—Bertolt Brecht (often heard sung by Dave Van Ronk)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent as a Celebration of Ignorance

The one certain truth we can believe is that much of what we believe is false. It keeps us humble. We can be certain about this because of overwhelming evidence.

  • 200 BC, Eratosthenes showed the earth was not flat.
  • 1500 AD, Copernicus showed the earth wasn't the center of the universe.
  • 1600, Dynamic Motion of Aristotle disproved by Galileo and his concept of inertia.
  • 1668, Spontaneous Generation disproved by Francesco Redi.
  • 1780, Lavoisier showed oxidation increased the overall weight of items disproving Phlogiston.
  • 1859, Charles Darwin showed natural selection responsible for evolution rather than transmutation or inheritance of acquired characteristics.
  • 1887, Ether disproved as the carrier of light by Michelson-Morley.
  • 1940, Newton's Laws of Motion, though still useful, were disproved by Einstein.
  • 1981, Newtonian principle of locality disproved by Alain Aspect (which, in 1988, I called the most significant event of the 20th century:)

It's almost as if the purpose of creation is to see how adroit we are in changing our beliefs from what appears obvious to what is obviously wrong. Myk has been pushing a variation of this theme with James Carse's The Religious Case Against Belief.

Lent is the time set apart to reflect on the fact that what we think we know about life and the universe is most likely wrong. It is the time when learn how to deal with change—so we can better adapt the next time our beliefs are pulled out from under us.

"Lord knows you've got to change…baby" — Carlos Santana Clarence "Sonny" Henry
                                                                                 (I was, unsurprisingly, wrong)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Whoever thought the GOP would become MORE conservative after Bush, and What's Up with Santorum

Republican candidates batter Bush's record as too liberal?

As many of the readers of and contributors to this blog are current residents of PA, can someone please explain the appeal of Rick Santorum? I am in no way opposed to his being nominated as the Republican candidate, but for the life of me I cannot begin to comprehend the rise of Santorum. Unless it is simply because the alternatives are Romney and Gingrich. And even then, I find it almost impossible to understand.

Theory of Special Relativity Staying Put

Einstein's theory laughs in the the face of bad wiring.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Helplessness Blues

I thought this song touched upon a lot of the themes of this blog.

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say "sure, take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

If I know only one thing, it's that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak
Yeah I'm tongue-tied and dizzy and I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues, why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you someday soon myself

If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm raw
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
And you would wait tables and soon run the store

Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore

Someday I'll be like the man on the screen

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In search of the Higgs field

Us laymen think in terms of particles, while scientists, even particle physicists, often think in terms of fields. Fields are just as real as particles. For example, a vacuum contains no particles but may contain fields, such as a gravitational field or an electromagnetic field.

In fact, many physicists question the reality of particles. As Niels Bohr wrote, "Isolated material particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems." Here is an attempt to explain what has been going on in the search for the Higgs boson field.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

God of the Day

God is a process or dynamic, the manifestation of which is the universe. 

Though not so poetic, it does steer one away from thinking of God as a particular thing or substance, yet avoids defining God as what God isn't. Also, because it evokes energy and spirit, it shuns the idea of a creator waiting to see if laws (both moral and scientific) are obeyed.

I also see this as a non controversial definition, since pretty much every religion points to the universe as the manifestation of God. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy Birthday!!! (and Quote of the Day)

It's not easy being 93…and anyone who thinks otherwise is unwise. Yet, paradoxically, it is what we all are striving for. Here is an excerpt from Wallace Stevens that is my birthday card to mom on her 93rd.

There were those that returned to hear him read from the poem of life,
Of the pans above the stove, the pots on the table, the tulips among them.
They were those that would have wept to step barefoot into reality, 
That would have wept and been happy, have shivered in the frost
And cried out to feel it again, have run fingers over leaves
And against the most coiled thorn, have seized on what was ugly 
And laughed

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You should never argue with a crazy mi mi mi mi mi mind

I recently let myself get into an argument with someone over the causes of poverty in America. The song and dance I had to listen to was that the poor brought poverty on themselves and were wholly to blame for their situation: anyone in America who worked hard enough and was willing to sacrifice could be middle class. ("The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character building values of the privation of the poor." John Kenneth Galbraith.) The logical conclusion was that the poor deserved their own plight.

My reaction is that anyone who could reduce something as complicated as causes of poverty to a few sentences or was willing to pigeonhole some 46 million people had a tenuous grasp of reality at best.

To give the sociological analysis of poverty would require many volumes. So here's two short responses to the idea that people get what they deserve. The first is Ecclesiastes:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
The second is Clint Eastwood:

If Chesterton watched football

I have to laugh when I see football players pointing to the sky after they have performed some difficult, crowd-pleasing feat. It seems to me a more meaningful gesture would be to point down. 

The celestial sphere is the last place they would find God. In fact it provides some powerful atheistic arguments. One, that we are so insignificant in the universe that we don't warrant a God; and, two, that with all that time and vastness of space, we can evolve by chance so a God (who aids football players) is not needed. Plus, there are many 'religious' fundamentalists who deny the scientific pronouncements on the size and age of the universe. Certainly, they don't want to look more closely at the heavens. 

I should think they would prefer the "Lord as my rock" approach. From the second chapter of Timothy, "God's solid foundation stands firm."

As Chesterton might have put it:
Look not to vaulted heaven, you silly ass,
ere you have thanked your God for all the grass.

Note: Similar to the interpretation of "Blessed are the cheesemakers", he may have been referring to all performance enhancing substances.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What's Up with Harvard Basketball?

So, what's going on with Harvard men's basketball? For the first time in program history, the Harvard team is ranked in the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ National polls. With a 7-0 record among the Ivies and a 21-2 record overall, the Crimson stand at No. 25 in the AP rankings and No. 24 in the coaches poll.

And there's Harvard grad Jeremy Lin who, in just his third NBA start, scored 38 points last night to lead the Knicks to a 92-85 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. In his first two starts, he scored 28 and 23 points. His total 89 points in his first three starts is the most of any NBA player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-1977. As they say, it's Linsanity.

Useful or Entertaining?

Sometimes I wonder if In Progress has any function. It seems as if Pete, Myk, and I could just email each other back and forth.

If anyone wishes to read or contribute to the blog please indicate simply by writing "read" and/or "contribute" in a comment. I'll start it off myself. This will be a good indication if the blog has any entertaining or useful value.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Quote of the Day

"the family is the human race's defense against utopianism."
          — Michael Novak, American Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat

Some one should do a correlation between marital status and people who like Ayn Rand.

Something to do tonight in Pittsburgh

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chart of the Day

You are still free to browse

Thank your lucky stars if you enjoy public access to the WWW. Today a jury in Tyler, Texas ruled that Eolas' 906 patent is invalid. You may continue to access this site… and the rest of the world will never now how close we came to shutting down the internet.

Pittsburgh is the smart choice

With the signing of Myron Rolle by the Steelers, Pittsburgh has 2 of the 3 smartest athletes according to Sporting News' article "Sports' Smartest Athletes". All we need to do now is trade for Ryan Fitzpatrick in order to be the undisputed City of (smart) Champions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Quote of the Day

As shown, Christians have reached very little consensus on who the "real" Jesus is, or was. At the same time, they cannot give up the quest. There is something about the man that is yet to be known, something unresolved, but something that must be resolved. For the same reason, the ceaseless yet fruitless attempts of Christians to develop an adequate description of their faith is a sign that its deepest and most compelling mysteries have so far eluded solution. To be sure, Christian history has been scarred by the rise and fall of belief systems devolving out of it, many of which have led to division, conflict, and even warfare. But then the belief systems repeatedly give way to fresh interpretations of both scripture and tradition -- as the bellicosity of the Crusaders was replaced with the peaceful scholarship and service of the monasteries, as Protestants and Catholics have set aside their brutal opposition in the recognition on both sides that neither is a closed system. This justifies the guarded conclusion this it is ignorance and not belief that is the source of the faith's vitality. What remains unsaid, even unthinkable, and what still inspires disagreement, is far more powerful than what is known and intelligible.

-- James Carse

Friday, February 3, 2012

Quote of the Day

Why does the image of an Indonesian sewing sneakers for 60 cents an hour evoke so much more feeling than the image of another Indonesian earning the equivalent of 30 cents an hour trying to feed his family on a tiny plot of land--or of a Filipino scavenging on a garbage heap?
       The main answer, I think, is a sort of fastidiousness. Unlike the starving subsistence farmer, the women and children in the sneaker factory are working at slave wages for our benefit--and this makes us feel unclean.
     —Paul Krugman

God of the Day

I'm not sure anyone could follow Myk in defining God, but I thought, perhaps, Karen Armstrong could hold her own. She takes a more traditional approach. One which has been heard on this blog before. It is a bit long, but fairly well done.

I can't pass up the irony that the iconoclastic video explanation is introduced with the perfunctory sun and cloud representation of God. "There is as much God in a microwave as there is in a sunset." —James Harvey

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Super Bowl to be accompanied by an entire football game

Advertisers on February 5 will actually be sponsoring an entire football game to be shown along with their famous Super Bowl. This unusual idea developed from the incredible success of previous Super Bowl advertising days. A 30-second spot is valued at up to $3,500,000. That's an increase of 8,000 percent from when ad-men first came up with the idea of gathering real fans and two teams together in a stadium just so advertisers could sell stuff to the world. It is estimated that 110 million people will watch the ads shown on Super Bowl Day and that two-thirds of them will be texting and tweeting their friends about the ads they see.

A spokesman for the advertising extravaganza said that, "It is all about getting people involved. We want to get our hooks into them like never before." He went on to say that, for that reason, the ads will be shown on the Web before, during, and after they are seen on TV. This allows the ads to go 'viral' long after the advertising event itself. He couldn't give many details about the sponsored football game, but said it will be minimally intrusive. "We understand this has become the most famous, most creative day of advertising for the entire year. We're not going to mess that up."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reason for Hope?

The first drug that treats an underlying cause of cystic fibrosis, rather than just the symptoms, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, January 31, 2012.