Thursday, January 31, 2013

Who Am I?

Overheard at Prince Gallitzin by someone with a piece of paper stuck to their forehead:
  1. Are you historical?  yes
  2. Are you male?  yes
  3. Are you living?  no
  4. Did you live before 1500?  no
  5. Were you born after 1800?  yes
  6. Were you ever in the military?  no
  7. Were you in the entertainment industry?  no
  8. Were you a famous sportsman?  no
  9. Were you a scientist?  no
  10. Did you make a lot of money?  no
  11. Did you lose a lot of money?  no
  12. Were you a writer, painter, photographer, musician or any other kind of artist?  no
  13. Were you a famous anything?  yes
  14. Were you a con artist?  no
  15. Did you hold a title?  no
  16. Were you European?  yes
  17. Did you have anything to do with inventing this game?  no
  18. Were you human?  yes
  19. Did you have a disability?  yes
Please help guess the name written on the paper?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Prince Gallitzin 2013

For those of you who missed our trip and for those who want to relive one of the great weekends at Prince Gallitzin, here's a photo recap:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How the Universe Got Its Spot

Hush now and listen to the phantasmagorical tale of how the universe got its spot. For there was not always a spot for our universe. In fact, there was once no space to put anything—not a spoon, nor the moon, nor your grandpa's bass bassoon—if you can imagine it. 

Before the time of tickling and teasing, 
Sunshine and sneezing 
Or anything pleasing…
Before the time of time itself, 
a demiurge—a clever, crafty demiurge—found the Receptacle of Becoming. 

For all the happiness in heaven, I can not properly describe said demiurge, though I might try Divine Suspicion of Artifice. Whereby I mean artifice in the old fashion sense of artistry, not deceit; and divine, of course, as outside time. You may shut up your eyes ever so tight, and shake out your head as well as you might, and then try to purge all thoughts that emerge, but insight eludes us for said demiurge. For even after all that shutting and shaking, to be perfectly perspicuous, a demiurge is closer to what you don't grasp than what you do. However, I have heard on the good authority of antiquarians with beards of all sizes that creativity, goodness and order are not its enemies. 

Despite my reservations and warnings, I must apologize here, for I will treat the demiurge more like your great aunt Beana or uncle Biggs—as if it thinks and acts and likely goes to the store at noon for persimmons—rather than the mysterious premonition it is. While that may add dust to mud, I know no other way to tell such a tale. 

As for the Receptacle of Becoming, its mere mention gives a dervish the most 'crutiating and dizzying headache. Like the demiurge, it lacks form or substance, but does contain a most subtle reflective quality so important in crafting. Nothing in itself, it but holds the gesture of all things. I will not describe it further for fear of twisting myself into a serious and inextricable knot. Others, greater than I, have tried. The sage Plato talks of its dreamlike existence while admitting it is extraordinarily "difficult and obscure", and the poet Milton calls it "the Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave." How could I be expected to improve on them?

But now the Receptacle of Becoming must be forgotten by us and the demiurge. Its articulation subverts its conduct. In like fashion, to best follow a tale you must forget it is being told. 

So, with what is best forgotten, the clever, crafty demiurge could do what he does best—craft. First, he crafted Nothing. If you have ever seen or heard or smelled Nothing, it is ever so empty and pointless—bereft of space and time, and lacking all the essentials. But the clever, crafty demiurge did not stop at Nothing, if you can imagine it. He pondered Nothing and pursued Nothing, probed Nothing and plied Nothing, and finally he positively pulled Nothing until at last it stretched into space, which was something—not much, but something nevertheless. And a very wonderful something it is. You and I could never imagine space from Nothing, but this clever, crafty demiurge could and did.

"Now I have some space to work with," he thought. 

And work he did. His excitement was reflected in his greatest creation—angels, if you can imagine it. But, to be perfectly perspicuous, not the angels which look like people in long robes with wings and nearly universal splendor. Those were created much later. These angels were pure spirit, whereby I mean energy, hustle-bustle, movement. 

And then the most phantasmagorical of events happened. For when the clever, crafty demiurge crafted Nothing with space and angels, time came along for free! For when you supply space and movement, time comes along for free. This so surprised the demiurge that he named it the Big Surprise. 

You may have heard of it. 

And what a surprise! He positively loved his handiwork and graciously gave the angels fields to till. And the fields became the exclusive property of the angels. As you can imagine, or even if you can't, the angels took to the fields like peas to honey; or is it bees to honey? In either case, don't think cabbages or rutabagas or parsnips; or strawberry fields or amber waves of grain. To be perfectly perspicuous, the produce gleaned by those angelic forces surpassed any you can imagine. 

And from that time on, since it came for free, as the angels worked, their fields grew, and space along with them. What had been just a little Nothing-pulled-and-stretched-into-something now began to grow as the energetic angels cultivated their fields. And guess what happened? Why nothing less than this: as the fields and the space for the fields grew, lo and behold, it became the perfectly perspicuous spot for the universe! And so it has remained ever since. 

Just look up at the night sky to see how great the universe has grown from that little stretch of Nothing-into-space and angels. (We even witness the stretch marks which survive as static.) And it only grew because time came along for free. Without all that time the universe could never have grown so large. We still find the fields today and give them the most splendid names to match their angelic hustle-bustle. Not cabbage but magnetic; not rutabaga, but electrical; not parsnip, but gravitational; and we keep discovering new ones all the time. 

But a funny thing happened. As time marched on and Ethiopians and Hibernians and Assyrians and Manchurians and Cro-Magons and Pseudo Europeans and likewise all manner of people populated the world, many confused the angels in long robes with wings and nearly universal splendor with the spirit angels who worked the fields. To end this confusion, it was decided by the Ministry of Culture and Accounts to bypass the angels altogether—to confiscate their fields and give them directly to space itself. So now we say:

fields are properties of any extended part of the universe with well-defined spatial boundaries 

which is fancy parlance for the fields are properties of space. But, if you ask me, that begs more magic than meaning, and more superstition than sense. Ask the Ministry how all these wondrous fields of angelic hustle-bustle, which practically define our universe, all come from properties of empty space? And then, O Best Beloved, you can tell them this story. 

And some say there is another universe in another spot somewhere, and it is more fantastical than this one. But I don't believe it, for what could be more fantastical than you or I. 

Before the temptations of time,
Thinking, becoming, and being,
Nothing was oh, so sublime,
Yet it's hard to confirm without seeing.
All conjectures, as best I can tell
Must agree with advanced mathematics,
It's so useful—predictive as well.
Any story we make must just have it.
And to be mathematically sound
Is the strength every theory enlists,
Though science evidentially found
No empirical proof math exists!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Musings on the Wedding at Cana

On the third day after Jesus' baptism, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.'
This was our Gospel reading today.  As some of you may know, this is one of my favorite Gospel passages.  Among other things, there is the humorous exchange between Jesus and his mother.  Even though Jesus says in no uncertain terms that he doesn't want to get involved, his mother completely ignores his objection.  She doesn't argue with him, but simply turns to the servants and tells them, Do whatever he tells you’ as if Jesus' opinion on the matter was nothing anyone really need consider.

But the miracle is what fascinates me.  Wedding feasts of first century Jews consisted of 7 days of some pretty hard partying.  To run out of wine in the middle of the thing was a social disaster.  But -- and here's the curious part -- Jesus did more than he needed to do save the feast; his wine wasn't just OK, it was particularly good.   Jesus' action in aiding the bridegroom and providing the guests with some really quality wine evidences more than just a nod of approval of this celebration.  It was Jesus' way of dialing up the party a little.  It's like you run out of Bud at a small get-together of friends and the guy you send out for more beer comes back with a case of Russian River Pliny the Elder.   

Jesus' attitude toward parties is recorded elsewhere in Scripture: 
But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the market place, who call out to the other children and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. 
 Matthew 11: 16-19.

But, unforunately, our sermon today did not explore the idea of Jesus as party-goer, or any other interesting idea for that matter.  Rather, it took the opportunity to bash same sex marriage.  And once again, among other things, we got the tiresome slippery slope argument:  once marriage is untied from its one-man-one-woman moorings, it might drift off anywhere.  Rick Santorum made this argument as well as anyone:  
If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. ... That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.
In  fact, our deacon (who delivered the sermon), gave some factually incorrect information about how the Netherlands and Brazil, having approved same-sex marriage, were now allowing polygamy.  And so, he argued, we are already on the slippery slope.

Under the slippery slope theory which claims that same-sex marriage casts the ship of marriage adrift and leads to other marriage variations, one would expect to see a lot of coincidence of same-sex marriage and polygamy in the same countries.  So, let's take a look, shall we, to see if our hypothesis pans out.  Our first map is of countires which permit polygamy: 

As you can see, polygamy is permitted in much of Africa, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent, and not much elsewhere.  The UK and Australia recognize polygamous marriages performed outside the country.

And now let's look at where same-sex marriages are permitted, as the map below shows.  Except for the UK and Australia, which allow polygamous marriages performed abroad and same sex civil unions, and South Aftica, which has legalized same sex marriage and tolerates polygamy under customary law, there is no overlap between same-sex marriage and polygamy.  In fact, in much of the world which allows polygamy, homosexual conduct alone is punished severely, including by life imprisonment or death.  I would argue that the one way to protect your country from polygamy is by legalizing same sex marriage.

The other observation I make here is that the Muslim world seems to have opted for polygamy whereas the Christian world has gone for same sex marriage.   In fact, same sex marriage appears to be a phenomenon unique to predominently Christian countries, and now seems to be part of our heritage.  

Could it be that the foundation for this inclusive view of marriage is the wedding at Cana? Perhaps what Christians have taken from the story is that marriage is too important, as Jesus demonstrated by his intervention, to leave anyone out.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Call Me Maybe Revisited

OK, I know that everyone is sick and tired of the penultimate pop tune of 2012, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." Mindless lyrics, a horribly catchy hook -- the perfect 10 of commercial music.  Can we stand to hear even one more time: 

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe?

But, bear with me on this.  Here is Carly Rae herself singing with Jimmy Fallon backed up by his house band, The Roots.  And playing only instruments you could find in an elementary school classroom.  At least everyone seems to be having a good time.

Carly Rae Jepsen - vocals, triangle
Jimmy Fallon - wood block, tambourine, bass drum
Questlove - washboard stick, kazoo, recorder
Tuba Gooding Jr. - kazoo, recorder
Frank Knuckles - bongos
Captain Kirk - ukulele
James Poyser - melodica
Mark Kelley - toy xylophone
Black Thought - tambourine

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quote of the Day

I apologize for this Apple reference. Over the past year I have read so many articles expressing the dissatisfaction expressed here. Thus, I find this quote so dead on, so funny, and so well expressed:

"The Market Wants Apple to Unveil a Time Machine: If you want a brilliant lesson in focus and discipline, watch Tim Cook right now. Some investors are dissatisfied with Apple. I think it's more a case of their being dissatisfied with their own lives and expecting that Apple's next product will fix everything. The constant refrain is that Apple has not introduced a disruptive product since Steve Jobs passed away. It's as if they want Apple to unveil a happiness device and they won't be happy until it does."
          —Harvard Business Review

It's All Coming True!!

We're one step closer to West Long Branch cousin Carolyn's long cherished dream becoming a reality:

Wawa in Mahwah some day? Chain invades North Jersey

Friday, January 11, 2013

From online publication PoliticsPA

AG-Elect Kane Assembles Top Staff

Written by Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

 Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Kathleen Kane

Kathleen Kane today named the top staffers who will help her manage the office of Attorney General. Several familiar names dot the list.

The first Democrat ever elected to the post, Kane’s first term will bring as much change to the office as it has likely ever seen.

Her first deputy will be Adrian King, an alum of the Rendell administration.

“I handpicked a team that brings a wealth of experiences, expertise, talent and knowledge that will be instrumental in fighting for justice for every Pennsylvanian,” Kane said.

Here is the list of top staffers:

*     *     *

Executive Deputy Attorney General for Civil Law

Susan J. Forney will continue to serve as Executive Deputy Attorney General for the Civil Law Division. Ms. Forney joined the Attorney General’s office in 1978 as a staff attorney in the Litigation Section where she handled numerous cases involving constitutional challenges to state statutes, programs and enforcement actions, in both state and federal courts. She served as Chief of the Litigation Section from 1998 to 2010, after which she was promoted to her current position.

Ms. Forney has served on several committees for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, including the Civil Justice Reform Act Advisory Committee, the Lawyers Advisory Committee and the Task Force to Study the Civil Jury Trial. Ms. Forney earned a B.A. in history from the Pennsylvania State University and her J.D. from the Cornell Law School.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More things discovered while looking for other things

Back in 1961, Kennedy decided to send 16,000 "trainers" to Vietnam.  At some point,  George Ball, Under Secretary of State approached Kennedy and, after reminding him of France’s devastating defeat in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, had this to say, "Mr. President, to commit American forces to South Vietnam would, in my opinion, be a tragic error.  Within five years we'll have three hundred thousand men in paddies and jungles, and we'll never find them again."  JFK reportedly laughed and replied, "Well, George, you're supposed one of the smartest guys in town, but you're crazier than hell. That will never happen."

Later, in 1965, again with amazing prescience, Ball wrote in a state department paper:

Politically, South Viet-Nam is a lost cause. The country is bled white from twenty years of war and the people are sick of it. The Viet Cong — as is shown by the Rand Corporation Motivation and Morale Study — are deeply committed. Hanoi has a Government and a purpose and a discipline. The “government” in Saigon is a travesty. In a very real sense, South Viet-Nam is a country with an army and no government. In my view, a deep commitment of United States forces in a land ‘war in South Viet-Nam would be a catastrophic error. If ever there was an occasion for a tactical withdrawal, this is it.

I remember reading a few articles by George Ball in Harper's magazine some years ago.  I always thought he was a pretty smart guy.  I never realized just how smart.

George Ball

Another use for duct tape

An unruly man on a flight from Reykjavik, Iceland to New York City is subdued without the use of firearms or the second amendment.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Democratization of Education

First there were MMORPG's, now there are MOOC's (massive online open courses). If anything is a natural for the internet, this is it. It hearkens back to the internet's original purpose of keeping scientists informed. Universities such as Stanford and MIT began offering on line courses around the turn of this century. Apple with iTunes-U gathered a lot of these courses together in 2007. Now there are companies like Coursera, Udacity and edX which have brought us into the MOOC age with millions enrolled in free courses. The NYT has a short video story about the topic. Free college education courses could be the greatest boon since the GI bill.

However, (there's always a 'however') this is the age of physical therapists and health trainers. We may have lost the skills to do things on our own. As the NYT video states, only a fraction complete the courses.

There is another 'however', however, with education on line. Ars-Technica reports that with all our social media inclinations, much science information is not coming from traditional scientific sources, but from the whims of search engines, sources we prefer, which may not be completely trustworthy, or even comments made by whomever on scientific articles.

Nothing's perfect, but it will be interesting to see how MOOC's impact our society.

Monday, January 7, 2013

If you challenge me to give up a car for the year, and television, a clothes dryer, a disposal...I accept. If you challenge me to live without you, I do so unwillingly. Fare thee well, sweet lover of mine.