Friday, December 23, 2016

A Skeptic Asks about Christmas

Here is Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times interacting with a gracious but unequivocal Tim Keller about the virgin birth.

Pastor, Am I a Christian?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

15 Criminal and Regulatory Referrals

Planned Parenthood/StemExpress congressional investigation updates:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Slave Narrative Describes the 1833 Leonid Meteor Shower

I have been slowly reading through FDR's WPA Federal Writers Project "Slave Narratives" from the 1930's. Today I read the narrative of Abraham Jones of Alabama, in which he describes the Leonid meteor shower on November 13, 1833.

Conditions were such at the time that the 1833 shower was supposedly the most spectacular of the Leonid meteor showers in recorded history. (These showers happen every 33 years, so the next one will be in 2031.)

A word about the slave narratives. All of the slave narratives were transcribed by writers in an attempt to get down on paper for posterity the first hand experiences of former slaves in their own words. Transcriptions and quotes are exact, so these narratives use language commonly used in that time, but which we find abhorrent in our culture. (The Jones narative is not hard to read, however.)

Here's Abraham Jones describing his experience
Here is a little modern article on the 1833 shower from The Richmond News

Monday, December 12, 2016

Kipling on Character

This is one of the most famous of Kipling's works -- and one of my most favorite poems. It explains what character looks like in daily life.

In the concrete, he describes such character traits as humility, cool-headedness, trustworthiness, perseverance, courage and risk, resignation and fortitude.

Poetry Foundation link

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
    If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

What Happens When You Make Words Illegal

Interesting thoughts by a Jungian psychologist at the the center of a free speech legal maelstrom in Canada, Dr. Jordan Peterson article. Here he discusses the problem with authoritarian attempts to make certain types of speech illegal.

"This is why free speech is so important. You can struggle to formulate some argument, but when you throw it out into the public, there’s a collective attempt to modify and improve that. So with the hate speech issue – say someone’s a Holocaust denier, because that’s the standard routine – we want those people out there in the public so you can tell them why they’re historically ignorant, and why their views are unfounded and dangerous. If you drive them underground, it’s not like they stop talking to each other, they just don’t talk to anyone who disagrees with them. That’s a really bad idea and that’s what’s happening in the United States right now. Half of the country doesn’t talk to the other half. Do you know what you call people you don’t talk to? Enemies.
If you have enemies, you have war.
If you stop talking to people, you either submit to them, or you go to war with them. Those are your options and those aren’t good options. It’s better to have a talk. If you put restrictions on speech, then you can’t actually talk about the difficult things that need to be talked about....
What happens when that truth actually does contribute to violence against groups?
You pick your poison, and free speech is the right poison. There are groups that advocate for hate, but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether repressing them makes it better or worse. I would say that [repressing them] just makes it worse. There’s [sic] lots of times when you don’t have a good option. People think that if we just don’t let them talk, it’ll go away. It doesn’t work that way at all. In fact, if they’re paranoid, you just justify their paranoia. By pushing them underground, you don’t weaken them. You just give them something compelling to fight against. You make them into heroes in their own eyes."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Castro remembered

Armando Valledares in The Huffington Post on life in Castro's gulags

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hamburgers and Diamonds

"The Diamond and Fur Lady in her coat and I in my TJ Maxx cap settled down for a long winter's snack. We exchanged victorious smiles, and smacked our lips upon our burgers. Kindred spirits: We, The Living, of Interstate 70." 

Hamburgers and Diamonds:
A Generation X Love Letter  

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.” We have been married 20 years, this November -- we two children who got hitched to each other and a Ryder truck and drove to Los Angeles by way of the Rocky Mountains in winter.

It was a good start for us, married under clear November skies in Bethesda, Maryland. “Bethesda” means “house of mercy.” You gave me a diamond ring and we made our promises surrounded by soft autumn colors, and friends stood by in fine attire. Our proper brick church was arched by bare, grey trees, fibrous and plucky. Our great-grandparents would approve. Those were kindred trees with the German and the Scots-Irish, our ancestors. And like our ancestors before us, “we walked off to look for America.”

After our honeymoon at a house on a windy North Carolina beach (the best kind of beach there is), we struck out boldly for California over the Rocky Mountains in a whiteout, with no chains for the tires. Our ponderous Ryder rental truck clutched around turns and snaked over dark drops reeling into snow-flecked emptiness. Guarded by flimsy tin ribbons of guardrail, we were our own careening Gary Larson sketch, complete with a top-heavy vehicle, hairpin turns, and reckless overachievers (both the guard rails and those two wedded kids). 

I spent that part of the honeymoon clutching the dash, while you white-knuckled the wheel. The vinyl seat my prayer bench, my eyes squinched shut, I prayed like a saint for safety and deliverance. 

Driving on Bald Tires in Blizzards through Plunging Mountain Passes had not been mentioned on your resume nor come up in premarital counseling. What a glaring omission, I despaired, on the snow-melt on the floor of that cab. What a ghastly oversight in our courtship. Who is this man, really? And can he drive a very big truck in blinding snow and ice through steep mountain passes? 

Vows, rings, morning coats, honeymoons, counseling with clergy – none had prepared me for that pressing question: Am I going to die in a rocky valley tonight?

Kyrie eleison, I prayed with Mr. Mister. And the Lord did have mercy.  

And you had skills I didn't know about, and brought us through safely, in that dismissively-casual way of yours when things are dire. Then we nonprofit types stopped at a Wendy's with all the ski-resort-rich travelers, also breathing sighs of relief. We ordered hamburgers, and I sat near a lady in big diamonds and real fur.

Plucked back from the yawning maw of death, no food has ever tasted as good. The Diamond and Fur Lady in her coat and I in my TJ Maxx cap settled down for a long winter's snack. We exchanged victorious smiles, and smacked our lips upon our burgers. Kindred spirits: We, The Living, of Interstate 70. 

“Hamburgers and diamonds” -- a metaphor for the last 20 years and the different places we have called home.

A 15th floor apartment hanging in the air above a snaky Shanghai river and the floating marquees and coal boats of Pudong. You somehow found a coffee press to help me wake up in that Tea Town, and when homesick, we went to Blue Frog for burgers.

A pink-tiled, one-bedroom walk-up in North Hollywood, where we lay in bed each night and listened to police sirens and to the plates in the cupboards tinkling during 100 tiny earthquakes. 

A spread-out suburb in Texas with big and bright stars, wildflowers, and coyotes howling after hapless housecats in the front yard. We bought cowboy boots and tickets to Rangers games. 

A 1950s split level on the Morristown-Gladstone train line in New Jersey. We walked trails in the Watchung Range, sang with the Jersey Boys (we lived minutes from the site of the Four Seasons Bowling alley they took their name from), and ate at Carnegie Deli. 

Home was once a condo next to an ostrich farm in Denver. We hiked near Red Rocks and cuddled at home during a surprise spring snowfall. 

We’ve lived differently in our different homes. 

I had a cleaning lady in Shanghai. I was a cleaning lady in Denver. 

Black tie and Dickeys barbecue. Buddhists, Baptists, and Catholics. 

Wild turkeys and deer crossed the roads in New Providence, NJ and snow fell deep and heavy in 2012. All just "life in a northern town."

You’ve put up with the fact that I unconsciously take on the accent of the locals. In China, this means I speak English with a bad Aussie, British, or Chinese accent, while your eyes plead for me to stop. In Texas, it means I talk like Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard.  But is it really as embarrassing as that time in D.C. I kicked you under the table and you blurted out, “Why did you kick me?”

Audibly, almost, I can still hear the raspy chain-smoking intonations of our landlady in Los Angeles, telling us we were “good kids” and instructing us not to put nails for pictures in the wall. Sorry, no art in LA! 

Also, I can hear the Chinese-accented clamor from across Weifang Xi Lu of "san gah' haizah!” (My muddled pin yin for, literally, "three pieces of children!") And, yes -- “dui” -- we nodded, pointing to my stomach. “All from one womb!” they exclaim. Three siblings are a wonder and delight to wombs taxed rapaciously by the government to house more than one. 

Over time you have financially supported four dogs, five hamsters, two gerbils, two guinea pigs, and untold numbers of fish fated for an untimely demise. We seem like nice people, but the fact of the matter is, our house is the end of the road for the life aquatic. Motto: Here, the fish sleep with the fishes.

Reader, what happens when the Scots-Irish and Germans marry?  I can tell you. But first, one thing that does not happen is: Boring.

Something that does happen is an unseemly number of U2 concerts and baseball games. Along with passion, persistence, political debates, and poem analysis. Or, as you, you old blasphemer, like to call them: song lyrics. Some Yeats and some Sting.

“Grace trumps karma.” And together we cling to Shakespeare’s ever-fixed mark -- no impediments, no alterations. For “love isn’t someplace that we fall, it’s something that we do” (wrote the poet, Clint Black).

And still more songs and poems and stories -- and that muffled, married, most-private late-night darkness. That knowing that it is just We Two. Who else do we have here in New Jersey-Virginia-China-California-Colorado-Delaware-Texas-Pittsburgh?

Though, to make things current, it is now it is We Five. You cloned yourself, as any enterprising, industrialized German ought, and gave me a small brood of bonny, brown-eyed stalwarts. They are wry, skeptical, and often unsubtle. They like good stories and sports and music. 

Together we try to teach them a sense of humor, both broad and wry, and we make them read books and articles (though you'll never read Sci-Fi and I'll never read Vince Flynn). And we make them get a little fresh air, as a moral duty. That's what the Germans and Scots-Irish share: books, a little fresh air, resolution on a good day, and stubbornness on a bad one. Not to mention a fondness for cheese and butter and bread.

This is a letter to my husband:

Who talks theology and politics with me just exactly when I want to, every night.
Who loves me even when I get a little plump on bread and cheese. 
Who plies me with warmth, and who kisses me so well that I don't want food.

Thank you for the fireworks, still blaze-y after all these years. Thank you for the roof, the bonny babies, and for the books and fresh air. 

Thank you for the hamburgers and the diamonds.