Archive for March, 2010

a pogrom of a different sort

March 28, 2010

While reading the first chapter of Exodus this morning, I noticed a few elements of the story that I had overlooked before. Take a look at this:

Now a king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Behold, the  people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply, and in the event of war they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.”

This was certainly a draconian measure; furthermore, we see the extremity of that Pharoah’s Hitleresque anti-semitism in this passage:

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiprah and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”

Pharoah was a baby-killer, and he was not timid about his prejudices in his mandates. We also note with curious interest that this practice of slaying the male babies is opposite of the historical Chinese practice of snuffing girl infants. Both policies are abominable, and should be outlawed everywhere in the world.

So we see here the mandating of what appears to be the first pogrom that we know of. As many who celebrate Pasach understand, persecution of Jewish people is nothing new in human history. Passover celebrations throughout the world commemorate the deliverance with which God can deliver his people from adversity.

Furthermore, we see that, as anti-semitism is no new development, neither is exodus necessarily an obsolete phenomenon.
In our era, for instance, our parents’ and grandparents’ generations witnessed a contemporary sort of exodus when Jewish people fled  European persecutions, most notably the holocaust in Nazi Germany. With a little help from their friends, Jewish people were able to congregate in their ancient homeland, gather resources from their brethren across the world, and re-establish the nation of Israel.

Knowing what I do about Jewish values, I would expect that high standards of justice and mercy would be established and maintained in the Jewish state. So perhaps it was that expectation in my mind that provoked this semantic exercise as I read Exodus this morning: What if? the above-mentioned scripture were to have a different set of nouns inserted into its narrative, and be read like this:

Now a new prime minister arose over Israel, who did not know Abbas. He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Gaza/Palestine are potentially more and mightier in their influence than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or they will multiply, and in the event of war they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us…”

That would be a new kind of pogrom.

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The incisive Mr. Will

March 27, 2010

I’ve been following the health care debate for the last six months or so. The progressives had me convinced that something needs to be done to get everybody in the US covered. Although I’m a republican, I was steadily more impressed at the passion and persistence with which democrats mustered up a photo-finish passage of their health care package.  I felt genuinely happy for them, and for the underrepresented people of our nation, when the bill passed last Sunday night and was signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday.
The warm glow of approval was suddenly cooled, however, last night when I read what Mr. George Will had to say about it. Here’s a short list of his concers:
~the power of entitlement plans to increase citizen dependency on government programs
~the burden of taxes and mandates that weighs down the “dynamism” of investments and job creation
~the already-existing massive weight of health care entitlements to the retiring boomers
~the inflative, enduring connection of health care costs to wages
~the new law’s unrealistic dependence on Medicare cuts
~the dubious budget-manipulating that lends an “Enronesque” unease to CBO cost projections
~”The bill is a museum of hoary artifacts from liberalism’s attic,” wrote Mr. Will.
~the increasing complexity of our health care delivery system, which leads to a user-unfriendly loss of accessibility
~higher premiums that will result from “making the risk pool more risky”(re: pre-existing conditions people)

So now I’m having second thoughts about it all. How about you?

Toxic shock syndrome

March 26, 2010

I had heard that the Federal Reserve has been buying mortgage-backed securities, many of them the so-called “toxic assets” that poisoned our financial system during the great recession. Now I hear that next week the Fed will quit buying these sketchy securities, and many of us are wondering what effect that will have on the money supply and economic conditions.
I had spent most of my adult life working as a free-lance, uninsured carpenter–although a relatively educated one, since I had earlier been a wandering English major. I had watched the housing industry inflate fairly steadily over twenty-five years or so.  Like many other folks in America, I and my family were direct beneficiaries of that housing bubble, and the “securitized” financial bubble of false prosperity that exponentially inflated it until the whole damned thing burst in 2008. The construction industry was my source of wages during all those years, as well as being the source of economic fodder that fueled our steadily-growing home equity.
When the crash happened in fall of 2008, I was hearing from the free-market gripers that the socialist dems were responsible for the whole mess with their force-fed federal attempts to get unqualified buyers into houses. And I was hearing from the controlled-economy crowd that the unregulated greed of wallstreeters was the main cause of our downfall.
However, it’s obvious to me that the culpability for our financial woes is widely dispersed. In a perfect storm of economic destruction, everybody did their part one way or another–including me, who earned, as a hapless carpenter, steadily-increasing wages during the 25-year filling of that hot-air balloon. When the shit hit the fan, the air was thick with theoretical accusations flying from both directions. The free-market crowd blamed the bleeding heart dems for having laid a sandy foundation of unqualified consumer mortgage debt with their overactive pie-in-the-sky housing policies. The liberals blamed the gaming wallstreeters for having built their derivitized, credit-default-swapped house of cards on that shakily-mortgaged foundation until the weight of it brought the entire structure down.
Everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong. Last time I checked, we were all still members of the human race, and that explains a lot about this whole damn situation. Deal with it.
And realize we still have the same problem that our grandparents had back in the ’30s: their ain’t no free lunch.
Anyway, now I’m hearing again about these infamous mortgage-backed securities–the ones that nobody knows how to assign value to. They didn’t just, you know, go away. The tooth fairy didn’t just remove them from beneath our dreamy, media-puffed pillows while we slept. Turns out, ole gentle Ben was quietly buying them, to remove them and their destructive effects from the system, although their toxicity seems  now to have hopelessly polluted our political civility and even, perhaps, the integrity of our republic itself.
It’s nice to know, Ben, that you were out there attempting to clean up our mess. But now what happens?  I suppose we’ll find out after next week.
Fasten your seat belts, folks; we could be in for a rough ride, and our national vehicle is in need of some pretty serious repair. It reminds me–not that I’ve ever seen one, mind ye–of a runaway train.
Or the situation described by C.J. McCall in his old country song hit from back in the day: “…Wolf Creek pass, way up on the great divide, trucking on down…the other side,”
with worn-out brakes.

Hard times in Egypt

March 24, 2010

After Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, he ended up in Egypt. In spite of the adverse situation, he was able to land a good job  there. But a false accusation from his boss’s wife landed him in jail.

Years later, through a little providential prescience, Joseph was able spring from prison and land another good job–this time a top-notch one, as chief administrator to the Pharoah. Joseph had predicted for Pharoah seven years of agricultural abundance. So acting on the regent’s behalf, he instituted a seven-year plan of buying bumper crops of grain from the people and storing it in governmental facilities.

But Joseph had also predicted seven years of famine that would follow the plenteous times. After the first year of famine hit, Pharoah’s government had, as it turned out, most all the food because Joseph had bought it from the people and stored it in order to assure a steady supply during the lean years.

Times were hard. Folks ran out of food, and out of money.In their desperation, the Egyptian people turned to Pharoah’s government for help. So here is what Joseph, chief administrator, did:

He traded the grain back to the people for their livestock. Eventually though, due to the extremely long period of hardship, the government had most of the livestock and still most of the food, while the famine was still going full tilt. It was one hell of a long recession. The people’s situation was unsustainable for any significant period of time. Over that long seven years of dearth they ended selling their land and even themselves as slaves to Pharoah.

But at least they were alive.

Then Joseph instituted a plan that eventually got them through the eye of the economic needle. He gave the people seed grain in exchange for a future payment of 20% of the next harvest. And that’s how Joseph’s prescient administration got the Egyptian people, and his Hebrew brothers with their families, through the great depression.

How appropriate

March 23, 2010

How utterly appropriate that moment was. In the final hours of  birthing health care reform, our laborious legislative transition pushed us into ensuring the most important coverage of all–protection of each child’s inalienable birth.
Although this is an Inconvenient truth, every kid’s entitled to it.

In your heart, you know he’s right.

March 21, 2010

Now that President Obama has spoken frankly to the US House of Representatives about today’s legislation, which  is “built on the private insurance system that we have now, and runs straight down the center of American political thought…”
Now that he has asked them to pass the bill and  “do it for people who are really scared right now through no fault of their own, who’ve played by the rules, who’ve done all the right things, and have suddenly found out that because of an accident, because of an ailment, they’re about to lose their house…”
Now that our President has publicly admitted to legislators and to the American people that the measures taken are not perfect…
but it is designed in these times of high unemployment to improve an “employer-based system (that is) fray(ing) along the edges…”
Now that he has spoken persuasively to our lawmakers about “all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, ‘you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m (you’re) going to make it a little bit better…'”
Now that this “middle of the road” bill is passing…
We offer sympathy to those progressives who complain that the law does not go far enough. We also offer advice: Get busy making this country a better place to grow old and healthy.
We offer sympathy to those conservatives who complain that the law goes too far. We also offer advice: Get busy and make this country prosperous again, so we can all afford reasonable health care.
To the doctors of the USA, we offer appreciation for your excellence and care. And we have counsel for you as well: Strive to do what is best for your patients, without unnecessary procedures and tests. Work to achieve a level of professional excellence without resorting to cover your ass medicine. Protect life.
To the lawyers of the USA, we enter this plea: Lighten up, will ya? Let the docs make the medical decisions.
To the nurses (like my wife, Pat) of the USA, we offer appreciation for all your tender care and professional excellence.
To all health care workers, we request: Do good work, and keep in touch. Be content with your pay; you’re fortunate to even have a job in these hard times.
To the medical administrators of America, I offer these suggestions, as we move toward further improvement of our health care system:
~Set up a clinic next door to your hospital where  folks can get treatment without incurring the expenses.  of emergency medicine. Establish a facility where th ER personnel can say: “You with the bloody nose, go next door (where you can walk out after treatmnt without carrying a bill for a thousand dollars,” or “You with the sprained ankle, we’ll take you next door…
~Find ways to recommend appropriate palliative care for granny and granpa instead of requiring their life’s net worth just to gain another six weeks or six months of being tube-tied. Replace cover your ass medicine with compassionate care wherever possible.

To the drug addicts and alcoholics of America, I highly recommend: Get help and get clean. Turn to Jesus. Cease and desist from your expensive, system-draining, drug-seeking hospital stays. We, the medically-insured people are tired of bailing you out when there are so many people who need real medical attention, and we can’t afford to string you along any more.

To the newly unemployed, we offer hope: Although your Cobra coverage may be running out, the people of the United States of America are standing beneath you with a safety net. God bless em’ with all their capitalist and socialist foibles. Now go out and get busy! Find something productive to do, even if you don”t have a the job of your choosing.
To those previously uninsured who will now obtain coverage as a result of the new health care bill: Act responsibly and be thankful.
To those whose previously-existing medical conditions precluded your obtaining insurance: I hope this new law works better for you.
To those whose insurance coverage has ever been canceled due to serious illness or lifetime limits: Hold on. We hope to get som help for you soon.
To everybody else in America:  Quit smoking cigarettes and watching so much tv.
To the world, we say: Thank God for the United States of America.

Relativity’s dire discovery

March 19, 2010

The extreme fringes of the physical universe ultimately produce black holes where matter destroys itself. Based on Einstein’s calculations in the theory of relativity, Oppenheimer and Snyder presented theoretical proof of the existence of these imploded galaxies in 1939. In 1970, the first location of a black hole, Cygnus X-1, was determined to be 7000 light-years from earth.
Even before that, the intense scientific ciphering following Einstein’s 1915 general relativity theory had wrought a cosmological epiphany in 1919. That’s when scientists monitoring a solar eclipse were able to determine by observation and calculation that Einstein’s theory of relativity is correct. The “red shift” of light waves emanating from objects in distant space indicated that the light waves had “‘bent” around the sun as they had passed it in their traveling toward earth. This red shift was the evidence by which physicists could conclude that, indeed, gravitational force from large objects has the power to bend light waves.

One of the many surprising facts that mathematicians learn from relativity calculations is that space is curved, and guess what, so is time! This whole development initiated a revolution in the way scientists conceptualize the universe and the physics within it. But hey, it’s all theoretical. It’s not that relativity isn’t actually having enormous effects out there in the cosmos in real space and time. What Einstein described with his theory of relativity is actually happening,

But it really doesn’t have much to do with the way things happen on earth, or the way we do things here. (Don’t confuse this relativity thing with Einstein’s other famous theory, E=mc2, which definitely has intense consequences for real life on earth, such as what happened at Hiroshima,  or what’s now taking place at your local nuclear power plant, or within Iranian clandestinery and North Korean obstinance.)

When you get right down to it, the whole relativity revelation is irrelevant in the sense that it is meaningful only to scientists and mathematicians; they are the only people whose work is noticably affected by it. They are the only ones who truly understand it and converse about it. Relativity in the cosmos won’t amount to a hill of beans in everyday life for most of us for a very long, long, long time. Newtonian physics still reigns supreme in all our familiar venues of terra firma.

So, this expansive thinking about the universe as a macro-entity is one thing. Here’s another, and it is definitely something that we need to think about. It’s at the other extreme of considering the cosmos: the micro-universe–the secret life of cells, molecules, atoms, electrons. protons, neutrons, even quarks and neutrinos.  I’m not going to write much about that mysterious nano-world now, except to say that the ramifications of scientific exploration within it are HUGE; experiments are now being conducted, and will be conducted from now into perpetuity, under electron microscopes and other high-tech equipment. These micro-explorations and ventures will have a big impact on the way we live in the future.

Will you be able to follow all these changes in microbiology and nanotechnology in the days ahead?  Probably not; you’re too busy doing other things, just livin’ life.  Me too. Ditto for the getting the big picture on the universe and relativity.

So here is what I want to communicate to you:
The practice of science is becoming, and will become even more, inaccessible and incomprehensible to general humanity. Newtonian physics– where moving object A strikes stationary object B and has a certain predictable effect–is not what science is about any more; we’ve already figured out all the basics, and we’re teaching them in schools.

More and more, science is about stuff that you will never see, and perhaps never understand.  I hate to say it, but as a consequence of this general incomprehensibility we could be entering, God forbid, another dark ages, in spite of all the light waving around in our universe.

Example: John Doe is accused of murdering his neighbor. But the verdict revolves not around fingerprints and eyewitnesses. It’s not about John doing this that or the other to his neighbor and we know that to be true because the other neighbor saw it happen.
It’s about John’s DNA, and whether it matches a hair sample found at the scene of the crime.  It’s about what a lab technician sees, and  how he/she interprets it when he/she analyzes microscopically-obtained genetic information.  John Doe’s fate hangs on the testimony of an expert witness.

There’s nothing wrong with this refinement of criminal justice. It’s just an example of the way our life is changing because of science. So many future determinations will be made, not according to what we see, hear, taste, or smell, but according to what the experts find in their investigations. To the uneducated it may even seem like hocus-pocus.

Remember the swine flu of 2009, that never really got a hold of us in large numbers?  Was it because our spotty vaccinations worked preventively as they were intended to? Or because there was no significant risk to begin with? Who knows? We just have to trust the CDC and NIH on our decisions about such precautions.

The former Treasurer of the United States, Hank Paulson–did he and Bernanke and the bankers and Congress save us with their bank bailout from having another “great depression?” We’ll never know for sure. Only the statisticians and economists can sort all those numbers out, and by the time they do, we’ve all gone on to the next crisis, or the next car payment or whatever.

Scientific truth and technical data is becoming less and less accessible to regular people all the time.
So…what does this have to do with relativity?

Looking back for a moment into the arcane, expanding realm of Einstein’s relative universe, our following of his theory leads ultimately to, among many other phenomena, those black holes. Knowledge is as virtually infinite as the universe itself, and our pursuit of its extremes brings us to the discovery of these strange, vacuous phenomena–imploded galaxies–that draw everything in their vicinity into themselves with a kind of super-gravity. . These black holes are extremely dangerous. God help the first adventurers who volunteer to explore them. As it turns out, the universe sucks.

Moses had a flash of truth regarding this situation long ago, and wrote about it in his best seller, Genesis. He depicts therein the account of Eve, who ambled right by the Tree of Life one day, and lingered at the tree of knowledge, until someone handed her a sample from it. She bit into a black hole. Sometimes we know more than we want or need to.

The further we get along that deathly curved vector of space and time, the better appears to be the Tree of Life when compared to the Tree of Knowledge.

Rockin’ the relativity spaceship

March 19, 2010

Copernican heliocentrism, corrective as it was, did not diminish the central role of Logos in creation of the universe. The cosmological effects of Copernicus’ earthshattering research in solar system dynamics did not happen overnight; they took a long time to play out. It wasn’t really until the next century that the Catholic establishment felt threatened by the Polish researcher’s revolutionary discovery. Unfortunately, Galileo later suffered the brunt of the Church’s political rage against inevitable Copernican correction.

The Catholic churc’h’s attempts to defend God by attacking Copernican reorientation was useless–mere sound and fury signifying nothing. As it turns out, God needs no defending. Jesus established that principle when he demanded that Peter put away the sword.

And we see in subsequent history that Logos survived Copernicus’ theoretical rearrangement of the cosmos, as well as the religious hierarchy’s slow but sure reactionary persecution of it. Yes, God continues in spite of all human disputations to survive in the universe as well as in the souls of men and women.

Similarly, Darwin’s biologically-enabled debunking of anthropocentrism 300 years later did not diminish the central role of Logos in creation of the universe. All the ensuing, well-documented paleological, geographical, and biological evidence does not dissuade humans of their belief in God. Why is that?

Science is not the language of mankind. Most folks don’t really understand it, though many dutifully pay lip service to it. I, for instance, certainly don’t understand it all, although I try to keep up with the changes. But no one can keep up with the accelerating speed of scientific revelation, not even the scientists. They’ve got their hands and minds full in just staying informed in their respective fields of research.

People do generally understand, however, the language of faith; it resonates in their soul, like Vivaldi string vibrations amplifying and emanating from the hollow body of a violin. Faith sustains spiritual life and health in ways that scientific truth cannot. And this resilience of faith in the human breast stands the test of time. If the accuracy, precision, and inaccessible complexity of science is used politically to oppress people–to extinguish what they believe to be true about the universe and its creator–they will resist it every time.

Scientific truth can trump old data and antiquated theories, but it has no power to overcome faith. The political, social and educational battles that roil around evolution, climate change and other processes of nature are tempests in a planetary teapot. Something much more potent than scientific fact brews in places unseen.

from Relativity to Rock

March 17, 2010

As the big bang or whatever you want to call it manifested a universe through ever-widening time and space,  Logos asserted, in the midst of diverging matter and energy, a creative force to countermand  the default entropy. It was good.

So good, in fact, that Logos got excited and wanted to share the exuberance with someone. So Logos arranged a certain solar system so that it would  fling out a planet upon which optimum conditions could evolve to produce sentient beings.

After those living entities had developed to an optimum condition, Logos breathed into one chosen specimen a new dimension called Spirit, which enabled the new species to communicate with Logos, which is why Logos referred to homo sapiens as being “in our image.”

What that in our image attribute meant was: able to communicate with its creator. This was no small step for mankind.

One day many generations later an important turning point in the history of homo sapiens was reached. On a clear starry night, a certain very sensitive, intelligent man stepped out of his tent, looked up at the heavens and  thought: This world, with its accompanying heavens and creatures, is quite impressive. I’d like to write a book about how it all happened, because my people have been wondering about its origins.

And Logos, reading his mind, replied: Good idea. I’ve been waiting for someone like you to come along. Sit down and start writing; I’ll instruct you. I’ll give you some material that will help the people understand what’s going on in the universe, and will also help them to make a better life for themselves.

From our perspective several thousand years later, the man’s opus was quite limited by his place and time. But he did a nice job of it, and  managed to produce, with a little divine help, a best seller. You can still get a copy today.

His name was Moses.

Between a rock and a hard (to understand) relativity

March 15, 2010

The men and women who conduct research in science  have a system of procedures for establishing what is a fact and what is not; it’s what we call the scientific method, and this is how it happens:
1.) The scientist observes phenomena in the physical world and poses a question. Example: Galileo sees an apple fall from an open window and hit the ground. He wonders: If that apple were a heavier object–say, a pumpkin– would it fall faster and thus hit the ground sooner?
2.) The scientist forms a hypothesis. Example: Galileo hypothesizes that two objects of different weighty will fall at different speeds when dropped from the same height, and strike the ground at different times.
3.) The scientist tests the hypothesis by constructing a controlled experiment. Example: Galileo drops two balls of different weights, at the same time, from atop the leaning Tower of Pisa.
4.) The scientist observes and notes the effects (data) of his/her experiment. Example: Galileo notices that both balls hit the ground at the same time instead of at different times.
5.) The scientist forms a conclusion. Example: Galileo reasons that the speed of a falling object is not determined by the weight of the object.
6.) The scientist publishes an account of the experiment and its conclusion.
7.) Other scientists subsequently reconstruct or refine the experiment to prove or disprove the first scientist’s conclusion.
8.) Other scientists develop new observations and new hypotheses for further inquiry. Example: Isaac Newton sees an apple fall from its tree and wonders: Why does the apple fall?

This method has evolved in the scientific community over the last 700 years or so. And before science was  recognized as a productive discipline, artisans used trial and error along with observation to ascertain useful practice in all human endeavors.

But what about the accumulation of human knowledge prior to the scientific method? Is all human tradition and wisdom from antiquity nullified or brought into question by an absence of scientific method that would have verified it?

No. There is, by cultural consensus, common experience and common sense, established truth in human experience and history that preceded science. I will be offering more on this topic later, especially as it relates to morality and ethics.
Have a nice day, and thanks for stopping by.