Archive for January, 2010

Compassion tourism and Haiti

January 15, 2010 Comments off

A local megachurch has been sending “missionaries” to Haiti and other countries for brief stints of about one week.  I don’t know what they do there, probably help with construction (at least, I hope it’s something useful) but afterward then they can say they’ve done missionary work.

I’ve known actual missionaries.  They spent years in the field, often doing clinic work in rural hospitals or digging wells.  Their way of “evangelism”, if you call it that, is to help desperate people get healthy, build infrastructure, and find education so they can get out of poverty.  It takes a major chunk of their lives to do this, often with the aid of a medical education that would be very lucrative here in the States. 

If you spend a week in some poverty-stricken area, you’re not a missionary, you’re a compassion tourist.  And the megachurch website (which I won’t dignify with a link) makes clear that the purpose is for the trip to be a personal eye-opener.  Not a bad thing in itself, certainly, but they shouldn’t call themselves “missionaries”.

Anyway, the story is all over the local news that some of these compassion-tourists (always referred to as “missionaries”) were prevented from easily getting home by the Haiti quake this week.  They had to make their way to the Dominican Republic to fly out.  As of this morning they had made it back to the states and were on their way to Atlanta.  The church is holding a “prayer event” for the stricken country now.

…An 11-member church team crossed by bus from Cap-Haitien, a city on Haiti’s northern coast, to Santiago in the Dominican Republic, the country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“Praise the Lord that our team is safe in Santiago, Dominican Republic, with our GO ministries partners that are located there,” Mark Warren, the church’s executive pastor, wrote on the church’s Web site Wednesday afternoon. “The team is making arrangements to fly out of the Dominican Republic to the States in the next day or two.” …
Pantagraph: Local missionaries slowly making their way home from Haiti..

I’m sorry, I can’t let that go by.  Did the Lord care more to protect these rich Americans than the poor Haitians?  Pat Robertson thinks so, and it’s implicit in the praise for “protection” of our locals.  It makes you wonder why they didn’t decide to stay for a month or two and help out?  Why flee the country?  Why not find an aid agency and offer to put your shoulder to the wheel? 

Here’s a Charity Navigator page on how to Help survivors of the Earthquake in Haiti.  Great!  I thought, until I recognized one of the highly-rated organizations on their list as having provided a jet for Sarah Palin to travel around in.  Then there’s the Better Business Bureau’s Charities providing Haiti Earthquake Relief.  I spent some time studying their profiles. Organizations that say their purpose is “to glorify Jesus Christ” or some such nonsense (as if working for women’s rights or children’s health weren’t justification enough for a charity) were immediately ruled out.

I picked Partners In Health, because Dr. Paul Farmer has been working in Haiti for a long time.  Experience, I assume, matters as much as intention, maybe more.  For this disaster his website says to make the donation through Stand With Haiti.  You might find a different agency that suits you better.  Don’t know how much to give?  Me either, so I decided arbitrarily on one day’s pay.  It doesn’t seem like enough but if we all pitch in…


Categories: Uncategorized

The movie of… THE FUUTURRRE!

January 10, 2010 Comments off

I had an interesting dream last night that got me thinking.  Suppose an eccentric rich person knew the Earth were going to be destroyed, and he built a giant spaceship hidden in a warehouse.  One mile away he built a movie theater.  During the course of the movie, the entire theater would somehow be picked up and moved into the spaceship, which would be launched just as the credits roll.  Movie-goers would be surprised to learn that they (along with a dozen or so crew members) would become the core of the only remaining colony of humanity.

So which movie should be playing?  Assume the large theater will be packed, and choose any movie ever made.  The audience of the movie you choose will all that’s left.

Categories: Uncategorized

Terrorism as a business

January 10, 2010 Comments off

Terrorism – and the response to it – are often presented in religious terms.  You’ll occasionally see a poster of the Twin Towers with the caption; “Imagine no religion”, for example, and both the Air Force and the Army have been found counter-productively flaunting Christian imagery in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And there’s no end of blathering talk-radio just blaming the whole religion of Islam and demanding that any Muslim face unusual scrutiny or even be stripped of constitutional rights.

The implication is that it’s mostly about religion on both sides.  Now I’m as anti-religious* as the next atheist, but I can’t help thinking that it’s much more complex than that.  For one thing, there are a billion Muslims, yet we’re still here. There are twice as many Muslims in the US than as there are Presbyterians (depending which study you look at). And any number of terrorist organizations have shared identity with some part of Christianity (think IRA).  Something else must be going on; something not necessarily, or not only, religious.

Watch as Italian economist Loretta Napoleoni explores terrorism as an economic phenomenon:

In her investigations, she found a dimension of terrorism that has been almost completely ignored by the rhetoric about religions, or about good and evil.  In addition, she found a surprising effect of the Patriot Act on money laundering.

My intuition is that many factors converge to support terrorism; economic, cultural, and religious.  For example, the effect of petrodollars on impoverished nations, and the extent to which oil-producing countries (or those in proximity to communism) become an object of US strategic interest, probably has more to do with it.  But I was surprised by the economic scope of terrorism as a business, revealed in this video.  Think; “with a T, not with a B”.  (h/t GrrlScientist)


  • It is by no means clear to me that the world would be a better place without religion; as Daniel Dennet observes, some people may really not know how to be moral without it.  But I would like to keep ancient mythologies out of politics.
Categories: Uncategorized

Enough upper-body exercise

January 7, 2010 Comments off

About 6:45am this morning:

From my photo album; winter

And a LOT of snow fell after that.  Just finished a bunch of shoveling including shaving the snow off the edge of the roof using a long pole with a dealie on the end.  Shoulders have had enough.  I’m going upstairs to do some cardio but no weightlifting tonight.

Categories: Uncategorized

Movie critic FAIL

January 3, 2010 Comments off

It must be a slow day in Chicago or something.  The Chicago Tribune’s Christopher Borrelli asks: “Could Blade II = Blade Runner?  Why did this great overlooked 2002 comic-book picture become an example of the irrelevancey of Wesley Snipes…  When Harrison Ford’s 1982 movie went from polarizing flop to cult favorite to prescient masterpiece in less than a decade?”

From my photo album; FAIL, click photo to embiggen

Dude, can we talk?

Seriously, if you have to ask that question, should you even be writing about movies in a newspaper?  One is from a story by Philip K Dick and stars Harrison Ford, and the other isn’t and doesn’t.  Were you just attracted to the fact that they both have the word; “blade” in the title?  Now go to your desk in your cubicle at the company in your failing industry and think about what you did.

Categories: Uncategorized

Planning a Specialized Winter bike

January 3, 2010 Comments off

Riding a bike in adverse weather has its own challenges.  I was coming home from coffee on Friday, and stopped to talk to someone.  One of the derailleur pulleys had apparently had as much frozen salty slush as it wanted, (at least for plain old factory lubrication) and chose that moment to seize up.  When I started riding again, it was very noisy as the chain hopped the teeth.  Luckily my driveway was only 100m away.

I put the bike up on the service rack in the basement and let it thaw out.  Then I applied some Boeshield T-9 to the offending part and began to work it.  Now it spins smoothly. 

So I’ve decided I’m going to build a winter bike for next year, probably on this frame.  I’ll use carbide-studded tires from Finland, remove the front derailleur entirely, put in sealed-bearing rear derailleur pulleys.  I’ll use low-adhesion gasket silicone to make moisture seals for the pedals, and install some even more enhanced lighting.  Probably pedals with longer studs on them to hold the shoes even when icy.  And anything else I can think of.

Rebuilding this as a winter bike will give me an excellent excuse to see what’s out there to replace it for the other three seasons!

Categories: Uncategorized

Setting out the trash

January 3, 2010 Comments off

Saw this on the way to coffee this morning.  Make of it what you will:

From my photo album; Religion
Categories: Uncategorized

I believe this is what the expression “WTF?” was invented for

January 2, 2010 Comments off

Wait, what?  Clinton got 16 percent and Palin got 15 percent?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman in America, barely edging out former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll out Wednesday. When Gallup asked 1,025 adults nationwide to name the woman they admire most, 16 percent picked Clinton. Palin was the only other woman to be mentioned by at least 10 percent, being selected by 15 percent of those surveyed.

Politico: Hillary Clinton nudges Sarah Palin for most admired (h/t Pam’s House Blend

This is the nation that Obama is trying to lead.  I’d be freebasing anti-psychotic meds with painkillers after a month in his job.  But it really isn’t surprising. Something like forty percent of Americans think our planet is 6,000 years old.  Huge percentages are confused about anthropogenic global warming.  Many can’t tell a socialist from a nazi from a communist from a carrot.  I wonder what they all have in common? My guess would be FOX news.

Categories: Uncategorized

Victorian House: “Sherlock Holmes”

January 2, 2010 Comments off

I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a kid.  On summer vacation I had a big volume of all the Holmes stories and looked forward to long sessions immersed in the cerebral mysteries of seemingly supernatural murders that turned out to have rational explanations.  But not every film adaptation has been satisfying.  I didn’t (sorry, fans) like Basil Rathbone’s interpretation, nor the bumbling Watson of that series.  I did enjoy Matt Frewer’s Holmes.  But it’s perfectly acceptable for there to be different portrayals of a given fictional hero (Batman, or the new Star Trek movie for instance).  I’ll enjoy some, and scorn others, but as far as I know it isn’t the gravitational constant so it’s OK to try variations on the idea.

Fans of the TV series House will recognize in House and Wilson a modern interpretation of Holmes and Watson.  Maybe Cuddy is Irene Adler, though that could be stretching things a bit.  I would love to see a dream episode with the three of them in Victorian England. 

From my album: Design

That said, I enjoyed Robert Downey Jr’s interpretation of a bare-fisted, self-destructive, brilliant but fallible Holmes. Make no mistake, this is pure Hollywood with explosions, chases, and fistfights; lots of fistfights in vertiginous places. But there was also deep intrigue, and an arch villain unaware he was being controlled and exploited by another, more nefarious arch villain.  Holmes spent hours in thought but also thought fast on his feet, improvising and generally being rude and obnoxious.

No, it wasn’t “true” to the original characters in the books but it was lots of fun.  The pendulum will swing the other way.  In fifteen years, we’ll be comparing a new, more cerebral Holmes to Robert Downey Jr.‘s portrayal.


  • If there is any truth at all to the movie’s portrayal of Victorian England, it won’t be my first destination when somebody gives me a time machine.

  • Here’s Dana Hunter’s review: The Game’s Afoot
  • There are a lot of Holmes references in House.  Two that I can think of to Irene Adler, even. House’s apartment number was the same as Holmes’, stuff like that.
Categories: Uncategorized

2009, Year In Review

January 1, 2010 Comments off

Last year started with the swearing-in (and swearing-at, by many people) of a big-eared Kenyan atheist communist socialist Muslim Nazi as president, and for the most part I think he’s doing a fine job.  And by this I mean that he is equally an object of disgust from people on the left who thought he’d wave a magic wand and transform the country overnight, and people on the fearful right who are afraid he’d do just that.  The net result is that with much kicking and screaming on all sides, our country is in better shape internationally, and we’ve made a little bit of progress on many issues.  Be very glad you don’t have that guy’s job; the country was on fire when he was hired, and half the people are impatiently waiting for him to single-handedly put it out, while the other half are pouring gasoline.

In May I got clobbered by a perforated intestine, had major surgery, was laid up for 6 weeks, and have been working furiously at recovery ever since.  I’m getting around just fine, though I do have stuff inside that worries me.  Time will tell.  There is a silver lining, however, and it is the care and support that I received from friends, family, and from everyone at the college.  I am grateful, not least for the chance it gives me to think even more highly of them.

In August our office was moved into shared space with another support group and we are now an unstoppable force of faculty support.  This arrangement has worked out very well.  And, people can find our office!

In September the highlight of the year was our son Lucas’ wedding to Emily Coogan.  I have been meaning to write about the wedding, but suffice here to say it was a delight and well worth the trip to Michigan despite my not being in great condition to travel at the time.  They are living and working in sunny California, the ungovernable (but much warmer than Illinois) state.

Somehow in all this I learned to ride a unicycle as part of an effort to restore my sense of balance that was damaged in my bike accident 5 years ago.  That effort has been successful, and I also have a new way to act far too silly for my age.

My “unicycle” this year will be PhP and MySQL.  I’ve been pecking at them for a while now but I’m pulling out the stops on study and application. 

Over break I’ve been relaxing, working out, studying, doing little stuff around the house, plotting for installation of a new kitchen sink, troubleshooting our Internet connection, rebuilding computers (including a new laptop!) and gaining weight from holiday goodies.  I’m sure I’m not the only person in America with that last item, maybe January will be more Spartan.

Let me leave you with one stanza from a wonderful poem, Once In A Blue Moon, It’s New Year’s Eve, from Digital Cuttlefish.  Just enough, I hope, to make you want to click through and read the rest of it:

It isn’t the same, but it never can be,
As time, and as life, moves too quickly for me,
The days—hell, the weeks—are a bit of a blur
And things are not ever the way that they were.
I guess I just mean that I want you to know
That I hope you are happy and well, even though
I may miss you much more than the law should allow,
Just once in a blue moon… like now.

As our beautiful blue planet wheels along its cosmic path, there are no signposts saying: “New year begins HERE”.  And as nearly everything follows from something else, the idea of beginnings and endings is a trifle fuzzy. The current time is always “now”, and it’s as good a time as any left to us, to begin.


  • I’ll link to MrsDoF if she chooses to write a New Year’s post (hint, hint)
Categories: Uncategorized