Archive for August, 2010

I always liked sparks

August 7, 2010 4 comments

A friend at work had his bicycle seat stolen this week.  It isn’t a trivial loss either: a $25 seat post, a $40 saddle, a $17 taillight, and an $18 fender.  While shopping for replacement parts, he’s riding on a junk seat that the thief left behind.  Anyway I thought about my bike (and added up the respective cost of those components – a few notches up the ladder from his ride) and decided to hire a sniper to watch the bike racks around campus.

Unfortunately that solution turned out to be impractical for various reasons having to do with the interference of a large Government bureaucracy, so I decided to secure the seat a little better instead.  This I did by pinning the seat tube in the frame.  And what does that have to do with this picture?  This is a view of sparks on the grinding wheel as the carbon-steel pin is shortened to the correct length for the seat tube of the frame. 

In common shop practice, if you want to know (approximately) what alloy a piece of ferrous metal is made of, you touch it to a grinding wheel and observe the sparks.  Some of the patterns are very pretty as well as informative.

(Picture Pentax W60 in macro mode.)

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August 6, 2010 Comments off

Today is an anniversary that should not be forgotten.  If you have not read Hiroshima by John Hersey… please do.  It was originally published in The New Yorker, but it’s still in print today as a paperback. 

In the small book – for which Hersey won a Pulitzer prize – we come to recognize six human beings in an incomprehensible vastness of destruction and suffering.  You can read it in about two hours, but it will stay with you for a lifetime.


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Book Review: Crazy For God

August 5, 2010 7 comments

Frank Schaeffer didn’t have to write Crazy For God.  At least, financially, it wasn’t necessary.  He’s become a successful novelist and essayist in his own right since he made his “escape”.  The book feels like not so much a “tell-all” as a personal confession, and a painful one at that.  But… it explains so much.

“… How I grew up as one of the elect, helped found the Religious Right, and lived to take all (or almost all) of it back”

Frank Schaeffer is the son of the famous evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer.  Together they produced two best-selling documentary film series, spoke all over the country, wrote piles of books and articles, and lent their intellectual respectability to the conservative evangelical movement, the anti-abortion issue within it, and the Republican Party that merged with it.  This, I knew vaguely, and remembered being influenced by their films and books.

Schaeffer had been a dyslexic kid who never did well in school.  He had polio at a young age and spent most of his childhood recovering.  But though formal education didn’t do much for him, the L’Abri community brought some of the world’s brightest lights to his family’s table, and he spent a good part of his childhood knocking around Italy with his father, who would have been happier as an art historian than as an evangelical leader.

I hadn’t a clue from watching his powerfully-made documentaries, or basking in the certitude of the books, how the Schaeffer universe really worked, or what spiritual compromises had to be made to bring Bishop Sheen, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan and other, now-powerful denizens of the Religious right under a single tent with little-known hucksters and organizers of the Dominionist movement like Billy Zeoli and Ralph Reed.  Or how they were all exploited by, and in turn exploited, rising politicians like Ronald Reagan and the Bushes.  That was all behind the scenes.

(You just have to read Schaeffer’s description of Bush Jr. for yourself; I won’t spoil it for you.)

Even more hidden were Frank Schaeffer’s doubts.  He just sort of dropped off the edge of the world there for a while, and it never occurred to me to wonder why. He found himself driving the movement by whose winds so many of us were sailing, but at the same time feeling that it was devouring his soul.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Psalm 51:17

…and if there was ever a broken spirit writing today, it’s Frank Schaeffer.  His attempt to find peace after being at the center of a movement that he came to suffer only with nausea is a story that opens a whole room in the range of human contrition. 

The trouble is, he can’t take it all back. The films are made and still popular in evangelical circles, the politicians elevated, the televangelists wealthy, and the country divided.  Christianity is divided, in perhaps a more fundamental way than anytime since the Reformation.

Schaeffer disavows any notion that he has the only way to tell the story.  There’s even a deeply surprising ending – perhaps the only possible approximation of a happy one, given what he experienced and how he perceived his own failures.

The hardest confession isn’t where he hit rock bottom, but how long he stayed in the movement after the very sight of Pat Robertson and James Dobson or Billy Graham began to sicken him.  The moment when he realizes that he doesn’t know how to do anything else, and is trapped, is no occasion for schadenfreude.  Instead, it makes you wonder if your neighborhood pastor could be in a similar trap, pacing to and fro looking for the exit.

Schaeffer made reference to “the small hypocrisies that make life bearable” and that phrase has been in my mind.  If there is a lesson in the book, it may be that complete philosophical consistency, which is to say purity and absolutism, leads inevitably to complete hypocrisy.

I remember that time, and I remember L’Abri and the Schaeffers being a big deal.  He doesn’t paint many villains.  There are so many, touching perspectives on the goodness in his community, and how good they were to him and his wife, and how they would have been divorced fifty times if not for the genuine love that surrounded them.  As I read the book, I kept thinking of my friends who should also read it.  Anyone devoted to the “pro-choice” movement, and the “pro-life” movement should read it.  Any atheist and any conservative Christian, or any Liberal Christian.  Anyone who remembers that time in history… and anyone who does not.

Because it explains so much. 

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Trying to figure out the story

August 2, 2010 Comments off

That it is the remains of a bird, I could figure out; it almost seems to be posed in flight.  How such a delicate arrangement came to be in the middle of a busy sidewalk, with no trees or buildings above it, is less clear.  The only thing I could figure is that someone lifted it by the forked stick and gently placed it where some guy riding by on a bike would see it.  But perhaps they were not so specific about the audience.  Also left out of the story is how that person found it, or what their concept was in moving it.

It’s art, of a sort: rearranging found objects in an interesting way.  At least, I felt it deserved a photograph, since the artist is unknown.

(For more detail, click through and then enlarge).

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The main reason I blog?

August 1, 2010 5 comments

My boss once asked me what I get out of blogging.  I didn’t have a coherent answer, but since I’ve been doing it for eight years there must be something. 

The generation effect, as studied by cognitive psychologists, shows that knowledge is better retained if it is “generated” by the learner than simply read. “Generation” can be as simple as learning a spelling by “filling in the gaps” or as complex as writing a book about your studies
Alex Kessinger: Notetaking as a way to stay smart

I hadn’t thought of it this way but it could seriously be the main reason I blog.  Yes, I have various passions that I like to share, but my brain is chaotic and unreliable.  Blogging helps me get my thoughts straight.  Once I’ve put it into words, (and when I am lucky, people have commented on it), I have a much better chance of holding on to it and integrating it into my understanding of the world.

I remember a Far Side cartoon where a man stood in his yard with a brush and can of paint.  All the objects in the yard had labels: “house”, “fence”, “tree”, “dog”, and so forth.  “There!,” said the man; “that ought to clear up a few things around here!


  • I miss The Far Side

  • h/t Lucas for the link
  • My brain actually IS unreliable.  Not surprising when you tote up spinal meningitis in childhood, and multiple concussion syndrome.  Took me a while and a few visits to a neurologist to add this all up; it’s analogous to fighting senility.
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