Archive for December, 2006

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2006 4 comments

There are common customs that I just don’t ‘get’, and New Year’s resolutions are among them.  Is there a signpost in the Earth’s orbit that says; “Try harder now”?  Most resolutions seem to be something you’d do anyway.  I’m not sure that continuing to do what you’ve always done counts as a resolution.  Especially since I fully expect to botch every one of them from time to time.

Last year, I tried to do a good job at work; I’m going to keep trying.  I did my best to manage chronic pain with as little medication as possible; I’m going to keep doing that, too.  I studied to learn new skills – a good habit to continue since I have a new job.  Several years ago I started blogging to improve my writing skills; I’ll keep doing that, too.  Mind you, I don’t do any of these things perfectly by a longshot but I intend to keep trying.

I’ll keep on being a husband, father, and friend as well as I can.  I’m not likely to give up the effort to be an informed citizen of my country, while not knowing where the line of success is there.  Ditto for attempting to model the tolerance and respect I’d like to see in our society.  And I’ll try to add another year of safe driving, though there’s always been an element of luck in that. 

I’ll go on trying to compensate for my very unreliable memory, too. MrsDoF and I disagree on the virtues of the movie American Beauty but the thing I liked about it was, the narrator was trying to achieve at least one moment of real clarity in his life.  Clarity will always matter to me, despite the muddle that is often my mind.

As Richard Nixon used to say; “let me make one thing perfectly clear” – I wish each one of you a Happy New Year!

Categories: observations

Dawkins cleaning off his shoe

December 30, 2006 9 comments

On the surface it appeared Richard Dawkins signed an online petition to the Prime Minister of England, calling for restrictions on religious teaching of children.  In fact, that was a sub-clause of the petition and when Dawkins learned of it, he withdrew his signature and disavowed the petition.  Meanwhile, a fascinating discussion of the tension between civil liberty and the protection of children from religious dogma sprang up over on Dispatches, including explanatory responses from Dawkins himself.  Very interesting and thought-provoking stuff: Dawkins and the religion petition

(The thread is about an hour’s worth of reading at this time, with Dawkins’ entries toward the end.  It will probably get longer. Update links below the fold.)

Updates: not a shining example of professional disagreement…
PZ Meyers (no fan of Ed Brayton, he) weighs in on his own blog with Never let facts get in the way of condemning Dawkins

  • And Brayton tries to see if he can piss farther; Dawkins repudiates signature, PZ still lying.

    And over on Panda’s Thumb is Richard Dawkins’ official statement on the matter (along with some other commentary from Nick Matzke).  The whole post “Divided by a common language: Richard Dawkins clarifies his position” is definitely worth reading.  I think this sums it up nicely:

    “…Bloody hell! All that storm in a teacup for nothing! If only the petition had been worded properly in the first place … And if only I had read it more carefully … And if only Brayton had read it more charitably … No wonder lawyers and diplomats need special training. I’m out of my depth here.”
    - Richard Dawkins

    And Ed Brayton responds to Richard Dawkins: My letter to Richard Dawkins (beginning to sweep up some of the rubble now)


  • Categories: Religion

    Movie review: “Cars”

    December 29, 2006 3 comments

    MrsDoF and I watched the movie Cars this evening.  It was visually beautiful, funny and touching in places, and pretty strange to boot.  It took a lot of imagination to come up with even a cartoon society where everyone’s a car.

    ‘Specially the plot, which has never before been attempted in the history of movies.  Get this: the hot-shot superstar is forced to slow down and discovers a better life from friendship and community.  Eh?  Eh?  Waddya think?  Have we got a best-seller, or what?

    OK, it was Doc Hollywood.  But I liked that movie, too, and not even one of its characters was a talking car.  I recommend it for fun, or if you really like animation (which I do). Or if you like NASCAR, to which I must confess indifference (rather see Grand Prix or off-road racing.)  Just for animated comparison, I give The Incredibles (review) a 9.5, and this movie about 7.  On a logarithmic scale.

    My son just asked; “What would you give Ice Age?”  Can I use fractional quantities less than 1 in a review?

    Categories: Movies, Reviews

    Think you have a tough job?

    December 29, 2006 2 comments

    What have I done lately that made a difference to anybody?  Compared to these guys, not a damn thing:

    It is near midnight when we arrive on the scene, circling while the pilots inspect what’s below. Humvee headlights carve out a landing zone on an empty road. Soldiers aim their weapons into the blackness beyond, watching for an ambush. We bump down in a cloud of hot dust. The injured man has been laid on a litter and stripped to the waist. Four or five of his comrades run the litter to the helicopter and clumsily, frantically, shove him inside. He has no pulse. Mitchell begins CPR. The helo lifts off for Baghdad.

    The soldier is perhaps 20. He is lanky, with knobby shoulders—a boy’s shoulders. Green cabin lights wash across his chest, his right arm flops off the litter. Mitchell moves like a piston above him. “Come on, buddy,” he says. “COME ON, BUDDY.” Sweat pours off him in long beads. Even with the windows open, the helo racing 200 feet (60 meters) above the ground, it is well over a hundred degrees (38°C). The heat, the weight of his body armor, and the frantic pace drain him. He’s exhausted, losing effectiveness. After ten minutes, crew chief Erik Burns makes Mitchell get out of the way. Then Burns waves me in, a fresh set of arms…
    - National Geographic: The Heroes, The Healing; military medicine from the front lines to the home front

    In the print edition are some illustrations that are difficult to look at.  Go read the whole incredible story.  Next time someone refers to an athlete or movie star as a “hero”…

    Christian web-guy in action

    December 29, 2006 Comments off

    While I am goofing off my friend Pete is part of the technical media team at Urbana ‘06, an enormous Intervarsity Christian conference for which he and his wife volunteer.  Pete is uploading videos and mp3 podcasts onto the website and probably having a great time.

    One of his avocations from network management is webmaster for his church, ChristChurch PCA.  If you’ve seen church websites that are a horror of design and execution, you’ll appreciate how fortunate they are to have him for their web presence.  (Try clicking on one of the pictures!) It is clear, attractive, and easy to navigate.

    If I know Pete, he will come back from the conference with a lot of great ideas and this semester I would like to learn some of his techniques.  Maybe even apply some to my evil weblog!  (There’s irony for you.  But he’s unusually tolerant of the hellbound, and I really appreciate tolerance.)  ;-)

    Categories: Blogging, Geeky

    We’ll miss you, President Ford

    December 27, 2006 6 comments

    “President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America’s character. … He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most.”
    - President George W. Bush

    He did lots of other stuff too, including, in his short time in office, 51 spending vetos of which only 13 were overturned.  He achieved the rank of lieutenant commander in the US Navy during WWII, worked his way through law school, and served 25 years in Congress, where he earned a reputation as being able to work with anyone.  He described himself accurately as “a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs.”

    He is remembered by most people for only two things; his pardon of Richard Nixon (which was exactly the right move), and physical clumsiness (which is entirely untrue as he was very athletic).

    In case anyone has forgotten, this is what a real Republican looks like.

    Categories: Politics

    Cool aurora pic

    December 26, 2006 5 comments

    Check out this gorgeous picture of an aurora, taken in Iowa.  From Iowa Citizens for Science

    I remember being thrilled by Auroras as a kid in Iowa, ‘round 1963 maybe.  I remember standing in the dark by my dad’s ‘53 Mercury as he explained how they worked (Van Allen being rather big heat at the University of Iowa where my father was a professor).  I was standing on the ground, looking at something considerably North and 100 miles above, that emanated from our star 93m miles away.  (Enter rant *here* about kids nowadays holed up in their bedrooms watching videos instead of going outside to look at the sky)

    Categories: Science & Technology

    Humanity from Kazakhstan to the stars

    December 26, 2006 Comments off

    Two days after the Pope draws a false dichotomy between technological development and peace, the COROT space probe will be going up into the heavens to extend the reach of man’s knowledge.  Specifically the probe will be looking for other planets and studying the composition of distant stars. 

    Knowledge doesn’t make us virtuous, but virtue compels us to make constructive use of knowledge. Church history – even recent church history – suggests that virtue is not driven by religion though a given individual may be both religious and virtuous.  The same is true for technological history.

    But I do think the desire to know about the universe is an expression of humanity’s better nature. It is a poetic quest to dig out of cold space insights about where we are, and how we fit into the cosmos.  It is wonder, and humility to look unflinchingly at the deep.

    COROT (pronounced ‘Coreau’ ) stands for ‘Convection Rotation and planetary Transits’. The name describes the scientific goals of the mission. ‘Convection and rotation’ refer to the capability of COROT to probe into stellar interiors studying the acoustic waves that ripple across the surface of stars (a technique called ‘asteroseismology’ ). ‘Transit’ refers to the technique by which the presence of a planet orbiting a star can be inferred from the dimming starlight, caused when the planet passes in front of it. To accomplish its two scientific objectives, COROT will monitor about 120 000 stars with its 30-centimetre telescope.

    COROT will be launched from Kazakhstan tomorrow.

    Categories: Science & Technology

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

    December 25, 2006 5 comments

    We’re having a great Christmas here.  Middle Son is visiting from Urbana and we fell asleep to the music of him and his brother laughing in the kitchen.  That would be enough Christmas present for me, and all the rest is gravy.  Mmmm, gravy…

    I got lots of really cool swag; a shirt, socks, a copy of The DaVinci Code, AND a “Bill Of Rights mug” from Mary (Les Jenkins’ mom)  of Momma’s Corner fame.  When you pour in the hot coffee, our liberties just vanish.  Thanks Mary!  That one is going to be reeeeally popular around the office!  (Liberals in academia?  Scandalous!)

    Our Christmas Eve was pretty nifty too – we had a visit from our neighbors whose son was in full Scottish regalia including Bagpipes!  I’ll let MrsDoF tell the story.

    And just for grins, here’s a Candorville Christmas (comic)
    …and Brewster Rockitt’s Evil Dr. Mel is visited by the three spirits of Christmas (comic)

    Categories: Personal

    Austria: give free speech a try…

    December 23, 2006 8 comments

    I’ll just say; you probably would’ve never heard of David Irving had not Austria thrown him in jail for denying the holocaust.  He’d be a nobody, and now he’s international news, and all it cost him was 400 days.

    Nice going, Austria.  You can’t suppress nutty ideas by throwing people in jail.  In fact, you lend them unintended credibility.  Try “Free Speech” instead.  It works like this: some nutball says nutty things, sane people dismantle his BS with reason and facts. Since there are more sane people than nutballs, you get the right outcome without “suppressing” anything.  Why give the nutball any status as an underdog or even a martyr?

    Categories: Politics