Monday, August 27, 2012

Latest Reads

So I've finished four books just lately.  I mentioned the Wilson one a while back.  Finished it about two weeks ago.  I recommend it if you want to learn a great deal about our 28th president.  It also gave me a somewhat new perspective on WWI.

Most recently (last night) I finished a biography of Bart Starr.  It was very engaging, written by a guy who argues that Bart Starr is the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, but about half way through I started to count the factual errors in the text and became increasingly annoyed by them.  Mike Ditka was not a linebacker, he was a tight end.  'Acid' and LSD refer to the same substance.  About a dozen like that, eventually.  Plus, the whole thing lacked depth.  I would have loved this book when I was 13.

Friday night I finished Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain).  I read this when it was new, back in the summer of '07.  Just felt like reading it again.  Frazier is a master of historical fiction.  In Thirteen Moons Will Cooper, orphaned at a young age, is sent by the adults who had been caring for him to the frontier, at the age of twelve, to mind a store and 'earn his keep.'  He is adopted by the Cherokee and lives with them for the rest of his rather long life. 

In between Wilson and Frazier I finished Robert Wright's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.  I had previously read his The Evolution of God, and while this one is a bit more of a slog it was worth finishing (I put it back on the shelf once but resumed it a week later).  Wright examines an age old question: is there a point to all this?  He argues that there is, and further that there needn't be a 'God' in the equation.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Likely because he has decided that we're never going to know whether or not there is a 'God' but he thinks it would be 'nice' if we can still have some of the things that we usually attribute to God.  Such as a purpose, one that reaches beyond our own, brief, lives, even. 

The gist of his argument is the idea of Nonzero (it's in the title), a concept he takes from game theory.  Zero sum games promote conflict, he argues (successfully, in my opinion) and inhibit cultural progress almost always.  When humans recognize the value of cooperation, looking at 'nonzerosumness,' culture advances.  Leading to the development of language, writing, science, art, etc.  And also allowing for the proliferation of the species.

Then he takes it to another level and shows how non-sentient life behaves in the same way.  When we study evolutionary theory we see a 'direction.'  God would be the director if we accept the notion of God, but he makes a strong (convincing, for my money) case for nature pushing everything forward.  God could still be there but He has covered His tracks, if He is. 

I'd recommend any one of these books except the Starr bio.  Unless you like books like that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Latest Letter

Contrary to the opinion expressed in a Saturday letter, the purpose of sensible gun regulation isn't to "disarm the good."  It is to keep guns out of the hands of mentally/emotionally unstable individuals and to limit the firepower that any one person can bring to bear in a given situation.  Background checks won't catch every person with stability issues, but they'll help.  A ban on assault-type weapons and extended magazines won't keep everyone from obtaining them, but it will make it harder, and will allow intervention by law enforcement before these weapons are used, at time of purchase or upon discovery.

The problem with more people carrying more guns as a solution is that most people don't want to carry.  Even in the 'old west' most people didn't.  What we'd rather have is fewer chances for unstable people to easily act on their homicidal impulses.  If a responsible citizen wants to arm himself for personal protection he still has that right.  We just want him to demonstrate that he IS responsible.  And if he can't protect himself with a nine shot semi-automatic pistol (or less) then maybe he should make some life-style changes.  Is that too much to ask?
Sent about five minutes ago.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I've recently been informed that many people who go to college have their heads "filled with mush" by the professors, while there.  Here's the actual statement:

"i find the ones how go to school really dont really have the answers they domt evan have any commen scents.but they can read spell and look good on paper.but there are some how go and really do learn they do not go and let there professor fell there head with mush. That is where you get the term droids.

I'm pretty sure that's NOT where we get the term 'droids, actually.  But I digress.  Here's another quote:

(Professor Suri, History 102) "It's great to learn about history.  It's a fascinating field that tells us much about how humans interact.  But the primary reason that you're here, in this room right now and at this school, is to develop your critical thinking skills.  That is the primary purpose of higher education."

Ever hear that from the pulpit?  Or on right wing talk radio?  (Me either.)

Here's some more.  Sign displayed in Professor Allen's lecture hall, Botany 240: Plants and Man:

"The greatest impediment to education is in admitting that one doesn't know something."

Professor Graham, Botany 100:  "There is no certainty in scientific knowledge.  Just degrees of likelihood."

I'll add more as I remember them (said the droid).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why Don't I Go To Church?

I have been asked, several times over the years, why I don't go to church.  I have a standard answer.  I say, think about why you DO go to church and then turn that around.  Many people go to church to 'set an example' for their kids.  I have no kids.  Or because they think they're supposed to.  I don't think that.  Or because they truly want to 'worship God.'  I do not.  I don't think there IS a 'God.'  Some people like the 'fellowship', being a part of the community.  I get that in other ways.  Some people think it 'feeds the spirit.'  I don't believe in spirits.

These are all good reasons for other people, I think.  Just not good reasons for me.  Most people accept my answer.  Once in a while someone will try to sway me with some argument or another but generally they quickly realize that I really have heard all the arguments for it and they really don't work for me.

I do actually go to church, sometimes.  Weddings, baptisms and funerals about cover it.  So, once or twice a year, generally.  And of course I went a lot when I was young.  Catholic, even.  So I'm familiar with what goes on there.  I went for a baptism back in December.  It was at a local Lutheran church.  I don't think I had ever been to a Lutheran church before; if I had it was for a wedding and I didn't really listen for any differences between what they say and do and what the Catholics do.  This last time I listened.  Very similar.  Extremely so, even.  And therein lies the rub.  ;  )

The biggest reason I don't go is that I don't accept their main premise; that humans are stained by Original Sin and that Jesus Christ died for us so we could have our sins forgiven and achieve everlasting life in 'heaven.'  And I don't accept that premise in just about every way possible. 

First, that whole 'Original Sin' story is absolutely contingent upon accepting the Creation Story in the Book of Genesis.  I do not.  How can I?  It makes a great story but was it even meant to be taken literally?  I have my doubts.  Every culture has its 'lore,' its mythology.  Every other culture understands that the old stories are just that: old stories.

To accept the story I have to believe that there is an all-powerful super-being, and I do mean ALL-POWERFUL.  Powerful enough to create the entire universe, every molecule in it, by simply willing it.  I don't believe that.  It's just too preposterous for me to even entertain the notion for very long.  But of course there's more.  This all-powerful super-being, 'God,' created this whole universe so humans would have a place to reside.  He created humans, apparently, 'out of love.'  How love existed in a universe that didn't exist yet I've never heard.  Or maybe loneliness would be a better explanation.  God was lonely.  Well who wouldn't be, after an eternity or so of being all alone?  But I digress.

After doing all this creating, (in six days, not all at once, not over millions of years) including a Garden of Paradise, God decides to 'test' his favored creatures.  Basically, he tells them not to do something, then sends a talking snake to deceive them.  One of them, anyway.  Naturally, being children, more or less, they fall into the trap, as God must have known they would.  And so God decides, almost literally, to Hell with them!  They are turned out of Paradise and begin to lead lives of suffering.  Sounds to me like God has anger issues.  But he loves us, he's all about love and forgiveness.  Just not right away.

Apparently God eventually 'calms down,' figures maybe (maybe?) he has been a little (a little?) rash.  (This is after he kills the entire human race save for one family in a world-wide flood.)   He concocts a plan to appease himself.  He impregnates a virgin, waits thirty-three years, then watches as these humans that he has such disdain for (but still loves) kill this 'son' of his in the most grisly, painful way they can conceive and lo and behold, all is forgiven.  (Or can be.)  A fresh start for everybody, forgiveness of sins, original and otherwise, IF they/we/I accept that Jesus (the aforementioned son) did this FOR them/us/me.  Somehow it 'takes away the sins of the world.'  Why this impressed God so much has always been unclear to me since he orchestrated the whole thing Himself but I'm told if I just believe it I can have eternal life.  Hunh. 

Well, sorry, I don't.  I can't.  Feel free to yourself though.