My Zunivers

30 March 2005

Bye-bye, for now.

Apparently much of what I say is wrong, unkind, and not well thought becuase it is negative rather than positive.

So for the benefit of everyone who hates me not being a happy camper, I'm going to shut up for a while. I figure that if I internalize it all rather than having an outlet for it, I will become a happier person.

Far be it from me to be "intellectually arrogant" simply because large portions of the population will assume it to be true either because I'm in grad school or becuase or because I say something that challenges their opinions. It must just be arrogance, pessamism, pure evil, or some combination seeping from me. It certainly cannot be genuine care and frustration expressed in a way that comes easy to me.

I can't wait to live in a world where people are not villified by friends and family for what they think, even when it's a bit different from what everyone else says.

The scum of the earth will now shut up, since you can't deal with your toes getting stepped on and the fact that roses by any name can die.

Sorry, that was all negative. Let me try again to be all cheery and make you happy.

Bye-bye, for now.

29 March 2005

Oh, well

My head hurts.

One side of me is really upset about stupid people. The other side says I am a stupid person.

I don't know which side to listen to.

If I listen to the side that hates stupid people, my blood pressure is higher, my wife can't stand me, and I just spend all kinds of time really upset. If I listen to the side that says I'm stupid, I feel hopeless, like I can't get anything done in life.

I think the real problem is that I hate most people.

I hate people enough that when I think they're stupid, I don't want to tell them. Occasionally I hate myself for being a person.

Oh, well.

On a happy note, I got to watch The Fellowship of the Ring today. It was great fun. I'll watch the other two movies sometime. The movies themselves are, in the extended version, a total of 680 minutes of running time. That's 11 hours and change, although we do need to discount for closing credits. I have trouble finding time to watch a three hour movie, not because I don't often have three hours I can spare but because I need to have three hours with the computer when my wife and I are not using it.

For those of you who don't know, my wife and I use this computer a lot.

More happy news, I might be able to get Chinese food for lunch tomorrow.

28 March 2005

Sunday

I'm really too tired to reflect on Holy Week.

I thought about giving you my rant on scriptural infallibility versus inerrancy, but something deep inside is telling me to keep that as a draft and to work on it more before I post it.

I'm very tired, and my allergies are acting up. I hope I don't get terribly sick, as I sometimes do when the weather warms up and get damp.

27 March 2005

America is the New Israel

(Sarcasm Alert!)

My wife's family came to visit, and I've decided to be a dispensationalist.

I know that may shock some of you. I am, after all, working diligently through Galatians, and does that epistle not demonstrate that Christ is the fulfillment of the law, not a replacement for it? Well, yeah, I guess. But I have some cultural considerations to make, too.

I am an American, born and raised right here in the good ol' US of A. Our nation is God's country, the greatest on Earth, and the New Israel. We're on God's path once again, thanks to our Fearless Leader, and his Mandate from the People.

Obviously, our country is perfect.

I can't think of a better example of our perfection than the way that we eradicated heathen belief from this land. Once upon a time, there were lots of horrible, evil people who lived here in America. They lived off the land, and they worshipped mother earth, the sky, and the waters. The spirits ruled this land. The native danced and played drums, calling to the spirits. The natives were also brutal savages, constantly warring between families and tribes

They all lived in teepees, too, each and every one of them.

That's what I was told in school. It must be true. No good, Christian Land of God would have a school that tells lies, or even ignores truths.

Along came Europe, and we showed those spiritual bastards the light. We gave them the path to Heaven, and we claimed the right of God. In His name, we drove the heathens from the land. We killed them off as best we could. From the east we drove them west while from the west we drove them east. We did our darnedest to drive them right out of existence. We gave them token land to have to govern on their own so that we could absolve ourselves of wrongdoing and absolve ourselves of useless ground.

It’s funny how we also did it, in the name of God, to those who knew God and those who didn't. But let's not be bothered by faulty human logic.

Some might object to my assertion that we ran the Indians to death in the name of God. But that must have been our reason. Anything else would be selfish or racist, and that mustn't be our history because God's on our side and we’re on His. God doesn't do selfish or racism.

And look at our land now. America has fallen from God. Look at the cesspool of sin around you! Look at the pornography, the drugs, murder, teaching of evolution, rape, and all the immorality! Look at the way we let people burn our Holy flag under that liberal guise of Free Speech! And don't forget that we have men sleeping with men and women sleeping with women! For God's sake!

I think America is indeed the new Israel. But just as the first Chosen People, we've come to be a nation of sin.

It's not our pride that has done it, or our uncaring attitude toward others. It has nothing at all to do with anything like, say, the fact that so much of the population of the colonies was the sinning scum of Europe. It couldn't possibly be our Government, because that has been inspired by a Triune God. We were always God's people, the ones He chose before he laid the foundations of the earth to replace the Israelites who refused His only begotten Son. We are not the problem.

Or are we?

You see, I figured out why America is the way it is today:

We didn't kill all of the Indians.

No, we had to go and let some of them live. Like Moab and Edom, they now haunt our Promised Land. They've polluted our land with evil. We tried to trade with them, rather than slaughtering outright, playing no trinket games taking no prisoners.

They must be the source of God's withdrawing blessings from our country. After all, they are all drunks, and they all run casinos. They all still have names like "Sitting Cow" and "Burly Branch" to remind them of the spirits worshipped by their ancestors. And let's not forget all that smoking they do, ruining those potential Temples of the Holy Spirit with peace pipes full of muck that is so much worse than white man's smog, and so much less moral because they're doing it on purpose. We've assimilated these heathens, giving them the right to vote in our Theocramacy and everything!

How foolish of us. God's not on our side because we didn't get rid of Them.

Of course, we couldn't have ever brought ourselves to get rid of them completely, because then we would have been unkind, and that violates something in Scripture, right? God changes, but Scriptures remain the same. With the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, who gives a rat's butt about God anyway?

So I challenge you today, members of the New Israel:

Clean up this land. Kill yerself an Injun.

Either that, Christians of America, or make sure you realize that your country isn't God's land any more than the next.

There are some bleak spots in our history that are too easy to put off. Those spots are things that we have to ignore when we say things about Fallen American Turning Back to God, as if God was on our side when we collectively approved of horrible deeds. Now we are no longer His people because we speak of tolerance and acceptance? Love sucks, I guess.

And to my Native American friends, remember that I'm sort of one of you.

As a Christian I can say that many of us don't really think America is the New Israel. In fact, if most Christians would stop and think about it, they wouldn't either. They wouldn't really think it was good we killed off the natives. They would never raise arms against you today.

The problem is that they won't think. I apologize that I have to be so crude and irreverent in an attempt too make them start thinking. I just wanted to point out one absurdity in the New Dispensationalism that really eats at my heart. Perhaps if they see an extension of their terrible logic, they will change their minds about a few things. Or not.

Christians just don't smoke the peace pipe.


25 March 2005

So what am I doing here?

My wife's family decided to come tomorrow morning instead of tonight. That means free time for me. Well, sort of.

I did some serious clean-up work on my piles, making my wife tremendously happy.

My birthday presents came in, so I'm playing with those. I'm listing everything so that all who contributed to these gifts can joyfully pick out one or two items that sound like what they got and then feel happy for giving me those things. The only restriction is that you can't claim the first book unless you're my wife, because she really did go out and buy that one at the store. And obviously, you will all get a personal thank you. Heck, I don't think I got a frickin' dime from anyone who would actually read crap like my blog.

Music:
Beethoven's Mass in C and Missa Solemnis in a nice two disc box from London.

Movies:
Copenhagen
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King


Books:
The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad
Galatians (New Testament Commentary) by John MacArthur
A Different Universe by Robert B. Laughlin
Belief in God in an Age of Science by John Polkinghorne
Common Nonsense by Andy Rooney
God's Politics by Jim Wallis

This kind of a pile of reading is common for me. Before you freak out too much about it all being non-fiction, I will remind you that I have, checked out from the library, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. And this is really a diverse collection. The book by Wallis is one big essay on morals and political borders, while the book by Rooney is dozens of short essays on, well, everything. Redneck Manifesto is borderline white supremacist and a good pants kickin' of sociological conflict theory. A Different Universe is physics unplugged. Polkinghorne is, well, a Polkinghornesque discussion of science and religion (this is probably the most readable and compact of his books). The commentary is for research purposes, and although I'm not using it right away I expect to be using it sometime. I just hope my dad doesn't already have it...

I'll let you know if I read anything really interesting. I'm not reading right now because I spent a long, strenuous time focusing on homework, and so my eyes are almost shot. It's literally muscle fatigue, as I can't get binocular convergence at less than about a foot. Everything closer is in double.

Rather than play with my toys, I'm going to go watch This Old House, if PBS is kind enough to be replaying it. Then off to bed with me. I expect to sleep late tomorrow, to avoid socialization and because quite frankly I need it.

I will probably post on Saturday evening, and I may give my reflections on Holy Week. But don't count on that. (If your ears perked up when you read that, you've really got to get a life!)

24 March 2005

the weekend...

My wife's family is coming to visit, so I won't be able to put much here for a few days. I may also go camping.

At least I care

I cannot believe that Christians who stand up and say the liberal media are biased do not recognize that they are slaves to those media. I'm just curious, when is the next time that you all are going to get in a great huff about something and then drop it when it's old news? You're a human being, not a golden retriever. Your attention span should be better.

What would you say if I told you that I think most of your passion for social issues is fake?

I do.

If you genuinely cared, you would not just stop paying attention to some type of issue once it disappears form the mass media, only to pick up the next act at showing at the media circus. And the fact that you feel so entitled to a strong opinion just because you've read one or two news stories is even more appalling. If you cared, you would be more interested in knowing the issue better.

So before you think I'm cold and heartless for not fuming about the decisions over a braindead woman, consider this:

I have issues that I care about. I don't jump all over form issue to issue just because the media feeds it to me. When it's in the media, I pay attention to it, of course, but I also pay attention to it when it's outside the media. I know more than what one or two news stories say about my pet issues. I often do not know enough to be entitled to a strong opinion, but I know a heck of a lot more about those things than you do about your current things from your one or two stories that make you think you're smart enough to explain the whole world. I truly care even after the media stops the show. I'm not angry steam, I'm the real thing. Unlike what I face when you open your mouth, when I have an opinion you're not getting a fake.

Perhaps you do have issues that you do care about deeply and that you do know more about than one or two articles can tell. That's wonderful, and I'm happy that you do care about things. But please shut up when all you do know an article and a sound bite, and maybe instead talk about the things you really have tried hard to understand?

Before you say it’s wrong to play God by pulling out someone’s feeding tube, please address the following issue that I’ve never heard discussed in the matter: Are we playing God by putting in a feeding tube in the first place?

I have some horrible homework to finish now.

23 March 2005

Why I don't have time to post

SUBROUTINE csimul (a, b, soln, n)
!

! solve simultaneous linear equations with complex coefficients
!
! Nate Wentzel 23 March 2005
!
! comments:
!
! solves the matrix system
!
! a * soln = b
!
! for soln, given a(n,n) and b(n) arrays, by gauss elimination
!
! accepts square matrix input only
! returns an error if matrix is singular
! no checks for singularity or excess rounding error
! screw you if you think I have time to do that! :finger:
! if you want real Fortran, go get LAPACK and eat your heart out
!
IMPLICIT NONE

!variables in subroutine call
INTEGER, INTENT(IN) :: n !dimension of a, b
!a is n by n, b is n by 1

COMPLEX, INTENT(IN), DIMENSION(n,n) :: a !coefficient matrix
COMPLEX, INTENT(IN), DIMENSION(n) :: b !coefficient vector
COMPLEX, INTENT(OUT), DIMENSION(n) :: soln !coefficient vector

!internal variables
COMPLEX, DIMENSION(n,n) :: aa !working copy of a
COMPLEX, DIMENSION(n) :: c !working copy of b
COMPLEX :: fact
INTEGER :: k, j !counting

aa = a
c = b
soln = 0

!forward pass makes upper triangular system
piv: DO j = 2,n !pivot row
wrk: DO k = j,n !working row
fact = aa(k,j-1)/aa(j-1,j-1)
aa(k,1:n) = aa(k,1:n) - fact*(aa(j-1,1:n))
c(k) = c(k) - fact*c(j-1)
END DO wrk
END DO piv

!backward pass to find solutions
soln = c
soln(n) = c(n)/aa(n,n)
row: DO j = n-1, 1, -1 !working row
col: DO k = n, j+1, -1 !working column
soln(j) = soln(j) - aa(j,k)*soln(k)
END DO col
soln(j) = soln(j)/aa(j,j)
END DO row

RETURN
END SUBROUTINE csimul

22 March 2005

What are you looking at!

Gross out alert!
If you don't like gross things, don't look!
Nice people skip down to March 21!
Don't blame me if you read this post and regret it!

It seems that my pants have become a crisis.

My pants fall down a lot. They don't ride high on my hips because I don't have any hips. They don't stay on my butt because my butt is the only part of me that's the size of an average male’s.

On my large frame I have, proportionally, one of those nice, tight, butts. It's all firm and taut, like beef loin wrapped in thin latex sheeting. There sure isn't enough crack to start a drug ring. I look good in a Speedo™, at least from the top of the Speedo™ to the bottom of it. I could be a successful stripper, at least between my hernia scar and my perenium. I may be hairy, and I may be fat, but folks, I'm just plain hot in the pants.

Of course, nobody wants to know that. In fact, you all probably feel dirty now that you've read it.

The problem with my pants is that they reveal my butt. Unlike you poor saps, who came here voluntarily, looking for some interesting reading or a substitute for your empty NyQuil bottle, the whole world gets exposed to my buttcrack. My underwear taunts them all. I smile like plumber to each and every person on this Earth. A nice thin little posterior smile with a moustache and a beard.

I'm sick of the intolerance of male buttcracks and underwear showing. You see less of my butt and underwear then I do of your cleavage and bra on a modest day. I'm sick of people who like to talk about other people's underwear and buttcracks showing. Don't you have anything better to talk about? I'm sick of people who want to remedy underwear and buttcracks showing. Why? Because I like my underwear, and I like my buttcrack, and if you're petty enough to think about my buttcrack and underwear, you deserve far worse than seeing it.

But isn't it my fault? Isn't Nate the one who forces the buttcrack and underwear upon you, and not the other way around? Let me answer that with a question-- Have you ever heard the sating "If you don't like gross things, don't look?"

Here's a hint-- if you have read this complete post, then you have. And if you're reading this and feeling grossed, you did it to your own frickin' self. I warned you in big bold letters, right at the top.

And here's a warning-- if I'm around, you will see my buttcrack and underwear.

If you don't like it, don't look. I'm not the one gluing your eyes to my midsection, you are. If you can't keep your eyes off my middle, where you know you shouldn't be looking, you're like one of those child molesters who can't keep his hands out of eight year old girls' panties. You need help or a "shower" or something. Maybe we could take care of you Clockwork Orange style? And I'm not talking about bludgeoning with a ceramic phallus. I'm talking about holding your eyes open showing you hours of underwear and buttcrack footage, playing your favorite music the whole time, so that it will all just haunt you forever.

You preverts deserve it.

I never want to hear about it again. You have been warned!

21 March 2005

Friends?

Girls make better friends than boys. Not only do I know this from experience, but I've seen research on it. Yes, I have played in the sociological playground's curious little jungle gym called, quite descriptively, "cross-sex friendships." It's a very small area of research, and you can become familiar with all of the major work and major people by reading this article from Psychology Today.

How did I find this work? I think the Psychology Today article was distilled into a Slate article that ended up as one of those cheesy links at the front page of msn.com. (You know, back when Slate was run by MSN.) I was actually glad to find that article, because I had been looking for sociological research on cross-sex friendship and I could not find any. I thought that this area would be of great interest to sociologists, both because it deals with a question that we have only recently been able to ask (or at least for the first time since sociology's infancy) and because it deals with the progressive nature of gender roles. I was surprised to find that most of the work was in a few journal articles and a book. There really is no more than that.

A big question is "Why was Nate interested in this in the first place?" Well, it's quite simple really. My wife tends to get along better with boys than girls, and I tend to get along better with girls than with boys. But she and I have a serious problem because of this. In our neck of the Christian body, boys and girls who are not married are not really supposed to be friends, and married boys and girls are not allowed under any circumstances to be friends with anyone of the opposite sex. In fact, there is relatively little research overall on married people having cross-sex friendships, and there is relatively no research on Christian married people and cross sex friendships.

(A special note: Because of the small number of married people in the surveys, you need to read material on the subject with that critical eye. For example, the Psychology Today article mentions that men often say that "sexual attraction was a prime reason for initiating a friendship." Since the demographic in most surveys is dominated by single people, whether this is true for married men is unclear and so this statistic cannot be used to say Christians should avoid cross-sex friendships.)

The reason that there is little research on married individuals and cross-sex friendship is probably one of two things. First, there may be many married people with friends of the opposite sex, but they are not willing to admit to it. Second, there simply may not be that many married people with friends of the opposite sex.

A good reason that we can give for either case is that there is no social context for cross-sex friendship. Society, and the church, hands us a pretty rotten message on friendship between sexes-- girls and boys always end up dating, having sex, falling in love, and so on. When something socially unexpected is desired, or when it happens, we are literally at a loss for words to describe the situation. You see, language usually doesn't exist outside of a social context, so any friendship that is outside of an established social context will not be easy to explain. It may even be impossible to explain. Likewise, behaviors work within a social context, so any relationship outside of normal cultural bounds leaves people not knowing how to behave.

An example can help here. We know how dating people are supposed to behave. In fact, because our society is built from many different meso-cultures, we have a plurality of dating behaviors. Now let's pretend, 1950's style because I don't want to be gross about what happens, that a couple gets home from a first date. The boy in this couple comes form a place where a hot kiss is the way to end the first date. The girl, on the other hand, comes form a place where only sluts kiss on the first date, and she knows she ain't a ho. The guy grabs the girl and kisses her. She crys and runs inside.

What happened?

First, words to describe anyone's emotion and reasoning evade us, because our explanations will always refer to a social context. The girl felt violated because she thinks you don't kiss on the first date. The guy feels upset because there is dissonance between the girls response and what he expected. We are not being completely objective because the girl's ideal of not kissing is part of her culture, and the guy's ideal of the proper response to a kiss is part of his culture, but not the other way around. The boy's feelings make sense only to him, the girl's feelings make sense only to her, and it is very hard for the two to communicate with each other. We have a collision of cultures, and we can only describe it in terms of those distinct cultures, not in a separate way.

(If you're not convinced, you may note that I am using a dating example. The reason why is because dating 1950s style is a clear social setting that is so embedded in our culture we have language to describe it.)

Second, we can assume that the couple now faces some serious work if they want to stay together. If the guy wants the girl, he will explain himself. If the girl wants the guy, she will explain herself. Each will explain in their own culture's language. The solutions, permanent or temporary, are that she embraces his culture, he embraces her culture, or they form some new culture that, even though they implicitly understand it, we would not be able to describe except as a patchwork of their original cultures. This will happen many times in many situations that the couple faces. When they cannot embrace on another’s culture, or make their own, strife breaks loose.

Things get even more complicated when third parties, for better or worse, weigh in on the couple's relationship, bringing more cultures and their associated behaviors and language. The result is a mess.

This sort of thing happens over and over even in the most stable marriages. We either toss the marriage, learn how to settle things, or live in hostility and doubt until we go completely nuts and go with one of the first two options. But marriage is an accepted construct, even if it isn't exact.

Unlike marriage, with its stability and its rules of engagement (pun unintended), people within a cross-sex friendship are always in the state of the couple in the dating example. The friends are constantly fighting cultural forces. Cross-sex friends are constantly wondering how to act, they are constantly searching for how to say what they must in order to maintain the relationship, and they are constantly battered by third parties who, not being embedded in any cross-sex friendship culture, just make matters worse. All of the more specific challenges listed in the Psychology Today article fit into this idea of cultural dissonance. So does the first truth mentioned.

Of course, there are benefits to cross-sex friendship. As the article outlines, boys like the depth of girl’s emotions, and girls like being able to spend time with someone who's not going to be deep with them to an exhausting extent. Boys get the better deal, in my opinion and in the researchers' opinions. But girls get something, too. Amazingly, to Christians and others bombarded with bad messages, what each partner gets is not at all about sex. Sex is something that cross-sex friends often deal with explicitly, drawing a line in the sand and just not crossing it, ever. (Werking's book does this more justice than the article does.) But the benefits are healthy, person-building things, not sexual relationships.

So I think that Christians are a bit too paranoid about cross-sex friendship.

One of the most common arguments given against cross-sex friendship is that "women and men just don't do that" or "women and men just shouldn't do that." That sounds a lot like a culture saying something is wrong simply because it has no context. Sadly, in the Christian world, we're hard pressed to answer "What is culture? What is truth?" because we’re not supposed to ask. So when we are not “supposed to do” something, we get confused over whether we don't do it because it of a norm or because it is a sin.

When asked why Chrisitans shouldn't be involved in cross-sex friendships, there are number of other responses, given by people who want to be more thoughtful, that I also do not completely accept. First, the inevitability of sex is always an issue. This message doesn't fit with research showing that there is such a thing as a truly platonic male-female relationship and that is is common.

Second even if sex is not inevitable, we're told that since the possibility is there we must stay completely away from cross-sex relationships. In other words, don't play with fire. I don't accept this, either, because we constantly, every day, face things that tempt us. I don't have to be alone with a girl to have lustful thought. No matter where I am or what I am doing, when I have a thought like that, I have a choice over whether to entertain it or to drop it.

Here I see that some people could have a problem. Entertaining lustful thoughts is just like drinking too much. Some Christians live their entire lives with a drink or two every day, as prescribed by Solomon, and they don't ever become raging alcoholics. For others, alcohol is a perpetual problem because they just cannot overcome their urges. I can thrust off lustful thoughts, but that doesn't mean that everyone can. (In fact, getting to where I am now on the matter has been a long, long road for me. It was so long that not a single person on Earth knows half of the story. It was hard. Actually, it was also God. I can understand that not everyone who started where I did would be able to pull through such a trip.) In the great Christian, tradition, though, because some people cannot throw off lustful thoughts we turn that around and preach that nobody can thrust off lustful thoughts. That's just incorrect.

Another reason why Christians speak out against cross-sex friendship is that we should avoid the appearance of evil. Here I find the strongest argument, but not one that completely convinces me. I do a lot of things day in and day out that people could use to assume that I am sinful. I have problems with even simple things, like "Why are you such a liar, going to a church that doesn't preach exactly what you believe?" I'm accused of sinning just because I can't find a church that thinks exactly like I do! We’re all sinners, then. I'm sure that if I did find the Perfect Church™, I would be accused of being narrow minded and weak for not challenging my beliefs. I can't win. So if someone were to see me, say, having lunch with a girl who they knew was not my wife, they could make it into whatever they wanted to make it. If we look at our lives and make ourselves the best possible Christian witness to as many people as possible, we'll still find people who use what we do to tear down our witness.

Another thing to consider is that people my age make few assumptions about cross-sex relationships, so the amount of witness torn down is actually not as big as the alarm ringers, or people in their fifties, say. I do face situations like this past week, when I walked to the bookstore with a female friend. We passed a few people we both know, who wink-winked and asked "Nate, did you tell your wife?" They were completely kidding, of course, and I know that because they run this same routine by people that they truly acknowledge are just friends.

There are things that would raise an eyebrow among my secular peers, but unlike fifty years ago, things on the level of walking around together for ten minutes on a college campus in broad daylight have been removed form the list of questionable behavior. Spending the night in the same hotel room? Yeah, that gets attention. Finding each other alone in the food court and sitting down together to rant about homework? Nobody our age blinks, except for conservative Christians who have been told that they should.

So, if I am all accepting of cross-sex friendships, why is there a problem? Well, like I said, the Christian community as a whole bans such behavior. I can't have a cross-sex Christian friendship without some Christian of the opposite sex who shares my mindset that such a friendship is acceptable.

I'm not trying to say that I actively seek such a friendship and get turned down. Rather, I am saying that I don’t seek such friendships because they are not even an open possibility. I know girls who may make great friends if I got to know them, but I can't get to know them. I'm supposed to get to know their husbands, if they're married, or their boyfriends, if they have one, or just leave them alone altogether in any other case. I can have a culturally accepted friendship with any guy who has a culturally accepted relationship with a girl. In fact, I can have a relationship with my wife who can have a culturally accepted relationship with any girl. But I can't have my own friendship with a girl. That's just not allowed. I am only allowed to know girls as an accessory to knowing someone else.

None of this would be a problem if I wouldn't be a freak of nature who sometimes can't get along with boys and finds boys to be unsatisfying. I can get along with many of them well enough, but I don't have meaningful friendships with most of them. In fact, I sound like a girl talking about a boy, the same boy who would call a girl his "best friend" while the girl says "Yeah, he's okay, but he's a guy."

If all of this is confusing for you, remember that it is for me, too, because I'm stuck with a language that doesn't give me a way to be very much a guy and still not say that guys do not complete my friednship desires. I’m stuck in a culture that can’t even talk about what I emotionally need or desire, much less allow it to be filled. If God, guys and my wife aren’t enough, I must have some problem that I need to deal with. So says the Chrurch, anyway, whether they intend to do so or not.

All I can really say is that girls make better friends than boys, and trust that the boys I know will not be too offended.

The best that I can hope for is that we'd all just toss the stupidity and be allowed to really get to know anyone we meet.

20 March 2005

Paranoia?

I was walking around tonight and the same police car passed me four times, on four different streets, going in four different directions.

I just thought you might want to know about that.

19 March 2005

Easter's On Time This Year

Before I get to business, let me share something that has more potential to be interesting.

The Samples website, www.thesamples.com, has a download section where you can get two of my favorites among their songs, Indian and Nature. In fact, there is a cover of Nature by DMB. (Honey, I already put a copy on your desktop. It sucks, by the way, because of that awful voice singing it and because it's just not a great mp3, as it's got a big blank spot.) They do not have a download of "Buffalo Herds and Windmills" which my other favorite Samples song. Oh, well. Thanks to Brian Adams, who will probably never read this, for introducing me to this lovely band.

On to business...

I can't help but noticing that Easter is "early" this year. Yeah, sure it is. And it was late last year and the year before, and early the year before that.... I personally think Easter is coming right on time, as it always does. Okay, so that's just me being picky.

But I'd really like to know, when exactly could we consider Easter to be on time? Every year we hear people say that Easter is "early" or "late," never "on time."

Well, I've made a spreadsheet to help me answer this question. I took the data from 1900 to 2051 and looked at how many times Easter appears on a given day from March 23 (the earliest possible day) and April 30 (the latest possible day). I smoothed the data by applying a quick-and-dirty averaging technique three times, and then I graphed the results. Letting March 23 = 1, March 24 = 2, etc. and calling these integer representations of the date x, we find the following quartic fit:

y = -0.0000439439x^4 + 0.0024778797x^3 - 0.0539368855x^2 + 0.5682632591x + 2.7600613726

This is close to the fit found from applying the smoothing twice. The values y represent a histogram of smoothed data bins of original size x = 1 and final size x = 1.

(Side note-- fitting a quadratic led to similar data for any number of applications of the smoothing. So my quintic changing may be an edge effect, since the smoothing drops out data at the endpoints. It may also be an artifact of not including enough years, making my data a bit heavy to one side of the center and nearly empty in the very upper range of possible dates. I don't expect the fit to be polynomial, by the way, but Excel is, um, "exceptional" when it comes to curve fitting.)

Okay, well what does this tell me? Let’s look at the date ranges for which this quartic is in excess of different values y. And let's include n, where n is the percentage of Easters in the range of x.

y > 5.3, x = [16, 21], n = 0.197
y > 5.0, x = [9, 24], n = 0.546
y > 4.5, x = [5, 26], n = 0.730
y > 4.0, x = [3, 27], n = 0.809

Note that the data is peaked in the first days of the second week of April, and that it slopes off more rapidly to the right than it does to the left. (And before some of you get confused, these n values are percentages. If you feel that you must, multiply by 100 and add a % sign.)

Okay, so what?

Well, let's rephrase my original question. What critical value of y must be met in order for Easter to be on time?

If we ask people when Easter should be, I would expect not a well informed range of dates for Easter to be "on time" based on statistics, but rather some ballpark fudging. So let's eat the fudge, for a moment, and say that "early April," an answer we would commonly expect to get, is April 1 to 14 (x = [10,23]). This is basically the range where y > 0.5. From 1900 to 2051, Easter occurs in that range of dates 77 times, roughly half of them (n = 0.507). And here we see that the fudging is truly fudge. People say "Easter is early this year" or "Easter is late this year" nearly every year, not just half the time.

So, what's my point? Well, I propose the following: Easter is only exceptional for y < y0 =" 4.5.">

Okay, okay, okay. So I'm sitting here torturing statistics to fit my will. Well, guess what? I do statistical physics every frickin’ day and I have to be serious when I do that.

Let me have some fun, will you?

Thanks.

A few other Easter statistcs:

If I live to be 100, I will never see Easter later than April 25 in 2038. Those of us around in 2011 will see the only April 24 Easter that occurs from 1900 and 2051. Easter was on April 23 in 2000 and will not occur again on that date until 2079.

What about March 23? Easter will be on that Day in 2008 and never again in our lifetimes. And Easter will be in March only four other times before I turn 50 (in 2030).

Well, that was fun little exercise. One final note: I'd appreciate if you not share this research too much, as I may write it up a little better and send it off to the humor people at APS or something. I'd hate to pass up making myself into an internationally known buffoon with my three hours of research just because you people can't keep your mouths shut!

Off to bed to sleep before play practice.

18 March 2005

Clarification, Odds and Ends, and Linux

I must admit that my last post may have been offensive to some readers, specifically any of my friends. I want to assure you of something very important, dear friends. You're still my friends and I still like you all quite a bit. It’s a me problem, not a you problem. If you think you should be able to meet large chunks of my emotional needs in order to be my friend, you're delusional. But you also can't take it as an all or nothing thing, or even an all or shallow thing.

So to my dearest friends, please accept that I usually find time with you quite enjoyable whenever I'm with you, I don't think you're stupid, and I just plain old love you enough to be as loyal as your golden retriever and lick you to death. Friends don't need to be perfect to be friends.

Now, now. Don't get any kind of delusions about me not being lonely today, but also don't think it's your job to make me perfectly happy.

Okay, on to business, my Barnes & Noble order got hung up out west, but it's in Philadelphia as of this evening. So they may still deliver it tomorrow, if it gets up here before truck loading time.

Also, the Dell people are coming over tomorrow to gut Chelsea. So maybe she'll run with the room at a normal temperature... although I can get used to this 60 degrees thing.

I will be taking some of tomorrow off, to recover from my exam, although I do need to get to work since those sadistic professors have two homework assignments due in less than two weeks. Quite frankly, I'm tired of physics classes and how they get in the way of my research all of the time. Psych myself up for research and, oh look, homework to do. Do homework for a day or two, feel drained, take a day off, spend a day or two psyching up for research, and, oh look, homework to do. Do homework....

Oh, and for you goblet cell lickers who think I'm in school rather than employed, keep in mind that taking classes is also part of my employment, ergo homework is also part of my employment. Just keep your heads where they are because my not getting research done is not a platform to argue against what I said yesterday.

Rapid change of thoughts:

I'm thinking of setting up Chelsea with a multiple personality disorder. I'll keep her Windows XP personality, but I'd like to add a Linux personality as well. I need to do some more research to see whether I can dual boot this system. That research will also include consulting my wife, who would need to push an extra button during the boot process to tell Chelsea that she'd like to talk to Windows today. So if you have any advice about Linux flavors, etc. let me know.

Another option that I have is to save up some cash and build a linux box. I won't be able to go for dual core Opteron processors, and I don't think I could make a tiny Xeon cube. But even if dual core CPUs are out of the question, I could at least use an Athlon 64 of some kind.

Yeah, right. Money for computers. In my dreams. I can't even get my PDA fixed, and it's been broken for twice as many months as the number of weeks that I had it before I sat on it.

So, the big quesiton is, why do I want to switch?

I hate Windows, even XP pro SP2 with some PowerToys. It's cute and all, but it just bugs me. I was an MS-DOS junkie during puberty, so that probably explains some things. What, exactly, it explains I don't know. But I'm sure it explains something. And I have a Knoppix CD right now to play with, and it's so much nicer than XP. You boot it up and say "this is computing." I want Linux. I want it like I used to want OS/2 Warp. It's just sexier then McMicrosoft crap, in a non-physical way, of course.

I'll leave the Macs for the Mac people, although I am only one step to the dark side from being a Mac person.

Maybe I have this image of myself as a geek, and geeks are supposed to do Linux? No, it's not that. It's deeper. I really want it. My soul is just chanting over and over "Show me the penguin! Show me the penguin!" and when I see that little fellow, my heart just swoons. I feel it in my gut, that pit-of-the-stomach feeling like when a friend gets married. Don't laugh at me, people. One of the only sights in the whole world that's prettier than that penguin is my wife.

I wonder what she looks like wearing a Tux t-shirt?

17 March 2005

And Other Things

I finished my exam. It took a total of about seven hours, which is about the amount of time the professors said it would take. I don't have to deal with this exam again until it is returned to me with a non-perfect score, and then I get to go complain up a storm. I did everything exactly as asked, and my programs give all of the correct outputs. Soem of you readers who aren't used to math and science might be baffled by my confidence. Why does he think hsi stuff is worth a perfect score? The answer is that there were specific tasks involving programming and ways of doign those things without programmming. If the programming gives the same results as the other methods, the work was completed correctly. So, anyway, I'm not the first person who finished, but I'm certianly not the last. So yesterday and today were one of those big "Oh, that wasn't as bad as I thought" sessions that only a pessamist can truly enjoy.

I am awaiting my birthday shipments. The one from Barnes and Noble will be here by Friday. In fact, it will be here tomorrow, but I'm not going to be here when Brown comes by. The orders form amazon.com qualified for free shipping, so I'm having them shipped free. I'm cheap, so how can I psass that up? The difference in this case was almost the price of a book. But there is a down side. "Free shipping" basically means "shipped by our lowest price method, but put in the mail a few days after you order instead of right away." In other words, there is no difference between paying for the lowest level of shipping and getting free shipping except for the time between ordering and sending. So amazon.com intentionally makes us wait in order to get a costly thing for free. And I'm cheap enough to say "Thanks for the free book." That's my friendly consumer tip of the day. If I'm wrong, please tell me.

Yesterday and today I've been feeling a bit restless, sort of anti-homesick. I don't want to be around here. I want to be somewhere else. Some of my professors have told me that after graduate school they took a few months off and traveled or did non-physics things. I can understand why. Graduate education can be mentally draining, and that, for me, leads to being physical and emotional drain. (Sometime I'll rant for a few hundred words about my Polkinghornesque dual-aspect monism. That always riles up my fundamentalist Chistian buddies, as the idea of monism is detestable to people who insist the soul is distinct from the body.) I'd like to travel the Tundra and Arctic, kick back on the ice, and just relax....

You know, there are a few things that make me sad about going through the trouble to get Ph.D.

One of those things is that few poeple I really love and care about seem to understand what's going on in my life. I don't know how many times I need to explain to people that I work for Lehigh and I go to school at Lehigh. They just don't understand. They hear that I'm teaching classes and they automatically assume I'm a professor, but then they hear that I'm in school and they automatically assume I'm a student. Students aren't professors, so the people crap themselves trying to figure out what I am.

Second, people don't seem to understand that scientists do research. I wouldn't call myself a scientist in most circles, but as a scientist-in-training I do research. I thought people were confused when I was a teaching assistant, but you should see how people react to finding out I'm a research assistant. They seem utterly shocked to find out that I get paid to study and learn, as if learnign is soemthign you do before you get a job and aget paid, and making a living is something you do after learning. It's sick, sick, I can't tell you how sick that people confuse school with learning, and act as though once you are out of school you are done training your mind and must move on to other things in life.

A third thign tha tdrives me crazy, along similar lines, is that people don't respect what I am doing right now as an occupation. I don't know how many times people say things about getting a job as if I don't have one right now. I work right now. But of course, what I do is not work to some people. Oh, no. It's not work unless either you are in business or you are employed in a "real job." Forgive me for being vague, but I really have no idea what's itching these people's heinie holes. Apparently because I'm "in school" and I don't have set hours or a middle manager hanging over me, I'm not middle manager and I don't rule over middle managers, and I'm not in my own business or practice, I must not have a real job.

You know, the pinnacle of maturity is getting up early in the morning and doing a job that people have heard about. If you get up late you're lazy, because lazy has nothing to do with how little you work and because getting up late has nothing to do with physiological conditions that make you fall asleep late as well. And if you bring home a paycheck, it only counts as a job if it has full FICA all year long and is compensation for doing something that people understand without being told umpteen times. And trust me, I don't smell bad. You just have your head shoved up into your large intestine. I can't actually express how angry people make me when they refuse to consider me employed at a real job, so my advice is that if you are too busy with direct visual verification that
villi are only found in some parts of the GI tract, please keep your head where I can't hear you speaking your sorry opinions.

You know, I feel very lonely in this big fish bowl we live in. On one side I have people who share my religious convictions and faith. On the other side I have people who understand what I do, how I speak, and how I think. Do you kow how hard it is to find scientists who are also conservative Christians? I remember Dr. Rauseo very well. What a man. I also have met some great people who are members of the Fellowship of Christian Biophysicists. We're talking people from Nevada, Yale, California, Florida and Germany. They know how to find a speaker that will engage the way scientists think about Christianity! That hour 13 moths ago, held way before I normally get up in the moring, charged my spiritual batteries right up, and I'm only in the past week or two beginning to feel the batteries running low again.

I wish every day for a good Christian physicist friend, one whose personality meshes with mine and who is willing to exchange thoughts about science, life, God, and the like. I want to have the discussions about science and philospohy that I have with my friends from school, only I want to run my ideas through someone who believes similar things in order to test my thoughts, rather than running my arguments by militant secularists who forego evaluating what I say and are hell bent on using any trick that might make religion look awful. I want to have someone I can go to when I want to ask the doctinal and social quesitons that I can't ask at church for fear that people will brand me a heretic and poo-poo me rather than taking time to carefully think.

I need soemone with enough dynamic memory to listen to what I have to say, as long and complex as it is, and process it all at once instead of making me mess around with bits and pieces and fitting them together. If you can't parallel process, do your own thinking. I want someone who can suspend judgement until more data comes in, and is willing to do that with me instead of pressing, pressing, pressing for answers and action. I need soemone who can spin a dozen theories around without crashing them. I want someone philosophically competent, religiously conservative, and a lover of learning about nature via physical sciences. And I want at least my level of social skills.

I bet I'll never find it, at least not in my back yard. Maybe I'll find someone I can e-mail, like the two physicists I have been in contact with recently over matters of social modeling. But an e-medium is too slow for a relationship on the level I'm looking for. And I hate telephones, so I cdont' want a long distance phone friend. But I doubt enormously that I will live any great part of my life around the kind of person I'd like to know for life.

Or maybe, some will say as they check up on their goblet cells, I'm just stuck in some INTP funk and it's my own darn fault for not conforming to one of my social groups or hugging Jesus enough. Well, then have fun with your goblet cells. I'll go find friends somewhere else, like Iceland, or Norway, or Franz Josef Land.

16 March 2005

The Exam...

I am nearly done with the first of the two exam problems.

The first problem involves writing a program to find the coefficients for a best fit quadratic (parabola) that passes through a set of points read in form a file. The equations and some specific instructions were given, and I am almost finished. It's mean to be a programming problem, not a math problem. And if you want two Fortran 95 subroutines that explicitly do 3x3 matrix determinant and inverse, let me know. For a 3x3, these should be much more efficient than any of those monsters from lnpack or lapack.

The second problem involves finding fifteen errors intentianally introduced into two otherwise fine programs. I found a few just from looking over it, so I need to get thsoe fixed. Then I need to work on it on the computer. The trick here is that even after the programs compile there will still be errors. I'm slightly annoyed that they are using a module, but life's like that. The professors e-mailed the programs to us, so it will be easier to try various solutions and see if they work.

Off to finish the quadratic fit so I can get some sleep....

15 March 2005

Birthday Presents

I had mad money to spend form my Birthday this year, on the order of $191. So I've purchased five books, four movies, and a CD. My wife also bought me a shirt and another book. I was going to lay out in detail what I bought and why I picked it, but I won't. I was able to get a number of things that I really wanted, and not a single thing more or less. The final gifts rolled in and it pushed me just past the amount of money I needed to get everything I've really been wanting.

Okay, actually, I'll mention the movies that I got because those give me something to write about.

I bought the Lord of the Rings extended edition box set, which contains all three movies in their platinum edition. My friends and family will be baffled by this purchase, probably, because they know that I am an avowed Tolkein hater. I refuse to read Tolkein, because everybody tells me I should. I won't read it. Ever. I also have some issues with people making the stories allegorical, which they are not, and I thought New Criticism died a while ago anyway. But I'm not reading the books. Stephen Lawhead was my trip into fantasy, and The Endless Knot is where my trip ends.

However, my not reading something does not mean that I don't like the stories. It also does not mean that I do not know a good movie when I see it. Each Lord of the Rings film reminds of of the epic films, like Quo Vadis and Dr. Zhivago. But the best part is, the three movies are really like one big movie. Unlike the Star Wars series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed within a couple of years, not in excess of a couple of decades. I like the extended editions because they tell the story more completely, even if the action moves a bit more slowly. And I also have thing for babes with pointy ears. (That's not true, I just threw it in to see if my wife is paying attention.) I'm sad to pad people's pocketbooks with so much money, but I'm getting a masterpiece of the cinema, something that this century has 94 years to beat. I can't pass that up.

The other movie I got was a PBS broadcasted film of Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen. I mention this today in light of an article in Monday's Chicago Tribune (via AP) about Nazi nuclear tests. The tests failed, and we know from science historians that they failed because the uranium was messed up. I don't remember the details, as I 'm not in nuclear physics and I've never learned all the things involved in making an simple atomic bomb.

Back to the movie, the play pokes around at a quesiton that historians cannot answer-- what did Bohr and Heisenberg discuss during their last visit together in Copenhagen? This visit took place during the war, after the Nazi occupation of Denmark but before Bohr was smuggled to the US. The quesiton of what the two scientists discussed is interesting, because later in life the two scientists were not even self consistent in their accounts. Soem peopel suspect that the discussion was a moral one, where Heisenberg told Bohr that Hitler was forcing an atomic bomb project, and asked should I stall it? Another theory is that Hesienberg asked a specific scientific quesiton about the physics of the weapon, and that Bohr gave him false information. Either way you slice it, Bohr and Oppenheimer's weapon worked, and Heisenberg's didn't. But what those two nut cases talked about is an intriguing quesiton, even if only for the fact it's two of the three greatest minds in European physics during the decades after Einstein.

I have read the play twice, and it is witty and fun. The filmed version that I am expecting in the mail is hwo I first met the play, and it was nicely filmed. I remember seeign the TV screen, realizing I was watching masterpiece theatre, and reaching for the channel button as I heard "Heisenberg" come form the TV. I watched the play unfold, as Bohr, his wife, and Heisenberg, in the afterlife, all try to reconstruct why Heisenberg visited Bohr. What fun. And you don't need to be a nerd to watch it. This London run (I think?) of the play won Tony awards, and those critics aren't physics geeks. They probably feel dirty for even having seen it. I'll show it to any of you who want to see it, which means I'll be watching it alone.

Abrupt switch of gears...

I've been pondering my place in life the last few days. I kind of unintentionally took the week of spring break off, so I neeed to get back into physics. I'm feeling really unproductive, and after my take home test from tomorrow to Thursday, I need to get my umbrella sampling data unweighted. Ocne that's true, all I need to do is run, run, run and hope the graph peaks. Once it peaks, I have to write some new functions to change the potential energy between the simulated proteins, and then run like crazy and fit like crazy until I get results liek what we're lookign for. Personally, I think that some of the other theoretical work that we're planning on possibly doing will be more productive, because I suspect that what we're dogin now has been done andd was unsucessful in advancing the understanding of protein nucleation, so it was not published. But I feel really lazy and i'm havign a really hard time getting things off the ground. I know I'm suppsed to feel behind, but I can tell the difference between just being behind and not getting anywhere. I'm not really behind.

So, I'm off. I have my exam from the 15th to the 17th, so I may not post here for a day or two. I may post, but I may not, so don't waste your time coming. And you perverts need to get a cleaner sense of humor.

14 March 2005

A Few Things About Me

I'm a strange bird. In fact, I'm more of a feather, something of a tertiary on the right wing in faith and philosophy. Some examples:

Liturgy:

I like liturgy and feel we have a lot to learn from it. At the same time, I know people who have fallen into the trap of acts of liturgy replacing genuine belief. But I don't think that makes liturgy something to avoid, it's just something to be careful with on a personal level.

I must be a tertiary feather, because the right wing says that's liberal and the left wing says it's not enough.

The environment:

I believe that Christians approach care for nature and the environment the wrong (read also as "not my") way. Some think that since the world will get blasted to kingdom come, we can rape mother earth as if she's there just for our pleasure. Others think that we should appreciate nature but that we should not worry about whether we're hurting it because God takes care of that. "Global warming hasn't been proven" is one line I hear Christians toting over and over with smug grins. "So the rise in global temperatures, they say, must be a natural cycle, not a result of human activity polluting the atmosphere."

Reality check number 1-- no natural cycle has been proven either.
Reality check number 2-- just because we have not proven global warming comes form human activity does not mean that we never will prove that it is coming from human activity.

So why can't we take the careful approach and say "We're not sure where it's coming from, so let's try to burn less gasoline, make the church cooler in the winter than the summer instead of the other way around, and take any precaution we can just in case."

I must be a tertiary feather, because the right wing says that's liberal and the left wing says it's not enough.

Other faiths:

I'm not wary of listening to Roman Catholics, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, or Animists. I don't agree with a lot of what they say as Truth, but I like to at least hear what they have to say. I'm not afraid to listen, and I have no fear that they will turn me over to the dark side. In fact, I think that the intellectual traditions of some faiths have much to add to our anti-intellectual, conservative fundamentalist evangelical (a mouthful for backwards) faith. We can increase our enjoyment and understanding of the whole world by hearing about the faiths of others, and just because we hear about them does not mean that we must convert to them.

I must be a tertiary feather, because the right wing says that's liberal and the left wing says I'm too narrow because I think others will just enhance what I believe instead of adding to my understanding of Truth.

Food:

I like spicy food. It's something you need to get used to. Having spicy food does not, contrary to popular belief, ruin the ability to discriminate subtle flavors in more bland foods. It also does not cause acid reflux or ulcers, although if you have those problems the spicy stuff will make the sore parts more noticeable. But spicy food won't make things sore in the first place. I've read this in medical journals, by the way, so I trust it. I'd give you links if I could remember where the articles were.

I don't see what this has to do with my being a tertiary feather. But I think it.

Education:

I'm a radical when it comes to education, because I believe that education should have intellectual results. When was the last time you saw a poor, working family on TV where the stepfather sits down with the stepson and says "Sons, I want you to know that you must go to college, because the mind must be exercised when you're young to stay sharp for life"? Or do we more commonly hear things like "Go to college to get ahead" or "Go to college so you're not poor"? I am a radical because I accept that while education has consequences it is also an end in itself, part of the life fulfilled. I can't prove it, but I think if more people read history books instead of watching the History channel, or doing even more mindless things, America would be a better place. Also, I'm radical because I know that if everyone gets ahead, nobody gets ahead. Floors don't clean themselves. And once they do, it's wages lost for the little guy and wages won for the big guy.

I'm a radical because I believe in self education. I've met incredibly intelligent people who work in steel plants, construction, law enforcement, retail.... None of them are college graduates, but any one of them deserves a college degree more than many people I know who went through college. Sadly, self education leads a person nowhere in terms of increasing income or status. So while these people do learn for learning's sake, they are poor while numerous dumb-butts get the phat life because they got a BA.

I believe the education establishment has lost its rocker. It started at the elementary education level, moved up to high school and has now invaded colleges. We don't teach, we encourage learning. An average grade is at least a B, never as low as C, even though every school and college grading policy I've ever seen has C as "average" or "competent". Everyone is above average. Nobody is deficient. Johnny can't count? Must be the teacher, so give him his diploma anyway. Just make sure to tell him what it is, because he can't read. Our education professionals are adrift on Lake Woebegone, and we can't pull them to shore because they stole all the boats. When the government wants to know how to improve high school education, they go to two types of people-- high school teachers and people who teach high school teachers. They'll never ask me.

I disagree with No Child Left Behind, anyway. I disagree even more with the updates being sought by the Bush administration to "improve" the laws. I think our education problems are cultural, both in family culture and primary/secondary educational culture. Those cultures will be taking over the whole of universities any time now, and there's nothing anyone like me, or for that matter the government, can do to prevent the collapse of America's might in educating the world at the highest levels. Bye-bye glorious USA.

I must be a tertiary feather, because the right wing says that we should homeschool barefooted in denim jumpers and the left wing says we should just increase educational funding, and put the boys in jumpers too so they can get in touch with their feminine sides

Christian Music:

I don't like it. Why? Because it's not a musical style. I like country, classical, opera, rockabilly, and some of that strange, uncategorizable stuff that gets put in a section called "New Age." I don't like Christian music because I was told growing up that Christians should only listen to Christian music. I don’t' like a lot of Christian music because it is rock and pop and hip hop and metal and such. So if I'm a Christian, I am supposed to submit to musical styles I don't like because Christians wrote it? Bah!

I must be a tertiary feather, because the right wing says that's liberal and the left wing says I should like everyone's music. If fact, the right wing seems to be saying that, too, so the music bird must be crashing because it's wings are folded in.

Biblical interpretation:

You don't even want me to go there. That means it must be bad.

13 March 2005

Before Bed on Sunday

I sometimes don't like Sunday. It's a blessing and a curse, because I go to Church.

Church doesn't really excite me, which is interesting considering that the various parts of church have great potential for excitement. Worship can be exciting. Hearing a sermon preached can be exciting. So much potential, yes? We try to do all of those things in an hour and a half. I hope that some people think we do a good job doing all of those things. I don't.

"Worship." What a word. The word worship probably feels completely rubbed in the dirt from the way our conservative churches treat it. I worked one week as a counselor for a youth camp last summer. During that week our leader gave dozens of teens and adults the real definition of worship. Worship is so many things, I learned anew as a stewed in my sweat leading discussion with a few interesting young lads from all over Southern PA.

Then I got back to church where, once again, Worship just means Singing.

A terrible state of affairs. A state so horrible, in fact, that nine months after that week at camp I can't remember what Worship actually does mean. Statements like "What a great time of worship!" or "We have some great worship planned for you this morning" always mean "Let's sing!" Hearing that over and over and over feels like brainwashing. I'm serious, why can't we say "Let's sing" when we're talking about worship music? Do we not sound Christian enough that way? Do we need to use Holy words so we can be Holy people? Do Catholics, Episcopalians, and other liturgical churches sing, so we have to do something different so nobody confuses us with what we are supposed to consider those rat-bastard fakes of Christians?

If you think that, go pee on a stole instead of hiding your aggression against highbrow denominations. You demand action not words, so why not act instead of talking? I doubt you have it in you. And if you don't know what a stole is, go read a book.

So we sing at church rather than worshiping more generally. I can accept that some people would prefer that, as there is a wonderful tradition of worshiping through music. But I can't get into our music. We have words to hymns and praise choruses put up on a big Microsoft screen. Verses are skipped. There's no organ. There is an electronic keyboard that is impossible to properly mix with the other instruments. Other instruments, you say? Apparently it's not worship without drums, guitars, a bass, and whoever else wants to volunteer. They are good at their music, and they work hard.

Blended service, it's often called. Blended my rear end. It's not a combination of anything. It's a whole new mess in itself, like octaves of handbells brought together from different companies. And I don't like it.

So I can't get into our worship, because at my church worship always means music that isn't to my liking.

What about the sermons? Frankly, they fail to interest me. I think there's a reason for that.

Sermons can't get deep enough to really get anything across to me. I mean, they could, but I've been a Christian for a long time, over 20 years now. I've heard over and over about the greatest commandments of all. I've heard the sermon on the Mount, picked apart in great detail, over the course of years, so no three week ditty is likely ever going to give me deeper insights. I've heard many times over Nicodemus, husbands and wives, why pre-tribulational pre-millennial eschatology must be the way it will happen, Jonah, the Great Commission, the Temptation of Christ, and all those other good things. I've heard a few series on why Jesus had to die, why we know for sure he did, and what the Bible says about where we'll go. I've had it explained to me in many sermons, and in great detail over five minutes each time, why Evolution is the greatest threat to the Church. I've heard why abortion is sin, divorce is sin, drinking is sin, lust is sin, greed is sin, and pride is sin. I've been told about prophecy, and about Israel waiting for a Messiah. I've heard over and over and over and yes, over again, phrases akin to "It's not enough to believe in God, you must also live as though you do."

Every topic engages me so well that I pretty much ignore the sermons these days. The sermons are never deeper than what I've already heard, what I already know. I'm sure I could listen very hard for half an hour every week and come up with a few gems here and there every year. I can't do that, though. It's too boring. But I do listen to the scripture. I love the parts of the sermon between the beginning of the reading and when the pastor starts to expound his points. It's happy. I like the Bible. In fact, I'm going to go do some more work on my Galatians project as soon as I'm done with this post.

Back on topic, all of this bore that I deal with isn't the pastor's fault. He has a difficult job. He cannot target every sermon at postgraduate educated people who grew up as attentive Christians and just need really, really deep exegetical and linguistic dredging to learn new things. I hope and pray that what my pastors in recent years have said has touched many people. Most of it just bored me. And the key there is me, not anyone else.

So, why do I go to church? I could find a new church with music and worship that are more to my tastes, as a start. But even then, I doubt the sermons would interest me. Worship is something I have trouble with only at my church, while sermons are something I have trouble with everywhere in the Church.

One side of me says that I can't leave because Church is what Christians are supposed to do. Another side of me thinks that's stupid, and I shouldn't go if I'm just going to be bored. One side says that I see my friends there, and what great bunch I've got! Many, but not all, of them bug me from time to time or even more, but I love 'em all greatly. But another side of me says that's not why someone should go to church.

Lest you think I'm some kind of intellectual snoot who is about to leave church for my own Higher Way™, I'll tell you why I stay. "I'm bored with church" can always be answered "Go to a different church." "I'm bored with Church" should many times be answered with "So what?" Why?

I stay because it's not about me.

You know, it is interesting that I came up with this answer while spending months pondering all angles of a simple prayer request I heard. I won't let in on the details, because I don't want everyone to know who that person was, except to say it's not a relative, it is someone I respect a lot, but is someone who I don't know really well. That person probably doesn't know yet what encouragement I found pondering a short, simple sentence, and probably will not know until I get the guts to give some thanks. I hope those guts comes sooner rather than later, because I've been feeling guilty about not thanking.

Up until I had the revelation, I stay because it's not about me, even I didn't know why I kept going to church. I just felt like I should keep going, so I went. And now I know why. It's not about me.

When I go to church, I often get the birds eye view from the sound room. I do techie things. I love it up there. I love not being bothered by well meaning cheek pincher types who want to douse my introverted person with hugs and smiles for the sake of being nice. All of that music I don't like? My techie thing allows that music to go. There are dozens of people who hear it and do like it, and do find meaning in it. My taking the back seat lets some talented musicians move up to the front seats, and that makes the sound system a medium to touch people through music they would never hear if the musicians had to waste time amplifying the sermon.

What about the sermons? Well, I have a bunch of good friends who have been Christians for a shorter time than I have been. All that stuff stuck in my head, those things I don't learn when I hear yet another sermon on them, give me a toolbox for one-on-one times and small group times. I don't have all this stuff in my head just because I'm supposed to have it for myself. I'm supposed to share it. There are personality conflicts that keep me from talking to some people, thinking styles that are different enough that I can't package things meaningfully for others, and group pressures that come and go, keeping my mouth shut instead of sharing. But the fact of the matter is, since I'm not learning I should be teaching someone, somewhere.

One side of me now says Church is other people, and I stay because it's not about me. That one tips the scales.

I'm done for now. I missed play practice, and I don't want to miss church tomorrow. And my feet are really cold. That will be a future rant....

And once again I look back and say "I typed too much." I'll edit some it other time. I need to give Galatians a wee bit of work before bed.

12 March 2005

Late and Sweetened

Parents and friends, do not look at the time of this post. And do not consider that in about six hours I will be at play practice at church.

Why am I still up? I probably would have been in bed between 2:00 and 3:00, as is usual, except that I had too much sugar this evening and had the classic physiological reaction of "Gee, I feel hungry" which made me eat more. I figured out what was going on after I had a snack and then got hungrier. The perpetual note-to-self is "If you just ate a whole meal you are not hungry." The note keeps falling off the fridge.

Okay, I confess, I never put it on the fridge. I probably should. I should probably also monitor my blood sugar.

I wrote a number of long e-mails today to various people because I had people-specific things to say to all of them. I'm all typed out. So I don't have the energy to tell you about my sirloin with coconut shrimp, John Candy and Steve Martin, my birthday gifts, Scabs the Clown, and the horror of that nearly raw chunk of cow on my wife's plate at the steakhouse. So you don't get to hear about those things.

Life sucks that way, you weirdo peeping toms! Now be like me and go do something practical, like knitting some socks, grabbing a wagon and 'coon skin cap to play Pioneer with your friend down the street, or build a hummingbird feeder out of old lucite scraps and teeny, tiny bits of leftover ribbon.

I'm going to sleep!

11 March 2005

A Birthday

(Warning! I had a big idea on my mind, so this is long!)

Happy birthday to me.

So, it's time for a Birthday. 25 years on Earth. So long, it seems. I could get all worked up about it, talk about how much life has changed and how I feel different now than years ago, or even show some kind of interest in it. But strangely I'm not interested. This isn't I'm-older-then-I-want-to-be disinterest of the middle aged youth seeker. It's not me wanting to poop on anyone's party (feel free to celebrate my Birthday any way you choose). I think it is there's-more-important-things-in- life-than-a-big-deal-about-perfect-squares-divisible-by-five disinterest.

Lest you think I'm severely depressed or something, I will tell you that I am interested in a lot of things. Tonight I was listening to Rich Mullins and pulling out all the songs that are related to nature. Mr. Mullins was quite the poet, and that interests me.

It got me thinking about general revelation, and how if you understand special revelation then general revelation is a thing that just has to make you smile on the inside. It has to. It's so wonderful and pretty and incredible. We've got fossils and stars and teeth and parrots and armpit hear and juice boxes and sleet. Who can deny the beauty of all those things? I didn't say convenience, I said beauty.

Sadly, I think many Christians ignore those things. I know a lot of Christians who talk about reading their Bibles more using their best Christian jargon. (My suppressed thoughts are given for your enjoyment). "I struggle finding time to focus on scripture." (Quit your job and buy glasses with your first welfare check.) "I need to have more quiet time to reflect on God" (Shut up and think about whether God is a deity or a mirror.) "I need to spend more time in the Word" (I don't fit in mine. You must have the large print edition.)

Not taking time to look at creation is, I feel, akin to not reading the Bible. I've never crashed a round of "Do you ever wish you could read your Bible more?" with the question I always think to ask-- "Do you ever wish you could read the book of nature more? Or at least pay attention to it?" I don't ask because I expect replies to fall into two categories. One category would be the "We see the world every day, but not the insides of our Bibles" category. The other would be people laughing at me. (A third, minor fraction would probably think my "pantheism" is "blasphemous." Loons.)

You know what? The Samples, by far not the models of Christian people, wrote an excellent song called Nature that gives a good place to start summing up my views on the matter. The second verse goes

nature it's all around me
nature I hope it finds me
it takes me from a book
from pictures I can't feel
but outside when I look
natures something real.

When I hear that (usually in my mind, since I don't have the album) it reminds me of the unhealthy focus on the Bible that some Christians have. You probably know this catechism:

Q: What is general revelation?
A: God's creation.

Q: What is special revelation?
A: The Bible.

Frankly, I think not.

Don't get me wrong. The Bible is an excellent book. It is a reflection of God's work past, from making all people to scattering the peoples to choosing his own people to saving all people. Quite frankly the work future is confusing, but I'm sure that after the fact we will see that it has been done.

So, what is special revelation?

Jesus!

No, I'm not cussin'. The answer is Jesus. I have no problem with people including the Bible as an important part of special revelation, as it gives us Jesus' story and wonderful portions of God's story. I say part, not all, because Jesus was perfect and the Bible is not.

The Bible has been run through the hands of men and possibly contaminated. I bet it's pretty darn accurate, but compare the KJV to the Dead Sea scrolls and you can see there are some problems. On the other hand, Jesus has been run through the hands of men and intentianally destroyed, but He arose and survives alive today. He redeemed the world form Sin. He fulfilled the law. And although there were Christians before there was a Bible, there were no Christians before He came.

So which one, Jesus or the Bible, do you think is more special? Maybe your answer will change that classic fundamentalist catechism.

I think general revelation is too often ignored, replaced by, rather than complimented by, a focus on the Bible. Not Jesus but the Bible, a book. And there are events linked in my mind that explain how I know general revelation is ignored.

A year or two before I went to Wheaton, Dr. Rauseo published a little piece in The Record called, I think, "The Glory in the Unexplained." There was a copy hanging in the lab the whole time I was at Wheaton. I honestly don't remember exactly what Dr. Rauseo said in that article, but I do remember that it was my introduction to the Two Cultures Debate (a la C.P. Snow). I also met an infamous Whitman poem.

One little dandy that makes the Two Cultures Debate artsy and high-culture is when the literary folk to pull out Whitman's 'When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer." Science, they say, has robbed nature of the awe it should inspire and replaced it with something cold and feelingless. Scientists couldn't disagree more, especially Christian ones. My doing science is probably the reason I have thought to say general revelation is just as important as special revelation, but my weighing in on the Whitman debate is for another day when you can read Dr. Rauseo's article.

Anyway, I forgot about this poem for a year or two, only to be put into teaching astronomy labs a couple of years later. We had various observing sessions scheduled for the semester. One evening in lab one of my students came in and said to me, quite angry, "Why didn't we have the observing session last night? I came all the way down here in the cold and rain, waited for a while, and nobody came." The phone system where cancellations were announced was broken, so when she called she heard that the session was still scheduled. She was upset for the entire lab, complaining about how much she hated science and preferred artsy things. What brought Whitman back to me was her ranting about science. Most students did that every week in that class, but that night it really got to me.

What set off Whitman in a new light began over lunch a few days later. My student said "rain." You can't use a telescope when it is cloudy and rainy. This young woman didn't know that, despite being told multiple times that we would always cancel if we couldn’t see the stars when we looked outside.

That evening, after the rainy revelation and on the way out of the physics building, I noticed something else. I walked to the door behind a physics professor and a random undergraduate student I had seen upstairs talking to his TA. As the professor stepped out the door, he glanced up at the sky. The undergrad walked right out and kept walking. I went though the door and glanced at the sky.

I realized it then-- not everyone pays attention to the sky.

I've confirmed this by watching many people as they leave buildings, especially at night. Most don't peek upward. On the other hand, I look at the sky all the time. Woe to anyone driving in front of me in the next few months as we drive eastward, toward Jupiter rising!

Where does Whitman come in? Well, all the arguing about the poem looks at the negatives expressed about science and whether they are really true. Science destroys beauty and blah, blah, blah. No it doesn't, blah, blah, blah. This all misses a really important part of the poem. At the end of the poem, Whitman writes

... I wander'd off by myself
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

What's your point in whining about whether scientists rob us of your enjoyment of the nature if you never bother to look up?

So, what does this have to do with general revelation? Well, people in church sing hymns and songs about creation all the time. Christians thank God for making us and for making the world beautiful. And I wonder, considering the projected responses they would have to my ruining their holiness-though-scripture confession session, if they ever bother to look up.

Why did I think of this tonight? Because I think Rich Mullins looked up. And I'm sure he's now having fun writing lyrics for Bach. I don't know if Bach looked. But his music sure is pretty.

And all of that has dominated my mind for the past few hours. I think it's much more important than my Birthday.

[edited 3/14 for grammer, spelling, and to clear up the content]

10 March 2005

The Afterlife and TMI About Health

The fellowship application is done, and I'm rather tired. Related? Perhaps.

The application wasn't perfectly to my liking. The research plan isn't up to NSF grant application quality. But the thesis proposal I started with was better written than many thesis proposals I have read, so I guess things aren't all that bad. I just hope the two professor put in their letters. One plans to do it tomorrow and the other didn't responsd after I confirmed for him where the letter was to be sent.

There is a guy on the 700 Club right now who is talking about his return from death experience. He apparently saw two angels who were going to flip a coin to choose whether he came back or not, and they decided to let him come back when he asked. Or something. Weird. I used to be a bit skeptical of that sort of thing, until I had a conversation in a dream with someone who came and wanted to say goodbye. He died right around the time of my dream. I haven't told many people abotu this, and most of them just kind of look at me funny or explained that I couldn't have actually talked to him because only Satan, not God, is now involved in direct communication on a visions-and-dreams level. (My advice if you think that-- go to one of those what-you-must-call-dreadful churches where people clap and raise their hands over their heads every once in a while. If that doesn't teach you, you're hopeless, and possibly the kind of person who
really would confuse seeing a friend in a dream for seeing God in a dream.)

You know, I think it's odd that there are so many people who discount stories like mine, or the one from the guy on TV, but then also expect God to be miraculously involved in their lives. They at least pray like that's what they want. My theory: there's a lot we don't understand, so lets not put God in our box and say he can only do things that we can understand. And let's not assume that someone on the way to eternity cannot stop by to say goodbye. He'll probably look at you funny someday when I introduce you as one of those people who doesn't think he really said to me "I'm going away for a little while, but I'll see you when you get there." And I can't wait to become better friends with him once I do get there.

In health news, I have been having some strange peeling as a follow-up to whatever it was that was wrong with my uniary tract for the past few weeks. I don't thnk I need to explain where the peeling is. It might gross you out. So I'm now systematically keeping organs dry and clean, and hopefully it will all heal up soon. As far as I can tell, this is the only problem left and I will be better once it goes away. There is a chance that there is still an internal infection of some kind, but hopefully that's gone. Finger cross, lucky grin, pray a lot.

More medical news, an unlikely source pointed out to me this past weekend an excellent theory about the nasty stomach virus that went around a few weeks back, biting me and NE(B) and many of our friends. The culprit may have been a Norovirus. At first I didn't recognize the name, but I eventually remembered the infamous Norwalk virus and guessed that there was a connection, either in virus itself or in symptoms or both. There is, but I don't remember what it is.

Anyway, these buggers are nasty. Upon infection the body does a complete GI dump, stomach mucous and impacted fecal matter and all. You usually can't keep fluids down until the stomach mucous comes back. (I expected this, so I drank a lot of water as soon as I started feeling sick because I knew I wouldn't be able to drink for a few hours.) The viruses can live through deep freezing and cooking (I don't think boiling, but I'm not sure) and are extremely contageous for a few days after the symptoms disappear. (Actually, I'm not sure precisely how contageous, because the CDC says at one point that the transmission is only fecal-oral. But not many of us were licking poop. I would say none, but I have weird friends and jsut dont' know....) So, beware the Noroviruses.

I am very tired right now. Perhaps I'm finally picking up the influenza that's been floating around my socail circles? I doubt it, really. I've been around a number of influenza stricken people in my life and never caught it, at least not for almost 20 years now.
(Yes, I am talking real influenza, not stomach viruses and "midwestern flu" aka the common cold.) Curse the flu vaccine suppliers. Adn why is vaccine from England safe enough for us but pills aren't? Grrr....

My birthday is coming up, so perhaps I'll get some nice books to read in my leisure time. Nice and relaxing.