Weekly Meanderings

Let it snow!

Drew Dixon on pre-game prayer: “Nowhere does the Bible call Christians to pray at government sponsored events. The Bible calls us to proclaim the gospel on street corners and in center of towns and every where we go, but it never requires that we force the government or anyone else to publically honor our religion. I believe Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36). The New Testament envisions a kingdom that resides in the hearts of people. It is a kingdom that grows through the preaching of the gospel; not through legislature, courts, or magistrates. I fear that this culture war to keep the government from “taking God out” of our schools not only distorts the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom, but shirks our responsibility to safeguard the gospel and proclaim it to the ends of the earth. I do not trust our public schools to get the gospel right nor do I expect them to preach it. Those duties fall to the church and so long as the church distracts itself with “culture wars”, I expect the church to fail to honor these sacred duties.”

The finest bird I’ve ever seen: the English Robin.

George Dvorsky’s list of ten responses by Creationists (he confuses YEC with ID) to evolution.

Jealousy, good for us? Anja Steinbauer: “On the one hand that is quite understandable, since, as emotions go, it is generally not one of the agreeable ones. Jealousy can sweep through your life like a hurricane, destroying relationships and careers – just ask General Petraeus. But is jealously, while unpleasant, altogether bad? Not at all. Jealousy can be your friend: it will highlight what you value and allow you to experience yourself as a strong, rational and passionate human. Everybody should try it…. Jealousy is often falsely associated with insecurity and weakness, but I believe the opposite to be true. Only the insecure cannot allow themselves to be jealous. Jealousy requires fearlessness. It requires us to stand by what we value and own up to our choices. Embrace life – dare to be jealous!”

Leadership and the Lord of the Rings.

Tiffany Jenkins: nostalgia is debilitating! “In 1688, a Swiss medical student, Johannes Hofer, made a new diagnosis. He observed that soldiers on military duty were pining for the green, green grass of home, so much so that it was debilitating. Hofer pulled together two words with Greek roots: nostos meaning “return home” and algia meaning “longing”, to make a new one. His dissertation had a longer life than most, as he went down in history as the man who coined the condition of nostalgia. Nostalgia has since expanded from a medical diagnosis to mean a more general longing for a past time, a feeling we all have experienced. But what is interesting, and what is unfortunate, is just how many of us immerse ourselves in days gone by. Our whole culture is suffering from a bad case of nostalgia. And it is debilitating.”

Fun graph … you gotta find your co-workers on this chart. (Where’s my “buddy” David Fitch on this graph?)

About Noam Chomsky’s linguistics.

Meanderings in the News

Roger Williams scribbling deciphered: “Providence, R.I. • The obscure book’s margins are virtually filled with clusters of curious foreign characters — a mysterious shorthand used by 17th century religious dissident Roger Williams. For centuries the scribbles went undeciphered. But a team of Brown University students has finally cracked the code…. A group including former library director Edward Widmer, Williams scholar and Rhode Island College history professor emeritus J. Stanley Lemons and others at Brown started trying to unravel the so-called “Mystery Book” a few years ago. But the most intense work began this year after the university opened up the challenge to undergraduates, several of whom launched an independent project.”

That vs. which, by Geoffrey K. Pullum: “I guess that if doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, it is insane for me to imagine that I could do any good by telling the readers of The Chronicle of Higher Education that the rule banning whichfrom restrictive relative clauses is “a time-wasting early-20th-century fetish, a bogeyman rule undeserving of the attention of intelligent grownups.” But that’s what I will do in the post due to be published at one minute past midnight on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. “A Rule Which Will Live in Infamy,” I called it.”

Fiction down, non-fiction up. “English teachers are fretting that a set of curriculum guidelines could reduce the teaching of fiction and poetry in the classroom, the Washington Post reports.  The Common Core State Standards, which will be implemented by more than 40 states by 2014, require that 50 percent of elementary school reading be nonfiction, climbing to 70 percent by 12th grade. Supporters, the Post says, believe American students have suffered from “a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents,” leaving them unprepared for higher education and the working world.

NFL and domestic abuse: “Does the NFL have a domestic violence problem? Perhaps not, if you strictly interpret that question to mean, Can you prove conclusively that the rate of domestic violence charges against NFL players exceed the national average? But that’s an excessively narrow interpretation. The NFL does have a problem in the inconsistency with which it treats offenders and minimizes their alleged crimes. NFL executives and coaches talk tough on domestic violence but don’t really follow through. On Monday, I mentioned that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told his players that he will forgive them for anything except striking a woman. Well, in 2008, Ahmad Brooks literally punched a woman in the face, allegedly giving her a black eye and causing her to black out. Brooks is now starting for the 49ers. In a recent SI.com storyabout Brooks’ outstanding play, the assault is referred to euphemistically as “past troubles.” (For what it’s worth, the woman Brooks allegedly punched was a stranger he encountered on the street, so let’s count this as “violence against women” rather than “intimate violence.”) Teams have an incentive to hire and play the best players, regardless of how they behave off the field. The courts don’t seem to be doling out justice, either. So who’s going to take responsibility? It needs to be Commissioner Roger Goodell, who recently expressed the need for the NFL “to do some things to combat this problem.” What should he do? In the next CBA, the NFL should codify specific player behavior guidelines that establish clear disciplinary consequences for domestic violence.”

Do Republicans need a new William F. Buckley? “IT is a shame that William F. Buckley Jr. passed away in 2008. The conservative movement could use him — or someone like him — right now. In the 1960s, Buckley, largely through his position at the helm of National Review, displayed political courage and sanity by taking on the John Birch Society, an influential anti-Communist group whose members saw conspiracies everywhere they looked. Fast forward half a century. The modern-day Birchers are the Tea Party. By loudly espousing extreme rhetoric, yet holding untenable beliefs, they have run virtually unchallenged by the Republican leadership, aided by irresponsible radio talk-show hosts and right-wing pundits. While the Tea Party grew, respected moderate voices in the party were further pushed toward extinction. Republicans need a Buckley to bring us back.

Salvation Army’s bucket stories: “The anonymous gift was enclosed in a clear plastic sleeve, protection for the first shimmering gold piece this season to be plunked into a Salvation Army collection kettle in Lake County. For good measure, the one-ounce Double Eagle gold coin worth about $1,730 was wrapped in a 1000 Yen bill worth about $12 when it was retrieved Nov. 30 from a kettle stationed at the Jewel store in Grayslake. This pattern of anonymous donations of gold and silver pieces or large sums of cash dropped in Salvation Army kettles across the Chicago area has become a punctual practice for more than 25 years. And while expected, the first gifts still provide a surge of holiday spirit. “We do (expect the donations), but it’s always a surprise when the first coins drop,” said Alyse Chadwick, a spokesman for the Salvation Army. Technically, the Double Eagle found in Lake County tied as the first of the kettle season, which began Nov. 9 and runs through Dec. 24. Also on Nov. 30, a South African Kruggerand was deposited in a kettle at Casey’s Foods in Naperville, though the estimated value at $1,700 was slightly less. While there is some anticipation of where the first gold coins will be tallied, the satisfaction comes in knowing the flow has begun. Last year, gold and silver coins appraised at $14,000 were collected in the 66 kettle sites in Lake County, according to Capt. William Holman, who heads the Salvation Army Waukegan Corps office.”

The name Mary continues on the decline…

Comparing Haidt and Harris.

One solid piece of score-making against some marketing-shaped promotions, in this case about a test that supposedly proves EB White’s prose was “flabby”: “A post by Joe Fruehwald (“To take “Zombie Nouns” seriously, you must’ve had your brains eaten“, Val Systems 11/27/2012) motivated me to take a second look at Helen Sword’s ideas about style, which I discussed earlier in “The Redemption of Zombie Nouns“, 7/26/2012. In particular, I decided to take her “Writer’s Diet Test” out for a spin. For test material, I choose a few selections from E.B. White, co-author of The Elements of Style. Although we’ve occasionally expressed skeptical and even negative opinions about The Elements of Style, I have nothing but admiration for E.B. White as a writer. And so I was distressed to learn that Ms. Sword consistently judges his writing to be “Flabby”.”

Intelligent demographics: “For a brief moment last month—roughly a 72-hour span beginning at 11:00 p.m. on November 6 and concluding late in the evening of November 9—everyone in America was interested in demographics. That’s because, in addition to rewarding the just, punishing the wicked, and certifying that America was (for the moment) not racist, President Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney pointed to two ineluctable demographic truths. The first was expected: that the growth of the Hispanic-American cohort is irresistible and will radically transform our country’s ethnic future. The second caught people by surprise: that the proportion of unmarried Americans was suddenly at an all-time high….”

DNA photo — now this is cool: “To get these incredible shots, Di Fabrizio and his team “built a nanoscopic landscape of extremely water-repellant silicon pillars,” according to Eli MacKinnon at LiveScience, and “added a solution that contained strands of DNA into this scene.” The water evaporated and left behind DNA that stretched between the pillars; Di Fabrizio then shone beams of electrons through the holes in the silicon bed and snapped images of the illuminated molecules. “Di Fabrizio’s images actually show a thread of several interwoven DNA molecules, as opposed to just two coupled strands,” MacKinnon writes. “This is because the energy of the electrons used would be enough to destroy an isolated double helix, or a single strand from a double helix.” But by using more sensitive equipment and lower energy electrons, Di Fabrizio believes he will eventually be able to photograph an individual double helix; in the meantime, scientists will be able to use Di Fabrizio’s method to see how DNA interacts with the other ingredients of life, like ribonucleic acid, or RNA.”

Joan Acocella, on bad endings to novels, and the first one that came to mind for me was Huckleberry Finn: “Many of the world’s best novels have bad endings. I don’t mean that they end sadly, or on a back-to-work, all-is-forgiven note (e.g. “War and Peace,” “The Red and the Black,” “A Suitable Boy”), but that the ending is actually inartistic—a betrayal of what came before. This is true not just of good novels but also of books on which the reputation of Western fiction rests. The first half of “David Copperfield” leaves you gasping. You laugh, you cry, you think you’re going to faint. The scene where David, having been rescued by his Aunt Betsey and fed, given a bath, and put to bed, looks out the window at the moonlight on the Channel, imagining that he might see his dead mother there, with her baby in her arms (she died in childbirth): after I have forgotten most of the events of my life, I will remember that. But in the last chapters of the novel, the now-adult David marries a wise woman and succeeds in life, and from then on you die of boredom. Ditto “Wuthering Heights.” After the scalding passion of Catherine and Heathcliff, who cares about the amorous back-and-forths of their uninteresting children? Yet this occupies half of the book.”

Twentysomethings — it’s good to ask them! “Twenty-somethings: why don’t they just grow up already? In 2010, science journalist Robin Marantz Henig tried to answer this in the widely circulated New York Times Magazine article “What is it About 20-Somethings?” Among other questions, she explored why Millennials were taking so long to get married, buy homes, commit to stable careers, and become parents. Were they simply coddled, the byproduct of helicopter parenting, unable to live independent lives? Or were they experiencing, as psychologist Jeffrey Arnett once put it, “emerging adulthood” — a special category defined by that “in between” feeling?” But the 20something’s response looks like this: “Ultimately, Twentysomething is not, as the book jacket claims, “the definitive book about being young in our time.” It doesn’t even begin to address the real issue at hand — which is that the concept of “adulthood” is slippery, and the old benchmarks don’t necessarily apply anymore. The idea of home ownership feels absurdly out of reach to many of us. How could we think about investing in a house when we’re facing decades of paying off student loans? But while the authors acknowledge that debt is one largest hurdles confronting Millennials, they don’t explore how debt affects our life choices, relationships, marriage, and careers. In all of those areas, they deem the Millennials’ experience “same as it ever was.”

Meanderings in Sports

Tiger Woods and charity: “THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Tiger Woods started his World Challenge in 1999, a chance to bring together top players from around the world for a tournament that amounted to a holiday exhibition to raise money for his foundation. It offered big money, even for the guy who finished last. And though it now awards world ranking points, it does not count as an official win on any tour. But it’s serious business to Woods. When the tournament lost its title sponsor last year, and a deal with a major company unexpectedly fell through at the last minute in early September, Woods spent what is believed to be about $4 million of his own money to join presenting sponsor Northwestern Mutual in covering the operating costs. “We’re going to be doing everything we can to keep the tournament going and keep all our programs going,” Woods said…. The World Challenge has raised $25 million for the foundation since it began, including prize money from Woods. He has won five times, which helps. Only last year was it revealed that Woods also donates his prize money from every tournament that benefits the foundation – the AT&T National, which began in 2007, and the Deutsche Bank Championship, which began in 2003 and became a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2007. That total now stands at $14.2 million.”

ESPN and your cable bill: “Are sports on TV a good deal? Depends.  If you watch sports, millions of pay-TV households who never click on their ESPN channels are subsidizing your habit. If you don’t watch sports, you’re one of the suckers paying an extra $100 a year for a product you don’t consume.  Out-of-control sports TV costs are receiving a lot of attention these days, and much of the press coverage is misleading, miscalculated, or just plain wrong. Let’s divide fact from fiction.”

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  • T.S.Gay

    Harris’ main objection to Jonathan Haidt is that he is contrary to the nature of the universe. That it is a cause and effect reality. That the world from the Greeks onward has developed into the truth of scientific method. He thinks Haidt promotes lying to ouselves about reason. But Harris has not watched science itself unfold to where Prigogine recognizes the truth that determinism is no longer viable( and that has been reproduced experimentally by so many scientists the list is too long for here). Roderick Chisholm directly confronted the dilemma of determinism/indeterminism to show the assumptions that must be reached about the agent. Harris cannot accept the fact that he has the tail wagging the dog when it applies to us. Whether looking at the negative emotions(ex – disgust, shame, vengence or positive(ex- admiration, awe, and moral elevation) the research supports a “first draft” theory and its development into multiple forms. Christians shouldn’t be surprised, because it mirrors the parable of the talents.

  • AHH

    Insightful post by Dixon on public school prayers. There’s a “do unto others” aspect to this — what would I want for my children’s school if we lived in a place where some other religion was a majority, like Egypt or Utah.
    While I probably agree with George Dvorsky on the scientific questions, that is a pretty shallow and scattered analysis of “creationist” arguments.
    Another aspect of the that/which usage question is that it is an American phenomenon. The British seem to have no qualms about saying “the cars which are large use more petrol” but the American who sometimes edits my scientific writing enforces Strunk & White.
    Good observation that there is much parallel between the Birch Society (which is not extinct) and the Tea Party, and that no current prominent Republican has been willing to stand up to that fringe.

  • Diane

    I found the article on demographics interesting. I would say the pro-life movement is largely responsible for decoupling marriage and childbirth by being so zealous in supporting single mothers through their pregnancies. I don’t fault them for that, but wanted to put it out there. If I were a Republican, I would get very much behind Democratic policies to build up the economy, create jobs, and increase middle-class wealth and opportunity, because economic hope and security are what leads to marriage –I just watched the 1938 Pygmalion, where Eliza DooLittle’s father comments (script written by Shaw himself) on marriage as another institute of the middle class, not the lower class, and things don’t change–and marriage apparently leads to voting Republican. I think it’s difficult simply to “tell” young people to get married, if they can’t afford to do so. I see my nephews and their girlfriends meandering slowly through community college and then commuting to the 4 year university on the slow boat to the degree whilst working in dead-end jobs because such a slow, and economically unviable track, is all they have and acts as a cover (as long as they are “in school” they are not pressured to get a “real” (ie decently paying) job.). Congressional gridlock is not the ticket to prosperity and only with prosperity will the Repubs win back the country.

  • Diane

    Of course, as a Democrat, I don’t want to see the Republicans win back the country … but I would like to see prosperity return.