October 28, 2007

What Book Are You?

Filed under: Culture and Media — Bob Gifford @ 7:38 pm

Continuing with my survey of old science fiction movies, last night we watched Fahrenheit 451, a movie version of the book by Ray Bradbury. It’s about a dystopian future where books are outlawed because they “confuse people and make them unhappy”, unlike the ubiquitous wall-size televisions. At the denouement (spoiler alert), the hero finds his way to the “book people”, a group of people living on the fringes of society. Each person has memorized a book, thereby preserving it for posterity. By “book people”, Bradbury doesn’t mean that these are people who like books, although they are definitely that. He means that each person has become a book. They are a book made flesh, and each of them introduces him or herself by their title: “nice to meet you, I’m Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky” or “hello, I’m Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov”. (Interesting phrase, that last one.)

Which raises the question — if you were to devote your life to preserving a single book, to spend countless hours memorizing every word, which book would it be?

It would have to be a book that is particularly meaningful to you. It wouldn’t be enough that others think it’s a classic worth preserving. You would have to be willing to become that book, to take it on as your identity. It needs to be the one book that you would want to keep alive.

So which one? The Bible is an obvious choice, but that’s too easy, kind of like Bush’s Jesus-is-my-favorite-philosopher comment. Some of my favorite classics on theology, like Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship or C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce come to mind, but the value of these books are the ideas they present, not so much the specific words used to present them. It would be much easier to learn (and to re-tell) their lessons without memorizing each and every word.

For a book to deserve word-for-word memorization, it would have to not only convey profound ideas, but do so profoundly. The words themselves would need to be things of beauty, without which humanity would be the poorer. A high hurdle indeed.

Shakespeare of course. But which play? I’m not a huge Shakespeare reader, but I’ve read my share. It would have to be a tragedy, since comedies, even Shakespeare’s comedies, aren’t particularly universal. I would narrow it down to Hamlet, Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet.

The world would suffer greatly without Hamlet and Macbeth, but I would have to go with Romeo and Juliet. It is romantic, and I mean not only that it deals with romance, but it’s also a precursor of the Romantic period of art and literature. It not only speaks of great tragedy, but of great love, of the exalted nature of human emotion, rarely glimpsed.

Sure, Hamlet is more fashionable in these cynical times; Romeo and Juliet can seem a bit adolescent with its insistence on innocent love. But there you have it — I’m Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

October 27, 2007

My Sinuses, Nurses, and Pain

Filed under: Life — Bob Gifford @ 6:51 pm

Thursday morning I had outpatient surgery done on my sinuses. My doctor removed a potentially cancerous polyp, and while he was at it he enlarged some passageways to improve drainage and hopefully reduce the frequency of my sinus infections.

The nurses at the outpatient surgery center were all incredibly nice, kind and caring, with one exception. I woke up in recovery with really bad pain, about an 8 out of 10. I made sure to let the OR nurse know, and I heard her saying something about giving me another dose of morphine. She also was nice enough to unravel my iPod headphones and put them in my ears. But she then told me to relax, that I was just making it hurt worse because I wasn’t relaxing. She told me that I was trying to wake up and she wanted me to try to go back to sleep so it wouldn’t hurt. Which of course was exactly backwards. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t go back to sleep because of the pain. She acted as though she knew what I was feeling better than I did, discounted what I was saying about pain, and even blamed me for my own pain. She pissed me off.

They ended up giving me something else for the pain, after which I blissfully fell asleep. Funny how easy it was to relax once the pain was under control.

The OR nurse handed my care off to a recovery nurse, who regularly checked on me. I remember at one point being somewhat apologetic about complaining about the pain, and she rubbed my shoulder and told me “don’t worry, I don’t think you’re being a wimp or anything”. I felt like this nurse and I were on the same team, working together, trying to keep me comfortable, unlike the OR nurse whom I felt was an adversary.

I could never be a nurse. It takes a special gift to be able to really care for others when they’re at their worst. But the OR nurse was a classic example of a pitfall of nursing — not listening to what the patient is saying, thinking the patient would be fine if they would just get with the program, seeing the patient as the problem.

So the polyp wasn’t cancerous. My pain meds are my new best friend, but I’m recovering nicely. A couple more days and I’ll be back to normal.

October 25, 2007

A Nuclear Iran

Filed under: Politics — Bob Gifford @ 8:17 pm

So I have a question. I’m no foreign policy guy, have no expertise in nuclear proliferation, Iran, or terrorism. I may be naive. Scratch that — I am most certainly naive. But still…why are we so afraid of Iran having a nuke?

If Iran were to develop a nuclear bomb, the U.S. would point a small fraction of our nuclear arsenal at Tehran, say a mere thousand warheads or so. We would make it clear to Iran that, should they use a nuclear missile on anyone, anywhere, we will use ours on them. Unlike with the old USSR, this isn’t mutually assured destruction, since only one side would be destroyed, and it wouldn’t be us.

But what if Iran gave a nuclear bomb to a terrorist group that then used it on Israel? I would think Iran would understand that they would be held responsible for any nuclear attack on Israel, even if it didn’t originate from a missile silo on Iranian soil.

Nuclear proliferation is a really really bad thing, but nuclear bombs are not a particularly useful weapon if you value your country’s continued survival.

So my point isn’t that a nuclear Iran wouldn’t be a bad thing, or that we should threaten Iran with nuclear annihilation. But I’m just asking: why do we think Iran would use a nuclear weapon when the biggest, baddest nuclear power in the world, the U.S., could reasonably be expected to retaliate in kind? Why are we so afraid of Iran having a nuke?

Can anyone explain it to me?

October 24, 2007

San Diego Fires

Filed under: Life — Bob Gifford @ 6:41 pm

I suppose I should say something about all the fires in Southern California, given how much of my attention it’s been occupying lately. I spent the three weeks before the fires at a client down in Rancho Bernardo. I wasn’t scheduled to be there this week, but needed to talk to the Novell team still down there first thing Monday morning. I heard about the fires, but didn’t realize they had hit RB until I called a member of the team on his cell and caught him at the San Diego airport on his way out. RB evacuated, project scrubbed for the week, our whole team going home.

My younger brother and his wife live in RB — I called them immediately, and learned they too had evacuated and were staying at a friend’s in Poway. (Yes, parts of Poway were later evacuated, but luckily not my brother’s friend.)

I was born and raised in San Diego, and I know the neighborhood where all the houses in RB were lost. One apartment complex that was partially destroyed, La Terraza, is right across the street from the house my parents lived in for years after I left home for college. It’s all boringly middle-class, definitely not the upper-income-houses-nestled-in-the-hills stereotype of homes that get hit by fires. Nearby Ramona, hit the hardest, is even less affluent, largely rural kind of place that’s been there for years, so don’t listen to those people who want to blame the victims for living in areas at risk for fires.

If you want to find a political angle to this, consider that San Diego is a rabidly anti-tax county. Voters have rejected ballot measures in the past to create a county fire department and to spend more on fire protection. Perhaps that attitude will change.

So, my brother’s place is fine, and so are my client’s offices. Life will start to return to normal next week. But hopefully San Diegans won’t forget too quickly.

October 23, 2007

A Vegetarian World?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 9:49 pm

I believe that, by the end of this century, much of the developed world will go vegetarian. Perhaps not exclusively, but I predict that the amount of meat the average person consumes will drop dramatically.

I’m not advocating for vegetarianism. I don’t have a moral objection, particularly, to eating meat. I just think it’s likely that people will voluntarily stop eating meat regardless of what personal choices I might make.

I say this for several reasons, starting with the global political economics of meat. This Salon article talks about the environmental impact of meat-eating. First, there’s the contribution to global warming, which appears to be rather modest:

Six percent of our greenhouse gases come from livestock production, compared with 19 percent from cars, light trucks and airplanes.


[T]he difference between a vegan diet and one that includes cheeseburgers is less than 2 tons of greenhouse gases a year. That’s about the equivalent of switching from a Camry to a Prius. The average American is responsible for about 26 tons annually, so if the entire U.S. population went vegan, we’d reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by only 6 percent.


October 21, 2007

Two Quotes

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — Bob Gifford @ 10:05 pm

A quote for a Sunday evening:

I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe—I believe what I believe is right.

-George W. Bush, 2001

And here’s another quote:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

-Oliver Cromwell, 1650

My Netflix Queue

Filed under: Culture and Media — Bob Gifford @ 2:34 pm

Actually, these are the movies I’ve already rented from Netflix this year, in reverse order:

  • Total Recall
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House
  • Mission to Mars
  • A Boy and His Dog
  • Westworld
  • The Andromeda Strain
  • The Omega Man
  • Bonhoeffer
  • Fantastic Voyage
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Soylent Green
  • Bladerunner

So, I never said I have sophisticated tastes when it comes to film. Just thought I’d come clean with how low-brow my tastes are. (Although I should get some credit for Bonhoeffer, highly recommended btw.)

October 20, 2007

God and the Cambrian Explosion

Filed under: Church — Bob Gifford @ 1:23 pm

Heracletus sent me this interview of Dr. Paul Chien, a professor of Biology at the University of San Franciso and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. It’s undated, but appears to be from 2002 or earlier. Chien raises objections to the theory of evolution. The gist:

A simple way of putting it is that currently we have about 38 phyla of different groups of animals, but the total number of phyla discovered during [the Cambrian explosion] adds up to over 50 phyla. That means [there are] more phyla in the very, very beginning, where we found the first fossils [of animal life], than exist now.

Stephen J. Gould, [a Harvard University evolutionary biologist], has referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. The theory of evolution implies that things get more and more complex and get more and more diverse from one single origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed – we have more diverse groups in the very beginning, and in fact more and more of them die off over time, and we have less and less now.

Chien’s belief that evolution implies an ever-increasing diversity as measured by the number of phyla is intuitively appealing, but if I learned nothing else from studying Quantum Mechanics, it’s that intuition is not a reliable guide to scientific truth. And in fact, in his book At Home in the Universe, Stanley Kauffman describes mathematical models of evolution which, when tested via computer simulations, show results exactly like the Cambrian explosion and subsequent pruning of the evolutionary tree.

While it’s the math and the research that provides the scientific proof, he provides an analogy that makes it easier to visualize: technical innovation.

I have already mentioned…the diversity of early bicycles in the nineteenth century: some with no handle-bars, then forms with little back wheels and big front wheels, or equal size wheels, or more than two wheels in a line, the early dominant Pennyfarthing branching further. The plethora of the class Bicycle (members of the phylum Wheeled Wonders) eventually settled to the two or three forms dominant today: street, racing and mountain bike. Or think of the highly diverse forms of steam and gasoline flivvers early in the twentieth century as the automobile took form. Or of early aircraft design, helicopter design, or motorcycle design.

To these examples, I’d add e-business. In the nineties, every kind of e-commerce business model was proposed, funded and launched. Following the e-business bust of 2000, we are left with just four phyla, as represented by Amazon, Google, Yahoo and eBay.

In the same way, when the biochemical mechanisms required for complex multi-cellular organisms emerged, these new forms of life faced a world with virtually no competition. Everything was possible, every biological niche had to be filled, and so everything was tried. But since this explosion, evolution has weeded out all but those forms best able to compete in an ecosphere with more cut-throat (literally) competition. So the rapid emergence of 50+ phyla, gradually reduced to the current 38, makes perfect sense.

Chien and others in the Intelligent Design community set up a false dichotomy between evolution-believing atheists and evolution-rejecting Christians. But the leadership of the mainline Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches all see no conflict between evolution and Christianity. This isn’t a disagreement between Christians and unbelievers, but a disagreement within Christianity itself, with the evolution-accepting side in the majority.

Lolcat Bible

Filed under: Church,Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:58 am

From Ed’s comment to my previous post, here’s John 3 1:16 from the Lolcat Bible:

1 Naow dis guy Nicodemus iz a Pharisee and leeds teh Jews.2 He comez to teh Jesus in teh nites and he sez “We knoes u comez frum teh Ceiling Cat and we knoes u pwn.”

3 An Jesus sed, “Ceiling Cat has invisible haus, u gots 2 borned agen 2 see it.”

4 Nicodemus sez, “wtf dood? How doez dat werk?”

5 Jesus sez, “is da truth, u hafta be born agen wif waterz an spiritz an stuffs.6 Flesh givez birf 2 flesh, but teh spirit gives birf to spirit, k?7 Y r u so konfoozled?8 Is lyke wind, it doz its own stuffs an u dunno how it werks, but is all ok, amirite? Is like that!”

9 Nicodemus sez, “I doez not get it.” 🙁

10 “Den ur not gud teecher,” sed Jesus. Burn!11 “Ok, iz da twoof. We says sum stuff dat we sawed, and teh peeplez is still konfoozled.12 I ben talkin bout teh stuffs on Earth and ur still lyke, ‘whut?’ so whut bout Heaven an stuffs?13 I iz da only wan whos gone to Heaven so u haves 2 trusts me, mkay?14 U gots 2 b lifteded up lyke Moses an his snakedy thingy,15 coz if u beleeves ur not gon be ded! Eternal lifes, u can has it!

16 So liek teh Ceiling Cat lieks teh ppl lots and he sez ‘Oh hai I givez u my only son and ifs u beleevs in him u wont evr diez no moar, k?’17 Cuz teh Ceiling Cat not snd hiz son 2 take all yur cookies, but so u cud maek moar cookies 4EVAR!”


October 5, 2007

Will It Blend, Lolcat Edition

Filed under: Politics — Bob Gifford @ 1:34 pm

From John Scalzi:

Dear White House: Your Position on Secret Torture Memos Makes No Sense to Me, So Here’s a Picture of a Kitten in a Blender

(I understand that no kittens were harmed during the making of this photograph. Can’t say the same for prisoners at Gitmo.)

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