Friday, January 30, 2009

Smiling is over-rated in America

I told my friend Ken, who took this photograph a couple of days ago and labeled it "Visionary,"1 that I tended not to feel comfortable with photographs of myself in which I was not smiling. He commented that smiling is much over-rated in America. If you look at photographs from just a few generations ago, you'll see no one smiling.

I wonder whether anyone has studied this. I think that a history of the smile in America could be fascinating. How did the smile come to be over-rated? When was the tipping point? Et cetera.

Says Ken:
"History of the Smile in America" would indeed be a fascinating study. My guess is that the smiling photo evolved in the 30's and was locked in (think frozen grin) by the 40's. I'd also guess that the Europeans didn't follow until the 60's. Our influence around the world is so great that we have actually affected the way 6 billion people want their faces recorded! Compared to that, the spread of English and the use of the dollar as currency are small potatoes.
In any case, I'm grateful to Ken for helping me feel comfortable being photographed just the way I happen to be at the moment. Without the specially requested face (and its associated frame of mind2).
  1. February 3: The photo shown above replaced this one, which Ken labeled "Git Off My Propity":
  2. See the chapter, "Seven Seconds in the Bronx: 3. The Naked Face," in Malcolm Gladwell's 2005 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

No more room for hate?

This from a friend the weekend before the inauguration:
I am the daughter of civil rights workers from mostly Red1 Kinston, North Carolina. My grandparents and parents were sharecroppers and I am an engineer about to graduate with a PhD in education from UNC. I have voted in every presidential election and practically all local elections over the past twenty-eight years.

is as close as I will get to the inauguration stage, but today there were hundreds of people downtown. A kind white lady allowed many of us to use her cardboard Barack to take pictures; I met a black male selling Obama buttons/key chains to make ends meet; my batteries failed, and a caring Asian Indian woman gave me batteries. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words ring true. America, we have no more room for hate.
  1. I think this is a reference to the area's population of native Americans ("red Indians"). –Moristotle

And Jesus walked

And Jesus walked a dog this morning in the frozen neighborhood where I live. He had just read with compassion an epistle to the editor of a local newspaper from a man protesting all the talk about Burlington's and North Carolina's and the country's "taking God out of and off of": those who say He does not exist: If He doesn't exist, why are you so fearful [sic]?
    Well, you are in good company [?]. Jesus had no servants yet they called Him master. He held no degree, yet they called Him teacher. He had no medicines, yet they called Him healer. He had no armies, yet kings feared Him. He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world [?]. He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
    To you out there today who are still bothered by Him: He was buried in a tomb, and yet he still lives today....
And as Jesus walked the dog, he thought on these strange words. The righteous writer seemed in a state, and Jesus was inclined to let his heart go out to him. But the man knew not whereof he spake. He but mouthed platitudes received from out of his parents' mouths, as his parents had received them from out of the mouths of their own parents, on and on back through a long line of generations until the original commission of the sin of believing everything your parents told you.

And Jesus thought on this with such intensity as he and the dog retraced their steps that he failed to notice that the dog was snapping up the hard, dry turd Jesus had steered him around earlier. And Jesus commanded the dog, "Spit out that foulness!" But this only startled the dog, who reflexively and promptly swallowed it, even though he hadn't completed his deliberations whether to do so or not.

And Jesus thought, how like a dog is mankind! The harder I try to dissuade men from religion, all the more quickly do they snap it up and swallow it whole.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Afterwords on "Case dismissed!"

With regard to yesterday's "Case dismissed!" (whose anecdote could well have been written as a joke), I received the following remarks from a couple of my learned friends:
When I was practicing law I can assure you that I would never have taken this case. It is this kind of garbage that helps screw up our court system. The two biggest problems with our court system are, in order: (1) clients and (2) lawyers who will take anything to court that a client is willing to pay for. Lawyers are supposedly "officers of the court," but you would never know it by the behavior of some of them.
    Everyone screams about activist judges, but then we ask them to decide everything in our society.

What if judges stated awarding fees, expenses, etc. to the aggrieved side in a frivolous lawsuit, to be paid by the idiots? Following after the British legal situation.

That has been a topic of discussion ever since I can remember. Judges in most places actually have the power to award fees to people who are hit with truly frivolous lawsuits, if the judge finds that the lawsuit was filed solely to harass someone and with the knowledge that it had no merit. They are very reluctant to find this – it almost never happens.
    The argument against the idea is that it might discourage potentially meritorious suits because people are afraid of being hit with huge legal fees for the other side if they lose, particularly if the other side has high-powered and expensive legal representation. The Brits have a schedule of legal fees that they award, so they limit the potential liability for the other side’s legal fees. I think, however, that the Brits typically award legal fees to the winning party in all civil lawsuits, even if the suit is not found to be frivolous. (I am not certain of this.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Case dismissed!

An old friend has brought to my attention that:
In Florida, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews, and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.
    The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring,"Case dismissed!"
    The lawyer immediately stood and objected to the ruling, saying, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter, and other holidays, and the Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah. Yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays."
    The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant."
    The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."
    The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned."

Moristotle comments

The judge in the case was just continuing to believe the superstitions he learned from his parents. But the lawyer's client was indeed a fool, and the client's lawyer greedy for a fee and ignorant of the fact that atheists already "have" many more days than "Christians" and "Jews" have. Count the number of non-holy days and compare it to the number of holidays.

January 17

By the way, I forgot to point out yesterday that the way the word "Jews" was used in the anecdote seemed to imply that all Jews are religious. In fact, not even all people called "Christians" are religious. Apparently even a number of ordained priests are atheists. Like Father Bernard in David Lodge's novel Paradise News.

A man who understands the power and integrity of language

A December press release from Yale University announced that Elizabeth Alexander, a Yale professor of African American studies and English literature, had been selected to compose and read an original poem at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. "Barack Obama," she said, "is a man who understands the power and integrity of language."

Nine years of Bushisms

Jacob Weisberg recently posted his favorite twenty-five Bushisms (at His number one favorite is:
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
Uttered by Bush on August 5, 2004
Weisberg goes on to say:
People often assume that because I've spent the past nine years collecting Bushisms, I must despise George W. Bush. To the contrary, Bushisms fill me with affection for the man—and not just because of the income stream they've generated. I find the Bush who flails with words, unlike the Bush who flails with policy, to be an endearing character. Instead of a villain, he makes himself into an irresistible buffoon, like Mrs. Malaprop, Archie Bunker, or Homer Simpson. Bush treats words the way he treated recalcitrant European leaders: When they won't do what he wants them to, he tries to bully them into submission. Through his willful, improvisational, and incompetent use of language, he tempers (very slightly) his willful, improvisational, and incompetent use of government. You can't, in the end, despise someone who regrets that, because of the rising cost of malpractice insurance, "[t]oo many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."
Oh, really?

100 years before Harris

An old friend has brought to my attention that in 1899, over one hundred years before Sam Harris published The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Winston Churchill delivered the following opinion in a speech:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Sir Winston Churchill, The River War,
    first edition, Vol. II, pages 248-50
Of course, today, Christianity is no longer so sheltered in the "strong arms of science" as Churchill thought it was at the end of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Not too hot

This morning my wife told me that she'd gotten too hot during the night. "Too hot, or just hot?" I asked.
    She chuckled. "Getting hot is too hot."
    I said, "I didn't get hot."
    She said, "You should count your blessings."
    I told her I have so many blessings, I couldn't count them. And I thought of a recommendation that a colleague from over twenty-five years ago wrote for me yesterday, on one of those networking websites.
Truly inspiring—that's what I have to say about Moristotle. Over the many years I spent working with him at IBM I had the great pleasure of listening to him as he taught classes and gave lectures on many technical writing topics. One didn't come away from these sessions simply being more educated, but more importantly, came away enthused and excited. Beyond that, Moristotle was an extremely accomplished writer. And he was a terrific co-worker and friend—always ready with a wonderful joke to lighten the day.
    It's been my absolute pleasure and honor to be Moristotle's co-worker and friend through our years at IBM.
Among my uncountable blessings is having former colleagues who still feel that way about me. This one must have had a disposition to find things humorous; I really don't remember being a teller of jokes.

Additional feedback

I asked another colleague from that time and place whether he remembers me as a teller of jokes. He wrote back:
I make a distinction between people who make humorous observations and people who tell jokes. I enjoy the company of the former, provided that their observations aren't strained or inappropriate. I wince at the latter. They are wannabe stand-up comics who hear rim shots in their heads every time they speak. You are emphatically not in the latter category.

And still more feedback

From yet another colleague of that time and place:
I do not remember you as a teller of jokes. Mostly, I remember you as being a very serious person. (Do Yale grads have a sense of humor?)
I have no idea how Yale graduates rate relative to other graduates when it comes to sense of humor, but I hope that Yale graduates who do have a sense of humor can use it to deal with the grim reality that George W. Bush, Dick Cheenie, and John Ashcroft also graduated from Yale.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Iconoclast's word of the day is
iconoclast \ahy-KON-uh-klast\, noun: a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions as foolish or wrong
    By 1596, from French iconoclaste, from Middle Latin iconoclastes, from Late Greek eikonoklastes, from eikon "image" + klastes "breaker," from klan "to break." Originally the word referred to those in the Eastern Church in 8th and 9th centuries whose mobs of followers destroyed icons and other religious objects on the grounds that they were idols. Extended sense of "one who attacks orthodox beliefs or institutions" is first attested 1842.
While some who avoid this website probably do so because they perceive Moristotle to be an iconoclast, he doesn't think the term applies. At least not in the sense of attacking cherished beliefs simply because they are cherished. If he seems to attack religion and belief in god, it is because he sees through a glass clearly that there is no god and religion is a delusion1.
  1. As Robert M. Pirsig said in Lila (not Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Moristotle's 66th-birthday pie

My wife created this wonder using as the base recipe Epicurious's recipe for "Harvest Tart." She modified the fruit by adding some that was fresh, and she added some Grand Marnier to make the pie less dry than last year's was. This might not have been necessary, for last year's pie contained only dried fruit. But I'm sure the Grand Marnier made the pie all the more delightful.

Click on the picture to get a closer view of the filling.

Standing in the rain arguing

The evolution-creation question is settled. Man evolved and was not created. To argue the question with a creationist would be like standing in a driving rain and letting him try to convince you that it wasn't raining. Or vice versa. No mileage there. Forget it.

Same thing as regards arguing with jehovahs, evangelical Christians, Islamists, or other fantasists whether heaven exists or some other superstition is true. Especially Muslims with dynamite strapped around their torsos.

Putting that out there for you is my gift to myself and to you for my birthday today. Happy my birthday to you too.

Later the same day

Shortly after publishing those paragraphs, a birthday card arrived from one of my sisters. She appealed to me to read the Billy Graham clips she'd enclosed. There are three of them, apparently from a Q&A column of Dr. Graham's titled "On Christianity."

Question 1:
DEAR REV. GRAHAM: Do you think Christ will come again and the world will end in 2009? I get very discouraged when I see the way the world is going—the economic situation, terrorism, crime, warfare, etc.—and I wonder how much longer God is going to let this continue.
Do you get even more discouraged when you realize that there is no heaven and your body isn't going to be restored to its young sexiness?

Question 2:
DEAR REV. GRAHAM: My friend (who doesn't believe in God or religion) tells me that if I really believe the Bible, then why don't I follow all the laws in the Old Testament? I do believe the Bible is God's Word, but am I doing something wrong by not following these laws?
No, dear, and neither would the ancient Israelites have been wrong to ignore them, except that the religious elders would have banished them from the community.

Question 3:
DEAR REV. GRAHAM: If God is real, then why are there so many religions in the world? They can't all be right, can they?
They sure can't all be right, now, can they? Lots of people (who still want to believe in heaven) think that it almost doesn't matter what you believe. In Charles M. Blow's December 27 op-ed piece in The New York Times ("Heaven for the Godless?"), he reports on the June publication of
the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life['s] controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.
    This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." But the survey suggested that Americans just weren't buying that....
    And they didn't stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven—dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt—and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.
I hope that puts my sister's mind at ease.