Friday, September 30, 2011

Abominable subjects

Leviticus, of the Hebrew Bible
I've had enough of tsk-tsking at our local newspapers' printing religious diatribes in their Letters column. I've decided to just enjoy them for their humor. Upon reading the letter printed by Durham, North Carolina's Herald-Sun this morning under the title, "Regarding several abominable subjects," I wrote to thank the editor:
Dear Editor, thanks for continuing to print religious rants like that this morning of Gordon Hansen ("Regarding several abominable subjects"), for they are hugely entertaining, what with their statements like "God was very specific when he wrote Leviticus 18:22" and "If we read further, verses 24-26, we read that God will hold America responsible for the abominations committed here"—as though the ancient Israelite who wrote the verses (or the scribes who came along later and either intentionally or by mistake altered the original wording) had foreknowledge of nations formed millennia later! As I said, very amusing and for that reason much appreciated by adult readers on the lookout for irony.
    I can understand your desire to entertain your readers, but it seems to me that from an ethical point of view you maybe ought to let Mr. Hansen & Co. know that you're using them. While the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seems to guarantee the right of The People to believe any damn fool thing they want, it seems only fair to Mr. Hansen & Co. to let them know that that's not the main reason you publish their diverting opinions.
In case the Herald's letters page should not be available for long (for as long as I hope Moristotle will be available, anyway), I include Mr. Hansen's epistle here for posterity:
Regarding several abominable subjects
In the Sept. 28 Letters to the Editor, I read the letter by Larry Bumgardner of Durham. His statement was, “sooner or later Southern Baptists will apologize for their view on homosexuals, and their refusal to accept female ministers, just as they apologized for slavery over 100 years too late.”
    The question I would like answered according to God’s Word, the Bible, and not by liberal judges that for the most part deny the very existence of God, is this: Since God was very specific when he wrote Leviticus 18:22—“Thou shalt not lie with a male, as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (NASB), which seems pretty clear to me—do we disregard what God has written or do we take the politically correct position to keep the liberals and that ilk happy?
    If we read further, verses 24-26, we read that God will hold America responsible for the abominations committed here.
    Also, one should read about Sodom and Gomorrah, when those cities became so immoral. God did not apologize and did not excuse their lifestyle, and neither should Southern Baptists who are born again.
    The second part of Bumgardner’s article concerns Southern Baptists who refuse to accept female ministers. I assume he would like someone to rewrite 1 Corthinians14:34-35. That to me is clear and concise. It reads: “Let your women keep silent in the church: for it is not permitted unto them to speak: but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”
    If a woman wants to learn she should ask her husband or a Godly man. “Women speaking” refers to preaching and not conversations.
                                    –Gordon Hansen, Durham
We sort of have to make Mr. Hansen out to be a Vaudeville comedian, don't we? If we took him seriously, we'd be forced to weep rather than laugh.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The party will still be going on

Christopher Hitchens is believed by many to be terminally ill, to be going to die of his esophageal cancer. He himself said in March, on 60 Minutes (on YouTube while it lasts), that the chance of surviving it is about one in twenty. He said he was trying to live as though he would win at the odds.
    Yesterday, in my reading of Hitchens's 2010 memoir, Hitch-22, I discovered that the beginning of his chapter disclosing "Something of Myself" speaks eloquently about living:
About once or twice every month I engage in public debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view...I attract pitying looks and anxious questions. How, in that case, I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life?....
    ...A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called "meaningless"...Whereas, if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that a human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities...[ellipsis his]...but there, there. Enough. [pp. 330-331]
To be "terminally ill," in usual parlance, is to have been diagnosed with a particular illness of which one is expected to die. We are all terminally ill in the sense that we are going to die of something, even if "only old age." But we don't think about that. We tend to think of terminal illness only when we are given a specific diagnosis.
    Christopher Hitchens was thinking about it before he got the specific diagnosis. The passage above continues by addressing terminal illness in a more general sense:
The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one to despair. I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on—only henceforth in my absence. (It's the second of those thoughts: the edition of the newspaper that will come out on the day after I have gone, that is the more distressing.) Much more horrible, though, would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, and that I was forbidden to leave. Whether it was a hellishly bad party or a party that was perfectly heavenly in every respect, the moment that it became eternal and compulsory would be the precise moment that it began to pall. [p. 331]
    I assume that Hitchens's "tap on the shoulder" is purely metaphorical—not literal, like the young supernaturalist's use of the image on the bus yesterday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Nothing happens by accident," he said

"You're a plantiff's lawyer?" I said to the snappily dressed young black man facing me from the port side of the Chapel Hill bus this morning on my way to work. His brown loafers shined, his socks looked expensive, his light-weight sports jacket possibly tweed.
    "No," he said, "but it's an honor to have you say so."
    "So," I said, "you're not in the UNC Law School?"
    "No," he said, "I'm in Health Care."
    "You said it would be an honor to be a plantiff's lawyer, though," I said; "could you have missed your calling?"
    "It could be," he said. "Nothing happens by accident." And he tapped his shoulder, which I understood to suggest that he believed my remark might have been arranged by his guardian angel.
    "Ah," I said, "hmm."
    "This conversation might appear in a book someday," he said.
    "Shall I tell you my name, then?" I said, "so you can identify whom it was with?"
    He reached out his hand and said his first name. It sounded Arabic, or Muslim.
    "Morris Dean," I said. "And your name, does it have an apostrophe?"
    "My last one does," he said, and said his whole name.
    "Are you a retired professor?" he asked.
    I smiled. I always love to be asked that question by a young person. "No," I said. "I work up here at UNC General Administration, where President Ross's office is."
    "The Spangler Center," he said. "I know it."
    "You've been there?"
    "No, but I'm at Harvard, and Dick Spangler has an office there."
    At my stop outside the Spangler Center, we both rose and shook hands again. I repeated his name.
    He repeated mine, too. In case he needed to remember it for his book?
    "Good meeting you," he said.
    And I bounded off the bus with a little more energy than usual, today's log just handed to me, as though by angelic intervention.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What is that berry?

Taxus x media =
Taxus baccata x Taxus cuspidata
"The cone seed of our Yew looks like a burst berry," my wife told me yesterday, as she led me to it.
    "That dark spot in the middle is the seed."
    Having taken my camera out for the Yew—and with so much else happening in the yard this lovely early Fall—I visited some other plants too. I used the "A" setting with the narrowest aperture opening that would afford at least a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. (for deepest field for close-up focus). Not entirely successful this overcast day (and having forsaken tripod because of a breeze).

Holly Berries


Beautyberry Bush
Callicarpa japonica)

Beautyberry Bush
Callicarpa japonica Leucocarpa
("leucocarpa" means white berries)

Muhly Grass

Some kind of Orchid
(from Trader Joe's)

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki
("goshiki" means five colors;
the new growth is variegated)

Let's try some Photoshop effects with those last two:

(poster edges)


The days are getting [something comparative]

It was still dark at seven this morning. I had just pressed our coffee.
    "The days are sure getting longer," I called to my wife in the dining room.
    "You mean shorter," she said. "The nights are getting longer."
    "Right," I said, "whatever. One of those comparative words."
    My wife harumphed.
    "I knew it was a comparative word," I said. "I can still remember word classifications."
    My brain wheels whirred some more. "As long as I can remember word classifications, I'll be all right."
    "When I can't remember word classifications, then I'll be in trouble."
    "Really in trouble," my wife adjusted.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pileated1 Woodpecker sighting!

We didn't take the picture, alas, but we did see a Pileated Woodpecker this morning, forty or so feet up in a tree perhaps seventy-five yards from our back door. Through our fieldscope.
    Let this finally move us to go ahead and purchase the Nikon Coolpix P300 and accessories for attaching it to our scope for digiscoping (digital photography through a fieldscope). It's even on sale right now from Nikon (but Amazon's price is still $50 less, with no shipping charges).
  1. pi·le·at·ed adj: having a crest covering the pileum [the top of the head of a bird from the bill to the nape]

Friday, September 23, 2011

7.5 Hours for Steve Reich at 75

AmBul Festival, organized by
American cellist Geoffrey Dean
I have been invited to Marathon Concert: "7.5 Hours for Steve Reich at 75," on Sunday, October 2 at 4:00 p.m., in Studio 5 at the National Palace of Culture, in Sofia, Bulgaria.
    What a treat! Geoff showed his mother and me some recordings of past AmBul festivals when we visited him in Sofia in May. Only, how am I going to swing getting there? And get back by October 6 for another important event on our current itinerary? I told Geoff that "maybe" I'd be there.

Steve Reich (born on October 3, 1936) is a "pioneering composer of minimalist music." I think Geoff talked about him in May, but I had to visit Wikipedia to remind myself of Reich's specialty.
    I'm proud to be able to extol my son's skills as an impresario, and to congratulate him for having Steve Reich's birthday party on a weekend day the closest possible to his very birthday. I suspect that the gathering in Studio 5 might last at least 31 minutes beyond the marathon concert's official ending at 11:30 p.m....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

You don't need God alive & well in Durham, NC

Madalyn Murray O'Hair
The Center for Inquiry, whose mission is "to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values," has posted "a big sign [in Durham, North Carolina that] proclaims: 'You don't need God to hope, to care, to love, to live,'" according to today's Durham Herald-Sun.
    The Center's spokesperson, Michelle A. Blackley, is quoted as saying, "The intention is to show you can live a positive life without religion." [At least, to proclaim it.]
    However, says the article (under the byline of Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, whose report seems objective),
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, thinks the Center for Inquiry billboard is too soft.
    "American Atheists believes billboards should call out atheists," he said. "So many are closeted because of the stigma."
What stigma? The American Atheists website identifies the organization to be nonprofit, nonpolitical, and educational, "dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a 'wall of separation' between state and church." The Jeffersonian stigma, I suppose?
    American Atheists arose out of a court case begun in 1959 by the family of Madalyn Murray O'Hair that challenged prayer recitation in the public schools.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Motomynd: When in doubt hit the throttle and hang on

Photo just for thematic decoration,
not Motomynd's actual shortcut
On randomness and natural selection: The brain ages, our thinking allegedly evolves, but do we really learn?
    Back in my high school and college days, we had a favorite out-in-the-country place to hang out. It was a BYOB semi-private cabin where people went allegedly to meet compatible people of the opposite sex. In reality it was mostly a place to party, drink too much, and on a too-regular basis to get into a fight. And on very rare occasions to actually meet someone of the opposite sex who was worth spending time with. You know how it is in the 16-22 age group; does anything really make sense?
    One friend was infamous for literally drinking himself under the table. He would show up on his motorcycle with a six-pack and a bottle in his backpack, drink for a while, then curl up under the rustic table in front of the fireplace in the main room and go to sleep. When it came time for us to either leave willingly or be thrown out, we would wake him up, help him get to his bike, get it started, and give him a push. He couldn't walk on his own, mind you, but when he got rolling he could ride that bike home no matter how sleepy or drunk.
    Amazingly, even though he did this for several years, our friend only had one mishap. There was one left turn on his way home, and at three in the morning, just one time, a car happened to be coming the other way as he approached the turn. He had to stop and he toppled over into the roadside ditch. We came along an hour or so later, saw him there, and feared he was dead. No, he was just sleeping. So we woke him up, got him on his bike, got it running, wished him well, and gave him a push toward home. Then we turned the other way and headed home ourselves.
    This sounds horribly insensitive and even inhumane by today's enlightened standards, but that is just the way things were back then. That was an era, after all, in which we would pack a dozen people into the back of an open pickup so we could all afford to drive across town and go to a drive-in or a race at the fairgrounds. Try putting that many people in the back of an open pick up today and see how far you get before flashing lights show up behind you. Yes, times have changed. No one today would dare act in such an unenlightened or ignorant manner.

Or so I thought, until I rode my motorcycle from home in Roanoke, Virginia to my house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this weekend and had a vertigo attack on the way. Vertigo is nothing new to me: I used to race mountain bikes (the kind you have to pedal) all over the country and rock climb and such until a head injury and recurring vertigo forced me into milder pursuits. With it mostly in remission I got back on a motorcycle last year for the first time in three decades after promising my wife I would be careful. As in, I would stop and call her for a ride if I got dizzy. I even told her about my friend who used to drink himself under the table then ride home and assured her that I would not do anything like that. My wife, being nearly two decades younger than I, and being from more of a country-club than a fight-club upbringing besides, could make no sense of why people would have gone to such a place in the first place, much less put a drunk friend on his bike and give him a send-off.

So, yesterday, I got up with a headache from too much loud music at an event I was photographing the night before, decided to do the 140-mile commute on the motorcycle instead of in a car—despite the ringing in my ears and mild dizziness—and sure enough, half way to North Carolina I realized I was struggling to keep the horizon level. And I noticed this while doing 70 miles per hour and battling wind gusts on the U.S. 220/58 bypass around Martinsville. Which is not the best idea to begin with since my moto is a small sport bike set up for racing and weighs barely 300 pounds. Since I don't weigh much over 150, as a package we are fodder for turbulence and being blown around like the proverbial kite.
    So what to do? Simple, just stop and call my wife, right? Oh, if it really were only that simple. Even I was shocked to find that a brain under siege, trapped in the head of someone eligible for AARP membership, reacts exactly like the brain of a drunk 20-year-old. Eyeing the several-inch drop from pavement to gravel shoulder, I reasoned that if I pulled over I would most likely also fall over. So, the brain under siege reasoned, better to keep rolling, but at least I slowed down to 60 or so.
    After merging onto 58 there were several paved parking lots where I could pull over, but the brain reasoned that if we could just get closer to North Carolina, my wife would not have to drive so far. Then there was the place I usually stop for gas in a car, but I didn't want to stop there and risk falling over and embarrassing myself in front of people I knew. Finally, I was on the 58 bypass around Danville and there was an excellent exit basically in the middle of nowhere. I pulled over there.
    And no, I did not fall over. And yes, I did call my wife. And...and...I told her I was running late because the turbulence from the wind was a struggle and I was a "little dizzy from a migraine." Immediately her voice took on a tone that only a redhead can muster: "Don't lie to me. Are you having a vertigo attack?" My answer? "Well, not exactly a vertigo attack, but I do have a migraine. And I am a little dizzy."
    After a few moments of back and forth I was back on the bike and heading toward Chapel Hill, dizzy from my headache but no vertigo. I can assure you of that.
    When I hit my favorite back-road shortcut, I was even able to lay the bike into some turns and make up some lost time. When I pulled into the driveway my wife said, "You must be feeling better. I could hear you hitting the throttle going into those last turns and I heard you downshifting coming out of them."
    Leaning casually against the deck railing so I wouldn't risk falling down now that I was off the bike, I said, "See, I told you I was just a little dizzy. No vertigo. Did you really think I would be dumb enough to ride if I felt that bad?"

Monday, September 19, 2011

A little night music

Water Hyacinths
When I arrived home this evening, my wife told me that many water hyacinths were blooming in our fountain. I made a note to take some evening photographs, but almost forgot, so it was quite dark when I went out with my Nikon and tripod and remote control. I had turned on some of the landscape lighting and a light inside our back porch. Below, at f6.3 and letting the camera figure out how long to keep its shutter open, is what happened (so to speak). For all of the exposures, my tripod stood in about the same spot under our north pergola.


Japanese Maple

Ask My Wife (1)

Ask My Wife (2)

Western Night Sky

Southwestern Night Sky

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Help yourself be younger?

Apropos the lively commentary this week on my September 6 web log, "Exercise: For your health, grin and bear it," a well-exercised, younger friend has recommended a book, Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, which promises that you can
Turn back your biological clock...become functionally younger every year for the next five to ten years, and continue to live like fifty-year-olds until well into [your] eighties...enjoy life and be stronger, healthier, and more alert...stave off 70% of the normal decay associated with aging (weakness, sore joints, apathy), and...eliminate over 50% of all illness and potential injuries....
    Possibly a bit too good to be entirely or literally true, but, still, my friend avers that
because aging slows reflexes, falls and injuries are significantly less likely as people age when they eat properly and exercise regularly—30-60 minute daily cardio, 2-3x weekly weight-lifting, also balance and flexibility exercises. Staying fit and strong improves reflexes and reaction times, which prevents, avoids, or minimizes accidents. That’s only one of many research-backed facts the book explains, also that at least 50% of most of what we consider “normal or accelerated” events in aging are actually optional—meaning, a result of lifestyle or choices, not predetermined by genetics.
Okay, folks hit the gym! I'm going today myself, and have been doing the "2-3x weekly weight-lifting" since April. I feel younger....

Monday, September 12, 2011

The moon tonight

I had to fiddle with my Nikon D60's M (manual) setting to get any detail, and I'm not satisfied with the focus, but, hey, it was my first time trying to photograph the moon.
    Taken about half an hour ago, looking pretty much due east from my front walkway in Mebane, North Carolina.
    Severely cropped, of course; I don't have much in the way of magnification. No hook-up for the Nikon ED50 fieldscope yet (for digiscoping).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years later, and 89 years, 4 months, & 26 days before that

On this tenth anniversary of 9/11, I share a striking comparison from Christopher Hitchens's 2010 memoir, Hitch-22, between a horror of that occasion and one of a much earlier incident [April 15, 1912]:
There was something else from the "Devil's Decade" of the 1930s that I was struggling to remember and soon enough it came to me. Remembering the last moments of the Titanic, George Orwell had written that:
In all the long list of horrors the one that most impressed me was that at the last the Titanic suddenly up-ended and sank bow foremost, so that the people clinging to the stern were lifted no less than three hundred feet into the air before they plunged into the abyss. It gave me a sinking sensation in the belly which I can still all but feel. Nothing in the [First World] War ever quite gave me that sensation.
"Look, teacher," the New York Times reported a child shrilling as the Twin Towers were becoming pyres: "the birds are on fire." Here was a sweet, infantile rationalization of an uncommon sight: human beings who had hesitated too long between the alternatives of jumping to their deaths or being burned alive, and who were thus jumping and burning, and from much more than three hundred feet. Nothing that I have witnessed since, including Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and various scenes in Afghanistan and Iraq, has erased those initial images of the deep and sick relationship between murder and suicide, or of the wolfish faces of those who gloated over the horror....[pp. 246-247]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Another word game from Hitch-22

Indeed, that index entry on  p. 435 of Christopher Hitchens's memoir ("word games, ... 264-266") was good for another web log. It's from the chapter titled "Salman."
At all events there came a time when someone arrived late at a dinner party, complaining of having been stuck at an airport with nothing to read but a Robert Ludlum-style novel. This didn't seem worth pursuing until the complaint was refined somewhat: "I mean it's not just that the prose is so bloody awful but that the titles are so sodding pretentious...The Bourne Inheritance, The Eiger Sanctioni; all this portentous piffle." Again, not a subject to set the table afire, until someone idly said they wondered what a Shakespeare play would be called it if were Ludlum who had the naming of it. At once Salman was engaged and began to smile. "All right, Salman: Hamlet by Ludlum!" At once—and I mean with as much preparation as I have given you—"The Elsinore Vacillation." Fluke? Not exactly. Challenged to do the same for Macbeth, he produced "The Dunsinane Reforestation" with hardly a flourish and barely a beat. After this it was plain sailing through "The Kerchief Implication," "The Rialto Sanction," and one about Caliban and Prospero that I once knew but now can never remember. [pp. 265-266]
    This chapter follows the one in which 9/11 figures prominently. And, in his chapter on Salman, there's much more to talk about in the way of theocratic religion. Hitchens, who I trust I've already demonstrated seems to have been on hand for everything politically major during his seniority, was dining with Edward Said one evening "in late 1987 or early 1988" when
a courier came bustling up from the Andrew Wylie Agency in Midtown. He bore a large box, which contained the manuscript of a forthcoming novel by Salmon Rushdie.... [p. 267]
    The note that came along with the manuscript asked Said for his view on what would be published as The Satanic Verses, for Rushdie thought that it might upset some of the faithful. My readers don't need to be reminded that the book's publication provoked Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwah sentencing Rushdie to death for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad and his wives.
    My readers should be able to predict what Hitchens said to the Washington Post when they telephoned for his opinion about the fatwah.
I felt at once that there was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defense of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship—though I like to think that my reaction would have been the same if I hadn't known Salman at all. To re-state the premise of the argument again: the theocratic head of a foreign despotism offers money in his own name in order to suborn the murder of a civilian member of another country, for the offence of writing a work of fiction. No more root-and-branch challenge to the values of the Enlightenment (on the bicentennial of the fall of the Bastille) or to the First Amendment of the Constitution, could be imagined. President George H.W. Bush, when asked to comment, could only say grudgingly that, as far as he could see, no American interests were involved... [ellipsis Hitchens's; p. 268]
I've been trying to think of a good example of the title word game. What The Satanic Verses would be called it if were Ann Coulter1 who had the naming of it: "Blasphemy: Liberal Lies about the Religious Right"?
    Well, it's an example anyway.
  1. Titles of her books:
    • High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton
    • Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right
    • Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
    • How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter
    • Godless: The Church of Liberalism
    • If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
    • Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America
    • Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Still memorializing

These versions of yesterday's photograph were variously filtered in Photoshop [click to enlarge]:

Poster Edges filter

Craquelure filter

Cross Hatch filter

Grain filter

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Photographic epitaph to four Blue Bird eggs

Click to enlarge
These jade-like little eggs! The nest had been in our Blue Bird house for so long, it was clear that they weren't going to hatch. Perhaps their mother has perished. We'll never know. But I memorialize them in a photograph. [filtered variations]

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Exercise: For your health, grin and bear it

Bears hibernate. "But," according to Bernd Heinrich's book, Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, "they were for a long time not considered to hibernate, simply because their body temperature showed only modest drops and hibernation was defined in terms of low body temperature." [p. 258]
One of the first issues of hibernating bears to be studied was how, despite maintaining a high metabolic rate (high body temperature), the bear still does not need to drink or urinate all winter....[p. 259]
    The answer is fascinating, but I'm not going to summarize it; you're better off picking up this wonderful book yourself, anyway.
    But bears also
do without...exercise [during their winter hibernation] and suffer no ill effects....
    Hibernating bears accomplish metabolic feats that, if we knew their secrets, would likely lead to cures for many human ills. They have the secrets of how to survive lack of exercise, and then, after five months of resting, of how to get up and walk up a mountain. In all of those months of what amounts to bed rest, they suffer no bed sores. They have marginal loss of muscle mass and no change in muscle fiber type. Despite their non-weight-bearing position for months at a time, they do not suffer from bone loss or osteoporosis. After burning fat for fuel for months during which their cholesterol levels become double those of humans and those they have in the summer, yet they still don't suffer from hardening of the arteries or gallstones, conditions resulting from high cholesterol levels in us. Most of the enigmas that have been revealed in hibernating bears have not been solved [as of 2003, when the book was published], maybe because bears just can't be studied as conveniently as lab rats. We can be reasonably certain, however, that once we understand how bears hibernate through the winter, we will also have a larger window into ourselves. We inadvertently simulate a hibernation-like state of inactivity in our modern environment, a new state of nature to which we are not well-adapted. [pp. 260, 262]
We are not well-adapted to physical inactivity, and we need to avoid it. That's where the book's exercise health advice comes in:
We require mechanical stress of exercise on our skeleton to maintain bone structure and function...Most of the American population subjects itself to the physical stress of inactivity [emphasis mine]...Every hour of vigorous exercise as an adult was repaid [in a study of "the effects of lifestyle on 17,000 Harvard students for twenty-five years"] with two hours of additional life span [how did they concluded that?]. There is, obviously, a limit to the benefits of human exercise or else more exercise could make us immortal. Instead, too much exercising increases the aging process as well. I suspect the debate of optimum exercise for maximum longevity may relate less to how much exercise we get than to how many calories we take in versus how many we burn off. There is a correlation between eating less and having a longer lifespan. But of course starvation shortens life, and there is thus also a correlation between eating more and having a longer lifespan. The difference is in the range of food intake versus the amount of exercise. [pp. 260-261]
    Bernd Heinrich has been a marathoner and has also written a book about running: Why We Run: A Natural History.

Monday, September 5, 2011

UC Berkeley
"I suspect," I wrote in my email reply, "that someone has taken over your contacts list (or your identity) and sent me the one-liner below, but perhaps this can be an occasion for us to re-establish contact?"
    The one-line email [nothing more than a web address] that came Friday afternoon had "bogus" written all over it. The friend from whose email address it purported to come would never have sent a web address without an explanation. And I don't click on such links from anyone, anyway.
    Within hours of my reply, I'd received a bona fide email from him—for the first time since I'd seen him (in 2006, he thinks). I remember the visit, but I can't remember why I had gone to California without my wife.
    And already we've exchanged two newsy emails, and my wife and I are making plans to get together with him next month in his new apartment in Berkeley.

We're looking forward to the visit, and would love to be going to see his wife, too. But I am sad to have to say that she died later the year I last saw him, and that was the reason I hadn't heard from him.
    He wasn't ready to type those particular words.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Insects own the world"

Bernd Heinrich
The bumper sticker on the 1992 Honda Accord that we "inherited" from our daughter (who now drives a boat) occasionally gets an admiring comment. It features a statement attributed to Chief Seattle (1780-1866), a Duwamish chief (not a Suquamish chief, according to Wikipedia): "The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth."
    Or to the insects? I'm reading Bernd Heinrich's stunning book Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival (2003), whose accounts of animal adaption to winter are mind-boggling. I'm not going to quote one of those particular accounts just now, but rather this general statement about insects [pp. 178-179]:
To an entomologist and anyone who aspires to be one, there is no life-form on earth as diverse, varied, tough, and inventive as the insects. In their teeming millions of species, they own the world [emphasis mine]. We may not like many of them that compete with us for food, fiber, timber,or that suck our blood and spread our diseases, but we are obliged to acknowledge their tenacious success, and we may admire many of them for their stunning beauty. Within the animal world they have collectively pushed the limits of things possible, in terms of diversity, beauty, noxiousness, social organization, architecture, powers of flight, sensory capabilities, and ability to survive extremes of climate. And when I contemplate these organsms that are much more ancient than us, and that will long survive us, I wonder about the "secret" of their success....
    Insects' success is derived from exploiting individual specificity. No one way is best. Insects achieve their success through their diversity, where each individual case is special within the generalizations. Each species is adapted ever more specifically into a specialist niche, catering to specific individual needs. An ever-greater narrowing down to the specific has resulted in miniaturization, and ever-greater diversity. Insects exhibit an exhilaration and a celebration of the exceptions, where anything goes that can. There are few boundaries, because there has been no enforcement or encapsulation by or in laws. That is why they are so successful, and I suspect that it would be difficult to find an entomologist who is also a theist, who believes that there is a force or a power that hands down rules because "he" deems them good. No entomologist could fathom why fleas, mosquitoes, tsetse flies, migratory locusts, and dozens of other insects would have been deliberately created and let loose to cause indiscriminate and unimaginable agony to millions of totally innocent human children and adults over all the ages of humanity.
At Caffe Driade in Chapel Hill on Friday afternoon, during coffee with a friend who had retired at the end of February, I thought of the Earth's not belonging to us.
    We had lots to catch up on, mainly books and movies and TV programs. He recommended the 2008 film, Dean Spanley. "If you like dogs [which he knows we do], you'll love it." And did we ever! Last nigth. For it, I could have added another "E" to my "ExtraOrdinary" rating.
    We talked about Christopher Hitchens. "No," I said, "he hasn't died, but he is suffering from esophageal cancer. Hitchens said on 60 Minutes that the chance of surviving esophageal cancer is five percent."
    I thought of my own "Barrett's esophagus."
    My friend asked me if I'd read god Is Not Great. He said he'd only read comments about it.
    I was surprised that he hadn't heard of Sam Harris, or his book The End of Faith, which had been a self-affirming book for me, as I've described elsewhere on Moristotle.
    I told him about Harris's latest book, The Moral Landscape, about its proposed central moral value, the well-being of conscious beings.
    "Conscious beings includes other animals," I said.
    "Yes," he said. "One of my daughters is a vegan, and [his wife] and I are almost-vegetarians. Respect for all conscious life."
    That's when I thought of the bumper sticker. "Gaia," I said. "The living Earth itself created all the life on it, using the materials of its molten beginning over its four and a half billion years."
    He agreed.

The Earth created us. And insects, too—Bernd Heinrich got it wrong: insects don't own the world, any more than we do.
    But they will likely inherit it from us (still be on board after we're all gone).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

An irony for 9/11 Truthers

Bush reads to children at
Emma E. Booker Elementary
9/11 Truthers don't accept that Osama bin Laden and the nineteen Saudies were fully responsible for the 9/11 attacks1. They even have a website.
    As he was on hand for most everything else, Christopher Hitchens was also on hand to observe reactions around the world and in America to the 9/11 attacks:
Gore Vidal could hardly wait to go slumming2. He took the earliest opportunity of claiming that, while Osama bin Laden had not been proved to be the evil genius of the attacks, it was by no means too early to allege that the Bush administration had played a hidden hand in them. Or at least, if it had not actually instigated the assault, it had (as with Roosevelt at Pearl Harbor!) seen it coming and welcomed it as a pretext for engorging the defense budget and seizing the oilfields of the southern Caucasus. His articles featured half-baked citations from the most dismal, ignorant paranoids.[Hitch-22, p. 245]
The irony for 9/11 Truthers who share Vidal's view is that
President Bush had evidently forewarned himself of the air piracy in order that he could seize the chance to look like a craven, whey-faced ignoramus on worldwide TV. [ibid]
    Or in order to be photographed reading a book upside down? Or were those photographs and reports fabricated by a conspiracy of untruthers skilled in the use of Photoshop? Or...?
    We're in the tenth-anniversary month of the attacks. The calendar at of course "includes events in commemoration of 10th Anniversary."
  1. Notwithstanding President Clinton's assessment: "Nine-eleven was NOT an inside job, it was an Osama Bin Laden job with 19 people from Saudi Arabia, they murdered 3,000 Americans and other foreigners including Muslims." ["Bill Clinton Undeterred by 9/11 Hecklers." ABC News. January 31, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  2. The blurb from Gore Vidal on the back cover of Hitch-22 reads: "I have been asked whether I wish to nominate a successor, an inheritor, a dauphin or delfino. I have decided to name Christopher Hitchens."
        The blurb has been cleverly X'd out in red and annotated by hand: "No, CH."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why God made not-so-brights

I'd been reading the New Yorker account of the right-wing activities of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his same-thinking wife, Ginni. ["Partners," by Jeffrey Toobin, August 29.] Ginni does lots of "work" for conservative organizations funded by the money saved by the Bush tax cuts from taxation (and from uses mostly for the common good). Money protected now by the intransigent opposition to anything progressive.
    Right now, Mrs. Thomas's focus is said to be on "campaigning against the Obama Administration," in particular trying to bring down the President's healthcare legislation, on which the so-called Tea Party has attempted to hang the label "Obama Care."

But I digress. I only meant to identify what probably provoked a thought early this morning while I was waiting to press our coffee and pour.
    If God created the human race (or created the ancient Israelites, anyway) "in his own image," then why isn't everyone intelligent enough to see through self-serving political cant? Why isn't everyone bright?
    I guess God needed a few folks with somewhat lesser intelligence to make up the cant in the first place for the brights to see through and reject. And needed a lot of folks with even less intelligence to continue passively believing and supporting the cant so it would continually be there to exercise and test the brights, keep them sharp and God-like.
    God's awfully smart.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bachmann and Perry more come-out than their predecessor

Jerry Falwell & Ronald Reagan
With the colorful likes of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry focusing us on the present, we might forget that their superstition doesn't significantly break the mold of a particular conservative icon.
    As Christopher Hitchens reminds us on pp. 232-233 of his 2010 memoir, Hitch-22:
The Leader of the Free World was frequently photographed in the company of "end-times" Protestant fundamentalists and biblical literalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson: tethered gas-balloons of greed and cynicism once written up by Martin Amis as "frauds of Chaucerian proportions." The president found time to burble with such characters about the fulfillments of ancient "prophecy" and the coming Apocalypse. He also speculated drivelingly that the jury might yet return an open verdict on the theory of evolution. He was married to a woman who employed a White House astrologer....
Hitchens had prefaced those pertinent remarks with some other observations on the man:
...I did not at all like Ronald Reagan, and nobody then could persuade me that I should...There was, first, his appallingly facile manner as a liar. He could fix the camera with his folksy smirk that I always found annoying but that got him called "The Great Communicator" by a chorus of toadies in the press, and proceed to utter the most resounding untruths. ("South Africa has stood beside us in every major war we have ever fought," he declared while defending a regime whose party leadership had been locked up by the British for pro-Nazi sympathies in the Second World War. "The Russian language contains no word for 'freedom'" was another stupefying pronouncement of his....Up close, at press conferences, the carapace of geniality proved to be flaky: I was once within a few feet of his lizard-like face when he was asked a question that he didn't care for—about the theft of President Carter's briefing book by Reagan campaign operatives during the 1980 elections—and found myself quite shaken by the look of senile, shifty malice that came into his eyes as he offered the excuse that the New York Times had also accepted stolen property in the case of the Pentagon Papers....