News, Updates and the Hopelessly Interesting

sounds-like-the-90s

What happened to my blog?! The colors and design and… wait? There are pictures showing up all the time? Waz up with that?!

Well… the design is something of an accident. I moved the site to a different hosting company and my wordpress theme decide it was time to eat my (old) custom design work. Why didn’t it tell me it was hungry instead of eating some tastless CSS. Well, it was past due for an update. What you see (design-wise) is a crude placeholder. And, if I’m going to change the design, I decided it’s time to start using more images.

The real change is in the content. While moving the site, I pulled in a lot of my blog posts that once appeared at eDao’s website and, before that, on the Data Wranglers’ site. It’s internet archeology with posts that pre-date Apple’s iPhone and iPod, the first internet bubble and the term “blog”. The (awkward) term back then was weblog. Oh my. But, back in 1997, I started (we)bloging under the subtitle “News, Updates and the Hopelessly Interesting”. Originally, each post was a bit of handcrafted HTML. Eventually, I crafted a very crude homegrown CMS to semi-manage it. Some it is a touch puzzling. Some of it probably belongs in the “who cares?” category. And, weirdly, on some of it I could change a few names and places and re-run it today. At one point, I changed who hosted the website and my home grown CMS blew up. But, now –with some digging and de-crufting, it’s back. In all it’s occasionally embarrassing two hundred and twenty-seven posts semi-glory. Just scroll down to the archives:

My first job (at a swim meet)

Paper Boy

I’m at a swim meet with my 12 year old daughter waiting for her first heat. In Twitter:

@Kelsye: In SIX WORDS, write a story about your first job http://kelsye.com/six-words-fewer-write-story-first-job/ #6words

I write

throw papers
avoid
creepy old man

I was a little younger than my daughter when I worked that job. The past shouldn’t echo but it does.

gazaWe’re still waiting so I listen to BBC news. The reporter is at a hospital in Gaza. An old lady moves slowly down the street …with her husband… holds a white flag as far over her head as she can maybe they …miles away they… won’t fire on her? Beyond the reporter …end of the block… artillery? mortars? explosions. The reporter …war reporter… keeps going through a voice that wavers her past experience not enough?  around the edges and shakes.

She won’t can’t? describe the body in front of her. Into my head pops Monty Python explosion… Time Bandits midget gone. She doesn’t say if the old lady makes it. More explosions disappear Python.

I think the reporter will make it. For me, BBC News has this weird quality that won’t countenance otherwise. It just wouldn’t be proper. What I don’t know is whether she’ll survive.

And I’m not sure which she I really mean.

The Oracle: A Review

I rarely read books that are fresh off the press. Instead, they filter into my life through people I know, passing references in articles and happen-stance encounters years after release. This amorphous system filters through all the books I hear about (and many I don’t) and curates what I read.

William J. Broad studied the History of Science and brought that focus to writing for the New York Times. Along the way, he’s collected a few Pulitzers. His 2006 book The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi is a brilliant example of science journalism, covering both the science and what it means.

In this case, the science spans one hundred years of trying to understand the Oracle at Delphi, particularly the work of four scientists who managed to upend a scientific consensus that had stood for most of a century. It’s a gripping read that followed a range of players, delves into their field work and helped me understand the scientific intricacies in multiple fields including geology, archeology and medicine that the players used to build their case. If there’s a list of well written science books that are also page turners, this book deserves a nomination.

For me, the tour de force was the last forty pages or so where he stepped back from the details of the science and answered the question: “why does it matter?”. Why did these scientists spend years on this?

In one of those strange coincidences, I read the same story in this book today as I heard on a philosophy podcast a few days ago. The Delphi asked if you changed all the planks and parts of a boat, would it still be the same thing? Some philosophers, scientists and thinkers would answer “No”. After all, nothing in the boat is the same. There is no essence to a boat. There is no there, there. It’s just a bunch of parts. And, just as surely, if you took the boat, stacked the parts and asked that same group if they’d like to take a cruise on that disassembled boat, they’d answer “No”.

Even if they don’t think there’s a there there, a boat —like many things— is more than the sum of it’s parts.

The boat is a microcosm of debate that goes on and grows stronger. The sciences —Physics, Chemistry, Biology and so on— have power because they break things down and reduce them to their most essential pieces. That useful power has led to a certain hubris that leaves out the other side of the equation. As Broad says, “science—the most powerful institution of our day…sheds a very strong but narrow light that can leave many intriguing questions and possibilities lurking in the shadows”. Some things, like the boat or the oceans, are more than the sum of their parts. There are the pieces… and there is also the whole.

I understand the power of reductionism: I have a degree in Physics, I know how to program and I can explain the physics that makes the chips work in the computer with which I “pen” this review.

And I understand its limits. Reductionism is the voice that dismisses that there’s anything to the boat but parts. It’s the voice that dismisses mind as anything beyond chemistry. It’s the voice of the mathematician friend of mine who dismisses everything that can’t be rigorously proven. And it’s a voice that doesn’t hear the weird discontinuity between that stance and most of their own lives. My mathematician friend tells his daughter “I love you” and puts on “his music” like the rest of his. But, there is no proving love or music. Reduce them and you’re left with nothing: sound waves and meaningless words. There is no there there in any reductionist sense.

Broad’s last, shorter section, is a brilliant summary of this tension: the tension between reductionism and holism. It’s a testament to how we need both and a reminder of the fallacy that lies at the heart of claims that reductionism will find all the answers. I haven’t read another forty pages or so that better captures and explores this.

ISIS | ISIL update

Editorial apologies: occasionally I have to post but I don’t have time to proof and edit. This is such a time. It’s days after I put this together and well past midnight here. The thoughts go out now; typo or no.

In the last three days, more news came out of Iraq. ISIL has taken the border crossings between “Iraq” and Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia. What was lost in the cross-fire was what has happened with Kurdistan. They control the border crossings into Northern Iraq —including those into Syria. They’ve moved south to take cities they were disputing with Baghdad as well as to secure territory. They know control, based on what I’ve seen, an area fifty to one-hundred percent larger than they used to. ISIL controls much of the territory west of Baghdad. And Baghdad controls a wedge between Kurdistan, ISIL and Iran. The partition of Iraq continues.

Much of the media calls them ISIS. At one level, they’re just one faction in a Suni coallition that’s fed up with Baghdad’s Shia exclusivity. They’re shut out. Malikhi is ensuring his people are no longer oppressed by arresting and excluding everyone else. And he’s opened a huge door for ISIS, a group that even Al Queda thinks is too extreme. But, that ISIS acronym is not a good translation. If I read it correctly, the Arabic is not the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Levant is not Syria. It is a swath of territory that runs down into, and covers much of, Israel. So far, they’ve played this in Lebanon. What’s to be seen is how they play this in the portion of the Levant known as Israel.

Voices and What I’m not

Last night, I was the announcer at a swim event.

What little I know about swimming, I’ve absorbed over the last year. Not because I’m a fan of swimming or because I’m a big sports fan but I’ve learned it because my daughter likes swimming. I take her to practices. I take her to meets. I get her fins and a snorkle. Along the way, I’ve pick up a little. Precious little. Is that freestyle? I think so…

Emails kept going out from my daughter’s swim team: we need help! It’s the big event they host once a year and they needed people. Finally, I caved. I looked at what needed to be done and signed up to be an announcer.

Last night, people kept coming up to me —are you the announcer? with a shade of awe in their voice— and complimenting me on how good I was doing.

Tonight, I volunteered for an anonymous position: safety guy: make sure kids arn’t doing stupid dangerous stuff. We wander around the pool and through the locker rooms in an orange vest. I suspect it’s about keeping the insurance company happy. I know it’s about as anonymous as you get. The kids see the orange vest and stop doing what they already know they’re not supposed to do. Everyone else ignores us. It’s like a Romulan cloak: you’re invisible. People look right through you unless you’re “shooting”.

Exactly one person sought me out tonight. The head ref asked were you the announcer last night? You know you’re an anonymous red shirt (to harken back to Star Trek) when the question is phrased that way.

Once I said yes, the compliments flowed. And, yesterday, I heard compliment after compliment about how I did. Many were from people I didn’t know, have nothing to gain, and, odds even, will never see again.

My life’s been interesting. There are many things I’ve done. And some of those I’ve done well. I’ve worn the programmer hat. I’ve been the computer fixer. I’ve sat on boards. I’ve trimmed trees. I’ve loaded trucks. I’ve been this. I’ve been that. But, there only seems to be one that really connects with people.

Last week, a counselor had me take a personality test that put me in a four capital letter box. My box is INFP. The official shorthand is healer. I looked at the description and I thought Shaman. It’s a voice of sorts.

Last night, it wasn’t that I really knew anything about swimming. It was that I understood what needed to be said and I said it.

A chapbook of my poems was called Voices: Painting with Words. A friend, Dick Sevrens read the book and called me a prophet. I’m not about to claim I’m a burning bush but I keep seeing what needs to be said and saying it.

The Trace of God

I spent a few years working with Joseph Hinman to release his book The Trace of God:

The Trace of God utilizes 50 years of empirical scientific studies and draws upon sociological experts including Abraham Maslow, Robert Wuthnow, and Andrew Greeley to establish that the Trace of God and religious experience has an impact that is not just positive and life-transforming but vital: that belief in God is rationally warranted.

From a couple of reviews:

a fine introduction and exploration of the meaningfulness of arguments from human experience to the reality of God.

Ralph Hood, Jr, The Psychology of Religion and Handbook of Religious Experience

Joe Hinman has injected some much-needed scientific rigour into the subject of mysticism and religious experience.

James Hannam,God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books 2010)

Hinman’s book will give you something to think about.

Nick Peters, Christian Answers to This Generation’s Questions (with J. P. Holding)

You can read more on the book’s page at GrandViaduct. Reviews since the book was released are linked on the blog and you can find it at Amazon.

Kocichka

A collaborative poem on a rain stick in videopoetry created by Jeramiah Frick, Tim Wood and Ingrid Wood.

Words by Jeramiah Dean Frick and Tim Wood with editing suggestions by Ingrid Wood.
Symbols accompanying words by Ingrid and Tim
Words and Symbols penned onto rain stick by Ingrid
Camera: Sander Bomgardner
Editing: Tim Wood
(c) 2014, the creators

ISIS takes control of major portion of Iraq. Becomes country?

ISIS (the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant) has taken control of Ninevah province which includes Mosul. Confirmed by Iraqi top official. Happened in a very short period (sounds like three days). Iraqi army resistance collapsed pretty rapidly. Lots of refugees fleeing Ninevah, etc.,

Now… what’s important?

ISIS Effectively controls a country

I found a map that purports to show ISIS territory (before new events):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/de/Territorial_control_of_the_ISIS.svg/1654px-Territorial_control_of_the_ISIS.svg.png
Yellow: Syria, Iraq
Red:ISIS territory

Ninevah is the Iraqi province that controls most of the “Syrian” border northeast of the red. It’s more clearly shown in link in third section

The combined area (existing red plus Ninevah) seems comparable in size to Jordan. And it straddles about half of the old Iraq/Syria border.

ISIS

ISIS is (of course) a former Al Quieda affiliate. If memory serves, they’ve been the perpetrators of some of the worst crimes by any of the anti-government forces in the Syrian Civil War. Wikpedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant.

Partition

There was already, effectively, an independent Kurdish state (The Kurdistan “regional” government) in “Iraq” north and east of ISIS territory. They have their own army, the iraq flag doesn’t fly on their territory, etc., Seemingly Independent in all but explicit name. Wikipedia has a map of their territory (that also happens to clearly show Ninevah) about 1/3rd way down their page on Iraqi Kurdistan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqi_Kurdistan I would suspect it’s going to difficult for Baghdad to keep control of significant chunks of the areas that are in dispute between Kurdistan and the Baghdad. And it’s going to be in Kurdistan’s interest to ensure that they effective control of a defensible area vis-a-vis possible conflict with ISIS.

There’s been a lot of chatter (including advocacy of it by big name think tanks) going back to at least ’06 advocating some version of Iraqi partition, soft or otherwise. It seems to be happening explicitly now. Whether any of the think tanks anticipated it would be paralleled by the partition of Syria is a whole ‘nother question.

Wild Cards

Some thought churners vis-a-vis neighboring states

  • Turkey has been building bridges with Kurdistan.
  • Turkey has no love of ISIS and probably sees ISIS as a significant threat
  • Iran’s reaction will be interesting to say the least. Do they support ISIS, Baghdad or pragmatic-ish-ly using both?
  • Badhad is willing to strike ISIS in Syria (at least one known attack in last six months)
  • Other anti-government forces in Syria have a lot of motivation to unify/consolidate (well… or die)

Hotlines to God

The Trace of God, a book I helped publish, was released about a week ago. I posted this related piece on Facebook a few days ago:

I remember an interview with Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which he claimed, in essence, to have a hot line to God. The Creator was his personal adviser. My reaction? “He’s a loon. Hot line to God?” When someone says they’ve had “an encounter with God”, “a mystical experience” that’s the common reaction. When it happened to Barbara Ehrenreich, an atheist, she didn’t talk about it for decades out of fear it would get her labelled as crazy. Most Fundamentalists Christians have that reaction. Miracles, holy fire, burning bushes… that stuff ended back, you know, with the Disciples.

Funny thing is, I keep backing into studies about the effectiveness of prayer, stories about meditation changing people’s lives and so on. The assumption I’d picked up didn’t jive with what researchers we’re finding. When Joseph Hinman approached me about publishing his book, The Trace of God, I was definitely of two minds. I’ve never been involved in publishing a book about God, let alone one making a sane, rational argument that mystical experience is real?

But, what I found is someone who took all that research, looked at all the arguments floating around and made a case that needed to be heard. He shows that when someone has one of these experiences, they’re part of a very very large group, probably the vast majority of people, and that they’re not crazy. He pulls together research that shows that these experience, again and again, change people’s lives for the better. You can’t prove God. He says so right up front. Instead, he says that the evidence meets a legal standard: Looking at all the evidence (including your experience) and concluding there is a God is “rationally warranted”.

Do I still think Ahmadinejad is a loon? Yes. And I’m convinced there are a lot of people who’ve had experiences that justify concluding there is a Creator, a God.

We no longer know better

After Sandy Hook, there were calls to arm teachers (or at least put armed security guards in every school). A number of my friends were part of that chorus. And one of my friends was a teacher at that school.

Even in a smaller city like Colorado Springs, lock downs at schools are so frequent they barely rate being tweeted. Add in so many weapons in so many hands in so many places and, eventually, the Peter Principle will kick in and whatever is possible will happen.

A careless overworked teacher will set a gun down for just a moment… and a young child who wants to play cops and robbers (not realizing it’s a real weapon)… or an older child who’s been bullied uses it on classmates… or a kid with abusive parents or being bullied will take it…

A “bad guy”, a bullied student will pull a gun in a classroom and a teacher will try to stop them… miss and hit a student.

A gun accidentally discharges… because the safety wasn’t set, failed, got knocked off as the gun floated around the inside of a bag.

Children or teachers end up dead because of a weapon that was meant to protect.


Recently, we’ve had “Open Carry” groups taking weapons, some military-style assault rifles, into public restaurants to protect their right to carry by exercising it.

The marriage in the next booth blows up because the returning vet, stay-at-home spouse, the whoever finds out just how badly they’ve been done by their spouse.. and grabs the weapon leaning… right there.

No wonder that, after Open Carry Texas got national attention for doing it at a Chipotle in Texas, the NRA called it both weird and scary.

I’ve got relatives in small town California. They believe in their second amendment rights but they also get responsibility. Accidents happen. The guns arn’t carried in the open. They’re locked up, they’re concealed, they’re in a gun rack in the pickup. I doubt any of them would go into a Target and leave a gun on a shelf. They know better.

The catch is “we” don’t seem to know better.

An employee in a Target spotted, what they thought, was a toy gun in the toy aisle. Except it wasn’t. It was a fully loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun. And it was sitting on a shelf in the toy aisle. Employees are Target don’t exactly out-number customers. The odds were better that a customer would have find it first. Luckily the odds were beat. What if the odds played out the other way? Maybe it would have been found by a child playing cops and robbers with a friend. Maybe we’d be reading about a dead boy and the sister who killed him with a “toy gun”.

Taking away everyone’s guns isn’t a solution. But, look me in the eye and tell me that accidents don’t happen. Look me in the eye and tell me that everyone with a weapon in this country is sane, responsible and trained. Look me in the eye and tell me that innocent children arn’t dieing because of guns. Look me in the eye and tell me that one of my kids won’t loose a friends to guns. Look me in the eye and tell me my kids won’t be shot. Look me in the eye and tell me it’s not possible that it might be my kid who pulls the trigger.

Have we forgotten that every right carries responsibility? Common sense tells me a gun is something you handle with care and respect. The second amendment makes it explicit: “well-regulated”. What happened in Target and Chipotle is not “well-regulated”. Have we forgotten that rights inevitably conflict and have to be balanced? Does the right to carry a gun outrank the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Is “weird” more important than the happiness of eating burritos with my daughter without worrying about her getting accidentally shot. Can she have the happiness of eating that burrito without worrying that she may loose her Dad before dinner is over?

Standing on principle is a great thing until you bury yourself so deep you won’t deal with reality. We didn’t listen when the arc went through our kids from Columbine through Sandy Hook. Will we listen now that it runs through Starbucks, Chipotle, Target and almost everyone in America?