Friday, March 02, 2007

Or So He Said

Man is the religious animal. He is the only religious animal that has the true religion -- several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. -Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

And with that we begin another round--a long one, I'm afraid--of quotations that have been piling up for the past three months or so. Yikes! As usual, most--indeed, I think all, this time--are culled from the wonderful e-mail newsletter A Word a Day. You should subscribe. But then you probably wouldn't read these quotations...

Well, be that as it may, continuing for a moment on the theme of religion, here's another interesting little quotation:

Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything -- anything -- be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in. -Sam Harris, author (1967- )

The above is all the more interesting to me because I have seen Harris quoted by pastors of my acquaintance, and to make wholly different points. Reminds me of a book we had floating around the room back in my high-school debate days: How to Lie with Statistics.

Here's more--no particular order, no particular subject...though it seems I do cant rather toward the ironic:

I believe I found the missing link between animal and civilized man. It is us. -Konrad Lorenz, ethologist, Nobel laureate (1903-1989)

This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers. -Terry Tempest Williams, naturalist and author (1955- )

People like to imagine that because all our mechanical equipment moves so much faster, that we are thinking faster, too. -Christopher Morley, writer (1890-1957)

Only enemies speak the truth; friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of duty. -Stephen King, novelist (1947- )

A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. -Roger Miller, musician (1936-1992)

Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen. -Louis L'Amour, novelist (1908-1988)

It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way. -Rollo May, psychologist (1909-1994)

The world is a skirt I want to lift up. -Hanif Kureishi, author (1954- )

All kids are gifted; some just open their packages earlier than others. -Michael Carr

It is better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all. -James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)

The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards. -Anatole France, novelist, essayist, Nobel laureate (1844-1924)

If you have the same ideas as everybody else but have them one week earlier than everyone else then you will be hailed as a visionary. But if you have them five years earlier you will be named a lunatic. -Barry Jones, politician, author (1932- )

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. -William Arthur Ward, college administrator, writer (1921-1994)

We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate. -Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect and author (1743-1826)

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning. -George Baker (1877-1965)

Some people change when they see the light, others when they feel the heat. -Caroline Schoeder

Society prepares the crime; the criminal commits it. -Henry Thomas Buckle, historian (1821-1862)

A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it. -William Penn, Quaker, founder of Pennsylvania (1644-1718)

Your neighbor's vision is as true for him as your own vision is true for you. -Miguel de Unamuno, writer and philosopher (1864-1936)

To find a person who will love you for no reason, and to shower that person with reasons, that is the ultimate happiness. -Robert Brault, software developer, writer (1938- )

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone. -Gladys Browyn Stern, writer (1890-1973)

I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

Profits, like sausages... are esteemed most by those who know least about what goes into them. -Alvin Toffler, futurist and author (1928- )

Extended empires are like expanded gold, exchanging solid strength for feeble splendor. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

One of the indictments of civilizations is that happiness and intelligence are so rarely found in the same person. -William Feather, author, editor and publisher (1889-1981)

Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, "Lighthouses" as the poet said "erected in the sea of time." They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind, Books are humanity in print. -Arthur Schopenhauer , philosopher (1788-1860)

A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics". All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

Kindness is loving people more than they deserve. -Joseph Joubert, essayist (1754-1824)

People never lie so much as before an election, during a war, or after a hunt. -Otto von Bismarck, statesman (1815-1898)

O Liberty! how many crimes are committed in thy name! -Jeanne-Marie Roland, revolutionary (1754-1793)

Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking. -John Maynard Keynes, economist (1883-1946)

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. -Andrew Carnegie, industrialist (1835-1919)

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. -Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, and author (1872-1970)

My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library. -Peter Golkin, museum spokesman (1966- )

We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves. -Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902-1983)

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn't work that way, so I stole one and asked for forgiveness. -Emo Philips, comedian (1956- )

The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a criminal. -Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and author (1900-1980)

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action. -George Washington, 1st US president (1732-1799)

As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

The only gift is a portion of thyself. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

He who would be a leader must be a bridge. -Welsh proverb

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm but the harm does not interest them. -T.S. Eliot, poet (1888-1965)

Evil is like a shadow - it has no real substance of its own, it is simply a lack of light. You cannot cause a shadow to disappear by trying to fight it, stamp on it, by railing against it, or any other form of emotional or physical resistance. In order to cause a shadow to disappear, you must shine light on it. -Shakti Gawain, teacher and author (1948- )

We are healed of a suffering only by expressing it to the full. -Marcel Proust, novelist (1871-1922)

He who dares not offend cannot be honest. -Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer (1737-1809)

I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way. -Edgar Guest, poet (1881-1959)

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. -Dr. Seuss, author and illustrator (1904-1991)

Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax. -Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher (1788-1860)

As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler. -Calvin Trillin, writer (1935- )

At times it may be necessary to temporarily accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good. -Margaret Mead, anthropologist (1901-1978)

Humor may be defined as the kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life, and the artistic expression thereof. -Stephen Leacock, economist and humorist (1869-1944)

It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law. -Louis D. Brandeis, lawyer, judge, and writer (1856-1941)

It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong. -Richard Feynman, physicist, Nobel laureate (1918-1988)

Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they're in the game. -Paul Rodriguez

Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

This Could Be Serious

Those who know me know that one of the cornerstones of my existence is peanut butter. I can do without a lot of things in the cupboard, but peanut butter is not one of them. As Bill Cosby said, "Man does not live by bread alone. He must have peanut butter."

So you can imagine how shaken up I've been these past couple of weeks about ongoing reports of salmonella found in ConAgra peanut butter products.

First it was merely Peter Pan and some store brand--Great Value, Good Luck, whatever it might have been--neither of which is usually to be found in my pantry. But now it seems to be spreading. Ice cream products. Questions about Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (Hershey's makes its own peanut butter, so, whew). And now comes the news that a kid in North Dakota has been sickened...after most of the previous cases have been confined to the South, especially Virginia. (The ConAgra plant that seems to have been the culprit is in Georgia.)

None of this has prompted me to take the pledge peanut-butter-wise. But it does give sober men pause: As more and more food production and processing seems to be controlled by a mere handful of conglomeroids, how long before a truly disastrous occurrence?

Having grown up in the Cold War, I've always assumed that the end would come in some great conflagration between nations. Now it might come from my grocer's case.


Relatedly, but lighter: Yesterday was National Peanut Butter Day, so I hope you're recovered from your revelry. One of the many things I've learned about peanut butter is that is is apparently very difficult to photograph. All of the NPBD e-cards that I contemplated sending to friends and other innocent bystanders displayed the most putrid, gray-looking photos of peanut butter than I couldn't bring myself to send a single one. Likewise, most of the news photos I've seen during the recent salmonella scare have had serious color-balance issues--or so I assume: If the peanut butter actually was of the color indicated in most of the photos I've seen, I can't imagine anyone eating it--not even me!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bumper Stickers

A far-flung correspondent sent the following list of "Bush Bumper Stickers." Many of them have been around for awhile; a few are new to me:

Bush Bumper Stickers

1. Bush: End of an Error
2. That's OK, I Wasn't Using My Civil Liberties Anyway
3. Let's Fix Democracy in this Country First
4. If You Want a Nation Ruled By Religion, Move to Iran
5. Bush. Like a Rock. Only Dumber.
6. If You Can Read This, You're Not Our President
7. Of Course It Hurts: You're Getting Screwed by an Elephant
8. Hey, Bush Supporters: Embarrassed Yet?
9. George Bush: Creating the Terrorists Our Kids Will Have to Fight
10. Impeachment: It's Not Just for Blow Jobs Anymore
11. America: One Nation, Under Surveillance
12. They Call Him "W" So He Can Spell It
13. Whose God Do You Kill For?
14. Jail to the Chief
15. No, Seriously, Why Did We Invade Iraq?
16. Bush: God's Way of Proving Intelligent Design is Full Of Crap
17. Bad President! No Banana.
18. We Need a President Who's Fluent In At Least One Language
19. We're Making Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them
20. Is It Vietnam Yet?
21. Bush Doesn't Care About White People, Either
22. Where Are We Going? And Why Are We In This Handbasket?
23. You Elected Him. You Deserve Him.
24. Dubya, Your Dad Shoulda Pulled Out, Too
25. When Bush Took Office, Gas Was $1.46
26. Pray For Impeachment
27. The Republican Party: Our Bridge to the 11th Century
28. What Part of "Bush Lied" Don't You Understand?
29. One Nation Under Clod
30. 2004: Embarrassed 2005: Horrified 2006: Terrified
31. Bush Never Exhaled
32. At Least Nixon Resigned

Ingenious, but...

Now this took some ingenuity:

Not long ago I received this e-mail at my workplace. It purports to be from one, to a, with me as the BC recipient:

It is our pleasure to inform you that you have emerged as a Category "A" winner of the International Premier Lotto United Kingdom.


You are entitled to a prize sum of Four Million Five Hundred Thousand British Pounds; Reference number for your prize is PILS/SA/UK/69-810278, ticket number A/04-3919.

As a category A winner, you have been selected from a total number of Twenty Five Thousand names drawn from Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East and America.
After the computer ballot of our International Promotions Program, only six winners emerged in the category and therefore both are to receive payouts of Four Million Five Hundred Thousand British Pounds from the total Twenty Seven Million British Pounds for second category winners.

This is part of the Country's Programme to fund for the Olympic Games in 2012 The £1.5bn Olympic lottery puzzle (
The Lottery must raise £1.5bn over the next seven years to pay its share of the
public money going into the Olympics.

A further £650m will be raised from council tax in London and another £250m from the London Development Agency, while similar sums will be raised from ticket sales, marketing, sponsorship and the sale of television rights.

Please note that your lucky winning number falls within our European booklet representative office in Europe as indicated in your play coupon. In view of this, your £4,500,000 Four Million and Five Hundred thousand British Pounds will be released to you by any of our payment offices in Europe.

To immediately collect your prize, please contact our Category "A" financial handlers with information below:

Mr. Richard Spencer
Premium Finance & Trust Ltd
United KingdomEmail :
Tel: +44-703-590-1074
Fax: +44-87-1239-7031

Provide prize reference number-PILS/SA/UK/69-810278 and winning ticket number-A/04-3919 for confirmation.

In your best interests, you must initiate contact within one week of receipt of this correspondence. You are also advised to send a copy of this Email, either by fax or email, to your financial handler Mr. Richard Spencer when contacting him.

You are to keep all lottery information from the public as we will not entertain cases of multiple claims processing or compromise the privacy and security for all winners.

We congratulate you once again and it is our hope that you participate in any of our international programs in the nearest future.

Thank your sincerely,

Mrs Veronica Mallory
The lottery Coordinator,
International Premier Lotto United Kingdom
Great Surry House
203 Black Friars Road,
London SE 1 8NH

Pretty cool, no? As these spam “prizes” go, this one is fairly convincing—indeed, if one follows the link in the e-mail, one is taken to an honest-to-gosh BBC article about the lottery…not about my winning the lottery, mind, but about the inauguration several years ago of the lottery, designed to help fund the 2012 Olympics.

Of course, despite the apparent cleverness of the spammers, there are--even beyond the too-good-to-be-trueness of it all--a few red flags:

  • Doesn’t one ordinarily have to enter a lottery in order to win it? My local 7-11 doesn’t seem to sell UK lottery tickets.
  • Why is the original e-mail addressed to some third party if I’m the supposed winner? Does it make any sense to have the “winner” addressed via the blind-copy field?
  • Would the real lottery commission be using a Yahoo address for official correspondence?
  • Why doesn’t the sender’s alleged address ( not match the name on the notification (Mrs Veronica Mallory)?
  • Ordinarily one expects to see “Surrey” and not “Surry” in British connotations. A Google search of the address (203 Black Friars Road) brings up hits for several apparently legitimate businesses at Great Surrey (not Surry) House, 203 Blackfriars (not Black Friars) Road. However, the SE 1 8NH part seems to be correct.
  • "Thank your sincerely"? What kind of a complimentary close is that? That your sincerely what?

And so—“E” for effort but, alas, no sale. Perfection remains something to be striven for.

1,000 Words

Tony Auth in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Monday, February 26, 2007

Dem Bones

Ah, the pleasure of predictability. James Cameron et al. come across with the startling (and, methinks, insupportable) claim that they have found "the bones of Jesus and his family" retrieved from what they say may be the final tomb of Jesus. An AP story, with photos, is (among many other places) here. The most salient line in the story is this: "The claims have raised the ire of Christian leaders in the Holy Land."

Do tell. And only in the Holy Land, you think?

Well, The Lost Tomb of Jesus--Cameron's account of the discovery, which is to air next month on, naturally, The Discovery Channel--sounds like interesting speculation...but how could it every be anything but speculation? Much is made of "DNA evidence" from the ossuaries, but I fail to see how that could prove much beyond whether the various bones belonged to people who were related to one another. It would certainly be impossible to show that they belonged to the Jesus and family, for the very simple reason that we have nothing to compare the DNA to.

So it's all a bit of a tempest in a teacup, and yet here comes the Christian Ire. And why? Because this speculation doesn't jibe with the account given in the New Testament, that's why, and as we have previously noted, there is something in the psyche of "good" "Christians" that cannot permit them to allow anyone to have a different point of view, or speculate on a different idea, or just not believe. It is seemingly impossible for these folks to simply shrug it off, dismiss the other guy as misguided, or nuts, and move on. matter what, they always rise to the bait, bless 'em.

Interesting, too, how they adopt the position that the biblical account is "fact," and therefore any other idea is fiction (or, if you like, heresy). Here's a telling tidbit from John Gibson's "My Word" column at Fox News--or, more accurately, Fox "News":

..."There aren't supposed to be any bones of Jesus around. After all, he ascended to heaven, didn't he? Well, yes that is the history billions of Christians have believed true, and, in fact, the documentary doesn't much debunk that history because no bones were found in these boxes, called ossuaries."...

Did you spot it? The New Testament account of the Ascension is portrayed by the fair-and-balanced crowd as "history." Obviously a new definition of history that is not to be found in a standard dictionary.

But then for literal-factual interpreters of the Bible, it and it alone is "true"--true science, true history, true everything down to the Nth degree--and so any "evidence" of anything else must, by definition, be false.

No room for faith in there, from what I can see.

And that, for me, is the ultimate test. So James Cameron and Co. think they may have found the bones of Jesus (contradicting the Ascension story...not "history"), and not in the grotto beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where tradition (not "history") says Jesus was laid after the Crucifixion. So what? He can't prove it...and even if he could--so what? Is our faith such a fragile and shaky thing that anything that suggests a hint of an innuendo of a deviation from the story (not "history") portrayed in the Bible causes it to collapse? I hope not!

So maybe Jesus' tomb was at Point A and not Point B. So maybe he was married. So maybe he had siblings. So what? Does any of it detract one iota from his sacrifice or his saving message?

And if

Sunday, February 25, 2007

God versus...Who?

My friend Jerry sent a copy of today's Robyn Blumner column, "Flat-Earth Society's Warriors," about Texas state representative Warren Chisum circulating a bizarre memo, ostensibly originated by a Georgia state representative, Ben Bridges, but evidently really written by one Marshall Hall, the president of something called the Fair Education Foundation and the mind behind a web site called You really must read the column for yourself--for there is no way I can do justice to the convoluted Froot-Loopiness of it all (there's a copy of the original memo here; reports are all over, including this one at Accidental Blogger and this one at the New York Times Select), but a few lines from the Blumner column is as good as anything for summing up the gist of the Chisum/Bridges/Hall memo: "Darwin's theory of evolution was described as nothing more than a Jewish plot."

"'Indisputable evidence - long hidden but now available to everyone - demonstrates conclusively that so-called secular evolution science is the Big Bang 15-billion-year alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion,' the memo said."

Well then. Good to have that settled.

But I once again find myself puzzling over the slavering fury of the "religious" right. (The quotation marks are there because their actions and attitudes invariably strike me as being at odds with what one traditionally associates with religious people; we won't even discuss their insistence on labeling themselves "Christian" when they seem so contrary to that which Christ taught.) Why does it seem so important to them to prop up their "faith" and "beliefs" by defaming others'? Why all the frantic--and, usually, embarrassingly misguided--attempts to discredit science and scientific curiosity? Why isn't their "faith" enough for them?

And why would they think God cares?

It strikes me for not the first time that I seem to have a much higher opinion of God than those who consider themselves his biggest fans. For instance, I think God has an ego sound enough to survive the thought of people not believing in him. Or professing their devotion to him in different, even contradictory ways. And I think that when his son suggested we should love our neighbors, he probably meant what he said, and what he said was not "love thy neighbor who is in lock-step agreement with thee" or "love thy neighbor who is morally upright as defined by thee" or "love thy neighbor who has the same skin tone or belongs to the same political party as thee."

I don't go around bragging about what a swell Christian I am, partly because I think I'm pretty bad at it most of the time, but I have read the Bible a few times (well, only one trip through the entire Old Testament: too many "begats") and what I mostly come away with--especially from the words of Jesus, whom "Christians" purport to revere and emulate--is love, peace, tolerance, and ethical behavior...all that namby-pamby crap that the "religious" right despises.

So then (and setting aside for the moment that I think God is probably big enough to fight for himself whatever battles he thinks need fighting), precisely what is it that these "Christian" soldiers see themselves as marching off to war against? Or for? Apparently not the ideals of Jesus of Nazareth, who is tellingly silent on such subjects as evolution, gay marriage, or the Democratic party. They seem uninterested in promulgating any definition of "love," or "peace," which seem to me the central messages of Jesus' ministry; indeed, they seem to thrive on exactly the opposite--on perpetual rancor, on intolerance, on hatred.

Because, after all--if the true Christian ideal were ever realized, they'd all be out of work...some of them literally. Their very existence depends on perpetual antagonism.

Any resemblance to the Bush Administration is probably not coincidental.

Well, if you depend on perpetual antagonism, you need a perpetual enemy. Science is a good one. For one thing, it isn't going to go away. For another, it's big and multifaceted--you can attack evolution, you can attack medicine, you can attack anthropology and astronomy and physics. And for another, it doesn't march in step with the accounts laid out in the Bible.

Ah! Now we're getting somewhere.

Whenever Time or Newsweek or anybody else does their periodic "God vs. Science" article, they invariably fall into a clever trap set by the "religious" right, viz., making it seem like someone is attacking God (who, in their view, needs them to defend him...again, I seem to have a higher opinion of God than they do, which is pretty sad for God)--when in fact the real discussion should be "Science vs. the Bible," or, even more accurately, "Science vs. Literal-Factual Interpretation of the Bible." (And it is to numerous publications' shame that their editors seem not to understand this, or do understand it but prefer the catchier-though-inaccurate "God vs. Science.")

God doesn't enter into it. Undoubtedly there are scientists who are atheists: so what? Let God worry about that (which I doubt he does). The question is whether the world needs to bow to a bunch of noisy religious fanatics who insist that every syllable in a series of books written over several millennia by various human beings who had various tales to tell and points to prove must be regarded by everybody else on the planet as literal-factual "truth." That's the whole versus.

But I misspoke--God does enter into it, for, to those of us who believe in a Creator, science is the tool by which we decipher and understand his creation. It is not something to be feared, let alone something to be reviled. Would that we could get back to a time when Science and Religion were seen as companions on the same journey, not antagonists heading in opposite directions.

But Religion is a jealous institution, and will brook no other gods but itself.

Actually, far from "God vs. Science," the more pertinent subject might be "God vs. Religion."