L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace!

I figured that sentiment–which I always associated with General Patton but which Wikipedia (that electronic fount of knowledge) assures me is paraphrased from Georges Danton–was appropriate, or ironic, or maybe appropriately ironic with respect to finally clawing my way to the end of Senator Obama’s THE AUDACITY OF HOPE.

It’s audacious, alright.

My take on the book is the same as my observation in a religious discussion a few days ago: it’s interesting that, like eyewitnesses to an event, different people can look at the same thing but see it differently and draw different conclusions about it. Point of view has a lot to do with it, whether because of differences in light and shadow and angle in a live event or because of differences of temperament and education and experience in the case of politics.

My frustration with the book was that as soon as I found some point on which I started to agree with the Senator, he took that point to an extreme I didn’t think was warranted or in a direction that I could no longer follow. But it seems that today politics is much more a game of extremes than it used to be, and I am too much a moderate.

Then there were little things, like this indication of a sort of underlying distrust of the populace, from p. 185:

… if we can prevent diseases from occurring or manage their effects through simple interventions like making sure patients control their diets or take their medications regularly, we can dramatically improve patient outcomes and save the system a great deal of money.

It’s unclear if the Senator has thought through the implications of “making sure” people do anything: it’s one step removed from “making” people do something, which is right in line with the kind of fascism people accuse the current administration of practicing. Is the force of the state going to be used to ensure people take their medications, or eat a certain kind of diet? If so, what else will the state try to control?

We can do with a lot less of that kind of audacity.

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The Wave-Particle Duality of Truth

Today on TED I watched a video of author Amy Tan talking about something near and dear to my writerly heart: creativity. Late in the presentation she made a comment about catching “particles of truth” as opposed to the whole truth, and I immediately thought of the wave-particle duality of light and wondered about truth: what wave-like versus particle-like characteristics does it present?

And of course I thought it would be great to write a science fiction story along the lines of “The Wave Theory of Truth.”* Of course, right now I don’t have any idea how I would begin such a tale, and I’d be much better served hammering the keyboard trying to build my novel. So I’ll have to leave this idea for another day. (C’est la vie.)

Anyway, aside from her slides being hard to read, you might enjoy Amy Tan’s TED talk.

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* Not to be confused with the odd (in my estimation) entries available on the web that include the phrase.

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Great Quote on True Religion

Yesterday — the day after I posted about last week’s “discussion” of theology on The Ornery American — a friend from the Codex Writers Group, Kirsten Lincoln, posted an excellent quote she’d found on the Net:

“True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.”
— Islamic scholar Abdal-Hakim Murad

Click on through to read her entire blog entry. Go ahead. Really.

Bottom line: I wish I’d had that quote handy when I was Being Ornery. I think I could’ve been clearer that even though I feel that I’m a better person now than I used to be, I know that I am not yet truly a good person. I still have a long way to go.

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They Also Serve Who Sit and Take Notes

At least that’s what I tell myself, because that’s mostly what I do as our Church Clerk. Some meetings I take lots of notes, because there’s a lot of business being conducted, but I like meetings like the one we had tonight: a Special Called Business Meeting to consider the question of extending a call to a Youth Minister candidate.

One question, one main motion to consider. It was downright relaxing.

And nicely concluded: by secret ballot, the vote in favor was unanimous. One member said it was the first time he’d ever seen that happen in the 18 years he’s been a member.

Now, if I could just figure out all the nuances to Robert’s Rules of Order. Maybe I should watch C-SPAN more often.

Then again, maybe not.

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Me, Being Ornery

I usually try not to get dragged into Web-based theological discussions, because they don’t seem to accomplish much and take time away from more enjoyable (and more productive) pursuits, but this week I slipped. I found myself embroiled in a thread on The Ornery American which linked to a video of Richard Dawkins on Bill Maher’s television show. I don’t have QuickTime on my computer, so I haven’t watched the video, but someone posted an excerpt from Dawkins’ book that I found interesting.

In his book, Dawkins printed a letter sent to Albert Einstein by the president of a New Jersey-based historical society. Dawkins wrote that the letter “damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind,” and that, “Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.” (Note that you can find all this on the thread on The Ornery American site. But keep in mind that while this post itself is longer than usual, since I quote so much of the thread, the entire thread spans 3 web pages now.)

I quoted that intellectual cowardice bit and wrote, “I reckon I’m not intellectual enough to understand this…”, and the fun began. A couple of people tried to explain it, but frankly I didn’t find their explanations illuminating. So I wrote back,

I think for many of the faithful it’s easier to understand our own struggles with the truth as we know it — through which we continue to believe despite the doubts that may nag us — than to understand the choice to utterly reject it.

We … would do well to remember that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Flannery O’Connor* summed up why: in many cases, “it’s harder to believe than not to.”

I’m only familiar with the Flannery O’Connor quote because it became a Steve Taylor song, but oh, did I get a response:

“Many are called but few are chosen”? If that don’t sound elitist I don’t know what does. I didn’t even get a call much less chosen.

And not just “harder” to believe, but “impossible” to believe. I’ve tried, and how anybody with a brain can “believe” is beyond me. And I know a lot of people that I consider to be very intelligent that claim to believe.

(And in a subsequent post, the same person wrote,)

It’s crazy but people think better of you for having blind unquestioning belief in a being that nobody has ever seen and for which there is not one shred of evidence exists!

Here’s my reply (“KE” and “OR” are shorthand for the handles of two Ornery members):

KE wrote, “for which there is not one shred of evidence.” I disagree. But just as two eyewitnesses can see the same event and report it differently, I do not expect KE or anyone else to draw the same conclusions I have. As for “many are called, but few are chosen” being elitist, I suppose it can be seen that way … though in practice it usually works out as “many are called, but few answer the call,” which seems to be shown in KE’s own experience: he may not feel as if he was called, but from my perspective if he wasn’t called he wouldn’t have tried to believe in anything, at anytime.

OR is right that the excellent observation that “The real test of atheism is ‘do you alter the way you live your life because you think a god exists'” applies equally as a test of whether those of us who profess to be Christians are indeed living the life. For some people, this lies at the root of why they choose not to believe: because believing would require altering the way they live their lives.

This raised the ire of yet another forum member, TomD, who wrote (emphasis in original), “You think so? Can you provide me an example of such a person — someone who would believe, but who doesn’t want to change his lifestyle and thus chooses not to?”

I wrote back,

… I think one example might be the rich young ruler with whom Jesus talked (q.v. Gospel of Mark, chapter 10). He asked Jesus what he had to do, Jesus told him, and he went away sad. Jesus asked him to make a drastic change to his lifestyle, and he wasn’t prepared to do so. (This may not be the best example since he ostensibly believed, but was not willing to put his belief into action.)

Jesus said it was hard to enter the kingdom of God. In many ways I think we make it harder than it has to be.

TomD then wrote, “I should have clarified: can you provide me examples of non-allegorical people?” So I replied,

… I disagree that the rich young ruler is allegorical.

That being said, I’ll offer a more contemporary example: me. When I was young, I rejected everything about the church. I agreed completely with an older friend who, in his first year of college, was asked, “Are you saved?” and responded, “No, I’ve got better things to do with my time.” Accepting what the church taught would have required me to moderate my behavior, and that wasn’t something I was willing to do. (For reference, I took my first drink at 13 and was well into weekend binges by 16.) For me, claiming to be an atheist (which I did, to my mom) was not an intellectual exercise — I don’t have that much intellect to exercise — but outright rebellion.

I am a different person now than I was then. Not perfect, but I think quite a bit better.

TomD wrote in again (emphasis in original), “I’m curious what your response to that question would have been.” So I answered,

My answer to, “Are you saved?” was, “No.” If pressed, I usually followed up with some variant of “And I don’t want to be” or “Leave me alone.”

If you are asking whether I would have said at the time that I was rejecting salvation because I refused to moderate my behavior, I probably wouldn’t have admitted it. I don’t recall ever being asked that question. But if pressed on the point, I imagine I would’ve tried to present any number of arguments to avoid admitting any personal moral shortcomings. Like a criminal faced with the consequences of his crimes, I would have pleaded not guilty even though I was.

Later, I pleaded guilty and threw myself on the mercy of the court. And as I said: I am a different person now than I was then.

That’s where I last left things. I suppose the conversation will continue, but we’ll see.

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* Spelling corrected in this quote.

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Space Strategy, Policy, Missiles

New in the Space Warfare Forum: Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado recently called for a new space strategy and space policy, as well as development of “a layer of space-based interceptors.” He made the statements last week at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

For more, see the New Call for Strategy & Space-Based Weapons thread in the Space Strategy section of the forum.

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Filmmakers in the Triangle; and, After the Peak

My writing friend Alex Wilson first alerted me to the Triangle Filmmakers’ Special Interest Group (TFSIG*), but unfortunately he and I have never been at a meeting together. He’s been very busy recovering from a serious head injury sustained in an auto accident, so he’s got a good excuse. (He’s a great guy, so go ahead and check out his web site.)

You came back? Thanks.

Tonight’s TFSIG meeting was a smallish affair. I listen a lot at these meetings, and have learned more than I ever thought I would about the ups and downs of independent filmmaking. One day if I write a story that’s film-able, I hope to at least be conversant about the process … even though I won’t have any control over it, I want to understand it. (Of course, if I quit going to meetings and sat down to write, I’d be a lot closer to fulfilling that “if” clause. 🙁 )

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to introduce After the Peak, a docudrama made by Jim McQuaid. Jim is the driving force behind the TFSIG, and even though only a few people will see this I’m happy to plug his film. It’s certainly a timely subject:

The end of cheap oil is coming. Gasoline prices over $3.00 a gallon isn’t the end of cheap oil. The end of cheap oil will look a lot worse than that. Unfortunately.

We might argue the details about when we will hit the downslope of the oil availability curve, but I’m not sure anyone can deny that we will hit it. And we need to have alternatives ready to deal with the inevitability. Orson Scott Card argued awhile back on The Ornery American (sorry, I can’t find the precise link right now) that we’d be well served to slow our use of oil for transportation and power because we’re going to need the remaining oil for a long time to keep making plastic.

I haven’t seen Jim’s film yet, but I plan to order a copy.

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* Yes, I wish we had a better name.

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More Public Art

I’ve done my civic duty for the week: Tonight’s meeting of the Town of Cary’s Public Art Advisory Board went pretty well.

We got to see and comment on preliminary designs for a cell phone tower that’s going to replace an old water tower close to downtown. This is a semi-big deal, since a few years ago the town (or some part of the town) demanded that a cell phone tower near I-40 be “disguised” … so now we have an obviously artificial-looking “pine tree” that sticks way up above all the real pine trees. It was poorly done, so we wanted to avoid that kind of mistake. Several companies have antennae on the water tower now, but the town put up a new water tower awhile back so this one’s going to come down. We want to keep the cell service where it is, so a new tower has to go up; and since the tallest buildings downtown are only a couple of stories, the tower will be seen from a long way away. The first concepts looked pretty good — very unique, and in a good way — and I look forward to seeing the next iteration.

The next event is the “Spring Daze” arts & crafts fair, on Saturday April 26th at Bond Lake Park. Come on out and see us, if you’re in the area! 🙂

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Happy Happy Tax Day

And once again we celebrate the Ides of April. This weekend James Maxey had a (mostly) amusing tax-related post about the National Debt on his blog. I especially liked his idea to levy a “too much fame” tax, though the effective tax rate seems a bit draconian:

We could have a vote each year of the celebrities we’re most tired of hearing about. Then, we’d just go and grab everything from the top ten folks on that list. Britney would be too broke to afford her brazilian waxes after a few votes. Rush Limbaugh could no longer afford to hire a housekeeper to score hillbilly heroin from. If you’re a baseball player caught up in a steriod scandal at the same time you’re closing in on a home run record, well, you’d better hope there are ten people more loathed than you are this year. If you do manage to get rich, you’d learn to keep your head low. The new rule would be, you can be famous, or you can be rich, but it’s dangerous to have too much of both.

The post is called “The Ten Trillion Pound Gorilla,” and as I said I found it mostly amusing. I didn’t think his get-rid-of-the-military idea was very funny; as might be expected from my personal history, it raised my hackles a bit. I’ll leave it at that.

Continuing with the tax theme, I thought my “Direct Deposit” tax scheme from last year had at least the merit of being original, if not being a little amusing too. And if your frustration with Tax Day has you looking for a write-in candidate for any office — from school board on up, anywhere in the country — you’re welcome to check out the Anti-Candidate’s position on taxes. We won’t promise to make it any better, but we won’t promise to make it any worse, either. 😉

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