Life Explained

I have some free time this afternoon. Just enough to put this issue behind me.

So, I get this question all the time. Actually, I’ve gotten it maybe once in the past five years. It could be somebody once asked me this question, and if they did not they should have. Here’s the question:

If there is no life after death, then life has no meaning. What’s the purpose of striving year after year only to end up dead?

In this exchange I typically get the argument:

Life only has meaning if there is life after death, and this confirms the existence of a loving God who cares for us and monitors our every action.

OK, I have to say that argument is just overwhelming and should be accepted out of hand, because it explains everything so well, and its logic is inescapable. Except…

Except it violates any number of well established facts and because it is rife with logical flaws:

1. Nobody, and I mean no body, has ever observed life after death. If life after death were real, then it’s amazing that after thousands of years of human history during which life after death was expected to occur every day, no dead person has subsequently ever shown any signs of life.

2. Belief in life after death is part of belief in the existence of God, so it’s a logical fallacy to use one to support the other.

So, since I reject the conjecture of life after death I am challenged to explain human initiative and longing if everybody knows that at the end it will be just lights out and nothing more. That explanation I expect to provide without introducing needless logical failures and without violating any known facts.

In short, the answer is Darwinian evolution—descent with modification facilitated by natural selection. Our mental instinct to strive is essential to successful reproduction. Individuals possessing this mental attribute obtained it through their genome, and their genes come to predominate in the population. Conversely, individuals without the instinct to strive are less likely to pass their genes into subsequent generations. That explains the instinct to strive independent of the expectation of some distant reward.

This decouples the existence of the “human spirit” from the inevitability of extinction, death. A person cares for his well-being and that of his family, because the need for immediate reward is built into his person, sourced from his genome. The future advent of death is disregarded until it cannot be avoided.

I had supposed there was a Douglas Adams quote to the effect: “Your mission in life is to have a good time.” However, I can’t find it, so anybody who wants credit for it can claim it, but you might have to deal with Douglas Adams, but only after you are dead.

So, if the goal is to live for the present, then what is the motivation for morality? The short answer is that in modern society morality usually increases the time you spend having a good time. Some crooks live a life of luxury while leeching off society, but life for the average miscreant is “lonely, brutal and short.” Bernard Madoff may be an exception.

However, it’s difficult to convince most people of this simple principle, so we have invented God and life after death and priests and popes and nuns and visions of 72 virgins to ensure we keep daily to the purpose at hand. I know many people who live exemplary lives without the breath of eternal damnation at their ear. These people are the real moral exemplars.

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Palin Palin

I’m sure I covered this matter previously. Whenever former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin says or does something that’s classic Palin, my liberal friends get all over the topic. They go on and on, posting graphics with cute captions, pointing out contradictions between what Palin says and what the real world thinks is true and trying to remind us of how ridiculous this all is. When they do this, then I jump in and get on their case, and warn them that what they are really doing is wasting their time. Because this is my job.

By all appearances Palin is a successful woman, great family, governor of the largest state (not the most populous), former candidate for vice president of the United States. So, what’s the problem with Palin? Let me count the ways.

Palin is a member of that large part of the population who think that saying something (and saying it often) makes it true. Back over 40 years ago comedian Henry Gibson was famous for saying, “A lie is as good as the truth if you can get somebody to believe it.” The sad truth seems to be that Palin believes a lot of the stuff she says, which makes her sort of a cut-rate liar. That may be the very worst kind.

Somebody posted this on Facebook, and I lifted it to illustrate a point. Palin would do well to take a hint from this small message.

In a way I have been in the same position as Palin. On many topics I am absolutely clueless, and with this in mind I find what works best for me is to keep my mouth shut. Like Palin, sometimes my little scheme does not work, and my stupidity peeks out. Palin seems to have taken this failing to a high art. There are some examples.

Prior to the 2008 election Katie Couric interviewed Palin on CBS

Katie Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious: what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?
Sarah Palin: I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.
KC: But, like, what ones specifically? I’m curious.
SP: All of ’em, any of ’em that have been in front of me over all these years.
KC: Can you name a few?
SP: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where, it’s kind of suggested and it seems like, ‘Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C. may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?’ Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

This appears to show that Palin initially lied about keeping up with worldly events by reading a number of newspapers, but when the lie was challenged she was unable to name her sources because she didn’t read any newspapers and magazines of note. Another possibility is that she actually had been reading various publications, but in the blitz of questions and answers none of them came to her mind (brain freeze). The most likely case is that in the interview Couric was pressing for a memorable sound bite and saw an opening in asking the question. At this point Palin could have cut her losses by saying something like, “Actually I get a lot of stuff from Fox News, but I sometimes pick up the New York Times and Newsweek.” She could also have said that she reads the local paper, which reprints the same wire service feeds used by the big city papers. Anyhow, apparently she felt she was in a trap and needed to keep up the image of somebody in the know and wise to the world, which she obviously was not, at least at the time.

Instead, she said, “All of ’em,” and the trap was sprung. From that point there was no turning back. She could have lied and named the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, the New York Times, the Kansas City Star, the Chicago Sun Times, the Arizona Daily Star, the Salt Lake City Tribune, the Seattle Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Houston Post, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Antonio Express-News, San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee, Times of London, Pravda, Izvestia, Le Monde, La Republica, La Prensa, some of which I have read, some of which I have not. Anyhow, she could have named any of those, but she did not, because it likely would have been a lie, and besides she likely had never heard of these publications. Anyhow, it was classic Palin, and I love it.

Palin really needs a note stuck on her toothbrush that reads, “If Katie Couric phones, you are out.” Again Couric interviewed Palin. Couric asked what Supreme Court decisions she disagreed with, besides Roe v. Wade. Palin was clueless, and it showed.

“Well, let’s see. There’s ― of course in the great history of America there have been rulings that there’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American, and there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So, you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but ―” –Sarah Palin, unable to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with other than Roe vs. Wade, interview with Katie Couric, CBS News, Oct. 1, 2008.

This clip shows more of the interview. At the beginning Couric asks vice presidential candidate Joe Biden the same question she asks Palin later in the clip. She asks about the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. Biden explains the decision and says he agrees with it. Palin does not explain the decision, but she expresses disagreement. Couric asks both candidates what Supreme Court decisions they disagree with, and Biden mentions a decision that struck down a law he had sponsored. The law would have made violence against women a federal crime to be prosecuted in federal court, but The Court said no. Violence against women was a matter involving individuals and did not rise to the federal level. Biden was wrong in his interpretation of the law, but at least he could explain the case.

What we see in the case of Palin is somebody completely unfamiliar with national law and politics and unaware of any Court decisions she disagrees with. What Palin should have said in response to Couric’s question was, “No, I can’t name a decision I disagree with. I have not previously worked in national government and have not been involved in matters that went before the Supreme Court.” Palin was at the time aware that her previous political experience as governor of a back-water state left her completely unprepared for national politics, and she was evidently defensive. She felt the need to project initiative, but she had nothing to put forward, and her response fell abysmally flat. This is the Palin we all know and love.

Like most of us, Palin sometimes has problems with the English language. How she handles language gaffs is what is so telling.

The blogosphere erupted with laughter and ridicule this week when Sarah Palin sent out a tweet using a nonexistent word and then proudly mistook her illiteracy for literary genius.

Here’s the tweet that started it, which Palin sent out in response to the controversy over building a mosque in New York City near where the Twin Towers once stood:
“Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”
Palin quickly found herself the butt of many tweets after it was pointed out that “refudiate” is not a word. So she deleted the tweet and replaced it with another:
“Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.”
After being ribbed for misusing the word “refute,” Palin quickly took down that tweet too. She then claimed common ground with no less than one of the greatest writers of all time:
“‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”

God, I hate Twitter. Attempts to insert an amount of intelligent thought into 140 characters can often fracture the English language. “pls refudiate?” Forget about “refudiate.” What is “pls?” Is it “plus?” “Pupils?” Wait, I know. It’s “please.” God, the ghost of Shakespeare will be rapping at your door tonight.

Again, for a middle-aged woman who has held and was seeking to hold an even higher level of public responsibility, this shows a distressing lack of maturity. What you are supposed to do in a case like this is re-tweet something like, “God, that was awful. What I meant was ‘repudiate.'” Wait, she attempted that, but not in a mature way. She deleted the tweet and then compounded the crime by layering on another language gaff.

OK, forget about Palin’s problems with the language. We all have those. Here real problem, which got buried in all the language mess, was her stand on the issue. A Muslim mosque near the previous site of the Twin Towers? There is supposed to be something wrong with that? The Muslim world attacked us? Not 19 religious fundamentalists with a severely broken world view? It would have been OK to build a Christian church there (already is one) or a Jewish temple? Or a Buddhist temple, but not a Muslim mosque? Have we declared war on a particular religion above all others?

Readers, I am not religious, so I do not have a dog in this fight, but it seems that allowing a mosque (or Muslim cultural center) in lower Manhattan would be like sticking a finger in the eye of all those religious fanatics who claim this country is at war with Islam. And Palin opposes this? And Palin wants to hold power at the national level?

At this point I observe I have reached the endurance of some readers, so I’m cutting this off for now. Those interested can read more in subsequent posts.

The answer, my friend

Is blowin’ in the wind.

From the Bob Dylan Web site

It was 50 years ago today.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is the second studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released in May 1963 by Columbia Records. Whereas his debut album Bob Dylan had contained only two original songs, Freewheelin’ represented the beginning of Dylan’s writing contemporary words to traditional melodies. Eleven of the thirteen songs on the album are original compositions by him. The album opens with “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which became one of the anthems of the 1960s, and an international hit for folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary soon after the release of Freewheelin’. The album featured several other songs which came to be regarded as amongst Dylan’s best compositions and classics of the 1960s folk scene: “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Dale Blount and John Horn had this album in the Campus Guild, where I was living, and they were playing it. That voice, that awful Midwest twang. It was grating to the ears. Corn does not adequately describe some of the lyrics. Did I mention the harmonica? Some lines were written in absolute defiance of irony.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.

Really, Bob? Quit beating about the bush. Tell us how you really feel about these guys.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

A few years later another American poet would burst on the scene with a more subtle message:

I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

It was not the time for this, however. This was early 1963. John Kennedy was still alive, and this country’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict was, as yet, only ankle deep. Grim reality was to come. This was a time for direct talk.

Some time ago a crazy dream came to me
I dreamt I was walkin’ into World War Three
I went to the doctor the very next day
To see what kinda words he could say
He said it was a bad dream
I wouldn’t worry ’bout it none, though
They were my own dreams and they’re only in my head

At this early stage some poetry was beginning to creep in to Dylan’s writing. And irony, as well.

Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody’s having them dreams
Everybody sees themselves
Walkin’ around with no one else
Half of the people can be part right all of the time
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that
“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”
I said that.

Some of the lyrics brought back to mind recent and tragic headlines.

He went down to Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed him down
All because his face was brown
Better get away from Oxford Town

There was humor in the days before Dallas.

Well, my telephone rang it would not stop
It’s President Kennedy callin’ me up
He said, “My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?”
I said, “My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot
Anita Ekberg
Sophia Loren”
Country will grow.

But there were poetic images, and some I thought I understood, but I could never be sure.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.

None of us have ever been the same since.

Bad Joke of the Week

It was bound to happen. President Obama is promising to close the prison for terrorists at the Guantanamo Naval Base. Secretly he has a plan to get the remaining terrorists off the streets.

First, any al Qaeda militant who turns himself in voluntarily will get a date with Jody Arias.

Some won’t fall for that, so any militant who doesn’t turn himself in but gets caught anyhow will share a cell with Jody Arias.

Pray or Pay

This is new. People who know me will tell you I am always the last to pick up on the neatest and the hottest trends and the coolest people. So it’s no surprise that I never even heard of comedian Ricky Gervais until this week. Can you imagine that? He must be a very funny guy and way cool, which is why I was so clueless. Anyhow, the way he spells his last name indicates to me he may be French, which explains a lot.

Ricky Gervais Provokes Twitter Flap Over Sending Prayers to Oklahoma

While many Americans have taken to Twitter to send out thoughts and prayers to the victims of the Oklahoma tornado, comedian Ricky Gervais urged users of the social media site to actually do something for them.

In response to trending hashtags #PrayForOklahoma and #PrayersForOklahoma, the proud atheist popularized hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma, suggesting his 4.6 million followers give $10 to the American Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts.

No no no no, people. Don’t listen to Ricky Gervais. He’s going to lead you astray. He’s an atheist. He’s going to give you only practical solutions. There’s nothing in his message that’s going to get you right with The Big Guy.

Here are the top ten reasons you should pray for Oklahoma.

10. Praying takes less time. Take it from me, you can be in and out of a prayer in less than two seconds.

9. Praying is not tax-deductible. If you send money you’re going to have to fill out a bunch of government forms to adjust your tax payment for this year.

8. You can pray for Oklahoma, and your wife will never find out.

7. One prayer will heal every one of the many injured and will restore all the houses damaged and destroyed by God’s most recent gift. Your check to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army will likely go into somebody’s pocket and never to see the light of day.

6.  Praying saves MONEY. Try it. You’ll see.

5. If you like, you can only claim that you prayed for Oklahoma without actually praying, whereas sending money leaves a permanent record that you may not later be able to repudiate.

4. Referring to reason 7 above, if you send money to the Red Cross you are helping to support a mercenary organization heavy with bureaucracy, and if you send to the Salvation Army you might possibly be supporting a group whose religious views are different from your own.

3.  If you send money and later change your mind you can never get it back, whereas if you pray and later change your mind you can tell the Lord to forget about it, and you can rest assured the Lord will heed your wishes.

2. Sending money will only encourage people to keep doing what they did to get themselves into the situation they are in now.

1. You should pray for Oklahoma because, because it’s Oklahoma.

High Test

Yesterday I posted a small bit on how to save money purchasing fuel for your car. Here is another bit that is somewhat related. This relates to spending wisely on fuel and getting what you want.

Somewhere back in my e-mail logs is a note from somebody about engine power. His idea was to purchase high octane gasoline for his car so he could have more power when he needed it. I am guessing he drove fast lots of the time, and everybody knows you need more power to drive fast. I had to laugh.

The truth is, while you can get more power from some engines using high test gasoline, this tends to be a special case. Here is a short discussion on the basis for the high octane, high power myth.

When I was in college my buddies and I raced motorcycles and built racing engines. Obviously a racing engine needs more power than a street engine, so if you set out to build a racing engine from a street engine one of the first things you need to do is to raise the engine compression ratio. It works like this, illustrated with the example of a four-stroke engine. Two-stroke engines have a similar situation, even though their operation is radically different:

National championship at Dallas International Speedway in Lewisville

Ideally the power cycle of a four-stroke engine starts with the intake valve open, the exhaust valve closed, and the piston on the down stroke. As the piston evacuates the cylinder a fuel and air mixture enters the combustion chamber through the intake valve. Again ideally, the intake valve closes, and the piston begins its upstroke, compressing the fuel-air mixture within the now closed combustion chamber. This continues until the piston has reached the top of the compression stroke, and the fuel-air mixture is as compressed as it is going to get. Then the spark plug fires, and the expanding gases drive the piston down.

Remember, this is only an idealization. In an actual engine valve and spark timing are nowhere near as described above, but the principles still apply.

If you can start with a smaller space above the piston when it is at the top of its stroke, then you will have a higher compression ratio. The compression ratio is the top volume divided by the total volume of the cylinder when the piston is down. The higher the compression ratio, the more energy you can extract from a given fuel-air mixture. So, all you need to do to get more power from a street engine is to increase the compression ratio—almost.

There is a problem, however. Certain fuel blends will pre-ignite at the high pressures produced in a high-compression engine. See the link to octane ratings on Wikipedia above. If you try to run gasoline rated at 87 octane in an engine with a 12:1 compression ratio you will get destructive engine knock, pre-ignition. With high-compression ratios you need high-octane fuel.

So the deal is, if you have a car designed to run on regular gasoline, you are wasting your money purchasing premium fuel. As the Wikipedia article notes, there is not necessarily more energy per fuel-air charge with high-octane fuel.

Here is another note. Engine operating conditions greatly affect an engine’s reaction to low-octane gasoline. About 50 years ago the Honda Motor Company began fielding some high-performance racing motorcycles, and they ran extensive tests. They built an engine with a 12:1 compression ratio and ran it on 70 octane gasoline without engine knocking. To do this they ran the engine at 20,000 rpm. Remember that your standard Toyota Camry seldom gets above 4,000 rpm.

Piston engines for aviation typically use high-octane fuel, presumably because they run high compression ratios, although I have not found any numbers on such engines. Anyhow, everybody seems to know that aviation gasoline is high-test. This has brought me more laughs.

I’m watching the news, and a jet plane has crashed, and the reporter is telling about all that high-test gasoline catching on fire. Where have these people been? Jet engines do not burn gasoline. The best description of jet fuel is kerosene, but there is other stuff mixed in. For example JP-5 is typically used in naval aircraft flying from carriers. In no way can these fuels be likened to high-test gasoline.

You have diesel? Forget about octane. Diesel engines typically run high compression ratios and extract more energy from each charge of fuel and air. Large diesel trucks get greater fuel efficiency than would a comparable gasoline engine, so truck lines can afford to pay a premium price for their fuel. I don’t know if this translates to lower operating cost for a diesel passenger car. Maybe some more research on my part is due.

Gas Buddy

The season is upon us. Drivers are facing the yearly triple whammy when increased driving brings on increased demand and increasing prices, refiners switch over to the more pricey summer blend, and refiners take some capacity off line for maintenance and repair, thereby decreasing supply. Get ready to pay higher prices until Labor Day.

In the mean time there is GasBuddy. If you have been reading these posts for the past year you have noticed several references to gasbuddy.com. My (then) congressional representative, Francisco Canseco, favored making an issue of gasoline prices so voters would get the idea he could and would do something about them and also that the current Obama Administration was the direct cause of high prices. Of course, the history is that Congressman Canseco was defeated in the election last November, and President Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected. Gasoline prices were falling at the time. You can read all my posts about Congressman Canseco by entering his name in the search window at the top of this page.

Anyhow, GasBuddy will provide you a great and money-saving service, if you will take advantage of it. First of all, enter your ZIP code of interest or your city to get the lowest prices around. If you live in a large city, as I do, then entering the city can get you cheap prices that are miles from your house. You might want to use a ZIP code to narrow the search. During the time I was writing the aforementioned posts I was making regular trips between San Antonio and Round Rock, and I drove through New Braunfels. It turned out the cheapest prices were at Buc-ee’s at exit 191 and Pilot at exit 184 on Interstate 35.

GasBuddy will also serve up statistics on prices, and there is even a write-up on what contributes to prices. Here is a price history chart I posted previously:

If you have a smart phone or a pad of some variety, you can get the GasBuddy app for it. I have one on my Android tablet, and I find the map feature helpful. If your device is mobile you can drive along with one hand and check gas prices on the road ahead of you with the other hand. Just kidding. For this it’s best to be married and to have your spouse check prices from the passenger seat while you keep on the lookout for the exit. When we drove out to Florida in February GasBuddy proved to be a real money saver. We could hold off stopping for fuel at the pricey stores and head on down the road where the price was as much as 20 cents per gallon cheaper.

You may wonder where GasBuddy gets all these prices and station locations. It’s from you, dear reader. You can sign up to be a Gas Buddy and report prices. You get points for posting current prices. GasBuddy prices expire after 48 hours, so your help is needed on a daily basis. Of course, it is most likely that every station owner in the country already has a GasBuddy member on staff so they can keep their prices up to date—especially the stations with the cheap prices. If a station manager doesn’t have good prices it’s likely he will not go to a lot of trouble to post them on GasBuddy.

As far as stations go, there is additional information available. What blends does the station carry? Also diesel. An ATM and so on. What credit cards. Other items for sale (food). Some prices are for cash. Some (e.g., Costco) require a membership. It’s all available on GasBuddy.

So, check it out, readers. Let me know if this has been informative.

Sarah Palin Live!

I know what you must be thinking. But you’re wrong. Others get this idea, as well. They think I don’t like Sarah Palin. That could not be further from the truth. I do like Sarah Palin. I just love her so very very much. You might ask why.

I could list a bunch of reasons, but one that pops readily to my mind is I have her to thank in the two previous presidential elections. You see, it was Sarah Palin that got Barack Obama elected in the first place. While I am not one of those vanishingly few who think Obama is the most wonderful and righteous leader this country has ever had, I did vote for him. Twice. And you all know that I hate stepping into a voting both and pulling the lever for a candidate only to have him watch the inauguration ceremonies on television. Sarah Palin saved my day. Thank you, Mrs. Palin. Thank you, thank you.

You see, I had this moment back in the summer of 2008, and Obama already had the Democratic nomination sewed up, and John McCain, a certified war hero and respected senator from Arizona, was scheduled to run against him. So, how is a young (not yet 50) man from Chicago, first term senator, middle name is Hussein, name reminds you of Osama, father was a foreigner, a Muslim, born in Kenya, how is this man going to defeat John McCain. Thank you Sarah Palin. That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me.

And if I had a drum I’d have to bang it!
To add a sort of rumty-tumty touch
But since I left my drum at home
I’ll simply have to say
Thank you very, very, very much!
Thank you very, very, very much!

Also with thanks to Leslie Bricusse.

Anyhow, the magic moment came when the Republican Party announced that Sarah Palin was going to be the vice presidential candidate. Sadly, all of this meant that Senator McCain must have signed off on this debacle, illustrating reason number 34 why John McCain should not be President of the United States. On occasions, when it is most critical, he suffers these devastating lapses of judgment.

Anyhow, what does all of this have to do with umbrellas. You thought I would never get to the point of this post. Here it goes. In the current political dust-up that going on in Washington these days, Palin had a few words to say. This is apparently from her Facebook post:

Scandalous Hat Trick
Mr. President, when it rains it pours, but most Americans hold their own umbrellas. Today in the Rose Garden you dismissed the idea of a Special Counsel to investigate the IRS scandal. With that, your galling political hubris shined bright in the midst of today’s dark clouds.

And, finishing up:

Speaking of coverage, glad you finally called in the Marines… shame it was just to hold your umbrella.

– Sarah Palin

Did she really write that? Others besides me seem to think so, and it’s making the rounds on the news with no apparent push back from Palin. So, what’s the big deal? This is from the Washington Post.

Rain mars Obama’s press conference (Video)
By Aaron Blake, Published: May 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm

A drizzle began before Obama and his guest, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, arrived. As Obama began answering questions, the rain began to fall harder, prompting Obama to call in a couple Marines with umbrellas.
“I’ve got a change of suits, but I don’t know about our prime minister,” Obama said, gesturing to Erdogan.
The Marines held the umbrellas over the heads up Obama and Erdogan and were later dismissed when the rain let up.
Needless to say, the rain prompted all kinds of chatter on Twitter…

Is this what Palin was talking about?

Must be. But then what’s this:

What this is, they are, is a bunch of those cute photos that try to make a point with an appropriate caption. Finally, there’s this:

Now I have to laugh at this one. Somebody asked if this means that Sarah Palin is not a real American. I’m going to have to see a birth certificate before I will answer that question.

But here’s the point (finally). These were posted on Facebook by some of my liberal friends to poke fun at Palin. Really? People, get a life. This is Sara Palin. This is not Theodore Roosevelt. This is not Dwight Eisenhower. This is not Everett Dirksen. This is not Gerald Ford. This is not George H. W. Bush. This not even John McCain. This is not a real Republican. This is Sarah Palin. Allow me to emphasize:

Sarah Palin. SARAH PALIN. You let Sarah Palin drive your conversation? You have got to be joking. People, this like the tail wagging the dog. It’s time we considered issues and people that really matter.

The kink is in the details

So—this was three years ago—we were moving to San Antonio, and we had a house in Dallas, so we needed a new garden hose, because we needed to leave the one we already had in Dallas. So we went to Home Depot or Lowe’s and bought a new one. In fact, we bought two, but that’s another story.

Barbara Jean had some complaints about the hose we had in Dallas, and she said she wanted to be sure she got a new one that would not kink. That’s always a big hassle when you’re watering the plants and pulling the hose, and the water stops flowing because the hose develops a kink about 50 feet back, and you have to stop what you’re doing and go back and straighten out the hose.

Anyhow we found one that fit our needs and we got one (actually two). It’s a NeverKink brand. Here it is.

NeverKink

So we now have two, each with its own rack on the fence out back, and I use them both, but mostly the long one. Here’s a photo.

This hose is guaranteed to never kink.

The Monster That Challenged The World

There is something I like about a movie like this. There’s no beating about the bush with the title. For example, in my effort to review all movies ever made more than 50 years ago I recently recorded Giant. Now, I’ve been to one world fair, a picnic and a rodeo, but for the life of me I can’t get from that title that the movie is about Texas. Some titles are even worse. But this one is different. The title gives away the plot.

Movie poster from Wikipedia

I recorded the movie on a DVD, and I watched it so I could do this review, but I’m getting the details from Wikipedia. First some fine points about the plot.

First, here’s a bit of background on the Salton Sea in California. It hasn’t always been there. Of course, the Pacific Ocean also has not always been there, but the Salton Sea has it’s origin in human history. My understanding is that in 1905 people in California were screwing around with mother nature and allowed the Colorado River to overflow and run off into a depression southeast of Los Angeles. The problem was never corrected, and today about 376 square miles remain flooded to a maximum depth of 52 feet. The surface of the lake/sea is still 226 feet below sea level.

Anyhow, the story opens with this tale, and there is a Navy research base located on the shore, and they regularly test water parachute landings in the lake. Only one time a jumper goes into the lake, and the recovery boat cannot find him. Here it comes. Two sailors are on the boat, and one goes down to look for the jumper. About this time everybody in the audience is shouting at the screen, “Don’t go. You won’t ever come back up.” He goes, and he never comes back up. Then the man remaining on the boat sees… Sees what? The plot thickens, as expected.

Tim Holt is Lt. Cmdr. John “Twill” Twillinger, and he commands a boat to head out on the lake to investigate the disappearance of the sailors. They find an empty boat, two bodies, and a mysterious substance. Twillinger takes a sample of the substance to the laboratory of Dr. Jess Rogers (Hans Conried) for analysis. There he meets sexy Gail MacKenzie (Audrey Dalton), who has a little daughter, played by Mimi Gibson. Twillinger quickly discovers she is a widow and is available. Things begin to move.

I originally planned this to be a Bad Movie of the Week review, but this flick has photography, direction, story, plot and character development. Here’s some character development.

There’s a woman working in the office who is always on the phone gabbing with her mother about the crises developing daily, and how she is going to have to work late again. There’s the woman in the diner who has a pretty young daughter who is dating an undisciplined sailor in defiance of her mother. There’s a pretty young pregnant woman who comes to visit her husband, who works in the lab. Right there viewers spot trouble. Yes, it’s true. The young wife is going to be a widow before the movie is over.

The mysterious substance from the boat turns out to be radioactive, and Twillinger and two divers head back to the lake to recover the body of the parachutist. One of the divers is, sadly, the expectant father. The monster at the bottom of the lake gets him, and they all have to break the bad news to the wife when they dock back at the base.

However, they have recovered an egg from the monster, which appears to be a giant mollusk (looks like a slug). They take the egg back to the lab and store it in a tank of water, being very careful to set the water temperature just low enough to prevent the egg from hatching. There’s a knob on a control panel that sets the temperature, and this knob is carefully pointed out. What do you want to bet that before the movie is over something messes with that knob?

Anyhow, they quarantine the lake, no swimming, and they post signs. The daughter from the diner does not get the word and heads off for a moonlight swim with her sailor boyfriend. What do you want to bet that Stephen Spielberg watched this movie prior to directing Jaws? Yes, it happens. The sailor dives and does not come up. The girl looks around for him and calls out his name. Something tugs at her leg. Dumdumdumdumdumdumdumdum.

The Navy and the scientists figure the monster has reproduced already, and creatures are heading out to the nearby canal. After a few more people get eaten by the monsters the military and the police track them down and set off explosive charges to wipe them all out. Story over. The end.

Not quite.

Back at the lab the sweet widow and her daughter are waiting for Twillinger to come back and make happy. But the little girl has wandered into the lab and has turned the temperature up so the bunnies in their cages won’t get cold. When she returns to the lab later the cages are all smashed, and the bunnies are gone. What do you want to bet that all of the bunnies have been eaten by the monster?

The little girl screams, and her mother saves her from the monster, and they take refuge in a store room. The monster starts breaking through the door.

Meanwhile, Twillinger and the sheriff are heading back to the base, and they debate whether to stop for some dinner on the way. Nah. They don’t stop for dinner. They keep on driving, and they get there just in time to save the mother and child and to kill the last remaining creature. Then they all walk happily together away from the lab. Now, that’s the end.

The movie is in black and white and is from 1957. For a monster flick it’s pretty good.

It was the best of times, it was the end of times

From several news sources. Here is the take from the San Jose Mercury News.

End of the world for Oakland’s Family Radio?

By Matthias Gafni

Contra Costa Times
Posted: 05/11/2013 04:47:42 PM PDT
Updated: 05/12/2013 07:57:26 AM PDT

Two days before the date his boss had predicted as the Apocalypse, Matt Tuter made an auspicious decision: He canceled the skywriters.
Family Radio, the Oakland-based evangelical network run by Harold Camping, had already spent more than $5 million on 5,000 billboards announcing Judgment Day — May 21, 2011 — according to tax documents. Now, Tuter said, he feared that the airplanes, which were to inscribe the warnings in the skies above major U.S. cities, were one expense too many for a business operating as if there really would be no tomorrow.

This is not news. What I want to know is: Why is this guy still around? Didn’t The North Texas Skeptics already do this story two years ago? Here is what was said then:

It’s about that time again.
The end of the world, that is. The EoW seems to come around from time to time. There seems to be no end to it. The world, that is. If The World had the staying power of the EoW, nobody would be worrying about the EoW.
We’ve seen it before. We can start with Ezekiel. Wikipedia has a good description. According to the Talmud, Ezekiel “prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.” He apparently did this on a regular basis but never got the date right (it was about 587 BCE).

More to date, there was the strange case of William Miller during the century before the previous one.

Ultimately Miller predicted the end of the world for 22 October in 1844. The day came and went, and John Tyler was still president of the United States. This reversal eventually came to be known as The Great Disappointment. Other things have come and gone, but the Earth still revolves around the sun, and two of John Tyler’s grandchildren (as of last year) are still alive.

Apparently many of Miller’s followers had sorely counted on the coming of the end of times and had disposed of their earthly belongings, since they didn’t think they would be needing them come 23 October 1844. The Seventh Day Adventist Church was one off-shoot of the scattering of Miller’s true believers.

The Times article continues:

Former and current insiders allege the situation may be even worse than it appears, claiming donations have dropped almost 70 percent since the Rapture prediction proved incorrect, leading to numerous layoffs of longtime Family Radio staff members. Those insiders say the nonprofit mishandled the sales of the stations, reaping far less than they were worth, and is on the hook for millions of dollars to devotees who have loaned them money over the years. Since the failed prediction, at least two letters have been sent to the California Attorney General’s Office requesting an investigation into the station sales and Family Radio’s handling of donations. The office does not confirm or deny investigations.

No. This cannot be so. The American public turned off by failed prophecies? No way. We are just not that smart.

In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins
Highly religious Americans most likely to believe in creationism

by Frank Newport
PRINCETON, NJ — Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

But then, let’s get serious. What has Harold Camping been predicting? The Rapture. The what? Camping has been predicting a fictional event? He needs to get real. Predicting something that cannot and will not happen is the first disastrous misstep on the road to ruin. He needs to start predicting something that can actually happen. He needs to start predicting real stuff. But what?

Well, the lottery for starters. Pick all six Powerball numbers. We all know that picking all six numbers is next to impossible, odds of hundreds of millions to one, but this is not an impossible event. Unlike the Rapture, which is a made up story from a bunch of people with a loose grip on reality.

Here’s one even better. Harold should have been predicting when the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series. Now we all know that the Cubs franchise is never ever going to win the Series, but here is a difference between this event and the Rapture. There is a city named Chicago on the North American Continent, and there is a baseball team called the Chicago Cubs, whereas there is not a Heaven, much less a Hell. Heaven and Hell are made up places essential for the Rapture, again a made up event.

So, Harold Camping’s problem is not so much that he based his Earth-bound enterprise on predicting an improbable event. He based it on predicting a non-event. My advice to Harold is this. If you will predict when the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series, I will make it happen. This is my promise to you. I swear to God.

Y’all come

As mentioned before, we came down to San Antonio about three years ago and contracted with a builder for a new home. We moved in October of 2010 and have been watching the neighborhood grow since then. And that’s what this post is all about. Here is an unabashed promotional for our neighborhood and for our builder. The name of the development is Prue Bend. Search Google maps for Elizabeth Court in San Antonio for a development plan and a satellite view.

20 April 2010, nothing but a bunch of weeds and a pile of dirt.

Jim Leonard of Greenboro Homes worked with us, making changes to one of his available plans and lining up suppliers as we picked out options and submitted change requests. We ordered tile floors throughout the house except for the stairs and the game room. When the tile contractor installed an outlandish pattern in front of the faux fireplace, the construction foreman got that straightened out right away. Everything was built the way we requested, and we enjoyed immense satisfaction.

The builder continued to work with us after the move-in, correcting construction mistakes in a timely manner. When horror of horrors, our new bathtub developed a crack he worked with the installer and got everything fixed right. It’s a quality product, and I highly recommend this builder.

There are still houses and lots available in Prue Bend. It’s a compact development, only 72 lots, fronting onto Prue Road in northwest San Antonio and surrounded on the remaining three sides by green belts. Leon Creek runs along the east and south boundaries of the properties, and the hike-bike trail is immediately accessible. A 75-foot escarpment runs west of the development, ensuring there will not be additional development in that direction. The development is one way in, one way out.

Just completed across the street from me.

Spec house for sale, almost completed

Under construction, sold

Another builder, Frank Prince, built the new house across the street from me plus another next door. A third builder has constructed two spec houses backing onto Prue Road, and one is already occupied. Greenboro Homes has two spec houses available, one already completed. Two other properties have sale contracts, of which one is still a vacant lot. There are a few vacant lots available, so if you want to live anywhere close to me you are going to need to move quickly. Tours available.

The Gathering Storm

I have been reading the book by Winston Churchill, and from time to time there pops up an item that needs to be passed upstream. Churchill was a leading master of the English language—a Nobel Prize in Literature among other testimonials. He started his professional life as a journalist with extensive military experience and entered public life, serving in the British government in the order of 50 years.

From Wikipedia

The Gathering Storm delves into the maneuvering and intrigue that moved the world from the German capitulation at the end of The Great War on into what is now known as World War II. No mass of duplicity and back-stabbing was considered out of bounds in those days and by the parties involved. It was apparent to Sir Winston that a train wreck of massive proportions was coming. Even prior to 1939 he at least once used the term “World War Two.”

One of the masters of intrigue was Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop was a traveled businessman, fluent in English and French, and he gained Hitler’s favor about the time Hitler came to power in 1933. Hitler first made him Ambassador to England and later Foreign Secretary. Ribbentrop was instrumental in setting the stage for Germany’s aggressive drive to war. In the book, Churchill tells of the party given for Ribbentrop in London on the occasion of his departure from the diplomatic post. The story speaks volumes for the character of the person and for the times leading up to the plunge into the abyss of World War II. This is from the Kindle edition:

Herr von Ribbentrop was at this time about to leave London to take up his duties as Foreign Secretary in Germany. Mr. Chamberlain gave a farewell luncheon in his honour at No. 10 Downing Street. My wife and I accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to attend. There were perhaps sixteen people present. My wife sat next to Sir Alexander Cadogan, near one end of the table. About half-way through the meal a Foreign Office messenger brought him an envelope. He opened it and was absorbed in the contents. Then he got up, walked round to where the Prime Minister was sitting, and gave him the message. Although Cadogan’s demeanour would not have indicated that anything had happened, I could not help noticing the Prime Minister’s evident preoccupation. Presently Cadogan came back with the paper and resumed his seat. Later I was told its contents. It said that Hitler had invaded Austria and that the German mechanised forces were advancing fast upon Vienna. The meal proceeded without the slightest interruption, but quite soon Mrs. Chamberlain, who had received some signal from her husband, got up, saying, “Let us all have coffee in the drawing-room.” We trooped in there, and it was evident to me and perhaps to some others that Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain wished to bring the proceedings to an end. A kind of general restlessness pervaded the company, and everyone stood about ready to say good-bye to the guests of honour.

However, Herr von Ribbentrop and his wife did not seem at all conscious of this atmosphere. On the contrary, they tarried for nearly half an hour engaging their host and hostess in voluble conversation. At one moment I came in contact with Frau von Ribbentrop, and in a valedictory vein I said, “I hope England and Germany will preserve their friendship.” “Be careful you don’t spoil it,” was her graceful rejoinder. I am sure they both knew perfectly well what had happened, but thought it was a good manoeuvre to keep the Prime Minister away from his work and the telephone. At length Mr. Chamberlain said to the Ambassador, “I am sorry I have to go now to attend to urgent business,” and without more ado he left the room. The Ribbentrops lingered on, so that most of us made our excuses and our way home. Eventually I suppose they left. This was the last time I saw Herr von Ribbentrop before he was hanged.

Churchill, Winston (2010-07-01). The Gathering Storm (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 4411-4413). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Breaking the back of the Confederacy

It was 150 years ago this month. It was not immediately obvious, it was subtle, it was fateful, it was ultimately fatal. The Confederacy was losing the war.

If you are a fan of Stephen Crane, then you have read The Red Badge of Courage. I also recommend the movie, starring American war hero Audie Murphy. In the opening scenes the soldiers of the Union Army are discussing the rumors they are going to cross the river and hit the enemy from the other side. It’s the Battle of Chancellorsville they are talking about.

Movie poster from IMDB.com

By this stage in the war, now two years on, President Lincoln had determined that the destruction of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia should be a prime objective, rather than the capture of any strategic geography. To this end Union General Joseph Hooker was put into command of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker faced Lee’s army across the Rappahannock River in Virginia, southwest of Washington, DC.

Hooker had superior numbers over Lee by two to one, yet this was to be Lee’s greatest victory. Shots were first exchanged in the morning of 1 May 1863, and Hooker’s indecisiveness and lack of initiative eventually allowed victory to slip away. On 2 May Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson executed a decisive attack on the Union Army’s right flank. Then tragedy struck the Confederacy.

In the early evening following his victory Jackson rode out to inspect the battle situation and was shot by a Confederate picket while returning to his lines. Medical science at the time was still primitive, and it was necessary to amputate Jackson’s left arm. He died on 10 May.

The ultimate tragedy was in the numbers:

Lee, despite being outnumbered by a ratio of over two to one, won arguably his greatest victory of the war, sometimes described as his “perfect battle.” But he paid a terrible price for it. With only 60,000 men engaged, he suffered 13,303 casualties (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, 2,018 missing), losing some 22% of his force in the campaign—men that the Confederacy, with its limited manpower, could not replace. Just as seriously, he lost his most aggressive field commander, Stonewall Jackson. Brig. Gen. Elisha F. Paxton was the other Confederate general killed during the battle. After Longstreet rejoined the main army, he was highly critical of Lee’s strategy, saying that battles like Chancellorsville cost the Confederacy more men than it could afford to lose.

This crippling blow was to be felt a few weeks later when Lee attempted to bring the war to the North. Lee had never lost a battle during the war, and Chancellorsville was his last victory. The Confederacy was on the skids from this battle forward.

The best of times

Laurie Auditorium at Trinity University. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 played by a combination of the San Antonio Symphony and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio. Four grand movements, laying out the conflicted composers inner turbulence with a thorough analysis by the Symphony director.

Then off to Outback Steak House with Nancy and Gary to celebrate Nancy’s birthday. People, this is what Sundays are for.

I say tomato, you say tomato, let’s call the whole thing off.

All right, that does not read the way it sounds when you sing it. Anyhow, I’m idle for a few minutes (hours?) waiting for a Web site I need to be working with to come back on-line. So I have some time to kill, and it turns out that not much exciting is going on right now. That’s how come you’re getting the tomato story.

We have a sun-drenched patio and a shaded back porch, and both generally go to waste, so I was thinking I could put it all to use, and I went down to Home Depot and got some seeds to plant. We have a bunch of pots left over from nursery plants we installed last year, and I had the idea of starting a patio garden. Only I didn’t get clearance from Barbara Jean first.

Not so fast, she was saying. How did I know any of this stuff would grow? I mentioned that if nothing grew I was going to be out only a few seeds and a small fraction of my immense store of idle time. Not so fast, Barbara Jean said.

So we were at Home Depot or Lowe’s, and Barbara Jean saw some tomato plants. Only about three dollars each, and with cherry tomatoes going for three dollars a pint what did we have to lose?

So we bought a plant and took it home and nurtured in one of the nursery pots. I even put up a piece of PVC pipe for the plant to cling to in case it needed clinging. Turns out it did, because the little plant is taking off. Jack would have been envious.

Then the plant put out some tiny yellow blossoms, and our hopes brightened, because we both know that a tomato plant produces sexually, and you need a flower, and the flower needs to get pollinated before it will produce seeds and the fruit that goes with the seeds. A quick check on the Internet reassured us that, yes, tomatoes are self pollinating. We did not need to have another tomato plant nearby to cross-pollinate our tomato plant.

So we waited, and we watched, and the petals dropped off one of the flowers. A close inspection revealed that sexual reproduction had gone on right out on our own patio. A small tomato bud began to appear where the flower used to be. I watched, and when the bud got large enough I brought out the Canon and the macro lens. Here’s the photo:

What results from unprotected sex

I’m telling you folks, there’s going to be cherry tomatoes at less than three dollars a pint on our salad in the future.

Bad Joke of the Week

For those who think I dream all of the up, set your mind at ease. I stole this from an e-mail that arrived in my in box. It’s titled Cajun Magic.

Thibodeaux and Boudreaux entered a chocolate store. As they were looking
at the candy, Thibodeaux stole 3 chocolate bars. When they left the store
Thibodeaux said to Boudreaux, “I’m the best thief, I stole 3 chocolate
bars and no one saw me put them in my pocket. You cant beat that.

Boudreaux replied: “You want to see something better? Let’s go back to the
shop and I’ll show you real stealing.” I’ll steal while the shopkeeper
is watching me and he won’t even know.

So they went to the counter and Boudreaux said to the shopkeeper: “Do you
want to see a great magic trick?” The shopkeeper replied: “Yes” Boudreaux
said: “Give me three chocolate bars. ” The shopkeeper gave him three
chocolate bars and Boudreaux ate all three. The shopkeeper asked: “But
where’s the magic ?”

Boudreaux replied: “Look in Thibodeaux’s pocket.”