America first?

Apparently, this list of reasons why America actually sucks is making the rounds on the internet. I’m the first to question unbridled ‘America is Number One!’ jingoism, but I’m highly suspicious of this list for several reasons:

  1. It was created to prove a point, so the data is necessarily selective
  2. The sort of short bullet points that the list employs is subject to gross oversimplification
  3. Many of the points in the list are not given comparative to other countries (e.g., “Our workers are so ignorant and lack so many basic skills that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training” So, how does that compare globally?)
  4. I frankly question the veracity or quality of some of the data (e.g., “Yet Americans work longer hours per year than any other industrialized country, and get less vacation time.” I recall seeing a chart of average work hours, and South Korea led every other country by several hundred hours. Apparently, the South Koreans have some really bizarre ideas about the average work week)

I would really like to see someone pick apart the list. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or inclination.

Reverence for creation through science

This morning, I happened to catch Alex Chadwick’s Radio Expeditions report from the Ecuadorean rain forest with entomologist Rex Cocroft. Dr. Cocroft’s musings at the end of the piece struck me, so I transcribed them:

It can seem very strange to people, I think, and very ludicrous, to see some grown person who’s spending his time chasing around tiny, strange bugs in the woods, but I think of it like somebody who’s a musician. You’re not just a pure musician in the abstract. You play something, and once you pick up an instrument, all the principles of music are there. And if you’re studying biology, then any individual living thing that you can study has all the principles of biology wrapped up in it, and it has a long evolutionary history that has solved a very impressive set of problems and challenges and has a beautiful set of adaptations.
[The tree hoppers] are just very different from us, but they have just as many challenges in their lives, and fabulous, very finely tuned adaptations for dealing with them. So they’re not at all primitive or simple. They’re actually very complex and advanced, if you will.

I don’t know whether Dr. Cocroft bellieves in any dieties, but I am much more impressed with a God who can devise evolution and let it run its course than one who just spits out creation fully formed. The more I learn about the complexities of creation via science, the greater my reverence for it.

Has anyone ever bought WinZip?

So, whenever I get a new computer, one of the first things I do in setting it up is to install the evaluation version of WinZip. I’ve never run across anyone who has ever bought a WinZip license. If you have done so or know someone who has done so, let me know. I’m doubtful that WinZip has ever sold a license.

The Da Vinci Code

I’ve considered writing something about The Da Vinci Code (read the book, may eventually see the movie on DVD, but based on my dismal movie watching history, probably won’t), but I really couldn’t think of anything to add to the billions of words already being written about the book and movie. As usual, Gordon Atkinson sums up my feelings perfectly and much more eloquently than I could have done:

I’ve read the Da Vinci Code. I plan on seeing the movie, which I hear is better than the book. I liked the book. It was a fun read.
I have no interest in discussing Dan Brown’s scholarship or lack thereof. Anyone who paid attention in seminary has heard of these extra-biblical sources and knows that Mr. Brown’s book is an adventure story and not a biblical or historical treatise. The Da Vinci Code has roughly the same relationship to biblical and church history that James Bond has to the world of secret agents. And hey, what’s wrong with that? It’s a good read. Like a Clancy novel.

(Note: I only attended seminary vicariously via Katie)

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

I just completed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. This is the first in the series of novels about an elderly Sherlock Holmes and his young female apprentice.
I browsed across this book in the Pflugerville public library quite some time ago, and when I saw that it was about Sherlock Holmes, I checked it out for Katie who is a big Sherlock Holmes fan. Katie has since read all of Ms. King’s novels and takes part in an email list for fans of the novels.
It’s difficult to re-use an existing character–especially one so well known as Sherlock Holmes–but Katie thinks that Ms. King has captured the essence of Holmes quite well, even though she sets her novel thirty years after the original stories and gives him a female partner. I didn’t enjoy the novel as much as Katie–as the sexual tension and budding romance between Holmes and his companion didn’t do as much for me as it did for Katie, but I enjoyed the novel all the same.

The mind of a six-year-old

My conversation with Samuel on the way to school this morning:
Samuel: When I grow up, I’m going to be a little taller than you, and Hannah is going to be about the same as you.
Me: Yeah, that’s probably about right, but I’m not sure Hannah will be quite that tall.
Samuel: Well, we’re all going to tower over Takako. Even Mommy towers over Taka.
Me: Well, Mommy is a little taller than Takako, but I wouldn’t say that she ‘towers over’ her.
Samuel: Well, the midget people who used to own the earth aren’t taller than Takako.
Me: I’m afraid I’m not familiar with these midget people.
Samuel: You know, the midget people who used to own the earth.
[Pause while I try to figure this one out]

Do you mean the ones from National Geographic?

Yes, that’s what I mean.

On serendipity

Recently, there was an interesting essay in the St. Petersburg Times about serendipity. The author is concerned that it is in danger in today’s world:

Think about the library. Do people browse anymore? We have become such a directed people. We can target what we want, thanks to the Internet. Put a couple of key words into a search engine and you find – with an irritating hit or miss here and there – exactly what you’re looking for. It’s efficient, but dull. You miss the time-consuming but enriching act of looking through shelves, of pulling down a book because the title interests you, or the binding. Inside, the book might be a loser, a waste of the effort and calories it took to remove it from its place and then return. Or it might be a dark chest of wonders, a life-changing first step into another world, something to lead your life down a path you didn’t know was there.

I’ve become a big public library patron the last couple of years. During one of the interviews for my new job, the interviewer asked me some personal questions, among them, “What are you reading right now?” One of the books was a novel that I’d picked up while browsing through the new books display at the library. It was by an author I’d never heard of and I couldn’t recall the author’s name for the interviewer. I remember feeling slightly embarrassed that I wasn’t reading something intentional or directed, that I didn’t have any sort of goal in reading this novel.. After reading this essay, I realize that there’s absolutely no shame in browsing.

The quiet majority of believers

In a nice essay in Time Magazine, Andrew Sullivan argues that we should not let the politicized Christian right co-opt the term ‘Christian,’ as their belief in the intermingling of politics and religion reflects neither the true message of Christ nor the beliefs of most Christians. Instead, he coins a new term for them–‘Christianist’–defined as follows:

Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Why I like working with geeks

The scene: Sitting with several coworkers in the conference room waiting for someone in another location to join a conference call. Everyone is awkwardly quiet.
Coworker 1: So, how about those Mavericks? Wasn’t that an awesome game last night between them and [some other sports team]?
Other coworkers and me: <blink>