Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

here's to nearly astonishing hubris and newspeak

This today in my inbox:

"Dear NRCC supporter,

House Republicans have pledged to stop to the “Pelosi Recession” caused by a bloated Democratic budget that spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much. We are working each day toward real economic reform to help create new jobs instead of digging our country deeper in debt. Each Republican vote in Congress puts our nation on strong footing to rebuild the economy with sound and fair fiscal principles.

Our first fundraising deadline is March 31st. I need your help.

The NRCC is $50,000 away from our online fundraising goal. It’s more important than ever for us to post strong numbers compared to the Democrats. Help us reach our goal by following this link to make your immediate contribution before next Tuesday at midnight."

That is nearly awesome in it's hubris. It's so extreme that somehow I find myself delighted. This reaction in myself seems strange to me, but there it is. One almost has to admire it. As in "wow, if I could muster a hundredth that level of self confidence, I could be ... filthy rich, at the very least."

The Unlikely Disciple


College student Kevin Roose decided to leave Brown University and go to America's largest evangelical university, Liberty, which was founded back in the 70's by evangelical icon Jerry Falwell. He was kind of "undercover", since he wasn't really a Christian and didn't really buy into all the stuff one is expected to buy into as a student at Liberty. He wanted, however, to understand the students and culture of Liberty. He was asking himself questions like "Are they really so different from me?"

The result is the just published "The Unlikely Disciple". From the excerpt I read, along with the trailer below, it looks like Roose is amazingly sympathetic, and he chooses to empathize and humanize where many have mocked and belittled and alienated. I want to be more like this guy--willing to recognize that "the other" is just as human and real and important as I am--willing to go outside my comfort zone in order to engage people and stretch my boundaries. Rock on, Kevin Roose!

(Now I must off to see if I can arrange to get a free copy somehow, since I'm definitely too broke to buy it.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Infant male circumcision is Horrible!

In the news today is a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine that claims "significant reduction" in risk for HIV, HPV, and Herpes for *African* men who are circumcised over those who aren't.

65% of male infants are circumcised in the U.S. This strikes me as completely outrageous. It's a cruel, horrible thing to do to an infant. We can do all these studies and show all these "significant" results (and by the way "significant" here is defined in a *totally* arbitrary way). The truth, however, is that we don't take a knife to tiny little baby boys because it's going to help prevent them from getting sexually transmitted infections, nor because it might prevent a urinary tract infection, nor because it's going to cost more to do when they are older, if they choose to do it then. We take a knife to tiny little baby boys because we inherited this practice from a 3000 year old religious rite, a rite first given by a god who also demanded that the person he gave it to *kill* his son in a mountaintop sacrifice.

There's my two cents worth.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pretend spiritual lives

"When we have beliefs that are not attached to actions - thats when we begin to live a “pretend” spiritual life"

-Jim Henderson, here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This made my day

Learned today: Planck Mass, Schwarzschild radius, and BMI

A planck mass is approximately 2.17644 X 10^-8 kilograms. This sounds really small. But it's actually not all that small, as small things go. For instance, a flea's body has a mass of approximately 4000 to 5000 Plank Masses.

Also: Schwarzschild radius (that "rzsch" thing in his name is kind of kewl, isn't it?) This is the radius which, if a given mass is compressed to inside that radius, nothing (that we know about yet) could prevent that mass from continuing to collapse into a black hole. That's kind of kewl. Which is to say that any particular mass has a certain Schwarzschild radius. For instance, the sun has a Schwarzschild radius of ~3 kilometers. To get your head around this, check out this image. This is an actual scale comparison of the sizes of the earth and the sun.

Then consider that the earth has a circumference of ~40,000 km. So you'd have to compress the entire sun down to about 1/13,000 the size of the earth. Or to put it another way, down to a size where it would fit between your house and whatever is 3 km from your house.

Or the Schwarzschild radius of the earth is about ~9 millimeters, or something like the size of a pistachio. Which means if you could compress the entire earth down to the size of a pistachio, it would become a black hole.

Also: the biggest black hole observed to date has a mass equal to about 18 billion suns, and a radius of about 353 AU (Astronomical Unit--the approximate average distance between the earth and the sun), or nearly 10 times the radius of our entire solar system. Kewl.

Using a handy little formula I found, I figured out that Benjamin's Schwarzschild radius is approximately 1.48 X 10^-25 meters.

To me, this illustrates the absurdity of the West's obsession with small weight and small body size in humans. Strangely, if I were compressed to this size, not only would I be a black hole, and be incredibly tiny, but I would also have an enormous body mass index of ~6.757 * 10^26. Probably if being a black hole didn't kill me, having a BMI this big surely would. =)

what is the opposite of "favorite"?

Monday, March 16, 2009

why John Beck with his property vault is a world class asshole

Here's a confession. I used to spend time, occasionally, working all night in places that tended to have on these televisions with late night early morning infomercials on them. The sound was turned down, but you could still get the gist. There were infomercials for things like penis enlargement products and home exercise kits of various sorts which promised all sorts of things. It always seemed to me that these infomercials are aimed at relatively poor, uneducated folks. The promises were always so absurd. One of these infomercials was John Beck with his property vault. If you buy into his system, it promised, you could make more money than you ever dreamed with relative ease.

I remember feeling vaguely angry at those people who were running those infomercials, and the way they must surely be taking advantage of people.

Recently someone I care about rather a lot got a bit interested, somehow, in John Beck's system. Then he realized it wasn't really for him, and tried to take advantage of their promises that you could opt out any time in the first 90 days. Instead, he continues to see attempts by them to charge his credit card account obscene amounts of money. He's currently having to work with his bankers to get these charges reversed and make sure no more pop up.

This really pisses me off royally. The person I'm talking about is in a really rough place right now, looking for some hope just about anywhere. It makes my blood boil that John Beck and his sleazy company are so willing to jump in to take advantage of that with false hope, practically stealing money in the process. I hope John Beck and his team of executives all got royally burned by Madoff. I hope they all get Job-like cases of boils, and find out their fathers were barren. I hope they inherit money on the order of Bill Gates' billions, and that it's still not enough to pay their medical bills.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

in error in several places =) (and laughter)

For some reason this just cracked me up.

"Another recent document that was received by the PC(USA)'s General Assembly was a report entitled "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing". This document, which is more familiarly known as the "Trinity Report," suggested that the terms "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" may be supplemented (although not replaced) by other language, including such formulations as "Speaker, Word and Breath" and "Fire that Consumes, Sword that Divides, and Storm that Melts Mountains". The NWAC considers both of these documents to be in error in several places.
The New Wineskins movement believes that such declarations are a departure from the PC(USA)'s historic grounding in biblical theology and its own reformed confessions."

From here

Rock on--no mo' breakfast!

This totally made my day. You have to go to the youtube video itself (double click on the video) then click on "more info" over to the right, and slowly allow yourself to realize the implications ...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Happy happy happy

am I that I'm no longer in the place that this person is in. I totally used to think like this--that I was right, and others were wrong, and that this justified me being incredibly rude and unkind. I totally used to couch my disapproval and criticism as "prayer requests". I find it an enormously awesome stroke of good fortune that I ecscaped the toxic religious system in which I grew up, which was a place where this sort of thing is bound to flourish.

I got this email from a person who I used to know today:

"Benjamin, after reading your blogspot on justice and compassion I would like to be removed from your contact list. I'm glad your Mom is not hear to see what you are reading and forwarding. It would break her heart to see you embracing all that she stood against. My prayer is that soon you will come to understand the faith she tried to pass on to you so that you can in turn pass it on to your little ones.
Until then, ***********"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How did I miss this

back when I was sort of swept away in the whole Obamania thing? The rhythm, the melody--it's just fun.

And he mentions all 50 U.S. states. which sounds kewl in that Kenyan accent =)

H/T http://obamamessiah.blogspot.com/

Is this guy crazy? David Wilkerson's "urgent message"

"Crazy", of course, is one of those words that in some sense has become fairly useless.

I remember reading David Wilkerson's "The Cross and the Switchblade" as a teenager. It was fairly popular in church circles back in the day.

Recently he has predicted huge worldwide disaster. I mostly think he's a nut. There it is. I feel kind of sad about all the people who will hear his words and believe him and feel even more fear than they already do.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Le Maison en Petits Cubes

Have you seen this recent academy award winner for best animated short? I found it brilliant. It's only about 12 minutes total.

Part 1

Part 2

If those stop working (which they will soon, no doubt, due to copyright infringement) just do this you tube search and someone will have posted them again.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

new phone number

I have a new phone number. I am loathe (there's a quaint old expression) to publish it here. If you have my current phone number which I've had for a while, it's going to stop working on Thursday March 12. Please feel free to leave a comment or email me if you need my new phone number =)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

and now for a relatively more manageable number

Happy 7th B-day, Miss Eowyn Ady!

I love you =)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Kepler space telescope, or how to spend $600 million

This is about a millions times kewler of a way to spend $600 million dollars than this (Okay, admittedly development and purchases of the latter is more in the $2 Billion+ range, but ... you understand what I'm getting at.)

See also here. and/or here.

I'm totally convinced *finding* a for sure earth like planet will drive the search for FTL.  But I've probably read too much science fiction.

Graham's number

Graham's number is the most unbelievably kewl thing I've learned in a while. Also called G64, it's a number so enormous it could blow your mind.

  Here's how the up arrow notation works.  (It's ... nested iterations of nested exponents.) Even G1, the very bottom layer, is gargantuan beyond imagination.

Check this out.  We know that the last 10 digits of G64 are 2464195387.

Learning about Graham's number gave me shivers of delight and awe.  And Knuth's up arrow notation is pretty damn kewl too.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

the old spelling of "google", and the unutterably kewl googol multiplex

(the unutterably kewl thing is bolded, further down)

Yeah--all you people under 20 years old. Did you know that "google" used to have a different spelling (and a different meaning)?

Used to be "googol". It meant a really fraking huge number. Specifically 10^100. (apparently a number bigger than the total number of atoms in the observable universe.)

Some fellow named Milton Sirotta coined it in 1938. I bet a lot more people have heard of Sergey Brin and Larry Page than ever heard of Milton Sirotta. Still, the word had a good run, 60 years.

According to the wiki article, the official name of 10100 is
ten duotrigintillion on the short scale, ten thousand sexdecillion on the long scale, or ten sexdecilliard on the Peletier long scale.

No wonder Sirotta coined "googol" for it.

See also googolplex, which is 10googol (that is, 1010100)

Do any of you understand the following section from the googleplex article above? Cause I do, and am delighted by it.

In pure mathematics, the magnitude of a googolplex is not as large as some of the specially defined extraordinarily large numbers, such as those written with tetration, Knuth's up-arrow notation, Steinhaus-Moser notation, or Conway chained arrow notation. Even more simply, one can name numbers larger than a googolplex with fewer symbols; for example, 99999

This last number can be expressed more concisely as 59 using tetration, or 9↑↑5 using Knuth's up-arrow notation.

Even larger still is the "googol multiplex", which was defined by Paul Doyle (University of Maryland, College Park, 1981), using Knuth's up-arrow notation as Gp↑↑Gp, where "Gp" = a googolplex.

Yet, much larger still is Graham's number, perhaps the largest natural number mathematicians actually have a use for.

A googolplex is a gigantic number that can be expressed compactly because of nested exponentiation. Other procedures (like tetration) can express large numbers even more compactly. The natural question is: what procedure uses the smallest number of symbols to express the biggest number? A Turing machine formalizes the notion of a procedure or algorithm, and a busy beaver is the Turing machine of size n that can write down the biggest possible number. The bigger n is, the more complex the busy beaver, hence the bigger the number it can write down. For n = 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 the numbers expressible are not huge, but research as of 2008 shows that for n = 6 the busy beaver can write down a number at least as big as 4.640 × 101439.

What's even kewler is that the googol multiplex, and Graham's number, and other rather unfathomably large numbers, are all still less than even the smallest infinity. (Or ... at least smaller than the the first transfinite cardinal number, aleph null)

This made me laugh ~re: "frak"

From the wiki article on "frak":

During the Battlestar Galactica panel at the 2008 New York Comic Con, SCI FI Channel programming executive Mark Stern had this to say about the word: "The thing is, they've done so much with that word, it's almost like, beyond. I just was reading a script the other day that had gagglefrak in it. Gagglefrak. Okay, I think you're done, if you're at gagglefrak."[6]

(Note the use of "like" in this quote.)

Benjamin doesn't understand this:

"We believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. It contains all that people in any age need to know for their salvation."

from here.

What does this mean? "All" is a big word. Even back when I found a lot of comfort, help, encouragement, and inspiration from the Bible my life, my story, would have been hugely poorer if it had been the only source of these things. It feels like a very limited sort of salvation, all the knowledge needs of which are found in the Bible.

Maybe someone can help me out here? I'm guessing that probably at least a simple majority of people in the Christian Reformed Church are fairly normal, reasonable people who must surely mean something by the above other than what it seems to be saying.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps a majority of the people in the CRC don't ever really think too much about the above statement at all, and never have. Who knows? thoughts?