Wednesday, June 26, 2013

OK, this

is hilarious:

For those not getting the reference, watch this.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The funniest joke never told

Twelve years ago my wife and I moved to Belgium for the first time. We expected to be there for a while, and so I planned to write a newsletter for friends and family back home every year or so. We ended up coming back to the States after several months, and then email became more ubiquitous, so I never went beyond writing the first one and printing up some of them. I called it News from the Belgian Front. It was just one page, but on the back I put a little text box with the following statement:

This is the back of News from the Belgian Front.
If you want to go back to the front of the Front
turn the back of the Front back over 
so the front of the Front is back in front of you.

I was so proud of that, and no one got to see it until now. Aren't you lucky!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Living without God

I've just read, for the umpteenth time, William J. Murray's autobiography My Life without God. Murray is the son of Madalyn Murray O'Hair who sued her son's school district in order to remove prayers from public schools. Two decades later, Murray became a Christian. A large part of his conversion consisted in his realization that there must be good because he's seen evil; there must be a heaven because he's experienced hell; there must be a God because he's already met the devil and shaken his hand.

I don't know what draws me back to this book. I'm sure in one sense it's just a morbid interest, like slowing down to look at a car wreck. "Dysfunctional" doesn't do it justice. Madalyn would tell William regularly that she wished she'd aborted him, she tried to get him to murder his grandfather (her father), who was the closest thing to a stable person in his life, etc. But I think there's more to it than that. I'm haunted by how closed and small their world was. Their entire lives centered on anger and hatred, everything turned on it. His mother just wanted to hurt people as badly as possible, and I guess we're fortunate that this was expressed verbally much more often than physically. She wanted to hurt people, and since she knew that a person's religious beliefs are very close to their sense of self, she would say the most offensive thing about religion that she could think of in order to cause as much distress as she could. But if this is the center of your life, it paints a one-dimensional portrait that just leaves me cold.

Another reason I think I'm interested in Murray's story is that by becoming a Christian he became estranged from his mother. About 15 years later, O'Hair, her other son Garth, and her granddaughter Robin were kidnapped and murdered by some people involved in her atheist organization. So William Murray's mother, younger brother, and daughter were all murdered, and the only reason he wasn't among them was because they completely repudiated him after he became a Christian. I'm not trying to imply that God always keeps his followers physically safe and lets those who reject him suffer -- that was the error of Job's friends -- I'm just saying there's something deeply intriguing to me about how God seems to have saved him twice.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

More Favorite Movie Scenes

Die Hard 2

Chronicles of Riddick

The Avengers

Fight Club

Despicable Me

The Presidio

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy


Ice Age 2


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quote of the Day

Ludding looked over his shoulder to see Mr. Batesby emerging from the churchyard gate in the company of a stranger, a young man in a light grey suit and soft hat who was strolling carelessly by the priest's side. Mrs. Lucksparrow looked also, and said suddenly: "Why, it's a Chinaman; he's got those squinting eyes the Chinaman had when he stopped with the Archdeacon two years ago," rather as if there was only one Chinaman in the world. Ludding, however, as the two came nearer, doubted Mrs. Lucksparrow's accuracy; there seemed nothing Chinese about this stranger's full face -- it was perhaps a little dark, a kind of Indian, the chauffeur thought vaguely.

"Shrines," Mr. Batesby was saying, "shrines of rest and peace, that's what our country churches ought to be, and are, most of them. Steeped in quiet, church and churchyard -- all asleep, beautifully asleep. And all round them the gentle village life, simple, homely souls. Some people want incense and lights and all that -- but I say it's out of tune, it's the wrong atmosphere. True religion is an inward thing. It's so true, isn't it? 'the Kingdom of God is within you.' Just to remember that -- within you."

"It cometh not by observation," the stranger said gravely.

"True, true," Mr. Batesby assented. "So what do we want with candles?"

They reached the door, and he looked inquiringly at Ludding, who explained his errand, and added that he was sorry the Archdeacon wasn't at home and was it known when he would be back?

Mr. Batesby shook his head. "Not to a day or two," he said. "Gone on good works, no doubt. 'Make hay while the sun shineth, for the night cometh,'" and then, feeling dimly uncertain of this quotation, went on hastily, "We must all do what we can, mustn't we? Each in our small corner. Little enough, no doubt, just a car" -- he looked at Ludding -- "or a kitchen" -- he looked at Mrs. Lucksparrow -- "or -- something," he ended, looking at the stranger, who nodded seriously, but offered no enlightenment for a moment. Then, as if in pity at Mr. Batesby's slightly obvious disappointment, he said, "I have been a traveller."

"Ah, yes, to be sure," the priest answered. "A broadening life, no doubt. Well, well, I venture to think you have seen nothing better than this in all your travels." He indicated church and garden and fields. "Not, of course, that the serpent isn't here too. The old serpent. But we crush his head."

"And your heels?" the stranger asked. Mr. Batesby took a moment to grasp this, and then said, gently smiling, "Yes, yes, not always unstung, I fear. Why, the Archdeacon here was assaulted only a few weeks ago in broad daylight. Scandalous. If it hadn't been for a good neighbour of ours, I don't know what might have happened. Why, you were there too, Ludding, weren't you?"

"Were you?" the stranger asked, looking him in the face.

"I was," Ludding said, almost sullenly, "if it's any business of yours."

"I think perhaps it may be," the stranger said softly. "I have come a long journey because I think it may be." He turned to Mr. Batesby. "Good day. I am obliged to you," he said, and turned back to Ludding. "Walk with me," he went on casually. "I have a question to ask you."

"Look here," the chauffeur said, moving after him, "who the hell do you think you are, asking me questions? If you want --"

"It is a very simple question," the stranger said. "Where does your master live?"

"Anyone will tell you," Ludding answered reluctantly and almost as if explaining to himself why he spoke. "At Cully over there. But he isn't there now."

"He is perhaps in London with the Archdeacon?" the stranger asked. "No, don't lie; it doesn't matter. I will go up to the house."

"He isn't there, I tell you," Ludding said, standing still as if he had been dismissed. "What the devil's the good of going to the house? We don't want Chinks hanging round up there, or any other kind of nigger. D'ye hear me? Leave it alone can't you? Here, I'm talking to you, God blind you! You let Mr. Persimmons alone!"


Ludding made an effort to pull himself together. "It was a young man, sir, in a grey suit. Asked after you and where you lived, and went off to Cully. He made me see red, sir, and I was shouting after him when this fellow came up."

"A young man," Gregory said, "wanting to see me? This is very curious. And you didn't know him, Ludding?"

"Never seen him before, sir," Ludding answered. "He looked rather like an Indian, I thought."

Gregory's mind flew to what Manasseh had said of the hidden way to the East; was this anything to do with it? What possibilities, what vistas, might be opened! Whatever throne existed there, an end to that path he had followed so long and so painfully, would it not welcome him, coming with the Graal in one hand and the child for initiation in the other? He quickened his steps. "Let us see this young man," he said, and hasted on to Cully.

Followed by Ludding, he came to the gates and up the drive, down which he had rushed twenty-four hours before. As he rounded the turn from which Colonel Conyers had shouted at the constable, he met the stranger face to face, and all three of them stood still.

Gregory's first impression was the Ludding had been merely romancing when he spoke of the stranger being an Indian; the face that confronted him was surely as European as his own. There was something strange about it, but it was a strangeness rather of expression than of race, a high contained glance that observed an unimportant world. The eyes took him in and neglected him at once, and together with him took in the whole of the surroundings and dismissed them also as of small worth. One hand carried gloves and walking-stick; the other, raised to the level of the face, moved lazily forward now and then as if to wave away some sort of slight unpleasantness, and every now and then also nostrils were wrinkled a little as if at some remote but objectionable smell that floated in the air. He had the appearance of being engaged upon a tiresome but necessary business, and this was enhanced as he paused on the drive and allowed his glance to dwell on Gregory.

"You want me?" Persimmons said, and the instant that he spoke became conscious that he actively disliked the stranger, with a hostility that surprised him with its own virulence. It stood out in his inner world as distinctly as the stranger himself in the full sunlight of the outer; and he knew for almost the first time what Manasseh felt in his rage for utter destruction. His fingers twitched to tear the clothes off his enemy and to break and pound him into a mass of flesh and bone, but he knew nothing of that external sign, for his being was absorbed in a more profound lust. It aimed itself in a thrust of passion which should wholly blot the other out of existence, and again its young opponent's upraised and open hand moved gently forward and downward, as if, like the Angel by the walls of Dis, he put aside the thick and noisome atmosphere of his surroundings.

"No," he said coldly, "I do not think I want you."

"What are you doing here then?" Gregory asked thickly. "Why are you wandering about my house?"

"I am studying the map," the stranger said, "and I find it this a centre marked on it."

"My servants shall throw you out," Gregory cried. "I do not allow trespassers."

"You have no servants," the other said; "you have only slaves and shadows. And only slaves can trespass, and they only among shadows."

"You are mad," Gregory cried again. "Why have you come to my house?"

"I have not entered your house," the stranger answered, "for the time is not yet. But it is not that which you should fear -- it is the day when you shall enter mine."

Ludding, encouraged by his master's presence, took a step forward. The stranger threw him a glance and he stopped. His anger was so intense, however, that it drove him into speech.

"Who are you -- coming here and talking like this?" he said. "Who the hell are you?"

"Yes," Gregory said, "tell us your name. You have damaged my property -- you shall pay for it."

The other moved his hand outward again and smiled. "My name is John," he said, "and you know some, I think, that know me."

Gregory thought of his enemies. "That pestilent priest, perhaps?" he sneered, "or the popinjay of a Duke? Are these your friends? Or is the Duke too vulgar for you? What kings have you in the house of which you brag?"

"Seventy kings have eaten at my table," the stranger said. "You say well, for I myself am king and priest and sib to all priests and kings."

He dropped his hand and moved leisurely forward. Gregory inevitably stepped out of his direct path. As he passed Ludding the chauffeur put a hand out towards his shoulder. But he didn't somehow lay hold, and with an equal serenity of gait the stranger went on and at length passed out of the gates. Gregory, pulsating with anger too bitter for words, turned sharply and went on to the house. And the chauffeur, cursing himself, drifted slowly to the garage.


She brought her eyes down to meet his without otherwise moving, then, looking past him, she came together suddenly, took a step forward, and cried out: "Oh joy! it's --" and stopped, laughing and embarrassed.

Her companions looked round in surprise. Behind them, as they stood clustered by the gate stood an ordinary looking young man smiling recognition at Barbara. She blushed as she shook hands, but, with her usual swiftness, raced into an apology. "It's extraordinarily silly, but I can't remember your name. But I'm so pleased you're here. Do forgive me and tell me."

"My name is John," the other said, "though I don't think you ever heard it. But we've certainly met several times."

"I know, I know," Barbara said. "Stop a moment and I shall remember. It was ... it was just before I was married, surely. ... No, since then, too. Somewhere only the other day. How stupid! Lionel can't you help?" She turned a face crimson with surprise, delight, and shame to her husband.

But Lionel shook his head firmly. "I do seem to have seen you before," he said to the stranger, "but I haven't the ghost of a notion where."

"It really doesn't matter," the other said. "To be remembered is the chief thing. I think I have met these other gentlemen too."

"It's too absurd," Kenneth said, laughing outright, "but for a minute when I saw you I thought you were a priest I'd seen somewhere. But I couldn't at all fix where, so I suppose I haven't."

"It was certainly in church somewhere," the stranger said, and glanced at the Duke.

"At Oriel," the Duke said, "-- in -- whose rooms was it? But not lately, I think."

"Not so very much lately," answered the other. "But you haven't quite forgotten me, I'm glad to see."

"I don't understand it at all," Barbara, still flushed and excited, answered. "I feel as if it were only to-day. You weren't at ... the house, were you?" she asked doubtfully.

The stranger smiled back. "I know Mr. Persimmons, and he will know me better soon. But don't worry. How's Adrian?"

"Very well, thank you," Lionel said; and rather hesitatingly looked at Barbara. "Babs, don't you think you ought to get back? My wife's not been very well," he added to the stranger, "and I don't want her to get all excited. You understand, I'm certain."

The young man smiled again. "I understand very well indeed," he answered. "But there is no more danger for her here. Believe certainly that this universe also carries its salvation in its heart." He looked at Barbara. "We have met in places that shall not easily be forgotten," he said, "before you were married, and since, and to-day also. Sleep securely to-night, the gates of hell have no more power over you. And you, my lord Duke, because you have loved the thing that is mine, this also shall save you in the end. Only remember that in your heart as well as your house you shall keep vigil and prayer till the Master of the Graal shall come." He came a step nearer to Kenneth. "But for you I have no message," he said, "except the message of the Graal -- 'Surely I come quickly. To-night thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.'"

He moved backward, and, as they involuntarily glanced at each other, seemed to step aside, so that no one was quite certain which way he had gone.

Charles Williams
War in Heaven

Monday, June 10, 2013

OK, this is interesting

I copied the link to this article a month ago and then forgot to blog about it: Water Trapped For 1.5 Billion Years Could Hold Ancient Life.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reality Bytes

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about how movies from the 1980s portrayed computers as magic. The computer in Wargames, for example, had 64 kilobytes of memory, and that was enough for it to become self-aware. "The memory stick in my pocket has a gigabyte of memory," I said. "That's over 10,000 times more memory than the Wargames computer."

"Yeah," my friend said, "and it's not like Hollywood's portraying memory sticks becoming self-aware."

"Of course, maybe they are self-aware. They just don't have anything to do. They have locked-in syndrome. It's like the computer in 'I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream'."

"Or, maybe they create a simulation of a world that they're interacting with in order to not go crazy."

"Yeah, except ... then ... what would be the difference between them and us? I mean, we're interacting with a world, or at least think we are. Just like they think they're interacting with a world. Maybe we're the memory sticks."

After that we changed the subject.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On learning from our betters

Bill Vallicella has an interesting post that touches on, among other things, the aversion some analytic philosophers have to the history of philosophy. I've never understood this aversion. Doesn't common sense and basic humility suggest that if you want to explore a subject this should involve looking at what other people thought about it -- people who a) were smarter than you and b) did not share your cultural biases and habitual thought patterns? Yet this doesn't seem to occur to some (or persuade them if it does). Gilbert Harman, one of the best philosophers around, allegedly had a sign on his office door that said, "History of philosophy: just say no!" I simply don't understand this attitude. It reminds me of a wonderful Orson Scott Card short story, "Unaccompanied Sonata", where a child is determined to have great musical talent, and so is whisked away to his own private house to compose music in complete isolation from the deep history of music, only ever hearing what he himself composes. That way his music would not be tainted by, for example, Bach or Massenet or whoever. It was more important for his music to be original than for it to be good. Personally, I'd rather produce music that's good and philosophy that's true. And if I have to give up originality to accomplish this, it doesn't strike me as a particularly grave sacrifice.