A Special Birthday

A silver service! What I've always wanted!
... to cover in a cupboard, in the dark
where fluff and tarnish never need be flaunted
or subject to her eyebrow's question mark.
See, "service" isn't what the silver does
for you, think more of what you do for it:
you rub its genie, bear it proudly thus,
as postured polished plumage to transmit
your worth to birds two generations older
so she can hold her head high with her peers.
I wonder how she'd cope if I had told her
that using it would age me fifty years.
My bitten tongue reminds me I'll be haunted
by archived gifts: the things she always wanted.

The Unreality of Plantinga

This ramble was inspired by a discussion in an OEDILF limerick workshop. Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism was raised by Pilgrim4Truth and roughly summarized as follows:

a) Evolution theory suggests our faculty of ratiocination is honed only for survial purposes, it need not be perfect
b) Naturalism assumes that all phenomena have natural causes
c) Ratiocination assumes we are able to resolve all logical problems rationally

These axioms have a self-contradiction, one has to be modified.

There's more discussion over here, and more of Plantinga's own words here.

(As I meander on this topic, I'll also refer to Platonic forms which were also raised in passing in the workshop.)

I consider Plantinga's EAAN blinkered and completely disconnected from reality. I think his primary error is to think in terms of changes in genetics being the only factors that can change our beliefs, our ways of gaining reliable knowledge or our faculty of ratiocination. Just from a genetic storage assessment, you can tell that there is not enough information in our genome to pass beliefs or systematic rules of logic (or any situation-specific behaviors, for that matter). Evolution honed our instincts, our ability to hold memories and beliefs, our ability to communicate and to make predictions based on beliefs, but the beliefs themselves and most of our ways of thinking (correct and incorrect) are cultural, not genetic. Beliefs are formed and refined by communication within our communities and by constant comparison with reality. Evolution can only claim responsibility for giving us a survival advantage in the form of communication, memories, and general intelligence, all fallible but good enough to allow culture to take the wheel.

Sonnet for a TSA SPOT Officer

Avram Grumer on Making Light sees the sinister Orwellian side of the new TSA program:

TSA officials will not reveal specific behaviors identified by the program -- called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) -- that are considered indicators of possible terrorist intent.

But a central task is to recognize microfacial expressions -- a flash of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflects emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt...

And I agree that there will always be false positives.

You've seen my flush, my irises dilating,
But did your training leave you unprepared
For passengers like me, heart palpitating,
Locked to your eyes, so tragically ensnared?
Unable to resist your polished mettle,
Your uniform, authority, oh yes!
And discipline, and... let my pulse rate settle;
I look away, but does that signal stress?

Encased in distant ice, no jokes allowed,
Your shoulders bear the fears of those who'd fly
In fragile tubes, souls cowed within a crowd.
Is there no human space where we could talk
And touch and share? No. Wait. Perhaps if I
Pretend to some discomfort as I walk...

Letters I didn't write

Gone to climb on the shoulders of giants.
Don't worry. I'll be safe.

I'm safe but I can't un-climb.
Wish you were here.

Christmas need not be divisive

I wish this time of year could be celebrated by everybody, each in their own way according to their personal beliefs, without being offended by diversity. Nobody owns Christmas time. If Christmas time could be owned, then it is best viewed as a cuddly toy, grabbed by one greedy child, snatched away by another, and then grasped firmly by many and slowly torn apart in their efforts to assert ownership.

Let Christmas time be shared by all. It is not another opportunity for proselytizing, for locking a particular religion or lack of religion into a broader culture; it is not a time to compete to see whose ideological icons can feature most prominently in public places, and it is not a time to sanitize our language, to try to eradicate all traces of Christ from our traditional greetings. Let it be a holiday from the culture war, when we can sit back and remember that we are all human.

I wish you a peaceful Christmas.

♦ Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa


The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them .... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.

-George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In a religious relative's Christmas roundup of the year's events, I read of an unfortunate fall: three metres off a ladder to the ground resulting in dislodged vertebrae and much pain. Apparently his guardian angel was looking out for him, because he could have broken his neck.

There but for the grace of enlightenment go I.

A Christmas Legend

Once approaching Christmas, weary, wandering past the shop-fronts cheery,
Finding cherub choirs dreary, clichéd, trite, an awful bore,
I recalled a long forgotten legend of the sole begotten
Son of God rebelling, yelling at his Sire till he was sore.
Once he'd read the (now best-selling) compilation, he was sore;
Once he'd studied sacred lore.

Gentle Jesus mildly, meekly celebrated sabbath weekly,
Reading from the books that bleakly told his culture's callous core,
Knowing that overt omission of this odious tradition

Could be seen as sick sedition by the priests who kept the score.

So he studied, answering questions to the priests who kept the score;
Not one verse did he ignore.

Junior J, a child precocious, read the tales of his ferocious
Father's monstrous and atrocious acts of genocidal war,
Things His "light unto the nations" did in barbarous altercations
With their neighbors (and relations): "Kill them all. Don't spare the gore.
Kill the women and their children. Kill the people I deplore.
Keep some virgins, nothing more."

Then he read the Egypt story, how the mighty God of glory
Slew the firstborn heirs, ignoring anyone who daubed their door.
Why were innocents included? Was his Dad unjust, deluded?
Couldn't this creator carve up just the Egyptian chariot corps?
Why was death so misdirected? Many there had earned it more,
As described in ancient lore.

All inside J's brain was burning, all the tales he trusted turning
Into hateful, stomach churning travesties that made him roar,
Till old Joseph stopped him crying, said, "I knew your mum was lying
'Bout her virgin pregnancy, supposedly a holy spore.
'S'what I'd call a mythconception, like most tales from days of yore.
Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more."

J sat down, relieved but shattered. Nothing in those scriptures mattered.
Gold, myrrh, frankincense, they flattered; Joseph, though, had given more.
J could see a great ambition, fighting priestly opposition,
Preaching love despite tradition, for the outcast and the poor.
Wipe out organized religion. Value people, prince or whore.
All are human, nothing more.

Since that time interpretation, decoration and conflation
Made a human rebel's message into magic he'd abhor.
While you're busy present buying, hark those herald angels vying
For your faith in Jesus' dying, drumming up a Christmas War,
Where one faith alone is free to rule the yule and write the law.
Call that Christmas? What a bore!

PhD @ 84

A coworker of mine is justifiably proud of his dad:

Mr Lajoie retired in 1988, but decided to embark on a PhD to
test his theory on cyclones after giving a talk on the topic in his
home country.


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