Saturday, May 23, 2015

Arguing with people who know they're right

I try not to be drawn into pointless Facebook arguments, and it is never a wise idea to argue with anyone about religion. 

Yet I have become enmeshed in an unfolding and probably never ending dialogue with people who are extremely faithful Christians. My role has become "doubting Thomas" but a worse version, more like "Don't you see that your faith keeps you trapped in a thoughtless vacuum bubble Thomas." 

For example, one of these people, whom I will not name, posted a photo of a surgical team in an unnamed hospital engaging in a prayer circle. Perhaps it was a stock photo or staged for some reason. 

I took the bait and posted that if I saw nurses and surgeons at a hospital in which I was a patient performing such a rite, I would drag myself to another hospital. And rhetorically, I posed the question, "If you were in a hospital in which the surgeons danced weirdly with a monkey skull before your surgery would you be as sanguine?"

The point being, a show of familiar faith is one thing; a show of an unfamiliar faith is something different, and perhaps disturbing. Ultimately the idea was, could you imagine yourself as a Christian in a foreign non-Christian nation, undergoing surgery, and how would you feel is a heathen rite was performed on your behalf?

The response was purposely (I assume) obtuse. Was I against freedom of prayer? Was I not aware that the group in the photo was praying to God, not a monkey skull.  No one addressed my questions but that should not have surprised me.

If you believe you know the truth based on a 2,000-year-old book, or a story passed down from 2,000 years ago that seems like many other myths, then no argument can sway you. 

These's something about that frame of mind that I find frightening. What's the difference between being certain of Christianity and being certain of Islam?  Or, for that matter, any other absolutist philosophy, including Nazism, or Communism?  

So I swore on a Facebook of electrons not to engage in any more useless arguments with these people, some of whom are sort of obnoxiously all-knowing in a restricted claustrophobic kind of way.

Freedom of speech, as I posted, also means freedom from speech, which is as easy as killing a Facebook account. And eliminating a Facebook account is about as easy as obtaining a tour of North Korea's nuclear weapons plant. 

So, there you have it. Would Jesus be on Facebook, assuming he ever existed?

Umm, like, you know, right?

I was listening to Connecticut Public Radio one recent morning, during the long process of waking up and I was very impressed -- negatively -- by what I heard.

The discussion was extremely interesting and, I think, important. But some participants kept saying "you know."

Those on the radio who were professional  broadcasters typically spoke in full sentences and hardly ever used filler phrases such as "you know," "like," and so on.

Other people on the program (Wheelhouse, I believe it was) were "ya know"ing so much it made my head hurt. I am not a public speaker nor do I ever speak on radio, which is good, because I umm and hmm and uh just like everyone else.

However, I do not think I say "you know" as an all-purpose noun, preposition, semi-colon, or whatever it's being used as. I'll admit to using "like" occasionally, but I'm usually saying it for rhetorical effect, as in, "So, like, then he says, why do you have horns? And I go, you know, I'm like the devil," etc.

I am not an overzealous grammarian or  a person who diagrams sentences
 and I am aware that English usage does change over time.  

How hard is it to change one's speech to avoid saying "you know" every fifth or sixth word? That's the question. If it were as difficult as learning Latin, then I would understand why people in the communication biz say "you know" with abandon.

Otherwise, why not train yourself to stop saying "you know" constantly? You would sound better and way less irritating, especially for people who are just waking up. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Gift of Love

Either  society is in its last days, everyone is getting older, or both.

Try looking through the Carol Wright Gifts catalogue and you'll see what I mean.

 First off, as in virtually all catalogues and magazine ads, the products being advertised are advertised by people without the condition that the advertisement is for. 

I should rephrase that. An add for wrinkle cream has a model without even a slight hint of a wrinkle who is possibly in her early 20s.  The potential consumers, however, actually have wrinkles and are probably much older.

This has always been the case, but now that I am wrinkled, crinkled and sprinkled, it makes more of an impression. Genie Slim-leggings, for example, are modeled on a woman who has perfectly shaped legs, hips and so on. 

Embroidered dresses for $22, which are probably intended for single elderly women, are shown on what can only be described as beautiful young women.  Then there is the ad for a gizmo to remove facial hair. She has as much hair as a balloon.

The fantastic nature of magazine ads and articles became clear to me several decades ago, when I was reading Men's Health. The people who write and otherwise produce it, suggest that its readers are young ambitious executive types who exercise like maniacs and have several opportunities with gorgeous women a few times a week.

It dawned on me that the magazine is a fantasy for paunchy old not-extremely successful guys who are married or who haven't had a date in the past 36 months. Coincidentally, like all of these magazines, the cover depends on lists, and these lists are always about sex, diet, and sex.

Ten ways to win her back; 8 things she cannot ignore; 11 ways to create bulging muscles, 9 ways to lose 8 pounds, 5 ways to make her understand you better, and so on.

A magazine editor actually confirmed all of this once in an unguarded moment. 

Anyway, we're leafing through the Gift catalogue, and we go from waist shapers for a woman who ways perhaps 110 pounds, to -- "maximum pleasure for him," a device once advertised in plain envelopes.  On the next page is "Men's Mood Pleaser."  To quote, "Get yourself in the mood with this soft, sensual stroker."  


Then a few more pages of knick knacks, cheap sheets, crew socks, and so forth, we get a double-truck spread (no pun there, really) on the amazing butterfly kiss, the maestro of strokers, pocket size pleasure kit (for her), and help strengthen your prostate (for him).  

Then it's back to therapeutic pillows, slipcovers, lanterns, mosquito killers, and armchair organizers.

Am I a naive prude? I don't think so.

 Nor do I think there's anything wrong with people over the age of 20 or 60 having sex, with or without a partner. I just did not expect to see these things so casually pitched in a catalogue for wrinkled, cheap,  bargain hunting overweight, self-conscious men and women. 

Live and learn, I guess. But if I had any young children, I would feel obligated to hide this catalogue, lest they learn about strokers, passion ribs, and other sex toys, from that dirty old lady, Carol Wright.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Slow down to avoid disaster

Decades from now the few who have the aptitude to read and the motivation to study history will be incredulous that people used to drive individual  un-linked vehicles.

"How could that possibly be true?" they will muse. 

By then light rail will handle most transportation and "automobiles" will no longer be autonomous. They will be sensibly guided by computers that will also record locations, trips, driving habits, and other personal information.

Meanwhile, drivers have lost any knowledge they ever had about the Newtonian physics that govern how wheeled vehicles operate on snow, ice, and other low-friction surfaces.  Think back to high school:  an object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest remains at rest; all of that stuff that your insane physics teacher directed at you without any context.

Sir Isaac Newton, a pretty unpleasant and strange character, and also a genius, created experimentally verifiable theories of gravity, motion, optics and even invented calculus. So independently did Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  Somehow mathematicians chose Leibniz's confusing notation.

Among Newton's accomplishments were his "laws" of mechanics, such as Force equals mass times acceleration; mass times velocity equals momentum, and the idea that potential energy was converted into kinetic energy at the rate of one-half of the product of mass and the square of velocity.

Newton also linked the dropping of apples (as the story goes) with why the moon orbits Earth, and correctly described the inverse square law of gravitational attraction and calculated the gravitational constant of Earth at 32 feet per second per second. 

These relatively simple laws were sufficient  to solve artillery firing solutions and guide Apollo to the moon and back. Albert Einstein's equally revolutionary theories of relativity supplanted Newton's laws, but many engineers and scientists continue to use Newton's far simpler formulae. Einsteins ideas take over at very high speeds and enormous masses.

Fortunately, cars cannot travel at even one millionth of a percent of the speed of light, because drivers apparently do not understand or appreciate that their vehicles must conform to the laws of physics. No, driving a 2-ton sports utility vehicle does not protect the driver from losing control on ice or allow him to stop any faster than a conventional car. 

The brakes of four-wheel drive vehicles are no more resistant to "slipperiness" than a two-wheel drive car. Moreover, even if they could, a vehicle that weighs double takes correspondingly higher forces to start and stop. 

Yet light trucks glide past you insouciantly on the interstate, spraying your windshield with sand, salt and slush. The sand is spread to increase friction between tires and road surface.

There are two types of friction: static (for example) would be pushing a heavy box down the driveway, and dynamic, the friction that rotating wheels experience. 

The odd properties of water further complicate winter driving. The melting point of frozen water drops under pressure. A car's mass, or weight, melts the surface of an ice patch, reducing the frictional coefficient of the ice.

Which is to state the obvious. Driving  safely on ice or snow simply requires a slower speed. That's all, basically. Simple. 

Problems can arise if the car's brakes lock, changing dynamic friction into static, and causing a skid. To avoid a skid, drive slowly and slow down before trying to stop. 

Ultimately, to avoid accidents, collisions, injury and so on, just drive slowly