Everyone should be a patriot, by all means. Patriotism is natural to humanity, and loving your patria is as natural and virtuous as loving your pater. But don't make the mistake of confusing your patria with the political nation-state under whose power you happen to find yourself. That is called nationalism and nationalism has run roughshod over patriotism for the last 200 years. It was nationalism that told Occitanians that they had to become Frenchmen, Tuscans that they had to become Italians, Bavarians that they had to become Germans, Navarrans that they had to become Spaniards, and Virginians that they had to become Americans. Nationalism always and everywhere attempts to subsume a healthy patriotism under a love for a vast political state, and in the process turns what is primarily a peaceful appreciation of one's culture and people into a militant hunger for dominance and control on the world stage.
23 November 2014
04 November 2014
Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your wearisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a little in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything save God and what can be of help in our quest for Him and having locked the door seek Him out.
-from Proslogion by Anselm of Canterbury
25 September 2014
I wrote this for my Omnibus students at school. We're reading the Iliad right now, and I realized that no one has really explored the musical possibilities for this book.
So, as a step in that direction, I present to you a scene from ILIAD: The Musical! This is the part of the book where Odysseus, Phoinix, and Aias come to Achileus's tent to persuade him to rejoin the fight:
(Knocking: Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock)
Do you wanna kill some Trojans?
Or chase Hektor ‘round the walls?
I think some aristeia’s overdue;
Some tripods wait for you
And gold and girls and all-
We’re getting pretty battered;
It’s quite apparent that Zeus is on your side.
Do you wanna kill some Trojans?
We really wish you’d kill some Trojans.
Achilleus: Go away, Odysseus
Odysseus: Okay, bye...
Phoinix: (Knocking) Do you wanna kill some Trojans?
Come on lets go out and slay.
We never see you in the field;
Pull out your shield
Without you it’s not the same-
We both grew up together
Come on do a favor
For an old friend…
Aias: (Knocking) Achilleus?
Please, I know you're in there,
People are asking where you've been
They say to put your courage to the test;
We know that you’re the best, just let me in.
We used to be unbeatable;
Now it’s clear
That we all need you back.
Do you wanna kill some Trojans?
We really wish you’d kill some Trojans.
31 August 2014
Science is both a philosophical and rhetorical activity. This must be understood first. In order to do science one must first be a philosopher, and in order to successfully participate in scientific discourse, one must be a rhetor. That many scientists today would deny this does not mean that they are free from philosophical assumptions or that they their discourse is free from rhetoric; it simply means that they are unconscious of their uses of philosophy and rhetoric. The sooner that we can strip the residual Victorian veneer of pristine objectivity from the natural sciences, the sooner we can come to better understand why we as a society find scientific arguments to be persuasive and the better we can evaluate the philosophical underpinnings of our science and make it more useful as a tool for discovering truth. In this area at least, the despised and maligned creationists are ahead of the curve compared to most institutional scientists in that they recognize the huge role that personal worldview and philosophy play in the interpretation of scientific data.
To see this in action, we only need to look at the advancement of science from the Middle Ages to today. The story we often tell is one of steady uphill progress from one new objective fact to another, as humanity pulls itself from the dark ages and into the splendor of the intellectual light of our modern times. However, when we look at the history we get a different picture. Most of what we call the advancement of science came not because of irrefutable, objective arguments compelling men to climb from their darkened caves, but because certain theories arose at the precise moments that philosophical paradigms in society were changing and eager audiences were creating the perfect rhetorical situations for persuasion.
For example, Galileo’s arguments about cosmology weren't irrefutably airtight. However, his science of mechanics was attractive to the rising mercantile interests of his day and he pitched his ideas in the direction of the rising class of merchants and entrepreneurs who were more open to the new science because it boosted their ability to turn a profit. Likewise rulers were often resistant to the new science for the very same reason; they wanted to maintain the hierarchy of society. Later when the Puritans with their postmillennial hopes were looking for the means of taking dominion and remaking the world, Newtonian physics came along and gave them a mechanical world and the means of pulling all the right levers to control it. As society became more secular in the Enlightenment, man became very lonely sitting at the steering wheel of nature and with the advent of the Romantic period began to want to locate himself as part of nature rather than as lord over nature. This is an essential background to understanding why Charles Darwin’s theories were so readily accepted in their time. It wasn’t because everyone saw in them objective and irrefutable truth. Erasmus Darwin wrote erotic poetry about plants, and his grandson Charles formulated a theory that placed man firmly in place as a part of nature and cousin to the other creatures. Both were products of their time and the spirit of Romanticism inspired them both. Later Darwin’s theory gained strength because the idea of optimistic onward and upward evolution lent strength to British imperialism. Still later Darwin’s theory was used to support ideas of eugenics and racial purity. Today Darwin’s theories are a symbol of cultural optimism, and, in the absence of a belief in a biblical Adam and Eve, a basis for the brotherhood of all mankind.
Now, why have I spent so much time on this background for what could have been a very simple book review? It’s because I believe it is important to see how science is made persuasive and how scientific thought is even shaped by prevailing cultural commonplaces and philosophies. The natural sciences, especially the scientific method with its combination of abduction, induction and deduction, have proved extremely useful heuristic devices. However, we live in an era of scientific imperialism in which the claims of science are seen to be objective, absolute and totally separate from the type of discourse that goes on in the realm of the humanities, ordinary rhetorical persuasion. Science is seen to be authoritative without the need to persuade and this lack of self-awareness among scientists often creates a dangerous calcification of scientific dogma as scientists lock ranks against any dissenters from the orthodox position and use coercion rather than persuasion to police the bounds of the discipline.
|Nobody expects the Dawkins Inquisition!|
1) Common Descent: the idea that all living things are descended from a common ancestor.
2) Natural Selection: the idea that evolution proceeds because those organisms with traits more conducive to survival thrive and pass on their genetic information while those organisms with traits less conducive to survival die out and fail to pass on their genetic information.
3) Random Mutation: the idea that new genetic traits that make an organism more fit for survival arise from random genetic mutations which are then selected because of their survival value.
So what does Behe believe? Well he uncritically accepts 1) Common Descent and 2) Natural Selection. He also accepts random mutation as a mechanism of evolution but also wants to say that many mutations in the history of species have not been wholly random but have been directed for a purpose by a higher power or designer.
What does this mean for Behe as a scientist? Well, practically speaking, nothing. Wholly accepting everything evolutionary theory teaches while making the caveat that one believes some mutations to happen by design rather than chance would not practically affect the way one does science at all. Reading some of the reviews for this book ahead of time though, and noting the level of anger many in the scientific community had towards the book, I fully expected to see pictures of Michael Behe and Ken Ham (of Creation Museum fame) wearing friendship bracelets and illustrations of Noah and his sons riding on dinosaurs on the deck of the ark.
|Although that would have|
been pretty cool...
All right, I’m stepping off of my soap box now to actually review this book. In The Edge of Evolution, Michael Behe accepts all three tenets of evolution as outlined above, but wishes to see how far random mutation can actually go in the process of evolution. For most of the book, he is focused on malaria: how humans have evolved over the years to combat malaria but more importantly how malaria has evolved rapidly over recent years to resist the drugs used against it. He points out that organisms like the parasite that causes malaria are excellent ways to study evolution because they reproduce so rapidly and thus the possibility for mutations, both harmful and helpful, are much greater than in the human gene pool. In fact at any given moment, there are more malaria parasites in the world than the total number of humans who have ever lived. He goes on to show exactly what types of mutations do and do not occur in malaria and what limits this might tentatively put on pure, unguided Darwinian evolution. Along the way he also discusses the HIV virus and bacterial flagella to illustrate the limits and possibilities for random mutation.
I found the book to be fascinating and enjoyed reading it very much. I found the last two chapters in which he fleshes out his Intelligent Design views and talks about the nature of the designer to be pretty weak, but this could be because I’m not a huge fan of ID to begin with. I believe in a God “in whom we live and move and have our being” rather than in a quasi-deistic tinkerer who pops in every now and then to make adjustments to the machine. As a reader your mileage on these last two chapters may vary, but overall the book was an educational and fascinating look into a world I don’t normally explore in my reading.
16 August 2014
A good pie is hard to find. Today's world is plagued by the sorts of pies that you get from the grocery store bakery or the type you get by using pre-made crust and canned filling. And yet, a truly well made pie is a thing of terrible and awesome beauty. Obviously one way to guarantee that you get a homemade pie is to, well, make it yourself at home. However, sometimes you want to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor, and so I've decided to share some great places to get good pie near Lynchburg, VA.
|Montana Plains Bakery|
in Lynchburg, VA
|The pies of Montana Plains|
|Mountain Fruit and Produce|
An unassuming gas station
harboring a delicious secret!
|Inside Crossroad Store|
Finally, we come to the end of our pie journey. I've saved this one for last because it is, without question, the best pie on the list. But also it is the farthest flung location from Lynchburg. If you're driving north on Interstate 81 through Virginia, you will go past the town of Staunton. Now Staunton isn't a huge place, but it's got some neat things there. You'll find the American Shakespeare Center (which is the world's only replica of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse), you'll see the Frontier Culture Museum, and, if you're interested, you can also visit Edelweiss, the best German Restaurant ever. But none of these places are the reason for your visit, oh no. You are stopping in Staunton for one reason and one reason only. Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant.
|Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant|
|Pie Heaven at Mrs. Rowe's|
|Of course you could buy|
Mrs. Rowe's Little Book ofSouthern Pies and make
your own. But it's not going
to be the same.
15 August 2014
The miracle of the loaves and fishes is the only miracle of Jesus (aside from the Resurrection) related in all four gospels. It's one of those stories that you hear again and again in Sunday school. But have you ever wondered, "Hey, just what are barley loaves anyway, and how did first century people make them?"
Okay, I'll admit, I'd never wondered that before... But I am a big fan of Alton Brown on the Food Network! And a few years ago Alton Brown put together this little segment on barley loaves for his pastor as an introduction to a sermon. It's in the style of his hit show Good Eats. Enjoy!
Gospel Grains - Sermon Intro from Johnson Ferry on Vimeo.
12 August 2014
“…[the state of Virginia is] so great and honorable that, no matter into what part of the world you go, when you say, 'I am a Virginian,' you are expected to be an honorable, brave gentleman or lady; and I hope that you will all try to keep up the reputation which the sons and daughters of the Old Dominion have always had.” – Mary Tucker MagillI am a Virginian, and very proud of my heritage. As such, I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually come to appreciate that wonderful weed successfully commercialized for the first time in 1609 by John Rolfe in Virginia; that weed that built Virginia’s economy, and was even used as currency for many years by early settlers; that weed that is today so demonized by politicians and the press. That’s right; I’m talking about tobacco.
|Fun Fact: The world's first |
ever anti-smoking campaign
was perpetrated by the Nazis
in Germany. Make of that
what you will...
Now in the realm of tobacco smoking, there are three main options: cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Among these big three, which should we choose? Let me give you my opinion of each from experience.
Most people I know who smoke cigarettes don’t do it because they love the taste of tobacco; you can barely taste the tobacco in most cigarettes. Those who smoke cigarettes generally do so because the cigarette is a convenient vehicle to get as much nicotine as possible in a short amount of time. It’s sort of like people who drink Bud Light; I know they don’t do it for the taste.
Moving on to the next option, cigars are certainly a good smoke on special occasions. However, I’ve found them to be an intense, and sometimes overpowering, experience. They require a long amount of time, and leave you with sticky hands and a sour stomach. Also, if quality matters to you, they are fairly expensive. No, I understand the appeal of cigars, but they aren’t for me.
|That's me. Quiet.|
The problem I often see with pipe-smokers, however, is that while they’re smoking, they're constantly fiddling with their pipes: tamping, stirring, and relighting. It often appears to be such a fussy ordeal that I wonder why they want to smoke a pipe at all. Surely they don’t enjoy the constant and careful tending of their tobacco bowl.
Pipe smoking should be about enjoying the taste of the tobacco, and enjoying good conversation with friends while you do it. It shouldn’t be fussy or complicated. Now, the real secret to having a good smoke with a pipe is all about what happens before you light up. If your pipe is packed correctly, you can smoke it all the way through smoothly without relighting or constant tamping. So allow me to walk you through the steps of packing a pipe so that you can enjoy your pipe without the fidgeting.
Step 1: Start with a clean pipe.
If your pipe hasn’t been cleaned, do so. Make sure the bowl is clear of buildup, run a pipe cleaner through the step several times, put it to your mouth and suck in to make sure plenty of air is drawing through.
Step 2: Fill your pipe loosely with tobacco to the top.
Step 3: Pack that tobacco down so that the pipe is now half full.
You can buy one of the pipe tools with a tamper to do this, but I usually just use my thumb to do the job. The tobacco should still be springy after you tamp it, but it should be packed tight enough that it doesn’t spring up and fill the whole bowl again. If your tobacco is too tightly packed, your pipe won’t draw correctly and will go out. If the tobacco is too loosely packed, then it will burn too quickly and the bowl of your pipe will get hot. This can damage the pipe and burn your fingers as well.
Step 4: At this point, fill the pipe again with loose tobacco, and tamp it down once more.
This time you’re aiming to have the pipe ¾ full of tobacco. It should still be springy to the touch however and not rock-hard. Perhaps you should take a draw on the stem to make sure you’re still getting good air flow through the packed tobacco.
Step 5: Now fill the bowl to overflowing once more, and this time just gently press it down so that some of the tobacco is still sticking up from the bowl. At this point we’re ready to light it.
Step 6: Hold the stem of the pipe in your mouth and draw slowly while you hold your match or lighter to the tobacco. Move the flame in a circle around the tobacco until it begins to smoke and you see the edges burn and crinkle. Then take it out of your mouth. We’re not quite ready to smoke yet.
Step 7: Now tamp down the tobacco flat with the top of the bowl.
You should have a pretty even bed of ash covering the top of the rest of the tobacco. This will ensure that you get a nice even burn.
Step 8: Okay, now we light it for real. Put the pipe in your mouth again, and using the same method as before move the flame evenly around the bowl of the pipe. This time, however, draw deeply on the pipe so that the flame is pulled down into the tobacco and the pipe begins smoking in earnest.
That’s it! Your pipe is lit. If you’ve followed all the above steps correctly, then you should be able to smoke through your entire pipe without a relight. Once the tobacco burns down a bit, you may want to give the ashes at the very top a little stir to break them down, but don’t tamp the tobacco again once you’ve lit it! That will only put out your pipe and make you have to relight it again!
|And there you have it, folks!|
01 August 2014
The book that my wife read to the children, The Passionate Observer, is a selection of Fabre's writings accompanied by lavish watercolor illustrations by artist Marlene McLoughlin. Fabre is perfectly suited for reading out loud to children because, while being imminently scientific and detailed, he eschewed scientific jargon that obscured rather than revealed meaning. He wrote, "My conviction is that we can say things without using a barbarous vocabulary: lucidity is the sovereign politeness of the visitor. I do my best to achieve it." Based on the strong recommendation of my kids, I sat down and read The Passionate Observer and loved it. It is only a smattering of Fabre's writings, covering such creatures as Halicti (a type of bee) Grasshoppers, and Cicadas. He lovingly describes the appearance and behavior of each creature and presents his observations, freely drawing on autobiographical material to keep the reader's interest. It's a great introduction to Fabre and a short book, only 133 pages, so it's a quick read.
After that brief foray into Fabre, I was left wanting more, and so I turned to a longer book with a specific focus: The Life of the Spider. In this book, Fabre primarily explores two types of spiders, Lycosa spiders or "wolf spiders" and Epeira spiders. The book begins with Fabre's experiences with one type of Lycosa, the black-bellied tarantula. I learned that this spider Lycosa Tarantula is the true bearer of the name " tarantula". The spider Americans call a tarantula is actually a member of the family Theraphosidae. After discussing the tarantula, Fabre introduces the Epeira, a family that includes many garden spiders and orbweavers. He then spends five chapters going into more detail about the life and instincts of the Lycosa and then six chapters on the life of the Epeira. Along the way he gives nods to a few other types of spiders as well: the crab spider, the labyrinth spider and the clotho spider.
The book ends with an appendix about the geometry of the Epeira's web, which is a bit more theoretical than the other parts of the book. You see, even though Darwin was a great admirer of Fabre, and the two carried on a correspondence with one another, Fabre was never convinced by Darwin's theories of random mutation and natural selection. In the appendix, Fabre details the amazing geometrical features of the Epeira's web and how the same features are found in other parts of nature. He discusses how though evolution may explain the logarithmic spiral of a snail's shell, it does not explain the logarithmic spiral of an Epeira web, which requires a particular action by the spider that is not tied to any particular physical characteristic. Clearly this instinct is not based on physical mutation but is a special kind of knowledge implanted in the spider which is only activated at a certain point in its life cycle.
After reading these two books, I've been spending a lot more time looking at the ground and at bushes. Fabre sparked a wonder in the natural world that I haven't felt since I was a kid, and that's something we can all use more of. Many of his books are available for free on the internet, so go and learn about the world of insects with the inimitable observer himself! Meanwhile I'll keep observing my Leucauge Venusta and the Pisaurina Mira family living in the bush near our mailbox.
27 July 2014
October 2, 1935 - July 17, 2014
|Granddad toasting |
my lovey bride and
me at our wedding.
|Granddad with a new toy.|
|Life Lesson Number 37:|
Who needs teeth, anyway?
09 July 2014
From The Passionate Observer by Jean-Henri Fabre
The real, which is perfectly simple, and supremely beautiful, too often escapes us, giving way before the imaginary, which is less troublesome to acquire. Instead of going back to the facts and seeing for ourselves, we blindly follow tradition.
He lives twice who watches the life of others.From The Life of the Spider by Jean-Henri Fabre
Formerly, to describe this group, people said 'articulate animals,' an expression which possessed the drawback of not jarring on the ear and of being understood by all. This is out of date. Nowadays, they use the euphonious term 'Arthropoda.' And to think that there are men who question the existence of progress! Infidels! Say,'articulate,' first; then roll out, 'Arthropoda,' and you shall see whether zoological science is no progressing.Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien
...the eager applause with which Beowulf's desire to go away on an adventure [was greeted] is very likely derived from a fairy-tale situation in which men were glad to be rid of the strong loutish youth.
...when Anglo-Saxons made Sceaf the son of Noah born in the ark, it was not mere genealogical fantasy...It was rather a process, due to a line of thought closely related to the ideas of the Beowulf-poet. It gave the northern kings a place in an unwritten chapter (as it were) of the Old Testament.
The English language has changed--but not necessarily improved!--in a thousand years.