Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 14 February 2004

Topic: Oddities

A Valentine's Day Item - Presented Without Comment
Chocolate Obsession Leads to Physics Discovery
Fri February 13, 2004 06:11 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Princeton physicist Paul Chaikin's passion for M&M candies was so well known that his students played a sweet practical joke on him by leaving a 55-gallon drum of the candies in his office.

Little did they know that their prank would lead to a physics breakthrough.

The barrel full of the oblate little candies made Chaikin think about how well they packed in. A series of studies have shown they pack more tightly than perfect spheres -- something that surprises many physicists and Chaikin himself.

"It is a startling and wonderful result," said Sidney Nagel, a physicist at the University of Chicago. "One doesn't normally stop to think about this. If you did, you might have guessed what would happen, but you'd have guessed wrongly."

The issue of how particles pack together has intrigued scientists for centuries and has implications for fields such as the design of high-density ceramic materials for use in aerospace or other industries.

Chaikin and his colleague, chemist Salvatore Torquato, used the candies to investigate the physical and mathematical principles involved when particles are poured randomly into a vessel.

Writing in Friday's issue of the journal Science, they said they found that oblate spheroids -- such as plain M&Ms -- pack surprisingly more densely than regular spheres when poured randomly and shaken.

When poured in, they said, spheres occupy about 64 percent of the space in a container.
M&Ms manage to pack in at a density of about 68 percent.

"We just stretched a sphere and suddenly things changed dramatically," said Torquato.

"To me, it's remarkable that you can take this simple system with common candies and probe one of the deepest problems in condensed matter physics."

Mars Inc., which makes M&Ms, did not help sponsor the research although it donated 125 pounds of almond M&Ms to Chaikin, Princeton said in a statement.
It's not about love, but it will do.

Posted by Alan at 09:25 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

Practicing Religion in These Times: Empty Rhetoric versus Actually Doing Something (if you can...)

In and earlier post Janet Jackson, Jesus and Newsweek I said some unkind things about religion. Sorry.

But then there's this.

See Ex-Ranger pleads guilty in abortion-bombing plot
Larry Lebowitz, The Miami Herald, February 13, 2004

The basics:
A former Army Ranger inspired by anti-abortion activists pleaded guilty Friday to devising a plot to blow up abortion clinics and gay bars nationwide.

Stephen John Jordi, an evangelical Christian from Coconut Creek with a flaming cross tattooed to his right forearm, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted firebombing.

In stark contrast to his agitated, grizzled appearance after his Nov. 11 arrest, Jordi was calm and clean-shaven during the brief hearing at U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.

In return for the guilty plea, prosecutors John Schlesinger and Gerald Greenberg agreed to drop two other counts: spreading explosive information and possession of an unregistered firearm.
This evangelical Christian seems to be ready to God's work.

Yes, evangelical Christians claim to be about love, and justice in this world. This guy seems to be a little heavy on the justice side.

And how does one get to where Steve here got?
Estranged siblings said Jordi had become increasingly impassioned about a bombing campaign after the arrest of Eric Rudolph last May.

Rudolph, who is accused of orchestrating a bombing campaign against abortion clinics, gay bars and the Atlanta Olympics park, disappeared into the Appalachian Mountains for five years before he was captured last May.

Like Rudolph, Jordi was planning to embark on a firebombing campaign targeting abortion clinics, gay bars and churches that refused to take a tough stance against abortion.

Authorities said Jordi was banking on survival skills he learned in the Army so that he could hide in the mountains between bombings, like Rudolph.

Jordi also corresponded last year with Florida Death Row inmate Paul Hill, who was convicted for the 1994 murders of a Pensacola abortion doctor and his bodyguard.

Jordi and the informant flew to Starke to for Hill's execution on Sept. 3. They were photographed outside the prison with leading members of a militant anti-abortion group called The Army of God.
Well, The Army of God is a curious concept. Steve here thinks he is doing, or was attempting to do, God's will.

Yes, that's not how some others understand God's will. Some chat about love and tolerance.

This business about "purifying the world of evil" through the use of military skills is anomaly, pretty much - save for our official foreign policy these days.

Maybe at the end of Steve's prison term there's a place for him in the second Bush administration, somewhere in the State Department, once Colin Powell is shown the door. He's got the basic concepts down pat. Or maybe he'd fit in at Justice, working for John Ashcroft.

Hey, it's not like these ideas of his come out of nowhere. He's in tune with the zeitgeist.

Posted by Alan at 08:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 13 February 2004

You see the whole idea is differential diagnosis....

Religion is fascinating, and not opposed to science at all.

See Doctors, Priests Form Exorcism Commission
ROME (Reuters, Friday, February 13, 2004) - Faced with growing demand for exorcisms, Catholic Church leaders in the Italian city of Genoa have created a taskforce of doctors and priests to determine when the devil is at work and when psychiatric help is needed.

The team of three priests, one psychiatrist, one psychologist and one neurologist - dubbed the "anti-Satan pool" by Italian media - will work on a case-by-case basis, a local church official said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"They'll meet on a regular basis to determine when there has been a case of demonic possession and call for an exorcist, or problems better cared for by a psychologist," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Well, that seems fair.

You see the whole idea is differential diagnosis. One needs to know the cause of the problem - a matter of etiology as they say. Then one can proceed.
For Catholics, exorcism is the casting out of what is believed to be an evil spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands.

One of the church's leading exorcists praised the initiative, saying medical experts are needed to rule out mental problems before spiritual work can begin.

"I never accept anyone who arrives without a medical certificate," Father Gabriele Amorth told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Not unreasonable, I guess.

And the Church is just doing its job. The Genoa taskforce was created by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. And while the Church does not often talk openly about exorcisms, Bertone said the need for them is there.

"It has become difficult to talk about Satan, but the signs of the devil are palpable," he told Corriere della Sera in comments published Thursday

Yep, your doctor may probe you with his fingers looking for palpable masses, but he or she could, it seems, find the devil. One never knows.

Posted by Alan at 10:22 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 13 February 2004 10:26 PST home

Thursday, 12 February 2004

Topic: Bush

Advice to the Sun King

Sire: For thirty years your ministers have violated all the ancient laws of the state so as to enhance you power. They have increased you revenues and expenditures to the infinite and have impoverished all of France for the luxury of your court. They have made you name odious.

For twenty years they have made the French nation intolerable to its neighbors by bloody wars. We have no allies because wanted only slaves. Meanwhile, your people are starving. Sedition is spreading and you are reduced to either letting it spread unpunished or resorting to massacring the people that you have driven to desperation.

- F?nelon to Louis XIV (c. 1694)

Just something I came across reading Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence : 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, Perennial (May 15, 2001), 912 pages, ISBN: 0060928832 (page 298)

Thirty Years? Twenty years? George Bush only needed three years.


My grand philosophical conclusion at the end of the day is that humanity does not divide into the rich and the poor, the privileged and the unprivileged, the clever and the stupid, the lucky and the unlucky or even into the happy and the unhappy. It divides into the nasty and the nice. Nasty people are humourless, bitter, self-pitying, resentful and mean. They are also, of course, invariably miserable. Saints may worry about them and even try to turn their sour natures, but those who do not aspire to saintliness are best advised to avoid them whenever possible, and give their aggression a good run for its money whenever it becomes unavoidable.

- Auberon Waugh, Will This Do?

Came across this at About Last Night.

Posted by Alan at 16:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

Getting to the heart of matters - recommended reading...
Steve Erickson has written about politics for The New York Times ("The End of Cynicism," 1992), the Los Angeles Times Magazine ("American Weimar," 1995) and Rolling Stone ("A Nation of Nomads," 1995), as well as two books about American politics and culture. As an editor at the L.A. Weekly from 1989 until 1993, he covered such stories as Bill Clinton's first inauguration ("The Last-Chance President," January 1993). He's the author of seven novels, including the forthcoming Our Ecstatic Days from Simon and Schuster, and is also the film critic for Los Angeles magazine and the editor of Black Clock, a literary journal published by CalArts - out north in Valencia, where he teaches writing.

Today he has a column in L.A. Weekly that's pretty long, but worth the time. It goes to the core of what has happened here. It's about doubt and certainty, and who we choose to lead us.

See George Bush and the Treacherous Country

This will whet your appetite:
Whether it's Christian or Islamic, an uncompromising religious vision can't recognize the legitimacy of democracy without betraying itself. Democracy insists on a pluralism that entertains the possibility that one's religious beliefs might be wrong and another's might be right, and that all religious beliefs may be varying degrees of wrong or right - what traditionalists despise as "relativism." Almost by definition, democracy is at least a little bit blasphemous. It's a breach of rigorous spiritual discipline, and its mechanisms are among the human works of the modern age, which itself is viewed by fundamentalism as an abomination. Doubt is a critical component of both democracy and its leadership. In the eyes of democracy, doubt is not just moral but necessary; the psychology of democracy must allow for doubt about the rightness of any given political position, because otherwise the position can never be questioned. The Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in particular are monuments to the right to doubt, and to the right of one person to doubt the rightness of 200 million. In contrast, the psychology of theocracy not only denies doubt but views it as a cancer on the congregation, prideful temerity in the face of divine righteousness as it's communicated by God to the leaders of the state.

Nothing about Bush or his presidency makes sense without taking into account the theocratic psyche. Only once you consider the possibility that his administration means to "repeal the Enlightenment," in the words of Greil Marcus, do Bush's presidency and his conception of power, their ends and their means, become comprehensible. Doubt is personally abhorrent to Bush; otherwise he couldn't have assumed the presidency in the manner he did, with decisions and policies that from the first dismissed out of hand the controversy that surrounded his very election. This isn't to suggest that his presidency is invalid, or to dispute the constitutional and legal process that produced it. It is to try and explain how on the second day of his presidency - in what was his first major act as president - in such draconian fashion he could cut off money to any federally funded family-planning clinic that merely advised women that the option of abortion exists. This was more than just a message to the president's evangelical constituency that he was undeterred by what happened in Florida in November and December 2000. It was more than just a message to the rest of the country of the president's contempt for it (which in part accounts for so many people's intensity of feeling about him). It was, from the second day of the Bush presidency, a frontal assault on doubt.
And that's just part of it.

Here he is on the business with outing a CIA agent to get revenge - and on the war in general:
To secularists, including those who believe in God and attend church or synagogue or mosque on a more or less regular basis, the revelation of a CIA operative's identity by someone in the government as a form of political retribution seems beyond the pale, particularly in an era of terror. It's a deliberate violation of national security for partisan purposes. But in the theocratic view of power, national security and political self-interest are inseparable when both are factors in a presidential power that's in the service of Divine Will. From the vantage point of the theocratic psyche, a divinely interpreted national interest overwhelms narrow ideas of security as held by secularists whose insight lacks a divine scope. The theocratic rationale for the Iraq war and the United States' subsequent presence in Iraq exists far above petty secular anxieties about justifying either. If the president could barely conceal his impatience on last Sunday's Meet the Press with distinctions between Iraq actually having weapons or having the capacity to make weapons, between imminent threats or threats that might become imminent, it's because such distinctions couldn't be more beside the point. It was never a matter of reasons justifying the war. Rather, the war justifies the reasoning. Some might suggest that the president's case for the war was made in bad faith, but there is no "bad" in the president's perception of faith, there's only true faith that sometimes is confronted with hard tests posed by divine destiny, the hardest of which is whether the president can work his will on God's behalf, however it must be done. That Iraq had nothing to do with those who attacked America almost two and a half years ago is only a distracting detour in moral reasoning, fine print for those whom God hasn't called.
Now go read it all.

Posted by Alan at 11:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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