Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Power of the Marginal

Paul Graham has an excellent essay on why innovation comes out of people's garages and basements rather than from corporate committees. I love this stuff:
A world with outsiders and insiders implies some kind of test for distinguishing between them. And the trouble with most tests for selecting elites is that there are two ways to pass them: to be good at what they try to measure, and to be good at hacking the test itself.

One way to tell whether a field has consistent standards is the overlap between the leading practitioners and the people who teach the subject in universities. At one end of the scale you have fields like math and physics.... At the bottom are business, literature, and the visual arts, where there's almost no overlap between the teachers and the leading practitioners. It's this end that gives rise to phrases like "those who can't do, teach."

It's kind of strange when you think about it, because lord-of-the-flies schools and bureaucratic companies are both the default. There are probably a lot of people who go from one to the other and never realize the whole world doesn't work this way.

The lives of the eminent become scheduled, and that's not good for thinking. One of the great advantages of being an outsider is long, uninterrupted blocks of time.

The very skill of insiders can be a weakness. Once someone is good at something, they tend to spend all their time doing that. This kind of focus is very valuable, actually. Much of the skill of experts is the ability to ignore false trails. But focus has drawbacks: you don't learn from other fields, and when a new approach arrives, you may be the last to notice.

As well as being more comfortable working on established lines, insiders generally have a vested interest in perpetuating them.

Responsibility is an occupational disease of eminence. In principle you could avoid it, just as in principle you could avoid getting fat as you get old, but few do. I sometimes suspect that responsibility is a trap and that the most virtuous route would be to shirk it, but regardless it's certainly constraining.

The word "try" is an especially valuable component. I disagree here with Yoda, who said there is no try. There is try. It implies there's no punishment if you fail. You're driven by curiosity instead of duty. Which means the wind of procrastination will be in your favor: instead of avoiding this work, this will be what you do as a way of avoiding other work.

But the best thing of all is when people call what you're doing inappropriate. I've been hearing this word all my life and I only recently realized that it is, in fact, the sound of the homing beacon. "Inappropriate" is the null criticism. It's merely the adjective form of "I don't like it."

Good stuff.

Recovering Our Stories

I just finished The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do? by Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar. I think the final paragraph says it all:

Redeeming the myths

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are profoundly cognizant that human beings do not live by the bread of facts alone. We live by our stories - by our myths, which is only a fancy word for story - and these fictions are supposed to make sense out of a complex universe of meaning mixed with nonsense. Myths are not true or untrue; as one Fellow puts it, they are either living or dead. Literalism in biblical interpretation in tandem with scientism has helped strangle the myths of the Christian tradition. Historical criticism like that practiced by the Jesus Seminar is intended to release the gospel stories from their literalistic burden. Exposing them to historical assessment relocates them in the realm of story and myth, so they can recover their proper function. When we move them back within that perspective, perhaps new mythmakers and storytellers will once again find voice to celebrate the simple yet enduring story of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are, as one would expect, widely regarded in Christian circles as heretics. None have yet been burned at the stake, but it's not from want of desire on the part of evangelicals in particular. It's all about power, of course. Groups like the Jesus Seminar liberate believers from the institutional church, which, in the view of leaders of the institutional church, is a sin more serious than blasphemy.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Busy Time

Hey Cyberworld!

We have a busy weekend and will have a busy week getting for a busier weekend. This past weekend I drove down Sat am to meet my Mom and head to a bridal shower. Then Sunday met up with Ric and headed to Flint for a combined birthday party for his Mom and one of his Aunts. Got to see a lot of relatives/friends we haven't seen for awhile. (Of course, some of them we should see next month at the Vargason reunion)

This week we are trying to get organized for a yard sale we are having to start downsizing. No, we aren't having it here. I would hate to have to explain in a newspaper ad how to find our house! We are having it at Ric's sister's house in town. Much easier to find and right on the way to TC from the expressway. So...lots of fudgies can stop and buy our stuff! :-) Everyone is invited! We will have lots of books and videos and some furniture and other stuff. I may even have a set of Beach Boys tickets to sell at cost for August. I have two things scheduled ... the concert at Interlochen and a wedding in Breckenridge area. I don't think Ric and I can be in two places at one time. Oh well...it was a good thought for an anniversary present. Sorry to spoil the surprise Ric!

Thanks for all the good thoughts, prayers and talks from family and friends. Ric and I are working on things and it looks promising ahead. We really need our house to sell and that would be a BIG obstacle out of our way. (anybody want to buy a house a couple miles past the middle of nowhere?! -- we just reduced the price)

Hey...one of my favorite songs lately...time to go sing...Live like you were dieing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Global Warming?

Thanks to Al Gore, everyone is convinced the world is going to end in a couple years. First, take a deep breath and relax. Then read this.

Bottom line: yes the earth is getting warmer. No, human activity is not contributing to it in any substantial way. No, there isn't a lot we can do about it, and why would we want to? We just came out of a mini ice age. Do we really want more years without summer?

Global warming is about politics. Period. Never forget that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My Days Are Numbered

I just sent the following e-mail to my PHB:

After 7+ years at Munson Medical Center, I've decided it is time to move on. With everything in the queue, I wanted to give you as much notice as possible. My last day will be Friday, September 22, 2006 (end of pay period 20).

This decision should in no way be taken as dissatisfaction with the people I have had the privilege to work with and for while at Munson. It is simply a reflection of the fact that I have been in the IT field for 22 years, and it has become obvious to me over the last year that it is time to do something completely different. So my wife and I have decided that we will be relocating to Arcosanti (http://www.arcosanti.org/) in Mayer, Arizona to live and work.
There was more administrative blah blah blah, but this is the important part. We'll probably end up living in a cardboard box in some Phoenix ghetto, but at least it will be something different.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fred's At It Again

Fred Reed once again demonstrates what a waste of time a college education is becoming. If your little tad wants to go into one of the hard sciences or math, go for it. If they want to pursue a degree in the social sciences or Diversity Studies, then you would be better off flushing $40,000 down the toilet.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What Do I Believe

One of the comments to my previous post asks: "and what do you believe Ric? " Fair enough question, but the answer is going to be somewhat long-winded. I know that will come as a shock to the regulars here. It won't be real organized, but then most of what I post isn't.

Man seems to have an innate need to be religious. Every culture that has existed had a deity. The author of the site I previously linked to explains it as a transference: everyone is born dependent on an all-powerful, all-knowing being called a parent. Once we become old enough to realize our parents are far from all-powerful and all-knowing, we simply transfer our "worship" to a convenient deity. Christians would argue that God made humans with a desire to know the creator. Others argue that humans just love to anthropomorphize everything. We need a god to animate the universe for the same reason we mistake our cat's scent-marking behavior for affection; we can't conceive of a universe (or a pet) that is indifferent to us. But regardless of the source, it is there. I have become acutely aware of this over the last year when I have been questioning my own beliefs. My rational mind gave up on religion a long time ago, but some part of me keeps screaming, "There has to be a god!!" Not being a neuro-biologist, I have no idea what is going on, but I'm starting to feel like Sybil.

One other point: I am not so foolish as to believe that Christianity is so superior to every other belief system that I would have chosen it over whatever dominated in my place of birth. If I had been born in India, I would almost certainly be Hindu; if in Turkey, almost certainly Muslim; if in Salt Lake City, almost certainly Mormon. I was born in a country where Christianity is the dominant religion and into a family with an evangelical bent, so that is where I landed. It wasn't the result of years of comparative study or prayer or a vision from God like Paul. It was the default. It was what was right there in front of me. Like anything that you don't work too hard for, I'm not exactly pulling out all the stops to keep my evangelicalism.

With all that as introduction, what do I believe?

I believe Jesus was a historical person. He was, like many others at the time, an itinerant preacher who seemed to deliberately say and do outrageous things to shock and offend people, especially the religious elites. He was a bit of a party animal that liked his wine. And no, it wasn't grape juice; it was deliberately fermented wine. A little thought makes this obvious. Jesus was repeatedly accused by the religious elites of being a drunkard. No one accuses someone of being a drunkard for consuming inordinate amounts of Welch's. His first miracle, in fact, was to provide additional alcohol for a wedding party to keep things rolling. And at some point in the second or third year of his preaching, he took some sort of action against the temple that resulted in him being put to death.

As far as the New Testament goes, that's pretty much all I take away from it. The letters don't do much for me, and Revelation should be relegated back to the status it had in the early church: probably not inspired, but may have some useful bits. In my opinion, the Christian church, especially in North America, spends way too much time fantasizing about the bad guys taking it in the ass, with the cult of Tim LaHaye just being the most recent example. Anybody remember Hal Lindsey? He's still around, even though pretty much everything he predicted in the 1970's didn't happen. I seem to recall the Bible having something to say about prophets whose prophesies don't pan out....

The Old Testament has always been a problem for me for several reasons. First, I haven't accepted the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literal since shortly after high school. Second, it's pretty clear that most of the books were not written by who the church teaches wrote them, nor were they written when the church teaches they were written. Places and place names used in the "books of Moses" either didn't exist until centuries later, or existed, but were not called by that name until centuries later. Third, God makes a lot of promises to Israel. Those promises were not made to the church. 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to the United States, no matter how many times the church choir sings it on the Fourth of July. In other words, the Old Testament has some good stories and can be an interesting jumping off point for studying the actual history of Babylon or Assyria, but not much else.

What I would like to see from the modern church:

First, some honesty. Stop denying the evidence from archeology, geology, biology, paleontology, cosmology, linguistics, ice cores, oil drilling, plate tectonics, and so on and so forth. Stop lying to the largely uneducated laypeople about the evidence for taking every word of the Bible literally. The earth is not 6,000 years old. There was not a universal flood. Evolution happened and is still happening. Moses did not write the Pentateuch. The Gospels are not first-hand accounts. Deal with it.

Second, less emphasis on the afterlife and more on what is going on around us. Just one small example: 27,000 children a day die from starvation. What are the churches doing to address that? It's wonderful that the average congregation will spend 20%, 25%, even 30% of what hits the offering plate to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, but it would be nice if they could take along a bag of rice as well. Every North American church's web site is obsessed with building buildings. Show me anywhere in the gospels where the church is commanded to build physical buildings. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly slammed Israel for ignoring and exploiting the poor. What exactly do you call it when we purchase cheap tennis shoes made by and eight-year-old working for $2/day? Jesus told the rich man in the gospels to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Do you not realize that the poorest families in Kalkaska county live at a level of luxury unimaginable by kings in the first century? What is all the real estate owned by all the churches in North America worth? Billions? Trillions? "Christians" sit in their board meetings arguing about whether or not to install air conditioning while 27,000 children die every day. I'm sure God is very pleased.

Third, a little humility. No church, denomination, sect, or cult has a corner on the truth. God seems to have a hard time speaking clearly, which has resulted in a fragmentation of Christendom that staggers the imagination. Maybe we need to spend a little less time building fortresses and firing cannon at each other, and a little more time taking a long hard look at exactly what we believe and why and how many people we are willing to send to hell while we argue about it. Start with eschatology, keeping in mind my comments on the book of Revelation above.

And I'm sure that is quite enough for now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Back by Popular Demand

It's been a crazy couple of months, so blogging had to take a back seat. But if you are looking for controversy, here ya go:

If you believe in God, then don't read this. Unless you want that particular notion removed from your brain. You have been warned. If you want to read the meat of the book, then read this. But if you are going to read it, I would recommend reading the entire thing. A strong reader should be able to get through all the material in 6-8 hours.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

More of the same

What a difference in the weather from last weekend. Last weekend it was in the high 80's (low 90's Mon), this weekend it may have gotten to the low 70's (and cold rain) We went to another couple open houses today. At the first one(Lacee's), we fought the rain part of the time we were there. Luckily they had a big open sided tent set up. Great back yard they had....beautiful! Next we went to another of our "honorary nieces" -- Casey. This is the one that is moving all the way to California next Sat :-( I will really miss her! We wish her luck there and hope she keeps in touch.

Tomorrow I'll be busy at the church ... I got talked into substituting for two different people in the nursery ... so, I'll be in there for Sunday school and evening service. The regular service is when we present the gradutates with their Bibles and quilts, so I"m glad I don't have to cover the nursery then.

Nothing else really new .... still no talk .... not too busy at the travel agency. Ric can breathe thru his nose! can't really smell yet and he thinks he has a sinus infection again! He has his follow up appt with the surgeon this coming week. It will interesting to see what he has to say.

I noticed the comment on the last post asking about Ric posting. He can't access the site at work and was having problems with Zandros on his computer at home. I"m not sure if he can access and post now and choses not to or can't access it yet. Keep on bugging him if you want him back! I"m getting tired of seeing just my posts too!