Month: October 2011

Physics For Dogs

Don’t interrupt me. I’m thinking...

When I am old I intend getting a dog. Perhaps a Braque Bleu; they have a thoughtful, theoretical look about them and a well-chosen one will keep me sprightly until well past my sell-by date. Should this become the case, I shall unfailingly buy my dog a new book which has had me burbling delightedly called “Physics for Dogs”.  I spent a happy hour checking the accuracy of the formulae used in the text, which contained remarkably few errors.
Canines with only a rudimentary grasp of statics, dynamics and Newton’s Laws of Motion can use some simple physics to master their corner of the universe. Savvy canines can learn, amongst other things:-
How to bring down the mailman with the correct ratio of stealth, stored potential energy and impulse (FaverageDt)
How to poo strategically, indoors and out, by understanding variable-mass systems and momentum conservation. Calculus required.
How to open any cupboard or bin using Newton’s First Law of Motion.
How to successfully drink from the toilet without damage caused by an accelerating moment of the toilet seat.
How to play ‘fetch’ efficiently by calculating projectile velocity and maximum range – this requires a grasp of elementary trigonometry.
How to get out of a bath with or without your bather’s consent  by accurately compensating for friction between the rear paws and the bathtub.
All equations, free body diagrams and annotations are available in the text, together with useful estimates for such things as age-compensated velocity when owner throws a Frisbee and so forth.
More advanced canine students might like to learn about quantum tunnelling to reach the cat next door, but this will be beyond the reach of all but the most able.

I’ll try to pick a bright one.
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Dollars and Deals

This captured vulture was accused of spying for Mossad by the Saudi press,  but was later exonerated by a Saudi prince.

The AP published yesterday that a Saudi princeling has upped the offer of $100,000 for the capture of an Israeli soldier by a further $900,000 if used for the exchange of Palestinian prisoners currently in Israeli jails. H’m. The Arab presses either print the article in its entirety without comment or tweet ravenously about the Saudi predisposition to play Devil’s advocate dependent on who they perceive to be winning the propaganda war. Paying for jihad seems to some to be as repugnant as paying for indulgences, to others, a fair price to pay.

If those on the Eastern fringes of the Gulf do nothing else, they can make their considerable resources available to the footsoldiers engaged at the front line of the conflict with the hated enemy.  As a propaganda exercise, as the vultures gather,  it may very well backfire. 
Would that it were so simple.  Here’s an alternative.
Some believe that the ties of the House of Saud to Tel Aviv have in recent years become increasingly visible and pervasive. A much-discussed secret Israeli-Saudi alliance may well exist within the context of a broader Khaliji-Israeli alliance formed through strategic cooperation between the ruling families of Saudi Arabia and the Arab sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Together Israel and the Khaliji ruling families form a frontline for Washington and NATO against Iran and its regional allies. The alliance also acts on behalf of Washington to destabilise the region, creating ethnic divisions between Arabs and Iranians, religious divisions between Muslims and Christians, and confessional divisions between Sunnis and Shiites relying upon uninformed public opinion to keep the snowball rolling, bloodstained, down the hill.  It is the “politics of division” or “fitna” that has also served to keep the Khaliji ruling families in power.  Israel and the Khaliji ruling families would not survive without the regional fitna. Iranophobia may have been used by the Khaliji ruling families, from the U.A.E. to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as a pretext for the repression of their own people, who are demanding basic freedoms and democratic rights in the sheikhdoms.

All this may very well have a ring of truth about it – the ideas are not new. It remains to be seen whether or not a few zealots in Gaza will attempt to take the bait, scoop the jackpot and suffer the consequences of their so doing. 

Meanwhile, one rocket on average per hour has been fired in the last thirty six hours from Gaza, in response to  the Israelis targeting a ‘terrorist squad’ in southern Gaza that was preparing to launch long-range rockets. Five Islamic Jihad militants were killed, including a senior commander of the Al-Quds brigade. 

The cost of raw materials for a Qassam IV rocket is about $500.

Theological blather

I get like this sometimes. Apart from Kim Fabricius’ shortsightedness in his quite unaccountable affiliation to the United Reformed denomination – it is neither – his take on matters of the Name is occasionally insightful and often howling…
Kim, high five for these and my apologies for adding a twist of citrus of my own.
I have often thought that a fitting soteriological image, a symbol for the work of Christ, is the toilet.  Apart from the handle, which is an Arminian attachment.
(Sanctum sanctorum. Nothing wrong with that. Ed)
I see that in the new English translation of the Mass, the blood of Christ is shed not “for all” but “for many”, with the annotation that not everybody chooses to be saved. As if the reversion to exclusivity isn’t bad enough, it’s compounded by an Arminian gloss. What a muddle. Perhaps the next translation will go Calvinist with “for a few”. (That’s enough. Ed)
Paul’s list of ecclesial vocations in I Corinthians 12 is not, of course, exhaustive. In the UK, for example, for the church’s common good, there must surely be a charisma for arson.
(Been there, done that, in an imaginary kind of a way. Shame about the frescoes. Ed)
Paul wrote that he was not “ashamed” of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find someone ashamed of anything. Embarrassed  perhaps, but not ashamed.
(Far too near the knuckle, even for me. The squirm factor of the street preacher in a baggy suit is too, too close to home. Ed)
J.B. Phillips wrote a famous little book called Your God Is Too Small. But isn’t the problem that many people’s God is too big? 
(What is this, Goldilocks? Ed)
If (following Stringfellow and Nouwen), the kingdom of God is like a circus, the kingdom of the world is like a zoo. True, a zoo is not “nature red in tooth and claw”, but that’s only because the animals are either grazing or sleeping. Except for the chimpanzees: they are either grooming or mooning.  Yep, that’s the world…
(I’d like it placed on record that this makes no reference to sex. At all. Ed)
The “Zero Intolerance” church is the latest effort in market-ecclesiology of the United Reformed Church.  Very counter-culturally, there is a catchy sound-bite advertising offensive. Equally anti-zeitgeist, local congregations are offered the choice of opting in or staying out. And training (a euphemism for disempowerment) is, of course, de rigueur. The only thing the campaign is missing is a patron saint.  My suggestion would be Pelagius.
(Schadenfreude…Ed)
The United Reformed Church is now receiving applications for the post of Moderator of the Synod of Wales.  Unless all applicants are immediately deemed un-called, and therefore unfit, for this ministry, I’d rather we cast lots.
(Worked fine last time…Ed)
God is on the move. It is called “illegal immigration”.
(Unless you’re a Mexican. In which case it’s called Russian roulette)
Advice to a young minister: Remember that when you preach, you are speaking to everyone in particular.
(Caveat orator. Applies to old preachers as well. Ed)
Have you ever thought that the parable of the Prodigal Son might be an autobiographical story about living post-exilically?
(If we wait long enough we’ll all find our when the Islamists reconquer Jerusalem. Ed)
My body is finally turning into a temple. But it’s age, not sanctity: I no longer have the energy to be a brothel.
(I’m tired. Ed)

You married, dearie?



And, since an image is de rigueur otherwise absolutely nobody reads anything one might write, here’s the Pope celebrating the arrival of the seven millionth soul on the planet with the secular humanist and philosopher Julia Kristeva at the recent interfaith, er, encounter in Assisi. Peter and the wolf.

Divinity for Dummies

Genesis 1 1-5 Samaritan Pentateuch

Listened to a real live Cambridge DD yesterday, used to the lecture podium rather than the pulpit thus seemed slightly embarrassed at having to put on the old shepherd garb and wave his arms suitably. It was instructive to be reminded of Theology 101 – the almost painful dumbing down was well-concealed but palpable. Being stuck in the minor prophets is probably better than being stuck with a major liturgical catastrophe thus despite the fact that there’s a lot to be said for the use of a lectionary cycle but it tends to presuppose, rather than to foster, a broad understanding of the biblical story. Lectionaries were designed for use in societies that were already implicitly Christian – societies in which the rhythms of the liturgical year, and the broad sweep of the biblical narrative, could be more or less taken for granted – the theological subtlety with which the OT and NT readings are often connected – a subtlety that is quite lost on anybody without a good working knowledge of scripture and liturgical tradition, which, quite frankly, is most of us. And preachers only exacerbate the problem when they take these subtle liturgico-theological connections as the theme of their proclamation, instead of preaching from the textsthemselves. Preachers, do try to remember that the content of your proclamation is not the liturgical calendar or flashy exegesis, but the Word of God. Rhema. Plus Logos.

Stealing Heaven

I am constantly surprised by the nobility of the human race and also its depravity.  Some time ago, a very large, old, leatherback sea turtle – an endangered species – had been caught in a fisherman’s net off the Gazan coast. The creature was hauled ashore and surrounded by a large crowd. One of the men in the crowd explained to a reporter how the turtle meat would feed local children, who were suffering due to the Israeli occupation, and the blood would help cure various ailments. The turtle was dragged behind a truck, flipped over on its back, and slaughtered. Further up the Mediterranean coast, a much younger and smaller sea turtle had been injured by a boat and lost one of its limbs. The turtle was rescued by some Israelis and then taken to a special turtle sanctuary where it was operated on, restored to health and then released back into the sea.

The papers have been full of the trade-off of over a thousand Hamas prisoners, most serving life, for one Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was seized by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid more than five years ago and held in Gaza. The campaign for his release has been tireless. In Israel, the list revealed why the country has found the trade so unpalatable, demeaning and gut-wrenchingly unfair: the majority of the inmates were convicted of manslaughter, attempted murder or intentionally causing death. Back on the streets, radicalised by prison, the chances of many of them mending their ways seem slim.

Those being freed include the founders of Hamas’s armed wing and militants who kidnapped and killed Israeli soldiers and civilians. A co-conspirator in the 2001 bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria that killed fifteen people will walk. Ahlam Tamimi, then only twenty years old, had disguised herself as a Jewish tourist to accompany the suicide bomber to the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road, a busy pedestrian precinct.  She later commented that she was not sorry for what she had done and does not recognise Israel’s existence. “Despite the fact that I’m sentenced to 16 life sentences I know that we will become free from Israeli occupation and then I will also be free from the prison” she said. 
I make no comment here about the right of the Palestinian people to have a self-governing homeland but those who seek to obtain it by depraved and godless means deserve the full and unremitting weight of moral law to fall upon their heads. Those who, with Promethean hubris, seek to steal Heaven may find themselves ultimately the worse off in the bargain. 

Job’s Answer

Supernova exploding: Large Magellanic Cloud.
The Universe ‘s expansion is accelerating

Most of my classes this year are pleasant enough, absorbing placidly any small pearlets of what passes for wisdom and attempting to transcribe them industriously with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm. As long as I don’t actually require them to think about what they are writing, all is serene and everybody thinks that they really are getting their money’s worth. Shovelling academic stodge is like coal mining, it’s dirty and unrewarding but somebody has to do it, production lines and rapacious exam factories being as they are implacably unforgiving when a B grade is awarded.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that although dutifully turning out academically well-scrubbed and quite knowledgeable school leavers ( I really cannot bring myself to describe them as ‘graduates’), ultimately, I and my kind have become for them an enemy of promise, a bulwark against whatever genuinely original initiatives they once might have possessed. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in the last few days when quite quick and able learners had, it appeared not the faintest notion that the subject they had undertaken as a University prerequisite was going to actually demand of them some reflection, consideration, weighing of alternatives and deductive reasoning and seemed quite put out when I mentioned to them that that was supposed to be the reason they had elected to pursue further study in the first place. Furthermore, any hint of non-comprehension has far less to do with the fact that most fifteen and sixteen year olds are intellectually lazy and much more to do with their teacher, who, after only thirty years has learned his craft so very poorly and is clearly incapable of explaining things properly.
The Nobel season is upon us again and once more, those whose religious loyalties lie with the Name scooped some spaghetti this year, in chemistry and also in physics. Recipients join an embarrassingly long line of Jews both home-grown and from the diaspora, who far outstrip every other people group on the face of the earth at collecting Swedish gongs. Asking a Jew to name the greatest period of Jewish learning is problematic and he might be hard put to it to give a singular answer. He could choose 1000 BC and the time of Solomon with the beginning of Israelite historiography and Jewish law. Perhaps during the Babylonian Exile with the completion of redaction of Torah. Or 1135CE and the work of Maimonides, a cornerstone of Jewish thought and study. Even today, it’s almost a rarity to look at the Nobels issued in any particular year and not find a Jewish name among them.  By contrast, Arabs imported the concept of zero from the Hindus over a thousand years ago and have advanced human knowledge little further since.
There are a multitude of reasons bordering on excuses for this. Learning is the pursuit of a kind or type of perfection and one’s attitude to it is often a measure of success. If we only walk the treadmills carved by the luminaries of the past, the tracks get deeper, thought hardens into tunnel-visioned principle which solidifies into doctrine which must be defended. Debate, passion and counterintuitive thinking is the fuel for fresh understanding which Talmudic scholars and their modern secular counterparts were and are rather good at. Stephen Hawking at the end of ‘A Brief History of Time’ wrote: “…if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.” A soundbite with a grain of truth. God is, and his universe is there to be discovered, to be known about and known and we, stumbling around in the twilight, are freed from the legalism of being compelled to absorb merely facts, instead mine the data for fresh evidence of His love and work. We are not called to merely obey since blind obedience is driven by fear and the unappetising diet of man-pleasing; instead we are called to search out the mysteries of God in the here, in the now as well as in the hereafter. Job’s question has an answer after all.

Worship Zumba

It’s good for me to poke fun at myself from time to time; it saves others the trouble of doing it for me. Eschewing choir practice on Friday morning, as I customarily do, this time instead of hanging about like a broke session man awaiting work, I went instead to help out the Chinese congregation, where my modest efforts in support of a single digit pianist were received quite well, I thought. Nobody threw things, at least. Went to a little soiree that same evening where we got to sing a few golden oldies and  I pretended I was a cross between Ronnie Wood and Noel Richards. The whole gig was remarkably liberating, and I and my guitar had a solid, energetic workout. Worship Zumba sprang to mind. My cup ran over however, when it was brought to my attention that Mr SocSec, St.P’s answer to Pooh Bear, had posted a video of me playing guitar at last year’s Christmas bash chez Church House, which somebody I haven’t seen for twenty-five years actually RECOGNISED. It seemed I have been playing the same old garbage undeviatingly for the last quarter of a century. He’s now a perfectly respectable Baptist minister but, hey, we can’t all be God’s chosen. I can only hope that same film director doesn’t post another of the events last Friday, since it will do little to support my paper – thin veneer of urbanity. wit and languid English charm. (How flawed is one’s own self-image)

And now, as they say, for something completely different. Christmas is not far away and we are all bending our creative intellect to new and fresh presentations of the old familiar theme, or those of us not in Paris will be.  An interactive online project, perhaps, where all our favourite Facebook friends are recast in a unique interpretation of the Bethlehem story, perhaps as animated farce. I wonder, which of your friends could play a mystical BVM, sheep-loving shepherd – no Welsh jokes – (that’s enough, Ed) or bling-dripping wise man, or even, woman? Whose lusty lungs will inflate to make up a cacophonic choir of angels? And who would best fit love-to-hate, anti-hero Herod (Boo!) and that door-slamming concierge at the Bethlehem Marriott? I can almost hear the casting director’s pencil, scribbling.