Friday, April 29, 2016

Small Mammals Undermine Research

Back when Public Television aired Michael Wood's series In Search of the Trojan War, I was particularly struck by an archeologist explaining how gerbils were interfering with efforts to sort out the layers of the remains of the different generations of the city of Troy. Following the same principle used by sedimentary geologists, the general rule of thumb is that the deeper you go the earlier things get. Unfortunately, the gerbils are expert tunnelers, meaning that an artifact not yet discovered might descend to a lower depth than would serve to provide it with an accurate date by falling through a "modern" gerbil tunnel.

This morning the BBC News Web site provided another story about another small mammal impeding the progress of research. This one concerned the latest glitch in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Fortunately, the workings of the LHC itself were not involved. The problem was only one of loss of power, because a weasel managed to get itself (weasel into?) the high-voltage transformer at the heart of the power supply. The transformer is some distance from the LHC itself, but the power failure meant that the device went into a blackout period. (This is more than can be said for the weasel, which did not survive the encounter with the transformer.) Mother Nature guards her secrets in mysterious ways!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bible School with Donald Trump

I see from an ABC News report by Brian McBride that, leading up the the New York primary, Donald Trump was interviewed on Rochester radio by conservative host Bob Lonsberry. Lonsberry wanted to see if there was a Bible verse that "informed" Trump's thinking or character. In his usual shoot-from-the-hip style, Trump responded with the first thing that came to his mind, which happened to be "eye for an eye." This left me wondering if Trump knew the context, since this was only part of a verse.

The original context is Chapter 21 of Exodus. Verse 23 is a continuation of a sentence that begins in Verse 22 as follows:
But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
A related version shows up in Chapter 24 of Leviticus. However, those who believe in "the Christian thing to do" should hopefully remember that this phrase was cited by Jesus. It shows up in Chapter 5 of the Gospel According to Matthew in an entirely different context:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
My own preference for a "gospel source," on the other hand, would have to be Mahatma Ghandi, who echoed Jesus with a slightly sharper stance:
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Come to think of it, if the whole world were blind, that would probably make it easier for the Republicans to lead them (even if they, themselves, were also blind).

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Obama's Worst Mistake

According to Alexander Mallin of ABC News, President Barack Obama told Fox News Sunday this morning that his "worst mistake" was not having "a plan for the day after" the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This is a perfectly respectable answer, but it also conceals a far worse mistake. This was the mistake of assuming that he was governing a population that consisted, for the most part, of rational people. Indeed, the very fact that he was being interviewed by Fox News, which owes its survival as a network, to the very defiance of rationality, suggests that he fumbled a great opportunity. Yet that lack of rationality has engendered one of the most ineffective governments that those of my generation have witnessed. It is hard to tell whether Obama could not reverse this situation because he simply could not see the beast for what it was worth or because he was too well-mannered to do anything about it. The result seems to be that the ill-mannered have taken Obama's failure as an opportunity to rule the roost; and now the rest of us can only fret over what might happen if one of them succeeds.