Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some Notes on Religion

 1. Is Religion Good or Bad?
This is the most basic question about religion. Atheists and other skeptics feel that religion is bad, and there is a good case to be made for that. For starters, nothing has caused more war and bloodshed than religion, and it continues today.

On the other hand, the vast majority of humanity feels that religion is good. In the first place, people feel this way because they believe in God. Furthermore, even an agnostic would agree that religion provides moral guidelines, and that it is palliative. It soothes suffering. So even if you are not sure that God exists, religion can be accepted on these pragmatic grounds. As Voltaire said: “if God didn’t exist, man would have to invent him.”

There is, at least in educated and progressive circles, AMBIVALENCE about religion. I was listening to National Public Radio. They had a marvelous section about the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s, Harlem had this fantastic black musical revival, and it was largely rooted in Negro spirituals and gospel singing. In other words, it was very Christian stuff. Read more...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Wheel Lock Nightmare

Leaf peeping is a favorite pastime during our famous Indian Summer. For a few short weeks, the forests around New England are ablaze with the most radiant shades of red, yellow and orange, and there is a mad dash by city dwellers to get a peek at all this beauty before the trees turn into mere skeletons and prepare themselves for a cold harsh winter.

I had practically dragged my husband out of bed that morning to get an early start, since we were just going leaf peeping for the day. A quick stop at Starbucks and we were on our way to the Berkshire mountains. The sun was shining, the trees were waiting, everything was perfect.

After an hour or so of uneventful driving, our car started to make a strange and ominous sound, so we drove off the highway, just in time to reach a shell gas station. Sure enough, the right back tire was flat as a pancake. Our hopes that we would find a mechanic on duty evaporated when we only saw gas pumps. Read more...

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part four)

 This is the last installment of our recent European trip:

...And then there are the airline problems: On this occasion, they included a strike by Air France pilots. Europeans like to strike. There was also a strike by Roman bus and metro employees. Our Toulouse-Rome flight happened to be Air France. Luckily, our flight was not one of the 58% of all flights that were canceled.

As to our return to the U.S., innumerable things went wrong: While we had Delta tickets, the flight was operated by Alitalia. This confused everyone, including the taxi driver who took us out to Fumicino Airport. He assured us that ALL US-bound international fights and ALL Delta flights depart from terminal One, and that’s where he dropped us off. But he was wrong. We had to rush to the Alitalia terminal, number Five. There was little time, so we paid a cab another $20 to drive us half a mile to the correct terminal.

Friday, October 17, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part three)

This is the third installment of our recent European trip:

What makes European travel complicated is that there are so many countries and so many different time schedules, regulations and customs. For example, when are various shops open, and where do you buy various items?

In France, Italy and some other countries, you buy postage stamps and bus tickets at the tobacco shop. How on earth are American visitors supposed to know this? Anita and I joke that perhaps you buy toilet paper at the shoemaker, or books and newspapers at the bakery or the butcher shop? And speaking of butchers, France has three kinds: the charcuterie, where you buy processed meats such as salami and paté, the boucherie, where you buy your raw meat, such as cuts of beef or veal or hamburger, and then the boucherie chevaline, where you buy horse meat. The latter is always recognizable by a statue of a horse head in front of the store. Read more...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part two)

 This is the second installment of our recent European trip:

As I said, travel is marvelous. However, the transitions can often be exhausting and traumatic, especially as one gets older. Anita and I have some standing jokes about this. We often wish that we could be beamed to our destinations, as in “Beam me up, Scotty.” Also, do you remember Greyhound Bus’ old slogan “Getting there is half the fun”? What a crock! Anita says that getting there is often none of the fun. I agree.

Next, we had to go to Paris’ Gare Montparnasse to take the Toulouse TGV. Montparnasse is one of those gigantic Paris railroad stations with dozens of platforms crowded with thousands of passengers running in dozens of directions. Read more...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part one)

This is the first installment of the account of our recent European trip - I hope you enjoy this travelogue:

International travel is marvelous. You have many exciting experiences, you see many beautiful things that are very different from the drudgery of everyday life. Also, many things are frustrating, incomprehensible, unreasonable, don’t work.

Recently, my wife Anita and I spent over a month in Europe. I first flew to Amsterdam, because my 101-year old mother lives in Holland, and I go there as often as I can to help her and be with her.
Then, Anita joins me and we tack on some tourism to my filial responsibilities. We usually go South for a few weeks, to France, Italy and so forth. Paris is often on our itinerary, because I grew up there, I still know people there, and a return to the City of Lights is always difficult to resist. Read more...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Two Pandemics: Ebola and Mass Insanity

The spread of Ebola scares me. We now have the first  US case - Thomas Eric Duncan, who recently returned to Dallas from Liberia.

My friend  Carol Anita Ryan explains on  Facebook what R∘ means: It is the number of people that one sick person will infect (on average). For example, Measles has an R∘ of 18 (very contagious), whereas Ebola’s R∘ is only 2.  Even so, this means that the disease doubles in a  given period of time. An Ebola victim  has about 100 contacts  before he is isolated. 2 out of these contacts become sick and  98 don’t. Let’s say it takes one week  for the number of infected people to double. Now consider an  exponential curve that doubles every week: 2,4,8,16,32,64,128, etc. If it starts with 2 cases at the beginning of October  and doubles every week, it  reaches 536,870,912  - 2 to the 29th power -   by early April. By next April, everyone in North America is  dead, and the entire world a month after that. Read more...