ornament 21 January 2004 ornament

Something to Sleep On

A new study finds that sleep is essential for creativity:

For the first time, scientists say they have proved what creative minds have known all along: that our sleeping brains continue working on problems that baffle us during the day, and that the right answer may come more easily after eight hours of rest.

The German study is considered to be the first hard evidence supporting the commonsense notion that creativity and problem-solving appear to be directly linked to adequate sleep.

I read this article, and intially was intrigued. Then I started thinking about the absurdity of this study. Do we really need “hard evidence” to tell us that people who do not sleep do not think well? The longest I’ve even been continually awake is 54 hours. At that point, I couldn’t think of anything. Perhaps I’ll do a study on the “commonsense notion” that people with sleep problems have fewer dreams…

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ornament 20 January 2004 ornament

Books That Haunt: The Man Who Was Thursday

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series.

If there was ever a more intriguing book title than G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, I have yet to find it. With the exception of Friday in Robinson Crusoe and Joe Friday in Dragnet, I don’t even recall any other characters named for the days of the week, much less titles. In Chesterton’s case, the days of the week are code names for members of the Central Anarchist Council, a kind of terrorist group of the day. Gabriel Syme is recruited to infiltrate the Anarchist Council by taking the place of Thursday, which has been recently vacated. The Council is lead by Sunday, an enourmous, mysterious figure who is so large that the reader, much less Syme has a difficult time seeing all of his enormity at one time.

This is the type of book in which if I said more about the plot, I’d be giving too much away. I will say, however, that Chesterton’s prose in this book can be described as sharp, witty, pithy, and and full of irony and sarcasm. The story itself both exciting and profound.

The reason I find this book “haunting” (Chesterton himself labeled it “A Nightmare”) is that its theological and philosophical implications will stay with the reader for a long time to come. Chesteron explores the issues of divine sovereignty and the problem of evil in a fun way that leaves the reader breathless and bemused—all the while evoking laughter. I approached The Man Who Was Thursday as if it were a mere foxhole, yet I found myself at the end standing over a vast cliff. The depth of the book sneaks up on the reader in a surprising way.

I realize that this is a pretty vague review, but this is the kind of novel one just needs to read without knowing too much about it. Perhaps now your appetite is whet for a haunting…

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SOTU: A Question for Democrats

Overall, I thought it was a good speech. There are certainly none in the Democrats’ camp who would even take a stand on, much less talk about defending marriage in such strong terms as George W. Bush did tonight. However, my question for any Democrats who read this blog is in a different direction. Why was there applause when Bush said that the tax cuts would expire soon (before Bush’s punchline “unless you do something..”)?

Do the Democrats actually think that there are a large number of Americans who would willingly pay more taxes? I’ve never understood this position well. Why campaign on such a platform during an election year? Even Kerry and Edwards aren’t for repealing all of the tax cuts. Was it just a political gaffe by those Democrats who did applaude? Pray tell.

UPDATE: Anti-Climacus has an answer to my question from the Democrat perspective. Though I don’t agree with him on all points, it’s the best articulated answer I’ve seen from a Democrat on this issue. It’s definitely worth checking out.

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ornament 19 January 2004 ornament

A Caucasian Caucus?

With all the buzz about tonight’s Iowa Caucus, I got to wondering where in the world the word caucus came from. Did it derive from caucasian, the term for white people? Probably not. One etymology for caucus gives this:

Etymology uncertain. Mr. J. H. Trumbull finds the origin of caucus in the N. A. Indian word cawcawwassough or ca[‘u] cau-as’u one who urges or pushes on, a promoter. See citation for an early use of the word caucus.

Uncertainly, there you have it. But that still left me with the question of why white people are called caucasian. After all, there is a geographical region called the Caucasus, where countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan are located. I’m white with regard to race, and have checked “Caucasian” on my census form, but none of my ancestors are from the Caucasus. I once even had a Russian friend look at me in unbelief when I told him that white people in the U.S. were called Caucasian. So why am I Caucasian? Wikipedia has a nice summary of the evolution of the term:

In physical anthropology, Caucasian is a purported race that includes most of the natives of Europe, West Asia, North Africa, and as far east as the Indian subcontinent. This category was first proposed by the German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who coined the term in his treatise “On the Natural Varieties of Mankind” in 1775. His studies based the classification of the Caucasian race primarily on skull features, which Blumenbach claimed were optimized by the inhabitants of Georgia in the Caucasus mountains.

A more in-depth treatment can be found from this Yale University paper (PDF). So there—now you can differentiate between a caucus and a Caucasian.

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ornament 18 January 2004 ornament

Sunday School With Jimmy

That’ll show those Southerners that Howard Dean is serious about religion. He didn’t just show up for the church service this morning—he went to SUNDAY SCHOOL! Yep, that’s right, Dr. Dean sat in on President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class this morning in Plains, GA.

Carter, in his usual wishy-washy style said that he wasn’t endorsing any candidate. Matt Drudge reports Carter saying, “He called me on the phone and said he’d like to worship with me,” Carter explained. “I did not invite him, but I’m glad he came.”

Right. Shame on Dean, of course, for continuing his obvious attempt to woo Southern voters by church-hopping, but even more shame upon Carter, for allowing such grandstanding to distract from his church’s worship. While I’m at it, shame on Maranatha Baptist Church of Plains, GA, too.

I must admit that I wasn’t there, but there is no reason that something like this should have been allowed to happen by the church. The worship of God by the church is too important and the Audience too great to be drawn into the circus of presidential primaries.

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ornament 16 January 2004 ornament

Conspiracy Theories

I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of conspiracy theories. I never watched the movie JFK, but I did take note of people’s reactions to the film, many of whom believed that the film was a factual documentary. Writing regarding the conspiracy theories surrounding Princess Diana’s death, Frank Furedi comments:

Another important cultural pressure is the tendency to endow any form of misfortune with meaning. People find it difficult to accept the fact that a misfortune was due to bad luck or an accident. You don’t need to be a Diana to have questions raised about your death. When a child meets an untimely death, parents frequently look for something that will explain their tragic loss. Desperate mothers and fathers will seize upon rumours of cover-ups to make sense of their children’s affliction. The belief that “we are not being told the truth” helps shape contemporary public debate.

That is why the instinct is to assume that “they” have lied about weapons of mass destruction, the death of David Kelly or the true risks of the MMR vaccine. It appears that there is always a story behind the story and a conspiracy theory fills a need created by a culture of mistrust.

Furedi rightly recognizes the present “culture of mistrust” that exists with regard to authority in much of Western society. This is often exhibited even at the personal level. Think about how often you’re asked a question to which after you’ve answered, you are immediately asked to give a solid argument for your answer. People in the West rarely take things at face value.

This can be both good and bad. It is good because it forces accountability upon everyone—no one person or group is above scrutiny. But I think this distrust of authority harms us more in the end. A climate of mistrust leads us to deconstruct anything that has any association with “the establishment.” People distrust things only because it is in their nature to distrust them—not because there is any reason to distrust them. Many of those who distrust “institutionalized Christianity” fall into this camp.

It is because of this climate of mistrust that Christians should be ever diligent in becoming people for whom our “yes is yes, and no is no.” (Matthew 5:37) The point of Jesus’ directive is that a Christian’s life should be so identified with the truth that no oaths need be taken. A person who is above reproach will alleviate quickly any conspiracy theories leveled towards him or her.

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ornament 15 January 2004 ornament

The Bible Code Strikes Again

The Russian newspaper Pravda is reporting that Elijah Ripson, who along with Michael Drosnin wrote the 1997 book, The Bible Code, has emerged with a new set of predictions that the Bible has given us:

In his research, Ripson concludes that the upcoming year of 2006 will be the most dangerous in terms of terrorist attacks. Eastern countries will suffer a crisis as a result of nuclear arms tests. Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and New York are among the first cities to be attacked. “The danger will most likely arise from Bin Laden’s surroundings or Bin Laden himself,” stated Michael Drosnin.

The first book made the claims that a secret code could be found in the Hebrew Bible that predicts major world events. This theory has long since been disproven (the same predictions made from the Bible Code can be made from Moby Dick), yet this hasn’t stopped Drosnin from issuing a new book, The Bible Code II. I suppose one can always make money from a sequel.

The Bible was meant to be read for what it says—not for obscure predictions that can only be found by modern-day diviners such as Drosnin and Ripson. Soothsayers have been around for ages and The Bible Code and its copycats are merely a distraction from using the Bible properly.

What I find most amusing is that Pravda would publish such an article in its “science” section. Then again, that’s why this blog is called TruePravda.

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ornament 14 January 2004 ornament

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough…

…and doggone it, nobody’s gonna listen!

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It Ain’t That Bad?

As David Mills of Mere Comments noted the other day, National Review does seem to be slipping a bit from being a strictly conservative magazine. Yesterday, NRO ran this absurd article in which the author, Catherine Seipp, (who incidentally writes for Penthouse magazine) rambles on about how Playboy magazine is not pornography and is not really all that bad.

The author argues:

Except Playboy really does have something to do with freedom, and these days maybe that’s worth remembering. A society that allows Playboy is not a society that allows women to be stoned to death for adultery. Human nature being what it is, we’re probably stuck with either burkas or naked balloon breasts forever. I know which I prefer.

My first question is why is this article even in National Review Online? Are they hurting for articles so badly that they need to include such drivel? There are many bloggers out there who could give a much better conservative opinion on the issue. It seems that the line between conservatism and libertarianism has been obscured a bit as of late (see Joe Carter’s post at Evangelical Outpost for more on the differences between conservatives and libertarians).

As for Seipp’s argument that Playboy is not that bad, the fact that she has to classify it as “bad” at all belies the problem. It is bad, harmful, exploitative, etc. Even if it is not as bad as other publications, it is still far from good.

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ornament 13 January 2004 ornament

Books That Haunt: Introduction

There are actually some people who think that fiction is a waste of time. Only books that have “real” meaning should be explored, they say, and the wistful realm of the ficticious is merely a chasing after idols. I am not one of those people. I believe that works of fiction—good works, mind you, can indeed convey truth. There are some works that can do it so well that the truth of the work can stay with the reader long after the reading is done.

I’ve read several works of fiction that continue to “haunt” me to this day. I do not mean haunt in the sense of a Stephen King or Anne Rice novel, rather I mean that there are times when I can not stop thinking about the messages and implications of these books—even books I’ve finished years ago.

So, in a veiled attempt to exorcize some of these books that haunt me, I’ll be doing a series in the coming weeks on this blog in which I will share with you some of my hanutings. I intend to give brief reviews of these books, and I’ll be careful to be spoiler-free.

Most of the books that do “haunt” me are novels that have some spiritual or theological dimension to them. They are hardly ever polemical in nature, but they communicate truths by making evident the outworkings of ideas. Though we should never take a work of ficiton as dogma, I believe that fiction is an excellent vehicle for forcing us to grapple with the ultimate questions of life as we see them played out in the lives of the characters.

Stay tuned, because the hauntings will soon begin…

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