Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Touched by Allah

It's hard meeting up with Christian singles in America, especially of the opposite gender, and of the liberal persuasion. As I've stated before, there seems to be this idea in most churches in America that it is wrong to look to date in a Singles Group; that such a group should not only not be a meat market (obviously) but also should not be a place to meet an SO. Which leaves precious few other places to meet such a person. Bars are really not the best place for that.

So I was excited about Meetup.com, an online forum where people can set up meetings in real-life, on any subject, not just singleness. I signed up for a few of them, like Barack Obama, progressive movies, and progressive Christian singles. I was really looking forward to tonight's meeting, my first- and not just because it appeared that there were seven women signed up, and me. It was at a Starbucks on Alki, and I rarely get over to West Seattle- but it is so beautiful out there! It is like a small beach town. Too bad the rent is so high.

Because of bus schedules I arrived an hour early. And I stayed forty minutes after the 7:00 meetup. And no one came. I kept on going up to people in the sparsly-populated coffee house and asking them if they were with the group. They weren't. And the evening was absolutely wonderful.

For round about 7:00 a guy talking on a cellphone near my table was using words that were eerily familiar- though hard to understand because of the loud Starbucks music. After he was finished with his call, I asked him, minin enta?- Where are you from? Turns out he and his friend were from Morocco! Oh, it was wonderful. We talked in Dareeja, Moroccan Arabic, for the next forty minutes, all about life here and over there. There were some words, like msoussa, that I'd forgotten, but a surprising amount of Dareeja came back. We talked about how good Tabib Filfila is (Dr. Pepper), the best Moroccan restaurants in town, and how much we missed the hammam (public bathhouse), as there's no real way to get clean here. How Americans don't know how to get tea hot enough or with enough sugar, but it is nice to have peppermint here. We traded stories of experiences with Homeland Security (but safely in Arabic so no one could understand) and of travels and life back in Morocco. At the end we also traded numbers for our portables, and I dearly look forward to meeting up with them again. I have to say, barring that one of the Meetup.com folks was going to be my soulmate, I much prefer the evening that God had planned for me instead- truly it was touched by His hand.

The next day I discovered that no one had met me because I had the date off by a month- it was actually March 27th. But imagine what would have happened if I'd gone only on the correct day.

Dick Staub & The Movies

Another delightful evening with The Kindlings Muse, this time discussing the theology of the Best Picture nominees with film critics, philosophers, and movie short directors.

For the first time I'd seen 4 of the 5 Best Picture nominees- and the one that won, The Departed, I have no intention of seeing because I'm just not into gangster movies. At one time I went through and watched all of the Academy Award winners ever- but I skipped the ones about adultery, the highly sexed ones, and all of the mob films. (Yes, there were a couple still left.)

This year I thought Iwo Jima was excellently done, but so violent I had to leave the theatre for a moment. It is particularly good if you've first seen Flags of Our Fathers, as many scenes are shown from the other perspective. This is the first time a major Hollywood movie is showing what happened from the Japanese perspective (and may be the first time to see war from the "enemy" side since Oscar winner All Quiet on the Western Front). Detested Little Miss Sunshine, though I thought the girl was a phenomenal actor. Liked The Queen, and the great acting of the woman portraying her, and absolutely loved Babel, as I've mentioned before.

Staub and his geusts had a lot of interesting and imaginative ideas on the theology of these movies. It did seem most of the movies offered a lot of despair and images of how awful the world was, with little hope. I got another question in on the other bookend of Babel- to what extent the theology of Pentecost was expressed in the film. And Staub actually referenced me in the first segment, referring to a teacher in Morocco and the lack of guns present in that country, and to what extent that influenced the message of the movie. To hear more about this and other comments, visit The Kindlings Muse.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

My sister-in-law just had puppies!

I was sorry to have missed the event, as I was staying with my brother the very next evening, and was really looking forward to watching the puppies come out- I've never had that opportunity before. But my sister-in-law Trina stayed up all night with Daisy after the first yelps were heard. I'm told as the first one came out Daisy had a rather surprised look on her face, wondering what in the world was happening to her. (She's artificially inseminated, so didn't have the traditional biological cues for this to be happening. This may also help explain why she wants to wander off and have fun at times rather than taking care of her babies. That and she's a teenage mother.) My brother Kent got her the traditional birthing present that every mother needs.

There's six of them, and they're all golden doodles- half golden retriever, half miniature apricot poodle. They are planning on keeping one and selling two, so if you know anyone who wants to buy a dog for $1000-$1600...

Daisy is happily suckling a number of them, as they squirm and squeal their way through her paws. Kent suggested the one male be christened with the Hispanic name "Jesus", as Daisy was implanted, and therefore remains a virgin.

I think they should just name the boy Son of a Bitch.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

An Evening with John Perkins

I had the honor to hear and see John Perkins speak last night, as I returned to the Kindlings Muse. He is a phenomenal speaker, and he shared about his past and passions. He shared of how he grew up with a grandmother because his mother died when he was seven months old, and his grandmother had to give away a number of his other brothers and sisters- only to have his only remaining brother killed by racial hatred. He came from a family of bootleggers, and it was only later that he discovered Jesus, and for the first time in his life, felt loved. Through the process of forgiveness he came to a realization that the Gospel is one of change and Justice, and not just "asking Jesus into your heart". It shouldn't only be an effort to have a good time praising Jesus- too many churches are focused around Sunday morning. The Church should be instead focused on the poor and equality for all, and working to implement the Gospel rather than just a feel-good sermon once a week.

I got a chance to ask him about how best to remove the blight upon our nation- that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday mornings. To hear his answer to this question, and Perkins' talk with Dick Staub, visit the Kindlings Muse podcast. What you won't see is how on fire Perkins was when he talked. You'll hear the passion certainly, but towards the end of the Q&A, he got out of his seat and began walking up and down, connecting with the audience, towards a climax that was utterly moving: It is a parcel of racism to say that slavery at least helped bring Africans into a better land. That implies that the whites invited the Africans into their land of prosperity. On the contrary, it was the Africans who built this land. The Egyptians didn't build the pyramids- it was the slaves. The land of America is prosperous because of African-Americans.

At the end the entire audience rose in a standing ovation to a man who has poured out his life in the service of the Kingdom of God and a true Gospel.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Happy Darwin Day!

Tonight in honor of Darwin Day (198th anniversary of his birth) I went to my first Kindlings Muse, a weekly discussion of matters theological with the Inklings as an inspiration, posted as a podcast online where you can hear the entire talk. This week was on "the new atheism", as discussed in Wired Magazine. John West, Associate Director of the Discovery Institute, shared from the Intelligent Design perspective, and our own Adrian Wyard of Counterbalance.org from the balance of religion and science perspective. (Counterbalance tries to find ways to take the ideas of scientists and theologians and make them accessible to the general public so that ethical issues can be directly addressed.) Dick Staub is an engaging host, really getting down to substance. Adrian was very smooth and personable, and I was impressed at how much he knew his stuff.

Staub began by asking Adrian to summarize the ideas of the new atheism, printed in recent books by Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. He basically pointed out that there wasn't much new in this atheism- the basics had been out there for centuries. The idea that religious elements are based in observable psychological phenomena or evolutionary mechanisms has been argued for decades. What is new is the virulence of this atheism, claiming that religion is not only wrong, but is actually evil. Since 9/11, there is now the argument that religion will not only lead people astray, but could also bring on the apocalypse. Staub asked Adrian about the ideas behind Flock of Dodos- getting scientists to relate their ideas better to the common guy. Adrian pointed out that was good, but there are certain things you just can't "discuss at a bar" in a short period, like quantum mechanics.
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Staub then brought on Dr. West, who really didn't feel there was anything new in the new atheism. He shared how Denton's A Theory in Crisis was one of the first instrumental books that got him onto the issues of Intelligent Design. (That was when I involuntarily squirted out the water I was drinking, having actually read that atrocious book. But I did find West's admission interesting, considering that Denton has more recently come out to say that he was trying to say all along that evolution occurs through purely natural means, but that very quick transitions occur between orders not because of God but because of homeobox genes.) West then made the claim that 95% of biologists were atheist. (This is really contrary to other studies I've seen, indicating about a 40% rate for belief in a God, the same as the general populace.)
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West spoke of how often Behe had been denied his place as a scientist because of his Catholicism. (I don't want to deny West's experience. It could certainly be true. But I've read many places where people say that Behe has done some good biochemical work, and his ideas on Intelligent Design are all rot- because of the ideas, not his religion.) He complained that often those who follow religion are excluded from the scientific community, and there's not an opportunity for genuine dialogue. (I was thinking of what I've read on Panda's Thumb of ID science conferences where anyone who didn't agree with ID was explicitly uninvited.)
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Staub then engaged Adrian and Dr. West together. Adrian proposed that God is interacting through the whole of creation, seamlessly, so that He is there at all moments. Flock of Dodos then came up. If you'll recall, Adrian had helped bring the movie into Seattle, and so has an invested interest in the film. Adrian argued that the film is light fun but is good for encouraging discussion on these matters. Staub also echoed this, saying it is stimulating for discussion. West responded, "I agree with that." If this isn't clear, at the end of the podcast, West recommended seeing the movie (along with his Hoax of Dodos.)
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There was some interesting questions at the end of the podcast. One of the members of the Discovery Institute in the audience suggested that Adrian's comments (that there are certain aspects of science that can't be dumbed down) held true for only a small portion of science, like quantum theory. Adrian rightfully responded that there was a lot of science that you need a lot of training and experience to understand, like evolution, which can be incredibly complex. (I think this is an area that non-biologists, particularly at the DI, often don't get. If you have only three weeks to teach evolution in a high-school class and you spend half that time "teaching the controversy", there's no way any of the students can grasp the fundamentals of evolution.)
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I actually got to ask a question I'd been dying to understand. (I didn't know ahead of time that the questioner actually reads the question into the mike and it goes into the podcast, so that was suddenly rather intimidating.) After Flock of Dodos came out, the DI responded with two points of trivia, implying that they tried to tell Olson about this but he wouldn't change his film and didn't respond to them. Yet Olson states in the movie and in person that he tried to contact them numerous times, but they wouldn't return his calls. He had wanted to include them in the production and let them have more of a say. So I asked West what his response to these claims was. West stated that actually they helped Olson get some of his interviews, but then stopped interacting with him when it became clear to them that he was biased. Even after that point they continued to offer corrections, but they were not incorporated into the movie. (Of course, on the latter point, it was cost-prohibitive for Olson to make changes when they finally got back to him.)
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Staub proposed that both extremes in atheism and religion seemed to lack humility. Adrian gave a rousing "Yes!"; West defended the Discovery Institute, and questioned the titles of extremes, and never seemed to get around to addressing the issue of humility.
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In his last words Adrian mentioned that his background is not in science but rather in computer programming, to which West winced. (If you remember, the DI wants to get programmers and see them as scientists, as they see the issue is their version of information theory, rather than biology.) Adrian shared that he felt that Flock of Dodos shows clearly how everything on both sides is a circus, and West responded that he felt it dehumanizes people to call it a circus. Adrian clarified that he would still call it a circus, but it doesn't deny that there are important, technical, legitimate questions involved in all this, but that it is hidden in the circus.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Dancing the Troll

Today was a bit of a break from the brouhaha that has erupted over Flock of Dodos. Happily it appears the Wikipedia article has been decided in favor of truth, evolution, and my way, at least for the moment. It's been a lot of time online that I've been spending these last two days to counteract the Discovery Institute's lies about this movie. Tomorrow we'll see what happens when Adrian appears on a panel discussion with Mr. Wells on the New Atheism.

It began with a Peace Day focus at church, in honor of St. Valentine's Day. Unfortunately our dear pastor was quite ill, and therefore unable to give the sermon, so we had an extended Open Worship this time, with many sharings on the topic. I was deeply honored to have my first guest at North Seattle Friends, Dylan Jenkinson and his daughter Gracie, who came all the way from a far-off country (Canada). Indeed, impressively Dylan shared the closing thought during Open Worship, and it was quite astute.

Afterwards we went to visit the Troll, which I'd never been to, and Gracie didn't think was real. We hung out and took pictures- but really, there's not much else to do at the Troll. Well, besides follow my main man Matt and dance a bit.








I haven't had many lessons.

Then it was off to Pike Place Market, where we wandered around the shops and were joined by my brother Kent. We watched some of the world famous fish being thrown as customers by it (far too fast to catch on camera), and I learned in a historical kiosk that the market is actually patterned after a Turkish souq- which explains why I have felt such familiarity and nostalgia when traveling through it. We also found a couple very important sculptures.






Then it was a sad farewell to my friends, and off to my first lesson in Salsa! Yes, after great sadness in being unable to attend Rebecca's dance extravaganza due to preparing for the Oliver production, I have finally redeemed that moment, and am taking lessons, beginning with five beginner's classes. It doesn't come easily for me, especially the turns. But once I get this down, I have only two more dances to learn for my wedding- Irish Jig and Tango.

You saw already my dancing before the lessons. After one hour there was marked improvement. I'm in the black, and danced under a pseudonym.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Meeting the Olson Dodos

I saw one once, at the Natural History Museum in Oxford. Not a live one of course- but there's only three places in the world with a complete skeleton of the dodo- and Oxford is one of them. They say the dodo is much slimmer than was originally thought, and not this plump epitome of failed fitness.

Which brings us to the movie of tonight, Flock of Dodos. My friend Adrian was helping to sponsor it at the Pacific Science Center. As it was showing here in honor of the upcoming Evolution Sunday and subsequent Darwin Day, I got to see the movie currently touring the country and offending everyone. I had heard it described as a comedy, attacking both intelligent design and evolution, so it was a bit surprised to find to find a very insightful condemnation of intelligent design, with minimal humor.

Randy Olson tells the story with some of the style of Michael Moore, using dry wit, multiple interviews, and an overt agenda. He was an evolutionary marine biologist who decided to go into film, and here looks at all angles of the intelligent design controversy and how it tries to attack evolution. It's short on content and long on entertainment, and that's for a purpose. The goal of the movie is to show how behind biologists are in public relations, and how much more they need to do. And the movie did this admirably. The evolutionists come across as either Ivory Tower scientists who can't relate to the public, or real prigs who you wouldn't want to drink with. The ID folks are all pretty likable, but simultaneously really off when it comes to science, for the most part not knowing anything behind what they are saying. Olson wishes to point out this huge gulf between the facts and likability, and call scientists to a place where they can start to actually reach out to the public on a level that doesn't require four years of grad school to understand. This is actually something that one regularly finds, even outside the movie- in discussions between scientists and intelligent design folks, the scientists have all the facts, and the ID people are the nice ones that you want to agree with even if they're wrong. The scientists are therefore the dodos. (That said, I've got to say that I have personally run into ID supporters who are decidedly unpleasant, particularly towards Theistic Evolutionists.) This movie's raised a lot of controversy because the Discovery Institute, based here in Seattle and the leader of the ID movement, complains that they weren't consulted and that the movie is very biased against them. Likewise the scientific community complains that the movie makes them look bad and that Olson is calling for them to dumb down their material.
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Now the bonus of the night was that, after the movie, an information systems biologist from U Dub and Randy Olson himself hosted a Q and A. (However, for some strange reason, under very poor lighting in the Science Center.) Most of the questions in liberal Seattle were from the evolutionary side, although there were a couple DI folks in the audience as well. There were a slew of questions over the next 45 minutes, including one guy who felt it was his right to ask many questions in a row. (Happily he made up for this afterward by monopolizing Olson privately with another group of questions.) Some wanted to know about how the movie was constructed, and others about how best to communicate scientific ideas. And the biology professor did an excellent job of communicating, particularly on the myriad ways biologists can answer the supposed principle of irreducible complexity. He waxed rather eloquent on this subject, and greatly enjoyed discussing how the eye could evolve and the ways we have of understating the evolution of the flagella.
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Pharyngula reported earlier today on Panda's Thumb about the first attacks by DI on the film. They are both rather weak. The first is a bit involved to explain. One of the big arguments Literal Creationists and Intelligent Designers like to raise is of Haekel's embryology pictures. Haekel was an evolutionary biologist who, shortly after Darwin, indicated that embryos of different species look very alike, and this indicates that they have a common ancestor. This became the doctrine with the complex name, ontology recapitulates phylogeny. However, in order to prove his point, Haekel doctored up his pictures, to make them look much more alike. (It should be noted he also did some really great biological research as well in other areas.) Then this got picked up and taught in schools. The Intelligent Design Crowd likes to then make the claim that this is still being taught in high-school and college textbooks across the nation. I've even had a director in a school I used to work in consistently argue this.
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The problems with this idea are manifold. Olson points this out in the movie, where he searches through many biology textbooks, and asks ID folks to do so, and they can't find the images. The images actually only appear in some textbooks in the beginning as a classic example of scientific fraud and how science has grown. In fact, Olson finally was able to find a textbook with Haekel's woodcuts in it, used for scientific purposes- printed in 1914.
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Beyond this, and not addressed in the movie, is the issue over the doctored images ignores the very real truth that there are marked similarities between embryos of pigs, fish, salamanders, and humans. It is not a one-to-one correlation with the embryo developing in the evolutionary path, as Haekel argued, but rather strong similarities in embryo development, indicating a common evolutionary root, as evolution has a common stock to work with. Of course, this was noted long before Haekel, or Darwin, by the Literal Creationist Van Baer, in order to prove creationism at a time when evolution was argued to occur only along set lines and not a branching tree. Therefore by showing the similarities Van Baer wanted to show that evolution couldn't be possible, because organisms were too similar.
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The Discovery Institute has accused Olson of getting this point wrong, and that in actual fact there are plenty of textbooks with these images in them. (It's just that scientists have a hard time finding them. Likely IDers are referring to images showing similarities between embryos rather than Haekel's actual drawings, or the drawings again are supposed to indicate past fraud in science, and not a teaching of the way things are.) One of the DI plants in the audience asked a question along these lines. Olson expressed regret above all that this is a really trivial matter that IDers are raising. Even when the pictures have appeared, what is taught in the textbooks is that there are similarities between embryos indicating common ancestry, and this is true. In the rare cases where the images do sadly show up, Haekel's Biogenic Law is not taught, and there are actual similarities between embryos- just not as much as those select pictures would indicate. These similarities can be seen in actual photos, which often show up in modern biology texts.
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Olson also spoke about how he tried repeatedly to get ahold of the Discovery Institute, wanting to show them in a good light in the movie, to show scientists how they really have their act together in terms of publicity. But the DI repeatedly didn't return his calls, thinking he was some guy doing a student project. He even had Behe, who he interviews for two hours, write them a recommendation for him. But the DI didn't call Olson back until the movie was already in production. And now their Publicity Manager is evidently really kicking herself.
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Some of the evolutionary biologists come across as rather negative in the movie, and I must confess I felt for a bit like I was watching a Borat kind of thing, where Olson catches a guy making an ass of himself in a couple minutes of film, and highlights that. So I was actually gratified to hear the footage he didn't show. When talking to Intelligent Designer Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box), and asking him if he was concerned about the what kids in public schools were learning, Behe thinks for a moment, and then asks "Why should I care? My kids are in private school."
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Olson tells us he decided not to show this footage, as this was at the end of a two hour interview in which Behe showed himself to be a very nice and likable guy. In other words, the one comment wasn't indicative of Behe, and so it was not shown. However, the evolutionary biologist who's a real prig to his fellow scientists acts like that throughout the two hour card game, and show it was not a "Gotcha" moment- it truly showed his character, and therefore made it into the movie.
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When asked their thoughts on Dawkins, both speakers were unaminous in declaring he was the most public image of evolution since the death of Stephen J. Gould (peace be upon him). They both felt he is a great biologist. And they both felt that his conflation of religion and science, by claiming that science can and does disprove God, has done a great diservice to biology, evolution, and this entire controversy. He provides more fodder for the religious right, and goes beyond the bounds of what science is. One said he is the Chief Public Evolutionist, and increasingly the Chief Public Atheist, and he confuses those two roles, so that the general public feels that they must give up religion to follow science.
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After the Q&A I got to listen in to some private questions of Olson, and ask one or two of my own. Of particular interest was hearing about the great Stephen J. Gould, author of numerous texts. It turns out the information systems biologist there learned evolutionary biology from Gould, and Olson also studied under him. Olson described Gould as one of the most brilliant men he had ever met, able to hold in tons of information at once, particularly about science and history. Unfortunately, the cancer and fame of his last fifteen years wore on him, and he became increasingly a curmudgeon. But one of Olson's favorite stories of Gould was when he and other grad students were gathered around Gould, and Gould proposed a game- name all of the least deserving Noble Prize winners. Very few in the group could think of even one Noble Prize winner. But Gould named about 12 different undeserving winners, one after the other. His grasp of science and history was just that good.
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I got a chance to ask Olson about the other major DI accusation against him. PZ Meyers points out on Pharyngula the paucity of logic in DI's arguments here. Olson states that a big reason for the success of the Discovery Institute here is a five million dollar budget, as compared to the $650,000 annual budget of the National Center for Science Education, a similar organization working on science, and partly for evolution. DI claims this is fraudulent, because their budget is only 4.2 million, and the budget for work on ID specifically only 1.2 million.
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I asked Olson if he could respond to this. He felt again that DI is looking at trivia, in a difference between 4.2 million and 5 million, when the NCSE has such a much smaller budget for all of science. He also mentioned that, after the DI refused to return any of his calls, and after the movie came out, they sent him emails about the items on the embryos and the budget. He went back and reviewed the data, and discovered the DI was correct- their budget was indeed only 4.2 million. But at that late date he didn't want to spend the extra $1000 to correct a trivial difference, especially since the Discovery Institute had refused to correct facts at an earlier point in the film making.
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Olson and Flock of Dodos consistently point out the facts are on the side of evolution- but facts aren't enough to sway the public. And these days, with the information revolution of the last fifteen years, we need to know how to communicate. Groups like the Discovery Institute know how to do this, and unless scientists get on the ball, it is the Intelligent Designers who will win the public, and therefore the battle, in the end.

Friday, 2 February 2007

The Path of Mystery

I think I've finally figured out how I like to travel. And I think how we travel is the best indicator of how we approach life.

This past week I discovered a secret path. I love secret paths. This one goes down straight from my house through the greenbelt to industrial SoDo below the hill. You go down some steps, below fallen trees from the last storm, till you come to an overgrown blackberry bush-laden path. So I wasn't the first to discover it. I can imagine. It's the kind of path that was once maintained and paved by the city, but has fallen into disrepair and is now only occasionally used. Better yet, it's the kind of path dating to a time when there was once an advanced civilization in the Pacific Northwest, now largely forgotten, leaving only perplexing remains of their greatness, and a reminder of the glory we are capable of.

Now you run down the path, dodging the omnipresent blackberry vines that grow with a productivity rivaling rabbits, till you come to a steep set of stairs in the middle of the greenbelt. The path and stairs are both merely ruins, and so you must be careful heading down the stairs. Below is mud paths, and a blue tent where a homeless guy lives permanently. Further in, you come to a broad track that cars can use, or lovers wandering through the woods. A bit less romantic though, considering the I-5 immediately adjoining, as you can see. So you give up transcendental sound for the images. But this road through the woods is forbidden to trespassers- unless you enter from the top, where there are no signs, and it's a public path, if erratically maintained. And if you continue on to the right, under two overpasses suitable for a person of 5' in height, you come straight down into SoDo and the buslines, less than 10 minutes from my house.
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This is how I like to travel. To discover some place unknown and secret- or at least a place that I convince myself is so. Then to head pell-mell into it, regardless of the consequences, risking life and limb, as fast as I can, until I come to the place of vista.


That's where you stop, and rest, and saleh, contemplating God in all His glory.
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This is how I approach life. I want the mystery, the numinous, the undiscovered country. I want the adrenaline and the excitement and the risk. I'm not so much about the journey as the getting there. But then I want to take it in and to rest in God, simply enjoying. For me it is not that the journey is what it's about, but rather that the goal is the journey. The real journey doesn't begin until I get to that new place, and that new state of being.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

The Way We Were

Everyone I know had never heard of it. There were no natural history museums in Seattle- it's a shame. Especially since it's the kind of museum I really enjoy. Art museums are fine, but I just don't get into them. Natural history museums I do.

Well, turns out there is one in Seattle, a few blocks from where I used to live. (It was being extensively renovated when I was last in Seattle and was closed to the public.) The Burke Natural History Museum was quite interesting, and bonus- it's open till 8 and free every first Thursday of the month.

After an extensively long day, of five buses and job interviews and medical exams, I finally reached the Burke. (Had my first ultrasound of my arteries since the stroke last Easter. Everything looks great.) The museum entrance is closely guarded by totem poles and totem whales, giving a glimpse of the extensive bottom floor devoted to Pacific Rim cultures- the only permanent part of the museum. I particularly enjoyed the homages to Samoan, Maori, and Hawaiian societies. The Maori brought fond memories to mind of Whale Rider, one of the finest movies ever made. However, despite the wide variety of religious expressions presented, there was sadly a dearth of information on the Christian societies of the Philippines, Korea, or Hawaii- almost as if indigenous Asian cultures must be non-Christian.

Upstairs the exhibits constantly change. There was a whole hall of artwork from Tibet, but again, it was art. What really fascinated me was the trip through time in Washington, beginning 545 mya. Burke has really done an excellent job at this, showing how Washington has changed through the years, beginning when it was all ocean, through the merging of microcontinents, to the formation of major glaciers over much of the state. Through it all they have representative animal and plant fossils and casts, really bringing to life, and death, the reality of the previous worlds.

A few hundred million years ago brings giant life-size Stegosaurus and Triceratops skeletons, a rare collection of perfectly formed dinosaur eggs, still in the next, and countless (to me more interesting) fossils of marine invertebrates. There were some amazingly perfect Crinoidea fossils, so lifelike it looked like they were still waving their fronds in an ancient ocean of stone.

A few million years after that there is the giant Missoula ice dam to the East, when Seattle is covered by 3,000 feet of ice. Then the ice dam breaks, sending 45 mph floods of thousands of tons of water over Washington State, scouring the plains into the scablands, 100s of times. It left unique rectangular valleys (rather than the V-valleys of rivers or the U-valleys of glaciers), unexplainable for a long time. The floods moved 9 cubic miles of water/hour, more than all the rivers of the world combined. Most of Eastern Washington and parts of Oregon were completely flooded. Geologist Harlen Bretz had to fight for decades to convince the geological community that this was caused by floods- the largest in the world for which we have evidence.

At this time you round the corner and are confronted with a 10,000-year-old mastodon, about to attack you. Further up and further in are the skeleton of a 20,000-year-old saber-toothed tiger having a 12,000-year-old giant sloth over for dinner, with a side of fava beans. (I guess saber-tooths lived a really long time.)

Burke is to be congratulated with really engaging all levels of visitors into this exhibit. There are special features for children, and the combination of a "time machine" in different stages, with replicas and actual fossils, gives an incredibly clear picture of life 100s of millions of years ago. It's the kind of place where you can get lost for hours, noticing the details of the life once around you, contemplating the way things once were.