Strange Hair

What follows is an undated writing assignment I found in my collection of school papers. I’m guessing junior high.

I enjoy watching people. You sometimes see crazy people or see normal people doing things that seem crazy. I remember going into a supermarket and seeing a woman apparently talking to the dairy section of the store. I wasn’t sure if I was mistaken about her talking to the cheese, or if she was really crazy. Then a hand appeared from behind the cheese. At first this seemed very strange, but it didn’t take long to realize that there was a person behind the cheese display who was talking to the woman.

A mall is a good place to watch people, especially if you like seeing crazy people with weird hairstyles. I like to go to the mall. It is amazing the kind of hair you will see–it is often straight up, straight out, or so strange that it cannot be described.

Order From Disorder

“When will I ever use _________ in real life?”  Students (and sometimes their parents) ask this question about algebra, trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, grammatical parts of speech, literature, history, or other subjects that they find difficult to learn.

As human beings created in the image of God, one of the ways we reflect God’s image is by creating order from disorder.  Although God created ex nihilo (which we as humans cannot do), part of his creative effort was to create order from disorder.  Genesis 1:2 tells us that the initial state of the earth was “formless.”  The first thing God did was to separate light (day) from darkness (night).  Next he separated the waters above (sky) from the waters below, and finally he separated the waters below (sea) from the dry ground (land).

When humans “create,” we use our God-given faculties to put things in a meaningful order or structure.  Scientific and mathematical discoveries are all about discovering the order that God has instilled in the universe, and utilizing that order to discover yet more and harnessing that order in ways that benefit us.  Learning about, and helping to define the order of our world isn’t just useful for those considering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers (although this is certainly a very good reason for learning these subjects).  It is also an exercise in understanding and reflecting our Creator.

It’s fairly easy to see how science is a means of discovering and utilizing the order that exists in the physical world around us, while mathematics may be described as a logical structure explaining and predicting what we observe in the physical world.  But this exercise in observing and creating order is not limited to just the fields of math and science.  Language and art is also about creating order and meaning.

Without organizing thoughts and meanings into words and language, our communication would be limited to pointing and grunting.  Assembling words with no regard for their order and structure is what we call “gibberish.”  This is why all students should welcome the opportunity to learn sentence structure, parts of speech, and how different ways of organizing words can enhance meaning.  A sonnet, a haiku, a pun, a limerick, etc., are different ways of organizing and structuring words and thoughts that may elicit a different response than if they were organized differently.  So, even if the language arts are not “your bag,” there is value in understanding how words are ordered and structured.  Again, putting random words into a meaningful order is a creative process that reflects our Creator and it gives Him glory when we follow Him in creating order from disorder.

It should be clear by now that the visual arts and musical arts are also creative outlets for producing order and structure in a way that reflects and glorifies our Creator.  A piece of artwork keeps colors and lines separated and ordered in a way that creates meaning.  A musical composition arranges notes and sounds in a certain order.  Whether someone finds that order “pleasing” or not, it’s still a creative effort that can be distinguished from random, unordered sounds (aka “noise”).

Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”  Even those of us who are not kings can partake in the glory of kings and the glory of God by seeking to find and create order in the world around us.  Keep this in mind the next time you are struggling to solve a quadratic equation or remember what a dangling gerund is.

Neither a Pragmatist nor an Idealist be

For Christians who are politically conservative, this year’s Presidential election presents a dilemma.  As political conservatives, most in this group tend to vote Republican, since the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party.  In the past, even when the Republican Presidential nominee has been a squishy moderate, they have still been a much better option than the Democratic nominee, so the choice has not been that difficult.  This year, the Republican nominee is truly atrocious, forcing many to reconsider their approach to choosing between two less than ideal options.

Some take the approach that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” and refuse to vote for either major party candidate (either not voting at all, or voting for a third party).  Those in this camp may be considered Idealists.  Not only will they not vote for Donald Trump, they likely would not have voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, George Bush (either W or HW), or Bob Dole.  They will only vote for a candidate who substantially aligns with their vision of an ideal candidate, regardless of whether their preferred candidate has any possibility of winning the election.  The stronger their idealism, the more closely aligned the candidate must be with their ideal, and the fewer potential candidates there are to select from.

The problem with Idealism is that no two people share the same set of ideals, so it actually becomes very individualistic.  Although Christians must stand firm in their core principles, some of those principles include unity, submission, and humility, which means we must also be willing to prioritize which ideals are most important and seek compromise in other areas.  While it is true that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” Christians know that “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12, Ps. 53:3), so demanding a candidate free from “evil” is basically saying that Christians should not vote at all.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t bother to evaluate a candidate’s morality.  To excuse a candidate’s moral failings based on the fact that there are “no perfect candidates” or that “every candidate is flawed” is just foolish.

To answer the idealist objection that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” it can be countered that given a situation where the only options all have bad outcomes, it is morally right to seek the outcome that minimizes evil and maximizes good (even if the potential good is quite limited, it’s still better than the alternative).  I think this is a valid principle, if applied properly.  The problem I see, at least in the context of this year’s Presidential election and the rationale being used by Christians to justify support for Donald Trump, is that there seems to be little difference between this “greater good” principle and pragmatism.

The pragmatist does not ask, “what is right?” but instead asks, “what will have the better outcome?”  The pragmatist does not evaluate the options themselves, but the perceived consequences of the options.  Pragmatism as a guiding principle is not a biblical method of decision making.  For one, it requires that we actually know the outcome in order to judge the right decision.  But even if we do know the outcome, or even the likely outcome, the only person who really knows the ultimate greater good is God.  God has said, “obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).  Righteousness defies logic (1 Cor. 1:18-31).  We are to act with wisdom, and plan for the future, but determining outcomes is God’s business, not ours (James 4:14, Matt. 6:34).

If I were a pragmatist, I would vote for Donald Trump.  The things that he says he will do (appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution, defend life, scale back government overreach) are on the whole, better than the things Hillary Clinton promises to do.  Even assuming (as I do) that Trump will entirely renege on every promise he had made, the things he is likely to do might not be as bad (at least in the short term) as what Clinton will do.  I don’t believe that Trump has any real core values other than self-promotion, but his opinions about what our country should do may align more closely with mine than do Clinton’s.  As Doug Wilson has said, “I would rather fight Trump than to fight Hillary.”

But I am not a pragmatist.  I am a “values voter.”  Actually, although this label is generally applied to those on the Christian Right, everyone is a “values voter.”  It’s just a matter of which values they prioritize.  I prioritize virtue over political ideology.  I prioritize truth and righteousness over Supreme Court vacancies, government regulations, and tax code.  I do not believe that Donald Trump is any more virtuous, honest, or righteous than Hillary Clinton.  Therefore, he is no more closely aligned with my values than is Clinton.  Given the lack of difference between the two individuals, I am perfectly content to “throw my vote away” this year by writing in a third party candidate.

It would be different if we were simply voting for a Party.  The Republican Party Platform is much more closely aligned with my values than the Democratic Party Platform.  All else equal, I would much rather see a Republican in power than a Democrat.  I plan to vote for Republican candidates in other races.  If we were only voting for a party, I would gladly pull the lever for the Republican party.  But we’re not voting for a party*, we’re voting for a candidate.  And character matters too much for me to “hold my nose” and vote for Trump.  Political policies hold no value if morality is simply cast aside.  It saddens me to see those on the Christian Right valuing the political outcome of voting for Trump over the moral defeat of voting for a man so devoid of character.

(*You might argue that, in fact, we are voting for a party, and the electors of each party are the ones who then select the President.  While that may technically be how the Electoral College works, for all practical purposes a vote for Trump is just that: a vote for Trump.)


Robotic Back Scratcher

I like to get back rubs and have my back scratched.  Unfortunately, my wife stubbornly refuses to rub or scratch my back every night until I fall to sleep.  So I thought it would be nice if someone invented a robotic arm that could be attached to the headboard of the bed and would scratch my back for me.

The robotic back scratcher should have a rotating cuff so that it can scratch the user’s back while the user is lying on their stomach or on their side (and can scratch to the left or to the right depending on which side of the bed you’re on).

The robotic “hand” should be equipped with pressure sensors so that it automatically maintains the right position; if the user moves, the “hand” should follow, maintaining contact with the user’s back.

Dr. Claw

The ideal design would NOT be modeled after Dr. Claw.

The “fingers” should have retractable “nails,” and the amount of pressure applied should be adjustable, so the user can choose between a light back scratch and a deep tissue massage.  (For safety, the maximum pressure when the “fingernails” are extended will be less than when they are retracted.)  Another option to consider is the ability to use a flexible “palm” instead of individual fingers.

The direction of motion should be adjustable, so the user can choose between a path that is primarily circular, side-to-side, up-and-down, or fully randomized.  The range should also be adjustable, to accommodate user preference and backs of different sizes.

The pressure and path of motion should be somewhat randomized, to make the experience more “natural” and keep it from being too repetitive.  The degree of randomness should be independently adjustable for each setting, based on user preference.

Finally, the robot should be equipped with Bluetooth so that the operation and settings can be controlled via a smartphone app.  The app should provide on-the-fly adjustments, but also allow user preferences to be saved and recalled to support different users and/or different moods.

Anyone want to build this for me?

Getting Things Done By Walking Around

A ton of people have written tons of books about how to be more effective at getting things done.  One such popular book is titled Getting Things Done.  I have not read any of these books.  I don’t know if what I’m about to say is consistent with the best recommendations out there, or if it flies in the face of all the “experts.”  However, here’s my take on one way to keep from falling behind with the “little things” that tend to accumulate.

To Do ListDon’t put off the “little things” until you have time to do them all at once.  Just do them a little at a time while on the way to do something else.

The “trick” to this is two-fold: one, you have to be observant so that the “little things” don’t go unnoticed.  Secondly, you have to learn to accurately assess what qualifies as a “little thing.”

Take household upkeep, for example.  When you’re walking through the house, pay attention to the state of things.  Notice a dusty shelf in the hallway?  Instead of adding “dust the house” to your to-do list, just grab a dust rag or feather duster and dust that one shelf.  Don’t worry about the rest of the house right now.  You can dust the TV later when you happen to be in the living room.  The key here is that you take care of one “little thing” right when you notice it, without allowing yourself to get distracted and coming off of one task to start a different task.  Stay focused on the task at hand, but just allow yourself some leeway to do a little something extra on the way.  Don’t stop what you’re doing in order to do something else, but when you’re on the move, take notice of things that need to be done, and just go ahead and do one of them, provided it won’t interfere with something more important.

Apparently, people have done studies and determined that multitasking can actually make you less productive than if you just stay focused on getting one thing done at a time.  I’m not advocating that you jump from task to task or try to do two tasks at the same time.  I’m talking about utilizing “transitional time” to squeeze in one or two little things.  If you’re supposed to be writing a paper, don’t get distracted by organizing your desk.  However, when you get up from your desk to get a drink, take some of those old papers to the recycling bin while you’re at it.  When you have to take a bathroom break, go ahead and wipe down the toilet, or do a quick scrub of the toilet bowl, or clean the mirror while you’re in there.

I’m not saying that you always need to be doing something either.  If you want to sit on the couch watching TV, that’s fine.  But when you go to the kitchen to get a snack, grab a few of those dishes on the counter and put them in the dishwasher.

Use your “walking through the house” time to look around and see what you can put away, clean, or fix in a minute or two.  If you do this regularly, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to schedule an extended time to do some thorough cleaning or organizing, but you can manage to do a lot of your regular upkeep without needing to set aside specific time for it.