Friday, June 1, 2012

Dragon in the Drink

The end of a perfect mission...

The SpaceX Dragon ended its picture perfect supply mission to the ISS when it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean approximately 560 miles southwest of Los Angeles at 8:42 a.m. Pacific Time, Thursday 31 May 2012.  I don't quite know how to embed video but here's link to the YouTube video of the Dragon's descent by parachute, three big orange and white ones, very much like the ones Apollo used back in the good old days.

Well done, SpaceX!

Photo credit: Michael Altenhofen

They Shall Take Up Serpents

Yet another Pentecostal snake handler learns his lesson the hard way...

Mark Randal "Mack" Wolford, Pentecostal pastor of the Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka, West Virginia, died after being bit by his timber rattlesnake at a religious service last Sunday afternoon.  Wolford spent eight hours on the sofa in the living room of his mother-in-law's trailer home praying to be healed.  Eventually paramedics were called and Wolford was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Shuffling off the mortal coil in this gratuitous fashion is not unusual in his family.  When Mark Wolford was a teenager he watched his own father die exactly the same way.

Christians who demonstrate their faith by handling venomous snakes and drinking strychnine draw their Biblical guidance from the Gospel of Mark, specifically Chapter 16 Verses 17-18:

"17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

What never fails to amaze me is that these Biblical literalists choose to ignore the fact that the author of the Gospel of Mark originally closed the story at the end of Chapter 16 Verse 8.

"8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid."

The longer ending, Verses 9-20, was amended to the text by some unknown copyist at a later date.  Portions of the revision are quoted by patristic writers in the late 2nd century and the entire interpolation is seen in some 4th century texts.  While modern Biblical scholarship is pretty clear on the idea that the Gospels were not penned by the men for whom they were named, all the snake-handling, poison-drinking, devil-casting faithful have been following the advice of some even more anonymous scribe who was not even present when the original document,  the only one according to Christian doctrine which was inspired and inerrant, was written.
UPDATE: cgosling, a commenter at the WEIT blog, succinctly summarizes the pointlessness of this practice: 

"If he is not bitten it is God’s will; if he is bitten it is God’s will; if he survives the bite it is God’s will, if he does not survive the bite it is God’s will."

Perhaps a person has to be a member of Pentecostal Christian snake-wrangling, strychnine-swilling cult for that to make sense...


Catastrophe as Transition

Mr.  Palin is at it again...

Philip J. Palin, ever the thoughtful blogger, has made an interesting start to what promises to be a fascinating series at under-appreciated Homeland Security Watch blog.

A catastrophe is not only a matter of numbers killed or property destroyed, it involves a fundamental shift in direction or perception, well outside pre-event expectations.

Hypothesis: The velocity of a catastrophic shift is correlated with two factors: 1) preexisting systemic resilience and 2) the intentionality of post-catastrophe response.   The more resilience and intentionality depend on control mechanisms, the greater velocity of change.  The more resilience and intentionality are predisposed to creative adaptation, the [more the] velocity of change is reduced.

Proposition: What we call homeland security is a catastrophic consequence of the 9/11 attack.

I propose that our “pre-existing systemic resilience” was poor and that our response to 9/11 was predictably and sadly reflexive rather than intentional.

The 9/11 attack cost AQ $500,000 USD and has resulted in two trillion dollars (and climbing) in unplanned and unfunded spending in the decade since. Bankrupting a superpower that now spies on its citizens, gropes grandmothers, and tortures its enemies, all for a mere half million bucks and the lives of 19 martyrs, is a payoff like no terror attack has ever accomplished.

That said, my concern is that the sort of catastrophic transition Philip contemplates may come as the result of the delineation, reinforcement, and concretization of the boundaries of the culture wars. Right/Left.  Conservative/Progressive.  Republican/Democrat.  Drive time reactionary radio personalities/NPR.  Rich/Poor.  Fear and greed/Hope and understanding.  In group/Out group.  The differences between Hierarchical-Individualists and Communitarian-Egalitarians have never been drawn more starkly. The political, economic, and cultural issues we use to define ourselves have never been more distractingly and dangerously polarized. What if our republic were burning and the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, and everyone between were unable or unwilling to do more than play fiddles?