Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Heaven, A Novel

Heaven, a novelHeaven, a novel by Kimberly Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is expensive, the plot is so-so and predictable, the character development is fitting for a child's fairy tale (the good are very good and the bad are very bad), and there are numerous, long, and repetitive passages of dubious theology.  The language is terrible and the book contains explicit sexual scenes.  It is not available for Kindle. The book contains a music CD with 6 tracks on it which is OK, but obviously contributes to the cost.

So why five stars?  Simply because this book is the best book I have ever read on the spirituality of sex within a Christian framework. I wish I had wrote it, flaws and all.  The spirituality closely parallels my personal beliefs, although perhaps a bit more steeped in Christianity than I am.  Do not construe that to mean this is Christian literature, it is not. It is about a stripper who believes in the holiness of the body, the sacredness of sex, and the spiritual power of women. It is not a goody-goody book extolling the virtues of the Wednesday Night Women's Bible Study.  It is a very spiritual book trying to hitch a ride on a novel with some limited  success.  I won't be suggesting this title at my book club.

To whom would I recommend this book?  Only close friends that I know and trust are open minded enough to intelligently handle the theology. I can count them on one hand.  This book would piss off most of the Christians I know, "why did you recommend that blasphemous filth to me?"  And it would probably piss off most the atheists "Now you simpleton's are trying to take over sex with your fairy tales."  So not desiring to be burnt at the stake by some of my friends or thrown in the loony bin by the others, I respectfully recommend this book to no one. Unfortunately both those groups are people who would benefit from this book the most, but a closed mind is a terrible thing to engage.

Well most people who read this review are not my friends.  So as a generalization here are my recommendations.

If your religious beliefs have taught you that sex is sinful and you righteously agree with that notion...don't read this book. Pure blasphemy.

If your religious beliefs have taught you that sex is sinful and you suspect that you are being manipulated by the word of man, this book may just convince you that your suspicions are isn't sinful, the power mongers in your religion are afraid of it.  But be forewarned, this is rough sledding for the dainty and proper.

If you gave up on God because you didn't like people wearing clerical collars snooping around in your bedroom, you may find this book enlightening, again rough sledding for the dainty and proper.

If your personal belief is that sex is one of God's gifts to mankind, you will probably find this book a delightful review albeit perhaps a bit on the seedy side of things. The author is far more casual about casual sex than I am, and while I am certainly no stranger to the usage of the f-word, it is not a word that I use for the sacrament that my wife and I celebrate in our bed.

If you don't give a damn about sex in one fashion or another and are just looking for a good novel, well I think you will be disappointed.  As novels go, I would rate it 3 stars.  Too much damned pontificating on the spirituality of sex for a good novel.  Oh yes, lovely cover art, although I am not big on tattoos.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Red Shoe Fetish And My Avatar

Lovely Red High Heel...ooooohh-la-la-la!

In another blog's comments I confessed a minor red shoe fetish on a discussion of Twitter.  Don't ask me how a reasonable discussion goes from Twitter to my red shoe fetish, but it did...Jo will be seeking to block my access:

Majority of Two, October 19, 2011, Are You A Twit?

Skanky Red High Heel, Sorry, this one doesn't do it.
Slutty not sexy. 

Why in the world would I announce to the world that I have a red shoe fetish? Well let's put this into perspective.  First of all it is a minor fetish, actually not even really a fetish.  I am not attracted to red high heel shoes in themselves.  And  NO, calm yourself,  I do not wear them!  I am attracted to my wife when she wears red high heel shoes, hmmm!   hmmm!  especially with black stockings, and slowly moving up her leg to her black lacy...whoa there Sextant. TMI!   So by definition, I really don't have a fetish per se...I am not replacing a woman with shoes, I just really like the woman in the shoes!  So it is not a fetish, but a color preference that just happens to send my brain into erotic chemical battle stations...Whoop Whoop Whoop. RED HEELS! RED HEELS....Little squirt dopamine!  Just a little now. Too much dopamine in your head is like too much oregano in the pasta sauce, it ruins the effect.  Alas I am a junky for dopamine and oxytocin and for that matter oregano as well--one of the divine spices.  One thing that must brought to light. I am a little picky about red high heels.  Anything over a 3 inch heel is no good.  Also no straps, bows, fluff balls, clear acrylic heels, or open toes.  The shoe at top of the page is perfect, conservative and sexy.   The shoe to the upper right is skanky and slutty--no good. Hey its my fetish and I will enjoy it in the manner I see proper.

Well the subject of red shoes got me to thinking of my old Geocaching days.  Our Geocaching name was Red Shoe & The Navigator.  I have often been criticized for not providing photos of myself on my blog.  Well I found some photos of my wife and I that I used on our Geocaching profile page.  I will include them here.

Annual Picnic

Here we are at the annual company picnic while I was still working.  That's me with the large martini glass in center and my wife in the red shoes at my side.  Incidentally, when I posted these on the caching page, I always blocked out the goodies.  It was family site. 

Another scene from the picnic, my son has a bladder problem, and that is my wife filling my glass. 

 My wife and I from back when I was touring with the rock band.
The next one I never used.  Oh but how I was tempted.  It is even a bit explicit for here, hence the blackout.  Sorry.

Surprise visit from friends and family during our honeymoon. 

Here is a dinner party from last year.  I had too much wine and couldn't resist that white low cut dress.

Dinner Party 

On the board the board walk on our honey moon.

On the boardwalk, our honeymoon.

Having fun at Coney Island. 
Well I didn't use this one either.  But here we are visiting a winery in the fall of 2009.

At the winery, whoa watch that heel dear. 

Here we have Luncheon At The Cache.  My wife did this one with crayons. There is a story behind this that involves a true life caching saga,  but we won't go into that.

This image is based on the infamous Manet painting Luncheon on The Grass.

Luncheon On The Grass
This painting caused an uproar in French society.  You can read about it here in Wikipedia:

And last but not least the painting that is the source of my avatar.

I even like this painting for my book club avatar, although I left the red shoes out for that one.

Sextant, You spend too much time reading that damned Kindle. 

Edit: 10-21-11: I found this painting at the site Alicia mentioned in her comment below.  I couldn't resist.

Sextant and other husbands pick up their wives at Lady Busman's
Thursday Afternoon Wine Circle. 

Image Credits

Lovely Red High Heel:

Skanky Red High Heel:

Lady Busmans Wine Circle: That is Priceless, October 16, 2011, Masterpiece # 694

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moral Dilemmas

One of my blogging buddies, Alicia, had a post in March of 2009 titled Moral Dilemmas in her excellent blog Titere con Bonete.

Original post:

EDIT 10-18-11:  Alicia posted her original post again at the top of her blog.  It should collect a nice set of comments with her large following. You can find the re-posted version here:

Titere Con Bonete, October 18, 2011, The Post That Keeps On Giving

I replied to her blog, but because:  A) I loved my brilliant reply so well, and  B) my reply is buried in a post so long ago that it will never see the light of day, and C) (the real reason) I need a post in my blog…it has been so long I am afraid I will lose the few readers I have,  I have stolen the reply (well it is mine) and modified it a bit to stand alone and posted it here in my blog.  Alicia please forgive me for stealing my reply, and thanks for having a really neat blog.

There is an interesting Radiolab episode which considers moral dillemas  The question they used is this:

Scenario 1.

There are five workers repairing a railroad track. A trolley is coming and can't stop in time to not hit the workers.  The workers are facing away from the trolley and don’t know that it is coming.  

There is a switch which could divert the trolley down another track. On that track is only one worker. You, of course, are standing next to the switch and can pull the lever to divert the trolley.

If you do nothing five workers die. If you pull the switch, only one worker dies.

What do you do?

Scenario 2

Same scenario as above, a trolley will kill five workers.

However, this time you are standing on an overhead bridge next to a another person.

If you push the person off the bridge, that person will die but will stop the trolley.

If you do nothing, the five workers will die. If you push the person off the bridge, only one person dies.

What do you do?

Here is the link to the Radiolab podcast. This segment should be about 14 minutes long.

If you don't want bothered with listening, here was the results limited to my shaky memory.  Most people find scenario 1 to be a no brainer.  Pull the switch and save five lives at the cost of one.  It doesn't even require much thought.  Scenario 2 on the other hand is equally a no brainer. Almost no one is willing to push the person off the bridge, and most people find the notion quite horrific, even though the calculation is exactly the same, take action and save five lives at the cost of one.
Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex

So a researcher named Joshua Green asked what the hell is going on here?  He stuck some people in a functional MRI scanner.  This is a scanner that images energy consumption in different parts of the brain, so it can show what parts of the brain are activated when considering a problem or hearing a story.  What they found was the two scenarios above lit up totally different parts of the brain.  Scenario 1 lit up the calculation area in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.  The morality of this problem is not much different than balancing your check book.

Scenario 2 on the other hand lit up the "thou shall not kill" emotional and moral part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex.

For more information see Green's Homepage at Harvard:

Harvard University, Joshua D. Green's Homepage

Anterior Cingulate Cortex.

So it reduces down to basically this. Our brains handle scenario 1 as a math problem, but scenario 2 as murder, yet they are have exactly the same outcomes.  If you take action, you save five lives at the cost of one.  But it seems that action at distance is different than being up close and personal. 

So are God and religious teaching the ultimate sources of the morality in these questions or not?  Green doesn't think so, nor do I.   I suspect (not know) that if you put any normal human being born within the past 5,000, if not 10,000 years in a fMRI, you would get the same results regardless of location, time, education, religious belief, or the quality of parenting.  I think children raised in a Soviet orphanage would respond the same as a child  born and raised by loving religious parents.  Again, this is opinion and not fact, as such it worthless.  But I think these things are instinctual to human beings, not taught by religions. Thus did we evolve to not kill members of own species?  Not sure, I suspect so, but it may require a tighter definition, we evolved not to kill those that we identify as being “us”.

Let's jazz up our problem. Kick it up a notch, as they say.

Scenario 2, you are on the bridge in 1942 somewhere in the USA.  You know for a fact the person next to you is a Nazi spy. What do you do? 

Scenario 2. You are on the bridge with another unknown person (not bad not good--just unknown). To your horror you look down and it is five of your young children playing on the track (not workers).

Scenario 2. You are standing on the bridge next to an ox.  Push the ox, save five men.

I don't think many people would have a problem with pushing the ox off the bridge.  The workers are us, the ox is not.

What about the Nazi spy?  He is dedicated to our defeat and enslavement, yet he is still a human being. Do you push the Nazi spy to save five American workers?  I think I would.  The spy is in the evil Nazi tribe.  The workers are in our good American tribe.  The spy is less us than the five guys on the track. 

Your children. There are five of very much us (us to you) and one unknown who is not as much us.  Goodbye Mr. Unknown!    

Now let's further complicate the matter. You are sitting on a jury of the person who did push another person off the bridge. No doubt about it, he pushed a person to his death.  How do your rule?

Change that another way.  You are sitting on the jury of a wrongful death suit as a result of scenario 1.  The plaintiff states that, had the defendant not pulled the lever to the switch, her husband and the father of her five wonderful young children would still be alive.  The natural course of events would have spared her husband.  The defendant’s actions killed her husband.  How do you rule? 

Getting back to the basic problem of how much God has to do with this, my answer is not very satisfying.  Everything and nothing.  We have the ability to make moral judgments.  So do dogs.  Do dogs have souls?  Many species of fish will gladly eat their own young.  Do fish not have souls? 

Karen Armstrong brought up an interesting concept in one of her books, unfortunately it whetted my appetite but I quit reading the book for one reason or other, so I may be talking out my ass here.  Basically she said that the atheists are right God does not exist. If you look in a telescope, a microscope, an atom smasher, a computer, or any other scientific device, and you are not going to find God.  Why?  Simply because God does not exist in the fashion that you exist, or the Andromeda galaxy exists, or a bacteria exists, or the quantum foam exists. God is not of this world and trying to prove God's existence is a fool's game guaranteed to lose.  If you and I are standing in a room and I see a green Martian and you don't, the burden of proof is on me.  Ergo God does not exist.  Scientific fact.

Ask any physicist, how far back do we know and they will stop at a few zillionths of second before the big bang. Not only do we not know what happened "before" the big bang, there is a good chance we can not know, and there is also a very good chance that there is nothing to know.  So my theory is that God is an old white guy with a big long beard sitting in a rocking chair right on the other side of the big bang. And HE really loves Irish males, and created woman from an Irish guy's rib to serve him and keep him entertained in the bedroom.  OK I am being a shithead, but a shithead on purpose. We tend to make God one of us. God is created in our own image and therefore, we can have very divine feelings about pushing Nazi spies off a bridge to save American workers.

I have a very good reason to believe in God...I should have died in a head on collision in the Mojave Desert in 1972, and I have no logical explanation why I didn't. My belief has nothing to do with churches, Bibles, bishops, or religious teachings.  My belief in God is based on simple empiricism...I should be dead and I am not.  Well that is fine for me but it doesn't do much for the rest of the world. There are a hell of lot more people who have lost loved ones that could say, God did nothing to save my loved one. There is no God.  Think of the trenches of WWI.  Millions of men died horrific deaths on opposite sides of no man's land all praying to the same God.       

I am a full fledged evolutionist. I believe we evolved from some organic chemicals over the course of billions of years. I do not believe that we were created in seven days by the hand of God so many thousands of begats ago. But to me evolution is a process not a reason.  Evolution describes how we got here, not why we got here.

When I think of God sometimes I think of the international prototype kilogram standard. It is a precisely machined chunk of platinum iridium alloy sitting in an environmentally controlled vault in International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sevres France.  God can strike me as some vial of TRUTH  that floats around in the super space to super space well beyond the borders of our universe, and any of the infinite parallel universes that may or may not be out there.  Other times I think of God as being a harried loving mother who loves her children enough to let them do whatever they want regardless of the consequences.

So no, I don't think God is directly responsible for our morality, we evolved it. God does not exist.  Not in this world. I believe in God, but not as a thing that exists in our universe.  But, yes, I think God is responsible for the entire shebang, and for all I know God may very well be the shebang.  So yes, God had everything to do with our evolution of morality.

On the other hand:

Alas, just when I am starting to feel good about humanity again, another one of my blogger buddies, Jo, posts this:

Majority of Two, October 14, 2011, The Third Wave

Image Credits:

Wikipedia, Anterior cingulate cortex

Dr. Shock MD, PhD.Neurostimulating Blog,   Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex


Monday, October 3, 2011

Beginner's Guide To American Mah Jongg

Beginner's Guide to American Mah Jongg: How to Play the Game & WinBeginner's Guide to American Mah Jongg: How to Play the Game & Win by Elaine Sandberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent beginners book for learning American mahjong, but only American mahjong as determined by the National Mah Jongg League score card. The book includes a sample score card from 2004, which is not the current score card, but will teach you the game. The NMJL score card changes every year. Current 2011 score cards are available at the National Mah Jongg League:

It is also available at and a variety of on-line mahjong vendors.

If you are interested in learning American mahjong, this is the book for you.  Sandberg starts at the beginning, introduces the various types of tiles and gives you the basic rules of the game. She does an excellent job of teaching you how to decode the NMJL score card and she also provides quizzes and exercises which will help nail down the principles of the game and give you some winning strategies.

What is not covered are the other varieties of the game, Old Hong Kong, Chinese, Japanese, Wright Patterson, and numerous other variations.  If you are interested in one of the other variations this book is not for you.

My wife and I taught ourselves how to play the Old Hong Kong version using rules from an internet site.  Having read Sandberg's book and trying the exercises, we will stick with the Old Hong Kong version for the time being.  It uses standard hands 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind, and 3 number straits (pungs, kongs, and chows) and we just find the game far more enjoyable to sit back a play without poring over the card and trying to match one of the relatively complicated hands on the cards. But that does not change the fact that Sandberg's book did successfully teach us the game.  The bottom line with American mahjong, you have to know the card, and for now, we don't want bothered. Sandberg will teach you how to know the card.  The real work is sitting down and doing the exercises and learning the card.  This book is excellent for that purpose.

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"Mahjong, Thomas!"

"Let's play something else, Vicki. "