Sunday, January 29, 2006

On the Phone

Peter: "I need to go to the library this afternoon."
Neb: "What are you going to check out?"
Peter: "The girl behind the front desk."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Big Ones, and, Photography

There are Big Things I have to write about someday. They are the psychoemotispiritual equivalent of all those photographs sitting in a box in my closet, because they deserve so much more than to be randomly stuck in an album. They deserve mats, arrangement, and quotations. Not necessarily captions, but definitely some good quotations. But not cropping. I do not cut my pictures any more. After once receiving scrapbooking materials as a present, I played around with the fancy-edge scissors, removing all but what others consider "important" in a picture. The cracked wall and the tall tree and the empty sky in the background were cut out. But after cutting I realized, the reason we scrapbook is so that when we're eighty with nothing to do but sit all day we can look back at the story of our lives in pictures, and what if then, all we're aching and yearning to see is a year 2000 sky?

But because these pictures deserve so much, and there are now so many of them, the task is Overwhelming, so I do nothing at all with them. They sit waiting for a day in my life to come when the Urgent does not supercede the Important.

There are things like this I have to write about, too, but they're so enormous I am frigtened to begin- frightend that once I start unpacking I won't be able to stop. On the list, if you're curious: the trips we took when I was growing up; the art of living in six different states and wondering if that's the same as "being" from six different states; Rich Mullins, and what he meant in my life. I know that when I start writing about these things, they will be Long, so long that my previous "long" posts will look trivial. This, too, makes me hesitant to start, because I fear boring you, the gentle non-existent reader (from my comment numbers, I don't think I have any readers anymore), as one forced to listen to a endless narrated presentation of a friend's vacation photos. The telling will be for me, not for you, though. Maybe, someday, I will take these memories down from the shelf in my soul and be brave enough to start putting them in order.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Just so Y'all all know...

Mathematicians do not go Crazy by attending lectures, going to conferences, teaching calculus, or even studying for and taking tests. Mathematicians go Crazy because everything is going along swimmingly and then one day there is a Problem that they know they should be able to solve, a Problem that looks and feels like it shouldn't be too hard, but they can't do it. So they say "not all solutions are immediate, try diferent things, be patient with yourself, give it time, you know all this..." So they try different things and give it time, and still, no solution. So they must take a break and come back another time, and in the meanwhile, there's other homework to do, and supper to cook, and blogs to read, and places to drive, and groceries to buy, but all the while, the Problem is not on their mind but in their mind, and it is all they can really see. So they go at it again, and again- every path is a dead end, every method fails, every new direction ends in a brick wall. And they say to themselves, really, it's okay, this time you can Let It Go, You Know You Don't Have To Solve Every Problem, No One Can Solve Every Problem, this class is still worthwhile even if you can't solve every problem, your grade will still be Fine even without this ONE LOUSY STINKING PROBLEM~

But with persistence, other difficult problems have succumbed and been lassoed and wrestled to the ground, so maybe, just maybe, if you keep trying, try one more thing, try one old thing again?... should I look for hints on the internet? no don't, what if you find the solution?, then it would all be over, just keep looking, look everywhere, look in your Cereal and the Problem is there, look in your Bed and the problem is there, look in your Closet and the problem is there.

Look in your Mirror and the problem is there~

Because the Problem is all in your Head.

Your Head has a Problem.

And that is the definition of Crazy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The First Big Panic of the Semester: As Predictable as the First Big Snow

Looks like my Numerology class, taught by The Mathematical Cowboy, should be... um... "challenging." Analogies like bricks out of straw come to mind.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Last night I cleaned my kitchen- like, deep cleaning, the kind where you move the microwave cart and get the dust bunnies underneath- and finally took down the Christmas tree and ornaments. Do any of you out there have Great Ideas for cleaning a kitchen floor, by the way? I have tried:

1) A sponge mop and Mop-'n-Glo, my mom's stategy when I was growing up;
2) "looking for dirty spots" and going after them with a paper towel and spray bottle of Forumla 409 or All-Purpsoe-Cleaner-With Bleach
3) a bucket, soapy water (used dish detergent last night), a rag (old dish towel), and a bristle brush

None of these methods seem particularly satisfying to me, in terms of dirt removal, meaning, I can still see bits of ground in dirt when I'm done. In the answer just MORE, HARDER SCRUBBING? Because if it is, I think I'm beginning to question the Higher Purpose of cleaner floors. The thing that helps (or makes it worse, depending how you look at it) is that our kitchen floor was brand new when we moved in- which means that, it still doesn't look bad (especially right after I give my best effort to clean it), but, I feel Obligated to "keep it looking new." I guess that's not realistic. We've lived on it for 3 1/2 years, and surely every floor can be expected to start showing some wear and tear? But then I think, perhaps if I cleaned my floor EVERY WEEK like you're supposed to (flylady probably says Every Day, right?) there wouldn't be ground in dirt and it would look new anyway...? And I don't think the WALLS are clean either. They have little bits of things that splash on them around the stove and discolor them...

Nate thinks I'm OCD and I think maybe I am too. Right now if you looked at my kitchen floor (standing up, not on your hands and knees) you would tell me it looks Clean. So maybe I should just be happy with that.

Our bathroom floor is a whole 'nother story. I think it might date back to the 60's. Little pink and white mosaic tiles, with blackened grout inbetween. In contrast to the kitchen floor, it doesn't motivate one because it looks like there is No Hope. So I usually just use a few paper towels and some cleaner with bleach and wipe it down. The main difference before-and-after is that after, there is not *as much* hair/dust/whatever covering it.

Cleaning is kind of depressing. That's why I try to stick to math as much as possible.

To end on a happy note:

Finslippy, on parenting a three-year-old:
"It’s like you’re raising an intelligent, perceptive, mildly psychotic Armenian."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

On Birth Control

If you are unfamiliar with the fact that there is a debate about birth control pills in the pro-life community, go read

And then, once you've seen what the issue is all about, go read

(especially pages 3-6).

A quick summary: birth control pills work in three ways. Their primary mechanism is to prevent ovulation. This usually works, but not always, as evidenced by the fact that there is an average of about 1 (detectable) pregnancy per 100 women on the pill, per year. So "break-through" ovulation occurs sometimes (more about this later.) The second mechanism is that the pill thickens cervical mucous, making sperm less likely to find the egg. I was not able to find any statistics on how effective this mechanism is- is it very likely or only sligtly likely to prevent conception? Who knows. The third mechanism- and this is what all the discussion is about- is that most doctors believe that the pill causes changes in the endometrial lining which make implantation of a small baby (fertilized egg) less likely, thus causing an abortion. There seems to be some questioning of this third effect (see the fourth link posted above), but for the sake of discussion here I'll agree that, yes, the pill causes changes in the uterine lining that make implantation of an embryo less likely (though not impossible.)

For those of us who are pro-life and believe that life begins at conception- even before the fertilized egg implants in the uterus- this third mechanism of the pill causes some concern. In fact, many committed Christians, including several friends I know and love, choose to not use the pill for this very reason. Many pro-life folks feel betrayed by their doctors when they find out these facts for the first time, because they are frequently not discussed when a physician prescribes the pill. Some feel horrified that they may have inadvertantly contributed to an unknown number of deaths of pre-implant embryos during their time on the pill. So clearly this issue is not a trivial one for those who take pro-life ethics seriously.

(Quick side note: "abortion" is an emotionally charged term for those of us in pro-life world. Medically, the term "abortion" just means an end to pregnancy, so it is common to distinguish between "elective abortion," which is what we protest (ie what Roe vs. Wade was all about) and "spontaneous abortion," which is just a medical term for a miscarriage. Later I'm going to discuss the ramifications of the term "abortion" in this issue, so just be patient for that, and in the meantime, I'll try to use words that all of us pro-lifers can agree on (note I used "small baby" above.) :-))

So how can I call myself pro-life, but still use birth control pills? I DO believe life begins at conception. And I think that the pill CAN cause changes in the endometrial lining that make implantation of a fertilized egg less likely. BUT- I think women on the pill probably have fewer early (failure-to-implant) miscarriages than women who use no birth control!!

How can that be, you ask? Well, let's compare woman A, who is sexually active and uses no birth control, to woman B, who is sexually active and on the pill. In any given cycle, woman A has a certain chance of conceiving, and a certain chance that her new little baby (fertilized egg) will not implant on the uterine wall and thus be miscarried. These two statistical rates can vary, depending where you look, but I'll use estimates from the anti-pill side, where possible. According to Very Mom's post, which is quoting a book called "Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing," in a cycle in which a woman ovulates there is a 25-50% chance of conception (assuming normal fertility). Furthermore, once a child is conceived, the rate of very early miscarriage (ie, failure to implant) is fairly high. According to , "About 15% of fertilized eggs are lost before the egg even has a chance to implant (embed itself) in the wall of the uterus. A woman would not generally identify this type of miscarriage." (Incidentally, I've seen much higher estimates of this, upward of 50%, but didn't see enough studies to back them up. Reliable figures on this seem to be very hard to come by, as I presume it's a tough thing to measure. But I'll use this 15% figure as it seems, if anything, quite conservative.)

So, combining these two rates, in a given month, a sexually-active, normally fertile woman has a 3% to 8% chance of having a miscarriage of this type (failure to implant.)

Now let's look at woman B: sexually active, normally fertile, and on the pill. According to the book referenced on Very Mom's website, breakthrough ovulation on the pill occurs at a rate of 2% to 10%; the book does a calculation using the figure of 5%, so I will too. Now, recall, to have a failure-to-implant miscarriage on the pill, THREE things have to happen in sequence:
1) woman B must ovulate (5% chance)
2) she must conceive (25-50% chance)
3) the embryo must fail to implant (we're not sure about this rate; the claim is that, because she is on the pill, the rate is much higher than the typical 15%).

Just look at items one and two: combining these probabilities, woman B only has a 1% to 3% chance of conceiving at all! So even if the pill increased the chance of a fertilized embryo failing to implant to something like 90%, there is STILL a greater risk that woman A will have this type of miscarriage than woman B. (Also note that the figure would be even lower if we incorporated the unknown rate at which mechanism #2, thickened cervical mucous, decreases chances of conceiving in the first place.)

Does this reasoning make sense to everyone? In other words, once woman B conceives she might be more like to miscarry, but, she is much less likely to conceive in the first place; so, overall, her risk of miscarriage is LOWER than that of woman A.

Now, some here will object and say, "But, God is in control of the process for woman A, whereas woman B has taken an action to make her body less receptive for an unborn child, and that's where the wrongdoing lies."

I would counter by saying, God is sovereign, and still completely in control of the process in woman B's body.

Some will object and say, "But, it's not okay to Increase the Risk of miscarriage- even a little bit!!" (This seems to be Randy Alcorn's line of thought.) And I would counter by saying that although that looks like a plausible argument on the surface, in reality, none of us live our lives according to this principle. Think about it: if the ethical standard is, "Take no action for the sake of convenience that will risk the loss of life, even a little bit," then what business do we have putting our kids in the car? (The fourth link above talks about this a lot, but I thought about it before I read that article. ;-)) Thousands of kids are killed in car accidents every year. But, for the sake of convenience, we drive around. Life is all about balancing risks with advantages, and taking certain risks, carefully and with consideration, is NOT an automatic violation of pro-life ethics. I buckle my seatbelt (and I'll use carseats for my kids someday), but I still use a car. I wouldn't let kids go swimming without a lifeguard, but I would let my kids go swimming- despite the fact that some number (hundreds maybe?) drown every year. And I don't use drugs or cigarettes, for my own good of course, but also in consideration of my unborn children someday. Those are activities which seem to me to be things whose bad (risks) outweigh good (my pleasure.) But, I still drink some coffee and take tylenol and don't take folic acid supplements- all of which might increase the risk of an early miscarriage, in the event that I should conceive.

The bottom line is, the pill seems to be a good choice to meet the contraceptive needs of our family. We believe that it is prudent to wait to have children until there is at least a good chance (by human calculations) that we will have enough income to feed them without utilizing government handouts (even though we believe that God would provide if I DID become pregnant unintentionally.) Barrier methods typically have considerably higher failure rates than the pill- rates I'm not really comfortable with- and NFP, frankly, seems far too restrictive for our love life. (It wasn't easy to practice abstinence until marriage, but by God's grace we did it. And now that we're married, we like to practice... well, let's just say, Frequent Non-Abstinence.) And in spite of what some say are increased risks for loss of life on the pill, I am persuaded that the risk is either nonexistent (according to my number-crunching above) or so small that it is an acceptable risk worth taking. I may be wrong in my judgment, and if so, I am sure God will set me straight when I meet Him face to face. But for now, these are my reasons for feeling justified in using a form of birth control others find unacceptable.

PS I said I would comment on the use of the term "abortion" in this discussion. In contrast to Randy Alcorn's line of reasoning, I would respectfully submit that there is a whole world of difference between intentionally ending a life that you know exists (ie, elective abortion) vs. taking an action whose side effect is to reduce the risk that life will continue (assuming that he is right that there IS a real risk involved.) Let's say a mom puts her kid in a car seat and drives to the mall to get her nails done. Her action is one of convenience (she could have walked to the mall and thus avoided the risk of her child dying in a car accident) and arguably her action is selfish (getting her nails done is somewhat frivolous and for her own pleasure, not for that of her child.) Let's say that the worst happens, and this child is, in fact, killed in a car accident. Would we call the mom a murderer, in the same way that we would accuse a mom of murder who intentionally drives her kid off a bridge? I don't think so. Taking the pill is convenient, and maybe some would even argue that it's selfish, but, we pro-lifers take the pill to stop ovulation, not to cause a miscarriage. We are balancing the (possible? slight?) risk of miscarriage with our contraception needs in the same way that the mom balances the (slight) risk of a car accident with her desire to get her nails done. Life is about balance.

PPS I would totally welcome (respectful) dialogue about this post, critique of any of the reasoning I used here, etc. If nothing else, it would answer my curiosity about whether or not more than 2 people read this blog. :-D And again, let me emphasize that I have an enormous amount of respect for those on the other side of this issue- especially those who sacrifice their own convenience (i.e. would like to use the pill, but don't) for the sake of their convictions. God is always pleased when we stand up for what we believe to be right, after seeking Scripture, facts, other believers, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. So I hope and pray that nothing I've written here is offensive to other Christians. If it is, let me know.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Presenting: JUDY!!

Well, hello NEBs friends and family! I understand people actually read this blog whereas your friend/daughter/whatever has ripped the one person that reads mine, away. She tells me it isn't a real person and he's not my friend. She says he's a spammer and doesn't really think I'm cool or have a good blog, but is a computer generated spammer trying to direct me to his surfboards. Sigh... Kinda like telling someone there's no Santa Claus. NEB can be so mean... and she tells me this on Christmas day. I was heartbroken.

So, anyway, we're here having my son Pauls 28th birthday party. Except he's not feeling well (a migrane) so we're trying to make him feel better. We always have such vivacious conversations but I can't say what cause NEB says people will be embarrassed reading this.

Not much else going on here and now she's reading over my shoulder so I'd better go. Bye!

Friday, January 06, 2006

What we got for Christmas...

This, my friends, is a statue of a nose.

If I were a Good Blogger I would have something extremely witty to say about this, but as I am a boring no-name blogger (with a headache at the moment), I've got nothing. So I'm leaving it up to you, you clever people you!, to give me something good here in the comments section. Don't fail me now, internets!!

PS His name is Nostrildamus, and he likes to sit around sniffing candles while watching TV, if that helps:

Thursday, January 05, 2006


...I saw a movie entitled "Yesterday," which, I will have you know, is the first film in Zulu to be internationally released. If I tell you that it's about a woman in rural South Africa, can you tell me the rest of the plot? That's right, she has a child, she finds out she has HIV, she's monogomous, her husband works in the mines in South Africa and only comes home every few months, and he has it too. Because in a country with some regions whose infection rate exceeds 50%, what other story is there to tell? And what else would such a region feel compelled to share with the world about itself?

The movie won some international film fesitval awards (Venice, I think) and is perhaps most amazing for its utter simplicity. There are really no surprising plot twists or big heroic deeds- just a woman living her life and dying. The simplicity of the characters and their stereotypocity (yeah, it's a word now) bring to mind Alexander Smith McCall's "The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency" series; I remember reading those books and thinking, is this level of innocence and simple goodness allowed in a mainstream adult novel in 2005? It was blissful. So I guess Yesterday is the melancholy underside of the same coin. Our main character, Yesterday (which they say in English for some reason?), is cheerful and simple and good-hearted and brave, but the film is saved from an overdose of bambi-ism by reminding us, in the end, there is really nothing cool about being poor and sick in Africa. And dying of AIDS is not necessarily an inspiring event. Whether you're cheerful and brave or nasty and cowardly or some kind of throroughly human mix, in the end, you're just dead.

So, kudos to the filmakers for realizing that the Romanticism of African landscapes and novelty of African music and dramatization of "the universal bonds between mother and child" might reach an international audience perhaps already sated with the message of what AIDS is doing to Africa. They were right. (Did I mention the music? African music? The song during the ending credits made a tiny little stone table crack in my heart (I hope that's not sacriligious; I don't mean it to be). I immediately went online afterwards to look for a soundtrack, preferably being sold with profits going to an upstanding organization working to fight the disease, but alas, no luck. :-( )

I think Alan Paton would be proud of this film.

So now I just want to go to South Africa, and, you know, save ALL the people. 'Cause I'm simplistic like that.

Go well,