Democrats are finding God

I'll just say it: they're finding God to get votes. I don't believe for a minute that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are devout. Heck, I can barely bring myself to accept that they're theists. Someone has been advising them that an avowal of faith would be a smart tactic.

Is this a bad move? I know what R. Dawkins would say (dear R. Dawkins is bursting a gasket), but I'm not sure. Here's an excerpt from the July 12 Time magazine cover story, "How the Democrats Got Religion":

The most conservative white Protestants, [John C. Green] says, are all but off-limits to the Democrats. But then there are more than 22 million voters he calls "freestyle Evangelicals," worried about not only their eternal souls but also their kids' schools, their car's fuel efficiency and the crisis in Darfur. In the past, those voters may have leaned Republican in part because the G.O.P. has been far smarter about presenting itself as friendly to people of faith while painting the Democrats as a bunch of sneering, secular coastal élites.

But the Republican lock on Evangelicals may be breaking. The percentage of white Evangelicals who self-identify as Republicans has declined from roughly 50% in 2004 to about 44% this past February, according to Green. Now the number is closer to 40% as more Evangelicals choose to label themselves independents. "There is a loosening of the Republican coalition, particularly among people under 30," Green says, "but it is not yet a movement toward the Democrats. It is a small but real change."

One does what one must do, I suppose. It's clearly a tactical move. But I can't help but wonder whether any mainstream American presidential candidate would have the courage to unflinchingly claim to be an atheist in 2007.*

* I don't know about Nader. Google** brings me back atheist, agnostic, humanist, and secular when I search Nader+religion; I'm not sure what Nader himself officially claims. And Nader doesn't count as mainstream, now, does he? And he's not a candidate this time, at least not so far.

**Wow: Google does reveal that Nader is simply dripping with Cisco Systems stock. Interesting, at least to me. But wildly irrelevant to this post.


Steel belt around a sphere

Because you are such quick and clever puzzle-solvers, I'm going to raise the (ahem) belt a bit. This one is hard. Acknowledgements to Martin Gardner.

Imagine that you are standing on a perfectly smooth sphere that is as large as the Earth (in circumference). A steel belt is wrapped snugly around one of the equators of the sphere.

Now, a length of steel, one meter long, is added to the belt (the belt is "opened", the new segment added, the belt fastened again). The segment adds to the length of the belt sufficiently to raise the belt off the surface of the sphere by the same distance all the way around. Will this segment lift the belt high enough so that you can:
- Slip a playing card under it?
- Slip your hand under it?
- Slip a baseball under it?

For bonus points:
- Is your answer different if the sphere is the size of the sun?

For extra do-decko bonus points:
- Explain your answer.


Enduring Love

Have you read Enduring Love by Ian McEwan? No? Well, do.

I've read it before and am reading it again now for book club purposes. (Yeah, book club! There's hope for you yet!) I wish I hadn't let so many intervening years (6 or 7) go by since I last read this book.

Here's what I love:

- The entire opening chapter. There is nothing to equal it. It stands alone beautifully. In fact, I do believe, although I couldn't swear to it (the front matter of my edition makes no mention of it), that this chapter was originally published as a short story and that is how I first encountered it. A picnic, a yell, five men running toward each other across a field, disorder, tragedy, guilt, the beginning of obsession. I don't want to tell you any more: just read it yourself and then let me know what you think.

- The writing is exquisite. Here's an example; the narrator is describing his experience of recounting the story of the tragedy to friends:

I watched our friends' wary, intelligent faces droop at our tale. Their shock was a mere shadow of our own, resembling more the good-willed imitation of that emotion, and for this reason it was a temptation to exaggerate, to throw a rope of superlatives across the abyss that divided the experience from its representation by anecdote. Over the days and weeks, Clarissa and I told our story many times to friends, colleagues, and relative. I found myself using the same phrases, the same adjectives in the same order. It became possible to recount the events without re-living them in the faintest degree, without even remembering them.* (p. 36)**

- The philosophical questions: What are our moral obligations to our fellow humans; are they different for relations than for strangers; how do we balance self-interest and altruism? What is the biological basis for altruism? How does game theory impact our decisions?

- The science vs. religion threads that appear throughout the story. Rationality vs. irrationality.

- The discussion of love. The parallel discussion of obsession.

* This exactly how I feel when telling a friend a story about something that happened to me. If I have a 1 hour delay in the airport, it pisses me off a certain amount. Let x be that amount. I tell you about it... now, you may like me, but you're not me, so although you sympathize, my feelings of x will elicit something less than x in you. 1/2 x, let's say, if I am lucky. OK, so when I tell you about my experience, I am trying to do more than give you the bare facts. I want to communicate how the experience made me feel. So, without meaning to lie, really, my 1 hour wait at the airport somehow becomes a 2 hour wait at the airport in the retelling. And now you, bless you, feel x too. Thank you.

** Vintage Edition, 1998.


On Holiday

Not much will happen here for 10 days or so. But rest assured that I will be having a great time playing on the beach, looking for sand dollars, getting my toenails painted**, eating great food, soaking up the sun, singing campfire songs... my husband is practising his guitar as we speak. He's working his way through the set list. I'll ask for Dragostea din tei. Charles will ask for The Battle of New Orleans. (He's American; where you see British in this cheerful little ditty, replace it with Canadian...

We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin. There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.We fired once more and they began to runnin' ... down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

OK, it was a long time ago. We'll all sing along and shoot the British for an evening.)

Michele will ask for Radiohead's Pearly. Angela will ask for Fix You by Coldplay. The kids will ask for Baby Beluga (or maybe not, they are getting older) and Lollipop (Mika). Bob and Derek will ask for Pink Floyd (Owen can only play Comfortably Numb, so we'll hear that a couple of times). Strangers on the beach sometimes shout out requests. Things like, "TOM PETTY!!" and "SHUT UP!!" Yes, it will be lovely.

I'll see you in a bit. Be good.

**I know the toenails don't really fit in with all that beach stuff. But there is a spa right by the beach resort! Woo-hoo!


Two Trains and a Fly

I hope this doesn't remind you too much of the problems you had to work out in Grade 7. This one is a little different.

Two train engines are facing each other on a single track, two hundred miles apart. Simultaneously, they begin to move towards each other at 50 miles per hour (assume they don't have to take any time to get up to speed). Predictably, they crash.

At the outset, a little fly is sitting on the front of one of the engines. When the engines begin to move, the fly immediately takes off and flies towards the other engine. When it reaches the other engine, it turns around and returns to the first engine and so on, back and forth, to and fro, until the fly is crushed in the impact. (Tears.) Before the crushing, the fly flies at 75 miles per hour.

Question: How far does the fly fly before the impact?

PS: Puzzle is from What is the Name of This Book, by Raymond Smullyan (Prentice-Hall, 1978).