Category Archives: religion

Quantum Physics for Dummies


Nebula. Wow.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox 2014. Actually, today is Monday and this post is scheduled to be published on Friday so, by the time you’re reading this, it will be after the Autumnal Equinox, perhaps even years into the future. Kind of like looking at distant galaxies through the Hubble telescope, peering millennia into the distant past. Just a whole lot less awesome.

I observe solstices and equinoxes and the four cross-quarter days that mark the midpoint between them – Imbloc and Beltane and Lammas and Samhain.   The changing of the seasons, the dying of the light and its rebirth . . . . These serve to divide my life upon this Earth into manageable chunks; they provide a mechanism by which I can mark the slippage of time between my now and my no-longer-me-what-then. Turn, turn, turn. There is a season.

Right now my husband and I are binge-watching seasons of Through the Wormhole, a documentary series which first premiered on the Science Channel in 2011. Astrophysics is our guilty pleasure. Hosted by Morgan Freeman (who better than Hollywood’s idea of God?) and featuring a geek’s gallery of rock star scientists, it addresses all the big questions: “Is There a Creator?” “What Happened Before the Beginning?” “Does the Universe Have an Edge?,” and, of course, the great granddaddy of all queries, “Is There Life After Death?” Not a one of us that doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

The series bedazzles me, which is not to say that I comprehend the science behind it. My math skills, or, to be more specific, my appalling lack thereof meant that I never was able to rise to the occasion of chemistry and physics and instead was left to languish in the lowly slough that was General Math where I learned to work a cash register, a role that the Digital Age would soon render . . . along with most of my other skills . . . redundant. I cannot divide fractions or, for that matter, calculate a tip to save my life, but I stand amazed before the immensity of the Universe and those rarest of individuals who, in defiance of all that was cool, chose a career in Science.

I long ago abandoned conventional religion as too puny a construct to account for so ginormous a thing as a multiverse. Would you choose to have your child’s serious illness treated by a Stone Age physician or a modern specialist? Why then would you look to the religion of a nomadic Stone Age tribe for answers to the kind of questions  Through the Wormhole poses? But physics . . . that’s big enough. That’s a different story.

If only someone had told me as a teenager how not-boring science was. If only someone had mentioned that it had the potential to unlock the mysteries of the Universe. But would I have listened, adrift in hormonal soup as I was?

If there’s one thing I have learned, it is this: education is wasted . . . utterly wasted . . . on the young.

Get those women out of there!

This blog post was originally published on August 19, 2010, but the story, published in the New York Times on January 10, 2015  about the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram using a girl perhaps no older than ten as a suicide bomber, caused me to freshly bemoan the fact that we seem to be able to no nothing for the girls and women victimized by these barbarians.  As always, when no redress seems possible, I resort to my old standby: revenge fantasies. So, once again, how I, in my perfect world, propose to deal with these assholes.

There are a whole lot of reasons we need to get out of Afghanistan, but I can’t help but be terribly concerned about the plight of Afghani women left to the Taliban’s devices.  Last week Time Magazine’s cover picture was of an eighteen year old girl whose nose had been cut off not to spite her face, but for running away from abusive in-laws.   How bad women’s lives have been under the Taliban, indeed, how bad they are in any of the places where harsh Sharia law applies, is hardly hot news. On the other hand, I’ve never seen someone whose nose has been cut off. It’s sobering.

I used to rail a good deal against religion because of the many bad things that are done in its name.  Then I read Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World and realized that it’s people who do bad things and, if they don’t justify it by religion, they will justify it by some other means. Or not.  Maybe St. Augustine was right.  Maybe we’re just bad.

Or maybe it’s the men who are bad.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have two wonderful brothers, an incredible father and a fantastic husband.  I have a lovely son, great male friends and colleagues. . . .  They are not bad.  But in the case of Aisha, the girl whose nose was cut off by her husband while her brother-in-law held her and the Taliban judge looked on. . . .  I’m sorry. Those guys are BAD.

Or maybe they’re just Biblical.

Let’s not forget that Muslims consider the Bible one of Islam’s holy books: according to Muslims, the Bible was God’s unfolding revelation, only (again, according to Muslims) the Jews didn’t get it quite right, which meant that God had to make another stab at getting his people, whichever people that actually was, back on track:  ergo, “Chosen People?  Take Two.” Moreover, both Hebrews and Arabs are considered Semitic peoples, who share the same subgroup of Afroasiatic languages. In other words, they’re kissing cousins. Which is why we shouldn’t be overly surprised the same horrendous punishments proscribed in Sharia law, can also be found in the Bible.

Here’s the difference: some of us have moved on.

Sure, stoning was the punishment for eighteen different crimes under Jewish law. However, in the early years of the Common Era, the Sanhedrin – essentially, the Jewish lawmaking body – effectively put the kibosh on capital punishment.  After 30 AD (CE), no more stoning.  Or, at least, no more legally sanctioned stoning.

Fast forward two thousand years and they’re still stoning and mutilating people in IranSaudi ArabiaSomalia, and those portions of Afghanistan under Taliban.  Hello!  Time Warp!  Get with the program, fellows!  You’re loathsome barbarians! Aren’t you embarrassed?

Apparently not.

Americans believe in freedom of religion, but you don’t notice Scott Roeder, the nut job who shot abortion provider George Teller, getting a pass because he thought murdering somebody was God’s will.  Isn’t there some way we can protect these women from their ridiculous men? Because, trust me.  No woman, no matter how pious and fundamentalist her upbringing,  believes that she deserves her frigging nose and ears cut off for running away from an unhappy domestic situation, and, if she does, she should be rescued because she has been brow-beaten to the point of being delusional.

“Off with his . . . everything!” Monty Python’s The Holy Grail

As this long war winds down, the accepted wisdom is that no outside power, no matter how Super, has proven capable of conquering Afghanistan.  I have a plan. Let’s poll the men and see who thinks Sharia law is a good idea.  Then let’s airlift any of the men who think otherwise, along with every last woman and child the Hell out of that Hell hole; let’s take them with us when we go.  We owe them that much, surely.  Then we can sit by and watch as the men left behind destroy one another one appendage at a time, rather reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.

It shouldn’t take long.

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Martha Nell Hardy

Four years ago today my spectacular mother, Martha Nell Hardy, died. I was with her when she passed away, for which I am profoundly grateful. She was unconscious; she had been for several days. Perhaps she didn’t know I was there. I hope she did, but I can’t be sure.

We are not a religious family and I have come full circle from ridiculous Roman Catholic convert steeped in studies of doctrinal development (my graduate school experience) to avowed and crusty pantheist, by which I mean that I revere creation, but do not put any credence whatsoever in the existence of some single entity that invented and now micromanages the universe according to some cosmic game plan. Sorry, guys, but no. So I don’t think she has gone to Heaven. I think she has gone to me. She probably has gone to other people as well, undoubtedly my brother Peter, but I can’t speak of their experience. I can only speak of mine.

In the years following her death, I have become more and more like her. I especially notice this with my children, with whom I increasingly interact in much the same way she did. And I am grateful for this, because I think I wasn’t a very good mother before, so maybe she’s helped me make up for some of the bad years.

Then there’s knitting. I’ve always knitted, but now I knit maniacally. And the way I’m going, I might even challenge her record for dying with the most yarn and, let me tell you, hers was an AWESOME record.

I’ve also taken the torch from her as regards politics. She read several papers daily, listened to liberal commentators on TV and ranted with a vehemence and clarity that I now see in myself. As readers will know from previous blogs, I listen to political podcasts all day long and am more than willing to speak my mind, loudly, and for a very long time, indeed, perhaps ad nauseum — you be the judge. Had she lived, I would have gotten her hooked on podcasts, which she would have enjoyed more than newspapers because she could knit and inform her opinions at the same time.

Some might say that it was inevitable that I become like my mother over time, not some voodoo mystery transformational experience wherein her spirit, upon leaving her body, flowed into mine. She was, after all, my mother and provided me with both nurture and nature. But no. I think her spirit, upon leaving her body, did flow into mine, for which I am very, very grateful. It means I don’t have to miss her so much, because, guess what? She’s right here. And because I loved her so much, it means I like me more.

Mom, I love you.