7th August
written by simplelight

A sobering thought: I have about 0.8% chance of dying next year and that probability is doubling every 8 years.

[A] startling fact was first noticed by the British actuary Benjamin Gompertz in 1825 and is now called the “Gompertz Law of human mortality.”  Your probability of dying during a given year doubles every 8 years.

Surprisingly enough, the Gompertz law holds across a large number of countries, time periods, and even different species.  While the actual average lifespan changes quite a bit from country to country and from animal to animal, the same general rule that “your probability of dying doubles every X years” holds true.  It’s an amazing fact, and no one understands why it’s true.

There is one important lesson, however, to be learned from Benjamin Gompertz’s mysterious observation.  By looking at theories of human mortality that are clearly wrong, we can deduce that our fast-rising mortality is not the result of a dangerous environment, but of a body that has a built-in expiration date.

All this reminds me of the cat, Oscar (pictured below) who, according the New England Journal of Medicine can apparently calculate double exponentials with great accuracy in his feline head.


22nd July
written by simplelight

René Girard scrutinizes the human condition from creation to apocalypse. He sees:

the Bible as “anti-myth”— a description of humankind’s long climb up from barbarity. Violence, retaliation and a vengeful God evolve over centuries into themes of forgiveness, repentance and the revelation that the scapegoat is innocent.

4th June
written by simplelight

So Bush speaks of the “wonder-working power of volunteerism” and the Left has a conniption but Obama quotes straight out of the Koran  and no one so much as murmurs. People are never threatened by those who don’t believe what they say.

26th May
written by simplelight

One of my favorite websites, Memverse, has added a list of the top 100 most popular bible memory verses. It’s pretty cool because you can compare popular verses in the various different translations.

I use Memverse on a daily basis. What I like most is that I no longer have to keep track of which memory verses I need to review and when I need to review them. The algorithm seems to do a very good job of tracking which verses are due for a refresh in my memory. I am currently memorizing about 100 bible verses (about 50 are already classified as memorized) and spend about 10 minutes per day.

Another cool feature is that Memverse reports how much time you will need to spend per day (on average) to maintain your current list of verses as memorized. It seems to be fairly accurate and declines as you learn your verses. Whenever the time required drops below 10 minutes, I simply add another verse or two. That way, I always have new verses that I am learning while I am maintaining my list of memorized verses.

24th March
written by simplelight

Quote of the week from Perry Noble at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C. (full article):

“I believe a bailout will occur when our bondage to our bling is broken”

17th March
written by simplelight

I wrote a few weeks ago about an online method for memorizing scripture. I have been using it for a few weeks now and have nothing but good to report. I have currently memorized 22 bible verses (actually, I’m in the processing of memorizing them) and am making steady progress. The interval between reviews seems to be just right although some of the more difficult /  longer verses I find myself forgetting quicker. It appears that the algorithm adapts so that the more difficult you find a verse, the less it increases the interval after each successful repetition.

Another feature that I like is that you can string together multiple bible verses and memorize them as a set. This should be helpful when I tackle my eventual goal of memorizing Romans!

4th March
written by simplelight

Memverse.com is a good method of memorizing bible verses.  The idea of using flash cards always seemed too antiquated to even consider but nothing else seemed to work. Fortunately, there is now an online solution which uses a nifty algorithm to optimize the learning process. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and it is fantastic. The key idea is that the algorithm adjusts the testing frequency depending on how well you know the content. That way, you aren’t revising John 3:16 every day. Apparently the best time to revise something is right before you’re about to forget it. By focusing on the content that you don’t yet know well, you are able to memorize far more bible verse and a lot quicker.

26th January
written by simplelight

The property that grounds the self in the post-modern age is visibility [link to original article]… 

The End of Solitude

As everyone seeks more and broader connectivity, the still, small voice speaks only in silence

What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn’t say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That’s 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she’s never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she’s never alone.

I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she’ll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone?

To that remarkable question, history offers a number of answers. Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience, albeit one restricted to a self-selected few. Through the solitude of rare spirits, the collective renews its relationship with divinity. The prophet and the hermit, the sadhu and the yogi, pursue their vision quests, invite their trances, in desert or forest or cave. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence. Social life is a bustle of petty concerns, a jostle of quotidian interests, and religious institutions are no exception. You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you, and the divine word, their pretensions notwithstanding, demurs at descending on the monarch and the priest. Communal experience is the human norm, but the solitary encounter with God is the egregious act that refreshes that norm. (Egregious, for no man is a prophet in his own land. Tiresias was reviled before he was vindicated, Teresa interrogated before she was canonized.) Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism, a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom. The seer returns with new tablets or new dances, his face bright with the old truth.


21st January
written by simplelight

Small, incremental change is hard to detect but accumulates over time:

From a distance, it looks like an apparition: a huge multi-colored hot-air balloon floating in the Baghdad sky, bearing a large poster of Jesus Christ. Below it, an Iraqi flag. Welcome to the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad.


Many of the people attending the Christmas celebration appear to be Muslims, with women wearing head scarves. Suad Mahmoud, holding her 16-month-old daughter, Sara, tells me she is indeed Muslim, but she’s very happy to be here. “My mother’s birthday also is this month, so we celebrate all occasions,” she says, “especially in this lovely month of Christmas and New Year.”

4th December
written by simplelight

Article on the trial of Sir Thomas More:

For instance, did you know that we have no copy of the oath which More famously refused to take? That no official transcript of the trial was made? That we are not certain whether there were one, three, or four formal charges? That, contrary to current legal practice, the more grave the case, the fewer the rights of the accused? That More’s civil rights, as defined by English law at the time, may have been more or less respected? In other words, there was nothing procedurally unusual about More spending years imprisoned in the Tower of London, undergoing several interrogations, being suddenly brought to court for trial, and hearing the charges against him (read in Latin) for the first and only time. And there was considered nothing untoward in having judges sitting on the bench with a vested interest (to put it mildly) in seeing More condemned, such as an uncle, a brother, and the father of Anne Boleyn.

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