22 December 2006

Ecclesiastes 7:10

Which do you prefer...

...a President who had an adulterous affair with an intern...
...a President who had a adulterous affair with a slave?

"...activist judges" who try to force homosexual marriage on the rest of the nation...
...law enforcement officials who force-feed and beat women who are seeking their right to vote?

...actor George Takei declaring his homosexuality and being accepted by society and his fans...
...a four-year-old American citizen named George Takei being imprisoned in an interment camp?

...a society in which the lesbian kiss of two pop stars can be broadcast with no shame an little fear of penalty...
...a society in which the perpetrators of a homicidal lynching can place themselves on a postcard with no shame and little fear of justice?


21 December 2006

"They Were Fruitful...", Part 2.1.2: Italiana (Il buono)

Tourist in Pisa

One of my favorite incidents in Pisa occured as I was on my way to the Lucca tour bus. Someone stopped me and seemed to ask me for directions. I say "seemed" because he was speaking in Italian. I considered this a great success; despite the large camera hanging from my neck, he though I spoke Italian! I had succeeded in blending in! My joy from this was short-lived because I had to reveal that since I spoke no Italian, I could not help him.

Pisa is obviously best known for its leaning tower, which is actually the bell tower of a cathedral complex known as the Field of Miracles. I toured the site on Friday afternoon after the end of the conference before I took the train to Florence. In addition to the tower, like many such complexes in Italy, it also contains a baptistery, a cemetery, and a cathedral.

The baptistery, as its name implies, was built for baptising of people into the Catholic church. If you look closely at this picture, you will notice that the baptistery seems to be leaning. Due to the soft soil and shallow foundations in the Field of Miracles, all the buildings lean, but the tower's lean is most visible.

Inside the baptistery, all a required to keep silent, regardless of their language. This rule was only broken by the clicking of shutters and the haunting and beautiful singing of the ticket taker.

Above is a photograph I took of the interior of the baptistery. I was looking down from the upper level of the baptistery. You can see the large pool for baptising adults and the small wells for baptizing infants.

On the side of the large octagonal well, I photographed the intricate patterns above. I am not sure what they represent, but they are beautiful and represent much skilled work.

The baptistery also has a pulpit, and it is also octagonal and covered with biblical artwork. I think the side shown in this photograph portrays Gabriel's
announcement to Mary
that she is about to conceive Jesus. To the right, you can see another panel; it shows the adoration of the Magi.

As I mentioned in my post about Lucca, ornateness and biblical narrative are two constant themes in the art I saw. This is the side of the exit from the baptistery. The detailed human figures forming the vertical column are various biblical characters.

The Cathedral that forms the center of the Field of Miracles was quite beautiful, as you can see from the photograph below. I took it from near the top of the Leaning Tower.

For me, the most interesting part of the cathedral was this chandelier. This entire trip had a recurring Galileo theme, which began here. In most tourist attractions I visited, several coin-operated boxes allowed listeners to pay 1 € (euro) for a recorded audio introduction to the attraction.

According to the recorded tour information available at the Pisa Cathedral, Galileo watched this lamp swinging and noticed, using his pulse as a timer, that each swing took the same amount of time regardless of its amplitude. In other words, the period of a pendulum is independent of its amplitude. While this is an approximation only valid for small amplitudes, it is good enough to make the pendulum clock possible.

The Field of Miracles also has a cemetery. I visited it primarily to see the grave of the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, of the Fibonacci Sequence.

The cemetery was mostly indoors. It was a square U-shaped structure with many monuments from ancient Roman and Renaissance times.

I do not know who made the sculpture below or over whose grave it once stood. However, she had two of the most realistic and haunting eyes of any sculpture I saw in Italy. I don't think the photograph does them justice.

Of course, the highlight of my tourist time in Pisa was the famous Leaning Tower. I was pleased to read that it was open to climbing after many years of renovation and stabilization. After I had finished visiting the cathedral, baptistery, and cemetery, I waited in line to climb the tower. I was somewhat surprised by how much the lean can be felt when one is inside the tower. The spiral staircase makes several complete turns on the way up, and my inner ear was made very aware of which way the tower was leaning. Some others in the line were quite vocal about their discomfort on the way.

The left-hand photograph above shows the view from the top of the tower and its afternoon shadow. The photograph on the right shows me in front of the tower. As you can see, the tower is not only leaning; it is also sligtly curved.

The final photograph I took in Pisa was the one below. It shows the Arno River flowing through the city. This river also flows through Florence

15 December 2006

Top Ten Junk Science Moments for 2006

How should we scientists respond to this?

"Top Ten Junk Science Moments for 2006" By Steven Milloy

10 December 2006

"They Were Fruitful...", Part 2.1.1: Italiana (Il buono)

I have divided my trip to Italy into three sections: "The Good", "The Bad", and "The Nude." Before you get too frightened (or excited), the last of the three refers only to some of the artwork. We begin with il buono (the good).

The English Countryside

As I indicated in Part 1, I switched airports in London. This photograph shows the English countryside though my bus window as I rode from Gatwick to Stansted. It actually looked remarkably like Wisconsin.

The Workshop

After the bus ride, I flew to Pisa and arrived late in the evening of the first day of the conference (Sept. 19). I missed the first day of the workshop as a cost-saving measure. My talk was the first talk on the third day (Sept. 21).

The workshop itself was, as its title implies, about the tau lepton. The analysis on which I am working is intended to measure the frequency with which a B meson decays into a tau lepton and a neutrino. Since the lepton was not the focus of my analysis, this content of this workshop was mostly new to me.

I think My talk went well. I had rehearsed several times and felt comfortable with the material. At the end, only one question was asked. This was an important milestone in my career; it was my first talk and an international conference or workshop. This is an important part of beginning a reputation in the scientific community. If you are very interested, you can view the current draft of my contribution to the proceedings of the workshop.


Lucca is a small city near Pisa. My guidebooks consistently described it as "charming. " The workshop organizers had arranged for an excursion to Lucca on the afternoon of the day I gave my talk. The city is know for its medieval wall. Most cities in Italy had them, but only Lucca's wall is still fully intact. You can see part of int in the photograph above. I took this picture while standing on top of the wall. On the left, you can see the fields of grass on the immediate exterior of the city. On the right, you can see houses that are just inside the city. On the wall itself, you can see a paved bicycle and walking trail that lets visitors traverse the wall all the way around the city. I considered taking the trail all the way around, but I did not have time. At several meters in height and thickness, the wall is still impressive centuries after it was built.

This statue of Garibaldi is on of the landmarks described by our tour guide. Apparently, he has a statue in almost every city in Italy because he is credited with unifying the peninsula into one nation.

Below, you can see remnants of much more ancient parts of Lucca's history. If you look closely at the photograph, you will notice that the yellow and white buildings form part of an oval. The border of this oval is where the wall of Lucca's Roman coliseum once stood. Now, it is a usual piazza with shops and restaurants.

This photograph shows the outside of the piazza; the stones sticking out of the plaster are all that remains of the coliseum walls that stood here 2000 years ago.

The beautiful and ornate edifice above belongs to St. Michael's church in Lucca. The small delicate columns are a defining feature of the Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. According to our tour guide, this was one of 50 churches that once stood in Lucca. Some have since been converted into banks and other buildings.

This view shows the church from the side and reveals that most of the front edifice is actually a facade. Notice the cables attached to the back of the statue of Michael; when the church was first built, these were used to flap the angel's wings to welcome pilgrims!

This photograph is of one part of another church in Lucca; it shows the artwork above one of the main entrance doors. Here we encounter the second theme present in most o f the church art I saw in Italy. The first was opulence and ornateness. The second is its practical goal of communicating biblical stories to a mostly illiterate population. In this case, portraits of Jesus and his disciples appear below a rendering of his ascension (
Luke 24:50-53

This is a statue of Puccini, one of Italy's most famous opera composers. It was erected in a square in Lucca in the late 1990's. Among his works is the opera Manon Lescaut, which I saw at the San Francisco Opera house a few weeks after my return from Italy. The singing was magnificent, but the plot was somewhat contrived. The orchestra was one of the best I have ever heard. They music was nearly flawless and matched every word and movement of the play almost perfectly.

I conclude my introduction to Luca with the most incongruous thing I saw there. One of the shops in the piazza is shown at left. Despite this being it Italy, the sign above the shop is in English, and an American flag is for sale.

06 December 2006

Winter/Christams Travel Plans

  • Dec 20, 9:35 AM: Fly from SFO to MSP.
  • Dec 20-23: Stay with a friend and visit other friends in Minnesota
  • Dec 23: Ride to Eau Claire, WI, where my parents and sister will meet me. They will drive me from Eau Claire to their home in Independence, WI.
  • Dec 23-27: Spend Christmas with my immediate family, extended family, and old friends who are in the area.
  • Dec 27: Drive from Independence to RST, then fly from RST to STL.
  • Dec 27-Jan 01: Attend InterVarsity's Twenty-First Student Missions Convention in St. Louis, MO.
  • Jan 01: Ride to my new home back in Columbus, OH with friends from CGSA at Ohio State.

02 December 2006

"They Were Fruitful...", Part 1: Preparing for Europe

In my previous Update, I wrote

"I am going to Italy! This is the second piece of good news. I received an invitation to represent the BaBar collaboration on this analysis at the 9th International Workshop on Tau Lepton Physics in Pisa, Italy. This will be my first invited conference talk and my first time attending an international conference. I will be in Pisa for three days of the four day conference. Since the best deals on airline tickets bring me back on the fourth day after the conference, I will be a tourist for three days. More details and many photographs should be in my next update!"
Well, here begin the details and photographs. My preparations revolved around two things: guidebooks and fear of pickpockets.

As you can see, I may have gone a little overboard in my preparations for my three days as a tourist. I did not read all of these books; I only read or skimmed the sections on the cities of Pisa and Florence. The conference would be in Pisa, and I had decided to spend my three touristic days in Florence. I had considered travelling further, but Italian friends and the guide books informed me that Florence alone contained more than I could see in three days. They were right.

Pickpockets were the primary danger that the guidebooks (and almost everyone I spoke to about my trip) mentioned. I was quite afraid of being pick-pocketed. I was not fearful for my safety or life; pickpockets take away one's money and possessions without being noticed. My friends (and the guidebooks) made several practical suggestions, the foremost of which was purchasing a money belt, which I did. One of my Christian friends, named Gary, reminded me of the words of Psalm 23:4 and 1 John 4:18. He went on to say,
"I probably don't like the idea of being mugged any more than you do and I sure would love it if this (or anything else I fear) never happened again. But the things we fear are great opportunities to deepen our dependence on God and, from my own experience, even when bad stuff happens God somehow demonstrates his love."
Honestly, the most frustrating thing about my whole trip preparation experience was that no one seemed to understand why I was afraid. I know academically that I should not fear anything except God, but you know as well as I do that feelings are often far removed from knowledge. Everyone to whom I expressed my fears seemed to have their feelings much better aligned with their knowledge and faith than I do. This aroused in me a questions that I ask far too often, "What is wrong with me? Are my emotions simply defective?"

A surprising level of comfort came from an article in the Travel section of the San Jose Mercury News of Aug 27, 2006. It was about how to be safe from pickpockets, anti-American sentiment, and security checkpoints. What really comforted me was the graphic featured in the article. It was a man carrying a briefcase who was screaming and almost mummified in caution tape. Whoever designed that graphic and wrote the article seemed to understand how I was feeling. The article gave the same practical advice that the guidebooks and my friends did. I bought a money belt, kept aware of my surroundings, and kept my valuables secure. Nothing was ever stolen, unless you count that one really over-priced gellato.

The article was also useful in that it helped me express why I was actually afraid. One travel agent said, "When I hear stories of things happening to people, it's typically those who aren't taking care of themselves." I was afraid that someone would say that about me. I was afraid, not of losing money, but of the humiliation that would accompany the loss. As with so many other things in life, I was afraid of failure. I suppose that means I succeeded, and even if something had been stolen, at least I would have known that I took all reasonable and prudent measures to prevent the theft.

After I had complete the psychological drama above, I finally packed my bags and headed to SFO. The check-in and security lines were alarmingly long, but everyone moved efficiently enough to get me to my flight with time to spare. The only unexpected event on the way occur ed when someone noticed an unattended bag in the security line. Fortunately, a man quickly identified as his and received his fare share of angry glares.

In order to keep the costs for this trip at a minimum, I took a somewhat unorthodox path to and from Pisa. I flew from San Francisco to Gatwick Airport, London (with a layover in Minneapolis) on Northwest Airlines. I then took a three-hour bus from Gatwick to Stansted Airport, which is outside of London. From Stansted, I flew on Ryan Air, which is famous for its low fares, to Pisa.

Packing everything was actually easier than I expected. Physicists travel very often, so we tend to quickly hone our skills at packing as lightly as possible. I read an interesting article about this after I returned. I was able to pack everything I needed, including my camera, for my trip in a standard sized carry-on bag and a small bag from a conference in Australia. However, Ryan Air has tighter restrictions on carry-on baggage than U.S. airlines, so I had to check my bag with them. The airline also charges for each checked bag. Due to tight security on all flight between London and the U.S., I had to check my "carry-on" bag for the international portion of my Northwest trip as well. My bag and its contents arrived safely with me in Pisa.

01 December 2006

Christianity East and West

A friend of mine sent me the hyperlink below. I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in it

Grant LeMarquand has given us a powerful reminder that the sexuality controversy so beloved by churches in America is only a small part of the true mission and problems faced by the Christian church. My favorite part of the article was point 3, where a Kenyan student reminded him that the true Christian mission holistically involved "both the 'spiritual' and the 'social'; mission was about helping people to have a personal relationship with Jesus and about justice for the poor." The false dichotomy that separates these two aspects in the Western Church must be eliminated.