Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

November 29, 2007

Birth of a Buckyball

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:06 pm

A “buckyball” is a large, hollow molecule of 60 carbon atoms arranges in soccer-ball-like shape. Or more precisely, a geodesic-dome shape, which is why it’s named “buckminsterfullerene” — after Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome. Or, more affectionately, a “buckyball.”

This new molecule was discovered (invented?) by the late Richard Smalley in 1985.

And now, his theory of how these molecules can be formed at the nano-level has been confirmed. Here’s a fascinating article — fascinating for those of us who like chemistry, anyway. ;-)

November 27, 2007

Girls with Guns

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:28 pm

Meryl Yourish writes:

I grew up in New Jersey, and was taught to hate handguns. Really. Shotguns and rifles were okay if you hunted (not that I ever had the desire to hunt), but handguns? Evil. Death machines. The only reason to have one is to use it to kill someone. People get killed all the time by handguns, mostly people who found one, played with it, and shot themselves or someone else by accident. At least, that’s the lore I grew up on. But I’ve known since I moved to Virginia that it’s a very gun-friendly state, and y’know, I’m a woman alone, and my neighborhood has gone downhill considerably in the last two years. I’ve been thinking a lot about learning to shoot and buying a gun.

Which is why I spent Sunday afternoon at the Blue Ridge Arsenal in northern Virginia learning to load, shoot, and unload four different kinds of handguns. Plus a rifle.

So, you can take the girl out of New Jersey — and you can actually take New Jersey out of the girl, too!

Or can you?

While we were waiting, I could hear some very loud reports from inside the shooting range. I didn’t realize it was going to be that loud, and I have to say, I was starting to get scared. I was wondering if maybe this was one of the stupidest things I’d ever decided to do. By the time it was our turn, I was pretty positive I was going to hate it. Inside the range it was even worse—we had earplugs and ear protection, but it was loud and startling and I was getting really nervous. But I figured I was there, I’d paid, I may as well at least try to shoot. Stretch started me on the rifle at three yards.

Turns out — you can!

You know, it took exactly one shot to make my nerves disappear. I loaded the rifle, locked the bolt, cocked the hammer, aimed, and fired. And I hit the target. Where it counts. …

Granted, it was only three yards, but [Instructor] Stretch told me he started me out close to build up my confidence before moving on to tougher targets. It totally worked. I spent the next few minutes loading, shooting, clearing out the shell casing, loading, shooting, clearing out the shell casing… it was kinda cool to see the little pieces of metal go flying out of the rifle. (I saved the shell casing from my first shot. Think I’ll drill a hole in it and add it to my keychain.) And we moved the target back to seven yards.

The rifle was the most fun to shoot. I’m thinking my first purchase is going to be a relatively inexpensive .22 rifle, especially since everyone tells me that you can buy a brick of 500 .22 rounds for about $10 at Wal-Mart. That’s a lot of hours of target shooting. Have I mentioned how much I really, really liked shooting that rifle?

But there is always time for reflection, even while having, er, a blast:

While I was at the range …, I was absolutely struck by the thought that every single person in the lanes next to me had the capacity to kill every other person there. And so did I[.]

Well, that’s true. But every single person also has the capacity to kill while driving, using household cleaning chemicals or power tools, or by slipping somebody too many over-the-counter pills or some antifreeze.

Society depends on the fact that most people don’t want to kill anybody. And guns in the right hands make it possible to stop some of those who do.

November 21, 2007

Gang Rape Victim Sentenced to 200 Lashes

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:30 am

No, you didn’t read that wrong. A 19-year-old woman was sentenced to 90 lashes of the whip for the “crime” of being raped by seven men. When the appeals court reviewed the case they increased the sentence to 200 lashes! At the same time, they decreased the sentence given to the seven rapists.

As Dave Barry might say, I am not making this up:

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia defended on Tuesday a court’s decision to sentence a woman who was gang-raped to 200 lashes of the whip, after the United States described the verdict as “astonishing”.

The 19-year-old Shi’ite woman from the town of Qatif in the Eastern Province and an unrelated male companion were abducted and raped by seven men in 2006.

Ruling according to Saudi Arabia’s strict reading of Islamic law, a court had originally sentenced the woman to 90 lashes and the rapists to jail terms of between 10 months and five years. It blamed the woman for being alone with an unrelated man.

Last week the Supreme Judicial Council increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison and ordered the rapists to serve between two and nine years in jail.

It gets worse: They disciplined the woman’s defense lawyer for publicizing the sentence:

The court also took the unusual step of initiating disciplinary procedures against her lawyer, Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, forcibly removing him from the case for having talked about it to the media.

“The Ministry of Justice welcomes constructive criticism … The system allows appeals without resort to the media,” said Tuesday’s statement issued on the official news agency SPA.

Now you would think that if they were really interesA State Department spokesman told reporters on Monday that “most (people) would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens”.ted in deterring “crime” they would want sentences to be publicized — to discourage other “offenders.” (As if women need to be discouraged from becoming rape victims…)

It [the official news agency SPA] berated media for not specifying that three judges, not one, issued the recent ruling and reiterated that the “charges were proven” against the woman.

Right, so there are three judges who think victims should be whipped, not one. That’s supposed to make it better?

It also repeated the judges’ attack against Lahem last week, saying he had “spoken insolently about the judicial system and challenged laws and regulations”.

In other words, this was no rougue court. The government approves of this decision.

The Bush Administration’s reaction?

A State Department spokesman told reporters on Monday that “most (people) would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens”.

Maybe that’s because “most people” think Islam is a “Religion of Peace.”

(UPDATE: More on the U.S. reaction here.)

November 19, 2007

Praying for a livelihood, or “The Spirituality of Retail”

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:35 pm

The traditional Jewish prayers recited daily include a couple of prayers for a livelihood. This sounds reasonable — after all, if you don’t at least have food and shelter, you can’t do much of anything spiritual or helpful. But modern life has a way of making daily prayers for this sort of thing seem kind of anachronistic. I mean, in a society in which most people are farmers or merchants, it makes sense — every day can bring good or bad weather, many or few customers, and so on. Even if you are generally successful, you never know whether you’ll make money or lose it on a given day.

Yet, nowadays most people work in jobs with fixed hours and fixed paychecks — I get paid the same amount every two weeks, regardless of how the week goes. Sure, in the long run people get laid off or fired, employers go our of business, raises are given (and could be high or low), and so on — but a typical person does not experience these events on a daily bases. Most employers give raises no more than once a year or less, and even most people who get laid off experience this no more than a few times per lifetime, not every day.

Still, there are a few professions in which one’s income is subject to day-to-day fluctuations in factors that appear beyond one’s (apparent) control, as Rabbi Yaakov Salomon noticed, in “The Spirituality of Retail”:

Want to feel God’s loving involvement in your every day life?

Open a store.

That’s right. One of the most spiritual things you can ever do with your life is to go into retail.

I went to school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the late 60′s and early 70′s …

But my favorite location was actually a rather obscure street — Allen Street. It was known for only one commodity — neckties.

Now I was no tie freak when I was a teenager. So what drew me to that unsung boulevard? It wasn’t the ties at all.

I never actually counted, but there must have been 20 little shops on Allen Street, and all of them sold neckties. All of them! I kid you not. Not only that, they all sold the SAME neckties! Same colors, styles, fabrics, patterns — and all for pretty much the same price.

I remember times when I would walk over to Allen Street from my high school and just stand on the sidewalk and watch, as people sauntered by the shops and occasionally entered and made a purchase. I would wonder to myself, “What made someone choose to walk into one store rather than another?”

There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for it, since they were all pretty much the same. When it dawned upon me that perhaps the ‘x’ factor was the service people received, I personally visited some of these establishments and found no perceivable difference from one store to another — same grouchy and grumpy reception.

That’s when I felt a Heavenly Presence. Who else could be guiding those tie-less customers into each store? Although we all possess free will and each customer did indeed choose the store he wanted to patronize, there seemed to be no compelling reason to select one store over another! To me, the only plausible explanation was that they were being personally herded by the Almighty’s invisible hand.

So anytime I needed a spiritual lift, I just zipped up my parka, headed over to Allen Street, found a good spot, and waited. Invariably, I saw God quietly at work.

November 16, 2007

“Bad” News from Iraq

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:29 am

Sometimes, people often say the media is biased. Sometimes, they say the media focuses too much on bad news. Sometimes, they are so right it’s almost funny.

Note that the story quoted below is not a parody. It is not from The Onion, or Scrappleface, or some other humor-focused publication. It is from the quite mainstream McClatchy Newspapers, which include such papers as the Raleigh News & Observer, The Miami Herald, and others, and it appears on Yahoo News.

You have to see it to believe it:

As violence falls in Iraq, cemetery workers feel the pinch

By Jay Price and Qasim Zein, McClatchy NewspapersTue Oct 16, 2:40 PM ET

NAJAF, Iraq — At what’s believed to be the world’s largest cemetery, where Shiite Muslims aspire to be buried and millions already have been, business isn’t good.

A drop in violence around Iraq has cut burials in the huge Wadi al Salam cemetery here by at least one-third in the past six months, and that’s cut the pay of thousands of workers who make their living digging graves, washing corpses or selling burial shrouds.

The burials aren’t expensive, usually $200 or less, but many people draw their income from them.

When a family arrives— after going through the indignity of having the coffin searched repeatedly for explosives— the body is taken to be washed at one of five family-owned businesses. Female bodies are washed by teams of women. Men wash the male bodies.

The bodies are then carefully wrapped in white cotton shrouds, made in factories in Najaf that also export them. Then the bodies can be taken to the tomb of Imam Ali for a ceremony that includes circling the imam’s tomb.

After prayers, the coffin is borne to the gravesite. There, professional preachers are paid to recite verses from the Quran. The family and the gravedigger remove the body from the coffin and ease it into the grave, placing the head in a niche dug at the end of the grave that faces Mecca.

“Certainly, when the number of dead increases I feel happy, like all workers in the graveyard,” said Basim Hameed, 30, a body washer. “This happiness comes from the increase in the amount of money we have.”

So if “the surge is working,” they can blame Bush for the decreased income of Iraqi cemetery workers!

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