Mark and Jesus

I admit I believe a lot of things. A lot of people invest a lot of themselves into holding to one outlook or another – something that, perhaps, gets them through the day. Who am I to say that one belief or another is more or less valid than any other?

Just don’t beat me with it.

I tend to do another thing – I filter out the downside and focus on the up, when it comes to beliefs. You might as well, with beliefs. They ought to be good for something.

We all sense the merging lately between the United States Government and the newer, conservative “Christian” theologies. I think it might be a little wrong to call them theologies, however. Selective and variable dogma might be a better description.

Selective and variable to suit an end goal desired by a given person or group – usually more for self-aggrandizement than spiritual growth. Or sometimes, just exerting mean power because they can. Perhaps it makes them feel better – more justified. I think you might need that when you base much of yourself on belief.

A couple days ago Donny asked me what I thought about the “The Secret Gospel of Mark”. I hadn’t heard of it before and put off looking into it until I had a little free time. Being a Mark, I was a little curious – for no sensible reason.

I looked into it, and have become somewhat fascinated.

We in the Western World, and the Middle Eastern, come pretty much from the Jewish faith at our origins. This just emphasizes the stupidity of our centuries old wars between the Middle Easter and West, too.

Christianity is a newcomer. It’s all lovey-dovey and touchy-feely. I like that, actually. A happy contrast to the cross and irritable God of the Old Testiment. Jesus was always talking about love and compassion, kissing his friends, foot massages – just altogether about making people feel good. About helping.

I like that. I’ll believe in that. It’s helped us accomplish great things. Unfortunately, as humans, many of us like to be big shots – and if we’re not, we’ll do a lot of things to try to become one – and if we can’t even do that, we’ll just act like we’re one in our own little realms.

It seems to me that Jesus would have thought this very silly. He wasn’t much for rules, laws and doing what other people thought he should. He didn’t mind being thought of as a freak. And he wasn’t one for respecting any church authority.

He knew what was good, and what was right. And he was all into making people feel better about themselves and each other. And don’t focus so much on your own stuff – glorifying it – glorify God instead. Trust that God has got the real and truthful picture, not your government, or religious leaders, or whatever else might be telling you something.

I like that. And at the time, it was tremendously powerful. It reshaped the power structures of the Western World from the foundations up.

These “conservative christians” today are basically pretty lost. They’re more interested in being told some thing, then parroting it back, and that’s that. The spirituality is all but gone. They’re nice because it’s a rule to be nice. They love because they are commanded to love. What kind of love is that? How does love by command really manifest itself?

They feel that they know what’s right. And with their growing influence in government, they’re not afraid to force their mostly arbitrary dogma onto others. They do not think, nor remember, that such things are what Jesus fought against the most. The have become the modern Pharisees, or even more accurately, Sadducees.

Adherence to silly old rules rather than truth, counting money in the churches, clinging to their own sense of self-worth or power over and above their own spirituality or the sprituality of others. Working doggedly and ruthlessly to squash and repress any who would question them.

All Christians know that these were the bad guys. These guys saw Jesus as a lunatic, and later, as a threat to their power.

All because he told people they didn’t need to look to those bad guys. All because he’d rather give even Judas a kiss than wave some stupid rule around and have someone put in jail.

These stories that have come to us through the many years all have filtered through the Catholic Church. Strangely, many modern “conservative Christians” insist on denying even this – as if they have somehow gained some greater place with God by reading modern English translations and listening to their trailer park preacher with the donation cup.

Oh, but he’s of humble origin, just like Jesus. Yes, dear, but he’s got that donation cup, doesn’t he? And why do you need to listen to someone about these things anyway? To save yourself the effort of reading? Or even moreso, the effort of examining yourself and your relation to others in the world, and the very existence in which you find yourself?

We have a lot of people like this, it seems, here in the United States. The politicians know this, and have strategically exploited it. They must maintain their power.

Which brings me back to Jesus – basically, Christianity. He’s it. Stories that have been handed down orally and written down in Greek. Collected by the Catholic Church. Many sources, many manuscripts. The Church decided which stories and writings represented Christianity and which did not. It’s actually a pretty cool idea, when you don’t have the actual Jesus guy around any more. You can create a Cannon of Thought to preserve his ideas – and, well, probably add a bit here and tuck a bit there to make it all be the way it really must have been, or the way that will sink in better to people.

Of course it’s all eternal and unchanging – it’s just that there was a whole lot that never made it past the editor’s desk, too.

So, back when they were sorting all of this out, a lot of strange things were happening. One of them were the Gnostics. The Gnostics (Gnosis in Greek means knowledge) were an offshoot of early Christianity that allowed in a lot of other writings, such as the Gospels of Thomas. These Gospels said some things that didn’t lend themselves easily to a central group controlling matters for people. This such as:

(3) Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: See, the kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will go before you; if they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fish will go before you. But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.

(24) His disciples said: Teach us about the place where you are, for it is necessary for us to seek it. He said to them: He who has ears, let him hear! There is light within a man of light, and he lights the whole world. If he does not shine, there is darkness.

I really like this one:

(37) His disciples said: On what day will you be revealed to us, and on what day shall we see you? Jesus said: When you unclothe yourselves and are not ashamed, and take your garments and lay them beneath your feet like the little children (and) trample on them, then [you will see] the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.

And cryptically, but somehow nicely:

(70) Jesus said, “If you (plur.) produce what is in you, what you have will save you. If you do not have what is in you, what you do not have [will] kill you.”

And YAY!:

(102) Jesus said: Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog lying in the manger of the cattle; for he neither eats nor does he let the cattle eat.

And this one’s for the lesbians 😉 :

(114) Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

So, anway, there are a lot of other writings. This is just a few little excerpts from one little thang.

But what Donny pointed out to me was most astonishing. It took touchy feely to a whole new level. I have to say, there is considerable skepticism about the authenticity of The Secret Gospel of Mark, but there is also considerable support for it. The text was discovered just last century in the library of the Mar Saba monastery very near Jerusalem. Apparently the Gospel of Mark as it has reached us has a few aukward breaks in it – almost like omissions. This text does not have those. But it reveals a very racey Jesus, one that truly does love his fellow man. Well, who knows – but I like the thought at least.

This part goes between Mark 10:34 and 10:35:

They came to Bethany. There was one woman there whose brother had died. She came and prostrated herself before Jesus and spoke to him. “Son of David, pity me!” But the disciples rebuked her. Jesus was angry and went with her into the garden where the tomb was. Immediately a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going up to it, Jesus rolled the stone away from the door of the tomb, and immediately went in where the young man was. Stretching out his hand, he lifted him up, taking hold his hand. And the youth, looking intently at him, loved him and started begging him to let him remain with him. And going out of the tomb, they went into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus gave him an order and, at evening, the young man came to him wearing nothing but a linen cloth. And he stayed with him for the night, because Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And then when he left he went back to the other side of the Jordan.

Then, to quote from a Gnostic website:

Then a second fragment of Secret Mark is given, this time to be inserted into Mark 10.46. This has long been recognized as a narrative snag in Mark’s Gospel, as it awkwardly reads, “Then they come to Jericho. As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples…” This strange construction is not present in Secret Mark, which reads:

Then he came into Jericho. And the sister of the young man whom Jesus loved was there with his mother and Salome, but Jesus would not receive them.

Many people do so long for rigid and defined order. I just don’t think it’s there. At least, I hope it’s not. I like a little flexibility and freedom. It’s why I don’t wear underwear.

People want to think we have the whole story. But we never do. Not in science, not in history, and not even when getting to know another human being. This is why deception is so terrible. Not only deceiving others, but mostly when deceiving ourselves.

I don’t know about this Secret Gospel of Mark – whether it’s true, partially true, or utterly false. But I do know that if I were to meet Jesus today, I think we might have a pretty good conversation, and I’d at least come away from it with a nice kiss.

Grassroots Flash

The people at have compiled a great little collection of people-submitted flash animations about the ongoing Social Security reform issue.

It’s pretty cool how information can be communicated so effectively through animation. It’s especially cool how just normal people are doing it. I wonder if there are any grassroots efforts that support giving the social security money to Wall Street, or giving them the trillions of dollars in loans, from each of us, they’ll need to get it started?

I just love that people can have their voices heard like this. It’s an incredible historical revolution. Even the copyright they’re using – the Creative Commons, of which there are a few versions, is wonderfully fresh.

Last night Mike said he hoped I wasn’t “fulminating too much about the evil Bush administration”. I told him:

The Bush administration reminds me of the wanton bombing of beautiful and ancient European buildings during the second world war.

There will be beauty left standing after, but so much will lay in ruin, too.

Perhaps it will make room for something even better.

And he told me:

You know, I was thinking much the same thing this morning. For instance, one good thing that’s come out of federal over-reaching is that governors are actually governing. CA, OR, and WA have all decided, on their own, to (try to) adopt more stringent vehicle exhaust standards rather than wait for Bush & Co. to get a clue.

Ugh. Today the news looks a little worse there – with the stupid Oregon governor, and Washington’s spineless Senate. But, to avoid any fulmination – aw, shucks – they’re trying.

Building a Sun for Us

The U.S. national laboratories really do often have a bad reputation for the not only questionable, but sometimes blatantly unethical things they do. However, you can’t overlook many of the incredible things that emerge from them, either.

Many technologies are developed at our national laboratories that benefit us all. Not only that, but science itself, in nearly all disciplines, is enhanced by their work. With budgets that dwarf most private research organizations, our labs can sometimes procure the resources and brain power sometimes to undertake exotic research that, through any other means, might prove impossible.

As we know, the Sun, our local star, without which we would be frozen and lifeless, is really a titanic nuclear furnace. Composed mostly of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, the Sun draws itself together from this massive cloud of hydrogen, gravity pulling the hydrogen atoms more and more densely, until the hydrogen atoms are under such enormous pressure at the center that the electromagnetic forces that normally keep the atoms far enough away from each other is overcome, and instead, the strong nuclear force takes over which binds two hydrogen atoms into a single helium atom – releasing a lot of energy in this conversion.

So dense and hot at the core, the Sun is able to whiz hydrogen atoms around fast and close enough to keep them colliding and fusing into helium, producing a steady and ongoing reaction.

This is the challenge that many of our scientist are facing right now – creating a viable fusion reaction. Far cleaner than nuclear fission (which splits atoms instead of combining them), fusion power represents a major advance in large-scale energy production that is fairly clean, safe, amazingly efficient, and just plain cool.

The best part is the fuel it uses in the reaction – hydrogen. Clean, abundant, and simple – yet another good reason for large-scale hydrogen production and distribution.

But it’s no so easy to create a star here on earth.

You have to find some way to get hydrogen atoms to overcome their natural repulsion toward each other. You have to get them so energized that they overcome their repulsion and instead bind together, switching to the strong nuclear force. This means getting them very, very close to each other, where nature will just do its thing.

The current mainstream approach to this is superheating an energy plasma – plasma being the forth state of matter, after solid, liquid and gas. In a plasma state, matter is electromagnetically active – they can carry currents and have magnetic fields. Plasma is very hot – the current fusion reactors operating at over 100 million degrees.

Of course, this temperature would melt anything we have to contain it, here on our cold little planet. Luckily, magnetic fields don’t get burt, though – and since plasma is electromagnetic, we can contain it with electromagnetic fields.

This takes a lot of electricity to achieve, though. Currently much more than would be produced by any fusion reaction.

But this is changing. Particularly thanks to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project. Started in 1985 as a joint effort between the US and the Sovient Union, it is now comprised of an internation coalition of countries contributing resources and research to achieving the goal of recreating the Sun, here on Earth.

One of the greatest of the forces coming to the ITER table are the Joint European Torus (JET) people who currently operate the largest fusion research effort around.

And here, in the US, we have Oak Ridge National Laboratory, long involved in fusion research, heading up our contribution efforts to the ITER.

Not to be outdone, MIT’s Plasma Science & Fusion Center is certainly in the works. They have the most powerful containment field in theirs, allowing a much more compact design.

Oh, but back the issues. Once you get the reaction going you have to keep feeding it hydrogen atoms. The new ITER design benefits by keeping the newly-formed helium atoms around in the plasma mix for a while – when the Helium is formed it is very energetic and will help keep the plasma hot, dropping off into a “helium ash” after it’s cooled down a bit (though of course not ash), and removed from the system (escaping the field).

The ITER is a beautiful design. The high-powered neutrons generated by the fusion reaction escape and travel into a lithium “blanket” surrounding the field-contained plasma, absorbing them. It catches the heat, boiling water to turn electrical turbines, and also the neutrons react with the lithium to produce more Tritium (a heavy hydrogen used again to continue powering the plasma) and Deuterium (another hydrogen).

Deuterium is hydrogen (a proton and an electron) but with a neutron in the nucleus as well – effectivly doubling the mass of the atom. Tritium is even heavier, having two neutrons in the atom. This makes for a much higher release of energy.

Not to worry about the safety, either. If containment fails, the reaction stops almost instantaneously – the hydrogen is used up in a flash, and can’t continue, even if more hydrogen were continuing to be pumped into the chamber – there’s just too much space.

So, there we have it – we’re building a Sun. And we’re doing it all together, across boundaries. What a wonderful thing, really. It’s a little strange that we’re doing it so we can boil water – but it’s better than burning coal to do it, or using the more dangerous and toxic fission process.

A little Sun on earth, to boil water. Now that beats war.

Is It Any Wonder?

According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) European countries, our best allies in the wider world, don’t like the Bush Aministration much. They know he doesn’t really care about what they think, and will go ahead and do whatever he wants without thought or concern. They are beginning to feel that if he wants to go it alone, he can be alone. Unfortunately, that means all of we Americans.

The report quotes one European source:

“Puritan America is hostage to a sacred morality; it regards itself as the predestined repository of Good, with a mission to strike down Evil…Europe no longer possesses that euphoric arrogance. It is done mourning the Absolute and conducts its politics…politically.”

The European Union is only just starting to become a cohesive whole – an incredible achievement and an example to the world about how we can unite despite oftentimes radical differences – differences that are even ancient in their roots.

The CRS report goes on to say the EU has recently managed to unite member countries in a common political direction on many issues – most notably the question of Iran and their growing nuclear capabilities. We also share their concern.

Are we not better suited to deal with word issues together? To avoid violent conflicts and death? We should.

It seems that Russia is selling Uranium to Iran for their Bushehr nuclear reactor. The CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service found it on Russian news broadcasts. This is good – Iran isn’t doing their own Uranium enrichment yet. This is bad – Iran hasn’t been very good about letting the EU people in to monitor.

It doesn’t seem that the US is really doing much for anyone else but ourselves – ourselves certainly not being the general American people. More like a self-centered brat. A self-centered brat that uses God.

Even as we are apparently beginning to turn control of Iraq back to the Iraqis, President Bush wants $1.3 billion dollars – in just extra money – for an “embassy” in Iraq – that amount is by far the most costly US Embassy in the world.

This, like all the costs associated with Iraq, were not included in his FY2006 budget, yet represent a huge amount of money. This request for $1.3 billion came just after he submitted his FY2006 budget, and was presented as an emergency supplemental funding request to the FY2005 budget instead, according another CRS report.

Congress is not really sure what money has been spent where, after they gave so much. Much is unaccounted for. Much is wrapped in controversy and ethical scandal.

Bush also wants $82 billion more now, outside of the budget, for operations in Iraq. The last request was $87 billion. I suppose it’s a good trend…

Recently we seem to have lost $9 billion, too, according to CNN. We’re not really sure where it went. Then again, a lot of questions exist related to the companies that have moved in there. Even silly little things, like a payroll of 8,000 guards, but only 602 known.

The President thought we couldn’t even afford Perkins Loans any more for our own people who want to go to college. Loans! Stupid people are very convenient, after all…

So far we’ve spent over $200 billion on Iraq.

Oil production is good now there. It was very quickly after the war, actually. Electricity is available on average 8 hours per day.

Violent attacks on our own people are trending upwards. Iraqi civilian fatalities are trending updwards. And, they don’t want us there. The Brookings Institution has a great study on this, and many, many other things. They update it regularly, too.

If you’re interested in quickly telling Congress people to come up with an exit strategy, MoveOn Pac has an easy way.

Interestingly, more Iraqis have telephone service than had before. And internet access. Hmmm. And they do feel better about being able to speak out against the government, and practice their own religions. But there is no doubt the want us gone.

Why don’t we leave? We could spend this incredible amount of money on doing some truly wonderous things for our own people!

HydrogenHow about this? The largest argument against using all hydrogen fuel, with technology that we have now, is that existing gas stations would need to be converted to hydrogen fueling stations. The cost is just too staggering. But it’s less than what we’ve spent so far on this war.

Car manufacturers won’t make hydrogen-powered cars until people can actually use them. Sensible.

From the Ford Motor Company themselves regarding Hydrogen powered cars:

Refueling Possibilities
Before widespread commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is possible, development of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure is necessary. A study conducted by Ford researchers (working under a Department of Energy contract) found that factory-built hydrogen refueling stations capable of supporting 100 vehicles could produce hydrogen that is cost competitive with gasoline. These hydrogen-refueling stations would produce hydrogen by steam reforming natural gas or through the electrolysis of water and would utilize existing natural gas and electric power infrastructures.

An initial hydrogen infrastructure based upon on-site natural gas reformers might account for 10 to 15 percent of all conventional filling stations in the U.S. This would be sufficient to support mass production of direct-hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Present day cost estimates for natural gas steam reformer stations are near $1.5 million per station, but costs could drop to less than $250,000 per station if mass-produced. Sufficient infrastructure for mass-production would therefore require between $3 billion and $15 billion in capital investment.

So, we’ve thrown away over $200 billion so far, for oil? Oil that won’t even be around much longer? And hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, we’re ignoring, and making excuses to avoid? We need to squeeze out that last bit of profit for oil companies and the defense industry I guess. At any cost, to each of us, including our own ability to go to school, or even have health care.

The best “dark comedy” of all? As hydrogen fuel burns, what does it produce as it’s “pollutant”? Water. Imagine, RV’s wouldn’t even have to stop to reload on water!

If we could have spend this money on hydrogen fuel, we’d go a long way making amends for our unconscionable snubbing of the Kyoto Accords.

Spoken Grammar for Object Relational Logic

MIT has an interesting project underway that has a promising potential to revolutionize the way we utilize information systems.

There has always existed a large gap between computer programmers and the people who actually need to work with the information the computers produce. Programmers often have no idea what the end user really needs – they are more interested in creating wonderful things. End users often are unable to articulate, or even know what it is they really want, other than in the most vague and often contradictory terms.

Hugo Liu and Henry Lieberman at the MIT Media Lab are working on a project called Metafor that might one day allow end users to get what they need without having to bother with the surly and mean programmers, and allow the programmers to focus on what they are passionate about rather than having to listen to the ramblings of an undisciplined mind.

Actually, Metafor is a long way from that. Currently, it just creates a program “scaffolding”. But it’s a very good start.

A predecessor project, MontyLingua, is a free little thang that goes a long way, taking normal sentences as input and outputting a semantic intpretation the text that can be used for such things as… well… data retrieval or processing.

Interesting pages he has, too – worth a visit. Mr. Liu seems to be a smart cookie. One of the hyper-rational/intelligent sorts that is in a constant state of “balancing” it with the un-sensible, or perhaps, aesthetic. He’ll find his balance. 😉

You can view a little animation that shows what Metafor is currently doing.

There are also some publications on it (in PDF format):

[view] (2005) Programmatic Semantics for Natural Language Interfaces. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

[view] (2004) Toward a Programmatic Semantics of Natural Language. Proceedings of VL/HCC’04: the 20th IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing

And, in a MS Word format – a document that shows much of their original thinking that went into Metafor. It’s certainly the best at revealing the inherent challenges…