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Yellowstone To Blow?

Probably not. But it probably will someday, maybe thousands of years from now, and it will be quite the sparkler. Read my story about the Yellowstone caldera, in the latest National Geographic. Check out the cool graphics. I wrote about the Yellowstone "bulge" in The Post a while back. (This Geographic piece was the story I was working on when I visited the park last September, dodging bison on dark mountain roads.)


Meanwhile, for telescope buffs, this just came over the transom, from Caltech:

PASADENA, Calif. -- After careful evaluation and comparison between two outstanding candidate sites--Mauna Kea in Hawai'i and Cerro Armazones in Chile--the board of directors of the TMT Observatory Corporation has selected Mauna Kea as the preferred site for the Thirty Meter Telescope. The TMT will be the most capable and advanced telescope ever constructed.

When completed in 2018, the TMT will enable astronomers to detect and study light from the earliest stars and galaxies, analyze the formation of planets around nearby stars, and test many of the fundamental laws of physics.

To achieve these outstanding results, the TMT will integrate the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effect of Earth's atmosphere, enabling the TMT to study the Universe as clearly as if the telescope were in space. Building on the success of the twin Keck telescopes, the core technology of TMT will be a 30-meter primary mirror composed of 492 segments. This will give TMT nine times the collecting area of today's largest optical telescopes.

To ensure that the site chosen for TMT would enable the telescope to achieve its full potential, a global satellite survey was conducted, from which five outstanding candidate sites were chosen for further ground-based studies of atmospheric stability, wind patterns, temperature variation, and other meteorological characteristics that would affect the performance of the telescope.

Based on these results and extensive studies, Mauna Kea and Cerro Armazones were selected in May 2008 for further evaluation and environmental, financial, and cultural impact studies. The TMT board used the results from these meticulous research campaigns to help guide the final site-selection process.

"It was clear from all the information we received that both sites were among the best in the world for astronomical research," said Edward Stone, Caltech's Morrisroe Professor of Physics and vice chairman of the TMT board. "Each has superb observing conditions and would enable TMT to achieve its full potential of unlocking the mysteries of the Universe."

"In the final analysis, the board selected Mauna Kea as the site for TMT. The atmospheric conditions, low average temperatures, and very low humidity will open an exciting new discovery space using adaptive optics and infrared observations. Working in concert with the partners' existing facilities on Mauna Kea will further expand the opportunities for discoveries," said Stone.

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 21, 2009; 4:01 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Who Do You Trust?
Next: Thanks, Jupiter


Oh, ScienceTim must be dancing in the lab!

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Where do you go to get such vision correction? LensCrafters?

Let's hope they're running a sale.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Lots of telescope news lately.

Big total solar eclipse over Asia (tomorrow?) to last over six minutes.


Posted by: Braguine | July 21, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The astronomy community in Hawaii is quite pleased with this news.

Posted by: timscanlon | July 21, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I woudl think another music video is in the offing... :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I hope yellojkt makes it Yellowstone in time. Or was he going to Jellystone?

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Glad the eclipse is taking place in Asia and not here. If it were here, I'd get really edgy and probably be willing to join a crowd and burn someone at the stake.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I'd start looking for someone that we all didn't trust.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

LOL, Weed!

Maybe a banker?

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

That doesn't sound like you, Weed. You'd be more likely to throw a party and cook a steak. (Please don't burn it!)

Posted by: -pj- | July 21, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

My dinner earlier was braised chicken legs in a tomato, garlic and herb sauce served over pasta. No steak.

... and topped with Asiago cheese. (for mudge)

I think I spent about $3.00 for three wonderful meals.

pj, tomorrow, I guess I will cut up a ribeye. Grrrrrrill

Yoki, I have to remember to take the guy's Million bucks out of his pocket before we lash him to the stake. (the banker)

I figure, Goldman Sachs.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

BTW, is there an in-town DC BPH next week? Tuesday?

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I think the in-town BPH is the next week, Weed.

Let's make it August 4th if we can.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Great... I have a bouncing meeting and that may be a free nite for me. THanks to you TBG.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Is that a meeting held on a trampoline, weed?

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

While I remember TBG, is Dr. G going to be downtown Vancouver? Granville Island is always good to check out for bars/restaurants.

Went to a great restaurant but cannot remember the name - near water and a bridge but that is of no help in Vancouver.

There are many great areas though. Stanley Park is a must, the view from the top of Grouse Mountain is beautiful, or the Lynn valley.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

@TBG: August 4th? Sounds delightful. Please do give me all the BPH initiation requirements, forms, blood oaths, etc. so I can be prepared.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

I suppose this dates me in both directions, but when I first saw TMT, my brain inserted an N and I read TMNT and started to picture the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles observatory.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Dr. G could visit GasTown while in Vancouver.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

@Sou'wester: I think the Turtles would be highly appropriate -- cant' have Foot marks all over the 'scope, now can we?


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Joel will have noticed the similarities between Yellowstone and Lago Albano southwest of Rome. The great city's built on, and burrowed into, volcanic tuff, not unlike the distinctive yellow stuff in the Park.

And of course Rome's famous travertine rock is like the stone being laid down by Mammoth Hot Springs.

In July 1980, I drove as close as possible to Mt. St. Helens, marveling at the gray ash and at the lack of tourists in verdant Mt. Rainier National Park. After getting the scoop on ecological effects in Vancouver BC, the drive back home, passing through Yellowstone, felt quite different. It was one thing to know that it was a supervolcano; another to see it just after looking over the colossal mess made by a relatively small eruption.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 21, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I will certainly try to make an August 4th BPH -- I do want to meet @Southwester before he goes off to Chi-town. So, SW -- Sox or Cubbies? Me, I always support the underdogs. . . .

Well, after approximately 9 long months, I had the *best* massage this afternoon. Felt like an entirely new woman afterwards, and even the back started purring. Of course, I also felt like a boneless chicken, as I am wont to do after a massage -- well earned! And the dearest and hugest Great Dane was just a doll -- and probably bigger than a Shetland Pony at this point. Such a beautiful girl. She's 5 years old now, which is ancient for a Great Dane. Hope she can live to be 10. It's such a shame that the larger the dog, the shorter the life span. I mean, elephants can live to 50 years and they're HUGE.

*pondering the possibilities*

Will try to visit tomorrow. . . .

Posted by: -ftb- | July 21, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

@ftb: White Sox without a doubt. Though I have lived in DC or the NoVa suburbs all but five years of my life (spent in Chicago) my mother was born and raised on the South Side and raised us up Sox fans. It was easy to do since I hated taking the trek up to B'more and resented the fact they had a team and my city didn't so I was a satellite fan but a true one. It'll be nice to get down to Sox Park a little this season.

Posted by: Southwester | July 21, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

S'Nook, this made me think of you (as well as laugh out loud).

"I should add that I have done a lot of this smoking in New Hampshire, where there are no laws at all."

From today's Globe columnist Alex Beam, Where There's Smoke." Subtitled "In my lifelong quest to become America’s Most Reviled Columnist, I have taken up smoking, again."

Posted by: rickoshea0 | July 21, 2009 7:24 PM | Report abuse

The TMT does not help me directly, as I doubt that I or my kind of science ever will be granted time. However, it may take the pressure off the Keck telescopes and so I might get some time there...

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Well, there certainly aren't any laws against columnizing in New Hampshire, that's for sure! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 21, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

No, of course not, but ScienceTim, isn't it still splendid that this capability will be built and used? Doesn't that help the whole discipline?

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Besides, Tim... it makes us feel cool because we've spent hours in the past watching you and your coworkers on the Mauna Kea webcam.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 21, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

FYI, NBC news reported that something VERY big crashed into Jupiter Friday or Saturday, and left an earth-size hole in it's atmosphere.

Also here:

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | July 21, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse


Welcome back, Joel.

Today I had the weirdest thing happen. I drove to Charlottesville to meet a friend who was the keynote speaker at a conference. I snuck into the auditorium to hear him, and leaned against the wall near the door. I turned to the lady next to me to ask if I was blocking her view, and glanced down at her name tag.

It turns out, she was my sister's very dear 5th grade teacher.

Here she is, thirty years later, in a different country, at a place where I went on a whim to blow off some steam with a friend.

Anyway. She remembered my sister, and her boyfriend, and my brother, and my parents. I was tiny and very quiet, and easy to miss.

She does some cool work at an alternative school in Charlottesville. I hope our plans for collaborative work pan out.

Posted by: abeac1 | July 21, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

(1) Re: giant telescopes.

Oh, c'mon -- can't I be a little bitter and self-centered?

(2) Re: giant impacts.

This is a bit of hyperbole. The impactor was certainly much smaller than Earth. Probably more like the size of a large building. But, a large building hitting the atmosphere at 60 times the speed of sound. The debris field in the upper stratosphere (composed of we're-not-sure-what) may be more like the size of Earth. My colleagues have not reported a measurement of its dimensions, and I have been too distracted by other stuff to make the measurement myself. Some of them are trying to arrange for Hubble observations "real soon now," which will certainly settle that question.

Regarding the hole in the atmosphere -- the walls of the cylindrical hole collapse inwards at the speed of sound. It would have been filled within seconds. During those brief seconds, however, the material superheated at the bottom of the tube by the catastrophic disruption would have shot back up the tube like a bullet through a rifle barrel, emerging into space, whereupon the gas molecules spread out for a bit before falling back into the atmosphere at a few times the speed of sound, forming the debris field.

The big question: is the debris field made of processed Jupiter material (probably), or is it made of pulverized impactor (probably not enough of it to form the observed debris field)? Either way, what did the ejected material form that looks like dark dust in the stratosphere? Carbon nanotubes? Carbon dust? Something else?

By the way -- we really do know that that is how the debris field forms. I made an infrared movie of it happening. I will see about posting it on our YouTube channel and let you know where to find it.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

The boodle seems to be sleeping, so I will sneak in a couple of things I keep forgetting to write --

Yoki -- thank you, thank you for the olive ball recipe, I made it twice a couple of months ago and it was enjoyed by all. I made it without a processor, and found I needed to add some cold water in order to make it become pastry. But from then on it was a piece of cake. Or a piece of pastry.

dr -- I really enjoyed the pictures of the evolution of your kitchen, and like the current look. But had a terrible time trying to get my mind to picture the change to kitchen #3 -- did you leave the stove alone and take out the rest of that wall? (you could take a picture from the same angle as pictures 1 and 2 and end my confusion.)

Why does the WaPo call Burma, Burma, and the NYTimes calls it Myanmar?

Posted by: nellie4 | July 21, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

My nonstandard video format failed to upload to YouTube. I will have to get back to this later.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Burma is what it has been called for a long time. Myanmar is what the ruling junta is trying to claim it should be called. IIRC, there is only one nation that has diplomatic relations with "Myanmar" (though I can't recall who it is). Burma vs. Myanmar is an overt statement on the legitimacy of the present political structure. As to how a paper decides where they will land on this issue, I have no idea.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim?

What format are you using?

Norwegian Script?

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

This is waaay off topic but what a fun story.

Posted by: dmd3 | July 21, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I have a hard time remembering to cross my I's and Dot my T's.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

1) Of course you can be bitter, SciTim. After all, without bitterness we'd probably all lose our hard bad-boy/girl edge!

2) Nellie, I'm glad. It is rare that a recipe from 1962 meets with approval in 2009; this is one of those precious gems.

3) Burma was a colonial name bestowed by the Brit colonizers; see Madras-Chennai, Bombay-Mumbai. I have a *great* joke about changing/restored names for places Indian with which I always start my public-speaking in India. And they all shake their heads in lieu of laughing out loud. But, that appreciation doesn't mean we or I approve of the repressive military-junta regime.

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

My god, Yoki, I am listening to some ancient world music and you gave a Mary Poppins answer....

My head is clanging.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

*sorriness* Weed.

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Just yoking yoki.

Made myself a Turkey Pastrami sandwich in the form of a mustard Reuben. I have withdrawn into my cone of silence for the test.

The turkey pastrami is very faux.

(I am sorry, I spent the last three hours with some French guy)

I am thinking that you have to have a real and very serious Pastrami problem before approaching the Turkey Pastrami.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 10:33 PM | Report abuse

I might have to go to the ice cream cure.

Posted by: russianthistle | July 21, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

I would encourage that remedy.

Posted by: Yoki | July 21, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

I just posted this bit of purified geek to a friend's Facebook wall:

One mirror for infrared,
one mirror for visible.
One mirror for near-UV,
and one for AO flexibility.
One scope to rule photons,
one scope to find them.
One scope collects them all, and in detectors
binds them.
On Mauna Kea, where the starlight dies.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

In my defense, he had been making fun of me for that unfortunate incident of drinking the anti-freeze.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 21, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Great story abeac!

and Nellie, I don't think I ever boodled that I used your Nut cookie recipe at Christmas for my Christmas party. They were wonderful. I just realized that after reading about Yoki's recipe and wanted to rectify my oversight.

I've never had a turkey pastrami Reuben. I just can't help myself. I feel that I shouldn't mess with success so I stick to the original Reuben. Does that make me a Reuben purist?
I can't remember the name of the NY deli that I had the best Reuben ever, but the second best Reuben ever is at a little place called the Shamrock on HWY 15 in MD, between Frederick and Gettysburg. YUM! Well, I guess it's been about 10 years since I had their Reuben, but it was really, really good.

That's all I've got...clearly I haven't backboodled very far.

Posted by: Kim1 | July 21, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

Ha. Thanks SciTim!
I go back to writing my @#!$! research paper refreshed by laughter and recharged with geekitude.

Posted by: DNA_Girl | July 21, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Glad you liked that recipe, Kim!

Posted by: nellie4 | July 22, 2009 12:00 AM | Report abuse

hello, boodle, and welcome home, joel.

dmd, that story made me chuckle.

here's another story i found amusing, although it probably shows how much we 'muricans have our priorities are out of whack:

Posted by: LALurker | July 22, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Just finished baking my cake for the Men's Bake-Off tomorrow evening. The process is nothing like what I've been doing lately. Lining up the floss to slice the cake, then pulling to make the cut into smaller layers was mortifying. Yellow cake w/pumkin filling and pumpkin spice, and frosting (between layers only, of cream cheese, pumpkin, pumpkin spice, and 10x. Frosting is akin to applying sheetrock mud: don't play with it too long. Drizzle with caramel, sprinkle liberally w/pecans that the squirrels didn't get to last fall. Now we'll see if the crowd goes wild. Or not.

Posted by: -jack- | July 22, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

I just spent the last two hours designing an observing program in a wavelength range that I do not not normally use, for an instrument I have never used, because the wavelength range and instrument that I desired were turned down. Oy. I am an observation proposin' fool!

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

The double-negative is not an intentional bit of linguistic trickery. It is a mistake. Time for bed.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 1:00 AM | Report abuse

I don't disbelieve for a moment that the double-negative was not unintentional!

Posted by: bobsewell | July 22, 2009 2:34 AM | Report abuse

And I also don't believe for a moment that the Metro official who said, in reply to this piece:
"Metro Discovers Problems In Additional Track Circuits"

that the reporter(s) were sensationalizing incomplete information out of context, truly has our best interests at heart.

The local populace, and the local news media, has/have plenty of bright folks who can interpolate reasonable results from complex information just fine, if it's shared. Bring on the data, baby!

Posted by: bobsewell | July 22, 2009 2:48 AM | Report abuse

Going back to the previous kit for a minute. Over the years, I’ve learned not trust the media. I don’t believe everything I hear/read. I take it with a pinch of salt because there are always some things they are not telling us. As for financial news, I take it with a table spoon full of salt.

Posted by: rainforest1 | July 22, 2009 4:34 AM | Report abuse

Forgot about this morning’s partial (about a third) eclipse. By the time I remembered, it was all over.

Jack, please do report on the crowd’s reaction to your cake…

Posted by: rainforest1 | July 22, 2009 4:38 AM | Report abuse

Um, Bob? From hard experience I can tell ya that, apart from JA and what I would call a rather select group of reporters (most of whom are not around here), the skill of properly parsing data is pretty damn rare among the media. Six circuits out of what, several hundred if not more than a thousand? They need to be fixed, absolutely, but less than one percent does not qualify as "widespread."

Good job on the One Scope, SciTim!

Fauxstrami, Weed? Sacrilege!!! *L* Kim, we've been past the Shamrock a few times, gonna have to try it soon. :-)

*yep-I'm-up-way-too-early-but-when-your-back-stops-hurting-you-want-to-try-and-catch-up Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 22, 2009 4:39 AM | Report abuse

Burma vs Myanmar :

Posted by: rainforest1 | July 22, 2009 4:43 AM | Report abuse

Glad to hear that your back's not hurting anymore, Scotty.

Posted by: rainforest1 | July 22, 2009 4:48 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. Glad to see you back among the living Scotty.
It's raining again. Oh well, we had 3 sunny days in a row to sustain in our Faith in Summer. The garden is a mess of green. The pumpkins in particular are making a hash of this wet weather.

No less than 5 mountains to climb today in the TdF. Oy. It's all in France though, for once.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | July 22, 2009 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all. Still just a smidge of rain here, we need more. And MORE!!!

Yes, Jack, I want to know how the cake contest pans out. Your entry sounds yummy!

Scotty, you are entirely too young to be having back problems. I'm glad you're feeling better this morning!

Okay, ham biscuits in the ready room this morning. Coffee/water for tea/assorted juices in their proper places, as well as a mixed fruit bowl. Enjoy, folks.

Posted by: slyness | July 22, 2009 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Ah Slyness, your breakfast offerings remind me of the B&B breakfasts from our trip. Some were very good, some were just passable and one was just oddly presented menu-wise. We’ve stayed at a lot of B&B’s thru the years but only one had ‘gratuity not included’ and a charge for sides of bacon on the menu. The owners were new so I hope they learn that this isn’t really an acceptable practice for a Bed & “Breakfast.” 
Another place served only hazelnut flavored coffee (which I absolutely hate). Ah well, no big deal. I want to write more about the food in NS, but don’t have time right now.

Glad you’re feeling better Scotty. Back pain is the pits. Rainy again here and I think I heard the weather man say there have been only four days of above normal temps here this month and that the month is running six degrees below normal. This is becoming the year without a summer.

Posted by: badsneakers | July 22, 2009 7:14 AM | Report abuse

"Better" is a relative term, of course. I'm glad the office has a good supply of ice packs in the freezer... *SIGH*

Some B&Bs are homey, some are far more businesslike... NukeSpouse and I stayed at a marvelous place in her hometown a little while ago, and given our luck with hotels the past few years, we'll very likely go back to the B&B next time.

*off-to-find-some-Diet-Pepsi-supplemental Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 22, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

I think that is an excellent article, and the graphics are cool. Might I venture to suggest they are *way* cool.

I recall reading about the Yellowstone caldera a few years ago on some happy joyful website about the different ways the world might end. Or at least get seriously beaten up.

The super-volcano scenario bothered me the most because I could see no solution. Unlike Killer Asteroids or Mutant Flesh Eating Bacteria, a super-volcano seemed totally immune to technological efforts to stop it. Sort of like Godzilla but with more magma.

But then I realized that I might be too pessimistic. Perhaps if we are lucky enough to sneak in a few more centuries of human civilization before Yellowstone blows, we will come up with something to blunt the impact. Maybe cooperative nanotechnology or chaotic disruption or some such science stuff.

Unless, of course, by then we have done such grievous damage to ourselves and the planet that a super-volcano would just be background noise. (Now there's a cheery thought.)

Or maybe, as suggested by Christiansen in Joel's article, Mother Nature will be kind and Yellowstone has settled itself down for good. But that just seems a bit too fortuitous. It might not be dead. It might just be resting.

But here's what I cling to when thoughts of magical technology and a merciful planet fade. History is full of horrible cataclysmic events like the Black Plague. (I find it interesting that hearing about disasters in the distant past always seem more tolerable than thinking of disasters in the far future. Perhaps we just love our descendants more than our ancestors.)

Anyway, we survived disasters in the past, and, to a large extent, thrived. Even if this Yellowstone eruption, or some similar cataclysm, comes to pass, it won't mean the end of the world. The planet, and humanity, will survive. We're tenacious that way. So I try not to fret too much.

And, of course, there is nothing like thoughts of a continental conflagration to put the federal deficit into perspective

Posted by: RD_Padouk | July 22, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

On kit comment: Growing up in Montana, we avoided Yellowstone in the high summer. Instead, we went to the park in Winter. Imagine what the potholes, smokeholes, fireholes, and the steaming creeks of the Firehole River do with snow and ice. Old Faithful erupting in a snow storm is not to be believed.

I also recall walking though the park's famous attractions, many unfenced. My mother did NOT relish these trips with the seven of us in tow. See this amazingly celestial blue hole:

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | July 22, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Cp, I would love to see Yellowstone in winter. Probably its best season.

Nellie, the wall you see the stove on in kitchen 2 is gone. We took out that whole wall and the assorted stub walls and made the back hallway part of the kitchen. The long wall where the fridge sits in the new kitchen, was once back hall closets. And the stove sits right about where it always sat, it just faces a different direction. I'll take a picture from the same spot the others were done, and see if I can find a picture of the plan for you too. Tomorrow. I have to clean it first.

Posted by: --dr-- | July 22, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

my family visited yellowstone in june...and it still snowed! only a couple of inches. pretty on the trees. anything hot had lots of extra steam. nice dramatic effect, but also harder to see stuff.

Posted by: LALurker | July 22, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, Boodle!

Bright sunny here, but cold.

Haff a good day, you lot.

Posted by: Braguine | July 22, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Yellowstone was not very accessible from NW Wyoming in the winter. But Columbus Day weekend tended to be perfect. Lots of elk to watch while waiting for geysers.

The possibility of the Park blowing up and turning much of Wyoming into a mega-Pompeii is low enough for mere mortals not to have to worry much about. Anyway, how do you do disaster planning for such an unlikely calamity?

The Next Great Cascadian Subduction Earthquake is much more likely to happen within the next generation, or two, or three. Enough so, that it's worth doing a lot of infrastructure modification and reconstruction, posing dilemmas for chronically-broke governments. Oregon's legislature managed to decide not to fund "earthquaking" the state capitol building just in time for a local quake to do severely damage the building.

On much closer time scale, a developer in Miami has finished a glass-walled office highrise that should survive the worst possible hurricane with minimal damage. The building could outlast Miami, which might be abandoned to rising sea level by the end of the century.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | July 22, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Hi all... sorry to revisit some of the discussion of yesterday, but I wanted to point out this book Dr G is currently reading. I needed to make sure of its title before sharing it here.

Mudge... you may find it very interesting and it may answer some of your questions...

Posted by: -TBG- | July 22, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

No can do Aug 4 BPH for me, my Tuesday evenings are spoken for.

Glad to hear about the new 'scope at *Tim's home away from home. I wonder if he'd shave his head to get some time on it...

Speaking of time, I need to read the Jellystone article later, when I have some. Now, off to the beach.


Posted by: -bc- | July 22, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

If it all it took were shaving my head, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Well, yikes. If bc can't make a BPH then it just isn't a BPH... how 'bout Monday night or Thursday night of that week?

Posted by: -TBG- | July 22, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Headline says "U.S. Deaths Hit a Record High in Afghanistan."

Doesn't every death create a new record high?

Posted by: -TBG- | July 22, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Whatever BPH date we decide on, I'll be there. :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 22, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm, that does look interesting, TBG, tho' I doubt it has much to do with my questions, which concerned communications feedback loops, cognitive dissonance, unconscious use of codes, and unrealistic expectations of mutual intelligibility.

Today is moving day--I'm transferring from the downtown gummint office to a satellite contractor office down in deep Virginny. It's an hour commute either way, but now I have to drive. Already been to DC and picked up my computer and personal box o' stuff. A bit of lunch and then off to Virginny.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | July 22, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Good luck with the move, Mudge. That's kind of a pleasant drive, isn't it?

At least you get to go over the wonderfully named Nice Bridge.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 22, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

@S'Nuke: me too. I'm really looking forward to this.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

@Mudge: Where in the VA? I do a LOT of driving in Virginia and might be able to give you some traffic tips. I'm on the road so much that it's become a real obsession for me and with effort I can avoid being completely insufferable about discussing routes and strategies. Sometimes.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

rainforest, thanks for the Slate article on naming Burma/Myanmar. I figured it had something to do with the newspaper's editorial policy.

Posted by: nellie4 | July 22, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

dr, that is what I had finally figured out! It was turning the stove that was really confusing (but keeping it in the same place makes sense, utility connections were there.)

I really did spend a lot of time over this!

Posted by: nellie4 | July 22, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Altho spending time moving walls in a kitchen I have never been in seems a bit freakish, doesn't it?

Posted by: nellie4 | July 22, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

@CollegeParkian "I also recall walking though the park's famous attractions, many unfenced. My mother did NOT relish these trips with the seven of us in tow."

There is a somewhat (in)famous book written by a long-time Yellowstone park ranger that chronicles they myriad ways in which those unfenced attractions have claimed the lives of visitors.

"Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park"

It somewhat boggles the mind that people would dive into active hot springs to retrieve lost items.

I believe that there are similar books for the Grand Canyon and Yosemite for those who are interested in getting their "death in national parks" groove on.

Posted by: Awal | July 22, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

RD, maybe we'll come up with antibiotics so the zit doesn't erupt too badly.

Er, I meant the supervolcano. That's it.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Try LiT's answer last boodle (or two), Mudge. I thought she had it more or less right.

Don't get paranoid just because you don't understand.

We who continually speak in foreign-langauge type code in public get driven crazy by paranoid passersby, you know. Some of us just plain can't help the code.

The message isn't for you. That's all you need to know.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Whew! The Senate did not pass the amendment to let gun-toters tote their guns in other states:

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad that I long ago learned the art of incapacitating my adversaries with articles of their own clothing. The legislature never bans that. Now the only time I feel undefended is at nudist gatherings.

Posted by: bobsewell | July 22, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I have mastered the art of strategic cowering. It works to defend me in so many different situations.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I was just reading about Thune's idiot gun-law amendment. It seems like there should be some kind of gentleman's agreement that when you try to tack an amendment onto an unrelated piece of legislation, it should at least minimize the extent to which it is obviously crazy and stupid.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

@SciTim: If they did that, there'd hardly be anything for the nutjobs to do. They need dangerous, wacko amendments to keep 'em occupied so they don't start honestly considering legislation and dutifully representing their constituents.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I just came back from a trip to Yellowstone yesterday, and I wish Joel had published his article before I left. I was aware of the supervolcano and had heard that it has historically erupted every 600-700 thousand years, and it's been about 640 thousand years since the last one. But it would have given the group of 20-odd engineers something concrete to discuss regarding our impending doom.

On the first leg of the flight out, I happened to sit next to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who was heading to Denver for his father-in-law's 80th birthday. Nice guy, but a bit forgetful - he asked me where I was headed just after we took off, and again after he woke up, just before we landed. He did say he had been in 12 cities in 10 days, though, so maybe just remembering what HE was doing there was an accomplishment. Anyway, I told him I'd write him a letter, let him know how he's doing. I'll need to find a few new synonyms for "fantastic". :-)

Posted by: tomsing | July 22, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

All moved in and apparently up and running.

No, Wilbrod, while I appreciate LiT's answer, she wasn't even in the ballpark of what I was talking about. And I'm not paranoid, really I'm not, just because you're all out to get me.

"The message isn't for you" response isn't correct, especially since the various speakers in question *do* claim to be speaking at me (either the generic me, as a random listener, or in some cases right here, as a specific response to a question).

When a sidewalk evangelistic knocks on my door and asks me if I've found Jesus, can we not assume that person is really trying to address me, and is not talking just to himself? That being so, why is he speaking to me in his code? There are two answers. First, he doesn't know he's speaking code. Second, he isn't aware that I am unable to understand many things he's saying, or to use my example, what he's often trying to tell me is that mustard is a bicycle.

So the question of the location of the disconnect becomes critically important. It isn't about the content of the code, and you can't dismiss it that way. It is about a problem in the feedback loop, in the communication process. The guy is speaking to me, but is unaware I can't understand what he's saying. It wouldn't matter if he was an evangelical Christian, a Buddhist or a Hare Krishna. This is what fascinates me: why is he unaware? (Or if you prefer, why is he self-unaware?) For my part, as the listener, I at least have some awareness that the message isn't being received. I have sufficient awareness to understand that what I hear is "mustard is a bicycle," so I have considerably more awareness of the communication process than he does. (That doesn't necessarily make me "right" -- although it weights that way.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 22, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you, Mudge. But you hear "mustard is a bicycle" and I hear "today in nautical history..."


Posted by: -TBG- | July 22, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm really appreciating the communications-difficulty discussion, and noting the difficulty in communication arising from it. I like Mudge's point, which as I see it is the question of when and how a speaker and listener communicate or fail to do so. As I understand it Mudge is using particular religious speech as an example, but there might be other forms of speech which would produce the same disconnect effect. That is, the point is not Mudge's understanding of the Christian religious experience per se, but his understanding or lack thereof of the speech used to describe it.

Whenever I hear "Have you found Jesus?" I always want to ask, "Is He lost?" or "Where did you see Him last?" or, usually, "Did you look in your closet?" I blame the Boy.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 22, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

He's not unaware, but he can't fix it. That's the point, he's communicating experiences and concepts that are not in conventional secular use. There's such a thing as overthinking the point.

They're sharing the good news because they're told they should do it as a mainfestation of their faith.

Let's say you come by my door telling me that I should upgrade to a hybrid or something, okay? It's something that sounds good, you believe passionately in saving the earth. You aren't an engineer, a car mech, etc. You're just full of excitement at the solution to car pollution.

Okay, you come by, and I say a few words of argument-- or ask car mech or policy questions that are way above my head.

Are you gonna make up stuff about what you really are passionate about? No, more likely, you will stick with what you DO know. And that's the importance of the Problem with Car Pollution and the Evil Exhaust all around us, and the wonderful Solution which means that I really should repent of my driving habits and clean up my carboteur and get my engine upgraded and go forth and exhaust no more?

It is up to me to tell you what kind of audience you have. Maybe it'll be, "sorry pal, I take the bus," and I shut the door before you explain this four point plan on how to upgrade the entire bus fleet to hybrids and bicycles?

(For verily, Greyhound is the vehicle of S0dom and G0morrah, as any true believer knows. Ever used the head on one?)

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Ivansmom, I would, in fact, say, "Is he lost? What does he look like?"

Just on the very off chance they're talking about their own boy or lost rottweiler...

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

@Mudge: I think that most people like that are so consumed by the message they preach that it does not occur to them that you don't at least share the same religious foundation they have. For example, say I went door to door trying to convince people that the designated hitter rule is evil. For people who know at least a little about baseball, I may get some conversions, or least a good debate. But if I were to do this in, say, France, everybody would probably hear something like "mustard is a bicycle". Connecting the examples, the guy on the street thinks he's showing his sign to a bunch of baseball fans, but some people seeing the sign (like you and me) are Frenchmen.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Great example, but I fear Mudge is too much of a true believer on that subject to see your point here, southwester.

Sadly,it occurs to me that bc, in fact, may have driven a greyhound bus once.

Say it ain't so, bc! Not the greyhound!

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Chaotic disruption sounds just the thing to equilibrate gaseous ebullience.

Posted by: Boko999 | July 22, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Quelle horror! Southwester called Mudge a Frenchman. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Some of this is because of the idea that Christians have to witness their faith, and spread it. Part of it may be to proclaim their Christianness and attract like-minded folks. So, if Jesus Is Lord resonates with me, maybe I'll talk to that person. To me, this is what complicates the abortion issue. I figure it is up to the individual to decide to have an abortion. The anti-abortion people think they have to save someone else's fetus, for reasons that aren't clear to me, because they don't seem to care about children that have been born (to the extent of lifting them out of poverty, etc). So the 2 sides are always talking past each other, in code.

Posted by: seasea1 | July 22, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

@WilbrodG: I've only taken Greyhound a few times, but I found it to be reasonably tolerable if one follows two rules:

1) Don't travel alone (conversation will make it a much quicker trip).

2) Plan restroom breaks to take place before and after the bus trip (you're quite right about the "facilities" on those things).

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

The problem with Greyhound is that you can buy a ticket for a specific bus at a specific time but that doesn't guarantee you a seat on that bus at that time or any time. If it arrives at your station full, you wait for the next one... or the next one... or the next one.

Son of G was stuck in this mode last year while trying to return from Charlotte.

Not understanding the cutthroat methods, he did what he always does and let the elderly lady behind him go ahead of him up the bus steps (helping to heft up her stuff, too). She was the last person let on the bus. He was forced to STAND IN LINE on the sidewalk for about 6 hours until the next bus came through, hoping all along that it would have room for him.

Posted by: -TBG- | July 22, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad Curmudgeon and others are analyzing this. It's important to understand. Mostly it's important to understand that feeling of awkwardness and uneasiness and mis-communication that often turns to annoyance and anger. I think the designated hitter rule is not so great an example, because when the conversation fails it's not about lack of knowledge, it's the implication that you don't know something which in fact you do know about. Its subtext is inevitably read as "you are calling me an idiot." Which is what I feel when someone tries to evangelize at me. The problem is how to resolve the moment. Perhaps at that moment honesty is called for: "Sounds like you don't think I'm too informed on this and my first reaction is to think you're calling me ignorant about these matters." Calmly spoken. Then go forwards from there.

Not that I'm offering advice, it's just that I haven't gotten too far myself in these matters. I do know that Mudge is on the right path in analyzing the communication under a microscope.

Posted by: Jumper1 | July 22, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

The one that kills me is the presumption that I think Easter is about rabbits and chocolate. Now that really WAS implying I was ignorant! Yet I'm pretty sure that the last person to pull that one really believed most people he considered unsaved believed that. Which may be the insult: he was calling me an ignorant sinning pagan! I'm not ignorant!

Posted by: Jumper1 | July 22, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I, for one, think hamburgers are much better with cheeses.

Mustard, yeech. I like ketchup.

There. I think I'm all caught up now.

Posted by: engelmann | July 22, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if the Boodle is really the secret repository of the Anti-Designated Hitter Rule League? Or some similar catchy title. Perhaps Joel could use this as a selling point to his editors - unless, of course, they're American League fans.

Are there more than three of us? Boodlers, lurkers, odd posters all, surface long enough to answer: do you agree that the Designated Hitter Rule is a bad thing? If not, be sure to explain why. Note I do not require you sign on to the whole "Designated Hitter Rule caused the moral decay of the country and collapse of the global economy" argument. Though of course you're welcome to do so.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 22, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

@seasea: I have to quibble with your description of the anti-abortion argument. They aren't trying to save someone else's fetus. They are trying to save a human life trapped in the body of its "murderous" mother. Seeing the fetus as "belonging" to the mother would be a concession that human life does not begin until birth. The essential point of their argument is that life begins at conception. Personally, I agree with Kramer: "It's not a pizza until you take it out of the oven."

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Hummm, some rabbis may not find that meat and dairy product in the same meal is very kosher Engelmann...

I understand nothing about religion. Thankfully most proselyting type seem to be terrified by the VLP (a.k.a. as the Hellhound). I know I shouldn't laugh at elderly Jeovah Witnesses making a run for their car when the VLP makes his patented semi-controlled lurch down the stairs and they realize that a screen designed to stop flies is the only thing between them and Certain Death but I do. I know, I'll end up in Hades but I've made my peace with it.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | July 22, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

@Ivansmom: While I don't like the designated hitter rule, I grew up following the AL (as a Chi-Sox fan). Nevertheless, I was very happy that when baseball finally returned to DC we got an NL team.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Engelmann, preferring ketchup over mustard is a forgivable, possibly even endearing personal quirk. Just please don't prefer mayonnaise to other condiments on hamburgers. That is a serious offense.

Alas, it was too late for Ivansdad to fully understand this by the time I got to him, but I'm doing my best to raise the Boy right. At this point the Boy eschews condiments entirely, but he's occasionally admired a small bite of mustardy goodness.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 22, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't care about the DH rule. I don't follow MLB. Bunch of overpaid guys on steroids.

I am quite ready to burn inside the foul line for this apathy. Now PLEASE leave me alone.

I have depraved stuff to do, such as boiling chocolate bunnies for Easter and calling balls as strikes.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

SCC ouch. Please remove that not. Thnks

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | July 22, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Most issues with hamburgers are merely veal sins.

Posted by: engelmann | July 22, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I've never driven a Greyhound, though I'd be willing to learn. Some friends have been trying to convince me to try figure 8 school bus racing, but I haven't made the the time or been willing to spend the money. No, there aren't any children in the racing busses, just drivers...

Having said that, of course all messages and commuincations aren't necessarily intended for all audiences. Somtimes specialized information is intended and written for specialized audiences - scientific papers and legal journals come to mind.

Sometimes people toss information or ideas out there, hoping it will find some sort of purchase somewhere - the way trees produce seeds that may or may not find fertile ground.

I don't think it's the tree's, the seed's, or the ground's fault if nothing takes root.

It's just the way of things. Communication happens, or it doesn't. But the tree will keep making seeds and the ground hosting sprouts when conditions are right.


Posted by: -bc- | July 22, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Ivansmom's 3:46 is excactly correct. "Have you found Jesus" is but one example of relig. speech deliberately directed at a listener, but which contains a lot of code, so much so it is off-putting to non-believers, and invites the smart-ass replies such as "I didn't know he was missing."

The Desig. Hitter Rule and the hybrid car example are NOT the same thing and not what I'm talking about. In both cases, there are merely technical matters and contain technical jargon. If you aren't a baseball fan, you simply don't care about the rule. In a conversation, if I was babbling on about the DR, I would quickly deduce by your face and body language whether you were understanding me and participating in the conversation, or whether you had immediately tuned me out. That's what happens in face-to-face communications. Ditto the hybrid example: if you aren't a car person, or otherwise interested in the question of gas mileage, etc., you simply don't care what I'm rattling on about hybrid cars.

But not caring about the topic is NOT the same as simply not understanding the terminology and/or jargon. If you don't understand the jargon, it can be explained to you, and most speakers should have an understanding of when they are using jargon or technical terms.

A key thing about the religious speech code problem is that the terminology is dead simple; it isn't jargon and it isn't technical. "Jesus is Lord" is only three words, all simple and easily understood. Yet the message is NOT simple, as it might be in "The car is blue." Virtually every single person understands "the car is blue" on approximately the same level. Yet the equally simple "Jesus is Lord" is NOT understandable to many people. Likewise "God is love" is only three words and again dead simple. So it isn't about jargon or complex language and terms, nor is it about passionate belief, etc.

slyness accurately added a semi-non-religious example, "abortion is murder." (Yes, for many people this is a religiously derived belief, and that's fine. But it can also exist outside of a religious-based context and can stand alone.) When a pro-life advocate tells you "abortion is murder," again they are using three simple words whose meaning is commonly known and agreed upon. Yes there is a major message in that phrase not always apparent. First, as a technical matter of law, it is quite simply incorrect; abortion is not murder as a matter of law. But we all know that isn't what the speaker is trying to say. So, yes, it contains some code.


Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 22, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Eostre is not about chocolate and bunnies. Eostre is about sex. More to the point, it's about hot monkey love. Crazed weasels. And so forth.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I don't care so much about the DH rule, one way or the other. I was very grateful for it while Edgar Martinez was playing for the Mariners, because he was a great hitter and a sweet guy. It is weird that the leagues have different rules. I should probably read about how that all started. What does Japan do?

Posted by: seasea1 | July 22, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Thus, if you tell me, "Abortion is murder," you aren't trying to tell me a fact of law; you are asking me to accept the coded messages that travel with it: that abortion "ought" to be murder, and that it is therefore wrong, yadda yadda. And I am free to agree or disagree.

So yes, this is a good example of a common idea that is simply expressed but which carries a lot of code. In my view it is about halfway between "the car is blue," which carries no code at all, and "God is love," which carries so much code that I, personally, don't understand it.

Whether we happen to agree or disagree, I'd submit that most of us understand the code in the statement "abortion is murder," and we understand the code because the topic has had plenty of general discussion in the culture.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | July 22, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, you made me choke.

I think, in fact, that the communication problem *is* like the DHR. No matter what 'mudge might say to me about it, I would hear mustard is a bicyle, because I don't get the *point* of baseball, nor its alleged elegance, nor what its rules may or may not be. And yes, that ignorance stems from a complete lack of interest in the subject. And I think, in spite of what you say, esteemed Curmudgeon, that while you may be interested in the philosophical underpinnings of religion, you feel a fundamental lack of need to internalize it as an experience. And therefore, all religious speech for you is like the DHR is for me.

Posted by: Yoki | July 22, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

"I was babbling on about the DR, I would quickly deduce by your face and body language whether you were understanding me and participating in the conversation.."

Mudge.. what is my face and body language saying RIGHT NOW?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Don’t not not all get flustered
or run about like headless bustard
just stay cool as an icicle
and get back onto that bicycle
if you don’t like cheeses, have some mustard

Posted by: engelmann | July 22, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Or cut the mustard, Engelmann.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

@bc: when they race the school buses sans children, do they put child-size mannequins in the seats, complete with speakers playing pre-recorded chatter? Seems to me the simulation would be limited by an empty bus.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

@mudge: I had a very profound response to your last post, then I got a call and now I have forgotten it. But it was really mind-blowing, I assure you.

Posted by: Southwester | July 22, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim, it's an abomination.

What's annoying is that there is 100 000 religious proselytes for each DHR missionary.

I must admit of to the use Mudge's "Hessooss ? Short dark haired guy? Short beard? Wearing sandals?" when I'm asked if I know about Jesus.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | July 22, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, in re: your 3:00 today, referencing your post yesterday and my response. Your question was (and I quote)

"But I have to raise the question, is it the religious speech that is flawed, or is it the listener (me, in this case). And is that question even important? Whether it is the speaker or the listener who has the "problem" (I'm trying to avoid saying "is at fault), doesn't suggest rather strongly that the speech itself is deeply flawed if some portion of the listeneres can't understand it? Doesn't it at least suggest this should be investigated and examined? "

I think my answer stands on it's on as hitting you square in the numbers, despite you saying I wasn't even in the ballpark. Not agreeing with the answer is one thing. Doing a smack-down of my ability to understand your question is another.

Almost sorry I included my second to last paragraph on that post yesterday. It seems to me that you raise questions just so you can shoot down responses. That's not a discussion. It's not even a lecture. But it does remind me of someone. Let me think who.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 22, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, LiT. I do rather agree with you.

Lack of audience reception doesn't invalidate the thought, merely how it has been stated, given the audience's limited background (and/or attitude).

There are many historical instances of now-accepted thought and theory that got a difficult reception at their inception.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Interestin' stuff, this. Trying to decide if I have anything useful to add. Probably not.

Posted by: bobsewell | July 22, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

No, lack of audience reception doesn't invalidate the thought. I'm not saying that. What I AM saying is that if the thought isn't clearly expressed (perhaps because it is coded), some portion of the audience might not get it.

I'm not saying coded (religious or other) speech is "bad": I am saying that code makes some speech harder to understand. And I am not concerned with the quality of the content; I am only interested in cases where the speaker is unaware he/she is using coded speech. In other words, cases where the speaker is self-defeating, because he is unaware he is failing to communicate as he might wish.

So yes, I am suggesting that speech that is ambiguous or unclear is, in fact, flawed. The speaker, being unaware, is unable to "correct" it or fix it. But I cannot say whether this is the speaker's "fault" or the listener's "fault," since I can think of examples on both sides.

Yoki, "all" religious speech isn't like the DH rule analogy for me, only some. I'm still thinking about your point about internalizing. I suspect you are quite right about that; but I'm thinking about whether a need to internalize is a necessary component of understanding a coded message. Are you saying you have to "want" to internalize as a precondition for understanding code?

Because that raises a bunch of interesting questions about whether religious/philosophical thought can exist on a purely intellectual plane, or whether it necessarily requires an emotional aspect, viz., internalizing. I don't know.

LiT, here's the sentence that wasn't even in the ballpark: "But unless you are actually a member of that group, you can't truly *know*."

This basically creates a tautological conundrum, an unbreakable cycle. It doesn't explain how one becomes a member of the group. It is basically saying, "You can't understand the code unless you already know the code." So how does one learn the code and "join the group"? You can't learn the code unless someone teaches you. But the group won't teach you the code, because the group believes their code is self-explanatory.
"You can't truly *know*" isn't an explanation, it is a dodge.

The group believes "God is love" is self-explanatory. The content of the statement may or may not be "correct," but "correct" isn't the same as self-explanatory, and self-explanatory that statement is not. One can't be dismissive, as you were, and just say, well, you aren't in the group, so you don't get it. That doesn't answer the problem.

(Through all of this discussion, there is a presumption that the group and the speaker *want* non-members to understand their message; they are *not* just talking to themselves or self-affirming. They are trying to communicate outwardly; they just believe that listeners will understand. All I'm saying is some don't, and it is becasue the message isn't simple, it is complicated and requires explanation, which is withheld due to the mistaken believ that the message is self-explanatory.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | July 22, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

New Kit! Thank the Lord, er, God, er, Jesus, er, Jupiter!

Posted by: seasea1 | July 22, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Here's the thing. I can recognize that a statement like "God is Love" or "Jesus is Lord" has a certain economical, poetic grandeur, and that it conveys something profoundly important to people who experience that grandeur as communion with something larger and better than they are. That I neither experience that communion, nor feel the lack as a loss, means that I only have poetics and philosophy to interpret it. And so, I interpret such statements securlarly, in a lit-crit sort of way. They do so religiously, as universal but deeply personal truths. As ineffable but a priori truths.

For those of us who cannot feel the ineffable, all we can do is recognize that others do find the message compelling, and let it be.

I cannot see that as a fault in the poetry, nor a coded message by believers. For people like me, inability to receive the message that religious witnesses want to convey is equally not a fault, but a feature. I'm not stubbornly, defensively, setting my back against something inexorable, but expressing a perfect satisfaction with the natural world.

Posted by: Yoki | July 22, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Mudge... are you aware you're using coded speech in your last messages? In fact, your entire diatribe on coded speech has used jargon and abstract generalizations that are incomprehensible to me in their very basis in thought.

We've all been trying to humor you by trying to figure out why you have decided that religious nut must be speaking in code and too dumb to realize it.

But I've had enough of it.

You can become a member of a religious group by EXPERIENCING worship. And worship always has a considerable nonverbal component to it. You can't quantify that by words alone.

This is the real world, not a linguistic petri dish.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Just because you didn't understand what I was saying doesn't mean I was being dismissive (which I wasn't, and see, I make no reference to your brain being in left field somewhere because you didn't understand. I spoke directly to you instead). And no, you can't know what it's like to be a lesbian, or a drug addict, or a mother. You can't know what it's like to be a teenage girl, no matter how many Judy Blume books you read. All the language in the world isn't going to make you know. But in the case of God is Love, there's a chance a reader will have an ephiphany (as I mentioned in my original post) and then know. That's what he's hoping for. (I think Cassandra spoke to this yesterday.) You clearly haven't had the kind of epiphany that allows you to understand.

(BTW, the God is love thing is a quote from the bible...1 John 4:16. There's a lot more detail there, should anyone decide to take a peak. The guy at the football stadium holding the John 3:16 card is doing the same thing, he's just giving the citation instead of the quote).

Posted by: LostInThought | July 22, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, OK, we're gettin' testy here. Probably nobody left here, but let me address my version of what I think is Mudge's conundrum.

What is the intention of a communication through coded phrases such as "Jesus is Lord"? If the intention is to communicate within the group, then that is fine, so long as you leave me alone once it becomes evident that I do not belong to the group. It should not be incumbent upon me to prove to you that I don't care; if the message is intentionally coded in a way that only fellow travelers can interpret it correctly, then the communicator should anticipate a favorable response only from that select group.

If the intention is to communicate outside the group, then the communication is failed, because the out-group is defined by its lack of agreement to the code. Unlike Mudge, I am willing to assign blame: a failure to communicate is a failure on the part of the one who chooses to attempt communication. The code used in communicating outside the in-group must be the shared code of natural language. The use of any other code is either an inadvertent failure or an intentional affront by the communicator; either way, it results in communicating something other than the intended message.

And on the subject of "having enough of it": the only code I perceive in Mudge's writing on this subject is an increasingly overt effort to write in consciously dispassionate terms in order to revert to an intellectual discussion when tempers are beginning to flare. He's extending an olive branch, but it's being lit into a torch. Unlike "Jesus is Lord", Mudge is using words with precise agreed-upon definitions and using them according to the ordinary rules of syntax, grammar, etc. The communication may be bungled (which would have to be Mudge's fault; see above), but it is not coded.

As to whether he is being insensitive and/or insulting: well, perhaps. But if we all understood each other perfectly, every time, then there would be no disagreements in the world, there would be no coded language, and everything would be wonderful. Since we all know that we do not live in this perfect world, why must umbrage be taken when someone notes that another speaker is not addressing the first person's point? It is a simple statement of perceived fact. Whether it is an error in expression or perception by the first person, or an error in expression or perception by the second person, there is no reason to get angry over a dispassionate statement. Clarification is more helpful than vilification.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

No, communication can fail when the listener fails to listen or refuses to, SciTim.

Communication, by definition, is a cooperative effort.

I'm not seeing much cooperation from Mudge, which is why I'm testy.

You can talk perfect sense in English, but if the audience is French and has not communicated this, the failure is not the initiator's; he is doing his best based on the information given him.

Audience feedback is crucial. This may be nonverbal or verbal.

I had to learn basic communication theory as part of my speech training, so I can attest that there are textbooks available that will take people through the basics.

I advise using those; the terminology he is using is not appropriate to the field of communication theory, let alone social linguistics, which would be the branch of study covering this failure to communicate due to differing social expectations.

If he insists on using his own terminology and filtering everything through his own words, I think it's appropriate to get testy. That is actually a form of communications shutdown.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

I consider myself something of an practical expert on communication difficulties, having lived them for 30-plus years.

Everyday I go out, somebody is going to speak to me and fail to get across to me. As a listener, I have to do as much work or more as the speaker to facilate the communication.

I personally can't see why Mudge is complaining about this.

I'd like to send him on a vacation of being deaf with laryngitis for just one week and see just what his beef about other peoples' communication dysfunction really is.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

But plenty of very religious people don't particularly embrace the mystical aspects of religion. It's inaccurate to suggest that the practice of worship necessarily involves the infusion of other-worldly knowledge. Sure, Hindu has Vedanta and Judaism has Kabbalah, but those are not majority strands of the faiths. Christianity may be nearly unique in its emphasis upon the mystical. This does actually need some explication (for some folks).

Posted by: bobsewell | July 22, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Tim, FWIW, the discussion isn't about Jesus is Lord, but God is Love. Also, I don't buy the argument about code. It's not code. It's pretty straight-forward. Thanks for your input though. I appreciate it, and your perspective.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 22, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I am seeing a lot of unintentional irony in your last posts here.

(a) Mudge is not complaining. You are. He is trying to explicate a communications difficulty, and he is doing it in dispassionate denotative terms. He is not complaining that there is something ineffable in the meaning of "God is Love." He is asking why someone would use it as a communications tool, if the communication can be effective only if the message has already been received.

(b) If you wish to appeal to "proof by authority" as a communications professional, then I think that his decades as a professional writer, editor, and journalist trump your decades. I realize that you have a distinct situation. I am saying that "proof by authority" is unpersuasive and you must either exercise your superior skills to communicate more effectively, or choose to withdraw. Umbrage-laden declarations of withdrawal do not really fill the bill.

(c) My impression is that he's working hard to listen and to express when he either doesn't get your point, or when he thinks that you are not getting his point -- whether because of a failure by him to speak clearly or a failure by you to listen, I do not know.

(d) With respect to direct face-to-face communication: I think it is obvious that he was speaking of a metaphorical face. Perhaps metaphor also is code (all language is code, at some level), but metaphor is a commonly agreed-upon code among literate persons. I took his metaphor to mean "in direct communication", except for when he was explicitly talking about actual physical face-to-face with a person who says "Jesus is Lord" etc.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

As to whether it is a dispute about "Jesus is Lord" or "God is Love": my memory was that it started from the former but perhaps I am confused. The point really is that both are cryptic shorthand for a complex statement. Unless the listener participates in the code, however, it is counter-productive to deliver the cryptic shorthand.

And that brings us at last back to where we started: the original question had nothing to do with the legitimacy of religious experience or religious expression within the group. It started from asking why someone would choose to apply such cryptic communication as a persuasive tool. What is the point? After that, it became a dispute about Mudge's failure to respect religious enlightenment, which is, in fact, beside the point (and also not true). He was not asking about religion, he was asking about communication choices.

And regarding whether I, a heterosexual man, can understand what it's like to be a lesbian or whatnot: I have sat through several storytelling sessions by a guy whose basic thesis in every story is "I'm gay, and you can't understand my experience unless you are gay." Okay, fine -- so why is he wasting my time? It is *his* job as a storyteller to seek to express the universality of the human experience, despite the trivial superficiality of genitalia. Otherwise he has no legitimate cause to be on that stage. If he believes that being gay is a fundamentally different experience that cannot be shared, then he is in fact saying that there is no definition of "human being" that can include both him and me.

I don't buy that argument at all. I believe that it is at least theoretically possible that I *can* understand what it is like to be lesbian, or a drug addict, or deaf, or disabled -- but it requires that the communicator first make the effort to truly express human universality in these experiences. Only after the speaker truly makes that effort can you start legitimately blaming me for choosing not to listen. To state that it is not even intellectually conceivable that I could understand the central facets of those experiences is to declare that we are not both human -- the fundamental basis for prejudice.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 22, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

A very nice summation of some complicated thoughts, Tim.

Posted by: bobsewell | July 22, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the guest kits, Mudge.

So help me.

Posted by: Boko999 | July 22, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, he is seeing a communication difficulty where there is none.

The problem is he is refusing to try and empathize and assume for a minute that proposition is true. Through all his comments I have seen nothing of "yeah, I tried that, but I still don't understand."

In short, he has not been responsive and in fact destructive of others comments by continually saying that is not the point.

That is a style that I associate with people who are just looking for a fight to vent, rather than people who actually do want to understand.

This is a metalinguistic problem. The intent is to capture attention, perhaps provoke curiosity or forgotten lessons. Maybe the guy is hoping that somebody will get irritated enough by seeing the sign daily to ask about the sign.

Again, as I said, this is not a linguistic petri dish. We cannot assume the intentions of this man based on Mudge's critique alone.

Why didn't Mudge just ask the guy, if he was so confused about why the guy was doing this? That would seem to be common sense 101.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, as to your comments about being human and also being a member of a group-- both are true.

You can have experiences that few others will understand no matter how you explain them-- but you can recreate the experience in part instead, through language, tapping on the common legacy of humanity-- emotions; social frustration, etc.

Truthfully, Mudge's problem makes no sense to me precisely because he is overanalyzing it and being general. If he would recreate the experience and his reactions to it, that is more helpful for us to understand.

You certainly wouldn't try and describe a woman's problem with her mother-in-law in a story by launching into a dissertation on the institution of marriage and women in general. That's not necessary for the most part. You tap into the listener's knowledge.

Dickens wrote stories, not essays on the plight of the working man. (That was Karl Marx); he accomplished more that way by breaking down people's aversion to thinking about the working class by enticing them with a good yarn.

Maybe this guy has chosen not to directly tell a story, but allowing himself to become part of other people's stories.

Why not? I just don't really see the problem Mudge has with this strategy, because I actually don't see it as counterproductive; we simply don't know the guy's goal and so cannot judge. He could be doing it for a bet, or due to something else.

Mudge is an imaginative storyteller, and he could certainly try thinking outside his assumptions and assume the guy is in fact being very rational.

As for the gay guy... well I'm sorry he feels frustrated and isolated, but it's also true to a certain extent.

I can't understand all that they do, not one hundred percent emotionally, but I don't need to in order to accept them as people.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | July 22, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

*Tim I just love you to pieces. But no, not in a million years are you going to know what menstrual cramps feel like. I can't know what it feels like to get hit by a car. You can explain it to me, I can get a mental picture of what it was like for you, but no, I can't know. I can take your description as gospel truth (ha!), but that doesn't mean I know what it feels like when that car smacked into you and you then slammed into the pavement. Not in my realm of understanding. You can tell me aspects of your experience, you can compare it to experienes you supposed I might have, but short of a dissertation (and maybe not even then) can you tell me enough so that I carry the experience as you do.

Just as I am sure I can't explain to you what childbirth feels like. You can stand there and watch (someone else, not me), and get a good idea of what the process involves, but your knowledge is going to be limited. (Note: it hurts.)

The whole code thing is a non-starter. As you said, all words are code to a degree, but all the words being used here are in Websters. It's not like I'm saying "it's 4:19, got a minute?" *That's* code.

Mudge's question was about why, not the validity of the statement. Why, I proposed, was that he was reminding those who already know, and hoping to spark an epiphany for one who doesn't. I think that's a valid explanation, one that doesn't imply my head's halfway up my butt and I can't find my way out of a wet paper bag.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 22, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

A thought:

We tell our loved ones that we love them repeatedly - not that they don't know, or that they may even understand how we mean it (small children don't really understand the depths and breadth of their parents' love for them, do they?), but we keep saying it because it's important to.

To both the person saying it, and to the person hearing it, even though their individual understandings of "I love you" may be very different.

And I believe neither is wrong, nor is it a waste of time.


Posted by: -bc- | July 22, 2009 11:55 PM | Report abuse

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