Biowar Bellweather

Several weeks ago, I penned a fictional scenario of a bioterrorism attack on New York. Perhaps it seemed far-fetched to some — even most — but truth can prove scarier than fiction. John Robb at Global Guerrillas points us to an essay discussing the ease with which biogenetic engineering can be done today — it is well within the capabilities of those with very limited expertise in genetic engineering. Take a few minutes to read Biowar for Dummies:

Experts used to think that distributing a killer germ would require a few vats and a crop duster. Brent and I have a different idea. We \'ll infect a suicidal patient zero and hand him a round-the-world plane ticket. But we need a dangerous virus --smallpox, maybe. We won \'t be able to steal a sample; we \'ll have to make our own.

Suitcase nukes are the stuff of 24, and likely do not exist at all. Bio-engineered terrorism, however, is coming to a city near you, before very long at all.

But not to worry — there’s a new season of Project Runway underway, and Oprah’s on the campaign trail …

Mea Culpa

I’ve decided to pull a post from earlier today. It was an attempt to use humor to point out the insanity of secular multiculturalism, using this story as a jump-off point.

The humor used was too edgy, and too offensive. I was called on this by a brother in Christ, and initially reacted defensively, but he is right: I was over the line, and exercised poor judgment in posting it.

The strength of blogging is the ability to respond quickly to the world around us. The weakness of blogging is the ability to respond too quickly to the world around us, impulsively and without wisdom or restraint.

My central point was simply this, poorly expressed: that secular multiculturalism is a poor and harmful substitute for true multiculturalism, as expressed in Scripture: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” [Col 3:11]. The one divides and separates; the other unites in love and true transcendence of human differences.

My apologies to any who may have been offended, and my thanks to my brother Zagreus who opened my eyes.

An Ode to Tater Mitts

Neo-neocon has discovered a peculiar but seemingly indispensable kitchen aid: the Tater Mitt, and bemoans the fact that it does not rise to the level of poetry, as some of her other kitchen items have.

Not wanting the good Neo to mourn her paucity of iambic pentameter, the muse descended and I answered her call, saving the fair damsel from her dismay:

As evening dawns, her eyes behold
The eyes of countless spuds heaped high
Their leathered skin so soiled and cold
As evening feasttime e \'r grows nigh.

All hope is lost, the hungry crowd
With grumbling stomachs surly sit
The trembling chef, no longer proud,
From cavern \'d drawer the dreaded mitt.

She gazes at the grizzled mitt,
With roughened palms, a ghastly green,
Now grasps the soiled spud which sits
With icy eyes and waxy sheen.

She rubs, she rubs, in frenzied rush
As feebled hope springs forth to wit
The shredded skin reveals the flesh,
All hail the glorious Tater Mitt!

Now, back to work…

Health Wonk Review


 
Welcome to the September 6, 2007 edition of health wonk review.

I discovered, to my considerable surprise, that I had been tagged to host Health Wonk Review. To be honest, I have no idea how that happened (I’ve never submitted a post to the review, and didn’t volunteer). The submissions rolling into my inbox over the past few weeks were therefore confusing, and it was only a day or two ago that I had the dawning realization that I was on the hook. But being a can-do kinda guy, I rose to the challenge, so here it is.

Thankfully, the Blog Carnival folks made life easier by assembling all the submissions in one place, making the job immensely easier.

So the long and short of is: this will be neither clever, nor fancy, nor terribly erudite — but there’s some great stuff in the submissions, so check them out:

Shaheen Lakhan presents Medicare Begins its “Never Pay” Category posted at GNIF Brain Blogger.

Karen Halls presents How Do I Avoid Drinking Too Much Alcohol? posted at Addiction Recovery Blog, saying, “If you are trying to prevent yourself from drinking too much alcohol at social gatherings, here are a few ways that you can keep your alcohol intake under control.”

Henry Stern, LUTCF, CBC presents No Docs in This Box posted at InsureBlog, saying, “Retail medical clinics are popping up all over. They’re an inexpensive alternative to a full-blown practice or the ER, but “traditional” providers are crying foul. InsureBlog’s Bob Vineyard explores the hypocrisy.”

Warren Wong presents How To Overcome Fear And The Obstacles It Creates posted at Personal Development for INTJs, saying, “Are there things you are afraid of? Here’s how to overcome your fears, permanently, and overcome all the obstacles that fear creates.”

Alvaro Fernandez presents Brain Fitness Program 2.0, MindFit, and much more on Brain Training posted at SharpBrains, saying, “Review and commentary on several New York Times articles related to “brain training””

Shahid N. Shah presents Make sure your online SaaS vendors are appliance-capable posted at The Healthcare IT Guy, saying, “Shahid over at The Healthcare Guy provides some sage advice on how you should not count on “software in the cloud” for your mission critical healthcare IT needs without a backup plan. With big outages from Microsoft, Skype, eBay, and PayPal recently making headlines it’s a great time to make sure you’re protected.”

Jason Shafrin presents What are the Major Clinical Pathways to Disability posted at Healthcare Economist, saying, “This post reviews an NBER working paper discussing findings regarding how the elderly move from healthy to disabled states. Hopefully, this data can be used to aid health service providers on how to better prevent and treat disabilities which occur in old age.”

Richard Eskow presents Medical Justice League of America posted at The Sentinel Effect, saying, “Richard Eskow examines “Medical Justice.” a new service group that provides “gag order” forms to dissuade patients from reviewing their docs online, and also promises to “relentlessly” fight med mal lawsuits.”

Michael D. Horowitz presents What are the real savings in medical tourism? posted at MedTripInfo, saying, “An analysis of the costs of hip replacement in Costa Rica demonstrate that Americans can save 80% or more by going there.”

Dean presents Top Ten Fast Food Meals That Make You Fat posted at Mr. Cheap Stuff, saying, “Avoid these fast food meals.”

Daniel Goldberg presents On Epstein v. Relman (& Public Health Policy) posted at Medical Humanities.

David E. Williams presents Abusing the orphan drug law to rip off customers posted at Health Business Blog. Questcor Pharmaceuticals has announced “a new strategy and business model for H.P. Acthar Gel(R).” Translation: the company has obtained orphan drug status for a product that has been used for decades –including for the orphan indication of Infantile Spasms– and is raising the price 20-fold, from about $1000 per vial to $20,000 per vial.

Anthony Wright finishes up with a submission which snuck in this morning:

Small Business of California, Unite!

A spotlight on a poll of small business owners, showing that they are not reflexively opposed to health reforms, as they are sometimes portrayed. The scientific poll casts some doubt on “membership surveys” of some national organizations.

And a last minute shameless plug: for those interested in an in-depth look at the insanity which poses as our health-care system, check out The Maze — a multi-part series of posts on our billing and coding system, federal and third party carriers, and thoughts on fixing this mess.


That concludes this edition. I may have missed a few submissions, due to the last-minute scramble — my apologies for any such oversights.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of health wonk reviewusing our carnival submission form.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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health wonk review, blog carnival.

Swindler’s List

“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five (people) that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department”

Senator Joseph McCarthy, in his famous accusations about Communist influences in the U.S. government, had a list. A secret list. And he wasn’t revealing his sources.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since those dark days. No longer do senators keep secret lists with which to malign the reputation of those who displease them.

The only ones with such lists today are the health insurance companies.

The Wall Street Journal reports the following:

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo demanded last week a “full justification” of the rankings that Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp. have rolled out in the state. He warned the companies that the ratings are confusing and potentially deceptive, in part because insurers don’t disclose how prone to error their rankings are. The move follows rankings lawsuits by doctors accusing insurers of libel, unfair business practices and breach of contract in other states.

Health plans say the designation of preferred doctors is meant to aid patients by calling attention to the best physicians. To that end, UnitedHealth Group Inc., for example, is rolling out a system called United Premium Program. Aetna gives select doctors an “Aexcel” label in its plans. And Cigna launched its Cigna Care Network in at least parts of 26 states and Washington, D.C., early this year.

Sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it? Your health plan publishes a list of “best doctors” based on their interest in keeping you healthy, and promoting their new emphasis on quality. It’s all in the best interest of their customers, after all. Whatever could be the problem with that?

As you might guess, there’s more here than meets the eye:

…critics accuse insurers of concentrating more on cost than quality when handing out the preferred labels. Data from health claims are commonly used to produce the ratings. But the information, while standardized and widely collected, is prone to error, Mr. Cuomo and physicians say. Medical conditions can overlap and doctors’ offices vary in how they assign billing codes to care … Mr. Cuomo warned that rankings based on claims data can be badly flawed, and said insurers have conflicts of interest because of financial incentives to contain costs.

Of course the insurance industry has taken great pains to ensure that their quality rankings are fair and balanced:

An Aetna spokeswoman said the company consults with physicians in developing the ratings. Aetna considers its rating system transparent and posts the criteria and other details about it on the company’s Web site.

UnitedHealth also calls its system transparent, and said it had sent Mr. Cuomo a 25-page response but declined to make it available.

A Cigna spokesman said the company measures doctor performance by “what we believe is the best data available.” However, the measures “represent only a partial assessment of a provider’s quality and cost efficiency” and shouldn’t be the only reason patients pick a doctor, he added.

The emphasis above is mine, BTW — more on that in a minute.

Now, color me skeptical about such claims from insurance companies; having dealt with them first-hand for nearly 30 years does leave one with a certain hardened cynicism about their motives. But being a fair-minded type of fellow, I decided to check out some of their transparency claims. So I moseyed on over to Aetna’s web site, used my considerable influence as a physician to register, and started snooping around.
Continue reading “Swindler’s List”

Reason & Revelation

We’ve been mud-wrestling about scientific materialism vs. faith recently — especially with that peculiar disdain and condescension secular scientists often exude toward those foolish enough to believe in a divine Creator. One commenter named Mark, of the latter persuasion, started off reasonably enough but in short order fell off the cliff, ranting about my weaving a conspiracy worthy of Karl Rove. While I’m flattered to be compared to a master mind manipulator such as Mr. Rove (who controls the thoughts of countless wingnut drones, doubtless including mine), rational discussion is invariably fruitless with those of such a mindset, and he was, sadly, cast into the outer darkness.

Another commenter, the elegantly-named Chieftain of Seir, posed this comment to a subsequent post answering my friend Mark:

… I think you are expressing your frustrations at the wrong target. After all, the good book does say that judgment begins with the house of God, right?

I say that partially in jest. After all, you have to deal with the argument that is on your doorstep. But if you look around, I think you will find that most Christians use the same kind of reasoning as Mark. So why not direct your ire at your fellow Christians as well?

Mark \'s fundamental problem is that he thinks that anyone who does not accept his a priori beliefs is unreasonable. Most Christians think the same way. They typically argue that if anyone operated on pure reason without any biases then they would be forced to agree with the Christian position.

This is the same faulty logic that is used by Mark. People like to think that their a priori beliefs are required by reason. But reason does not require any particular a priori and it can never prove that any a priori is true. To think that reason will provide proof for your beliefs is a fool \'s hope for both the Christian and the Atheist.

… But what it all boils down to is that reason depends on revelation. It does not matter weather the revelation is what you see with your eyes or what you feel in your heart. It is all the same as far as reason goes. And the choice of what revelation you chose to accept as a guide to truth is made by the desires of your heart, not reason.

The Chieftain is beginning to tiptoe around some core issues here, although he does seem to have his wires crossed a bit, seemingly confused about both Christian belief and the relationship between revelation and reason — more on this in a moment. Let me say at the outset that I have no quarrel with the scientist who, be he atheist or agnostic, pursues science to its logical end, seeking deeper understanding of the mysteries of the universe, large and small. It is that peculiar arrogance of the secular fundamentalist — be he in science, or education, or politics, or most any field — which abrogates, in my opinion, all intellectual integrity, moving from objective pursuit of truth to subjectivism, disdain for differing opinions, and emotionalism, resulting in the intellectual suicide, as Herbert Spencer described it, of “contempt prior to investigation.”

Sweeping generalizations about what “most Christians think” seem common among those who understand little of what any Christian thinks, and miss the mark anyway: the standard is not what “most Christians” believe, but what Christianity as a faith has taught and maintained throughout its two-thousand year history. And while Christianity maintains that aspects of its core beliefs may be reached through reason alone — such as the existence of God, the nature of the soul, and the existence of a natural moral law — Christianity is above all a faith based on revelation. It maintains that God exists, that He is personal, and that He has intervened in human history, making Himself known both by written revelation and through the person of Jesus Christ. While the secular materialist views such a position as irrational — contrary to reason — Christianity maintains instead that it is supra-rational: not contrary to reason, but above reason by the very nature of God. It stands to reason that man — confined by his very nature to space and time — cannot through reason alone understand a Being who transcends space and time — eternal and self-existent in nature, unlimited in intellect and power, unchanged and unbound by time, having existed both before time and throughout eternity.

Yet Christianity also maintains that this God, who has revealed Himself to man, is the embodiment of pure reason, of absolute truth — hence His self-description as Logos, the pure Reason sought — and apprehended, albeit incompletely — by the high science of Greek philosophy.

The tension between science and faith is often thought of as beginning with Galileo, the Italian mathematician and astronomer who ran afoul of the Church for his theories in the early 17th century. But the conflict between reason and revelation is far more ancient, starting with the Greek philosophers who struggled to rationalize their crude pagan mythologies, and early Greek converts to Christianity, such as Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Origen. Augustine was the first to systematically address the relationship between faith and reason, finding faith preeminent while having great respect for Platonism and its logical constructs. The struggle continued with surprising intensity throughout the Middle Ages, finding its highest and most sophisticated resolution in the work of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. To a lesser extent, similar struggles between philosophy and theology were taking place not only in Christianity, but in Judaism and even Islam during this time.

While disputes about philosophy and theology may seem irrelevant to the struggle between 21st century science and religious belief, they are in fact highly pertinent to today’s polemics, for the core issues — the veracity of knowledge obtained by reason and investigation, versus knowledge derived from divine revelation — are identical. Aquinas distilled these differences with extraordinary clarity: I know by reason (or science, or mathematics) that a thing is true because I see that it is true. But I believe that something is true because God has said it — because its source is the embodiment of absolute truth. In the former, knowledge is affirmed because of sight; in the latter, because of source.

The scientific materialist stops at the first: nothing exists which cannot be verified by proof. Knowledge obtained by faith and revelation cannot be seen or proven, and is therefore invalid. The materialist cannot evaluate the immaterial, and thus must remain a rigid reductionist: all aspects of the universe, and in particular the peculiar aspects of our human nature — purpose, free will, love, sacrifice, spontaneity, creativity — must ultimately be attributed to deterministic sources: neurochemistry, genetics, survival instinct, random chance. Their philosophical handcuffs are constricting in the extreme — though few seem to understand the constraints and inconsistencies inherent in their own philosophy. They live, as all humans must, in utter disregard for their core conviction: they love and hate; make free choices; are spontaneous and unpredictable; act contrary to the prime directive of survival of the fittest through sacrifice and altruism; pursue life goals in accordance with principles which are both immaterial and unprovable.

By contrast, those who assent to knowledge by faith and revelation need not reject science, or knowledge, or reason — in fact, these remain critical tools by which to assess, and in some regard verify, their faith. Since we cannot see what we are called to believe, investigation using material knowledge, science, and history nonetheless may serve to verify or refute the proposition that revelation indeed has its source in a Being embodying absolute truth and trustworthiness. Thus, we evaluate scriptures claiming to be revelation with the tools of archeology, linguistics, textual analysis for internal consistency and external verification, to validate, in some measure, the veracity of such claims. When we find, as in the case of the Christian scriptures, extraordinary evidence of accuracy to ancient manuscripts sustained over many centuries, abundant internal and external evidence for origins nearly coincident with New Testament events, and abundant archaeological support for many of its events and personalities, we do not thereby prove that they represent divine revelation. But such evidence is consistent with what we would expect were they in fact revelation.

Thus logic and science do not prove faith — they cannot by their very nature — but lend credence and reasonableness to its veracity. Conversely, lack of such objective, measurable evidence — the lack of archaeological and historical evidence for the events of the Book of Mormon comes to mind — does not disprove its divine origins, but certainly suggests serious inconsistencies in its claim to be revelation.

And thus, by a long and rather circuitous route, we return to the Chieftain’s assertions: that reason depends on revelation, and that the veracity of revelation is purely subjective. Neither is true: one may have reason independent of revelation, and have revelation which is above reason, yet inferentially supported by the tools which reason provides. To maintain that any claim to revelation is valid, if we only believe it to be so, substitutes self-direction based on emotion (invariably self-serving) for revelation from the source of absolute truth.

And that supposition is, in my view, unreasonable.

A Fascinating Futility

I love this article, from the Seattle PI, in July 1940, on some “unusual” behavior on the just-completed Tacoma Narrows bridge — the same bridge which collapsed spectacularly 4 months later. I especially love this part:

Although the bridge is said to be utterly safe from an engineering standpoint, vertical movements along the center suspension span are proving “psychologically disturbing” to some users, the engineers admitted.

Of course the engineers and scientists were wrong — catastrophically wrong — and assurances based on the absolute certainty of their science and dismissal of terrified drivers as psychologically disturbed proved wildly and humorously foolish in retrospect.

Some things, it seems, never change: scientists never have doubts — and those who doubt their infallible wisdom must be psychologically disturbed.

In a recent post, I took to task an astronomer who, while presenting a most interesting but somewhat far-fetched explanation of the origin of the universe, also took that opportunity to ridicule those foolish enough to believe in the possibility of a divine creation. In the comments, a skeptic by the name of Mark took me to task for needing to rely on “religious stories” to make myself feel better. A short but interesting interchange took place thereafter, including this, his most recent comment:

“I have instead been transformed by a personal encounter and relationship with a Being far vaster than our paltry imagination and feeble intellects can begin to grasp.”

There \'s no evidence for this encounter at all.

Also, to consider the imagination paltry is to have little understanding of how YOUR imagined “relationship”, unproven as it is, is different from a perceived real. This difference, if not fully considered, may well be so imperceptible to the believer, that a psychologist may consider this experience a form of psychosis.

To say that my one who does not believe as you do has a heart filled with emptiness and futility merely offers the reader your experience of what it is like for you to live a life without these. You should have written “my human heart”, not “the human heart.” I think you have little understanding of individuals who are curious, who love, who contribute, without the need for the great lost and found department.

Your understanding of transcendent apart from your “spiritual and supernatural” is an uneducated one apart from your own experience as indicated in your declaration that this is a “futile feeling” and I think you need to spend time with real scientists who gaze at wondrous things every day.

I had planned to respond with another comment, but as my thoughts evolved, decided the topic would be better served by another post.

In response to my personal transformative experience of faith, which I have discussed frequently on this blog (see here and here), Mark responded as follows:

There \'s no evidence for this encounter at all.

This is an an extraordinary statement, yet not a terribly surprising one. Mark knows nothing of my genetics; nothing of the blessings and banes of my family of origin; nothing of my life experiences in childhood or adulthood. He knows nothing of my thoughts, my experiences, my successes or failures, nor the irrefutable, transformative effect of the power of spiritual relationship in my life. Yet he, presumably a secular scientist steeped in evidence-based knowledge, blithely dismisses all such experiences and evidence, and without even a hint of irony, assures me that there is “no evidence for this encounter at all.”

What is evident, however, is that evidence has nothing whatsoever to do with his statement: it is, pure and simple, a declaration of worldview.

In Mark’s world, there is no God, nor any possibility of God. This is his a priori position, and any and all evidence or suggestion to the contrary, must simply be dismissed, ridiculed, or ignored. The scientific method has nothing to do with this conclusion; there is no postulate to test, no experiments to evaluate, no revision of theory based on experimental outcome, no possibility of an answer other than that already predetermined. This is not science — it is religion — and religion in its worst form: blind faith untouched by reason, unshaken by evidence. The very thing he has accused me of — addiction to absolute certainty — is in fact his own largest blind spot: he is absolutely certain that there is no God, and all other facts, experiences, and contrary evidence in my life, or anyone else’s with similar experience, must be bent, folded, and mutilated into this materialistic worldview. As Chesterton once observed, “Only madmen and materialists have no doubts.”

“Also, to consider the imagination paltry is to have little understanding of how YOUR imagined “relationship”, unproven as it is, is different from a perceived real. This difference, if not fully considered, may well be so imperceptible to the believer , that a psychologist may consider this experience a form of psychosis.

Aaah, psychosis — that’s the answer. I’m nuts! Well, I can assure you I am quite sane — even my psychiatrist friends agree. And as a physician, I know something of psychosis: its clinical manifestation and symptoms are well-understood, having seen many patients suffering with this mental health disorder. But for the secular materialist, such standards of diagnosis are moot; psychology and psychiatry are for them both savior and sword. When your secular scientific theories fail to explain human behavior, or evil, or religious experience, it’s time to send in the clowns, wrapping your befuddlement and disdain in psychological terms like “psychosis.” That which scientists are unable to explain in human behavior, they delegate to the psychologists. But psychology and psychiatry have another significant benefit for the atheist: as a weapon to attack and neutralize those who reject their orthodoxy. It is no accident that psychiatry became a potent weapon in the hands of secular totalitarian states such as the Soviet Union. If you are not loyal and enthusiastic about the state and the party, you may well find yourself in a mental hospital, where you will be “treated” until you see the light. A similar fate awaits you for religious impulses as well. What you cannot explain, you must explain away; what you cannot explain away, you must persecute. Mental health services in the gulags were freely available, for all who disagreed.

I have great respect for mental health professionals. But they make far better physicians than metaphysicians. When they are ordained to postmodern priesthood, tasked with diagnosing and healing the soul and spirit of man while denying the existence of both, they begin looking quite as foolish as engineers dismissing bridge ripples.

Your understanding of transcendent apart from your “spiritual and supernatural” is an uneducated one apart from your own experience as indicated in your declaration that this is a “futile feeling” and I think you need to spend time with real scientists who gaze at wondrous things every day.

Our modern Gnostics do love to “educate” us until we see things their way, don’t they? I don’t recall saying anything about “futile feelings” — but I do plead guilty to the charge of ignorance: there are vast swaths of knowledge which I do not possess, vast expanses of information and experience of which I know little. I have far more questions than answers about this life, its origins and its meaning. And I find myself entirely comfortable — excited even — in this very uncertainty.

But as far as “gazing at wondrous things,” well, let’s see: in the past few weeks alone, I have viewed images generated by flipping nuclear protons in high-power magnetic fields, revealing extraordinary detail of human anatomy and pathology. I have marveled at the complex interaction of pharmacological chemicals with cellular physiology, as medications interact with human illness to provide relief and cure. I have sat and listened to the agony of a wife whose husband has Alzheimer’s, who has shared her agony of losing her partner of 60 years, her exhaustion at his care, her frustration with his bizarre behavior, yet heard her irrational but inspirational love and devotion to the man whose life she has shared. I have restored a man’s lost fertility, whose youngest child died at 3 months of age from SIDS — one month after his vasectomy — operating on structures the size of the human hair, using sutures invisible to the eye. I have sat in utter frustration, as every treatment and medication, the very best science has to offer, has failed to stem the progression of an aggressive bladder cancer, as I watch, helplessly, the agonizing hourglass of imminent cancer spread and ultimate death. I have marveled at the irreducible complexity of the human cell; at the infinite number of variables which influence medical treatment, response to surgery or therapy, and clinical outcomes; I have carefully dissected, removed, and cured an aggressive cancer of the prostate, while watching another whose treatment failed die slowly and painfully from the same disease. I have seen men die both with and without God — seen the peace and serenity in the eyes of one, despite almost unbearable agony, and the hopelessness and terror in the eyes of others with no such hope. I get to watch and participate daily in the complexity of life and death, health and disease, the richness of human experience, and the miracles of science applied to making lives better. I live daily with body, with soul, and with spirit — and engage each in its place. I happen to find all these things rather wondrous, and humbling, and yes, transcendent — silly me.

But perhaps Mark is right: maybe I should hang out with a “real scientists” who look through telescopes, and with their tunnel vision, star-gaze their way to meaning and purpose in cosmic clouds and compact dimensions, caressing their theoretical physics in orgasmic intellectual onanism. Perhaps then I will learn the real meaning of life, discovering thereby their secret to transcendence without God, with mysteries hidden deep within their superstrings or dark matter or tachyons. That such things are fascinating is doubtless true; that they may be true is doubtless fascinating; that they seek to explain why we love, or are curious, or contribute — or to what purpose we exist in space and time — is fascinatingly futile.

Or perhaps instead I will remain at the vortex of a unified field of truth, with God both sovereign and merciful at its center, immense as the universe and intimate as the heart. For from where I stand, the universe really does look quite wondrous indeed.

Guitar Wizardry

For those of you who are guitar players (as I was in a former life), or admire guitar players, or have played air guitar when you thought no one was looking, here’s a rather amazing performance by John Butler.
 


 

What amazes me most about this performance is that he is working his magic on a 12-string guitar. For those unfamiliar with such things, a 12-string has two paired strings corresponding to each string of a 6 string guitar, either doubling the note or an octave higher. The two strings of each pair are struck in unison (not plucked separately), providing an extraordinarily rich and nuanced sound, with rich overtones and sonic saturation. Because of the added heft the the paired strings, however, it is far more challenging to perform agile fretwork (12-strings are often used for chording and accompaniment rather than detailed melody lines and arpeggios).

And speaking of wizardry on stringed instruments, this is another must-hear experience: Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — on a ukulele, by the world’s best player, Jake Shimabukuro:

 

 

It is simply not possible to get that much sound and complexity out of a ukulele. 4 strings. Unbelievable.