Saturday, October 26, 2013

Road Rage

Sunday Morning Sermon - Oct 27 2013

Would you be surprised that road rage can be good for society? Or that most crashes happen on sunny, dry days? That our minds can trick us into thinking the next lane is moving faster? Or that you can gauge a nation’s driving behavior by its levels of corruption? These are only a few of the remarkable dynamics that have been explored in recent times by travelling through the mysteries of the road for almost 5 decades. 

Why 
​do ​
we drive the way we do, and what 
​does ​
our driving say about 
​our personality​
? Most of us do think and believe that we are "decent" drivers. Are you sure you are one? What are the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are? Why is it that plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents? Do you know that roundabouts, which can feel dangerous and chaotic, actually make roads safer—and reduce traffic in the bargain. Who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. Why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots.


The car has long been a central part of human life; especially our generation. Whether we see it as a symbol of freedom or a symptom of sprawl, we define ourselves by what and how we drive. Driving is a provocatively revealing prism for examining how our minds work and the ways in which we interact with one another. It is also about human nature. 

The need to move ahead of the car in front of you is something that even psychologists will find hard to unravel. Cutting across lanes without even signalling is another common feature of today's drivers.

Why do they take these risks knowing very well that a small mistake on the drivers part could cause tremendous hardship to vehicles, passengers, and drivers on the road? Some call it an ego trip when a person gets behind the wheel. Some even say its a sexual thing.

How often have you found yourself being bugged by a nagging driver behind you who wants to move ahead even though there is a line of traffic in front of you?

How many times have you encountered a jerk trying to overtake you from the wrong side?

Sure you must have been in a situation where the dude in front of you failed to signal his intent to turn and kept you guessing behind him?

And when it comes to blowing your horn, Oh My God, its a bloody orchestra out there playing totally out of synch with the music.

When I first started driving in Colombo in the 60s, my Granpda called me over and taught ne one simple golden rule. He said, "Son, when you are driving on the road, remember this. Always say to the other driver, 'YOU FIRST'. I have never forgotten his words to date" even though it is not easy to achieve.

Drive safely fellers.

Amen!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lets Build our Coffee Wall

Coffee on the Wall: A Great feat of Compassion (came in the mail today)

I sat with a friend in a high-class coffee shop in a small town near Venice, Italy.

As we enjoyed our coffee, a man entered and sat at an empty table beside us. He called the waiter and placed his order saying, "Two cups of coffee, one of them there on the wall."

We heard this order with some interest and observed that he was served with only one cup of coffee but he paid for two. As soon as he left, the waiter pasted a piece of paper on the wall with the words written 'A Cup of Coffee'.

While we were still there, two other men entered and ordered three cups of coffee, "Two on the table and one on the wall." They had only two cups of coffee but paid for three and left. This time again, the waiter did the same; he pasted a piece of paper on the wall saying, 'A Cup of Coffee'.

It seemed that this gesture as a norm at this place. However, it was something unique and perplexing for us. Since we had nothing to do with the matter we finished our coffee, paid the bill and left.

After a few days, we happened to visit this coffee shop again. While we were enjoying our coffee, a man entered. The way the man was dressed did not match the standard nor the atmosphere of the coffee shop. Poverty was evident from the look on his face and his attire. As he seated himself, he looked at the wall and said, "One cup of coffee from the wall please." The waiter served a coffee to this man with the customary respect and dignity. The man drank his coffee and left without paying.

We were amazed to watch all this when we also noticed that the waiter took off a piece of paper from the wall and threw it in the dust bin. Then it dawned on us what this custom was all about. The great respect for the needy shown by the inhabitants of this town welled up our eyes with tears. Coffee is not a need of our society, nor a necessity of life. The point to note is that when we take pleasure in any blessing, maybe we also need to think about those people who appreciate that specific blessing as much as we do but they cannot afford to have it. Note the character of the waiter, who is playing a consistent and generous role to get the communication going between the affording and the needy with a smile on his face. Ponder upon this man in need. He enters the coffee shop without having to lower his self-esteem.

He has no need to beg for a free cup of coffee. He only looked at the wall, placed an order for himself, enjoyed his coffee and left. When we analyze this story, along with the other characters, we need to remember the role played by the wall that reflects the generosity and care of the dwellers of this town.

What a way to show compassion and maintain human dignity for all.

Can we build a wall at our coffee shop today, please?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

In the Beginning

Sunday Morning Sermon Oct 20 2013

IN THE BEGINNING

In the beginning there was the Cell.

The word cell comes from the Latin cella, meaning "small room". It was coined by Robert Hooke in his book, MICROGRAPHIA (1655), in which he compared the cork cells he saw through his microscope to the small rooms that monks used to live in. The cell is the basic structural, functional and biological unit of all known living organisms. Cells are the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and are often called the "building blocks of life".

Cells consist of a protoplasm enclosed within a membrane, which contains many biomolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. Organisms can be classified as unicellular (consisting of a single cell; including most bacteria) or multicellular (including plants and animals). While the number of cells in plants and animals varies from species to species, humans contain about 100 trillion (1014) cells. Most plant and animal cells are visible only under the microscope, with dimensions between 1 and 100 micrometers.
And the Cell divided. It was the first ever mathematical function that took place in the Universe. Actually this division gave rise to another math function. Multiplication. Sounds comical, huh?

The oldest cells on Earth are single-cell organisms called bacteria. Fossil records indicate that mounds of bacteria once covered young Earth. Some began making their own food using carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and energy they harvested from the sun. This process (called photosynthesis) produced enough oxygen to change Earth's atmosphere. Soon afterward, new oxygen-breathing life forms came onto the scene. With a population of increasingly diverse bacterial life, the stage was set for some amazing things to happen.
The endosymbiotic theory infers that "Symbiosis" occurs when two different species benefit from living and working together. When one organism actually lives inside the other it's called endosymbiosis. The endosymbiotic theory describes how a large host cell and ingested bacteria could easily become dependent on one another for survival, resulting in a permanent relationship.

All cells contain DNA, the encoded instructions that are used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. Ne of the important properties of DNA is duplication, or making copies. This takes place when cells divide and the DNA within is replicated in the divided parts. DNA is now used to research the origins of living beings and the source of their genealogy.

While debates, discussions, and discourse still plague the human mind about Darwins Theory of Evolution, where one species evolves into another through time using the process of natural selection, the fact remains that cells have always divided themselves and evolved into multiple cells that have given rise to increase in their populations. Hence one can easily conclude from this that the preservation and survival of all species is based on cell division which delivers its multiplication.

And then, we have Creation. The First Man, and The First Woman. The First Chicken, and The First Egg. The First Mother, and The First Child. And so on. Followers of the Darwinian branch of evolutionary science usually ask the question about what existed before Creation? Religionists respond to this by answering "Nothing did except God, The Creator". The Darwinians then counter question with the famous line, "Who Created God". To the religionist, this is a question that treads on blasphemy because he bases all his faith and thought on the simple assumption that God is the Beginning. In fact he even goes further back to deny any beginning at all because God was always there and didn’t need to be born or have started from something else before Him. To the Darwinist or to even most secular modern scientists thinking it becomes a bit difficult to put a blank before God because most scientific facts are based on a "source and object" formula, where the latter is a product of the former with no beginning nor end. I remember my first Chemistry text book during my O levels starting with the line "matter can neither be created nor destroyed". Now if this statement were true then God certainly bows out of the equation. And as for those who choose the other route they have to simply assume that life is a cycle with no beginning or end. What other choice do we have until such time as someone comes up with some solid proof of how it all began? Yes, we do have the "big bang" theory that survives among many pundits these days. Yet, even for the big bang to happen there had to be something in existence before that to make the bang. You can't bang something out of nothing, surely?

The Nobel Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling, aptly described science as the search for truth.  Science does this by continuously comparing its theories objectively with evidence in the natural world.  When theories no longer conform to the evidence, they are modified or rejected in favor of new theories that do conform.  In other words, science constantly tries to prove its assumptions to be false and rejects implausible explanations.  In this way, scientific knowledge and understanding grow over time.  Religious explanations for the order of things are not science because they are based primarily on faith and do not subject themselves to be objectively falsified.  Because of this fundamental difference in the approach to understanding our natural world, the U.S. Supreme Court in effect decided in 1987 that the Biblically based "creation science" is not a science and cannot be taught as such in public schools as an alternative or in addition to the mainstream evolutionary theory of the biological sciences.  However, religious creation stories and the idea of "intelligent design" can be taught in philosophy, religion, or history courses.  Religion and Science provide different approaches to knowledge.  It is important to understand both.

It was sometime in the '90s that the Creationists started challenging the Scientists about the anomaly where it was announced that the Universe was around 15 billion  years old while some stars were thought to be 18 billion years old. Surely you can't have a child older than its mother? The response by the men of science was, that the methods of measurement used then, were not as accurate and sophisticated as it is now with gadgets like Hubble in space. Further the plus or minus factor that plays into these numbers balances the anomaly since 3 billion doesn’t make much difference when you are counting 15 and 18 billion. 15 plus or minus 3 and 18 plus or minus 3 somewhat equates to a reasonable balance. Today, science has a firm foundation on time, distance, length, and space with minimal error. The very fact that scientific probes to the moon, mars and other planets are making their journeys with pin point accuracy goes to prove this beyond any doubt whatsoever.

And so, the Cell divided and grew into multiple cells that flourished across the hills and valleys, rivers and streams, Oceans and seas, on our little planet called earth. Science teaches us that in its 4.6 billion years circling the sun, the Earth has harbored an increasing diversity of life forms. From Cells to Bacteria to Multi Cellular Life, to Animals, Fish, Plants, Insects, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, Birds, Flowers, Primates, and Humans. Who comes next is a good question to pose? And also when, where and how? Science also teaches s that many species have already become extinct through this long span of time. The Anaerobes, the Trilobites and the Dinosaur. Humans are supposed to have roamed our planet only about 2.5 million  years ago. Taking that as a valid fact of science and looking before to the rest of the 4.6 billion years one begins to wonder whether this era was one of nothingness and absolute silence. How would the religionist explain what God Was Doing during this time? Even if they do say He was simply thinking or resting one would surely tend to ask why does He need to think or rest, anyways?

Amen!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why Suffering?

Sunday Morning Sermon - Oct 12 2013
Man thinks he has got everything right, and, hence works hard to ensure the systems he has put in place are maintained. These direct the way we live, think, act and even die. But the facts are he has made some horrible mistakes and the reason we are killing the world we are dependent on for life is because of the behavior he has brought about and the tragedy set upon us by selfishness and greed.
Many ask the question of why do we suffer and they rarely get a satisfactory answer. Ask a religious guru the same question and he wont be able to give you a sensible answer.
There is no doubt that some things we are not expected to know or understand and as soon as man discovers something he immediately starts to wreck it. This is happening now with genes which are only some fifty or so years away from their discovery. Already we are chopping into them, transforming them with bits taken from different species, and making our own versions of what we think we should have for a better life.
It is no different now to how it has always been as our brains anticipate the dreams of something better beyond the horizon. Caves were relatively uncomfortable and wild animals took their toll on family members so something was pushing for progress. That incentive to improve our lot has never diminished and no matter how much we suffer we can always measure our success through the determination of modern life.
Technology just about does everything for us now and robots are able to replace humans in many forms of engagement. Medicine is able to keep us alive well beyond our use by date and workloads are a lot easier now than just a few years ago. No matter how much these things have improved, however, there are still wars, suffering, overpopulation and now global warming. We are doomed by the very things we have put in place to save us.
Man-made religions, spiritual guru's, Ministers, Monks, and self appointed Mullah's are leading us all towards annihilation.
There is a good reason why humans suffer but we need to have an open mind to be able to understand, recognize it, and get off the bus. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Boat People

Sunday Morning Sermon – Oct 6 2013

People on our planet are eternally seeking to improve themselves in whatever available means possible based on where they are born, raised and live. On Friday, October 4, 2013, Italy held a national day of mourning for the death of more than 100 refugees fleeing their homes in Africa and seeking asylum in the greener pastures of Europe. Can this be considered an accident? Accidents and emergencies cannot last two decades. As a field researcher who has dedicated years of work to maritime migration, and as an Italian citizen, Maurizio AlbahariAssistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who specializes in social-cultural anthropology and teaches on international migration, pluralism, and European societies, said that he was grateful to the Italian Council of Ministers for taking such an unprecedented decision to make this declaration.

"Today ​we honor the memory of the families of more than 100 refugees, young adults, women, and children from Eritrea, retrieved off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa; and of the many dozens who are still trapped at the bottom of the sea. We also honor the selfless work of the island's residents, tourists, armed forces, medical personnel, and fishermen who have now rescued thousands on their way to Europe."


Yet we so hear, rather uncomfortably, to national and EU politicians who, as usual, point finger at smugglers, purporting that redoubling efforts to fight them will prevent further loss of life at sea. People at the helm of unseaworthy vessels are menial laborers executing the last and risky part of trips organized by transnational criminal networks.

Smugglers are not the reason why people are on those vessels. Italian and EU institutions are asking what can be done to prevent further tragedies. To answer, they have to ask also whether they did anything to enable them in the first place, including failing to consider implications and alternatives of their specific actions and inactions.

We need to raise a seemingly simple question. What brings thousands of people to trust criminals, pay them 10 times more than they would pay a comfortable seat on a ferry or airplane, and risk their lives to get to greener pastures? The overarching answer, in its brutal obviousness, is that they may not legally get on those planes and ferries.

They come from countries in Africa, Asia and the Far East, who methodically oppress their own citizens and will not grant passports and exit visas. They are refugees, forced to leave home without the time and resources to secure legal passage. They have survived the hardships of desert dwellings, refugee camps, war, oppression, abuse, and hardship that they don’t seem to have any other rational option but to run. They are poor. They fail to offer the financial guarantees requested by developed nations, and will not be granted a visa.

Quotas and legal channels for employment are inadequate both to their needs and to the needs of Western economies and aging populations. They are prepared to die as they leave with hope, but do not wish to survive in despair. They fall through the immense cracks of a system that needs them for a job or might grant them asylum, but only if they first make it through miles of peril and years of exploitation.

It is evident then, that this chronicle of death cannot end merely as a result of tougher penalties on smugglers, additional resources for search-and-rescue operations, and heightened military surveillance and dissuasion. Prisons, radars, and helicopters are not solutions. Every institution, at every level of governance, needs radical action.

Fishermen and ship masters should not have to fear that rescuing people will result in criminal charges for aiding and abetting undocumented immigrants. Or are they to engage in racial profiling and evaluate in hectic moments whether somebody in distress is a refugee or an undocumented economic immigrant? Should they rescue the former, but abandon the latter and perhaps face prosecution for failure to rescue? Can these decisions, and people's life, be left to discretion, chance, and the elements?

Intergovernmental border patrols and national armed forces need to clarify, to themselves and to citizens, whether they patrol the oceans to deter migration, to rescue people, or to intercept and deport them to countries of origin and transit.

Citizens need to remember that in liberal democracies it is on their behalf and in their name that laws are written and implemented. They need to demonstrate to lawmakers that they are not "afraid" of their Eritrean, Syrian, Somali, Egyptian, Afghani, Iraqi, Ghanaian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Pakistani employees, fianc├ęs, neighbors, schoolmates, and coworkers, to mention the nationalities increasingly resorting to maritime journeys.

These are not problems only concerning smugglers, immigrants, and refugees. This national day of mourning is a call for the EU and its member states to start refashioning what sovereignty and humanitarianism mean in the 21st century. It is an invitation to fellow Italian and European citizens, including migrants and their children, to practice democracy in its representative and participatory dimensions.

And it serves as yet another reminder of north-south disparities in wealth and power, signaled by the fact that the developed nations are a frontier in the first place.

There is no single solution to this continuing chronicle of death. There are certainly alternatives to this state of affairs. They are more rational, and more just, than inaction and methodic negligence.

Amen!