Archives November 2015

What If Intercessory Prayer Worked?

What if intercessory prayer worked? What if, when you or someone else had a disease, and you prayed, there was a significant chance that the disease would be healed, either by one or another divine being, or by some other mechanism?

And yes, I realize that a lot of people think that it does; but I’m going to look at this in the way a science fiction writer might, and see what happens.

One of the most obvious attributes of prayer is that it’s cheap and easily-accessible by anyone. It’s also said to be as safe and side-effect-free as, say, homeopathy. That means that it should be everyone’s first recourse, not their second, third, or last. People wouldn’t say “there’s nothing to do now but pray” after an operation; they’d say “prayer didn’t work; there’s nothing to do now but operate”.

Insurance companies would refuse to cover the cost of, say, blood pressure medication or chemotherapy unless you’d already tried cheap prayer first. In this, they would be joined by doctors, because medications have side effects (to say nothing of surgery and similar operations), so it’s best to try side-effect-free prayer first.

Then again, maybe insurance companies wouldn’t bother: they’d just assume that everyone would pray before resorting to medical professionals, that there wasn’t any real money to be saved by screening out the vanishingly few die-hard antitheists, and they’d get rid of that particular bit of paperwork.

At the same time, though, assuming that not all prayers are equally effective, we’d see a new profession: prayer therapist. These would be people whose job it is to help you pray in the optimal way: do you need to be on your knees, or can you just sort of wish for recovery while sitting in traffic? What are some good ways to achieve the purity of heart that gives the best odds of recovery? Is it okay to take painkillers so you can pray without being distracted by the pain? For that matter, are Catholic prayers more effective than Buddhist ones, or doesn’t it matter? (Yes, it means that some people would stay with insurance companies that they hate simply because their favorite prayer therapist is in-network.)

Naturally, in addition to the well-informed professionals, there would be the fakers, posers, and spouters-of-BS. Hollywood celebrities would hire celebrity prayer therapists and would compare notes on morning talk shows about the latest trends and fashions in intercessory prayer.

None of this even addresses the wider theological repercussions: if prayer really worked, there would be an awful lot fewer atheists, and a lot more members of whichever faith had the most effective prayers. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide how well this little flight of fancy corresponds to the world we live in.

Thanksgiving Pho

Yesterday, around dinner time, we started digging through the Thanksgiving leftovers to see what looked good. M wanted soup. Great. Except that we didn’t have enough noodles for a decent soup, but we did have maifun rice noodles, so we used that instead.
Basically, J combined the noodles with leftover turkey, plus carrots, onions, celery, and the herbs and vegetables used to stuff and flavor the Thanksgiving turkey. I called the result Thanksgiving pho, and it was surprisingly good. I added Sriracha to mine; the others didn’t, for some reason.
Try it. You know you want to. Plus, you’ve got to do something with that leftover turkey, right? Might as well put is in a dish that tastes good no matter how you make it.

Thanksgiving Rules

This year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving. Hooray! I’m a grownup! I’m looking forward to it.
There are, however, some rules:

  1. Smoking: As the saying goes, there is no heaven or hell; just smoking and non-smoking. To that end, there will be two designated smoking areas, one out front and one on the patio out back (but feel free to release your inner buffalo and roam). Thanks for understanding.
  2. Donald Trump is a clown. Also vain, a demagogue, and possibly a fascist. But that’s just me. If you would like to voice a contrary opinion, there will be two designated areas, one out front and one on the patio. Please don’t bother the smokers.
  3. I’m told there will be a game on Thanksgiving. Football, I think. If you’re a football fan, I’m sure all the major news media will report the score tomorrow.
  4. I will not guarantee that any given foodstuff is free from gluten.
  5. The cat comes and goes as he pleases. Don’t try to force or coerce him. If he bites you, I will laugh, take pictures, and call 911, in that order.
  6. There will not be a separate kids’ table this year. Please don’t make me regret it.
Young Americans Are Finally Figuring out Evolution

According to Slate, a Pew Research poll has found that a bare majority of millennials accept evolution as described by scientists. This is in contrast to findings from the last few decades, that a significant number of Americans favor a magic-based or -friendly explanation of where human beings came from. Oddly enough, this seems to go hand in hand with the fact that young people are increasingly non-religious. Go figure.

Vatican Values

From AP and the Washington Post, the latest on the Vatileaks story (that I mentioned earlier)

MILAN — A Vatican judge on Saturday indicted five people, including two journalists and a high-ranking Vatican monsignor, in a scandal involving leaked documents that informed two books alleging financial malfeasance in the Roman Catholic church bureaucracy.

I’m surprised at how quickly the Catholic church is moving in this case. I mean, the alleged crimes occurred less than twenty years ago!

I guess the lesson here is that it’s okay to rape kids; it’s okay to be a Nazi. But don’t you dare talk about the Vatican’s finances.

Is ISIS’s popularity low? Hard to Tell

The Washington Post reported on a Pew survey of countries with a significant Muslim population, asking whether people there have a positive or negative view of ISIS:

Pew survey of countries with a significant Muslim population, spring 2015.

As the graph shows, in every country, ISIS is unpopular, by huge margins (and I find it interesting that according to the same survey, attitudes vary more from country to country and between religions; but I’m not sure that’s important right now).

But there’s low, and then there’s low. I wouldn’t drink water that was “only” 1% arsenic (the EPA limit is a million times smaller than that), and if there were “only” a 1% chance of crashing every time I got on the Beltway, I’d likely be dead within a year. So there’s small and then there’s small.

If the KKK enjoyed the same level of popularity in Alabama as ISIS does in Turkey, above, it wouldn’t be reported as “KKK only has minority support”. It would be reported as “One in 13 Alabamans still supports KKK”.

So I’d like to see some figures for comparison: how popular is ISIS compared to, say, the Lord’s Resistance Army, or Nazis, or the Tutsi army? Maybe they have comparable levels of popularity, and the double-digit favorability numbers are statistical artifacts. And in fact, it seems that the fact that its popularity varies more from country to country, than from religion to religion within the same country, points at this explanation.

But my fear is that ISIS really does enjoy insufficiently-low popularity.

Hey, the Vatican Has Jail Cells! Who Knew?

The Associated Press reports (via WaPo): “Vatican arrests 2 people in latest probe of leaked documents“. In brief: a few years ago, a monsignor and a collaborator leaked documents relating to pope Benedict 16’s finances.

A Vatican spokesman said Vallejo Balda was being held in a jail cell in Vatican City, and that Chaouqui was allowed to go free because she cooperated in the probe.

This is news to me. I didn’t realize that the Vatican had jail cells, and I’d never seen the words “Vatican arrests” before.
But this raises a further question: evidently the Vatican sees leaking documents as a crime serious enough to warrant arrest and imprisonment. But raping children or covering that up? Not so much. Why is that?

DD-WRT Config Backups

So the other day I managed to hose my DD-WRT configuration at home, badly enough that I figured I really ought to back up my config so I don’t wind up trying to reconstruct my config from memory.

(If you just want to see the script, you can jump ahead.)

I have nightly backups of my desktop (and so do you, right? Right?!) so I figured the simplest thing is just to copy the router’s config to my desktop, and let it be swept up with the nightly backups. So then it’s just a question of getting the configuration and such to my desktop.

In DD-WRT, under “Administration → Backup”, you can do manual backups and restores. This is what we want, except that we want this to happen automatically.

The trivial way to get the config is

curl -O -u admin:$PASSWORD http://$ROUTER/nvrambak.bin


wget --http-user=admin --http-password=$PASSWORD http://$ROUTER/nvrambak.bin

where $ROUTER is your router’s name or IP address, and $PASSWORD is your admin password. But this sends your password over the network in the clear, so it’s not at all secure.

Instead, let’s invest some time into setting up ssh on the router; specifically, the public key method that’ll allow passwordless login.

Go follow the instructions there. When you come back, you should have working ssh, and a key file that we’ll use for backups.

Back? Good. Now you can log in to the router with

ssh root@$ROUTER

and entering your password. Or you can log in without a password with

ssh -i /path/to/key-file root@$ROUTER

Once on the router, you can save a copy of the configuration with nvram backup /tmp/nvrambak.bin. So let’s combine those last two parts with:

ssh -i /path/to/key-file root@$ROUTER "nvram backup /tmp/nvrambak.bin"

And finally, let’s copy that file from the router to the desktop:

scp -i /path/to/key-file root@$ROUTER:/tmp/nvrambak.bin /path/to/local/nvrambak.bin

So the simple script becomes:

ROUTER=router name or IP address

$SSH -4 -q ${RSA_ID} root@${ROUTER} "nvram backup /tmp/nbrambak.bin"
$SCP -4 -q ${RSA_ID} root@${ROUTER}:/tmp/nbrambak.bin ${LOCALFILE}

I’ve put this in the “run this before starting a backup” section of my backup utility. But you can also make it a daily cron job. Either way, you should wind up with backups of your router’s config.