The faith (and doubts) of our fathers

The Economist’s December 17th article The faith (and doubts) of our fathers was the most nuanced and accurate an article on the subject as I have seen.

The “founding fathers” did not speak with one voice. I love this quote: “They did not spend their time producing pearls of unanimously agreed wisdom.” Their quarrels were as bitter as those today.

There was broad consensus for the federal government to be secular. In modern days this should be the natural reaction to non-secular, Islamist governments. Of the founders their broad-based revulsion of the fusion of religious and political power was epitomized by ancient monarchies.

Less understood now is this “wall of separation” (Jefferson’s words) applied only to the federal government. State and local governments continued to provide overt support and sponsorship of religious activities. This was the compromise that achieved such broad consensus. In a law of unintended consequences, the fight to continue slavery led to the demise of this compromise. Constitutional Amendment XIII, “Slavery and Involuntary Servitude” ratified December 6, 1865, reads:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

When several confederate states fought implementation with their own state constitutional amendments, Amendment XIV, “Rights Guaranteed: Privileges and Immunities of Citizenship, Due Process, and Equal Protection”, was ratified on July 9, 1968.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Thus states were prevented from maintaining the firewall between racial slaves and the Bill of Rights. They were also forced to erect a “wall of separation” between state governments and religious institutions.

I don’t wish to argue whether this was right, and I am not qualified to argue the finer points of this wall of separation. It exists regardless of the intent of the founders. Some would have welcomed it, and many would have abhorred it.

The important point is this: the wall of separation was not created to protect atheists from fervent believers (or vice-versa). It protected religious believers from other religious believers. It prevented the sectarian violence that has plagued states that lack such protections. Please Google “sectarian violence” for numerous examples of this phenomenon.

It isn’t clear how much of modern-day US would decay into sectarian violence lacking these protections. What’s clear is we don’t want to find out. Religious belief in the US thrives like in no other modern democracy. That should be good enough.


The Journey, Not the Destination

In her fascinating mini-book from Amazon Kindle Store, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, Heidi Grant Halvorson argues “People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.”

It reminds me of my first major dive trip overseas to a live-aboard in the Sulu Sea in territorial waters of the Philippines. The diving was amazing and the experience was unforgettable. But the experience I remember most was not the diving, but rather a remotest of places called bird island. We moored off bird island for 2 days and between dives we snorkeled.

One of those days I snorkeled to bird island and walked through the field of nesting birds. Before realizing what had happened I was in the middle of dozens of birds who weren’t happy. The squawking gave it away. They remained silent as long as I didn’t move. I don’t remember it when I entered, but I felt I couldn’t leave without endangering myself. In the end they never made aggressive moves.

More recently this summer the family took a 3 week trip to the United States. The places I remember most weren’t the places we intended to visit. They were the rest stops, the shopping trip to some city in the middle of California, and the small town outside the Grand Canyon.

Of course I remember the Grand Canyon. And yes, mom and dad, I remember you too. And I promise to get better about calling. Remember it’s about the journey.


Why I Still Like Apple

It is easy to have a love/hate relationship with Apple. On one hand they make great products. On the other hand, they control control their products too tightly. The most recent “anti-Apple” catalyst was the revelation that iPhones track movement information in an unencrypted database, until it was revealed a couple days later that Google Android phones are doing the same thing.

I purchased my MacBook in August 2009. Actually it was a gift but I did purchase some upgrades. Two weeks ago I realized the battery is running strong for two and a half years. Until it wasn’t. Two days ago I realized it was bulging and risked cracking the case.

Laptop computers are easy to hate, due to the batteries. My last employer gave me a new Dell. The factory battery lasted 3 months. The company replaced it with a 3rd party replacement. That lasted 4 months. They replaced it with another Dell 9-cell battery, and that lasted the duration of my ownership. The best trade-off is a local vendor  like Battery Plus which offers a one-year warranty. I had planned to replace my MacBook battery there, but I moved out before I needed one.

I researched “macbook battery bulging” and found a few people who had the same issue. They recommended take it to the Apple Store for a free replacement. Last night I setup an appointment with the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Shibuya. I told her simply “when I show you, you will know immediately.” She looked at it and said “Ah, the battery.” Apple replaced it for free and I left 15 minutes later. It was so simple and painless.

For the record, the MacBook is under the 3-year AppleCare. Batteries are not normally under warranty, but batteries are not supposed to bulge. For all of Apple’s faults, their support remains exemplary. I still think Apple is the worst computer company, except for all the others.


#JPQuake 2011-03-15

Everyday seems to be a major event. The M8.9 earthquake in Sendai has changed life throughout Japan. I am only reporting on my own experiences. As I walked around the neighborhood I started to sense we are returning to normalcy. The panic buying seems to be subsiding and stores are showing signs they will catch up within the next couple days.

The local Yamada Denki was quiet, both because the panic buyers had dissipated , but also because the TV sets were turned off in order to comply with voluntary power rationing.

Food One also seemed a little quieter. Bread and rice were still sold out. Various meats seem to be readily available. Snack aisles were full (except for our favorite rice crackers or sembei). I did grab the last 3 boxes of Black brand chocolate from Meiji. I have stocked up on chocolate, and now I remember why I stopped–the more I buy the faster they eat. THEY include wife and kids. In the future, when I do stock up on such items, I am pretty sure I need to hide them.

I also stopped by the bank in Yokohama Station to get some money. It felt strangely quiet. It was a weekday, and I usually get there on a weekend. About half the shops were closed. Yodobashi Camera was open and busy, mostly continued panic buying of emergency supplies like batteries, lights, and radios. And most of that, I suspect, was sold out. I was hoping I might snag a desktop UPS, but I knew immediately those would be impossible to find. We might not find those in supply for several months.

None are more affected than the immediate victims near the quake. Many are homeless living in emergency shelters. Health care workers are stretched. Getting adequate food and water to the victims remains difficult. Despite the worldwide attention on the reactor shutdown failures in Fukushima, the immediate humanitarian crisis is more severe. Please consider donating to your favorite charity: Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Salvation Army, as appropriate.

We experienced another tremor this evening, while I was in the shower. This one was upgraded to M6.4 in Shizuoka, on the other side of Tokyo from Sendai. NHK has been reporting there was a 70% probability of an M7.0 aftershock within 3-4 days, later downgraded to 40%. We are hoping this was the predicted aftershock, but we need to wait for the experts to sort this one out.

You may follow me on @gatmac on Twitter.


Firefox Preferences

This lessons shows you how to change preferences in Firefox.

Choose Preferences…


First select Preferences… from the Firefox menu



Select the General button

Show my home page


1. When Firefox starts: "Show my home page"
2. Home Page: (This step is very important

Show my windows and tabs from last time


Alternatively you may select "Show my windows and tabs from last time". The Home Page will be ignored.


Fixing WordPress Automatic Updates on 1and1

This issue had been bugging me forever. The automatic update functionality of WordPress, for plugins and themes, never worked well. Occasionally it did, but usually I had to secure shell (ssh) and update manually.

I finally found the fix. Login to 1and1 using secure shell (ssh) . At the root of your account edit (vi) the .htaccess file. Add the following commands to the top:

AddHandler x-mapp-php5 .php
AddType x-mapp-php5 .php

This applies to the 1and1 service.


Japan and International Abduction

A friend recently reported when applying for Japanese passport for his daughter of dual citizenship, the Japanese embassy called to ask if the father had given permission to do so.

This makes me wonder if they asked only the Japanese parent. I also wonder whether a verbal acknowledgement by the Japanese parent that the non-Japanese parent had given consent was sufficient grounds to approve this requirement, whatever it is. Do they require written permission? Is permission of the non-Japanese parent required if the Japanese parent applies for citizenship back in Japan? Would citizenship be granted only after reviewing divorce papers issued overseas?

Japan is coming under increasing international criticism over the issue of abduction of children by Japanese parents. Japanese courts seldom grant non-Japanese parents access to children, even in cases where joint custody was established in overseas divorce proceedings. Japan is one of the few major countries that has not signed the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

This looks like another lame attempt by the Japanese government to pretend it is doing something to deflect international criticism, without actually doing anything.


Hubris, Cooperation, and NASA posted a recent article about NASA Chief Bolden’s visit to China. Insofar as a US government official is (and should be) visiting his peers in other countries, the visit isn’t controversial.

However, the hubris of American foreign policy and the stupidity of the members of US Congress never cease to amaze me. To quote:

“As you know, we have serious concerns about the nature and goals of China’s space program and strongly oppose any cooperation between NASA and China,” the lawmakers wrote Bolden Oct. 15 as he was leaving for China.

The fallacy is based on the premise that China wants, or even should want, any cooperation with NASA. To do so would be a death warrant for its own programs. Unlike the United States, Chinas has stated a clear goal and timeframe: to put a human on the moon by 2025 to 2030. China could probably do so much sooner if it wished, but the goal achieves the SMART criteria: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

On the contrary, NASA has nothing. I shouldn’t say NASA, because most members of NASA do desire a SMARTer mission. However, the last four decades of NASA has been a legacy of failure, declining capability, and lost opportunity. NASA has been a make-work program for lawmakers that has achieved nothing since Nixon killed the highly successful Apollo program.

Moreover, the lawmakers fallacy is based on the premise that US even has anything interesting to offer to China. There is a joke in the space advocacy communities: if NASA can go to the moon, why can’t NASA just go to the moon? There are specific areas, of course, where NASA has a great deal of knowledge and leadership, including the psychological and physiological affects of space travel on humans. Otherwise US capability for heavy lift launch is dwindling, and no longer particularly cutting edge. The Europeans, Russians, and (nearly) Japanese are equally capable of heavy lift launch (though Japan will never be a major player in this area).

It is obvious China also intends to militarize space, as other space powers have done before it, including the United States. However, China does not intend to compete militarily on a global scale with the United States. Chinese leaders are too smart for that. More specifically, China is investing in a variety of military capabilities to disable adversaries (including the United States) from carrying out military operations in Chinese territories. It is not a strategy of, in military terms, forward force projection. Americans may fear otherwise.

The defensive strategy is rational and even predictable. Look at a world map and center it on China. To the southwest is India. To the north is Russia. To the east are Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. To the south and southwest are Singapore and Australia. All have formidable military or naval capabilities and are unfriendly towards Chinese military interests. China is literally surrounded on all sides.

Here is how I interpret what the US lawmakers are really saying:

As you know we have serious concerns about the decline of US hegemony caused by our own decade long record of fiscal recklessness. We are concerned about the nature and goals of the Chinese space program that might inhibit the use of US forward force projection to achieve diplomatic goals or force economic concessions on the Chinese people. We oppose China in succeeding in an area where we have demonstrated 40 years to complete and total failure.


Install pgAdmin III on CentOS 5.5 in 3 Steps

In 3 simple steps:

1. Install epel

rpm -Uvh

2. Install rpmfusion repel

rpm -Uvh

3. Install pgAdmin III

yum install pgadmin3

Family Japan

New Videos Posted

I have posted a couple new family videos. The first is of a trip we made to the JAXA i branch at Tokyo Station, for a self-study project Reon was doing for school over the summer break.

The second comes from last weekend’s bottle rocket competition. It took place along the riverfront about 10 minutes (by foot) from my mother in law’s home. Please enjoy both.

The first one was made on the Flip which I bought in the US but gave to my son. The second made using ReelDirector on the iPhone. Whereas Flip is an application that runs on the PC/Mac, ReelDirector runs directly on the iPhone–no PC/Mac required. ReelDirector is now preferred, but I do intend to create a weekend project for Reon wherein he must design and upload a video using the Flip.