May 10, 2005

Thou shalt not....

I have wished for many years that I could remember more of my father's sermons. I do remember a few real gems though. In one sermon my father told the story of two priests were talking and one priest was complaining that he couldn't get the people in his town to obey the ten commandments, especially 'Thou shalt not steal.' His saying the commandment wasn't enough-- people seemed to have a hard time putting the idea to work in their daily life. They agreed with the idea in principle, of course, and they complimented him on what nice sermons he was giving. It happened that the priest's town was on a river. Loggers upstream would cut trees and mark the ends of the logs with a company stamp and throw the logs in the river, and then at the collection pond just outside town they would sort the logs according to the marks-- if the log didn't have the right mark it would be sent on to the mill in the next town. Finally the priest had had enough and in his sermon the next Sunday he said, 'Thou shalt not cut the ends off of the logs and restamp them!'

I just loved that one because that's how it is, isn't it, we rationalize away and before we know it we have a good reason for cutting the ends off the logs and treating them as our own.

One of my current moral dilemmas is that our neighbor has the world's loudest lawnmower and a knack for firing up the behemoth at exactly the wrong times-- when you are putting the kids to bed, or when you've just fired up the grill and are ready to sit in a chair, breathe in the fresh air and watch the kids play in the sandbox. This lawnmower sounds like a cross between a primitive helicopter and a monster truck-- fast, loud, angry, and looking to gain altitude. I've spent many hours thinking about what to do. Can't buy the guy a new mower. I'd talk with him but he's not so easy to talk to and I don't think he'd take it well. For a while I was considering sabotage pretty seriously. All it would take would be a few shots from a watergun spiked with salt and vinegar to rust out the evil un-muffled demon, and then he'd have to buy a new one. It'd be easy, right? I could hide behind his woodpile (where the rats live) and squirt away, there's no way he would see me from the house.

Another dilemma has been generated by a conference I am organizing. We usually have guests from all over the world. This year, in addition to all the usual applications from the EU, North America, Russia (and even two from Brazil), I received applications from Azerbeijan, Nigeria and Nepal. Only one of the three has submitted an abstract for the program, and they all have yahoo email addresses-- not institutional/university email addresses. I'm pretty sure that all they want is a letter of invitation that they can take to an embassy in order to get an entry visa into the EU, and that they have no interest at all in our meeting. It'd be real easy to just not reply to their letters, but I can't make myself do that. I want to give them a chance to prove themselves and so I ask for abstracts, CVs, lists of publications, a letter from the head of their institution, for faxes, letters and emails. So far Nepal has given up and the man from the 'Azerbeijan National Aeronautic and Space Agency' is looking doubtful. (What is Azerbeijan doing with a space agency anyway? Turns out it's a relic of the Soviet days.) The man from Nigeria is getting indignant, but in that case I know he's a phony because the Danish ambassador to that country has told me that the 'Environmental Ministry' this guy say's he's from doesn't exist. Maybe I shouldn't even try to guard the integrity of Fortress Europe, I certainly don't have the resources, the time or the training. But what if one of these guys has a legitimate interest in atmospheric chemistry? But what if I am responsible for getting some really bad man across the border?


At May 11, 2005 7:13 PM , Blogger Kate said...

Matt, I haven't read your blog for a while but just spent some time on it. You are funny! I forgot that about you.

At May 13, 2005 1:32 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Thanks Kate!! Sometimes I forget too.

At May 13, 2005 1:36 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

...did you mean funny strange or funny ha ha....


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