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Stars, Pisco, and a Rare Bird

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

View from the Mirador Cerro de la Virgen  View of Vicuña from the Cerro de la Virgen. 

I skipped Saturday night earlier, so I’ll start with that.   We signed up for an astronomy tour, since after all we’re at the Centro Astronómico Alfa Aldea, and it was very good.   Maybe 25 people showed up, including some kids, but we were the only Norteamericanos.   We started in the larger white geodesic dome/tent, where we saw a short film about the origin of the earth, and they told us about the radio telescope they’ve built at the Centro.  Then we adjourned to a little open-air amphitheater where we got to look at several objects in the southern skies with a 16 inch Dobsonian telescope.  The tour leader was a young guy who retold everything in English for our benefit, and was an excellent presenter.  Turns out he is completely self-taught, and a better teacher than many I’ve worked with. Peggy, of course, was excited, but we all enjoyed it.  We got to see Eta Carinae, the largest known star, and had nice views of Jupiter and Saturn.  I think really the best thing for me was something Peggy pointed out to us; with the naked eye we could see the Magellanic Clouds, nearest sister galaxies to our own.

Sunday we went to Puclaro, which I’ve already talked about.

Monday I got up at first light and bundled up for a walk.  It wasn’t that cold, admittedly; only 40s or 50s for lows, but it had become overcast overnight, which made it chillier, and in any case the sudden jump from summer to winter has caught me off guard.   Binoculars and camera on as always, I wandered around a bit in the vineyards.  The other day I’d seen a bird I couldn’t identify in one thorn bush, so I had a look at the bush again.  A Chilean Mockingbird was perched in the top – one of a half-dozen or so on the property.  But down in the middle, a smaller mockingbird-shaped critter was flitting about.  I could see the long tail, and when he moved around, it flared to show bold white sides with a dark center.  He had a big white wing bar with a black edge below.  When I dug into the book, I was sure I was looking at a White-banded Mockingbird, which I’d suspected the first time I saw it.  This time he stuck around long enough for a couple of decent low-light photos that were good enough to put in ebird, since the species is listed as rare.   It’s daunting to claim to see a rare bird in an unfamiliar country, but I’m pretty confident on that one.  

White-banded Mockingbird
White-Banded Mockingbird

The weather forecast predicted rain in the late afternoon or evening, and we’d figured it would be a good day for some indoor touristing.  We couldn’t go see the Mamalluca observatory because their tour was full, so we decided to go to a Pisco distillery.  Pisco is a brandy made from Muscatel grapes grown in the high Andean country of Peru and Chile, and the Elqui river valley is known for it.  We started driving out of town while still trying to find an appropriate distillery in Google Earth.  I finally hit on one called Fundo Los Nichos, and Peggy had seen something mentioning it in a list of smaller distilleries, so we figured we’d go.  It was only 15 miles away.

Elqui valley near Los Nichos pisquera

Fifteen miles, of which half was super winding narrow mountain roads, it turns out.  Nevertheless, we found the place, and were about 15 minutes early for the next tour.  We were the whole tour group, as it turns out.  The guide didn’t speak English, so Robin translated.  Or, as it turned out, Robin translated, then Peggy and I negotiated with her to come up with English words for the various sorts of equipment used in the process.  

Fermentation tanks at Los Nichos

We really hit the jackpot with our more or less random choice of pisqueras, as Los Nichos is the oldest one in Chile, founded in the 1860s.  It’s an artisanal operation with only two stills, heated with steam from a wood-fired boiler.  It uses local wood for the heating and composts the spent skins, seeds, and stems for fertilizer in the vineyards.

Still at Fundo los Nichos

The founder, Rigoberto Rodriquez Rodriquez (RRR), had a weird macabre sense of humor. The Pisquera is named for the niches in the wall where RRR put bottles of wine to commemorate his friends; each niche has an epitaph over it for the friend, in advance of his demise.  I think these got written while they were all getting drunk in the wine cellars.  The bottles are still there, over 100 years old and undoubtedly turned to vinegar and sediment.

Niches at Fundo Los Nichos

Here’s a sample epitaph:


Translated, it says “Here lies Don Manuel Vinto, a most obsequious dentist. He practiced his profession solely in bars.”

The tour, of course, ended with a tasting session.  We tried two styles; the 10-month aged Los Nichos, and the 3-year aged Espiritu del Elqui.  The first is marvelously smooth, with all kinds of fruit notes – I said banana and peach, at least.  The second is much drier, with a hint of black pepper in the subdued fruit.  Both were really good, though Hamner had to give most of his to Robin, since he really didn’t want to consume too much brandy before the drive back down.

We ended the day at the Guayacan brew-pub in Vicuña, where we had too much pizza and beer.   I recommend their IPA, but I think the big hit was the Chañar, which Hamner, Peggy, and Robin all said was the best coffee stout they’d ever had.  And then when we asked the waitress, it turns out that it had no coffee in it at all, but was made with this fruit? nut? called chaña.   She, by the way, looked amazingly like Professor Barbara Lamont in the music department at Southeast.

Anyway, back we went to the Centro to pack and finish the half-bottle of wine we had left over from the night before.  Tuesday is a travel day.  A bit hectic because we got lost trying to make the connection from our La Serena – Santiago flight to our Santiago – Antofagasta flight.   Wound up outside security and were escorted unsearched by an official to the appropriate gate area, where we took a later flight.  I write this on the plane, and there will be more about Antofagasta next time.



TDF/2 Stage 6

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Just for the record, I didn’t yell. Nor did I throw anything. Well, not hard. I did toss a plastic bottle of chain lube up on the porch, but just because I didn’t need to take it, not out of pique. But I digress.

I’d been apprehensive about today’s ride for a while. First, it’s the longest day of the Tour, and I needed to ride 70 miles. Second, the weather forecast pretty much said it would rain all day, with occasional thunderstorms. I’ve got rain gear, but I don’t have lightning gear. So when I got up at 6 this morning, I checked the radar, and it looked like it was likely to get worse in the early afternoon. I figured it would be best to take the road bike and try to make some mileage fast.

So, I cleaned the pedals and lubed them (trying to get rid of the annoying squeak), and then I started thinking about the cleats on my bike shoes. Is there some reason that only the right one squeaks? When I looked at them, I realized that the right cleat was a bit different shaped. So I replaced it with a spare that looked more like the left one. Then I started loading up stuff, but where would I carry the rain gear? So I changed my mind.

I got out a small pannier, and loaded everything into that, and put it on the Long Haul Trucker. Then I discovered that the rear tire was flat. I wasn’t in the mood to change a flat, so I got everything back onto the other bike. More or less. The rain jacket packs into its own pocket and straps under the handlebars. I figured I’d skip the rain pants.

I got on the bike and started down the driveway, only to discover that then new cleat wouldn’t clip into the pedal. Keep in mind, I did not yell. I may have muttered a few things, but not loudly enough to disturb the dog, who views me riding a bike on the driveway as a ploy to flush bunnies out of hiding. So I went back to the house and swapped shoes, then got back on the bike.

It was already raining lightly, and I was about a quarter mile down highway C before I remembered that I hadn’t put the fenders on the road bike. So, I went back for the fenders. By the time I finally was on the road for real, it was almost 8, and I was annoyed, albeit quietly so.

I rode out to Millersville, and then west on highway 72. It went from raining lightly to raining steadily, but the road is great; they recently repaved and widened it, and it has a full-width paved shoulder separated from the right of way by a rumble strip. By the time I got to Patton, though, it was pouring, and sunscreen washed into my eye. I stopped at a convenience store, washed out my eye, and had a sandwich while the heavy rain went by. I continued another 5 miles west, then turned around at the 35 mile mark.

TDF/2 Stage 6 - Rain clearing

Things were going great until about 25 miles from home, when I heard that rhythmic whooshing noise that means “Hi, there, I’m a big hole in your tire.” So I stopped, pulled the wheel, replaced the tube, got out the CO2 pump… and found that it was broken. No way to put air in my nice new tube.

A car stopped and two young women asked if I needed help; they even drove back to their house to get a pump, only to return with the news that their father had gotten a compressor and gotten rid of the hand pump. I tried knocking on doors of a couple of nearby houses, but no luck. I called Robin, who was having lunch with friends in Cape, and she said she’d bring me a pump. I told her not to hurry. Then I picked up the bike and started walking east. About a quarter mile down the road I came upon a place with a lot of farm equipment sitting around in a field, and a sign saying “equipment repair”. I wandered down the drive, into the office, around back, and finally heard a tractor running in a big shed, where I found Johnny Cathcart, the proprietor. Why sure, he did have a compressor handy, and he was happy to stop what he was doing and help me pump up my tire. I called Robin and told her she didn’t need to rescue me, and within minutes I was back on the road, filled with joy and renewed vigor.

Johnny Cathcart

Until I hit a smooth stretch of pavement and realized there was a biggish lump in the tire – probably not seated well on the rim, or maybe a twisted tube. I wasn’t going to go back and bother Mr. Cathcart again, so I just figured I’d chance it until Millersville. By the way, I didn’t yell or throw anything. In Millersville the gas station had a pump, and I was able to deflate the tire, untwist the tube, and get back on my way.

When I got home, since I was already dirty and wet, I went ahead and put the LHT up on the stand so I could change that flat. That’s when I found that the tire had a huge bald spot in it. Not that I don’t have an extra tire – but the extra was on another wheel that has these deep rims that make it almost impossible to dismount a tire. I sweated over that for quite a while. Lucky thing I didn’t try to fix that flat this morning. I might have thrown something.

TDF/2 begins!

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

A variety of circumstances conspired to keep me from taking an actual bike trip this summer, so I decided to have a staycation instead. Of course, in order to ensure that I’d actually make some serious mileage, I needed some kind of a motivating gimmick. And what better cycling gimmick than the Tour de France?

Initially I thought about riding the same number of kilometers each day that the pros do miles, but when I set up a spreadsheet, it quickly dissuaded me. That would have had me doing over 70 miles most days, with four over 80. I don’t think my aging body is up for that over a 20 day stretch. So then I decided to try doing half the mileage they do each day, and voila! The TDF/2 was born.

Today, the prologue, I rode a 3.88 mile time trial, which I won handily with an average speed of 19 mph. Competition is so much easier when you have no opponents. Tomorrow it gets serious, though, with 69.3 miles (half the Rotterdam-> Bruxelles distance). Not that I haven’t often ridden that far before, but I have to do it before the fourth of July cookout . And it’s followed by 60+ mile rides the next two days, before a “rest” day of only 48.

So, that’s my plan. Here’s a table showing the entire schedule:

The stages
Stage Date Start and Finish Miles Miles/2
P Saturday 3 July Rotterdam > Rotterdam 5.518 2.759
1 Sunday 4 July Rotterdam > Bruxelles 138.57 69.285
2 Monday 5 July Bruxelles > Spa 124.62 62.31
3 Tuesday 6 July Wanze > Arenberg Porte du Hainaut 132.06 66.03
4 Wednesday 7 July Cambrai > Reims 95.17 47.585
5 Thursday 8 July Épernay > Montargis 116.25 58.125
6 Friday 9 July Montargis > Gueugnon 141.05 70.525
7 Saturday 10 July Tournus > Station des Rousses 102.61 51.305
8 Sunday 11 July Station des Rousses > Morzine-Avoriaz 117.18 58.59
R Monday 12 July Morzine-Avoriaz 0 0
9 Tuesday 13 July Morzine-Avoriaz > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne 126.79 63.395
10 Wednesday 14 July Chambéry > Gap 110.98 55.49
11 Thursday 15 July Sisteron > Bourg-lès-Valence 114.39 57.195
12 Friday 16 July Bourg-de-Péage > Mende 130.51 65.255
13 Saturday 17 July Rodez > Revel 121.52 60.76
14 Sunday 18 July Revel > Ax-3 Domaines 114.39 57.195
15 Monday 19 July Pamiers > Bagnères-de-Luchon 115.94 57.97
16 Tuesday 20 July Bagnères-de-Luchon > Pau 123.69 61.845
R Wednesday 21 July Pau 0 0
17 Thursday 22 July Pau > Col du Tourmalet 107.88 53.94
18 Friday 23 July Salies-de-Béarn > Bordeaux 122.76 61.38
19 Saturday 24 July Bordeaux > Pauillac 32.24 16.12
20 Sunday 25 July Longjumeau > Paris Champs-Élysées 63.55 31.775
2257.668 1128.834

I’ll be updating frequently as I go along. BTW, I plan to work also, although I’ll be starting late most days.

Leveling the playing field

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

In response to the criticism that I’m picking on the atheists without picking on the literalists enough, I want to make it clear that there are plenty of people calling out the televangelists.

For starters, Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project (Latest post here) is a tireless fighter against creationism. For a scholarly but readable approach to the interplay of evolution and Christianity, nobody beats John Haught’s God After Darwin. For similar ideas pitched a little more to the “average churchgoer”, Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God is excellent.

For evangelicals who are teetering on the edge of literalism, James Barr’s Beyond Fundamentalism is a great little book; so is John A.T. Robinson’s Honest to God. For those who are a bit more radical, John Shelby Spong’s work is very accessible. A really lapidary short essay on literalism is Conrad Hyers’ Constricting the Cosmic Dance. To go into much more depth in a very short book, I found Hartshorne’s Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes to be very thought-provoking.

Now, none of these are making a case for atheism; they’re taking on the various problems of literalism, and doing so honestly, claiming only what they are actually achieving in their arguments. When it comes to atheism (or at least a refutation of Christianity), it’s hard to surpass Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian. He shows that you can be straightforward and still take the opponents’ arguments seriously.

Cage-match or dialogue?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Andrew Sullivan takes on Kevin Drum on the subject of the “new atheism”:

David Bentley Hart wants atheists to engage the “most sophisticated forms” of the “belief he or she rejects.” Drum objects:

Hart would like us to believe that anyone who hasn’t spent years meditating on Aquinas and Nietzsche isn’t worth engaging with, but walk into any Christian church in America — or the world — and you’ll find it full of people who understand God much the same way Hitchens and Dawkins do, not the way Hart does. That’s the reality of the religious experience for the vast majority of believers. To call a foul on those who want to engage with this experience — with the world as it is, rather than with Hart’s abstract graduate seminar version of the world — is to insist that nonbelievers forfeit the game without even taking the field.

Look: human nature being what it is, most religious people will be a dreadful example of the best version of faith you can find. Drum permits what Hitch’s book was: a grand guignol of anti-clerical, fish-barrel-shooting. It’s easy; it’s way fun; mockery of inarticulate believers has made my friend, Bill Maher, lotsa money. But it’s largely missing the real intellectual task by fighting a straw man, rather than a real and living and intelligent faith. Part of that is the fault of believers. We’ve done a lousy job of delineating a living faith for modernity.

But I think that’s changing. As it must, if we are to take this debate forward.

And Sullivan is right on the money here. Many people seem to want to argue for the superiority of grad-school science over grade-school religion, and don’t see why this is an unfair contest. Think of it this way: suppose someone wants to criticize the theory of evolution (hard to imagine, but just hypothetically). That person goes out on the street, grabs the first person to walk by, and asks that person to explain the theory of evolution. The resulting pastiche of vaguely-remembered bits of nature specials will be easy to knock down. Therefore, evolution is crap!

Clearly the “new atheists” wouldn’t accept that tactic, so why should the equivalent treatment of religion be acceptable? This kind of willful identification of religion with its most unsophisticated adherents just perpetuates the silly “science vs. religion” meme that the media are so fond of. Intelligent, thoughtful religion can have a productive dialogue with intelligent, thoughtful science. That dialogue is vastly more valuable than a cage-match between different forms of ignorance.

Advance Winter Loop 2010

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

This year’s Advance Winter Loop was full of surprises. The first one was in the parking lot of Cape Bike — I was chatting with a few early arrivals when a guy pulls up in a pickup truck, walks over, and says “Hi, I’m Ron.” I was thinking he looked familiar; with good reason. He’s Ron Rosati, the new provost of Southeast, and indirectly my boss. So that was nice, and he seemed to have a good time, and it was a chance to get to know him a bit.

Meanwhile, more people arrived, and we loaded up the bikes and drove out to Dutchtown. The second surprise was that there was barely parking place available in Dutchtown anywhere. The bait shop parking lot was full, the dirt road next to it was lined with cars, and more cars with bikes on them were pulling in. The most riders we ever had in the previous three years was 14 in 2008 (see post). This year we had 48.

Staging at Dutchtown

I handed out the 15 copies of the ride directions I had made, and we advised people to stick with someone who seems to know what’s happening. By 10:15 or so we were on our way. The traditional stop at NUT junction took a while, as we’d become pretty spread out, but eventually we got everyone together for a photo op.

NUT Junction

Actually, there were still two or three people to come. I’m instructed not to call them “stragglers”. They were “pacing themselves.”

NUT Junction

I was so busy taking pictures that I wasn’t ready to leave when everyone else took off — it had warmed up, and I had to pack my jacket and strap it to the seat, etc. So I wound up hammering to get back into the peloton. I have to say this ride had more time with an actual peloton than any I’ve ever been on before. Stopping to regroup occasionally helps quite a bit with that. Of course, the next landmark after NUT junction is the hill on T, which shredded the peloton completely.

The hill on T road

The great thing about this hill is that there’s a long flat stretch approaching it, so you can watch it rise up in front of you like a wall. Anticipation is half the fun. After that hill, though, the ride is almost entirely flat. See the map and elevation. Better yet, we had a headwind going south, so when we turned around, we had a tailwind coming home.

At Advance we all stopped at a convenience store to regroup again. Apparently it’s not common to see 50 cyclists at the Quik-E Mart in Advance, because pretty soon Madeline DeJournett from the local paper, The Advance North Stoddard Countian (I think) showed up to take pictures and interview me. She didn’t believe me at first when I told her the ride was called the “Advance Winter Loop”. “You made that up!” “Yes, four years ago.” I dragged Ron Rosati over and had her talk to him a bit — he was in great form and said nice things about the region, etc.


As I said, the ride back from there was flat and wind-assisted, so it was extremely pleasant. Here’s a bit of Missouriana — a little public sculpture outside Perkins, MO:

The shoe post

We got back to Dutchtown around 3, had a beer in the parking lot, and a bunch of us went to El Torero for an early dinner. A great ride. Next year I guess we should do t-shirts. Of course, it’ll probably be a blizzard next year and we’ll have 3 riders. Meanwhile, it’s time to gear up for the Cairo Wildcat Century.

More pics:


Bob Beaury’s

One month down

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Winter ride

Originally uploaded by Allen Gathman.

My new year’s resolution was to average 100 miles per week on the bike; as of today, my weekly average for 2010 is 88.8 miles. Not too bad, considering the weather. I’ll try to pick it up a bit.

Health care debate

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

I went to hear Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean talk about health care last night. There was a good crowd — they had it set up in half of the Show Me Center, and it was packed to the point that they had to bring in a bunch of extra chairs to set up on the floor.

Gingrich is a much better speaker than Dean; Dean tends to stumble over his words, and his brain gets ahead of his mouth. Gingrich has good timing, and knows how to milk an applause line.

As far as substance, I thought Dean had a more realistic and nuanced understanding of the problem. Gingrich seems to think the whole issue can be solved via cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse, investing more in medical research, and letting private corporations innovate.

Dean was honest about both the limited nature of what’s on the table right now — it’s at best a first step — and the fact that we have to pay for government programs. Gingrich got a lot of applause out of repeatedly talking about cutting taxes. He seems not to have learned much from the Reagan years, as he’s still claiming we can cut taxes, maintain services, and balance the budget.

Gingrich did say that the Republican party needs to be the party of alternatives rather than opposition, which is absolutely true; he acknowledged that the party is not offering any clear alternatives at the moment.

Dean made the point that health care is not like buying a car, in that when you have chest pain, you’re not going to shop around for treatment. We hear a lot about how good and cheap Lazik is because people pay for it out of pocket, but that only works for discretionary health procedures, where people actually have the time to comparison shop.

I agreed fully with Gingrich that medical research should be funded well, but I’m not sure how this figures into health care reform.  Most of the basic research in medicine in this country is funded by NIH, so we’re talking about increased spending there.  Admittedly, it’s an investment in better future health, which may save money in the long run, but you’re not going to get the private sector to fund basic research.

Their exchange on administrative costs is about what I’ve been reading in lots of other places lately.  Dean says that Medicare only has 4% admin costs, while private insurers have 20%; Gingrich says Medicare’s low admin cost comes at the price of 10% or more fraud.   Neither really addressed the problem that fraud figures are at best rough estimates.  If we knew the exact amount of fraud, we’d be stopping all of it.  Anecdotes about egregious crooks don’t actually tell you what the total cost is.

They also had the usual exchange about comparing European costs and outcomes to ours.  Dean says, correctly, that every other Western country spends less per person and has better health outcomes than we do.  Gingrich says, correctly, that we have the best care in the world and that we have better outcomes on certain conditions, especially some cancers.  The problem, of course, is that we have the best care in the world only for the handful who can pay for it, and while we have better outcomes on some conditions, our overall life expectancy puts us well behind all those European systems.

Finally, they talked a bit about some other issues.  On education, Gingrich touted charter schools and letting retirees teach about content they know.   Dean reminded him that knowing content doesn’t guarantee you can teach it well.  He also called for better education from birth to age three, when neurological development is really taking place.   He’s right on the mark there — as he says, Head Start is too late.

Response to “Letter From a Concerned Follower and a Frustrated Atheist”

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Adam Gohn, an atheist friend of mine, posted a note jointly with a  Christian friend of his on Facebook recently, and I find that I can’t resist responding a bit*.   The original is here, though I suspect you can’t get at it unless you’re friends with Adam.  The gist of it was that Adam finds it dishonest of Christians to play down difficult aspects of their faith in order to try to get along with atheists, while his friend Tye pretty much agrees, that Christians shouldn’t do this.   I’m all for being true to your beliefs, and I applaud the spirit of civil, intellectual discussion between people with serious disagreements, but I had some issues with the assumptions Adam and Tye made in their note.

Adam: “As a Christian, you must accept the truth of several basic propositions, such as; the virgin birth, unrealistic miracles and the bigotry and hatred espoused in the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus and others.”

Tye: “We should not diminish or conceal or avoid biblical positions that are difficult (like creation, God commanded genocide, virgin birth, miracles and hell).”

Adam is assuming here that a particular variety of evangelical, literalist Christianity is all of Christianity, and Tye seems to be going along with that mistaken view.   What is a Christian?  I’d say it’s someone who follows the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, though it may be possible to define it more broadly still.    What are those teachings?  We might start with what’s recorded in the New Testament.   Although there is no guarantee  that these writings are completely accurate renditions of what was said by a particular Jewish peasant 2000 years ago, they are pretty much all we’ve got**.  But let’s take a favorite of evangelicals:

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have
everlasting life.

This is a cornerstone passage of evangelical Christianity (though it’s not found in any of the other gospels, and is most likely not a direct quote).   It’s noteworthy what it does not say.  It doesn’t say “whosoever believeth that his mother was a virgin,” or “that the world was created in 6 days about 10,000 years ago”, or “that he could physically transform water into wine,” or any of the various difficult beliefs singled out as essential by Adam and Tye.  It’s calling for faith — that is, commitment and trust –  in the Christ, identified at the start of John as the Logos or creative principle underlying the universe.   That’s all.

There are plenty of faithful Christians out there who are fully aware that the stories in the Bible are a mixture of myth, strongly edited history, poetic musings, allegories, and theological speculation.  Most of the so-called “mainline” Protestant faiths (United Methodist, Episcopalian, ELCA Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.) agree, for instance, that the Genesis account of creation is theological, not scientific in its intent and significance, and in no way incompatible with modern biology.  The Roman Catholic church holds a similar position.

Even the miracles of Jesus and his virgin birth are not essential to the Christian faith, in many Christians’ view.  The late bishop John A.T. Robinson’s sparked controversy in 1963, when his book “Honest to God“  took this position.    It was controversial, though, only because it expressed these ideas plainly for popular consumption — they were and are still commonplace in all major “mainline” Christian seminaries.

For instance, it’s widely accepted by Protestant theologians that the virgin birth is a late addition to the Christian myth.   The earliest New Testament writings are the letters of Paul, and Paul seems never to have heard of the virgin birth.  He’d hardly have failed to mention it if he had.  The earliest gospel, Mark, starts with Jesus’ baptism — no birth account at all.  And the two gospels that do describe Jesus’ birth, Luke and Matthew, agree on practically none of the specifics, other than Mary’s virginity and the location in Bethlehem***.

As for various brutalities and bizarre legalisms of the Hebrew Bible, they are part of a priceless record of the development of a culture over time, and of a people’s efforts to understand their relationship with the world and the Ground of Being underlying it.  Liberal Christians view the Bible as meaningful on a variety of levels, but recognize that it is the product of numerous authors embedded in their cultures and times.

Finally, liberal Christianity is not an effort by Christians to appease non-believers or a cynical ploy to make their faith more attractive to converts.  It’s the product of the application of reason to tradition and scripture — i.e., theology.   Theology is the effort by faithful Christians to understand their faith in the context of their times, and has been going on since the 1st century.   As a poster I once saw in an Episcopal Sunday school says “He came to take away your sins — not your mind”.

*Full disclosure:   I was raised Episcopalian, and somewhere I have an 8-year Sunday School perfect attendance pin.  I’m now a Unitarian Universalist, and although UU is compatible with Christianity, I no longer refer to myself as Christian.  I taught Science and Religion for 17 years, and I’ve therefore done at least some minimal reading of  (Christian, mainly) theology.

**Scholars disagree on the authenticity of various reported sayings of Jesus; The Five Gospels, by the Jesus Seminar, gives one (controversial, of course) account of the reasoning and methods used to try to gauge this.

***Seriously, sit down and read Luke 2:1-40, and Matthew 1:18 – 2:1-23 and compare the stories.  They have his parents coming from different places (Nazareth, in Luke; Bethlehem, in Matthew),  him going different places after his birth (to the temple in Jerusalem in Luke; to Egypt, in Matthew),  him born in different buildings (a house in Matthew, a stable in Luke),and different events around his birth (angels telling shepherds in Luke, a star overhead, with wise men, in Matthew).   The whole story is clearly a later tradition, and the point of it is to say, against the claims of the “adoptionist” heresy, that Jesus was who he was from the start, and didn’t become the Messiah at his baptism.

Monteverde/Santa Elena

Friday, July 10th, 2009

This morning we went to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, in a taxi-van with two women also staying at our hotel and our guide for the Preserve, Adrian. It was an amazingly clear and sunny morning — especially for the cloud forest, which is, startlingly, often cloudy.

Adrian is a local, and he knows the English, Spanish, and scientific names of everything in the Preserve, it seems — e.g. we saw the Booger-Berry plant, which has green seed pods that you squash and suck a sweet, viscous, snot-like sap out of. Apparently this was a favorite thing to do when Adrian was a kid growing up here.

We also saw several huge caterpillars in a variety of colors, and some tiny orchids. An agouti, sort of a cat-sized brown mammal with a long snout, was right by the side of the trail for a while, where I got a good look.

A group of prong-beaked Barbits (excuse my spelling, as I’ve only heard this and not seen it written) were eating berries in trees all around, and I got a very nice photo of one through Adrian’s spotting scope.

After the hike, we wound up at the Hummingbird gallery, which is a coffee shop right near the entrance to the Preserve with hummingbird feeders set up all around. You could hardly find a feeder without two or three hummingbirds on it, and we saw six species in about the first five minutes. Lots more pics there, although many will be blurry.

On the way back, Robin and I had the taxi drop us at the Bat Jungle, where they have some colonies of bats in an enclosure kept dark in the day so you can see them active. The young woman who guided the tour there was very enthusiastic and well-informed, and we got to see several species of indigenous bats. Very cool. There were two mothers with babies (pups) that were very young, and one very fat pregnant bat.

Then we came back to the hotel, went out to lunch, and it started to pour, which it did the whole rest of the afternoon. Robin had a long siesta, and I read.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast, and the beach for a few days.