Cheque it

It is rarely enough that I write a cheque, it feels like a special occasion, like signing a Declaration of Independence, or abolishing nuclear weapons. So when I do I write it out all fancy. I like to think it impresses the people on the other end.

Believing in nonsense

The wonderful James Randi, speaking at TED in 2007, takes a lethal dose of homeopathic sleeping pills before proceeding to berate fake psychics, fake mediums, fake homeopaths, and all of the other charlatans and con artists who make money from the vulnerable, the grieving and the sick.

The Green Hornet

Some people like cars, and some do not. If you are in the second, mistaken category and you do not want to know the result, look away now.

This is my Lotus Elan which gets all the love and attention I would otherwise lavish on a girlfriend (assuming she was small, green and noisy, and drank petrol). It is not an exact analogy (for example I did not usually wash my last girlfriend in the car park, and then buff up her bodywork with wax polish), but still it is a deep and serious relationship which none may put asunder.

There is a prevailing assumption that anyone driving a sports car, especially a convertible, must be a rich wanker. I try to dispel this by being extra courteous to other road users, letting old ladies cross, showing people my bank statements, etc but it does not always work. Basically people are going to be a bit envious of someone driving an awesome car, and well they might be.

Unlike some high-performance cars the Lotus is happy to toodle around all day at sensible speeds listening to Classic FM and pausing for old ladies. Then when you merge onto the motorway a mere blip of the throttle transforms this car into a rampaging beast, pushing you back in the seat and deafening you with the high-pitched turbo whistle and the deep, fruity blatter of the exhaust.

Like all Lotuses it is immensely light. It is built of fibreglass over a steel monocoque chassis, and the light weight in combination with the turbocharger makes it accelerate like a racing motorbike. The suspension is low and stiff, and the steering precise, so that this car loves nothing better than twisting country roads and tight cambered bends.

Its one Nemesis is the speed bump, which taken carelessly can produce a horrible scraping sound and, eventually, a new exhaust. Still I would never trade it for any other car; it looks great, sounds great, goes fast, and can carry up to 3 bags of shopping.

I heart my Lotus.

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The salt of the earth

Salt of the earth” is one of those canned phrases that we chuck around without really thinking about it. It’s usually a compliment. But have you ever actually tried putting salt on the earth? It’s a great way to completely screw it up. Nothing grows if you put salt on the earth. So describing someone as “the salt of the earth” is like saying “Wherever they go, they create a barren, poisoned wasteland”.

The phrase, like many other good soundbites, originates with Jesus. But what did he actually mean by saying in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13), “Ye [disciples] are the salt of the earth”? Incidentally, he also told them, “Ye are the light of the world,” which makes an odd contrast with John 8:12 (“I am the light of the world.” Which is it Jesus, make up your mind.)

First of all, in New Testament times salt was very valuable. It is a terrific preservative, and makes things taste great. Just think of bacon! Whether or not salt was worth its weight in gold, it was economically pretty important for most of human history.

One of those things that everyone thinks they know is that Roman soldiers were paid in salt (hence the term ‘salary’). This is not true, or at least I don’t know of any evidence for it. If you think about it how would that actually work? You bring a wheelbarrow to work on payday and take it home piled high with salt? Wouldn’t it be more useful if they paid you salt one week, then some fish and chips the week after, so that you didn’t end up with just a house full of salt?

There are those who argue that Jesus was using the metaphor of salt in its preservative sense. The disciples are charged with preserving the Earth, being the guardians of the world and keeping it pure. This is not very convincing. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who believed that the world as we know it would shortly come to an end (“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” - Mark 1:15), so why would he charge the disciples to preserve it?

Presumably Jesus did not mean the phrase as an insult, so what did he mean? Another suggestion is that he meant it in the sense of salt being a fertilizer (which it is, in small quantities). The disciples should nourish and fertilize the seeds of Jesus’s message (and Jesus was keen on seed and planting metaphors).

This seems more plausible, but there is a problem. Salt is only good for the earth in tiny quantities. Too much kills the plants and renders the soil useless. So was Jesus saying that there should only be a small number of disciples, and that a large following would poison his message and damage the world? Not likely. Alan Kreider explores the salt metaphor in an essay called Salty Discipleship and quotes Paul Minear as saying “The extreme variety of interpretations… indicates the absence of any decisive clue to its original meaning.”

One further suggestion is that Jesus was referencing the fact that salt was a symbol of God’s covenant with his people, thanks to its being a mandatory addition to animal sacrifices (“And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” - Lev 2:13).

Jesus was a great one for quoting Scripture. He seems to have an Old Testament quote for every occasion, though he frequently adds to or changes the message of the passages he quotes (“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth [Lev 24:19-20] But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” - Matthew 5:38-39)

So it seems at least arguable that Jesus meant to say that the disciples were like salt in the sense that they were an essential part of his sacrifice. Jesus, after all, is the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) and says in Mark 9:49 that “Every one shall be salted [preserved] with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.”

Alternatively, maybe Jesus just really liked salt.