Monday, November 30, 2009

Dreams, Dreams

All my dreams, disappearing
Like wisps of white smoke
Dispersed by cold currents
Floating overhead
Painting the skyline gray
With bleak impossibilities
And Twenty five years of

Didn't Get the Job


Did Hitler Believe in Evolution?

No, not in a biological sense and not according to his autobiography Mein Kampf, as well as his speeches and interviews. Let's set the record straight.

On the fixity of kinds:
Even a superficial glance is sufficient to show that all the innumerable forms in which the life-urge of Nature manifests itself are subject to a fundamental law – one may call it an iron law of Nature – which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind. [Mein Kampf, chapter xi]

The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger. [Mein Kampf, chapter xi]

On the origins of man:
From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us, that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump , as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today. [Hitler's Tabletalk Tischgesprache im Fuhrerhauptquartie]

On the superiority of man:
The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator. [Hitler's Tabletalk Tischgesprache im Fuhrerhauptquartie]

On antisemitism and belief in Jesus Christ:
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them. [Speech, April 12 1922, published in My New Order]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pretty Much a HTML Expert

Guess who just added expandable posts to his weblog?

Boar's Head Tavern Smackdown

I usually visit, a Christian weblog discussion, every few months and only after I've trudged through my usual websites and found that I have a few more minutes to waste on the internet. All it takes is one occasional visit into that hive of religious cacophony before I'm ready to swear it all off again.

But during my latest visit, I discovered a wonderfully entertaining discussion ongoing between Mack Ramer and a small collection of nitwits on the topic of gay adoption rights. Mack's well-reasoned and concise arguments sound off like cannonballs blasting through the illogical, inept, and frequently inane arguments of his opposition. I would like to enshrine some of the exchange here for posterity and to offer my kudos once more for a job well done.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why not celebrate by roasting (preferably by electricity) Benjamin Franklin's choice for the National Bird?

I wish I could have made it home. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bishop John Shelby Spong Gets Real

"I don't think Hell exists...religion is always in the control business and that's something that people don't really understand. It's in the guilt-producing control business. ...the Church doesn't like for people to grow up because you can't control grown-ups. That's why we talk about being 'born-again'"

Bishop Spong's answers in this interview are enlightening and I have to appreciate his willingness to speak on such vulnerable issues (an appreciation I doubt many senior members of the Church share.) The clip of his sermon, however, sounds like so much gobbledygook and obfuscation. "We do not yet know how to achieve being fully human." Huh? Wha?

New Song -- Marauder for String Quartet

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the Origins of Species Anniversary

150 years ago, Charles Darwin published his seminal work, "On the Origin of Species," and changed the world forever. Let's celebrate by watching a video about Bonobos.

What is Science?

Science is a splendid thing. It is the most certain you can be in an uncertain world. It embraces skepticism, while curiosity and guesswork drive the engine toward discovery. It is a noble pursuit. It lifts us out of the dark chasms of ignorance and the tepid black waters of superstition and illogic. Science is the last best hope for mankind.

If we are lucky and persistent, the Universe may let us tease out Her secrets.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Favorite Original Composition?

Hey readers and listeners ---
Can you help me out? I'm thinking about changing the "featured" song in my musical portfolio. Right now, the site directs listeners to "The Stars at Night." But I think that song is starting to get stale, not to mention the fact that it has a few musical mistakes. So, of my original compositions, what do you find most engaging and listenable? What hooks you and makes you think, "...let's see what else he's written..." A song that features a wide range of music might be worth considering. Here are my nominations, from first to last.

1) Sunrise, Sunset (simple, clean, emotive, fits video)
2) My Dear Princess (stilted but somewhat varied, interesting video)
3) Dante's Inferno I: Entering the Woods (poor quality, repetitive, but popular)
4) Star Wars: Battle of Tatooine (mass appeal, varied, somewhat unoriginal, long)
5) The Stars at Night (inconsistent, warm feelings)

I'm also considering adding a "Most Popular" section to my music portfolio. Perhaps you could list your favorites? According to youtube, the list would look something like...

1) A Peculiar Day
2) Dante's Inferno (I, II, III)
3) Crime in the Family (Mafia Theme)
4) Peaceful Cowboy (Cowboy theme)
5) Wrath of God

...but that might reflect the content of the video's images more than the popularity of the music.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unconditional Love, The Heart of a Child

As I get older and grow more nostalgic, I've found myself re-examining the thousands of seemingly disparate threads that have been woven together over the years to create the tapestry of my life. When I consider my religious inoculations, many booster shots came from the usual places: an early fascination with dinosaurs, a strong curiosity about biology, astronomy, and science generally.

However, there is one life lesson that derives from, perhaps, a more unusual source: Ernest Scared Stupid.

This idea of unconditional love is, I think, poorly understood, especially among religious practitioners who believe in a God that loves us but who also must be feared. That very idea is an oxymoron. Any Being that threatens you with eternal damnation cannot love you unconditionally. Ernest's waltz with the troll is the perfect metaphor for selfless affection and is even more profound, to me anyway, than the sacrifice of Christ.

No, I'm serious! If the Christian God is a god of love, then He has a funny way of showing it. The very nature of His affection is apparently contingent; follow these commandments, meet these standards, and you will find His love. Very well, you can have your conditional love, but Ernest taught me about a better love, the love of a child, pure and incandescent. This is, I think, closer to a Jewish conception of God, in which the very idea of a loving God who doles out eternal punishment is laughable. There is no slight, no matter how evil or corrupt, that justifies eternal damnation, least of all from a loving God.

Guest Post from Mike

Jay's a poop head.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ernest Scared Stupid Opening

Ever since I saw Ernest Scared Stupid when I was very young, this catchy introduction music has stuck with me. Give it a listen and succumb to its awesome quirkiness!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sikivu Hutchinson on Religion, Racism, Sexism and Morality

Writer Sikivu Hutchinson (check out her articles here) was recently interviewed by Greta Christina (full interview here) about atheism, racism, sexism and the preponderance of white, male thinkers as the go-to spokespeople for the so-called New Atheist movement. I found the following excerpt from the interview particularly interesting:
GC: On that topic: When people criticize atheism and the newly vocal, "openly critical of religion" atheist movement, one of the tropes that I see a lot is that this openly critical atheism is disrespectful to marginalized communities like the black community. The argument goes that because religion is so deeply interwoven into black history and black culture, and because the comfort of religion is so important to a community that's had such a hard time of it, criticizing religion is disrespectful and racist. As a black atheist, what are your thoughts on that?

SH: Clearly criticizing religion is not racist. One of the charges of atheistic discourse is foregrounding how there is nothing intrinsically superior about religious observance -- its value for African Americans as a people derives from a specific cultural and historical context of institutional racism and oppression. The supposed basic moral precepts of Judeo- Christian theology -- love for one’s neighbor, tolerance, doing unto others, non-judgment, etc. -- are certainly not exclusive to religious doctrine, while the hierarchies, persecution and intolerance based on race, gender, sexuality and ideology that religious doctrine breeds effectively negate the moral preeminence that organized religion presumes. These contradictions open up a path for critical engagement by atheists of color with why organized religion has been so toxic vis-a-vis validating the rich diversity of communities of color. African American intellectuals and thinkers (see for example Frederick Douglass' critique of "slaveholding" Christianity) have always challenged the role religious orthodoxy plays in African American communities. This historical complexity has just never been "officially" recognized by white scholars.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Boy Refuses to Recite Pledge Until Same-Sex Marriage Allowed

Quite the precocious (and perspicacious) kid!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Panic in Level 4

I've begun reading Richard Preston's collection of science articles, "Panic in Level 4." Preston is a writer with a gift for affirming the axiom, "truth is stranger than fiction," or rather, more horrifying than you can possibly imagine. Consider the rare genetic disorder known as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which is caused by the mutation of a single nucleobase (C,G,A,T) in the victim's genetic code, and results in uric acid excretions, spastic limbs, and self-cannibalism.

That's right, self-cannibalism. Warning: graphic picture.

Victims rarely live beyond their 30's. By then, they've usually bitten off several fingers, torn away their own lips, and injured their eyes or nose. Developmentally, people with Lesh-Nyhan syndrome usually do not learn to walk and are confined to wheelchairs, but they are otherwise relatively lucid and aware. They suffer from a rare, self-sabotaging impulse, an internal logical reversal that is responsible for many of their injuries. The more a Lesh-Nyan likes you, the more cruel and violent he will act toward you. Befriend a victim of the disease and you should expect swearing, the occasional punch to the groin, and spitting followed by the sincerest apologies. They often report what feels like an evil phantom taking control of their limbs. Give them a sharp utensil and they're liable to gouge out their own eyes or rip off their nose. For these reasons, they feel most comfortable when they are bound or otherwise secured.

The disease is obviously tragic. But what makes it worse is that there is an element of humanity, of lucid consciousness, that is being tormented. These are not the sufferings of a brainless psychopath. These are the sufferings of men (the disease derives from the X chromosome, so it is extremely rare in women) who want control but are denied it by their very nature. Needless to say, this condition raises all sorts of questions about free will and morality. But continuing along this thread of humanity, I'd like to share a passage that illustrates the human power to find humor in tragedy.
Murphy had a record of making trouble in shopping malls. Malls put him in a bad mood, especially around Christmastime. "Too many people around. They make me Nervous," he explained to me.

One time, his assistants took him to a mall to do some Christmas shopping. A man dressed as Santa Claus was sitting in a snow scene that day, with children lining up to meet him. Murphy told his assistants that he would like to have his picture taken with Santa (one of them had a camera). They didn't see how they could refuse the client's request. They parked Murphy's wheelchair in the line of children, and Murphy cautioned the children to watch out for his arms and legs. (Neither Murphy or Elrod had been known to lash out at a child.)

Murphy got to the head of the line. The Santa asked Murphy if he'd like to sit on his lap.

Murphy said yes. The assistants placed him on the Santa's lap. The assistant with the camera, a young man named Dan Densley, got ready to take a picture.

"Ho, ho, ho! What do you want for Christmas?" Santa asked.

"A woman," Murphy answered, and delivered a punch to Santa's jaw. Santa's beard seemed to explode, and his eyeglasses went flying. The assistants grabbed Murphy and rolled him out of the mall at a dead run.

[Panic in Level 4, Pg. 173-174]

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Caring Continuum

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Song -- Star Wars: Battle of Tatooine [Now in handy Youtube form!]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Star Wars: Battle of Tatooine [Original Composition]

The challenge: while incorporating original motifs and melodies, how closely can I recreate and rearrange classic Star Wars themes from memory without using references, listening to recordings, or cross-checking sheet music?

"Star Wars: Battle of Tatooine" is my attempt to meet this challenge.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Benjamin Franklin: An Animated Character

I've finished Philip Dray's biography of Benjamin Franklin, "Stealing God's Thunder," and while it could have used another round of editing [Dray seems to have a penchant for digression and repeating himself] over-all the book is exciting and deeply interesting. Of course, so is his subject, for whom my esteem has greatly increased. In many respects, Franklin's life of achievements parallels my other favorite scientist, Charles Darwin. And like so many great minds, his attitude toward religion and superstition is as illuminating as a lightning bolt. As he approached his death, he offered this witty observation:
To the clergyman Ezra Stiles, who queried him about his religious views, Franklin affirmed his faith in God but admitted to doubts about the divinity of Jesus, "tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble."

What an agreeable old man. Cheers to you, Benjamin Franklin, scientist and founding [grand]father of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin is EVERYWHERE

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Fresh Air Fund

Hey, check it out:

One out of four school children in the U.S. has vision problems, and 86% do not get their vision checked before age 12.

Many Fresh Air children do not have access to affordable vision care. Glasses break, are too expensive to replace, or are never prescribed in the first place. And often as a result, children's performance in academics, sports and activities suffers.

For the fifth summer in a row, OneSight offered to bring their traveling optical clinic to all five Fresh Air Fund camps.

Together with OneSight's Vision Vans – and a team of local doctors and volunteers, OneSight provides free eye exams and eyewear to thousands of children in need each year.

This summer at Fresh Air camp, OneSight's staff screened 3,295 children and counselors, gave 1,757 eye exams, and made 1,629 pairs of glasses, with 1,458 of them on-site and 171 specially driven in. The team stayed at Camp Hayden-Marks for two camp sessions, to make sure every child who needed the gift of sight was screened.

Childhood vision is a subject close to my heart for obvious reasons.
If you can help out, please do!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fun With Bees

This is for Mike

Intelligence Squared Debate -- Is the Catholic Church a Force for Good in the World?

Speaking for the motion, conservative MP Ann Widdencombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan. Speaking against the motion, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry. This debate is what you might call a blood bath. Hitchens and Fry mop the floor with their opponents, so much so that even I blush with embarrassment for Widdencombe and Onaiyekan.

If only Fry and Hitchens would take this show on the road, the whole of the orthodoxy might be deconverted in only a few months!

For those who just want to cut to the chase, here's the public vote on the motion before and after the debate:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Benjamin Franklin Anecdotes

I've started reading Philip Dray's biography of Benjamin Franklin, "Stealing God's Thunder," which approaches Franklin as scientist first and statesman second. The book is full of interesting anecdotes, but I found one story of Benjamin Franklin's youth particularly humorous. One day, while assisting his father with a barrel of beef in the cellar, young Benjamin suggested blessing the unprepared food once so that they could save themselves from saying grace before every dinner. I love how the economical and bright thinking that would characterize Franklin's later life seems already present in his childhood and even foreshadows his eventual antagonism toward organized religion and authority.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Akira Kurosawa's Ran

"Ran (乱?, "chaos" or "revolt") is a 1985 film written and directed by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. It is a jidaigeki (Japanese period drama) depicting the fall of Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), an aging Sengoku-era warlord who decides to abdicate as ruler in favor of his three sons. The story is based on legends of the daimyo Mōri Motonari, as well as on the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear." [wiki]

I think if I were to teach a class on Shakespeare's King Lear, I would also make Ran required watching. It's magnificent and epic. The use of color is astounding. It's like watching a moving painting.


I thought I'd make a list of historical figures who I consider to be personal heroes along with a list of sub-heroes or people who I admire but I either do not know enough about or, upon learning more, have discovered some disqualifying feature.

This will probably be an on-going project. Please include your own lists and suggestions in the comments.


Charles Darwin
James Randi


Daniel Dennett
Benjamin Franklin
Albert Einstein
Stephen Hawking
Alan Turing
Harvey Milk
Kurt Vonnegut
Flannery O'Connor

Who is a hero? Someone who is predominately good, who may have some flaws, but is principled and intelligent, someone who has been tested by history and bruised by detractors and difficult times, but is nevertheless resilient, someone who improves life for us all, is interesting and becomes more interesting the more you delve into his or her past.

Looking at my list so far, you will notice a rather disturbing lack of women and religious people. I've thrown in Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite writers, who was both a woman and a devout Catholic. But her inclusion is a stretch because I'm not particularly well-read of all her work and I know even less about her past. I'm tempted to add Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr, which I still may do, but I'm not yet fascinated by these historical figures.

I would genuinely like to add some religious people, but knowing my interests, this is a tough proposition because religion is often a disqualifier. Anyone know anything about Rabbi Hillel? CS Lewis might have been a candidate, but after reading the first few pages of Mere Christianity, I'm afraid he's out the door. Saint Augustine perhaps?

One of the facts about myself that I have often wondered: Am I a skeptic because my heroes are skeptics or are my heroes skeptics because I am a skeptic? There is a subtle but important difference between those statements, the second being more egocentric than the first. I am fairly confident that I found my heroes first and their conduct and history led me to where I stand today. But it's difficult to escape the suspicion that maybe I've never been as free in my inquiries as I'd like to think.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Zionsville Boys Win State 2009!

The part you really want to see: My brother with the assist

Congratulations to the Zionsville High School Boys soccer team for winning the 2009 state championship! Video courtesy of the IHSAA Sports Youtube channel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brain Processes Facts and Beliefs Same Way

A new study was published recently by Jonas Kaplan and Sam Harris. Some interesting tidbits:
Up on a screen before them, participants would read declarative statements. Some were statements of religious belief, some of religious disbelief. Some were statements about more ordinary facts. Participants had to push buttons—indicating true or false—as the researchers watched their brains light up. Belief in God, disbelief in God, and belief in simple empirically verifiable facts all lit up the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that governs your sense of self. We are, in some sense, what we believe.
The fMRI experiments do not pertain to these largest questions, of course. But they do show (again) what neuroscientists already know. "Intuition" and "reason" are not two separate activities. They're interconnected. From the brain's point of view, religious belief and empirical data are the same.
What Harris, his fellow researcher Jonas Kaplan, and the other authors of the study want to address is the idea, which has been floating around in both scientific and religious circles, that our brains are doing something special when we believe in God—that religious belief is, neurologically speaking, an entirely different process from believing in things that are empirically and verifiably true (things that Harris endearingly refers to as "tables and chairs"). He says his results "cut against the quite prevalent notion that there's something else entirely going on in the case of religious belief."
"It is generally imagined," he wrote to me in an e-mail, "that scientific facts and human values represent distinct and incommensurable ways of speaking about the world. Consequently, most people assume that science will never be in a position to resolve ethical questions or to determine how human beings ought to live." Questions of gay marriage, the subjugation of women under the Taliban, a community's responsibility to its children: all these have been relegated to the realm of religion or "values." But, says Harris, the more we know, through science, about how people live—and how they think, and what makes them happy—the more real information we'll have about how best to live together on this planet.

To casual readers, this all may seem very obvious. Of course religious believers and disbelievers really do believe what they say! But it is not just interesting that we believe what we say, but that we believe what we say in the same way, neurologically speaking. Moreover, this study adds weight to the argument against the popular position espoused by such notables as Stephen J Gould that science and religion are somehow separate inquiries into "non-overlapping magisterium."

[Newsweek Article]

Sunday, November 1, 2009

9 is a Magic Number

When it came to learning my multiplication tables back in grade school, rote memorization was the method most often employed. Multiples of 9, however, are quite magical and to this day, I still use a version of the following algorithm to determine and verify multiples of 9.

Solve for y
Where n = integers 1 through 10,
x = 9 + (1 - n)
y = (n - 1)10 + x

In other words, for every product of the nine multiplication table, the sum of the digits in the product adds up to 9. For example, if you are trying to find the multiple of 9 x 6, take 6 and subtract 1 so it becomes 5. This will be the first number in your answer, so place it in the tens place.


Now ask yourself what number added to 5 equals 9? 4 of course! Put this number in the ones place and you have your answer.


9 x 6 = 54

Try it with other integers! I only ever use this method for simple multiplication, but 9 really is a magic number so you should read up on it. And I know what you're thinking: wouldn't it just be easier to memorize the answers? Well hey, do I look like someone who likes to do things the easy way?

Any other readers enjoy using the 9 trick or some variant?