“It’s really embarrassing, this conversation, but to be truthful, I was embarrassed by what was going on.

“As somebody who’d been adopted by England I felt rather indebted to the country and thought it was perfectly absurd that in one of the very few places where anything amounting to free expression and democracy, that in such a place there were a lot of people who were determined to overthrow it.”

And in Czechosolvakia, they were going to prison just for that free expression and democracy.


Psalm 137

April 20, 2009

I knew these lyrics originally from the Sublime version, which is great. Then this version, which is better (if you don’t break down in tears when you watch it you are already broken). Then I actually read the original Psalm, whose last line is… Well, better not to know. Just enjoy!

Hot Damn!

January 8, 2009

Got Some Good Hobbies

January 3, 2009

Way back in the thirties
Philp Blair went to a dance
Where he met the maid Laree
Entirely by chance
They got themselves married
And created Beverly
Beverly met Steve
And they made Matt and me

Grandfather Phil, well
He’s a mystery
No one knows about his past
Not even grandma Laree
Could have saved a man’s life
Or torn him limb from limb
When he dies real soon
His secrets go with him

Whoa whoa whoa
He likes his food
He makes his dough
Whoa whoa whoa
He makes a few good jokes
And he gives it a go

When dad comes home
He has one on the rocks
Hangs out in the kitchen
And my mom and him talks
Says “How you doing, boy?”
When I come down
I’ll be sad when he’s not around

Whoa whoa whoa
He likes his food
He makes his dough
Whoa whoa whoa
He makes a few good jokes
And he gives it a go

With the canon and the guitar
My time I’ll spend
Got some good hobbies
Even better friends
Working on my immortality
When I die they can say of me:

Whoa whoa whoa
He liked his food
He made his dough
Whoa whoa whoa
He made a few good jokes
And he gave it a go

Christmas 2008

December 25, 2008

I don’t know how these photos got formatted like this.  Oh well.  Click twice for big versions.  

We watched “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve.  First time Shinhye saw it.  That’s a damn good movie.  


November 12, 2008

Across the flatlands we came out of nowhere special
Like a peasant revolution – makeshift weapons in our hands
We crashed the gates so hard; we’d never heard that kind of sound before
And braced ourselves for victory, and the spoils of the land
Defenses melt away before our frozen blank surprise
From the palace now we stare into a million waiting eyes

The Secular Obama

November 8, 2008

Before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles now.  Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.

I just keep liking him more and more.

November 8, 2008

The Republicans are not known for avoiding fallacious thought, but

Is Barack Obama a socialist? Well, let’s see. His campaign platform makes no mention of proletarian revolution or nationalization of industry, and he trumpets his belief that “America’s free market has been the engine of America’s great progress. It’s created a prosperity that is the envy of the world.” Not quite Leninesque. On the other hand, Tom DeLay has made a logically rigorous counter-argument sure to convince second-graders everywhere: “I have said publicly, and I will again, that unless he proves me wrong, he is a Marxist.” No word on whether DeLay proceeded to put his fingers in his ears and hum loudly.

Another good one I heard was Obama gets criticized (as he should have been) because for twenty years he regularly attended a coo-coo church.  Therefore he is a Muslim.  John McCain, on the other hand, is (ridiculously) critcized for never attending church.  Therefore he is a Christian.

McCain and Palin Debate

November 5, 2008

Obama Reads (Good) Books

November 1, 2008

Paul Theroux on Obama and the governor of Hawaii (who apparently doesn’t like Obama):

I was introduced to Gov. Lingle at a political event not long after her reelection by a friend who insistently repeated my name. When the governor looked blank, my friend said, “The writer! He writes books!” She said, “I don’t have a lot of free time for reading,” and moved on.

Funnily enough, the first time I met Senator Obama, two years ago in a hamburger joint in my little town on the North Shore of Oahu (the sort of place only a local would know), he showed an intimate acquaintance with my work, and even an appreciation. I was with Pico Iyer. Obama said to Pico, “I love your book on Cuba.” Needless to say, I urged the senator to run for president.


Meanwhile, back at the tabernacle:

From Dark Star Safari:

The best story about the [Cairo] station, told to me by a man who witnessed it unfold, does not concern a luminary but rather a person delayed in the third-class ticket line.  When this fussed and furious man at last got to the window he expressed his exasperation to the clerk, saying, “Do you know who I am?”

The clerk looked him up and down and, without missing a beat, said, “In that shabby suit, with a watermelon under your arm, and a third class ticket to El Minya, who could you possibly be?”

Palin’s Anti-Science

October 26, 2008

In her first policy speech, Sarah Palin talked about autism and disabilities and somehow – not accidentally, these were prepared remarks – somehow managed to knock the science that will someday lead to cures and preventions.  I kid you not:

“You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”

And in Paris even!  The horror.  Change it to Freedom Fly and then maybe it’d be acceptable. 

Hitchens passing judgment (and even Larry King chides a guest and says “this isn’t funny”):

Here’s what fruit flies (anyone whose read a biology book, and you can be sure she hasn’t, is aware of their uses) have done for us (from here):

Progress in birth defects research. That led to a Nobel Prize.

Progress in autism research. On of the points of her talk.  Doesn’t she want to find a cure or a prevention?

Diabetes research.

Cancer research. Indeed, fruit fly research has led to critical advances in the treatment of colon cancer and possibly all cancers.

Alzheimer’s research. And scientists have just cured fruit flies from Huntington’s disease, a massive leap to the treatment of humans.

And work on increasing the life-span of fruit flies may have benefits in slowing ageing in humans.

And what makes the fruit fly so ubitiquous in medical research?

Chiang Ann-shyn – director of the Institute of Biotechnology and director of the Brain Research Center at National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu City, Taiwan – explains in this article:

‘One reason fruit flies were used was the similarities between their genes and human genes, Chiang explained. Although a fruit fly carries only around 135,000 genes, which might seem few in comparison to a human being’s 4 billion genes, a large number of genes that suffer from human genetic disorders can be found in the fruit fly. “Flies are cheap to breed, and their genes can be manipulated quickly,” he declared. Moreover, better understanding of genes would allow scientists to search faster for novel therapeutic drugs for healing diseases like Alzheimer’s, he added.’


What Would Palin Say?

October 7, 2008

Kirk Cameron, formerly of Growing Pains, has a new gig as side kick on an evangelical coo-coo show.  Behold the “Atheist’s Nightmare”:

Here are a couple of photos of our God-given bananas before humans selected and bred them for their “point at the top for ease of entry and just the right shape for the human mouth.”  I don’t imagine they ever “squirted in your face,”  but I know I like my bananas to “curve towards your face.”


Here Kirk Cameron, through his in depth reading of evolutionary theory, exposes what’s been baffling scientists for a hundred and fifty years:  where are the fossils of the crocoduck?

Here’s another one that shows the creationists’ deep understanding of how evolution works:

And your next ten words?  How about a lifeline?


October 3, 2008

I don’t pretend to understand the economic collapse of civilization.  But this is funny. 

Make it stop!  And I thought the liberal media elites were doing anything they could to make poor her look bad…

Of concern to McCain’s campaign, however, is a remaining and still-undisclosed clip from Palin’s interview with Couric last week that has the political world buzzing.

The Palin aide, after first noting how “infuriating” it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.


September 28, 2008

Time to show where your loyalties lie, Jews!

Palin’s Next Ten Words

September 26, 2008

Susan Jacoby:

“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today’s very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades.  [There is not a] lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place.

Call this anti-rationalism — a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. (“Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture,” Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a “change election,” the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

Sam Harris:

Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves. President Bush kept his edge on the “Who would you like to have a beer with?” poll question in 2004, and won reelection.

When Tom Stoppard won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, some reporter outside the theatre who didn’t know who Stoppard was but still wanted to get a question on camera pointed at the Oscar and said “Those are pretty heavy.  You could do curls with them!”  Stoppard looked at him and deadpanned,

“I wouldn’t do that.  I’m an intellectual.”

Later that night I got in an argument with someone, someone who got the irony even, about Stoppard considering himself an intellectual.  “That was a dumb thing to say.  It’s a pretentious word.” And so on.  The political pejorative “elite” (which has replaced “liberal”, since no politician would ever call themselves that anymore) wasn’t in the mainstream then, or he would have used that no doubt.

Are there other countries – there must be – where the citizens prefer mediocrity?  Where “elite” and “intellectual” are words meant to raise your suspicions?  I don’t really buy it that Americans look up to the likes of Paris Hilton more than people in other countries look up to fools, but they sure don’t sniff with suspicion at their public intellectuals as much, nor do they like  their politicians to be average.

This is a woman who not only doesn’t understand a foreign policy doctrine (including the current one) but actually doesn’t know what the phrase means.

When she says “In what respect, Charlie” in her goofy accent and shifts around in her chair it’s straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit.  But it’s not satire, it’s real.  This is a politician who aspires to national government, and yet has apparently never read a book about foreign policy, much less a newspaper or a news magazine. [James Fallows writes well about that here.] I feel confident guessing that, until last month, she got her foreign policy opinions (and most other political opinions outside of bridges and drilling) at church functions and dinner parties with like-minded rapture-ready conservatives.

“What we need to do is stand up to those Muslims, and not back down.”  Much nodding ensues.  “What those welfare-lovers need is a good kick in the pants, and a little work ethic.”  Guttural noises of affirmation.  “If they knew the love of Jesus, they wouldn’t abort so many babies.” Amen.  “That liberal media…”

Getting your political opinions that way wouldn’t be inexcusable if she weren’t – it’s a cliche but true – a heart beat away from the presidency.

I’ve defended McCain at my own head-nodding, knee-jerk liberal parties, not because I like him or support him, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to call bullshit on bullshit hypocritical, ideological, partisan nonsense (and there’s plenty of that on the left).  I’ve defended Bush against deceitful means-to-an-end fools like Michael Moore and Moby.  But with this would-be presidential moron, I give up.  Have at her, as they say.

“As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of America where do they go?  It’s Alaska!”

We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once provoked by a reporter’s microphone, saying things like, “I’m voting for Sarah because she’s a mom. She knows what it’s like to be a mom.” Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet security … the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any one of them.

“Soccer mom.”  When did we first hear that?  Mid-Clinton, right?  But at that time, it meant politicians were shooting for that lowest common denominator, just trying to get the votes.  That’s lame, but complicated and understandable.  But how did courting those votes morph into electing a soccer – hockey – mom?

As if that weren’t enough, she’s a total religious nutcase.  Even Bush, and I’ll pat myself on the back and say that I said it before Sam Harris wrote it, even Bush isn’t waiting for the rapture, although some of his buddies are.

You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” “miraculous healings” and “the gift of tongues.” Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin’s spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of “the final generation,” engaged in “spiritual warfare” to purge the earth of “demonic strongholds.” Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: “All options remain on the table”?

Again and again you read or hear people say Most people in this country are Christian, Separation of church and state also expects the religious not to be discriminated against, You sound hysterical, The religious right aren’t taking over, and so on.  Well.  Why did they pick her?  One of the most important reasons: she appeals to a segment that the Republican Party (half of the country) has grown to cater to, and whose votes they can’t win without.

Blame Obama too, and that dumb speech he gave (2004?) grasping at God.  Suddenly the Democrats are as God-fearing as the Republicans (look at Hillary this year: did she talk like that before?  Kerry certainly didn’t.  Now every Democrat is God-this and God-that.).

I don’t see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test to get in this government.  And I want to warn the press and all the voters out there, if you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to.

31 percent of post graduates do not believe in God.  Among members of the National Academy of Sciences, only seven percent believe in “a personal God” (the NAS is the cream of the crop of American scientists).  There is a correlation among increase in education and decrease in belief.  And yet only one member of Congress admits to not believing in God.  In other words, demands for admissions of faith result in the public being lied to:  There’s no way the House and the Senate aren’t full of atheists and agnostics: they – admittedly though off the record in some cases – simply lie to get elected.

When a British reporter asked Blair – Blair of undeniable devout faith – if he and Bush prayed together, Blair recoiled and said “No, never!” Even though he probably did, the UK doesn’t like that crap in their politics.  If the same question were put to an American candidate now – a Democrat even – they’d have to answer yes.

“I must now state not what kind of church I believe in, because that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.  I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…”

No Democrat, nevermind Republican, could give that speech now.  Stem cells, abortion, condoms and sex-ed in American schools and Africa and everywhere else, discriminatory faith-based initiatives, creationism and evolution denial, nervous religious anti-science: none of these would be controversial if we didn’t let politicians drag their religion into government.  These aren’t controversial questions of suffering or ethics.  They’re actions taken by our government almost entirely because of bronze aged superstitions.  It’s not going to get bad, it is bad now.

Take a belief that really should be nothing more than a curiosity to us, until you see its consequences in the world: the Catholic idea that condom use is somehow immoral. This is a genuinely ludicrous idea. I can assure you that the computational powers of the human brain are insufficient to provide a good argument for this. But map this idea onto sub-Saharan Africa, where literally millions—something like 3 or 4 million people—die each year from the spread of AIDS. And what you have there are Catholic ministers literally preaching the sinfulness of condom use in villages where the only information about condom use is the representation of the ministry. It seems to me that the time for respecting beliefs of this sort is long past. This is genocidal stupidity. It is criminal negligence of a sort that we would not tolerate in any other institution, yet the Vatican cannot be criticized to the degree that it should because it’s the Vatican. There is an overarching taboo around criticizing religious faith.

(Some of these anti-condom charities are funded by Bush’s ridiculously named “faith-based initiatives,” which Obama has promised to continue, with some modifications.)

Here are some videos of the kind of beat-down I hope to see when I wake up at the Satanic hour of nine a.m. tomorrow, and hope to see over the next few weeks.  Although, we shouldn’t expect Biden or Obama to flaunt their brains or expose Palin’s (and to a lesser extent, McCain’s) lack of brains.  And saying  “God doesn’t belong in politics” is fifty years away in America, if ever.

Watch this from two mintues in:

Oh, here’s a book about anti-intellectualism in America.   And her other one about Freethinkers in America.

Acupuncture Anesthesia

August 31, 2008

At the beginning of the 20th century, science-based medicine had been catching on in China, at the expense of traditional Chinese medicine, because of its efficacy. As Mao and the communists swept through China, however, many or most of the doctors who practiced “western” medicine fled to Taiwan (they no doubt used their evidence-based, logical thinking to predict what was going to happen, and decided to get the hell out).

So, Mao and his cronies were left with a dearth of doctors, and no money for medicine or medical technologies anyway, and started to promote traditional Chinese medicine so that people would think they were at least being provided some form of treatment by the government.

In this propaganda painting, Acupuncture Anesthesia, check out the serene smile on the patient, saved from the unimaginable pain of the surgery by a kind nurse and needle in his finger.

From Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World (which is a fantastic book and the greatest title ever):

“Pseudoscience differs from erroneous science. Science thrives on errors, cutting them away one by one. False conclusions are drawn all the time, but they are drawn tentatively. Hypotheses are framed so they are capable of being disproved. A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observation. Science gropes and staggers toward improved understanding. Proprietary feelings are of course offended when a scientific hypothesis is disproved, but such disproofs are recognized as central to the scientific enterprise.

“Pseudoscience is just the opposite. Hypotheses are often framed preecisely so they are invulnerable to any experiment that offers a prospect of disproof, so even in principle they cannot be invalidated. Practitioners are defensive and wary. Skeptical scrutiny is opposed. When they pseudoscientific hypothesis fails to catch fire with scientists, conspiracies to suppress it are deduced. ”

“The candle flame flutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”

“Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along.”

They who in folly or mere greed
Enslaved religion, markets, laws,
Borrow our language now and bid
Us to speak up in freedom’s cause.

It is the logic of our times,
No subject for immortal verse —
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.

C. Day-Lewis