Tag Archives: personal

my two-year-old, on copyright

Grabbing a couple of my paperback books, my two-year-old pages through them and engages in a lengthy monologue.

A: “This is about Mamiche’s copyright car. I’m just going to read this page and then go back to the cat page. Okay! Let’s go back to the cat page. This book is your book and it is about copyright. This is your book.”

me: “Thank you,” I say, accepting the book she hands me.

A: “Read it, and then it is my copyright. This is called Mamiche’s copyright. This is MY copyright, and this is YOUR copyright, and this is MY copyright. Here it is.” She shifts into a downward dog pose and holds the book below her. “I need my copyright. When I get my copyright I tell Mamala [ed.: that's me], ‘I need my copyright now!’”

I am speechless.

break-break for anxiety

in the middle of a blogging break (for good reasons! welcome ada marie) i bring you this article from salon.com which is scary as fuck and makes me fear for little ada’s future:

Apocalypse Now by Mike Davis.

Davis does not buy any of the Gore-style cheerleading that we might avert a climatically disastrous future through alternative energy sources and sustainable economics. Instead, he predicts that in the new “Anthropocene” (the human-determined geological era just declared “open” by the Geological Society of London) the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, and we will become a “planet of slums”.

Tech Coed

My father-in-law (in Massachusetts) was in town for his fiftieth MIT reunion — class of 1958! He took my partner and me to a couple of events, and we noticed among the red-jacketed men a few red-jacketed women. By various accounts, there were nine to fifteen women (out of a thousand students) in the Class of ’58 at MIT, a half dozen of whom were at the 50th reunion.

Tonight, five of them — representing mathematics, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics — got together and revisited a song they sang back in the 50s, called something like “My mother was a Tech Coed” — apparently a takeoff of another MIT favorite, “My father was a something something engineer.” We chatted with some of them tonight for a while, and got to hear amazing stories about classes, the women’s dorm that held only 17 students — so the rest had to live off-campus — and other experiences of MIT in the 1950s.

But the song was the highlight, and they were kind enough to give us permission to reprint the lyrics that they sang — they said there were probably ten or fifteen verses altogether in the original. The first four are what they recalled of those verses. The last two they wrote at the reunion.

She never held me on her knee
But she was all the world to me
That lady with the pointy head
My mother was a Tech coed.

She couldn’t cook she couldn’t sew
But she could fix a radio
She used T-squares to make a bed
My mother was a Tech coed.

As she approached maternity
She also got her PhD
And started working on Pre Med
My mother was a Tech coed.

Her cocktails were a potent brew
She learned the trick in 5.02*
She always bought her cakes and bread
My mother was a Tech coed.

Now 50 years have come and gone
I still remember dear old mom
Her dying breath she taught me well
Above all else, that Tech is hell.

We are the queens of gray and red
The very coolest Tech coeds.

* Second semester freshman chemistry.

ftw

I had been seeing “ftw” in internet chit chat for a while, and I just finally got around to looking it up and seeing what it actually means: “for the win”.

In the meantime, I had just sort of assumed it was an inversion of “wtf” — sort of taking the aghastness of “wtf” and adding onto it a fillip of “wack”! So I’d been reading it as “fuck the what!”. I actually like that a lot better than “for the win”.

new spam tactics

I just got a call from someone claiming to be a “domain notification server”. They had pulled our contact information off our domain record, and had a highly deceptive pitch, something like:

We are calling you to alert you that you will be receiving a notification regarding your domain, blah blah blah information from our domain record. Please give us your fax number…

Only, more misleading. I was like, Is this really about my domain? Is this a DMCA notice of some sort? Is this a spammer? To the direct questions: “Do we have an existing business relationship?” the person was confused and couldn’t really answer off-script. To be fair, “Alex” wasn’t speaking in his native language — clearly Indian, so could have been US-based or outsourced. Eventually I got enough information that I determined with 98% certainty that this was spam, and told them to take us off the call list. He said he would, which confirmed that it was indeed spam.

wtf? We’re on the do-not-call list. Is this a racket anybody else has encountered?

apparently i’m married to pharyngula

Yesterday I excitedly pointed to this io9 blog entry about vat-grown meat: “You see!” I told my partner. “You see! I was right. We are going to have vat-grown meat, in our lifetime !!!”

The “I was right” or “you were right” is the gold ring of our relationship. The ch-ching it makes when one gets one — ah, I live for those moments.

We had previously argued about this a few times. My partner — a biologist, like P.Z. Myers (aka “Pharyngula”) — has long held that it is impractical, that you need medium to grow it in, blah blah blah technical objections that impede my vision, blah blah blah. I think this technology will provide us transplantable organs, vat-grown meat, and perhaps external uteruses (eventually). She has argued instead that for things like organs and vat-grown meat, we should be cloning humans or animals without brains [and other stuff, that I can't remember right now] , and harvesting organs from those living brainless creatures. Needless to say I find this utterly repulsive, frightening, and vaguely unethical. “But,” she points out, “the thing that makes us human is our brain [etc]. A clone of ourselves without a brain is just a bag of organs.” Then I bring up the birth of severely disabled children, and we get going on yet another round of the unsolvable discussions that occupy our time.

But lo, today, in response to the same vat-grown meat story that I trumpeted, Pharyngula posted this response arguing that instead of building brainless humane meat from cellular matrices & tissues & then adding support structures, we should be building it top-down — stripping the sentience from our food animals. Needless to say, this is as disturbing as my partner’s vision of brainless clonal twin organ farms. Isn’t this basically what Brave New World did to the various classes of people? If we do accustom ourselves to get over the squick factor about this, isn’t that actually — well, risky and scary?

My partner accuses me of falling prey to Bushian “culture of life” mysticism. Sentience, pain perception, fear, anxiety, happiness — all the things that make killing animals for food inhumane would be irrelevant if the food stuffs had the biological capacity to feel those things removed. I admit my arguments get a little weak around this time. “Muscle memory,” I counter, suggesting that our sentience, while centered on the brain, is perhaps also holistically grounded in our entire body. She mocks the “muscle memory” argument mercilessly.

Anyway, the real point is that their arguments are disturbingly similar (and similarly disturbing). Possibly related to the fact they’re both biologists. On the other hand, I never have seen them in the same place at the same time.

(Also, all this reminds me of Rudy Rucker’s Software, Wetware, etc. — which my partner introduced me to. Cloned human meat was popular — also vat-grown I think — and one of the characters actually made a ton of money from allowing herself to be cloned into one of the most popular burgers. While funny and thought-provoking and all the other good stuff that Rucker & SF generally are, I gotta say that this squicked me out more than almost anything else I’ve read in SF.)

my own googlegängers

I hadn’t previously heard the word “googlegängers”, which the American Dialect Society deemed “most creative” word last year. But I love the concept, which Stephanie Rosenbloom explored in the NYT today. Apparently lots of people follow the lives and careers of people with the same names as themselves.

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how not to give a talk, aka how to not give a talk

I missed, last night, what promised to be a great event at Iona College: JOYWAR: Intellectual Property and the Myth of Originality an Evening with Joy Garnett. The evening lecture followed a day-long symposium on Authors, Inventors, Imposters and Thieves: Perspectives on Intellectual Property, with a number of interesting talks, and it kicked off an exhibition of Joy’s work.

So why did I miss it? Because I thought the talk was tonight (Thursday), instead of last night (Wednesday), even though the materials which had been sent to me earlier this week clearly labeled the talk as happening Wednesday night, and even though I had checked my materials multiple times to verify timing, address, and so forth.

Is this a (much premature) senior moment? A bizarre side effect of prenatal distraction? A deep-seated character flaw now revealing itself after fifteen years of giving talks and not missing them?

Frankly, it’s inexplicable to me how I was able to make such a mistake, but Joy and the coordinator, Dean Delfino, were remarkably gracious in response to my mortified apologies, and assured me that “these things happen.”

Friends observed that almost certainly everyone had a good time without me, and Joy probably had plenty to say that couldn’t fit into an hour, and that I will certainly never, ever do this again. That’s for sure. And of course Joy was really the star of the evening, so the evening, I’m sure, can still be counted a success. But I had a killer talk on “sins of the myth of originality” that I was excited to give. Oh well!

Anyway, my apologies, again, to Joy and Dean and the guests at Iona College.

getting my atheist on

Last week, I was told that I have a “god-shaped hole in my heart.” … I think I’d prefer to phrase it as he has a god-shaped figment jammed crosswise in his brain.

P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula, 2006/10/27, “A godless ramble against the ditherings of theologians

The last couple of years I’ve been pleased to see an outbreak of out-and-out criticism of religion, not just for the bad things religious folks do in the name of religion, but for the silliness and harmfulness of religion itself.

For me, the charge has been led by Richard Dawkins (most recently, The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith), and P.Z. Myers (Pharyngula). Dawkins, Harris and Myers aren’t truly leading a charge; they’re surfing the zeitgeist. A lot of folks are ticked off about religion, but until lately, one would rarely hear us talk about it. Despite the stereotype of the proselytizing atheist, most of us don’t bother. (If only the religious folks of the world would just stop flaunting their lifestyle.)

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the kindness of strangers

So, tonight I was in a NYC restaurant with a dear friend, when I got a call from an unknown number in Boston. The unknown number turned out to be a library science professor at Simmons College, whom I have never met, and he wanted to know if I’ve lost my wallet. I found this very peculiar, since although I live in Boston, I’ve been in New York for the past few days, and I’ve definitely been using my wallet — in fact, I used my wallet just a couple of hours ago to buy groceries.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, “unless you’re in New York.”

“Well, I’m not in New York, I’m in Boston, but I got a call from New York a couple of hours ago while I was teaching, from someone who says he found your wallet. Then I looked you up on the Internet & got your number. You have an interesting resumé.”

I’m really pretty amazed, but thinking back I realize that I last used my wallet about three hours ago, coming out of the grocery store and crossing the street to my friend’s apartment building — literally, probably only about a hundred feet. It turns out that in my wallet I had a scrap of paper with this professor’s contact information on it, from a chance meeting with one of his students at a cafe a couple of days ago. The student thought the professor and I should talk, and since I hadn’t had a chance to write him yet, his email was still on the scrap of paper in my wallet. I hastily explain this, not very clearly, and the professor, a bit bemused, gives me the New York number of the person who claims to have found my wallet, and I ring off, to call the New York number.

“Hello?”

“Umm … my name is Laura Quilter; are you the person who found my wallet?”

“Yeah, I did — where are you?”

“I’m at the Trattoria Dante at [somewhere nearby].”

“I’m right around the corner; I’ll be there in two minutes. I know what you look like from your driver’s license.” He paused. “Umm, I’m not a detective, so I had to go through your wallet; I hope you’re not pissed.”

“No, no, of course not — just amazed that you’ve taken all this trouble.”

Two minutes later, indeed, he was there. I said I was extremely impressed by New Yorkers; it turns out he was actually from San Diego (but is apparently a New Yorker now). He wouldn’t take any money; wouldn’t even let me buy him a drink. He had spent god knows how much time trying to find me. My wallet wasn’t exactly very helpful, I realized afterwards, looking through it with a stranger’s eyes. Zipcar membership, health insurance, Trader Joe’s gift certificate, bar membership cards, picture of my spouse from a photobooth, espresso club card … My driver’s license — which I blush to admit is still a California license, even though I’ve been in Boston for almost a year — turned out to be more confusing than helpful since he thought perhaps I still lived near Berkeley. But he saw a Boston Public Library card, and the phone number of the professor in Boston.

Then, the professor in Boston, who also had never heard of me, and had no idea why his name might be in my wallet, spent who knows what amount of time looking me up on the Internet, tracking me down, and talking with me. It turns out there were only a couple of degrees of separation between him and me — my friend that I’m staying with knows several of the professor’s colleagues. The unknown benefactor, however, remains unknown. But greatly appreciated.

potential evidence for intelligent design

questionable authority reviews a pro-’intelligent design theory’ entry that describes a future history of the fabulous medical and scientific breakthroughs generated by ‘intelligent design theory’ and the abandonment of ‘Darwinism’. While the whole post is highly recommended, it was one of the commentors who really tickled my fancy. Responding to the future history’s assertion that ‘Darwinist’ scientists ignore ‘junk DNA’*, commentator Stephen Stralka adds:

It also occurs to me that no matter how much functionality we ultimately discover in junk DNA, none of it will be any better evidence for ID than what we currently know about DNA.

The kind of thing that would be evidence of design would be if the junk DNA turned out to contain stuff like copyright notices and license agreements.

Or copy protection. DRM-protected genomes that prevent unauthorized replications, derivative works, jumping genes & species hopping diseases? Or maybe when you have a baby, a rootkit installs itself on the parents’ reproductive organs, preventing them from further replications. I do indeed see a great future for ‘intelligent design theory’.

(Another commenter followed up:

Oh, man. “If you agree to the terms of this pregnancy, click Agree. Otherwise, click Abort.”

Except that he’s missing about 5 screens’ worth of finely printed legal verbiage about restrictions on the pregnancy and abortion process. Luckily Frontline has got it covered.)


* According to the ‘future history of intelligent design’, ‘Darwinian’ scientists don’t do research on ‘junk DNA’. really? in this future history, will my partner’s dissertation & ongoing postdoc work on various aspects of gene regulation turn out to have all just been a terrible and poorly-compensated decade-long dream?

mouse songs verified by at-home cat test

BoingBoing recently posted about the songs sung by male mice during courtship, linking to the PLOS Biology article, and the audio files of the actual songs.

We independently verified the actual mouse-nature of the songs by performing a Spontaneous Audio Performance Test (SAPT) with a feline experimental audience.* Sure enough, four sleeping cats roused, lifted their heads, and twitched their ears while the songs were played. One actually rose to a standing position. The subject felines failed to respond to the recorded sparrow song.

Because PLOS Biology is open-access, you can try this one at home.

* No animals were harmed in this experiment. All research animals involved in this experiment receive the highest quality of care, including personalized feeding and support by a trained post-doctoral biologist and her aide; free access to legal counsel and representation; and consultations with a high-quality veterinary facility.

on file sharing “the daily show”

Okay, I’m sneaking a little break away from visiting family in Virginia to breathe the fresh air of the Internet. I wouldn’t exactly call Virginia a hellhole (at least not in front of the family who lives here), but the Internet cafe (Panera Bakery) I’m surfing at blocks arthur silber’s the light of reason and poor man as Forbidden Category “Adult/Mature Content”. Sigh.

Anyway, one of the sites I can read is Wired. In the recent interview with Jon Stewart & Ben Karlin (Daily Show’s Exec Producer) (“Reinventing Television”) I noticed this commentary:

WIRED: ["The Daily Show"] is among the most popular shows traded online. People download and watch the whole thing, every day. Were you guys aware of that?

Karlin: Not only am I not aware of that, I don’t want to be aware of that.

WIRED: Well, don’t go shutting it down.

Stewart: We’re not going to shut it down – we don’t even know what it is. I’m having enough trouble just getting porn.

Karlin: If people want to take the show in various forms, I’d say go. But when you’re a part of something successful and meaningful, the rule book says don’t try to analyze it too much or dissect it. You shouldn’t say: “I really want to know what fans think. I really want to understand how people are digesting our show.” Because that is one of those things that you truly have no control over. The one thing that you have control over is the content of the show. But how people are reacting to it, how it’s being shared, how it’s being discussed, all that other stuff, is absolutely beyond your ability to control.

Stewart: I’m surprised people don’t have cables coming out of their asses, because that’s going to be a new thing. You’re just going to get it directly fed into you. I look at systems like the Internet as a convenience. I look at it as the same as cable or anything else. Everything is geared toward more individualized consumption. Getting it off the Internet is no different than getting it off TV.

WIRED: Isn’t that going to pose a challenge to the traditional network model?

Stewart: But we’re not on a traditional network: We’re on the goofy, juvenile-delinquent network to begin with. We get an opportunity to produce this stuff because they make enough money selling beer that it’s worth their while to do it. I mean, we know that’s the game. I’m not suggesting we’re going to beam it out to the heavens, man, and whoever gets it, great. If they’re not making their money, we ain’t doing our show.

And on the famous clip of Stewart on CNN:

WIRED: [T]he show was a total sensation: Something like 3 million people saw that – but mostly online. Less than a quarter of them saw it on CNN proper. It was huge, phenomenal viral video.

Stewart: It was definitely viral. I felt nauseous afterward.

WIRED: It was one of the most downloaded clips ever.

Stewart: Really? That’s not true. Pamela and Tommy Lee?

WIRED: OK, maybe that was bigger. But it was amazing that CNN was so clueless about what you gave them. Suddenly, for once, everybody wanted to see Crossfire. They could have taken the show and put it on their Web site, said Click Here, and gotten all this traffic. Instead, everyone had to go through these other sites and back doors to find it.

Stewart: That’s really half the fun, isn’t it? If CNN had put it on its Web site, it would have lost some of its allure.

Karlin: It’s people going, “Holy shit, did you see this?”

And, last but not least, my favorite quote:

Stewart: The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.

interesting reading, early saturday morning

Up early for my spouse who caught a red-eye. Now she’s resting peacefully and I of course can’t get back to sleep. But that’s okay, because there’s the Internet!

  • Positive outcomes of BlogHer: Mary Hodder at Napsterization is establishing a Speakers’ Wiki.

  • In response to publisher anxieties & thinly-veiled threats of litigation, Google is implementing an opt-out provision in its scan-copyrighted-library-books program, and delaying scans of copyrighted books until November. [google blog] This has been widely reported as Google backing down. See, e.g., “Chilled by Publishers” (BoingBoing), “Google Sells Out Users” (Copyfight). I agree, sell-out, chill, yes, yes, but am taking a moment to appreciate the sweetness of the opt-out option as default.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan had a different take, predicated largely (it seems to me) on the fact that Google is a for-profit corporation. For once, I disagree with Siva, and on two grounds: both with library exceptionalism in this instance and the take on American Geophysical Union.

  • Ed Felten on Freedom to Tinker [8/9] talked about the DRM in Microsoft’s Longhorn-cum-Vista. Copyfight (8/9) summed it up and added this pithy observation: “[T]his isn’t about stopping mass copyright infringement or pleasing Hollywood. It’s about keeping “consumers” locked in and people who develop potentially competing products locked out.” See also Derek Slater at EFF Deeplinks (8/9).

  • On Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha ponders intelligent design, reminding us that the whole kerfluffle is not about debates between religion and science, but about debates between a few modern religious leaders who are picking issues:

    Darwin’s 1859 publication of The Origin of Species incited a wicked backlash from religious quarters in the United States, pitting science directly against religion. But within three decades an accommodation had been achieved, as Richard Hofstadter described in Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944):

    Science, [Le Conte] urged, should be looked upon not as the foe of religion, but rather as a complementary study of the ways in which the First Cause operated in the natural world. Whatever science might learn, the existence of God as First Cause could always be assumed.

    This raises the question: why has a sensible way to reconcile faith and science that has worked for so long become unacceptable to many religious leaders in this country? This is not like the other ongoing battles over religion in the public sphere and the separation between state and church (school prayer, Decalogue displays, funding for parochial schools), all of which raise debatable issues of public and private values.

    Putting it this way helps keep the focus on the small set of religious leaders who are sowing all this unnecessary discord.

    I feel I must document the provenance of this observation: I’m quoting Brian Tamanaha who’s quoting Richard Hofstadter who’s citing Joseph Le Conte who “followed” Asa Gray. I’m just tickled by the lengthy chain, but the observation stands on its own regardless of sources.

  • fafblog has been brilliant recently: two on intelligent design: creation science, creation technology! [fafnir 8/10] and overwhelming scientific proof [giblets 8/2]. Then more on torture: claustrophobic techniques [medium lobster 8/4] … in the kingdom of the one-eyed man, the best wars are blind [medium lobster, 7/28]. Segueing nicely from torture, the democrats: the great divorce [fafnir 8/3] . Last but not least, response to some recent efforts by the American Family Assn to provide gay checklists for childrearing: how to tell how gay your gay son is [giblets 8/9]. How despicable is this fear-mongering checklist in the light of this fearful Christian response? [See queerday 7/18, Tampa Bay Online 7/13] Too much anger. That’s why I read fafblog. I could just do a blog indexing fafblog. And still keep the title, ‘derivative work’.

  • A wretched decision out of the NLRB, restricting employees’ off-duty fraternization. Guardsmark, LLC, 334 NLRB No. 97 (2005) (decision in pdf); more info at american rights at work; linked from tom tomorrow. A bit more from me on this case.

Of course, two hours later, the spouse is still sleeping like a baby, and now “Adelaide’s Lament” is going through my head. It’s my own fault for putting iTunes on random shuffle through my entire 80+G music library last week, but still, I last heard that song over a week ago. Probably at some point this morning I had a low-level meditation on my own minor cold and it triggered a “Guys & Dolls” flashback. Unlike LSD, perhaps “Guys & Dolls” really does hang out in your fat cells waiting to be re-triggered.

Never trust the devout …

Warning: Offensive generalizations follow. If you can’t handle anti-religious comment, or hyperbole, then please stop reading now.

I’d like to make an argument, only semi-playfully:

Devout religious faith renders one’s analytical and observational skills slightly suspect if not outright dubious.

People who are devoutly religious are accustomed to lying to themselves. They lie about reality, most obviously, but they also lie about what they believe and why they believe it. Most theists of course believe that their faith is reasoned, and at the same time believe that most other theists’ faith is a result of unquestioned upbringing. They’re half right, anyway.

Now, the human capacity for self-deception is unparalleled. And religious faith is only one small piece of that. But religious faith has a high degree of acceptance among the population as a “good thing to have”, and consequently, a large number of people lie to other people about their religious practices. Many of these folks may know they’re lying, of course. But I generally find that most folks don’t like to outright lie, and if they do, they do it quickly, justify it, and don’t think about it much after that. So I’m guessing that most people who say they’re going to church regularly, even though they’re not, are deceiving themselves, more than they’re trying to deceive the questioner.

And let’s not forget that folks who really are devout are somehow capable of lying to themselves on a regular basis about the nature of reality and the world around them. Maybe because, as my grandmother wisely noted, when you get older and closer to death, you want to believe. (She was happy about that, because she thought it meant I would eventually return to the church.) Ultimately it doesn’t matter why people engage in this bizarre self-deception — it just matters that they do it.

So it boggles my mind how, if people maintain such wildly inconsistent & incoherent views of the world, their role in it, and odd mythical creatures like deities or, god forbid, angels & demons — how one is supposed to fully trust such a person. At any point their religion could be tampering with their views. At all points, their inability to root out the illogic & the huge masses of self-deception has to make you question their other conclusions.

It’s not that religious people will lie all the time or that they’ll be wrong all the time, or even that they can never be trusted. It’s more that, with anything you hear from such a person, you have to give it that extra few seconds of evaluation. You can’t just take what they say, ahem, on faith.

Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don’t believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

— Jane Smiley, “Why Americans Hate Democrats — A Dialogue: The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States”, Slate.com, 2004-11-05

update 2005/8/13:

I wrote the above just after the 2004 election, and de-published it fairly quickly. Atheist, anti-clerical, I may be, but I am respectful of people’s rights to believe what they like. So I’ve been thinking about this issue off & on for the past year, trying to figure out what is my core concern, and how to express it. I recently started reading The End of Faith by Sam Harris, who hits these ideas too. My critical responses to his work let me think a bit more clearly about what I wanted to do with this post.

In the real world of course it would make no sense to stereotype religious people as terminally confused. Acting on such a stereotype would, first, be every bit as foolish as acting on any other group stereotype.

First of all, the stereotype itself falls apart. What is religious belief? It’s vastly different for different people. For most people, religious belief is comprised of a number of somewhat interlocking ideas: the desire for and belief in an ethical systems; the relation of ethical systems to established frameworks; certain unquestioned assumptions & childhood indoctrination; spiritual yearnings; emotional needs; wishful thinking; neurological pattern-seeking behaviors; honest efforts to wrestle with philosophical conundrums (“what is the meaning of life?” “why is there evil?” “why is good better than evil?”); etc. I would wager that relatively few religious adherents have engaged seriously with all the specifics of whatever particular religious doctrine they claim as their own. Firebreathing atheists (like myself, at times) like to trot out the most blatantly absurd beliefs: old men in the sky, angels, demons, virgin births, virgins with fans in heaven, etc. Couple those absurd images with logical fallacies like ‘omnipotent and omniscient’ and you can have a full-time job poking at religious beliefs. But relatively few actual religius adherents have in the fullness of rational evaluation concluded that they believe in the literal interpretation of both Genesis creation stories, all the Levitican rules, and Archbishop Ussher’s totting up of the genealogies in the Bible to arrive at 4,004 B.C. as the creation date. So defining any one person’s religious “beliefs” is an almost hopeless task; to go from there to ascribing a set of such beliefs to a group of people is even more hopeless.

Second, even if one was able to establish what we mean by “religious beliefs”, and define even one person by that belief, it would be meaningless as a way of determining how to interact with that person. Unfortunately, because religious belief is but one species if irrationality, and each and every human being has their full huge and unmeasured share of irrational and unfounded beliefs.

Despite these problems, though, there is a little nugget of something serious in my little argument (some might call it a hateful rant but why be particular). Religious belief is an area in which we as a society permit to pass unquestioned — even condone — large quantities of irrational, unquestioned thought. I find the practical and political impacts of religious belief troubling. But I also find troubling the fact that we treat religion with such kid gloves. What are the implications of turning off critical thinking in some major subset of one’s life? Reinhold Niebuhr made his leap of faith thoughtfully, no doubt, but I suspect that most such leaps of faith are not so conscientiously undertaken.

I’ve long been a proponent of fostering critical thinking, for instance, media literacy. It might be time to think about the problems caused by a lack of critical thinking.

seeking order from chaos

it’s the small things in life which we love – the small coincidences which create seemingly non-random structures.

for instance yesterday i was talking by IM to my sister c.h. – she casually referred to the fact that she drinks. i said, c.h., do you drink alcohol? i’m shocked, shocked. she didn’t know the reference, and i explained casablanca to her.

today, after taking a good chunk of time and working on v.m.’s xml project, i took a tv break – turned the tv on, and voila, here is casablanca.

maybe not the most startling coincidence ever since casablanca must show on tv many many times… but still the random coincidences create a certain pleasing connectivity in the world.