Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Why is my blog called the Rational Crank? I admit that I can get quite cranky sometimes, especially since I wake up every morning to my cats butt in my face. “That’s because he loves his Dad,” my wife always says.

"That's why Daddy drinks." I respond

But my title does not refer to that kind of crank. I am using the definition of crank that means “crackpot.” You know, the guy with tinfoil on, not only the top of his head, but also tucked under his armpits for added protection; the guy who has named each of his fingernails; the guy who thinks that people from the department of education are breaking into his house while he’s away, and replace all of the forks in his kitchen with slightly shorter forks. I’m referring to myself as the kind of crank that is way out of the social norm, a misfit, an oddball, a fruitcake, a moon bat. And you know what? If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’re probably a crank too. (Oh, now that’s a good way to get more readers, Nick, insult them.) Before you click over to Facebook to check if someone has sent you vegetables in Farmville, let me explain why I think you’re probably a crank also. Here are some fun facts:

Only half of Americans know how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. A third of Americans think evolution isn’t real. A majority of Americans think that the devil is real. A majority of Americans believe in guardian angels. A third of Americans believe in haunted houses. Most people don’t know that their federal taxes went down last year under the Obama administration. A full third of Americans think that the US government was involved with 9-11. And the scariest fact of all, “Avatar” has an 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m going to paraphrase a quote that I once heard. “When the world is filled with crazy people the rational people are considered the nuts.” I remember hearing something like that or reading it someplace from someone really smart. Whoever that person is (or was), and contingent on whether they did indeed say that (or something similar) I would like to shake his or her hand. (If of course that is their real name)

What I am trying to say is this. WE ( you and I ) are the outsiders. We are the nuts. We are the space jockeys. We’re the cranks. And we’re outnumbered, you and I. The people who will believe anything and who refuse to analyze other people’s ideas let alone their own – they are everywhere. They are our politicians. They are reporting the news. They are teaching our kids. They are all around us, and they are getting louder. Fox News is the highest rated “news” channel in the US. Save us baby Jesus!

So if having basic knowledge of science is strange and embracing reason and logic over myth and superstition is weird then so be it. Be proud of your oddball-ness. The other side is way too vocal. It’s our turn to start being heard. The next time someone says something that you think is wrong like “all panda bears hate cake” question them. Don’t be shy. If someone offers a statistic that doesn’t sound right like, “Honduras produces three times more feral children than any other country,” ask him where he got that statistic. Be brave. Don’t let them get away with it. It’s more important than ever. The nonsense is enveloping us all. It’s up to you. The world needs us. Become a crank, like me, and be proud.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I wrote the article below for the magazine The Humanist. It appeared in their July/August 2009 issue. I thought I would post it now because I have a lot of new visitors. You can all see how geeky I really am. I hope you enjoy it.


Growing up, my parents were very strict. On Friday nights I had to be in bed by 10 pm. My mother would tuck me in, turn off the light, and close the door. I would lie under the covers until I heard her settled back into the living room. Then I would slide out of bed, tiptoe to the door, and quietly turn the lock. I knew what I was about to do was wrong and I was embarrassed and worried that my parents might walk in on me. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I snuck over to the other side of the room and switched on the black-and-white TV. So as not to be discovered I would turn the volume down as low as it would go and press my ear up to the tiny speaker. It was Friday evening in 1967, and I would tune in to NBC to watch my favorite television show, Star Trek.

[Warning: the following article is overflowing with geekiness. Further reading could result in unnaturally splayed fingers, pointed ears, or any manner of themed costuming.]

I was in line the other day waiting to see the new Star Trek movie and it got me thinking about the good old days of science fiction films. Back then special effects looked cheap, and it was always hit or miss as to whether they would work. More often than not a pie tin hanging from a string to simulate a flying saucer looked, well, like a pie tin hanging from a string. So the people who filmed science fiction (otherwise known as sci-fi or SF) couldn’t rely on computer-generated eye candy to keep audiences awake. Instead they had to rely on something completely different—good writing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jor-El tries to save the planet

Some things turn out to have much more meaning then ever originally intended.

This came from TED Talks which is a collection of great lectures by really, really smart people.

Monday, April 5, 2010


mars 1 mars 2

While you look at these pictures of Mars and others from Presidia Creative think about the following: Liquid water and Methane have been detected on that planet. We all know why water is important but what’s so great about methane? With very few exceptions, methane is a byproduct of life. Granted it’s probably only bacterial but that’s still cool because life someplace else could answer a big question about life here.

You see the funny thing about life here is that it’s all the same. That is to say, all life uses the same building blocks, the same proteins, the same DNA base pairs, etc. It doesn’t have to. It could have been anything, even that silicon pizza Horta from Star Trek. Who knows what bacteria on The Red Planet are like? Or stranger still, what if the bacteria on Mars has the same type of chemistry as everything here? That would mean that meteors caring life from Mars seeded this planet. We could all be Martians.

Either way, we need to be sending more rovers to Mars