Thursday, December 29, 2011

The News You Hear as Background Noise as You Get on With Your Real Life

Here are the Top Ten GENERIC News Stories for 2011. Although this is a repost from 2010, for some reason, it continues to work.

1) A drunk (and/or high) celebrity had a meltdown, this year, outside his home (in a nightclub, on an airplane). Onlookers were shocked (not at all surprised) to hear the beloved movie star (TV actor, reality show contestant, presidential candidate), screaming curses and tossing racial slurs (shoes, angry birds) at his wife (girl friend, a male prostitute). Spokesperson for the celebrity said that the cause of the incident stemmed from a dosage problems the star was having with his medication. The celebrity has since checked into a rehab center and is in the processes of a complete lifestyle overhaul.

2) A Washington think-tank estimated that countless hours of productivity were lost this year, as millions tuned in to observe the sporting event (trial, political demonstrations, presidential debate) of the century. Many watched at their offices but even more merely stayed home from work, as the playoffs (jury selection, police response) dragged on for weeks. The victory (verdict, presidential primary, coup d’etat) turned out to be unprecedented. Cities experienced rioting for months afterwards.

3) The country was riveted as a boy (miners, dog, squirrel) was successfully rescued from a well (frozen lake, mineshaft, hot air balloon). Rescuers toiled with shovels (ropes, skyhooks, miniature surgical equipment) around the clock, as time was quickly running out. Everyone cheered as the boy (miners, small animal) was pulled up (lowered down) to safety. He (she, they, it) thanked God for being rescued.

4) A terrible natural disaster in Japan, (the Philippines, Haiti, New Orleans) forced emergency response teams to rethink their disaster preparedness plans. This well-meaning concern quickly passes though, as the 24 hour news cycle redirected our attention to the newest movie (presidential primary, celebrity meltdown, shiny object).

5) As the war in Afghanistan (Iraqi, Vietnam, Korea) drags on, president Obama (Nixon, Kennedy) vowed to bring all the troops home in about 18 months. Critics of the President complained that announcing a time tables for withdrawal merely emboldens our enemies, while supporters of the President complained that the withdrawal is not soon enough.

6) Scientist announce a breakthrough in genetics (nanotechnology, super conductors) giving us new insights into how the universe (magnets) work. Although scientists caution that any practical application of this technology is still months (years, decades) away, news media reports this new technology could eventually lead to a cancer cure (free energy, invisibility cloak).

7) The economy was one of the top stories of the year, as the recession (recovery) was slower (faster) than expected. As Liberals called for more spending in new industries, Conservatives called for lower taxes and increased military spending, as the only way to speed the recovery (slow the overheated economy, compete in a new global economy, fight worldwide tooth decay).

8) Something horrible happened in the Middle East. Many people died.

9) The nation split down party lines as newest controversy involving immigration (gay rights, daylight savings time). Conservatives balked at the new ideas, which they consider to be blatantly anti- family (anti-Christian, anti-free market, anti-hunting,). Liberals failed to clearly present their side of the issue, choosing instead to label conservatives as reactionaries. Both sides failed to realize that ten years from now. everyone will whole hardily accept the new idea as one of the key foundations of American values.

10) We killed Osama Bin Laden. Wow, that one really was unexpected!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Hitchslap to Bill Bennett in Honor of Christopher Hitchens

While accidently watching the CBS Early Show this morning (because God knows I would never watch crap like that intentionally) conservative commentator, Bill Bennett, had this to say about the death of Christopher Hitchens “I hope, as the big Atheist he was, he is in for a big surprise.” Here is where I have a problem with some supposed “Christians” like Bennett. People like that might be able to produce a thought on occasion but their brains are incapable of following through on those thought. They are too unimaginative to realize that thoughts, if true, lead to conclusions and those conclusions should lead to consequences. Let me continue Bennett’s thought for him, since he seems too dim witted to do so himself. I hope as the Atheist that Hitchens was, that he is in for a big surprise… and that there is a god, because wouldn’t it be great if Hitchens (of whom just seconds before I said I enjoyed drinking and debating with) wouldn’t it be great if he burns in hell for all eternity.

This comment and its unspoken conclusion is followed by the host of the Early Show, Erica Hill, laughing out loud. Because, I guess, there is nothing like a man dying of cancer, to give a girl the giggles.

Here is what I think a good Christian should have said. “I hope I’m wrong. I hope there is no hell for people who don’t believe in God. Because, to imagine a man such as Hitchens, with such a keen mind, suffering for all eternity just because he had strong convictions would pain me, to no end. And I would oppose with all my strength, the hateful and uncaring being that might allow such a place to exist.” That’s the kind of quote I would expect from a real Christian. Bill Bennett you’re an ass. So consider this my Hitchslap in honor of Chritopher Hitchens. He will be missed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Verses the Real Enemy

If this blog accomplishes nothing in its existence, I feel it my duty to at least help make sure everyone sees this video. This is the police response to a demonstration at Northern California’s UC Davis, Friday.

In a reaction to the college’s leadership in the run up to this action, UCD’s faculty association asked the University’s Chancellor, Linda Katehi, to resign. In an eerie show of solidarity with protesters, students linked arms and lined the road for three blocks, outside the building in which the Chancellor was speaking. This was the Chancellors walk to her car.

On the few occasions that I make predictions, I usually get it wrong. So to increase my odds, this time, I’m predicting something that has already happened. I’m predicting that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has already won. How? Let me borrow the people’s microphone for a moment.

News editors love to deliver stories that fit what they believe their audiences want to hear. Unfortunately, nothing of the OWS story fits into the old narratives that the media has been pumping out lately. Fox News tries to make the protesters out to be criminals - hard to do with videos like the ones above (or this). Rachel Maddow tries to make the protesters out to be a branch of the young democrats but I’m pretty sure the students unable to get jobs are as unhappy with Obama as they are with banks.

Correspondents can’t do an exposé on the protesters list of demands because as of this writing, the leaders of this movement haven’t issued any. This oversight has been identified as a tactical error by critics, but I believe, this lack of goals is intentional and, at the moment, one of the movements strengths. The end game for the occupiers is not to get some bit of legislation passed, or to get some slick candidate elected. Instead, I think, the goal is to change the entire national debate, for months maybe even for years to come. And so far it’s working. In September the news was full of stories about which politician was willing to cut the most to balance the budget. These last couples of months have been packed with stories debating the economic inequalities that are occurring throughout the world.

Journalists must hate this movement. Editors dislike any story where the headline includes the word “still,” as in “the protesters still occupy the park.” This does not make a good narrative because there is no change. If there is no change, there is no story to tell. The difficult thing for these old reporters to understand, is that “the story” IS that “there is no change.” Every day protesters remain in the parks, the true story (the one the media doesn’t have the ability to tell) actually gets more remarkable. Every day that passes, illustrates the resolve of the protesters. Every day that passes, illustrates that the inequalities in our society, still have not been corrected. Every day that passes, the nation is reminded that innocent people are still suffering in this economy. But there is nothing more a reporter can write about this, because nothing has changed. The protesters are still there. The problems are still there. The true story is still there. This breaking news, just in, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Now here is my narrative. Here is the spin I’ll put on OWS. The occupiers have won. They have beaten the enemy - No, not Wall Street. The Occupy Movement isn’t really protesting Wall Street. The enemy that the occupiers are fighting is - the media. The occupy movement is really protesting the news media’s coverage of Wall Street (or more correctly the news media’s lack of coverage of how corrupt Wall Street is. And OWS has won hands down. They have won by forcing the media to change the narrative. The international mega world media is not an easy entity to manipulate but tragic and compelling images like these are changing the balance of power every day, one seemingly uneventful day at a time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stephen Fry and F. Scott Fitzgerald

"In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores." - F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I have just finished The Great Gatsby.  Fitzgerald's crisp precise writing brought, trotting into my consciousness, like a fawn treading lightly over virgin fallen leaves, the memory of this witty and whimsical Stephen Fry video. Some day, me talk pretty like them, too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zombie Propaganda Posters

In film school, I was taught that the mindless zombies in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, were a metaphor for the unthinking fear mongers that arose during the McCarthy era. The insatiable hordes in Dawn of the Dead represented the unrestrained consumerism of western society. Zombies can be Communists, Capitalists or post colonialists. Even the choice made by the common working man, to lead a monotonous and uninspired life, can be brain food for a zombie movie (or is Shawn of the Dead just a harmless parody?) I think zombies are all things, to all people.  So to continue the tradition, here are some zombie propaganda posters I put together for you.  Happy Halloween.

to see more click

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Are Republicans More Anti-Science Then Democrats?

News organizations across the globe should count themselves lucky that I am basically a lazy slob. For if I were otherwise, mega media conglomerates would shutter at the sheer number of snarky letters my angry fingers would produce. I would drive them to their knees with the frequency by which they would be forced to casually hit the delete button of their inbox. Many editorial rooms would be driven to block my emails altogether, requiring me to take my limitless aggression out on innocent questioners posting on Ask Google. Thank whatever god you pray too, that we do not live in such a hellish dystopia.

Mostly, I just write to NPR, and only occasionally. It’s because, all and all, I think they are doing an OK job and I want to make sure they continue to do so. I think the rest of the media are a lost cause. Nowadays news is nothing more than scheduled press releases and infomercials disguised as stories. Pick up the book, It’s Not News, It’s Fark, by Drew Curtis. He does a great job of categorizing fake news into its many ugly manifestations.

One ugly manifestation that I think the media is guilty of all too frequently these days, is that of creating a false equivalent. This is the act of inflating one side of an argument in a false attempt to cover both sides equally. The news media often do this in a lazy attempt appear balanced. Unfortunately, when they do this in a situation in which there really is a right and wrong position, they elevate positions in the social consciousness, that really do not deserve to be given consideration.

This leads me to point my angry finger at NPR. In a recent article, they asked the question,”Are Republicans More Anti-Science Then Democrats?” They could have conducted a poll and asked Republicans and Democrats how old they thought the Earth was. Or they could have asked all sitting US Senators if they accept the theory of evolution as true. They don’t even have to call the Representatives’ offices. Most Senators have already addressed this question on their websites or in old interviews. Instead NPR asks its readers what they think.

Shame on NPR. This is not opinion. This is a question with a factual answer. This should not be NPR’s way of constructing a false equivalent, without being accused of doing so. I challenge NPR to answer their own question. Simply pick a subject such as evolution (which according to everyone in the field is settled science) and see where politicians and pundits stand on the subject.

Face it, we all know what the answer will be, but NPR is too cowardly to report it. They should not avoid the issue by asking its audience’s opinion. They should do their job. Do the research and then report the facts.

Hey NPR, I’ll start it for you. Gallup poll - 60% of Republicans think the world was created 10,000 years ago versus 38% for Democrats. Let’s stop this false equivalency crap now.

Monday, September 26, 2011

(Reuters News) – A team of Vatican scholars said Thursday they had discovered early church manuscripts that REQUIRE priests, cardinals and even the Pope himself to be married -- a finding that could overturn a long-accepted fundamental canon of the Catholic Church.

No, just kidding. Here’s the real story:

(Reuters News) - An international team of scientists said on Thursday they had recorded sub-atomic particles traveling faster than light -- a finding that could overturn one of Einstein's long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe.

That’s the difference between religion and science. If science finds something new they go out of their way to talk about it. Now this new finding hasn’t been substantiated. They certainly haven’t gotten past the first rule of science (according to the movie Altered States) repeat the experiment. They need to get into the sensory deprivation tank a second time and see if they turn all sparkly AGAIN. This might end up being nothing. The math might be wrong and the speed of light might be safe. Or, there might be some other explanation to this phenomenon. This all took place in Italy, so it’s no surprise these super fast neutrinos might have found some illicit way to break the laws of nature. I suspect mafia connections.

But beyond that, if you following this story you’re witnessing without question the single finest characteristic of science. You are seeing why it is lightyears ahead of any other human endeavor and why religion fails every time. Like Copernicus or Galileo - when scientists are presented with new information (no matter how cherished their old beliefs are) scientists change their minds. Or at least the Italian ones do.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Evidence Based News 2

Another letter to NPR:

When confronted with past interviews (that were dead wrong) it would be great, one day, to hear a guest say, “Wow, what was I was thinking?”

On March 14, you had two guests on discussing President Obama’s actions in Libya. Tom Malinowski thought the president’s actions were too-little-too late, while General Wesley Clark thought Obama was drawing us into another war. I wonder if you could have these two gentlemen on again and ask both “experts” how they got it so completely wrong.

It seems to me that there is a serious flaw in news commentary which allows guests with opposing views, to each give their opinion without forcing them to engage and challenge one another. In a format such as this, there is no consequence for either person if he or she is incorrect. It assumes that we, the general public, will simply forget that particular moment in history. In reality, by giving opinions that were basically wrong, these people were greatly complicating an already difficult situation.

When there is a specific controversy that will have a specific outcome in the future, NPR should look at moments such as these as an opportunity. Get guests to agree to come back on the show one year after their predictions to explain themselves. If they are not willing to do so, then NPR should not allow them to broadcast their message to a national audience. A policy such as this would go a long way in helping the field of so called experts shed itself of the overabundance of news analysts who are bad at analyzing the news.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Savannah – America’s Most Haunted City

The old historic structure was built as a hospital on the outskirts of town, to house the victims of the yellow fever epidemic. Afterwards it was turned into as asylum to hold the criminally insane. It became so crowded that they had to build a tall addition to the original structure. After the institution was closed down, passerbys started catching glimpses of a figure in the windows cloaked in a white dress or gown - the spirit of a dead patient perhaps, or a nurse still trapped in the crumbling building?

I just got back from a mini-vacation in Savannah Georgia, voted the most haunted city by the Sy Fy Channel’s Ghost Hunters. Now normally, I would put a lot of stock in a TV channel that dares to spell it’s name in such an avant garde manner, but this time I’m going to have to call shenanigans. Savannah is an enchanting town. And yes, my wife and I spent the first day flying (literally) through the historic district. Standing upright, we floated above the cobblestone roads hovering one foot off the ground, our feet never touching the earth the entire time. But that was only because we spent the extra couple of bucks for the Segway tour.

We also did an evening ghost tour, which was excellent. The tour guide had created an interesting and quite believable Oscar Wilde-like character. He wore a patterned scarf tied around his neck and used a thin umbrella as a walking stick. This character started the night happy, with many glib remarks. But with each story of a ghostly child or a chopped up wife, our guide became more somber. As the tour progressed, he started realizing how horrific the stories, he was telling, really were. By the end, the guide was filled with anxiety and self doubt. He achieved a character arc in an architectural walking tour…very talented.

And what about the haunted hospital? The later addition of the hospital was recently converted into low income housing. “Last year,” said our tour guide,” there were fourteen suicides in that building alone - all by hanging, and all, only occurring on the side that overlooked the original structure.”

As we walking away from the site, I overheard another tour guest say to her boyfriend, “oh, that was probably just coincidence.” It never occurred to this lady that what our escapee from the Garden of Good and Evil was saying was all complete bunk. No, a ghost tour guide would never fabricate a story. After all he was wearing an ascot for God’s sake. People with ascots don’t lie! Boy, that’s good theater.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Problem with the Planet of the Apes Trailer

Ok, let’s say, as a result of a scientific experiment gone array, some monkey becomes super intelligent, (monkeys are apt to do that). And let’s say this particular monkey decides to raise an army of super ape warriors to conquer the human race. That’s fine, happens all the time. I’ll even give you that he probably could get his grubby little hands on some guns. Sure, you can’t buy a gun without a background check but a smart gorilla could probably go to a gun show. As long as he disguises himself wearing jeans and a trucker’s cap and he promises that the guns are only for his personal home collection. The dealers there would give him all the machine guns he wants…no background checks or cooling off period.

My real problem with this trailer is this. Where did all the monkeys come from? If the laboratory was in, say, the heart of New York and an intelligent chimp was able to free every great ape in the tri-state area, what would that be - like seven monkeys?

The other problem I have with this movie is that this story about how the apes take over the world completely kills the message of the original movie. The original Planet of the Apes was one of the films that I chose for my list of Ten Great Humanist Movies. That article appears in the July/August issue of the Humanist. The article was supposed to be positive, so all the reasons I give for choosing that movie are all sunshine and puppy dog tails. The reasons I didn’t include in the article, were all the negative things the original movie said about the human race. Sure, we are rooting for Charlton Heston as he runs from Dr Zaius, but consider the beginning of the film and the many rants Chuck does about how horrible the Human race is. And consider one of the verses from Dr Zaius sacred scrolls,

Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Yeah, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert out of his home, and yours.

I’m a Humanist, but being a Humanist doesn’t just mean you’re a cheerleader for the human race. It’s not “Up With People.” Humanists are also realists. We know that people are capable of great evil as well as good. At the end of the original Planet of the Apes I didn’t think that the apes had anything to do with the downfall of man. Unlike this new movie, I didn’t think it was “us against them.” I felt that we had done it to ourselves. The apes had just come along afterwards and filled the void left by our own self-destruction. The original movie wasn’t another horror story about make believe Frankenstein monsters that looked like monkeys. The original movie’s power was in its precautionary message about us - human beings. The tagline of the movie poster was a reminder. “Somewhere in the universe, there must be something better than man.” It’s not about what we do to the monkeys. It’s about what we do to each other.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Robot Nick talks about the Space Shuttle

It just so happens that the Space Shuttle’s return trajectory takes it directly over my home, here in Orlando.  Each time, it passes overhead, early in the morning, I am suddenly jolted awake by two loud bangs.  The sonic booms rattle the windows of my old house and scare the cat.  On every one of those occasions I smile briefly, roll over in bed and fall back to sleep, content.  I am content not only in knowing that a group of fellow human beings is now once again safe  on mother earth but also content in the knowledge that there is another group of brave people still in space.  Like most Americans, I find immense inspiration in manned space flight.  I believe that the trip to the moon was, hands down, humanities greatest achievement.  I am sorry to see the Shuttle program come to an end, which is why it is hard for me to admit that I also believe that the decision to end the shuttle program was the right thing to do.  Because of this emotional conflict, I will let my robot counterpart, Crank-o-Matic 3000 explain my reasons.  See Crank-o-matic 3000 is just like me, only it lacks sentiment circuits. 

Crank-o-Matic, why do you believe the ending of the Shuttle program is a good thing?

Crank-o-Matic : “BEEP, BEEP*, The United States Space Transportation System (STS) primary mission was to transport and assemble components of the International Space Station in earth orbit. This goal has been achieved. The Shuttle’s nearly 40 year old technology (it was designed in the 60’s) is now highly inefficient for just transporting humans, to and from space, BLURP.

Following WW1 the US government offered a number of financial incentives to private companies to nurture growth in civilian air flight technology. This included awarding private companies contracts for transporting airmail and sponsoring design competitions to fill niche markets. Companies were encouraged to design planes that could fly in freezing weather or land on water. This led directly to today’s modern aviation industry, BING, WHIZZ. The US is now employing this same strategy to spur the space industry and help develop the next generation of space transportation vehicles. History suggests that this is the most effectual way to move unworthy humans beings into space, VERRRR, CLICK*.

Although, an unemotional analysis shows that sending humans into space is highly inefficient for gathering information, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. Compare the scientific achievements of the manned Apollo Program with that of the sexier Voyager probes, REEEERRRRR, CLICK*. While Apollo helped solidify theories concerning the composition, and evolution of earth’s moon, the sweet little Voyager twins racked up countless more discoveries, PING, PING, PING! Those hot little robots gave the first glimpse of Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere with giant hurricane-like storm systems. The probes discovered erupting volcanoes on Lo. They photographed evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the cracked icy crust of Europa and gave us a clear view of the fine structures of Saturn's rings. They photographed geysers erupting from the polar cap of Triton and let’s not forget that Pale Blue Dot photo, YEAH BABY.

All from a mission that was a fraction of the cost of Apollo, with its precious little human cargo, with their pathetic squishy bodies. Zero gravity makes my bones brittle. I can’t breathe in a vacuum. Oh, Gama radiation burns. What a bunch of crybabies! At least now the money that the Shuttle was sucking up will go to some real science, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. WHIRRRRR, KILL ALL HUMANS!”

Ok, I had to turn off Crank-o-Matic 3000. It got a little crazy there. Getting back to my original train of thought, I’m going to miss the Shuttle. Not for its many achievements (The ISS and Hubble alone testify to that) but because of the inspiration which that elegant vehicle generated in each of us. Without the human experience, knowledge alone (as fascinating as it is) is not worth much.

This morning I heard that double boom once again. This time though, instead of a feeling of happiness and contentment, I felt a little pang of sorrow. I know there are still people in space but something is missing. An old friend was saying its last goodbyes. Forgetting all the reason and all the logic, I truly am sorry to see the shuttle go. I’ll miss it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Missed Point

I just saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part deuce. Loved it. It was much better than the last movie, Harry Potter and the Wandering Aimlessly for Two Hours. I’m going to talk specifics about the movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet put your fingers in your ears and sing “La, la la,” for a few minutes.

I just want to make a quick statement about a minor controversy going around concerning Potter and religion. No, I’m not going to address the fear some Christians express that J.K. Rollins books are bad because they contain magic. I’m going to brush that aside as quickly as if I had a flying broom. CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is full of magic and Christians don’t have a problem with that. So I’m calling poppycock on that controversy.

I’m talking about the other popular opinion going around: that Harry Potter himself is a Christ figure because he is willing to sacrifice himself for humanity (or at least for all of Wizard-dum.) On that observation, I’m going to have to say movie analysts are missing the point.

People sacrifice themselves in movies all the time. Consider this scene:

Hero: I’m going in there.

Commander: Are you crazy? Don’t you know it’s suicide!

Hero: Don’t you think I know that? But, I’m the only one with enough muscle attached to my arms to do it. Tell my wife I love her.

It’s not the fact that a character is willing to sacrifice himself or herself, that is important, in a story. It is the person whom the hero is willing to sacrifice himself too. I propose that it is the Sacrificee not the Sacrifer, that is important. In all those movies, Potter included, the hero is willing to die at the hands of the bad guy. You could almost say, that the villain is defined as the villain, because he requires the hero to die before him.

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

Boo, hissss. The fable of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is unique in storytelling, in that, the hero sacrifices himself to the supposed good guy , the almighty – God himself (WTF). I think this says a lot about the Abrahamc religions, and why I do not support them. Doesn’t this odd fact cast God squarely as the guy wearing the black hat, wringing his hands and twirling his mustache, while giving out an evil “Wha, ha, ha” laugh? Am I the only one who thinks this is weird?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ten Great Humanist Films

Check out the the magazine The Humanist for July/August.  They were kind enough to publish two, count them TWO, of my articles.  I wrote Real to Reel, which is a list of my favorite Humanist films.  I also interviewed Andrea Steele, Founder and Executive Director of the Freethought Film Festival, held last month in Tampa.  I hope you enjoy the read.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What would you ask the Dead?

Will I get a raise? Is my boyfriend cheating on me? Should I take that job in Poughkeepsie? I am amused that psychics who claim to talk to the dead seem to restrict their inquiries to such mundane questions. It seems to me that “mediums,” such as John Edward, who supposedly possess the incredible skills of being able to converse with people beyond the grave, are doing humanity a enormous disservice by not asking more significant questions. I’ve been thinking about this and have come up with a few questions (if given the opportunity) I would  ask a dead person.

What’s the temperature there? I know that sounds like a dumb question, but consider the implications for science if it were established that there really was an afterlife. Physics alone would progress by leaps and bounds if given just a little information about the physical properties of another dimension.

Are there atoms or is there magnetism in heaven? Is there any matter at all? Is there gravity in heaven, do balls fall down? How many dimensions are there in heaven? Left/right, forward/backward, up/down; what else is there?

What is the ground like? Is it like soft clouds or green meadows? Is the weather always the same? Does it sometimes rain? Are there regions with different climates in heaven? Is it all Caribbean beaches or is there a sub-Saharan and a polar heaven? Are there hurricanes or blizzards? Can you travel in heaven? How far can you go? Is heaven infinite or does it have borders? If you have gone to the infinite, what is infinity like? How did you get there and how long does it take? Did you fly to infinity or is there some kind of public transportation?

Monday, May 30, 2011

A little fiction for a change - WEB NOIR

The Internet Abuse Recovery Course is an eight step program, designed to get you off the wireless I.V. cold turkey. It is run by Reverend Julius K Tanly, a former social worker and Best Buy computer repair technician. It was a muggy evening in August and the meeting was being held in the basement of the 127th street Community Center. I was there to satisfy a court order in connection with a chat room etiquette infraction. As I waited for the meeting to get started I surveyed the other social defects around me. I’ve seen all these types before.

Sure, there were the hackers and the scam artists (those are just common criminals) but there were also the real deviants - the cretins whose pictures you see in the center square of the Wal-Mart Bingo, websites.

Hovering next to the doughnuts, was a guy who can’t stop posting LOL cat photos. I spotted him first, because he had maine coon hair stuck to his 5 o’clock shadow and his clothes smelled heavily of urine. Like all the people of his ilk, his forearms and face was covered in small scratches from him trying to wrestle some poor tabby into a reindeer outfit. That alone wasn’t enough to land him here, but the missing eye told me he was not only a threat to cats but to himself as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Harold Camping Might Just Be a Genius

NPR, Washington Post, CBS News, Time Magazine, this guy is getting a lot of press. If I were Harold Camping, let me tell you what I would do. (If you don’t know, Harold Camping is the guy behind all those billboards that say the world will be ending on May 21st.) If I were Harold, I would disappear on the 21st, lay low, check into a hotel under another name or go sleep in an RV someplace where I would not be identified. Then about two weeks later, I would just pop up on my Family Radio show and say I’ve been to heaven. That’s right, I would say, I have seen the almighty himself, and he has sent me back to deliver wisdom and knowledge to you, the unworthy and smelly masses. If Camping did that, he would be an instant messiah.

It wouldn’t matter if most people wouldn’t believe him. He would still increase his following by about a thousand percent. He wouldn’t even have to be careful about his disappearance. If later, let’s say, some investigative reporter where to figure out where he had been for the last two weeks, it wouldn’t matter. His followers (old and new) would just think the reporter was lying. We Skeptics are all thinking Camping is crazy, daft, loopy, a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. But if he did that – we’re not talking picnic – we’re talking Ringling Both. Barnum & Bailey Circus, with Harold Camping as the ringmaster.

Ok, so I’ll admit it. I’ve been reading too many conspiracy blogs again. That probably won’t happen. Camping doesn’t look that smart. But I’ll tell you what will happen. On May 21st, A few people will be reported to the police as having gone missing (as happens every day). Some religious group someplace is going to latch onto those reports and say those people were raptured and a brand new circus will come to town. And if you think believers wouldn’t do that because it would imply that they themselves had not been raptured, don’t worry they will say this was just round one. The real rapture is coming soon. Send in the clowns.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Proof of Life After Death

I’ve always said that if presented with solid evidence for the supernatural, I would change my mind. My brother-in-law, who I care about very much, has been having health problems. Recently he had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. I received reports from his children throughout the day. The doctors requested he stay overnight for observation. As I went to bed that evening, his condition weighed heavily on my mind.

At around 2 o’clock I woke with an uneasy feeling. Unable to fall back to sleep, I decided to get up and get a glass of water. When I walked into the living room, I was startled by a shadow in the dark room. This might sound contrived but what followed changed my view of the entire world. I turned on the light and sitting on the couch in a hospital gown was my brother-in-law. I know, this sounds like a story, but this really did happen to me. He sat there silent. I asked him what he was doing there. He did not answer. He didn’t have to. I knew what had happened.

I put my hand on his shoulder half to console him, half to convince myself that this was all real. He was solid, no shadow, no trick of the eye. This was real. He looked up at me expressionless. But I still could not trust myself so I called into the bedroom to my wife. Dreary eyed she walked into the living room. She too saw what I saw. She too was shocked. Here, sitting in my living room was solid proof of an life after death. I was wrong. This changes everything. So what should I do?

First, I got a piece of paper and pen out of the drawer and handed it to my specter. He looked at the two items with confusion. “I have to establish that it’s really you. Please write your name, the date you were born and your social security number. And sign it.” As I moved into the office to grab a camera, I yelled , “Keep watching him. Is he writing?” My wife said he was. I quickly returned with a camera. To my relief, the visitor poltergeist was still there. I turned the camera on. A small red blinking light indicating the flash was charging. Damn, I don’t want to waste a second. “Look, I’m going to have to prove the date somehow.” He looked up at me still confused and held the pad and pen out for me. “I know, come into the office. I can get a picture of you next to the computer. If I take a close shot, people will be able to make out the date and time on the monitor. Oh, I can also turn on the webcam. This is great.” Everything was all going perfectly. It was at that moment that I looked down at the pad and understood fully the true meaning of this entire event.

I could not read any of the writing on the paper. There written on the pad, in my brother-in-laws handwriting, was gibberish. I could not make out any of it. It was letters mixed with numbers, and even some symbols it did not recognize.

I remember hearing someplace that researchers discovered that the parts of your brain, that help you read, are not activated while you are asleep. So, if you want to figure out if you are dreaming, try to read some printed texts from a book or something writing on a pad. I couldn’t read what was on the pad. This was all a dream, all of it.

This explained why my wife was now growing bored with what was happening and announced she was going to feed the dogs on the roof. We don’t have dogs. It would also explain why all the living room furniture, with the exception of the couch that the ghost was sitting on, was outside on our front lawn.

As I stated previously, this really did happen. I really did have this dream. My brother-in-law is fine and out of the hospital now (thank goodness). But there are some issues that this entire episode brings up.

First you might have considered me callous for the way I acted after supposedly learning about my brother-in-laws death. But think about it for a second. Sitting in front of me was proof of life after death. Why wouldn’t I be happy? For him, for me, for the entire world, this would be great news.

Second, for people who accuse Skeptics of being closed minded consider how quickly (in my dream) I changed my mind. The second I was presented with solid evidence of a position contrary to my own,(for that brief moment) I reversed my entire position, even to the point of preparing to become an advocate for this new world view. Truth is what is important, not a position. I only hope that I would act the same way in real life.

Third, consider how many people have dreams like this when they are worried about a relative? Since the worse did not happen (thankfully) most people wouldn’t think twice about this type of dream. The next morning, they would just forget about it. But, if something bad did occur then the average person would consider this type of dream proof of ghosts or spirits. And it does not have to happen the evening of the death. The dream could happen days, weeks, months or even years later and people would still consider it solid proof that they had been visited by a ghost. This is what happens - people get sick, and relatives naturally worry. People die and relatives dream about the people they care about. This is exactly how you get stories of visiting ghosts. Again, thank goodness nothing even close to that happened in this case, but this happens all the time.

Fourth, (and I think most importantly) this entire incidence illustrates how important it is to have a subscription to a newspaper. Yes, in this age of digital media, having an old fashioned ink and print daily delivered to your door, is still crucial. Taking a picture of a ghost next to a computer screen would have proved nothing. Anyone could have faked that computer readout; but, getting the picture of the ghost holding up that day’s newspaper, now that would have been something.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Certificate of Live Birth - or - It Must Be True Because It's on the Internet

I’ve been working some long hours this month so I didn’t even remember when my birthday came around. On the day, I couldn't even be sure it was my birthday; because you see, like our president, I to do not have a birth certificate. I only have a Certificate of Live Birth issued by the state in which I was born. What good is that? I was confused and sad.  But then I turned on my computer and saw all the birthday wishes I had on my Facebook page. Now I am certain and overjoyed.  IT REALY WAS MY BIRTHDAY! THANK YOU ALL

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How Movie Trailers Work

I apologize for missing last week’s post.  Life just got really needy suddenly - texting  me all the time, showing up at my house without calling first.  I finally just had to set some boundaries.   I promise I will get back to being more regular with my writing in the future.  For now, here is a little something that you might like.  It’s sure to win an Academy Award.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wouldn’t it be great if there was something called Science Based News

I emailed this letter to NPR after hearing this story in which one guy (Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch) was criticizing President Barack Obama for acting to slowly in the Libyan Crisis, while another guy (retired General Wesley Clark) criticized him for taking any action at all.

Dear NPR,
It seems to me that there is a serious flaw in news commentary in which you allow two guests with opposite views to each give their opinion without forcing them to engage and challenge one another. In this format there is no consequence for either person if he is incorrect. Most likely, a year from now, one (or both) of these men will be proven wrong. But unfortunately, also one year from now, it will have been forgotten that at this particular moment in history, one of these men is greatly complicating the situation by giving an opinion that is basically ignorant.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Donate - Because She's Crazy

By now you have all seen this video.  It's been all over the Humanist and Atheist websites.  I don't know if this woman is a troll or really believes what she is saying but I know how something good can come of it.  If you hate everything this monster stands for, then I can't think of a better reason to donate to help Japan. Click on the button I created to donate to the Nonbelievers Giving Aid - Disaster Relief Fund set up by the  The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Here is the video if you haven't seen it.  aaagh!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Atheist’s Mom

Last week my little old mom told me how much she was looking forward seeing the upcoming Oscar Awards on TV. When I asked her which film she thought would win, she responded “The English Patient.” I told her I didn’t think that movie was nominated this year. She said, “Oh, you know… the English one, with the wizard?”

I searched my memory and made the connection.
“You mean the King’s Speech?” I said. (Michael Gambon plays George the V in King’s Speech and Dumbledore in the Potter films.)

“Yeah, that’s the one. That’s a good one.” Of course, she hasn’t seen either movie yet but that’s not important. She patted me on the head affectionately.

Knowing the above makes the following exchange less shocking but I still find it interesting. I was driving my wife and mom to the store when the subject of Atheism came up. My wife has no choice but to know what I think of religion (I feel so sorry for her sometimes), but she did not know my mother’s position on the subject. She asked my mother if she was also an Atheist. My mother said, “oh, no. Those people are so hateful.”

At first I was stunned to hear such a strong statement from my little old mom but some additional probing put it all into perspective. “How may Atheists have you met?” I asked her. She said that she has never met any Atheists in person. That’s when I reminded her that her son, husband, and granddaughter were all Atheists.

“Oh yeh, I forgot. But you three are nice.” And she patted me on the head again.

So, of all the Atheists that she personally knows, 100% are nice, and yet in her mind, Atheist are hateful. The battle that we are fighting isn’t just uphill. The hill is constantly being bulldozed on top of us. Still, I think I’m going to try to get that movie for my mom for her to watch, you know, the English one, with the wizard, that won the Academy Award.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Slow Motion Wobbly Things

I am crazy busy this week so here is a slow motion video of some stuff bouncing off gelatin.

and here is a cupcake cannon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Old Bowie song

This isn’t an old song by David Bowie.  It’s an old song about David Bowie (in outer space) by Flight of the Conchords.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Day Quiz: name the sexy robots

Being a Sci Fi geek can be lonely, so for Valentine’s Day here’s a little quiz.. Can you name these sexy robots?

There is a theory, in robotics, called the “Uncanny Valley,"  which states that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like real humans, it causes a response of revulsion among people.  We Humans have no problem if  the robot looks like a mechanical device, as in the case of Robby from Forbidden Planet.  But if the machine gets too real, it frightens us. when you start to cross the uncanny valley you must go all the way across.  You can’t stop in the middle. Remember how creepy Polar Express was. The facsimile HAS to be perfect or it is horrific.

So here is your quiz.  Can you name what shows these “machines” are from.  I am not going to make it easy, so don’t expect me to include Seven from Battlestar Galactica.  I know what you are saying, “these girls don’t look like automatons.” But don’t be fooled.  If you look deep into their eyes, you can always tell. 
A) Julie Newmar as Rhoda's (AF709) from the series My Living Doll (1964-1965)
B) Pamela Gidley From Cherry 2000 (1987)
C) Francesca from Mad Monster Party (1967)
D) Julie Christie as Andromeda from the BBC series A for Andromeda (1961)
E) Dee Hartford in the Lost in Space episode, The Android Machine (1966)
F) Ann Randall as the servant girl from West World (1973)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vlad the Astrophysicist

Peter Mulvey has a serene voice, and a poetic way of explaining why, after all these years of looking, we have still not discovered intelligent life in the universe…and he plays a great guitar.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Life After the Wardrobe Malfunction

this is how everyone dresses now copyAs I write this, in the year 7 AWM (after wardrobe malfunction), the terrain that stretches before me is a scorched burned-out wasteland. We should have listened to the conservative pundits on the TV and radio. When they said that “the malfunction” would destroy society, we mocked them. When they described it as a Grotesque peep show, we labeled it a manufactroversy. We laughed, calling it The Boob Bomb and Nipplegate. We should have heeded their warnings. Now it’s too late. Now in hindsight, we see how right the conservatives actually were. Like the lone lookout on the bow of the titanic, begging the captain to slow down. He alone knew that soon the cloak of night would be ripped away to reveal the towering, dark, silhouette of destruction, which was Janet Jackson’s breast.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cats in Space

Do you believe that in the far off future, cats will don pressure suits and traverse the great void of space? They will become brave explorers, piercing the haunting unknowns of the universe. And with their catnip powered spacecraft, they will combat the evil Mouse Insurgent, working to bring peace to the Interplanetary Cat Federation….

Am I the only one who thinks about these things?


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To Bloggers Everywhere – You Might Be Giants

They wouldn’t understand a word we say, so we’ll scratch it all down into the clay, half believing there will sometime come a day, someone gives a damn, maybe when the concrete has crumbled to sand.

I love They Might Be Giants so I thought I might start out the New Year with their video “The Mesopotamians.” For all my fellow bloggers, I thought I would counter the depressing message in the song with a few words about the “Giants” mentioned in the lyrics.

Sargon - While only a baby, his high priestess mother placed him in a basket of rushes and cast him adrift in a river (sound familiar, this was way before Charlton Heston). Found and raised by a court gardener, he rose in the royal household to become king. He reigned from 2270 to 2215 BCE and is sometimes regarded as the first person in recorded history to create a multiethnic, centrally ruled empire. Sargon's vast empire is known to have extended from Elam to the Mediterranean Sea, including Mesopotamia, parts of modern-day Iran and Syria,

Hammurabi - 1792 to 1750 BCE, is known for the set of laws called Hammurabi's Code, one of the first written code of law in recorded history. These laws were written on a stone tablet standing over eight feet tall and were actually found by archeologists in 1901. They contain one of the earliest examples of the idea of presumption of innocence, and also suggest that the accused and accuser must have the opportunity to provide evidence. Because of his reputation as a lawgiver, Hammurabi's image is depicted on a marble bas-relief in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ashurbanipal - He established the Library of Ashurbanipal, the first systematically organized library in the ancient Middle East, which survives in part today at Nineveh. There have been over 30,000 clay tablets uncovered in the library including hymns and prayers, medical, mathematical, and astrological texts. Reigning Mesopotamia from 668 to 627 BCE, he was the last great king of the first real empire in recorded history. In his time, Ashurbanipal was known as the "King of the Universe."

Gilgamesh ruled around 2500 BC. He is the central character in the aptly named “Epic of Gilgamesh." The latter part of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh's reaction to his friend’s death, which takes him on a quest for immortality. Ultimately the poignant words addressed to Gilgamesh in the midst of his quest foreshadow the end result: "The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping."

I don’t think the guy talking to Gilgamesh was correct on this point. I think, if you scratch it all down into the clay (for those of us who give a damn) maybe you do get to live forever.   .

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top Ten GENERIC News Stories for 2010, 2011, 2012…

1) Drunk (or high) celebrity had a meltdown this year outside his home (restaurant, nightclub, hotel room). Onlookers were shocked (not surprised) to hear the beloved movie (TV, reality show)star, screaming curses and tossing racial slurs (shoes) at his wife (girl friend, a male prostitute). Spokesperson for the celebrity said that the cause of the incident stemmed from problems the star was having with the dosage of his medication. The celebrity has checked into rehab and is in the processes of a complete lifestyle overhaul.

2) The country was riveted as boy (dog, miners) were successfully rescued from a well (mineshaft, hot air balloon). Rescuers toiled with shovels (skyhooks) around the clock, as time was quickly running out. Everyone cheered as the boy (dog, miners) was pulled up (lowered down) to safety. He (they) thanked God for being rescued.

3) Think-tank estimates that countless hours of productivity were lost this year as millions tuned in to watch the sporting event (trial) of the century. Many watched at the office or merely stayed home from work as the playoffs (jury selection) dragged on for days. The victory (verdict) turned out to be an unprecedented upset. Cities experienced two days of rioting afterwards.

4) Terrible natural disaster in Haiti, (the Philippines, New Orleans) causes world to rethink their emergency preparedness. This quickly passes as news cycle redirects our attention to newest movie (Ipod, celebrity meltdown).

5) As the war in Afghanistan (Iraqi, Vietnam, Korea) drags on president Obama (Nixon, Kennedy) vows to bring the troops home in about 18 months. Critics of the President say that time tables for withdrawal just emboldens our enemies, while supporters of the President say it is not soon enough.

6) Scientist announce a breakthrough in genetics (nanotechnology, super conductors) giving us new insights into how the universe (magnets) work. Although scientists caution that any practical application of this technology is still months (years, decades) away news media reports this new technology could eventually lead to a cancer cure (free energy, invisibility cloak).

7) The economy was one of the top stories of the year, as the recession (recovery) was slower (faster) than expected. As Liberals called for more spending in new industries, Conservatives called for lower taxes and increased military spending, as the only way to speed the recovery (slow the overheated economy, fight tooth decay).

8) Something horrible happened in the Middle East. Many people died.

9) The nation split down party lines as newest controversy involving immigration (gay rights, daylight savings time). Conservatives balked at the new ideas, which they consider to be blatantly anti- family (Christian, free market, hunting,). Liberals failed to clearly present their side of the issue, but struggled to do so anyway, forgetting that ten years from now the Conservatives will whole hardily accept the new idea as one of the foundations of American values.

10) New technological gadget will revolutionize the way we communicate (watch TV, sleep, make toast). The new device, introduced by Apple (Apple, Apple) changes the way humans receive (process, store, trade, fold) information (bread). The first people to buy the computer (phone, wrist breakfast maker) say the device works perfectly but needed to have a built in camera, which apple says will definitely be included in the next version’s design.