Wednesday, February 23, 2005

life after surgery

repair of a partially shredded right bicep muscle - cut off the bad part and reattach- plus slice and dice on my right ring finger - trigger finger syndrome - has me slowly getting back to normal.

i'm getting everything done with my left arm and hand - so away with capital letters for now - also anything fancy.

sitting on the sofa over the weekend with my march issue of scientific american magazine and the tube turned on to a three day book tv session gave me plenty to think about.

the articles on common misconceptions about big bang cosmology and about new analyses of the huge amount of data related to global ice age cycles, natural greenhouse gas cycles, and the prevention of new ice age by the invention of agriculture were the creme de la creme.

also enjoyed the interview with michael mann - u of va - who has been under continual attack since his alarming hockey stick plot of global deviations from expected global average temps. you would enjoy his blog site at .

the highlight of the long book tv weekend was sam harris talking about his book - the end of faith - religion, terror, and the future of reason. check out his website at

harris was talking in front of an evening audience at a synagogue in irvine, ca - a very progressive audience and yet harris pointed out that religious moderates are part of the problem - since their token appreciation for parts of their holy books of choice undercuts their ability to confront the really crazy conclusions which fundamentalists of every stripe get from their holy book of choice.

harris' critique of fundamentalist islam, and islam in general, is devastating. if you are a true believer in the koran, the only sure way to spend eternity in paradise is to kill an infidel - ie someone who is not a true believer in the koran.

in an interview on the website, harris responds to a number of questions about his concerns -this is only a sample to whet your interest.

6. But isn’t our conflict just with Muslim fundamentalists?

The distinction between “fundamentalists” and “moderates” has not really emerged in the Muslim world. Most Muslims are “fundamentalist” in the sense that they really appear to believe that the Koran is the literal and inerrant word of God. In any case, Islamic fundamentalism is only a problem for us because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem for us. There is a pervasive piece of wishful thinking circulating among religious moderates, and it could get a lot of us killed. The idea is that all religions, at their core, teach the same thing. This is myth. The principal tenet of Jainism is non-harming. Observant Jains will literally not harm a fly. Fundamentalist Jainism and fundamentalist Islam do not have the same consequences, neither logically nor behaviorally. Read the Koran. Osama bin Laden is playing it more or less by the book. Anyone who says that there is no basis for his worldview in the doctrine of Islam is either dangerously ignorant or just dangerous.

We must hope that the Muslim world is full of moderates who abhor the worldview of Osama bin Laden. But where are they? We cannot just assume that they exist. And the horrible truth is that if they do exist, they will be easily marginalized by their coreligionists.

7. But we’ve all seen moderate Muslims in the news, disavowing the actions of Islamic militants.

Have we? We’ve seen the occasional Muslim disavow the actions of Osama bin Laden, saying things like “Islam is a religion of peace,” but this is not a sign of Muslim moderation. We’ll know there are Muslim moderates in this world when they get on television and say things like: “There is much in the doctrine of Islam that should not be taken literally. It is, for instance, unacceptable to believe that people can get into Paradise by killing infidels and dying in the process. In fact, we’re not even sure Paradise exists. Nor are we sure that the Koran was written by the Creator of the universe. The Koran is an ancient book of religious wisdom, some of it applies to our modern circumstance and some of it does not.” Find a Muslim who can talk this way, and you will have found a Muslim moderate. You will also have found someone who is guilty of blasphemy and liable to be killed in almost any Muslim community on this earth. This is the problem with Islam.

8. This is all pretty inflammatory.

Yes. There really is a deal-breaker lurking here, and there is no use denying it. We should all be genuinely shaken by the knowledge that an entire civilization appears to think that the Koran is the wisest book ever written. How we have a conversation with 1.3 billion people about the dangerousness and illegitimacy of their core beliefs is a problem for which there may be no easy answer. But we must come to terms with the fact that the spread of technology has moved us to a crisis point. There is no possibility at all of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime that has acquired long-range nuclear weapons. More importantly, moderate Muslims, wherever they are, must come to terms with this. And they must find some way of marginalizing and containing the cult of death and martyrdom that has emerged in the Muslim world.

9. But some would say that it is not religion, but history, that explains Muslim—and specifically Arab—intolerance. Doesn’t the Israeli occupation play a role here?

You cannot deny that the Israeli occupation is at least part of the problem. The Israelis settlers are themselves religious extremists who are putting us all in danger. Their notion of God as some omniscient real-estate broker is one of the principal sources of conflict between the West and Islam. But anyone who thinks western or Israeli imperialism solves the riddle of Muslim violence must explain why we don’t see Tibetan suicide bombers killing Chinese children. The Tibetans have suffered every bit as much as the Palestinians. Over a million of them died as a direct result of the Chinese occupation of their country. Where are the Tibetan suicide bombers? Where is their cult of martyrdom? Where are the throngs of Tibetans seething with hatred, calling for the deaths of the Chinese? They are not likely to exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? Religion.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Faith in Immortality



Where does the desire for immortality (e.g., living eternally with Jesus in Heaven ) come from? My former Cal State Long Beach Physics Department colleague, Larry Lerner, had a great quote on his office wall which provides a good answer. This is a translation of the ideas of the philosopher Epicurus:

Faith in immortality was born of the greed of unsatisfied people who make unwise use of the time that nature has allotted us.

But the wise man finds his life span sufficient to complete the full circle of attainable pleasures, and when the time of death comes, he will leave the table satisfied, freeing a place for other guests.

For the wise man, one human life is sufficient, and a stupid man will not know what to do with eternity.



Friday, February 04, 2005

Justice Scalia: "A Fool for Christ"

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia is a serious contender for the position of Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Scalia is a champion of the "original meaning" of the U.S. constitution, and is a champion of the essentially religious (esp. Judeo-Christian) nature of our culture. For these and other reasons, he is regularly criticized by the liberal media and progressives.

Scalia seems to enjoy the scrutiny, and his visits and talks around the country are good bets for memorable quotes. The Village Voice's Mondo Washington has a brief summary of a Scalia talk at a Knights of Columbus event in Louisiana.


Mondo Washington
February 1st, 2005 12:21 PM
James Ridgeway, Nicole Duarte and David Botti

Scalia stumps for virgin birth

Thanks to a resurgence of interest in fundamentalist strains of Christianity, the realm of politics is being refreshed from any number of unexpected sources. In addition to such standard topics as the meaning of Israel in the end-times and ferreting out the Antichrist, there is fierce academic debate over God's role in creating the Grand Canyon.

Recently Justice Antonin Scalia, running neck and neck with fellow justice Clarence Thomas to become chief justice, jumped into the fray. In Baton Rouge for a Knights of Columbus shindig, Scalia took a moment to come to the defense of virgin birth. Noting that people widely mock such traditional beliefs, Scalia praised "traditional Catholics" who stand up for their faith, noting that "intellect and reason need not be laid aside for religion."

"It is not irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain," said the justice. "There is something wrong with rejecting, a priori, the existence of miracles.

"If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."


A more complete account of the talk is provided by the Advocate on line site:

Scalia: Faithful live for Christ

Supreme Court justice urges Christians to live fearlessly

Advocate staff writer

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday that people of faith should not fear being viewed by "educated circles" as "fools for Christ."

The justice -- in Baton Rouge to address the Knights of Columbus Council 969 centennial celebration without charging a fee -- told a largely Roman Catholic crowd of 350 at the Holiday Inn Select that there's nothing wrong with "traditional Christianity."

"To believe in traditional Christianity is something else," Scalia said. "For the son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe that he rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous. To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell?

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed."

Scalia praised "traditional Catholics" who say the rosary, go on pilgrimages, kneel during the Eucharist and "follow religiously the teaching of the pope," adding that "intellect and reason need not be laid aside for religion. It is not irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain. There is something wrong with rejecting a priori (deductively) the existence of miracles."

The outspoken conservative justice -- known for his views on religion in America -- didn't shy from them during his visit to south Louisiana Saturday. He didn't discuss any specific issues before the high court, but did tell those in attendance they had "no greater model" for their faith than St. Thomas More.

The Catholic martyr and considered the patron saint of lawyers, repudiated Martin Luther and refused to endorse King Henry VIII's plan to divorce Katherine of Aragon or recognize the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. More was found guilty of treason and beheaded in 1535.

"I find it hard to understand people who revere Thomas More but who themselves selectively oppose the teachings of the pope," said Scalia, widely cited as a potential nominee for the position of chief justice when William Rehnquist leaves the bench.

"If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

President Ronald Reagan named Scalia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982. Four years later, Scalia was nominated and unanimously confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, taking the seat vacated when was elevated to the court's top post.

The Catholic justice -- raised in the New York City Borough of Queens, and the father of nine children, one of them a priest -- has become an anti-abortion hero to many in the American political right and a leading conservative voice on the court.

He has described himself as an "originalist," following the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, rather than interpreting it to reflect the changing times.

In November, while speaking to an interfaith conference at a Manhattan synagogue, Scalia made headlines by saying that a religion-neutral government does not fit with an America that reflects belief in God in everything from its money to its military.

More than a year ago, he removed himself from the Supreme Court's review of whether "under God" should be in the Pledge of Allegiance after mentioning the case in a speech and complaining that courts are stripping God from public life.

Last year, Scalia cast one of two dissenting votes in a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling that states may deny taxpayer-funded scholarships to divinity students. And in 2000, he stood with a majority of the court in upholding the constitutionality of taxpayer funding for parochial school materials in a Jefferson Parish case.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Wine Selection for Seniors

As a special service for our senior readers/viewers, I am passing on an ad for a fascinating new product from California:


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Warning Label: Attatch to All Bibles

Given the attempts by Christian fundamentalists to attach warning labels to school books which deal with biology, Bob Park (What's New: Friday, Jan 28, 2005)
suggests that all Bibles should be similarly labeled:
“This book contains religious stories regarding the origin of living things. The stories are theories, not facts. They are unproven, unprovable and in some cases totally impossible. This material should be approached with an open mind, and a critical eye towards logic and believability.”