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21 Oct 21:37


by PZ Myers

Well duh…
I mean obviously none of the starving people in the world are thinking “I want food” with enough conviction.
And clearly nobody facing a fatal disease or a potential murderer is thinking “I don’t want to die!” firmly enough.
And it’s absolutely self-evident that those of us thinking “Would all you raving idiots please stop promoting such bullshit” aren’t doing so with our whole heart.
I mean, really. All it takes is to truly want things. Put them out there into the universe. Can’t you see that?


I’m giving an exam on Friday, so I’ve offered the students extended office hours today and Thursday, so that they can stop by and get any questions answered. Many hours of office hours. Hours in which I cannot leave. So I’m noodling about on the internet a bit, because of course none of my students have come by, and I run across this little article about Oprah Winfrey, and her new project, a show about Belief. “Oh god,” I thought, “please let a student come by to ask me lots of questions. Even to offer lots of excuses. Anything to prevent me from reading any of this.” But no students came by.

There is no god.

Free of any responsibility or obligation, my eyeballs involuntarily swiveled to the open page, and my brain slurped down the anecdote Winfrey offered. I couldn’t help myself. I read everything. I can’t not read something. I’m like a rat, who eats but has no emesis reflex, so the toxin just enters and simmers there, in my head, making my consciousness regret ever waking.

One day I was at my farm in Indiana. It was a rainy day and I was thinking, “Gee, I sure would like some tomato soup.” Soon after, the caretaker who lived across the street came in with a pot of tomato soup. I asked her: “What made you do that?” She said: “Well, honey, I had these tomatoes. So I thought maybe you’d like some tomato soup.” So I was like, Wow, if you can get tomato soup like that, what else is possible? What else can I manifest? So I started trying it with other things. I have seen it happen over and over and over again. You control a lot by your thoughts.


“I have just consumed poison,” my brain howled, “and I cannot vomit it out.” It writhed in my skull, chasing its tail and slavering frothy drool, desperate to end the agony eating away inside it. How can she believe this? How can someone so deluded be worth umpty-billion dollars?

My brain squirmed over this for a while. I could feel my neurons melting, dripping and pooling in a little puddle of sad lipids at the base of my cranium.

And then I had a thought.

I would like some tomato soup, I thought.

I had a banana for breakfast (wait, did I? I think I forgot to have breakfast) and skipped lunch and it’s late in the afternoon and I’m trapped here in my office and boy am I hungry and a nice bowl of hot tomato soup sure would taste great right now, with lots of little oyster crackers and maybe a glass of milk on the side.

Gee, that sure would be nice.

And then I thought, no, even better, I would like some French onion soup. I would chop up a big onion — no, two, I would share — and caramelize it and simmer it in a big pot with some spices, and then I would serve it with some cheese and a baguette and a nice wine, and it would be delicious. I need this. I deserve this. OK, the tomato soup would be fine, too. See, I’m a reasonable man. I’ve given the universe alternatives. My demands are so simple and inexpensive and easy, and I allow a whole hierarchy of choices that would all make me equally happy.

Right now, my brain wants nothing but soup. It can think of nothing but soup. I am a focused node of desire, and I want nothing but soup.



You don’t have to bring the cash to my office, Oprah. You can just mail me the check, sometime in the next week or two.

See, I’m reasonable.


Now my office hours are over. I can go home.

Maybe I should make some soup.

29 Apr 21:07

Once More, With Feeling

by Jim Wright



I've gotten a lot of mail on Baltimore.

Why haven't you said anything? When are you going to weigh in on this? Do you not care?

Baltimore is burning and why haven’t I said anything?

You don't think there’s been enough self-serving gratuitous hand wringing, chest beating, and dick waggling on this subject?


Because every network, every pundit, every politician has managed to find a way to profit from this latest round of violence. Every single one.

Before that, though, not one of them ever mentioned Baltimore. Not even me. Nobody gives a shit about Baltimore – not even Martin O'Malley and he used to run the place. But suddenly every media outlet has a truck in Baltimore, live on the scene and streaming the pictures into every living room in glorious High Definition and there you are, on the bloody mean streets of Baltimore.

Every presidential hopeful has something to say about Baltimore.

Every Senator and every Representative knows who to blame for Baltimore.

Every pundit is an authority on Baltimore.

And every American has picked a side in Baltimore.

And so, what? I should make some hay in Baltimore too? Sure, why shouldn’t I pander for donations and page views and "likes" built on the pain and misery of others?

So, what is it exactly that you'd like me to say?

I mean, what is there left to say?


You're maybe expecting some pithy observation? Some special insight, right? Sorry, I'm fresh out.


We all, every single one of us whether we admit it or not, we all know what the deal is in Baltimore.

It's the same all over America.

It’s the same all over the world in fact.

When people have nothing left to lose, when rage and hopelessness are the norm, when violence and poverty have become birthrights, when systematic disenfranchisement is the order of the day, then riot and destruction are always only seconds away. Always.

What we forget is this: When people have nothing left to lose, then the only thing left to them is rage.

You've seen this how many times in your life? How many times throughout history? Here and abroad? Opportunists who inevitably turn peaceful protest to violence. Faceless police, machine-like in armor and shields. Riot and mayhem. Soldiers in the streets. Fire, shattered windows, blood, and the air dense with the fog of gas?

And you're surprised, shocked, how?

You look at the images on your screen and you see exactly what you want to see, confirmation of whatever terrors keep you up afraid in the night. The politicians and the media, left and right and lost in the middle, feed you whatever you want to hear.

We’ve seen this same, exact, scenario played out how many times? Frankly, I’m only surprised that it happens as infrequently as it does in America, that’s a luxury unknown for many outside our borders.

But the thing is this: You know how to solve this problem.

You know what the answers are, we all do, even those of us currently determined not to admit it.

Oh we certainly do: equality, justice, liberty, humanity, compassion, education, investment, opportunity, access, community, shared history, shared dreams, shared purpose, belonging, pride, acceptance, self worth, respect.

Those are what make up a stable civilization.

Those are the things that keep people from riot and rage.

Those are the things that hold civilization together and drive it forward.

But those things do not exist in a vacuum.

It’s not enough to tell others to pick themselves up.

It’s not enough to to yell, “get a job, have some pride, stop lighting shit on fire, you stupid lazy fuckers!”

You can not bootstrap from nothing to everything.

Civilization, society, they don't spring whole cloth from parched soil, they require effort. A healthy civilization, one that doesn’t go around lighting itself on fire, well, that requires we make good on the promise of our founders: life, liberty, and justice for all. Along with equality, humanity, compassion, tolerance, solid education, investment, opportunity, access, community, shared history and shared dreams and a shared purpose, a sense of belonging and ownership – only then will you see pride in self and respect for others replace rage.

But civilization is hard.

If it was easy, if those things listed above were easy, then they would be the human condition.

But it is injustice and intolerance and rage that are the norm instead.

Civilization has to be built from the ground up, nurtured, encouraged, protected, watched over, managed.

It's much easier to ignore the problem.

It’s far far easier to blame complex problems on simple things, race, drugs, ideology, religion, money.  It makes for a better sound bite. It tells us that it’s not our fault nor our responsibility. It’s them, those stupid lazy fuckers, if they’d just get a job and stop lighting shit on fire, pull up their pants and take some pride in themselves…

Like New York and Berkeley, like Ferguson, like Brooklyn, like Anaheim, like Oakland, and like a thousand other moments of rage before, Baltimore will soon be forgotten.

And we’ll go on as before. Eyes averted, pretending there’s nothing wrong.

But down underneath? We all know, all of us, what needs to be done.

But we will not do it.

And tomorrow another city will burn.

21 Feb 01:02

The Telltale Heart Of History Beats For YOU

by Jim Wright

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”
Winston Churchill


Obama doesn’t love America.

Not like you and me.

"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."

I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe President Obama loves America. So says Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, failed presidential hopeful, and lover of America.

Rudy says that Barack Obama doesn’t love America. Obama doesn’t love you and he doesn’t love me. Obama, see, he’s not like us, not like real Americans. Obama wasn’t brought up the way we were brought up, imbued with mad love for our country.

Giuliani made those remarks at a conservative New York fund raising event for presidential hopeful Scott Walker.

And nobody, not one person in the audience, challenged that assertion.

Obama doesn’t love America the way we do.

When asked by the press to clarify his comments, Giuliani explained,

"He's a patriot, I'm sure. What I'm saying is that, in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things I used to hear Bill Clinton say, about how much he loves America. I do hear him criticize America much more often than other American presidents."

Obama is a patriot, Giuliani admits, sure. But different. Not like Reagan. Not like Clinton. Not like us.

That’s what plantation owners used to say when they sold black children away from their parents, when they broke up families: they’re not like us, they don’t love their kids like we do.

That’s what we used to say when we sought our Manifest Destiny across the Great Plains. We’re special. Indians? They don’t love America like we do. They can’t love their kids or their wives or their god like we love ours. They can’t, they’re savages.

That’s what we used to say when we burned down villages in Korea and Vietnam, hey don’t feel sorry for them, they don’t feel emotions the way we do. That’s what we say about Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t feel pain or loss, they’re not the same as us, they can’t love their kids or their spouses or their country like we do.

That’s what we used to say when women wanted to vote. Hey, god love ‘em but they just don’t think like we do. They’re not like us, like real Americans. 

That’s what we say now about gay people. Why do they want to get married? They can’t love each other like we do, not really.

And Obama? Well, he can’t love America the way Rudy Giuliani and his wealthy white Wall Street friends do.

And this idea, that “they” can’t love the way we do, is such an accepted idea Rudy Giuliani is comfortable saying so, out loud, in public, on the record.

They don’t love America. Not like us.

Giuliani was quick to point out that when he says Obama isn’t like, you know, us, he’s not being racist,

“Some people thought it was racist. I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people. This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.


So, just to be clear, when Rudy says Obama isn’t like you and me, he’s talking about Obama’s white genes, not the other ones. That’s not racism, it’s socialism, or maybe anti-colonialism.

Fair enough.

But since Rudy brought it up, what exactly is anti-colonialism anyway?

C’mon, in one hundred words or less, quick, what’s anti-colonialism?




I mean, you hear that a lot in the last five years, right?


Obama, his views were shaped by anti-colonialism. He’s an anti-colonialist.  I’ve heard that statement or variations of it hundreds of times in discussions on Fox New and on blogs and from people I know.  And they all say it with ponderous gravity and raised knowing eyebrows. Anti-colonialism. But when you ask, what is that, exactly, and what does it mean to you in particular? Well, what you get is vague hand-waving and the Giuliani answer: he’s not like us.

So, what is it?

Colonialism isn’t a common topic of conversation in America.

So where did this label come from?

In his book The Roots of Obama’s Rage and in the pseudo-documentary 2016: Obama’s America which was based on it and in endless articles here and there, conservative pundit and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza boldly states that Barack Obama isn’t like “us.” Which is interesting, given that D’Souza was born and raised in Mumbai, India and came to the US as an exchange student before eventually becoming a naturalized citizen – which somehow makes D’Souza more like “us” than Obama. Be that as it may, D’Souza’s entire position is based on the idea that Obama’s worldview doesn’t depend from the so-called American dream. Obama, says D’Souza, doesn’t see the world from the perspective of the founding fathers. Nor does Obama’s outlook come from Black America’s struggle for civil rights and equality. Rather, D’Souza asserts Obama was shaped by his own father, Barack Obama Sr. a staunch African anti-colonialist.  Now, Obama Jr. only met Obama Sr. once but that was enough according to D’Souza to change how he viewed the world forever.

And D’Souza’s hypothesis resonates with a lot of people.

2016: Obama’s America is the largest grossing conservative documentary to date and was widely acclaimed in conservative media and its message is repeated over and over by prominent conservatives – mostly recently, by Rudy Giuliani. “This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.

So, Obama isn’t like us.

Obama isn’t like you and me.

Obama isn’t even as American as an Indian immigrant – and Indian immigrant, I’ll remind you, who comes from India, which is a country still throwing off the remnants of the British Raj and is about as anti-colonialist as it gets. I mean, if anybody ought to sympathize with Obama’s supposed anti-colonialist views, it’s a guy from India

Anti-colonialism.  Again, what is that? What is it specifically? Obama’s father is from Africa (Kenya in case I actually have to spell it out after six years of birtherism).  Kenya today is the Republic of Kenya, but from 1888 to 1962 it was a colony of the British Empire. President Obama was born in Hawaii and never lived in Kenya – or anywhere else in Africa.  Now, how would that have shaped the President’s viewpoint and actions? Is anti-colonialism so powerful that it could reach across time and oceans to influence Barack Obama though a single meeting with his father when Obama was ten?

And perhaps it did.

Obama talked about how his father’s life shaped his worldview in the Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  His father had been more myth to him than man, Obama only met him once, and he was an adult before he learned much about the man’s life – and that’s how Obama learned about colonialism.

But, you, how do you know?

Really, what do you, you Americans, what do you know of colonialism?

Is it the same, this concept, everywhere? Is the African version the same as the American and Asian and Indian versions? Hell, is it the same across Africa? How many places are still colonies of other nations today?

You know, the United States of America began as British, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Russian colonies.

So how come we, the “we” that makes up real Americans, how come we’re not all vehement anti-colonialists?

Or are we?

Our revered Founding Fathers sure as hell were “anti-colonialists.” Wouldn’t that mean all true Americans are anti-colonialists as well? Are we not anti-colonialist brothers in spirit to the Indians and the Kenyans?

If not, why not?

Be specific. If not, why not? Spell it out, line by line. Why was it patriotic for America to seek independence but not Kenya? I’ll wait while you think about it. Take your time.

Do you even know enough about this subject to have an intelligent opinion? Or do you just take a convicted felon like D’Souza at his word because he’s saying something you want to hear? The same goes for Obama, if you support him and believe that he loves America like you do, why?

On the face of things, it would appear to be a complicated issue, convoluted and intertwined in myriad ways, vast in scope, subject to interpretation.  I mean, we’re talking about the complex evolution of civilization, shaped by wars and conflicts, by environmental pressures, by millennia of  time, across the breadth of the world, restricted or advanced by the availability or scarcity of resources, by famine and plague, by religion, by economies many and varied, by love and hate and apathy, by adventure and discovery, by greed and fear and altruism and fad.  We’re talking about the emergence of nations here, about the rise and fall of empires, about the migration of entire populations, voluntary and forced. We’re talking about the freedom and enslavement of endless billions over centuries, across oceans and continents, and the interaction of civilizations over time and how they shape the present.

When you say, “Obama’s views are shaped by anti-colonialism” that’s what you’re talking about.  All of that. All of it and far, far more. Vastly more.

There’s a name for that.

There’s a name for how the past shapes our present.

It’s called history.

There’s an old saying, it comes in many variations and it goes like this: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

There’s another saying: the past repeats, always.

Both are true, so far as they go. The past does tend to repeat itself over and over in endless variation, which is hardly surprising given that no matter how far we rise or how deep we fall the one thing that remains constant throughout the ages is human nature.

Those who forget the past, who never learn it, who ignore and whitewash it, for them the future is always a surprise and they go ass-backward into the unknown repeating the same mistakes over and over. Those who forget history are not only doomed to repeat it along with the rest of us, they will always be victims of their own fate.

But those who remember history, who delve into its secrets, who learn from its endless examples, those people shape the future. 

Those people are not victims of fate, but its master.

Those who understand history are the men and women who shape the fate of nations, of the world, of history itself.

They are the ones who become exceptional.

They are the ones history remembers.


And that, that right there, is why what happened in Oklahoma this week should disgust and horrify all free people.


This week, a Oklahoma legislative committee  overwhelmingly approved a measure that would cut all funding for Advanced Placement (AP) History courses for high school students.  It’s not a law yet, but odds are good it will be – either in Oklahoma or elsewhere.

State Representative Dan Fisher (Republican, of course), who introduced the bill,  denounced the new AP U.S. History framework because in the opinion of many conservatives it “emphasizes what is bad about America” and doesn’t teach “American exceptionalism."

This same complaint extends far beyond the dusty backwater of America’s Great Plains and has become a common item of debate in legislatures across the country where conservatives are even now considering bills that would ban all AP courses and not just history.

And the truly, truly disturbing part is that conservatives’ biggest complaint regarding the AP History curriculum isn’t that it’s wrong, instead they’re afraid it’s far too accurate.

Think about that for a minute.

Conservatives like Fisher believe public school should be less about learning and more about indoctrination.

They wish to hide the ugly and divisive parts of our past and remove from history those they deem “not like us.” And instead instill a sense of “exceptionalism” in the next generation by teaching only those things that make America look good.

"As I read through the document, I saw a consistently negative view of American history that highlights oppressors and exploiters"
Larry S. Krieger, retired school teacher, conservative activist, exceptional American

Krieger told Newsweek that the AP History framework portrays the Founding Fathers as "bigots" and he complained that American exceptionalism embodied in the idea of Manifest Destiny was described in the curriculum as "built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority," rather than "the belief that America had a mission to spread democracy and new technology across the continent."

Uh huh.

Krieger leaves out that if you weren’t white maybe Manifest Destiny might have looked like, well, a lot like colonialism.  Mostly because it was.

Manifest Destiny is a great idea … so long as it’s your destiny being imposed at the point of a sword and the muzzle of a gun.

Others, however, might take a different view.

Fortunately for people like Larry Krieger and Dan Fisher, those people aren’t real Americans, they don’t love their country like we do, so they get written out of our history because there’s no lesson to be learned there

These conservatives completely miss the point of education.

Let me give you an example: you’ve got this kid, see? He’s your boy and you love him. He’s handsome and he’s clever, sure, and he’s the apple of your eye. So far as you’re concerned he can do no wrong. But the thing is most everybody else thinks he’s a spoiled little shit. He’s selfish and self-centered, he’s greedy and obnoxious and arrogant, and he doesn’t give a damn about anybody but himself. He goes around making a mess and beating up the other kids.  He takes what he wants and you never know when he’s going to throw a violent tantrum.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with him, it’s not genetic, it’s you. You’re a lousy parent. Whenever he does something wrong, you tell him it’s okay. He’s special, see, exceptional, blessed by God. He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t have to apologize.  You love him, you love him better than any parent has ever loved a child, better than other parents love their children, and if you force him to face his mistakes, to think of others, to learn, well then that makes him feel bad about himself and that makes you a bad parent. Right?

You know people like this, don’t you? You know kids, sure you do, just like this. Spoiled rotten little brats.

Now, what kind of adult do you think that kid will grow up to be?

And why would you think a country who behaves in the same manner would be any different?

When you go around telling kids, and nations, that they are exceptional and that others don’t matter, well, then you get a nation of spoiled rotten little brats.

It’s taken me a week to write this essay, because unlike many of those opining on the subject, I actually read the AP History Guideline from cover to cover. Twice. While taking notes.




I saw nothing that gave a negative view of the United States. I saw nothing that made a judgment one way or the other.

In point of fact, the framework gives no answers whatsoever, it only asks questions.

Throughout the entire document, all 142 pages of it, the authors repeatedly stress that it is not a curriculum but rather a framework for further development and is to be tailored by each teacher to meet the needs of the students. The framework provides for broad flexibility, it outlines “key concepts” and does not, repeat does not, specify groups, individuals, dates, details, political opinions, right or wrong, moral or immoral, or any particular interpretation of history and you can verify that for your self directly from the source.

If conservatives see America in a negative light, perhaps it’s their own guilty conscience speaking.

This isn’t the simplified elementary version of American history made up of construction paper turkeys, smiling Indians, and cherry trees chopped down by future presidents. This isn’t the Mel Gibson version of America where white people and black people fought as equals to be free of the King of England and then when it was all over black people cheerfully decided to be slaves because hey, Captain Braveheart thought it seemed more exceptional on the big screen like that.  That’s how conservatives want to teach history, the same way Gibson directs movies.

Advanced placement courses aren’t about indoctrination, they have one function: to teach future citizens how to think.

Advanced Placement courses are college level classes designed for top performing high school students who are preparing for a university level environment. By definition these kids are going to end up running the country one day and either they can base their worldview on made up magic fairy dust or they can face the challenges of our future armed with a thorough understanding of how we got here.  Warts and all.

You don’t teach future business people how to run a company by only showing them pictures of John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates. You don’t teach future doctors by only showing them happy cheerful healthy people. You don’t teach military officers how to fight by only showing them past victories. 

If you want your kids to love this country, if you want them to successfully shape its future, then you have to show them everything.  The good and the bad. The beautiful and the ugly.

You hear people say “kids nowadays don’t know how good they have it!”

Well, why would they? Why would any American appreciate how far we’ve come, how good we have it, if they don’t know how we got here? Why would girls appreciate the right to vote if they don’t know their grandmothers couldn’t? Why would black youth appreciate the opportunities they have now if they don’t know the history of the civil rights movement? How do you prevent another World War II or another 911 or another Holocaust if you don’t care and refuse to understand what caused the last one? How do you expect the next generation to shape the future when they are told they’re special and exceptional and they can do no wrong?

Courage is about facing the world, not hiding from it.

Wisdom comes not from denying your mistakes, but from not repeating them. And you can’t do that if you refuse to acknowledge that you ever made any in the first place.

History is how we understand the present. 

History is how we shape the future and forge our own destiny instead of allowing it to be thrust upon us.

If you don’t know history, the good and the bad, you will always be its slave and never its master.

If you want your children to shape their own future and the future of this nation, indeed the world, instead of being simply dragged along with the sweep of time, then they must know how we got here to this present.

If you want your children to be exceptional, then they have to understand history in full detail, all of it and not simply parrot mindless patriotism.

If you don’t know bad, you cannot know good.

If you don’t know ugly, you can never understand beauty.

If you’ve never seen true oppression, you can never appreciate true liberty.

If you don’t know tyranny, you can never understand freedom.

If you truly believe the United States to be exceptional, then you show it all and let the chips fall where they may. If you love your child then you teach them everything and trust in them to become exceptional adults.

The past, the present, the future are all connected. History, my friend, is a circuit and without a negative, there can be no positive.

If you don’t learn from history, you will never be its exception.

“It's been my experience, Langford, that the past always has a way of returning. Those who don't learn, or can't remember it, are doomed to repeat it.”
Steve Berry, The Charlemagne Pursuit

“We're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive. It's pretty dense kids who haven't figured that out by the time they're ten. Most kids can't afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard

18 Apr 00:00

Free Speech

I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.
17 Apr 03:35

Turning 41, Champions and Jesus

by Demandra
Tomorrow (Thursday already? Seriously?) is my birthday. I'll be 41. I want to pretend that I'm all Zen and chill about this fact, but instead I am...not. I'm not going to get an 8-ball of blow and grab a couple of hookers, mind you. Well, I don't think I am.

Anyhoo, I have multiple novels to write, and I apologize for sucking so badly at my return to blogging. I plan on carving out some time to write several posts, so that you can be bored out of your mind on a more consistent basis.

Last year, I did a fundraiser for a favorite organization of mine as a birthday celebration. People got to spend money (aka donate) and didn't have to deal with the nightmare that is Southern California traffic to cough up cash on overpriced drinks and questionably sourced food. I've decided to do a fundraiser (of sorts) again this year.

So, if you have a second and a spare dime or two, would you please join me in celebrating the glory of my birth--no, wait. That's douchey. How about we celebrate the painful and beautiful journey from brokenness to wholeness? 'Cuz lawd knows that's a journey we all share. This year, I am supporting the fundraising efforts of Troy Wynn, a 12-year Army veteran (Green Beret!) who is raising money to help support New Directions for Veterans. After Troy left the military to get his business degree, he struggled, as many vets do, with PTSD and depression. He began dabbling with drugs and alcohol to cope, and as the story too often goes, lost control of his life. He became an addict, started committing crimes, and became homeless.

Interestingly enough, this is also Easter weekend. I've written about my faith before and my ever so progressive take on the subject. I don't think about Easter the way most of my Christian brethren do. To me, this season isn't a joyous celebration so much as an acknowledgment that we all suffer unbelievably horrendous things. Combat, rape, poverty, burying a child--these are not uncommon tales. We suffer unimaginable pain, yet somehow, we rise. We take off that death shroud, roll back the stone, and walk back out into all that brightness that destroyed us in the first place. We are scarred, forever changed, but alive. This is the message of Easter to me: You will suffer things you should not be able to survive, and somehow, you will rise. In that resurrection, there is a gift.

Troy survived combat tours and the hell that is war. He found his way to New Directions for Veterans and is now on the path to health and wholeness, with more than 10 months of sobriety under his belt. The gift of that resurrection can be found in his renewed commitment to service. He's found his way back to the champion he is. I would like to celebrate that gift for my 41st bday. It'd be great if you could join me by giving a donation to his Walk for Warriors team.

Thanks, y'all.
20 Apr 18:02

Topic 1 – The Atomic Nature of the Physical Universe

by trickfletcher

Loving this new blog!

An atom with its orbitals showingIf you take a moment to look around you, it’s a gorgeous world.  Every single thing you see that is solid has a shape, and the liquids and gases swirl and wave in ways that are wonderful to watch.  The macroscopic world is not only beautiful but it is functional.  The shapes, sizes and colors have function and meaning and in most cases, purpose.

But even the young school children know something like a tree is not one solid piece.  There are at the very least, bark, leaves and branches.  Right now if you look around wherever you are, you will probably easily notice that most things are made of pieces.  As I write, I am at my desk and in front of me I see pens, my computer screens and a couple of speakers.  The pens have caps and clips and I know inside I will find a thin pipe and inside that I will find ink.  The screens have a variety of plastic pieces all with different purpose and I know there are circuit boards and wires inside.  The speaker has a variety of buttons and knobs and the different kinds of materials are obvious.  Without really thinking about it, we see a pen, a screen and a speaker – the whole – but upon closer inspection, most things can be decomposed into parts.  

That continues down to the microscopic level.  The problem with this idea comes when we can’t rely on our eyes or sense of touch to differentiate the parts.  It’s an easy concept to handle when the different parts can be placed in front of you.  We can be aided by tools such as lenses and microscopes to extend our vision to smaller dimensions.  It becomes much harder when we are left only with our imagination but that is what we are forced to do when we break things down beyond a certain size – when we move into the realm of atoms and molecules, which are the building blocks of everything we can touch and see.  No one has ever seen a single molecule, not even the best scientist.  They are simply too small for the light we respond to with our eyes to interact with an atom properly and return that light to our eyes.  It’s never going to happen.

So it seems we are required to use our imagination on order to “picture” an atom or molecule.  This activity of imagining is common in science and we call it model building.  We collect as much knowledge and information we can about an object, like an atom, and we create a picture in our head, or some other kind of representation, that includes those pieces of knowledge.  If the model builder knows a lot, the model can be very detailed.  If the builder knows little, the model will be less complex.  Whether complex or simple, we rely on imagination to see the things our eyes cannot.

This idea of a basic building block of matter has been around for thousands of years.  The simplest arguments still are valid.  If one takes a very sharp blade and cuts any object in half, then again in half, then again, at some point the process must end.  At some point, there will be an object that cannot be divided and this is where the idea of the atom came from.  In those early days, there was little information about this basic building block other than it must exist, so the model, or the “imagining” of this building block was very simple.   It’s enough to say that the building block is like a spherical marble (or much like a billiard ball if you prefer the larger scale) and the marbles that make up one material, say carbon, are different from the marbles that make up nitrogen.  I may not know how they are different, but because a chunk of charcoal (carbon) is very different from the inert atmosphere I breath (nitrogen) they must be different because carbon is very different from nitrogen.

With passing time and more thought and investigation, the differences in these atoms became clearer and in future posts we will discuss those differences.  But for the vast majority of the science problems you will probably encounter, thinking that atoms are these simple spherical marbles will take you far.  This is our most simple but useful model of the physical universe.  All things are made of atoms and those atoms are represented by tiny marbles so small they will never be seen.  Whenever you consider an object, think about smashing it with a magic hammer with the result being the object is reduced to these very tiny marbles we call atoms.  Every thing in the physical universe can be smashed into atoms.

Of course, this creates all kinds of questions.  For example, if all things are made of these marbles, why does a brick feel so solid?  Why can’t I push my finger through the middle like I do with a bag of baseballs?  And in fact, I can do that with water, so why with water but not the brick?  And what about those differences between carbon charcoal and nitrogen gas?  Does this mean my model is wrong?

No, it does not mean the model is wrong but it does mean the model, when used at this level, does not describe everything.  For me, this is the fun in science: To imagine a model, and then find the failures of that model.  That’s really the work of science, to build better and better models.  We’ll talk about this more in future posts.

Main Points:  All things we can see and feel in the physical universe are made of parts or pieces.  If we take one of those pieces and cut it in half, then again in half, and again and again, eventually we will find the basic building block of matter called the atom.  We will never see an atom with our eyes, so we must imagine its structure.  We call this imagining a model.   A very simple and useful model of the atom is that of a spherical marble, or billiard ball.  All things in the universe are made of these marbles.  Any object, when struck with a very special and magical hammer will produce nothing but marbles which are the atoms.

Tagged: atom, Chemistry, education, Explain, Layperson, model, molecule, Science, simple, Story
26 Apr 20:33

The basics of criminal procedure

by Steve Benen

Evidently rules are only valid if they protect us and people we like. Appplying those rules equally to "Them" as we do for "Us" is seen as wrong.
Me, I think it's a sign of basic civilized behavior. No matter how angry I might be at "Them".

Getty Images

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has struggled recently when talking about the Boston Marathon bombing. For example, Dan Drezner, a pretty mild-mannered guy and a center-right voice, said last week in reference to the Indiana Republican, "Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?"

With this in mind, I was struck by Coats complaining in a radio interview this morning about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev having been read his rights. "There's more that needs to be learned," the senator said. "Unfortunately, the administration decided to let the guy lawyer up before we really had a good chance to get information from him, and now we're not getting any." Coats kept whining on the subject, condemning what "the administration decided."

John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law school professor known for having written the Bush/Cheney pro-torture memos, raised similar concerns, saying "the government" read Tsarnaev his rights "for reasons that are still unknown."

In reality, the process really isn't especially mysterious. Adam Serwer explained:

Tsarnaev's interrogators didn't read him his rights. Nor did the "Obama administration," as some, including Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), have claimedA judge did it. The 48-hour rule exists to prevent the government from detaining people secretly and without a suspect knowing the charges against them. Needing to interrogate a suspect is not included in the exigent circumstances that can be used to justify delaying bringing the suspect before a judge.

And the government could not have legally placed Tsarnaev in military detention, either, because absent evidence of concrete operational connections between Tsarnaev and Al Qaeda or its affiliates it would not be legal to do so—and it might not be constitutional even if it were technically legal.

Coats, who has a law degree, must have some basic understanding of this. So why is he on the radio suggesting the Obama administration should have ignored the law? Or more to the point, why is the Republican senator recommending legal tactics that might jeopardize the case against a suspected terrorist?

Drezner's question continues to ring true: "Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?"

24 Apr 12:00

How not to rehabilitate a failed president

by Steve Benen

Associated Press

A confluence of events appears to have created a curious new talking point on the right. With former President George W. Bush's library set to open, and last week's Boston Marathon bombing still very much on the public's mind, Republican pundits see value in trying to tie the two together in the hopes of improving Bush's reputation.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, for example, published this gem yesterday:

"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11."

A few hours later on Fox News, Eric Bolling echoed the sentiment.

"I will tell one thing, from you 9/12/01 until the time President Obama raised his right hand January of '09, the man kept us safe. And there -- you certainly can't say that since President Obama has taken the oath of office."

When it comes to Bolling, I should note that this is an improvement from his previous stance. Two years ago, he suggested on the air that he didn't recall 9/11 at all: "America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don't remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time."

I should also note that neither Rubin nor Bolling seemed to be kidding. Their comments weren't satirical or jokes intended to make Republicans appear silly.

As for the substance, there are three main angles to keep in mind. The first is the bizarre assertion that President Obama somehow deserves the blame for the bomb that killed three people in Boston last week, because he didn't "keep up safe." The argument reflects a child-like understanding of national security and is absurd on its face.

Second, though the right likes to pretend otherwise, there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney's tenure -- after 9/11 -- that shouldn't be ignored. Indeed, it's a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, "Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush's international unpopularity, the former president's record on counter-terrorism was awesome."

And finally, I'm not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the "other than 9/11" argument.

Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, "All right. You've covered your ass, now." A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.

For Rubin and Bolling, the response is, in effect, "Yeah, but other than that, he kept us safe." The problem, of course, is that's roughly the equivalent of saying other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage. Other than that one time, Pompeii didn't have to worry about the nearby volcano. Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford's Theater.

It is, in other words, a little more difficult to airbrush catastrophic events from history.

I can appreciate the zeal with which Republican pundits want to rehabilitate Bush's poor standing, but they'll have to do better than this.

05 Apr 15:00

Why "company ready" is good, but "you ready" is better.



Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: for whatever reason, someone is coming to your house. And you’re in a complete panic, frantically cleaning whatever you can get to as quickly as you can, just so the house will be “company ready” for your guests.

Here’s a serious question, though: why do your guests deserve to have your house look nice more than you do? They’re only there for a small fraction of time; you’re there every day. Why don’t you deserve to have the place looking nice and neat and clean?

Maybe you think, “Oh, I’m just a messy person, so I don’t care about the mess, but my visitor will.” If you truly didn’t care, you wouldn’t be scrambling to clean up before someone crosses the threshold. You’re speed-cleaning because you do care, just not enough to make it nice for yourself. You need to cut that out.

Focus on making your house “you ready.” Bring it, gradually, up to your standards of cleanliness. Make it so that you’re comfortable, and so that you enjoy looking around your home. When you reach that point, your house will always be company ready. You’re the most important person who will step through your door. Try to make your living space reflect that.