Apr 24 2014

“Poem In Your Pocket” Day

Just a reminder–here in the US, it is national Poem in your Pocket day. You should all print out your favorite sepielle, or something to annoy your co-workers with, and carry it around just in case.

If any of you run into me today, this is what I’ll recite to you.

Apr 23 2014

Cuttlefish Shakespeare Fanboi Squee!!!!

So today is, as far as you know, William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday (no one knows for sure, but it’s as good a day as any, and better than most, to pretend that it is). Which is cool. The odds are very much against anyone knowing I ever existed nearly 4 centuries from now (and if you exclude whatever future version of ancestry.com is in use then, the odds are even lower), but Shakespeare will be known for pretty much as long as people are known. If the last copy of any human book that ever exists is a version of one of Shakespeare’s plays, it would not surprise me (yes, assuming that I still exist to be surprised by the heat death of the universe), and if it is something else instead, more’s the pity.

Anyway, I loves me some Shakespeare. So how is it I have not heard about this? Co-directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller, and a genius of the first rank), with music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan (geniuses of the rank that could look down on the first rank condescendingly and smile, were they not doing genius things that are much more important) and choreography by Pilobolus (geniuses who don’t actually have to say a word to let people know how fucking genius they are), a brand new staging of The Tempest.

The Tempest. Which I have seen in multiple versions, from the minimalist (six British actors and a sheet, remarkably well done and just a little bit pretentious) to fully-realized spectacles (my favorite, from the Stratford [Ontario, Canada] Shakespeare Festival), which I have performed as a one cuttlefish show (well, sorta–don’t ask), which contains my all-time favorite lines from Shakespeare (Caliban’s “Be not afeared” speech, which I have recited more times than I can recall)… yeah, that The Tempest.

So… I must find a way to see this version. I simply must. I have two kidneys; surely I can sell one…

Anyway… First, a bit of Teller introducing The Tempest (and some snippets):

Second, not nearly enough (but all I could find) about the Waits/Brennan music for The Tempest:

Apr 22 2014

When Physicists Study Consciousness….

I’m looking for the fountain that will grant eternal youth;
It is said to be in Florida—I’ll take that as the truth—
Expert minds are in agreement (which is never quite the case)
That the Florida peninsula has got to be the place

Now, for centuries, they’ve mapped it, using all the latest tools
And each current generation made the former look like fools
As they upped the resolution of their pictures and their maps,
With the hope they’d find the fountain! Well, eventually… perhaps.

Now with satellites to help them, they have measured to the inch
So it’s just a case of looking—and it ought to be a cinch—
They’ve got all the best equipment, which they’ve pointed all around
So they ought to find it shortly, if there’s something to be found

And the experts are excited, knowing something’s got to give
If they have to strain the data through a quantum-level sieve
And they’re driven to distraction, and they’re pulling out their hair
Cos they’re reaching the conclusion that the fountain… isn’t there.

I’m looking for the correlates of consciousness itself
And it must reduce to physics, say the books upon my shelf
Expert minds are in agreement, past the need to quite explain
That the correlates of consciousness arise within the brain…

Via pbs.org (please please please tell me this is not going to be the topic of a NOVA program!), the news that Physicists Say Consciousness Might Be a State of Matter. Although, actually, it’s one physicist–Max Tegmark, from MIT, writing Consciousness as a State of Matter (pdf), the latest in the attempts to somehow connect consciousness and quantum physics. Spoiler: he’s wrong.

I don’t pretend to understand his whole paper–so how do I know he’s wrong? He starts out wrong well before he gets to the parts that make my eyes glaze over. He assumes mysteries that are not actual mysteries, and looks for explanations many orders of magnitude smaller than what is needed. Even if his notions had any relevance, they are so far down the explanatory chain that they are meaningless (just as an explanation of how an internal combustion engine works does not tell you how to drive from Chicago to New Orleans).

Seriously, the questions of consciousness are made far more difficult (indeed, impossible) than they actually are, because we are presupposing things that simply are not so. Tegmark lists the qualities of “perceptronium” (substance that is subjectively self-aware–and I am not making it up), and the thing is, these are not the qualities of our own conscious experience! If I specified a car that had a perfect crash test rating, 100+ miles per gallon, acceleration and handling to match a high-end formula one car, made of 100% recycled parts, and a price tag that allowed me to buy one for each member of the family, that might well be an ideal car, but it is in no sense a real one. Tegmark’s consciousness has little or nothing to do with human consciousness.

A brilliant expert, speaking outside of an area of expertise, is… just a person.

I have visited this topic a few times before, including the best comment thread in the history of the internets (not just the post–you have to read the comments!)–commenter “thoughts” argues in favor of a view not that far from Tegmark’s; commenter “Phunicular” and I argue in favor of … reality.

Apr 22 2014

“Under God” Suits In MA, NJ

Public schools are, it seems, now alleging that pledging
Allegiance to flags, and to gods, is the rule;
“Under God” makes the word “indivisible” risible—
Laughable, really, for kids in their school—
Of course there are children abstaining, explaining
Their worldview prevents them from going along;
They’d say “under god”, but it’s blather; they’d rather
Say nothing at all, than to say something wrong

These kids will all face brutal mocking—it’s shocking,
That good Christian children would treat them this way
But kids know, the way to defeat them, is beat them
Till, bleeding and bruised, they have learned to obey
The truth is, the pledge that they’re saying is praying—
It separates children, by form of belief…
Just read Seuss’s tale of the Sneetches, which teaches
That such segregation leads surely to grief.

The latest lawsuit is in New Jersey.

I’ve already seen comments on some sites asking if, should the atheists win, they will accept the settlement money that all says “in god we trust” on it. Ceremonial deism, my ass; the judges ought to read the comments sections sometime (protip: never read the comments section!), to see just how often that phrase on our money is used to “other” us. The purpose of the phrase is not to recognize a god; it’s to recognize a class of others to call second-class citizens.

The pledge and the motto are trivial things to a judge, but are markers of cultural privilege to the poor put-upon martyred 80% majority in this country and don’t you ever forget it, majority rules we are a christian nation commenters on the internet.

Apr 18 2014

Three Cultures (Easter?)

Student 1—”This weekend is Easter! I’ll be with my family, celebrating, together… That’s what Easter is for!”

Student 2—”in [her culture], we celebrate all the holidays! Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and some you’ve never heard of! Embrace all the belief systems, and celebrate all the holidays!”

Student 3—“in [his culture], there are no holidays—if you want to give a gift to someone, why wait? If you want to tell someone you care, why wait? If you want to recognize a special occasion, what does a calendar have to do with it? Every day is special! Every day is precious! Why would you limit yourself to a handful of days?”

I love having students of multiple cultures.

Apr 18 2014

“Coming Out Atheist”

So Greta Christina’s new book is out now. As was expected, it is excellent. When she offered a copy for me to review, my only question was “what sort of verse form do you want the review in?” To my horror, she said she would love a Sestina. A Villanelle would be acceptable, but her first choice would be a Sestina.

I have a confession. I hate sestinas (I was only capitalizing them earlier to draw attention to the word–I’ll stop now; I know how it annoys some people). To me, sestinas represent effort for the sake of effort. They don’t rhyme, but they follow an annoying set of constraints. I know, I should be (and am) a fan of constrained writing, but I just don’t like the sestina form.

But enough about that. This post isn’t about my neuroses, it’s about Greta Christina’s book.

This verse serves as Greta Christina’s sestina–
It’s not a sestina at all, you can tell
I cannot produce what’s requested; I’m bested–
Instead, she’ll be getting her own sepielle
Some people need help leaving closets, she posits;
She’s written a “Coming Out Atheist” book
There’s lots of advice, well worth heeding–I’m reading,
And strongly advise you to all take a look

Some godless are “out” very loudly and proudly,
Some stay in the closet for decades or more–
The former will find Greta’s writing exciting;
The latter, of course, are the folks that it’s for
Explaining the “atheist” stigma’s enigmas,
She’s firmly in favor of using the word;
Embracing the fact that you’re godless, facade-less,
Ensuring your meaning is properly heard

Your own coming-out can help others–your brothers
And sisters and more, who are trapped in the dark
They’re waiting on you to inspire their fire;
There’s fuel, and there’s air–all it wants is your spark
If faith’s not your thing, then replace it! Let’s face it,
It’s your life to live, and you only get one!
With Greta’s new book as your how-to, time now, to
Step out of the closet, and into the sun!

Apr 17 2014

Liberated Atheist

… That’s the name of the new release, a 15-minute instrumental composition in three contiguous parts. Put it on in the background…

It showed up in my aggregator, via Decoder Magazine; I’m not at all certain how I feel about it. It takes me back, really, to my high school years in the late 70′s, when a friend of mine worked at a local radio station, and we’d get together after the station went off the air at midnight, looping music together and creating odd sonic concoctions. Mind you, what we created wasn’t necessarily good

I don’t think it’s my sort of thing. Is it yours?

Apr 16 2014

Ok, That’s A First

Twice today, students asked questions that I had previously examined on this blog, such that my immediate thought was “oh, I’ll just recite this verse”. Which, of course, I did not. I gave a nice, thorough, completely prose response.

I need to get more people reciting my verses as answers to classroom questions, so that I can do so without raising suspicion.

In the future, anapestic tetrameter will replace powerpoint as the go-to presentation format.

Apr 13 2014

Containing Atheism, In Saudi Arabia

There’s a piece decrying atheists—
“Contain them!” it opines—
But it’s quite a different story
If you read between the lines…

There’s a very strange article in the Saudi Gazette. On the face of it, atheism is a problem which must be contained:

A number of academics and experts have underlined the need for serious efforts to contain atheism in the Kingdom. Claiming that there is a link between the spread of atheism and extreme religious views, the experts said a moderate image of Islam must be promoted and any doubts youths may have about religion must be addressed in a convincing manner, Al-Madinah Arabic daily reported.

Yes, there is a connection between atheism and extreme religious views, therefore we must do our best to limit… atheism.

Now, I’d have thought extreme religion leads to atheism, but of course I’d be wrong:

Ghazi Al-Maghlouth, professor of Islamic culture at Al-Ahsa University’s Faculty of Shariah, said atheism is not at all linked with religious discourse. It is purely related to the personality of individuals who have some confusion about certain religious doctrines, in addition to having a skeptical mind. They always search for mysteries behind anything and everything and ask questions for which there may not be any clear-cut answers,” he said.

Yes. They have some confusion over questions for which there may not be any clear-cut answers. THis sounds less like “confusion” and more like “understanding”.

According to Al-Maghlouth, even in China, there are three major religions — Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, in addition to atheism. He said that atheism is present in every society in varying degrees. Al-Maghlouth specially referred to the controversial book by the Egyptian philosopher Abdul Rahman Badawi, titled “A history of atheism in Islam.”

In the book, Badawi explains how several Muslim philosopher-scientists and students of the medieval period questioned and often refuted some basic Islamic tenets and eventually became atheists.

So… wait. This article is saying this is a bad thing? That we must prevent people from refuting basic (and clearly refutable) Islamic tenets?

Al-Maghlouth said the media played a great role in promoting atheism in the modern world. “Before the high-tech media revolution, there were atheist tendencies but they did not receive any significant attention. Now, even small atheist elements are receiving wide publicity,” he said while adding that people who are engaged in their own reading and writing are more prone to atheism.

Do you sense the trend I do? Insult atheists by comparing them to philosopher-scientists, people engaged in their own reading and writing, skeptical thinkers regarding questions which have no clear-cut answers?

Oh, I’m not saying the whole article leans that direction. Here’s the closing:

“The fundamental principles of our religion are sublime and candid and they can be easily understood by every man and woman regardless of age. The basic thing is that scholars and preachers have to impart them to the younger generation in a convincing way, without creating confusion and skepticism,” he said.

But for an article nominally against atheism, this is more favorable treatment than we can expect. What’s next, an article–in Saudi Arabia–openly praising atheism?

Yeah, no, I won’t hold my breath.

Apr 12 2014

God Goes To Court In New York

A little bit short
On His credit report?
No, you don’t want to mess with divinity—
Y’see, God is the sort
Who will take you to court
If you say He can’t buy His Infiniti.

A silly little story on NPR:

As the saying goes, “In God We Trust, all others pay cash.”

But in the case of Russian immigrant and businessman God Gazarov, cash may be the only option.

That’s because, according to The New York Post, credit reporting agency Equifax has refused to acknowledge that he has any financial history whatsoever, despite having high scores with two other major credit agencies.

He was named after his grandfather, apparently, and not his heavenly father. Equifax suggested changing his name to fix the problem. God’s lawyers have other suggestions.

Oh, and it really was an Infiniti he was trying to buy. I mean, what else would God drive?

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