The Ground Zero Cross… Again.

For some who’ve experienced losses, the cross is
A symbol of grieving, of heartbreak, of death;
They’ll flock to a church or museum to see ‘em
Defending their presence with all of their breath.
The tomb of a great many heroes, Ground Zero’s
A place to remember who answered the call;
The cross stands for good Christian brothers, but others
Have different symbols—and some, none at all.

The privileged among us will fight for the right for
Their privileged positions to carry the day;
The Christians assume God protects, and expects them
To honor His care, in the usual way.
The cross at Ground Zero is holy, but solely
For Christians, as others have quite clearly shown;
The atheists, Muslims, and Jews are just losers—
They want it to be there for Christians alone.

I can take my pick of sources… David Silverman is in the news again, fighting the Ground Zero Cross.
As always, the comments vary across sites, and as always, it is a display of Christian privilege.

Silverman is forced into the position of looking like an utter dick. The “cross”, a bit of wreckage from the ruins of the twin towers, is such a trivial thing–who could oppose its inclusion in the 9/11 memorial? Like “in god we trust” on money, it’s ceremonial deism, religion diluted homeopathically, something that should be opposed more by religious believers than by atheists…


When you read the writing on the wall, and the absolute zero of religion’s future is compared to the statistical irrelevance of ceremonial deism, suddenly the trivial battles are worth fighting, and silly crossbeams are now religious icons of the highest order. Seriously, the most common juxtaposition of beams in a heap of rubble is now worth going to the wall for. Because God, that’s why.

David Silverman does not have my stamp of approval. But he does have my sympathy. I would not take his job for a pile of gold. I doubt very much that he wants to take most of these cases, but he is in the position of taking them or ceding another few inches of territory, each and every time. So he is forced to fight.

The fact that we are fighting over more and more trivial notions is testament to Silverman’s success. The real estate we are quibbling over is smaller and smaller, and as a result, the skirmishes are more and more nasty. I mean, seriously–two bits of girder? In a building that was constructed of tons upon tons of girders welded at 90 degrees to one another? Three thousand deaths, and a couple of girders are a symbol worth fighting for?

Fight, David Silverman. Fight, Christians. The big battles are already decided.

Crosses are sooooo two years ago.

Ok, Maybe Not The Best Way To Get An IPad

An update on an earlier post, reporting on a 17 year old who sold his kidney for an iPad.

Nine people went on trial in southern China over allegations they helped a teenager to sell one of his kidneys so he could buy an iPhone and an iPad, a court in Hunan Province said Friday.
Prosecutors said in court Thursday that the nine people “should be held criminally liable for intentional injury,” the court in the province’s Beihu District said in a statement Friday.
The 17-year-old high school student from Anhui Province — who was referred to only by his surname, Wang — suffered renal failure after the kidney was removed in April 2011, according Xinhua.

Won’t you listen to my story
Cos it won’t take very long
It’s a tale about a Chinese boy,
Whose name was Little Zheng

Just a boy like any other
And he liked the latest stuff
But it costs a lot of money
And he didn’t have enough

So he thought about his problem
But he didn’t have a clue
Till he saw a notice posted
And he knew what he must do

If you’re feeling some frustration with your current situation
Here’s a little operation, if your conscience will allow
It’s a serious incision, but it’s done with great precision
It’s the rational decision if you want your money now

Little Zheng, he called the number
And they told him where to go
But he had to keep it secret—
It’s illegal, don’t you know

But he really needed money
Cos an iPad costs a lot
And a kidney was the only
Thing of value that he’s got

So he signed away his organ
And he vanquished any doubt
And they gassed him up, and laid him down
And cut the sucker out

If you’re feeling some frustration with your current situation
Here’s a little operation, if your conscience will allow
It’s a serious incision, but it’s done with great precision
It’s the rational decision if you want your money now

It’s a gory little story
But this isn’t where it ends
See, he got a lot of stitches
But he couldn’t show his friends

He devised a bit of fiction
But it wouldn’t get him far
And his mother got suspicious
So he had so show his scar

Now his story’s hit the big time
So I’ll make this guarantee
That this tale of Little Zheng’s is
Not the last one that we’ll see

If you’re feeling some frustration with your current situation
Here’s a little operation, if your conscience will allow
It’s a serious incision, but it’s done with great precision
It’s the rational decision if you want your money now

Still in the land of not much internet. Behave.

All Enemies, Foreign And Domestic…And Economic And Religious

I’ll bet Sergeant Stein did much better than fine—
He may have been one of the best—
He’d have filled out the quiz as a regular wiz,
For his Spiritual Fitness Test.

He has faith in his God (which is good for his squad)
And the Chaplains can help him with grief
Why, his church can assist with his enemies list
That includes his Commander In Chief.

Story, after the jump: [Read more…]

The 2012 Templeton Prize In Science & Religion Goes To…

The Templeton has been announced
With not a little drama
The winner of the science prize
This year? The Dalai Lama.

His research record surely shows
He’s there among the giants—
His name pops up whenever I
Am mulling over “science”.

The Templeton foundation’s choice
Has left me filled with hope;
I’m going to place a little bet…
Next year, they name the pope.

[Read more…]

Love At First Sight… On Separate Trains

I have to say, as a hopeless romantic, that this is my favorite BBC story in, perhaps, forever.

It’s the stuff of fairytales and songs that sell millions of copies around the world and make you an international singing star, if you’re James Blunt.

As almost anyone with ears and a radio in 2005 would know, he saw a woman’s face in a crowded place and he didn’t know what to do. Should have put an appeal in Lovestruck.

The dating column in the Londonpaper, a free evening newspaper distributed across London, is hugely popular with commuters. It tries to match those whose eyes met across the bus, tube or train carriage and share one of those “moments” Blunt sings about.

Sadly, the paper appears to be going under, as of Friday, losing a competition with another free paper. But the article notes that there are other sites geared toward facilitating meetings between these “ships passing in the night” sorts of encounters.

More, the article explores the notion of that instant, the moment when eyes meet, pulses race, imaginations run wild…

But are these “moments” real or is it all in our heads? Attraction can be that instant, in fact human beings are wired up that way, says Professor Adrian Furnham, co-author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction.

“We do pick things up very quickly – someone’s scent or a look that lasts a second longer than normal. Men in particular are wired up this way,” he says.

Not terribly surprising there, from my point of view. Oh, wait, there’s more:

“The interesting thing is that people believe the feeling is reciprocated, that something has been shared and that isn’t always the case. Even if it is mutual it’s not about romance, it’s about lust. Humans are wired up to mate, not be romantic.”

Spoilsport. (Ok, as a serious parenthetical in the middle of a lighthearted post, I have witnessed men who thought their feelings reciprocated. They thought they were in love; technically, in this case, due to differences in positional power, it was sexual harassment. Men, please do not assume she feels the same way. Ask. And listen…. ok, back to the lighthearted post:)

I have felt this, many times. When I met Cuttlespouse, I fell in love roughly .0001 seconds after seeing her for the first time. It took her a bit longer.

In instances where it is clearly an impossibility, the feeling is still inescapably wonderful; there is a fruit market in Athens that is indelibly etched in my memory simply for two moments. Going up the street, I chanced to look in the store and met her eyes. Going back down the street several hours later, the same. As the BBC story goes, this was one of those glances that lasted a little longer than usual, and that is all it takes. It was magical. Perhaps all the more magical because it can never be sullied by the harsh treatment of reality–in truth, she may have been looking past me toward someone else. But not in my memory.

Of course, the BBC includes a successful meeting in their writeup; the story would be just to horrible without it. But hey, those one-in-a-million success stories are what keep us going. For the Cuttlespouse and I, going for 25 years so far.

The verse is fictional–I started it in third person, but it just worked better in first.

I saw her—just a fleeting glance—
Amidst the milling crowd;
I thought she had to notice me,
My heart, it beat so loud.

I caught her eye, and kept my gaze,
As witnesses attest,
But I was in the eastbound queue
And she was in the west.

I very nearly missed my train
To keep her in my sight.
An angel, even in the glare
Of cold fluorescent light

Transformed I was; forevermore
I’d live a life possessed;
For I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

My sadness grew with every mile
A dull and aching pain
I’d seen my heart’s companion, whom
I’d never see again.

My heart, I thought, would break apart
In pieces in my chest
For I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

A week, then two, a month and more
I watched to see her face
Although I witnessed thousands there,
Of her there was no trace.

I loved, I knew, the perfect heart
Inside her perfect breast,
But I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

It seemed a lifetime that I sought
The one whom I desired,
While she remained invisible
As if the gods conspired.

And if the gods denied me love,
The gods I would contest
Though I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

And then, one day, a Lovestruck ad:
“The day we almost met”
The time, the place, the date, the face
I never will forget.

For weeks she had been looking,
But it’s just as you have guessed:
If she looked on the eastbound train,
That day I’d search the west.

We met, of course, and fell in love;
Now constantly explain
Just how it was we first met eyes
While riding separate trains.

And none could be so happy, no,
And none have been so blessed,
We sometimes take the eastbound train
And sometimes take the west.


Winston The Pigeon

Carrier pigeons are diligent workers,
And some have been honored as heroes!
But, sadly, technology changed their careers,
With the messages, now, ones and zeroes.

Information now moves over fibers and wires,
At the speed (so they tell me) of light;
And people accustomed to speed such as this
Aren’t impressed by a pigeon in flight.

But intertubes clog, and cables will jam,
And data gets stuck on its way;
Uploading a file takes forever, it seems,
With the fastest computers today.

A firm down in Durban, South Africa, thought
That their ADSL seemed too slow.
Would a pigeon be faster? They planned out a test
So the firm could empirically know.

Thus, Winston the Pigeon was all loaded up,
Four gigs on a flash memory stick,
From Howick to Durban, about sixty miles,
His job was to get it there quick.

They started the clock when they opened the cage,
And a regular upload as well—
Would bird or technology first cross the line?
The experiment, surely, would tell.

Winston the Pigeon first circled the square,
Then was off at full speed for the coast!
In sixty-eight minutes, brave Winston was there
But of course, he was not one to boast.

In about one more hour, the data were loaded,
It looked as if Winston had won!
But wait—check the status of ADSL,
And they found…only four percent done!

Now Winston the Pigeon is over the moon;
He’s faster than broadband, no less!
But technology marches; the internet, now
Must compete with the Pony Express!

(second link–BBC coverage–includes video of the race!)


Newspapers Are Born To Exaggerate

It seems these things come in waves. This time, it is the Times Online overreaching the consequences of some recent neuroscience finding, presenting it in a splashy way, and misrepresenting pretty much whatever they need to in order to fit the message in the simple headline. “We are born to believe in God“, says the paper this time, and lists a number of researchers (at least one of whom has complained about his depiction) whose work is shoehorned into the “hardwired belief” message. (I have not read all of them, but certainly Dawkins, Hood, and Persinger, and while I can see the germ of what the present authors saw, I must say they have read them differently than I did.)

There is, in my view, a considerably simpler explanation that still fits. (I am reminded, with tremendous feelings of inadequacy, of Douglas Adams’ description of humans as fundamentally tool-makers, inventing a god who, like them, is a creator. I am taking a different track, viewing us as fundamentally social creatures, even before we are tool-makers.) We are social creatures. As such, it has behooved us to use certain social strategies, which have apparently served us well. To wit, we are easily influenced by others. We are, unsurprisingly, influenced by the social power of the majority (see Asch), and of course by the positional power of authorities (see Milgram). This is not bad nor good, this is simply who and what we are. That there are areas of the brain associated with obeying (perhaps even worshipping or feeling awe in the presence of) others is no surprise whatsoever. I wonder if those same areas might light up, for some people, in the presence of an adored movie star, singer, or politician. (Would this be evidence that Sophia Loren is God? A much better thought than the idea of scanning my in-laws’ brains while they listen to O’Reilly.) Religion would be, in this model, simply a successful hijacking of this genetic predisposition toward social living. No pre-wiring for belief in god (and did you notice the capital letter? Are we pre-wired for a particular religion?), but rather a predisposition toward particular behaviors that facilitate social living.

In other words…

The Times Online has just opined
It seems as if we are designed,
When growing up, to seek and find
Some evidence for God.
(Of course, the authors whom they quote,
Like Hood and Dawkins, don’t promote
This view at all, so one may note
The Times is acting odd.)

Such explanations soon run thin–
It seems to me that what’s built in
For social humans and their kin
And each religious pilgrim
Is deference to authority,
A bow to the majority
(Just look to a sorority,
Or shocking Stanley Milgram).

Communal lifestyle surely shapes
Our genes, and so, as social apes
Such strategies have served in scrapes,
Thus following’s selected.
The Times is also well-controlled
By genes that fit our social mold–
Reporting only what they’re told
By someone well-respected!

A Modern Abraham-Isaac Story

PZ reports, and Greg laden reports, and PalMD reports, and of course, the AP reports, that the Father who tortured his daughter to death by substituting prayer for insulin. We can be fairly certain that she died horribly and painfully. As PalMD writes:

Death by diabetic ketoacidosis is not pretty. The symptoms start with extreme thirst and frequent urination. Then the person develops headaches, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Eventually, they become confused and lethargic, then lapse into a coma before dying.

And it is not like this was an unwitnessed event; the girl was surrounded by witnesses. The AP:

Prosecutors contended he should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn’t walk, talk, eat or drink. Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family’s rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone called 911 when she stopped breathing.

My son has diabetes. Before we had a diagnosis (at age 18), we knew he was thirsty, and that despite working out, he kept losing weight (we did not realize how much, though, as he wore jeans and sweatshirts at the time). He developed some sores in his mouth that would not go away, and was in a terrible mood. Teenaged boys are not usually eager to go visit a doctor, so we were concerned when he wanted to go. Of course, when we found the diagnosis, there was tremendous relief and tremendous guilt; in hindsight, we should have seen it weeks earlier!

I cannot imagine what sort of person could watch his daughter progress much further along that path than my son did, and not do whatever possible to save her. The phrase “move heaven and earth” comes to mind; if I thought God wanted my son to die, damn right I will defy God! But Dale Neumann is more devout than I am. He has a dead daughter to prove it.

Back when we knew the Old Testament God
With His fondness for family slaughter,
We wouldn’t think twice about sticking a knife
In a brother, a son, or a daughter.
It’s nice that a father can still show his love
For a God that compels adoration
By torturing slowly, then putting to death
His own son, through acute dehydration.
No father so loved, not his son, but his God,
With his thoughts not on Earth, but above.
The proof is a son who lies tortured to death–
Whoever could doubt, God is Love?

(I note, only after posting, that I clearly substituted my son for his daughter in my verse. I suspect that most parents, reading her story, will substitute their own children.)