Sunday, June 28, 2009


Beliefnet Community > Thread - Question about atheism:

I think I read it first in Heinlein but the definition “Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” has no altruism at all in it. It is a purely selfish definition of love. My problem with altruism is that most definitions insist on self denial as a necessary condition of altruism.

If your child can see the parade better by standing on your shoulders, and shares herm excitement with you are you denying yourself enjoyment of the parade by standing back where you can’t see but where you and your child are safe from jostling by people trying to get close enough to see for themselves? Are you being altruistic by sharing the parade through the fresh eyes of your child? No way! What could be more selfish than providing your child a perfect and safe vantage point to share herm joy with you.

I don't think the traditional definition of altruism a la Ayn Rand has any validity at all. How can anyone be coerced into doing something involving self denial as a value? If they don't feel that they are doing something beneficial for their society and their friends what would compel them to be altruistic? Especially in a Godless society envisioned by Rand. But even throwing God into the picture, the little tinhorn in the fancy dress in the overdecorated balcony has to provide a selfish incentive even if it is pie in the sky to get the parishioners to give up their selfish pleasures.

Of Good

Beliefnet Community > Thread - Question about atheism: In a discussion of good and evil the question of personal pleasure came up as related to good.

"It is important to note that both physical and psychological pleasures usually involve other people. Those we love and care about, but also those we may be only incidentally involved with. An accidental encounter with a stranger on the street where we recognize each other’s humanity and worth can be a powerful reminder of the ideals we wish to identify with as good. But in any event if we are going to consider ourselves to be good, how we treat other people is going to be the most important and perhaps the only consideration."

Which leads to the next question can purely personal pleasure be considered to be good. I think we can dispense with the Biblical answer as that was a different time and culture where conservation of good genes in fetuses was a critical social requirement. BTW how did you know I was discussing masturbation? Get your mind out of the gutter, there are other personal pleasures that can be much more pleasurable and meaningful.

One of the most intense and pleasurable personal experiences I enjoyed was rounding a corner from an alley in Firenze and being assaulted by the facade of the Cathedral across the plaza.
There were no words just awe and wonder at what people had made. Perhaps their awe and wonder related to God was part of what I was experiencing but it was second hand at best. What the artisans had created was enough.

I frequently hike alone, not by choice, but due to differing tastes of those who I might like to share the experience with. The love of my life has a deep seated distaste for rocks. Once out of sheer devotion she accompanied me to Yosemite. Hating every minute she had to look out the window at Half Dome and the valley walls on the other side. Can anyone imagine pulling the drapes on a huge bay window overlooking half dome on a beautiful day! Nor can I. But the same devotion allowed her to do so. We spent most of our time indoors, or on the veranda overlooking the meadow and the forest which for the most part screened the rock walls that I had to go elsewhere to appreciate. So now my trips to Yosemite are solo, and the hikes are shared with random strangers who appreciate the mistbows and the vistas I point out to them after enjoying them myself first. Is the initial personal experience good? I think so. Is the sharing with a random stranger even better? Since they have chosen the same trail, of course.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Morality, God and Assholes

Beliefnet Community > Thread - The Bright Line...:
moral anemia comes from anything else than righteousness

"Actually moral anemia comes from the that little tinhorn in the fancy dress in the overdecorated balcony who says “Believe this way, Pray to this God, and Hate these people and your morality is assured as well as everlasting boredom in the bosom of God after you die.”

Real morality comes from accepting responsibility for your affects on your fellow humans right now, right here. If you improve their lives even marginally you are being moral, if you make their lives unhappy or unpleasant, even by a little bit you need to accept responsibility for your immoral behavior and do what you can to repair the situation.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether you believe in God, any god, or whether you have no such beliefs. You are still responsible for the other people in your life if you wish to be considered a moral person. Claiming that God made you an asshole does not make you a moral asshole. Believe it or not it makes you a God damned asshole, since no moral God expects believers to be assholes. One of the most famous Gods says love your neighbor as yourself. No excuses, no exceptions. Make your neighbor’s life better or pay the consequences in this life and the next if there is one. "

Monday, June 22, 2009 The Space Child's Mother Goose: Frederick Winsor, Marian Parry (illustrator): Books The Space Child's Mother Goose: Frederick Winsor, Marian Parry (illustrator): Books

This is the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
That thickened the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack Built.

Ah well, you all know the rest.

Finally back in print. At long last. The next generation can now discover the Erudite Verbal Haze and celebrate the theory that Jack Built.

But the Black Hen rules!

Are Dog Breeds Actually Different Species?: Scientific American

Are Dog Breeds Actually Different Species?: Scientific American: "Amazingly, right now Chihuahuas are still considered C. lupus familiaris, a subspecies of wolf. And calling a Chihuahua a wolf is like calling someone at the Discovery Institute a scientist."

Not a bad idea. I have always thought of the working breeds a different species from the lap dogs, the breeding barrier being the matron who wouldn't let her beloved fluffy out of his upholstered carrier long enough to sniff a working breed. The question of hunting vs herding dogs is a bit more difficult, but again I would argue that temperament population isolation due to work environment would qualify them for speciation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Is the Internet the Global Village?

For those whose local village or parish does not work for them for whatever reason my tentative answer is yes. I think of those in my graduating Class at Stanford, scattered all over the map, and found that although we could keep in a semblance of contact through reunions and mail, it wasn't until the blogs and social networking sites opened up that I was able to regain the intellectual contact that made Stanford so special. The inclusion in my village of those who never were face friends and probably never will be, has expanded my village to a proper size and enriched my world to share the joys and sorrows of those who would certainly be in my village if we weren't scattered all over the globe.

A beliefnet friend just completed a PhD in England, and shared her thrill at being awarded a post doc she was hoping for. I shared in the thrill and joy that I have missed in my local village where most do not have that academic level.

The village of retail marketing where I have spent most of my recent work life, has very little in the way of intellectual stimulation that I didn't create on my own, and I was huddled in my ivory tower reading my books and listening to my music with no one to discuss it with. There were compensations, but there was a huge hole in my life that has been filled with facebook, blogs and social networks that basically self select for people like me.

It is early in the life of the social net, and few have as yet discovered the village that awaits them there. But when they do I suspect that for much of the world the social milieu will be totally changed back to a small socially tight village where the people happen to live in far flung places in the world.

Do Facebook Friends Work?

The Human Condition : Friends With Benefits: Do Facebook Friends Provide the Same Support as Those In Real Life?: "Numerous studies have shown that a strong network of friends can be crucial to getting through a crisis, and can help you be healthier in general. But could virtual friends, like the group of online buddies that reached out to Sue, be just as helpful as the flesh-and-blood versions? In other words, do Facebook friends—and the support we get from them—count? These questions are all the more intriguing as the number of online social-network users increase. Facebook attracted 67.5 million visitors in the U.S. in April (according to ComScore Inc.), and the fastest-growing demographic is people over 35. It’s clear that connecting to friends, both close and distant, via the computer will become more the norm than novelty."

A good intro to something I have been working on recently: For those of us with an unusual demographic, in my case highly intelligent, spiritual atheist, choral musician, cosmopolitan with friends and family scattered all over the US and classical music literate, will on-line social networking take the place of the village or parish that historically has been the source of our social support for all of the important crises in life. Whether it is a stubbed toe or the death of a loved one, seeing a butterfly or falling in love, we need a touch of a friend.

If my local parish or village is an unpleasant place where I feel totally outcast due to my demographic not fitting in with the rest of the village, must I give up hope of a touch, or can a virtual touch work just as well.

As a related issue, is a real "touch" a necessary condition for the virtual touch to work?
As a single data point, a beliefnet friend who I never met, and who I had no contact with outside of forum posts died. I grieved as if he was a face-friend, and created an appreciation thread as soon as his absence from the boards was noted as I knew he was terminally ill. An obit was found and posted and the threat turned into a virtual atheist celebration of the life of. A donation to the hospice with a copy of the thread, generated a beautiful post by his daughter filling in details we (the virtual group of friends) would have known had we had face contact.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does it make a difference?

Beliefnet Community > Thread - Question about atheism:
If both Hitler and Mother Teresa cease to exist at death, and all the people they helped or harmed cease to exist at death, then is there ultimately any difference between them (Hitler and Mother Teresa)?

"Will any of it matter a billion years from now? Probably not. Did it matter to those who suffered and to those of us in a world where we still deal with the repercussions? Hell yeah. I do not accept that, for instance, Hitler did good in some way because 'god' said so or because he was a part of the greater plan. I'm sure that you don't believe that, but apparently someone did, the man was sadly successful. So what difference does in make in the 'bigger picture'? Not sure that is does, but it makes a difference to me."

It makes a big difference to me as well. I will resist the bad guys and help the good guys because it makes a difference to me and my chosen society here and now, and the repercussions will resonate in the here and then far into my lifetime and for those who I care about who follow me.

Why do Good?

Beliefnet Community > Thread - Question about atheism:
What is an atheist's motivation for doing good, indeed how do you define good given your belief that everything ends at death?

"Again, speaking for myself, [Beliefnet Wampy] why not? Does a smile not have a value all it's own? Is life not valuable enough to save for it's own sake? Indeed, does it not have more value if one believes that there is nothing after death? I would wonder if one would not value life less if one believes that life is just a transitory state and not the real reward. Take suicide bombers for instance. My view is that good is it's own motivation. What does death have to do with good either way? How do you define good when the real action is in the afterlife? My view is that religions have promoted many things that are not good and still valued them as such. I see no intrinsic 'goodness' in something said to have passed down from a supernatural figure. Good is constructive and helpful. Death does not change this.

Perhaps you should make a discussion of what motivates you to do good other than a selfish desire for reward or fear of punishment? I use the word selfish only to indicate that either of those motivations are nothing more than a concern for yourself. Do you do no 'good' simply for the benefit of someone else, with no concern of the benefit or detriment to yourself?"

Indeed, is not a smile worth more than all the pie you can eat in the sky after you die?

What do atheists think?

Beliefnet Community > Thread - Question about atheism: "I suppose I will start by echoing the obvious. There's not much of an 'atheist' viewpoint. There are no gods pretty much sums it up. Whether it is God, Allah, Zeus, or Steve the god of biscuits, they simply do not exist. Everything else is opinion that has not much to do with it. So, I can only tell you what I think about a specific question, not necessarily an 'atheist viewpoint'."

An amusing and succinct answer to any question beginning What do Atheists think"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Penis-shaped mushroom named after frog expert: Scientific American Blog

Penis-shaped mushroom named after frog expert: Scientific American Blog: "Herpetologist Robert Drewes will forever be remembered for his two-inch Phallus.

In the upcoming issue of the journal Mycologia, scientists describe a new species of stinkhorn fungus from Africa, which they christened Phallus drewesii in honor of their expedition leader."

With colleagues like these you don't need any hecklers.

The Sound of Passion: Scientific American

The Sound of Passion: Scientific American: "The new work is part of an emerging portrait of the broader connections between music, emotion and speech. These studies are finding that musicians are more accurate in detecting emotion -- such as joy, sadness and anger -- in speech samples. The effect has been found even in children as young as 7 years old, with as little as one year of music training. It is a fascinating example of how experience in one domain (music) benefits another (emotion perception). However, it is not until very recently, with the publication of the new study by Strait and her colleagues, that the biological foundation of the effect has been demonstrated."

As they say music is fundamental. Deprive your children of music and they will be "Depraved on account of being deprived" from "West Side Story." Daniel J. Levitin believes that it was music rather than speech that gave early hominids their sophisticated emotional communication capability. Maybe you can lie with your words, but can you lie with your song?

Importantly related was a performance of the Missa Solemnis by the Minnesota Orchestra the other night. It was the last performance by their concertmaster, and yes she is a master, Jorja Fleezanis. The Preleuso was exquisite and would certainly get God's attention if there was one created at the performance. I didn't feel the presence, but it was a concert not a parish.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chalice lighting ceremony circa 1989 for a Lay Service at Davis UU Church.

Sermon Topic: The Natural History of God.

Sacred Flames

Leader: Since a time before History
People have gathered around fires
To share their joys and sorrows
And to sing and to hear stories
That help them through their daily lives.
As we light our special fire, Let us reflect:

The flame focuses
The concern and help we receive,
But they come from the love we share.

Congregation: When we need strength and hope
May we have the courage to reach out
And to accept without fear
The love of our fellows.

When we are full with life's blessings
May we share lovingly.
Only by sharing with others
Can we increase them for ourselves.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tsujii 2nd Rock

Apparantly you can't upload from the website, or at least I can't. Go to go to June 6 on the bottom of the finals section and enjoy.
Tsujii has been blind from birth, but states "There are no barriers in the field of music." Sure.

Health issues

You were warned. Eminently boring old fart tedium.

I passed out at the computer Wed about noon for no good reason at all, scared the crap out of Shu-Ju and ended up in the ER with excruciating pain from biting my tongue almost in half lengthwise and laying my shin open down to the bone. Neurologist says best guess at this time is Grand Mal, which is French for Brain Fart. A few more tests to rule out odd stuff, but Brain Fart looks pretty solid. Leg and tongue working. Pau.