John Green knows what it means to be human

I’m a huge fan of the Big History Project, and just got the email about their new contest. It’s focused on getting people to create videos to answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?” There were three example videos, including one from Big History’s big benefactor, Bill Gates (@BillGates). Another was by Jacqueline Howard (@JacqEHoward), the Science Editor at Huffington Post proxy. But the one that really stood out was by John Green (@johngreen), who’s one of the vlogbrothers on YouTube. Here’s the awesomeness… … Continue reading →

Staying Awake to Anti-Islamic Bigotry

I’m a big fan of Bill Maher and rarely miss his show. I agree with a lot of what he says, but certainly not everything. I’m also very attentive to Sam Harris. He’s become one of the leading proponents of the notions that consciousness and free will are illusions (ideas I oppose), and he’s been exceptionally disciplined and precise in making his arguments. So I was very attentive to the famous debate with Ben Affleck about liberal attitudes toward Islamic illiberalism, and I posted my response in a couple of places online, including Juan Cole’s Informed Comment and … Continue reading →

Bill Maher vs Bill Kristol: Is the Tea Party Racist?

During a Facebook conversation in the wake of Bill Kristol’s appearance on Bill Maher, one of my Frisbee buddies liked my take on the Tea Party. I reposted it on Bill Maher’s page. I think it’s a huge mistake to dismiss the Tea Party as bunch of racist buffoons. It may be easy to get a laugh by playing on caricatures of demon racists, but you overlook the real meaning and threats of the movement when you do so. There’s no denying that racist buffoons have appeared under the Tea Party tent. So have scores of Bible-thumping fanatics … Continue reading →

We the People

The aspiration embodied in the statement “We the people” cast a long shadow in American and human history. William O. Douglas was very savvy in using the term “penumbras” to describe the extension of rights delineated in the Bill of Rights. That same extensive power fortifies the American and now global tradition of demanding the power and legitimacy of self-government. “We” is an expressly inclusive word, and a potent tool for those who are seeking to excise vestigial legacies of exclusion. In response to a thread on Facebook. … Continue reading →

Contemplating the Crackpot Caucus

Timothy Eagan of the New York Times vents about evidence-challenged members of Congress (all Republicans) in a recent Opnionator blog post. I weighed in with this comment ( It hasn’t appeared after several hours, apparently because the site is having technical problems). The persistence of such primitive attitudes in our country is deplorable, but not surprising. Science and religion (at their best) are both truth seeking endeavors. Yet their champion urges — seeking facts that hold up vs. seeking values that are to be upheld — are clearly at odds. Many of the religiously-motivated, rationality-challenged folks I’ve known … Continue reading →

Dawkins Promotes The Magic of Reality

O’Reilly hosted Richard Dawkins, who’s on a book tour promoting a science primer called “The Magic of Reality.” All the nearby bookstores have closed down, so I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’m aware that each chapter apparently opens with an origin-of-life myth from around the ancient world. Mr. O’Reilly complained that Judeo-Christian creation stories were included. That’s mockery, in his view. They sparred on that a little, but occasionally danced around a topic that deserves much more thoughtful treatment… the question of whether countries led by atheists have done more violence than countries led by religious … Continue reading →