Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Spock," Berlinski, Postman, and Me

I was barely out of my childhood (lol) when the original Star Trek TV series (1966) became an overnight sensation, and “Spock” became an instant audience favorite with his dry, emotionless, one-word quip: “Illogical.” For a cool-headed assessment of tricky situations, Captain Kirk always consulted Spock, who could be depended upon to think rationally in any crisis. Spock made logic cool. And where his perfect logic wasn’t sufficient to handle the situation, his “Spock Pinch” could save the day.

When I studied logic in college, a vague uneasiness would wash over me as I attempted to identify some “fallacy of logic” in a written argument. Labeling someone’s argument as fallacious, faulty, false, or a deception seemed brashly impolite and tactless. Possibly even dangerous. I had spent my whole life avoiding confrontation; I certainly didn’t want to insult or embarrass anyone by branding their views illogical, false, fallacious, or deceptive. It was “nicer” (and safer) to beat around the bush and pretend to not notice their affront to logic, never mind that their affront was an insult to my intelligence and an embarrassment to my feelings. Sadly, I don’t know that I will ever master the art of dispassionate disagreement. Besides that, I wouldn’t know how to administer a “Spock Pinch” if someone became violent after I pointed out their fallacies of logic.

Now, enter one David Berlinski [photo at left]. I realized the other day that he is the real life embodiment of Spock. He’s cool-headed and emotionless. Logic, to him, is second nature. He doesn’t go around looking down his nose muttering “illogical,” of course. He deftly sizes up a questionable assertion and says something that exposes the faulty thinking or deception for what it is. He is the proverbial thorn in the side of those who are dressed in the intellectual equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes. He has no compunction whatsoever in stating for all to hear, “The Emperor is naked!” – OR—“The ‘science’ here is flawed, and the ‘scientists’ are charlatans who will not ‘allow’ anyone to question or dispute their assertions!” He merely expects “scientists” to hold to the scientific method. (Image that!) When they don’t, but nonetheless claim that their views are “scientific facts,” he exposes them for what they really are; thus he calmly, matter-of-factly, and dispassionately, dispatches them.

At least, calm and dispassionate describes how he looks. After reading several of his articles and his latest book, The Devil’s Delusion, Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, I now know that his cool, thoughtful, solemn, Spock-like demeanor is an outward pose which just barely conceals his satirical wit. I don’t know how he keeps from laughing out loud. He makes me laugh out loud. Maybe he gives himself a hard Spock Pinch, when necessary, to squelch his own gales of laughter.

The scientists who are not laughing are Richard Dawkins and his cronies who worship at the throne of Darwinism. This is not mere invective. Their belief in Darwinism has a decided religious zeal. They are fanatical about it, and scream “heresy” should anyone in their midst dare express any doubts about any aspect of Darwinist theory. They don’t want to hear about or consider any other ideas or theories. They begin screaming “religion” if anyone merely points out apparent “design” found in nature or the universe. However, to their utter fury, they cannot accuse Berlinski of religious motives, because he is “a secular Jew” and an agnostic who is more interested in the exercise of logic itself (as well as exposing those who want to deceive others) than in supplying answers to scientific questions.

Neil Postman, if he were still alive, would probably find Berlinski to be a breath of fresh air. Neil Postman long ago (1969) delivered a rollicking speech at the National Convention for the Teachers of English, with the attention-getting title, “Bull[****] and the Art of Crap-Detection.”

He explained to the teachers that the “best things schools can do for kids is to help them learn how to distinguish useful talk from ... [bovine dung]....” He then said that the four main types of crap-talk were pomposity, fanaticism, inanity, and superstition. Fanaticism, he said, “has almost no tolerance for any data that do not confirm its own point of view.” He went on to criticize “isms” saying that “those most enmeshed in it hear no ... [bovine dung] ... whatsoever in its rhetoric, and as a consequence are extremely dangerous to other people.” Postman hoped that somehow the teachers would help their students acquire a “knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings.” (Skills obviously still needing to be taught.)

Postman would commend Berlinski for his ability to see through the Darwinists’ "bull." And for helping the rest of us have confidence in the face of fanaticism.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Earth Hour

Hey! I missed it!

Last saturday night at 8ish or 9ish was "earth hour." That was where everyone (in the world) was supposed to turn off all their electricity as a symbolic token of their concern for global warming (or something). It was symbolism, only symbolism. It wasn't really supposed to help save the earth or any natural resources or save us from global warming or save the [insert your favorite endangered species]. It was supposed to "raise awareness." It was an environmental publicity stunt.

Did you turn off your electicity?

I don't even remember what I was doing Saturday night.

As a global-environmental-standing-in-a-circle-holding-hands-and-singing-in-the-dark event, I think it was a failure. Nobody around here gave it the slightest attention. Probably because no one knew about it. Some publicity stunt. Someone in Tennessee drove by Al Gore's mansion during earth hour and found the outdoor floodlights illuminating his trees, and coming from inside the house, the blue flicker of TVs or computer monitors. "Al Gore Snubs Earth Hour," the headline read. Even the guru of global warming apparently thought it a silly event. LOL

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Time to Stamp Out "Meme"

Several times recently, as I was reading something on the internet, I tripped over the word “meme.” Judging by the context, I surmised that the word was akin to motif, meaning a recurring theme, idea, or design as found in music, literature, or art. However, when I attempted to parse the “meme” of President Obama’s use of teleprompters, I was mystified. If “meme” was akin to motif, it also obviously carried with it an aspect of derision, as an object of ridicule.

I looked up “meme” in my Webster’s New World Dictionary Third College Edition (copyright 1988)—it was not to be found. The word apparently came into usage sometime after 1988. So, I resorted to Wikipedia. As it turns out, “meme” is jargon concocted by Richard Dawkins. . . . . Enough said? (Consider the source?)

The word's meaning only recently, it seems, has mutated and insinuated itself into the mainstream media as the fad term in use by pseudo-intellectuals and talking heads (hence, the Obama-teleprompter- “meme”—which makes absolutely no sense). One mutation of the word’s meaning is, according to “the daily meme” website:

“In the context of . . . blogging and other kinds of personal web sites it’s some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. Then someone else sees them and does them and so on and so on. I generally consider these to be actual questions and not some multiple choice quizzes that determine some result at the end (what color you are most like, what cartoon character are you, what 80s movie are you).”
Dawkins originally contrived the word to describe “self-replicating and evolving ideas.” He thinks that the origins and perpetuation of ideas have much in common with self-replicating genes. I know. It is nonsensical. The thing that you must understand, however, is that particular ideas that are “memes” to Dawkins are more especially those that he disagrees with and thinks ridiculous—viruses of the mind, as it were—such as religion.

Ironically, Dawkins uses no “science” to validate this gene-like “meme” notion; and logic fails. On the other hand, if he only meant it as a metaphor or a simile (a figure of speech), it is neither compelling nor illuminating. Dawkins’ specialty is reductionism (any method or theory of reducing data, processes, or statements to seeming equivalents that are less complex or developed: usually a disparaging term), to his own detriment.

What to do with “meme,” then? I recommend that every time you hear or read the word “meme” presented with any kind of seriousness, that you feel pity for the person who used the term, just as you would for any verbal fad follower. You might ask them what they mean by “meme.” See if they can define it, or if they know its origins, or if they only know it in its mutations. You might also suggest to them that the baggage attached to the term, its nebulous meanings, and it’s faddism make it a distasteful and annoying blight on the English language and adds nothing to a good conversation, nor brings any illumination to the mind.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Heroic Horatio

Last week, the Knight and I watched the first three DVDs of the A&E movie series based on C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels. In the first one, The Duel, Horatio, at age seventeen, begins his adventures aboard the frigate, “Indefatigable,” where the villain, Simmons, in their first encounter demeans our young hero by dubbing him, “Snotty,” and then beats him black and blue (and nearly to death). Later on they have a duel with pistols. Simmons is the consummate bully-villain. The descriptors, “vicious, cruel, and cowardly,” barely sketch this vile, despicable man who is determined to “break” Horatio.

Horatio, of course, is the consummate gentleman and hero even at his tender years. He does not cower before his tormentor, rather, he conducts himself with honor and quiet dignity even in the worst circumstances. If Simmons had had any shred of decency or humanity, he would have been impressed with Horatio’s stalwart character, and would have sought him as a respected friend. Instead, the more Horatio’s true character is revealed through his noble response to adversity, the more angry and vicious Simmons becomes.

In the second movie, The Fire Ships, Horatio faces starvation and then bravely boards a burning ship that is on a collision course with The Indefatigable and steers it safely away, and then, risking his own life, saves an arrogant, self-serving Admiral from burning to death on the ship.

In the third movie, The Devil and the Duchess, Horatio and his men are prisoners of war in Spain. One night, during a violent storm, a Spanish ship crashes onto a reef near the prison. Horatio and his men, after giving their word to their warden that they would not attempt to escape, rescue the ship’s crew. Horatio is true to his word and voluntarily returns to the prison. Horatio’s men, out of deep respect for Horatio’s integrity, feel it an honor to return to prison with him.

While watching these movies, my empathy for Horatio (as well as my protective-mother instincts) caused me to cringe in fear on his behalf (he, however, did not cringe), and to feel outrage and a desire for vengeance (which he did not succumb to), and, as he suffered, to feel pity for him (he, however, refused to give in to the character flaw of self-pity). So much for my “natural man” tendencies!

Through all his harrowing experiences, Horatio was not “trying” to be noble or heroic, it was the way he was. Nevertheless, his steadiness of character was indeed “tried in the furnace of affliction,” and he was shown to be indefatigable. He was tried and not found wanting. His strength of character and goodness won him the admiration of his fellow officers and crew members. They, in turn, became better individuals themselves because of his inspiring example.

In contrast to heroic Horatio, the “heroes” of too much of cinema and television today are often profoundly flawed characters—they are anti-heroes. Regrettably, these charmingly portrayed characters often lie a little, cheat a little, and take advantage of, or even dig a pit for their neighbors. Too many of them not only regularly give in to anger, pride, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement, accepting these behaviors as normal, but they also revel in them. They take pleasure in their own shoddy behavior. Their less than sterling behavior is often depicted to viewers as justifiable or humorous. Anything for a laugh. Viewers are encouraged to identify with these tarnished anti-heroes. Sadly, some viewers not only cheer them on—but also mimic their behavior in their own lives, as if they fully expected applause or commendation for doing so.

What happens to us as viewers when we take in a steady diet of tarnished anti-heroes? If we never or rarely ever see examples of truly heroic, honorable, Horatio-like behavior either on TV, in movies, or in real life, how will we be motivated to act heroically in our own lives? Who will teach us how to be truly heroic? Ideally, our family members and friends model heroic behavior. Ideally, we read books that instruct and inspire us. But, if not . . . . Well, I think you get the picture.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How Many Times Removed???

I hope that you somehow found (and read) the previous blog which I posted; it was about Philo T. Farnsworth. In it, I explained how I and my children and grandchildren are related to the inventor of the television. Unfortunately, that blog has been temporarily lost in a cyberspace black hole. [However, if you actually found this one, that one is directly below.] I pessimistically expect that this blog might temporarily disappear, too. Nevertheless….

You may have wondered about the rumor that we are related to LaVell Edwards, former BYU Football coach. The rumor is true. My mother and LaVell are 2nd cousins. Their common ancestors are their Great Grandparents, Robert Edwards and Elizabeth Huntington, who left England in the late 1860s and eventually settled in Beaver, Utah. LaVell’s grandfather was Aaron Robert Edwards who was born in 1863, while my mother’s grandfather was Aaron’s younger brother, David, who was born in 1867.

LaVell’s father’s name was Philo Taylor Edwards. Yes, there’s that Philo Taylor name again! Aaron Robert Edwards married a daughter of another of the polygamous wives of the original Philo Taylor Farnsworth. So, as it turns out, LaVell Edwards is also related to the famous inventor of the television. They are 1st cousins, once removed.

Since my mother is a second cousin of LaVell Edwards, I am a 2nd cousin once removed; my children are 2nd cousins twice removed; my grandchildren are 2nd cousins three times removed. So the next time you drive by LaVell Edwards stadium at BYU, you can say, “Old LaVell is my second cousin!” (The how-many-times-removed part is optional! LOL)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our Kind of Guy (Philo T. Farnsworth)

An article appeared in Time Magazine ten years ago, written by Neil Postman (one of my heroes--he's the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death), telling the story of one of my (and also my children's and my grandchildren's) relatives. The article began:

" For those inclined to think of our fading century as an era of the common man, let it be noted that the inventor of one of the century’s greatest machines was a man called Phil. Even more, he was actually born in a log cabin, rode to high school on horseback and, without benefit of a university degree (indeed, at age 14), conceived the idea of electronic television — the moment of inspiration coming, according to legend, while he was tilling a potato field back and forth with a horse-drawn harrow and realized that an electron beam could scan images the same way, line by line, just as you read a book. To cap it off, he spent much of his adult life in a struggle with one of America’s largest and most powerful corporations [RCA]. Our kind of guy. "

Postman goes on, telling the story of Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the television. Please let me know if you'd like to read the rest of the story--which is engagingly told, and not too long.

Now I am going to tell you how I am related to Philo T.--and how you are related to him if you are one of my children or grandchildren.

One of Philo T's grandfathers (also named Philo Taylor Farnsworth) was one of the original settlers of Beaver, Utah, in 1856. As it happens, my 3rd Great Grandfather, Andrew Patterson, was also one of those original settlers of Beaver. Andrew Patterson would become inventor Philo T's Great Grandfather. Andrew Patterson was baptised in Scotland in 1847. A year later, he and his wife and his four children, Margaret, Robert, and twins, Agnes Ann and Mary, crossed the ocean to gather to Zion. The children's mother died of cholera in Missouri in 1848. Twins, Agnes Ann and Mary were only 4 years old.

Mary would grow up to become my 2nd Great Grandmother. Her twin sister would grow up to become a polygamous wife of the original Philo Taylor Farnsworth, pioneer in Beaver, and would become the grandmother of Philo T--inventor of the television. My grandmother (Agnes Ann Bradshaw Edwards) was Philo T's 2nd cousin. My mother is a "2nd cousin once removed" (he was only 16 years older than her).

Therefore, TV inventor Philo T and I are "2nd cousins twice removed." My children are "2nd cousins 3 times removed;" my grandchildren are "2nd cousins 4 times removed." [The "removed" term refers to generations.] If Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television, ever comes up in a conversation, you can say, "Philo and I are 2nd cousins."

Incidentally, Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, discusses the impact of TV on viewers. Understandably, he concludes the article about Philo T, with the following:

" . . . His attitude toward the uses that had been made of his invention was ... ferocious. His son Kent was once asked what that attitude was. He said, “I suppose you could say that he felt he had created kind of a monster, a way for people to waste a lot of their lives.”

He added, “Throughout my childhood his reaction to television was ‘There’s nothing on it worthwhile, and we’re not going to watch it in this household, and I don’t want it in your intellectual diet.’”

So we may end Farnsworth’s story by saying that he was not only the inventor of television but also one of its earliest and most perceptive critics. "

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Harbinger of Spring

This morning at 6 a.m., I could hear a robin in the leafless River Birch outside of our bedroom window. He was shouting loudly enough to be heard in spite of the tightly locked double-paned windows and the bedroom ceiling fan’s perpetual white noise. "Cheer up! Cheer up! Cheerily!” he shouted. “Cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up . . . ." He was urging the sun to rise in the predawn light above the mountains to the east. He made me happy. I couldn't help but smile inwardly.

When we lived in New Mexico, we didn’t have many robins. But we had Meadow Larks instead. I loved their song, too. And I miss them here. In Minnesota, we had the guttural chortle of Red-winged Blackbirds. But the real place for bird watching was Indiana. Early summer mornings in Indiana were incredible for birdsong—a glorious, tumultuous confusion of joy!

Actually, the Robins here in Orem can be seen year-round. But they don’t seem to sing much during the winter. They seem to save singing for Spring and Summer. That’s why this morning’s serenade by the "Harbinger of Spring" was so exquisitely sweet. The first day of Spring is this Friday.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Here We Go Again

It's a conspiracy! Blogger hates me! Yesterday's Blog (see below) is lost in the cyber-space-time-continuum--AGAIN.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm Not Laughing

One of my favorite things to do each week is to look at all the political cartoons posted on townhall.com. These cartoonists have brilliant incisive minds. They are also courageous.

Here are my favorites this week:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Spidey Sense"

How freaky is this??

"A student poses with a Xenesthis immanis tarantula on her face during an exhibition at a school in Bogota, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. Biologist Dario Gutierrez tours schools throughout Colombia teaching students the use of almost 300 species of arachnids in traditional medicine. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez)"
Where is Dandelion when we really need her??

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Warp in the Space-Time Continuum?

So. I posted the dieting cartoon blog (below) this morning before 8 a.m. And it has been lost in the cyberspace-time continuum ever since. More that 6 hours have elapsed. What's with that? Chris, too, has had this problem of an "invisible" blog (I was having an identical problem at the same time he was several weeks ago). It seemed to solve itself back then. Is it a glitch in the internet? Or a glitch in my connections? Or a glitch in Blogger?

The latest in dieting research . . .

Want to live longer? Embrace Hunger! Skinny rats live longer. (Sad but true!)

Less than five weeks to go.