Department Of First Things First:
Happy International Blasphemy Day, y’all.
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Department Of It’s Not Working
#397 In A Never-Ending Series
Dateline: Monday morning, 9 am, at the beginning of my streaming Vinyasa yoga class. The teacher announces that, in case we weren’t aware, September is National Yoga Awareness Month. She says that before the pandemic a group of yoga teachers in the area used to gather on the first Sunday after the Equinox to do 108 Sun Salutations in an open space, such as a public park. They would begin the practice by “setting an intention” for world peace. For this morning’s practice she was going to lead us in a series of Sun Salutations – but don’t worry, she assured us, *not* 108 of them. 
Moiself is aware of the practice of yogis doing 108 Sun Salutations to mark the changes of the seasons, and I’ve done them for the past few years, by moiself,  on the day of the solstices and equinoxes. I hadn’t heard of the first-Sunday-after/intention-for-peace ® thing. And, after Monday morning’s class, when the teacher again mentioned the intention-for-peace, I couldn’t help but siggle (a combo sigh and giggle).
Yo, all you well-intentioned monastics (and any like-minded yogis): it isn’t working.
One true thing: while occupied with doing yoga poses my fellow yogis and I were not outside the studio and/or our homes, fomenting armed conflicts. And all those folks praying for/meditating on world peace, while they are so engaged, they also are not participating in any wars.  But prayer and good intentions…dudes, really? These and other elements of “spiritual warfare” may give you a temporary dose of the warm fuzzies, but they didn’t stop the Romans or the Huns or the Nazis then, and they don’t stop Putin’s army now.
Nevertheless…. Yeah, it is a nice “intention.” Namaste, y’all.
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Department Of International Celebrations Of Yoga
Meanwhile, Irish yogis marked the Equinox with their traditional celebrations. 
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Department Of Particularizing
“The best argument in the world won’t change a single person’s point of view.
The only thing that can do that is a good story.”
(novelist Richard Powers)
Recently I was listening to an interview with Ken Burns, who was promoting his latest documentary series, The US and the Holocaust. When discussing with the interviewer how to get past the numbness of such atrocities, Burns said something at once common-sensical and dazzlingly insightful: 
“If you don’t particularize, you anesthetize.”
Burns was referencing how one can try to illustrate or explain seemingly unimaginable numbers, such as this disorienting fact:
There were nine million Jews living in Europe before World War II; afterword,
there were only three million left alive.
Six million Jews died.
How many of us can imagine six million, of anything? But, as Burns explained, you can tell the story of a family of three; you can show the pictures of a mama and a papa and their child, and tell how only one of the three will be alive at the end of the war. *That* can touch people; that is something people can relate to.
I immediately thought of the movie The Martian, one of my favorite films of the past…well, ever. Many is the discussion I’ve had with MH about that movie; more specifically, about the idea of sending people on manned missions to our moon or other planets. Moiself is in favor of that; I am keen on extra-Terran investigation of our cosmos and don’t see it happening otherwise. I see the need for humans in space exploration as an inversion of the old astronaut’s axiom. “No Buck Rogers, no bucks.” 
MH’s position, held by some scientists and laypeople alike, is that it makes no sense to undertake the higher costs and logistics of sending astronauts to (for example) Mars when robots and probes, etc. can do similar jobs of exploration more efficiently and less dangerously.  But I say it depends on what kind of “sense” you are talking about.
If a probe crash lands or simply runs out of juice, the scientists who have worked for years (in some cases, decades) on the mission will be distressed, of course. But no one will be scrambling to mount a rescue mission.
Without human involvement – not just in the design, but in having human/astronaut “boots on the ground” – you will not capture the wider human attention for the mission. In the real-life case of Apollo 13, millions of people around the world were watching. Even if only temporarily, people set aside personal concerns and were united in their hopes that the three imperiled astronauts would make it back to earth alive. Three men in a space can. Meanwhile, 100,000 times as many people were dying across the globe every day, some from (arguably) treatable causes such as famine, war, and poverty. But we don’t relate to those numbers; it is the particular stories which can capture our hearts and minds.
Figures like 100,000 deaths anesthetize. But a particular story can, I firmly believe, unite people across seemingly intractable political barriers, as when, in the fictional case of The Martian, an international crew of astronauts faced tragedy, and Chinese scientists persuaded their government to essentially give up their secrets in order to help a stranded fellow scientist.
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Department Of The Podcast I Couldn’t Listen To All The Way Through
But first, a flashback.
Dateline: a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, during one of those late-night, discussing-Deep-Topics®-while-sitting-in-someone’s-dorm-room conversations. One of the Deep Topics® participants, in whose room the conversation was taking place (there were a total of five of us), was considering majoring in psychology. While we bantered about various subjects, “Tim,” a dorm friend of ours, appeared in the open doorway of the room. Reeking of dead skunk and beaming a beatific smile, Tim looked down at us five, spouted some stoner nonsense, and continued staggering down the hallway, loudly humming a Grateful Dead song.
Deep Topics® host chuckled, then offered a provocative discussion topic. With the caveat that psychological survey claims cannot ultimately be tested, they said they’d read a survey wherein religious believers generally claimed to be happier than religious skeptics.
“And your point would be?” moiself snarked. I pointed out that, right now, Tim would no doubt “survey” as being happier than all five of us combined. Little did I know that Someone Smarter Than Moiself ® had already nailed that one.
Back to the podcast I couldn’t finish. It was a recent episode from one of my favorites: Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid podcast. In that particular episode, Alda was up to his usual high standards of affable yet probing interviewer, and his guest was equally amiable and engaging. But the episode, Bridging Science and Faith, was about a subject at which guest Francis Collins tanked, IMO.
There was no bridge constructed. Not even an inflatable pontoon.
Collins is a noted a physician and researcher, former director of the NIH, and one of the Human Genome Project leaders. The episode had this teaser:
Head of the National Institutes of Health for 13 years and now interim science advisor to President Biden, Francis Collins is that rarity in the scientific community – an outspoken evangelical Christian.
For him, science is “getting a glimpse of God’s mind.”
In the interview Collins ultimately (even cheerfully) did not offer any “evidence” for his belief in a (Christian) god, except for the fact that he did believe. He openly admitted that he could make no argument for the evidence affirming the particulars of Christian theology over those of other religions. It quite surprised me, coming from a scientist – his offering of the shopworn, “oh gosh all these things I am studying it must have come from something, and it looks like there is some kind of order to it, yet we don’t know what it is…” reason.
You don’t know something, and so you conclude that the something must be a supernatural deity, aka, a god? That’s quite a leap, for which there is no evidence. And science is all about the evidence. Thus the fact that scientists consistently survey as the least religious professionals.
Then, when Collins decides to embrace the concept of a deity, he happens to choose a religion which would be the most comfortable and familiar and acceptable in his culture and country: Christianity. It was a giddy, circular concept, as dizzying as a child’s playground roundabout. Collins said that by studying what he studied (biology/the human genome), by examining the “evidence,” he became convinced of the existence of a creator, which led to his religious faith – however, this same evidence does not convince other scientists who have studied the same things (the vast majority of scientists) that there is anything supernatural guiding the cosmos…. So, Collins talks about the evidence leading him to faith even as he admits that he takes his faith on faith, because there *isn’t* objective evidence to prove his faith.
Scientists, of course, are human beings, raised by and living among other human beings. Whether or not they actually believe in their particular culture’s religions, many scientists do not object to being identified with the religion of their family or “tribe,” or they continue to hold on to some kind of religious identity for cultural and social reasons (and for professional and personal safety reasons, as in some societies you do not have the freedom to be open about religious disbelief, no matter what your profession is).
“I have no problem going to church services because quite often, again that’s a cultural thing,” said a physics reader in the U.K. who said he sometimes attended services because his daughter sang in the church choir. “It’s like looking at another part of your culture, but I have no faith religiously.”
( “First worldwide survey of religion and science: No, not all scientists are atheists.”
Rice University news and media relations 12-3-15 )
Even as I kept those contingencies in mind, moiself started doing that thing – have you ever done it? – feeling embarrassment for or on behalf of a person I have never met, a person who is not even in the same room but whom I think is speaking…well…foolishly.
I wish Collins would have just said, “I have chosen to believe this,” instead of claiming that some kind of evidence – which, unlike the evidence used to map the genome, is not evident to his fellow scientists – is what led him to faith. Like the vast majority of religious folk, no matter their profession or education, Collins’ decision to embrace the supernatural is not (IMO) the result of response to objective evidence;  rather, it is due to that most human of traits: credulity. For whatever reasons, he *wanted* to believe. And so he did.
Don’t get me wrong – I think Collins is a great guy. And I love the fact that he had a friendship with the late great British journalist and author, Christopher Hitchens. “Hitch” trashed Collins in public debates (re the existence of a supernatural deity) but got to know Collins personally. 
We now pause for a break in our regularly scheduled program to take advantage of this opportunity for segue.
Many is the person, however witty and wise they had previously seemed to be, who regretted debating Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was acknowledged by admirers and detractors alike as being one of the best debaters to ever take the stage. In 2007 at an FFRF convention I had the pleasure of hearing Hitchens speak, then answer questions from the audience. One of the audience questioners…oh, dear. I felt so sorry for the man, but he phrased his disagreements with several of Hitchens’ opinions – disagreements I moiself actually held – somewhat inanely and very clumsily. And Hitch pounced. I witnessed a phenomena that (at the time) I didn’t know had already been given a name: the man had been Hitch-slapped.
Definition: when a person overwhelmingly lost a debate with Christopher Hitchens or was the subject of a devastating Hitch putdown, s/he was said to have been “Hitch-slapped.”
Most of the people Hitchens debated with wound up Hitch-Slapped within a few minutes of making their first remarks. You can check out one of my favorite H-S moments here.
Christopher Hitchens was an annihilative debater, seizing on logical weaknesses and often dominating the discourse with his vast vocabulary and Oxford-honed debating skills. No matter the subject, Hitch would have all the facts at his disposal and an overwhelmingly witty way of presenting them, in his unpretentious British accent. Some of his finest moments were when he had the audience on his side and he turned his powerful forensic skills on them, if he felt they’d mistreated his opponent:
“The liberal…audience members were on Hitchens’ side, of course…. They cheered him on and loudly booed (his opponent) …. Instead of basking in the adulation, he stopped the debate to scold the audience for treating (his opponent) so shabbily.
As a leftist way outside of the mainstream, he knew what it was like to have his opinions shouted down, and he objected to his own partisans engaging in such behavior.”
( “Christopher Hitchens…outrageously fierce, outrageously classy…” Isthmus12-16-11 )
Hitch called his and Collins’ friendship despite having differing opinions on religion “The greatest armed truce of modern times,” and he praised Collins’ devotion to the Human Genome and other scientific projects. I do appreciate how over the years Collins has been the point man in getting other evangelical Christians to consider the facts of science. But I don’t think “the facts,” other than the those of Collins’ own humanity and credulity, are what caused Collins to undertake the most human of endeavors: religion.
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Punz For The Day
What’s the best vehicle to drive in the fall?
A pumpkin got a job at a public pool, watching children swim.
I guess you could say it was a life-gourd.
My husband lets people blame him for anything bad that happens in Autumn.
What can I say; he’s a Fall guy.
How do you fix a broken pumpkin computer program?
With a pumpkin patch.
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May we do more than visualize what we want for the world;
May we be aware of our own credulility and never deserve to be Hitch-slapped;
May we remember that all great truths began as blasphemies;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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 It was more like 27.
 And once in the studio, in a pre-pandemic group.
 Except of course for the war on rational thinking.
 I’m half Irish, and thus claim the right to make fun of my peeps.
 Hardly surprising, from the person who has had a (if not the) most profound influence on how Americans see and understand their own history.
 That phrase, from The Right Stuff (movie and book) refers to the reality understood by the USA’s early space program participants, from NASA scientists to astronauts: No money, no space travel. Thus, the space program courted the press (well, the “right kind” of press) and public interest, without which they knew the funding for their program would not likely be approved.
 As in, your average homo sapiens does not (yet) equate losing a robot with having an astronaut die.
 As contrasted with people who are religious and admit not to have examined their religions’ theology and/or tenets – they are religious because they were raised to be and have accepted it.
 Collins played the piano at Hitchens’ memorial service.