Oh, shit

I’ve been reading Death by Black Hole, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s witty and informative collection of essays on the cosmos. Today I came across an essay entitled “Coming Attractions” in the section appropriately called When the universe turns bad. The essay details what will happen in 2036 if the asteroid Apophis (the Egyptian goddess of darkness and death) swings too close to Earth in 2029. It’s bad news, basically. Here is the essay; the talk below amends the Apophis portion and contains the really scary shit.

Not yet three weeks

Jonathan Richman gets inside the mind of a three year old (anyone know where the hyphen goes?) and tells us what he finds. Melissa is almost three weeks old, but I think much of this song holds true nonetheless. Especially the lines, “You think I’m tired now / but my body’s all inspired now /…if you think I’m sleepin’ / no, no, that’s all mistaken!”

Raising thinking children

It should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I am obsessing over children now; that just kind of happens unexpectedly when you become a parent. Of course, it’s a bit early to start obsessing over what kind of education to provide my daughter with, but I’ve been giving it a thought or two anyway. One is never too young to begin learning.

Whyevolutionistrue pointed me to a recent television special by Richard Dawkins on the rise of faith schools in Great Britain. The first three parts are good – especially when he gets a Muslim-school science teacher to admit she doesn’t know squat about evolution – but I was most moved by this last part where the Prof rhapsodizes on the virtues of curiosity and wonder and how we, as parents, ought to be wary of anything which threatens to close our children’s minds to the beauty of asking too many questions.

A simple matter of faith

The Center for Inquiry has released a statement on the controversial Cordoba House, aka GZM, in lower Manhattan. The CFI take on things cuts the whole matter down to size: the real problem is religious faith, not which religious faith. All are equal, and equally fatuous. Another brick in the wall of the God Museum.

CFI maintains that a mosque near Ground Zero, in and of itself, is no worse than a church, temple, or synagogue. It is undeniable that the 9/11 terrorists were inspired by their understanding of Islam, and that currently there are far more Islamic terrorists in the world than terrorists of other faiths, but the deeper threat confronting humanity is not confined to Islam. To the contrary, it is presented by all religions. Religious morality is based on faith and authority, with the authority often being a sacred text cobbled together long ago that readily lends itself to contradictory interpretations. The Bible and the Koran have been used to justify almost everything, from mass slaughter of those with other beliefs, to slavery, to oppression of women and gays and lesbians, to the throttling of scientific research—as evidenced by the recent halt to stem-cell research. Faith will continue to harm and kill, whether it is in Oklahoma City or New York City, until people stop basing their conduct on imaginary divine commands and accept their responsibility to reason together. To honor those killed by faith fanatics, Ground Zero and its immediate vicinity should be kept free of any newly constructed house of worship — of any religion.

The God Museum at Ground Zero

While I was busy dealing with the first two weeks of fatherhood, I was also trying to follow the bizzarre “debate” over the GZM, or Ground Zero Mosque. A friend, whom I disagree with at times on this blog, put it succinctly: opposition to the Cordoba House is “like arguing that a black person should have realized they’d drum up ‘bad feelings’ by moving into a white neighborhood that ‘wasn’t ready’ for integration.” Now imagine a Muslim family moving in next door to the family of one of the victims (perhaps themselves Muslims); could that be opposed on the same grounds, that their feelings might be hurt? If you were robbed by a Haitian or a Filipino, can prejudice against Haitians and Filipinos be justified on grounds of hurt feelings if one of them moves in next door? There is no logical basis for such assumptions.

My modest proposal is to build, on the site of Ground Zero (or a part of it), the world’s first God Museum. That seems to me a fair way to include everyone on equal grounds and educate people as well on the dangers of religious fanaticism. It would be like the Museum of Natural History, only it would treat religion and its endless array of gods as the stuff of history and anthropology, not as eternal truth. This would be a good way to contrast houses of worship: a museum of worship. Before you get all uppity about your God and His truth, and start trying to block all the other gods and their truths, check out the thousands of True Religions that have fallen into disuse. I can only imagine this would be a humbling experience for any day trip to Manhattan, perhaps coupled with a show at the Hayden Planetarium. It would be perfectly tuned to the pluralistic, secular America we all want to be proud of, but so often makes us blush in shame.

Can you hear me, Major Tom?

The first week of fatherhood is making me feel like Major Tom, floating around in a tin can looking at Earth from above. It helps that the only cd we have in the car is David Bowie’s Greatest Hits 1969-74. “Space Oddity” really used to creep me out when I was a kid. It would come on the radio as I was falling asleep (I always fell asleep with the clock radio tuned to 98 Rock Baltimore) and just give me the weirdest dreams. That and REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” still my least favorite song of all time. Though it does still give me the willies. I wonder why.

Here’s the moogish early version with trippy video, circa 1969. Methinks Major Tom could’ve used a good dentist.