Greatest Songs, Again

I just noticed that I never wrote a follow-up to my blog post last August about last October’s fan-voted musical countdown on WXPN.

To summarize last October’s countdown, the theme was a revisiting of the 885 greatest songs of all time (same as ten years previous).

To nobody’s surprise, “Thunder Road” came in at number one. Again. Of the ten songs I voted for in the countdown, I kept three from a decade before. None of those three made the final countdown. Of the other seven, one of my votes did get played (“This Woman’s Work”, by Kate Bush).

We also voted for five songs to rank among the worst, played back in an 88-song countdown. None of the songs I voted for made the 88-song countdown, but “Roxanne” did make the best-of list. Unfortunately. Not that I’m disagreeing about “We Built This City” by Starship being the worst song of all time.

(And, now that it’s known, another song that I voted for as among the worst, “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego Movie, got nominated for best song at the Oscars. Thankfully it lost. In fact, I’m also thankful that I started watching the Oscars late enough that I was able to fast forward through the performance of that song…)

So here’s the grid of all of the countdowns to this point. I’m not counting the worst songs countdown.

Year Topic What I voted For How many of my items made the list?
2004 Greatest Songs
  1. “Fallen Icons,” by Delerium
  2. “Idol,” by Amanda Ghost
  3. “Wicked Little Town,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  4. “Chimes of Freedom,” by Bob Dylan
  5. “Sniper,” by Harry Chapin
  6. “My Mistake,” by Marvin Gaye
  7. “Swan Swan H,” by R.E.M.
  8. “I Don’t Like Mondays,” by the Boomtown Rats
  9. “Caught a Lite Sneeze,” by Tori Amos
  10. “Hard to Handle,” by Otis Redding
None of them
2005 Greatest Albums
  1. Emmet Swimming — Wake
  2. Poe — Haunted
  3. Harry Chapin — Danceband on the Titanic
  4. Phil Ochs — In Concert
  5. Delerium — Poem
  6. Beth Orton — Trailer Park
  7. Tori Amos — Under the Pink
  8. Nine Inch Nails — The Downward Spiral
  9. John Lennon — Plastic Ono Band
  10. R.E.M. — Lifes rich pageanT
Five (Poe, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, John Lennon, and R.E.M.)
2006 Greatest Artists
  1. Harry Chapin
  2. Tori Amos
  3. Delerium
  4. Phil Ochs
  5. Nine Inch Nails
  6. Portishead
  7. Idina Menzel
  8. Emmet Swimming
  9. Jen Chapin
  10. R.E.M.
  11. Marvin Gaye
  12. Def Leppard
  13. Alice in Chains
  14. The Who
  15. John Lennon
  16. Lennon Murphy
  17. Sarah McLachlan
  18. Hungry Lucy
  19. Hole
  20. “Weird Al” Yankovic
Thirteen

(Harry Chapin, Tori Amos, Phil Ochs,
Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, R.E.M.,
Marvin Gaye, Def Leppard, Alice in Chains,
The Who, John Lennon, Sarah McLachlan,
and “Weird Al” Yankovic)
2007 Most Memorable Musical Moments I didn’t vote N/A
2008 Essential XPN songs I didn’t vote N/A
2009 Desert Island Songs
  1. “The Blue Tree,” by Silverman
  2. “There Only Was One Choice,” by Harry Chapin
  3. “Don’t Follow,” by Alice in Chains
  4. “Wolves,” by Josh Ritter
  5. “Bus Mall,” by the Decemberists
  6. “Yes, Anastasia,” by Tori Amos
  7. “Swan Swan H,” by R.E.M.
  8. “Crucifixion,” by Phil Ochs
  9. “Crushing,” by Tapping the Vein
  10. “I Am the Walrus,” by the Beatles
1 (“I Am the Walrus”)
2010 Road Trip Songs
  1. “Daylight,” by Delerium
  2. “Out Here at Sea”, by Karen Kosowski (this includes the untitled hidden track after this song on the album
  3. “Glory Girl,” by Amanda Ghost
  4. “Danceband on the Titanic,” by Harry Chapin
  5. “Gimme Shelter,” by the Rolling Stones
  6. “River,” by Jen Chapin
  7. “Yes, Anastasia,” by Tori Amos
  8. “Float Away,” by Marah
  9. They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!” by Sufjan Stevens
  10. “Idiot Wind,” by Bob Dylan
1 (“Gimme Shelter”)
2011 World Cafe Artists I didn’t vote, although I vaguely remember doing something about Fisher’s performance N/A
2012 Greatest Rock Songs
  1. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” by The Who
  2. “Filthy Mind”, by Amanda Ghost
  3. “Holiday,” by Green Day
  4. “Coma White,” by Marilyn Manson
  5. “Change (In the House of Flies),” by the Deftones
  6. “Breathing,” by Kate Bush
  7. “Piece of My Heart,” by Big Brother and Holding Company
  8. “Instant Karma!” by John Lennon
  9. “Crazy on You,” by Heart
  10. “No One Like You,” by the Scorpions
4 (“Instant Karma!”,
“Crazy On You”, “Piece of My Heart”,
and “Love Reign O’er Me”)
2013 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium
  1. “Love & Bandaids”, by Karen Kosowski
  2. “Confessions”, by Tim Minchin
  3. “Heaven Must Be Boring”, by George Hrab
  4. “Hurry Up Sky”, by Jen Chapin
  5. “Sing”, by the Dresden Dolls
  6. “When the War Came”, by the Decemberists
  7. “Gravity”, by Vienna Teng
  8. “Hasa Diga Eebowai”, from The Book of Mormon
  9. “Breathe Me”, by Sia
  10. “Float Away”, by Marah
1 (“Breathe Me”)
2014 Greatest Songs (again)
  1. ”When I’m Gone”, by Phil Ochs
  2. ”Swan Swan H”, by R.E.M.
  3. ”River”, by Jen Chapin
  4. ”hurt”, by Nine Inch Nails
  5. ”This Woman’s Work”, by Kate Bush
  6. ”Caught a Lite Sneeze”, by Tori Amos
  7. ”Serpents”, by Sharon Van Etten
  8. ”Sniper”, by Harry Chapin
  9. ”Haunted”, by Charlotte Martin
  10. ”Everything Alive Will Die Someday”, by George Hrab
1 (“This Woman’s Work”)

Do We Trust In God?

In Walt Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the python Kaa attempts to hypnotize Mowgli, thereby turning the boy into a meal fit for a snake. As he brings the boy into a deep trance, he sings “Trust in Me” in order to (at least try to) facilitate in Mowgli’s destruction.

I think of that song every time there’s a news report regarding the national motto of the United States, “In God We Trust.” In recent years, we have seen the 2011 congressional reaffirmation of the motto, the 2014 bill in the Pennsylvania assembly that would mandate its placement in every school and classroom in the commonwealth, and various town councils wishing to display the motto in their meeting halls. (Nikki Moungo of Ballwin, Missouri, recently convinced the town not to post such a sign.)

The bigger question at hand, though, is the meaning of the phrase itself. Let’s start with the obvious question: why the word order? We could also say, “We trust in God” to achieve the same net result. The answer is simple enough: poetry. The phrase appears in the fourth verse of the poem, The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. Since the poem uses the phrase that way (even calling it a motto), that’s how we’ve known it ever since.

Side note: President James Madison, after he retired, lamented declaring a national day of prayer during the height of the War of 1812 on constitutional grounds. That makes it exceptionally ironic that this phrase as our motto can date to the same war.

There’s an interesting difference between saying “trust me” (or “trust someone”) and saying “trust in me” (or someone). If you say you trust me (or don’t trust me), you’re making a subjective statement, basically covering how honest a person you think I am. If you trust in someone, it’s more objective: you both think and expect that they will do the right thing; when the time comes that he or she might have to make an important decision, that they’ll make the choice that benefits you.

When you trust someone, you expect either honesty or an explanation for violating your trust. When you trust in someone, the betrayal is more palpable when they don’t live up to your expectations.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the god of the bible exists (but that is the god in which we trust according to the motto adopted in 1956). But this attitude can be quite dangerous and counterproductive when it comes to effecting real changes to secular policy. Recently Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), for example, blocked passage of reforms intended to curtail the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change because he doesn’t feel that God would allow such dramatic changes in climate to happen in the first place. Who knows how often improvements at a local, state, or federal level get impeded because someone in power feels that it goes against god’s plan?

Can we truly trust in God? Maybe, but we need to be mindful of the snake with the hypnotic eyes who really just wants to lead us to his dinner plate.

Let’s Count the Logical Fallacies!

About a month ago, I happened upon the Facebook page for the Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist group that, along with groups like Answers in Genesis apparently believes that the average American IQ is just too damn high.

When I found that page, it gave me the opportunity to write a review their site / page, and I thought I was more than generous when I gave them one (out of five) star. My actual review was as follows:

It makes me sad when I see valuable financial and intellectual resources being wasted trying to either prove the unprovable, or trying to disprove reality as it actually exists. The anti-intellectualism exhibited by this group is little more than self-serving autofellatio that should be relegated to the dustbin of antiquated ideas and concepts.

Note that I wrote this review on the spur of the moment but I think it pretty accurately encapsulates what I think of their organization.

As I write these words, there have been a total of 643 public ratings of the ICR; mine is one of 103 1-star reviews. When weighted against the 485 5-star reviews, 30 4-star’s, 15 3-stars, and 10 2-stars, the average rating of this group is the appallingly high 4.2.

So it’s fair to say that my views are in the minority, at least on this Facebook page. It therefore shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that most of the comments received on my review, have disagreed with my perspective. Surprisingly, the reference to autofellatio in my review really hasn’t been (much) of a sticking point.

I would like to take some of the more interesting comments I’ve gotten, quote them verbatim (other than redacting the names of the posters and/or others they might have engaged in dialogue as a part of my posting), and address their arguments in this blog posting. Depending upon what might come up with future responses to my review, this could be the first of many blog entries. Who knows?

So, without further ado…

Actually Jim, it doesn’t require a lot of finances or intellectual resource to prove the existence of God. In fact, the existence of God can be proven with only one word…Israel.

I’m going to ignore the subtle anti-Semitism that I inferred from this comment. The geopolitical boundaries of any nation-state, even those whose borders might be in dispute (and without regard to which other countries recognize those geopolitical boundaries) are a human construct, pure and simple. There may be some who might argue against the rationale for the existence of any given nation and/or for modifying those current boundaries, but those, just like the processes that created those boundaries in the first place, is the work of men and women, pure and simple. No gods required or even expected.

Failure to recognize that for life’s complex order and design that there must be a Creator, is an obvious closed minded attitude that lacks the simplest acknowledgement or attempt at logic. I pray God will soften your hearts and open your eyes to this obvious reality. Whatever the reason for dismissing a God who loves you, is an attempt at holding on to the sinful ways of your existing life and failure at taking accountability for your own actions. I pray that you all will find your way home to our God’s open and loving arms. God bless!

Life is a lot of things, that much is true. It’s messy, dirty, and, quite frankly, pretty amazing. Yes, life is complex, but it’s not really very orderly and although it exhibits the appearance of design, that’s not the same as saying that it was designed. It doesn’t need a creator and that creator certainly doesn’t need to be capitalized. Natural selection is more than sufficient to explain this, as countless studies have confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt.

Additionally, what does it mean to “pray [that your] god will soften [my] heart… and open [my] eyes to this obvious reality.” This is something that keeps recurring in other comments so I’m going to say this now. There are two things that far too many Christians tend to do, both of which are far too detrimental to their greater cause. I am not, have never been, and cannot possibly imagine myself deciding to become a Christian if the faith even remotely requires either of the following attitudes:
— Focussing heavily on a story of appalling brutality and human sacrifice. A little bit over two years ago now I blogged about this very point
— Disguising their arrogance behind the mask of a false mask of humility. Don’t you love the subtle dig at me and people who don’t fall in lockstep with this writer’s attitude in the above quote? This writer wishes the best towards me and other posters who’ve agreed with me, eagerly awaiting the day when his Weltanschauung is somehow validated despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Note that someone who agrees with me took that quote above and pointed out, accurately, that even if his presumption of a creator were true, that in no way means that the creator must be the Christian god. That person responded to their response and said this:

‘re free to have your own opinion and I respect that. Your statement is wrong, but I know what you mean. There hasn’t been thousands of Gods, just thousands of idols worshipped by those who are lost and haven’t been yet found. There is only one God and he’s not just mine but everyone’s. Something our God has given to us is the gift of free will. Even if our free will brings us to our demise. I’ll pray for you it doesn’t. If there’s no guarantee then what does it hurt to follow the doctrine of a loving God and the example Jesus Christ has set forth to us to emulate? Nothing. But what does it hurt to ignore our God and Father and turn our backs to him and keep living in sin? Everything. I’ll pray for you. God bless you brother.

Again we see more of that arrogance masquerading as humility. We can trace the evolution of belief systems at least as far back as human writings, and, knowing how different gods and goddesses carried over from one faith tradition to another, it’s a pretty safe bet that very little of the Bible, is completely original. It’s almost all universally borrowed from older texts and even the most remedial studies of the history of religion demonstrate this. To somehow think that your one particular religion is the only true one and all of the others, past and present, are fake, nonsensical, or otherwise misleading… man, talk about hubris.

Anyway, moving on…

If you say that Michele Anglo is not a real person, only a myth, the Sistine Chapels’ celling is a great mystery, and the statue of David, a great miracle.

This one just plain doesn’t make sense. No one argues that those works of art weren’t made by people. There’s no shortage of works of art that have some religious overtones. This is at least partially because churches paid money to the artists in the first place.

Stringing together cliches and ad hominems does not certify YOUR intellect. Real science isn’t about closing doors that might lead to a conclusion you have precluded for purely emotional and/or philosophical reasons, adamantly refusing to consider alternative explanations simply because you don’t want them to be true. Quit pretending to have a monopoly on reality. It doesn’t lend itself to intellectual credibility.

(Note that this one was directed straight at me after quoting select portions of my review above…)

Interestingly, I never said anywhere in my review that I don’t believe in the supernatural (even though I don’t). The accusations of ad hominem attacks fascinate me the most. Let’s back up and talk about what science is and is not. This commenter is correct that real science isn’t about closing doors that might lead to a preconceived conclusion. The whole of science is dedicated to demonstrating inaccuracies of other people’s hypotheses and not being afraid to follow the evidence where it leads, even if the place you end up isn’t where you expected to go or even where you wanted to go.

I am not a biologist or even a professional scientist. But I am sufficiently well-read on the topic of evolution to know that the theory of evolution is as close as you can come to established fact within the sciences. There may still be a few open debates about certain processes within evolutionary theory but I’m not qualified to be a part of those debates because, as I said, I’m not a scientist. It is therefore not an ad hominem attack to point out that those who attempt to rebut the most basic points of evolutionary theory (or worse, set up strawman arguments for what the ToE actually says, in order to rebut them), are wasting time, money, energy, and brainpower in their endeavors. If anything, it’s doing them a favor by suggesting that their efforts are better placed elsewhere.

I find it curious that I’m writing this after I saw a news article on Andrew Wakefield earlier this week. For those who either don’t recognize his name or recognize it but can’t place it (and don’t feel like following the link to Wikipedia I just posted, he’s the disgraced scientist who first wrote that vaccines cause autism in young children. The study he conducted to support this thesis serves an example of horrible scientific methodology start to finish and it was thoroughly debunked. Now I can forgive any scientist for conducting a bad study. It’s not an easy job and it can be more than a little bit tempting to cut corners. What I can’t forgive is what he did next: when his study was found to be flawed, he doubled-down and went after those who pointed out the flaws. Earlier this week, he was denied standing to sue for damages from those who debunked his study. So if he were to publish some other study, especially on the topic of vaccines, I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t pay attention to the study on the grounds that it has his name on it. That might be an ad hominem attack, but it’s also because his history is so well documented.

That brings me to the last comment I’ve received thus far on my review. I strongly recommend not drinking anything as you read this, unless you want to risk it coming out of your nose and possibly damaging your computer:

It can be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt that God the Creator exists, that the Bible is true, that alleged Bible self-contradictions melt away when historical context and chronology (when alleged contradicting passages were first written) are taken into account, that the Biblical history of Israel is the true and reliable history of Israel, and that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah who will one day return to rule this physical earth. More than one student and practioner of law has tried to prove the Bible false by using court of law (beyond a reasonable doubt) rules, and ended up becoming Christians instead. 2 of the most famous in the 20th century were Frank Morrison-author of Who Moved The Stone and Josh McDowell-author of Evidence That Demands A Verdict and More Evidence That Demands A Verdict. My main point is this: God hasn’t told us everything, but he has told us enough, so that unbelief is unreasonable. Believe me, I was not raised in church and used to be agnostic and or atheistic, so I know what I’m talking about. God has provided enough rope, so that if we “hang ourselves” by being unbelievers it is our own fault. I used to disbelieve because I accepted evolution over creation because Astronomy is my favorite hobby and Astronomy is ruled by the evolutionary thinking of the masses. You guys should understand what I am saying because I know you are smart.

I admit it, I’ve tried several times to count the sheer number of logical fallacies in this word salad, and I’ve lost track every time. The most glaring are the arguments from false authority and personal experience, with a little bit of goalpost shifting, false equivalency, and the argument from ignorance. So where do you begin with this one.

I’d start with the court of law analogy, I suppose. In a court of law, person A might accuse person B of having committed a given crime. In short hand, person A might say “He did it!” while person B responds with “No I didn’t!” The fact that person B is innocent until proven guilty means that, unless we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that person B is lying, we have to assume he’s not. If we extend this logic to the question of the existence of any given god of any religious tradition, person A is saying “This god exists” while person be is saying “No it doesn’t!” The burden of proof lies with the person making the statement in the affirmative, not with the person making the statement in the negative. If you need any more evidence that this is the right way to go, I recommend that you look up Russell’s Teapot, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or even the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. And then tell me that you can be absolutely certain that none of these things really exists.

What about the predictions of the Jewish Messiah from the Torah to the New Testament? When one book predicts something that’ll be reported in another book, that more likely tells me that they’re separate works in the same greater canon. Kind of like how Lord Voldemort learned of a prophecy and chose Harry Potter to be “marked as his equal” and thus be the chosen one. But no one thinks that events predicted in the earlier Harry Potter books that actually happened in the latter ones, makes them any less fictitious.

(And besides, not everything that the Messiah was supposed to do, according to the book of Ezekiel, were reportedly done by Jesus in any of the gospels…)

Then we’ve got the writings of Frank Morison (note the tpyo in the quote above; if you’ve never heard of Frank Morison or his book, it’s only one R. Frank Morison was the pseudonym of Albert Henry Ross) and Josh McDowell. Just because two people came to that conclusion doesn’t mean that theirs is the consensus conclusion of others who’ve observed the same evidence. Both of them seem to delve pretty heavily into presuppositional apologetics. I’m a little bit too tired to get into the full flaw of this particular argument for the existence of god, and others who are far better at debating this than I am, have already done the necessary gruntwork. But the link provided here to the Iron Chariots Wiki is a great resource for debunking most apologetics’ claims of the existence of god. And it’s a site I enjoy reading when I have the time.

This commenter then went on to say “I was not raised in church and used to be agnostic and or atheistic, so I know what I’m talking about.” Actually, no you don’t. As I said before, I wasn’t raised in a Christian household and yet, somehow, I understand Christianity better than you do. When Greta Christina wrote her book on Why Are Atheists So Angry, one of the most important ones is the fact that atheists have to know the bible better than their faithful counterparts. And she was right.

The most interesting thing about these comments, I think, is that all of them presume that I don’t believe in any gods, that I’m somehow misled or misinformed, and that I’ve turned my back on their god.

I guess they don’t realize, then, that I proved the existence of god in a blog entry nearly a year and a half ago…

I guess the only real question that needs to be asked, is whether or not there will be a need for a second blog entry to address as-yet-unposted comments. Let’s wait and see…

Back to the Basics

I’ve blogged before about WXPN the radio station in Philadelphia that, every year since 2004, has polled its listeners for a countdown that takes place in October.

Last year, I voted for the ten songs I felt were the best of the new millennium, and a few months later, I Summarized the countdown..

This year, they’re going back to their roots: what are the greatest songs of all time? But at the same time, they’ve added a new twist to it: what are the worst songs of all time? The day after the countdown is over, they’ll suspend their annual programming to play the top “worst songs” vote getters.

Let’s start with the five songs I voted for as the worst:

5. “Fun Fun Fun”, by the Beach Boys. I admit it up front: I’ve never been a fan of surfing music and I really can’t tolerate most of the music by the Beach Boys. (I know a lot of people love the album Pet Sounds, but the best thing I can say about it is it’s thankfully short.) “Fun Fun Fun” is just one of their most annoying songs.

4. “Everything Is Awesome”, by Tegan and Sara. This song was written for The Lego Movie, and I suspect that it was written to be as cloying and uninspired as possible. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. I know that a lot of adults saw — and loved — this movie, but I just have to ask: did they see the same movie I did? Currently, it’s got a 7.9 rating, which I consider overly generous.

3. “Come to Jesus,” by Mindy Smith. Of the five songs I voted for as being among the worst, this is the only one where the music itself isn’t horrible. But when you factor in the message conveyed by this song, the embrace of a myth of pain and suffering intended to make someone feel better, that’s just plain irresponsible and it’s a song I’d just as soon not inflict on anyone, especially the child to whom the singer wrote this song.

2. “Hey Jude,” by the Beatles. I have long maintained that, once the members of the Fab Four went their separate ways, the least inspired of them, was Paul McCartney. While I can respect where this song comes from — an attempt to ease the mind of Julian Lennon as he watched his parents split up — the final product is probably one that’s best left between the songwriter and the person to whom it was written; leave the rest of the world out of it. (Not unlike a song that almost made this list, “Fix You,” by Coldplay).

1. “Roxanne,” by the Police. I admit it. I can count on one finger the total number of songs by The Police (or Sting solo) that I like. I’ve heard some covers of his music that I can tolerate, but Sting himself just brings down almost any song he sings. Still, there’s a special degree of torment inflicted upon anyone listening to this song. Could someone explain to me again, why he managed to achieve any fame in the music industry?

Now that that’s out of the way, here are the ten songs I voted for as being the best songs of all time. Unlike the worst songs, I will embed YouTube videos of the songs themselves where possible:

1. When I’m Gone, by Phil Ochs

2. Swan Swan H, by R.E.M. (I voted for this song ten years ago, too…)

3. River, by Jen Chapin

I couldn’t find a video for it, but here are the lyrics.

4. Hurt, by Nine Inch Nails

5. This Woman’s Work, by Kate Bush

6. Caught a Lite Sneeze, by Tori Amos (I voted for this song ten years ago, too…)

7. Serpents, by Sharon Van Etten

8. Sniper, by Harry Chapin (I voted for this song ten years ago, too…)

9. Haunted, by Charlotte Martin

10. Everything Alive Will Die Someday, by George Hrab

Let’s see what makes the final cut.

Good Night, Moonshine…

One June 1, 2001, I bought and moved into a condo in Horsham, PA. I was 29 years old and moved out of an apartment that I had shared with an old friend whom I had known since grade school. For the first time in my life, I truly lived alone.

My parents instilled a love of animals in me as I grew up, and, except for when I was in college, there was always some kind of animal in the house to keep us company. When I moved into that condo, I had no pet to take with me. So not only did I live alone, I was also alone from the perspective of not having a pet by my side.

Once I had established myself in that condo, I knew that I would need to adopt a pet to have as a part of my life. On October 9, 2001, I took the day off of work and drove to the Bucks County SPCA to see if maybe I could adopt a stray animal. Living alone and working long hours, I knew that my best bet would be to adopt a cat, rather than a dog.

While I was there, I was introduced to an orange-and-white kitten who was just getting over a bout of ringworm on his tail, named James Henry. I played with him for a little bit and put him back in his cage, unsure if I wanted to adopt him. While I was in the next room, someone came up to me and told me that the kitten I had been playing with, had been wailing for me ever since I had put him back in his cage.

So I returned to him and, well, long story short, I adopted him. I knew that I didn’t want to keep the name James Henry but I hadn’t decided what the right name for him should be.

About a week later, I found the name for this kitten. Thumbing through a compendium of Shakespeare plays, I found that one of the imps in Midsummer Night’s Dream was named Moonshine. I looked at the kitten and asked him if he liked that name. He meowed at me and we agreed that it would be his name.

Attention

As a kitten, he loved pouncing on unprotected feet and enjoyed playing with all manner of cat toys, especially loving the red dot that bounced across the wall. I had a screensaver on my computer called Atlantis that had fish and dolphins swimming across it; he tried on many occasions to catch those water creatures.

Moonshine fish

He was always very polite. If he wanted or needed a scritch behind the ears, he would slowly approach you and pat you on your hand until you gave him what he wanted. He was a very loving cat and occasionally got an expression on his face that betrayed the fact that he worried about the safety of his human. It’s stressful having a human pet.

Moonshine bathroom

When the girl would would become my wife moved in with me, she brought with her three cats of her own: Max, Cassie, and Sabrina. Moonshine was a gracious host in our home. Sabrina, being the youngest of the three, was the most playful, but he also loved wrestling with Max.

Dont go

Wake up

Cassie died in October, 2006. Max in June, 2011, and Sabrina last August. For the first time since he was barely a year old, he was the only cat in the household. That’s when I learned that he was actually a social eater. He would only eat his food when either I or a member of my family was nearby.

Late at night on Sunday, June 22, 2014, Moonshine started making some strange noises. The following day, he was very lethargic and didn’t move around very much, limping when he did move. I thought he had somehow hurt his paw. I vowed to keep a close eye on him and bring him to the vet within the next day or two if necessary.

When it was time to go to bed on Monday, I asked him if he wanted me to bring him upstairs to the bed with me and he squeaked a very faint meow. I carried him up to bed and he snuggled in between me and my wife. Technically it was Tuesday, about 12:30 am.

Three hours later I woke up. I’m not entirely sure what actually woke me up, but out of instinct and habit, I reached forward to scritch him behind the ears.

He didn’t respond to my hand.

While I don’t think I’ll ever know what exactly happened, he was gone. The first pet I could ever truly call my own — and not anyone else’s in my family — was gone. And I will sorely miss him. It’s taken me two weeks just to build up the strength to write this.

The house has been far too quiet these past two weeks.

Earlier today, I adopted a new kitten. He’s a pure black short-haired cat whom we have named Ninja. He seems to get along well with my family and he’s already showing signs of a playfulness not unlike what Moonshine had. Although Ninja can not and will not replace Moonshine, he is a welcome addition to my home which, once again, has someone of the feline persuasion roaming and owning its halls.

Death Is Not Final

On May 7, 2014, the Intelligence Squared US website hosted a debate that covered the thesis “death is not final”. Arguing for the thesis were Eben Alexander, the author of the popular book, Proof of Heaven and Raymond Moody, who for the past four decades, has been studying and reporting on people’s near-death experiences. Opposed to the thesis were CalTech physicist Sean Carroll and Steven Novella, the Yale neurologist who made a name for himself as as a contributor to both the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast and the Science Based Medicine blog.

It’s an important question, and undoubtedly one that we, as a species have been asking for as long as we’ve been capable of asking questions: what happens when you die? It is not a very satisfying answer to be agnostic about this question: saying “I don’t know” — for however much it’s a sign of humility to admit to lack of knowledge — doesn’t really answer the question at hand. It’s natural to be afraid of, in the words of musician Harry Chapin, “that black implacable wall of death.” (from the interview clip entitled “My Grandfather” from the Gold Medal Collection album.)

Indeed, it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that attempts to answer this question by saying that something — be it the afterlife, resurrection, or some other concept or even a combination of them — happens after death, is one of the foundational concepts of virtually every religious tradition, past or present. While the world of the 2009 movie The Invention of Lying is not exactly realistic, the way the concept of heaven first got formed very well might have been as it was presented in that movie.

(If you haven’t seen the movie, Ricky Gervais’s character is literally the only character capable of speaking something he knows to be false. As his mother lay dying, he invents a paradise to ease her anguish and fear over the finality of death. This kind of catches on and becomes a problem he has to deal with as no one else has any reason to doubt him…)

About three years ago, Sean Carroll wrote an article in Scientific American, in which he pointed out that the after-death persistence of a life energy violates the laws of physics, most specifically, the Dirac Equation. In the debate, Carroll reiterated the greater thesis of that old article. Novella, to buttress Carroll’s argument, pointed out that all of the evidence of modern neuroscience, holds that the mind and the brain are one, and there is no evidence that the mind can exist outside of a functioning brain.

In contrast, Alexander relied upon his own experience in which he nearly died to support his certainty that the afterlife of some sort might exist. While I don’t doubt Alexander’s sincerity, the most disingenuous of the arguments of the debate came from Moody. Moody tried to move the goalpost by arguing that the question of whether death is final, is not one that can be answered by science.

There are assertions that can be addressed by science (the age of the universe comes to mind) and others that can’t (such as the attempts by creationists to explain that dinosaurs were placed where they are in sediment by a god that’s trying to trick us). But Moody’s attempts to argue that science can’t answer the question at hand, were not only directly refuted by Carroll’s arguments, but also the most intellectually lazy part of the whole argument.

I don’t fault anyone whose fear of death, might lead someone to think that something might exist after death. There’s a little bit of a conceit to it all, but it’s no different, really, from anything else we might do in our lives to ensure that something about our all-too-brief lives might have an impact beyond our natural years. That desire is all in our minds, though.

And, as Dr. Novella pointed out in the debate, the mind and the brain are the same thing. No matter how much we might want something to be true, that doesn’t make it true. So it gives a good perspective on the Emo Philips joke: “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”

If you want to watch the whole debate, you can watch it below:

Outrageous

Back in 2005, I sent an email to Arlen Specter to express my disappointment, at the time, in his decision to vote for a proposed constitutional amendment banning flag burning. The amendment was a direct response to Texas v. Johnson, the 1989 Supreme Court ruling that declared a portion of a Texas law that banned flag desecration, unconstitutional. I don’t feel the need to go too much into that particular ruling other than to say that anyone who supported this amendment, obviously didn’t read the Supreme Court ruling.

Ever since then, I was on a mailing list for Sen. Specter. In 2010, he changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic, lost in the Democratic primaries to Joe Hoeffel, who in turn, lost to Pat Toomey, a darling of the Tea Party. And my presence on the mailing list transferred to Toomey.

I’ve written before about my distaste for what Sen. Toomey has said and done.

So I got a new email from him today (May 9, 2014), and it has sunk to a new low, even by Sen. Toomey’s standards. The subject line of his email, was “Outrageous.” Here’s what he said, verbatim:

The Internal Revenue Service – the agency responsible for collecting taxes – is rewarding employees who violate its own laws.

A recent Treasury report reveals more than $1 million in cash bonuses was awarded to 1,100 IRS employees with federal tax compliance problems. $2.8 million in monetary awards was given to 2,900 employees with recent conduct issues resulting in disciplinary action.

This is absolutely outrageous.

If anyone is wondering why Americans are so mistrustful of government today, he or she doesn’t need to look any further than the IRS. Hardworking Americans who lawfully pay their taxes should not be funding the bonuses of IRS employees who fail to do the same.

I have contacted IRS Commissioner Koskinen demanding the agency do all it can to rescind these bonuses and stop such awards in the future. Rest assured that I will be looking into this troubling issue further.

First off, Sen. Toomey, I strongly recommend that you read the report to which you’ve linked and which raised your ire. While there may be some inconsistencies in the way the 1,100 IRS employees filed their taxes, the report clearly states that their bonuses were consistent with Federal guidelines. Inconsistencies in their tax reporting, then, is by and large attributable to things they do on their own time. Being outraged at this would be tantamount to being outraged that an Apple employee buying a Microsoft product.

Second, do the math. A million dollars distributed among 1,100 employees works out to less than $1,000.00 per employee. Ditto for $2.8 million distributed among 2,900 employees. Let’s assume that the average IRS employee earns about $75,000.00 per year, and everyone gets a bonus at the end of the year, not unlike what might happen in the private sector. At salaries at this level, less than $1,000.00 in bonuses is extremely low, not high. I would imagine that this is what happens for the lower performers; the top performers are undoubtedly receiving much more.

Third, as a related point of the math, let’s round the total amount across the two bonus pools, up to $4 million and contemplate the fact that there are more than 300 million residents of the USA. That averages out to just over a penny per taxpayer. I sincerely don’t know why these politicians have such outrage over what is literally nickels and dimes in the budget while allowing huge expenditures — especially for military budges which the military itself hasn’t asked for — gets nary a blink of the eye.

I’d like to propose an alternative, Senator, to your hypothesis of why Americans are so mistrustful of government today. It’s because the Republican leadership in both houses of congress would rather spend time wasting votes to repeal Obamacare, deny the scientific consensus on climate change, force religious thoughts into parts of life where it’s not welcome or desired, and form yet another committee to research what happened on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, even though every prior committee has already answered it pretty thoroughly.

But then again, that would require you to actually listen to your constituents, wouldn’t it, Senator?