Thursday, January 31, 2008

Strange(?) things happening

A couple of things happened to me this morning that at the time I thought strange (and called them so when I first reported them; since then I've added the "(?)" to the title):

The first thing

I was somewhat shocked (me, a professed atheist) to realize I'd just said "God bless you" to someone! A friend had come by my office with his little daughter. The occasion was that it's his last day here before he moves on to a new job. Well, when I saw the surpassingly warm and loving image of him and his little girl standing in my doorway, I of course realized immediately that he had brought her to work as a very special way of greeting his friends and saying "good-bye." And, without a moment's hesitation or thought, I stood up, stepped forward and kneeled down with my arms out for the girl, who looked to be about two feet tall as she came forward to touch me without the least sign of fear or hesitation of her own. I said, "Your daddy must have told you I'm okay! I don't think I've ever seen such a fearless little girl!"

And that's when I looked up at my friend and blurted out, "God bless you!" And even though I then had the thought, Of course, there's no god to do so, it still felt right, or at least okay, to have said this, for it expressed my sentiment of "all the best to you and your family," whatever the words used.

The second thing

A little later I got a telephone call from someone who said she was a North Carolina artist in need of an attorney, and she wanted to know if I could help her get in touch with John Edwards. He might be looking for some other work now that he's made his announcement. (I get such calls because my name appears prominently on a certain page of the University of North Carolina website, and both my office and the Edwards' home are located in Chapel Hill.)

I of course didn't ask the caller why she wanted someone to represent her in a malpractice suit....


Of course, neither thing is particularly strange. I suppose that their coming so close together (both being very unusual) made them seem strange to me at the time.

The first thing, the "slip of the tongue" (for that's what it was), was prompted by the strength of a past association, which has by no means dissolved, whatever my rational thinking is.

The second thing, though unusual (saying it was very unusual is stretching it, for I get some...strange queries), would have been pretty unremarkable on its own.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Not hilarious and not a spoof

Another clip on YouTube1 is a story titled "Atheists Discuss Religion on ABC News," including a couple of short interviews, one of them with Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation.
  1. The earlier clip was a spoof from Faux News (doing what it's eminently better suited to do than report real news).

Hilarious spoof of "atheist authors"

There's a hilarious spoof of "atheist authors" on YouTube that almost caused me to fall off my chair and roll on the floor from laughter....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

We are all atheists...

Hot Tip: Costco now has...

...the just-published trade paperback edition of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, for $9.99. I picked up my copy this morning and just finished reading its ten-page "preface to the paperback edition," which has left me revved up and excited to read this "entertaining, wildly informative, splendidly written polemic" a third time!

The book's catchy fold-out front cover features (besides the quotation above from the Sunday Times of London) a quotation from the author:
We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
As I recall, Dawkins put this another way in the book. Something like, Going from polytheism to monotheism was an advance, and so is subtracting one god more.

There's a bumper sticker I haven't seen yet that states (the new preface tells us):
Blasphemy is a victimless crime.
Reminds me of what I sometimes think when told I'm being prayed for:
There's no one listening.
Of course, for all the readers this blog has [that is, doesn't have] I might as well think a similar thing whenever I click the "Publish Post" button...But if even a few visitors to Moristotle are encouraged to come out of the closet and stop hiding their disbelief....

Out of the closet? That's another reference to Dawkins's new preface, which lists some of the objections to his book that start with "I'm an atheist, BUT...":
You are only preaching to the choir. What's the point?
"Converts' Corner" on gives the lie to this premise, but even taking it at face value there are good answers [sic]. One is that the non-believing choir is a lot bigger than many people think, especially in America. But, again especially in America, it is largely a closet choir, and it desperately needs encouragement to come out. Judging by the thanks I received all over North America on my book tour, the encouragement that people like Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and me are able to give is greatly appreciated.
Read the book! Read the book!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Religious advice for coping with jealousy

In reading evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss, I didn't expect to find anything about religion, but, on p. 188 of his book, The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex, I found this tidbit:
Sanctioned methods of coping [with jealousy and infidelity], codified in law, sometimes claim the Bible or other religious documents as their sources. According to one passage, for example, the Lord dictated to Moses to enjoin the people of Israel to bring women suspected of infidelity to the priest, who would then make them drink "water of bitterness." If the woman was innocent, the bitter water would have no ill effect. But if the woman was guilty of infidelity, she would absorb the water, which would make her body swell with pain.
Questioning how much Buss (or his intermediate source) might have slanted this for his own purposes, I looked up the passage, which happens to be Verses 11-34 of Chapter 5 of The Fourth Book of Moses, Called Numbers [if you get bogged down in this wondrous text, please do me the kindness of skipping to the bottom to see my parting comment]:
11 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,
13 and a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
14 and the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled; or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:
15 then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
16 ¶ And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD:
17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water:
18 and the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:
19 and the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:
20 but if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee besides thine husband:
21 then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
22 and this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot. And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
23 ¶ And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
24 and he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar:
26 and the priest shall take a handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
29 ¶ This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
30 or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law.
31 Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity. [from the King James Version]
Indeed, I'm sure that the jealous husband could be wonderfully mollified if his wife's belly swelled and her thigh rotted, just as the Puritans of Old Salem could be greatly relieved when the person accused of witchcraft failed to float and in drowning proved the charge.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"If I Can't Have Her, Nobody Can"

– Title of Chapter 5 of The Dangerous Passion

Otto Preminger's 1954 movie "Carmen Jones," starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, not only holds up well after half a century, its final scene perfectly illustrates a book I'm reading, evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss's The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. Joe, after being seduced away from his fiancée Cindy Lou and wrecking his military career by following Carmen to Chicago, watches helplessly as she throws him over to indulge her lust for glitter and excitement and, in the final desperate scene, strangles her.

As Buss writes on p. 121,

Jealousy, the dangerous passion spurred by infidelity or desertion, unleashes a fury against the partner or interloper unrivaled by any other emotion. Sometimes it results in dead bodies.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Moristotles I & II talk

My high school Latin teacher (whose namesake I am not though we share first names1) called me last night. I like to think of myself as Moristotle II to his Moristotle I. Or, I'm Morris Minor, and he's Morris Major...Or, he's Daedalus and I'm Icarus, from the Greek myth of the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth. (When Moristotle I graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1950, he did so with a double baccalaureate major in the Classics; that is, in both Latin and Greek.)

Actually, it was Moristotle I's daughter Morissa who dialed my number; I think she had given up on my following through on my promise to make the call. Here's a favorite picture of this father and his lovely daughter:

In his eighty-first year, Moristotle Mentor's resonant voice and wit remain strong, the strength of the latter playing off nicely last night against his weakening memory. Early in the half-hour conversation he asked what news here, and I told him some—for example, that we'd had our first snow in several years yesterday. Later he asked again, "What news?" and added, "if you haven't told me already."

<sigh> Now, what was it I came into this room for?

  1. Actually, it's his third name (of four) and my middle name (of three). I understand that Morris Major's was taken from the obstetrician who delivered him (and his twin sister); Morris Minor was named after my paternal and maternal grandfathers, my mother yielding to my father on the question which grandfather's name was "major," which "minor" <grin>.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jingle Jangle in exactly 15 words

Jim Rix's withering critique of our criminal justice system is a book not only for the criminal justice section in libraries and bookstores, but also for the true crime section. As a true crime account of Ray Krone's wrongful conviction for the murder of Kim Ancona, 15 words capture Jingle Jangle's most intriguing aspect:

Possibility that an innocent man took the fall to free another equals the perfect crime.

Order a copy of Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out today at the special discount price....

Friday, January 18, 2008

The psychology of my apostasy

My correspondent who quoted Proverbs to me the other day has a theory as to why I found "chains about thy neck" to be a slave image:
I suspect that your mother's reaction due to her indoctrination in her beliefs are [sic] causing ..."chains about thy neck" to [?] you by causing you to refuse to see and accept with gratitude the love of God in providing for your salvation from sin by sending His son to die for us. All we have to do is believe, accept, confess our sins, be baptized after age 8, pay one tenth of our increase to help others, and try to follow His example....I wish the best for you.

There we have the straight scoop from a true believer, plus the added bonus of some psychological insight.

Ardenza Trio in more performance!

Ardenza's website also has links to performance clips on their Projects page....

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ardenza Trio in performance

The Ardenza [piano] Trio has posted a couple of sound recordings of their performances on their Repertoire page. Currently, there's

  • Dvorak from Op. 90, "Dumky" (mp3 [6.4Mb]) and
  • Shostakovich from Trio Op. 67, Parts 2, 3, 4 (mp3 [18.2Mb]).


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

To be thought of

Ah, to be thought of! One of my correspondents wrote to me yesterday that:
As I waited this morning for the arrival a nearby..., I read from The Proverbs 1:7-9:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
This reading caused me to think of you.
Love, [signed]
And to be loved with such ardor (if this be not a curse1)!
  1. The "chains about thy neck" image suggests slavery. Ironically, the quotation seems to characterize religion about right: the enslavement of those who accept and allow themselves to be ruled by religious dogma.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lethal injection is the wrong debate

Ray Krone, the subject of Jim Rix's true crime book, Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out, yesterday published an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The article, Lethal injection is the wrong debate, begins:
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in Baze vs. Rees, which challenges the constitutionality of execution by lethal injection.

While the court wrestles with technical issues concerning the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, there's a much larger reason our country is rethinking the death penalty: the possibility of sentencing to death and executing an innocent human being.
and concludes:
So while the U.S. Supreme Court contemplates whether or not killing a person with a particular combination of chemicals is cruel and unusual punishment, all of us should recognize a much larger, more obvious fact: If sentencing to death and possibly executing an innocent person isn't cruel and unusual punishment, nothing is.

Quite literally, I'm living proof of that.
Way to go, Ray! Thanks for your eloquent fight against America's continuing to flaunt the civilized world by putting people to death.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Protagoras's final exam

In his august 1945 A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell recounts a story about the Sophist Protagoras that I'd heard before but enjoyed again. You might too:

Protagoras and other Sophists taught a lot of well-heeled Athenians how to present cases in court. For a reason I take to have been pedagogical (rather than, say, narcissistic), Protagoras told one of his graduates that he would forgive his fee for the course if he won his first court case.

Turns out that the graduate's first case was brought by Protagoras, who sued the student for payment of his fee....[paraphrased in my own words]

Russell notes that the story is probably apocryphal, but apocryphal or not it's a good story (unlike many stories in the Bible that are simply disgusting, however many people believe them and whether literally or figuratively).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Broken Bench Press has a second thriller

I'm pleased to report that the publisher of Jim Rix's fabulous true crime book Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out (Broken Bench Press) has acquired some copies of the 2004 edition of Bavaria-based novelist Steve Glossin's first novel, the Near East thriller Prophecy of the Medallion. As advertised on the publisher's website:

Trade paperback, 486 pages. Very limited 2004 edition. What happens when a Shiite Muslim cleric in Baghdad (‘the Imam’) goes on a fanatical quest to fulfill a prophecy of Muhammad and crosses the path of United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector William Holden, who is on his own desperate quest: to find and rescue the missing members of his Iraq inspection team? What do Saddam Hussein’s military do to protect themselves when their ‘Supreme Leader’ puts them in a no-win situation to convince the UN that he has no weapons of mass destruction? Can Holden and members of an ancient Bedouin tribe use each other—Holden to avenge his men, and the tribe to repossess its lost heirloom? Will tribal member Sabah Al Ahmed, who is also an operative of the Israeli Mossad, be able to use both Holden and the tribe to recover Israel’s lost nerve agent and keep it from Israel’s enemies?

It's being offered at a special discount price.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Birthday pie

Yesterday the age given in my blog profile increased by one....My wife baked a wondrous three-fruit pie for the occasion (using dried apricots, dried cranberries, and golden raisins):

Here again in close-up (and you can click on either photo to see it larger):

I hope that everyone had a happy my birthday. I did.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mystery fungus no longer!

The fungus pictured yesterday has been identified by Sunkat as Hericium erinaceus, also known she says as:

  • pompom
  • lion's mane
  • monkey head
  • old man's beard
  • bearded shelf
  • bearded tooth
  • hedgehog
She also says it's "very edible when young, medicinal."

I found a glorious photograph at a website that says it's "a California fungus."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mystery fungus

Can you identify this fungus? I took the photograph on December 31, in the woods down in back. The fungus was growing on an oak tree about six feet off the ground. It's about 5.5 inches from top to bottom.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The top 10 reasons to read this book

10 It’s the story of Ray Krone, who was convicted for a 1991 murder he didn’t commit. Ten years later he became the 100th Death Row exoneree when DNA implicated a convicted sex offender.

“A must for readers of true crime and anyone wondering why so many innocent people are convicted in America. The book satisfies from start to finish, from the opening of Ray Krone’s horror story, through the compelling analysis of what went wrong and on to the startling conclusion...” –Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents

9 It’s also the story of Krone’s cousin and the book’s author, Jim Rix. A computer programmer by trade, Rix learned of his cousin’s dilemma, became convinced he was innocent and led the effort to free him.

“I first learned of his predicament during a phone conversation with my mother. In her eighties, my mother was still one of the brightest people I knew and we often talked about current events. In this particular conversation I asked her if she had watched the TV program the night before about an innocent man released from Death Row. I don’t remember now which network magazine show it was or who was profiled. My mother replied that she hadn’t seen the show, then added casually, ‘You have a cousin on Death Row, and he’s innocent.’
      “‘What?’ I thought I’d misheard.
      “She went on to say that Ray Krone, the son of her niece, Carolyn, had been convicted of a murder in Phoenix. Carolyn had told her that a bite mark found on the victim supposedly matched Ray’s teeth. The crime was dubbed ‘the snaggletooth murder.’
      “I had never met Ray Krone ...” [and so Rix’s story begins]

8 It exposes bite mark analysis (a specialty of forensic odontology) as junk science. The only evidence against Ray was a bite mark. After joining the American Society of Forensic Odontologists and immersing himself in the subject, Rix concludes: “Unless bite mark analysis employs scientific principles, supported by blind testing and peer review, it will never rise above junk science and guesswork.”

“Ray Krone’s story has so many of the elements we see over and over again in innocence cases—unreliable forensic conclusions, incomplete investigations and overvalued testimony resulting from ‘confirmatory bias’ that occurs because everyone thinks they have the right perpetrator and they ignore evidence to the contrary….” –Chris Mumma, Executive Director, North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence

7 It’s a serious critique of the criminal justice system. In taking up Ray’s cause, Rix embarks on an odyssey through the courts, helps Ray get another trial and then witnesses an incredible second guilty verdict. Rix’s initial naïveté in believing that “the system works” evaporates as he comes to see Bob Dylan’s rhyme ring true: “To see him obviously framed / couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game.”

“Jim Rix takes us on a remarkable journey inside an American tragedy. He helped win his cousin’s freedom from Death Row and now he documents the chain of errors that put him there. The story will chill your belief in the American justice system….” –Bill Kurtis, producer of the A&E programs “Investigative Reports” and “Cold Case Files”

6 It’s a call for reform.

“Ray Krone’s plight reflects a state justice system that has lost sight of justice in favor of winning convictions at all costs, even at the cost of innocence…Krone’s case is a call for reform from the bottom up, beginning with removing politics from prosecutorial decisions.” –Rudy Gerber, retired justice, Arizona Court of Appeals

5 It’s controversial. Rix makes no bones that Ray Krone was railroaded, and he doesn’t back away from naming the public officials responsible.

“Rix meticulously details every aspect of police corruption, prosecutorial misconduct, defense incompetence, expert witness tampering and jury shenanigans that led to Ray’s decade-long nightmare…Scariest about this true story is that if Ray Krone, an honest, law-abiding person, could end up on Death Row, it could happen to anyone.” –Rachel King, author of Don’t Kill in Our Names and Capital Consequences

4 It’s a research treasure trove for students and scholars delving into the justice system. Rix cites many cases to show that what happened to Ray Krone is not an isolated instance of injustice.

Jingle Jangle is a remarkable book, a page-turner that asks all the right questions, shocking us out of our complacency by exposing the deep flaws in our criminal justice system. It should be required reading for every college student in America.” –Gary T. Lowenthal, Arizona State University law professor, author of Down and Dirty Justice

3 It’s David v Goliath. Remarkable defense attorney Christopher Plourd, at great personal sacrifice, single-handedly took on a powerful Prosecutor’s Office, a myopic police department, an inept crime lab and pusillanimous courts. Beaten down time and again, he didn’t give up and eventually found the way to win: “We must find out who killed Kim Ancona and shove it up their ass with a hot poker!”

“Jim Rix paints a powerful picture of hope, frustration and perseverance. Jingle Jangle shows why we must never stop fighting for those whom the legal system has failed.” –Caroline M. Elliot, North Carolina law school student and 2006-07 President of the UNC Law Innocence Project and the UNC Law Death Penalty Project

2 It’s a superbly written true crime account, which has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

“With honesty, wit and a genius for interweaving story and brief, Jim Rix tells a fascinating tale—a murder mystery, a courtroom drama with a strange verdict, a quest to make sense of it all and a righteous battle against injustice.” –Morris Dean, Editor

And the number one reason to read
Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out

1 It ends with a murder mystery—who really killed Kim Ancona? If the author’s carefully couched theory is true, then Ray Krone got out of prison only because another innocent man took his place…and the real killer is still at large.

Justice gone twice awry = The perfect crime

Order a copy today at the special discount price....

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Imagine that "God" exists if doing so...

Today I find myself considering a reformulation of my "new tenth commandment," currently stated:
Thou shalt not bow down and worship likely non-existent "God."
Not inconsistent with that, but indulging the proclivity of perhaps the majority of men and women (some of them my relatives and friends), would be the formulation:
Imagine that "God" (or "Allah" or "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" or whatever) exists if doing so somehow comforts or inspires you, but don't fall down and worship it.