Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

It is Memorial day. Half a world away the men and women of the US armed forces are fighting two wars. Each month of the past decade has violently increased the number of those Americans we honor on this Memorial day.

There is no greater honor to be paid those who willingly go into harm's way for America than to make sure they never do so for anything but the best of reasons. This is our collective responsibility as members of a democracy, and our individual responsibility as Americans.

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” – Jose Narosky

Battlefield medical care has increased in efficiency enough that the number of dead we memorialize on this holiday is dwarfed by the number who return wounded. Though our country owes these wounded warriors an immense debt of gratitude it is not them who we recognize on Memorial Day. We recognize those whose lives were prematurely ended by the violence of war.

Recently the Veteran’s Administration distributed over 13,000 notices of potentially life-threatening infections caused by what sounds like gross negligence. What level of respect does it communicate to a person who has volunteered to go into harms way for them to receive a notice that they are HIV positive because a VA gastroenterologist did not have his colonoscopy snake properly cleaned of the fecal material from a previous patient? Should we reserve a special portion of our Memorial Day services for apologies to those that died due to American negligence?

"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger." – John F. Kennedy

Though we can reflect on our adversaries in our current wars to find worthy justifications to honor our recent war dead it has never been the evil of our adversaries which truly motivates a democratic people to go to war. Americans speak of fighting for freedom. The members of our armed forces take an oath to defend our constitution. The Americans who fight oversees talk of returning to their American way of life. Americans at war hope to create a better future by destroying parts of the present that have become unacceptable.

"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." --Abraham Lincoln 

War is rarely the best way of making a future. War is a terrible tool. Unfortunately, for some, it is an easy tool to use. There is no draft. Episodes of American Idol and Dancing with the stars are not interrupted by news of fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. There is so little that we are forced to know.

Several days ago the US congress passed extensions to the Patriot Act. This law allows intrusions into the privacy of American citizens so that law enforcement groups can better ferret out potential terrorists. This can be done secretly. The Justice Department has officially issued legal opinions on what the legal limits are to the powers of intrusion granted by this law. The opinions are classified. We can't even find out what these changes to our democracy are, but we can send men and women into harm's way to protect them.

There have been rumors that protesters and pacifists are being targeted by investigations. It has been suggested that the discovery of information has been aided by features of the Patriot act. It would not be the first time that Americans in power have sought to facilitate the abuse of wartime powers by silencing discontent.

Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Goering

For the past several years I have heard more about President Obama's birth status than the warriors America is responsible for. There is no time or place for racism, stupidity, and the side effects of bad medication to masquerade as patriotism. Nationalism clouds our nation's sensibility.

This Memorial Day we will hear glowing odes to heroism and sacrifice. On this day the only testament the fallen need to give to pronounce the depth of their sacrifice has been written in their own blood. The glowing odes are more often about future votes than fallen heroes.

Today the living need to account for the need for these wars, and justify the sacrifices of those who gave everything.

"To truly honor fallen soldiers requires self-reflection, questions and action. We must reflect on our part in their deaths. Are we allowing the blood of soldiers and civilians to be spilled in war because we are not willing to do the hard work of peace making? Hard work that may mean we must change our lifestyles, consume less and learn more about the world around us. Are we prepared to take any responsibility for our nation’s relationships with other countries? Are we willing to question our government's foreign policies and demand a change from domination to collaboration? Are we willing to take action to change ourselves so that our personal behavior and attitude reflects peace making rather than acceptance of war?" – Michael T. McPhearson

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Summer's Weekend

It is Memorial day weekend. The local classic rock radio station is playing their take on the 500 greatest rock songs of all time, and they are wrong. The classic rock station counts REO Speedwagon, Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, Loverboy, Rush and Toto as the greatest bands of all time so how could they get it right?

Some things are inevitable. Inevitability is an apparent proof to the existence of god, and the fact that he has a plan. Listen closely and you might be able to hear a heavenly choir rockin a disco version of MacArthur Park.

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down...
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again

The bad taste of corporate classic rock is as inevitable as the earth orbiting around the sun. As it so happens Memorial Day weekend is a milestone in the periodic wobble the earth experiences in its orbit around Sol. Memorial day weekend is the beginning of official summer. I would personally be more awed by this clockwork progression of season if it were not snowing outside.

Memorial Day Weekend Snowfall

Season, weather, climate...It would be nice to have a more detailed understanding of each day's contribution to the overall pattern. It is apparently beyond our current meteorological skill to accurately plan for a Memorial day weekend barbeque.

However, there should be things that can be accurately predicted. Last year for Memorial day I predicted that the summer's weather would find me “be too engaged in outdoor activities to regularly update this blog“. I then went on to begin updating the blog at a significantly increased rate. You'd think I would have known better.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Miracle Science

Moses had better miracles than Jesus. There have been many people who have argued to me that the Jesus miracles could be explained away easier than the tricks of modern-day illusionists. I don’t know how one would start explaining away the parting of the red sea or decades of manna from heaven.

Noah had more spectacular miracles than Moses. He also was on closer terms with god. Noah did not need a burning-bush-communication-device; god spoke directly to him. Then god just killed everything. That is some awesome miracle working! Why you would have to go back to creation to really do better.

Adam had better miracles than Noah. What can I say…creation! Everything that was anything just being totally real almost all at once!

What is obvious is that there is a steady decline in the awesomeness of miracles. Today’s miracles usually consist of pictures in grilled cheese sandwiches or cryptic medical conditions. Today’s miracles suck compared to the Jesus miracles, but compare them to Noah’s or Adam’s and…well…there is no comparison.

There appears to be a geometric decline in the amount of divine miraculousness per year as the earth has aged.

Miracles are pretty convincing proofs of god’s existence. Most of the big old-testament miracles would easily convince me of the existence and awesomeness of god. However, if I was living in the old-testament times I would probably find phenomena that we do not consider to be miracles today to be sufficiently miraculous to be convincing proofs of god.

A bronze-age theist could have said to a bronze age AOA: “Look at the moon. See how it changes over time. God does that. We have it all written down in this book.”

I would like to think that a bronze-age AOA would reply: “That’s the best answer I’ve heard for that. I read here in the same book that describes how the moon works that god made everything just a few years ago.  WOW! Praise god!”

Today the progression of the moon through periodic phases is not a convincing proof of god because I’ve got much better explanations. When I first watched a man walk on the moon we were both dressed in one-piece clothing with attached “feet”. Mine were fuzzy pajamas. There was no god.

The number of natural phenomena that appear divinely driven has been geometrically decreasing with time. Back when the major miracles were happening many mundane events would have served just as well as convincing proof. Only a major miracle would appear at all miraculous today.

Miraculousity acording to AOA's first principle of Creation Science

Why is this? The most common reason I have been provided is that god does not do the miracle stuff today because there is too much sin. The standard scriptural explanation for this is that Jesus supposedly held back the miracles once because of lack of faith:

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.’ – Mathew 13:57-58 NIV

But if we look at this in context we see that he had been miraculous for these folks just minutes before stopping the flow of miracles:

Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. ‘ -- Mathew 13:54-58 NIV

In context it is obvious that this passage is about something else, and that Jesus had just finished performing amazing miracles for them. I have been told that being able to read the bible and understand what it means, despite what the words say, is a miracle of faith. If it is an example of what modern miracles are it is consistent with my premise that modern miracles suck.

The “why” for a decrease in miraculousity may require a miracle to understand, but the “how” should lend itself to more utilitarian scrutiny. Isn’t this what creation scientists should be studying? If a verifiable miracle theory were developed it would be a much better argument for the existence of god than maintaining that fossils were buried by the devil to trip up geologists.

but test them all; hold on to what is good” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Miracles can be studied, and current miracles can serve as tests for theories about the miraculous. Though I may be presenting a smidgen of this argument “tongue in cheek” there is an underlying logic which rings true. The scientific method can be used to confirm the major element of theist claims for divinity of their god. The relationships uncovered by such a study would not only argue convincingly for the presence of a god, but they would provide details about god’s efforts in the world. The details could be used to improve religion, prayer, prophesy, and all that amazing religious stuff.

It is more likely that such studying will just add effort to the fact that there is almost certainly no god.

Science and religion are extremely compatible, unless there is no god.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Greg has air conditioning in his trailer

Talking about the weather is a classic neutral conversation starter. Religion and politics are the classic “topics to avoid” in conversation. The news of late may begin to blur this time-honored division; talk of the weather sounds more and more like talk of religion and politics. Descriptions of the devastation caused by the tornados of April, and now of late May, sound like the frontline dispatches of a trench-bound war correspondent. The body counts are topping the psychological levy which separates mean statistics from human faces and lives. One could be reading a story about the latest catastrophic bombing from somewhere in the Middle East. Any day now some extremist religious or politico-religious organization should claim responsibility.

The acute change in tone precipitated by the recent tornado tragedies plays to a chorus of disquieting talk about global climate. Simple talking about the weather now regularly considers the question of climatic effects on weather. Some louder voices proclaim that the new tornado disasters are part of a great pattern of climate induced disasters; other equally loud voices maintain that the inability to directly connect specific weather events to climate means that there is no connection. Most of the voices come from people whose expertise in meteorology or climate science is laughable. This very essay is a case in point as I’m not really sure what “climate” even is.

I’m not alone however. There is a large group of individuals who are so ignorant of what climate even is that they are leading a coordinated effort to properly define it. I refer to many of these folks as “climate scientists”.

There are many folks working on connecting specific weather events to larger weather patterns, and –hopefully- eventually to whatever climate turns out to be. I call these folks meteorologists. They collect data, and then work it to absurd conclusions in fantastical computer models. Right now, somewhere in a windowless room, a computer is churning away data to draw an obviously incorrect conclusion. Current computer models for weather suck. Any one of them might be light-years ahead of everything more than a couple of years old, but they are unable to warn of the devastation we have seen over the past few months…and…that…sucks.

The impression that there are large masses of confused climate scientists and meteorologists wandering around aimlessly is incorrect. These scientists may be unable to produce the actionable information that is so easily imagined, but they are not going to be a threat to drivers by wandering out into the middle of roads at night…most of them anyway. The data we want seems so simple. We just want to know, years in advance, exactly where and when devastating storms will take place. We would even settle for just information on the really big storms; the small ones could slip out under the radar. This does not seem nearly as cool as X-ray-specs or flying cars, and I’ve seen crude flying cars.

Even if the correct imaginary product has not been produced by these scientists they have not been silent. Almost four years ago Tony Del Genio, Mao-Sung Yao, and Jeff Jonas widely disseminated the results of a model they produced and ran at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (on a computer that was undoubtedly in a windowless room). From that model’s data they suggested that “severe thunderstorms that also occur with significant wind shear and produce damaging winds at the ground” would be stronger, and that this was a result of global warming. They did not, however, predict that these stronger storms would happen this spring or which towns would be decimated.

By all accounts this spring’s devastating tornado events are exceptional. It will take many more such exceptional situations to conclusively alter what we think of as normal weather. Nobody expects every spring to now bring this level of tornado devastation. The apparent phenomenon of regression to the mean suggests that next spring should not have exceptional tornado devastation. An observed increase in devastating tornados should cause a statistically conclusive alteration in what we call “normal” weather only after the data from many exceptional years has been analyzed. The more certainty we require the more years it costs us.

Questions also arise concerning the type, quality, and quantity of data to be gathered. Although the death toll (upwards of 500) is many times average (60) tornado occurrence rates may not be. According to Greg Carbin lead forecaster of the National Weather Service's National Severe Storm Laboratory:

"There is no indication of an upward trend in either intensity or numbers. We've had a lot more reports of tornadoes, but most of those tornadoes are actually the weak tornadoes, the F-0. When you take out the F-0 tornadoes from the long-term record, there is very little increase in the total number of tornadoes, and we don't see any increase in the number of violent tornadoes. It's just that these things are coming, and they're very rare and extreme, and they happen to be hitting populated areas. So right now, no indication of an upward trend in the strong to violent tornadoes that we're seeing."

Of course Greg also said:

"And, so, we can go many, many years without seeing the level of activity we have seen. And whether there's actually an increase in this activity or its intensity, we -- we just don't know that yet. We don't have a long enough record really. The record is pretty short when it comes to atmospheric data on tornadoes."

And Greg said this when pressed on climate change:

Asked if climate change should be “acquitted” in a jury trial where it stood charged with responsibility for tornadoes, Carbin replied: “I would say that is the right verdict, yes.” Because there is no direct connection as yet established between the two? “That’s correct,” Carbin replied."  -- 28 April 2011 FoxNews

It would probably be in our best interest to respond to both global climate change and any problems it might cause. However, we anticipate a lack of certainty. Perhaps we should just take the June 2009 conclusions of the US Chamber of Commerce to heart:

"Overall, there is strong evidence that populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations."


"Humans have become less susceptible to the effects of heat due to a combination of adaptations, particularly air conditioning. The availability of air conditioning is expected to continue to increase."

I suppose if you get a heavy enough air conditioner you can crouch behind it during a tornado.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Yellow Band

I want to believe. This situation is thrown into stark relief whenever I become disillusioned. The frequency of disillusionment episodes appears to correlate with the number of trivial things I believe in. In fact I can be much more specific by narrowing the “things” category from all possible nouns to those more likely to be referred to by proper names and pronouns; namely people. People are notoriously unreliable. People with only trivial roles in my life are doubly so.

Disillusionment is more awkward when it is accompanied by massive media attention. Robert Fitzpatrick knows this better than most. Bob’s blank “I don’t know what happened” in response to not being raptured may speak of stupidity, but it echos of unquestioning belief. The fabric of Bob’s belief appears more hole than weave, so we find his attitude amusing. Unfortunately, on Sunday, I experienced the evaporation of a belief whose evidence was comparably threadbare.

Many people hold their irrational beliefs close to the vest. Some people’s conversations are peppered with random statements that suggest their belief. Some people pontificate on the righteousness of their point of view; those with a forum to do this can give new taint to the term “a**hole”. Some people wear their belief openly on bumper stickers, T-shirts, caps, and the memo field on donation checks.

The BELIEVE jerseys, caps, and buttons sported by those that believed cyclist Tyler Hamilton was innocent of doping are iconic. The logowear of belief in his innocence is even more iconic after Tyler’s public admission this Sunday of multiple doping events, over multiple years, with multiple people.

Who in their right mind believes a doping-accused-cyclist’s insistence of innocence anymore? Didn’t I learn from Floyd Landis’s epic fiction “Positively False”?

I want to believe. Tyler Hamilton was “The nicest guy in the peloton”. Tyler Hamilton was the guy who rode through hundreds of miles of grueling race stages with bone breaks so ragged they would have left most grown men shaking and gasping in a roadside ditch. Tyler Hamilton was the guy who had to have his teeth capped off after he had ground them down clenching his mouth to the pain he rode through.

Even cycling-savvy people who had examined Tyler’s profession of innocence, and found it wanting, refused to call him out on his guilt. Jonathan Vaughters was quoted as saying of Tyler’s proclamations of innocence: “He really does believe it himself”. He was only caught once; perhaps it was an innocent mistake on his part. Elaborate scenarios of his partial innocence were conceived.

We know now that Tyler never believed it himself. We know that he simply lied, and lied in a very public, and very convincing way. He was able to look people and cameras in the eye and lie.

And then there is Lance Armstrong.

I still want to believe. It may be too late to reconstruct a belief in Lance the drug-free cyclist. It certainly is too late to assemble a framework to care.

LA, however, is more than a former professional cyclist. LA is the world’s most famous cancer survivor. Modern medicine turned him from a shaved-head dying cancer patient to a cyclist competing in one of the toughest sports on earth. He did not ascribe his recovery to winged angels sprinkling him with magic sparkles. LA was injected with amazing synthetic substances, and became better than he had ever been.

It is evident that the amazing substances probably followed him out of the cancer ward and onto the streets of France. It is interesting to note that Armstrong was given EPO to keep him alive while undergoing cancer therapy, and is now vilified for probably taking that same substance to assist in the crushing of his opponents.

I want to believe that people can be better, faster, stronger, and that modern technology can help them. This weekend’s admission by Tyler should have strengthened that belief with evidence, but it is hard to believe someone who lies so well.

Disillusionment is usually difficult. One is left wondering what other unerodible evidence is crap. I do, however, have additional evidence to support beliefs complementary to the disillusionment. I am more firmly convinced that people can be liars with as much skill in their craft as I can demonstrate in gullibility.

What will the next disillusioning sports-related bombshell be? Will Armstrong turn out to never have had cancer? Will Oscar Pistorius turn out to have real legs? Will Dana Torres will turn out to have been born in 1987?

I’ve still got my Livestrong bracelet, but I’ve stopped wearing it in public.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jesus says: "Get off my porch"

According to some experts over 144,000 people were taken to heaven today. Unfortunately about the same number went yesterday, and the same number will probably go tomorrow. This is a real and testable fact. The “going to heaven” part may be suspect information, but the average daily death toll of about 150,000 is fairly measurable.

The reason 144,000 is at all interesting today is that it is mentioned a couple of times in the book of revelations. This book is concerned with the end of the world, and today the world was supposed to end.

No man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” Rev 14:3-4 KJB

I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” Rev 7:4 KJB

You could get pedantic on me and insist that today was to be rapture, not the end of the world, but does it really matter what flavor the kool-aid comes in?'s the cyanide aftertaste that matters.

SO I'm sitting around watching my taste in rapture jokes ripen from poor to vulgar when there is a knock at the front door. At my door are two sincere modestly-dressed Hispanic women, and a fidgety pre-teen kid.

I open the door.

The younger of the two women hands me a tiny pamphlet. She holds up her bible and begins to talk:

“Have . .”

“Weren't you folks going someplace today?” I cut in


“Rapture” I reply “Today is rapture. Shouldn't you be going off into heaven”

“Ohhh” She smiles “The bible says that no man will know the time of the return of Jesus. The bible..”

“Look. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” I ask.

“Yes, but the bible..”

“Well, there are these folks who say they have a personal relationship with him, and they read the same bible, and they bought a billboard off I-80 that says the rapture is today”

“Well the bible..”

“Look. What good is a personal relationship with Jesus if he isn't going to tell you the truth. Does Jesus lie to you often?”

“No. The bible says”

“How do you know”

“The bible says”

“The bible says a bunch of stuff. You open that book to Leviticus and read a few paragraphs. You won't get far before you run across something that you think is wrong. Do you get a lot of wrong answers from Jesus when you pray to him?”

“The bible says”

“Why don't you want to talk about your relationship with Jesus? Are you embarrassed to have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

About this time a late-model green suburban with a white crucifix decal on the back window pulled up. Out came a couple of middle aged men. One was smiling. The other had a bit of a gut, and the greasyest hair I have seen in quite a while.

“Everyone is here.. Should I make some lemonade?” I greeted them with outstretched hand.

“Hello. Have you gotten one of our pamphlets?” Mr Greasy shook my hand.

“Yes. Aren't you folks supposed to be raptured today?” I asked

“No. The bible says”

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? I asked

“The bible says that no man will know the time that the lord will return”

“Yeah...I've heard that. I've heard other things also. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

“Do you think you are going to heaven?” He asked back.

“Don't know” I replied “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus”

“don't you worry about if you will go to heaven?” he asked back.

“You aren't going to answer my question are you?” I replied

“The bible says”

“Why aren’t you going to answer my question?” I pressed

“The bible clearly says”

“But you aren't clear” I cut in “you aren't clear at all. You just go on with some script. Do you just see this whole Christianity thing as some sort of clever argument?”

“I think you do” He replied.

“Why won't you answer my question?” I reiterated “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

“The bible says”

“Will the bible tell me if you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus” he shot back somewhat irritated.

“No” I replied “Why won't you answer my question? Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

“The bible”

“Look. I answered several of your questions, but you won't answer mine. Perhaps you should leave.”

“I did answer. It just wasn't the answer you wanted” He replied.

“You mean the answer where you hear my question and answer it, as oposed to where you ignore my question and just say something so that your lips move?" I replied.

“Do you have a family?” he asked.

“Blue Jello!” I firmly replied.

“What?” he asked

“There is a place in France.” I replied “Where the sun can shine on ruddy faced children when it is Wednesday!”

“You are not making any sense!” He exclaimed.

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” I asked again.

“I was raised a the LDS church...for most of my life” he said.

“Did you believe what you were told in the LDS church?” I asked.

“No. The bible...”

More importantly. Did you ever tell anyone you believed?” I asked.

“The bible” He replied, more shakily now.

“You can leave now. It's OK really. I won't be offended.”

Mr. Greasy turned to leave. I shook the hand of one of the young women as he walked down my front steps.

“Happy Rapture!” I offered as they loaded up the SUV. “Drive gently!”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Competent sources tell me...

I have been called to task over statements I made earlier concerning tomorrow’s rapture. I was confronted with the accusation that I should find a “competent” source for my statement that “At 6PM Pacific time a great earthquake will announce the start of the rapture”. Since this accusation obviously uses a meaning for the word “competent” that I am unfamiliar with I felt compelled to respond.

But as I began penning my devastating response I was given new information about what will really happen on Saturday. It turns out that Saturday may actually be judgment day, and that it will:

“Herald the coming of The Thousand Years of Nagging and Needling. When Our Lord of Infinite Guilt Trips finally defeats the evil False Prophet of Cutting People Slack” -- R. Wyrick, Prophet of the New Millennium

Instead of an earthquake just before supper, morning’s first coffee will be greeted with a rumbling of discontent. The rumbling will condense into a whine of human voices. Words will become discernable…then phrases:

"Oooh, that sweater is gross,"

"Are you really wearing that?"

You really should be doing more with your life

If you didn’t dress like a schlep you would meet a nice girl

He could lose a few pounds

OMG, willya look at those shoes

Perhaps we can defy prophesy. Perhaps we can speak out for acceptance so that the voices of judgment day are not the only ones heard in everyone’s ears. Maybe we can take someone’s hands, look in their eyes, and dispel any sense the judgmental voices carry in their words. Just maybe we can try and clear off the preconditions from a couple precious feelings of love, and know unconditional love for a few moments.

Or maybe you should just get with the program and call up that ex who broke your heart to let them know that there are as many flaws in their personality as there are colors in the rainbow.

It’s Judgment Day: Feel the Rainbow!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus

Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum

Most people will look at Saturday’s failed rapture and feel a sense of smug satisfaction in accurately dismissing Harold Camping’s latest destructive fiction. The legion of detractors will come from every direction. An unfortunate number will be confident that the precision of their own eschatology eclipses that of Camping. A larger number will simply have dismissed Camping’s claims because he is not prominent in the order of theological authority which prioritizes their system of belief. Too few will enter the tent through the flap marked “it just sounded batshit crazy”. A lucky few doubters will stumble in wondering what the tent is for, and hoping there are refreshments.

"The wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure; but modest doubt is call'd
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To the bottom of the worst."Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida Act II Scene II

I can only hope I have the intestinal fortitude to duck out of the “batshit crazy” line and dance in, perhaps ass first, with the doubting few. Unfortunately the claims of end times are so ridiculous that it is enormously hard to doubt anything about their fallacy. The idea that rapture could occur on Saturday is buried under so many layers of batshit crazy irrational thoughts that I cannot think of where to begin digging. I only scratch the surface when I deride Camping’s numerology. In order to imaginer Camping had a slight chance of getting it correct I would have to believe that “it” had some probability of occurring at all. In this case the “it” is itself entangled in a theology encrusted with iron and bronze-age warts. Each layer of incredulity makes it geometrically harder to preserve doubt concerning Saturday.

"There is no lady of more softer bowels,
More spongy to suck in the sense of fear,
More ready to cry out 'Who knows what follows?'" .—Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida Act II Scene II
This sounds like certainty, but it is not. I am human. I am flesh and blood. I am constrained by the resolution with which I can actionably distinguish between certainty and miniscule doubt. It is so infinitesimally probable that a rapture event will occur on Saturday that I am unable to rationally foster recognizable doubt concerning it.

“Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.” Clarence Darrow

Doubt is, however, such a enviable quality of thought that it is worth ritualistically feigning it in the face of absurd possibilities. I usually reserve this ritual for those times when I watch very bad low-budget science fiction movies. I have a DVD of “Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus” in my collection. There is a scene in this movie where the hundred-foot-long-just-freed-from-its-icy-prison-prehistoric Mega-Shark leaps thousands of feet into the air to bite a jumbo jet in half. Every time I see this scene I ignore the ham-handed excuse for cgi, and think: “cool”. The plane biting scene has nothing to do with the “plot” progression of the movie, so I cannot blame my enjoyment of the scene on being blinded by context. I suspend disbelief. In this case I may be using the psychological equivalent of futuristic cryogenic storage facilities with steaming pipes, flashing blue lights, scantily clad death-ray-armed ninja guards, and tanker trucks of liquid nitrogen; but I am suspending belief. Perhaps I can do the same for Saturday’s rapture.

Mega-Shark vs Plane

Besides it’s obvious (and suspect) entertainment value doubt is an important part of reason. How sure are we of anything? What can we know, and what value is it in making particular decisions? What part of my understanding is critical in minimizing specific doubts? Do I believe, or am I just afraid of doubting?

Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is an absurd one.”– Voltaire

Though I may be essentially certain of things like gravity and Sunday’s sunrise most of my life is a patchwork of doubt. Much of that doubt I would like to reduce. Most of my words are spoken into a featureless void where simple echoes give substance to the dark. If I could reduce that doubt to near certainty I would begin to treasure what doubt I could retain. I might even playact fantastical situations where the doubt became manifest.

If the Mega-Shark of the apocalypse is arriving this Saturday, all I can say is:

“Bite Me!”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The calm before the calm

Rapture rapidly approaches, and there is no apparent quickening towards Saturday’s judgment. I am left wondering if this is the stillness before the storm, or the stillness before the continued stillness. This stillness must be truly portentous as it is not very still stillness. Things are happening everywhere on a variety of timescales. It is almost as if existence and time are continuing towards a particular destination, and then will continue through that destination towards other more distant ones.

Should we pay more attention to the postulated events of Saturday than to other more distant end times? Of course we should! Even if rapture does not happen this Saturday there will be other dates to prepare for. Don’t forget that 12-21-12 is just around the corner. If rapture doesn’t get us maybe the Mayan gods will.

Would it hurt you to believe?

"But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions." -- B. Pascal (from Pensees III:233 translated by Trotter)
One of the most common reasons I am given for why I should believe in a (usually Christian) god is best summed up in Pascal’s wager. The summarizing progresses through a detailed description of a finite two position wager based on equitable risk, and then blows all this to pieces by introducing infinite reward and risk. A typical progression would be as follows:

  1. If you were forced to bet on a fair coin toss, but were allowed to wager whatever you wanted, you would wager half your money on heads, and half on tails.
  2. If heads paid out 100 to one you would wager more on heads.
  3. f you did not lose you money if it came up tails you would bet more on heads.
  4. If you did not win anything if the coin-toss came up tails you would bet everything on heads.
  5. Even if the coin toss was not fair it would make sense to bet everything on heads.
  6. Even if there was only the slightest chance of winning it would not make sense to bet on tails.

The proponent then points out that the ratio of any finite reward compared to the infinite eternal rewards of heaven are essentially zero. They then usually point out that the ratio of any finite loss compared to the infinite eternal torments of hell is also essentially zero.

One can visualize the argument as a matrix like this:

No god
(High probability)
(Low probability)
Believe in God
Essentially zero harm
Infinite payout
Remain unbelieving
Essentially zero payout
Infinite harm

The reason why I am personally confronted by this proposal is: 1) That I insist that there is “almost certainly no god”, which suggests to way too many people that there is some exploitable probability that there is one, and 2) for some reason many true believers (especially the boorish ones) tend to think they are the first people to ever explain Pascal’s wager to me.

Pascal himself described it in his pensees (233) thusly:

"You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. "That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much." Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all divided; where-ever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness." -- Blaise Pascal (translated by Trotter)

Blaise Pascal’s (June 19, 1623 – August 19, 1662) decision matrix was more complex than the one simple-minded-boorish true-believers of today present as their argument. Most importantly outspoken atheists in the early 1600s were treated quite poorly. The year Blaise turned 10 was the year that pope Urban VIII (Who began his reign as pope the year Blaise was born) brought Galileo to Rome to submit to the inquisition. Blaise wrote the wager in his Pensees while the wars that marked the adolescence of the reformation divided Europe. Blaise was a Roman Catholic who would die not long after King Charles of England was beheaded at the end of a largely puritan uprising. The matrix for Pascal reveals that his choice was more a matter of degree, and looked much like this:

No god
Believe in God
Reasonable treatment while alive.  Zero chance of anything when dead.
Reasonable treatment while alive.  Even better treatment when dead.
(very good)
Very poor treatment while alive.   Zero chance of anything when dead.
Very poor treatment while alive.  Very poor treatment when dead.
(very bad)

Most modern fundamentalist Christians (which, if not an oxi-moron, is some other kind of moron) in the United States would like the reality of their wager to be more like Pascal’s. There are significant movements afoot to erode the separation of church and state. There are significant numbers of American Christians who would also like to codify discriminatory economic policies (like hiring, pricing, citizenship, and access). In a famous, and often repeated, quote President George W Bush suggested that Atheists were not complete citizens.

Blaise was a true true-beleiver. He gave away most of what he owned, and moved into a minimalist religious living situation. He often wore a castigation belt (a metal belt with inward pointed spikes designed to castigate the wearer for their sins). His self torture and self deprivations left him in a state of almost continual sickness that lead to his early (age 39) death.

"Sickness is the natural state of Christians." -- Blaise Pascal

Blaise was willing to do anything to cash in on his wager. The infinite risk ratio is obviously undefined in a risk-benefit analysis. The actionable information gleaned from Pascal’s wager is at best trivial, and more often damaging. What cannot be justified if we postulate some infinite reward even if it has a very small probability?

Some of my regular readers are surely wondering why I have not championed the use of limits to show that an infinitely great payout with an infinitely small probability could yield a finite payout. Any finite payout could then be compared to any other finite payout; even those with finite risk and benefit. I did not do this because there is no accepted way of analyzing the partial risk and partial benefit of partial religious belief.  To be worthy, according to many sources, beleif is an all-or-nothing proposal. There is no way, therefore, of defining the effect of increased belief as the limit of absolute belief is approached.

Pascal produced his wager just a few decades before another religious nutcase (Newton) would create a great method of analyzing limits (the Calculus).

What of today’s Christian? What are they willing to give up for their wager?  Do they need a car…or even shoes? Where is their castigation belt? If there is any possibility that the May 21st date is correct shouldn’t they be preparing? Have they found a way of justifying a partial buy-in to Pascal’s wager, or do they see it as simply a cute way of arguing with atheists?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Heaven is prime

The number of days left before rapture can be counted on one hand with fingers left as spares. I for one think pause should be taken to reflect on what this coming rapture date means. Before you know it the date will be history, and our perception of the events of 21 May 2011 will be clouded by certainty.

Certainty is the special province of history, theology, mathematics (some mathematics), and (as is made all too clear from the current rapture date) fools. It is almost impossible to pry loose from the mind the idea that certain events are destined to happen. Everything in history, without exception, occurred at some time. Just before the events took place they were just about to take place. In many cases there were clues that the events were about to take place. Sometimes, in hindsight, the clues appear unmistakable.

What are the clues presented for Saturday’s rapture event? My favorite is that (5X10X17)^2 = 850X850 = 722,500. I like this clue because there is certainty in it. Any reasonable method used to analyze this clue yields the same results; the square of 850 is 722,500. I also like it because by mixing certainty and absurdity one yields a product that is certainly absurd.

Mathematical certainty can be mixed with absurdity for positive results. I am reminded of an iconic story involving two notable mathematicians. Godfrey Hardy had traveled by taxi to a hospital to visit his friend Srinivasa Ramanujan. Hardy recalls the conversation dipping into mundane numbers as he sought to provide emotional support for his sick friend:

“I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways’”
                       1729 = 13 + 123 = 93 + 103

Ignoring Srinivasa’s slight oversight(in not specifying positive cubes) Godfrey must have been especially pleased at this display of mental acuity because it signified that his friend was not so sick that his thinking was muddled. Of all the conversations about numbers these two must have had over the years this simple exchange became legendary? It is certainly not because adding cubes is all that important. It is because friendship is.

1729 has become known as the “taxicab number”. Numbers that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in to different ways are collectively known as “taxicab numbers”. If one does not specify positive cubes the smallest positive taxicab number is 91.

                      91 = 63 + (−5)3 = 43 + 33

There is no elegant dance of integer coitus that yields 722,500, but I should trudge through the “reasoning” used to produce it. The number 5 means atonement, 10 means completeness, and 17 means heaven. Since these numbers have some meanings they are multiplied together to get 850, which should then be squared because squaring things is nice. I have a difficult time squaring Mr. Camping’s number meanings with what I have always thought numbers meant.

I thought one used numbers in a sentence this way:

“One needs two five-bushel loads of crap to fill the ten-bushel bin with crap.”

But I must admit Harold’s (Harold Camping) meanings can be used to make sense:

“With enough atonement-crap one can really fill up with complete-crap”

Monday, May 16, 2011


Spring is the season when fantastical claims of supernatural discoveries surface. What will it be this year? Will new evidence of alien landing sites be discovered? Will we be privy to the true location of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, or the True Cross? Last year it was Noah’s Ark.

           When Jesus returns in less than a week I will have such a dumb look on my face….

I like to believe that innocent and well meaning Christians simply “got it wrong” when they forward fantastical claims. This was easier when claims were as ephemeral as rumor. Last year’s Noah’s Ark claim was resplendent with experts and video footage.

I must admit that I am a bit of a sucker for visual imagery. Just a couple of years ago I was sent an e-mail containing an image purportedly gleaned from a South Carolina local-TV weather report. The description of the image was complete with date, time, station name, and even the name of the weather reporter. The image showed clouds unmistakably shaped like human hands opening a hole in the sky.

God opening the sky so his love can more easily spill forth

I knew the cloud photo was some faked Photoshop trick, but I lacked proof. I set about tracking down the particulars mentioned in the cloud photo’s backstory in order to verify them.

I also knew that last year’s Noah’s Ark claims must be false. “Knowing” the veracity of a claim before investigating it puts one at a serious disadvantage. Because of the motivating prejudice the research is more a process of prosecuting an opinion than investigating a potential truth. I constantly catch myself wondering if I think a particularly interesting bit of information piques my interest because it is especially illuminating, or because it is especially in agreement with my prejudice.

The discovery of Noah’s Ark on a Turkish mountain was reported by NAMI (Noah’s Ark Ministries International) in March-April 2010. For seven years a group of devout Christians headquartered in Hong Kong had repeatedly traveled half-way across the globe to hike around a somewhat picturesque Turkish mountain in the hopes of “discovering” Noah’s ark. In the spring of 2009 they received photos taken from inside the ark. In the spring of 2010 they traveled to the site on Mount Ararat and “touched Noah’s Ark”.

Luckily for them NAMI was affiliated with Media Evangelism Limited. This made it so much easier for NAMI to package their disjoint expedition footage into a glossy film. In the film rough-hewn timbers are uncovered from mountain ice. Images of huge cavernous rooms are grainily revealed to a jittery cone of flashlight illumination.

Wood samples were reported removed from the Noah’s Ark site, and then subjected to Carbon-14 dating. The Carnon-14 dates reported by NAMI were consistent with the “known” date of Noah’s flood. When I read this I was amazed at the fact that Carbon-14 could so accurately demonstrate the time of Noah’s flood, but was incompetent at showing that the world was more than six thousand years old.

My research into the cloud photo uncovered the fact that the TV station mentioned in the description both existed, and existed in South Carolina. Further research confirmed that there was a weatherman at the station with the name given in the description. Google Earth helped me locate both the station’s headquarters and the reported location of the divine atmospheric phenomenon. They were close enough to one another to plausibly support a connection.

I began thinking that strange cloud formations might be possible. Could it be that the light was just right to create the illusion of hands stretching open a hole in the sky? I looked too real to be real. I questioned myself for thinking that something could look so real that it must be a fake. I decided to dig deeper.

I sent an e-mail with the photo and description attached to the weatherman. I did not get an answer in 24 hours so I sent the photo and description to every e-mail address associated with the TV station that I could find. I remember that it was someone from the marketing division who wrote me back first.

The NAMI discovery also underwent intense scrutiny. There is apparently a field of inquiry called “Ark Hunting”. Other Ark Hunters were invited to look at NAMI’s evidence. There was at least one credentialed archeologist who was invited to look at the evidence. However, Randall Price (who is president of World of the Bible Ministries, Inc.) was not the most potentially unbiased archaeologist they could find I’m sure.

These evangelical Christina scrutinizers came back with the opinion that the find was not Noah’s Ark. Some of the pictures were from another site entirely, and were doctored to flow into the new claims. Some of the wood samples were not even wood; they were a volcanic stone called tuff.

Then, as if the rebuke from their fellow ark believers was not bad enough, things really began falling apart for NAMI’s claims.

The e-mails that I received from the small South Carolina TV station were unanimous in their denial of the picture. They were even somewhat abrupt and defensive. They “never took this picture” and had “no idea where the picture came from”. Some of the people from the TV station had obviously faulty keyboards as their capslock-keys were stuck on.

People researching the NAMI claims tracked down the support crew pictured in NAMI’s video. They were treated to a detailed description fo how they had hauled timbers up Mount Ararat and constructed what they referred to as “the movie set”. Some of the scenes of the big wooden rooms, they explained, were shot in structures on the shore of the Black Sea; hundreds of kilometers away from the location they were described as having in the film.

The Ark Hunters who helped debunk the NAMI claims explained that NAMI was just “not looking in the right place”. This does not sound like the “they were lying about something that does not exist” announcement I would have expected. I bet things will be just too chaotic during Saturday’s rapture to get clarification on the Noah’s Ark issue from those who should be in the know.

It was several weeks later that someone explained to me that the Photoshopped cloud formation I was using as a computer desktop background was an image of something called a goatse. After looking up goatse I discovered that it is a self-destructive mutilation technique where the practitioner manually dilates their anus to flesh-ripping diameters. Pictures of the procedure vie with autopsy porn for most disturbing web images. Many meters of mental floss will be needed to reduce the effect of that research on my mind. I was slightly amused, however, at the realization that I had e-mailed the photo off to a dozen-or-so strangers insisting that each of them help me find out where it came from.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Vanity Burning

Five hundred and fourteen years ago today, on May 13th 1497, Rodrigo Borgia (having become Pope Alexander VI just five years earlier) finally got around to exomunicating Girolamo Savonarola. Giro would be executed just a year and ten days later; on May 23rd 1498.

After Giro was arrested, on April 8th 1498, he was brutally tortured. Legend has it that every scrap of flesh on his body except for his right arm was mutilated in the systematic mission of the Pope’s designates to provide maximum pain for Giro. Shortly before a month had passed Giro used the undamaged right arm to sign a confession and to pen the famous “Infelix ego”:

“Infelix ego, omnium auxilio destitutus, qui cœlum terramque offendi: Quo ibo? Quo me vertam? Ad quem confugiam? Quis mei miserebitur? Ad cœlum levare oculos non audeo. Quia ei graviter peccavi. In terra refugium non invenio. Quia ei scandalum fui.
Quid igitur faciam? Desperabo? Absit. Misericors est Deus, pius est salvator meus. Solus igitur Deus refugium meum: Ipse non despiciet opus suum, non repellet imaginem suam.
Ad te igitur, piissime Deus, tristis ac mœrens venio: Quoniam tu solus spes mea, tu solus refugium meum. Quid autem dicam tibi? Cum oculos levare non audeo, verba doloris effundam, misericordiam tuam implorabo, et dicam: Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.” -- Girolamo Savonarola

With the Infelix Ego Giro pretty much discounts his confession. He also is a bit unhappy with himself for penning the confession (“Alas wretch that I am, destitute of all help, who have offended heaven and earth--where shall I go?” – English translation of the beginning of Infelix Ego). The Infelix Ego would remain Giro’s most endearing work. It would be adopted for use in several other artworks. It was even put to music a couple of times.

It is ironic that Giro’s last complete work would find its way into art.

Before his death Giro would be allowed to re-visit the site of his most famous work. Giro, and a couple of his comrades, were chained to a cross in the Piazza della Signoria, stripped, and then burned. A little less than a year and a half earlier, on February 7th 1497, Giro had erected his “bonfire of the Vanities” on the same spot.

Giro had whipped up a following by convincing people that, because syphilis had become so widespread, the end of the world was near. Giro had items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures, gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets piled in the center of the Piazza della Signoria. Many great works of art were lost forever to the purifying influence of Giro’s torch.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 22

Judgment day is about two weeks away. I have never been more ready to convert to Evangelical Christianity. Believe me when I tell you that a world-wide rapture event will dissolve all doubts I have as an atheist, and I will come to believe in whatever I should have been believing in to begin with. Of course the particulars of what I should believe even if a rapture event occurs are a bit murky around the details.

Some of the folks who advertise the end of the world state that they know this is the time since the world was created in 11,013 BC. Some other folks have told me that the earth was created on October 9th in 4,004 BC. Who is correct? I guess we will know on May 22nd. Who will have egg on their faces: the not-so-young earth creationists, or the adolescent-earth creationists?

But the rapture event should be undeniably spectacular!

At 6PM Pacific time a great earthquake will announce the start of the rapture. I'm not sure how the 6PM Pacific time was discovered by studying the bible. Israel, which is bible ground zero, is 10 hours behind Pacific time, so it will be May 22nd in Israel. This confuses me because if the intense studying of the bible does categorically state that judgment day is May 21st I would think they would at least mean May 21st in Israel How would the bible even denote pacific time as the entire continent of North America was unknown to the biblical people at the time they were writing down all the end-times prophesy stuff.

I am supposed to realize that I will be out of luck in terms of avoiding hell because in Revelations 3:7 it says:
 “These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth” – KJB Rev3:7

And this is supposed to mean that I am SOL with respect to avoiding hell if I do not convert in the next two weeks. May 22nd is too late.

Apparently one must believe in a god before he presents the evidence which he is fully capable of presenting at any time. After he presents the evidence it is not a test to believe, so believing becomes worthless.

Of course the missing evidence of a loving god who will start torturing you in a couple of weeks if you do not start believing right now is just the divine miraculous evidence. Billboards and Internet sites are OK. If you see a billboard advertising the end of the world and decide that is enough evidence to convert you are golden. If you hold out for godly earthquakes and miracles then you are going to hell.

The earthquake is supposed to be the biggest ever known. I would guess that at a 10+ on the Richter scale.

Then people will bodily be taken up to heaven. Apparently planes will fall from the sky. For years Fundamentalist Christians have insisted that on all commercial flights the FAA required a non-Christian co-pilot so the plane could be landed safely after rapture. I suppose the highways will be a mess. Luckily May 21st is a Saturday or the afternoon commute could be a nightmare.

What of May 22nd? Without evidence of a rapture will thousands of disheartened Christians suddenly wish to give up on god? I doubt it. This is the wondrous thing about Pascal's wager. The rewards of heaven are so great, and the risks of hell so terrible, that they swamp any consideration of apostasy.  No what. No what. Just the slimmest possibility that there is a heaven and hell is enough to justify unwavering belief.

Even some who know that there is almost certainly no god will hold out for that certainty.

On May 22nd we will know for certain that there has been no rapture. What difference will this make?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Derek K Miller's Last Post

People often ask what atheists think about death. They ask this of each other, they ask it of their clergy, they ask it of their spiritual advisors, I have been asked, I have heard the question asked rhetorically to nobody in particular. The fact is that this question has been answered quite often by dying atheists. Yesterday Derek K Miller eloquently answered it again.

"I haven't gone to a better place, or a worse one. I haven't gone anyplace, because Derek doesn't exist anymore. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn't make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.

So I was unafraid of death—of the moment itself—and of what came afterwards, which was (and is) nothing. As I did all along, I remained somewhat afraid of the process of dying, of increasing weakness and fatigue, of pain, of becoming less and less of myself as I got there. I was lucky that my mental faculties were mostly unaffected over the months and years before the end, and there was no sign of cancer in my brain—as far as I or anyone else knew"

What worthwhile preparation for death can be gleaned from any religion that is more worthy that an appreciation for life and the loves we find living it?

"I've come to realize that, at any time, I can lament what I will never know, yet still not regret what got me where I am. I could have died in 2000 (at an "old" 31) and been happy with my life: my amazing wife, my great kids, a fun job, and hobbies I enjoyed. But I would have missed out on a lot of things.

And many things will now happen without me. As I wrote this, I hardly knew what most of them could even be. What will the world be like as soon as 2021, or as late as 2060, when I would have been 91, the age my Oma reached? What new will we know? How will countries and people have changed? How will we communicate and move around? Whom will we admire, or despise?"

Then there are the sentiments that when expressed by a dying individual take on a magnificent hue. Some which might seem clipped and trite if casually dropped in conversation become anthems. I will carry this particular sentence around with me all today; stroking it like a treasured icon:

"The world, indeed the whole universe, is a beautiful, astonishing, wondrous place. There is always more to find out. I don't look back and regret anything"

And though I did not know Derek personally he sounded like a fine fellow from his blog; I am reminded that the world is full of marvelous fleeting worthwhile personalities. And though I have reproduced passages from his last post I have not captured the best; see the rest of it here

UPDATE January 2017:  The original last post has slipped off the internet.  Here is a link to an archived copy of Derek's last post: