PZ Catches Some Flack

blood.jpgPZ Myers posted a link to a new video, in which a Dutch somebody or other takes a whack at Islam … by showing pictures of beheadings, bombings, etc. You’ve probably read about it by now. The film is called “Fitna,” and does present a pretty harsh picture of Islam.

A substantial number of the commenters interpreted the posting of the link as a racist attack on Muslims, and they jumped on Prof. Myers in the comments with claws out on all four feet.

Those poor, maligned Muslims, can’t catch a break because so many people are so racist, so hateful, and the Muslims are really just downtrodden lovers of peace, blah, blah, blah.

Basically, they misinterpreted what Myers did, and what he said, and overreacted.

Here’s my comment on the thing:

Continue reading “PZ Catches Some Flack”

A New Element Discovered!

newelement.jpgSomeone emailed this to me. I thought it was too cool not to pass on:

UC Berkeley has just announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named “Governmentium.”

Governmentium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element which radiates just as much energy, since it has half as many peons, but twice as many morons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. It can be detected, however, as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A reaction that normally takes one minute or less will require a week or more if contaminated by trace quantities of Governmentium.

The half-life of Governmentium is 4 years. It does not, however, decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

The characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration.

This hypothetical quantity is called the Critical Morass.


Doing a search on the web just now, this thing appears to be everywhere out there, in a variety of versions. Wikipedia attributes the original to an article by William DeBuvitz in the Jan. 1989 issue of The Physics Teacher. Kudos to Mr. DeBuvitz, and thanks for the laugh.

Does Jesus Make You Happy?

unbeliever.jpg“People who believe in God are happier than agnostics or atheists, researchers claimed yesterday.”

So begins another of the half-dozen or so stories I’ve seen on the subject over the past couple of years. This particular study, titled, revealingly enough, “Deliver Us From Evil: Religion as Insurance,” was carried out with data from Britain and Europe by Prof. Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics, and Dr. Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.

If you’re religious, or inclined to faith, the persistent stories sound very positive. By believing, even if none of the rest of your religion is true, apparently you’re bolstering the chances of a rise in the level of your own contentment.

If you’re an atheist, on the other hand, it seems like yet another smug, annoying advertisement by the godder lobby: “Ha-ha unbelievers! We’re happier than you are! See? Science proves it!” If we aren’t already innately less happy because of our lack of faith, we can thank our goddy brethren for MAKING us unhappy with their insistent carping on how bad and wrong we are compared to them, simply because we don’t have their religion resident in our heads.

But aside from all that, the research, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in Coventry, England, has at least SOME science behind it. If the study was rigorously done, it provides a hypothesis worth considering by people on both sides of the god divide.

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Still Here

Sorry I haven’t been posting this past week or so. I just finished up editing a book for a client—took me a lot longer than I expected—plus I had a few annoying days of computer issues.

And I’m thinking up new material for my stand-up routine.

Did you hear the one about … ?

Photography Again

I take pictures. I guess that qualifies me to call myself a photographer. There’s a link on the top right of my home page that will take you to the ones I have posted on my Flickr site, Hank Fox Photos.

There’s a funny story I like to tell about how, early in my picture-taking career, I used to work so hard to get the exposure right, frame the picture perfectly, crop out all the extraneous bits in the scene, etc. — all the skill and knowledge thingies you have to do to get a really good photograph — and then somebody would say “Wow, that’s a great picture! You must have a really good camera!”

Which is bit like telling a writer who turns out a great book, “Wow, you must have a really good typewriter!”

But maybe they were even right. Because my main technique was something I learned at a Nikon School of Photography workshop: 1) Take LOTS of pictures. 2) Throw most of them away.

Flickr has this other wonderful site, Flickrvision, where you can see pictures as they’re posted, wherever they’re posted, all over the world.

This is mega-cool.

Stand Up

comedy.jpgI’ve been taking a class in stand up comedy. Tonight was the second class, and I had to get up in front of my other classmates, about 20 of them, and attempt to be funny.

I did pretty good. I felt good, they laughed, teacher said good things about me.

It was a Sally Field moment: “You like me! You really like me!” I could get into this.

Next week: Local club. On stage. Me. 

Whoo boy.






Tito: Two Years Gone

tito-snoozle.jpgI was lucky enough to know a Great Person. He also happened to be a dog. He lived with me for about 7 years, and then passed into the keeping of my friend Carl Buell who, if anything, took better care of him than I did. And probably loved him more.

But he was in my life in all those years, and worked his slow magic on me, opening me up more to the possibilities of feeling love. And if that sounds odd, the only way I can explain it is to say I had a peculiar childhood, and love wasn’t exactly the core curriculum. Mainly, I had to learn it later … and Tito, my beloved furry friend, was one of my teachers.

You never met anybody who was such a grand soul, so adventurous, so courageous in adversity and so fun-loving in his daily life. He was one of those rare ones with so much good stuff inside him that he enlarged you just to be around him.

Today, March 4, is two years since he died.

I miss him somethin’ fierce.

Xen Living 3: The Right Tools

dewalt.jpgTools are under-appreciated by most of us officey types. Whether it’s a circular saw, a drill, a planer, an arc welder, or just a simple car jack, too many of us aren’t ready to get our hands dirty.

It’s not the dirt, of course. It’s just that certain tools can be outside our bubble of competence, and it’s human nature to shy away from getting involved in something we probably, in the beginning, won’t be much good at.

But here’s the really great thing about tools: If you have the right tools – and the skills to use them – you can turn anything into anything.

You can turn a discarded old oak pallet into a beautiful jewelry box. You can turn scrap metal into sculpture, or a rusty steel pipe into a gleaming barbecue pit. You can turn a ragged old house into a welcoming home.

You can turn garbage into gold. Metaphorically, at least.

Three rules for tools:

  1. Buy the best tools you can afford.
  2. Learn to use them safely and thoroughly.
  3. Never lend them out for any reason.

Rule 1: Anybody who’s bought a cheap tool has lived to regret it. That bargain socket wrench set that LOOKS just like the more expensive ones, is not. It’s a cheap knockoff of something better, and it will neither last nor perform as well. And there’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a critical job and having your socket or screwdriver or router bit fail on you. The cheaper ones are also dangerous. If you’re leaning on a wrench to try to break free a rusty nut, and the socket breaks loose, it’s gonna hurt. Buy the best, always. Good tools are made well enough to last pretty much your entire lifetime. Which means they’re cheaper in the long run.

Rule 2: Power tools aren’t kid stuff. Get some safety training if you’re unused to, say, a circular saw or a jointer-planer. If you use it wrong, it really can take your hand off in a split second. The same blade that rips into a length of pine can put you in the hospital, or worse. Keep your insides on your inside by being damned careful.

Rule 3: Can I borrow your new mower? Can I borrow your expensive wheelbarrow? Can I borrow your paint sprayer? No, no, and no. Find a way to gracefully beg off, or just be blunt about it, but don’t lend your tools to your neighbors, your friends, or your kids. Go over and use the tool for them, if you must, but don’t lend it out. It sounds harsh, even unfriendly, but there are some good reasons for it. First, if your chainsaw rips into some kid’s arm, or your powerful mower slings a rock into somebody’s eye, oh boy are you going to feel bad. Not to mention the lawsuit. And then there’s this: Nobody loves your tools like you do. They WON’T take care of them the way you do. The guy who loves tools as much as you do – and yes, there are plenty of them out there – probably has his own, and won’t be asking to borrow yours. There’s also the fact that most tools have a service period built into them. Well-maintained, they just might last forever. Poorly taken care of, they won’t. You do the math.

Finally, Rule 4: Use them! Turning garbage into gold is exciting! Satisfying! Fun!

Xen Living 2: Solve It Once

idiots.jpgSomething I used to do all too often was to have a recurring problem that I feebly failed to solve. And I know I’m not the only one.

“I put my glasses down somewhere and now I can’t find them.”

“Darn it, locked my keys in my car again. Third time this month.”

“I forgot to pay the phone bill again and they cut me off. Again.”

Most of us do it. Each time, we’re forced to deal with the small emergency that results, in a way that costs time, annoyance, and even money.

The worst cost is that you feel like such an idiot each time. (Typically, generous friends are glad to pitch in and point out that you ARE an idiot.)

But there really is an easy way to deal with them. I call it “Solve It Once.”

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