Travel en masse

We’re off to California on Thursday for a family trip. In this case, “family” refers to both the travellers and the destinations. (Visitors and visitees?) There will be five of us, occupying most of one row of seats in a United 757 from Boston to San Francisco, ranging in age from 10 months to 55 years. We’ll be visiting grandparents in Carmel (actually great-grandparents with respect to Tommy), as well as Chris and his wife in Berkeley.
I wonder if Tommy will like listening to Channel 9….?


You be the judge….

It has been suggested that one reason I like The Divine Comedy‘s album Absent Friends is because of the lyrics to the song “Come Home Billy Bird”. I’ll let you be the judge:
William wakes with his clothes on.
The morning call has been and gone,
And he might not make the flight but he will try.
Bit by bit it comes back to him,
A bunch of Belgian business men
And a strange drinking game, oh God why?
Come home Billy Bird, international business traveller.
Come home Billy Bird.

He hails a cab but the driver sucks.
He drives so slowly and he talks so much
That it hurts Billy Bird’s aching brain.
He runs from the cab to the check-in desk.
She says, “no way”, but William begs on his knees,
“Please, please, please”. “Well OK”.
Come home Billy Bird, international business traveller.
Come home Billy Bird.

Drenched in sweat he finds his seat
And with the luggage squeezed down beneath his feet
He begins to think that things can’t get no worse.
But then a voice says, “bags that can’t be stowed
In the overhead locker must go below in the hold,
Please let go, thank-you sir”.
Come home Billy Bird, international business traveller.
Come home Billy Bird.

He runs on past the carousel
Screaming, “damn my luggage all to hell.
I can buy a new shirt and tie any day”.
He rides from the airport into town,
To the high-school football ground
Where his son has just begun his big football game.
Come home Billy Bird, international business traveller.
Come home Billy Bird.


Just exactly how messed up are things in Iraq?

River just wrote that television stations in Baghdad broadcast the following warning:

“The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”
It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning- the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.
But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can’t even trust its own personnel, unless they are “accompanied by American coalition forces”.

So what are Iraqi civilians supposed to do?

“It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don’t have to let them in.” I answered.
“They’re not exactly asking your permission,” E. pointed out. “They break the door down and take people away- or have you forgotten? […] Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON’T have Americans with them?”

A little bit Catch-22, a dollop of Lewis Carroll, and a splash of George Orwell….


Sully discovers anti-atheist discrimination

Andrew Sullivan finally realizes that there’s real discrimination against atheists here in the USA. He quotes Volokh:

In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a mother to take her child to church each week, reasoning that ‘it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training’; in 1996, the Arkansas Supreme Court did the same, partly on the grounds that weekly church attendance, rather than just the once-every-two-weeks attendance that the child would have had if he went only with the other parent, provides superior ‘moral instruction’.

And he concludes:

Imagine if Christian parents were denied custody because of their faith. O’Reilly would have weeks of programming. But atheists? Naah. When Christianists declare that they are fighting for religious freedom, bring this issue up. It will determine whether they are in good faith, so to speak, or not.

N.b.: the whirring sound you hear is Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave.


Sully on South Park

Good piece by Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times on the brilliant South Park Scientology episode. Money quote: “Orwell once remarked that one reason fascism never took off in Britain was because the sight of a goose-stepping soldier would prompt your average Englishman to giggle. Someone is now silencing the giggles. And our world is a lot creepier because of it.”


Random 10

“Oi! iTunes!! Wotcha got for me today?”

  • “Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who (from Who’s Next)
  • “Triad” by Jefferson Airplane (from The Best of Jefferson Airplane)
  • “Grind Me Baby” by DJ Rush (from Keoki –
  • “Accident on 3rd Street” by Al Stewart (from Russians & Americans)
  • “Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard” by the KLF (from Chill Out)
  • “Nota Bossa” by The Funky Lowlives (from Buddha Bar 2)
  • “Travelling Song” by Pentangle (from The Pentangle Family)
  • “The Lord Is In This Place” by Fairport Convention (from What We Did On Our Holidays)
  • “What You Are Listening To” by Porcupine Tree (from Up The Downstair)
  • “Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (from Electric Ladyland)
Film & TV

Two recommendations

Film: Mrs. Henderson Presents. Great story, beautifully acted, wonderful songs. (I’m going to pick up the soundtrack CD tomorrow. I was going to download it, but for some reason iTMS only has a few of the songs available.)
Music: Absent Friends by The Divine Comedy (i.e. Neil Hannon). I have no idea how I managed to overlook this guy’s work for so many years. I finally heard an earlier song, “Lost Property”, on Orbital’s Back To Mine compilation, and promptly downloaded this, the latest album. Big gorgeous songs, a stunning voice…. A copy of the Secret History compilation is heading this way from


Why evolutionary ideas thrive in Britain better than elsewhere

This is what I love about the blogosphere.
One of the blogs I read regularly is Shelley Powers’ Burningbird. This evening she posted a long piece which began with a plug for a blog she really likes, 3 Quarks Daily. Shelley is usually reliable, so I clicked over and browsed, and came across this item with an excerpt from a longer interview at ReadySteadyBook. I read the first two sentences, and I was hooked:

Marek Kohn is a writer who lives in Brighton. His most recent book, A Reason For Everything: Natural Selection and the English Imagination, looks at the key thinkers behind the development of evolutionary theory in Britain, and why these ideas have thrived better in Britain than in other countries.

I read the whole thing, and it was one of those extraordinarily stimulating experiences, the kind that sends your mind running off in fifteen different and FASCINATING directions.
And a few minutes ago I didn’t know that 3 Quarks Daily, ReadySteadyBook, or Marek Kohn even existed. That’s why I love about the blogosphere – those gloriously serendipitous experiences.


"The age of certainty"? Let's talk….

Save the date:

We are excited to announce that on Wednesday, April 12th Harvard Book Store and Seed Magazine will cosponsor a discussion on Science in the Age of Certainty with John Brockman, Daniel C. Dennett, Daniel Gilbert, Marc D. Hauser, Elizabeth Spelke and Seth Lloyd. This event coincides with the publication of the new book What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, edited by Mr. Brockman.
Eminent cultural impresario, editor, and publisher of Edge (, John Brockman asked a group of leading scientists and thinkers to answer the question: What do you believe to be true even though you cannot prove it? This book brings together the very best answers from the most distinguished contributors.

It’s taking place on Wednesday, April 12th, at 6:30 PM, in the Askwith Lecture Hall at Longfellow Hall, in Cambridge, MA.
UPDATE: And speaking of Brockman, read his piece about “The Selfish Gene at 30” with a splendid rant about the dire consequences of ignorance about science.


He may be surprised… I'm not.

Andrew Sullivan sounds surprised that “if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic.” But I bet he won’t think through the implications of this…
UPDATE: At least he recognizes part of the problem. Somebody must have sent him the “most mistrusted minority” report. But I still don’t think he can join the dots….