Why "militant atheist"?

Jeffrey Shallit surveys the press coverage of books on atheism and wonders why atheists are always described as “militant”:

From the meaning of “militant”, you might expect that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are burning down churches, or at least leading protests, stirring up crowds with their fiery rhetoric. You would be disappointed, of course. What Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens have done is write books. Hitchens is more of a curmudgeon than a militant, and Dawkins and Harris are both rather mild-mannered. Nobody is leaving their public events carrying torches and singing the atheist analogue of the Horst Wessel song.

Over at Pharyngula, Jurjen has an historical explanation for the origin of the term. Of course this doesn’t explain why “militant” is always used with public atheists and rarely with (far more militant) advocates of religion.

"If we give up our way of life, the terrorists will have won"

Amid the government-sponsored hysteria surrounding air travel (“OMG – he’s going to blow up the plane with a tube of toothpaste and a bottle of baby formula!!!”), Josh reports that Wenger has come up with a Swiss Army Knife that has “a micro screwdriver, scissors, nail file/cleaner, toothpick, and tweezers” – but no blade. Josh is happy, but I found this, well, depressing. File under stuff that ought to be unnecessary….

Damn, damn, damn

Greg Djerejian lays out the big picture:

From the Subcontinent to the Levant, large swaths of the Middle East and South Asia are in turmoil. What follows are (somewhat random) dispatches meant to give a sense of the depth of the multiple crises that are contributing to a destabilization of the wider region.

Brilliant, in a scathing, world-weary kind of way. The Syrian connections are simply WTF head-shaking moments.
(Charlie will probably try to nit-pick, but he’ll be wasting his time.)

"Oh God, doctor, I was hoping it was cancer."


I was assigned a 40 plus year old, poverty stricken mother of several children… This care worn mother-of-several had a large abdominal mass that I rapidly determined to be a well advanced pregnancy. I asked my resident to come and break the news to this woman; it was very obvious to me that she was not going to be happy about the news of another pregnancy. When told that she – already unable to adequately feed and clothe her family – was again pregnant, she looked up at me and the resident. There we stood, two white males, well clothed, well feed young men with superior educations. We were, in her eyes, stunningly blessed and obviously going places in the world. She began to weep silently. She must have assumed, for good reason, that there was no way that we would understand her problems; she knew also that there was nothing that we could or would do to relieve her lacerating misery.
“Oh God, doctor,” she said quietly, “I was hoping it was cancer.”

Cruising to Bremerton

It’s another warm day here in Seattle. Back in Boston, the official definition of a heatwave is “three successive days over 90°F”. Seattlites tell me that the local equivalent is “three successive days over 75°F”, in which case we’re enduring a scorcher. So this morning I decided to get out on the water: I walked down to Pier 52 and took the 8:45 ferry to Bremerton. This is a really good deal: it’s a one hour trip, and for pedestrians it costs $6.70 westbound. Eastbound, it’s free. So I got to cruise across Puget Sound for a couple of hours, including breakfast. On the way out, the boat was almost empty, but on the return trip it was full of baseball fans of all ages. (I guess the Mariners are in town.) I took a few photos, and finished the last couple of chapters of Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll’s introduction to “Evo-Devo“. (Verdict: I liked it a lot, but it left me looking around for the next book that I can read to get more detail on some of the mechanisms.)

"Shift happens"

A thought-provoking video is making the rounds. Turn the sound down a bit before you start…

I’m unconvinced about the final predictions (related to the computational capacity of the human brain), but the rest of it is spot on. Complacency is not an option. Tommy‘s world is going to be very different from mine.
(Hat tip to Charlie.)