Very Random Access Musical Memory ©2010 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — OK, so here’s another one of my musical treasure hunts. Tonight, I heard the students of my friend in the music college perform. Among the songs were two from Western operas. Both I recognized right away, and I could even sing along (not very loud, of course), but I could only remember the name of one of the operas. The first was from Bizet’s Carmen — the “Habanera”. Even if you’re not an opera buff, you have to know this aria, because of the distinctive chromatic glide down the scale as the cello plays “ba ba ba bum ba ba ba dum.” And for those who can’t read music, here’s an Old School video of Maria Callas singing it in 1962. That one wasn’t so hard, but the second, a duet, was a mystery. I knew the tune well enough to sing the man’s part (not the lyrics, though), but why did I know the tune? And who wrote it? This is the kind of thing that can keep me up at night. The program was not all that helpful, since it only provided the title in Chinese and the names of the performers. The Chinese title ...

Political sedition alarm: Mike Huckabee and the Constitution 3

Normally, I avoid remarking about politics here, since there are so many political blogs out there, but this news story I figure deserves an exception to my self-imposed rule. Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s says we should amend the Constitution to be more in line with Biblical principles. That’s right, Rev. Huck believes we need to change the bulwark of our nation’s existence as a free republic to reflect religious principles. Theocracy, anyone? What’s more alarming is the effort it took to find any mention of this seditious remark in the mainstream media on-line. Only MSNBC excerpted Huckabee’s suggestion from a campaign speech he made in Warren, Michigan, yesterday. All the other commentary has come from bloggers. That Huckabee would even suggest amending the Constitution — a deliberately secular document — to bring it in line with Biblical laws seemed so fantastical to me that I could not believe the blogosphere had it right. After all, the Internet is infamous for spreading all kinds of false information. But said it, he did. From MSNBC: “[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it’s a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to ...

My personal journey with Carl Sagan 3

By my estimate, I am at most three degrees removed from the late astronomer/writer Carl Sagan. In spirit, however, we are much closer. My connection to Sagan, who died on this date 11 years ago, is pretty convoluted, so bear with me while I try to explain it. First, some background. In 1972 Sagan and his colleague at Cornell University, Frank Drake, helped devise a plaque for the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes to Jupiter and Saturn. The plaque depicted the nude bodies of a man and a woman, the location of the Sun relative to prominent stars, and other basic details about the origin of the probes. The idea was to leave a calling card on the probes, in case any intelligent life “out there” should find them. Later in the decade, Sagan and Drake repeated the exercise, making it much more elaborate, for the Voyager probes to the four gas giants. The Voyager Golden Record was a metallized phonograph record, with greetings in 55 languages (including one from Sagan’s son), music from across the globe and 115 photographs. One of the photographs is by the famous landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, depicting in his signature style the Snake River ...

Updates to school-related posts 2: Brittany McComb

Nevada senior Brittany McComb made a name for herself in June 2006 when she delivered a valedictory that testified to her love for Jesus, and encouraged other students to find Him. She had earlier agreed to leave such remarks out of the speech. School officials disconnected her mike in the middle of her delivery in response. Juvenile behavior all around. McComb, who is now a freshman at a Christian school, Biola University in California, became the darling of conservative Christians looking for more examples of the “war on Christianity” and the pernicious influence of the American Civil Liberties Union. The conservative legal group, the Rutherford Institute, agreed to take her case to the U.S. District Court in Nevada, alleging her free speech rights were violated. The text of the suit is here — Adobe Reader required. The case has been stalled in the courts since. The defendants in McComb’s suit filed two motions to dismiss, which the district court judge denied. They have since appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals in California, and filed opening briefs earlier this month. Rutherford Institute attorney Doug McKusick says McComb’s lawyers will file their replies in January. The case raises several issues. ...

Scary “Christian” youth stuff 2

We were watching CNN late Saturday night and caught the tail end of a report on Teen Mania, Ron Luce’s Christian youth indoctrination organization. Watching the pre-teens and teens at one of Luce’s BattleCry events was downright scary. Luce’s message, which is tinged heavily with his brand of fundamentalism, is that popular culture is corrupting our youth. He pounds into his young congregants the need to reject all the commercialism, sex, drugs and whatnot rife in secular culture. He woos impressionable pre-teens and teens with the usual fundie blend of showbiz and pulpit-pounding demagoguery. While telling them to reject pop culture, he uses (Christian) rock music, pyrotechnics, and variety of merchandise to convert his BattleCry event audiences to the Teen Mania way. Watching adults sway in some kind of hypnotic rapture during a fundie church service is one thing. Seeing kids as young as 10 with their eyes closed and arms upraised, entranced by Luce’s brand of religion by the hundreds is alarming. Pop culture is evil, kids. It’s poisoning your minds, removing all that is good from your souls. Instead, empty your minds of all free will and follow me instead. That’s the Luce message. An army of Christian ...

Meanwhile, sensible Christians reclaim the holiday from know-nothings

A Christian organization has stood up to the “war on Christmas” nonsense emanating from Fox News shills Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson. The group has challenged O’Reilly and Co. to quit their assault on the so-called assault on Christmas and actually respect the holiday’s meaning. Details are here.

Earthrise – Japanese style

Almost 40 years ago, the Apollo 8 astronauts took this famous photograph of the Earth above the horizon of the Moon. Eventually entitled “Earthrise,” the December 1968 image was a Christmas greeting from the first humans to leave near-Earth orbit and visit another celestial object. It became an icon of the late ’60s, appearing on T-shirts, posters and greeting cards. Space enthusiasts loved it, since it gave earthlings their first real glimpse of what space travel might look like. Environmentalists loved it, because it showed “this island Earth,” a small blue sphere in the dark of space, the only home to humans (that we’d better not muck up). A few months later, two members of the Apollo 11 crew actually walked on the Moon. They brought back another iconic photograph: This one also ended up posters and greeting cards. NASA should have demanded royalty fees on these two; they could have funded another Moon landing! It’s been a long while since anyone walked on the Moon, or even orbited it. The Apollo program petered out in the mid-’70s, and manned space exploration has receded from the public consciousness. The Space Shuttle program, except for two fatal catastrophes, has made space ...

Back again … in The Tangled Bank!

It’s been a long while since I participated in the science blog carnival called The Tangled Bank. So, I submitted my post on zero point energy. Hopefully, the physicists reading it won’t laugh me off the stage.

Former Kentucky science teacher slams Creation Museum

James Willmot, a former science teacher at our sister school, lays down the law in an opinion piece that appeared in the Sunday Courier-Journal. It begins: There is a great educational injustice being inflicted upon thousands of children in this country, a large percentage of whom come from the Kentucky, Ohio and, Indiana areas. The source of this injustice is a sophisticated Christian ministry that uses the hook of dinosaurs, the guarantee of an afterlife, and the horrors of hell to convince children and their families to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. It gets better after that. Willmot basically slams down creationism and pins it to the floor. It’s worth reading. Willmot taught science at St. Francis School in Goshen, Kentucky, a K-8 school that sends a lot of kids to St. Francis High School. He now lives and writes in England. Needless to say, the fundies among the C-J’s readers were none too pleased. Comments ranged from suggesting Willmot was intolerant to predicting he would burn in Hell for questioning a literal interpretation of Genesis. We have a long way to go. Religious intolerance and closemindedness is alive and well in mid-America.

Great commentary on The Golden Compass religious hoo-roar

Check this link from the San Fran Chronicle. Mark Morford tells it like it is. Thanks to PZ Myers.

God and anti-God in the movies

As its Dec. 7 premiere approaches, be prepared to hear a growing hue-and-cry about the supposed anti-Christian messages in The Golden Compass. The Golden Compass is yet another fantasy movie epic based on literary epics, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia series. [We might also throw in Harry Potter as another example, though HP is an entirely different kind of story.] Written by an avowed atheist, British author Phillip Pullman, the Golden Compass is like anti-Narnia. Rather than supporting the idea of defending an all-powerful authority against rival forces, Pullman’s trilogy depicts its young heroes as bringing the reign of the authority to an end. Some Christians who see the anti-Christ lurking behind every tree have already declared The Golden Compass anti-Christian and are encouraging parents to keep their kids out of the theatres, lest their tender minds be subverted by the Evil One. The Harry Potter books and movies, after all, have created an entire generation of Satanists and wiccans. The Golden Compass might now create an entire generation of doubters or agnostics. It’s the end of civilization as we now it! C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series began as a fantasy epic for young ...

The straw man meets Christmas 2

If you watch Fox Snooze (and I feel sorry for you), you may have heard Fox commentators/blowhards Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson pontificating about the alleged “War on Christmas.” According to O’Reilly, Gibson and other conservative demogogues, secular forces are working to eliminate Christmas from the US of A, leading to the downfall of this great Christian nation. (I use those words sarcastically, please note.) Their latest tactic is to enumerate how many retailers use the word “Christmas” in their adverts. The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian group associated with the late Jerry Falwell, has published a “naughty and nice” list of major retailers; nice retailers preserve Christmas, naughty ones use the generic word “holiday.” Avoiding the word “Christmas” is just more evidence of a vast anti-Christian conspiracy, O’Reilly & Co. contend. This nonsense derives from Christians losing several court cases in which the American Civil Liberties Union has successfully argued that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause precludes governmental agencies from erecting overtly religious displays. No creches in city hall, in other words. Those Christians given to delusions of paranoia have taken these signs and wonders as evidence of an anti-Christian movement in the United States. O’Reilly and Gibson, in ...
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