Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Final Four is Here!

Kentucky BasketballI don’t normally blog about sports, but today is a special occasion.  For those of us who live in the United States and enjoy the game of basketball the Final Four is upon us!  For those outside the US, here in the states, college basketball teams have a huge end-of season tournament called March Madness where the best 64 teams (actually a few more if you count the ridiculous play-in games) compete in a single elimination tournament.  We are now down to the final four teams in the tournament: Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, and Ohio State.

I lived in Kentucky for five years and I definitely caught the college basketball bug.  Some people just don’t get it and I understand that the late game stoppages can be annoying, but in the more dramatic late-season games of the college basketball season I often find myself on the edge of my seat.  There is always a chance to see some high-drama in these tournament games.  Occasionally a small school like Lehigh takes down a behemoth like Duke, and oh did that put a smile on my face.  This year’s tournament certainly did not disappoint and we’ll see if it has any surprises left in store.

I heard Jon Haidt recently say during a talk that “sports is to war as pornography is to sex.  It gives us a chance to exercise some ancient urges.”  I suppose that is true.  It feels like you are going to war with the other team to a certain degree and I really enjoyed the competitive nature of athletics when I was in high school and college as a participant and an observer.  In high school I actually got to play in a national tournament for small private school soccer teams.  Definitely one of the best experiences of my life.

What sporting events really get your blood going?  Please leave your comments below.

Oh yeah, and Go big blue!

Hey Now!

The Larry Sanders ShowI just listened to a great episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he interviews Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development and Larry Sanders fame.  It was an interesting conversation and Jeff brought up one of my favorite episodes of the Larry Sanders Show, Hank’s Night in the Sun.

If you don’t know what the Larry Sanders Show is, basically it was a television show on HBO in the 90’s starring Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rip Torn.  Garry Shandling plays Larry Sanders a cynical late-night talk show host with Jeff playing Hank Kingsley the pathetic talk-show sidekick and Rip playing Artie the aggressive and wise producer.  The history surrounding the show is interesting because Garry actually turned down an offer to replace Letterman on his old late-night show on NBC to star in The Larry Sanders Show, a late-night talk show satire.

Anyways, it was a groundbreaking show and is still absolutely brilliant and spot-on in its humor and satire.  I watched most of the episodes on Netflix streaming, now that the DVD’s of the show have finally been released after a long legal battle.  If you like The Office or Arrested Development, you’ll definitely find The Larry Sanders Show enjoyable.

Marc Maron also has a great interview with Garry Shandling where they discuss the show in more detail.

But I digress, Hank’s Night in the Sun is one of my favorite episodes from the show and it showcases Hank’s pathos to perfection. Hank has always played second fiddle to Larry and when Larry comes down with a serious illness he gets the opportunity that he’s been waiting for.  But after he fills in as host for a night, his ego balloons and he tries to secure a few more nights as host, until the whole thing comes crashing down.  Jeffrey Tambor plays this role so well, it is uncanny.

Here are some great excerpts from the episode:

Hank gets the opportunity of a lifetime:

Hank’s success goes to his head:

Hank hosts a second time:

Adam Savage at the Reason Rally

Great speech by Adam the Reason Rally

Le Café Witteveen

Uploaded by MarkRosengarten on Mar 25, 2012

Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters, speaks at the Reason Rally on March 24th, 2012. This was, in my opinion, the best speech of the day at the Rally…and he had some serious competition.


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A Great Discussion about Atheism

Below are some links to a really great series of videos from Sunday’s episode of UP, a show on MSNBC hosted by Chris Hayes. This is one of the most thoughtful discussions about the role of atheism in politics and public life that I have ever heard.  There are some very intelligent and thoughtful people on the discussion panel including Steven Pinker and Robert Wright.  I encourage you to watch as much of it as you can.

Richard Dawkins also joins in for a few of the segments.  I have a real problem with his overall attitude and it was interesting to hear some of the reactions to his attitude from the panel.  Some disagreeing strongly, others identifying with his more strident take on atheism.  I’ve seen the damage that his attitude and incendiary comments have done and the ammunition it gives to conservative religious people, like my parents, so I have a real problem with him.

And also, in one of the later segments a pastor comes out of the closet as an atheist and engages in a fascinating discussion with the panel.  I wish there were more thoughtful discussions like this on cable news!

The full show: Sunday’s Show: Atheism

Individual Segments:

  1. Coalescing the atheist political movement
  2. Atheists, God, and the GOP
  3. Atheism in the Public Sphere
  4. How does God fit in with global warming?
  5. Pastor comes out as a non-believer
  6. Things you should know

The Righteous Mind – The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail

This is Part 3 of my journey through The Righteous MindHere is Part 2.

The social intuitionist model offers an explanation of why moral and political arguments are so frustrating: because moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog.  A dog’s tail wags to communicate.  You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail.  And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.  If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants.

– Jonathan Haidt

And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

– David Hume

The Righteous Mind - By Jon Haidt

At this point in the book Jon describes the distinction of “seeing-that” versus “reasoning-why”.  The thinking here is that our reactions to religious and political statements come from a low-level rapid and unconscious pattern matching engine in our minds.  Research by Howard Margolis (building on previous work by Peter Wason) ultimately led both to the conclusion that judgment and justification are separate processes.

Margolis sees these as two different cognitive processes.  The “seeing-that” process is a form of pattern matching that all animals do and is a highly evolved and deeply ingrained part of all animal brains after hundreds of millions of years.  The “reasoning-why” process is brand spanking new in evolutionary terms and is only available to beings that have evolved language and have a need to justify their actions to other highly evolved beings. And of course we anthropomorphize lower animals, objects, and concepts when, out of frustration or a sense of comedy, we try to reason with something like our car or our dog.  The point is that the reasoning process is not automatic, it is a slower, conscious process that is bolted on top of our ancient, powerful, and efficient pattern-matching process. Read the rest of this entry

Taking Care of Business

Kramer doing a little TCB:

I recently switched jobs and started on a new software development project.  It’s new but I’m working with a group of people who I’ve had a great experience with before, so I know what I’m getting into.  I just came off a pretty bad two-year run in a project that was frustrating and rather unfulfilling.  It was one of those work environments where the systems were not very advanced, end users were not thrilled, and we had a few clients that hated the contract so much that they actively worked against us.  Just a horrible environment to work in.

In fact, my bad experience in this job actually worsened my depression and forced me to see a psychiatrist.  This is when my social anxiety disorder was finally appropriately treated and I had a sea-change in my outlook.  The depression started to fade away and I was able to deal with the vagaries of the job.  So there was some good in the bad.  But, things got to a point where I just had to move on, so I contacted some old co-workers and found out about this new project.

So, if you’re stuck in a bad job, don’t lose heart, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Just put together your résumé, talk to some trusted ex-coworkers, see what’s out there and take your time finding the right place for you.  Make sure you do some investigative work and find out what your potential new workplace is really like.  Some early investigative work can save you a whole lot of pain and frustration down the road.  Always know what you’re getting yourself into!  Seems like it should be common sense, but we all forget that piece of advice from time to time.

As for me, I’m finally in a great work environment again and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

The Righteous Mind – The Origins of Morality

This is “Live Blogging The Righteous Mind” Part 2.  Here is Part 1.

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

– David Hume

The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.

– Jon Haidt

The Righteous Mind - By Jon HaidtJon used the elephant/rider metaphor before in his wonderful book The Happiness Hypothesis.  The elephant is our ancient, emotionally driven limbic system.  It is a deep part of our evolutionary past, but still very much a part of who we are in the present day.  The rider is a newcomer on the scene, the pre-frontal cortex in the brain.  Full of grand plans and bright ideas but most of the time very much unaware that it is controlled and manipulated by the lumbering beast down below.  The elephant does what it wants, when it wants, and the rider, strapped on the beast and unable to climb off, rationalizes, confabulates, and groans in frustration when the elephant once again disobeys its commands.  When the elephant is ambivalent the rider can gain a measure of control, but when the elephant has a strong desire, the rider is just a simple passenger who’s along for the ride.

Understanding the simple fact that morality differs around the world, and even within societies, is the first step toward understanding your righteous mind.

Jon takes us through a winding history of morality in the West.  The nativists who prize nature, the empiricists who prize nurture and the rationalists who believe that children figure out morality for themselves.  Children grow into rationality as caterpillars grow into butterflies.  Piaget and Kohlberg were both famous psychologists who championed rationalism.  Kohlberg came up with the famous idea of pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional stages of morality that children go through on the way to adulthood.  Rationalism valued self-discovery and authority figures were ultimately just a roadblock in the way of natural development.  This thinking eventually led to a liberal consensus that morality is mainly about justice.  It’s about harm and fairness and NOT about loyalty, respect, duty, piety, patriotism, or tradition.

Read the rest of this entry

Live Blogging The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind - By Jon HaidtI’m going to try something a bit different over the next week or so.  I’m going to read Jonathan Haidt’s new book about moral psychology, The Righteous Mind, and blog my thoughts as I read through the book.  Most people write short summaries and critiques of entire books, but I thought it might be interesting to write my thoughts and present them as I read through a new book.  I’ll try to combine as many thoughts as I can into single blog entries in order to avoid inundating people with new blog post notifications.  So without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Righteous Mind:

We start off the book with a quote from Baruch Spinoza from his Tractatus Politicus:

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.

It’s pretty clear that one of the main themes of the book will be prizing understanding over judgment, something that I’ve become a big fan of recently.  In that regard it appears there might be some concurrence between this book and the last book I read, Sam Harris’ Free Will.  I know that Jon has a large measure of philosophical disagreement with the “New Atheists” so it will be interesting to see how this all pans out.


We start off the introduction with a discussion about Rodney King and his rarely quoted response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots:

Please, we can get along here.  We all can get along.  I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while.  Let’s try to work it out.

Read the rest of this entry

Craig Ferguson and Khloe Banderas

Here is a great little comedy/humor break for all of you readers out there.  I’ve been watching a lot of Craig Ferguson’s stuff lately and I ran across a very funny series of YouTube clips with guest-sidekick Thomas Lennon.  Tom creates the bizarre character of Khloe Banderas, a gay Spaniard who is the least famous brother of Antonio Banderas.  It’s even funnier considering that Tom is just creating the voice and basic hand movements of Craig’s robot skeleton sidekick.

It is absolutely amazing the humor they come up with purely through a few basic early thematic choices and then constant improvisation thereafter.  Enjoy!

Tom Lennon’s first appearance on the show:

Three follow-up appearances at the end of the month:

Read the rest of this entry

The Psychology of The Silver Chair

The Silver ChairI’m no longer a Christian but I’m still a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia.  I was practically raised on the books of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.  J.R.R. Tolkien took great pains to let everyone know that he wrote The Lord of the Rings with no allegorical intentions whatsoever.  C.S. Lewis on the other hand was very open in declaring that his books were full of allusions to Christianity.  But that doesn’t really bother me.  Literature is a form of art and we can interpret art in many different ways.  Also, Christians can write some very enthralling and entertaining fantasy fiction, I wonder why that is? (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

One of the ideas from the Chronicles of Narnia that keeps popping into my head again and again is the concept of “the silver chair”.  The Silver Chair is the fourth book in the original (and correct) ordering of the series.  In this tale,  Aslan (a Christ-like figure in the series) transports the children Eustace and Jill to Narnia on a special mission to save Prince Rilian.  Prince Rilian is the long missing heir to the throne of Narnia.  Eustace and Jill eventually end up in the underground kingdom of the imaginatively named Queen of Underland (sorry Clive, had to take a shot at you there).  When the kids arrive in the underground city the Queen is away for a bit and they meet a young man about the same age as Prince Rilian (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), serving at the right hand of this wicked witch.  He tells a tale of the queen rescuing him from an evil enchantment and dines with the children.

Soon, the young man informs the children that he must be placed in restraints, for the enchantment still has a small hold on him.  For an hour each day they restrain him, he succumbs to the spell, and becomes delirious.  The queen in her grace and wisdom is using her magic to slowly purge him of these spells, but for now the queen’s servants come to restrain the young man and he willingly goes with them.

Read the rest of this entry

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