Thoughts @ Large: 70

•  I thought I had invented a new word, charmogram, as in, “He knew that he had said the wrong thing, so he sent her a charmogram.”  Sadly, Winx Club already thought of it.

•  I don’t know how leaders of other nations are viewed by their citizens, but when it comes to our president, Americans seem to have unrealistically high expectations.  We are always looking to elect President Superman.  But we usually wind up with hapless Jimmy Olsen.

•  Here’s a story that has been buried by coronavirus coverage.  On July 29, as reported in The Wire, a 15-year-old Pakistani teen, Faisal Khan, got past three security checkpoints at a Pakistan courtroom and gunned down Tahir Naseem, a U.S. citizen arrested in 2018 for blasphemy.  As a local cleric explained, Naseem “kept saying things like, ‘I’m a messiah or a prophet,’ and that caused great trouble in our village.”

Khan, the shooter, has been hailed as a hero by many fellow Pakistanis.  Lawyers across Pakistan offered to “defend Khan for free, to support what they see as the justified killing of a heretic.”  Needless to say, I find this shocking and sad.

So, how long ago did we more civilized people end our blasphemy trials?  400 years ago? 1000 years ago?  Try 1928…  I don’t mean 1928 years ago but the year 1928 in the U.S.A.  That is when Charles Lee Smith was convicted of blasphemy in Arkansas for distributing atheist literature.  Even better, he was not allowed to testify on his own behalf because he refused to take an oath on the Bible!

We may not condone stonings in 2020, but there’s still plenty of blowback when a person says the wrong thing to the wrong person about religion (as well as many other subjects).  Americans like to bluster about how much we cherish freedom, but far too many of us still don’t take kindly to people who don’t look like, talk like, or think like we do.  So let’s not over-congratulate ourselves on how unlike Pakistan we are.

•  I had to laugh at Trump’s recent insinuation that electing Joe Biden would “hurt God.”  If God could be hurt by Joe Biden, he (Biden) must be more powerful than we all thought.  Powerful enough to pre-ordain the outcome of the election, I would think.  This suggests that God and Trump are both in trouble come November.

•  In most countries, the god is elected by popular vote, not an outdated electoral college.

•  As a side note, if God can be hurt, it means that God feels.  But how can God feel or sense anything without nerves, neurons or substance?  I suggest that God — at least the popular conception thereof — requires far more explaining than how nothing became something.  There you have it, my gender-free atheist thoughts for this year.  No stoning please.

•  I have seen many red skies in the morning and never once has the warning come true.

•  Boomer Mystery Quiz: In the 1966 song “No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits (lyrics by Graham Gouldman), why was there no milk today?

  •  ▢ Because she had Friday on her mind.
  •  ▢ Because she was groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon.
  •  ▢ Because she left home to meet a man from the motor trade.
  •  ▢ Because she went up, up, and away in her beautiful balloon.
  •  ▢ Because she don’t want to work, she just want to bang on the drum all day.

•  The other night, I dreamt that a stoner-type invited me to a party scheduled from 3 AM to 9 AM.  I asked him, “What will you do until 3 AM?”  He said, “Party.”

Coronavirus Outbreak Statistics on TV•  News doesn’t have to be fake to be unhelpful.  Take, for example, this screenshot of statewide COVID-19 figures that regularly appears on our (only) local TV station.  It enumerates the total number of cases, deaths, hospitalizations and tests performed in North Carolina, along with the increase in each figure since the last update.

While the death figure is important, particularly to the victims and their families, knowing the cumulative numbers of cases and tests since the pandemic began doesn’t help a viewer make decisions.  Journalists, of all people, know there’s a difference between statistics and information:  just reciting a screenful of statistics without interpretation is lazy reporting.  Nonetheless, news broadcasts, local and national, seem to thrive on big numbers.  

It would be more informative if (1) local figures were cited rather than statewide figures; (2) current figures (say, over the last two weeks) were cited instead of cumulative figures; and (3) figures were normalized, e.g., cases per week per 100,000 residents, or percent of total ICU capacity remaining.  This would give us a better sense of what it’s like out there, and it would let us compare our situation to other localities.  Is that too much to ask?

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5 Responses to Thoughts @ Large: 70

  1. Rick says:

    I picked the last line of the Herman hermits song due to the process of elimination

  2. Rob says:

    I too will choose Herman’s Hermits from this panoply of topics. Graham Gouldman was a monster songwriter (“For Your Love,” “Bus Stop,” “Heart Full of Soul”) and yet I always found his band, 10cc, annoying at best. That is all.

  3. Bruce says:

    I’ll take Religion for 400, Alex. I’m not a computer designer and the brain isn’t a computer, but its security architecture is astoundingly bad. Aside from some low-level functions like breathing, heartbeat, and reflexes, our brains are wide open to “exploits” and just about anything can have root access. A religion, a political party, a guy named Jim Jones. Mysterious processes such as child rearing, school, and YouTube can reprogram the whole damn thing with any sort of story. With software like this running the show, an imaginary threat (e.g., “heretic”) becomes every bit as real as a striking cobra, and the person programmed with this imagined reality may do terrible things. I’m borrowing heavily from “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari here, a favorite book. Imagined realities are not all bad – democracy, money, human rights, nations, corporations, etc. are all imagined realities that we accept as real to one degree or another. Modern society (another one!) depends on large groups of people agreeing to some set of imagined realities. Religion just happens to be one of the powerful ones. Buggy too.

    • Craig says:

      I like your “security architecture” comments, Bruce — our strengths are also our weaknesses, as the US response to the pandemic has demonstrated.

  4. Enrique says:

    Speaking of new words, check out this fun Twitter account:
    The “Tweets” on this account consist only of words that appear in the New York Times for the first time!

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