Happy Carl Sagan Day

I just made it. With 5 Eastern Standard Time minutes to spare, I have learned that it is Carl Sagan Day today. In honor of the great man right now, I can really only offer the small gesture of a clip post here. But as a greater honor, we can all do everything we can to come to a greater appreciation of science; we can reject intelligent design as the bullshit that it is (and let’s emphasize the “b” in “bullshit”). We can fight against the quacks out there. We can promote and love and have a passion about science. It is our greatest tool.

My dirty little secret

Yes, I love hiking. Yes, I know how to prepare for any given non-technical hike. Yes, I’ve been to the top of Maine, the top of New England, the top of Africa. But okay, okay. There was a time when I didn’t know what I was doing.

Just as Maine Warden Sgt. Rick Mills was calling off Friday’s second-day search for two lost hikers due to heavy rain and fog at 12:30 p.m., state police dispatchers honed in on a 911 cell phone call, pinpointing the young men’s location.

“They’re alive and well,” a relieved Mills said in the Appalachian Trail parking lot of Grafton Notch State Park on Route 26 in Grafton Township, shortly after a dispatcher radioed coordinates to him for the two inexperienced day-hikers, Ryan Weeks and Michael Hawkins.

There used to be far more stories available, including on the Globe’s site, but most of them have fallen into the abyss of the ancient Internet. This happens to be one I hadn’t read until recently.

I literally had to laugh out loud when I read that first paragraph. During the cited cell call I found out they had just called off the search, but it just seems so much more absurd in retrospect. The whole experience was so surreal; it seems all the more strange that people were done looking for us because of fog (…the heavy rain was over at that point, so someone either gave or interpreted some inaccurate information).

Anyway, I wrote all about this experience for a local weekly paper back in 2006. I can’t get that link anymore, but I will reprint the unedited piece in the comment section.

The sort of response from theists

I’ve found a lot of theists who just hate thought experiments. If I’m to speculate, I see two reasons: 1) a lack of understanding fosters hostility and 2) they recognize they have no good response. This Doonesbury cartoon, while not about theists, encapsulates the sort of response theists give. (Click on it a couple of times to enlarge, if needed.)

In other words:

  • Here is a fact.
  • Take this fact and see how you view it from a new perspective.
  • Aaaaaand ignore the issue altogether and raise some cowardly and/or unintelligent red herring.

Thought of the day

The truth of a scientific proposition rests upon the adequacy and strength of the evidence.

Hitchens and cancer

I always find cases of cancer to be quite sad – hence my often visceral reactions to those who undermine its treatment – and Christopher Hitchen’s case is no different. Fortunately, he still cares about how he can impact the world; it matters. His writing since learning of his disease has been nothing but superb, and while a bit of an emotional take-down, to say the utter least, he brings his audience face-to-face with reality – just like we ought to expect from an outspoken atheist.

So I get straight to the point and say what the odds are. The swiftest way of doing this is to note that the thing about Stage Four is that there is no such thing as Stage Five. Quite rightly, some people take me up on it. I recently had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my niece’s wedding, in my old hometown and former university in Oxford. This depressed me for more than one reason, and an especially close friend inquired, “Is it that you’re afraid you’ll never see England again?” As it happens he was exactly right to ask, and it had been precisely that which had been bothering me, but I was unreasonably shocked by his bluntness. I’ll do the facing of hard facts, thanks. Don’t you be doing it, too. And yet I had absolutely invited the question. Telling someone else, with deliberate realism, that once I’d had a few more scans and treatments I might be told by the doctors that things from now on could be mainly a matter of “management,” I again had the wind knocked out of me when she said, “Yes, I suppose a time comes when you have to consider letting go.” How true, and how crisp a summary of what I had just said myself. But again there was the unreasonable urge to have a kind of monopoly on, or a sort of veto over, what was actually sayable. Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic.