TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 3

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 3, "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"I wrote that last week's episode felt overstuffed, trying to cover a vast amount of territory in just 45 minutes of TV. This one did much better in that regard. The writing was tightly focused, telling a central story that wove throughout the episode, and using that … [Read more...]

New on AlterNet: Cosmos and the Creationists

My latest column is now up on AlterNet, Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe. It's about the new Cosmos TV series, and its reminder that those who advocate new ideas have always met fierce violent resistance from the credulous masses and the elite guardians of popular orthodoxy, from the persecutors of Galileo and Giordano Bruno in the medieval era to creationists, climate-change deniers and anti-vaxers today. Read the excerpt … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: The New Deal

FDR

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter XDagny and Hank have set out to track down the owner of the defunct Twentieth Century Motor Company factory, crisscrossing the country in the hope of digging up an employee list that will help them find the inventor of the magic motor they discovered there. But this, as they soon discover, is a Sisyphean task.They're able to establish that the man who built the factory and the surrounding town of Starnesville is one Jed Starnes, who died twelve years ago. … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: December 28

Coffee

While you rest and recover from all the holiday feasting, some links:• The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that buried the Roman city of Pompeii also buried another town, Herculaneum. One of the buildings that's been unearthed was a rich Roman's villa - including the library. The thousands of scrolls it contained were thought to be charred beyond recognition, but high-resolution CAT scans and multispectral imaging are finally making it possible to read the lost scrolls from the Villa of the … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Terror on the High Seas

PirateShip

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VIAs Dagny drifts through the crowds at Hank's party, she overhears a conversation:"Last night," said the spinster, "I stayed awake because of the shooting. There were guns going off all night, way out at sea. There were no flashes. There was nothing. Just those detonations, at long intervals... Everybody down on the shore knows what it was. It was Ragnar Danneskjold. It was the Coast Guard trying to catch him.""Ragnar Danneskjold in Delaware Bay?" a … [Read more...]

Ingersoll Sunday: On Divorce

RobertIngersoll

In 1889, a literary magazine called the North American Review solicited essays on the question of whether divorce was ever morally justifiable. Although all the other answers were from clergy (who, for no apparent reason, are always deemed to be the experts on these kinds of questions), they also printed a response by the great American freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll.As in many other things, Ingersoll's progressive, humanistic views were decades ahead of his time. He argued that … [Read more...]

Remembering the Holocaust, Respecting the Constitution

OhioHolocaustMemorial

In Ohio, the state legislature recently approved a plan to build a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the statehouse, with public money to be contributed towards the cost of construction. The winning design incorporates two tall structures of stainless steel, engraved with the testimony of an Auschwitz survivor, that are shaped so as to create a prominent negative space in the shape of a Star of David. You can see an image of the design above, to get a sense of it for yourself.The Freedom … [Read more...]

Ingersoll Sunday: Civil Rights

RobertIngersoll

There was a great disgrace in this country today. Backed by the laws of the state of Florida, a jury decided that it was reasonable for an armed white man to provoke a confrontation with an unarmed black teenager, shoot him dead, and then claim he was acting in self-defense.I'm too heavy-hearted to write much about this, or about the Supreme Court's disgraceful gutting of the Voting Rights Act last month. Suffice to say that race relations are an open and unhealed wound in the fabric of … [Read more...]

Ingersoll Sunday: Eight Hours Must Come

RobertIngersoll

I've been reading The Great Agnostic, Susan Jacoby's biography of Robert Ingersoll, which has only increased my admiration for the great 19th-century freethinker. I knew that, in addition to his tireless opposition to religion, he was a staunch defender of women's equality, of racial justice and of free speech unconstrained by blasphemy laws, despite living in a time when all of these were radical positions. But Jacoby's book showed that Ingersoll was an even greater man than I'd thought: he was … [Read more...]

The Bible as Engine of Extremism, Continued

In my previous post on "Southern Slavery As It Was", I cited two modern-day Christian pastors who claim that black slavery was a positive and beneficial institution. To throw some cold water on their rosy claims, in this post we'll hear from a person with firsthand experience of it: Frederick Douglass, the great American abolitionist and orator who himself escaped from bondage and later chronicled his experiences. I'll cite passages from Wilson and Wilkins' book asserting the gentle and … [Read more...]


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