Monday, December 20, 2010

Carl Sagan

The Day Carl Sagan Died

"We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself." - Carl

It’s been 14 years since Carl Sagan died at the age of 62 on December 20, 1996.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gender Identity and Expression

I Am Just Anneke
With the support of family and friends, a 12-year-old experiences the onset of puberty in the fluid space between genders.

From filmmaker Jonathan Skurnik:

I'm Just Anneke is the first film in a four-part series of short films called The Youth and Gender Media Project designed to educate school communities about transgender and gender nonconforming youth. The completed films are being used in schools and conferences throughout the U.S. to train administrators, teachers and students about the importance of protecting all children from harassment due to gender identity and expression.

Transgender and gender fluid youth are the most courageous people I have ever met. Despite overwhelming pressure to conform to an oppressive gender binary paradigm, they refuse to do it in order to be true to themselves. I wanted to pay tribute to these courageous young people and to inspire all of us to reconsider our own decisions about gender identity and expression.

Anneke is going into eighth grade in the fall of 2010 and I plan to film her over the course of her first year in high school. This footage will become a feature length documentary about Anneke's life as she starts to take testosterone and begins a slow and thoughtful transition to fully embody her own unique gender identity.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christopher Hitchens - The Best of Hitchslap

Christopher Hitchens - The Best of the Hitchslap

"The most overrated of the virtues is faith. The metaphysical claims of religion are untrue." - Christopher Hitchens

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gratitude Journal

Today I am grateful for...

Visiting old friends and a new baby friend

Southwestern Baked Casserole (thanks to The Vegetarian Family Cookbook)

Leaves all over our backyard

Sitting outside in the dark with my husband and pups, lost in conversation

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Music: Isabel

Listen to Mason Jennings, Isabel from his 2002 album Simple Life at

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Music: Passacaglia +

Bear McCreary - Passacaglia

Battlestar Galactica Season 4 OST - Kara Remembers

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dialogue of Reason: Science and Faith in the Black Community

Dialogue of Reason: Science and Faith in the Black Community

A dialogue with Richard Dawkins, Anthony Pinn, Sikivu Hutchinson, Todd Stiefel and moderated by Mark Hatcher concerning the role of faith and science in the Black Community. Faith has traditionally played a significant role among African Americans, while science has been marginalized. It is time to confront the issues that have kept too many Blacks out of the halls of science and confined to the pews.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The 14th Dalai Lama on Neurology, Secularism, Compassion, Technology, Affection, Inner Peace

October 14, 2010 at Stanford University
The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) speaks on the centrality of compassion at Stanford University. He repeatedly stressed a secular approach to compassion that reaches beyond individual creeds and beliefs. He spoke of the need for mutual respect and friendship, the care and education of children, and ongoing dialogue for conflict resolution.

Apart from his religious discourses with leading practitioners from traditions like Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, Tenzin Gyatso's long-standing interest in science and technology leads him to discussions with scientists from around the world on topics ranging from cognitive neurology to physics.

"We all have the desire to achieve happy life. And everyone have right to achieve happy life."

"Genuine friendship on the basis of trust. Trust. Come from openness. Transparent. Honest. Then trust come. On the basis of trust real friendship come."

"All religion is stemming from basic human good quality. Basic human values are secular values."

Dalai Lama and Carl Sagan in 1991

"My parent illiterate. Uneducated. Just a villager. A farmer. But, very very compassionate."

"So therefor Buddhist blessing may be there, but Buddhist blessing must go through human hand- human action. So therefor, I believe, last several thousand years, we just praying, but, not satisfactory result. "

"Now something changing now. Not only material sort of development, but internal development is equally important."

Q&A starts at about 48 minutes

Stanford University:

Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford:

Dalai Lama Home:

Charter for Compassion:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Music: John Lennon

John Lennon, Jealous Guy

John Lennon, Love

John Lennon, Give Peace a Chance

Music: Present Infant

Ani Difranco, Unplugged on Billboard, Present Infant

So I'm beginning to see some problems
With the ongoing work of my mind
And I've got myself a new mantra
It says don't forget to have a good time
Don't let the sellers of stuff power enough to rob you of your grace

Love is all over the place
There's nothing wrong with your face

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Christopher Hitchens Speaks

Christopher Hitchens speaks at Bookstore (Part 1)

Christopher Hitchens speaks at Bookstore (Part 2)

Christopher Hitchens speaks at Bookstore (Part 3)

There is a Q&A session available after the speech.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue about Belief

Sam Harris speaks to "religious liberals" in January of 2005. He informs his audience that "some of you will undoubtedly get offended", and he encourages them to notice the process - the dynamics of it. "If I say something and the walls start to go up in you I want you to remember just what it was."

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 1 of 11)

"The problem I want to talk to you about tonight is the problem of belief. What does it mean to believe? We use this word all the time, and I think behind it lurk some really extraordinary taboos and confusions. What I want to argue tonight is that how we talk about belief- how we fail to criticize or criticize the beliefs of others, has more importance to us personally, more consequence to us personally and to civilization than perhaps anything else that is in our power to influence. "

"It is taboo in our society to criticize a persons religious faith... these taboos are offensive, deeply unreasonable, but worse than that, they are getting people killed. This is really my concern. My concern is that our religions, the diversity of our religious doctrines, is going to get us killed. I'm worried that our religious discourse- our religious beliefs are ultimately incompatible with civilization."

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 2 of 11)

"What I'm asking you to entertain is that there is nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence in order to have deeply ethical and spiritual lives."

"What we do in every other area of our lives (other than religion), is, rather than respect somebody's beliefs, we evaluate their reasons."

"The faith of religion is belief on insufficient evidence."

"We rely on faith only in the context of claims for which there is no sufficient sensory or logical evidence."

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 3 of 11)

"When the stakes are this high- when calling God by the right name can make the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, it is impossible to respect the beliefs of others who don't believe as you do."

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 4 of 11)

"If faith is what you have to go on, if faith is the link between your beliefs and the world at large, your beliefs are very likely to be wrong. Beliefs can be right or wrong. If you believe you can fly, that belief is only true if indeed you can fly. Somebody who thinks he can fly, and is wrong about it, will eventually discover there's a problem with his view of the world."

"Faith does not offer a strong link between our beliefs and actual states of the world."

"We have a choice. We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. That's it. Conversation and violence. And faith is a conversation stopper."

"The only thing that guarantees an open-ended collaboration among human beings, the only thing that guarantees that this project is truly open-ended, is a willingness to have our beliefs and behaviors modified by the power of conversation."

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 5 of 11)

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 6 of 11)

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 7 of 11)Q&A Session begins on Part 7

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 8 of 11)
"It's strange that God made Shakespeare a better writer than himself."

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 9 of 11)

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 10 of 11)

Sam Harris Speaks at University Synagogue (Part 11 of 11)

You can see one cohesive video at

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Morals with Sam Harris

Sam Harris speaking at TED 2010 - What the World Needs Now

The Moral Landscape: Q & A with Sam Harris

1. Are there right and wrong answers to moral questions?
Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

2. Are you saying that science can answer such questions?

Yes, in principle. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors—ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.

3. But can’t moral claims be in conflict? Aren’t there many situations in which one person’s happiness means another’s suffering?

There are some circumstances like this, and we call these contests “zero-sum.” Generally speaking, however, the most important moral occasions are not like this. If we could eliminate war, nuclear proliferation, malaria, chronic hunger, child abuse, etc.—these changes would be good, on balance, for everyone. There are surely neurobiological, psychological, and sociological reasons why this is so—which is to say that science could potentially tell us exactly why a phenomenon like child abuse diminishes human well-being.

But we don’t have to wait for science to do this. We already have very good reasons to believe that mistreating children is bad for everyone. I think it is important for us to admit that this is not a claim about our personal preferences, or merely something our culture has conditioned us to believe. It is a claim about the architecture of our minds and the social architecture of our world. Moral truths of this kind must find their place in any scientific understanding of human experience.

4. What if some people simply have different notions about what is truly important in life? How could science tell us that the actions of the Taliban are in fact immoral, when the Taliban think they are behaving morally?

As I discuss in my book, there may be different ways for people to thrive, but there are clearly many more ways for them not to thrive. The Taliban are a perfect example of a group of people who are struggling to build a society that is obviously less good than many of the other societies on offer. Afghan women have a 12% literacy rate and a life expectancy of 44 years. Afghanistan has nearly the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. It also has one of the highest birthrates. Consequently, it is one of the best places on earth to watch women and infants die. And Afghanistan’s GDP is currently lower than the world’s average was in the year 1820. It is safe to say that the optimal response to this dire situation—that is to say, the most moral response—is not to throw battery acid in the faces of little girls for the crime of learning to read. This may seem like common sense to us—and it is—but I am saying that it is also, at bottom, a claim about biology, psychology, sociology, and economics. It is not, therefore, unscientific to say that the Taliban are wrong about morality. In fact, we must say this, the moment we admit that we know anything at all about human well-being.

5. But what if the Taliban simply have different goals in life?

Well, the short answer is—they don’t. They are clearly seeking happiness in this life, and, more importantly, they imagine that they are securing it in a life to come. They believe that they will enjoy an eternity of happiness after death by following the strictest interpretation of Islamic law here on earth. This is also a claim about which science should have an opinion—as it is almost certainly untrue. There is no question, however, that the Taliban are seeking well-being, in some sense—they just have some very strange beliefs about how to attain it.

In my book, I try to spell out why moral disagreements do not put the concept of moral truth in jeopardy. In the moral sphere, as in all others, some people don’t know what they are missing. In fact, I suspect that most of us don’t know what we are missing: It must be possible to change human experience in ways that would uncover levels of human flourishing that most of us cannot imagine. In every area of genuine discovery, there are horizons past which we cannot see.

6. What do you mean when you talk about a “moral landscape”?

This is the phrase I use to describe the space of all possible experience—where the peaks correspond to the heights of well-being and valleys represent the worst possible suffering. We are all someplace on this landscape, faced with the prospect of moving up or down. Given that our experience is fully constrained by the laws of the universe, there must be scientific answers to the question of how best to move upwards, toward greater happiness.

This is not to say that there is only one right way for human beings to live. There might be many peaks on this landscape—but there are clearly many ways not to be on a peak.

7. How could science guide us on the moral landscape?

In so far as we can understand human wellbeing, we will understand the conditions that best secure it. Some are obvious, of course. Positive social emotions like compassion and empathy are generally good for us, and we want to encourage them. But do we know how to most reliably raise children to care about the suffering of other people? I’m not sure we do. Are there genes that make certain people more compassionate than others? What social systems and institutions could maximize our sense of connectedness to the rest of humanity? These questions have answers, and only a science of morality could deliver them.

8. Why is it taboo for a scientist to attempt to answer moral questions?

I think there are two primary reasons why scientists hesitate to do this. The first, and most defensible, is borne of their appreciation for how difficult it is to understand complex systems. Our investigation of the human mind is in its infancy, even after nearly two centuries of studying the brain. So scientists fear that answers to specific questions about human well-being may be very difficult to come by, and confidence on many points is surely premature. This is true. But, as I argue in my book, mistaking no answers in practice for no answers in principle is a huge mistake.

The second reason is that many scientists have been misled by a combination of bad philosophy and political correctness. This leads them to feel that the only intellectually defensible position to take when in the presence of moral disagreement is to consider all opinions equally valid or equally nonsensical. On one level, this is an understandable and even noble over-correction for our history of racism, ethnocentrism, and imperialism. But it is an over-correction nonetheless. As I try to show in my book, it is not a sign of intolerance for us to notice that some cultures and sub-cultures do a terrible job of producing human lives worth living.

9. What is the difference between there being no answers in practice and no answers in principle, and why is this distinction important in understanding the relationship between human knowledge and human values?

There are an infinite number of questions that we will never answer, but which clearly have answers. How many fish are there in the world’s oceans at this moment? We will never know. And yet, we know that this question, along with an infinite number of questions like it, have correct answers. We simply can’t get access to the data in any practical way.

There are many questions about human subjectivity—and about the experience of conscious creatures generally—that have this same structure. Which causes more human suffering, stealing or lying? Questions like this are not at all meaningless, in that they must have answers, but it could be hopeless to try to answer them with any precision. Still, once we admit that any discussion of human values must relate to a larger reality in which actual answers exist, we can then reject many answers as obviously wrong. If, in response to the question about the world’s fish, someone were to say, “There are exactly a thousand fish in the sea.” We know that this person is not worth listening to. And many people who have strong opinions on moral questions have no more credibility than this. Anyone who thinks that gay marriage is the greatest problem of the 21st century, or that women should be forced to live in burqas, is not worth listening to on the subject of morality.

10. What do you think the role of religion is in determining human morality?

I think it is generally an unhelpful one. Religious ideas about good and evil tend to focus on how to achieve well-being in the next life, and this makes them terrible guides to securing it in this one. Of course, there are a few gems to be found in every religious tradition, but in so far as these precepts are wise and useful they are not, in principle, religious. You do not need to believe that the Bible was dictated by the Creator of the Universe, or that Jesus Christ was his son, to see the wisdom and utility of following the Golden Rule.

The problem with religious morality is that it often causes people to care about the wrong things, leading them to make choices that needlessly perpetuate human suffering. Consider the Catholic Church: This is an institution that excommunicates women who want to become priests, but it does not excommunicate male priests who rape children. The Church is more concerned about stopping contraception than stopping genocide. It is more worried about gay marriage than about nuclear proliferation. When we realize that morality relates to questions of human and animal well-being, we can see that the Catholic Church is as confused about morality as it is about cosmology. It is not offering an alternative moral framework; it is offering a false one.

11. So people don’t need religion to live an ethical life?

No. And a glance at the lives of most atheists, and at the most atheistic societies on earth—Denmark, Sweden, etc.—proves that this is so. Even the faithful can’t really get their deepest moral principles from religion—because books like the Bible and the Qur’an are full of barbaric injunctions that all decent and sane people must now reinterpret or ignore. How is it that most Jews, Christians, and Muslims are opposed to slavery? You don’t get this moral insight from scripture, because the God of Abraham expects us to keep slaves. Consequently, even religious fundamentalists draw many of their moral positions from a wider conversation about human values that is not, in principle, religious. We are the guarantors of the wisdom we find in scripture, such as it is. And we are the ones who must ignore God when he tells us to kill people for working on the Sabbath.

12. How will admitting that there are right and wrong answers to issues of human and animal flourishing transform the way we think and talk about morality?

What I’ve tried to do in my book is give a framework in which we can think about human values in universal terms. Currently, the most important questions in human life—questions about what constitutes a good life, which wars we should fight or not fight, which diseases should be cured first, etc.—are thought to lie outside the purview of science, in principle. Therefore, we have divorced the most important questions in human life from the context in which our most rigorous and intellectually honest thinking gets done.

Moral truth entirely depends on actual and potential changes in the well-being of conscious creatures. As such, there are things to be discovered about it through careful observation and honest reasoning. It seems to me that the only way we are going to build a global civilization based on shared values—allowing us to converge on the same political, economic, and environmental goals—is to admit that questions about right and wrong and good and evil have answers, in the same way the questions about human health do.

This is from a CNN interview, speaking with Sam Harris at the TED Conference.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gratitude Journal

Today I am grateful for...

• Insight from a good friend

• A trip to the library with my husband

• The internet
• Looking forward to the season premier of Parenthood, a show I enjoy with my hubby

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Music: Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird, Armchairs

Andrew Bird, Take Courage

Andrew Bird, Section 8 City

Andrew Bird, Gotholympians

Andrew Bird, Anoanimal

Andrew Bird, Anoanimal (album version)

Andrew Bird, Sovay

Andrew Bird, Lull

Andrew Bird, Masterfade

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Music: Sufjan Stevens

All Delighted People is built around two different versions of Sufjan’s long-form epic ballad "All Delighted People," a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon’s "Sounds of Silence."

Listen to new Sufjan Stevens:

Texas Tour Dates:

Tuesday, 19 October, 7pm ($30-$35)
The Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin TX
General admission goes on sale 8/13.
Click here to go to purchasing site.

Wednesday, 20 October, 7pm ($35)
McFarlin Memorial Auditorium, Dallas TX
General admission goes on sale 8/13.
Click here to go to purchasing site.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Music: Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom, In California

I don't belong to anyone
my heart is heavy as an oil drum

and I don't want to be alone

my heart is yellow as an ear of corn

Joanna Newsom, Jack Rabbits

I shaped up overnight, you know
the day after she died
When I saw my heart, and I tell you, darling
it was open wide

Joanna Newsom, Esme

Joanna Newsom, Baby Birch

Joanna Newsom, Sadie

Joanna Newsom, Swansea

Joanna Newsom, '81

Joanna Newsom, Kingfisher

Joanna Newsom, Ribbon Bows

Joanna Newsom, Soft as Chalk

Joanna Newsom, Go Long

Joanna Newsom, Does Not Suffice

I picture you rising up in the morning
Stretching out on your boundless bed

Beating a clear path to the shower

Scouring yourself red
The tap of hangers swaying in the closet

Unburdened hooks and empty drawers

And everywhere I tried to love you

Is yours again and only yours

Joanna Newsom, Occident

Joanna Newsom, On a Good Day

So, across the years and miles and through
On a good day you can feel my love for you

Will you leave me be so that we can stay true

To the path that you have chosen?

Joanna Newsom, Good Intentions Paving Company

Joanna Newsom, No Provenance

Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Knowledge: Chimpanzees + The Jane Goodall Institute

Chimpanzees laugh when they play. How cute.

Chimpanzees communicate much like humans do -- by kissing,
embracing, patting on the back, touching hands, tickling.

Humans and chimpanzees share 95 to 98 percent of the same DNA.
Biologically, chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas.

Chimpanzees use more tools for more purposes than any other creatures except humans.

Like humans, chimps have opposable thumbs and opposable big toes
which allow them to grip things with their feet.

One of the chimpanzee calls is the "pant-hoot." Each individual has his or her
own distinctive pant-hoot, so that the chimp can be identified with precision.

Chimpanzees are not meant to be pets; a full-grown chimpanzee has
five or six times the strength of a human being.

Chimpanzees are endangered. There are probably between 172,000
and 300,000 chimpanzees remaining in the wild.

Learn more at

Our Core Values (The Jane Goodall Institute)
There are several core values that inform everything we do:

• We strive to respect, nourish and protect all living things;
people, animals and the environment are all interconnected

• We believe that knowledge leads to understanding,
and that understanding will encourage us to take action

• We believe that every individual has the ability to make a positive difference

• We believe that flexibility and open-mindedness are essential
to enable us to respond to a changing world.

• We require integrity and compassion in all that we do and say

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Music: The New Pornographers, The National

The New Pornographers, Sweet Talk Sweet Talk

The New Pornographers, We End Up Together

The New Pornographers, Moves

The New Pornographers, Up in the Dark

The New Pornographers, Valkyrie in the Roller Disco

The New Pornographers, A Bite Out of My Bed

The New Pornographers, Daughters of Sorrow

The National, Fake Empire

Monday, August 2, 2010

Music: Arcade Fire +

Arcade Fire, Suburban War

Arcade Fire, We Used to Wait

Arcade Fire, Rococo

Arcade Fire, Sprawl II

Arcade Fire, Modern Man

Arcade Fire, Half Light I

Arcade Fire, Half Light II

Arcade Fire, Wasted Hourse

Arcade Fire, City with no Children

Sebastian Blanck, Thunder (Live)

Local Natives, Airplanes

Tegan and Sara, I was Married

Dawes, When My Time Comes

These New Puritans, Holograms

Kele, Everything You Wanted (remix)

Tegan and Sara, Alligator

Tegan and Sara, Nightwatch

Tegan and Sara, On Directing