Happy Anniversary to me…

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Tragic Farce is three years old this week.

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Poof of Heaven: Eben Alexander’s Truth Problem

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Esquire magazine has a long article (available online for $1.99 for non-subscribers) in the August issue by Luke Dittrich investigating the claims of Eben Alexander, a so-called “Harvard neurologist” whose book Proof of Heaven purporting to describe his “near death experience” has been on the best-seller lists for almost a year.  (I wrote about the Newsweek article that preceded the book last year.) Of course Dittrich was unable to verify or falsify the central claim, that Alexander actually went to heaven while he was in a coma during a bout of bacterial meningitis. However, Dittrich did uncover a number of awkward facts about Alexander’s career as a neurosurgeon, including a history of malpractice suits (five in ten years) that eventually deprived him of his license to practice neurosurgery and which suggested to Dittrich a possible motive for Alexander to write the book besides a reportorial one.

Over at Huffington Post, Paul Raeburn has written a blog that admirably summarizes Dittrich’s article:

Dittrich comes as close as one could, without access to Alexander’s private thoughts, to showing that the book was a cynical effort to provide a new career — as a prophet! — for a neurosurgeon whose career was being consumed by malpractice suits. He was, Esquire‘s editors write in the deck, “a neurosurgeon with a troubled history and a man in need of reinvention.”

One of Dittrich’s most damning revelations (so to speak) concerns the story of one of Alexander’s own doctors who says, in contradiction of Alexander’s claim that the  e. coli bacteria that caused his meningitis also caused his coma, that she chemically induced the coma because Alexander’s involuntary movements made it impossible to operate on him. This would give the lie to Alexander’s contention that his brain had ceased all activity and that he essentially died on the gurney. It would also suggest (though Dittrich doesn’t mention the drug used to induce the coma–one major shortcoming of the Esquire piece) a likely chemical source for Alexander’s ecstatic vision.

Of course, believers will continue to believe, and as evidence of that, you need only look at the comments section on Raeburn’s blog. Continue reading

NYT Asks: Should Atheists Pray?

Joshua Reynolds - The Infant Samuel

In last week’s Room for Debate, the question the New York Times posed was this:

With atheist church services this month in Louisiana and New York, nonbelievers are borrowing some of the rituals of believers: gathering, singing, sermons.

Would it be fruitful for atheists to pray? For believers and others, what is the point of prayer?

I suppose the Times should be applauded for asking a question that seems to take atheism seriously, even if they allowed just one self-identified atheist into this “room ” to answer the question.

The simple answer, from this atheist’s perspective, is a great big fat obvious no. Prayer is by definition something asked of someone (or something), and it seems ludicrous to ask people who don’t believe in the supernatural to close their eyes, put their hands together, bow their heads and concentrate on asking something that might theoretically hear their sublingual thoughts for anything. What is the point? Leave prayer to the believers! Continue reading

Sabbath Musings: The Reality of God

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The following is based on a post I made three years ago at MUBI.com, of all places. I happened to be rereading old posts there this morning, and I wanted to put this one down here so I could think more about it. I was in conversation with someone who had asserted that believing in God can be compared to belief in the future, which, even though it doesn’t yet exist, we believe in anyway. I begged to differ with the aptness of the comparison.

I’d love to hear what others think about all this. Please leave a comment below if you’re so moved:

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Bear with Me While I Tinker with the Look

I’m trying to make the joint more reader friendly. I’d appreciate your feedback. Did I take a step in the right direction or go off the deep end?DicknJane

I’ll tell you what I like about this new look: I think the posts are more readable. It had been bothering me for a long time that the block quotes were low-contrast. It was even difficult for me to read them. With this design, the type is at least a bit larger. I just don’t want it to look too Sally, Dick and Jane, if you know what I mean. You’d tell me if it did, wouldn’t you?

I’m not crazy about the background color. Don’t be surprised if it goes from very dark purple to very light yellow in the click of a mouse. I’m going to tend to want it very light so the text in the margins is readable.

Any other comments you’d care to share, I’d be delighted to entertain.

Ronnie Dawson: Greatest Rock and Roller Ever?

Here’s just a little taste from 1995 of the late great Texan rockabilly king Ronnie Dawson, with Lisa Pankratz (on drums) and High Noon. If you like country, rock, punk rock, and just plain party music, you’re probably going to love Ronnie Dawson. He began in show biz in his teens, changing his name briefly to Commonwealth Jones in the early 1960s to avoid confusion with another Ron Dawson. He died too young, in 2003.  No doubt now he owns the name.

Congressional Record by Dean Drummond, played by Newband

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I was reading today’s paper, looking at the obituary of George Jones, when I glanced across at a photo of someone who looked familiar. I realized it was Dean Drummond, an American composer, musician, teacher and acolyte of Harry Partch, whose musical instruments and scores Drummond assembled as founder of the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I was wondering what an arts piece was doing in the front section of the New York Times, when I realized, shocked, that I was looking at an illustration for Drummond’s obituary. Continue reading