The Mathematical Argument for Gun Control

The AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the military M16 rifle, marketed by Colt for civilian sales. “Thanks” in large part to the NRA, there are no federal restrictions on private ownership of these weapons in the US. Do you feel safer knowing that your neighbor might well have one of these?

David Barash: Not surprisingly, gun control is once again on people’s minds. For those Brainstorm readers tired of my opinions, I’m happy to “host” the thoughts of Dr. Michael Shermer, who writes a r…


20 Funny: The August Version (Part 1)

George Carlin (HBO photo by Paul Schiraldi on New York Times site. Click to get to source page.)

1-3. “Regardless of what other people say, my tendency to overreact and lose all perspective makes me a theatrically interesting person”; “Because I unfairly demand too much of myself, today I will allow myself to act in distinctly untrustworthy and irresponsible ways”; “I take pride in the fact that my personal power comes from my innate sense of insecurity.”

–Ann Thornhill and Sarah Wells, from Tod…


What Is Secular Art?

Ever since I was in graduate school, I have lamented the inability of scholars to solicit and engage with cultivated lay audiences. With that in mind, I invite you to check out this video, part of a series I have been making which streams on the British New Humanist (a really interesting and intellectually diverse magazine of skeptical thought) and the good ol’ Huffington Post.

I envisioned this series as a sort of “Secularism 101.” I felt that it was necessary because my study of the subject d…


13 Ways of Looking at ‘Yeshiva’

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. 
It was a small part of the pantomime.

As you may well not have heard on your corporate nightly news, the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been near-paralyzed by years of Republican dirty tricks leading to resignations and scandal that included frequent leaking of confidential board proceedings to former Republican board members advising the Romney camp.  With the Department of Justice eyeballing the corporate hacks in question, howe…


Mass Murder and the Culture of Madness

Houston gun show, 2007 (photo by Michael Glasgow via Flickr/CC)

Swimming with my family yesterday, we were shocked to learn that a man just down the beach had been attacked by a shark. The usual feelings of fear, shock, helplessness, and gratitude that it wasn’t us ensued. As this story mingled with the story of James Holmes in Colorado, it seemed easy enough to imagine that a shark attack and a mass shooting are similar events: tragedies floating through the summer air randomly attaching to cer…


Thank God for the NRA!

Hip, hip hooray for the NRA, ever-watchful guardian of humanity!

The global arms trade in conventional weapons is in the neighborhood of $60-billion, much of it fueling mayhem, misery, and mass killings around the world. Last week, however, UN negotiators were unable to meet their deadline for writing a comprehensive and much-anticipated Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  And a large share of the blame for that failure rests with that paragon of personal and social responsibility, our own beloved and ev…


The Millennial Vote

In 2008, as everybody knows, the youth vote turned out to be one of the strongest Democratic cohorts in recent political history.  Voters under 30 went for Obama at nearly a 2-to-1 rate, an enormous gap that looked ominous for Republicans for many years to come.  College students in particular showed extremely high “unfavorability” for Sarah Palin and for social conservatives in general.  Even though only 51 percent of Millennials bothered to cast their vote in 08, their steep tilt to one side …


Hope Emerging From Despair: HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Gail Johnson with a portrait of Nkosi


For the past three years, one stream of my work has involved extensive field research on the sexual trafficking of girls in the Philippines, South Africa, and India.  For some years, my research has involved trafficking generally, including that of organs, children, and even body parts such as human tissues.  However, this project examines trafficking beyond the exploitation and kidnapping women and girls taken against their will and under false consent …


What Is Ross Douthat Thinking?

Ross DouthatLet me be start by saying that I like and respect New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. I had the pleasure of interviewing him a few years back on Faith Complex. Although we disagreed on nearly everything under the sun, he was thoughtful, generous of intellect, and quite funny.

With that preamble rendered, I am simply staggered by his recent head-scratcher of an Op-Ed entitled “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” It’s worthy of scrutiny because it raises the volume considerably in the already…


The Price of Success

(Photo by burstingwithcolors, Flickr/CC)

What better event is there to capture the competitive spirit of Western civilization than the Olympics? From their start as simple sprints in 8th century B.C. Greece, the Olympics have been all about fierce competition and winning. Baron de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics (after a long hiatus beginning in the 4th century, the Olympics were revived at the end of the 19th century), famously described the Olympics with the words “swifter, high…


Another Day in Paradise

Geoffrey Wilkinson as Ben Gunn, courtesy of

I’m sitting in a pink plastic yard chair, feet up, glass in hand, looking out over the palm trees and the mangroves.  Across the bay are the mountains of Viti Levu. I have never really been an enthusiast of tropical paradises, yet this is the third time I have found myself in the Fiji islands on my birthday. I suppose there are worse ways of dispelling the malaise. No phone, no Internet, just a bottle of Bounty Rum and a stack of hard-…


Do You Remember Your First Computer?

(Photo by Marcin Wichary via Flickr/CC)

On November 30th of 1984, I let a Macintosh computer into my life. Do you remember your very first computer? If you’re anywhere close to my age, I bet you do.

I was a graduate student living mostly on what I made from teaching two sections of basic comp  at Queens College and on loans. But I was also working at the Development Office at Queens where, at six dollars an hour, I wrote most of what turned into a hugely successful grant for the place.

I receive…


More Mountains: Learning the Ropes

Fitzroy massif on a – rare – clear day: Climbable, but just barely, and not by me! (photo by Yoav Altman)

Call me David. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing and drooling at the ice giants marching about me here in the Pacific Northwest, such that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking the hats off any Re…


The Big Lesson From Regnerus’s Bad Gay-Parenting Study

By this point in time it seems clear that something went really, really wrong with Mark Regnerus’s study arguing that gay and lesbian parents are bad parents. Regnerus claimed that gay and especially lesbian parents had too much “household instability” to make them a family form worth investing in (by which I assume Regnerus meant that such families deserve no state benefits or privileges). Immediately there were questions about the study and Social Science Research, the journal that published i…


Should Atheists Reach Out to Christians?

Expectedly, my argument last week that the randomness of Darwinian evolution poses a major but not necessarily insuperable problem for the Christian has brought down on my head the wrath and contempt of the New Atheists. (The junior ones at least. The senior ones, like Aristotle’s unmoved movers, are so busy contemplating their own perfection, that they have no thoughts for chaps like me.)

Loveable, predictable Jerry Coyne is “baffled” by my constantly trying to find ways of reconciling science …


Good MOOC’s, Bad MOOC’s

So I just finished a brief radio appearance (CBC) on the subject of Massive Open, Online Courses (MOOCs). The main guest was George Siemens who, with Stephen Downes, helped pioneer these courses in Canada. Even though all of the press coverage has gone to the competing Stanford edu-preneurs behind Coursera and Udacity, Siemens and Downes have done much of the most important work, theoretical and practical, distinguishing between good and bad MOOC’s.

At the heart of the work of Siemens and Downes…


The Bush Test

(From Image Editor via Flickr/CC)

Here’s a conversation-stopper: “George W. Bush.”

Or rather, the mention of the man’s name halts one conversation and ignites another one.  In gatherings with academic friends and colleagues, it has a visceral effect.  I’ve witnessed it time and again as people have talked about the economy or about education or about the Middle East and I recalled No Child Left Behind or the highway/transportation bill or Bush’s disgust with Arafat, always adding the ex-…


Hooray for Mark Emmert!

(Photo at

In an interview with The New York Times on Monday July 23, National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert was asked, “So with the Freeh report coming out about 10 days ago, did you already have options on the table or did all this happen in a 10-day crunch?” to which Emmert answers, “It all happened in a 10-day time period.”

He didn’t pretend, he didn’t waffle, and he didn’t prevaricate. And he didn’t use the word “crunch.”

Mark Emmert took action swiftly, witho…


The Accused

(via New York Daily News)

He’s dazed. His brow furrows. His blinks are slow in coming. At times his head rolls around. His eyes are vacant. He doesn’t focus—doesn’t appear to, anyway, though at times he seems to be trying to. James E. Holmes appears in court. He looks lost. ”Ordinary” is one word for him. “Unprepossessing” is another. In some moments he seems unfathomably sad. What does he know? What does he think? Does he have any idea where he is, and why?

What does an alleged mass murderer lo…


The Hare, the Tortoise, and the Aurora Madman

As far away as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and as close as your local gun-toting lunatic.

I’m not so naïve as to think that the Aurora tragedy will cause any change in the stunning U.S. refusal to engage in anything that even approaches minimally common-sense gun control. (How crazy is it, for example, that people on terrorist watch lists are still permitted to purchase assault rifles?) The Republican Party is besotted with the NRA, while the Democrats are scared silly of it. And of course, foll…