Alter_of_reason.jpgI recently read When Atheism Becomes Religion under its more provocative original title: I Don’t Believe in Atheists.

The author, Chris Hedges is becoming one of my favorite authors. The first book that I read of his, The Death of the Liberal Class was a great history of classical liberalism — something that all political ideologies today could learn from.

Chris Hedges is a fascinating writer and the perfect author for a book that offers a critique of the modern Cult of Reason. (It is important to note that the use of the word “cult” here reflects the thinking in this footnote of that article: The word “cult” in French means “a form of worship”, without any of its negative or exclusivist implications in English; its proponents intended it to be a universal congregation.)

In fact, although I had this blog post in mind, it wasn’t till I started looking for a picture to accompany it (the Alter of Reason was perfect) that I learned about the Cult of Reason from the time of the French revolution.

That period of time is a great precedent for what happened since September 11, 2001 in the New Atheist movement.

Some people saw religion itself as the cause for the violence inherent in the terrorist attacks. If religion didn’t exist, the movement seems to say, no one would have an excuse to slaughter any group of people.

Chris Hedges’ book is a powerful antidote to this fantasy. Not only does he remind us that the greatest genocides of the 20th century were secular in nature, but he also asks us to consider human limitations in any solutions we propose: No ethical stance, no matter how pure it appears, is moral if it is not based on the reality of human limitations.

Humans — whether created by God 6000 years ago, or just some random chance of the universe — have some very stark limitations. Making religion a demon while deifying reason will not solve anything.

I came across another book today while browsing the bookstore, You Are Not So Smart, that really began to drive home the point of our limitations. As the book points out, Even when we think we’re being rational and thinking things through carefully, our emotional brain, our subconscious, is the one really running the show. (I’ve requested a copy of the book from my local library, so I’ll post more about it after I’ve read more.)

Amusingly, Penn Jillette’s God, No! was nearby and I had time to read the introduction where he talks about the humility of Atheism. He’s right: we should all be able to say “I don’t know”.

But he says that saying “I don’t know” makes you an atheist and here I disagree. I know we haven’t done a great job of celebrating doubt, but even as great a Christian as Mother Teresa had doubts. That didn’t make her less of a Christian — it was simply part of her humanity. You have the chance to say — like Christopher Hitchen’s did — that this makes her a fraud, but I prefer the title “human.” Not knowing, doubting is a fully human thing to do.

It is fine to celebrate everything that reason gives us — and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot through the use of the rational mind — but, as Hedges rightly points out in When Atheism Becomes Religion, as much as reason has helped us reach new heights, it has empowered evil to new depravity.

There is no scientific utopia and efforts to create one only end in destruction. Achieving Utopia must mean destroying everyone that you can’t convince to join you. St Isaac the Syrian put it this way: “If zeal [using passion to convince others of the truth] had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did Jesus use gentleness and humility?”

Lost_and_found,_Český_Krumlov.JPGToday, on the walk down JFK from 30th Street Station for my weekly appearance at the office, I discovered I didn’t have my badge. I had it on the train, but when I was about a block from where I needed it, I saw it was gone.

I debated just going on and getting a new one, but then I figured that people who saw a badge laying on the ground would leave it, thinking that the owner would come looking for it.

This is just a small example of my naive faith in the goodness of people. This time it paid huge dividends.

As I walked back to the train station, scanning the ground for my badge, a man walked up to me and asked “Is this you?” as he handed me my badge.

No, it isn’t that big of a deal, but it shows that my faith in people isn’t entirely misplaced.

Carter Reagan Debate 10-28-80.pngThis morning, my mother told me she had gotten a call from a pollster asking “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

That this question can be used to predict (or so I hear) presidential elections seems like such a selfish way to look at things, but I do understand that is how we are motivated.

Still, I am more concerned about the things the president actually does like killing or imprisoning U.S. citizen’s without a trial.

Evidently many pople see that and think “Well, that doesn’t affect me, I have bills to pay” and vote accordingly.

Neither of the major party candidates is going to be any better on these issues.  And, since Ross Perot, they’ve made it very hard for third party candidates to get on presidential debates, so issues aren’t even discussed.

Ross Perot’s candidacy and appearance in debates made a dramatic difference in Clinton’s presidency.  Because a kooky third party candidate was able to talk directly to the mainstream candidates in a televised debate, the president who ended up getting elected had to act differently.

The Libertarian Party has what sounds like a reasonable way to get the bigger issues like civil liberties discussed without sacrificing your vote.  They’ve got their candidate on the ballot in all 50 states and if he can reach 15% in certain polls, he’ll be on the televised debates.

So, next time a pollster asks you who you are voting for, say “Gary Johnson”.  When your time in the polling booth comes, no one is going to force you to vote for him, so if he gets in a presidential debate and you think he is completely unrealistic, you can change your mind.  But lets get him on the stage.

Today I got my copy of “Fr Alexander Men; Martyr of Atheism”.

Since I like to read this sort of book with my kids, I sat down with them and we read the first chapter.

The book starts out with a broad overview of the history of the Church in Russia to provide a context for Fr Men’s birth and life. This is good for those, like me, who are mostly ignorant of history. As I’m sure many of you know, the Church in Russia did not have an easy time.

As is clear from the first chapter, the Church became dependent upon the State and then had to cope when the States protection disappeared.

My curiosity was piqued, though, by mention of the aborted Council of Moscow in 1918. The author says it had potential to be Russia’s Vatican II but, instead, became a dead letter. Research is needed!

Thread on MWUsersI’ve been checking these older MediaWiki installations and found that some are really good about keeping them spam free, but others seem to have run into trouble. The sites aren’t abandoned, but you can see that they are really struggling against spam.

In order to continue the discussion, I’ve started up a thread on MWUsers. Oh, and Harry Burt reminded me of this survey two years ago and the results there. I should have more stats available soon.

Posted in wmf.

I just completed a survey of about 2100 wiki’s running MediaWiki. The initial list came from S23-Wiki’s WikiStats, but I plan to add to it. Google, for instance, says there are “About 3,070 results” for the search string “inurl:Special:Version mediawiki "Magnus Manske, Brion Vibber"“.

My purpose in doing this is to find out what version of MediaWiki these sites are running. To do that, the easiest thing is to use the API. This way, you can just ask a site to tell you about itself and get back useful information.

Of course, sometimes the version of MediaWiki installed is too old (before 1.8) or has the api disabled and, in these cases, I had to get a bit more creative.

Usually, I could find the information on the Special:Version page.

And still, there were about 200 wikis that I tried to check that were no longer active, had database problems or some other issue.

Of those that I did get a version from, 692 (36%) were running a version marked “1.20wmf1” indicating they are run by Wikimedia; 51 (2.7%) were running a version older than 1.10; 1043 (54%) were running a version older than 1.17.3 or 1.18.2 both released over a month ago on March 22 (a more recent version of each was released last week).

I would be tempted to think that those 51 wikis running an especially old version of MediaWiki were just unmaintained or abandoned. A spot check, though, seems to show that this isn’t the case.

For example, I found one that was running a seven year old(!) version of MediaWiki on an Ubuntu server whose packages had been updated in the past month and whose wiki pages had been modified in the past couple of days. According to some traffic and search ranking sites, it gets thousands of visitors a day.

When a site owner is good about keeping his packages up-to-date and his pages spam-free (as this one was), it doesn’t seem right to not also provide a way to keep his MediaWiki site up-to-date. But even today, the instructions for installing MediaWiki on Ubuntu, push the user pretty hard to use the tarball installation instead of the Ubuntu packages.

We’ve got to do better.


For the first time ever, I replaced a citation needed template in Wikipedia with an actual citation. And, even better, I am pretty sure it is gonna stick.

The fact template was on the Absolute hot article which I came across after while reading The Hour of Our Delight.

This book as turned into a very readable introduction to particle physics for me. In fact, I was reading some parts of it to my son and he asked me some questions (of course) that I couldn’t really answer. “To Wikipedia!” was the natural solution. And I saw that a citation was needed for something I had just read.

Even better, I learned that there is a direct link between Quantum gravity (which was in the book’s quote) and the theory of everything.

So, yeah, I’m recommending The Hour of Our Delight (or in the original French as L’heure de s’enivrer). You should find it and read it if you have any interest in this sort of thing. I’ll probably write a post later about the chapter titled “An Anthropic Principle”.

A wise decision - - 1802231.jpgToday, after almost a year and a half off of my bike, after buying a new helmet a few months ago, after pumping up my tires a few weeks ago… After all that build up, I finally actually went for a ride today.

Before I left, I made sure to tell Alexis exactly where I was going.  Since this was my first time out on a ride of any length — and I only went 10 miles — I can still feel the strain on my thighs.  Of course, the short trip took me an hour.

I suppose I’m only now coming to grips with what it really means for my confidence after losing a couple of weeks of my life to a TBI sustained while riding alone one sunny fall afternoon. As I rode, I was constantly aware of any ditches to fall into.  There was the constant reminder that, yes, I’m not going to push myself to ride hard up or down hills.  I was too scared.

But, I’m very happy I went.  I’ll go again tomorrow.  And — who knows? — in a month I may even be ready to ride on longer trips.  I may even go over 10mph!

Storm Drain.JPGToday, after I dropped the everyone off and then parked the car, I was a walking into church. As I made my way in, I tried to be sensitive to others in church and turned off my phone’s ringer.

Just as I had turned it off, it slipped out of my hands, fell to the ground and slide — to my dismay and misfortune — into a storm drain. Worse, it was foggy and looked like rain.

I spent the next hour skipping church, trying different combinations of broomsticks and different kinds of adhesive like tape and super glue, to get it out.

It was only after others came out to watch me and help that we struck on a winning combination: My daughter went to get a rake. I was able to move the phone onto the rake using a broomstick and lift it up against the side of the storm drain.

Success! And lesson learned: keep your phone in your pocket when walking near storm drains!