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Sunday, March 18, 2018


Ah, Sunday, when I usually touch on religion.  Today I will begin a series reviewing popular books that question the sense and reality of religions.  To begin, Wikipedia has a long list of atheistic authors.  I was surprised at some names and the length of that slate.  Surely irreverent, but atheist can be hyphenated:  at-heist.

I'm not really an atheist, although I lean in that direction, and published a chapter in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity on the Golden Evolution.  Here is my take on the future of religion.

Before I wrote that above chapter I began reading a number of books treating the subject, as for example, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the World's Religion.  Why?  I knew nothing about the subject.

Mind you, I grew up a block from a Christian church, and that was a good part of my social life.  My parents were Buddhists, but they were not particularly influential in my choice of religion.  I actually spent a year taking classes on Catechism, and through college belonged to the Nisei Methodist Church, while being mostly a Presbyterian in Mem Chu at Stanford.  Mem Chu is how we referred to Memorial Church, as Hoo Tow for Hoover Tower.

However, I remember as a child (8??) asking a Buddhist priest how many people he knew attained Nirvana.  The best he could do was Buddha.  At that point, my attitude shifted from blind acceptance to inquiry, which is my current state of mind.

Going back to my early religious reading list mentioned above, I found the popular Conversations with God (Books 1-3) particularly annoying, and with ease, could have made those books up myself.  Neale Donald Walsch has had a checkered career and  was actually accused of plagiarism just about the time Simple Solutions for Humanity was being published.  I read two out of three of them only because people gave me copies.

The Physics of Immortality by Frank Tipler seemed particular promising, for he had actual equations for proving the existence of immortality.  He scientifically proved there is a God.  I reached page 5 and gave up.  Most of you would, too.

He also wrote The Physics of Christianity, which of course I did not buy.  Skeptical Inquirer said:

The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler, a mathematical physicist at Tulane University, is a sequel to The Physics of Immortality, a bestseller in Germany before it was published here in 1994 by Doubleday. In that book, Tipler argued that anyone who understands modern physics will be compelled to believe that at a far-off future date, which Tipler calls the Omega Point (borrowing the term from the Jesuit paleontologist Tielhard de Chardin), God will resurrect every person who lived, as well as every person who could have lived! Our brains will be preserved as computer simulations and given new spiritual bodies to live happily forever in the paradise described in the New Testament.

The End of Faith by Sam Harris was particularly influential.  Harris was a Stanford undergrad when he got so interested in spiritual insights without the use of drugs, that when a sophomore, he left school to study meditation in India and Nepal.

He returned to earn a B.S. in Philosophy in 2000, wrote this book immediately after 9/11/2001, and went on to gain a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA.  To quote him on his point that religion contains bad ideas:  one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised.

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett was academic and thoughtful.  Said the National Center for Science Education:

In this sizeable book, Dennett, a philosopher already famous for his earlier work Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), undertakes to convince his readers that religious beliefs have no empirical foundation and hence should be abandoned to prevent religious fanatics from destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust. In developing his argument Dennett relies on two sources: Charles Darwin's theory of organic evolution by natural and sexual selection and Richard Dawkins's theory of cultural evolution by the copying and competition of "memes" (ideas, rhymes, behavior patterns, and so on) which lodge themselves in the brain and compete for survival in human societies. Religious memes — gods, spirits, and so on — have no reality except as memes because their extra-human existence cannot be proved scientifically by observation and experiment.

Which leads me to my hero in this field, Richard Dawkins.  His The God Delusion is the one book anyone interested in this field, or not, should read.  Richard, as I called him when we had a small chat in  Honolulu in 2007, is my favorite writer on the subject of religion. I revere him, mainly, I think, for his courage. I honor him later with a special section. Professor Dawkins very clearly argues that there is no God. I changed the tenor of this chapter after our talk.

There are, literally, hundreds of books I could have cited.  I'm ending with two.  The first, released at the time I was writing my religion chapter for SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, and a second, just published last year.  The consensus Atheist Horsemen are Dawkins, Harris, Dennet and Christopher Hitchens.  

God is not Great, was written by Hitchens.  To quote myself:

A noted British journalist, who is a visiting professor in the U.S., provides an angry and vitriolic treatment of religion, maybe even sensational. He already indicts religion with his subtitle: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The key point to this book is that I recognized the above after reading only a few pages.  I kept it in my car and/or golf bag, and  finally, more than a decade after purchase, I finished reading it last week.

Conversely, The Greatest Story Ever Told...So Far, by Lawrence Krauss, was made available just about a year ago.  I got an e-copy before it was actually released.  Just yesterday, I finished the book.  Krauss has already been recognized as a player in this field.  He is a noted theoretical physicist and cosmologist.

He has a monthly column in Scientific American, and is on their board of advisors.  So is Richard Dawkins.  However, to suggest that this publication is atheistic is to believe that science is anti-religion...which could well be so.

Most of you will recognize the "new" atheists.  Next Sunday, I'll delve further into God is Not Great.


Saturday, March 17, 2018


After completing my posting yesterday (scroll down to the next article), it occurred to me last night that the Blue Whale might not be the largest living thing ever on Planet Earth.  What about plants?

Surely enough, the largest organism was the Lindsey Creek California Redwood (left) at over 7.26 million pounds, 18 times heavier than the Blue Whale.  Unfortunately it was uprooted during a storm in 1905.  

The largest living tree today, half the size of that redwood, is the General Sherman (right), a giant sequoia growing in Tulare County, California.  It was named by a naturalist, James Wolverton, who served under General William Tecumseh Sherman.  The larger Crannel Creek Giant, another sequoia near Trinidad, California, might have been 25% larger, but was cut down in the mid-1940's.

However, there is the controversial reality of colonies, where it has been suggested that a honey fungus, 2.4 miles across, is the largest living organism, growing mostly underground in the Blue Mountains of Oregon.  It is edible and could well be 8,650 years old.  This mushroom colony could weigh as much as 70 million pounds, about ten times the heaviest tree.

Which led me to explore for the oldest organism:
  • Creme Puff, a cat, lived in Texas until the age of 38.
  • Jeanne Louise Calment of France passed away in 1997 at the age of 122.
  • Hanako, a Japanese Koi was 226 when she passed away in 1977.
  • But back to a tree, this one a Quaking Aspen in Utah, Pando is a clonal colony (not unlike that honey fungus), said to be 80,000 years old.
  • Then we have Posidonia oceanica in the Mediterranean Sea maybe 200,000 years old.
You would think microorganisms have short lives.  They generally do, but bacteria have been revived from:  
The clue to checking our aging genes will probably come from animals that don't grow old.  Hydra, a microscopic freshwater animal, has constant mortality, and is known to live 1,400 years.  But do they ever die if not subjected to disease or hazardous conditions?

But there can be more, for there are species that can reverse aging.  Jellyfish, like the Turritopsis nutricula, can turn adult cells back into stem cells, effectively getting younger.

My intent was next to explore the smallest...but that will be for another day.


Friday, March 16, 2018


Is there anything worthy north of Perth, Australia?  I've been there, and there was nothing.  Until now.

Let's say you're 68-year old Sue Elcock, all of 5'1" tall, on holiday from the UK.  You go fishing on a boat near the town of Lancelin with your son Simon.  Sue got a nibble and had to get some help to actually land the fish, for it took 40 minutes of reeling.  Said Sue, when she first saw the was the size of a sofa.  Her previous largest catch was a snapper about a foot long.  Her shock was a giant bass grouper two inches taller than her.

As groupers go, there are all kinds.  Sue's weighed in at 130 pounds.  Here to the left is a  436 pound Warsaw grouper caught off Destin, Florida in 1985.

If you go fishing on a party boat, the average grouper size caught is usually something like three pounds.  The largest on record to the right is a 680 pound Goliath Grouper, in 1961 known as a Jewfish, also off Florida.  However, only five years ago, another one was caught near the Nansha Islands (China), and weighed in at 683 pounds:

What is the biggest fish caught by an angler?  Here are five of them worthy of your perusal, with the largest being a great white shark "only" a bit over 2600 pounds.  However, on searching further, a 7,100 pound great white was harpooned off Cuba in 1945:
The largest fish is the Whale Shark, with a known weight of 43,000 pounds.  I once had a project in Taiwan to determine if this fish could someday replace cattle for protein.  I took this photo at the Osaka Aquarium:

But, you say, surely a Tyrannosaurus Rex must have been larger.  Nope, smaller, only up to 31,000 pounds.  The largest dinosaur, the Titanosaur Argentinosaurus Huinculensis, was about 213,000 pounds, but that was a reptile, not a fish.  The largest living creature ever on Planet Earth is probably still somewhere in the ocean.  The Blue Whale weighs up to 400,000 pounds.  But this is a whale, a mammal, not a fish.

Also in the ocean, way back 265 million years ago, there was the Leedsichthys problematicusprobably bigger than a Whale Shark,  but the 90-foot length seems like an exaggeration.  There was the Megaladon, a shark, or fish, which only went extinct a couple of milion years ago, and was estimated to weigh 200,000 pounds, but this, too, is controversial.  Anyway, did you know that the Blue Whale is the largest living creature ever on Planet Earth?


Thursday, March 15, 2018

DONALD TRUMP: Hanging On at the Crest

I left you two days ago with President Donald Trump hanging on to a tree at the crest of a waterfall. Would he do a swan dive and fire himself with grandeur, or continue to hang in there with his apprentices?

Secretary of State Tillotsen is now mostly gone and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster should be next, but FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe could well be fired before this weekend when he was planning to retire to retain his pension.  He was supposedly pro-Clinton, which in itself is amazing that he is still there, but letting him go for that reason would be too mean, but expected. 

Donald Trump's personal aide and body "guard", John McEntee, was abruptly fired because the Department of Homeland Security is investigating him for SERIOUS financial crimes.  So what does Trump do?  McEntee will fill a SENIOR operational position on Trump's re-election campaign.  Serious financial crimes?  

Two days ago I left you at the stage where the House Intelligence Committee ended their investigation because there was no evidence of Trump collusion with Russia.  You got to be kidding said the Democrats on that committee, and mere hours later submitted a rebuttle, which you can read here.

Then there was Florida having the gall to pass gun control legislation, forcing the NRA to sue the state for violating the constitutional rights of 18 to 21 years olds.  It was exactly a month ago when 17 were killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Yesterday, students across the country, even Hawaii, spent 17 minutes on walkouts to spur action on gun control.  Why is this important?  They will all vote by 2020.  But, more importantly, as soon as this November, when you add their parents, friends and sympathizers, every marginal Republican will be in serious trouble.

About the imminent termination of Donald Trump's leadership as symbolized by that waterfall, the German Parliament just named Angela Merkel to her historic fourth term as Chancellor for most of the rest of her life.  Chancellor is equivalent to Prime Minister, as in the UK.  First, she was/is the first female C/PM, which began with Otto von Bismarck in 1867, but really goes back to the Holy Roman Empire.  There was a temporary adjustment for Adolf Hitler  in 1934 when he became der Fuhrer.  

For the record, Germany also has a president, and while this individual appoints the chancellor, there is no real power.  His name is Frank-Walter Steinmeier.  Merkel is now set to rule for 16 straight years, which would equal that of her mentor, Helmut Kohl.  There is no limit to the number of terms.

Which leads me to the hoo-ha about China's National People's Congress amending their constitution to remove the previous limit of two consecutive five-year terms for the presidency.  Xi Jinping is now China's President for Life.  

But don't expect him to necessarily remain in that position for more than 15 years.  This move was mostly to remove Xi's lame duck second five-year leadership, which begins this month.  Most assuredly, Donald Trump and the Republican Congress have something to ponder over, but I wonder how the American people would react to a Trump-for-life-Presidency.

Don't wonder too long, for his support of Roy Moore for the Senate seat from Alabama, mussed up his hair, and Democrat Conor Lamb (right) victory over Republican Rick Saccone for a House seat from Pennsylvania will accelerate the process toward baldness.  Even if Lamb lost in a close race, that enough would have been sufficient for Democrats, for Donald Trump blitzed Hillary Clinton by a victory margin of 20% in this district.  This was such a hopeless seat that Democrats did not even run during the two previous cycles.  Saccone has not conceded:
Incidentally, Roy Moore also never did concede, with Doug Jones being sworn in on January 2 as the first Democratic Senator from Alabama in 25 years.

Wait a minute, doesn't that hair-do below look familiar?  What happened to the body?


Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Ah, sorry, no more.  That was in 2014 when Warren Buffet offered $1 billion to anyone who predicted a perfect March Madness.  In the 21-year history of the ESPN bracket challenge, no one has gotten close.  The odds are somewhere between one to nine quintillion to about one to two billion.  

Now, only his employees (there are 377,00 or so) are eligible for the $2 million/year for the rest of your life to only predict the Sweet 16 teams, with Creighton being one of them.  No Creighton, only $1 million/year forever.  The University of Nebraska would have been okay, too, but they missed the Mad-64.  Both, and Berkshire Hathaway, are from the state of Nebraska.  

Incidentally, the cost of one BH  share?
  • 1980   less than $300
  • 1990               $7,000
  • 2000             $50,000
  • current        $310,000
In other words, if you had invested $300 in 1980, this share would today be worth $310,000.  Sure, $300 38 years ago has a 2018 value of about $1000, but that still means that this stock is worth 310 times more now compared to 1980.  Buffet this currently is the Forbes' third richest billionaire, to Jeff Bezos at #1 and Bill Gates at #2.

Back to the brackets, the chance of lucking out on Buffet's Sweet Sixteen is about one in a million, so he will pay off $100,000 to an employee who stays intact the longest.  Last year Dwayne Johnson predicted 31 of 32, and got the award.  Nope, that was not the Rock.  When he found out, the West Virginian Johnson checked his pulse a dozen times, worried about a stroke.  His eldest son asked for $40 and got a hundred.

Owning a share of BH stock doesn't mean you can participate.  However, like others, we can play on ESPN for free.  Put together up to 25 different brackets.  The value of the Grand Prize is a trip to Hawaii, just under $20,000, basically a vacation for two to the Maui Jim NCAA Basketball Invitational, especially valuable if you follow Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier, teams coming to Maui this Fall.

THE DEADLINE IS THURSDAY, MARCH 15, AT NOON EST, or 7AM if you live in Hawaii.  I have completed three brackets.  Last year there were 18.8 million entries, with the average participant filing 2 or 3 brackets.  Eighteen last year actually picked the Sweet 16, at odds of one in a million.  According to ESPN, there is a one in 10 quadrillion chance of guessing a perfect bracket.  However, untlike the BH game, if you get this far, you still might not win anything.  Even the person who does the best will not necessarily be the winner.  The top 1% of entrants (that would be around 200,000 of you), will be be placed in a pool for that one Maui award.  Winning or not, what participating in this competition will do, certainly, will be to make every game you watch meaningful, for you will have a dog in every fight, a favorite in every game.