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Customize Your Kindle Screensaver August 6, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Popular Culture.

I read an article online about six weeks ago, in which the author said she had updated her Kindle screensaver so that it used only one image, which contained her name and her e-mail address. That way, if she accidentally left her Kindle somewhere, she had a better chance of getting it back than simply trusting whomever found it to do the whole “Home – Menu – Settings – Next Page” routine.

I thought, except for the only-one-image part, what a terrific idea!

When I wrote an e-mail to Amazon about updating the screensaver images on my Kindle, the form-letter reply was that this was impossible; I simply had to content myself with the 23 images that had been supplied.

But as the Cyberman said to Miss Hartigan, “This statement has been designated ‘a lie.’ ” In fact, it’s easy to “jailbreak” your Kindle. I now have more than a hundred screensaver images on my Kindle, including several each of my husband, my cats, and even myself. Each of these images contains my name and telephone number — and that was by far more difficult and time-consuming than jailbreaking my Kindle. (The image you see here is one of my favorite photos of my husband.)

Your first step will be to begin your collection of screensaver images. This will be thousands of times more time-consuming than jailbreaking your Kindle — so it’s lucky it’s also fun. Also luckily, you only have to jailbreak your Kindle once; after that, uploading additional images is simple. And don’t worry; according to Amazon customer service, updating your screensaver images does NOT void your warranty.

The Jailbreak

(1) First, be sure what Kindle you’re hacking. Your serial number ought to appear on the back of your Kindle; if not, do “Menu – Settings – Next Page” and look under “Device Info.” This chart of serial numbers will help:

B002 – Kindle US Wireless
B003 – Kindle Global Wireless
B004 – Kindle DX US Wireless
B005 – Kindle DX Global Wireless
B009 – Kindle DX Graphite
B006 – Kindle 3 3G US
B008 – Kindle 3 Wi-Fi
B00A – Kindle 3 3G UK/Europe

Next, you’ll need to download a recent copy of the ZIP file that contains all necessary hacks. I got mine from Kindle Boards; this link is to the Mobileread community’s version.

(2) Download this file, which will be named something similar to “kindle-jailbreak-0.4.N.zip.” Its contents will look similar to this:

Unzip this file.

(3) Connect your Kindle to your computer with its USB cable. Copy the (one) appropriate update file to your Kindle’s root (top) directory; for example, “update_screen_saver_0.4.N_k3g_install.bin.”

(4) When the correct file has been copied, detach your Kindle from the USB cable. Press “Home – Menu,” scroll down to and choose “Settings,” and press “Menu” again. If “Update Your Kindle” is grayed out, your Kindle has already been hacked and you can skip to uploading your own images (step 7). Otherwise, press “Update Your Kindle” and “OK.” I read online that this step can take a few minutes, but for my own Kindle, it took about 30 seconds.

Earlier Kindle versions may try to scare you by saying “FAILURE.” Don’t worry; you haven’t failed.

(5) Reconnect your Kindle to your computer via the USB cable. Open two computer directories, one for the subdirectory in which you have amassed your own images, one for the Kindle.

Now comes a step you’ll only have to take when uploading images. Press the “help” button on one of your two directories. Search for “show hidden,” then select “Click to show folder options.” Click on “View.” Early in “Advanced settings,” choose “Show hidden files, folders, and drives.” Your computer may try to dissuade you from doing this; if so, insist. You’re not going to be monkeying around with anything you shouldn’t.

(6) Now that you’re able to see hidden files, have a look at your Kindle’s root directory. It will look something like this:

If you don’t see the directory “system,” you may have used the wrong BIN update for your hack. Assuming you can see it, double-click first on “system,” then on “screen_saver.” And voila! There will be the 23 images that came with your Kindle.

(7) I downloaded all the original Kindle screensaver images onto my computer before I erased them from my Kindle. Your preference may vary. (Okay, there were one or two images I was so sick of looking at I just deleted them.)

Next, I copied all of my screensaver images to my Kindle’s “screen_saver” subdirectory.

Note: Your Kindle steps through your images in alphanumeric order. If you have a lot of images with similar names, such as “Cats 1” through “Cats 10,” and you don’t want them to clump in the rotation, this is the time for you to look at the “screen_saver” subdirectory using “Large Icons,” and change the names to disperse your images in a way that is more to your liking. For example, my screensaver has such images as “A-Jerry as baby,” “G-Jerry as boy,” and “V-Jerry in 2004,” not to mention “A-Escher 1,” “E-Escher 2,” and “X-Escher 5.” (All of my screensavers are in the PNG format, so the actual name would be, e.g., “X-Escher 5.png”. Kindles will also read JPG files.)

(8) Almost done! Detach your Kindle from its USB cable. Press “Home” and “Menu,” scroll down to and choose “Settings,” then “Menu” again, and scroll down to “Restart.” This will take a minute or two, but after that, your next step is: enjoy! On your computer, reverse the “show hidden” process — unless you enjoy wondering why your computer has so many “thumbs.db” files.

When you accumulate more screensaver images, simply connect your Kindle to your computer; open the subdirectory in which you keep your images; open your Kindle’s root directory; do “show hidden”; go to “F:>Kindle/system/screen_saver”; copy your images to “screen_saver”; restart your Kindle.

A housekeeping note: the subdirectory in which I keep my Kindle images has a subdirectory of its own, “Used,” to help me distinguish to-be-uploaded from already-uploaded.

Your Own Images

To make your own screensaver images, you need your own graphics editing program, such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. If you don’t want to spend any money, the program “Gimp” is good. (Gimp.com)

Create a subdirectory just for your Kindle images, then copy the images you want to use to that subdirectory. You don’t want anything bad happening accidentally to your precious originals.

Each of your Kindle screensaver images should be 600 pixels wide and 800 pixels tall, or 824 by 1200 for the Kindle DX. Ideally, they will be nice, vertical images to begin with, but you’re probably going to have to crop them. For example:

When your image is more or less the shape you want it, use your program’s “resize” function to resize it along the appropriate side. For example, if your original image is 300 pixels by 500 pixels, resize it to be 480 pixels by 800 pixels, rather than 600 pixels by 1000 pixels.

When the image is the right length on one side, use your program’s “add borders” function to bring the short side to the correct length/width. In the example above, I would add 60 pixels to the right and left margins so as to transform a width of 480 pixels to 600 pixels. While not strictly necessary, this will provide you with space to add your name and contact information.

You can also “add borders” to all four sides, as with the image of “Stephen Colber(t)” you see here. (I doubt this is the true appearance of the comedian Steve Colbert!) Notice that I left lots of space at the bottom of this image for you to add “This Kindle belongs to / Yourname / your contact information.”

Remember to save your image as 8-bit grayscale. Even if your Kindle displays color, grayscale saves space.

If you agree with me that having each image identify you and provide a contact, this is the time to do it. Lots of web surfing has left me with hundreds of type faces to choose among — and I rather like the images that let me use white letters on a dark background.

I’ve been having so much fun that I created a Flickr account so I could share my “public” screensaver images. Feel free to browse and download. Most of them are images I found online, but some of them I created myself. You’ve seen some of my favorites through this post.

Harriet Bruce Matthews Metcalf, 1928-2012 June 28, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Personal anecdotes.

My father’s younger sister died a few days ago. Ever since, I’ve been haunted by the realization that as the oldest “child” of my generation, I’m the only Matthews left who remembers Harriet well. To my brothers and cousins: she deserves more.

* * *

In her youth, Harriet was the classic middle child, a plain Jane born almost equidistant between a tall, handsome, brilliant older brother and a shorter, even more handsome, even more brilliant younger brother. Her mother had a strong personality, which (according to my mother) led to conflicts, invariably won by Grr. Her father died in the summer of 1949, when Harriet was 20 years old and had just completed her freshman year in college.

This photo was taken around 1937, when Tommy would have been six years old, Hatty would have been eight, and Sam would have been 11.

Like her mother before her (and me in her footsteps), Harriet attended Smith College, one of the Seven Sisters colleges founded in the 19th century to serve high-achieving female intellectuals. Like her mother before her (and me in her footsteps), Harriet lived in Tyler House, one of the oldest residences on campus. It was a first-class education in a beautiful and stimulating environment.

In the early 1950s Harriet achieved a master’s degree in library science, but her family never valued this evidence of intellectual attainment as it ought to have been valued, at least in my presence. My father and his brother were the stars of the family; my grand­mother was the matriarch who always reminded me of Margaret Dumont; and Aunt Hatty, or Hats, was at best one of the “secondary leads” to the family sitcom — the kind of character whose name is shown in the credits “above the line,” but who does not necessarily appear in every episode.

(As her niece, I automatically called her “Aunt Hatty” or “Hats” until the end of 2011, when it was made clear to me that today, I am the only person alive who even remembers those old nick­names. . . .)

In the middle 1950s, Harriet married a quiet, unassuming man named Ned Pearce. My mother always told me that, present at the wedding as a toddler, I stood on one of the pews and delightedly told the other guests, “I have new lellow panties on . . . SEE?”

Uncle Ned looked like a cross between the actor Wally Cox and a skinnier version of the comedian Louie Anderson. After about 1960 or so, he stopped coming to family events, and I never saw him again; but before that, I remember a man who was offhandedly kind to us children without seeming to have the slightest empathy with us, and very little interest. Ned did something important-sounding (to me as a child) at the Boston Museum of Science, while (if I remember correctly) Harriet worked in a bookstore. They lived in an apartment, which I thought was urbane and glamorous, but I primarily remember the two cats. Harriet was only rarely without two or three cats in her life.

Our family used to vacation in a small town on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, and the last summer that Ned came, he brought a Resuss Annie with him and taught the whole family the brand-new technique now called CPR. (Nine years later, when Captain Kirk used the outmoded technique for artificial resuscitation in 2268 in “The Paradise Syndrome,” I was scornful about the intelligence of scriptwriter Eric W. Weisstein!)

1959 photo of the Matthews family

In this photo from 1959, taken by my father, Sam, my mother is in the center of the group, holding my months-old sister, Katy, in her arms. Harriet’s face is partially hidden by Katy’s head, while Tommy’s face is mostly obscured by Katy’s shadow. At far right is Tommy’s wife, my aunt Joan, while Uncle Ned is at far left. The boy on the trike is my brother Tom, the other boy is Dave, and I’m the child in the nurse’s uniform, standing in front of my grandmother. Grr’s poodle Orly was named after the Paris airport.

In 1969, flush with her inheritance after my grandmother’s death, Harriet decided to do a Grand Tour of Europe, and took me with her. An introverted 16-year-old at the time, I considered myself to be just as much of a plain Jane as my aunt, and thus a fitting companion. It never occurred to me to wonder why Harriet preferred my company over that of her husband — or, if it did, I must have concluded that one doesn’t look a gift opportunity to see England, France, Switz­er­land, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in the mouth. It was a wonderful Grand Tour, beginning with the maiden voyage of the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II . . . but possibly my most vivid memory was being halfway across the Atlantic on July 20, 1969. (First whiskey sour, in celebration, even though I was only 16. First hangover.)

I was a terrible companion. I got bored with the fjords after only a few hours and read a book. I was polite about Omaha Beach, which I had never heard of. The chateaux of France interested me far less than seeing whether I could flirt with French boys in their own language. I would have gotten infinitely more out of the whole experience if I had done even a token amount of homework in preparation. Harriet, who never had children of her own, at age 40 spent roughly a month with an ungrateful 16-year-old child and never, to my memory, allowed an ungenerous word to pass her lips.

Harriet’s first marriage was officially dissolved a year or two later, while I was in college. Decades later, I learned a sad fact that may explain why: Uncle Ned died of AIDS in the early 1990s. My mother had never trusted Uncle Ned as she trusted Uncle Tom, Daddy’s brother — but Ned was never anything other than kind to me.

Harriet lived in Nevada while she was obtaining her divorce; then she moved to a suburb of Denver, Colorado, where she met her second husband, Earle Metcalf. I was the maid of honor at Harriet’s second wedding . . . and made no public announcements about what underwear I had on, this time!

In July 2006, Earle was 87 years old, and had been married to Harriet for almost exactly 32 years.

Earle, ten years older than Harriet, came to her “used”; I’m under the impression he was a widower. They were married from August 8, 1974 until Earle’s death on May 16, 2011, three months after he turned 92. Like Harriet, Earle was a deeply devout Presbyterian. When he married Harriet he instantly became considerably more popular with the family than Ned had been; but he was not a quick-witted man, and as a girl I often wondered what had attracted Harriet to him.

I remember in the early 1990s, however, having Harriet tell me that she had been married to Ned for 17 years, and she had just surpassed that mark, having been married to Earle for 18 years and counting.

I said to Harriet, “I’ll bet when you realized that fact, you thought to yourself, Ha ha, I’m happy now.”

There was a long pause. I conjectured to myself, Harriet is a fine Christian lady. She’s thinking right now, what is the best answer? Would it be unkind to Ned’s memory for me to agree? At the end of the long pause, Harriet said quietly, “Well . . . yes.”

In 2005, Earle and Harriet made their annual pilgrimage to Sanibel Island.
My husband, in the foreground, came to his senses about the ponytail
soon after he saw this photo

* * *

Harriet’s greatest and truest love, however, was neither Earle nor even Presbyterianism; it was Sanibel Island. Harriet’s grandparents were among the first settlers of the island after the Lighthouse was built in 1884, and the island is still crawling with my cousins — those who can still afford it, now that it’s a popular tourism destination. Unlike Harriet’s first cousins John Matthews Bailey, Francis Matthews Bailey, and Samuel Matthews Bailey, Harriet was never a permanent resident on Sanibel; but this was not even a speed bump in Harriet’s making the island peculiarly her own.

Until 1963, one could reach the island only by ferry. Although Sanibel’s seashells quickly made the island popular with vacationers, collectors, and conchologists, when Harriet came to know and love it, it was a tiny, quiet community of stunning natural beauty. (Even today, there are only about six thousand year-round residents, although Sanibel is approximately 50 percent larger than Manhattan.)

This photo of Annie Fellows Johnston was taken by Harriet’s great-aunt Kate Matthews.

In 1895, my great-grandparents, Will and Harriet “Hallie” Matthews, moved to Sanibel from Peewee Valley, Kentucky, a tiny town whose main claim to fame is being the setting for Annie Fellows Johnston’s semi-biographical “Little Colonel” series of children’s books. In what is almost certainly a coincidence, the real-life girl on whom the Little Colonel was based was named Harriet “Hatty” Cochran.

The federal Homestead Act had just expired, but the state of Florida was offering land on Sanibel free for three years to settlers who promised to farm it. While Will tried his hand at farming, not very successfully, Hallie became popular with her neighbors as a cook. Hallie was soon persuaded first to start her own home restaurant (which for the rest of her life was a roaring success) and then to take paying guests into her home, and “The Matthews” quickly became a popular vacation getaway, even though it lacked such frills as running water and indoor plumbing. (When guests asked about bathtubs, Granny would gesture at the Gulf of Mexico and say, “There is the most beautiful bathtub in the world.”)

In 1914, Hallie and Will — no longer farmer but innkeeper — added a 30-bedroom building to their property, called The Barracks, and a pier that was destroyed by the hurricane of 1926 and never rebuilt. They also built a small private home for themselves, the Matthews Cottage, that is still there and still available to well-heeled guests. (In the 1960s, my family spent one Christmas in the Matthews Cottage!)

Harriet may have loved her childhood home in Lewistown, Pennsylvania; she may have loved Northampton, Massachusetts, Boston, Denver, and New Bern, North Carolina. But Sanibel Island, Florida was her “belonging place,” the one place on Earth where she was deeply happy. Possibly her most prized possession was her one share of stock in the Island Inn — the still-thriving business that a hundred years ago was simply her Granny’s “Matthews Hotel.”

* * *

She was gentle and humble, faithful and kind, generous and gracious. She had a strong sense of family and an even stronger sense of duty. She worked as a librarian well into her late 70s, not because she needed to but because that was her profession.

She was scrupulously clean and tidy. The New Bern home she shared with Earle until both grew too sick and too old was beautiful and serene. She was better at driving their car than Earle was, which is to say that I was never too frightened to drive with Harriet. (But I was almost too frightened!) She was more intelligent than she would ever have admitted, especially after she married Earle. She never forgot a birthday, or any other important milestone, although in the last few years of her life she was too absorbed by Earle’s declining health to spare much energy for anything else.

Her entire life, Harriet was a genius at gift-giving, always coming up with the odd book or trinket that you had never known was perfect perfect perfect until she gave it to you. I still have every book she ever gave me. I still have the SLR she gave me on my graduation from Smith. I still have an ancient arrowhead that Hatty gave to my father some time around 1970. The documentation is long lost, and I no longer remember even how ancient the arrowhead is or where it was found, though I’m under the impression it’s Roman or older. I think it might be made of bronze.

I’ve spent the last three days thinking about why this arrowhead speaks Harriet’s name so strongly to me, and I still don’t think I have a good answer. I suppose it’s that she was beautiful and valuable, valuable for The Ages, while simultaneously she humbly preferred to be overlooked, forgotten, dismissed as an undistinguished relic of a forgotten era. . . .

Star Trek, Space Travel, and the Cloud May 20, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Popular Culture, Science Fiction, Space Travel, Star Trek, Uncategorized.
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Every week, the Memorable Entertainment channel (MeTV) runs a Saturday night episode of the original Star Trek, which I record and watch while I read the Sunday morning paper. Today’s rerun was “The Changeling.” An ancient (i.e., 21st-century) space probe from Earth, the Nomad, collides with an alien space probe called Tan-Ru. The two damaged machines managed to magically repair themselves and merge into a new, hyperintelligent machine that considers its mission to be to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to destroy these “biological infestations.” This episode was recycled for the first Star Trek movie, and Nomad became V’ger.

What always interests me in watching ancient science fiction is the contrast between today’s world and what the mid-20th century thought today’s world and the farther future would be like. In many ways, we haven’t made anywhere near the progress they thought we’d make in the 1960s. For example, genetic superman Khan Noonian Singh did not lead a crowd of genetic superpeople to power in the 1980s, leading to the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s, leading to the space-exile of the U.S.S. Botany Bay in the late 1990s. We didn’t even map the gene code until a few years ago, and genetic superhumans won’t be a 1950s emergence, but more like 2050s — assuming no one raises the obvious ethical questions.

On the other hand, at a pivotal moment in the episode (more on this later), Nomad zaps Scotty with a super-taser bolt and kills him, and no one on the bridge, especially Dr. McCoy, thinks of doing CPR — largely because the scriptwriter didn’t know that CPR had been invented. (In the 1968 episode where Kirk gets amnesia, joins a tribe of Native Americans, and saves the life of a drowned child, Kirk uses a version of artificial respiration that was taught to countless Boy Scouts until the late 1950s. CPR was invented in 1960, but obviously had not yet made its way to 1967-68 Los Angeles.)

And yet, computing and the Internet are ridiculously farther advanced than Star Trek thought they’d be in the 23rd century. In deep space, Nomad opens fire on the Enterprise. Kirk returns fire, then ceases fire and orders that the enemy be hailed. Nomad inexpicably also ceases fire, and uses the hail to magically teach itself 23th-century English, including plausible intonation and inflection. (Nothing like, “I aim gnome-AD,” for example.)

The Enterprise beams Nomad aboard, then inexplicably leaves Nomad virtually unattended. Nomad finds its way to the bridge. The device is attracted by Uhura’s singing but unsatisfied by her explanation. The machine’s response is to download the contents of Uhura’s cerebral cortex, which for some unknown reason entails wiping her “hard drive” of all data. (But don’t worry! It takes only a week to reeducate her the old-fashioned way to college level, or roughly ten days before she can return to duty.)

Alarmed by what Nomad is doing to Uhura, Scotty attempts to rescue her, and Nomad kills him with a super-taser zap. Nomad offers to “repair” Scotty, and our heroes accept the offer.

KIRK: All right, Nomad. Repair the [Scotty] unit.

NOMAD: I require tapes on the [Scotty] structure.

MCCOY: Well, [Nomad]’ll need tapes on general anatomy, the central nervous system, and then one on the physiological structure of the brain. We’d better give it all the neurological studies we have, as well as tracings of Scotty’s hyperencephalogram.

(Spock loads up the data.)
SPOCK: Nomad, I have arranged the tapes for flash feed at the top speed of the computer. Please do not draw the information faster than the machine’s capacity.

Yes, dear reader: do not download files from the Internet too fast, for fear of crashing it.

Meanwhile, for the last several minutes of “The Changeling,” I as a viewer, watching while reading the op-eds, am thinking, “For goodness sakes, don’t let Nomad jack into the ship’s Intranet!”

This distracted me from the silliness of 1967 to thinking about the future of space travel. I can no longer get along without the Cloud in my life. I have many gigs’ worth of files stored in Dropbox, so I never again have to worry about losing files that are important to me. There’s a search engine called Goodsearch that offers to pay the charity of your choice one penny per search, and I have given my charity several hundred dollars. (I use Goodsearch even when I know exactly where I want to go; a typical Goodsearch might be something like “imdb star trek changeling plot synopsis.”) Research, reading, shopping, online communities like Twitter and Facebook: I’ve grown to positively need the Cloud.

IF someone invents faster-than-light travel, and IF the Republicans can be persuaded that investing in the future is better than pocketing someone else’s money in the present (ha!), and IF we resurrect a space program worthy of the name — all of which I sincerely doubt could ever come to pass — the first explorers would carry with them a supply of “space buoys” so that they would never lose touch with the Cloud. Star Trek called these buoys “relay stations,” but they appear to have been only used for “subspace radio.” I would use it to connect the neighborhood to the Cloud, so that I as a spacefarer would never be too far from my Dropbox collection of family photos from my childhood, my PDFs, my love letters, whatever, whether I was orbiting Proxima Centauri, Tau Ceti 4, or Vulcan.

After FTL travel, the second-most-important invention would have to be “subspace radio,” because if the information in the Cloud were limited to the speed of light, Skyping Mom from Alpha Centauri would mean a time lag of about ten years from your saying “Hi, Mom” to you hearing her say, “Hello, kiddo.” If I want to download a book from Project Gutenberg to pass the lonely hours in deep space, I really don’t want to waste 10 years, or 200, between the time I click on the request to the time the download is complete.

But here’s the thing: physicists have discovered something called quantum entanglement, in which information passes between paired photons not just faster than light, but instantaneously. (If you’re interested, this 2008 article from Nature, the weekly science journal, summarizes what we know.) Quantum entanglement, in turn, suggests that Alfred Bester got it right in The Stars My Destination. This 1956 novel suggests that to teleport yourself faster than light, all you have to do is (a) know where you are and (b) visualize a location you have been to before and want to return to now. The only absolute rule is that no one can “jaunte” through outer space — until the book’s hero invents a way to jaunt both through outer space and through time. Says Wikipedia,

At this point he realizes the key to space-jaunting. It is faith: not the certainty of an answer, but the conviction that somewhere an answer exists. He then jauntes from one nearby star to another. In the course of his star-hopping, Foyle locates the answer for the future: new worlds suitable for colonization reachable only if he can share the gift of space-jaunting. Finally he comes to rest in the locker on Nomad, where he spent his time before being reborn the first time. The Scientific People now see him as a holy man, and take up vigil to await his revelation.

Quantum entanglement proves to us that the impossible distances of outer space are a chimera; not faster-than-light but instantaneous travel is theoretically possible. If we can figure out how photons do it, we can figure out how to do it with atoms, molecules, and eventually vast collections of molecules. We will be able to jaunte. Imagine the possibilities!

“Brain Wars” and Heresy May 3, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Popular Culture, Random Observations, Religion & Theology.

I just finished reading a fascinating new book, Brain Wars, by Mario Beauregard, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the University of Montreal who has studied the distinctions between mind, brain, and consciousness for almost 30 years. Brain Wars is a careful and comprehensive examination of the state of scientific research in all subjects related to the mind and to consciousness (rather than “merely” the brain). To anyone who approaches Beauregard’s topic with an open mind, Brain Wars is enlightening and exciting.

Ah, but that “open mind”! That is something else again. Early in Brain Wars, Dr. Beauregard lists the three unquestioned and therefore unquestionable axioms of modern science:

  • Only matter and energy exist. Science is not only forbidden to consider that anything other than matter and energy exists; it may not consider even the possibility that something more exists. Life, consciousness, sentience, and the human senses of purpose and meaning are all accidents. If a concept cannot be explained through the laws of physics, it does not exist. (Physicalism)
  • Any complex system is nothing more than the sum of its smaller components. Dissection is the only acceptable technique of scientific inquiry. Any scientific inquiry that fails to limit itself to reductio ad infinitum is by definition fraud, crackpot, or fundamentally malignant. When you see words and phrases like “nothing more than,” “merely,” “simply,” “just,” or “little but,” you can see the reductionist mindset at work. (Reductionism)
  • Reality exists independent of the observer, and to hell with Heisenberg and anyone who thinks Heisenberg had a point. Quantum mechanics? Pshaw! Scientists may only consider empirically verifiable facts and may use only the scientific method. (Objectivism)

(Let us refer to these sacred axioms of modern science, Physicalism, Reductionism, and Objectivism, as PRO. Let us remark in passing that without PRO, you would not be reading these words; without PRO, we’d still be stuck in 1600 or so. Which, the glories of the Elizabethan era aside, may not be anyone’s favorite era of cultural development.)

A blogger named P.Z. Myers (a self-avowed “godless liberal” who according to Wikipedia is “widely regarded as a confrontationalist”), read a partial excerpt of one chapter of Brain Wars online and instantly proclaimed the entire book “nonsense,” “tripe,” “baffling piffle,” “unsupportable fantasies,” “very silly,” and “full of woo”; this is only to be expected, said Myers, since an earlier scientific text by Dr. Beauregard is “one of the worst, that is, most incompetently written and idiotically conceived, books I’ve ever read.” (That is one of the worst, that is, most incompetently written and idiotically conceived sentences I’ve read in months!)

In other words: Not having read either the current book or any of the meticulously structured and conducted research that Brain Wars summarizes, cephalopod researcher P.Z. Myers condemned both the book and its author with full-throated loathing. All scientific research of which this priest of PROism disapproves is reduced to nothing more than “feeble anecdotes” based on “flawed reasonings,” “confabulation,” and “confirmation bias.”

Apparently unprepared to receive an online assault made within moments of the publication of his new book, Dr. Beauregard made the mistake of responding to Myers’s attack in kind. His proofs that Myers had assailed the new book without actually reading it, or any of the dozens of research studies it reviews, were fine; his repetition-with-enlargement of his original point, obfuscated by Myers, was acceptable. BUT, Beauregard made the huge mistake of responding to Myers’s ad hominem attacks on Beauregard with similar ad hominem attacks on Myers. (It does not help Beauregard’s cause that English appears to be his second language, or that Beauregard’s feelings appear to have been hurt by Myers’s ad hominem viciousness.)

Responding to flung poop with poop-flinging was a bad mistake. To coin a phrase, “You can’t use Rush to flush Rush.” My advice to authors who receive knee-jerk attacks from jerks with knees: Pretend your attacker is your most fervent admirer. “I am so happy that blogger P.Z. Myers considers me an incompetent idiot,” Beauregard ought to have written. “I am even happier that the committees that confer major international awards in my speciality, such as the Joel F. Lubar Award for distinguished achievement in neurotherapy, all disagree with Dr. Myers. I am sure that Dr. Myers is highly qualified to teach introductory biology to college freshmen in his small town in Minnesota. And he writes a cute little blog, too! If only *I* could squeeze in the time to write a blog! — but my num­ber­less peer-reviewed research studies keep taking up my time. In future years I will look forward to seeing whether Dr. Myers shows himself capable of publishing at my level. His blog, Pharyngula, is certainly full of interesting information on zebrafish and ceph­a­lo­pods, and I know that much of it must be factual.”

Naturally, Myers reacted to Beauregard’s clumsy attempt to give Myers a taste of his own medicine as positive proof that every word Myers has ever published is God’s sacred truth and every word that Beauregard has ever published is “unaware of [the] basic concepts of science.” Myers’s second attack on Brain Wars — which Myers still appears not to have read — is even more savage and even less founded on the scientific rationality that Myers claims to prize.

Beauregard’s second mistake was trying to defend his work for what it is, a comprehensive review of up-to-date scientific research, when P.Z. Myers’s attacks have been on the heresy Beauregard displays toward Myers’s religion.

Yes; I said it; P.Z. Myers is not in fact a “godless liberal.” P.Z. Myers is a high priest of scientific orthodoxy, a Torquemada of Truthiness, a “Joey the Rat” Ratzinger of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith in Orthodox PROism. The real scientists are the real seekers of truth; anyone who even wonders whether a distinction can be made between brain and mind is a heretic. Evil. A “charlatan” with “some very, very strange beliefs.”

Most religious believers appear to consider atheism a belief system comparable to a religion. This is absurd, rather like considering abstinence a form of sexuality, or refraining from drinking alcohol a form of drunkenness.

But consider what happens to a scientist who offends against the religion of “PRO”: attacks on the scientist’s methodology, reasoning, past work, and character. Being informed by the scientific es­tab­lish­ment what research is fit to be pursued and what research “contra­dicts the laws of nature.” Having discoveries suppressed, mocked, dismissed, or explained away. Being accused of sloppiness, fraud, mental illness, incompetence, foolishness, and ideological bias. Being ridiculed. “All too often,” says Rochus Boerner, “scientific truth is determined by the authority of experts and textbooks, not by logic and reason.”

I consider myself a “freelance theologian,” although probably “phil­os­opher of religion” would be more accurate. Although I contribute my time, talent, and treasure to the Christian denomination I joined when I married my Christian husband, and although I follow the real-world teacher of wisdom on whom the myth of Jesus is based, I no longer follow Paul of Tarsus. “Christians” who preach hate, judgment, con­dem­na­tion, and exclusion in the holy name of Jesus would no doubt consider me an atheist.

I mention this not because I consider myself a great big huge expert on God: You know exactly as much about God as I do and as anyone else in the world does, virtually nothing. I mention it because I see the words of religious believers every day of the week, and many times on Sundays. Brain Wars is a comprehensive and impartial review of where modern science stands on issues that True Believers con­sider crackpottery: spiritual belief, hypnotism, mysticism, near-death experiences, telepathy, clairvoyance, etc. The attacks on Brain Wars leveled by P.Z. Myers are religious anathema at its finest: “Die, heretic, die!”

Solely because P.Z. Myers declared The Spiritual Brain to be the “worst,” most incompetent, most idiotic book he had ever read, I rushed right over to Amazon and bought a copy. In hardcover. If the Torquemada of Truthiness hates it that much, the book must be chock-full of insights that scare the priesthood of PRO silly.

The Universe: Is It 13.7 Billion Years Old or 6 Thousand Years Old? April 18, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Popular Culture, Religion & Theology.

There is a class of believers, usually self-proclaimed Christians, who insist that God wrote the Bible, either causing the Bible to pop into existence through a Bronze Age miracle that no one in the Bronze Age noticed; or, if the believer is slightly more sophisticated, guiding the hands of human scribes and “inspiring” them to create a divinely perfect human artifact.

To these believers, their translation of the Bible into English is as perfect and “inerrant” (incapable of mistakes) as God is; but their imputing divine perfection into the Bible does not, they say, mean they think that what is divinely perfect merits worship. Despite their protestations to the contrary, I call this sort of believers bibliolaters — idolaters of the Bible. They don’t worship the 1611 King James translation of the Bible itself (they say); but they do appear to me to worship their image of the Bible as divinely and eternally perfect.

In bibliolaters’ primitive, literal-minded way of looking at the Bible, it becomes important that this ancient collection of sacred writings be as factual as an encyclopedia and as precise as a science textbook. If the Bible says that hares and rabbits chew their cuds like cows, that insects creep on four legs, that stars fall from the sky like meteorites, that pi equals exactly three, and that you can see the entire Earth from the top of a mountain in Galilee, well, that’s the Eternal Truth, and anything you think is a mistake (like those four-legged insects) proves how wrong you are. A collection of documents whose creation began in the Stone Age and was largely completed during the Bronze Age is divinely perfect for all humans in all eras and all locations and all cultures, world without end until the Second Coming, amen. The 1611 King James translation is so perfect that the Bible’s original languages, original audiences, history, cultural milieu, world-view, and evolution may not be studied or even thought about; that’s blasphemy.

Almost four hundred years ago, James Ussher, Roman Catholic archbishop of Armagh (Ireland), published a theory of biblical creation that coincided closely with the ideas of many theologians of the 17th century. Today this pre-Enlightenment theory is taken for granted as fact by fundamentalists, while competing chron­ologies, like those of the Venerable Bede and Joseph Scaliger, have been almost forgotten.

According to Ussher’s chronology, the Universe was created on October 23, 4004 BCE, at 9:00 in the morning. Creationists, pro­po­nents of intelligent design, and the GOP members of the legislature of the state of Tennessee are satisfied that this is fact, and the millions of pieces of evidence of the fact of evolution and thousands of advances of modern technology based on that evidence are divine fakery.

(Evolution is an indisputable fact. It is as indisputable as gravity — another scientific theory. It is Darwin’s theory of natural selection that bibliolaters can’t stand, since natural selection appears to obviate the necessity for a divine Creator to create and sustain the constant flow of change that is easily observable by anyone but a fundamentalist. Nevertheless, for purposes of this discussion I will say “evolution” instead of “Darwin’s theory of natural selection.” It’s the bibliolaters’ word of execration.)

Fundamentalists appear to think that God is stupid, incompetent, malevolent, or all the above. Here is THEIR reasoning:

  • God created the Universe on October 23, 4004 BCE.
  • In the process of creating the Universe, God faked a moun­tain of false evidence of the truth of evolution, including:
    • millions of fossils;
    • zillions of chemical and anatomical similarities of related organisms (e.g., horses and zebras);
    • thousands of fossils of “transitional” organisms (e.g., archeopteryxes (proto-birds) and ambulocetuses (walking whales));
    • the geographical distribution of hundreds of related species (e.g., seals and sea lions);
    • the numerous evolutionary changes in numerous species recorded by numerous scientists over the centuries; and
    • sciences such as geology, embryology, molecular biology, gene sequencing, modern medicine, archeology, physics, and astrophysics.

    This evidence is so overwhelming that millions of rational people believe it, and assuming the species survives, billions of rational people will believe it. Thousands of scientific advances based on evolution have transformed our world and made possible your reading of these words. In short, this evidence is so divinely perfect one is forced to conclude that if God went to that much trouble to fool rational people into believing it, that’s what God WANTS us to believe!!

  • In approximately 925 BCE, a writer whom today’s scholars call the Yahwist inscribed probably much more ancient myths on tanned animal skins, known as “parchment,” including the second creation myth (Genesis 2:4b-3:24). The first creation myth (Genesis 1:1-2:4a), inscribed by the Priestly source, dates from 500 BCE, immediately after the Babylonian exile. Or, of course, if bibliolaters are correct, both myths were inscribed by God Godself some time or other in the Bronze Age. (Important note: Myths are NOT fiction!!)
  • In 1650 CE, James Ussher published his chronology of the Bible, considered by today’s fundamentalists to be as infallible as their interpretation of the 1611 King James translation of the Bible.

To put this more simply: (A) God created the Universe in 4004 BCE; (B) at the same time (October 23, 4004 BCE), God faked and planted millions of pieces of evidence that the Universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old, evidence that is so divinely perfect that all 21st-century technology is based on its factuality; and (C) between 1000 and 500 BCE, God wrote or “inspired” the writing of a human artifact that proves that all this divinely perfect “evidence” was divinely faked.

Why would God go to all the trouble of forging evidence that on the one hand is so divinely perfect it has deceived millions, and on the other hand is so incompetently imperfect that no believer is deceived? If God intends all believers in evolution to scream in Hell for all eternity, isn’t God’s divine forgery of evidence proof of God’s divine malevolence, equivalent to “Here, eat this poison that looks, smells, and tastes exactly like chocolate cake”?

Isn’t faking evidence proof of the faker’s dishonesty?

Fundamentalist theology proves that one way or the other, God is dishonest, malevolent, and incompetent. Either God wants most of us to scream in Hell for all eternity for believing in DNA and the Internet, or God is deliberately lying today to those who believe in literal Genesis. In EITHER case, God is dishonest, lying either to believers or to non-believers. In EITHER case, God is fundamentally malevolent, wanting either non-believers or believers to scream in Hell in consequence of the divine lie.

In EITHER case, God is incompetent, either at faking evidence or at writing holy scripture.

The Facts and Zimmerman’s Story April 14, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics, Random Observations.

Like many people — I hope most of us — I have been shocked and horrified, both by the shooting of Trayvon Martin and by the hyper­politi­cized reaction to it. Conservatives have been dredging up all sorts of facts about Trayvon, such as his school record, which would be relevant only in a case of premeditated first-degree murder. I have read on both Twitter and Facebook that on Fox News and similar hate media, Trayvon is consistently portrayed as the criminal and George Zimmerman as Trayvon’s innocent victim.

I have been wishing and wishing that someone more expert than I am would make an animated video showing George Zimmerman’s version of events — how a 17-year-old boy jumped the 28-year-old Zimmerman, who outweighed the boy by a minimum of 30 pounds; how Trayvon beat Zimmerman up next to Zimmerman’s truck while Trayvon was talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone; how Trayvon then picked 190-pound Zimmerman up and carried him 400 feet to where he could pound Zimmerman’s head on the sidewalk; how, after pounding George Zimmerman’s head on the sidewalk, Trayvon picked him up a second time and carried Zimmerman another hundred feet toward Trayvon’s home; how, since Trayvon’s corpse bore no marks except the gunshot wound, Zimmerman must have done nothing to defend himself; and how somehow the two changed places approximately 500 feet from where the alleged beating of the much larger man allegedly began and the unarmed, 30-pounds-lighter aggressor was shot dead. According to phone company records, Trayvon was talking to his girlfriend from 7:12 until his phone went dead at 7:16, meaning that Trayvon beat up and terrorized George Zimmerman while simultaneously telling his girlfriend he was being frightened by a “strange dude.”

(Police say that Trayvon was 17 years old and 6′0″ tall, and weighed 160 pounds, while Zimmerman was 28 years old and 5′9″ tall, and weighed 190 pounds. Trayvon was a high school student, and Zimmerman a high school graduate. I have been informed by a reader that the New York Times specified Trayvon’s weight as 170 pounds. This would mean that Zimmerman outweighed Trayvon by “only” 12 percent, rather than the 19 percent of the larger weight range. I’ll be interested in what the autopsy will provide as the final word.)

Well, alas, no one has made an animation of Zimmerman’s story (that I know about), so I’m stuck. Here, for the purposes of someone who has more video skills than I do, is a detailed timeline, with both facts where they are known and Zimmerman’s story interspersed. I obtained the timeline from USA Today News and from a transcript of Zimmerman’s 911 call. I obtained the maps from both Google Maps and from a WordPress blogger, BCC:List.com.

Before I begin, let me stress that according to a Sanford TV station, neighborhood watch volunteers are supposed to work in pairs. They are forbidden to carry firearms while they are “watching,” and if they discover “suspicious activity,” they are forbidden to leave the vehicle in which the two neighborhood watchers are sitting. I have been informed that Zimmerman was not on duty as a neighborhood watch volunteer that night. I imagine, however, that his ostensibly being “off duty” did not impair Zimmerman’s memory.

2005 According to the Orlando Sentinel, at age 21, Zimmerman was twice accused of violent behavior. First Zimmerman “pushed” a police officer (see below at 7:15:50!), was arrested, and completed a program for violent first offenders in exchange for not being charged. A month later, a former girlfriend took out a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence.
2007 Zimmerman, age 23, defaulted on a loan from Capital One. He agreed to pay $2,135.82, to cover his debts, interest on his debts, and attorney and court costs. After Capital One showed early in 2008 that Zimmerman was failing to pay this debt, Zimmerman’s then-employer, CarMax, agreed to garnish his wages. After CarMax fired Zimmerman a few months later, there is no record (that I can discover) of Zimmerman’s having repaid his debt.

According to the Wikipedia article, George Zimmerman originated his 911 call “at approximately 7:09.” Earlier today, I found a source that said the call began at 7:09:34. If I can verify this time, I’ll update the times you’ll see below.

6:40 Trayvon leaves the home of his father’s girlfriend (“H,” far right) and walks to a 7-Eleven (“7.” far left) approximately three-fourths of a mile to the west (a 10-minute walk at 4.5 miles per hour), where he buys Skittles and iced tea. It is a cold and rainy February night, so Trayvon wears his hoodie. (My hoodie is pink, Geraldo.)
7:09 George Zimmerman calls 911 for the 46th time. He describes the 17-year-old Trayvon as “suspicious.” At 7:09:25, Zimmerman says the boy “looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” In the image below, the blue rectangle shows where George Zimmerman told the police his truck was parked, close to the north entrance of the Retreat at Twin Lakes. The black arrows show Trayvon’s presumed route home. The yellow arrows show Zimmerman’s presumed route in reality (rather than in Zimmerman’s story). The red X shows where Trayvon’s dead body was found, approximately a tenth of a mile from where Zimmerman alleges their confrontation began. The white box at the lower right of the image shows Trayvon’s destination, near the back (east) entrance of the development.

As mentioned earlier, the above map comes from the excellent BCC:List.com. This blogger’s opinion is that the only way Zimmerman’s story could cohere with the known facts is if Zimmerman came close to running Trayvon down with his truck. (Which might affect Zimmerman’s “Stand Your Ground” defense!)

The thoughtful and courteous Bob Owen, in his comment on this post (see below), provides addresses for three alternative versions of where George Zimmerman left his truck. But assuming that Zimmerman misled the police on the subject, no alternative version explains how Trayvon could jump and beat up Zimmerman next to Zimmerman’s truck, and a split-second later die approximately 100 to 300 feet from that location. At least, not without Zimmerman pursuing Trayvon, which to me does not argue well for the “Stand Your Ground” defense.

7:09:42 Zimmerman describes Trayvon as wearing a “dark hoodie.” In answer to a multiple-choice question from the dispatcher, Zimmerman says, “He looks black.”
7:09:48 Zimmerman tells the 911 dispatcher, “Now he’s staring at me.”
7:10:03 Zimmerman volunteers to the 911 dispatcher, not in answer to any question, “He’s a black male.”
7:10:39 Zimmerman remarks, “These f—king assholes. They always get away.” (Not always. [heavy sigh])
7:11:08 Zimmerman tells the police dispatcher, “He’s running.” The dispatcher asks where Trayvon is running, and Zimmerman indicates he is running toward where we now know he was staying.
7:11:15 The door of Zimmerman’s truck can be heard to slam shut on the 911 recording. Zimmerman’s breath quickens, as if he is in motion, and the sounds of wind resistance begin. It seems reasonable to infer that in the real world, Zimmerman has left his truck and pursuing Trayvon on foot.
7:12 Trayvon’s girlfriend in Miami calls him on his cell phone. Trayvon tells her that “some strange dude” is “watching him,” so he puts up his hood. (Meanwhile, Zimmerman is discussing his personal information with the 911 dispatcher.) According to phone company records, Trayvon’s conversation with his girlfriend lasted until the phone went dead at 7:16.
7:12:22 Zimmerman mutters something under his breath that is probably “F—king punks,” although early listeners believed it was a racial slur. At 7:12:23, the dispatcher asks Zimmerman whether he is following Trayvon; at 7:12:24, Zimmerman replies “Yeah.” At 7:12:26, the dispatcher says, “Okay, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman replies “Okay,” indicating that he understood the dispatcher’s instruction not to follow Trayvon. The two discuss where police should come, and Zimmerman provides an address.
7:12:34 The dispatcher asks Zimmerman for his name and cell phone number and assures Zimmerman that the police are en route. Although the 911 dispatcher does not say so, the neighborhood watch rules require Zimmerman to return to his vehicle, I believe whether or not he was “on duty” as a volunteer at the time.
7:12:49 Before Zimmerman hangs up, he says “I don’t know where this kid is. Could you have [the police] call me, and I’ll tell them where I’m at.” The dispatcher confirms Zimmerman’s phone number and says police will call him when they arrive.
7:13:07 George Zimmerman’s 911 call ends.
7:13:08 George Zimmerman says that after hanging up with the police, he returned to his truck, parked near the north entrance of the development. (See the blue rectangles in the three final maps.) According to Zimmerman, Trayvon approached Zimmerman “from behind” (i.e., from the south, 180 degrees away from Trayvon’s destination) and they had words.
7:13-15 According to George Zimmerman, having had words with Trayvon, Zimmerman turned his back on the teenager that he thought was a “f—king punk” (or “coon”). Trayvon punched Zimmerman hard enough to knock the older and considerably heavier man to the ground. Then Trayvon began slamming Zimmerman’s head into the “sidewalk.” It is likely that when this alleged punching and slamming began, Zimmerman and Trayvon were not near Zimmerman’s truck, but rather 500 feet from where Zimmerman said he left his truck, and 70 yards from Trayvon’s destination. Also, be reminded that while Trayvon was punching and slamming Zimmerman, he was simultaneously telling his girlfriend that he was being frightened by Zimmerman.
7:14-15 Look at the two images below. The blue rectangles show approximately where George Zimmerman told police he had left his truck. The second, more detailed Google Maps image shows that the sidewalk begins approximately 400 feet from where Zimmerman’s truck was said to have been parked.

7:13 The first call to 911 is made by a neighbor who heard cries for help. Trayvon’s mother has identified the voice crying for help as her son’s. Zimmerman and his family and friends say the voice was George’s. Two forensic audio experts have said that whoever was calling for help, it was not George Zimmerman. Between 7:13 and 7:30, at least seven neighbors called 911 to report an altercation approximately 500 feet from where Zimmerman said he left his truck, followed by a gunshot. Most say it was too dark to see more; one caller reports “wrestling.”
7:16 According to George Zimmerman’s account, after surprising Zimmerman at approximately 7:13:10, breaking Zimmerman’s nose, knocking him to the ground, and savagely pounding Zimmerman’s head into the (nonexistent) sidewalk until the resistless Zimmerman feared for his life, while talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone the entire time, Trayvon leaped up and sprinted for home, racing approximately 500 feet in a few seconds. Stunned by his savage beating and in fear of his life, Zimmerman magically found himself 500 feet from his truck. In the location where one witness alleges he saw “wrestling,” Zimmerman, fearing for his life at Trayvon’s unarmed, unmarked hands, shot Trayvon point-blank in the chest at close range. Until shortly before the shooting, Trayvon was beating up the larger Zimmerman while continuing to talk with his girlfriend and telling his girlfriend he was afraid of the “strange dude” he was beating up.
7:15:50 A few seconds before 7:16, Trayvon’s girlfriend hears Trayvon say “What are you following me for?” She hears a man’s voice say to Trayvon, “What are you doing here?” She hears the sound of “pushing.” (See 2005.) Then Trayvon’s headset suddenly went silent, leading her to believe that he had been pushed. She tries to call him back immediately, but cannot reach him.
7:17 The first police officers arrive at the site of the shooting, 500 feet from where Zimmerman says the confrontation began and approximately 200 feet from where Trayvon was staying. (See the red X in the second map.) They discover Zimmerman standing over Trayvon’s dead body. Zimmerman confesses to having shot Trayvon. Officers take Zimmerman’s 9mm automatic and place him in handcuffs.
minutes later Paramedics do CPR on Trayvon’s corpse. (He is pronounced dead at 7:30.) Paramedics then “work on” Zimmerman. In the initial police report, Zimmerman is alleged to have been bleeding from the back of his head and from his nose. In a police station video, there is no evidence of any damage to Zimmerman that *I* can perceive, not even a swelling of his allegedly broken nose.
3/29 Trayvon’s autopsy is still “under seal.” The funeral director who prepared Trayvon’s body for burial told at least one news anchor that the only mark on Trayvon’s body was his gunshot wound; there were no marks on Trayvon’s hands, arms, or clothing to indicate that he had jumped Zimmerman, broken Zimmerman’s nose with his bare fist (leaving no marks on the fist!), knocked Zimmerman to the ground, straddled him, and began beating Zimmerman’s head against the “sidewalk.” No evidence of Zimmerman’s blood was found on Trayvon’s body or clothing.
ca. 3/2 Approximately a week after Trayvon’s shooting, the mother of a 13-year-old witness told the media that police questioners had “pressured” her son to identify the body on the ground immediately before the shooting as Zimmerman. However, she also stated that the police told her they did not believe the shooting was self-defense.

These are the facts, as closely as I can replicate them. Now, please, will some expert provide an animation that illustrates:

  • Trayvon jumping Zimmerman at approximately 7:13:10;
  • Trayvon beating Zimmerman up without marking his own hands, receiving defensive wounds, or being spattered with Zimmerman’s blood, but nevertheless leaving Zimmerman in fear of his life;
  • Trayvon beating Zimmerman up while talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone;
  • Trayvon and Zimmerman magically being transported approximately 500 feet in a flash from where Zimmerman said they were to where witnesses saw and heard them;
  • How Zimmerman and Trayvon changed places, with Zimmerman found standing over Trayvon’s dead body at 7:17.

It will be important to time this video so that it contains all the incidents between 7:13:07, the earliest moment when Zimmerman could have completed his 911 call*, and 7:16, the approximate time Zimmerman shot his gun. In my opinion, the animation will move at blinding speed — about the second “fast forward” click on a DVR.

*(According to Phathead, a blogger at freerepublic.com, the 911 began at 7:09:34, meaning it ended at 7:13:41, leaving Trayvon roughly two minutes to beat Zimmerman up. Commenter Bob Owens believes that two minutes is more than enough time. I believe that if Trayvon were beating Zimmerman as savagely as Zimmerman and his supporters claim, DeeDee would have at least noticed a change in Trayvon’s breathing patterns, if not the sounds of the actual beating.)

On the April 13 edition of “Hardball,” a conservative pundit told Chris Matthews that the case against George Zimmerman was so “flimsy” that it will soon be summarily dismissed. If you believe that an unarmed, 160-pound boy could beat up and terrorize a 190-pound man in less than three minutes, with ZERO sound effects audible to Trayvon’s girlfriend, all while telling his girlfriend that he, Trayvon, was being terrorized by George Zimmerman, I’m sure you will agree.

(updated, April 15)

The GOP War on Civility March 14, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics, Tea Party.
1 comment so far

I’ve been following the Republicans’ war on women for almost two years now, but it was not until two weeks ago, when Rush Limbaugh unloaded an unprecedented three-day volcano of vitriol upon a woman who was a stranger to him, that I started thinking I was going to HAVE to write about it.

The 2010 election cycle saw the nation’s first tsunami of hate and lies, as the Scalia Supreme Court’s adventure in legislating from the bench, Citizens United, invited Republicans to flood the airwaves with excrement. To “win” this election, the Tea Party and its Republican enablers promised Fox News True Believers that the GOP’s next two years would be about the creation of jobs. This was, of course, a feint; the GOP has succeeded only in destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs: teachers, police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, librarians, trash collectors, and other public servants. (But don’t worry! The wealthy still have their tax privileges!)

Instead of jobs, the GOP has focused its energies on rolling back women’s rights, largely in the areas of redefining rape to exclude most forms of rape and redefining “legal” to add unnecessary and demeaning barriers between women and their legal rights. Approx­i­mately 1,100 bills were introduced in 2011, both in Congress and in state legislatures across the nation, to make it more difficult for women to obtain health care services or for organizations receiving even a cent of public money to offer them. So far in 2012, 430 no-choice bills have been introduced, which means we’ll probably set another record in 2012 for GOP misogyny-cum-theocracy.

By the end of 2011, 135 rollbacks of women’s rights had been enacted. Nine states have passed laws requiring that women who want to obtain one particular legal health care service must submit to what the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution calls an “unreasonable search.” Every Republican candidate for president has announced his unalterable opposition to a woman’s right to control her own body in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. (Apparently when the world population topped seven billion, overpopulation ceased to be a problem.) Seven-plus states have either defunded Planned Parenthood or are well on the way to doing so. In addition, many Republican-dominated states have passed laws rolling back the voting rights of women, minorities, the elderly, students, and other voting blocs suspected of leaning Democratic. Republicans appear through their actions to believe that they can’t win through fair play, but only by rigging the game in their own favor.

I’m a little hazy on whether it was World War II or the Korean “police action,” but in the middle of the 20th century, when the U.S. gov­ern­ment was forced to impose wage and price controls, adding group health insurance benefits was a way to sweeten the offer to a potential employee. I need to stress here, for readers who have been education-damaged by Republican propaganda, that group health insurance in the United States is one part of employment compensation, earned by the individual employee; it is neither a disinterested gift from the employer nor a “bridge to nowhere” of government taxation.

People are finally beginning to notice that “a stitch in time saves nine”; or in other words, preventive health care practices, such as brushing and flossing one’s teeth, cost far less than either shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped or buying a new horse. Getting a shot for tetanus, diphtheria, or the mumps is less expensive than losing a month of work to disease, or losing one’s fertility or even one’s life. Annual mammograms cost a tiny fraction of the cost of mastec­tomy plus radiation plus chemotherapy plus lost time and productivity. Contraceptives cost pennies; abortions cost hundreds of dollars; and rearing a child from birth until he’s old enough for no-choicers to sentence him to the electric chair costs tens of thousands of dollars.

It is not unreasonable for a health care plan to offer preventive health services; it’s thrifty. But not quite three weeks ago, the GOP seized upon what it saw as a winning tactic: requiring health care plans to offer preventive health services to women has suddenly become an infringement on the right of an employer to impose its religious dogma on its employees. The horror! (Boner pills, of course, remain men’s sacred, inalienable right.)

A few days after the GOP began its latest propaganda campaign in its war on women’s rights, a group of white male Republican legislators invited a group of white male alleged celibates to testify before Congress about how providing preventive health services to the female employees who had earned those services infringed on men’s right to control their female employees’ sex lives. A Georgetown University law student requested the opportunity to testify before the theocrats’ committee on the subjects of poly­ovarian cystic syndrome, rape, and family planning. The white male theocrats repulsed her, of course; what does denying religious freedom to women have to do with men’s religious freedom, after all?

Barred from the theocrats’ hearing, the law student testified before a committee of Democrats about poly­ovarian cystic syndrome, rape, and family planning.

The next day, Rush Limbaugh decided to weigh in. The uncrowned king of the Tea Puppets spent much of the next three days vilifying the law student, by name, and in horrifying, nauseating detail. He declared that the not-yet-licensed lawyer was even more of a nymphomaniac than Messalina (not that I think ANY Republican is well educated enough to know who Messalina was!). The poor law student is allegedly such a nymphomaniac that her “Slut’s Progress” began several years before her menses did. Limbaugh declared that if he and other taxpayers have to pay for nymphomaniacal sex, he wants to watch. And many more, similar falsehoods designed specifically to shame all women out of the public arena and back to barefooted pregnancy where we belong.

When the sane members of American society voiced their outrage at Limbaugh’s insane attacks, Rush’s first and second responses were to double down. Finally, after three days of vicious slanders — 46, 53, or 56 slanders, depending on the friendliness of the person counting — Rush apologized for two of the terms he had used. He was only joking, he claimed, exaggerating to show the “absurdity” of the idea that NOT all feminazis are nymphomaniacs. His three days of nonstop vilification of Sandra Fluke by name was not meant to be “personal.” The entire controversy was, after all, about sluts’ and prostitutes’ “personal sexual recreational activities,” which fine, upstanding, Limbaugh-believing Americans ought not to have to pay for. By vilifying one young woman about whom he knew nothing, poor victimized Rush was only “attempting to be humorous.”

What a heartfelt apology! No wonder all Rush’s advertisers are loyally buying more ads.

Other pundits have written thousands of words on this subject. Frank Bruni, for example, had sensible ideas to offer on why sexual vili­fi­cation is so much easier for women than for men; promiscuity makes a woman a “slut,” but a man is who engages in the same behavior is a “dawg,” and envied by lesser men. Many commenters have pointed out that Rush is no stranger to gender-specific vilification; all women who want to control their own bodies are “feminazis”; a woman who wrote a book on food justice is “a recently graduated authorette”; Lucia Mutikani is an “infobabe”; humorist Alexandra Petri is “b-i-itchy”; Hilary Clinton is “sex-retary” of state; and on, and on, and on, and on.

Republican pundits have seized on one word spoken by Bill Maher during his stand-up act to “prove” that Democrats are the true vilifiers and Republicans the true victims. As if one word spoken to an audience of a few hundred college students outweighs hundreds of lies repeated over the span of many days to an ignorant, credulous, hyperpartisan audience of millions.

Still others of Rush’s defenders attempt to change the terms of the debate. We’ll accept that all women who want to make their own health decisions are nymphomaniacs, Independent Bill Maher implied: Rush “apologized,” so we should all just let the matter drop. Repub­li­can Paul Theroux informed us that Rush’s “offensive hyperbole” is “little more than flapdoodle,” and we should all care more about Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and the price of gasoline than about whether all sluts ought to have the same human rights that white men enjoy. And, notably, Theroux concluded “there is a vicious taint of self-indulgence, if not sluttiness, in a female student’s clamoring for a federal mandate of subsidized contraceptives.”

There it is again: the GOP lie that rights that have been earned by female citizens are actually “a federal mandate” requiring that theocrats “subsidize” sluts’ orgies.

Satire. Changing the national discussion from whether female employees deserve the health-care rights they have earned as part of their compensation for employment to whether all “overeducated” women (Rush’s term) are sluts and prostitutes is “satire.”

Theroux continued: Democrats are “shrill” and “illiterate” and “have no idea what satire actually is.” Those who object to Limbaugh’s vicious persecution of an innocent stranger are “irrationally indignant.” We should all remember, Theroux says, that when Republicans were persecuting Bill Clinton for doing much less than what Newt Gingrich was doing during the same period, Arkansas Governor Clinton was “assisting in the murder” of Ricky Ray Rector (an Arkansas felon sentenced to death by a largely Republican jury for killing citizen Arthur Criswell and police officer Robert Martin).

Yesterday I saw, twice, a new Republican attack on President Obama that featured Pat Boone talking in a reassuringly folksy way about the evils of small-d democracy. In the space of 30 to 60 seconds (I was too appalled to time it), old Pat spouted lie after lie after lie (“Medicare will be bankrupt in nine years!”), ending by urging viewers to call their legislators and demand that the U.S. “save” Medicare by adopting the Ryan plan to end Medicare in favor of vouchers. The only true statement I heard in this ad was “I’m Pat Boone”!

The controversy is metastacizing, too. The comments section of any article skeptical of Rush Limbaugh’s nobility, a true knight sans peur et sans reproche, is subject to mountains of illiterate vilification from dittoheads, some under feminine aliases. When President Obama announced his intention to speak at Barnard College, Barnard students were subjected to an avalanche of libels more vile than the dittoheads’ idol could have ever dreamed of. I imagine Rush is quite proud. . . .

It is mildly comforting, I suppose, that Republicans believe it will be impossible for them to win any future election by using facts, logic, truth, fair play, or civility. But where can we go from here when the desire of one anonymous citizen to testify about women’s health in the 21st century becomes transformed into a national conversation about what Jennifer Granholm calls sexual McCarthyism? When any means justifies the GOP’s desired end, including baseless slander, libel, distortion, misrepresenation, and deliberate lies?

What the hell kind of government will we get from men who have no compassion, no conscience, and no compunctions?

* * * * *

I have tried to be as dispassionate as I could in this post, but the truth is I’m finding Blimpbaugh’s vicious misogyny sickening. The illustration you see here is a Café Press design, Proud That Rush Limbaugh Thinks I’m a Slut. You can buy T-shirts, stickers, cards, mugs, and other goodies with this design.

* * * * *

Republicans have been quick to note that I have been less than civil in a post entitled “The GOP War on Civility.” It’s true. THEY WON!

Joke: Why He’s NOT Called Fence-Builder February 18, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Jokes.
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A few days ago, I saw a video of Paul McCartney telling a version of this joke, but the punch line was mumbled. I listened to the joke three times, and am STILL not sure I got the punch line right. But this version of the joke made my husband laugh out loud; so here it is.

A hiker on the moors of England spotted a tavern at the top of a hill, and made for it. When the hiker entered, he saw that the tavern was empty, except for the bartender. The hiker ordered a Guinness, introduced himself, and asked what the barkeep was called.

“Did you notice the fence on the path up here?” asked the bartender.

“I did,” the hiker said. “It’s a fine, straight fence and very well made. It led me up here, in fact.”

“I built that fence, every foot of it,” the bartender said. “But do they call me Frank the Fence-Builder? No, they do not. . . . What do you think about this bar?”

“I’ve been admiring it,” said the hiker. “It looks like one unbroken slab of mahogany.”

“That it is,” said the bartender. “I made this bar with my own hands. But do they call me Brown the Bar-Builder? No, they do not. . . . What do you think about the way I pulled your pint?”

“You did a great job,” said the hiker. “Not too much of a head, not too little. I’d say it was perfectly poured. But I guess they don’t call you Frank the Ale-Puller?”

“No, they do not,” said the bartender sadly. “But let me tell you, you f—k just one measly goat. . . .”

Republicans Stewing over “Flavor of the Month” February 12, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics.
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On the February 10 edition of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Al Sharpton talked about the Republican “flavor of the month,” the “anyone but Romney” factor. “It doesn’t matter whether Santorum or any other ‘flavor of the month’ ” is currently ahead of Romney, said Sharpton. “With any flavor, the more you keep stirring it, it changes the taste. The party is becoming so distasteful, it’s gone so far to the right, whoever is the GOP nominee is going to be so far to the right, so bad-tasting to Americans, it doesn’t matter.”

Sharpton has an excellent point. Consider these Republican candidates for president over the last eight months:

  • Donald Trump. Unofficial frontrunner, April 2011. Withdrew from race, May 2011; a week later he said he “hadn’t ruled out” running, especially if called as savior at a brokered convention. Michele Bachmann hopes he will be our next Vice President. Believes we should tax the wealthy a maximum of 14.25 percent once, in 2013, and then never again. Endive.
  • Tim Pawlenty. Frontrunner, never. Withdrew from race, August 2011. Strongly against allowing union members to fight for their civil rights. Paprika.
  • Herman Cain. Frontrunner, September 2011. Suspended campaign, December 2011. Like all other GOP candidates, prefers to suck up to the very, very wealthy (well, the GOP wealthy) and tax the 99 percent. Coined the phrase “sleeping sharia.” Garlic.
  • Jon Huntsman. Frontrunner, never. Proof of his evil: He worked for the Obama administration as ambassador to China, and can speak Chinese. Further proof: significantly more intelligent than other GOP candidates. Withdrew from race, January 2012. Chinese mustard.
  • Michele Bachmann. Frontrunner, July 2011. Withdrew from race, January 2012. Still promising that as president she would refuse to pay debts incurred by the GOP between 2000 and 2009, which would lead to a worldwide Great Depression II. May have lost support over fellow fundamentalists’ certainty that as a good fundamentalist, President Bachmann should “submit graciously” to the rule of “First Laddy” Marcus Bachmann. Wasabi.
  • Rick Perry. Frontrunner, August 2011. Withdrew from race, January 2012. Firmly against being compared with any other unintelligent, inarticulate governors of Texas who ran for president. Especially by Molly Ivins. Boiled okra.
  • Gary Johnson. Withdrew from race as Republican, December 2011; continuing to seek the nomination of the Libertarian Party. Supports slashing taxes on the wealthy while dismantling Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, FEMA, HHS, and any other aid to the 99 percent. Collard greens.
  • Ron Paul. Frontrunner, never; he’s only running to compel the Republicans to adopt his whackjob libertarian views. Best comment: Calling Ronald Reagan a “dramatic failure” because Reagan had doubled the national debt, a feat that George H.W. Bush would turn into a tripling of the national debt, while George W. Bush turned it into a SEXTUPLING of the national debt. Jalapeño.
  • Newt Gingrich. Frontrunner, late November 2011. Ethics-challenged since 1943, especially when it comes to broken oaths. Onion.
  • Rick Santorum. Frontrunner, February 2012. Theocrat who firmly believes that there should be no separation of church and state and that “Christian” fundamentalists should impose their religious doctrines on those who do not share them. Limburger.
  • Mitt Romney. Alleged frontrunner, with only 72 percent of Republicans wishing for someone else. “A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Hi, Mitt.’ ” Anchovies.
  • Let’s add one more who is not officially a candidate, but who signaled in a speech on February 11 that “the door is open” if anyone wants to nominate her at a brokered convention: Sarah Palin. By far the most popular among the 12, especially among the Tea Puppets, she can still see Russia from her front porch (on the rare occasions when she is not seeking national attention). Dandelion greens.

So; the nation’s Republicans are being offered a stew that formerly contained endive, paprika, garlic, Chinese mustard, wasabi, and boiled okra, with collard greens on the side. The remaining stew comprises jalapeño, onion, limburger, and anchovies — with collard greens and dandelion greens, as well as frequent commentary from wasabi and garlic, still affecting the stew’s current taste. Yum yum!

A few days ago, a Twitter-friend commented that after their coming shellacking this November, the Republicans are going to be forced to end their campaign to return America to the 19th-century robber barons and become liberal enough to enter the 20th century.

I disagree. I think that if a tsunami of Citizens United lies and smears fails to restore the “robber buffoons” to power (and it may well succeed, the Koch brothers alone having promised half a billion dollars to defeat democracy), the Republican Party is going to move so far to the right they’ll fall off the flat Earth.

Coming Soon: Real Androids! February 4, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Popular Culture, Random Observations, Religion & Theology.

I’ve always been fascinated by the second creation myth in the Bible. It is what is called an ætiological myth, meaning that it attempts to explain questions that its original Stone Age and Bronze Age audiences found puzzling: why is the human male virtually alone among the species in NOT having a bone in his penis? Why is the human female alone among the species in suffering labor pains? What other characteristics distinguish the human animal from all other species, and what led to our unique status?

It is that final question that interests me the most, especially since one rarely sees it discussed by scholars or exegetes. Our intelligence is of course the most obvious characteristic that sets us apart. But consider these:

  • Consciousness — Consciousness is difficult to define, especially since it’s so closely intertwined with self-awareness. At its most fundamental, it means “not asleep,” but I think most of us could see a distinction between the consciousness of a human being and the consciousness of a chicken. Other qualities of consciousness might be said to include “not dreaming,” “not hallucinating,” “not drugged,” and “not drunk.”
  • Self-awareness — Most higher mammals have some limited self-awareness (“I am Buddy, that is Princess”), but with few exceptions only more complex brains can pass the mirror test, that is, are capable of recognizing the image in the mirror as the viewer’s self. At some threshold that humans have passed but our pets have not, we reach an awareness of self that includes such perceptions as I am awake; I am an individual; I control what I do; I feel sensations; these are MY emotions I’m feeling; these are MY thoughts I’m thinking; I am smarter than the average bear; I am NOT a “philosophical zombie.” Self-awareness may be interdependent with consciousness.
  • Imagination and curiosity — Imagination is the ability to form mental images, sensations, and concepts that are independent of whatever you are actually seeing, hearing, etc. at the time. Most animals have this ability to some extent, as any pet owner who regularly uses an electric can opener can attest, but only humans have flown to the Moon and back. I lump curiosity in with imagination because I think they’re related: “What’s new in the pantry? Could it be some cookies?”
  • Moral judgment and conscience — Human beings are virtually unique among the species in our sense of right and wrong, virtue as opposed to sin or evil. We identify and condemn as “wrong” such behaviors as lying, cheating, stealing, defaming, debauching, murdering, blackmailing, etc. We feel guilty when we know or believe we have done wrong, and we do things to try to atone, or become at-one with the other(s) whom we have injured.

The second creation myth depicts the woman as the first theologian, engaging in discourse with a symbol of the Goddess and of wisdom about the nature of divinity, God’s intentions, and theodicy. The woman is curious about the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Although death has supposedly not been invented yet, she knows what “you will die” means and wishes to avoid this con­se­quence. She knows that the fruit is desirable because it is good to look at, nourishing, and will confer wisdom that will make her more like God. First the woman, then the man voluntarily disobeys God, whereupon they instantly acquire sin, evil, guilt, and shame. And that, children (so says the myth), is where consciousness, self-awareness, imagination, and conscience come from.

As a lifelong fan of science fiction, I urge anyone who is interested in characters like Star Trek’s Commander Data to read or view the AI-related classics, especially I, Robot (read it), 2001: A Space Odys­sey (view it, especially if you can do so in an altered state), The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (read it), Battlestar Galactica (view the entire 21st-century oeuvre); and Colossus: The Forbin Project (view the 1970 movie; reading the 1966 book requires more of a time investment than the story is worth).

These classics, and others like them, all proceed from the assumption that artificial intelligence automatically includes artificial con­scious­ness, artificial self-awareness, artificial imagination, artificial emo­tions (even Data felt envy), and, except for the Asimov stories (and arguably Battlestar Galactica), no moral judgment or conscience at all.

I think it is far, far, far more likely that we will very soon develop an artificial intelligence that is smarter than we are, but that it will be a “philosophical zombie.” That is, it will be able to beat us at chess, like Deep Blue, or at Jeopardy!, like Watson; but it will never “come awake,” like Heinlein’s Mycroft; it will never try to take over the world and enslave us, like 1966’s Colossus; it will never try to murder us, like 1968’s HAL or 1978’s / 2003’s Cylons. It will not be conscious, conscious that it is a separate self, able to imagine the outcomes of different scenarios and to experience a preference for which outcome it should strive for. It will not have volition. It will never be able to imagine, plan, and execute actions that we humans would consider wrongdoing. (I say “never” because, come on, what roboticist has not heard of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics?)

I am also certain that we will never invent a computer that exper­i­ences emotions. Virtually every artificial intelligence that sci-fi has come up with has portrayed AIs that display arrogance, self-right­eous­ness, judgmentalism, anger, fear, and other human emotions. “I have the right to take over the world.” “I have the right to murder someone I perceive as a danger to my mission.” “Your treatment of me as your slave makes me angry and resentful, so I will destroy you.” For decades, my question has always been, where do these machines get their HORMONES? These are machines that act as if their conscious self-awareness has been affected by adrenaline, testosterone, serotonin, oxytocin, and other hormones, alone or in combination. Why do so many clanking collections of hardware and software act as if they have PMS?

I think it is far more likely that any artificial intelligence that humans come up with will be “philosophical zombies.” They’ll have high intelligence, and perhaps imagination; but I don’t think there would be any advantage to humanity in trying to create Cylons. I want a personal assistant that will do my vacuuming for me, not one that falls in love with my husband and plots to kill me so it can marry him.

I’ve also spent decades believing that there is no way we will ever come up with someone like Commander Data — a self-contained android who for the most part is barely distinguishable from an enhanced human man. Artificial intelligence alone is problem enough, but consider that stuffed within a relatively few cubic feet are artificial bones and artificial muscles, sinews, and tendons; artificial eyes; artificial ears; artificial skin; an artificial sense of smell; and artificial senses of balance, orientation in space-time (“I am walking across the room”), acceleration, etc. Then you need at least 2.5 petabytes’ worth of artificial neurons for the AI’s intelligence, memory, conscious self-awareness, imagination, curiosity, ethical programming, etc. merely to match human capacity. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes.) Commander Data, whose processing speed, memory, and intelligence are far superior to ours, probably has at least 5 petabytes’ worth of artificial neurons.

Watson, the IBM computer and software that recently beat two human champions at Jeopardy, has 16 terabytes of RAM (about 1/160th as much as YOU do*). Watson’s 16 terabytes comprise a cluster of ninety IBM Power 750 servers (plus additional I/O, network and cluster controller nodes in 10 racks) with a total of 2880 POWER7 processor cores, not to mention the special air conditioners and so forth.

(*Remember, you use lots of RAM for things that Watson doesn’t have. Something like two-thirds of your brain is devoted to eyesight alone!)

A few days ago, I was thinking about Siri, Apple’s personal assistant software and “knowledge navigator,” when it hit me: We don’t NEED to invent a stand-alone android like Data, whose 5 petabytes (320 Watsons) of RAM fit so neatly into roughly 2.75 cubic feet of volume.

We have the Cloud. Where Siri “lives.”

Just as the Internet is vast and your smartphone is small, I see no reason why most of your new android’s “brain” shouldn’t live in the Cloud. I see no reason at all why roboticists shouldn’t concentrate on artificial bones, muscles, balance, and so forth. The actual physical body of our new android can have “hard” memory for things like sense of orientation in space and time (“I am sitting petting a pussycat”), muscle-memory, balance, and receptors for artificial senses. The motherboard, so to speak. The parts of our new android (or gynoid) that we would call intelligence, personality, memory, and so forth will live in the Cloud.

I think the real, true, Data-like android is only a few years away, and her name will be Siri Watson, or possibly Watson Siri-ous, or Mycroft Jeeves.

She won’t try to kill you. She won’t try to take over the world. She won’t fall in love with you. She won’t dream up new ideas for you. But I see no reason at all why she couldn’t be your housekeeper, your chef, your personal assistant, your butler, your gardener, your chauffeur, your masseuse, your plumber, your electrician, your carpenter, your handyman, or even your mobile entertainment unit, extruding Bose-quality speakers or a high-def video screen on demand.

Once the program is in the Cloud, it will just keep getting better. Right now Siri’s main strengths are things like restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and driving/walking directions. Soon it will be any sort of information. In the very beginning, the android “Siri-Watson” may only know how to boil water and work the microwave, but give the Cloud a year and you’ll have your very own gourmet chef. A year after that, you’ll be able to instruct Siri-Watson that you want duck á la Rachel Ray or steak á la Gordon Ramsey, and your unit of Siri-Watson will be able to consult the Cloud for recipes and techniques.

We will only have to teach Siri-Watson once, and best of all, you will only have to teach her your own expertise. (I myself make the World’s Greatest toll house cookies, when the mood takes me. My husband makes the World’s Greatest french fries.) If you only need an electrician once every five years, then that’s how oten your android will need to access that programming. The information and programming is all in the Cloud, ready when wanted, not eating up your android’s RAM if unwanted.

What’s going to be fun is designing what your Siri-Watson will look like. I’ll bet lots of people choose P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves, Batman’s Alfred, the Green Hornet’s Kato, the grandmother from that Twilight Zone episode, or Lord Peter Wimsey’s Bunter. A few may choose Merlin. A very few may even choose the android that Woody Allen portrayed in Sleeper. . . .