Greg Stevens Selfie!Edward Cullen sparkles in the sunlight and so do I.Greg Stevens Google Glass

Ukraine, Putin, the CIA, and the modern version of Game of Thrones

Putin is a killer and a terrorist
Instagram was the last place I expected to have a deep political conversation. But then, a Ukrainian guy I follow on there posted this picture, and all hell broke loose in the comments. I ended up going back and forth with someone who turned out to be not only pro-Putin, but outright "anti-Western Society". It was enlightening, but surreal, and if nothing else it makes me grateful that these international social media allow us to have conversations with people of all types, from all backgrounds. So here is a fragment of the conversation, just for you to think about. What do you think? Does he have a point? Is he just a product of pro-Russian propaganda? Or is it more complicated than that? I'll let you decide...

The emotional release of bomb-throwing

The appeal of bomb-throwing
When the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case yesterday, ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, people on the internet had two options. On the one hand, they could take time to carefully read the exact wording of the decision, find out what legal experts had to say about the implications, weigh information from a variety of sources, and then give a considered reaction. Or, they could slam out histrionic knee-jerk reactions based solely on the title of the decision and their own assumptions, typing as quickly as possible to get their voices on record as soon as humanly possible. You can guess what most people did. Personally, I actually did a little of both... and the fun I had during my "I'm going to yell and scream and troll!" phase was both enlightening, and a bit scary.

1700 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Was 8000 Feet Tall And His Cross Could Talk

A really old book that talks about Jesus
A short while back, the government of Turkey told the world that they seized a book from smugglers that appears to be about 1500 years old. The book claims, among other things, that Jesus wasn't crucified, was not resurrected, and was a prophet but not the "son of God". The internet freaked out, with claims like "THE VATICAN IN AWE!" and suggestions that this will grievously disrupt the Christian church. All of that is wrong. The reality is, there are tons of 1800+ year old books about Jesus that say some of the most cracked-out weird-ass shit you've ever seen. So for fun, let's take a look as some examples.

Weird hangups about realism in science fiction

Pacific Rim Robots
The sonic boom appears at the wrong time in "I am number four". The explosion of the Death Star is unrealistic. Those robots in Pacific Rim could never walk underwater like that. And the SR-71 can't hover. I don't know why Jon and I pick up on these little things when we watch science fiction movies. In some ways, of course, it's just a lark. It's fun. But in science fiction movies, I think there is actually an interesting question about why some things seem "fine", while others are not. What exactly determines what phenomena are part of the fictional universe, and what are just "bad physics"?

The problem with “Muslim religious extremists”

Muslim Extremism vs. Christian Extremism
Whenever an Islamic extremist blows something up, or threatens to blow something up, or threatens to do any other act of terrorism, the headlines always include the term "Muslim extremist" or "Islamic terrorist" or some variation of those. Liberals have a problem with this, and it is often difficult for people who are not liberals to understand why. There actually is a reason, although it rarely gets discussed in a detailed or nuanced way. It has to do with the psychology of conversation, the way people understand language, and the radically different way that liberals and conservatives think about the cause of terrorism.

What it is like to be a cat

Thoughtful Cat
I feel the most like a cat when I wake up late on a weekend. I roll over onto my side, fidget a little, and dab, dab, dab fluff the pillow. What is interesting about my behavior is that I've seen almost exactly the same thing in cats. In fact, there are a large number of behaviors that seem conscious and willful and "very human" that are actually completely stereotyped across a wide variety of mammals. This suggests that these behaviors could be primarily driven by biology, and not willful or conscious at all; and it opens up a number of questions about our own intuitions about will and consciousness, and how reliable they are.

Alright, so you were a fucking virgin! That’s not the point!

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as King Henry VIII, in The Tudors
The Tudors is a brilliant television show about King Henry VIII, who reigned England from 1509 to 1547. King Henry VIII was a vibrant and scandalous figure, with many wives, many vices, and a personality as grandiose as that of any monarch. A great subject for both biography and fiction. The television show, as you might expect, gets some things right and some things wrong. You can see discussions about many of these things all over the internet. But there is one little tid-bit that I have not seen discussed other places: a passing exclamation that King Henry made during an argument...

The redemption of Smaug

Smaug, as depicted in’THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG“ a New Line Cinema and MGM production. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
I am afraid I am unable to reveal how the following manuscript fell into my possession. Ever since the initial anthropological work done by J.R.R. Tolkien on Middle Earth and the life of Smaug, almost 80 years ago, it has been almost impossible to publish research questioning the perspective that he laid down in his work. However, the following letter, transcribed here from a document found locked in a chest that was originally part of the treasure hidden under the Lone Mountain, completely undermines the dominant theoretical depiction of Smaug as nothing more than an evil and greedy creature.

Why do conservatives hate Obamacare?

This conversation happened on my most recent airplane trip.
This is a rough transcript of a conversation that I had with the man sitting next to me during a flight from North Carolina to Dallas. The main described himself as conservative, and I just couldn't resist: I had to bring up Obamacare. Now, I'm not saying that all conservatives are exactly like this guy, or even that all conservatives dislike Obamacare. However, I do think this conversation illustrates one of the biggest factors in conservative resistance to the Affordable Care Act... in a fairly dramatic way.

On Brendan Eich and anti-anti-gay bullying

Brendan Eich
In case you haven't heard, the story goes like this: Once upon a time there was a man named Brendan Eich. He co-founded Mozilla, the company first behind the Netscape browser and later behind the Firefox browser, and was one of the originators of the Javascript programming language. He also donated a bunch of money to the California Proposition 8 campaign, which had the goal of making gay marriage illegal in California. Recently, he was appointed to be the CEO of Mozilla. All hell broke loose, people protested, and he ended up resigning. The question of the day is: was he unfairly bullied out of office for his anti-gay beliefs?