Archive for the ‘Religiosity’ Category

My Shot at Jesus

March 20, 2007


When Tom Delvecchio demurred—they say
He didn’t want to wear his mother’s gown—
I got my shot at Jesus. We were down
To just a week before the Easter play.

St. Rose of Lima’s pageant was about
As close as you could get to by-the-book.
The script was written by a crew that took
the Bible to my room and knocked it out.

I’d wear a sheet. When Judas kissed my cheek
(Delvecchio objection number two)
I’d be uncomfortable, but I’d get through.
I’d drag the cardboard cross. I wouldn’t speak.

Then Andrea Tartaglia would lift
The face of Christ drawn on a handkerchief.


The Feast of the Epistrophy

January 6, 2007

Sphere swings Epistrophy, Paris ’66

Bill Nye’s Coolest Shot

December 19, 2006


Bill Nye the Science Guy is best known as the frenetic science proselytizer with the bowtie and the kid’s show on PBS in the 1990s. He came to that job after years at Boeing, where he developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor that is still used on 747 airliners. He also worked as a consultant to the aeronautics industry, in which capacity he worked on the A-12 stealth attack aircraft. He had level three security clearance on that one. He is also a member and fellow the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. (Killjoy!)

Here are some final stretches of our breakfast interview. I found him charming, genuine, and an expert enthusiast. I’d like to thank him for granting me clearance to use parts of my day job interview at Cassowary.
Rick: Why did you give up a career as a mechanical engineer to start a kid’s science program?

Bill: Well, sir– I was feeling that my bosses were paralyzed by self doubt. In the 1980s, Japan was this economic powerhouse, making all these fabulous products. These guys I was working for were in fear of–terrified by–anything made in Japan. Looking back, they should have been! Compare the innovation and success of a Toyota with the thoughtless retro-thinking of modern automakers in the U.S., which started in the 1950s. My bosses were obsessed with making a profit every quarter, and when you’re making a new navigation device for a business jet that’s supposed to be 3/8 the size of the original, you can’t do that in three months. There aren’t enough smart people in the world that you can coordinate to make that happen. I was very frustrated with these guys, and I thought the future is kids, not these people.

Rick: But the guys you were working for grew up in the era of better living through chemistry. College students today won’t touch chemistry with a ten foot pipette. They’d rather pursue careers in video and sound engineering.

Bill: Well, that’s my mission. To change the world. There is noting more exciting than science. What could possibly be more fun than science? No! Really!

What does everyone say to chemists at every cocktail party, maybe with the exception of the Chemists Club Eggnog Party because they’re all chemists? They say, “You’re a chemist? Hey, can you blow something up?” Nobody says that to the video guy. And the chemists had better look out if somebody can blow something up better. There is nothing more exciting and cool than blowing something up. I work in television, I’m around television professionals all day. And they want to blow something up. They want the coolest shot of the explosion. I remind everybody that the reason Alfred Nobel got so crazy wealthy, is that he was so good at blowing stuff up.

Rick: Let’s toss around the idea of “being human.”

Bill: Okay–to think of something and make it? Amazing! When I look at squids, gold fish… I don’t think they’re doing that. I don’t think that’s what’s going on with them. Ants—mmmm-maybe. Kinda.

But What makes you human? It’s your ability to know that you’re part of the cosmos. That you’re aware of your place in the cosmos. I don’t think that even my favorite dogs are thinking about that. The biggest thing humans can do is imagine the future. Our brains are big enough to do that.
Rick: …Pee-wee Herman!

Bill: Yeah! Rocky and Bullwinkle–same deal! Sesame Street!

[Here are Parts I and II]

Bill Nye the Science Guy vs. Mr. Machine

December 17, 2006


Part II of my interview.

Bill Nye the Science Guy and I had breakfast at a diner on Madison Avenue last week. Well, he had breakfast and I just had coffee–it was 11:00 a.m. in New York and he was still on California time. We discussed, among other things, science critics and Ray Kurzweil’s dream of the human machine.

Rick: Is the world of science reevaluating itself in the 21st century?

Bill: It seems like it is because we have this anti-science thing. I think it’s bad for everybody. When you have a problem like global climate change or HIV, you need people who understand how it works to solve it. And, furthermore, you need voters and tax payers who believe there’s a problem.

The idea that science will solve everybody’s problem is a little old fashioned. I remember reading an account of Lou Gehrig. When he was diagnosed with this crazy disease, he thought, “Modern medicine will solve this problem for me.” It turned out to be a pretty intractable problem. Nevertheless, if it is ever solved, it will be a science solution. I cannot accept that there is going to be a faith-based solution to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Not to say that one’s frame of mind doesn’t affect one’s immune system. No question that it does.

Fanatics have been around for a long time. You can claim, “Well, Bill, you’re a science fanatic.” But our claim is that we don’t have all the answers. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. What we claim to have is a process for finding out the truth about nature. That’s the extent of our claim. If you want to find out what’s going on in nature, here’s how you go about it.

I am very reverent. I am astonished by my place in the universe. And I claim that I have greater reverence for the earth than many, many people who consider themselves deeply religious. I was brought up in a religious tradition, but I am no longer a believer.

Rick: A lot of people believe it is some kind of affront to in any way question the idea of natural selection. But, elegant as it is, it’s really just another scientific theory, and it’s completely open to challenge.

Bill: Scientists challenge Darwin all the time. You read about these entomologists, trying to figure out what the heck are the bees doing. They are willing to die for the queen when their own genes aren’t at risk! Similarly, my claim is that when the Yankees get eliminated from the World Series, Yankees fans in New York still root for an American League team–even if it’s Boston! Because Boston is in their league, even if they have nothing to do with them. They can feel it. I find that just astonishing.

The thing that’s so creepy about evolution–and fascinates me–is that not only are your size and shape, how many fingers you have, and your hair color determined by your genes, so, also, are your feelings to a large extent.

Rick: What do you say to Ray Kurzweil whose new book, The Singularity is Near, contends that humans will leapfrog their own biology through technical innovation, thus curing all disease, by 2045?

Bill: OK, I’ll meet him Botswana in 2045 and we’ll see how that’s working.

Rick: He also writes about spiritual machines.

Bill: A human brain develops not only by its genetic programming, but by what happens to it in its environment. This changes the way your brain works. With so many human brains running around experiencing so many different environments, I’d be surprised if the line between humanity and machines becomes blurry. On the other hand, the human brain is finite, it only has so many cells. It’s very possible you could make a machine like a human. But it’s gotta have some energy source. And that’s where the colossus takes over the world!

(Stay tuned for the next and final episode of My California-Time Breakfast with Bill Nye the Science Guy or Pee Wee Meets Bullwinkle!)