There is a controversy taking place about what some people call the “miracle cross” exhumed from the wreckage of the twin towers. An atheist group objects to having the “cross” displayed in the 9/11 museum. I have a couple of thoughts to share.

I am not an atheist but neither am I a Christian. I am Jewish. A cross has no particular significance to me. As to this cross in particular, I see nothing spiritual or religiously significant for myself though I certainly understand why both are important to American Christians. In the wreckage of 2 of the largest buildings in the world, it does not seem to me a surprise that one might find 2 perpendicular pieces of metal fastened together. Still, I believe that the “miracle cross” should, indeed must, be on prominent display at the 9/11 museum.

That may seem an odd position for an “almost rational” Jew but I don’t think it is. To me, the “miracle cross” is not a religious symbol, it is a cultural one. I take no issue with the religious Christians among us who take solace and comfort from what to me are two girders but what for them is a risen cross. That is not reason enough to put it in a museum, though. For me, the reason the cross must be on display in the museum is that, irrespective of my personal beliefs, the folklore that has arisen around the cross is a quintessential part of the American cultural response to 9/11. Part of how our nation responded to the horror, is the response that Christians had to the cross. I respect that and, even if I didn’t, it is still a part of the story of 21st century American culture.

NOW, I’ll tell you what DOES make me really angry. Many of the Christians who have responded to the Atheist position are clearly showing off their own belief in the singular truth of their dogma. Here is one example that I simply can’t get out of my head:

In an online conversation about the cross, one woman commented: “The cross is only offensive to those who don’t understand salvation. Sad.” What this really means is “The cross is offensive to only those people who don’t share Christianity’s belief system. They are offended because they don’t understand why Christians are right and everyone else is wrong“.

The cross does not offend me. The Atheists don’t offend me. American Christianity doesn’t offend. Only one thing offends me:

Treating me and my belief system, not as an alternative, but as patently wrong is highly offensive. If I felt that exhibiting the cross in the museum had only religious, not cultural and historical, significance I would not support it. For cultural reasons I absolutely do. But, please, please, please don’t use 2 perpendicular pieces of metal as a proof point that only you are right. Men and women of many religions and ethnicities died on the tragic day of 9/11/2001. Please don’t dishonor them by using this controversy to demean we who have chosen non-Christian paths.


A couple posts back, in my discussion of self-efficacy, I made a trend-bucking comment that “there IS an I in team“. I’d like to add some additional thoughts to help explain why I say that.

The “baby boom” generation, of which I am among the youngest members, passed through the 1950s and 1960s with an amazing sense of optimism. We tend to think we can do anything – and that’s good. We also tend to think we can BE anything and HAVE anything – that’s also (potentially) good. The oldest members of our generation inherited their “Greatest Generation” parents’ work ethic and blended it nicely with their new found optimism – that’s really good. By the time my piece of the boomer generation was coming of age, though, we sometimes seemed to have allowed that honorable zeitgeist to degenerate.

We younger boomers have held onto our belief that we can be, and have, anything; but, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking the world owes it to us. This does not mean we don’t work our asses off – we do. But, when we don’t get everything we want from life, even when we are working our asses off, we simply can’t accept it. We want to blame politicians (who deserve plenty of blame), corporations (over-blamed, IMHO), and our culture (the biggest contributor). We seem unable to simply TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Other factors certainly play into our success or failure, and we can’t control everything; but, these days, we rarely hold ourselves accountable for the job of improving the subset of things over which we DO have control. Taking responsibility is something that a lot of us and our children, and now grandchildren, simply seem to avoid.

This brings me to why I say “there IS an I in team”.

We know all the buzzwords. We say it takes a village. We crowd-source our decisions. We takecommunity responsibility. We strive to be team players. We understand thewisdom of networks. And then, when something good happens – when we win a big deal with a customer, say – we all congratulate “the team” – that’s really good too!

But it’s interesting to see what happens when something good doesn’t happen. All the crowd-sourced, networked, team-playing, village people, seem to either take only “team responsibility” or to switch over to that old outdated “individual” model and start playing blame games.

So…….. why is that?

Teams are important. Critical, in fact. Synergy is an incontestable value derived from networks. We can do more, and we can do it faster, with a well crafted team than we can alone. The problem is that a “well crafted team” relies on personal achievement (as I said a couple posts ago) as well as on integrity, commitment-keeping, and accountability. All of those traits are PERSONAL traits. Without them team members have no basis for trust. If we ignore the required individual attributes of each team member, then we can crowd-source all the decisions we want among the villagers but we will never perform OPTIMALLY.

I propose that one should not strive simply to build acceptable teams but, rather, should aim to build optimal ones. Doing that requires each team member to take personal responsibility and to hold himself personally  accountable. In other words, personal responsibility and personal accountability are requirements of optimal team performance.

And…. why do I say that “there IS an I in team”?

As a member of a team it is necessary to say “I will take responsibility for that task”, “I hold myself accountable to finish that project”, “I have an idea to share”, and perhaps most important of all:

“I take responsibility for that decision: I expect the credit for it when we succeed and I will take the blame for it if we fail”.

I don’t see much of that these days. But, to be honest, I don’t always practice what I just preached, either. Then again, acknowledging the importance of personal responsibility, personal accountability, and personal integrity is the first step to improving my ability to accept them. So, I place myself further along the path than many of my “co-boomers” and I encourage everyone to join in on the journey.


“Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!” – Herman Melville “Moby Dick” Chapter 37


My friend Juli Crockett just signed a recording deal with a Fluff & Gravy Records in Portland and is releasing the long-awaited new album from her band, the Evangenitals. Last Thursday night the band played Portland and I’d like to tell you about it. This is not really a “review” because I’m too biased. I already like the band and Juli, and I know how long the subject of the new recording has been part of her life. So, I can’t really write a balanced review. Here are a couple quick pics to prove I actually was there, though!



The gang devoted much of Thursday night’s show to the new album. It’s called “Moby Dick” or more accurately “Moby Dick; or, the Album“. The distinction is important and I’m  sad to say that I did not start laughing about how wonderful the post-semicolon clause is until the day after I bought the CD. (I’ll blame the black stouts I was drinking for my slowness of response to the nuance). In case you don’t get it, the full title of Melville’s book is “Moby Dick; or, the Whale”. Now… get it? It’s a great CD of under an hour in length; just the right duration to play in full in one set – which they did – presumably in reverse though I was paying more attention to the band itself than to the set list.

My personal favorite songs are the ones most closely related to the story of Ahab and the great white whale. “Shipwreck Blues”, “Moby Dick,” and “The Lee Shore” are wonderfully poetic and sit clearly in the realm of story telling. Note that the track named for the whale himself is not called “Moby Dick”; it is called “Moby Dick ” which I just find to be totally awesome – partly because it’s funny but more importantly because it speaks to the linguistic quality of Juli’s writing; I do want to point out that I would have called the song “Moby Dick;” to be true to the play on punctuation. But anyone in an alt-country band with the intellect to even HAVE a play on punctuation gets a million extra points for awesomeness in my book! Let me take a second to share why I love the literal “Whale songs” the best – but before I do, here’s a photo of the band in action.


I have been obsessed with cetaceans for longer than some of my friends have been alive. In high school I first encountered the books “The Center of the Cyclone” and “Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer” by John Lilly. This led me to John’s work with cetaceans, an interest in his interspecies communication project “Janus“, and ultimately to knowing and studying with him.

As early as the late 1970′s I created a Musique Concrete piece called “Tursiops” that used the reading of the names of John’s colleagues like Gregory Bateson, Jill Fairchild, and Scott McVay as a text. And back in 1982, I set a wonderful poem by Jeanne Foster Hill, called “From Point Reyes“, as the text for a chamber piece sung for my graduation recital at CalArts by Bunny Thornburgh.

I’ve always loved whales but never been one of those people obsessed with “Moby Dick”. Still, my belief that cetaceans may be the one inhabitant of Earth with a neuroanatomy that supports greater intelligence than humans certainly allows me to relate to the great white whale and his ultimate triumph against Ahab the men of the Peguod. Further, I think the book is a brilliant study of anger, revenge, tenacity, and the human need to challenge nature.


So, I’m always intrigued by artists who have an obsession with Moby Dick.


The album is not limited to songs that tell a literal story. It also has an eminently danceable pseudo-punkesque, extremely fun song called “Turbulent Flow” and a a song called “Quee Queg” which you won’t really understand in its full glorious irony unless you’ve read  “Moby Dick” and you remember the scene of bed sharing with Starbuck. It just goes to show once more that Juli knows the book REALLY well. The tune is (to me anyway) a sort of love song between a big, tattooed but very mild-mannered, heathen and a long-at-sea first mate. Very (VERY) cool.


NO, those 2 guys above are not what the song is about. But, to their credit, they are one really talented mandolin player and a superb fiddler. So, Juli may front the band but everyone else in it is an amazing talent, too!


That includes the awesome Ms. Lisa Dee, above; not just the guys! And, here is one of my better shots from the evening:


The Evangenitals “Moby Dick” show does not stop with the 7 tracks from the album. If you like alt-country (Damn… I almost said “more traditional alt-country” whatever the heck that is”) then the show has lots more to be happy about besides the 7 whale songs. They played some of my favorites like the highly danceable tune “Ode to Scientology”, a number of great earlier songs, and the one song my wife refuses to sing but which seems to frequently get stuck in my head, “Fu*k ‘em all”. My wife doesn’t really mind the song; she just has an issue with the audience sing-along (which of course is my favorite part!).  To me, when you want to assertively stand up for yourself as an individual you can’t get any better combination of songs than Matisyahu’s “Youth“, Bob Marley’s “Get up, Stand up“, Ani DeFranco’s “Napoleon“, and The Evangenitals”‘ “Fu*k ‘em all“. So, I’d say there is one alt-country band that’s in pretty darn good company!



“And we who know life among the belchings and heat of the belly, see the giant emerging from our own being; the whole, enormous, shadowy form of it” – “From Point Reyes by Jeanne Foster Hill”

I used to have a quote written on my whiteboard at work. It reminded me of something that I consider really important. I recently erased it because too many people did not immediately understand it and I don’t feel like taking time to explain things when I need to be getting my job done. It it, however, not a quote that I’ll ever remove from my heart, my mind, or my system of personal ethics. The quote is from Dr. Nathaniel Branden, during a talk on the foundations of self-acceptance. It says:

“It’s not about what THEY think; it’s about what YOU know”.

To me, that sentence seems very straightforward. Yet, more than one person thought that what it meant was that I don’t care about what other people think of me. Just to be really clear, that is NOT what it means. For better or for worse, the first impression that one projects to another is the one that lasts. If you want to survive in a world where you work for someone else, where people have specific expectations, and where you represent a team, the impression you make on others matters. I KNOW THAT.

But, there is a big difference between presenting ones self in a particular external form and having an internal sense of self-efficacy and self-acceptance. There is nothing wrong with liking who you are and believing that you have as much right to live and anyone else. The Branden quotation is not about external presentation, it is about internal definition. It is not about ignoring what others think; it is about not letting others be the primary criteria by which you define yourself.

That is why I want to live by the rule that Branden’s statement defines. I won’t stop liking opera just because my friends don’t like it. I won’t stop writing poetry just because I’m a product manager not a poet. I won’t stop using humor as my way of balancing my stress just because someone doesn’t think I’m adequately stoic. I won’t stop valuing personal relationships with coworkers just because it’s not the “executive” thing to do. I won’t stop acting like the relatively cool guy that I think I am just because an alternate way of behaving might someday get me the title of Vice President.

What I WILL do, it to accept the things I like about myself and to live consistent with my values, even if I’m somewhat atypical.

You know why?

Because I have as much right to my happiness as anyone else and I’m not going to stop being me just to be someone who other people want me to be.

It is common these days to speak of community and teamwork with the phrase “It takes a village”. Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t really dispute that. We need to work together and we need to form communities because the world is an extremely complex place. I’m really good at some things and not as good as others. Yet, to be optimally successful in my endeavors I need some of each. If I contribute my strongest skills and ask to use someone else’s strongest skills in return, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts like any synergistic relationship. I recognize that I have a need of that synergy. But the next question comes when thinking about where the “strongest skills” will be developed.

For me, the answer comes in striving to be the best I can be. This does not just mean being the best “team player”. It means being the “best”, period. It all comes down to personal achievement. Not group achievement, not community achievement, not team achievement. PERSONAL achievement. Community and team are important concepts. But there is nothing wrong with individual achievement too. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that it is individual striving that drives a desire for individual responsibility; taking individual responsibility that contributes to individual success; and individual success that provides these “strongest skills” that one contributes to the team or community. So, without individual accomplishments, there is nothing to contribute to a team or community. I know this “bucks the trend” but, although collaboration is essential to group success, there IS an “I in team”.

Let’s get back to Nathaniel’s quotation:

“It’s not about what THEY think; it’s about what YOU know”.

Why is this so important?

To be the best that one can be, and hence the best contributor that one can be, one must realize that he or she is both capable of succeeding and worthy of it. Knowing this about yourself is what makes you willing to accept responsibility. It is what make it possible for someone to learn from mistakes instead of be deflated by them. It is what gives you confidence that you can learn the high-value skills that make you a valuable contributor. It does not mean the team is unimportant or that your bosses perception is unimportant, or that your family or other communal entity is unimportant - unquestionably they are. But the way to become the best possible contributor to those aggregated structures is to recognize that you, yourself, are important too.

So, I live by the Branden quote, just as I live by a desire to achieve unconditional integrity and self-responsibility, because the only way to be my best is to know that I have that capacity. One can not, I will not, let anyone take that knowledge away from me. Irrespective of what THEY think, so long as I know my capacity, everyone is better off. Believing in yourself is crucial to living a fulfilled life. If others believe in you as well, rock on! But it has to start with you and you have to be strong enough that no one else can screw it up for you.

Last night I was finishing the new book “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead. In it she was discussing childhood memories and how we tend to best remember the beautiful, pastoral things of our childhood – tending to suppress the muddy fields and darker events. She said something that really resonated with me. She said that we remember the beauty of childhood because that is the part of our lives where we “became human”. This reminded me of one of my favorite Roland Barthes quotes, from the essay called “The Light of the Sud-Ouest”. Barthes says this:

“…childhood is the royal road by which we know a country best. Ultimately, there is no Country but childhood’s“.

The reason these quotations resonate so strongly for me is because, now in my 50′s, I do exactly what Mead says that all of us do. I think back about my childhood in Inglewood California and I remember playing “hide and seek” on my block of Condon Avenue; working in the back yard garden, with my dad, because he promised to take us to “Bob’s Big Boy” for dinner; climbing over the back fence into Ladera Park, via the well positioned lemon tree; Rabbi Soloff praising me in Hebrew School for trying to do “sleep learning” by listening to my Torah portion via a pillow speaker as I slept; visiting with my neighbor, across the street, who’s garage was filled with a giant ANALOG computer; camping with the Cub Scouts and the Indian Guides; playing handball on the courts at La Tijera Elementary School; Shopping at Henshey’s and Builders Emporium and hanging out at “Pizza Palace” (thanks, just today, to my Facebook friends); schlepping around the neighborhood kids in mom’s maroon and white Buick Skylark; sailing to Catalina Island on weekends with the Eddy’s; swimming in the Nelson’s pool; playing basketball with my uncle Mel and his kids in the driveway after Thanksgiving dinner; visiting grandma Bea in Santa Monica; turning one of my bathrooms into a darkroom at the age of 11 or 12; the “Chicken Kiev” at my Bar Mitzvah luncheon; the time my poor old dog Coco got hit by a car and broke her leg and I sat with her under my dad’s desk; the old Philco black and white TV in my bedroom and the 25 foot long-wire antenna I hung out that bedroom window for my Heathkit Shortwave radio; sending off receptions reports to the shortwave stations “Radio Moscow” and “Radio Peking“, and how I got the QSL cards back in envelopes that had been opened and had numbers written under their flaps; watching Apollo 11 land on the moon at the Baffa’s house because THEY had a color TV and watching cartoons and the Rose Parade (!) on our first color set; and on and on and on. It all seems really wonderful as long as I suppress (repress?) the memories about being teased for my “coke bottle bottom” glasses and the fact that I was the shyest, lowest self-esteem, kid I knew.

But, that is exactly Rebecca Mead’s point. Becoming human is such a significant part of youth that it’s easy to idealize that youth. I think it’s possible that we could more easily wrestle with, and dispel, that which we suppress and which ultimately makes adult life more difficult, if we did not do that. But, at the same time, I rather like thinking back on the good things.

Besides, it makes Facebook a hell of a lot more fun!

What we’re up against

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized


Thanks for sharing the silliness (again) Dr. Coyne.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

BuzzFeed’s Matt Stopera (who also took the photos shown below ) collected 22 pictures of people who attended the Ham/Nye debate in Kentucky and identified themselves as creationists.

Stopera asked each of them to write down their “message to people who believe in evolution.”  See the link for all the questions (many of them predictable), but I’ve chosen a few examples to post. The sad thing is that nearly all these people are young—the target audience for science educators.  It’s not clear whether they’d already seen the debate or not, but, being creationists, that probably wouldn’t have affected their questions.

Read and weep, o brethren:

First, someone who doesn’t know the hominin fossil record:

Picture 6

The very concept of  this sort of “purpose” implies God, yet she has no evidence for Him:

Picture 10

Noetics? What does that have to do with evidence?

Picture 1

Answer: because of the laws of physics…

View original 95 more words

Here is what you need to know about bread:

Basic Topics

FLOUR – Without flour your bread will be too wet.

WATER – Without water your bread will be too dry.

SALT – Without salt your bread will rise too fast.

YEAST – Without yeast your bread will rise too slow.

Advanced Topics

PRE-FERMENTING – Preferments make your bread’s flavor more complex by extending ferment time.

POOLISH – Mellow preferment

BIGA – Rustic preferment

Graduate Studies

LEVAIN – Makes your flavor most complex (see also “Mr. Blob”)

Appendix: Electives

PIZZA – Make your bread flat, put stuff on it, bake really, really hot

FOCACCIA – Make your bread flat, work in a ton of olive oil, put stuff on it, bake not quite as hot. (see also, Pizza)


COOKIES – For the hell of it bake some cookies.



Needless to say “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast” by Ken Forkish is my favorite baking book. Read it.