Friday Link Love: Science Videos, Memoir Writing, and Gratitude

First links first: Presby-peeps, have you registered for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte? It’s going to be a fun, creative, hope-filled gathering.

Go register now, because early bird rates end next week. I’ll be here when you get back.

OK. Away we go:

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Is Atheism a Religion? — New York Times

A variety of perspectives from lots of smart folks, including Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass.

He’s not quoted here, but I am a fan of Alain de Botton and his School of Life for Atheists. (I linked to him yesterday in my post about why atheists need holidays.)

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Salon’s Guide to Writing a Memoir — Salon.com

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for linking to this wisdom recently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Accept the limitations and boredom of your life as the challenge of writing. Accept your profound lameness as the wages of your craft. The problem is never that your life isn’t interesting enough, it’s that you aren’t looking (or writing) hard enough.

Sabbath in the Suburbs is memoir-ish, and I gotta say, I’m pretty sick of myself. My next book will not be a memoir.  But I still love reading good ones. Good ones.

Avi Steinberg:

If you’re not sure about the difference between publishing a story and therapy, you especially should find a good shrink.

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50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World — Twisted Sifter

The most useful list I’ve seen. OK, posts like this don’t solve world hunger, but they give me a weird sense of hope. Human beings are so resourceful:

life-hacks-how-to-make-your-life-easier-29

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Why Is There a Gap Between What We Feel and What We Express When It Comes to Gratitude? — Science and Religion Today

A recent study sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation found a dramatic gap between the gratitude people say they feel and what they express. In the large and demographically balanced survey, fully 90 percent of respondents said they were grateful for their immediate family, and 87 percent were grateful for their close friends. But when it came to expressing it, the numbers dropped almost in half. Only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men said they express gratitude on a regular basis.

So why the big gap? Several factors come into play. Many people assume that those close to them already know how they feel, so they don’t need to state their appreciation. They are, of course, quite wrong.

More at the link.

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Australia Banned Assault Weapons. American Can Too — New York Times

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

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How to Write a Muffin Recipe — Deb Perelman, Slate

I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan and a HUGE muffin fan. Muffins are the perfect food. They are easy to make, bake up quickly, come in infinite varieties, and have built-in portion control. The recipe for Plum Poppy-Seed Muffins looks wonderful, but just as delightful is Deb’s description of her trial and error and her basic formula for create-your-own muffin flavors. This is kitchen improv at its finest.

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100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers — Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

16.) Earth-Building Wounds
Scientists are studying the unique geological properties of Iceland in order to better understand how tectonic plates form and shift to permanently change the shape of the planet.
17.) The Wright Brothers Discover Aspect Ratio
John D. Anderson at the National Air and Space Museum provides an interesting talk on the Wright Brothers and their indispensible contributions to the history of human flight.
18.) Through the Wormhole: DNA
Morgan Freeman(!!!!!!) narrates a brief clip on the structure and importance of DNA. Short, but soothing. Also educational. Also Morgan Freeman.

Much, much more at the link.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. I’m off to Windy City tomorrow, where I’ll be leading a pastors’ retreat on Sabbath-keeping. Once I get back I’ll be preparing for Preacher Camp. So blogging will be light next week. Peace!

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Penn Jillette: Atheists Need Holidays Too (Bonus Link Love)

festivus-yes-bagels-noTomorrow’s Friday Link Love will feature a discussion on the New York Times about whether atheism is a religion. As a setup to that, Penn Jillette has a book out called Every Day is An Atheist Holiday! Here’s an excerpt, posted on Brain Pickings:

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll invents the idea of the un-birthday. If we celebrated those we’d have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays. Atheists have always had the corner on un-holidays. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, the day Tom Cruise had sex with a woman are all holidays in some religion but they’re never a celebration of life. The joy is the exception that proves the rules. It’s the celebration of a joy that we don’t have.

The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. … Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.

For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.

Once again Jillette lumps religion into the same tired heap of deferred-gratification, sweet by-and-by that bears little resemblance to religion as it’s lived by many, many, many people. Even Christians for whom praying the sinners’ prayer gets you a ticket to heaven are working to fight poverty, human trafficking, and even climate change. But that’s not my point.

Further, the idea that atheists are people who are full of joy and mirth is so over the top as to not warrant much comment. I find them to be just as dour and road-ragey as the rest of us. Except Buddhists. You get the feeling those folks don’t ever drive angry.

Instead, I want to highlight the importance of holidays, for atheists and for everyone.

Of course every day is a gift to be celebrated, whether you are a Christian, a Baha’i, a Pastafarian, or a member of the Church of Christopher Hitchens of Latter-Day Drunks. No less than Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out that in the Jewish/Christian creation tale, God creates the stuff of the universe and calls it all good, but when he creates the Sabbath he calls it holy.

Things are good. Time is holy. Jillette is absolutely right. We have the wonder and glory of life, right now. We need not wait until Christmas or Easter to revel in it.

But the problem is, that kind of wide-eyed wonder is simply not sustainable 365 days of the year. I’m not even sure it would be desirable. Human beings need seasons. We need rhythms and days and times set apart. OK, maybe need is a little strong. But psychologically speaking, holidays are healthy. They serve a worthy purpose.

I respect the heck out of Alain de Botton, atheist philosopher, partly because he approaches both his atheism and the religious life with humility and curiosity. He understands the utility of many aspects of the religious life, including days and seasons for specific purposes. Take it away:

Ms. Tippett: And, I mean, it’s interesting, a couple of other things that you — features of — very religious features of traditions that you also say that atheists and secular society could learn from, like the Day of Atonement in Judaism or the tradition of saints in Roman Catholicism.

Mr. de Botton: Yes. I mean, taking those two, the Day of Atonement, a fascinating moment in the calendar in Judaism where people essentially say sorry to each other and they say sorry against the backdrop of a God who doesn’t make mistakes, but humans who do. You are given license, encouragement, structure to do something which would be mightily hard if you were left to do it on your own like, as I say, saying sorry. It’s much easier to say sorry if everybody is doing it on a particular day because then there’s a sort of cycle of mutual apology and forgiveness which makes the whole thing much more normal. We’re very suspicious of ritual in the nonbelieving world. You know, we think that there shouldn’t really be rituals, that the private life should have its own rhythms and that no one should come in from the outside and say, you know, today we’re going to say sorry and next week we’re going to worship spring and the day after we’re going to think about the qualities of humility in a saint or something. The idea is you should do all this on your own in private. I’m coming around to the view that that’s nice in theory, but the problem is we’ll never get ’round to it.

As someone who practices, thinks about, and writes about Sabbath, let me humbly suggest to Jillette and other atheists that you not let go of holidays. I’ll leave it to you to discern what those might be—and you could have big fun with this by coming up with your own, or just co-opting the religious ones. (We did it first, and turnabout is fair play.)

But this wonderful life that we all live in different ways? Is also a life filled with commutes and grocery lists and sciatica. It gets away from us, all too easily, if we don’t take time to savor it. Holidays help us do that.

Friday Link Love

Plenty of choice goodies today for all your Friday procrastination needs:

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Welcome to the Jungle — Luke Lukas

This has gotta be the best version of “Welcome to the Jungle” EVER. Who needs Axl’s sweet licks when you’ve got a kazoo!!

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

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Maurice Sendak — Fresh Air 

This quote from an interview with Terry Gross has been making the rounds:

There’s something eucharistic about this.

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Returning to Church, Despite My Doubts — CNN Religion Blog

Although I never experienced that dramatic reconversion moment, I did come to peace with two slow-growing realizations.

First: My doubt belonged in church.

People who know my story ask what I would have changed about my spiritual journey. Nothing. I had to leave the church to find the church. And when I came back, the return wasn’t clean or conclusive. Since then, I’ve come to believe that my doubts belong inside the space of the sanctuary. My questions belong on the altar as my only offering to God.

With all its faults, I still associate the church with the pursuit of truth and justice, with community and shared humanity. It’s a place to ask the unanswerable questions and a place to be on sojourn. No other institution has given me what the church has: a space to search for God.

Read on for her other realization, and more. Amen.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Agnosticism/Atheism — The Big Think

Neil deGrasse Tyson identifies as an agnostic:
http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

This video has sparked some serious, and in some cases virulent, debate about what it means to be an atheist. But I think I get what he’s going for. For one thing, he doesn’t want to part of a movement, partly because some aspects of that movement are, well, mean. But I also think he doesn’t want to be claimed by the atheists because belief in God, and disbelief in God, are just not the questions that animate him.

I think Tyson’s saying, God isn’t a part of the picture, not even as the thing I reject. Unless and until evidence comes to light that proves or disproves God, the idea of God is completely irrelevant to my life. 

Claiming Tyson as an atheist is like someone claiming me as a fan of their favorite cricket team.

I’ve often thought we have a language problem here. Atheism is defined in negative terms: disbelief in God. Maybe it would be more helpful in terms of building understanding if there was a word that explained what people are for rather than what they disbelieve.

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Is Evolution a Lousy Story? — Science and Religion Today

Polls show that fewer than half of Americans accept evolution. Most of us still don’t buy it. As the comedian Louis C.K. asked in a bit about people who insist that they can’t possibly be related to monkeys: “Why are you fighting this?”

Dan McAdams offers one possible, rarely discussed reason: Maybe evolution is a lousy story. Actually, McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, doesn’t think evolution is a story at all. There is no protagonist, no motivation, no purpose—all crucial elements in a narrative, whether it’s Frog and Toad Are Friends or Fifty Shades of Grey.

He mentioned this idea recently during a presentation at the Consilience Conference,which also drew researchers from biology, economics, and literary studies. Afterward, a seemingly annoyed audience member questioned McAdams’s apparent criticism of evolution, countering that it’s in fact a wonderful, elegant explanation of life. McAdams agreed that it’s wonderful and elegant. He just doesn’t think it’s a story.

I found this intriguing, partly because “creationists are idiots” just doesn’t give you much to go on. And, I love thinking in terms of story.

A new site for me, but one I now follow on Google Reader.

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10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You — WSJ

“Some of your worst days lie ahead,” and other uncomfortable truths.

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Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret — LifeHacker

It’s very simple: Don’t break the chain.

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Crush the “I’m Not Creative” Barrier — Harvard Business Review

The bad news is that if you don’t think you’re creative, our survey data say that you probably are not. But there is good news: You can actually become more creative by changing your mind-set. Anyone can innovate, if they choose to. Disruptive innovators do it by choice, not chance. Their everyday actions swap out an “I’m not creative” mind-set for an “I am creative” one. And then magical (not mystical) things unfold.

Oh, those hippy-dippy flakes at the… Harvard Business Review. What do they know? 🙂

An interesting article, and not just because they love on Evernote, the software that makes my life better every day.

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Have an excellent weekend.

Friday Link Love

If you haven’t already, check out my previous posts from this week (spiritual genius and mentoring) for additional links.

Onward…

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My friend Susan shared this on Facebook yesterday:

Excellent reminder.

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Showing Death with Humanity and Dignity — New York Times

A photographer in Mexico City documents the effects of Mexican and North American policies on the border region where he was raised. I appreciated this interview about one of his heartbreaking images:

I shot the scene a bunch of different ways, but the way that worked best was just showing it from the front. These people were killed by one single bullet. The woman is far into her pregnancy. The hit man came in from the left-hand side of the car and fired a bullet into the man’s head when they were embracing and killed both of them.

I don’t know. It seemed appropriate as we move into Holy Week.

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Religion for Atheists — Alain de Botton

I know I’ve linked to his work before, but I find it fascinating as an agnostic theist (I don’t know but I believe):

The French atheist and proto-fascist Charles Maurras, an admirer of both Comte and Nietzsche, was an impassioned defender of the Catholic Church. John Stuart Mill – not exactly an atheist but not far off – tried to fuse Comte’s new religion with liberalism. In marrying atheism with very different ethical and political positions, none of these thinkers was confused or inconsistent. Atheism can go with practically anything, since in itself it amounts to very little.

Most people think that atheists are bound to reject religion because religion and atheism consist of incompatible beliefs. De Botton accepts this assumption throughout his argument, which amounts to the claim that religion is humanly valuable even if religious beliefs are untrue. He shows how much in our way of life comes from and still depends on religion – communities, education, art and architecture and certain kinds of kindness, among other things. I would add the practice of toleration, the origins of which lie in dissenting religion, and sceptical doubt, which very often coexists with faith.

Today’s atheists will insist that these goods can be achieved without religion. In many instances this may be so but it is a question that cannot be answered by fulminating about religion as if it were intrinsically evil. Religion has caused a lot of harm but so has science. Practically everything of value in human life can be harmful. To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity.

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Language Cop: Christian — The New Republic

In November I introduced a periodic blog feature called “Language Cop” to “keep track of unacceptable words and catchphrases that enter the political dialogue.” In that column I exiled the terms “optics” and “inflection point.” Earlier this month I inveighed against “pivot,” and last week I suggested this euphemism be replaced with a new term, “shake,” in deference to America’s first multiplatform gaffe. Today I banish “Christian ”—not the word itself, but a specific, erroneous usage.

In other words, a usage that implies that Christians are all conservative/fundamentalist. A- to the -men.

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And on a whimsical note:

Frame of Mind — Vimeo

Incredible:

Frame of Mind from Steven Alan on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend. I’ve got a session retreat on tap as well as a visit with my cousin B.

Friday Link Love

The Cult of Collaboration — Fernando Gros

Just jokin'. Sort of.

…We often need to collaborate in order to solve really big problems. And, as humans, we also need to work alongside other people to satisfy more basic emotional desires for community and belonging.

But, the hard slog of creating, innovating and thinking is something we largely do alone.

That’s something I totally agree with. And, it worries me that in many parts of society, including schools, we are not encouraging people to develop the skills required to work alone, for extended periods of time, on complex problems.

Add in the fact that smartphones mean that we need never be alone again, and this is an issue worth thinking about. Alone. Or together.

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Religion for Atheists — Alain de Botton

We are far more desperate than secular modernity recognises. All of us are on the edge of panic and terror pretty much all the time – and religions recognise this. We need to build a similar awareness into secular structures.
Religions are fascinating because they are giant machines for making ideas vivid and real in people’s lives: ideas about goodness, about death, family, community etc. Nowadays, we tend to believe that the people who make ideas vivid are artists and cultural figures, but this is such a small, individual response to a massive set of problems. So I am deeply interested in the way that religions are in the end institutions, giant machines, organisations, directed to managing our inner life. There is nothing like this in the secular world, and this seems a huge pity.

The above link is to an FAQ about Botton’s TED talk on Atheism 2.0, which is outstanding and available here.

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Pomodoro Technique

If you’re not familiar with the pomodoro technique for time management, it’s incredibly simple and very effective. I wrote Sabbath in the Suburbs primarily using techniques like this one.

Poke around the website to learn more about it, though for heaven’s sake, I don’t know why you’d need a $26 book to understand it, let alone the tomato-shaped timer, although it is cute.

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And along the lines of time management:

The Biggest Myth in Time Management — Harvard Business Review

In a nutshell: That we can get it all done. (Comments are interesting, trying to diagnose “Brad’s” problem in the article.)

I think this simple realization has profound spiritual implications, way beyond simple time management. But then again, I would think that, I just wrote a book about Sabbath…

Have a good weekend. It’s a long weekend for us, what with teacher work days on Monday and Tuesday. We have our congregation’s annual meeting on Sunday, after which the kids and I head to Johnstown, Pennsylvania for a short visit with Robert’s grandmother.

Friday Link Love… And More with the Friars

Utmost on my list of links is Rick Ufford-Chase’s heartfelt counterpoint to my point at Two Friars and a Fool. (Or maybe I’m the counterpoint to his point.) Next week we will respond to each other’s articles. Do go and leave your thoughts on civil disobedience there. Thanks again to the guys at TFF for the invitation to write.

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Drive Recklessly (YouTube)

Sickly wonderful:

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A Memorable Evening with Cliff Robertson (Thoughtful Christian)

A sweet remembrance of what sounds like a fine man… and one who understands that the loving gesture can be more powerful, narratively and emotionally, than the explosion of anger.

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For the Dying, a Chance to Rewrite Life (NPR)

As a psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, he did study after study trying to tease out exactly what troubled people most about dying. What he found was that what people found most assaulting and annihilating was this idea that who they were would completely cease to exist after their death. And so Chochinov decided to do something about it.

“If the idea of having something that will outlast even you matters for patients that are near the end of life, then we need to do something that will create something that will last beyond … the patient,” he says.

The something that Chochinov decided to create was a formal written narrative of the patient’s life — a document that could be passed on to whomever they chose.

[more]

Many of our churches do end-of-life courses and retreats, which include everything from estate planning to living will to planning the memorial service to writing a “spiritual will and testament” of lessons and stories to share with the next generation. Some interesting thoughts here as we plan these events.

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This Time It’s Different (Art of Non-Conformity)

A meditation on the dilemma many people confront when considering a change in one’s life. Do you take the leap now, or plan and wait until all your ducks are in a row?

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He’s My Favorite Fictional Character! (Julian Sanchez)

Keith Snyder bait: a meditation on belief, narrative and (a)theism:

Fundamentalists of every sect are, pretty much by definition, strongly committed to the literal truth of all of their scripture. But the garden variety “believer,” I suspect, may often be more accurately thought of as a “suspension-of-disbeliever.” (Somewhere in the back of my head is that CollegeHumor video about religion as a species of fanboyism.) When you think about the actual functions that religious narratives serve in people’s lives, literal truth or falsity is often rather beside the point, and yet suspension of disbelief is a necessary condition of immersion in the story. On this view, Richard Dawkins is a little like that guy who keeps pointing out that all the ways superhero physics don’t really make sense.

[snip]

Dawkins & co. are themselves quite capable of appreciating religious and mythical narratives as narratives. What Rée seems to be positing, though, is that they may underestimate the number of soi-disant Believers who appreciate it on something like the same level.

Could You Pass as Your Ideological Opponent?

I read with dismay this story about town hall meetings, which have gotten more contentious in recent years.

So what happened to the town hall?

…[T]he tools of citizenship and activism have changed with the advent of YouTube and new, more aggressive strategies from activist groups on both sides. Somehow, an event that was once all about listening has become all about shouting. It now counts as a defeat if one’s opponent is allowed to make a point in peace.

Incidentally, the comments prove the article’s point.

By contrast, consider the Ideological Turing Test. A group of atheists and a group of Christians were asked to answer questions anonymously (e.g. what’s your best reason for being a Christian/an atheist?). The goal was to pass themselves off as members of the other group. Through open voting, readers tried to discern whether “person #6” was an atheist posing as a Christian or a Christian speaking as herself, and vice versa for the atheist questions.

The responses and results are fascinating and fun. I haven’t crunched all the numbers or read everything on the site, which is not scientific, it should be said. But I did note that in the atheist contest, the top three people identified as atheists were actually Christians. In other words, the Christians were able to represent the atheist point of view well enough to fool the audience.

I’m not sure what to make of that. My initial thought is that doubt in God is actually a component of religious faith, not the antithesis to it, so it’s not hard for a self-reflective Christian to put on that point of view. Or maybe we just fake sincerity really well? (It’s a joke. No pile-ons.) There were also atheists that were able to “pass” as Christian, but not as many as the other way around. But numbers aside… what a cool experiment.

Adam Hamilton, a pastor whom I admire greatly, did a sermon series several years ago on world religions. The purpose was to build respect and see what Christians could learn from other forms of religious piety. He interviewed interfaith leaders in his community and even included video of these leaders in the service. He said his goal was not to build a straw man to knock down, but to represent the other religion’s point of view so accurately that those religious leaders could sit in the front row of his church and say, Yes, that is who we are.

It’s the Atticus Finch thing: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I do that sometimes as an intellectual exercise, when I hear something on the news that really ticks me off: What might lead a person to come to that conclusion? But it’s hard work, and I don’t do it enough.

We don’t do it enough.

But we could. And the world would be a thousand times better place.

Fewer Angry McShoutertons, please.

More Adam Hamiltons and Ideological Turing Tests.

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footnote: the original turing test