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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Naming Your Baby? Some Mistakes to Avoid


Mitt Romney's first name is "Willard."  What were his parents thinking?  My guess is that as soon as the boy figured out that his future as a "Willard" was going to be unnecessarily difficult, he switched to his middle name, which sounds a lot more butch.

Willard Romney

If you are considering what to name your baby, I have some non-expert advice for you.  When my then wife Charleyne was pregnant in 1972 we spent hours and hours talking about what to name the baby, and, as I remember, these discussions were lots of fun.  When you think about it, it's an awesome thing to name a human being.  Make a mistake and he/she will have to live with it for the rest of his/her life.  Do it right and that life will be considerably easier.

Top 10 Baby Names for 2011

Male name
Female name

Should you name your baby any of these?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of using popular or common (John or Deborah) names?  The big advantage of such a name is that people will be able to spell and pronounce it, and that's no small thing.  On the other hand, name your child something like "Nevaeh" and by the time Nevaeh dies she will have spent days (months?) worth of her life slowly spelling her name out over the phone or in conversations and then explaining how to pronounce it and where it came from (it's "heaven" spelled backwards, and, believe it or not, a name some parents give to their benighted children).
The disadvantage of naming your child "Jacob" or "Sophia" or any of the other popular names is that he/she will have to compete with all the other children with that same name.  If someone in a crowd yells out "Jacob" lots of heads will turn until it is sorted out which Jacob is meant.  If you have a common last name, then a child named "Jacob Smith," for example, will spend much of his life confused with zillions of other Jacob Smiths, causing headaches in identity mixups, which can be nightmares when straightening out things like mingled credit reports.

Charleyne and I debated these issues with great seriousness and finally decided that a perfect name would have the following attributes:

            1.  It must be easy to spell.
            2.  It must be easy to pronounce.
            3.  There must not be many people with the same name.
With such a name the child will go through life much easier than a child with a hard to spell name that no one can reliably pronounce just by reading it.
My parents had named me Douglas, and that name fits these criteria.  It has served me well all my life.  Charleyne's parents made a less happy choice.  First of all, there are different ways to spell "Charlene" but the one they chose is so unusual that Charleyne has battled its spelling since she was old enough to spell.  "It's like 'Charley' with an 'ne' on the end," she comments, only to be annoyed when I pointed out to her that "Charliene" isn't what she means, but meets her spelling explanation. 
In the end we decided that if the baby was a boy he would be "Clayton" and if a girl "Veronica."  Last week on the phone Clayton, now 39, casually mentioned to me that he'd finally met another Clayton, the first time in his life that had happened.  Their chances of being confused are almost nil, and in the meantime people see or hear my son's name and can spell and pronounce it without wasting a moment of his valuable time.
Clayton Robert Whaley
December 29, 1972
Related Posts:
"I Married a Hippy," April 14, 2010
"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010
"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010
"Bowling With Charleyne," February  13, 2011
"The Cheesecake Incident in Williamsburg, Virginia," January 6, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"I'm Not a Calculator!": Math Trouble in a Restaurant


I had a disturbing experience a few days ago at a Steak 'n Shake Restaurant near where I live.  Having eaten the fare and been glad of the experience, I approached the cashier's area to pay my bill and leave a tip.  Ahead of me were two teenage girls, one of whom was just being handed the cashier's receipt to fill out, and she paused over the task, pen in hand.

And she paused.
And she paused.
I'm guessing that close to minute passed while she was frozen (a long, long time for nothing to happen), and then she looked up at her friend, as if for help, and, getting none, went back to the paper in front of her.  Hesitantly she wrote the number "1" on the tip line, and then froze some more.  Embarrassed for her, I looked away.  What was going on?  Why didn't she leave the tip and then go so I myself could pay and leave? 
She still paused.  I saw her shoulders quiver.  Clearly it was a moment of major angst for the poor girl (around fifteen years of age I would guess).
People had piled up behind me, and the manager, seeing the line, jumped in and called for the next person (me) to come over to his register.  I did that, filled out the receipt, and turned to go.  By this time the two girls had finally finished at their register, and they were ahead of me as we went out the door.  As we exited the one who'd been pausing said to her companion, "Why don't they give you a calculator?  I'm not a calculator!  How am I supposed to know what to write down?"  Her friend commiserated with her, murmuring, "I know!  They expect you to do math on the fly!  That's bad for business."  "You're right—I won't ever come back here again!"

Well, businesses be warned: better include the tip in the check amount because some people today can't handle the math of doing it themselves.

Old fogey that—admittedly—I am, I find this depressing, and I sincerely hope it's an aberration and that most people of that age could fill out the tip line without immediately needing therapy.  I sincerely hope that's true, but I worry it's not.  In my law school classroom I've noticed over forty years of teaching that the students don't have the basics they once had, and that I spend more of my time instructing them in matters they should have brought to law school with them (for example, how our government creates laws, what are the three branches of government, the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, etc.).  On the other hand I'm aware that Socrates supposedly complained about the incompetence of the youths of his era, an observation echoed year after year ever since. (Socrates also is famous for saying that "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.")

Socrates Giving Advice
So I don't know what to think.  Blog readers, help me out here.  Please leave your comments on this in the Comments area below.  Is my Steak 'n Shake experience out of the ordinary, or, in 2012, are our young people not getting basic knowledge (or is arithmetic no longer worth memorizing)?  I should mention that I realize that in this complex era students face a very different world than I faced as a teenager.  There's simply a dazzling amount more information (this is the information age) that they must consume in order to function these days, hugely greater than what high school students in the early 1960s (my high school years) had to master. 

But still—can't compute the tip on a restaurant tab without a calculator? 
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading


I seem to be on a roll, with one book reading leading to another, given that I had one last month, will have one this coming week, and have a tentative one scheduled for next month. 

As readers of this blog know, I self-published a novel called "Imaginary Friend" a couple of years ago and have been steadily increasing its readership ever since.  This July I will finally get attend the Thrillerfest conference that I missed (due to nearly dying) last summer (see Related Posts below: "Report on Old Doug: Health, Theater, eBook, and More" and then "Mama Cat Saves My Life").  At that conference I plan to snag an agent for my atheist thriller, but in the meantime I'm selling a goodly number of copies at book readings.

My first was held a couple of weeks ago at the Humanist Community of Central Ohio here in Columbus.  About thirty people attended, all HCCO members or guests, and I began by reading two selections from my novel, both having to do with my protagonist's troubles when he went on national TV and confessed to being an atheist.  I did not read from the thrilling parts of the book (the explosion at Ohio Stadium, the kidnappings, the gun shots, or the horrific ending), but focused on what can happen if someone admits to being an atheist in a situation where it will not be well received.  Of course, I was preaching to the choir at this event, and those present, on hearing my reading, promptly wanted to tell their own stories about coming out as atheists.  One after one they did so, and the stories were amazing.

One woman was a correctional officer at a prison and she reported that in the large institution there were only three atheist prisoners, who had to be segregated from the general population, which was overwhelmingly both Christian and intolerant of atheists in its midst.  So much for the idea that atheists are amoral and societal risks—prison statistics all show a huge religious population and almost no atheists behind bars.  As Scott Hurst has pointed out, if all atheists left the United States it would lose 93% of the National Academy of Sciences but less than 1% of the prison population.
Prisoners Being Converted
One of the members of the audience was a woman who raised her hand and said that her daughter (a nine year old, who was present) had a story to tell about being an atheist in elementary school.  The daughter, Samantha, quite shy but determined, explained in a little voice that her school consisted of many very religious people including one of her best friends.  She was astounded when this friend announced one day that she hated atheists (not knowing one was present).  When quizzed what she'd do if she found out someone she knew was an atheist, Samantha's friend hotly stated, "I'd slap her as hard as I could!"  I then asked Samantha what she'd replied to that, and Samantha said she changed the subject.  I laughed and commented that that was what most of us would do: "Sometimes the better part of wisdom is to tap dance away from trouble."  This, in turn, led to a discussion about when it's best to stand your ground and when tap dancing is the appropriate response, all of which was very interesting.

My next book reading is scheduled for next Thursday evening, May 24th, in the Thompson Library (the main library) on the Ohio State University campus, second floor, in room 165 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  The event is monthly meeting of the Secular Student Alliance; the general public is welcome to attend.

So if you're interested, come hear the reading and stay for the extended discussion.  I will also be selling copies of my book (I sold out at the last reading) for $10.00 each, which is cheaper than the $15.99 plus shipping on Amazon (though the ebook is available for $2.99 on Kindle).
Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,” March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter One of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter Two)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter Three)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
" Report on Old Doug: Health, Theater, eBook, and More," June 28, 2011
"Mama Cat Saves My Life," October 23, 2011
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?" May 12, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?


William Paley
In 1802, English theologian and philosopher William Paley speculated that if he were to find a watch laying on the ground (as opposed to, say, a stone) he would know that it wasn't a natural object and therefore would conclude it must have been made by a watchmaker.  Extrapolating from this idea he concluded that all the complex plants and animals in the world likewise required an intelligent designer to achieve their intricate forms.  Forty years later Charles Darwin published his first book demonstrating that evolution produces these complexities in the various species without the need for a designer.  Nevertheless, Paley's famous watch argument is at the very basis of what is currently called "intelligent design."  This movement argues, as Paley did over two hundred years ago, that an intelligent hand must be behind the wonderful universe we see all around us—that it couldn't have just created itself.

I've posted before about evolution and intelligent design (see Related Posts below at "Is Evolution True?"), and I don't want to rehash all that I previously said.  But the "watch on ground" argument sounds persuasive enough that it's brought up regularly even though it is clearly an invalid attack on evolution.  This post is about why it's a specious argument, and why, indeed, it even supports the concept of evolution.

In a wonderful recent article in Free Inquiry magazine, Alexander Nussbaum goes into considerable detail explaining the complexities of a watch and why finding one on the ground would indeed indicate it was made by an intelligent designer, unlike naturally-evolved life forms.  His article can be accessed at: . [See also his three very interesting Comments to this blog post, all appended below.] A watch has all sorts of bells and whistles on it that indicate a great deal of thought has gone into its creation.  Many watches can stand immersion in water to considerable depths, even though only a tiny percentage of its users will get it wet at all.  Unlike life forms, a watch has no extraneous parts that are vestiges of functions it once had—for example a digital watch does not have an analog dial even though the watch's ancestors all had such a dial.  The watch's intelligent designer dropped the clock face and replaced it with digital numbers as an obvious manufacturing step.  But, as Nussbaum points out, human beings are filled with faulty parts that are explainable only as remnants of their historical evolution.  Our spines (originally designed for creatures that did not stand upright) were not created to last 80 or more years, even though modern humans themselves often last that long, the consequence of which is back trouble starting in middle-age and getting worse as decades pass.  No intelligent designer would make the human spine so prone to this sort of decay.  The human body is filled with remnants of organs ("vestigial structures") we no longer need: arteries for nonexistent "gills" and even that ticking-time-bomb: the appendix (which Darwin himself used as a primary example of human evolution).

In Richard Dawkins's terrific step-by-step explanation as to why evolution is scientifically established beyond question (except to closed minds unwilling to look at the evidence objectively because it might threaten religious beliefs), THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH—THE EVIDENCE FOR EVOLUTION (2009), the author gives us the example of "unintelligent design" in the creation of a giraffe's neck.  In the giraffe the laryngeal nerve starts high up on the neck and then proceeds down into the giraffe's chest before going back up to within centimeters of where it began, finally reaching the larynx (its original destination).  In an adult this can mean a journey of over 15 feet, but because the giraffe's neck evolved slowly as it lengthened, the journey, once short, became ridiculously long.  An intelligent designer would have made the nerve travel a short distance, producing a better giraffe, but evolution is not smart, only steady and incrementally protective of function.

There are no parts in the human body that compare to all the extras found in a watch.  Instead the human body's evolution produces a product that functions but would not be "designed" as badly as evolution has made it.  An intelligent designer would doubtless not have made such a bungle of the resulting product, and a human body with the elegance and extra features of a modern watch would be spectacular.  With my aging and aching knees, I yearn for knees designed to last as many years as I plan to last.  Doubtless, millions more years of evolution might produce such knees, but, alas, I can't wait that long.

Related Posts:
"Is Evolution True," July 13, 2011
"Men, Women and Pornography," December 10, 2010
"I Don't Do Science," July 2, 2010
"If Humans Are Descended From Apes, Why Are There Still Apes?” January27, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013