Find more of my work at


Receive notifications when this site is updated:

Subscribe by e‑mail.

Subscribe by RSS.

List of categories

Book Review: Trick or Treatment

In Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine, Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, M.D., set out to analyze the scientific literature on acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine, and a host of other modalities of so-called alternative and complementary medicine. The book begins with a long, fascinating chapter about the history of medicine and the emergence of the modern, evidence-based approach to medicine—i.e., conventional, Western, or allopathic medicine. Their stated purpose is to keep an open mind while applying the principles of evidence-based medicine to popular alternative modalities. Their backgrounds as medical outsiders and the careful, measured language of the introduction gave this skeptical reader confidence …more

When Critical Thinking is its Own Reward

Before I’d even finished yesterday’s blog entry, I did some googling on “happiest man Buddhist monk.” I’ll admit it: I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going too far out on a limb. I wanted to temper my language in case it turned out that there was compelling scientific evidence that scientists had identified the most joyful person alive. In other words, I wanted to cover my skeptical ass.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the idea of “the happiest man in the world” hadn’t originated with Patty Gras. As near as I’ve been able to determine so far, that phrase originated in an article by Anthony Barnes in the January 21, 2007, issue of The Independent. The article talks about Matthieu Ricard, a French academic who left his job …more

Boot Camp Day 10: Can I Get a Witness?

I received an e-mail today from Patty Gras at KUHT (Houston PBS). She’s a producer and the host of a “health and lifestyle” show called Living Smart. The show features topics related to health, alternative medicine, diet, self-improvement, and so forth. Here’s what she has to say about an upcoming show:

“Did you know the happiest man on the planet is a Buddhist monk? Scientists checked his brain waves and found him to be the most joyful person on earth, so we decided to talk to another monk, Master Jian Xiao Shih, so he could share some of the secrets to happiness!

“Master Shih of the Chung Tai Zen center of Houston will share the art …more

Boot Camp Day 2: A Different Kind of Faith

How open should an open mind be? What are the limits of tolerance and understanding, and what happens to those limits as our knowledge of the natural world grows?

Today I had lunch with an old friend—an intelligent woman in her late thirties, the executive director of a thriving arts organization. We met at a vegan Indian buffet. Since our last meeting had been at a vegetarian restaurant she’d picked, I asked her a few questions about her vegetarianism. She said she hadn’t eaten any meat or fish for 12 years. I admired her commitment. I told her that although I’m attracted to the environmental, social, and health benefits of vegetarianism, I enjoy eating a moderate amount of meat too much to make the complete change in eating habits.

Later, I asked what I thought was an innocent question: Is there anywhere in Houston where one can learn to practice meditation in an environment free of religious influences? …more

50/50 Exercise #41: Hot Water

Professor Harlebut believed that hot water was the defining characteristic of human civilization. “It’s what separates us from the savages. From the beasts, no less!” he was often heard to say at cocktail parties.

As he lounged in the bathtub catching up on his reading, he considered the possibility that the entire trajectory of human evolution had been established by the temperature of the pool of slime where the first amino acids congregated. He was absolutely convinced that the puddle in question had been warm. He used the big toe of his right foot to twist the handle labeled H. He settled deeper into the sudsy water. …more

50/50 Exercise #17: Long Title

At All Times, in All Seasons, the Earth Casts a Slim Wedge of Shadow into Space; When the Moon in Her Journey Passes Through that Umbra, Let Us Gather Under the Stars to Reflect, One to Another, That There Is No Charioteer Who Illuminates the Day, Nor Huntress Who Hides from the Sun’s Face, But Only Reason That Lights Our Understanding of What Nature Has Ordained

There will be a total lunar eclipse beginning at 9:01 p.m. Central Standard Time on Wednesday, February 20, 2008. My roommate and I have decided to make this astronomical treat the occasion for a party. If you’re reading my blog and you find yourself in the Houston area on February 20, if you’d like to join us.

Note: The prompt was to “create a working title that is the longest one you’ve ever written.” I’m not in the habit of giving working titles to any of my texts, so coming up with any title at all made for a challenging assignment. I like the idea of looking up at the ruddy, darkened moon and thinking of all the fanciful explanations that primitive people might have conceived for this lovely phenomenon. Giving myself permission to turn this exercise into a party invitation was the cherry on top.