Reference

The Life & Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

AKA the Jefferson Bible

by Thomas Jefferson

book cover for The Life & Morals of Jesus of Nazareth by Thomas Jefferson

This volume is based on a book published in 1904 as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth for the US Congress by the Government Printing Office, which itself was based on a tome Jefferson compiled for his own private use, by literally cutting and pasting together pieces of the New Testament, so he could study the teachings of Jesus (as he saw it) uncorrupted by the superstitions of the vulgar or learned among the professors of Christianity.

Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third president of the United States, never intended his extracts from the Four Gospels to be published during his lifetime, for he was constantly “averse to the communication of [his] religious tenets to the public,” stating, ”It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself to resist invasions of it in the case of others, or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”

Introducing this tome is an essay and letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, where Jefferson compares the accomplishments of Jesus as a moral philosopher to the Ancient Greek philosophers and to the scripture-centered Jewish community into which the lowly Nazarene was born. The body of the book consists mainly of the teachings of Jesus in his own words, stitched together with the few recorded events of his short and tragic life in the Roman province of Judea.

The “Jefferson Bible” may be more notorious for what it leaves out of its gospel harmony—most of the supernatural miracles; claims of the divinity of Jesus (mostly from the Gospel of John); or matters Jefferson considered “disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers”—than for the remaining clarity of the teachings the book seeks to convey, proving Jefferson’s fear that any communication on the subject of his religious views would indeed be “exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from [him] a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies.”

Available in Ebook Formats

I produced an ebook, designed a cover, and finished proofing and correcting it. The book is approximately 25,000 words long, or under 100 pages. I am releasing this under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication.

You can read the ebook in your browser right now:

Here are the ebook files for download:

The SVG of Thomas Jefferson is also available under the same CC0 license. I traced this myself from an image of the US nickel, a public domain work, using Affinity Designer.

Reference

Mindfulness in Plain English

in Ebook Formats, by Henepola Gunaratana

book cover for Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana

Someone on the Standard Ebooks discussion group asked if the project would accept the ebook of this text as an ebook. The answer was no, Alex, the head of the project, only wants old public domain books. That is the scope of that project.

However the tools are available to make other projects available independently, so I started reading the online version, and after getting halfway through it, I thought “this is worthwhile but riddled with typos so I should only read the rest as an ebook that I can correct and then share when I am done.” So I produced an ebook, designed a cover, finished proofing and correcting it.

The book is approximately 53,000 words long, or under 200 pages.

You can read the ebook in your browser right now:

Here is the Github repo of the source XHTML files, etc. for perusal:

Here are the ebook files for download:

This book has licensing restrictions and is protected by copyright. Most importantly, you may not distribute this book commercially.

Life

Real-time Skepticism

or How I Became a Born-Again Skeptic

a photo of a business card with a piece of phone-book paper taped to the back of it

While we were cleaning out stacks of boxes and papers in 2015 in the corner of the apartment, my wife went through a box of old greeting cards and at the bottom she found this business card with a small cut out of phonebook paper taped to it.

I kept this around as a souvenir for a number of reasons.

But let us begin the story at the beginning.

In 2007 I was struggling with with issues of identity and belief and authority and so forth. I took this all very seriously because for better or for worse people in power lead large groups of vulnerable people to wrap up their beliefs and opinions with their identity because it is easier than accepting some of the cold, hard truths of our dispassionate universe, or admitting that those before you have all used the same shortcuts for generations and refused to admit not knowing something. Instead they made up the answers, for all of human history, until about the time of Galileo—but many groups since have not caught up. At this time I was in the process of unraveling my identity and my values.

Around this time I was also driving home from work every evening to eat dinner and spend time with my soon-to-be wife, still a student at the Caltech campus in Pasadena. One evening on campus there was a public performance at Ramo Auditorium of a magician who called himself a Mentalist and made annoying claims of paranormal and supernatural abilities.

Not everyone in the crowd was a Caltech student, alumni, or faculty but it was clear that there were many skeptical types of people in the audience. Throughout the evening and due to the anxiety of identity mentioned above and general anxiety in my life, my heart was pounding sort of trying to debunk the fellow’s stupid paranormal claims and to come up with simple explanations only involving standard trickery.

A lot of the tricks were easy to figure out and many of them involved suggestibility of various members of the audience, mathematical tricks, or broken assumptions. Throughout the performance his whole approach became more and more frustrating to me because he was essentially being deceptive but prattling on about mental powers in a very serious manner. In other words the problem wasn’t that he was deceiving the audience to entertain them, the problem was that he was deceiving the audience and claiming to have abilities which were based on the supposed bending of natural law.

(And lest we forget, some of the greatest magicians of all time, including the Great Randi and Harry Houdini, were some of the greatest skeptics and debunkers who ever lived. In addition, great magic is more impressive to skeptics because they actually do not believe in magic and have a harder time with the fact that they have just witnessed the impossible.)

But skeptics as magicians generally wink and say they do their tricks by magic (they are up front that the phenomenon is “beyond reproach”) and leave it at that, whereas pseudoscience and paranormal proponents and mentalists first start by acting like their tricks are not tricks but can be subject to investigation, but when you look too closely they pull back in defense and then act like all of sudden the phenomena in question are beyond reproach. Which is it?

At the end of the evening the mentalist set up an elaborate trick which involved envelopes filled with single-digit numbers which he shuffled or pretended to shuffle in some order to spell out a telephone number, which he then produced by having a member of the audience open the telephone book to a random page where he would drag his business card with a window cut out of it (see the picture) across the page and stop at an arbitrary place determined by the audience member. I do not recall but perhaps he was even pretend blindfolded at this point. Now the audience member read out the phone number appearing in the window of the business card and then the envelopes were opened and it was revealed in a very showy manner that the digits matched.

During the applause and bowing and stage exit of the entertainer and with some excitement I rapidly worked through the steps of the trick and figured out that everything about it was very mundane except the only place to force that string of digits, already written in the envelopes, was the business card itself. I immediately ran down to the stage and picked up the business card off of the telephone book on the table and sure enough, using my skepticism and disbelief, I had worked through the only plausible solution to the illusion.

Another skeptic was wondering the same thing and even confronted me on stage to ask me if I was part of the act or defending the entertainer but I said, No, I had figured out the trick, and showed him the business card.

I was so full of adrenaline and excitement that I had won this little battle that I mostly inadvertently kept the business card. I meant the fellow no harm and I hope he went through all of his effects before going onstage later in his tour but I can assure you that he will not return to the California Institute of Technology. (I was not the only member of the audience giving him a hard time that night.) Luckily this piece of equipment is very inexpensive to replace.

He may have made suckers out of some people in the audience that night but he made a permanent disbeliever out of me. Using skepticism I had completely trumped this otherwise charismatic and convincing fellow, by simply questioning each assumption systematically.

Of course this was not the end of my internal journey but a beginning, giving a serious look at other groups that made similarly spectacular claims and appeal to emotion or appeal to authority with similarly shaky evidence.

I mean, not only was I a skeptic, I was a very good skeptic. (One would hope so as I had a job as an engineer debugging code all day and a four-year degree from one of the best science schools in the country.) Doubt had delivered the goods whereas faith (so-called) would have just rolled over and accepted it as beyond understanding.

By assuming there were no physical laws being broken and working the trick backwards my brain had determined the only solution to the problem.

(Of course like any magic trick, when you explain it, it kills the magic! In addition, pulling off a trick like this in front of an audience is obviously a lot harder than it sounds and takes years of practice.)

Apple

iPhone XR

I gave in when the exchange-an-old-iPhone program was offering $200 off a new iPhone by handing in my old iPhone 6S.

a Photo of a new white iPhone XR

That phone served me well for three years but the battery was having problems.

Compared to the old phone, the new phone has the following downsides:

  • $727 after $200 rebate, including tax and case, plus mini headphone adapter since it has no headphone jack (I mostly use wireless headphones so not a problem normally)
  • Slightly heavier and bigger in the hand and pocket, thicker
  • No 3-D touch, which I practiced getting used to by turning off 3-D touch on the old phone before making the leap

But I get the following upsides:

  • Way faster A12 chip vs. A9 of three years ago; more RAM
  • More storage than my 64 GB phone. I paid the extra $50 to go from 64 GB to 128 GB.
  • Way better battery life, the best in an iPhone you can buy, past or present (plus a brand new battery, of course)
  • Beautiful giant screen which fits > 40% more content and is easier to type on (two handed), including True Tone
  • Significantly upgraded camera with optical image stabilization and wider aperture and wider field of view, better dynamic range
  • Face ID, which has its pluses and minuses compared to Touch ID, but is impressively magical (no wet hand failures, just face too close or too far away failures, face too sideways failure)
  • Stereo speaker output which actually sounds really good
  • Waterproof for normal use cases

I transferred my old phone setup by iTunes backup and restore, which is good because I did a full audit of all the apps and data on my previous phone just to make sure everything was backed up manually in the cloud or elsewhere. Normally I set up a new phone from scratch but this was not necessary and the process was fairly painless, aside from spending a lot of time waiting for it to sync down some cached data for certain apps, after waiting a certain amount of time for all of my apps to re-download, after updating the phone to the latest iOS to match my old phone. It even transferred my old camera roll, which I guess is a good thing, even though I have it all backed up on Dropbox. I went from having a full 64 GB phone to having 90 GB free.

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