DIVINE DISBELIEF The Village Voice's chief national political correspondent, Rick Perlstein, spoke on Tuesday at the New York City Atheists' Solstice Dinner. A crowd gathered on the mezzanine at Minado Restaurant on East 32nd Street. Mr. Perlstein spoke about his research and reporting on the Christian right - he is also currently at work on a book about Richard Nixon.
Mr. Perlstein said that before coming, he had contacted a friend to get an atheist joke to tell the audience. This is what the two came up with: A guy is walking across the bridge when he sees a second man, who is about to commit suicide. "What are you doing? You have so much to live for!" the first man exclaims. He proceeds to ask, "Are you religious or atheist?"
"Religious," the second guy replies. "So am I," the first man says.
"Are you Baptist?" "Yes." "So am I," the first man replies.
"Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" the first man asks. The second replies, "Baptist Church of God!"
Are you Baptist Church of God, schism of 1890, or Baptist Church of God, schism of 1912?"
"1912," the second man replies.
"Heathen!" the first man exclaims, and pushes the man into the river.
HERCULEAN FEATS When do humans exhibit superhuman strength? Consider the following two examples.
At Town Hall last month, radio host Ira Glass narrated an onstage radio and picture collaboration with graphic artist Chris Ware called "Lost Buildings." They told the story of a Chicago cultural historian, Tim Samuelson, who had a childhood fascination with saving Louis Sullivan buildings.
When scrapmen with sledgehammers were breaking up the facade of the Rothschild Store, built in 1881, the young Mr. Samuelson angrily lifted a panel that made up the front wall. The panel weighed 600 to 800 pounds - he was never able to repeat the feat. Mr. Glass compared Mr. Samuelson's moment of Herculean strength to the stories of a mother who is momentarily capable of lifting a car to save her child.
The Knickerbocker heard the second tale during an installment of the Monday night film series at the Center for Jewish History.
The program focused on ethnographic filmmaker Maya Deren. The audience watched short films by Deren as well as the documentary "In the Mirror of Maya Deren," directed by Martina Kudlacek. In the documentary, Deren, nee Eleanora Derenkovskaya, is described as having attended a friend's wedding on Long Island. When informed that she would not be a member of the wedding party, Deren reportedly got so mad that she threw a refrigerator across the room.
Fridges flying? Airborne architectural fragments? Whether these uncanny events are factual or folkloric, one can only echo Robert Ripley: "Believe It or Not!"
GIVE ME A LEVER Last week, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge, Tadashi Tokieda, entertained students, faculty, and alumni at the Courant Institute at New York University's annual holiday lecture. Mr. Tokieda spoke on "Physics of Toys," demonstrating and explaining the mathematical physics behind such objects as spinning tops.
Mr. Tokieda's lecture was entertaining as well as informative - much like other programs at the institute. For example, earlier this season, a lecturer in epidemiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Chris Rorres, offered a modern take on Archimedes's work on floating bodies.
Mr. Rorres explained how, according to tradition, Archimedes ran naked through Syracuse, exclaiming "Eureka!" upon discovering the Law of Buoyancy. While Archimedes only looked at cases where the flat base of a paraboloid is not cut by the water, Mr. Rorres uses computers to show when the base is cut by water.
Mr. Rorres explained his work's applications, which include figuring out when a slowly melting iceberg will suddenly topple; how buildings can fall when the soil underneath them liquefies during an earthquake, and how a famed ship capsized when the builders made mistakes, such as adding extra weight with lifeboats.
"No one could follow up Archimedes's work in antiquity," Mr. Rorres said. One reason? They could barely follow him at all, he said.