The Wahlberg  

Monday, June 30, 2008


My father-in-law watches a lot of movies. Other than video games, it's probably his favorite pass time. While he was visiting we decided to go see one of the movies opening that weekend, The Happening. Except we could never remember the name of the film so we called it The Wahlberg.

Anyway, we didn't see it the first weekend because not everyone could get together on a time. And after the opening day we saw that the reviews were not favorable. We hesitated, but in the end decided to shell out the full price for it anyway a week after opening day. Why is it that bad reviews rarely dissuade people who have already made up their mind to see a movie?

But the reviews could not have prepared me for how bad this movie actually was. The acting and the script hit me immediately. I don't think one actor in the entire movie (except maybe the little girl) ever said a word that wasn't said or emoted without heavy drama. For about half the movie I thought maybe they were trying for a new style or a parody. Whatever they were trying for, it didn't work.

Even the love story in the movie was plastic and stupid. I hardly felt like the characters knew each other, much less were married to each other.

The first scene in the classroom where Wahlberg's character is explaining science. He almost makes a good point about how there are things that we may never know or may never be able to explain, except that somehow he comes off as anti-science and anti-intellectual. When he tries to use the scientific method later in the movie he comes off as a complete idiot.

*** Spoiler Alert ***


The main premise of the movie was that all plants started working together to develop a neurotoxin that was only released when a certain amount of people were together in one place. That number of people kept shrinking until it was down to at least three. The neurotoxin was carried on a wind, created by pressure changes? the plants? we don't really ever know. Somehow that nuero-toxin caused people to lose their sense of selves and their sense of self-preservation. No, they didn't just lose their sense of self-preservation, but the toxin actually turned their sense of self-preservation into a sense of self-destruction.

I have several problems with this premise. How are all plants suddenly communicating and working together to create this toxin? Plants aren't all the same, but evolved through different lines. Grasses and trees and flowers and bushes are different species.

How is it that the plants can create a neurotoxin that effects humans at a primitive level and yet not effect any other animal. Do we not share a common evolution? Would that evolution not include the instinct for self-preservation? Did humans somehow evolve that instinct separately?

I know this is science-based fiction, but I prefer my sci-fi based in some sort of real science. I feel like M. Night Shyamalan didn't understand a thing about evolution. And I suspect that his understanding of science in general is poor. I listened to a podcast interview with him on Science Talk where he talks about placebo and explains the effect as people creating energy to heal themselves.

And the way people killed themselves was idiotic. Running into a lion cage and offering an arm to a lion is not the best way to commit suicide. The are probably 20 other ways this man could have more easily and efficiently killed himself. Tearing off an arm will eventually cause death, but not right away. And if a lion tears off your arm, it's not going to pop off like it's perforated.

Even if the dialog and acting weren't abysmal, I still wouldn't like this movie based on how poorly executed the science is. If Shyamalan had been less interested in preaching about the environment and more interested in understanding it, this might have been an entirely different movie. Don't waste your time or money on this pile of crap.

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This Weeks Reader: June 29, 2008  

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Books
Book Review: 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy P. Harrison
Perhaps like many of you, when I first became an atheist, I had to think about every reason for believing in God that I had previously held. If I didn’t have a strong response to each of them, my case for atheism would be weakened. Some of those reasons were easy to knock away. It’s relatively easy to learn about evolution and why there’s no need for an Intelligent Designer. It’s easy to understand why we don’t need a God to be moral.

But it was much more difficult to convince myself that my prayers were in fact not being heard by anyone when I was so sure they were being answered. Or that so much of the deep history of my faith was really a history of perpetuating a series of myths. Or that all those intelligent people I had met, who were also religious, were just plain wrong when it came to the God question.


Games
Clueless video game bill nears passage in New York
Here's were things get a little silly: the bill also says that there will be a group created to make recommendations about game ratings and the effects that games have on youth violence. The group will have 16 members, appointed by the governor, who will each serve for three years. While there is no schedule for how often this group shall meet, the bill is strict: it has to be at least twice a year. The bill uses a lot of legalese to say the group will meet and try to stop youth violence, including racial and gender-motivated violence, and violence against law enforcement. They will do this by talking about video games, at least twice a year. With no pay.

Government
Socialism & The Right to Life
Socialism is not a bad thing. Socialism helps a great amount of people, and thanks to socialism, we don't have sky-high death rates and illiteracy rates. Thanks to socialism, we have reached closer to equality than we had before.

Yet, conservatives continue to demonize socialism as an evil attempting to take over and wrest the hard-earned paychecks of the average American away to pay for some deadbeat's problems.

These conservatives 'forget' to mention that they want huge corporations to wrest their hard-earned paychecks away to pay for some fat cat's third yacht. They also fail to mention that paying the taxes for these benefits would cost a huge amount less than having to pay for insurance (and the medical or other costs when your insurance doesn't pay). They also fail to mention the fact that many of the poor who would benefit from these socialist programs would die without them and are in this position through no fault of their own. Why does being born into a poor family mean a death sentence in this country?


DC v. Heller
How will this shake out in terms of gun violence in a general sense? I have no idea, although if I had to guess I would suspect it won’t make a bit of difference one way or another, since the sort of person most likely to put a bullet in someone else isn’t the sort of person who would be concerned whether or not his firearm was banned. I’ve believed for a long time as a practical matter that handgun bans are useless; there are already millions of them and they will never disappear from the American landscape even if there were a Constitutional amendment banning them (which I don’t recommend). You will never not be able to find a handgun if you really want one.

National News
First female four-star U.S. Army general nominated
The Army Materiel Command handles all material readiness for the Army. During her career, Dunwoody has been assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division and the Defense Logistics Agency. She served with the 82nd Airborne in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

She has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, Master Parachutist Badge and the Army Staff Identification Badge.


Religion
The tokens of virginity: Muslims, honor killings, and the book of Deuteronomy
So the groom was just obeying God. Well, almost anyway. According to the Bible, he shouldn't have just had the wedding annulled; he and the men of the city should have stoned his bride to death at the door of her father's house because she had disgraced him, her family and her community. It's a matter of honor -- an honor killing required by the Bible.

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A Week of Sun June 18 - 24, 2008  

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wednesday

Overcast - 6:14 AM CDT

A blurry moonset with flash - 9:58 PM CDT

Without the flash - 10:00 PM CDT

Thursday

Pink-tinged - 5:47 AM CDT

Friday

Fluffy, white clouds - 6:38 AM CDT

Saturday

The clouds look painted on - 8:29 PM CDT

Sunday

Rays of light - 8:28 PM CDT

Monday

Stripes - 6:02 AM CDT

A wider view - 6:02 AM CDT

The stripes remind me of Jupiter - 6:04 AM CDT

Smashed Jack O' Lantern - 8:27 PM CDT

Tuesday

Aaand back to overcast - 6:15 AM CDT

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It Could be Worse... Right?  

Monday, June 23, 2008

26%

(via Keith)

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This Weeks Reader June 22, 2008  

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blogging
AP Goes After Bloggers For Posting Article Headlines And Snippets
And, now, it's expanding its target list. Rather than just going after the big aggregators (surprisingly, Google settled), it appears that the Associated Press is going after bloggers for merely posting a linked headline and a tiny snippet of text from the article. In this case, Rogers Cadenhead informs us that the AP sent 7 DMCA takedown notices last week to his site, the Drudge Retort (a site that mocks the Drudge Report). In six cases, a blog post on the site quoted just a small snippet of text from an AP article (between 33 and 79 words -- nowhere near the full length of the article). In every case, they also contained links back to the original AP article. Five of the six used a different headline than the original AP article. The other complaint was about a comment to a blog post, which also included a very short snippet and a link.

Civil Rights
Destroying Marriages to “Protect” Marriage
I was married in California and lived part of my married life there, so I feel somewhat invested in this. First and foremost, the idea that marriage in general needs to be “protected” by denying it to same-sex couples is ridiculous, just as it was when people believed that marriage needed to be “protected” by denying it to interracial couples. Second and more specifically, the idea that my marriage needs to be protected by a bunch of hyperventilating ninnies in the midst of a queer panic makes me want to retch. Please do keep your clammy, quivering, homophobic fingers off my state of matrimony, if you please. My marriage has not once been threatened by same-sex marriage; heck, I’ve been to Massachusetts at least four times since same-sex marriage was made legal in that commonwealth. Roving bands of same-sex married couples did not trample my marriage rights while I was there.

I Do -- And Why
Look at the patchwork of laws around this country regarding same-sex marriage. Look at the states that have banned it, and the ones that have gone so far as to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Look at the fact that if my partner and I travel to Alabama or Michigan, Alaska or Pennsylvania, or any of over two dozen other states, our marriage will be seen as not having existed at all. Null. Void. Look at the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1996, stating that the Federal government will not recognize same-sex marriages, even if they're completely legal in the state where they were performed.

What does that tell you about how those states, and the country as a whole, sees us?

Second place award That's the weird paradox of the California ruling. It's thrilling. It's unbelievably great news. It's a huge historical step. But at the same time, it throws the true meaning of this legal patchwork into sharp focus. It makes it that much clearer that queers in this country are, in a very literal sense, second-class citizens. We pay taxes, we serve on juries, we have to obey the same laws that everyone else does... but in a very practical, codified- into- law sense, we just don't count for as much.


Comics
Waking the Feminist inside the Fangirl
Women don’t just like a story because it is about women. We like stories that are well-written and well-developed, just like anyone else. There’s no need for Lifetime comics. As comic story lines become more grounded in the real world, the fact that often their female characters are mere sketches becomes more apparent. That is not to say that there aren’t more developed depictions of women in super hero comics. One example is the push to make Ms. Marvel a major player in the Marvel U, a heroine with some authority. I appreciate moves like that. However, it’s a small step and since the marketing is not there how are girls and women to know that there might be a story they'd enjoy coming from the Big 2?

Government
Authorization or Declaration?
Because they gave him discretion, the likes of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton were able to question how the President conducted this war, and say, “I would’ve never done it that way.”

To all the “patriots” out there that “support the troops,” this was the dumbest thing you could’ve done. You gave the President’s opponents an out. Congress basically voted to say, “We’re not responsible,” and then proceeded to act that way.

Every member of Congress, in an hour where young lives are going to be committed and some will surely die, must be on record, for or against. They must take responsibility for the decision they have made. They should not be able to hand it off.


Government “Strike Teams” Invade Homes, Harass Flood Victims
No warrant, no knock home invasions are being carried out on the flimsy pretext of "checking for structural damage" as cops harass and threaten with arrest people who refuse to have their homes ransacked by thugs in uniforms.

Cedar Rapids police chief Greg Graham promised residents over the weekend that "Law enforcement officers are not entering homes," and that firefighters would only enter homes through unlocked doors and windows yet the video clearly shows locked houses being broken in to.


Nonbelieving Literati
Humanist blogging à la Voltaire!
Printed books are a form of one-way communication -- like television -- from knowledge producers to knowledge consumers. There's one big difference, however: less is more. The less your infotainment consumes of your brain's attention, the more your brain has to work on its own in response. Caleb Crain argues this in The Twilight of Reading: "It makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone." Darnton's research illustrates this in his chapter analyzing police records of (spying on) nightly conversations taking place in taverns around town. Unlike television today which can consume all of your brain's leisure time without your brain ever having the strain of producing a single thought of its own, in those days you could only read books for so long, and then the next natural step is to go down to the pub and discuss them.

Pardon My French, Voltaire
Anyway, the whole book has a spontaneously knocked-off quality, as if it were made up by someone who had never actually told a coherent story before. I can imagine Voltaire, sitting down at his desk, setting his pocket watch (watch de poche) for an hour (soixante minutes), and saying to himself: “Today, I’m going to write exactly 1,000 words.” (Aujourd'hui, je vais écrire exactement 1.000 mots, give au take dix mots.) And that’s apparently what he did. Some of those words were shaped into blasphemous or satiric sentences, which no doubt made him chuckle. Me, too, in a bland sort of way. An example of his irreligious wit: Is there anything more worthy of respect than an abuse dating from ancient times? Cute. I won’t cite any more here, because I’m going to leave the best quotes for the other Nonbelieving Literati to steal; there aren’t really enough to go around. Still, I do identify with someone using that kind of automatic-writing authorship style, and can easily picture Voltaire slapping himself in the knee: “I think this stuff is very funny.” (Je pense que cette substance est très drôle. Ouch. Mon knee.)

Thoughts on Zadig
Zadig has the answer:

Reason is of more antient Date than the Custom you plead for.
Interesting thought, isn’t it? We atheists confront this sentiment routinely in debates with theists. How often do we have to refute a book written anywhere between 2000 and 4000 years ago, depending on the appropriate chapter? This is “antient’ wisdom we’re talking about here, set down, if not by god, at least by god’s scriveners. Well, now I’ve got the perfect rejoinder.

Nonbelieving Literati: Zadig - Voltaire
This passage as after Zadig convinced his master, Sétoc, that he was wrong to worship the elements in the representation of the sun and the moon after Zadig made a great show of bowing down to a lantern. But instead of picking up on the idea of worshipping nothing he instead worshipped Zadig's god. Not so wise there, in my opinion. Would it not have been better for Sétoc to then show Zadig that he was just as ridiculous? But then the entire point of the story would have been thrown off its rails (much to the better, I think).

"It would have been a great pity if he had been hanged."
That's one of the funniest sentences I found in Zadig, this "sardonic* comedy" about a man named Zadig, written by the French Enlightenment figure Voltaire. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but rather silly in its understatement, especially if you imagine it being said by very rich people in an off-hand way, and if you know that the reason he was almost hanged was because of half a poem. But of course it was all solved in the end - with an assist from a parrot - because Zadig was a nearly perfect, charming, intelligent, reasonable, handsome, and modest character. It could be argued that the theme of the book is how tragic it is that he lives in a world of less perfect, less intelligent, absurd people, like the woman who begged to be beaten after she asked for help not to be beaten by her lover, which sort of brings to mind the cycle of violence, except that it was over-the-top.

NL: Zadig
But there is a difference between Zadig and Candide more profound than the degree of the heroes' trials. Candide eventually comes to understand that Dr Pangloss's outlook is absurd and useless; he settles instead on "we must tend our garden". Zadig, on the other hand, musters nothing more than a feeble and - crucially - unanswered "But..." in response to the angel.

Photography
Solstice Moonrise, Cape Sounion



Tech
Men Write Code from Mars, Women Write More Helpful Code from Venus
Emma McGrattan, the senior vice-president of engineering for computer-database company Ingres–and one of Silicon Valley’s highest-ranking female programmers–insists that men and women write code differently. Women are more touchy-feely and considerate of those who will use the code later, she says. They’ll intersperse their code–those strings of instructions that result in nifty applications and programs–with helpful comments and directions, explaining why they wrote the lines the way they did and exactly how they did it.

The code becomes a type of “roadmap” for others who might want to alter it or add to it later, says McGrattan, a native of Ireland who has been with Ingres since 1992.

Men, on the other hand, have no such pretenses. Often, “they try to show how clever they are by writing very cryptic code,” she tells the Business Technology Blog. “They try to obfuscate things in the code,” and don’t leave clear directions for people using it later. McGrattan boasts that 70% to 80% of the time, she can look at a chunk of computer code and tell if it was written by a man or a woman.


Woo
CityNews Exclusive: The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic
The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard - the principal, vice-principal and her daughter's teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they'd received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse - and that the CAS had been notified.

How did they come by such startling knowledge? Leduc was incredulous as they poured out their story.

"The teacher looked and me and said: 'We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"

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Low Points Meme  

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I stole this meme from Shefaly because it looked like fun.

In five syllables, no more, no less, describe the worst movie you can think of. Bonus points if you have to show off your Google skills because you can’t remember the name of it and all you can come up with is that it features Roz Russell and Sandra Dee. Turns out it was some tripe called Rosie! Exclamation point the producers’ idea, not mine.“Auntie Mame leavings.”

In seven syllables, no more, no less, describe your worst date. Bonus points if it was sordid. Subtract points if it sounds too much like an overweight fifteen year old Goth girl.“He pushed my head down. I puked.”

In five syllables, no more, no less, describe the worst job you ever had. Extra bonus points if it consists of Grim. Taxi dancer. Miss Janey, I’m talking to you. I had a miserable spell where I sat all alone in an empty office, handing out the keys to various hell holes for rent around New Orleans. One Lady came back and complained there was no window in the kitchen, I pretended to sympathize and said something like “Yes it would be nasty to have no light and air in there.” She replied “No, hone, you don unnerstan. Dere’s a hole for de winna but ain’t no winna in it.” “Slum lord in training.”

Put it all together and you have a haiku of life’s low points.

Hmm.. this is difficult because I usually forget the unpleasant things over time. But let's try it with this:

poorly drawn cartoons
uncomfortable silence
teenage sweat and angst


The worst movie? Dragons of Autumn Twilight. The only thing that remotely saved the movie in any way was that I hadn't read the book so I didn't have any expectations. Combining live action with badly-drawn cartoons isn't really a good idea.

The worst date? A guy from church asked me out when I was 16 or 17. We went to a nice Italian restaurant. I ordered first and he just asked for water because he said his stomach was upset. He sat in uncomfortable silence while I ate and then he took me home. Later when I thought about it I realized that maybe he didn't order because he couldn't cover both meals. I don't know. Maybe his stomach really was upset.

The worst job? I worked at an amusement park when I was 18. Because I was 18 I got to work on a ride instead of food service or clean-up. The ride I worked on was the lamest ride of all - Blackbeard's Revenge. It was supposed to be an optical illusion of a boat swinging over, but it was easy to tell that it was just the walls moving. It was popular because it was air conditioned. Supervisors were a few years older than the rest of us and had been at the park longer. And boy, they loved to lord it over us. The place smelled like sweat and youth and pissed on dreams. I quit after a week.

Hmmm... I don't think those were really my life's low points, but there you go.

I'm tagging no one, but have fun with it if you'd like.

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A Week of Sun June 11 - 17, 2008  

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wednesday

Pale clouds - 6:35 AM

Thursday

Rain - 5:51 AM

Friday

More clouds - 7:14 AM

Saturday

Clear and bright - 7:53 PM

Sunday

Storms again - 12:40 PM

But they clear up - 8:12 PM

Enough for a golden sunset - 8:15 PM

Monday

Clear, beautiful evening - 9:14 PM CDT

With a nearly full moon - 9:14 PM CDT

Tuesday

A beautiful moring (60 degrees in June, can you believe it?) - 5:59 AM CDT

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Nonbelieving Literati: Zadig - Voltaire  

Monday, June 16, 2008



I complained to one of my co-workers that I just didn't get Zadig, even though I understood the premise. I didn't understand what was different or revolutionary about the writing. He pointed out that the story was written for a different audience at a different time.

Zadig is about finding happiness by accepting fate - fate that is divinely controlled by the gods. To me it's a tired theme I heard growing up again and again. We are only vessels for God to shape as he wishes. God works in mysterious ways, etc, etc.

But instead of going over ground I've covered here on my blog many times, I instead want to talk about a few specific passages that struck me while I was reading.

Opposite Zadig's house lived Arimaze, a person whose mean soul was depicted on his coarse face. He was corroded with gall and swollen with conceit, and to cap these qualities he had a tedious wit.
This passage refers to the belief that evil reveals itself on the outward appearance of a person. And that good people are pleasant to look upon. Even today, particularly in the fantasy genre, characters that are evil are portrayed as deformed or go through a transformation that deforms them (for example, Star Wars) and why the traditional image of a witch is portrayed as a hag - green skinned and hideous, with warts thrown in.

We think of it as a ridiculous belief now, of course, but it was accepted by the Greeks, the Romans, and even Christians until relatively recently.
Sétoc grasped the profound meaning of this apologue. His slave's wisdom entered his soul. He no longer burned his incense in honor of things, but worshipped the Eternal Being who had created them.
This passage as after Zadig convinced his master, Sétoc, that he was wrong to worship the elements in the representation of the sun and the moon after Zadig made a great show of bowing down to a lantern. But instead of picking up on the idea of worshipping nothing he instead worshipped Zadig's god. Not so wise there, in my opinion. Would it not have been better for Sétoc to then show Zadig that he was just as ridiculous? But then the entire point of the story would have been thrown off its rails (much to the better, I think).
"I am not fond of the supernatural," said Zadig. "Claimants to magical powers, whether they be men or books, have always displeased me. If Your Majesty will permit me to make the test I propose, you will be quite convinced that my secret is the simplest and easiest thing in the world."
But while the point of the book is divine guidance, it still makes use of reason, which I very much enjoyed. In this part of the story Zadig finds an honest treasurer by having the applicants pass through a room with treasures before being ushered into the king's presence, where they would be required to dance. All but one of the men danced with "heads bowed" and "backs bent" as they tried to hold on to the treasures they had stolen, but one man danced with grace.

But even with Zadig's ability to reason he still falls for the most outrageous claims.
They spoke of pleasure, and the hermit proved it to him to be a gift of the gods, "for," said he, "man can give himself neither ideas nor sensations; he receives everything: pleasure and pain come to him as does his being."

Zadig marveled how a man who had done such mad things could reason so well.
I can accept that we are influenced by ideas and actions outside of our own minds, but that we cannot any ideas or sensations that are our own? That's garbage.

And here's the part of the story that I was waiting for, but hoping wouldn't turn in this direction. The part where all of Zadig's troubles are explained. After the wise hermit drowns the son of a widow who had put them up, Zadig flies into a rage only to be greeted by the hermit transformed into an angel. When he asks why the angel why bad things happen to good people and why evil had to exist at all, the angel responds:
"In that case," replied Jesrad, "this earth would be another earth, the concatenation of events would belong to another order of wisdom; and that order, which would be perfect, can exist only in the eternal abode of the supreme Being, whom evil cannot approach. He has created millions of worlds, no one of which can resemble another. This vast variety is a symbol of the vastness of his power. On the earth there are no two leaves of a tree like to each other, and in the limitless plains of the heavens no two orbs. All you see on the little atom where you have been born had to be, in its appointed place and time, in accordance with the immutable laws of him who embodies everything. Men think that the child who has just perished fell into the water by chance, that by the same chance this house was burned: but there is no such thing as chance; everything is test, or punishment, or reward, or prevision. Remember the fisherman who thought himself the most unfortunate of men. Ormuzd sent you to change his destiny. Frail mortal! cease contending with that which is to be worshipped."
And there Zadig shows that he is simply worshipping the elements in another form.

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Monday Music  

Right now I'm sleeping, at least I am as this is posted. I'm off today and I plan to have a long day of doing not much of anything. So, enjoy this piece if you can get past the shaky camera hands. UPDATE: A much less shaky version now...

Boob Song - Priscilla Ahn

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This Weeks Reader June 15, 2008  

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Atheism
Respectable Infidels
Unfortunately, there are some badly misguided people who want to write this spurious distinction into law, and who claim that we can safely ban "hateful" or "insulting" speech without taking away people's right to voice their own convictions. The most charitable thing that can be said about such people is that they have obviously never given even the most casual thought to the consequences of the policy they advocate.

Comstock's comments are revealing in another way as well. As I said in "Firebrands", the kind of atheists whom believers consider "respectable" are atheists who wish they were religious. They approve of atheists who validate their presuppositions about the desirability and superiority of being a theist, or who concede that religious ethics are superior to any secular alternative.


Education
Hygiene, Mirrors, Sex, and...Finance?
I sat there for two hours while Mrs. J. droned on about how now that we were going through puberty we needed to make sure we always wore deodorant. We were also not supposed to laugh when the boys' voices cracked. And the most vital part of the course was that when talking a shower, we weren't to wash our butts and then our faces....always the other way around. My teacher really covered her bases. Nothing about condoms, sex or STD's, but all vital information, of course.

Government
Directive Details Trinidad Checks
Lanier's directive also says that anyone who does not give a reason for entering a designated safety zone may be turned away, said law enforcement sources who declined to speak on the record because they were not authorized to release the directive. "Legitimate" purposes to be in the area include going to a doctor, church or community event or visiting friends or relatives, officials said. Individuals can show a flier for an event to gain entrance, for example.

Law
How to Save Your State Economy
You know, if I were in California and a proponent of same-sex marriages, these are figures that I would be putting into the ads against the anti-same-sex marriage proposition that’s going to be on the ballot this fall. And I would ask: why do those against same-sex marriage want to interfere with the livelihoods of thousands of decent, hard-working Californians and deprive them of millions of dollars of potential income? Why do they want to take the food out of the mouths of California families? Why do they make it harder for these folks to keep a roof over their heads, or pay their medical bills, or put their kids through college? Why do they want to deprive thousands of Californians jobs they could use, and that the state needs? $684 million’s not exactly chump change, particularly in a weak economy.

Photography
A Fire Rainbow Over New Jersey



Politics



Religion
How Does Religion Influence Our Behavior?
Children buy that version of things because they are, after all, children. However, by the time we become adults, many of us recognize religions are not always that influential in shaping behavior — even when someone says he or she has been hugely influenced by their religion. As a practical matter, an adult who wants to accurately predict the behavior of an eighteen year old boy with his sixteen year old daughter had best take into heavy account many factors other than the boy’s professed religion. A landlord is much better off checking up on the rental history of his prospective tenants than checking out which religion they belong to. And many a woman who has married a religious man thinking that guarantees she won’t be abused by him has learned the hard way her husband’s religiosity guarantees nothing of the sort.

Most of us, by the time we become adults, have figured out thousands of clues for predicting what someone will do in a given set of circumstances. Most of those clues have little or nothing to do with a person’s religion.


Science
Does Time Run Backward in Other Universes?
If the observable universe were all that existed, it would be nearly impossible to account for the arrow of time in a natural way. But if the universe around us is a tiny piece of a much larger picture, new possibilities present themselves. We can conceive of our bit of universe as just one piece of the puzzle, part of the tendency of the larger system to increase its entropy without limit in the very far past and the very far future. To paraphrase physicist Edward Tryon, the big bang is easier to understand if it is not the beginning of everything but just one of those things that happens from time to time.

Engineering Life: The Dog that Didn't Bark in the Night
Despite all these bacteria suffering the indignity of being violated with human genes, no one seems to care. No one thinks the dignity of E. coli has been compromised. I have not heard of anyone refusing blood-thinners or insulin because it was produced from human genes put inside another species. In Europe, where protests over genetically modified plants and animals rage today, few seem to be bothered by the fact that a lot of cheese is produced with a cow's enzyme, chymosin, made by E. coli rather than cows. In fact, this cheese is labeled organic, because it's produced with "real" chymosin, rather than "artificial" chemicals.

I think that the story of engineered E. coli is an important one to bear in mind these days. Today we are faced with intense debates about whether it's right to create chimeras--a mouse that carries human neurons, for example. Headlines assault us with the danger that scientists will be playing God by creating life from scratch. We are revisiting old ground.


The Elusive Flock of Dodos
The message of the film is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, creationists are ignunt dodos. On the other, scientists are also dodos because they are bad communicators. I think he missed a flock. It’s a huge flock of dodos, but they’re elusive for a reason… and I think that the reason is that flock is his audience.

This particular flock of dodos tends to be willfully ignorant. They fear what they don’t understand, and are hostile to those who say things that they don’t understand like. They speak the vernacular and don’t even bother reaching for a dictionary when they use, as Peter Griffin puts it, “big words, and small complex words.” They think that their opinion should be as valid as the experts. “What do they know, anyway? They can’t accurately predict tomorrow’s weather! Why would they know anything about global warming?” They generally don’t like to think critically or learn.


Sexuality
Virginity?
"Women who get operations to restore their virginity". (Here). At first I figured, what the hell, they can do what they like. But reading on, I discovered women terrified that they will be beaten, abandoned, or shamed because they lost their hymens. When I read one woman's claim that to lose one's virginity was to become dirt, I decided that women were fools, and men were dolts to insist on something so mundane. After all, there's nothing special about virginity. We're all born virgins. It's stupid to prize something so common and so easy to fake. Why not prize intelligence? Common sense? Independence?

Who's Trying To Convince Everyone That Cell Phones Pop Popcorn?
A poor grasp of science leads people to fear the technology around them. Everyone's vaguely aware that phones use radio waves, so they misapply the concept. The phones in the video are merely ringing, which only means they're receiving the radio waves that are always around us. If those waves popped popcorn, there wouldn't be an unpopped kernel left in the U.S.

Skepticism
Getting skeptical about patriotism
Some readers got pissed off at my sarcastic message about the US the other day, so let me explain my views. I think patriotism is too close to nationalism to be safe; both are just souped up versions of tribalism. These things lead to “us versus them” thinking and to conflict being preferred over cooperation. It’s OK to love your country. But to be proud just because you were born somewhere is ridiculous. To ignore the flaws of your country and to refuse to criticize your government is dumb. And to think your country is the only great (free, safe, healthy, etc.) nation in the world is just delusional.

Sociology
On Offense
I know that, in these days of Ann Koulter and Michel Savage, there is an increased need for civil discourse. But I’m not talking about what Savagé and Coolter do. These dishonest, repellant social Darwinists call for the real death of hundreds of thousands whenever they open their mouths. I’m talking about something honest and symbolic for my Charlie.

Christopher Hitchens is pretty good at this. At the end of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, his call for Kissinger’s prosecution, Hitchens points out that, in addition to being a war criminal, Kissinger is also a Big Fatty. A low blow, but also a beautiful cherry on top of a substantive critique.

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Operation Blessing - A Response  

Friday, June 13, 2008

A couple of hours after I posted my article Pat Robertson a Humanitarian I received an email from public relations at Operation Blessing.

I handle public relations for Pat Robertson and Operation Blessing International.

To answer your question about where the money goes, 97% of OBI's spending goes directly to humanitarian programs, which is why the charity earned thjavascript:void(0)
Publish Poste highest rating. Since its founding 30 years ago, OBI has touched the lives of more than 202.7 million people in more than 105 countries and all 50 states, providing goods and services valued at over $1.4 billion to date.

One of the biggest charities in America, OBI provides strategic disaster relief, medical aid, hunger relief, clean water and community development in 22 countries around the world--including China, Myanmar, Kenya, the Darfur region of Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, United States and the Philippines. In 2007, OBI responded to a record 20 disasters in 14 countries, making a significant, long-term impact on the lives of 9.5 million people in this one year alone.

I urge you to visit our blog at www.myowneyes.org.

Chris Roslan
President & Managing Partner
Dera, Roslan & Campion Public Relations Inc.
And definitely looking around their site they do seem to be a worthy charity. In critiquing Pat Robertson I inadvertently pulled the charity into the ring as well. I did not intend to belittle the people on the ground working at the charity. I am sure they are making a difference in the world by helping those in need.

I was curious though what official response the charity has to the allegations against Pat Robertson, so I sent this email.
Chris,

Thank you for your email. Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) gives Operation Blessing a four star rating, which is very respectable. I always check a charity on the Charity Navigator website before I give and Operation Blessing would certainly receive my approval.

Also, thank you for referring me to your blog. I will read the entries there and include additional commentary along with your email in my next post. I have no doubt that Operation Blessing does good for people. My main concern was raised from allegations that the charitable funding hasn't always been used for charity in the past. I'd like to set that straight if you can provide me with more details.

Would you comment on the funds and charity work in Zaire, Liberia, and Louisiana in addition to your current efforts? How does the organization determine how funds are allocated and spent? Do they work with other organizations or do you set up their own relief centers? Do they provide financial information on how government funds are allocated?

Again, thank you for your time and for the efforts you've made on behalf of the less fortunate.

OG
I was a little surprised when I received a response.
Here are answers to your questions:

Q -- Would you comment on the funds and charity work in Zaire, Liberia, and Louisiana in addition to your current efforts?

A -- Regarding Zaire and Liberia, those allegations came from Bill Sizemore at the Virginian Pilot, a man who boasted to Virginia Quarterly Review this spring that he has made “a 12 year career” out of writing about Pat Robertson. Time and again he has written misleading stories seriously lacking in detail and purposefully leaving out important facts. An instant tip-off for you should be the fact that in that 12 year career he has never written one positive story about Pat Robertson or any of his organizations. In that amount of time he could not find one good thing to write about? In fact, the same can pretty much be said about his paper, the Virginian Pilot. Look at the charity’s work in Myanmar and China in the last month, for which we had major media coverage from NBC Nightly News, CBS Early Show, ABC News Nightline, Associated Press, CNN and many more...all the biggest media in the world except the local paper, the Virginian Pilot. I would urge you to read our response to a profile Mr. Sizemore wrote in the VQR at this web address, which explains the relationship with Mr. Sizemore and describes in full detail the issues you asked about re: Zaire and Liberia:
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2008/spring/robertson-response/

Regarding Louisiana, my earlier email offered a brief description of our work there. OBI most likely ended up on the FEMA list because OBI had a huge presence there (8,000 volunteers, delivered 12 million pounds of relief supplies, dispensed $4.5 million in cash grants, ran a free medical clinic that helped about 30,000 people, etc). They were first responders to Katrina and one of the last charities to leave (just earlier this year). The fact is that the charity does what it says it does, and the idea that Pat Robertson would somehow personally benefit from an influx of donations is completely absurd. Since 97% of spending goes to programs, it was the victims of Katrina who benefited from the donations received.

As for current efforts, OBI is a registered NGO and one of the largest charities in America, and they are required to be fully transparent with finances. You or anyone else can request a copy of their independently audited financial statements that are on file with the IRS. Again, I would urge you to visit www.myowneyes.org to read all about the work OBI does in 22 countries on a daily basis. Today they are responding to the flooding in the midwest, FYI.

Q -- How does the organization determine how funds are allocated and spent?

A -- OBI goes where the hurt is. Whether it is a major disaster or one of the humanitarian areas in which OBI specializes (as described in earlier email), the decision is made based on need and also how much leverage OBI and its partners can garner. This year, for example, OBI ramped up its anti-parasite program in South America because there is an incredible need for it. Thanks to OBI and its partners some 9.5 million children will now receive free medication in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico.

Q -- Do they work with other organizations or do you set up their own relief centers?

A -- OBI partners with hundreds of international, national and local organizations, as well as major corporations, around the world. For more info log on to www.ob.org where there are many stories about the work OBI does and its many partners.

Q --- Do they provide financial information on how government funds are allocated?

A — OBI currently does not receive any government funds, and has not in years. The last program involving the government at all was a powdered milk program whereby OBI received a donation of surplus powdered milk, but no cash funds were involved with that program.

I hope I have helped to clear this up. If there is anything else I can provide, please let me know.
His criticisms about the newspaper being biased may be valid. As a skeptical person, I should not take one claim above the other without valid evidence. But my sensors go off when I hear a tele-evangelist claim media bias. I remember those same claims over and over from Jim Bakker on air and in the end there may have been media bias, but the reporting was truthful.

Online I found an entry for Operation Blessing published by the Center for Media and Democracy, which I think accurately and fairly describes the charity. Much of the text is from the charity itself. It also links to two wikipedia articles, one on Pat Robertson and one on Operation Blessing that are controversial.

My criticism is still for Pat Robertson. I believe he made some poor decisions for the charity. And that's unfortunate because, if true, it taints the name of the charity and draws a black mark on what otherwise looks be an organization doing excellent work in the field.

Even discounting the reporting of the Virginia Pilot due to bias (and I would urge you to read both the article referred to in Mr. Roslan's response as well as the original article) I'm still stuck on the findings of Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs. Would the office state that the charity "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements" without reason? And it certainly looks suspicious that Attorney General Mark Earley was the one to dismiss the case after earlier receiving campaign donations from Pat Robertson.

In the end I still feel like there are many issues not answered about Mr. (is it Reverend?) Robertson. Suspicions aren't proof. However, I'm not asking anyone to convict Mr. Robertson. I'm simply asking the question of whether or not he should be considered a humanitarian. My initial assessment still stands.

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What Advanced Degree Should You Get?  

Thursday, June 12, 2008




You Should Get a JD (Juris Doctor)



You're logical, driven, and ruthless.
You'd make a mighty fine lawyer.



Beware, SI...

(via Ridger)

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Thursday Music  

I used to be a Coke girl, but in the last year or so I switched to Pepsi. Mostly because Diet Coke is disgusting and Diet Pepsi is bearable.

Anyway, that really doesn't have much to do with this post except that I've been collecting Pepsi points because it means I can get music from Amazon for free. Originally I thought I'd be able to get one of the newer albums or songs I've been wanting, but the stable of free songs and albums is mostly at least a year old.

But I did come across The New Pornographer's Challenger album and so I got that with 60 of my points. And here's one song that I enjoy from the album. I've read it's about a going to court and that seems to fit, but I'm not really sure if that's anything more than a rumor.

The New Pornographers - My Rights Versus Yours

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Pat Robertson a Humanitarian?  

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


When I was researching my posts about PTL I came across this site about Pat Robertson the philanthropist and humanitarian. The name and the word humanitarian clashed in my mind, so I decided to read a little more and see why.

I expect his church or some religious organization that he supports is involved in charity work. That would make sense. So what kind of charity work is Mr. Robertson involved in?

First I checked Charity Navigator a watchdog organization for charities. They gave his Operation Blessing charity four stars for organizational efficiency and organizational capacity. That means that the majority (at least 80%, I believe) of the charity's funds go towards programs instead of administrative costs and the charity is able to raise funds and support itself from year to year.

So far so good. It sounds like a responsible charity. But Charity Navigator only reports on charity finances. They do not investigate where the money goes or whether the charity holds up to the claims they make to donors.

I came across this article on Pat Robertson and Operation Blessing.

With the Bush Administration's approval, Robertson's $66 million relief organization, Operation Blessing, has been prominently featured on FEMA's list of charitable groups accepting donations for hurricane relief. Dozens of media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press, duly reprinted FEMA's list, unwittingly acting as agents soliciting cash for Robertson. "How in the heck did that happen?" Richard Walden, president of the disaster-relief group Operation USA, asked of Operation Blessing's inclusion on FEMA's list. "That gives Pat Robertson millions of extra dollars."
And also about the claims of how the program dollars for Operation Blessing were spent in Africa.
Far from the media's gaze, Robertson has used the tax-exempt, nonprofit Operation Blessing as a front for his shadowy financial schemes, while exerting his influence within the GOP to cover his tracks. In 1994 he made an emotional plea on The 700 Club for cash donations to Operation Blessing to support airlifts of refugees from the Rwandan civil war to Zaire (now Congo). Reporter Bill Sizemore of The Virginian Pilot later discovered that Operation Blessing's planes were transporting diamond-mining equipment for the African Development Corporation, a Robertson-owned venture initiated with the cooperation of Zaire's then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Even though Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs determined that he willfully mislead the public he was never charged.

The claims and charges continue to how he backed Liberian Charles Taylor who was deposed by the US after claims he was harboring terrorists to claims that he participated in racial discrimination after the Christian Coalition forced black employees to enter through a different entrance.

And probably most egregious is his blame-the-victim mentality towards the people that he was supposed to be helping. How is that charity? And how much of the money went to people who needed it rather than economic ventures, dictators, and mega-churches?

Although largely ignored by the mainstream media these stories have been reported on via internet channels again and again, yet no one seems to know about it.

Which all goes back to accountability. Charities, both secular and religious, need to be accountable to the people who give them donations, whether those donations are given privately or through the government. But that's a topic for another discussion.

So, should Pat Robertson be considered a humanitarian? I'm sure some of the money he receives for charity actually does some good. But at what expense? Wouldn't it be better for the efforts to be carried out by a responsible charitable organization? How many more people could be helped if money wasn't being siphoned off or used for questionable pursuits? Can someone who actively supports the violation of human rights be considered humanitarian?

My answer is no.

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A Week of Sun June 4 - 10, 2008  

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This week should be called the week of storms instead of sun, but that's been ongoing now for several weeks.

Wednesday

Deep blue and about as clear as it's going to get - 5:57 AM CDT

Thursday

A little more cloudy - 5:59 AM CDT

Friday

Storms start rolling in - 6:03 AM CDT

Saturday

Not a true sunset, but the sun never peeks through - 6:32 PM CDT

Sunday

Leaving the restaurant we notice that the sky is dark facing West - 6:59 PM CDT

6:59 PM CDT

By the time we get home the clouds are massive and moving fast - 7:08 PM CDT

7:08 PM CDT

7:09 PM CDT

I decided to go grocery shopping anyway and got drenched about 30 minutes later - 7:17 PM CDT

Monday

The rain continues all night and into the next day - 5:54 AM CDT

Tuesday

The clouds (and I would guess fog, but it wasn't foggy) had a neat effect on the street lamp - 5:43 AM CDT

And you can just barely see the reflection of the street lamp on the left here as well - 5:44 AM CDT

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The Good Peson Test  

Monday, June 09, 2008


OK, so by that standard I'm a liar because I've told something untruthful. I'm an adulterer because I've looked at someone with lust sometime in my life. I'm a murderer because I've been angry before. I'm a blasphemer because I cursed with the name of an imaginary being.

I'll take being guilty of the first and the last, but the other two are just silly. There's a difference between thought and action. That's why we don't convict people for thinking things. We're not the Orwellian thought police.



Or maybe some of us are.

Growing up in the evangelical church life was full of magical thinking. Saying that something was so would make it so. You you had to be very careful what you said. And even thinking something bad made bad things happens. Now that I know about OCDs I would say that the religious dogma resembled someone with an OCD who freely embraced the disorder.

That kind of thinking is so wrong. Thinking things doesn't make them happen. Life isn't magic. You can't wish your way into entitlement or think your way into damnation. That takes action and even actions don't necessarily lead to greatness or destitution.

Now I realize why it was so easy for me to embrace woo once I gave up on the concept of a higher being. There was still the belief that magical thinking could change the world that had to be purged.

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This Weeks Reader June 8, 2008  

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Atheism
Atheism, Youth, and One Unicorn Drawing
I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of problems with the kids these days. Like, Paris Hilton. But, there are also a lot of problems with the olds these days. Like, Dick Cheney. And, there are a lot of good things going on with the kids these days, too. They’re not too embarrassed to march and picket and fight — they’re doing it every damned day, for peace in Iraq, for affordable health care, and yes, for freedom of (and from) religion. Has the editor missed the entire Anonymous vs. Scientology thing, which is entirely the work of teens and 20-somethings?

The Invisibility of The Black Atheist
The prevalence of Christian ideology in Black Culture creates a very difficult dilemma for a Black Atheist. Our skepticism must often remain hidden for fear of exclusion. When religion comes up we tend to stay mum or quickly change the subject. Those who are more vocal soon find themselves ostracized and isolated. When it comes to our relationships with the opposite sex we often find our choices limited by mates who are looking for a “good Christian man” or woman. Community activism, particularly Civil rights groups, tend to be dominated by religious organizations, making it difficult for an admitted atheist to even participate in any organized way in the betterment of the race. Politics, likewise, are dominated by the religious-minded. If you expect the Black vote than you had better be a Christian.

Comedy
Corn Fed Venison - It Looked Good On Paper!
The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.

That deer EXPLODED.


Games
Game reviews: the ugly path from publisher to publishing
It's not that there is much direct evidence that the system is corrupt, but when all the major players are this defensive about the process of reviewing games, and there is this much money at stake, it's important to read reviews critically and try to figure out what could have influenced that all-important final score. Gaming is one of the few art forms where being able to critically review a release is this political, and if people are becoming more distrustful of professionally-written reviews, that could be a healthy reaction. The publishers control the careers and fates of review sites in a very real way; with everything from ad revenue, to access to future games, and even your job being on the line, it's not surprising that high review scores are so common.

Government
While I Was Away
This is the stuff of dictatorships. And yes, some evidence does suggest that massive roundups of American citizens have been contemplated.

If the evidence against al-Marri is so damning — and frankly it looks pretty awful — then let him face a trial, just like anyone else. You say he planned to kill hundreds or thousands? So did Charles Manson. So did Jeffrey Dahmer. Timothy McVeigh did worse than either of them, and even he got a trial. What is so peculiar about this case that would justify throwing away centuries of legal practice?


Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less: Gingrich Leads Chorus of Simpletons
Populism meets American exceptionalism in this ludicrous "petition." Some people still think that they can change the laws of physics, economics, or geology by fiat, or–in this case–democratic tantrum. It’s funny how so-called "conservatives" just can’t understand concepts of "pay-as-you-go" when it comes to energy and the environment. Or deficits for that matter. I just love the little manipulative sympathy ploy for "hard-working Americans." As if other people around the world aren’t even more hard-working (without the comforts brought by Americas voracious energy consumption). But no matter. Americans–blue and white collar alike–can work and struggle as hard as they want, and it won’t change the physical reality. The world is running out of easy oil. Production is close to peaking globally. Deal with it.

Medicine
Vaccines and Autism Revisited — The Hannah Poling Case
Fourth, without data that clearly exonerate vaccines, it could be argued that children with mitochondrial enzyme deficiencies might have a lower risk of exacerbations if vaccines were withheld, delayed, or separated. But such changes would come at a price. Even spacing out vaccinations would increase the period during which children were susceptible to natural infections, giving a theoretical risk from vaccines priority over a known risk from vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases aren't merely historical: pneumococcus, varicella, and pertussis are still common in the United States. Recent measles outbreaks in California, Arizona, and Wisconsin among children whose parents had chosen not to vaccinate them show the real risks of public distrust of immunization.

Photography
June's Young Crescent Moon



Philosophy
Mixing Adults and Youths
Are they supposed these days to learn what they need to be a functional adult from Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and advertising? It seems to me we too often leave kids these days to be raised by the media.

Somethings we can only learn from another person. Things we cannot learn from a book, a movie, the television, popular music, or a video game. Somethings we must learn through our interactions with others. And some of those things that can only be learned through our interactions with others are very important. I discovered when I hung out with teens that many teens had what struck me then as a thirst to hang out with adults. I suspect they needed encouragement, insight into themselves, support, and affirmation, among other things. Those are not things we easily get from a book or movie.


Politics
The Authority of Shepherds
And thunderous applause echoed throughout the church. Yet no one really seems to be talking about this. Pfleger and Wright seemed to have become social scapegoats, helping those who support them both avoid the spotlight of moral responsibility. Of course they should be condemned for what they say, but really, what they say has absolutely no effect on society–unless people give it power.

And they’re giving this bullshit power with every single yelp and clap.

Why are we not calling out those members of the congregation who stood up and applauded? Why are we not calling out those who lend credence and authority to the bullshit these pastors spew? Why are we, instead, creating effigies of these racist and sexist notions that resemble these two pastors and burning only the two at the stake? Why are we not calling out those who allow this bullshit to continue?


Recipes
Crash Hot Potatoes
Anyway, I just love Australia. I just tried this side dish last night—it was sent to me by Trish, an Aussie reader, a few weeks ago—and I wound up absolutely loving it. Created by Australian food writer Jill Dupleix, it’s called “Crash Hot Potatoes” and has soared to the top of my Favorite Side Dishes to Serve With Big Ol’ Hunks of Beef.

They’re so simple, it’s terrifying. Well, not terrifying…but almost. They’re a lovely twist on the tired old baked potato, and they perfectly embody a quality I always strive to achieve in my cooking: Flavorful, Crispy Surface Area. I’ll go into that principle more in a separate post, but just know I’ll be pontificating about Flavorful, Crispy Surface Area soon. And I’ll make you a believer.


Religion
See You in Hell!
I can’t help wondering why Christians bother devising such hateful slogans. Are they concerned that the positive points of their religion are not attractive enough, so that it may be necessary, at times, to resort to scaring the hell out of nonbelievers rather than loving us into God’s Kingdom? Do they not realize that such scare tactics only reinforce the already supremely negative image of their “loving” God as a cruel, egomaniacal tyrant? Or, it may be the case that Christians find these threats humorous. Or, the blurbs may make them feel “special” because they belong to the “in” crowd, the right club, the group that’s assured of a place in paradise well away from the rest of us nasty infidels who undoubtedly “deserve” whatever the hell Jehovah has in store for us. It’s also possible that they are so afraid of hell themselves that they will take any measures they believe are required, regardless of how reprehensible said methods may be, to avoid that eternal fate themselves. They may be deathly afraid that, if they don’t work hard enough to Win the World for God, they themselves will be cast into the fiery pit with the rest of us.

In One's Own Words
Now, this should not be a remarkable situation. Every state in the union has educational standards for its public school students requiring that kids as young as 3rd-graders be able to paraphrase and/or summarize written and heard material in their own words. Being able to restate concepts, facts, and details in your own words shows that you actually understand what you’re talking about. On the other hand, not being able to put someone else’s thought into your own words shows that you really don’t get it.

Jesus Didn't Tap?
Here, however, I want to mention that one of the fighters I saw tonight had a company logo on his little banner called Jesus Didn't Tap. Now, for those not initiated into the dark art of beating someone senseless, one way for a person to win a bout is if you have your opponent in a hold (arm lock, choke, etc...) where they can't get out and are in too much pain to continue, they can tap on your leg, arm, body, floor to signify their giving up. That's the ref's cue to stop the fight and your cue as the winning fighter to let go.

So, that means that the whole Jesus Didn't Tap thing is retarded as a concept. Jesus, a possibly mythical character to begin with, was nailed to a giant cross and left to die a slow painful death. He probably cried. A lot. May have peed on himself. No one would blame the guy...geez, you're nailed to a fuckin' cross. Cut a brother some slack.


Can You Prove It Didn't Happen? Progressive Religion and the Standards of Evidence
There is, in fact, a very serious problem with holding a belief that isn't supported by any good evidence, even if it isn't contradicted by any. If your belief isn't supported by any evidence, how do you choose among the millions and millions of possible beliefs you could come up with that also aren't supported by evidence but aren't contradicted by it? How do you even choose between the hundreds and hundreds of commonly- held religious beliefs that actually exist?

And if you don't have any basis for making that choice -- other than the demonstrably biased, easily fooled, heavily- weighted- in- favor- of- believing- what- you're- predisposed- to- believe form of guesswork known as "intuition" or "faith" -- then why on earth would you base your entire life philosophy around that choice?


Science
Put a Little Science in Your Life
In fact, many students I’ve spoken to have little sense of the big questions those technical details collectively try to answer: Where did the universe come from? How did life originate? How does the brain give rise to consciousness? Like a music curriculum that requires its students to practice scales while rarely if ever inspiring them by playing the great masterpieces, this way of teaching science squanders the chance to make students sit up in their chairs and say, “Wow, that’s science?”

A Twisted Solar Eruptive Prominence



Girls are becoming as good as boys at mathematics, and are still better at reading
On average, girls' maths scores were, as expected, lower than those of boys. However, the gap was largest in countries with the least equality between the sexes (by any score), such as Turkey. It vanished in countries such as Norway and Sweden, where the sexes are more or less on a par with one another. The researchers also did some additional statistical checks to ensure the correlation was material, and not generated by another, third variable that is correlated with sexual equality, such as GDP per person. They say their data therefore show that improvements in maths scores are related not to economic development, but directly to improvements in the social position of women.

The Sacrifice of Admetus
The researchers set up identical conditions by which their Pan and Homo subjects observed an unfamiliar person stretching to reach an object just beyond their grasp. In multiple individual trials the researchers recorded the frequency at which each group of 36 subjects would offer their assistance by retrieving the desired object and handing it to the stranger. Contradicting previous studies of chimpanzee altruism, the researchers found no significant difference between us and our evolutionary cousins. This result was upheld even when the subjects had to put in some effort, climbing over a series of obstacles, in order to deliver the object. In a variation on these initial trials the researchers also offered the subjects a reward to illicit their assistance (toy blocks for the infants and bananas, of course, for the chimpanzees). In both cases the only significant factor was whether the subjects observed the stranger attempting to reach the distant object; a factor that chimpanzees and infants both responded to selflessly. Offering a reward for their assistance had no effect on this display of generosity. Service, it seems, was its own reward.

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Blogroll Update VI  

Saturday, June 07, 2008

I've neglected updating my blogroll again, but here are a few additions.

Black Sun Journal - Sean Prophet posts about society, current affairs, atheism, and religion. His posts are very well-written and well thought out. If you're not reading, you're missing out.

The Pioneer Woman - is a fabulous site for recipes and tips on cooking. It has one of the best hostesses on the internet, absolutely incredible food, humor, and did I mention the food?

Sean the Blogonaut - a blogger from down under, Sean posts about his daily life as well as what's going on with atheism and fundamentalist religion in his home country.

The Anti-Churck Zone - while the blog looks to be offline at the moment, it's a good overview of fundamentalist religion in the UK.

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