Happy Friday!  

Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Uno de Marzo minus Uno! Happy Leap Day!

I'm keeping my spirits up that Spring will come eventually.

More real posting later...

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20,000 Visitors  

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yesterday the site reached 20,000 visitors. Well, 20,000 page hits from when I first started counting sometime after the site went live. It's probably more like 14,000 unique visitors, but hey, not bad. Thanks for stopping by!

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A Week of Sunrises Feb 21 - 27, 2008  

Thursday: Sleet

Friday: Gray, but it's still Friday

Saturday: Sun just above the horizon

Sunday: A late picture of the sunset

Monday: Half ghost of a moon at sunrise

Tuesday: A few wisps of cloud catch pink

Wednesday: Mostly clear

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Moore on H.Res 847  

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I received a response from my Congressman about H.Res. 847. Click the image above to read it. The funny thing is, I also received a response addressed to Ms. Kristin H., I suppose she was the next letter in the list and accidentally got folded in with mine. Yay for those who sent in a letter! Though, there are several alphabetical letters between my last name and the next, so perhaps there weren't that many.

Anyway, to address his points:

1. It doesn't matter how many votes the resolution passed by. That's an Appeal to Popularity.

2. It doesn't matter that there were resolutions for Diwali and Ramadan too. I oppose those resolutions as well as I think they're frivolous. But I specifically object to statements in H.Res 847 more than in the other two.

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;
I'll grant that there are a lot of Christians in the world, but those numbers sound inflated. They only estimate 1,500,000,000 Muslims in the Ramadan resolution.
(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

This only perpetuates a myth that our government was founded on the Bible and Christianity.

I like what Representative Moore says about the First Amendment and I'd be more willing to believe him if he didn't vote on resolutions like H.Res 847.

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Atheists in Dixieland  

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Kansas City Star posted an opinion piece on atheists by Linda Staten on Friday. See? Even Dixieland has atheists. (Yes, I know Missouri was technically Union, but non-technically it's debatable.)

Here are the conclusions:

Atheists are well-behaved.
Atheists don’t take up much space.
Atheists make good neighbors.
Atheists will not infringe upon your life uninvited.
Atheists are lousy fundraisers.
Atheists are the quiet type.

(via Keith)

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This Weeks Reader February 24, 2008  

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Defending the Atheist Movement
Others acknowledge that there is some sort of movement but reject it for a variety of reasons. The most common reason, one I've seen again and again, is the attempts by some atheists to distinguish between "real atheists" and those posing as atheists for some inexplicable reason. Of course, this almost always ends up being about tactics. Some are criticized for being too "militant" and others for not being "strong" enough. As someone who is regular criticized for being both, I'd have to agree that this sort of thing is not helpful.

British bank blocking automated WoW payments
"We have...blocked the majority of Visa/Mastercard transactions we receive from there in order to combat this. We do not believe the fraud is anything to do with Blizzard themselves, their sites or the integrity of their billing systems, rather it is site users utilising stolen credit card details to pay for subscriptions," a Halifax representative explained. The rep went on to point out that "if a customer does want to subscribe to a game site operated by Blizzard, using a Halifax or Bank of Scotland credit card, we can arrange for the payments to be processed for them if they contact us."

Amazon looking to offer games via digital download
It looks as though Amazon is looking to join the likes of GameTap and Steam by offering digital downloads for games. Via a job posting on Gamasutra, we have learned that the online retailer is looking for someone to join the company's "Software and Video Games Digital Technology Team," which "is responsible for digital distribution of software and video game products from the Amazon web site, including the newly launched Amazon Software Download store.

The Pursuit of Happiness
Why the Danes are considered the happiest people on earth.

Where have the Sparrows gone?
India didn’t have this problem earlier, but now it’s becoming acute because of rapid industrialisation. China has an even more acute problem…I did not see a single bird in all the four cities of China that we visited last year. In India we do see birds in the cities, but they are mostly the sturdy crows and pigeons. Smaller birds like Mynas and sparrows are rarely seen.



It’s a matter of trust
A month or so ago, Mike Huckabee said something to the effect that all signs pointed to Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that it was easy to use the tool of hindsight to point fingers of blame, but that it was unfair to do so. Far better it would be, he suggested, to forget about the past and look to the future. Now that we are in Iraq, what will we do?

I don’t trust anyone who says forget about the past. If not by history, if not by experience, then how, pray tell, can we humans learn from, and avoid errors in judgment in the future?

Bart Ehrman, Questioning Religion on Why We Suffer
In an earlier book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, I have indicated that my strong commitment to the Bible began to wane the more I studied it. I began to realize that rather than being an inerrant revelation from God, inspired in its very words (the view I had at Moody Bible Institute), the Bible was a very human book with all the marks of having come from human hands: discrepancies, contradictions, errors, and different perspectives of different authors living at different times in different countries and writing for different reasons to different audiences with different needs. But the problems of the Bible are not what led me to leave the faith. These problems simply showed me that my evangelical beliefs about the Bible could not hold up, in my opinion, to critical scrutiny. I continued to be a Christian—a completely committed Christian—for many years after I left the evangelical fold.

The Aura of Infallibility
It may be that there are people who became believers after dispassionately examining a variety of world religions, deciding which one was best supported by the evidence, and choosing to join that one. It may be that there are such people; I've never met them. Instead, the vast majority of believers of my acquaintance had their beliefs chosen for them at a very early age, and were taught to follow those beliefs without skepticism or doubt. (My college friend John, whom I wrote about in 2006 in "A Seriously Warped Moral Compass", told me with pride that he became a Christian at the age of five.) A relatively smaller number converted later in life, but again, I find that in the overwhelming majority of cases that decision was made for reasons other than a critical comparison of the options.

Is There a Catholic Doctor in the House?
It seems that both husband and wife, described as “two area Catholic doctors” — uh-oh! — have decided that there’s alarming medical evidence supporting their view that swallowable birth-control is bad, bad, bad for women. The ironclad proof supporting their opinion has, unfortunately, been swept under the carpet. In a sneaky disregard for scientific data, our overly permissive society has insisted for years that everybody should be free to have sex willy-nilly with one another, regardless of gender, age, or species.

Talking animals with more sense
A little further on, they do hit on a more legitimate reason, if it were true: the argument that the illustrations of the book are hateful stereotypes, of the sort that Germany has good reason to be sensitive about: you know, the old anti-semitic caricatures of Jews as hook-nosed and greedy. If they'd taken that ugly shortcut, yeah, I'd agree — it would be just more hate literature. However, they include several images from the book, and they don't look like that: the rabbi looks like any of the ordinary orthodox Jews you'd see walking around New York, so it's a bit of a stretch.

Maybe it's badly written. Maybe other illustrations are more overtly hateful. Just don't try to tell me it's a bad book because it makes ridiculous religions look ridiculous.

BLG-109: A Distant Version of our own Solar System
How common are planetary systems like our own? Perhaps quite common, as the first system of planets like our own Solar System has been discovered using a newly adapted technique that, so far, has probed only six planetary systems. The technique, called gravitational microlensing, looks for telling brightness changes in measured starlight when a foreground star with planets chances almost directly in front of a more distant star. The distant star's light is slightly deflected in predictable ways by the gravity of the closer system. Recently a detailed analysis of microlensing system OGLE-2006-BLG-109 has related brightness variations to two planets that are similar to Jupiter and Saturn of our own Solar System. This discovery carries the tantalizing implication that interior planets, possibly including Earth-like planets, might also be common. Pictured above is an artistic conception of how the BLG-109 planetary system might look.

Eclipsed Moonlight

Female Circumcision aka Genital Mutilation
Here’s a slideshow about “female circumcision“, courtesy of the New York Times.

Please excuse me for posting twice today, but this one is short and not for the faint of heart. To be honest, I skimmed over the pages in Infidel about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s genital mutilation and I am afraid to watch this slide show.

They're your responsibility now
There are so many things wrong with that mindset I can't tell where to start. It's the belief that women are somehow lesser than children - if those children are male. It's the equation of a forty-something woman to a six-year-old girl. It's the infantilizing of women, which results in their being unable to take responsibility for themselves. It's the attitude satirized in Shrek the Third, when Fiona tells the princesses they need to get themselves out of captivity and they "assume the position" to wait for the princes to show up.

Come on baby, won't you show some class? (more on primate sexuality)
Modern contraceptives have largely divorced sex from reproduction, and as a result the romantic/sexual aspect of our culture has changed in a fascinating way. For the long-term, most people (male and female) naturally want to be in a long-term committed relationship -- this is closely related to the human trait of feeling "in love." Humans are remarkably adaptable, and contraceptive use has caused males' romantic/sexual responses in our modern culture to evolve to some degree, but not as much as one might expect. Here's what I mean: A typical man is viscerally horrified at the thought of his mate being with another man sexually -- even though these days it's less likely to lead to raising another male's offspring. On the other hand, the preference for virginal, inexperienced females (as long-term mates) has proven far more malleable, to the point where many modern men actually prefer to marry a sexually experienced woman (see virginity: once an asset, now a liability).


On Illness, Bodies, and This Weird Free Will Thing
What I am saying is this: Whatever free will is, it seems to not be a simple matter of either/or, a light switch that's either on or off. (See the excellent On the Possibility of Perfect Humanity at Daylight Atheism for more on this.) Things happen in our lives that can limit or expand our freedom, that can broaden or diminish the choices that are available to us. Some of these are things that we can do something about; some of them really, really aren't. And I think those of us who have a lot of choices need to remember to have compassion for people who don't have as many.

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Medical Choices  

Friday, February 22, 2008

So this article is in response to two posts I've read recently: MO - we gots teh sigh-ense! and Is There a Catholic Doctor in the House?.

The first article deals with the Missouri bill that will give pharmacies immunity from liability for refusal to perform, assist, recommend, refer to, or participate in any act or service in connection with any drug or device that causes an abortion. Except they define Plan B drugs as a drug that causes an abortion, which is clearly not the case. (If you don't want to follow the link then I'll give you a little spoiler. In brief, Plan B only suppresses the women's ability to produce an egg or not produce an egg. It doesn't interfere with pregnancy. So it's more like super birth control than abortion.)

The second article deals with doctors that refuse to prescribe any kind of birth control under the made the claim that birth control is bad for women and also doesn't fit in with their religious belief. So they're no longer going to offer women contraceptive options under any circumstance.

The question The Exterminator raised is what is the ethical responsibility that a doctor owes to his or her patient. I'm going to expand that to apply to a pharmacist as well, though I'm not sure they're quite the same, they're similar enough to discuss together.

The way I see it, one can view a doctor’s responsibility in five ways:

1. A doctor has a responsibility to do what a consensus of well-informed medical professionals, based on the best scientific data, would think is right for the patient.

2. A doctor has a responsibility to do what he believes is right, regardless of the patient.

3. A doctor has a responsibility to give his patient the best advice he can. But then he should follow his patient’s wishes, whatever they are, as long as they’re not illegal.

4. A doctor has a responsiblity to think of the greater good, even if it means acting against a particular patient’s best interests.

5. A doctor has no more responsibility than any other person who performs a service. He ought to be able to pick and choose the specific jobs he does.

Within that framework, or outside that framework if you care to expound, do you think a doctor or pharmacist should work?

Here's my take on the matter. I want the doctor to be able to refuse a service that he or she feels is harmful to the patient. In the case of circumcision, which is an accepted practice on men in the West, but not on women, should the doctor be able to refuse to perform the operation? What about risky procedures that might put the doctor in great liability?

Regardless of how the doctor or pharmacist comes to the decision, I don't think they should be required to do something they're against. Of course part of the sticky situation comes in with insurance. What if the doctor or pharmacy is the only one available to a patient under insurance? Why should the doctor or pharmacy or insurance company be the ones to decide the care of the patient without another opinion or option?

If I was faced with either situation, I would no longer give my patronage to the doctor or pharmacy. I believe, at least where I live and with the insurance I have, I do have that choice. So wouldn't have that big of an impact on me that either would refuse the service. I personally find it backwards, but it's only going to be a minor convenience as long as I can go to another doctor or pharmacist that will offer to treat me.

Chaplain brought up emergency situations, and I think in that case Philly is right. If someone refuses to treat me based on religious grounds because I'm a woman or an apostate or some other reason, then that person should not be allowed to work in the emergency room. In a life and death matter, there is no room for debate. Someone's personal beliefs do not trump someone's life.

So for me, probably a combination of #1, 3, and 5. As long as the doctor or pharmacist doesn't impinge on my choice or the choice of others, then I don't care. As long as the doctor or pharmacist is clear in what services they will offer and what services they won't then I can make a choice to not give them my patronage. When my choice is taken away, that's where it becomes an issue.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Exterminator over at No More Hornets recently posted on the art form of Googl-oetry. Here is my contribution.

conclusion of biblical doctrines for lay christian
i'm odinary girl
     snorting girl
     girl in the kinoki commercial

why homeopathy is saying bad of baby girls and all girls?

an an ordinary girl
     achmed girl
     pig girl stories snort

i fell under the power
ordinary girls games

     anal sex
     china ass
     domestic discipline
     cow together sex movie
i have more sympathy for animals than humans

ordinary girl
     public education girls
     no ordinary girl

what happen when the ordinary person turn to very smart one

Update: For more googl-oetry visit
Letters from a broad
An Apostate's Chapel
The Choice Is Now
Primordial Blog
Greta Christina's Blog

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Eclipse Feb 20, 2008  

I tried to get decent pictures of the eclipse, but these are only a shadow of what I could see with the naked eye. There were clouds skittering across the moon most of the night and once the eclipse was total they covered it completely. The few pictures I got of the total eclipse are completely black.

A tripod would probably help. I was forced to use the flash because I couldn't hold the camera still enough to get a good shot. Oh well, maybe in another 2 years...

And Evo, it was a balmy 14F for these shots.

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Nearest Book Meme  

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dikkii tagged me with the following meme:

1. Grab the nearest book (that is at least 123 pages long).
2. Open to p. 123.
3. Go down to the 5th sentence.
4. Type in the following 3 sentences.
5. Tag five people.

But I was taken aback by the chaos. Passengers scrabbled and tugged at a huge heap of battered suitcases that were dumped, unceremoniously, under the plane. Outside the airport, a swarm of men descended on us, urging us to ride with them into town. Infidel p.123
I haven't started the book yet, but now I'm even more intrigued. I vowed I'd finish Death By Black Hole before I started anything else.

I tag

The Exterminator
John Evo
Spanish Inquisitor

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A Week of Sunrises Feb 14 - Feb 20, 2008  

I think I'm becoming a sun-worshipper. Even in the suburbs where the sky is obstructed by buildings and ugly light poles the sky is still lovely.

Thusday: Caught on the way to work

Friday: Light painted across the sky

Saturday: Not worth getting out of bed for

Sunday: Sunset at the supermarket
Monday: The sun is rising earlier

Tuesday: A beautiful sunrise

Wednesday: Clear and cold

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Today Is My Birthday  

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Today is my birthday. It was a nice, mostly-lazy day thus far. I took the day off work and drove downtown to meet some friends for lunch. I even managed to squeeze a nap in around 5:00.

Am I the only one who can use Cosmos and The Universe as sleep aids? I find the shows very interesting, but by about the second commercial break I'm so relaxed that I drift off. I haven't been able to get through a single episode without dozing.

The only excitement for today is a new episode of Another Goddamned Podcast. What? It's my birthday. I'm allowed to make a plug. :)

And yes, I once had a Barbie birthday cake that probably looked a little like that. I think she was frosted in purple though because I hated pink. And not really a Barbie, but a cheap knock-off.

Ah, memories.

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Hobbies and Music Monday  

Monday, February 18, 2008

Last week I played cards for the first time in years. I forgot how much I enjoy playing simple strategy games like spades and hearts, especially with people I've never played with before. Card games, board games, video games, really anything with problem solving has always appealed to me. I think that's why I finally settled on computer science as a degree back in college. And even though I don't program anymore, I still enjoy the thought process behind it.

So what one thing have you not done in a while that you enjoy as a hobby or fun pass-time?

And while you're thinking watch this:

It's not my favorite song by Bitter:Sweet, but it's decent. I think it would make a good James Bond song.

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Ghost of Winters Past  

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I had the unfortunate draw of getting breakfast for us this morning. I was all set to go until I stepped outside and saw this:

Not that it was bad. What was bad is that I was dressed in sandals without a coat. Since the wind was blowing I went back in to get a coat, hat, gloves, and boots. I haven't payed attention to the weather in days and the snow was totally unexpected.

It's been an unusual winter for me, but my husband says this is more of what he remembers growing up. It isn't that we've had a lot of snow. Most individual snowfalls have been an inch or less. We've just had a lot more days where we've had a measurable amount of snowfall. I stopped counting around 10 and it might be double that by now. Usually, from the seven winters I've had here, we have about 4 or 5.

Anyway, this was probably our biggest snowfall this season, but within five hours it was all melting.

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This Weeks Reader February 17, 2008  

At first this just started out as a series of posts to point out excellent articles I found on the web, but it's grown into a lot more. I read over 1,000 articles to narrow it down to these few. But they don't seem like few as I'm going through my list for the week, nor when I publish the post.

I hope you, as a reader, find the list valuable. I'd like to continue the series, but it takes up more and more time every week. I've cut down my list of blogs to read a couple of times in the last couple of weeks just to keep up. And that makes me think that instead of broadening my focus, as I'd like to do, I'm narrowing it.

What I'd most like is for the readers to contribute as well. If you see an article that should be included in this list, please link it in the comments, or email me at the contact link in the sidebar.

Evolutionary Art
Ilana Yahav's work is definitely unique (at least to me - never seen anything like it). With the depth of my artistic knowledge it's quite possible that this is a very common artform that I know nothing about. It’s a combination of painting and performance, done with sand instead of paint. I really like this particular one.

Sunday Funnies #4: Billboard Battles!

Question # 1: What Kind Of Atheist Are You?
Do you atheize (I just made that word up) primarily to yourself, or are you a joiner? Do you socially interact as an atheist, or is your atheism simply incidental to your everyday life? Are you outspoken about your lack of belief, or do you keep it to yourself unless directly asked.

In short, are you an extroverted or introverted atheist?

Lies Women Believe
I’d like to point out some other lies that women believe. Thankfully, skepchicks don’t fall for this kind of crap:

* Lies about themselves: Fulfilling your longings is selfish and evil. Women should never put themselves first. Jesus, Others, You is the way to JOY.
* Lies about sin: Sin is a real thing that you should worry about. Offending God is really, really bad, even worse than committing crimes that actually hurt people.
* Lies about their marriage: You should submit to your husband but your husband doesn’t have to submit to you.
* Lies about their emotions: Emotions are a sign of weakness or evil and only women have emotions.
* Lies about their circumstances: Women are weak and need help from God or men to deal with daily stresses.

To The Point, Rational Discussion
If a participant's argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be expressed in the strongest possible version that is consistent with the original intention of the arguer. If there is any question about that intention or about implicit parts of the argument, the arguer should be given the benefit of any doubt in the reformulation.

Interview with Jessica Hagy, Author of Indexed

Demo shows UI, PSP integration in PlayTV for the PS3
Europe will be getting a very neat product for the PS3 long before we do: PlayTV. The device features two high-resolution tuners and allows you to use your PS3 as a DVR, as well as use your PSP to tell your system to record a show or to watch your content from any WiFi connection. It's a pretty neat idea, and it gives Sony yet another corner of your home entertainment experience. Unfortunately, until the US embraces terrestrial digital broadcasting, we're locked out.

Three Cases to Consider
Here we have, from three completely different milieus, victims of torture inventing crimes and incriminating others under torture. Does anyone really think that Herr Junius was a witch? Did he fly through the air to attend covens with the other witches of Bamberg? Did the rabbis of Damascus kill Father Thomas so that his blood could be used in Passover matzos? Does any but the most rabid anti-Semite believe the ‘blood libel’ really exist? Did a mysterious ‘rabbi Jacob’ create a poison out of frogs, spiders and communion wafers and, through a Europe-wide conspiracy, spread plague through poisoned wells?

A Blog Post That Deserved More Comments …let’s start with mine
But if civil union was the only thing a state granted, then it could be granted to a number of different relationships — not all of which would even necessarily be sexual. Perhaps two heterosexual women with children could decide to establish a civil union. I could think of several reasons they might choose to do so.

Williams is dangerous. He must be resisted
Faiths capture people. I do not mean this disparagingly. So of course do patriotisms, ideologies, families. But a religion, properly understood, makes profound claims on an individual and community, quite unlike the demands of a golf club. It involves the use of public places and public services, the subordination of the individual's will; and may demand that he subordinate his spouse's and children's wills too. Hence our unease about duress, and the completeness of “consent”.

Johann Hari: Rowan Williams has shown us one thing – why multiculturalism must be abandoned
Where a multiculturalist prizes the rights of religious groups, a liberal favours the rights of the individual. So if you want to preach that the Archangel Gabriel revealed the word of God to an illiterate nomad two millennia ago, you can do it as much as you like. You can write books and hold rallies and make your case. What you cannot do is argue that since this angel supposedly said women are worth half of a man when it comes to inheritance, and that gay people should be killed, you can ditch the rules of liberalism and act on it.

The job of a liberal state is not to stamp The True National Essence on its citizens, nor to promote "difference" for its own sake. It is to uphold the equal rights of every individual – whether they are white men or Muslim women. It has one liberal culture, with freedoms used differently by different people.

ESA, IIPA slam Canada for not fixing copyright "deficiencies"
Of course, just because a game is pirated doesn't always mean a sale has been lost. When pirated games are produced en masse in China and Russia, then moved through Paraguay into markets like Brazil—where the ESA admits high tariffs make the sales of legitimate games almost non-existent—the issue becomes even thornier, and the local governments may not have high levels of sympathy for the US economy. This could be why we're seeing a focus on Canada in these reports; our northern neighbor has a thriving game development community but suffers from easy availability of pirated games on the retail level.

The law, Sharia, and religious control
What Williams appears not to acknowledge is that secular civil law was set up to prevent religious interests over-riding the interests of individuals, and more than any other system in the history of the planet, it has done so. Canon law once permitted Catholics to take Jewish children away from their parents if a third party baptised them. Sharia permits the amputation, without anesthetic as if that made it better, of the hands of thieves. So far as I know Jewish law, not being of a proselytising religion, tends not to seek global domination, but it is so closely tied to the religious traditions of a particular ethnicity that it cannot function for all members of a multicultural and polyreligious society. Only secular law can do that.

Euthanasia may be illegal but it’s not exactly unpopular
What I found even more interesting is that even though Euthanasia is illegal in almost all of the world, public attitudes are largely sympathetic to Euthanasia. I got these charts from this blog, and the data is originally from this world survey. I had saved these charts on my pc months ago, and now cannot find them on the original site.

Pleas for condemned Saudi 'witch'
The illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read.

Whisper (2007)
I really hope that someday ABC buys the rights to Whisper and they just use some footage for it as a Sawyer flashback on Lost (in the movie, there's a back-story about his girlfriend cheating on him, maybe they can use it on Lost to explain why he refuses to get close to Kate). It will make Josh Holloway look better. Because honestly, he may call himself “Max” in the film, but he’s fucking Sawyer through and through. Same hairstyle, same mannerisms, and yes, same character (a two bit crook with shades of nobility). So either the guy is afraid to play outside of his comfort zone, or he simply just can’t act.

The Obama failing
There's much more in that speech that grates. For instance, he praises Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech for it's religious content, which he claims was necessary. NO. Read it again. King was a minister, and of course his religious tradition informed his speech, and the cadence of the speech is straight from good ol' sermonizing, but the religious references are nothing but little fillips on a call for social justice, for equality and freedom. If you read that speech and come away thinking it's a paean to religiosity, you're missing the point. Atheists and other secularists are moved and inspired by that speech; the religious content is background, not purpose.

I once was a born-again Christian…
I know that many Christians are unable or unwilling to contemplate that someone can have had the same experiences they’ve had and then turn away from it all. It’s a scary idea. It means they might be wrong. It means that they can’t say, “If you only felt what I’ve felt and lived what I’ve lived you’d turn your life over to God forever.”

10 cc of Atheism

Where Was God?
Clearly, not close by, or even in the general vicinity. He had failed to use his magical powers to prevent the accident from happening, though I can hear those of a religious nature saying that it could have been worse, but for god. However, I was focused on the actual work being done to help. I saw a very organized team of men and women, people who had trained for just this situation, using equipment and knowledge purchased by the taxpayers, probably with the help of some charitable contributions to volunteer companies, doing exactly what they had probably dedicated a portion of their lives to doing - saving the lives of others.

The End of Conservatism
Conservatism grew powerful in the 1970s and 1980s because it proposed solutions appropriate to the problems of the age—a time when socialism was still a serious economic idea, when marginal tax rates reached 70 percent, and when the government regulated the price of oil and natural gas, interest rates on checking accounts and the number of television channels. The culture seemed under attack by a radical fringe. It was an age of stagflation and crime at home, as well as defeat and retreat abroad. Into this landscape came Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, bearing a set of ideas about how to fix the world. Over the next three decades, most of their policies were tried. Many worked. Others didn't, but in any event, time passed and the world changed profoundly. Today, as Frum writes, "after three decades of tax cutting, most Americans no longer pay very much income tax." Inflation has been tamed, the economy does not seem overregulated to most, and crime is not at the forefront of people's consciousness. The culture has proved robust, and has in fact been enriched and broadened by its diversity. Abroad, the cold war is won and America sits atop an increasingly capitalist world. Whatever our problems, an even bigger military and more unilateralism are not seen as the solution.

Ellen Johnson is Wrong, Atheists Should Vote
Given that atheists represent at least 11% of the American population, we could be a powerful voting block if we chose to organize. But even without any formal organization, I think it is fair to assume that we tend to be a bit more oriented to reality than many of our theistic neighbors. I suspect that we are more likely to value secular humanism, science, reason, and critical thinking. Why would we not want these priorities to influence presidential politics?

The galaxy that ate Detroit
NGC 1132 is also quite huge, bigger than the Milky Way (which has eaten its share of smaller galaxies over time too), and sits in a vast cloud of dark matter - normally invisible, but in this case revealing itself by its gravitational effect on the stars in the elliptical itself (actually, to be honest, I’m guessing how they found it: there are many ways to detect dark matter, but the venerable method is to measure the velocities of the stars in the galaxy, which are affected by dark matter; stars move faster when more dark matter is present in a halo around the galaxy). The amount of dark matter detected is way more than usually seen for a single galaxy; more evidence that this galaxy has been busily gobbling up companions — and their dark matter, too.

60 Second Science

The Content of Their Character: Judging On the Basis Of Beliefs
If someone believes that gay couples shouldn't be allowed to adopt because homosexuality is a crime against God and humanity, should I really not judge them on their morality? If someone believes that their tax money shouldn't pay for poor children's health care because "those people are always looking for a handout," should I not judge them on their compassion? If someone believes that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago despite human historical records dating well before that, should I not judge them on their good sense? If someone believes that all human beings have been infested by space aliens, should I not judge them on their sanity? If someone believes that they don't have to reduce their fuel consumption because one person can't make any difference -- or because the Rapture is coming and none of this pollution and global warming stuff will matter -- should I not judge them on their social responsibility? And if someone believes that the moon landing didn't happen because they read it in the Some Guy On The Internet Journal, should I not judge them on their... well, on their judgment, their ability to discern, among other things, what is and is not a good source of information?

Why I Hate Valentine’s Day (Oh, and Jane Fonda Said “Cunt”)
Valentine’s Day makes me nauseous. Every year it’s the same thing: over-commercialized, prewritten crappy poetry on cards, chocolate, roses, chocolate roses, candy, hearts, candy hearts that say “do me,” paper hearts, dinners, “Kiss Kiss” Bears, poems, balloons, stuffed animals, balloons shaped like animals, chocolates arranged in the shape of hearts, and anything else one can fit into this prepackaged love fest. This whole holiday reeks of artificiality, consumerism, and bullshit.

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This Movie is Rated G for Nauseating  

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I know I mentioned a couple of times seeing the film Pamela's Prayer. I thought about this most special of special days dedicated to love, that I'd discuss what's wrong with the movie and my thoughts about the message it portrays. (And why it's been pissing me off for years.)

The movie opens with Pamela's father promising her mother, who died during childbirth, that he'll raise Pamela in the right way. We see Pamela growing up and every night she and her father say a prayer together. When she reaches high school she wants to date, but her father won't let her because dating leads to promiscuity and sets kids on the road to ruin.

Pamela rebels and decides to date one of the cool kids at school behind her father's back. The cool kid brags to his friends how he's gotten all of the Christian girls. When he tries to kiss her, she runs home in tears. To make matters worse he tells everyone in school that he's had sex with her and she has to deal with the shame of the lie. How could he?

Pamela learns her lesson and decides to be patient and follow her father's wishes. Eventually we meet young dreamy working at the small business that Pamela's father owns. Seeing that Pamela is a chaste woman, he proposes to her and they get married, only then consummating their love with a kiss (although they never show a kiss in the movie).

That's pretty much the story in a nutshell. It's a simplistic fairy-tale suitable for no one. Not only are there issues with the message, but with the way that women are portrayed in the story.

And here's the trailer to show you exactly what I mean.

First, Pamela is little more than a prop. Her personality is non-existent and the only thing the film-makers care about portraying is her purity. The only other woman in the movie is Pamela's best friend who has sex with her boyfriend to "prove that she loves him". When Pamela tells her father about it he collapses as if the young girl has been tragically killed. We never see her again, so maybe God struck her down or something for her mistake.

And once young dreamy notices the wallflower of Pamela, he asks her father about her as a potential mate before he even tries to assess Pamela's feelings for him. The most nauseating scene is when he praises her father for keeping her pure. Make no mistake, she is chattel.

There isn't a single kissing scene in the movie. The actors aren't married so it would be a sin for them to kiss, according to the film-makers. Just as Pamela and young dreamy move in to kiss at their wedding the movie cuts the scene.

Pamela and her father have said a prayer every night together since she was born. And it's no different on her wedding night. She and her father say a prayer together before he turns the responsibility for Pamela's spiritual well-being over to her new husband. The movie leads the viewer to believe that Pamela cannot be responsible for her own decisions and that a man must always guard her purity.

In addition to the way women are portrayed I have a problem with the way sex and marriage are portrayed. I'm not particularly bothered about the choice to wait for marriage to have sex. It's probably going to lead to some disappointment and possibly incompatibility between the partners, but it's each person's choice to make.

But what I most have trouble with is holding people to such a standard of purity. Life is not perfect and neither are people. Even a good partnership is filled with disagreements, disappointments, and compromise. It's not that I think people shouldn't strive for perfection, but that they should also live in reality. Not to mention that there is nothing wrong with a healthy sexual relationship outside of marriage. In fact, I would encourage a couple of live together for a few years before even considering marriage. That way both partners can have more of a realistic expectation of each other before contemplating marriage. Marriage isn't the only way to make a commitment.

Only people that hold to the insulting phrase, "Why buy the cow when the milk is free," would not object to this movie. And that is insulting to men, not just women. It assumes that men don't seek an honest relationship, but would rather steal the only thing a woman has to offer (her purity). And it also makes women into manipulating bitches that use sex to get men to do what they want.

So although the MPAA would probably not find any of the themes explicitly objectionable for children, the ideas expressed are deeply unsuitable. This is a movie I'd rather not have children see.

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A Week of Sunrises Feb 6 - Feb 13, 2008  

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday: Snow

Thursday: Just a little pink on the horizon

Friday: Mostly cloudy

No photoshopping here. How can two pictures taken seconds apart reflect such a difference in color?

Saturday: A clear, sunny morning

Sunday: Not a sunrise, but a crescent moon in the sky above a fading sunset

Monday: Cloudy

Tuesday: Snow sprinkled like sugar

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Touch Typing  

Monday, February 11, 2008

70 words

Touch Typing

(via Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant)

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This Weeks Reader Feb 10, 2008  

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sorry this is a day late this week, but the podcast has taken up more of my time than I thought it would. But I'm having a blast, so I can't complain.

The difference between the East and the West in pictures
I found these pictures brilliant, as they explain the differences between the East and West in a way that words never could. Although Yang Liu orginally made them to show the differences between Germany (where she lives) and China, Germany could easily be the West and China could represent the East. At times I have used the term West instead of Germany and East instead of China, but this may not necessarily be so. Quite a few of the pictures used to represent China could represent the Indian way of life pretty well.

Seen and unseen parenting responsbilities
Older male colleagues (there are no older female colleagues) are so accommodating to the Active Dads. They praise the guys' involvement with their children's lives. Yet these same older male colleagues don't understand why myself and the one other mom don't want to do things like have all-weekend retreats or 5 pm meetings. Women's parenting responsibilities are completely unseen by our senior colleagues.

Video games, the male brain, and addiction
There was no difference in motor performance-that is to say that men and women both had the same skill, but male volunteers were significantly quicker to pick up on how the game worked, and scored better than their female counterparts. Using fMRI scanners, the authors then generated brain activation profiles for the gamers, and they discovered a significant difference between male and female brains: the male brains showed a greater activation of the right nucleus accumbens, right amygdala and the bilateral orbitofrontal cortex. In addition, there was a positive correlation between success in the test game and male brain activation, but not in female brains.

GamePro hypes Gears of War 2 coverage, delivers speculation
We're sure that there's work being done on Gears of War—games that are successful don't end with only one title—but no one has any information to report, and teasing your readers by saying you do is a little... well, shady. One has to sell magazines, granted, but why not try to be a little bit more forthcoming about what information you actually have?

Another editor down: Ryan Davis leaves GameSpot
Torres also provided some new insights into GameSpot's past conflict between editorial and sales/marketing. It seems that after former editor-in-chief Greg Kasavin left for a position at Electronic Arts back in January of last year and the editor-in-chief position was still vacant, CNet (GameSpot's parent company) executive Josh Larson was put in charge of both the business side as well as the editorial side. "Last year, because we didn't have that position, he was kind of like straddling–he was trying to do business and kind of support editorial," Torres noted. "Clearly there needed to be a better line drawn, so that's why the EIC position came up and that's what I'm doing."

Cock the vote: Gamecock gets political
Gamecock Media Group, so far better known for its absurd marketing tactics than for actually making games, is continuing this tradition with its Cock the Vote campaign.

The project is affiliated with Rock the Vote, a program that attempts to encourage young people to vote, but it's clear that this is more about getting the Hail to the Chimp name out there and less about raising social awareness. Still, any attempt to politicize gamers by dressing up like furries is worth... something.

Percentage of M-rated titles halved since 2005. What gives?
So why isn't the number of M-rated title increasing as fast as the rest of the gaming market? It's possible that the drop in percentage of M-rated games is purely a financial decision. Anecdotally, it appears as if many of the successful M-rated games are sequels, games that are a part of a proven franchise. Assassin's Creed may have been new IP, but that game also enjoyed a huge marketing budget and was hyped for years before release. With outsized budgets, M-rated games that don't live up to sales expectations have become riskier endeavors for developers.

Drink the Kool-aid: get Left Behind Eternal Forces for "free"
To enter, navigate to the promotion page and select either "download" or "ship." Though the game itself is free, you'll still have to fork out a few bucks. Selecting the download option will prompt you to pay a $4.99 processing fee, while the ship option requires you to pay the shipping fees. Left Behind: Eternal Forces normally retails for $24.95.

American Jacobin
First, the Bible is not at all a political revolutionary book. Jesus (or his disciples like Paul) did not abolish one social or political institution. Not tyrannical government, not chattel slavery, not rule of Kings, not one. Today social liberals who preach the “social gospels” I believe misuse the Bible as do the Christian Marxists who advanced “liberation” theology. However, American Whigs who used the Bible in revolt against Great Britain were just as guilty of advancing something the Bible does not support: the right to political revolution. Be it the American or French (or quite frankly any political) Revolutions, Marxist governments or a modern social welfare state, none of these notions is “biblical.” And all who would use the Bible in support of such are equally guilty of misusing the good book.

What price social cohesion?
Dr Williams says that the idea, that one law should apply to all, is dangerous. So, let me try and understand this. You want to create separate legal systems so that whatever little interaction or participation that the Muslim community does have with the British mainstream can also be eliminated? Nice one!

What next? Separate MPs for Muslims? Oh, wait. They won’t need any MPs. Nobody needs to legislate once the Sharia is adopted into the British law. It is God’s word or something, isn’t it?

Our Friends, the Egyptians
The arrests began in October 2007, when police stopped two men having an altercation on a street in central Cairo. When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct. The two men told human rights defenders that they were slapped and beaten for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them. They spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, sleeping on the floor. Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct.

This brings us to Monster, which, like all Asylum films, is a copy of another film, with superfluous changes and a much lower budget. This one is set in Tokyo, but otherwise the structure and plot are the same – some attractive folks are shooting on a consumer camera and end up making a documentary about a monster attacking a giant city. Instead of a bunch of hipsters, our characters are just two incredibly cute Americans who planned on making a documentary about global warming. The fact that the one scene in which they do this is almost entirely inaudible is sort of a blessing in hindsight – it would have been a shame if they had made their entire documentary, then went to edit it and discovered that they should have invested 60 bucks in a boom mike.

Nonbelieving Literati
A Plague of Carnivals. No, Wait! A Carnival of Plagues!
The current book under discussion is Albert Camus‘ The Plague, a novel about…well, I’m getting ahead of myself. One of the prime directives of the Nonbelieving Literati is to read a book picked by one of the participating blog members within the alloted time, and write an essay about it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight forward review of the book, but can be on anything that uses the book as a starting point of discussion. Due to time constraints and a backlog of other reading material, I failed to read or participate this time around. Having read the essays submitted so far, I thought it would be a good idea to make my contribution a mini-Carnival where all of the essays could be accessed from a central location. Actually, it wasn’t my original good idea, it was the Exterminator’s, which I freely swiped (I did say he was the original original, didn’t I?).

Nonbelieving Literati: The Plague
Camus isn't using 'humanist' in the sense of, say, the Humanist Symposium. I suspect he is referring to something closer to Renaissance humanism, and more specifically to the notion that men and women are, or should be, free to control their own destinies. We think we're free, he says, and we go on making plans, but in fact we are not free; certainly not so long as there are pestilences or invading fascists. The use of a plague -- a natural phenomenon -- as an allegory for an occupation -- a human phenomenon -- is interesting here. Whatever he thinks of the moral issues surrounding the behaviour of the German government and army, they are not the focus of this book. This book is not arguing that we should create a world which does operate the way we want it to. This book takes it for granted that there are pestilences of all types, at looks at how we deal with them.

Sick of The Plague
The reporter trapped in the town was supposed to, I guess, give me some sense of urgency. Being cut off from his lover in Paris he’s motivated to try and find a way to circumvent the bureaucracy and be allowed to leave. I felt more that he was driven by a sense of entitlement than any true feeling for his lover.

How The Middle Class Fucked Itself in This Gilded Age
The illusion of wealth in the middle class is much greater than the reality they truly face. Their real wages are down, their health care costs are astronomical, and their personal debt load would make previous generations shocked beyond belief. Now we are seeing the value of their homes, the single greatest source of wealth for the middle class, dropping in many areas of the country. Things are not good. Prosperity has been replaced by economic uncertainty and panic in some sectors. Foreclosures are higher than they have been in a generation. Banks are losing their ass right now. The Fed just dropped the prime lending rate 1.25% to stave off a recession, inflation be damned. The government is pumping $150 billion (as tax cuts) into the economy right when we owe the fucking Chinese our ass in government bonds to pay off our already astronomical national debt. The dollar isn't worth shit. This is all fucking scary, folks. It's 1929 all over again. Or maybe worse.

Mitt Romney: Secularist… Kind of.
Earlier on in the speech (alright, yeah, this is not in chronological order…), he said another very curious thing.

Again, I’m not quoting verbatim here, but…

“The people in this country believe in something. For some people that’s faith. For those who don’t have faith, that’s their ethnicity or their communities…”

Again, I don’t really support Mitt Romney, but I was very surprised to hear him say that. When the secularists got outraged by his faith speech, I think he learned a lesson, and for once, politicians seem to be acknowledging that there are non-believers in this country.

Granted, I didn’t pay much attention to how secular presidential candidates were in the past, and I haven’t heard in full any of the other candidate’s speeches, but after hearing all the Republicans and Democrats take so many opportunities to talk about their faith, it was a (refreshing) surprise to hear one mention that there are people who don’t have faith.

The Wrong Experience
This is the problem with Hillary Clinton. She is highly intelligent, has real experience and is an attractive candidate. But she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end.

Putting Candidates' Religion to the Test
As much as possible, the presidential candidates should refrain from talking about their religious beliefs. Perhaps even a self-imposed ban on public avowals of religious would be wise. It's all too easy to cross the fine line between expressing faith and aggressively declaring it, and religious tolerance is, I think, inversely proportional to the latter.

Jesus Loves Sleazy Politics
The thing I find interesting is that, while Dobson has taken great care to meet his legal obligations to keep the entities distinct, he has been less careful about enabling his disciples to distinguish between the two groups. By carrying the familiar name over to the new organization, he has deliberately muddied the waters to such a degree that devotees of his ministry will be unlikely to distinguish his pastoral statements from his political pronouncements. Moreover, his continued involvement in both the ministry and the political group makes it clear that he wants to be identified with both. I can only conclude that his political group is merely a very thinly veiled mouthpiece for his ministry.

On Using Feminine Cultural Advantage
Well, it's true. The ability to show emotion and have people react sympathetically rather than scornfully is a cultural advantage that women have over men. And Clinton should have no more qualms over using it than a male politician should over using, say, a tough-guy image to try to attract votes. That is to say, it's silly image politics, but it happens all the time. Why should it be more wrong to use a feminine cultural advantage? Masculine ones are used every day and nobody blinks. And if the aim is to try to even the playing field, that doesn't mean that women should always try to conform to masculine methods of gaining respect.

Barack O-Bible
Just a few decades ago, the Bible Belt voted overwhelmingly Democrat. Christian morals and the Democrat political values were a natural match. The Democrats stood up for the poor and disadvantaged. But this lead to supporting the Civil Right movement of the 60's, and this was highly unpopular in the Bible Belt. And honestly, the Bible is not a great champion of Civil Rights.
But the Civil Rights movement worked very well for the Democrats, and so they became the party supporting women's rights as well, and this lead to supporting abortion, and even attracted supporters of gay rights and animal rights.

I'll make up for it, okay?
I mean, enough that God actually would care about who won the Super Bowl. But this story - that he killed Tyree's mother, and then - I dunno, felt bad about it? she badgered and/or begged Jesus into it? what? - made up for it by letting him win the Super Bowl?

Wilfred Laurier Loves Jebus - Freethinkers, Not So Much
A student named Tyler Handley, the president of the soon-to-be group, said in the comments over at The Frame Problem, "Our campus has 6 campus clubs of a religious nature." SIX groups that love Jebus or Muhammad or Buddha or some other fella of dubious paternity, existence, or distinction. You can bet your lunch money that those groups, "...respect and tolerate the views of others...." Especially atheists and agnostics. Religious folks are known for their tolerance.

Is Sex for Procreation?
These difficulties persist as long as one clings to the view that the only reason for sex is procreation. But if we discard that assumption, the matter comes into clear focus. An alternative explanation that accounts for the facts much better is that sex has two primary purposes: for procreation and also for pair bonding. And while pair bonding strengthens the family structure needed to raise healthy children, that is not its only purpose. In nature, it can also be used as a stress reliever, to strengthen group cohesion, as social currency, and simply for pleasure. Even homosexual sex exists in nature. Are animals violating "natural law" when they use sex for these purposes?

Building Blocks of Life Detected in Distant Galaxy
Esteban Araya is an astronomer at New Mexico Tech in Socorro and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

He said the discovery of methanimine in Arp 220, along with "abundant circumstantial evidence, such as the short time it took life to appear on the early Earth, suggest that life ... may be quite common in the universe."

Moreover, he said, the discovery shows complex organic molecules can exist in very inhospitable environments, such as starburst regions.

The shake-ups during rapid star formation probably created the molecules in the first place—but the chance that they'll yield complex life in such a wild scene is low, Araya pointed out.

Highly moral - yet highly irrational. Steven Pinker and the colors of morality
Let's think first about two distinct cultures - and I'll use Southeast Asian and Western European. It's very likely, as Pinker shows us, that different cultures would have distinct "colors" that are more heavily emphasized than others. We might expect that in Southeast Asia, the moral values of "authority" and "purity" are given higher moral emphasis. For the Western European cultural community, we might see "harm" and "fairness" as more heavily expressed moral features, while each may treat "group loyalty" approximately the same.

Within cultures you will have this same sort of dichotomy based on politics, religions, race, ethnicities, etc. One group may most heavily weigh "group loyalty", another "purity" and yet a third group views "harm" as the highest moral consideration (and so on).

Three Month Composite of Comet Holmes

I'll make up for it, okay?
I mean, enough that God actually would care about who won the Super Bowl. But this story - that he killed Tyree's mother, and then - I dunno, felt bad about it? she badgered and/or begged Jesus into it? what? - made up for it by letting him win the Super Bowl?

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Voting Criteria Revisited  

Thursday, February 07, 2008

In my last post on Voting Criteria I listed five criteria for deciding on a candidate: Upholding the Constitution, Education, Civil Liberties, Health Care, and Immigration Reform. After reading the comments and thinking about it some more, I don't think I can narrow it down to just five criteria. It's just too narrow. So I'm going to add some more that are blatantly missing off the previous list. I'm not going to rank them because it's just too difficult. So consider them of equal importance.

The Economy
While I think the economy is much too complex for a President to have control over it, I do think the President does have an impact through policy. I'm not pointing fingers because I'm really pretty ignorant on this subject, but the national debt bothers me and I feel it's had a huge impact on our economy, from the value of the dollar, to the earning power of the average American. Originally I didn't add this one to the list because I don't think I'm educated enough on economic theory to be a good judge and I doubt I can really learn enough between now and November to know what I'm evaluating. So definitely don't take my word on my future ratings in this category.

Foreign Policy
I didn't add this one because I thought a President that addressed my five criteria would probably do well in improving our foreign relations. But maybe that's not a good assumption to make. Certainly diplomacy should be considered.

The Environment
Honestly, this one is important to me and I overlooked it. I think it's important for our government to encourage renewable energy research and raise the standards for MPG and CO2 emissions across the board. And there are many reasons to encourage Americans to conserve and move towards a less wasteful society.

So where is this all going? What I might do, if I can steal a page from Vistaluna and rate each candidate on a scale from 1 to 5. I think it'd be good to set a minimum in the beginning for someone to meet my requirements and then rate each candidate, add it all up, and see how the candidates score and if they meet my *ahem* high standards.

But really, the process isn't that easy for deciding, so I'll have to think about it some more. Anyone have any suggestions?

Related Posts
Deciding on a Candidate
Voting Criteria

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Another Goddamned Podcast - First Episode Up!  

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

So some crazy people I know had this crazy idea of starting a podcast discussing the world from an atheistic point of view. I must have been crazy too because I joined them.

After a few false starts we have our first podcast available at the Another Goddamned Podcast blog. It's an excellent podcast, in my opinion, even though I still can't get used to hearing myself talk. We're still improving though, and we'd really like feedback from people out there in the Atheosphere. Give it a listen and let us know what you think.

Our first podcast is titled Barack Obama: Pandering to the Pious.

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