Monday, December 31, 2012

Some good news out of New Orleans.

I've written about several of Louisiana's weird attempts to push creationism in the last year so I suppose it's nice that I can write something positive about the state in what will probably be my last post of the year.

In a unanimous vote the Orleans Parish school board voted to give creationism the boot.  It even went as far as to specifically name books written to fit the atrocious Texas science and history standards.
No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the state of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.
I was also particularly impressed with this part of the ruling.
No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.
With all of the nonsense currently going on in that state it is nice to know some people there still care about education.

Fox news has "balanced" discussion of religious demographics study

So here is something that happened on fox news recently.

They are speaking about this study.

So the first thing I notice is the total lack of balance here.  They are talking about a study showing that non-religious people are the third largest group in the world and then proceed invite two devoutly religious people to discuss it, a Baptist Pastor and an Orthodox Rabbi, and not an atheist or agnostic in sight.  Surprise, surprise both of them agree that this is horrible and proceed to dump an abusive pile of nonsense about the irreligious on their viewers. 

Apparently both buy into the typical prepositional nonsense that morality requires god.  Claiming at one point that "morality is always best when it is based on god's word,"  I suppose it didn't occur to them that a Baptist and a Jew have somewhat different perceptions of what qualifies as god's word.

I also particularly loved how the baptist pastor bragged about his mufti-million dollar church and how it attracted people from "all" religious backgrounds, he then lists of several Christian denominations like "Catholics" and Episcopalians." Oh yes, pastor Jeffers, you are clearly attracting a wide variety of people there.  Of course from there he un-ironically refers to Christianity as a "relationship with god." 

At no point did they really engage with the data in the study, not the slightest analysis of it's accuracy or the methods employed in the study.  Both of them just used their time as an opportunity to proselytize.  To be honest I'm not even certain this counts as journalism at this point.  Fox took a study and then, rather than actually report about it, used it as a jumping point to give air time to a couple of hacks who wanted to promote their books and new church buildings.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The end is nigh, run for your lives...or just have a party.

Every time some group or another predicts the end of the world skeptics groups have a party. 

We did it last year with that ridiculous Harold Camping fiasco. And we are doing it again tomorrow night for the Mayan Calendar thing.  End of the world party. Hosted by the Phoenix Area Skeptics which I am a member of.  The end of the world will likely be a non event but the party should be great.  The Minibosses and The Amazing Coconauts will be playing.

The only question is remaining is who is going to predict the end of the world next year so we can have another party.  Come on conspiracy nuts and crazy people, don't let us down.  Your willingness to make a fool of yourselves gives us the excuse to throw cool parties.  Don't be lazy, do your part.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Music Pt. 5

This is a song by Tim Minchin.  Not funny like most of his stuff, but good none the less.

Stupid people on Twitter.

So I've been posting on twitter more often lately since it allows me to network and it has netted me more followers. (Thanks for following me) In general I've had some good conversations, even the religious people I've debated have mostly been cordial and reasonable.  Though debate may be a strong word with a 140 character limit.  That changed this evening when I ran into the two douchyist douches who ever douched.

Thought I'd post some snippets of the conversation.  I posted the names of the jackasses so readers will know to avoid these horrible excuses for human beings. You can see the whole debacle on twitter.  I couldn't get the embed feature to work so I just copied pasted. It started when I noticed this post.
any speech that attacks Christians is hate speech stop it 
 I posted back what I thought was a reasonable question.
If we criticize beliefs we think are wrong we are bigots? 
From here I ended up in two different conversations.  I first got a message from a different user that quickly devolved to this.

I'll have more respect for you evangleatheists when u start pounding the religion that still exists in the dark ages.Islam
So I responded.
If you think we never criticize Islam you are just willfully ignorant. I also don't care if you respect me. 
He turned to insults almost immediately with this.
I mean seriously, how candy assed do you have to be if Christians scare you?
So,  wrote a few tweets as a response. 
OK first off, I have spoke to you quite cordially and you have returned to me with insults.
Secondly I am not scared of Christians, some of them want to subvert the legal system and I stand up against that 
All of them have beliefs which they cannot support with evidence and I criticize that. 
I also criticize psychics and homeopaths and 9/11 truthers and a host of other people with crazy beliefs too. 
Quite frankly for someone to claim I am a bigot and then engage in can kiss my "candy" ass. 
The last one was the only one he bothered to reply too, in which he said.
I didn't call u one, Must have been the voices in ur head. But I agree with them. U are a bigot 
So apparently I'm a bigot because I don't agree with this guy, and he unleashes a litany of insults.  This is the first time I've spoken to him so he can't possibly know all the things he thinks he knows. At that point I realized that this guy was so far off his rocker there was no point in continuing so he got this one final tweet.
You started the name calling you fucking twit...oh looky here, there is a ban hammer right here. 
The other conversation was even more strange.  The original person I wrote to who said that it is automatically hate speech to criticize Christians replied by telling me that it was the sort of thing that civil rights people do.  I found that an odd thing to say so I responded.
I don't know any civil rights people who would say that.
She popped back
they are right now. Go look at Dana Loeschs tl 
I pointed out something I thought was fairly obvious.
Civil rights people say we can't criticize others beliefs? 
Since that is exactly what civil rights people are doing. 
I think you may be wrong
I thought it was a fairly easy to understand point, the civil rights movement is all about criticizing the beliefs of people they see as wrong, if you think that civil rights leaders are claiming you can never criticize beliefs you clearly do not understand the civil rights movement.   I hoped this conversation would go better than the other, but I was clearly wrong because I got this.
uh no im not u ignorant ass. Do a google search ur a vile bigot and as bad as an anti semite hating on jews for blood libel
So at this point I could smell crazy on this person, and was pretty much had my fill of speaking with nut job conspiracy theorists for the night, and anyone who goes to calling someone a bigot after speaking to them online for two minutes isn't worth the DNA that spawned them, so they got the ban hammer too.
Wow, name calling? Not my fault you are an idiot with poor logic skills. Ban Hammer for you.
Apparently they reported me for spam or something and got me banned from twitter for a few minutes and I had to unlock my account and promise not to spam anymore, which I didn't do in the first place, so go ahead and let them know how insane they are if you like, personally I recommend you stay away, they aren't worth the trouble.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bobby Jindal's statement about birth control not friendly to women's rights.

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana who is famous for his support of creationist nonsense in the Louisiana school system says something that on the surface seems reasonable.  He suggests that birth control should be made an over the counter drug.

I wanted to give this guy some credit, believe me I would like to be able to say he isn't a complete loss, but lets look at the reasons he gives for suggesting that birth control should be sold without a prescription.
Republican objections to mandatory birth control coverage in health insurance coverage were a major part of Democratic messaging toward women in the 2012 election cycle. Republicans wanted an exemption to the mandate for religious organizations. Jindal argues over-the-counter sales to those over 18 years of age would make this debate irrelevant.
See, Jindal doesn't care about women's health he only cares about winning elections, whether or not this is good for women or not is irrelevant as long as it shuts down a political argument.  What should be important is a science based assessment of the risk verses the benefits of changing the law.

Every form of birth control, just like any medial treatment, have possible side effects, the risks of those side effects vary depending on other life style practices and family history of certain illnesses.  The pill, for instance, caries a small risk of blood clots.  Not a major concern for most people, but for someone with a family history of heart problems, or someone who smokes a lot it is a concern.  Traditionally doctors have been the ones to determine which form of birth control is safest for a particular woman.  There are arguments to be made for changing this, but "it will help my political party win elections" is not one of them.

It is also worth noting that this is not really going to fix his parties issues with birth control, since the mandate in the affordable health care act includes other forms of birth control than the "pill" like IUD, which is considerably more expensive, but is also more effective than the pill.  Even if the laws are changed it won't end this debate.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do whats right by the American people and create Voltron.

We need to get the word out about this.  There is a petition on that really needs to be considered by our government.  We all need to sign this petition to make the people's will known to our president.

The petition spells out it's goals. 
Create a 5 piece fleet of robotic lions that can combine to form Voltron. A crack team of pilots will need to be hired and trained. It can have any weapons you want. Remember we don't want vehicle Voltron just lion Voltron. 
I know I can count on all of you to do the right thing.

Christmas Music Pt. 4 - Sweater Weather

Got a random song here.

Sweater Weather - A Winter Anthem

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Matt Barber claims half of homosexuals were sexually abused.

So this video was posted up on 

They are discussing the new law that prevents minors from being forced into "gay reparative therapy." Now, he does more than simply make the claim that half of gay men were assaulted, he claims that the CDC published the study that says this.  As far as I can tell this is an outright lie since I can find no such study posted on the CDC's website.  I can't even imagine why the CDC would be interested in these numbers, since it's an issue of psychology not disease.  So either he is very confused or lying, but since he doesn't provide any references to this study he quotes we cannot judge for ourselves. 

Further there is ample evidence that reparative therapy does not work.  The APA has an article about reparative therapy here. The law in California will prevent parents who from forcing children who are gay into a program that does not work and will likely cause real psychological harm.  It seems a wise move for the government to pass laws preventing parents from forcing their children into "treatments" that have no known efficacy and even have been shown to cause harm. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The reason people buy into the "War on Christmas" myth.

I ran into an opinion article today titled:

The writer starts by quoting the first amendment and then says this:
By denying free speech and public display to religious individuals and organizations, our government is in fact enforcing a state religion of atheism.
The problem here is that the writer, like most of the "war on Christmas" crowd, fails to see the distinction between a public display of religious beliefs done on private land, like a church or ones own house, and public displays done on government land.  Organizations like FFRF and American Atheists are not trying to prevent people from speaking about Christmas, from celebrating Christmas, or from putting up as many displays as they want provided they are not put up on government land.

This has nothing to do with enforcing "state atheism" in our country.  I am an atheist, but I would roundly oppose such a thing for a variety of reasons.
The First Amendment does not give individuals the right to not encounter religion in public; it just states that any religion they encounter is not backed by the weight of governmental authority.
I don't think I've ever seen a person get it so completely and yet still manage not to get it.  This is exactly the argument we use against allowing displays to be put up on state owned property.  Of course the first amendment does not give individuals the right not to encounter religion, it also promises the government will not censor speech along with it's promise to stay out of religion.  The rub is that this also means you don't have a right to not encounter atheism in public either.  It is for every one's benefit that the state takes no stance on which position is true.
Unfortunately, our government uses its judicial and police authorities to prohibit the free exercise of any religion other than atheism. The result has been a diminishment of our society and the loss of cultural diversity.
OK, first, atheism does not count as a religion as it is most commonly defined, but exactly when has the government stopped the free exercise of any religion?  Last I checked, nearly everyone in the federal government (state as well) profess to believe in some religion, usually Christianity.  I can drive down any road in my town and pass half a dozen churches and individuals who have put up various displays without the slightest hint of government involvement.  There is no reason to think the government is persecuting Christians, and there is doubly no reason to assume such persecution comes at the behest of atheists, since the group is a minority who hold almost no public offices.
Christmas has been changed from manger and savior to mall and savings. Perhaps it's time to start taking schools and mall owners to court to prevent their public displays of religion - atheism.
I agree that Christmas has become very commercialized, but I don't see how atheism has anything to do with this.  The reason Christmas is commercialized is because people want stuff and companies, based upon capitalistic drive, provide them that stuff in exchange for money.  How exactly are atheists more responsible for it's commercialization than anyone else who buys things? 

Business owners are permitted to put up whatever display they want, and if their displays have become less religious it is because they want to appeal to more people and thus make more money, not because of some sinister plot to make atheism the state religion. So yeah, ahead and try to take a mall owner to court because their Christmas display lacks a manger, if you can find a lawyer crazy enough to think he will win that case.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Music Pt. 3

Next up is a few songs from Jonathan Coulton.

Podsafe Christmas Song

Chiron Beta Prime

Christmas is Interesting

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas Music Pt. 2

Continuing my trend with posts of cool Christmas music.  I've got some stuff from M.C. Chris.


Fuckin up my Christmas 
(technically not about Christmas, but has the word in the title)

The "evils" of porn

I occasionally read articles on, If you have never read it, it's pretty much a mill for conspiracy theories and rants against "liberal plots" like science and measurable data. 

I don't often write criticism of things I find there, but this series of articles caught my attention.

He is writing about the "evils" of porn, but his argument ends up sounding strange, creepy and anti-sex.  Now before I get into the criticisms let me say a few things about my own view so there is no confusion.  I do, in fact, watch porn on occasion.  I say this without the slightest bit of shame, sexuality is an important part of our nature and I think it is unrealistic to expect people to simply turn this part of themselves off until they get married.  Even most Fundamentalists admit this, since they are well aware of how many people watch porn and have premarital sex despite the general injunctions against both.  Think about it for a second, the church forbids both murder and premarital sex.  However, few people have a problem resisting the urge to murder but almost everyone has a problem resisting the urge to have sex.  This should tell us right away that these are very different things.

Now, to be clear I am not saying that the use of porn is a totally great thing without any potential negative consequences.  STD risks, and abuse are both potential risk for people who work in porn.  And there are studies that connect high amounts of porn use to erectile dysfunction, which, from what I've read seems to be caused by an over stimulation of the dopamine receptors, causing them to loose sensitivity.  However, risk is in everything we do.  Many people join the military even though that job carries with the potential risk of being dead or permanently maimed yet people do it proudly.

This brings me to the articles in question.  I'm going to be criticizing parts 2 and 3 primarily.   In the second part of his article he seems to want to discuss the topic reasonably, and shows that he has at least a passing familiarity the way pornography is dealt with in modern psychology.  However, like most apologists his reasonableness does not last, he quickly descends into pseudo-science and preachy claims, even ones that are a detriment to his article.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Music.

So I don't really like most Christmas music.  It's not an atheist thing either, I disliked most of it even when I was a believer.  Of course I, in no way, want to tell others what they should like so if you like traditional Christmas music whether you are religious or not have fun with it.

I just tend not to like any of it; I don't really care for all of the sappy Christmas T.V. specials from this time of year either.  Anyway there are some Christmas songs  I can get behind so I thought I'd share some of them over a few posts this month.  Let's start with a couple from Weird Al.

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Christmas At Ground Zero 

The Night Santa Went Crazy 
(not recommended for kids who still believe in Santa Claus)


Friday, November 30, 2012

Does the Universe Have a Purpose

Ran across this very interesting video by Neil deGrasse Tyson today.  Thought I'd share. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Kentucky, don't believe in God, get a year in jail.

A bill passed in Kentucky, you know the home of the creation museum, that could potentially land atheists in jail for up to twelve months.  The bill requires people living in the state to acknowledge God's protection in regards to homeland security.  Punishment for failing to acknowledge God's protection carries with a punishment of up to one year in prison.

The law states:
The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln's historic March 30, 1863, presidential proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy's November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: "For as was written long ago: 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
I was too nice to draw devil horns on him.
When I first heard about this a few days ago my first reaction was to be incredulous.  Surely no one could pass such a bill here in the United States, not even in a state like Kentucky.  Someone had to be exaggerating the claims here. However, it seems this is really law.  Here was what I was able to learn about the bill.

Tom Riner (D)(even the Democrats have their share of religious nuts), a state representative and Baptist minister inserted this into a homeland security bill back in 2006.  In 2009 it was struck down by a Kentucky circuit judge as unconstitutional thanks to a lawsuit filed by American Atheists.  Since then it was appealed, the appellate court in Kentucky overturned the original ruling.  The Kentucky Supreme court then refused to hear the case, thus allowing the ruling of the appellate court to stand.

American Atheists is not taking this lying down though.  They have submitted a petition to the U.S. supreme court to here the case.  I managed to find a copy of the petition if you want to read it..

This is the most egregious violation of constitutional rights I have come across in a while.  I can't believe it has managed to stand as long as it has.  This law reminds me a bit of the Red Scare.  Then people were afraid of communists, some of those fears were founded and some were not but proper religious beliefs were often used as a litmus test to prove you were not a "godless communist."  The modern specter is terrorists, but the M.O. hasn't changed.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dr. Oz and Raspberry Ketone

Occasionally I get spam emails, and by occasionally I mean very very often.  I usually ignore them, most of them get caught by my spam filter but occasionally one gets through like the email that sent me this link:

This page is talking about the fat loss effects of raspberry ketone.  It is full of grandiose claims and comments by "users" which sound exactly like the way people in an infomercial are paid to talk about a product.  The link to the video of Dr. Oz speaking about it on the page is broken but I did manage to find a link to the same spot on his show from YouTube.  I suggest watching it.  

Dr. Oz, despite his credentials, has a habit of promoting quack medicine, and I'm hardly the first to speak about it.  A lot of people watch him and trust his advice so it is disappointing that he promotes unproven treatments without really any reservations.  He gives everyone a neat little demonstration where he puts some balloons in liquid nitrogen and they shrivel up while he tells us that raspberry ketone does the same thing to fat cells, because apparently an analogy equals proof in T.V. world.

To be fair, he does let his viewers know that they should not use this by itself and should instead use it only as part of a larger weight loss treatment plan, but he is totally positive in his review of effectiveness of the pill.  He never once mentions that there have been no medical trials done with humans showing positive effects for raspberry ketone.  Even his own site says ketone works best "when paired with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet of healthy and whole foods."  You know, those things that have a proven effect on weight loss all by themselves.

I did manage to find one study done with rats published back in May.  It seemed to have some promise, but unless I am misunderstanding the study it only showed promise in preventing weight gain.  The study was not designed to test ketone as a treatment to undo past weight gain.  Further, there are no studies done on humans that I found, nor did he mention any.  So to state without the slightest reservation that this product works is a huge stretch.  This is further compounded by the fact that weight loss supplements come out all the time and they never deliver on their claims.  This is not to say they are all useless, some do have limited effects, but they have never lived up to the hype.  What are the chances that this will be the one that does?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Land does not get a vote.

Before I start this post let me be clear this is not a post about which political party is the best.  Anyone who reads my blog know I lean left but I also admit that there are many problems with both parties, however, this post is not about any of that, it is about a group small but vocal group of Republicans who are complaining their side didn't win the recent presidential election, and in particular a really bad argument I have seen some of them appeal to in order justify these complaints.

I've seen a number of conservative/Republican bloggers (here and here) base an argument off of this map:

Of course one immediately notices that there is a lot more red than blue, this has caused some bloggers to proclaim that Romney was the real winner because he won more square mileage.  

Of course the following map of population density should give you an idea why Obama could loose on square mileage but still win the popular vote.

See, Romney one in lots of areas that had very low population density, while Obama, on average, did better in high density areas.  This shouldn't even be a surprise, since there are plenty of studies showing that people living in areas of high population density tend to skew more liberal than those living in areas of low density.

Of course a variety of justifications are offered, one person said that it was unfair that states like California had whole districts go to Romney but those districts votes went to Obama in the end because the overall majority in the state went to him.  The claim is that is is unfair for the votes of the people in that district to not count.  But how exactly is that more fair than the current system?  If you want a system in which every vote counts equally then we should get rid of the electoral college completely, not simply shrink the presidential voting blocs from state to district.  In fact this would be very bad for one simple reason, the state legislature draws up the voting districts, this would make it very easy for state governments to manipulate the results of elections.

Another complaint that is odd is that cities have most of the voting control, why should it be either surprising or unreasonable that the a larger population has more voting power than a smaller one?  Isn't that the way a democratic voting system is suppose to work?  The person with the most votes wins?  Are they suggesting that the votes of people in underpopulated districts should be worth more?

Of course one comment gave a reason for the complaint:
Bill O’Reilly makes a good point about the people who “want stuff.” Today Rush said: “It’s impossible to vote against Santa Claus!”. But we knew this all along. We knew that there were people in this country who believe that the government should provide them everything. And they knew Obama would punish the producers and hand over the fruit’s of their labors to them for whatever latest technological gadgets or worldly desires they covet. What we didn't know was how many of these losers there actually were—until today.
There you have it folks, people who live in cities voted for Obama because they are lazy bums who want everything for free, simple as that.  It fits the narrative they would dearly love to be true, but does it really seem likely that over fifty percent of the population expect the government to give them everything for free?  It seems to me that it is folly to assume that everyone votes for one party or the other for a singular reason.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Louisiana is in a worse state than I imagined.

I wrote a while back about Louisiana passing a voucher program that was likely to push creationism onto students by sending them to Christian private schools.  Well the bill passed and has been put into effect this year.  Thanks to a friend I got a link to a website which had scanned three pages from a 5th grade text book currently being used in in Louisiana voucher schools and being paid for by tax dollars.  Anyway, here is the link.

The book is not teaching "strengths and weaknesses" or "Intelligent design" it is overtly and explicitly teaching science from the perspective of Christian religious bias.  It goes as far as quoting bible verses as evidence that dinosaurs lived with humans and claiming that the flood is responsible for the geological column.

Here is a couple of gems from the book.  A table that explains the big bang as a "sudden explosion" and describes humans as the "highest level of animal" according to evolution.

One thing that struck me was there insistence that the findings of science are nothing more than the results of the biases injected by the people doing the science.

They say:
Man makes judgments about the evidence of fossils based up his beliefs. A man who believes God's record of creation and history will look at fossils in one way.  A man who believes in evolution will view fossils in a different way.
They then go on to give the student an activity to read several articles written by "creationists" and "evolutionists"  to try to determine what the writers bias is.  This is such an absurd and jumbled approach to science it is difficult imagining children getting anything out of it.  It is bad enough they are teaching these kids bad biology, but they are teaching them a horrible approach to science in general.  It is, of course, obvious that everyone has a bias, but the whole point of the scientific method is to attempt to eliminate those biases.  A person can start from any hypothesis they want and no matter how biased it is the predictions it makes will either turn out to be true or false.  If the predictions are false then the hypothesis fails.

The main thing they fail to mention is that the reason creationism doesn't count as science is because it makes no meaningful predictions about the world.  Take big bang which they inaccurately describe as a "sudden explosion," when it was first proposed the calculations predicted certain types of radiation should still be present in the universe as a result.  Measurements were taken and the radiation was found, thus there was evidence that it happened. (though not definitive proof)

Now take the creationists view point, "God created the heavens and the earth" by their own description.  What predictions can one make from that?  To ask the question differently what differences would we expect to see between a universe that God created and one that he didn't?  The fact is we don't know, we have no idea what differences there would be between those two things if any.  So with no predictions there is no way to test, or falsify as Karl Popper would have put it, the hypothesis that "God created the heavens and the earth."  Thus this is not a mere matter of competing beliefs as this text book wants to present it as.

The science in this book is so bad it should be criminal to lie to students this badly.  Late elementary school is a great time to cultivate students interest in science and instead they choose to squash it with ludicrous pseudo-science.  Now thanks to Louisiana they are using tax money to promote this stuff to students who may not even share their religion, because their parents have been told that sending their child to a private school is a guaranteed way to get a better education.  The evidence in this book says differently.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's that time of the year again.

What time of the year is it?  The time for eggnog and carols?  The time for decorating trees and eating more turkey than is medicinally safe?  Unfortunately no, its the time of the year when fundamentalists go around complaining that atheists are ruining Christmas.

I case you don't want to listen to the video here is the quote:
Atheists don’t like our happiness! They don’t want you to be happy! They want you to be miserable! They’re miserable, so they want you to be miserable, so they want to steal your holiday away from you.
First off I don't really know any atheists who are miserable by and large.  Of course just like everyone we have our good days and our bad, but we seem to fit within the normal bell curve of happiness with no major difference between us and the more religious people out there.

The truth is many atheists like the secular aspects of Christmas, it is a national holiday after all with many non-Christians celebrating it. For my part I enjoyed it quite a bit even after ceasing to be a believer, though thanks to people like Robertson I've been less fond of it the last several years since due to the influence of him and others people in my family think I'm one of those "miserable" atheists trying to steal the holiday.

Ironically it's generally not Christmas that make atheists miserable, it's the realization that there is a large number of people out there who still take Pat Roberson seriously.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Someone doesn't understand the concept of irony.

Who is this person you ask?  Well they wrote this article.

This person is confused because the people who rightfully complained that Rush Limbaugh called a woman a slut and jokingly agreed to pay for her birth control provided she would tape the sex for his enjoyment went on to form this movement. Rock The Slut Vote.  

A quick perusal of this blog revealed a host of errors in basic math, biology, and others, but this particular article caught my eye.  

They complain about how movements like this encourage us to treat women as mere sexual things for the entertainment of men, even comparing U.S. culture to that of fundamentalist Muslim countries.  They think that modern feminism is the same as that of Islam because they both treat women as sex objects for men.  I say they are completely different because what exemplifies the type of Islam they are speaking about is a desire for men to control every aspect of women's sexuality, while feminists want women to be in control of it.

Unlike the bloggers claim feminists are not saying that women are nothing more than vaginas, but to pretend that sexuality is not a very important part of most people's identity is absurd.  To me it seems clear that the use of the term slut is meant ironically and at no point does the "Rock The Slut Vote" site advocate for women to have sex with any man who asks her.  There seems to be an objection to the attempt get rid of the negative connotation of the term slut based upon the notion that women who have had lots of sexual partners are bad people right?  Also apparently words can never be redefined. 

This blogger could probably do with an education about the gay rights movement.  the term "gay" was originally used as an insult, and the movement actually did over a period of several decades change it to a normal and accepted term by using it to describe themselves.  So the concept is not as crazy as this blogger seems to think.

The blogger ends their article complaining about the lack of impact Christians seem to have on mainstream culture, but somehow also manages to believe that things Lady Gaga sings about somehow represents the mainstream culture of people who are no longer teenagers.  I'm guessing the reason they fail to impact mainstream culture is that they have no clue what that even is, but they have such a beautiful straw-man of what they think it is who am I to get in the way of that?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Revolution...worst sci-fi ever.

I've been watching a few episodes of a new science fiction series that has come out this year called Revolution.  Now, I am used to a certain amount of difficult to believe stuff in science fiction.  We all suspend disbelief to a certain extent when we watch it, but I have rarely run into anything in sci-fi so completely contrary to basic science as the plot of this show.

For those who have not watched here is the basic premise of the show.  "Something" happened one night and caused all electrical devices to stop working permanently at the same time.  The show then flashes forward about twenty years or so and the power is still off and people are living at a technological level similar to the early 19th century.  Nothing that requires electrical power works at all.

Now, ignoring anything else in the show this is the most nonsensical plot device I have ever seen, the person that wrote this could really have benefited from setting in on a physics class for jr. high children.

To explain, lets start with some basic education on how electricity is produced, for those who might not know. Let's start with this item on the right.  This is an alternator for a car. (cars also stop working in the show) Alternator's produce electricity to power your car and charge the battery so that the battery can be used to start your car.  How exactly do these work?  They aren't magic, hell they aren't even very complicated.  If you look at this one you will see copper wires bunched together on the outer edge of the device.  This bunch of wires runs around the outer edge of the alternator in a circle. A fan belt runs around the pulley on the end and down to another pulley attached to the drive shaft.  This causes the pulley on the alternator to turn while the engine is on, which in turn causes a magnet located in the middle of the wires to spin.  And....that's it.  It's called a dynamo and this is the primary way we have been producing electricity since the principal was discovered in the early 19th century.

But surely this is a simple device right?  Power plants produce electricity using a far more complex system right?  Nope, power plants use dynamos too, the only real differences are the size of the dynamo and what they use to power it's rotation.  Power plans typicality use steam instead of a drive shaft.  That's right steam, perhaps our world is closer to steam punk that any of us realized.  The steam is of course created by heating water with a variety of fuel sources oil/coal/nuclear/solar etc. but the technology of the dynamo has changed very little in nearly two centuries.

Batteries work a bit differently since they effectively store electricity using chemicals, it is still being produced using the same basic fundamental force.

What causes this to function is a force in physics called electromagnetism.   The magnetic field causes the electrons in the copper atoms to excite and move between atoms, and this is what generates the electricity.  The important thing here is that electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces in physics that make our universe work.  These are strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity and electromagnetism.

So here is where we get to what makes the plot of this show horrible.  What killed the electricity?  It couldn't have been some form of EMP, because that would only kill electrical devices that are on at the moment of the EMP, and would have no permanent effect on older cars or machinery that were not dependent on computer systems to work.  Also even if it killed all power plants people still know how to build a dynamo.  A twelve year old could build one out of some copper wire and a magnet in his dad's garage, so it would be bad, but in a few years people would rebuild power plants and move on.  In the show, however, everything stops working all at once, even battery powered devices all within seconds of each other.  No one rebuilt anything because, the show tells us, electricity simply doesn't work anymore.

In order for this plot to work the "something" that caused all electrical devices to stop working would have to interrupt electromagnetism at a fundamental level to prevent dynamo's from producing electricity.  Electromagnetism is not just some neat trick that lets us power computers, it is one of the most fundamental forces in nature, and without we could not continue to live, even our bodies depend on it, it turns out that there are lots of electrical reactions in our body.  Ever heard of a neuron?  These are the cells in the brain that produce thought, and they do so through an electro-chemical reaction.  So if a device that could interrupt electromagnetic force were turned on we would all die almost instantly, since your brain would no longer be able to tell you to breath, your heart would stop beating, etc etc.  It makes the entire plot one of the most laughably unbelievable things I've ever seen.

For this reason alone Revolution gets my vote as one of the worst pieces of sci-fi to come out since Plan 9 from outer space.

So THAT'S who wrote the pilot for revolution.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Abortion debate.

Ok, so the abortion debate is up now.

Before reading any of my thoughts here, I suggest listing, otherwise a lot of this won't make any sense.

In most debates one realizes after it there were ways in which they could have responded or things that should have been said that were not.  This is even more true when the debate topic is complex and the discussion time is short.  So I am writing out my thoughts on the debate a few days after it, I will save this and post it after the debate has been put up because otherwise it would be unfair to both my readers and to Vocab.

So during the debate several things were brought up I want to comment on.

First, Vocab's use of what I think may rightfully be called a deepity.  He says that someone's rights should not change simply because their location has changed.  First off, it is a gross oversimplification of the issue to refer to the woman's uterus as just another location.  It's as if he saying, "I'm at the store", or "I'm in my home" or "I'm in a woman's uterus" are logically indistinct.  I'm sure there are some women out there who would be willing to point out that they are very different.

In addition to this, Vocab calls abortion murder as part of the same argument.  The problem is that he seems to be treating all killing as equal, but most rational people already admit that there are valid contexts in which we can kill another human being.  If I run out onto the street and shoot a random stranger I'll be charged with murder, but if that same stranger breaks into my house and I shoot him people think I'm a hero who defended his home from an intruder.  Odd that one of the main differences in these two scenarios is the other persons location, and another is the question of permission.  Context matters, and the pro-life groups seem to want to selectively pretend it doesn't.

My argument is that even if you treat a fetus as a human (Which I'll address this in a bit) the context of pregnancy justifies the abortion, now if one wants to argue that this particular context does not justify said action we can have that discussion, but this was not the argument Vocab made as far as I can tell, and would require him credit the issue with being more complex than most pro-lifers like to admit.  He seemed to be making a blanket statement that context doesn't matter at all when you kill another human being. This seemed bizarre to me, since I can think plenty of contexts in which society would say that killing a person is justified and therefore not actually murder.  I suppose it would be consistent if he takes the absolute position of a pacifist, but he never alluded to that and it would my first time meeting and evangelical who was also a pacifist.

Next, I tried to structure my own argument to avoid biology as much as possible.  One because biology is complex and can't really be adequately addressed in 45 minutes, but mainly because neither I nor Vocab are biologists and any thing either one of us say is going to sound the least bit intelligent to actual biologists. 

Of course he was determined to bring this topic up since it is basically the main argument the pro life stance has that isn't mired in religious dogma.  I think he believed he scored a major victory in this arena, but he seemed to do it by speaking about one thing in embryology and then stopping at that because it seemed to support his argument and ignoring the rest of the science.   Of course the point he brings up is that the fetus has DNA unique to either one of the parents.  Of course I was not going to be able to lay out the actual complexities of fetal development in five minutes and he seemed to treat that as a victory, which is because short sound bytes work better than evidence in debates quite often.

As an example there is a debate about whether or not a fetus is even conscience until the point of actual birth.  Many seem to think that the oxygenation level in the brain of the fetus is too low to support conscience thought in utero.  Any movements made by the fetus are easily attributable to autonomic responses, and as it has never been conscious the fetus can't possibly feel pain.  Also as a being that has never been conscious it is difficult to refer to them as alive.  Of course this may get into the rather hairy question of defining what consciousness (and what life) is, but neuroscience has certainly give us more insight into this question than religion ever did.

Further, studies have found that the neurological connections needed to be conscious or feel pain are not present until after 24 weeks.

One thing I brought up at the end was the need for a more reasonable approach, and that making abortion illegal would do little to stop abortions from happening.  That being the case I presented a case for several things which have actually been shown to lower the number of abortions (wider access to birth control, and better sex education for teens) and mentioned that I support those things and would certainly have no problem with the number of abortions going down, and that I thought it was odd that so many fundamentalists oppose those things given their proven effect. 

I felt he pretty much dodged the question entirely by just basically reiterating that he thinks abortion is wrong and failing to address my point at all.  The best way of putting it, which of course I didn't think of at the time, was if the pro life groups got exactly what they wanted and abortions were totally illegal would this stop abortions?  No, in fact, statistics show that the numbers don't seem to change much.  Further, evangelicals have more recently been taking a strong stance against birth control as well, which will almost certainly increase abortions even with them illegal.  So is that it? Make abortion illegal and then pat yourself on the back and go home?  If your main goal is to decrease abortions why not do something that will actually do that, irregardless of the legality of the abortions?  I don't consider it my main goal to decrease the number of abortions but that number decreasing would not bother me if it was done in a way that respected women's rights and intelligently engaged the topic of sexuality.

Understand while I'm not accusing Vocab of this, my hypothesis is that evangelical's antagonism towards both abortion and contraception is part of a bigger issue.  They want everyone to act in accordance with the sexual values of their religion (even though statistically most of them don't measure up to those either) and they think by preventing access to anything that might negate the real world consequences to sexual behavior will push people to have less sex.  Mind you, they think this despite evidence that access to birth control and abortion does little to change the sexual behavior of the average person.  Oddly enough this ends up creating a situation where children are seen as one of the punishments for "immoral" actions like premarital sex, which is not exactly pro family.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Preacher gives interesting gay rights speech.

Came across this video last night.

I recommend watching until the end.  If only Shyamalan movies had such interesting twists.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I don't even know what to say.

Recently U.S. Representative Paul Broun, a republican from Georgia and who, unfortunately for the U.S., is a physician and sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee had this to say:
“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually. How to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”

His beliefs are strange enough, the fact that this guy is on a committee that decides how to spend government funds on science and technology is downright disturbing.  He calls him self a scientist, but last I checked calling oneself a scientist requires that one actually does science.  Has Broun published in any peer reviewed journals?  Particularly on these young earth claims he is making?  He seems to think they are obvious but can't really offer anything of substance. He just says, "That's what the Bible says."

Of course the scariest thing about his statements is that he is basically openly admitting his dominionist leanings by stating his intent to use the Bible to decide how he will vote.  How do people come to wield so much political power in this country when they are so painfully ignorant, openly anti-science, and driven to use their religious beliefs as the basis for law?  

If you think that guy is bad, then this guy will really break your brain.  

Charlie Fuqua, is a Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives and thinks the U.S. government should reinstate the Old Testament law that made being an unruly child a capital offense.
Even though this procedure would rarely be used, if it were the law of land, it would give parents authority. Children would know that their parents had authority and it would be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.
I am going to humbly suggest that parents willing to use this sort of thing as a threat to garner obedience from their child shouldn't be parents in the first place.

Who votes for these loons?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What I've been up to.

Sorry I haven't been posted so much lately.  I have been busy though.

First, this past Monday I was invited to debate the topic of abortion with local evangelist Vocab Malone.  The same one I debated morality with a few weeks ago.  I, unsurprisingly, have some thoughts about the debate that I have been writing down.  Should be a long post, but to be fair to Vocab as well as my readers , I'm going to wait until the debate is posted in a couple of weeks to post that up.

Click to see full size.
I just purchased a new guitar, my old one had been sold when I was out of work a year and half or so ago.

Pictured here, it's a Les Paul Standard Plus.  I've been annoying my neighbors with this, I'm sure they love me.

Maybe I'll post a video of my playing something if you asking nicely.

I've also been playing Skyrim again lately.  For those of you who aren't gamers two expansions came out for it in the last month.  So I had the job of killing vampire hordes who were threatening to blot out the sun or something like that.  I also found the time to build a kick ass house for my character. 

Yes, my virtual avatars live much better than I do, but on the other hand they amassed their large fortune by killing dragons, trolls, and undead.  I would totally be willing to do that, but since none of them exist in real life I have to settle for being tech support.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to say something about your product without saying anything.

There is a commercial 5 hour energy has been playing on my Hulu account quite a bit lately and I found it pretty funny. They asked 3,000 doctors (though didn't say how many actually answered) and the response?
Over 73% of doctors would recommend a low calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements.
The way this is worded they basically said nothing of value.  The doctors say they would recommend a low calorie supplement to people who are already using one to begin with, so there is no way to determine if these doctors would recommend it to people using nothing at all.  Perhaps they only recommend it because it is better than using high calorie supplements that also do nothing, if the patient is going to use energy supplements anyway might as well turn them onto something low calorie right?

In addition they don't mention the 27% (a still pretty significant number) who didn't recommend it even within the very limited confines of the statements phrasing.  What were their reasons?

Unfortunately shady advertising techniques like this one are used precisely because they work on enough people enough of the time to make it profitable.  Laws can be useful to limit what advertisers claim to a certain extent, but as with this example it is often easy to come up with ways to say things that, while not outright lies, are intentionally misleading, thus circumventing the laws.  This is one of the reasons that education in skeptical thinking is so important.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Egyptian atheist arrested for posting ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on Facebook

So this happened:

The video in question that he posted, kinda silly, but has caused riots all over the Middle East.
 According to the article:
Alber Saber was arrested on Friday after his mother called the police out of fear of the crowd outside their home. Saber was arrested under the rarely used law that prohibits insulting religion
 Free speech doesn't fly in Egypt either apparently.

A Facebook page has been created in support of freeing him, I don't know how much good it will do but go click the "like" button if you have time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sandra Fluke is the real misogynist according to

So Sandra Fluke made a speech at the Democratic National Convention.  I didn't really watch much of the DNC myself because I generally have better things to do, but when I ran across this article on LifeSiteNews, a super pro life site.  I decided to check out her speech, since according to them the speech was full of "venom" and Fluke was "disgruntled and disillusioned." So I decided to look up the video and see for myself.

You can see it here:

It didn't really strike me as that bad. 

Of course they choose to quote Kirstin Powers statement about how women should "visit Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and then see how she feels about how the US treats women"  A statement I find ridiculous.  Treating women better than Saudi Arabia is a pretty low standard.  I would like to think our country would aim a bit higher than that.  Also, Fluke's statements were pointedly directed at the senates failure to include women on a panel discussing contraception issues, so it is not as if she was simply tilting at windmills, she had a concrete example to point to.

However the article gets even more bizarre.  The writer of the article (most likely a man given the name Peter) seems to have decided that a woman cannot truly be a women unless they are having children, and somehow allowing them to decide when and if they reproduce makes them sexual servants of men.  Does he really think that atheists and feminists are just having one non stop orgy? 

A couple of quotes:
Women like Fluke who accept this detestable lie, have thereby rejected the glorious beauty and radiant splendor of what is really at the core of a woman’s being, namely her profound ability to procreate
This is downright creepy, and are not even necessarily accurate.  Did this guy actually ask if Fluke ever intends to have children?  I don't personally know, but I do know the choice should be up to her and perhaps the man she has sex with.  Not some random person on the internet who has decided that not reproducing is some black mark on a woman's reputation.
Women like Fluke are not fighting against the alleged “War on Women”; they are in fact its biggest perpetrators. Contraception and abortion have separated women from their true selves. Depraved men, capitalizing on this unnatural separation, have used and abused women’s bodies like never before. Women are commonly degraded as objects for recreation, pleasure, and profit.
This quote is dripping with weird sex negativity, he seems to think that any sex that is not purposed to be procreative is dirty.  It seems to bother him that women might have sex for any other reason.

He seems to fail to understand that each woman is an individual, if one wants to have children that is fine, but it is also fine to not have children. No matter how he tries to spin it, he is ultimately saying that he will let women choose as long as they make the choices he has already predetermined are right for all women. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Atheism+ and in-group/out-group dynamics.

I honestly wasn't really planing on writing anything about atheism+.  Not that I didn't generally agree with  most of the ideas there, but I didn't really think I had anything brilliant to say on the topic, but then I thought of something, so here I am.

I've been told in several conversations in the last couple of months that the movement I am part of is some isolationist sub culture.  There are critics out there of both atheism and skepticism as movements who suggest that we are nothing but a bunch of sycophants patting each other on the back for being more brilliant than everyone else.

I'd like to tell those people they have no idea what they are talking about, but while I think they are not entirely correct I can't deny that the criticism does have some merit.  Those self congratulatory tendencies are a part of human behavior that all of us, including myself, have indulged in from time to time.  In my defense I think I do it a lot less now that I did when I was a fundamentalist Christian, but whether that difference stems from my lack of religion or just generally being more mature than I was at 21 years old, I can't say. However, any movement of a significant size is going to have a certain number of people who seem to spend more time congratulating each other for being in the "know" than doing anything of significance.

When Jen McCreight posted about atheism+ on BlagHag last month I quickly noticed that there were some people on both sides who devolved into name calling, which was bad, but I also noticed that a lot of the people against atheism+ were going off into conspiracy theory territory, which was really bad.  I read way to many  blog comments of people saying that atheism+ was some secret conspiracy of leftist feminists and communists who are trying to steal the movement.  It seems to me the goal of most of the people promoting atheism+ is to promote more diversity in the movement, but the people who don't like the idea are claiming that it is promoting divisiveness.   Truthfully I would full well admit that it no doubt will cause a certain amount of divisiveness, but to some extent that is OK.  The guy who asked if it was moral to rape a SkepChick, for instance.  I don't mind making him feel unwelcome in my circle of friends.  In fact, if you don't make those sorts of people feel unwelcome, you may end up with no one but those people. Just look at what happened to Chat Roulette for an example of how this happens.

So this brings me back to something I thought of while I was trying to answer some of these accusations.  I remembered the moment in time when I began to consider being activist about my atheism.  I had been an atheist for several years by this point, but I wasn't really concerned with what anyone else thought of me or my beliefs.  I certainly didn't care one whit about feminism or other issues back then.  One day I was on YouTube and happened across a video taken from CNN.

A video of this to be exact:

The discussion was one of study that had been done showing atheists were the most disliked minority.  The three people who were asked to speak on this (all Christian) explain that no such discrimination exists, and then rant for about 4 minutes about how any atheist who thinks differently was whiny and should shut-up.  By the end of the video I was angry, and for a bit I wasn't even sure why other than the absurdity of what they said.  Then it hit me that this was what it felt like to be marginalized, to be discriminated against.  The people with the power and authority had just said that my opinions and my feelings didn't count.  I should just shut up and let them have their way.  This video convinced me that things needed to change.

There is the reason that I think atheists should be concerned with social justice for all people, One, because otherwise we run the risk of running roughshod over other peoples civil rights in the defense of our own, and two, because we need to recognize that we are not the only ones to have problems.  Why do we fight?  Why do we advocate for skeptical thinking? Is it so we can pat each other on the back and feel superior to others, or is it to make the world we live in a little better?  If it is the former then we really are just another smug sub-culture and our movement is meaningless.  If is the later then I see no reason not to apply skeptical thought to the problems of social justice we face.  This is what Atheism+ means to me.