when the status quo frustrates.

Comic book geeks 14, Westboro Baptist Church 1.

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Best protest signs evar. My favorites:

I think we all know how I feel about the Hypnotoad.

I think I have that one somewhere in the back basement room, too!

Fear and Hatred of the Other

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I don’t understand it. Part of me doesn’t want to understand it, either; as with exploring the motives of pedophiles, it leaves me queasy and shaken in any kind of belief in the basic goodness of mankind. However, I should understand it in order to better combat it…I suppose…meh…it’s really hard to work up enthusiasm for plunging your hands into untreated sewage, you know?

Two news items today: One is Sarah Palin’s admittedly very funny Twitter debacle, where she confuses “not knowing what existing words mean” with “inventing new words.” Is she too stupid to be embarrassed? But aside from the vocabulary funzies, this was the sentiment:

Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.

I feel unprovoked and unstabbed. Really. Now, the case could be made that I am not a New Yorker and therefore, perhaps, am missing some special degree of angst that would make this all explicable; however, Sarah Palin’s not one either. And in my case, I was actually within some geographical proximity of 9/11 events. Anybody remember this..?


(The US Pentagon, 9/11)
…or this?


(Near miss of the US Capitol–in rural Pennsylvania about 20 minutes from DC)

There are lots of terrorists out there. I remember learning in the 5th grade that while all squares are rectangles, not all rectangles are squares. And in this case, it can’t even be claimed that well yes I’m sure not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists ARE Muslim, you know..! Neither Ted Kaczynski nor Timothy McVeigh were Muslims, for example. Since 1977, 41 abortion clinics have been bombed–forty-one!–and to the best of my knowledge, none of the bombers were even remotely Muslim. Among these were an abortion clinic and two physicians’ offices in Pensacola, Florida were bombed in the early morning of Christmas Day, 1984, by a quartet of young people (Matt Goldsby, Jimmy Simmons, Kathy Simmons, Kaye Wiggins) who later called the bombings “a gift to Jesus on his birthday.”

I’ve also heard the argument that the Koran encourages Muslims to kill unbelievers. Gee, now there’s a point. I mean, just listen to these!

Suppose you hear in one of the towns that God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock.

If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.

Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed.

They entered into a covenant to seek the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord their God was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

Oops, wait!…those are from the Bible.

This, and the ongoing furor over illegal immigrants, has really led me down a depressing path. “Several states” (reported variously as nine, ten or twelve depending on where I’m looking) are supposedly following Arizona’s lead in obsessing about their undocumented worker populations. Why the obsession..? I’ve heard it variously and defensively described as “Well they’re breaking the LAW don’t you CARE about the LAW?” (frequently put forth by people who regularly speed, jaywalk, cheat on their taxes and smoke weed–a rather selective reverence towards the LAW)

or

“Well they’re costing us MONEY WELFARE!” (Nevermind the fact that in 2008, the percentage of Arizona’s state budget going towards welfare was 12%…not exactly the lion’s share…and presumably even that isn’t somehow all being distributed to illegal aliens–how could it be?)

or

“Well they’re taking all our JOBS!” (FactCheck.org doesn’t agree.)

I’m pretty sure it all really boils down to one thing, and for that one thing, see the title of this post.

Time Travelling God Particles

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

I’m no theoretical physicist, but I was a member of the institutional science community.  My particular bullshit field was “artificial intelligence,” but in the modern university, bullshit fields abound–sometimes with legitimate scientific endeavors buried within, or as an umbrella above, the bullshit.

I predict that large tracts of present-day physics research will be revealed as an exercise in mathematical masturbation–a sort of ueber-complex sudoku puzzle that only .001% of humanity has the intellect and training to attempt solving.  The sudoku metaphor can be extended to include the relevance of the solution to our questions about the nature of reality.

I’ll admit, I don’t have the mathematical chops to follow, replicate, or disprove the work of theoretical physicists.  My skepticism of their work stems from more primary methodological concerns.  Of primary concern is the lack of testable hypotheses–a feature found also in rank mysticism.

and then there’s this:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. (NY Times 10/12/09)

One of the two pysicists is Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. You probably recognize from his famous proposal that the Veneziano model was actually a theory of strings*.  A distinguished physicist indeed.

Nielson along with Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto (less famous–doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry) propose that Higgs boson particles created by scientists in the future, travel backwards through time to prevent scientists in the present from discovering them.

Seriously.

Now I’m the first to sympathize with scientists forced to use metaphor.  Communicating an absurdly complicated topic to an untrained public is challenging.  I’m also sympathetic to the problem of the media in relating these metaphors to the public: how literal are they meant to be taken? Is the cat *really* alive and dead at the same time? Is space *actually* a rubber matt displaced by bowling balls? And so forth.

But, as far as I can tell, the Terminator metaphor above is meant to be taken literally.  Just substitute Higgs boson for Arnold, and anything-to-do-with-discovering-Higgs-boson for Sarah Connor.

The list of things sabotage possibly engineered by Higgs: the cancellation of the planned Superconducting Supercollider in the US in 1993, the various mechanical problems of the Large Hadron Collider, and the arrest of a resident physicist on suspcion of Al-Qaeda affiliation.

Seriously.

Of course, thinking like scientists, they’ve come up with a plan–a peer reviewed, up-for-publication-in-a-real-journal plan.  It goes a little something like this:

  1. Create a deck of 1 million cards.
  2. Write “Procede” on 999,999 of the cards.
  3. Write “STOP” on 1 card.
  4. Shuffle.
  5. Draw a card.

If the card says “STOP,” then it supports the claim that Higgs boson(s) are emanating from the future to stop scientists from creating them, and we should design more experiments so that Higgs, from the future, can tell scientists how they should proceed with their experiments.

I think it’s a great experiment, but I would go the additional step of not including the “STOP” card.  That would really cinch it.  As a “real time” way you provide Higgs input on HLC activity, you could have a grad students continuously flipping coins.  If one of them comes up heads one million times in a row then we know Higgs thinks we’re going too far.  Or, with nearly the same degree of scientific rigor, we could have a seance.  I’m willing to be the conduit through which the Higgs boson can make its will known to our world.

Seriously.

*I had no idea who he was either.

**Since it would cost, like, a billionth as much as their other bullshit experiments, why haven’t they done it?

Make Your Case

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I’m Agnostic, and have been for quite some time. I don’t think that God exists, but I’d be willing to look at any new evidence.

Right now I’m reading “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement” by Katherine Joyce, and I keep running into a problem- I cannot understand these people at all. I can understand them as well as I understand gyroscopes: I can describe to you what they are going to do, but for the life of you I can’t wrap my mind why.

For those of you who don’t know “Quiverfull” is a blanket term regarding people who are believers in a Biblical Patriarchy (women submit to their husbands or fathers- and I do mean “submit”), and more importantly, who are staunchly anti-birth control; no condoms, no pills, no sterilization, no rhythm method, nothing but “God’s Will”. The phrase comes from Psalm 127:5 “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them(children). They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” Quiverfull people believe that they are in a cultural war with liberal secularists, and they intended to win through demographics alone. They believe that these roles and behaviors are “god’s will” and that they are on the side of righteousness. Frequently, they are into seriously modest dress and homeschooling.

I keep running into the same problem with these beliefs- I don’t understand why they would want to worship this god. I’m fairly anti-authoritarian: I want to choose which authority I follow, and at the end of the day I think I am ultimately responsible for any action I take, whether or not someone in power over me told me to do it or not. I don’t want to risk my health and my life. I am drawn towards debate, and I am occasionally smarter than my husband. These proscribed roles, in other words, would make me MISERABLE (and my husband miserable too). So, if the Quiverfull people are correct, and there is a god, and he made me the exact opposite of what I’m supposed to be (indeed, a lot of Quiverfull talk about how women have an inherently rebellious nature because of Eve), which sounds like a recipe for misery, then god’s a dick. Why should I worship a dick? The general answer of “because of heaven and hell” is 100% unsatisfying to me- I’m supposed to toady up to a bully just to avoid getting beat up? That’s not moral- that’s cowardly.

So, this post is for any lurking Quiverfulls. Heck, if you’re just a person who thinks god cares more about what we do with our genitals than whether or not we hurt people, you can post too. I’ll leave off the “prove that god even exists part”- for this exercise I’ll just go with it for now. I need support for “if god exists, why should we worship him?” Make your case.

EDIT: Like all things I want to know, I had to search google to see if it had any knowledge. The first website had a post that made exactly zero sense to me, but the answer was

We worship Him because He commands it. We worship Him because He alone deserves it, knowing what He is and what He does. We worship Him because without so doing we cannot rise to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

So…yeah, worship a bully because a bully says so? Even though he’s a bully? And I don’t want to be a bully?

I really wish I knew someone in real life who held these views and would talk to me. I’m missing something important here- something that’d snap it into place.

Twit, with cool response.

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Oh, Charlotte Allen–remember her? (I hadn’t, til I saw this on my Twitter feed from PZ.) In case you’ve forgotten, she is the, um, journalist? who penned these deathless words last year re the popularity of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign amongst the gender female:

[I] wonder whether women — I should say, “we women,” of course — aren’t the weaker sex after all. Or even the stupid sex, our brains permanently occluded by random emotions, psychosomatic flailings and distraction by the superficial. Women “are only children of a larger growth,” wrote the 18th-century Earl of Chesterfield. Could he have been right?

Kyso did the takedown on all that here and here–as with Ann Coulter’s blatherings, I couldn’t be bothered myself–if you tell me you’re stupid, psychosomatic, superficial, etc, I’m not gonna argue with you, and I’m certainly not going to bother my pretty little head about anything you might have to say subsequently to you informing me of that.

And amazingly enough, she’s at it again! This time her preferred target isn’t the gender female–it’s Teh Atheist! If you read it, it becomes rapidly clear that she’s never actually really read anything any atheist has ever written past the title of the works, but hell, people never let that stop them from cranking out detailed critiques, do they..? :D

Much like with the misogyny essay and resultant Q&A, I can’t be bothered to deconstruct it; I choose to let better minds than mine do that. Check out PZ’s LA Times’ letter instead–it rocks.

Following Orders from Things that Don’t Exist has Negative Results

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Thank you Pew Research Center for doing the legwork to confirm things that we already knew: in this case, the inverse relationship between human decency and church attendance.

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Faithless

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

(Clearly it’s Atheism Day at PunkAssBlog.)

When I was seven years old, I thought that sunbeams breaking through the rainclouds was Jesus (or God, I wasn’t too clear on the distinction back then) looking down at me. Seven-year-olds are pretty egocentric; it never really occurred to me at hundreds of other people at the very minimum were in visual range of the exact same meteorological phenomenon and therefore, Jesus (or God!) was equally looking down at them.

I liked going to church back then. I loved to sing, and one thing that Southern Baptist congregations do well is belt ‘em out in praise of the Lord–every church I went to with my grandparents back in those days had a near-professional quality choir. I wasn’t as keen on the actual sermon, especially when the pastor would start pounding on the podium and shouting (Southern Baptists like to do that too). But my grandma, when the shouting and pounding would start, would cuddle me close and even let me rest my head on her lap if I wanted to, and that was good enough for me. I did notice, of course, that my mom never went with us, but as my mom made a habit of avoiding anything that went on in the mornings any day of the week period, I didn’t take any special note of it.

My grandma had bought me a children’s bible–I’ve never seen anything like it since and I would frankly love to find another copy of the one she got me someday; the artwork alone was completely fascinating and gorgeous to my seven-year-old mind, not like the sloppy crap I’ve mostly happened across that passes for children’s bibles illustrations since. However, I also haven’t really seen such a gruesome and accurate rendition of a lot of the harder-core Old Testament stories in children’s bibles since then, either–more modern versions seem to skip over the majority of the Old Testament entirely and spend a lot more time focusing on Jesus. My bible, as I recall, did indeed contain the stories of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac.

By the time I was twelve, I was feeling rather more iffy about organized Christianity, and actually about the idea that Christianity was the only one and true faith, but I still unquestioningly believed in some sort of deity that oversaw us all. I did want to find a place of worship to inspire me, as well. I went to church with various friends over the next few years, but never really found what I was looking for. Amusingly enough, the best fit I found–which honestly was only that because it was the church the greatest number of my friends attended–when I spoke to the pastor about possibly joining the congregation, he told me that he didn’t think I was ready to make that kind of decision. (I remember how bad I felt about that at the time–what evil had he somehow sensed in me that would have led him to discourage me so? At the time, I was a very nice girl. Who knows?)

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Teaching the Controversy

Monday, March 30th, 2009

“A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life.

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.

Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

Former president George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006

I’ve always liked that quote, especially the part about creating human-animal hybrids. I’ve been facilitating the mass production of human-animal hybrids since 2000–thousands of pounds of them at this point. But others are way ahead of me–the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, for example, has been pumping ‘em out at the commercial scale since I was in grade school. But I don’t think that former president Dubya really understood that when he made the above remarks. I don’t think he really understands what “human-animal hybrids” are. I suspect he meant he’d been reading too much science fiction and got really emotionally involved in one of those stories where innocent humans are force-fed wolf genes as part of a secret government plot to create super-soldiers. I figure Dubya has no problem suspending his disbelief when it comes to the idea of the government doing stuff behind its citizen’s backs in the name of national security. It seems likely that he’s absolutely unaware that all the insulin, for instance, that has been distributed in the United States since 2006 has been derived from human-animal hybrids, and was the majority of it for a long time before that.

The reason I’m contemplating this fairly old quote anew is the most recent installment via the Texas Board of Education of the ongoing drama that is the attempt to teach only science theories in science classrooms. People like Dubya really can’t cope with science at all. In the majority of cases, and certainly in his case, that’s because they haven’t taken a single science class since whatever general crap they were forced to sign up for in high school to obtain the absolute minimum number of science credits required in their state to graduate, or possibly they copped into one of those “Physics is Phun!” courses that fulfill similiar minimum science credit graduation requirements in college. (I am so not making up that course name, by the way.) But that’s not always or exclusively the case.

Back to Texas:

Dueling theories of how the universe was created got a split decision Friday night from the Texas Board of Education, which required examination of “all sides of scientific evidence” in new science standards, but rejected language requiring teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

“Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this,” board chairman Don McLeroy, a creationist, told the Dallas Morning News.

“A creationist.” Is that some kind of career, now..? A small bit of Googling reveals that Creationist McLeroy is actually Dr. McLeroy, a dentist, and got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Texas A&M. Now, I don’t know what’s changed exactly in the past several decades since he attended college, but while electrical engineering degrees are not pure-sciences heavy, they do require a bit of college-level science courses, namely some freshman- and sophomore-level physics and chemistry. So we can’t really assume in his case a lack of real exposure to the knowledge that the world, not to mention the rest of the universe, isn’t made of magic and senseless acts of beauty. (Maybe that scared him off the electrical engineering track and onto dentistry, though–that’d make sense.)

But really, I can sort of empathize. The clear thread running through the anti-teaching-science-only-in-science-class camp is that knowing too much about the world and all the things in it from a science standpoint destroys the mystical and terrifying awe of what could possibly be the cause of rainbows, tsunamis and how a real live baby pops out of a woman’s body nine months after a man shoots some stuff from the pee hole in his penis that resembles nothing more than papier-mache glue into her vagina. The more you learn about how and why things work, first at the macroscopic level and then the microscopic level and even beyond, the less mysteriously gorgeous those little everyday miracles start to look. In other words, the less and less likely you are to believe the explanations and rationales for these things provided by the Holy Bible instead.

And in our public schools? Religion doesn’t get taught. Only, for example, biology gets taught. One might adopt the line of reasoning that, since public schools are required by law to remain silent about religion, then the only input that children receive on the subject is from their parents, whereas the school’s version of biology has no such monopoly–parents are free to instruct their children in biology as well as religion. However, the fact that the deck is already stacked in religion’s favor this way doesn’t sway these folks–they don’t want their children being taught biology in school at all if the answers that biology provides about the world around us disagree with the ones the Bible does. Since they usually can’t swing quite that, they strive to have the gaps and unsureties, no matter how major or minor, in scientific theories dwelt on and debated in the biology classroom. This, they say, is teaching the controversy.

You know, I’m willing to buy into this. Really, I am. I would absolutely go for this, if we get to do the same thing with Intelligent Design, which huge swathes of the folks of McLeroy’s ilk swear up and down isn’t religion and therefore, should not be a problem in public schools. I recommend we institute a mandatory new class for all high schoolers, that must be taken before they can graduate, and call it Evolution and Intelligent Design: Teaching the Controversy! The theory of evolution would be thoroughly explored, what it can explain as well as what it can’t…and the idea of an Intelligent Designer would also be explored, and what it can explain as well as what it can’t. The two course textbooks could be Of Pandas and People for the evolution controversy side, and The Blind Watchmaker for the intelligent design controversy si—

…yeah, like any of those people would ever let their kids anywhere near that book.

But if they’re willing to deal, I am. :D

I leave you with this thought from our beloved Onion: The Theory of Intelligent Falling

Not Really

Friday, February 6th, 2009

No, I’m not making this up.

It’s been over fifteen years since I was a teenager; maybe teenagers have changed. A lot. A whole lot. Unrecognizably! Then again, I have a teenager of my own at home, and much as I myself wouldn’t have been at his same age, he would not be caught dead in one of the above t-shirts under any circumstances whatsoever. Unless he is very unrepresentative of teens everywhere, no kid noplace nohow is ever gonna wear this t-shirt. It’s bewildering that anybody would invest any money in thinking that they would.

Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to believe something is for real, isn’t it? But I trust Pam! From The Passion For Christ Movement, the folks who are bringing us the above fashion craze that is about to sweep the nation’s youth:

Most people who have engaged in masturbation know that the culmination of this sexual act ends in shame. I don’t have to share with you the thousands of emails of the admittance of this shame because you know all too well since you have experienced it yourself. Curled up in a fetal position, crying, because your bed is even more empty and you’re lonelier than you did before you violated yourself…

I don’t even know what to say about this, other than that I don’t think I’ve ever had this experience, and if I did, I would immediately check myself into the nearest mental institution.

Let’s Keep an Eye on This

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Hmmm.

Obama made that clear Thursday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, announcing a new Presidential Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that will weigh in on matters ranging from funding of social-service providers and poverty alleviation to the more controversial issue of abortion reduction.

Why is “abortion reduction” controversial? “Abortion increases,” now, that would be controversial! It seems like we could look at this one of two ways:

1. The number one cause of abortion is unplanned pregnancy. “Abortion reduction” could be directly translated, then, as “unplanned pregnancy reduction,” which I think everyone except the looniest of the Quiverfull types is in favor of. No controversy there, right? Of course, how to best reduce unplanned pregnancy is a topic full of manufactured controversy, with scientists on one side (who define “best” as “most effective”) and religious fundamentalists on the other (who define “best” as “most acceptable to God”). There’s definitely a corollary to the “controversy” over the Theory of Evolution here.

2. The easiest way to reduce abortions would be to make them legally unavailable. Certainly that’s a controversial idea, but it’s been one for decades–not exactly a new controversy, is it?

Perhaps the controversy lies in nobody’s ability to make out exactly how “abortion reduction” is being defined?

But, moving on:

“The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another — or even religious groups over secular groups,” Obama said.

Or even religious groups over those Godless heathens! Sigh

“It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”

Slightly better tone there at the end, Boss.

One of those controversial points was the question of whether faith-based groups that receive government funding should be allowed to hire only individuals who share their religious beliefs. Early in Bush’s first term, he signed a series of Executive Orders exempting religious organizations from nondiscrimination laws.

That hiring question is the first landmine Obama will face. In Zanesville, he left no question as to where he stood on the issue. “If you get a federal grant,” Obama said then, “you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.”

The statement caused an immediate uproar within the ranks of Obama’s religious supporters, who pushed him to back off from the promise to undo Bush’s Executive Order. He has not done so publicly, but several of them insist that Obama and his aides have given them private assurances that there will be no rapid movement to change the status quo with regard to religious hiring. If so, it would be a rare case of political ham-handness by the Obama team, because his secular supporters say they have been assured that the hiring change will take place.

It’ll be very telling to me, personally, which way he ends up going, or if he manages to neatly dance around going any way at all for as long as possible.

We’ll see what happens.

Watching “Religulous” Over The Holidays: Part Two

Saturday, December 27th, 2008


“Cathedral,” live, by Crosby, Stills and Nash. I first heard it as a little girl–my dad loved this song. It seems appropos.

As I said in Part One, while I enjoyed the movie, I didn’t find that it rocked my world in a significant way for the most part. However, there were two statements that Bill Maher made, both near the end of the movie, that did perk up my “thought-inducing” antennae.

ONLY MILD SPOILERS BELOW THE FOLD.

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Watching “Religulous” Over the Holidays: Part One

Friday, December 26th, 2008

We spent most of the past week in Atlantic City; sadly, though, as hard as one might try, one cannot spend every waking moment at the poker table–so, at around 3 am on Tuesday night, we headed back to our room to flip through the casino hotel’s pay-per-view channels. To our surprise (and mild delight) they were offering Religulous, Bill Maher’s recently released mockumentary on religion.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW THE FOLD

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