Sunday, November 20, 2011

Funny Thought

1. According to the Justice League cartoon, Nth metal is an isotope of iron with an atomic weight of 676.

2. According to the Bible, god can be fought off by iron chariots.

So, just how badly would an Nth metal chariot mess up god?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Another Cynicism Dump

I'm all in favor non-USA countries having their own space programs, but this just feels awkward. On other blogs, I've often commented on how we're falling behind in the world. I originally put the phrase "feels like" in the previous sentence while I was typing it.

I'm really losing confidence in the US these days, and I think I'm likely in partial denial about it by saying we're at the beginning of various downfalls. I used to say that we were at the early stages of a breakdown into a police state with the war on drugs getting more insane each year, the continuing destruction of our freedoms, and the ongoing consolidation of executive power in the wake of 9/11. I think it's time I moved onto assuming we're at least in the middle of the breakdown.

Politics is not one of my strengths, but it's hard for me to imagine that past Republicans were as insane as the current crop of them. Before 9/11, I was able to imagine a Republican being voted into the presidency without it being an outright disaster for the nation. It doesn't help that our current Democrat president is doing many of the same things Bush did. He's essentially doing the opposite of what I voted for him to do: Crack down on US war crimes and civil rights abuses. I will not be voting for him ever again.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quote ot the Time Being: The Spoils of War

Today's quote comes from Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars, on a topic I recently thought about, again:
Probably the single biggest passage that did it for me was Numbers 31. This is the attack on the Midianites. The Israelites believed that two Midianite women had “tempted” two men to worship their god instead of Jehovah. As a result, Moses commanded — supposedly because God told him to do so — that all Midianites be slaughtered. Except for the virgin females, who were divided up among the soldiers as the spoils of war. And it occurred to me that this is something that even Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin didn’t do. Even Nazi Germany didn’t force the women they’d conquered to marry the men who had slaughtered their fathers and brothers. That’s how barbaric it was, it went beyond anything even the worst human beings would do. And this is the same being that supposedly commands us to love one another and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us? It just didn’t add up for me.
To make things worse, a lot of fundamentalists believe Moses is being rewarded with eternal bliss for leading a "holy" life.

As for the evils of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the fact that they didn't order anything like this suggests that even our archetypes for complete monsters are still less evil than the god of the Old Testament. Even if you try to detach the god from the barbarism, it still makes a far more horrifying vision for humanity than anything modern fundies can confabulate for the "degradation" of our civilization. How exactly are rock and roll, Harry Potter, and equal marriage rights going to produce anything even remotely as bad?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Andy Hamilton's Search for Satan

I thought I'd go ahead and point this out. Andy Hamilton does a humorous documentary about Satan and how the idea has changed over time. The link has an embedded YouTube video that will probably end up being taken down sooner or later, so if you don't have access to BBC Four, you should probably watch while you can.

I'm only partway through as I type this, but it's looking fun so far. I'm curious just how much (or rather, how little) information about Satan is actually in the Bible. I pretty sure a huge bulk of the common perception will be linked to Dante's Inferno.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quote of the Time Being: Being Right

Thanks go to The Christian Cynic for providing it:
The desire to be right and the desire to have been right are two desires, and the sooner we separate them the better off we are. The desire to be right is the thirst for truth. On all counts, both practical and theoretical, there is nothing but good to be said for it. The desire to have been right, on the other hand, is the pride that goeth before a fall. It stands in the way of our seeing we were wrong, and thus blocks the progress of our knowledge.
---W.V.O. Quine and J.S. Ullian, The Web of Belief

Fundamentalism Corrupts

Unsurprising news: Obama sides against a terrorist group. Rush Limbaugh sides with those terrorists because they identify themselves as "Christian." It turns out those Christian terrorists are very, very depraved.

One point I'll make sure to bring up if someone defends Limbaugh by saying he 'just' didn't research the group:

Why not? You think it's excusable that he just automatically assumes a Christian group MUST be doing good? That's a depraved form of moral subjectivism at work: It doesn't matter what actions you take, but which team you're on. That is exactly how religious fundamentalism has been corrupting the concept of morality for thousands of years. That's how fundamentalists justify atrocities. To them, the affiliation of an action is more important than its morality. That tribal subjectivism is the nihilistic foundation of fundamentalist Christianity AND religious fundamentalism in general. By choosing to judge them based on their professed allegiance to a deity instead of researching the morality of their actions, Limbaugh has demonstrated a belief in tribal subjectivism.

Civilized human beings don't think that way. Rape is immoral. Period. Slavery is immoral. Period. Civilized morality is not absolutely, perfectly objective, but it at least strives for something resembling objectivity, fairness, and impartiality. Actions matter more than arbitrary allegiances. I'll take an honest and imperfect effort over the nihilism and depravity that consistently results from fundamentalism.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Graphic of the Time Being

jamesmc, in a comment over at Dispatches From the Culture Wars posted a link to this image. Guess what countries the fundamentalist Christians admire.

You may need to click to enlarge.



Friday, September 30, 2011

Blasphemy Day

There most likely is no god.

Evolution is demonstrably true.

Priests, ministers, and people of faith are mere mortals like the rest of us.

The god of the Bible is a cruel, psychotic egomaniac. Thankfully, he doesn't exist, and even if he did, it's good to know he can be defeated by iron chariots.

The god of the Bible lacks the ability to feel love on par with the average human being.

Faith is an act of deceitful arrogance and hubris. Saying "I don't know" is an act of honest humility.

The universe has no inherent purpose or meaning. We create meaning and purpose.

Marriage is about love. It is not about procreation, religion, tradition, or greed.

An attack on same sex marriage is an attack on all marriage.

Religion has been used to justify countless evils, and the good attributed to it can and should be replaced with secular pursuits and institutions.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quote of the Time Being: Supernaturalism

From Sastra: "Supernaturalists seem to have a lot of trouble trying to make sense of abstractions and levels of experience: they want to take everything literally, as irreducible substances. Love is only real to them if it’s a thing, a sort of spiritual-substance which is made of neither matter nor energy because it is the immaterial essence of love. Ironically, that makes them super-materialists — spinning material into finer and finer substances until like only comes from like. Love is derived from love. Otherwise, it can only have the same properties that were there in its origin.

Despite their claims to be so comfortable with “higher levels” of reality, supernaturalists are concrete thinkers. They can only make sense of immaterial abstractions by turning them into spirit-things in a spirit-world. It’s the same sort of composition fallacy that causes people to have a serious problem with understanding how life can come from non-life. Things are supposed to be stable, discontinuous units of essential natures which are forever separated by what they ARE. If inert matter can live, it must be because a vital force made of life gets into the matter to somehow to make it live."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Lighter News: Zombies

I stumbled on Project Zomboid one day, and something about it caught my interest. It's still early in development, and they have a deal like Minecraft where people who sign up in Alpha will continue to get updates and help contribute to the creative process. What makes this different from other zombie games I've played (Most often with my brother who's a fan of zombies. A very big fan.) is part of the premise: "This is how you died."

It reminded me of an article I read a long time ago about some old school games, especially shooters, "It's man versus machine. You know the machine's going to win, but the question is how long can you last?" Project Zomboid has no win conditions, and fittingly, it has a "sandbox mode" right now.

For the zombies themselves, the creators look towards Romero for inspiration. An individual zombie slow, stupid, and easy to splatter with a baseball bat, but you can't last forever against a horde. They're attracted to light and noise, so carrying a flashlight and firing your shotgun are generally unsafe actions. Once, while I was hiding in my safehouse, I ran instead of walked and ended up making a small thump which attracted a zombie to bang on my door, which subsequently attracted the nearby mob. I had to abandon that safehouse and run for another shelter.

Right now, the game is very solitary, but the creators plan to create more interactive NPCs. Once they have that going, the real danger may very well be your fellow humans. Got scratched by a zombie? The gun nut might prefer to shoot you now, rather than waste food on a potential zombie in the making. Hyperactive kid making lots of noise? You've got a decision to make about whether or not he lives.

Aside from keeping your belly full in the current version, there are psychological mechanics in the works. Staying indoors for days at a time causes boredom, making it worthwhile to grab newspapers and magazines along with other supplies. Psychological effects will build up into dangerous things like hallucinations and other insanity.

As I was typing this post, news on a big update comes through my brother. Things are going to get a bit more interesting. I should probably keep my food closer to my bedroom if NPCs are going to actually going to 'play the game' now.

...I hope they fix it so that I can get wood from barricades back when I take them down.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Real Patriot

The big man PZ posted about her. Ms. McKinsey is an example of what I think of as a real patriot. She used a powerful example to show one of the core values that once made America great: Freedom of expression. She stepped on an American flag to demonstrate that we have the freedom to express our feelings without fear of government reprisal. That includes criticism against the government or the nation as a whole.

For her valor, she gets rewarded with an insane mob of idolators who worship the flag but hate America and everything that flag represents to us. If these people had their way, the flag would become an icon of nihilism, tyranny, stagnation, and ignorance. I stand by Ms. McKinsey. I hope that the children took her lesson to heart, even when so many adults have failed to do so.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Quote of the Time Being: Vitalism

From puppygod: "The problem with vitalistic theories is that they are wrong. Demonstrably wrong. Thanks to modern biochemistry and physics we understand in quite fine details where the "life force" come from, how it is transformed and distributed. It comes from hydrogen fusion in the sun, plants capture photons energy in chemical bonds of hydrocarbons, we can move thanks to energy released from ATP hydrolysis etc. etc. Postulating some kind of metaphysical "life force" different from well-known biochemical reactions is ridiculously superfluous. It's as ridiculous as claiming that cars move thanks to motion spirits that dwell in the oil fields and are transferred via gasoline and willpower of the driver into cars and make the cars go. And adding half teaspoon of powdered cheetah bones to brakes fluid will repair windshield wipers of your car and make it go faster by making motion spirits happy. "

Monday, August 15, 2011

Random Recall: Poison!

When I was thinking about the saying, 'the dose makes the poison,' I ended up remembering a show I didn't pay close attention to, but I was around for the Twilight Zone Twist at the end. I was pretty sure it was a more mundane episode of The Twilight Zone, but I couldn't find it on a list of episode summaries.

A married couple are taking care of an elderly mother (I think it might have been the wife's mother, but I'm not sure), but for money-related reasons like life insurance or expensive medical bills, they decide to kill her, and settle on poisoning her tea for the method. It takes far longer than they expected for her to die, so they increase the dose. After she does finally die, the family doctor makes a comment about her heart condition, and how she needed treatment by a certain drug, commenting on its reputation as a deadly poison, yet for someone with her condition, it's life-saving medicine at the right dose. Naturally, the drug in question was what they were giving her, unintentionally medicating her and extending her life instead of shortening it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Americans Elect

The Colbert Bump got me to visit Americans Elect, a site that's trying to get an idea of voter priorities so we can allegedly influence the two parties by telling them what we really care about, as well as direct people like me to candidates who agree on the issues.

I doubt it'll make much of a dent, but I figure it's better than just grumbling to myself. At least on the questions I've answered so far, I've been at or adjacent to the majority. Of course, the Colbert Bump might be biasing the results for today.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quote of the Time Being: Secession

Normally, when someone makes a joke about letting Texas secede from the US, I tend to make a comment along the lines of, "Okay, but give me some warning so I can move out, first." But Vicki provides a good reason to never seriously consider allowing any nutty state to secede:

When you say “let them secede” you’re also saying “let them beat gay people to death, let them imprison women for having miscarriages, let them imprison poor blacks on dubious charges and then use them as slave labor.” They’re doing too much of that already: do you really think an independent, right-wing south wouldn’t be worse? Think about that runaway gay sixteen-year-old: they might manage to hitchhike or pay for a bus ticket to someone whetter, but they’re not going to have a passport to get them to what’s left of the United States.

Cynicism Dump

Politics was never one of my strong suits. There are plenty of areas of nuance and history that I haven't had the time or energy to wrap my head around. There are, however, some topics that seem pretty black and white to me. Take torture for example.

Torturing prisoners for any reason, including interrogation, should be self-evidently wrong, exposed whenever it's suspected, and it should constitute political suicide to be caught associating with, much less condoning, people who engage in torture. Even if something stops torturers from being put on trial, there should be a strong cultural pressure to shun those people and deny them any sort of aid or comfort. They should feel isolated from civilized society because they violated basic principles of conduct and embraced barbarism.

So, why do I feel like I'm in the minority in that attitude? It probably doesn't help that I live in Texas, where nearly anyone I meet could be a landmine of right-wing and/or theocratic insanity. My dad has to tiptoe a lot around work. Thankfully, he found out one of the newer employees is of like mind, so they can talk freely together.

I don't watch the news nearly as much as I probably should, and I keep lapsing on the Daily Show and Colbert report. I hope this is just a perception I inadvertently developed from leaving television behind for so long. If someone in the mainstream media's been trying to drill the administration for its abuses, let me know.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Short Rant: Diet Woo

Why is it that diet woos just automatically assume we're in favor of, or in league with the fast food industry?

Oh, wait, that's right: They're too scared and immature to deal with a complex, nuanced, and uncertain world, thus they make up a black-and-white fantasy world where anyone who isn't for them is against them. "Natural" versus "artificial", "poison" versus "panacea", "Mom & Pop (Inc.)" versus "The corporations", "alternative" versus "conventional", "Republicans" versus "Democrats", and so on.

They're so used to living in that false dichotomy fantasy that they can't grasp that there are often more than two sides to anything. They can't grasp the idea that someone could be in favor of broccoli and other healthful foods and NOT support their quack's crazy diet that just coincidentally happens to include broccoli for mystical, magical reasons.

If you reject vitalistic, naturalistic (fallacy), or astrological reasons to eat broccoli, that means you reject broccoli outright. It never occurs to them that there would be scientific reasons for it being healthful, as well as scientific reasons for avoiding an excess of fast food.

Hell, most of the ones I've met treat the act of splurging on one order of batter-fried food as if it would undo a lifetime of healthy living: Black or white, no grays, no colors, no moderation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Unsurprised

Just thought I'd bring a tiny bit more attention to this: The US is still torturing.

A while back, I was looking at the stuff about warrantless wiretaps, abuse of state secrets privilege, and so on. I thought, "At least it's been a while since I heard something about torture still going on." So much for that. If anyone knows of politicians who are doing something to stop the torture and other abuses involved with the so-called "war on terror," let me know, so that I can vote for them. Lip service alone won't do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lunch Break Rage

I'm worried my work plans are going to be ruined today by my current bad mood. I was eating at a restaurant with CSPAN on their TVs, which I was initially relieved, since one other member of the chain usually leaves Faux News on. Of course, that relief was shortly canceled out: The topic was a repeal of a ban on same sex marriage. I don't talk about it nearly as much as I should, but I'm one of those people who sees attacks on same sex marriage as an attack on all marriage.

The part where I came in had one person defending same sex marriage, calmly but firmly listing all the benefits that are denied to same sex spouses because of such bans. I quietly stated my agreement with him. That bit of warm fuzzy didn't last, as another person favoring the Destruction of Marriage Act (DOMA) started his spiel. Some of his points in short:

1. Tradition: He listed all sorts of "support" in the form of what nations supported as marriage in the past, neglecting to mention that for just as long, people of those traditions treated marriage as a cynical financial or political transaction. Naturally, one of the common tropes that leaps to mind is that the same argument could be used to support bans on interracial marriages.

2. Appeal to Popularity: He referred to some polls I hadn't heard of (and can't look up without more information) where the poll subjects favored "a man and a woman" as the definition of marriage. Sorry, but minority rights trump majority rule. You can't deny someone a right just because he or she wants to exercise that right in an unpopular fashion. Of course, those who are quick with search tools can probably find polls that contradict the ones he cited.

3. The Baby Factory argument: The idea that marriage exists solely for biological reproduction is one that hits close to home. There's one married couple I know where one member had to have a life-saving operation that removed her reproductive abilities. This couple already had children, but imagine if the surgery happened before they had children: If you're going to use The Baby Factory argument, you have to enforce it equally. The Baby Factory argument would require that the government annul their marriage. Combine this with the mob rule argument above, and just try to imagine what it'd be like if people voted for those two to get a divorce, and had that decision enforced by the state. The Baby Factory argument is a rejection of individual autonomy and of the modern marriage based on people wanting to share their lives with someone.

4. "Sexism says so!": He described gender roles as 'non-fungible' to claim that a child absolutely requires one man and one woman to fill the role model slots. On one level, this is a form of the tradition argument, where culture has dictated gender roles. I'd consider it foolish to think that modern culture has found the absolute limits to what the different genders are capable of. Humans are versatile beings. Some women are very good at embodying "male" roles and some men are very good at representing "female" roles. I don't think it's the state's role to dictate who can or cannot fulfill that role. What's next? If I find a woman I love, could the state force me to attend more football games and monster truck rallies to prove my "manliness" is high enough to get married?

On another level, it seems to assume that the child will be sheltered by the parents from the outside world, never meeting other adults worthy of being role models. There are other family members, friends of the family, teachers, mentors and so on who could act as role models. It takes a village to raise a child. And what are they going to do with single parents? Force them to marry a state-sanctioned spouse against their will? Funny how these people who want to regulate marriage tend to pay lip service to "smaller government."

I don't think they buy that idea themselves. Even they must realize how ridiculous it would be to enforce those stereotypes. Scratch that, I'm underestimating the capacity for stupidity in humanity, again. All these excuses reek of an attempt to rationalize an irrational bigotry after they've committed themselves to the position.

Every excuse I've ever heard for banning same-sex marriage is like this: Make up marriage rules for one type of case, and then don't enforce those same rules to heterosexual marriages when they fall short of the so-called ideal. They also roundly reject love and the individual's self-determination as the basis of a marriage in favor of the shackles of sexist traditions, the dictates of a mob, the success of insectine reproductive strategy, or the insanity of ancient religions.

That is why an attack on same-sex marriage is an attack on all marriage.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Alties and Fairness

It's become something of a trope I've used on a number of hit-and-run altie trolls: When they whine about Big Pharma being in control, I bring up my experiences with a subtype of alties: They want the non-zero amount of trust I put into the big pharmaceutical company's products, but they aren't willing to jump through the various hoops my fellow skeptics and I want enforced on all medical claims.

Some alties claim that proper clinical trials are too expensive for the Yoder's Good Health Recipe Ma & Pa business, therefore they should be exempt from those standards. The problem is that a lack of capital doesn't insulate one from self-deception, confounding factors, bias, and all the other cognitive failings we're subject to as mere mortals. An emotional appeal to poverty isn't going to prove your product works. Either you have it tested and know, or you haven't tested, and therefore, don't know if it works. If I had a health product I wanted to sell, I would have it tested well before applying the first price tag. If I don't test my product under rigorous conditions, that means I don't know whether or not it really works.

The first big question in this post: Why should I buy a product if the manufacturers don't know if it works?

The big pharmaceutical companies usually, but not always, go through the hoops of clinical trials, carefully documenting the tests. Yes, there have been instances of results being manipulated or outright falsified, but at least with a paper trail and post-market testing, there's a way to find out if fraud occurred. From what I've seen, no altie has ever operated under a system like that: They've only made excuses as to why they shouldn't go through the testing process.

Here's another big, important question: Why should I judge the pharmaceutical companies under one set of standards, and so-called "alternative medicine" under an entirely different set of standards?

It doesn't make sense to me to draw a line between medical claims of "mainstream" pharmaceuticals and the medical claims of things like herbs and supplements. Medical claims are medical claims. I don't even accept that there is such a thing as "alternative medicine": It's a false distinction created by a subculture to make excuses for not being treated like other medical claims. For the average altie I encounter, it's not about truth, it's about "Us versus The Other" with successful pharmaceutical companies as The Other.

Of course, people like me get lumped in with The Other because I don't accept the false dichotomy. Instead of arbitrary labels of "mainstream" and "alternative," I base my acceptance of a treatment on its ability to pass scientific trials: Some treatments have been shown to work. Some have been shown not to work. Some have not been properly tested, but look promising. Some have not been properly tested, but do not have any reasonable expectation to work.

The easiest way to market a failed treatment, as well as treatments expected to fail tests, is to label it "alternative." Those who buy into the false dichotomy between "mainstream" and "alternative" will likely give that treatment special consideration, instead of caring about what the clinical tests say.

Of course, one of arguments they bring up is for us to "try it ourselves." If we could determine causation based off of one observation, we wouldn't need the scientific method. If we weren't capable of self-deception, we wouldn't need double-blinding. We are flawed beings, and we have to work hard to counteract those flaws with good experimental design. Anecdotes may be good for generating hypotheses, but all the flaws we have, alongside the complexity of our bodies and the surrounding universe makes them worthless for testing those hypotheses. I know that if I get sloppy, I'm perfectly capable of fooling myself. We've all done it before. Why should I expect that to change when performing an inherently sloppy piece of self-experimentation?

In short, the big problem I have with alties is that they're asking me to be unfairly biased in their favor by demanding that I make special exceptions for them, and yet they so easily accuse me of being unfairly biased towards certain people who can demonstrate and document their competence. They're like children who say the teacher's out to get them, and yet it was their choice not to do their homework.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Zoomy Physics

I've been way too quiet on my blog, but I came across an interesting term, which might be meme-worthy: Zoomies. Sin particles that contaminate a location. I imagine most of you have encountered the idea before. I really wonder what sort of strange mindset causes people to think like that.

My first real encounter with zoomies, barring sci-fi and fantasy works, was shortly before I gave up going to church. I had just done something that helped eventually lead me to atheism: I read the Bible. In this particular case, the offending parts were in Numbers, when Moses was commanding all that genocide. Inevitably, I confronted someone who claimed to believe the whole Bible with those crimes, expecting him to do as I had done at the time: Label that part as something corrupt people added afterward.

That's when it got surreal: He said that the victims of those Biblical genocides deserved what they god because they had filled up the land with so much sin, it expelled them, almost like he was talking about an ecological disaster, rather than human beings engaging in religiously inspired plunder, mass murder, and rapine against another group for suspiciously unspecific sins. It didn't help that he talked as if every person in those victim nations were interchangeable, like sin was impersonal, rather than something you associate with a particular individual's crime. In the real world, we don't blindly punish everyone from the murder's neighborhood, we seek to punish the murderer.

I felt like I had stared madness in the face: Apparently, committing a crime wasn't what his version of god was angered by: It was these magical zoomy particles that offended him. In other words, god didn't care about helping or hurting other people. He didn't care about happiness or suffering. The illusion of god's love was just a Type 1 error caused by an arbitrary coincidence between zoomy particle production and harmful behavior. Being sinful and being evil were, under zoomy physics, independent of each other.

And the contamination factor just makes it worse: Under zoomy physics, a person could give to charity, save lives, and generally work hard to make the world a better place. But it was all for naught if his neighbors produced enough zoomies to cover that up. A kind person could therefore be treated as anathema for reasons outside his control. An innocent child could be treated the same as a murderer just for being born in the vicinity of one.

It strikes me as an abdication of individual responsibility and accountability. Can you imagine if it were applied in the real world? Sadly, I think I can: A murder has taken place in a slum. Rather than do a real investigation to figure out who performed the murder, the cops just take in the first person who looks "slum" or "ghetto" or "gang" enough to have done the crime, and assume that even if good evidence against the accusation comes up, he "obviously" deserves punishment for something because living in the slum means he's contaminated with zoomies.

Now there's the reverse: Preachers of allegedly high morals get caught performing devious con jobs and/or twisted acts sexual manipulation leading to some flavor of rape. What's one of the standard excuses? "The zoomies made me do it!" Okay, they typically say "devil" instead of "zoomies," but it's essentially the same thing: Blaming something else for their crimes. I'm reminded of instances of the Catholic Church blaming hippies and such for allegedly loosening moral taboos against child molestation as a cause for priestly abuse.

Normally, I'd be eager to write off zoomy physics as an invention of people who just want to have a ready excuse for doing evil, but if everyone thought of it as a transparent excuse, it wouldn't work. I can't imagine what must be going on in the heads of sincere believers in zoomies.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Template Reformat

Sorry if the colors offend your eyes. I ended up messing up my template while trying to figure out why my navbar wasn't showing up. I'm going to be experimenting with the colors and templates a little bit. It may be time to update my 'gadgets' and consider other changes, so drop suggestions.

While I'm here, I might as well mention some post ideas:

1. A Doggerel entry, "Mind your own business!" for various woos who didn't appreciate me sticking my nose into topics they didn't want open for discussion.

2. A part 2 to "Christianity: The Apocalypse Cult That Survived." I think I'll avoid sticking to a book at a time, since a lot of the cult-like behaviors get replicated between the gospels. Any suggestions for a good list of cult identifiers out there?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Meme Concept: Homophobia = Crypto-Islamic Fundamentalism

A random idea I came up with: Accuse homophobes of being Crypto-Islamic fundamentalists wanting to impose Sharia law on the free world.

It's not true, but it's plausible enough for a joke:

Islamic fundamentalist theocracies commonly have anti-homosexual laws on a religious basis, and our "crypto" friends also want anti-homosexual laws on a religious basis.

Islamic theocracies also commonly require women by law to wear highly concealing clothing on the premise that all men are sexual predators with no willpower to resist a revealed ankle. In my experience, homophobes have heavy, heavy overlap with people who issue apologia for man-on-woman rape by claiming the woman was dressing provocatively, thus, in effect, claiming that men should not be expected to have the willpower to control themselves.

I think this meme has shock value since it draws attention to the worst similarities between the allegedly "good" Christian fundamentalists and the obviously evil Islamic fundamentalists.

Of course, I expect that a typical response will be a temporary alliance of convenience with radical Islam to fight the evil of our consistent morality. In such a case, it'd be interesting to see what happens if one of us were to quote the "crypto" in a separate thread where he denounces Islam.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Little Meme

FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS!

Yeah, it's short and vague, but that's pretty much getting to be the best response to the crazies of the party now that they've mainstreamed insanity. There's no shortage of reasons to be angry with the party, and I imagine it's worse for the more sensible (and hopefully ex-) members of the party to see the fringe lunatics running the asylum.

Not sure where to try to direct Ellen Lewin's simple statement of rage as a meme, but there is something primal about it that makes it more interesting to me than standard curses.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Still Alive

I've just been dealing with a fair bit of stuff. In gaming news, I just beat the single player mode of Portal 2 a couple hours ago. I'm looking forward to co-op mode with my brother after PSN finishes maintenance.

Oh, one minor achievement I'm glad about: I got the "Preservation of Mass" trophy. I won't spoil it by telling you what it is.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Super Ultra Mega

My brother's been tinkering with Game Maker, recently and posted his first simple game for download. Check it out and maybe give him some ideas for his next game. Or suggest improvements for the sequel, Super Ultra Mega Deluxe. :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Marijuana

C0nc0rdance recently posted a video about the negative effects of marijuana. I'm as square as he is, but I did have a general leaning towards legalization, mostly due to the negative effects prohibition had on society, but partially due to some misconceptions I had about marijuana being relatively safe. I wonder if he might do later videos about tobacco and alcohol so that he can give us some comparison. Either way, I'm currently moving back towards neutral on the issue of marijuana legalization, based on what I know at this particular moment.

The video:


Of course, one of the stupid 'positive' myths uses the stereotypical altie argument that marijuana is herbal, therefore it's okay. Tobacco's pretty much herbal, and you don't see many people saying it's safe because of that. Or at least I don't, aside from one troll who stopped by Orac's a while back.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Science Works

There's one argument denialists have trouble facing when it comes to science: Science works. Pragmatism is one of the key virtues of science: Either your theories make accurate predictions or they don't. Good science is about getting down to that issue. Many denialists, however, won't let reliable, repeatable, independently verifiable data get in their way. In this post, I'll explore some of the tactics they use to ignore the robustness of science.

Let us imagine we have encountered someone who denies the accuracy of quantum mechanics. Any informed layman should know that QM plays an extremely vital role in our current civilization. Transistors, for example, are ubiquitous in our computer-driven infrastructure. If QM wasn't reasonably accurate, you wouldn't be able to read this blog post.

Given my experience with other forms of denialism, there are a number of standard arguments presented at this point:

First comes the argument that all the experts are in on some kind of sinister plot, knowingly lying about QM to students, and only allow the top students to be in on the "real" theory that actually drives our technology.

How would this conspiracy maintain itself? If they distributed information that they know is false, how would they maintain the illusion of its accuracy? How would they prevent any curious person from experimenting and finding the "real" answer? How could they silence him? And how would they pay for all this beating around the bush? WHY would they set up such a conspiracy? What would they have to gain?

Next, there's the idea that mankind just stumbled on the technology without any understanding of the underlying mechanics. While there are some examples of such luck, it wouldn't last long. The false theory would stumble on more and more wrong predictions as time went on, and solving an unexplained anomaly is how scientists gain prestige. You don't get research grants for maintaining the status quo.

And finally, one of the most common responses is to remain ignorant of the theory's successful predictions, no matter how many times they are asked to account for it.



This story is the same for just about any major scientific theory. Evolution was how we breed animals and plants according to our desires. Evolution also gives us an understanding of medicine. Heliocentrism and gravitation give us the ability to send probes into deep space. Relativity gives us the Global Positioning System. If science didn't produce reliable results, we wouldn't have these things.


Science. It works, bitches.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Needle in a Haystack

If any theists who claim their god(s) speak to them stumble on this post, let's play a little role reversal. You'll be playing the atheist in this game. Here's the setup:

The gods:
God Premise 1: Let us assume there are 26 possible god beliefs out there, labeled A through Z.
God Premise 2: Let us assume that you currently do not know which, if any, of these gods are real or false.
God Premise 3: Let us assume that each god is described as powerful.
God Premise 4: Let us assume that if any of these gods are real, that they wish to convince us of their existence.

The Priests:
Priest Premise 1: Let us assume we have 26 priests, one of each god belief who wish to prove that they are correct in their god belief.
Priest Premise 2: Let us assume each priest claims that their god, gods, or spirits speak to them.
Priest Premise 3: Let us assume that, to date, all priests have alleged records of ancient miracles.
Priest Premise 4: Let us assume that all priests are humans.

Humans:
Human Premise 1: Let us assume that all humans are capable of making mistakes.
Human Premise 2: Let us assume that some humans are subject to mental disorders that lead to hearing voices, often with commands.
Human Premise 3: Let us assume that some humans are willing to lie about their god belief for various reasons.
Human Premise 4: Let us assume that human memory is subject to alteration based on personal biases.
Human Premise 5: Let us assume that humans recently developed methods of recording and measuring information that is more reliable than their memory and subjective perception.

Are there any objections to these premises?

If not, what will you ask of the priests to determine which, if any of the gods are real?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Basis of Morality

It's a subject that's been gone over many times, but I think Steven Novella put up a good post.

I especially like the part where he points out something that I should have realized myself: Non-theistic morality is inherently more objective than divine command theory. Why?

First, moral philosophy is a transparent process where anyone can find out why some things are considered good or evil. There are first principles and rules that are derived from those principles. By having everyone asking questions about the process, you tend to reduce individual biases.

Second, because of all the conflicts between religions and even priests within a religion. There are countless interpretations of holy books. Even if there were some magic man giving out an objective morality, what would the basis of those decisions be? Divine command theory just strikes me as a morality without any basis whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned, it's objectively random morality before you add any subjective interpretation by humans.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Random Recall: The Magician

Just had this pop into my head today: When I was a kid, there was a Saturday morning cartoon I got interested in from the previews called The Magician. That interest quickly waned after watching the first episode.

Premise: It's Twenty Minutes Into the Future. The hero is a stage magician who ends up using his trade to fight crime.

Sounds like an awesome idea to me. I was expecting the formula to be something along the lines of him performing some elaborate trick to catch the criminals, and at the end, he would explain how he MacGuyvered it together. I love magic tricks and explanations of how they're done, both from the deception angle as well as some of the technical ones. Even more now that I'm a full-on skeptic.

But it was not to be: He used a collection of standard gadgets and a lot of unexplained stuff. For example, in one scene he just vanished from one location and reappeared closer to the crime in progress, with no preparation. How? Did he simply decide to show off some optical camo by vanishing and running? Did he have some trick set up beforehand to zip over on some mechanical apparatus?

If you wanted him to do stuff like that, just go ahead and call him Dr. Strange and drop the whole stage magic angle. Say it's real magic. Then I would know up front what level of suspension of disbelief you want.

Christianity: The Apocalypse Cult That Survived, Part 1

One of the things that struck me when reading the Bible was how much Jesus started to look less like the peaceful, loving guy, and more like the stereotypical cult leader. Naturally, the religion has the usual promise of nasty things for unbelievers, tales of miracles and divine origins, and so on and so forth. Instead of that typical stuff, I thought I'd deal with some parts that seem to be ignored in my dealings with fundies.

Let's take a look at some samples:

One of the trademarks of a cult is that they divide families. The family is an important source of support for most people. A cult wants its members to be vulnerable and dependent on the cult, so other means of support need to be cut off.

Matthew 8:21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 8:22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
Jesus tells the disciple to value the religion more than closure with his father. I'm of the opinion that funerals are for the living so that they can come to terms with the loss and remember the good times with the dearly departed.

Matthew 10:20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 10:21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
Granted, cultural change tends to cause a lot of friction, but this passage just seems to relish in the idea of families tearing themselves limb from limb.

Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 10:35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 10:36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
The message is clear: God is possessive and needy. The cult is more important than your loved ones.

Matthew 12:46 While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 12:47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 12:48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
Jesus wouldn't even acknowledge his family when they wanted to talk to him.

Matthew 15:4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
It's rather strange to hear him defend parents, but it looks like he's still supporting bloodlust as a means to resolve family conflict.

Matthew 19:12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
There are a lot of cults that stress virginity and asexuality to the point of castration. I'm not sure, but I think this is often meant to target people with longstanding romantic troubles, to free them from the desires that cause them trouble.

Matthew 19:29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
Abandon your family and your country for the cult, and the big man'll make it worth your while.

23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Yeah, don't honor the guy who (I hope) raised you with love and care, honor the cult's idol instead.

And that's just the book of Matthew, only about warped family values. This was some of the early stuff that got me started on the road to atheism. Reading the Bible is usually one of the first steps towards deconversion.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Under the Microscope: "In the Beginning was Information": Chapter 6 Sample

It's a nice cold day, so I thought I'd have a little fun with one of the sources Gabriel considers authoritative: Answers in Genesis. I decided to type "genetic algorithms" into their search bar, and I clicked on the first result.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn't take long before the fallacies show up:
There is an extreme multiplicity of life-forms around us, and even a simple unicellular organism is much more complex and purposefully designed than anything that human inventiveness can produce.
Already, we have an implied argument from personal incredulity. Complexity is not a sign of design: Simplicity is usually a better indicator. One of the principles of engineering I often hear is that you're not done when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to take away.
Matter and energy are basic prerequisites for life, but they cannot be used to distinguish between living and inanimate systems.
There's a bit of implied vitalism right there. Life can be difficult to define precisely, but that doesn't mean anything for the argument.
The central characteristic of all living beings is the “information” they contain, and this information regulates all life processes and procreative functions. Transfer of information plays a fundamental role in all living organisms. When, for example, insects carry pollen from one flower to another, this is in the first place an information-carrying process (genetic information is transferred); the actual material employed is of no concern. Although information is essential for life, information alone does not at all comprise a complete description of life.
So, how do you define and measure this information? This is a classic problem many Creationists avoid. Of course, skeptics have had a lot to say about IT as it relates to Creationist claims.
Man is undoubtedly the most complex information-processing system existing on earth. The total number of bits handled daily in all information-processing events occurring in the human body is 3 x 1024. This includes all deliberate as well as all involuntary activities, the former comprising the use of language and the information required for controlling voluntary movements, while the latter includes the control of the internal organs and the hormonal systems. The number of bits being processed daily in the human body is more than a million times the total amount of human knowledge stored in all the libraries of the world, which is about 1018 bits.
I smell a standard Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy in progress. After this, they get into a lot of nitty-gritty details which seem uncontroversial, based on my knowledge. It doesn't last, though:
Figure 20: A simplified representation of the cyclic information controlled process occurring in living cells. The translation is based on pragmatics, but it is involved in the cyclic process of semantic information, since the DNA synthesis can only take place under enzymatic catalysis. This sketch clearly illustrates that such a cyclic process must have been complete right from the start, and could not have originated in a continuous process. The structure of this example of a complex information transfer system also corresponds to Figure 24.
I was pretty sure this was on Talk Origin's Index of Common Creationist Claims, but I must have missed it. Naturally, though, I found they had a different page that covers it.
Perhaps lipid synthesis, in a precursor form of modern synthesis, could have made the system more independent. The RNA system could have, bit by bit, ‘invented’ protein synthesis – as mentioned, the modern ribosomes still contain ribozymes (catalytic RNA) that catalyze the formation of peptide bonds which eventually result in proteins. In a compelling study (Wolf and Koonin 2007) the authors propose a stepwise model for the origin of the protein translation system, in which each step confers a distinct advantage onto an ensemble of co-evolving genetic elements. The goal of development of translation would not have been required, a foresight which evolution does not have. The initial cause for the emergence of translation would have been the ability of amino acids and peptides to stimulate reactions catalyzed by ribozymes (for peptides experimentally shown, see Robertson et al. 2004). Even if it will turn out that several steps in the evolution of translation probably have been different from the proposed model, the study clearly demonstrates that there is nothing in the emergence of the translation system that would represent a case of ‘irreducible complexity’, incapable of being subject to stepwise Darwinian evolution.
Granted, this looks like a fair bit of hypothetical stuff, but the fact that scientists can devise hypotheses is a blow against the IC argument of incredulity. Alleged weaknesses and unknowns in abiogenesis or evolution do not constitute evidence for Creationism.

Back to the AiG page:
In accordance with the theorems formulated in chapters 3 to 5, in particular the impossibility theorems at the end of chapter 4, it is clear that the information present in living organisms requires an intelligent source. Man could not have been this source; so, the only remaining possibility is that there must have been a Creator. We can now formulate the following theorems:

Theorem 26: The information present in living beings must have had a mental source.

A corollary of Theorem 26 is:

Theorem 27: Any model for the origin of life (and of information) based solely on physical and/or chemical processes, is inherently false.

Guess I'll have to check back on those theorems... Huh. Looks like this is just a sample from a book, and those other chapters aren't available.

Oh well, I can already see fallacies: Argument from incredulity, false dichotomy. You can't put "I don't know" in an evidence locker for a positive hypothesis like "Magic man done it." Knowing what I know of Creationist, the "theorems" described are probably also arguments from incredulity.

Anyway, let's move on ahead to the bit about genetic algorithms, since that's what I searched for:
Genetic algorithms: The so-called “genetic algorithms” are yet another way of trying to explain how information could originate in matter [F5, M4]. The combination of words is deliberately chosen from biology and numerical mathematics to suggest that evolutionary events are described mathematically.
This is rather stupid to say.

1. They're called genetic algorithms because they simulate genes. Random number generators simulate mutations of the genes, and if sex is programmed in, recombination of the parents' chromosomes. The selection criteria, fitness landscapes, etcetera act like natural selection. What else would you call it?

2. Of course evolutionary events are described mathematically! Mathematics is what we use to describe the universe when we get precise. What made the modern synthesis of evolution the modern synthesis was the inclusion of population statistics. Statistics is a branch of mathematics.
What is actually involved is a purely numerical method used for the optimization of dynamic processes. This method can be used to find, by repeated approximations, the maximum value of an analytic function numerically (e.g., f(x,y) = yx - x4), or the optimal route of a commercial traveler. The effects of mutation and selection can thus be simulated by computer. Using predetermined samples of bits (sequences of noughts and ones), each position is regarded as a gene. The sample is then modified (mutated) by allowing various genetic operators to influence the bit string (e.g., crossover). A “fitness function,” assumed for the process of evolution, is then applied to each result. It should be pointed out that this genetic algorithm is purely a numerical calculation method, and definitely not an algorithm which describes real processes in cells. Numerical methods cannot describe the origin of information.
They're not being used to describe the origin of information as a whole, but they do produce new information, novel features, and such when executed, which many Creationists say is impossible. Genetic algorithms simulate evolution once you've got reproduction. What you're asking for is abiogenesis, and even if you reject all abiogenesis theories, you still don't have a good argument for Creationism.
Evolutionary models for the origin of the genetic code: We find proposals for the way the genetic code could have originated in very many publications [e.g., O2, E2, K1], but up to the present time, nobody has been able to propose anything better than purely imaginary models. It has not yet been shown empirically how information can arise in matter, and, according to Theorem 11, this will never happen.
Again, argument from incredulity and ignorance. Just because scientists don't know the answer with great confidence at this time is not a good reason to believe a magic man did it.

So, I looked over a decent chunk of a "semi-technical" article hosted by AiG, and it still looks like standard fallacious Creationism. I skipped over a lot, but if any Creationists would like to bring up specific parts, feel free.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Doghouse Science #1: Hypotheses and Alternate Explanations

"Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

With all due respect to Emerson, I prefer to say something different: "Common sense is science in its working clothes." All too many woos think that science is something that people do in sterile white rooms with funny-shaped glasses full of bubbling, colorful liquids while wearing a long white coat and pocket protector. You know, just like they do in Hollywood movies.

Those may be common trappings of science, but that is the shadow, not the substance. Wearing a long white coat with an ID tag ending in "PhD." is not a sign of authority in itself. The authority is in the diligence in conducting experiments and recording observations. Today, I'll be writing a post about how I used science to solve a mundane problem.

This story takes place about a year and a half ago when I moved into my apartment and started turning it into a swinging bachelor pad. Which is to say, after getting all the matching furniture I bought in place, I needed to get all my electronics fitted into a rather large entertainment stand. I'm a geek, after all. I decided to get my local cable company's TV and Internet bundle.

There were a few problems with the installation, but that wasn't entirely unexpected. The new guy on the installation team messed up some connection out there in the apartment complex, so I was without television for a few hours, but that got sorted out.

Over time, I started getting internet outages where I would either nothing would come through or the connection would be as slow as molasses. They gradually grew worse. They mentioned going through maintenance and expansion here and there so I accepted the first of it as transitory. Eventually I had an outage that lasted over 24 hours and showed no sign of being fixed. I was going to call tech support and give them a piece of my mind.

But first, I had to get down to work. One common joke among tech support groups is "Problem exists between keyboard and chair." The vast majority of technical difficulties are the result of user error, and if I didn't do everything I could to prove it wasn't my fault, they would have no reason to suspect the problem was on their end. If I didn't go through all the common mistakes I could think of, I would look like a lazy fool to the customer service representative. This is what I thought up:

Hypothesis0 (Null hypothesis): It is not the cable company's fault.
---Hypothesis0A: My laptop has a problem.
---Hypothesis0B: My wireless network has a problem.
---Hypothesis0C: My router has a problem.
---Hypothesis0D: My router is not hooked into the cable modem.
---Hypothesis0E: The cable modem is unplugged.
---Hypothesis0F: The cable modem is not connected to the splitter.
---Hypothesis0G: The splitter's input is not hooked up to the cable output.

Hypothesis1: It's the cable company's fault.
---Hypothesis1A: The apartment connection was set up improperly.
---Hypothesis1B: The company's internet service was down for my region.
---Hypothesis1C: They provided me with faulty equipment.

Notice all the parts of the null hypothesis: If it was my fault for any of those reasons, they would be justified in forcing me to go through a script, and I'd have to go through the tangle of wires AND be on the phone, wasting the support person's time.

So I got to work. I checked my laptop's connection. It reported being connected to the router, but with no internet connection. I turned on my Playstation Portable and attempted to connect to the wireless router. It succeeded, but still failed when I tried to browse the web on it. 0A down: My Windows Laptop and PSP work on very different systems. It is highly unlikely they would both share the error if something was wrong with my laptop.

This also provided evidence against 0B, the wireless connections being the problem, since they both recognized the connection. I went one step further, turning on my PS3 and attempting to sign onto the PSN. I also turned on my old desktop and attempted to browse the web. Both of them had a physical connection to the router instead of a wireless connection. Both failed. The problem was unlikely to be in the wireless connection. 0B down.

I reset my router and watch it when I send an internet request. The lights blink at the same time. The router appears to be working. 0C appears unlikely, so I dismiss it until given evidence to the contrary.

I follow the cables. The router is connected to the modem. 0D down. The modem is plugged in, and its LEDs are blinking. 0E down. The modem is hooked into the splitter's output. 0F down. The splitter is hooked up to the cable in the wall. If it weren't, I wouldn't be receiving my cable TV, and I was. 0G down.

Hypothesis0 (Null hypothesis): It is not the cable company's fault.
---Hypothesis0A: My laptop has a problem.
---Hypothesis0B: My wireless network has a problem.
---Hypothesis0C: My router has a problem.
---Hypothesis0D: My router is not hooked into the cable modem.
---Hypothesis0E: The cable modem is unplugged.
---Hypothesis0F: The cable modem is not connected to the splitter.
---Hypothesis0G: The splitter's input is not hooked up to the cable output.


Hypothesis1: It's the cable company's fault.
---Hypothesis1A: The apartment connection was set up improperly.
---Hypothesis1B: The company's internet service was down for my region.
---Hypothesis1C: They provided me with faulty equipment.

Now that I did a thorough check, it's now much more reasonable to entertain the hypothesis that the cable company is at fault. Only after I addressed those known concerns do I call customer support. Thankfully, I got one who didn't blindly follow a script and listened to my description of the problem, and my troubleshooting efforts. He noted that no one else in the area complained about outages, so hypotheses 1A and 1B are down. He asks me for more information about how I have my television and modem set up: Wall cable -> Splitter -> Modem on the left, TV on the right. He proposes an experiment that will test two hypotheses, one of which I had not considered:

Hypothesis0H: The cable connection to the splitter's left output was loose, but not visibly so.
Hypothesis1C: The cable company provided me with faulty equipment. (Specifically, a splitter with a failing left output).

The experiment is simple: Unscrew both the TV and modem cables and switch their places, making sure they're tightly screwed on. If hypothesis 1C was correct, it predicted I would regain my internet connection but lose my good television signal. If hypothesis 0H was correct, it predicts I would have both working television and internet signals.

The result: I turn the TV on and get a clear signal. I refresh my laptop's browser and get my pages to load properly at a good speed. Hypothesis0H alone predicted this outcome. I was justified to suspect, but ultimately wrong to think the cable company was at fault. But I'm happy with the result. The problem was solved, and I learned that a loose cable connection can provide a poor internet signal instead of no signal at all. It's possible I ended up shifting or loosening the connection while sorting through all my game systems.

Conclusion: My internet outage was most likely due to a loose connection.

That's how science works. It doesn't matter if you started out right. You use science to become right. Because I went through all the trouble of eliminating the other problems, someone who knew more possibilities was able to arrive to the real answer much more quickly. I didn't waste his time, and thus I didn't waste any of mine.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Update: Texas: Still DOOMED

Here's part of the story. Hat Tip to PZ.

It's bad enough that we've got psuedoscientists and revisionist spin working their way into the textbooks. Texas has enough last place awards as it is.

ADDENDUM: Super-DOOMED.
ADDENDUM to the ADDENDUM: Poe's Law strikes. Of course, it wouldn't be subject to Poe's law if it didn't sound like a plausible quote. Texas is, after all, near the bottom in education.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Barking Up the Right Tree: No Sale

There's one thing that needs repeating for the sake of theists who ask why we're atheists, what proof do we have that their god doesn't exists, etcetera: Atheism isn't a belief in itself, it's a lack of belief. It is a negative belief.

Theism is a positive claim, the idea that something called a "god" has some form of existence and an effect on the world. The burden of proof lies on the person making the positive claim. It's the theist's job to sell their idea of god. We're atheists because we simply aren't buying it right now.

Imagine you answer the door, and find it's a salesman with a box covered in question marks. The first thing he does is ask you is for a good reason to not buy his product. That's what it's like to be an atheist.

1. Every theist has their own definition of "god." I don't keep a list of all of them. To put the exchange in other terms:

Theist: "What proof do you have that god doesn't exist?"
Atheist: "Which god?"

And even then, the answer isn't clear: Some Christians, for example, believe in a fire and brimstone god while other Christians believe in a peaceful, merciful god.

2. The burden of proof is on the 'salesman' to convince me his product is worthwhile, and to do that, he has to be able to define and demonstrate it to someone. I don't need to have a disproof. He needs to provide proof that his product works. Until I find a god who has predictable, repeatable effects on the universe, I'll simply file them all into the same drawer as other unproven entities like unicorns and psychic powers and do something more productive or entertaining with my life.

3. A lack of belief in something is supposed to be the default position in logic before evidence is presented. Theism has not earned this position due to its merits: From where I'm standing, theism is falsely elevated to the default assumption because of peer pressure, fashion, tradition, and other social pressures. I don't assume that those things automatically follow logic because I know human beings can rationalize just about any mistake they make with logical fallacies.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Very Silly Show

During a recent visit with my folks, my mother was watching a series called NCIS, which apparently was playing "follow the leader" with all the CSI series. I don't know how good the series as a whole is, since I only have a sample of two episodes to go by, and boy was this one a stinker. Funnily enough, it falls into a subject I have taken classes for: Remote Sensing.

So, story involves a guy who worked at radiology at the local hospital, and has security clearance for the radioactive materials involved. He gets shot, and the investigation team finds this odd residue on him. They dig in, and meet up with a US intelligence officer who tells them it's a chemical marker they use to track terrorists by satellite.

Really?

Somehow, these spy satellites can even identify which individual is being tracked.

Seriously?

And tracking is "spotty" indoors.

Only spotty?

And the satellites can track in real time on their monitors, which is how they track the guy (it turns out he wasn't a marked terrorist, just that a paranoid guy who designed the system was marking Americans he considered suspicious with a spray bottle.) when the terrorists who originally shot him steal his head to get past the retinal scanner to pick up the radioactive material.

Anyone who's paid the slightest bit of attention to middle school science should have some decent guesses with what's nonsense about this system.

1. The obvious one: Only geosynchronous satellites can "hover" over an area to monitor it, and outside of a certain zone, the view gets too tilted to be all that useful. Thus, you can't track something in real time by satellite unless you specifically put it in orbit in the general area ahead of time. That lack of mobility would severely limit the utility of a spy satellite.

2. How does the satellite sense the chemical? The chemical would need to generate or reflect some form of electromagnetic radiation. If it generated enough energy to be seen by satellite, it would eventually run out of chemical energy for doing so. And for a small spray of the stuff to be seen from orbit, it would need to generate a LOT of EMR. Additionally, it would have to emit this EMR at some frequency that stands out against all the background noise. Gamma/X-ray radiation? Would poison the terrorist and the people around him, and raise the chemical energy demands straight into nuclear reactions like radioactive decay. Ultraviolet? Would have trouble getting a clear signal out of the atmosphere, much less through the roof of a building. Visible light? Yeah, a glowing spot is going to be unnoticed. Near Infrared? How does the satellite tell the difference between that and plant life?
Middle infrared? Moisture. Far infrared? Would get lost in any heat source, not to mention it'd be a warm spot on the body. Microwaves or Radio waves? It would generate interference with other devices and be lost in the noise of those devices. You might as well start inventing Minovsky particles to explain it.

3. How does it tell one marked target from another, assuming you could get some magical signal? If it's just a chemical, I don't see how you could get it to emit a unique signature unless you tailor made each mixture for each target. Supposedly, you could get around that by telling the system "this spot is terrorist X, and this spot is terrorist Y." and it could track the spots as they change positions over time. But what if X and Y get close to each other? Then their "spots" would blend into one.

This nonsense goes off the deep end of "Big Brother" scenarios. They put a little token objection to the use of this sort of monitoring ability, but it comes across as half-hearted, even with the paranoid control freak, who decides to help them gain access to it to solve the case. This episode was just a wish fulfillment exercise, treating technology as if it were a magic tool that solves problems without any mental effort on the part of the humans. The computers do it all. The computers and satellites will catch the terrorists for us, and the only work we have to do is punch a few buttons instead of, you know, outsmart the people who avoid security for a living.

I'm glad my mother knew enough about science to be embarrassed by the show.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Know What's Bullshit?

I think to spite Gabriel, I'll try once again to get back to regular blogging. Since it broke his brain to find out that I don't fit any of the stereotypes seen on his sitcoms, I'm going to list a lot of stuff that I consider nonsense, and thought so for most of my adult life. He'll probably return to whine about my disbelief in some other sacred cow of his. So anyway, here goes the list, subject to updates...

Oh, wait. Fair warning: There's a little bit of mild language below the fold. Not a whole lot.

Acupuncture: Bullshit, but not just any bullshit. It's Maoist bullshit, for that double bullshitty taste.

Alien Spacecraft and Abductions: Why would some shitheads from another planet build causality-defying FTL engines and fly a ship all the way over here to investigate our shitholes?

Area 51: The alien story is bullshit. Probably an old air force testing base that may have turned into an illegal waste dump for the government to throw away its really nasty shit. After some officer goofed by denying the place existed, they used the bullshit alien story to bullshit the Communists into wasting intelligence resources investigating the shithouse. And some of their gullible shitheads probably fell for it.

Atlantis: Bullshit that got flushed down the toilet when no one was looking. In fact, they want you to take their word for it that it was ever there.

The Aurora Stealth Aircraft: Possibly bullshit, possibly a development code name for an existing, publicly known aircraft, or possibly a project that got canceled for being shittier than the other stealth aircraft.

Ayurveda: Bullshit, with a hint of arsenic and mercury.

Bigfoot: Bullshit so steamy, all attempts to photograph it end up coming out fuzzy and indistinct.

Communism: Bullshit that stinks so bad, you'll be made into an unperson by The Party if you point it out.

Creationism: The bullshit belief that nothingness randomly shitted out a perfect, complex, sentient god, who made the universe and somehow did a shitty job on designing our eyes, despite allegedly being perfect.

The Crocoduck: Textbook example of bullshit the Creationists should be looking for if they want to be taken seriously. I'm not holding my breath.

Distant Healing: Bullshit you can smell from miles away.

Dragons: Cool bullshit that's fun to pretend to slay with polyhedral dice, but despite Creationists attempts to argue otherwise, are completely bullshit in reality. Besides, dinosaurs are cooler because they were real. Even without the fire breath. We have the fossils. We win.

Fairies: Bullshit that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in because he didn't think it was possible that some girls could cut out pictures and pose for photographs. Therefore, he bullshitted, the fairies, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Faith: The bullshit belief that you're an infallible god, thus you can't bullshit yourself, therefore you are right. Period.

The Flood: Bullshit story about a family who somehow rounded up all the animals of the world in a boat. When Flood believers were faced with the logistics of handing all the food and shit for so many animals on such a tiny boat, they made up a bullshit Super-Duper Evolution theory (but decided not to call it that because someone might call them on being inconsistent with their other bullshit) where the animals could super-mutate into multiple species overnight and somehow gain enough genetic diversity to make it look like nothing happened at all. Oh, and some bullshit about land plants being able to live underwater, and salt water magically knowing not to mix with fresh water so as to not kill all the fish.

Hitler, Adolph: Anti-Semite bullshitter Creationist who believed God commanded him to perform eugenics and burn books like The Origin of Species for not buying into his bullshit. Had a line about bullshitting so big, no one would believe someone could bullshit so big without evidence... Which turned out to be bullshit. Inspired by Martin Luther, a guy believed reason was evil because it gave people bullshit detectors, and you can't have that. Adolph entertained bullshit fantasies about joining the Catholic and Protestant churches together, trying to put his religious bullshit into school curricula and mandate state-led prayers in class.

Homeopathy: Bullshit that isn't watered down.

Iridology: You won't believe your eyes when you see this bullshit.

The Loch Ness monster: Bullshit that stinks so bad, you could make a profit from building a tourist trap around the spot where someone allegedly smelled it.

Lysenkoism: Bullshit with Joseph Stalin and Sarah Palin's seals of approval, so you know it's quality bullshit.

McCarthy, Joseph: Bullshitting witch hunter who was inspired by Stalin to save America from Stalin by trying and failing to turn America into an authoritarian Christian Communist State. Got publicly called out on his incompetent, illegal authoritarian bullshit and lost all support. Now, Texas is trying to bullshit us into thinking he's a hero.

Nationalism: Bullshit pretending to be patriotism. Nationalists are happy to let their country go down the toilet and still call it the greatest on Earth and throw feces at anyone who dares to suggest the country isn't as great as it used to be. Patriots actually care enough about their country to get their shit together and work to make their country great.

O'Reilly, Bill: Bullshitter who doesn't know what causes the tides. No, I'm not shitting you. He really doesn't.

Psychics: Bullshitters who often don't realize they're bullshitting you with cold reading and similar shit like that. A bunch of real gullible shitheads in America tried training soldiers in their techniques because the Communists fell for this bullshit, and you just know Communist science can't be bullshit.

Race: Quite often a bullshit excuse self-entitled lazy high school dropouts (it doesn't matter what race they are) use to feel better about themselves for not doing anything and blame The Other for their inability to get a job or an education. Also, with hopefully increasing rarity, a bullshit excuse an employer uses to give special privileges to a high school dropout who looks like his phenotype instead of hiring the guy who can actually do a full day's work to actually earn a full day's pay. Doubly bullshit since blood groups are probably a much better indicator of race than skin color.

Reflexology: Bullshit, freshly stepped in.

Reiki: Bullshit that's not touching you! It's not touching you!

Theraputic Touch: Bullshit that rubs on smooth.

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This is easily the most profane post I have ever written. Want to add your own?