Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Join Us

A great YouTube video about why atheists are becoming so vocal:

There's more I'd like to say about this inspiring video, but I'm holding a baby in one hand who would really like some attention from daddy right about now...

Relativism, Absolutism, Religion, and Alternative Medicine

I used to think that absolutism was the hallmark of religious extremists and general cranks and nutjobs of all stripes. I also thought that it was important to recognize just how much of our perception of reality is relative. While certainly some things are completely outside of subjective perception -- e.g. if you get hit by a car, it doesn't really matter what you believe happened, you are still injured or killed -- I used to believe a lot more things were subjective than the average person believed.

While certainly many religions, and all fundamentalist religions, demand a moral absolutism, I am beginning to change my mind. I am now beginning to suspect that, excluding morality for the moment, the average person is probably too much of a relativist. And I am certain that religion and all sorts of woo rely far more on relativist interpretations of reality than on absolutism.

Now don't get me wrong, the fundamentalists and the cranks and the denialists all have their axioms and their dogma. But I believe they justify their adherence to dogma based not so much on an absolutist interpretation of reality, but on the belief that since all perceptions are subjective, "facts" become relative and therefore it is not important whether their beliefs adhere to the facts.

What inspired me to write this post was this quote in a recent NY Times article from Terry Mortenson, a lecturer and researcher for the idiot Creationist propaganda group Answers in Genesis and a spokesperson for the Creation Museum:

Everyone has presuppositions what they will consider, what questions they will ask. The very first two rooms of our museum talk about this issue of starting points and assumptions. We will very strongly contest an evolutionist position that they are letting facts speak for themselves.

Not to single out the religious, I was told something very similar from one of the anti-vax faithful at the vaccine meeting I posted about a couple of weeks ago. When I asserted that I was interested in the truth about vaccines rather than being partial to any particular approach, she responded that "the truth is different for everyone."

Okay, so... No. I certainly do not dispute that "starting points and assumptions" will have a strong influence over what conclusions a person comes to, and I readily acknowledge that rational people can come to different valid conclusions based on the same facts. However, none of this in any way erodes the idea of objective truth, nor does it give people a free pass to believe whatever they want.

Some conclusions contradict the facts, and those conclusions must be false, regardless of one's "starting points and assumptions". Even when multiple conclusions fit the available facts, we can be reasonably certain that either one or zero of those conclusions are actually true.

(Side note: I am leaving aside Einstein's general relativity, as well as quantum uncertainty, as I do not think those concepts are even remotely relevant to evolution or vaccines or pretty much anything the religious and the alties preach. Even then, there is still an objective reality. For instance, while two observers, one moving very close to the speed of light relative to the other, may measure time and space differently, their measurements are still deterministic based on observable facts, i.e. the one traveling at the speed of light can't just come up with a completely made-up measurement based on his personal "starting points and assumptions". Similarly, even when we examine the apparent randomness at the quantum level, reality still plays by an immutable set of rules. The fact that we can't precisely know a particle's mass and velocity at the same time, for example, does not mean that you can measure the mass of a proton and then assert that its velocity died for our sins.)

When I responded to the anti-vaxer, my reply was (roughly): "No, sorry, not to be an absolutist, but some things are true and some things aren't." I sort of wish I had not used the word "true", because that has an implication beyond what I meant. I think I would have preferred the words "factual" or "accurate". Certainly, perceptions are relative, and when we get into areas that are heavily influenced by perception, I think that "truth" is still a meaningful concept even as facts go flying out the door. For instance, I think the love I feel for my beautiful infant son is "true" in a sense that I have trouble articulating but which I think my readers will understand -- but it would be somewhat meaningless to talk about this feeling being "factual" or "accurate". It is a purely relative experience, and there is great value in this.

On the other hand, my son's height and weight, whether he is sick or not, the times and amounts he goes to the bathroom... these are all objective facts, and while my "starting points and assumptions" might influence my personal perception of these facts, that does not at all erode the existence of an objective reality of those facts. I might think my son is taller than he is because I love him, but if so I would be wrong, and to try to say that my guess at his height is somehow just as valid as the doctor's tape measure because I have different "starting points and assumptions" than him would be absurd.

And yet, this absurdity is fundamental to religion, alternative medicine, and all sorts of woo and crankery. It is a sneaky mental game. They state quite correctly that their different conclusions are the result of different "starting points and assumptions", but then use this to imply that their conclusions are somehow valid. This is a logical fallacy.

It is similar to the old "you can't be an atheist without faith" argument that goes something like this: You can't prove there is a God (true). You can't prove there is no God (also true). Therefore, the odds of there being a God are 50/50 (absolutely not!). I have faith that the coin comes up heads and there is a God (true), and you have faith that the coin comes up tails and there is no God (no, actually). Therefore, you are just as religious as me!, says the Christian.

Uncertainty does not imply equal probability. Similarly, variability in the conclusions people reach from certain facts does not imply equal validity. Some conclusions are more valid than others, and ultimately once enough facts are known then one conclusion must be the correct one.

So does this make me an absolutist of sorts? I'm not sure. I must admit, even when it comes to morality, I am not particularly a relativist. Certainly cultures disagree on what is moral. But I think the vast majority of those disagreements fall into one of two categories:

The first category encompasses things which I don't think are really morality at all. A benign example would be the Hindu prohibition against eating cows. We can argue all day about the morality of eating meat, but I think one would have difficulty making a decent argument that it is moral and/or ethical to eat a goat but not to eat a cow. (All other things being equal, that is... I am assuming neither animal came from a factory farm) Even though one culture finds this immoral and another finds it moral, I don't think it really qualifies as a moral judgment at all. It is merely culture. Maybe it is more similar to "etiquette" than it is to morality, albeit a strongly proscribed piece of etiquette.

The other category is when one of the cultures is just flat out wrong. And yes, I really did say that. Fuck your cultural relativism, when people are put to death in Iran just for being homosexual, when girls in Africa have their clitoris lopped off in some misguided attempt at piety, when boys in the FLDS church are dumped on the streets of Salt Lake to fend for themselves, these things are wrong, and I will not apologize for saying so.

So I guess the only things left where I am a relativist are things that are obviously personal (ranging from the trivial, like taste in music, to the profound, like familial love) and things that are arbitrary customs (like a prohibition against a certain food).

Does this make me an absolutist? Intolerant? Closed-minded? I sure hope not..

Monday, June 29, 2009

At least they spelled "God" correctly...

This sign is for a team in a homeschool football league:

Via PZ Myers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More thoughts on gun control

When I was researching the last post to make sure my comments about HR-45 were accurate, I stumbled across this from an anti-gun control website:

The bill looks particularly nasty. Some bits:
3. Would require passage of a test that covers:

(A) the safe storage of firearms, particularly in the vicinity of persons who have not attained 18 years of age;

(B) the safe handling of firearms;

(C) the use of firearms in the home and the risks associated with such use

WTF?!? Yes, that is indeed "particularly nasty" that lawmakers would expect people to be knowledegable about the safe handling of firearms before they could own one. I mean, what's next? Making sure people know the rules of the road and some principles of safe driving before they can be licensed drive a car?! That would be "particularly nasty" anti-automobile legislation, and you know that Congress would never stand for i-- Oh. Yeah, right.

Now, I want to make it clear here that I am not particularly anti-gun. In fact, I think that anybody, license or no, should be allowed to shoot whatever they want at a properly-licensed shooting range. Want to fire an RPG? Well, if there's a range that has government certification to make it safe and you've got the bucks, go for it! I don't really see the harm. I suppose there is the risk of a person going postal at the shooting range... but they aren't going to make it very far at place where, by definition, everybody else is carrying a gun, so the potential for violence is confined to the range where everyone has made an affirmative decision to accept the risk.

In NYS, you must have a pistol permit to even fire a pistol at a range, which makes no sense to me... On the other hand, in Utah, my sister and I went shooting at cans in the rock quarry across the highway from her house with nary a whit of documentation required, which also makes no sense to me.

I think the ideal is somewhere in between, and the exact right thing varies depending on the locale. First of all, you should need to have a license to possess a firearm, period. As far as types of weapons, I think the federal restrictions on automatic weapons are pretty sensible. You can still fire one at a range if you are hobbyist or just curious (and I'd love to try that some day, to tell you the truth), but you don't really need a freaking AK for hunting, or even for self-defense unless maybe the zombies attack again.

In urban areas, it may even make sense to outlaw personal possession of handguns altogether. The only thing that makes me hesitant at all is that it's unclear how effective that kind of legislation is at cutting down on gun crime. But if it does reduce gun crime, then I think in major urban areas, the cost-benefit is clearly in favor of a ban. (Remember once again that anybody who wants to pop off a few shots at a range is welcome to...)

In rural areas, restrictions can be a lot looser.. but I still think it makes a lot of sense to get people licensed first and to make sure all guns are registered. Licensing is just common sense, the same way it's common sense to require a driver's license. And making sure guns are registered means people need to be responsible with what happens to their gun, which I think is needed to prevent the easing of restrictions in rural areas to translate into more availability of illicit guns in areas that have a real gun crime issue.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

Get Your Gunn

The BBC reports:

A pastor in the US state of Kentucky told his flock to bring handguns to church in what he said was an effort to promote safe gun ownership.

The whole idea is loopy enough, but what really bugs me is this:

He said he acted after church members voiced fears the Obama administration could tighten gun control laws.

Ummmm... Gun control is so far off the White House's radar, the only way that anyone could be worried about the Obama administration trying to muscle through strict new anti-gun control legislation is if they are a reactionary conservative moron.

(Yes, I know Congress was recently looking at a bill that would force gun owners in all states to have a license, but #1 it has a snowball's chance in hell of actually passing, #2 it was sponsored by an Illinois congressman and has absolutely nothing to do with Obama, and #3 it kind of seems like a good idea to me... This is not about banning guns, this is about saying that you have to be licensed before you can own one, which doesn't seem like an unreasonable request to me. If that makes me a commie, then break out the hammer and sickle!)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Atheist" vs. "Nontheist"

I mentioned in my very first post on this blog that "I actually think the word 'nontheist' is a better description, but I typically self-identify as an 'atheist' in attempt to dispell the taboo". I thought I would blog about that a little today.

Atheism is a tricky philosophy to categorize, because it is really the absence of a particular worldview rather than an affirmative1 worldview. I do happen to have an affirmative worldview involving the power of the scientific method, the beauty of nature, and even the value of engaging in some selective irrationality from time to time as a means of embracing our humanity. But among the spectrum of people who self-identify as "atheists", you would find quite a range of different worldviews, with the only commonality being that they exclude the supernatural in general, and magical sky daddies in particular.

I quite like the way NonStampCollector puts it:

Atheism is my "religion", and Not Collecting Stamps is my "hobby".

(By the way, NonStampCollector's YouTube channel is just about the funniest collection of atheism-related cartoons I have ever seen. If you don't watch any others, at least do yourself the favor of checking out this and this. Awesome.)

Anyway, that sums up pretty well the problem with referring to "atheism" as if it were a single cohesive philosophy, let alone describing it as a "religion". There are an infinite number of potential atheistic worldviews. In many ways, it would be more accurate to refer to "atheist" as an adjective rather than a noun.

Before I start talking about whether there is a better word than "atheist", then, it is worth asking the question: Why the need to label myself in this way in the first place? Well, until fairly recently, I didn't really feel any need to do so. And ideally, I still wouldn't.

But unfortunately, we live in a world where, right now, religions of many stripes are having a powerful negative influence in any number of ways, from human rights abuses in Somalia, to political oppression in Iran, to encouraging ignorance in American schoolchildren and holding back long-overdue civil rights reform. In a perfect world, it wouldn't matter whether or not a person decided to (privately) believe in some harmless myth like Tarot cards or Zeus or Jesus. But in the world we live in, it matters a lot. People are suffering and dying every day because of these irrational beliefs.

To put it another way, I'll stop making a big deal out of my lack of religion when other people's religion stops affecting me. Christopher Hitchens says in god is not Great that he "just wants to be left alone," and I think this is a fair request. When I don't have to worry about my son's mind being polluted with Creationist or homophobic propaganda, when my tax money can go to universal health care instead of financing military operations to hold back sectarian violence in the Middle East, when my parents stop throwing away 10% of their income to LD$, Inc., then I won't make a deal about my atheism. Until then, I think it's important to stand up and say, "No. I reject this."

Does this make me an antitheist? Probably. I don't really object to the term, but I don't adopt it because I am not yet 100% certain that some sort of "memetically-engineered" religion (as Daniel Dennet put it in one of his TED talks) couldn't be a boon to the world. I am definitely opposed to pretty much every religion that exists today -- Zen Buddhism is not particularly objectionable, but then again it's barely a religion -- but I sometimes wonder if a religion of some kind is a necessary evil in certain contexts.

I am currently reading Dreams from My Father, and I am occasionally struck by the positive unifying influence of the black churches that Obama talks about. His conversion story makes a convincing case for religion as a legitimate source of hope for the oppressed, when rationality doesn't really provide any hope.

But then I remember some of the more despicable things in the Bible, and I just cannot justify even tacit approval of a philosophy like that. If the African-American community has truly benefited from the sense of hope and community they find in Christianity -- and I am not even convinced this is the case -- then society must eventually find something else that provides the same sense of hope and community to those who need it. Something that doesn't condone the inerrancy of several thousand year old dogma, and doesn't preach hate and condone violence, and encourage lazy thinking.

So, given that I feel the need to strongly self-identify with my lack of theism, what word to use? My favorite term is "nontheist." For one, I like it because it casts a wide umbrella, encompassing atheists as well as agnostics and apatheists. But I especially like it because of the connotation of abstention. In much the same way that a non-smoker abstains from what they see as a harmful habit, a nontheist abstains from a harmful philosophy.

It also makes it quite clear that there is no specific affirmative philosophy being implied. Theists are fond of saying that "an atheist has faith that there is no God", but of course this is very rarely the case. I think the term "nontheist" is less prone to this mistaken impression. A nontheist is simply one who does not engage in the belief in a supernatural diety. This may include a handful of people who indeed have faith in the lack of a God, it includes people like me who think it is astronomically unlikely for there to be a God given the available evidence, and it especially includes the vast masses of secular individuals who simply don't see the question as particularly relevant.

So if I like this term "nontheist" so much, why do I still self-identify as an "atheist"? Well, as I hinted at in the beginning, it is in order to dispel the taboo. In many circles, "atheist" is a dirty word. I probably interact with a dozen people every day who wouldn't blink if I told them I was a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu, but if I said I was an atheist they'd suddenly have some big issue with me. And that is not right.

It's probably explained much better at The Out Campaign, but anyway, I feel we need to take back this word and make it acceptable.

Call me an atheist, then, and give me the same respect you would give any other human being. That's all I ask.

1 When I say "affirmative" here, I don't mean as in a jolly, happy outlook. Rather, I mean in the sense that it says something about what is as opposed to what is not.

Family Entertainment, Sharia style

From the Beeb:

Hardline Islamists in Somalia have carried out double amputations on four men for stealing phones and guns.
They have each had a hand and foot cut off after being convicted by a Sharia court in the capital earlier this week.
More then 300 people, mainly women and children, watched as masked men cut off their limbs with machetes.

Well isn't that special.

Displaying my web development idiocy

I was messing around with creating a Widget here, and I wanted to take a remote web page, extract some info from it, and display it. I am just familiar enough with the concept of DOM, and recently educated myself enough on Javascript, that I am confident I could do it in about five minutes if I could just get the DOM of the remote web page loaded into a Document object.

But damned if I can't figure out how to do that...

First I tried putting it in an invisible iframe, but the problem is that the iframe might not be (actually, won't be) loaded when you go to start traversing its DOM tree. Then I thought maybe I could have an onLoad event for the iframe document, and go back and fix the HTML then... but it turns out that doesn't work, and a lot of people make that mistake. You have to put the onLoad handler in the frame itself, and... I can't do that, because I don't have control over the remote web page.

So then I started looking into Ajax, which I am pretty sure is the right thing, but I couldn't for the life of me get it to work. I don't really understand how to debug web stuff, so I am stuck. Gah!

On the plus side, I think I learned enough about DOM that I should be able to create a spiffy Javascript thingy to replace the horrible workaround I did to make those "Continue reading..." links appear at the bottom of the appropriate posts. Right now, I put a special label called "more" on each post where I want it (blech!) and then I hacked all the label-referencing code to omit that label. This has numerous disadvantages though.

However, with JS I should be able to get the div that includes the post, then search to see whether it contains the special div tag to hide the text below the fold. Shouldn't be too hard...

Update: Woo hoo, after much fumbling it worked! It probably would have taken me no time at all if I hadn't got confused and started searching for a div tag when I was actually looking for a span tag. D'oh!

Getting rid of that stupid "more" hack also fixed a problem I was having with my tag cloud. Ah, much better... now only if I could figure out AJAX...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

¡Viva la México!

Last night we had our friends Amanda and Brian over for dinner. I made tacos and Amanda brought an awesome jicama salad and a carrot-sweet potato-sesame soup.

When I do tacos, I usually use this recipe as my jumping off point. The baja cream is really simple and is always a big hit. I don't always do the pickled onions and jalapeños (a lot of the time I just buy pickled jalapeños, which are just fine) but I did last night. Actually, I made one batch with habeñeros in it then I haven't tried yet, at Mariah's request. Should be, uh, interesting...

This is probably my favorite salsa verde recipe too. Now, it seems like lately Wegmans only has fresh tomatillos when I don't need them, and Monday was no exception. So I tried an experiment: I used canned tomatillos. It was actually just fine! I think the salsa is just a little brighter with the fresh ones, but since you char half the tomatillos and then roast it all anyway, it isn't as important as it might be in a different recipe. This is good to know for the future...

I usually do not use the fish recipe from the Epicurious link. There's nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't do much for me. Often I will do breaded catfish strips instead, with some spicy chile powder mixed in with the bread crumbs. I think that is my favorite way to do it. Last night, I just took some catfish and dredged it in a spice rub vaguely inspired by an Alton Brown recipe, and then cooked it up in some olive oil. The flavor was pretty good, but I think I needed the pan to be hotter so the fish got a little bit of a crust on the outside. Ah well, live and learn.

I also cooked up ground beef since Mariah thought Brian would appreciate some meat. hehe... For that I just cooked it up with some garlic, Vidalia onion, serrano pepper, and some ancho chile powder. Mariah also had me make a mango salsa, which unfortunately was hampered by an under-ripe mango.

I did my favorite Mexican rice recipe, which comes from this nutrition website that I think exists mostly to hawk bogus detox products and supplements. But his rice recipe is just great!

I also did some refried black beans, which involved some crazy twists and turns... I worked from a bag of dried beans instead of from canned beans, so I had to cook them for an hour or so first. Well, I didn't cook them for long enough, so then when I started to fry them up with the various seasonings and mash them, the texture was all wrong. What to do? I added more water to the already partially mashed beans and cooked it until the texture was fixed. I actually really liked this method! I might even do it on purpose in the future. heh...

I also put out standard taco fixings, like chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese... Together with Amanda's jicama salad, which was a perfect fit for this meal, it was quite a feast!

Only problem is, as always we made too much food, so I expect to be eating Mexican for 2-3 meals a day for the rest of the week. Oh well, it was worth it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

That guy's horrible mustache

Okay, every time I go to work on my blog the last 24 hours or so, that guy from the military chaplaincy post is staring me in the face. His mustache! Oh my god! I cannot handle it! I feel like his mustache is either about to grow a mouth of its own and say, "I will pray for you," or else it is going to jump right off his face and start pummeling me. Or groping me. Or both. Or all three.

Mr. Mustache guy, I will shave for you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting certified to be a military chaplain

In order to serve as a chaplain in the military, you have to get endorsed by a group certified by the military to do that sort of thing, such as the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches.

Meet the guy who runs the CFGC, which has endorsed nearly 300 chaplains for the US military:

Jim Ammerman from Bruce Wilson on Vimeo.

Via Ed Brayton, who has a bunch of other links exposing this guy's insanity.

The atheism, cooking, and home improvement blog?

I should really start taking before and after pictures of the work we do on our house...

So Saturday night we went to put up casing around a doorway that, for some reason, didn't have any. This doorway also is a special case, because when I was installing our new floor I sorta screwed up and left a gap along the sides of the doorway, thinking it would be covered by baseboard.. but duh, you don't put baseboard in doorways, idiot...

I was initially going to just put the casing up on the one side where it was missing, and put quarter-round over the gap, which would look a little silly but at least would be unobtrusive (before this past weekend I actually did have baseboard in there, and it looked really dumb).

But the casing on the other side is screwy as hell. I hadn't noticed this at first. See, normally, when you put casing around a doorway, you leave about 1/4" of the original frame. There's a name for this I can't remember. Anyway, check the casing around your doorways, you'll see it. It looks weird if you try to butt the casing right up against the edge, and also I think you run the risk of the casing starting to jut out as the house settles.

On the side of the doorway that already had casing, they put up this weird molding on the corner of the frame, I don't know what to call it... maybe it doesn't even count as molding. Anyway, if you cut a cross-section, the profile would be L-shaped. It like, sharpens the definition of the corner or something. We have it a couple other places in our house where there is an outer corner of a wall. I don't particularly care for it, but I'm afraid to find out what is underneath it.

So on the doorway in question, where they should have that 1/4" of exposed door frame, instead they have one of these weird L-shaped moldings, and then the casing is jutted up against that. This has the effect of there being a small piece of molding that protrudes into the doorway on that side.. and if I do it correctly on the other side, that means that it will be the other way around, so you have this sort of dumb-looking staircasing effect almost. It's hard to explain without a picture.... maybe I'll draw one later.

I'm not having that. And combined with the mess with the flooring, I decided to bite the bullet and go with Crazy Plan B.

Crazy Plan B involves replacing the casing on both sides, which is a good thing anyway because almost all of the doorways in this house have the cheapest casing money can buy. However, when I pull off that L-molding, I know there's gonna be some crazy shit under it (and there was). But I'd already had this sorta crackpot idea for fixing my boner with the flooring gap, and it would also solve that problem: Cut planks to be 3/8" thick and to the size of the doorway, and nail them up -- thus shrinking the doorway by 3/4", but giving me a sort of new faux-frame to build on, while simultaneously covering the gap in the flooring.

Long story short, it worked, it looks great, but it was a pain in the ass. I couldn't find 3/8" plank that was long enough (the thinnest I could find that was long enough was listed as 1" == 3/4" in reality) so I had to do a rip cut all the way down an 8-foot board. On top of that, the blade on my table saw wasn't tall enough, so I had to cut halfway through, flip the board over, and finish the cut. I'm sure it was dangerous as all get out, and I managed to blow a fuse once from the saw working so hard. But, as you can probably guess from the fact you are reading this, I am still in one piece.

Also I hope nobody decides they want to put a door in that doorway because they are going to be really pissed off when they discover that it is 35 1/4" wide now. I don't think that's a standard door size.... heh.

Maybe pictures and/or diagrams later. I should start documenting my home improvement adventures on this blog anyway. It would have been great to have a record of my slow fumbling progress in learning how to do crown molding, for example... I'm finally good at it now, but man, that's a hard thing to do!

What happened to the cooking?

This was supposed to be a cooking blog, but unfortunately I haven't had much opportunity to cook anything interesting lately. I made grilled haddock with sides of grilled asparagus and spinach the other day, but the haddock came out bland, the asparagus was overcooked, and the spinach was way too salty.. Want the recipe? heh, I didn't think so.

So I suppose I always blog about other people's food! Yesterday we went to the Brighton Farmer's Market and spent about $35. It was mostly on prepared foods, because we have our CSA pickup on Sunday evenings and so we expected to be well-stocked on veggies.

I don't remember any of the farms we bought from, and while I could just go to the kitchen and check, my son is being very fussy right now so I'm kinda stuck with him. I'll maybe update this later with those.

The star of the show was this apricot-jalapeño jam. Oh man, so good, perfect amount of spiciness. The same vendor also had eggs from pastured hens, which we haven't tried yet.

Also great was a smoothie that Mariah got made from local yogurt. It was really creamy and delicious, so we ended up getting a quart of yogurt from the same place. The plain yogurt seemed kinda bland, though... we usually get the Wegmans "Super Yogurt", which has a lovely tang to it. I dunno, maybe I just have to get used to it. We also got cheese curds from that dairy. They are also just okay. My understanding is the cheese curds really need to be like same-day fresh, so maybe they were just packaged to long. I'd love to try out their cheese, and probably will in a week or two.

There is a honey vendor there that we got some great wildflower honey from last year. We got fall flower honey this time. Great stuff.

We also picked up some frozen handmade raviolis. It is a combo pack of different flavors. I'll probably post about it once we try it.

There were some beautiful fresh strawberries. They are really ripe and sweet, but there is this strange earthiness to them that we don't taste in our own homegrown strawberries -- I am guessing it is something in the soil. I actually quite like it, but it was really interesting to see how much flavor of a plant can be affected by the soil it is grown in (assuming that's what the difference was).

I feel like there's some stuff I'm forgetting. Anyway, cool place. I'm hoping to start getting our eggs and milk exclusively from there, and probably our meat too. If we're getting our produce from the CSA, that doesn't leave a whole lot of reason to go to Wegmans!

Friday, June 19, 2009

RIAA channels Dr. Evil

Well, the RIAA has done it again. It was bad enough extorting teenagers and music lovers out of thousands of dollars, with the threat of high-powered lawyers if they don't comply. Now we find out what happens if you don't settle and actually take it to court: The RIAA turns into Dr. Evil.

"Here's the plan: We take a mother of four to court and make her pay.... $1.9 million dollars!"

That's right, a jury in Minnesota has decided that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four accused of illegaly sharing a whopping 24 songs, must pay the record companies $1.9 million dollars in damages.

I actually used to be pretty anti-illegal file sharing -- I mean, my job is basically to generate intellectual property, so I'm a little sensitive about compensation for IP -- but over time, the record companies have just pissed me off so much that I don't really care anymore. That and a number of musicians I respect have just started giving their music away for free, because they hardly see a dime from the actual record sales.

Whatever. As Ms. Thomas-Rasset makes it clear, there is no way she is paying this, so all they really accomplished was to fuck up her credit. And make themselves look like grade A assholes. Good job, RIAA! Sue your customers for seven figures! That will fix your horrible PR problems. Next time, though, maybe you can find a mentally-challenged person who has been illegaly downloading and try to get him thrown in jail. I bet that would go over even better!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Expelled parody

Okay, old news, but it's new to me. And awesome.

Abolitionist Clergymen?

I saw a comment on another blog where someone claimed that "the vast majority of the prominent abolitionists [were] clergymen." My bullshit detector immediately went into high gear. But who to prove that this is false?

Well, this is far from a rigorous proof, but... I took Wikipedia's list of notable opponents of slavery, filtered out anyone who was not either American or Canadian, excluded people who did not have a Wikipedia article (because then I'd have to do actual research!), excluded a couple of non-clergy whose anti-slavery credentials I felt were insufficient... and then grouped the remainder into "Clergy" or "Not Clergy".

See the results below...

1. Richard Allen (former slave, American Methodist)
2. Henry Ward Beecher (American)
3. William Henry Brisbane (American)
4. Samuel Cornish (Presbyterian of African heritage, American)
5. Calvin Fairbank (American)
6. Charles Finney (American)
7. Amos Noë Freeman (American)
8. Henry Highland Garnet (American)
9. Elias Hicks (American)
10. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (American
11. Absalom Jones
12. Joseph Ketley
13. Joshua Leavitt (American), editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Emancipator
14. Jermain Loguen (former slave, American)
15. Elijah Lovejoy (American)
16. Henry G. Ludlow (American)
17. Samuel Joseph May (American)
18. Samuel Oughton (American), advocate of black labour rights in Jamaica)
19. Theodore Parker (American)
20. John Rankin (American)
21. James Sherman
22. Joseph Tracy (American)
23. Samuel Ringgold Ward (born into slavery, American)
24. John Woolman (American Quaker)

Not Clergy
1. John Adams (American President)
2. John Quincy Adams (American President)
3. Bronson Alcott (American)
4. Louisa May Alcott (American)
5. Susan B. Anthony (American)
6. Gamaliel Bailey (American)
7. Anthony Benezet (American)
8. Henry Bibb, publisher Voice of the Fugitive newspaper (Canadian)
9. John Bingham - Jayhawker and Senator (American)
10. George Brown (Canadian)
11. John Brown (American)
12. Aaron Burr (American politician)
13. Benjamin Butler (American)
14. Mary Ann Shadd Cary, publisher Provincial Freeman newspaper (Canadian)
15. Elizabeth Buffum Chace (American activist)
16. Maria Weston Chapman (American)
17. Salmon P. Chase (American)
18. Lydia Maria Child (American)
19. Ward Chipman (Canadian)
20. Cassius Marcellus Clay (American)
21. Levi Coffin (American)
22. Martin Delany (son of a slave, American)
23. Richard Dillingham (American)
24. Frederick Douglass (former slave, American politician)
25. Ralph Waldo Emerson (American)
26. Charles Follen
27. Charlotte Forten (American)
28. James Forten (American)
29. Benjamin Franklin (American)
30. John C. Frémont (American)
31. Thomas Garret (American)
32. William Lloyd Garrison (American)
33. Ulysses Grant (American)
34. Horace Greeley (American)
35. Angelina Grimké (American)
36. Sarah Moore Grimké (American)
37. Alexander Hamilton (American)
38. Theophilus Harrington (American)
39. Laura Smith Haviland (American)
40. Lewis Hayden (former slave, American)
41. Isaac Hopper (American)
42. Julia Ward Howe (American)
43. Samuel Gridley Howe (American)
44. Robert G. Ingersoll (American)
45. John Jay (American)
46. Abby Kelley
47. James H. Lane (Senator)
48. Benjamin Lay
49. Hart Leavitt (American), Underground Railroad operator, Massachusetts
50. Roger Hooker Leavitt (American), Underground Railroad operator, Massachusetts[2]
51. Abraham Lincoln (American President)
52. James Russell Lowell (American)
53. Maria White Lowell (American)
54. Benjamin Lundy (American)
55. Lucretia Mott (American)
56. Frederick Law Olmsted (American)
57. John Parker (abolitionist) (former slave, American)
58. Francis Daniel Pastorius (German-American)
59. Wendell Phillips (American)
60. James Shepherd Pike (American), journalist
61. Mary Ellen Pleasant (American)
62. John Wesley Posey (American)
63. Gabriel Prosser (insurrectionist, American Slave)
64. Robert Purvis (American)
65. Charles Lenox Remond (American)
66. Ernestine Rose (American)
67. Benjamin Rush (a founder of America)
68. John Brown Russwurm (Jamaican & American)
69. Dred Scott
70. Samuel Sewall
71. William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln (American)
72. Gerrit Smith
73. Silas Soule
74. Lysander Spooner
75. Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War under Lincoln
76. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
77. Henry Stanton
78. Thaddeus Stevens (American)
79. Maria W. Stewart (American)
80. William Still (American)
81. Harriet Beecher Stowe (American)
82. Charles Sumner (American)
83. Arthur Tappan (American)
84. Henry David Thoreau (American)
85. Sojourner Truth (American)
86. Harriet Tubman abolitionist (American)
87. Nat Turner insurrectionist, former slave (American)
88. Denmark Vesey insurrectionist, former slave (American)
89. Benjamin Wade (American)
90. David Walker (abolitionist) (son of a slave, American)
91. Theodore Dwight Weld (American)
92. John Greenleaf Whittier (American)
93. Henry Wilson (American Vice President)

That's one heck of a small "vast majority"!

Interestingly, though, I did see a trend... the vast majority appeared to be either politicians, journalists, lawyers, educators, or clergy. In other words, the most prominent abolitionists tended to be people with access to a public forum.

Or, to put it another way... people who had a "pulpit" from which to express their opinion. (Bah-dum!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beer can duck?

So I've got a D'Artagnan duckling in my freezer. That's a whole other story -- the ducklings are supposed to be sold fresh, but I think Wegmans froze a bunch by accident, and they were selling them for 75% off. I picked up two of them... I mean, five bucks each for a five pound duckling? Can't pass that up!

Since it's grilling season, I wanted to do them on the grill. For the first one, I thawed it, broke it down, and grilled the pieces up separately. For the wings, I did this "pterodactyl wings" thing where you stretch them out on a skewer. I put barbecue sauce on some of the pieces, the rest I just did plain salt & pepper. The meat was delicious, but the fat in the skin didn't really render sufficiently.

So I want to try something different for the other duck. My favorite way of cooking chicken on the grill is "chick under a brick", where you place bricks or a cast-iron pan or whatever on top of the chicken so the skin presses down on the grill and gets really nice and crispy. But I am worried if I try that with duck, the fat dripping will just cause massive flare-ups that I won't be able to control...

Another popular way of grilling chicken is beer can chicken. I've never tried it myself, but since it is a slow-roasting method, I'm thinking it might be effective with getting the duck skin to cook up nicely. Think it might work?

Whatever I end up doing with the duck, I'll post about it here...

Update: At least one person has already tried it, with fairly good results... I dunno about the internal temp being 180F though. Duck is supposed to be medium-rare. Anyway, looks like it "can" work, so I'll probably give it a spin..

The Vaccine Meeting

Well well well. So last night, my wife and I went to the vaccine meeting I mention in another post. Here is the blurb for the meeting (with identifying info redacted because I don't want to pick on these people too much..):

Dear Friends,
**** Health Care will be hosting a discussion on Vaccines. The talk will be led by local Chiropractor **** *****, who specializes in Pregnancy and Pediatrics. We know it can be overwhelming with all the anti-
vaccine and pro-vaccine information out there. We will discuss vaccine safety, your options, state laws and more. We hope you can join us!
When: Tuesday June 16th at 6:30pm

Now, the mention of being "overwhelm[ed]" by both "pro-"
and "anti-" information almost made me think this was going to be, if not balanced, at least somewhat of an equal time style discussion, a la Bob Sears position on vaccines. Of course, the fact that it was being led by a Chiropractor did not bode well... and then I found out that the woman at whose house it was being held makes herbal "potions", so uh... yeah, I pretty much knew this was going to be altie central. Deep into the belly of the beast...

My wife wanted to go because a few moms from her playgroup were going to be there, and two of them were still very much undecided when it comes to vaccines. She hoped I could bring some balance to the discussion, and maybe help them make a better choice. Also, my wife thought she might learn some more info she hadn't heard before. You never know, right?

I really, really, really didn't want to go. I knew my voice wasn't wanted there. I knew they would bring up some things I knew to be false, but couldn't refute -- denialists are bounded only by their limitless imagination, so no matter how well prepared you are, they can always just make something up, and then you have to go off and spend time debunking it. Also, I have a very hard time containing my temper when people say things that are flat-out wrong...

But my wife didn't want to be there all by herself, and she had already promised the other moms from her playgroup that she would go, so off we went...

We arrived with our three-month-old son, just as they were starting. A car parked outside bore a bumper sticker that said "knowvaccines.org" (bah-dump!). A book laid out on a table had a picture of a baby with dozens of needles stuck in him. This did not bode well...

They had just begun going around in a circle and having everyone introduce themselves and why they were there. It didn't take long before it became clear that this was going to be a circle-jerk of epic proportions. Sure, scattered here and there were a few new parents who said they had not made up their minds and that they were just trying to get as much information as possible. But the vast majority clearly already had a strong opinion. There was the guy from England who claimed that he knew a kid growing up who had gotten autism from a vaccine. There was the mother of three whose first two kids had gotten fully vaccinated, and the third had had a reaction to the DTaP vaccine and she basically freaked out and decided all vaccines were evil -- and many other similar stories.

Then there was the couple hosting the meeting, who, get this, thought there was no contradiction between the following two statements: "We don't want to try to convince anyone of anything, we want everyone to make up their own minds with all of the information" and "My kids will get vaccinated over my dead body!" Ummm.... Sorry, but when you make inflammatory statements like the latter, you are trying to convince people. Consider:

Roommate #1: "Hey, can I have some of that pizza?"
Roommate #2: "Dude, that pizza has been sitting out on the counter for a week. There's no way I would eat that shit, that's disgusting."
Roommate #1: "So you're saying I shouldn't eat it?"
Roommate #2: "Oh, not at all! I think you should consider all the facts and make up your own mind whether or not to eat the pizza. We all have a choice!"

Yeah, um.... no.

My wife also got in a good subtle dig at the hosts when they told about how important it was to tell schools that you have a religious objection if you want to get a vaccine exemption. She asked, "So, do you actually have a religious belief against vaccines?" The woman had an answer, but you know, it's good to point out that for the vast majority of folks this religious exemption thing is a lie.

The final story, one that was both heartbreaking and infurating, was by an older woman whose daughter had died of cancer... and she somehow came to blame this on vaccination (if I recall, she was influenced by the writings of paleontologist-turned-vaccine-denialist "Dr." Viera Scheibner). I didn't even know how to react to that -- cancer caused by vaccines?? That's an entirely new one on me. Anyway, this woman ended up participating quite heavily, and it saddens me to say that her pain and her convictions are causing her to basically just make stuff up... More about that later. One story that stuck with me was when she told about doctors telling her they could not discuss the issue with her because her "passion" was getting in the way, which she characterized thusly: "They weren't really saying I was passionate, they were just upset because I had too much information." I wrote that down, and you'll see why soon...

I tipped my hand early by pointing out that the VAERS database includes all adverse events occurring shortly after vaccination, rather than just ones that have been shown to have a causal effect. That made me unpopular pretty quickly, of course, and soon enough I was the center of attention. D'oh...

From there on out, I played the role of correcting inaccuracies ranging from the mundane-but-clearly-wrong (the woman whose daughter had cancer claimed that J. Anthony Morris had been the head of the FDA for several years, when actually he was the chief of vaccines only -- and I suspect they were quote-mining him, although I am having trouble finding good debunking info) to the outright insane -- like the claim that vaccines haven't been responsible for the decline in infectious disease, that it really is just poor sanitation.

This last point leads to one point on which I was unfortunately utterly unprepared: They trotted out this chart, which the chiropractor running the meeting claimed as proof that measles had been mostly cured by the time the vaccine came about. I knew this could not be right, but she insisted it was from the CDC, and numerous other people nodded and said they had seen the chart. Stupid me, I should have asked to see the chart up close, because it shows mortalities from measles, etc., not cases. Well, yeah, better healthcare improved the survivability of measles. However, actually cases of measles declined by 99% after the vaccine was introduced. Stupid me, though, I was unprepared for this bit of trickery, and had to just let it go.

There was a lot of discussion about relative risks, the benefits of vaccines, etc. At one point I said that if people really were concerned about vaccine side-effects, they should "Get vaxed for their grandkids' sake", because if these diseases become extinct in the wild, nobody has to get vaccinated anymore. Hooo boy, I got daggers when I said that one. Wow.

Let's see, what else... oh, the chiropractor got her papers mixed up at one point and said, "I can't find the list of vaccine ingredients". Well! I had just printed out the CDC's list before coming to the meeting (you know, the accurate one), so I was able to trot right up and give it to her. "Oh, this won't work," she said, "because it doesn't list what all these things are" and why they are so terrible. Facepalm! I told her I could tell everyone what each ingredient was, but she managed to find her own list of lies before I got a chance.

First thing she said was that there was anti-freeze in vaccines. What. The. Fuck. As I mentioned over at Orac's blog, I was not prepared for this, because I thought the anti-vax folks had abandoned this canard. I don't recall the name of the chemical the chiropractor said was anti-freeze (it was not one of the usual suspects.. I think it might have been beta-propiolactone?) and I didn't have time to write it down either, unfortunately. I tried e-mailing the chiropractor this morning, and she replied with a bouncing reply-to address to say to call her office. It's on my agenda for later... I suspect she doesn't want any of this in writing...

She also played the formaldehyde gambit, but I parried this by getting one of the crunchy folks there to admit that we had probably breathed more formaldehyde from the outgassing of the carpet of the room we were in than anything in a vaccine.

The lady whose daughter "got cancer from vaccines" told a story about how the individual vaccine doses do not have thimerosal on the ingredient list, but that the large box they come in does, and therefore doctors are lying. I couldn't respond to this one either, but I suspect based on the overall veracity of her information that the poor woman might have just simply made this one up. She also said the Jonas Salk claimed later in life that if he knew all of the damage that would have been done by his polio vaccine, he never would have created it. I thought I remembered hearing this myth once before, so I tried to look it up on my phone... but couldn't find anything. I think she just made up out of whole cloth! If someone has an idea what she was talking about, please let me know in the comments section.

I didn't even get a chance to debunk the thimerosal-autism link, because then the cancer-daugher-lady was on to Andrew Wakefield. Yes, really. She fawned excessively about how "good-looking" and "honest" he was, and his "irresistible British accent", before painting him like a martyr for the cause. When I brought up that he is being investigated for professional misconduct, her response was that they haven't "yet" succeeded in revoking his license. Yeah, great defense...

I was unfortunately unable to pursue all of this to the degree I wanted, because I was eventually asked to be quiet so that people could hear the chiropractor's presentation, since after all, that's what they were there for. This was particularly ironic because the lady whose daughter had cancer had just finished telling a story about how she went to a conference on vaccines and how they eventually started ignoring her questions because she was anti-vax -- and how this showed they really didn't want to hear both sides. Har har har. It was at this point I said, "Okay fine, but don't confuse my being passionate with having too much information." Hey, what can I say, I'm an asshole. At least I'm an asshole for the good side?

It's also worth pointing out that the lady who blamed her daughter's cancer on vaccines talked just as much as I did, and she wasn't the presenter either, and nobody asked her to stop... it's because they only want to hear one side. Which brings me to the one time I lost my cool, and that's when the chiropractor claimed that I had been fed a lot of one-sided information. How dare she. Heh, I don't remember exactly what I said, but I thought it was something like, "That's not true, I've been to Age of Autism, Generation Rescue, all of these places, and I am well aware of both sides of the argument. That is an ad hominem attack. If you're going to say that about me, I'm going to say that about you, that you only have one-sided information." At least, that's what I remember saying... my wife said it basically came across as "I know you are but what am I."

heh, oops... Well, what can I say? I was furious. She had asked me to let her go ahead with her presentation, which is fine, but her parting shot was that I only had one-sided information. What a cheap, dirty, underhanded tactic.

Anyway, even though I am ranting a lot here, I mostly kept my cool, which was good. I do honestly believe that a reason a lot of people go running into the hands of anti-vax is because they hear a little bit of propaganda, get scared, ask their doctor about it, and get an unfriendly and/or aggressive response that just turns them off. The word "bully" is thrown around a lot when anti-vaxers discuss the experience with their pediatricians. While the hardcore anti-vaxers are already lost, the same is not true of many frightened new parents who have just gotten a few tidbits of misinformation. It's important that their concerns are addressed point-for-point, with patience -- even if their concerns are fucking retarded bullshit. heh, oops, I'm letting my temper show through again.

One of the couples from my wife's playgroup left when I was silenced. The husband wanted to hear what I have to say, and I am supposed to look him up on Facebook today. I think the wife was a little mad at me, heh, but oh well, she is cool and I think she is level-headed enough to sort through this stuff.

We had to leave shortly thereafter because my son was getting really fussy, and anyway I couldn't take all that much more. I probably could have done more good by staying, but man, it is stressful being in a room of twenty-against-one! I remember seeing Hitchens do a two-hour debate on this panel that was him and four theologians, and thinking at the time how exhausting that must be. Yep, pretty much.

One of the other husbands caught me on the way out and asked me a bunch of questions. So I guess it wasn't a total loss. If I just planted some seeds of skepticism in one or two people, it was probably worth it. I hope.

I'm sure there's all kinds of crap I am forgetting... There was one point I distinctly remember when the chriopractor was talking, and I was jotting down single-word notes on points I wanted to rebut... and she was spouting false or misleading information faster than I could write! I left with about a page and a half of notes on crap I hadn't even gotten a chance to address... but what can you do? There is a potentially infinite amount of fallacious arguments, and only a finite amount of time for rebuttal. Especially when you are trying to rebut inside an echo chamber.

So anyway, it was, uh... interesting. Would I do it again? Maybe. But only if I had a bottle of fine bourbon waiting for me when I got home...

Update: Apparently my wife's friend who told her about this meeting has already had like eight people e-mail her to complain about my "negative energy". The contention is that it wasn't the content of what I was saying, but that I was interrupting the presenter. This doesn't hold water, though, because the lady whose daughter had cancer interjected at least as much as I did, and nobody had a problem with that...

And anyway, even if I was being rude, I don't really care... If you say something that is provably false to a room full of concerned parents, I'm interrupting you and correcting you, end of story.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Christian group actually sues for right to burn a book


"They've filed a lawsuit which has little possibility of going forward legally, and they're asking for damages which include the right to burn a book. "

Uh, yeah.  Wow.

The book in question is aimed at young adults, and is about a young gay teen who gets beat up by a homophobic gang and how he deals with this.  Because, you know, helping teens to deal with real-life challenges is just awful.  As my wife is fond of saying, "I wonder how it feels to be on the wrong side of history."  I can't even imagine...

Via Pharyngula.

Into the Lion's Den...

Tonight my wife would like me to go to a talk about vaccines given by a local chiropractor, and organized by, eh, well, practitioners of "alternative medicine", so you can guess that it will probably not be particularly pro-vaccine.

There is a close association between the nontheist community and the skeptic community in general, and let me tell you, any skeptical person should be incensed at the anti-vaccination movement.  They are spreading dangerous -- sometimes fatal -- misinformation, sometimes even outright lies.  Many worried parents are being taken in by this, and it's causing a drop in vaccination rates that, let me be perfectly explicit here, will result in dead babies.  I hope I'm not being overly melodramatic; this is just the reality of the situation.

Anyway, she wants me to come so I can correct any misinformation that surfaces.  I'm certainly no expert, I'm just a guy with a degree from the University of Google who is a little bit better at telling the bullshit from the non-bullshit than your average Oprah-watcher.  I also have trouble watching my temper when I talk about the anti-vax movement, because it's ultimately a selfish and inhumane position.  So we'll see...  It may be disastrous!

The idea of this blog, and some random chicken recipe

Last night, my wife, frustrated once again that the recipe for a dish I had made had been lost forever to the shifting winds of memory, suggested that I start a cooking blog as an alternative to trying to keep a recipe book. I am notoriously bad at keeping anything organized, but I do spend a lot of time on the internet, so maybe that's a good idea...

I initially rejected it, though, because there are just so many cooking blogs out there, it's just kinda trite. But then this morning, I thought: Hey, why not combine cooking with my recent interest in nontheism? (more on that later) Now that's a non-obvious combination! How many people can have a blog like that?

Well, apparently at least one. My first idea for a name for the blog was "The Godless Cook". Harumph: http://godlesscook.blogspot.com. So, second choice: No Jesus, No Peas. I had intended the title to be clearly irreligious yet non-sectarian, because after all, I hate to single out the Christians.... no, no, wait, I think that's a lie. Meh, anyway, for better or worse, there's the title.

My interest in cooking comes from a passion for good and interesting food. My parents kinda eat lousy food, but to their credit, my mom taught me some cooking basics from a young age. I then worked as a fry cook at Perkin's for a while, which didn't exactly raise the culinary bar, but at least kept me learning.

The revelation came in my early 20s, when I went over to my boss's house for dinner, and his wife had made an ice cream pie from Bon Appetit that will absolutely knock your socks off. I asked for the recipe, and she let me copy it out of her magazine... and as I flipped through looking at all of these exciting recipes, I knew what my next hobby would be. Nearly ten years later, I haven't slowed down.

So that's why I love cooking. My interest in nontheism has been the result of a long journey from Mormonism, to agnosticism, to drug-induced mysticism, back to a sort of nigh-solipsist pseudo-agnosticism, to bashful atheism, until finally I came to embrace my nontheism/atheism and learn to be proud of my beliefs. (I actually think the word "nontheist" is a better description, but I typically self-identify as an "atheist" in attempt to dispell the taboo -- maybe more about this in another post)

My call to arms was initially the monologue that Bill Maher gave at the end of Religulous. Now, Bill Maher is sort of a tool when it comes to a lot of things, but that monologue, juxtaposed with images of the atrocities caused by religion in the recent past, really made me wake up and take notice. No longer did I just regretfully acknowledge that I could not accept the idea of a supernatural diety -- now I realized that most of us are actually better off without a belief in God. And even if some people do derive a benefit from this irrational belief (which I suspect is true, though I am anything but certain), the vast majority of religions that exist today are terribly dangerous in their endorsement of unquestioning faith and their insistence on clinging to primitive ideas of morality than were outdated two millenia ago.

And then of course, it's on to the usual suspects... Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett... I haven't really heard or read much from Sam Harris, but I'm sure I will at some point. Many people -- even some nontheists -- accuse the "Four Horsemen" and others in the "new atheism" movement of preaching to the choir (pun!) and of alienating theists with the vigor with which they speak out against religion. But what those people don't understand is that this is one choir that is sorely in need of some preachin'! Nontheists often feel a need to conceal their feelings, and to offer a reverent respect to the religious that is rarely -- if ever -- returned. Now is the time for nontheists to be proud of who they are. To paraphrase Psalms: A fool says in his heart that there is no God, but a wise man shouts it from the rooftops!

Anyway, this post is already waaay long. Before I forget, here is the recipe my wife was asking about that was ultimately the impetus for this blog. It's nothing special, just something I whipped up on a weeknight when I had some chicken thighs to grill but wanted to do something less boring. Sorry the amounts are so vague; I didn't measure anything, and even though I am pretty good at eyeballing, I made this like two weeks ago, so I don't remember for sure. Anyway, here goes:

Leek & Cheddar Chicken Rollups

  • 1/4-1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup or so shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 medium leek, split lengthwise and sliced thin (white and pale green parts only)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp or so of cayenne pepper
  • 8 pieces boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1 lb)
  • cooking twine
  • salt and pepper
Combine first five ingredients in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. If you want to, letting it set for a few hours in the fridge will probably help the flavors mingle, but I didn't have time to do that when I did this, so it's no big deal.

Lay chicken thighs out on cutting board and pound flat with a meat hammer or whatever you have on hand. Many people put plastic wrap on top of the meat to keep it from tearing. Sprinkle thighs with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Place flattened thighs one at a time on work surface. Add about 1 tablespoon of leek&cheddar mixture (whatever will fit) on the narrow end of the thigh, roll tightly, and tie with cooking twine. Repeat for all thighs.

Preheat gas grill on high. (Charcoal fans, I'm sure you can adapt this recipe no problem) When grill is hot, place roll-ups directly on grill and lower the heat to medium-high. When nice grill marks develop, turn them over. Cook until done -- I dunno, 15 minutes or so? You can tell when chicken is done, right? Be warned, if you try to overstuff -- like I did -- a lot of the filling will spill out the side, which is fine but it will make your grill really dirty.

Remove chicken from grill and let rest under loosely-tented foil for 3-5 minutes, then cut the twine and serve.

I think for a side we had grilled zucchinni. Aw, hell, since it's so simple, here's a bonus recipe:

Unbeatable Grilled or Roasted Vegetables
  • Vegetables of your choice, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
Toss all ingredients in large bowl. Preheat grill to high, or oven to 375 degrees. Cook until done.

Seriously. You will be hard-pressed to do any better. Don't fuck them up with some weird marinade. Depending on the veggie, maybe squeeze some lemon on it afterwards (e.g. like with asparagus) but not too much. The salt and pepper will bring out the natural flavor of the vegetable, and the olive oil will help it to cook evenly and to get a nice browning on the outside. You don't need to do anything else.

Well, I'm already late for work.. no time to really proof-read this, so hopefully I don't look too dumb. Anyway, welcome to the blog!